Category Archives: Discipleship

Family and Friends

“Count your blessings, name them one by one; 

Count your blessings, see what God hath done;

Count your blessings, name them one by one,

And it will surprise you what the Lord hath done.”*

 

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Nearly two weeks ago, my wife and I took an excursion to visit members of my family in one state and then friends of ours in a neighboring state. The first stop of our journey, after driving for eight hours, was with an aunt, one of my father’s three surviving sisters (he had 14 other siblings).  This aunt, a spry octogenarian, is the youngest of the three and was a young teen when I was born.

For reasons too complicated to delve into, it’s only been within the last few years that we’ve gotten to know each other (I still only have a passing knowledge of most of my dad’s brothers and sisters and their children, my many first cousins).  I met this aunt once before, at my dad’s funeral many years ago, but had very little contact with her after that.  I vividly recall the next time we met (three years ago), as my wife and I walked up the short stairway to her home.  She met us halfway, calling me by my father’s name with a warmth that said she had claimed me.  I’ve been to her home twice since then, including within the last few days.

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She has filled-in blanks in my family knowledge, including some gems about my parents. Through her I’ve been able to spend time with four of my first cousins, one of her children and three of her other nephews, none of whom I knew previously.  And because she is now a widow living alone, my wife and I have been, and on this trip were, on the receiving end of her having someone in the house to mother…and did she!  My aunt has been a blessing to me.  A few years ago, she was just a name to me.  Now she is part of my treasure; I have claimed her in the same way she has claimed me.

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Driving north for a little over an hour brought us to the home of dear friends, my college roommate and his precious wife (one of my wife’s dearest friends). Our knowledge of each other and our prayers for each other over the years have bonded us in an uncommon way.  They are more like brother and sister to us than the word “friend” describes.  And although their five sons have their own lives and responsibilities, each of our adopted nephews, took time to come home because they knew we were visiting, some driving significant distances.

In the short letter named Philemon, the imprisoned Apostle Paul asked Philemon, a leader of a house church in Colossae, to offer him refreshment through an act of kindness.  Our friend’s home is a place where we are refreshed.  We talk, we laugh, we eat, we sleep, we pray, we worship; and when we leave we always feel a little lighter and, as the old folks used to say, glad of heart.  In them, I am greatly blessed of GOD.

The old hymn encourages us to count and name the blessings GOD has given us. I have received many.  These are two, and I am very thankful.

* Count Your Blessings.  Lyrics by Johnson Oatman, Jr.  Music by Edwin Othello Excell.

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

Don’t You Know

If you were looking for a post last week, I apologize for the miss.  The piece I drafted disappeared into cyberspace somewhere, and recently reappeared.  I have no idea what happened.  I knew I had written it, but there was no evidence…and now there is.  Here it is.

“For the LORD gives wisdom; from his mouth come knowledge and understanding.” (Proverbs 2:6)

 Most of my adult life, I’ve been an early riser. Much of that was driven by work demands, but getting up early became part of my natural rhythm so I seldom viewed starting the day early as an imposition.

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I’ve always liked the sounds of early morning when it’s still dark and as the darkness gives way to the breaking dawn. Even as a child, I would lie in that space between half sleep and half awake, and hear the sound of the commuter trains a mile and a half from where we lived.  Now, whenever I hear a train in the early morning, I’m mentally transported to that time which was always a half an hour or so before my mother would wake me to get ready for school.  Summer visits to my grandparents in the Smoky Mountains of North Carolina had its own early morning sounds: roosters crowing in the distance and my grandmother in the kitchen preparing breakfast and baking pies (I blame her for my fruit pie addiction).

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Now the prevalent morning sound is quiet. There are no car sounds in our neighborhood; it’s too early.  During the late fall and winter, I can sometimes pick up the sound of squirrels running through fallen leaves as they forage.  The most pleasing sounds for me, other than the quiet, are the birds calling to each other.  This always reminds me of the way Jesus described GOD’s love of us by talking about the way He cares for the birds of the air (Matt. 6:26; Matt: 10:29-31; Luke 12:6, 7, 24). These words were said to those who thought they (themselves) were all they had.  They had little or no knowledge that GOD was their advocate, that He loved and cared for them, or that He saw their condition and had a compassion that reached out to them.  Their assumption of the necessity for complete self-reliance made faith in GOD irrelevant in every practical way.  A key piece of the “good news” was (is) that this is a false assumption.  Jesus was, in effect saying, don’t you know that there is a better way to approach life: committing yourself to GOD and His care, for He can care for you supremely better than you ever could, now and eternally.  The truth is they didn’t know.  I call these folks unconsciously self-reliant.

ONE HEART CANNOT SERVE TWO MASTERS

On the flip side are those who, with head knowledge of GOD, choose conscious self-reliance.  They believe in GOD; they just don’t believe GOD enough to put their full trust in Him.  They combine limited faith with a confidence in themselves.  Jesus has a word for them, too: “I am the Vine, you are the branches. When you’re joined with me and I with you, the relation intimate and organic, the harvest is sure to be abundant. Separated, you can’t produce a thing” (John 15:5). It’s as if He is saying,  don’t you know there is no have it both ways spiritual life in GOD?  That’s what the ancient Israelites tried when they built the golden calf, and we all know how that turned out.

The message, as I read it, suggests that the will of GOD is that we experience a healthy spiritual transformation away from both unconscious self-reliance and conscious self-reliance, which are both fed by some combination of false notions about GOD, issues of self-esteem (not enough or too much), and a desire for security and happiness.  According to Jesus, the only true (lasting, trustworthy, consistent over time) path is conscious reliance on GOD.  He wants us to know, and revealed that in His coming, in the way He lived, in the lives of His closest followers, and in His resurrection which is the substance behind His proclamation: “I am the way and the truth and the life (John 14:6).  Phrased another way, I AM your way, I AM your truth, and I AM your life.

This is the kind of stuff I think and pray about in the early morning quiet. I’m deeply grateful for every minute of it.  Thank you, Lord!

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

 

I AM WHAT I AM

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I want to acknowledge and say thank you to all the men and women, including members of my family, who have sacrificed by offering themselves in military service. A special acknowledgement to those who lost their lives as casualties of war and to those who returned wounded in body or soul or both.  May you always be remembered and may your sacrifices be respected and honored.

“But by the grace of God I am what I am…” (1 Corinthians 15:10)

 I referenced this verse nearly ten years ago when I spoke to the church on the day of my installation as their lead pastor. It’s now been more than a year since I stepped away from that role, but I often revisit what the Paul the Apostle said about himself so long ago.

Given his past violent opposition to Jesus Christ and His Church, Paul was keenly aware of the paradox of his elevation to apostleship by Jesus. He knew it didn’t make sense when viewed through human eyes and considered through human minds. That is why he prefaced his statement with the acknowledgment that this was because of GOD’s grace alone. By grace, he was transformed 180º to become one of the Lord’s most passionate advocates and ambassadors…so much so that it eventually cost him his life. “This is what I am!” he boldly declared. And his declaration went far beyond defining what he did; he was defining what he now was, his core identity. That’s what first attracted me to this verse, and still attracts me.

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Common wisdom is inconsistent on the idea that you are what you do vocationally. On the one hand, some of the most wonderful gifts given to the world have come from those whose commitment to and passion for their vocation eclipsed virtually everything else in their lives.  Gifts of art (Van Gogh and Picasso), music (Mozart and Miles Davis), literature (Shakespeare and Garcia Márquez), science (the Curries and G. W. Carver), great inventions (Marconi and Edison) and the many other men and women who mastered their talents to produce such gifts come to mind.  People like Mother Teresa, who left a life of wealth and ease to love the unlovable of Calcutta for the sake of Jesus, stand out as being fully defined by what they did.

I also have met many people who are so much more than what they do occupationally, and who often wished others knew that about them.  I’ve seen too many obituaries which note the deceased person’s former occupation as the first thing right after their name. I’ve often wondered if that is how they would have wanted to be known by the world.  There was a time I felt that way, knowing that I was more than what most of the world saw. I no longer feel that way; I am what I am by the grace of GOD; a shift happened; and what I am is not distinct from what I do.

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In two notable places in Scripture, the Divine is referenced as I AM. GOD identified Himself to Moses as I AM on Mt. Sinai (Exodus 3:14).  Jesus said the same thing of Himself in one of His many back-and-forths with the Scribes and Pharisees (John 8:58). These were unmistakable declarations of self-identification. They were also introductory statements to the work that GOD does: I AM who gives life; I AM who saves; I AM who sanctifies; I AM who provides; I AM who defends; I AM who loves, I AM who reigns, etc. The identity of GOD (Father, Son and Holy Spirit) is never separate from the work of GOD.  Why should it be? He loves His work; and it is all good.

Perhaps Paul’s use of that phrase to define himself (“I am who I am…”) was his way of identifying his life with the life of GOD and his work with the work of GOD.  After all, he did say that we should be imitators of GOD in lifestyle and work (Ephesians 5:1), something made possible by GOD’s grace. I believe Paul loved his work; and it was good.

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Being an image-bearer of GOD is more than a spiritual identification tag.  To bear GOD’s image goes to the very nature of being a Christian. It is to allow the I AM in us to be made alive by His Spirit; it is to be transformed by I AM; it is to obey I AM; and it is to do the work of I AM by being a little I am by the grace of GOD.  Is this not the pathway that will make good what we do?

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

Some Things Are Beyond Rational

“As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways
and My thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55:9)

 

One of the by-products of the Protestant Reformation (16th and early 17th centuries) was a movement away from many of the mystical elements of Christianity (which were, at times, misused and resulted in abuses).  There was, simultaneously, a movement to proclaim and teach biblical truth by coupling it with human ability to reason.  A few examples follow:

  • The use of languages common to people during times of worship was more valid than the exclusive use of Latin known only by the clergy and the educated wealthy. It was reasonable for people to understand what was being said by worship leaders.
  • Cause and effect (‘if this is done, the effect will be that’) in spiritual matters was a relatively easy way to teach spiritual truths…this approach made understanding easier for most people. It was reasonable for people to understand what GOD intended them to know.
  • The sacramental elements of communion (bread and wine) became symbols of a spiritual truth rather than material things that mystically changed in substance as a result of an action by clergy.  It was reasonable for people to accept the metaphor of Christ’s body and blood without believing they were literally consuming flesh and blood.
  • People didn’t need to rely on a priest to intercede before GOD on their behalf because of some ‘special spiritual ability’ only priests possessed. It was reasonable for every person to be able to go directly to GOD on their own because the Temple veil of separation had been torn down.
  • The Bible was for everyone who could read, to read. It was for GOD’s people, not for the exclusive use of the clergy class. It was reasonable for people to have direct access to GOD’s Word.
  • The Church was a vessel for Truth, but not an equal to the Truth.  It was reasonable for believers to not be conflicted or confused by claims of ultimate spiritual authority.

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Even before the Reformation, the use of reason was not an unknown means of faith expression. The Eastern Church, after its split from Rome, was very much open to viewing Greek philosophies as precursors to Christianity and, therefore, was willing to view elements of those philosophies as tools to grasp faith.  Thomas Aquinas, considered by many to be the greatest of Roman Catholic theologians, was a strong proponent of marrying faith and reason.  After the Reformation, John Wesley, the great teacher of Methodism, viewed human ability to reason as only second to Scripture in understanding spiritual truth.  The use of reason has great value.

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All inspired movements in the hands of humans, however, are subject to overreach. I have long held that the Protestant Reformation, in trying to put religion in the hands of the people and in attempting to curb the institutional power of the Church, swung the pendulum so far in the opposite direction that it resulted in mystical elements of Christianity becoming too suspect in the minds of many.  GOD has revealed through His prophets, His Word, and through Jesus Christ what we need in order to be in right relationship with Him.  But that doesn’t mean that we know or can know all there is to know, that we have or can have all wisdom and understanding at our fingers.  Our ability to reason can take us far, but it can’t take us all the way; there remains a super-rational, supernatural aspect to GOD that surpasses reason.

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We may mentally understand the concept of having an intimate relationship with GOD, but how does that happen at a super-rational level? What if this isn’t taught by our spiritual leaders or pursued and practiced by us?  And then there is the question of is that something we really want. What if He speaks to us!?  That’s not just a little mystical; it’s a lot mystical.

We don’t always understand the ‘whys’ of loss and suffering. We don’t get the senselessness of so much of what we see and experience.  If GOD is both sovereign (in ultimate charge) and the very nature of love, how can these things be?  We either accept this paradox and its mystery and soldier through, or we lose faith in GOD.

He tells us to pray as a habit of our spiritual lives. He tells us to pray in those times when we’ve done and said all we can to influence a difference in our circumstances or those of our loved ones or in our churches, and our best seems like it makes no difference at all.  He tells us to be fervent in prayer.  He tells us to trust that nothing escapes His view and that He hears our prayers and answers in the right time in the right way.  He asks us to enter into and remain in this mystery of faith without seeing the fruit of it now, or understanding how it works.

And He continually asks us to believe that His grace is fully sufficient for every aspect of our lives as believers.

Some things are just beyond the rational. That’s no reason to not use reason; we just need to remember not to put so much trust in reason that we forget GOD is bigger than our reason.

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

Why Just One Voice?

“There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord.  There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work.  Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.”  (1 Corinthians 12:5-7)

  Typically, I draft my Monday morning posts several days in advance. I like to have several looks at them prior to publishing them.  I usually let what I write sit for a day or two before a second look, and invariably I will edit some portion of what I had written once I take that second, and sometimes third, look.  Because of my attendance at district assembly this past week, I’m just getting around to writing this.  I thought I might have some quiet writing time while I was away, but it just wasn’t there.  It’s now less than 24 hours before it will be posted; so I won’t have the space I normally give myself.

Although I didn’t get any writing done while I was gone, I did have a topic selected: Why Just One Voice? I initially was going to write about something else, but midweek I felt an inner tug to make this change.  And I’m approaching the one year mark so maybe it’s a timely revisit.

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So, Why Just One Voice? The answer is because it’s the only voice I have…and I choose to use it.  My desire is to glorify GOD who is worthy of all human superlatives (plus)  and all effort to know Him.  I believe He wants to be known (James 4:8).  I also believe I need to do this as my part, and writing is a chosen vehicle.  Writing about Him gives me an opportunity to edify (instruct, strengthen, encourage) anyone choosing to read this stuff.  Giving in this way is a lion share of my purpose for being.  As I have done this or tried (edifying others), over the years, I have been edified by GOD’s Spirit, and my own joy has been made full.

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In last week’s post, I mentioned that I was actually looking forward to attending district assembly, something those who know me well would probably scoff at. Now having attended, I can look back and say that my expectations were well met in several ways.  Here are two.  On day one, a Scottish millennial missionary, living in El Paso, TX and ministering to asylum seekers through a church-run border project, spoke.  His comments were heavily laced with the importance of fulfilling our GOD-given purpose.  On day two, the thirty-something year old chaplain to an NFL team shared the amazing story of his own redemption, transformation, call to ministry and finding his way in that call, and challenged everyone listening to “be in the game and not sideline watchers” using whatever GOD has given us to be a blessing to others, for the sake of the One who loves the world.

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Both of these speakers, though stylistically different, were very effective in focusing our attention on the fact that the relationship between GOD and us means that we have a very important role to play in the redemption story. We are not called to be beneficiaries of grace alone; each of us is also called to be givers and extenders of that very grace.  We can do that in our day-to-day interactions with people as we go about our day, and we can do that by developing and using those gifts of the Spirit that GOD has sent to us special delivery.  In them, we find the route to action that testifies to our faith; we find much of our purpose.  Our giftedness is the way our faith works.

Perhaps that tug at my heart last week to change what I planned to write about for this week was so that I would join my two brothers who repeated that which those of us who have long tenures in the church have heard so many times before. Perhaps I needed to hear it again.  Each person in the kingdom of GOD must use whatever voice GOD has given us for the sake of the kingdom and His great name.  Repetition is not necessarily a bad thing.

How are you using your voice?  No, really!  What are you doing with it?

 “It is no trouble for me to write the same things to you again, and it is a safeguard for you.” (Paul in Philippians 3:1)

 

“So I will always remind you of these things, even though you know them and are firmly established in the truth you now have.  I think it is right to refresh your memory as long as I live in the tent of this body…” (Peter in 2 Peter 1:12-13)

 

 

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

 

 

An Ode to a Friend

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

A Rhythm Not of Man

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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