Author Archives: Clark

Tick Tock

So, did you stay up this past week to ‘watch’ the time change and usher in 2018?  To me, it was more enjoyable to just go to bed early and wake up in the New Year!  Each year that goes by seems to speed up, just a little more, though the seconds are the same.  How about you, do you do anything special at the turning of the calendar each year?  Do you take inventory of all that has transpired over the past year and look to where you want to make changes?  Some make new goals or resolutions of how they will work to improve their lives.  Someone even asked me to rate the year (0-10) on how well I though it went.  What will the new year have for you? 

Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.  Psalm 90:12

The time each of us are given each day is the same, yet how we use it varies widely.  Have you ever felt that you have ever ‘wasted’ a day because you were unproductive or that some bad choices led you to a place you would rather not be?  Or maybe the opposite is true as well, where you had an extremely productive day, or the experiences were something you will remember the rest of your life?  We can even expand this to a whole lifetime.  Who comes to your mind when asked if you know of someone who has basically ‘wasted’ their life, likely through consistent selfish actions, or the number of people they have hurt over time?  Just looking at a day or a year out of our lives can help us get a good idea of how things are going, and where we need to improve, to forgive, or to grow in our future. 

Lord, what are human beings that you care for them, mere mortals that you think of them?   They are like a breath; their days are like a fleeting shadow.  Psalm 144:3-4

Occasionally, each passing year serves to remind us of how short our time on this big globe really is.  We see babies and children grow up quickly before us and wonder, ‘what will that 2 year old be doing 40 years from now?’ and at the same time, we wonder if we will even be here in 40 years.  We see how fleeting material things are as money comes to us and goes just as quickly, and how relationships cannot be bought and sold as easily as things.  We look at how we have grown closer or further apart in our relationships with others and with God over the years and wonder how things will go this next year.  We see society change around us, for better or worse, and wonder if it will influence us, or if we will be salt and light to the world we encounter.  Have you made any plans to spend your time any differently this year? 

Our days may come to seventy years, or eighty, if our strength endures; yet the best of them are but trouble and sorrow, for they quickly pass, and we fly away.  Psalm 90:10

So, as we start our first steps into this New Year, let us choose 1 or 2 things to focus our attention on that can help us produce better fruit in our lives.  It may take some discipline for us to give up some things so that we can have time to invest into other things we know are better for us.  Whether that be physical in how we sleep, exercise, or eat, or more spiritual and relational in how we spend time with God or others, good things can happen when we invest in the right ways.  Also consider how you may give more effectively in your use of money and time, so the rewards will last long after we are gone.

All people are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field;  the grass withers and the flowers fall,  but the word of the Lord endures forever  1 Peter 1:24

Forever in Christ,
Clark

Cold

Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me.  At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people.  Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved.  Matthew 24:9-13

It was just a week ago, here in Iowa, that we were experiencing high temperatures in the 40-50 degree range, just enjoying each day as it arrived.  Then on Sunday, we had our first measurable snowfall of around 2” and it was not too bad.  I even worked up in a sweat pushing snow around during my first Winter Workout of the season.  And now, we are struggling to see high temps out of the teens and single digits…cold by most measures!   Honestly, I enjoy the wide variety of weather we get here in Iowa, as they say, just wait and it will change.  But lots of snow and long stretches of days when temps fail to break above 30 degrees leave me feeling a bit cold and discouraged too. 

So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth.  Revelation 3:16

What if we took your spiritual temperature, what would it read?  How would we even measure that…by how often you attend church, frequency of bible reading or prayer, or any other outward measurement?  A better question may be ‘How sold-out for Jesus are you?’  Again, it may be difficult to quantify this outwardly, but you definitely know it if you have been hot or cold before.  As we go through life, we may even experience different seasons of when we grow or become stagnant spiritually, of when we appear spiritually fruitful and times we are not.  Another question becomes, how do you respond when you or those around you become lukewarm or cold and inattentive to the presence of God in their lives.  What do you do then? 

For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline. 2 Timothy 1:7

Most people do not turn cold overnight, but gradually drift that way over time.  Often, it may be specific trials, influential people, or life circumstances that trigger them to become discouraged or start to turn away from their once fervent faith.  Another response is when we become so self-sufficient that we start to feel we don’t really need God, as we are doing just fine on our own.  Or we become so busy with life, that we really don’t have much time to spend with God, or listen to Him.  Whatever the reason, there is still something we can do when our hearts start to turn cold toward God or others in our lives. 

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.  James 1:2-3

Even when we do not feel like it, if we continue to practice spiritual disciplines such as prayer, fasting, bible study, service toward others, confession, worship and other disciplines, these can fan our flames of faith and grow the influence of the Holy Spirit in our lives.  If our faith is as temperamental as our feelings and dictated primarily by life circumstances (e.g. we trust God when life is good, and doubt Him when it does not go our way) we are in for a roller-coaster ride.  When we persevere and look down the road to what lies ahead, our current status is not as daunting.  Just as we will one day hear the robins chirping in anticipation of the warm weather to come, a time of spiritual growth and renewal is likely for the frozen chosen when they persist in their faith.  May the promise of Christ and the work of his Spirit give you hope, regardless of what lies ahead.

Yours in Christ,
Clark

Savior Song

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night.  An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.  But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people.  Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.  This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”   When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”  Luke 2:13-15

Have you ever thought about what sights and songs the shepherds experienced out in the fields that night?  It must have been quite remarkable, because if this happened to me, I would have proceeded cautiously, though what the angels said would have likely lingered in my mind.  I wonder what songs were sung around the newborn king that night, and if they had any idea of the hundreds more that would be sung in the centuries to come that would celebrate with them? 

Angels we have heard on high
Sweetly singing o’er the plain
And the mountains in reply
Echoing their joyous strains
Gloria, in excelsis Deo!
Gloria, in excelsis Deo!

While we were caroling with a group from my church this past week, we asked each of the recipients (from young children to those with Alzheimer’s) if they had a favorite Christmas song.  Some did and some did not, but most enjoyed our attempt to sing some familiar songs in the cool December night.  How about you?  Do you get a little excited when you hear Hark the Herald Angels Sing on the radio, or is it more of something you dread?  Do you sing along, even if slightly off key?  After all, it only comes along 1-2 months each year, right? 

Sing to the Lord a new song; sing to the Lord, all the earth.  Sing to the Lord, praise his name; proclaim his salvation day after day.  Psalm 96:1-2­

Even if you don’t enjoy singing them, have you ever read about the history of how some of these songs came to be?  Many are quite remarkable and give you a small glimpse into the time and place they were written.  Inspired by the Psalms, a composer named Isaac Watts published a tune called Joy to the World in 1719.  A century later in 1818, a song called Stille Nacht was written in a little Austrian town that would be sung for many years to come.  And just who is Good King Wenceslas?  There are probably new songs sung each year that we will never hear, but that someone does. 

Sing joyfully to the Lord, you righteous; it is fitting for the upright to praise him.  Praise the Lord with the harp; make music to him on the ten-stringed lyre.  Sing to him a new song; play skillfully, and shout for joy.  Psalm 33:1-3

Most years, I even come across songs that have just been written or that are new to me that find a place on my favorite list.  A recent one (which came out 10 years ago) that I enjoyed was an arrangement of Angels We Have Heard on High by Sara Groves, which has more of a Southwestern feel to it.  There are also those secular songs that have nothing to do with Christ or Christmas, except the title, that are still popular each year, but for different reasons.  Though they may be catchy, Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer offers more praise to animals than anyone, Last Christmas may have you longing for big 80’s hair more than a quiet Christmas night, and who even heard of Six White Boomers.  You get the idea.

This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.  1 John 4:10

So, this coming week when you get a chance to sing along to some of those familiar songs again, do it as a praise to your Lord who was born a little baby two thousand years ago, and lives with us still today.  The God of the Universe gave us hope through a helpless baby that would one day take away the sin we could not remove ourselves.  Think on how his life and death would inspire so many to write songs of praise and thanksgiving for the gift that we could never repay.  Think of all the songs yet to be written and sung that will bring a new appreciation for the Newborn King as he is born into the hearts of new believers around the world each day.   Even if you don’t enjoy singing, doesn’t it make you want to sing, even a little? 

Christmas Blessings,
Clark

Little Shadows

Around our home the past several months, we have been dealing with a 2 year old attitude which can fluctuate from kind and helpful to an unrelentingly selfish little boy.  When he is determined to do something and you offer to assist in any way, his first reply is often an emphatic “No, Me do!”  I suppose if we always let others do everything for us, we would not grow much in our development.  There are other times when this same guy can attempt something a couple times, then get frustrated, give up, and want you to do it for him.  If it is something, like taking off his socks, that he has done before and is capable of doing on his own, we encourage him by saying ‘you do it.’  This can lead to motivation or further frustration depending on the day.  So, when we are given instructions to do something opposite of what we feel like doing, what is our first response? 

Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding;   in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.  Proverbs 3:5-6

The other thing I have seen lately is that when I am around this little guy for very long, I notice that he is watching and imitating most everything I am doing.  From the way I hold my arms, to the tasks that I am working on, to the words that I say, he wants to copy me.  While this is flattering in many ways, it is also humbling, as it makes me more aware of my actions and some of the flaws in my life that I would rather not have anyone see or do.  It may seem kind of ironic, being held accountable by a 2 year old, but better someone than no one, whether young or old.  I have always been struck by the boldness of Paul, when he asks us to imitate his behavior.  Are we able to say the same to anyone…do as I do?

Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.  1 Corinthians 11:1

Who are you imitating?  Is there someone you have read about or even who you may see on a day to day basis that you strive to be like?  Maybe you remember the phrase popular and possibly overused 20 some years ago that asked ‘what would Jesus do?’  He is our ultimate example of God in the flesh and how to interact with others and with God the Father in this life.  It may seem unattainable at times, but those are the times we need to ask for more help, instead of trying to ‘go it alone’ as we so often do.  So, if you have someone willing to lend you a hand from time to time, whether they be 8 or 80 years old or somewhere in between, accept that help and learn from it, so that they can do the same.  Turn to your Heavenly Father and the example of his Son when you realize you need help, instead of as a last resort.  When we ask, the answer we get may be ‘you do it’ or ‘let them help you’, either of which we may not initially like.  Give others the opportunity to teach you and to lead by example, so that you can do the same for anyone else who asks, whether a stranger or a little shadow. 

Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.  Hebrews 4:16

Courage in Christ,
Clark

 

Clouded Vision

A few weeks back, I had filled up my old 86 pickup truck with a load for the dump the night before, and planned to head out when they opened at 7 am, so I could still get to work on time.  It was cold that night and the windows had frosted over, yet it was also quite foggy out.  After scraping the windows and heading South of town, the fog began getting thicker, and the defrost on the truck was also not working.  I was peering out a small space at the bottom of the windshield and along the way I commented ‘this is probably not a good idea.’  I could barely see out the windshield and what I could see was not clear.  I nearly missed the sign for the dump turnoff and slid to a gravelly halt, got unloaded and then back on the road.  Pulling out on a 4 lane in the fog was probably the most questionable thing, as I hoped others were not speeding and would see me.  Fortunately the heater started working and I made it the 6 miles home without incident, but was maybe a bit wiser through the experience.  Do you keep pushing forward with things in life, whether or not you can see clearly?

Look on me and answer, Lord my God.  Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death.  Psalm 13:3

If I kept driving they way I did that day, I would likely be in an accident sooner than later, but fortunately conditions improved.  I am also thankful for the vision that I have to help me see clearly when conditions are not well.  I often wonder how others with limited vision are able to do as well as they do.  My grandfather had only one eye for most of his life and he was still driving a car into his 90’s.  Sometimes we persist despite obstacles before us and continue to push forward.  We even have challenges to our faith and continue to persevere.  Other times we encounter obstacles and decide to ‘play it safe’ and not risk our health or the lives of our family to move ahead in poor conditions.  The key to deciding what to do in any given situation calls for good discernment. 

Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.John 3:3

The longer we live, the more we realize that we never know what may happen next in life.  People we know and love may be here one day and gone the next.  Opportunities to have meaningful conversations rarely ‘just happen’ and we eventually lose touch with others.  Many things in life do not always go how we plan or expect, but that may also bring about unexpected blessings as well.  If you were able to ask God anything and get a definite answer, what would it be?  Have you asked?  I believe that God may not give us the ability to perfectly see the road ahead of us, because we would then take all the credit for the trip, ignoring Him again.  But I believe He often gives us glimpses of what lies ahead, even in the world to come.  If you could know when your last day in this life would be, how would it change the way you live now? 

For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.  1 Corinthians 13:12

May you be able to make wise choices even when the road ahead looks clouded or questionable.  Seek the guidance of God and his Holy Spirit in day to day decisions and especially in major life decisions and you will be able to hear more clearly from Him as you do.  Using the guiding principles God gave us in Scripture does not promise us a trouble free life, but in fact, helps us persevere through these difficulties, even beyond the point of death, to the Kingdom ahead.  Take comfort in that as so many have done through centuries before us.

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.  Hebrews 12:1

Seeing Clearly in Christ,
Clark

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