Author Archives: Byron Hannon

About Byron Hannon

I am a discipler, teacher, coach (and ordained elder) passionate about helping people move beyond the “elementary teachings about Christ” (Hebrews 6:1) to maturity and the fullness of the abundant life promised by Jesus (John 10:10) in our postmodern, post-Christian, and post-truth world

A Consuming Fire

Do you see what we’ve got? An unshakable kingdom! And do you see how thankful we must be? Not only thankful, but brimming with worship, deeply reverent before God. For God is not an indifferent bystander. He’s actively cleaning house, torching all that needs to burn, and he won’t quit until it’s all cleansed. God himself is Fire! (Hebrews 12:28-29, The Message)

Christian writer, George MacDonald, made this fascinating comment about the nature of God:

“The fire of God, which is his essential being, his love, his creative power, is a fire

unlike its earthly symbol in this, that it is only at a distance it burns—that the 

farther from him, it burns the worse, and that when we turn and begin to 

approach him, the burning begins to change to comfort, which comfort will grow

to such bliss that the heart at length cries out with gladness no other gladness can 

reach.”

McDonald’s language is a little stilted for our time, but hopefully you get the point.  The more distant our souls are from God, becoming aware of His presence produces an uncomfortable heat.  The closer we are to God, the more comforting and enveloping is His warmth.  

It’s been seldom that I’ve heard much teaching or preaching about God’s fiery nature.  The love of God, yes, the light of God, yes, the holiness of God, yes, and other attributes, yes, but the fire of God, not so much.  We may have to go back to the preaching of people like Jonathan Edwards and others of the 19th century and first half of the 20th century to get a good taste of that thematic approach to Christian proclamation, what some called “fire and brimstone.”  It may be a part of the Bible we prefer to avoid, but it is biblical, nonetheless.  To underline the point about the importance of honoring God through obedience, the writer of Hebrews borrowed a line from Deuteronomy 4:24 which many Jews of his day would recognize: “Our God is a consuming fire.”           

I find brother MacDonald’s take on this to be fascinating, in part because this has been my personal experience and because I’ve observed much of the same in others.  People who are distant from God can become extremely uncomfortable when in the presence of the Holy Spirit.  I recall a man who was living a life so far outside of the will of God, I’ll just say that it was hard not to notice.   One Sunday, he decided to attend the church where I was a member.  This was many years ago.  I was in the choir and, at that time, the choir remained seated on the risers just behind the pulpit throughout the morning service.  The result was we all could observe what was going on in the congregation just as the pastor could.

All seemed fine all throughout the time of our gathering until the pastor got into the meat of his sermon.  I don’t recall what was being preached, and it doesn’t really matter much because the Spirit of the Lord was there.  This man became visibly shaken.  Sweat must have been forming on his head because he kept wiping his brow with his handkerchief…and it wasn’t a hot day.  His discomfort was palpable; I was surprised he didn’t bolt from the service.  He managed to get through it all, although he didn’t respond to the pastor’s invitation to experience the salvation of the Lord that day and he never returned to the church afterwards.  

When sin (willful disobedience to the known will of God) has a dominant place in our lives, God’s convicting presence shakes us and, rather than yield to God’s authority and invitation, we may respond to it like we do in other conflict situations: fight or flight.  I have found (and observed) that yielding results in a comforting peace.  There is no longer anything to prove (about being sovereign over myself), so there is nothing to lose.  And the deeper my intimacy with God, the more comforting His warmth becomes.  You might describe the difference in the experiences by comparing being dangerously close to an uncontrollable, raging fire as opposed to taking a nap while sitting in front of a cozy fire on a cold day.

Usually hell, which we don’t like talking about, is portrayed as a literal, physical place.  I wonder if it is, rather, the complete and irrevocable loss of opportunity for any fellowship with God such that the soul who chose to reject His absolute authority in life can, in death, now only experience the intensity of His consuming, fiery nature.  This seems to be a natural conclusion to what George MacDonald was pointing. 

If we place stock in the prophetic future where “The kingdoms of this world have become the kingdoms of our Lord and of His Christ,” the world which we know and are tethered to will no longer exist (Revelation 11:15).  The remaining, exclusive reality will be the kingdom of God, occupied by Jesus Christ and all whose lives are in Him along with the angelic host and where the virtues of faith, hope and love will abide forever (1 Corinthians 13:13).  These kingdom citizens are the ones who will experience the warm embrace of the Father for eternity.

The testimony of Scripture in general and that of Jesus in particular (Matt. 10:28; 23:33; Luke 10:15; 12:5) is that not everyone will experience this embrace.  It doesn’t have to be this way.  The good news is that it is all avoidable.  Jesus Christ has made a way for each of us to experience God’s eternal, comforting warmth.  It is up to us to choose to yield in repentance and faith so that we may walk in this way that has been provided by love.  

We don’t have to feel the burn; we can feel the warmth.  Why would we choose otherwise?  Only if we don’t believe.

* From “Christian in Christ” found in A Guide to Prayer for Ministers and Other Servants, p.37.

© Byron L. Hannon, 2023.  All rights reserved unless otherwise noted.  

A Lasting Bona Fides

“I don’t know what you are.”  This is a comment said to me a few years ago.  The gentleman was referring to my ethnicity.   I’m not sure why it mattered enough for him to make the comment, but apparently it did.  He seemed to want to categorize me and wasn’t quite sure how to go about it.  The fact that I have multiple ethnicities contributing to my DNA and my appearance caused him some consternation.  I didn’t seem to fit into his paradigm which, I suspect, was rooted in his own self-categorization.  

I sensed no animus in him, just a lack of clarity.  In all honesty, though, I was initially stunned by the comment because I’ve always viewed myself as…well, as me.  I imagine the brown-skinned British woman who was recently asked by an extended member of the royal family, “Where are you from?” felt something similar to what I experienced that day.

Many years ago, my dad and I would argue from time-to-time (nothing heated) about the value of identity categories and individual and group desires to self-categorize and to impose identity categories on others.  I saw significant value in staking out an identity whereas he was adamant that doing so was self-limiting and amounted to collusion, albeit unintentional, with those who insisted on maintaining separation by categorization.  Given the environment in which he was born and raised (the Jim Crow south), I had to respect his point-of-view; and, with increasing age, I have largely come around to his way of thinking, particularly when I am reminded that Christ broke down that wall of separation among Jew and Gentile, to name just two.      

I’ll leave it to you to imagine what some of those categories might have been when dad and I were having these discussions in the 70s and 80s.  Now that it is 2023, it seems to me that there has been an explosion of emphasis on identity categories: ethnic identity, racial identity, gender identity, political identity, religious identity, and irreligious identity along with various accompanying terms to further clarify or muddy, depending on your perspective (e.g. cis, non-binary, biracial, multi-racial, right-wing, far right-wing, left-wing, far left-wing, evangelical, mainline, conservative, liberal, libertarian and so on).  It’s increasingly difficult to know what people want you to think they are.  

These categories have become a component of many personal bona fides, a Latin term that refers to the evidence that legitimizes a person.  People have often used family connections, academic accomplishments, professional accomplishments, titles, memberships in prestigious organizations and societies; their zip code, and even the church they attend, along with some of the aforementioned identifiers to legitimize (justify) themselves, and sometimes that justification is in opposition to others.  Most of these categories are, generally, “nice-to-haves” and many people have worked hard to attain their honorifics…but like other forms of worldly wealth, they are temporary.  I say again, they are temporary and are to be appreciated and enjoyed but never idolized. 

Increasingly, I am drawn to the bona fides of Paul the Apostle in which he referred to himself as “a servant of Christ Jesus” (Romans 1:1; Philippians 1:1; Titus 1:1).  The fact that he began these letters with this phrase tells me that this is what he wanted people to see him as.  “What are you?  A servant of Christ Jesus.”  That’s it, Paul was a servant.  That is how he wanted to be known because his identity was bound to the One he served…and, lest we forget, Paul had a resumé!        

“You know my pedigree: a legitimate birth, circumcised on the eighth day; an Israelite from the elite tribe of Benjamin; a strict and devout adherent to God’s law; a fiery defender of the purity of my religion, even to the point of persecuting the church; a meticulous observer of everything set down in God’s law Book.  The very credentials these people are waving around as something special, I’m tearing up and throwing out with the trash—along with everything else I used to take credit for. And why? Because of Christ. Yes, all the things I once thought were so important are gone from my life. Compared to the high privilege of knowing Christ Jesus as my Master, firsthand, everything I once thought I had going for me is insignificant—dog dung. I’ve dumped it all in the trash so that I could embrace Christ and be embraced by him” (Philippians 3:4-9, The Message).

We all have yardsticks against which we (and perhaps others) measure our value, our claim to fame, so to speak.  We each have opportunities to shape what is real about us, what is seen in us, and what is shared by us.  And of those yardsticks, which are temporary and which are eternal?  What are you and what do you aspire to be?  

There will always be those who can’t quite figure out what we are.  Occasionally, that becomes an open door to make a statement, perhaps like the one made by Paul.  As for me, well, I like what Joshua said, 

“…As for me and my household, we will serve the Lord” (Joshua 24:15, NIV).  That’s it; nothing more needs to be added.  

  © Byron L. Hannon, 2023.  All rights reserved unless otherwise noted.  

A Nice Sentiment?

“He came to that which was His own, but His own did not receive him.  Yet to all who did receive Him, to those who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God—children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God…” (John 1:11-13)

I’m a little surprised I haven’t seen it yet, although we only have a few more days before it’s Christmas.  Usually, by this time, I’ve seen at least one or two bumper stickers or signs somewhere proclaiming the need to “Keep Christ in Christmas.”  I’m certain I’ll see it at least once before the weekend is over.  

The idea of having a Christ-centered Christmas is logical to me, but I suspect it is, at best, a nice sentiment for most people who encounter such messages.  My hope is that sayings like this and others like it, e.g., “Wise men still seek Him”point some hungry souls to the good news of Jesus Christ.  Still, I suspect most people who see these signs will just go on about their business without further thought.  Why should we expect that people today are any different than they were on that night when He was born or when He walked the streets of Nazareth or Jerusalem or when He went to the cross?

It’s true; some shunned and persecuted Him, but most people were just tuned-out to Him.  He was neither positive nor negative for most folks; He was neutral and therefore of no significance.  Is it likely that only a few shepherds and three astronomers from a foreign land were the only ones who saw this blazing astronomical event in the cosmos announcing the birth of the Savior?  I’m not sure how they interpreted that, but the bottom-line is that He was not recognized as being meaningful to the lives of most people.  How is it different today?  

Many people will participate in the Christmas celebration, getting festive, blowing the electric bill by decorating their homes in many-colored lights, stretching the budget to purchase gifts for family members and others, and attending parties.  Still, the focus will not be on Him.  Some people will even make a pilgrimage to a church service on Christmas day, but perhaps more out of a sense of tradition than a desire to join others in worship.             

Am I sticking a pin in your bubble or raining on your parade?  That’s not my intent.  My intent is to suggest that those who are most likely to keep Christ in Christmas are those who keep Christ in their everyday lives and who don’t require an official holiday to do it.  It is they who will honor Him on Christmas day because they desire to do that every day.  Keeping Christ in Christmas is not a sentiment for them; it is congruent with the new life they have found in Him. 

If you really want Christ to be in Christmas, you can start by asking Him to be Christ in you…whether for the first time or in renewal of your faith. 

© Byron L. Hannon, 2022.  All rights reserved unless otherwise noted.  

Playing Fast and Loose with God

“Then the word of the Lord came to me [Jeremiah]…If at any time I announce that a nation or kingdom is to be uprooted, torn down and destroyed, and if that nation I warned repents of its evil, then I will relent and not inflict on it the disaster I had planned. And if at another time I announce that a nation or kingdom is to be built up and planted, and if it does evil in My sight and does not obey Me, then I will reconsider the good I had intended to do for it.”

(Jeremiah 18: 5, 7-10)

Immediately following the horrible devastation that took place in this country on September 11, 2001, the national mourning was coupled in some quarters with shout-outs of “God Bless America!”  Some of that, quite frankly, felt like jingoistic flag-waving and fist-shaking at perceived enemies.  Anger, sadness, and frustration aside, I have long felt that the U.S. has been one of the most blessed nations ever (EVER!) and like all blessings, it has been a result of God’s grace alone.  No nation has a right to God’s blessing.  No nation can claim that as its legacy gift.  

At best, asking God to bless our nation should be a sincere prayer, not some nationalistic mantra, and should always be preceded by a national stance that is God-honoring.  Right after 9-11-01, I saw quite a few signs at fire stations, municipal buildings, store locations and even churches that stated, “God Bless America.” I believed it was more appropriate for us to post “America, Bless God” on our church sign for the many people who drove by on that busy street each day, which is what we did.  

I still believe this is what the nation needs more than anything, that the nation blesses God, that we strive to please Him above pleasing ourselves, that we honor Him above honoring ourselves, and that we obey Him because…well, because He’s God.  

If you read the quote from the prophet Jeremiah above, which trendline do you see us being on?  In which direction are we headed? 

Now, I know it’s human nature to easily see the fault-lines falling at the feet of others (people and groups), but I think there is plenty of responsibility to go around, including with those of us who call ourselves by His name.  There are objective means to determine if our respective houses are in order.  Let’s look to them and use them.  

Just sayin’.          

“He makes nations great, and He destroys them;
He enlarges nations, and leads them away.”

(Job 12:23)                     

 © Byron L. Hannon, 2022.  All rights reserved unless otherwise noted. 

On Liberty and Independence

“You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh rather, serve one another humbly in love.” (Galatians 5:13)

Sometimes, moments of clarity come at the most unexpected times.  One came to me in early July.  It was in the middle of the day while standing in a parking lot at a church camp far from home and having a conversation with a ministry partner who had just driven up.  The reason we were both there was camp attendance, but he arrived during a lull in activity.  I happened to be outside and recognized him after he got out of his car.  I walked over to him and we began to talk.  

I can’t tell you anything about what we talked about other than it was of a spiritual nature (we are both wired to teach and so this wasn’t unusual for us).   The moment of clarity came when something he said triggered this thought:  We have liberty but not independence.  While I knew this intuitively, the simplicity of the statement was new.  

The fact that we had this conversation a few days before the Independence Day holiday made it a little ironic.  It was a perfect reflection of life in Christ.  I remember verbalizing the point, “We have liberty but not independence,” and he nodded in agreement.  This is an essential for the Church to grasp and live within.  It is a distinctive of Christian life and when not learned and internalized or when ignored, results in all kinds of unfortunate inconsistencies and hypocrisies.       

I find that many people have difficulty dealing with paradoxes (things that are seemingly, but not necessarily, contradictory).  A reliance on straight-line thinking and difficulty with ambiguity can make paradoxes, including spiritual paradoxes, challenging for them.  The teachings of Jesus and His Apostle Paul, however, are notable for the use of paradox.  I suggest looking at passages such as Mark 20:16; Luke 9:48; 13:30; 22:26-27 and John 11:25-26 for a sampling (go ahead and do it; it will only take a minute or two). 

A reader’s overwhelming preference for an either/or answer may be frustrating when the paradox suggests a both/andconclusion or when a norm is turned on its head in favor of something that seems illogical to our conditioning.  If this happens when trying to understand a biblical principle, it raises a question about how well that principle is internalized.  How much effort is expended to wrestle with the paradox to gain understanding?  Is the paradox just accepted at a surface level without understanding?  Is one side of the paradox ignored or rejected in favor of the other, preferred side? 

These are important questions, in general, for grasping scriptural teaching is a stewardship responsibility (see 2 Timothy 2:15).  They are also important because of our current socio-political climate in which words like liberty and independence are used interchangeably and, too often, thrown about without a sense of accountability beyond the self (which, in God’s kingdom, is no accountability at all).  

A New Testament understanding of spiritual liberty makes it clear that liberty is the result of God’s grace.  It is a freedom won by the sacrifice of Jesus Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit which offers freedom from our spiritual poverty.  It is freedom from the falsities of life that blind us to truth.  It is freedom from the experiences of life that hold us captive to a wrong view of ourselves and others.  It is freedom from those oppressing factors that impose themselves on us like chains that bind our souls.  It is freedom that declares God’s favor which He desperately wants to impart to each of us. This liberty is a gift of God; it is not and cannot be self-generated regardless of our good intentions or the inspirational speeches of seminar leaders and sellers of DIY books.          

Liberty, understood in this way, makes it obvious that independence is not a Christian concept for none of us is independent from God.  None of us are masters of our fates nor captains of our souls.1 The poetic line is nice and highly inspirational and appeals to our sense of self, but it’s not true.  Spiritual health requires that we come to grips with this and live in the paradox: we have been offered liberty and Jesus is Lord.    

Because our liberty is a gift and is not self-generated, how then can we rightly say we are not accountable for how we use it?  We are accountable to the One who gives the gift and therefore we accept the paradox and use our liberty to be servants of God (2 Peter 2:16).  It’s the best way because it was the way modeled by Jesus.  

1   From the poem Invictus by William Earnest Henley, published1888, in the public domain.    

© Byron L. Hannon, 2022.  All rights reserved unless otherwise noted.  

Christian Community in a Post(?)-Covid World

“Christian community is the final apologetic.” – Francis Schaeffer

The impact of the Covid pandemic has significantly impacted church functioning in the West and I, certain, in other parts of the world.  What was formerly assumed about the gathering and scattering of the local church has been changed.  The model under which the church was supposed to operate included regular and routine gatherings for celebration, spiritual uplift and growth, all within a communal setting.  This was always to be followed by the scattering of the church back to individual homes, local communities, jobs, schools, etc. which were the mission fields in which what was gained in the gathering could be lived out in deed and, as opportunity presented, shared by word. 

Covid has created a shift that affects this model.  A meaningful number of those (maybe 30% to 40% in the West, depending on age) of those who were previously gathering with the remaining 60% to 70% are no longer gathering in the same way as before the pandemic.  Many of those are taking advantage of digital connections (e.g., web-based access, live streaming, and YouTube® rebroadcasts) where they are available.  Some, on the other hand, have checked out altogether and are no longer participating in church life in any meaningful or measurable way.  

Many years ago, I worked in the health insurance field and one of the things I learned about a person who is unable to work because of a physical disability due to illness or injury is that there is roughly a six-month window to get them well enough to return to some level of productive work.  After about six months, that same person has begun to view themselves as being permanently disabled.  That mental shift makes it much more difficult to transition them back to the workforce.  I’ve wondered if a similar dynamic has impacted the church due to the long length of Covid restrictions and limitations: people who regularly participated in the community of faith with their physical presence experienced a mental shift that rewired their attitudes and behavior.  Being physically a part of the church gathered lost its place of priority. For some, being associated with the church in any way has lost its place of priority.  

This has become a major discussion topic for church leaders all over the country because of the very real implications.  Is this a major component of the restructuring of the church that happens roughly every 500 years?  If so, what are we supposed to do while we wait for things to shake out?  How do we teach and disciple people so that the functioning of the church continues unabated?  What kind of investment should we make in digital discipleship?  How do we help people stay connected to the mission and vision of the church if they don’t come to centralized gatherings?  What about the underutilized building space we now have?  And hey, what about this: should we interpret these events through an eschatological (end-times) lens?  Is this a manifestation of the “great falling away” alluded to in Scripture?  None of these are deer-in-the-headlights questions, but they are real nonetheless.

One issue I’m particularly concerned about is the impact of a loss community on individual piety.  Those who are regular recipients of my emails are familiar with the quote from Swiss theologian, Francis Schaeffer, that I use as a footer.  It’s his paraphrasing of something Jesus said, “By this, everyone will know that you are My disciples, if you love one another”(John 13:35).  In other words, the community of love within the body of Christ is the proof of who we belong to and is the strongest argument we have about our faith commitment.  It is not talk; it is 100% walk.  How is this mutual love given to and received from the body of Christ if its members choose to remove themselves physically and emotionally?     

I was at a conference last weekend at which one of the speakers said something that caught my attention.  He said, “The Holy Spirit only moves in community.”  He then related his comment to the Trinity being the holy community of three persons in one into which all believers are called and which we are to model on earth in the unity of mutual love.  I know that is a mouthful, but it really just reflects the vertical and horizontal nature of the cross.  

Is he right?  And if he is, what does being in community really mean?  Is isolation from the body of Christ necessarily an impediment to healthy Christian spirituality?  If so, does that mean the desert fathers and mothers of the post-apostolic age and more contemporary people like Thomas Merton were in error?  I don’t think they were.  They may have been extreme examples of those who sought solitude for deep dives into their spiritual selves, but they always came back into the community of faith with something valuable to offer.  That’s a lot different from those who self-isolate because the church and its mission is no longer a priority for them.  It’s a lot different from those whose view of Christian faith is vertical only without regard to how their absence affects the body in terms of the removal of the gifts God gave them for the express purpose of kingdom building.  It’s a lot different from those who have checked-out because they’ve decided that they no longer need the church.  

I won’t say that the Holy Spirit can’t or won’t work in these lives; I believe He can and will.  His principal work, however, is to call and draw them back into the Christ-centered relationships that mark the church.  As in all things, it’s up to them to listen and respond.  Being in Christian community means being committed to the well-being (spiritual, emotional, and material) of those who form the body of Christ.   

There’s no question, as far as I’m concerned, that the church needs to creatively respond to the changed environment, something it has always managed to do.  Time and circumstances have a way of rendering well-accepted models obsolete.  There was a time when blacksmiths had to learn to be auto mechanics or perish.  Perhaps in a few years electric charging stations will fully replace gas stations.  In both examples, wheeled transportation morphed in response to the changing environment and adaptation that was or will be needed.  What is not obsolete is God,  the good news of Jesus Christ, and the call on the church to demonstrate godliness in the world He so loves.     

Whether the answer is renting flexible space rather than building large facilities which must be maintained at significant financial expense, a greater emphasis on house gatherings, or having a strong digital presence for worship, instruction and discipleship or some combination of these and other options, the church must adapt.  Nothing is accomplished by being rigid and inflexible.  But “the church” is not the building and it is not the leadership.  The church is the whole body of Christ and when members of the body start removing themselves as if they didn’t need the rest of the body and the rest of the body doesn’t need them (1 Corinthians 12:1-27), they are moving away from solid spiritual ground onto sinking sand.  Theirs is anti-biblical thinking and ultimately anti-Christian because it is inconsistent with the teachings of Christ.                      

© Byron L. Hannon, 2022.  All rights reserved unless otherwise noted.

Paul’s Paradox

“For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.” (Philippians 1:21)

From the beginning, I’ve called this blog Just1Voice because my words (and actions) speak of who I am, what I believe, and what I hope for.  I, like the rest of us, cannot speak for anyone else.  What you and I are about may resonate with some, which may facilitate the fellowship of community, and may not resonate at all with others.  Either way, at the end of the proverbial day, each of us stands alone with ourselves.

If you’ve read my postings with any consistency, it should be no secret that I desire to live for God and to glorify Him in all that I do.  I’ve come to believe, after being in relationship with Him for 43 years, that He is my greatest joy, my deepest blessing, and my greatest challenge.  There was a time when I considered spending time alone with God to be an interruption in my daily schedule.  Now, I consider the demands of my schedule to be an interruption in the time I want to spend with God.  Closeness often breeds the desire for more closeness.

A consequence of that intimacy is that more and more I feel alienated from this world and this feeling has become increasingly visceral.  I so easily relate to the “pilgrim” similes and metaphors used in the Old Testament (Hebrew Bible) and in the New that described Abraham.  He sojourned and settled in places, but by faith, knew his home to be elsewhere.  That is what it is to be an alien.  

I think this is what Paul alluded to when he said “…to live is Christ and to die is gain.” His entire post-conversion life was dedicated to serving the same Jesus who confronted him in a powerful vision while he was on the road to Damascus with the intent of arresting and persecuting Christians.  The quoted passage from Philippians and the surrounding verses are his reflection on the value of his remaining in this life because of the impact he could have on growing and strengthening the Church.  This is, after all, why he was called/commissioned to be an apostle of Christ to the Gentiles (“to live is Christ,” meaning that his purpose in remaining is to reveal the true nature and person of Christ to as many as he could).  Underneath, however, was this recognition that Earth was not his true home.  His true home was in the full presence of His Lord (“to die is gain”).  Becoming a Christian, in faith and not just name, gave him a growing hunger to be fully at home where nothing would be alien.

Sometimes our purpose conflicts with our preference.  It seemingly did for Paul and I understand.  I understand.  But as Jesus once said, “I have come from heaven not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me” (John 6:38).  If the Son of God took this stance, how much of the same should His servants do?  Not less than, but the same as, although I do confess that I do look forward to the day when I will see and be home.

It’s a paradox that must be for now, one that I and so many others must live and function within…until He says, “It’s time.”

Maranatha!

© Byron L. Hannon, 2022.  All rights reserved to text content unless otherwise stated. 

Think On These Things

Note: I wrote this several days before the sad and shameful events that occurred at the Tops Friendly Market in East Buffalo, NY in which people were slaughtered simply because they were, like me, my family, and many of my friends, of African descent.  I decided not to post it right away and let it sit as I processed through my immediate feelings and my thoughts about the deep root of virulent racism in this nation and the long history of human cruelty against other humans that seems unending.  In the post, I make a reference to the high calling of God.  This event and all like them are stark challenges and reminders to me that circumstances, even the darkest, must not be the reason for me to lower my sights on who God is and what He requires of me.  May the heart desires of His people always be for His will to be done on earth as it is in heaven.  May we live this call out in our daily lives so that the world has an opportunity to see that there is a pathway of light and life and not just the darkness and death that is all so common.    

Since you have been raised to new life with Christ, set your sights on the realities of heaven, where Christ sits in the place of honor at God’s right hand. Think about the things of heaven, not the things of earth. For you died to this life, and your real life is hidden with Christ in God. (Colossians 3:1-3, NLT)

The popular cliché, “Easier said than done” may never have been more applicable in light of some of the real-world issues facing the contemporary church today.  Like the Colossian Christians of Paul’s time, there is a lot of ‘noise’ in the atmosphere surrounding us.  None of us can go a day without seeing or hearing someone posit something they think we need to be for or be against.  In some cases, some of us in the church are adding to that noise.  A lot of it, quite frankly, is spouted in ways that reflect “hostility, quarreling, outburst of anger…dissensions, division…,” things Paul called sin and which he contrasted with what he termed the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:19-23).

Even when our inclination is toward love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control, it’s hard to not hear and think on all this noise and to form and even express opinions on who/what is right, who/what is wrong.  And not vocally or otherwise expressing a point a view on any of these myriad issues does not mean we don’t carry one within.  

This presents a paradox for the person who sincerely desires to follow Christ and, as a dear colleague puts it, be a living sanctuary for Him when some of this noise is ever present and growing in intensity?  How can we not “think on these things,” but rather “think on things above?” Is Paul suggesting that we not care about what is going on in life around us? I don’t believe so.

Paul, I believe, was talking about where our deepest affections lie, the “things” we cherish the most to the extent that we align ourselves with the values associated with them.  He is not saying we shouldn’t care; he is reminding us that these “things” are part and parcel of the kingdoms (systems) of this world which are temporary and that our true citizenship is in the kingdom of God which we entered through Jesus Christ.  His admonishment is that we be mindful of where our allegiance lies, i.e. we ought to have the mind of Christ.

Some reflections of Christ that have come to mind over the last few days as I have been thinking about this posting:

  • Jesus made a clear distinction between that which is God’s and that which belongs to Caesar (representing the world’s systems) and urged His followers to know the difference.
  • Jesus never insisted upon His personal rights nor did He align Himself with any existing earthly power.   
  • Jesus never tried to convert an existing social structure of any kind such as a religious institution, culture, political group, or cause.
  • Jesus invited people from diverse backgrounds to follow Him and represent Him (several tradesmen, a social activist/revolutionary, women, a businessman, a thief, and a religious radical) and all but one experienced a transformation of the heart.
  • Jesus defined righteousness as love of God and love of neighbor and said our neighbors were whoever crosses our path at any point in time.
  • Jesus acknowledged that being in the world would create a lot of problems for His followers (because of its rejection of Him and His word), but He encouraged them to keep their trust in Him (as opposed to others and elsewhere) because He had overcome all the systems of world (which, again, are temporary).
  • Jesus taught His followers the essentialness of prayer and that their source of power would be the Holy Spirit.    
  • Jesus commissioned those who followed Him to influence and teach others in the way He had influenced and taught them.

Obviously, this list is not all inclusive, but it does represent His mindset and what His agenda did and did not consist of.  He identified closely with the suffering and pain people experienced and we have some record of how it affected Him and what He did when He encountered it.  We also have some record of His response to the coldness and callousness of those in positions of power toward the powerless.  In the end, however, He said this, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do” pointing to the depth of their ignorance. 

We need not be ignorant like so many of those He was speaking of then.  We have had the privilege of walking in the light and because we are not ignorant, we are likely to be held by Him to a higher standard (what Paul calls the high calling of God in Christ Jesus).  And my, it is such a high calling! 

My prayer is that we who have had the privilege of walking in the light think more on those things which are of eternal importance than on anything else.  Let us not stop caring about the wrong around us.  May we always seek Him on how we can and should respond.  In all things, Holy Spirit enable us and guide us. 

Blessings.

© Byron L. Hannon, 2022.  All rights reserved unless otherwise noted.  

The Moments of High Resolve

I don’t know about you, but there are occasions when something written or spoken by someone else feels so kindred that it resonates in a deeply personal way.  So much of what Howard Thurman (1899-1981) wrote impacts me like this.  I don’t normally do this, but I’d like to share with you something he wrote.  I think he’s a gem largely unknown to western eyes.    

“Keep fresh before me,

The moments of my high resolve.”

“Despite the dullness and barrenness of the days that pass, if I search with due diligence, I can always find a deposit left by some former radiance.  But I had forgotten.  At the time it was full-orbed, glorious, and resplendent.  I was sure that I would never forget.  In the moment of its fullness, I was sure that it would illumine my path for all the rest of my journey.  I had forgotten how easy it is to forget.”

“There was no intent to betray what seemed so sure at the time.  My response was whole, clean, authentic.  But little by little, there crept into my life the dust and grit of the journey.  Details, lower-level demands, all kinds of crosscurrents—nothing momentous, nothing overwhelming, nothing flagrant—just wear and tear.  If there had been some direct challenge—a clear-cut issue—I would have fought it to the end, and beyond.

“In the quietness of this place, surrounded by the all-pervading presence of God, my heart whispers: Keep fresh before me the moments of my High Resolve, that in fair weather or in foul, in good times or in tempests, in the days when the darkness and the foe are nameless or familiar, I may not forget that to which my life is committed.”

“Keep fresh before me

The moments of my high resolve.”

  • Taken from Meditations of the Heart (Howard Thurman), Beacon Press: Boston, © 1953, 1981, pp. 209-210.   

© Byron L. Hannon, 2022.  All rights reserved unless otherwise noted.  

It’s Time to Get Easter Right

“…the angel spoke to the women. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I know you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He isn’t here! He is risen from the dead, just as he said would happen… Jesus came and told his disciples, “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28: 5-6; 18-20, NLT)

A sermon statement made by my first pastor on my first Easter as a newly born Christian was, “Any Easter in which Christ is not at the center is just another pagan holiday.” And then he said, “Make sure you don’t miss Easter.”  That was in 1980, and it still resonates despite the rather blunt language he used. 

Many of us are easily turned-off by blunt language (like suggesting that some people are contemporary pagans), except when we are the ones using the blunt language.  By the way, a simple definition of the word “pagan” is one who holds polytheistic religious beliefs (worships multiple gods)…but it also comes with the added connotation of being uncivilized and morally deficient.  I suspect, people, who might in fact be “pagan” in their values and views i.e., they are not exclusively devoted to the God of the Bible (or Koran) don’t want to be associated with that word because of its connotation, particularly on religious holidays, including Christmas and Easter.

There are a couple realities here that shouldn’t be missed.  The word Easter itself is a derivation of the Anglo-Saxon name of a pre-Christian goddess (Eostre) who was celebrated at the beginning of Spring.  Somewhere along the line, the term was appropriated for a Christian application.  There is this undeniable connection between a pagan celebration of new life in nature (flora and fauna) and the Christian Easter which celebrates the victory of Jesus over sin and death, made manifest by His resurrection, i.e. new life born from the clutches of death.  Some of us may not like this connection, but there it is.  Cultural appropriation (putting your brand on another peoples’ ideas  forms, and practices) is essentially a form of plagiarism. 

The second reality, at least from my vantage in the northeastern US, is that the purpose of Easter has become a justification for clothing and candy sales, particularly for children’s use and consumption. While it may not have the commercial clout of Christmas, the marketplace has coopted Easter for its own purposes and has been pretty successful. This money-centered emphasis doesn’t fit into a literal definition of paganism, but it could with a little effort.  If asked to participate in a word association test, I wonder how many randomly selected people would say bunnies, chocolate bunnies, or new clothes in response to the word “Easter.”   

My most recent reading has refreshed my thinking about the prophetic side of Jesus.  Like all the Old Testament (Hebrew Bible) prophets before Him, His presence, words, and actions caused extreme discomfort within the established social, religious, and political order.  Those in positions of power and influence had a vested interest in keeping things as they were, and the de facto criticism of their status quo by these prophets and by Jesus constituted a dangerous threat.  How could what had benefited them remain in place if they listened to and aligned themselves to the words of these prophets?  

They and their message could not be allowed to take root.  In biblical and world history, we see repeated cycles of suppression of the prophetic word, over the course of many centuries.  Ways have been found to silence those voices.  With a few exceptions, the prophets’ challenges have been met with various forms of ridicule, ostracism, threats, and persecution, including exile and death.  It’s in our nature to do this.    

Here is where Jesus parted company with His prophetic predecessors and even more contemporary versions of those called to prophetic roles.  Their post-death legacy is in their words and actions which ultimately, did not have lasting power to significantly change human kingdoms committed, not to across-the-board righteousness and justice, but to maintaining and strengthening their established order.  The legacy of Jesus is in His aliveness.  

The resurrection of Jesus (Easter) is the ultimate rejection of this limitation.  In a manner, Easter is God’s declaration that He has taken it upon Himself to break this cycle, something so long hungered after by prophets of old and more recently.  The resurrection of Jesus is the final word. Attempts have and will be made, but nothing and no one will subvert Him.  He may be ignored for a time, but nothing and no one will undermine Him.  And that is reason to celebrate, even if candy and new clothes are a small part of the celebration.     

The commemoration and celebration of Easter is to remind us that in the resurrected, living Jesus, the pattern has been broken and that all human kingdoms of every kind will cease, and only those who are in Him, the personification of righteousness and justice will remain, forever.  The commemoration and celebration of Easter is to recall God’s promise that He has repaired what humanity has broken and has neither the skill nor the will to fix.   

It is up to us to believe by faith what has yet to be realized by sight.  Every promise God has made to me, He has kept.  I believe, and therefore I will wait (count) on God.   

Hope you didn’t eat too much candy!                                        

© Byron L. Hannon, 2022.  All rights reserved unless otherwise noted.