Category Archives: Discipleship

Words That Reverberate

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

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

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

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

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

With whom do you feel most at home?

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

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

Steward the Faith

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Stuff of Dreams

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oh how He loves you and me.

Oh how He loves you and me.

He gave His life; 

What more could He give?

Oh how He loves you;

Oh how He loves me;

Oh how He loves you and me.1

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

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

An Immigrant Issue

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Surely Goodness and Mercy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jesus Is Not A Coat

“For I have come down from heaven not to do My will but to do the will of Him who sent me.”  (John 6:38)

By Jesus not being a coat, I mean that references to Him, regardless of the form those references take, are not for the putting on or taking off for convenient reasons.  There’s an awful lot of that going on.  

Groups and individuals often do it for political, social and cultural reasons when they believe doing so helps to advance a particular agenda or underscore something important to them.  I’ve sometimes felt like another is bringing Him (or perhaps something about their church or their pastor or their worship style preference, etc.) into their conversation in order to sound “spiritual.”  And then later, once they’ve done that, they take Him off like they would a coat.  From that point on, much of what they do and say is not reminiscent of Him.  I’ve had more than one salesperson try to turn conversation with me to spiritual issues once they found out what I did.  

Quasi-Christianity should not, at all, define Christ’s Church, meaning the assembly of those who claim to belong to Him by grace, through faith.  Coats are things we put on and take off depending on our external environment.  Intimate relationship with Jesus has absolutely nothing to do with our external environment.  I believe John 6:38 points us in the right direction.  If we are abiding in Him as He has instructed us, then our calling is to do, not our own will, but His will, just as He did the will of the Father who sent Him.

The temptation will always be to do our own will, to listen to our own counsel, to follow our own lead, to be wise in our own eyes.  These are strong and difficult temptations to resist because they often reflect our conclusions about what is good and right.  But if He is ours and we are His and we believe that He has given us spiritual empowerment in addition to spiritual instruction (i.e. the Holy Spirit), we have to give preeminence to His voice, not our own.  The ability to overcome those temptations is within us, the ability to think, say and act sincerely “Not my will but Thy will be done.”

One of the lines of what is commonly called “The Lord’s Prayer” is “…Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”  Whose job do you think it is to do GOD’s will on earth?  If we claim we follow Him, then it is ours.  We can’t do that if we wear Jesus like a coat.

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

The High Calling of GOD

“Therefore I urge you, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship…Since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, each of us is to use them properly…” (Romans 12:1, 6)

Both my wife and I were raised in households with high behavioral expectations.  Some of that was culturally-based and some of it was due to the size of our households.  The bottom-line was that childhood permissiveness wasn’t part of our experience.  While there was never a question about who our parents were and who we belonged to, we had responsibilities in and for the household.  

I easily remember being 12 and 13 and pulling the covers over my head on Saturday mornings hoping my father think I was asleep and not wake me.  It didn’t happen.  He usually gave me until 8 or 8:30 before he marched into my room to tell me to get up and come outside to mow the lawn, rake leaves, shovel snow or whatever else he wanted me to do.  Most times he was out there with me but doing something else.  And even the times when his job called him away from home, I knew he would call at some point and ask my mother if I had done my work. My wife’s story is much the same.  She was the second oldest of seven siblings which meant lots of work to go around, and everyone had a part.      

As adults, we brought a similar approach to the raising of our own children.  They were ours.  We loved them dearly just as we were loved…and they shared in the responsibilities of our household.  Our expectations of them were age appropriate, but there were expectations none-the-less.  Some might have thought we were a little strict, but I doubt anyone would have accused us of being permissive parents.

I’ve wondered, over the years, if too low expectations and permissiveness in the Church contributes to churches struggling to effectively pursue the grand mission of making disciples for Jesus Christ.  To be blunt, are there too many spoiled children in the household of GOD?  

Jesus never doubted whose Son He was.  He knew He was loved.  It was for that very reason He worked as hard as He did, sacrificing His life for the sake of all who were and are estranged from GOD.  The calling of GOD is high and requires faith to believe and effort to pursue.   

There is a difference between relationship and vocation!  Yes, we are called to and offered the opportunity to be in relationship with GOD through Christ.  That doesn’t mean that, upon accepting that offer by faith, we then walk around claiming to be sons and daughters of the King but without accepting any responsibility to His kingdom.  To do so is a denial of the vocation that comes with the relationship, which is unfaithfulness.  It might do to read and reread Romans 12, 1 Corinthians 12, and Ephesians 4 (all written by the Apostle Paul) to be taught or reminded of the high emphasis placed on the children of GOD doing the work of GOD.               

I recall an old Lanny Wolf song that speaks to this very issue.  The song’s chorus is:

My house is full, but my field is empty, 
Who will go and work for Me today. 
It seems My children all want to stay around My table, 
But no one wants to work in My fields, 
No one wants to work in My fields.
 1

If we think about it, the house can’t remain full for long if no one is working in the fields.  For those of us who claim that special relationship with the Most High GOD, let’s be faithful to the Christ-like vocation to which we were assigned.  Am I pulling the covers off your head?  You’ll survive.  Actually, you’ll thrive.       

  1. My House Is Full (But My Field Is Empty) by Lanny Wolf, Published in 1977. 

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

Fanning the Flame

“I’m writing to encourage you to fan into a flame and rekindle the fire of the spiritual gift God imparted to you…” (2 Timothy 1:6)

When Paul wrote these words to his mentee Timothy, he knew his time on Earth was coming to an end.  The executioner’s blade loomed on the horizon.  Still, the work to which Paul had dedicated the years of his life, ever since his encounter with the risen Lord while on the road to Damascus, must continue.  Timothy, among others, were chosen vessels to take up this mantle much in the same way Elisha took on the mantle of Elijah.  

Segue alert!

My wife and I are in the process of purchasing and installing a gas fireplace in our condo.  I miss having a fireplace.  Burning a winter fire in a previous home was one of those small joys that people often talk about experiencing but are hard pressed to name in the moment if asked to do so.  

Getting the fire started (it was a traditional, wood burning fireplace) always took a few moments, but once the kindling or fire starter log caught it wasn’t long before there was a roaring blaze of leaping flames. It was beautiful to watch. 

Split wood logs were added to keep the fire going as we relaxed with a book and a cup of coffee (for me) or tea (for her).  On Sunday afternoons, we would often fall asleep in the warmth of the fire only to wake to the glowing embers that was once a fire.  Stirring these embers and adding a piece or two of wood usually revived things and once again the beauty of the blaze would fill our sights.  

Fires need to be fed fuel and fanned if they are going to burn hot.  This is true in the physical and in the spiritual world.  Paul uses this imagery to exhort Timothy to be a good steward of the spiritual fire lit in him; otherwise it would die out and the work to which Timothy had been called would wilt on the vine.

Many people begin well.  They are on fire for the Lord; their enthusiasm and energy is contagious.  Not all, however, continue to fan the flame of their faith over the long-haul.  Whether it be a lack of commitment to grow deeper and deeper spiritual roots or getting caught up in what Jesus called “the cares of the world” or spiritual confusion/frustration, what were once roaring fires of the spirit become dying embers that are sorely in need of something to reignite what was once there.  

Whether it knows it or not (and I tend to think it doesn’t), the world needs those whose flames burn high and hot for GOD…and for those who have been given much (like gifts of the Spirit), much is required (Luke 12:48).

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

Higher Ground

“…They wandered the earth living in the desert wilderness, in caves, on barren mountains and in holes in the earth.  Truly, the world was not even worthy of them, not realizing who they were.” (Hebrews 11:38)

Over lunch with friends, we somehow got into a conversation about the catacombs in Rome.  One of our friends had visited Rome and had toured the catacombs.  For the uninitiated, these particular catacombs were used as underground burial sites for early Christians and Jews who disagreed with the Roman practice of burning their dead.  

During periods of Roman persecution of Christianity in the second through the early part of the fourth centuries, it was next to impossible for Christians to purchase land for burial purposes.  The underground passageways just outside of the city became the place where families and churches found a final resting place for the bodies of their loved ones.

Thinking about these dead bodies being placed in elongated holes in the ground led me to think of this passage from Hebrews 11 describing the living “resting places” of many the heroes of the faith whose names we do not know, who nevertheless, persevered on faith alone.  They were waiting for something far better than what the world could offer.  They had to be expecting something better given the description of their circumstances we see in the verse.  

I think, in some ways, Stevie Wonder’s Higher Ground* can serve as an anthem for those of us who, too, are waiting.  While there are pantheistic (harmonizing multiple religions) influences in the song, the overall theme reflects Stevie’s belief that people will continue to do what they have always done, whether good or bad, but he is grateful to be given opportunities to repent of past sins, to learn from past mistakes and the errors of youth, and to keep trying until he reaches higher ground.  

At one point near the end of the song, he refers to reaching the “highest ground.”  For those whose bodies were buried in the catacombs or referenced in the verse above and for many of us still here, this is our aim, the highest ground.  It’s what we’ve bet the proverbial ranch on.

Higher Ground, written by Stevie Wonder.  Released July 1973 by Jobete Music Co., Inc. on the Tamla label.

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

Opportunities & Privileges

I may have mentioned this in a previous post; I don’t recall.  A couple of weeks ago, I saw a meme that reminded me of myself: “You have to forgive me if I told you this before.  I only have five memories and they take turns.”  With a nod to some exaggeration, I resemble that from time to time.

Anyway, for the last few months I’ve been meeting virtually with some of my elementary school classmates.  We just had our monthly get-together on Saturday evening for an hour.  Some months we’ve had nearly twenty of us on the call and, in other months, maybe eight to ten.  It’s been good reconnecting with people, most of whom, I haven’t seen since high school graduation.  

The meetings are for our elementary school class because we all grew up in the same few neighborhoods.  Many of our parents knew each other and some socialized together.  We were all in the same classes together with the same teachers in a small school setting before the dispersion that middle school and high school tracking processes force.

We’re all around the same age: at or just before 70; a couple are at or near 71.  Most of us are parents and grandparents, and even a few great-grandparents.  I’ve really enjoyed listening to the life stories of people I was in reading groups with and with whom I played kickball and dodgeball at recess.  They have all had rich and interesting experiences that have led them to this point in life, including the requisite bumps and bruises along the way. 

Career wise, more than a few became teachers.  One is a retired nurse who worked with developmentally disabled people and who now houses several developmentally disabled adults in her home.  Another, who was with me in every grade from Kindergarten to Sixth Grade, became dean of students at a prominent university.  One of the guys who was always good at sports played professional basketball in South America after college and went on to be a successful business owner before retiring.  One of our number went on to get her PhD and has successfully run her on strategy consulting business for years and is still going strong.   

Of the things we have in common, all of us are of the generation that witnessed and were a part of the social unrest in the 1960s.  Each of us is very attuned to and conscious of the things in our current world that are disturbing to our collective peace. We’ve seen a lot of it before.  Occasionally, someone voices their feelings and thoughts during these meetings.  Feelings of tiredness, feelings of anger and feelings of deep frustration at what seems to be never changing circumstances, surface every now and then.  This past Saturday night, our meeting facilitator asked me to open with prayer for the members of the group in light of all of the turbulence in our line of sight and in our line of emotions.  This is the first time this has happened.    

I don’t participate on these calls itching to testify to my faith, but when the opportunity presents itself, it is no time to shy away.  I prayed for my old friends and classmates, and in doing so shared my confidence that my Lord Jesus is in control despite what we see and feel and that He is fully able to sustain all of us at every level of life’s need.  I didn’t pray to give them a palliative (pain killer), but to keep the pain from having power it shouldn’t, that is, the power to control us.  I prayed to point us all to the One who overcame the world and the pain, trouble and tribulation so common to it.  Doing so was a privilege because we all need to overcome the world rather than have the world overwhelm us, and He is the pathway.

I’m already looking forward to next month’s meeting.

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