The Fear of Being Without

By Rand Kreycik

I’m kind of freaked out right now.  Not supremely, but kind of.

It’s the empty shelves.  Having never lived in a communist country – having always had enough … this is freaky and a bit scary for me.

Okay, I’m one of those people who is OCD about toilet paper.  Always have been.  My family has always made fun of me, and it’s been an inside joke for years in our home.

And now the shelves are empty.  Always!  Oh, there are signs on them that say things like, “We are getting new deliveries of paper goods every Tuesday and Thursday.”  I haven’t seen them.  Sometime between delivery and when I can make it to the store, the locusts descend … and the shelves are ALWAYS empty.

My fear is, of course laughable.  Unless.  Unless the supply chains are disrupted and toilet paper stops coming!  If all the production workers are being told to stay home, who’s going to make stuff for us?  Who’s going to package it?  Who’s going to deliver it?

Apocalypse!

No, it’s not.  It’s still a First World Problem.  Stop, think about what people used to do.  We can still dig an outhouse.  We can still use the Sears catalog (wait, do they make those anymore??).  The point is, we are spoiled.  The rest of the world finds a way to survive, every day, without even one-tenth of the conveniences we deem vital.

And what does this say about my faith?  What about Philippians 4:6-7, which we’ve all memorized?

do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (ESV)

Are these nice, comforting platitudes, or is God’s Word real, active, sharp? (Hebrews 4:12)

And what about Luke 12?

22 And he said to his disciples, “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat, nor about your body, what you will put on. 23 For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing. 24 Consider the ravens: they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn, and yet God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds! 25 And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? 26 If then you are not able to do as small a thing as that, why are you anxious about the rest? 27 Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. 28 But if God so clothes the grass, which is alive in the field today, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more will he clothe you, O you of little faith! 29 And do not seek what you are to eat and what you are to drink, nor be worried. 30 For all the nations of the world seek after these things, and your Father knows that you need them. 31 Instead, seek his kingdom, and these things will be added to you. (ESV)

Do I believe it?  Will I ever truly be without the things I really need?  Jesus makes the answer pretty clear.

Will I rest and trust in Him alone?  That’s the question.  Good question.

Die the Good Death

By Rand Kreycik

I am a latecomer to the Harry Potter stories, by J. K. Rowling. In my early days as a parent, I legalistically banned them from my children’s reading list, concerned about the magic, wizardry, and witchcraft depicted.

After watching through the movie series with my family in recent weeks, I am struck by the consistent theme of self-sacrifice Rowling has infused her stories with.  This focus has overcome the obvious theological problems in the series, in my mind.  The stories portray good things to live for … and die for.

In one of the most powerful scenes of the movies, Professor Dumbledore greets Harry after he has made the difficult choice to give his life for his friends, to defeat the enemy of all good, Lord Voldemort.  “Harry, you wonderful boy.  You brave, brave man!”

That puts me in mind of the greeting all true believers in Jesus hope to hear at the end of their race:  “Well done, good and faithful servant.” (Matthew 25:23)  With the Apostle Paul, we all hope to be able to say, at our life’s waning, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race.” (2 Timothy 4:7)

Truth be told, I like the sound of “fight the good fight” because perhaps it means I can retain my pride and do it in my own strength.  “Look at me, Lord!  Haven’t I finished well?”  Finishing well, however, is clearly represented throughout Scripture as dying well.  “Dying the good death,” we might say.  Just as Harry Potter did, receiving the commendation of his master.  And on a far higher plane, the only way any of us will receive our Heavenly Master’s approval.

I’m coming to understand that living faithfully and loving fiercely actually involves dying, daily … and ultimately … for those we love.  That’s our calling, and that’s how each of us will finish well.  All in our Savior’s love and grace and power.  He who died the best death, crying, “It is finished!” (John 19:30)

Light Keeper

By Rand Kreycik

I love lighthouses. I’ve threatened to drag my family on trips to see every lighthouse in New England, for example, or on the Great Lakes (there are dozens!). They like them too, and would probably follow me gladly, only beginning to complain after the 100th or so!

Why are lighthouses such a draw? I’ve been contemplating them lately and understanding what a strong spiritual picture they give us of our life in Christ. One needs only to understand the purpose of these vital sentinels to begin to see the parallels.

What is the number one job of a light keeper? To make sure the beacon never, never goes out! You see, in the days before reliable radio communication, those shafts of blazing light, piercing the darkness, often meant the difference between making it to safe haven or facing a watery grave on unseen rocky shoals. To mariners, the light shouted, “Stay back; there’s danger here!” And it spoke comforting words: “Here is the way to safety!”

Jesus told his disciples, “let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 5:16) In this same passage, he warned believers not to put their light under a basket. That would be absurd and go against what the light was made for.

We are light keepers, and our bodies (these transitory dwellings) are lighthouses! That’s the truth that has been animating me now for weeks. It makes sense. What’s my most vital job, besides simply loving God with my whole heart? It’s loving my neighbor by shining Light and speaking Truth into his or her life. It’s keeping the light lit in my heart (staying powerfully connected to my Father through his Word and prayer). It’s shining that light as brilliantly as I can – making sure the lenses of this lighthouse (the body that has been loaned to me) are kept pure, clean, polished, never blocking the light. Jesus also told us, “The eye is the lamp of the body.” (Matthew 6:22) and that we are to watch what enters these lenses. What goes in is what will come out. Evil will cloud our lenses and dim the light.

I’ll spend the rest of my life contemplating this powerful picture, but each day it helps me to understand that I am a light keeper, my body is a lighthouse of which I’m the steward, my eyes are the lenses through which the light shines to those lost in the darkness and storms of life. They need to see the light! They need to see the danger coming their way! They need to see the way to safety. They need to see the way home.

Strong and Mighty Worrier

By Rand Kreycik

“How’s the battle,” I asked my wife as she was sewing a hem under time pressure.

“Why’s it a battle?” she looked up, quizzically.

“Hmm, guess I always think of things as a battle,” I replied. ” But aren’t I supposed to be a warrior?”

“Yes, but most of the time you go around all hunched, worrying.”

“A Strong and Mighty Worrier, eh,” I joked.

Are you like me? Do you have trouble understanding and applying Paul’s admonition to the Philippians:

do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6-7)

“But you see, Lord,” I might counter, “I’m responsible for many things. I’ve got to love my wife, raise my kids, provide for my family. If I don’t worry about these things, who is going to? Well certainly not God! When will I learn that He’s got this? That I’m called to work hard, yes, but in the end, I’m also called to let go, cast my cares on Him (1 Peter 5:7), and rest.

“Peace I leave with you,” Jesus told his disciples, just before he surrendered His life to the cross. “my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.” (John 14:27)

Wow, with all these promises and exhortations from Scripture, what’s my problem? Seems like a no brainer, doesn’t it?

Control, that’s my problem. When it comes down to it, I want to be in charge, and if I’m in charge – frankly – I’ve got a lot to worry about!

Surrender is the key. Surrender to His love, surrender to His grace, surrender to His plan. If He is in charge (and ultimately He is, whether we accept it or not!), then I don’t have to be. As I trust and rest in Him and His good plan for me and for my family, His peace will come. As I speak with my good and loving Father daily, lifting my concerns to Him – His peace will naturally begin to rule my mind and heart.

Now that sounds like a better place!

Lord, please help me trust and rest in you … so I can be the Strong and Mighty Warrior that I long to be … loving and fighting for my King, my wife, my kids, and my neighbor, near and far. Amen.

Not My Body

By Rand Kreycik

“Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20 – ESV)

As a Christ follower, frankly, this has been one of the hardest things for me to get! You see, from infancy, I’ve operated from the deep-set belief that this body is mine. Mine to do whatever I want with. Now of course I try to obey God with it … and stay out of trouble … but when push has come to shove, my core belief has been that my body is my own.

But what does the Bible say? It tells me that Jesus bought me – all of me. Not just my spirit, not just my soul, not just my mind, but my body too, and every part of my being is now to be all in to honor him.

Actually, this sounds a lot like freedom when I wrap my mind and my heart around it. But try to tell that to this “body of death” as the Apostle Paul termed it in Romans 7! In Romans 12:1, I’m told that, since God has been so merciful to me, my body is now to be given to him as a living sacrifice. In fact, Paul tells me that is my spiritual worship!

Whoa, not my own? Bought with a price? Living sacrifice? Spiritual worship? This seems like a really big deal!

And it is. It’s huge. And I’m convinced more and more each day that until my own thinking and will align with God’s Word and Will on this subject, I am missing a great portion of the joy that God wants for me as his child.

I’ve just begun to glimpse what this means, as the Father leads me forward deeper into his Truth day to day, but what I’m learning is astounding and life changing.

What are the fruits of my life long belief that my body is mine? How does that play out? My experience is that any temptation of the flesh is almost insurmountable if I believe this body is mine. Why not drink a whole pot of coffee? It’s my body! Why not pursue lustful desires? This body is mine to experience worldly pleasures with. Why should I push myself or sacrifice myself to love and serve others? If this body is mine, my own comfort is more important.

But what if the Bible really is true? Then I am not my own! Jesus bought me at great sacrifice of his own body and of his relationship with his Father. The rest of my life is to be lived surrendered to him, as a living sacrifice. What difference does that make?

Immeasurable! If I’m not my own, I can face fear, discomfort, temptation, trials, even death. Because my Father has got this! I’m his, and he will never let me go. Jesus is with me always, to the end of the age (Matthew 28-20). I can live open, free, fearless, faithful, fruitful. Because this body is just a tent (now a somewhat tattered one!) in which I sojourn for a time. It’s a dwelling in which I serve and honor my Lord and from which I shine his Light.

And when it is cast aside and returns to dust, I will put on my new dwelling forever – loving and worshiping and serving my King!

Die Daily

By Rand Kreycik

 

“I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.”  (Romans 12:1 – ESV)

Someone once said that the trouble with living sacrifices is that they keep climbing down off the altar. As I’ve been thinking about what it really means to die daily – to be a living sacrifice – the strangeness of this appeal strikes me. How in the world does a person die again and again (except maybe in some cheesy horror sci-fi flick)? Doesn’t “dead” mean “dead”?

When I press my mind past this odd picture, though, I understand that it is dying to myself that the apostle Paul means, and as I contemplate this, his teaching becomes crystal clear and uncomfortable.

We as men are called to die daily – for our wives, our kids, our family, friends, and neighbors … but if you are like me (and trust me, you are!), you catch yourself crawling off the altar all the time. Sometimes multiple times a day!

We don’t like to die.  It hurts!  It pains our pride, our comfort, our fleshly sense of security.  It means giving up and giving in: things we men hate to do!

Our Lord Jesus made it clear, though, how vital it is for us to die.  In John chapter 12, we read:

“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.”  (John 12:24-25 – ESV)

Wow, this is stark language, and there is no escaping the fact that the Son of God, who was on his way to die for us on a Roman cross when he spoke these words, was also calling his disciples to the same commitment.  If we say we are Christ followers, we also have to die.  Daily.  Sometimes every moment.

To what?  To sin, to selfishness, to pride, to comfort, to security, to … and the list goes on.  Anything and everything that draws us away from our Lord and renders us fruitless.  Whatever we set up as an idol competing with our allegiance to our King.

This is never easy, but neither was our Lord’s path to the cross.  The good news, though, is that our Jesus, who sweat blood in the Garden of Gethsemane as he anticipated his separation from His Father and his agonizing crucifixion, also looked forward to the victory over sin and death that he would accomplish.  Because he conquered our enemies (sin, death, the devil), we may now look “…to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.”  (Hebrews 12:2 – ESV)

Yes, even as we die daily, by the power of his Holy Spirit, we too can look forward in joy to the time when sin, death, sorrow, pain, failure, disappointment, and all the other maladies that dog us in our flesh, will be blown away by the glory of his presence.

It is in that hope that I can go home today and serve my wife and tell her how much I love and appreciate her sacrifice for me.  It is in that hope that I can live before and love my children as the strong and wise father they long for.  It is in that hope that I can say “no” to all the things that are going to burn and “yes” to all the grace-filled things that I will take with me at that final death – when the perishable is swallowed up in imperishable.  When dying will be no more.

Strength, Grace, and Repentance

By Rand Kreycik

 

“I used to think that repentance was a place that you visit. I’ve had to come to understand that repentance, brothers, is where we’re supposed to live.” – James MacDonald*

I love this quote … and I am still trying to wrap my head around it.  You see, I used to visit that place called Repentance a lot.  Every time I would give in – yet again – to one of my besetting sins, I would confess it, claim God’s grace, and happily head back into “normal life,” figuring I’d done my duty and could now walk clean before God.

The problem was that this view of repentance kept me trapped – enslaved by the sins that I would never fully cast off – never fully drop at the foot of the cross.  No, instead I would sigh, pick up my burden of sin again, and keep slogging, hoping maybe I would have the strength to resist next time.  But I didn’t.  This became an endless cycle of stumbling, falling, dragging myself up from the pit I had fallen in, and trying (in my own strength) to keep on – somehow hoping I could, with enough effort, become a better Christian.

Do you see the flaw in that?  I hope so.  I hope you, Brother, are not trapped in the same cycle I was all my life – until I finally, truly repented and surrendered my heart to Jesus Christ.

What is repentance?  It’s changing your mind; it’s turning away from one thing and going toward another; it’s going in the opposite direction.  What it is not is a revolving door!  That’s how I treated repentance before I submitted my life to God.  It was a way of making myself feel good and of taking advantage of “cheap grace.”  Not biblical grace, which was very, very costly to our God.  No, it was a counterfeit version that wasn’t grace at all.

And therein is the deep flaw in my thinking that brought me eventually to the place of desperation where I knelt at the foot of the cross, dropped my burden, and rose a free man.  I had misunderstood three important things.  Strength, grace, and repentance.

First, I believed I had to somehow conjure up my own strength before I’d really be a man … and before God would accept me.  What I came to understand at my most desperate was that true strength lies in humility and surrender.  As the Apostle Paul said, “For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Corinthians 12:10 – ESV)  In the years since my conversion, this has begun to make more and more sense.  Not that I don’t still try to find my own strength all too often, but my Heavenly Father continues to gently, persistently bring me back to my own weakness – so I can clearly see his strength in me.

Second, grace – to me – had been more of a cookie jar that never ran out … that I could reach into whenever I sinned or failed.  While in one sense God’s grace is overflowing and never runs out … I went to him like a spoiled child – not wishing to be changed or set free – but wanting forgiveness for the moment.  In this, as I look back, I not only dishonored the Author of Grace, but I also cheated myself of the true freedom that he longed to give me.  Not earned, but a gracious gift received by faith, trust, surrender to his Lordship.  Until I was willing to throw down my puny crown at his feet and swear my allegiance to the King of Kings, I only dabbled along the edges of his endless waves of grace.  Like a dirty child who only washes his hands so he can eat dinner, never wanting the full cleansing bath being offered him.

Third, I misunderstood repentance.  Of course I didn’t want to turn from my sinful pleasures!  They were too … well, pleasurable.  And as long as I deceived myself into believing that my kindly old Grandfather God would always receive me and say, “There, there, it’s all right!” … I thought nothing of coming to him again and again to hear those false platitudes and feel I was okay.

But I wasn’t okay, and as I sank deeper in the spiral of sin, I finally found myself powerless (in my own strength), filthy (in my cheap grace), and trapped (in my false repentance).  I was dead, and I knew it, and there was nothing I could do to rescue myself.

Then – all glory to God – he broke me in his gentle strength and limitless grace and brought me to true repentance.  I was redeemed as his treasure, adopted as his beloved child, raised to life in my Lord Jesus Christ (Romans 6:4).

Am I now sinless?  Of course not, but I have learned, with James MacDonald, that repentance is “where we are supposed to live.”  It is a daily, moment-by-moment turning, choosing – by the power of his Holy Spirit – to surrender my heart, my mind, my life to his Lordship.  And it is a place of great joy!

 

*Walk in the Word radio broadcast, 3/5/2018

Finish Joyfully

By Rand Kreycik

 

As I write this post, the world is grieving the loss of a great man.  In the coming days, this man’s casket will lie in state in the U.S. Capitol rotunda – an honor afforded only to “four private citizens in the history of the United States.”*  Of course this man is Billy Graham.

While one can laud Mr. Graham’s earthly achievements – and they are many:  adviser to U.S. Presidents for decades, preaching the gospel to millions at his famous crusades, founding organizations that will live on for years due to his vision and leadership – my thoughts turn today to the finish line.

In his letter to the Philippians, the Apostle Paul wrote:

Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.  (Philippians 3:12-14 – ESV)

Billy Graham would have concurred heartily.  Many people consider him one of the greatest examples in our era of Christian faithfulness and integrity.  In the coming days, I look forward to hearing the many accolades that will be offered in his honor.  He certainly ran his race well, and I hope that I will finish half as well as this great saint.

But … do you suppose Billy Graham thought he would stand in the presence of God and puff out his chest as he laid down all the treasures he had collected through his long, faithful life?  I can’t imagine that for a moment!  Mr. Graham no doubt knew better than many of us that he was simply a product of grace.  He had gained nothing in this life that he had not received, and when he finally stood (or bowed) in His beloved Lord’s presence, his joy was complete.  Indeed, what greater joy could there be than laying our crowns at the feet of the Lord who loves us so and paid such an unbelievable price for us?

I don’t know when my day will come.  It may be ten or twenty years from now, or it may be tomorrow.  I too will bow in my Lord’s presence and lay at his feet the talents I have invested.  Like my brother Billy Graham, I want to spend the rest of my days living well and courageously for the King who gave all for me.  Like Billy Graham – and like millions of faithful saints who have gone before – I too joyfully look forward to hearing the words spoken by my Lord, “Well done!”

 

*Email sent from the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, 2/23/2018.

Fight Courageously

By Rand Kreycik

 

My family and I are kind of Pirates of the Caribbean geeks.  While there are weird scenarios and definitely goofy theology in these movies, what keeps drawing me back to them is the heroics portrayed.  You see, growing up, I always wanted to be the best sword fighter, the hero who saved the maiden, and the guy who would back my friends no matter the cost.

A number of months ago, we watched the Pirates movie where a young mermaid is captured by the pirate gang to be used to find the Fountain of Youth.  They have also conscripted a young missionary to work aboard the ship.  (As an aside, this character is actually a pretty accurate portrayal of a godly Christian – something rare in Hollywood these days!)

Several times, this young man intervenes on behalf of the mermaid to keep her alive or make her more comfortable when all the heartless pirates want is what she can do for them.  Then they will throw her away.

Sound familiar?  One of the lines from the movie really struck me and stuck with me.  The young mermaid says to the missionary, “I knew you were different.  They [the pirates] are takers.  You protect!”

Wow!  Have you ever heard more clearly what a man’s true calling is?

Yesterday, in a radio interview, I heard the story of a former gymnast who was sexually abused by a team doctor over several years.  This doctor is finally being tried for his crimes.  When asked what she hoped her own kids could learn from her experience, she poignantly stated that she wanted her son to grow up to be a protector and defender.  And her daughters to grow up to be warriors!

While I’m still ruminating about the daughters as warriors part … and coming to think there is some truth in this … the part about her son being a protector and defender is spot on.

Men, we have a lot to overcome.  Our first father, Adam, stood by as the devil tempted his wife and she gave in to his lies.  Then, not to be left behind, he ate the forbidden fruit too.  Men have been tempted to be passive, selfish, cowardly ever since.  It is in our nature to be warriors and to protect and defend, but so often we cave and compromise and hide.

I don’t want to be “that guy.”  I want to be like my Warrior King – the second Adam who gave all for the Bride (the Church) he loved.  I want to be That Guy.

Oh Lord Jesus, make me a man of courage – a fighter, a protector, a defender, a rescuer like you.  Help me to see that all my small, seemingly inconsequential, daily decisions greatly impact my beloved wife, my precious children, and all those around me.  Thank you that I can change the world – a decision at a time – by stepping up and manning up in your Spirit of power, love, and self control (2 Timothy 1:7).  Amen.