Mining Grace

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

Archive for August 2008

Deprived Himself – 3.1

Man was originally created in the image of God and was furnished in his mind with a true and salutary knowledge of his Creator and things spiritual, in his will and heart with righteousness, and in all his emotions with purity; indeed, the whole man was holy. However, rebelling against God at the devil’s instigation and by his own free will, he deprived himself of these outstanding gifts. Rather, in their place he brought upon himself blindness, terrible darkness, futility, and distortion of judgment in his mind; perversity, defiance, and hardness in his heart and will; and finally impurity in all his emotions.

-Synod of Dort 3/4.1


I often find myself in stark wonder that Adam could give up perfect fellowship with God for the miserable worship of himself and his own will.  The only thing that cures me of this prideful disdain for Adam is the realization that I’m no different.  The height from which man fell should only encourage us to judge the depth of Christ’s love for us on the cross all the greater.


Written by Joe Holland

August 31, 2008 at 2:50 pm

1 Year

Mining Grace is one year old today.  What has happened in a year?  Here are some statistics.

General Stats

  • Number of posts: 241
  • Number of tags: 400
  • Number of visits: 13,825
  • Number of comments: 97
  • Busiest day ever: 457 on April 8, 2008 (The day I posted the TLF audio)
  • Number of spam sandwiches made: 1707

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That being said, I’ve really enjoyed blogging this past year and plan to continue in the year to come.  I have some ideas on how some of my content may change as the Lord continues to work on me.

If your a long time reader or just stopping in, thanks for the encouragement.  I’m still humbled that something I write might be useful to someone, much less bring honor to Jesus.

And now for the quote that started it all off,

Would it not be an encouragement to a subject, to hear his prince say to him, “You will honor and please me very much, if you will go to yonder mine of gold, and dig as much gold for yourself as you can carry away”? So for God to say, “Go to the ordinances, get as much grace as you can, dig out as much salvation as you can; and the more happiness you have, the more I shall count myself glorified.”

-Thomas Watson

Written by Joe Holland

August 30, 2008 at 1:12 pm

Posted in haste

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Everybody Wants Covenant

For thus says the Lord God: I will deal with you as you have done, you who have despised the oath in breaking the covenant, yet I will remember my covenant with you in the days of your youth, and I will establish for you an everlasting covenant.

– Ezekiel 16:59-60

Everybody wants covenant.  Covenant–pregnant term that it is–is when one person pledges faithfulness to another without requiring faithfulness in return.  Where can you find that kind of covenant?  Its not on ebay.  You can’t order it from The Gap.  Even marriage, that most sacred of covenants, can be broken in death if not before through sin.

So we give up looking for covenant and settle for negotiations.  I’ll give if you give.  I’ll do if you do.  I’ll leave if you don’t.  I’ll sue if you leave.  I’ll, you’ll, I’ll, you’ll…

That is why God’s promise of an everlasting covenant–repeated throughout the Bible–should be so tempting to you.  Could it be that your desire for covenant could actually be met.  Could God be strong enough to break the I’ll-you’ll cycle?  Could it be you’ve been settling all this time for empty promises not realizing that a rich covenant promise actually does exist?  Have you thought that God’s blessings are contingent on your behavior?

But how?  How could God remain just and still love, without recompense, a sinner like you or like me?  Who wants a God who is not just, who just doles out blessings like a pinata at a 3-year-old’s birthday party?  Not me, not you.  There must be a way for covenant to come from a loving and just God.

To answer this question you have to listen in on a simple dinner that a rabbi is having with a few of his followers.  Everything looks like a normal Passover meal but something astounding is about to be said as Jesus lifts a cup of wine and says,

“This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.”

The new covenant, the everlasting covenant of Ezekiel, the covenant you want, is secured in the outpouring of Jesus’s blood.  As Jesus, the second person of the Trinity, died a sinner’s death on the cross he simultaneously justified God’s love and his justice.  His love because Jesus came to save those who were utterly undeserving of his sacrifice and incapable of saving themselves.  His justice because God’s wrath was completely absorbed by Jesus.

Jesus has made covenant available to all who will come.  God Almighty, just and holy, agrees to be absolutely faithful to sinning men and women based solely on God’s own work in his son, Jesus Christ.

Do you want this covenant?  Repent of you sins.  Confess your inability to do anything good.  Believe in Christ, the purveyor of the everlasting covenant.  Run to him in prayer.  Because everybody wants covenant.

Written by Joe Holland

August 22, 2008 at 12:48 pm

Posted in haste

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Can the Kindle Change the Church? – Part 1

I received an Amazon Kindle for my birthday.  Whenever someone asks me, “What is that?”, I respond, “an iPod for books.”  That seems to get the gist across in as few words as possible.  So I come to ask the question, “Can the Kindle change the church?”  I’ll spend some posts over the next few weeks trying to answer the questions.

Notice, first off that I’m not saying the Kindle will change the church.  I’m simply asking the question whether it could change the church.  It may end up being the next techno flash-in-the-pan gadget-ma-thingy to occupy the top shelf of your coat closet.

Or maybe not.

I begin on the premiss that the iPod has definitively changed the church, at least the American manifestation of the church.  Think back BiP–Before iPod.  How much music did you listen to in a day?  How many sermons did you listen to in a week?  How familiar were you with music artists–Christian or not?  How familiar were you with preachers and churches?

Now think AiP–Anno iPod.  Ask yourself the same questions.  There is no doubt that the vast number of Americans who own iPods–which is no minority–would say their knowledge of music and spoken word has drastically increased simply because they own an iPod.

Podcasting and Vodcasting are completely the product of the iPod revolution.  Churches and Events can broadcast their content like never before.  An audience used to be limited to seating capacity and those willing to dole out money for CD orders.  Now audiences extend to the thousands as soon as audio is posted on the internet.

Music and preaching are exponentialy more accessible than ever before all because of a little ol’ company called Apple, Inc.

Now lets get back to my original definition of a Kindle: an iPod for books.  Could the Kindle have as much influence on your reading as the iPod did on your listening?  The potential is certainly there.

I love good Christian literature.  As a pastor, I am saddened by how little of classic Christian literature is actually read by Christians today.  Whether through the Kindle or otherwise, I long to see reading revived among the people of God.

I happen to think the Kindle might just help.

Written by Joe Holland

August 21, 2008 at 2:53 pm

Posted in haste

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Swimming and Idolatry

What a finish.  I just watched the final 100 meters of the men’s 4×100 meter relay.  Lezak was a beast those last 50 meters–beginning with the flip turn that slow, double-beat turnover powering him past Bernard.  My heart still jumps to see great swims like that.

But at the same time my heart breathed an empty sigh.  I was a swimmer in high school.  And like every swimmer, from the six year old to the collegiate, I dreamed of Olympic races.  I figured my window would be the 2004 and 2008 Olympics.  In the end I probably wasn’t going to be good enough even if I kept at it.  But it was my dream and more than that it was my idol.

The word “idolatry” has a sordid past.  It used to live in ancient temples surrounded by foreign runes, tended to by priests performing mysterious rites to vague deities.  Now it is vintage, pregnant with all the positive pop culture references common to words found on television and radio.  There are American Idols.  There are teen idols.  To idolize someone, some team, something has become the new prerequisite of cliquish cool.

Strangely enough, for me, these three things are deeply related: swimming, worship, and cultural status.  Idolatry–both as worship and status–is neither old nor new but the reflex of a fallen heart, the reflex of my heart.

I loved to swim.  I was in the pool 6 days a week for at least two hours a day.  Meets would take me all over Virginia and the East Coast for weekends at a time.  I looked forward to practice and to the shock of the cold water at the beginning of a race.  I lived for it.  I placed my personal value on it.  I was a good swimmer. It was what defined me.  It was who I was.  Good races brought joy.  Bad races brought devastation.

Then came the crushing blow.  I had my sights set on Junior Nationals in the 50 meter freestyle.  Race day had arrived and I was ready. Off the block.  Into the water.  Breath, breath. Stroke.  Exhausted touch at the wall.  Hopes for Junior Nationals…extinguished.

I had missed the cut by a few hundredths of a second.  It was a snap of a finger, a blink of an eye–a few hundredths of a second.  My god had failed me.  The first rung of the Olympic ladder broke under the weight of my idol worship, my self-worship, my swim worship.

Looking back on that day, I couldn’t be more thankful.

Something else was going on in me at that time.  I had begun to see the emptiness of my life.  Good friends had invited me to attend a Young Life meeting.  The empty husk of religion that I had known for the first 16 years of my life began to crumble.

Jesus showed up in my life and showed me where true, satisfying worship happened.  It wasn’t on the block or in the pool. It wasn’t in Atlanta, Sydney, or China.  It was at a cross on a hillside in Israel.  Jesus showed me the emptiness of my life and the emptiness of worshiping myself and my swimming.  He invited me to confess my sin and inability to earn anything before God.  He offered me his righteousness in exchange for all my failures.  He loved me and renewed my idolatrous heart to love him back.  He extinguished God’s wrath and provided for me unmitigated joy.  I had become a Christian.

I will always love swimming and watching great swims.  But swimming will always hold deeper meaning for me.  It is a milestone.  A picture of what I was and what I might have become were it not for the life interrupting grace of God.  It is a picture of what I am still prone to do–worship myself.  It is a reminder to me of the powerful love of Jesus Christ, willing to rescue sinners from themselves, from idolatry, and sometimes, yes, from swimming.

Written by Joe Holland

August 13, 2008 at 8:24 am

Posted in haste

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Always a church…his bride – 2.9

This plan, arising out of God’s eternal love for his chosen ones, from the beginning of the world to the present time has been powerfully carried out and will also be carried out in the future, the gates of hell seeking vainly to prevail against it.  As a result the chosen are gathered into one, all in their own time, and there is always a church of believers founded on Christ’s blood, a church which steadfastly loves, persistently worships, and-here and in all eternity-praises him as her Savior who laid down his life for her on the cross, as a bridegroom for his bride.

– Synod of Dort 2.9


This is theology with heart.  Many speak of God’s sovereign rule over everything as if they were talking about some grand chemistry experiment–cold and unfeeling.  But notice where this article goes as soon as it finishes talking about God’s providential rule.  It goes straight to Jesus’s love for his church, the bride.  The language is loving and intimate.  The church has always existed because the Father’s utmost design for creation is to prepare a bride for his son, Jesus Christ.  Does Christ in turn love his bride?  Dort answers with this rich description, “her Savior who laid down his life for her on the cross, as a bridegroom for his bride.”  This is how the sovereignty of God should be talked about.

Written by Joe Holland

August 10, 2008 at 1:00 pm

It’s Personal

“…the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins…”

– Galatians 1:3-4

I love Paul’s pronouns.  I could write a whole book on the personal pronouns of the Pauline epistles.  The personal pronouns of this verse caught my attention a few weeks ago.  Pastors tend to develop “blurbs” on different topics.  It isn’t a bad thing.  It is just the product of being asked similar questions over and over again.  In the midst of those repetitive answers it is tempting for me to start thinking sin and sinners are ideas and not entities.

Jesus died to take away sin.

Jesus dies for sinners.

All very true.  But what are these sins?  Who are these sinners?  Put simply, they are my sins and I am one of those sinners.  Jesus took away Joe’s sins.  Jesus died for Joe.

That is the power of the personal pronoun.  Paul didn’t want the Galatians to cling to some empty ideology on mystico-sin and mystico-sinners.  He wanted the doctrine of Christ’s penal substitutionary atonement to be imminently…well…personal.  He loved to drop personal pronouns.

So I ask as bluntly as I can, “Do you love the peronsal pronouns of the Bible?”  It is one thing to say Jesus died to atone for the sins of sinners.  It is quite another to say that Jesus died to atone for your sins, for you as a person.

If you can’t claim these pronouns as your own.  Run to the Cross.  Run to Christ.  His mercy is for everyone.  He will gladly give you all the personal pronouns you could ever hope for.

Written by Joe Holland

August 8, 2008 at 12:41 pm

Posted in haste

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