Author Archives: Clark

Sharing is Caring

When someone openly coughs or sneezes in your general direction, do you consider that impolite?  This past week, over Thanksgiving and the weekend, I had a not-fun cold that I really didn’t want to share with anyone else, because it is the gift the keeps on giving, even when you don’t want to.  Someone gave it to me, and I felt obligated to pass it on, not.  At some point, you have to make a call whether or not you should go to the store, and then whether or not you are well enough to go back to work and rejoin ‘normal’ society.  Granted, I spent hours raking, hauling leaves, wood, and garbage on Saturday, then hours shoveling snow for my Winter workout on Sunday and Monday, so I felt well enough to work, just not with other people.  Whether we intend to or not, we may share a cold or virus with others, even if we try to limit our exposure.  Our words, attitudes and enthusiasm, good or bad, may even be as equally contagious.  What do you pass on to others and what do you keep to yourself?

All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had.  Acts 4:32

I always thought of this verse from Acts as the Christian ideal of how to live with others in community.  Not to the degree of a society of communism or socialism, because historically (e.g. USSR, N Korea, China) they try to exclude most religious practice from the ranks of the populous.  It would almost have to be a small community, where everyone lived by similar guidelines, like the Christian faith, but with people involved, there are bound to be exceptions and instances where love is not the primary motive.  For nearly a decade, I had a VW Jetta that became a communal car that I shared and let others use on probably over 10 different times.  Sometimes it was to a friend or co-worker who needed a vehicle for a few days while theirs was being repaired, and once for the whole Summer to a college student named Oscar from Estonia, who put thousands of miles on it.  Each time, if we didn’t stipulate a timeline for how long it would be loaned, it was assumed indefinitely, until I had to ask for it to be returned after a few weeks, not always in the same shape it was loaned.  The last time it was loaned was a couple years ago to a fellow who was driving 125 miles back and forth to Des Moines for work each day.  He was driving back after a snow storm and made it within 4 miles of home when he went into a ditch, and hit another car in the ditch totaling the VW, and the car-share program was over for that car.  I’ve shared other vehicles since, but not to the degree that this one was used.  Do you treat things you borrow with the same respect as other things you own? 

A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.  The tongue of the wise adorns knowledge, but the mouth of the fool gushes folly.  Proverbs 15:1-2

We can share good things in the form of money, time, kind words, and knowledge, just as easily as we share bad things in the form of harsh words, gossip, bad advice, and video games.  The things we have, or can buy, are not always the best gifts to give to others.  We have been having discussions for a while about a concept called Redemptive Compassion, which proposes that simply giving money or things to those in need, is not always what is best for them.  Often, they need help to get out of difficult situations, and skills to work and become more self-sustaining.  The way to get there is not always through an outer transformation of ‘getting their act together’, but often from an inner transformation of a changed heart through the work of Christ, which then gives them hope to transform the outer parts of their lives.  When we are able to share time and knowledge with others who need that from us, it is often more helpful than just giving them what they think they need and wishing them well.  We invest considerable time, money and energy into our own children, and hope that we have done well, with no guarantees for what will result.  Have there been any things you have received that have been more valuable than you originally thought? 

The heavens are yours, and yours also the earth; you founded the world and all that is in it.  Psalm 89:11

In my experience, the closer I am to God, the more willing I am to share and give what I have to others in need, and the further I am from God’s heart, the more selfish I become.  It’s just a general rule that I have seen more often than not, which is more of a gauge for what my spiritual life is like.  So, whether you are thinking of giving good gifts to others over the next month, or just looking for something to give that will make a difference, also consider what being a good steward and giving things away does to you.  Each time I give away money, things, time, or helpful knowledge to others, it often helps my heart in more ways than it helps others.  I am always reminded that none of these things I currently possess will be mine forever, nor will they make a difference unless they are used to benefit others.  We may not always get it right, but we will never get it right unless we try.  May you be blessed as you share the most valuable gifts, including the saving knowledge of Christ with others. 

Yours in Christ,

Clark

Thanks again

At least once each year, we are compelled to consider what things we are thankful for, and then to give thanks for them.  But if we only show gratitude for the blessings in our lives once each year, are we truly thankful?  How many times on an average day do you say or type ‘thanks’ to others?  From the time we start talking, we are often prompted by our parents to say thank you, to the degree that it may become automatic.  Maybe even like saying grace before a meal.  Does saying something make it true, even if we don’t feel thankful when we say it?  Possibly.  A practice I have started over this past year is to finish my email or text messages with a simple ‘thanks’, whether I think it is warranted or not.  Especially when some messages could be interpreted as harsh or uncaring, this seems to buffer it a bit.  Also, it does seem to make me a little more appreciative of things such as having a job, working with others, being in the game, and appreciating my family a little more.  What things are you most thankful for that you often take for granted? 

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

There are a few teachers and professors who I haven’t seen since I have left school that I have always wanted to tell them how much I appreciated something they had done or said to me.  Does me not telling them something make it any less meaningful to me?  I know some of these school teachers have since passed away, as have other people I have loved and appreciated in my life but didn’t always get to say thanks to them while they were still here.  I found out this past week that one older gentleman my father and I had gotten to know over the past 5-10 years had just passed away.  I shared a story in the card I wrote to his family about an act of kindness he showed to me once that I really appreciated.  Whether now or later, I think it is good to share stories of unselfishness that we have experienced.  Who are some people you have appreciated in your life?  Do they know how much they mean to you? 

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.  Philippians 4:6-7

So, as you gather around the dinner table today, or every day, take a moment to give thanks for all the people in your life who have shown kindness and unselfishness toward you.  Think of some small acts of unselfishness that have turned out to be big in your life and your memories.  If you have trouble thinking of any, ask God to show you.  Look for opportunities to share these stories with others and to return the favor or even ‘pay it forward’ to unsuspecting people in your life.  Thank God for new opportunities to love others and grow in your faith as you live out your life with an attitude of gratitude instead of only being thankful when prompted to do so.  May you be blessed as you give thanks in all circumstances you encounter today and always!

Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.  1 Thessalonians 5:18

Yours in Christ,
Clark

 

Please Pass the Bread

The older I get, the more I like food.  When I was a kid, I ate most everything my mom made, which was mostly meat and potatoes, and soup, and toast, and pancakes, etc.  I do recall an aversion to peanut butter, strawberries, as well as cooked spinach and Brussel sprouts when I was younger.  But at different times, I eventually overcame these aversions, when I tried some good examples of these foods, which tells me most food can be good when done right.  I like most every vegetable best when raw or steamed, even Brussel sprouts, which I grew in my garden one year.  There has also been a movement in recent years away from mass produced produce and canned/processed food toward more flavorful, locally grown things for your dinner table.  For the past 5-10 years I planted several varieties of heirloom tomatoes that I enjoyed trying and sharing each year.  What do you most enjoy about food?  Do you live to eat, or eat to live? 

This is what I have observed to be good: that it is appropriate for a person to eat, to drink and to find satisfaction in their toilsome labor under the sun during the few days of life God has given them—for this is their lot.  Ecclesiastes 5:18

Cooking is definitely an art.  There has also been a boom in the amount of cooking/baking shows on television since the days of Julia Child, Justin Wilson, and Emeril Lagasse.  People don’t just like to eat, they like to watch others prepare and eat good food as well.  You can go out to eat almost anywhere and visit a local greasy spoon to one of the top restaurants in the world.  If you are like me, you may find it fun to explore new restaurants and discover new ways that others prepare food.  My wife doesn’t like to experiment too much with recipes, but can follow one well and makes great meals at times.  We signed up for a menu plan called emeals and for several years tried 2-5 new recipes each week without repeats, except when specifically requested to try a favorite again.  You could go through a cookbook and try a new meal every day, or eat your favorites for the rest of your life and still be happy, so long as you don’t start to worship or become addicted to what you eat and drink.  Is there anything, besides water, you feel you could not live without? 

Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.  Matthew 4:4

I could share with you the best food experiences I have ever had, some in my own home and some in far off countries, but it would probably mean nothing to you, as you were not there to experience it with me.  One of the best pizzas of my life was made a month ago by my wife and included fresh roast beef and blue cheese.  The best steak I had was grilled with some friends on a farm near Centerville.  I met some strangers in Louisiana who shared with me some fresh boiled shrimp they caught that morning.   I think back to the Thanksgiving and Christmas feasts I shared and enjoyed with my family over the years.  When I think about it, most of my favorite food experiences were those I shared with others.  Maybe it makes us appreciate the experience even more, despite the quality of the food.  When we take communion, it is not just about the food we consume, but sharing in the experience with those around us and with God himself.  What is the best meal you can remember? 

And the angel said to me, “Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.” And he said to me, “These are the true words of God.”  Revelation 19:9

Is there more to life than what you put in your mouth?  God gave us our senses, not just to survive, but to occasionally stop and appreciate and enjoy the life we have been given.  Not just to constantly chase after our next meal, but to be thankful just for having a meal each time we stop to consume it.   When you give thanks and slow down to enjoy each meal, like it was your last supper, you start to appreciate all we have been blessed with, just a little more.  When we start to have reverence for each meal or glass of water as if we were taking communion, God does a work in you, not just in physical sustenance, but in your spirit as well.  We shouldn’t just revere food and drink like so many do, but to revere the One who made it and is the ultimate Provider for all things.  The next time you sit down to dine on whatever you have been blessed with, give thanks not just for the food in front of you, but for the ability to commune it with the One who made it, and you, and all those around you as well.  Make sure you don’t just satisfy the desires of your belly, but make sure your spirit is fed as well.  Enjoy your meal!

Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.  John 6:35

Yours in Christ,

Clark

Cold Christians

Fall is one of my favorite times of the year.  The leaves change color, harvest time is winding down, the air is starting to chill, and you still get a few warm days to appreciate.  The inevitable thing, though, is that Winter is just around the corner, knocking at the door.  The first snow always reminds us of that.  Most local people I talk to don’t have much good to say about Winter.  Its cold, you have to move snow, plans may change, etc.  But there are also good things if you look hard enough.  No bugs, now mowing, Christmas, a new perspective on the world covered in white, a warm home to appreciate.  With every change, there are good and bad things that people can see, in every season of life.  What do you appreciate and what do you complain about in your current state of being? 

Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.  Proverbs 4:23

Are there any people in this world that you don’t really care about?  Maybe there is a negative neighbor to the North that has lots of opinions different than yours.  Or maybe there are some countries in this world, in which you know no one and wouldn’t know or care if they ever existed.  Usually, unless you know someone in a given town, state, or country, you don’t give a second thought to things that happen there.  I’ve done some short-term missions trips to Bolivia years ago, and though I only know 10-20 people who live there now, when I hear about it in the news (which is seldom), my ears perk up, because it could be affecting people I care about.  We see videos of disasters from various places around the world, and feel sorry that anyone had to go through some of those things, even though we don’t know them.  Those people facing death and devastation could be Christians, though many are not.  Do we care at all?  Are our hearts cold toward most of the world? 

Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.  James 5:16

It doesn’t even have to be someone ½ way around the world, it could be someone right next door to you, or even in your own house.  Our hearts can turn cold toward anyone, given the right circumstances.  Is it good to have coldness or even hatred toward someone and then try to love others you do care about?  Is there a cure to warm a cold heart?  It starts with awareness and then forgiveness.  Take an inventory of your thoughts and the words leaving your mouth.  If they have any hatred, even a little, then you are not on a good path.  I see this even when I comment to myself about strangers while driving.  A critical word is usually a selfish word.  I also find that regularly praying for others helps melt my coldness toward them.  Even for people in countries where I know no one.  The book Operation World is a good tool to learn about some people you have never met and a guide to pray for them.  Or just look up some info on a place or people group online and see what a little prayer does, not just for them, but for you.  Praying for your enemies and those you don’t know often helps you appreciate those closest to you even more. 

Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.  Psalm 51:10

As things turn cold, remember to keep your heart warm for others and to keep them in your thoughts, prayers, and actions as we let joy emerge from the depths of the cold Winter months ahead.  As our hope eventually turns toward new life in Spring, may your hope in Christ bring you new life each day as well. 

Yours in Christ,
Clark

Hold On

I enjoy history.  Whether it is the genealogy of my family, the development of the Americas, or the life and times of Abraham Lincoln, I think there is something to be learned from most good and bad aspects of history in this world.  The older people get, the more they tend to long for things of the past.  I appreciate nostalgia and reminiscing about the ‘good old days’, whether they be 5, 15, or 30 years ago.  I even enjoy listening to stories of things that happened decades or centuries before I was born.  I also realize that the good old days were not always so good.  There were challenges with using horses for transportation, just as using cars can be a challenge today.  There have been people who did evil things to others since the beginning of time as well.  When we tend to glamorize what was, over what is, we may be trying to alter reality and not just criticizing the current state of things.  The times and technology are always changing, but it can still be fun to play an LP or an 8 track from time to time.  What things from the past do you hold on to, or most miss? 

Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal.  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 6:19-21

The other thing that people tend to hold on to is a variety of things.  We become enthralled and distracted by shiny things in life, and it can take most any form.  Whether it is just simply money, or the worth we attach to things such as houses, cars, clothes, electronics, toys, food and drink, or family heirlooms, it can be anything that we feel has some value in our lives.  It is not all bad, as we need some things to get the job done and do the work of living we need to do.  Everything can be helpful when used properly.  But when that thing turns from just a vehicle to get the job done to an item of pride, or dare I say, worship in our lives, then it has crossed the line.  The accumulation of money and things tends to allow room for greed in one’s life and limits the ability to give and bless others.  Again, it can happen with anything, but the challenge is to realize when you are crossing that line and to put things back in their proper place.  We need to repent and turn our attention to what matters more than stuff, namely people. 

What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ.  Philippians 3:8

The one thing that we should hold on to most is the hope of our faith and commitment to Christ.  When everything else is worn out or broken down, the one thing that endures is our relationship to God and to others in this life, and the influence that has.  Maybe your cell phone will be in a museum someday, but most things in this world do not last too long anymore.  The time, energy and money we invest in others will give a better return than the latest gadget.  Living a minimalist life, like a hermit, may not be the best solution, but putting things in the proper perspective is for everyone’s benefit, now and in the future. 

But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.  Matthew 6:33

Yours in Christ,

Clark

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