04.09.11

It’s Not What You Know, It’s Who

Posted in Uncategorized at 9:27 pm by Zane Brown

       Since my early days as a follower of Jesus (mid-late 1970s), I have heard Christians speak with great seriousness about the imminence of His return.  The publication of Hal Lindsey’s The Late, Great Planet Earth stirred great interest in “eschatology.”  There was a proliferation of Bible studies and sermons on Jesus’ return and the end of time.  Many evangelists, pastors, and teachers pulled together biblical clues from Ezekiel to Daniel to the Book of Revelation as a basis for the studies.  They linked the  restoration of the nation of Israel in 1948 as a watershed event pointing to the coming of Christ.  Some even pieced together charts and maps to illustrate their studies, all of which had to come to the only real biblical conclusion:   ” . . . no one knows the day or hour when these things will happen, not even the angels in heaven or the Son Himself.  Only the Father knows.”   These words were spoken by Jesus in Matthew 24:36.    He reminded His followers of this at the Mount of Olives just prior to His ascension into heaven when they kept asking Him, “Lord, has the time come for you to free Israel and restore our kingdom?”   Jesus simple reply was, “the Father alone has the authority to set those dates and times and they are not for you to know.  BUT you shall be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere — in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”  Acts 1:7-8 (NLT)  So here we are, two thousand years later, and circumstances seem more ripe for His coming than ever.  Revolution and violence have swept through Middle East, militant sects of Islam now wage war on those they see as “infidels,” and the greatest nation in earthly history now teeters on the brink of economic collapse.  During the economic booms of the 1980s and 1990s, I didn’t hear as much talk about apocalypse or the end of time.  Perhaps we were too busy developing church growth strategies, building bigger buildings to accommodate the bigger crowds, and living the American Dream while we had the chance.  But now . . .  now that this powder keg of a planet is sparking daily, I’m hearing it again.   And it disturbs me.   Don’t get me wrong.  I am eagerly anticipating the coming of Christ.  What disturbs me is that in the midst of all this global chaos that COULD point to the imminent return of our Lord, most of us who profess to be His disciples are reacting like survivors of a shipwreck floating through life waiting to be rescued.  We talk with each other much more about the second coming of our Lord than we do with the unchurched about His first coming.   IF we are standing on the threshold of His appearance, should we not be giving more, going more, loving more, and telling more so that more of those who have not yet surrendered to His grace have the same opportunity for heaven that we do??  

I don’t believe it was coincidence that when the followers on the Mount of Olives asked about restoring the kingdom, Jesus redirected them from concerns about dates to the expectation of every true follower of Christ.  You will be MY witnesses, telling people about Me everywhere — in your hometown, in your own nation, in the neighborhoods and areas that make you uncomfortable, and to the very ends of the earth.   Jesus is coming soon!  I don’t know when, but it’s sooner than it was yesterday.  In the time that it takes you to read this article, over 144 people will die.  Some in Africa, some in South America, some in Asia, some in Europe, and some where you live.  Based on estimates that less than 30% of Americans are biblical Christians, that means 100 could go into eternity without Christ.  Perhaps a co-worker, a classmate, a neighbor, or a family member.   YOU will be My witness, telling people about me everywhere. 

In the midst of economic stress, political gridlock, and global discontent, don’t focus so much on the coming of the Savior that you miss the opportunity to tell someone about Him.   While the time of His coming remains a mystery, the certainty is that almost 3,000 worldwide succumb to death every hour, the majority without Christ.   Some of them will cross your path this week.  When the opportunity comes, be a witness to all the love, grace, and wonder that is Jesus.

02.01.11

Did You Say Something??

Posted in Uncategorized at 4:51 pm by Zane Brown

  I’ve had to accept the fact that as I get older, my hearing grows more dull.  Oh, I’m not deaf.  Occasionally, I have surprisingly keen hearing, that is, unless there is background noise.   Deafness isn’t the issue.  Discernment is.  Even when the voice belongs to my wife or one of my children, background noise like the hum of a car engine or background music in a restaurant can interfere with my discernment.  Oh, I know they’re talking.  I just can’t understand what they’re saying.    Sometimes we can’t do away with the background noise; so we’ve decided to help the focus with a touch to assure we’re always looking AT each other when we talk in those environments. 

But you know, we can develop the same problem spiritually.  Our spiritual ears can get dull and the background noises of our lives begin to drown out what God desires to teach us through His word and our experiences.  Even within the Church, many professing Christians have a surprising unfamiliarity with scripture.  Oh, we might have our favorite verses.  But even those are more about “what they mean to me” rather what they have done to transform me into what God wants me to be.  The PRIMARY means by which God communicates with us has become more like an IV bag that rehydrates us when we have problems.  But we don’t drink deeply from it day to day. 

What’s happened?  Have we become too busy with politics and sports, television and computers, social networking and outdoor life that we don’t have time for God’s word?   Nothing wrong with any of those things UNTIL they begin to crowd out our desire to be transformed by the power of God’s word.  When that happens, our spiritual ears become dull and the “noise” of all those other things affects our ability to discern what God is doing around us and saying to us. 

Jared Wilson writes in the Threadway study Abide , “. . . the messages of the environments we’re most in and the routines we most practice shape our attitudes and behaviors.”   Did you get that?  Where and how you spend your time will shape the way you think and act. 

Now think about this!  The Bible, God’s word, was not given to help us.  It was given to transform us.  If we truly want to change the world, then we must begin by allowing God’s word to change us.  The more time we spend there, the more it will shape the way we think and act.  But in order to do that, it might require that we turn off some the background noise that has drowned out the voice of God.  

What could you given up or what could you change in order to spend some quality time reading the Bible each day?  Try it for 30 days!  Don’t read it in order to “learn” something.  Just pray and ask God to use your reading of His word to transform your life.  He won’t disappoint you.

12.13.10

The Time was Right

Posted in Uncategorized at 5:18 pm by Zane Brown

      Was Jesus really born on December 25?  I’m not sure.  The first to fix the date at December 25 seems to have been a third century Christian leader named Hippolytus.  He believed that Jesus’ earthly life, from conception to crucifixion, was exactly 33 years.  He also beleived that both conception and crucifixion took place on March 25.  Caculating a nine month pregnancy from March 25 resulted in a birthday of December 25.   There were other early Christian leaders who favored other dates.  January 6, March 28, April 18, and May 20 were some of the accepted dates.  By the middle of the 4th century, the Christian world was divided over the celebration.  Some celebrated in December while others celebrated in January.  And to this very day, there are still some segments of Christianity that who celebrate January 6 as the birthday of the Christ.

In the early to mid 6th century, a Scythian monk known as Dionysius the Little proposed that Christians around the world adopt a calendar that would date everything from the birth of Jesus.  While working on the development of an Easter cycle calendar, Dionysius adopted Hippolytus’ position on December 25 as the birthdate of the Christ.  But in devising the new calendar (before Christ & Anno Domini), his calculation of the years was just a bit skewed. 

According to such historically documented events  as the death of Herod the Great, the beginning of the ministry of John the Baptizer, and the building of the Temple in Jerusalem, it would seem that Dionysius’ calendar is off target by 4-5 years.  IF that is true, then Jesus was really born somewhere between 5b.c. and 4b.c.

 Trying to determine the exact birthdate of Jesus can interesting and even fascinating, but not really important.  What IS important is that according to Galatians 4:4-5, “But when the time was right, God sent forth His Son . . .”   Jesus came at exactly the right time.  God the Father had a plan for the world that had been in place since the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3:15) and He followed that plan to perfection.  When God the Father felt that the time was right for the coming of the Savior, He sent His only begotten Son “born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive the full rights of sons.” 

This year, as you reflect on the events surrounding that first Christmas, think about this:  “It’s not the date that we celebrate.  It’s the timing.  It is a celebration of God’s initiative in meeting the needs of a sinful humanity.  It’s a celebration of God the Son stepping out of the throne room of heaven across the stars into a stable in Bethlehem.  His motivation was pure love for a creation gone awry.  His purpose was to fulfill the requirement of the law, that the wages of sin is death.  Even in the star that marked the place of His birth was the shape of a cross.  And it was at the Cross, that earth’s greatest battle was fought.  With the victorycry, “It is finished!,”  redemption from the penalty of our sins was complete and available to all who would trust Him. 

When the time was right, Jesus came into our world to free us from the guilt of our sins and, by His resurrection, to offer to us the gift of eternal life.  But like any gift, it can only be yours if you take possession of it.  Perhaps today is the right time for you to say YES to Jesus.  John 1:12-13 says, “. . . to as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become the children of God . . . not of natural descent or human decision, but born of God.”  Would YOU receive the gift of forgiveness and eternal life by trusting Jesus as your Lord and Savior this Christmas?  The time is right . . . now!

08.17.10

If You Feel Blessed But Stressed . . .

Posted in Uncategorized at 2:31 pm by Zane Brown

. . . you’re in good company.

I was doing some yard work yesterday while my MP3 blared “Let the Waters Rise”  by Mike’s Chair.  It’s a song that I’d heard scores of times, but this time, I stopped my work so that I could focus on the lyrics.  Allow me to share them with you:

Don’t know where to begin. It’s like my world’s caving in and I tried, but I can’t control my fear. Where do I go from here?  Sometimes it’s so hard to pray.  You feel so far away.  I am willing to go where You want me to.  God I trust You.

There’s a raging sea right in front of me;  wants to pull me in, bring me to my knees.  So let the waters rise if You want them to.  I will follow You.

I will swim in the deep, cuz You’ll be next to me.  You’re in the eye of the storm and the calm of the sea.  You’re never out of reach.   God, You know where I’ve been.  You were there with me then.  You were faithful before.  You’ll be faithful again.  I’m holding Your hand. 

God, Your love is enough.  You will pull me through.  I’m holding on to You.

Stormy seas often produce flooding.  In 1989, scores of people took shelter at Lincoln High School in McCellanville, SC to escape the fury of Hurricane Hugo.  Their shelter almost became a death trap as the storm surge flooded the school building and required many adults to hold children over the heads as they sought refuge on the roof.   The rising waters could have quickly taken the lives of many of the 400+ folks seeking shelter that night.  By the grace of God, no one died there. 

While pastoring in North Charleston, I met with some deacons who tried to persuade me to focus more on the joy of following Jesus in my preaching.  Their chief complaint was that I spent too much time talking about valleys and storms and difficult times.  My explanation didn’t change their minds, but I still hold to it.  MOST of life for MOST of us is lived in the storms and valleys and flood waters of life.  Whether it’s health issues, employment issues, realtional issues, financial issues, or any other kind of issues, following Jesus does not guarantee that those things will dissipate.  When we come to faith in Jesus, the only guarantee that we have, other than the certainty of heaven, is that HE will be with us in the valleys, storms, and floodwaters. 

Do not fall into the trap of thinking that walking in God’s will means the absence of distress.  It does not!  You need only read the Psalms and Ecclesiastes to discover the distress of David and Solomon.  You need only to read of the persecution of the early Church, the stoning of Stephen, the killing of James, the thorn in Paul’s side, and the Hall of Fame in Hebrews 11 to discover that following Jesus really is taking the hard road.   It’s not for weaklings, cowards, or quitters. 

In Matthew 14:22-32, please notice that Jesus could have stilled the winds and the waves on Galilee that night, but He didn’t.  Surely, it would have been easier for Peter to step out onto a sea as smooth as glass.  But when Jesus told him to step out, the wind still howled and the swells continued to crash against the boat.  But as long as Peter kept His focus on the Christ Who called him, he could literally rise above the normal effects of the storm.  BUT, at the moment he changed his focus from Jesus to the rising waters, he began to sink.    At that point, Jesus reached out to rescue him and said, “You of little faith.  Why did you doubt?” 

For most of us, life will continue to confront us with issues, dilemmas, and stressors of every sort.  The winds will continue to howl and the waters will rise and fall.  Between all the mountaintops, we’ll be force to travel in the valleys.  Why?  Because that’s where ministry is needed.  Those valleys and stormy seas will be littered with hurting folks and we can point them to the One Who can help them rise above the effects of the storm. 

Whenever the waters are rising in your life, ask yourself a couple of questions:

1.  Have I lost my focus?   Am I distracted from Christ? 

2.  What is it that Jesus desires to teach me in this storm/valley that could be useful in helping others?   How will this strengthen my witness to those in my circles of influence?

Distress comes to us all.  Fear is natural.  Questions are OK.  Obedience is key.  Even when you’re afraid . . . even when you don’t understand . . . even when there seems to be no answers, keep the faith and keep your focus on Jesus.   His love is enough and He WILL pull you through.

07.22.10

Sharpening Your Saw

Posted in Uncategorized at 2:53 pm by Zane Brown

We lost a member of the brotherhood early Tuesday morning.  I wish I had known Cpl. Paul Potts better.  What I knew of him was that he was passionate about his job.  He was well-trained and always seeking to improve his skills.  He was an achiever who wanted to excel rather than just pass.  He was a police officer and firefighter who was close to becoming a certified EMT.  A big, strong, tough guy who was constantly seeking ways to help others. 

I don’t know all the experiences and circumstances that brought about the events of Tuesday morning.  I’ve heard things.  I know that Paul lost a grandfather earlier this year.  This was the man who had been a surrogate father to him.  Another traumatic event was the emergence this year of his father, with whom he had no contact since early childhood.   I wondered if perhaps Paul had spent the last 30 years of his life trying to achieve, impress, and gain the acceptance of a father who had left him years earlier.  Grandpas are great, but nothing can really replace the love and interest of a “dad.”  When a child feels abandoned by a parent, it can result in a “love deficit” that the child will try to fill, often in unhealthy ways. 

But, that’s speculation on my part.  What I do know is that at some point late Monday night or early Tuesday morning, Paul’s depression reached a point where he felt that death was his best option.  That kind of desperation is usually generated by pain.  Sometimes the pain is physical.  More often the pain is emotional.   And let’s face it . . . law enforcement officers can’t show that kind of pain.  NOT because of the bad guys they confront everyday, but more often because of the pressure of their peers.  They cannot appear “weak” to their fellow officers.   So these wonderful guys and gals who stand between the law-abiding public and the criminal element will hone their shooting and ground-fighting skills.  They’ll hit the gym 3 or 4 times a week to bulk up.  They’ll do some aerobics to build up their endurance.  BUT, they let their emotional and spiritual health atrophy in the process.  They don’t want to talk about “issues” that are affecting them.  They shy away from medications, churches, spiritual development, psychological triage, or even time off because they might “appear weak.” 

To all my Law Enforcement brothers and sisters, I have an update.   No matter how hard we train, we’re all just flesh and blood.  No matter how tough the exterior, we’re all the same on the inside.   We’re all very human. 

There is a Bible verse that says, “Though our bodies are dying, our spirits are being renewed every day.”  (2 Corinthians 4:16 NLT)  No matter how hard we work out, we continue to experience the limitations of growing older.  But the real spark of life is our spirits.  When the spirit is crushed, the healthiest body in the world can’t alleviate the pain. That’s why we need to nourish the spirit as well as the flesh if we are to really be healthy.

So, what I am trying to say?  In The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People,  Steven Covey tells a story that illustrates the need for adequate rest and renewal in our lives.  The story goes like this:   You come upon a man in the woods feverishly sawing down a tree.  “You look exhausted!  How long have you been at this?” you ask.  “Over five hours and I’m beat,” he replies.  “This is getting harder,” he says.  So you reply, “Maybe you could take a break and sharpen the saw.  Then the work would go faster and easier.”  “I don’t have time,” the man replies.  “I’m too busy sawing.”

Perhaps you can identify with the man in the woods.  You just keep on keeping on in hopes that the issues that haunt you don’t overwhelm you.  But sooner or later . . . well quite often those issues manifest themselves in narcissism, anger, anxiety, or depression.  It can negatively affect your closest personal relationships, your professional performance, and your private life.  It can be a killer, but it doesn’t have to be. 

Exercise yourself mentally, emotionally, and spiritually as well as physically.  Sharpening the saw means taking time for reflection, rest,  and recuperation.  It means taking time to stretch, exercise, and heal the body, mind, and spirit.  It means acknowledging wounds and seeking out the help we need to mend them.  It means finding trustworthy friends and professionals with whom we can be honest about our “issues.”  If the “issues” can’t be confronted, they can’t be overcome.  It means recognizing that, according to the psalmist, even God our Creator ” . . . knows how weak we are;  He remembers that we are just dust.”  (Psalm 103:14  NLT)

So, my brothers and sisters, do not be afraid nor ashamed to reach out for help when the burden becomes cumbersome.  As I’ve often told my sons, it’s not the strong man who refuses to ask for help; it’s the weak man.   Continue with your physical exercise and healthy nutrition.  Take your vitamin supplements and prescribed medications.  But take the time to stretch yourself mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.  Join a support group.  Get involved with a church.  Read.  Reflect.  Reconnect with your spouse or a friend with whom you can ventilate your true feelings.   AND encourage your co-workers to take a break to “sharpen the saw.”   Perhaps that encouragement will prevent us from having to place the black band on the badge again.

06.30.10

The Strength of a Nation

Posted in Uncategorized at 9:54 pm by Zane Brown

Can you recall your elementary school days?  I remember them with much greater clarity than I thought I would at this age.   It was September, 1960, that I started the first grade with Mrs. Roche as my teacher.  Central Elementary School in Sumter, SC was a place that I would grown to love through six wonderful years of cultural, academic, and spiritual education.  I had wonderful teachers like Mrs. Martin, Miss Roper, and Mrs. McLeod who took time to nurture the values that had been instilled by our parents and grandparents:  Respect for God, pride in our nation, a desire for self-improvement, and a work ethic that truly believed that hard work and perseverance would ultimately bring fulfillment in life.  I remember proudly serving on the safety patrol, always eagerly looking to “flag duty.”  That was the privilege of raising the flag in the morning and lowering it in the afternoon.  I remember finally being old enough to be in the elementary chorus and the rousing school assemblies that always began with the pledge of allegiance, an invocation, and inspirational songs like “This Land is Your Land,” “America the Beautiful,” and God Bless America.” 

I didn’t understand much about the United States in those days.  I knew there were worries about atomic bombs because we had regular drills that required us to sit underneath our desks.  I knew that a new, young president had been shot and killed in his first term.  I knew about the “space race” with the USSR.  I knew there was a long, painful, and unpopular war going on in a place called Viet Nam.  I knew there was this thing called the “Civil Rights Movement” going on.  YET, still there was always this sense of pride that came with being an American. 

That hasn’t changed for me!  Fifty Years later, I have a better understanding of how our government works; and I know that the very freedoms that we have held so dear for over 200 years, the very freedoms that so many heroic men and women have served to protect are also the very things that make our American culture so fragile.  For 230+ years, people from every culture and nation have wanted to come to America.  We have opened our arms to them  . . .  red, yellow, black and white, and everything in-between.  Rich and poor, refugees and royalty —- those who came seeking relief from oppression, whether political, religious, or economic, found a “promised land” in which to fulfill their dreams. 

Even now, when I hear our national anthem, see a young man or woman in a military uniform, or hear stories from those veterans of the greatest generation, the hair stands up on the back of my neck as I think about the greatness that God has imparted on our nation.  Please, don’t think that our greatness is found in the halls of congress or on the bench of the supreme court or in the oval office of the White House.   In this era of career politicians, over-inflated egos, and self-sustaining partisanship, I can assure you that the strength and greatness of this nation resides NOT in the ivory towers of the District of Columbia.  It resides in the hearts of those men and women and young people and children all across this land who still believe that America is the world’s best hope.  The strength and greatness of American lies in a voluntary military force comprised of men and women who believe that freedom is worth defending, even to death.  The strength and greatness of America lies in single-wide mobile homes and mansions alike, in synagogues and churches where values like respect, personal responsibility, and accountability are nurtured.  The strength and greatness of America lies in our God-given purpose.  The psalmist reminds us in Psalm 33:12 — “Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord, the people He chose for His own inheritance.”  

This Independence Day . . . Remember!!!    

 HAVE A SAFE & HAPPY FOURTH!

 

05.25.10

Let It Go!

Posted in Uncategorized at 12:19 pm by Zane Brown

Ephesians 4:31-32

My visit to Bethlehem was a discomforting yet pleasant surprise.  No, not Bethlehem, the city.  Bethlehem the church.  Pastor John tackled one of the toughest passages in the New Testament , particularly when teaching it to your own folks.  The passage was I Corinthians 6:1-8.   He met the issue of intra church and inter church conflict head on and lovingly delievered a biblical absolute that most of us would just as soon forget.  “Why not put up with injustice.  Why not rather be cheated.”  I Corinthian 6:8  

As I sat there contemplating how clear and direct this biblical mandate was, I recalled a few times in my ministry & my life as a Christ-follower that I had disrupted my fellowship with God and robbed myself of His power because I held a grudge against someone who had wronged me.  But forgiveness seems so  . . . weak.  

There is a great quote attributed to Ghandi:  “The weak cannot forgive. Forgiveness is an attribute of the strong.”   How true!  No greater display of forgiveness than when the dying Son of God forgave those who hated Him.    Though we might not verbalize it, we all have our ideas of what demonstrates deep or mature Christian faith.  For some, it might be how often you attend church.  For another, it might be honesty & integrity.  For still another, it might be a litany list of what you DON”T do.  But for me . . . well I’m thinking this just might be the apex of true discipleship — the ability to overlook a hurt or offense without bitterness, resentment, or a desire for retaliation. 

Following Jesus might seem intriguing when we consider His miracles.  He healed the sick, He fed the hungry, He raised the dead.  Is it any wonder that so many followed Him.  They wanted what He could do for them.  Their relationship with Christ was motivated by selfishness.  But when we consider His example and His teaching, following Him seems more strenuous than intriguing.  Think about it!  This ONE Who could have called legions of angels for deliverance and destruction chose the path of peace.  That cost Him His life.  Everyone who was close to Him forsook Him.   Yet, on that cross, He prays “Father, forgive them . . . “ 

Days later, when the resurrected Lord confronted those followers, we hear nothing but encouragement from His lips.  No judgment of the doubting Thomas.  No “I told you so” to the two-faced Peter.   No tongue lashing to the dispersed disciples.   They had already been forgiven.  During those 40 days prior to the ascension, Jesus sought to restore, strengthen, and prepare those who had wronged Him for a mission that would change the world. 

No wonder, the apostle Paul would later write, “Make your attitude that of Christ Jesus, who, existed in the form of God, did not consider equality with God as something to be used to His own advantage.  Instead, He emptied Himself by assuming the form of a servant, taking on the likeness of men.  And when He had come as a man in His external form, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death . . .”  Read the whole account in Philippians 2:5-11

We must never become so distracted by the rigid maintenance of our “rights” that we forget such biblical absolutes as:

* “whoever will be great among you must be your servant”  Matt 20:26         * ”Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those trespass against us” Mtt 6:12                                                                                                                                                   * “Be kind, tenderhearted, forgiving one another as God has forgiven you in Christ”     Ephesians 4:32

Building the Kingdom of God is never about you or me.  It is about submission to the will of God, following the example of Jesus, and letting go of our hurts and disappointments by forgiving as Christ as forgiven us.   It might seem uncomfortable at first, but letting go of that emotional load of bitterness and contempt is evidence that your relationship with Christ is strong and deep. 

So, whatever injustice you might be holding on to, just let it go!

04.12.10

Another Chance

Posted in Uncategorized at 10:39 pm by Zane Brown

I’ve played golf for about 20 years now and I’m still a 13 handicap.  I read golfing magazines, I play weekly if possible, and I watch the pros.   I was just one of a throng who watched the 2010 Masters in Augusta.  CBS News reported that viewership was up 50% over the previous year as a curious public awaited the return of Tiger Woods.  Viewers were not disappointed.  Phil Mickelson, Lee Westwood, and Anthony Kim played extraordinary golf in the final round to finish as the top three.  Tiger played well as did the “old man”, Tom Watson.   But for a while, one thought overshadowed the excellence on display at Augusta.   “WHY ARE GOLF BALLS DIMPLED?”

So I did a little (literally) research and concluded that it was a matter of simple physics.  Legend suggests that poor young golfer found it necessary to use old, scarred balls of the tee.  His playing partners soon noticed that his “scarred” ball traveled farther off the tee than their smooth ones.  Research followed revealing that scars or dimples helped the ball travel higher and farther.  Now, hold that thought while we take a brief look at everyone’s favorite disciple, Peter.

Luke 22:31-34 offers a glimpse at how calculating the Devil can be in seeking the downfall of those who long to follow Christ.  He is pictured in those verses as the accuser of humanity (Revelation 12:10), the one who uses his resources to erode faith and destroy the faithful.  The word translated as “has desired” in verse 31 is a Greek word implying a challenge, like that in the Old Testament story of Job.  It’s as if Satan appeared before God again and said, “All those followers of Jesus are like a puff of smoke in the wind.  A little pressure and they will all forsake Him.”   The TEV translation states it this way:  “Simon, listen! Satan has received permission to test all of you, as a farmer separates the wheat from the chaff.”   Note that Jesus calls him “Simon” rather than “Peter.”  At this point, Jesus does not refer to him as a stone or a rock or anything of substantial weight or strength.  Instead, He calls him by his old name . . . a reminder that Peter is a mere mortal, a frail, weak human who is unable to withstand Satanic pressures alone. 

Jesus warned them all of the impending danger and assured them that He had prayed for their strength.  But, in His foreknowledge, He also knew that failure was imminent.  He also knew that no one would be harder on Peter than Peter himself.  Jesus, with infinite love and mercy, looked beyond Peter’s downfall and saw his potential as a leader in the fledgling Church.  He showed His faith in Peter by commissioning him to the task of strengthening his Christian brothers and sisters (v. 32b). 

When Peter launched a stern defense assuring Jesus of his loyalty, even if everyone might forsake Him, Jesus simply said, “Before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times.”  Those words must have echoed in Peter’s ears just hours later when he heard the rooster’s crow.  With guilt and grief that more punishing than death, he left the high priest’s house weeping bitterly.  No longer considering himself a part of the apostolic group, I imagine Peter wallowed in self-pity until that third day when Mary came with a special message.  I can hear her now:  “He has sent me to tell you that He is risen.  But Peter, He mentioned you by name.  He wants to see you.”

That’s what the EASTER season is all about . . . Second Chances!  Human nature hasn’t changed that much.  I’m sure Peter heard whispers, endured murderous stares, and felt the sting of gossip from people who only remembered his failure.  But all that really mattered was that he had been forgiven, vindicated, and commissioned by Jesus Himself.  Fifty days later, this failure would be the one whom God would use to preach the sermon at Pentecost and usher in the birth of the Church. 

So, what’s this all about??  It’s about understanding that sometimes failure is necessary.  God will sometimes use our failures to strip away pride and a sense of self-sufficiency.  Peter’s upper room conversation with Jesus revealed an arrogant self-confidence.  His failure opened the way for God’s grace to reshape him.  Failure can humble us and restore our focus on Christ.  It’s also about understanding that failure can be the soil from which greater opportunities for service can grow.   God used Peter as the preacher at Pentecost, not because of his eloquence or education.  He used him because his penitent spirit, in the wake of his failure, prepared him for the task.  It was his scars and flaws that made him authentic. 

Like golf balls, God’s people are usually more effective as ministers when they bear the scars and marks of real life.  Through Peter, God has shown us that He can even use our failures to make us stronger and more effective in helping to build His Kingdom.  So if you’ve failed somewhere along the way, don’t give up on God.  He certainly hasn’t given up on you.  That’s the story of Easter and . . .

. . . that’s what Jesus is all about:    grace, regeneration, restoration, and another chance.

“As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear Him.  For He knows what we are made of, remembering that we are just dust.”     Psalm 103:13-14

04.02.10

Because He was, I am . . .

Posted in Uncategorized at 10:33 pm by Zane Brown

He Was . . .        Maundy Thursday was a busy day.  I was trying to get my 2009 tax info together before leaving on vacation.   I also had to put together a wedding ceremony for a friend’s wedding on Saturday.  AND, I was getting ready to serve Communion at the Christian Women’s Job Corps Bible Study at 5:45pm and for second shift hospital staff at 7:30pm.   A busy, busy day with little time for solitude and reflection on the majesty of this season until I arrived at the hospital.  I had worked out a plan for employees to drop by the private dining room, watch a three minute video, and receive communion and a prayer.  It seemed perfect for employees who might only have 5-10 minutes for their Maundy Thursday observance. 

The announcement was made and 6-7 employees came by during the first half hour.  After that, it was just me, the video, the elements, and my Bible.  It was quiet, still, and perfect for reflecting while watching & listening again to the story of that fateful weekend in Jerusalem almost 20 centuries ago.  As I reflected, I jotted these thoughts:

    After 37 years as a follower of Christ, I still bow in awe that the Almighty, Invincible God of the universe would subject Himself to the vitriol, the violence, the humilitation, the abandonment, and the pain of the CROSS for me . . . and for you.  I will never be able to comprehend in this life the amazing truth that “God demonstrated His love for us in that WHILE WE WERE STILL SINNERS, Christ died for us.”  (Romans 5:8)  

A bended knee, a contrite spirit, a simple “thank you”  seem so inadequate.   This Easter, don’t just watch, hear, and believe the story of Easter.  RESPOND with a heart of love & a life of obedience because one day, HE is coming again for me . . . and hopefully for you!   (John 14:6)

HAVE A WONDERFUL, WORSHIPFUL EASTER!!!    And watch the brief Blue Fish video titled “He Was.”  Click on the link at the top left of this post.  It might take a while to buffer up, but the wait will be worth it.

03.22.10

Champions are Made, not Born

Posted in Uncategorized at 3:23 pm by Zane Brown

 I had to face the fact that I was no Wayne Gretzky.  My adult-onset love for the game of hockey compelled me to try “in-line” skating at the tender age of 41.  I had already dreamed of moving across the driveway with the grace of Scott Hamilton, the speed of Eric Heiden, and the moves of the Great One.   I sat on the front steps, buckling the skates, eagerly anticipating bursting into the International Roller Hockey League as a 40 something superstar rookie.  But alas . . . my ankles were weak, my balance uncertain, and my speed could have been measured with a calendar intead of a stopwatch.   Ten (10) minutes after stepping into the skates, I was taking them off.  My legs were quivering as I climbed the steps toward the front door.  My dream had crashed into the cold, harsh reality that I was not Scott Hamilton, Eric Heiden, or Wayne Gretzky.

What was the difference between them and me?  Discipline, commitment, hard work, and the investment of time.  I wanted to do in ten minutes what had taken those men a lifetime to develop.  The grace, speed, and skills they displayed on the ice resulted from years of commitment, focus, discipline, and practice.  In spite of “natural talent,” they might have been as uncomfortable on skates as I was when they started.  But over the course of time,  it was their focus, discipline, hard work, and tenacity that made them superstars.

That sports principle is true in the spiritual realm, too.  Spiritually, we can desire to be prayer warriors, bold witnesses, and people of faith.   But desire in not enough to help us handle the pressures of life as Jesus did.   We must practice the same discipline, focus, commitment, and tenacity that helped maintian His intimate relationship with God the Father.  It requires hard work.   We must be totally committed to His cause, clearly focused on His will more than ours, and ruthlessly disciplined in our walk with Him.   The apostle Paul wrote these encouraging words to young Timothy:  “Physical training is good, but training for godliness is much better, promising benefits in this life and the life to come. “  I Timothy 4: 8 (NLT)

Remember!  Desire is not enough.  Commitment, discipline, and focus, along with the passage of time, will help us in dealing with the pressures of life and becoming more effective workers in building His Kingdom.   After all, champions are made, not born.

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