Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Keep Your Shoes On

The noise made by a stainless steel garbage can and lid hitting the ground after being tossed into the air is permanently filed in my soundbite storage vault from 1973.

Simultaneously included with that soundbite from that same file is a series of blood-curdling screams belted from my mother's high soprano voice.

A video file (16mm, of course) is also in my memory storage from that exact moment. I can play it back for you now: My mother, in a paisley dress, bouffant hairdo, and bare feet (because she jumped completely out of her shoes) running toward me from the back of the house with a look of horror on her face.

Perhaps I need to replay the video and sound altogether so it makes sense. But first, you should know the setting. Mom and I came home from school one afternoon and parked in our driveway. It was garbage pick-up day, so the garbage men (what we called them before the days of "Sanitation Engineering") left our two empty garbage cans sitting at the end of the driveway.

Mom said, "Son, help me put the garbage cans back behind the house." She was in a hurry. I wasn't. She grabbed the first can and took off with it. I was way behind her. She rounded the back corner of the house. Then I heard it.



The garbage can must've been tossed fifty feet in the air before it came back down. My mother came running back toward me, screaming at the top of her lungs. Blood emptied from her face. Her knees ignored the dress in an all-out sprint toward me.

She was screaming something that made no sense. "Co-o-o-o-bra-a-a-a! There's a cobra in the back yard!"

No, I was not a missionary kid in Africa. I was a preacher's kid in Beaumont, Texas. Up to this point, her fear had scared me. But when she started screaming, "Cobra" -- the facts of geography, ecology, and herpetology turned my fear into curiosity.

"Mom, there are no cobra's in Texas!" I snickered.

She was not to be messed with at this point. Snickering was not a wise response. She grabbed me by the shoulders and shook me and yelled, "There's one in our back yard! I just saw it!"

I went to see. "Perry _______ (middle name left out by author to save personal embarrassment) -- no! Don't go back there. It's poisonous!"

I went anyway. Unlike 99.9% of East Texans, I have always had a strong interest in and an educated understanding of snakes. I rounded the corner of the house and there it was.

The snake was raised up off the ground, hissing, neck spread out flat. But not a cobra. It was a hognose snake. Hognose snakes are gifted with two tricks in their repertoire. They can flatten their neck like a cobra or play dead like an opossum.

Mom came up behind me and I told her what kind of snake it was. I took a stick and barely poked the snake in the flattened neck area and it flopped over, turned belly-up, and played dead.

That snake went from fierce to faint in a flash. He went from powerful to pitiful in an instant.

Elijah did the same. Elijah slipped from the mighty prophet who prayed down fire from heaven and defeated hundreds of false prophets in chapter 18 of 1st Kings to wimpy prophet, hiking up his man skirt, running to the hills, and hiding from a woman's threats in chapter 19.

What made the difference? Fear and knowledge. Elijah did not fear King Ahab, King Ahab's god (Baal), or the 450 prophets of Baal. He knew they were weak. He knew Baal had no power. He knew there was nothing to fear from Ahab. His knowledge fed his faith.

But Jezebel's message dripped with the poison of a cobra (1st Kings 19:2) and Elijah feared her to the point that he lost sight of his knowledge and faith. So he ran from what he thought was a cobra. Yet from heaven's view, she was a harmless hognose.

We are all just as vulnerable. We rally one day and run the next. Rooted one moment. Routed moments later. Cobras today. Opossums tomorrow. Faith turns to fear when we lack knowledge or replace heaven's full knowledge with earth's partial knowledge.

The difference between a cobra and a hognose is sometimes nothing more than fear and knowledge.

"Father, help me see through Your eyes and increase my understanding and knowledge from the vast and perfect library of Your wisdom."

Find your shoes and go stand your ground...
Perry Crisp

Monday, April 27, 2009

If We Only

What I intended as good was interpreted as bad -- by a hummingbird. Several years ago, a hummingbird flew into my garage and then up into the garage attic. I heard the little guy bouncing around up there and I wanted to help him. Both the attic and the garage doors were wide open for him to fly out, but he didn't see it. He insisted, instead, on bashing his head into the ceiling repeatedly.

I did what I could to help him out of the attic and the garage. I couldn't reach him, so I used a fishing net. I didn't catch him in the net. I just nudged it up under him for him to perch on. Every time I would get him out of the attic, he would fly right back up into it.

Finally, I got him out of the attic, but I still couldn't convince him to fly toward the open garage door. So I tried to help him again. Two or three times he perched on my finger for a second...only to fly back and sit on the raised garage door. A time or two I reached in and wrapped my hand around him gently. But he squealed and fluttered and went back to banging his head on the ceiling again. Finally, I left him to figure it out for himself. A few hours later, he finally came to his senses and figured it out.

You know me...I couldn't help but wonder what story he told his mother........

"Mom, I had a horrible day. I got stuck in this huge room with a fake exit. They made it look like a way out, but it wasn't. It just took me up into this dark, spidery room filled with boxes. Then this big stick with a string net kept coming up under me and nudging me. It came real close to squishing me. But I managed to evade that thing.

"Then this big, ugly monster (I think it was a human) came after me with his hand. At first he just kept sticking his huge claws under me. I think he was going to try to eat me, so I flew away from him every time. Then the big, ugly monster reached his whole hand around me and tried to crush me in his grip, but I managed to shout and fight my way out of his grip before he could hurt me. I just knew he was planning to have hummingburgers for dinner. Finally, I sat quiet and still long enough that the big, ugly monster left. When I was sure he was gone, I put it into turbogear and I made a daring and brilliant escape!"

I was being kind. The bird thought I was being cruel. If only the little fella had known that I had come to help him. If only he could have known that I was on his side. If only he could have seen my intentions and my heart. If only he knew...

Like usual, I may be overdoing the story, but I'm not overdoing the point. Every day, God extends His hand and His aid to minister to His people and it is misunderstood and misinterpreted for harm. We complain about fake exits, not noticing the huge open doors. We panic as the fish net comes up to us, oblivious to the exit below. We dodge the net that guides and avoid the grasp that sets free.

If only we knew. "For I know the thoughts I think toward you, says the Lord, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope" (Jeremiah 29:11, NKJV).

God is in your corner. God wants what is best for you. He really means it when He says, "I have good plans for you, not plans to hurt you. I will give you hope and a good future" (Jeremiah 29:11, NCV).

If we could only learn to trust.

In His Grip,
Perry Crisp

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

The Parable of the Garden

Into your Garden of Eden comes a friend or relative whose actions and attitudes always seem both irritating and irritable.

I don't know the specifics, but I see you there. You smile at the beauty of your garden. You pull a fragrant rose toward you, inhale, close your eyes, smile, and let out a refreshing sigh. Your bare feet enjoy the tingle and texture of soft, green grass. The birds surround you with songs of joy and peace. The blue sky above you is an open canvas of heavenly color, brightening your garden and your heart.

Then the irritable one enters. He (or, perhaps she) tromps through one of your flower beds, oblivious to the beauty being destroyed beneath his calloused and heavy foot. Everywhere he goes within your garden, the insensitivity of his actions and the fumes from his mouth are like poison being sprayed upon each leaf, blade of grass, petal, and flower. The birds choke on the fumes. The sky coughs at the pollution of his attitude.

You do your best to help him see the beauty of the garden. I watch you as you tolerate his destructive spirit. Yet I see something growing inside you now. A root of bitterness has been planted in the soil of your heart.

It grows. It sprouts branches of hurt and flowers of resentment that eventually bear the fruit of anger. "Enough!" Before you realize it, you have shouted at this perpetrator of your Eden. That felt good!

It felt so good that the adrenalin kicks in with greater force. You mentally and emotionally wrap handcuffs around this beast, unworthy of your garden. You march him to the outer limits of your garden where you are surprised and thrilled to see a small, dark, dreary prison cell with bars.

The rusted prison door creaks as you open it. You toss the bearer of badness - that vile creature who hurt you so terribly and deeply for so long - into that prison cell and slam the door! You lock the door and remove the key.

Now, you can return to your garden of peace. Now, you can be mellow and relax in the pleasures of your beautiful garden without the scent or residue of his poison.

Hours pass. Days go by. Weeks. Months. Years. Throughout each passing second since you incarcerated the source of your displeasure, your peace and tranquility have faded bit by bit. A slight erosion has ensued. The pink in your pink roses isn't as pink. Clouds multiply and darken with each passing tick of his prison sentence. The birds, one by one, have found other gardens in which to sing. The grass is harder to walk on. It crackles beneath your weight.

"What is happening to my beautiful garden?" you shout. But you know. Or at least, you think you know. It is HIM! It is his fault. HE has ruined your garden!

Though you haven't visited his prison since the day you threw him in there, you stomp toward it ready to give him a piece of your mind. Just seeing him rotting in that dark, stale, small room will make you feel better.

But something has changed.

His prison doesn't resemble a prison at all. In fact, it looks more like a garden than your garden. His handcuffs are gone. He isn't emaciated or suffering or sorrowful. He hasn't changed at all. He seems oblivious to his prison sentence. It's as if he doesn't even know...or remember. He has continued on with his life as if nothing ever happened.

He turns to look at you. Only a glance. No emotion. No recognition. Nothing. He has been completely unaffected by these years under your control.

You grab the bars and shake them in anger. You want to go in there and destroy his world like he destroyed yours. You reach for the key that you've been wearing around your neck. It has rusted so bad that it crumbles in your hand.

He turns and looks down at the lock on the prison door. Your eyes follow his. There is no place for the key...on your side. Stunned, you reach around and feel that the keyhole is now on the outside. You turn around and find yourself in the prison.

Resentment chains us to the past. Forgiveness sets us free. Like the little boy who was in obvious pain sitting on a park bench. A passerby asked him what was wrong. He said, "I'm sitting on a bee."

"Why don't you get up then?" asked the stranger. "Because," answered the boy, "I figure I'm hurting him more than he's hurting me."

God's Word encourages us to forgive just as God, through Christ, has forgiven us. The Bible has nine different words for forgiveness. Four of them are the predominant ones. Of the four, two are found in the Old Testament and two in the New Testament.

1. Forgiveness covers over a wrong. Like a painter who makes a mistake on the canvas, but fixes it with a few creative strokes of the brush (Deuteronomy 21:8).

2. Forgiveness lifts a burden lifted from the shoulders (Psalm 32:5).

3. Forgiveness sends a note attached to the leg of a pigeon (1st John 1:9, Psalm 103:12).

4. Forgiveness grants as a favor (Ephesians 4:32, Luke 7:41-43).

Control is an illusion. The only one being controlled by unforgiveness is the one who will not let go. Though the hurt may be so deep and affect you so permanently that you may never be able to forget it, you can learn to forgive to the degree that your relationship with that person is no longer colored or tempered by that hurt.

There are no easy answers. Only choices. Which will you choose? Your garden or your prison? God can help restore your garden. He has already signed your release papers. But you have to will yourself to walk out of that prison and into your garden.

Take His hand and let Him lead you...
Perry Crisp

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

A $50 Bill Slipped into My Pocket is a -----

You've probably heard about the construction foreman who wanted a large pile of sand moved, and left the job in the hands of three workers: an Italian, a Scotsman, and a Chinese guy.

Okay, so you're going to hear it again. The foreman left the Italian man in charge of sweeping, the Scotsman in charge of shoveling, and the Chinese fellow in charge of supplies.

The foreman came back to check on their progress and found that they hadn't done a thing. The pile of sand was exactly the same and the Italian and Scotsman were just standing there. The foreman asked why they hadn't moved the sand pile. They said they were waiting for the Chinese guy to return with the supplies. They couldn't do their jobs without a broom and a shovel.

The foreman was so angry, he stormed over to the sand pile to kick sand everywhere --- when suddenly, the Chinese guy jumped out from behind the sand pile and shouted, "SUPPLIES!"

Though the Bible tells us we were created in the image of God, there are still obvious differences between us. God knows all there is to know. We know very little. And it seems like we know very little more and more. God can be everywhere at once. We are always somewhere trying to get somewhere else.

But there's another difference. We can be surprised. God can't. I find myself appreciating this gift of God to me this morning. I like surprises. Well, most of them.

We enjoy manipulating surprises. The fake snake at the door step. The birthday candles that can't be blown out. The Lexus in the driveway (no wait...that's a false fantasy generated by commercialism). But you get the point.

One man in New Mexico tried to surprise his girlfriend by slipping an engagement ring in her milkshake. A few hours later, she finally saw her engagement ring on an x-ray. Supplies! I wonder if she'll trust him to feed her the wedding cake.

I just want to thank God today for letting us enjoy something that He is not privy to.
"Thank you, Father, for the gift of surprises and the people who bless us with good ones."

Full of Surprises,
Perry Crisp

Monday, April 13, 2009

The Miracle Named Meagan

Somewhere between 10:30 pm and midnight on October 1st, 2008, life drastically changed for a young man and young lady. While driving to a relative's home, their automobile spun out of control. The car flipped and spun several times. The young man was trapped inside the car with a broken leg. The young lady, Meagan, was thrown violently from the car.

Meagan laid on the ground a few feet from the car unconscious until early the next morning. She was carried by helicopter to a local hospital with critical injuries to her vertebrae, broken bones in her pelvis, arms, ankle, and elbow, and a ruptured spleen.

Days, weeks, and months passed by while Meagan struggled with her injuries. Progress was slow. An occasional reaction to a whisper in her ear or a squeeze of her hand. A grunt. A moan. Her eyes opened just enough to keep her loved ones' hopes alive.

Meagan endured numerous surgeries and complications from the injuries as well as cellulitis from the ant bites she incurred while laying on the ground that night.

I visited Meagan in her hospital room in late November or early December. She struggled to keep her limbs under control. Her feet and hands only wanted to curl up. She did not respond to my attempts to talk to her. As I watched her kick and looked into what appeared to be vacant eyes, I wanted to help her, but I felt so helpless. She is near the same age as my own daughter.

I talked to her and prayed with her, but I left feeling a heavy burden. My faith was weak. I feared she might remain in that condition for the rest of her life.

Yesterday was Easter Sunday, 2009. It has been six months since Meagan's accident. She was at church with us!

As I gave the invitation at the end of the morning worship service, I looked over to my left and saw a small group huddled at the altar, but I didn't know who it was.

A few minutes later, Meagan came up out of that little prayer huddle, and with her mother's help, she walked toward me with a huge smile on her face. She had just prayed to receive Christ as her personal Savior!

God is still in the miracle business. He proved it to me again on resurrection Sunday. He resurrected a broken body from a hospital bed and gave her the will to fight and the strength to walk.

Yesterday, Meagan walked to Jesus and gave herself to Him in such beauty and grace. While Meagan's body continues to recover and heal, her soul is now completely alive and restored! Over 2,000 eyes were wet with tears of joy. We saw a resurrection miracle on Easter Sunday!

He has risen! He's alive! He still redeems. He still heals. He will never leave us nor forsake us. October 1st, 2008 was Meagan's "Friday." It looked like life and hope were almost over for her. But April 12th, 2009 was her "Sunday!" Hope is alive!

I believe!
Perry Crisp

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Passion Anyone?

Passion. No word captures that week of Jesus' life leading up to Easter Sunday better than passion.

It took passion to willingly walk mile after mile toward the city of Jerusalem when Jesus knew that He would be brutalized and murdered.

It took passion to ride into town to shouts of adoration and praise when Jesus knew that those same voices would turn to shouts of violence and hatred.

It took passion to enter the Temple and stir the indignation of the religious hypocrites knowing it would compel them to plan His painful death.

It took passion to love Judas.

It took passion to sit at the table with the disciples and eat a passover meal knowing that the entire meal symbolized the events that were about to take place in just a few hours.

It took passion to bend over the dirty feet of the disciples and wash them with water knowing that His body would soon be stretched out upon a cross and His blood would soon be poured out over their dirty, sinful souls.

It took passion to pray and surrender to the Father's plan in the garden knowing that the Temple guards were on their way.

It took passion to let men grab Him with the human power of their flesh and think they held Him when He knew the unlimited, divine power He held over them.

It took passion to hear the lies and endure the mockery of six illegal trials and false witnesses when He knew the truth of His innocence and their guilt.

It took passion to stand still while bloodthirsty men pummeled Him with their fists, spit into His face, ripped out His beard, tore His flesh with a whip, and mocked His name and authority while His angels stood and watched -- wanting to protect Him and defend Him, yet obeying His sovereign command not to intervene.

It took passion to carry the cross, endure the nails in His hands and feet, the thorns upon His brow, and be hoisted up before the world He loved in ridicule and humilty knowing that they did not understand one very important fact: It was His love for them...for us...that held Him on that cross. Not the nails.

It took passion to allow the horrible cruelty of crucifixion to play itself out without taking a divine shortcut.

It took passion to stay in the grave three days.

Passion. The same passion it took for Jesus to endure that week is still in His heart for you. He is passionate for you. He loves you. He did all that He did for you.

Remember His Passion...
Perry Crisp

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Ode to a Red Chair

An honorary red chair sits in my living room. Three of the four legs are still in good shape. But the fourth one seems irreparable. It is not safe to sit in, so it leans against the wall and holds a couple of blankets and a teddy bear.

It is not attractive. It is a product of a common furniture store from the 60's. An interior decorator would send it to the curb for the trash truck. I can't find words to describe the color of the red in the red chair. The best I can say is that it's a dirty red.

Though they've never said it, guests to our home might wonder,
"What's up with the ugly chair?"

I wish they would ask. I love that chair. I'd like to tell them why. Got a minute? I'd like to tell you about the red chair.

Back in the day when it was safe for sitting, you could rock in that red chair. It has springs under it. The springs make a very distinct squeaking noise. That noise is filed in my brain under "Mom."

When I was a baby and had trouble sleeping at night, Mom would take me to the red chair. She would hum hymns with her beautiful voice and the squeaking red chair would sing back-up.

Mom is in heaven. I can't hear her hum any more. But the back-up music still exists in that chair. The chair stays.

My brother and sister and I fought over the red chair when we were kids. We were competitive over everything. If the phone rang, we raced to answer it. On road trips, we fought for a window seat. But the red chair was the biggest and most brutal of our battlefields.

When we would get home from school or church, we would rush to the red chair. It was our living room's version of "king of the hill." If I was sitting in the red chair and got up for a snack, Mark or Lynn would seize the opportunity and take over the red chair. Who knows how much I could have weighed as a child had I not been afraid to get up for a snack?

The red chair contest became so violent at one point that our parents made a new house rule. The Red Chair Rule. If you were occupying the red chair and wanted to get up for something, you had to say, "Red chair's my chair" before someone else got to the chair. It "froze" the red chair for no more than ten minutes. If you did not say, "Red chair's my chair" or if you were not back in ten minutes, anyone could take possession of it.

One Saturday afternoon I was watching cartoons (back when they had cartoons for kids). I was the official red chair holder. Mark was on the couch.

The phone rang. I sprang from the red chair and ran to the phone on the wall.* I had completely forgotten about the red chair. I forgot to say the red chair chant. (Even though the rest of the action occurred in milliseconds, I am switching to the slo-mo replay version for effect).

I reached for the telephone. The red chair, couch, and evil brother were behind me. The loud ringing of the puke green phone provided audio cover for Mark to get up stealthily from the couch and make his move on the red chair. My exceptional peripheral vision combined with my premature multi-tasking skills enabled me to see and respond to the red chair coup attempt.

But my wires got crossed.

I saw Mark in mid-air lunging toward the red chair. I pulled the telephone receiver to my ear and mouth and shouted into the phone (in "Saving Private Ryan" fashion), "REDDDDD CHAIR'SSSSS MYYYYYY CHAIRRRRRRR!"

(Slo-mo over...back to normal speed)

The poor fellow on the other end of the phone was a deacon. My dad was his pastor. I'm not sure, but I think the Bible verse that talks about a pastor "ruling his own house well" may have come up at the next deacon's meeting...again.

The red chair sits in my living room now. Of all the treasures of my parent's estate, the red chair sits as a priceless jewel in my memory bank.

My connection to the red chair goes deeper than a mother's embrace or a sibling rivalry. I can relate to the red chair. I'm a wobbly, squeaky, broken product of the 60's. I'm nothing special to history or humanity. But I am special to God.

After the cross was bloodied and the stone was rolled away from the tomb, Jesus went to the devil's cheap furniture store with a receipt that had "Paid in Full" written on it. He picked out a red chair named Perry and said,
"I've got a place in my living room for him. I'll be back for him."

Every time the devil tries to repossess me, Jesus reminds him,
"THAT red chair's MY chair."

I may squeak, but it's music to my Father's ears...
Perry Crisp

*For readers under the age of 30, it is important to note that all phones were stuck to the walls or sat on desks in those days. The words "cell" and "wireless" belonged exclusively to the jail house and the new fancy clothes dryers, respectively.