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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

 

 

The Silent GOD?

“In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe.” (Hebrews 1:1-2)

Over the course of three days this past week, I have heard stories of two members of the clergy say emphatically that they do not believe that GOD speaks to people today as He once did.  The first occasion was in a meeting in which another pastor shared this story of a conversation between two other pastors, both of whom minister in my denomination.  It was in this conversation that one of the pastors declared this to the other.

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The second occasion was conveyed to me later in the week.  A friend was walking down a city street when a car pulled up next to him, and began to park.  The rear bumper of the car had a bumper sticker which said “Police Chaplain.”  When the driver got out of his car, my friend, being the extrovert that he is, began talking to the man using the man’s chaplaincy as a bridge to conversation.  It turned out the man was a former pastor now devoted to a specialized chaplaincy ministry.  It was in that discussion that the Chaplain made the same statement, “GOD does not speak to people as he once did.” I know this because my colleague made a point of sharing it with me.  We both commiserated over this gross error.  It is either an error or I (and many others I know) have some kind of long-standing, undetected psychiatric or other medical dysfunction, because we have heard GOD speak to us.

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I can pinpoint times and circumstances in which those words have come.  GOD has spoken to me directly, and He has spoken to others on my behalf and has given them messages to give to me.  He has spoken to me during times of prayer, and when the TV was on.  He has awakened me from deep sleep to give me instructions, including instructions to do things I did not want to do.  He has restrained me in times of great anger, when the restraint felt, literally, physical.  And He has corrected me when my heart was in the wrong place.  He has given me assurance in times of grief.  I have been in rooms and in cars when His voice was so clear, I turned my head to look at the One speaking only to realize I could hear but not see the Voice.  He has whispered Scripture to me in times of need, whether it was mine and or someone else’s.

This has been my experience for the better part of 40 years.  I suspect that if I had a psychiatric or other medical problem, it would have been made very clear by now.  And as I said, I know I’m not unique in this way.  I know many believers of all stripes who testify to having heard the voice of GOD.  So…either we’re wrong or those two guys (and those who think like them) are wrong.  I think they are wrong.  The question is why?

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As my friend/colleague and I were discussing this, we pinpointed two possible reasons.  First, they may have been educated to believe this.  The educational process from church Sunday Schools all the way through Seminaries and Bible Colleges does not automatically preclude misunderstandings and error.  Sometimes, unfortunately, these educational avenues contribute to it.  If the Hebrews passage referenced above is viewed in a narrow context, and treated as a proof text to support a particular point of view, then these two verses alone could be used to prop up this error.  However, good hermeneutics (interpretation of Scripture) would have us use the teaching of the entire New Testament (if not the whole Bible) to help us understand the meaning of these two verses.  A grasp of the NT is the broad context that should provide protection against misstatements, such as “GOD no long speaks to people as He once did.”  Of course, anything He says personally to me or you or anyone else has to align with the gospel and commands of His Son, which is the core intent of Hebrews 1:1-2…and if those thing don’t it wasn’t GOD’s voice to begin with.  Years ago, an instructor of mine said, “Text without context is a pretext.”  Another friend put his own spin on this, “Text without context is a con.”

A second possibility is a short circuit in the devotional life of these two men.  Christianity is fundamentally relational.  The well-worn cliché of having a “personal relationship with Jesus Christ” is itself a testimony to its relational foundation.  Seeking after GOD with our whole heart (Jeremiah 29:3) and drawing near to Him and He drawing near to us (James 4:8) are not intended to be sentimental, warm and fuzzy sayings.  Neither is the promise that the Holy Spirit will remind us of what Jesus has taught us (John 14:26).  These are essential aspects of Christian life, and reveal themselves as being true when our hearts’ deepest motive is to commune with GOD.  And, by the way, how are we to be reminded of something unless we are told.

Missing these essentials of the faith increases the possibility of falling down spiritual rabbit holes.  Relationship without personal communication between those in relationship would be an oxymoron.  There would be no real, sustaining communion.  We study, not just for intellectual growth but also for relational growth.  If it were for intellectual growth only, our discipline would be philosophy, not theology.  We pray because we need to hear and receive from our Father.  To borrow a point from a former mentor, which of us would ever call our earthy parents so they could hear what we have to say, and then hang-up before they have opportunity to speak?  That would be ludicrous.  One way prayer may be prayer, but it cannot be as effectual as two-way prayer.

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To claim that GOD still speaks to people has to be framed by what He said and did through Jesus Christ, who is Lord, so that what is proclaimed and taught glorifies the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  It is our protection against being mislead and misleading others.  There are way too many false teachers as it is; and free-wheeling it is not to be encouraged at all.  But to claim that GOD no longer speaks to people is to deny the practical presence (immanence) of the One who said He would never leave nor forsake us (1 Kings 8:57; Matthew 28:20; Hebrews 13:5).

© Byron L. Hannon, 2019.  All rights reserved to text content.

What The World Needs Now

“He was in the world, and though the world was made through Him, the world did not recognize Him.  He came to that which was His own, but his own did not receive Him.” (John 1:10-11)

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 I saw a YouTubeTM video a few days ago which featured an ensemble of celebrities singing “What the World Needs Now Is Love,”1 a song that despite its age, is still widely known because of its pleasant melody and appealing lyric.  The chorus is the essence of the song’s message:

                                                   What the world needs now                                                                                                                    Is love, sweet love.                                                                                                                                  That’s the only thing                                                                                                                              There’s just too little of.

                                                     What the world needs now
Is love, sweet love,
No not just for some
But for everyone.

It’s been 54 years since the song’s release, and it remains enjoyably catchy.  John Lennon’s “Give Peace A Chance” and “Imagine” are two other notable songs with similar themes.If I were to work at it I’m sure I could find quite a few other examples of songs and poetry which also express this hunger for what seems right, but, so far in human history, has not been experienced, at least not broadly.

“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.  By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:34-35)

It’s a shame because the opportunity for the world to have “love sweet love” was offered and continues to be offered in Jesus Christ.   And like the rejection of Him noted in the passage from John 1, He still is rejected, even by people who claim to want what I believe only He can provide.  Despite its poor track record, the world continues to cling to the illusion that we can have what GOD offers, but on our own terms, that is we can have the best of GOD, while still choosing our own path.

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In Isaiah 50, the prophet talks of those who walk by the light provided by GOD and those who prefer to walk by the light of their own fires.  He’s pretty direct about the outcomes of both choices.

Until folks decide that GOD’s will really does need to be done on Earth (in their lives) as it is in Heaven, I guess just we’ll have to settle for songs that express good and righteous desires without really ever experiencing the fulfillment of them.

  1. What the World Needs Now Is Love by Hal David and Burt Bacharach, released in 1965 on Imperial Records.
  2. Give Peace A Chance by John Lennon, released in 1969 on Apple Records.  Imagine by John Lennon and Yoko Ono, released in 1971 on Apple Records.

© Byron L. Hannon, 2019.  All rights reserved to text content except as otherwise noted.

I Wait

I wait.

I am getting better at it;

Been doing it a long time.

 

At first,

didn’t know what for.

Not knowing was hard.

 

At first lasted a long time,

much of my life.

Like staring into a void, hearing emptiness

Wondering like Peggy Lee,

Is that all there is?

                                            Like a diet of melancholy for the melancholic.

 

                                             What came first,

                                             the chicken or the egg,

the melancholic or the melancholy?

Ok. Time to put this aside

Aside.

 

I still wait, but

Now I know.

Knowing was oddly sudden and gradual;

it still is.  But there is no void; I hear a voice,

regularly,

daily,

often more often:

 

But those who wait on the Lord

shall renew their strength.

They shall mount up with wings like

eagles.

They shall run and not be weary.

They shall walk and not faint.

 

I wait.

It’s okay.

Grateful for the time.

 

* Is That All There Is? Recorded by Peggy Lee; written by Jerry Lieber and Mike Stoller.  Released in 1969 on Capitol Records.

© Byron L. Hannon, 2019.  All rights reserved to text content except otherwise noted.

 

Enlarging Our Circles

“I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some.”

(1 Corinthians 9:22)

My great friend, former college roommate, and “brother from another mother” is one of those people who can walk into a room of strangers and have three new “best friends” within an hour.  I have seen him do this time and time again, and it always amazes me.  I saw him do it at school.  I’ve seen him do this in supermarkets, restaurants, and in crowds of people…all kinds of people: every size, shape, background and hue.  He has a way of being forward with people without being offensive to them; and they like him.  He reminds me of Paul in some ways; he never stops being himself, but he quickly finds common ground with others.

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At first glance, Paul’s comment opens him to the criticism of being a spiritual chameleon, someone who changes his colors and stripes in order to fit-in with those in his immediate surroundings.  I think the truth, however, is far from that shallow assessment.  The gospel and the sharing of it was, he believed, far too important for him to be parochial.  That was the fault of the Pharisees, his former identity and association, whose narrow-mindedness prevented them from seeing GOD at work in their midst.

Paul never lost or hid his core identity, but he did modify his evangelistic approach according to the needs of those he was trying to reach.  Quoting Swiss theologian Frederic Godet, Donald Metz wrote, “No observance appeared to [Paul] too irksome, no requirement too stupid, no prejudice too absurd, to prevent his dealing tenderly with it in his view of saving souls.”* The ex-Pharisee Paul, who initially preferred a very small circle, became the Apostle Paul with a greatly enlarged circle (and was always interested in enlarging even that as GOD gave him opportunity).

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Christianity is essentially a relational way of life (see Matthew 22:35-40) modeled perfectly by Jesus.  Being open to enlarging our circles and seizing opportunities to do so is in harmony with having an identity in Christ.  Insistence on maintaining small circles is not in harmony with who Jesus is and who believers are called to be.  Small circle mindedness is more suited to the Pharisees who had a very limited view as to who was or could be worthy before GOD.  Much of what we see and hear these days speaks to me about preferring small, closely contained circles.

For Paul, a Jew steeped in the Hebrew Scriptures and the history of the “chosen” people, there was no shame in relating to someone weak in their understanding of spiritual things.  There was no shame for him in building a connection with the very culturally different Scythians and the proud, and sometimes arrogant Greeks.  He was as comfortable in the presence of slaves as he was with the free.  And despite the controversies over the last two millennia, his trust in and reliance on a number of women adds weight to his doctrinal statement that, in Christ, there is no difference between female and male.

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Paul was making (and continues to make through his GOD-inspired letters) the point that it is the will of GOD that all people become chosen people.  Isn’t that the real purpose and message of the gospel?  Willingly enlarging our circles to include modern versions of the culturally and socially different is an affirmation of our intent to not be parochial and small-minded with this wonderful gift, the path to abundant and eternal life GOD has given us in Christ.  It says, “Everyone I work with or go to school with, everyone I meet, everyone I see but do not know, is my neighbor and I want them to be chosen; and I am open to connecting with them.  Who knows; I just may win some.”

* Metz, Donald.  “The First Epistle of Paul to the Corinthians,” Beacon Bible Commentary, Vol. 8, Kansas City: Beacon Hill Press, 1968, p. 402.

© Byron L. Hannon, 2019.  All rights reserved to text content unless otherwise noted.

The Value of Sameness

“Let us thus think often that our only business in this life is to please GOD, that perhaps all besides is but folly and vanity.” (Brother Lawrence, The Practice of the Presence of God)

Having stepped away from full-time ministry, I find many of my days to be much the same, intermingled with spurts of activity and busyness which are the result of the part-time ministry role I took on nearly a year ago.  Reflecting on this sameness, it occurred to me that it offers me benefits I hadn’t considered previously.

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First, sameness offers me an opportunity to experience a fairly consistent rhythm of life well-suited to my spiritual wiring.  It invites me into the quiet of stillness.  Although I can’t place the source, I do recall seeing this, “It is only when we become quiet that we begin to hear.”  I’m hearing things more deeply now, and in some cases, for the first time.  Sometimes, it’s just the awareness of my own thoughts.  Other times I’m better able to appreciate the sounds of nature around me.  And when I am around people, I think I’m hearing better what they say, their spoken words and their unspoken words, the sounds of their heart.  Best of all, I think the voice of GOD is coming to me with fresh clarity.  Years ago, a spiritual director once asked me about how I tend to hear from GOD.  I replied that it was through His Word.  More and more, single words and phrases in Scripture have a power and presence of their own.

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Second, this rhythm of sameness offers daily opportunity to commune with GOD, to meditate on Him and His grace and mercy, love and tenderness, wisdom and teachings, salvation and holiness.  I have time to search my own heart, and to see myself in the mirror of His perfection.  My thirst for Him grows, and I am drawn to Him.  I want to be in His presence; I want to please Him.  Psalm 42:1 uses the metaphor of a deer panting after water to express the psalmist’s hunger for GOD.  I understand.

Finally, when I do have spurts of busyness, I have more of myself to give to others, including, I pray, understanding, something resembling wisdom, grace and patience.  To the extent this is, it is because of how much He gives to me in the midst of daily sameness.

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I know everyone’s spiritual wiring is different and the atmosphere that encourages contemplation is not everyone’s cup of tea, but each of us has those days of sameness, whether they are quiet or busy.  Perhaps by adopting the attitude of Brother Lawrence, whose assigned role was to serve in the kitchen day-in and day-out, the sameness of stillness and quiet need not be boring and the sameness of daily busyness need not be overwhelming…GOD can be found in both if will seek Him.

© Byron L. Hannon, 2019.  All rights reserved to text content.                 

When Will It Ever Stop?

“There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
the holy place where the Most High dwells.
God is within her, she will not fall.”  
(Psalm 46:4-5a)

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A friend posted a comment and question on Facebook the other day, seemingly out of frustration with the recent violence and terrorism in our nation that has resulted in bloodshed and loss of lives.  Her question was, “When will it ever stop?”  It’s a question I’ve pondered off and on for so many years; and quite frankly, don’t see it happening any time soon.

My question is: What if it doesn’t stop?  What if it never gets really better in a way I think she means e.g. peoples’ lives, property and aspirations are uniformly valued, there is an absence in the broader society of an us vs. them mentality, and concerns and differences are addressed civilly and in an environment of mutual respect.  To what extent has this ever been the case anywhere in the world on a sustained basis?  Aside from Antarctica, I don’t think there’s a continent on the Earth that can make that claim.  I believe even a cursory study of history bears this out.

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We live (and have lived) in a world in which people and nations operate according to a paradigm of scarcity.  In this paradigm, there are not enough resources for everyone, and there isn’t enough freedom for everyone.  A few have to be on top; they have rights that are enforced, and they get the bulk of the privileges.  This means that some have to be on the bottom; they have few rights (that are routinely and systematically enforced), and have even fewer privileges.  Then there are the remainders who are somewhere in the middle, often aspiring to get closer to the top, and so grateful they aren’t on the bottom (as far as they can tell).  There’s a reason someone came up with the phrase, “It sucks to be you!which is how a lot of people in the middle feel and treat those on the bottom.  Those on the top may not give those in the middle or on the bottom much attention at all unless they do things that become irritating, like complaining about justice, economic inequity, and equal protection under the law, to name a few.

Sometimes those who perceive the presence of inequity are really voicing fear of a loss of privilege and favor e.g. “there isn’t enough to go around for all of us; and you’re not getting mine (or ours).”  Belief in this kind of scarcity produces tension that, from time-to-time in history, has erupted into physical violence.  There can also be the psychological violence that is added on by those who are dismissive and who refuse to consider root causes, particularly if it is not in their interest to do so.  This is not new stuff.   It’s been a reality in virtually every human society.

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I don’t consider myself a cynic or a fatalist.  I don’t think everyone’s sole motive in life is self-interest.  I just think most people are nice people whose social engagement has a limited range.  Beyond the social issues that hit their personal radars as being important or where they believe they have influence which they should exercise, they are generally disengaged.  For instance, how many adults in an entire local community might have concerns about their local public school system?  Measure that against the number of people from that same community who regularly attend school board meetings.  I’m neither seeking to discourage others nor to profit or otherwise gain advantage from the circumstances I describe.  That would be cynical!  And I do have hope for the future…but as a follower of Christ rather than as an optimist in a humanistic sense.

It would be nice if we could, finally, meaningfully address these issues…but what if we don’t get there?  What if the answer to Rodney King’s question, “Can’t we all get along?” is too enigmatic for us to be able to respond affirmatively with certainty.  What then?  The history of humanity isn’t all that encouraging, despite those modernists who continue to insist that education, and particularly science and technology, is the key to a brighter future for all.  For all of the strengths with this path (and there are many), there are still too many exceptions in the way that smart has been used that prevent this from being a reliable rule on which to place the weight of one’s faith.

Thinking about these issues brought me back to Psalm 46, something I’ve read and meditated on often.  Aside from its immediate context concerning the ultimate security of Jerusalem, it more broadly reminds us that those who are in GOD’s hands have no reason to fear, regardless of how the externals appear.  The psalmist uses powerful, dramatic imagery to make the point:

God is our refuge and strength,
an ever-present help in trouble.
 Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way
and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,
 though its waters roar and foam
and the mountains quake with their surging…

The Lord Almighty is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress. (vv. 1-3; 7)

 When will it ever stop?  I believe it will one day…possibly in this world, but most certainly in the next.  And when it does, it will bring with it a new paradigm, one of abundance for all who abide.  Then no one will denied because of fear or greed or for any other reason.

 

© Byron L. Hannon, 2019.  All rights reserved to original text content.

On Fear, Faith and Hope

“I must not fear. Fear is the mind killer.  Fear is the little death that brings total obliteration.”  (A chant of the Bene Gesserit Sisterhood in Dune by Frank Herbert)

I’ve been working on a piece concerning spiritual poverty, something much longer than what I usually post here.  Working on that has led me to thinking and praying this morning (a few days before this post) about fear and what it does to the spirit.  It was with a sense of providence that I later opened my email to read a daily devotional to which I subscribe, and the topic was fear.

Here’s an abbreviated excerpt from the passage quoted: “Immediately He spoke to them and said, ‘Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid…’” (Mark 6:50). This was followed by a quote from theologian Mildred Bangs Wynkoop: “Fear closes the mind and the heart and dries up the source of love.”1  The insight of the late Dr. Wynkoop is interestingly similar to that of the fictional Bene Gesserits (Dune author, Frank Herbert had an interest in comparative religions which is the likely reason his books contain a strong current of religious and quasi-religious themes).

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I confess that I haven’t paid enough attention to all of the times the encouraging commands such as “do not fear” or “do not be afraid” appear in the Bible, particularly when said by Jesus.  In every instance, He was either speaking to someone in His inner circle or to someone who He was about to heal or otherwise bless.

But why shouldn’t we be afraid?  This world can be a very threatening place, even with its joys and opportunities for wish fulfillment.  Job loss, health concerns, wayward children, neglected and abused children, being rejected by those we care about, the loss of deeply loved ones, abuse and neglect of the elderly, telephone scam artists, hackers of bank records and credit accounts, inadequate retirement savings, seemingly ever increasing social divisions, etc., etc., etc.  Jesus wasn’t joking when He said, In this world you will have trouble.” He followed this with, “But take heart, I have overcome the world (John 16:33).  What are we supposed to do with that?

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A writer from an earlier generation with whom I am just getting acquainted said, “Man was a feeling creature long before he was a thinking creature.”Fear happens instinctively; we don’t stop to think, “Oh, maybe I should be afraid of that bear running toward me.”  Fear is a natural feeling in response to being or feeling under threat.  Each of the things mentioned above, along with the myriad things not mentioned, could easily fit into the category of “threatening.”  I believe the reason why is because we are still very much tied to this world, and those things are a part of what we are tied to.  This world is what we know.  We’ve spent our entire lives in it; and from infancy to adulthood our being has been assimilated into it and conditioned by it.  We naturally and unconsciously construct the aspects of our lives around this earthy life.  And so when what we’ve built or those we care about are threatened, we fear much the same way as the disciples did when they thought their boat was going to capsize in the stormy sea.

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I’ve heard some suggest that a mature faith doesn’t fear i.e. “Do not be anxious for anything, but by prayer …” (Philippians 4:6).  But I believe a clearer rendering of this verse is, “Don’t be afraid and then do nothing about it; you should pray and ask GOD to help you!”  Another so-called proof text against fear is “…perfect love casts out all fear…” (1 John 4:18), but this passage refers to the fear of GOD’s judgment, not the fear of standing under a safe that’s falling from an upstairs window or watching your kid do things you know will harm them or when you’re faced with a serious illness.  I think the challenge is more often admitting when we are afraid…admitting it to ourselves and admitting it to GOD.  The honesty and humility of this confession is key, I think, to Him coming and saying, “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid,” and finding peace in His presence and assurance.

When Jesus told His disciples that He had overcome the world despite the trouble they would face, He prefaced it by saying, “I have told you these things so, in Me, you would have peace” (John 6:33).  Fear is a natural response to threats, and unabated it can cause us to, figuratively, lose our minds.  It can be a mind-killer.  But we don’t have to say chants like the Bene Gesserits, we have prayer, and a GOD who hears and comes; and, in Christ, we have faith and hope that, in Him, we too will overcome the world.  May all of us who struggle, who hurt, who are afraid find ourselves going deeper, ever deeper into Christ.          

  1. Soul Care. A digital publication of the Church of the Nazarene, July 31, 2019.
  2. Meditations of the Heart by Howard Thurman. Beacon Press Books, 1981.

© Byron L. Hannon, 2019.  All rights reserved to text content unless otherwise noted.