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

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3 Year Olds and Mogadishu: How Smashed Graham Crackers Compel Me to Love

Last Sunday, I began my descent into a world heretofore largely unknown. A world of smashed graham crackers, Brio trains being fought over like a seat on the last chopper out of Vietnam, and detailed conversations about superhero comic picture books that I’m apparently supposed to be intimately familiar with. Welcome to the 3 year old’s Sunday School. I’ve been around 3 year olds before, plenty of them. But it’s always been in numbers of 1 or 2, not a whole herd.

During our singing time, our fearless leader Joe led the kids in a song that I haven’t heard for 15 years but found still imprinted deep within the recesses of my mind.

I may never…
March in the infantry
Ride in the cavalry
Shoot the artillery
I may never fly o’er the enemy
But I’m in the Lord’s Army.

Looking back, I had three distinct thoughts about this song, written here in order:

1) How do I still know this?

2) This is a rather curious song. Following Christ is equated with being a member of an army that is not exactly an army. The etymology of this song would be an interesting study. It bears a marked resemblance to the “muscular Christianity” societies of the early 1890s – 1920s, connected with the Salvation Army and other movements that used militant metaphors to describe spiritual pursuits. Songs such as the Battle Hymn of the Republic, Soldiers of Christ in Truth Arrayed, and Onward Christian Soldiers grew out of this culture milleu, which was also rather postmillennial. What was this song’s sitz-im-leben? (A German higher critical technical term meaning setting-in-life.)

3) What the heck is seminary doing to me, that I’m analyzing a six-line children’s jingle for it’s socio-religious heritage?

As I’ve grown in knowledge of the content of the Scriptures and the various moods of interpretation that have swept Christianity throughout the ages, I’ve discovered just how dangerous knowledge is. Seminary is full of deconstruction. We tear apart a passage, learning the possible translations and the various interpretations of the passage held by those men that we would consider theological mentors. We take history classes and learn how cultural pressures oftentimes drive hermeneutics, giving rise to both good and bad perspectives on the Scriptures. We counsel people from the Scriptures, helping them connect dots within their own lives that they’re not able to connect themselves.We have no reason to wonder that Paul wrote 1 Corinthians 8:1? “[K]nowledge puffs up, but love builds up.”

Last summer I read Black Hawk Down, the account of a failed military expedition deep within the heart of Mogadishu by a large contingent of Army Rangers. Embedded with the Rangers, who are the Army’s elite and specially trained soldiers, were a company from Delta Force, the “D-Boys.” The D-Boys are America’s most highly trained soldiers, the kind who are given a blank check by the government and told “buy whatever you want to carry into combat.” The arrogance of the D-Boys did little to diffuse any sense of competition between the two units. One sentence in particular crystallized the attitude of the camp: In the minds of the highly-trained D-Boys, the Rangers seemed like little more than an untrained rabble fresh from boot camp, a liability in the field who were certain to get themselves killed.

Do we do this as we complain about how many seminary students are at a church, then proudly proclaim we go to a “real” church, intimating that the reality of a church is defined by the lack of formal theological education in the pew rather than the one being worshipped? Do we do this as we contemplate how much more deserving we are of accolades than the man or woman who is recognized for their service to the Lord, cynically attributing their success to inside-track relationships? Do we do this as we write people off mentally for their weaknesses, believing them to be little more than barely-cognizant rabble fit for only the thirty-five person church that is simply delighted anyone would want to come and minister amidst the cornfields?

Love builds up, says Paul. Sometimes it’s harder to rejoice with the rejoicing than weep with the weeping, especially when they’re rejoicing for something you want but was given to them instead. A great test to see how much we truly love our brothers and sisters is to see how easily our heart bursts forth into praise when the Lord uses them in some great opportunity that we were not given. A competitive heart will seethe with envy, though the lips may be smiling. A Christlike heart actually feels those statements of congratulation that are necessarily being offered.

I looked it up, and I’m in the Lord’s Army was written anonymously and has no known copyright. I can’t prove it’s origins. And a wonderful thing of working with the 3 year olds is that they don’t care. They want me to untangle their hair from their nametag, give them their graham crackers, and help them memorize their verse. They want me to read them a story about Jesus, play with the Hot Wheels with them, and demonstrate that I care. There is no theological arms race in the 3 year old classroom. It’s kind of nice. And it calls me to be better than I usually am.

Laden with Guilt

This is a beautiful hymn, proven time and again by our own experience, is it not? Perhaps one of the most stunning claims we make as Christians is that we have a book that accomplishes far more than any other printed material. We claim that reading a text and believing in faith is used by God to actually change us.

Laden with guilt and full of fears,
I fly to Thee, my Lord,
And not a glimpse of hope appears,
But in Thy written Word
The volumes of my Father’s grace
Does all my griefs assuage
Here I behold my Savior’s face
In every page.

This is the field where, hidden, lies
The pearl of price unknown
That merchant is divinely wise
Who makes the pearl his own
Here consecrated water flows
To quench my thirst of sin
Here the fair tree of knowledge grows,
No danger dwells within.

This is the judge that ends the strife,
Where wit and reason fail
My guide to everlasting life
Through all this gloomy vale
Oh may Thy counsels, mighty God,
My roving feet command,
Nor I forsake the happy road
That leads to Thy right hand.

–Isaac Watts

Lord, All that I Would Ask

Lord,
All that I would ask
Is that when dusk falls on my task,
When all my tears are in your jar,
The land is trod, both near and far,
When those few scattered seeds have grown
Among the world, among my own,
Is that I still be found in you.

For peals of thunder, lightning, rain,
Fire, ice, and searing pain,
These are the days of man

And as I stand scarce past the start
I am already losing heart
Though I have just begun.

And if the race with man has drained
Me of my strength what can remain
When fleeter foes arrive?

Lord,
All that I would want
Is that when felled amidst the hunt,
When friend and foe alike have done
Their all to prove I’m not a son,
When wounded, battered, and struck down,
And trembling ‘neath a thorny crown,
Is that I still be found in you.

Written in response to John Piper’s message at the 2012 T4G Conference. To hear his message, click here

Belief as Identity

A man who holds every opinion so close to his chest that it merges with his heart will have few listeners and fewer friends.

What Are You Reading?

1. One Book You’re Currently Reading: The Road by Cormac McCarthy

2. The Last Book You Finished: Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hands by Paul David Tripp

3. The Next Book You’ll Read: The Servant King by T. Desmond Alexander

4. What’s on the Shelf Begging to be Read: Revival and Revivalism by Iain Murray