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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.

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Thus Saith the LORD

“My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.” (John 10:27)

I got up this morning with something stuck in my craw (an actual word that is a synonym for ‘throat’).  I don’t mean this literally; it’s a southern/country way of saying that something has upset you to the point that you can’t seem to shake it.  It’s something that is more than mildly annoying.  The degree of irritation is greater than that.  Injustice is always more than mildly annoying, at least to me.  Compounding the matter is that it has to do with things well beyond my ability to influence, no less control.  I have a point of view, but quite frankly, I felt invisible relative to the matter.  This sense of invisibility was, perhaps, as much a source of my mental state as the initial cause.

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I try to get in a couple of hard physical workouts each week because I recognized, long before the current TV commercial using the same language, that the body is meant to move, and the effects of not making it move can be debilitating, especially at my age.  I sometimes find myself praying during my workout, discussing what I’m thinking and feeling with GOD, acknowledging ways in which I may be tempted, and/or confessing when I realize that I have stepped spiritually out-of-bounds, and asking for His help in conforming to His way of being.  That pretty much described a good portion of my workout this morning.  To close things out, I got on the elliptical machine for 30 minutes.

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As I continued my casual conversation with GOD while making my legs work, I began to receive back a barrage of response in the form of biblical reminders.  It was a quiet and gentle voice inside my mind speaking to me.  I’ve had this happen before, and I knew it was the Holy Spirit doing exactly what Jesus said He would do: “But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you” (John 14:26).  I was being reminded:

“Refrain from anger and turn from wrath; do not fret—it leads only to evil. For those who are evil will be destroyed, but those who hope in the LORD will inherit the land” (Psalm 37: 8-9).

“I have told you these things, so that in Me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).

“But He said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me’” (2 Cor. 12:9)                    

“…For everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith” (1 John 5:4).

Not once did I feel like I was being chastised or talked down to; it was more like someone coming alongside and putting an arm around me and reminding me of a perspective I already knew to be true.  At some point in that exchange, I realized that the feeling of being invisible had gone.  GOD saw me; He sees all things.  The origins of my frustrations haven’t changed, but I have.  I trust Him more than I trust myself apart from Him.  And at a time when I needed it, GOD reminded me that I am one of the sheep in His sheepfold…I recognized His voice.

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And to quote Ralph Ellison, “Who knows but that, on the lower frequencies, I [also] speak for you?”*

* From Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison (Random House, 1952).

All Scripture texts are from the New International Version.

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

When Identity Clashes With Evidence

“Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”      (Hebrews 11:1)

Some time ago, I published a piece which made a case for leaving room in the Church for those who valued their tribal, language and/or national identity.  This call for space was, in part, an acknowledgement that these markers reflect our respective cultural comfort levels, and are valid from a Christian perspective to the extent they do not presume superiority of one to another.  Despite differences in tongue, historical culture, or church emphasis, there remains “one Lord, one faith, one baptism” (Ephesians 4:5).  These identity markers must be subservient to Christ if identity is to be Christian.

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Last night (I am drafting this on a Monday afternoon) I was working my way through a book review I regularly read, and came across a statement in a review of a book which analyzes contemporary identity politics (I’ve paraphrased the comment to make it a little more readable): Identity attachment accepts arguments only from an authority closely tied to that particular identity, because evidence is always subordinate to identity.1

The author means, by “identity attachment” the way some folks assign a psychologically pleasing definition or set of characteristics to themselves and others in whatever particular group they are jointly members of.  The “evidence” the author references are the facts which may contradict the preferred definitions of a group.  An easy example might be a view that says: men don’t have a need to express their emotions.  Men who like  being perceived as stoically unemotional can easily buy-in to this view, despite ample evidence that the emotions of men run just as deeply as those of women, but are often expressed differently.  Different expression is not the same as no expression.  Sadly, gender self-bias may just scratch the surface of the ways “identity attachment” is manifest in the circles in which most of us travel.

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 Buy-in to unsupportable views of self is encouraged by persistent fellowship with those who think similarly.  The result is group-think identity that ignores the facts because the facts inconveniently undermine the preferred way we want to think of ourselves, particularly when someone we regard as an authority figure encourages us to do just that.  Another way to state the author’s point is that some people choose to ignore truth because they prefer the distortions promoted by another person, persons and/or institution.  This, according to the book’s author, is the basis for the kind of reactions in attitudes and behaviors that advance divisions among people.  There certainly appears to be sufficient support for this in the world’s socio-political environment, both in empirical evidence (i.e. sensed and observed) and by data-driven evidence.

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An important issue for me is the implication(s) for the effective functioning of the body of Christ if the identity attachments of its members are not rooted in and submissive to Christ.  Even now, I hear the voice of Paul in my head warning against divisions and factions in the Church (Romans 16:17; 1 Cor. 1:10; 3:3; 11:18-19), calling it carnal and therefore not worthy of Jesus Christ.  This is not to denounce identity attachment as being fundamentally non-Christian; we need not deny our humanity nor how that humanity is expressed outwardly.  I clearly have my culturally-based preferences, and gravitate to and enjoy them often.  It is, however, a denunciation of identity attachments when they, knowingly, contradict and attempt to subvert the will of GOD.  That is called sin.

There is a little-discussed branch of theology called “Theopolitical” which views theological beliefs through the lens of social and political structures and considers political beliefs that may be implied in Christian teachings.2  A commonly used example of this is the use of Paul’s teaching on submitting to leaders in government because they are placed in authority by GOD (Romans 13:1).  This argument is used by many Christians as an endorsement of their preferred political leader(s) as having GOD’s favor.

What is often missed (or ignored) is that while Paul’s teaching stresses the inherent goodness in a believer’s submission, he offers no explicit statement about inherent goodness (or lack thereof) in the authority to whom submission is to be given.  The focus of Paul’s teaching is on the believer who is to demonstrate faith in Christ by submission; the focus is not on the person in authority.  This is why Jesus was able to say, “So give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s” (Matthew 22:17).  Perhaps it is also why men and women like Nebuchadnezzar, Jezebel, the Herods, Herodias and her daughter, Pontius Pilate, Nero, Caligula, Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot, and the various despots and petty dictators currently in positions of political authority today were/are allowed by GOD to be in power.  The Christian response to these may be just one component of faith being tried over the long course of history (see Job 23:10).

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A danger of “theopolitical” thinking that encourages identity politics is that it can facilitate little difference between the attitudes (and sometimes behaviors) of those inside the Church from those outside the Church.  When this happens, those who are called to be the salty, peculiar people of GOD, actually better resemble those around them who are in need of saltiness and the peculiar influence of GOD’s holy presence.  This happens much easier when the goal of faith, and the way it is practiced daily, is about belonging to a group(s) whose socio-political worldview is under-girded by the local church, or in the least, not challenged by the local church.  The goal of Christian faith has always been union with GOD (see Jesus’ prayer in John 17), nothing else.

Settling for belonging to a community of faith with whom we identify without also wholly identifying with the holy Christ and being led by the Spirit of holiness is an immature and shallow faith that is easily dented and is less than the worthiness of His calling.  My first pastor called this “living beneath our privilege.”  Beyond that, it can lead to expressions of heresy.

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It is here that our other-than-in-Christ identity can, if we’re not careful, assume equal status with our proclaimed faith in GOD.  This is a violation of the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd commandments…to start with.  The parable of the Good Samaritan is an excellent illustration (Luke 10:30-37).  Both the priest and the Levite saw the seriously injured man, but took no pity on him.  Jesus seems to stress their position and status in the Jewish community, that is, their identity, to make His point.  They were VIPs, and we can assume that they were very well aware of it.  They either ascribed to themselves a superior view compared to this man or so negative a view of him that made his need insufficient to warrant their valuable time and attention.  We can also suppose that this man was a Jew because he was traveling from Jerusalem.  If he was a Jew, his outer clothing may have identified him as such, making the decision by the priest and Levite doubly damning.  The evidence of the teachings of GOD were subordinate to their identity as important people.  It fell to the despised Samaritan to demonstrate the royal law of love.  We can consider this as Jesus’ take on identity politics.

 In ascribing to our other-than-in-Christ identity positive traits aimed at supporting our superiority, we also seek to define those outside of our identity.  Our sense of superiority allows us to assume we can define others, and we do.  We find ways to minimize them in our eyes, and we may even attempt to project those views outwardly.  We assign to them traits that, when revealed, can range from subtle discounting all the way to pernicious hatred.  We seek to legitimize our views and attitudes with arguments that, though sometimes well-crafted and seemingly astute, ultimately reflect human wisdom that is at odds with the logos of GOD.  And we all have done it, and we have all experienced it.  We all have been group stereotyped, sometimes in multiple ways.  I’m thinking of at least four ways in which I’ve been subjected.

I believe this is the spirit of anti-Christ at work in people who we would otherwise say are good people.  It is that spirit because it subordinates the explicit expression of GOD’s will with views that ignore the commands of Christ in favor of those which support our preferred way of seeing ourselves and others.  This amounts to ignoring the evidence for faith in Christ Jesus, His teachings, His commands, and the redeeming, sanctifying work He accomplished at Calvary.  Anything that does this cannot be considered Christian.

I understand why this other-than-in-Christ approach to identity has so much appeal.  It feels empowering to those who feel disaffected and disenfranchised (somewhat like the Zealots of Jesus’ day).  With that, we must ask the question, ‘What is the origin and source of this powerful feeling?’  If it is not of GOD (and hopefully I’ve made the case that it is not of GOD), then it is to be disregarded and discarded, for Christ’s sake.

Identity politics which pits, whether with great subtlety or brazenly, tongue against tongue, tribe against tribe, nation against nation has no place in the Church of Jesus Christ.  Where it exists, may GOD root it out!  Where we may have been complicit, may the Holy Spirit convict us of it, lead us to godly repentance, and give us a hunger to be united in Christ.                                         

1. In a review of A Thousand Small Sanities by Adam Gopnik. Reviewed by David Frum in the NY Times Book Review, July 7, 2019.

2. Global Wesleyan Dictionary of Theology. “Theopolitical Theology” by Nathan Kerr, p.536.  Kansas City: Beacon Hill Press, 2013.

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

Having Faith for Others

“Carry each other’s burdens and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” (Gal.6:2)

On more than one occasion, I have said to a friend going “through it” that even if their circumstances were making it difficult for them to exercise the faith they would need to overcome, I would have faith for them.  I never felt saying this as being biblically inappropriate.  We are, after all, instructed to carry each other’s burdens.

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Contrary to the prevailing philosophy in the West wherein we each have our problems and carry them individually, the Church is and has always been the counterpoint to the ways of the world.  The believer and the body of Christ are interdependent.  Theologian Simon Chan alludes to this when he says, “The communion of the saints is far more than just their being physically present with each other…When we come together, we take our places as responsible and responsive members of the community.”* This responsibility includes our response to the needs of our brothers and sisters in Christ in a relationship of giving and receiving.  Solitude was never intended to be our constant state (see Genesis 2:18).

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Community is essential to Christian life, and fellowship is a component in that life. Biblical fellowship (Greek: koinōnia) involves mutual sharing as the outgrowth of being physically present with one another.  This willingness to share our lives with each other is an expression of love (Greek: agapē), i.e  we are “fulfilling the law of Christ.”

So how does this tie-in to “I will have faith for you”?  I think the obvious answer is intercessory prayer.  If petition for ourselves is an expression of faith in GOD, then the intercessions for others must be a similar expression of faith.  True faith works; it is not idle.  Both the Apostle Paul and Pastor James, the half-brother of Jesus stress this point.  And of course we have the example of Jesus whose redemptive life was nothing less than complete faith in GOD that was expressed through the most difficult and demanding work the world has ever witnessed.

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An offer to someone to have faith for them has to be more than a sentiment expressed to make someone feel better in the moment.  It has to be followed by the work of prayer on behalf of the one in need.  And it is real work for we must seek GOD for them with the same fervor as when we seek for ourselves (this is loving our neighbor as ourselves – Matt. 22:39).  And the intercession needs to continue for as long as that friend remains in need.  That is a fellowship of sharing.

May GOD of love increase our love for each other.

* Spiritual Theology, A Systematic Study of the Christian Life, Simon Chan, p. 119-120 (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1998.)

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

Appreciating What We Have

There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28)

 “For everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, because it is consecrated by the word of God and prayer.” (1Timothy 4:4-5)

 

Since starting this blog a year ago, I took on a part-time ministerial assignment: partnering with several pastors and churches whose primary language is other than English.  I’ve been involved in this ministry for close to 10 months, and it’s been very rewarding to say the least.  As I have gotten to better know these pastors and their congregations, my appreciation of their preferred language and cultures has been edifying in unexpected ways.

One of those ways is the ability to fully enter into the worship of GOD even when I know very little of what is being sung or said.  I attribute this ability to the Holy Spirit who is never confused or limited, and is able to lead us across boundaries that are, otherwise, impenetrable because of our human frailty or, perhaps, because of a lack of will.  I count this as new learning for me.

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Reflecting on my attempts to cross cultures has drawn me to another conclusion: sometimes we are more appreciative of the “new” than we are of what has been present and available to us all along.  This, I think, is common to most of us.  We certainly see it in our young children, but the dynamic is not limited to them.  It’s as if the newness of something opens our eyes with joy and appreciation in ways that the equally valuable, but previously present “thing” failed to do.    Here, I refer specifically to women who are 50%+ of the world’s population, and, more often than not, the primary doers of work and sustainers of ministry in the local church (there’s much objective data, both historical and contemporary, to support this last point).  Women have been a major part of the Church, working and often leading, from the beginning, and have been under-appreciated, stymied, and stunted, for my two cents.

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Our “appreciation and celebration” of diversity in the Church need not take on over-sized proportions if we allow ourselves to be molded by the Spirit and the Word.  When we fail in this molding, we often try to make-up for it by making “big deals” out of what should be an accepted reality: unity in the Church.  If the Church of Jesus Christ reflected more of a Trinitarian model of inter-relationships between its members rather than a spiritually outmoded and divisive model more reflective of the hierarchical, patriarchal, and dominant culture dynamics common under the Old Covenant, valuing some members over others, the separations of groups so common in the world would not be so common in the Church, as it still is today.  This model, so inconsistent with the New Covenant, is the Church’s version of the doctrine of separate but equal.1  The dynamics of separation create inequality, a fact underscored by Galatians 3:28.

I’m grateful for the teachers, mentors, and colleagues in the faith (of all hues and genders), who have and continue to influence my faith.  Each has blessed me.  I want to highlight one, Rev. Shirley Goodman whose recently published book, Riding In Cars with Men2, was an eye-opener.  I’ve been privileged to call her friend and to work with her for many years, and I highly recommend you consider reading what she has to say.  Who knows how it may impact you.

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  1. The doctrine of separate but equal was codified as the law of the land by the Supreme Court in 1896 through Plessy vs. Ferguson. In this case, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that racially separate facilities, if equal, were not discriminatory, if they did not otherwise violate the constitution.  It was not overturned until 1954 when the Supreme Court heard and ruled on Brown vs. Board of Education.

  1. Riding In Cars with Men by Shirley Goodman (TheSheRev, LLC, © 2019) is available through Amazon in both paperback and electronic formats.

 

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

It’s About Grace

“I’m a grace junkie, brother!  I’ll take all He will give me!”

Those are words spoken to me 30 or so years ago by a former colleague.  I don’t recall the specific context of our conversation; I just remember it being said in humor as we were standing at the corner of several work cubicles.  This recollection is one of the thoughts that crossed my mind as the theme of God’s grace took center stage.

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Like others, I have meditated on what we commonly call “The Lord’s Prayer” (Matt. 6:9-13; Luke 11:2-4).  I understand it to be a model prayer, one that teaches the kinds of things to emphasize in our petitions.  What is most prominent to me is that, in all of its simplicity, the prayer reveals that Jesus knew exactly what his disciples (including me) needed for successful life.  “The Lord’s Prayer” is a petition for God’s grace.

Consider the four action verbs used in the petition: give, forgive, lead, and deliver. These are the things we ask God to do for us, things of the Spirit we cannot do for ourselves, things little children need from their parents.  I think it’s significant that Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 18:3).   

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Some might argue that we can produce our own “daily bread,” as long as it’s just a metaphor for physical sustenance.  I would counter that only God is able to construct a seed so that it is able to grow into a stalk of wheat or barley or a grain of rice or a leafy vegetable.  Only He places the right mix of chemicals in the soil to nurture the seeds (even when He uses human agents), or sends the sun and rain in due season to activate those nutrient chemicals.  Only He places in motion the miracles of birth that continually provide the animals upon which we feed.  That’s all grace, because it’s by His hand, and none other!  But the “daily bread” is equally, if not more, about the spiritual sustenance of His Word and His Spirit, without which we would fall further and further into the abyss of false and foolish notions of human wisdom and independence.  Paul call this “hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the elemental spiritual forces” (Colossians 2:8) upon which the world establishes its foundations.  To those who rely on God, he gives the daily bread of knowledge and understanding.  That’s grace that I want and need.

Someone I know is fond of saying he is a “debtor.”  He often ends emails and text messages with that phrase as a way of pointing toward God.  It’s in recognition of all that God has done for him, all that he has been given by God, and all he has been forgiven by God.  A number of prominent Christian writers over the centuries have said something to this effect, “The more time I spend in the presence of the Most High, the more aware I become of how deep is my unworthiness to be in His presence, of the depth of my debt.”  I get it, because I’ve experienced that very thing.  That’s very likely the reason the Prophet Isaiah shouted, “Woe is me! I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the LORD Almighty” (Isaiah 6:5), after finding himself standing before the throne of God in a vision.  It is the awareness of the holiness of God that shines a light on our true state, and which prompts us to seek the forgiveness without which we cannot live.  And He gives it, freely (1 John 1:9).  I am a debtor, too; I need His grace of forgiveness!

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I need to be careful in my interpretation of Scripture, so let me say that I believe the intent of the phrase, “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil” is to show us that God’s grace seeks to influence us to strongly resist destructive spiritual temptations, regardless of their source.  It is grace that drives us into His arms for protection from spiritual folly and darkness.  This full-faith reliance is our deliverance.  We do this by relying on His Spirit, whom He freely gives to those who ask (Luke 11:13).  To be led by the Spirit of God is to be delivered from those impulses and yearnings (internal and external) that would cause us to be deceived, blinded, and eventually enslaved to other than God (Romans 8:1-14).  Here is more grace!

It would be easy to conclude from my comments that I think we’re all helplessly dependent on God’s goodness to us.  You’d be right to think this.  Many find this idea offensive because they think it somehow invalidates them.  To the contrary, I think God desires nothing more than to validate us by saving us from our ego-driven, self-centered selves that seeks its own light rather trusting in His.  Certainly, many of the Enlightenment philosophers rejected the notion of the need to rely on the God of the Bible, René Descartes (of “I think, therefore I am” fame) for one.  They couldn’t conceive of much beyond a fully capable, independent humanity reliant only upon each person’s ability to reason as the sole means of any so-called “redemption” needed.  But the history of the world reveals many brilliant “reasoners,” who remained prideful and unrepentant men (and women), some of whom used their brilliance in nefarious and despicable ways.  I prefer King David’s take (which I may have referenced in a previous post):

My heart is not proud, Lord,
my eyes are not haughty;
I do not concern myself with great matters
or things too wonderful for me.
 But I have calmed and quieted myself,
I am like a weaned child with its mother;
like a weaned child I am content. (Psalm 131:1-2)

 Like my friend, I am an unabashed grace junkie, and will take as much as God will give me.  He is my Father in heaven.

* The lyrics of Precious Lord, Take My Hand were written by Thomas A. Dorsey in 1932.

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

Family and Friends

“Count your blessings, name them one by one; 

Count your blessings, see what God hath done;

Count your blessings, name them one by one,

And it will surprise you what the Lord hath done.”*

 

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Nearly two weeks ago, my wife and I took an excursion to visit members of my family in one state and then friends of ours in a neighboring state. The first stop of our journey, after driving for eight hours, was with an aunt, one of my father’s three surviving sisters (he had 14 other siblings).  This aunt, a spry octogenarian, is the youngest of the three and was a young teen when I was born.

For reasons too complicated to delve into, it’s only been within the last few years that we’ve gotten to know each other (I still only have a passing knowledge of most of my dad’s brothers and sisters and their children, my many first cousins).  I met this aunt once before, at my dad’s funeral many years ago, but had very little contact with her after that.  I vividly recall the next time we met (three years ago), as my wife and I walked up the short stairway to her home.  She met us halfway, calling me by my father’s name with a warmth that said she had claimed me.  I’ve been to her home twice since then, including within the last few days.

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She has filled-in blanks in my family knowledge, including some gems about my parents. Through her I’ve been able to spend time with four of my first cousins, one of her children and three of her other nephews, none of whom I knew previously.  And because she is now a widow living alone, my wife and I have been, and on this trip were, on the receiving end of her having someone in the house to mother…and did she!  My aunt has been a blessing to me.  A few years ago, she was just a name to me.  Now she is part of my treasure; I have claimed her in the same way she has claimed me.

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Driving north for a little over an hour brought us to the home of dear friends, my college roommate and his precious wife (one of my wife’s dearest friends). Our knowledge of each other and our prayers for each other over the years have bonded us in an uncommon way.  They are more like brother and sister to us than the word “friend” describes.  And although their five sons have their own lives and responsibilities, each of our adopted nephews, took time to come home because they knew we were visiting, some driving significant distances.

In the short letter named Philemon, the imprisoned Apostle Paul asked Philemon, a leader of a house church in Colossae, to offer him refreshment through an act of kindness.  Our friend’s home is a place where we are refreshed.  We talk, we laugh, we eat, we sleep, we pray, we worship; and when we leave we always feel a little lighter and, as the old folks used to say, glad of heart.  In them, I am greatly blessed of GOD.

The old hymn encourages us to count and name the blessings GOD has given us. I have received many.  These are two, and I am very thankful.

* Count Your Blessings.  Lyrics by Johnson Oatman, Jr.  Music by Edwin Othello Excell.

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

Don’t You Know

If you were looking for a post last week, I apologize for the miss.  The piece I drafted disappeared into cyberspace somewhere, and recently reappeared.  I have no idea what happened.  I knew I had written it, but there was no evidence…and now there is.  Here it is.

“For the LORD gives wisdom; from his mouth come knowledge and understanding.” (Proverbs 2:6)

 Most of my adult life, I’ve been an early riser. Much of that was driven by work demands, but getting up early became part of my natural rhythm so I seldom viewed starting the day early as an imposition.

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I’ve always liked the sounds of early morning when it’s still dark and as the darkness gives way to the breaking dawn. Even as a child, I would lie in that space between half sleep and half awake, and hear the sound of the commuter trains a mile and a half from where we lived.  Now, whenever I hear a train in the early morning, I’m mentally transported to that time which was always a half an hour or so before my mother would wake me to get ready for school.  Summer visits to my grandparents in the Smoky Mountains of North Carolina had its own early morning sounds: roosters crowing in the distance and my grandmother in the kitchen preparing breakfast and baking pies (I blame her for my fruit pie addiction).

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Now the prevalent morning sound is quiet. There are no car sounds in our neighborhood; it’s too early.  During the late fall and winter, I can sometimes pick up the sound of squirrels running through fallen leaves as they forage.  The most pleasing sounds for me, other than the quiet, are the birds calling to each other.  This always reminds me of the way Jesus described GOD’s love of us by talking about the way He cares for the birds of the air (Matt. 6:26; Matt: 10:29-31; Luke 12:6, 7, 24). These words were said to those who thought they (themselves) were all they had.  They had little or no knowledge that GOD was their advocate, that He loved and cared for them, or that He saw their condition and had a compassion that reached out to them.  Their assumption of the necessity for complete self-reliance made faith in GOD irrelevant in every practical way.  A key piece of the “good news” was (is) that this is a false assumption.  Jesus was, in effect saying, don’t you know that there is a better way to approach life: committing yourself to GOD and His care, for He can care for you supremely better than you ever could, now and eternally.  The truth is they didn’t know.  I call these folks unconsciously self-reliant.

ONE HEART CANNOT SERVE TWO MASTERS

On the flip side are those who, with head knowledge of GOD, choose conscious self-reliance.  They believe in GOD; they just don’t believe GOD enough to put their full trust in Him.  They combine limited faith with a confidence in themselves.  Jesus has a word for them, too: “I am the Vine, you are the branches. When you’re joined with me and I with you, the relation intimate and organic, the harvest is sure to be abundant. Separated, you can’t produce a thing” (John 15:5). It’s as if He is saying,  don’t you know there is no have it both ways spiritual life in GOD?  That’s what the ancient Israelites tried when they built the golden calf, and we all know how that turned out.

The message, as I read it, suggests that the will of GOD is that we experience a healthy spiritual transformation away from both unconscious self-reliance and conscious self-reliance, which are both fed by some combination of false notions about GOD, issues of self-esteem (not enough or too much), and a desire for security and happiness.  According to Jesus, the only true (lasting, trustworthy, consistent over time) path is conscious reliance on GOD.  He wants us to know, and revealed that in His coming, in the way He lived, in the lives of His closest followers, and in His resurrection which is the substance behind His proclamation: “I am the way and the truth and the life (John 14:6).  Phrased another way, I AM your way, I AM your truth, and I AM your life.

This is the kind of stuff I think and pray about in the early morning quiet. I’m deeply grateful for every minute of it.  Thank you, Lord!

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