Category Archives: Discipleship

What Did You Bring Me?

My father traveled a lot when I was a child and teen, and even during my college years.  It was a necessity of the kind of work he did.  The trips he took tended to be for weeks, sometimes a couple of months at a time.    My first recollection of him going away was when I was 7; it was traumatic for my young psyche because I knew I wouldn’t see him for a long time.  That trip was to Pt. Barrow, Alaska (now just called Barrow), the northern most point in the United States.

Each occasion after that, it got a little easier as I grew accustomed to the routine: more trips to Alaska, the Baffin Islands off the northeastern coast of Canada, England, Italy and Germany are the ones I recall.   He always sent my mother and me letters and postcards, and would call regularly.  Dad was an amateur photographer, and when he came home he always had cool slides of the places he had been.  We would turn out the lights and project them on a screen.  Five and six decades later, I can still see some of those scenes in my mind’s eye.

During my kid years, it was invariable that just about as soon as he hit the door returning from a trip, I would run to him to give and get a hug, and I would ask, “What did you bring me?”  He always had something, but for the life of me, I can’t recall any of them (with the exception of something he brought me when I was in jr. high school that reminded me of school).  I’m sure I was happy with whatever those tokens were, with that one exception. But the fact that I can’t recall them says that I was happier that he brought himself home more than any trinket he brought with him.

I was reminded of this in the morning hours when reading Luke’s account of Jesus teaching His disciples not to worry about food or clothing or other material provisions, but to focus instead on seeking the kingdom of GOD (Luke 12).  Near the ending of one section, Jesus concludes by saying, “Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom” (v.32).   What did my Father bring me?  He brought me His kingdom.

He did that by bringing me His King, who invited me to follow Him.  He did that by giving me new life and adopting me, and inviting me to be His son, and to call Him Father.  He did that by giving me the Spirit of His King, and inviting me to be filled by Him.

What is this kingdom like?  It is beyond all the similes and metaphors Jesus used to describe it in the Gospels because they are only finite examples that attempt to describe the infinite Him.  We may forget about a precious pearl and a silver coin and a treasure in a field.  We may forget about mustard seeds and leaven and nets filled with fish and vineyards of grapes.  But we dare not forget about Jesus.

What did my Father bring me?  He brought me the only thing worth having, the only thing that will last forever.  He brought me Himself.

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

I Can See Clearly Now

“Where there is no prophetic vision, the people cast off restraint.” (Proverbs 29:18)

 I’m not one to reference the “good old days,” as if there was ever a time when “those days” were as good as people sometimes like to fantasize.  Even a cursory review of the history of humanity shows that the so-called “good old days” weren’t always so good for some people.  Nevertheless, I’ve seen a pattern play-out over the course of my life, time and time again when people, often close to me, would utter words that recalled a better time: “What is this world coming to?!”

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I heard it when I was a child.  I heard it when I was a teen.  I heard it when I was a young adult.  I heard during my middle-aged years.  Often it was the older folks who said it; and now that I’m one of those older folks, I’m still hearing it.

Maybe the perception that life was qualitatively better at some time in the past is because many things were more concrete, more black and white, less complicated; there were fewer choices and fewer challenges.  Family and societal roles were more easily categorized and defined, gender and gender identification, racial, and social status expectations were more clear-cut.  Globalization that began in earnest with the advent of transoceanic travel in the 15th century, cross-global colonization, and then industrialization, facilitated scientific and technological innovation that fed faster and faster pace of change.

No sooner than we attach ourselves to a preferred way of being than we find that way being challenged and even uprooted.  Individual and collective psyches find it harder and harder to internalize all of these inputs, and a result is dissonance (dissension, disagreement, conflict, discord) on wider and wider scales.  People can’t see clearly like they believed they once could.  And that produces the refrain, “What is the world coming to?!” and all the different variations on this theme.

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None of us are perfectly immune.  Too often I seem to see and hear things that make me scratch my head (and occasionally with disapproval).  Sometimes what I witness around me appears to be the casting off of restraint to say and do all kinds of things, to behave in all kinds of ways, reminiscent of “We all like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:6).  Perhaps I’ve become one of those old heads from whom disapproval too easily flows.  Perhaps I sometimes substitute fleshly judgment for sound spiritual discernment.  GOD help me and have mercy on me if I do.

It seems to me that the greater challenge and responsibility is to allow ourselves to be captured by the vision cast by Jesus the Christ, in whom dwells the fullness of all Divinity (Colossians 2:9), and then to keep sight of it and hold tight to it.  Certainly, restraint from all spiritually harmful things is GOD’s will for us.  And while we need to be careful not to reject change because it is change nor reject the new because it is new (and different from what we are use to or prefer), I urge diligence in viewing every attitude, belief and action through the life and truth  of Jesus Christ.  That will allow us to rejoice:

I can see clearly now the rain is gone
I can see all obstacles in my way
Gone are the dark clouds that had me blind
It’s gonna be a bright (bright)
Bright (bright) sun-shining day
It’s gonna be a bright (bright)
Bright (bright) sun-shining day*

 

* From “I Can See Clearly Now” by Johnny Nash, released in 1972 by Epic Records.

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

Why Am I Here?

Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father.” (John 14:12)

Years ago, in my pre-pastoral days, I worked for a man who always began his staff meetings with this question, “Why are we here?”  He recognized that we all entered the meeting with a range of issues occupying our thoughts.  Some of those concerned the meeting agenda, but often they involved a variety of unrelated concerns: the need to complete and submit a report, an unresolved operational problem, an employee who was underperforming and needed an intervention, the customer complaint that required a response, a disagreement with a family member, etc.  Our boss, instinctively knowing this, used the question as a way of helping us put those things aside for a brief time so we could focus on the meeting, and get the most out of that time together.

Recently, I posed a related question to myself: “Should I not live as if the spiritual well-being of everyone I touch depended on my faithfulness in and obedience to GOD?” Isn’t that why I’m here?  Let me see if I can work through this.

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The word “Christian” is a designation that means a follower of Christ or modeled after Christ.  This begs the question, what is there to follow, of what did the original model consist?  In general, these questions are answered throughout the New Testament, and in the gospel accounts  (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John).  Jesus, the Christ, spoke to this Himself when He said, Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these…” (John 14:12). 

So it seems, from this, there are two essentials to being a Christian.  The first essential is belief in Him as the Christ, the Son of GOD chosen to be the Savior of the world by way of His sacrificial death, His resurrection and victory over death, and His ascension to sit at right hand of the Father.  As His half-brother James later commented, this belief is not mere intellectual agreement; it is confidence in Him as a result of being persuaded.

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The second essential of being a Christian is doing the kind of work that He did (and doing more of it; i.e. doing it continually).  Well what work did He do?  I believe the work of Jesus can be classified in four buckets:

Bucket 1: Jesus revealed the nature and personality of GOD to all people.  Some of those people wanted to know what GOD was like.  Others thought they knew and were wrong.  Still others did not know they had a desire to know GOD until it was awakened in them by the presence of Jesus.  And then there were some, I’m sure, who didn’t care.  Regardless, if anyone crossed paths with Jesus, the nature and personality of GOD was revealed to them.

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Bucket 2: Jesus was compassionate toward those in need; and His compassion moved Him to action.  We see this with those He healed physically or delivered from spiritual bondage.  There was, within Him, a deep tenderness felt for those who suffered.  When people were in anguish through no fault of their own, He sought to extinguish it.  His tender heart is captured in Luke 4:18-19:

“The Spirit of the Lord is on Me,
because He has anointed Me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
     to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.

Bucket 3: Jesus instructed those who would listen about the nature of the Kingdom of GOD through His teaching and proclaiming of truth.  He did this with large groups, small groups, and with individuals.  He did it in synagogues, on mountainsides, in fields and on seashores.  He clarified GOD’s system of morality, rescuing it from the distortions to which it had been subjected.  He expressed GOD’s desire for both righteous living and for merciful actions toward others.  He emphasized the importance of forgiveness.  He made the will of GOD clear and uncomplicated for people as it applied to the most important areas of their lives.

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Bucket 4:  Jesus developed people to continue His work.  These were people who lived as if the spiritual well-being of everyone they touched depended on their faithfulness and obedience to GOD.  And because of them and those in whom they poured their lives, we have churches and seminaries, Bible colleges and Sunday School classes, small groups and books, journals, blogs, vlogs and podcasts, evangelists, pastors, teachers and committed church men and women, all ostensibly dedicated to carrying-on His work.  Theologian and philosopher Albert Schweitzer is quoted as saying, “Nothing of real value in the world is ever accomplished without enthusiasm and self-sacrifice.”* Without the enthusiasm of belief and the sacrifices of countless people over the millennia, none of this would be.

So…what responsibility do I have in seeing that the work of Jesus continues beyond me?  Do I think it’s important?  And if so, how do I respond to that challenge?  If I put aside all of the peripheral thoughts and concerns of my life and really listen to Jesus, I think the answer becomes pretty clear.  Regardless of any other consideration, I should live as if the spiritual well-being of everyone I touch depended on my faithfulness in and obedience to GOD.  It’s a worthy burden that requires a lot more of GOD in me, and a lot less of me in me.  Maybe that’s why I’m here.

What about you?  For what purpose are you here?

* Referenced in Meditations of the Heart by Howard Thurman, (Beacon Press, Boston), p.80.

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

The Silent GOD?

“In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe.” (Hebrews 1:1-2)

Over the course of three days this past week, I have heard stories of two members of the clergy say emphatically that they do not believe that GOD speaks to people today as He once did.  The first occasion was in a meeting in which another pastor shared this story of a conversation between two other pastors, both of whom minister in my denomination.  It was in this conversation that one of the pastors declared this to the other.

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The second occasion was conveyed to me later in the week.  A friend was walking down a city street when a car pulled up next to him, and began to park.  The rear bumper of the car had a bumper sticker which said “Police Chaplain.”  When the driver got out of his car, my friend, being the extrovert that he is, began talking to the man using the man’s chaplaincy as a bridge to conversation.  It turned out the man was a former pastor now devoted to a specialized chaplaincy ministry.  It was in that discussion that the Chaplain made the same statement, “GOD does not speak to people as he once did.” I know this because my colleague made a point of sharing it with me.  We both commiserated over this gross error.  It is either an error or I (and many others I know) have some kind of long-standing, undetected psychiatric or other medical dysfunction, because we have heard GOD speak to us.

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I can pinpoint times and circumstances in which those words have come.  GOD has spoken to me directly, and He has spoken to others on my behalf and has given them messages to give to me.  He has spoken to me during times of prayer, and when the TV was on.  He has awakened me from deep sleep to give me instructions, including instructions to do things I did not want to do.  He has restrained me in times of great anger, when the restraint felt, literally, physical.  And He has corrected me when my heart was in the wrong place.  He has given me assurance in times of grief.  I have been in rooms and in cars when His voice was so clear, I turned my head to look at the One speaking only to realize I could hear but not see the Voice.  He has whispered Scripture to me in times of need, whether it was mine and or someone else’s.

This has been my experience for the better part of 40 years.  I suspect that if I had a psychiatric or other medical problem, it would have been made very clear by now.  And as I said, I know I’m not unique in this way.  I know many believers of all stripes who testify to having heard the voice of GOD.  So…either we’re wrong or those two guys (and those who think like them) are wrong.  I think they are wrong.  The question is why?

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As my friend/colleague and I were discussing this, we pinpointed two possible reasons.  First, they may have been educated to believe this.  The educational process from church Sunday Schools all the way through Seminaries and Bible Colleges does not automatically preclude misunderstandings and error.  Sometimes, unfortunately, these educational avenues contribute to it.  If the Hebrews passage referenced above is viewed in a narrow context, and treated as a proof text to support a particular point of view, then these two verses alone could be used to prop up this error.  However, good hermeneutics (interpretation of Scripture) would have us use the teaching of the entire New Testament (if not the whole Bible) to help us understand the meaning of these two verses.  A grasp of the NT is the broad context that should provide protection against misstatements, such as “GOD no long speaks to people as He once did.”  Of course, anything He says personally to me or you or anyone else has to align with the gospel and commands of His Son, which is the core intent of Hebrews 1:1-2…and if those thing don’t it wasn’t GOD’s voice to begin with.  Years ago, an instructor of mine said, “Text without context is a pretext.”  Another friend put his own spin on this, “Text without context is a con.”

A second possibility is a short circuit in the devotional life of these two men.  Christianity is fundamentally relational.  The well-worn cliché of having a “personal relationship with Jesus Christ” is itself a testimony to its relational foundation.  Seeking after GOD with our whole heart (Jeremiah 29:3) and drawing near to Him and He drawing near to us (James 4:8) are not intended to be sentimental, warm and fuzzy sayings.  Neither is the promise that the Holy Spirit will remind us of what Jesus has taught us (John 14:26).  These are essential aspects of Christian life, and reveal themselves as being true when our hearts’ deepest motive is to commune with GOD.  And, by the way, how are we to be reminded of something unless we are told.

Missing these essentials of the faith increases the possibility of falling down spiritual rabbit holes.  Relationship without personal communication between those in relationship would be an oxymoron.  There would be no real, sustaining communion.  We study, not just for intellectual growth but also for relational growth.  If it were for intellectual growth only, our discipline would be philosophy, not theology.  We pray because we need to hear and receive from our Father.  To borrow a point from a former mentor, which of us would ever call our earthy parents so they could hear what we have to say, and then hang-up before they have opportunity to speak?  That would be ludicrous.  One way prayer may be prayer, but it cannot be as effectual as two-way prayer.

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To claim that GOD still speaks to people has to be framed by what He said and did through Jesus Christ, who is Lord, so that what is proclaimed and taught glorifies the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  It is our protection against being mislead and misleading others.  There are way too many false teachers as it is; and free-wheeling it is not to be encouraged at all.  But to claim that GOD no longer speaks to people is to deny the practical presence (immanence) of the One who said He would never leave nor forsake us (1 Kings 8:57; Matthew 28:20; Hebrews 13:5).

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

What The World Needs Now

“He was in the world, and though the world was made through Him, the world did not recognize Him.  He came to that which was His own, but his own did not receive Him.” (John 1:10-11)

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 I saw a YouTubeTM video a few days ago which featured an ensemble of celebrities singing “What the World Needs Now Is Love,”1 a song that despite its age, is still widely known because of its pleasant melody and appealing lyric.  The chorus is the essence of the song’s message:

                                                   What the world needs now                                                                                                                    Is love, sweet love.                                                                                                                                  That’s the only thing                                                                                                                              There’s just too little of.

                                                     What the world needs now
Is love, sweet love,
No not just for some
But for everyone.

It’s been 54 years since the song’s release, and it remains enjoyably catchy.  John Lennon’s “Give Peace A Chance” and “Imagine” are two other notable songs with similar themes.If I were to work at it I’m sure I could find quite a few other examples of songs and poetry which also express this hunger for what seems right, but, so far in human history, has not been experienced, at least not broadly.

“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.  By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:34-35)

It’s a shame because the opportunity for the world to have “love sweet love” was offered and continues to be offered in Jesus Christ.   And like the rejection of Him noted in the passage from John 1, He still is rejected, even by people who claim to want what I believe only He can provide.  Despite its poor track record, the world continues to cling to the illusion that we can have what GOD offers, but on our own terms, that is we can have the best of GOD, while still choosing our own path.

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In Isaiah 50, the prophet talks of those who walk by the light provided by GOD and those who prefer to walk by the light of their own fires.  He’s pretty direct about the outcomes of both choices.

Until folks decide that GOD’s will really does need to be done on Earth (in their lives) as it is in Heaven, I guess just we’ll have to settle for songs that express good and righteous desires without really ever experiencing the fulfillment of them.

  1. What the World Needs Now Is Love by Hal David and Burt Bacharach, released in 1965 on Imperial Records.
  2. Give Peace A Chance by John Lennon, released in 1969 on Apple Records.  Imagine by John Lennon and Yoko Ono, released in 1971 on Apple Records.

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

I Wait

I wait.

I am getting better at it;

Been doing it a long time.

 

At first,

didn’t know what for.

Not knowing was hard.

 

At first lasted a long time,

much of my life.

Like staring into a void, hearing emptiness

Wondering like Peggy Lee,

Is that all there is?

                                            Like a diet of melancholy for the melancholic.

 

                                             What came first,

                                             the chicken or the egg,

the melancholic or the melancholy?

Ok. Time to put this aside

Aside.

 

I still wait, but

Now I know.

Knowing was oddly sudden and gradual;

it still is.  But there is no void; I hear a voice,

regularly,

daily,

often more often:

 

But those who wait on the Lord

shall renew their strength.

They shall mount up with wings like

eagles.

They shall run and not be weary.

They shall walk and not faint.

 

I wait.

It’s okay.

Grateful for the time.

 

* Is That All There Is? Recorded by Peggy Lee; written by Jerry Lieber and Mike Stoller.  Released in 1969 on Capitol Records.

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

 

Enlarging Our Circles

“I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some.”

(1 Corinthians 9:22)

My great friend, former college roommate, and “brother from another mother” is one of those people who can walk into a room of strangers and have three new “best friends” within an hour.  I have seen him do this time and time again, and it always amazes me.  I saw him do it at school.  I’ve seen him do this in supermarkets, restaurants, and in crowds of people…all kinds of people: every size, shape, background and hue.  He has a way of being forward with people without being offensive to them; and they like him.  He reminds me of Paul in some ways; he never stops being himself, but he quickly finds common ground with others.

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At first glance, Paul’s comment opens him to the criticism of being a spiritual chameleon, someone who changes his colors and stripes in order to fit-in with those in his immediate surroundings.  I think the truth, however, is far from that shallow assessment.  The gospel and the sharing of it was, he believed, far too important for him to be parochial.  That was the fault of the Pharisees, his former identity and association, whose narrow-mindedness prevented them from seeing GOD at work in their midst.

Paul never lost or hid his core identity, but he did modify his evangelistic approach according to the needs of those he was trying to reach.  Quoting Swiss theologian Frederic Godet, Donald Metz wrote, “No observance appeared to [Paul] too irksome, no requirement too stupid, no prejudice too absurd, to prevent his dealing tenderly with it in his view of saving souls.”* The ex-Pharisee Paul, who initially preferred a very small circle, became the Apostle Paul with a greatly enlarged circle (and was always interested in enlarging even that as GOD gave him opportunity).

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Christianity is essentially a relational way of life (see Matthew 22:35-40) modeled perfectly by Jesus.  Being open to enlarging our circles and seizing opportunities to do so is in harmony with having an identity in Christ.  Insistence on maintaining small circles is not in harmony with who Jesus is and who believers are called to be.  Small circle mindedness is more suited to the Pharisees who had a very limited view as to who was or could be worthy before GOD.  Much of what we see and hear these days speaks to me about preferring small, closely contained circles.

For Paul, a Jew steeped in the Hebrew Scriptures and the history of the “chosen” people, there was no shame in relating to someone weak in their understanding of spiritual things.  There was no shame for him in building a connection with the very culturally different Scythians and the proud, and sometimes arrogant Greeks.  He was as comfortable in the presence of slaves as he was with the free.  And despite the controversies over the last two millennia, his trust in and reliance on a number of women adds weight to his doctrinal statement that, in Christ, there is no difference between female and male.

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Paul was making (and continues to make through his GOD-inspired letters) the point that it is the will of GOD that all people become chosen people.  Isn’t that the real purpose and message of the gospel?  Willingly enlarging our circles to include modern versions of the culturally and socially different is an affirmation of our intent to not be parochial and small-minded with this wonderful gift, the path to abundant and eternal life GOD has given us in Christ.  It says, “Everyone I work with or go to school with, everyone I meet, everyone I see but do not know, is my neighbor and I want them to be chosen; and I am open to connecting with them.  Who knows; I just may win some.”

* Metz, Donald.  “The First Epistle of Paul to the Corinthians,” Beacon Bible Commentary, Vol. 8, Kansas City: Beacon Hill Press, 1968, p. 402.

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