Author Archives: Clark

Christmas Presence

In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary.  The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”

 Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be.  But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God.  You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus.  He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.”

“How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?”

The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.  So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God.  Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month.  For no word from God will ever fail.”

“I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” Then the angel left her.

Luke 1:26-38

As we approach Christmas, between the concerts, parties, shopping, work, and other activities, we may have a minute or so to stop and consider what actually happened and the events leading up to that night.  There are many plays, movies, and songs that give us some varied ideas of what Mary, Joseph, and their families may have felt or done as the time for the Savior’s birth approached, but we may never fully understand until we may one day ask them.  What questions would you have for them, or for God around how this all came about? 

Many are the plans in a person’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails.  Proverbs 19:21

You may find it difficult to relate to an unmarried pregnant teenage girl who lived 2000 years ago, but in many ways she is much like you.  The cultural pressures caused her to question how things were happening, but her faith caused her to be obedient to God.  We live in a world with thousands of distractions that would take our attention and hearts away from God.  There are ads and voices telling us to do what’s best for me, not to care what others think or even to acknowledge God.  She surely had many of the same thoughts and feelings that we would when faced with uncertainty.  Just like you and I, God knew Mary before she was even born.  He knew how she would be raised and what she was capable of, including her faith.  Can you imagine his plans for you?  Though different than the plans for Mary and most others, they can still be significant.  Do you believe that?

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

When we acknowledge and obey the word of God, he is with us.  The fact that he abides with us testifies to the statement that we are also highly favored, and he calls us His own.  When we face difficult or uncertain situations, we need to remember this as well.  You can endure, the Lord is with you.  You can speak the truth, the Lord is with you.  You can forgive, the Lord is with you.  You can do what you have been called to do, the Lord is with you.  When we trust and obey the Lord, he is with us and is for us.  Take comfort in that.  Just as a young girl did, not so long ago, let her example inspire our faith as well. 

I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.  Philippians 4:13

Strength and Courage in Christ,
Clark

Cards

Not only is it Advent, but we are also right in the middle of card season as well.  Whether or not you regularly write a Christmas letter or send many cards out, surely you receive a few in the mail or by email each year.  Do you take the time to read each one?  With the advent of social media and email, maybe it is not as labor intensive as mailing dozens of cards, but you can still send well wishes to those you like.  Each year, I always look forward to reading a little bit of what friends and family have experienced over the past year and seeing how they change in some of the traditional family photos.  Do you have any traditions related to Christmas Cards? 

I thank my God every time I remember you.  Philippians 1:3

It doesn’t take many words to get the mood for what people have felt and experienced in a few short paragraphs.  Some may just be a list of accomplishments, where everyone went for vacation, and what kids and grandkids are doing now.  Others can express joy at milestones in life, sadness in the death of loved ones, and sharing other significant life events.  Can you sum up the highlights and lows of your past year in a couple of paragraphs that fit on one page?  It is actually not a bad practice.  Take a few minutes to reflect and sum up the past year and share to the level you are willing with friends and maybe even strangers. 

Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.  Romans 12:15

I used to look forward each year to writing a letter and sending it to a variety of people.  But as I was not able to put one together one year, it was not as much a priority the following years and did not happen.  I still tried to write a personal note in most cards and wished more than just the printed greeting.  As I was growing up, we would tape each card to the wall and watch as the collection grew through the month of December.  It was a fun tradition.  I still enjoy looking back at some of the cards and letters I have received years ago.

Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ.  Ephesians 4:15

As you get each card or letter this year, say a small prayer for the person who sent it.  Appreciate each of the relationships you have and bless them in some small or great way with your words and actions through the coming year.  May you continue to reflect the love of Christ in your life more each year.


Strength and Courage in Christ,
Clark

Wish List

What is on your wish list?  Maybe you have matured from the time you were 10 and actually have less desire for a list of ‘things’ as an adult.  Or maybe just having good health and keeping your two front teeth is not such a far-fetched wish as it once was in song.  Why do you want what you want?  My wife’s family does name exchanges for the adults, so we are not expected to buy something for everyone.  This essentially means I need to put at least $50 worth of things on my online wish list, which gives me a fairly good idea of what I will be getting.  Are you ever surprised (in a good way) by what you get for Christmas?  Unexpected surprises are usually the best in my book.  That is generally what I try to do for other adults on my list as well…find something they will like, but don’t expect.  Is the same true from God?  Would you like him to keep it to things on your wish list, or do you like it when he surprises you?

Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.  James 1:17

I had a few surprises come my way this past year.  I bought a used car around 16 months ago that I affectionately termed the FrankenWagen, because it is a VW diesel Sportswagen made up of parts of several vehicles.  Though it runs and drives fairly well, it still has some blemishes and is easy to see it was involved in an accident at one time.  So, because of the dirty diesel recall, they are now offering to buy back the car for more than I paid for it, more than it is worth.  This never happens, right?  Is it fair?  Legally, it is what they are required to do, but it doesn’t seem right to give you more than the car seems worth.  Isn’t this the same with us?  On the outside, because of our sin and brokenness we may not seem like we are worth that much to God, but He has already paid a great price for you through the blood of Jesus.  Your value is much greater to him than it may first appear.

For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.  Romans 3:23

Unfortunately, it is not always just the good things that surprise us.  Over the past few years, we also had 2 separate expenses totaling nearly $8k that never should have been, and all it would have taken were 2 simple ‘no’s, but that didn’t happen.  Just a couple of expensive lessons, I suppose.  I also have received a speeding ticket which I deserved, as I was speeding.  Have I ever broken a traffic law and not received a ticket?  Much more often, which isn’t fair either.  Do the good things ever balance out the bad things in life?  Likely not.   As much as many would like to believe, there is not some celestial karma/balance sheet that makes everything turn out ok for everyone.  This goes as well for the perception of most of the world, that if I do one more ‘good’ thing than ‘bad’ things, then I get to heaven because of my works.  Life experience indicates the opposite, and nowhere is it written that it works that way, yet many believe in fantasy.

But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.  Matthew 5:44-45

So, as you try to fulfill the wish lists of those you love, think about giving them what they really need and not just what they want.  If God gave us just what we asked for, would we be better off?  Likely not in the long run.  Making the selfish more selfish doesn’t usually benefit anyone.  Take some time to consider what you want right now with what you really need.  Are they one and the same?  As you draw closer to God, he will draw closer to you and show you most directly what will benefit you most in life.  It often is not what was first on our wish list, but it is what is best for us all in the long run.  May you experience joy as you continue to open the greatest gift ever!

Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.  Ephesians 3:20-21

Strength and Courage in Christ,
Clark

Seek it

true-false

Lately, the news outlets have been full of news about fake news.  There is some outrage over people who portray lies as the truth, and then spread it on social media.  Is this any different than High School kids spreading lies about one another to seek revenge, or to make themselves look better?  Pretty much the same thing, other than you would expect adults to act more like adults than High Schoolers.  With both major party presidential candidates confirmed to have lied on different occasions, who can you trust?  How do you tell the truth from a lie?  Do you rely on gut feelings…I don’t believe that guy because I don’t like the cut of his jib.’  Or maybe you fact check a story to see if it holds any water, or not.  Or just trust certain sources for what they say as true.  Where do you go for the truth?

Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth.  John 17:17

In a world where post-modern cultural and moral relativism predominates, what people perceive as truth changes with their moods.  The ‘what’s true for you is not true for me’ mentality predominates and people can be led to believe most anything, even when shown the cold, hard facts of the truth!  People can be led to believe most anything in a world where what they feel is true or false is a reality for them.  Many who don’t trust in God may put their faith in ‘science’ and what they believe are undisputed truths.  While the laws of physics and math remain fairly consistent in most settings (on earth), what we believe to be true and beneficial in other areas changes each decade, if not month to month.  Evidence based research on what is a good diet, what medicines and medical procedures are beneficial, and psychological treatments are not the same today as they were 30 or even 5 years ago.  We hope it improves, but this is not always the case.  Everyone thinks they are so much smarter now than they were 10 years ago.  Are you?

Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. In fact, the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.”  John 18:37

To be honest, the closer I grow to God, the more I start to think and feel like Him.  When the Spirit of God speaks to me, opens up the Word, and directs me, truth resonates within me.  The closer I am to God, the more I despise sin in my life and the easier it is to see in others as well.  I hate lies and try to avoid them whenever possible, but at times still find my sin nature drawn toward hiding the truth when it may reveal something negative about me.  When I find out someone lies to me, it makes me lose almost all respect and trust in them, even if I forgive them, it will be difficult to believe them again.  The truth matters.

To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples.  Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”  John 8:31-32

Lord, reveal to us the truth of your Word.  Help us see the lies in the world and in the church that we may discern what is true in all things.  Let our words and our lives speak the truth to those around us and be a testament to your work in our lives.  If we ever speak or spread lies, be quick to convict us and allow us the chance to replace what is false with what is true in our lives.  Let Christ be our example of speaking and living out only what is true and calling others to do the same.  May this be true in our lives today.

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.  Hebrews 13:8

Strength, Courage, and Truth in Christ,
Clark

Thanked

kenya-thanksgiving-meal

No matter how you say it, the meaning gets across.  Whether it’s a Gracias, Merci, Arigato, Danke, Mahalo, a head knod, or a leaving a generous tip, they all say about the same thing.  A sincere Thank you demonstrates appreciation for what others have done.  It is a sign of selflessness. How many times a day do you say thank you?  Whether out of habit, as we teach kids to do the same, or out of genuine gratitude, do you express your thanks very often?  It is probably not something we think much about, except on Thanksgiving, or when we are going through difficult times, but taking inventory of what we have to be thankful for is a good thing to do on a regular basis.  A heart of gratitude will change your attitude. 

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good.  His love endures forever.  Psalm 136:1

In terms of wealth and material resources, if you live in the United States, you have much to thankful for.  While wealth distribution is uneven around most of the world, it is more balanced here than in most countries.  Access to food, clean water, clothing and other resources are things most of us take for granted, but may be more questionable in many areas.  We can compare our situation to anyone who appears to have more and grumble, but when compared to most people, we should be grateful.  Then again, if we are constantly comparing what we have, maybe there is a deeper issue we should be considering.

 But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal.  For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.  Matthew 6:20-21

So does our thanks to others or to God ever get old?  Do you ever get burned out on giving thanks?  Maybe if you are a greeter and ‘have to’ thank everyone regardless of your genuine level of appreciation, but I would propose that the more you say ‘thank you’, the more thankful you become.  When I take time before each meal to thank the One who provided it, it serves as a reminder that all I have is from Him.  It tunes me in to the fact that everything I have (including my life) is quite fleeting, and I ought not to take it for granted.  It brings my heart back to a place of humility, and that is usually a good place for all of us to be on a regular basis.  When we go unchecked, other things tend to sneak in and take the place of gratitude, generosity, and love.

But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days.  People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God.  2 Timothy 3:1-4

So, look for opportunities to express your gratitude in some way each day.  If not for your own benefit, so that others may know they are appreciated.  When we are acknowledged for the little things we do and the kindness we show, it is a tiny validation and a reminder that it is ok to do the right thing, even if we are not praised for it.  It is ok to count your blessings when other things in your life may be out of control.  It is ok to thank God when we have much to be thankful for, and even when we don’t.  As you sit down to eat your next meal, take a moment to thank the One who gave you life, and for the big things and the little things in your life.  Thanks for taking the time to consider this message.

I always thank my God for you because of his grace given you in Christ Jesus.  1 Corinthians 1:4

In Gratitude to Christ,
Clark

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