Category Archives: Discipleship

Come On, Church!

While I haven’t seen it in a while, I used to enjoy the “Come On, Man” segment on the ESPN® Monday Night Football pregame show.  Do they still do it?  For the uninitiated, the segment highlighted bone-headed plays and player behavior from different games from prior weeks. Each analyst on the pre-game show would select several plays they wanted to highlight, a video would show the play and the behavior, which would always be something head-scratching, and the analyst would say, with disdain in his voice, “Come on, man!”  The underlying, unstated message always was, “You need to do better than that.”

In truth, the saying is a lot older than the sport show’s use.  I’ve heard it from others and have said it myself for many years as a reaction to seeing or hearing something from someone that provoked an incredulous reaction in response to their behavior or comment, “Come on, man!”  It’s another way of saying, “Are you serious!?” or “Are you for real!?” or “You’re kidding me, right!?” or “I can’t take you seriously!” or “That was messed up!”

If you’ve been following me at all, you know that I have a great love for the Church.  I’ve spent most of my adult life in it, both as a lay member and as clergy.  I write about it, directly or indirectly, much of the time.  I read a lot about it.  I have studied the Church from its inception to current times, and the most of its developments, transitions, struggles, successes and failures in between.  I believe it to be a mystical body with a holy, transcendent purpose.  And sometimes, I think we are living beneath our calling and beneath our privilege.

The various philosophical methods developed over the centuries to “prove” GOD’s existence and the validity of Christianity aside, my study, my reason, and my experiences (including my observations) combine to affirm GOD’s reality.  The holy and transcendent are not and cannot be products of human wisdom and creativity.  Therefore, participation in them come from invitations from above and these invitations and participation have specific modes (e.g. grace, the Holy Spirit, acknowledgement of sin, repentance, faith, rebirth, self-emptying humility, and intimate spiritual relationship expressed through obedience, study for understanding and wisdom and regular prayer).  

The faith on which the Church was founded was never intended to join the list of the world’s philosophies.  It was to stand apart as the distinctive, earthly body of the heavenly and holy person of Jesus Christ.  Without that distinctiveness, Christianity can’t be anything but one among many human philosophies rooted in an argument not a person.  

The invitations have come from above, but the response and participation within the Church is uneven and sometimes lacking.  This is even more the case when the Church’s attention moves away from Christ, His will and His ways, and focuses its passion on other issues, causes, concerns and their associated wills and ways.  The result: a confused purpose, diminished power to witness, and inconsistent ability to demonstrate transformation into Christlikeness, the intended fruit of faith.

Come On, Church!   

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

Step Away

“…Don’t you know that a little yeast leavens the whole batch of dough?” (1 Corinthians 5:6)

Looking back on life, I realize how much energy I’ve exerted trying to avoid toxic things.  That goes for situations and, occasionally, people.  I’m not referring to the common aggravating things that are part of everyone’s life that tend to bum you out, but rather the situations which (and people who) so negatively affect your outlook and attitude that only removal of yourself enables you to restore equilibrium.  And failure to remove yourself may cause you to either assume aspects of that toxicity within yourself or experience feelings of having a weighted soul (oppression).

This was a periodic challenge in the corporate settings in which I worked whenever office politics became pronounced and people were trying to assert power in obvious and (in what sometimes appeared to me to be) cynical ways, when people were jockeying for power and prestige, or when something went wrong and avoidance of responsibility and c.y.a. was the ingrained habitus.  Demonstrating skill in these areas, i.e. functioning in the midst of toxicity, along with demonstrating competence in an assigned area of responsibility, was a way folks survived and even thrived.  This wasn’t a constant, but it became prevalent enough that I had to leave.  Thankfully, GOD provided me a way out.

Of course, toxic environments and people are not exclusive to business settings; we find them in every arena in life.  And I think the dynamics in them are essentially the same regardless of the setting, become a part of the toxicity or recognize what it is and how it stands to impact and step away (mentally and emotionally, if not physically).  Unfortunately, I think many people who have opted to adapt to toxic environments don’t realize that they have done so.  They’re like the Fabreze® commercials; they become nose blind to it.  They don’t see anything irregular or harmful to themselves or to others, often despite the reaction of others to them.  

Scripture frequently used yeast, a leavening and fermentation agent, as symbolic of sin.  In the story of the exodus, the ancient Israelites were told by GOD to not use yeast in their baking of bread at the time of the Passover.  Later, they were told not to use it in preparation for certain sacrificial offerings.  In the New Testament, both Jesus and Paul used yeast as a metaphor for sin or that which leads to sin.  

Anything toxic (literally, anything harmful and capable of causing injury) influencing our spiritual selves is a sign that yeast is present and at work.  It is harmful to us and to those around us because yeast affects whatever it touches.  Adopting attitudes and behaviors which are toxic is sinful because they do not reflect the love of GOD nor love of others, regardless of how they manifest themselves.  I’m convinced it’s one of the reasons Jesus talked about the importance of having eyes that see and ears that hear.                                       

When I see it in myself, the antidote is to acknowledge and deal with it before GOD in an honest and non-defensive way.  When I experience it in situations or in others, I will try to speak to it as graciously as I can and may make it a matter of prayer.  After that and if nothing changes, I usually step away.  It takes too much energy to remain in the midst of that. 

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

Write What You Know?

I subscribe to a couple of book reviews because I like to see what professional authors are writing about.  Occasionally I come across books which I buy or, at least, put on my “To Be Bought Later” list for when I have more time to read them.  The list has gotten rather long.

Several weeks ago, I was reading a review of a book on the art of writing.  The reviewer quoted a point a book author made about the often-used piece of advice to new writers: “Write what about you know.”  He was critical of that point saying that if writers only wrote about what they were familiar with, their works would eventually become pedestrian and redundant.  I’m not certain I fully agree with him, although I understand what his intent was.  When I was preaching every Sunday, I would sometimes say to my congregation, “I only have one sermon topic; I just preach it 52 ways.”  I think there is room within seeming sameness for creative variety.

Nevertheless, I think an important issue concerning how we express ourselves, regardless of the medium (writing, music, art, Facebook® and Instagram® posts, podcasts, or sidewalk conversations), is whether we are taking opportunity to expand on what we know.  How much more interesting life is when we learn things we didn’t know before, when we take an interest in something that is outside of existing knowledge base and comfort zone.  I’ll even spiritualize the point for a moment: In small and sometimes big ways we can bless others when our willingness to learn new things is used by GOD in unexpected ways.  I’m sure you’ve heard the saying, “Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.”  Expanding what we know is preparation for opportunities only GOD knows are ahead.  Okay, I’m done spiritualizing. 

A friend who plays several musical instruments, was asked by someone how he became so good a musician.  My buddy’s response was, “I practice.”  A few years ago, I met an elderly woman at a retreat center who was there on a six month sabbatical.  She was retired and had been widowed for a little over a year.  As a younger woman, she had developed an interest in fine art.  Despite taking a few classes, life’s other’s responsibilities got in the way and she didn’t pursue it the way she wanted.  Now that her children were grown and independent and she was a widow, she had decided to devote her time to pursuing her interest with a vengeance, thus her sabbatical.  After telling me this story over dinner, she asked if I’d like to see some of her work which was displayed in the retreat center’s art gallery.  She had multiple paintings and drawings on four separate walls of the gallery, and they were all phenomenal.  How many people do we admire because of some perceived talent they have that we enjoy?  Chances are their talent has been honed because of lots of practice. 

Have you been itching to learn how to play guitar?  Go ahead and get started.  Sure, the tips of your fingers will get sore and maybe even blister, but you can overcome that.  Those blisters will turn into callouses.  Keep going!  How many years have you been talking about learning that second language?  There are so many inexpensive tools that you can access to help you; you just have to make up your mind that you’re going to put in the work.  Of course, it’s going to take time, but so did the things you already know.  In this season of Covid-19, is there time for you to take that online course you’ve been thinking about?  If you have time, perhaps the only thing stopping you is your will to do it.                    

Back in the day, “go for what you know” was a common expression in my peer group.  It means make the best choice you can based on your understanding.  The greater your understanding, the more you can go for.  I will continue to write what I know, but my desire and my plan is to know more…and write about that too.

What about you?

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

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.