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Archive | Keeping the Faith

The wisdom to wait

By Ronnie McBrayer

By Ronnie McBrayer

Two monks lived together in a monastery for decades. In time they both died and the first monk awoke to discover that he was in heaven. But he realized that his friend wasn’t with him, so off to the lower realms of eternity he traveled, and that’s where he found his friend, now a worm, digging in a pile of manure.

He said, “I’m going to rescue my friend and bring him back to heaven.” With that, the monk commenced to digging. Before long the worm wiggled out and barked, “Get lost! I’m happy here!” But the heavenly monk grabbed hold of the worm and started tugging and pulling, but the harder he worked at it, the harder that worm clung to his pile of manure.

This story is an adaptation of a Zen tale meant to communicate an important point: If someone isn’t ready to change, if they are truly committed to the manure pile, there’s little you can do about it. And, the more you dig in to help, the more tenacious their grip on the compost will become. Simply, you can’t make someone change. It’s not within your power to do so.

In the teachings of Jesus, we have a similar story known as “The Prodigal Son.” A young man took his fortune, and ran away to a far country and promptly exhausted his enormous wealth. He ended up working on a hog farm, living in a pigpen. Meanwhile, his loving father remained at home waiting, and never chased the boy down, though he must have known the disaster that had overcome his son.

The father was wise enough to know that his son had to come to the end of himself, and attempting to intervene before the young man was finished with the pigpen, would have only resulted in frustrating failure for all parties.

I suspect we all have people in our lives that we want to help—addicts, codependents, emotional junkies. Friends or family who go running over Fool’s Hill every chance they get. We can’t change them, rescue them, or make them see the error of their ways.

We can only wait, hope, and pray that they, like the prodigal, will reach the end of their rope and turn their will and life over to a Power greater than themselves. And, when this happens, then, we can be there to help dig them out.

Ronnie McBrayer is a syndicated columnist, blogger, pastor, and author of multiple books. Visit his website at www.ronniemcbrayer.net.

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Tea and apple pies

 

By Ronnie McBrayer

By Ronnie McBrayer

When our friend first moved to our hometown in the Deep South, it was a culture shock. Raised on the slick windy streets of Chicago, he had never eaten grits; did not know what chicken and dumplings were; had not the foggiest idea about pork rinds; and had never been to a church homecoming with “dinner on the grounds.” Nor had he encountered the Southern hospitality dripping from the mouths and handshakes of his new neighbors.

One evening as he and his wife were beginning to settle into these alien surroundings, there was a knock at the door. Out on the stoop was a sweet, small-town Southern lady, gray-haired with apple pie in hand. She gave the usual “welcome to our town” speech and finally ended with an invitation for her new neighbors to join her for worship at the First Baptist Church the next Sunday.

“No ma’am,” said my friend. “I’m an atheist.” The poor woman looked at him, dumbstruck. To relieve the tension she turned to his wife: “What about you, dear?” Again, the answer was shat-tering: “No, I am afraid not. I am Jewish.” The charming saint from the First Baptist Church turned and left, taking her apple pie with her.

It used to be that everyone we met was a bit like us. Not anymore. From religion and race, to politics and lifestyle, the diversity that now surrounds us is far greater than anything we could have imagined a generation ago. So, in shock, we exercise kindness toward those who are like us, and we keep our apple pies away from those we find different than we ourselves. This is hardly hospitality, Southern or otherwise.

In this day and age of connection and social media, we are actually more divided and disconnected than ever. A large reason for this is the lack of face-to-face community, especially with those we consider different.

An Asian tea tradition can inform us here. It is common for Eastern cultures to share tea with strangers as a means of sincere welcome. It’s much more than a quick shot of caffeine. It is an act of hospitable community building, because the more times strangers share tea together, the more like true friends they become.

Tea and apple pies.There just might be something to sharing these with our neighbors that will be good for all of us.

Ronnie McBrayer is a syndicated columnist, blogger, pastor, and author of multiple books. Visit his website at www.ronniemcbrayer.net.

 

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The Elvis in me—and you

 

By Ronnie McBrayer

By Ronnie McBrayer

Raised in a fundamentalist household, that “filthy rock music” was not allowed. No Rolling Stones. No Bob Dylan. No Pink Floyd or Jimi Hendrix. The only artist that got a pass was Elvis Presley.

When he tore through “How Great Thou Art” or “Peace in the Valley” like a rhinestoned, side-burned angel, well, my parents could suddenly forgive him for his worldliness, hip-gyrating, and other devilishness. Interestingly enough, in his lifetime, Elvis was nominated for a Grammy 14 different times and received the award three times. But none of these were for his rock music. All three were for his gospel recordings.

In the end, as we once again reflect on the anniversary of his death, the man was a contradiction. He was the King of Rock and Roll, yet his highest career achievement was in gospel. He had 150 albums reach gold or platinum status, but the songs he played the most often were the spirituals and hymns he learned in church as a child.

He was the icon of the sexual revolution, said to be depraved by the older generation, had some 10,000 doses of pain killers and amphetamines prescribed to him in his last year of life, but still called the Bible his favorite book. He died with a dozen substances in his bloodstream, but with a book about Jesus clutched to his chest. He was a conflicted person. But aren’t we all?

Paul said, summarizing the human condition, “When I want to do what is right, I inevitably do what is wrong. There is a war within me.” Solzhenitsyn wrote the same: “The line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties but right through every human heart.” We are all the combination of darkness and light, good and evil, right and wrong.

I often heard the story of the two wolves growing up, an old Cherokee tale. Everyone has two wolves that live inside of them, as the story goes. One is evil. The other is good. These two are always fighting, one trying to beat the other. The one that will win is the one that is best fed.

We each have a bit of Elvis within us—our better angels and howling devils competing for dominance. It’s no secret which will win. That part of us that we nourish will always carry the day.

Ronnie McBrayer is a syndicated columnist, blogger, pastor, and author of multiple books. Visit his website at www.ronniemcbrayer.net.

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Woodpeckers on the Wall

By Ronnie McBrayer

By Ronnie McBrayer

The coming week marks the anniversary of the division of Berlin, Germany. On the afternoon of August 12, 1961, leaders of the German Democratic Republic signed an order to close the border between East and West Berlin, and erect a massive Wall dividing the city. But this Wall, like all things evil, did not last.

On November 9, 1989, following weeks of unrest, the East German government announced that its citizens would be allowed to visit West Germany and West Berlin. The border guards, unable to control the huge crowds who were eager to exercise this new freedom, abandoned their posts altogether. Ecstatic East Berliners cascaded over, around, and through the iconic Wall that had separated families, friends, and a country for a generation.

The Berlin Wall didn’t fall down all at once, neither literally or figuratively. In the weeks that followed that revolutionary November night, I remember watching people from all over the world come to Berlin with picks, shovels, and sledgehammers to do their part in tearing down one of the ugliest symbols of restriction, oppression, and injustice ever created.

It was years later that I learned the nickname given to these unnamed, unknown people who tore down the Berlin Wall piece by piece and blow by hammer blow.They were called the “Mauespechte:” The “woodpeckers on the wall.”

Those who crow the loudest and make the most noise may not be the ones leading the action, or actually getting things done. Instead, bit by bit, year by year, with blood and tears, suffering mistreatment and injustice they stay at it. They believe in those things that last longer than tyranny, unfairness, domination, greed, violence, and power as brokered by the forces of this world.

With their work gloves on and hammers in hand, they believe and work toward peace, hope, justice, non-violence, and the brotherhood of God’s children. They believe “every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed.”

We may have never thought of the word “woodpecker” as a compliment, but reconsideration might be a good idea. God knows this world could stand a few on the wall today; those who will persistently and defiantly chip away at what stands in the way of peace, justice, and mercy.

Ronnie McBrayer is a syndicated columnist, blogger, pastor, and author of multiple books. Visit his website at www.ronniemcbrayer.net.

 

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In Scorn of the Consequences

By Ronnie McBrayer

By Ronnie McBrayer

“If there was one last crust of bread in this town, it would be mine.” That’s a quote from a rather pretentious member of the clergy, stating how God would take care of him should the world come unhinged tomorrow. “Everyone else may starve, but God has promised me that I will always have enough.”

The spiritual mathematics of such self-confidence says: “I am godly, so I will always have what I want and will never go without.” The corollary for such a statement is also true: “If you are ungodly, then you will not always have what you need, and you will suffer.”

To hear advocates of this position explain, those who please God always land on top of the heap. Their cupboards are always full, their gas tanks never empty, their table always running over, and their checks never bounce.

But countless numbers of good and godly people have suffered, have gone without, have been tortured, have been chained in prison, and have died by stoning, firing squad, holocaust, and worse. They suffered, not because they possessed an inferior faith, a faith not big or strong enough to get them out of trouble, but because of their unwavering belief.

The writer of the book of Hebrews concludes that those who suffer this way are “too good for this world and earn a good reputation because of their faith.” Their stomachs didn’t growl be-cause their faith was defective. On the contrary, they suffered because of their virtue. These heroes of faith weren’t standing behind a pulpit, in the midst of chaotic times, bragging about how the last bread truck in town was going to make a special delivery to their home. No, they led a life of faith, a life lived “in scorn of the consequences,” to quote the late Clarence Jordan, taking integrity as its own reward.

After leaving the man who had called dibs on the last loaf of Wonder Bread in town, I was left to wonder myself. What happens to this kind of faith when the promised bread truck doesn’t arrive? What is the outcome when the pantry is found to be empty? When the last check bounces? When life produces more suffering than satisfaction?

I imagine a chink in this armor of belief makes for one incredible crisis of faith. And it should, because faith that leads to arrogance isn’t faith at all.

Ronnie McBrayer is a syndicated columnist, blogger, pastor, and author of multiple books. Visit his website at www.ronniemcbrayer.net.

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For a Ride

By Ronnie McBrayer

By Ronnie McBrayer

I’ve tried to stay out of this, but like the proverbial moth drawn to the flame, I can’t leave Creflo alone. The Creflo of whom I speak is Creflo A. Dollar, televangelist and pastor of the 30,000-member World Changers Church near Atlanta, Georgia.

I have to say that Creflo has the best name for a televangelist in the history of the genre. Dollar! And dollars, it appears, are what Brother Creflo is most concerned with. That’s what draws me to the scorching flame: His most recent fundraising effort. He needed a new airplane so he asked his followers to help him purchase of a Gulfstream G650, a $65 million aviation marvel.

If the man thinks he needs a $65 million jet, I don’t care. But for me, this is a problem: Coercion has more to do with Creflo’s financial success than faith.  Here is what Creflo said back in 2011 (when he was slumming around on a Gulfstream III). Preaching about what he would do – if he could – to those who did not put their tithes in the offering plate, he said:

“Red and blue lights would start going, the siren would go off, and a voice would go throughout the entire building, ‘Crook, crook, crook, crook!’ We’d line them up in the front and pass out Uzis and point them at all those non-tithing members…and at the count of three ‘Jesus-es’ we’d shoot them all dead… If we were not under the Blood of Jesus, I would certainly try it.”

At the end of all this recent tomfoolery Creflo said, “The devil is [trying to] discredit me because I’m showing people, Jesus.” This one really stuck me in the heart (as if the Uzi-wielding firing squad did not). Because Jesus “had no place to lay his head.” Jesus said, “Do not store up treasures here on earth;” and, “Go and sell all your possessions and give the money to the poor, and then you will have treasure in heaven;” and, “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for the rich to enter the kingdom of God.”

Regardless, Creflo ended up with his new jet. Well, eventually he will, as its assembly is backlogged until around 2018. Maybe, if Jesus comes back by then, Creflo will take the Lord for a ride in it, because he’s already taken everyone else for one.

Ronnie McBrayer is a syndicated columnist, blogger, pastor, and author of multiple books. Visit his website at www.ronniemcbrayer.net.

 

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The Illusion of Control

 

“Control is an illusion, you infantile egomaniac.” So said Nicole Kidman to Tom Cruise. It was a fictional movie scene, of course, but I’m sure it’s a mantra she repeated often over the course of their decade-long marriage. Digression aside, the quote itself is absolutely the truth. Control—over others’ behavior, personal circumstances, world events, the universe—is a fantasy.

It was Dr. Ellen Langer who wrote the book on the subject. Her work is entitled,“The Illusion of Control.” She believes, and her research backs this up, that human beings have a delusional sense that they can influence the outcomes of certain events, even those events over which they have no command.

Summarizing one of her observations, Dr. Langer discovered that drivers feel that they are much less likely to be in an accident when they are driving versus sitting in the passenger’s seat. No surprise there, but here is where things get interesting: Move that front seat passenger to the back of the automobile, and that individual’s feelings of anxiety completely skyrocket!

In fact, the further removed from the driver’s seat he or she was placed, the more the test subject felt an accident was inevitable. Why? He or she was not the one in control of the situation. This is one reason why I recoil from the bumper sticker, “God Is My Co-Pilot.” Oh, for heaven’s sake.

Can any phrase in our lexicon be more descriptive of our neurotic need to be in control, and yet tip our hat to The Maker in case we get into a situation that is just a bit too much for us? Even then, we want to remain firmly ensconced in the driver’s seat; we want to remain the gods of our universe.

Critics of faith often argue that belief in God defies the evidence. God cannot be “proven,” goes the reasoning, so ceding command of life to such a hypothetical Being is simply foolish. Philosophically, I understand and appreciate this argument. Yet, I counter that we all have confidence in something, in some foundational truth or principle that guides our lives.

So, if you find faith in God to be illogical, I respect that. But, surrendering the management of the universe to a Higher Power makes a lot of sense when there is so little we can personally control. After all, control is an illusion, and the evidence on that matter is irrefutable.

Ronnie McBrayer is a syndicated columnist, blogger, pastor, and author of multiple books. Visit his website at www.ronniemcbrayer.net.

 

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Living Unafraid

By Ronnie McBrayer

By Ronnie McBrayer

In the late 1800s, an outlaw began burglarizing the Wells Fargo stage coach line. The bandit would wait in a narrow pass, and at just the right moment, would emerge dressed in black, a hood over his head and brandishing a double-barreled shotgun. To match his appearance, he had a deep baritone voice that caused his victims to melt with fear. This terrifying gentleman bandit was nicknamed “Black Bart.”

Wells Fargo finally arrested him in an extravagant apartment in San Francisco. When they removed his dark, menacing hood, Black Bart was not seven feet tall, like some of the witnesses had claimed. He was not young and rugged. He wasn’t a bloodthirsty bandit.

He was Charles Boles, a handsome, well-educated, sixty-year-old clerk too timid to ride a horse or load his gun. Black Bart used the most effective and crippling weapon in his arsenal: Fear. But when unmasked, he was nothing people said he was. He was just an unarmed, deep, shadowy voice in a dark empty suit.

I’m not naive; the world around us is dangerous. Yet, the living Christ has shown this world for what it is: Powerless against those who are in him. This doesn’t mean the world will not hurt us. It does not mean that some of the things we fear won’t take place. It simply means that nothing in this world can finally or completely destroy us.

Imagine that your life is a chess match or a football game, if you like. There comes a point in any such game, as C.S. Lewis pointed out, where the decisive move is made. Yes, the game continues, but it might as well be over, as the final outcome has been determined.

The decisive move in God’s universe came at the cross and resurrection of Jesus. Yes, life goes on. We struggle. We suffer. We wrestle with our phobias and try to keep our fears at bay. But we have hope—not fantasies that the world isn’t the way it actually is—but assurance that Christ has overcome the world, leaving so much that would terrify us as an empty threat.

In these perilous times, we do not have to lose our heads. The power we have been given and the love we have been shown flows from the Providence who is larger than our fears, and when we live in Him, we can live unafraid.

Ronnie McBrayer is a syndicated columnist, blogger, pastor, and author of multiple books. Visit his website at www.ronniemcbrayer.net.

 

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Paying for your raising

 

By Ronnie McBrayer

By Ronnie McBrayer

Have you ever heard the phrase: “Paying for your raising?” It is the parental cycle of karma, I think. All the sins of your youth and all the ways you hurt your parents, come home to roost in your own children. My father told me regularly that I was going to “pay for my raising.” I didn’t believe him, and now as the father of three teenagers, I still don’t believe him.

I read recently that a child born into a middle-income family this year, excluding the cost of college, will require nearly $250,000 to rear to adulthood. But it costs a lot more than that, believe me!

You can’t pump the serotonin you burned up back into your parents’ brains. You can’t undo all their gray hair, heartburn, and high blood pressure that you caused. Because of you, they had extensive counseling sessions, hormone therapy, and sleepless nights.

Your parents experienced guilt, law enforcement interventions, miserable teacher conferences, and gastroesophageal reflux disease. You did this to your parents! We all did; your kids will do it to you—and there’s no way to repay any of it. Thankfully, there’s no expectation to do so, because most of us would endure all these heartaches again and again for the sake of those to whom we gave life.

Such love has a name. It is the Hebrew word, “Chesed,” usually associated with God’s fatherly love for his children; a word that has no easy English equivalent. Some call it grace, mercy, or kindness, but these attempts fail. “Chesed” is all of these things and more; it is the central Hebrew virtue to which all acts of charity and goodness are attached.

One rabbi, explaining so plainly, says, “When a person works for an employer, and then he gets paid, that pay is really a recycling of his own deeds. It isn’t love. It isn’t kindness. It is earned. But an act of ‘chesed’ cannot be recycled. It is something given or granted without cause.”

Parenthood is based on this kind of unfailing, non-recyclable love. It is an act of steady, secure, unshakable, unearned, uncaused, and sometimes unappreciated compassion. That’s nothing that you or anyone else can pay back, even if you wrote your dad a big fat check for Father’s Day this weekend. He could use the money, I’m sure, but he would do it all over again for the sake of love.

Ronnie McBrayer is a syndicated columnist, blogger, pastor, and author of multiple books. Visit his website at www.ronniemcbrayer.net.

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Trust the Coach

 

By Ronnie McBrayer

By Ronnie McBrayer

 

This year I’ve been coaching Little League baseball. It has been a lot of fun, because 12-year-olds experience the whole “Field of Dreams” mystique in a way that is lost on older players. They have learned a lot – about hitting and fielding – but also about faith.

In their natural state, these players don’t trust their coaches, evidenced by the fact that they refuse to follow our instructions. “Run!” the coach says. But they won’t budge. “Stay!” I scream, but inexplicably, they run. The admonition, “You can’t hit a fastball thrown above your hands,” is repeated for the umpteenth time, but they keep swinging as if swatting flies.

Twelve-year-olds, with minuscule experience, think they know more about playing the game than the old men who are coaching them. It all comes down to faith, for the challenge put to these players time and again is this: Trust the coach and do it his way?

That’s a lesson for everyone, not just for prepubescent boys. Life will always come down to doing things your way or God’s way. There’s nothing else. You will trust you—what you can do, what you can see, what you can predict, how far you can go—or you will trust God—in what he can do.

Sure, you can go all “Invictus” with life and be “the master of your fate and the captain of your soul.” Admittedly, it will be invigorating to face the storms alone, to navigate the waters solo, and to call your own shots; at least for a while, but eventually it’s simply exhausting. Or you can hand the responsibility for your life over to God and allow him to direct and do with it as he pleases.

Humanity has been managing its own destiny for more than a few millennia now, and while our knowledge and technical proficiency continue to grow, our measure of wisdom and common sense seems as stunted as ever. We manage only to hurt others, our planet, ourselves, and our future with greater speed and efficiency.

So the decision is left to make, a daily choice though it may be, either to continue with our destructive ways or entrust the control of life and life’s events to God, trusting him with all outcomes. If we truly believe, we will choose the latter—the life of surrender—because we are what we do, not what we say we believe.

Ronnie McBrayer is a syndicated columnist, blogger, pastor, and author of multiple books. Visit his website at www.ronniemcbrayer.net.

 

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