Category Archives: Discipleship

An Ode to a Friend

“Better is one day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere; I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of the wicked.” (Psalm 84:10)

 One of my early mentors in the faith, at a surface level, didn’t quite look the part. He was rough-hewn, having lived a hard and sometimes coarse life. Quite frankly, he and I probably would have never mixed company had Jesus not gotten hold of both of us. He actually said that to me in a much more colorful way than I can express here. He didn’t say it for effect; it was his confession to someone he barely knew at the time. It was a big risk on his part. I know now that GOD used this to break through some of the walls I had built around me.

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In the earliest part of my faith walk, he and I would meet frequently. Sometimes it was in the church parking lot after everyone else had gone home. Often, it was at a nearby fast food place (think golden arches) where we would find a back booth, late at night, drinking coffee and talking. Those discipling times helped me a great deal. My friend is long gone now and is with the Lord, but I still miss him.

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As he grew older, the physical toll of hard living prevented him from doing much in the church. Even walking from one end of the building to the other put stress on his lungs weakened by emphysema. He still, however, had a desire to serve; and our pastor gave him the job of being the doorkeeper. When people would enter and exit, he would hold the door for them. He always met folks with a smile or something to say that made them laugh as went about his job. At the end of Sunday worship, as people were leaving, he also had the responsibility to make sure all the lights were turned off before he left. He treated these roles seriously because he believed this was the best service could offer GOD.

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Doorkeepers aren’t usually considered high profile, high impact roles in any setting. Doorkeepers in upscale city housing units often stand outside, in various conditions of weather, waiting to open the door for incoming residents. Doorkeepers don’t typically view or participate in the action on the inside of whatever building they’re attending…they’re busy watching and tending the door.

When I first read the poem, “I Stand by the Door,”* I was reminded of my friend whose spirit so resembled the heart of the poem. It speaks of the many who are so sensitive to the needs of people searching for a faith to which they can give themselves (but perhaps without knowing what they are seeking), that being available to point seekers to Jesus (holding the door for them) is more important than enjoying the other fruits of the faith. Doorkeepers don’t want anyone to walk by the door of entrance without being invited to come in to “taste and see that the Lord is good” (Psalm 34:8).

My friend was such a man. Even in his last days, he was thinking of people who needed to be encouraged to enter the door, and sought them out on the chance they would allow him to offer them an invitation. That’s who he was. He was a doorkeeper in the house of the Lord, and I was greatly blessed to be one of those for whom he held the door.

 

* “I Stand at the Door,” Samuel Moor Shoemaker, A Guide to Prayer for Ministers and Other Servants, Nashville, TN: The Upper Room, 1983, pp. 305-307. The poem is also available online.

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

A Rhythm Not of Man

“Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth.” (Psalm 46:10)

 

Many mornings I pray seated directly across from this scene I can only ask you to imagine: a credenza on which sits an Amish fireplace, several houseplants on both sides, and a candle holder that reminds me (and the saint who gifted it to me) of the symbolic oak tree of righteousness mentioned in Isaiah 61. Seated in front of the fireplace is the sign “BE STILL & KNOW.”  It holds center place and is unavoidable.  It speaks to me of a rhythm unnatural to me, and certainly not of my making.

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In recent months because of vocational changes (and increasing age), I’ve become more sensitive to my own rhythms of life. I’m trying, as best I can, to be considerate about what gets my attention.  If I’m not careful, I can easily let my plate become filled with  responsibility…and I’m supposed to be “semi-retired.”  Sometimes the opportunities for ministry just call, and I have to be careful to discern whether that is GOD’s call or my own tendency to see a void and try to fill it.

I DON’T NEED TO CARPE SOMEONE ELSE’S DIEM 

In addition to the things within my control, there are the things beyond my control that grab my attention. Some of them cause upset, inner disturbance, frustration and anger; and I want to do something about it and can’t.  There is a temptation to simmer and stew as a result of this inability, to allow what’s inside to grow and fester.  There is a temptation to express the depth of my feeling, and that’s not necessarily a good thing.

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But then I’m reminded about the cost of discipleship. “For you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies” (1 Cor. 6:20, NIV). “God paid a high price for you, so don’t be enslaved by the world” (1 Cor. 7:23, NLT).     

Sometimes, we need reminders to slow down and release the reigns. That includes slowing down enough to recall (and even celebrate) that the reign of GOD and His victory is sure.  That is the essence of Psalm 46.  Even in a tumultuous world where responsibilities never seem to end or where emotions can rage and confusion and uncertainty seem omnipresent, we are secure in our position in GOD through Jesus Christ.   We don’t (I don’t) need to always be in the business of “fixing” things.  The connotation of “Be still and know” is to cease from striving and fretting over the tumult around us that seems far beyond our control, relax a little, and recognize (recall, grasp, experience) that GOD really is GOD.  Things may look out-of-control, but they only look that way.

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Our greatest responsibility and need is to find our center in Him rather than in the swirling world that seems a constant presence. We can only find our center in Him by the discipline of letting go of the world and the things in it that would otherwise consume us, and reattaching ourselves to Him in the quiet of stillness.  This is not GOD’s permission to be irresponsible or lazy; it is more akin to when Jesus instructed His disciples to “come ye apart” (Mark 6:31) for a time of rest away from the press of constant responsibility and constant challenge.  In stillness we fine rest; in knowing we find strength.

This is a rhythm not of man. We had to be instructed to take a Sabbath rest; and many still struggle with it, viewing it as wasted, unproductive time.  Others I know are put-off by their difficulty keeping their thoughts from running rampant and interfering with any attempts at stillness.  And yet I believe that true knowing of GOD requires times of purposeful stillness, and therefore is a habit worth cultivating no matter the challenges or the ways it bumps-up against our other habits or preferences.  It is, after all, a GOD-ordained rhythm of life.

 

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

 

 

Slippin’ Into Darkness

“All the water in all the oceans cannot sink a ship unless it gets inside.”(Eugene Peterson)2

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My first thoughts on reading Eugene Peterson’s statement were first, that’s an incredibly amazing declaration given all the water in all of the oceans of the world; second, the 40-days/nights journey that carried Noah, his family and the animals of the Earth were dependent on this very truth; and finally, the old fisherman’s prayer: “O, God, Thy sea is so great and my boat is so small,” the recollection of which always causes me to marvel at how much of an abyss life can be apart from GOD’s sustaining, keeping grace.

The fact is that all of our boats are small compared to the size of the bodies of water in which they sail, even the 5,000 passenger cruise ship I was on several months ago.  It was like a tiny pin in a vastness of water.  For that reason, it has always been essential that water be kept out of the boat so that it can stay afloat and arrive at its various destinations, including returning to its original port.  As one of my Bible college professors would say, that’ll preach.

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Imagine that your life, your Christian life specifically, is the boat and the world (its systems and value) is this great ocean that extends far, far beyond what you’re able to see. This world/ocean is what you see and experience each and every day, all day. Continually you make choices to flow with or against the currents of the world/ocean as you cruise toward a destination.  You navigate in both the calm and in the storms that come your way.  There are some things that this world/ocean offers you that are of great benefit to you, and there are some things that would be detrimental to you if you allowed them to enter your life and remain (i.e. water in your boat).  If they do enter, you begin to experience listing (becoming unbalanced; leaning to one side).  Listing might cause you to sail around in circles rather than a straight course.  At the least, it will slow your progress.  The more from the world that enters your “boat,” the more likely your course will be disrupted and you wind-up arriving at a place you had no intention of going.  Too much of the world will spiritually sink you.

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The challenge you face daily is to take full advantage of the good the world offers (remember, it’s not so bad a place that GOD doesn’t love it, sustain it, and seek its redemption) and to keep the bad things (anything antithetical to Christ) out so that you can remain afloat rather than sinking, and arrive at your destination according to GOD’s will for you. Luke 4:1-13 is a good illustration of this.  Jesus, following His baptism, was led into the wilderness by the Holy Spirit where He was tempted by the devil in three different ways over the course of 40 days:

  1. The temptation to turn a stone into bread to satisfy His bodily hunger;
  2. The temptation to immediately ruler over all the kingdoms of the earth in exchange for worshipping Satan; and,
  3. The temptation to test the goodness and faithfulness of GOD by throwing Himself off the pinnacle of the Temple in Jerusalem

Had Jesus yielded to any one of these (allowed them to enter Him), He would not have accomplished His mission on earth, that is ushering in the kingdom of GOD and providing for our redemption.  Had Jesus yielded, He would have “slipped into darkness” in the parlance of the 1970s soul/funk band, War.

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Those same temptations have their equivalents for each of us.  Don’t forget, Jesus gave us a specific mission/course before He left (see Matthew 28:19-20 if needed), one that requires a tightly sealed boat/life.

We can substitute satisfying physical desires for stones and bread.  Now, not all physical desires are bad, and some are absolutely essential for physical life to continue.  We need safety, shelter, food and water.  We even need medications from time-to-time.  We need to reproduce.  But each legitimate physical desire has its proper use in the course of time (take time to read Isaiah 58 which explains why GOD asks us to sacrifice eating every now and then to devote ourselves to fasting).   And then, an obvious reality is that some physical desires are clearly spiritually illegitimate.

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We can substitute self-satisfying ego expressions, personal ambition, and impatience in place of immediately ruling all the kingdoms of the world rather than waiting on GOD and following the course He lays out.  The unchecked or even partially checked desire for status, titles, elevation, and money, or to be admired, to look good in front of others are all things which may cause our boats to list, slow our progress, and even redirect our course away from that which we were directed to pursue.  It may even call into question whether we are worshipping GOD or ourselves.

We can substitute lacking/loosing faith in the goodness and faithfulness of GOD in place of throwing ourselves off a high pinnacle to see if He will send angels to catch us. This oldie, but baddie worked in the Garden of Eden and it is still effective now, particularly when we or those we are close to are discouraged due to extended periods of difficulty or suffering (which happens to all of us).  Our great spiritual enemy wants us to question GOD’s love for us and perceive Him as arbitrary and fickle in His dealing with us so that we lose hope.  The result is we have only ourselves and the other influences in our lives that are not GOD as our anchor and rudder.

All of us are targets for these temptations, and any one or a combination of these three can cause us to be cast adrift or even sink in the realm of faith. Instead of being vessels of hope for the sake of others, our “slippin’ into darkness” results in us offering nothing more than what the rest of the world already offers because we’ve become pretty much like the rest of the world as we gradually lose possession of what we once vigorously professed – Christ.

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These are temptations to which we need not yield, but we always need to be on guard. They faced Jesus, and we can never be above them.  And if we have yielded, we need to grab the spiritual bucket and start bailing out that which doesn’t belong.  Rather than “slippin’ into darkness,” we let’s walk/sail in the light (1 John 1:7).  That way, we can sail along and be about our Father’s business.

  1. Slipping Into Darkness on the album All Day Music by WAR recorded in 1971 on the United Artists label.
  2. Eugene Peterson, A Long Obedience in the Same Direction, p.43.

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

A Divine Balancing Act

“…Many people saw the signs He was performing and believed in His name.  But Jesus would not entrust Himself to them, for He knew all people.  He did not need any testimony about mankind, for He knew what was in each person.” (John 2:23-25)

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I’ve become, over the years, more and more aware of the different verbal affects (displays) people use when speaking. Two affects many people use are “um” and “ah,” as a means of collecting their thoughts before proceeding.  Two other common ones are ending a sentence with “you know?” or “you know what I mean?”  My late grandson couldn’t get through a paragraph of words without saying, “you feel me?”  Another one that has recently crossed my radar is the use of the word “dope” to describe something good or positive, as in “that’s dope.”  I usually hear this one from people considerably younger than me.  That’s good (or dope) I guess.  It means I’m close enough to some that I get to hear them say it.

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A very common verbal affect is saying “trust me” at the end of a sentence. Most affects don’t bother me, but for some reason, this one does.  I sometimes have to work at not being cynical; and in the spirit of transparency I probably do a better job of hiding it most of the time rather than not feeling some degree of it at all.  But when someone concludes their statement by saying “trust me” sometimes I just want to ask them “why?”  It’s at this point that my wife would say, “You’re just being a smart a__!”  It’s not that I don’t trust them (usually); it’s more about wanting them to not feel the need to verbally solicit trust.  Let your statement stand on its own.  Am I being a curmudgeon?  Probably.  I don’t mean to be, so just put this one in my category of pet peeves.  You’ve got yours too, so don’t judge me too harshly.

Do you find it curious that Jesus was able to fully love those whom He didn’t trust? How great a thing that is!  In a divine balancing act, Jesus’ agapē for those who believed in Him on the basis of the signs and wonders He showed them was not at all hindered by His innate knowledge that He couldn’t entrust Himself to them.  If anyone had said to Him, “trust me,” His response might have been along the lines of “No, I won’t.”  Nevertheless, He still loved them enough to die for them.  That’s an amazing love!  Pretty dope isn’t it?

A new and different dynamic arose following Jesus’ resurrection, ascension, and the Pentecostal outpouring of the Holy Spirit. His authentic followers (those saved by grace through faith, made new from the inside-out, no longer under the dominion of sin, and filled with His Spirit) were entrusted with the next stage of His mission, making disciples wherever we go, teaching them to obey everything He taught and baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:19-20).  We’re still in that missional stage, and a big question for us is can we love those (our neighbors, in the parlance of Scripture) in whom we cannot yet place our trust?  Is the power at work within you and I (Ephesians 3:20) powerful enough to enable us to enter into the divine balancing act of the Father and the Son?

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We live in a complex and often confusing world that seems to be growing in complexity and adding confusion by the day.  Even in a general, secular sense, mutual trust seems to be diminishing as fractures in social structures and previous assumptions grow.  What is more needed now than the good news of Jesus Christ and His kingdom?  And how can that message be conveyed unless we, His Church, take seriously what He said we are to be and do?  By taking on the responsibility of and entering into His divine balancing act do we demonstrate we are worthy of His trust.

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

Holy Friends

“The next day we landed at Sidon; and Julius, in kindness to Paul, allowed him to go to his friends so they might provide for his needs.” (Acts 27:3)

I am extremely blessed because I have friends. They are not just people with whom I have a general affinity; they are also people who, because of their intense desire to be holy people (spiritually clean, dedicated to GOD’s exclusive use, and empowered to live that way), spur me on each and every day to be the same. There was a time when I would have laughed at the suggestion that this was the life for me, no less that I would have friends who fit this profile. The fact that my outlook has changed so much is due strictly to the grace of GOD. I’m not laughing anymore, at least not at that.

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In the movie, Tombstone,* there is a poignant scene in which Doc Holiday, a seemingly unrepentant gambler, drinker, and gun slinger who is dying from tuberculosis, refers to Wyatt Earp as his friend after he and a small group of others, including Earp, survive an ambush. Another man in the group says, “Oh hell, I have lots of friends.” Holiday replies, in an obvious air of pathos, “I don’t.” I’ve seen that movie more times than I have fingers, and I never fail to be moved by that exchange. We all need friends; they serve a needed purpose in our lives. To be lacking in friends is its own kind of poverty.

In the verse quoted above, Paul has been temporarily released by his Roman custodian to go to his friends for a time so that they can care for his needs. I’m sure Paul’s needs included physical rest, decent food, maybe minor medical care, other material assistance, and most certainly, encouragement in the face of trials. In the KJV Bible translation, all of that is summed up with the term “refresh,” as in make fresh again. I like that word. That’s what my holy friends do for me. Just being in their presence, watching them, talking with them, listening to them, and praying with them refreshes me. Even when they experience difficulties in their lives, I see them endure with such transparency and perseverance to know they will one day wear the victor’s crown. They make me want to be a stronger Christian. They refresh me. My prayer is that I offer something similar to them.

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Thinking back on the storyline in Tombstone, it appears that Doc Holiday’s friendship with Wyatt Earp was relatively short-lived and was made intense because of the dangerous circumstances they faced. I don’t know that to be true (it is a movie portrayal, after all), but the possibility makes me wonder, who refreshes people like him? Who refreshes the lonely, the friendless? I believe when GOD said, “It is not good for man to be alone” (Genesis 2:18), the broader context (beyond the needed creation of Eve) spoke to the relational needs we all have, and His desire that we have them, both vertically and horizontally, with Him and with others.

We all need friends, and every Christian need holy friends. Thanks to you who are mine. You refresh me.

* Tombstone was produced by Hollywood Pictures and Cinergi Pictures and was released in December 1993.

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

In Eternity Now

     “See then that you walk circumspectly, not as fools but as wise, redeeming the time.        (Ephesians 5:15-16)

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“We’ve codified our existence to bring it down to human size; to make it comprehensible, we’ve created a scale so we can forget its unfathomable scale.” This quote is from Lucy1, a 2014 movie about an ordinary woman whose brain function, through a series of circumstances not of her doing, increases from 20% to 100% of capacity over the course of a few days after a very large amount of a drug substance is absorbed by her body.  In the associated scene, her brain is nearing 100% capacity and she is explaining the concept of time to a group of scientists who had been researching the limits of the human brain. She framed it for them as the foundational unit around which all earthy activity functions. According to her, everything that occurs is attached to the time in which it occurs. Everything we do is attached to the time in which we do it. The Teacher in Ecclesiastes would seem to agree (Eccl. 3:17).

“To everything there is a season,
A time for every purpose under heaven”  (Eccl. 3:1)

Imagine there was no such thing as a sun or a moon to guide when we are active and when we sleep, to make crops grow or determine how sea waves function. Imagine the non-existence of clocks, watches, schedules, and appointment times. Imagine there was no way to measure a minute, hour, day, month, year, decade, century, or millennium. Imagine no annual seasons: fall, winter, spring or summer because there would be no such thing as annual. Lucy might have been on to something. Our living cannot be disassociated from time; we are bound to it and by it.

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Now, try to imagine life in eternity where there will be no need for the sun or the moon because The city [New Jerusalem] does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp” (Rev. 21:23). Time will not be needed; it will have no use. It will be replaced by GOD, Himself. Think about the fourth verse of Amazing Grace: When we’ve been there ten thousand years…”2, an obvious allusion to infinite, intimate presence in the presence of our infinite GOD.

Frankly, it’s very difficult for me to get a firm grasp on such things; I think that’s a large part of the faith challenge. It’s one of the reasons Paul instructs us to redeem the time that we do have; our time here is a temporary, GOD-given gift. One of the ways we can redeem that gift is to think of and live as eternity being a continuum we are already in rather than something that begins only after we die. Dom Helder Camara (a deceased Brazilian Roman Catholic Archbishop) said, “[Eternity] starts here and now because it is here and now that we build an eternal life.”3

Our time here clearly constrains us in many ways, but viewed correctly through the teaching of the Apostles, it is a gift that leads us to see ourselves in eternity now. That is consistent with the idea of having the “mind of Christ” (Philippians 2:5), for He always took the long view. The question for all of us, then, is how are we using our time in the here and now…you know: this part of eternity?

 

  1. Lucy, produced and distributed by EuropaCorp, released in 2014.
  2. John Newton, Amazing Grace (1773). In the public domain.
  3. Dom Helder Camara, quoted in Soul Care (March 6, 2019). Church of the Nazarene, Lenexa, KS, 2018.

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

Slow Healing Wounds

“…Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are Mine.
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire,
you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze.  For I am the Lord your God…” – Isaiah 43:1-3

I cut my hand a couple of months ago. I was washing dishes, and a glass broke in my hand.  I felt the sting of the cut, and saw a small stream of blood mixing in with the soapy water.  It was a small cut, about a ¼ inch in length, but that sucker hurt.  I put Neosporin® on it after the bleeding stopped and kept it bandaged for more than a week.

I can barely see the scar now, but one thing I noticed is how long it’s taken for it to stop hurting. Every time I bumped it against some surface or intentionally touched it, I was reminded of cut. The site epidermis looked pretty normal, but the inside of the cut area still hurt, and did so for weeks.  It’s just been recently that I’ve noticed the hurt is gone.

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When I was very young (7 or 8), I jumped off the top of a playground sliding board. I’m not sure why I did it.  I can’t remember if it was because others were doing it or in response to a dare.  The ground surface was rough asphalt.  When I hit ground, I fell on my side and ripped a gash the size of a 50 cent coin a few inches above my hip.  I ran home crying in pain with blood on my shirt.  My dad took a look at the wound and decided to clean it out with rubbing alcohol.  I think I screamed when he did it.  Sixty years later, I still have the scar as a reminder, but the pain is nearly a forgotten memory.

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I think our soul wounds tend to follow the pattern of the first example more than the second. Our outside may appear to be perfectly normal, particularly to those who are unfamiliar with our history.  And often our inside may have reached a relatively calm following the passage of time, allowing us to forget (or at least pushed to the very rear of our consciousness).  It’s when someone or something triggers a reminder of what caused the wound that we may feel that inside pain all over again.  Years, even decades may pass, and yet those little (and sometimes big) nicks and slices we’ve suffered, though invisible to others, come back to haunt and torment us from time to time.  I’ve  experienced this, know that I am not alone.  I have heard the testimonies of too many people (often unaware that they were doing so) to deny this reality.

One of the best things I’ve experienced in Christ is the freedom that comes from acknowledging past hurts, mostly to myself, but sometimes to trusted others as well. Acknowledgement doesn’t mean that the hurtful memory totally disappears, but that I don’t have to be captive to it.  I can recognize it, call it for what it is, and move on in the confidence that Jesus has redeemed it (along with the rest of me) and the Father will be glorified by it when I offer it in faith.  Most of the time, I’m not sure how He will do this, but He has shown me enough in past for me to trust Him with the rest.  I am His, and give Him my all, including the bumps, bruises, and cuts that life throws.

Jesus, He meets you where you are
Jesus, He heals your secret scars
All the love you’re longing for is Jesus
The friend of a wounded heart.2

  1. Quote from Alexandra Eva May, https://www.thesplendidpath.com/home
  2. Chorus: Friend of a Wounded Heart by Wayne Watson. Copyright held by Word Entertainment LLC, A Curb Company. 25 Music Square West, Nashville, TN 37203

© Byron L. Hannon, 2019. All rights reserved for all other text content.