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Archive | Keeping the Faith

Less is more


By Ronnie McBrayer

By Ronnie McBrayer

The Apostle Paul wrote, “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength” (Philippians 4:13). There’s no way he could have anticipated how those words would later be used. Printed on bumper stickers for aspiring marathoners; a benediction for victors of a football game; inscribed on the shirt of a middle-aged man attempting to reclaim his lost youth in the weight room. I don’t think this is what Paul had in mind.

The Apostle was talking about contentment, not accomplishment, borrowing an idea from the Greek Stoics. The only way one could be happy, per Stoic thought, was to rely upon nothing and no one. This was Stoicism’s highest ideal, and you have to admit that they were on to something. If you didn’t need someone else’s money, protection, or affection, if you could be free of all fear, expectations, and emotional hostage-holding, you would be truly liberated.

Thus, Paul and the Stoics both agree that a determined, “Can Do” attitude of self-sufficiency can lead to an extraordinary level of personal contentment. But they disagree on how to get there. The Stoic path was one of perfect detachment and internal strength, self-control, and fortitude. Paul offered a different path; not an “I Can Do” attitude, but a “He Can Do” submission. That is the context for his mantra, “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.”

No, this isn’t about overcoming, but accepting. It’s not a call to Stoic-like effort, rather, it is positioning one’s self to receive the strength that Christ offers. Contentment is not the result of trying harder, no matter what the Stoics or iron-pumping athletes might say. It is the result of relying upon a Power greater than yourself.

This is why Paul’s words are often so grotesquely misappropriated. They are used as a form of defiance against the odds, used to magically conjure up our personal strength when we have none left, making us try harder, go farther, endure longer, and never surrender until we are victorious. This is the exact opposite of what Paul was saying. It is only in surrender, the surrender of our own power, that the power of Christ can be ours.

Tireless self-sufficiency will take you far in life, but to be genuinely content, and genuinely powerful, it won’t take more but less—less of yourself and more of Jesus.

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

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More Than We Can Bear

By Ronnie McBrayer

By Ronnie McBrayer

Legendary animator Chuck Jones created or produced some of the greatest cartoons, working on projects ranging from “Bugs Bunny” to “The Grinch” to “Tom and Jerry” and “Pepe LePew.” His greatest creation was the duo of  “Wile E. Coyote and The Road Runner.”

The outcome of each of their stories was predictable. The Road Runner would “Meep, Meep” and escape, and Wile E. would go cascading off a cliff for the umpteenth time. But miraculously, he would never die.

Gravity wasn’t his only challenge; he also suffered from those absurd contraptions he purchased from ACME, machinery he thought would help him catch his nemesis. A Bat-Man outfit, a dehydrated boulder, earthquake pills, a painted tunnel – but none of them ever worked. But after each failure, and they were legion, Coyote would scrape himself off the desert floor or crawl from beneath some crushing avalanche, and soldier on, “bloody but unbowed.”

Faced with his body of work, some have opined that Wile E. is a model in resiliency, an example to us all to keep on keeping on. I’m not so sure about that. The Coyote’s creator may have made him unflappable and indestructible, but our Creator did not provide us with such qualities.

Life can be too much for us sometimes, and it’s best to admit it. I know that cuts against the grain of our determined, conquering egos, but it is the truth nonetheless. There are simply too many falls off too many cliffs; too many stupid, self-inflicted wounds; too many times when we have had to spatula up what is left of us from the floor; too much exhausting pursuit without the proper pay off.

So, don’t believe the proverb that, “God won’t put more on you than you can bear.” The Bible never says such a thing, and life—any life outside of a cartoon desert—doesn’t validate it either. What do we do about it? Ask anyone who is in recovery. The steps that lead to restoration and healing begin with the confession that we “are powerless,” and we “only a Power greater than ourselves can restore us.”

Admitting our limitations does not prevent us from living robust, powerful lives. As these spill out on the ground like a catapulting Coyote going over a cliff, it is then – and only then – that God can do in us what we can’t do on our own.

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


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A dog’s life—a good life

By Ronnie McBrayer

By Ronnie McBrayer

Mark Twain said, “The more I know about people, the better I like my dog.” Agreed. My family has a little pup named “Mo,” a stray we temporarily took in, until he could be permanently placed elsewhere. Mo so effectively wormed his way into our hearts, he became an irreplaceable part of the family.

Now, poor Mo isn’t very bright. Lift one of his ears and look in, and you can see straight through to the other side; but what he lacks in IQ points, he more than makes up for in sweetness and happiness. Mo wakes up every morning as if he has just won the lottery, boundlessly full of joy at the prospects of another day. He attacks every single meal and gobbles down each treat as if it were filet mignon. He becomes deliriously euphoric when taken for a walk. He greets every newcomer with wet kisses and a wagging tail.

And his favorite thing in the whole world is to crawl into your lap while you drink your morning coffee, or beg for a belly rub while watching the evening news. In fact, that’s about the extent of his demands. All he requires is a little affection, and he has no other expectations.

Maybe that’s the secret to both canine and human happiness—to find satisfaction in what you have. Maybe that’s what Jesus was getting at when he mentioned the “birds of the air” and the “lilies of the field” (or dogs sleeping at the foot of your bed). They don’t toil or spin, sow or reap, fear or worry, because they simply take what life gives them, joyfully.

Ask yourself this one candid question: How different would your life be if you were truly content with what you have, with the life you have been graced with, instead of being disappointed over what you don’t have? Your answer will reveal that happiness is not something you try to find. It is all around you; just accept it.

No, you don’t have to be very smart to be happy. Here is how: Greet each morning with gusto. Savor the little enjoyments of life, for there are many. Be happy to take a walk or get some exercise. Be kind to those you meet along the way, and love the people around you without reserve or hesitation. That’s a dog’s life, and that’s a good life.

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





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A Harborous disposition

By Ronnie McBrayer

By Ronnie McBrayer

Sociologist Robert Putnam wrote a book some years ago entitled, “Bowling Alone.” Bowling, unbelievably, is the most participated in sport in America. Annually, more people bowl than any other single sport. But, fewer people are bowling in leagues than any other time in US history. Thus, people are “bowling alone,” in isolation, not in community and connection with others.

Putnam uses this as a metaphor for our society. While technologically linked (more than ever), we interact far less with people, and are more disconnected, than at any other time in human history. The result is less and less social cohesiveness and civility, breeding conflict, distrust, hostility, and competition.

People of faith, ironically enough, have a solution for this problem. In a word, it is hospitality. Hospitality, as used in the New Testament, is not the act of being nice, though a little kindness would go a long way in this world. Rather, hospitality is openness to the stranger. William Tyndale, one of the first persons to translate the Hebrew and Greek manuscripts of the Bible into English, translated hospitality as, “a harborous disposition.” To create safe harbors, safe places for others to come in from the storm and find safety, wholeness, and welcome—this is hospitality.

A cursory look at the word hospitality shows that Tyndale was on track. Hospital is the root of the word, and a hospital, originally, wasn’t a high-tech medical facility. A hospital was a guesthouse for pilgrims, who were traveling long journeys. These were hostels, hospitals, or hospices, which is the Latin root.

Obviously, hospice has been transliterated directly into English. But hospices, in the original sense of the word, don’t belong exclusively to the healthcare industry; and it’s not just for the dying. Hospitality is a requirement for all weary travelers on their long, varied journeys; and that is, indeed, the work of the church.

Hospitality is an invitation for the stranger to feel welcomed; for the outlier to find a home; for the exhausted to find rest; and for the traveler to resupply for the trail ahead. Hospitality, practiced properly, is to do no less than fulfill the words of Jesus who said, “As you do for the least of these, you do for me. For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me in.”

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 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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