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Tag Archive | "Ronnie McBrayer"

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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Praying for Rain


Ronnie McBrayer

Ronnie McBrayer

by Ronnie McBrayer

 

There’s an old story that circulates in my family about my great-great grandfather, a fiery circuit-riding preacher named John Martin McBrayer. It was the early 1900s and drought was smothering the Georgia countryside. So a Saturday prayer meeting was called, a meeting to pray for rain.

The community gathered, and in time, John Martin came riding up on his pony. It took him a while to get inside, but when he did, he was carrying his saddle. “Well Preacher,” one man asked, “Why’d you bring your saddle in? You stayin’ the night?” Everyone laughed. John Martin gave a mischievous chuckle himself and answered, “No, I thought we’d be prayin’ for rain? I believe the rest of you will be ridin’ home wet.” Sure enough, that afternoon the rains came. And just as sure, most folks left on wet saddles and in drenched wagons (all while old John trotted home as dry as dust).

I often tell this story, not as a means of convincing people that they will always get what they pray for, but as an illustration of what faith looks like: Faith in God, not faith in a specific, pre-calculated outcome. This is reminiscent of an even older story found in the book of Daniel, the story of the “Three Hebrew Children”–Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego.

These boys were ordered to bow and worship an idol, a false god. This was sacrilege beyond the pale, so they refused. For their noncompliance the boys were to be burned alive in a fiery furnace. But before the sentence was carried out they were given a final opportunity to acquiesce. Their response is one of defiant faith: “God will rescue us from your power. But even if he doesn’t, we want to make it clear to you that we will never bow.”

Mature faith is far more than a cheerful “happily ever after” post-scripted to every story we tell. It is trust in the God behind all outcomes. Enough of this faith that professes only the ability to change our circumstances; such faith is little more than a lucky rabbit’s foot.

Instead, we need a faith that gives us resiliency, faith that strengthens our souls. We need faith that serves, not as a payoff for our prayers, but as growing confidence in a Person. We need that faith that sustains us, if the hoped-for rescue or drought-breaking rains come or not.

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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Your life will outlive you


by Ronnie McBrayer

by Ronnie McBrayer

Rifling through old family records I discovered the obituary of my great-grandmother. Her name was Ola Whitfield, a simple woman born in the 19th century, and so much like the other sharecroppers in the Deep South at the time. She worked hard, was sparsely educated, remained anonymous to the greater world, birthed a farmhouse full of children, and died young. She lived only 36 years.

That obituary, written in the vibrant language of the time, captures her simple faith so well. It reads, “Oh, it was so hard to give her up but she left a true evidence of her faith: She called her husband to her side and told him that if it had been the Lord’s will she would have loved to stay with him and help raise the children. She told him to carry the children to church and Sunday School and raise them right. Such a consolation to us all to hear such words as she gives us to do the will of our Father.”

Granted, raising children “right,” (a Southern colloquialism for instilling proper social manners, respect for elders, and weekly church attendance) is no guarantee that said children will turn out well. They just might become ungodly little monsters. That wasn’t dear Ola’s point. In her unpretentious way, she understood the profound truth that she would live on in those who followed her. So she was being intentional, planning for her life to outlive her.

In our “what have you done for me lately world,” where time is measured by quarterly dividend reports or in two-year election cycles, we forget that the fruit of one’s life may reach maturity only after many years, decades, or even centuries. It could be that those whom we will never meet, those who will walk in our footsteps generations from now, will be the ones to gain the most from our lives.

So when I read my great-grandmother’s obituary, I am thankful; thankful for her and the ones who have gone before me. I am grateful that those who never dreamed of me, or my children, made decisions and lived in a way that bettered our future. And all this reminds me, challenges me, and humbles me that as the generations proceed, whether I like it or not, others will rely upon me and you for the same. Your life will outlive you. Make it a good 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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Love saves the world from death


by Ronnie McBrayer

by Ronnie McBrayer

I pulled from my bookshelf a few systematic theology books that I had not opened for a long time. I blew off the dust, cracked the stiff binding, and dove into the hundreds of pages filled with declarations about the attributes and characteristics of God. As I skimmed the pages I was made freshly aware of how distracted we have become.

For all of Christianity’s theoretical words and defenses, the Apostle John was simple and winsome with his definition of God: “God is love,” he said. If Christians daily practiced this definition instead of declaring and defending how right we are, I imagine the world would be a much different place.

Granted, love-talk is about all it is—just talk. The late George Carlin said, “Love is incredibly powerful…But love can’t change the world. It’s nice. It’s pleasant. It’s better than hate. But it has no special power.”

I’m not yet ready to agree. Instead, I’m going to take John at his word: Love is God’s nature and love comes from God. Once this love gets planted in our hearts, it spills out to others, resulting in transformation; it changes the world, one person at a time.

To that end, there was a rabbi who became friends with a Persian fortuneteller. Every morning the two sat together and watched people head out of the village to work. As a man walked by, the fortuneteller said, “I foresee that this man will not come back. He will be bitten by a snake and die.”

But at evening they saw the condemned man re-enter the village! The Persian ran at once to him, grabbed his backpack, and emptied it on the ground. An enormous snake spilled out of the bag; a snake very much dead. So the rabbi asked the man, “What did you do today to avoid misfortune?”

The man answered, “I cut trees in the forest. Every day at lunch the workers place our food in a common basket and eat together. Today, one of us had no bread and was ashamed. So I told my friends, ‘Let me collect the food.’ When I came to him I pretended to take bread from him, so that he would not be embarrassed.”

To this the rabbi burst out laughing. He said, “My son, today you obeyed God’s commandment to love! You saved your coworker and also saved yourself!” And turning to his fortuneteller friend, the rabbi said, “When one loves from his heart, he changes the fates. Love saves the world from death.” Indeed, it does.

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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An Empty Tomb is not an Empty Promise


by Ronnie McBrayer

by Ronnie McBrayer

“The Mystery of Al Capone’s Vault” aired almost three decades ago this week, and at the time, it was the most watched syndicated television show in history. The charismatic host of the show that evening promised the unveiling of long-kept secrets, the unknotting of historical mystery, and priceless artifacts from where Capone once lived. That host was Geraldo Rivera.

Yes, before he had his nose broken on daytime television; before he had fat sucked from his buttocks and shot into his forehead; before he was sent packing from Afghanistan for disclosing the location of US troops; and before that viral shirtless selfie on Twitter, Rivera had long ago revealed how ill-advised some of his decisions could be.

With 30 million people watching to see mysteries solved and questions answered, the vault was opened revealing nothing—unless you consider an empty gin bottle to be of historical importance. The opening of Capone’s treasures was a story as empty as the vault.

I must confess that Easter can sometimes leave us feeling like Geraldo. On Resurrection Sunday we gather with the sold-out crowd and hear the report of Jesus coming back to life. “He is risen!” we are told, and his resurrection gives “hope for ourselves, for the world, and for the future.”

But is this a publicity stunt? How can one man’s resurrection centuries ago make any real difference within the scope of eternity? Isn’t this a metaphysical fraud used to boost Christianity’s ratings? Answering similar objections, the Apostle Paul wrote, “If Christ hasn’t been raised, then our faith is worthless.”

Unafraid to soften his words, Paul goes on to say that without Easter, Christianity is a farce; eternal life is a promise built on overhyped lies; God’s grace has been misrepresented; and those who adhere to the faith are as pitiful as Geraldo in a warzone (that line is not a quote from Paul, though he might have appreciated it).

Nonetheless, in rising from the dead, Jesus signaled that he would redeem humanity by overcoming all enemies, even death, and return the universe to wholeness. He will bring all of God’s creation back to life, making “life worth the living,” as the old song goes, “just because he lives.” So we confess this hope: “Jesus Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!” An ambitious confession? Yes, but confession that the tomb is empty is far more than an empty promise.

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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Kingdom curriculum


by Ronnie McBrayer

by Ronnie McBrayer

 

Once upon a time the animals organized a school. They adopted a curriculum of running, climbing, swimming, and flying. The duck was excellent in swimming and flying, but was extremely poor at running, so he had to drop swimming and stay after school for additional practice. This gave the duck’s poor, webbed feet calluses, so he became only average at swimming.

Meanwhile, the rabbit started at the top of the class in running, but had a complete mental breakdown because of so much make-up work in swimming. The squirrel was excellent in climbing, but when her flying teacher made her start from the ground rather than from the treetops, her grades in all subjects plummeted.

The maverick in the school was the eagle. He was stubborn, independent, hardly a team player, and gloated in climbing class that he could beat everyone else to the top of the tree, but he always used his own way to get there. The prairie dogs stayed out of the school altogether because the administration would not add digging to the curriculum.

At the end of the year, none of the animals did very well. An unusual eel that was an exceedingly good swimmer, but that could also run, climb and fly just a little, had the highest cumulative score. He was selected as the valedictorian though his grades were barely above average.

I love that story. Always have. It teaches a lesson so easily forgotten or ignored: Nobody can be great at everything. But everybody can do something exceptionally well. Every person has his or her gift, his or her calling, his or her God-given ability. When it is properly employed, it works like magic. When it is not, or when we all try to do everything, it’s a disaster.

My experience in the church is that we often force individuals “to be something they aren’t,” demanding that everyone do everything. We create fine “animal schools” that foster frustration, shame, and false competition. Everyone ends up tepidly average, and we fail to allow individuals to develop their unique gifts and callings.

We are all gifted differently and radically so; and people must be allowed to explore, expand, and enhance their distinct talents. People must be given space and place to “to their part,” whatever part that is. It’s a principle that works, not only in the animal kingdom, but also in the kingdom of God.

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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Like a rock


by Ronnie McBrayer

by Ronnie McBrayer

This year Bob Seger will celebrate his tenth anniversary in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. His songs and persona are legendary. My personal Seger favorite is “Like a Rock,” and it has nothing to do with Chevrolet pickup trucks. I associate the lyrics with the evening of my high school graduation: “I stood there boldly, sweatin’ in the sun, felt like a million, felt like number one; the height of summer, I’d never felt that strong, like a rock.” And then the refrain, a refrain Seger wrote about himself as a younger man: “Like a rock, I was strong as I could be; like a rock, nothin’ ever got to me; like a rock, I was something to see; like a rock.”

Seger captures the years of youth, perfectly. It is a time of unbridled optimism, strength, and arrogance. A young person can do anything, be anything, try anything, and overcome anything. No challenge is too big, too tough, or too much. Honestly, youngsters need this kind of bravado and audacity when life is just getting started. But he or she will also learn that do-everything, dare-anybody, defy-anything of youthfulness, doesn’t last.

We live a little while and experience a few disappointments. We bury loved ones, suffer loss and betrayal, age, have our hearts broken, or muddle through a couple decades of muted frustration. Then we learn, and this learning is as absolutely necessary as youthful strength, that we really aren’t like a rock—at least not anymore. Life, like erosion, has a way of reducing the hardest stone into sand.

But the recognition that we won’t always be “standin’ arrow straight, chargin’ from the gate, and carryin’ the weight,” is not cause for despair. It is liberation. It is deliverance from the “try-harder-and-do-more” life. It is release from the totalitarian, gladiator ethic of “If it’s going to be, it is up to me.” It is surrender, and surrender is where life begins.

“If you try to hang on to your life,” Jesus said, “then you will lose it.” This “hanging on” includes our personal arrogance and stubborn self-reliance. We learn to let these go, not because we have hopelessly given up, but because we have given over. We have exchanged our failing abilities and life for the power of God and his life. We have learned to live a life entrusted to the Rock that is Christ.

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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Turn down the “Stinking Thinking”


by Ronnie McBrayer

by Ronnie McBrayer

It is a word of affirmation, comfort, agreement, and relief. It is a word that completes vows, promises, blessings, and all of our prayers. It is a word of release, signaling the end of far too lengthy worship services; and it is the “Get ready…Get set…Go!” when we have gathered around the dinner table to eat. The word, of course, is “Amen.”

At its most basic definition “Amen” means, “Let it be.” Thus, when we say “Amen” at the conclusion of our prayers, we are not saying, “the end.” We are actually beginning, for we are confirming and confessing our trust in the God to whom we have just prayed. We are saying “Yes” to God’s perspective, and we are saying “No” to all other perspectives. Every “Amen” becomes an argument to convince ourselves, over and over again, that God knows us best and knows what is best for us.

And speaking of “God knows,” God knows we tend to argue with ourselves. We have these conversations with ourselves that some have learned to call, “Stinking Thinking.” We create these stories inside our heads about how we have failed; how ashamed we should be; how unworthy we are; how utterly useless our lifework has been; how we are a lousy father, mother, parent, or whatever. I’m convinced that many people can’t be quiet and can’t still their minds because they can’t bear what they say to themselves in the quiet moments.

They have to keep the volume of life turned up to ear-bleeding levels and keep the pace of life at breakneck speed. These people aren’t busy; they are suffering. They are attempting to smother the voices in their heads, because a majority of the time the self-guided narrative to which they are listening is erroneous, untrue, and downright destructive.

This, then, is one of the great benefits of prayer: People who pray are reprogramming their software. They are overwriting the faulty components of their thinking. They are experiencing the transformation of their hearts and minds, for in learning to listen to God’s voice in prayer they can turn down the cacophony of voices around them. And yes, these other voices include the “Stinking Thinking” inside their own heads.

Such praying may not get one everything he or she asks for, but such praying may lead one to getting what he or she needs. To that, I must say, “Amen.”

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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