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Looking Back to Move Forward

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Where are we, the (2)1st century or the 21st century?

“That which has been is that which will be, and that which has been done is that which will be done. So there is nothing new under the sun.” – Ecclesiastes 1:9 

In Christ, the passage of time doesn’t have the same relevance it has apart from Him.  Whether we’re in the 1st century or the 21st century, Christ is unchanging.

I want to live, always being ready to give a reason for the hope I  have within, and doing so with gentleness and respect.  (1 Peter 3:15)

Join me if you like.

  My Highest Aspiration: To have no life but Christ’s….for Him to be in me and I in Him… for He is in the Father.

BLH 2

 

 

Playing Fast and Loose with God

“Then the word of the Lord came to me [Jeremiah]…If at any time I announce that a nation or kingdom is to be uprooted, torn down and destroyed, and if that nation I warned repents of its evil, then I will relent and not inflict on it the disaster I had planned. And if at another time I announce that a nation or kingdom is to be built up and planted, and if it does evil in My sight and does not obey Me, then I will reconsider the good I had intended to do for it.”

(Jeremiah 18: 5, 7-10)

Immediately following the horrible devastation that took place in this country on September 11, 2001, the national mourning was coupled in some quarters with shout-outs of “God Bless America!”  Some of that, quite frankly, felt like jingoistic flag-waving and fist-shaking at perceived enemies.  Anger, sadness, and frustration aside, I have long felt that the U.S. has been one of the most blessed nations ever (EVER!) and like all blessings, it has been a result of God’s grace alone.  No nation has a right to God’s blessing.  No nation can claim that as its legacy gift.  

At best, asking God to bless our nation should be a sincere prayer, not some nationalistic mantra, and should always be preceded by a national stance that is God-honoring.  Right after 9-11-01, I saw quite a few signs at fire stations, municipal buildings, store locations and even churches that stated, “God Bless America.” I believed it was more appropriate for us to post “America, Bless God” on our church sign for the many people who drove by on that busy street each day, which is what we did.  

I still believe this is what the nation needs more than anything, that the nation blesses God, that we strive to please Him above pleasing ourselves, that we honor Him above honoring ourselves, and that we obey Him because…well, because He’s God.  

If you read the quote from the prophet Jeremiah above, which trendline do you see us being on?  In which direction are we headed? 

Now, I know it’s human nature to easily see the fault-lines falling at the feet of others (people and groups), but I think there is plenty of responsibility to go around, including with those of us who call ourselves by His name.  There are objective means to determine if our respective houses are in order.  Let’s look to them and use them.  

Just sayin’.          

“He makes nations great, and He destroys them;
He enlarges nations, and leads them away.”

(Job 12:23)                     

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

On Liberty and Independence

“You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh rather, serve one another humbly in love.” (Galatians 5:13)

Sometimes, moments of clarity come at the most unexpected times.  One came to me in early July.  It was in the middle of the day while standing in a parking lot at a church camp far from home and having a conversation with a ministry partner who had just driven up.  The reason we were both there was camp attendance, but he arrived during a lull in activity.  I happened to be outside and recognized him after he got out of his car.  I walked over to him and we began to talk.  

I can’t tell you anything about what we talked about other than it was of a spiritual nature (we are both wired to teach and so this wasn’t unusual for us).   The moment of clarity came when something he said triggered this thought:  We have liberty but not independence.  While I knew this intuitively, the simplicity of the statement was new.  

The fact that we had this conversation a few days before the Independence Day holiday made it a little ironic.  It was a perfect reflection of life in Christ.  I remember verbalizing the point, “We have liberty but not independence,” and he nodded in agreement.  This is an essential for the Church to grasp and live within.  It is a distinctive of Christian life and when not learned and internalized or when ignored, results in all kinds of unfortunate inconsistencies and hypocrisies.       

I find that many people have difficulty dealing with paradoxes (things that are seemingly, but not necessarily, contradictory).  A reliance on straight-line thinking and difficulty with ambiguity can make paradoxes, including spiritual paradoxes, challenging for them.  The teachings of Jesus and His Apostle Paul, however, are notable for the use of paradox.  I suggest looking at passages such as Mark 20:16; Luke 9:48; 13:30; 22:26-27 and John 11:25-26 for a sampling (go ahead and do it; it will only take a minute or two). 

A reader’s overwhelming preference for an either/or answer may be frustrating when the paradox suggests a both/andconclusion or when a norm is turned on its head in favor of something that seems illogical to our conditioning.  If this happens when trying to understand a biblical principle, it raises a question about how well that principle is internalized.  How much effort is expended to wrestle with the paradox to gain understanding?  Is the paradox just accepted at a surface level without understanding?  Is one side of the paradox ignored or rejected in favor of the other, preferred side? 

These are important questions, in general, for grasping scriptural teaching is a stewardship responsibility (see 2 Timothy 2:15).  They are also important because of our current socio-political climate in which words like liberty and independence are used interchangeably and, too often, thrown about without a sense of accountability beyond the self (which, in God’s kingdom, is no accountability at all).  

A New Testament understanding of spiritual liberty makes it clear that liberty is the result of God’s grace.  It is a freedom won by the sacrifice of Jesus Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit which offers freedom from our spiritual poverty.  It is freedom from the falsities of life that blind us to truth.  It is freedom from the experiences of life that hold us captive to a wrong view of ourselves and others.  It is freedom from those oppressing factors that impose themselves on us like chains that bind our souls.  It is freedom that declares God’s favor which He desperately wants to impart to each of us. This liberty is a gift of God; it is not and cannot be self-generated regardless of our good intentions or the inspirational speeches of seminar leaders and sellers of DIY books.          

Liberty, understood in this way, makes it obvious that independence is not a Christian concept for none of us is independent from God.  None of us are masters of our fates nor captains of our souls.1 The poetic line is nice and highly inspirational and appeals to our sense of self, but it’s not true.  Spiritual health requires that we come to grips with this and live in the paradox: we have been offered liberty and Jesus is Lord.    

Because our liberty is a gift and is not self-generated, how then can we rightly say we are not accountable for how we use it?  We are accountable to the One who gives the gift and therefore we accept the paradox and use our liberty to be servants of God (2 Peter 2:16).  It’s the best way because it was the way modeled by Jesus.  

1   From the poem Invictus by William Earnest Henley, published1888, in the public domain.    

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

Christian Community in a Post(?)-Covid World

“Christian community is the final apologetic.” – Francis Schaeffer

The impact of the Covid pandemic has significantly impacted church functioning in the West and I, certain, in other parts of the world.  What was formerly assumed about the gathering and scattering of the local church has been changed.  The model under which the church was supposed to operate included regular and routine gatherings for celebration, spiritual uplift and growth, all within a communal setting.  This was always to be followed by the scattering of the church back to individual homes, local communities, jobs, schools, etc. which were the mission fields in which what was gained in the gathering could be lived out in deed and, as opportunity presented, shared by word. 

Covid has created a shift that affects this model.  A meaningful number of those (maybe 30% to 40% in the West, depending on age) of those who were previously gathering with the remaining 60% to 70% are no longer gathering in the same way as before the pandemic.  Many of those are taking advantage of digital connections (e.g., web-based access, live streaming, and YouTube® rebroadcasts) where they are available.  Some, on the other hand, have checked out altogether and are no longer participating in church life in any meaningful or measurable way.  

Many years ago, I worked in the health insurance field and one of the things I learned about a person who is unable to work because of a physical disability due to illness or injury is that there is roughly a six-month window to get them well enough to return to some level of productive work.  After about six months, that same person has begun to view themselves as being permanently disabled.  That mental shift makes it much more difficult to transition them back to the workforce.  I’ve wondered if a similar dynamic has impacted the church due to the long length of Covid restrictions and limitations: people who regularly participated in the community of faith with their physical presence experienced a mental shift that rewired their attitudes and behavior.  Being physically a part of the church gathered lost its place of priority. For some, being associated with the church in any way has lost its place of priority.  

This has become a major discussion topic for church leaders all over the country because of the very real implications.  Is this a major component of the restructuring of the church that happens roughly every 500 years?  If so, what are we supposed to do while we wait for things to shake out?  How do we teach and disciple people so that the functioning of the church continues unabated?  What kind of investment should we make in digital discipleship?  How do we help people stay connected to the mission and vision of the church if they don’t come to centralized gatherings?  What about the underutilized building space we now have?  And hey, what about this: should we interpret these events through an eschatological (end-times) lens?  Is this a manifestation of the “great falling away” alluded to in Scripture?  None of these are deer-in-the-headlights questions, but they are real nonetheless.

One issue I’m particularly concerned about is the impact of a loss community on individual piety.  Those who are regular recipients of my emails are familiar with the quote from Swiss theologian, Francis Schaeffer, that I use as a footer.  It’s his paraphrasing of something Jesus said, “By this, everyone will know that you are My disciples, if you love one another”(John 13:35).  In other words, the community of love within the body of Christ is the proof of who we belong to and is the strongest argument we have about our faith commitment.  It is not talk; it is 100% walk.  How is this mutual love given to and received from the body of Christ if its members choose to remove themselves physically and emotionally?     

I was at a conference last weekend at which one of the speakers said something that caught my attention.  He said, “The Holy Spirit only moves in community.”  He then related his comment to the Trinity being the holy community of three persons in one into which all believers are called and which we are to model on earth in the unity of mutual love.  I know that is a mouthful, but it really just reflects the vertical and horizontal nature of the cross.  

Is he right?  And if he is, what does being in community really mean?  Is isolation from the body of Christ necessarily an impediment to healthy Christian spirituality?  If so, does that mean the desert fathers and mothers of the post-apostolic age and more contemporary people like Thomas Merton were in error?  I don’t think they were.  They may have been extreme examples of those who sought solitude for deep dives into their spiritual selves, but they always came back into the community of faith with something valuable to offer.  That’s a lot different from those who self-isolate because the church and its mission is no longer a priority for them.  It’s a lot different from those whose view of Christian faith is vertical only without regard to how their absence affects the body in terms of the removal of the gifts God gave them for the express purpose of kingdom building.  It’s a lot different from those who have checked-out because they’ve decided that they no longer need the church.  

I won’t say that the Holy Spirit can’t or won’t work in these lives; I believe He can and will.  His principal work, however, is to call and draw them back into the Christ-centered relationships that mark the church.  As in all things, it’s up to them to listen and respond.  Being in Christian community means being committed to the well-being (spiritual, emotional, and material) of those who form the body of Christ.   

There’s no question, as far as I’m concerned, that the church needs to creatively respond to the changed environment, something it has always managed to do.  Time and circumstances have a way of rendering well-accepted models obsolete.  There was a time when blacksmiths had to learn to be auto mechanics or perish.  Perhaps in a few years electric charging stations will fully replace gas stations.  In both examples, wheeled transportation morphed in response to the changing environment and adaptation that was or will be needed.  What is not obsolete is God,  the good news of Jesus Christ, and the call on the church to demonstrate godliness in the world He so loves.     

Whether the answer is renting flexible space rather than building large facilities which must be maintained at significant financial expense, a greater emphasis on house gatherings, or having a strong digital presence for worship, instruction and discipleship or some combination of these and other options, the church must adapt.  Nothing is accomplished by being rigid and inflexible.  But “the church” is not the building and it is not the leadership.  The church is the whole body of Christ and when members of the body start removing themselves as if they didn’t need the rest of the body and the rest of the body doesn’t need them (1 Corinthians 12:1-27), they are moving away from solid spiritual ground onto sinking sand.  Theirs is anti-biblical thinking and ultimately anti-Christian because it is inconsistent with the teachings of Christ.                      

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

Paul’s Paradox

“For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.” (Philippians 1:21)

From the beginning, I’ve called this blog Just1Voice because my words (and actions) speak of who I am, what I believe, and what I hope for.  I, like the rest of us, cannot speak for anyone else.  What you and I are about may resonate with some, which may facilitate the fellowship of community, and may not resonate at all with others.  Either way, at the end of the proverbial day, each of us stands alone with ourselves.

If you’ve read my postings with any consistency, it should be no secret that I desire to live for God and to glorify Him in all that I do.  I’ve come to believe, after being in relationship with Him for 43 years, that He is my greatest joy, my deepest blessing, and my greatest challenge.  There was a time when I considered spending time alone with God to be an interruption in my daily schedule.  Now, I consider the demands of my schedule to be an interruption in the time I want to spend with God.  Closeness often breeds the desire for more closeness.

A consequence of that intimacy is that more and more I feel alienated from this world and this feeling has become increasingly visceral.  I so easily relate to the “pilgrim” similes and metaphors used in the Old Testament (Hebrew Bible) and in the New that described Abraham.  He sojourned and settled in places, but by faith, knew his home to be elsewhere.  That is what it is to be an alien.  

I think this is what Paul alluded to when he said “…to live is Christ and to die is gain.” His entire post-conversion life was dedicated to serving the same Jesus who confronted him in a powerful vision while he was on the road to Damascus with the intent of arresting and persecuting Christians.  The quoted passage from Philippians and the surrounding verses are his reflection on the value of his remaining in this life because of the impact he could have on growing and strengthening the Church.  This is, after all, why he was called/commissioned to be an apostle of Christ to the Gentiles (“to live is Christ,” meaning that his purpose in remaining is to reveal the true nature and person of Christ to as many as he could).  Underneath, however, was this recognition that Earth was not his true home.  His true home was in the full presence of His Lord (“to die is gain”).  Becoming a Christian, in faith and not just name, gave him a growing hunger to be fully at home where nothing would be alien.

Sometimes our purpose conflicts with our preference.  It seemingly did for Paul and I understand.  I understand.  But as Jesus once said, “I have come from heaven not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me” (John 6:38).  If the Son of God took this stance, how much of the same should His servants do?  Not less than, but the same as, although I do confess that I do look forward to the day when I will see and be home.

It’s a paradox that must be for now, one that I and so many others must live and function within…until He says, “It’s time.”

Maranatha!

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

Think On These Things

Note: I wrote this several days before the sad and shameful events that occurred at the Tops Friendly Market in East Buffalo, NY in which people were slaughtered simply because they were, like me, my family, and many of my friends, of African descent.  I decided not to post it right away and let it sit as I processed through my immediate feelings and my thoughts about the deep root of virulent racism in this nation and the long history of human cruelty against other humans that seems unending.  In the post, I make a reference to the high calling of God.  This event and all like them are stark challenges and reminders to me that circumstances, even the darkest, must not be the reason for me to lower my sights on who God is and what He requires of me.  May the heart desires of His people always be for His will to be done on earth as it is in heaven.  May we live this call out in our daily lives so that the world has an opportunity to see that there is a pathway of light and life and not just the darkness and death that is all so common.    

Since you have been raised to new life with Christ, set your sights on the realities of heaven, where Christ sits in the place of honor at God’s right hand. Think about the things of heaven, not the things of earth. For you died to this life, and your real life is hidden with Christ in God. (Colossians 3:1-3, NLT)

The popular cliché, “Easier said than done” may never have been more applicable in light of some of the real-world issues facing the contemporary church today.  Like the Colossian Christians of Paul’s time, there is a lot of ‘noise’ in the atmosphere surrounding us.  None of us can go a day without seeing or hearing someone posit something they think we need to be for or be against.  In some cases, some of us in the church are adding to that noise.  A lot of it, quite frankly, is spouted in ways that reflect “hostility, quarreling, outburst of anger…dissensions, division…,” things Paul called sin and which he contrasted with what he termed the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:19-23).

Even when our inclination is toward love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control, it’s hard to not hear and think on all this noise and to form and even express opinions on who/what is right, who/what is wrong.  And not vocally or otherwise expressing a point a view on any of these myriad issues does not mean we don’t carry one within.  

This presents a paradox for the person who sincerely desires to follow Christ and, as a dear colleague puts it, be a living sanctuary for Him when some of this noise is ever present and growing in intensity?  How can we not “think on these things,” but rather “think on things above?” Is Paul suggesting that we not care about what is going on in life around us? I don’t believe so.

Paul, I believe, was talking about where our deepest affections lie, the “things” we cherish the most to the extent that we align ourselves with the values associated with them.  He is not saying we shouldn’t care; he is reminding us that these “things” are part and parcel of the kingdoms (systems) of this world which are temporary and that our true citizenship is in the kingdom of God which we entered through Jesus Christ.  His admonishment is that we be mindful of where our allegiance lies, i.e. we ought to have the mind of Christ.

Some reflections of Christ that have come to mind over the last few days as I have been thinking about this posting:

  • Jesus made a clear distinction between that which is God’s and that which belongs to Caesar (representing the world’s systems) and urged His followers to know the difference.
  • Jesus never insisted upon His personal rights nor did He align Himself with any existing earthly power.   
  • Jesus never tried to convert an existing social structure of any kind such as a religious institution, culture, political group, or cause.
  • Jesus invited people from diverse backgrounds to follow Him and represent Him (several tradesmen, a social activist/revolutionary, women, a businessman, a thief, and a religious radical) and all but one experienced a transformation of the heart.
  • Jesus defined righteousness as love of God and love of neighbor and said our neighbors were whoever crosses our path at any point in time.
  • Jesus acknowledged that being in the world would create a lot of problems for His followers (because of its rejection of Him and His word), but He encouraged them to keep their trust in Him (as opposed to others and elsewhere) because He had overcome all the systems of world (which, again, are temporary).
  • Jesus taught His followers the essentialness of prayer and that their source of power would be the Holy Spirit.    
  • Jesus commissioned those who followed Him to influence and teach others in the way He had influenced and taught them.

Obviously, this list is not all inclusive, but it does represent His mindset and what His agenda did and did not consist of.  He identified closely with the suffering and pain people experienced and we have some record of how it affected Him and what He did when He encountered it.  We also have some record of His response to the coldness and callousness of those in positions of power toward the powerless.  In the end, however, He said this, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do” pointing to the depth of their ignorance. 

We need not be ignorant like so many of those He was speaking of then.  We have had the privilege of walking in the light and because we are not ignorant, we are likely to be held by Him to a higher standard (what Paul calls the high calling of God in Christ Jesus).  And my, it is such a high calling! 

My prayer is that we who have had the privilege of walking in the light think more on those things which are of eternal importance than on anything else.  Let us not stop caring about the wrong around us.  May we always seek Him on how we can and should respond.  In all things, Holy Spirit enable us and guide us. 

Blessings.

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

The Moments of High Resolve

I don’t know about you, but there are occasions when something written or spoken by someone else feels so kindred that it resonates in a deeply personal way.  So much of what Howard Thurman (1899-1981) wrote impacts me like this.  I don’t normally do this, but I’d like to share with you something he wrote.  I think he’s a gem largely unknown to western eyes.    

“Keep fresh before me,

The moments of my high resolve.”

“Despite the dullness and barrenness of the days that pass, if I search with due diligence, I can always find a deposit left by some former radiance.  But I had forgotten.  At the time it was full-orbed, glorious, and resplendent.  I was sure that I would never forget.  In the moment of its fullness, I was sure that it would illumine my path for all the rest of my journey.  I had forgotten how easy it is to forget.”

“There was no intent to betray what seemed so sure at the time.  My response was whole, clean, authentic.  But little by little, there crept into my life the dust and grit of the journey.  Details, lower-level demands, all kinds of crosscurrents—nothing momentous, nothing overwhelming, nothing flagrant—just wear and tear.  If there had been some direct challenge—a clear-cut issue—I would have fought it to the end, and beyond.

“In the quietness of this place, surrounded by the all-pervading presence of God, my heart whispers: Keep fresh before me the moments of my High Resolve, that in fair weather or in foul, in good times or in tempests, in the days when the darkness and the foe are nameless or familiar, I may not forget that to which my life is committed.”

“Keep fresh before me

The moments of my high resolve.”

  • Taken from Meditations of the Heart (Howard Thurman), Beacon Press: Boston, © 1953, 1981, pp. 209-210.   

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

It’s Time to Get Easter Right

“…the angel spoke to the women. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I know you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He isn’t here! He is risen from the dead, just as he said would happen… Jesus came and told his disciples, “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28: 5-6; 18-20, NLT)

A sermon statement made by my first pastor on my first Easter as a newly born Christian was, “Any Easter in which Christ is not at the center is just another pagan holiday.” And then he said, “Make sure you don’t miss Easter.”  That was in 1980, and it still resonates despite the rather blunt language he used. 

Many of us are easily turned-off by blunt language (like suggesting that some people are contemporary pagans), except when we are the ones using the blunt language.  By the way, a simple definition of the word “pagan” is one who holds polytheistic religious beliefs (worships multiple gods)…but it also comes with the added connotation of being uncivilized and morally deficient.  I suspect, people, who might in fact be “pagan” in their values and views i.e., they are not exclusively devoted to the God of the Bible (or Koran) don’t want to be associated with that word because of its connotation, particularly on religious holidays, including Christmas and Easter.

There are a couple realities here that shouldn’t be missed.  The word Easter itself is a derivation of the Anglo-Saxon name of a pre-Christian goddess (Eostre) who was celebrated at the beginning of Spring.  Somewhere along the line, the term was appropriated for a Christian application.  There is this undeniable connection between a pagan celebration of new life in nature (flora and fauna) and the Christian Easter which celebrates the victory of Jesus over sin and death, made manifest by His resurrection, i.e. new life born from the clutches of death.  Some of us may not like this connection, but there it is.  Cultural appropriation (putting your brand on another peoples’ ideas  forms, and practices) is essentially a form of plagiarism. 

The second reality, at least from my vantage in the northeastern US, is that the purpose of Easter has become a justification for clothing and candy sales, particularly for children’s use and consumption. While it may not have the commercial clout of Christmas, the marketplace has coopted Easter for its own purposes and has been pretty successful. This money-centered emphasis doesn’t fit into a literal definition of paganism, but it could with a little effort.  If asked to participate in a word association test, I wonder how many randomly selected people would say bunnies, chocolate bunnies, or new clothes in response to the word “Easter.”   

My most recent reading has refreshed my thinking about the prophetic side of Jesus.  Like all the Old Testament (Hebrew Bible) prophets before Him, His presence, words, and actions caused extreme discomfort within the established social, religious, and political order.  Those in positions of power and influence had a vested interest in keeping things as they were, and the de facto criticism of their status quo by these prophets and by Jesus constituted a dangerous threat.  How could what had benefited them remain in place if they listened to and aligned themselves to the words of these prophets?  

They and their message could not be allowed to take root.  In biblical and world history, we see repeated cycles of suppression of the prophetic word, over the course of many centuries.  Ways have been found to silence those voices.  With a few exceptions, the prophets’ challenges have been met with various forms of ridicule, ostracism, threats, and persecution, including exile and death.  It’s in our nature to do this.    

Here is where Jesus parted company with His prophetic predecessors and even more contemporary versions of those called to prophetic roles.  Their post-death legacy is in their words and actions which ultimately, did not have lasting power to significantly change human kingdoms committed, not to across-the-board righteousness and justice, but to maintaining and strengthening their established order.  The legacy of Jesus is in His aliveness.  

The resurrection of Jesus (Easter) is the ultimate rejection of this limitation.  In a manner, Easter is God’s declaration that He has taken it upon Himself to break this cycle, something so long hungered after by prophets of old and more recently.  The resurrection of Jesus is the final word. Attempts have and will be made, but nothing and no one will subvert Him.  He may be ignored for a time, but nothing and no one will undermine Him.  And that is reason to celebrate, even if candy and new clothes are a small part of the celebration.     

The commemoration and celebration of Easter is to remind us that in the resurrected, living Jesus, the pattern has been broken and that all human kingdoms of every kind will cease, and only those who are in Him, the personification of righteousness and justice will remain, forever.  The commemoration and celebration of Easter is to recall God’s promise that He has repaired what humanity has broken and has neither the skill nor the will to fix.   

It is up to us to believe by faith what has yet to be realized by sight.  Every promise God has made to me, He has kept.  I believe, and therefore I will wait (count) on God.   

Hope you didn’t eat too much candy!                                        

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

The Hard Way

“…As He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct,because it is written, ‘Be holy, for I am holy.’” (1 Peter 1:15-16)

My spiritual tribe places a great deal of emphasis on holiness, the holiness of God and His provision for our own holiness.  He goes beyond suggesting it; He commands it.  Holiness in God’s people is a theme that runs throughout Scripture.  Many believe that God’s command is impossible to obey because of human limitations and the power of sin.  I’m not one of them; I don’t believe God lies.  I believe He has fully conquered sin through Jesus Christ so that faith can do more than result in the forgiveness of sins, it can also result in freedom from sin’s dominion.  We don’t have to sin.  I believe He, not us, makes a way for those who earnestly trust and seek Him.  He is not only able to save our souls, He is fully able to purify the affections of our hearts so that He becomes our first love in all things.  This said, I don’t intend this as a commentary on sanctification.

It is a commentary on what I’ve encountered on this pathway which include so many aspects of being: deep peace, joy, and the freedom to just be.  Time and time again, I sense a calm presence surrounding me, enveloping me in care, reminding me that I am highly valued, and calling me to deeper levels of faith and hope.  Time often seems to stand still in the quietness of His presence.  The quiet is a welcome friend.  Sometimes, there is an urging, a direction of some sort. The name of a person will occasionally pop-up, and I feel compelled to pray for them.  There are times when answers to questions thought about, but not actually asked suddenly enter my mind.  I’ve heard myself say more than once, “Oh, that makes sense,” in response.  

Then there are other times when I feel constrained and that’s usually when my emotional temperature is very high and anguish over something and it wants to morph into anger.  I think experiencing anguish is as much a consequence of walking the holiness road as any of the more ‘feel good’ stuff.  I think God experiences deep anguish because of deep brokenness in the world.  The deeper our relationship with Him grows, the more of that same anguish we experience. 

Isaiah referred to the yet to come Messiah as “a man of sorrows” who was “acquainted with grief” (53:3).  We see the fruition of this in Jesus’ compassion on the harassed and helpless who were “like sheep without a shepherd” (Matt. 9:36), His mourning over an unrepentant Jerusalem (Luke13:34), and His reaction to seeing the Temple converted into a shopping mall (Matt. 21:11-13).  

To this day, I wonder what He wrote in the dirt as He was confronted with the unjust treatment of a woman caught in adultery (John 8:1-12).  Her sin notwithstanding, which she acknowledged, the religious authorities sought only to hold her accountable, but not her male partner.  Rampant injustice and hypocrisy surely tore at Him. 

How can anyone who identifies with Christ and who is in Christ not become acquainted with grief as the realities and brokenness of this world are seen through the eyes of heaven’s citizens.  This is one of the things that makes the way of holiness a hard way.  Wrong is hard to coat-over, to ignore.   So many are not only missing heaven-sent opportunities; they are rejecting heaven-sent opportunities, and the impacts are significant and far-reaching.  It is heart-breaking and anguish inducing.

I think this anguish is a natural state that the holy ones of God must live through as Jesus did.  The issue becomes how to keep anguish from becoming the anger that warps the soul (Psalm 37).  I’ve been thinking about this…a lot.  I believe the answers have been given, although they might not seem obvious at first.

One way is lament, the honest and open expression of grief and mourning.  We see it in Job, in David, in Jeremiah, and in Jesus.  It is the statement of those who declare “All is not well” despite the preference of the majority to hold to the illusion that things are fine.  If all were well, why would Jesus need to return? 

Open lament is not all that popular because it creates discomfort in others who just want to feel good.  Consider the person who wants to prop-up someone mourning the loss of a loved one using clichés that imply that the grieving person’s grief shouldn’t be overwhelming or that it will pass away soon, and things will be better.  How much of that is their desire that the mourner actually suppress their grief in order to not make others uncomfortable?  

Suppression of genuine anguish may only lead to despair and/or anger.  Our anguish needs to breathe so that we can function in relative health despite the circumstances that cause the anguish.  Sometimes anguish needs the fellowship of others who have experienced that same anguish because they are the ones who share the road.  They are the ones who can best help us carry these crosses as we help them do the same.  Pain, like humans, is not meant to be borne alone.                      

Another way to live with grief, a way which cannot be overstated, is worship, the kind which Jesus referenced, “…in spirit and truth” (John 4:23-34).  Sincere worship redirects our focus onto God who not only sees our anguish; He enters into it with us.  Perhaps it is actually we who are drawn to enter into His anguish over the brokenness He so clearly sees.  This is a fellowship of unity of the highest order.  Whether we are drawn to Him or He to us, His perfect holiness is able to keep us from despair, from hopelessness, from anger, from self-immolation and allows us to keep moving toward Him with expectations of hope.    

Worship of the Holy and life in the Holy is the protective that keeps us afloat in the painful waters of life.  He is the corrective who will sweep away all anguish away.  In the interim, our spiritual equilibrium often requires our lament and our worship of the Most High God just because this road can be hard.

“…keeps me in the valley,

hides me from the rain…” *

* From “Our God is Awesome” by Charles Jenkins on Kingdom Business 4, 2012.  Lyrics © Kobalt Music Publishing, Ltd. 

© Byron L. Hannon.  All rights reserved unless otherwise noted.                           

It Takes More Than A Notion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It will take more than a notion. 

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

A Particularly Bad Estrangement

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

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

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

Among my recent burning questions have been: 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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