Thursday, June 25, 2009

Hope Beneath the Rope

A man sat broken in the pew next to me last night after church. A stranger, yet a brother. He spilled his life out to me in raw clarity. Anger, hurt, emptiness, and regrets outlined his life.

He described himself as barely clinging to a knot at the end of his rope. Ever been there? Yeah. Me too.

He talked of how things used to be. Things used to be great. At one time he was walking with God and had even enrolled in a Bible institute with plans of becoming a preacher of the gospel.

Life took an unpredictable bounce. Bad news left a bad taste in his mouth. Like Job, this man's religious friends laid a load of blame and guilt on him. The bad taste left his mouth and settled in his attitude. His attitude toward God, the church, and life grew worse and worse.

He has spent years living on poisonous bitterness and rebellion. Every time he drove by our church, he felt drawn to go inside. Last night, the arguments against walking into a church house filled with strangers lost out to a deep desire to come home to God.

I told him to let go of the knot. He looked up at me with fear. "As long as you're holding onto that knot, you're not giving God control of your life," I said.
"Let go. God will catch you before you know you're falling."

The man released his grip on the knot and landed instantly in the grip of God's grace.

After repentance came regret. He looked at me and said,
"I wish I could go back to where I the way I once felt."

With that statement, he had no idea how much we had in common. Regrets have a certain flavor to them that lay long on the tongue of our memory. Yet, as much as we'd like to go back and do things better or different, we can't.

We can't travel back in time. People named Garmin or Tom-Tom may adjust easily to your wrong turns, but others won't. Board games may let you go back ten spaces, but life doesn't.

There is one exception. God has allowed one moment in history to which we can all go back. The cross.

We can all go back to that moment on Calvary's hill when the Son of God hung on the cross to pay the bill for our sin, guilt, and regrets. The outstretched arms of Christ are infinite. They stretch around the world and across human history. They reach to the beginning and end of time and cover the sins of us all. Forgiveness drips from the cross.

We sat together on that pew last night equal in God's eyes. Equally sinners. Equally forgiven. Peace covered us because our pasts are covered.

It was pretty awesome to see a man who was at the end of his rope only moments before, take his first steps toward a new beginning. That's what God does...when we let Him.

I look forward to seeing my new friend Sunday and introducing him to his new family and his new future.

"We throw open our doors to God and discover at the same moment that he has already thrown open his door to us. We find ourselves standing where we always hoped we might stand --- out in the wide open spaces of God's grace and glory, standing tall and shouting our praise...
"Christ arrives right on time to make this happen. He didn't, and doesn't, wait for us to get ready. He presented himself for this sacrificial death when we were far too weak and rebellious to do anything to get ourselves ready...God put his love on the line for us by offering his Son in sacrificial death while we were of no use whatever to him"
(Romans 5:1-2, 5-6, The Message).

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Dashing Dad

My first "hawg" looked more like a baby pig. It was a mini-bike and I was the only mini-bike kid in my neighborhood. If you're not sure what a mini-bike is, just think of it as the Mini-Me of Motorcycles. It's a Sit 'n Spin with an engine and wheels.

My mini-bike was an eclectic gathering of various parts from deceased mini-bikes in my neighborhood. There were two parts missing on my mini-bike: a kill switch and a throttle cable.

The kill switch wasn't a problem since there was a piece of metal hovering over the spark plug wire. You simply pushed down on the piece of metal and it killed the engine.

The missing throttle cable made riding the mini-bike an adventure because it gave you only one free hand for steering. Your other hand was busy holding the throttle wide open with your fingers on the swivel cable stop (which was located on the side of the engine). This was a great hand warmer for your left hand since the cable stop was close to the muffler.

A few of my friends had bigger bikes. Dirt bikes. "Real" motorcycles bought in "real" stores. Their bikes were three and four times the size of my mini-bike. Their bikes had "real" kickstands. My kickstand was a parking curb. I would pick up my mini-bike and balance it on the parking curb. It was so short, the frame sat on the concrete and the wheels didn't touch the pavement.

We rode our bikes in the church parking lot because the asphalt drive made a circular track around the buildings. I'm sure it was quite a sight to see five motorcycles speed around the church followed by a putt-putting mini-bike. Those guys could make three laps to my one. Imagine seeing five people riding thoroughbred horses through a pasture followed by a guy on a miniature pony. That's about what it looked like.

It worked out great for me, though. For some reason, there was always a biker buddy who wanted to trade rides. So I spent most of the time on a "real" dirt bike while a friend slummed on my motorized Sit 'n Spin.

One mini-bike memory stands out high above the rest. I was riding Bruce's dirt bike and he was riding my mini-bike. Bruce was the cool kid. He had the longest hair and the newest and biggest dirt bike. I came up behind him at one end of the parking lot, ready to zip by him. He was hunched over with one hand on the handlebar of my mini-bike and one under the seat holding that tecumseh engine's cable stop wide open.

I zoomed past him and glanced back at him. He was all smiles. Seconds after I had turned my head away from Bruce to see where I was going, I heard a loud boom and a louder scream behind me. I jerked my head back around just in time to see Bruce let go of the mini-bike and jump off. The engine was covered in flames.

Bruce was holding his left hand and blowing on it. The flaming mini-bike kept it's balance and continued rolling through the parking lot. I spun back around to check on Bruce.

My dad was at our house working in the garage and heard the boom. The house was 200 yards away. By the time my buddies and I got to Bruce, Dad was already running toward us. Bruce wasn't hurt. A minor burn on his hand. With his good hand, he pointed at my sprinting father.

I remember how stunned we all were at that moment. Dad was the preacher. Preacher's don't run. Dude, was my dad running! We were amazed by three things: 1) How far a flaming, riderless mini-bike can roll, 2) how fast the old guy could run, and 3) how perfect Dad's hair looked at 100 miles per hour. It didn't move. It was like watching Flash Gordon without his costume.

The mini-bike was doing the wiggle motion as it started losing momentum. It passed the asphalt and bounced through the open field between the church and our house.

Dad ran straight to the church, stepped inside, grabbed a fire extinguisher, ran back to the flaming mini-bike that had finally fallen over, and put the fire out before it could spread across the field.

To this day, I don't know how Dad covered that much ground that quickly. If I were to call my buddies to the witness stand, they would corroborate my testimony.

Every time I think of how quickly God comes to the emergency needs of His children, I visualize that mini-bike moment. I love my earthly father and I'm so grateful to have had a Dad who cared for me and provided safety and security for me. I'm thankful for all of life's emergencies that he has rushed toward, ready and eager to help his children and grandchildren.

I'm also gratefully, sometimes to the point of tears, for the times my heavenly Father has been on the scene so instantly in my life. Whether in times of loneliness, injury, crisis, confusion, or depression, our Father is a good Father. He rushes toward us and never leaves us.

"Turn your ear to me, come quickly to my rescue" (Psalm 31:2, NIV).

Slightly used mini-bike for sale...charcoal color.
Perry Crisp

Monday, June 15, 2009

Who Knew the Go-Kart Wanted to Ride the Human?

There it was. I had seen it in the Montgomery Ward catalog. Now it was within three feet of me in the store. It was a red, single-seated go-kart. I stared at it like I was Ralphie and it was an official Red Ryder carbine-action 200-shot range model air rifle BB gun.

But this wasn't a Christmas story. It was a birthday story. I was about to be ten years old. There I stood next to my dad as we kicked the tires of that beautiful, sleek go-kart. It was the coolest thing I'd ever seen. I never imagined it could be mine.

Then it was. I don't know how. I don't know what magical act of childhood manipulation I used to get it. But somehow, my parents bought me the go-kart. (It may have had something to do with the mini-bike catching on fire while a friend of mine was riding it, but that's another story).

I rode the wheels off that go-kart. We lived just across the road from the church where my dad served as pastor. Between our road and the church was a large field. The church had an asphalt driveway that made a perfect circular race track all the way around it. My go-kart and I went 'round and 'round that church like it was Jericho.

With the go-kart came certain rules. One of the rules involved instructions on getting from the house to the church and back. I was not allowed to ride the go-kart on the street. I was to push the go-kart across the street from our driveway to the field. Then I could drive across the field to get to the church parking lot.

Like most preacher's kids, I was obedient...for a while. Then the influence of the deacon's kids permeated my good nature and I began to take to the streets.

I was not allowed to ride after dark, but I would milk every ounce of daylight I could out of my evening races around the church. As soon as it was "almost dark" (according to my interpretation), I would leave the church parking lot. But I wouldn't cut across the field. I took a right onto Sweetgum Road and the next right onto Moss Hill Drive and a quick left into our driveway.

I noticed something about those three turns. After a long, hot day in the southeast Texas sun, the oil on those oil-top roads would bubble up to the top and make the surface of the streets very slick. If I hit those two rights and that left at full blast, the back end of that go-kart would fish-tail slide just like Starsky's Gran Torino!

Have you noticed how many of my stories come to a "then one day"? Then one day, while I was running circles around the church in my go-kart, a road crew went down Moss Hill Drive resurfacing my road. They sprayed fresh oil on the top of my super-slick road. I saw them do that and I smiled. But what I DIDN'T see was the dump-truck load of small rocks that they laid down on top of the fresh oil!

Near-darkness fell. I sped out of the parking lot at full speed. I took a Starsky turn right and said "hello" to my left back tire as it was parallel to my left shoulder. I turned into the slide like a pro. I got to Moss Hill Drive and took another Starsky turn right. The gravel was loose and just made the slide so much better.

But then...

The left turn into my driveway didn't go so well. Those oil-soaked rocks were firmly embedded in their oil bath and they didn't want to move. I turned left at full blast and one or more of the rocks objected to my right rear tire's attempted slide. The go-kart flipped. And flipped. And bounced. And landed on top of me.

I was face down with multiple lacerations (which sounds cooler than "a few cuts"). The go-kart was sitting on top of me. The engine was still running at full speed. The accelerator was stuck and the back tires were still spinning. The left rear tire was peeling out all over my back. I couldn't reach the kill switch under the steering wheel.

So I stretched my left hand up and back and found the motor. As if I weren't already in enough pain, I kept groping until I grabbed the spark plug. The electrical jolt sent shocks of pain through my body. I felt like the coyote after he hit the canyon floor and the acme anchor landed on him when he tried to get up. Only this wasn't a cartoon.

This was a horrific crash. Surely, someone heard it. I just knew the ambulance was on its way. But once the sound of the tire spinning in my back stopped and the ringing in my ears quit, there was only silence.

I laid there on the rocky road with a go-kart sitting on top of me in the dark, waiting for an ambulance, a stretcher, a concerned parent or neighbor, or even a stray dog's whimper.

All I heard was a car turning from Sweetgum onto Moss Hill. I was about to get run over a second time. Fear became an instant energy boost. I pushed the go-kart off my back, got up, and cleared the road of both boy and machine.

I managed to push the go-kart into the garage and stumble into the house. Mom took one look at me and said, "Go wash up. Supper's ready."

I had just escaped death twice and no one noticed. But I was okay with that. My biggest fear was having to explain why I was on the street in my go-kart. Guilt softened my need for sympathy.

Whatever happened to that? When did sympathy jump in line ahead of guilt. In fact, where did guilt go? How far back in line have we bullied guilt?

Everywhere I turn these days I see people demanding sympathy and/or retribution for messes of their own making. Ignoring the laws of mom, man, and Maker, we go where we've been told "No" and we do what we've been told "Don't." Instead of a healthy dose of guilt, confession, repentance, and restoration, we bypass those and want to guest star on Springer or Oprah or Dr. Phil as the nation's number one victim.

What I am about to say may fly in the face of modern society, but doesn't something need to? Guilt is healthy! Guilt is meant to lead us to "man up" and own up to our mistakes. Guilt is the one who introduces us to cleansing, forgiveness, and healing. Guilt leads us to the mop and leans on us until we clean up our mess.

But we don't do that. We just put up little yellow signs in English and Spanish that let people know there's a mess there, and it never gets cleaned up because no one will own the mess.

Those yellow signs are EVERYWHERE. So, I feel the need to kick a few down by saying, "Guilt, remorse, confession, and repentance are good for you!"

At supper that night, my parents noticed more scratches and cuts than normal. They saw that I was moving slowly. They asked what happened. I scrambled for a lie, but guilt covered my face and called my bluff before I could bluff. I confessed.

My parents did something really strange and bizarre. They punished me. Yep. I know. Weird, huh? I wasn't allowed to ride my go-kart for a week because I had broken the rules by riding on the street. I had disobeyed. I made the mess.

My parents helped me clean it up the right way. I completed my week-long sentence and re-entered the driver's seat of my go-kart with a new respect for the road and the rules.

"The law code had a perfectly legitimate function. Without its clear guidelines for right and wrong, moral behavior would be mostly guesswork" (Romans 7:7, The Message).

"Scrub away my guilt, soak out my sins in your laundry. I know how bad I've been; my sins are staring me down...You have all the facts before you; whatever you decide about me is fair...Soak me in your laundry and I'll come out clean, scrub me and I'll have a snow-white life" (Psalm 51:2-7, The Message).

Never Grab a Spark Plug,
Perry Crisp

Monday, June 8, 2009

Poll Cats

Are you fed up with polls yet? Sure, polls can be accurate indicators of what people are thinking, buying, watching, reading, and doing. They tell us all the ins and outs of public opinion.

They assist the market in recognizing trends. They help congress and the guy in the white house determine their day-to-day values. And they are the last frontier in America allowed to consistently break people into demographic categories of race, gender, geographic location, and age without anyone crying foul (even though they clearly reinforce the notion and existence of stereotypes).

Marvelous. But haven't we gone just a bit overboard? I sense a certain loftiness to the opinions of mankind that reeks of humanism. I expect to find humanism in colleges, universities, and uneducated actors of yesterday. But in the church?

As an evangelical, Bible-believing, Jesus-trusting pastor, I get to read polls that tell me what the average Christian in America thinks. About everything. All the time. Oh, happy day!

I get it. I really do. I don't need a lecture on how the information from these polls can show us where we are failing, where we are succeeding...yada, yada, yada.

But hear me out. My concern is in translation and differentiation. We read polls in secular society and change everything from marketing strategies to international policy based on what the people think. The assumption is, and rightly so in a democracy (like the one we used to have in America), that the majority rules.

However, crossing the bridge from the polls of the secular to the polls of the saints causes me to want to shout out a warning: CHRISTIANITY IS NOT BASED ON PUBLIC OPINION! Be careful how you interpret polls amongst the brethren. We're on different ground now. Holy ground. Christianity is not a democracy. It's a theocracy. You and I don't get to decide what is right or wrong -- true or false.

Choices? Yes. Decisions? No. There's a difference. We have a choice to make concerning what we are going to believe. But God isn't waiting on our final answer to make His. He's already decided. Not only has God decided, He's revealed it to us. Pick up a Bible. It's in there. Even if you don't like what it says, it doesn't alter the truth one iota.

When you read that 84% of American Christians believe God performs miracles, be careful how you process that. It doesn't matter what that number is. It doesn't change the truth. Even if 0.000001% of American Christians believe God performs miracles, God alone gets to do miracles if He wants to. Kapeesh?

If 65% of American Christians believe the Bible is true and 53% believe that Jesus is the only way to heaven, that is a reflection of our failure, not an indicator of reality. What you and I believe about truth doesn't make it any more or less true.

God isn't swayed by man's opinion. But man better be swayed by His. Isn't it time we started reading and paying attention to what God has to say?

Polls, by their nature, are impure. Whatever the numbers are, there will always be a certain percentage of opinions on one side or the other. 100% of the time, one side will be wrong. Sometimes, it will even be the majority who are wrong. And it's even possible for BOTH sides to be wrong.

How is that so? Because every opinion within a poll is a human opinion. And no human (Christ excluded) has ever been right every time.

So be warned. Churches and Christians who change policies and practices based on changes of interpretation of Scripture which are themselves based on political correctness or prevailing public opinion are likened unto houses built on the sand (Matthew 7:24-27).

Great will be the fall.

Read the Bible. If for no other reason than this: Eternity is a long time to be wrong.

Perry Crisp

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Did We Order This Meal "To Go"?

Lloyd Olsen went out to his chicken yard to pick out his next meal. He snatched up one of the chickens and picked up his axe. Lloyd loved to eat chicken. But he especially loved the neck of the chicken. Who doesn't? (Insert gagging gesture here).

So to preserve as much of the chicken neck as possible, Lloyd laid his axe at the base of the chicken's skull and chopped the chicken's head off.

If you've ever witnessed a chicken-head chopping ceremony, you know what happened next. If you haven't, you need to put that on your bucket* list.

That chicken lost his head but the rest of him worked just fine. As with most chickens who lose their head, this chicken took off running all over the yard. Unlike most headless chickens, this chicken didn't fall over and die. It lived!

Lloyd kept watching and waiting for his dinner-to-go to stop going. When the chicken finally stopped, it just stood there and acted like a normal chicken. As normal as a headless chicken can act. It walked around, scratched the ground, and may have even tried to peck for food -- but how would you know?

Lloyd named the chicken, Mike. I don't know why. Ichabod sounds more appropriate. But Lloyd took Mike under his wing* and cared for the cranial impaired creature.

Mike went through the motions of pecking for food, but couldn't get anything. He tried to crow, but only made rasping gurgles. Lloyd fed Mike with an eyedropper,** expecting the beakless, brainless bird to die at any time.

A week later, Lloyd took his headless chicken to some scientists at the University of Utah. After scratching* their heads* for several hours, the scientists surmised that Mike had enough brain stem left to live without his head because Lloyd chopped so high on the neck.

This chopped-top chicken made it into Life magazine. I don't think it made the cover because they never could get a decent head shot.* But the chicken was also entered into the Guinness Book of World Records, surpassing all other headless chicken records. Though he had neither, Mike stood head and shoulders* above all the other chickens.

Lloyd took Mike on tour across the country. People from all over marvelled at Mike. They'd never seen anything like it. Mike finally met his demise in an Arizona motel 18 months after he lost his head. Apparently, he choked to death on a kernel of corn. Lloyd tried to save him, but it was the 1940's and Lloyd had no knowledge of the heimlich maneuver. He only knew mouth to mouth...(pausing for effect).

As a pastor, I don't find Mike the Headless Chicken to be such an unusual phenomenon. I see Christians and churches on a daily basis who have learned to survive without the Head.

What do I mean? The Church is made up of individual Christians and is called "the body of Christ" throughout the Bible. Jesus Christ is clearly "the Head of the body" (Ephesians 4:15). Yet, I've seen Christians and churches who've gone through the motions of daily life for years without the Head.

Followers of Jesus Christ are commanded to "grow up into Him who is the Head, that is, Christ...from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work" (Ephesians 4:15-16, NIV).

Mike didn't choose separation from his head and would've given his right leg* to Colonel Sanders to get his head back. That's the difference.

When Christians and churches are Headless, we are the ones who separate ourselves from the Head. And although we can resume following Christ's direction and guidance at any time -- we can literally rejoin the body to the Head through repentance and surrender -- too many times we prefer to remain Headless. Pecking without a head gains no nourishment for the chicken or the church.

We move, but without direction. We are worse than the blind who follow the blind. Without the Head, we might as well jump into the pan and light the stove...we're cooked!

You can't get ahead without the Head,

Perry Crisp

*This is where I would have said, "pardon the pun," but there were just too many to keep interrupting midsentence.

**Feeding a headless, eyeless bird with an eyedropper just seemed......eye-ronic to me.