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Tag Archive | "McBrayer"

No need to keep jumping


Ronnie McBrayer

Ronnie McBrayer

By Ronnie McBrayer

A few years ago my son Braden and I rescued a frog in our garage. We talked about the frog’s warts, his strong legs, and bulging eyes. After the brief science lesson, we set him free. Braden followed his new friend around the yard for a half hour. He tried to catch it, pet it, and steer it. But the frog wouldn’t oblige.
In frustration Braden lurched forward and crushed the little fellow beneath his foot. I was horrified! I demanded of him, “Why did you do that?” His answer was telling and simple: “Because he wouldn’t listen to me.”
Some of us think that God is a lot like Braden. If you don’t stay one step ahead of him, leaping quickly from his crushing blow, God will maliciously scrub you into the dust. God will eventually catch up to you and squash you for every evil act ever committed, every wrong thought that has crossed your mind, and for every missed Sunday service.
Maybe it stems from an anxious childhood or from bad religious experiences, but we all too often see God for less than he is. We view him as some kind of irritated old school master keeping a ledger of our sins—an Ebenezer Scrooge. Or we think of him as a vindictive bully—a cosmic Simon Cowell—one who only lets the best get by, but only after a severe tongue lashing. Sure, a few will make it through the pearly gates, but God will be none too happy about it.
Or we may imagine God, sitting in a high and mighty palace somewhere, breathing threats and intimidation just waiting for someone to cross the line, to be noncompliant, so he can squash them like a bug. Or frog. Is this who God is? If you believe some religious extremists, certainly this is accurate. But this is not the God revealed to us by the person of Christ. Jesus reveals a God who loves with such passion that he was willing to drive nails into his own flesh to set free those living in darkness.
And by the way, I don’t think Braden will turn out to be an axe murderer after all. Thankfully, a day later our family paused to say grace over our evening meal. When it was Braden’s turn to pray, he bowed and said: “Dear Jesus…I killed a frog.” All was forgiven.
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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I remember


Ronnie McBrayer

Ronnie McBrayer

By Ronnie McBrayer

Each September since 9/11, when the proper and solemn remembrance ceremonies begin, I am tempted to believe the now faded bumper stickers that read, “We Will Never Forget.” Not true. We will forget. No, those who lived in the cities directly attacked, those who huddled around television sets as bewildered and confused witnesses, and those who buried their loved ones murdered in the attacks will never forget that morning a decade ago.
But those following us will forget. They are not calloused or forgetful. They are simply too young. Most of the students who entered college this fall were in elementary school ten years ago, and many of this generation (including my own children), were even younger or not yet born.
Yes, I want my children (and the generations to come) to remember and reflect upon these events. But I do not want them to cloud their memories with the notion that the “world was changed forever on 9/11,” for it was not. Violence, retaliation, the suffering of the innocent, and the struggle for power have been around for all of human history. 9/11, rather than changing that status quo, was another brutal, heart-rending chapter in the same narrative. To say that 9/11 is the defining, irreversible mark on human history is to give evil and injustice far too much credit; and for followers of Jesus to say such a thing, it is a loss faith.
Whenever Christians gather, they gather to remember, celebrate, and hopefully integrate into their lives a profound event from the past, an event to which the Eucharist and the Creeds point: “Jesus Christ was crucified, dead, and was buried; but on the third day he rose again.” This is the defining event of our past, the memory we will never forget, and the trajectory for our future.
Yes, I will bow and say a prayer for those taken from us a decade ago. I will give thanks for the rescue workers, firefighters, and those who tried to save and serve the hurt and dying. I will ask God to assuage the sorrow of the families and friends left to grieve. But when I am finished praying, I will work for peace; I will seek to overcome evil with good; I will pursue the example of Jesus; and I will teach my children to remember properly. Remember that grace, not hate, will have the final word.
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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Back in the saddle again


Ronnie McBrayer

Ronnie McBrayer

by Ronnie McBrayer

When my wife invited me to go with her to the gym I thought it was a good idea. When she informed me that we must rise at 4:30 a.m., and that we would be participating in a cardiac spinning class, I didn’t even blink. How hard could it actually be? I strolled into the gym, my cycling shorts barely able to contain my bravado.

The class was led by a lean, athletic woman with the body fat of a celery stick. She casually introduced herself and set me up on my bike. She made small talk with others and seemed harmless. But when the class began, everything changed. Buoyed by the thumping music, celery girl was transformed into a whirling dervish of torment. She began a pedaling cadence that would have caused a juiced pro cyclist to cringe, and oh how she bellowed and screamed at us. I screamed too—in agony.

I kept up appearances for a while. But ultimately I was reduced to a trembling, light-headed heap, with what felt like burning razor blades in my lungs. The instructor and her little group of cycling fascists, including my wife, disappeared over the spinning horizon. I was in over my head, and I finally admitted it.

The night before my cardiac adventure/disaster I had read the accounts of Simon Peter’s denial of Jesus. Peter, full of bluster and bravado, made bold promises about his abilities in the face of adversity. How hard could it actually be? Peter boasted that he would go to the death if necessary, in his commitment to Christ. But, by the time the sun rose, Peter had been reduced to a whimpering, trembling, and cowardly defector. He renounced the Christ he loved and finally had to admit he was in over his head. Thankfully, after his crucifixion and resurrection, Jesus specifically sought out Peter.Jesus embraced him. Forgave him. The shame and self-disgust were washed away by mercy.

We all fail. We all have moments when the crowd peddles by us. We sit there exhausted, used up, in over our heads. In those moments Christ comes to us, not with criticism, but encouragement. He lets us catch our breath. Then, he puts us back in the saddle. He understands and offers grace best: No one who has ever failed, at faith or at riding a bike, has ever gotten fit by remaining where he fell.

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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Enough is enough


Ronnie McBrayer

Ronnie McBrayer

By Ronnie McBrayer

I’ve got bad news and good news. The bad news is you probably won’t win the lottery. The good news is you may be better off if you don’t. Lottery winners, according to some studies, are no happier than when they were broke. Some, in fact, are worse off in the end than in the beginning. Consider the story of Florida resident Abraham Shakespeare. When Shakespeare was 13, he was arrested for robbery. For the next 30 years he was in and out of trouble, in and out of jail, job-to-job, and living hand-to-mouth.
Poverty, assault charges, drug abuse, restraining orders, and back child support characterized his life. Fresh out of jail in November 2006, he was lucky to have an $8-an-hour job unloading boxes from a tractor-trailer. With two of the last five bucks in his wallet he bought two quick pick lottery tickets. Three days later he was a millionaire thirty times over. Three years later, with most of his money already gone—spent frivolously and on all the old habits as before—his body was found buried in a concrete slab, the alleged victim of an apparent con-artist. You would think, that even for the most troubled soul, winning $30 million would set things right.
Maybe we should view wealth, not as something evil, but certainly as something dangerous; because wealth can fool us into thinking that it is the source of our happiness, that it can give us satisfaction. Yes, having financial resources can make life easier, but it is a poor substitute for personal peace. Like Abraham Shakespeare, if you have inner turmoil before holding the giant cardboard check for the cameras, you are sure to have that same turmoil afterwards, but with compounding interest.
There is a Hebrew proverb that says, “A meal of bread and water eaten in contentment is better than a banquet spiced with quarrels.” The point is clear: Greater satisfaction is found in simplicity, especially if the banquets and winning lottery tickets bring nothing but trouble, ulcers, and conflict. So when is enough, enough? Where is that line that marks simple contentment from complex materialism? The great G. K. Chesterton answered like this, “There are two ways to get enough. One is to continue to accumulate more and more. The other is to desire less.” So let’s be careful that in grabbing for more, we do not lose our grip on life now.
Ronnie McBrayer is the author of “Leaving Religion, Following Jesus.” He writes and speaks about life, faith, and Christ-centered spirituality. Visit his website at www.ronniemcbrayer.net.

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Too much of a good thing is still too much


Ronnie McBrayer

Ronnie McBrayer

By Ronnie McBrayer

When my wife decided to clean our children’s fish aquarium with a dose of anti-fungus agent, I thought that was a good idea. But when she medicated the water with ten times the recommended dose, things didn’t go as well as she had hoped. In her eagerness to rid the pet fishes’ world of contamination, she misread the box and misapplied the remedy. We didn’t know there was a problem until the next morning, when we found four goldfish half-scuttled at the top of the tank begging for air. Thankfully, we intervened just before our beloved pets went to the great fishbowl in the sky.
My wife’s zeal was a prime example of how too much of a good thing can become toxic rather than being helpful—not unlike religion. When it comes to the practice of faith, such practice is like a pharmaceutical. Within it, there is the power to heal and restore, or there is the power to consume and destroy. It can be a remedy for the soul’s ills, or it can be deadly poison, for the practitioner and everyone he or she encounters. Maybe this was what Jesus was getting at when he warned his disciples: “Beware of the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees” (Matthew 16)! The Pharisees and Sadducees were religious zealots consumed with rituals, sacred protocols, and proper ceremonies.
Certainly these people had good and worthy intentions. They wanted to please God and see others do the same. Yet, their application of the product was over the top. Yes, what the Pharisees and Sadducees wanted was virtuous. But all their passion and enthusiasm left those around them floating belly-up, begging for air and mercy. To those struggling to breathe beneath the overdose of ritual and inflexibility Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light” (Matthew 11).
I certainly agree. People would live healthier, more whole, spiritual lives with a little less goop in their lives. But let’s make sure we don’t over-treat those around us. What we think will help them might actually send them floating belly-up to the surface.
Ronnie McBrayer is the author of “Leaving Religion, Following Jesus.” He writes and speaks about life, faith, and Christ-centered spirituality. Visit his website at www.ronniemcbrayer.net.

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Sometimes Just Showing Up Is Enough


Ronnie McBrayer

Ronnie McBrayer

By Ronnie McBrayer

I had never met a chain-smoking missionary until I shook the tobacco-stained hand of Michael Bonderer. Michael is the Country Director for the “Fuller Center for Housing” and “Homes from the Heart” in El Salvador. As the late Millard Fuller described him, “He is quite the character.” Indeed.
But I found Michael to be more than just a colorful character. He is the stunning paradox of saint and sinner. At once he is a nicotine-addicted, four-letter-word-dropping, endless-coffee-drinking, recovering-alcoholic; and he is a wise sage, a deeply committed follower of Jesus, a spiritual practitioner who lives to put roofs over the heads of the poor and forgotten.
After a week with him in Central America mixing concrete and building houses I asked him what his work there needed, outside of money, to keep building homes. He flicked ashes into a coconut ash tray and replied, “People in the church feel like they need permission to do anything good, or they feel they need to be experts. But you don’t have to know anything about anything to change the world. The people who just show up are the game changers. That’s what we need: People ready and willing to serve, who will just show up.”
Truly, you don’t have to know anything about anything to change the world. Just show up ready to sweat, ready to bleed a little, ready to learn, and God knows what could happen. Every night this week, people from all walks of life volunteer to staff soup kitchens or deliver food to the poor. These people aren’t trained in the culinary arts; they don’t have degrees in public policy or hold licenses as Clinical Social Workers. They just show up to help, love, and to serve.
In church dining halls and in community rooms all around the world, Alcoholics Anonymous groups meet every day to weed through the recovery process. These meetings are filled with people who have no formal training in addiction recovery, nor do many of them know how to professionally counsel someone else. All they know is that they must show up—because sometimes just showing up is enough.
Everywhere good stuff is going on, everywhere Christ’s witness is being held out to a community, it’s not because some group has it figured out. It is because someone showed up and won’t leave till the job is done. Chain-smoking or not, that is enough.

Ronnie McBrayer is the author of “Leaving Religion, Following Jesus.” He writes and speaks about life, faith, and Christ-centered spirituality. Visit his website at www.ronniemcbrayer.net

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We can’t forget, but we can forgive


Ronnie McBrayer

By Ronnie McBrayer

There is fascinating new research now being conducted in the field of “Superior Autobiographical Memory.” Researchers have found a small group of people, only about a dozen or so here in North America, who remembers almost everything about their lives—truly, almost everything. For example, there is Louise Owens, a woman now in her late thirties, who can recall every single day of her life since she was 11.
I would love to have a few conversations with this small but remarkable group. I would love to see them put their near super-human powers to work, and I hope we learn a great deal about the human brain from them; but I do not envy them. No, I have a hard enough time trying to forget some of the things from my past as it is. I can’t imagine the mental anguish if I had superior autobiographical memory.
The things that lodge like splinters in our brains the deepest are those times and occasions when others have hurt us badly; when we have been wronged; or when we have been violated, mistreated, cheated or harmed. It is impossible to forget these things no matter how many times we are told that “time heals all wounds” and no matter how many times we are counseled by our pastor, priest, or rabbi that we should “forgive and forget.” Forget? No amount of counseling, therapy, hospitalization, or medication—nothing short of a lobotomy—could erase the pain from our memory banks.
The answer to this pain is not in the forgetting. The answer is in the forgiving. I don’t use the word “forgiving” or “forgiveness” glibly, because forgiveness isn’t easy. It certainly isn’t some buzzword from a sermon or a trivial, corny bumper sticker that says something like “Christians aren’t perfect, just forgiven.” No, forgiveness is the only answer because it is the only thing that truly deals with our deep, bleeding, and unforgettable hurts.
Forgiveness deals with these profound hurts with the unconquerable power of love, love that “does not demand its own way. Love keeps no record of being wronged.” Purging the records doesn’t mean we forget. It means we give up on keeping the score, and we give up on our desire for vengeance. Then we might just find that in letting go of our need to retaliate, we can also let go of so many of our painful memories.
Ronnie McBrayer is the author of “Leaving Religion, Following Jesus.” He writes and speaks about life, faith, and Christ-centered spirituality. Visit his website at www.ronniemcbrayer.net.

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Safe space is sacred space


Ronnie McBrayer

By Ronnie McBrayer

While I am no died in the wool traditionalist, not by a long shot, I sometimes have a bit of a problem with the words we now use to describe the places we gather together as the church. They are called “worship centers” or “multi-purpose buildings” or “auditoriums.” I much prefer the word used by our grandparents: Sanctuary. Because anywhere the church gathers, it should be a safe place, a place where people are welcomed and made to feel at home.

I once participated in a retreat where several young people gave their unbridled, unedited assessments of the church. At times, their words were immature. At other times their words were blisteringly accurate. One young lady who spoke was Charis, a 30-year-old wife and mother who had spent her three decades in the church. Her father was a seminary professor, and Charis herself holds a Masters degree in theology. She was no cynical, jaded outsider. She has been a determined follower of Jesus most of her life.

At one point in her talk she said through her tears, “I don’t want church. But I do want love, transformation, and community.” Love. Transformation. Community. Isn’t this, at least in part, what the church should be about?

We have spent too much collective time and energy focusing on the drivel, rather than on loving people. We fight and bleed over worship styles, which version of the Bible is the actually inspired one, and drawing up rules and restrictions for who can come to the Lord’s Table and or who can or cannot speak in a pulpit. We build all this structure and all these regulations on who is allowed in and who should be excluded, creating standards so impossibly high, Jesus Christ himself couldn’t get in the door.

And meanwhile, people who are lonely, who are dying on the inside, who have had the absolute life beat out of them, who are racked by addiction and loss, who are burdened so low by the cares of this world they cannot lift their heads, will not even look in the church’s direction. They cannot imagine that the church could somehow relieve or support them.

We must recognize these mercy-killing behaviors for what they are, and by God’s grace let Christ remove them. For when the church becomes a place of welcome–a sanctuary—it becomes safe space, and safe space is sacred space.

Ronnie McBrayer is the author of “Leaving Religion, Following Jesus.” He writes and speaks about life, faith, and Christ-centered spirituality. Visit his website at www.ronniemcbrayer.net.

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Ronnie McBrayer

By Ronnie McBrayer

Get out of the house!

Last week we had a fire in our home. Our aged heat pump flashed out, blowing smoke throughout the house, tripping alarms and setting off smoke detectors. Thankfully, it turned out to be a minor inconvenience. But at first, we didn’t know this. We had smoke in the house and could not find the source. So I called 911 and explained our situation: “Everything looks okay now, but could you send someone just to take a look?” The dispatcher sent someone all right. In five minutes we had a dozen fire-fighters, six fire trucks, and a battalion chief standing in the front yard.

Everyone involved was consummately thorough, especially the dispatcher. She did not care that everything “looked okay.” Minor event or four-alarm fire, her instructions were direct and clear: “Get out of the house!” I protested several times stating that it was cold outside and we were safe. She continued to answer: “Get out of the house,” growing more forceful each time until finally I relented and did as I was told.

That dispatcher would make a wonderful preacher. See, the best sermons are not the ones that reinforce our comfort or our long-held beliefs, causing us to rest well in pews. The best sermons are those that cause us to get up and run from the sanctuary. The best sermons say directly and clearly: “Get out of the house!”

I cut my theological teeth in a tradition fixated with defending the Bible. We worked hard to protect the always-under-siege Scriptures. Thus, I heard much high oratory on the inspiration, infallibility, incorrigibility, and inerrancy of the Bible. This was an almost weekly subject. In short, I heard a whole lot about the Bible, but didn’t get much help in how to live the Bible.

But we need less information about the Bible coming from inside the church house, and need more real-world, life-giving ways to put the Bible into practice outside the church house. We need to practice some of the oldest words from the New Testament: “Don’t just listen to the Word. Do what it says.”

No, the proof of truth is not how often we use the correct theological buzzwords or how long we sit and listen inside our houses of worship. The proof of truth is the practice of God’s grace and burning love out in the communities around us. Get out of the house.

Ronnie McBrayer is the author of “Leaving Religion, Following Jesus.” He writes and speaks about life, faith, and Christ-centered spirituality. Visit his website at www.ronniemcbrayer.net.

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Keeping the Faith


Ronnie McBrayer

By Ronnie McBrayer

Seekers Wanted—Organized and Otherwise

My children are organizationally challenged. More bluntly, they are slobs. Left to themselves they would wear the same unwashed shirt for a month, inches of rust would gather behind their ears, and mold would grow on their teeth. And spontaneously cleaning their rooms? Forget about it. They simply do not care about orderliness, sanitation, or hygiene.

If you don’t believe me, come have a cup of coffee with me some morning and watch them leave for school. They head out the door with their pencils, lunch money, and supplies dropping from their hands, pockets, and backpacks like scattering birdseed. And their notebooks look like a three-ringed junk yards. Notes, homework assignments, flyers from the book fair, old report cards: All this scrap and crap is hanging out everywhere.

Yet, they are eager, excellent students, so I have to learn to set aside some of my “cleanliness is next to godliness” obsession and just help them where I can. Besides, I would rather have them be willing-and-curious-but-cluttered students than orderly, tidy slackers.

The same can be said about those who seek a relationship with Christ. Not all these seekers can be found inside the church or at the regular scheduled time of weekend worship. This doesn’t mean there is no value to what happens in our houses of worship on Sunday (or whatever day one gathers), or that gathering in community isn’t important.

It simply means that some very sincere seekers of Jesus may not come to us wearing their Sunday finest and polished wingtips. They may not have a big, red, memorized Bible tucked neatly beneath their arm. They may not have all their beliefs hammered out.

On the contrary they may be confused, conflicted, or plain clueless when it comes to life and their beliefs. Their personal, relational, and family lives may be a disastrous mess (with scrap and crap everywhere). They may be rusty and moldy. But this doesn’t mean these folks aren’t seeking God or that God isn’t very busy in their lives.

The more we understand Jesus, the more we must realize that people encounter him all the time, and all over the place, even before they realize who he is or how to call his name. They hunger for, and we pray for, that moment of recognition. And when it comes, we rejoice that God has rewarded another eager child who has come diligently seeking.

Ronnie McBrayer is the author of “Leaving Religion, Following Jesus.” He writes and speaks about life, faith, and Christ-centered spirituality. Visit his website at www.ronniemcbrayer.net.

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