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Tag Archive | "McBrayer"

Get Humble, get holy


Ronnie McBrayer

Ronnie McBrayer

By Ronnie McBrayer

In the coming days the world’s two billion Christians will begin celebrating Holy Week. Not to be missed in this week of activity is Maundy Thursday. “Maundy” comes from the Latin word mandatum, meaning “commandment.” On Jesus’ last night before his crucifixion, he gathered his disciples and gave them the commandment to love and serve one another. Then he showed them how.

Jesus rolled up his sleeves, threw a towel over his shoulder, and with a basin of water, squatted down to wash the filthy feet of his disciples. Yes, God stooped. The Christ crawled. The Master became the servant. Jesus took the position of a slave and honored those who had not the slightest indication of how holy his act was.

Walter Brueggemann describes this scene: “To kneel in the presence of another is to be totally vulnerable, because you are in an excellent posture to have your face or your groin kicked in. Our Lord made himself vulnerable precisely in that way! He knelt, not in humility or in fear, but in strength and confidence, opening himself to others.”

In the midst of this week of festivities, I wonder if we Christians might pause to consider vulnerability as a holy exercise. See, Jesus never maintained feelings of superiority over others; he eagerly gave up his rights and privileges. Jesus didn’t defend himself with angry tirades or theological manifestos; he taught – and manifested – vulnerable love.

Jesus’ instruction on Maundy Thursday was not a how-to lecture on proving how “right” his followers were; it was a demonstration course for how to live. Thus, the Christian means and method of confrontation is not condemnation, but naked service.

A follower of Jesus testifies to and celebrates the truth he has come to know, but knows in equal measure that the truth has been washed through and through with a foot wash basin. The power of the disciple of Christ is a power wielded, not by force or fist, but by a holy hand towel.

He who would be like Jesus does not lord over others. He gets down on the ground, down on his face, down in the dust, the mire, and the mud. He makes himself completely and totally exposed. Even if those whom he serves kick him in the face; even if they stone him to death; even if they crucify him on a cross: There is no other way.

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.

 

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Some First, Some Last, All Equal


Ronnie McBrayer

Ronnie McBrayer

By Ronnie McBrayer

Jesus once told a story about a landowner who hired laborers to harvest grapes from his vineyard. Some employees worked all day, others labored for part of the day, and some arrived to work only at the last hour. The landowner, inexplicably, pays those who were hired last (and worked the least), the same wage as those who were hired first and worked all day.

No matter which way you cut it, this doesn’t seem very fair: Especially for those of us raised with the good old Protestant work ethic, with entrepreneurial capitalism passed along to us in our mother’s milk.

So imagine the scene as it plays out. The tired workers form a line at the end of the day to receive their wages. When the Director of Human Resources arrives with their paychecks, regardless of the hours on the time card, everyone is paid the same! Quickly there is the threat of a labor riot or at least a lawsuit for unfair labor practices. The landowner is summoned an gives this response, “I haven’t been unfair! Should you be jealous because I am kind to others?”

It is a direct and accurate reply, for the angry workers were not enraged over injustice. They were angry because the landowner was generous and gracious to others that had not “earned” their way. The landowner gave grace—making the last first, opening the door to all—and this is what infuriated the other workers.

With this story, Jesus has dug his fingers into a very sore spot for we who are religious people. We preach grace, but we don’t always practice it. We talk about God’s mercy, but we don’t always want the people who need it most to get in on it. We say we are in the redemption business, but we are not eager to open the doors to all would-be patrons.

Landon Saunders says it like this: “Figuring out who is in and who is out is just too much work. It’s too heavy of a burden! Just try to treat every person you meet as if they will be sitting at the table with you in eternity.”

That small change of perspective would do more to advance the kingdom of God on earth than a thousand aggrieved churches that pound their pulpits, point fingers, and exclude others from the love of God and the gates of heaven.

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

 

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The Kudzu conspiracy


Ronnie McBrayer

By Ronnie McBrayer

“The kingdom of God is like kudzu planted in a field.” Would Jesus have ever said such a thing? Yes, I think so. You see, he once compared God’s work in this world to a growing “mustard seed” and like “yeast mixed in with the dough.” Making the jump from mustard and yeast to kudzu is not as far a leap as you might think.

The mustard of first century Palestine overgrew everything around it. Yeast worked the same way. Illustrated in the mustard seed and the yeast, Jesus shows that God can overwhelm and transform this world with a steady, unstoppable, persistent, invasive force. Honestly, I don’t know much about mustard or yeast; but as a Georgia native, I do know a little bit about kudzu.

Kudzu was introduced to North America from Asia, and the plant was quickly loved by gardeners, what with its large green leaves and purple blooms. The vine was touted as a “wonder plant,” and the USDA used the Civilian Conservation Corps of the 1930s to distribute and plant the seeds everywhere – especially in the South.

Little did anyone know that the Southeastern United States was the perfect environment for kudzu to grow, and grow and grow and grow. Kudzu has now climbed, coiled, and slithered its way all over the Southeast, changing the landscape while becoming a central characteristic of Southern culture.

Kudzu overtakes the environments into which it is introduced. It transforms the landscape in which it is planted. From just a few little seedlings, a few sprouting vines, it explodes and cannot be stopped. Such is the kingdom of God and the rule of Christ in today’s world. Let it have its start – in people’s hearts, in people’s lives, in the midst of this planet’s pain and suffering – and the world will in fact, change. It will be redeemed, as slowly and steadily the God Movement invades this world with the love of Christ.

Certainly we understand that people are still hungry. Wars are still fought. Injustice is still tolerated. There is suffering, anxiety, evil, and grief. But we believe that the kingdom is growing, inch by inch and foot by foot. This causes us to throw ourselves into a fractured world, not only because we care, but because we believe God isn’t finished with this world yet. In Jesus’ name, we are joining God’s divine plot to revolutionize a society.

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.net.

 

 

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A Dog’s Life


By Ronnie McBrayer

Our three boys were playing football in the backyard this winter when one of them called to me with words I could have never anticipated. Casually, as if he were making a weather observation, he said, “Dad…the dog is on the roof.” I exploded onto the upper deck to discover that my son was alarmingly correct.

Toby, our new little Shih Tzu, had inexplicably crawled beneath the deck railing and was 15 feet across a pitched metal roof, two stories off the ground. I was horrified. My dear wife was worse, deranged with panic. I understood that if this disaster were not averted, I did not have enough pastoral skill, fatherly wisdom, Valium, or hard liquor to assuage the suffering.

So, with the boys in place below, ready to exercise their burgeoning football catching skills, my hand firmly holding my wife by the belt loops at the railing, and aiming every prayer at heaven I could muster, I gently called, “Toby…come here, boy.” He loped over to me as if it was a day at the dog park, and tragedy was dodged.

As crazy as this story is, here is the craziest thing of all: while our entire family mobilized to protect and save this precious little dog, Toby was completely, totally, and blissfully unaware of our efforts. Hands were shaking. Tears were forming. Railings were being scaled. Catch nets were being weaved. Meanwhile, he was sniffing leaves, enjoying the view, and inspecting the strange metal floor beneath his feet.

Toby doesn’t understand this, but he doesn’t have to; he simply lives a dog’s life in the loving arms of those who always look out for him. Sometimes I perceive God working the same way. I sense him hanging in the atmosphere around us; ethereal, intangible, but very real. Occasionally, I glimpse him lurking within and brooding over the circumstances of life, sometimes gently calling, but most of the time just ready to catch us when we fall; or to save us from ourselves when we’ve crawled too far out on the ledge. Even while our well-being is in jeopardy, we are enfolded by a protecting love.

Yes, I believe there is a mysterious, unseen, hovering God in the universe that we cannot always understand, see, or otherwise tangibly perceive. But we know he is there. His enveloping love for us is very real, and yes, it is very good.

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.net.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Make Your Home with Me


By Ronnie McBrayer

Lately, one of Jesus’ more cryptic phrases has been making laps inside my head. These words were spoken on the last night Jesus was with his disciples: “Abide in me, and I will abide in you.” Jesus was welcoming his disciples to remain connected with him and to rely upon him. “Stay put. Don’t abandon your relationship with me,” Jesus was saying. Eugene Peterson translates Jesus words like this, “Make your home in me.”

That’s not so cryptic, as we understand home quite well. Home is where each day begins and where it ends. Home is where we eat, rest, relax, take shelter, play, and love. Home is where we go when there is no other place, and where we always return. Home is that glorious place where we walk around in our socks and underwear, scratch our backsides without worrying about who is looking, and lounge around on the weekend without showering or shaving if we so choose. Home is where we can drop all our burdens, barriers and coping mechanisms.

Home is sweet, it is where the heart is, and it is our castle. It is where we bring the bacon and where we wait for the cows to arrive. Home is like no other place in the world, and no matter where or how far we travel, home is where we always call, well, home. It is where we feel safe, secure, and ultimately, where we can be ourselves. Jesus said, “Make your home”—relax and be yourself—“with me.”

I believe that a large portion of our personal suffering stems from the fact that we often go looking for “home” in all the wrong places. The wrong career, the wrong person or relationship, the wrong ambitions: We are searching for that comfortable place where we can prop our shoeless feet on the coffee table and be accepted as the real, natural people that we are.

When that no-strings-attached acceptance is not forthcoming, we begin to work, worry, toil and sweat, manipulate and be manipulated, all in an attempt to get others to take us as we are. We end up being strangers to ourselves, living within the artificial structures we have created, but it sure isn’t home sweet home. It’s miserable. But it doesn’t have to be that way. We can give ourselves over to Christ, in total dependence, and find rest for our homesick souls.

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.net.

 

 

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Far more than a medication


By Ronnie McBrayer

I am sometimes suspicious of how we employ our faith. Don’t get me wrong, faith is important to me, and I have given my life to it. But sometimes I treat my faith like it is a medicine cabinet or a pharmaceutical, going to it only when something is wrong, or if I am looking for a quick remedy.

“My head hurts,” so I go to the cabinet looking for a pain reliever. “I have a stomach ache,” so I reach in for a spiritual antacid. “I feel so uncertain,” so I explore my therapeutic options. “I’m feeling a bit anxious,” so I look for something that will serve as divine Prozac.

The faith that is peddled by many pulpits today is little more than a sedative. It helps people to forget their pain and suffering, helps them sleep at night, and keeps them hanging on for next week’s dose of tranquility; but it does very little to move people to a place of growing, spiritual health. Thus, we can easily succeed in converting our faith into a first-aid kit, only turning to it when something hurts, and leaving it in the cabinet otherwise. Yes, when life hurts I want relief. Yet, the real power of faith is not its ability to magically stop our pain or to provide a fix to get us through a rough spot. Faith simply doesn’t remove our troubles and worries, offering bubble-gummed-flavored baby aspirin and cartooned-band-aids.

Rather, faith offers us a new way to live, an opportunity to change our lifestyle. It does more than medicate our boo-boos or make us happy when we have been made sad. On the contrary, faith has the power to transforms us, to shape and fit us for life, making us whole and well. It would do us well to hear some of the earliest words of Christian faith, written by the Apostle James. He said, “My friends, faith that does not lead to change is a faith that is dead.”

It is possible to find great inspiration in our faith; to be comforted and reassured that or faith rests in the right place. Yet, if such beliefs do not have transformative power in our lives, then we do not have faith at all. Instead, we are addicted to a spiritual tranquilizer that blinds us to the reality of our world and the renewal God seeks to produce.

 

Ronnie McBrayer is a syndicated columnist, speaker, and author. His books include “Leaving Religion, Following Jesus” and “The Jesus Tribe.” Visit his website at www.ronniemcbrayer.net.

 

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Some reassembly required


By Ronnie McBrayer

Many people begin their walk of faith, and everything goes as they expected. Out of genuine conviction, they attend church, learn from the Scriptures, volunteer, serve, give, and become “productive, committed, faithful, Christians.” But somewhere along the way things go terribly wrong.
The orderly, stalwart faith that used to “work” for these true believers becomes a muddled mess. Yes, they once taught Sunday school, sang in the choir, chaperoned the youth group, chaired the Stewardship Committee, and had bullet-proof answers to all questions of faith. But then, all at once or over an extension of time, their faith splintered into a million tiny pieces. A divorce. A child falls deathly ill and heaven seems silent as a stone. An accident leaves the once healthy college student broken and mutilated. The circumstances come in variegated form, but the impact is the same.
It is more than a crisis of faith, more than theological bump in the road; it is an unraveling that robs people of their confidence and comfort. The once unshakable believer descends downward into the blackness of doubt. Adding insult to injury, sometimes the only thing the church or we ministerial types can say in those moments is, “Pray more. Just believe. Let go and let God. Try harder.” Not only is this insensitive, asinine advice, it simply won’t work. Those who have hit this kind of barricade feel so dismantled, that to keep doing what they were doing—only with more enthusiasm—is impossible.
Here is your choice: You can harden your heart and sweep the shards of your faith into the dustpan, giving up on God completely; or you can pick up the broken pieces, with bloody hands and heart, and reassemble faith on the other side of doubt. No, it won’t be the same faith you once had; it will be dramatically different. It won’t be an improved or updated version of the beliefs you formerly held; it will be a new construction altogether. This reassembled faith will not provide you with all the answers to all your questions; instead, it will help you to see the world, God, and people differently.
So if you find yourself crushed against what feels like the concrete and steel of disbelief, with not a drop of faith left, I understand. Don’t throw it all away just yet. In the breaking, you might find that faith has a new beginning.
Ronnie McBrayer is a syndicated columnist, speaker, and author. His books include “Leaving Religion, Following Jesus” and “The Jesus Tribe.” Visit his website at www.ronniemcbrayer.net.

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Belief, not Belligerency


By Ronnie McBrayer

“Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.” These are the words of Simon Peter, one of Jesus’ first disciples. And like most words put down on paper, these instructions have not always honored the intent of the author.
Peter wrote this during a time when Christianity was new and very often viewed with suspicion. Thus, a graceful and thoughtful explanation “for the hope that you have” was absolutely required. Thousands of years later, Christianity is still handled with suspicion by many. Not because it is a novel invention, but because a large core of its adherents have misapplied Simon Peter’s good words.
Having a prepared answer—a ready opportunity to dialogue and discuss beliefs with others—has been replaced with defensiveness, anger, and out-and-out hostility. Many have forgotten to read the second half of old Peter’s instructions: “But do this in a gentle and respectful way.”
Yes, I am a follower of Jesus. Yes, I consider myself a Christian (on most days). Yes, there are a number of essential beliefs important to me and to which I hold. Yes, some of these beliefs are in conflict with the beliefs of others, and these conflicts are not easily dismissed. But my beliefs, as important as they may be, do not give me the right to be belligerent toward others who do not share my beliefs.
This may be the way the world works, but it is not the way of Christ. For Christians, if Jesus is who this thing is about, then things should be different. Our beliefs need not,  should not, cannot, must not be used to hurt or harm others.
Personally, I don’t think Jesus came to create an “in” group. I believe he came to create a “come on in” group, a crowd of fellow-journeyers who come to know God, experience grace, live life, and serve others together. But why would anyone want to come in to such a group if its representatives are constantly rude, arrogant, and unyielding?
Even if such a group had all the answers to all the questions in the world (and humility should caution anyone from making such a claim), it would be impossible to hear what they had to say, because it is simply impossible to hear the truth when it is communicated from a hard heart.
Ronnie McBrayer is a syndicated columnist, speaker, and author. His books include “Leaving Religion, Following Jesus” and “The Jesus Tribe.” Visit his website at www.ronniemcbrayer.net.  

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Help with the missing pieces


by Ronnie McBrayer

I love puzzles. Crosswords, brainteasers, and search-a-words; but nothing beats an old fashioned jigsaw puzzle with about gazillion pieces spilling out of the box. Right now there is a monster-sized puzzle strewn across our family’s dining room table. I have been persistently working on it for so long that I can’t remember the last evening we ate dinner at the table.
My family has learned not to monkey around with me while I am hip-deep in puzzle solving. Yes, assist me—I’ll take all that I can get—but don’t walk by and offer advice or a litany of critiques unless you are willing to give the pieces a try yourself. Time, patience, and the right kind of help: these are the requirements for solving puzzles, even puzzles of faith; because sometimes the puzzle doesn’t match the box we were given. Sometimes the pieces don’t fit together at all.
I’ve met a legion of people who begin their walk of faith and everything goes as it “should.” They go to church, learn stuff from the Bible, volunteer, serve, give, and become “productive, committed, faithful, Christians,” whatever that is supposed to mean. But then these good soldiers go through a divorce; or they are mistreated by a religious organization, or lose their career. Maybe their child gets sick or their spouse dies.
The result is much more than the proverbial crisis of faith; I have one of those every Monday morning. No, it is much deeper, more life-altering and foundation-shaking than that. The answers they used to rely upon, the faith that formerly sustained them, no longer works. The fitly-paired pieces of the puzzle go scattering in the wind.
What is the answer to these miss-fitted and missing pieces puzzles of life and faith? Time, patience, and a little help. Time and patience to keep working it out and to sift through the prefabricated pictures of what life once promised. Time and patience to ask dangerous questions and to listen for unexpected responses. Time and patience to curse, pray, cry, heal, and hopefully come through on the other side, even if a few pieces to the puzzle are never found.
So, if a friend is stuck trying to solve their puzzle, offer the right kind of help. Quietly sit down with them and dig in. Patiently sort through the pieces, and help put it together, whatever “it” turns out to be.

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More than having it all


By Ronnie McBrayer

A century ago Leo Tolstoy wrote about a greedy farmer in his tale, “How Much Land Does a Man Need?” This farmer never had enough and moved from town to town looking for greener pastures. On his journeys he heard rumors of a distant tribe that possessed more land than anyone could walk over in a year; and it was there for the taking. He went to investigate and found the rumors to be true. The farmer met the tribal chief who informed him that he could in fact have all the land he wanted.
“Pay a thousand rubles and begin walking in a circle,” the chief instructed. Everything within that circle, so long as the circle was completed by sundown, would be his. So early the next morning, the farmer began his acquisition of land. He began running, trying to make as large a circle as possible.
Late in the day the farmer began the desperate return trip. He ran with all his waning strength back to the beginning of his circle. Just as the sun was setting he arrived at where he had begun. The people cheered. Never had anyone acquired so much land in a single day!
In joy they bent down to rouse the farmer from his exhaustion, but he did not stir. He was dead. Tolstoy concludes: “The farmer’s servant picked up a spade, dug a grave, and buried him. Six feet from head to heels was all he needed.”
How much land – you can insert words like “square footage” or “cars in the garage” or “clothes in the closet” or “ gold certificates” here—how much of this do you need? Probably not as much as you think.
It is a lie to believe that having enough money in the bank, obtaining the most property, making the highest return, shaping the most clever fiscal policy, or acquiring the best performing stock will lead to economic safety, security, or peace of mind. Such thinking is a death-spawning run in a circle.
I readily concede that our hearts need something to pursue. To chase after the higher and better, to possess that for which we long and love is a part of our nature. The challenge before us is to seek what is right and best, to seek what will actually fulfill that search and quench the thirst. To do otherwise may cost us more than dollars.
Ronnie McBrayer is a syndicated columnist, speaker, and author. His books include “Leaving Religion, Following Jesus” and “The Jesus Tribe.” Visit his website at www.ronniemcbrayer.net.

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