web analytics

Archive | Keeping the Faith

At the Brink

by Ronnie McBrayer

by Ronnie McBrayer

Thirty years ago this month, life as we have known it, came perilously close to ending. It was September 1983, and the Cold War was anything but cold, as the USSR had shot down Korea Air Flight 007 when it strayed near Soviet airspace, killing all 269 civilians on board including Georgia Congressman Larry McDonald.

With passions running high in both Russia and the US, and with thousands of nuclear warheads aimed at each other, one of the greatest heroes of our time quietly went to work at a Soviet military base just outside of Moscow. His name was Lieutenant Colonel Stanislav Petrov.

It was Petrov’s duty to monitor the Soviet alert system in the event of a preemptive nuclear attack by the US. The responding protocol was to launch an immediate counterattack. At Colonel Petrov’s station on September evening, the computer alarms sounded, warning that an American missile was heading toward Moscow.

Petrov waited. He reasoned that it was a computer error. But then, a second warhead was detected; then a third; a fourth, and a fifth. Still, Petrov had a “feeling in his gut,” that the alert system was malfunctioning. Further, it was unthinkable, for him, that he would be the final reason that would end human civilization.

So, Petrov sat on the alert, overrode the system, and prevented the USSR from retaliating. Seconds passed, then minutes, and finally an hour: There were no missiles. The warning system had indeed malfunctioned with near cataclysmic consequences. Singlehandedly, Petrov had prevented nuclear war, simply by not becoming a participant in it.

The Pauline admonition is fitting upon the anniversary of Petrov’s heroics: “Do all that you can to live in peace with everyone.” This is redemptive counsel for us to do all that we can to protect harmony and neutralize conflict.

Not every individual skirmish has the potential to balloon into a global apocalypse. But worldwide wars are not that much different than private ones in the end. It’s the same tit for tat game. The same wounded pride demands to be assuaged. And likewise, at some point, there is an opportunity for someone to step away from the brink.

There is opportunity for someone to refuse to perpetuate the ruthless cycle of attack and counterattack; for someone to reject the established protocol of retaliation; for someone to practice peace. Let that someone be you. You might save the world.

Ronnie McBrayer is a syndicated columnist, pastor, and author of multiple books. You can read more and receive regular e-columns in your inbox at www.ronniemcbrayer.me.

 

Posted in Keeping the FaithComments Off

Take It with You

by Ronnie McBrayer

by Ronnie McBrayer

When I first met Father Thad I was a Baptist minister and he was the priest at the neighborhood Catholic parish. Thad was an astonishing man, a depository of mind-warping experiences, not the least of which was a personal story I loved to hear him tell.

A parish he once led desperately needed to expand its ministry. But one man in the parish absolutely resisted, always squelching prospective change by saying something like, “My grandfather gave the land for this church; my daddy cleared the trees for the building; and we’re not going to change anything.” (Catholics don’t have a monopoly on this sentiment).

Thad finally had enough. In his remarkable way, he secured a diocese blessing and obtained a piece of land on the other side of town. He called the local house builders, and had the church relocated! I have this charming picture in my mind of the church, steeple atop, rolling down the road on stilts led by a vestment-clad Father Thad, reading the gospel and splashing holy water along the way.

When I first heard that story, I told Thad, “If you were a Protestant, you could have just started another church.” His response was priceless: “Why start another church, when you can take it with you?”

Truth told, that is pretty good ecclesiology. Ecclesiology is what seminarians call the “doctrine of the church.” It answers the question: “What is the nature of the church?” After several hundred years of modernity and religious institutionalism, more and more people are recognizing that the church is not a building. The church is a people, not a place. It is a living movement, not a fixed address.

When the last homilies, sermons, songs, testimonies, and prayers are offered at your congregation or parish on Sunday morning, you don’t leave the church. You will leave a specific gathering of the church, certainly, but you take the church with you—because the church is you. You take it on the road, across town, into your workplace or university, into your living room, classroom, and boardroom: You embody the presence of Christ in the world.

We will not be defined so much by “where we go to church,” but by whether or not we will be the church once we leave the building. As Father Thad put it so accurately: “Why start another church, when you can take it with you?”

Ronnie McBrayer is a syndicated columnist, pastor, and author of multiple books. You can read more and receive regular e-columns in your inbox at www.ronniemcbrayer.me

 

Posted in Keeping the FaithComments Off

Let your soul catch up

by Ronnie McBrayer

by Ronnie McBrayer

The first Labor Day celebration was observed in New York City in 1882. It was a movement to honor “the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country.” Not many years later, it became evident that the American worker was such an exceptional and efficient creature, that work hours would soon be reduced to mere shadows of their former oppression.

For example, economist John Mayhard Keynes, in the teeth of the Great Depression, predicted that technological advancements would soon lead to a 15-hour work week. In the mid-1960s, congressional leaders boldly predicted a two-day work week by the year 2000. That prediction has apparently only rung true for congressional leaders, as the average time workers spend on the job has ballooned over the years to nearly 50 hours per week. The predictions of “less work more rest,” is a farce for today’s laborers.

In the book of Genesis, the ancient writer says that on that final day of the first week, God rested. The word for rest means “to enhance one’s soul,” or “to renew the spirit.” When we imitate God in this way, it is an act of worship.

Lettie Cowman, a devotional writer from a century ago, illustrates this with one of her stories from Africa. She wrote about an Englishman who was exploring the deepest jungles of the continent, traveling like British royalty. He had brought with him fine wines, his favorite foods, tons of books and parchments, furniture and clothing.

He had so much that he had to hire an army of strong men from the local villages to portage all this material through the jungle. On the first day of his grand safari he pushed the laborers at an exhausting, God-forsaken pace. But on the second morning, the hired Africans refused to move.

Finally, one of the young men explained that they were not especially tired. Rather, they had gone too far and too fast on the first day, and they had to “wait for their souls to catch up with their bodies.”

Ms. Cowman concluded her story (and I remind you, her words are a century old): “This whirling, rushing life which so many of us live does for us what that first march did for those poor tribesmen. But here is the difference: They knew what they needed to restore life’s balance; too often we do not.” Amen.

Ronnie McBrayer is a syndicated columnist, speaker, and author of multiple books. You can read more and receive regular e-columns in your inbox at www.ronniemcbrayer.me.

 

Posted in Keeping the FaithComments Off

The ones Jesus loves

Ronnie McBrayer

Ronnie McBrayer

“Just who do you think you are?” Now there’s a question that has been posed and pointed more than a few times. Usually it is a weaponized question of sorts, laden with accusation. Nevertheless, I think it is an essential question of spiritual identity.

Consider the writer of the New Testament book commonly known as “John.” Tradition holds that this Gospel was written by the disciple John, one of Jesus’ closest associates, though the writer, mysteriously, never identifies himself by name. He used an alias, a pen name tagged: “The one Jesus loved.”

Why such a moniker? I think he was using a literary device to force his readers to take hold of the core meaning of what it means to be in relationship with Jesus Christ. He was asking the question, “Just who do you think you are?”

John understood that his core identity was directly connected to the love Christ had for him. So much so, that he did not think of himself as a fisherman, a disciple, an apostle, a Gospel writer, or a Church Father. He was simply one who was supremely loved. Likewise, we are not defined by occupation, label, race, nationality, culture, popularity, or the ancillary chorus of the voices around us. We are simply the Ones Jesus Loves. This is who we really are.

Is this too much to understand? Probably so. But I don’t have to understand it to embrace it and live it. I don’t understand the science of how the sun can be 93 million miles away, provide life-giving light to this planet, and keep our solar system from devolving into chaos, but I believe it, and I experience its light and heat every day. I don’t understand Newton’s Law of Gravitation or Einstein’s later Theory of Relativity, but I know these things keep my feet grounded on planet earth every day, and anchor me within this time and space.

I understand very little about these things. But can’t God’s love in Christ work the same way? As a shining light, a grounding force, a sustaining atmosphere; an affection, passion, and serenity that gives us life and meaning?

No, we can only understand bits and piece of it all, but our lack of complete knowledge should not prevent us from believing and living this fact: We are unconditionally and eternally adored by God. We are indeed, the Ones Jesus Loves.

Ronnie McBrayer is a syndicated columnist, speaker, and author of multiple books. You can read more and receive regular e-columns in your inbox at www.ronniemcbrayer.me

 

Posted in Keeping the FaithComments Off

The Rabbi’s Gift

 

Ronnie McBrayer

Ronnie McBrayer

By Ronnie McBrayer

 

There is a story about a declining monastery. Once it had thrived, but now it was decimated; only a few old monks remained. Deep in the monastery woods was a little cabin where a rabbi occasionally came for retreat. No one ever spoke with him, but for as long as he was there, the monks would feel blessed by his presence.

One day the abbot decided to visit the rabbi and open his heart to him. As he approached the hut, the abbot saw the rabbi in the doorway. It was as if he had been awaiting the abbot’s arrival. The two entered the hut and simply sat in the stillness. Finally, the rabbi spoke, “I know you have come to ask a teaching of me. But it is the same in my town. Almost no one comes to the synagogue anymore.”

When the time came for the abbot to leave, he pressed the rabbi: “Is there nothing you can give us that would help us save our dying order?” The rabbi paused and said quietly, “Well, there is one thing: One of you is the Messiah.”

The next morning, the abbot called his monks together. He told them he had spoken to the old rabbi and said bluntly, “The rabbi said that one of us is the Messiah.” In the weeks that followed, the old monks thought about the rabbi’s words and wondered whether it could actually be true – the Messiah is one of us?

Thinking like this, the old monks began to treat each other with extraordinary respect on the off chance that one of them just might actually be the Messiah. A gentle, warm-hearted, concern began to grow among them which was hard to describe but easy to notice.

Over time, as people visited the beautiful forest in which the monastery was home, they sensed the extraordinary respect that now began to radiate from the place. People began to come back to the monastery more frequently to picnic, play, meditate, and pray.

Then it happened that some of the younger men who came to visit the monastery started to talk with the old monks. Then one joined them. Then another. And another. Within a few years the monastery had once again become a thriving order and light to the community, thanks to the rabbi’s gift, a gift that taught them to love others, expecting the very best.

Ronnie McBrayer is a syndicated columnist, speaker, and author of multiple books. You can read more and receive regular e-columns in your inbox at www.ronniemcbrayer.me

 

Posted in Keeping the FaithComments Off

No More Show-And-Tell

Ronnie McBrayer

Ronnie McBrayer

In American literature, the biggest religious pretender of all time is probably Sinclair Lewis’ Elmer Gantry. Gantry begins his career in the early 1900s at a little country church (while trying to seduce the daughter of one of the deacons). Eventually he becomes a traveling evangelist who steals from the till, chases skirts, and stays drunk most of the time; but his preaching is phenomenal, so he always has a crowd.

Granted, the evangelist type is an easy mark. Public religious figures are easily labeled as “hypocrites and charlatans.” Gantry wasn’t the first and he certainly won’t be the last. But his real wickedness was not his sins. We are all made of clay. It was his two-faced dishonesty. He did what he did out of pride, ambition, and self-glory. He was performing for the audience. That is hypocrisy.

The word “hypocrite,” in its original context, is a great old word right from the Greek and Roman theaters of ancient times that means “play-actor.” A hypocrite was a person who played multiple roles on the stage. But over time, a hypocrite came to mean a person who changed his or her mask for applause. As Jesus used the word, a hypocrite was one who played to the crowd. He or she was someone who performed for the audience – like Elmer Gantry – and at points, like everyone.

In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus said that hypocrites “receive all the reward they will ever get.” If you play for the crowd, he inferred, or if your ambition is to draw attention to yourself, then when you get it, you earned your pay. There is no further reward, benefit, or other prize. God has nothing for you but an empty hand.

Alternatively, Jesus offers a healthier way. “When you give,” he says, “don’t let your left hand know what your right hand is doing. When you pray, go to a closet and shut the door. When you sacrifice for a cause, don’t broadcast it.” In other words, keep your religious activities on the quiet side; as much as possible, keep it between you and God. Otherwise, you risk corrupting what would be a good deed.

My friend Landon Saunders said it superlatively many years ago. Commenting on the religious tendencies for show-and-tell he suggested that we, “Wear our religion like we wear our underwear; make it rarely visible.” That’s good advice, indeed.

Ronnie McBrayer is a syndicated columnist, speaker, and author of multiple books. You can read more and receive regular e-columns in your inbox at www.ronniemcbrayer.me

 

Posted in Keeping the FaithComments Off

Fight On

Ronnie McBrayer

Ronnie McBrayer

By Ronnie McBrayer

 

My friend has cancer. I have been accompanying her as she receives weekly chemotherapy. These treatments are administered in an “infusion laboratory.” The “lab” is a simple room with comfortable lounge chairs lining the walls. Each chair has an infusion pump that pushes what everyone prays is cancer-killing compounds through the body.

There are those tucked into those chairs who look well, and others who are obviously ill; those who have been making pilgrimage to the lab for years; and those who are newbies. Some are alone; some are with friends or family; some discretely hide their baldness, and others wear the rigors of treatment like a badge of honor.

And when it comes to coping, the differences are manifold as well. Some are in shock over their prognosis. Some are depressed. Some have a stoic, Zen-like acceptance. Some keep smiling no matter what, and some are as mad as hell – at life, God, physicians – at anyone who can be held responsible.

Then some patients have all these feelings simultaneously. Don’t be fooled: Coping with a major illness is not as orderly as textbooks led us to believe. It is a hot mess of total emotion when facing one’s personal mortality.  But for all the compare and contrast of these unique individuals, they are all held together by the solidarity of their battle. Through the blood, sweat, and tears they fight like gladiators in the arena, for they are desperately fighting for their lives. More so, they are fighting for what it means to be human.

Disease does more than “steal, kill, and destroy” the physique. It attempts to deprive a person of his or her dignity. It endeavors to smother the internal flame and erase the spirit of the one who suffers. So those fighting horrible illnesses are not just fighting for a few more years. They are fighting for what it means to be a human being. They are marshalling all their grit and resilience (and something that borders on elegance), not just to stay alive physically, but to guard their very souls.

Those in the arena understand that physical life may be taken from them, but by God’s grace, no disease will ever rob them of their humanity, identity, and their innate worth as creations of the Almighty. They understand that the fight may not change their prognosis, but the fight prevents the disease from changing them.

Ronnie McBrayer is a syndicated columnist, speaker, and author of multiple books. You can read more and receive regular e-columns in your inbox at www.ronniemcbrayer.me

 

Posted in Keeping the FaithComments Off

Take it outside

Ronnie McBrayer

Ronnie McBrayer

By Ronnie McBrayer

Pastor Kyle was fresh out of the seminary—green, idealistic, and zealous. Wanting to make a difference by emphasizing the importance of world missions, Kyle invited one of his peers to be the special missionary speaker.
This peer was a young man who had been raised in Africa by missionary parents. He would soon be graduating with a missiology degree of his own, and would be returning to African soil to continue the good work. Perfect! But there was a problem. Kyle’s friend was an African. No person of color had ever stood in the pulpit of this Texas Baptist church.
Kyle pressed on with youthful enthusiasm. On the appointed day the young African arrived and spoke with passion and love for his continent. He was received well by the congregation, but not everyone was happy. At the next church business meeting, a man stood and said, “I’m tired of this preacher talking about race all the time, and I’m fixin’ to whip his #&$.”
Pastor Kyle said later, “At first the people got more upset that he said ‘#&$’ in church, than the fact that he was going to whip me!” But here the guy came, climbing over the pews like scaling a ladder toward Kyle. Just as he got to him, four big men intervened and said, “If you’re going to whip the preacher…take it outside.”
The entire congregation spilt outside and gathered in a circle to see the prize fight. Kyle had no idea what to do; but again, just as the first punch was about to be thrown, those same men intervened. “If you’re going to whip the preacher,” they said, “you’ll have to start with us.” The man backed down, never to return.
When Kyle returned to that church many years later for an anniversary service, to his jaw-dropping astonishment, half the congregation was African-American! “How could this be?” he asked a number of the “old-timers” still around from the younger days.
One man answered, “Well, preacher, after you left, the neighborhood around us began to change. And we had a decision to make: Dig in, move away, or open our doors to our neighbors. Thanks to what you taught us, we opened our doors.” Kyle’s few years at that little church in the Texas pines as an inexperienced, didn’t-know-any-better-than-to-try seminarian had really made a difference in the lives of the community – and the world.
Ronnie McBrayer is a syndicated columnist, speaker, and author of multiple books. You can read more and receive regular e-columns in your inbox at www.ronniemcbrayer.me.

Posted in Keeping the FaithComments Off

Catching Up

Ronnie McBrayer

Ronnie McBrayer

By Ronnie McBrayer

 

“Be sure your sins will find you out.” That’s what the Good Book says, and my mother quoted those words to me a lot while I was growing up. In fact, she once arranged for the public demonstration of this proverb.

I was in the seventh grade, and someone was habitually stealing my lunch from my classroom cubby. My mother complained, vigorously. Still, the thievery continued. So, she then did something unexpected: She took matters into her own hands.

My mother made a sandwich combining dog food with that greasy potted meat compost. Then she sweetened the deal with a nicely baked brownie, Ex-lax being the main ingredient. The thought of my good Christian mother orchestrating and executing such a devious plan of revenge made my teenage heart leap with joy.

On the Day of Judgment I placed my lunch in its usual location and went to math class. Later, when I returned to fetch it – to my sinister delight – it was gone. I nearly hyperventilated with delight. I watched the absentee roll for the next several days, and discovered that Dexter Wilkey missed three days in a row. When he finally returned to school, he was still a little green around the gills. Obviously, mother and I had our man.

How is it that our wrongdoings always float to the surface? Cheat on your taxes and lo and behold that’s the one year you get audited. Cheat on your wife and that will be the inopportune time she investigates the extra charges on your Visa card. Steal from your boss and expect a pink slip. It might take a while to catch up with you, but “catch up” is coming nonetheless.

Sure, some will get away with it – but not many. Call it sin, the inescapable justice of the universe, karma, or bad juju – whatever. “It” has a way of catching up with you no matter what. So what is the solution?

Wave the white flag of surrender. Stop skimming off the till. Stay faithful to your spouse. Cut up a credit card. Be honest at work. Quit stealing little boys’ lunches (Shame on you Dexter! I thought we were friends.).

It’s never too late to do the right thing. Never. Unless of course you’ve got that brownie shoved half-way down your throat already. If that’s the case, well, Godspeed. Your sins have caught up with you after all.

Ronnie McBrayer is a syndicated columnist, speaker, and author of multiple books. You can read more and receive regular e-columns in your inbox at www.ronniemcbrayer.me

 

Posted in Keeping the FaithComments Off

Seeing stars

Ronnie McBrayer

Ronnie McBrayer

by Ronnie McBrayer

 

On the wall of my childhood Sunday School class was a giant, gridlined poster board that looked sort of like an Excel spreadsheet. There was a place for each child’s name, and then all of these vacant boxes running to the right, eager to be filled with shining gold stars. Did you bring an offering? Put a gilded check in the box! Are you staying for worship? A trophy is yours. Read your Bible every day this week? Another star blesses you from heaven.

I always had a shining wall full of stars, hungry as I was for that elusive divine and adult approval; and I sometimes led the class. But then there was Philip Johns, my most fierce competitor. He was a religious machine. I could only beat him a few months out of each year, and in my daily prayers I had to often repent for wishing he would get struck with the flu, chickenpox, or leprosy – anything – so that he would be sidelined just long enough for me to squeak out the winning margin.

It was that simple: Complete a religious assignment and get a star. Those with more stars were more dedicated, more spiritual, more committed, and obviously more beloved by God. Those with fewer stars, well, their faithfulness was suspect at best. When we engrain a competitive spirit into faith—a culture of public shame and reward—is it any wonder we end up with some really faith-damaged adults?

There is plenty to compete for and against in this world. But Christianity is not one of those things. Spiritual formation is not a competition. Faith is not – or at least it should not be – an instrument to humiliate those who just “can’t measure up.”

And then there are those of us who “won” the religious game, we who earned our bounteous gold stars with pride. We are committed – let there be no mistake about that – but committed to what, exactly? Obligation? Checklists? To the fawning cheers of the spectators? To seeing our name high and lifted up in heavenly constellations?

Our religious efforts and activities to please, praise, or placate God can become the very things that actually distract us from God. For if Christian faith becomes a work-based, blood-sweat-and-tears, incentive-driven, reward-acquisition staircase that compensates the winners and shames the losers, then the focus is placed on us and our rivals, not upon Christ.

Ronnie McBrayer is a syndicated columnist, speaker, and author of multiple books. You can read more and receive regular e-columns in your inbox at www.ronniemcbrayer.me

 

Posted in Keeping the FaithComments Off

advert

LOCAL Advertisers

The POST
Bryne Electrical
Kent Theatre

Get the Cedar Springs Post in your mailbox for only $35.00 a year!