Category Archives: Discipleship

The Unadorned Self

“When Jesus saw Nathanael approaching, He said of him, ‘Here truly is an Israelite in whom there is no deceit.’ ‘How do you know me?’ Nathanael asked.  Jesus answered, ‘I saw you while you were still under the fig tree before Philip called you.’” – John 1:47-48

I made my living as a human resources officer for many years, working for several companies, large and small. During that phase of life, I was called upon to interview many people, seeking to fill various job openings.  The intent of the interview process is to determine, through conversation and questioning, whether a candidate possesses the skills to perform a particular role, their desire to meet the requirements of that role, their potential to fill other roles, and their “fit” with the organizational culture.

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Knowing that job candidates almost always try to present their “best selves,” the interviewer’s job is to discover the “real” or “unadorned self” of each applicant. Effective interviewing combines both art and science to peel back the layers of each person’s presentation in order to arrive at good selection decisions.

There’s nothing unusual about wanting to present an adorned self; it’s consistent with how we’ve (in the West) been socialized. We’ve been taught to put our best foot forward since early childhood, and those lessons influence just about every area of our lives, whether professional or personal.  An easy example would be in how we respond to the question, “How are you?” Responses like “Great!” or “I’m good; how about you?” are hardwired in.  How many of us would dare to tell the truth on most occasions if that truth was anything other than “Fine?”

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Imagine Peter applying for the job of Apostle, and the interviewer asks him to share an example of a time when an area of weakness inhibited his effectiveness, and then asks him to talk about what he was thinking and feeling at the time, and what he learned from that experience. Peter: Well, sometimes my passion gets the best of me. I’ve been known to act before I think.   There was this one occasion when I cut someone’s ear off.  At the time, I thought it was a good idea…

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In this mock setting, Peter reveals what a friend calls his jerkface, that untransformed part of him that, like his action-oriented, ready to lead side, is a part of who he really is.  This is a side he might prefer to keep hidden in most instances.  No, there’s nothing unusual about it, but that doesn’t mean it’s healthy.

We each have a jerkface side.  It may be the way we unconsciously reveal a character flaw or an area of insecurity or a behavior response developed to deal with unresolved hurt or trust issues or anything else that may be a manifestation of emotional and spiritual imprisonment, blindness, and/or oppression (Luke 4:19-19).  While we often work hard to keep these things hidden from the eyes of others (and perhaps from ourselves), Jesus sees all of us with perfect clarity, just like he saw Nathaniel.  He doesn’t need to ask interview questions to know the full truth about each of us.  To Him, we each are fully peeled onion.  A question we should ask ourselves is whether we are open to knowing the truth about ourselves?  Are we willing to see our unadorned self?

That Jesus sees us and still loves us is really good news.  Thanks be to GOD!  While we may never acknowledge those jerkface parts of ourselves to a human interviewer, we can and should acknowledge them to Him in the full confidence that He already knows and is waiting for us to give them to Him as an offering of faith.  What might Jesus do in the life of one who is truly unadorned of all façades and is unafraid to trust Him?  Could  this be part of the pathway to abundant life that He spoke of offering us in John 10:10?  Just sayin’

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

 

Surrendering to Weakness

“But He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.” – 2 Corinthians 12:9

I don’t know about you, but I can be compulsive about some things…like getting my weekly blog post published first thing Monday morning. There are others.  I think the compulsion might fit into the biblical category of “infirmity.”  I say this because the Holy Spirit has brought it my attention as a control issue.

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So what’s the point? I haven’t had much energy to think or write this last week.  I have the flu, and all I really want to do is sleep.  So here’s the compromise: all I have today is my confession, and an acknowledgment that this flu reminds me that I am not in control.

I’m glad I know who is.  Bless you.

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

Like A Tree Planted By The Water

“I have set the Lord continually before me;
Because He is at my right hand, I will not be shaken.” –
Psalm 16:8 (NASB)

By the time I post this, I will have attended, officiated over, or otherwise spoken at four funeral services in four of the last five weeks. I’ve heard anecdotal evidence that there are more funerals in the month or so following the Advent season and the onset of a new year than at any other time of the year.  This is a pattern I’ve noticed from my own experiences over the years, as well as a result of speaking with colleagues in pastoral ministry.  I’ve never taken the time until recently to see if there is any statistical data that supports this; and it seems there is, with January being the highest month.1

Aside from the apparent statistical reliability of the data, this is a sad reality that is the cause of great loss and painful grief in the lives of our friends, loved ones, and sooner or later, us ourselves.   The causes of death don’t seem to matter nearly as much as the reality of death, even when it is expected.  It is an emotionally shattering event; you know this if you’ve  experienced it.

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I’m not a linguist, but I do think words are important. As a Bible student, this is important so as not to misunderstand important concepts and to avoid misleading others who may look to me for clarity about what Scripture says and means.  In my past preaching ministry, and even now, I try to be intentional about the words I use (or don’t use).  I try to take the time to study words.   One that I have seen crop-up in various biblical texts is the word “shaken.”  Some versions of the Bible substitute the word “moved.”  One clear connotation for both words is the idea of being overthrown, that is, to be dislodged from a prior connection.  If you’ve ever gone wild water rafting, it’s not uncommon for the rapids to be so strong that you get violently thrown out of the boat.  That’s what the Bible means when these words are used.

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When I was in high school, our basketball teams were consistently among the best, if not the best, in our conference. It was rare, in fact, that we weren’t ranked high among other teams in the state.  Back in those stone-age days, the cheerleaders would lead the crowd in this chorus:

We shall not, we shall not be moved (2x)

Just like a tree planted by the water

We shall not be moved.2

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I’m sure this isn’t what was intended by those who sang the chorus during Civil Rights rallies and marches in the 1960s, but it worked well to pump-up a crowd of people wanting to see their basketball team dominate opposing teams. We weren’t thinking at all about the chorus’  scriptural bases which are found in Psalm 1:3 and Jeremiah 17:8: deeply rooted trees planted near streams of water…and because of that they were able to withstand and prosper even in times of drought when others were wilting and dying.

David had the same idea when he declared that because GOD was continually before him, both in rank (He is Supreme) and in position (He was first in line, preceding David in battle against the enemy, whether against the flesh and blood or the spiritual kind).   David had confidence that he would not be overthrown from where GOD had placed him.  Because GOD was at his right hand (the right hand is a biblical symbol of strength), David would not be shaken and moved away from his deep connection to and trust in GOD.  Life’s harsh rapids would not throw him out of the boat.

Death, particularly tragic death, will sometimes result in the overthrow of the survivors. It can be like being caught in a vortex of water rapids where all of a sudden the boat tries to catapult its passengers out.  It’s at these times, which have come and are sure to come again, that we need to be able to say, “I have set the Lord continually before me; because He is at my right hand, I will not be shaken.”

The trick is to have this relationship in place and well entrenched before there is a desperate need to depend on it.  Waiting for the overthrowing event to happen may be way too late to enable living in sustaining faith.  To the prepared goes the victory.

I thank GOD for those who have shown me what it is to be prepared, to have the Lord continually before me; and I thank Him for those who, despite life’s sometimes hard circumstances, are like trees planted by the water.  They bless others without knowing it.   

  1. Bartol, Steve. “Yes, It’s True. More People Die in January,” Legacy.com. http://www.legacy.com/news/culture-and-trends/article/yes-its-true-more-people-die-in-january

2. “We Shall Not Be Moved” is derivative of a similar song sung by African-Americans during the time of slavery. It was commonly sung during the Civil Rights era by artists such as Pete Seeger and Mavis Staples. The lyrics of the chorus are in the public domain.

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

To the Top of the Mountain

“On the mountains, torrents flow right along, cutting their own courses. But on the plains canals have to be dug painfully by men so that the water might flow. So among those who live on the heights with God, the Holy Spirit makes its way through of its own accord, whereas those who devote little time to prayer and communion with God have to organize painfully.”  – Sadhu Sundar Singh

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Among other things, this quote is a powerful reminder that the Christian faith is the result of God loving the world, the whole world, and not only the select few who live in the West. Singh was raised as a Sikh but attended a school run by Christian missionaries.  He was forced to read the NT daily, but rejected its teaching as false.  He did, however, become a Christian at age 14 around the turn of the 20th century following the death of his mother.

In his grief and anger, Singh burned a Bible, and then on the verge of suicide, cried out to God asking Him to reveal Himself if He was real. As the story goes, a light entered his room and Singh heard a voice, “How long will you deny Me,” the voice said. “I died for you.” Then Singh claims he saw two hands that were pierced, which then disappeared.  That was his Damascus Road experience (Acts 9:1-6).  Singh devoted the rest of his life to proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ.  He spent his adult life as an itinerant evangelist to India, Tibet and Ceylon (now Sri Lanka).

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I come across many quotable sayings in my reading, but Singh’s mountain metaphor is striking to me. I can easily picture the flowing water finding its way down the crevasses, patiently working around rocky obstacles or pushing them aside, and slowly building volume until the stream pours down the mountain face like a waterfall.

Throughout the Bible there are mountain references. Among the most prominent are Sinai, the Mount of Olives, and Zion.  Each is noted for its unique relationship to the people of GOD.  Sinai is where the Law was given, the foundation of a morality that was supposed to bring light into a dark world.  It is also the mountain in whose shadow GOD’s chosen people, thinking they needed sight more than faith, openly rebelled against GOD’s exclusive claim on them by creating and worshipping an idol.  Finally, this is the mountain at which Israel placed the onus on Moses to commune with GOD on their behalf, so fearful were they at stirring up His anger.  And so the water (Holy Spirit) was poured down on Moses, but I’m not so sure about the rest of them.

The Mount of Olives is the location of the garden of Gethsemane where Jesus spent the night in prayer facing His greatest trial. It was here that the angels came and ministered to Him as He prayed in mental agony (water of the Spirit being poured out on Him).  Despite His invitation to several of disciples to pray along with Him, they failed under the weight of the temptation to sleep.  The disciples, His called ones, missed sharing in the outpouring that He received, and much of their collective response later revealed their spiritual shortcomings during and immediately after the arrest of Jesus, an after-effect of spiritual sloth.

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Lastly, there is Mt. Zion, the location of Jerusalem, the site of the old city of David, the center of the Judeo-Christian world where Abraham is believed to have paid a tithe to Melchizedek the priest, the site of the first and second Temple, a subject in the Psalms of Ascent to which pilgrims sang as they marched toward worship at the annual feasts, and the place of Calvary (means Skull because the hill resembles one) where Jesus was crucified.  The last event gave us free access to GOD.  The Temple curtain tore at the death of Jesus; eliminating our need for the intercession of a human priest.  We have free access to GOD, limited only by our desire and willingness to commune with Him.  Jesus is the offer of “living water” (John 7:38).

Mr. Singh seems to be challenging us not to allow fear of GOD (like the ancient Israelites), nor spiritual sloth (like the sleeping disciples) to keep us from enjoying the privileges we have in Christ. Similarly, we cannot become so enamored with where we are, like the many overly proud Jerusalemites, that we forget whose we are.

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Instead, we can daily be like those marching to Zion in great anticipation of feasting on GOD. GOD will surely welcome us if we climb to the top of the mountain.  He will pour Himself over us and into us as a fountain of water that lives.

Come go with me.

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

Remembering

“There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens…”              – Ecclesiastes 3:1

A TIME FOR REMEMBERING

                                                                                                                                                

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“The gospel of Christ knows of no religion, but social; no holiness but social holiness…” (John Wesley)

“I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality. This is why right, temporarily defeated, is stronger than evil triumphant.” (Martin Luther King, Jr.)

We will press on.

 

Defensive Optimism

 “For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.”     – 2 Timothy 1:17

We’re only two weeks into the new year, and the idea of resolutions hasn’t left me yet.

From what I’ve noticed, it’s pretty common for folks to want to face a new year with optimism. Some are authentically optimistic. The practice of declaring one or more resolutions is symptomatic of this desire to be optimistic about the future. But something I’ve begun to think about more recently is an optimism that is defensive in nature, a feigned optimism that I think may be designed to protect us from the things we fear or don’t want to deal with. If we speak and behave as if everything will be okay, then maybe it will. But what if those hidden concerns are justified?

It seems to me that there are two ways to respond. One way is to acknowledge a legitimate concern, do what we can to address it, and after going as far as we can in faith with our eyes open, proceeding in faith alone, trusting that GOD knows how to guide us through “the valley of the shadow of death.” This is what C. S. Lewis called “a leap into the dark.” It is a response that is neither optimistic nor pessimistic, but looks to an outcome that rests solely on the will of GOD.

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The other option I see is what I’ve chosen to call defensive optimism, a self-created pathway designed to walk around (rather than through) the “valley of the shadow of death” so that there is no need to take that leap into the dark. It is in effect, an attempt to create an alternative reality where the dark is not acknowledged. I don’t believe this really reflects what Scripture occasionally called “sober thinking” or a “sound mind,” according to 2 Timothy 2:17.

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Recently, I watched a video of an interview with Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, a transported Nigerian novelist and essayist who now divides most of her time between Nigeria and the U.S. In this interview, she made what I thought was a startling comment. When asked about her observations about Americans, she said something along these lines (my paraphrase): What I find interesting about Americans is their deep aversion to discomfort of any type. In Nigeria, discomfort is a part of everyday life, and we live with it and around it. But Americans have great difficulty tolerating discomfort. They don’t want to feel uncomfortable, and often go out of their way to avoid dealing with things that make them feel uncomfortable.

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As soon as the words came out of her mouth, my visceral response was “Yikes!” I’ve seen this and felt it and sometimes lived it. Avoiding the uncomfortable, the painful, the sad is certainly a strategy, but what if the discomfort serves a useful purpose? Suppose, like physical pain, various forms of discomfort are intended to let us know that something is wrong and needs attention. Being defensively optimistic may actually subvert and undermine that which we actually need.

That’s not to say that all discomfort is intended to communicate a needed message; it may be nothing more than a side effect of living in a fallen, broken world. This is an everyday reality for everyone. Someone misunderstands you or says something hurtful to you or is dismissive of you. Someone you trust violates a confidence or you lose their friendship and you don’t know why. Your child is struggling to make friends in a new school and comes home and cries. You feel overworked and underappreciated. You see a homeless person panhandling at a traffic light and you feel guilty because you want the light to change so that you can drive away. You turn the channel when you see the commercial about abused animals or starving children because it’s hard to look at. Difficult and deep rooted social or political issues are raised in your presence, and you seek ways to avoid any conflict or disagreement because the conflict makes you uncomfortable! How many other examples are there?

Discomfort is not necessarily a right state of being, but if you and I are experiencing it, then it is our reality; not any false optimism we create in order to have a preferred life scenario.

“In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). These are the words of Jesus. Maybe the best thing we can do when facing the choice of living in the reality of our discomfort or covering it over defensively is to let Him do what He does, overcome and make us into overcomers. Comedian Mel Brooks wasn’t all wrong, life does stink sometimes. But because of who we are in Christ… But because of who we are in Christ… But because of who we are in Christ… (There’s a point here!).

I pray that this year we’re in is filled with great joy and gladness. But if it isn’t, may you find strength and rest in the One who calls you, saves you, and sustains you.

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

Eating What Is Good

“Only sanctified souls are satisfied souls” – Charles Spurgeon

Who doesn’t want satisfaction? I want to have it; I want to experience it continually.  I assume you do as well.  I don’t think I have ever met anyone who didn’t.  How we express or imply this desire often varies, but it’s an underlying hunger in all of us.

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The duelists of centuries past sought satisfaction in response to real or perceived insults to their honor by trying to kill their opponents. Many who regularly visit convenience stores seldom leave without buying lottery tickets seeking satisfaction in the prospect of a winning number and a big payout.  I’m convinced that the hunger for inner satisfaction is at the root of all substance abuse.  Mick Jagger cried out for it because he couldn’t get any (pull-up and read the lyrics of “Satisfaction” on your search engine).  A friend of ours with the financial ability to support her habit is a self-admitted shop-a-holic.  Prior to her encounter with Jesus, the Samaritan woman He later met at the well sought satisfaction through her relationships with men.  The list of ways people pursue satisfaction is near endless.

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Seven hundred years ago or so before the birth of Jesus, the Prophet Isaiah, speaking for GOD, said, “Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost. Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labor on what does not satisfy? Listen, listen to Me, and eat what is good, and you will delight in the richest of fare (Isaiah 55:1-2). Why indeed? And yet the track record of humanity is pretty clear and consistent…in its movement away from GOD.

 Eating what is good and experiencing satisfaction is a constant theme in the Bible. Centuries before Isaiah, David testified to the same thing, “Taste and see that the LORD is good; blessed is the one who takes refuge in Him” (Psalm 34:8).

 Many years ago, shortly after we entered into our walk of faith with Jesus, my wife and I joined the church’s choir. One of the practices of our then choir director was to assign different choir members to sing “the special” (a solo song) at either an upcoming Sunday morning or Sunday evening worship service (I know this sounds very foreign to some of you; and I’m chuckling as I write this. I just felt old all of a sudden. Maybe it will go away.).

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One Sunday, he told my wife she was singing the following Sunday night, giving her a week to prepare. Putting aside her deep anxiety, she selected and sang a song that I have heard her sing many times since, and one that so summarizes who I believe her to be: “Only Jesus Can Satisfy Your Soul.” Yeah, that’s her.

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I like what Charles Spurgeon (a mid and late 19th century evangelist) said about the relationship between sanctification and satisfaction. So many folks (Christian folks), it seems to me, miss what they actually desire because they don’t want to relinquish control to Jesus, who is the sanctification of GOD in flesh and in Spirit (an easy definition of sanctification is someone or something made holy and set apart and enabled for GOD’s exclusive use). They don’t want Him to have complete access and freedom to cleanse what is impure, to heal what is broken, and to transform wrong thinking about themselves, about others, about life, and ultimately about GOD, despite the fact that Jesus said that’s why He came (see Luke 4:16-21). I know I needed Him to do those things for me; and I know I’m still one of His works-in-progress (I know this because He reminds me periodically).

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Jesus is life itself and He extends the offer of abundant life to any who would receive it from Him (John 10:10). He seeks entry at the doors of our lives waiting for the invitation to enter for intimate fellowship (this passage – Revelation 3:20 – was written for a Christian audience, by the way). Sadly, He is often left standing at the gate of the walls many of us have constructed to keep unwanted things out. And, even though we may be saved by GOD’s grace through faith in His sacrifice on the cross, many hold on to the fantasy that they can get the satisfaction they want through other means and apart from Him ( please see John 15: 5 on this!).

If anything, doing this makes us Christianized versions of those who are trying to hit the number. We may not be lining up to buy lottery tickets, but we’re doing something to get what we want. Here’s an option, let’s just eat what is good…and do it continually, rather than pursuing things that have surface appeal but no sustaining or soul-satisfying nutritional value. Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labor on what does not satisfy?

 I think that’s a pretty solid plan. I pray you do as well.

Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to Me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in Me will never be thirsty (John 6:35).

 

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

ABKCO Music holds the copyright to “Satisfaction” which was recorded and released by the Rolling Stones.

Lanny Wolf holds the copyright to “Only Jesus Can Satisfy Your Soul.”