Thursday, August 27, 2009

Hugging an Answered Prayer

I hugged an answered prayer last night. It is an "amazing grace" story that has encouraged me to continue even more boldly in a practice I've employed for several years.

Through the years I have noticed that waiters and waitresses are often mistreated and misrespected by the people they serve. I have seen people, even Christians, be embarrassingly rude to the person who takes their order, fills their tea glass, and delivers their meals.

I have a chosen the opposite path. If these human beings are going to be the targets of rudeness by other human beings on a regular basis, then I want to be a positive part of their day to help overshadow some of the negatives. At first, I started with simple acts of kindness and a little humor to let them know I wasn't going to be a problem customer. I also tip generously and unconditionally.

Another common practice of mine is to pray before each meal. Whether I am at a restaurant with family and friends or at my desk unwrapping a bologna sandwich, I pause to give thanks.

At some point, I started combining these two practices. I don't remember when, but one day, after my waitress took my order, I called her by name (thanks to the name tag) and told her we were going to have prayer before our meal and we would like to pray for her. I asked her if she had any specific needs. She gave a nervous answer, smiled, thanked me, and went to her next task, and I prayed for her.

I've been doing that ever since. I've made a few friends along the way in the restaurants I visit frequently. It has blessed me to pray for them. It has blessed them to have someone see them as a real person with real needs. On a side note, it is amazing how great the service is when you treat people with compassion and respect. Please don't do it for that reason or it will ruin the real blessing.

I have a long list of fantastic responses from waiters and waitresses that I could share with you, but I want to tell you what happened that resulted in last night's answered-prayer-hug.

The Lord called me to serve as pastor of Lake Fork Baptist Church in east Texas in November of last year. Shortly after God called us here, the church staff and their families invited us out to eat following a Sunday evening service. There is a restaurant right around the corner from the church. As usual, after the waitress came to our table and took our order, I asked her if she had any prayer requests.

She hesitated. Then she held back tears as she asked us to pray for her brother. She didn't go into any personal details, but the rest of the staff knew the young man and knew a little about his needs. Her request for prayer for her brother stuck with me. She was sincere. She smiled and thanked us. We prayed for him by name. That was ten months ago.

For ten months, every time I've entered that restaurant and seen that waitress, I've been reminded to pray for her brother, not knowing who he was...until last night.

After our Wednesday night services were over and we were standing around talking, one of my deacons tapped me on the shoulder and said, "I want you to meet someone who just met my best friend." I introduced myself to the young man and hugged him. He had that smile on his face that Jesus gives people right after He moves into their hearts.

My deacon told me the young man's name, but nothing registered. It's a common name. But the wife of our worship leader was looking at me funny. She had that wide-eyed look that indicated to me there was more to the story than I realized. She whispered into my ear,
"Do you remember that time right after you came here that we went out to eat and you asked the waitress if she had any prayer needs, and she asked us to pray for her brother?"

I love it when the light comes on! Instantly, I had an "A-ha!" moment. This was him! I turned back to the young smiling man and said, "Young man, I prayed for you long before I ever met you." I told him the story. We hugged again. That hug was sweeter than the one before because I was hugging an answered prayer.

I'm encouraged to continue asking waitresses and cashiers and anyone else God puts in my path if they have a prayer need. There's nothing like hugging the neck of an answered prayer.

When you go to a restaurant, do yourself a favor. After they take your order, take theirs.

Perry Crisp

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Big Mike

Mike walked into our Sunday school class for the first time and immediately my eight-year-old mind went to work. Mike was ridiculously tall for an eight-year-old. His feet and hands were huge. He looked like a combination of three people: the body of a sixteen-year-old basketball player, the hands and feet of a twenty-three-year-old football player, and the face of an eight-year-old choir boy. He was shy, but all smiles.

Jodie and Melvin wanted to make fun of him, but I huddled them up and quickly reminded them how terrible our boy's basketball team for the church was. We needed Mike! So we started in with the smooth-talking, "Hey...Mike...buddy!"

Being incredibly skilled at transparency, my first question was, "Mike, do you play basketball?"

His answer startled me. He smiled and said, "Nope. I've never tried."

Never tried? This was alarming news to a boy who slept with a basketball, played basketball all day until darkness hid the rim, dribbled the basketball in the garage waiting for it to stop raining, and used every curtain rod and tennis ball in the house for an imaginary basketball game.*

Big deal. Michael had never played basketball before. He was only eight. How hard could it be to teach him what he needed to know?

You'd be surprised.

It was quite a challenge. Mike was so strong, he didn't shoot the ball, he launched it. His body had grown so fast that he was still catching up to it. His reactions were slower than a turtle race on slo-mo instant replay. His strength was greater than his mind could process. His feet were so big, he couldn't run. He galloped in a painful lumbering motion that looked like it hurt. It was like watching Elaine Benes dance.

He nearly wore out the center part of the court. By the time he almost got on the defensive end of the floor, we had the ball and were heading to our goal. As everyone passed by him, he would turn around and head to the offensive end. Shortly after he turned around, we were running back to play defense.

By the time our first game came around, our coach realized that Mike was a work in progress so he left Mike on the bench. It didn't hurt Mike's feelings at all. He was happy to be on the team and was proud of his FBBO jersey (First Baptist, Bevil Oaks...though the other churches thought it stood for Funny Boy Body Odor).

The game I remember most was a game against FBB (First Baptist, Beaumont). They were the rich kids. They had the high dollar brand new Pony shoes, four sweat bands on each arm, and shiny jerseys with their names stitched on the back. They were one of the few churches that had a gym in those days, so we always played them on their home turf.

Yes, it was church basketball. But it was all-out war. All we ever wanted was to beat FBB. But FBB was not about to lose to a backwoods church from the bayou. We were whistled for fouls every twenty seconds. If we got close to one of their players, it was a foul. Yet they could knock us over, take the ball, and run to the other end of the court and score without a whistle being blown.

I was the second one on our team to foul out. Eventually, all five starters fouled out and Michael was sent into the game. Bless his heart. He tried. He was such a big teddy bear. The boys from the other team were scared of him at first. But Mike's smile gave away the purity of his heart and they eventually started pushing him around.

Mike let them. Though a hundred times stronger and a foot taller, he let them run into him, knock him down, and push him around.

Our coach called time-out. Coach encouraged Mike to keep his ski---his feet planted and not let them push him around. And because Mike couldn't keep up with the speed of the game, Coach told Mike to stand close to the other team's goal and not let them drive in for a layup. Mike smiled and nodded.

Sure enough, Mike stood where Coach told him to stand. But he just smiled at the other team as they went around him and scored. I was about to snap. Not at Mike. I loved Mike. Mike and I had become buddies. Mike was the kindest, most gentle kid I'd ever met. He would do anything for me. I was just tired of seeing them score over and over and make taunting gestures at my buddy.

As Mike stood under the other team's goal, the rest of our team had the ball on our end of the floor and were trying to run a play. One of the players from the other team stole the ball. He was the biggest "show-off" on their team. He had been teasing Mike and making fun of him since Mike first smiled at him.

When "Show-off" stole the ball, there were only ten seconds left in the game. He drove the ball right toward Mike. Mike just stood there, smiling at him. I'd had enough. I yelled,
"Mike, hit him!"

Let's hit the pause button on the action for a second. In my eight-year-old church-basketball-playing mind, when I said, "Hit him," I envisioned Mike stepping in front of the show-off, standing his ground, and having some type of bodily contact that would either be called a foul or a charge.

Mike's mind took a more literal route.

Mike looked at me as if I was his commanding officer and I had just given him a direct, yet puzzling command. But a command it was, and he was determined to carry it out. After he looked at me, he looked at the show-off. The smile on Mike's face was replaced by a furrowed brow and tight lips. Mike's right man-hand drew up in a fist big enough to cover "Show-off's" entire face. Mike pulled that mighty fist back and let it fly.

The show was over for "Show-off." Mike's punch landed squarely and "Show-off" reversed his motion and landed flat on his back.

I was amazed at how quickly everyone's eyes went from the floor to the bench. EVERYONE was looking at me...especially Coach. The blood left my face and I shrugged my shoulders as I pleaded my case,
"I didn't mean 'HIT HIM' like that!"

After that game, I quit trying to make Mike into my image of what I thought he should be. It was reassuring to have a huge friend who responded so well to my commands. But I gave up the plans I had for him because it was what I wanted...not what Mike wanted.

Since then, I've learned a great deal about plans. Not only have I learned that I cannot decide or coerce the plans of other people's lives, I've learned to feed my own plans and agendas for my life into the shredder, too. Why?

Life's not about me. I'm not here for me. Life's about purpose. If my life has a purpose, then there must be a Purposer. In fact, there is. God created me and you for a purpose. God has plans for you. Awesome plans. "'For I know the plans I have for you,' declares the Lord, 'plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future'" (Jeremiah 29:11, NIV).

I command no one. I am called to surrender, submit, and serve. Lest you think that sounds icky, let me assure you -- it is the greatest place and path that any of us can be in or on. To be where and who God made you to be is indescribably fulfilling.

"I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me" (Galatians 2:20, NIV).

Don't worry. I won't hit you. Unless God tells me to. So far, He hasn't. Even when I've tried to talk Him into it.

Hopefully, Mike's learned the same lesson I have. I hope you have, too. Let God be your guide. He has the plans and knows the way.

Oh, and if you see a guy my age with an unusually large nose, would you tell him, "Perry's sorry."

Perry Crisp

*Curtain rod basketball with a tennis ball is fun. The curtain rod is at just the right distance from the wall to allow a tennis ball to squeeze between it. Some of the best dunks of my life were in a living room. Enjoy!

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Gainer or Loser?

A "gainer" is a type of dive in which the diver does a backwards flip while his body is going forward. The diver faces the water, springs forward off the diving board, and the movement of his body continues progressing forward. Yet, while moving forward in the air, the diver reverses his momentum, causing his body to do a back flip while progressing forward.

The only difficult part of this maneuver is convincing your mind that such a thing makes sense. Of course, there is also the "trial and error" period that can be painful until the dive is perfected.

I have seen people try this dive who were over-anxious about getting the back flip motion going a millisecond after their toes left the board instead of waiting until they got to the top of their jump. Ouch! Tossing your head back too soon before clearing the diving board area can give you a nasty headache.

The other mistake I have seen people make is freezing up or losing their bearings before they finish the backward rotation. Ouch again! Faces, bellies, and backs make an awful popping noise when they hit the water like a bulldog chasing a parked car. Side effects include redness, occasional swelling, a serious stinging sensation, laughter from the pool rats, and momentary embarrassment.

My advice? 1) Wear a shirt and a ski mask until you get the gainer perfected. 2) Learn this dive when you're young. Adults, don't try this at home.

My daughter was surprised to see her 47-year-old dad do a gainer the other day. I wasn't suprised that I could do the gainer. I was more concerned about my ancient knees cooperating at the impact of the bounce. But the springiness...springyness...oy... (I feel the need to introduce a new word). But the sprength of the limber diving board took a great deal of pressure off my old-man knees and I got the bounce I needed.

I felt like a kid again!

A gainer at a swimming pool is to be celebrated. But what about when a Christian or a church does a gainer? What do we do when we are moving forward in Christ and the momentum of the Holy Spirit of God is launching us unto new heights, and we foolishly give in to the temptation to reverse our motion?

It is a guarantee that every time a believer or body of believers is making great leaps of spiritual progress, the enemy gets busy in an effort to stop or slow down the progress. He pulls out all the stops. He whispers doubt into the heart and pride into the head to convince us to reverse our motion.

When the devil is successful in convincing us to gainer, we end up a loser. A messy "splat" is heard and felt. It is heart-wrenching.

Observers sit poolside and turn to one another in confusion, "What are they doing? They were going in the right direction. Why did they stop? Why did they try to go back?"

God's people have always struggled with this. A few days after the Israelites were delivered from the bondage of 400 years of slavery to the Egyptians, gainer-whining could be heard among the masses. In nasal-sounding tones that are reminiscent of (other people's) kids in the back seat of the family car, the Israelites whined, "We want to go ba-a-a-ack to Egypt."

Those sitting by the Red Sea pool leaned toward one another and said, "They want to go back? God just set them free from slavery and is leading them to the Promised Land --- and they want to go back?"

We do. We all do. We gainer from time to time. But what do we do when our gainer leaves us feeling like a loser? We go back to the sprength of the One who lifted us before! His grace and forgiveness heals the pain of our splat.

Christianity is a second-chance sport. Failure isn't final. "One-and-done" isn't the way God operates.

Come on in...the water's fine.
Perry Crisp

video

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Yes, You CAN

At the back corner of our church property you will find a small, fenced-in area with a sign that reads "Cans for Christ." It is a place where people can drop off their aluminum cans for recycling.

The beauty of recycling aluminum is that the aluminum can be melted down and reused over and over again. It can be a coke* can today or an airplane tomorrow. (Not all by itself, you understand). Or it can be melted down and end up on a bicycle, a computer, a car, a boat, or a house (as a gutter, wiring, or siding).

Take a journey with me for a moment. Let's be an RC Cola can. An RC Cola can is a thing of beauty. You'll not find a more beautiful color of blue than the blue on an RC Cola can. I can hear some of you now: "Why RC?" This is a devotional article, not a business meeting. I'm writing this and I like RC Cola. You Dr. Pepper people just back off! (Insert smiley face here).

So, we're an RC Cola can. We're shipped to a convenience store near Lake Fork, Texas. A tall, lanky preacher from a church up the road stops at the convenience store, opens the refrigerator door, picks us up, purchases us, and takes us back to his truck.

There he pops the top and we pour the refreshing content of our can down his throat. When he gets to the bottom, we're empty. Our usefulness appears to be completed. At first, he tosses us into a Subway bag along with the trash from his recent lunch. We're done! We're trash! We're doomed to life in a landfill next to a smelly diaper!

But then he retrieves us from the bag, pulls up to a small, fenced-in area, and tosses us into an apparent graveyard of empty cans. We look around and there are cans of every nationality and race scattered all around us. The generic cans are there. Apparently, Baptists buy the cheap stuff.

But the big dogs are there, too. You know, the popular ones with all the nice theme songs and commercials. A few energy drink cans are also laying around. They look tired. And don't look now, but there are a few beer cans, too. Some Presbyterians must be sneaking onto the Baptist parking lot at night to drop off their cans. Or maybe one of the Sunday school classes had a fish fry and needed the beer for batter (wink, wink).

Eventually, someone loads us and all the other cans into a truck and we are delivered to a recycling center. There we go through a painful process. We are cut up into tiny pieces, sprayed with chemicals, crushed, melted, beaten, molded, and remade into a flat panel. We're not sure what we are now. We wind up at a manufacturing plant that makes airplanes and we are riveted onto the wing of a beautiful, massive airplane.

We are no longer a single can quickly consumed. We are now a part of something bigger. Now, we soar high above every convenience store, grocery store, coke* machine, beverage truck, and warehouse. A flight from DFW takes us right over Lake Fork. We find the church, the parking lot, and the tiny fence where we once laid. It wasn't a graveyard after all.

On the count of three, I'm going to snap my fingers and we are no longer the aluminum can/airplane. One, two, three. SNAP.

The little fence is a lot like the buildings just to the east of it. People enter as individuals who feel that their lives have been spent and tossed onto the landfill of broken dreams. But God uses empty containers. We are called upon to die to ourselves, take up His cross, and follow Him. Our old nature is melted down. Our old life is removed like dross. We are made into something new and beautiful.

"Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. Old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new" (2nd Corinthians 5:17, NKJV).

"Anyone who belongs to Christ is a new person. The past is forgotten, and everything is new" (2nd Corinthians 5:17, CEV).

"They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength. They shall mount up with wings as eagles..." (Isaiah 40:31).

Perry Crisp

*Generic word in the South for all carbonated beverages...also know as "pop" or "soda" by my friends up North. We know it isn't politically correct and we are comfortable with that.

Monday, August 10, 2009

GLAD I'm No Longer HEFTY

It's trash day. In our neighborhood, several neighbors share a trash corner. Every Monday, each neighbor carries his or her week's worth of trash to the corner and adds it to the ever-growing pile.

There's no dumpster. We just drop our sacks and stacks of trash on the grass near the street sign. There are huge sacks of trash and little sacks of trash. There are white sacks and black sacks. There are high-dollar, reinforced, double-walled trash bags with objects bulging and pushing, but not bursting through the sides of the bag. There are cheap bags that rip and tear easily.

All bags of all kinds from all neighbors taken to the same exact spot and left there. Later in the day, a trash truck pulls up to trash corner and picks up all our trash and takes it away. By mid-afternoon, trash corner is always cleared of trash...as if the trash had never been there.

This morning I drove past trash corner without stopping. Not because I didn't have trash. I'd been carrying three trash bags in the bed of my truck for two days. I put the trash back there in anticipation of trash day. But after a couple of days of hauling it around, I forgot it was back there. I became accustomed to seeing it there and didn't even notice it when I drove out of the driveway this morning. I drove right past trash corner with my trash still in my truck.

I made it about a block and a half before it dawned on me that I forgot to drop off my trash. I turned around at the next driveway and returned to trash corner. I removed the three bags from the bed of my truck and left them there.

After I set the trash bags down, I looked up at the sign. The sign had two identifying markers on it: a county road number and the name of the county. I looked up and saw the county name -- Wood -- and that's when things turned weird.

As I stood beneath that Wood County road sign with my trash bags at my feet, my mind transitioned from the physical to the spiritual. I saw myself standing beneath a Wooden cross, having laid my bags of sin at the base of it.

This is what Jesus did for me. And for you. But it wasn't a Monday. It was a Friday. Good Friday. Jesus took the trash of our sins away to a hill called Calvary. On that hill, Jesus "became sin for us" on a wooden cross and removed every bag. He didn't toss it in a landfill and cover it up. He took it down to the ocean floor of the Sea of Forgetfulness and there it dissolved.

How often do we carry our sinful trash around with us? How many times do we overlook our baggage and bypass the cross? Turn around. Repent. Take your sins to Sin Corner and gratefully lay them beneath the Wooden cross of Jesus.

"If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and cleanse us from all unrighteousness" - 1st John 1:9.

Perry Crisp

Monday, August 3, 2009

Yabba-Dabba-lujah!

Every Flintstone cartoon ended the same. After a slab of prehistoric ribs was set on the Flintstone's car, causing it to tip over, the family would make their way to their boulder-home. Once they were inside their rocky residence, Fred would reappear on the front porch to set out an empty milk bottle.*

Fred would then go back inside the house, pick up the kitty (a saber tooth tiger), and toss it outside. As soon as Fred slammed the door shut, the kitty would go back inside the house by jumping through an open window. Then the door would open, the kitty would have Fred by the collar, and would toss him outside and shut the door.

The final scene was always the same. Fred was left outside his own house, banging on the door, yelling, "Wilmaaaaaaa!"

Why I remember the vivid details of childhood cartoons but couldn't tell you the first thing that happened at the Battle of Bull Run is beyond me. But let's stay focused.

That final Flintstone clip is the picture I want us to see. Fred. Outside his own home. Banging on the door. Tossed out by the family pet.

Do you see the sad irony? It's Fred's house. He's the owner. He's the provider. He works in the rock quarry day in and day out to make a living and provide for his family. He's the man of the house. The slab of rock that has "Mortgage" chiseled at the top and "Signature" chiseled at the bottom has Fred's "X" inscribed into it.

If it weren't for Fred, that cat would be Teradactyl food. But the cat is cozy inside the house of Fred and Fred is left outside his own home.

Now turn to the Book of Revelation. The second and third chapters of Revelation are messages from God to seven churches. God, the Creator, Owner, Founder, and Provider of the church writes these words to the church of Laodicea: "Behold, I stand at the door and knock..."

What? God is standing outside His own house...knocking. God wants in. That disturbs me. The Church is God's own special people, redeemed by the blood of Jesus. Is it possible that we could go on with "church" in cozy kitten-like comfort without God?

Yes, it is. I've been in churches all my life. Before it was ever an occupational hazard, it was an occupational hazard by proxy. Not only am I a preacher, but I'm a son of a preacher. I've always been in church. I love the church. But I've seen enough churches to know that God isn't always inside. At least not in any discernible way.

If you sense the presence and power of God in the church you attend, then thank and praise God for it. I do...every day. In far too many churches, His absence is overwhelmingly noticeable. God often seems like a visitor, an occasional guest, or an inactive member.

God should be the most active member of the church.

What hinders God's activity? What keeps God knocking on the outside of the church? Disunity. Corporate sin. Pride. Unauthorized revisions of His authorized revelation. I'm sure the list is longer, but these are the main reasons.

The better question is: What encourages God's activity? It is so simple. Just add the word "genuine" to the front of each of the following answers: Prayer, worship, brokenness, honesty, acceptance, forgiveness, unity, ministry, fellowship, brotherly love, proclamation of His Word, and lifting up the name of Jesus.

God also shows up where He's expected and invited. That might be the simplest of solutions for some fellowships.

It should go without saying, but I will. Hasn't He bled enough for us already? Why should He have to bloody His knuckles on the doors of our churches?

Fred had a rock house. God has a house that rocks...if we will let Him in and let Him loose.

Perry Crisp


*For those born post-1970, it was once common practice for every home to be visited by the milk man in the wee hours of the morning. You could set your empty glass milk containers on the porch at night. In the morning, the milk man would pick up the empties and replace them with fresh, cold milk...so I've read.