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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

 

 

How Can I Say Thanks?

I write this only a few hours from the dawn of Memorial Day, the day in which the nation is explicit in giving thanks to those who sacrificed and served in times of war, and principally to those who lost life and limb in this service to the country.  I am the son, grandson and son-in-law of men who served in two different wars (World War I and II), the nephew of one who served in Vietnam, and the cousin of two who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, respectively.  One of my cousins lost his life fighting and the other shows signs of PTSD.

The war in Vietnam gained height during my high school years and peaked in my early college years.  There were many horrors evident to anyone paying attention.  There was still a military draft in those days, and even though I was eligible to be drafted, I never was, and I never served in a branch of the military.  Still, I’ve seen enough of the ugliness of war to never wish it upon anyone.  There’s nothing romantic about it.  People who experience war are never quite the same.  Often families are never quite the same.

Memorial Day parades are nice, but much of what is seen in VA hospitals isn’t.  Sometimes, the words “Thank you” just don’t seem sufficient.

We’re in a war now with an unseen enemy.  Significantly more people in this country have been killed by COVID-19 in the last few months than in two decades of fighting in Vietnam.*  Many more have died since the publishing of the referenced article, and the numbers will continue to grow for the foreseeable future.  Many of the stories are heart-wrenching as family members cannot even be with their loved ones as they are admitted, treated in hospitals and recover…or don’t.  I just heard of one a few minutes ago impacting people that I know and love.

We are all potential casualties of this war and among the most vulnerable are physicians, nurses and other essential hospital workers, EMTs and paramedics, police and fire personnel.  Odd working hours and extra-long shifts, insufficient rest, the constant risk of exposure, and concerns about their own health and the health of their spouses and children are just samplings of things they face each and every day.  A couple of days ago, I read the story of a physician who cries in her car at the end of every shift before she goes home.

None of them will ever be quite the same after this.  And some are dying as a direct result of their proximity to the war’s hot zones and their attempts to serve those suffering.

I have a nephew who is an EMT.  His wife is a RN who normally works as a school nurse but is also working hours in a local hospital.  They have a child.  The wife of a good friend is an essential hospital worker and has experienced multiple exposures to COVID-19.   They have two children.

I really don’t know how to say “thanks” to them, but I am thankful for them, all of them.  This Memorial Day is for them and so many like them who, along with those who sacrificed in past wars, sacrifice today in order to secure a safer world for all of us.  They are worthy of our honor and our earnest prayers.

*David Welna, Coronavirus Has Now Killed More Americans Than the Vietnam War, NPR Online, April 8, 2020.

© Byron L. Hannon, 2020.  All rights reserved to text content unless otherwise noted.

Check out my Thoughts from Others page for some interesting, encouraging and challenging ideas.

 

Random Observations

“The man said to me, ‘Son of man, look carefully and listen closely and pay attention to everything I am going to show you…’” (Ezekiel 40:4)

I was going to post something else today, but it didn’t “feel” right for this time.  Instead, here are a few thoughts that came to me while in prayer.

  • I have received blessing upon blessing throughout my life, including life and love. I can’t claim a single one as being the result of my own efforts.  Every one of these blessings has been because of GOD’s grace.  This is truth.

 

  • I want my eyes and ears to be open to every truth. I want to be able to perceive what is true from what is false, particularly the false which proclaims itself as truth, the darkness that masquerades as light.

  • There is brokenness in the land that is here and there and everywhere. I see a massive going astray…each to his own way (Isaiah 53:6).

  • Many of my brothers and sisters have exchanged their pilgrim tents for permanent settlements, having forgotten in their hearts that their true citizenship is in heaven (Colossians 3:1-3).

  • I perceive a long standing, and now increasing, division among those called to be the living stones of a spiritual house (1 Peter 2:5), necessitating pleading cries for unity (John 17:11, 20-22). I pray they are being heard.

  • I see many attaching themselves to people, systems and views that are based in other than GOD, while continuing to claim GOD.

  • I see golden calves and lamps without much oil in the camp of the household of GOD (Exodus 32:4; Matthew 25:1-12).

  • I see an attitude of entitlement to blessings and a blindness to the reality that GOD lifts up and destroys nations (Isaiah 40:15; Jeremiah 4:7).

  • I see a seeking and grasping for hope behind the doors to empty rooms while ignoring GOD’s prescriptive, either because of ignorance or prideful insistence that we are able to cure our own ills (2 Chronicles 7:13-14; John 15:4-5).

  • I see a remnant who are humbly and earnestly seeking GOD’s face and favor for the sake of themselves and others.

These are just a few of the things I am seeing.  What are you seeing and hearing through your prayers?

“Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship.  Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—His good, pleasing and perfect will.” (Romans 12:1-2)

© Byron L. Hannon, 2020.  All rights reserved to original text content unless otherwise noted.

Check out my Thoughts from Others page for some interesting, encouraging and challenging ideas.

My Giant Rooster

In our kitchen, high on a ledge, is a large ceramic rooster.  It was one of several ceramic roosters my mother owned, both large and small.  Although she’s been gone for nearly 40 years, I’ve managed to hold onto to this one.  It’s a reminder, along with the pictures of her in our family room and on my bed-stand.  Family and friends have asked, over the years, about this large rooster in the kitchen as my wife and I aren’t big ceramic people…but there’s a story behind it and a reason I keep it.

My mom was raised in the South at a time when it was common for people to keep animals in their yards.  Having a farm wasn’t a prerequisite and codes on that kind of thing were pretty relaxed.  My grandparents kept chickens when mom was a child.  Even during my early years, their detached garage had been converted into a turkey pen.

Anyway, among the chickens my grandparents kept during mom’s youth were a couple of roosters.  One in particular was pretty aggressive and my mother was one of his targets.  He would peck at her ankles and legs often.  One day she ran into the house crying after being pecked.  My grandfather, having had enough, went outside and butchered the rooster.  He became Sunday dinner.  From that day on, my grandparents called mom “Rooster.”

I have so many memories of summer visits and hearing my grandmother yell down the long hall of her home for my mother, “Rooster!”  In fact, I don’t recall either one of my grandparents ever referring to mom by her name, Martha.  It was always Rooster.

As an adult, mom had a collection of ceramic roosters.  When I was a kid, they were just part of the décor of the house and I hardly noticed them.  But now, whenever I walk into my kitchen and look up, I see that giant rooster and my mind fills with all kinds of memories.

Mom was 5’ 2” tall, but she was always a giant to me, My Giant Rooster; and though decades have passed since the day she drew her last breath, her presence is strong to me in the memory of her laughter, the stories she would tell (like how she became “Rooster”), the conversations and experiences we had, and the love she gave over twenty-eight deeply blessed years.

To all of you moms, thank you for being giants among us.

© Byron L. Hannon, 2020.  All rights reserved to text content.

Is It Okay?

Is It Okay? 

“If the Good News we preach is hidden behind a veil, it is hidden only from people who are perishing.  Satan, who is the god of this world, has blinded the minds of those who don’t believe. They are unable to see the glorious light of the Good News. They don’t understand this message about the glory of Christ, who is the exact likeness of God.”                                 (2 Corinthians 4:3-4)

 

If you have read the brief bio I shared in the “About” section of this blog, you know that I’m a preacher.  This is not something I wanted or sought.   After doing the corporate thing for more than 25 years and, with my wife, raising our children, my later in life’s course was pretty well set in my mind.  It involved beachfront and lots of sun.  Of course, I was deeply into the Church, but the preacher was always someone I felt called to support, not be.  And then one fateful Sunday evening, GOD’s call came to me, and it came unmistakably.  I resisted for a short while, but like the message of the Borg (for the benefit of you Trekkies), resistance was futile.  Nearly 20 years ago, I began preparing myself to be a preacher and then I became one.

Like the Apostle Paul said, I don’t preach myself but Christ Jesus as Lord.  I am His servant.  Now I need to say, in case you have this question: Yes, I have regrets, but not at all about saying ‘Yes’ to GOD’s call; I’d do it all again in a heartbeat.  I can truly say that whatever was lost as a result of this life change, I consider well worth losing because of what I have gained and am gaining. I experience a joy in the preaching and pastoral ministry that I never imagined before despite spending a lot of time around pastors and having some as close friends.  Even now that I have curtailed my ministry activity some because of age, I still love the privilege of serving GOD.

That said, my heart is a little heavy right now.  For some time, I have been more devoted to praying for people to whom Jesus is unknown although each and every one of them is well known to Him.  In my study this morning (Saturday), I read the entirety of 2 Corinthians 4.  I kept coming back to vv. 3 and 4, asking myself this question, “Is it okay for me to let this be without doing what I can to open the spiritual eyes of those being described?  Is it okay for me to just to let people I know and people whose paths I cross remain in their blindness, being convinced of what lay ahead for them if they remain blind?”  It can’t be okay.  It’s not okay.

I know not everyone believes as I do, and I try to be respectful of others and the things to which they do or do not hold.  But know that I’m praying for open doors of opportunity to share this wonderful life-giving, life sustaining faith.  I want no one to miss out on the goodness I have and the goodness that awaits those whose trust and hope is in Him.  I invite you to join me.

© Byron L. Hannon, 2020.  All rights reserved to text content unless otherwise noted.

My page “Thoughts of Others” has some short, encouraging or challenging ideas to consider.

Deep In My Heart

I joined the church at a time when outward adornments, particularly those worn by women, were frowned upon in some quarters.  That was back in the day…maybe even the day before back in the day.  Noticeable makeup and earrings are two things I remember hearing comments on from time-to-time.   Even my first instructor in the ministerial course of study shared how his wearing a wedding band was problematic for some in his church community which was on a very conservative district.  He used, as a teaching tool in that course, the decision he was faced with whether to wear his wedding band at his ordination because he knew some would be offended if he did.  I won’t share his decision here; it’s his testimony.  As silly as it seemed to me that anyone would take the time to be acutely observant about such things, it was nevertheless an important lesson for me because others treated it so seriously.

As time passed, and earrings and makeup became more or less passé in evangelical circles, tattoos took their place as topics of corner conversation for a few.  The only people I knew who had tats when I was a child were those who had been in the military.  Even as an undergraduate during the early 70s when all kinds of societal norms were being challenged, tattoos or other body modifications weren’t broadly popular, with the exception of one social fraternity I know of that branded all of their pledges.  But once tattooing began being practiced across a broad range of American society, tattoos began to creep into the church.  As you might expect, some folks felt the need to comment.

I’m grateful that, by the time tattoos were common, the leaders of my church never made a big deal out of it because I never wanted to be part of a church claiming that all were welcome if, in fact, they weren’t.  There are way too many instances where that’s the case…and for more reasons than just tattoos.  People who were tatted-up or pierced were welcomed and we had a few.  The heart and compassion of one heavily tattooed person in particular was a great blessing to our church.

By the time she began to attend, I had become the lead pastor.  After a time, we got to know each other.  She was bright, well-educated and accomplished in many ways.  When she decided to share her story with me, it included the reasons she had gotten full sleeve tattoos on both arms, wrist to shoulder.  I had never seen them because she always wore long sleeves whenever she came to the church (I’m pretty sure she did that out of concern that it might be problematic for some).  The story she shared with me was rife with suffered abuse, long-term self-abuse, horrible decisions, tragic loss, and times of deep pain I cannot share here.  In Scripture, the experiences she shared with me are often referred to as “mire” and “the pit.”  Her tattoos were visual stories of her hard journey.

By the time she arrived at our church, Jesus Christ had already done a great work of delivery, forgiveness, and cleansing in her, and it was obvious in big and little ways.  She jumped in with both feet and was very supportive of the ministry from day one.  I  began  thinking of her as someone who had great potential to assume a leadership role.  Sadly, she had to eventually move because her military husband was returning from an overseas deployment (I had a chance to connect with him some too over social media).  It had been a long time since she and their two girls had been able to be with him so their decision to move to his stateside duty station was the logical and right thing to do.  I kept in touch with her after her move long enough to learn she had begun pursuing a doctorate in her professional discipline.

It’s easy to allow things that are ultimately superfluous to capture our attention when all seems to be going well in our lives.  That kind of prosperity gives us time to go down spiritual rabbit holes, often about the decisions others have made about their lives.  It seems to me that all of that extraneous stuff tends to dissipate when our comfort, our norms, our preferences, and our safety is under siege.  Coronavirus has upset the apple cart of much in the world and continues to do so.  It is having a dissipating effect on non-essentials, and we in the Church are being brought face-to-face with our commitment to the cost of discipleship.

Toward the end of Galatians 6, the Apostle Paul acknowledges that he had grown tired of having to defend his apostleship to some in the Church, noting that he bore the proof of his ministry by the brands (or marks) of suffering for Christ on his body (Galatians 6:17).  Perhaps he had to resort to that defense because too many couldn’t see the Cross of Christ branded on his heart; they were too busy focused on their internally derived standards for who was qualified.

I believe the Cross of Christ was branded on the heart of my former parishioner which made the outward brandings she bore unimportant to those who chose to know her.  I believe that same branding is on the hearts of many who do not fit into someone else’s non-biblical standard definition of what it means to be a deeply committed Christian.  May that same branding of the Cross be burned deeply into all of our hearts so that we serve Him with faithfulness and gladness.

© Byron L. Hannon, 2020.  All rights reserved to text content.

Carriers of Gold

Not too long ago, I came across a writing by Jewish rabbi, theologian and philosopher, Abraham Heschel (d. 1972).  His name stood out because I previously studied one of his books on the Hebrew prophets as a student and recalled wrangling with the depth of his thinking.  His was what I fondly and respectfully call a ‘big brain.’

In this recent writing, he was speaking of the human heart, GOD’s desire to possess and rule it fully, and the myriad obstacles that stand in the way of that happening in each individual life, including those constructed by the person being sought by GOD.  These last obstacles are what Heschel calls the “lofty ideals” we maintain when in actuality our choices put us in the mold of “the ass that carries gold and eats thistles,” a simile he borrowed from a 16th century German proverb.*

The message of the proverb is not that the ass is unaware of the gold it carries, but that it has become so accustomed to eating thistles that the gold and the better fare it could purchase has little appeal.  In the human life, it is the appetite that has been trained to prefer what is coarse and unhealthy over what is truly nourishing.

As a young believer, I would listen intently to the teachings of my first pastor.  Although many years have passed since those days, I easily recall his style, the tenor of his voice and a number of the things he said.  One of the latter was his challenge that we not “live beneath our privilege.”  He said this often.  In other words, we are not made to spiritually subsist on thistles, when GOD has put before us His full bounty of good things, beginning with Himself.  He is the gold.

We’re living in a day when the need to make clear distinction between thistles and gold is of paramount importance.  We can’t control most of what is external to us.  Certainly, we can’t control the duration or severity of the pandemic.  What we can control is what we are taking into ourselves.  Since we are already carriers of gold, let’s subsist on what is best.

 

*  Taken from “God In Search of Man” (Abraham Joshua Heschel) found in A Guide to Prayer for Ministers and Church Workers, p.134 (1983).

© Byron L. Hannon, 2020.  All rights reserved to text content unless otherwise noted.

And To Think…He Knew All Along

…and still He came. 

“Now while He was in Jerusalem at the Passover Festival, many people saw the signs He was performing and believed in His name.   But Jesus would not entrust himself to them, for He knew all people.” (John 2:23-24)

 

Riding into the great City of David, atop Mt. Zion, Jerusalem (literally, the height or foundation of peace) through that great gate must have been a glorious sight.  People lining the sides of the road, watching this Man riding on a donkey, throwing their coats and palm branches in His path, yelling to Him, “Save now!” and “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord, taken directly from a festival song (Psalm 118:25-26).

The sons and daughters of Abraham had come from different parts of the known world to celebrate the Passover.  Some had witnessed the signs and wonders He had performed, and they most certainly told those who hadn’t personally witnessed these events.  A few in the crowd had even benefitted directly from His presence and power, those who had been blind and lame and who now see and walk, lepers who had been cleansed and allowed back into the fellowship of community, those who had been dominated by dark spiritual forces and were now free from oppression.

Oh, this was a great day because they had to be thinking, “He’s the one!” The one the prophets had spoken of; the one to assume the throne of David; the one to finally free us from Roman domination and install the kingdom of heaven on Earth with Israel at its center.  He must be the one we’ve been waiting for; He will surely meet all of our expectations.”

And to think, He knew all along…and still He came.

He received their praise and adoration which was fitting for the King He was…but He knew where it was all headed.  When some of the Pharisees complained to Him about people praising Him, He rebuked them, for even the praises offered in ignorance reflected a worthiness in Him they could not comprehend.  Praise was justified for what He was about to do; even the stones on the ground knew that (Luke 19:40).

Even His closest friends missed most of what He was really about; many of their expectations of Him were just like those of crowd.  When He washed their feet to teach them about servant leadership; when Philip asked to be shown the Father; when He told them that He must leave them to prepare a place for them but would return for them; when He spoke of the one who would betray Him even as He entered into a sacred covenant with them through broken bread and poured out wine on that fateful Thursday night, all were indicators revealing that their eyes were still closed to His true self.

And to think, He knew all along…and still He came.  

In the late hours of Thursday night came the confusion and His arrest on the Mount of Olives, the scattering of His friends, an illegal trial that depended on the testimony of lies, being denied by His dear friend, and then on Friday audiences before Pilate and Herod, followed by a brutality of physical abuse inspired only by the evil of Satan, the bitter weeping of His mother and the women who had come to believe in Him, all leading to a criminal’s death on a cross and burial in a rich man’s grave before the sunset (“If someone guilty of a capital offense is put to death and their body is exposed on a pole you must not leave the body hanging on the pole overnight. Be sure to bury it that same day, because anyone who is hung on a pole is under God’s curse. – Deuteronomy 21:22-23).

He had entered the city by the front gate in honor…and left the city a few days later through the back gate in disgrace to die horribly in an area designated for refuse.  So many who had cheered for Him on that Sunday, cried out for his crucifixion on Friday.

And to think, He knew all along…and still He came.

He came because He knew this was the only way for us to be freed from the curse and dominion of sin and death.

He came because the overwhelming, audacious love of the Father for each of us meant that GOD Himself would supply the perfect lamb whose sacrifice would once and for all time deal a death blow to death itself.                

He came because He knew that it wouldn’t Friday for long; Sunday was coming and with it, everlasting glory not only for Him but for all who earnestly believe in Him.

I believe and thank Him for coming.  I pray you do as well. May your Easter and all that follows be full of the blessedness of Jesus the Christ.

 

© Byron L. Hannon, 2020.  All rights reserved to original text content.