Author Archives: 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

Quiet

With all that you have on your ‘to do’ list today, how do you expect to get it all done?  Maybe you never get everything done that you want, but just take care of the important things, or more likely the pressing things that are near or past due.  How often do you take a few minutes to rest from your work, both physically and mentally, to listen to what God is saying to you?  If you are anything like me, it is not often enough.  Like most people, our default is to just keep pressing forward to get as much done as we can with the occasional distraction of something new we need to add to the list.  Taking 5 to 50 minutes to rest and refocus is not often on that list. 

But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.  Luke 5:16

Last week, as I as traveling between appointments, I had a small break in my afternoon that I took to park at the head of a trail near a city park.  I had a small snack, then decided to take a few minutes to take a walk.  This was not a new trail to me, but it was cool out with a brisk wind and I didn’t think I would be gone long.  I walked down the trail for about a minute and saw a deer about 50 yards down stopped in  its tracks, just watching me.  I kept walking at a slightly slower, steady pace, just to see how close I could get.  Just about 25 yards away, it took off, and I laughed.  I laughed at how busy my day had been and how little it took to get me to take a deep breath and enjoy the world around me.  I continued on the ¼ mile loop and saw no less than 10 more deer which were gathered in the sunny valley out of the wind, and I had been the intruder which disrupted their party.  This whole time, my appreciation for God’s hand in the little woods around me and for all His creation grew with each step.  I was also able to speak and pray openly with Him in a way that I had not planned 10 minutes earlier.  It was a short, but good break, one that I really needed, but infrequently take. 

So, how often do you make time to take time away from your busy life and mind to listen to God?  I’ve tried to take quiet times to listen, and often find it takes 5-10 minutes just to quiet my mind even after I eliminate all the other distractions.  There are so many things around us to take our attention away from what we need, that we do not even notice most of the time.  For me, I best hear from Him in the  middle of the night, or early morning when I turn my attention away from myself and just try to hear what He is saying.  How about you?  If you haven’t done so lately, go on a walk and visit with Him.  If Jesus made time to talk with his Father, how much more do we need to do the same?

Yours in Christ,

Clark

Our Thanksgiving

In these United States, we have been celebrating Thanksgiving for at least thirty years, from what I recall directly as a child.  Beyond that, we have to trust other historical sources, which give us a good idea of how this celebration has changed over the years since that first gathering of 90 Native Americans and 53 Pilgrims in 1621.  Giving thanks to God is not a new concept, but proclaiming it as a nation is limited to about four places on the world stage, notably the USA and Canada.  The first presidential Thanksgiving Day Proclamation was made by our first president, George Washington in 1789.  It continued through the next couple presidents, and then fell out of favor until Abraham Lincoln, who in the midst of the Civil War in 1863 also set our now current celebration date as the last Thursday in November.  A new presidential proclamation has been issued each year since till now, though the content of each varies somewhat.  If you were to make a proclamation of Thanksgiving, or even a prayer for your family, what would it include? 

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

Growing up, Thanksgiving Day for me was a time to fellowship with extended family and feast together on an overabundance of food.  It was a time of celebration, often initiated by someone giving a prayer of thanksgiving before we filled our plates.  We learned about the pilgrims in school and made projects out of construction paper to take home, but rarely got much deeper than that.  That’s how it is with many traditions, we just do them like this because we always have and seldom ask why.  Now, whenever I read the words of the Washington or Lincoln Thanksgiving proclamations, it humbles me.  Phrases such as ‘to be devoted by the people of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being who is the beneficent author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be’ as well as ‘And also that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations, and beseech Him to pardon our national and other trangressions’ leave little doubt as to the message.  Even the process of giving thanks (even a simple ‘thank you’) tends to diminish pride and promotes humility, which is something, God knows, we all need.

And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.  Colossians 3:17

As humans, we have a tradition of taking things for granted.  We quickly forget the sacrifice and all that it took to gain the freedoms and rights we claim as a nation and as individuals today.  One result of this is our tendency to move from a day of gratitude to a day of gluttony a.k.a. ‘Turkey Day,’ which is immediately followed by a day of greed in which we trample over one another to get a good bargain.  We are encouraged by our society to spend as little time as necessary focusing on humility and instead, to do things that promote selfishness.  So, what can we do to avoid this tendency?  One is to regularly (even daily) count your blessings and give thanks for what you have in this life, even if all is not perfect.  The Israelites often needed these reminders as well and participated in seven major festivals each year.  Another good practice is to serve others and put their needs before ours, which is the ultimate sign of love that Christ illustrated.  This will slow the growth of selfishness as much as anything in our lives.  So whether you put the hours in preparing a feast for your family, or serving food to strangers, take a moment to give thanks and also to share with others why you do so.  They may thank you for it later on.

Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth.  Worship the Lord with gladness; come before him with joyful songs.  Know that the Lord is God.   It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, the sheep of his pasture.  Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise;  give thanks to him and praise his name.  For the Lord is good and his love endures forever; his faithfulness continues through all generations.  Psalm 100

In Gratitude to God,

Clark

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