Category Archives: Leadership

Simple Grace

Yesterday, I drove 60 miles in heavy rain.  Most of that was on an interstate where the normal speed limit is 65.  Of course, it’s fairly common on clear days to be passed by cars doing considerably above that even when I’m driving a little above the limit.  Experiencing that kind of high-speed driving and the occasional intemperate switching from lane-to-lane from fellow travelers on very wet roads in a driving rain to me seems to be…inconsiderate.  Maybe my age is showing, but I don’t think that’s it.  I’ve felt this way since I began driving. 

Now I do need to confess that a number of years ago I had an accident in a rainstorm.  All of my family was in the car.  Our three children were young, including our youngest who wasn’t quite two months old.  On a curving on-ramp to I-295 in a heavy thunderstorm, I never thought much of the pool of water in the road.  I wasn’t going fast, maybe 25mph. I lost control of the car as the tires lost contact with the road and the car hydroplaned and slammed into the concrete curb.  Fortunately, no one was hurt, and there were no other cars in front of or behind us.  The front tie-rods were broken making the car not drivable.  

That night is strongly etched in my mind all these years later.  You might say I’m a little sensitive which is why I think it’s so important to remember that we share the road and life with others.  The simple graces hardly cost anything at all.  Saying ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ and ‘I’m sorry’ is not just for children.  Letting people finish what they are saying without interrupting them to say what you want to say is about valuing their voice as much as you value your own.  Demonstrating courtesy like holding a door or using a blinker when turning or changing lanes only involves a little wrist action.  Exercising the patience so as to not tailgate others or weave in and out of traffic may require a little more restraint, but we all will be more likely to get where we’re headed with a lot less stress.

You might say this is not going to change anything and that people will continue to do these things.   I disagree.  If just one person adjusts some aspect of their life to offer simple grace to others, then that’s a change.  And maybe, that one person may influence someone else to do the same. 

© Byron L. Hannon, 2021.  All rights reserved to text content unless otherwise noted.  

More Than Enough

“So above all, constantly chase after the realm of God’s kingdom and the righteousness that proceeds from Him. Then all these less important things will be given to you abundantly.”  (Matthew 6:33, Passion Bible)

One of my favorite worship songs is More Than Enough1 as sung by the Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir.  In summary, it speaks of GOD’s complete sufficiency as a provider, a healer, and the blessing of His constant presence.  The song’s aim is to reaffirm in our hearts and minds that the person of GOD and the provision of GOD exceeds our every need.  I can’t hear it or sing it without experiencing emotion that can’t be contained.  

I firmly believe that the GOD I know has a storehouse of riches that is infinite in its abundance.  I believe that abundance is a prime character trait of the economy of the kingdom of GOD.  This is the economy which Jesus introduced to the world and for which His followers, His Church, has the responsibility to demonstrate and promote.  GOD’s economy of abundance is in direct opposition to the economy of scarcity which characterizes the world and its nations. 

The economy of abundance says there is enough of everything for everyone to have their needs met.  There is enough food for everyone in the world to eat, there is enough work for everyone so that everyone can contribute to the whole, there is enough money so that no one needs to be destitute, there is enough space for everyone to live peacefully and safely, there is enough love for everyone to receive, there is enough compassion to share broadly…there is enough.  In fact, there is more than enough. Cases in point are the occasions in which Jesus fed thousands out of what appeared to be very little.  In both cases, there were leftovers after the multitudes were fed.      

Conversely, the economy of scarcity says “no” to all of the above; there is not enough of everything for everyone.  The size of the pie is finite, and the more some have the less others will have.   Because the economy of scarcity says “no,” unused food is plowed under or stored and then often rots in one part of the world while people starve in another part.  The economy of scarcity is why the richest 1% of the world’s population owns in excess 50% of the globe’s total wealth, a number that continues to grow for the richest and shrink for the poorest2.  The economy of scarcity is why we will always have people living in homelessness and deep poverty, unable to find an escape.  The economy of scarcity is why we create reasons to fear and demonize “the other” and need ways to keep “them” out (closed neighborhoods, privatized schools, gated communities and border walls which cost billions of dollars).  The economy of scarcity effectively states that there is only so much opportunity, so much love, and so much compassion to go around and those who live outside the boundaries of privilege are not eligible to receive.  

Sidebar: Imagine being able to use hoarded and misappropriated money to fund equitable public education, broad access to post high school education for those who want it, development of vaccines, cures, and other advanced medical protocols, expansion of non-fossil based energy sources to support the re-greening of the earth, universal quality support and care for the other abled, the disabled and the elderly…

I’m not fostering some utopian ideal or human-based political economy.  Instead, at least in the realms in which the Church can exert influence, it is GOD’s economy of abundance where the rhetoric of grace is actually the reality of grace that abounds and where the will of GOD is done on earth as it is in heaven.  Perhaps difficulty buying-in to this is because of a lack of belief that GOD’s way actually works (and a belief that the world’s way does).      

The primary value in GOD’s economy of abundance is GOD’s righteousness.  It is the natural extension of loving GOD and loving our neighbors as ourselves which Jesus declared as the two greatest commandments.  The primary values of economies of scarcity are acquisition, self-promotion and self-protection.  It is a natural extension of loving self and those closest to us above all else.  

In GOD’s economy of abundance, there is recognition of human psycho-social and material needs (read or reread Matthew 6:33), but they are always secondary and come as a promised provision based on faith and obedience.  In the world’s economy of scarcity, human needs, desires and preferences are always primary and are always subject to competition and conflict (between individuals, groups, regions, and nations).        

So here’s my question for those who claim to be citizens of the kingdom of GOD.  Which of these two economies is most evident in your life, not enough or more than enough?  I ask the question of you (and of myself) because it goes to the heart of practicing what we preach.     

  1. More Than Enough” by Robert Lane Gay.
  2. “Richest 1% own half the world’s wealth, study finds,” The Guardian, US edition, 2017.

© Byron L. Hannon, 2021.  All rights reserved to text content unless otherwise noted.

Off Point Values

Expedience is not a Christian spiritual value – Me

There’s an issue that has weighed heavily on me for the last several years, and while I have touched on it here and there, I feel the need to be more direct.  Let me say first that I am grateful to those who take the time to read what I write, both those who are Jesus followers as I seek to be, those who have reservations about Him, and those whose belief systems are fundamentally different than mine.  I don’t take your interest lightly and appreciate each of you. 

That said, I want to be explicit: I love the Church.  I believe it is the physical body of Christ in this world for which He gave His life to redeem (repurchase).  And to this body, He is the head in all things.  Because the Church His body, He cares deeply for the Church and is fully aware of her errors, her flaws, her potential, and is continually seeking her perfection.  

The Church offered me a needed lifeline early in my adult life, and I have believed and worked to be part of that lifeline offering to others over the years. I have gotten to know and experience GOD and His community of believers through the Church such that I want more and more of Him and them.  I am so grateful that GOD is not stingy; He gives of Himself freely to those who seek after Him.  Our relationship continues to deepen even after all these years.  The Church has been the facilitator for all of this.  I love the Church so much that I hate to see spiritual compromise operating within her. 

There is no question that there are many serious, controversial and complex social and political issues at work in our society.  They have been present for many years, and I suspect will continue to be present for many more.  They have been the catalyst for much division and worse.  I say “catalyst” rather than reason because I believe the actual reasons for division (and worse) lies in the heart dispositions of human beings.  Sometimes, the rationale for harmful, hurtful, and even hateful treatment has been the perceived moral laxity of others leading to a belief that otherwise questionable attitudes and actions are justified because they serve a greater societal good. 

There is nothing particularly new here, it is common to humanity.  The problem for me is when the Church adopts this path, treating political expediency as a spiritual value in order to combat moral decline, aligning itself with those whose aims are political power and whose tactics are power politics.  And power politics always has targets which are often anyone considered to be an outlier from the majority’s norm.   

While some in the Church thinks this kind of alignment strengthens her position to affect moral transformation, I think she is weakened by it in the long-run.  Make no mistake; I have huge concerns about what I see as moral decline and even degradation and the spiritual darkness (disguised as enlightened thinking) in which this decline festers.  If the Church is going to be faithful to her calling, however, she cannot follow a common path.  “The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world.  On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds (2 Corinthians 10:4).  

There is no divine power in the common path and yet too often, I think, our history shows that we keep coming back to it, perhaps because it’s relatively easy and expedient.  We keep fighting with the weapons of the world.  We keep giving to Caesar what belongs to GOD.  We keep seeking power alliances to advance our agendas.  We keep placing our bets on utilitarian philosophy (from a spiritual perspective, justifying questionable means for the sake of perceived righteous ends) rather than the historical Christianity we claim to be upholding.  And by doing these things, we are proclaiming expedience is a spiritual value.  It is not!  It never has been.  If it were, Jesus would have allowed His followers to fight to prevent His arrest (John 18:36).  He did not do that.  In fact, Jesus rebuked Peter for his initial attempt to fight for Jesus (John 18:10-11).  Paul rebuked the Corinthians for judging those outside the Church, instead saying that those in the Church should judge those on the inside (1 Corinthians 5:12).     

The truth is that, throughout history, every time the Church has sought the use of political power to gain social advantage, she was weakened by a distorted witness.  Her credibility suffered because she was viewed as just another special interest group among many.  The powerful and mystical distinctiveness of Christ, who freely gave grace, compassion and forgiveness, who did not manipulate nor condemn nor curry favor with anyone, and who sacrificed Himself for the sake of others, was clouded by mixed messages and the need to defend against charges of hypocrisy.  Are we not seeing some (or much) of that today?   

I would love to see changes in the moral fabric of our time.  I do believe in a singular objective standard of right and wrong, of sin and righteousness that flows from the wisdom of GOD.  What I don’t believe in is in using earthly means to gain heavenly outcomes.  As Jesus said to Pontius Pilate, “My kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36).  It is not the business of the Church, which belongs to Jesus Christ, to undermine His way, His truth, His life, and to do so in His name.    

© Byron L. Hannon, 2021.  All rights reserved to text content unless otherwise noted. 

Hold On, Just For A Moment!

I was watching a college football halftime show and one of the analysts was lamenting to extent to which Covid-19 had upset normalcy in society and particularly its impact on the unencumbered play of college football.  Like the rest of us are impacted, all players, coaches, fans, and schools have been affected.  The schools with big-time programs also have experienced major economic hits as their football programs provide millions of dollars in revenue.  Taking a stab at humor, there was a paper shredder on the table and the analyst making the complaints started shredding pieces of paper with the year 2020 emblazoned in bold letters.

For certain, 2020 has been a tough year around the globe, but before it passes into obscurity let’s not ditch it before looking to see if there are lessons we can glean from it.  Here are a few thoughts:

  • It’s not 2020’s fault.  Sure, there is symbolic blame we can cast on it, but when the clock reaches 12:01am on January 1, 2021 we will face the same challenges as we did in March 2020.  It was only a year ago when we were looking forward to saying “Happy New Year” as 2019 came to a close.  While there may be light at the end of the tunnel because of the pending availability of vaccines, it may be mid-summer before we have universal availability in this country, not to mention other countries around the world.  The challenges of economic and emotional recovery will loom large well into 2021…and there are no guarantees, which brings me to the next point.      
  • If nothing else, this experience, hopefully, has taught us and continues to teach us that we don’t have the control over our environment we thought we had.  Scientific and technological advances combined with the relative wealth of living in a “1st world” country can create an illusion of sovereignty, unlimited personal agency and even arrogance.  Nope!  No matter how far advanced we become, there have always been historical events beyond the control of persons, individual and collective wealth, scientific expertise, and governmental strength that remind us that we are neither transcendent nor unlimited.  Perhaps it was just our time.  This alone should humble us…and keep us humble.
  • The only tests of resilience are difficulties.  Endurance is only needed when there is something to overcome.  This past year has required, of all of us, resilience and endurance.  For some, it has been more so than for others.  Still, I suspect it will continue to be so as we try to recover, adapt, and move forward.  And perhaps the resilience and endurance we’ve had to demonstrate in 2020 will give us confidence for whatever we may face in the future.

So, before we throw 2020 away into the dustbin of forgetfulness, let’s take time to see what else it might say to us that can actually help us in 2021.  May the new year give you clear eyes to see and fresh ears to hear what the Spirit is saying.  

Blessings.

© Byron L. Hannon, 2020.  All rights reserved to text content unless otherwise noted.                

Come On, Church!

While I haven’t seen it in a while, I used to enjoy the “Come On, Man” segment on the ESPN® Monday Night Football pregame show.  Do they still do it?  For the uninitiated, the segment highlighted bone-headed plays and player behavior from different games from prior weeks. Each analyst on the pre-game show would select several plays they wanted to highlight, a video would show the play and the behavior, which would always be something head-scratching, and the analyst would say, with disdain in his voice, “Come on, man!”  The underlying, unstated message always was, “You need to do better than that.”

In truth, the saying is a lot older than the sport show’s use.  I’ve heard it from others and have said it myself for many years as a reaction to seeing or hearing something from someone that provoked an incredulous reaction in response to their behavior or comment, “Come on, man!”  It’s another way of saying, “Are you serious!?” or “Are you for real!?” or “You’re kidding me, right!?” or “I can’t take you seriously!” or “That was messed up!”

If you’ve been following me at all, you know that I have a great love for the Church.  I’ve spent most of my adult life in it, both as a lay member and as clergy.  I write about it, directly or indirectly, much of the time.  I read a lot about it.  I have studied the Church from its inception to current times, and the most of its developments, transitions, struggles, successes and failures in between.  I believe it to be a mystical body with a holy, transcendent purpose.  And sometimes, I think we are living beneath our calling and beneath our privilege.

The various philosophical methods developed over the centuries to “prove” GOD’s existence and the validity of Christianity aside, my study, my reason, and my experiences (including my observations) combine to affirm GOD’s reality.  The holy and transcendent are not and cannot be products of human wisdom and creativity.  Therefore, participation in them come from invitations from above and these invitations and participation have specific modes (e.g. grace, the Holy Spirit, acknowledgement of sin, repentance, faith, rebirth, self-emptying humility, and intimate spiritual relationship expressed through obedience, study for understanding and wisdom and regular prayer).  

The faith on which the Church was founded was never intended to join the list of the world’s philosophies.  It was to stand apart as the distinctive, earthly body of the heavenly and holy person of Jesus Christ.  Without that distinctiveness, Christianity can’t be anything but one among many human philosophies rooted in an argument not a person.  

The invitations have come from above, but the response and participation within the Church is uneven and sometimes lacking.  This is even more the case when the Church’s attention moves away from Christ, His will and His ways, and focuses its passion on other issues, causes, concerns and their associated wills and ways.  The result: a confused purpose, diminished power to witness, and inconsistent ability to demonstrate transformation into Christlikeness, the intended fruit of faith.

Come On, Church!   

© Byron L. Hannon, 2020.  All rights reserved to text content unless otherwise noted.   

Step Away

“…Don’t you know that a little yeast leavens the whole batch of dough?” (1 Corinthians 5:6)

Looking back on life, I realize how much energy I’ve exerted trying to avoid toxic things.  That goes for situations and, occasionally, people.  I’m not referring to the common aggravating things that are part of everyone’s life that tend to bum you out, but rather the situations which (and people who) so negatively affect your outlook and attitude that only removal of yourself enables you to restore equilibrium.  And failure to remove yourself may cause you to either assume aspects of that toxicity within yourself or experience feelings of having a weighted soul (oppression).

This was a periodic challenge in the corporate settings in which I worked whenever office politics became pronounced and people were trying to assert power in obvious and (in what sometimes appeared to me to be) cynical ways, when people were jockeying for power and prestige, or when something went wrong and avoidance of responsibility and c.y.a. was the ingrained habitus.  Demonstrating skill in these areas, i.e. functioning in the midst of toxicity, along with demonstrating competence in an assigned area of responsibility, was a way folks survived and even thrived.  This wasn’t a constant, but it became prevalent enough that I had to leave.  Thankfully, GOD provided me a way out.

Of course, toxic environments and people are not exclusive to business settings; we find them in every arena in life.  And I think the dynamics in them are essentially the same regardless of the setting, become a part of the toxicity or recognize what it is and how it stands to impact and step away (mentally and emotionally, if not physically).  Unfortunately, I think many people who have opted to adapt to toxic environments don’t realize that they have done so.  They’re like the Fabreze® commercials; they become nose blind to it.  They don’t see anything irregular or harmful to themselves or to others, often despite the reaction of others to them.  

Scripture frequently used yeast, a leavening and fermentation agent, as symbolic of sin.  In the story of the exodus, the ancient Israelites were told by GOD to not use yeast in their baking of bread at the time of the Passover.  Later, they were told not to use it in preparation for certain sacrificial offerings.  In the New Testament, both Jesus and Paul used yeast as a metaphor for sin or that which leads to sin.  

Anything toxic (literally, anything harmful and capable of causing injury) influencing our spiritual selves is a sign that yeast is present and at work.  It is harmful to us and to those around us because yeast affects whatever it touches.  Adopting attitudes and behaviors which are toxic is sinful because they do not reflect the love of GOD nor love of others, regardless of how they manifest themselves.  I’m convinced it’s one of the reasons Jesus talked about the importance of having eyes that see and ears that hear.                                       

When I see it in myself, the antidote is to acknowledge and deal with it before GOD in an honest and non-defensive way.  When I experience it in situations or in others, I will try to speak to it as graciously as I can and may make it a matter of prayer.  After that and if nothing changes, I usually step away.  It takes too much energy to remain in the midst of that. 

© Byron L. Hannon, 2020.  All rights reserved to text content unless otherwise noted.    

Keep It Simple; Not Simplistic

“Love the Lord your God with all your…mind.” (Matthew 22:37)

There is a difference between something being simple, which essentially means easy to understand or not elaborate whereas simplistic is the tendency to ignore complexities and complications.  

Children, for example, are able to grasp the essential measure of biblical truth if they can remember John 3:16 or the lessons found in the songs, Jesus Love Me and Jesus Loves the Little Children1.   Hopefully, as we mature our ability to wrestle with some of the complexities of biblical teaching increases with our aging, although not everyone will grow to the same levels.  But if, for some reason, we do not grow a lot in understanding much beyond what we find in John 3:16 or those two songs, the lessons within still provide us with what we need to be grounded in the Christian faith and to obey the two great commandments: love GOD and love our neighbors as ourselves.

We need that strong foundation of belief and obedience to truth for this is how we build our lives on solid rock and not on shifting sand, a metaphor of Jesus.  We need that foundation because the world we live in is full of complexities which are constantly in motion.  Additionally, new complexities are added upon the old.  Changes spawned over several hundred years by the Reformation, the Age of Enlightenment, the Industrial Revolution, near unceasing warfare, and all of the after-effects of modernity including technology development coming at warp speed has forced all of us to deal with change at a pace which is constant…and often unwelcome.  

Add to this, postmodern challenges to the tenets of modernism, political instability, economic uncertainty, and the rejection of societal norms which we see expressed in increasing activism.  The world has turned into a Ball of Confusionfor many people.  The “good old days” don’t exist except as a haven in the minds of those who are dealing with a sense of loss of control and/or resentment. 

The danger for those in this latter group is the temptation to prefer simplistic responses to complex issues, that is, responses that ignore real complexities and complications.  This danger is equally true for the Church as it is for every other segment of society.  One example is something I came across a week or so ago in which an “evangelical” pastor condemned the “evil of intellectualism” that he believed had infected some in his congregation.3 This is not a unique or isolated view.  I have witnessed it, not necessarily in his exact words but certainly with a similar attitude.  I have heard pastors I know speak of experiencing it within their own ministry contexts.  

The theme of anti-intellectualism in the Church is not new; it has been the foundation of fundamentalism for at least of century and reflects a deep distrust and “antagonism to learning, education and the educated…in a conscious display of simplicity, earthiness, even colorful simi-literacy.”4   

This is taking the gospel (which can be communicated and understood simply) and making it simplistic in a way I doubt was ever envisioned by Jesus, Paul, James, Peter, John, Polycarp, Augustine, Origen, Tertullian, John Chrysostom, Martin Luther, John Calvin, and many others.  How do we love GOD with all of our mind if we devalue the mind’s ability to wrestle with and comprehend levels of complexity…or worse than devaluing it, calling it “evil?”  How can any of us have the experience of being transformed by the renewing of our minds (Romans 12:2) if we neglect feeding them with the spiritual food of the Word and the wisdom of the saints acquired and tested over centuries…or at the very least, earnest prayer?

John Wesley, the 18th century Anglican priest who founded Methodism, and a central figure within my denominational tribe, was clear in declaring that there is great value in the use of reason to grasp spiritual truth, marking it only second in importance to Scripture.  It was said of Oswald Chambers, a noted early 20th century teacher, evangelist and missionary, “If [he] had a pet peeve it was, in his words, ‘intellectual slovenliness, disguised by a seemingly true regard for the spiritual interests.”5 To his students he said, “More than half the side-tracks and all [author’s emphasis] the hysterical phenomena that seize whole communities of people, like [an infectious] epidemic…arise from spiritual laziness and intellectual sloth on the part of so-called religious teachers.”6

This is, in no way, a call to big intellectual pursuits for everyone.  However GOD has wired each of us, in gifts and in passions, we ought to pursue these earnestly for the sake of the body of Christ and for our own joy as He blesses us in our practice.  This is however an admonition to (1) accept that our world is very complex and that there is room for the Church to engage that complexity with tools of the mind, (2) not despise those who feel called to do that; they too are honoring GOD, and (3) recognize that every mind is a “terrible thing to waste” and question those who think it’s wise to do so.                                

If I don’t learn to think, then I don’t think I’ll ever learn.”- Craig D. Lounsborough

  1. Jesus Loves Me by Anna Bartlett Warner (1859), Public Domain, Library of Congress.  Jesus Loves the Little Childrenby C. H. Woolston (original publication date is unknown).  It may still be under copyright as the last publication date was in 1976. 
  2. Ball of Confusion (The Temptations) written by Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong.  Recorded on the Gordy label and released in 1970, Lyrics © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC.
  3. My apologies.  I cannot recall or retrace the source.
  4. The Free Dictionary by Farlex (online).
  5. Oswald Chambers, Abandoned to God by David McCasland, 1993, p. 106.  
  6. Chambers, p. 106.  

© Byron L. Hannon, 2020.  All rights reserved to text content unless noted otherwise.

Missing Steps?

“…I in them and You in me—so that they [disciples] may be brought to complete unity…”

(John 17:23)

My first role in vocational ministry was as a pastor of spiritual formation.  I assumed this responsibility after a lengthy career in corporate human resources.  I served in this role for 7 years before taking on a lead pastor role.  There are some definite parallels between strategic HR and spiritual formation.  My HR focus was dedicated to influencing the creation of work environments in which talented people could flourish, aligning their abilities and contributions with business processes in order to achieve success after success, both corporate and individual.  The models for these successes were predetermined…in other words, we knew what success would look like and worked toward those ends.

Spiritual formation, specifically Christian spiritual formation, is the transformation people into the image of Jesus Christ for the benefit of others, all under the influence of GOD’s Holy Spirit.  The model for this transformation is Jesus Christ…being like Him is the “success” target to which all Christians are to aim their lives, regardless of branch, denomination, doctrinal distinctives, ethnicity, cultural preferences, economic status, political affiliations, or whatever the TV preachers are saying.  Jesus speaks directly to this in His High Priestly prayer in John 17.  “Complete unity” in Him and in the Father, i.e. being like them, is the purpose of spiritual formation.  When it occurs, others benefit and are blessed of GOD which is consistent with GOD’s nature (there are too many biblical citations to note here to support this point; suffice it to say that GOD loves people, all kinds of people, all people, beyond our ability to fully grasp).

In a recent reading on the early Church (2nd and 3rd centuries), the author asserts that church growth  was not the result of evangelistic fervor in the way we understand it today.*  Instead, he claims it was because the of the slow, patient, very steady development of new converts in a way that required them, over time, to demonstrate with their lives their commitment to their confession of faith.  It was when others deeply embedded in the non-Christian world witnessed the generosity, the compassion, the love (toward each other, the poor, and even toward those who abused and persecuted them), they were so impacted by this distinctly different lifestyle that many wanted to know more about this Christus.

To generate this lifestyle testimony, those making inquiries about Christianity and new converts were strictly limited in their participation in the community of faith (the church), typically for weeks, sometimes months and beyond.  This was to give new converts time, instruction, and opportunity to reflect upon and ultimately to replace the attitudes and behaviors developed in the many years prior to their conversion to new attitudes and behaviors consist with the faith.  It also gave the church an opportunity to assess their prospects before they were admitted into the fellowship.  Prematurely admitting poorly formed people into the church would undermine the church’s witness to an unbelieving world because there would be inadequate distinction between those in the dominant culture and those in the church.  Premature admission would also increase the prospect for persecution if disaffected converts or insincere people became avenues of information to those hostile to the church.

The practice of patient formation of new believers over the course of decades to strengthen and grow the Church is vastly different from contemporary practices of “opening the doors of the church” to anyone who wants to become a member, allowing people to join after taking a few membership classes, and baptizing folks who may be hard-pressed to explain the significance of baptism apart from it being a church ritual.

The Galatians passage on the Fruit of the Spirit (5:22-23) provides very specific examples of outward behaviors reflective of a legitimate inward transformation.  Similar behaviors are shared elsewhere in the New Testament by Paul, Peter, and John.  These are what the spiritually formed Christian should be demonstrating consistently as evidence of a fundamentally changed heart.  Among the things the behaviors are contrasted with are bitterness, discord, rage, factions, and malice.

At a time when the witness of Christ’s Church is as critically important as it is today, I wonder if we’re missing some important steps in helping people live the faith and not just profess it.  The drive to get B.I.S. (butts in seats) is strong, but if that drive is so strong that it actually undermines Christ’s mission by turning immature and under-formed Christians loose on the world, then it can’t be right.  After all, we’re not here for ourselves…others are key.

The measures of church success are varied depending on who you speak with.  How many in the Church today measure themselves against the standard of “complete unity” with the Father and the Son?  At the end of the day and at the end of the age, that’s what will count.

* The Patient Ferment of the Early Church, the Improbable Rise of Christianity in the Roman Empire, Alan Kreider, 2016.

© Byron L. Hannon, 2020.  All rights reserved to text content unless otherwise noted

Love’s In Need of Love

I don’t normally repost things, but this is never more timely.

 

Being deeply loved by someone gives you strength, while loving someone deeply gives you courage. – Lao Tzu

Love is friendship that has caught fire. It is quiet understanding, mutual confidence, sharing and forgiving.  It is loyalty through good and bad times.  It settles for less than perfection and makes allowance for human weaknesses. – Ann Landers

They do not love who do not show their love. – William Shakespeare

Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. – Martin Luther King, Jr.

Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries. Without them, humanity cannot survive. – Dalia Lama

“The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” – Mark 12:29-31

Several years ago, I facilitated a group discussion on Living Biblically in Contemporary Society.  My intent was to create opportunities for dialog among a diverse group of Christians in our church on issues common in society then, and just as much today: immigration, gun control, sexual identity, climate change, race, and other topics on the societal radar.  Our discussions were lively, and by no means did everyone agree on everything, which I expected.  The underlying consideration was wrestling with how we could demonstrate a Christ-like ethos at every turn, not on reaching agreement about the rightness or wrongness of any given position.

 The core of that ethos, as I see it, is found in John 3:16, one of the most referenced passages in the Bible: For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.”  This one statement leads me to this conclusion: Those who place their faith in GOD through Jesus Christ are to love what He loved and still loves, irrespective of whether we agree with the moral appropriateness of a social position, political stance, or behavior that is an outgrowth of an issue.  Love does not equate to condoning everything that happens around us.  If it did, any and all moral stances rooted in a desire to obey the GOD of the Bible would be meaningless.                                 

I suspect that it would take the Library of Congress (or perhaps more) to house all of the quotes from notable people about our need for giving and receiving giving love. The kind of love the Apostle Paul speaks of in 1 Corinthians 13 comes immediately to my mind because of John 3:16, but not to the exclusion of romantic love or love of family members and friends.  Paul’s description is special because it is all-encompassing and without condition, which makes it also rare.  I view it as a key mile marker in “the race to win the prize for which GOD has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus” that Paul speaks of Philippians 3:14.

 To recap, here’s what Paul says this kind of love does and doesn’t do:

  • It has a lot of patience and puts up with an awful lot
  • It is kind
  • It is not driven by ego
  • It doesn’t act out
  • It is not self-seeking
  • It is hard to provoke
  • It thinks the best of others, not the worst
  • It takes no joy in wrongdoing
  • It finds the truth to be a source of joy
  • In the face of problems caused by others, it is never cynical
  • It is always hopeful even when confronted with difficulty

 Whenever I read the passage, I’m reminded that this is the love that GOD has for me, revealed in the life, death and resurrection of His Son, Jesus. I’m also reminded that I’m called to have the same goal as the Apostle Paul, including loving GOD and my neighbor in this way, which is only possible through the ministry of GOD’s Holy Spirit working in me.  If you’re unclear as to whom your neighbor is, review Luke 10:25-37 (Hint: GOD’s definition is pretty broad).

Because I live in the 21st century rather than the 1st, my natural tendency is to think that the possibility of loving like this is a distinctly and ridiculously naïve notion, i.e. it is impossible to give or to receive love this way because of the climate of competition between tribes, boundary protection (personal and group), the hoarding of resources for the sake of having a sense of security, and the gaining of power and influence (or, at least, aligning ourselves to the powerful and influential).

A friend once said our social climate today is really no different than what we see in street gang behavior, with each gang having its membership requirements, territories, identifiers, code words and signs. Although it seems to be increasingly amplified today, I think human history, since Adam’s sin in Eden, reveals that it has been this way since Cain’s jealousy of and subsequent destruction of Abel.  If humanity has always been this way and continues to be this way, then the Lord’s admonition to love is the only counter force that can demonstrate another way…you might say The Way.  Ironically, this is what Christianity was called before it was called Christianity.

This issue has been percolating in me for several months, prompted by a fresh hearing of Stevie Wonder’s, “Love’s In Need of Love Today.”  Recorded in 1974 as one entry on his masterful Songs in the Key of Life double album, it speaks in a soul touching way, of the very serious, negative impacts on all of life occurring because of serious deficits of love.  Stevie asks us to consider that love itself feels unloved, the very thing that some of the greatest thinkers in history, including the Greatest, say is essential to our being.  Love feels unloved! How messed-up is that?

To choose not to love is downward devolution from what humanity is supposed to be. To choose not to love is to deny the need for godliness. To reject love by not loving is to reject GOD Himself, for He is love (1 John 4:8).  This is not Hallmark sentimentality; this is the Word of GOD in all of its weight and glory.

If, as Stevie Wonder sings, love is need of love today, perhaps we who carry the name “Christian” need to submit ourselves to the examination light of GOD’s Word and Spirit, and the example of His only begotten Son.  We need to make sure that we are not in the way of what He wants to accomplish in us and through us, but in The Way.

© Byron L. Hannon, 2018. All rights reserved for textual content.

 

If you’ve never heard Stevie’s song before, here’s a clip:

https://www.google.com/search?q=love%27s+in+need+of+love+today&source=lnms&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwiY1ZaB5qTcAhWmiOAKHYWlDYMQ_AUICSgA&biw=1051&bih=461&dpr=1.3

 

Reconciliation

“All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation…” (2 Corinthians 5:18) 

On the same day this is posted, I’m sharing a related, though much briefer devotional reading with folks in my denominational context based on this passage from 2 Corinthians.  Some of that devotional will be included here, but I want to use this platform to expand on my thoughts in light of conversations I’ve been a part of over the last two weeks, in particular, but also from time to time over the course of my adult life.

The term “reconciliation” denotes the existence of something broken.  Though I know there are some who are still in denial, it’s hard to deny with any integrity that the broad existence of racism, ethnocentrism (belief in the superiority of one’s ethnic group), and xenophobia (fear, hatred and/or distrust of that which is foreign) in our world indicates a fundamental brokenness in the ability of human beings to be in healthy relationship outside of one’s preferred group.  Even within groups, culturally rooted sexism, which so often undercuts women’s legally equal status, points to real brokenness and explains the discouragement many women experience regardless of their economic status.

From the very first post on this blog, I’ve been clear about my beliefs and my commitment to what I believe is the objective voice of GOD as expressed in His word, what we commonly call the Bible.  I start here because of things that I have heard and have had said to me from some, including a few who claim the same faith as I.

We cannot square manifestations of relational brokenness with, “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.” (Genesis 1:26-27). 

We cannot square manifestations of relational brokenness with “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)

We cannot square manifestations of relational brokenness with: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’  This is the first and greatest commandment.  And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matt. 22: 37-40; see also Leviticus 19:18)

We cannot square manifestations of relational brokenness with “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” (John 17:20-21).

We cannot square manifestations of relational brokenness with “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28; see also Colossians 3:11).

The marginalization and minimalization of any created being, whether an individual or a member of a nation, tribe or tongue is irreconcilable to the purposes and will of GOD for humanity.  And yet, here we are!

One of the reasons for our being here, at least for those in the USA I believe, is the attitude of “I didn’t do it so I’m not responsible.”  This alone is an explicit rejection of biblical oneness. Our Senate Majority Leader used this argument recently when asked about an issue related to slavery and its continuing impact on American civil life, “None of us currently living are responsible.”1

Personal and collective responsibility to earnestly attempt to right wrongs is rejected.  The hyper-individualism built into the fabric of this nation enables people to effectively push back on pleas to do something.  We see this, unfortunately, in much of evangelicalism where righteousness and justice have been separated as twin principles of goodness and replaced by a heavy emphasis on personal piety as the sole standard bearer of what is good.  This combined with the refusal of responsibility easily leads to a “not my problem” attitude.  The net result is a state of national sin (We may have a problem…) and its legacy which no one wants to own (but it’s not my problem).

This is understandable, again in light of the highly influential American ideal of individualism, but as an excuse, it is historically invalid.  Here are three examples I point to as highlights:

  1. The Ancient Israelites. The sins of the generation of formerly enslaved Israelites following 400 years of Egyptian slavery were so broad and continuous, despite the blessings of GOD (presence, provision, and protection) that He caused them to wander in the desserts of Sinai and Arabia for 40 years.  They were not allowed to enter the promised land.  The entire culture was judged and held accountable.  It was only after this generation died that entry was possible.  And the same faith and obedience required but not demonstrated by their parents was required of this new generation.  They were raised in the midst of consistently disobedient and spiritually derelict people.  This was a major component of their legacy.  And while the new generation were given opportunity and help in not repeating the mistakes of the past, and even despite their pledges to be faithful, their track record was inconsistent, and it degraded over time in ways that modeled the previous generation.  The result: once again, the entire culture was judged and held accountable.  Who among them were able to say, “I didn’t do it so it’s not my problem.”  It was everyone’s problem.

 

  1. The Shoah (Holocaust of the Jews during World War II). The genocide of 6 million Jews by the German Nazi regime and their proxies (along with 5 million Poles, Russians, Roma, and homosexuals) was inarguably among the most horrible set of events in human history.  In the last 70 years, however, in the old West Germany and now in the consolidated country, reconciliation efforts have been extensive, continuous and genuine.  One result is Germany’s ascendant international popularity within the international community..2  What is more astounding are the number of Jews who are opting to move to Germany as a place where they feel safe and comfortable.3  This remarkable outcome could not have happened without the collective support and engagement of a majority of the German population.

3.  Japan and Korea. To this day, tensions remain between Japan and South Korea expressed in political and trade disputes.  The roots go back 100 years and was vividly evidenced during WWII.  During the war, Japan conquered and occupied Korea and made many Koreans forced laborers (slaves).  Additionally, many Korean women were forced into sexual slavery through a system referred to as “comfort women” for Japanese soldiers.  The demands for Japan to repair the damage caused by their atrocities have not been sufficiently met according to the South Korean government.  The Japanese, however, have staked out a position that all matters are settled,4 e. they are no longer responsible for what happened in the past.   This unresolved tension is a sensitive issue for the Japanese, one for which it is not politically correct to openly discuss.  Many young South Korean adults, on the other hand and born decades after the war, have taken this on as their own issue of current political protest.  It remains a problem.

Each generation’s failure to confront and address the sins of prior generations perpetuates participation in the sin, not because we necessarily overtly commit them (although we can) but because we omit acknowledging and confronting their existence and impact (James 4:17).  If we truly are our brothers’ and sisters’ keeper, not being the cause of something does not mitigate against responsibility for wrongs against our siblings because. long after those who have caused the problem have passed into eternity, the impact of the wrong remains.  A society that depends on the “I’m not responsible” argument is one that is not supported by history.  The sins and failures of each generation have this way of following succeeding generations.  The argument ignores the corporate nature of the human body…and most certainly the GOD-defined nature of the body of Christ.

The opportunity is to either correct the past or to ignore the past, wishfully thinking that the past will resolve itself.  Perhaps, like the ancient Israelites, it will take direct action by GOD to address the wrongs of both the far and near past.  The Germans took it upon themselves to look themselves in the mirror and courageously face their past.  The result is that something wondrous is happening.  For the South Koreans and the Japanese, the situation remains to be seen, although it seems both sides have the feet dug-in.

Like any unresolved conflict, the result of ignoring the past or suppressing it just forces conflict to bubble over (or explode) at another time and perhaps in other ways.  Not sure about that?  Ask Dr. Phil or any competent psychological counselor.  That’s what I believe we are seeing in the USA today, the reemergence of long-simmering conflict repeatedly ignored and suppressed by the denial of its existence and the refusal to acknowledge any responsibility, individual or collective.

Another reason we’re here is because whenever an individual or group experiences injustice, someone else benefits, materially and/or psychologically.  When these benefits accrue to one (or to some), are the beneficiaries not complicit in the injustice if they accept the benefits?  If the answer is ‘yes,’ then these beneficiaries bear a responsibility to correct the injustice.  Refusal to move toward correction is a tacit approval of the cancerous condition of injustice where it produces privileges for some and penalties for others.  A ‘no’ answer to any complicity is a validation of the injustice and a commitment to the status quo.

Whenever restrictive and discriminatory housing practices, predatory mortgages, prejudicial treatment toward retail customers, inequitable treatment by police, inequities in educational access and delivery for children, use of urban settings for environmental dumping, neighbors who harass those who are exercising their inherent right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness (e.g. walking, jogging, backyard barbecuing, enjoying public parks, birdwatching), and a list of other examples that are common negative experiences of some folks, there is an opposite positive experience for others.  Something limited or denied to some is made readily available to others.  This is a corrosive reality which has had and continues to have important negative side effects across a broad spectrum of the American population.5

Finally, I return to the word “reconciliation” which I mentioned early in this post and a word I’ve heard lot lately, to hardly anyone’s surprise.  Societal clashes of various sorts tend to raise the profile of that particular need.  Reconciliation was a significant theme in the Promise Keepers movement in the 1990s.  I went to several of those stadium conferences and one or more of the speakers were designated to speak on the topic.  All of them did I great job, I thought…although we’re still talking about it.

In March 1992, I was at a conference held at a Youth for Christ camp outside of Johannesburg, South Africa during the S. A. referendum on ending apartheid.  Only white citizens were able to vote in that referendum, and all of us in the conference (members of my denomination from the African countries south of the equator along with a handful of Americans and Europeans) waited in great anticipation at the outcome.  Even while various people were speaking, a small box radio (remember those?) was tuned in the back of the room so that we could track the voting returns.  That historical vote opened the door to a powerful and deeply needed work of reconciliation in that country that had known so much strife and bitterness rooted in racial separation and domination.

Four decades ago, the first description of reconciliation I heard in my local church was this: Reconciliation is when something broken, like a dinner plate, is carefully pieced and glued back together.  The cracks from the brokenness will still be visible, but the plate is whole once again and fit to be used for its intended purpose.”  I recall this illustration every time I hear the word “reconciliation.”

A question I’ve asked often over the years (usually to myself) is, if Christ was able to reconcile the entire world to the GOD the Father, why can’t we be reconciled to one another, person to person, group to group?  I believe we can, but I think the cost is big, perhaps too big for some.6  It requires of each person a decision to be the reconciliation just as Jesus was.  It means having a broad vision of and for the world.  It means following in Christ’s footsteps in the deeds of reconciliation as well as its words.

Reconciliation flows from the inside out and reflects the desire of the heart to be one with other hearts.  While it may be motivated by an external influence, the movement toward reconciliation cannot flow from anything outside of us.  It won’t come from some source other than the spirit of reconciliation at work within us.  As 2 Corinthians 5:18 says, reconciliation is a ministry given to the Church.  This means those of us who are the Church:  everyone who counts themselves as a member of the family of GOD who loves the world.

How wonderful it would be for us to be the glue that binds the broken pieces together.  This is extremely hard and self-sacrificial work, and for too long many have pushed it away and that’s why we’re still here.  My prayer is that GOD’s way will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

“Every time in history that men and women have been able to respond to the events of their world as an occasion to change their hearts, an inexhaustible source of generosity and new life has been opened, offering hope far beyond the limits of human prediction.” – Henri Nouwen

1 – Corky Siemaszko, NBC News digital, July 8, 2019.

2 – Greg Rienzi, “Other Nations Could Learn from Germany’s Efforts to Reconcile After WWII,” John Hopkins Magazine, Summer 2015.

3 –  Daniel Estrin, “Thousands of Israelis Make Berlin Their Home and Make Their Cultural Mark,” NPR, March 7, 2019 and Isabel Vincent, “Why American Jews Are Moving to Germany,” New York Post, January 5, 2019.

4 – South Korea and Japan’s Feud Explained, BBC News, December 2, 2019.

5 – Karina Bland, “Blue eyes, brown eyes: What Jane Elliott’s famous experiment says about race 50 years on,” The Republic, AZCentral.com, November 17, 2017 and 2015 Stress in America:The Impact of Discrimination, The American Psychological Association, January 2015.

6 – See Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s The Cost of Discipleship, New York: Touchstone (originallypublished by Macmillan), 1959.

© Byron L. Hannon, 2020.  All rights reserved to text content unless otherwise noted.