Be Strong and Courageous

God's Encouragement in the Transition

Here is my final sermon to the beloved St. Peter’s Episcopal Church, Lake Mary, FL where I have served for the last 16 years.

The scriptures here are offered by the Lord as encouragement to stay strong and brave even in the face of the new realities and thresholds that the Lord challenges us to cross.

 

God’s promises transfer across the thresholds of life and leadership. He challenges us to stay true to His Word. We have nothing to fear, because the Lord is with us always. Be Strong and Courageous!

Brooke’s remarks at St., Peter’s

At the conclusion of the sermon you will hear the remarks and congregational prayers, by Brooke Holt (my wife), John Ricci, (Senior Warden) and The Rev. Canon Justin Holcomb (representing Bishop Gregory O. Brewer).

Joshua 1:5b-9

“Just as I was with Moses, so I will be with you. I will not leave you or forsake you. Be strong and courageous, for you shall cause this people to inherit the land that I swore to their fathers to give them. Only be strong and very courageous, being careful to do according to all the law that Moses my servant commanded you. 

Do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left, that you may have good success wherever you go. This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success. Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”

Guarding the Faith

“O Timothy, guard the deposit entrusted to you. Avoid the irreverent babble and contradictions of what is falsely called ‘knowledge,’ for by professing it some have swerved from the faith. Grace be with you.” – 1 Timothy 6:20-21

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Epistle_to_the_Galatians#/media/File:File%22-Saint_Paul_Writing_His_Epistles%22_by_Valentin_de_Boulogne.jpg

Paul’s final charge to Timothy is to “guard the deposit entrusted to you” (6:20). As a minister of the Gospel, Timothy is being sent into a battle on the front lines for the very Gospel itself. He needs strong encouragement to see the importance of the task and ministry with which he has been entrusted.

The need for Paul’s letter was occasioned for two main reasons: geography and time. First, Paul was simply not able to be in more than one place at a time. The delegation of leadership to others was an essential task for Paul if there was to be a geographically broad gospel movement. As Paul traveled on his missionary journeys moving from region to region, city to city, town to town, many new congregations were planted. New leadership had to be developed in each region, city, and town. Coordination and support of those various congregations also became mission-critical for the gospel.

The second issue was related to time. Paul was always keenly aware that his days of “fruitful ministry” were numbered. The issue of succession was critically important to Paul as he empowered Timothy to lead and then to identify and empower more leaders for the churches.

In this way, we see the first examples of succession and delegation at work in the church in the personal and pastoral relationship between Timothy and Paul. For Paul, the issue is not merely the passing of a torch humanly speaking, but for him it was critically important that the content and character of the gospel be guarded in order that it may be passed on faithfully to the next generation of leaders.

As each generation considers its own faith, it must also keep in mind the needs of the next generation of believers. We are given a sacred trust in the gospel of Jesus Christ, guarding the faith carefully so that it can be passed on.

In what ways are you delegating, passing on, and guarding the faith which has been entrusted to you?


This post originally appeared on The Bible Challenge here.

How to Deal with Sin in the Church

Whenever two or more sinners are gathered together, conflict is in the midst of them. Jesus called people from all manner of life into the Kingdom of God. He was criticized for welcoming tax collectors, prostitutes, the demon possessed, lepers, gentiles, gluttons and drunkards into the kingdom of God! With such a motley band of brothers and sisters, it does not take much imagination to envision that the full range of bad behaviors and habits would manifest within the community of the early church in short order. One of the critical challenges for Jesus’ “little flock” was to sort out how to maintain a holy, growing, united community made up of broken hurting sinners. Jesus provided direction to his church.

Related Sermons:

Matthew 18:15-20 If your brother or sister sins against you 9/4/2011 (sermón en español)

Matthew 18:21-35 Debts Forgiven 9/14/2014 (sermón en español)

A hospital for sinners, not a refuge for saints

Are the relationship dynamics in the church any different in our day than they were in Jesus’ day? The church is not a refuge for saints but a hospital for sinners. As sinners, we inevitably will hurt one another. When (not if) that happens, what are we to do? How are we to respond? Often I see that when a person is hurt by a brother or sister in Christ, they quietly withdraw from the relationship. Jesus would not have us separate because of sin, rather to pursue restoration and be sanctified.

In Matthew 18, Jesus teaches us that conflict and the occasion of transgression is an opportunity to grow in relationships and in holiness of life. We are accountable to one another. The occasion of sin within the body of Christ becomes a moment where we manifest to one another the grace that God has abundantly given us.

“If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over.” –Matthew 18:15

Jesus gives us several values in Matthew 18:15-35:

Value 1: Respect the dignity of the sinner

Do not tell church first; that would be gossip and slander. Rather, Jesus would have us first deal with sin as a private matter. This allows the unity of the body to be protected. A private conversation allows the sinner to recover quickly without having a “big deal” made of their transgression. The vast majority of sins within the body can be dealt with privately in a one-on-one communication.

Notice Jesus says, “go to your brother”… Email and text messages are not the appropriate medium to have these types of discussions. They are best held face to face, person to person—just between the two of you.

Value 2: The aim is always to regain your brother or sister

Often people avoid tough conversations because they are afraid of what will happen to the relationship. Sometimes we may have to be willing to lose a relationship to a loved one, in order to regain our brother or sister in a healthier relationship. While it is to a person’s credit to overlook and offence (Proverbs 19:11), at other times to not confront is to not care. Sin is destructive of people, relationships and the church. Our goal in any confrontation is to “win our brother or sister.” Notice he does not say, “you have won the argument!” The highest value is winning the person.

Value 3: begin with gentleness and gradually work toward a more severe mercy

Doctor’s don’t choose the most invasive surgery first when treating a patient. And we should be gentle in our approach to dealing with sin in another’s life. Jesus teaches the steps; first confronting one-on-one. Then, if that doesn’t work, take along one or two witnesses. If that doesn’t work, involve the authorities of the church.

Some people attempt the one-on-one and find the confrontation ineffective. That doesn’t mean it is time to give up. Jesus gives us a range of assisted approaches to help restore the sinner and the broken relationship. When individual attempts at reconciliation fail, enlist the help of others in the church or your pastor. Some sins are as deep as a person’s childhood, some are due to severely hardened hearts, and a more severe mercy is needed to see heart change.

Value 4: Don’t write off a brother or sister in Christ as a “lost cause”

Again, the goal is always to win our brother or sister back to a reconciled relationship. Our heart toward the sinner should be like that of the good shepherd who leaves the 99 in search of the one.

Even in the extreme, when we read about an excommunication of a brother in 1 Corinthians 5, the goal is salvation. While Paul encourages the congregation that the man should be “put out of their fellowship” for his immorality, the church discipline was done to hand the man over to Satan to experience the consequences of sin, “so that his spirit may be saved on the day of the Lord.” (1 Corinthians 5:5)

No one is a lost cause. We never know how God will work in a person’s life and heart. Do not be surprised if God calls us to forgive another as a testimony to the power of the gospel.

Value 5: The sweetest moments of Christian fellowship come after sin and reconciliation

Jesus promises that he is present in the midst of “two or more” who gather in accountability. While these conversations are difficult, they are also holy, sacred ground. Jesus desires to see the people who he has called together become healed and restored by his grace. We have been entrusted with a ministry of reconciliation as the church.

Value 6: We are to demonstrate God’s grace with one another

As the disciples contemplate Jesus teaching about speaking the truth in love to the sinner, they wonder how many times must they be willing to go through this process of restoration? Is there a statute of limitations or a seven strikes and you’re out rule? That would seem reasonable! But Jesus does not accept such a small display of grace. Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.” (Matthew 18:22)

Jesus goes on to tell the story of the unmerciful servant who was forgiven a debt he could never repay. Incongruantly, the servant was then unmerciful to a fellow servant who owed him a not insignificant amount of money, though nothing in comparison to the debt he had been forgiven. God expects us to be ambassadors of his grace to one another, in light of his abundant forgiveness to us.

The Dangerous Prayer

As we pray in the Lord’s Prayer, “forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.” That is a dangerous prayer! That line in the Lord’s Prayer is a contingency prayer. We are asking God to treat us the same way we are treating others. If we are in a posture of grace, we are asking for grace. However, if we have a judgmental heart toward another, we are petitioning God to judge us! Yikes! The continuous pattern of weekly (even daily) reciting of the Lord’s Prayer reminds us to breath grace in and out of our lives on everyone. We are to be the most forgiving people in the world, because we are the most forgiven people in the world.

How sweet it is!

Is there someone in your life with whom you have a problematic relationship? How would Jesus encourage you to respond to the challenge? Sadly, in this sinful and fallen world not every relationship is salvaged and restored after sin. But one of the sweetest promises in the Bible is the promise of Jesus’ presence when two or more come together in unity and restoration. “Again, truly I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything they ask for, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.” (Matthew 18:19-20) In the most difficult relational moments of life, Jesus will do his greatest redemptive work. Invite him into the mess! Ask his help with the challenge you are facing right now!

Prayer: Search me, Lord. See if there is any ounce of malice or deception in my heart toward another person. Show me where I am holding another person’s sin against them. Reveal to me where I have a need to repent and ask for forgiveness. Give me the grace to leave my hurt and need for retribution at the foot of the cross. Help me to have the difficult conversation-help me to forgive. Guide me in the path of grace, forgiveness and reconciliation. Use me to be an instrument of redemption and salvation in others lives. In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, I pray. Amen!

Should Confirmation be Required?

Excerpt from a recent ENS article where St. Peter’s was interviewed….

Bishop Mark Beckwith at a Confirmation Service

Another education committee member, the Rev. Charles Holt, rector of St. Peter’s Church in Lake Mary, in central Florida, said he was relieved and grateful that “none of the resolutions passed General Convention.
Had they passed, theoretically, “all one had to do to be an elected leader at the highest levels was to have taken communion three times over the course of last year” or be a communicant in good standing, he said. “Conceivably, they could not believe in Jesus Christ as their Lord and personal savior and be a leader in the Episcopal Church.”
The conversation about confirmation is essential and a healthy one because “it makes us recommit ourselves and come to clarity about our core beliefs and wrestle with our faith,” said Holt.
Holt also believes confirmation “is actually the one thing a bishop can do to help grow the Episcopal Church. In the Episcopal Church, it’s the bishop’s job to make sure that every single person who’s a member of our church has made a mature profession of faith in Jesus Christ” – a moment he believes every Christian should experience.
“If we do away with confirmation then we don’t have that moment for people,” he said.
Making confirmation a powerful and personal moment is of utmost importance for Bishop Dorsey Henderson, who retired from the Diocese of Upper South Carolina in 2009. He now assists on behalf of Bishop Gregory Brewer of Central Florida at confirmations.
Henderson confirmed about 18 people at St. Peter’s Church on May 17, including eighth grader Grant Williams, 13, who believes “confirmation is very necessary.
“It felt like I was coming closer to God, like I was getting to know him better and confirming my faith in him by showing that I truly believed in him and wanted to follow him,” he said.
Henderson said he adds the names of each confirmand to a personal notebook he has kept over 15 years of the episcopacy. “I assure them that I will pray for them regularly by name and I ask them for their prayers.”
While confirmation “is not essential to receive the sacrament of Holy Communion … it provides a kind of spiritual boost” especially to those baptized as infants and those converting from other traditions, he said during a recent telephone interview.

Read the entire article

Healing for the Broken Heart

by Brooke Holt

Brooke’s Blog: Healing for the Broken Heart

Psalm 147:3: “The Lord heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.”

None of us avoids a broken heart. We walk through life getting wounded. Some of us are wounded severely in childhood. From a very early age, we learn the defence mechanism of building walls to protect our hearts. Nevertheless, even guarded hearts get broken. Broken hearts are part of life in this fallen world.

The best intended mothers try to mend broken hearts. They make cookies, buy treats or take special trips to a store or to the movies. With good intentions and deep desire, they try to fix their child’s broken heart. The pain can lessen or be momentarily forgotten with the physical distractions, but the brokenness remains. Adults use the same diversions to numb the pain of their broken hearts: food, alcohol, sex, shopping, etc. Again, the surface pain can be forgotten temporarily, but the deeper brokenness remains.
In Psalm 147, we read about the character of our God: He determines the number of stars and gives them their names; He is abundant in power and has understanding beyond all measure; He lifts up the humble but casts the wicked to the ground (verses 4-6). Our God has all power and all understanding and He cares about our broken hearts; He longs to bind up our wounds.
Unlike the well intended mother, God has the power to heal the broken heart. In fact, He is the only One who has that power. God sees inside each one of us. He knows the brokenness; He understands why it is there; and He desires to heal. The God of all creation longs to heal our broken hearts. God’s care for the broken heart is awe-inspiring!
We don’t hesitate to call on the doctor when in need of physical healing, yet we seldom call on the great physician when in need of soul healing. Earthly doctors have limited understanding and power. Our great heavenly physician has all understanding and all power. Why are we not in His office? The Lord heals the broken heart and binds up the wounds of those who seek Him, who trust Him, who humble themselves before Him. Verse 6 says, “The Lord lifts up the humble.”
May we humbly approach our almighty God trusting Him with our broken hearts. Every broken piece of our heart is an opportunity for God’s healing touch, for light to shine in darkness, for God to be glorified. Let’s stop walking around brokenhearted. There is healing, but only in One person, One place – the Great Physician who made us, knows us and loves us infinitely more than we could ever imagine. Our hearts are His home, His treasure!