Mining Grace

…the more happiness you have, the more I shall count myself glorified

Archive for September 2007

Nota Bene 09.28.07

Church Planting – Al Mohler expresses some of his encouragement and concern about the current Evangelical movement towards church planting in North America.

Vaccinations and Abortion – My dear wife chronicles our horrific discovery of the link between some vaccines and embryonic stem cells from aborted children.


Written by Joe Holland

September 28, 2007 at 9:37 am

Don’t Read This Book

I just returned from vacation.  I usually put a little bit of thought into what book I’m going to bring on vacation.  This time I was trying to decide between finishing up Sin and Temptation by John Owen (ed. Taylor and Kapic) and beginning The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment by Jeremiah Burroughs.  I figured that Sin and Temptation would be pretty heavy reading for vacation and I would rather have something more light and encouraging.  Boy was I wrong.

I should have learned my lesson in college.  I was a Chemistry major.  When picking classes I learned early to take as few classes as possible that had required laboratory hours.  For those English nerds majors out there, the lab work was in addition to the class work and usually entailed three to four hours in a lab followed by five to ten hours of producing a lab report.  I hated labs almost as much as producing lab reports.  That is probably one of the reasons I’m a pastor now and not a Chemist.

Imagine my surprise when I discovered on vacation that in the divine course registry of God, right beside The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment, stood the words laboratory hours required.  From the minute I read Burrough’s first page, I found myself in the school of Christ, the laboratory of God.  I would close the book and immediately I was thrust into some new situation to test whether or not I was finding my contentment in Christ.

How did I do in this course?  I failed miserably.  I discovered, to my horror, that I am one of the least content people I know.  This really was a significant shock.  I mean, I read the Puritans, listen to John Piper sermons, and love the first question of the Westminster Shorter Catechism.  I’m a minister!  Of course I’m content in Christ.  Nope, nope, and double nope.

What I am content with is my sin, my circumstances when they are comfortable, worldly joys, earthly pleasures, a Saturday when UVA wins a football game, and krispy kreme donuts.

Enter the gracious and sovereign hand of God into my vacation.

At each turn I found God ordained frustrations.  I was frustrated at the long drive.  I was frustrated when my children didn’t do what I wanted them to do.  I was frustrated with bug bites.  I was frustrated with sleeping in a bed that was not my own.  I was frustrated when I the mini-van I was driving was rear-ended on my last day of vacation.

Each of those frustrations was a lesson in the school of Christ.  Each of those frustrations challenged me to consider where I found my joy.  Though I detested them at the moment, I now count each of those frustrations precious.

The reason I count them precious is because they brought my wife and me to the realization that we were living a life that staked its hope on future pleasant circumstances.  We’d be happy when we arrived.  We’d be happy when the major driving was done.  We’d be happy when our boys adjusted to the new environment.  We’d be happy when we got home.  At each of those moments what I was really saying to God was, “God, what you’ve given me right now really isn’t that great but I have high hopes you’ll get it right in the near future.  I’m not content with what I have but I might be content if you give me better.”

What a bratty child I am to my heavenly Father.  What a denier of God’s sovereign grace I am.  What a snubber of God’s love I am.  What a rebellious son I am to my ring bearing, fattened calf killing God.

After this sweet prick of the heart, what my wife and I began to say to each other way, “This is as good as it gets.”  It wasn’t a phrase stolen from a movie.  It wasn’t even a resignation to difficult circumstances.  It was our honest attempt to see whatever we were immediately experiencing as the exact blessing that we needed at that moment directly delivered from the infinitely loving hands of God.  This was the first lesson that I learned about Christian contentment.  Contentment is not found in favorable circumstances.  Rather contentment is knowing that in any circumstance, God is most favorable toward me through his precious Son, the Lord Jesus Christ.  This only makes sense at the Cross.  The doors of God’s ultimate, infinite, and immutable love were opened wide upon me, of all people.  And every minute of my life, every experience, every motor vehicle collision, is the very sweetest gift from precious savior and exactly what I need.

So, at all costs, don’t read Burroughs’s book.  Unless you’re one of those people who actually believes that the rare jewel is worth finding.  God was pleased to shine some of its radiant facets on my soul last week.  I remain forever grateful, humbled, and longing for more.

Father, make me content in Christ alone.

Written by Joe Holland

September 27, 2007 at 10:35 pm

Nota Bene 09.26.07

More of the Same – Al Mohler chronicles the death rattle of the American Episcopal church.  Having grown up as an unbelieving Episcopalian, I have a heavy heart over the events of New Orleans this past week.

Encouragement – Mark Lauterbach writes about how a pastor should follow Paul’s example and encourage a congregation concerning Christ’s work in them.

Written by Joe Holland

September 26, 2007 at 1:58 pm

Does Funny Plus Bad Equal Good

While we were on vacation my three year old son asked a poignant question. Poignant questions from a three year old are few and far between so I figured I would chronicle it here.

After finishing up a bath, he turned to my wife and said with his questioning voice, “Mama, does bad plus funny equal good?” My wife and I looked at each other with puzzled expressions expecting to have to translate some silly version of toddler math until we realized what he was asking. Does bad plus funny equal good? That is a good question. We both answered “No” and proceeded to talk about how we sometimes use humor to mask right and wrong but that doesn’t make the bad into good.

I admit that I am part the culprit. There are times when one of my sons does something blatantly wrong yet outlandishly funny sending me into facial gesticulations trying to hold a firm brow without bursting out laughing. And I know you other parents have done the same thing. You walk into your bathroom only to find junior thoroughly covered in “mama’s libstish.” Or you find the art box scissors on the floor with swatches of toddler hair scattered about. Bad can be funny though not good. I certainly am not advocating a parenting model of a laughter no fly zone. But how would you answer my son, “Does funny plus bad equal good?”

The reason the question is so good is because it lays bare a common tendency to use humor to cover up sin. There is an unwritten code of social interaction that says, “if I can laugh at something it cannot be bad.” That statement taken a little bit further can come to be, “if I can laugh at something it must be good.” There is something about humor and laughter that makes us comfortable and more at ease. There are times when humor can be especially good for the soul. But there are also times that humor can be used inappropriately to make us more comfortable with topics that should be revolting.

This ability to use humor as a means of softening sin is most evident in film and television. I used to enjoy Saturday Night Live and a good slapstick movie. I can no longer find either without deviant sexuality or crude expletives wrapped in cheap laughs. Adultery apparently is funny. Homosexuality is apparently quite comedic. That iconic expletive covering bleep apparently is a side splitting riot. Gross disrespect to parents apparently is the modern equivalent of Who is on First. Funny plus bad may not be good but it does sell airtime and movie tickets.

I am reminded that any form of media can be used as a way to make us more comfortable with our sins. A moral philosopher can write a manifesto on libertine transcendentalism. Weeknight programming can portray inattentive and lazy fathers as objects of innocuous humor. Both are attempting to make people more comfortable with their sin. As the old adage goes, everyone is selling something. There is no such thing as meaningless humor. Comedic writers are not idiots. They know what they are doing. And we are buying.

But the appropriate reaction to the dangers of humor is not a call to empty moralism. Both are enemies to the cross. Anything that has the ability to make sin look good, whether it is the facade of good works or slide splitting laughter, should be held out as the arch weapon of Satan. Bad is not turned to good through humor. Sin covering humor is a false gospel. It is the empty promise of soul comfort to those enslaved by the brutality of sin. A man who laughs at mortal danger is not most brave but rather most foolish. Funny plus bad does not equal good. Jesus plus bad equals good. Jesus’s atoning death for sin makes sinners righteous. That is Christianity. Jesus didn’t come as a court jester. He came to take our filth and to offer his purity in return. He who knew no sin became sin that we might become the righteousness of God.

Jesus plus bad equals good.

Written by Joe Holland

September 25, 2007 at 9:55 pm

Posted in haste

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Nota Bene 09.25.07

I’m back from vacation and catching up on some blog reading.  Here is the first installment of some things you should note well (nota bene).

Reading – Challies gives his own and Richard Baxter’s hints on reading well.

Led Zeppelin – Carl Trueman responds to a Ref21 reader’s question about Trueman’s love of Led Zeppelin.  As a Led Zepplin fan, I especially appreciated his response.

Blogging? – Michael Haykin  briefly tries to answer what blogs are should be for.

Written by Joe Holland

September 25, 2007 at 8:03 am

Posted in haste

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I’m heading on a much needed vacation.  Posting will be sparse until my return.

Written by Joe Holland

September 13, 2007 at 6:25 pm

Posted in haste

Spiritual Body Odor

2 Corinthians 2:15-16 – For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life.

Paul has just finished giving an abbreviated version of his most recent travels. You can imagine that Paul, former conservative Jew turned Christian evangelist and missionary, received varying responses from people in the places to which he traveled. Christ still receives varied responses from those who consider him. Some people love Christ with a deep affection. Some people are relatively uninterested in Jesus. Some people are rather offended by what Jesus said and claimed to be. Others hate Jesus with intense hatred and labor to see his name blotted out wherever they can. How do we account for these differing responses?

Paul accounted for it this way. He smelled like Jesus. He had the fragrance of the King about him. He couldn’t get it off and everywhere he went it made people respond to him. Those responses were varied but people had to respond to the gospel he preached. This is a significant truth about the gospel of Jesus. People must respond to it. Someone cannot hear the gospel and leave unchanged. Hearing the message of salvation no matter what the response is a significant event in the life of any human being.

This truth was brought home to my heart reading one Puritan author’s reflections on the power of preaching. I confess I don’t remember who it was but his premise was that no one leaves any sermon unchanged. Rather everyone leaves the preaching of God’s Word either better fitted for heaven or better fitted for Hell. There are no apathetic listeners. There is no instance where the Word preached is ineffectual. It always does what the Lord intends of it in either softening or hardening the hearts of the hearers.

It is this that Paul is speaking on. Though the responses to his messages were varied, Paul narrowed them down to two.

To some, the spiritual aroma of Paul’s preaching smelled like life. Life is a hard scent to define. It is the smell of spring. It is the smell of the ocean after a thunderstrom. It is the smell of a new born baby after a bath. Life smells invigorating. That is what Paul says it is like for a believer to hear the gospel of Jesus. Even if they have heard it a thousand times, it is, after all, life. It is by definition invigorating.

To others though, the spiritual aroma of Paul’s preaching smelled like death. Everyone knows the smell of dead things. Whether it is the carcass of a dead animal or a trash heap, people know what death smells like. For someone without Christ, the gospel smells like death. It is repulsive and offensive. The smell of death drives people away.

What can we account for this very different response in humans? It is the work of the Holy Spirit. In God’s work of redemption, the Holy Spirit not only opens a man’s eyes to see the truth of Scripture but also opens a man’s nose to smell life when he smells Jesus.

This is a spiritual litmus test. How do you respond to the word preached? How do you respond to the gospel of Jesus Christ? There is no middle ground. Either it is life leading to life or death leading to death. Does the gospel make you want to run to Jesus or from Jesus?

Written by Joe Holland

September 13, 2007 at 12:54 pm

Posted in haste