Last Sunday I was accepted into the School of Theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, KY. I visited the school last week and, after spending time in thought and prayer, I’ve decided to pursue my MDiv (Master of Divinity) degree at Southern. I’ve been deliberating between Southern and The Master’s Seminary for much of the last year, and while it wasn’t an easy decision, it was one marked by a clear sense of direction from the Lord.
I confess it is rather scary to leave the familiar environment of the Master’s community. Much of who I am in the Lord has been forged in the classroom and offices and dorm rooms of TMC. I will greatly miss the Master’s community. The Lord has blessed me far beyond what I ever could have hoped for in quantity and quality of friendships through my time at college. It is hard to leave what God has used to shape me into His image. I’ll also miss being able to visit my Cornerstone Community Church family. It’s a lot further of a drive from Louisville than Santa Clarita. In a very short time I’ve come to love you all very much. It has been a joy to serve the youth and I’m looking forward to the last couple of months of disc golf, Gleanings, and study of Philippians.
So why am I going to Southern?
1) I will get to study under an incredible group of professors. The faculty at Southern pretty much comprises a “Who’s Who” list of conservative scholarship. Russell Moore, Timothy Paul Jones, Bruce Ware, Tom Schriener, Stuart Scott, and the list goes on and on. Other seminaries use the books written by these men as textbooks for their classes. At Southern I will be able to study under the men who wrote the textbooks.
2) The leadership and professors love the local church. The classes I was able to sit in on were not set in ivory-tower academia, but rather the mud and mire of the realities of church ministry. Theological instruction for the sake of theological instruction will not help me better serve the bride of Christ.
3) I’m coming to realize the importance of being taught from a variety of perspectives. Not a variety of doctrinal perspectives, but rather a variety of emphases within those commonly held doctrines. To have undergraduate and graduate degrees from the same institution is not the end of the world, but it would leave me unbalanced in areas. The greatest strength of TMS is how it prepares men to preach the Word. That is my greatest strength in ministry as well. I want to go to a school that will challenge me in my weaknesses so that I will grow in my ability to minister before the Lord.
4) Southern has a culture of grace and appreciation towards men of different doctrinal perspectives who have accomplished great things for the Kingdom. This walks a fine and dangerous line. Russell Moore exemplified this attitude best in a theology class I sat in on about Eschatology. He said something akin to, “We’re to be dogmatic about the things Scripture is clear about and humble about the things it is not. We can learn much from the elderly dispensationalist-holding church members as they eagerly await the rapture. And they can learn much from us historic premillenialists as we prepare ourselves for suffering.’ That is an impressive attitude.
There’s other reasons why I’m going to attend Southern, but these are the most important. I’m thankful for the year off to recharge my academic batteries, and I’m excited to begin this new stage in my life.
Over the last three months, I’ve been working with a local artist to put the story of Christmas into an illustrated poetry book format. I’m excited to share the finished product with you here. May Christ be exalted and magnified for His birth, for His death, for His resurrection, and His coming renewal of all things.
Part One: The Town
Anticipation was the rule
In Nazareth for soon a jewel
A favored daughter would be wed
To Him whose ancestry thread
Wove round amongst the kings of old
The righteous Joseph, ever bold
To do the right and shun the wrong
Though poor, his moral compass strong
“A perfect pair” the women said
As wizened husbands nodded heads.
But soon the happiness was cast
Aside before the stormy blast
Of presumed infidelity
And then to cover up her free
And loosened living she would claim
Some wild tale that God became
A child. And stranger still that he
Condemned to live in cuckoldry
Would stand beside his fiancée
Expecting all of us to play
The fool with him. So mock and scorn
Them and the child to be born.
And so the favored couple went
From being loved to being bent
Upon the anvil of the town
Their reputations trampled down
Before all except the Lord.
Part Two: The King
Away from Nazareth a jar
Containing royal scrolls was passed
From hand to hand until at last
The census words were handed down
To every city, village, town.
For Caesar hoped to know how great
His empire had become. Not late
Or early was his heart bestirred
For God would keep His holy Word
And overrule the heart of one
So powerful to move His Son
To Bethlehem where prophecy
Foretold the Child’s infancy
And so it was no accident
When Mary, Joseph rose and went
From all they’d ever seen and known
To Joseph’s old ancestral home
Behold the rising tide of cost
That Jesus had already tossed
Upon the tranquil lives of them
Whose faith compels their love for Him.
For comfort in this life was not
To be his parent’s earthly lot.
The Magi’s wife stared through the sand
That choked the empty road and planned
For yet another lonely meal
That night. Far away in Israel
Or somewhere in between he must
Under the ever-swirling dust
Be coming home. For two long years
Her ritual had been-with tears-
To gaze across the parting way
And then to pause and kneel and pray
To Daniel’s God. Within his book
Of prophecy were truths that took
Their hearts away from blocks of stone
And gave them to the King enthroned
On high. And as she prayed and poured
Her loneliness out to the LORD
A weary figure turned upon
Her eyes shone like the dawn
But his were not as she recalled.
They spoke of joy and grief, appalled
By Herod’s great atrocity
But with the sight that Christ would be
Far great enough to take and splice
Eternal joy from sin and vice.
He held her close and told her of
The King who’d left His throne above,
Of angels, and of shepherds’ fright
Turned into faith by such a sight,
And of his own much longer quest
Through desert sands and mountain crests
To see the child.
The Magi turned
And softly asked: “One question’s burned
A path inside my heart and mind
These last two lonely years. I find
No room in my affections for
Doubt that what I’ve done is good
If forced to choose again I would
Still make that trip. Would you as well
Still choose to be alone and sell
Two years for me to see the Christ?
It is an awful, bitter price
For you to pay without reward.”
She smiled back: “You have adored
And worshipped God by traveling
With joy-filled heart to go and bring
Your gift to Him. But you mistake
To think that all He’s done is take
From me. Though God may part me from
The one I love its always done
And I would never trade
My closer sight of Him, though paid
in lengthy trials and distress.
I want, I want the Father’s best.”
Part Four: The Heart
We celebrate our Savior’s birth
Incarnate Deity on earth.
And Christ would later say He came
To save mankind and to proclaim
His love. But love that’s for our best!
The kind that shows us Him in tests.
When Christ would occupy a life
He causes peace and causes strife
For we would underestimate
The depths of our own sinful state
And so would cry when He brings pain
To purge the hidden faults that stain
The joy of the elect in Christ
For trials are His sweet device
To part us from our tiny view
Of Him to see His mercies new
And grander than before.
Will pass to dry bewildered tears
And grace cries out within the gall
“Our joy in Christ is worth it all.”
For Christ remains in all He does
The severest grace that ever was.
Text: Copyright (c), Nate Brooks 2009
Illustrations: Copyright (c), Matthew Covington 2009
I was playing frisbee golf with a few of our youth group members yesterday when I asked them a question: “What are you thankful for?” We as a culture (which means me as an individual) usually relegate thankfulness as something that only needs to be pondered on the fourth Thursday of every November. But it would seem that our utter inability to merit even life and breath would cause us to be overwhelmingly thankful. When life itself is a gift, how could I take anything for granted?
We as people are happiest when we are the most thankful, for thankfulness overwhelming selfishness is a clear testimony of the grace of God. It isn’t natural to be thankful. It isn’t normal to bow before God and confess helplessness and gratitude for and trust in His life-giving nature.
I’ve yet to see myself intentionally slide from the mountain top of thankfulness to the obscuring valley of selfish ingratitude. Rather, I wake up to realize that I no longer have the joy of an uncluttered view of who God is and what He has done for me. And I’m shocked by it. It’s as though I start walking down the path from the mountain top to the valley, feeling like I haven’t lost anything because I can still remember what the view from the peak looks like. And I’m not worried because, although I can’t actually see the landscape of grace, I can still picture what it looks like. Can still conjure up the awe that it evokes.
But then as time goes by and as I get further and further from the peak I can no longer remember what I need to remember. I can no longer feel what I know I need to feel. It saddens me most that I take most for granted the things that I love the most, starting with my Savior.
I don’t think that the ultimate solution is what I’m about to do. I don’t think that merely listing out things I’m thankful for is enough to keep me from becoming thankless. The heart is more deceptive than that. I need the sustaining grace of God. But I do know that usually I become thankless when I simply neglect being thankful. I want to be diligent in giving thanks. It’s really hard to pull your gaze away from something you’re thankful for.
Here are some things I’m thankful for, in no particular order or importance. And this list is in no way shape or form comprehensive!:
1) The Intentional Fellowship of Christians. I’m thankful for the people in my life who practice and talk about the “one anothers.” People who love and understand the value of authentic, heart-and-gospel-oriented conversation and actions. Much endurance comes from having such relationships.
2) Brent and Laura. I’m thankful for the way they have opened their home up to me. I’m thankful for the lessons I’m learning about what family life is really like from a parent’s perspective. They challenge me in diligence, drive, and purpose.
3) John Marc. I’m thankful for being able to learn what it means to be a faithful minister of the Word of God. He’s taught me much about the realities of ministry. It’s not flashy, it’s not hype-driven. It’s about faithfulness and confidence in the Holy Spirit. He’s taught me much about loving people for the sake of their gain in Christ. His reward in heaven is going to be very great.
4) Stars. I’m in an area where I can see stars again. It was funny taking astronomy in Los Angeles. Looking up at the night sky has a way of bringing perspective. To think that God created all of that, and billions of galaxies that I cannot see with the naked eye! It breaths out the awesomeness of God and the insignificance of man. And yet, that only reinforces the joy of His personal love for me.
5) Cornerstone Youth Group. I appreciate the youthfulness of the youth. I appreciate their eagerness and excitement in life, their drive to get maximum enjoyment out of everything. And I’m thankful for their thoughtfulness in youth group. They ask good questions, ponder important things. I’m thankful that they keep coming to hear the Word, over and above excitement.
6) My Mom, Dad, and Brother. I’m excited to go home for Christmas. There’s no reservations, no worry that it might be a stressful time, no fears that conflict might rip us apart. I know that’s not the case for the majority of people. So I don’t want to take for granted the joy of having a tight-knit, like-minded, Christ-loving family. My parents are wise, and my brother is one of my best friends. What more could you ask for?
7) Good music. I’m thankful for music that makes much of God like Shawn McDonald, Caedemon’s Call, David Crowder Band, Casting Crowns, Phil Wickham, Jeremy Camp. I’m thankful for music that is relaxing and helps me study like Sigur Ros, Secret Garden, Ulrich Schnauss. I’m thankful for music that is fun and thought-provoking like Switchfoot, Hillsong United, Matisyahu, Andy Hunter. And I’m thankful for all the countless hymnwriters who used their gifts to create music that has lasted for decades because of the truth that rings forth from their work. I’m especially thankful for the men and women who wrote Jesus Paid It All, Rock of Ages Cleft for Me, Amazing Grace, Great is Thy Faithfulness, Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing, God Moves in a Mysterious Way, Whate’er My God Ordains is Right, In Christ Alone, The Power of the Cross, How Deep the Father’s Love for Us, And Can It Be, It Is Well, and Hallelujah! What a Savior.
8 ) Doctrinal Words. Especially words that we don’t talk about much in ordinary conversation like regeneration and sustaining grace. They are rich words, containing so much about God and so much about man. I would be lost without God, and doctrinal words help me explore the nuances of who God is more deeply.
9) Blogging. It forces me to think through things more deeply. Clarity often comes through writing, and things I’ve thought have often proven to be untenable once I’m forced to form an argument for it.
10) Facebook. I’m thankful that Facebook lets me keep in touch with a much wider group of friends than I would be able to otherwise.
1. It has become incredibly trendy to portray Jesus primarily as a Jewish rabbi. It seems to be assumed that we can only truly understand Jesus if we dive into His culture and cultural conditioning, as His true and pure message is obscured by our Western way of thinking. While Jesus certainly did minister within a particular cultural context, He did not teach His message in such a way that only that particular culture could understand it. The gospel is transcultural. And Jesus Christ preached it that way. He, the One who has declared the end from the beginning, intentionally spoke with you and me in mind, 200+ years after He physically walked the earth. While the average man off the streets of Nazareth would be practically unable to function in our world today (without a lot of tutoring), the gospel itself is just as clear, relevant, and effective for changing lives as it ever has been. Over-Judaizing Jesus does nothing but obscure the life-giving message that the world desperately needs to hear.
2. We are meant to intensely long for heaven. There’s a young man in the youth group who has a front-row ticket to a concert by his favorite band. I know this because he mentions it almost every time I see him. He lives with great expectation that very soon he will participate in something he’s waited a long time for. Longing for heaven in like that. It’s understanding that even the greatest joy I’ve ever had on this earth is but there merest shadow of what awaits. Heaven is my home. It is my hope. And this allows me to bear much more than I could otherwise. Sickness isn’t so defeating when I see that one day, very soon I will be free of it. I can bear the constant frustrations of wrestling with entangling sin because I know that one day soon there will be no more roller coaster victory-defeat-victory-defeat pattern, the joy of triumph. Persecution, betrayal, loneliness, pain, suffering, grief–it’s not all that bad because one day, very soon it will all end. And not just be taken away. But rather replaced by joy that is so great I could never describe it.
3. It is hard to be biblical while teaching topically. It is so easy to bend texts to make them say what I want them to say; to search for translations that give the nuances I’ve already determined I want to draw out before considering what the text really has to say. It’s incredibly easy to teach an entirely biblical message and do the Bible a great injustice. To do so is to preach my own insight and wisdom, not the Word. And my insight and wisdom has no staying power, no ability to change lives. It is only the Word of God that is sharper than any two-edged sword, able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. If I do anything other than bring the Word and nothing but the Word to bear on people’s lives, then I’m failing as a teacher. Illustrations, examples, humor–all is good, but only if it is used to drive home the message.
4. The Lord has been teaching me much about contentment. It is not easy to graduate from Master’s. It’s hard to leave behind the conversations in the dorms and the small groups and the close-knit friendships established by walking with one another in every aspect of life through thick and thin. It is so easy to find joy and happiness in that rather than in the Lord Himself. The church is a very different community than the college. There’s more space in between peoples’ lives. It’s harder to get to know somebody on an intimate level. And that’s hard to get used to. In some ways I don’t want to get used to it. Having seen the transforming power of God displayed through friendships I see the potential in the church for a wise, self-sacrificing, other-sanctifying culture. Because there is a lot of wisdom that exists in the church that does not exist in a college culture where everyone is between the ages of 17 and 23. The difficulty in college is finding wisdom. The difficulty in the church is tapping into that wisdom. My church has just started a men’s discipleship program, and I’m excited to see us taking the step of being intentional in our relationships. The people of God have so much to offer one another.
5. A man I really respect said this about personal devotions: “It’s one thing to give the church’s time to your walk with the Lord. It’s another to give your time to your walk with the Lord.” It is hard to come home after studying at the church and jump into the Word again, this time for myself. While I think there certainly is an overlap between personal devotions and preparation for a sermon or message, it just isn’t the same thing. In order for me to preach passionately, I must have had my heart pierced by the Word, my complacent sinfulness rubbed against the ragged-edged purity of God’s truth. And yet, it is so, so easy to professionalize brokenness and contriteness of spirit. To be in the Word only in the office is to functionally compartmentalize my life. And the heart always follows what you functionally do. If my life outside the pulpit is to be vibrant with the truth of God’s Word, I must be immersing myself within the truth of God’s Word outside the pulpit.
6. I’m outside on my back porch and coyotes just began howling. I hate being alone outside in the dark. And I hate coyotes. I’m now inside where it’s nice and bright and they can’t get me, unless these particular coyotes descended from those half-crazed The Day After Tomorrow wolves.
I’m currently smack in the middle of my second cross-country road trip in the last three months. The Lord has blessed me with a job as a pastoral intern at a church in California. (Hopefully I’ll be able to write more about it in the weeks to come.) The last three days have been spent driving through Nebraska, Colorado, and southern Utah. I’ve taken time to visit a couple friends along the way who have been kind enough to open their homes up to me. Three days with Blaise Selby and Andrew Meredith as hosts is about as good as it gets.
I’ve passed the time with audio books of Crazy Love by Francis Chan, The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane, and Rick Holland’s 13-part sermon series titled A Roadmap for Righteous Relationships. The trip has yielded good time for thinking and some personal firsts. In no particular order:
1. Andrew’s dad, Steve, woke me up yesterday morning to show me a brown bear rummaging through garbage about 30 feet from the Meredith’s house. The only bears I’ve ever seen have been behind bars in the zoo. For a city boy from California, wildlife other than rabbits and bubonic plague carrying squirrels is a foreign concept.
2. Bear-proof trash containers are practically human-proof as well. It’s harder to throw away a plastic water bottle in Lake City, CO than it is to swipe the President from Fort Knox after a terrorist strike.
3. I set a new personal record for highest elevation:12,805 feet. (Engineer Summit, CO) Incidentally, I also set a new personal record for highest elevation while eating a can of tuna: 12,805 feet at Engineer Summit, CO.
4. My car got an astounding 49.5 miles to the gallon from Colorado Springs to Gunnison. 173 miles, 3.5 gallons of gas. And that’s with everything I own except my office chair and cap and gown in the back seat and trunk. I’d be disinclined to believe that gas mileage, but I filled up my tank before leaving Colorado Springs. Not believing that I only used 3.5 gallons, I tried to continue pumping gas after the automatic shut off kicked in, but it shut off two more times before I gave up.
5. The most moral (Utah) and the most amoral (Nevada) states sit right next to each other on the map. One state touts its emphasis on family and conservative values, the other its reputation as the home of “Sin City.” Like the men of Sodom and the self-righteous Pharisees, both will be found equally lacking before the judgment seat of God.
6. Good Christian biography focuses on who the man or woman is rather than on what they did. Spiritually edifying biographies essentially have God as the main character, not the missionary or pastor.
7.The earth just looks like it had a monster flood at some point.
Just a few minutes ago, a buddy from the dorm stopped by to see if I could give his friend a ride to LAX at 4 AM tomorrow morning. He would have driven his friend himself, but my stick-shift car thwarted that possibility.
Though I happily agreed to drive him, I prayed that God would provide someone with an automatic! Five minutes later, another friend stopped by and mentioned he was heading to LAX at 3:30 tomorrow morning.
It’s something small. God didn’t cure someone of cancer here tonight. But God is pleased to answer many of the “small” prayer requests. I want to praise Him for that tonight.
God blesses us, that all the ends of the earth may fear Him.
A few weeks ago, I was asked to write an article about life outside the classroom at The Master’s College. I don’t know if they decided to use this in The Current or not, but I thought it would be good to publish here, if only as a reminder of how great life at TMC is. The dorms have changed my life. I hope they’re changing yours.
I spent some time a couple nights ago browsing through journals of my time here at Master’s. It was fun remembering the faithfulness of God in hard situations, seeing Him transform my thinking, laughing over funny stories that I had forgotten. And yet in the midst of everything I’ve written about the last three years, I couldn’t find a singe paragraph about academics. This certainly wasn’t intentional. I didn’t plan to ignore what consumes a large percentage of my week. Rather, I write about what I care about. About what really matters to me. About what creates joy and laughter, sorrow and dependence. About what draws me closer to the Lord and grows my ability to minister to my brothers and sisters. If I’m honest, the most meaningful education I’ve received at Master’s hasn’t come in the classroom, but rather in the dorms.
When I think of Master’s, I think of men who have had an impact on my life through the way they talked, lived, and pursued me in community. My understanding of the gospel transitioned from of the realm of intellectual ideas to my hands and feet as I watched people live every moment under the Word of God. Howard Hendricks says “Christianity is more caught than taught.” I fully agree with him, for there is no more powerful way to communicate gospel truth into someone’s life than to grab them by the wrist and say I’m following Christ, come with me.
I’ll never forget the first time someone challenged my superficial expectations of relationships. During my freshman year I was moving my laundry from washer to dryer when a senior asked me how things were in my room. I said something along the lines of “We’re just different, you know.” He looked at me and genuinely said, “No, I don’t know.” That was the first time someone my age asked me a question because they wanted to minister the gospel into my life, rather than to determine if we had enough in common to be playmates. At that moment I realized that I was at a fork in the road. Answering the question meant taking the risk to tell this person I really didn’t know well that I didn’t like my roommates, was struggling to keep up in classes, and was feeling pretty lonely. With a great amount of fear and trepidation, I invited someone into my life for the first time. I can’t even remember what he said to me in the rest of that conversation, but the fact that he pursued me opened my eyes to see that I was missing something. I’d never seen or been a part of a peer relationship where someone had said “Christ pursued me to the cross. Because of that, come hell or high water I’m not running way from you. Even when you sin. Come, let’s experience the grace of God together.”
Halfway through my sophomore year I began to feel as though the Lord was leading me towards pastoral ministry instead of law school. In the process I had lunch with my RD to talk about the wisdom of changing majors. Little did I know that this one conversation would turn into a discipleship relationship which would open up a whole new world I didn’t know existed. He invited me into his life, and I saw what it means to live a radical, on-edge, uncompromising life motivated by the understanding that to live is Christ, and to die is gain.
Only when I came to understand that truth—life is Christ, death is gain—did the joy of pursuing people become real to me. The gospel is risk. It is not safe. Jesus doesn’t give disclaimers, He gives commands. And none of them are comfortable. Nothing other than the indwelling of the Holy Spirit could explain why it is a joy to love hard-to-love people. Nothing other than the indwelling of the Holy Spirit could explain why I’m willing to take a stand for pure speech. Unless Christ is the treasure and the treasure is everything to me, pursuing people doesn’t make sense. Because it hurts. It’s messy. And things don’t always turn out okay. But Christ’s pursuit of me led Him to a cross, and the sting of unkind words hurled at me is nothing compared to the whip of a Roman executioner and the wrath of a holy God.
Life in the dorms isn’t training for something else. It’s real, authentic ministry in the present. Real souls are saved at Master’s. The real Satan is trying desperately to overthrow this campus’ love for God. The real Savior stirs hearts in faith. When I started writing, I wanted to make sure I had room to talk about my roommate who looked at me one night with terror-stricken eyes and said in quiet tones “I’m not sure if I’m saved.” And about the joy of watching a wingmate strive to grow in his ability to relate to people. And about the sadness of having someone walk in and say “My grandpa just died. I think he’s in hell right now.” But there’s too much to tell. Even as I write these down, I can think of conversation after conversation where my hurting brothers and I met anew the tender love of Christ. This hasn’t happened in the classroom. It’s happened in small moments like brushing my teeth, going to Wal-Mart, or throwing away rotten watermelon. Because college is both the boot camp and the battle. I’m being trained for a life of joyful service to Christ as part of His church. And yet the battle is here. Now. The real war isn’t fought in the tactics room of academics. It’s fought in the trenches. When we’re charging the hill behind our captain Jesus Christ, there’s no greater confidence than to look to the right and left and see faithful men who aren’t scared of the battle, and, come hell or high water, who won’t run away.