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Tag Archive | "Ronnie McBrayer"

Count your blessings


by Ronnie McBrayer

by Ronnie McBrayer

In the churches of my youth we sang an old hymn entitled, “Count Blessings” at every Thanksgiving service. I can still recite the first stanza from memory: “When upon life’s billows you are tempest tossed; when you are discouraged, thinking all is lost; count your many blessings, name them one by one; and it will surprise you what the Lord hath done.”

A Sunday School teacher once challenged my Primary Bible Class to do exactly as the song implored: “Count your blessings.” She handed out sheets of wide ruled notebook paper accompanied by fat, yellow, #2 Ticonderoga pencils. A dozen eight-year-olds went to work listing all of our heaven-sent assets.

Have you counted your blessings lately, naming them “one by one?” I know all the big things would be on the list: family, nation, shelter, food, children or grandchildren. But to list all of our blessings, even the little things, would take a considerable amount of time, longer than a brief Sunday School lesson would allow. Still, it’s worth the time to make such a list. Maybe you could start with A and work through the alphabet to Z, concentrating on the little, often assumed, godsends.

I’ll get you started: Air conditioning. Band aids. Coffee. Distilleries (particularly those in Canada). Electricity. Football. Garrison Keillor. Hamburgers. Ireland. Jackson Hole. Krispy Kreme. Live Oak trees. Music. Newspapers. Online banking. Picnics. Quinoa. Refrigeration. Smoked Almonds. Tennis. Urinals (the ones that flush automatically). Vacations. Willie Nelson. X-Rays. Yogurt. Zyrtec.

And that’s just the first list that rolled from my mind, a stream of consciousness! This list could be reproduced a thousand times over with little thought, just observation, because blessings constantly rain down upon me. God’s ever-present grace surrounds me, if only because I am fortunate enough to live at a time and in a place like this.

It’s not that complicated. Take the time to look around your life and count your blessings—one by little one—if you dare. Give thanks to God for what you have, what you have experienced, for the grace you have received, and for the people you have known.

Try to remember that Thanksgiving is more than a holiday, more than a day off, more than a circled date on a calendar. It is a way of life. Remembering this might change your perspective about things. It might change your attitude. It just might change your life.

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

 

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Truly satisfied


by Ronnie McBrayer

by Ronnie McBrayer

An old Quaker farmer placed a sign on his land that read, “This farm will be given to anyone who is truly satisfied.” A wealthy merchant came riding along and saw the sign. He thought to himself, “If this man is so eager to part with his land, I might as well claim it, for I have all I need.” He walked to the front porch and explained to the farmer why he was there.

“Art thou truly satisfied?” the Quaker asked. The merchant responded, “I am. I have everything I need.” The old farmer answered, “My friend, if thou art truly satisfied, then why doth thou need my land?”

It is human nature to want, search, and covet even after we have everything we need. There is this insatiable desire within us that we can’t seem to satisfy, a hunger we cannot fill. But how does satisfy the hunger of the heart that so often drags us to our undoing?

There’s no easy answer. Whole religions have been built around answering that question; and everything from self-flagellation and asceticism to quiet meditation and psychotropic drugs have been tried to free humanity from itself. Yet, the heinous rate of consumption, the constant grabbing and clutching for more, continues with happiness levels as flat as ever.

But maybe the presence of desire isn’t the real problem. It’s not that “we want,” but that we want the wrong things. What is the object of those desires; what is it that we are after that we think will make us happy? Those might be the better questions.

See, we have been duped. We think that acquisition will satisfy us. We have been fooled into thinking that a shinier car, a bigger house, a younger wife, a better neighborhood, or the newest piece of technology will make us happy. But it’s an evaporating illusion. When you are chasing after what will never ultimately please you, getting more of it, won’t get it done.

I think that’s what Jesus was getting at when he said, “Seek first the Kingdom of God, and all these other things will be added to you.” He was saying, “You’re going to desire, you’re going to want; just point those cravings in the right direction. Go for what counts!” Then you discover that living a satisfying life requires very little. You will discover that the hungry life can be replaced by the happy life.

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

 

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Young and dumb


Keeping-the-Faith-RonnieMcBrayerBy Ronnie McBrayer

 

My adolescent son told me the other day that “teenagers should rule the world.” After I stopped guffawing at him, I remembered that scientists have proven that the adolescent brain is incapable of logical decision-making. Not enough physiological development has taken place, and it is impossible for a teenager to always behave or react rationally.

But I don’t think today’s teens could do much worse than today’s adults. We seem as immature as our children. Maybe science has figured out why. Researchers say that no living person, in reality, is very old; because the cellular matter in our bodies is constantly regenerating. The cells in our bodies, no matter one’s birth date, average about 15 years of age…so…we are all teenagers!

Yet, the relative youth of our bodies is no excuse for immaturity. We may not be born with the capacity to make healthy, rational decisions, but that is a virtue that can be acquired. Science, once again, has confirmed this fact as well.

In 2009, professors Dilip Jeste and Thomas Meeks published a major paper on their research into human wisdom. Among their discoveries was the fact that those who are genuinely wise have the benefit of age and experience on their side and, more often than not, bad experiences.

You have to fall on your face a few times, get caught in a self-manufactured disaster or two, and then wisdom mercifully begins to take root. Thus, the older you are, the smarter you should be, and the younger you are, the dumber you are. That too, is a scientific fact. Yes, we need what youth offers: Audacity, vision, zeal, and a healthy dose of revolutionary chaos on occasion. But like a fine wine, only time produces wisdom.

So it should be no surprise that our world is in its current condition. It is a world that values youth, childishness, and this month’s fresh face from L.A. more than it values the sense and wisdom that comes from age. It is a culture that sacrifices on the altar of youthful stupidity the wizened experience of its elders.

It does so at its own tragic expense, for a society that will not listen to the voice of history is a society that is doomed. There’s a proverb that goes, “Old age and cunning will always beat youth and exuberance.” For the sake of the world, I hope that’s true.

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

 

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The Trick to the Treats


By Ronnie McBrayer

By Ronnie McBrayer

That faint noise you hear is the sound of pint-sized spooks gathering on your lawn. They will soon be knocking at the door, plastic pumpkins outstretched. Spare yourself the tricks and give up the treats – the unhealthy, sweet, nougat-filled goodies in your cupboard. Keep your stinking apples, raisins, toothbrushes, and granola bars. In a few short years the tykes will have to turn in their costumes, so don’t deprive them of this rite of childhood passage.

This doesn’t mean adults don’t get in on the fun. Americans spend nearly $3 billion each Halloween, not on adorning their children for the festivities, but on themselves. Adults love to play dress-up, it would appear, and not just in October.

We all hide behind masks, masks we have worn for so long, we forget the real person who lurks beneath. We so over-identify with our dress-up characters, that is the roles we play in life, that when the roles change—and they will change—we experience miserable frustration.

One Halloween my son dressed as the cartoon spaceman Buzz Lightyear for Halloween. It was fun—“To infinity and beyond!”—and that’s how long I thought the boy would wear the costume. In his mind, this wasn’t a temporary role he was playing. Buzz Lightyear was who he really was. Every time he had to lay aside his costume, it was the proverbial end of the world with weeping and gnashing of teeth. It was as if he was losing himself, as if he couldn’t live apart from that imaginary facade. Of course the real him was beneath that rayon spacesuit—everybody knew it—except him.

This is a common affliction. We build dramatic images of ourselves, who we think we are, who we should be, what we should accomplish, and once constructed, these have to be maintained and protected. We never let a tear or a crack show in our veneer, and the mask to which we cling slowly becomes a prison. We go through life kicking and screaming every time a perceived threat begins to pull at the hem of our make-believe cape.

Here’s a better way: Fulfill the roles that God, fate, or life has assigned to you. Fulfill them with gusto. But never accept the masks you must wear as a substitute for the person you really are; that’s the trick to a sweet life.

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

 

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Hard of hearing


By Ronnie McBrayer

By Ronnie McBrayer

A husband and wife had been married for many years when the husband began to fear that his wife was going deaf. He implemented an informal exam. With his wife in the kitchen, the husband asked from the den, “What’s for dinner?” She didn’t answer. He repeated the question over and over, each time moving closer, and each time received no response.

Finally, he was directly behind her asking his question. His wife whirled on her heels and shouted, “George, for the hundredth time, I said we’re having chicken!” Often, others listen just fine; we are the ones who are hard of hearing, especially when it comes to describe deafness to the Spirit.

Maybe God used to speak to you, he once whispered in your ear, or stirred in your soul; or maybe you have never had such a sensation of God speaking at all. Regardless, now you’re stone deaf, but might be thinking it’s God with a hearing problem.

The troubling thing is, when someone’s hearing begins to erode, his or her life gets louder, only magnifying the problem. The TV volume is cranked up to the decibels of a jet fighter. Warning bells and alarms are ignored. Communication becomes difficult, a game of escalating voices.

Bring that scenario into the realm of faith. While we want God to shatter his perceived silence with thunderclaps, earthquakes, and firestorms, why should he speak to us over the noise of our lives? Why would he add to the commotion? His voice will only get lost; and it does, in the dissonance that surrounds us.

My friend David Beavers says it impeccably: “Along life’s way, you lose you. Your life gets covered, buried, and numbed out with addictions, distractions, medications, and busyness of all kinds. If you don’t believe me, spend the day alone, without a phone, book, or computer. There, listen to and observe the insane, obsessive, cyclical and compulsive chatter that drives you—inside and out. It is nothing more than noise, and noise is the problem.”

So, you might not be hard of hearing at all. It could be the pandemonium within and without; the sound and fury that has been absorbed into your heart, mind, and very soul. We have to turn down the volume around us, not to hear ourselves think, but to hear anything—even the Maker of the Universe—when he gently speaks our name.

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

 

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Come to the Table


By Ronnie McBrayer

By Ronnie McBrayer

October 5 is World Communion Sunday. It is an annual event, the first Sunday of each October, in which Christians worldwide celebrate our oneness in Christ. At the center of these celebrations will be, aptly enough, Communion. Some call it the Eucharist; the Lord’s Supper; the Sacrament of the Altar; or the Last Supper. The terms used by Christians are varied.

But regardless of the theological technicalities involved, it’s how we come to the table that is more important, I think. We must be careful with the familiar observance not to lose the wonder and sensation that Christ has given himself for us and the world. And we must endeavor to welcome all followers of Jesus to share the elements of bread and cup, especially those followers who we consider outside our particular tradition. All should be welcomed.

I was reminded of this when I recently attended an Episcopal service where a dear friend is the minister. It was a magnificent experience of sights, sounds, and beautifully orchestrated liturgy; so much unlike anything of my own Christian tradition, and infinitely more formal than my freewheeling approach.

It took me a while to catch on and to catch up. I sluggishly stood, always a few seconds behind the crowd, and wound up standing alone, dropping to the pew after everyone else took their seat. I fumbled with the order of worship, never able to find the readings or the songs on time. After the homily, and a number of other confusions, the invitation was offered to receive Holy Communion.

Finally something I understood! But I wondered: “Will I be welcomed?” because churches have tons of rules about who can and can’t participate—even fellow believers. I gladly discovered that the invitation was for all. Even those who felt out of place had a place at the table.

As I knelt at the altar, I was joined by a young family—dad, mom, and three small children. The youngest, four or five years old, stood right beside me at the rail, too short to kneel. I looked at him and smiled. He smiled in return, wiped his wet lips with the back of his tiny hand and coarsely whispered, in a voice that could have been heard at the back of the sanctuary, “This is going to be good!” And it was, because it’s always good to be welcomed to the table.

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

 

 

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The Pearl of great price


By Ronnie McBrayer

By Ronnie McBrayer

John Steinbeck’s literary genus is well known, but not many have read his penetrating little book called The Pearl. Steinbeck’s story begins with a poor Mexican pearl diver named Kino. He happily ekes out a living for his wife and son with a little canoe and a thatch hut on the beach.

When Kino’s child is bitten by a scorpion, his world is turned upside down, for he does not have enough money to pay a doctor to treat the child or a priest to pray for him. At this moment, Kino discovers a pearl as big as his fist: The “Pearl of the World,” the most incredible treasure the village has ever seen.

Now Kino will be rich. His son will be healed. Life will be transformed. But, things don’t work out that way. Greed takes over the village. Thieves attempt to rob him. Kino’s friends grow psychotically jealous. Kino begins to spend all his energies protecting his treasure.

In the end Kino loses everything: His home, his child, his little canoe by which he made a living, and his ability to escape to a better life. He and his wife stand on the shoreline and heave the evil pearl back into the ocean.

Steinbeck’s little story is about far more than a poor Mexican diver. It a tale of human nature; it is about getting what one wants, only to discover that the fulfillment of that desire is one’s undoing.

We all enter this world as treasure seekers. The search is intrinsic, natural, and good. Jesus spoke of it in a way that Steinbeck copied: We are searching for the “Pearl of Great Price,” that invaluable treasure of the soul worth more than all the world.

The glitch is that many of the things we seek are detrimental to us and to the world. My guess is that the majority of our suffering is the direct result of our improper and misguided searches. To quote an old country song, we go “looking for love in all the wrong places.” And when we go looking in all the wrong places, we end up with all the wrong outcomes.

But it’s never too late to find satisfaction. We just have to turn our attention to the true treasure of the soul, the Pearl of Great Price. We just have to search in the right place, and almost magically, we end up with the right results.

Ronnie McBrayer is a syndicated columnist, pastor, and author. His newest book is “The Gospel According to Waffle House.” You can read more at www.ronniemcbrayer.me.

 

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What Is wrong with the world?


By Ronnie McBrayer

By Ronnie McBrayer

“Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose,” goes the French proverb credited to Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr: “The more things change, the more they stay the same.” It’s not that a society or person organization cannot be transformed. But such change is often cosmetic or superficial. Reality isn’t altered at the deeper, more profound levels.

Simply examine today’s news feeds. There is conflict in the Middle East; fresh bloodshed in Iraq; a looming humanitarian catastrophe in Africa; upheaval with Russia; political unrest at home; is it 2014, 1985, 1978, 1959, or 1913? Has nothing changed within these geopolitical situations? Of course, everything has changed.

There have been new regimes, new faces, and new promises; the old guard has passed; generations have come and gone; the young and the restless have replaced the traditional and the settled. But the root issues and causes – things like greed, selfishness, sexism, patriarchy, racism, and tribalism, remain untouched.

Leo Tolstoy said, “Everyone thinks of changing the world; but no one thinks of changing himself.” Everything we see in the larger world is a reflection of the individual, human heart. So we can’t begin with the world. We have to begin with our own hearts.

One of the greatest British writers of the 20th century was G.K. Chesterton. My favorite essay of his is a tiny one written to his local newspaper, The London Times. The editors solicited responses from the paper’s readership by asking this question: “What is wrong with the world?” Hundreds of long, verbose letters poured in. Then eminent authors and leading thinkers of the day responded with essays. The shortest and most powerful response to “What is wrong with the world?” came from Chesterton.  He wrote: “Dear Sirs, I am.”

If anything about this world is going to change, it will be you, and the change cannot be cosmetic, superficial, or an artificial cover-up. Change must be at the heart, deep within, where our darkness lurks, our transgressions take shelter, and where all our spiritual neurosis is born.

So while I’m quoting Karr, Tolstoy, and Chesterton, I’ll add one more great philosopher to the list. Bob Dylan wrote, “There’s a battle outside and it’s ragin’. It’ll soon shake your windows and rattle your walls, for the times they are a changin’.” True, but the real battle is on the inside, for if the world is going to change, the change must begin right there.

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

 

 

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Love is the final word


By Ronnie McBrayer

By Ronnie McBrayer

Rabbi Irwin Kula collected an assembly of audio recordings in the days after the September 11th terrorist attacks; final conversations of those in the towers as they called home, spouses, parents, partners, friends, and left voice mails.

What he discovered was this: All the final conversations he had in his collection were about love. Not a single person used his or her last breathe to say, “Kill [them] for what they have done…Be sure to get revenge…I hate them for what they did to me…Avenge my memory.” Every last word was an “I love you” of some variety.

Rabbi Kula said, “Then I recognized what the real experience behind religion is…it is about love…and it’s no more complicated than that. As a rabbi, and I think priests, ministers, and monks, we’ve made it a lot more complicated than it is. When you make it more complicated than it is, you lose the experience.”

As I understand the Bible, particularly as I read it through the lens of Jesus of Nazareth, God isn’t much into religion. He’s not interested in carving up the world along tribal or cultic lines. He’s not officiating a spiritual contest, declaring winners and losers in who can most strongly declare how right they are. That’s all much too complicated.

Rather, Jesus came to reveal God’s love to us, to draw it out of us, to show us that love is the beginning, the means, the path, and the end; it’s the only road to travel. I suppose this makes me an “exclusivist;” one who denies that all religious paths are equal and simply have their own unique twists and turns along the way.

No, I do not believe such a thing, for the morbid irony is that religion brought down those iconic towers more than a decade ago. Hard. Inflexible. Dogmatic. Immovable religion (and such religion can be perpetuated as easily by we who are “Christian” as any other group).

God surely can’t be associated with anything of the sort, no matter what name it is called or however right and correct it purports to be. God must be—absolutely must be—in what is loving, absolving, and just, not destructive. For love is what saves us. It is what gives us life. It is the only thing that overcomes hate and injustice. It is the final word.

Ronnie McBrayer is a syndicated columnist, pastor, and author. His newest book is “The Gospel According to Waffle House.” You can read more at www.ronniemcbrayer.me.

 

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Fight like a Butterfly


 

Ronnie McBrayer

Ronnie McBrayer

By Ronnie McBrayer

 

Muhammad Ali once claimed he would “Float like a butterfly and sting like a bee.” Well, “The Greatest” did exactly that. And while I’m not one to tug on Superman’s cape, I’d like to slightly amend his most famous of phrases. I believe that before one can “float like a butterfly,” he or she must fight like one.

You might know the story of a boy who came upon a cocoon. He took it home and watched it carefully. One day a small tear in the chrysalis appeared, and the butterfly began to emerge. It was a struggle. The slit was tiny, the butterfly was big, and the boy was worried about his new little friend. So, he decided to help.

With scissors he carefully cut the cocoon open to rescue the beautiful butterfly. But it wasn’t beautiful; it was fat and swollen. Its wings were wilted. It never learned to fly. It could only crawl around in a shoebox, a jar, or wherever the boy placed it.

When the boy told his science teacher this tale, he was taught an invaluable lesson: The butterfly had to struggle. It had to face oppositional forces. The butterfly’s laborious effort to emerge was nature’s way of circulating dormant blood and strengthening new wings. The butterfly’s fight to get out of the cocoon was not an impediment, but preparation, and the boy’s “help” actually turned out to be hurtful.

What is true in nature is true of human nature: Some suffering is necessary. We have to struggle—we must—if we will ever gain the strength we need to fly. This is anathema to our North American ears, however, because we have constructed a society with a monumentally low threshold for pain. Pain-aversion is rampant, extending from playrooms and boardrooms to State Houses and fraternity houses, from helicopter-parenting to fiscal irresponsibility.

Yet, there is a consummate spiritual principle: There is no resurrection without a cross, no greatness without grief, and no strength apart from suffering. The struggle is a necessary process in maturation.

When we avoid suffering at all costs, we fail to see that such behavior will cost us everything, for if we cannot tolerate anything that hurts or discomforts us now, we will never become people of faith, character, or maturity later. With apologies to Ali, we will never “float like a butterfly” until we have learned to fight like one.

Ronnie McBrayer is a syndicated columnist, pastor, and author. His newest book is “The Gospel According to Waffle House.” You can read more at www.ronniemcbrayer.me.

 

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