Work and Fight

In the book of Nehemiah, God’s people had just come back from 70 years in captivity in Babylon and had been commissioned to rebuild Jerusalem. In chapter 4, we get an up close look at the work of rebuilding the city wall in Jerusalem, which included enemy opposition to the work…

 Now when Sanballat heard that we were building the wall, he was angry and greatly enraged, and he jeered at the Jews. And he said in the presence of his brothers and of the army of Samaria, “What are these feeble Jews doing? Will they restore it for themselves? Will they sacrifice? Will they finish up in a day? Will they revive the stones out of the heaps of rubbish, and burned ones at that?” Tobiah the Ammonite was beside him, and he said, “Yes, what they are building—if a fox goes up on it he will break down their stone wall!” 

Nonetheless, the people of God were not deterred. They prayed to God for his protection (v4-5), and they got to work (v6)…

So we built the wall. And all the wall was joined together to half its height, for the people had a mind to work.

And not only did they work, they fought. They had fight in their prayers (v4-5), fight in their hands (v17) and fight on their hips (v18)…

15 When our enemies heard that it was known to us and that God had frustrated their plan, we all returned to the wall, each to his work. 16 From that day on, half of my servants worked on construction, and half held the spears, shields, bows, and coats of mail. And the leaders stood behind the whole house of Judah, 17 who were building on the wall. Those who carried burdens were loaded in such a way that each labored on the work with one hand and held his weapon with the other. 18 And each of the builders had his sword strapped at his side while he built. 

There is much to learn here for the Christian church in our day. Of course, we too must have a mind to work, whether in terms of our vocation (Colossians 3:23) or the working out of our salvation (Philippians 2:12-13). And while the weapons of our warfare are not swords and shields, we too must fight (2 Corinthians 10:3-5). In fact, just as work is a part of God’s very good design for the world, so too is warfare.

Author N.D. Wilson pointed out somewhere that in Genesis 3, before sin ever entered the world, God assigned Adam a fight. The very presence of the serpent in the Garden of Eden teaches us that Adam was to fight Satan by fighting for his wife and fighting the temptation to sin. Of course, Adam failed on all fronts. He passively stood by as Satan deceived Eve, and gave into temptation himself (Genesis 3:1-6).

The gospel is that Jesus did not fail as Adam failed. He fought Satan, sin, and death, and he won. And when we come to Christ, not only do we receive the salvation that he fought for, we learn how to fight like our Lord.

The point I want to make here is very simple… it is that Christians must learn to love and embrace the fight. In the same way that we would argue for the inherent goodness of work because of the fact that it is a part of God’s very good, pre-fall design for the world (Genesis 1:28, 2:15), so too we must embrace the inherent goodness of fighting the enemies God assigns.

  • We must fight for the truth, which involves fighting those both outside and inside the church.
  • We must fight personal sin, whether passivity or lustful passion, bitterness or boasting, covetousness or cowardice. Whatever sin the Lord exposes in us, we must fight to kill.
  • We must fight for the biblical vision of marriage and the family, which not only involves opposing the lies in the culture, but also, even primarily in my case, involves loving and shepherding the wife and children the Lord has entrusted to me.
  • Such leadership certainly involves fighting my own sin, but it also involves fighting the sin in my wife and children as I seek to lead them in obedience to the Lord on the path to glory.
  • We need elders who will fight for the sheep, which sometimes involves fighting the sheep themselves in order to bring them back into the fold.
  • We must fight to break the chains of injustice.

On and on it goes. As Christians, we must fight.

Dear Mr. President

Dear Mr. President,

I am one of the many millions of American Christians who have been closely  and favorably following your Presidency. However, while this may not be unusual for most of “the many” it is a bit unusual for me. For one, I did not vote for you. It should be said that neither did I vote for Hillary, nor would I vote for a Democrat (for various reasons including the fact that as a party they hate and oppose God’s will for marriage and human life). That said, even with my opposition to the left, I did not vote for you because I did not trust your character. I had no reason to believe that you were going to be anything other than another lying, left-leaning, limp-spined Republican, and to be honest I thought you had the potential to be a whole lot worse. By the way, you still do have that potential, although to this point I have been pleasantly surprised.

Thus far I have regularly been thankful to God for your Presidency. It is astounding to think that with a couple strong decisions you could be remembered as the most pro-life President to date. Add to that the fact that God has used you to expose the rotten underbelly of the left, and though I have cringed at many things you have said, and differ with you plenty, I am regularly thankful for what you are doing.

All that to get to the real reason why I am writing. Mr. President, I want to respectfully warn you. This morning, I was reading the book of Daniel in the Bible, and I came across these passages in chapter 4:

King Nebuchadnezzar to all peoples, nations, and languages, that dwell in all the earth: Peace be multiplied to you! It has seemed good to me to show the signs and wonders that the Most High God has done for me.

How great are his signs,
    how mighty his wonders!
His kingdom is an everlasting kingdom,
    and his dominion endures from generation to generation.                                                   (Daniel 4:1-3)

 

28 All this came upon King Nebuchadnezzar. 29 At the end of twelve months he was walking on the roof of the royal palace of Babylon, 30 and the king answered and said, “Is not this great Babylon, which I have built by my mighty power as a royal residence and for the glory of my majesty?” 31 While the words were still in the king’s mouth, there fell a voice from heaven, “O King Nebuchadnezzar, to you it is spoken: The kingdom has departed from you, 32 and you shall be driven from among men, and your dwelling shall be with the beasts of the field. And you shall be made to eat grass like an ox, and seven periods of time shall pass over you, until you know that the Most High rules the kingdom of men and gives it to whom he will.”33 Immediately the word was fulfilled against Nebuchadnezzar. He was driven from among men and ate grass like an ox, and his body was wet with the dew of heaven till his hair grew as long as eagles’ feathers, and his nails were like birds’ claws.

34 At the end of the days I, Nebuchadnezzar, lifted my eyes to heaven, and my reason returned to me, and I blessed the Most High, and praised and honored him who lives forever,

for his dominion is an everlasting dominion,
    and his kingdom endures from generation to generation;
35 all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing,
    and he does according to his will among the host of heaven
    and among the inhabitants of the earth;
and none can stay his hand
    or say to him, “What have you done?”

36 At the same time my reason returned to me, and for the glory of my kingdom, my majesty and splendor returned to me. My counselors and my lords sought me, and I was established in my kingdom, and still more greatness was added to me. 37 Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and extol and honor the King of heaven, for all his works are right and his ways are just; and those who walk in pride he is able to humble.                                                                                        (Daniel 4:28-37)

 

A bit of the story… Nebuchadnezzar, the king of mighty Babylon, was the most powerful ruler in the world. He was the leader of the great world power of his time.  Nebuchadnezzar was a pagan who cared nothing about God, but had come to praise God (as recorded in vs1-3) in response to seeing God at work all around him. For example, at the end of chapter 3 God delivered Daniel’s friends (Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego) from the fiery furnace.

Mr. President, you are a lot like Nebuchadnezzar. You are the most powerful leader in the world. But also, up to the point of your Presidency you have cared nothing about God. Yet God is at work all around you. He has surrounded you with some of his people in order to bring himself to your attention. At times you have responded favorably, much like Nebuchadnezzar did at the beginning of Daniel 4. You have been a friend and advocate for God’s people and have even openly bowed before God himself  (It was a pleasure to see you bow in prayer with Pastor Andrew Brunson upon his release). Like you, Nebuchadnezzar was paying attention. He noticed God at work. He even confessed the fact that although he was the most powerful leader in the world, only God has absolute sovereignty (v3). Yet about a year later, he had long forgotten his own confession… “He walked out on the roof of the royal palace and said, ‘Is not this great Babylon, which I have built by my mighty power as a royal residence and for the glory of my majesty?’ While the words were still in the king’s mouth, there fell a voice from heaven, ‘O King Nebuchadnezzar… the kingdom has departed from you, and you shall be driven among men, and your dwelling shall be with the beasts… until you know that the Most High rules the kingdom of men and gives it to whom he will.” This is where the warning comes in.

Mr. President, all of the power that you possess and all of the good that you have done with that power… it has all come from God. He alone rules the kingdom of men and gives power and influence to whom he will. Nebuchadnezzar knew that at one point, but it didn’t stick. At least not until he was devastatingly humbled (vs31-33). The prosperity of his nation and the power of his influence were too intoxicating. They were also fleeting. His pride cost him the power and influence he was so enamored with.

It should also be noted that Belshazzar, the ruler in Babylon after Nebuchadnezzar, had a similar pride (chapter 5). Unfortunately, God was not as gracious with Belshazzar as he was with Nebuchadnezzar. God responded to Belshazzar’s pride by not only humbling him to the point of death, but also humbling the mighty Babylon to the point that they were no longer the great world power. They were overtaken by the Medo-Persians.

Mr. President, for God’s glory, for your own good, and for the good of this nation, please do not fall into the same trap of pride. I am of the opinion that the purported “blue wave” at the midterms could die before it hits land. We may even see a red hurricane instead. In large part, that would be because of the way that God has used you to expose the wretchedness of the left, just in the nick of time. But do not forget that it all comes from God. Do not look out from your palace and consider all of your mighty works. Instead, bow yourself before the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who alone rules the kingdom of men and gives it to whom he will. Praise him for who he is. Thank him for who he has made you to be. And ask for his wisdom to serve him where he has assigned you. Again and again and again, humble yourself before him. In Jesus name, amen.

Respectfully in Christ,

Chris Leuck

Discipleship at the Movies – Frozen

Most people with little girls in the house have at least heard of the movie Frozen. My 4 year old daughter (and six year old son) have watched it a number of times, as have I. Christians are all over the map with movies for our children… I have friends who wouldn’t let their children watch a Disney movie for anything, and I have friends who seemingly would let their children watch anything. We are somewhere in-between. There are many things Tiffany and I will try to keep our children from while we still can, but Frozen is a good example of a movie that is worth watching, though it should not be watched mindlessly.

The most famous song in the movie is called “Let it Go” and if your kids watch the movie there is little doubt that they will end up singing along. As parents, it is our responsibility to help them understand what they are singing, and to help place the song in the narrative… Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord (Ephesians 6:4). The two Greek words translated as discipline and instruction here are paideia and nouthesia. Paideia is an overarching, all of life process of enculturation. Paul says parents (with the fathers in the lead) are to raise their children in the enculturation of the Lord. Nouthesia has to do with teaching or counseling. This process of enculturation is driven by parental instruction in the truth in all areas of life.

Let it Go is relatively early in the movie in a scene that is captivating with beauty and special effects. It is meant to draw the children in, but they are not yet mature enough to understand the context, which is necessary to rightly understand the song. Let it Go is Elsa’s anthem to her rebellion. Having frozen her town solid, Elsa is trying to run from her problems and run from her responsibilities as Queen by isolating herself and leaving everyone else to fend for themselves. She doesn’t know it at the time, but she is deeply confused. She is running further into her bondage, though she thinks she is on her way to freedon (there are obvious parallels here in terms of the false promises of sin). This is the context and here are some of the lyrics…

… A kingdom of isolation

and it looks like I’m the queen…

The wind is howling like this swirling storm inside

Couldn’t keep it in, heaven knows I’ve tried

Don’t let them in, don’t let them see

Be the good girl you always have to be

Conceal, don’t feel, don’t let them know

Well now they know

Let it go, Let it go

Can’t hold it back anymore

Let it go, Let it go

Turn away and slam the door

I don’t care what they’re going to say

Let the storm rage on…

… It’s time to see what I can do

To test the limits and break through

No right, no wrong, no rules for me

I’m free

Let it go…

Elsa is lamenting being the good girl that she always has to be because of the expectations placed on her by others, and she is done hiding the storm that has been raging inside of her, so she is going to let it all out. Who cares what they say!? It’s time to let it all out and see what she can do, to test the limits and have her breakthrough. No more right, no more wrong, no more rules, now she is free. Just let it all go.

Bet you didn’t know that’s what your kids were singing.

In order to know we have to pay attention and then we have to take up the hard work of instruction in the truth. In this scene (and throughout much of the movie) Elsa is believing the lies that are oh so prevalent in our world today. Imagine a teenager coming out of the closet as homosexual or a teenage girl that is going to start sleeping with her boyfriend. This song took the words right out of their mouth. And just like Elsa, rather than finding their true freedom they finds heartache and destruction, for themselves and for those around them. Sin leads to breakdown.

There is much to commend in the narrative of Frozen. In fact, if you watch to the end, Anna’s sacrifice is a good springboard for teaching the love and sacrifice of Jesus. But we have to understand where we are in the story, and teach accordingly.

 

 

Red Light, Yellow Light

O house of Jacob, come, let us walk in the light of the LORD.” – Isaiah 2:5

Not too long ago I pulled up to a blinking yellow light where everyone was treating it as a 4-way stop. Three or four cars deep on all sides, everyone was being very nice and orderly – one after the other – and to my astonishment they were all working very well together. Only one problem… it was a blinking yellow!  So what did I do? When the car in front of me went, instead of waiting for the next 3 cars to go, I went too. Because it was a blinking yellow, not a blinking red. What a joy it was to break up the party! As I pulled away from this lunch-time extravaganza, I watched in my rearview mirror as a portion of the line followers snapped out of their hypnotic gaze, realizing what was going on, and began treating the blinking yellow as it is meant to be treated. The only problem being, of course, that not everyone was on the same page. I’m sure they figured it out.

This fun little illustration offers a few lessons for Christians in our day:

1- We live in a world where it is becoming the norm to stop at a blinking yellow, so to speak. When truth is what makes you happy, or what seems to be working best at the time, the “truth” is bound to always be changing. But, of course, as Francis Schaeffer said somewhere, “no matter what a man may believe he cannot change the reality of what is.” In other words, the truth is a fixed given. The truth never changes, no matter what you believe and no matter what seems like it might work best at the time. Blinking yellow still means proceed with caution even when everyone else is treating it like it is a 4-way stop and, more importantly, every jot and tittle of God’s word is still true, no matter what is happening all around us.

2- When everyone is stopping at a blinking yellow it is quite disruptive to all of a sudden begin proceeding with caution, even though that is exactly what you are supposed to be doing. In other words, obedience to the truth is going to grow more disruptive in your family, at school, on the sports team, in the youth group, at church, at work, in your friend group, and beyond. As people all around us grow more accustomed to living according to lies, it goes without saying that living according to the truth is going to stand out a bit. And though this may be a bit uncomfortable for us, it is actually a great blessing for the world around us… “You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house… let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:14-16).

3- We  cannot be afraid to point out the fact that blinking yellow means proceed with caution. However, I should warn you to be careful… it is one thing to obey the truth for yourself, but when you start saying the truth out loud, acting like it is binding for all people (which it most certainly is), people can get out of sorts.

4- Enjoy yourself. It really was a delight to break up that stoplight party (or maybe I started the party). I was doing the right thing. And it was quite amusing to watch everyone try to figure out what was going on. On the other hand, sin is not funny. It is not funny to see sin’s destruction in the world or in your life or in the lives of those you love. But it really is a delight to walk in God’s ways… “The precepts of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart” (Psalm 19:8). So thank God for his grace, thank him for his commands, walk accordingly and enjoy yourself.

 

The Courage of Rosaria and the Death of the PCA

Quick! What is the first word that comes to mind when you look at this picture of Rosaria Butterfield? If you are not familiar with Rosaria maybe the word is motherly or kind or even dignified. If you are familiar with Rosaria and count her an enemy, maybe it’s traitor or worse. But if like me, you are deeply thankful for the way God is using Rosaria in our day, you might say bold or courageous. I have read Rosaria’s books, spent time with her over dinner (along with our church staff), listened to her speak in person and through the media. The more I read and the more I hear the more I understand that this motherly, kind, dignified sister in Christ is indeed full of boldness and courage. She speaks with clarity in the face of opposition. This recent address surrounding the devastation of the Revoice Conference is case in point… https://youtu.be/xVjj_dDAxLA .

Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA). The lack of swift and clear opposition to the Revoice Tragedy is evidence of a void of the boldness and courage that Rosaria embodies. Thankfully, there are PCA ministers here and there who are opposing Revoice and I’m sure there are many more who are doing the same in their local churches (as my pastor has done). That said, the truth remains that no matter how one wants to chop it up this was essentially a PCA conference. I know, I know. It was not technically a PCA conference, just as Covenant Seminary did not technically sponsor it. But it was hosted in a PCA church and Covenant did send one if its own to speak (Jay Sklar). If there is any understanding of covenant responsibility before God, then the PCA and its flagship seminary must own the fact that this was theirs, and repent.

For a slice of the muddled confusion of Greg Johnson (Lead Pastor of Memorial Pres, PCA, who hosted Revoice), start the following interview at 21:00 and run it to 24:00… https://crosspolitic.com/family-meeting-with-greg-johnson-pastor-of-memorial-presbyterian-church-and-host-church-of-revoice-us/. I don’t yet fully understand how PCA government works, but isn’t this enough to discipline Greg Johnson? And I don’t mean punish, I mean discipline… lovingly rebuke and correct and admonish according to the word of God, and if he is unwilling or unable to repent of his lack of understanding in regard to original sin, the sinfulness of sin and the nature of repentance (of course, along with his embrace of gay identity and effeminacy), then for the love and care of the church of God, remove him from his shepherding post. I’m sure there are a number of hoops to jump through along the way, but it should be pretty straightforward. Hopefully, surely, these wheels are already in motion behind closed doors in his Missouri Presbytery and across the denomination as a whole. That said, these efforts should not remain behind closed doors.

I am reminded of Spurgeon’s quote of John Angell James… “When a preacher of righteousness has stood in the way of sinners, he should never again open his lips in the great congregation until his repentance is as notorious as his sin” (Lectures to My Students pp13-14). Greg Johnson (and by covenant association, the PCA) is not only standing in the way of at least 400 sinners (those who attended this conference), but is leading them into the outer darkness. He is proclaiming peace where there is no peace to be found. And this conference is getting a lot of airtime, meaning that it has now reached thousands upon thousands more than those 400 who bought tickets. This needs to be covenantally owned, repented of, and disciplined by the PCA out in the open. Let the repentance be more notorious than the sin. To renounce this in 50 years is going to be too little too late.

I do not write this as one who is out to get the PCA, just the opposite. For many years I have been involved with the PCA am thankful for her influence in my life. I was raised in a non-denominational church (and now serve in that same church) that has been pastored by a PCA minister for almost 30 years. When I was converted in college, it was the RUF minister at my school, along with my former youth pastor (himself a PCA minister) that I contacted first. The latter married my wife and I. After we got married, I worked in a PCA church plant on the MS Gulf Coast that was started in response to Hurricane Katrina. While there I was trained through RYM Youth Leader Training, a ministry of the PCA. Currently, I am an online student at RTS and am “under care” of Covenant Presbytery, PCA.

Neither do I write this as one who hates homosexuals. Though I may not understand their specific temptations and sins, I do indeed understand that the internal bent toward sexual sin can be deep and lasting. But I also know that the only true and lasting freedom is in Christ, by the power of his Spirit, according to his commands. It is precisely for the love of Jesus and for the love of homosexuals that the church has to get this right. In fact, if we give permission (to professing Christians who are tempted homosexually) to keep any of the “old man” lying around, we are hating them not loving them.

Back to Rosaria. After listening to Greg Johnson’s confusion, go back and listen to Rosaria’s clarity… https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xVjj_dDAxLA&feature=youtu.be (from 17:00 until 20:30). In fact, it would be helpful to listen to the whole thing. May God raise up shepherds in his church, in every denomination, that speak with this kind of boldness and courage… clarity in the face of opposition. As for the death of the PCA, it will come in one of two ways: either in the form of death and resurrection through repentance and faith, leading to future generations of fruitful life, or in the form of death alone, somewhere along the path of cultural accommodation where she now finds herself.

Family Devotions, a Cussing Pastor, and an Unlikely Servant

Here are links to a few articles that I recently ran across and found helpful and/or encouraging…

  1. Mary Lee Bayly, wife of pastor Tim Bayly, on the goodness, necessity, and workability of family devotions… https://warhornmedia.com/2018/07/17/just-do-devotions/. I do not recommend this post as one who has it nailed, but as one who is convinced Mary Lee is right.
  2. Pastor Toby Sumpter defending his use of obscene language in a recent blog post… http://www.tobyjsumpter.com/pure-words-sometimes-tart/. Some important distinctions and helpful insight.
  3. A very encouraging read about God’s work in Chicago through an unlikely servant… https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/brian-dye-building-legacy-disciples-chicago/.

Mars Hill Music

Mark Driscoll and the former Mars Hill Church in Seattle were very formative in the first few years of my Christian life. Though I cannot speak to the quality of Pastor Mark’s more recent sermons (because I haven’t listened to him in a few years), some of the older stuff was foundational to who I am today. HERE is an archive of Pastor Mark’s sermons. And even though Mars Hill shut down, some of their music is still accessible at http://marshill.se/marshill/music.

HERE is one of my favorites.

Roseanne Barr and Blood Sacrifice

This brief post should not be read as an endorsement to Roseanne’s recent explosive comments. It is simply an observation of the fallout. Roseanne has become a sacrifice to the gods of the culture, and this situation creates an opportunity for Christians to point to the One True Sacrifice for sin, Christ Jesus the Lord.

Because all people were created in the image of God, everyone has some sense, however vague and confused, of God and his ways. In other words, God created us and stamped eternity in our hearts (Ecclesiastes 3:11). So even the most committed pagan knows deep down that sin demands sacrifice. But unless our culture turns to Christ, the last sacrifice, there will continue to be a clamoring for blood.

Roseanne sinned against God and against Valerie Jarrett, plain and simple. Interestingly, you might actually get a hearing right now if this was the only point you wanted to make. But the observation I want to bring to light is the demand for payment. The people might as well have been screaming, “Crucify her!” A slap on the wrist will not do. The sin is deep and the payment must be significant. Boycotted. Blacklisted. The people want blood.

Whether or not Roseanne should have lost her show is not my concern. But I do know that this payment will not suffice in the end. It is not enough. The masses will continue to clamor for more blood because there is a whole lot more sin where that came from. Rosanne was yesterday’s sacrifice, but there will be more today and more tomorrow. Only in Jesus, the last sacrifice, is there full and final payment for sin. His blood was sufficient to pay not only for Roseanne’s sin, but it was efficient to cover all of the sins of all of his people for all time.

WHAT ABOUT THE NAME?

Jeremiah 6:16 reads as follows, “Thus says the LORD: ‘Stand by the roads, and look, and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way is; and walk in it, and find rest for your souls…’”(ESV). Some translations call these ancient paths “the old paths” and that’s where the name comes from. The Old Paths and The Good Way are descriptions of God’s paths… God’s way that he lays out for us in his word, the Bible. And these paths aren’t only meant to be studied, though study can be helpful. They are meant to be walked in. Thus the subtitle: Doctrine for Life.

The title has a pretty broad scope on purpose. Jesus is Lord over everything. My goal, on this blog as in the rest of my life, is to seek to understand his word and apply it in real time to real life.

ABOUT ME

Back around the turn of the century it looked like a long shot for me to become a Christian, much less to become a pastor. But among other things, God’s grace is surprising. I was raised in a Christian home and was also raised in the church I now have the privilege to serve. However, I walked away from the church and from the Lord at the beginning of high school, and that is putting it mildly. The short of it is that I ran from God, but he ran me down toward the end of college. And in a round about way he brought me back to my home church, which has been a great gift.

Speaking of gifts, in April 2009 God gave me my wonderful wife, Tiffany, who I do not deserve. Since then he has given us 4 wonderful children: Levi (2012), Eva Claire (2014), Sarah (2016), and Hannah (2017). This amounts to a lot of joy and a lot of work! I love the privilege and responsibility of being a husband and father, and take it very seriously. The same goes for the privilege and responsibility of being a pastor.

At Grace Evangelical Church I serve in an assistant pastor role, with various responsibilities. My primary responsibilities involve leading our Men’s Ministry as well as leading a ministry we call The Next Generation, which revolves around a Sunday morning class that I teach for couples and singles in our 30s and 40s. If you would like to visit, we meet at 9:30 in the Brown Room (410). Another one of my most important responsibilities is working through my seminary education in pursuit of ordination. Right now I am somewhere just beyond the middle of an MA in Biblical Studies from Reformed Theological Seminary.