Union University R.G. Lee Society of Fellows

"God's Wake-up Call"
Joel 2:12-17

by Dr. Steve Gaines
Pastor, First Baptist Church
Gardendale, AL

 

   Several years ago the Associated Press released a story about a 20-year-old man named Gene Tipps of Seymour, Texas. On May 21, 1967, Mr. Tipps was involved in a very serious automobile accident in which he suffered severe head injuries. He was in a coma for three weeks, after which he remained in a state of unconsciousness for eight solid years. During that extended period of time, this was his daily routine: his parents would prop him up in bed, move him to a chair, brace him up by putting pillows around him, and then feed him. They would usually have to open his mouth and help move his jaw so he could chew the food. He would then swallow. When he finished eating, they would comb his hair, talk to him for awhile, and then put him back to bed. For eight long years, that was his daily experience. Then, one day after all those years of slumber, Gene Tipps woke up! His nurse was startled because she was trying to give him some medicine when he awakened. His parents ran to him and shouted for joy. They called the doctor. Everyone was thrilled and shocked simultaneously. 

   Later someone asked him what it was like to be asleep for eight years. Tipps replied, “It’s all very strange, my girlfriend is now married and has children. The war in Vietnam is over. To everyone else I am 28, but in my mind I am still only 20.” As I thought about that time period, I realized that he slept from 1967 until 1975, the year I graduated from high school. He went to sleep when L.B.J. was President of the United States, and woke up with Jimmy Carter smiling in the White House. He slept right through Richard Nixon! 

   Can you imagine sleeping for eight years? But I know a group, dear friends, that have been asleep five times longer than that. I am talking about the church of the Lord Jesus Christ in the United States of America. Since the 1950’s, we have been asleep.

   Some of you can remember the 1950’s. That is the last time God moved on a large scale in our country, except for a little blip on the radar screen of revival we call the Jesus Movement at the end of the 60’s and the early 70’s. The 1950’s were post World War II days. The economy was good. Patriotism was high. Billy Graham began to fill stadiums as he preached the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Southern Baptists were aggressive soul winners. We didn’t have to worry about moderates and liberals. We were focused on winning “A Million More in ‘54.”    

   But toward the end of that great decade, the churches across this land said, in effect, “We have worked hard. Let’s take a rest.” And when God’s people went to sleep, the devil began to prowl and ravage our land. The 1960’s were the most turbulent years of our nation’s history.  e expelled God, prayer, and the Bible from our public schools. The hippies ushered in the drug culture. We were sending our boys to the rice patties of a little country called Vietnam. The Beatles brought modern Rock ‘n Roll to our shores. Racial violence rocked our inner cities. The three tragic assassinations of John Kennedy in 1963, Bobby Kennedy in 1968, and Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1968 sent our nation into a tail spin.   

   As we continued to sleep, the 1970’s dawned. With them the radical feminist movement emerged. The Supreme Court decided that unborn babies have no rights, and abortion on demand was legalized. The Watergate scandal prompted President Nixon to lie to us all on television.  As a high school senior, I listened by radio as he resigned from the presidency. Inflation was high, and morals and patriotism were at an all time low. Our soldiers had returned from Vietnam ashamed because our politicians did not allow them to win the war. We had an energy crisis that ushered in a flood of Japanese automobiles. A small country called Iran held some of our citizens hostage. In doing so, they held the greatest nation in the world hostage as well. We tried to send two helicopters to rescue them, but they crashed in the middle of the desert. It seemed that nothing in America was going right. Yet, despite the moral decay and corruption in our nation, the churches hit the snooze button, turned over in bed, pulled the covers over their heads, and continued to sleep.

   Then came the 1980’s. The New Age Movement emerged. There was widespread interest in the occult. Witchcraft, psychics, and Satanists abounded. As America studied the horoscope, the churches were rocked by the moral failures of Jim Baker and Jimmy Swaggart. Crack cocaine polluted our cities. Pornography polluted our minds. Gangs ravaged our inner-cities. But the Church refused to wake up.

   As we entered the 90’s, the Church, rather than getting out of bed, put a “Do Not Disturb” sign on the door. We elected a President who was pro-homosexual, placing gays in prominent positions throughout his administration. Mr. Clinton was also pro-abortion. Our Senate and our House had passed a bill that would have banned Partial Birth Abortions. But our President vetoed that bill, indelibly staining his hands with the blood of all the innocent babies who have been butchered through that barbarous procedure. He appointed a Surgeon General who did not want our children to smoke cigarettes, but she didn’t mind if they engaged in what she called, “safe sex.” After all, her boss, the President himself, was having sex with an intern inside the Oval Office! Meanwhile, the President’s wife proposed the idea that our children would be better off if they were reared in a socialist “village” rather than in a normal home in which one man is married to one woman for life. 

   Now we are in a new millennium. Is the church waking up? The verdict is still out. A group of militant Muslims threatens our national security. On September 11, 2001, they brought the battle to American soil by destroying the Twin Towers in New York and by attacking our Pentagon. Ben Laden continues to make threats against all decent people who would oppose him. Our soldiers are fighting a bloody war in Iraq with the hopes of helping those desperate people to become a free, democratic society, instead of a nation in bondage, held captive by fundamentalist extremists.

   On the home-front, radical homosexuals and lesbians seek to take over our nation. You cannot watch television without being subjected to Gay propaganda. They seek to brain wash our citizens so they can make same-sex marriage the law of the land. Homosexuals and lesbians cannot reproduce biologically so they prey on the children of normal people, seeking to entice them to be trapped in their perverted lifestyle. They want to silence Baptist preachers and others from denouncing their sinful lifestyles by making it an illegal “hate crime” to point out what the Bible says about their wicked practices. Regardless of what anyone says about the goodness of being “Gay,” the Bible still calls it a “degrading, unnatural, indecent, and depraved” (Romans 1:26-28). Homosexual practice always has been, is, and always will be “an abomination” in the sight of Holy God (Leviticus 18:22). By God’s grace, homosexuals can be saved and set free from their sinful lifestyles because the blood of Jesus can cleanse anyone from any sin. But they must first repent of the sin of homosexuality and denounce their ungodly homosexual behavior.

   Are you aware that we have major problems in the United States of America? We are a nation divided morally, spiritually, intellectually, and politically. Jesus Himself said in Luke 11:17, “Any kingdom divided against itself is laid waste; and a house divided against itself falls.” Our churches as a whole have been asleep for over forty years! It is time to wake up!

   The Old Testament prophet, Joel, preached to God’s people in Judah just before the Babylonian armies came and destroyed Jerusalem and took God’s people into exile. He cried out for them to repent so that God could spare the land from the coming invasion. His words of warning are very pertinent for us today. I personally believe that if America does not repent, she is headed for national disaster. 

   In Joel 2:12-17, the Lord says: “Yet even now,” declares the LORD, “Return to Me with all your heart, and with fasting, weeping and mourning; and rend your heart and not your garments.”  Now return to the LORD your God, for He is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger, abounding in lovingkindness and relenting of evil.  Who knows whether He will not turn and relent and leave a blessing behind Him, even a grain offering and a drink offering for the LORD your God?  Blow a trumpet in Zion, consecrate a fast, proclaim a solemn assembly, gather the people, sanctify the congregation, assemble the elders, gather the children and the nursing infants. Let the bridegroom come out of his room and the bride out of her bridal chamber.  Let the priests, the LORD'S ministers, weep between the porch and the altar, and let them say, “Spare Your people, O LORD, and do not make Your inheritance a reproach, a byword among the nations. Why should they among the peoples say, ‘Where is their God?’”

   God desires to send spiritual awakening. He is sounding an alarm. He is crying out to His people in America, saying, “It is time to get out of bed!”  Let’s look at our text and analyze God’s Wake-up Call. Notice that it is a Gracious Call, a Demanding Call, and, thank God, it is a Rewarding Call. 

   First of all, we see that God’s Wake-up Call is a Gracious call. Notice what the Bible says in verse 12. “Yet even now, declares the Lord, return to Me.” God was saying through his prophet, “Even now Judah, though your women have poured out libation offerings before idols made of wood and stone; though your men have taken your little children down to the Valley of Hinnom in Jerusalem, where Molech the demon-god has an altar, to sacrifice your babies in the fire; even though your priesthood is corrupt, your politicians are scandalous, and your hands are stained with innocent blood; yet even now, return to Me with all your heart.”  That, my friend, is a gracious call!

   In verse 13, God’s gracious attributes are mentioned. It says that God is gracious, compassionate, and slow to anger. Are you not glad He does not have a short fuse? Are you not glad He is slow to anger? He is abounding in loving-kindness, He is relenting of evil. And notice verse 14 – “Who knows, if you will repent, He might forgive you.” He doesn’t have to. You don’t deserve it, but He just might. “Who knows whether He will not turn and relent. Maybe He will leave a blessing behind Him, a grain offering and a libation for the Lord your God.” Joel indicated to the people of Judah that God’s Wake-up Call was a gracious one. I believe God is saying the same thing to America. 

   When I think about the grace of God, I think about another Old Testament prophet, Hosea. Hosea’s life is a beautiful picture of the grace of God.  Most of you know his story. The prophet found out that his wife, Gomer, was unfaithful to him just before she left him to become a street harlot. He continued to preach though his wife had abandoned him and their three small children. In all of that shame and humility, one day as he prayed, God said, “Go downtown Hosea.” As he walked along the streets, he came upon a very dangerous part of town where they sold slaves. The Lord said, “Hosea, I want you to go down this street today.” He never asked a questioned.  He simply obeyed the Lord. As he walked down that horrid street, he looked upon the disgusting site of people being sold like cattle; human flesh being marketed like animals. As he looked, someone suddenly caught his eye. Could it be? There was a woman there who looked a little bit like his wife, Gomer. Could it be that Gomer was still alive and now she was a slave? Sure enough, she was. This woman who had left in all of her pride, arrogance, and rebellion had been humbled by years of sin. Sin always fascinates, but then it always assassinates. The devil will promise you gold, but he gives you dirt. Her head was hanging down in despair. God said to Hosea, “Buy her back. Pay whatever the price is. Buy her back and bring her home, Hosea. I want you to love her and protect her and I want you to be kind to her. For just as she has been unfaithful to you, My people, Israel have been unfaithful to Me. Even as she has committed physical adultery against you, My people, Israel have been committing spiritual adultery against Me. Buy her back because I want to buy My people back. I want to use what is happening in your life as a prophetic illustration of My grace.” 

   Now before you get too mad at Gomer and before you say that Hosea should have never bought her back, you had better realize that you and I are Gomer in that picture.  We are the ones that Jesus bought when we were nothing but slaves to sin. Thank God for the grace and forgiveness of God. And God is saying to our country today, “America, you are wicked. America, you are secular. America, you don’t pray any more. America, you have ‘In God We Trust’ all over your public buildings and even your currency, but you have turned your back on Me. Yet even now, I am gracious, compassionate, slow to anger, and abundant in loving-kindness. I will relent of evil if you will turn. I will forgive you.”  It is a Gracious Wake-up Call. 

   Not only is God’s Wake-Up Call a Gracious Call, but it is also a Demanding Call. God is not in the asking business. He is in the telling mode. Have you found that out? Sometimes I see children who are not obedient. I see parents letting their children hit them and talk back to them. Do you know what those children need? An old fashion spanking right on their bottoms, that is what they need. You might say, “Oh, but my pediatrician says that is wrong.” Well, tell your pediatrician that he is wrong, because the Bible says that children should respect, honor and obey their parents. I have to tell our people that all the time. Just as a parent has the right to tell his children what to do, God has the right to tell His people what to do.    

   God was not asking Judah, He was telling them. God did not ask them to wake up; He told them to wake up or else. He was very specific. Notice what He said. Turn back to chapter 1 and look at verse 13. He said “I want you to gird yourselves with sackcloth and lament, O priests; wail, O ministers of the altar!  Spend the night in sackcloth O ministers of my God.”  In verse 14 He said, “Consecrate a fast, proclaim a solemn assembly.”  Notice: sackcloth, lamenting, weeping, wailing, spending the night, fasting, solemn assembly; it is very serious. And those are the things He wants us to do as well. 

   Look at chapter 2, verse 12, again. He said, “I want fasting, weeping and mourning.” God said, “I am ready for you to get serious about this, Judah.” Underline those words, “fasting,  weeping, and mourning.” I will talk more about them in just a moment. That is how He wanted Judah to awaken. And then He said who He wanted awakened. Look at chapter 1, verse 13 again.  He said, “Wail, O ministers of the altar; lament O priests.” And look at chapter 2, verse 17. He said, “Let the priests, the Lord’s ministers, weep between the porch and the altar.” Revival must start with the leadership. Revival will come only when the preachers and the leaders get right before God. But also the laity. Look at chapter 2, verse 16. He said, “Sanctify the entire congregation, assemble the old people, the elders and the children and even the nursing infants.” In other words, “Get everybody together, it is going to take pulpit and pew, leaders and laity.” That is who needed revival.   

   And then God told them when they needed to be awakened. Notice verse 12 in chapter 2.  “Yet even now.” Have you ever told your child to do something and he said, “Okay Dad, I’ll do it,” but then you come back an hour later and it hasn’t been done? Again you say, “Now son, I want you to do this.” And he replies again, “Okay, okay Dad, I’ll do it.” But when you return it is still not done. Then you have to be explicit. You say, “Come here, son. I want you to do it now.” He replies, “Oh, now?” “Yes, now, now, now, now!” 

   God was saying to Judah, “Repent now!” How serious and urgent was it? Look at verse 16.  “Let the bridegroom come out of his room, and the bride come out of her bridal chamber.” Break up the wedding. There is something more important than two people getting married here, and it is revival. 

   And notice what He said in chapter 2, verse 12. “Rend your hearts, and not your garments.”  And then He said in chapter 2, verse 17, “Weep between the porch and the altar.” Repent in your hearts and also at the place of prayer in your sanctuaries. And what were they to say to God?  “Spare Thy people,  O Lord.  Do not make us a reproach among the nations.” 

   We can’t continue to do the same old things and expect revival. Here is the difference – “fasting, weeping and mourning” and asking God to forgive you. You say, “Brother Steve, I have never fasted in my life.” Well, it is time you learned how. God called me to a 40 day fast one summer. I fasted and got alone with God. God got a hold on my life and convicted me of some things and cleansed my heart. While I was fasting, my associate pastor fasted for 40 days, another staff member fasted for 21 days, and a host of people fasted for three and four days at a time. I do not know how to explain it, but the glory of God came down on our church when we fasted, prayed, and asked God to forgive our sins and the sins of this country. That is how

   And who? First, the leaders, the pastors. It starts in the pulpit. Can I tell you what would help America? If we could have some men who would stand in the pulpits and be more afraid of God than they are of their congregations, we could have revival in our country. I pray that God will rid us of wimpy preachers. Some of these guys come up and they are so pretty, and they are so polite, and they are so sweet and they are telling everybody how good they are. I heard W.A. Criswell say, “I like to come up behind them and say, ‘Boo!’ and watch those sissies jump! It scares them to death.” We need some men of God back in our pulpits. We don’t need preacherettes preaching sermonettes to Christianettes. God give us some prophets who will preach and say, “Thus, saith the Lord,” and let the chips fall where they may. If some deacon doesn’t like it, good. If some Sunday School teacher doesn’t like it, so what? We must preach for an audience of one – the Lord Jesus Christ! And not only the leaders but the laity. You are going to have to get filthy magazines out of your home. You are going to have to get Hell’s Box Office (HBO) out of your home. Consecrate yourself before God. Leaders and laity; everyone involved. 

  And when? Right now! Break up the wedding if you have to. There is something more important than you getting married. We need to have revival. We need to wake up. 

   And where? In our hearts, and in these beautiful sanctuaries of our churches. Thank God for prayer rails. I pray that God will let these beautiful wooden and carpeted steps and these rails be stained with hot tears for revival. I am convinced that if the Lord could awaken a few of our larger churches, He could send revival to the entire Southern Baptist Convention and then to all of America.  If we will allow God to get a hold on our hearts; if we would rend our hearts and not our garments; if we would weep and fast and pray and say, “O God, spare Thy people,” I tell you He would do it! 

   God’s wake-Up Call is a Gracious Call, a Demanding Call, and thirdly, it is a Rewarding Call. Look at chapter 2, verse 18.  It begins with the little word, “Then.” Thank God that word is there. In other words, after you have done all this, “then” this is what the Lord is going to do:  “He will be zealous for His land.  He will have pity (mercy) on His people.  The Lord will answer and say to His people, “Behold I am going to send you grain, new wine, and oil, and you will be satisfied in full with them; I will never again make you a reproach among the nations.  But I will remove the northern army far from you, and I will drive it into a parched and desolate land, and its vanguard into the eastern sea, and its rear guard into the western sea.  And its stench will rise and its foul smell will come up, for it has done great things.  Don’t fear, O land, rejoice and be glad, because the Lord will do great things.  Don’t fear beasts of the field, for the pastures of the wilderness will turn green, the tree will bear its fruit, the fig tree and the vine will yield in full.  So rejoice, O sons of Zion, be glad in the Lord your God; He has given you the early rain for your vindication.  He has poured down for you the latter rain, the early and latter rain as before.  The threshing floors will once again be full of grain, the vats will once again overflow with new wine and oil.”

   Now look at verses 25 through 27: “Then I will make up to you the years that the swarming locust has eaten, the creeping locust, the stripping locust and the gnawing locust, My great army which I sent among you.  You will have plenty to eat, you will be satisfied, you will praise and worship the name of the Lord your God, who will deal bountifully and wondrously with you; then My people will never be put to shame.  Thus you will know that I am in the midst of Israel, and that I am the Lord your God, there is no other and My people will never be put to shame.”

   God can make up for the 40 years we have been asleep if we will repent and let Him send revival!

   Several years ago, my family and I were in some of the great cities in the northeastern part of our nation.  e went to Washington, New York, Philadelphia, and Boston to name a few. In all of those cities, I saw many church buildings, but virtually none of them had the power and presence of God. Most of them were more like museums than churches. By the time we got to Boston, I was absolutely convinced that our nation was no longer a Christian nation. At Boston, we toured the Freedom Trail. We saw the home of Paul Revere, his statue, and the old North Church (“one if by land and two if by sea”). I was pushing our three year old daughter in a stroller as we were coming back to the parking lot. We were about to go up to Plymouth, Massachusetts where the Pilgrims had landed. In a state of despair, I started praying, “God, what can we do?” I had seen homosexuals, every kind of immoral person, and people with rings all over their bodies. I prayed, “O God, our nation is so secular.  What can we do?” 

   Suddenly in the background, in Boston, Massachusetts by the harbor walk, I heard the bells from one of those old churches starting to ring out. And do you know what those bells were playing? “Sweet hour of prayer, sweet hour of prayer that calls me from a world of care, and bids me at my Father’s throne, make all my wants and wishes known. In seasons of distress and grief, my soul has often found relief and oft’ escaped the tempters snare by thy return, sweet hour of prayer.” The Holy Spirit brought to my mind that verse out of Ezekiel that says that God searched for a man among them in Ezekiel’s day who would build up a wall, and stand in the gap before Him for His land so that He should not destroy it. But in Ezekiel’s day, alas, God had to say, “But I found no one.” Then I prayed, “O Lord, I don’t know if you mean just ‘one’ or not, but I will be one. I for one am going to pray for revival!” 

   Do you not want your children to grow up in an America where Jesus Christ can be worshipped? Do you not want your grandchildren to live in an America where God is moving?  Would it not be wonderful if God sparked a revival even here today?  Would it not be wonderful if God sent another spiritual awakening to America? If He does, it will come with fasting, it will come with weeping, it will come with brokenness, it will come with repentance, and it will come by getting right with God. Christians, hear me today. God is not playing games. God is not asking you to wake up, God is saying, “Do it or else!  I will give you over to My wrath if you don’t!” Thus saith the Lord.  He that has ears to hear let him hear what the Spirit is saying to the churches.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

 

   Dr. Steve Gaines has been pastor of First Baptist Church in Gardendale, AL since 1991.  He holds a Bachelor of Science degree from Union University, and Master of Divinity and Doctor of Philosophy from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.  He and his wife Donna have four children, Grant, Lindsey, Allison, and Bethany.