Dyin’ Ain’t Easy

“We cannot live a Christian life that will please Christ without cost to ourselves…”          

A byproduct of my professional background, secular and pastoral, has been participation in various assessments and feedback tools to gain a better sense of self and of how I have been or am being viewed by those with whom I work closely. In addition to those I’ve taken that were prompted by some organizational authority, I’ve done a number of these voluntarily out of pure curiosity.  One voluntary assessment is called the Enneagram, which I found to be one of the more comprehensive assessments I’ve taken.  Among its various indicator areas, it suggests a default emotion for each personality type.  That aspect was new to me.  According to the Enneagram, my default emotion is anger.

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Even though the assessment was new to me, the results, including this particular one, was not. As much as I would like to brush this revelation off, I know it to be true.  I was once called an idealist who chases causes.  I’m deeply offended by what I perceive to be injustice, particularly when it seems others show a lack of concern.  I have, on a few rare occasions I’m ashamed to admit, reacted with verbal violence when someone close violated my personal values with what seemed, to me, to be disregard.  I tend to stand-up for the underdog, and even did it once when the underdog was completely in the wrong (and I kinda knew it).

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So now that you’ve heard my confession, let me give you some context. All morning, up to the moment of this writing (Note: this was first drafted five days before posting), the temptation to anger has been strong. It was prompted by someone’s unjust behavior and the large ripple effect it has created, and which is beyond my ability to confront.  In a nutshell, I felt anger and powerlessness.  It was in the moments shortly afterwards that my internal conversation went something like this, “I need to give this to GOD, otherwise this is going to make me nuts.”

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“How Great Is Out GOD” is not just a song; it is a testimony, and today it is mine. The statement from an unknown source, which I quoted above, was among the things I read when I opened a devotional tome I use daily.  It was quickly followed by complimentary statements by A. B. Simpson and A. W. Tozer, noted 20th century holiness theologians, which deserved and received my meditation.

I was then drawn to Psalm 37 which speaks directly to the importance of renouncing anger and placing trust in GOD in the face of injustice because of His promise to rectify all injustice and judge all unrighteousness. It challenged me to do good as a response rather than allow myself to become incensed which can easily lead me to sin, and which is clearly inconsistent with the Fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23), something I, as a devoted believer, am to manifest.

 It was impossible to reflect on all of this without concluding that, yeah, GOD was in agreement with me; I needed to give my growing anger to Him before it became inflamed.  The cost, however, meant willfully dying to myself this morning.

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On one hand, it would have been so, so easy to feel justified in my anger and holding onto it.  But on the other hand, I had to ask myself to whom do I belong, who do I serve, and in whom do I place my trust.  I can’t have my cake and eat it, too.  A decision was needed.  I glanced at the reminder card stuck in my Bible, sent to me by my brother-in-law and his wife nearly a year ago.  It speaks of practical ways that reveal when someone has died to themselves.  What would reign, faithful submission or my anger?

I decided…all to Jesus I surrender.

The cover of this blog includes the creed by which I want to live: I have no life but Christ’s. He is in me and I am in Him and He is in the Father.  All else is vanity…even my anger.  Even my anger is vanity.  The peace that surpasses understanding is so much better.

I pray that, in reading this, you find blessing and perhaps help for yourself if you need it. All to Jesus!

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

 

 

Ironic, Isn’t It

“Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” – Hebrews 4:16

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Two court customs of ancient Persian kings were: (1) celebratory, months-long feasts for the purpose of displaying the splendor and glory of a king’s reign, and (2) no one was allowed to enter the inner court of the king without being summoned by the king, upon possible pain of death. These expressions of extreme self-exaltation are plainly illustrated in the Book of Esther.

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We might think of these practices as being archaic, but they are not all that far from what exists in today’s world despite the passage of centuries and the maturation of social, economic and political systems. Many nations and their leaders, regardless of title, still seek ways to highlight their glory, showing-off for the rest of the world to take note.  Many national leaders want the pomp associated with their status.  And even if they don’t seek it themselves, the customs of their nations require that they be enshrouded in a certain amount of it.

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Imagine trying to walk into the oval office of the White House uninvited and unescorted. You might not be sentenced to death by a court, but you could easily be shot to death by the Secret Service.  Just trying to climb the fence at the perimeter of the property could get you jail time.  In two thousand nineteen, no one approaches a monarch, a president, or a prime minister without being invited (and escorted).  They are separated from the rest of us, and are generally unapproachable, except by their choice.

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It’s ironic isn’t it, that these norms are abnormal when compared to the kingdom of GOD? The inward and outward humility of Jesus, in whom was all the fullness of deity (Colossians 1:19, 2:9) seems so out of place in our world.  Which of our current world leaders would condescend to walk with and live among those they lead, even for a month, no less die for them?

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It’s ironic isn’t it, that you and I are told to come boldly to the throne room of GOD, to enter into His presence, without any escort, that we might receive what we need? Furthermore, He  encourages to come frequently and to remain.  He likes our company.  We’re not an interruption to GOD.  We’re not visitors to whom He only needs to be polite for a few minutes before we are dismissed.  I find this to be ironic.

I also find it ironic (and unfortunate) that so many of us who claim Him seem to not value this great privilege. It’s natural to want to spend time with those we love; I want to commune with them as much as I can.  I thank GOD for His open door; and I am never disappointed when I walk through it.

Esther took a great risk to enter into the inner court of Xerxes; and she prevailed. Conversely, we take a great risk when we don’t enter into the inner court of GOD for it is there that we receive the mercy and grace we need to prevail over the challenges, trials and tribulations of earthly life.  How Great Is Our GOD!

I’m deeply grateful for those who have taught and encouraged me to enter in, and for those who still set the example.  Let me encourage you.

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

The Unadorned Self

“When Jesus saw Nathanael approaching, He said of him, ‘Here truly is an Israelite in whom there is no deceit.’ ‘How do you know me?’ Nathanael asked.  Jesus answered, ‘I saw you while you were still under the fig tree before Philip called you.’” – John 1:47-48

I made my living as a human resources officer for many years, working for several companies, large and small. During that phase of life, I was called upon to interview many people, seeking to fill various job openings.  The intent of the interview process is to determine, through conversation and questioning, whether a candidate possesses the skills to perform a particular role, their desire to meet the requirements of that role, their potential to fill other roles, and their “fit” with the organizational culture.

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Knowing that job candidates almost always try to present their “best selves,” the interviewer’s job is to discover the “real” or “unadorned self” of each applicant. Effective interviewing combines both art and science to peel back the layers of each person’s presentation in order to arrive at good selection decisions.

There’s nothing unusual about wanting to present an adorned self; it’s consistent with how we’ve (in the West) been socialized. We’ve been taught to put our best foot forward since early childhood, and those lessons influence just about every area of our lives, whether professional or personal.  An easy example would be in how we respond to the question, “How are you?” Responses like “Great!” or “I’m good; how about you?” are hardwired in.  How many of us would dare to tell the truth on most occasions if that truth was anything other than “Fine?”

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Imagine Peter applying for the job of Apostle, and the interviewer asks him to share an example of a time when an area of weakness inhibited his effectiveness, and then asks him to talk about what he was thinking and feeling at the time, and what he learned from that experience. Peter: Well, sometimes my passion gets the best of me. I’ve been known to act before I think.   There was this one occasion when I cut someone’s ear off.  At the time, I thought it was a good idea…

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In this mock setting, Peter reveals what a friend calls his jerkface, that untransformed part of him that, like his action-oriented, ready to lead side, is a part of who he really is.  This is a side he might prefer to keep hidden in most instances.  No, there’s nothing unusual about it, but that doesn’t mean it’s healthy.

We each have a jerkface side.  It may be the way we unconsciously reveal a character flaw or an area of insecurity or a behavior response developed to deal with unresolved hurt or trust issues or anything else that may be a manifestation of emotional and spiritual imprisonment, blindness, and/or oppression (Luke 4:19-19).  While we often work hard to keep these things hidden from the eyes of others (and perhaps from ourselves), Jesus sees all of us with perfect clarity, just like he saw Nathaniel.  He doesn’t need to ask interview questions to know the full truth about each of us.  To Him, we each are fully peeled onion.  A question we should ask ourselves is whether we are open to knowing the truth about ourselves?  Are we willing to see our unadorned self?

That Jesus sees us and still loves us is really good news.  Thanks be to GOD!  While we may never acknowledge those jerkface parts of ourselves to a human interviewer, we can and should acknowledge them to Him in the full confidence that He already knows and is waiting for us to give them to Him as an offering of faith.  What might Jesus do in the life of one who is truly unadorned of all façades and is unafraid to trust Him?  Could  this be part of the pathway to abundant life that He spoke of offering us in John 10:10?  Just sayin’

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

 

Surrendering to Weakness

“But He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My 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 Corinthians 12:9

I don’t know about you, but I can be compulsive about some things…like getting my weekly blog post published first thing Monday morning. There are others.  I think the compulsion might fit into the biblical category of “infirmity.”  I say this because the Holy Spirit has brought it my attention as a control issue.

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So what’s the point? I haven’t had much energy to think or write this last week.  I have the flu, and all I really want to do is sleep.  So here’s the compromise: all I have today is my confession, and an acknowledgment that this flu reminds me that I am not in control.

I’m glad I know who is.  Bless you.

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

Like A Tree Planted By The Water

“I have set the Lord continually before me;
Because He is at my right hand, I will not be shaken.” –
Psalm 16:8 (NASB)

By the time I post this, I will have attended, officiated over, or otherwise spoken at four funeral services in four of the last five weeks. I’ve heard anecdotal evidence that there are more funerals in the month or so following the Advent season and the onset of a new year than at any other time of the year.  This is a pattern I’ve noticed from my own experiences over the years, as well as a result of speaking with colleagues in pastoral ministry.  I’ve never taken the time until recently to see if there is any statistical data that supports this; and it seems there is, with January being the highest month.1

Aside from the apparent statistical reliability of the data, this is a sad reality that is the cause of great loss and painful grief in the lives of our friends, loved ones, and sooner or later, us ourselves.   The causes of death don’t seem to matter nearly as much as the reality of death, even when it is expected.  It is an emotionally shattering event; you know this if you’ve  experienced it.

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I’m not a linguist, but I do think words are important. As a Bible student, this is important so as not to misunderstand important concepts and to avoid misleading others who may look to me for clarity about what Scripture says and means.  In my past preaching ministry, and even now, I try to be intentional about the words I use (or don’t use).  I try to take the time to study words.   One that I have seen crop-up in various biblical texts is the word “shaken.”  Some versions of the Bible substitute the word “moved.”  One clear connotation for both words is the idea of being overthrown, that is, to be dislodged from a prior connection.  If you’ve ever gone wild water rafting, it’s not uncommon for the rapids to be so strong that you get violently thrown out of the boat.  That’s what the Bible means when these words are used.

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When I was in high school, our basketball teams were consistently among the best, if not the best, in our conference. It was rare, in fact, that we weren’t ranked high among other teams in the state.  Back in those stone-age days, the cheerleaders would lead the crowd in this chorus:

We shall not, we shall not be moved (2x)

Just like a tree planted by the water

We shall not be moved.2

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I’m sure this isn’t what was intended by those who sang the chorus during Civil Rights rallies and marches in the 1960s, but it worked well to pump-up a crowd of people wanting to see their basketball team dominate opposing teams. We weren’t thinking at all about the chorus’  scriptural bases which are found in Psalm 1:3 and Jeremiah 17:8: deeply rooted trees planted near streams of water…and because of that they were able to withstand and prosper even in times of drought when others were wilting and dying.

David had the same idea when he declared that because GOD was continually before him, both in rank (He is Supreme) and in position (He was first in line, preceding David in battle against the enemy, whether against the flesh and blood or the spiritual kind).   David had confidence that he would not be overthrown from where GOD had placed him.  Because GOD was at his right hand (the right hand is a biblical symbol of strength), David would not be shaken and moved away from his deep connection to and trust in GOD.  Life’s harsh rapids would not throw him out of the boat.

Death, particularly tragic death, will sometimes result in the overthrow of the survivors. It can be like being caught in a vortex of water rapids where all of a sudden the boat tries to catapult its passengers out.  It’s at these times, which have come and are sure to come again, that we need to be able to say, “I have set the Lord continually before me; because He is at my right hand, I will not be shaken.”

The trick is to have this relationship in place and well entrenched before there is a desperate need to depend on it.  Waiting for the overthrowing event to happen may be way too late to enable living in sustaining faith.  To the prepared goes the victory.

I thank GOD for those who have shown me what it is to be prepared, to have the Lord continually before me; and I thank Him for those who, despite life’s sometimes hard circumstances, are like trees planted by the water.  They bless others without knowing it.   

  1. Bartol, Steve. “Yes, It’s True. More People Die in January,” Legacy.com. http://www.legacy.com/news/culture-and-trends/article/yes-its-true-more-people-die-in-january

2. “We Shall Not Be Moved” is derivative of a similar song sung by African-Americans during the time of slavery. It was commonly sung during the Civil Rights era by artists such as Pete Seeger and Mavis Staples. The lyrics of the chorus are in the public domain.

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

To the Top of the Mountain

“On the mountains, torrents flow right along, cutting their own courses. But on the plains canals have to be dug painfully by men so that the water might flow. So among those who live on the heights with God, the Holy Spirit makes its way through of its own accord, whereas those who devote little time to prayer and communion with God have to organize painfully.”  – Sadhu Sundar Singh

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Among other things, this quote is a powerful reminder that the Christian faith is the result of God loving the world, the whole world, and not only the select few who live in the West. Singh was raised as a Sikh but attended a school run by Christian missionaries.  He was forced to read the NT daily, but rejected its teaching as false.  He did, however, become a Christian at age 14 around the turn of the 20th century following the death of his mother.

In his grief and anger, Singh burned a Bible, and then on the verge of suicide, cried out to God asking Him to reveal Himself if He was real. As the story goes, a light entered his room and Singh heard a voice, “How long will you deny Me,” the voice said. “I died for you.” Then Singh claims he saw two hands that were pierced, which then disappeared.  That was his Damascus Road experience (Acts 9:1-6).  Singh devoted the rest of his life to proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ.  He spent his adult life as an itinerant evangelist to India, Tibet and Ceylon (now Sri Lanka).

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I come across many quotable sayings in my reading, but Singh’s mountain metaphor is striking to me. I can easily picture the flowing water finding its way down the crevasses, patiently working around rocky obstacles or pushing them aside, and slowly building volume until the stream pours down the mountain face like a waterfall.

Throughout the Bible there are mountain references. Among the most prominent are Sinai, the Mount of Olives, and Zion.  Each is noted for its unique relationship to the people of GOD.  Sinai is where the Law was given, the foundation of a morality that was supposed to bring light into a dark world.  It is also the mountain in whose shadow GOD’s chosen people, thinking they needed sight more than faith, openly rebelled against GOD’s exclusive claim on them by creating and worshipping an idol.  Finally, this is the mountain at which Israel placed the onus on Moses to commune with GOD on their behalf, so fearful were they at stirring up His anger.  And so the water (Holy Spirit) was poured down on Moses, but I’m not so sure about the rest of them.

The Mount of Olives is the location of the garden of Gethsemane where Jesus spent the night in prayer facing His greatest trial. It was here that the angels came and ministered to Him as He prayed in mental agony (water of the Spirit being poured out on Him).  Despite His invitation to several of disciples to pray along with Him, they failed under the weight of the temptation to sleep.  The disciples, His called ones, missed sharing in the outpouring that He received, and much of their collective response later revealed their spiritual shortcomings during and immediately after the arrest of Jesus, an after-effect of spiritual sloth.

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Lastly, there is Mt. Zion, the location of Jerusalem, the site of the old city of David, the center of the Judeo-Christian world where Abraham is believed to have paid a tithe to Melchizedek the priest, the site of the first and second Temple, a subject in the Psalms of Ascent to which pilgrims sang as they marched toward worship at the annual feasts, and the place of Calvary (means Skull because the hill resembles one) where Jesus was crucified.  The last event gave us free access to GOD.  The Temple curtain tore at the death of Jesus; eliminating our need for the intercession of a human priest.  We have free access to GOD, limited only by our desire and willingness to commune with Him.  Jesus is the offer of “living water” (John 7:38).

Mr. Singh seems to be challenging us not to allow fear of GOD (like the ancient Israelites), nor spiritual sloth (like the sleeping disciples) to keep us from enjoying the privileges we have in Christ. Similarly, we cannot become so enamored with where we are, like the many overly proud Jerusalemites, that we forget whose we are.

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Instead, we can daily be like those marching to Zion in great anticipation of feasting on GOD. GOD will surely welcome us if we climb to the top of the mountain.  He will pour Himself over us and into us as a fountain of water that lives.

Come go with me.

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

LET’S REMEMBER

 “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens…”              – Ecclesiastes 3:1

 

 REMEMBERING IS OFTEN A CONSCIOUS DECISION

                   TODAY IS A DAY FOR REMEMBERING                         

 

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“The gospel of Christ knows of no religion, but social; no holiness but social holiness…” (John Wesley)

“I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality. This is why right, temporarily defeated, is stronger than evil triumphant.” (Martin Luther King, Jr.)

Let’s press on.  Blessings.