Going Steady

What an older woman taught me about Jesus

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“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.

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“…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

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“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!  

Never Alone

“…(Jesus said), ‘the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you’” (John 14:26, NIV).

This March will mark the five-year anniversary of my dad’s passing, and I can honestly say that there’s not a day that goes by that I don’t think about him.

Dad regularly shows up in my dreams, as if we’ve both stepped back in time prior to the fateful day of his death.

I hear his voice in my mind, his encouragement, his not-so-hilarious jokes, his laughter at stories shared, and his subtle statements of faith and wisdom.

I miss the practical things that come with having a father around. Every time my lawnmower won’t run, the car needs an oil change, or I attempt a home improvement project, I think to myself, “If only Dad were here…”

Dad taught me a lot about Jesus, most often through his actions, at times through his words. He modeled love for his family and friends, and even a few enemies. He was kind-hearted and humble, and lived sacrificially, despite a modest income.

I miss my dad immensely, but my faith and my God tell me that I will see him again. Besides, there’s a part of Dad that still lives within me, so I’m never truly without him.

Jesus knew that his followers would miss him as well. Therefore, he promised that he would send them the Holy Spirit. The Spirit would serve as a teacher and guide and remind them of the things Jesus taught them. Jesus, in effect, was offering his family and friends a piece of himself, so that they would never be truly alone.

We all lose people we love. That’s just part of life lived in a broken and fallen world. Still, our loved ones live on, their memories lodged within our hearts.

Jesus, too, lives on. His Holy Spirit resides in the heart of every believer.

So, thank God today for the people who have made a lasting impression upon you. And thank God for sending us his promised Holy Spirit. Both are incredible blessings!    

Stress Blobs and Burdens

“(Jesus said,) ‘Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest’” (Matthew 11:28, NIV). 

As a kid, I had this reoccurring dream, a nightmare really. I don’t remember many of the details. What I do recall is that I’m standing beside a large body of water. As each of the water’s waves crashes onto shore, it brings with it a huge, what-I-can-only-describe-as, blob, which I must somehow push aside before the next one inevitably arrives. It’s a never-ending, blob-moving, exercise in futility, and proves to provide a pretty traumatic experience for a young boy.

The dream seemed to occur most frequently when I was experiencing a good deal of stress. The burdens of adolescence seem a bit trivial now, especially when compared to the many responsibilities and endless demands of adulthood. Over time, the menacing stress blobs of misplacing my homework and forgetting my locker combination surrendered to the blobs of managing a career and paying a mortgage.

Jesus knew that we would have stress, and he offered some very practical advice, “‘Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light’” (Matthew 11:28-30, NIV).  

I find it ironic that Jesus commands his followers to take his yoke and carry it, as if we needed something else to weigh us down. But Jesus says that his yoke is not burdensome. In fact, by trading our stresses for his, we will actually find the best possible rest.

This burden-trading experience reminds me of the great exchange that took place at the cross, where Jesus took our sin in his flesh and offered us his perfect righteousness in return. Jesus’ invitation and command it that we would place our burdens, along with our sin, upon his strong shoulders, and experience the freedom and peace that follows.

The God of Silence

“He says, ‘Be still and know that I am God…’” (Psalm 46:10, NIV).

I have often longed to hear the voice of God, if for no other reason than to confirm what I already know – that he is real, that he is present, and that he cares for me.  Perhaps his voice is deafened by my troubled heart and busy mind.  How I long to hear God’s words of affirmation and encouragement, even challenge and correction if need be – just a word or two.  Yet, I wait, feeling alone and distant from a God who remains silent.

I empathize with God’s chosen people of the Bible.  From the final words of the Old Testament to the arrival of John the Baptist, God refrained from speaking to the nation of Israel.  This four-hundred-year period of God’s silent treatment toward the Jewish people resulted from their neglect of God and his commands.  I, too, sometimes wonder if I have done something deserving of God’s silence.

But then, I’m reminded that the God I serve is the God of Elijah, who also sought to converse with God.  In 1 Kings Chapter 19, we read, “The Lord said, ‘Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.’  Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind.  After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake.  After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire.  And after the fire came a gentle whisper” (1 Kings 19:11-12, NIV).

Our God is the God of the gentle whisper, and while we might expect him to speak by force and with power, God is often heard within the silent moments of life.  God appeared to Elijah, not in the howling wind, nor in the mighty earthquake, not even in the quenching fire, but in the gentle whisper.

Don’t misunderstand – God can speak however he desires, but often uses his still, small voice to communicate with us, his children.  Maybe that’s why the Psalmist teaches us to “‘Be still and know…’” (Psalm 46:10, NIV), because God is understood best when we still our hearts. 

I would challenge you today, just as I challenge myself, to find some quiet, contemplative time to get away with God.  Find some margin in your hectic schedule and simply bask in his goodness.  Pray and meditate on God’s kindness to you.  Perhaps each of us  will hear what God truly wants to say.

The Characters of Christmas: Jesus

“…when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman…” (Galatians 4:4, NIV).

Of all the players in the Christmas story, Jesus takes top billing. He is Immanuel – God With Us, the Savior given for all mankind.

It seemed such a passive act, simply being birthed into the world. Yet, it was God’s ultimate act of becoming man. The fullness and complexity of God, confined to just a few pounds of infant flesh, Jesus clarified the true image of God. So often imagined as vengeful and vindictive, even petty at times, the most accurate picture of God was now portrayed in the face of an infant.

Eyes that looked upon Creation now gazed into the eyes of Mary. Hands that formed mankind now stretched out to his mother. One day soon, these same hands will extend on a cross to save people from their sins. Jesus was born to die, a difficult reality in such a serene setting. 

And shepherds came from nearby fields, leaving their flocks to worship the one, true Lamb of God. And the wisest of grown men will soon bring gifts and bow down before the Christ child. On this day, Heaven rejoices, and angels proclaim, “Jesus is born in Bethlehem!”

 

       

The Characters of Christmas: Herod and the Magi

“(Herod) sent (the Magi) to Bethlehem and said, ‘Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him'” (Matthew 2:8, NIV).

The Biblical writers of the Christmas narrative offer a sharp contrast between those who would honor the newborn Jesus and those who would oppose him. We see this most clearly evidenced in the actions of the wandering Magi and the maniacal King Herod. While each had heard of the new king’s birth, each held differing motivations in meeting him.

The Magi sought to worship Jesus, presenting him with three gifts, each symbolic of Jesus’ eventual fate. The extravagance of gold was a fitting gift for this king above all kings. The gift of frankincense would serve as a reminder of both the Temple and Jesus’ priestly office. Finally, the gift of myrrh, a perfume so strong that it was used to cover the stinch of death, would foretell of Jesus’ eventual sacrifice for mankind.

King Herod, in contrast to the Magi, wanted only to harm the infant Jesus. Herod’s expressed desire to “worship” the newborn king was a front for his desire to have Jesus put to death. In fact, Herod would be so threatened by the baby Jesus that he would order the execution of all the infants in the area surrounding Bethlehem. 

While we may see the extreme contrasts in the Christmas story, I think it’s important for each of us to examine our own motivations concerning Jesus. Certainly, no one today would want to harm Jesus. Still, how often do we worship him solely out of convenience? How often do we call out to him as a last ditch when-all-else-fails-attempt for intervention? How often do we crucify him over and over again with our sin?

May we be evermore like the Magi in the Christmas story. May we seek him out, and, when we find him, fall to our knees in worship. And may we give him the gift of our hearts!