Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Your Light Changed...Why Are You Still Sitting Here?

In a rural town of a few hundred people lies an intersection. It is the main intersection of the town. It boasts of the town's only traffic light. Not a full grown traffic light. Just a single light that faces four directions and flashes red on and off. No one knows how old the light is and no one is interested in upgrading it.

More often than not, the light doesn't work. It is, in fact, so normal for the light NOT to work that a knee-high, homemade four-way stop sign welded into an old wheel is always on stand-by next to the town's only fire hydrant. The first local to discover that the flashing light isn't working gets to wheel the stop sign into the middle of the intersection and brag about it the rest of the day.

Contrast that traffic light with those that exist in larger cities. The average traffic light has three bulbs with eyelids. They are responsible for thousands of cars and do their job with efficiency. Their bulbs are always fresh and their boxes are well maintained.

Some are even smart enough to know when one lane has traffic and the other lanes don't. Others are equipped with FOUR lights so that they can provide a helping hand/arrow to the cars that want to turn at the intersection.

The newest traffic lights have taken a course in photography and can take your picture if you disregard the red signal. They can also mail you a ticket to let you know how seriously they take their job.

I'm quite certain of two things at this point. One, you have no idea why I'm talking about traffic lights. Two, every person that reads this devotional could tell me what three colors are in a traffic light and what they each mean. (No, yellow does not mean, "go faster").

What would happen if we snuck into that little town at night and replaced the worn-out blinking red light with a brand new, three-color light with eyelids and arrows? The locals would have a fit! It would be the talk of the town. While a few might welcome the change, most would agree that it was highly unnecessary and obtrusive.

I can hear them now:
"I didn't get to vote on that fancy new light!"
"I don't need a light telling me when I can and cannot turn left!"
"My great-grandfather worked on that old red light. It was good enough for my grandparents and parents. It's good enough for me."
"My kids can't wait to grow up and roll the old stop sign into the street. What am I supposed to tell them?"

Now let's take that old flashing red light and corresponding knee-high "mobile" four-way stop sign and put them in a big city intersection.

Can you hear it:
"Hey!!! Where'd that piece of junk come from?"
"A blinking red light? Are they nuts? Where's my arrow?"

Why all this talk about traffic lights? It raises an interesting parallel to the issues churches face when dealing with change. Some churches refuse to change and get what they ask for. Nothing changes. Other churches welcome and foster change because it helps them grow.

Progress and growth require change. We just have to be cautious of extremes. Some churches change NOTHING. Their motto is, "If it ain't from the '50's, don't ya dare bring it in here." Other churches change EVERYTHING, including their doctrine. They allow changes in society to dictate changes in polity. Their motto is, "Just tell us what you don't like, and we will reinterpret it to make us all feel better."

But the evolving traffic light can shed some light on positive change. The purpose of the traffic light is to direct traffic and help people avoid accidents. To rush through the blinking red light in the small town without stopping is equal to running a red light in a big city. Either way, you break the law. At either intersection, you jeopardize the lives of others.

Is the old timey blinking red light better because it is older? No. In fact, if that town were to grow, that old light would have to go or someone could get hurt.

Is the fancy light with four bulbs, eyebrows, and a camera evil? Not at all. It stands for the enforcement of the same rules as the old red light. It is a necessary upgrade to enable growth, but it doesn't compromise the message. Red still means STOP.

Some churches sing songs out of a book from another century or several decades back. That's fine. Other churches have "singin' on the wall" with songs written yesterday. That's fine, too. Those aren't the real issues. The real issues are loving God, loving others, and obeying God's Word without compromise.

I've said enough for now. Think about the traffic lights and let's have some healthy discussions in our churches about the road we're on and the direction we are heading, and stop fussing about the number of bulbs in our traffic lights.

This may be news to some of you, but...

There IS a GREEN...and it means GO!

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

How to Avoid "How to" Books

Near the line of cashiers at most home improvement stores or warehouses is a library of "How to" books. You can find anything from "How to Build a Deck" to "Plumbing a 70-Story Building for Dummies."

Actually, I'm not really sure what the titles are because I never pull over and pick one up. I only know they are there because I've glanced in that direction once or twice. I'm thinking of writing a book called,
"How to Avoid 'How to' Books."

Why do I avoid those books? Because I know me. I wouldn't make it past the introduction page without trying to figure out who I could hire to do this project. Demolition and disassembly I can do without a manual. But construction, assembling, remodeling, or repairing turns me into Curious George. All I do is make messes and anger the man in the yellow hat.

It's not that I don't think plumbing, concrete, wiring, and construction are important. I do. I just want it all to be done right. I would even appreciate a lifetime guarantee that none of that stuff would ever fizzle or fall apart.

What do I do? I call a professional or a friend who has read the manuals and knows what he is doing. This stuff is too important to put in the hands of a Mr. Get'r Done whose tongue is dangling back and forth over his lower lip and says,
"Let's put this thingy over here and that whatchacallit over there. That oughta work. Try it now."

I'm convinced some folks treat the maintenance and construction of their hearts and lives the same way I treat home repairs. The bookstores have volumes of advice on how to do life. But they're all written by tongue-dangling humans whose own lives have missing parts and imperfect performance.

There's really only one book on the shelf that gives accurate (even flawless) directions to the complexities and uncertainties of human existence: The Bible.

Which one? There's really only one. I know there are plenty of counterfeits. But there's really only one true Bible. It starts with Genesis, ends with Revelation, has no more than 66 books in it, and isn't published by the Watch Tower Society. Clear enough?

I find that Christians bypass reading the Bible for themselves for the same reason I bypass the "How to" books at Jowe's and The Domicile Depot. They are afraid they won't be able to understand. They feel overwhelmed and unqualified.

That's where the really good news happens. Let me illustrate. Let's say I walk into Jowe's because I need to repair a faucet. I walk over to the library of plumbing and pick up a book called, "Faucet Repair for the Totally Inept," read three sentences and get frustrated because there are no pictures except the ones with Chinese subtitles. Before I can slam the book shut, a guy in a blue frock wearing a smile and a name tag that reads, "Joe Lee Spearit" comes over and says, "Can I help you?"

Joe guides me through the repair manual, shows me the tools I need, and demonstrates for me exactly what I need to do to fix my faucet. I go home, fix the faucet, grunt, and raise my hands in tool man victory.

It is the same with God's Word. As you pick it up to read it, ask the Author of the Bible to guide you through it. God's authorized representative is God Himself who comes in the form of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit will "teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all things" (John 14:26). The Holy Spirit won't mislead you, either. He will "guide you into all truth" (John 16:13).

Be not afraid. Pick up The Book. Whisper a prayer for help and begin reading today.

You can do it. He can help.
Perry Crisp

Monday, May 11, 2009

"Good Enough" Harbor

My ship was comfortable and content. My ropes were all tied securely to the dock of "Good Enough Harbor." Sure, the rains came and the winds blew. But there was a tarp and a hammock on deck. The fishing was only mildly successful. But fishing is good fishing even without catching. I was the Contented Captain of my own vessel.

While I reclined in my hammock, sleep slipped beneath me like the tide and I drifted away. So did my ship. I didn't see the hands that removed the ropes from the dock of "Good Enough Harbor." Nor did I hear the door to the ship's cabin close and lock.

While I slumbered, my ship set sail. With a few hours of sleep behind me, I slowly awoke to unfamiliar waters. Startled, I rubbed sleep from my eyes and looked around for the horizon. Where did my "Good Enough Harbor" go?

The horizon off each rail of the ship looked the same. No land in sight. Dark clouds in every direction. Beneath my feet, the ropes that once tied me securely to the harbor were neatly coiled and stacked. They hadn't slipped. Nor had they been cut.

Someone was on board my ship!

I ran to the ship's cabin and found it locked. The windows into the cabin were fogged over from the inside. Yet I could see Someone at the helm.

The ship dipped into a deep swell and I nearly lost my balance. Saltwater sprayed and soaked me in an instant. I grabbed a rail and looked into the direction we were moving. It was about to get ugly in a hurry. Blacker skies I have never seen. Swells rising like massive walls.

I wanted to argue with the One who had taken over the steering of my vessel, but self-preservation forced me to prepare for the imminent storm.

I managed to take cover below deck, but it was of little comfort. I gripped a pole with my arms and legs as the ship tossed and dove, rose and dropped. My ship was being hit from all sides with relentless force. A life vest floated by and I crawled into it one arm at a time. But what good was this small vest should the ship break apart and the stormy seas swallow me?

Though I was certain no one could hear me, I screamed and cried in fear and doubt. I couldn't even hear my own screams. Why would anyone want to board my ship, disembark from the safety of the harbor, and guide us through these horrific storms?

Grief consumed me. Tears drained my eyes of strength. Sorrow crushed my soul.

As the ship tossed up, over, and down through an endless succession of gigantic waves, I prayed for mercy. Mercy came in the form of an unidentified metal object that had loosed itself from the ship and whacked me on the back of the head.

The next hours were mostly blurry or totally dark. Sometime later, I awoke. Coughing. Spitting. Choking on all that I had swallowed while unconscious. My head throbbed. I let out a minor sob as if it was all I had left. And I heard it!

It dawned on me that the ship was no longer tossing about. Water no longer filled the ship below deck. Though my ears were ringing, I could hear birds chirping.

I unwrapped myself from the pole and stood with great effort. Everything hurt. As I forced myself toward the stairs that led to the deck, I saw beams of sunlight warming the steps.

I emerged to an unbelievable sight. My imagination could not have found such beauty as what I now saw before me. I was surrounded by sights of glory and majesty that soared beyond my knowledge of reality. It was the most beautiful harbor I'd ever seen.

My ropes were secured to this fantasy harbor. My ship was intact. The door to the ship's cabin creaked open and a familiar face greeted me with a gentle smile. He was the Owner and legitimate Captain of this vessel. I had given it over to Him many years ago because I had wrecked it and couldn't afford the restoration. After He purchased it, I just continued on as if it were mine.

I limped toward Him and fell at His feet. "This place is unlike anything I've ever seen. It is beautiful," I said. He didn't reply.

He touched the back of my head and looked at me with sorrow in His eyes, as if He understood pain and suffering.

I looked up at Him, not sure how to ask about all that I had been through. Then I saw His wounds. Mine were minor compared to His.

I began to cry again. My body went into a sobbing rhythm for a few minutes. I was not able to fully regain my composure, but I managed to ask,
"Why? Why did You lead me through those terrible storms?"

He spoke.
"There was no other way to get you here."

Weeks later, I was completely restored. Joy was my constant companion. Peace covered the deck of my ship. The fishing was excellent. And I must tell you...the storms of life are worth it when the Owner of the vessel is at the helm. The Captain of my soul knows what He is doing and where He is leading.

(This story is based on a vision God gave me after I read Psalm 31).

Trusting the Captain,
Perry Crisp

Monday, May 4, 2009

Smoking or Non?

I met someone yesterday unlike anyone else I've ever met. He is over 60 and looking for purpose in life. He believes in God, but has a relationship based on fear instead of faith.

He tries to live perfectly so that he can stand before God one day and receive commendation instead of condemnation. He is strong, determined, admirable, and impressive. But the foundation is beginning to crack.

Let's assume he has been successful at not sinning for 60 years (based on his definition of what constitutes sin). As strong as he is, and as successful as he has been in attempting the impossible, he's only one "oops" away from a forever fall.

I wrestled with two main concerns as I met with this man. The first is quite important: It doesn't matter what your definition or my definition of sin is. God decides what is sinful. This man seems to believe that sin is immoral activity only. That sin is somehow confined only to outward activities. God says sin is in the heart, the mind, the mouth, and the life. A single impure thought can strap you into the eternal southbound rocket. The Bible reveals that the greatest sin is the rejection of Jesus Christ as the Son of God.

My second concern is for this man's uphill battle to the top of Mt. Impossible. We each have a choice in this life concerning God's laws of righteousness. We can choose to fulfill the law of God on our own, living perfectly without committing a sin. Or we can choose the grace that God has extended to each of us as a gift in the form of His Son, Jesus Christ.

I encourage you to read Galatians 3:10-14 in your Bible, but I also want you to hear it from The Message:

"Anyone who tries to live by his own effort, independent of God, is doomed to failure. Scripture backs this up: 'Utterly cursed is every person who fails to carry out every detail written in the Book of the Law.'
"The obvious impossibility of carrying out such a moral program should make it plain that no one can sustain a relationship with God that way. The person who lives in a right relationship with God does it by embracing what God arranges for him. Doing things for God is the opposite of entering into what God does for you."

God doesn't grade on a curve. He doesn't do make-up exams. There are no excused absences. It doesn't matter if your dog ate your homework. If you are going to choose to live by the law of God instead of the grace of God, then you have to score 100 every time. You can't pick and choose. Selective obedience isn't one of the selections. Sporadic obedience isn't obedience.

You have to live 100% perfect 100% of the time. One "oops" condemns you to an eternal hell.

Here is where people want to take issue with God. "How could God send people to hell?" While all the time they miss the most important truth of life ---- Jesus took your place and made 100 for you. If you will place your trust and eternity in Him, God will welcome you into His eternal home in heaven and seat you at His dining room table. If you reject that gift, you paddle your own canoe to hell.

It's your choice. Live by the law and fail or receive God's gift of grace and succeed.

I choose grace...gladly!
Perry Crisp