Author Archives: 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

All Aboard!

Have you ever met anyone who agrees with everything you do?  Maybe you married this person who thinks exactly like you do, but likely not.  Most everyone will disagree with us on some point, from the way we live or spend our money to food preferences, politics, or our faith, the differences can be large or small.  So, what is your attitude toward such people?  Maybe you consider them just stupid and less educated than yourself on certain things, in which case you may share your views to help them understand.  Would you ever consider listening to another viewpoint, especially if from someone you respect?  Have you ever changed your views on certain issues? 

Deliver me from my enemies, O God; be my fortress against those who are attacking me.   Deliver me from evildoers and save me from those who are after my blood.  Psalm 59:1-2

I worked with an organization several years ago that was going through some major changes and restructuring.  They also developed an action plan and a list of principles that you had to agree with and then sign a paper stating such, meaning you were getting ‘on the bus’ with everyone.  If you didn’t agree, you got left behind, and some people were actually fired as a result.  But then, who wants to take a trip with others when they are headed somewhere you would rather not go?  Are you just along for the ride?  Do you know where you are headed?

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’   But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.  Matthew 5:43-44

Most of us like to learn new things and consider this a part of growing and maturing, but there are likely certain principles we won’t change our minds about, especially as we get older.  I admit that changing to a new program or way we do things at work, or home, gets more frustrating the longer I have been used to doing things ‘the old way’, but realize that many things are constantly changing, and I need to as well to be relevant in my work.  How about in our faith?  How have you grown and matured in your faith over the years?  Would you disagree with yourself on certain things if you had a discussion with you from 15 years ago?  Know that God is constantly at work on us, not willing to leave us where we are, but always bringing us to a better knowledge of Him and His ways.  Growing is never an easy thing.

Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.  Romans 12:2

So, when you get into a heated debate with someone over a little, or even big issue, don’t leave them mad at you, but, if possible do it with kindness.  Be willing to find some things you can agree on with others, so at least you can live peaceably, even if you still disagree on what you consider a big issue.  Allow God to continually conform you to His likeness, which may mean giving up some things, and taking on new priorities from time to time.  Look to Him for the things you should value, and be quick to forgive others, as He was with you. 

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

By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.  John 13:35

Courage in Christ,
Clark

How Great Thou Art

Over the past ten years or so, I have come to really appreciate the unique work produced by a young artist named Andrew Clemens, who grew up in Iowa in the late 1800’s and produced some amazing things that have not been matched since.  He became deaf at age 13 and taught himself how to create works of art in glass bottles using tiny grains of sand, all put together upside down.  The originality, patience, and dedication it took to learn this and then to complete each piece is what impresses me the most.  Don’t get me wrong, I also enjoy works by more traditional artists like Chagall, Vermeer, Russell, Rothko, Dingilian, etc, but really appreciate those who can create remarkable things from almost nothing.  What style of art catches your eye?

The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.   Day after day they pour forth speech;  night after night they reveal knowledge.  Psalm 19:1-2

Maybe some types of fine art do not impress you as much as some people.  You may much more appreciate the design of a nicely built house, a vehicle, the layout of a garden, a well written book, or a catchy tune.  You might stand in awe when you look across the horizon just before sunrise and are amazed at the beauty in this world, or when you look up into the night sky you get a glimpse of the splendor and extent of creation.  There is design and beauty throughout this world that testifies to the creator when we stop to listen for a moment.  What most speaks to you? What do you hear?

“But ask the animals, and they will teach you,  or the birds in the sky, and they will tell you;  or speak to the earth, and it will teach you, or let the fish in the sea inform you.   Which of all these does not know  that the hand of the Lord has done this?  Job 12:7-9

So, take a moment today, or any day to appreciate the beauty found throughout your world during the normal, daily routine.  Whether that is the engineering it took to put together the vehicle you are driving, the simple beauty found along the road, or the quality and effort some put into their work each day.  Give thanks to the God who gave each of us these abilities to use as we emulate what He has done in creating order out of chaos and beauty out of nothing.  Take a quick glimpse across the expanse of this earth and acknowledge Him in the wonders of creation, as well as the unique work he does in each of us!

Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.   In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind.  John 1:3-4

Courage in Christ,
Clark

A Mixed Bag

I had a discussion a couple weeks ago with a friend and we talked about what made us think some people were good and others were bad.  If someone were to ask if you are a good person, what would you say?  I would guess 90% of people would say ‘yes’, and if asked why, we would most likely state some of the good things we have done, or compare ourselves to a worst case scenario…e.g. I haven’t killed anyone, or I’m not like Hitler, etc.  Maybe that is why it is so easy for people to gossip and look down on others, because it makes them feel better about themselves.  At least I’m not like him.  However, in reality, none of us are good.  99.9 % of people reading this have lied, cheated, stolen something, lusted, or broken the law in some way this past week.  We are all guilty, however some of our sins are more obvious than others.  What is your greatest flaw?

“Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good–except God alone.  Luke 18:19

Each day we face hundreds of choices and decisions in how we live our lives, treat others, spend our free time, and perform the work we are given.  Some of those choices turn out well, and some should teach us what not to do again.  What lessons did you learn yesterday?  Have you ever put yourself in someone else’s position and wonder, ‘how would I have handled that?’  What if you had been born to a nomadic Muslim family, or been born a prince with great influence, or born to a single parent without family nearby, or any other fathomable scenario.  How would your life be different?  How would your faith be different? 

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.  Philippians 4:8

On any given day we can examine our lives and see a mixed bag of the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.  We will not likely get to the point of perfection in this life, but if we have boundaries and keep to good principles of living, like those found in scripture, our batting average should improve with practice.  Others may even call you a good guy, despite your flaws.  Whether we try or not, we have a tendency to become more like those we spend the most time around and those we admire.  Who is that for you?  The more time you spend in the Word and in prayer, the more we tend to become like the One who saved us.  Even when you are struggling in any given area, take it to Him and surrender more of your life to Him.  He wants to refine you and make you holy, because He is holy.  You are never justified because of your good deeds, but they are definitely evident in your life as you are sanctified and become more like Him.  Look to Jesus today to renew your spirit, refine you, and make each day a good day!

Being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.  Philippians 1:6

Courage in Christ,
Clark

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