Mining Grace

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

Posts Tagged ‘the gospel

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.

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Written by Joe Holland

February 12, 2009 at 3:15 pm

Posted in haste

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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

Posted in haste

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Blogging Encouragement

I admit it, I’m no Tim Challies.  You won’t find a meter on my site of consecutive days blogged.  I lose my blogging inertia easily.  Sometimes I really enjoy it and others I wonder whether or not it is a waste of time.

Recently I’ve been feeling more of the latter — the blogging doldrums.

But some recent conversations have been well timed to contradict my blogging depression.  It seems that folks do read what I write and do like interacting through comments.  So in addition to opening up comments again, I am reminded that blogging is a good thing and can be used by God for at least some benefit in the advancement of his kingdom.

What are the reasons I started blogging and continue to blog?  Here are a few:

  1. Blogging shows me the state of my heart. I can look back on past posts and ask the question, “How well am I understanding and articulating the gospel right now?”  Sometimes I like the answer I give and other times I don’t.  There are few things that help me discern Christ-centeredness of my soul than frequent writing.
  2. Blogging gives me a venue to participate in my generation’s communication of the classic truths of Christianity. Every generation needs to declare and apply the classic truths of Christianity.  Blogging gives me a place to do just that.  A secret around here at Mining Grace is that when I’m stuck on something to write about I just pick some segment of a creed or confession and make devotional comments on it.  In that way I expose my readers to classic Christ honoring documents that they will probably never read on their own.
  3. Blogging reaches people with the gospel. I’ve been shocked at what a diverse group of people will read what you write just because you post it on a blog.  What a responsibility to write well!  I am infatuated with the gospel of Jesus Christ and want other people to be equally infatuated.  Blogging gives me a chance to communicate the gospel to people that I will never have the opportunity to talk to in person.
  4. Blogging helps me in my ministry. I blog about what I am studying.  Writing it down helps me to understand the argument I’m trying to make.  It hones my preaching and teaching.  Many times, working through a blog post will help me see a different angle on some topic I’ve been thinking through.  The discipline of writing helps me as a communicator.
  5. Blogging helps me interact with my congregation in ways no other medium can. I can follow up on a point in a sermon.  I can express encouragement or rebuke.  I can let people in on different facets of my personal life that make me more approachable.  Blogging makes me a better pastor.

These are just a few of many.  Who knows how long I will continue to call myself a blogger?  For now, I’ve made it through another blogging slump thanks to the encouragement of some good friends.

I hope to always blog in such a way that exalts Christ.  If I cease doing that, the sooner I hang up the ol’ keyboard the better.

Written by Joe Holland

December 23, 2008 at 9:39 am

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No Blame – Dort 3.9

The fact that many who are called through the ministry of the gospel do not come and are not brought to conversion must not be blamed on the gospel, nor on Christ, who is offered through the gospel, nor on God, who calls them through the gospel and even bestows various gifts on them, but on the people themselves who are called. Some in self-assurance do not even entertain the Word of life; others do entertain it but do not take it to heart, and for that reason, after the fleeting joy of a temporary faith, they relapse; others choke the seed of the Word with the thorns of life’s cares and with the pleasures of the world and bring forth no fruits. This our Savior teaches in the parable of the sower (Matt. 13).

-Synod of Dor, 3/4.9

__________

If you will not come to Christ it is no fault of the gospel, Christ, or God.  It will be your own.  Either you will reject the gospel outright — assured of your own ability to please God with the wreckage of your life.  Or you will play with the gospel like watching a movie — allowing it to entertain you and move you only so far before you return it for next week’s new release.  Or you will receive the gospel only so far as it requires nothing back from you — eventually leaving it for some other product that promises better results.  In all these instances you will have left the gospel and refusted to come.  The fault and guilt of your unbelief will be your own.

Sobering thoughts.

Written by Joe Holland

December 14, 2008 at 5:40 am

Seriously – Dort 3.8

Nevertheless, all who are called through the gospel are called seriously. For seriously and most genuinely God makes known in his Word what is pleasing to him: that those who are called should come to him. Seriously he also promises rest for their souls and eternal life to all who come to him and believe.

-Synod of Dort 3/4.8

__________

The gospel is a matter of life and death.  It is a subject that should be treated with the utmost of seriousness.  You have heard the gospel a hundred times from a hundred different people in a hundred different ways.  But have you ever considered its seriousness?

If you haven’t, you should.

Written by Joe Holland

December 7, 2008 at 2:02 pm

The Gospel – Dort 3.6

What, therefore, neither the light of nature nor the law can do, God accomplishes by the power of the Holy Spirit, through the Word or the ministry of reconciliation. This is the gospel about the Messiah, through which it has pleased God to save believers, in both the Old and the New Testament.

– Syond of Dort, 3/4.6

__________

Literally, “gospel” means “good news.”  It is fundamentally good news because God accomplishes it.  Man’s works read like the morning paper — bad news to worse news.  But if God places his hand to the plow it brings forth a harvest of grace. When Jesus is lead editor, the morning paper is gospel — good news.  Jesus is the Messiah, the Christ. He is the one through whom there is salvation.  There is no better news than that.

Written by Joe Holland

November 23, 2008 at 5:05 am

Why I Love Them

So here I am.  Its 7:45pm and the boys have been in bed for 15 minutes.  Hallie is visiting her sister in Dallas this weekend which leaves me flying solo until mid-afternoon Sunday.  And, you know…I actually love it.  One of the things Hallie and I observed as a childless married couple were two types of parents: ones that enjoyed their children and ones that didn’t.  The former lived in the kind of homes that you just loved visiting.  Mama was happy.  Daddy was happy.  And the kiddos were happy.  That isn’t to say there weren’t problems — even major at times.  Its just that they weathered them together.  Then there was the latter.  Their dreams all entailed getting away from their kids.  “I can’t wait till their in college.  Then we’ll have our life back.  We’ll finally take that cruise we’ve always wanted to do.”  And unfortunately those kids understood all too clearly where they fit into their parents’ dreams.

So we made the decision to enjoy our children.  Little did we know what we were getting into.  Our children — all four by six years of them — challenge every last one of my nerves.  There are times I get angry.  There are time I get selfish.  There are times I have to sit a 3 year old on my knee and say, “Will you forgive daddy?  He didn’t speak to you very kindly a minute ago.”  The crazy thing about it all is that I simply can’t be the former kind of parents without Jesus.  He is the only one — through his death and resurrection — that has been able to show me and empower me to live for the sake of someone else.  He is the only one that has loved me that way — through all my tantrums, huffs, and downright malevolent moments.

All that said, this weekend is reminding me again how much God loves me and how much I’m learning to love my children the same way. The gospel has freed me up to sincerely and voraciously delight in my children.

And since no good blog post is complete without a numbered list, here are my top five favorite moments of today — in no particular order.

  1. Reading “Pepin the Not-Big” reader with my two oldest boys for their Kindergarten home-school today.  The story is supposed to be about Charlemagne’s daddy.
  2. Hearing my 1 year old say “I lub ooo” to his mama on the phone tonight.  He is a big phone listener but not so much a talker.
  3. Laughing at myself for saying at lunch, “No, you have to finish your french fries before you can eat your candy.”
  4. Seeing my 6 year old and 4 year old fight over who was going to share their blanket with my 3 year old who was thoroughly upset he had lost his.  Sharing is like a lunar eclipse in my house — infrequent and often missed.
  5. That I’m really looking forward to tomorrow with the four musketeers.

For Further Reading

Written by Joe Holland

November 21, 2008 at 9:08 pm

Posted in haste

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