Category Archives: The Church

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.                  

Keep It Simple; Not Simplistic

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Indivisibility

This word, Indivisible, is seldom used in common conversation.  It means “incapable of being divided.”

The only instance of use I can recall is in the U.S. Pledge of Allegiance when it refers to the indivisibility of the nation’s states from one another.  The pledge has gone through several iterations since the original version was issued in 18921.  This first version was over 100 years after the publication of the Federalist Papers2, a series of essays which argued for the centralization of government under the proposed Constitution in opposition to the decentralization form of government favored in the Articles of Confederation.  This first draft of the pledge came a mere 27 years after the formal end of the American Civil War, a key intent and impact of which was to divide.

And here we are…today.  Indivisible???   The evidence of experience and observation tells us that indivisibility is an ideal that is extremely hard to realize within the human community at every level at which we function: within ourselves, within our families, within our affinity group(s), within our societies, within our nation, and across nations. Divisibility seems more present, even omnipresent, when compared to indivisibility.

Why is that?  Sometimes we fail to notice or acknowledge the most foundational precepts in life, and like anything else, when we get the foundation wrong the building will never be quite right.

Here’s one of those foundation stones:

“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.  [Therefore] Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength” (Deuteronomy 6:4-5)

There’s an invitation in this part of the foundation established by GOD.  He is saying to humanity, His greatest creation, “I am one. I am in complete unity within Myself.  I am indivisibleThere is no separation, no conflict, no division within Me, only perfect peace, perfect wholeness. I am inviting you to join Me in this unity by attaching yourself to Me with unreserved love.”

Some might say that this invitation was issued to a select audience, national Israel, but Jesus universalized it the New Testament with explicit statements, affirming it as the greatest of all the commandments (Matt. 22:37) and praying for it to be normalized in our lives (John 17:20-2, 26).

Others might say that it is impossible to love this way, and I would agree if it’s left up to me or you, by ourselves.  But Jesus was careful to teach that with GOD, nothing is impossible (Luke 5:37) and if we hunger for it, GOD will give us the enablement to do in His power what we cannot do in our own (Psalm 37:4; Matthew 5:6).

Of course, there are those who just don’t or won’t believe, and there’s not much that can be said to them because faith is the precondition for all life in GOD (Hebrews 11:16).

The invitation to this indivisible way of being has been there all along, not hidden and often widely shared in the traditional venues of Christian worship, and sometimes beyond.  Why have we ignored it?

We’re a long way from the 1st century A.D. (or C.E. if you prefer) when the infant Church responded to this invitation with almost greedy devotion.  It was largely because of their unceasing commitment to the ultimate indivisibility, revealed in loving relationship with GOD and others irrespective of economic class, social status, gender or ethnicity, that I’m able to comment on it here.    My desire, however, is to live it more than talk about it much like they did.  It’s foundational.

  1. The Pledge of Allegiance. Historic Documents. ushistory.org
  2. Federalist Papers: Primary Documents in American History. Library of Congress Research Guides. loc.gov>federalist-papers>full -text

 

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

Missing Steps?

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

(John 17:23)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

True Religion

This past week I ventured over to North Philadelphia to meet with two pastors (a married couple) who have led and personally underwritten a compassionate ministry for many years.  Their ministry has focused primarily on feeding the hungry, often people on the streets who frequently have no permanent residence.  This couple has a small congregation consisting mostly of the people who volunteer with them and some folks whom they help.  They have no budget to speak of, their office space is small and cramped, and most of their records are kept in spiral notebooks and on scraps of paper. They pray fervently, they network like crazy, and they lean heavily on GOD.

Last week, my friends fed 2200 people…not snacks or sandwiches but full meals.  This has been the pattern since the pandemic hit Philadelphia.  This is what they are doing each week. Whereas before, the numbers were in the hundreds, the degree of food insecurity in the area has caused those in need to grow by 10s…and the supply has kept pace.  GOD has been moving people and organizations to supply this ministry with food…every day, every week.  It just keeps coming, and they just keep giving it away to people who need it.

I met with them to discuss their plans for reopening their church to in-person meetings and their annual celebration event planned for September.  Two delivery trucks came while I was there: a van and a cargo truck with eight pallets of boxed food stacked nearly to the ceiling of the truck.  With four of us working, it only took minutes to unload the van, but even with two pallet jacks, it took more than an hour to unload and restack the contents in the cargo truck.  It was a hot day, and the sweat was pouring.

There was well over a ton of food sitting in the hallway by the time we were done.  The delivery truck driver asked one of the pastors how long it would take to distribute it all.  Her answer was, “It’ll all be gone by the end of the day.”  He and his 15-year old helper prayed with us before they left.

Weeks ago, I heard someone’s comment regarding the lack of trust they had in someone else (not surprising in these days): “I don’t believe what you say because I watch what you do.”

I think for anyone who spends time around my friends, who are both very clear and vocal in their proclamation of the good news of Jesus Christ, if you watch what they do, day-in and day-out, year after year, you can have confidence in what they say.  They are for real.  By the way, both of them would be considered elderly by today’s standards, and like the energizer bunny, they just keep going and going and going doing the work of GOD’s kingdom for His sake.  I think this is a big piece of what the Bible calls “true religion.”

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