The Banner of Christ Alone

Part 3 of 3

The vision of the New Humanity voiced in the New Covenant does indeed express a vision that includes people from every tribe and nation. Praise God for that!  It also is a call to be willing to die to those cultural and genetic identities along with all of their badges and symbols. This is precisely what Paul is getting at in the verse from Philippians that I quoted here. We all have reasons in the flesh for which to be proud and for which to be ashamed. (Read Part 1 here and Part 2 here.)

agnus dei banner

Paul was saying that as far as his essential Jewishness, he had much to be confidentPaul didn’t get any more Jewish both genetically, religiously, culturally and practically:

  • 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.

This is a description of the “banner and mantle of Jewish identity.” He could just as well be raising the flag in pride of his Southern credentials. Notice that some of these things on Paul’s list, he could never actually change about himself; he could not change his Jewish DNA any more than any one of us could change the color of our skin.

Yet Paul regarded even this badge of birthright (ie. his skin) as “rubbish” (Phil. 3:8) because of Christ. Moreover, he counted that entire list of confidences in the flesh as loss for the sake of knowing Christ. He was not going to let his Jewish nature and identity get in the way of knowing and pursuing Christ. He certainly was not going to allow his tribal roots and identity as a Jew compromise and affect his fellowship with non-Jewish brothers and sisters in Christ.

What lessons can we learn as white and black Southerners who are also followers of Christ?

Circumcision is a badge, like a flag. It is a symbol of identity—Jewish identity. It says, this is who I am—and this is who you are not. For Paul, neither circumcision nor circumcision matters in light of the coming of the Messiah.  Paul pleaded with the Jewish Christians to let the badge of their genetic, cultural and religious identity go for the sake of unity in Jesus Christ with the Gentile believers. And he pleaded with Gentile believers to do the same.

We are in another one of those times as the nations, ethnicities, races, tribes are culturally colliding. We all need to be willing to “put no confidence in the flesh” and regard our genetic heritage as “rubbish” for the sake of Christ and the Kingdom of God. Genetically, religiously, culturally and practically—will we lower the banners and badges of our tribal “rubbish” in exchange for the glory of being considered a Child of God and co-heir with Christ?

You ask me to set aside my white Southern family heritage for your sake and for the sake of Christ. I tell you that I am willing to do it and that I have done it with loss. And on the other-side of that loss, new creation and new life in Jesus Christ springs forth in me.

If there is anything offensive in me that would cause a brother or sister in Christ to stumble, I want to see it and have it removed from my life. To all of my brothers and sisters in Christ, I give you my permission to point it out. I want to be a person who is known not for my tribal family or racial heritage, for good or for bad. I want to be known as one who bears Jesus Christ alone.

There are so many banners and credentials of fleshly authenticity under which I could so easily fly. Many of them I have used to my advantage and found privilege and favor in this world. And sometimes it is not wrong to do that, just as the apostle Paul used his credentials as a Roman citizen or a Hebrew of Hebrews. (See Acts 22:25-26.) Yet in the end, there is only one banner and one identity that truly matters to me: the cross of Jesus Christ. I am called to be in this world, but not of it.

The racial divisions find their end in Jesus Christ alone. We are all equally in our need of salvation at the foot of the cross; there are no other flags flying there. At what point do we release ourselves and each other from pride, honor and shame? For Paul, the Resurrected Life in Christ far surpasses any momentary glory or shame that we may derive from our distant history or recent past. So we press on toward that prize, leaving all else behind.

Have you given your life to Jesus and surrendered all things including your family heritage, your racial identity, your flags, badges, banners and certificates of authenticity and privilege? He would replace them all with the cross, and give you a new family and a new life in him. Pick up your cross and follow the one who gave up everything that rightfully belonged to him—for your sake and for mine.

I am faithfully yours in Christ Jesus our Lord,

Charlie Holt+

What “badges” of this world do you find yourself taking confidence in? What would it mean to you to declare them of no value compared to Christ? What practical steps can you take to show to others that Christ is the only thing about yourself that is of ultimate worth? Are there others in your life that will be offended if you do so? How can you talk to them about it?

The Banner of Christ Alone

Part 2 of 3

As I have worked on racial reconciliation here in the community of Sanford following Trayvon Martin’s shooting and the trial of George Zimmerman, I have seen a lot of bad and good in national discussion on race. I want to be reconciled with all of my brothers and sisters in Christ. To me, the main thing that prevents us from being united is the fact that we find our identity in the things of the flesh. (Read Part 1 here.)

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There is an African-American Ministerial Association in Sanford. Following the Trayvon Martin shooting, we all expressed a desire of working together for peace. While the larger integrated group meetings were happening, it came to our attention that the African-American Ministerial Association was also meeting apart from our larger meetings to strategize and talk. (BTW, there is not a White Ministerial Association.)  I, along with others, asked to be able to attend. We were told that we were not welcome because we are not African-American.

I pleaded with them that my congregation is integrated. The shooting happened 1 mile away from St. Peter’s—we are one of the closest churches to the shooting. I have black members who live in the apartment complex where Trayvon was shot. Who would represent their voice in that discussion? Yet after explaining all of that, I still was unwelcome at the meeting because I am not black.

In these types of discussions, I have felt like people were behaving like the dwarves in CS Lewis’ book in the Chronicles of Narnia series: The Last Battle who said, “We haven’t let anyone take us in.  The dwarves are for the dwarves!” (Lewis 185) The dwarves cannot see that they are surrounded by freedom and a new world that leads to heaven with God. They so badly do not want to be controlled and used that they remain in their safe huddle, not seeing the reality of the glory around them.  So Aslan says, “They have chosen cunning instead of belief. Their prison is only in their minds, yet they are in that prison; and so afraid of being taken in that they cannot be taken out.” (Lewis 155-156) With some, the discussions retreat to issues of hurt, fear and mistrust, even as others call to them with a desire and open heart to move forward together in truth and love.

Two of the other ministers who had requested an invitation with me to the African-American Ministerial Association forced their presence into the meeting anyway. I did not feel that was an appropriate action, and I did not join them. However, I have continued to been outspoken in my objection to the dividing of the Church by race and will continue to do so. I recognize that hurt, anger and mistrust run deep, but we have to get past this somehow as a unified people under the banner of the cross if we are to realize the Kingdom of God in our midst.

The deep mistrust and suspicion is a major part of the problem on all sides. We will forever be locked in our safe huddles if we are not willing to leave them and view others and reality in the light of God’s reality. We cannot continue to run others through racially-biased grids of hurt and betrayal; otherwise every slight or disagreement can and will be perceived as racist and prejudiced, as evidenced by the way the discussions on race so often devolve. On the other side is a perpetual walking on eggshells so as to never offend the aggrieved. And so the conversation stays on the surface, shuts down and comes to a halt. What a shame!

While I think it is healthy to vocalize that mistrust, I personally am asking for it to be surrendered at the cross as well, especially among us who wear the yoke of Christ as pastors and church leaders. It does not further the Kingdom of God for us to take offense at one another.

The defensiveness I am hearing from some Southerners about the Confederate flag has that same sound of the refrain of the dwarves to me, whether it is dwarves are for the dwarves, or Southerners are for the Southerners! We must not be so afraid of being taken in that we cannot be taken out of our protective tribal huddles. All of these identities in the flesh, including our Southern heritage are to be counted as rubbish in order that we might gain Christ and be found in him.

How have you seen communication breakdown as people retreat to safe huddles of worldly identity? Would you say Christian reconciliation is the way forward? How so or why not? Some would say the banner of Christ is the only true unifying banner for every tribe, race and nation; do you agree? (Read Part 3 HERE)

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? (Read Part 2 HERE)

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.