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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

 

 

An Observation

“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)

When my children were young, they would occasionally say to me, “How do you know that?”  Typically, I answered glibly, “I’m your father; I know everything.”  Of course, they came to realize the fallacy of this boast as they grew older and as far as I know, they never held it against me.  I like to think that despite not knowing everything, I have grown knowledge over the years and, hopefully, in wisdom…and I think I’m as observant as I’ve ever been.

One of those observations, or should I say range of observations, is in the intersection of Scripture and everyday life and its patterns and trends.  In the millennia that have passed since the settling of the canon of Scripture, innumerable societal changes have occurred in every phase of life.  Kingdoms and nations have risen and fallen and risen and fallen again; hierarchies and class structures have morphed; structures of philosophies and religious beliefs have heavily influenced thought and behavior; wars and brutality have consumed populations; growth in science and technology has steadily marched forward (but still is not the panacea so often promised); the desire for monetary wealth and consumption is a guiding hunger for many; and the poor remain with us.   Perhaps the Teacher of Ecclesiastes (Solomon?) was right: What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 1:9).     

There is a proverb (22:6, NIV) that says, Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it.”  I’ve never believed that this is a formulaic promise as much as it is a principle.  Still, children pointed toward a healthy direction in life and given continual support in that direction are more likely to independently buy-in to parental instruction when they are of an age to make adult-level assessments about what is good, better, and best than if they are never taught and left to their own devices.  This proverbial idea is the same as what Moses instructed in the Shema (Deut. 6:4-9), i.e., the importance of teaching children the way and will of GOD so that when they are older, their knowledge of GOD will be their internal motivator.  

Over time, as the Israelites who first received the covenant of God, died-off and syncretism (a mixture of components from different belief systems) became prominent in subsequent generations, a time came when it could be said of Israel a“generation grew up who knew neither the Lord nor what He had done for Israel.”  Those who had been called to be a nation of priests had become as common as every other people.  Is this not where we are now…again?  Perhaps my eyes and ears deceive me, but I don’t think so.  

It seems to me that many have attached enough other things to their Christian faith that their lives don’t look a lot like the mind of Christ Paul speaks about in his letter to the Philippians, but some self-created syncretistic thing.  Here are some indicative red-flags:   

  1. Selecting those portions of Scripture we like and mentally discarding those we don’t, preferring some alternative thinking that aligns with our personal preferences and comfort.  
  2. Conflating (bringing together; fusing) the spiritual and the political into a pseudo-unified whole in a confusing attempt to make Christ’s kingdom be of this world (when Jesus was explicit in saying His kingdom is not of this world)
  3. Continually employing carnal weapons to combat spiritual problems, repeatedly proving Einstein’s maxim about insanity.  
  4. Using human arguments to justify biases and other unholy attitudes (and actions) even while singing “O Come All Ye Faithful” and “Joy to the World” (I originally drafted this just before Christmas).  

These symptoms are indicative of contemporary golden calves attempting to stand as equals alongside the Most High GOD whom we may also claim.  Wherever this is prevalent, it’s no wonder children are growing up not knowing the GOD of the Bible nor the Christ who bore their sins and who offers the way, the truth, and the life: they are neither tasting the salt nor are they seeing the light. 

Perhaps an old calling that is still timely: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.”

© Byron L. Hannon, 2022.  All rights reserved unless otherwise noted.                

The World’s Glow Globe

I am an unapologetic Dune1 fan.  This fandom is not new; I have been into Dune since the 1984 movie premiered.  Though not a science fiction fan per se, I’ve read the entire Dune book series.

One small piece of technology in the Dune world is something called a glow globe, a suspensor- buoyed, self-powered illumination device that provides light in darkened spaces.  It’s essentially a personal, self-operating ball of light.  If you had one, it would anticipate your movements and correspond them to yours, preceding you so that as you walked in the dark, a lighted pathway would be provided.  With your glow globe, you would never walk in the dark.  

There are many dark scenes in the Dune, reflecting the story’s overall tone, at least initially.  Consequently, several scenes take place in darkened locations and glow globes provide light to the principal characters as they walk in and through these spaces.

Ironically, glow globe is the first thing I thought about yesterday when I read, “Then Jesus spoke to them again, saying, “I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness but have the light of life” (John 8:12).  He is the eternal glow globe available to any and all.  

There is one key difference.  In the Dune narrative, glow globes go where you wish to go.  Jesus, on the other hand, is only light for those who follow Him.  The other option is to walk in darkness…including when darkness masquerades as light.

“If we say that we have fellowship with Him while we are walking in darkness, we lie and do not do what is true; but if we walk in the light as He Himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin.” (1 John 1:6,7)

1 Dune is the first in a series of science fiction books written by Frank Herbert first published in 1965.  It is the basis of two movies (1984 and 2021) and a television miniseries (2000).  

© Byron L. Hannon, 2022.  All rights reserved to text content unless otherwise noted.      

Counting My Blessings

This is my first post in several months, something those of you who read me regularly know.  This sabbatical from writing was unplanned initially.  One week, it just occurred to me that I didn’t have anything fresh to say, so rather than write something just for the sake of posting it, I rested.  This was after writing continuously for three and a half years, with the exception of missing a week here and there.  In the second week of not having anything to write, I gave myself permission to take a break, to refresh without having an end date in mind.  Quite frankly, I’m not sure if I will post much beyond this, although I hope to.

Today, however, I felt the need to share the experience of counting my blessings.  Some of you may know that old hymn by the same name and I believe it to be a worthwhile and easy discipline for any season.  As I was washing up the dishes left from the night before in the quiet of the early morning and, shortly after, as I settled into an easy chair with my Bible, other devotional reading and my journal for the purpose of meeting with GOD, it was impressed upon me how deeply blessed I am.  It was as if a gentle wave of awareness came over me.  I just sat in the quiet reflecting, taking it all in.   Then, I began to say, “Thank You” repeatedly to the One who sent the wave, the One from whom all blessings flow.  The psalmist said, “Taste and see that the Lord is good” (Psalm 34:8) and I have tasted and it is so good.  

As we embark on this new year with its many possibilities and opportunities, I am deeply grateful for the love that has been there from the beginning before I was in my mother’s womb, for my parents who are gone but not lost, for my wife and life mate whose only other name besides her given one could be Grace, for my children with their distinct personalities, gifts and passions,  for my family in all of their iterations, for my dear friends and colleagues who make life so interesting, for all of those who have poured some portion of their lives into mine over the course of many decades, for the privileges I have been granted and the experiences I have had, and certainly for the love of GOD that I know and treasure because of Jesus Christ.

May this new year bring you and yours an abundance of joy and hope. 

                                     Chorus:

Count your blessings, name them one by one,

Count your blessings, see what God has done!
Count your blessings, name them one by one,
Count your many blessings, see what God has done.
1

1 “Count Your Blessings by Johnson Oatman, Jr. (1897).  Copyright in the Public Domain.    

© Byron L. Hannon, 2022.  All rights reserved to text content unless otherwise noted. 

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.