web analytics

Archive | Keeping the Faith

More than a change of scenery

 

By Ronnie McBrayer

By Ronnie McBrayer

 

“Repent” is a religious word I’ve heard most of my life, and to this day, it still makes the hair on the back of my neck stand with fright. As a child, I heard the call to repent burst from the lips of many a revival preacher.

With the evangelist’s bulging carotids, burning eyes, and angry finger pointing, I could feel the fires of hell licking at my heels. I repented every chance I got (whether I needed it or not). But for most, this kind of intensity is reserved for the sandwich-board-prophets of our time with the declaration that “The End Is Near.”

Still, we should not be robbed of a good word. But what does it mean? It means we must change our minds or turn around. It’s shorthand for starting over, to completely forsake one way of life and take up another. Repentance means our suspicion is replaced by compassion; vengeance is replaced by forgiveness; those we despised because of their race or color or gender are now accepted; and where there was greed, now is found generosity.

A couple of years ago a friend of mine went out and bought this huge, grotesque recreational vehicle that was a rolling luxury home. Satellite television; queen-sized bed; stainless steel appliances; Berber carpet; surround sound. This vehicle was a technological masterpiece, and I was scandalized.

If you’re going to go camping, go camping. Strap on a backpack. Hike a few hills and feel the burn in your thighs and in your lungs. Eat out of a can. Sit around a campfire. Sleep in a tent with a stream lulling you to sleep. Swat bugs. That’s camping. So I said to my friend, “Russ, you can go to the woods and never leave home!” He answered, “That’s the idea.”

We live our lives the same way. Yes, we need to change some things—our attitudes, our priorities, our biases. Instead, we often just rearrange the furniture, change our surroundings a bit, or adjust the landscape. We succeed in taking our dysfunction down the road with us, never experiencing anything that resembles transformation.

Repentance is not about saying a prayer or complying with the wishes of some wild-eyed preacher. It is about conversion. It is about a fundamental change in who you are, not just a change of scenery. Ultimately, it is about becoming who you were always made to be.

Ronnie McBrayer is a syndicated columnist, blogger, pastor, and author of multiple books. Visit his website at www.ronniemcbrayer.net and listen to his talks by clicking on his YouTube channel.

Posted in Keeping the FaithComments Off

He who has ears

By Ronnie McBrayer

By Ronnie McBrayer

One autumn afternoon, my twin sister and I were ripping up the soil in my grandmother’s fallow garden. My sister, in her clod-crushing zeal, miscalculated the distance between us and I was summarily whacked on top of the head with a garden hoe.

My parents were called and they arrived to whisk me away to the office of Dr. Jerry Barron, one of only three doctors in town. Dr. Barron, sadly, was a community acknowledged quack, but on this afternoon he was the only option. See, Dr. Thompson did not work on Wednesdays, and nobody really visited Doc Hill anymore, not unless it was a matter of life and death.

So, it was with great trepidation that I was dragged into an examination room, where Dr. Barron separated me from my parents, asking them to remain in his clinic lobby. He, his two nurses, and an office receptionist held me down to place a dozen stitches in my scalp.

I twisted and turned, convulsed and screamed, begging someone to explain what was happening. They continued their work, never saying a word to me. Finally, I screamed at the top of my lungs, “Will someone please talk to me!”

That was the magic phrase. Dr. Barron and his team of tormentors stopped what they were doing. He looked me in the eyes, finally explained what they were trying to do, how long it would take, and how much it would or would not hurt. I then lay perfectly still until the procedure was complete. I only needed someone to listen to me.

Listening is largely a lost art. Medical professionals run us through their offices like cattle through a chute. Politicians stubbornly ignore our voices. Our children discount our counsel. Trusted friends won’t lift a gaze from their glowing capacitive screens to look us in the eyes.

As I get older I understand more and more why Jesus often said, “He who has ears let him hear,” before uttering some mind-blowing instruction. Because for the most part, we do not use those two fleshy instruments attached to the sides of our heads.

I wonder what would happen in our homes, office cubicles, classrooms, doctor’s offices, church sanctuaries, and houses of legislation if we who have ears took the time to actually use them. We just might discover the greatest advancement in the history of human communication—the ability to not say a single word.

Ronnie McBrayer is a syndicated columnist, blogger, pastor, and author of multiple books. Visit his website at www.ronniemcbrayer.net and listen to his talks by clicking on his YouTube channel.

Posted in Keeping the FaithComments Off

Hush your mouth

By Ronnie McBrayer

By Ronnie McBrayer

From all reports, Juergen Peters was a bright, sweet young man. But he was often troubled, depressed, and dark. After an intense dispute at work one day he turned unusually dismal, even for him. He walked off his job and climbed to the top of a water tower with every intention of jumping to his death. As authorities rushed to the scene, a crowd of onlookers also gathered.

At some point Juergen, thankfully, was convinced to change course. He carefully began climbing to the ground. The crowd, deprived of a sensational conclusion, did not take its disappointment lying down. Someone yelled to the boy, “Jump, you coward!”

As Peters descended the tower more and more spectators began to jeer and deride him. He hesitated, looked down at the crowd, and then climbed back up. When he reached the top again, he moved out on the ledge and flung himself off.

If Juergen Peters had made it safely to the ground that day, I don’t know if he would have received the mental health intervention he so badly needed. But I do know this: The cause of death may have read “suicide,” but those in the crowd could have been detained as accomplices to the crime.

This is a tragic, dramatic story, but a necessary one: We are destroying one another with our words as hateful, spiteful rhetoric spills from all corners of society. Road rage. Bullying at school. Toxic hate speech. Political opponents locked in verbal assault. Hordes of tanked-up adults coming to blows at a Little League game. Online “comments” that are nothing but anonymous, poisonous vitriol lobbed like grenades into a crowd. The level of hostility and lack of civility in our country is nothing but destructive.

Ancient wisdom recognizes and identifies the root of this problem: “A tiny spark can set a great forest on fire. And the tongue is a flame of fire,” the Jewish sage wrote. All of us have this potential – to strike out with hellish words that act like kindling for a raging fire.

The children’s rhyme we all learned before kindergarten is wrong: “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” That’s a boldface lie. Words hurt. They crush, destroy, and yes, even kill. But they are not just killing others. We are burning our whole world to the ground. May God give us the grace to keep our mouths shut.

Ronnie McBrayer is a syndicated columnist, blogger, pastor, and author of multiple books. Visit his website at www.ronniemcbrayer.net and listen to his talks by clicking on his YouTube channel.

Posted in Keeping the FaithComments Off

For Fools and Drunks

By Ronnie McBrayer

By Ronnie McBrayer

Marvin had spent more than two weeks in the hospital trying to clear up a clogged lung. When the final test results arrived, he had more than respiratory issues. He had cancer. Marvin wasn’t surprised. I visited him as he recovered from the minor surgery that placed a plastic tube into his chest, a tube that will deliver the cancer-killing chemicals to his malignant lung.

“Let me tell you a story,” Marvin said. “I was hung over one Sunday morning when my friends came to get me to go down to the river, and like fools, we plunged in. I got caught in a vortex, and it sucked me under the water. I fought for what seemed like an hour, but I know now it was only for a few minutes. I could see daylight, but couldn’t reach it. I knew I was going to drown. It was then God spoke to me: ‘Son, go on down,’ He said. But I kept fighting. He spoke again, ‘Son, go on down.’

“Finally, I gave up and let the vortex suck me down into the river. I popped right out on the surface and just feet from the bank and lived to fight another day.” Marvin then fell silent for a long time. When he broke the silence he said, “I guess it’s true. God looks out for fools and drunks; because I’ve been both of those.”

Marvin will not be cured, but he sure is getting well. He’s healing. There is a difference between the two. A cure is a quick fix, an alleviation of suffering, an elimination of symptoms. A cure will help the body and might add days to life. But getting well, healing, being made whole—this is something different altogether. Getting well may not help the body, but it can restore the soul. And Marvin, he is getting well.

I refuse to entertain the notion that he is “terminal.” Even with a new diagnosis of cancer and difficult days of treatment ahead, he was very much alive and well. I hope I get a few more visits with Marvin before his ultimate healing. I want to hear more of his stories. I want to learn, once again, of the relentless pursuit of God’s grace. And I want to scrape together the clues of how we can all be healed. “God looks out for fools and drunks.” Amen, Marvin. He sure does.

Ronnie McBrayer is a syndicated columnist, blogger, pastor, and author of multiple books. Visit his website at www.ronniemcbrayer.net and listen to his talks by going to his You Tube channel, A simple faith.

Posted in Keeping the FaithComments Off

Let the water settle

 

 

By Ronnie McBrayer

By Ronnie McBrayer

A desperate executive sought the counsel of an old guru who lived in a mountain cave. The executive was living a hurried life and was frustrated. The holy man listened to his guest, then retreated deep into his cave, returning shortly with a basin.

He scooped water from the muddy little stream passing by the mouth of the cave and offered it to the executive to drink. The executive rejected it, even though he was very thirsty from his journey. The water was too dirty.

After a while he offered the water again, but this time, all the silt had settled to the bottom of the basin and the water was pristine. The man drank it. The wise man then asked, “What did you do to make the water clean?” Answer: “I didn’t do anything.”

“Exactly!” said the monk. “Your life is troubled; it is disturbed and muddy because you are always allowing the water to become agitated. Only when it is calm will you have peace. Be still and let the water settle.”

I don’t have to convince you that this world is a noisy place. Talking heads, viewpoint shows, 24-hour news, analysis on every hand, opinions like armpits. Court is always being held, comments are always being made, and there is a constant eagerness to share the oh-so-correct perspective. There’s always someone bloviating about something, and the pandemonium is so saturating it seeps into our souls.

Jesus, once instructing his disciples, called the noise “babble.” It is foolish rambling, tedious chattering, words that continue to stack up, but never really mean anything. You have to get away from it. It will be good for you—not to mention how everyone else will appreciate it as well.

I have a friend who noted recently that the words “listen” and “silent” are spelled with exactly the same letters (I had never noticed this) and he thinks they mean the same thing. I could not agree more. Stillness is the quickest way to hear God and find true peace.

Learn to turn down the noise. Learn to cultivate some distance from this clamorous world, because distance is a good thing when it comes to things and people who are harmful. Learn to keep the raucous environment that is contemporary society at arm and ear’s length, and you might begin to let the water of your own soul peacefully settle.

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

Posted in Keeping the FaithComments Off

Enough really is enough

By Ronnie McBrayer

By Ronnie McBrayer

Last summer an unfortunate woman was found dead in the basement of her Connecticut home. The first floor of her house had collapsed on her under the weight of all the stuff she had accumulated over the years. Her possessions, stacked to the ceiling with only a narrow, labyrinth-like pathway through it all, quite literally smothered her.

This is a dramatic example, of course, but accumulating those things that fall outside the realm of the necessary, will take your life just as certainly. Jesus said it like this: “Don’t store up treasures here on earth, but store your treasures in heaven. Seek the Kingdom of God above all else.” These words are directed at every packrat, collector, hoarder, attic squirrel, and garage-gatherer among us. If you aren’t using it, you don’t need it. Hang on to it, and it will take your life from you.

I’ve often said that the most deeply spiritual thing that some of us could do is have a garage sale; or sell a property, or dump a portfolio; because our spiritual lethargy is the direct result of carrying too much baggage, trying to manage too much stuff. We have too many possessions, too many obligations, and it’s a recipe for misery. When we simplify, we are doing much more than getting rid of the weight of physical possessions. We are making space to breathe, to thrive, to live.

By giving up some of the things we hoard, we aren’t losing, we are gaining; gaining freedom to pursue life. This was Henry David Thoreau’s motivation when he retreated to the woods of Walden Pond. He lived there for two years wrestling with the question, “How much is enough?” and more importantly, “How much does it actually cost a person to obtain his or her possessions?” He rightly concluded that the cost of a thing is not the financial price tag attached to it. It is the amount of one’s life it takes to get it.

Thoreau said, “Very little is actually needed to live well and to be free. Simplify, and once you have secured the necessaries, then you can confront the true problems of life with freedom.” And there Thoreau brings us to the universal human ambition: We all just want to be free and happy. But getting more won’t get it done, because more and more of what is not good for you will only smother you.

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

Posted in Keeping the FaithComments Off

Good all the time

 

 

By Ronnie McBrayer

By Ronnie McBrayer

A.W. Tozer once wrote, “What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.” I can hardly disagree. Our perception of God shapes our character and actions like little else.

So it’s no wonder that some people are the way they are: loving, helpful, sacrificial, kind, and giving. They think of God this way. But on the other hand, some religious people are angry, suspicious, unforgiving, and murderous. These folks, in turn, think of God in these terms and it shows.

By way of example, I have a friend whose thinking about God is sadistic. God, for her, is an always lurking bogeyman who must be continually appeased. He is vicious and eager to rub out a groveling sinner (or an entire city) if it suits him.

Thus, she lives in fear of God and inflicts her angst on everyone around her. Recently, however, I connected the dots between her thinking about God and the relationship she had with her father, when in an unguarded moment she told a forbidding story.

She was a child, and her father came home drunk, as usual. In his stupor he pulled a revolver from his pocket and called his daughter over to his lap. He cuddled her in his arms and then placed the revolver against the back of her head.

“I could blow your brains out right now,” he whispered. Then he put the gun aside and held her close again, only to return to the gun and the threat again and again over the space of the evening. One moment he was loving, and the next he had a gun barrel pushed against her skull.

This type of parenting has caused my friend all types of emotional disturbances over her lifetime, not the least of which is her thinking about God. For her, and I understand why she feels this way, God is just like her drunken father.

The moral and spiritual authority for her life is an erratic, cold-hearted bastard whose words of love are nothing more than an invitation to terror. Her God calls out for his children, takes them into his arms, and then threatens them with violence.

Such a God is unworthy of worship, incapable of being trusted, and impossible to love. Thankfully, such a God doesn’t exist, for Jesus has shown us that God is good, and he’s good all the time.

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

Posted in Keeping the FaithComments Off

Stay connected to the Source 

By Ronnie McBrayer

By Ronnie McBrayer

Debbie Savely lost her Bible in 1974, a Bible given to her by her late father. Yet, last year, that Bible made its way back into her possession. It was found in a box of debris on the campus of Volunteer State Community College, and by way of relentless pursuit and the marvel of the Internet, it was returned to its owner 40 years after it was lost.

I doubt that Debbie needed it. Like all of us, she had access to millions of Bibles to read. What made this particular copy of the Bible special was its source; her father had given it to her. Thus, it was a link to one who loved her.

What if we learned to approach our own Bibles with the same sentiment? What if we stopped deifying the Bible (worshipping “God the Father, Son, and Holy Bible” as it were), and embraced it as a pointer aiming us in a more Jesus-like direction?

How do we do this? By being Christians, not Biblicists. A Biblicist is one who reads the Bible flat; that is, every word is given the same significance, so, “He that curseth his father shall surely be put to death,” is given the same credibility as, “Love thy neighbor as thyself” (a drastic but accurate example).

Christians might be better served if our interpretive lens was Jesus Christ. As the living Word and Source, we look to him as we read, using his words to hold ourselves to his way, and to hold the Bible accountable as well. Refusing to do this schizophrenically puts the Bible and Jesus at odds with each other.

Maybe this is what Kurt Eichenwald was trying to get at in his recent Newsweek diatribe, “The Bible: So Misunderstood It’s a Sin.” He railed against biblical abuses, ignorance that impedes science, the foolishness of uniting church with state, and the suffering inflicted on the world by those who misapply the Bible. My response was, “Amen!”

But nothing will change about this state of affairs until Bible-reading, Bible-loving, Bible-believing people stop treating the Bible like it is God. Yes, I love the Bible, but not because every passage can be reconciled with Christianity. I love it because it helps me stay connected to the Source, to Jesus. After all, he is the foundation of my faith, and even as the Good Book says, there is no other.

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

 

Posted in Keeping the FaithComments Off

Will Practice Make Perfect?

By Ronnie McBrayer

By Ronnie McBrayer

In the coming week, the nation will gather at Gobbler’s Knob, Pennsylvania for a uniquely American observance. The event is Groundhog Day, of course, as with bated breath we watch Punxsutawney Phil materialize from his cozy burrow.

Groundhog Day makes me think, not of plump rodents, but Bill Murray. It was more than 20 years ago that he starred in the now classic comedy film, “Groundhog Day.” He plays weatherman Phil Connors, given the assignment of covering the Gobbler’s Knob festivities. Somehow he gets caught in a time warp and must relive Groundhog Day over and over again in an agonizing time loop.

Internet nerds have watched this movie thousands of times, and painfully parsing all the events and dialogue have calculated that weatherman Phil Connors stays trapped on Groundhog Day for almost 40 years. Why? The point seems to be personal transformation. Connors must remain where he is until he is a changed man. There is no going forward until that work is done.

Forty years seems to be the magic number, for that is exactly the amount of time spent by the children of Israel in the wilderness. You may know the story: Moses is commissioned by God to save his people from Pharaoh’s slavery. Plagues commence. Miracles ensue. Deliverance arrives (this would make a great movie).

But the former slaves don’t know how to live as a free people. They complain, revolt, commit mutiny, and foolishly long for the false security of their chains over the constant vigilance of their freedom. They are trapped and remain as such, for forty years until the “stiff-necked,” stubborn, generation had been replaced by those ready to be free.

If we review the trajectory of our lives, we are likely to find a few common denominators in all we have experienced. That’s because there’s probably a few major lessons that God is trying to teach us, a couple of persistent chains he is attempting to break. God allows life to repeat itself, over and over, until we do the hard, inner work of the soul.

Wandering the desert is a necessity and repeating difficult lessons is required, as some things can only be learned in the hard places. But how long we replay and relive those lessons is more or less up to us. There comes a time to “get it,” and to get on with it.

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

 

Posted in Keeping the FaithComments Off

Money: What it’s good for

By Ronnie McBrayer

By Ronnie McBrayer

There is a single word that has overtaken contemporary US society, one concept that defines life in 21st century America: Security. Online purchases, firearms, national borders, airports, software, elections—none of these can be used in a sentence without the word “security” somewhere being invoked.

So much for the days when a statesman dared say, “There is nothing to fear but fear itself.” Because now there is everything to fear. Cars, computers, houses, politicians, pharmaceuticals, and wars are all marketed with fear as the motivating factor. Nowhere is this more evident than when it comes to economics.

But to tell you the truth, if you are trusting your money to keep you secure, you probably should be afraid. Don’t get me wrong. We all need a few dollars to pay the bills. Even a handful of investments, mutual funds, and IRAs are good for as far as they go. They just can’t go far enough.

Why? Because once you have a little pile of dough you have to go on guard duty; perpetual protection mode, always on the wall, always peering out at the economic boogeymen, always defending, hedging, and hoarding. This produces mind-racing, palm-sweating, turf-defending worry, something about as far from peaceful contentment as one can get.

It’s as elemental as this, really: our level of peace will depend upon what we depend upon, no more and no less. If the source of our security and well-being is this world’s economic promises, we should hire better money managers, take more medication, and stuff more gold coins under our mattresses. But if our subsistence is Christ, then no, life will not be easy, but the source of his strength is endless and the peace he offers surpasses all understanding.

Now, this doesn’t mean we build a bunker, stockpile canned goods, and buy an arsenal. That’s just more of the same fear and anxiety run amok. No, we joyfully live in this world, but recognize it for how fragile it is. We see that ultimately it cannot meet our deepest needs.

That responsibility belongs to God, because it’s not a matter of if our stockpiles will fail us, it’s a matter of when. That’s not fear mongering, it’s simply stating that trusting Christ to give us what we need and sustain us is not nearly as dangerous as trusting a system that is bound to collapse.

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

Posted in Keeping the FaithComments Off