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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

 

 

Becoming an Oak of Righteousness

“They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord
    for the display of His splendor.” (Isaiah 61:3)

In late Autumn of 2008 and early Winter 2009, I felt drawn to several passages in scripture in a way different than anytime previously.  I felt somehow that I was being gently compelled to read and reread these verses over and over again, and to meditate on them continuously.  It was only months later that I realized GOD was giving me a vision for ministry that continues to grip me still today.  The most prominent of those passages to me is the one above.

The prophet Isaiah was given these words to speak to GOD’s dominated and dejected people.  It was a part of a larger promise to them about what He was going to do in their lives, despite the many ways they had previously rejected His love and leadership.  In many ways GOD’s promise of future well-being parallels what He spoke through Jeremiah: “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future” (Jeremiah 29:11).   

Centuries later, when Jesus entered the synagogue in Nazareth (I once described Nazareth as the Camden of Israel), He was invited to read from the Word of GOD.  He was given the scroll containing Isaiah and He read the portion of the prophecy that included GOD’s promise of restoration and healing that would lead to the restored and healed becoming oaks of righteousness.  Then Jesus declared to those gathered, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing” (Luke 4:16-21).  The promise that those who belonged to GOD would become oaks of righteousness is a direct correlate of the work Jesus would do in those whose trust and hope was in Him.

Fully mature oak trees are strong and sturdy.  Their roots grow deep and their limbs spread wide.  Throughout the year, birds find shelter in them.  The fruit of their branches, acorns, are sustenance for the many squirrels which make their homes in them.  Their leaves give us shade when it’s hot, their root systems help to stabilize the foundations of nearby homes, and their size and presence serve as windbreaks against the winter’s cold blasts.  Oak trees serve are necessary to human and animal life.  How much more so are oaks of righteousness necessary to the spiritual well-being of those around us?

Humorist Evan Esar said, “You can’t do anything about the length of your life, but you can do something about its width and depth.”  There is a way to grow deep and wide, like an oak tree.   The Bible often refers to it as the “path of life.”  It is the path of continual communion with and service to GOD modeled by Jesus and copied by the faithful ever since.  It is the path on which we first recognize the depth of our motivation to be self-seeking and then, with sincere humility, deeply hunger to be GOD-seeking.  It is the path carved for us by the Holy Spirit through the hills and valleys, the twists and turns of our life years.  He, alone, serves as guide to those who are on this journey of discovery, confrontation, continuous yielding and continuous cultivation.

Many, I find, are content to live as saplings.  The funny thing is, though, in nature I’ve never seen a sapling remain a sapling.  It either grows into something bigger or it withers.  Even if it were able to remain a sapling over the entirety of its life, it would serve no purpose except to itself.  And the truth is saplings can rarely stand against the strong, harsh winds of life.  The purpose behind the messages of both Isaiah and Jesus points to the needs of others.  Oaks don’t exist just for themselves; they bless whatever is around them.  More than ever, the world needs oaks of righteousness not their substitutes.

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

 

The Gift of the 4 P’s

“The Lord bless you
    and keep you;
 the Lord make His face shine on you
    and be gracious to you;
 the Lord turn His face toward you
    and give you peace.” (Numbers 6:24-26)

I was in a meeting a couple of days ago and was asked to pray a benediction to dismiss the group.  For many, benedictions are little more than ritualistic ways to spiritualize the end of a gathering, and little thought need begiven to what is said…almost anything will do.  In truth, a benediction is a divine blessing acknowledging our continuing need for GOD even as we part company from whatever gathering has caused us to be together.

GOD desires that His people be on the receiving end of blessings.  So much of the early part of the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) is focused on the blessings He wants to bestow.  Perhaps the most famous example of this desire is the blessing we see in Numbers 6 which GOD gave to Moses for his brother, the High Priest, Aaron to pray over the people.  The heart of GOD is to give the best to those whose trust is in Him.

Everyone in the meeting I mentioned were in some type of vocational ministry.  Some had many years of experience and others were in the early stage of their journey.  The one thing we all had in common was that we all are in roles that require us to speak blessing into the lives of others.  As I began to pray, I thought about and vocalized how much we in that group also need divine blessing, that we too are earthen, imperfect vessels in need of continually refilling and refreshing.  I asked GOD to bless each one of us with what I’m beginning to call the the 4 P’s, which I expound on here.

As we depart, let us depart with GOD’s peace.  Jesus said to His disciples, “Peace I leave with you. My peace I give you” (John 14:27).  May we be one with Him and them, as Jesus prayed, and receive the blessing of peace.

As we depart, may we be aware of the Lord’s presence.  In the Hebrew Bible and in the New Covenant that followed, the Lord says to His own, “I will never leave nor forsake you.” Give us such spiritual sensitivity that we can testify within ourselves, surely the presence of the Lord is in this place.

As we depart, may we be filled with His power.  2 Timothy 1:17 says, For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.”  Let us not have minds that underestimate GOD and what He is able to do within us and through us.      

As we depart, may we be confident in GOD’s provision.  Let us be those who seek first the kingdom of GOD and His righteousness (Matthew 6:33) and let us rest in the knowledge that our deepest needs are fully known and intimate care is always on its way.

These things are gifts of divine nature that are appropriate for those in relationship with GOD.  We all need them for the health of that relationship and we need that relationship in order to receive the gifts.

Blessings,

 

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

 

Dirty Feet

“…What kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming…” (2 Peter 3:11-12)

On the eve of His crucifixion, Jesus did a curious thing.  He took off His outer robe, wrapped a towel around His waist, took a bowl of water and began to wash the feet of His disciples.  Peter was incensed to the point of refusing this service from the Lord.  I think his motive was right; it was improper in his mind for the Son of GOD to perform a servant’s task.  Jesus made it clear that Peter’s understanding was off-center.  Peter, being Peter, went whole hog, “Well then, don’t just wash my feet, but my whole body!”  Again, Jesus clarified things for him; the rest of him was already clean.  His feet were where the need was (John 13:1-17).

There are many believers today who practice foot washing in their churches, treating this act as a sacrament in the same way as baptism and the eucharist are treated. I think, though, if we restrict this teaching to a literal command to wash the feet of others as a spiritual practice, we can miss a larger point.  I believe Jesus was making a point about being holy and our need to help each other live that way.

1st century Palestine was a dusty place, and foot washing was probably as common for its residents as brushing teeth is in our day.  Walking, the common mode of transportation, would easily make a person’s feet dirty.  Even activity in and around the home would have a similar effect.  The phrase “shake the dust off your feet” was more than symbolic; people had enough dust on their feet to shake some off.  Daily living exposed walkers’ feet to the common dust, dirt, and detritus of the road.  They could never be fully clean until their feet were clean.

In the same way, daily exposure to the common things of this world can have this effect on us, dirtying-up our “feet,” leaving its remnants on us, conflicting our thinking, our aspirations, our commitments, even as the rest of our spiritual bodies are “clean.”  A regular cleansing of the soul is always in order so that all of us is GOD’s, all of us is committed to His glory, all of us is filled with His Spirit, nothing is held in reserve, i.e. being holy.  And this, according to Jesus, is what we should do for each other as He did for us.  I am my sister’s and my brother’s keeper.  They are mine. I am accountable to them, and they to me.  We wash the feet of one another when we help and encourage each other to “walk worthy of our calling” and when we respond affirmatively to that help and encouragement.

Except in certain circles, we don’t hear much about holiness and holy living today, even in the Church.  For many, being holy is an irrelevant and outdated concept inconsistent with the values and preferences of contemporary life.  Others may not go to this extreme, but don’t believe it’s possible to be holy so it’s effectively dismissed.  Others like the concept but avoid focusing on holiness head-on, treating it like super-Christianity.  All three perspectives are in conflict with the Living and written Word of GOD.

The message I see is that not only is holy living possible, its pursuit is necessary to have fellowship with Jesus.  So…“Let us hold tightly without wavering to the hope we affirm, for God can be trusted to keep His promise.  Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works.  And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of His return is drawing near (Hebrews 10:23-25, NLT).

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

A Work Ethic to Model

“Continue to work out your salvation [that is, cultivate it, bring it to full effect, actively pursue spiritual maturity] with awe-inspired fear and trembling [using serious caution and critical self-evaluation to avoid anything that might offend God or discredit the name of Christ].” (Philippians 2:12, Amplified Bible)

The early part of this past week has included near continual coverage of the tragic loss of nine adults and children in the helicopter crash in southern California, including those of retired NBA player Kobe Bryant and his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna.

For those who may not know, Kobe began his NBA career at age 18 and played for 20 years.  Described by one coach as a basketball savant, he was a perennial all-star selection and will surely be soon elected to the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame.  One of the themes often raised in tributes to him was his dedication to working hard to perfect his game, in season and out of season.  Following the end of every NBA season that began in September and often went into June, he would take two weeks off from training.  When the two weeks ended, he would rise every day at 5:30am and follow a disciplined training regimen to heal his body and begin preparing it for the next season.  This included time spent refining his skills, focusing on the areas which he deemed in need of improvement.

I heard him say, in a short interview clip, that he recognized that he had a GOD-given talent for the game, and that it was his responsibility to honor what he received by working as hard as he could to perfect what he had been given.  His love for the game gave him the desire to want to be disciplined and to work hard.  It seemed the work that nobody saw apart from the games was nearly as joyful to him as the games themselves because of his love of what he did.

There are extraordinarily gifted people in every facet of life.  My guess is that the best of these best are that way because they, like Kobe, don’t take their giftedness for granted and continually work hard to take what they’ve been given to become as great as they can.

I think this is what the Apostle Paul had in mind when he wrote what we see in Philippians 2:12 (I particularly like the Amplified version emphasis). Salvation is a free gift of GOD; no human effort is ever involved (“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.” – Ephesians 2:8-9).  What many people think, I fear, is that this gift of grace means they don’t need to do anything after receiving it…just bask in the glow, so to speak. Additionally, I believe many treat their salvation as a one-to-one interaction between GOD and themselves that has no real bearing on others.  If these two observation were put to most people who claim a salvation experience, it probably would result in denials, but how many of us “saved” folks actually view others as the intended beneficiaries of our faith and live accordingly?  It’s a serious and important question.

For people serious about following Jesus, concern for others must always be on our minds  (recall the parable of the lost sheep).  Scripture consistently points to a tri-part relationship: GOD – Us – Others.  Perhaps a more theological way of saying this is that our horizontal relationship of presence with others is to be based on the solid foundation of a vertical relationship with GOD in which presence is mutually given and received.  As we receive grace abundantly, we’re to be abundantly gracious to others.

The basketball world and those who enjoy it benefited from the extent to which Kobe worked to perfect his gift to the point that he stood above most who themselves are incredibly gifted athletically.  He put in the work.  Paul’s word to us is to take GOD’s grace so seriously that we put in the work so that what He has placed within us reveals itself outwardly more and more and the glory of GOD becomes evident to those around us.  Others benefit because we have become intimate with GOD.

You and I are not great, but GOD is…and so is the salvation which He has given us.  In many ways, it is like a hidden diamond that, through a disciplined spiritual life, rises to the surface and shines for everyone to see.  Let’s be people who put in the work so that others will see the brilliance and beauty of the Lord.

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

Cross Carrying

“Then Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.’” (Matthew 16:24)

Many years ago, I faced one of those heart rending experiences that many of us face during our lifetimes.  I know I’m not unique in that, but I remember the searing pain of that wound.  I’m sure at some level I may have questioned or wanted to question GOD about why this happened.  I don’t remember doing that, but I suspect I did.  It took a while, but my heart healed and life went on.

It was several years after that event that I was sitting in my office at work (I was doing HR work in a medium sized company then) and a co-worker came to my door wanting to talk.  He knew nothing about my trouble.  When he sat down, his opening words were something to the effect, “I don’t know why, but I feel like I can talk to you about this.”  He went on to describe a pain rooted in a set of circumstances which were nearly identical to what I had experienced.”  In a flash, I saw the hand of GOD at work, and I had to chuckle to myself.  It was then that I began to see this passage from Matthew in a new light.  The kind of cross beam Jesus carried was rough-hewn and heavy.  It was His burden to carry all the way to Calvary.  He did that for us.

In a very real way, the cross was/is a means of GOD’s grace (favor) to us.  I was reminded of this a few minutes ago as a result of a conversation with someone else.  There is a Hebrew word hesed (alternative: chesed) which means the eternal kindness of GOD that is revealed in mercy.  I recall reading someone many years ago who gave it this loose translation: Mercy that is given because the giver has stood in the shoes of one in need.

Jesus stood in my shoes…and yours, which I believe was the Father’s intent.  We needed and continue to need GOD’s mercy.  His mercy is not from a distance; it is up close and personal because Jesus knows our hurts, our disappointments, our suffering through His own…and He knows our offenses and our failures.  Jesus stood in my shoes, and I believe GOD sent that man to my office that day because I had stood in his.  It was my opportunity to pay grace forward by offering an ear, by listening to his hurt, by not judging him, by trying to encourage him and challenging him to not lose hope, and to turn his eyes upon Jesus.

Following Jesus, at times, means taking up the weight of what we carry, as difficult as that may be, and bearing it in faith and with grace.  Sometimes GOD will use the cross we are bearing to bless someone else who needs to experience His love, just like we were blessed and loved by the cross of Jesus.

By the way, about a year after my encounter with my co-worker, GOD sent someone else to me who had the same issue. Sometimes standing in the shoes of another is how we can love our neighbor as our self, which is our cross to bear.

 

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

It was several years after that event that I was sitting in my office at work (I was doing HR work in a medium sized company then) and a co-worker came to my door wanting to talk.  He knew nothing about my trouble.  When he sat down, his opening words were something to the effect, “I don’t know why, but I feel like I can talk to you about this.”  He went on to describe a pain rooted in a set of circumstances which were nearly identical to what I had experienced.”  In a flash, I saw the hand of GOD at work, and I had to chuckle to myself.  It was then that I began to see this passage from Matthew in a new light.  The kind of cross beam Jesus carried was rough-hewn and heavy.  It was His burden to carry all the way to Calvary.  He did that for us.

In a very real way, the cross was/is a means of GOD’s grace (favor) to us.  I was reminded of this a few minutes ago as a result of a conversation with someone else.  There is a Hebrew word hesed (alternative: chesed) which means the eternal kindness of GOD that is revealed in mercy.  I recall reading someone many years ago who gave it this loose translation: Mercy that is given because the giver has stood in the shoes of one in need.

Jesus stood in my shoes…and yours, which I believe was the Father’s intent.  His mercy is not from a distance; it is up close and personal because Jesus knows our hurts, our disappointments, our suffering through His own.  Jesus stood in my shoes, and I believe GOD sent that man to my office that day because I had stood in his.  It was my opportunity to pay grace forward by offering an ear, by listening to his hurt, by not judging him, by trying to encourage him and challenging him to not lose hope.

Following Jesus, at times, means taking up the weight of what we carry, bearing it in faith and with grace.  Sometimes GOD will use the cross we are bearing to bless someone else just like we were blessed by the cross of Jesus.

By the way, about a year after my encounter with my co-worker, GOD sent someone else to me who had the same issue. Sometimes standing in the shoes of another is how we can love our neighbor as our self, which is our cross to bear.

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

Bridling the Tongue (And a Tribute)

“If the church would stop talking for 30 days, we would have revival.” – D. L. Moody 

I came across this quote six or seven weeks ago, and it has not left me.  I have revisited the thought many times.  To what extent do I speak unnecessarily?  Am I disciplined in holding my tongue?  What poor contents of my heart are revealed by my words (Matthew 15:11)? Do the things I say edify and encourage?  To what extent are they just unneeded verbal detritus?   The result has been a decision to speak less…and to listen more.

I don’t mean an absence of conversation, as in a vow of silence, but some small (?) steps: not injecting comments if they’re not really needed, not repeating myself for the sake of emphasis or to make sure I’m heard, and not seeking the last word in casual discussion.  I do think there is value in allowing others to have the floor.  What I may feel is an obligatory verbal edit or counterpoint isn’t as necessary as I might want to think.

And then there’s another step for me in this process.  A good friend and former pastor of mine used to challenge us periodically to go seven days without complaining about anything, criticizing anyone, or defending ourselves (including defending our views) for any reason.  I don’t have to question whether that is a small step.  It isn’t. Try it.  I’ve tried several times and will try again in the days ahead.  I believe it’s a worthy challenge for obvious reasons; just because we have the freedom to say things doesn’t mean we always should.  I think Paul summed it up this way, “I have the right to do anything…but not everything is beneficial.  I have the right to do anything, but I will not be mastered by anything” (1 Cor. 6:12)…including the tongue.    

James, the pastor of the First Church of Jerusalem and the brother of our Lord knew control of the tongue was/is essential to a healthy walk on the pathway of life.  He mentions it three different ways in his letter to the Church.  Here’s one example in his typical blunt way of communicating: “Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongue deceive themselves and their religion is worthless” (James 1:26).  

In over 40 years, I’ve never heard GOD yell to get my attention…it’s always been with a quiet whisper; and it was only when I have been quiet that I have heard it.  It’s only when I am quiet that I can hear my family, friends and others share what’s on their hearts and minds.  Love of GOD and our neighbor can manifest itself in many ways.  Perhaps mastery of the tongue is one of those ways.

One final note on Martin Luther King, Jr:

MLK wasn’t a politician, although he operated amongst those for whom politics was all important.

MLK wasn’t an anarchist looking to overthrow authority by creating chaos and disruption, although the reactionary response of many to what he preached revealed itself in chaos and disruption.

MLK wasn’t a moralist, although his message was consistently moral.

MLK was GOD’s man at a point in history when enough was enough.  He was called to confront the social, political, economic and moral hypocrisy condoned and even promoted by the power structures of the nation and call it what it was.

MLK was called to be the point guard of a movement to end the subjugation and denigration of people without power by those with power.

MLK was sent to remind us that the commandment to love our neighbor didn’t have qualifications, like tests of ethnicity, color, country of origin, gender or religion. He was sent to remind us that it is impossible to love GOD without loving our neighbor.

MLK was not perfect; he had his flaws, and was criticized, perhaps rightly, along with much that was unmerited.  But as some wise soul has said, “The only people who are never criticized are the ones who do nothing.” (Source Unknown).

The man might be gone, but the message and the need for struggle remains alive…if we who are here will carry the torch.  May we live lives worthy of this calling.

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

On Worship

On Worship

“Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks.”

(John 4:23)

Image result for jesus and samaritan woman

When Jesus had His encounter with the Samaritan woman at that midday well, she revealed something about herself that I think is still common today, in and outside of the Church: an attraction to forms.  For her and other Samaritans, it was where GOD was worshipped that counted.  This kind of preference wasn’t peculiar to Samaritans; the observant Jewish population had its own set of preferences including where worship was supposed to take place.  I hear similar attitudes expressed today when people occasionally compare one church against another.

Years ago, I heard someone say that if you package something in the right way, people will want it and buy it just about regardless of the intrinsic worth of what has been packaged.  Consumer goods makers have long packaged and branded their products with a certain kind of appeal.  At the moment of this writing, I’m thinking of two highly priced, luxury cars, both of which have a less than stellar record of mechanical reliability.  Nonetheless, that issue doesn’t appear to me to have hampered their sales; I see a lot of them on the road.

Image result for consumer marketing

It’s now not uncommon to hear people talk about their brands, i.e. how they want others to perceive them and their supposed value-added presence, participation, engagement, etc.  Significant money is spent by churches marketing their brands.  Potentially interested people check them out, in person or through whatever online presence they have to see if the substance and the forms of what a church is offering is appealing to them.  As in other avenues of choice, folks make decisions based on both substance and form…and sometimes, I think, more on form than substance.  I, and I’m sure you, have peeled back the layer on more than a few eye and ear appealing things to discover all that glitters is not gold.

Image result for gold vs fools gold

Jesus used the opportunity of this encounter to point the Samaritan woman to what was truly spiritual gold.  True worshipers, the kind that GOD seeks, worship Him in Spirit and truth.  It has nothing to do with what the building looks like, or the appearance of the church’s website, or whether it is big or small, or the kind of music that is played and sung, or whether it is high church or low church, or if those who attend wear suits and dresses or jeans and flip flops.  GOD’s people can worship Him in a cathedral and under a tree in a field, in a garage and in a retreat center, in the presence of thousands of people and in the quiet solitude of a personal prayer space.

What counts is not whether our worship provides us with emotional release in the presence of others, but if the worship flowing out of us is led by the Holy Spirit (“For those led by the Spirit of GOD are the children of GOD”–Romans 8:14).  Worship in the Spirit is led by the Spirit.  And, then, our earnest effort to follow the teachings of Jesus is worshiping GOD in truth for Jesus is the visible, tangible manifestation of GOD’s truth (“If you hold to My teaching, you are really My disciples.  Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free”—John 8:31-32).

Image result for presentation of food on plates

We may have preferences for what our food looks like on the plate, but it doesn’t alter the substance and taste of the food that gives our bodies the nutrients they needs to be healthy.  Presentation is a form.  The food (the Spirit and the Truth) is the substance. May we never substitute good-looking pap for what is truly nutritious.

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