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Archive | Keeping the Faith

Wise up

 

By Ronnie McBrayer

By Ronnie McBrayer

By Ronnie McBrayer

 

When a mother giraffe gives birth, she does so standing up. So her calf’s first act is to fall six feet to the ground, crash landing on his face. Then, as if such an arrival wasn’t harsh enough, the youngling’s mother will continually knock him down when he attempts to stand.

This isn’t cruelty. It is the youngster’s primal lesson: If you are going to stay alive in a world of apex predators, you better learn to stand on your own feet. You better wise up as quickly as possible.

Yes, if we are going to survive, we need to learn our lessons well. And since none of our mothers hatched us in the Serengeti, immediately kicked us in the head, or thumped us like a drum in the hospital nursery, we can’t rely upon nature’s classroom. We have to find a different way. That way is wisdom.

Wisdom, at its most basic, is the skillful application of knowledge and experience. And maybe no greater commodity is more needed in today’s world. But beyond dropping all the idiots of the world on their heads and kicking them around for a while (a nice image I like to daydream about, but an image spoiled once I realize that I’m as big a moron as the people I criticize), what can we do on a planet with so little wisdom?

The Apostle James answers: “If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and he will give it to you. He will not rebuke you for asking. But when you ask him, be sure that your faith is in God alone.”

Wisdom, by all practical appearances, is there for the taking. God will give those who request it, the insight and understanding that they need. God can save us from foolish and reckless living, if—and this is a colossal if—we will trust him for these things and not ourselves.

And that’s the rub, the very definition of our absurdity. We do not trust God to show us the way of wisdom. We waver, follow our own hearts, and then fall victim to our own lunacy. By trusting ourselves, we land in the dust over and over again. Yes, I know it’s hard to “let go and let God.” But his way is the only path to true wisdom, and it’s a path far less painful than constantly falling on your face.

Ronnie McBrayer is a syndicated columnist, pastor, and author. His newest book is “The Gospel According to Waffle House.” You can read more at www.ronniemcbrayer.me.

 

 

 

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The Man behind the curtain

 

By Ronnie McBrayer

By Ronnie McBrayer

 

What do Kenosha, Wisconsin, and Cape Cod, Massachusetts, have in common? Seventy-five years ago this week, these towns hosted the first public release for one of the greatest films ever—The Wizard of Oz.

I love the scene where Dorothy and her friends return to Oz’s throne room with the Witch’s broomstick, confirming that their assignment is complete. But the Wizard rebuffs them. He is about to renege on the handing out of home, brains, hearts, and courage.

Then, in the midst of booming voices, thunderclaps, and lightning bolts, Toto scurries over to a mystical shower stall and pulls back the curtain. “Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain,” the Wizard warns. But the game is over. There is no great and powerful Oz. There is only Oscar Zoroaster Diggs from Omaha, Nebraska.

This scene reveals the truth on so many levels. There is nothing to be afraid of—especially when it comes to God. We have been told that God, the “Wizard,” is more terrifying than all the dangers of the world. We know we need God and all that he offers, but we might as soon throw ourselves out his palace window to escape his terrors than to remain in his presence.

Yet, this is all smoke, mirrors, curtains, and megaphones, for Jesus has done something even the legendary Toto could not accomplish. He doesn’t just pull the curtain back, he tears it asunder, showing us a God who isn’t playing games or hiding his true identity.

God is a compassionate, loving, heart-sick parent who refused to keep his distance from us, who decided he would no longer allow his name or reputation to be misrepresented, but would present himself as a mere mortal, that he might enter our sufferings and undo the chaos of his creation.

The coming of Jesus into the world was the coming of God into the world. And the cross of Jesus, in all of its foolish glory, did not change God—he has always been in love with humanity—it changes us. With no heavy curtain obscuring our perspective, we see that God is more gracious, more wonderful, more welcoming, and more loving than we previously imagined; there is no reason to be afraid of him. This is not a fanciful measure of “Somewhere over the Rainbow.” It is the place we call home, and there’s no place like it.

Ronnie McBrayer is a syndicated columnist, pastor, and author. His newest book is “The Gospel According to Waffle House.” You can read more at www.ronniemcbrayer.me.

 

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The Man Behind the Curtain

By Ronnie McBrayer

By Ronnie McBrayer

By Ronnie McBrayer

What do Kenosha, Wisconsin, and Cape Cod, Massachusetts, have in common? Seventy-five years ago this week, these towns hosted the first public release for one of the greatest films ever. “The Wizard of Oz.”

I love the scene where Dorothy and her friends return to Oz’s throne room with the Witch’s broomstick, confirming that their assignment is complete. But the Wizard rebuffs them. He is about to renege on the handing out of home, brains, hearts, and courage.

Then, in the midst of booming voices, thunderclaps, and lightning bolts, Toto scurries over to a mystical shower stall and pulls back the curtain. “Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain,” the Wizard warns. But the game is over. There is no great and powerful Oz. There is only Oscar Zoroaster Diggs from Omaha, Nebraska.

This scene reveals the truth on so many levels. There is nothing to be afraid of – especially when it comes to God. We have been told that God, the “Wizard,” is more terrifying than all the dangers of the world. We know we need God and all that he offers, but we might as soon throw ourselves out his palace window to escape his terrors than to remain in his presence.

Yet, this is all smoke, mirrors, curtains, and megaphones, for Jesus has done something even the legendary Toto could not accomplish. He doesn’t just pull the curtain back, he tears it asunder, showing us a God who isn’t playing games or hiding his true identity.

God is a compassionate, loving, heart-sick parent who refused to keep his distance from us, who decided he would no longer allow his name or reputation to be misrepresented, but would present himself as a mere mortal, that he might enter our sufferings and undo the chaos of his creation.

The coming of Jesus into the world was the coming of God into the world. And the cross of Jesus, in all of its foolish glory, did not change God – he has always been in love with humanity – it changes us. With no heavy curtain obscuring our perspective, we see that God is more gracious, more wonderful, more welcoming, and more loving than we previously imagined; there is no reason to be afraid of him. This is not a fanciful measure of “Somewhere over the Rainbow.” It is the place we call home, and there’s no place like it.

Ronnie McBrayer is a syndicated columnist, pastor, and author. His newest book is “The Gospel According to Waffle House.” You can read more at www.ronniemcbrayer.me.

 

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What a Wonderful World

By Ronnie McBrayer

By Ronnie McBrayer

This coming week marks the birthday of a man who Bing Crosby called, “the beginning and the end of music in America.” Born in the sweltering heat of a New Orleans’ August, the grandson of former slaves, and suffering abject poverty, that man was Louis Armstrong.

Most people, even those who could not recognize Armstrong’s face or his contribution to Americana, can still sing along to his most iconic song: “What a wonderful world.”

Louis recorded and released “What a Wonderful World” in 1967. The southern states were fighting desegregation, and the U.S. Army was fighting in Southeast Asia. The Apollo 1 spacecraft was burning on the launch pad, and the Cold War was burning in Eastern Europe.

The Israelis were at war with their Arab neighbors, and police departments were at war with African Americans in Detroit, Milwaukee, Los Angeles, and DC. JFK was already dead, and Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr. would both be assassinated the following year. How could Louis Armstrong sing this song about rainbows and unicorns when the world looked like it was going to hell in a hand basket; when the world looked so un-wonderful (as it still does today)?

Armstrong answers that question. He said, “It seems to me it ain’t the world that’s so bad, but what we’re doing to it. All I’m saying is: See what a wonderful world it would be, if only we’d give it a chance.”

That conclusion hints of Scripture. God created this wonderful world and called it “good.” So what went wrong? We did. As crowning achievements of his creative project, humanity was to serve as the steward and curator of God’s world. It was, it is, and it will always remain humanity’s role to be creation’s protector; to maintain the goodness of God’s world. We have largely shirked that responsibility.

Yet, this blue ball hanging in the vast expanse of space that miraculously incubates all that is, must mean something to God, because God wants it to be wonderfully “good.” Thus, We throw ourselves into the fray of this fractured world—healing the sick, making peace among enemies, feeding the hungry, working for justice, protecting and sustaining resources, creating harmony—because we believe “it ain’t the world that’s so bad, but what we’re doing to it.” God’s intent and Armstrong’s words are tuned to the same melody: Let’s give the Wonderful World a chance.

Ronnie McBrayer is a syndicated columnist, pastor, and author. His newest book is “The Gospel According to Waffle House.” You can read more at www.ronniemcbrayer.me.

 

 

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Let go or be dragged

Ronnie McBrayer

Ronnie McBrayer

By Ronnie McBrayer

A friend who has some experience with rodeo horses sent me a most picturesque proverb: “Let go or be dragged.” Whether this phrase was first spoken by a Zen master who had achieved enlightenment, or by a battered cowboy pulling cacti from his backside, it is the unmistakable truth.

Take my friend’s horses as an example. Training such animals requires lassoing, roping, and haltering. Incredible strength, patience, and stamina are needed to match a horse. But sometimes, as the proverb goes, the breaker becomes the broken. A point is reached where the trainer must regroup, or risk being ground into the corral’s dust.

Think of the little one who refuses to leave the playground. Haven’t you seen mothers and fathers, quite literally, hauling the kicking and screaming child to the car? What about the dog that finally catches the school bus he has been chasing for years? Now what does he do? Victoriously sink his teeth into the bumper like it’s a chew toy?

This much is certain: We all will face situations, diseases, circumstances, relationships, people, challenges and conditions that are larger, stronger, and longer-lasting than we are. We have two options and only two options in such encounters. We can keep fighting an unwinnable war, and whatever we have dug our claws into will drag us into a bloody pulp.

Or, we can accept our limitations and admit that we are not omnipotent. We can accept life for how it is, even when life isn’t fair (when is it really fair, anyway?). We can let go. And in this surrender—this little act of dying—we stop our suffering. We get to live again. For this is the counterintuitive way of the cross; the paradoxical power of Christ: We only live once we have died. We only gain by giving up. We only win if we surrender—let go or be dragged.

At first blush this sounds something like “Christianity for Weaklings,” and some will find it intolerable. “Give up? Surrender is for cowards and quitters!” Such objections ignore the fact that there are some things that cannot be changed by brute strength.

Further, such objections belittle the way of the cross. Read again those familiar crucifixion accounts of Jesus, and there you will see that letting go requires more than a noble struggle, more than hanging on – infinitely more. It requires everything. Let go, or be dragged.

Ronnie McBrayer is a syndicated columnist, pastor, and author. His newest book is “The Gospel According to Waffle House.” You can read more at www.ronniemcbrayer.me.

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Hitting the Road

Ronnie McBrayer

Ronnie McBrayer

By Ronnie McBrayer

 

Summer: Vacation days are being redeemed and picnic baskets are being packed. Barbecues are firing, pools are splashing, and ice cream trucks are rolling. Meanwhile, millions are taking to the great American highway.

We love to feel the breeze on our faces and the road beneath our wheels. We can’t stop ourselves from being a traveling people. We always have been. We keep moving, rolling, and running, so that the theme song of human history might well be Willie Nelson’s, “On the Road Again.”

True to form, Christianity is a fluid faith for a pilgrim people. It is a spirituality of movement. But we don’t always understand faith this way. Look at how we have structured it, however, and it is easy to see why we most often view Christianity as an incorrigible, fixated fortress rather than a living, dynamic journey.

Our doctrines, constructed and accumulated over thousands of years, stack up like immovable stones. The buildings that contain our worship services are almost always built of rock, granite, or the hardest and heaviest material we can find. Or try being an idealistic reformer who seeks to change a church’s policy or its strategy to meet the world where it now is. If you’re not taken out behind the vestry and quietly crucified, you will find that change in the church usually moves with all the terrifying speed of a melting glacier.

This betrays our roots and the trajectory set for our faith from its beginning. Before his death, Jesus described himself and faith in him like this: “I am the true and living way.” This had such a profound effect on the first followers of Jesus that the earliest self-description of Christianity was “The Way.” It was the Path. The Road. It was the constantly evolving, winding, opening arc that took this “band of gypsies down the highway.”

So it doesn’t appear that Jesus came to establish an inflexible, competitive religion that would be pitted against other belief systems. No, he came to show us how to live the life of redeeming love, love for God and for others. There’s nothing about love that should be turned into coldblooded institutionalism or be used to exclude, marginalize, or separate. This Way can only take us further down the road and deeper into the heart of God. And while love is often “a road less traveled,” it is the worthiest of journeys.

Ronnie McBrayer is a syndicated columnist, pastor, and author. His newest book is “The Gospel According to Waffle House.” You can read more at www.ronniemcbrayer.me.

 

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Fight like a Butterfly

 

Ronnie McBrayer

Ronnie McBrayer

By Ronnie McBrayer

 

Muhammad Ali once claimed he would “Float like a butterfly and sting like a bee.” Well, “The Greatest” did exactly that. And while I’m not one to tug on Superman’s cape, I’d like to slightly amend his most famous of phrases. I believe that before one can “float like a butterfly,” he or she must fight like one.

You might know the story of a boy who came upon a cocoon. He took it home and watched it carefully. One day a small tear in the chrysalis appeared, and the butterfly began to emerge. It was a struggle. The slit was tiny, the butterfly was big, and the boy was worried about his new little friend. So, he decided to help.

With scissors he carefully cut the cocoon open to rescue the beautiful butterfly. But it wasn’t beautiful; it was fat and swollen. Its wings were wilted. It never learned to fly. It could only crawl around in a shoebox, a jar, or wherever the boy placed it.

When the boy told his science teacher this tale, he was taught an invaluable lesson: The butterfly had to struggle. It had to face oppositional forces. The butterfly’s laborious effort to emerge was nature’s way of circulating dormant blood and strengthening new wings. The butterfly’s fight to get out of the cocoon was not an impediment, but preparation, and the boy’s “help” actually turned out to be hurtful.

What is true in nature is true of human nature: Some suffering is necessary. We have to struggle—we must—if we will ever gain the strength we need to fly. This is anathema to our North American ears, however, because we have constructed a society with a monumentally low threshold for pain. Pain-aversion is rampant, extending from playrooms and boardrooms to State Houses and fraternity houses, from helicopter-parenting to fiscal irresponsibility.

Yet, there is a consummate spiritual principle: There is no resurrection without a cross, no greatness without grief, and no strength apart from suffering. The struggle is a necessary process in maturation.

When we avoid suffering at all costs, we fail to see that such behavior will cost us everything, for if we cannot tolerate anything that hurts or discomforts us now, we will never become people of faith, character, or maturity later. With apologies to Ali, we will never “float like a butterfly” until we have learned to fight like one.

Ronnie McBrayer is a syndicated columnist, pastor, and author. His newest book is “The Gospel According to Waffle House.” You can read more at www.ronniemcbrayer.me.

 

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Who you really are

 By Ronnie McBrayer

Ronnie McBrayer

Ronnie McBrayer

I received a mystery package recently and discovered a popular appetite suppressant inside. Sprinkle this magic powder on your food, and allegedly it would cooperate with your sense of smell to curb your cravings. And here it was in my hands—a whole box of the stuff. But I didn’t order it.

Shortly thereafter I received a second package. This time it was a set of CDs: “Quick and Simple Japanese; Learn to Speak the Language in 10 Days.” With the box still in my hands, and as I wondered about it all, a third package arrived at my door. It was a box of those super-absorbent hand towels sold on late night infomercials.

Then I knew what was going on. Someone had stolen my credit card information and was having his way with my account. We have a unique 21st century name for this type of crime: Identity theft. What a strange phrase that is; surely there is much more to personal identity than the digits on a piece of magnetic plastic. Of course, but most times we are content with the shallowness of it all, because most of us have no real sense of who we genuinely are.

See, we are made to be as Christ—as Paul put it so succinctly: “I have been crucified with Christ so I no longer exist. It is Christ who lives in and through me.” Yet, so few of us know that Christ-shaped self, the real person that Jesus would create in each of us. Instead, we have this edifice, this outer image we portray to others and protect at almost any cost. But it’s just that—a shell. We lack substance. We are just names and numbers without any real identity. We haven’t let the Christ-life be fashioned within us.

The short of it is this: We are un-crucified (if such a word exists). For when the weight of the cross, the cross that would crush and remake us, falls heavy on our shoulders, we crawl from beneath the load before it finishes its work. Yet, the forging of faith and the making of lasting Christ-centered identity is only accomplished by means of execution. By loss. By the death of the false self.

So as long as you protect what you think is yours, so long as you struggle to avoid all necessary suffering, so long as you refuse to relinquish the identity you have constructed, you will never become who Christ would make you—the real you—the you that can never be stolen.

Ronnie McBrayer is a syndicated columnist, pastor, and author. His newest book is “The Gospel According to Waffle House.” You can read more at www.ronniemcbrayer.me.

 

 

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Praying for Rain

Ronnie McBrayer

Ronnie McBrayer

by Ronnie McBrayer

 

There’s an old story that circulates in my family about my great-great grandfather, a fiery circuit-riding preacher named John Martin McBrayer. It was the early 1900s and drought was smothering the Georgia countryside. So a Saturday prayer meeting was called, a meeting to pray for rain.

The community gathered, and in time, John Martin came riding up on his pony. It took him a while to get inside, but when he did, he was carrying his saddle. “Well Preacher,” one man asked, “Why’d you bring your saddle in? You stayin’ the night?” Everyone laughed. John Martin gave a mischievous chuckle himself and answered, “No, I thought we’d be prayin’ for rain? I believe the rest of you will be ridin’ home wet.” Sure enough, that afternoon the rains came. And just as sure, most folks left on wet saddles and in drenched wagons (all while old John trotted home as dry as dust).

I often tell this story, not as a means of convincing people that they will always get what they pray for, but as an illustration of what faith looks like: Faith in God, not faith in a specific, pre-calculated outcome. This is reminiscent of an even older story found in the book of Daniel, the story of the “Three Hebrew Children”–Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego.

These boys were ordered to bow and worship an idol, a false god. This was sacrilege beyond the pale, so they refused. For their noncompliance the boys were to be burned alive in a fiery furnace. But before the sentence was carried out they were given a final opportunity to acquiesce. Their response is one of defiant faith: “God will rescue us from your power. But even if he doesn’t, we want to make it clear to you that we will never bow.”

Mature faith is far more than a cheerful “happily ever after” post-scripted to every story we tell. It is trust in the God behind all outcomes. Enough of this faith that professes only the ability to change our circumstances; such faith is little more than a lucky rabbit’s foot.

Instead, we need a faith that gives us resiliency, faith that strengthens our souls. We need faith that serves, not as a payoff for our prayers, but as growing confidence in a Person. We need that faith that sustains us, if the hoped-for rescue or drought-breaking rains come or not.

Ronnie McBrayer is a syndicated columnist, pastor, and author. His newest book is “The Gospel According to Waffle House.” You can read more at www.ronniemcbrayer.me.

 

 

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Not slaves, but sons and daughters

Ronnie McBrayer

Ronnie McBrayer

By Ronnie McBrayer

 

There are some two million adopted children living in United States’ households today. These children arrive in their homes in a myriad of ways. Some are abandoned, are surrendered to children’s services, or have biological parents who are in no condition to provide a home.

Some are from the States; some from overseas; some come out of foster care; some come from an adoption agency; and some come from out of nowhere, it seems. But most all have this in common: They are loved. The adoptive parents want to provide a loving home for these children.

Two of those two million adopted children live under my own roof. When they were younger, and I suppose they need to hear it even more as they move toward adulthood, I would tell them, “Everyone is born, you know. But not everyone is chosen. Not everyone has the honor of being selected; but you were.”

Granted, this doesn’t settle all of their anxieties, and now in adolescence, they have all the existential anxieties of their peers – “Who am I? Where did I come from? Why am I in the world? How do I fit in? What is my identity?” But those who are adopted often have these questions on steroids.

Some questions, I tell my growing young men, will be answered now. Some answers will come in adulthood. But some questions may never be answered. Yet, they cannot let all the unanswerable questions of their existence rob them of this essential fact: They are chosen and loved.

One of the New Testament’s more powerful images, as it describes God’s concern for humanity, is, fittingly, adoption. “By his great love,” the Apostle Paul said, “we were chosen for adoption into God’s family. You are not his slaves. You are his children.”

God’s choosing love might not squelch all anxieties or address all of our identity issues, but it’s a good place to start. For if we know that God loves us, then we can make allowance for the things that we don’t know; if we understand that we are chosen, then we can live with those things that can’t be understood; when we are certain of our acceptance, then we can accept other uncertainties.

I pray that these facts will serve as a grounding, stabilizing force for my sons as they grow into life. And yes, I pray the same for all of us.

Ronnie McBrayer is a syndicated columnist, pastor, and author. His newest book is “The Gospel According to Waffle House.” You can read more at www.ronniemcbrayer.me

 

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