Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Listening for God's Voice

A snippet of scripture surfaced before me recently, waiting for me to take notice. Three times in the last two days, in fact, floating front and center, finally grabbing my attention this afternoon. Revelation 12.11. “…they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony.” I’m familiar with the verse, but it is a bit unusual and by the third expression I figured I better heed what the Spirit was saying.

I’m not usually one to ‘hear from God’ on a regular basis. I believe I’ve felt promptings, but I generally don’t experience God tapping my shoulder telling me to head left or right. Though maybe I should listen more closely (see Isaiah 30.21).

At any rate, when a friend spoke this phrase during prayer today (the other two expressions came through two different songs – Overcome sung by Jeremy Camp and More Than Conquerors sung by Steven Curtis Chapman) I began to contemplate what God’s message to me might be.
So I asked my friend through whom God spoke this verse, and explained about these three repetitions of Revelation 12.11. He thought a moment and asked, without judgment, if the church where I pastor is a very evangelistic congregation.

Now I have to admit, overt witnessing isn’t something we engage in very often. Oh, we hold regular ‘outreach’ events in our neighborhood, we’re open and friendly, we invite others to worship, but to my knowledge none of us are in line to become the next Billy Graham.

And that’s okay. We don’t have to be street corner evangelists. But maybe what this verse is reminding us – me and the church I serve, and maybe you too – is that we do have a testimony to share. And we are called to share it. A testimony is simply what God through Christ has done and is doing in our life. It’s pretty simple, and doesn’t demand three years of seminary level preparatory work.

But it does demand readiness.

We overcome the accuser – Satan, who seeks to drag us down with him by linking our sin and disobedience with his – we overcome him by the blood of the Lamb – that is, Christ’s sacrificial death, His atoning sacrifice, and His resurrection power – AND by the word of our testimony, the testifying witness that Jesus is our Lord and Savior, our Rock and our Redeemer. The story of how God’s loving grace in our life saved us from sin’s despair is and should be always on our lips. It not only empowers us to overcome the evil one but our testimony provides a path of salvation for others to follow right into the Kingdom of God.

Then I heard a loud voice in heaven say:
“Now have come the salvation and the power
    and the kingdom of our God,
    and the authority of his Messiah.
For the accuser of our brothers and sisters,
    who accuses them before our God day and night,
    has been hurled down.
They triumphed over him
    by the blood of the Lamb
    and by the word of their testimony;
they did not love their lives so much
    as to shrink from death.”

Are we bold enough to simply share our testimony with others? Are we ready, no matter the cost? (Note the ending of verse 11.) I pray we are. I pray I am. After hearing God speak this verse to me three times these past two days, I’m now praying I’ll be ready to speak his words of love and forgiveness, transformation and power, into the lives of others when the opportunity arises.

So I’m trusting his divine appointment book because if he can bring this verse to the surface of my mind he can bring the right people into my life who need to hear the Good News of Jesus Christ. He will do that for each of us, I’m certain. He’s speaking to everyone willing to listen for his voice.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Cut It Out

A sermon from Mark 9:33-50 by Lyndon Perry

            I’d like to share three stories that have to do with divorce, but not just the marriage kind. The real issue is separating ourselves from others, ending relationships, cutting off contact friends and strangers alike.
It’s a pressing topic for us today for we live in a very fragmented society. We may not agree on much, but we can almost all agree we are a divided nation. Maybe the most divided society in recent memory. You don’t need to look very far for examples. Social media has made it the norm to “defriend” someone over the slightest provocation.
And this has disastrous effects; all of our most important relationships seem to suffer. Think about it. Are people having marital difficulties? The temptation to divorce one’s spouse seems to be a “go-to” possibility for so many people. It’s almost the default option nowadays.
But not only that, we are often tempted to divorce or separate ourselves from family members, friends, even God, at the drop of a hat. Just cut them out of our lives.
            It used to be, if “the going got tough, the tough got going” and they worked harder to build stronger relationships. Now, if the going gets tough, people often bail out.
            The insidious nature of wanting to separate is inherent in all of us. Maybe these three stories will shed some light on the dilemma and offer a way back to wholeness.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

A Shepherd Boy’s First Christmas

Based on the Master Story from Luke 2:8-20

            In the hill country of Judea some 2000 years ago there was a little shepherd boy tending some lambs for his father.
            “Hazaiah,” his father called, “bring the little ones back to the flock. It is getting late and we must set up camp.”
            “Yes, father.” Hazaiah obeyed and with his little stick herded the five young lambs back to their mothers. 
            Sheep are affectionate animals and when treated well are almost like pets, following their masters from place to place. Hazaiah's father, Melki, had told his son not to get too attached to this bunch. The owner of the flock would soon be taking them for sacrifice since the five lambs were without blemish.
            Hazaiah knew all about that but still he would run with his animals and care for them as if they were his own. He even named them.
            “Father,” he said, “can Rhappa sleep with us tonight? It is getting cold and she is the smallest of the herd.”
            “No,” said Melki. “That is why there is a herd so that they can protect each other from the cold. Our job is to protect them from wild animals. All of them, my son, not just Rhappa. Come, help me pitch the tent."

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

A Vision Worthy to Embrace

This is part of a talk I gave recently on
encouraging educators to "hang in there" in their
ongoing endeavor to make a difference in young people’s lives.

Vital to society are women and men who are committed to the vision of providing quality education for today’s students.

Now I do not use the term vision lightly. I believe that in any endeavor – whether it be in business, sports, parenting, teaching – without a vision of some greater good to be accomplished, without a vision of a better or preferable future, then the sustainability of that endeavor diminishes with time.

Novelty, freshman enthusiasm, excitement at the beginning of the journey will eventually wane. Although mountain top experiences, renewal conferences, and rewards for jobs well done are all very important, it is the vision of what you want to accomplish with your life or your career that keeps you in the game until the job is done.

The challenge for many people is that they do not have a vision big enough to sustain them long-term. Most people are living too shallow a dream, so no wonder they’re frustrated when the initial enthusiasm wears off. A big vision will answer that challenge.

You’ve heard this quote. The saying has been attributed to Victor Hugo, "Dream no small dreams. They have not the power to stir men’s souls." The bible puts it like this: "Without a vision, the people perish."

I want to make the case that assisting in the maturation process of young adults into healthy, well-rounded, individuals who can better society because of the skills you as a teacher handed down to them is a worthy vision to embrace.

Let me repeat that. Assisting in the maturation process of young adults into healthy, well-rounded, individuals who can better society because of the skills you handed down to them is a worthy vision to embrace.

For three reasons...

Thursday, March 29, 2007

On The Road to Easter

Can You Hear Him Call?
A Sermon from Mark 10:46-52

Although it is truly the path to abundant living, the way of Christ is difficult.

Traveling heavenward requires a different mind than the way of the world. It is a life marked by service and humility, not greatness and control. This is a hard message to hear for modern day followers of Christ. Jesus would indeed have us experience a vibrant, wonderful life, but first he beckons us to follow him to the cross and die to ourselves so that we can take hold of the new life he offers.

The Season of Lent is coming to a close, we are on the Road to Easter. As we examine one of Jesus' final encounters and miracles before his death, let us ask the timely question, "Can you hear Jesus calling you?"

The Story

Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem. He had told his disciples repeatedly that his purpose for this trip was to die. The religious leaders would beat him, mock him, and hand him over to the gentile leaders of Rome to be crucified. Then three days later he would rise from the dead.

The disciples, however, did not understand. They couldn't see why Jesus had to die. Within a few weeks they would for they were almost at the end of road to Easter. When they came to Jericho they were within 15 miles of the City of Jerusalem, within 15 miles of the climax of history.

Jericho was the welcome center of Judea, especially during the Passover celebration. Religious pilgrims on their way from across the Jordan to the City of David stopped at Jericho before completing their trip.

Now a large crowd had gathered to wish these travelers well. Many of them joined Jesus on his way. It was the custom back then to follow along with a teacher, or rabbi, who then used the occasion to teach. So in all likelihood Jesus was teaching the multitude as he walked up the road.

"Then they came to Jericho. As Jesus and his disciples, together with a large crowd, were leaving the city, a blind man, Bartimaeus (that is, the Son of Timaeus), was sitting by the roadside begging." (Mark 10:46)

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Words from the Cross - Need

Note: As we are in the Lenten Season of the Church calendar over the next few weeks I'd like to reflect on some of Jesus' Words from the Cross. This reflection is a sermon titled Need and is based on the phrase, "I thirst" - the fifth Word from the Cross found in John 19.28.


We need a new coffee maker. We've had it almost 9 years and it's starting to leak. We need to replace it because we use it practically every day, can't live without it. Needless to say, we are avid coffee drinkers. Not just Starbucks, either. We buy the flavored gourmet style beans: Mocha Almond Java, Chocolate Irish Cream, Vanilla Cookie Wafer. Coffee flavors are getting about as ridiculous as ice cream varieties. Double Peanut Butter Brickle Fudge Brownie. At any rate, we need a new coffee maker if we're going to continue this admittedly extreme habit.

What do you need? A new washer, dryer, refrigerator, furniture, carpets, curtains, car, trailer, apartment, house? Or are your needs less tangible, more qualitative? Like friendship, family, companionship, care, understanding, acceptance, love and forgiveness. These are basic needs, to be sure. Emotional and spiritual needs.

Yet for many in the world, there are physical needs which are even more basic. Items, events that we take for granted. A night free from bombing, a day released from terror, shelter, clothing, food and water. Millions of people live without these most basic needs. But not for long. Some survive, many do not.

Hmm. I guess by way of contrast we don't really need a coffee maker. We can live without it. You don't need a micro-wave, mini-blinds or a new mattress. Not that these things are wrong to have. Just realize they don't fall into the category of needs. Wants, wishes, or wise purchases, maybe, but not necessities. Strip away all the packaging and we begin to realize that there are actually very few things that humans need.

We mentioned a few already. Friendship, acceptance, forgiveness, meaning. Shelter, sleep, food, water. Basic human needs. Every person who has ever lived has acknowledge these necessities. It may or may not surprise you, then, that Jesus had needs - physical, emotional, and spiritual needs because he was completely human. Yes, completely divine as well. But don't let that throw you. Jesus knew what it meant to be stomach-grumbling-hungry, dog-tired and emotionally drained.

And thirsty?! Jesus knew thirst. Probably the most fundamental ingredient in the recipe called survival. Water. H2O. Wet, refreshing, life-giving water. So important to our existence, it has become, for many, the symbol of life. To an alien race, water might even symbolize humanity. In one episode of "Star Trek, The Next Generation" (a science fiction TV series that used to rank in my top 5 need-to-watch list) humans were described as "ugly bags of mostly water." It's true. I don't know about the ugly part, but 70% of our body is water. A 5% loss results in fuzzy thinking, a 10% loss leads to death.

Jesus knew thirst. After a brutal beating and whipping which broke open the skin - that thin layered bag that holds our vital liquids inside - Jesus' body was an ugly mass of mostly water, blood-dripping, life-giving water. It's no wonder, then, that he speaks this 5th word from the cross. "I'm thirsty."

Saturday, June 10, 2006

How to Pastor Your Pastor

A Message from 1 Thessalonians 5.12-15

Thank you for having me here this morning. I’m in a great position right now. I get to preach from a text that encourages the congregation to respect and care for their preacher. Now I can get away with that since I am only a pulpit supply; a hired gun, if you will. And no, your pastor did not pay me to preach this message. I picked the passage myself. You can read along in your bibles, 1 Thessalonians 5.12-15.

“Now we ask you, brothers and sisters, to respect those who work hard among you, who are over you in the Lord and who admonish you. Hold them in the highest regard in love because of their work. Live in peace with each other. And we urge you, warn those who are idle, encourage the timid, help the weak, be patient with everyone. Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always try to be kind to each other and to everyone else.”
So the Apostle Paul writes to the church.

  • The challenge is that one can always find fault with a pastor.
  • If the pastor is young, he lacks experience; if his hair is gray, he’s too old to relate to the young people.
  • If she has five or six children, she must be too busy to pastor; if she has none, you wonder if she’s a feminist.
  • If he preaches from a manuscript, he has canned sermons and is dry; if his messages are extemporaneous, he isn’t deep enough.
  • If she uses too many illustrations, she’s neglecting the bible; if she doesn’t include stories, she’s too erudite.
  • If he preaches the truth and condemns wrong, he’s cranky; if he doesn’t preach against sin, he’s a compromiser.
  • If she preaches all the time, the congregation gets tired of hearing her voice; if she invites guest ministers, she’s shirking responsibility.
  • If he can’t please the majority, he’s hurting the church and should leave; if he tries to make everyone happy, he has no convictions.
  • If she drives an old car, she shames her congregation; if she buys a new one, she’s setting her affection on earthly things.
  • If he receives a large salary, he’s mercenary; if he gets a small one, they say it proves he isn’t worth much anyway.

Quite a dilemma, don’t you think? It’s tough being in ministry today given the many and varied expectations prevalent in a typical congregation. One especially has to be a bold preacher to tackle texts like these. Or a guest preacher. Even then it’s a bit risky – you might never invite me back. Yet despite the dilemma, I want to do just that. And I’m going to apply the umpire’s axiom. I’m simply going to call it as I see it.

Sunday, June 04, 2006


There's a rumor afloat.

A strange new group in town is attracting members left and right. Every day people are joining this group and forming what can only be described as a spiritual movement. When I first heard about it all I knew was that it had something to do with a prophecy being fulfilled…

The rumor is that the "Last Day" is upon us. This group is convinced that a prophecy written hundreds of years ago has finally come true. It's a prophecy about everyone being filled up with God. And like I said, this movement is growing.

Why are so many people flocking to this strange new group? Well, just a few weeks ago a crowd of over hundred people took to the streets speaking all sorts of different languages. These men and women were shouting out in tongues not their own. A friend of mine saw it happen and heard the words. He told me he thought they were drunk.

But then this man named Peter took center stage and quoted the prophecy which they claimed had come true. And the people – over 3,000 people! – who heard him speak believed what he had to say. A new spiritual movement was under way and more are joining every day.

I'm the kind of person who gets excited about things like this, but I'm also a bit skeptical when so many people get interested in something so quickly. So I decided to do a little investigation of my own. Here's what I found out.

First of all, I looked up the prophecy itself. It was spoken by the Prophet Joel long ago: " 'In the last days,' says God, 'I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophecy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams. And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.' "

That's plain enough. And according to my eye-witness, these things were starting to happen. He then told me what the spokesman, Peter, had to say. These men and women speaking in tongues were not drunk as the people supposed – it was only 9 in the morning! – they were filled with God's Spirit because a miracle had taken place.

Peter then went on to speak about a man named Jesus the Nazarene who was a miracle worker and went about doing good. About 2 months ago this Jesus was nailed to a cross and executed. And from what Peter said, we all had a hand in it. Some of the crowd actually cried out for Jesus’ blood. Others sat quietly by, afraid to defend him. Others, like myself, didn’t care one way or another. That made us all guilty, I suppose.

But then something spectacular happened. After Jesus – who was called the Christ – was put to death God raised him from the grave and freed him from death’s agony to walk the earth again. Peter said that Jesus appeared to him and the rest of his followers to explain the meaning of it all.

Well, I did some poking around and spoke to several of these witnesses to see if what Peter said was true. I discovered that over 500 people saw Jesus alive after he’d been certified dead. They told me that Jesus visited with them, ate with them, and continued to teach them for about 40 days after his resurrection. Then, in an astounding display of glory, Jesus left them and ascended to heaven, to the "right hand of God."

Before he left, however, Jesus promised to send someone to be a guide and leader to his followers. Someone who would help form a new movement that would spread the Kingdom of God to the whole world. The person Jesus was talking about was the Holy Spirit – the Spirit of the Living God that was promised long ago through the Prophet Joel.

These followers of Christ, it was explained to me, had only to wait and pray to receive this promised Leader. Then, just a few weeks back, it happened. The prophecy was fulfilled and over 100 men and women were filled up with God – God's Spirit – and began to speak in all sorts of languages.

Peter explained all of this to the crowd gathered in amazement that day and then said, "Let all the House of Israel know for certain that God has made Jesus the Nazarene both Lord and Christ – this same Jesus whom you crucified."

When the crowd heard this, many were cut to the heart. They were convicted in their spirits, they knew in their minds that something powerful was taking place and that they needed to be a part of it or else they would miss the opportunity of a lifetime to come close to God.

A few of my friends who were there that day rushed to Peter and the other followers of Christ and asked what they should do. Peter gave a two-fold answer.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Here Comes the Son ... of Man

Here Comes the Son ... of Man
A Sermon from Mark 10:42-45, Phil 2:5-11 & Daniel 7:13-14

My nickname growing up was Bug. Probably because I pestered my older brothers and sisters. I was the last of seven kids - an afterthought nine years after the last afterthought. So I grew up spoiled, or at least that's what my siblings tell me.

They said I bugged them about everything. I could ask more questions! Where are you going? What are you going to do? When are you coming back? Can I go with you? Why not? If you've got a baby brother or sister, I bet you can relate. They sure can be a pest at times, a bug.

Well, by the time I reached junior high I realized that Bug wasn't that flattering a nickname. I must have been a slow learner. So one year at camp I came up with what I thought was just the coolest name. Brooklyn. Call me Brooklyn. It's no use asking why, I don't know. But everyone else had a handle and I wanted one too. So I gave myself a new name. It didn't catch on.

What was your nickname growing up? Do you still use it? Was it one you gave yourself or did others pin it on you? To pave the way into God's Word this morning, let's play a game called "Guess the Person." I'll give you the nickname of someone famous and you can guess out loud who I'm referring to. Big hint here, they're all presidential-types.

Ready? First person is known as George "Doubya." (George W. Bush)
Next, Slick Willy. (President Bill Clinton)
How about Tricky Dick? (Richard Nixon)
This one was known by his initials, LBJ. (Lyndon Baines Johnson)
Or what about JFK? (John F. Kennedy)
And finally, if you like Ike, who do you like? (Dwight D. Eisenhower)

Had to go to the history books for that one. But it seems to me that throughout history, the public has often bestowed pet names - some not so flattering - on their leaders. Honest Abe is a compliment. Slick Willy isn't.

But it's interesting that, with the exception of Bill Clinton, each presidential candidate in our little game ran for office using their formal name: Richard M. Nixon, Lyndon B. Johnson, John F. Kennedy, Dwight D. Eisenhower. I think back, though, to 1975 when the governor of Georgia, with a firm handshake and a warm smile, introduced himself to the nation. "Hello, I'm Jimmy Carter and I'm running for president."

Funny how you recall certain things, but I remember some political commentators at the time discussing the appropriateness of James Earl Carter calling himself Jimmy. Hmm, they thought. Isn't Jimmy a nickname?

And aren't nicknames what other people call you? You don't choose your own moniker, do you? Sounds presumptuous. Call me Brooklyn. What is that about? No wonder it fell flat, right? People don't easily latch on to titles they don't own or understand.

Imagine the reactions, then, when Jesus appeared on the scene proclaiming himself to be . . . the Son of Man! The Son of . . . Man. The Son of Man? What does that mean? People must have scratched their heads over that one. For it wasn't a popular title. No one in recent times had used it. And now Jesus lays claim to it. Confusing. At one point, some people even confront Jesus and ask, "Who is this 'Son of Man' you keep talking about?" They just didn't quite get what Jesus was trying to communicate by using such a phrase.

Nor did they warm up to this new name. If Jesus meant it as a handle for himself, it didn't take. Not once in the Gospels do people call him the Son of Man. Sir, Rabbi, Teacher, even Y'shua, Jesus. But Son of Man, no. It was his self-designation, and his alone. As far as nicknames went, it fell flat.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Back from the Precipice

Rescue those being led away to death;
hold back those staggering toward slaughter.
If you say, "But we knew nothing about this,"
does not he who weighs the heart perceive it?
Does not he who guards your life know it?
Will he not repay each person according to what he has done?
(Proverbs 24:11,12 - NIV)
When teaching from the Book of Proverbs a few years ago, I discovered some amazing gems of wisdom that I had never seen before. Just proves that the teacher learns more in preparing the lesson than the class does in receiving it!

One precious word I rediscovered (from Proverbs 24:11) is God's call for me - for us - to pull back from the precipice those who are tripping toward death. The signs are obvious. A friend's life is spiraling downward. A family member is flirting with disaster. A neighbor is shutting God out of her life. We all know people who are staggering toward the slaughter.

What to do? Intervene. Social workers know the routine: Situation. Phone call. Visit. Evaluation. Drastic measures. Intervention. Someone has to step in and set right what has gone wrong.

We're talking life and death. An issue of eternal significance. And we're to act. Immediately. We are called to rescue those who, if they don't hear and respond to the message of Jesus Christ, will be separated from God forever. We can't plead ignorance. We can't wish it away. We can't opt to do nothing. We are faced with a hazmat disaster and the time to respond is now.

How? Through positive, personal, prayerful, persistent intervention.

Positive. The gospel is good news, full of hope, delivered with joyful hearts and encouraging words. When we share the wonderful story of salvation, disapproving frowns are replaced with smiling faces.

Personal. The gospel is relational, tailored in its presentation to the unique situations of its audience. Our lives are open letters engagingly written by Christ, not forwarded carbon copies of stale and tiresome news.

Prayerful. The gospel becomes effective in someone's life through the power of the Holy Spirit. When we pray for a person's salvation, we're praying for a miracle that only God can perform.

Persistent. The truth of the gospel will stand up under scrutiny. As people explore the claims of Christ we can demonstrate love and patience, confident that God is at work. Our job is to continue to witness with our life and lips.

Have we weighed our hearts? Are they heavy for the lost? Having been rescued, are we now reaching out to others who are staggering toward death?

© 2006 Lyndon Perry
Permission granted to reprint this article.

Friday, October 21, 2005

It's Not About the Bike

The human spirit surprises me.

Aware of the devilish and awaiting the heavenly, I often overlook a simple matter: Our mortal soul is a remarkable thing. Lance Armstrong's battle and victory over cancer, his well-documented racing comeback, and his unfathomable 7 consecutive Tour de France wins is a moving saga, reminding me that courage and struggle are profound human virtues.

Lance's first book, It's Not About the Bike, is not just for dedicated athletes or survivors of the disease. For the race in which we find ourselves is really a metaphor for life; it is not limited in scope to sports or sickness. In fact, it's a human race - full of tragedy and disappointment, surely - but buoyed by triumph and celebration. Armstrong's perspective is a crucial part of the story of the human spirit and I appreciate his candor in sharing it. It inspires me to dig deep and work through some of my daily and often mundane struggles.

But there's more to this story. I pray that Lance will one day experience the next chapter, or sequel, and taste true victory in and through Jesus Christ.

After reading this inspiring book, I get the impression that Armstrong knows that death and defeat don't deserve the victory lap. Yet in life's race and at this point in his personal tour it seems he believes that the best we can hope for is to confront death "straightforwardly, armed with nothing but courage." (p. 272) In the final analysis, any triumph we experience is due to a reliance upon the self.

But if ultimately, in this dangerous race through mortality, it is simply a matter of standing firm in the face of adversity, then I fear our hope is built on something less than lasting. In the end, death wins. Yellow jerseys fade. Courage expires. Vanity of vanities; all is vanity. (from Ecclesiastes 1.2)

Except the eternal. This is the victory that Jesus offers. Life now and life eternal. Yes, as Armstrong states,
"People die. That truth is so disheartening that at times I can't bear to articulate it. Why should we go on, you might ask? Why don't we all just stop and lie down where we are? But there is another truth, too. People live." (pp. 4, 5)
Again, this part of the story - our pursuit of life - is an inspiring story that he tells fairly well. And yet I long for Armstrong to keep reading, keep listening for the rest of the story. The message that, not only do people live, but people Live. This triumph does not rely on self or courage or grit or luck. It comes as a gift, one that can't be earned, for it is a victory over Death that has already been won for us by Jesus Christ.

Maybe I'll be able to talk with Lance about this someday. He already knows it's not about racing; I just want to tell him that it's really about Life.

© 2005 Lyndon Perry
Permission granted to reprint this article.

Sunday, September 25, 2005

New Hearts and Frozen Chickens

A few years ago NASA developed a special gun for launching dead chickens at the windshields of military jets in order to test the design and strength of the glass against collisions with airborne fowl.

French engineers were eager to test this gun on their new high speed trains. But when they launched their chickens, they found that their shatterproof windshields were no match for the dead birds. The French engineers sent their specs back to the US for analysis. NASA's response: "Thaw your chickens."

We laugh, but life can serve up some major fast balls. Although we'd like to believe that our personal, family and business lives are shatterproof, we know better. It only takes one hard shot - a death, illness, divorce, or job loss, just to name a few - and we're in a tail spin.

God can rescue us, though. He desires to salvage our broken lives and fortify our "inner man," the secret place in a person's heart that aches and sputters even as we try to maintain a tough and confident exterior.

And, although we like to imagine ourselves as self-sufficient, we know that we need rescuing. The scuds that life launches at us have done some damage. In response to the daily pressures of home and work, our hearts have grown cold and callused. Our inner man has grown faint. We need God to re-engineer our lives in order to withstand the "frozen chickens" that assault our souls.

This is, in fact, God's specialty. God desires, and is able, to re-ignite the fire that once burned in your belly. Or ignite it for the first time if you've never had a fever for life. Maybe you're living life by default. Yet you suspect there's a better existence out there, if only you could discover it.

I'm convinced God has the answer. He is the answer. He says, "I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh." (This quote from the bible is Ezekiel 36:26.)

Through the person of Jesus Christ, God offers a pulsing, vital heart that is able to weather everything life unleashes. Don't worry, God isn't some divine Dr. Frankenstein bent on controlling his creation. He wants the best for us. And he makes it possible for us not only to survive our home or work environment, but to thrive as well.

How does it all begin? By receiving a new heart. Are you ready for a transplant? Then move a step closer to Jesus Christ. His heart is beating toward you; your strength is in his strength. He can jump-start your soul, pull you out of your nose-dive and set you back on course. Accept God's heartfelt gift today.

© 2005 Lyndon Perry
Permission granted to reprint this article.

Friday, September 16, 2005

Finding Religion

Heard an amusing story, probably apocryphal, about W.C. Fields upon his death bed.

A friend caught Fields, a notorious agnostic, flipping through the bible. "What are you doing?" his friend asked. "Finding religion?"

"Looking for loopholes!" came the reply.

In Luke 10 an expert in biblical law approached Jesus looking for loopholes. "What must I do to inherit eternal life?" he asked to test the waters.

Love God; love your neighbor.

Impossible, when it comes right down to it. And this duty to one's fellow man, so inconvenient!

"But who is my neighbor?" he asked, spotting a possible out. Depending on the definition of neighbor, this command might be do-able after all. In response, Jesus tells a story about serving those in need.

" . . . So finally, there was this Samaritan," Jesus concludes in a surprise twist of plot. A surprise, that is, for the listeners who were snug in their relational blankets. For Jesus asked this law expert, "Who played the neighbor in this story?"

Hmm. Well. [Cough, cough] I suppose the Samaritan was the neighbor.

So answer your own question - Who is your neighbor? The plot twist reveals that it is not so much the person in need whom we are to love, it is the alien, the Samaritan who acted neighborly. Our neighbor then is the outcast; the person with whom we wouldn't naturally associate.

This path of service is a difficult path. Especially for us mortals who are bent on securing immortality through self-righteous acts. But if that's what we have to do... So we clarify the question: Will this hard path lead to eternal life? If so, let's buckle down and get to work.

But the bible answers, honestly, no. For even good samaritans fall short of perfect obedience to God's standard of perfect love. Loving one's neighbor will never move us toward salvation. It's merely an expression of it.

This, then, is the real test. Is our relationship with Christ overflowing into every relationship (with those we care for and with those we don't) out of a response to his love? God will place the outcast in our path, will we stop and care for this person? It's a daily take-home exam; and one that I often fail. But there's freedom even then.

No, I haven't found a loophole. I've simply discovered that in Christ I'm set free of the tyranny of trying to secure eternal life through self-effort. You see, at one point, I was that alien on the side of the road, helpless and dying. And the Good Samaritan stopped, bound up my wounds, and soothed my soul. In response to his great neighborly love, I now, imperfectly yet aided by God's Spirit, watch for others who need to receive the healing touch I've experienced.

This is finding religion.

© 2005 Lyndon Perry
Permission granted to reprint this article.

Saturday, September 10, 2005

When Pigs Fly

You may have heard about the 300 pound porker that flew first class on a US Airways flight a few years ago. Like an urban legend in the making, this true story is stranger than fiction. Evidently, the pig's owners claimed their pet was a "service animal" - much like a seeing eye-dog - and assured the ticket agent that the pig was only 13 lbs. Based on the available data, this swine flew.

When the pig showed up it became obvious this was no small chop. Despite permission from a physician, a sow is not fit for flight. Most people know this and so the flight attendants and some passengers protested. But to no avail. Sure, the pig slept most of the 6 hour flight, but a pig-in-a-blanket is still a pig. And I can assure you, upon arrival the clean-up crew did not squeal with delight.

It just goes to show you, you can't smuggle a pig anywhere.

Sin is like that too. We may think it's just an itsy-bitsy, cutesy-wootsey little thing. We may have a note from the doctor. We may even convince a few strangers to buy a pig in a poke. But it becomes obvious to all - sooner or later - that we're wallowing in our own foolishness. You can't smuggle sin around for very long without making a stink of things.

I know this first hand. So do you. So what should we do? Galatians 6:1 & 2 are verses to cherish: "Sisters and brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore this person gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted. Carry each other's burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ."

Restore. Watch. Carry. Fulfill. These are community verbs. Action words that can only "work" in relationships of trust and mutual love. Without the net of a spiritual family - brothers and sisters in Christ who struggle along side one another - the follower of Jesus will just stumble along, alone. And maybe he or she will journey on without mishap. But very likely, the Christian will fall under the weight of his or her own sin. For sins tend to piggyback.

One sign of smuggling sin around is obvious. Isolation. When people begin to withdraw from the fellowship, you can rest assured something is terribly wrong. But when you lovingly reach out to these folk, you often get a mumbled response. You can hear the echoes of their excuses: "I don't need the church. I can be a Christian on my own. My spiritual life is my own business. I'm finding my own path toward God." There's a whole lot of independence in those statements. But that's the way some people choose to cope with sin. They look for easy answers and take their cues from ear-pleasing voices.

Sadly, many of us do the same thing when we turn from the outstretched hand of a friend in Christ. Instead of reaching back we often wrap up our failings and try to smuggle them from one destination to the next. But this flight always leads us away from healing and wholeness. Choosing isolation is choosing to turn away from the very instrument that God wants to use to bring us to completion in Christ: the Church.

For one of the primary means by which God transforms us into Christlikeness is the Body. Jesus longs to touch us through the restorative touch of a friend. Ignoring the gracious hand of God is like refusing a lifesaving treatment guaranteed to heal our wounds. Now that would be silly, wouldn't it? Or, if I may allude once more to our running metaphor, it's just being pigheaded.

Haven't we learned by now that we can't arrive at journey's end without some help along the way? We need one another. Still, we persist in thinking that we'll get along okay by ourselves. "I'll be alright," we say. "I can do it. I'm okay." Or, if pressed (as we try to cover over our struggles), "I'll ask for help before it's too late." But both you and I know when we'll make that admission. When pigs fly!

© 2005 Lyndon Perry
Permission granted to reprint this article.

Friday, September 02, 2005

A God of Refills

A distraught patient called her physician.
"Tell me, Doctor, do I have to take the medication you prescribed for the rest of my life?"
"Yes, that's right," the doctor replied.
"Then how serious is my condition?" the woman wanted to know.
"Why do you ask?"
"Because," the patient cried, "I just picked up my prescription and it's marked 'No Refills!'"

Some people believe life is a "no refill" proposition. You only live once, they say. "So eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we die." Many people buy into this bit of cultural wisdom. And many people in the church do so as well. We believers place a lot of stock in what we can see, smell, taste, hear and feel. By focusing on the world around us we often forget about the view from heaven.

This is especially true in decision making. We research, we estimate, we cost-factor, we analyze. We take a look at the bottom line and then we decide. Necessary, but worldly by itself. While we shouldn't ignore our 5 senses, I believe Jesus would have us add another set of indicators - spiritual indicators - to our decision-making dashboard. These super-natural "senses" give us a heavenly perspective that our natural eyes will miss.

The three senses I'm referring to are faith, hope and love. In discerning God's will, our plans, projects and programs need to be examined in the light of these spiritual realities. Sure, review the facts, use the natural resources God has made available to us. We should analyze all the available data. But realize that supernatural resources are also available.

Think of faith, hope, and love as three divine guideposts, pointing us in the right direction. These virtues are powerful resources. Faith is based on God's faithfulness to us in the past. Hope is based on God's commitment to us for the future. And love is based on God's present ministry of grace and mercy in our lives.

A bit too abstract? Think of a decision you are facing right now. You know the details, what your 5 senses tell you about the situation. Now check your spiritual indicators. Ask yourself if you're viewing this decision from heaven's perspective. Are you trusting God, that he is willing and able to help? That's faith. Are you confident that the Holy Spirit is good and that He is working for your best interests? That's hope. Are you seeking to live a servant life like Jesus Christ? That's love.

Is this easy? No. But it leads to an abundant life, a life beyond "eating and drinking." When we add faith, hope, and love to the mix, great things will happen. And don't worry about mistakes. God is a God of "refills" and second chances. He simply asks that we keep trusting, obeying and responding to his Word and Spirit. He's given us both natural and supernatural resources. Let's utilize them all. Now that's a life-changing prescription.

© 2005 Lyndon Perry
Permission granted to reprint this article.