Peace

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:6-7)

It’s ironic that Paul wrote this letter to the Church at Philippi while he was imprisoned.  If there was a time to be anxious, that would have been it.  

Although Paul’s exhortation is not quite the same message as is in the song, “Don’t Worry, Be Happy,”* his words clearly speak to this tendency we humans have to be anxious about this, that, or the other thing.  Some of these things are flat-out overwhelming.  Instead of “anxious” different versions of the Bible use words like careful (e.g. full of care), fret, worry, and pulled in different directions to express the same idea.  

Instead, Paul suggests we pray, lifting our requests to GOD in gratitude, both for past needs met and in faith that current needs will be met.  Not quite what you had in mind?  What about if GOD would just make all this uncomfortable, unpleasant stuff go away?!  You ever see that actually happen?  Neither have I.   It’s just not in the cards for us, or more accurately, in His Word.  His pathway for us is different.       

How many things currently occupying your mind might be classified as an anxiety, a care, a worry, a frustration, a conflict, etc.?  I’ve got my list, and it seems to have grown rather than gotten shorter.   I’ve also discovered something that I can only describe as mystical.  The more time I spend with GOD in prayer, the more I look forward to spending time with Him.  It is a hunger that has grown with practice, and it continues to grow.  With it has come my desire to express thanks, not because I’m supposed to but because I want to, for the smallest of blessings and for the larger ones as well.  The truth is, I am incredibly blessed; I have benefitted greatly from GOD’s favor.  He has shone His face toward me (a biblical way of indicating GOD’s intent to bless) and extended grace upon grace to me.  I know it and it has become pleasing to say “Thank You.”

And there’s this other dynamic that I’m conscious of.  The fretful things that want to occupy my thoughts don’t seem to have the power they’ve had in the past.  It’s not they aren’t there; they are and sometimes the temptation to dwell on them is pronounced.  I’ve noticed, however, the presence of peace in every circumstance and this is allowing me to ‘let go’ of the temptation to fret when my natural inclination is to grasp the concern and keep it close.  

I was thinking about this experience lately, and all of a sudden the thought came to me that I was experiencing a peace that I couldn’t account for.  I’ve been experiencing that peace that is beyond (transcends) understanding.  And it’s all because I have upped my commitment to pray about the things that concern me with a heart of thanksgiving.  It does work!  Thank You, Lord.                               

“Don’t Worry, Be Happy” by Bobby McFerrin. Lyrics © BMG Rights Management, Universal Music Publishing Group. 

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

A Fire Within

That said, we cannot nor should not deny that life is full of experiences, some of which may be the cause for some degree of ecstasy and others which are soul-draining.  Jesus and Wesley experienced both and the rest of humanity shares in this dynamic.  Sometimes our hearts burn, not because of ecstasy but because we’re tired and fed-up. We feel that our limit has been reached or that we are about to reach it.  

Speak to someone with a serious chronic illness for which treatment is physically and mentally demanding and iffy in its effectiveness (or speak to their primary at-home caregiver).  Speak to a single parent with a special needs child who has to make daily choices between going to work and providing their own childcare because Covid-19 has reduced their access to support systems previously available.  Speak to someone who can’t go a day or a week at work without someone saying something sexually suggestive, even if it is disguised as a joke.  Speak to anyone for whom the sorrows and unfairness of life have plowed an unwanted row in their soul.  

You ever hear of red-hot anger?  Well, that can be a fire within, as well.  Anger and resentment can build-up, much like it did with the Jewish Zealots who used guerilla tactics against the occupying Romans in first century Palestine, as a violent expression of their frustration (I wonder what the conversations were like between Jesus and Simon the Zealot, one of His named disciples).             

In the gospel account named after him, Luke (Luke 24) tells the story of two disciples of Jesus who were walking on the road to Emmaus, a village seven miles from Jerusalem.  This was after the Lord’s resurrection of which they were not aware.  Their conversation reflected the melancholy of their mood; they were deeply sad.  Only one of them is named (Cleopas) which causes me to wonder if Luke was the other man on the scene and his writing choice was to use a third-person voice to disguise his presence.

Jesus appeared to them, walking along with them, although these two men did not recognize Him.  Jesus asked them why they were so down, and they told Him the story of the events that had occurred in Jerusalem three days earlier.  Even after He explained how the Christ had to suffer and die and after sharing a meal with them, He went unrecognized by them.  It was only when He broke bread and gave it to them that Luke tells us “their eyes were opened” and Jesus vanished from their sight.  The shared testimony of these two men was this: Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?” (v.32, NIV).  I particularly like the way the The Message Bible records this, “Didn’t we feel on fire as He conversed with us…?”

The presence and words of Jesus can have this effect on those who hunger for Him, and it’s clear that these men had that hunger even before seeing Him for who He was.  Anglican priest, John Wesley, generally considered the founder of Methodism, once said that his heart felt “strangely warmed” after listening to someone read a famous preface to the Paul’s Letter to the Romans which spoke of the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ.1. I tend to think this experience is not all that uncommon among those who seek Him, but I need to acknowledge that feeling this way is an experience.  Both Jesus and Wesley were careful to place religious experiences in context2.  Neither made experience the primary means of evaluating or responding to life.    

The uses of fire are varied.  Fire heats and it purifies.  It provides light, but it can also consume and destroy.  It can transfix (ever stare into one?) and it transforms, making room for new growth.  An important question for all of us is when our hearts are aflame, when there is a fire within, what is that fire’s source and what is its purpose?  

For many, experiences are being encountered at a furious and seemingly overwhelming pace.  Whether they are experiences of ecstasy or experiences of sorrow, we can choose to not allow experiences alone to define us or guide us.  Let there be a fire within and let it grow into something which glorifies the One who enflames it and blesses those who feel its heat and sees its light.

  1. Journal of John Wesley, Chapter 2, May 24, 1737. Christian Classics Ethereal Library. http://www.ccel.org

2. To Thomas: “Then Jesus told him, Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed’” (John 20:29). Wesley stated, in what is commonly called his “Quadrilateral,” that the basis for spiritual reflection is, first and foremost, Scripture and then, in order, tradition, reason, and experience.

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

 

Indivisibility

This word, Indivisible, is seldom used in common conversation.  It means “incapable of being divided.”

The only instance of use I can recall is in the U.S. Pledge of Allegiance when it refers to the indivisibility of the nation’s states from one another.  The pledge has gone through several iterations since the original version was issued in 18921.  This first version was over 100 years after the publication of the Federalist Papers2, a series of essays which argued for the centralization of government under the proposed Constitution in opposition to the decentralization form of government favored in the Articles of Confederation.  This first draft of the pledge came a mere 27 years after the formal end of the American Civil War, a key intent and impact of which was to divide.

And here we are…today.  Indivisible???   The evidence of experience and observation tells us that indivisibility is an ideal that is extremely hard to realize within the human community at every level at which we function: within ourselves, within our families, within our affinity group(s), within our societies, within our nation, and across nations. Divisibility seems more present, even omnipresent, when compared to indivisibility.

Why is that?  Sometimes we fail to notice or acknowledge the most foundational precepts in life, and like anything else, when we get the foundation wrong the building will never be quite right.

Here’s one of those foundation stones:

“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.  [Therefore] Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength” (Deuteronomy 6:4-5)

There’s an invitation in this part of the foundation established by GOD.  He is saying to humanity, His greatest creation, “I am one. I am in complete unity within Myself.  I am indivisibleThere is no separation, no conflict, no division within Me, only perfect peace, perfect wholeness. I am inviting you to join Me in this unity by attaching yourself to Me with unreserved love.”

Some might say that this invitation was issued to a select audience, national Israel, but Jesus universalized it the New Testament with explicit statements, affirming it as the greatest of all the commandments (Matt. 22:37) and praying for it to be normalized in our lives (John 17:20-2, 26).

Others might say that it is impossible to love this way, and I would agree if it’s left up to me or you, by ourselves.  But Jesus was careful to teach that with GOD, nothing is impossible (Luke 5:37) and if we hunger for it, GOD will give us the enablement to do in His power what we cannot do in our own (Psalm 37:4; Matthew 5:6).

Of course, there are those who just don’t or won’t believe, and there’s not much that can be said to them because faith is the precondition for all life in GOD (Hebrews 11:16).

The invitation to this indivisible way of being has been there all along, not hidden and often widely shared in the traditional venues of Christian worship, and sometimes beyond.  Why have we ignored it?

We’re a long way from the 1st century A.D. (or C.E. if you prefer) when the infant Church responded to this invitation with almost greedy devotion.  It was largely because of their unceasing commitment to the ultimate indivisibility, revealed in loving relationship with GOD and others irrespective of economic class, social status, gender or ethnicity, that I’m able to comment on it here.    My desire, however, is to live it more than talk about it much like they did.  It’s foundational.

  1. The Pledge of Allegiance. Historic Documents. ushistory.org
  2. Federalist Papers: Primary Documents in American History. Library of Congress Research Guides. loc.gov>federalist-papers>full -text

 

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

Don’t Just Do Something; Stand There

But those who wait for Yahweh’s grace
    will experience divine strength.
    They will rise up on soaring wings and fly like eagles,
    run their race without growing weary,
    and walk through life without giving up. 

(Isaiah 40:31)

I have a confession.  There are times when I want to do something to shake things up because I’m dissatisfied and frustrated with how things are.  Sometimes its people I want to shake.  More often than not, the urge is to react to problematic states of existence that have no tangible or fixed centers.  Nevertheless, these things are irritants like swarms of gnats that buzz around my head and follow me wherever I go.  The difference is that I can escape the gnats.  The stuff I’m talking about is stuff I can’t get away from.  Most days, my adaptive ability enables me to ignore these feelings or push them aside…but then there are the days when I’m enveloped by them and want/need to do something!  I know these feelings aren’t unique to me; I’ve spoken to too many people to believe that.

For as long as I can remember, a popular response to unsatisfying, disruptive and otherwise negative circumstances has been, “Don’t just stand there, do something!”  Be decisive.  Take action.  I’m sure you’ve heard somewhere along the line, “Any action is better than no action, even if its wrong.”  I never quite got the logic of that.  Still, it’s a mantra for some.

The desire to take action is what I often feel the urge for, swift, direct, decisive action.  Then the questions become, “what actions” and “directed toward what issues?”  I don’t want to be out there flailing at the wind in frustration or emoting my own version of the primal scream, nor do I want to be less gracious than the grace I have received.  What to do?  What shall I do?

Did you ever consider the fact that commandments are for a designated audience: those who have chosen or have been chosen to serve.  They are the only ones who obey commands.  Think about who gives commands: leaders invested with the authority to command.  The commands they give only apply to the people who are under their authority.  Everyone else goes their own way and does whatever they want to do.

As one who chose to serve and who was later called to serve even beyond anything I ever anticipated (I’m still scratching my head over it), I can’t make up responses to life’s challenges from whatever list of options I prefer; there are commands I have been given.  As the Roman Centurion said to a pleased Jesus, “I am a man under authority” (Matt. 8:9).

And so, I step back and pull out my orders and remind myself of what they say.  Here’s a sample pack of ten:

  1. Love GOD…Deuteronomy 6:5; Matthew 22:37
  2. Love my neighbor…Leviticus 19:18; Matthew 22:39
  3. Do not allow anger to lead to sin…Psalm 37:8
  4. Be still and know that He is GOD…Psalm 46:10
  5. Trust in the Lord…Proverbs 3:5-6
  6. Wait on the Lord…Isaiah 40:31
  7. Believe in Jesus…John 11:25
  8. Be unified with the Son and the Father…John 17:21
  9. Wear my soldier’s armor… Ephesians 6:10-17
  10. Cast all my cares on GOD…1 Peter 5:7

Although my enlistment is lifetime and full-time, it’s often very tempting to go off-script and do and say something that I would hope would shake things up.  What I’ve discovered, however, is following the commands calms my emotions, instills greater discipline, opens-up avenues of grace, imparts wisdom and creates pathways not previously evident or existing. And there’s the added benefit of not having to explain why I ignored a command.

Don’t just do something; stand there may appear passive to some, particularly when the irritants are like swarms of gnats that you can’t rid yourself of.  But if the purpose of standing there enables the voice of GOD to come through all the more clear because His is not blocked by our felt need to do something, then it is the right stance.  Who knows, He may just say, “Here’s what I want you to do.”  He’s done it plenty of times before.

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

The Ministry of Life Giving

 “…I came so they can have real and eternal life, more and better life than they ever dreamed of.” (John 10:10)

To say that Jesus is pro-life is an understatement.  I don’t mean that in the politicized sense that phrase tends to be currently used (although I believe He has some pointed things He’s going to say to that too).  I mean pro-life more broadly in the sense that whatever enhances His desired life outcomes for His creation, He’s for.

Look at how, in His earthly ministry, He was always seeking the ones for whom life had become a burden.  He would interrupt His plans to heal a child, or to encourage someone who wasn’t well-regarded by others, or change the destiny of someone ashamed and rejected by the rest of society.  He opened peoples’ eyes to the real intentions of GOD, giving them a hopeful perspective they previously lacked.  He affirmed the value of women and children in a highly stratified, paternalistic cultural setting.  And He taught His followers to care about other people in ways that were uncommon in that day…and perhaps in this day.

When He gave correction or rebuke, it was usually because of misunderstandings about GOD’s will or an overt disregard for and disparagement of the inherent value of someone in whom resided the very image of GOD.  Words like “fool” and “worthless” are words of judgment against another that He warned His followers to carefully avoid.  They are words which negate life rather than affirm and elevate it.  I think there’s a lesson in this for us if we consider ourselves a follower of His.  No one was ever helped by being called stupid or treated like they were.

How many of us actually prefer to be around people who discourage us?  I know the answer: None!  We want to be around people who encourage us, who lift us up, who empower us by their belief in us.  How many great things have been accomplished because someone was on the receiving end of encouragement?  Who wants to be around the “Debbie Downers” who seem to always complain, criticize, scoff at, or mock something or someone?  Who wants to be around those who are cynically glib?  I think I know the answer: Only those who take pleasure in tearing down rather than building up.

I want to build up.  I suspect the vast majority of us want to build up.  The ministry of life giving is for us…but it requires commitment, great discipline and faithful reliance on the Chief Builder.

The ministry of life giving is one of grace and love and mercy.  The ministry of life giving sees potential in others and encourages them (literally, implants courage) so that the potential GOD placed in them might blossom.  The ministry of life giving is hopeful and opportunistic and never stops moving forward.  It looks a little (or a lot) like Jesus.  Be encouraged…and offer encouragement.  It’s standard for abundant living.

“…He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 1:6)

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

 

Missing Steps?

“…I in them and You in me—so that they [disciples] may be brought to complete unity…”

(John 17:23)

My first role in vocational ministry was as a pastor of spiritual formation.  I assumed this responsibility after a lengthy career in corporate human resources.  I served in this role for 7 years before taking on a lead pastor role.  There are some definite parallels between strategic HR and spiritual formation.  My HR focus was dedicated to influencing the creation of work environments in which talented people could flourish, aligning their abilities and contributions with business processes in order to achieve success after success, both corporate and individual.  The models for these successes were predetermined…in other words, we knew what success would look like and worked toward those ends.

Spiritual formation, specifically Christian spiritual formation, is the transformation people into the image of Jesus Christ for the benefit of others, all under the influence of GOD’s Holy Spirit.  The model for this transformation is Jesus Christ…being like Him is the “success” target to which all Christians are to aim their lives, regardless of branch, denomination, doctrinal distinctives, ethnicity, cultural preferences, economic status, political affiliations, or whatever the TV preachers are saying.  Jesus speaks directly to this in His High Priestly prayer in John 17.  “Complete unity” in Him and in the Father, i.e. being like them, is the purpose of spiritual formation.  When it occurs, others benefit and are blessed of GOD which is consistent with GOD’s nature (there are too many biblical citations to note here to support this point; suffice it to say that GOD loves people, all kinds of people, all people, beyond our ability to fully grasp).

In a recent reading on the early Church (2nd and 3rd centuries), the author asserts that church growth  was not the result of evangelistic fervor in the way we understand it today.*  Instead, he claims it was because the of the slow, patient, very steady development of new converts in a way that required them, over time, to demonstrate with their lives their commitment to their confession of faith.  It was when others deeply embedded in the non-Christian world witnessed the generosity, the compassion, the love (toward each other, the poor, and even toward those who abused and persecuted them), they were so impacted by this distinctly different lifestyle that many wanted to know more about this Christus.

To generate this lifestyle testimony, those making inquiries about Christianity and new converts were strictly limited in their participation in the community of faith (the church), typically for weeks, sometimes months and beyond.  This was to give new converts time, instruction, and opportunity to reflect upon and ultimately to replace the attitudes and behaviors developed in the many years prior to their conversion to new attitudes and behaviors consist with the faith.  It also gave the church an opportunity to assess their prospects before they were admitted into the fellowship.  Prematurely admitting poorly formed people into the church would undermine the church’s witness to an unbelieving world because there would be inadequate distinction between those in the dominant culture and those in the church.  Premature admission would also increase the prospect for persecution if disaffected converts or insincere people became avenues of information to those hostile to the church.

The practice of patient formation of new believers over the course of decades to strengthen and grow the Church is vastly different from contemporary practices of “opening the doors of the church” to anyone who wants to become a member, allowing people to join after taking a few membership classes, and baptizing folks who may be hard-pressed to explain the significance of baptism apart from it being a church ritual.

The Galatians passage on the Fruit of the Spirit (5:22-23) provides very specific examples of outward behaviors reflective of a legitimate inward transformation.  Similar behaviors are shared elsewhere in the New Testament by Paul, Peter, and John.  These are what the spiritually formed Christian should be demonstrating consistently as evidence of a fundamentally changed heart.  Among the things the behaviors are contrasted with are bitterness, discord, rage, factions, and malice.

At a time when the witness of Christ’s Church is as critically important as it is today, I wonder if we’re missing some important steps in helping people live the faith and not just profess it.  The drive to get B.I.S. (butts in seats) is strong, but if that drive is so strong that it actually undermines Christ’s mission by turning immature and under-formed Christians loose on the world, then it can’t be right.  After all, we’re not here for ourselves…others are key.

The measures of church success are varied depending on who you speak with.  How many in the Church today measure themselves against the standard of “complete unity” with the Father and the Son?  At the end of the day and at the end of the age, that’s what will count.

* The Patient Ferment of the Early Church, the Improbable Rise of Christianity in the Roman Empire, Alan Kreider, 2016.

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

Bright Hope for Tomorrow

“… the old order of things has passed away.” (Revelation 21:4)

Tonight, I’m scheduled to be on a Zoom call with fellow alums from my elementary school class.  It was arranged by a friend I’ve known since kindergarten.  It’s always been his habit to keep tabs on everyone throughout the years.  I wouldn’t be surprised to find out he has a file on each one of us tracing our school and career progress all the way to retirement age.  Over the years I, like the others, have gotten phone calls, cards, emails and text and FB messages from him, checking-in on us and bringing us up to date with his life.  Once, I came home to find that he actually drove 60 or so miles to leave a mix CD of music from our teen and college days in my mailbox.  I still have it and play it from time to time.

I saw some of the folks slated to be on tonight’s call a year ago this month at our 50 year high school reunion.  Most I could recognize; a few I couldn’t.  I expect tonight will be different in that, despite not being in the same room physically, we’ll have more time to really catch-up than in a crowded and noisy banquet facility.  At least, I hope that’s the case.

Thinking about this has brought to mind memories of our elementary school.  I knew every room in that building, even the janitor’s closets.  Even today, I can form a mental picture of its layout, the entrance ways, the staircases, which teachers were assigned to different rooms upstairs and downstairs, and the dreaded Principal’s office.  I still have some sense memory of the building’s smell and that of chalk dust in the air.  I can picture the playground just outside of the west entrance and the candy store across the street from the east side entrance (If you had a dime, you could treat all your friends to penny candy or you could buy two candy bars.).  You passed a baseball field and a large open grassy area adjacent to where the teachers parked their cars as you walked onto the property from the southside, which I did countless times in my childhood.  So much of my childhood play, in school and out of school, was spent on that property.

When I was home for the reunion last year, I drove by and saw that my school had been demolished and replaced with office buildings as a part of a township redevelopment plan.  I hadn’t been back in years and wasn’t expecting to see this.  I experienced a melancholy moment or two.  It shouldn’t have been too much of a surprise; the building was old but a part of me was still emotionally attached to it.

That was the second of two of the schools I attended that have been demolished and replaced, the first one being my middle school which was already ancient when I was in the 7th and 8th grade.  That thing was eventually going fall under its own weight if the township didn’t do something.  They did.  The only remaining school from my youth is the high school which still has a lot of life in it since it was built in 1961 and has gone through one or two refurbishments since I graduated.

I’m sure someone will bring this stuff up on the call tonight.  It might be me.  It’s all a reminder that all things, even the things to which we are attached, eventually grow old and pass away.  That is the way of the world, for newness and growth can’t be experienced unless room is made for it.

I’m not a particular fan of office buildings nor am I resistant to them.  They serve a purpose, hopefully useful.  And the children who now live in the communities once served by that school certainly must enjoy the newer facility they have (the challenges of Covid-19 notwithstanding) despite my melancholy over the old and cherished one.

While I’m thankful for the past (at least most of it) because of the smiles and good thoughts those memories bring, I am blessed in and very much enjoying the present and am hopeful for the future.  I want to be a harbinger and facilitator of newness and growth, and I know there are others who want to be the same.  I may mourn for a minute over what was loved and now is gone, but I rejoice over the new and the beautiful that has come in its place.  I plan to enjoy it all for as long as I can.

As I said, this pattern has repeated itself over and over again throughout the millennia.  No thing and no one is immune to it.  And yeah, I believe the pattern will continue until the eternally new order of GOD, through Jesus Christ, is firmly established and the newness He brings remains new forever.  Most of all, this is what I want to be a harbinger of and one of its facilitators.  May it be so.

Strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow,
Blessings all mine, with ten thousand beside!*

 

* From Great Is Thy Faithfulness, Lyrics © Clumsy Fly Music, So Essential Tunes, Hill

  And Range Songs, Inc.

 

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

 

 

The Core of Things

For the word of God is alive and powerful. It is sharper than the sharpest two-edged sword, cutting between soul and spirit, between joint and marrow. It exposes our innermost thoughts and desires. (Hebrews 4:12) 

I’ve reached the age where I find myself reminiscing more than I did in the past.  Among my thoughts this time of year are of childhood visits to my grandparents who lived in   western North Carolina in a valley of the Smokey Mountains.  In July and August, the days would be hot like they are here, but the evenings after sunset would be comfortably cool, sometimes with a slight breeze.  We could sleep all night with the windows open.  No one had air conditioning in those days, and no one needed it.

My grandmother was a domestic day worker before she retired, and she was very adept at preparing food in great variety and great quantities.  My grandfather was a meat cutter who regularly brought home different cuts of meat.  That was one of his fringe benefits.  They weren’t rich by any means but there was always good food in their house.   My grandmother liked to bake, and her specialty was pies and cobblers.  Not a day went by went by when she didn’t have two to three pies baking.  This might provide context for those who know about my love for fruit pies over any other kind of dessert.  It was a staple food during my summer visits south and when she would visit us after my grandfather died.

It was also common for them to have lots of melon in the house.  We ate it at breakfast, in the afternoon, and at night.  Cantaloupe, honeydew and watermelon could always be found in the refrigerator.  According to my mother, my grandmother would even put melon juice in my bottle when I was an infant.  So, between the pies, the melons and the enablement of my grandmother, I have a well-developed sweet tooth.

Now, unlike other fruits, such as apples, pears and oranges which have hard, seed-filled cores or fibrous stems which are not particularly edible, the core of any type of melon is not only edible, it also the sweetest part of the fruit.  Eating that part of the melon is worth the wait to experience that sublime goodness.

We humans have cores as well.  Our core is who we really are and what other people experience in us when everything else is stripped away, including well-intention façades and pretenses. What’s in our core is a little comparable to that credit card commercial that asks, “What’s in your wallet?”  In other words, what’s really there at the root of you and me.

Thirty-five years ago this month, I went on my first leadership retreat.  It was a four and half day experience at a retreat center facilitated by an organizational development consultant and a clinical psychologist.  Unbeknownst to me and the rest of us (with the exception of our company president who was planning on reorganizing his leadership structure), our purpose in being there was to have our cores exposed.  This was done through long morning meetings, video-taped afternoon breakout sessions involving role plays with little preparation time (the videos were later replayed to the entire group of twenty-five so that I and presumably everyone else felt very exposed), individual feedback in small group settings so that, again, you felt very exposed, and evening meetings that lasted to near midnight.  The meetings were  followed by group homework assignments which were due first thing the next morning.  This pretty much prevented any of us from getting more than a couple of hours of sleep each night.

By  the third day, all of us were too tired and emotionally challenged to present a corporate face.  Who we were, what was at our cores began to be show and show clearly.  Whatever emotional shields we were using fell.  We didn’t have the energy to keep them up.  My aim was to survive the experience.  Some didn’t, at least figuratively…a few jobs were lost as a result of some things that came out of those four and half days.  The second half of day four and the half day following was devoted to building us back up.

In a subsequent meeting with the facilitators a week later to which I was invited, they said that when people are physically tired and placed in stressful situations over an extended period of time, “what’s in their wallet,” so to speak, begins to show itself for others to see.  That was the principal goal of the entire exercise.  I doubt I would ever condone putting anyone through such an exercise, but this was what happened back then.

Up to this point in history, the vast majority of us are never been put in situations like what we now find ourselves in.  The ability to keep our emotional shields up and maintain our preferred façades and pretenses before others hasn’t often been challenged or severely tested by others in our sphere.  There are times, however, when the Holy Spirit, directly or through the Word of GOD has challenged us, and always rightly.   What have those responses looked like?

Right now, much of what we are experiencing is bigger and more complex than anything known to most of us.  The strain of emotional exhaustion and unrelenting stress is beginning to have its effects.  The continuation of this kind of intensity or its possible increase is forcing to the surface much of what has been hidden up to this point.   Some real core stuff is starting to show.

I’m pretty sure the aim of GOD is that the central part of us, our cores, be as sweet and good as those of the melons in my grandparents’ refrigerator rather than like the rough, inedible, indigestible cores of apples and pears, regardless of whether the times we live in are good or bad.  I think its pretty good news that what’s in our cores is transformable, not fixed and unchangeable.   GOD provides the means to experience this transformation  if we will  submit to the work.  That’s always been the the big question…if we will submit or whether we are going to go it alone in our own strength.   As for me, my spiritual sweet tooth wants a lot more than a rough, seedy core.

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

Unanticipated Self-Reflection

“How can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when you yourself fail to see the plank in your own eye?” (Luke 6:42) 

Years ago, a friend said to me that he thought most people are more apt to forgive themselves of their own faults than they are to be forgiving of the same faults seen in others.  I have an opinion on this but will leave it to you to decide if you think he was right.  That said, Jesus seemed to have a point of view about human readiness to be critical of others and the way to respond to this correctly.  Honest self-reflection is a part of the antidote.

I wasn’t thinking about this when I found myself in a casual, poolside conversation with someone who happens to be a therapist.  In the course of a long discussion, they shared three questions I wrote down as soon as I could:

  1. What part of me is over-functioning (what do I over-rely on in response to emotional stress)?
  2. What is this over-functioning protecting me from?
  3. What are my fallback stances (behaviors; attitudes) that I depend on to feel good about myself?

I found the questions intriguing and viscerally challenging…which is why I wrote them down.  I wanted to think more about it.

The next morning as I opened my prayer journal in my daily ritual, I rewrote the three questions and asked GOD to reveal to me whatever He wanted about them or anything else.  In less than a minute, I began to write freely about interior things I don’t think I’ve ever put into words, either verbally or written.  It was surprisingly liberating and was as if GOD was showing me things about me that He’s known all along.

Then I had a thought (or the Holy Spirit spoke to me): the answers to these questions represent “false armor” in that they are creations of the self.  They are false because they are forged in human fallibility and weakness.  They are false because we often use them against others (see Luke 6:42 above) or to protect ourselves from others, both of which obscures and negates the call of Jesus to unity of spirit and purpose as image bearers of GOD (John 17).  A reminder of what it says in Ephesians 6:11 as the better alternative, (“Put on the whole armor of GOD…”) quickly followed (again, I had a thought or the Holy Spirit spoke to me).  Now, when I compare any part of my answers to the three questions above to what it says in Ephesians 6:10-18, my stuff comes up pretty lame…and pretty human.

I didn’t expect this and didn’t go looking for it, but now that I’ve had the exchange, I don’t want to rush through the questions and why, despite my understanding of GOD’s Word, I am so often tempted to rely on these tactics that don’t work.  I think processing this deserves time, thought and prayer.  And who knows, I may decide to talk to someone about all of this.

Grace and Peace,

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

True Religion

This past week I ventured over to North Philadelphia to meet with two pastors (a married couple) who have led and personally underwritten a compassionate ministry for many years.  Their ministry has focused primarily on feeding the hungry, often people on the streets who frequently have no permanent residence.  This couple has a small congregation consisting mostly of the people who volunteer with them and some folks whom they help.  They have no budget to speak of, their office space is small and cramped, and most of their records are kept in spiral notebooks and on scraps of paper. They pray fervently, they network like crazy, and they lean heavily on GOD.

Last week, my friends fed 2200 people…not snacks or sandwiches but full meals.  This has been the pattern since the pandemic hit Philadelphia.  This is what they are doing each week. Whereas before, the numbers were in the hundreds, the degree of food insecurity in the area has caused those in need to grow by 10s…and the supply has kept pace.  GOD has been moving people and organizations to supply this ministry with food…every day, every week.  It just keeps coming, and they just keep giving it away to people who need it.

I met with them to discuss their plans for reopening their church to in-person meetings and their annual celebration event planned for September.  Two delivery trucks came while I was there: a van and a cargo truck with eight pallets of boxed food stacked nearly to the ceiling of the truck.  With four of us working, it only took minutes to unload the van, but even with two pallet jacks, it took more than an hour to unload and restack the contents in the cargo truck.  It was a hot day, and the sweat was pouring.

There was well over a ton of food sitting in the hallway by the time we were done.  The delivery truck driver asked one of the pastors how long it would take to distribute it all.  Her answer was, “It’ll all be gone by the end of the day.”  He and his 15-year old helper prayed with us before they left.

Weeks ago, I heard someone’s comment regarding the lack of trust they had in someone else (not surprising in these days): “I don’t believe what you say because I watch what you do.”

I think for anyone who spends time around my friends, who are both very clear and vocal in their proclamation of the good news of Jesus Christ, if you watch what they do, day-in and day-out, year after year, you can have confidence in what they say.  They are for real.  By the way, both of them would be considered elderly by today’s standards, and like the energizer bunny, they just keep going and going and going doing the work of GOD’s kingdom for His sake.  I think this is a big piece of what the Bible calls “true religion.”

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