Where Does My Strength Come From?

Not spinach, but the Spirit of God

Photo by chiara conti on Unsplash

“I pray that out of (God’s) glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being.” (Ephesians 3:16, NIV)

Lessons from Popeye, the Sailor Man

I was obsessed, as a kid, with the cartoon character Popeye.

This man of the sea captivated my mind and held my attention for fifteen minutes at a time, the length of an episode broadcast on my parent’s color TV. Popeye was always finding a way to escape the grip of any given situation, most often orchestrated by his archenemy Brutus, and usually culminating in the rescue of the beautiful, although less than capable, Olive Oil. Popeye’s enchantment for her was only matched by his desire for the canned vegetable spinach that produced his amazing strength.

Yes, I was obsessed with Popeye, so much so that I sweet-talked my own mother into the purchase of a can of spinach. After all, if the leafy greens could transform a scrawny Popeye into a bicep-bulging man of action, they could surely bolster my pathetic frame. I carried that can of spinach everywhere I went, returning it to our kitchen cabinet only when the day’s heroism had been accomplished.

Lessons from the Apostle Paul

The Bible character Paul speaks of a different type of strength in his letter to the Church in Ephesus. This strength is not physical in nature, nor does it come from something a person consumes. Rather, the strength Paul writes about originates from and is gifted by the Holy Spirit of God. This spiritual strength is bestowed upon everyone who has a faith relationship with the Savior Jesus.

Once we are strengthened by God’s very own Spirit, we become capable of some pretty amazing things. We can grapple with temptation, break the bonds of addictive behaviors, stand tall with integrity, and flex our spiritual muscles against injustice. Our chief adversary, the Devil, does not have a fighting chance against our divinely given spiritual strength.

My childhood idolization of Popeye eventually ran its course and gave way to greater endeavors found in the form of baseball cards and dirt bike riding. My mom cooked my coveted can of spinach, the small serving of which I politely declined due to its odorous smell and mossy texture. I began to understand that true strength isn’t limited to cartoon characters but is available to all people. My ultimate strength would not be realized through spinach, but through the Spirit of God.

Create!

Made in the image of God…

Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

“So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” (Genesis 1:27, NIV)

I loved using crayons as a small child. There was something about the way they stood at attention in their yellow and green cardboard box, like miniature soldiers just given a command. It almost seemed sinful to use them for the very first time, to carelessly dull their rounded tips. Their aroma, which I can still sense to this day, reminds me of childhood innocence and of simpler times.

I have always been a bit of a perfectionist, a trait that was evident early in my life, sitting at the round kitchen table of my childhood home. No matter how hard I concentrated, I could not master the art of staying within the bold lines of the pages of my coloring book. With my tongue stuck slightly out of the corner of my mouth, like Michael “Air” Jordan, I wielded my crayons like fattened magic wands. Still, there was no magic in my crayons, and my scribbling strokes worsened with every passing moment.

I don’t do much coloring today, but if I did, I bet I would be just fine with coloring outside of the lines. I’ve traded in my rules-bound, overly structured methods to become a bit more of a free-spirited creator-type. I love to create, mostly through the written and spoken word, but I do dabble in other creative endeavors as well.

I’ve often pondered the reason I enjoy the creative process. I think, in large part, it’s because I follow the God who created all things. I am, like all people, created in his image. Therefore, there’s a part of me that longs to create as God created.

So often, one might say, God stays within the lines of his work, demonstrating a mastery like no other artist practicing his craft. God designs the arching colors of the rainbow and stripes with precision the body of the zebra. He moves the planets in their elliptical orbits and calculates the straightness of the redwood.

But God also demonstrates random chaos in his creation – the explosion of the volcanic mountain and the frenzied fluttering of the hummingbird’s wings, the shifting of glacial ice and the unique design of every snowflake.

I am amazed at God’s work, his creativity, and artistry. And when I create, I feel a connection with the One who created me in his very image.

So, I would say, create something today. And to God, the first Creator, be the glory forever!

Deep Calls to Deep

Exploring the depths of God’s love…

Photo by Rosie Kerr on Unsplash

“Deep calls to deep in the roar of your waterfalls; all your waves and breakers have swept over me.” (Psalm 42:7, NIV)

As a child, I spent most of my summer vacation at the local swimming pool. I loved to wade in the safe and comfortable waters of the shallow end, splashing the girls and laughing with my friends. Life was simpler in those days. It was also predictable and fun.

Over time, however, I became increasingly conscious of the two diving boards that stood at the other end of the pool and began to savor the opportunity to experience the feat known to all kids as the cannon ball. My adventurous young mind reasoned that the low dive would not suffice. Rather, I must attempt this death-defying maneuver off the ten-foot high-dive, and perhaps even drench the lifeguard with a well-placed splash.

There was but one catch to my plan. I must first prove to said lifeguard that I was able to swim the width of the deep end of the pool. As I released my white-knuckled clutch on the swimming pool edge, I knew that there was no possibility of touching the bottom without perishing. I was in the deep waters now, and there was no turning back.

As I reflect on my childhood experience at our local swimming pool, I’m reminded of the Bible story of Simon Peter. In Luke Chapter Five, Jesus tells an unlucky fisherman Peter to “…’Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch'” (Luke 5:4, NIV). A reluctant, yet obedient, Peter listens to his Lord, and the outcome is nothing short of miraculous.

I think that sometimes, in order to experience God in his fullness, we, too, must leave our shallow zones of comfort and head for the deeper, more mysterious places in life. Perhaps this involves sharing our faith story with a stranger. Maybe it’s standing up for an injustice. Honestly, experiencing the deep probably looks a bit different for each of us.

I want to encourage you today to stretch your faith beyond its bounds. Get out of the shallow end of life and experience more fully the depths of God’s purpose, love, and grace. Jump in with both feet and let God’s goodness flow over you. Adventure awaits you as “Deep calls to deep…” (Psalm 42:7, NIV).


Intentional Inefficiency

Mary, Martha, and the business of busy(ness)

Photo by Joe Hepburn on Unsplash

“…(Mary) sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said.” (Luke 10:39, NIV)

It must have been frustrating for Martha, the sight of her sister Mary just sitting there at the feet of Jesus, not doing a thing to help out. I can almost picture Martha rushing around the house frantically, tending to every houseguest – a pitcher of water in one hand and a dish cloth in the other, pouring drinks and cleaning up spills, all the while making casual conversation and praying that the food she’s preparing will be sufficient for the hungry disciples. “Why isn’t Mary helping me?” Martha thinks to herself. “I can’t do it all by myself!” But then, she glances at Jesus, and she gains an entirely new perspective on things.

While Martha was caught up in the busy(ness) of the moment, Mary was practicing what one might call “intentional inefficiency”. She had set her mind on doing the very thing that, on the surface level, looked like it would not render many results, but which was, in fact, the very best way of doing things. Jesus praised Mary for her intentional inefficiency and reprimanded Martha for her attention to the business of the day.

When is the last time you practiced intentional inefficiency, that thing that took extra time but was time well-spent? Maybe you wrote a letter, not a copy and paste type of email to multiple individuals, but an actual handwritten letter to a loved one. Or perhaps you chose intentionally to make a phone call instead of sending a text, even though you knew the person you were calling would tell you all about their day. Maybe you parked a little further from the front door, had a conversation with the clerk at the gas station, or helped someone carry their groceries to their car.

I would encourage you to do the little things that make a world of difference in the life of another person. These small acts of patience and kindness might make all the difference in your life as well.

High and Low

The amazing attributes of a God who cares

Photo by Tima Miroshnichenko from Pexels

“For this is what the high and exalted One says, – he who lives forever, whose name is holy: ‘I live in a high and holy place, but also with the one who is contrite and lowly in spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly and to revive the heart of the contrite.'” (Isaiah 57:15, NIV)

I find it difficult to wrap my mind around the attributes of God – that he is omnipotent (all-powerful), omniscient (all-knowing), and omnipresent (in all places at all times). I suppose I would be more surprised if I completely understood God, as I might then consider him to be more like me, a mere mortal, and less like who he really is, the God of all creation. I’m reminded of the LORD’s words in Isaiah 55:9, “‘As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts'” (NIV). I am, therefore, content to worship him, even though I do not fully understand him.

As I consider God’s omnipotence, I am amazed at the complexities and extremes of his power. God is mighty enough to fill the midnight sky with bolts of lightning and explosions of thunder. Yet, he exercises precision and control in the fluttering of a butterfly’s wings. He directs the planets as they race around the sun and the gentle fall of snowflakes on a January day.

I think about God’s omniscience, that he is aware of every thought of my mind and every concern of my heart and how this is true with every creature on the face of the planet. I am, at times, fearful to think that “…before a word is on my tongue…” (Psalm 139:4, NIV), God knows it completely. How many times have I uttered piercing words without a thought of the offense they might convey?

I recall God’s omnipresence from the Sunday School lessons of my childhood, that God is somehow in every place at every time of the day and night. He refuses to be constrained to the confines of heaven, and, rather, chooses to occupy all of time and space. God is majestic enough to be seated on his mighty throne, yet humble enough to hang upon a wooden cross.

So, I worship God, not because I am commanded to do so, but because I know of no other response. For he is worthy of all my praise.

Going Steady

What an older woman taught me about Jesus

Photo courtesy of Saeed Kerimi on Unsplash

Listen to my podcast of this devotion here.

Music from Uppbeat (free for Creators!):
https://uppbeat.io/t/northwestern/a-new-beginning
License code: LTAN5NL6NJSMR3TS

“Come near to God and he will come near to you…” (James 4:8, NIV).

I dated young.

I was but ten years old, a dashing adolescent male in the fourth grade, going about my day-to-day business when I got the news. My knobby knees, scabbed over from feet-first slides into second base and a few too many crashes on my dirt bike, shook at the announcement. A fifth-grader named Jenni, of whose existence I was unaware until that moment in time, not only “liked” me, but “liked, liked” me.

Of course, I’ve changed “Jenni’s” identity for reputation’s sake – hers, not mine. She was eleven, a whole grade older than me, and on the cusp of graduating from our elementary school in central Kansas. Jenni was pretty, much smarter than most of the other kids, and, I imagined, very kind. I didn’t care one bit if she couldn’t kick a soccer ball very far. We were young. We were wild. We were in love and going steady!

I was informed of the arrangement by my friends, who had spoken to Jenni’s friends, who may or may not have actually spoken to Jenni herself. Our relationship was complicated in that way. Jenni and I, throughout our three-week-long courtship, never actually conversed with one another, Our romantic notions were always communicated through our classmates.

As a token of my love for and commitment to Jenni, I soon bought her a necklace. My mom had given me permission to do so and even financed my five dollar or so purchase. I remember to this day, and probably still possess at my mom’s house, that necklace. It had a chain that was connected to a butterfly pendant which held a blue gemstone.

Apparently, Jenni’s mom was not the romantic that my mom was., as she made Jenni return the necklace to me via my friends on the playground just a day after my purchase. Come to think of it, Jenni probably never actually wanted the blue butterfly necklace, let alone a relationship with me. I would come to the shockingly devastating realization a few hours following our break-up. I sat tearfully beside my mom, whose words were meant to be reassuring, but made little impact on my broken heart,

My childhood relationship with Jenni reminds me today of the importance of communication. Sometimes, I get it wrong when it comes to communicating with others. Sometimes I get it wrong when it comes to communicating with my true, first love, Jesus.

The Bible tells us that, in order for God to come near to us, we must come near to Him. This is the New Chuck Translation of James’ words, but you undoubtedly get the idea. My relationship with Jesus will inevitably have a difficult time of fully developing if I refuse to seek Jesus out, to share my praises and concerns with Him in prayer, and to spend time with Him in His Word.

I’m getting better at this thing called faith, but still have quite a ways to go. So, I thank God for His patience and grace. And, of course, I thank God for Jenni, the older woman in my life, who taught me so much about Jesus.

Hammer and Nails

My dad could fix anything, almost.

Photo courtesy of Anne Nygard on Unsplash.

Listen to my podcast of this devotion here.

Music from Uppbeat (free for Creators!):
https://uppbeat.io/t/northwestern/hometown
License code: 8KOBXKHFIRUJTMXR

“…having canceled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; (Jesus) has taken it away, nailing it to the cross” (Colossians 2:14, NIV).

From my childhood perspective, my dad could fix anything. 

A carpenter by trade and a handyman around the house, it was quite common to see Dad making repairs to every sort of broken item. He could replace a wheel on a toy car and construct a bird house in short order. Dad could fix vacuum cleaners and kitchen appliances and living room lamps. He wielded his claw hammer like a magician’s wand, making nails vanish into the denseness of two-by-four pieces of lumber. Yes, my dad could fix anything, almost.

I remember vividly the day my dad’s skills were put to the ultimate test. Tragically, our pet cat was in a fight with another animal, and it got the best of him. I’m saddened, to this day, as I recall my pet’s mangled and lifeless body. My tearful, yet hopeful, mantra, at the time, was, “Dad can fix it. He can use his hammer and nails.”

Time and perspective taught me that, despite my childhood adoration of my dad, he indeed couldn’t fix everything. Unable to deflect the hurtful name-calling of childhood and to prevent the heart-wrenching break-ups of my teenage years, even Dad had his limitations when it came to fixing the stuff of life. Of course, he would be the first to tell you so.

Still, there’s one thing my dad did do. He taught me, from the time I was a little boy, about Jesus, His love, and His care for me. I sort of figured that Dad and Jesus had a special connection, as they were both carpenters by trade. Jesus, of course, could heal the wounds that my earthly dad couldn’t. 

As I think about it now, I remember that Jesus loves me, just like my dad did, yet even more so. And, what my dad couldn’t fix, concerning the messes of life, Jesus could. In fact, Jesus took nails, hammered into his flesh, to heal my brokenness, His arms stretched wide on a wooden cross, similar to my earthly dad’s embrace.

I am eternally grateful for the carpenters in my life — my dad and Jesus — and all that they have done and continue to do for me. And, I can hardly wait to see them both in heaven, to hold my dad’s weathered hands again, and to touch the nail-scarred ones of Jesus for the very first time. For now, I continue to live in a worn body in a broken world. But, healing will come, someday.

Check out my Christian children’s book “Finished: A Fictional Story With Heavenly Truth at the following link: https://chuckkralikauthor.com/finished-childrens-book/

All Grown Up, Mostly

Perspective, wisdom, and the changing nature of faith

Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

“When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me.”

(1 Corinthians 13:11, NIV)

God in far-away places

To say that my childhood view of God, heaven, and all things holy was a bit off theologically would be an understatement. 

I’m sure I was told time and again that God was personal and that He even lived within my heart. Still, I reasoned that, for all practical purposes, God was more like a fictional character who lived in a far-away land called heaven, and if I did the things required of a young boy, like eat my vegetables and wear my stocking cap in the winter, I would go there someday to live with Him for all of eternity.

My hypothesis on God was only substantiated by the strange rituals of corporate worship. At church, we spoke of the things of God using a foreign language of “Thee” and “Thou”, all the while fearing that God might just “smite” us if we got fidgety during the hour-long service. 

We sang songs at church, predominantly composed by people far older than my grandmother. Even her singing was drowned out by the huge pipe organ that resided in the balcony. Then, once the pastor told us we could leave, we all went back to behaving like we did the six other days of the week when the pastor wasn’t around.

Yes, God, to the childhood version of me, was distant, aloof of the things that were on my mind — baseball cards, cartoons, and candy cigarettes. And I guess I was okay with that.

God with us, God with me

Things change over time and with perspective. 

The Bible, which, as an adult, makes so much more sense to me, speaks of God’s name as Immanuel, which simply means “God with us”. The message of Scripture is clear — God loves us so much that He chose to become one of us in the life and person of Jesus. 

God, who seemed so distant to me as a child, now resides in my heart. I guess He always has. It just took some time for me to come to terms with it.

Dead as a Doornail

“As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins…” (Ephesians 2:1, NIV).

There are many expressions used to describe death. The more polite and appropriate ones include “at rest” and “departed”. Among the more insensitive are “pushing up daisies”, “bought the farm”, and “six feet under”.

One of the expressions for death I heard from my father growing up was “dead as a doornail”. I only recently discovered that this expression is included at the beginning of Charles Dickens’ book, A Christmas Carol. Who would have thought that my dad, who was never much of a reader, was quoting the literary genious of Dickens?

The Apostle Paul spoke of another type of death, namely spiritual death. Paul didn’t mince or sugar-coat his words. Rather, he stated that, because of our sin, we are spiritually dead. In other words, spiritually we have “bit the dust”. We’ve “croaked”. We’re “on the wrong side of the grass”, and there is nothing we can do to bring ourselves back to life.

Paul continues to say, however, “But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved” (Ephesians 2:4-5, NIV). We were spiritually dead, but God brought us back to spiritual life through Jesus. What a thought, that Jesus had to die and be placed in a tomb so that we could have life eternal in Heaven!

I think God everyday for his mercy and grace. Because of Jesus, we are spiritually alive and well!

To Live and To Die

“…to live is Christ and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21, NIV).

In his bestselling book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, author Stephen R. Covey offers several best practices of leadership. Principles such as “Be Proactive”, “Begin With the End in Mind”, and “Sharpen the Saw” instruct the reader on how to excel in both business and life. “Habit 4” in Covey’s book is entitled “Think Win/Win”. This habit encourages the leader to strive for solutions that benefit all parties in any given conflict or situation.

As a teacher and coach, I tried to implement Covey’s “Think Win/Win” strategy on numerous occasions. I consistently attempted to position students and athletes in the best possible scenarios for success. Instruction and playing time were often structured to mutually accomplish my personal goals of learning and winning games and the individual goals of the student/athlete.

The Apostle Paul found himself in one of the most critical win/win scenarios of life. In his letter to the Church at Philippi, Paul writes, “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far…” (Philippians 1:21-23, NIV).

Paul reasoned that either way, through life or death, he had Christ, and that’s all that really mattered to him. While his desire was to leave this earth and live for all of eternity in Heaven, Paul ultimately realized that his God-ordained purpose on earth of reaching the lost was far more important.

What a paradigm-shifting way of thinking! Far too often, I believe, our focus is on the here-and-now of living in the present, not the then-and-there reality of salvation in Heaven. In all actuality though, we have both our witness for Christ while living and our reward with Christ at our dying. May God help each of us see the “Win/Win” opportunity before us!