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Looking Back to Move Forward

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Where are we, the (2)1st century or the 21st century?

“That which has been is that which will be, and that which has been done is that which will be done. So there is nothing new under the sun.” – Ecclesiastes 1:9 

In Christ, the passage of time doesn’t have the same relevance it has apart from Him.  Whether we’re in the 1st century or the 21st century, Christ is unchanging.

I want to live, always being ready to give a reason for the hope I  have within, and doing so with gentleness and respect.  (1 Peter 3:15)

Join me if you like.

  My Highest Aspiration: To have no life but Christ’s….for Him to be in me and I in Him… for He is in the Father.

BLH 2

 

 

9.11.01 and Now

“GOD opposes the proud but favors the humble.” (Proverbs 3:34)

   Like most who were adults on September 11, 2001, I remember exactly where I was, what I was doing, and the sequence of events that constituted my day that day.  The horrific manner in which so many lives were lost was an incomparable experience for most of my generation and younger generations old enough to be aware of what had taken place. The physical and psychological boundaries of this nation had been penetrated.

Not surprisingly, houses of worship all over the nation were packed the following weekend as people mourned, sought comfort and, perhaps, confronted their own mortality.  Like most funeral and memorial services (and these gatherings were memorial services in the truest sense), the one-time visitors to these worship houses ceased attending once their immediate needs were met and places of worship settled back into their normal routines.

Annual anniversary remembrances have become the norm and here we are, 20 years later, having just done the same.  History, the good and the bad, needs to be remembered.  The people who died,  the spouses and children who suddenly experienced the loss of a wife, a husband, a mom, a dad, the first responders who sacrificed themselves, and those who subsequently died or have become incapacitated because of injuries or related illnesses should be remembered, not just in ceremonies but in tangible, material support for the survivors.

And…we need to be careful to not dirty-up the history by mythologizing it.  Myths can be an incredibly attractive ways of viewing the past, using rose-colored glasses to see only the positive and to hide/avoid the negative about ourselves and only the negative about others.  A result is self-aggrandizement.  The myths of a nation can have the same effect so that acknowledging and thinking only about the good-feeling parts of history can lead to over-inflated national pride and an attitude of hegemony rather than humility.  Hiding what we do not wish to see is nothing but a form of repression which will eventually bear its dangerous thorns.

As we remember history, let’s remember it in a way that is fair and true, and toss the rose-colored glasses away.  Our future depends on it.     

For it was GOD who created all nations. He determined when they should rise and fall and their boundaries (Acts 17:26).

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

A Great Labor

Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me” (Jesus speaking, Matthew 16:24)

Today is Labor Day (in the U.S.), a holiday honoring the American labor movement and the works and contributions of laborers to the development and achievements of the nation.  The monuments of blue-collar labor are visible in the homes we live in, the food we eat, the streets and highways we drive on, the bridges we cross, the buildings many of us work in, and on and on.  

Physical labor is hard.  It demands strength, stamina, the mental toughness to keep at it over long periods of time, and the commitment to do the job well.  Relatively few do this work…but we are all dependent on those who do.    

Carrying a cross is blue-collar spiritual work.  This teaching by Jesus confronts the fallacy of “cheap” grace as it He explicitly identifies the chief demand on anyone who is sincere about committing to Him.  The cross is to be carried on one’s back more than it is a gold chain around one’s neck.  To carry it requires moral strength, spiritual stamina, the mental toughness to keep at it over a lifetime, and a commitment to doing the job well which is to glorify Him before all of heaven and earth.   

The cross is an instrument of death and love: death of self and self-rule and love for GOD and others (whether they know Him or not).  It is a constant reminder of the sacrificial life into which we have entered.  Facing the cross, therefore, is not be a one-time conversion experience; the Holy Spirit will always draw the committed back and then back again to be reminded that we are not our own, that we have been bought with a price (1 Corinthians 6:20).  We face the cross over and over again and carry it so that the remnants of self can be crucified and to continually recommit to the job of being living sacrifices (Romans 12:1). 

This is a great and wonderful labor.  Thank you to all who have borne it in days past.  May those who bear it now find rest and glory in Him.  For everyone else, the invitation to join is still there.                   

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

Why I Pray

“…But I give myself to prayer…” (Psalm 109:4)

There was a time I didn’t pray.  I saw no need for it and thought that, at best, it was a ritualistic act performed by religious people of whom I was not.  Then, some things happened ((I’ll skip the numerous details) and I was converted.  That’s when I began to pray.  Most of the time, I did it out of a sense of duty, although I believed it was important.  The truth is, I didn’t rank prayer highest on the list of “spiritual” things I enjoyed doing or participating in.  A lot of the time, it felt like work.  It occasionally still feels that way, but more times than not, now, I pray because I experience a deep need to pray…to seek beyond myself to satisfy the hungers of my soul.  

Dwight L. Moody (19th century American evangelist) was speaking to a group of children in Scotland.  To get their attention, he asked them a question, “What is prayer?”  He was expecting the kind of simple answers children might give, but one little boy said this, “Prayer is an offering up of our desires unto God for things agreeable to His will, in the name of Christ, with confession of our sins and thankful acknowledgement of His mercies.”*

It was an extraordinary answer for one so young and suggests his parents took seriously the admonition, “Train up a child in the way they should go; when they are old they will not depart from it” (Proverbs 22:6).  Reading this account last week caused me to think more about my reasons for praying.  Here are a few:

  • I pray because I believe that GOD is who He says He is.  I believe He is Creator, morally perfect, transcendent (beyond the limits of experience and knowledge), eminent (perceivable) and personal.  
  • I pray because GOD has done and is doing for me, through Jesus Christ, what I could not and cannot do for myself: given me a new life free from the stain of sin, proven sufficient for my weaknesses, given me freedom from the fear of death, and a conviction that even after the death of my body, the redeemed me will live on in the risen Christ.  
  • I pray because prayer sensitizes me to awareness of GOD, His presence, His love, His peace, His will, His words.  As mystical as it may sound, I commonly experience all of this.  It’s not enough for me to become acquainted with Him from a distance; I want to be acquainted with Him in the same way that many, many table conversations intimately acquaint me with those on the other side of the same table.  The more we talk, the more aware and appreciative I become of who they are.
  • I pray because I am confident that reliance on self and human wisdom apart from GOD is both vain and deceitful.  Jesus was right; life’s lasting fruitfulness is found only in Him; apart from Him, we can do nothing (John 15:5).  Prayer opens my inner vision to the reality and depth of my poverty and smallness and the great privilege offered me to freely share in His great riches. 
  • I pray because there are still times when I am morally wrong and need to repent of those things (reverse course and turn towards GOD) and confess them to be free from the guilt.  He freely and mercifully offers forgiveness and I receive it, gratefully.  
  • I pray because there are spiritual and material needs all around me and I have an obligation to approach GOD on behalf of those who have those needs that they too might share in His riches.  GOD has shown me His love, mercy and grace and encourages, even challenges me to do the same for as many others as I can.  Prayer is one way I do that.             

Some may say they look to other means to experience some of what I have shared, things like meditation or therapy. I think meditation can be good.  It is even better when it opens us up to the realization that we need more than we can self-generate.  And I definitely don’t have an axe to grind against therapy.  I have recommended therapy to former parishoners from time to time and have utilized it myself after experiencing a family trauma and the need to make a major life decision.  Two of my children are therapists and the work they do is valuable.  Even with that, I don’t believe we can separate emotional health from spiritual health and actually be healthy.  That is an unfortunate dichotomy rooted in human but not godly wisdom.  They are two sides of the same coin (life).       

Seeking GOD’s presence for the pure sake of being with Him, expressing thanks, petitioning Him for the things I need and desire, and interceding for others is something to which I now look forward.

I pray because GOD is no longer a part of my life; He is my life.  

* Found in Deep Fire, Daily Challenges for a Burning Heart, Harold Vaughn (ed.). p.237.

© Byron L. Hannon, 2021.  All rights reserved except when otherwise noted.  

I Need More Than A Prophet

“…For it is GOD who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill His good purpose.” (Philippians 2:13)

I’m deeply appreciative of the men and women of days past and of the present who have proclaimed GOD’s Word.  More may be familiar with the term “prophet” as being about those who have been gifted with the ability to foretell the will of GOD, but the term also applies to those who are called to forthtell His will, that is, to forcefully proclaim what has already been revealed. 

When I say that I’m appreciative, I’m earnest about that.  Being able to read the words of prophets of the past and seeing the evidence of their prophecies revealed in later historical settings are a unique kind of faith builder.  Similarly, to sit before someone skilled in opening the Scriptures and experiencing them framing it in ways that are both mentally and emotionally impactful is food for my soul.  

Still, I need more.  I need the words of the prophets, GOD’s revealed truth, to become alive in me.  The prophet cannot do that.  What they can do is to raise my awareness.  They can even stir me.  What they cannot do is the inner work of transformation that leads to godliness.  For this, I need the Spirit who alone cultivates the seed of the Word and grows it in my soul so that my life begins to take on the character of GOD and my choices reflect His will for me.  

Like plants need the Sun and the rain, I need the Word and I need the Spirit.  I need the prophets to speak and I need the Spirit to work within.  Without the Spirit, the words of the prophets (even when true), are no more than the basis of human-based ethical systems disguised as religions. These, in turn, require systems of control and enforcement (which are also subject to corruption).  There is no freedom in this.  Without the Word, the Spirit has no substance of GOD’s on which to act and is easily replaced by a counterfeit, feel-good emotionalism which has no power to transform. 

No, I need both in full measure so that I might fulfill His good purpose.  I’m grateful the Word and the Spirit are freely available.  That is good news.  

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

A Tutor, Not An Anchor

“Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:13-14)

Having just experienced another birthday, I found myself reliving a series of memories.  They were mostly disconnected and some of them went far back into my childhood.  Most were pleasant and others, not so much.  I don’t know what prompted my mind to walk these mental pathways with such intensity of feeling, but I recall thinking that I was watching a video of my life and that I needed to turn it off and go on living.

I don’t know much about boats, but I do know that the anchor serves an important purpose.  It holds the boat in place, keeping it from drifting.  Even a concerted effort to force a boat forward without lifting the anchor will only result in dragging the anchor, hindering the boat’s forward movement and preventing it from attaining optimum forward speed.  Anchors are heavy for a reason.  

We are not boats and yet our pasts can sometime function as anchors, making it difficult to move forward.  Failing to come to grips with unpleasant parts of our past, we are often stuck, like a boat with the anchor down, allowing the weight of those memories to keep us from living in the present.  Even good memories, if we idolize them, can do the same thing.  We can hold onto these memories longer than is healthy when we prefer them to our present. Our growth is chronological, but our emotional lives (and sometimes our behaviors) are holding on to the pleasantness of years-old and decades-old experiences.  Either way, we are not fully in the present, and we can’t move forward from points in past. 

We can’t deny or change our past (the parts we like as well as the parts we don’t like), but we shouldn’t be captives to them either, voluntarily or involuntarily.  Captives of the past cannot move on to maturity.  Using the past as a tutor seems to me to be a better use.  What can we learn from the past?  How can I use the past rather than past using me?  My past is a part of me, but I don’t want it to define my present nor my future. 

Let’s leverage the past for our benefit.  That may mean purposely taking quiet reflection time periodically (maybe with some prayer added in).  For some, it also may mean getting some help from someone skilled in this.  This is not a bad thing.     

Maybe the mark or calling to which you are pressing is different than mine, but we can only press on to maturity if we lift the anchor and store it in its proper place so that it does not function as a drag on our progress.  Take care of yourself.  There’s not another one of you out there.  

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

Refreshing

“Your love has given me great joy and encouragement, because you, brother, have refreshed the hearts of the Lord’s people.” (Philemon 1:7)

I received an unexpected blessing yesterday.  I had just spoken at a church, filling-in for a pastor on sabbatical, and was on my way to visit an old friend who had been hospitalized.  

I say old friend because I’ve known him since the third grade.  We now live in adjoining towns, connecting infrequently as often happens in life.  It’s one of those relationships where we enjoy each other’s company for a bit, not see or speak to each other for weeks or months other than an occasional text or direct message, and then when we do see each other, we pick up conversation easily.

It’s common for me, as a member of the clergy, to go into hospitals (at least prior to Covid being at its height and no one was allowed in the hospitals other than patients and staff).  This visit, on the surface, seemed like so many I had done before.  Once I entered his room and we starting catching-up, however, we could just as easily have been in a park or standing on a street corner hanging out or having lunch someplace, aside for when the nurse came in the room to check his vitals.

He is and has long been a deeply committed believer with a son who is a pastor so it was natural for our conversation to take a spiritual turn.  In fact, he was the one who initiated that turn.  It was a relaxed and natural conversation in which we were encouraging and refreshing each other in the Spirit.  At one point, I said to him that I was receiving much more from him than whatever I was giving to him…and I was in a good frame of mind when I walked into his room.   Still, I was deeply blessed.

I’m used to being with all kinds of people, people of different origins, ethnicities, races, educational backgrounds, economic status, philosophical orientation, and belief systems, including those who would say they have no particular belief system (not true; everyone does).  It comes with the territory of what I do.  Still, like I wrote a few weeks ago, I am most at home when in the presence of those whose hearts belong to Jesus.  I was at home in that hospital room with my friend and my brother in the Lord.  So grateful; so refreshed.            

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

The Shrubbery Parable

There is a flower and shrubbery bed outside of my kitchen window.  In it are several kinds of shrubs and flowers that are well tended by the landscapers of our condo association.  One of the shrubs has attracted my attention because it doesn’t seem to be thriving like the others nearby.  

Nearly every day, as I sit at our kitchen table and look out the window, I notice how half the branches are in full leaf with new buds forming, while the remaining half of the branches have no leaves at all.  It’s as if they’re two different plants…except they’re not.  Something is keeping the full plant from blooming.  This plant is only half alive.

I look at it day by day and recall that Jesus frequently used plant life to illustrate healthy and unhealthy spiritual life. On one occasion He said, “[GOD] cuts off every branch of Mine that doesn’t produce fruit, and He prunes the branches that do bear fruit so they will produce even more” (John 15:2, NLT).

The Scriptures, which Jesus used to underscore spiritual wisdom, occasionally talk about the importance of having “eyes that see and ears that hear” because invisible truths are often made evident by the visible, things like shrubberies and fruit trees.  The key is that we are keen to discern and react to these truths when we see them before us.  It may be that they are here for more than pleasant scenery, but to teach us important lessons about our own lives.  

May we all have eyes that see and ears that hear.

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

Seasons

There is a time for everything,
    and a season for every activity under the heavens.

(Ecclesiastes 3:1)

Just about everyone who has ever worked a job outside of home knows about “life status changes.”  That’s the benefits category label for when you have…well, a life status change like a marriage or a birth or adoption or some other significant status change.  

We had one of those yesterday.  Our youngest child was married, and to a wonderful man.  I was blessed to escort her down the aisle and, with her mother, “give her away” (I smile at that because she’s been her own person standing on her own feet for a long time).  I was honored to pray over them and to dance with her.  For a few days this past week, all of our three children were in the same place at the same time, celebrating with family and friends and I was blessed to sit back and enjoy it all.  

The days of June LaDeece (the name of our eldest daughter’s doll) and “I’m going up the street to Tony Lorraine’s” (a near constant summertime refrain from our son as he ran out the door) and the My Little Pony books (one of our youngest’s first book collection) are long gone…except, in my memory.  There’s no more waking them up for school and Sunday School, brushing and braiding hair, picking out clothes for them to wear or making sure they ate breakfast before they left the house.  There are no more trips to pediatricians or to visit grandparents, the ones who lived close by and those who were at a distance.  There are no more parent-teacher conferences, report cards to review, band concerts, sporting events or recitals to attend.  There are no more prom dresses or tuxes to buy or rent, no more curfews to impose, no more driving lessons to teach.  There are no more tuition payments to make or advice to give (unless it is asked for).  Those seasons have passed, but they are alive in my memory.

The joy of yesterday is already tucked away in my memory, and like the rest, I will relive it from time to time.  It was a wonderful day.  

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

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.