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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

 

 

Surely Goodness and Mercy

Yesterday (Saturday) was a day of celebration.  Our daughter-in-law was granted her PhD., an earned designation given to few.  As is customary for us, we and other invited family and friends gathered for a good time, hosted by our son and daughter-in-law.  Given that there were far too many people to be accommodated in their yard, it was held in a local park.  My wife and I were also hosting special friends for the weekend and we took them along.  It had been a long time since they had seen our son and his family.  

My buddy and I chose to set-up our chairs back about 100 feet from the pavilion where we had a good view of all that was occurring.  Our ladies, on the other hand, decided to sit at a bench under the pavilion cover in the midst of all of the gathering commotion.  An uncle of our daughter-in-law soon parked his family’s chairs near us and said with a smile, “This must be where the old folks sit.”  “Yep,” I spoke and nodded an affirmation.  Soon, there were a line of chairs occupied primarily by the age 60+ crowd where we could see all the action.

For the 2 ½ hours we were there, in addition to being greeted by our son, his wife, and our grandchildren, I greeted or was greeted by many who I hadn’t seen in months and, in some cases, years: other members of my daughter-in-law’s family, several of our nieces and nephews and any of their family members who had come, along with friends of my son and daughter-in-law, some of whom I first met when they were all in college.

Most striking to me was viewing the impact of the creep of time evident from surveying the crowd.  There were toddlers parented by people I had never met.  The group of high school and college age kids, including two of my three grandchildren, playing Uno had, not too long ago, been those toddlers.  Our son and daughter-in-law had been high school sweethearts which is when we first met her and her parents who were then middle aged as my wife and I were.  They, like us, once paid the college bills.  Now, our children and many of their cousins and friends are or will soon be footing college bills.  They are the middle-aged crowd.  And I and my wife and our friends and our daughter-in-law’s parents, uncles and aunts are now the senior crowd who sit back watching and enjoying the scene of the different generations.

If I didn’t have the hope that I have, that could have been depressing.  It wasn’t at all for me.  I know that my “earthly tent” is fraying.  I can feel it in my lower back when I’ve been sitting too long or when I’ve had to stand for a long time.  One look at my medicine cabinet at the drug prescriptions I take daily tells its own story.  If someone is moving, I can carry a few boxes, but my days of helping to carry sofas and bureaus up flights of stairs are over.  Although it hasn’t caught-up yet, I know that each day I walk in the “valley of the shadow of death,” and that one day it will no longer be just a shadow but a reality.  I’m in no rush, but only GOD knows the number of my days (Psalm 39:4).

The days of being the dad who changes diapers, rocks them back to sleep in the early morning hours, wipes dirty noses, lays out clothes for Sunday School, helps with homework, says, “Go to bed,” goes to parent-teacher conferences, band concerts, dance recitals, gymnastic, soccer and lacrosse games, sets curfews, attends school graduations, makes trips back and forth to college campuses, and who offers coaching on getting that first job are over.  I’m now the granddad who does that…or at least some of it, as it should be…until.

Until…and while I walk through this valley, I am content and comforted that surely, goodness and mercy is following me and will follow me all the way.   

© Byron L. Hannon, 2021.  All rights reserved to text content unless otherwise noted.  

Borrowed Thoughts

I’ve not done this before and don’t foresee doing it again anytime soon, but the opportunity was too great to pass.  For several years, the theme of how accumulated spiritual rubble degrades devotion to GOD in individuals and cultures has percolated in me.  I wasn’t thinking about this, however, when I read something by a favorite teacher that grabbed me as I read it.  Below I repeat his thoughts, verbatim.

“Seek ye the Lord, while He may be found”

“Seek ye the Lord.  The impulse to align oneself on the side of that which is whole is a natural one.  Sometimes it springs from the desire to cover up, to take refuge in the strength of another so as to shun the necessity of dealing with one’s own weakness.  Sometimes it springs from the desire to discover a way by which to understand one’s own needs and to do something about meeting them. The Other-than-self reference is a necessity for peace of mind and spirit.”

“This day I seek the Lord.  I seek to know God that I may understand myself, that I may grasp the true meaning of my own life and have its purpose increasingly defined.  I seek His judgment that I may discern an ever clearer meaning between right and wrong course of conduct.  I seek His love that I may be inspired to love more and more what is good and true, and to transcend all barriers which stand between me and my fellows.”

“Seek ye the Lord while He is near.  This does not mean that God will withdraw from me but it does mean that if I quench the desire to seek Him over and over again, there may come a time when the desire itself becomes buried beneath all kinds of debris in my own life.  The desire will never die, but I must not run the risk of pushing it so far out of my consciousness that there seems to be no hunger in me to become whole, clean and redeemed.”

“Seek ye the Lord, while He may be found.”1

May you be blessed by this reading as I was.  

  1. Howard Thurman. “Seek Ye the Lord,” Meditations of the Heart, Beacon Press, Boston, MA, © 1981.  

A Memorial Day Reflection

Today, the U.S. is celebrating Memorial Day in honor of those who sacrificed their lives on the various battlefields of the world of which there have been many.  Both supporters and dissenters of the politics of those wars still owe thanks to the men and women who made that sacrifice because they were called to serve or because they chose to serve.  One of my cousins is one of them.  These and all other honors are more than well deserved. 

Over the years it has become common to also acknowledge anyone who, currently or in the past, serve(d) in the armed forces.  These folks are often asked to stand to be acknowledged in public gatherings on this day and the weekend preceding it.  I’m proud that both of my grandfathers, my father, several of my uncles, another cousin, my father-in-law, two of my brothers-in-law, and my wife’s grandfather have all stood on such occasions.

I think there is still more room for remembrance and honors on Memorial Day for there are those who have sacrificed for the sake of the “good fight,” a phrase made famous by the Apostle Paul.  Their wars were and are being fought on a spiritual rather than a physical plane.  So many have sacrificed their time, talent and treasure to do the will of Him who called and sent them.  Many have sacrificed their comfort, and some their reputations and even their lives for the sake of this work.  Whether we acknowledge it or not, we are all beneficiaries of these soldiers, many of whom still fight on battlefields unseen by most of us who are far removed from these front lines.  

Remember all of them and give thanks.             

© Byron L. Hannon, 2021.  All rights reserved to text content unless otherwise noted.  

Jesus Is Not A Coat

“For I have come down from heaven not to do My will but to do the will of Him who sent me.”  (John 6:38)

By Jesus not being a coat, I mean that references to Him, regardless of the form those references take, are not for the putting on or taking off for convenient reasons.  There’s an awful lot of that going on.  

Groups and individuals often do it for political, social and cultural reasons when they believe doing so helps to advance a particular agenda or underscore something important to them.  I’ve sometimes felt like another is bringing Him (or perhaps something about their church or their pastor or their worship style preference, etc.) into their conversation in order to sound “spiritual.”  And then later, once they’ve done that, they take Him off like they would a coat.  From that point on, much of what they do and say is not reminiscent of Him.  I’ve had more than one salesperson try to turn conversation with me to spiritual issues once they found out what I did.  

Quasi-Christianity should not, at all, define Christ’s Church, meaning the assembly of those who claim to belong to Him by grace, through faith.  Coats are things we put on and take off depending on our external environment.  Intimate relationship with Jesus has absolutely nothing to do with our external environment.  I believe John 6:38 points us in the right direction.  If we are abiding in Him as He has instructed us, then our calling is to do, not our own will, but His will, just as He did the will of the Father who sent Him.

The temptation will always be to do our own will, to listen to our own counsel, to follow our own lead, to be wise in our own eyes.  These are strong and difficult temptations to resist because they often reflect our conclusions about what is good and right.  But if He is ours and we are His and we believe that He has given us spiritual empowerment in addition to spiritual instruction (i.e. the Holy Spirit), we have to give preeminence to His voice, not our own.  The ability to overcome those temptations is within us, the ability to think, say and act sincerely “Not my will but Thy will be done.”

One of the lines of what is commonly called “The Lord’s Prayer” is “…Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”  Whose job do you think it is to do GOD’s will on earth?  If we claim we follow Him, then it is ours.  We can’t do that if we wear Jesus like a coat.

© Byron L. Hannon, 2021.  All rights reserved to text content unless otherwise noted. 

The High Calling of GOD

“Therefore I urge you, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship…Since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, each of us is to use them properly…” (Romans 12:1, 6)

Both my wife and I were raised in households with high behavioral expectations.  Some of that was culturally-based and some of it was due to the size of our households.  The bottom-line was that childhood permissiveness wasn’t part of our experience.  While there was never a question about who our parents were and who we belonged to, we had responsibilities in and for the household.  

I easily remember being 12 and 13 and pulling the covers over my head on Saturday mornings hoping my father think I was asleep and not wake me.  It didn’t happen.  He usually gave me until 8 or 8:30 before he marched into my room to tell me to get up and come outside to mow the lawn, rake leaves, shovel snow or whatever else he wanted me to do.  Most times he was out there with me but doing something else.  And even the times when his job called him away from home, I knew he would call at some point and ask my mother if I had done my work. My wife’s story is much the same.  She was the second oldest of seven siblings which meant lots of work to go around, and everyone had a part.      

As adults, we brought a similar approach to the raising of our own children.  They were ours.  We loved them dearly just as we were loved…and they shared in the responsibilities of our household.  Our expectations of them were age appropriate, but there were expectations none-the-less.  Some might have thought we were a little strict, but I doubt anyone would have accused us of being permissive parents.

I’ve wondered, over the years, if too low expectations and permissiveness in the Church contributes to churches struggling to effectively pursue the grand mission of making disciples for Jesus Christ.  To be blunt, are there too many spoiled children in the household of GOD?  

Jesus never doubted whose Son He was.  He knew He was loved.  It was for that very reason He worked as hard as He did, sacrificing His life for the sake of all who were and are estranged from GOD.  The calling of GOD is high and requires faith to believe and effort to pursue.   

There is a difference between relationship and vocation!  Yes, we are called to and offered the opportunity to be in relationship with GOD through Christ.  That doesn’t mean that, upon accepting that offer by faith, we then walk around claiming to be sons and daughters of the King but without accepting any responsibility to His kingdom.  To do so is a denial of the vocation that comes with the relationship, which is unfaithfulness.  It might do to read and reread Romans 12, 1 Corinthians 12, and Ephesians 4 (all written by the Apostle Paul) to be taught or reminded of the high emphasis placed on the children of GOD doing the work of GOD.               

I recall an old Lanny Wolf song that speaks to this very issue.  The song’s chorus is:

My house is full, but my field is empty, 
Who will go and work for Me today. 
It seems My children all want to stay around My table, 
But no one wants to work in My fields, 
No one wants to work in My fields.
 1

If we think about it, the house can’t remain full for long if no one is working in the fields.  For those of us who claim that special relationship with the Most High GOD, let’s be faithful to the Christ-like vocation to which we were assigned.  Am I pulling the covers off your head?  You’ll survive.  Actually, you’ll thrive.       

  1. My House Is Full (But My Field Is Empty) by Lanny Wolf, Published in 1977. 

© Byron L. Hannon, 2021.  All rights reserved to text content unless otherwise noted.

Thanks Mom

“…Can a mother forget her nursing child?  Can she feel no love for the child she has borne…? (Isaiah 49:15)

Over the last 36 hours, even as I thought about my mother over this Mother’s Day weekend, I found myself in the presence of three other mothers: my wife, my eldest daughter (who we see irregularly because she lives on the other side of the country where we are now), and new friend  to whom we were introduced by our daughter.  There were no new motherly revelations opened while I was with them, but I listened closely to their talk (and occasionally contributed) as they shared their joys, some of the sorrows and the heartaches they’ve endured, the sacrifices they’ve made, and most of all, the love they had and still have for their children that is specific to their roles as moms.

Thanks to all of you mothers, grandmothers, aunts who acted like mothers, mother figures, and mothers-in-waiting.  When those times come when you feel forgotten or think no one notices, remember, there is a GOD who never forgets, who always notices and who’s love endures forever.  And some of the rest of us also notice and care deeply. 

Blessings, 

© Byron L. Hannon, 2021.  All rights reserved to text content unless otherwise noted.          

Fanning the Flame

“I’m writing to encourage you to fan into a flame and rekindle the fire of the spiritual gift God imparted to you…” (2 Timothy 1:6)

When Paul wrote these words to his mentee Timothy, he knew his time on Earth was coming to an end.  The executioner’s blade loomed on the horizon.  Still, the work to which Paul had dedicated the years of his life, ever since his encounter with the risen Lord while on the road to Damascus, must continue.  Timothy, among others, were chosen vessels to take up this mantle much in the same way Elisha took on the mantle of Elijah.  

Segue alert!

My wife and I are in the process of purchasing and installing a gas fireplace in our condo.  I miss having a fireplace.  Burning a winter fire in a previous home was one of those small joys that people often talk about experiencing but are hard pressed to name in the moment if asked to do so.  

Getting the fire started (it was a traditional, wood burning fireplace) always took a few moments, but once the kindling or fire starter log caught it wasn’t long before there was a roaring blaze of leaping flames. It was beautiful to watch. 

Split wood logs were added to keep the fire going as we relaxed with a book and a cup of coffee (for me) or tea (for her).  On Sunday afternoons, we would often fall asleep in the warmth of the fire only to wake to the glowing embers that was once a fire.  Stirring these embers and adding a piece or two of wood usually revived things and once again the beauty of the blaze would fill our sights.  

Fires need to be fed fuel and fanned if they are going to burn hot.  This is true in the physical and in the spiritual world.  Paul uses this imagery to exhort Timothy to be a good steward of the spiritual fire lit in him; otherwise it would die out and the work to which Timothy had been called would wilt on the vine.

Many people begin well.  They are on fire for the Lord; their enthusiasm and energy is contagious.  Not all, however, continue to fan the flame of their faith over the long-haul.  Whether it be a lack of commitment to grow deeper and deeper spiritual roots or getting caught up in what Jesus called “the cares of the world” or spiritual confusion/frustration, what were once roaring fires of the spirit become dying embers that are sorely in need of something to reignite what was once there.  

Whether it knows it or not (and I tend to think it doesn’t), the world needs those whose flames burn high and hot for GOD…and for those who have been given much (like gifts of the Spirit), much is required (Luke 12:48).

© Byron L. Hannon, 2021.  All rights reserved to text content unless otherwise noted.      

Higher Ground

“…They wandered the earth living in the desert wilderness, in caves, on barren mountains and in holes in the earth.  Truly, the world was not even worthy of them, not realizing who they were.” (Hebrews 11:38)

Over lunch with friends, we somehow got into a conversation about the catacombs in Rome.  One of our friends had visited Rome and had toured the catacombs.  For the uninitiated, these particular catacombs were used as underground burial sites for early Christians and Jews who disagreed with the Roman practice of burning their dead.  

During periods of Roman persecution of Christianity in the second through the early part of the fourth centuries, it was next to impossible for Christians to purchase land for burial purposes.  The underground passageways just outside of the city became the place where families and churches found a final resting place for the bodies of their loved ones.

Thinking about these dead bodies being placed in elongated holes in the ground led me to think of this passage from Hebrews 11 describing the living “resting places” of many the heroes of the faith whose names we do not know, who nevertheless, persevered on faith alone.  They were waiting for something far better than what the world could offer.  They had to be expecting something better given the description of their circumstances we see in the verse.  

I think, in some ways, Stevie Wonder’s Higher Ground* can serve as an anthem for those of us who, too, are waiting.  While there are pantheistic (harmonizing multiple religions) influences in the song, the overall theme reflects Stevie’s belief that people will continue to do what they have always done, whether good or bad, but he is grateful to be given opportunities to repent of past sins, to learn from past mistakes and the errors of youth, and to keep trying until he reaches higher ground.  

At one point near the end of the song, he refers to reaching the “highest ground.”  For those whose bodies were buried in the catacombs or referenced in the verse above and for many of us still here, this is our aim, the highest ground.  It’s what we’ve bet the proverbial ranch on.

Higher Ground, written by Stevie Wonder.  Released July 1973 by Jobete Music Co., Inc. on the Tamla label.

© Byron L. Hannon, 2021.  All rights reserved to text content unless otherwise noted.                       

Opportunities & Privileges

I may have mentioned this in a previous post; I don’t recall.  A couple of weeks ago, I saw a meme that reminded me of myself: “You have to forgive me if I told you this before.  I only have five memories and they take turns.”  With a nod to some exaggeration, I resemble that from time to time.

Anyway, for the last few months I’ve been meeting virtually with some of my elementary school classmates.  We just had our monthly get-together on Saturday evening for an hour.  Some months we’ve had nearly twenty of us on the call and, in other months, maybe eight to ten.  It’s been good reconnecting with people, most of whom, I haven’t seen since high school graduation.  

The meetings are for our elementary school class because we all grew up in the same few neighborhoods.  Many of our parents knew each other and some socialized together.  We were all in the same classes together with the same teachers in a small school setting before the dispersion that middle school and high school tracking processes force.

We’re all around the same age: at or just before 70; a couple are at or near 71.  Most of us are parents and grandparents, and even a few great-grandparents.  I’ve really enjoyed listening to the life stories of people I was in reading groups with and with whom I played kickball and dodgeball at recess.  They have all had rich and interesting experiences that have led them to this point in life, including the requisite bumps and bruises along the way. 

Career wise, more than a few became teachers.  One is a retired nurse who worked with developmentally disabled people and who now houses several developmentally disabled adults in her home.  Another, who was with me in every grade from Kindergarten to Sixth Grade, became dean of students at a prominent university.  One of the guys who was always good at sports played professional basketball in South America after college and went on to be a successful business owner before retiring.  One of our number went on to get her PhD and has successfully run her on strategy consulting business for years and is still going strong.   

Of the things we have in common, all of us are of the generation that witnessed and were a part of the social unrest in the 1960s.  Each of us is very attuned to and conscious of the things in our current world that are disturbing to our collective peace. We’ve seen a lot of it before.  Occasionally, someone voices their feelings and thoughts during these meetings.  Feelings of tiredness, feelings of anger and feelings of deep frustration at what seems to be never changing circumstances, surface every now and then.  This past Saturday night, our meeting facilitator asked me to open with prayer for the members of the group in light of all of the turbulence in our line of sight and in our line of emotions.  This is the first time this has happened.    

I don’t participate on these calls itching to testify to my faith, but when the opportunity presents itself, it is no time to shy away.  I prayed for my old friends and classmates, and in doing so shared my confidence that my Lord Jesus is in control despite what we see and feel and that He is fully able to sustain all of us at every level of life’s need.  I didn’t pray to give them a palliative (pain killer), but to keep the pain from having power it shouldn’t, that is, the power to control us.  I prayed to point us all to the One who overcame the world and the pain, trouble and tribulation so common to it.  Doing so was a privilege because we all need to overcome the world rather than have the world overwhelm us, and He is the pathway.

I’m already looking forward to next month’s meeting.

© Byron L. Hannon, 2021.  All rights reserved to text content unless 

Solitary Worship

Yes, Lord, I believe!” the man said. And he worshiped Jesus. (John 9:38)

I’ve been around the church and church folks for a long time.  I’ve been in a lot of worship settings, read different writings on the subject, and heard multiple sermons, sermonettes and homilies regarding worship.  I’ve lost track of all the choirs and worship teams I’ve seen perform.  I’ve even been in some.  I’ve experienced the full spectrum of outward response to corporate worship, including stoic silence and rock concert exuberance.

The most precious to me, however, is the solitary, personal worship that is guided by my confidence in GOD’s promise of His presence and the inner movement of His Holy Spirit that leads me into freely offering praise and figuratively and, sometimes literally, bowing in recognition of He who is worthy of worship.  There is a sweetness that surpasses words in those morning meetings which easily remind me of my wife’s favorite hymn, In the Garden. In it, the singer reflects on their enjoyment in being alone with the Lord in a garden and their desire to remain and hesitancy to leave despite being urged by the Lord to do just that (to do the work He’s assigned).

I so get this!  It is this daily time alone that gives deep meaning to the work He’s given me and makes communal worship more than just a liturgical activity.     

In the Garden, by C. Austin Miles, 1913. In the Public Domain. 

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