web analytics

Archive | Keeping the Faith

What We Carry

by Ronnie McBrayer

by Ronnie McBrayer

Accumulate. It’s a dangerous little word that is employed to describe gently falling snow or the harmless growth of lint on the top bookshelf. But those things that slowly accumulate can become merciless blizzards or a horde of cascading dust bunnies.

What the Bible calls “trials and tribulations” accumulate, too. A setback. A disappointment. A protracted illness. A wayward child. Deep, wordless pain. Without a sound, the weariness of life gathers until one day a look out the window reveals drifts the size of sand dunes crushing against the soul.

And sometimes it’s not the accumulation of various difficulties that grows so heavy; it’s the accumulation of time. A load that was once manageable becomes impossible to bear if it is carried too long. A case in point: consider the familiar case of the weighted water bottle.

Take in your hand a water bottle. It weighs very little. How long can you hold it in your outstretched arm? A few minutes and you won’t be aware of the weight. Hold it for an hour and you will develop pain, tremors, and weakness. Hold it for hours on end and you will end up in need of a chiropractor or orthopedist. The bottle’s weight, over time, will break down even the strongest person.

All of us suffer from accumulation: The accumulation of hardships or the accumulation of time—what we used to bear with ease, is now too much. What do we do then? Some of us have been taught to tough it out. Others are taught to ignore it.

So caught between comforters who offer no comfort and burdens that cannot be unburdened, those who suffer usually go crazy, grow numb, or give up. They suffer in silence, the accumulating pain gathering oh so steadily, until they break. But in the breaking is the deliverance.

Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens.” Obviously, he was offering more than harsh motivation or disparaging clichés. He was speaking to those who needed actual relief. “I will give you rest for your souls,” he said.

Quite simply, when one has been sufficiently broken—cracked open by life’s experiences—then the relief and redemption they so desperately need will be there waiting for them. As Leonard Cohen wrote, “There’s a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.” And that’s exactly how accumulated burdens get lifted.

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

 

 

Posted in Keeping the FaithComments Off

The Scars of Forgiveness

by Ronnie McBrayer

by Ronnie McBrayer

In 1939 General Francisco Franco, an ambitious Spanish military officer, became the absolute ruler of Spain. Franco took the title El Caudillo—the Leader—and he was ruthlessly so until his death more than 30 years later. He was responsible for the death or imprisonment of more than 50,000 of his opponents.

As Franco lay dying, a priest was called to his bedside. The priest, having lived under Franco’s regime, asked him what could have been a dangerous question: “My son, have you forgiven all of your enemies?” El Caudillo replied, “Father, I have no enemies.” The priest asked, “Then you have made peace with them?” Franco reportedly answered, “No. I have no enemies because I killed them all.”

That deathbed conversation defines the only two ways that we can be rid of our enemies. We can destroy them, the way of the world; or we can forgive them, the way of Christ. The latter way isn’t easy, yet it is necessary. It is the Christ-prescribed path for personal and corporate healing.

Healing, yes, but forgiveness is not a magic wand that puts everything marvelously back into place. No doubt, it can have incredible reconciling powers, but forgiveness doesn’t save every marriage, restore every family, or repair every broken relationship. It won’t necessarily make you feel good about your son-in-law, your ex-wife, or your step-son. And it is a guarantee that when you try to forgive or reconcile with some people, it will bounce off of them like a rock skipping across flat water.

Consider Christ himself. With the central act of God’s loving grace, Jesus died on a cross and was resurrected from the dead, bringing life and forgiveness to all. He did what he did, deliberately, becoming a suffering symbol of all that had gone wrong with the world, the personification of the shameful way humanity spurns God’s embrace, harms each other, and injures creation. But even the risen Jesus has scars, scars for those who will never in their lifetimes respond to this love.

Yet, his scars are undying signs that the damage that humans inflict on one another can mercifully end. His scars can resolve all disputes and end all animosities, not by means of unending revenge, but with eternal forgiveness. May we who bear the name of Christ, also bear on our bodies the scars that show we belong to Jesus—the scars of forgiveness.

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

 

 

Posted in Keeping the FaithComments Off

The End of the World as We Know It

by Ronnie McBrayer

by Ronnie McBrayer

The year was 387 and Irish pirates were plundering the Scottish coast. There they captured a young man named Maewyn and carried them back to Ireland where he became a slave. And there, Maewyn began to talk to God, and as the story goes, God began talking to him.

God instructed Maewyn to flee to the coast where the boy found a boat bound for Scotland. He was reunited with his family after many years. Then God spoke again, coming to Maewyn in his dreams. God wanted him to return to Ireland. Maewyn entered theological training, and at the conclusion of his studies, took the Latin name, Patricius. We know him as Padraig or Patrick.

When Patrick arrived in Ireland as a Christian missionary he had a decision to make about how to do his work. It was the custom of Christian missionaries – then and for the next 1500 years – not to introduce others to Jesus, but to make them citizens of the Empire.

A culture was “Christianized” not when it conformed to the words and ways of Jesus, but when it submitted to the rule of the Roman Caesar or the conquering king. The local culture was eradicated, replaced by that of the conquerors, and Christianity was used as an instrument in that process.

But rather than imposing an imperial faith on the Irish people, Patrick met them where they were and let faith erupt naturally. He did not overpower, he obliged. He did not impose, he invited. He did not attack, he adapted. He came in humility and simplicity, attempting to foster faith, not force it.

We still have much to learn from old Patrick: Vulnerability. Service. Humility. Meeting people where they are. Treating neighbors with dignity and respect. Honoring the lives and stories of those we encounter – plain civility – may be the only way to keep a society from devouring itself.

When we live with a no-compromise, never give-an-inch, militant attitude, and meet every person outside our circle with distrust, it creates a divisive, violent, negative, attack-based culture with an atmosphere of hateful rhetoric and suspicion. It destroys a community.

Of course, we could imitate St. Patrick by taking the way of peace, love for neighbors, welcome and inclusion. Living this way will end of the world as we know it as well – but it might be the kind of end that gives rebirth to the world.

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. 

 

Posted in Keeping the FaithComments Off

Break the Kettles

by Ronnie McBrayer

by Ronnie McBrayer

One of the more indispensable words of instruction I have ever received came from Dr. Fred Luskin who was head of the Stanford University Forgiveness Project. He said, “To forgive is to give up all hope for a better past.” According to Luskin, what keeps people frozen solid with the regrets and shame of yesteryear is the lingering optimism that they might go back and change it.

The Chinese have a proverb to this effect. “Break the kettles and sink the ships,” they say. This saying comes from an ancient military battle almost 2000 years ago. A new tribal king came to power and immediately attacked his neighbor, surrounding the city of Julu. The king of Julu called for reinforcements from his generals, and the army came marching to save their king.

But the rescuing generals dragged their feet. So the march to save the king became a quagmire as the generals’ strategizing devolved into feasting and drunkenness. Finally, a junior officer man named Xiang Yu took command. Immediately, he marched his army across the Yellow River to engage the enemy.

On the other side, Xiang Yu gave his men three days’ worth of food and supplies and destroyed everything else, including the boats that had brought them across the river, their tents and sleeping mats, their eating utensils, and their cooking kettles. In so doing, Xiang Yu was sending a clear signal to his troops that they had no chance of survival by going backwards. They had to move forward, and they did, rescuing their king.

The way into the future is exactly by this decisive path. We must do the hard work of feeling the pain of the past so that we might be free from it. Then the future calls us forward, not because we have forgotten the past, but because we have made peace with the past; and the only way to make that peace is to quit trying to change what is back there.

Will we have to let go of some painful memories time and again? Yes. Will some things from the past haunt us longer than others? Absolutely. Will we come to the same river crossing more than once? It is likely. But when we do, the choice will always be the same. “Break the kettles and sink the ships.” Then, one day, the past will be where it belongs: In the past.

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

 

Posted in Keeping the FaithComments Off

All That Once Was Good

by Ronnie McBrayer

by Ronnie McBrayer

“Pitchers and Catchers report!” It’s as sure a sign of the coming spring as erupting dandelions. Yes, the return of baseball is a bellwether of warmer days, even if baseball itself should expect a somewhat chilly reception these days.

Critics say the games are too long and tedious. Smart, run-scoring strategy has been replaced by brutish free-swinging for the cheap seats, say baseball’s purists. And don’t even get tongues wagging about that Yankee third baseman.

For my own part, I’ve had a suspicion about the game for some time. After the players’ strike of the mid 1990s I lost faith. The more recent scandals involving performance enhancing drugs and the obscene amounts of money paid to mere mortals for throwing and striking a rawhide ball have done nothing to reclaim my confidence. And have you taken your kids to a game lately? To park, $30. For tickets, $75, $60 for sodas and snacks. And forget the souvenirs. I can’t swing that kind of cash.

What makes all of this so difficult to take is the fact that some of my fondest memories center on baseball. Some of my fondest memories were also made at church; in the little “church in the wildwood” of my formative years.

The pew bottoms were made of wooden slats that creaked and groaned during the service, pinching this little boy’s behind and picking holes in my mother’s pantyhose. On August nights I can recall the fiery summer revivals in that old house of worship – fiery in preaching and temperature – as I struggled to understand all that was going on.

Was this church “better” than what I have experienced as an adult? Probably not. Was it simpler, more sincere? Probably so. Major League Baseball and much of the church in America have arrived at the same place. Both are more driven by market and commercial forces than by a true sense of what they are. We are all the worse for it.

Terence Mann in “Field of Dreams,” may have captured the sentiment best. Standing in that enchanted cornfield-turned-baseball-diamond, he says, “They’ll walk out to the bleachers; sit in shirtsleeves on a perfect afternoon…along one of the baselines, where they sat when they were children and cheered their heroes…This field, this game: it’s a part of our past. It reminds us of all that once was good; and it could be again.” May it be so.

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.

 

Posted in Keeping the FaithComments Off

More than Words

by Ronnie McBrayer

by Ronnie McBrayer

Frederick and Elizabeth Noble got married on New Year’s Day, 1941. It was World War 2 and Frederick was on a 48-hour leave from his British Tank Regiment. Between military assignments, Frederick took time to write love letters and send telegrams back to Elizabeth; hundreds of them. Mostly he wrote about home and how much he missed his new bride.

Finally, Frederick did make it home, and rarely did he leave Elizabeth’s side again. The two settled in the English countryside and raised a large, beautiful family. After both had died, their children opened a tea chest that contained almost every love letter Frederick and Elizabeth had ever exchanged. Many were from the war years, but some were exchanged late in life, while the couple was in their 90s.

Yet, the collection, in and of itself, is unremarkable. What gives the collection power, is what gives all such things their power: The love that brought them into being, for each word was driven by devotion. Every sentence was constructed with affection. Each paragraph served as a confession of a love stronger than death. Indeed, Frederick and Elizabeth both died just days apart. Love had truly made the two, one.

Have you ever received such a love letter? Do you have a collection of such words, words motivated by adoration, words from your beloved? Actually, you do. It’s that best-selling book of all time; that leather-bound volume shoved into the nightstand drawer or sitting ragged and dog-eared on the kitchen table. Or if you prefer, it’s downloaded as an app on your mobile device. It’s the Bible, and yes, it is a love letter written to you.

“A love letter? I thought the Bible was a book of religious laws, full of condemnation, genocide, hard to pronounce surnames, and the occasional children’s story. Isn’t it just a bunch of words?”

Might you look deeper, for the Bible is a powerful thing, enlivened by God’s Spirit and constructed by divine affection? “For God so loved the world,” the familiar text says, “that he gave his only begotten Son.” That’s a summary of the whole, forever shattering the concept that the Bible is just a collection of printed pages.

No, it is a love story; a love letter. It is a doorway to experience Christ, the Christ who genuinely loves us – more than mere words – the Christ who just couldn’t live without 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.

 

Posted in Keeping the FaithComments Off

Like a rock

by Ronnie McBrayer

by Ronnie McBrayer

This year Bob Seger will celebrate his tenth anniversary in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. His songs and persona are legendary. My personal Seger favorite is “Like a Rock,” and it has nothing to do with Chevrolet pickup trucks. I associate the lyrics with the evening of my high school graduation: “I stood there boldly, sweatin’ in the sun, felt like a million, felt like number one; the height of summer, I’d never felt that strong, like a rock.” And then the refrain, a refrain Seger wrote about himself as a younger man: “Like a rock, I was strong as I could be; like a rock, nothin’ ever got to me; like a rock, I was something to see; like a rock.”

Seger captures the years of youth, perfectly. It is a time of unbridled optimism, strength, and arrogance. A young person can do anything, be anything, try anything, and overcome anything. No challenge is too big, too tough, or too much. Honestly, youngsters need this kind of bravado and audacity when life is just getting started. But he or she will also learn that do-everything, dare-anybody, defy-anything of youthfulness, doesn’t last.

We live a little while and experience a few disappointments. We bury loved ones, suffer loss and betrayal, age, have our hearts broken, or muddle through a couple decades of muted frustration. Then we learn, and this learning is as absolutely necessary as youthful strength, that we really aren’t like a rock—at least not anymore. Life, like erosion, has a way of reducing the hardest stone into sand.

But the recognition that we won’t always be “standin’ arrow straight, chargin’ from the gate, and carryin’ the weight,” is not cause for despair. It is liberation. It is deliverance from the “try-harder-and-do-more” life. It is release from the totalitarian, gladiator ethic of “If it’s going to be, it is up to me.” It is surrender, and surrender is where life begins.

“If you try to hang on to your life,” Jesus said, “then you will lose it.” This “hanging on” includes our personal arrogance and stubborn self-reliance. We learn to let these go, not because we have hopelessly given up, but because we have given over. We have exchanged our failing abilities and life for the power of God and his life. We have learned to live a life entrusted to the Rock that is Christ.

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

 

 

Posted in Keeping the FaithComments Off

Turn down the “Stinking Thinking”

by Ronnie McBrayer

by Ronnie McBrayer

It is a word of affirmation, comfort, agreement, and relief. It is a word that completes vows, promises, blessings, and all of our prayers. It is a word of release, signaling the end of far too lengthy worship services; and it is the “Get ready…Get set…Go!” when we have gathered around the dinner table to eat. The word, of course, is “Amen.”

At its most basic definition “Amen” means, “Let it be.” Thus, when we say “Amen” at the conclusion of our prayers, we are not saying, “the end.” We are actually beginning, for we are confirming and confessing our trust in the God to whom we have just prayed. We are saying “Yes” to God’s perspective, and we are saying “No” to all other perspectives. Every “Amen” becomes an argument to convince ourselves, over and over again, that God knows us best and knows what is best for us.

And speaking of “God knows,” God knows we tend to argue with ourselves. We have these conversations with ourselves that some have learned to call, “Stinking Thinking.” We create these stories inside our heads about how we have failed; how ashamed we should be; how unworthy we are; how utterly useless our lifework has been; how we are a lousy father, mother, parent, or whatever. I’m convinced that many people can’t be quiet and can’t still their minds because they can’t bear what they say to themselves in the quiet moments.

They have to keep the volume of life turned up to ear-bleeding levels and keep the pace of life at breakneck speed. These people aren’t busy; they are suffering. They are attempting to smother the voices in their heads, because a majority of the time the self-guided narrative to which they are listening is erroneous, untrue, and downright destructive.

This, then, is one of the great benefits of prayer: People who pray are reprogramming their software. They are overwriting the faulty components of their thinking. They are experiencing the transformation of their hearts and minds, for in learning to listen to God’s voice in prayer they can turn down the cacophony of voices around them. And yes, these other voices include the “Stinking Thinking” inside their own heads.

Such praying may not get one everything he or she asks for, but such praying may lead one to getting what he or she needs. To that, I must say, “Amen.”

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. 

 

Posted in Keeping the FaithComments Off

You Will Be Free

by Ronnie McBrayer

by Ronnie McBrayer

Before and during the US Civil War, tens of thousands of slaves made their way out of slavery on what was nicknamed the Underground Railroad. It was a secret escape from the Deep South. The slaves were assisted by people known as “conductors,” who transported their precious cargo by clandestine means, all the dangerous miles to freedom. And it was Ms. Harriet Tubman who was the greatest single conductor in the history of the Underground Railroad.

An escaped slave herself, Tubman was responsible for leading nearly a thousand people to freedom. And though she journeyed deep into slave territories many times with a huge bounty on her head, she was never caught. She said, “I did something most train conductors can’t never say. I never run my train off the track and I never lost a passenger.” She credited her success to two things. First, she believed she was protected by God. And second, once a slave came into her custody, no matter how afraid or demoralized that person might become, she never let them return to their chains. She would say to them, with all the resolve her five-foot frame could muster, “You will be free…or you will die.”

This has been the motto of freedom fighters from Harriet Tubman and Patrick Henry to William Wallace and Nelson Mandela. Of course, who can think of freedom without hearing the iconic words of Dr. King: “When we let freedom ring…we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children…will be able to join hands and sing, ‘Free at last, free at last. Thank God Almighty, we are free at last.’”

Freedom is God’s intention for all of his children; for all people. What God has lovingly planned and what Jesus has dramatically accomplished is far more than a change in the human perspective; it is an actual change of status. It is more than the alleviation of the feeling of hopelessness; it is the alleviation of actual hopelessness. It is not psychosomatic therapy; it is actual rescue from slavery, in all its varied forms—spiritual, emotional, psychological, and physical. All aspects of captivity are eradicated in the liberty of Christ. In the elegant words of Placide Cappeau, “Chains shall he break, for the slave is our brother; and in his name all oppression shall cease.” Put more bluntly, “You will be free.” May it be so.

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. 

 

Posted in Keeping the FaithComments Off

Choose the future

by Ronnie McBrayer

by Ronnie McBrayer

Last year, after years of internal deliberation, Boston’s Old South Congregational Church finally decided to sell one of its hymnals. This was no ordinary hymnal. It was printed in 1640—one of the first books produced in North America. When Sotheby’s auctioned the hymnal a few weeks ago it brought a sum of $14.2 million, a new record for a printed book. But that astronomical sum did not free the church from controversy.

On one side were the church historians and those members of the congregation who felt they had to preserve the church’s history and legacy. On the other side were Pastor Nancy Taylor, the majority of the leadership, and those who felt that faithful stewardship demanded that the resources of the church not be preserved but repurposed to continue ministry.

I watched this story unfold for over a year, and was sympathetic to both sides until I heard the church historian say that the church had two of these exceptional books and if one was sold, “You would never be able to hold one in each hand ever again.” Of course, he had to admit that holding them was not really practical—they are much too fragile for that.

One thoughtful woman in the church said, “I have two young sons, and looking forward I want my sons to learn that it’s not about objects. We can take those objects from the past and turn them into fuel for tomorrow.”

What an applicable lesson for us all. As one year ends and another begins, a profound choice is put before every person: Will we hold on to the past – preserving, protecting, and perpetuating it – even when doing so becomes much more work than it is worth? Or will we use the past, its gore and its glory, as fuel for the future?

I am certain that a church older than the Constitution, old enough to have baptized the infant Benjamin Franklin, and solid enough to withstand everything three centuries has thrown at it, will indeed weather this current situation.

I just hope that the resources from the past will get put to today’s use, and not be locked away in a vault or collect interest in some obscene-sized endowment. I hope the same for all of us. Let’s not make life a museum built to what used to be, but a mission to bring about what can be.

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.

 

Posted in Keeping the FaithComments Off