Category Archives: The Church

Random Observations

“The man said to me, ‘Son of man, look carefully and listen closely and pay attention to everything I am going to show you…’” (Ezekiel 40:4)

I was going to post something else today, but it didn’t “feel” right for this time.  Instead, here are a few thoughts that came to me while in prayer.

  • I have received blessing upon blessing throughout my life, including life and love. I can’t claim a single one as being the result of my own efforts.  Every one of these blessings has been because of GOD’s grace.  This is truth.

 

  • I want my eyes and ears to be open to every truth. I want to be able to perceive what is true from what is false, particularly the false which proclaims itself as truth, the darkness that masquerades as light.

  • There is brokenness in the land that is here and there and everywhere. I see a massive going astray…each to his own way (Isaiah 53:6).

  • Many of my brothers and sisters have exchanged their pilgrim tents for permanent settlements, having forgotten in their hearts that their true citizenship is in heaven (Colossians 3:1-3).

  • I perceive a long standing, and now increasing, division among those called to be the living stones of a spiritual house (1 Peter 2:5), necessitating pleading cries for unity (John 17:11, 20-22). I pray they are being heard.

  • I see many attaching themselves to people, systems and views that are based in other than GOD, while continuing to claim GOD.

  • I see golden calves and lamps without much oil in the camp of the household of GOD (Exodus 32:4; Matthew 25:1-12).

  • I see an attitude of entitlement to blessings and a blindness to the reality that GOD lifts up and destroys nations (Isaiah 40:15; Jeremiah 4:7).

  • I see a seeking and grasping for hope behind the doors to empty rooms while ignoring GOD’s prescriptive, either because of ignorance or prideful insistence that we are able to cure our own ills (2 Chronicles 7:13-14; John 15:4-5).

  • I see a remnant who are humbly and earnestly seeking GOD’s face and favor for the sake of themselves and others.

These are just a few of the things I am seeing.  What are you seeing and hearing through your prayers?

“Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship.  Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—His good, pleasing and perfect will.” (Romans 12:1-2)

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

Check out my Thoughts from Others page for some interesting, encouraging and challenging ideas.

Deep In My Heart

I joined the church at a time when outward adornments, particularly those worn by women, were frowned upon in some quarters.  That was back in the day…maybe even the day before back in the day.  Noticeable makeup and earrings are two things I remember hearing comments on from time-to-time.   Even my first instructor in the ministerial course of study shared how his wearing a wedding band was problematic for some in his church community which was on a very conservative district.  He used, as a teaching tool in that course, the decision he was faced with whether to wear his wedding band at his ordination because he knew some would be offended if he did.  I won’t share his decision here; it’s his testimony.  As silly as it seemed to me that anyone would take the time to be acutely observant about such things, it was nevertheless an important lesson for me because others treated it so seriously.

As time passed, and earrings and makeup became more or less passé in evangelical circles, tattoos took their place as topics of corner conversation for a few.  The only people I knew who had tats when I was a child were those who had been in the military.  Even as an undergraduate during the early 70s when all kinds of societal norms were being challenged, tattoos or other body modifications weren’t broadly popular, with the exception of one social fraternity I know of that branded all of their pledges.  But once tattooing began being practiced across a broad range of American society, tattoos began to creep into the church.  As you might expect, some folks felt the need to comment.

I’m grateful that, by the time tattoos were common, the leaders of my church never made a big deal out of it because I never wanted to be part of a church claiming that all were welcome if, in fact, they weren’t.  There are way too many instances where that’s the case…and for more reasons than just tattoos.  People who were tatted-up or pierced were welcomed and we had a few.  The heart and compassion of one heavily tattooed person in particular was a great blessing to our church.

By the time she began to attend, I had become the lead pastor.  After a time, we got to know each other.  She was bright, well-educated and accomplished in many ways.  When she decided to share her story with me, it included the reasons she had gotten full sleeve tattoos on both arms, wrist to shoulder.  I had never seen them because she always wore long sleeves whenever she came to the church (I’m pretty sure she did that out of concern that it might be problematic for some).  The story she shared with me was rife with suffered abuse, long-term self-abuse, horrible decisions, tragic loss, and times of deep pain I cannot share here.  In Scripture, the experiences she shared with me are often referred to as “mire” and “the pit.”  Her tattoos were visual stories of her hard journey.

By the time she arrived at our church, Jesus Christ had already done a great work of delivery, forgiveness, and cleansing in her, and it was obvious in big and little ways.  She jumped in with both feet and was very supportive of the ministry from day one.  I  began  thinking of her as someone who had great potential to assume a leadership role.  Sadly, she had to eventually move because her military husband was returning from an overseas deployment (I had a chance to connect with him some too over social media).  It had been a long time since she and their two girls had been able to be with him so their decision to move to his stateside duty station was the logical and right thing to do.  I kept in touch with her after her move long enough to learn she had begun pursuing a doctorate in her professional discipline.

It’s easy to allow things that are ultimately superfluous to capture our attention when all seems to be going well in our lives.  That kind of prosperity gives us time to go down spiritual rabbit holes, often about the decisions others have made about their lives.  It seems to me that all of that extraneous stuff tends to dissipate when our comfort, our norms, our preferences, and our safety is under siege.  Coronavirus has upset the apple cart of much in the world and continues to do so.  It is having a dissipating effect on non-essentials, and we in the Church are being brought face-to-face with our commitment to the cost of discipleship.

Toward the end of Galatians 6, the Apostle Paul acknowledges that he had grown tired of having to defend his apostleship to some in the Church, noting that he bore the proof of his ministry by the brands (or marks) of suffering for Christ on his body (Galatians 6:17).  Perhaps he had to resort to that defense because too many couldn’t see the Cross of Christ branded on his heart; they were too busy focused on their internally derived standards for who was qualified.

I believe the Cross of Christ was branded on the heart of my former parishioner which made the outward brandings she bore unimportant to those who chose to know her.  I believe that same branding is on the hearts of many who do not fit into someone else’s non-biblical standard definition of what it means to be a deeply committed Christian.  May that same branding of the Cross be burned deeply into all of our hearts so that we serve Him with faithfulness and gladness.

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

Jesus or Jonah?

“This is how much God loved the world: He gave His Son, His one and only Son. And this is why: so that no one need be destroyed; by believing in Him, anyone can have a whole and lasting life.” (John 3:16, Message)

Yesterday, I watched a Smithsonian Channel television show about how Isis terrorists’ destruction of ancient religious sites in Iraq had uncovered underground caverns which contained artifacts with carvings referencing the story of Jonah, including his ministry to the city of Nineveh.

As the Bible story goes, GOD’s commanded the Prophet Jonah to enter the city of Nineveh to proclaim coming judgment on the city because of its long history of rampant wickedness and brutality…unless the people repented.  It was interesting to hear the comments of the various archeologists and theologians as they tried to harmonize the archeological record with the biblical story.  I won’t replay the story here; the entirety is found in the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament).

I do, however, want to make this one point: Jonah really didn’t want to do what GOD asked.  He went to extraordinary lengths to avoid obedience, up to and including putting the lives of others at risk.  GOD’s nature of love nature sought mercy for Nineveh; Jonah, GOD’s appointed preacher, preferred judgment for Nineveh.  Ultimately, he did do what he was told to do, and guess what?  The Ninevites listened and took Jonah’s message to heart.  The city experienced the conviction of GOD’s word and repented, avoiding wrath and destruction.  Mercy won out.

Jonah’s name means “dove,” a biblical symbol for GOD’s Holy Spirit and His favor.  Jonah’s divinely given role was to be GOD’s vessel, inducing conviction within the Ninevites and offering favor as a response to their repentance.  How true is it that still today so many live at odds with the favor-bestowing divine image within them, sometimes even after having been gifted with GOD’s salvation, entering into relationship with Him and being blessed with His favor?

The second line of the chorus to Chicago’s 1970 song, “Does Anyone Really Know What Time It Is?* is “Does anyone really care?”  Do we in the church really care that spiritual lostness is a damnable condition in the people we know and in the people we don’t know?  Do we really care if they perish?  GOD cared enough to act.  One aspect of the renewal of our own minds to which Paul calls us to (Romans 12:1-2) is that we care, as well…enough to act.

If we consider Nineveh symbolic of the entire world, then many, many people in it are in deep need of repentance and GOD’s forgiveness.  Without it, like the Ninevites before Jonah’s message, they are lost.  Jesus came to seek and save the lost and He left us with a mandate to do the same (Matthew 28:16-20).   We are called to be like Jesus who cares deeply, not like Jonah who served GOD out of compulsion.

We’re in a time like no other in recent history.  Uncertainty always raises questions and many who are otherwise complacent about spiritual things often become seekers.  If we really believe we have good news, let’s be ready to share it like Jesus and not prefer to hide it like Jonah.

* “Does Anyone Really Know What Time It Is,” recorded by Chicago on Columbia Records, January 1969.  Lyrics by Robert Lamm.

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

For some thought-provoking insights, take a look at my “Thoughts from Others” page.  

Dirty Feet

“…What kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming…” (2 Peter 3:11-12)

On the eve of His crucifixion, Jesus did a curious thing.  He took off His outer robe, wrapped a towel around His waist, took a bowl of water and began to wash the feet of His disciples.  Peter was incensed to the point of refusing this service from the Lord.  I think his motive was right; it was improper in his mind for the Son of GOD to perform a servant’s task.  Jesus made it clear that Peter’s understanding was off-center.  Peter, being Peter, went whole hog, “Well then, don’t just wash my feet, but my whole body!”  Again, Jesus clarified things for him; the rest of him was already clean.  His feet were where the need was (John 13:1-17).

There are many believers today who practice foot washing in their churches, treating this act as a sacrament in the same way as baptism and the eucharist are treated. I think, though, if we restrict this teaching to a literal command to wash the feet of others as a spiritual practice, we can miss a larger point.  I believe Jesus was making a point about being holy and our need to help each other live that way.

1st century Palestine was a dusty place, and foot washing was probably as common for its residents as brushing teeth is in our day.  Walking, the common mode of transportation, would easily make a person’s feet dirty.  Even activity in and around the home would have a similar effect.  The phrase “shake the dust off your feet” was more than symbolic; people had enough dust on their feet to shake some off.  Daily living exposed walkers’ feet to the common dust, dirt, and detritus of the road.  They could never be fully clean until their feet were clean.

In the same way, daily exposure to the common things of this world can have this effect on us, dirtying-up our “feet,” leaving its remnants on us, conflicting our thinking, our aspirations, our commitments, even as the rest of our spiritual bodies are “clean.”  A regular cleansing of the soul is always in order so that all of us is GOD’s, all of us is committed to His glory, all of us is filled with His Spirit, nothing is held in reserve, i.e. being holy.  And this, according to Jesus, is what we should do for each other as He did for us.  I am my sister’s and my brother’s keeper.  They are mine. I am accountable to them, and they to me.  We wash the feet of one another when we help and encourage each other to “walk worthy of our calling” and when we respond affirmatively to that help and encouragement.

Except in certain circles, we don’t hear much about holiness and holy living today, even in the Church.  For many, being holy is an irrelevant and outdated concept inconsistent with the values and preferences of contemporary life.  Others may not go to this extreme, but don’t believe it’s possible to be holy so it’s effectively dismissed.  Others like the concept but avoid focusing on holiness head-on, treating it like super-Christianity.  All three perspectives are in conflict with the Living and written Word of GOD.

The message I see is that not only is holy living possible, its pursuit is necessary to have fellowship with Jesus.  So…“Let us hold tightly without wavering to the hope we affirm, for God can be trusted to keep His promise.  Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works.  And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of His return is drawing near (Hebrews 10:23-25, NLT).

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

Bridling the Tongue (And a Tribute)

“If the church would stop talking for 30 days, we would have revival.” – D. L. Moody 

I came across this quote six or seven weeks ago, and it has not left me.  I have revisited the thought many times.  To what extent do I speak unnecessarily?  Am I disciplined in holding my tongue?  What poor contents of my heart are revealed by my words (Matthew 15:11)? Do the things I say edify and encourage?  To what extent are they just unneeded verbal detritus?   The result has been a decision to speak less…and to listen more.

I don’t mean an absence of conversation, as in a vow of silence, but some small (?) steps: not injecting comments if they’re not really needed, not repeating myself for the sake of emphasis or to make sure I’m heard, and not seeking the last word in casual discussion.  I do think there is value in allowing others to have the floor.  What I may feel is an obligatory verbal edit or counterpoint isn’t as necessary as I might want to think.

And then there’s another step for me in this process.  A good friend and former pastor of mine used to challenge us periodically to go seven days without complaining about anything, criticizing anyone, or defending ourselves (including defending our views) for any reason.  I don’t have to question whether that is a small step.  It isn’t. Try it.  I’ve tried several times and will try again in the days ahead.  I believe it’s a worthy challenge for obvious reasons; just because we have the freedom to say things doesn’t mean we always should.  I think Paul summed it up this way, “I have the right to do anything…but not everything is beneficial.  I have the right to do anything, but I will not be mastered by anything” (1 Cor. 6:12)…including the tongue.    

James, the pastor of the First Church of Jerusalem and the brother of our Lord knew control of the tongue was/is essential to a healthy walk on the pathway of life.  He mentions it three different ways in his letter to the Church.  Here’s one example in his typical blunt way of communicating: “Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongue deceive themselves and their religion is worthless” (James 1:26).  

In over 40 years, I’ve never heard GOD yell to get my attention…it’s always been with a quiet whisper; and it was only when I have been quiet that I have heard it.  It’s only when I am quiet that I can hear my family, friends and others share what’s on their hearts and minds.  Love of GOD and our neighbor can manifest itself in many ways.  Perhaps mastery of the tongue is one of those ways.

One final note on Martin Luther King, Jr:

MLK wasn’t a politician, although he operated amongst those for whom politics was all important.

MLK wasn’t an anarchist looking to overthrow authority by creating chaos and disruption, although the reactionary response of many to what he preached revealed itself in chaos and disruption.

MLK wasn’t a moralist, although his message was consistently moral.

MLK was GOD’s man at a point in history when enough was enough.  He was called to confront the social, political, economic and moral hypocrisy condoned and even promoted by the power structures of the nation and call it what it was.

MLK was called to be the point guard of a movement to end the subjugation and denigration of people without power by those with power.

MLK was sent to remind us that the commandment to love our neighbor didn’t have qualifications, like tests of ethnicity, color, country of origin, gender or religion. He was sent to remind us that it is impossible to love GOD without loving our neighbor.

MLK was not perfect; he had his flaws, and was criticized, perhaps rightly, along with much that was unmerited.  But as some wise soul has said, “The only people who are never criticized are the ones who do nothing.” (Source Unknown).

The man might be gone, but the message and the need for struggle remains alive…if we who are here will carry the torch.  May we live lives worthy of this calling.

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

Much Respect

“…And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Philippians 2:11)

For some time now, I’ve been working at learning a second language, something I wish I had done long ago. I’ve heard or read from different sources that the earlier one works at learning a new language, the easier it is for the tongue to give shape to the words of that language.  Conversely with increasing age, the tongue becomes less flexible in its pronunciation ability.  There are some words in my new language that I can look at on a page and pronounce in my head, but when I try to speak, the word comes out somewhat garbled.  I’m slowly getting better at it, but its work.

Image result for learning a new language

I recently had lunch with a colleague at a Peruvian/Brazilian restaurant in Philadelphia.  The menu was in Spanish and Portuguese with English print in small letters under each item.  When the waitress came for our order, I asked for ensalada de camarones (shrimp salad).  Then the waitress asked me what I wanted to drink in Spanish, but she said it so fast (as least to my ear) that I needed my friend to translate for me.  He told me a few minutes later that the waitress thought I was Latino.  My pronunciation when I ordered must have been pretty good.  So…I’m getting a little better, but I have a long ways to go.

I’ve always been confounded by those who get irritated at those new to our country who don’t speak English or who don’t speak it well.  Too often, they are treated as being defective people.  That’s an attitude that is flat-out anti-Christian.  Learning a new language can be difficult, and I have much respect for everyone who tries.  I have regular contact with those born outside of this country, and most of them know at least two languages, including English, and some know even more.  Even those who are still struggling to learn English know it better than I know Spanish.  Encouragement and support rather than castigation is in order, particularly from those who are of the household of faith.

Image result for offering help

Perhaps a fresh way of looking at Paul’s prophecy in Philippians 2 is that Jesus Christ is Lord will be confessed in every tongue as well as by every tongue.  I think there’s room for both views.

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

What About Social Justice?

(This is a follow-up to a discussion I had with some friends two days ago)  

It is very hard for me to imagine that one could be a devout believer and follower of Jesus Christ and not think things around us are amiss.  Much is broken, and while I believe there is some room within the body for differences of opinion about what is righteous and what is just, those views, ultimately, have to align with Scripture, in principle and application.  Otherwise, our views and preferences are just that, our views and preferences.

It is not my intent here to list the things I view as social ills.  That list is way too long. Instead, I want to share some thoughts on two different models of engagement for the purpose of social justice.  More than anything, this is me working through what I think and feel theologically and viscerally. Articulation of these models originated with others, in some cases, spiritual and theological giants much smarter than me.  I choose not to name any of them because I don’t want who they are to overly influence how you may react.  

It is very hard for me to imagine that one could be a devout believer and follower of Jesus Christ and not think things around us are amiss.  Much is broken, and while I believe there is some room within the body for differences of opinion about what is righteous and what is just, those views, ultimately, have to align with Scripture, in principle and application.  Otherwise, our views and preferences are just that, our views and preferences.

It is not my intent here to list the things I view as social ills.  That list is way too long. Instead, I want to share some thoughts on two different models of engagement for the purpose of social justice.  More than anything, this is me working through what I think and feel theologically and viscerally. Articulation of these models originated with others, in some cases, spiritual and theological giants much smarter than me.  I choose not to name any of them because I don’t want who they are to overly influence how you may react.

One response to social justice needs is to confront them (or at least to attempt confrontation) in order to affect change.  Perhaps the metaphor of being salt and light that Jesus references in Matthew 5 is an apt passage underlying this activist view.  Intensity of involvement is the essential spiritual litmus test for being full of spirit (though not necessarily full of the Holy Spirit, as one critic reminds us).  Activism for the sake of justice that is separated from interior righteousness is human rather than Christ-centered. A second criticism of this model is the potential for arrogance born out of pride in the acts of confrontation.  Martin Luther, John Brown (the abolitionist), Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Thomas Merton, and the many Christians who, over the last few decades have confronted civil rights issues and the wars in Vietnam and Cambodia, and who have protested against abortion are examples of those who  expressed this model. The key questions from them are how can you be salt unless you are poured on that which needs to be cured or preserved? How can you be light if you don’t shine in ways that are evident? I have witnessed this enough to know that it can be effective in the long-run, and have personally engaged in it enough to know that it can be costly in the short-run, or even longer.          

A second model is that which promotes separation of Christians from the systems of the world rather than their diffusion in it.  Being in the world but not being of the world is a summation of a fairly long lists of biblical texts which directly and indirectly point to a spiritual separation that is anti-direct confrontation. Some of its weapons are the witness of grace and compassion, coupled with prayer and patience.  This view suggests that the best way to impact the world (and by extension, its social justice needs) is to be so different in deeply held attitudes, beliefs and actions compared to those of the world that the very distinctiveness of Christianity offers an alternative to what is clearly not working well.  The interaction between Jesus and Pontius Pilate when Pilate was concerned that Jesus was a possible threat to Roman order, is an example: “My kingdom is not of this world.  If it were…” (John 18:36).  One criticism of this approach is that, short of intentional awareness of justice needs and a witness within and beyond the boundaries of the church, it easily leads to believers being desensitized to the negative and often harsh realities of the injustices that surround them, but which may not touch them personally.  Another is found in the reality that some have interpreted separation as being physical as well as spiritual.  In either scenario, claims to distinctiveness are moot as the availability of an alternative is invisible to those needing to see an alternative.  A dististinctive that is not distinct in the eyes of those who most need to observe and experience it is of little or no value. The key question for those in this camp is how can you follow the patterns of the world, using the weapons of the world, and still be separate from the world?                                                                                                                

After ending the discussion with my friends, I continued to work through this stuff because I don’t believe it’s possible to be a committed Christian and not care about justice.  It is a theme woven throughout the Bible. What is the best approach then? Where I land is that it depends on the context and the leading of the Holy Spirit. The in-your-face strategy Moses used against Pharaoh was much different than the measured approach Esther used against Haman.  Elijah’s confrontations with Ahaz and Jezebel led to an outright spiritual battle royale. While Jesus had one type of response for Pilate, and no response for Herod, He was overtly aggressive in publicly chastising the religious community for allowing illegitimate use of the Temple. Paul used the conversion of Onesimus to quietly undermine slavery in the household of Philemon (and potentially elsewhere in the city of Colassae) rather than take on this well-entrenched Roman system head-on, a fight he would not have won at that time in history.                       

I think it is important to honestly come to grips that much is broken in our immediate world, conditions which GOD cares about deeply.  People are suffering in many ways, not because of chance but because of choices made by others (individuals and institutions). We in the church come up short when our focus lies exclusively on our personal piety without regard to that which impacts our fellows.  The Church must act like it’s interested in order to be the Church of Jesus. Neither model matters if we don’t care.

Ⓒ Byron L. Hannon, 2019.  All rights reserved to original text content.