Category Archives: The Church

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. 

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. 

On Earth As It Is In Heaven

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. (Jesus speaking in Matthew 5:17)

We’ve entered Advent season; what some describe as “the most wonderful time of the year.”  I agree that it is wonderful, not because of the traditional Christmas scenes which are often lovely and evocative of pleasant nostalgia, but because it focuses our attention on GOD’s gift offering of reconciliation and peace between He and humanity, namely Jesus Christ.  We don’t hear much about that offer of peace outside of the Church.  The truth is we needed GOD to make that move for us.

Lately, I’ve been studying portions of the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Bible).  After the creation story, the entrance of sin and death into the world, and foundation-setting for establishing  a godly human family, all found in Genesis, the remaining four books are essentially about the immense culture change that was needed for that human family to experience a distinctive spiritual formation leading to godliness.  I am currently nearing the end of Leviticus, a book that might as well be labeled, “GOD is perfect and holy.  If you want to be His, you be perfect and holy, too.”

That’s just the overview.  Wait until you get into the details…and there’s a lot!  The requirements of GOD, both in terms of what was to be done to be holy and what was not to be done to remain holy is just about beyond description.  It virtually (some would say “literally”) covered every aspect of human life, including things most of us would never think about as important.  But they’re important to GOD who reminded us that His ways are higher than our ways (Isaiah 55:9) and that nothing impure, imperfect, or defective in any way was acceptable to Him.

Though it’s not my first time in Leviticus, I haven’t studied it in a while.  I’m newly struck by the breadth and depth and height of GOD’s perfection and by how short of His mark I fall.  I’m struck by how much He demanded of those who He called “His people.”  Each time I open Leviticus, I see at least one requirement that I haven’t met; usually it’s more than one.  It would actually be discouraging to keep a list with each day of study.   

These weren’t the kinds of things to shrug-off as in “Oh well, I messed up again.”  No, there were penalties tied to these failures, some of them quite severe.  “Be holy as I am holy” has never been a small thing, a throw-away line, although we may treat it as such.  GOD is serious about His holiness and understanding this explains so much about the travails of national Israel throughout their history.  Impossible to comply is a phrase I would apply to trying to live this kind of life, and that is ultimately the point.  

In the “short-term” (what we call B.C. or B.C.E.), GOD showed mercy and grace to those who fell short of His mark of perfection and humbly acknowledged their shortcoming in confession and repentance.  He forgave them for their sin, reestablishing them in right relationship.  But as the Bible says, in the fullness of time, He sent His Son who lived that life of absolute, perfect holiness.  

Although Jesus never sinned, He took the sins of the world onto Himself, paying the penalty once for all.  He was the One who never fell short of GOD’s mark in anyway, and in that, fulfilled the requirements of all of the Law, including what is specified in Leviticus.  I am so glad for Jesus.  I needed Him to do for me what I was incapable of doing for myself.  I fell short…a lot; He didn’t…ever. 

In Romans 8:1, Paul the Apostle says, “Therefore, now there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (underline mine).  Who is that condemnation for?  It is for those who, with their own merit, don’t meet GOD’s perfect standards of holiness.  But for those whose hope, trust, faith and life have been placed into the life of GOD’s only begotten Son, there is no condemnation because He is the perfection of GOD’s holiness in every way.

All of the reminders of this makes this most wonderful season of all for me.  I pray that it is so for you as well.

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