Author Archives: Byron Hannon

About Byron Hannon

I am a discipler, teacher, coach (and ordained elder) passionate about helping people move beyond the “elementary teachings about Christ” (Hebrews 6:1) to maturity and the fullness of the abundant life promised by Jesus (John 10:10) in our postmodern, post-Christian, and post-truth world

Being About Our Father’s Business

“Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too.” 

(Philippians 2:4)

For a dozen years, my spiritual vision has been heavily influenced by a passage in Isaiah 61, a passage I was “led” to several months before becoming aware that I would be offered the lead pastor role in my local church (a position I held for nine years and from which I retired 2 ½ years ago).  At the time of this “leading” I was initially unclear as to why I felt so burdened and enamored with the words, some of which Jesus quoted when He began His public ministry in Nazareth (Luke 4:14-20).  Clarity came a few months later as I began the journey of leading a church.  I would lean on the words from Isaiah through periods of joy, uncertainty and struggle; they were my north star.

One of the Isaiah’s declarations in that passage was that those who benefited from the spiritual freedom promised in the first portion of this prophecy (fulfilled in and through Jesus), would go on to become “oaks of righteousness.”  The simple meaning of this is that those who received this great blessing from GOD would, in turn, extend it to others who had the need to be blessed with this same freedom themselves.  In other words, we would “pay it forward.”

The responsibility of the believer extends beyond coming to the table to be spiritually fed (the purpose of worship, study and fellowship gatherings); it is also to do the work of serving the needs of others i.e. ministry.  Recall the words of Jesus, “…the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve…” (Mark 10:45).  That’s a principle reason for the existence of the Church, to serve others (not just ourselves or our family and close friends).  There are many, many ways to serve others, and my current responsibilities have allowed me to see some of the wonderful ways in which different church groups have taken this to heart with corps of people stepping into sometimes unfamiliar situations in order to help others.  

One way of service I believe the world needs more of is intercession.  The hardships faced by persons, societies and nations are profound.  Whether in our personal relationships or more broadly, we don’t have to look far to see calamities dancing on the horizon (or closer), just waiting to interfere with our peace.  It’s way past time for the sunsetting of the “I’m okay; you’re okay” individualistic philosophy prominent in previous decades.  A lot of people are not okay, and they are not getting better.  Who is there to stand in the gap between their need and their hope?  

In one sense, the entire biblical story is one of intercession.  Patterns of it flow throughout.  GOD Himself interceded on humanity’s behalf in the Garden.  Joseph interceded on behalf of his imperiled family who had previously done him dirty and out of them grew the people we call Israel.  Moses interceded for the newly freed and disobedient Israelites when GOD was so frustrated with them that He considered doing away with them altogether.  The Aaronic priesthood was established as an intercessory body for the benefit of GOD’s people.  Jesus’ prayer, “Father forgive them because they don’t know what they’re doing” (Luke 23:24) was an intercession on behalf of those who brutalized and crucified Him and all those who condoned His death.  Paul the Apostle tells us that even now, Jesus sits at the right hand of the Father making intercession for His people (Roman 8:34).  So, if He is doing that for us, we can do it for others.  Right? 

The Church of Jesus Christ (all Christian churches regardless of branch or denomination) was established as a priesthood of believers (1 Peter 2:9).  As priests of the Lord, we have a great opportunity and responsibility to stand in the gap that separates the deepest needs of others from their deepest hope.  Our relationship with the risen Lord enables us to be hedges of protection others need in times of difficulty and darkness and the arrow which can point them to that place (Person) in whom true and lasting freedom is found.  

This too is the work of our Father which we can be about.  Pick someone you know who desperately needs someone to pray for them and commit to doing so until GOD does something powerful in their lives.  They don’t even have to know you’re doing it.  Be an oak of righteousness for their sake.                           

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

Inner Vision

“Where there is no vision, the people are unrestrained…” (Proverbs 29:18)

This one proverb from among many in this portion of what is commonly referred to as the Bible’s wisdom literature has been ruminating in my mind for the last several days.  I suspect it’s because I perceive, more and more, a decline in moral restraint that extends to the edges of my sight’s horizons.  Fundamental rights and wrongs, as framed by a Judeo-Christian understanding, do not have the same influence they once had over personal behavior, regard for others, and in group behavior.  Notions of what is good and what is cause for shame seem to have shifted significantly, and the shift continues. 

Please, don’t misunderstand this as a plea to go back to the “good old days.” As a close friend once said, “The good old days weren’t so good for some people.” I’m referencing a biblically-based morality that views all people as equally valuable before GOD because each one carries within them His image.  

Of course, there have always been pockets of exceptions to these notions of what is inherently good and what is not, but the dominant ethos (at least in the west) generally served to corral and constrain those occasions so that they remained exceptions.  Postmodern thinking has helped to redefine that ethos so that what is moral and what is ethical is now much more flexible, as defined by each individual.  This is not a blanket condemnation of postmodernism; I think it has some very strong points.  My problem is how the postmodern mindset handles truth; its emphasis on the ideal of individualism is not and cannot be biblical.

The writer of this particular proverb was speaking of prophetic vision as revealed by GOD.  It is that inner vision of reality defined by GOD and accepted, by faith, as being completely and exclusively valid.  This inner vision often conflicts with our physical senses, i.e. underlying the need for such axioms as “We walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7). 

We see this conflict in the intense struggles of the post-exodus, pre-monarchy nation of Israel to remain faithful to GOD (ref. the Book of Judges).  What they saw in the nations around them was so appealing that they repeatedly broke covenant with GOD, the One who had rescued them and claimed them as a nation of priests dedicated to His service (in order to benefit the rest of the world).  The ancient Israelites lost restraint because they lost sight of who GOD is and replaced Him with the religion and values of the surrounding cultures.  The results: they went their own way again, and again…and again, conforming to the world around them.  And each time, it led to disaster and their need for rescue.  

This need for an inner vision of GOD as the basis for having and sustaining a covenantal relationship with Him has not changed.  It was why the later prophets preached to audiences whose ears were too often closed.  It is why we need Jesus who was the physical manifestation of that vision.  It is why everything said subsequently by the apostles and elders was an affirmation and explanation of Him.  Jesus even said, “…Apart from Me, you can do nothing” (John 15:5), meaning nothing of any value to GOD.  

In my estimation, there is a lot of nothing going on these days.  Unfortunately, what I am calling nothing is revealing itself in ways that causes damage to the self and causes damage to each other, and it flows from a lack of restraint.            

Having an inner vision of GOD is not the sole privilege of any select group.  It is meant for everyone and is available to anyone who is willing to do the work of cultivating it.  When seeds are planted, carefully watered and watched, plants grow.  Students who pay attention in class, do their homework, and read the assigned texts usually learn many things they didn’t know before.  Those who commit themselves to performing their job duties well often find that they are given more responsibility and privilege.  It’s called “putting in the time.”  GOD does not reveal Himself cheaply; we’ve got to put in the time: “If you look for Me wholeheartedly, you will find Me,” He declared (Jeremiah 29:13).  Who’s putting in the time?  Who’s seeking after GOD? 

I’m concerned by what I think is a noticeable increase in unrestrained living.  Maybe that’s just the direction humanity is taking. In that case, what responsibility do those, who claim to have the proverbial “personal relationship with Jesus Christ,” have to live with a strong inner vision of GOD that manifests itself as “salt” that is actually salty and “light” that is not hidden (Matt. 5:13-14) rather than being contributors in any way to things that are neither of GOD nor condoned by GOD?  I believe His way is clear to any who choose to know it.

You might be tempted to attribute this to my increasing age.  You know how it is said that people tend to get more conservative as they get older.  I don’t think that’s the case here.  Time will tell.  

“The only thing worse than being blind is having no vision.” (Helen Keller)

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

Wasting Steps

“Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path.” (Psalm 119:105)

Years ago when I was working in a secular role, one of my work colleagues was an older guy who had a natural gift for humor.  Ray was a natural storyteller and had a joke for just about any occasion.  One of the things he was fond of saying is that we only have a predetermined number of steps allotted to each of us and, therefore, we needed to be careful to not waste steps because once we reached the full allotment, game over.  He said it so often, it became a running joke in my mind, “Don’t waste your steps!” 

To this day whenever I find myself being inefficient in going from one room to another to retrieve something, forgetting why I had come in the first place, leaving and then remembering after I had left what I had come to get, and then having to retrace a portion of my steps, I’ll say to my wife or mutter to myself, “I’m wasting steps.”  It’s not that I believe in the determinism Ray joked about; I just don’t like walking around in circles unsure as to where I’m going or why I started walking to begin with.

The wasting of resources and the challenges to avoid waste has always been a human conundrum.  The examples of how we have done this and continue to do this are too numerous to count, whether they be human resources or the natural, non-human variety.  The idiom, “one person’s trash is another person’s treasure” suggests that things thrown away are discovered by someone else who values them so that, ultimately, they are not wasted.  That’s a nice thought, but I’m not sure it always works that way.  So when it comes to my spiritual steps (which ultimately influence every other kind I might take), wasting any is a frightful thought to me.

I’m deeply grateful that I don’t have to create my own light by which to walk (Isaiah 50:10-11); my GOD has supplied me with all the light I need to keep me from wasting steps.  Over the course of years, I have traversed His Word time and time again.  It has given me warmth during the cold seasons of life and has been a refreshing breeze against the heat of difficult days.  I have sought it for counsel in the darkness of early morning hours and meditated on it during the quiet times in which there was no urgency of need.  I have studied it, taught it, preached from it, and claimed it as my own treasure.

Wasting steps is not in my game plan.  I have a light for my feet, a light that has no beginning nor end.  I have a lamp for my pathway, a lamp that can never be extinguished for lack or oil.  And to think, it is a treasure just waiting to be valued.

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

Keep It Simple; Not Simplistic

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Celebration

Saturday, I had the privilege of speaking at an event celebrating 25 years of ministry to the neediest people in the city of Philadelphia.  This event, called Gospelrama, is an annual celebration of the work of two friends and colleagues whose vision it was (and remains) to meet as many of the core needs of people who regularly go without, and to do that on a sustained basis.  This includes the provision of food and clothing to many and trusting GOD to supply the resources that they distribute to others.  Operating on a shoestring budget, often self-funded, those resources have come steadily over 25 years, often in ways that can only be described as miraculous.  

Even in this season of Covid-19, they and their volunteers have been able to distribute an astounding amount of food  (read tons!) to hungry people and families on a daily and weekly basis through compassionate ministry partnership doors that opened to them just in time as the needs grew larger.  Because of this ministry, some who formerly needed the help have given their lives to Christ and are now serving as faithful ministry volunteers. 

Ordinarily, the near full day, outdoor Gospelrama takes place at the Philadelphia City Hall where street and homeless people converge with tourists, the lunch and bar crowd, wedding parties, skate boarders and others.  There is worshipful singing and praise dancing and proclamation from various spiritual communities, including my own denominational tribe.  Hot food and water is offered free to anyone who wants it.  This year, because of Covid-19, Gospelrama was a virtual event combined with the distribution of pre-boxed food by a group of volunteers. 

The suffix “rama” has an Indo-European origin and means a time of celebration and rejoicing.  Gospelrama is a celebration of the Gospel, the Good News of Jesus Christ who came to give life and give it in abundance (John 10:10).  It is a time set aside to rejoice over what GOD has done over the past 25 years, over the past year in particular, and what He is still able to do because His love for us endures forever, as the psalmists remind us. 

Most of what I shared Saturday was along these themes and was aimed at the unchurched crowd.  Church folks know this stuff (or should) and my interest wasn’t really them.  I wanted to speak to those who don’t believe, who aren’t ready to believe, and who are on the fence of believing to hear what GOD has already done for them and what He wants to still do for them and in them. 

But now, for those of us who don’t need that level of convincing, there is still a word of truth and a reason to rejoice and celebrate.  If the GOD of the Bible is truly GOD (I believe He is), then He is inexhaustible.  However much of Him we already have, we can have more, and I believe that is exactly His will for each of us, all of which has been provided by His Son, Jesus the Christ (You know that Christ is not His last name, right?  It’s a title meaning Messiah or Savior). 

One of the closest early followers of Jesus, a young man named John, said this about Jesus, “And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen His glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth…From His fullness we have all received, grace upon grace” (John 1:14,16).  

What we see later in John as he matures, as we see with all of the close followers of Jesus, is that His will for us is that we take on His life, absorbing His fullness into ourselves so that we, like Him become sources of grace upon grace for the sake of others (grace means favored treatment that does not depend on merit).  John says that each of us has received this grace and then more grace and then more grace and so on, not because we deserve it (we don’t), but because GOD loves us.  

Seeking and allowing the fullness of Christ to dwell within us is the abundant life offered by Jesus for it is His life, which like that of the Father, is infinite and inexhaustible.  This is what the Bible would call normal Christianity in the common language of today.

This is the truest celebration of the Gospel i.e. Gospelrama.

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

Needing to Overcome the World

“…Everything I’ve taught you is so that the peace which is in Me will be in you and will give you great confidence as you rest in Me. For in this unbelieving world you will experience trouble and sorrows, but you must be courageous, for I have conquered the world!” (John 16:33, Passion Bible)

Sometime late Saturday morning, I realized that my mind was very distracted by things I preferred not to think much about.  I found myself having imaginary conversations in my head responding to things external to me, yet impactful upon me and others.  These were not idle or flighty reflections, but burdensome concerns that weigh heavily on me.  They are concerns about separation and walls of division, resentment and anger, frustration, dreams threatened to be dashed, and more.  I was mentally heading down an increasingly an undesirable path.  In a flash, this thought came like a screen shot: I need to overcome the world, not be overcome by it.  Have you ever experienced this?  I’m so grateful the Holy Spirit does remind us of what we’ve been taught and the reality is I’ve been on the receiving end of much light and truth (John 14:26).   

I think sometimes it is easy to forget that there is a wide, wide, really, really wide gulf between the morality and the values of the kingdom of GOD and the morality and values of the kingdoms of the world.  In fact, I believe the gulf is insurmountable apart from Jesus (John 15:5).  Jesus didn’t come to reconcile the two but to reveal, with utmost clarity, the distinction between them (“Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword” (Matthew 10:34, NIV) and to be the bridge to any who wanted a place in GOD’s kingdom.   

The challenge of being in the world, but not of it is in managing the tension caused by the troubles and sorrows that plague us.  By managing, I mean not being absorbed by them, not being overwhelmed by them.  So often, they seem unmanageable, like an unstoppable steamroller, which is a source for so much of our inner stress.  We can’t stop thinking about what we know is wrong, inherently and from observation and experience, because it seems to be omnipresent.  The feeling of being absorbed and overwhelmed becomes more of a reality.  We ache for something from the world that the world cannot offer: peace, goodness, mutual courtesy and respect, righteousness, and justice.  The world sometimes even scoffs when we express these desires.  

“But you must be courageous…” It occurs to me that Jesus is saying the same thing that the Father said to Joshua as he was assuming leadership of the Israelites after the death of Moses.  The need for courage was a constant admonition to the people of GOD even as He promised them that He would be with them, i.e. be their unseen source of power and strength.  Jesus promised that He would never leave or forsake His followers; He would be a constant presence in our lives, our unseen source of power and strength.  So, if He overcame (conquered) the world, and He is a constant presence in my, your, our life/lives then, ipso facto, I, you, we too can be overcoming conquerors.

I’m thankful this gracious reminder for it refreshes my hope.  May confidence in and consciousness of Jesus be constant in your life and mind.

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

Peace

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:6-7)

It’s ironic that Paul wrote this letter to the Church at Philippi while he was imprisoned.  If there was a time to be anxious, that would have been it.  

Although Paul’s exhortation is not quite the same message as is in the song, “Don’t Worry, Be Happy,”* his words clearly speak to this tendency we humans have to be anxious about this, that, or the other thing.  Some of these things are flat-out overwhelming.  Instead of “anxious” different versions of the Bible use words like careful (e.g. full of care), fret, worry, and pulled in different directions to express the same idea.  

Instead, Paul suggests we pray, lifting our requests to GOD in gratitude, both for past needs met and in faith that current needs will be met.  Not quite what you had in mind?  What about if GOD would just make all this uncomfortable, unpleasant stuff go away?!  You ever see that actually happen?  Neither have I.   It’s just not in the cards for us, or more accurately, in His Word.  His pathway for us is different.       

How many things currently occupying your mind might be classified as an anxiety, a care, a worry, a frustration, a conflict, etc.?  I’ve got my list, and it seems to have grown rather than gotten shorter.   I’ve also discovered something that I can only describe as mystical.  The more time I spend with GOD in prayer, the more I look forward to spending time with Him.  It is a hunger that has grown with practice, and it continues to grow.  With it has come my desire to express thanks, not because I’m supposed to but because I want to, for the smallest of blessings and for the larger ones as well.  The truth is, I am incredibly blessed; I have benefitted greatly from GOD’s favor.  He has shone His face toward me (a biblical way of indicating GOD’s intent to bless) and extended grace upon grace to me.  I know it and it has become pleasing to say “Thank You.”

And there’s this other dynamic that I’m conscious of.  The fretful things that want to occupy my thoughts don’t seem to have the power they’ve had in the past.  It’s not they aren’t there; they are and sometimes the temptation to dwell on them is pronounced.  I’ve noticed, however, the presence of peace in every circumstance and this is allowing me to ‘let go’ of the temptation to fret when my natural inclination is to grasp the concern and keep it close.  

I was thinking about this experience lately, and all of a sudden the thought came to me that I was experiencing a peace that I couldn’t account for.  I’ve been experiencing that peace that is beyond (transcends) understanding.  And it’s all because I have upped my commitment to pray about the things that concern me with a heart of thanksgiving.  It does work!  Thank You, Lord.                               

“Don’t Worry, Be Happy” by Bobby McFerrin. Lyrics © BMG Rights Management, Universal Music Publishing Group. 

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

A Fire Within

That said, we cannot nor should not deny that life is full of experiences, some of which may be the cause for some degree of ecstasy and others which are soul-draining.  Jesus and Wesley experienced both and the rest of humanity shares in this dynamic.  Sometimes our hearts burn, not because of ecstasy but because we’re tired and fed-up. We feel that our limit has been reached or that we are about to reach it.  

Speak to someone with a serious chronic illness for which treatment is physically and mentally demanding and iffy in its effectiveness (or speak to their primary at-home caregiver).  Speak to a single parent with a special needs child who has to make daily choices between going to work and providing their own childcare because Covid-19 has reduced their access to support systems previously available.  Speak to someone who can’t go a day or a week at work without someone saying something sexually suggestive, even if it is disguised as a joke.  Speak to anyone for whom the sorrows and unfairness of life have plowed an unwanted row in their soul.  

You ever hear of red-hot anger?  Well, that can be a fire within, as well.  Anger and resentment can build-up, much like it did with the Jewish Zealots who used guerilla tactics against the occupying Romans in first century Palestine, as a violent expression of their frustration (I wonder what the conversations were like between Jesus and Simon the Zealot, one of His named disciples).             

In the gospel account named after him, Luke (Luke 24) tells the story of two disciples of Jesus who were walking on the road to Emmaus, a village seven miles from Jerusalem.  This was after the Lord’s resurrection of which they were not aware.  Their conversation reflected the melancholy of their mood; they were deeply sad.  Only one of them is named (Cleopas) which causes me to wonder if Luke was the other man on the scene and his writing choice was to use a third-person voice to disguise his presence.

Jesus appeared to them, walking along with them, although these two men did not recognize Him.  Jesus asked them why they were so down, and they told Him the story of the events that had occurred in Jerusalem three days earlier.  Even after He explained how the Christ had to suffer and die and after sharing a meal with them, He went unrecognized by them.  It was only when He broke bread and gave it to them that Luke tells us “their eyes were opened” and Jesus vanished from their sight.  The shared testimony of these two men was this: Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?” (v.32, NIV).  I particularly like the way the The Message Bible records this, “Didn’t we feel on fire as He conversed with us…?”

The presence and words of Jesus can have this effect on those who hunger for Him, and it’s clear that these men had that hunger even before seeing Him for who He was.  Anglican priest, John Wesley, generally considered the founder of Methodism, once said that his heart felt “strangely warmed” after listening to someone read a famous preface to the Paul’s Letter to the Romans which spoke of the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ.1. I tend to think this experience is not all that uncommon among those who seek Him, but I need to acknowledge that feeling this way is an experience.  Both Jesus and Wesley were careful to place religious experiences in context2.  Neither made experience the primary means of evaluating or responding to life.    

The uses of fire are varied.  Fire heats and it purifies.  It provides light, but it can also consume and destroy.  It can transfix (ever stare into one?) and it transforms, making room for new growth.  An important question for all of us is when our hearts are aflame, when there is a fire within, what is that fire’s source and what is its purpose?  

For many, experiences are being encountered at a furious and seemingly overwhelming pace.  Whether they are experiences of ecstasy or experiences of sorrow, we can choose to not allow experiences alone to define us or guide us.  Let there be a fire within and let it grow into something which glorifies the One who enflames it and blesses those who feel its heat and sees its light.

  1. Journal of John Wesley, Chapter 2, May 24, 1737. Christian Classics Ethereal Library. http://www.ccel.org

2. To Thomas: “Then Jesus told him, Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed’” (John 20:29). Wesley stated, in what is commonly called his “Quadrilateral,” that the basis for spiritual reflection is, first and foremost, Scripture and then, in order, tradition, reason, and experience.

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

 

Indivisibility

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

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

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

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

Here’s one of those foundation stones:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Don’t Just Do Something; Stand There

But those who wait for Yahweh’s grace
    will experience divine strength.
    They will rise up on soaring wings and fly like eagles,
    run their race without growing weary,
    and walk through life without giving up. 

(Isaiah 40:31)

I have a confession.  There are times when I want to do something to shake things up because I’m dissatisfied and frustrated with how things are.  Sometimes its people I want to shake.  More often than not, the urge is to react to problematic states of existence that have no tangible or fixed centers.  Nevertheless, these things are irritants like swarms of gnats that buzz around my head and follow me wherever I go.  The difference is that I can escape the gnats.  The stuff I’m talking about is stuff I can’t get away from.  Most days, my adaptive ability enables me to ignore these feelings or push them aside…but then there are the days when I’m enveloped by them and want/need to do something!  I know these feelings aren’t unique to me; I’ve spoken to too many people to believe that.

For as long as I can remember, a popular response to unsatisfying, disruptive and otherwise negative circumstances has been, “Don’t just stand there, do something!”  Be decisive.  Take action.  I’m sure you’ve heard somewhere along the line, “Any action is better than no action, even if its wrong.”  I never quite got the logic of that.  Still, it’s a mantra for some.

The desire to take action is what I often feel the urge for, swift, direct, decisive action.  Then the questions become, “what actions” and “directed toward what issues?”  I don’t want to be out there flailing at the wind in frustration or emoting my own version of the primal scream, nor do I want to be less gracious than the grace I have received.  What to do?  What shall I do?

Did you ever consider the fact that commandments are for a designated audience: those who have chosen or have been chosen to serve.  They are the only ones who obey commands.  Think about who gives commands: leaders invested with the authority to command.  The commands they give only apply to the people who are under their authority.  Everyone else goes their own way and does whatever they want to do.

As one who chose to serve and who was later called to serve even beyond anything I ever anticipated (I’m still scratching my head over it), I can’t make up responses to life’s challenges from whatever list of options I prefer; there are commands I have been given.  As the Roman Centurion said to a pleased Jesus, “I am a man under authority” (Matt. 8:9).

And so, I step back and pull out my orders and remind myself of what they say.  Here’s a sample pack of ten:

  1. Love GOD…Deuteronomy 6:5; Matthew 22:37
  2. Love my neighbor…Leviticus 19:18; Matthew 22:39
  3. Do not allow anger to lead to sin…Psalm 37:8
  4. Be still and know that He is GOD…Psalm 46:10
  5. Trust in the Lord…Proverbs 3:5-6
  6. Wait on the Lord…Isaiah 40:31
  7. Believe in Jesus…John 11:25
  8. Be unified with the Son and the Father…John 17:21
  9. Wear my soldier’s armor… Ephesians 6:10-17
  10. Cast all my cares on GOD…1 Peter 5:7

Although my enlistment is lifetime and full-time, it’s often very tempting to go off-script and do and say something that I would hope would shake things up.  What I’ve discovered, however, is following the commands calms my emotions, instills greater discipline, opens-up avenues of grace, imparts wisdom and creates pathways not previously evident or existing. And there’s the added benefit of not having to explain why I ignored a command.

Don’t just do something; stand there may appear passive to some, particularly when the irritants are like swarms of gnats that you can’t rid yourself of.  But if the purpose of standing there enables the voice of GOD to come through all the more clear because His is not blocked by our felt need to do something, then it is the right stance.  Who knows, He may just say, “Here’s what I want you to do.”  He’s done it plenty of times before.

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