Category Archives: Discipleship

9.11.01 and Now

“GOD opposes the proud but favors the humble.” (Proverbs 3:34)

   Like most who were adults on September 11, 2001, I remember exactly where I was, what I was doing, and the sequence of events that constituted my day that day.  The horrific manner in which so many lives were lost was an incomparable experience for most of my generation and younger generations old enough to be aware of what had taken place. The physical and psychological boundaries of this nation had been penetrated.

Not surprisingly, houses of worship all over the nation were packed the following weekend as people mourned, sought comfort and, perhaps, confronted their own mortality.  Like most funeral and memorial services (and these gatherings were memorial services in the truest sense), the one-time visitors to these worship houses ceased attending once their immediate needs were met and places of worship settled back into their normal routines.

Annual anniversary remembrances have become the norm and here we are, 20 years later, having just done the same.  History, the good and the bad, needs to be remembered.  The people who died,  the spouses and children who suddenly experienced the loss of a wife, a husband, a mom, a dad, the first responders who sacrificed themselves, and those who subsequently died or have become incapacitated because of injuries or related illnesses should be remembered, not just in ceremonies but in tangible, material support for the survivors.

And…we need to be careful to not dirty-up the history by mythologizing it.  Myths can be an incredibly attractive ways of viewing the past, using rose-colored glasses to see only the positive and to hide/avoid the negative about ourselves and only the negative about others.  A result is self-aggrandizement.  The myths of a nation can have the same effect so that acknowledging and thinking only about the good-feeling parts of history can lead to over-inflated national pride and an attitude of hegemony rather than humility.  Hiding what we do not wish to see is nothing but a form of repression which will eventually bear its dangerous thorns.

As we remember history, let’s remember it in a way that is fair and true, and toss the rose-colored glasses away.  Our future depends on it.     

For it was GOD who created all nations. He determined when they should rise and fall and their boundaries (Acts 17:26).

© Byron L. Hannon, 2021.  All rights reserved to text content unless otherwise noted. 

A Great Labor

Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me” (Jesus speaking, Matthew 16:24)

Today is Labor Day (in the U.S.), a holiday honoring the American labor movement and the works and contributions of laborers to the development and achievements of the nation.  The monuments of blue-collar labor are visible in the homes we live in, the food we eat, the streets and highways we drive on, the bridges we cross, the buildings many of us work in, and on and on.  

Physical labor is hard.  It demands strength, stamina, the mental toughness to keep at it over long periods of time, and the commitment to do the job well.  Relatively few do this work…but we are all dependent on those who do.    

Carrying a cross is blue-collar spiritual work.  This teaching by Jesus confronts the fallacy of “cheap” grace as it He explicitly identifies the chief demand on anyone who is sincere about committing to Him.  The cross is to be carried on one’s back more than it is a gold chain around one’s neck.  To carry it requires moral strength, spiritual stamina, the mental toughness to keep at it over a lifetime, and a commitment to doing the job well which is to glorify Him before all of heaven and earth.   

The cross is an instrument of death and love: death of self and self-rule and love for GOD and others (whether they know Him or not).  It is a constant reminder of the sacrificial life into which we have entered.  Facing the cross, therefore, is not be a one-time conversion experience; the Holy Spirit will always draw the committed back and then back again to be reminded that we are not our own, that we have been bought with a price (1 Corinthians 6:20).  We face the cross over and over again and carry it so that the remnants of self can be crucified and to continually recommit to the job of being living sacrifices (Romans 12:1). 

This is a great and wonderful labor.  Thank you to all who have borne it in days past.  May those who bear it now find rest and glory in Him.  For everyone else, the invitation to join is still there.                   

© Byron L. Hannon, 2021.  All rights reserved to text content unless otherwise noted.    

A Tutor, Not An Anchor

“Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:13-14)

Having just experienced another birthday, I found myself reliving a series of memories.  They were mostly disconnected and some of them went far back into my childhood.  Most were pleasant and others, not so much.  I don’t know what prompted my mind to walk these mental pathways with such intensity of feeling, but I recall thinking that I was watching a video of my life and that I needed to turn it off and go on living.

I don’t know much about boats, but I do know that the anchor serves an important purpose.  It holds the boat in place, keeping it from drifting.  Even a concerted effort to force a boat forward without lifting the anchor will only result in dragging the anchor, hindering the boat’s forward movement and preventing it from attaining optimum forward speed.  Anchors are heavy for a reason.  

We are not boats and yet our pasts can sometime function as anchors, making it difficult to move forward.  Failing to come to grips with unpleasant parts of our past, we are often stuck, like a boat with the anchor down, allowing the weight of those memories to keep us from living in the present.  Even good memories, if we idolize them, can do the same thing.  We can hold onto these memories longer than is healthy when we prefer them to our present. Our growth is chronological, but our emotional lives (and sometimes our behaviors) are holding on to the pleasantness of years-old and decades-old experiences.  Either way, we are not fully in the present, and we can’t move forward from points in past. 

We can’t deny or change our past (the parts we like as well as the parts we don’t like), but we shouldn’t be captives to them either, voluntarily or involuntarily.  Captives of the past cannot move on to maturity.  Using the past as a tutor seems to me to be a better use.  What can we learn from the past?  How can I use the past rather than past using me?  My past is a part of me, but I don’t want it to define my present nor my future. 

Let’s leverage the past for our benefit.  That may mean purposely taking quiet reflection time periodically (maybe with some prayer added in).  For some, it also may mean getting some help from someone skilled in this.  This is not a bad thing.     

Maybe the mark or calling to which you are pressing is different than mine, but we can only press on to maturity if we lift the anchor and store it in its proper place so that it does not function as a drag on our progress.  Take care of yourself.  There’s not another one of you out there.  

© Byron L. Hannon, 2021.  All rights reserved to text content unless otherwise noted.                       

Refreshing

“Your love has given me great joy and encouragement, because you, brother, have refreshed the hearts of the Lord’s people.” (Philemon 1:7)

I received an unexpected blessing yesterday.  I had just spoken at a church, filling-in for a pastor on sabbatical, and was on my way to visit an old friend who had been hospitalized.  

I say old friend because I’ve known him since the third grade.  We now live in adjoining towns, connecting infrequently as often happens in life.  It’s one of those relationships where we enjoy each other’s company for a bit, not see or speak to each other for weeks or months other than an occasional text or direct message, and then when we do see each other, we pick up conversation easily.

It’s common for me, as a member of the clergy, to go into hospitals (at least prior to Covid being at its height and no one was allowed in the hospitals other than patients and staff).  This visit, on the surface, seemed like so many I had done before.  Once I entered his room and we starting catching-up, however, we could just as easily have been in a park or standing on a street corner hanging out or having lunch someplace, aside for when the nurse came in the room to check his vitals.

He is and has long been a deeply committed believer with a son who is a pastor so it was natural for our conversation to take a spiritual turn.  In fact, he was the one who initiated that turn.  It was a relaxed and natural conversation in which we were encouraging and refreshing each other in the Spirit.  At one point, I said to him that I was receiving much more from him than whatever I was giving to him…and I was in a good frame of mind when I walked into his room.   Still, I was deeply blessed.

I’m used to being with all kinds of people, people of different origins, ethnicities, races, educational backgrounds, economic status, philosophical orientation, and belief systems, including those who would say they have no particular belief system (not true; everyone does).  It comes with the territory of what I do.  Still, like I wrote a few weeks ago, I am most at home when in the presence of those whose hearts belong to Jesus.  I was at home in that hospital room with my friend and my brother in the Lord.  So grateful; so refreshed.            

© Byron L. Hannon, 2021.  All rights reserved to text content unless otherwise noted.  

The Shrubbery Parable

There is a flower and shrubbery bed outside of my kitchen window.  In it are several kinds of shrubs and flowers that are well tended by the landscapers of our condo association.  One of the shrubs has attracted my attention because it doesn’t seem to be thriving like the others nearby.  

Nearly every day, as I sit at our kitchen table and look out the window, I notice how half the branches are in full leaf with new buds forming, while the remaining half of the branches have no leaves at all.  It’s as if they’re two different plants…except they’re not.  Something is keeping the full plant from blooming.  This plant is only half alive.

I look at it day by day and recall that Jesus frequently used plant life to illustrate healthy and unhealthy spiritual life. On one occasion He said, “[GOD] cuts off every branch of Mine that doesn’t produce fruit, and He prunes the branches that do bear fruit so they will produce even more” (John 15:2, NLT).

The Scriptures, which Jesus used to underscore spiritual wisdom, occasionally talk about the importance of having “eyes that see and ears that hear” because invisible truths are often made evident by the visible, things like shrubberies and fruit trees.  The key is that we are keen to discern and react to these truths when we see them before us.  It may be that they are here for more than pleasant scenery, but to teach us important lessons about our own lives.  

May we all have eyes that see and ears that hear.

© Byron L. Hannon, 2021.  All rights reserved to text content unless otherwise noted. 

Words That Reverberate

Most of the people I know can pinpoint things they have read or which someone has said to them that impacts them at a visceral level.  Mr. Gerald Prater, my 8th grade homeroom and social studies teacher, told me he was going to intellectually emancipate me.  I was 13.  Here is it 57 years later and I remember it as if I was just standing in his classroom.  I’m sure you have memory of another’s words which still reverberate in your mind, irrespective of the time passed. 

Earlier this week I came across a statement, “God calls us not to solitary sainthood but to fellowship in a company of committed men.”1  Although it was stated at a time when gender neutral terms were atypical, the statement still struck a chord, absent allusions to sainthood and more so about with whom I feel most at home.  I believe it’s true that most of us feel more “at home” with some than with others, meaning feeling free to be completely relaxed and open, without any façade. 

I read this in the early morning and noodled on it the rest of the morning.  With whom do I feel most at home?  I hadn’t considered the question before, and it seemed important to be able to answer, particularly since I know a lot of people in varying degrees and am almost always crossing paths with more.  It comes with the territory of what I do.

The answer came.  While I desire to love and care for everyone, I find that I am most at home when I fellowship in the company of committed believers whose love and hunger for GOD removes all pretense, false faces and artificial barriers.  It is with them that very little needs to be explained.  We intuitively know and understand one another.  Acknowledging this to myself is freeing.  It is a new level of spiritual emancipation. 

Upon further reflection, it should not have been all that surprising that the Spirit led me down this path and to this conclusion.  It is consistent with the mind of Christ.  Once, when His mother and brothers were looking for Him, thinking to take Him home because of the public spectacle they were afraid He had become, He said when told that they were outside seeking Him, Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?”  Pointing to his disciples, He said, “Here are my mother and my brothers.  For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother” (Matthew 12:47-50). 

With whom do you feel most at home?

  1. David S. Schuller. Found in Deep Fire, compiled by Harold Vaughn, p. 189. 

© Byron L. Hannon, 2021.  All rights reserved to text content unless otherwise noted. 

Steward the Faith

“After that whole generation had been gathered to their ancestors, another generation grew up who knew neither the LORD nor what he had done for Israel.” (Judges 2:10)

A family occasion was the recent cause for my wife and I to look at old family pictures and other family memorabilia.  It doesn’t seem that long ago when we were so young that our parents still held onto some of their youth.  Then, there was a time when my afro was so large, my dad “hinted” (a euphemism) how nice it would be if I got it cut.  Looking at pictures of our children at various stages of their own growth, pictures that seem like they were taken yesterday was a reminder that time never slows down for they are all now at or near middle age and have their own families.

Growing up, I was always interested in, and later grateful for, the family stories my parents shared with me.  These were stories of the events of their lives and their families of origin including some I met and got to know and grow close to and many whom I didn’t.  I heard about mom’s and dad’s experiences as children and young adults and even beyond, things that shaped them as people.  Those lessons were critically important to me.  

I know I’m not unique in this; I think it’s natural for parents to do this with their children.  These narratives provide context for life, value formation and hopefully, healthy spiritual formation, something that many children, I fear, are not getting in their homes.  

Early in the formation of the national Israel, GOD instructed His people, through Moses, to be proactive with certain things, including passing down the narratives of what GOD had done for them to succeeding generations. Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.  These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts.  These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts.  Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up (Deut. 6:6-7).

People share a lot of things with their children, verbally and by being observed daily over the course of years as the children grow: history, culture, values, habits, expectations, dogmas, flaws, prejudices, etc.  For those of us who claim to know, love and trust GOD, where is He, and what He has done, on that particular list which we proactively and purposefully share with the generations that follow us?  

Time never slows down and soon another generation will “be gathered to their ancestors” until that “great day of the Lord.”  Let it not be said of us that we lived and then left without intentionally, purposefully, faithfully paying forward our faith and that we left behind us another generation that grew up who knew neither the LORD nor what He had done.   

© Byron L. Hannon, 2021.  All rights reserved to text content unless otherwise noted. 

The Stuff of Dreams

“…Your old men shall dream dreams…” – Joel 2:28

I saw a tweet the other day in which a young girl, age 10 or so, asked her aunt, “Were you really born in the nineteen hundreds?”  When her aunt nodded, “Yes,” the girl exclaimed, “Oh my gosh!”

I imagine to her, being born in the prior century implies ancientness.  The fact that I was born smack dab in the middle of the last century has to make me seem old in the eyes of some probably in ways similar to how I viewed my grandparents who were born in the 1890s.  I’m good with it.  Actually, I’m pretty content aside from the few aches that come with aging.

A couple of nights ago I had a dream.  I dream pretty frequently like most people and like most people, most of the time I can’t remember what I dreamed other than bits and pieces that don’t make a coherent whole.  This time was only a little different.  I don’t remember what came before and what came after, but here is what I do remember.  I was in a room facing a wall and there was a poster on the wall with these words: “The Furious Love of God.”

When I woke, those words were etched in my mind and I’ve been thinking about them ever since.  At first glance “Furious” is a curious and even oxymoronic way to describe the love of God, and I’ve seen and heard it described in a lot of ways over the years.  To begin with, most definitions of “furious” involve descriptors like angry, full of rage, turbulent, ferocious, and violently passionate.  Secondary definitions use terms like “intense” which seems to make sense.  God does love us intensely.

The more I thought about it, “intense,” although accurate, didn’t seem to capture the strong emotion that I felt while in the dream when I read those words on the wall.  It felt more like this love was powered by an unrestrained energy that was overpowering.  

When we think about it, God did allow violence to be done to Himself because of His love for us.  There was certainly fury behind that act, the likes of which the world had never seen before nor has it seen since.  While it can be conveniently blamed on evil men, the fact remains that what happened that day on Calvary (“place of the skull”) was prophesied long before those men were born.  The redemption purchased that day was because of “The Furious Love of God” which He has for all of humanity.

I’m not sure why I had that particular dream.  Maybe it was just a reflection of my psychological state or maybe something was being shared with me, a confirmation perhaps, in a way fitting for an old man.    

Oh how He loves you and me.

Oh how He loves you and me.

He gave His life; 

What more could He give?

Oh how He loves you;

Oh how He loves me;

Oh how He loves you and me.1

  1. “O How He Loves You and Me,” © Word Music, LLC, 1975.

© Byron L. Hannon, 2021.  All rights reserved to text content unless otherwise noted.   

An Immigrant Issue

“But our citizenship is in heaven.” (Philippians 3:20)

The historical pattern of the Bible has consistently emphasized the alien nature of those who place their faith in GOD.  We see that clearly as the story progresses from the pilgrimage of Abraham through that of his son, Isaac and grandson, Jacob through Joseph’s captivity and eventual reign in Egypt, the enslavement of the Jews, their exodus 400 years later, and their subsequent desert wanderings.  GOD’s people have always been aliens and pilgrims, physically and/or spiritually seeking a place to call home. 

In both the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) and in the New Testament, this theme is always a subtext.  The “promised land” of national Israel is a foretaste of the heavenly promise for those whose trust is in the Lord, who the Bible attests (I believe) to be Jesus Christ.  

I was with a group of people praying most of last week and, on one day in the middle of prayer, the thought came to me that many of us who claim faith struggle, often unknowingly, with some of the same issues that earthly immigrants do upon seeking and moving to a new homeland.  High on that list is slowness to develop skills in the language of the new land and a gravitation to the comfortable, well-known cultural norms of the old homeland.  Learning a new language and new cultural norms is difficult and it is natural to fall back on the familiar.  Because of the nature of my current professional role, I witness a lot of this. f

The Apostle Paul, on several occasions, promotes the mystical view that the citizenship of the faithful is a settled matter: it is in heaven.  All of his teaching, therefore emphasizes language and norms that are heaven-based, not earthly.  These norms are largely alien to this world.  Take for example Paul’s instruction on love, “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs” (1 Corinthians 13:4-5).  This is an earthly exception, but it is the heavenly norm.

Foreign to heaven are earthly norms like situational ethics, possessiveness, intolerance, envy, fear, defensiveness, anger, verbal aggression including the many forms of micro-aggression to which we can subject others such as sarcasm, discourtesy, condescension and passive-aggressiveness, along with physical aggression, and retributive “justice” (i.e. and eye for an eye).  

How many “believers” are still more comfortable living according to the norms common to their natural earthly habitat and are not earnestly seeking, striving to assimilate the heavenly norms into their lives?  Admittedly, it’s a stretch to do that, but so is learning another language or learning enough about a country’s history and institutions to comfortably pass a citizenship test.  I think the transformation to heavenly thinking and behavior while still on earth is essential to the inner peace we all want and to the quality of our witness to the many who are watching.   

© Byron L. Hannon, 2021.  All rights reserved to text content unless otherwise noted.   

Surely Goodness and Mercy

Yesterday (Saturday) was a day of celebration.  Our daughter-in-law was granted her PhD., an earned designation given to few.  As is customary for us, we and other invited family and friends gathered for a good time, hosted by our son and daughter-in-law.  Given that there were far too many people to be accommodated in their yard, it was held in a local park.  My wife and I were also hosting special friends for the weekend and we took them along.  It had been a long time since they had seen our son and his family.  

My buddy and I chose to set-up our chairs back about 100 feet from the pavilion where we had a good view of all that was occurring.  Our ladies, on the other hand, decided to sit at a bench under the pavilion cover in the midst of all of the gathering commotion.  An uncle of our daughter-in-law soon parked his family’s chairs near us and said with a smile, “This must be where the old folks sit.”  “Yep,” I spoke and nodded an affirmation.  Soon, there were a line of chairs occupied primarily by the age 60+ crowd where we could see all the action.

For the 2 ½ hours we were there, in addition to being greeted by our son, his wife, and our grandchildren, I greeted or was greeted by many who I hadn’t seen in months and, in some cases, years: other members of my daughter-in-law’s family, several of our nieces and nephews and any of their family members who had come, along with friends of my son and daughter-in-law, some of whom I first met when they were all in college.

Most striking to me was viewing the impact of the creep of time evident from surveying the crowd.  There were toddlers parented by people I had never met.  The group of high school and college age kids, including two of my three grandchildren, playing Uno had, not too long ago, been those toddlers.  Our son and daughter-in-law had been high school sweethearts which is when we first met her and her parents who were then middle aged as my wife and I were.  They, like us, once paid the college bills.  Now, our children and many of their cousins and friends are or will soon be footing college bills.  They are the middle-aged crowd.  And I and my wife and our friends and our daughter-in-law’s parents, uncles and aunts are now the senior crowd who sit back watching and enjoying the scene of the different generations.

If I didn’t have the hope that I have, that could have been depressing.  It wasn’t at all for me.  I know that my “earthly tent” is fraying.  I can feel it in my lower back when I’ve been sitting too long or when I’ve had to stand for a long time.  One look at my medicine cabinet at the drug prescriptions I take daily tells its own story.  If someone is moving, I can carry a few boxes, but my days of helping to carry sofas and bureaus up flights of stairs are over.  Although it hasn’t caught-up yet, I know that each day I walk in the “valley of the shadow of death,” and that one day it will no longer be just a shadow but a reality.  I’m in no rush, but only GOD knows the number of my days (Psalm 39:4).

The days of being the dad who changes diapers, rocks them back to sleep in the early morning hours, wipes dirty noses, lays out clothes for Sunday School, helps with homework, says, “Go to bed,” goes to parent-teacher conferences, band concerts, dance recitals, gymnastic, soccer and lacrosse games, sets curfews, attends school graduations, makes trips back and forth to college campuses, and who offers coaching on getting that first job are over.  I’m now the granddad who does that…or at least some of it, as it should be…until.

Until…and while I walk through this valley, I am content and comforted that surely, goodness and mercy is following me and will follow me all the way.   

© Byron L. Hannon, 2021.  All rights reserved to text content unless otherwise noted.