Mining Grace

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

Posts Tagged ‘the cross

Does Obama Lead You to the Cross?

Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme,  or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good.  For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people.  Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God.  Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor… For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps.  He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth.  When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly.  He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.  For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.

-1 Peter 2:13-17, 21-25

Peter was infatuated with the cross.  That holy wooden pier and cross bar where Jesus destroyed the power of death was for Peter a consuming location.  His letters are saturated with talk of Jesus’s atoning grace and the subsequent implications for Christians as they live out their lives.  The passage quoted above is Peter’s teaching on submissions.  He talks about submission to the government, to your boss, to your spouse, and generally in the family of God.  But what stands out about this discourse on submission is the pause in the middle.  Peter takes verses 21-25 to exalt the power of the cross with a paraphrase of Isaiah 53.  He shows quite literally that the cross is at the center of all submission, especially submission to the government.

That leads me to ask you, “Does Barak Obama lead you to the cross?”

Peter wants you to submit to him and his incoming administration.  But this is not an empty submission.  This is not murmur ridden submission.  Nor does this submission deny your right to civil disobedience.  What this submission should do, however, is lead you to the cross.  Jesus left us an example (v 21).  Jesus submitted to earthy rulers.  Jesus submitted to death.  He entrusted himself to his father who judges justly while corrupt judges condemned him to death.  He asked his Father to forgive his enemies as they spit, beat, and killed him.  He submitted well when he had the full right to just and complete retaliation.  And in his submission he left us an example of how to submit to our government: submission with the cross front and center.  It is a submission that costs us something.  It is submission that shows we care more about Jesus and other people than ourselves.  It is submission that shows by example the power of the cross.

So I ask you, “Does Barak Obama lead you to the cross?”  He should.

For Further Reading

Living the Cross Centered Life: Keeping the Gospel the Main Thing, by CJ Mahaney


Written by Joe Holland

November 6, 2008 at 1:13 pm

Posted in haste

Tagged with , , , ,

Eternal Fatherhood

And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed.  – John 17:5

Fatherhood is eternal.  Before the world existed Jesus and the Father existed in perfect trinitarian love.  My heart warms with the thought of it.  Before he created anything, God was Father and Jesus was his Son.  Before their was such a thing as birth, God was Father and Jesus was his Son.  Then there was the moment when the father had to give us his only son.  He had to send him, allow him to die for sinners who weren’t worthy to untie his Son’s shoes.  But he loved them and he loved him.  And in the cross both fatherhood and the Father’s love were on display as they never had been or ever will be.  Fatherhood is eternal.  Jesus has paid the price to enable sinners like you and me to boldly, audaciously call God our Father who art in heaven.  How wonderful is the cross?  How wonderful is the broken healing it brings?  How wonderful is the Father’s love?

Written by Joe Holland

October 25, 2008 at 8:30 am

Posted in haste

Tagged with , ,

The Ossific Promises of God

Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord delivers him out of them all.  He keeps all his bones; not one of them is broken.

-Psalm 34:19-20

Many are the afflictions of the righteous.  Do you know anything about affliction?  As you read the post, are there nagging problems pulling at your attention?  There is not enough money in the bank account.  Relationship carnage surrounds you.  Your body malfunctions and you have the medical tests to prove it.  Sin has has come to visit and taken up residence in the guest bedroom of your heart.

All Christians are weighed down in afflictions.  But not every Christian truly believes that “the Lord delivers him out of them all.”  How can we be sure that our present suffering is actually the veiled but powerful deliverance of God?

We can know by looking at the cross.

David wrote this psalm when he was on the run from Saul (1 Samuel 21).  It was a humbling moment for David.  He was the annointed king of Israel.  God promised him the throne.  Yet here he was in Gath–forced to flee to the Philistines.  To immediate execution, David acts like a mad man, feigning insanity, spit running down his beard.  Imagine that, the most important man in the world, the anointed king of Israel, acting like a crazy man to save his own hide.  Affliction.  And God saved him out of it.  God brought him safely to the throne…eventually.

But the story does not stop there.  When penning verse 20 of this psalm, David spoke not only of himself, he spoke of the coming Messiah, Jesus Christ.  On the cross, this Messiah bore the full anger and punishment of God for the sins of all who would be saved.  The Father poured out the cup of complete vengeance on his beloved Son.  The covenant of grace was fulfilled by that simultaneously glorious and gruesome act.

But none of Jesus’s bones were broken.  The apostle John is very specific on this point.  He quotes Psalm 34:20 as fulfilled at the cross (John 19:36).  Has there ever been an affliction greater than the cross-work of Jesus Christ?  Yet God’s promises stood.  Though the full weight of divine wrath was poured upon Christ in aggressive affliction, God’s promise stood.  The weight of our sins could not break one bone of Jesus’s body.  That ossific promise of God stood firm.  He delivered Christ out of every affliction.

So I ask you, dear Christian, if the weight of your sin could not break the bone-promise of God then why do you doubt his deliverance in whatever you suffer today?  God confirms his faithfulness to you in the cross.  Do you need a down payment on God’s love?  You have it in Christ.  Do you need confirmation of his faithfulness?  You have it in Christ.  Do you need strength to bear up under the affliction that will press you down tonight?  You have it in Christ.

Christ is the fulfillment and proof of all the promises of God.  Because, not one of his bones was broken.

Written by Joe Holland

June 26, 2008 at 1:04 pm

Don’t Pity Jesus

{I wrote this last year on Good Friday}

Today is Good Friday. It is the day that Christians traditionally reflect on the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. It is common for churches to hold Good Friday services in which they read portions from the crucifixion narratives in the gospels.

There is no question that most observances of Good Friday are designed to create an emotional response to the suffering of our Lord. But what is the appropriate emotion?

Emotion itself is not a bad thing. It is a very good thing. No matter what you say you believe, if you have no affection for Christ you have no right to call yourself a Christian. Even the demons believe right theology, they just hate it. So, if emotion is not bad and is necessary, then what kind of emotions should be cultivated as we consider the cross?

First, let me address the only “positive” emotion a non-Christian may have when they consider the Cross. That emotion is pity. I call this emotion “positive” because it connotes reverence for the thing pitied. Pity, as my Shorter OED tells me, is “tenderness and concern aroused by the suffering or misfortune of another; compassion, sympathy.” Applied to the Cross, we get something along the lines of,

Poor Jesus. He was such a great guy. A powerful teacher. He loved folks. He wasn’t very strong. He didn’t have an army. He didn’t have political aspiration. He wasn’t leading an insurrection. He was just a great guy who got murdered. Poor Jesus.

Pitying Jesus–it is one of the silliest emotions one could have when considering the Cross. Yet it is very common within and without the church.

Why is this silly? For two reasons, for who Jesus is and for what Jesus did.

To pity Jesus on the Cross is misunderstand who Jesus was. Here we interject the reasoning of C.S. Lewis. Jesus did not leave the option for thinking of him as a good teacher or a great guy. He made outrageous claims about his own divinity. He presented the concept of a Kingdom that was poised on world conquest. He set a high standard for any who would follow him: death and suffering. Given these truths and many more like them we are left only to think of Jesus in one of three ways.

  1. He is a liar of the caliber of a demon from hell.
  2. He is a lunatic of the caliber of a man who calls himself a poached egg.
  3. He is who he said he was, the very Son of God.

If you choose option one or two, then pity is the last thing you should think when you consider the Cross.

If you conclude Jesus to be a liar, then his death should be met with the rich satisfaction of judgment righteously administered. To quote my home state’s motto, Sic Semper Tyrannis. Thus always to tyrants. Jesus got what he deserved for deceiving the poor, the persecuted, and the naive.

If you conclude Jesus to be a lunatic, then his death should be met with the sorrow of tragedy. “If only he had a good psychiatrist. If he had only been alive today. There are medicines that could have helped him. A leather couch was the place for him not a Cross.”

If however you conclude Jesus to be both truthful and in his right mind, then you have only to accept him on his terms, the Incarnate God come to offer himself as a ransom to redeem lost sinners.

That brings us to the second reason that pity is a silly response to the Cross: what Jesus did on the Cross. On the Cross, Jesus Christ took upon himself the sins of all his people and received in his body the judgment for those sins. On the Cross, God the Father judged sin to the full extent of the law: infinite death. On the Cross, death lots its sting. On the Cross, Satan was conquered and bound. On the Cross, eternal life was gloriously secured for those whom God set his love on before the foundation of the world. The Cross was the culminating event of history. The Cross is the most vivid picture of the horror of sin as well as the abounding power and limitless love of God.

So given this view of the Cross, what are some good emotions to feel on Good Friday?

  1. Sorrow over your sin. The Cross is a mirror for your sin. The Cross is the only place to estimate sin rightly. What does God think of your transgressions? How bad is the smallest of your lies? What should have been required of you for the most inconsequential of sins? See the Cross. See their the holy judgment of God on display. See there what it cost to redeem you from your sins. See there the immense gulf between a holy God and sinful man. See there God’s hatred and holy war on all things opposed to his rule. See there your sin and weep.
  2. Wonder over the power of God in defeating sin. If we have rightly seen our sin then how shall we not cry out in dismay, “Who shall deliver me from this body of death? Who is able to dwell on God’s holy mountain? Who is able to open the seals of the scroll? Who is powerful enough to conquer sin, death, and hell?” See the Cross. See there the raging power of God on display. See there, Jesus Christ waging the most determinative battle ever fought. See there holy exertions and strivings against the horrors of hell and the sewage of sin. See there the amazing power of God. Power enough to redeem a people for his own possession.
  3. Amazement over God’s love displayed for you in the Cross. Many will preach this weekend on the last words of Jesus on the Cross, and rightly so. There are however the unspoken words of the Cross, “This is for you, dear Christian.” If we are Christians, we cannot contemplate an impersonal Cross. It is not an event that happened on a Israeli countryside some 2,000 years ago. It is an event ineffably etched into the very heart of our being. The sufferings of the Cross! The mental anguish! The physical anguish! The spiritual anguish! Jesus procured nothing for himself there but everything for his dearly loved sheep. There my sins were judged and satisfied for. Joe Holland was crucified there with Jesus Christ. It is no longer I who live but it is Christ who lives in me. We must stand amazed and the inestimable gift given to us, wrapped in the darkness of Good Friday.
  4. If you are not a Christian, you should feel abject terror at what awaits you for your sins. If you do not believe in Jesus Christ as the only savior for lost sinners then the Cross should anger and terrify you. What you see in the Cross will be required of you when Jesus comes again to judge the living and the dead. Only you are no infinite person who can bear an infinite penalty, instead you will suffer infinitely for your aggravated provoking of an Almighty God.  Run to Christ.  His offer is open and free.  Run to Christ with your sins and for the first time see the Cross for what it truly is–the only hope for sinners.

Good Friday may bring many emotions into your heart, but please, don’t pity Jesus.

Written by Joe Holland

March 21, 2008 at 7:57 am

Singing Men 4 – The Fissure of Song

Part 1Part 2Part 3

This post on how I became a singing man will take me all the way through college, seminary, and into ministry. So far I’ve tried to show you–through my own experience–that a Christian man will praise Jesus in song to the degree that he understands what Jesus has done for him. My own growth in grace exemplifies this fact. When I saw song as a superfluous worship tack-on for the emotionally biased I was at the same time woefully deficient in my understanding of the gospel. I was truly converted but was ignorant about the glorious salvation I had in Christ.

I return to this fact over and over again. I can clearly remember sitting in worship services and saying to myself, “You should sing more. Everyone around you is singing. What is the matter with you?” I was putting guilt-fuel into the engine of my own self-righteousness. The answer is not to suck it up and belt Amazing Grace. The answer is to believe Amazing Grace. You will sing what you believe. A singing problem is a symptom of spiritual heart disease. And that brings me to the first of two vocal awakenings in my life.

The first four years after my conversion placed me in parachurch ministries with no firm connection to a local church. That changed my sophmore year of college as I began attending a presbyterian church in Charlottesville, VA. By my third year of college I was discerning a call to ministry. A godly pastor took me under his wing and shepherd me towards seminary. After my graduation from college, I attended Reformed Theological Seminary in Charlotte. It was also at this time that I married my beautiful wife.

That is a brief summary of an intense time of growth in my life. That growth occurred in too many ways to chronicle here. However, one area of profound growth was in my theology. Through that church in Charlottesville and through my three years at seminary, I gained tremendous insight into the Bible. God’s attributes, the plan of redemption, the person and work of Jesus, the power of the Holy Spirit, and the purpose of the local church were all subjects that became food and drink to me. I couldn’t get enough them. I had to have them to live. And they made me sing.

In worhip–at church and in seminary chapel–they made me sing. And it was real singing–hearty singing. It was no that my singing drew my heart out. It was that my heart was overflowing with praise. Jesus had made the stubborn rock in my chest to sing. I couldn’t help it. I was gripped with the majesty of the risen Lord Jesus Christ. He became utterly beautiful to me. That subterranean joy-pressure had to find a way out to the surface. It finally burst out through the fissure of song into the joy of praise.

This is why I can’t be too upset as I look out on a Sunday morning at tight lipped men. I pity them. And I condemn myself. I am their pastor. It is my job to preach the glories of Christ to them. They desperately need to sing. More accurately though–they need something to sing about. It is my job to tell them.

A man will not sing unless he has something to sing about.

I can’t help but close by quoting the Medieval Latin carol that exhorts,

“Good Christian men, rejoice, with heart and soul and voice, now ye need not fear the grave: Jesus Christ was born to save! Calls you one and calls you all to gain his everlasting hall. Christ was born to save! Christ was born to save!”

Good Christian men rejoice!

Written by Joe Holland

January 30, 2008 at 9:35 am

Posted in haste

Tagged with , , , , ,

Man Weekend and Beyond

There are a number of exciting things coming up for me in the near future.  Hear are just a few of them:

  1. We are 24 hours into our second “man” weekend.  Hallie–who never gets to travel–is in our home state of Virginia for her second family event in a month.  Our three oldest boys and I are having a great weekend.  We went to a Matthew Smith–Indellible Grace rocker–concert last night.  I love the extra time I get to spend with my boys.  It already feels like their childhood is passing me by.
  2. In a week I’ll be in Belize.  I have the privilege of teaching in the Presbyterian seminary there.  I’ll spend six hours on Saturday teaching on the first and second epistles of Peter.  Most of my lecture material comes from my sermon series on 1 Peter that I preached a year ago.  It has been a pleasure to work back through Peter’s letters in preparation for this class.  Peter is absolutely infatuated with the glory of Jesus, interpreted in the OT, displayed in the cross.
  3. Upon my return I’ll begin a Sunday evening preaching series working through Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians. It is an often neglected letter that brims with encouragement for the local church.  It has been a few months since I’ve lasted preached.  I didn’t realize that I would miss it this much.

That brings you up to speed on this weekend and beyond.  If you have any prayer time to spare I would appreciate you prayers for my sons, the seminary students in Belize, and my church.  Ask our God that he would give them all a deeper knowledge of his love for them shown in the cross of Jesus Christ.

Written by Joe Holland

January 26, 2008 at 11:05 am

Singing Men 3 – Brown Eyed Girl

This is the third edition in this series on how I came to be a man who sings in church.  You can still catch up on part 1 and part 2.

Last post left me an unconverted Episcopalian high school student.  The most terrifying moment of the first day of school was always the first five minutes of the lunch hour.  It is at that moment a crucial, life altering decision must be made–which lunch table to sit at.  Only the social pariah changes to a different table after day one.

With this monumental choice before me I entered the lunch room on the first day of my sophmore year.  By the grace of God I sat down with a group that I knew from various classes.  Like me, most of my new lunch time friends were on the cooler end of the nerd scale.  Unlike me, they were Christians who were involved in a ministry to High School students called Young Life.  Not far into the new school year I had accepted an invitation to one of these Young Life meetings.

I became a regular attender to Young Life–meetings that bordered between Christian worship and silly-string wars.  It was over these first few months of my sophmore year that I became a true believer in Jesus Christ.  I cannot pinpoint a certain day or moment at which it happened.  Nevertheless I began to understand rightly the guilt of my sin, the offer of Jesus Christ to pay for that sin, and the faith to receive this salvation through the Holy Spirit.

I was now a Christian.  I had something to sing about.  How could I not sing?  Jesus rescued my soul out of the trash heap that had become my life.  He was altogether amazing to me.  Words spoken would not do.  I had to sing.  And sing I did.

In addition to other things, Young Life meetings were places for singing the praises of God.  Not only that, the guys there sang just as loudly as the girls.  There were even songs that had guy and girl parts–shocking to my Episcopalian upbringing but altogether exciting to my new life in Christ.

There was only one confusing part.  We also sang other songs–like Van Morrison’s Brown Eyed Girl minus the troublesome third verse. You see, Young Life was an outreach.  The thought was that if you could get a kid to sing Van Morrison they might be more comfortable with singing about Jesus.  Without commenting on the validity of that method, I can say that my earliest memories of Christian worship were interwoven with Van and his mocha-eyed girlfriend.

The worship of Jesus Christ got implicitly connected to vapid fluff during those formative days of my Christian adolescence.  This was not all Young Life’s fault.  I knew enough about the gospel to know that I was saved but nowhere near enough to fuel my desire to worship Jesus.  I was converted, ignorant, and untrained in the Bible.  I knew that my sins were paid for at the cross but I had no idea how deeply profound that Roman cross had changed my life.

I now had salvation to sing about I just didn’t know all that much about what that salvation actually was.  This produced true but shallow singing in me as I ministry-hoped on into college.

I still remember when I used to sing, Sha la la la la la la la la la la te da…

Written by Joe Holland

January 21, 2008 at 4:03 pm

Posted in haste

Tagged with , , , , , ,