Category Archives: The Church

Addendum: Is Compassion Justice?

I don’t ordinarily do this, but was moved to share this thought from noted theologian, Walter Brueggemann.  The language may be a little academic for some, but I think it’s well worth working through.  It is a reminder of how utterly different and unique the kingdom of GOD is when compared to the kingdoms of this world.

“Jesus in his solidarity with the marginal ones is moved to compassion.  Compassion constitutes a radical form of criticism, for it announces that the hurt is to be taken seriously, that the hurt is not to be accepted as normal and natural but is an abnormal and unacceptable condition for humanness.  In the arrangement of ‘lawfulness’  in Jesus’ time, as in the ancient empire of Pharaoh, the one unpermitted quality of relation was compassion.  Empires are never built or maintained on the basis of compassion.  The norms of law (social control) are never accommodated to persons, but persons are accommodated to the norms.  Otherwise the norms will collapse and with them the whole power arrangement.  Thus the compassion of Jesus is to be understood not simply as a personal emotional reaction but as a public criticism in which he dares to act upon his concern against the entire numbness of his social context.”

Quoted from A Guide to Prayer for Ministers And Other Servants, The Upper Room, Nashville, TN, 1983.

Is Compassion Justice?

“When He saw the crowds, He had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” (Matthew 9:37)

 

Recently, I heard someone try to make a case that compassion is equivalent to justice.  I’ve been thinking about this ever since hearing this because justice (or a perceived lack of it) dominates many thoughts and conversations in the world.  Let’s take a minute to unpack this a little.

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The yellow-jacket protesters in France believe many of the economic and social policies of the French government are unjust. The Rohingya minority in Myanmar (formerly Burma) for years have made claims of brutal repression by the Myanmar government.  Both pro-Brexiteers and anti-Brexiteers in England are convinced their positions are the most just for their nation.  Venezuela seems on the brink of civil war, with a significant number (if not majority) seeking to oust the controlling communist-leaning government, which is largely seen as an unjust oppressor of all but its supporters.  Worldwide, ride share drivers have protested what they believe are unfair “labor” practices by the companies with whom they contract (the drivers are technically not employees but independent contractors).  Mass public teacher strikes in the US seem to happen more frequently than ever because of pay, benefits and a general belief that they are grossly under-appreciated and supported.  A Saudi royal and “friend” of our government may have been complicit in the brutal assassination of a journalist, without the penalty of serious repercussion, all because the journalist was critical of Saudi policies and of this royal member in particular.  Refugees and asylum-seekers around the world are opting out of their home nations thinking they can get a better deal for themselves and their families elsewhere …and the elsewhere countries are, ambivalent, if not outright hostile to receiving them.  Abortion and sexual orientation issues along with the #MeToo movement and Black Lives Matter nearly seem like last year’s news because of the prevalence of so many other things now being associated with social justice.  And the examples here are just a snapshot.

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How does compassion, for the people who have legitimate complaints, amount to justice? A working definition of justice that fits well with concepts in the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament is to make things right.  The phrase “do justice” is common to Scripture; it is a verb phrase, an action or series of actions.  As I’ve thought about the original question, I realized that the disconnect I was experiencing about compassion equating to justice was because I conflated compassion with a feeling rather than an action.  I wonder how many of us never view compassion as anything other than a feeling of pity, tenderness and/or concern.

The compassion Jesus experienced went to the core of His being, and the result was action that impacted individual lives in a way that made things right for them. More so, He set in motion a movement, the very purpose of which was to challenge that which was not right in the world and to make or influence those very things to be made right.  That movement is called His Church.

“Tomorrow is always another day to make things right” – Lauryn Hill 

I think the Church is still in the business of making things right and influencing the growth and power of justice in the world; however, we can’t have success if the only kind of compassion we experience is limited to feeling bad and wishing things were different…and we don’t know how many more tomorrows we have.  I can’t credit anyone with these words because the speaker is unknown, but it is worth repeating, “Sympathy sees and says, ‘I am sorry.’  Compassion feels and whispers, ‘I will help.’”*

Thank you to the many who help, whose compassion results in justice-seeking by combining their faith with actions that bless, uplift, love, challenge and are willing to say, “That’s not right! There’s a right way, a good way, a godly way.”  The world needs that from the Church.

* Found in Deep Fire, a book of quotes compiled by Harold Vaughan, Christ Life Publications, Vinton, VA, 2013.

© Byron L. Hannon, 2019. All rights reserved to text content unless otherwise noted.

Still Up for a Surprise

“…You shall have a sacred assembly…” (Leviticus 23:7)

 

I have never been one who got excited about attending large meeting gatherings. I’m sure that’s directly related to my introverted temperament.  My feelings have always been the same, regardless of whether the events were connected to my previous secular employment or, in more recent years, the church.  But like so many things in life that don’t align with my personal preferences, I make whatever adjustments are needed to accommodate participation.  It comes with the territory.

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Later this week is our annual district assembly, a large gathering of pastors and lay delegates and district officials who, historically, come together for two days to review the past year, conduct business assigned exclusively to the collective group of delegates, and to cast vision for the future.  Interspersed throughout the two days are times for worship and proclamation of GOD’s Word.  The preaching is done by a leading elder in our denomination, who also presides over the whole shebang.  These assemblies take place across much of the world at different points on the calendar.

Many people love these occasions; it gives them a chance to hang-out with their delegation, eat multiple meals with friends at nearby restaurants, and catch-up with folks they haven’t seen for a time. It allows them to hear about other things happening on the district and to hear the heart of their own district leader.  Sometimes there is a sense of spectacle not normally found in a local church setting.  The whole thing is somewhat like theater except that those who attend are sometimes the actors and sometimes the audience.  In all honesty, none of this has ever caused me to want to attend…but I did (and do) because being a part came (and comes) with my ministerial role and responsibility.  And I need to say that I’m confident that I never attended with a scowl on my face like I know I did when my mother used to take me to the doctor many decades ago.

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So it’s somewhat of surprise that I’m looking forward to attending this year’s assembly later this week. The reason is that there will be a lot more emphasis on worshipping GOD and seeking GOD, together, and less emphasis on report sharing and other district business than in my memory.  It will look and feel more like a sacred assembly than a really big annual church meeting.  I’m looking forward to this and to being both an actor and a member of the audience.  Perhaps all of us, from the various corners of our geographically large district, different walks of life, diverse races, cultures and languages, and wide range of occupations and interests will hear from the One we all claim as Lord, celebrating Him, first of all, most of all.  May it be so.  May it be sacred.

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

 

A Church Reality

After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. And they cried out in a loud voice: “Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.” — Revelation 7:9-10, NIV

Note: While this post, like the others,  is consistent with the aims of my blog, some readers may find the content a little more weighty than usual.  Still, I hope you will read it thoughtfully, and hopefully discover something useful.   Blessings.

 

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I like the picture that John paints. It reminds me that there is room for everyone wherever GOD is the center of worship.  That room does not require uniformity, in fact, external differences are highlighted, but in all of this there is unity.

I think we sometimes fall prey to the idea that unity requires uniformity, despite the fact that  GOD created all of this diversity.  We see this in the Earth’s flora and fauna, and we see it in humanity.  Even in the courts of heaven, as John the Apostle notes, tribal and related differences will be evident among those who will come out of the “great tribulation.”  Their unity will be in their collective worship of the High and Holy One and in their service to Him, not in any external sameness or difference. Continue reading

All Are Welcome

“And let them make Me a sanctuary, that I may dwell among them.” – Exodus 25:8

 Given my theological orientation, the doctrine of sanctification carries special weight with me. I believe GOD calls us all to a salvation experience through Jesus Christ (addresses the consequences of our sins), and then, in simple terms, He calls us beyond to a Holy Spirit-empowered and guided life in Jesus Christ marked by willing, loving, complete, obedient submission to His Lordship. I could say more, much more, but this post is not for the purpose of systematic theology. It is about one particular aspect of the Church.

In addition to having been a pastor in a local church, I have visited quite a few over the years, occasionally to preach, but more often to simply enter into a house of worship, enter into the fellowship of worship with other believers, and to hear and be challenged by the proclamation of the Word of GOD. Unless those visits were in churches where I was known, I didn’t volunteer anything about being a pastor or even that I was a Christian. If someone asked, I’d tell them, but I’m not otherwise interested in promoting any bona fides; I just wanted to hang out in church.

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Essential to each of these experiences was whether I was actively and intentionally welcomed, whether I felt welcomed.  I don’t have enough fingers or toes to count the church signs I’ve seen that said, “All Are Welcome.”  But the only way to really know is to go inside.  Most times when I have gone inside have been positive, but there have been a few times when that wasn’t the case.  Those particular buildings all had what many refer to as sanctuaries, but they weren’t sanctuary spaces for me.

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The words “sanctuary” and “sanctification” are more like siblings than first-cousins. They both concern that which has been set aside, exclusively, for holy use.  In the case of “sanctuary,” our normal usage refers to a holy or consecrated space for the purpose of worship or refuge.  A chorus I know, sings:

So forget about yourself and concentrate on Him,

And worship Him.

So forget about yourself and concentrate on Him,

And worship Him.

So forget about yourself and concentrate on Him,

And worship Him.

Worship Him, Christ the Lord.

 Can anyone forget about themselves when they don’t feel welcomed, when they don’t feel emotionally safe? That is what I and anyone/everyone should experience when we enter GOD’s sanctuary.  It should be a place where you and I have temporary refuge from the cares and weighty issues of life and experience peace because it is holy for that purpose.  Sure, I’m more likely to experience that when I enter into the sanctuary of my “home” church, but what about the person who has no church home?  What about the visitor (believer or unbeliever) who is searching for the presence of the Holy, whether they know it or not?  This is a legitimate spiritual need and calls local church leaders to a level of awareness and sensitivity beyond what works for them and the usual crowd associated with that particular church.

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I want to be careful to not neglect what I believe to be another way to view this issue. I generally don’t prefer the King James Version of Scripture, but, in the case of the verse above, the phrasing suggests that GOD, Himself, wants to be our sanctuary.  The context of the immediately preceding verses points to the construction of a physical sanctuary as the intended understanding, and I respect that.  However, when viewed through the lens of all of Scripture, I think the idea of GOD desiring to be a sanctuary for His people is a settled issue.

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As an extended point, I believe that those made in the image of GOD, redeemed and reborn through the blood of the Lamb, should increasingly have the characteristics of sanctuary themselves. They are people who offer others temporary respite and refuge from the weights we all carry because they spend significant time in the presence of GOD, and His holiness is present in them.  They are sanctuaries on two feet, and the world needs them desperately.  If you’ve been around such people, you know what I’m saying.

People gravitate to where they feel safe, comfortable and cared for, and that includes where and with whom they worship and/or choose to be in relationship with. The converse is also true.  Church signs often say “All Are Welcome? Are all welcome or is that welcome conditional?  Local church greeters and each of us, individually, communicate both conditional and unconditional welcome.  Our smiles, extended hands, open hearts and genuine interest attract; our blank faces, frowns, grudgingly offered or withheld hands, and cursory interest don’t attract.

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GOD never has a “No Vacancy” sign in His Kingdom; we shouldn’t either.

© Byron L. Hannon, 2018. All rights reserved to text content.

 

When Christians Pick Sides

“I hear that when you come together as a church, there are divisions among you, and to some extent I believe it.  No doubt there have to be differences among you to show which of you have God’s approval.” – 1 Corinthians 11:18-19

I don’t think there are many things more discouraging to church leaders than to see  divisions in their church. I don’t mean simple differences of opinions.  Whenever you get more than one person in the same room, it’s guaranteed that a difference of opinion will surface, whether it’s something minor like favored sports team or even more significant like candidates for political office.  What I’m talking about are those divisions that result in a break in fellowship (or which reveal that biblical fellowship never existed).

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Whenever I think of the church in Corinth, awareness of their immaturity and carnality surfaces quickly. So much of what Paul wrote to them in his first letter dealt with the superficiality of their faith which too often revealed itself in unrighteous attitudes and behavior.  In the passage referenced above and in succeeding verses, he points to a serious deficit in their regard for each other, particularly toward poorer members of the church, when they came together for the Lord’s Supper, one of the times when the unity of the church should be a defining mark.

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We know from reading the first chapter of this letter that one of the sources of division in the Corinthian church was based on which Christian “personality” (Paul, Apollos, Peter, Christ) church members aligned themselves to. I read all of this, and almost feel the disgust that Paul feels because he’s got to try to nip this junk in the bud to protect the infant church from itself as it struggles to grow in maturity and strength and to protect the integrity of the church’s testimony to an unbelieving world.

In the years since this letter to the Corinthian Christians, how far have we come? I think a long and good way in many, many ways.  But I’m also cognizant that “the thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy…” and one of the ways he does that is to get us to divide ourselves into factions that reveal the absence of fellowship and a lack of interest in being in fellowship.  Are there Christians with whom I cannot be in fellowship?  What about you?  Do they exist?  If the answer is “yes,” then maybe Paul is talking to us, too.

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I find it telling that the same word used for “divisions” or “factions” is used for the word “heresy,” because when Christians take competing sides on issues that have little to do with GOD’s love, with GOD’s redemptive cares, with GOD’s word (our truth), with GOD’s will (our path), when we exchange any side for GOD’s side, this has the effect of distracting people and pulling them away from the faith which is, fundamentally, what heresy is.

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Our humanity allows us to connect emotionally with other people, issues and other things with a capacity that is probably much deeper than we are aware. A stewardship responsibility comes with this wonderful ability.  We need GOD’s help in discerning the issues to which we align ourselves, particularly when they have the potential to separate us from others.  Not everything out there and available for us to sign-up to is from GOD nor necessarily pleasing to Him, and constitutes “junk” that needs to be nipped in the bud before it damages the church and its testimony.  John the Apostle says much the same thing when he says, “Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world” (1 John4:1).

Doing this will help us get on and stay on GOD’s side.

© Byron L. Hannon, 2018. All right reserved for text content.

 

© Byron L. Hannon, 2018. All right reserved for text content.

Fulfillment That Brings Unity

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I now have the freedom to visit churches that my previous schedule and responsibilities did not often allow. While I can’t say I’ve come anywhere near experiencing the full spectrum of churches and worship styles, the variation has been significant, ranging from liturgical to Apostolic-Pentecostal.  In every church, I felt welcomed and sensed warmness and receptivity to me as a stranger.  That’s always a good sign.

A couple of weeks ago, I visited a church that was not on my to visit list.  A week earlier, I reached out to a friend I hadn’t spoken with for a while, thinking that he might be free to hang-out by going to church with me.  As it turns out, he had been invited to sing with a men’s choir at a church, and asked me if I would spend my Sunday morning there.  So that’s where I went.

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The pastor spoke on Ephesians 1:8-10: “…With all wisdom and understanding, He made known to us the mystery of His will according to His good pleasure, which He purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times reach their fulfillment—to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ.” A key point in her message was the disunity we see, and often experience, not only in humanity, but in all of creation including the animal world and in the environment.   That disunity is disconnected from GOD’s original intention for His creation.

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This pastor’s message led me to think about the role of the church in reflecting and facilitating the fulfillment that will bring unity. I was sitting there with a seemingly nice, sincere group of believers intent on worshipping GOD and enjoying fellowship with each other as they do each Sunday, knowing that all over the county and beyond, other nice, sincere believers were doing the same thing in their churches.

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During my corporate years, emphasis was placed on making sure business functions (sales, marketing, finance, information technology, etc.) did not become operational silos. Traditional silos are physical structures used on farms to store harvested products like corn, wheat, and soy.

Silos are typically vertical in shape which is why the term was adopted for business application. Businesses use it as a metaphor for focusing only on what is important to a specific business function, without much regard to what is important to other functions or even the entire business.  Strong partnerships across business functions (horizontal relationships) were always viewed as the antidote to this kind of organizational behavior which, left to their own devices, may reflect a purely vertical approach.

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I wonder, to what extent are churches silos? It’s not uncommon for local churches to be encouraged by their denominations to fellowship with other churches within the same denomination, and events are often created to provide an umbrella for this.  Even independent churches do this with other independents when they share some things in common.  In these cases, however, the involved churches do not always share the same geography which can make connecting a significant, if not extraordinary, effort.

Local ministeria (clergy associations) sometimes try to bridge these gaps. Some are more successful than others.  Some, however, have difficulty agreeing on the elements of the annual Easter program, no less having regular cross-church fellowship.

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Clergy associations aside, how are we doing connecting with that church down the street or around the corner or a short drive away? They occupy the same geography.  How might we fellowship with them for the sake of expanding the influence of the Kingdom of GOD?  Is that something they’d be interested in or are they (and we) like a comfortable silo on a large farm, each storing a food product, separate and distinct from the others, but all belonging to the same farmer?

Have we allowed doctrinal differences, worship styles, and other externals to keep us in our silo and they in theirs, all of us nice, sincere believers striving for unity with those within our silo, but inattentive to the nice, sincere believers in the surrounding silos?

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I think there’s evidence to support my silo theory, so I’m going to go with it.  Perhaps a step in the right direction of reflecting and facilitating the fulfillment that brings unity is for all of us to work at building horizontal relationships with other local Christians, and not just vertical relationships within our respective churches.  That’s going to mean doing some things differently.  It will mean emphasizing some things less than is common now, and learning how to emphasize things brand new to our respective radars.

I think I’ll keep on visiting.

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