Author Archives: ClarkU

Why Me, Lord?

Have you ever asked that question?  It might be in the context of wondering why something bad has happened to you in any given situation.  Maybe you have had a friend confide in you and ask why God would allow such a thing to happen.  We often don’t have good answers for such questions.  When a loved one suddenly dies, it is difficult to see any good that can come from the situation.  I admit, when major things and even little things don’t go the way I had planned, the thought often wants to creep into my mind.  What about you, have you ever asked God, why?

Then the Lord spoke to Job out of the storm. He said:  “Who is this that obscures my plans with words without knowledge?”  Job 38:1-2

I have spoken to a few war veterans over the years and often, deep down, this is one question they struggle to answer.  If a good friend of theirs lost their life in the war and they were spared, the question of why they remain is not an easy one to answer.  A parent who loses a child may ask the same thing, and often would rather have given up their own life in place of them.  It is often our tendency to somehow assume that some of these people deserve the tragedies that befall them, that they are somehow cursed by God to satisfy the curiosity of why?  People asked Jesus the same question.

Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them—do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem?   I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.  Luke 13:4-5

Have you ever said the same thing in the opposite situation?  The other side of the coin is to ask the same question when you feel blessed beyond what you deserve.  If you are a Christian, you most likely have experienced this the first time you understood the full depth of forgiveness offered to you by God in Christ’s sacrifice.  Even when you revisit this reality, it humbles you to the core and you realize you don’t deserve anything, and are grateful for the life you have, no matter how good or bad.  This sentiment has often been expressed through words of thanks and even in popular songs over the years.  When is the last time you asked ‘why me’ with a heart of gratitude?

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;  his love endures forever.  Psalm 118:1

As I heard someone state earlier this week ‘the only offering we bring to God is our sin.’  The only thing any of us deserve is death, and it is only through Christ’s sacrifice that we are given anything more than that.  Though we often fail to grasp the measure of this contrast, when we seek God, He often gives us a glimpse of it and it should always bring us to a place of humility.  The measure of his love and grace should always leave us in awe and then call us to action.  Would anything less than acting in love be an appropriate response?

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.  2 Corinthians 12:9

Courage in Christ,
Clark

Live!

This past week, I had the opportunity to attend a free Christian music concert on the square in Oskaloosa featuring several local artists and bands and a couple who were nationally known.  It was a great event which brought a lot of people together and allowed me to luxury to leave early with a couple of wily, whining kids without too much regret.  Of course, it wasn’t really free, as it cost donors a fair amount of money to pay the cost of bringing these folks to town, as well as many hours to promote, set up, and take down the event.  There is always a cost.  So was it as good as a show that I would have paid $30-60 or more per ticket to enjoy as most concerts are these days?  Probably better, because someone cared about me that much to make it happen. 

Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks.  John 4:23

Honestly, I really enjoy music, but I don’t attend as many live shows as you might think.  When I didn’t have kids, I would probably buy tickets to about one show per year, and it was usually someone I had known for a while who was doing a show not too far away.  One of my favorite concerts was when I was around 8 years old along with my family and went to see Johnny Cash and the Carter family, who’s songs I knew fairly well by then.  Who you are with and the whole experience is maybe more meaningful than the music itself.  Honestly, I could probably get as much enjoyment out of listening to a song alone in a car as I could with thousands of others in a big stadium, but that is me.  When you worship God with many others at the same time, it is a unique experience, but it really doesn’t strengthen my faith any more than a good 30 minutes in the Word and alone with God.  What about you?

For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.  Hebrews 4:12

Does the experience of seeing and meeting the artist make the music that much more meaningful for you, or is your life about the same a month down the road?  In my experience, going to a live concert doesn’t usually make me a better singer, or a better Christian, or help me more in my devotions, or anything more than something to brag about to my friends.  Maybe it sounds like I am a better Christian if I tell people I went to hear a Christian artist, but probably doesn’t change their life much, unless it allows me an opportunity to share the Gospel message with them.  What would Jesus do? 

On hearing it, many of his disciples said, “This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?”  John 6:60

I always wonder, how would I have responded if I were living and walking around Israel in 32 AD.  If I saw and heard the Real Deal speaking the truth to my heart, how would I have responded?  There were many who were turned off by the truth that Jesus spoke to them, which went against many traditions and customs of the day.  If people chose to follow Him, they would have to give up many of the safe things and luxuries of the world they lived in.  Is this not true still today?  We must choose to surrender our own lives to truly follow the One who gives us what we cannot gain through all our works.  There were some that walked and listened to our Lord for days and years and yet still did not believe, yet He still changes lives today through faith when led by his Word and the Spirit.  How much more will he continue to do!

Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.  Hebrews 11:1

Confidence in Christ,
Clark

Whole Hearted

When you hear that someone has spoken from the heart…what does that mean?  Usually it implies that they spoke openly and honestly and directly about what they were saying…they poured their heart out.  You can hear someone speak from the heart, sing from their heart, and even work with their whole heart.  More often than not, most of us go about life half-heartedly, with 10-40 percent of the enthusiasm and work ethic of which we are capable.  Would we burn out if we gave it our all?  Would others think we are too emotional…or a bleeding heart? 

The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure.  Who can understand it?  Jeremiah 17:9

One statement about a person in the bible has always intrigued me was that David was a man after God’s own heart.  What does that mean, and even more, am I a person after God’s own heart?  There is probably more written about David than most others in the bible, so we get a pretty good look at his character, flaws and all.  We see him standing up to a formidable giant, fending off predators of sheep, anointed a king as a young boy, leading the Jewish people, and spilling out his guts all throughout the Psalms.  David was a man who left it all on the table, so is this why God smiled upon him? 

But now your kingdom will not endure; the Lord has sought out a man after his own heart and appointed him ruler of his people, because you have not kept the Lord’s command.  1 Samuel  13:14

One way to get a bigger picture of David is to compare him to his predecessor, Saul.  Why would God reject Saul and promote David to the leadership role?  If we look at their hearts, we see that Saul was often proud and disobedient, while David was more sensitive and repentant.  We know that both men were sinners and were far from perfect, but when confronted with their sin, one justified it, while the other confessed it.  When David was challenged on the issue of murder and adultery with Bathsheba, instead of covering up his crimes and having the leaker executed, he owned his sins and was repentant.  Maybe this is what God admired in the young man. 

He mocks proud mockers but shows favor to the humble and oppressed.  Proverbs 3:34

Humility is not the only admirable trait that David exemplified, but it was a strong one.  We can look at which of the fruit of the Spirit matches up with his life and get some good examples of how we can live those out as well.  His ability to express love, joy, patience, kindness and other fruit is exemplified in many of the stories we have come to know.  I read a book around 10 years ago called “Leap Over a Wall: Earthy Spirituality for Everyday Christians”, which looked at several character qualities of David and applied them to our own lives.  It is a good read.  Look to the examples of people you admire around you as well, and let God guide your heart and your life.

A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.  Luke 6:45

Blessings in Christ,
Clark

The Race

Earlier this week, I had an opportunity to ride a couple days of Ragbrai, so how could I say no?  I have truly enjoyed riding bikes since before I was 5 years old.  I remember riding around the country as a kid and the first time I rode to a friend’s house 4 miles away, thinking it was quite a feat.  Even now the prospect of riding 50-100 miles a day is more challenging than it is exciting, but what if we never tested the limits of what we can do?  Ragbrai is more an act of endurance than it is a race, but you may get a boost of energy when you pass others, or see someone fly by you, or see a sign for pie at the next town.  Though this is not my first Ragbrai rodeo, for me, whether a day or a whole week, the experience is more about stepping away from the comfort of my normal routine, seeing new parts of this wonderful state, and getting to know some people better.  Mission accomplished every time, despite bumps in the road. 

Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize.  Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever.  Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air.  No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.  I Corinthians 9:24-27

When you are on a bike ride, or a car trip, or any type of journey, you have to expect the unexpected.  You get flat tires, storms, detours, sickness, injuries, and just about anything else you can imagine.  If something unexpected sidelines you for a moment, you adjust, recalculate your route, and push forward.  You may get discouraged for a moment when things don’t go your way, but you figure out what is next and keep on going.  If you always let little things keep you from any progress or make you turn around, you may end up a cold, timid soul that never ventures out of the safety zone.  The same way in life, if you don’t expect a few bumps or potholes along the road, you are only fooling yourself.  Comfort is overrated.  Have a plan of action for when things go wrong, or know who to turn to for help when you need it.  Have you ever felt joy from being able to help someone in distress?  Who made you that way?

I have seen something else under the sun:

The race is not to the swift
    or the battle to the strong,
nor does food come to the wise
    or wealth to the brilliant
    or favor to the learned;
but time and chance happen to them all.

Moreover, no one knows when their hour will come:

As fish are caught in a cruel net,
    or birds are taken in a snare,
so people are trapped by evil times
    that fall unexpectedly upon them. Ecclesiastes 9:11-12

When we look at our brief little lives, we eventually realize we all have the same finish line…death.  But what happens after this race is over?  As we run, we can take a look around us and think, ‘Wow! They have it made because (insert lame reason here)’ or we could say the opposite of ourselves or others…’That poor soul’.  We only catch glimpses of what others are dealing with, and it is usually more than meets the eye.  Who knows everything you have dealt with throughout your life?  Oh right, Him, but does He really care?  Is there anyone else who knows you better and still wants the best for you, or for you to finish the race with your head up and still looking forward?  Spend time with your real life coach and listen to His advice on how to run the race and finish well in this life.  Don’t do it for your own glory, but for His, and you will be glad you did. 

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.  Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.  Hebrews 12:1-3

Running along with you,

Clark

For Who?

Throughout each day, the time and energy you expend goes toward something.  If you have a traditional job, much of the work you do goes toward producing something for your employer, at least it should.  If you do what you are supposed to be doing, you usually get a paycheck in return.  Depending on where you live, part of your paycheck goes to pay taxes, insurance, social security, and other things you are required or choose to contribute toward.  After work, maybe you get to hunt down some food for your family, so you can all eat together when you get home.  If you have a couple hours of free time, maybe you spend it on your favorite hobby, trying to be entertained by the latest thing across the screen, or some other endeavor which you value.  By the end of the day, you have given of yourself for your boss, government, family, friends, community, and maybe a little for yourself or even your God.  Who do you serve? 

Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God and serve him only.’  Luke 4:8

Though we may think we give a lot of ourselves to others, much of what we do is really for selfish reasons.  Would you go to work for very long if you did not get paid to do so?  Many pay for a higher degree in hopes that they will get a better job when their education is finished.  We usually get some reciprocal benefit from the time we spend with our family and friends.  Undoubtedly, if you have children or grandchildren, you have invested much into who you would like them to become.  You may even hope they shine like stars as a reflection of how great a parent you are, or that they will be there to help you some day when you need it.  We hope that all our time and energy goes toward something better for us, even if good feelings, when all is said and done. 

No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.  Matthew 6:24

When we look at the motive behind our actions, in the short or long term, it is usually to benefit ourselves in some way.  How often do you give your time and energy to someone who can never return the favor?  Giving a one-time quick gift to someone you may never see again doesn’t take much effort, but investing weeks or years in someone else who can’t do the same for you is much more difficult, even if a friend or a family member.   Even if you are paid to do something for others, it can be physically and emotionally draining to do this long term.  Has anyone ever invested this much in you?  Maybe your parents, or a close friend who walked with you through tough times, but do you feel God has been with you through the good and bad as well?  How much does He have invested in you?  We may not realize it often, but Jesus did this for us on the cross.  Our servant-leader gave of himself something that we can never fully repay or match. 

Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not people.  Ephesians 6:7

So, every once in a while, take a deep look at the reasons behind why we do what we do.  What am I hoping to get from this, or what benefit is it to others?  If we have tried to spend time in the Word or prayer and seen few results or little return for ourselves, we most likely will commit less time toward this in the future.  How has that worked?  Maybe we were looking for the wrong things to begin with.  How we spend our time affects not only us, but those around us in a positive or negative way as well.  Ask God to show you your true motives and allow Him to guide you to grow in seeking less for yourself and more for others. 

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit.  Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.  Philippians 2:3-4

Yours in Christ,
Clark

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