Category Archives: The Church

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.

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.  

It Takes More Than A Notion

As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you. (Psalm 42:1)

For years I’ve heard my wife say, in response to something that requires consideration, “It takes more than a notion.”  By this, she means whatever the issue is, it’s not something that can or should be brushed aside easily.  She’s been saying this for as long as I can remember and we’re closing in on five decades of marriage.  Many of us have favorite sayings that others notice even when we don’t.  

I’m at a stage of life where I have more time to meditate and reflect than ever.  One of these reflections is the increased prevalence of spiritual egalitarianism that is expressed in three ways I’m sensitive to: (1) religious pluralism which posits that all religious expression is of equal spiritual value; (2) the mixing of elements from different religious belief systems (syncretism); and (3) the amalgamation of orthodox Christian doctrines with a range of social and/or political doctrines so that Christian faith is joined to whatever “good” the social or political stance defines as “good.”  

This latter case seems to be expressing itself in the church more and more.  I’ll leave it to you to imagine your own examples, although I can think of a few.  The stated or implied justification is almost always what is viewed as right and just in human eyes (although the subjectivity of all of these eyes leads to different and often conflicting conclusions about what is right and just).     

I want to state clearly that I am not voicing an opinion about the alleged superiority of “the good old days” when this issue wasn’t nearly as prevalent or obvious.  As a close friend once said, “The good old days weren’t so good for some people!” Furthermore, I say unequivocally that I have strong concerns and feelings about the injustice and a lack of righteousness that is so easily sways us and which seeks to overwhelm all of us.  The doctrine of holiness to which I subscribe has no room for the unrighteousness of injustice.  

I do want to say that we who consider ourselves Christians need to be very, very careful about making any social or political doctrine equal in importance to Christ whereby we wind-up sacrificing our reliance on Him or our obedience to Him for the sake of what we prefer.  To do so calls into question His Lordship in our lives.  Consideration of this takes more than a notion.  

“Seek first the kingdom of God…” (Matthew 6:33) is both a command and a life-ordering principle for those who are serious about following Him, not just calling themselves by His name.  I don’t think any of us can legitimately seek the kingdom without seeking the King.  Deep and consistent care is needed to avoid seeking anything, loving anything, preferring anything as vigorously (or more vigorously) than we seek after, love, prefer Him.  

It’s a tall order for sure and it is costly because it bumps up against so many things we prefer…and it is offensive to many because of that very same reason.   I am reminded of how offensive Jesus was to those who would not receive Him on His terms.  At the end of the proverbial day, I have to ask myself, do I trust Him even when I’d rather trust myself?  I’m not interested in going back to someone’s idea of “the good old days.”  Likewise, I’m not interested in any “good new days” that deconstructs the Christ of the Bible to fit a social or political agenda.  

My own prayer is this: Lord, wean me from all that the world loves and that You despise.  Take me deeper behind the open veil. 

It will take more than a notion. 

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

A Particularly Bad Estrangement

“Then many will fall away…” (Matthew 24:10)

I always thought the word estrangement connoted a separation between persons due to some unresolved tension or anger in that relationship.  I’ve come to find out that estrangement is possible without any evident relational tension.  To be estranged from someone is to be made a stranger to them, tension or not. 

We all have those people in our lives with whom we were once close, but the passage of time combined with differences in our circumstances reveals a distance between us that didn’t exist before.  Although we were once close, that closeness reflects a past that no longer exists.  In a sense, we have become strangers to one another.

Among my recent burning questions have been: 

Are we seeing increased estrangement between God and many who once considered themselves committed Christians?  

Are people who once claimed the faith becoming strangers to the One they once worshipped?  

Has time and the evolution (or devolution) of perspectives and values created a chasm in which a communion once shared no longer exists?  

Has God become more of a concept for consideration rather than a person with whom we have vibrant relational union”?

We’ve yet to see all of the long-term societal impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic, but there is some data that suggests that pre-pandemic church attendance (which was already in decline) has dropped by roughly 30% without the expectation of recovery as a result of the gathering and masking restrictions most communities and churches implemented.  A colleague recently shared research he saw that projected that drop to be around 40% for people age 40 and younger.  And although most churches have reopened, the discipline of purposely being in a shared communal space with other believers has been abandoned by some.  

From the time I first began thinking about this issue, the Hebrews passage (10:24-25) has been like a blinking neon sign in my mind’s eye: And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”

Quite a few have adopted a stay-at-home and watch the service virtually mentality.  I’m glad that technology is available to help people stay engaged in the message and ministry of the gospel of Jesus Christ, but I remain concerned about the long-term impact on needed fellowship.  More technological and relational creativity is needed in the Church to help people remain connected in light of this need.  The Church needs people with these skillsets to help the rest of us seek connection and remain connected.  This may very well be a new way of serving in the church. 

Without this innovation, estrangement is inevitable because healthy Christian faith has never been vertical alone; it is also very horizontal.  It is a spiritual oxymoron to claim to love God and not love our brother or sister…and it’s hard to love in a giving and sharing way if relational connections are broken.   We will be strangers to one another.  

If gathering in the same physical space is problematic, solutions are needed to help sustain these critical horizontal relationships among the faithful.   Otherwise, virtual church participation could fall prey to the same kind of channel surfing many of us engage in because of our short attention spans and tendency to become bored with watching what is on TV.  Watching a church worship service becomes just one more viewing option that is discardable.  Then, increasingly, we will be strangers to God and to each other.   We will have fallen away.

Even effective implementation of this kind of innovation won’t impact those who once did but no longer practice participatory engagement, in-person or virtual.  The question must be asked of them, is this clear evidence that you are estranged from both the body of Christ and from Christ Himself?  You don’t have to be angry at anyone; you’ve just become strangers.            

A common cliché is “God forbid.”  I don’t think God is going to forbid this.  I think He’s going to let it play out…let us exercise our own free choice.  This onus is on us.  May we forbid it.

© Byron L. Hannon, 2022.  All rights reserve to text content unless otherwise noted.     

Navigating Animus

We’re living in a day of heightened animus, meaning heightened ill-will that can be spiteful and malevolent.  It’s the base word for animosity and we see it expressed broadly and individually, in our social and political discourse and in one-on-one interactions, whether associated with Covid protocols, the 2020 Presidential election, the assault on the Capitol on January 6, 2020, responses to Black Lives Matter protests, views on the 2nd amendment, or in road-rage incidents (These examples are limited to the U.S.  The list would be unwieldly if examples from other nations were included).  

I don’t think this heightened animus is ex nihilo (from or out of nothing).  I think it’s like the spaghetti sauce commercial of a few year ago; “it’s in there”; it’s been in all of us all along.  It just needs to a catalyst to set it in motion.  The potential for animus is in all of us and we have seen flashes of it across history, sometimes in striking and horrifying ways.  What makes animus especially relevant to me now is that there have been so many catalysts for animosity operating across a broad front in a relatively compressed timeframe.  We are being buffeted by it.  Buttons are being pushed all over the place and one of the results is the outward expressions of latent anger, resentment, and bias.  These expressions are presented as both emotional reactions and in what is represented as justified, reasoned responses.  Even in the latter case, animus is often detectable in these well-worded, seemingly calm discourses.  

If you’ve been reading me for any length of time, you know that I believe all things seen are influenced by things not seen.  I don’t mean this in a platonic way involving unseen, non-personal influences.  I believe there are spiritual realms, spiritual personalities, and spiritual hierarchies which/who influence human thinking, human behavior and human affairs.  

While this belief flies in the face of cold, hard acceptance of beliefs which conflates spirituality with ignorant superstition and which elevates human reason above all else, I could not be a Christian if I didn’t believe as I do.  After all, God is spirit (John 4:24).   And while I believe God’s cry for us is unity in Him throughout His creation, made possible through the death and resurrection of His Son, Jesus Christ, I believe the desire of the adversary, the one we call Satan (literally, Accuser) is division. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life and have it abundantly” (Jesus speaking in John 10:10).

Animus has an aim.  It is disunity, confusion, and chaos in the form of division, discord, factions, and, left unchecked, hatred.  Not only are we seeing more occasions where these things are manifest, we are also seeing how some may actually encourage animus between people and groups and manipulate it for gain.  It reminds me of the avatar for the first Godfather film in which a disembodied hand is holding a set of puppet strings.1 Whatever part of this is intentional, it is sin.

Try as we might (and humanity has been trying for a long, long time), we have proven totally incapable in our own strength of effectively combating animus run amok.  For example, how many years passed between the end of “the war to end all wars” (World War I) and the beginning of World War II?  It was only 21 years, just enough time to raise the next generation of soldiers.   I’m sorely tempted to cite other examples, but I won’t; I think the point is clear.  We don’t seem to be able to help ourselves despite vast increases in knowledge and technological gains, pleas, slogans, protests, expert testimonies, a myriad of books and articles, political action committees and so forth and so on (Anyone want to make an argument about the dominating power of inbred sin?).      

The challenge for people of good will (that is, those whos’ good will are not restricted to selected people or groups) is to navigate through the animus that can so easily penetrate our souls, to keep it external to us and not internal.  Of course, we can and should speak and act against it at every opportunity while being careful not to be trapped by any animosity hidden in the force of our words and actions.  For me, that carefulness is nurtured by my devotional life.  In 2 Corinthians 12:9, the Lord says to a beleaguered Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in [your] weakness…” Humanity, on the whole, is spiritually weak, although pride and spiritual blindness keeps us from recognizing our weakness.  Like the writer of Psalm 91:14, I want to set my love wholly on God and trust that His grace will me guide me through these all-too-common rough waters.          

1 The Godfather released by Paramount Pictures (March 1972).  Directed by Francis Ford Coppola based on the novel written by Mario Puzo, published in 1969.    

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

The High Calling of GOD

“Therefore I urge you, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship…Since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, each of us is to use them properly…” (Romans 12:1, 6)

Both my wife and I were raised in households with high behavioral expectations.  Some of that was culturally-based and some of it was due to the size of our households.  The bottom-line was that childhood permissiveness wasn’t part of our experience.  While there was never a question about who our parents were and who we belonged to, we had responsibilities in and for the household.  

I easily remember being 12 and 13 and pulling the covers over my head on Saturday mornings hoping my father think I was asleep and not wake me.  It didn’t happen.  He usually gave me until 8 or 8:30 before he marched into my room to tell me to get up and come outside to mow the lawn, rake leaves, shovel snow or whatever else he wanted me to do.  Most times he was out there with me but doing something else.  And even the times when his job called him away from home, I knew he would call at some point and ask my mother if I had done my work. My wife’s story is much the same.  She was the second oldest of seven siblings which meant lots of work to go around, and everyone had a part.      

As adults, we brought a similar approach to the raising of our own children.  They were ours.  We loved them dearly just as we were loved…and they shared in the responsibilities of our household.  Our expectations of them were age appropriate, but there were expectations none-the-less.  Some might have thought we were a little strict, but I doubt anyone would have accused us of being permissive parents.

I’ve wondered, over the years, if too low expectations and permissiveness in the Church contributes to churches struggling to effectively pursue the grand mission of making disciples for Jesus Christ.  To be blunt, are there too many spoiled children in the household of GOD?  

Jesus never doubted whose Son He was.  He knew He was loved.  It was for that very reason He worked as hard as He did, sacrificing His life for the sake of all who were and are estranged from GOD.  The calling of GOD is high and requires faith to believe and effort to pursue.   

There is a difference between relationship and vocation!  Yes, we are called to and offered the opportunity to be in relationship with GOD through Christ.  That doesn’t mean that, upon accepting that offer by faith, we then walk around claiming to be sons and daughters of the King but without accepting any responsibility to His kingdom.  To do so is a denial of the vocation that comes with the relationship, which is unfaithfulness.  It might do to read and reread Romans 12, 1 Corinthians 12, and Ephesians 4 (all written by the Apostle Paul) to be taught or reminded of the high emphasis placed on the children of GOD doing the work of GOD.               

I recall an old Lanny Wolf song that speaks to this very issue.  The song’s chorus is:

My house is full, but my field is empty, 
Who will go and work for Me today. 
It seems My children all want to stay around My table, 
But no one wants to work in My fields, 
No one wants to work in My fields.
 1

If we think about it, the house can’t remain full for long if no one is working in the fields.  For those of us who claim that special relationship with the Most High GOD, let’s be faithful to the Christ-like vocation to which we were assigned.  Am I pulling the covers off your head?  You’ll survive.  Actually, you’ll thrive.       

  1. My House Is Full (But My Field Is Empty) by Lanny Wolf, Published in 1977. 

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

A Simple Explanation of Faith

“Then Jesus came to them [His disciples] and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Me.” (Matthew 28:18)

I think the essence of teaching is helping people understand concepts by presenting and explaining them in understandable ways.  Faith, I believe, is one of those concepts that is often thrown about without sufficient understanding.  My frame of reference is Christian faith as opposed to faith in oneself or faith in humanity or faith in general with no specific object. I’m talking about faith in Jesus Christ.

Here it is: Christian faith is demonstrated by acknowledging and accepting the unequivocal authority of Jesus Christ.  It is more than believing that He is; it is believing that He is exactly who He said He is and allowing every aspect of life to be conformed to that belief in what we do and what we say.

Two examples from Matthew 8 illustrate this.  In the first example, the servant of a Roman military officer was gravely ill.  This officer encountered Jesus and having heard what Jesus had done for others, asked Jesus to heal his servant.  Jesus said (my paraphrase), “Sure, let’s go to your house.”  What the officer did next was unexpected.

Holding Jesus in extremely high regard, the officer said, Lord, I do not deserve to have you come under my roof.  But just say the word, and my servant will be healed.  For I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I tell this one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and that one, ‘Come,’ and he comes. I say to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it” (vv. 8-9). Look at the reaction of Jesus: “Jesus was astonished when he heard this and said to those who were following him, ‘He has greater faith than anyone I’ve encountered in Israel!’” (v. 10).  

This man was not only not Jewish, he was a military officer in the Roman occupation of Israel and would normally be considered an enemy of the people.  He did, however, have an innate understanding of authority and he believed Jesus was someone special enough to be called and treated as “Lord.”  His submission to Jesus and his trust in Jesus’ authority to heal his servant earned him praise as one whose faith was great.   

In the second example, found later in the same chapter of Matthew, Jesus and His disciples were in a boat crossing the Sea of Galilee.  While they were crossing, they got caught in big storm (something common for that body of water).  Jesus was asleep and His disciples got so worried about the boat capsizing leading to their deaths that they woke Him.  In this instance, Jesus had a very different reaction than in the first example: Reprimanding them, He said, “Why are you gripped with fear? Where is your faith?” (v. 26).  Then He reprimanded the storm and the sea became calm.  His demonstration of authority over natural forces was a mind-blower for His disciples. He was annoyed that their faith in Him was as small as it was, as if to say “You know Me and yet you still have so little understanding!”

It’s ironic that great faith was shown by one from whom it would not have been expected and little faith was shown by those from whom much greater faith would have been expected.  If nothing else, there is a lesson in humility here.    

In both of these examples (and others not discussed here), there is a direct correlation between recognizing that the authority of Jesus is unlimited (and responding to Him as such) and His view of the quality of faith people have in Him.  For those of us who consider ourselves Christians, the quality of our faith is of utmost importance for it is impossible to please God without faith (Hebrews 11:6).  This same faith must cede authority to Jesus in order for it to be faith that God honors.

I want to ask, “What’s in your wallet?” but that wouldn’t quite work. Hopefully, you get the point.

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

A Christian Oxymoron

“Seek first the kingdom of God…” (Matthew 6:33, NIV)

Thou shalt have no elohim acherim [other gods] in My presence.” 

(Exodus 20:3, Orthodox Jewish Bible)

I’ve been mulling on this for some time now, the idea of Christian Nationalism.  Certainly, the concept of nationalism has entered more and more into our nation’s dialog over the last few years and seems to be favored by more than a few.  This is one of the issues for which I feel the need to put a stake in the ground and to say so: Jesus was not a nationalist.  Christianity and nationalism are irreconcilable ways of believing and behaving.  They are unequal yoke partners.  They are in direct opposition to one another.  Christian Nationalism is an oxymoron if such a thing as an oxymoron ever existed.

What is nationalism?  Well, the term has a broad definition, but a representative one is “devotion, especially excessive or undiscriminating devotion, to the interests or culture of a particular nation-state.”1 With it comes a belief in acting independently rather than collectively, emphasizing national rather than international goals.  In its mildest forms it is patriotism.  The problem as I see it is that, too often, the milder forms of nationalism morph into things not so mild.  The more extreme forms of nationalism have often started as patriotic fervor and then gradually transitioned into something more extreme and xenophobic. It’s like the proverbial frog placed in a pot of cold water and the heat is gradually increased until the pot is boiling and frog never saw it coming.  Too late!  The same thing has happened in nations where national values shifted gradually to become not only important values but the supreme values.    

The history of highly nationalistic nations reflects some combination of these characteristics: 1) an inflated sense of superiority and exceptionalism; 2) the assumption of privilege as a result of being members of a nation’s dominant culture; 3) dismissal, distrust, fear, or hatred of those outside of that dominant culture such as minorities and/or foreigners; 4) the assumption of the right to exclude those outside of the dominant culture from full or even partial participation in the nation; and 5) demonstration of oppressive behavior under the guise of protecting national interest. 

Let’s take a look at some historical examples of nationalism:

  • The Persian Empire – Grew to conquer most of the Near and Middle East; tried to conquer Greece
  • The Roman Empire – Saw itself as the rightful ruler of the world
  • The British Empire of the 19th century – Held a prevailing attitude that anything not British was intrinsically inferior
  • Nazi Germany – We know what they did
  • Fascist Italy – We know what they tried to do
  • South Africa during apartheid – The minority in power saw themselves as a modern-day “chosen people” in a modern-day land of Canaan with the right to subdue, subjugate, and brutalize the majority who had inhabited the land for centuries
  • Japan during WWII – Nearly 80 years later both North and South Korea still has beef with them over things the Japanese did and failed to fully acknowledge    
  • The Soviet Union – We know a lot of what they did, what they have tried to do, and a lot is still unknown
  • The People’s Republic of China – See above
  • Cambodia under Pol Pot (1975-79) – A complete horror show, literally
  • Russia – Vladimir Putin.  Enough said?        

The characteristics mentioned earlier in the full paragraph above are not anything I want reflected in my life, nor should anyone who wants to be associated with Christ.  Biblical Christianity is inclusive (see John 3:16).  The basis of biblical Christianity is unselfish love for GOD and for our neighbors.  The parable of the “Good Samaritan” (Luke 10:25-37) makes it emphatic that Jesus recognized no national or ethnic boundaries on who constituted a neighbor. 

If the “Great Commission” (Matthew 28:16-18) is missionally directed toward all others who might be considered “outsiders,” then the tenets of nationalism don’t fit and can’t fit.  John Wesley, the great 18th century Anglican priest and credited with founding methodism said, “The world is my parish.”  This was not from a man who felt superior, who felt entitled, who dismissed, distrusted, feared or hated, who excluded or oppressed others.  He was very much the opposite. 

I think the concept of Christian Nationalism depends on closely linking personal religious beliefs to one’s national identity so that they become inseparable, what some call civil religion.  The problem with this is such notions are far from orthodox Christian faith.  Instead, faith is expressed in some hybrid view of GOD and nation.  This is strikingly close to polytheism and idol worship if it places nation on or near the same plane as GOD, in direct disobedience to the first commandment.  Nation becomes a contemporary version of the ancient Israelites’ golden calf.  It  undermines one’s ability to commit one’s life to the “Great Commandment” to love GOD with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength and to love our neighbor as ourselves (Matthew 22:36-40).  No, I don’t believe it is possible to be a Christian and a nationalist whenever that nationalism manifests more than common patriotism.  

Perhaps those who claim to be Christian Nationalists don’t sufficiently grasp Christianity or perhaps there is an inner transformative work that has not yet been accomplished in their lives.  Another alternative is that they really are nationalists and are wearing the outer clothing of Christianity.         

  1. American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, 5th edition. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, 2016.

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