Author Archives: Ronnie McBrayer

Safer Among the Christian Savages

rogerwilliamsThe Barna Group is a long-tenured research organization that tracks “spiritual indicators” and the role of faith within American culture. Barna maintains massive databases on everything from Americans’ TV-viewing habits to weekly church attendance, and its data is used extensively.

A recent Barna study, commissioned by the American Bible Society, sought to determine the level of “Bible-Mindedness” in this country’s largest cities. The rubric for the study was simple: Participants who claimed to read the Bible weekly and who strongly asserted the “Bible to be accurate in the principles it teaches” were considered “Bible-Minded.” Those who did not meet this standard were deemed to be unbiblical.

The major cities in the South “engaged and esteemed the Christian scriptures” with the greatest fervency, per Barna. Knoxville and Chattanooga, Tennessee, along with Shreveport, Louisiana, led the way with the majority of these residents being “Bible-Minded.” On the other end of the analysis were major cities from New England, not one of which could score above 20%, meaning the overwhelming majority of these people demonstrate “resistance to the Bible,” again, per the Barna study.

But far and away, the most “unbiblical” city in America is Providence, Rhode Island. There, only 9% of survey participants regularly read and adhere to the Bible. This should come as no surprise, given Rhode Island’s history. The state began as a haven for those who had been mistreated by strict biblicists – “Bible-Minded” people – who embraced the letter of the law, not the spirit of grace.

So you could conclude, historically speaking, that Islanders have a bad taste in their mouth when it comes to religion, and it began with Rhode Island’s founder, a hero of mine, Roger Williams. When Williams arrived in Massachusetts more than a century before the American Revolution, he was part of the Puritan effort to build that famed “City on a Hill,” a divinely instituted nation where everyone would be “Bible-minded.”

He settled into his new role as pastor of the church in Salem, and in short order became the most controversial figure on the continent. How so? Williams relentlessly preached liberty of conscience and freedom from state-driven religious conformity, espousing a revolutionary idea that there should be a separation between church and state.

Vexed to the point of murder, the authorities finally made plans to kidnap Williams and deport him to England where he would be executed. But warned just hours before the authorities arrived to arrest him, Williams escaped into the wilderness where he eventually purchased from the Narrangansetts, the land that would become Rhode Island.

And it was exactly that: An island, a sanctuary for all kinds of religious dissidents in the earliest years of the American colonies, surrounded by the stormy waters of zealous extremism. Jews. Quakers. Baptists. Catholics. Atheists. They came in manifold and variegated expressions, and Roger Williams, this nation’s first Founding Father of toleration and liberty, welcomed them all, in spite of being viciously hated by New England’s religious establishment.

Meanwhile, back at Salem, an awful scar was soon slashed into America’s early history: The abominable witchcraft trials where twenty people were executed. An addition thirteen died in their prison cells, and hundreds more were ensnared in the inquisition. All this was carried out by by professing Christians who had rejected Roger Williams’ appeal for religious toleration.

It was no wonder, then, when Massachusetts Governor, John Winthrop, asked Roger to recant of his beliefs, leave the natives of the wilderness and come home, Roger responded, “I cannot; for I feel safer among the Christian savages, than I do among savage Christians.”

Ironically, Roger Williams never lost his Christian faith, and to the end of his life, he was definitely a “Bible-minded” man. Maybe, if he were alive today, he would wish that more of his neighbors “engaged the Christian scriptures,” but he would never force them to do so. He would say as he said: “Men’s consciences ought never to be violated…for a religion that must be upheld by violence, is a religion that cannot be true.”

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

Some Things Are Better Left Alone

rattlesnakeThere is an ancient story from the Cherokee Nation that was used to illustrate the danger of getting too close to something dangerous. I first heard it as a child, though variations of the tale are found in most all of the world’s tribal societies.

A young boy, who was soon to be initiated into manhood, was making a journey through the forest when he came across a rattlesnake. The rattlesnake was very old, yet, there was enough life left in the serpent to speak to the young Cherokee: “Please,” he said, “take me to the top of the mountain. I hope to see the sunset one last time before I die.”

The Cherokee highly respected the rattlesnake, and great care was taken never to offend this chief of the snake tribe. So the young brave responded cautiously: “Mr. Rattlesnake, this I cannot do. If I pick you up, you will bite me and it will be me who will die.” The rattlesnake answered: “No, I promise I will not bite you. Just take me up to the top of the mountain as I do not have the strength to travel there myself. I must see the sun set a final time.”

The young man relented and carefully picked up the old rattlesnake. After a while, he was able to hold the snake confidently to his chest as he carried it up to the top of the mountain. There they watched the sun set together. Afterward the rattlesnake turned to the young man and said, “Take me home. I am very tired, and very old.”

The young Cherokee carefully picked up the rattlesnake once again and took it to his chest, tightly and safely. He came all the way down the mountain now accepting the snake as his friend. But just before he laid the rattlesnake down, the snake turned and bit the boy in the chest. The boy cried out in shock and pain, staggering backward to the ground.

“Mr. Rattlesnake, what have you done? You promised not to harm me! Now I will surely die!” he cried. The rattlesnake could only offer a sly grin with this slithering answer: “Ah, but you knew what I was when you first picked me up.” The lesson is obvious: Some things are best resisted by leaving them alone.

There is something dreadfully dangerous that the Christian church has been picking up for centuries now, something it can hardly resist. That something is power. It is a hoped for unification with Empire, and the deadly idea that the church can use the state’s influence to accomplish its own mission without being bitten. Regrettably, it is not a new idea.

Not many decades after the first followers of Jesus died, someone decided it would be a good idea to join forces with the powers that be. After all, imagine how many people could be converted, helped, enrolled, and evangelized if the church was more powerful, more organized, and more efficient (such thoughts arise often). So the church went for power and won it in spades.

The coffers ran over with gold, people of influence (including the Emperor) began to seek the ministers’ approval on policy, the pews were full every Sunday, and as Vernard Eller observed, “When trying to move all the names from the ‘Pagan’ column to the ‘Christian’ column, they realized it was easier to switch the headings.” The Empire gained another tool of domination without changing a thing, and the church lost its unique identity and authenticity.

Thankfully, a growing number of Christians have begun to recognize that there is something suspicious about attaching a national flag to the way of Christ. In fact, it’s more than suspicious; it’s downright slithery.

For a follower of Jesus to come to such a conclusion does not mean a loss of love for one’s nation, but it means these followers will not marginalize the Lordship of Jesus. It is an acknowledgment that the Kingdom of God cannot be brought to earth by the poisonous powers of 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.net.

Living Unafraid

blackbartIn August of 1871 a man sent a letter to his wife claiming that he had been swindled by the Wells Fargo Company. He vowed his revenge. So, he began burglarizing the Fargo stage coaches in northern California. Over the next decade he succeeded in almost thirty robberies.

He would wait for the coach at a narrow pass, and at just the right moment would emerge dressed in black with a hood over his head and carrying a long, double-barreled shotgun. He was never seen arriving – he simply materialized out of nowhere.

To match his appearance, he had a deep baritone voice. He would point his gun at the driver and kindly say, “Sir, will you please throw down your treasure box?” This terrifying gentleman bandit was nicknamed “Black Bart.”

As you can imagine, Wells Fargo didn’t like Black Bart. They hired detectives to hunt him down. Laboriously these detectives tracked Black Bart to an extravagant apartment in San Francisco. But when they arrived they couldn’t believe what they found beneath the dark, menacing hood.

“Black Bart” was actually a man named Charles Boles. He was not seven feet tall like some of the witnesses had claimed. He wasn’t even six feet tall. He was not young and rugged, but instead nearing his sixtieth birthday. He wasn’t a bloodthirsty bandit at all. He was a handsome, well-educated man who had once made a living as a druggist and transportation clerk, occupations that didn’t pay as well as he would have liked.

And since Charles Boles liked to live the high life, stay in fine hotels, eat in the best restaurants, and wear the finest clothes, he discovered stagecoach robbing was not only good revenge, but bankrolled his lavish lifestyle. Further, he did not appear on horseback at his robberies because he was afraid of the animals, and Bart never fired a single shot or hurt the first person in his robberies because he never even loaded his gun.

Black Bart used the most crippling weapon in his arsenal: Fear. Through menacing intimidation, he made a good living at taking from others. But when unmasked, he was nothing people said he was. He was just an unarmed, deep, shadowy voice in a dark empty suit.

I’m not naive; the world around us is dangerous. I know that. But the living Christ has shown this world for what it is: Powerless against those who are in him. This doesn’t mean the world will not hurt us. It does not mean that some of the things we fear won’t take place. It simply means that nothing in this world can finally or completely destroy us.

Imagine that your life is a chess match or a football game, if you like. There comes a point in any such game, as C.S. Lewis pointed out, where the decisive move is made. In chess, maybe the rook takes the queen; or in football that pivotal first down is made in the last five minutes so that time will expire. These are turning points, where yes, the game continues, but it might as well be over. The final outcome has been determined, and for all practical purposes the jig is up.

The decisive move in this game of God’s universe came at the cross and resurrection of Jesus. The final outcome, at that moment, was determined. Yes, life goes on. We struggle. We suffer loss. Pieces still move on the table. There is still time on the clock. We wrestle with our phobias and try to keep our fears at bay. But we have hope – not fantasies that the world isn’t the way it actually is – but assurance that Christ has overcome the world leaving so much that would terrify us as an empty threat.

In these perilous times we do not have to lose our heads or our confidence. The power we have been given and the love we have been shown flows from the Providence who is larger than our fears, and when we live in Him, we can live unafraid.

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

In the Arms of Love

Pyramid of Kukulkan ca. 987

Pyramid of Kukulkan ca. 987

While in Central America earlier this year, I visited the Mayan ruins at Tazumal, El Salvador. Tazumal is one of the best preserved ruins in that country, and I learned from my guide, that it was a central religious site. Tazumal was a place where the ancients gathered to ceremonially soothe their cruel, bloodthirsty deities.

If a severe drought struck the region, then the gods were angry; shed some blood. If the rainy season was monsoonal, the gods were perturbed; shed some blood. If the spring corn crop refused to grow, the gods were against the people; shed some blood. Sickness, plague, earthquakes, tidal waves, floods, or accidents; these all had the same explanation. The fickle and nefarious gods had to be appeased.

All ancient religions were built on a similar foundation: God is angry and humanity stands in constant danger, thus someone has to pay. Much of current religion is anchored to this mooring as well. Is it no wonder then, that the world is filled with hate, bloodshed, panic, and terror when religious people, the vast majority of the world’s population, expect the same from their gods?

Regrettably, faith has failed to mature or evolve beyond its most elementary and primitive beginnings; and when Christianity succumbs to this type of fear-driven hysteria, it is especially disconcerting. That God is an unpredictable executioner with an itchy, twitchy trigger finger that must somehow be pacified is a gross misrepresentation of our faith, because it is a gross misrepresentation of Jesus Christ, his person, and his mission.

We who are Christian believe that Jesus “is the visible image of the invisible God,” as the Apostle Paul wrote. Paul continued, “And through Christ, God reconciled everything to himself. He made peace with everything in heaven and on earth.”

Put simply, the Advent of Jesus, his coming into the world that we celebrate during this season, was not to save us from God, but to show us what and who God is really like. And what is he like? He is at peace with us. He has reconciled all things. There is no anger to placate and no blood to shed, only his love to receive, explore, and share.

God loves us, not because we are good; not because we are loveable; not because of what we can do for him or for others; and not because of the way we make him feel. He loves us because he is actually, truly, really that good. And what we and our world need more than anything – a world up to its collective ears in fear and bloodshed – is that kind of real, unconditional, healing love.

I enjoy how Father Richard Rohr explains this. He tells a story about eating dinner with a family from his parish. They had a wonderful meal and the whole time the toddler in the family, who had just learned to walk, was running about everywhere. The little guy could really move, but he had a problem stopping.

He ran to the top of a set of stairs but could not find his “brakes” in time to stop. He toppled, over the edge, banging and careening his way downward. No one at the table moved; they all held their breath in dread. Four, five, six, seconds passed. The father finally jumped up and ran to the stairwell. There the youngster was at the bottom of the steps, only bruised a bit, but lying in shock, his eyes bugged out over what had just happened to him. Only when his dad got to him and picked him up did he start crying.

Father Rohr made this appropriate observation: “We can never acknowledge our pain and let the healing begin, until we are taken up in the arms of love. Love allows the crying and the mending to begin.” God wants to take up the hurt and injured into his arms to love and mend, not destroy. So let the mending begin in each us, and we might discover that the mending will begin in our 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.net.

Paying For Your Raising

checkHave you heard the phrase: “Paying for your raising”? Do something stupid as a child or teenager so that your mother or father becomes infuriated. They punish you, ground you, lecture you, and then, to exhaust their frustrations they say something to the effect, “One day you’re going to pay for your raising.”

Or, you are an adult talking with your parents about your own children. You tell them some dramatic story about how evil and morally bankrupt their grandchildren are, how they have committed some great sin, and of the pain it is now causing you. What do your parents do? They make light of your sufferings, and with evil in their eyes say, “I guess you’re paying for your raising.”

This is the parental cycle of karma, I think. All the sins of your youth and all the ways you hurt your parents, come home to roost in your own children. So you suffer, as this saying goes, as your parents suffered. My father told me regularly that I was going to “pay for my raising.” I didn’t believe him then, and now as the father of three teenagers, I still don’t believe him.

Why? Well, I read recently that a child born into a middle-income family this year, excluding the cost of college, will cost his or her parents nearly $250,000 to get that child to high school graduation. Armed with that information, if you think you can go to your adult parents’ home, and with one fell swoop stroke them a check for a quarter of million dollars and call it even, then you are a moron of epic proportions.

Even? Impossible, for you can’t pump the serotonin you burned up back inside their brains. You can’t undo all their gray hair, heartburn, crow’s feet, and high blood pressure that you caused. Because of you they had weight gain, extensive counseling sessions, hormone therapy, and sleepless nights. You imposed upon them impossible decisions, private fights, monetary sacrifice, countless tears.

As your parents they experienced existential guilt, law enforcement interventions, miserable teacher conferences, and gastroesophageal reflux disease: You did this to your parents! We all did – your kids will do it to you – and there’s no way to repay any of it. But joy and relief, there’s no expectation to do so, because most of us would endure all these heartaches again and again for the sake of those to whom we gave life.

How else can you explain why perfectly sane, highly functioning adults keep having children? It isn’t craziness, it is love (though, if you have ever been in love, you know how close it appears to madness).

Such love has a name. It is the Hebrew word, “Chesed,” usually associated with God’s fatherly love for his children, and a word for which there is no easy English equivalent. Some call it grace, mercy, or kindness, but these attempts fail. “Chesed” is all of these things and more, the central Hebrew virtue to which all acts of charity and goodness are attached.

Dr. Ralph Davis writes, “‘Chesed’ is where love, strength, and steadfastness interact with each other, not merely kindness, but dependable kindness; not merely affection, but affection that has committed itself.” And I will add that such a commitment is always there – whether it is deserved, earned, justifiable or otherwise.

One rabbi, explaining so plainly, says, “When a person works for an employer, and then he gets paid, that pay is really a recycling of his own deeds. It isn’t love. It isn’t kindness. It is earned. But an act of ‘chesed’ cannot be recycled. It is something given or granted without cause.”

Parenthood is based on this kind of unfailing, non-recyclable love. It is an act of steady, secure, unshakable, unearned, uncaused, and sometimes unappreciated love. That’s nothing that you or anyone else can pay back, even if you wrote your dad a big fat check for Father’s Day this weekend. He could use the money, I’m sure, but he would do it all over again for the sake of love.

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

For the Long Haul

longnowfoundationFor those who grew up in the revivalistic tradition, we heard the same basic sermon every Sunday: “You are a sinner. Repent or you’re going to hell. And you better get to it, because Jesus could return at any second and catch you unprepared.”

I can’t tell you how many times I heard a preacher say something like, “The Lord Jesus could return at any moment! He could return before I finish preaching this morning!” And then the speaker would preach for so long, I thought that’s exactly what he was trying to achieve: Preach till Jesus got there.

I didn’t like this sort of exhortation. I was, after all, a teenager being told how big a sinner I was, but didn’t feel like I had gotten to sin very much yet. I hadn’t got to do much of anything! I hadn’t traveled, hadn’t earned my driver’s license, hadn’t had sex, hadn’t turned twenty-one or really even lived. If Jesus was content waiting all these centuries before returning to earth, just to show up at this particular blip in history to interrupt my simple little plans, then I concluded it would be a raw deal.

My feelings about so much of the “Second Coming” preaching I hear still makes me cranky (but for a different reason than when I was a teenager). We are so absolutely convinced that we are living in the final chapter of human history – on the last page, if not within the last sentence – that we are in danger of giving away the future.

Growing up in a tradition where the impending, imminent return of Christ was a pillar of our faith, the question was always asked, “What if Jesus came back today?” That’s a good question, no doubt. But here is a question that might be better: “What if he doesn’t?”

What if Jesus does not come back today…or tomorrow…or next year…or next decade…or next century? What kind of world do we want to leave for our descendants? What kind of world will we have then? If we aren’t prepared for the long haul, prepared to persevere into a distant future, then have we not given up on actually living the faith we profess?

We who are Christian could take a lesson from the not-for-profit organization, “The Long Now Foundation.” It has been around since 1996, and it hopes to be around much, much longer. The Long Now Foundation has one essential goal: To reverse the trend in our culture of short-term thinking.

The founders believe that our “accelerating technology, the short-horizon perspective of market-driven economics, the next-election perspective of democracies, and the distractions of personal multi-tasking” have given us “a pathologically short attention span.” They want to provide some sort of corrective balance to our short-sightedness, and encourage “the long view and the taking of long-term responsibility, where ‘long-term’ is measured” in centuries, not months or years.

Illustrating this long-term thinking, Long Now is building a massive clock – a 21st century version of Stonehenge – that will tick for the next 10,000 years. Eventually the clock will be placed in a cave in Nevada’s Great Basin National Park. The point of the clock is not to mark time; it is to rekindle our hope in the future.

The church, allegedly the most hopeful community in the world, could use some of that thinking, because Jesus will probably not return before you finish reading this article. He’ll probably not return today, and likely not return in your lifetime (If he does, I will happily apologize to each and every one of you publicly, along with an exhaustive list of all I have been/am wrong about).

No, “God is not slow about keeping his promises,” but we must know that God works on a timetable that is all his own. And yes, maybe Jesus will return tomorrow or next year. But it might be next millennium. Regardless, if it’s sooner or later, we have to be more than prepared. We have to be prepared to faithfully persevere no matter how long the wait.

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.net.

Trust the Coach

2015-05-02-15-34-07-e1433167589844This year I’ve been coaching Little League baseball. It has been a lot of fun, for the most part, because 12-year-olds experience the whole “Field of Dreams” mystique in a way that is lost on older players. It is also a marvelous thing to watch these young boys mature in the game as they learn to hit and field; to play as a team and not devour another player when he makes a mistake; to control one’s emotions (and they are often more accomplished at this than most of their parents in the stands); and to persevere in difficulty.

They also learn a little about faith, because in their natural state, they have very little of the stuff. How can I say such a thing? Well, they don’t trust their coaches, evidenced by the fact that they refuse to follow our instructions.

“Run!” the coach says. But they won’t budge. “Stay!” I scream, but inexplicably, they run. The admonition, “You can’t hit a fastball thrown above your hands,” is repeated to them for the umpteenth time in a game, but they keep swinging as if swatting at swarming flies.

This is more than a lack of discipline on their part. Twelve-year-olds, with minuscule experience on the field and with life, think they know more about playing the game than we three old men who are coaching them. It all comes down to faith, for the question put to these players time and time again is this: Will you trust me enough to do it my way?

That’s a lesson, not just for prepubescent boys playing baseball. That’s a lesson for everyone. Life will always come down to doing things your way or living God’s way. There is nothing else. You will trust you – what you can do, what you can see, what you can predict, how far you can go – or you will trust God – in what he can do.

Sure, you can go all “Invictus” with life and be “the master of your fate and the captain of your soul.” Admittedly, it will be invigorating to face the storms alone, to navigate the waters solo, and to call your own shots; at least for a while, but eventually it’s simply exhausting. Or you can hand the responsibility for your life over to God and allow him to direct and do with it as he pleases.

I think this is what Jesus was getting after when he said, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” He wasn’t talking about self-inflicted punishment or depriving oneself of anything that is the least bit joyful. He was saying, “Don’t trust your own ego. Live the self-surrendered, self-sacrificed life.” Or if baseball had been Jesus’ field he might have said, “Don’t play the game your way. Trust the coach!”

In another phrase that Jesus used – and instructed us to use in what we now call the Lord’s Prayer – the life of faith is summarized in a single phrase. And if you can just once in life utter this prayer with sincerity, it will likely be enough: “Thy Will Be Done.”

Humanity has been managing its own destiny for more than a few millennia now, and while our knowledge and technical proficiency continue to grow, our measure of wisdom and common sense seems as stunted as ever. We have never, at least not for more than a generation, relinquished the clutching grasp we have on our perceived destiny. Yet, we aren’t really steering anything. We are strangling ourselves. We manage only to hurt others, our planet, ourselves, and our future with greater speed and efficiency.

So the decision is left to make, a daily choice though it may be, either to continue with our destructive ways or entrust the control of life and life’s events to God, trusting him with all outcomes. If we truly believe, we will choose the latter – the life of surrender – because we are what we do, not what we say we believe.

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

The Little Way

therese-as-a-childOne of my favorite Brennan Manning quotes is about heaven, but only indirectly. It’s more about how to best live our lives today. Manning says, “Heaven will be filled with preschoolers. No adults will be allowed admittance.” Brennan’s quote duplicates the words of Jesus: “The Kingdom of God belongs to those who are like children,” Christ said.

Jesus wasn’t idealizing childhood or emphasizing a child’s innocence with those words. No, he was pointing to the status of a child. If you want to get somewhere spiritually, Jesus says, you don’t get there by clawing your way to top. You have to descend to the lowest possible place in the social strata. You humble yourself, because you have to get small to fit through the door that leads to the kingdom of God.

So every time we feel ourselves being led away from childlike simplicity and dependence upon God, we must return to the nursery, remembering that there can be no status-striving in the ways of God. We resist and remove those things that lure us into a state where we are not wholly and completely dependent upon God.

No, the world doesn’t operate this way, but this is exactly why the witness of the church is required. In a society marked by smear campaigns, scraping and fighting to get to the top of the heap, grotesque levels of inequality and greed, broken promises and broken deals, cheating and killing just to get to be number one, when we become as humble children, we show society a better way to live.

Thankfully, from time to time, God gifts the church with those rare individuals who remind us of Jesus’ words. One of those people was a French teenager who lived a century ago named Therese Martin, better known today as St. Therese of Lisieux. Therese entered a Carmelite convent when she was only 15, with one ambition: To become a saint.

The Carmelites certainly lent themselves to her pursuit. The Carmelites demanded strict obedience, continuous prayers, long periods of fasting and silence, vows of isolation and poverty, and overall a severe approach to spirituality. This was the perfect place for one looking to achieve the peak of the religious honor system. And this was the exact place that Therese utterly failed.

Six years into her cloistered life in the convent, and suffering from poor health and debilitating bouts of depression, she realized that all her striving and religious go-getting was useless. She was exhausted by it all, and simply could not do it. Giving up on sainthood altogether, and despairing of life, it was about this time that she read a single line from the book of Proverbs that changed everything: “Whoso is little, let him come to me.”

She named this discovery “The Little Way,” realizing that the only way up, was down. For the rest of her very short life (she died at the age of 24), she quit trying so hard at trying so hard, and learned to become a child once again.

She wrote, “Children are always giving trouble, falling down, getting themselves dirty, breaking things; but all this does not shake their parents’ love for them…I rejoice to be little because only children, and those who are like them, will be admitted to the heavenly banquet.”

Often critiqued as overly simplistic and naïve, Therese and her “Little Way” are rejected by those who feel the need for greater complexity or intellectualism in their faith. Maybe these critics reject her conclusions because they simply feel the need for more: More responsibility, more steps up the religious ladder to the top, more ways to gain respect, status, or a higher standing, and the need for a more honorable reputation.

Yet, Therese was right on target, and not because her way ironically led to her sainthood. She was right because her way reflected the way of Jesus. And reflecting Jesus is more than enough, because his way, “The Little Way,” always leads us to abandon ourselves like a child, into the arms of God.

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.net.

Keep Moving

Destin Beaches sign - seen in Florida

Destin Beaches sign – seen in Florida

In your mind’s eye, envision that you are leaving for a family vacation at the beach. With the June calendar now upon us, this isn’t a stretch of the imagination. More than 60 million Americans will travel to the sand and surf over the course of the coming summer.

But back to your trip: You have meticulously planned this week of surfing, seafood, and sunbathing. You have holed away and scraped together every available nickel. You have endured winter’s cold and finally you and yours depart for the coast.

After hours of hard traveling you rub your bloodshot eyes and see a glorious sign that says, “Beaches.” You are overjoyed. But how strange would it be (remember you are using your imagination), if when you saw that sign you immediately stopped the car and began unloading all of your vacation wares as if you had actually arrived at your destination?

How bizarre, if you and your family started setting up beach chairs and umbrellas, if you began unpacking coolers, baiting fish hooks, and slathering on the sun block right there beneath the sign? Would it not be flaky if you started calling and texting everyone back home to tell them that you were safe at the beach, when in fact you were only camping at a mile marker along the way?

Of course it would, yet many people of faith do exactly this sort of thing when it comes to reading their Bibles – and I’m not imagining this. They see the Scriptures as the end of their spiritual journey, not the road sign along the way, pointing them to a much more magnificent destination. What exactly is the Bible pointing us toward? In a word, Jesus.

On Sunday mornings untold numbers of worship leaders will read the Bible and conclude with the affirmation, “The Word of God for the People of God.” In turn, the congregation responds in unison, “Thanks be to God.” But here is the shocker: Nowhere in the 66 individual books of the collected Old and New Testaments does the Bible take the title, “The Word of God” for itself.

It speaks of the Word of God, to be sure. It gives dramatic accounts of people hearing and responding to God’s voice. The Scriptures give instructions to God’s people, but the self-elevating inscription of “The Word of God” is conspicuously absent.

Still, the Word of God is an essential phrase in the Christian dictionary, and by affirming the words of Scripture, we are declaring our willingness to hear God’s voice and follow where he leads. For the “Word of God” is not a dead, static reading in an echoey, stone chamber. It is a dynamic invitation to grow in love, to expand one’s faith, and to follow Jesus.

In one of the more lofty concepts of the New Testament, John wrote, “In the beginning was the Word. The Word was with God and was God. That Word became flesh and dwelt among us.”

The true Word of God, by the Bible’s own testimony, is not a written document. It is a Person. It is the Christ, the one we call Jesus. Thus, the Bible is always pointing to him as the supreme power and authority for faith, and nothing else. He is “The Word of God for the People of God.”

Let there be no doubt, road signs will point you in the right direction, but you can’t camp out in the median. If you do, you might get run over or hurt. You might distract other travelers along the way, creating a good deal of confusion. And you certainly aren’t going to get anywhere; in fact you’ll miss out on what this journey is about.

It is right to be called “People of the Book,” that is, lovers of the Bible. But let us remember that we are not Biblicists, because the Bible itself isn’t the end of our convictions. We are Christians, followers of Jesus who are always heeding his voice and moving in his direction, the author, sustainer, and perfecter of our faith.

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

For Overachievers Everywhere

workaholicScientists have a name for it: Ergomania. It is a word composed of two Latin roots. “Ergo,” meaning work, and “mania,” which means passion. Ergomania, thusly, is a “passion for work.” In contemporary society we use a different term for an individual suffering from this condition: The “workaholic.” The condition is not limited to corporate offices or the manufacturing plant. It thrives in houses of worship.

It’s been my experience that we religious people work very hard, often killing ourselves for God, spiritually, emotionally, and physically. Why? I believe it is because we do not believe that God is love or that he really loves us. Most of us are working like slaves to earn an ambivalent God’s love, unaware, it seems, that his love is already ours in abundance. That God would take us just as we are, that he loves us just as we are, is too much for us to accept.

And why should we believe it? Our parents never accepted us without conditions. This merciless culture is constantly judging us and our level of success. Our spouse left us for someone younger, better looking, or richer. Our coach tells us we’ll never be good enough to make the team, and yes the church gets in on it too.

When we were young, it was all about perfect attendance pins, achievements, and all those little check marks on our weekly reporting at Sunday School. We learned quickly that we could measure a person’s spirituality, thus their worth as an individual, by how many gold stars they had beside their name.

When we got older, the exercise continued, now measured by different gold stars. Volunteer, serve, give, teach Bible study class, lead the choir, chaperone the youth group, chair the Stewardship Committee; and the leadership and congregation will sing your praises. But the second you relent, the moment you acknowledge your exhaustion, that you just can’t keep up, then that familiar conditional approval will rear its ugly head.

Conditioned like this, when Jesus shows up and says, “If you’re tired I can help with a little grace,” we just can’t believe it. Yet, that’s exactly what Jesus said when he showed up! With words that make most type-A congregational leaders cringe, Jesus said, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.”

Eugene Peterson’s translation of those words is more pointed: “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. Walk with me…watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace.”

The unforced rhythms of grace: That is what we religious laborers need, because the people that Jesus most wants to set free are those of us who are eyeballs deep in religious work, we who are religious ergomaniacs. He wants us to see that our religious work really doesn’t work; it works against us.

His invitation is for us to get off of the spiritual hamster wheel and to crawl out from beneath the choking yoke of religious workoholicism, and dance freely to the easy tempo of grace. Grace will teach us to serve God, not to make him like us, but because he already adores us. It will teach us to give up our overachieving and slaving ways, and find peaceful rest for our souls.

Now, if you are happy with doing all your religious work, then please, just keep doing it. If work is your passion, and time spent on the treadmill suits you just fine, then disregard all I have said as useless drivel and carry on.

But if you have had it; if you are sick and tired of being sick and tired; if you’re looking for a way out; if you are desperate for your life to change; if you are finally at the end of yourself and need a rest, have I got good news for you: That is exactly what Jesus offers. Go with him, and he will give you the rest you need.

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.net

 

 

Skip to toolbar