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Profundity

Father,
My heart far more does pound
For want of being thought profound
Than care for lack of grace.
My face
Displays the eyes of one
Who’d rather be a slave than son
So long as I was praised.
Amazed
I am at these truths twain:
I sin and you forgive again.

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In Honor of Peter and Vanessa Bugbee (A Poem)

When God at first made man
Having a glass of blessings standing by
Let us (he said) pour on him all we can
Let the world’s riches, which dispensed lie
Contract into a span

But what the Godhead knew
That Adam yet had sight to ascertain
For all the wisdom that he was imbued
There was still left a dark, unhappy stain
For he was one, not two

Amidst the grand review
As all the beasts were made to walk a span
Then Adam felt what God already knew
That lonely virtue did not fit the man
Though all his thoughts be true

And as man felt his need
Resounding loud and deep within his soul
The first few wisps of supernatural sleep
Spoke of provision that would make him whole
A joy to touch him deep

At sight it became plain
As Adam first spied she of fairer face
That spans of blessing often bear a name
And there beneath the canopies of grace
Perfection knew no shame

And though they rent to dust
Every goodness save for God alone
An image still was placed within their trust
A shadow of the love that would atone
And make the unjust just

And we in weakness
Through generations ever passing on
Seek to trace what renders angels speechless
The gospel of our Savior, Heaven’s Son
Who as His bride would claim us

It is of this delight
The present joys would dare anticipate
As bride and groom employ to give us sight
Of our eternal, ever happy fate
And futures ever bright

For the Occasion of Peter and Vanessa Bugbee’s Wedding
Upland, CA
June 16th, 2012
by George Herbert & Nate Brooks

What to do Amidst the Fray?

Right now there are…

  • Abortions being performed in Louisville
  • Tomato pickers being oppressed in California
  • Brick masons being enslaved in India
  • Girls being raped for profit in the Philippines
  • Husbands who are forced to work on fishing boats in the Atlantic and Pacific who will then be shot and thrown overboard after the fishing season closes
  • Coffee growers being exploited in Bolivia
  • Families being killed in Sudan because of the tribe they’re from
  • Orphans being made in South Africa by AIDS
  • Retiring missionaries not being replaced because there is not enough financial support for replacements.
  • Believers being martyred in Saudi Arabia
  • Political prisoners being used as lab rats for poison gas testing in North Korea
  • Scientists refining nuclear fuel in Iran to be used for evil
  • Homeless wandering the streets of Atlanta
  • Teenagers driven into drug trafficking by poverty and peer pressure in Detroit
  • Children being taught in schools in Berkley that homosexuality is as normal as heterosexuality
  • Power players swinging dirty deals for political gain in Washington
  • Murders happening in Tulsa
  • Children sorting through heaps of garbage in Phnom Penh to keep from starving
  • Kind hearted husbands and wives who want to adopt but cannot because of a lack of money

As much as they all break my heart, and the heart of every Christ-follower with me, the sad truth of the matter is that I am utterly powerless to influence almost every single one of these evils. I can tear up at the videos of starving children and be outraged at abuse and horrified at corruption, and yet none of those actually work towards any kind of solution. None work toward alleviating the suffering experienced by those who share God’s marred creation with me.

So what do we do when we stare across the landscape of our 21st century world and realize the shockwaves of the curse have crumbled to pieces far more than we could ever piece back together? Withdrawal is always an option, an option embraced at different times by different Christian groups. “If the world,” they say, “is going to hell in a handbasket, then let them go.” But this does not seem to capture the spirit of Christ declaring that what is done to the least of these is done to him. It does not seem to explain his meals with prostitutes and tax collectors and consistent seeking out of those marginalized by society.

It is here in acts of Christ we see how we might seek to both roll back the curse and not lose our sanity as we stare down the enormity of evil clutching our world. Wherever Christ went, he did good. He did not journey to Rome and topple the pagan Roman government. But he did cast out demons from Roman soldier’s sons. He did not topple the corrupted Sadducee’s stranglehold on the temple economy. But he did clear them out twice with a whip when he was in Jerusalem.

We cannot each individually address all of the evils in our world. But we are placed in unique situations with unique interests, meant to channel our God-given abilities, gifts, and resources toward the redemption of that sphere of life. I live in a dorm of college men who aspire to be preachers. And so talk  of fellowship and purity and community and doctrine and love of the brethren will dominate my time and energy. Evangelism will not. But you are in a different place. Be faithful there, and I will seek to be faithful here. And as we go and you meet the Indian refugee whose family escaped from the brick masonry slave pits, you will throw yourself into that cause. And I will meet someone else with a different past, and we will concentrate on that evil to be unwound.

We’re not individually called to address every single issue that we might within the world. Rather we’re called to do good, preach the gospel, and live out gospel implications in a contagious manner to whomever the Lord would have us meet. And I will delight in your ministry and pray for you, as you delight in mine and pray for me. Let us all seek to be faithful in our tempestuous world. We’ll see you in the fray.

Theology Was Made for Man, Not Man for Theology

Theology was made for man, not man for theology. Jesus said something along those lines at one point, taking aim at a group of conceited religious leaders whose gaze had drifted from the bright light of divine revelation to the dim and smoldering wicks of human thought. They thought that they were safeguarding the Law of God. In reality, they were keeping people from knowing the God of the Law through their doctrines of men.

We are conditioned to think of the Pharisees as bad guys. So when we hear that our righteousness must exceed that of the Scribes and Pharisees we hear something along the lines of “Your righteousness must exceed that of Mao.” The Pharisees after all, killed Jesus. Mao did the same to Christians. Or maybe “Your righteousness must exceed that of Eminem.” After all, the Pharisees were blasphemers of the worst kind. Eminem probably gives them a run for their money.

But the Pharisees were not bad guys to the people of the day. They were us. They were the conservatives of their day, abominating the spiritual liberalism of the Sadducees who denied the resurrection from the dead and dismissed every Scripture after Moses as being uninspired. They hated the Herodians who loved favor and pomp above worshipping Yahweh, allying themselves with the perverted Herods for the sake of temporal gain. And they weren’t the Essenes, who responded to corruption with complete withdrawal from society in an attempt to create a pure society free of doctrinal corruption at the expense of any kind of care for the world.

So when Jesus speaks to the crowds “I tell you unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matt 5:20), they gasp in horror, for they know that righteousness above that of the scribes and Pharisees was impossible. If the entrance exam for heaven required such precision that men who spent their entire lives copying, reading, and interpreting the Torah could not pass it, then all were to be damned.

But all was not well for the Pharisees. Under their care, the people of Israel were as sheep without a shepherd. Not that they were without men who claimed to be shepherds, but that the Pharisees were nothing more than the tattered clothes of a scarecrow flapping in the wind. Under their care, the people constantly heard their phrase uttered with great gravity and pomp: The burden of Torah is weighty. Under their care, the people were made doubly sons of hell, for they imagined themselves to be pleasing the Lord through enslaving ritual.

“I am the good Shepherd.”

“Come to me, all who are weary and heavy laden. Take my yoke upon you, for my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

“I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

Few instances highlight the oppressive dogma of the Pharisees and the joy-filled liberation that Jesus brings than a showdown over the Sabbath. After hearing them condemning the disciples for their picking grain heads to ease their hunger on the Sabbath, Jesus turns to the Pharisees and poses a question to them. Did David sin when he ate the bread that only the priests were supposed to eat?

No.

And then the line “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.” The Pharisees did not understand that the ritualistic provisions of Torah were made for their own good and betterment. They were incensed when on the Sabbath Jesus restores the shriveled arm of a man long crippled. Because it was work. And good Jews don’t work on the Sabbath.

I don’t think the Pharisees and Jesus would have disagreed over which commandments could lay claim to being the greatest and second greatest. After all, it is a scribe who declares that the greatest commandment is to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength; and that the second is to love your neighbor as yourself. But I do think that Jesus and the Pharisees would have disagreed about the definition of love. Jesus seems to define it by compassion, and the Pharisees seem to define it as minute theological precision.

For Jesus, to love God means to love God. For the Pharisees, to love God means to be as nuanced as possible in your theology about him. For Jesus, to love neighbor means to love neighbor. For the Pharisees, to love neighbor means to condemn them for failing to live up to the Pharisees’ own doctrinal systems. If man didn’t match up with their theology, then man was not to be loved.

And this is what I mean by “Theology was made for man, not man for theology.” The revelation of God as found in the Scriptures is so that we might know and love God. This is its purpose. Jesus Christ, the Word himself, came to reveal to us the Father through his life, death, burial, resurrection, and ascension. Our theological systems exist as gasoline on the fire of love and devotion, not as the fire itself. They are the points on the scoreboard that make up the victory, but they are not the trophy hoisted amidst the shower of champaign. God does not bring us to himself to give us information, he gives us information to bring us to himself. That’s the nature of revelation–How will they believe (greater end) in him whom they have never heard (lesser end).

Our pursuit of doctrinal purity and precision is a good thing. The higher the octane, the hotter the fire. But doctrinal purity is not the goal. We were saved to do something, and that was to love. As hesitant as we are about the word, love is the only verb in both the first and second greatest commandment. Man was not made for theology, but rather it was made for us, that we might experience the joy that is loving God and those whom he has made.

Humiliating: Thoughts on Ransom and Identity

It is humiliating to have my identity be Jesus Christ. I am not Jesus. I am Nate Brooks of Atascadero, California; not Jesus of Nazareth. Nate Brooks won the AWANA clubber of the year award at the C&M Alliance church in Elma, Washington in the 3rd grade. Jesus of Nazareth did not. Nate Brooks’ first theology book was RC Sproul’s Chosen By God, picked up and devoured in the 10th grade. Jesus of Nazareth’s was not. Nate Brooks was named Most Inspirational Player on his high school basketball team, Jesus of Nazareth was not. Nate Brooks graduated as valedictorian of his high school. Jesus of Nazareth did not.

Nate Brooks stayed up late into the night with his friend, watching the deepening shadows of the evening describe yet again the deepening clouds of depression begin to eclipse the wonders of the gospel in his affections. Jesus of Nazareth did not. Nate Brooks cut his teeth in preaching before a crowd of rehabilitating drug addicts, listening to the most off-key praises sung to the Lord you could ever imagine, but with a gusto that brought tears to his eyes. Jesus of Nazareth did not preach there. Nate Brooks served alongside a very faithful pastor for a year, teaching the youth group what it means to be wise in a very unwise world. Jesus of Nazareth did not do this either. And Nate Brooks is in seminary, writes a blog and gets good grades. Jesus of Nazareth scores a zero yet again.

Jesus of Nazareth is a man who lived and died 2000 years ago in a place of the world I’ve never been and will probably never visit. His life bears very little resemblance to mine. I drive, He walked. My days are spent with books and conversation, his were filled with stonecutting. I’ve driven over the western part of the United States. He never ventured more than a 100 miles from the place of his birth. And most strikingly I’ve never even received a speeding ticket. He was crucified as an insurrectionist.

It is humiliating to have my identity be Jesus Christ. Seen through the eyes of unbelief, my life is virtuous. It’s moral. There are no glaring weaknesses or dark stains to hide. But seen through the eyes of true understanding I’ve left a wasteland in my path. I wreak destruction upon the universe, and if I was the only one upon the earth, it would groan for release from me. Even after I accepted Jesus Christ ten years ago, even after my heart has been regenerated and I have been given the desires to do what is right every footfall sounds insufficiency.

This is why I have been bought with a price. And that price was not something trifling like silver or gold, the metals that men give to those they care most about, and the metals that men fight and kill each other over. A price of gold or silver would have been insufficient. “You were ransomed” says Peter, “from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things like silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot” (1 Peter 1:18-19). And how does this reshuffle my identity? “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me” (Galatians 2:20).

Either Jesus Christ is my entire identity, or I am hopeless. My only hope lies in having an intercessor, a man who can stand before the great Judge and say “Count my life, not his.” This is humiliating. Absolutely humiliating. The kingdom of God is home to no self-made man. It is home to men and women who have renounced their own identities, their own claim to having anything within them or done by them to qualify themselves to stand before the bench and be sentenced to anything other than death. Jesus Christ is our identity or we are undone.

What Once I Relished, I Now Mourn

Matthew 23 is a terrifying passage. I used to read it with relish, delighting in Jesus’ dissection of the Pharisees in front of his disciples and the weighty masses. Now I read it with tears and trepidation, sorrowful over the deluded state of the blinded Pharisees and grave over the realization that self-deception is a terrible master.

Self-deception as a category is horrifying. It does not equate to blindness, for the blind know they lack something others possess, even if sight is an imaginary concept to them. They understand they’re missing something. It does not equate to slavery, for the slave understands that he is not free, that he is doing the bidding of another man. Rather it is blind slavery, as the hapless victim of self-deception is blind to the reality that he is not as free as he thinks. He is bound by heavy chains and thinks them wings.

Which means no man ever considers himself to be self-deceived. The second comprehension of his self-deception flashes across his mind, it transitions from self-deception to choice. Will he continue living in willful servitude, or will he cast off the cords that bind him?

The Pharisees were convinced of their rightness. They were convinced their rules and regulations pleased God, served God, worshipped God. They judged the liberal Sadducees as playing fast and loose with the Law, rightfully condemning them for their faithlessness. And so the seas watched the Pharisees skate across them, men on a mission to save their brothers. And they were saving them into deeper slavery, self-deluded men making others self-deluded as well.

This is haunting. What if I am self-deceived? What if I either do not trust the gospel or have misread the gospel and stand therefore condemned? What if what I call sincere devotion to the Lord is not that at all, but genuine affection for Him is something that I cannot even conceive of, for no one can picture life with God as Father without actually being in that relationship?

These questions could be paralyzing. But being paralyzed by them would not answer them. My answer to them is simple, and it is the cornerstone of the gospel. God did it. Dive deep into the soil of my faith in Jesus Christ, and there rests as absolute bedrock the belief that I am reconciled to God because God wants me to be reconciled to Him. And what God wants will happen. My hope is in God, not in myself. And anything other than that could never be considered to be good news, for I look at the train wreck that is my desires, my thoughts, my actions and realize that who I am could never please any deity.

Assumptions must exist for believing the gospel. I trust that the Bible is divine, that it is God’s communication to mankind for the purpose of making himself known. I trust that a straightforward reading of that book will yield an understandable message, which is the hope for humanity as a whole and myself as a person.

And so I believe that Jesus Christ is God become man for the purpose of buying back a people from enslavement to sin. I believe that he stands as an intercessor between the Father and me, absorbing all the wrath and providing a way for my adoption as a son of God. I believe that it is through the renouncing of any work I could do and placing my singular hope upon Christ’s intervention for me as sufficient that His work is applied to me. And I pray that if there be self-deception in this that God would be merciful to reveal it to me, that I might indeed know Him.

Jesus Died to Save Us From Our Theology

Does theology ever make you miserable? Torn between the poles of opposing positions where biblical and historical evidence seems to lie on both sides. Should I believe that the miraculous gifts have ceased, dying out as the apostle John yielded up his last faithful breaths? Or should I believe that those gifts have continued and the ghost-town nature of modern faith in such has stymied the miraculous? Should I believe that the spikes and the nails and the full cup of the Father’s wrath was poured out upon the Son for the elect only? Or did Christ offer himself as a sacrifice for the entire expanse of the human race, but applied only to those who turn in humble belief in their own ability to save themselves? And what do we make of the wonderful and labyrinthine words of the Apocalypse of John, scene upon scene that bedazzles and befuddles? Is Jesus coming back to rule for a thousand years? Or is the millennial kingdom marching forward towards completion as you read this?

These are hard questions, questions that I myself often struggle to answer. The texts and philosophies and hermeneutical models stack up in convincing piles, only to be countered by the next view in rational and compelling ways. In an environment where theology is valued, where careful analysis of the text is prized, it is easy to begin the ever-so-subtle drift of heart from worshiping Christ for who he is to worshiping Christ for the theological system his death and resurrection created. If we’re miserable when we wrestle through theological questions, it’s because we’re worshipping systems instead of a Savior.

Christ died to save us from our theology. And the misery we often feel as we pressure ourselves to “get it right” is a product of us finding our identity in theological perfectionism rather than the perfection of a Person who is our intercessor. I believe in believer’s baptism. I could be wrong. I believe that miraculous gifts have ceased. I could be wrong. I believe that believers will go through the tribulation, after which the millennial kingdom will begin. I’m praying that I’m wrong. But my identity before the men and before the Lord is none of these things. My identity is Jesus Christ crucified. Not my theological system.

Who do we run to when the well is dry and the heavens are as brass? The Valley of Vision, or Psalm 42 and Ezekiel’s Valley of Dry Bones?

When the money flow ebbs and the pressure mounts what path do we trod? Psalm 23 or the Gospel According to Dave Ramsey?

When someone dares reproach our treasured doctrine of election who is our chief advocate? John Piper or Ephesians 1?

Too often we trade the gasoline for exhaust and then grow angry when the car of our delight in God won’t start. All of these men have wise words, words that comfort and teach and correct. But all their words are exhaust, by-products of a heart consumed with the God revealed in Scripture. Why are we content to trade the white-hot flame of a heart fed by Scripture for the wheezing engine trying to run off the passion and joy of another man? Enough of the pre-processed. Give us the raw meat of the Word of God, and let us prove our doctrine by our Scriptures.

If we ignore our Bibles for the sake of words about the Bible, we will grow miserable. The heart will be consumed by what its time is spent imbibing. A boat always takes on the water it’s floating in. I pray for you and I pray for myself that as our time is spent reading wonderful things about the Bible – history, languages, nuances, hermeneutics – they wouldn’t become our pagan gods. No matter how pure my theology is, it will never reconcile us to God. Only one man was perfect. And our identity rests in him and him alone.