Opportunities & Privileges

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Solitary Worship

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

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

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

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

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

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

But Wait! There’s Still More!

“To live is Christ; to die is gain. (Apostle Paul in his letter to the Church at Philippi – Philippians 1:21)

It doesn’t take long, when seeing some of those cheesy TV advertisements about some product allegedly not available in stores, to come to the catchphrase.  Near the end of the commercials, we are invariably offered an enticement to buy extra of whatever they are selling at no additional price when they say something along the lines of: “But Wait!  There Still More…”  

The thought that there is a good deal to be had is a cornerstone of consumer marketing.  The message that we can save money by spending money may seem illogical when framed as I just have, but it works well nonetheless.  As a consumer society, we are always ready to hear how we can get more for less…and there are always those who seek to convince us that they have a deal for us.  

I’m pretty resistant to those ploys, recognizing them for what they are.  That’s not to say I never look for a deal, but I try to be selective.  One that I have found that is real and has lasting value is my faith in Jesus Christ.  I have lived with Him for over 40 years, and I cannot imagine a life more rewarding, filled with contentment, and even miraculous (Man, the stories I could tell!).  

I’m on the backend of this part of the journey, but just having experienced another Easter, I’m reminded, “But Wait! There’s Still More.”  Easter celebrates the fulfillment of a promise that there is an eternal more for those who believe and follow (Job 19:26-27; Psalm 16:10; Isaiah 53:10-11; Daniel 12:2-3; Hosea 6:1-2; Luke 24:6; Romans 4:25; 1 Corinthians 15:5).  Initially it took some convincing (about five years worth), but I have bought in lock, stock and barrel.     

Paul argues (Romans 15:13-19) that without Christ’s resurrection, then bodily death really is the end, faith is futile, and those of us who have invested in this faith are to be pitied.  Apart from the resurrection of Jesus, the whole thing falls apart.  I’m betting the ranch…actually, I don’t own a ranch so to restate, I’m betting my life that my belief in these promises and my belief in Him will hold together.  I’m waiting because I believe there’s even more.  Anyone want to wait with me?              

He Is Risen!  He Is Risen Indeed!

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

It’s the Small Things

I was on my way to visit a church in NE Philadelphia, about a 40-minute drive from my home.  It was raining with a forecast of rain for the rest of the day.   

Now, I’m going to take a sidebar here to explain that the car I normally drive on visits like this is a little old, maybe a lot old…18 years old to be exact.  In order to dispel some of your negative mental images of my vehicle, it has been well taken care of; it has held it’s look well, it runs well, and only has 162,000 miles on it (less than 10,000 miles/year).  I’ve thought about replacing it several times, but keep coming back to the same question: Why?  I’m semi-retired, the car has long been paid for, and there’s nothing wrong with it unless you consider age a wrong. 

I had spoken to the pastor of the church I was planning to visit so I was expected.  On top of that, there were some matters we needed to discuss after morning worship.  As I got in, put the key in the ignition, looked up to see my wife drive off in her much newer car headed to our home church, turned my headlights on (it was a grey, rainy day), strapped into my seat belt, and turned my wipers on, I noticed a strip of rubber windshield wiper that had peeled off from the body of the wiper blade.  Mental note: I need to get these wiper blades replaced (something I’d said to myself for several months, just hadn’t yet done it.).

I pulled off with the wipers on and by the time I’d driven maybe 75 yards, both wiper blades were just about completely shredded.  Crap!!!  There was no way I could drive to Philly like this; I wouldn’t be able to make it out of our development before I would hear metal scraping against the glass windshield.  I parked the car and texted the pastor, explaining my predicament and apologizing amidst the need the need to reschedule the visit.  

I could’ve gone to an auto parts store to get refills and put them on, but that’s not neat work in the rain.  By the time I would have gotten to the church in Philly, morning worship would have been over. 

My plans were derailed by two small rubber strips, not a flat tire, not a mechanical problem.  My inattention to two of the smallest things on my car kept me from doing what I wanted and intended to do.  

Not paying attention to the details on seemingly small things disrupted a much bigger thing.  

Maybe there’s a life lesson here that has nothing to do with cars. 

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

Checking for Rubble

“You see the trouble we are in: Jerusalem lies in ruins, and its gates have been burned with fire. Come, let us rebuild the wall of Jerusalem, and we will no longer be in disgrace.” (Nehemiah 2:17)

Several years ago, I preached a series on Nehemiah found in the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament).  The story takes place in the 5th century B.C. in the period following the end of the Jews 70-year exile in Babylonia.  Many Jews had returned to their homeland in Palestine, including those who settled in Jerusalem.  Some, like Nehemiah, remained in different places of the diaspora (dispersion of a people group away from their historical places).  Nehemiah lived in the Persian capital of Susa as a high-ranking servant of Artaxerxes I, king of Persia and its empire which included the Holy Land.    

One of the notable actions of Artaxerxes was his sanctioning the practice of Judaism which removed barriers to the practice of Jewish worship and adherence to the Mosaic law, things precious to the Hebrew nation.  

Nehemiah was deeply burdened by the still dilapidated condition of Jerusalem as a result of destruction by the Babylonians 70 years earlier.  GOD had placed this burden on Nehemiah’s heart and he felt an intense need to do something about it.  Nehemiah sought and received permission from the king to become the temporary governor of Jerusalem in order to restore its walls and gates, structures essential for the security of cities in that day.  Without them, Jerusalem was particularly vulnerable to attack, a condition Nehemiah was intent on changing.  As you can imagine, one of the conditions Nehemiah discovered when he arrived in Jerusalem was the presence of the rubble of the broken walls and gates that nearly encircled the entire city. 

The primary theme of the series I referenced was that you cannot successfully build new things on top of old rubble.  The rubble must be cleaned out and disposed of first.  This is true in building construction and it is true in spiritual construction.  This principle is seen in the metaphors Jesus used, “No one sews a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment, for the patch will pull away from the garment, making the tear worse. Neither do people pour new wine into old wineskins. If they do, the skins will burst; the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine into new wineskins, and both are preserved” (Matthew 9:16-17).   It is also seen in Paul’s declaration regarding the conversion experience, Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! (2 Corinthians 5:17).

One of the challenges of pastoral ministry is helping people who outwardly want their lives to be to be in Christ but who are either unaware of their inward rubble or who are unwilling to allow it to be acknowledged and dealt with.  They try to build a new spiritual life on top of their old life’s rubble, and bump into problem after problem in the same way you would expect a building contractor to experience if he/she tried to build a new structure on top of old broken stone and brick.  Too often, people don’t do (or allow to be done) any of the necessary under-the-surface work that would allow their new foundations to have the stability to build upon.  This hinders healthy spiritual life and growth.    

There was a secondary theme in this teaching series: we have to check for rubble continually.  In the spiritual life, like in other areas of life, there is no such thing as ‘once and done.’  Our spiritual commitments, if not continually renewed and reinforced, will experience degradation.  Clean your house and then don’t do any cleaning for a few months.  You’ll be able to write your name in the dust on your table-tops and shelves.  Spiritual rubble is like household dust; it just shows up and has to be cleaned away before it completely mars the appearance of your home. 

The History Channel® brilliantly makes this point in its series called Life After People.1 The scenes of how nature (wild grasses, forests, animal life) would retake and overwhelm human-made structures, bridges, waterways, and open fields five, ten, 20 and more years following the absence of people is striking.  But even if you’ve never seen an episode of this series, just imagine (or remember) what a backyard garden looks like if the dead leaves are not cleaned out, if the weeds are not pulled out, if the ground is not cultivated and treated so that it can support the plants and vegetables planted in it.  Rubble!

It’s been a while since I’ve spoken or written about this particular topic, but I think reminding myself and possibly others is worthwhile.  Checking for and dealing with our rubble is always worthwhile.           

  1. Life After People.  The History Channel, April 2009 – March 2010.

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

A Simple Explanation of Faith

“Then Jesus came to them [His disciples] and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Me.” (Matthew 28:18)

I think the essence of teaching is helping people understand concepts by presenting and explaining them in understandable ways.  Faith, I believe, is one of those concepts that is often thrown about without sufficient understanding.  My frame of reference is Christian faith as opposed to faith in oneself or faith in humanity or faith in general with no specific object. I’m talking about faith in Jesus Christ.

Here it is: Christian faith is demonstrated by acknowledging and accepting the unequivocal authority of Jesus Christ.  It is more than believing that He is; it is believing that He is exactly who He said He is and allowing every aspect of life to be conformed to that belief in what we do and what we say.

Two examples from Matthew 8 illustrate this.  In the first example, the servant of a Roman military officer was gravely ill.  This officer encountered Jesus and having heard what Jesus had done for others, asked Jesus to heal his servant.  Jesus said (my paraphrase), “Sure, let’s go to your house.”  What the officer did next was unexpected.

Holding Jesus in extremely high regard, the officer said, Lord, I do not deserve to have you come under my roof.  But just say the word, and my servant will be healed.  For I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I tell this one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and that one, ‘Come,’ and he comes. I say to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it” (vv. 8-9). Look at the reaction of Jesus: “Jesus was astonished when he heard this and said to those who were following him, ‘He has greater faith than anyone I’ve encountered in Israel!’” (v. 10).  

This man was not only not Jewish, he was a military officer in the Roman occupation of Israel and would normally be considered an enemy of the people.  He did, however, have an innate understanding of authority and he believed Jesus was someone special enough to be called and treated as “Lord.”  His submission to Jesus and his trust in Jesus’ authority to heal his servant earned him praise as one whose faith was great.   

In the second example, found later in the same chapter of Matthew, Jesus and His disciples were in a boat crossing the Sea of Galilee.  While they were crossing, they got caught in big storm (something common for that body of water).  Jesus was asleep and His disciples got so worried about the boat capsizing leading to their deaths that they woke Him.  In this instance, Jesus had a very different reaction than in the first example: Reprimanding them, He said, “Why are you gripped with fear? Where is your faith?” (v. 26).  Then He reprimanded the storm and the sea became calm.  His demonstration of authority over natural forces was a mind-blower for His disciples. He was annoyed that their faith in Him was as small as it was, as if to say “You know Me and yet you still have so little understanding!”

It’s ironic that great faith was shown by one from whom it would not have been expected and little faith was shown by those from whom much greater faith would have been expected.  If nothing else, there is a lesson in humility here.    

In both of these examples (and others not discussed here), there is a direct correlation between recognizing that the authority of Jesus is unlimited (and responding to Him as such) and His view of the quality of faith people have in Him.  For those of us who consider ourselves Christians, the quality of our faith is of utmost importance for it is impossible to please God without faith (Hebrews 11:6).  This same faith must cede authority to Jesus in order for it to be faith that God honors.

I want to ask, “What’s in your wallet?” but that wouldn’t quite work. Hopefully, you get the point.

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

A Christian Oxymoron

“Seek first the kingdom of God…” (Matthew 6:33, NIV)

Thou shalt have no elohim acherim [other gods] in My presence.” 

(Exodus 20:3, Orthodox Jewish Bible)

I’ve been mulling on this for some time now, the idea of Christian Nationalism.  Certainly, the concept of nationalism has entered more and more into our nation’s dialog over the last few years and seems to be favored by more than a few.  This is one of the issues for which I feel the need to put a stake in the ground and to say so: Jesus was not a nationalist.  Christianity and nationalism are irreconcilable ways of believing and behaving.  They are unequal yoke partners.  They are in direct opposition to one another.  Christian Nationalism is an oxymoron if such a thing as an oxymoron ever existed.

What is nationalism?  Well, the term has a broad definition, but a representative one is “devotion, especially excessive or undiscriminating devotion, to the interests or culture of a particular nation-state.”1 With it comes a belief in acting independently rather than collectively, emphasizing national rather than international goals.  In its mildest forms it is patriotism.  The problem as I see it is that, too often, the milder forms of nationalism morph into things not so mild.  The more extreme forms of nationalism have often started as patriotic fervor and then gradually transitioned into something more extreme and xenophobic. It’s like the proverbial frog placed in a pot of cold water and the heat is gradually increased until the pot is boiling and frog never saw it coming.  Too late!  The same thing has happened in nations where national values shifted gradually to become not only important values but the supreme values.    

The history of highly nationalistic nations reflects some combination of these characteristics: 1) an inflated sense of superiority and exceptionalism; 2) the assumption of privilege as a result of being members of a nation’s dominant culture; 3) dismissal, distrust, fear, or hatred of those outside of that dominant culture such as minorities and/or foreigners; 4) the assumption of the right to exclude those outside of the dominant culture from full or even partial participation in the nation; and 5) demonstration of oppressive behavior under the guise of protecting national interest. 

Let’s take a look at some historical examples of nationalism:

  • The Persian Empire – Grew to conquer most of the Near and Middle East; tried to conquer Greece
  • The Roman Empire – Saw itself as the rightful ruler of the world
  • The British Empire of the 19th century – Held a prevailing attitude that anything not British was intrinsically inferior
  • Nazi Germany – We know what they did
  • Fascist Italy – We know what they tried to do
  • South Africa during apartheid – The minority in power saw themselves as a modern-day “chosen people” in a modern-day land of Canaan with the right to subdue, subjugate, and brutalize the majority who had inhabited the land for centuries
  • Japan during WWII – Nearly 80 years later both North and South Korea still has beef with them over things the Japanese did and failed to fully acknowledge    
  • The Soviet Union – We know a lot of what they did, what they have tried to do, and a lot is still unknown
  • The People’s Republic of China – See above
  • Cambodia under Pol Pot (1975-79) – A complete horror show, literally
  • Russia – Vladimir Putin.  Enough said?        

The characteristics mentioned earlier in the full paragraph above are not anything I want reflected in my life, nor should anyone who wants to be associated with Christ.  Biblical Christianity is inclusive (see John 3:16).  The basis of biblical Christianity is unselfish love for GOD and for our neighbors.  The parable of the “Good Samaritan” (Luke 10:25-37) makes it emphatic that Jesus recognized no national or ethnic boundaries on who constituted a neighbor. 

If the “Great Commission” (Matthew 28:16-18) is missionally directed toward all others who might be considered “outsiders,” then the tenets of nationalism don’t fit and can’t fit.  John Wesley, the great 18th century Anglican priest and credited with founding methodism said, “The world is my parish.”  This was not from a man who felt superior, who felt entitled, who dismissed, distrusted, feared or hated, who excluded or oppressed others.  He was very much the opposite. 

I think the concept of Christian Nationalism depends on closely linking personal religious beliefs to one’s national identity so that they become inseparable, what some call civil religion.  The problem with this is such notions are far from orthodox Christian faith.  Instead, faith is expressed in some hybrid view of GOD and nation.  This is strikingly close to polytheism and idol worship if it places nation on or near the same plane as GOD, in direct disobedience to the first commandment.  Nation becomes a contemporary version of the ancient Israelites’ golden calf.  It  undermines one’s ability to commit one’s life to the “Great Commandment” to love GOD with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength and to love our neighbor as ourselves (Matthew 22:36-40).  No, I don’t believe it is possible to be a Christian and a nationalist whenever that nationalism manifests more than common patriotism.  

Perhaps those who claim to be Christian Nationalists don’t sufficiently grasp Christianity or perhaps there is an inner transformative work that has not yet been accomplished in their lives.  Another alternative is that they really are nationalists and are wearing the outer clothing of Christianity.         

  1. American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, 5th edition. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, 2016.

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

Simple Grace

Yesterday, I drove 60 miles in heavy rain.  Most of that was on an interstate where the normal speed limit is 65.  Of course, it’s fairly common on clear days to be passed by cars doing considerably above that even when I’m driving a little above the limit.  Experiencing that kind of high-speed driving and the occasional intemperate switching from lane-to-lane from fellow travelers on very wet roads in a driving rain to me seems to be…inconsiderate.  Maybe my age is showing, but I don’t think that’s it.  I’ve felt this way since I began driving. 

Now I do need to confess that a number of years ago I had an accident in a rainstorm.  All of my family was in the car.  Our three children were young, including our youngest who wasn’t quite two months old.  On a curving on-ramp to I-295 in a heavy thunderstorm, I never thought much of the pool of water in the road.  I wasn’t going fast, maybe 25mph. I lost control of the car as the tires lost contact with the road and the car hydroplaned and slammed into the concrete curb.  Fortunately, no one was hurt, and there were no other cars in front of or behind us.  The front tie-rods were broken making the car not drivable.  

That night is strongly etched in my mind all these years later.  You might say I’m a little sensitive which is why I think it’s so important to remember that we share the road and life with others.  The simple graces hardly cost anything at all.  Saying ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ and ‘I’m sorry’ is not just for children.  Letting people finish what they are saying without interrupting them to say what you want to say is about valuing their voice as much as you value your own.  Demonstrating courtesy like holding a door or using a blinker when turning or changing lanes only involves a little wrist action.  Exercising the patience so as to not tailgate others or weave in and out of traffic may require a little more restraint, but we all will be more likely to get where we’re headed with a lot less stress.

You might say this is not going to change anything and that people will continue to do these things.   I disagree.  If just one person adjusts some aspect of their life to offer simple grace to others, then that’s a change.  And maybe, that one person may influence someone else to do the same. 

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

He’s GOD

GOD is greater than what I think is good.

GOD is greater than my troubles.

GOD is greater than my worries and fears.

GOD is greater than my preferences.

GOD is greater than my hopes, dreams, and deepest desires.

GOD is greater than my opinions and speculations.

GOD is greater than the things that frustrate me, annoy me, and anger me.

GOD is greater than my needs.

GOD is greater than my past.

GOD is greater than my present.

GOD is greater than my future.

GOD is greater than my friends.

GOD is greater than what I love.

GOD is greater than my family.

GOD is greater than life.

GOD is greater than me.

GOD is greater than all that opposes Him.

GOD is greater…

Today, I yield to GOD’s greatness.

Blessed be His Holy Name!

Memories of Sand Hill

Driving on a rolling 9 mile stretch on Rt. 23 in Lancaster County on Sunday morning, it was hard for me to not notice the snow-covered hills and valleys that covered the landscape.  I also noticed there were no sledders anywhere on that stretch.  Perhaps it was the earliness of the morning and/or the fact that it was a worship day in a county in which church attendance is common.

I’ve made it no secret how much I’ve come to dislike snow.  The aggravations of shoveling walkways and driveways, cleaning off cars, driving behind partially clean cars that throw off hardened chunks snow on those driving behind them, walkways with snow melt that freezes overnight and the risks of slip falls, rock salt and sand that stains cars and windshields all accumulate to make snowfall something I can do without.

It wasn’t always that way.  When I was a boy, one of my favorite wintertime activities when it snowed was to spend as much time as possible on Sand Hill.  At age 10 and 11, Sand Hill looked more like a small mountain and when it snowed, the hill called to me to all of my friends.  We prayed for deep snow, and it seemed every season our prayers were answered two or three times.  

With our sleds, we would make our way to the top of the hill.  Whoever had the toboggans would go first to compact the snow.  When it was my turn, I would take a running start and leap onto my American Flyer and fly down the hill, maybe an eighth of a mile long, landing in a ditch that kept us all from sledding into the street.  And then I would climb back up the hill and do it again…and again…and again…  We all did until our fingers turned blue and we had no more feeling in hands or feet.  When we could stay no longer, we would slowly make our way home.  If it was a weekend or if school was still closed because of the weather, the next day would bring a reprise.  I loved it!

It is now mid-afternoon, and I am writing this from home many miles away from those snowed hills and valleys.  When the snow is gone, I won’t miss it, but I have to wonder if there are any kids climbing those hills with their sleds to do what only seems natural when it snows.

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