You Are Not In Control

“The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it…” (Psalm 24:1)

The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it.” (1 Corinthians 10:26)

Ever since childhood, I have enjoyed just about everything about Superman®.1 I read Superman comic books.  I watched the 1950s tv show starring George Reeves.2 Years later, when one of my children took a liking to Superman it gave the excuse to see the movies with Christopher Reeve3 (most of them were pretty bad) and a later one with Brandon Routh.4

One of the more recent ones was Man of Steel®.5. There is a particularly unnerving scene in that film in which the principle alien antagonist, General Zod, interrupts electronic broadcasts around the world and eerily announces to a worldwide audience, “You are not alone.  You are not alone. You are not alone.”  Television stations, radios, cell phones, computer desktops, laptops and e-pads all, regardless of location, simultaneously became instruments for receiving this ominous communication.  Then it ceased just as suddenly after he demanded to be told the whereabouts of Superman.

It’s been with that same level of clarity (without the threatening tone) that I have heard the Spirit say more and more, “You are not in control.  You are not in control.  You are not in control.”

As I have reflected on my internal responses to Covid-19 and observed the outward responses of others, as I’ve tried to offer a word of godly encouragement and some challenge when the opportunities have arisen, the one thing that keeps surfacing is the desire to exert control.  I see it in myself and from time-to-time I think I see it in others.

Now I have to acknowledge that I am in recovery.  I’m a recovering control freak.  It took me a long time to get to the point where I can say it out loud; and those who know me well have heard me confess it.  Like any addiction, rigid discipline, vigilance and help from that proverbial “higher power” (I choose the GOD of the Bible) is absolutely necessary.  Otherwise before you know it, you’ve fallen off the wagon.  The hunger for control is a powerful motivator, and it is easy (at least for me when I feel responsible for something) to seek it often without even being aware that I’m doing it.

In His own way, GOD has been reminding me daily that I am not in control.  I think that’s the unspoken message behind Psalm 46:10 where He says, “Be still (stop striving) and know that I am GOD.” While I too often strive to be in control, He is in control.  Always has been.  What I seek is an illusion.  What He possesses is the beginning, intermediate and final reality.

Having entered what is commonly called Holy Week in the Church (the period beginning Palm Sunday and leading to Easter Sunday), perhaps we can take a page from the first disciples who were forced by the circumstances late in that Passover week to accept that they were not in control.  More so, even the One in whom they had pinned all their hopes  was trusting in His Father to be in control rather than respond to their expectations.  To the disciples, it all looked like it was going south until what looked like a complete disaster was revealed to be a complete victory.  We are not in control. Coronavirus is not in control.  Regardless of how it looks today, GOD is in full control and complete victory is ahead for those whose trust is in Him.

Remember, the earth is the Lord’s and everything in it.

  1. The rights to Superman® are owned by DC Comics, Inc., the publishing unit of DC Entertainment, a subsidiary of Warner Bros.
  2. George Reeves, an American actor (1914-1959).
  3. Christopher Reeve, an American actor (1952-2004).\
  4. Brandon Routh, an American actor (1979-present).
  5. Man of Steel®, released in June 2013 by Warner Bros.

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

 

O You of Big Faith

O You of Big Faith 

Then Jesus said, “Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear.” (Mark 4:9)

Times of trouble can offer us learning opportunities.  But it’s only when we’re really tuned-in, seeking, and receptive to understanding our shocking circumstances.  It’s then that our ears are primed for hearing.

This was the case on that day Jesus and the twelve were out on the Sea of Galilee when a violent storm arose.  I’ve never been to the Holy Land, but I have heard from those who have and from reading different accounts that storms such as this aren’t all that uncommon.

The account in the later portion of Mark 8 tells us that Jesus was asleep in the stern (rear) of the boat, perhaps tired from ministering to the needs of the multitudes who always sought Him out.  The storm came upon them suddenly and violently enough that the disciples were filled with the fear that they would capsize and be drowned.  They woke Jesus and rebuked Him for not caring about them.  I feel the need to say this again: They rebuked Jesus.  Let that sink in a little.  “Wonderful grace of Jesus, greater than all my sin, how shall my tongue describe it?  Where shall its praise begin… ”*

I wonder if we ever do that…either in words or attitude (or both) insist that GOD doesn’t care about us…because if He did how could He let us be in such a raging storm?  But I digress.

Jesus gets up (I can almost see Him yawning and stretching); He stills the storm, and then He delivers the line: “Why are you so fearful, O you of little faith?”  Notice that he didn’t say, “O you of no faith.”  He wasn’t challenging them because they didn’t have faith; His challenge was because of all that they had previously witnessed in Him, all that they had experienced with Him. Still, their faith was fit only for sunny days with clear skies.  A little bit of faith can work well on sunny, clear sky days.  But when the strong winds are trying to blow us off of our mark; when the threatening waves are crashing about us and we see no end, little faith is not enough.  Big faith is needed.

I recall seeing, on a documentary, Bill Parcells (former NFL, Super Bowl winning coach) challenge his players during the heat of a game, saying along the lines of “That’s why we have training camp, and practice and do all those drills; that’s why you lift all of those weights…for times like this!”  We can say the same: That’s why, for years, we’ve had Bible studies and small groups and prayer groups and youth and children’s ministries; that’s why we preach and teach and disciple…for times like this!

Do you have ears to hear?  We didn’t see this storm we’re in coming; and it is serious and scary.  But we can also have the stillness of peace in our hearts through a faith big enough to keep us afloat, O You of Big Faith.

* “Wonderful Grace of Jesus,” by Haldor Lillenas (1918). In the public domain.

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

Take a look at my “Thoughts of Others” page for some inspirational and thought-provoking words.

 

Jesus or Jonah?

“This is how much God loved the world: He gave His Son, His one and only Son. And this is why: so that no one need be destroyed; by believing in Him, anyone can have a whole and lasting life.” (John 3:16, Message)

Yesterday, I watched a Smithsonian Channel television show about how Isis terrorists’ destruction of ancient religious sites in Iraq had uncovered underground caverns which contained artifacts with carvings referencing the story of Jonah, including his ministry to the city of Nineveh.

As the Bible story goes, GOD’s commanded the Prophet Jonah to enter the city of Nineveh to proclaim coming judgment on the city because of its long history of rampant wickedness and brutality…unless the people repented.  It was interesting to hear the comments of the various archeologists and theologians as they tried to harmonize the archeological record with the biblical story.  I won’t replay the story here; the entirety is found in the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament).

I do, however, want to make this one point: Jonah really didn’t want to do what GOD asked.  He went to extraordinary lengths to avoid obedience, up to and including putting the lives of others at risk.  GOD’s nature of love nature sought mercy for Nineveh; Jonah, GOD’s appointed preacher, preferred judgment for Nineveh.  Ultimately, he did do what he was told to do, and guess what?  The Ninevites listened and took Jonah’s message to heart.  The city experienced the conviction of GOD’s word and repented, avoiding wrath and destruction.  Mercy won out.

Jonah’s name means “dove,” a biblical symbol for GOD’s Holy Spirit and His favor.  Jonah’s divinely given role was to be GOD’s vessel, inducing conviction within the Ninevites and offering favor as a response to their repentance.  How true is it that still today so many live at odds with the favor-bestowing divine image within them, sometimes even after having been gifted with GOD’s salvation, entering into relationship with Him and being blessed with His favor?

The second line of the chorus to Chicago’s 1970 song, “Does Anyone Really Know What Time It Is?* is “Does anyone really care?”  Do we in the church really care that spiritual lostness is a damnable condition in the people we know and in the people we don’t know?  Do we really care if they perish?  GOD cared enough to act.  One aspect of the renewal of our own minds to which Paul calls us to (Romans 12:1-2) is that we care, as well…enough to act.

If we consider Nineveh symbolic of the entire world, then many, many people in it are in deep need of repentance and GOD’s forgiveness.  Without it, like the Ninevites before Jonah’s message, they are lost.  Jesus came to seek and save the lost and He left us with a mandate to do the same (Matthew 28:16-20).   We are called to be like Jesus who cares deeply, not like Jonah who served GOD out of compulsion.

We’re in a time like no other in recent history.  Uncertainty always raises questions and many who are otherwise complacent about spiritual things often become seekers.  If we really believe we have good news, let’s be ready to share it like Jesus and not prefer to hide it like Jonah.

* “Does Anyone Really Know What Time It Is,” recorded by Chicago on Columbia Records, January 1969.  Lyrics by Robert Lamm.

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

For some thought-provoking insights, take a look at my “Thoughts from Others” page.  

Keeping Your Head

“If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs…”                                    (From “If” by Rudyard Kipling)

Crisis times tend to reveal those who keep their heads and those who don’t.  September 11, 2001 was one of those times.  I clearly remember being in a 57-story building, needing to make decisions that affected others and observing the behavior of many of those same people as they waited to be told what they could do, and once they were told, how they went about it.  I recall the sense of panic in the city streets as congested traffic was ignoring standard rules of the road, like stopping at red lights or yielding to pedestrians.  I imagine the destruction of the Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor was similar in its impact on how folks behaved.  Some folks just lose it!

Covid-19 or Coronavirus has the same potential as it spreads here in the US and in the vicinity where I live.  Asia and Western Europe has been where we in this country are headed, and I’m sure people in those locales have stories to tell of how others have reacted well or maybe not so well.  On this side of the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, I’ve heard stories of racist comments being made against Asians as a group and blame placed on immigrants.  A man on a New York subway train (underground or metro for my non-USA readers) was caught on camera spraying another passenger with FabrezeTM,an odor eliminator.  Some have hoarded hand sanitizers and marked the prices up several hundred-fold for resale in order to profit financially off of misfortune (ah, the love of money!).   These are expressions of hatred, or at the very least callous disregard.

Howard Thurman, someone I’ve been reading lately, says that “hatred is something of which to be ashamed unless it provides for us a form of validation and prestige.  If either is provided, then the immoral or amoral character [of hatred] is transformed into positive violence.”*  We’ve seen this too many times in history not to know that these are true statements. Devaluing, discounting and attacking others verbally or physically for the sake of self (even perceived self-protection) are forms of violence.  If Covid-19 turns out to be just one of several societal stressors (say, wars, rumors of wars, and natural disasters in diverse places as examples), what do we have to look for to from our neighbors…and what do they have to look forward from us?

Several days ago, something (I can’t recall what) led me to revisit Paul’s charge to Timothy as he (Paul) was anticipating his death, “Keep your head in all situations…” (2 Timothy 4:5).  Trying times requires people who will keep their heads.  There is a fair chance that someone we know, someone in our extended circle will get sick with Coronavirus.  It may even be us.  We need to be wise and use good discretion in our personal and communal responses to Covid-19, but our responses should never be an excuse not to be loving and compassionate.  And in case we need reminding, Don’t be misled—you cannot mock the justice of God.  You will always harvest what you plant” (Gal.6:7, NLT).

* Jesus and the Disinherited by Howard Thurman, p.65.

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

When Silence is Lead

“When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long.”

(Psalm 32:3)

First things first: the immediate context of this verse concerns David’s acknowledgement that his attempts to hide personal sin from GOD backfired on him.  It caused him misery as the weight of his conscience plagued him to the point that it manifested physically.  I know from experience what David experienced.  The heart that belongs to GOD cannot ignore sin, and failure to confess it and repent from it can work its way outwardly from the soul to the physical body.  But immediate context also is paralleled by broad context, and I think there is a context here that goes beyond sin.

The exact origin of the phrase, “silence is golden” is not clear.  There’s some suggestion that its roots are found in ancient Egypt.  Similar statements are made in early German, Swiss and English literature.  Of course, biblical references speak about silence across a range: the need for silence, the importance of not being silent at times, and when silence is the response to being overwhelmed with uncertainty.  As always, context is essential, or to quote a friend’s take on the common statement, “Text without context is a pretext;” he prefers, “Text without context is a con.”

Personally, I like silence and solitude.  I’m wired that way. I gravitate toward spiritual influences who are contemplative; this way is intriguing to me.  Going on personal spiritual retreats where much time is devoted to listening for the voice of GOD works for me.  Reading the works and stories of holy men and women who organized their lives to experience periods of silence is appealing.  Silence can be golden.

Nevertheless, there are times when silence is not golden; it is more like a lead weight.  One reason is noted in the introduction to this post…sin.  Another is when emotional turmoil, often due to no fault of our own, is like a heavy weight on our neck and shoulders. We’ve all had those experiences: someone with whom you are in relationship says or does something that is deeply hurtful and we are wounded; hard issues from our past arise suddenly and unexpectedly; we feel taken advantage of and are uncertain what to do about it; someone has violated our trust and unexpressed anger is roiling in us (or is that just me?).  I hope you get the point.

Things like this can be like being in a pressure cooker, something my mother would often use for cooking.  A pressure cooker is a pot designed so the top is sealed airtight.  As heat produces unreleased steam pressure inside the pot, food is cooked more quickly than in a regular pot.  And unlike with microwaves, food retained its moisture and nutrients.  Because significant pressure builds as a result of the heat and steam, safe use of pressure cookers means the pot must have pressure controls and a release aperture so that the pressure does not build to a dangerous level.

Self-imposed silence can be the airtight lid on a pressure-filled pot.  It can build to the point where our bones groan, figuratively and near literally.  Inviting a trusted other to help us carry our burden is what allows the pressure to be released slowly and safely.  It may not solve the problem we’re facing; it may not make the hurt go away, but whatever we are facing becomes less daunting.

The plain truth is that we are not designed to be alone, and perhaps more than anything, it means being alone in the solitude of our emotional suffering.  Neglect of fellowship in community for the sake of keeping things silent is a recipe for making silence like lead.  It can give us the same feeling as the unconfessed sin we carry around: groaning bones.

Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor:

If either of them falls down, one can help the other up.

But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up.

Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm.

But how can one keep warm alone?

Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves.

A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.

(Ecclesiastes 4:9-12)

 

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

 

 

Why 40?

“Why do we have 40 days of Lent?  Why isn’t it 36 days or some other number?  What is the significance of 40? 

I was asked this question the other day.  It took me a few minutes to think through what I believed was a reasonable response, and since then I’ve thought about it quite a lot.

First, let me say that I haven’t pinned down a specific biblical reference that explains why GOD seems to like that number more than 36 or 52 or 13.  It is clear, however, that He seems to prefer it; there clearly is a pattern of the use of 40 in both the Hebrew Bible (OT) and the New Testament.  The flood in the time of Noah, we are told, was 40 days and 40 nights.  The life of Moses can be measured in 40 year segments: (1) his birth to the time of him becoming aware of his true heritage; (2) his sojourn on the backside of the desert learning to shepherd; and (3) his time shepherding the Israelites, leading them to Canaan-land (which coincided with the Israelites’ 40 years of wandering in the desert and subsisting on manna because of their persistent lack of faith and disobedience); the temptation of Jesus as the Holy Spirit led Him into the wilderness for 40 days; and the 40 days He spent with His disciples after His resurrection and before His ascension.  These are among the most prominent examples, but a word search of “forty” will reveal many more occasions where it is referenced in the Bible.

I’ve seen some things that suggest the use of 40 is rooted in ancient middle Eastern cultures and may have been used by GOD because He knew it would already have significance to the people, particularly His chosen.  This wouldn’t be the first time GOD adapted an established practice or belief to His own purpose.  The offices of priests, prophets, and kings, alters for sacrifices to gods, the use of incense smoke in prayer rituals, and later, crosses of crucifixion were all taken by GOD and used.

In the examples above where 40 is prominent in the story, the purpose, whether 40 days or 40 years, appears to be for both trial and transformation.  This is evident in each of these examples.  One commentator, speaking on the wilderness journey of Jesus, called it an “excruciating personal experience” in which He suffered strong temptation in a time and place of “hard and harsh warfare.” *

GOD-sent and GOD-allowed trials always have some type of transformation as their end, and I believe that they are always a personal experience, even when others go through the same or similar experiences, whether by imposition or voluntarily.  The mutual support of a shared experience does not replace the need for each of us to confront the trials in our path and overcome them.  Victory for the entire body must first be the victory for the individual.

Those who have decided to enter into some form of extra sacrificial practice, such as fasting or added times of prayer or some other practice beyond your normal devotional life during the 40 days of Lent should recognized that your choice is an invitation to be tried.  It is also an invitation to be transformed as you offer yourself and your practice to GOD for His glory and your growth in grace.  Outside of this, we wind-up engaging in empty ritual.

Whether in the season of Lent or in other seasons of life, may we, like Job, be able to say, “Yet He knows the way I have taken; when He has tested me, I will come forth as gold” (23:10).

* Ralph Earle, Beacon Bible Commentary. Beacon Hill Press, 1964, pp. 54-55.        

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

 

 

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.