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Tag Archive | "Ronnie McBrayer"

You Will Be Free


by Ronnie McBrayer

by Ronnie McBrayer

Before and during the US Civil War, tens of thousands of slaves made their way out of slavery on what was nicknamed the Underground Railroad. It was a secret escape from the Deep South. The slaves were assisted by people known as “conductors,” who transported their precious cargo by clandestine means, all the dangerous miles to freedom. And it was Ms. Harriet Tubman who was the greatest single conductor in the history of the Underground Railroad.

An escaped slave herself, Tubman was responsible for leading nearly a thousand people to freedom. And though she journeyed deep into slave territories many times with a huge bounty on her head, she was never caught. She said, “I did something most train conductors can’t never say. I never run my train off the track and I never lost a passenger.” She credited her success to two things. First, she believed she was protected by God. And second, once a slave came into her custody, no matter how afraid or demoralized that person might become, she never let them return to their chains. She would say to them, with all the resolve her five-foot frame could muster, “You will be free…or you will die.”

This has been the motto of freedom fighters from Harriet Tubman and Patrick Henry to William Wallace and Nelson Mandela. Of course, who can think of freedom without hearing the iconic words of Dr. King: “When we let freedom ring…we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children…will be able to join hands and sing, ‘Free at last, free at last. Thank God Almighty, we are free at last.’”

Freedom is God’s intention for all of his children; for all people. What God has lovingly planned and what Jesus has dramatically accomplished is far more than a change in the human perspective; it is an actual change of status. It is more than the alleviation of the feeling of hopelessness; it is the alleviation of actual hopelessness. It is not psychosomatic therapy; it is actual rescue from slavery, in all its varied forms—spiritual, emotional, psychological, and physical. All aspects of captivity are eradicated in the liberty of Christ. In the elegant words of Placide Cappeau, “Chains shall he break, for the slave is our brother; and in his name all oppression shall cease.” Put more bluntly, “You will be free.” May it be so.

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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Let It Be


by Ronnie McBrayer

by Ronnie McBrayer

For the longest time I thought a “Hail Mary” was a desperate, last-ditch throw at the end of a football game. Having been raised in one of the more contrary factions of Protestantism, you can’t blame me.

Well, all these years later, I understand why some find the “Hail Mary,” or Ave Maria, so gripping. “Hail Mary, full of grace. Our Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus,” comes straight from the Christmas text of Luke. It is Gabriel’s announcement that Mary will give birth to the Christ child, the Son of God.

Luke’s emphasis is not on her virginity, however, it is on her capitulation. Mary’s response to her miraculous motherhood is an act of complete surrender, as she says to Gabriel, “Let it be done to me according to your word.” Let it be: Where have we heard those words before?

The song “Let it Be” was written by Paul McCartney at a difficult time: The Beatles were on the skids, suffering from their success, and Paul was lost, drunk, and confused. Feeling this misery, he longed for the comfort of his mother—her name was Mary—who had died when he was 14.

It was during this time that Paul’s mother came to him in a dream, he says. And she said to him, “Paul, let it be.” McCartney awoke, went to the piano, and wrote the now classic song: “When I find myself in times of trouble, Mother Mary comes to me…There will be an answer, let it be.”

When Mary—the mother of Jesus, not the mother of Paul—said, “Let it be,” she wasn’t despairing of life. She was receiving the way of God for her life. She was admitting that her designs for living would be set aside so that God’s design for her life would come to fruition. Hers, like McCartney’s, was a song of surrender. It was a song of submission to a higher and better way.

Now, this sounds like losing, like we are giving up, but we lose nothing. We gain everything. By accepting how the world actually is, accepting who we really are, and accepting what God wants for us, we move forward with peace. We collapse into the strength and will of the Almighty. To confess such a thing is to indeed be full of grace.

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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Never Left Hanging


by Ronnie McBrayer

by Ronnie McBrayer

 

There is a story told a hundred different ways but with the same punch line: A man falls off a cliff, and just before plunging to his death, grabs hold of the skinniest of tree branches. For the moment he is alive, but hanging thousands of feet above the ground. Stuck as he is, and with no one else to call upon, he looks heavenward and prays: “Dear God! Please help me!”

A thunderous but calming voice answers from heaven: “Okay, my son, let go and I will catch you.” The man thinks about this offer for a moment and answers: “Thanks…but is there anyone else up there who can help me?”

Sometimes – on rare and unusual occasions – God intervenes. He speaks. He acts. And when he does, it often results in more trepidation than if he had remained silent. Think of Moses, barefoot at the burning bush; Jacob in a surprise wrestling match with God’s Angel; Saul, blind and blathering on the Damascus road.

Advent, which begins this week, is no exception. God speaks – God arrives – and the world is shattered. Shepherds quake. Angels sing. Awe-inspired Magi bow. Mary trembles. Joseph, a stunned carpenter, probably wonders if someone “else up there” could deliver him from the delivery of this child.

What was it all about? All of these characters were asked to “leap” from their perches and believe that the swaddling-wrapped-manger-for-a-crib baby is indeed the Promised One of God. Are we not asked to believe the same; that God has spoken and is speaking? Yes, when one speaks of “hearing God’s voice,” it might be time to call the paddy wagon. Great lunacies have been committed by individuals convinced that they were on a divine mission. Some of these insanities have crossed over into atrocity.

But to hear God speak, deep within our hearts, is not necessarily a sign of mental illness. It can be (like finding Jesus’s image in a bag of cheese puffs or an icon of the Virgin Mary on the back of a piece of raisin toast at the Waffle House). It can also be a manipulative way to dupe the spiritually naïve (or sell a pile of books during the holiday season).

Yet, on rare and unusual occasions, God intervenes with a voice booming in our hearts, and we are called to exercise ruthless trust. But, he is trustworthy, and will never leave us hanging.

Ronnie McBrayer is a syndicated columnist, pastor, 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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Never submit


by Ronnie McBrayer

by Ronnie McBrayer

One of my sons has a motto by which he attempts to live his life. It is: “Never submit.” I can attest that he practices this maxim rigorously, and it serves him well in many situations, giving him grit and determination. But at the point that he cannot impose his demands upon people and situations, bending these to his liking (and he reaches this point routinely), then “Never Submit” leads to a dark and dangerous place.

Nevertheless, my boy is at least speaking the truth, because this is precisely how many of us live. We refuse to submit—not to authority, the rules, or a way of life that would make our days lighter, easier, and healthier—and not even to God. This shows up, most noticeably, when we pray.

Prayer, if you haven’t detected it for yourself, can be very self-centered. We approach God, not with a view of letting go of ourselves, to receive and live the life he has for us. We approach God with the mantra, “Never Submit.” Our prayers are scripturally-laced ransom letters, demanding the Almighty to do things our way; to meet us where we are; to comply with our plans.

Such an attitude is not unlike the act of checking into a luxurious penthouse. We want something to eat, so room service is called and the kitchen goes into full operational mode to bring us whatever we want. Our favorite shirt is dirty. No problem, send for the maid. She will quickly take it to the laundry and return it before dinner.

Do you need a cab? Ring the bell; the concierge lives to serve you. Not enough clean towels? Want your bed made twice a day? Need an extra chocolate on your pillow at bedtime? It’s easy-peasy: Pick up the phone and the management will be happy to attend to your every whim and impulse.

Does prayer really work this way? I don’t think so. Prayer is not a method for getting everything we want. Rather, it is the means by which we surrender to what God wants. It is an act of acquiescence; the letting go of our resolve, exchanged for God’s. It is not pulling God to ourselves, to our will, or to our way of seeing and doing things. It is compliance to the intentions of God, as he pulls our lives in his direction. It is submission, always.

Ronnie McBrayer is a syndicated columnist, pastor, 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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You ain’t no mule!


by Ronnie McBrayer

by Ronnie McBrayer

 

Clarence Jordan was born deep in the farming fields of Georgia. Growing up in the Deep South, Jordan was witness to bitter acts of racism that were as numerous as the Georgia cotton bolls – and some of the more zealous racists were prominent Christians. But Clarence, by God’s grace, refused to become a participant. He boldly embraced a humble faith and a prophet’s vocation, preaching peace, nonviolence, and reconciliation. It didn’t win him many friends.

One day a man showed up at Clarence’s farm angry that he wouldn’t fight back. Clarence answered, “You’ve got that wrong. We’ll fight.” And then he looked across the field where a mule was sticking his head out of the barn. Clarence said, “Suppose you walked by the barn and that old mule reached out and bit you in the seat of your britches? Would you bite him back?”

The man was appalled. “Of course I wouldn’t bite him back,” the man said. “I’d get a two-by-four and hit him in the head!” Clarence, with his Southern-fried wisdom answered, “See, you would fight, but you wouldn’t use that old mule’s tactics, ‘cause you ain’t no mule. You wouldn’t bite or kick him because he would win. You would choose weapons that a mule can’t compete with.”

Then Clarence delivered the clincher: “Yes sir, we will fight, but we will choose the weapons. We will fight with humility, grace, justice, and forgiveness. But we’re not going to fight with the enemy’s weapons, because if we do, the enemy will whip us.”

Clarence Jordan died in 1969, still reviled by many of his neighbors, so much so that the local coroner wouldn’t even drive to the farm to pronounce the man deceased. But the man was anything but dead. His deeds and words live on. And while he is not as well known, it is not uncommon to hear his name spoken with the likes of Gandhi, King, and Teresa of Calcutta.

His most prominent work, “The Cotton Patch Gospel” is a masterpiece of New Testament interpretation, and his vision eventually birthed the organization known as Habitat for Humanity, which has partnered with those in need to shelter more than three million people.

In the end, it appears that Clarence Jordan fought well. His life is a testimony to grace under fire and an example for all fighters to follow. Like him, let us choose our weapons carefully.

Ronnie McBrayer is a syndicated columnist, pastor, 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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At the Brink


by Ronnie McBrayer

by Ronnie McBrayer

Thirty years ago this month, life as we have known it, came perilously close to ending. It was September 1983, and the Cold War was anything but cold, as the USSR had shot down Korea Air Flight 007 when it strayed near Soviet airspace, killing all 269 civilians on board including Georgia Congressman Larry McDonald.

With passions running high in both Russia and the US, and with thousands of nuclear warheads aimed at each other, one of the greatest heroes of our time quietly went to work at a Soviet military base just outside of Moscow. His name was Lieutenant Colonel Stanislav Petrov.

It was Petrov’s duty to monitor the Soviet alert system in the event of a preemptive nuclear attack by the US. The responding protocol was to launch an immediate counterattack. At Colonel Petrov’s station on September evening, the computer alarms sounded, warning that an American missile was heading toward Moscow.

Petrov waited. He reasoned that it was a computer error. But then, a second warhead was detected; then a third; a fourth, and a fifth. Still, Petrov had a “feeling in his gut,” that the alert system was malfunctioning. Further, it was unthinkable, for him, that he would be the final reason that would end human civilization.

So, Petrov sat on the alert, overrode the system, and prevented the USSR from retaliating. Seconds passed, then minutes, and finally an hour: There were no missiles. The warning system had indeed malfunctioned with near cataclysmic consequences. Singlehandedly, Petrov had prevented nuclear war, simply by not becoming a participant in it.

The Pauline admonition is fitting upon the anniversary of Petrov’s heroics: “Do all that you can to live in peace with everyone.” This is redemptive counsel for us to do all that we can to protect harmony and neutralize conflict.

Not every individual skirmish has the potential to balloon into a global apocalypse. But worldwide wars are not that much different than private ones in the end. It’s the same tit for tat game. The same wounded pride demands to be assuaged. And likewise, at some point, there is an opportunity for someone to step away from the brink.

There is opportunity for someone to refuse to perpetuate the ruthless cycle of attack and counterattack; for someone to reject the established protocol of retaliation; for someone to practice peace. Let that someone be you. You might save the world.

Ronnie McBrayer is a syndicated columnist, pastor, 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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Take It with You


by Ronnie McBrayer

by Ronnie McBrayer

When I first met Father Thad I was a Baptist minister and he was the priest at the neighborhood Catholic parish. Thad was an astonishing man, a depository of mind-warping experiences, not the least of which was a personal story I loved to hear him tell.

A parish he once led desperately needed to expand its ministry. But one man in the parish absolutely resisted, always squelching prospective change by saying something like, “My grandfather gave the land for this church; my daddy cleared the trees for the building; and we’re not going to change anything.” (Catholics don’t have a monopoly on this sentiment).

Thad finally had enough. In his remarkable way, he secured a diocese blessing and obtained a piece of land on the other side of town. He called the local house builders, and had the church relocated! I have this charming picture in my mind of the church, steeple atop, rolling down the road on stilts led by a vestment-clad Father Thad, reading the gospel and splashing holy water along the way.

When I first heard that story, I told Thad, “If you were a Protestant, you could have just started another church.” His response was priceless: “Why start another church, when you can take it with you?”

Truth told, that is pretty good ecclesiology. Ecclesiology is what seminarians call the “doctrine of the church.” It answers the question: “What is the nature of the church?” After several hundred years of modernity and religious institutionalism, more and more people are recognizing that the church is not a building. The church is a people, not a place. It is a living movement, not a fixed address.

When the last homilies, sermons, songs, testimonies, and prayers are offered at your congregation or parish on Sunday morning, you don’t leave the church. You will leave a specific gathering of the church, certainly, but you take the church with you—because the church is you. You take it on the road, across town, into your workplace or university, into your living room, classroom, and boardroom: You embody the presence of Christ in the world.

We will not be defined so much by “where we go to church,” but by whether or not we will be the church once we leave the building. As Father Thad put it so accurately: “Why start another church, when you can take it with you?”

Ronnie McBrayer is a syndicated columnist, pastor, 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 ones Jesus loves


Ronnie McBrayer

Ronnie McBrayer

“Just who do you think you are?” Now there’s a question that has been posed and pointed more than a few times. Usually it is a weaponized question of sorts, laden with accusation. Nevertheless, I think it is an essential question of spiritual identity.

Consider the writer of the New Testament book commonly known as “John.” Tradition holds that this Gospel was written by the disciple John, one of Jesus’ closest associates, though the writer, mysteriously, never identifies himself by name. He used an alias, a pen name tagged: “The one Jesus loved.”

Why such a moniker? I think he was using a literary device to force his readers to take hold of the core meaning of what it means to be in relationship with Jesus Christ. He was asking the question, “Just who do you think you are?”

John understood that his core identity was directly connected to the love Christ had for him. So much so, that he did not think of himself as a fisherman, a disciple, an apostle, a Gospel writer, or a Church Father. He was simply one who was supremely loved. Likewise, we are not defined by occupation, label, race, nationality, culture, popularity, or the ancillary chorus of the voices around us. We are simply the Ones Jesus Loves. This is who we really are.

Is this too much to understand? Probably so. But I don’t have to understand it to embrace it and live it. I don’t understand the science of how the sun can be 93 million miles away, provide life-giving light to this planet, and keep our solar system from devolving into chaos, but I believe it, and I experience its light and heat every day. I don’t understand Newton’s Law of Gravitation or Einstein’s later Theory of Relativity, but I know these things keep my feet grounded on planet earth every day, and anchor me within this time and space.

I understand very little about these things. But can’t God’s love in Christ work the same way? As a shining light, a grounding force, a sustaining atmosphere; an affection, passion, and serenity that gives us life and meaning?

No, we can only understand bits and piece of it all, but our lack of complete knowledge should not prevent us from believing and living this fact: We are unconditionally and eternally adored by God. We are indeed, the Ones Jesus Loves.

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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No More Show-And-Tell


Ronnie McBrayer

Ronnie McBrayer

In American literature, the biggest religious pretender of all time is probably Sinclair Lewis’ Elmer Gantry. Gantry begins his career in the early 1900s at a little country church (while trying to seduce the daughter of one of the deacons). Eventually he becomes a traveling evangelist who steals from the till, chases skirts, and stays drunk most of the time; but his preaching is phenomenal, so he always has a crowd.

Granted, the evangelist type is an easy mark. Public religious figures are easily labeled as “hypocrites and charlatans.” Gantry wasn’t the first and he certainly won’t be the last. But his real wickedness was not his sins. We are all made of clay. It was his two-faced dishonesty. He did what he did out of pride, ambition, and self-glory. He was performing for the audience. That is hypocrisy.

The word “hypocrite,” in its original context, is a great old word right from the Greek and Roman theaters of ancient times that means “play-actor.” A hypocrite was a person who played multiple roles on the stage. But over time, a hypocrite came to mean a person who changed his or her mask for applause. As Jesus used the word, a hypocrite was one who played to the crowd. He or she was someone who performed for the audience – like Elmer Gantry – and at points, like everyone.

In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus said that hypocrites “receive all the reward they will ever get.” If you play for the crowd, he inferred, or if your ambition is to draw attention to yourself, then when you get it, you earned your pay. There is no further reward, benefit, or other prize. God has nothing for you but an empty hand.

Alternatively, Jesus offers a healthier way. “When you give,” he says, “don’t let your left hand know what your right hand is doing. When you pray, go to a closet and shut the door. When you sacrifice for a cause, don’t broadcast it.” In other words, keep your religious activities on the quiet side; as much as possible, keep it between you and God. Otherwise, you risk corrupting what would be a good deed.

My friend Landon Saunders said it superlatively many years ago. Commenting on the religious tendencies for show-and-tell he suggested that we, “Wear our religion like we wear our underwear; make it rarely visible.” That’s good advice, indeed.

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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Sometimes heroes need a hero


Ronnie McBrayer

By Ronnie McBrayer

 

When the magnificent Pat Summitt announced last month that she was stepping down as coach of the University of Tennessee Lady Volunteers, it was the end of what Summitt called “a great ride.” For those of us who watched her coach these past four decades, pacing courtside and staring down players with that icy, piercing gaze, it was the final touch on a gold-gilded treasure.

Though Pat Summitt’s coaching career has ended due to what Dr. Alois Alzheimer called the “Disease of Forgetfulness,” certainly her life has not. She remains a hero and will go on with grace and strength, but she will have to do so with help from others. Many heroic people—not as well-known as Pat Summitt, but just as accomplished in their own way—are ambushed by this hellacious illness. In the fray that follows, those playing supportive roles emerge with equal heroics of their own.

For 50 years, my friend Betty has been a church pianist. As Alzheimer’s tightens its grip on her mind, she still dresses in her choir robe on Sundays, sits close to her grand piano, and when she gets her cue, she goes to the bench and plays Bach as surely and confidently as she did decades earlier. Her church could afford a new pianist, but they love Betty. They want her to play as long as she can, and at times they graciously order their entire worship service to accommodate her.

There is one of my personal heroes and mentors, Dr. Ron, who recently died from dementia. As his vigorous mind began to unravel, hundreds stepped forward to assist his wife and family—an entire community. And there is my own father-in-law, who now wrestles with this disease. The family will wrestle as well, at times smiling as he forgets a name; at other times weeping over stolen memories; and sometimes buckling beneath the near unbearable weight of caring for one who was once capable of carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders.

But what other choice is there? When one has given his or her life to us, how can we not give a little of our life in return? Yes, some of our heroes will forget almost everything: their accomplishments, the lives they once lived, and maybe our very names; but love will not let us forget them, especially when they need us most.

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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