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Tag Archive | "Ronnie McBrayer"

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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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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