Mining Grace

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

Posts Tagged ‘jesus

Taking the Gospel to Exurbia

Part of church planting is studying the community to which you are going. As I’ve gotten to know Culpeper by talking to it’s people, strolling it’s sidewalks, and pouring over its demographics one word keeps coming up: exurban. What is exurban?  Wikipedia has it’s own decent definition (half way down the article).  My working definition is that an exurb is an embryonic suburb.  Suburbs have an uncanny way of metastasizing all over the American landscape. They simply sprawl.  Exurban is a town that is caught between rural-quaint and suburban-sprawled.

A good friend recommended a book to help me understand the Exurb better.  It is On Paradise Drive, by David Brooks.  I’m just getting into it on my Kindle (and wishing I owned a Kindle 2).  Here are some early quotes from Brooks.

We are living in the age of the great dispersal. As Witold Rybczynski has observed, the American population continues to decentralize faster than any other society in history.  In 1950 only 23 percent of Americans lived in suburbia, but now most do, and today’s suburbs are sprawling out faster and faster and farther and farther, so in the past few years, many exurban places have broken free from the gravitational pull of the cities and now float in a new space far beyond them.

For an example of this, just think of the suburbs around Atlanta that have now grown to have identities all their own quite separate from urban Atlanta.

Brooks goes on to explain the unique lack of a societal center as compared to every other community in America.

This suburban supernova subtly affects every place in America.  The cities and inner-ring suburbs are affected because only certain kinds of people get left behind.  Quiete often the people who stay are either the very poor, because they can’t afford to move ; or the very rich, because they can afford to stay and live well in upscale enclaves.  In the exploding exurbs, there are no centers, no recognizable borders and boundaries, and few of the conventional geographic forms — such as towns, villages, and squares — that people in older places take for granted.  Up till now in human history, people have lived around some definable place — a tribal ring, an oasis, a river junction, a port, a town square.  You could identify a certain personality type with a certain place.  There was a New York personality, an L.A. personality.  But in exurbia, each individual has his or her own polycentric nodes — the school, the church, the subdevelopments, the office park — and the relationship between those institutions is altered.

Not only is suburbia become the location of decentralized America it is also where office parks are housing the businesses that are making the advancements which are changing the face of our society.  This produces tremendous power housed in seemingly disconnected societies.  Brooks asks,

How do these bland-seeming places produce so much change, and how will they manage it?  What happens when people acculturated in these sprawling suburban zones are given the power — through the biotech firms they are now starting amid the Fuddruckers — to remake human nature?   What values will guide them?

Even from these few quotes you start to see the absolute necessity for church planting in suburban and especially exurban areas.  People are moving to the exurbs.  Businesses are moving to the exurbs.  The pieces of our decentralizing societal core are moving to the exurbs.  And so it is the privilege of the church to take the gospel to the exurbs.

This is one of the many reasons that I’m excited about the new work I’m a part of in Culpeper, VA.  I get to be a missionary to this new America.  I want to see Jesus glorified in the Exurbs.  What a privilege.


Written by Joe Holland

February 12, 2009 at 3:15 pm

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Which Gospel?

I’ve been studying Luke 7:36-50 all week.  I taught it at a high school FCA meeting on Wednesday morning.  I taught it at a youth group meeting on Wednesday night.  Tomorrow morning I’ll teach it at a men’s breakfast.  It is the story of two gospels — Simon the Pharisee’s gospel and the gospel of Jesus.

It is a story of contrast.  Jesus has a meal at Simon’s house.  This makes Simon one of the more friendly of Pharisees who interacted with Jesus.  But it is apparent as the story proceeds that Simon, though intrigued by Jesus, isn’t convinced that he should be paid any special honor.  An uninvited guest confirms his suspicion.

During the meal a woman walks in.  She is known recognized publicly as a sinner.  I don’t think times have changed much.  If a woman is known publicly as a sinner only a few specific sins come to mind.  But her sin is not the end of her “impropriety”.  She bows at Jesus’s feet and washes them with her tears and hair.  Now cleaned, she applies a costly ointment to the feet of this itinerant preacher.

It is at this point that the Luke interjects what Simon was thinking, “If Jesus only knew who and what sort of woman this was he certainly wouldn’t let her do this to him.”

Jesus goes on to challenge Simon’s view of God’s love with a parable.  Two men owe different amounts of money — one a little and one a great sum.  Both are forgiven their debts by their creditor.  Jesus’s pointedly asks Simon, “Who will love the creditor more?”  Simon answers correctly, “The one who was forgiven much.”

Here are two gospels in poignant contrast.

The gospel of Simon argues that God likes to be around religious people and shuns sinners.  It’s motto is, “I’m moving closer to God by working hard at religion.”  The gospel of Jesus is completely the opposite.  Jesus shows Simon through his parable that God loves sinners and is offended by religious people.  It’s motto is, “God is moving closer to me by his grace.”

In the end it is a question of how big of a sinner are you?  The cross of Christ — where the redemption of Christians was accomplished — is the only basis on which a sinner can passionately love God with a tear-soaked-hair, empty-alabaster-flask kind of devotion.

I see a good deal of Simon-ish thinking in me.  God has been challenging me this week to ask myself the question, “Just how much have you been forgiven?”  It is only in answering that question that I clearly see God’s love for me in the gospel of Jesus.

Written by Joe Holland

February 6, 2009 at 3:39 pm

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On the Road

We’re on the road this week.  We worshiped at Redeemer, Lynchburg this morning.  Hallie’s family attends there.  It’s a great church.  They’re about three months into their first foray as a mulit-site church.  It was really exciting to worship with them this morning.  My plan is to pattern our work in Culpeper after the Lynchburg model.

Tomorrow night we’ll be in Charlottesville for a fund raising dessert.  It will be held at Grace Community Church and will comprise people from both Grace Community and Trinity.  What makes it so profound is that Grace Community was a plant of Trinity.  So tomorrow night will be a meeting with three generations of church plants: Trinity, Grace Community, and now Culpeper Mission.  How amazing to be a part of God’s Kingdom extension throughout this portion of VA.

I keep telling people that we are claiming Jesus’ promise that when he is lifted up, all men will be drawn to him.  Our goal is to lift Jesus up, to exalt him and his work.  He accomplishes the rest.

Lift him up!

Written by Joe Holland

January 11, 2009 at 2:39 pm

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A Few Wise Guys

I’m preaching my first “Christmas” sermon tonight at our Christmas Eve sermon.  I decided to focus on the wise men.

You would be surprised at how little we know about these guys.  For example,

  1. There weren’t necessarily three. They offered three gifts but there could have been 20 of them as much as there could have been two.
  2. They weren’t kings. Apparently the song, “We three kings of Orient are” assumed they were kings because of their portrayed dress in early Christian paintings.  They were definitely religio-philosophers of the star gazing sort.
  3. We really don’t know what country they were from. They may have been Medes, Persians, or Chaldeans.  All we know is that they came from the East.
  4. We don’t know how they heard the Jewish messianic prophecy that brought them to Jerusalem.
  5. We don’t know what the “star” exactly was. It could have been a star, a planet, a comet, or something else.
  6. From all apparent Biblical accounts they probably weren’t at the manger the night Jesus was born. Context leads us to believe they showed up a few weeks later before Jesus’s family left Bethlehem.  Sorry to spoil your manger scene.

But what we do know about them — little that it is — points us to the fundamentals of the gospel.

  1. They were Gentiles. It is amazing that these non-Jews were the chosen delegation to great the arrival of king Jesus.  The gospel is for  people of every tribe, tongue, and nation.
  2. They weren’t offended. They walked into Jesus’s humility and poverty.  They didn’t think they had the wrong house.  The humble servant of the Lord didn’t offend them in the least. The gospel is about a Savior who though he was rich became poor that we in his poverty might become rich.
  3. They worshiped. You find in the Magi of Matthew 2 arguably the most intense worship of Jesus that side of his resurrection.  They saw him, fell prostrate before him, and worshiped.
  4. They showed Christ exalting generosity. They gave him gifts.  Gold for a king.  Frankincense — commonly used in temple worship — for someone in close relationship with God.  Myrrh — used for preparing dead bodies — or a man who would one day face the grave.

The little we know about these wise men points directly to the truth of the gospel.  Christmas  myth tends to cloud the gospel clearly presented in the birth of our incarnate Lord.

May you this Christmas take the advice of the song “O  Holy Night”, and “fall on your knees and here the Savior calling, for Christ is born.”

Written by Joe Holland

December 24, 2008 at 2:59 pm

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By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible.

– Hebrews 11:3


Why are you here?  That is the question isn’t it?  It is the question that first springs up in college dorm rooms late at night though the maturity to tackle it won’t spring up for another few years.  It is the question that breeds bubbly hope when you meet that girl who make you feel pleasantly nauseous.  It is the question that soaks you with sweat when you first hold your own child.  At each of these junctures the human heart cries, “I was made for something, for some purpose.”

Made, made for some purpose.  Do you want to know what that purpose might be?  Have you given up the hope of finding it?  According to the author quoted above a right understanding of your made-ness is inextricably combined with that powerful word faith.  It is by faith in God and his sovereign plan for the world that we understand everything was made out of nothing into something for a reason.  It is through faith in Jesus Christ that we come to grips with our own sinful inability to live with a holy God.  It is through faith in the cross-work and resurrection of Christ that we come to understand God’s compassion on sinful humans, making a way for them to be reconciled to himself.  It is by faith we understand that Jesus bore the sins of all who would believe on him so that they would never have to bear the wrath and judgment of God.  It is by faith that we realize God’s unadulterated favor falls on those who have been brought to repent of their sins and believe that Jesus is who he says he is — the savior of sinners.

It is by faith we come to realize why we were made.  Because it is by faith that we find God the one who has made everything for a purpose.

Written by Joe Holland

December 2, 2008 at 1:41 pm

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Cross References

The Bible is the only inerrant commentary on the Bible.  Ever since seminary this phrase has echoed in my developing skills as an interpreter of the Bible.  It has lead me to a growing fascination with how the New Testament authors use the Old Testament to explain the wonders of the person and work of Jesus Christ.  That is why I thought this picture was so interesting.  I pass it on to you as a visual reminder of God’s provision for us in the Bible.

Reference Rainbow (from CT)

A visual representation of the Bibles cross reference of itself.

A visual representation of the Bible's cross reference of itself.

For further reading

Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament, Beale & Carson

According to Plan, Goldsworthy

Written by Joe Holland

December 1, 2008 at 10:42 am

Still Preaching Jesus

I have continued to preach through my series entitled, “Jesus, His Church, and His Mission.”  My goal has been to show the link between the person of Christ, the identity of his church, and the mission to which he has called every Christian.

I broke up the series into three sets of four sermons.  I’ve intentionally tried to hold off planning the rest of the series so that my weekly study might further my own throughts on these three crucial topics: Christology, Eccleisiology, and Missiology.

So far the series looks like:

  1. Jesus is the Revelation of God
  2. Jesus is Man and God
  3. Jesus is the Mediator
  4. Jesus is the King
  5. The Church is a Kingdom
  6. The Church is a Bride
  7. The Church is a Building
  8. The Church is a Body

Unfortunately there is no audio for my last two sermons — the church as Kingdom and Bride.  One week we had a bad CD in the recorder.  This past week we had a two second power outage in the middle of my sermon that shut down all our recording equipment.

I went into this series wanting to teach others the importance of being consciously focused on Jesus as they think about Church and mission.  I’ve found that I too need more work in this area.  Its easy to say you are Christ-centered.  It is something altogether different to labor to make it true in practice.  This is especially true when dealing with an intentity as large as “the church” and an endeavor as broad as “missions”.  The one and only anchor of both of these enormous things is Jesus Christ.  As soon as the anchor line to Jesus is severed, both church and missions become aimlessly adrift in a sea of pragmatism.  Jesus is absolutely essential — for salvation from sins and for growth in grace.

Written by Joe Holland

November 25, 2008 at 3:25 pm

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