Keeping Freedom

As we approach Independence Day in the United States, I like to think about the Declaration of Independence and the inalienable rights that it acknowledges God has endowed for all people. The founding fathers of the United States placed their emphasis on freedom. Even continuing to today, it’s still somewhat of an experiment: Just how free can a people be? The concern is, of course, that when people have too much freedom, it results in anarchy. Just look at a room full of uncontrolled children to see how freedom can go wrong!

Our Scripture passage from Galatians also speaks to this tension. The body of Christ at Galatia had Gentiles coming into the fellowship, which is good, but they were bringing their unregulated lifestyles with them, which was introducing chaos into the body. In a case like this, humanity’s first instinct is to start making rules, setting laws, trying to bring the unruly members under control. But Paul says, this isn’t necessarily the answer. He challenges the Galatian church that it’s not about rules and laws, but rather about freedom.

For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.

Galatians 5:1

There’s a one-two punch to the Gospel, the coming of Jesus Christ. The first punch is the Cross of Jesus Christ, which deals with sin and judgment and wipes our slates clean. Through this, we are set free from the fear of judgment and condemnation (Romans 8:1). And this is wonderful, but it can’t stop there. We don’t just leave it at freedom. “Woohoo! Eat, drink, and be merry! Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness!” No, unmitigated freedom results in licentiousness, which is a problem. We may try to combat the licentiousness with law, but that is trying to introduce an external force to solve an internal problem. The problem of licentiousness is in the heart, and that can’t be solved through regulation or governance. It never has worked, and it never will.

This is where the second punch comes in. God deals with the internal problems of the heart through the infusing of the heart of every Christian with his own Holy Spirit. The fundamental solution to all of the problems in our society and world is not a legal or political one, but rather an internal transformation that comes by the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the working of the Holy Spirit inside each believer. This is how a people and a nation can be transformed and live in a state of harmony.

But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.

Galatians 5:16-18

The law and the flesh feed off of each other. If you really want to go to war against the flesh, you don’t do it with law, you do it with Spirit.

Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.

Galatians 5:24

This is the urgency of the mission of the Church in our day. We don’t need more political solutions. We need the Gospel to spread throughout our nation and world. We need the Spirit of God directing people to live together in righteousness and peace.

Each of us are individually called to apply to our own lives the one-two punch of the Gospel — to live in the freedom that comes from being forgiven, and to walk in the Spirit of God and bear his holy fruit. If we can get that into our own hearts and the hearts of our children, the strong hands of rules, laws, and government become unnecessary. Instead, we will have a taste of heaven on earth. This is what the Lord is offering his Church, both now and forever. Accept it today.

Draw Near: Hebrews on Christian Worship

Now Available!

Let’s face it, the Christian life is hard. Relationships take work. Christians forget. Sometimes it is tempting to go back to the days when God was not the center of our lives—to backslide. We all are faced with tremendous pressures to drift away from intimacy with Jesus and the community of
the church. However, the Lord invites us to pay attention, to move forward, to draw near, and to live lives of worship.

Click the image above to watch the video.

Announcement: A New Ministry Call

From St. Peter's, Lake Mary to St. John the Divine, Houston

Below is my letter announcing my call to St. John the Divine Church in Houston, TX:

29 June 2017

Dear St. Peter’s Church Family and Friends,

Grace and peace to you through God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ.

After a full and fruitful ministry of experiencing and sharing the joy and love of Jesus Christ with you, I am announcing my resignation as the Rector of St. Peter’s Episcopal Church. My last Sunday with you will be August 13, 2017—exactly 16 years. I have accepted the call to be the Associate Rector focused on teaching and formation at St. John the Divine Episcopal Church in Houston, Texas.

These years with you have been a grand venture in faith. We began our time together in grief as the nation faced the horror of the September 11, 2001 attacks. As a nation, we went to war against terrorism. As a church, we strengthened our faith and resolve in Christian witness knowing that while our country responded in war with military might against the ‘evil doers’ who caused such harm, we engaged in spiritual warfare with spiritual might against the forces of hell itself.

And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. –Matthew 16:18

Beloved of St. Peter’s, you are the Rock. Your faith and confession in Jesus Christ is rock solid. I have been continually amazed at how the Lord has used you to tear down the gates of hell. You have engaged in gospel mission to Honduras, hurricane relief in Pass Christian, MS, homeless ministry in Sanford and evangelism and Christian formation in Lake Mary, FL. God has been and is doing great things in and through you to bring about the reign of the Kingdom of God in our time. It has been my privilege, honor and love to be your Rector standing with you in faithful confession on the rock of Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior.

So, in mid-August, my son Chase will be heading off to college at Palm Beach Atlantic University. Brooke, Ashton, Saxon and I will be moving that week to Houston. St. John the Divine has envisioned what they call an “audacious strategy” to develop a “world-class teaching center for faith formation and ministry development”. This is a very exciting challenge for me to serve with my spiritual gifts and calling. The Lord is doing great things, and we are humbled and privileged to be invited to serve in this new context.

I ask for your prayers in this transition and please know that you will always continue in my heart and prayers. I have nothing but gratitude and love for all of you and for God’s abundant life of grace with which we have communed together. We are truly blessed by you.

I am faithfully yours in Christ Jesus our Lord,

Charlie Holt+

Sermon: Mission’s Compassion

The Harvest Field

Every day we are surrounded by the Kingdom of God, but do we see it? The Lord would have us see the people of this world as he see them. May our eyes be opened and our hearts be turned to the reality of great harvest. We so often see people for what they can do for us. Jesus saw people for what he could do for them. Matthew 9:35-10:8

Listen here:

And Jesus went throughout all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”

And he called to him his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal every disease and every affliction. The names of the twelve apostles are these: first, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother; James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother; Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; Simon the Zealot,and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him.

These twelve Jesus sent out, instructing them, “Go nowhere among the Gentiles and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. And proclaim as you go, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons. You received without paying; give without pay.  (Matthew 9:35-10:8, ESV)

 

Do not doubt, but believe!

Life in Christ is Never Dull!

He is Risen

Life in Christ is Never Dull!

Jesus compared the generation of Pharisees and scribes to a then-popular children’s song:

‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance;
    we sang a dirge, and you did not weep.’ –Luke 7:32

The song invites the hearer into response, but no response is given. That generation was skeptical of the invitations of God offered through John the Baptist and Jesus. Hence, they did not dance, and they did not weep. The Gospel writer Luke says that they had “rejected the purpose of God for themselves” (7:30).

John the Baptist called them to a baptism of repentance, but they refused to be baptized by him. The prophet sang the dirge, but they did not weep.

Jesus proclaimed the Good News of forgiveness and restoration for the sinner and the brokenhearted. He celebrated and ate with them, but they refused to come to the party table. The Lord played the flute, but they did not dance.

Today, we celebrate–the Lord’s day of resurrection.  Where is your heart on this day? Is it filled with joy? Or have the flaming arrows of the evil one pierced your heart and stolen your joy? Jesus would challenge the skeptical and critical spirits in us. Oh you of little faith! Beware of the negative spirit. It is possible to be so cynical of being taken in that you refuse to enter in to the abundant life that God has for you. Such attitudes rob joy from the people around you.

Do you know that an angry and critical spirit is a mask for unresponsiveness to God’s call?  Remember, that in refusing to be baptized, the Pharisees “rejected the purposes of God for themselves” (Luke 7:30). Are you humbly responsive to the purposes of God on your life? Are you open and responsive to enter into the joy and free gift of the resurrected life?

In the last book of C.S. Lewis Chronicles of Narnia series, there is a group of hard-hearted dwarfs who are pictured in a building surrounded by a glorious banquet prepared for them by Aslan, the Jesus figure in the series. Only, the dwarfs cannot perceive that the food and the table that is set before them as a life-giving, joyous blessing. Their cynicism and skepticism clouds their view of life. Instead of a banquet hall, they perceive that they are in a stable eating hay and drinking out of a water trough.

Everyone around them can clearly see that they are self deceived. The children in the story are dismayed at their disbelief. With the heart of an evangelist one of the children asks, “Are you blind?”

Dwarfs from Narnia

“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” (CS Lewis, The Last Battle).

“No,” respond the dwarfs, “we’re here in the dark where no one can see.”

“But it isn’t dark, you poor dwarfs,” says Lucy, “look up, look round, can’t you see the sky and flowers – can’t you see me?” Then Lucy bends over, picks some wild violets, and says, “perhaps you can smell these.” But the dwarf jumps back into his darkness and yells, “How dare you shove that filthy stable litter in my face.” He cannot even smell the beauty which surrounds him.

Aslan teaches the children, that with some hard-hearted souls, there is no way of helping them: “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.” (CS Lewis, The Last Battle)

It is easy to stand on the sidelines and be a critic of faith and belief in the midst a sinful and fallen world. Faith requires us to open our eyes to reality of God’s kingdom and call. I have noticed that malcontents often find each other and flock together like angry birds. “The dwarfs are for the dwarfs,” they reassure themselves! Yet the group-think only serves to further limit their vision and sharpen their rejection of the life which God is offering them. We all know people like this–perhaps you see yourself in the dwarf tribe!

The Lord invites you out of self-imposed darkness into the light of life–the light of Christ, thanks be to God. He has prepared a table before you.

You prepare a table before me
    in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
    my cup overflows.
 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
    all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord
    forever. (Psalm 23:5-6)

Today celebrate and proclaim the breaking forth of the new life to which the Lord invites you. In his resurrection, he has prepared for you a glorious table of life with anointing oil and overflowing cups of abundance. God’s kingdom is one where goodness and mercy pursue you all of your days.

Do not doubt, but believe!

The first witnesses of the empty tomb were several women. They told the disciples and the rest the Good News of new life bursting from the tomb!

Now it was Mary Magdalene and Joanna and Mary the mother of James and the other women with them who told these things to the apostles, but these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them (Luke 24:10).

The women were filled with wonder, joy, faith and belief. But, it was met by the dwarfish skepticism of those who dismissed their words as an idle tale

I ask you, where are you seeing death among things that are alive, and seeking life among things that are dead? The Lord would have you enter into the divine drama as a fully engaged participant. Give your entire heart, life and faith to Him. Surrender to the Lord in prayer right now. Plead with him, “Lord I want to receive your life, where ever you lead me!” The responsive Christian life in Jesus is never dull!

The kingdom of God calls you to enter into all the ups and downs of faith, hope and love. At times, the Lord sings the dirge that you might plumb the depths of repentance and weep over your sin and brokenness–this is the season of the Cross. At other times, He plays the flute with a joyous invitation to dance with the rhythmic freedoms of His grace and redemption–the glory of the Resurrection! Today the joyous flute is loudly playing for you.  Alleluia, Christ is risen! The Lord is risen indeed, Alleluia! Will you dance with Jesus in faith?

Family Thanksgiving Day Prayer

My Great-Grandfather (my paternal grandmother’s father) Charles A. Tutewiler (1884-1922) wrote a beautiful Thanksgiving Day prayer which has been passed down in the family historic documents.  He was marketing and advertising man working for several newspapers in Indianapolis and Jacksonville. In Jacksonville he started a well respected printing company, The Tutewiler Press. He lived a short life, 38 years young. His crowning achievement was my grandmother, Sally T. Holt, (affectionately known as “Muff” to us grandkids). Truly we have a great cloud of witnesses that has gone before who bear testimony to faith, love and family. The Holt’s extend to you a blessed Thanksgiving Day! May the Lord bless you and your families as you give thanks for all the Lord has done for you!

Thanksgiving Day Nov. 28th, 1918

A Thanksgiving Prayer

We thank Thee Lord, for this repast,
May all our Blessings, last and last.

To all those loved ones gathered here
Thou hast cast Thy gleam of Heavenly cheer.

Our love and faith will for’er last
In Thee, Dear Lord, Thy blessing cast.

Yea many loved ones are absent here,
We will not, Dear Savior, have a fear.

We know in Heaven, wherein they rest,
Thy vigilant watch doth guard their rest.

Written by Chas. Tutewiler, Sr. and offered by Charley Jr. at

Charles A. Tutewiler (1884-1922)

Charles A. Tutewiler (1884-1922)

Thanksgiving dinner. The guests on this pleasant occasion
were, Mr. & Mrs. Hollingsworth & sons, Harry & Charles,
Mr. Orcan Jihnson, Grandpa Goode & The Tutewilers.

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.

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.