Dangerous Ministry?

I love missions. And I really love our church’s missionaries.

One of my favorite parts of our ministry is when we get to interview missionaries on Sunday mornings. A few weeks ago I interviewed Rosie Martinez. She works with inner city girls who are orphans, drug addicts, and prostitutes in Mexico City. She is a fireball for Jesus. You should watch the video of her testimony on the Grace Community Church website to recalibrate your gospel priorities.

Among the many encouraging and challenging things she shared with Crossroads on that Sunday, there was something unexpected. Unexpected, scary, and refreshing.

One of the questions I asked her was if there were any opportunities for us to come to Mexico City for a short-term ministry trip.

“Yes!” she gleamed.

“But I cannot ensure the safety of anyone who comes.”

The room got very still. She went on to tell us that the drug cartels did not want her invading their territories and stealing their prostitutes, even if it was Jesus who was doing the stealing. Being beaten, shot, and even killed is a real threat to her and those who minister with her every day.

I haven’t stopped thinking about what she said to us. “I cannot ensure your safety if you come to minister with me.” I wonder how many parents would be willing to send their high school or college students to spend a week with her. I wonder what I would say if one of my sons wanted to go.

The verse that has been echoing in my mind since that day is Acts 20:24. Paul was saying a final goodbye to the Ephesians elders who had traveled to Miletus to see him. During that tearful interchange he made this profound statement:

“But I do not consider my life of any account as dear to myself, so that I may finish my course and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify solemnly of the gospel of the grace of God.”

To put it in Rosie’s terms, his safety was not ensured and he was content with that because of the inestimable value of participating in gospel ministry.

All this makes me ask myself some hard questions:

  1. Is my life too “dear” to myself?
  2. Am I willing to do ministry where and when my safety is not ensured?
  3. Will I let my sons risk their lives for Jesus if they are inclined?
  4. Am I passionate about “finishing my course and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus”?
  5. Am I too comfortable in my ministry?

I hope you will ask similar questions today…

Cultural Engagement by Being Cool

I just read Phil Johnson’s post on Pyromanics about “cultural engagement” and it got me thinking. I agree in total with what Phil has written and want to take the argument a step farther (you should read his post before continuing).

First, there is no such thing as culture in a monolithic sense. Every culture—now and throughout history—is made up of a countless number of subcultures. Just talk to any student in high school. There are cultural norms for athletes, thespians, brainiacs, druggies, gamers, even Trekkies (yes, Star Trek is still alive and well). But the most sweeping categories are simply the cool and the not-so-cool. 

It seems to me that those who are loudest about engaging the culture for the advancement of the gospel are selective about which part of the culture they are trying to engage. If you interpret what they are saying by what they are doing, these hip pastors and their cool churches are targeting cool people who wear cool cloths and have cool haircuts and speak cool language while worshipping to cool music. When have you ever heard a church who is trying to reach the not-so-cool culture? I’m afraid that the proponents of cultural engagement try to reach the segment of the culture with which they most want to personally identify.

Yes, there are some exemplary ministries reaching the not-so-cool culture. I have been deeply impacted by those who minister to the impoverished, those who make great sacrifices to go overseas in missions, even those who minister to our children in Sunday School. But you rarely hear them telling everyone to join them in “cultural engagement.”

As Phil points out, all ministries engage the culture at some level. But engaging the culture is very different than imitating it.

The church of the 19th century wanted to engage the academic culture. Evolutionary propaganda was poking its finger into the chest of Bible believers who had the audacity to believe the supernatural events of Scripture, especially of the Creation account.  So the church tried to become intellectually credible (e.g., theistic evolution). I think the truth is that many simply wanted to avoid the tag that Christians were not intellectual. The end result was a fast slide toward liberalism through accommodation. Today we see something very similar. Whereas the church of the mid-1800s did all it could to avoid being labeled un-intellectual, the church today seems to be doing all it can to avoid being labeled un-cool. That generation wanted intellectually credibility, ours is after the credibility of coolness. I suspect that the undertow toward liberalism is not far behind.

I’m looking for the day when one of these hip churches plants a church that targets the nerd culture with a nerdy pastor who wears nerdy clothes with nerdy music. Until then, I remain suspicious.

I’m Writing a Book

WARNING: Shameless Self-Promotion Alert!!!

FYI, I’m writing a book.

I’ve thought about writing a book for a long time. There are several files in my desk with book ideas, even chapter outlines. But none of them ended up being my first (Wow, that is a word of faith!) solo project.

The book is coming out of a series I have been preaching over the past few months. It has been one of the most personally impacting things I have ever taught through. I’m usually a through-the-verse-next-verse guy. But this series was more of a topical/theological study.

The subject is simple. The title serves as a metaphor and explanation of the concept. Drum roll… It is called Uneclipsing the Son. The thesis is that the glory of Jesus and our experience of the abundant life He offers can be easily eclipsed by sin and idolatry.

I’ve heard it said that there are no such things as good writers, only good editors. This is certainly proving true with this project. I am unspeakably thankful for Brian Thomasson who has the painful task of serving as my editor. I am getting chapters back from him and finding myself saying: “Yeah, that’s what I meant to say.” I’m learning the value of collaborative effort in written communication. It is amazing (embarrassing?) how wrong you can be about your own clarity. It kind of makes me wish I had an editor for all my communications who could interrupt me and say, “You know, there is a better way to say what you’re trying to say.” (I’m sure Kim and my boys would value from such.)

The book should be finished in a few weeks and out by March. Rick Kress is kindly taking a chance on me by publishing it. I will be providing updates in the coming weeks on the book and humbly ask for your prayers as I finish it. Unfortunately, nothing stops to provide extra time for writing (Oh, for a sabbatical!).

Why the shameless-self-promoting-blog-post-about-my-book? To ask you to pray for me. I’m not a good writer. I have a great editor, but I want to have the blessing of God on this project. Also, I don’t want to neglect my family as deadlines stalk me.

Thanks for considering this addition to your prayer list…


I am constantly humbled by the ministries I get to visit and with whom I can participate. Because of these privileges, flying has become a regular part of my life and ministry.

Air travel has changed a lot in the last decade. The tragedies of “9/11” made flying a different experience. I have fond memories of the old days when Kim and the boys would park in the lot and accompany me all the way to the gate. I still remember the affections as we waved goodbye until the last second of walking into the jet way. Now it’s a quick parting as they drop me off at the curb while the airport police try to shuffle them out of the unloading zone.

Then there are the lines. We should all be thankful for security, but somebody is going to make a lot of money if they figure out how to expedite this process.

Flying is increasingly becoming sterile, impersonal, and routine. All to say, a growing disdain for air travel has been festering in my cabinet of dissatisfaction. That is until recently.

A new love (ok, maybe that is too strong a word) for flying has visited my heart of late. I admit it—I kind of like it these days. No phone calls, WiFi on most flights, and most of all, nowhere to go but your seat—all this has actually made flying one of the most productive times I can find.

Then add the responses you get from what your reading, especially the Bible. The person in the seat next to you is a seat-belted captive for gospel conversations.

I often think of what my grandfather might think of life today. The commonplaceness of flying would certainly be a surprise to him. But so would the fact that it takes getting to 30,000 feet to get things done.

Oh yeah, I’m writing this on a flight…

The Unity of the Bible

While studying this week for my sermon I was once again moved by the unity of the message of the Bible. How could Isaiah and Hosea’s understanding of idolatry be identical to the Apostle Paul’s? Considering the uniqueness of their contexts and the distance from one another, there should be little chance their theological worldviews would match. However, their assessments and warnings sound like they’ve been reading each other’s mail.

This got me to thinking about the Bible’s unity. And reconsidering the Bible’s unity reminded me of a section from W.A. Criswell’s book, Why I Preach the Bible is Literally True. I read it again and thought it is worth passing along. I trust it will bolster confidence in Scripture and fuel worship for our God who has left us a Book. Here is the quote from Criswell:

The Bible was written on two continents, in countries hundreds of miles apart. One man wrote one part of the Bible in Syria; another man wrote another part in Arabia; a third man wrote another portion in Italy and in Greece. They wrote in the desert of Sinai, in the wilderness of Judea, in the cave of Adullam, in the public prison of Rome, on the Isle of Patmos, in the palaces of Mount Zion and Shushan, by the rivers of Babylon and on the banks of the Chebar. Such a variety of places and circumstances were the various bits of this strange mosaic created! No literary phenomenon in the world can be compared with it.

The Bible was written in three different languages: namely, Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek. Some writers wrote hundreds of years after or before the others. The first part was written about fifteen hundred years before the man who wrote the last part was born. The authorship of the books of the Bible extends through the slow progress of nearly 16 centuries. When we think that the nation of America is not 200 years old, it is almost unbelievable that the authorship of the Bible covered nearly 16 centuries.

The Bible was written by men upon every level of political and social life, from the king upon his throne, down to the herdsmen, shepherds, fishermen, and petty politicians. Here are words written     by princes, by poets, by philosophers, by fishermen, by statesmen, by prophets, by priests, by publicans, by physicians, by men learned in the wisdom of Egypt, by men educated in the school of Babylon, by men trained at the feet of rabbis like Gamaliel. Men of every grade and class are represented in this miraculous Volume. The circumstances under which the Book was written were sometimes most difficult and always most varying. Parts of it were written in tents, deserts, cities, palaces, and dungeons. Some of it was written in times of imminent danger and other portions of it were written in seasons of ecstatic joy.

Not only in background and in circumstances do the authors differ who wrote the word of God, but they also display in their writings every form of literary structure. In the Bible we will find all kinds of poetry such as epic poetry, lyric poetry, didactic poetry, elegiac and rhapsodic poetry. Also we find every kind of prose. There is historic prose, didactic prose, and theological prose. The Bible will be partly in the form of letters, in the form of proverbs, in the form of parable, in the form of allegory, in the form of oration. Every kind of style and type of literature we will find the Word of God.

Is it thinkable that any book written in different places, languages, and literary genre by authors out of varying cultural levels and circumstances could ever come to be one volume, an organic whole: What would we naturally expect from such a background? We would expect whole areas of discord and all of it utterly lacking any basic or organic unity. In point of fact, what do we find? We find the most heavenly and marvelous unity of any book on the earth. Every part of the Bible fits every other part of the Bible. There is one ever-increasing, ever-growing-ever-developing plan pervading the whole (pp. 93-95).

Here are Kim’s thoughts and perspective on Luke’s ATV crash. As usual, she provides better details and a further biblical orientation. She was going to post this on her Facebook account, but after reading it I asked her to let me post it here (and there)…

Of course Rick’s thoughts reflect my heart as well. These are just some additional details and thoughts that took place from my perspective.

First of all, I was very uneasy about Luke driving the 4-wheeler as a beginner on this particular trail. But I know I can be overprotective sometimes, so I timidly went along with the plan and prayed that the Lord would protect us all. I can see now that God was already reminding me that He is the one who protects my children, not me! And a good friend with us told me, “This will be a character-building experience.” How right he was.

We were in a line of 6 ATVs going up the trail and Luke was #3. I was #5 and Rick was behind me. As we approached the ½ mile mark the leader stopped to let everyone catch up. That was when I heard the question that pierced my soul: “Where is Luke?” Apparently there had been enough space in front of him and behind him that no one had seen him leave the trail, no one except His Creator, that is. At that moment the more experienced riders, including Rick, headed back down the trail to search for him. I knew there was only one option because I had seen no other trails on which he could have taken a wrong turn. The questions in my mind were, “Where is he?” and “How badly is he hurt?” But the most menacing question was, “Is he alive?”

Several of my friends are going through trials in their life and questions which go unanswered for months and months. This was a tiny little test of about 10 minutes which seemed like an hour. John and Mark were there waiting with me. I knew they were taking their queues from me. (In talking to them later, I realized that they didn’t know how serious it could have been.) We prayed together and then I prayed silently. That was when God assured my heart and mind that whatever the outcome, this was all a part of His sovereign and good plan. I didn’t remember this until later, but that morning I had read and underlined in Isaiah 14, “The Lord of hosts has sworn saying, ‘Surely, just as I have intended so it has happened, and just as I have planned so it will stand.’”

Soon after God brought me to this place, one of our friends came back up the trail giving me the thumbs up signal. Then he told me Luke had crashed and needed his leg checked out. What joy flooded my soul at that point as I prayed, “Thank you, Lord!”

We found out later from Luke that when he reached the bottom he climbed back up to the trail (not an easy feat, especially in his condition). He said that right as he got back up he saw the back of Rick’s vehicle and started yelling, but was not heard over the engine. Then he realized his shoes had flown off at some point.

As Rick said, God’s goodness is manifested in our lives in ALL that He does, whether difficult or joyful. But there were several ways we saw His mercy in this event. Besides what I’ve already recounted, we could have been a lot further up the trail when this happened (and therefore, higher!!!). Also, he was wearing a helmet, which protected him as the vehicle rolled over him. Another mercy was that I didn’t see it happen. One other I want to mention is that as we went back the next day we were amazed at how many boulders Luke passed on his way down.

My greatest prayer at this time is that God would use this in Luke’s life to glorify Himself. That night I read in Romans 14:7-9, “For not one of us lives for himself, and not one dies for himself; for if we live, we live for the Lord, or if we die, we die for the Lord; therefore, whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s. For to this end Christ died and lived again, that He might be Lord both of the dead and of the living.” Please pray with us that Luke would live his spared life for the Lord, who died for this purpose.

Our family has spent the last week in a cabin in the Rockies of Southwest Colorado. Lots of special memories created from some much needed family time. But none more special than this one. Luke, our 14-year-old, came close to death and God spared him with obvious supernatural providence.

We were taking ATVs up a mountain road when Luke hit a rut and lost control. He plunged off the side of the road and rolled down a 40 foot cliff/embankment. He doesn’t remember much about the fall except that the ATV rolled over him. The 4-wheeler came to rest when it was blocked by a fallen log. The log was wedged between two trees and below it were some boulders. The short of it is that the log created a “pocket” between the ATV and the boulders where Luke ended up. If the fall had happened two feet either way, he would have been crushed between the 800lb machine and rocks.

I share these details to praise and thank God for sparing our son. He walked away with only bumps and bruises. When we went back to wench out the ATV the next day, I was amazed that Luke is alive.

God displayed great mercy on Luke. A well-meaning friend said to me about the accident, “God has been good to the Holland family.” I certainly agree, but God would have been equally good if he had called Luke home to Heaven. I think the better attribute of God to praise is His mercy. He did not at this time give Luke the “wages of his sin” which is death (Rom 6:23). When God’s kindness withholds deserved judgment, it is a display of His mercy.

The night of the crash, we prayed and wept together in humble thanks to God for His mercy. Here is a video of the crash site that will forever remind us of God’s rich mercy. You can see the ATV  (upside down) in the center of the screen at the 15 second mark.


Vacation. The word makes you breathe deeper, slower, better. After a busy year and fast-paced summer, our family is taking a few days of vacation.

There is an art to vacationing that I have never mastered. Kim is a pro. She can easily relax, forget about normal responsibilities, play hard, and not be annoyed by how filthy the boys get. It takes me a few days to actually relax enough to enjoy the time away.

This year we have landed in Southern Colorado, high in the Rockies for a week. Thanks to the graciousness of some friends providing accommodations, we are enjoying some of the Creator’s most beautiful artwork. Fishing, 4-wheeling, hiking a “Fourteener” (14,000’ peak), spotting lots of critters, and watching Shark Week at night, we are already pulling together some great memories.

Each vacation has a unique personality. This year is no different. The place we are staying is deep in a valley and has no cell signal and we are limiting our access to the internet. It has taken a few days for me to adjust to the absence my electronic leashes. But something wonderfully strange has been happening in our car, at our meals, and even during the episodes of Shark Week. The competition is gone. I am slowly losing that feeling that someone is tapping me on the shoulder by pinging me in an email, Facebook, Twitter, or a phone call. Not that those things are bad, but that they can be interruptions to the relationships that matter most.

The result is some really good time with Kim and the boys. As much as I am in awe of the majesty of the Rocky Mountains, I am more so that I have been blessed with such a wonderful wife and three really cool boys.

Next week it’s back to “normal” (whatever that is). I am looking forward to jumping into the rhythm of ministry. But until then, I’m enjoying the view.

The Internet is a smorgasbord of information on almost anything. Cable news allows instant access to information about what’s happening everywhere in the world. And go to the magazine rack at Barnes and Noble; you can get information on just about any subject imaginable.

That we live in an information age is self-evident. But living in this chapter of history has a major liability.

One of the subtlest misconceptions of postmodernity is the delusion that “information” and “knowledge” are interchangeable. The assumption is that if the information about something enters your cognition, you have gained knowledge about that subject.

Information is simply data. But information is transformed into knowledge when the mind assesses it as valuable enough to use later. Someone taking calculus simply as a math requirement usually jettisons the information gained for taking a test after that test. But for someone who needs those same equations for an engineering major, there is a need to retain the information as knowledge to both reference and build upon.

I was thinking about this as I was working on a sermon today. It is easy to think that because we’ve heard and appreciated the information presented in a sermon, our responsibility is complete. However, unless that information takes root in our hearts as something we really know (knowledge), we’ve merely been amused by divine truth.

It’s interesting that the Bible writers do not speak much about gaining information about God; instead, they emphasize gaining knowledge of Him.

Listen to what Peter says about the knowledge of God in his second epistle:

“Grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord; seeing that His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence” (2 Pet 1:2-3).

“Now for this very reason also, applying all diligence, in your faith supply moral excellence, and in your moral excellence, knowledge, and in your knowledge, self-control, and in your self-control, perseverance, and in your perseverance, godliness…” (2 Pet 1:5-6).

“For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they render you neither useless nor unfruitful in the true knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Pet 1:8).

“But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To Him be the glory, both now and to the day of eternity. Amen” (2 Pet 3:18).

From these verses we discover that the knowledge of God:

  • is the means of experiencing God’s grace and peace
  • is the channel of divine power in our lives
  • is the sufficient resource for everything pertaining to life and godliness
  • is a chain link in our growth toward spiritual maturity
  • is the outcome of Christian virtue
  • is the way to grow in our relationship with Jesus

But the key to enjoying the benefits of the knowledge of God is distinguishing it from mere information about God. I think the way to change this perspective is by reading the Scriptures “theo-centrically,” in other words, with God in mind. This perspective can be applied to listening to sermons as well. Whenever we hear or read anything informative about God, it should become fuel for worshipping Him. It’s really about the ability to assess the value of true (i.e., biblical) information about God and respond appropriately.

So as we obtain information about God this week from the variety of sources we will encounter (sermons, devotions, books, etc.), we should not be content to merely be informed. Instead, that information should transform into knowledge, things we know and care about concerning God. And nowhere is this information-to-knowledge continuum understood better than in our understanding of Jesus.

Paul said it like this: “For God, who said, ‘Light shall shine out of darkness,’ is the One who has shone in our hearts to give the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ” (2 Cor 4:6).

And Peter said it with these simple words: “Grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Pet 3:18).

It is obvious that Peter and Paul were reading from the same Holy Script.  I want to read from the same.

Dazzled by Jesus

There should be nothing more interesting to a Christian than Jesus. Jesus is the most excellent subject to study, the most precious thought to contemplate, and the most satisfying object for the soul’s affections.

I recently began reading Isaac Ambrose’s book, Looking Unto Jesus. I remain amazed by how Puritans like him wrote. These men wasted no words. Every sentence is rich theological dark chocolate. Ambrose work is serving my soul as a new catalyst for deeper interest in and attraction to Jesus.

The following quote is from Ambrose’s first chapter. If you love Jesus, this should make you want to go read your Bible to enjoy something fresh about our Savior.

Ambrose writes:

In [the] knowledge of Christ, there is an excellency above all other knowledge in the world; there is nothing more pleasing and comfortable, more animating and enlivening, more ravishing and soul contenting; only Christ is the sun and center of all divine revealed truths, we can preach nothing else as the object of our faith, as the necessary element of your soul’s salvation, which doth not some way or the, either meet in Christ, or refer to Christ; only Christ is the whole of man’s happiness, the Sun to enlighten him, the Physician to heal him, the Ark to support him, the Rock to sustain him under the heaviest pressures… Only Christ is that ladder between earth and heaven, the Mediator between God and man, a mystery which the angels of heaven desire to pry and peep and look into (1 Pet 1:12). Here is a blessed subject indeed; who would not be glad to pry into it, to be acquainted with it? “This is eternal life, to know God and Jesus Christ whom he hath sent” (John 17:3). Come then, let us look at the Sun of righteousness. We cannot receive harm but good by such a look; indeed by looking long on the natural sun, we have our eyes dazzled and our faces blackened. But by looking unto Jesus Christ, we shall have our eyes clearer and our faces fairer… As Christ is more excellent than all the world, so this sight transcends all other sights; it is the epitome of a Christian’s happiness, the quintessence of evangelical duties, looking unto Jesus (Isaac Ambrose: Looking Unto Jesus, Harrisonburg, VA: Sprinkle Publications 1986/1658, 17-18).

I pray that our eyes are dazzled by looking unto Jesus.

Another Blog…

Approaching Damascus: Where the gospel changes everything


I have been hesitant to begin a blog for long time and for a lot for a lot of reasons.

I am not confident that I have much worthwhile to add to a blogosphere already filled to the brim with information and opinions. There are a lot of good weblogs and I try to check in on them as often as possible. I do read blogs, but I tend to read them when someone recommends posts that have a “Wow!” factor or if the RSS feeds catch my attention. I mostly watch for reactions to blogs by those I trust. Most of those recommendations pop up on someone’s Twitter feed.

So why add my voice to the internet chorus? It is not about making statements; it is about writing myself clear. I got that phrase from Dr. Albert Mohler who once told me that he “writes to think himself clear.” I like that. Writing something that someone is going to read and react to forces a dimension of clarity that is purifying. My desire is to use this space to think better, communicate more clearly, bring glory to God, and become more like Jesus.

Why the name, “Approaching Damascus”?

Because just outside Damascus (Acts 9:3) Saul was converted. The Apostle Paul met the living Savior, Jesus Christ, on that Syrian road. As he was “approaching Damascus,” everything changed.

His life was intercepted.
His perspective was reversed.
His eyes were opened.
His passion was redirected.
His worldview changed.
His soul was converted.
His mission was clarified.

Paul’s approaching Damascus is a rallying point. It symbolizes for me a place where the gospel of Jesus Christ changes everything. So I want to use this blog as a simple way of communicating (primarily) to our Crossroads family some things that are important to me as I watch Jesus Christ come to bear on everything in our ministry and in my own life. I hope that it will be an extension of my pastoral care to the flock I love here at Grace Community Church.