The Banner of Christ Alone

(Part 1 of 3)

Some of the national debate which has ensued following the shooting of nine Christians in Charleston revolves around whether to furl the Confederate flag, as it is now being used as a banner under which many of the white supremacist groups fly.

agnus dei banner

I want to add to some of the thoughts on heritage and the banners under which we fly, but from a different angle.  I believe that flags, badges and symbols of our heritage matter, but they should not be our primary and defining identity any longer as Christians. And neither should the color of our skin for that matter.

Paul writes to the Philippians:

If anyone else has reason to be confident in the flesh, I have more: 5 circumcised on the eighth day, a member of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless.

Yet whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ. More than that, I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but one that comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God based on faith. 10 I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, 11 if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead. – Philippians 3:4-11

There are a lot of reasons for me to take pride in my heritage in the flesh. Like Paul, I can make great boasts of my heritage as an American, as a Southerner, as a descendant of pioneer Floridians. There are amazing things about my heritage in the flesh. The Holt family was in Virginia before the Mayflower landed. Yet as I have learned more about my family line, there were some real victims and scoundrels too!  The first Holt in America was an indentured slave to the first doctor of Jamestown, and his great-great-grandson left slaves to his heirs in his will.

We were personally responsible for killing many Native American Indians following the Indian massacre of 1621. The Holts helped burn Jamestown to the ground during Bacon’s Rebellion in 1676. I had great-great-grandparents on both sides of the North-South war—which ones should I identify with? I have family that emigrated from Germany, my grandfather flew 30 bombing missions over Germany killing at least hundreds, if not thousands, of Germans. Another grandfather, a ship captain in the Navy, hated the Japanese for their atrocities in the Great War. Two generations later, I drive a Japanese-made car. My ancestors were instrumental in founding Princeton University, Washington and Lee University, and Union Theological Seminary. At least one of my ancestors was a member of the KKK. Articles about his death and funeral describe how white-robed hooded men burned a cross on his grave in his honor.

In my ancestry, there are war heroes, victims of injustice, victims of abuse and violence, pioneers, racists, slaves, doctors, pastors, college deans and presidents, missionaries, and the like. I personally was trained by the best seminary professors and am the third generation to graduate from the University of Florida! (Go Gators!) How am I to define myself, and how are you going to define me?

If anyone has reason to be confident in the flesh, certainly I do. If anyone has reason to be ashamed of the flesh, I do too. We learn our history in order to learn from it.  But as followers in Christ, it must not be what defines us. Can I, with Paul, sacrifice my confidence in the flesh?

When I was at the University of Florida, I joined the Kappa Alpha Order fraternity. Our symbol was the rebel flag. On Old South days, we would all dress in Confederate uniforms, we would build a fort in front of the fraternity house and fly the Confederate flags proudly. I learned the principles of being a Southern gentleman. I had a picture of Robert E. Lee over my bed.  My Junior year of college, I gave my life to Christ. The Lord set me free and changed my perspective about a lot of things. I gained a new identity in him. One of the things that I did was move out of the fraternity house to go live with Christian brothers. I learned the true meaning of brotherhood, and it wasn’t what I had been experiencing in the fraternity house. Now that I have greater understanding of all that the flag represents, I would never want to fly under the banner of the Confederate flag, and I have not done so since giving my life to the Lord. The things I once took great pride in, these things no longer define me.

Does that mean, that I have denied my southern heritage, yes and no. I know my personal history and my family heritage, I can evaluate it and myself. I see how I have been shaped in my attitudes and heart dispositions in both positive and negative ways by my inheritance in the flesh. But however I am identified by my inheritance in the flesh, it must now be redeemed and subsumed in the Lord. I am a new person in Jesus Christ. As a follower of Christ, I want to be known by Jesus Christ. May others see Him lifted high in my life! So if you want to know my identity, I would display my banner of Christ alone. All other loyalties are submissive to that one allegiance. With Paul, I would become all things to all people that I may win some for the cause of Christ. I would gladly furl any flag that is a barrier to Christ being glorified in me. 25 years ago, I furled the Confederate flag for that very reason.

What about you? How has your heritage in the flesh shaped your own understanding of yourself and your own identity? Can you with Paul count all confidences in the flesh (race, historic heritage, nationalism or tribal identity) as a loss for the sake of knowing Christ? What makes it so hard to let go of worldly pride of heritage?

The Temptation Trap

Psalm 141

A psalm of David.

Image via Waiting for the Word on Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/waitingfortheword/8411310596/1 I call to you, Lord, come quickly to me;
    hear me when I call to you.
2 May my prayer be set before you like incense;
    may the lifting up of my hands be like the evening sacrifice.

3 Set a guard over my mouth, Lord;
    keep watch over the door of my lips.
4 Do not let my heart be drawn to what is evil
    so that I take part in wicked deeds
along with those who are evildoers;
    do not let me eat their delicacies.

5 Let a righteous man strike me—that is a kindness;
    let him rebuke me—that is oil on my head.
My head will not refuse it,
    for my prayer will still be against the deeds of evildoers.

6 Their rulers will be thrown down from the cliffs,
    and the wicked will learn that my words were well spoken.
7 They will say, “As one plows and breaks up the earth,
    so our bones have been scattered at the mouth of the grave.”

8 But my eyes are fixed on you, Sovereign Lord;
    in you I take refuge—do not give me over to death.
9 Keep me safe from the traps set by evildoers,
    from the snares they have laid for me.
10 Let the wicked fall into their own nets,
    while I pass by in safety.

When you are surrounded by corrupt people on every side and when your environment is one which is hostile to the Christian life, it can be very easy to lose conviction and be drawn into sin. This is the situation out of which the psalmist struggles in Psalm 141. He has an urgent need for the sustaining power of God to keep him from falling into the sin of those around him: “O Lord, I call to you; come quickly to me” (v. 1 NIV).

The one praying asks God to sustain him in righteousness. “Set a guard over my mouth, O Lord … Let not my heart be drawn to what is evil, to take part in wicked deeds with men who are evildoers” (vv.3-4 NIV). The danger of being in the midst of corruption is that we can be corrupted in thought, word and deed. The speaker of this psalm knows that his only hope to keep him from falling into sin is the sustaining power of God. We need to be constantly asking God to sustain us from sin.

The psalmist specifically asks God for a righteous person to be brought into his life and hold him accountable. “Let a righteous man strike me – it is a kindness; let him rebuke me – it is oil on my head…” (v. 5 NIV). The firm word of accountability is a blessing from God.  This man knows that he needs someone in his life who will hold him to his vow to keep God’s standards. Pray that God will send someone into your life to hold you accountable to God’s standards.

The speaker also avoids falling into temptation by maintaining a focus on the Lord. “But my eyes are fixed on you” (v.8 NIV). Only by keeping thoughts and meditations on the Lord and His Word can corruption be avoided. The times when we lose that focus are the times when we will drift into sin.

Prayer: God, you alone can sustain me from sin and corruption. I am weak. Put someone in my life to hold me accountable. Be a powerful presence in my life so that I can stay focused on you.

The Rev. Charlie Holt
St Peter’s Church
Lake Mary, FL

Originally posted here. For help studying the Bible, please find the Old Testament Study Guide and the New Testament Study Guide sections of the Bible Challenge website.

Everlasting Love

“Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good” (v.1). Psalm 136 asks us to take a moment and thank God for His goodness to us. The repeated phrase, “His love endures forever,” answers our question of why we should give thanks. God’s love is an everlasting love. It is eternal. It has no beginning or end.

Open Star Cluster Westerlund 2 & Starforming Region Gum 29 via Hubble Heritage on Flickr https://www.flickr.com/photos/hubble-heritage/16635704113/

The psalmist gives two illustrations of God’s love. The first is the story of God creating the cosmos. Do you know that God created the heavens and the earth, the stars, sun and moon out of His love? He lovingly created an entire cosmos. Just think of it! “His steadfast love endures forever” (v.9b).

But that was just the start of God’s expression of His love. The God of gods specifically loved the nation of Israel. He loved them so much that He rescued them out of slavery in Egypt and gave them a special land in which to dwell. God’s love is huge in that it is directed toward His entire creation, yet it is also directed toward a chosen people in a special way.

Today the Church is that chosen people. God has saved us out of bondage to sin and death. He has rescued us from His own righteous anger through the death of His only begotten Son on a wooden cross. Paul says in Romans: “God shows his love for us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us” (v.5:8). “Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). Truly God’s love does endure forever. “Give thanks to the God of heaven.  His love endures forever” (v.26 NIV).

Prayer:  I thank you, Lord for your creation and your loving hands which shaped it. I thank you for your great love in choosing to have mercy on me and giving me a great inheritance when I did not deserve it. Thank you for the death of your son for my sins.

The Rev. Charlie Holt
St Peter’s Church
Lake Mary, FL

Originally posted here. For help studying the Bible, please find the Old Testament Study Guide and the New Testament Study Guide sections of the Bible Challenge website.

God Is Good

While Psalm 134 is a call to praise the Lord, Psalm 135 provides motives for praise.  We are all servants of the Lord, and we are all ministers of the house of the Lord; therefore, this psalm provides us all with a motive for praise.

Image from JFXie on Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/50249715@N06/7321064334

Praise the Lord, for the Lord is good.  Do you really believe that God is good?  In the same way that God chose Israel, God has chosen the Church in Christ.  Paul says in Ephesians 1:3-4: “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ.  For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight” (NIV).  He was not obligated to have mercy on us; He was not obligated to have mercy on anyone.

Yet God has not only been patient and merciful to all mankind, He has specifically chosen His Church to receive His grace and mercy.  He has chosen the Church “to be his treasured possession” (v.4 NIV).  He has blessed us “with every spiritual blessing.”  He has chosen us to be the recipients of His heavenly goodness.  “Sing praise to his name, for that is pleasant” (v.3 NIV).

Prayer:  Lord Jesus, you have been so good to me.  You have blessed me with all spiritual blessings in the heavenly realms.  I praise you for your goodness, knowing that it is only because of your good pleasure and choice that I am the recipient of your blessings.

The Rev. Charlie Holt
St. Peter’s Church
Lake Mary, FL

Originally posted here. For help studying the Bible, please find the Old Testament Study Guide and the New Testament Study Guide sections of the Bible Challenge website.

The Meditations of a Pilgrim

The meditations of a pilgrim anticipate the destination. The pilgrim’s mind is filled with ideas of what it will be like when he “gets there.” We do the same thing; on Image via Waiting for the Word on Flickrlong road trips to vacation sites, our thoughts are filled with anticipation and excitement. The goal of a Israelite pilgrim was Jerusalem. For there God’s presence manifested itself in a special way within the Holy of Holies, in the temple of God. The temple was known as God’s house. Oh, it did not contain Him, but the temple was the footstool of the Heavenly King whose throne was in heaven. At Jerusalem, man could approach the very throne of God.

Jerusalem was the place where all the tribes of Israel would go to offer praise to their king, the Lord.  It was the place where justice reigned (v.5).  It was a place of security.  Jerusalem was a place which was safe and peaceful. Read King David’s sentiments about the Holy City:

Psalm 122

A song of ascents. Of David.

1 I rejoiced with those who said to me,
“Let us go to the house of the Lord.”
2 Our feet are standing
in your gates, Jerusalem.

3 Jerusalem is built like a city
that is closely compacted together.
4 That is where the tribes go up—
the tribes of the Lord
to praise the name of the Lord
according to the statute given to Israel.
5 There stand the thrones for judgment,
the thrones of the house of David.

6 Pray for the peace of Jerusalem:
“May those who love you be secure.
7 May there be peace within your walls
and security within your citadels.”
8 For the sake of my family and friends,
I will say, “Peace be within you.”
9 For the sake of the house of the Lord our God,
I will seek your prosperity.

The writer of Hebrews tells us that “here we do not have an enduring city, but we are looking for the city that is to come” (Hebrews 13:14 NIV).  Old Jerusalem in all its glory is a mere shadow of the great glory of the heavenly Jerusalem.  We are citizens of that heavenly city.  As pilgrims to that city, we should meditate on what it will be like when we “get there.”  In one sense, we are already there; for even now, the temple of God is the people of God.  We are at the footstool of His throne every time we assemble for worship.  Now we can offer Him praise at His feet and petition Him for peace and security.  Yet we are on a long road trip to the New Jerusalem.  There, we will see God’s face.  There, righteousness dwells and justice reigns.  The glory of God will be seen in its fullness.

Prayer:  Heavenly King, your Kingdom must be a glorious place filled with great joy and love.  Heaven will be great, Oh Lord, for you will be there.  I cannot wait to be with you and see you face to face.

The Rev. Charlie Holt
St. Peter’s Church
Lake Mary, FL

Originally posted here. For help studying the Bible, please find the Old Testament Study Guide and the New Testament Study Guide sections of the Bible Challenge website.