Author Archives: Clark

Power Up

Back in the day, when you played video games, you were always on the lookout for a mushroom or other object that increased your power, often multiple times, to help you get through the game.  If you didn’t find them, or got hit too many times, it was Game Over.  What things do you use to get energized each day?  A good night sleep, a good meal, a mug of coffee, a run, a nap, some reading, or just alone time?  Each of us likely has a preferred routine to help us get going in the morning, and stay going throughout the day.  Lately, for a variety of reasons, I have not been sleeping well, feeling more exhausted earlier in the day than I should, etc and it affects all areas of my life.  I need to figure out where I am off, and do something different to help get back to full power.  What can you do different to help you optimize your health, attitude, faith and efficiency through the day? 

I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.  John 15:5

When you rely only on your own strength, it is usually motivated by selfish reasons, to make you look good and seek the admiration of those around you.  I take a close look at my life and ask, what are the things that drive me every day?  One of the biggest is commitments.  I have committed to do my job, and I want to do it well and earn my paycheck.  I want to keep my word and follow through on my commitments to others.  I want to provide a good home for my family.  After I try to follow through on doing all these things, what is left?  Sometimes, we spend more time and energy on things that don’t matter so much in the long run, and short ourselves and others short on the things that truly do matter.  The key is to seeing this in our lives and making changes to do something about it.    

Even when I am old and gray, do not forsake me, my God, till I declare your power to the next generation, your mighty acts to all who are to come.  Psalm 71:18

When things get rough, it may be helpful to admit that we can’t always do it on our own, and seek help from an outside source.  To some, asking for help (from others, from God) may feel like they have given up, or are less of a man because they couldn’t do everything they set out to do.  It is often a reality check, to help re-prioritize one’s life, and to ask if everything I have been doing has bee worth it, or if I should have spent time, energy, money, on other things.  Also, when we try to make everything ‘work out’ on our own, we tend to become more self-centered than we already are, pride becomes more central, and before we become burnt out on life, we refuse help from most who care about us, even God.  Our love for God is most easily reflected in how we love others, either we are usually doing both well, or not so well. 

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

So, if you are trusting in your own strength to get everything done, it is a sure recipe for crash and burn, at some point.  When you are connected to God, it energizes your relationships with others as well.  Take a few minutes to assess where you are on that spectrum and where God is asking you to trust Him more with your life.  Hand over a few things to Him, and eventually you may trust Him with everything in your life.  You will have more power that comes from a source much greater than your own!

Yours in Christ,
Clark

More or Less

 I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.  I can do all this through him who gives me strength.  Philippians 4:12-13

If you won the lottery or were given 5 million dollars, what would you do differently?  How about if you ended up with an extra $5,000, what difference would that make in your life?  How about if you have an extra $50 in your pocket now, what do you do with that?  When I was a kid and before I worked much, I thought $50 was a lot of money, then $500 was a lot, then $5,000, etc.  There was always a bigger amount I could earn or save or strive for, and still is.  There are people ½ my age that have a net worth 10x or 100x what I have accumulated in my life, but is that the measure we should be using.  How about how much money or time or energy we have given to worthy causes and to help others, do people ever keep track of those things?  I had a conversation in a small group this past week about we often find that those who have the least money are often the most generous with it toward others – part of the reason they don’t often have much.  When all is said and done, would you rather be know for how much you have or how much you have done with what you have?

I find that people are often sensitive and very guarded when they talk about money, how much they have, or where they spend it, etc.  They may feel judged, especially by those close to them about their ability to earn it, manage it, save it, give it, care about it or not.  Who do you trust for advice when it comes to what you have?  I have always liked what Paul had to say in these verses.  It is more a question of your attitude and plan with what you have than the amount of what you have.  Have you ever had to ask for help, either financially or physically or any other way?  Most of us want to be self-sufficient and never want or need to seek help if we don’t have to.  When you do, it humbles you.  Should this not be our same attitude toward God?  How often do we go to him in need?  The more we do, the more we trust Him to be faithful to us.  If we never ask for help, we will never appreciate what we have, and grow in our ability to manage it.  When we manage the assets and well-being of others, we grow much more in our responsibility, as others trust us.  Whether we feel we are in need or have plenty, our attitudes towards what we have should be the same, just as Paul stated. 

If you are faithful in little things, you will be faithful in large ones. But if you are dishonest in little things, you won’t be honest with greater responsibilities.  Luke 16:10

Do you have a retirement plan?  What is your dream for what you will do when you are ‘sufficient’ enough to not have to work, or not able to work anymore?  I made a comment a while back about having more to do in a day that I am capable of doing, and am not lacking for things to put on my ‘to do’ list.  That may change as I age, but I find there is always something to do, what that is or whether I should or not is the bigger question.  So, whether now or in retirement, we each need to ask whether the things we are doing are worthwhile for us or anyone else, in the long term.  We can spend our whole lives trying to accumulate money or things and it doesn’t take long for all that to disappear, whether we have anything to do with it or not.  I’m sure you have heard stories of squandered wealth from a variety of reasons.  How much would you have to trust someone to put them in charge of everything you have?  Each of us need to learn to be faithful with what little we have if we are to be trusted with anything more.  Honestly, none of it is ours anyway, even what we think we have one day will be gone.  So, put your trust in things that will last, and use what is given to you to make a difference in this life and the next. 

 

Yours in Christ,
Clark

Life and Death and other things

You have made my days a mere handbreadth;  the span of my years is as nothing before you.  Everyone is but a breath, even those who seem secure.  Psalm 39:5

I was excited this morning after I crept out of bed, trying not to wake anyone, as I grabbed some clothes I needed for a run, and then checked my email.  I saw Brandon’s post about running, and I chuckled because I have not gone for a run in weeks, and the day I finally decide to make it happen, I see a shoe.  Its not that I don’t like to run, that I haven’t gone lately, but it’s that a dozen other things seem to take priority over this activity most days.  And with forecast temps in the 30’s this coming week, it seems the warm weather will be waning soon, and I should get out and enjoy the warm, humid air.  I like running because it is good for me, not just physically, but more so mentally.  It helps me think more clearly and focus on what’s most important.  It is a diversion from my normal routine that helps me look at what is going on in my life a little better.  What activities help you get a better perspective on life? 

As I did a couple loops, I paused briefly at a cemetery and thought of a retired co-worker, whose  husband is buried there, as well as others I’ve known who have passed away and the need to make our time here count, because it slips away faster than we would like.  Often, when we consider death, whether that of others or our own, we tend to embrace life a little more fervently.  If you have ever heard anyone talk who had a near death experience, you realize they greatly appreciate each new day they are given.  How much do we appreciate and give thanks for this new day?  In Christ’s time, death was much more evident in society than it is here.  Generally, we try to hide death from everyone and we try to make the dead look as alive as possible the few days before they are buried.  Up till this past century, which was the bloodiest on record, people tended to spend more time with those who lost a loved one.  In Christ’s time, there were dead bodies hanging on crosses as a sign to others to ‘stay in line’.  I’m not advocating for more morbidity or dead bodies in the public arena, but more of an awareness that death is just as much a part of each day as life is.  It seems to help us appreciate this life we are given a little more. 

This too is a grievous evil:  As everyone comes, so they depart,  and what do they gain, since they toil for the wind?  Ecclesastes 5:16

The one commodity that is limited for us all, is time.  If I had 48 hours in a day, I still would still probably not be able to get everything done that I need to and would like.  Work, Home, exercise, rest, projects, social time, reading, Time with God?  Where does all that fit in?  Up till the past few years, I was usually able to juggle most everything, not always perfectly, but in an acceptable manner, sometimes to my own detriment.  As I take on more responsibility with extra kids and commitments, it seems to be getting more difficult.  It’s all about prioritizing, you do what you feel is most important in any given moment or day.   Just do a time study – an inventory of where you actually spend your time for a few days, and you might be surprised what you find.  Our natural tendency is to do what is easiest, and if you have ‘free’ time, what do you usually do?  My natural tendency is to turn to the internet or television.  These and other things are ok in moderation, but often can gobble up time in a hurry if we let them.  Where do you waste the most time? 

So, how do you choose what you will be doing today?  Likely some things seem like you have to get them done, like work, paying bills, raking the leaves, etc, or there will be consequences.  Then there may be things you choose to do, because you enjoy doing it…hobbies, helping others, visiting friends, volunteering, reading, eating, watching a show, etc.  These may fill in most of the rest of the things in our day if we let it.  Everything we do has consequences.  If we choose to do something we like, we give up time serving in other areas, or seeking to grow and do new things, which are more uncomfortable.  Are you seeking new areas in which to learn and grow on a regular basis?  It is easy to say, ‘I don’t know much about that’ and either leave it to someone else, or avoid it all together.  This is fine in some areas, like constructions, where you don’t want to mess up multiple times before getting it right, but not all the time.  It is important to keep a curious mind and seek to grow on a regular basis.  Do you think there is room to grow in your faith?  What areas is God asking you to try new things and to grow in trust, love, or forgiveness?  Honestly, as much as I have an opportunity to practice these things, there is always room for me to grow.  May you be blessed in the attempt.

Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter:  Fear God and keep his commandments,  for this is the duty of all mankind.   For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil.  Ecclesiastes 12:13-14

Yours in Christ,
Clark

Welcome In

 

What was the best you were ever treated?  Maybe you get special treatment by your family once a year when it is your birthday, or perhaps you stayed at a nice resort where it is everyone’s job to make sure you are well fed and happy.  Have you ever been treated well by a stranger, who wasn’t paid to do so?  Maybe someone paid for your meal, let you go ahead of them in line, or just had a kind word for you, and what was your response?  Experiences that are even more appreciated may be when someone welcomes you or treats you well, and you did nothing to deserve it.  What is our response when we are treated well…is it gratitude, to think we deserved it, or do we try to repay the kindness, or pay it forward to others? 

Do to others as you would have them do to you.  Luke 6:31

How often do you open up your home to friends and relatives, or even strangers?  Just yesterday, I was talking to an Amish man who had hosted a wedding earlier in the week.  He put up a temporary shelter and had hundreds of people, from several states visiting, and many staying on his farm.  I don’t know about you or your family, but when I have someone visiting, or even staying, I feel obligated to get the place more cleaned up and in order, which takes a bit of work.  Why is it that we don’t host more people in our homes?  I am challenged by that as well. 

Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter— when you see the naked, to clothe them, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?  Isaiah 58:7

One of the most interesting concepts I have come across this past decade is a website called couchsurfing.  It is basically a site to connect people who may be traveling through an area with someone willing to host them, or in the least provide a bed or sofa, without charge.  My first experience 6 years ago, was when I was staying with friends in San Diego and was looking to visit the central coast, where my dad once lived.  A host accepted my request and I traveled 5 hours to stay at a place I had never been with someone I had never met.  The next day, after providing me a couch to crash on, they fed me, and took me around to visit several local places, and basically treated me like family, without asking for a dime.  They were not Christians, but I kept thinking, isn’t this how we as Christians should treat everyone else?  I’ve probably hosted around 15-20 different people at my own house since then, even though rural Southern Iowa is not a hotbed of tourism.  It often provides me an opportunity to share my faith with most who have stayed with me as well. 

Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.   Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling.   Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.  1 Peter 4:8-10

Who was the most welcoming toward Jesus?  Those with a questionable reputation… those who were extremely grateful toward him… those who really couldn’t afford to treat Him well?  Those with the means or space to do so often are the least welcoming toward strangers, or even family.  Do you feel Jesus has been hospitable toward you in welcoming you into His Kingdom?  When we are treated well, or better than we deserve, shouldn’t that be our same attitude toward others?  Or do we become self-serving and entitled into believing everyone needs to treat us well.  They are polar opposites, but I’ve seen both results in others, and myself.  The more gratitude we have in our own hearts for the things that we have in life, often the more willing we are to share those things with others as well, even if they are undeserved.  May you come to experience this more and more in your life as you show hospitality toward others!

Yours in Christ,
Clark

Pathways

Do you have a pretty good idea what all you are going to do today?  Even if it doesn’t go exactly as planned, we usually have a fairly good idea of how the day will go.  In reality, we have seemingly limitless choices of things we could do or where we could go each day.  If you got in a vehicle and drove for five hours, there are thousands of different destinations, but more often than not, you end up at the same one, your own driveway.  One hundred years ago, most children ended up working the same job their parents did, and now many parents tell their kids ‘you can do anything you want’, which is not entirely true, but at least gives them more options.  There are many kids that want to be an astronaut when they are young, but very few who will qualify, and even fewer who will make the cut (most recently 14/18,000).  Of the thousands of different paths we can take each day, we usually take the most familiar one.  So, is this good or bad? 

Show me your ways, Lord, teach me your paths.  Psalm 25:4

Most of us are creatures of habit.  We have mostly the same morning routine, eat the same thing for breakfast most days, have the same drinks each day, and mostly go through the day in the same manner we always do, with a few variations.  Doing the same thing is comfortable, and predictable, and most of us like to know what to expect.  Doing something different puts us outside our zone of comfort and leads to more uncertainty.  Then again, with greater risk comes greater reward, or great failure.  So, developing good habits is key to walking on a good path.  Along those same lines, bad habits can derail us from a good path as well.  We all know of stories of seemingly good people, pastors, and notable celebrities who seemed to have the ‘perfect life’ and had it all come crashing down because of some poor choices.  We may know the good path, and can show others the way as well, but ultimately, each one of us must make a choice on which path to take. 

Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it.  But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.  Matthew 7:13-14

In an age where we are inundated with hundreds of options and distractions on our phones and the internet, television, radio and other media, we may feel lost in a sea of useless misinformation.  When my life starts getting unbalanced or a bit overwhelming, I try to step back and take a break from needless distractions and go back to a path that has proven to work well.  For me, that is increased prayer and time in the Word.  When you have other noise and distractions coming at you from various sources, it is more difficult to hear from God than when you are alone.  Try to make it a habit to leave some margin in your life so that when you are running between your obligations, you have room for opportunities to listen, or stay a few more minutes and visit with someone who may need it.  May your paths lead to greater joy in living and serving as you walk with the Lord.

Give careful thought to the paths for your feet and be steadfast in all your ways.   Do not turn to the right or the left;  keep your foot from evil.  Proverbs 4:26-27

Yours in Christ,
Clark

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