Eating What Is Good

“Only sanctified souls are satisfied souls” – Charles Spurgeon

Who doesn’t want satisfaction? I want to have it; I want to experience it continually.  I assume you do as well.  I don’t think I have ever met anyone who didn’t.  How we express or imply this desire often varies, but it’s an underlying hunger in all of us.

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The duelists of centuries past sought satisfaction in response to real or perceived insults to their honor by trying to kill their opponents. Many who regularly visit convenience stores seldom leave without buying lottery tickets seeking satisfaction in the prospect of a winning number and a big payout.  I’m convinced that the hunger for inner satisfaction is at the root of all substance abuse.  Mick Jagger cried out for it because he couldn’t get any (pull-up and read the lyrics of “Satisfaction” on your search engine).  A friend of ours with the financial ability to support her habit is a self-admitted shop-a-holic.  Prior to her encounter with Jesus, the Samaritan woman He later met at the well sought satisfaction through her relationships with men.  The list of ways people pursue satisfaction is near endless.

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Seven hundred years ago or so before the birth of Jesus, the Prophet Isaiah, speaking for GOD, said, “Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost. Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labor on what does not satisfy? Listen, listen to Me, and eat what is good, and you will delight in the richest of fare (Isaiah 55:1-2). Why indeed? And yet the track record of humanity is pretty clear and consistent…in its movement away from GOD.

 Eating what is good and experiencing satisfaction is a constant theme in the Bible. Centuries before Isaiah, David testified to the same thing, “Taste and see that the LORD is good; blessed is the one who takes refuge in Him” (Psalm 34:8).

 Many years ago, shortly after we entered into our walk of faith with Jesus, my wife and I joined the church’s choir. One of the practices of our then choir director was to assign different choir members to sing “the special” (a solo song) at either an upcoming Sunday morning or Sunday evening worship service (I know this sounds very foreign to some of you; and I’m chuckling as I write this. I just felt old all of a sudden. Maybe it will go away.).

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One Sunday, he told my wife she was singing the following Sunday night, giving her a week to prepare. Putting aside her deep anxiety, she selected and sang a song that I have heard her sing many times since, and one that so summarizes who I believe her to be: “Only Jesus Can Satisfy Your Soul.” Yeah, that’s her.

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I like what Charles Spurgeon (a mid and late 19th century evangelist) said about the relationship between sanctification and satisfaction. So many folks (Christian folks), it seems to me, miss what they actually desire because they don’t want to relinquish control to Jesus, who is the sanctification of GOD in flesh and in Spirit (an easy definition of sanctification is someone or something made holy and set apart and enabled for GOD’s exclusive use). They don’t want Him to have complete access and freedom to cleanse what is impure, to heal what is broken, and to transform wrong thinking about themselves, about others, about life, and ultimately about GOD, despite the fact that Jesus said that’s why He came (see Luke 4:16-21). I know I needed Him to do those things for me; and I know I’m still one of His works-in-progress (I know this because He reminds me periodically).

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Jesus is life itself and He extends the offer of abundant life to any who would receive it from Him (John 10:10). He seeks entry at the doors of our lives waiting for the invitation to enter for intimate fellowship (this passage – Revelation 3:20 – was written for a Christian audience, by the way). Sadly, He is often left standing at the gate of the walls many of us have constructed to keep unwanted things out. And, even though we may be saved by GOD’s grace through faith in His sacrifice on the cross, many hold on to the fantasy that they can get the satisfaction they want through other means and apart from Him ( please see John 15: 5 on this!).

If anything, doing this makes us Christianized versions of those who are trying to hit the number. We may not be lining up to buy lottery tickets, but we’re doing something to get what we want. Here’s an option, let’s just eat what is good…and do it continually, rather than pursuing things that have surface appeal but no sustaining or soul-satisfying nutritional value. Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labor on what does not satisfy?

 I think that’s a pretty solid plan. I pray you do as well.

Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to Me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in Me will never be thirsty (John 6:35).

 

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

ABKCO Music holds the copyright to “Satisfaction” which was recorded and released by the Rolling Stones.

Lanny Wolf holds the copyright to “Only Jesus Can Satisfy Your Soul.”

 

A Resolution That Counts

“It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” – Galatians 5:1

 

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 I’ve never been a fan of announcing New Year’s resolutions. Most of the people I know who talked about their resolutions have been folks I suspected wouldn’t follow-through after two or three weeks (or maybe I’m just projecting my own failures on them).  The people I know who tend to carry through are usually people who don’t talk about what they are going to do.  They just do it first, and then may say something about it later:

  • “Yeah, I decided to learn French, so I’ve been working on it for the last two years.”
  • “When did I start listening to Thelonius Monk, Dave Brubeck and Charlie Parker? It was after watching Ken Burns’ documentary on Jazz.”
  • “I got so tired of being out-of-breath every time I walked up a flight of stairs so I joined a gym a year ago, and go two or three times a week. It’s really helped me a lot.”

 

 

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Whether voiced out loud or kept to one’s self, self-discipline is essential to doing things that require long-term commitment and are important, either because some external authority has declared it so or because our internal sense reveals its importance.  Working out or developing a consistently deep prayer life or losing weight or learning a new subject is not easy, and it takes consistent effort to push through our natural resistance.  When we casually make resolutions and fail to keep them, I suspect it’s  because we never really “counted the cost,” to borrow a phrase from Jesus, and soon decide the cost is too high to keep a commitment even if it is just to ourselves.

There are some things that are just flat-out worth the cost. Matthew 13 has a number of similes that are word pictures describing the kingdom of heaven.  Jesus used these to help earthly-minded and earthly-bound people to gain a sense of the supreme value of the place from which He had come and to which He was inviting them.  If GOD is that good and what GOD offers is that good, then resolving to live in “a manner worthy of your calling” that leads us into that goodness seems like it ought to be worth the cost (ref. Ephesians 4:1; Philippians 1:27; Colossians 1:10, etc.).

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Several years ago, I preached a lengthy series on the Book of Nehemiah called No Room for RubbleTM. Nehemiah a Jewish official of the Persian king, was moved by GOD to lead the rebuilding of the walls and gates of Jerusalem following the return of the Jewish exiles after their 70 years of Babylonian captivity. But before the rebuilding could begin, the accumulated rubble of what had previously been torn-down had to be cleared away.  You can’t build walls or gates on top of rubble.  If you try, you’ll have so much instability in the structure that nothing fits together nor stands for very long.

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We all have accumulated rubble in our lives, what we call “baggage.”  These “rooms” need to be cleaned out, but often, we choose not to do the hard work of cleaning out the rubble, for any number of reasons.  We fail to see the rubble or choose instead to ignore it as if it weren’t there, and just start building.  The problem is that avoiding this important first step can’t help but result in  major cracks, faults and general instability in whatever new life structure is being built.  What we’re building doesn’t last for long.

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Even if we do that hard work, we need to be careful to not assume that this is a once-and-done proposition. Spiritual and emotional rubble is like dust on furniture.  We can go a few weeks without dusting, and probably won’t really see it accumulating.  But wait a while; we’ll be able to write our names in it.  Past hurts, disappointments, bad habits, issues of unforgiveness, esteem issues, relationships and activities that supersede commitments to Jesus, along with the influence of feel good theologies that simply are not biblical are all examples of the kind of rubble that can accumulate in human lives.  And we may not see it happening…for a while, unless we’re continually exercising the self-discipline given to us by the Spirit of GOD (2 Timothy 1:17).

If there is one resolution worthy of serious commitment, it’s doing a rubble check every now and then, and doing something constructive about what we discover if it, in any way, prevents us from being fully for Christ and fully in Christ.

Wishing you and yours a joy-filled New Year.

© Byron L. Hannon, 2018. All rights reserved for text content.

Blessings To You

The fact that you take the time to read these musings of mine is a blessing to me. Some of you I know, others I don’t.  The one thing we all have in common, however, is a desire to know GOD more deeply, more fully, and to be known by Him.  Please accept this meditation as my way of saying ‘thank you’ for taking the time.

The Lord said to Moses, “Tell Aaron and his sons, ‘This is how you are to bless the Israelites. Say to the: (Numbers 6:22-23)

‘The Lord bless you
and keep you;
(Numbers 6:24)

For to us a child is born,
to us a Son is given,
and the government will be on His shoulders.
And He will be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the greatness of His government and peace
there will be no end.
(Isaiah 9:6-7)

 May God Himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Thess. 5:23)


the Lord make His face shine on you
and be gracious to you;(Numbers 6:25)

“The Spirit of the Lord is on Me, because He has anointed Me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent Me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Luke 4:18-19)


the Lord turn His face toward you
and give you peace.’ (Numbers 6:26)

Peace I leave with you; My peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. (John 14:27)

 

“So they will put My name on the Israelites, and I will bless them.”(Numbers 6:27)

The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch. (Acts 11:26)

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. (Ephesians 1:3)

 

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MAY YOU AND YOURS EXPERIENCE GOD IN CHRIST THIS CHRISTMAS

(AND EVERY DAY)

“The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned.” (Matthew 4:16 quoting Isaiah 9:2)

A Vessel of the Lord’s

“I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” – Luke 1:38

I was recently speaking with a friend who has known her share of troubles. From time-to-time, she has graciously shared some of them with me. As we were reflecting on her journey, there were tears intermixed with smiles and praises of how GOD has worked powerfully and surprisingly in the midst of her circumstances, producing wonderful outcomes. At the time, I wasn’t thinking of Mary the mother of Jesus; that came later.

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It’s easy to gloss over much associated with the Christmas story because we want to get to the ‘good part,’ the birth of Jesus. What we don’t focus on as much (largely because there is little biblical record) is the nine months between Mary being visited by the angel of the Lord and her delivery in a Bethlehem animal stall.

I can only speculate what it was like for the pregnancy of this teenage girl to become public knowledge.  I remember a little of what it was like for the teenage girls I knew who got pregnant out of wedlock in the 1960s when I was a teen; and that wasn’t pleasant at all for them. But how hard must it have been for Mary in the highly religious and rigid society of her day?  Death by stoning was the common judicial cure for what others might have assumed was her act of adultery (remember, her betrothal to Joseph was considered legally binding).

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That may well have happened if Joseph, who had his own angelic visitation, hadn’t protected her. Even then, who would have believed this poor girl if she did tell people the truth? We don’t know much about the arc of her story during those nine months, but human nature being what it is, we can at least guess that there was some gossip and some harsh comments aimed directly at her. But through her difficult journey and hard circumstances, GOD produced a wonderful outcome.

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The difficulty didn’t end there for her, however. Her Son was ‘different’ from the other boys, even in ways she couldn’t grasp. I’m sure that created some ‘interesting’ social scenarios, and a kind of emotional pain particular to mothers. She had to hold onto the angel’s promise about her Son and the remembrance that she was highly favored by GOD. Years later, she would have to watch Him be rejected, mocked, brutalized and horribly killed. She had to hold onto the promise and the commitment she made that day way back when, “I am the Lord’s servant.”

I can’t imagine what she experienced when she first witnessed her resurrected Son. The Bible doesn’t tell us about what was shared between them during that 40 day period He walked among His friends before His ascension. Her joy had to be beyond the ability of words to describe.

I pray that kind of joyful experience for my friend who too is a servant of the Lord; and because of that, she holds onto the promises of GOD and keeps moving forward with hopeful expectation.

Years ago, another woman in the church I pastored led a woman’s study based on the book PREPARED TO BE GOD’S VESSEL, LESSONS FROM THE LIFE OF MARY.1 I obviously wasn’t a part of that study group, but I do have the book. What I’m continually reminded of by this book, by my friend’s experience, and by so many other experiences and events, is the fact that offering our lives to GOD as His servant makes us His vessel. And like all vessels, their use is at the sole discretion of the One being served.

Serving GOD produces the unexpected, the joyous, the fearful, the beautiful, the hurting, the wonder, the confusing, and many other emotions and experiences that cannot be named here. What both Mary and my friend discovered, however, is despite this sometimes roller coaster, there is great (supreme) value in holding onto GOD’s promises, and being faithful when you can’t see the end of things. What we have is the faith to believe that all will be well.

I am deeply grateful to know the story of one’s journey and to be able to watch the journey of the other.

My life is not my own                                                                                                                                                                                  To You I belong

I give myself

I give myself away.2

  1. PREPARED TO BE GOD’S VESSEL, LESSONS FROM THE LIFE OF MARY by Henry Blackabee and Carrie Blackabee Webb, Thomas Nelson Publishing, Nashville, TN, 2006.
  2. I Give Myself Away, Lyrics and Music by William McDowell, Copyright held by Delivery Publishing, 2008.

© Byron L. Hannon, 2018. All rights reserved to text content unless otherwise noted.

There’s Only Room for One

“I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ lives in me…”                    –  Galatians 2:20

 In past years, I would be knee deep in Advent preaching and preparation during this season. No longer having that responsibility but having others in its place, I have to admit that I’ve allowed my need to acclimate to my new duties to eclipse my awareness of the specialness of this season.  The truth is that between the busyness associated with this new role and taking some time off to celebrate a milestone event with my wife, I’ve paid scant attention to the season…until last night.

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Even then, I wasn’t thinking specifically about Advent as much as a theme that has occupied my focus for much of the past year: the idea that GOD is one (Deuteronomy 6:4), and the corollary commands that we, His people, are to love Him with all of our heart, all of our soul, and all of our strength, that we allow our lives to be subsumed in this love, and that we be diligent in teaching our children to do the same (Deuteronomy 6:5-9).

Isn’t this the reason for the first Advent?  Isn’t it to open the door of GOD’s grace to enable any and all to become united in this oneness and experience this love as an experienced reality (and not just an intellectualized doctrine), through the Person of Jesus Christ?  Isn’t this the thing Jesus prayed for in John 17? Sidebar: By the way, I purposefully used the present tense because GOD’s offer remains a present possibility.

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Advent is so much more than room being made in an animal stall for the Christ child, and the wonderment that followed. The location of His birth may have begun with a small accommodation by an innkeeper, but the gift of His life is GOD’s grand accommodation to us.

We need an exchange: His life for ours, for GOD’s offer is nothing less than the pathway to life. Paul, with his extraordinary statement in Galatians 2:20, makes this as plain as it can get: The  life of Jesus is life (“I am the way, the truth, and the life”- John 14:6).

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When I consider what the Law and the Prophets say about Him, what He did and said, the testimony of His disciples, the teachings of His apostles, and my own experience of Him, I can only reach one conclusion: There’s only room for One. He emptied Himself for the sake of the Father; I must empty myself for His sake…and let His life occupy this room that I call me.  May it be so.

 Emmanuel, Emmanuel,                                                                                                                      

His name is called Emmanuel.                                                                                                      

God with us, revealed in us,                                                                                                            

His name is called Emmanuel.

 

© Byron L. Hannon, 2018. All rights reserved for text content except as noted.

Emmanuel copyright held by C.A. Music (Admin. by Music Services, Inc.), 1976.

A Leadership Cliché

“Then Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me…’” (Matthew 16:24)

 “In order to be a good leader, you have to be a good follower.” I don’t have enough fingers and toes to count the number of times I’ve heard this, or some variation, said.  I’ve even said it a time or two…or three, myself.  This cliché is deeply embedded in the canon of leadership wisdom.  It is also an axiom that I don’t ever recall hearing anyone ask, “Why?”

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Perhaps it shouldn’t be necessary, but I believe we should revisit and reassess our traditions and areas of common wisdom every now and then to test their continued relevance and value. It doesn’t necessarily mean that we should discard them; we may need only to renew and refresh our understanding and appreciation of them.  Otherwise, we can become complacent with our beliefs, relying on the thinking of others without thinking much ourselves.  Albert Einstein said, “Unthinking respect for authority is the greatest enemy of truth.”  I believe, similarly, that unthinking respect for other peoples’ thinking is the greatest enemy of our ability to think for ourselves…which brings us back to our cliché.

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Why is it that good leaders must first be good followers? The core reason, I believe, is that committed following deepens humility.  Have you ever had to follow someone who was into themselves a little much?  It’s always interesting, but not necessarily enjoyable (except perhaps to them).

Humility is a leadership core competency, particularly in a Christian context (which, for a Christian, should always be the context). Consider what Jesus said to His disciples on the shore of Caesarea at the foot of Mt. Hermon, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”  Humility and self-denial are glove mates.   Recall GOD’s instruction to Solomon following his prayer in 2 Chronicles 7: “If My people, who are called by My name, will humble themselves and pray…” This was a call to self-denial at the most basic level.

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I’ve worked with and for a good many people who were designated as leaders, and quite frankly, the ones I appreciated the least were the ones who seemed more interested in others denying themselves without being a model of self-denial themselves. Having to work with them took as much effort as the responsibilities associated with whatever role I was in.

Humble followers are adept at two things which enable them to become good leaders: receiving instruction and taking correction. Years ago, still new to pastoral ministry, I was told this by an experienced pastor about choosing the people I would disciple.  He said they needed to be faithful, available and teachable, which meant that I needed to be that as well.  Each of us who claim Jesus as Savior and Lord are spiritual descendants of a group of men named Matthew, Andrew, Peter, James, John, Bartholomew, Thomas, Philip, James (son of Alpheus) Judas (not Iscariot), Thaddeus, and Paul.   They were all faithful, available and teachable.  The legacy they established as leaders of leaders was rooted and grounded in the instruction (often intense) and correction (sometimes hard) they received from the One to whom they humbled themselves.  And let us not forget women such as Mary of Magdala, Mary the mother of Jesus, James and Jude, Martha and Mary of Bethany, Lois, Lydia, and Priscilla who were among the first to be faithful, available and teachable in the infant days of Christ’s church and who were the Apostles’ needed partners.

What has changed?  The needs for this kind of leadership is as acute as ever.  The responsibilities of leadership are many, the burdens significant, and the impacts on the lives and futures of followers are potentially far-ranging. The test for those who aspire to leadership or who are called to assume leadership should include more than the ability to influence others, high intellect, knowledge, and decisiveness.  It should also include the willingness to be last and, a servant of all, so that others may be first (Mark 9:35).  I’m grateful to have known and worked with more than a few who modeled this.

This cliché about leadership has stood the test of time; and I don’t think more time will change that at all.

© Byron L. Hannon, 2018. All rights reserved for text content.

Sight and Strength

“…She called for someone to shave off the seven braids of his hair, and so began to subdue him. And his strength left him. Then she called, ‘Samson, the Philistines are upon you!’  He awoke from his sleep and thought, ‘I’ll go out as before and shake myself free.’ But he did not know that the Lord had left him. Then the Philistines seized him, gouged out his eyes and took him down to Gaza. Binding him with bronze shackles, they set him to grinding grain in the prison.” – Judges 16:19-21

How often have you heard sayings like “Experience is the best teacher” and “It’s important to learn from your mistakes?” Less often do we hear, “It’s important to learn from other people’s mistakes,” although this path to learning can be extremely valuable. The Bible, particularly the Hebrew Scriptures (OT), has many stories purposefully placed for our benefit. We are to learn from them, but not necessarily repeat them. The Samson narrative is one of these. Set apart for a holy purpose before he was born, Samson was blessed with the supernatural gift of strength for the benefit of his people and for the glory of GOD. He used it to do mighty and astounding works.

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One truth borne out of both anecdote and empirical study is that sometimes our greatest strength proves to be our greatest area of vulnerability and weakness. Samson was so far ahead of all others in physical ability that he lacked humility and failed to really recognize the source of his strength. This egoism made it easier for him to allow his appetites to control him rather than him controlling his appetites. And when he needed to be most teachable, he was not. Samson lacked the spiritual vision (insight) that should have accompanied his great physical strength. He never really demonstrated that he had “eyes to see” (Ezekiel 12:2). His lack of insight led to the loss of both his strength and his (physical) sight.

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If you’ve been reading any of my previous posts, you know that I believe that the biblical standard for a healthy relationship with GOD is covenantal, that is intimate, permanent, and in full awareness of and response to (as much as humanly possible) the majesty of GOD and extraordinary work of grace extending to us through the blood of the Lamb, His sacrifice, His death, His resurrection and His ascension. Jesus is LORD in my book, and everything I am and can be, I owe to Him. My greatest purpose is to serve GOD after the model of Jesus, using the gifts and strengths given to me by His Spirit for that very reason. All else is vanity. Really, it is!

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I don’t want to lose sight of this…and it is so easy to do. I don’t want this truth to be obscured by the things going on around me or whatever is going on in me…and it is so easy to do. I don’t want to become enamored by whatever it is I “bring to the table” with the grossly mistaken impression that I am my own source. That kind of attitude might result in “a thorn in the flesh” (2 Corinthians 12:7). Nah, I pass. I’d rather be ruled by the GOD who loves me and who gave Himself for me. I know that whenever I forget this, my strength bears no fruit and, while having eyes, I cannot see. This only brings joy to my enemy, like Samson’s failure brought joy to the Philistines.

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I’m grateful that GOD is gracious and forgiving, even giving Samson one last victory. But how many more could he have had if his perspective had been different? Thanks for the lesson, Samson, I’ll try to keep learning from it.

“I love you, LORD, my source of strength!” – David, Psalm 18:1 (NET Bible)

 

 

© Byron L. Hannon, 2018. All rights reserved for text content.