Author Archives: Clark

Condemned?

Over the past month, and more recently in the past couple days, likely you have heard the story of the missing University of Iowa student, Mollie Tibbetts.  The 24 year old man, Cristhian Rivera, who was charged with her murder has been the center of scrutiny for the past couple days.  Some things about this incident are known, but several others, such as ‘how’ and ‘why’ are not.  When a young person, like Mollie, is the victim of a horrific incident like this, it leaves many people heartbroken and angry.  I expected it, but am still amazed at how hateful many comments are in most public forums.  There are some cliché ‘prayers for family and friends of the victim’ as well, but didn’t see any concern for the family of the young man who seems to have committed this act, but mostly different variations on how he can burn in hell.  Is there a proper Christian response to a tragedy as horrible as this?

Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord.  Romans 12:19

One friend who heard about this situation asked ‘why does it hit home for me?’  Many answered, because it happened in relatively safe, small town Iowa and it could have been anyone’s daughter, even yours or mine.  If it was close to home and was or could have been someone you know, how much more significant is it in your life?  My daughter is only 3 months old, but I have already thought about what she may face in 5, 10, or 18 years.  I want the best for her, but there are many things which may happen that are beyond my control.  The other thing we don’t often think about is what the family and friends of the young man involved must be dealing with.  I struggle to imagine what is must feel like for your child to be accused of murder.  What would you do in that situation?  Genuine prayers for all involved is not an unreasonable request.

Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.  Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position.  Do not be conceited.  Romans 12:15-16

Many people, Christian or not, seem to rank sins and take an odd ‘at least I’m not as bad as this guy’ pleasure in demonizing this man and his actions.  Maybe in some way this makes their own misdeeds seem more insignificant in comparison.  So, many are quick to cast the first stone when they hear about what happened and they lash out with words of anger.  Truth be told, we all deserve, and have received the death penalty for our sins.  Everyone reading this will one day be gone, and an ultimate judgement will be rendered to each of us.  To many, it doesn’t seem fair that a young person’s life should be over ‘before their time’, but it can serve to remind us of the limited time each of us has. 

The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.  2 Peter 3:9

Honestly, my hope is that this young man comes to a place to know Christ and receives forgiveness for what he has done.  That is not what most people want to hear.  They want justice, now!  A man who killed a young girl entering Heaven is not what most in the world would call justice, but is it not our hope for him? If not, can you find a place in your heart where this could be your hope?  Isn’t repentance and salvation what God would seek for each of us, regardless of where we are in life, even for the ones convicted of every unimaginable act or dying in prison?  Many of the most notable persons in the bible were guilty of murder, among other misdeeds, including Moses, David, and Paul, yet they were still used by God for His ultimate good.  May our prayers be for those who are mourning the loss of a friend and family member, and that something good would come out of these tragic events.  May your words be used to build others up and not just condemn. 

Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.  Romans 8:1

Yours in Christ,

Clark

Far Away

This past week, I got to explore a place I never desired to ever be…the crawl space of my old house.  This little two bedroom place is now a rental house and I have been doing some remodeling in it this past year.  There was recently an issue with one of the water lines, and with my father in law in the house above, I went on an exploratory mission, to find the source of the problem.  I had a whole new appreciation for the term ‘crawl space’ when I was squirming on my belly through 10-20” areas, having to go over and under duct work and even one spot only 8-9″ under a joist, which I wasn’t sure I would make.  Several times the thought of what I would do if I got stuck went through my head, along with what the life of a Vietnam tunnel rat must have been like.  I also rationalized that if I did get stuck without anyone above, I had my phone and could call for help, which didn’t give my wife any consolation when I told her the story.  When you are stuck, or in a tight spot in life, where do you turn for help? 

I lift up my eyes to the mountains— where does my help come from?  My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.  Psalm 121:1-2

I was visiting with a friend a short while after leaving the crawlspace and told him I felt like I was near the gates of Hell.  I had put on long sweats to keep the dust off me, was sweating, and aside from my flashlight, was in total darkness, apart from the rest of the world.  Though I was only a few feet away from where I lived for several years, it seemed a very foreign and inhospitable place.  While I was fairly close to civilization, there have been other times where I felt far away from other people and even God at times.  However, when I am away from other people or my comfort zone, I am usually better able to hear from God.  The inverse seems true also, when I am around people all the time, I have more difficulty spending time with and hearing from God.  What about you?  What times in your life have you felt the furthest from God, and what gave you hope in those times? 

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

So, even though we may be overcome with various challenges and difficulties in life at times, we hold on to a Hope that transcends our circumstances.  Whatever we are dealing with, we can always turn to God for guidance and comfort in times of trouble.  Even when I was squirming through that crawlspace this past week, I could see a little light from the window I entered and knew there was a way out, even if I got stuck a bit, I knew there was someone willing to help me if needed.  When I get burdened with the challenges of life, I can step away and spend time with God at any given moment, because He gave me his Spirit and hope in Christ.  We have that hope, regardless of our circumstances and regardless of death.  Those tight spots in life help us appreciate this even more. 

He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire;  he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand.  Psalm 40:2

Yours in Christ,
Clark

Worked to Death

To some, Work is a four letter word.  Usually, when things follow a predictable routine, and you can plan ahead, work for me is not bad.  This past week, I was working to try to get some house repair projects finished up, and I ran into some unexpected complications that demanded more days to correct than I had expected.  Needless to say, I was not able to meet my deadline and this impacted other work and family things which were planned, then canceled.  When doing work makes more work and productivity suffers, it is not fun, but having a proper perspective and a right mindset can help you persevere through most any obstacle.  What is your attitude toward the work before you today? 

All hard work brings a profit, but mere talk leads only to poverty.  Proverbs 14:23

Honestly, I enjoy my normal full-time job 90 percent of the time.  There are no perfect jobs, but there are usually things you can find to like about most every job, if you look long enough.  As long as you are not putting your or other’s  life and health in danger, you should give yourself a little time to adjust to a new job.  Work ethics develop at a young age, as I remember wanting to help my father on the farm long before I was really much help, and eventually allowed to walk beans.  I encourage all young people who are starting to work to try a variety of jobs if they are able.  One Summer, when in High School, I signed up with a local work-placement organization who would call me when someone needed help with a project for a day or two.  I spent one day moving furniture, one day doing construction on a farm building, and another day riding all around Iowa picking up unused seed corn.  You can learn something from most every job you encounter, even if it is that you never want to do that job again.  Are there any jobs you feel are ‘beneath’ you and you are unwilling to do…Why is that? 

For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: “The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat.”  2 Thessalonians 3:10

At times, we may be critical of people who are panhandling, walking the streets, or not working – by our definition.  I know some people who have a disability, but still hustle and work several odd jobs to provide a meager income.  Not all disabilities are always visible.  I know several others who are fairly able bodied and minded, who are on disability or seek to be, so they don’t have to work at what they have been doing.  We don’t always know the whole story.  I do think it is important to give people an opportunity to show what they are capable of doing and even if they make mistakes, to allow them some room to learn new skills required for a job.  Not everyone is fit for every job, but they should at least be given a chance to succeed or fail, just like others have done for you. 

So I saw that there is nothing better for a person than to enjoy their work, because that is their lot. For who can bring them to see what will happen after them?  Ecclesiastes 3:22

So, what is your attitude toward the work set before you today?  If your job is something you dread each day, you are doing it wrong!  We all have God given gifts and abilities that we can use for something good.  We may not always fully utilize them in every job we do, but we should make the most of every opportunity to do the best we can.  Even if you feel ‘stuck’ in your current place of employment, without much opportunity for advancement or other job prospects, you should still do your best work and focus on the things that you enjoy about it.  There is not ‘perfect’ job and the grass often seems greener on the other side till you get there are realize it is not.  So, learn to do your job as best you can, at least until an opportunity for something that may be a better fit comes along.  Remember, you are not just working for a boss, you are working for The Boss from now to the day you die, so get used to it and enjoy the work set before you!

Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters.  Colossians 3:23

Yours in Christ,

Clark

Combo

What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them?   Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food.   If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it?   In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.  James 2:14-17

If someone were to just look at you, could they tell you are a Christian?  Likely not, unless they heard you pray or saw you walk into a church, then they might make a connection.  Even then, how do they know for sure?  When someone spends more time with you, would it be easier to tell, or would they be more confused.  If someone were to review all of my last 24 hours, they may get mixed signals, as I did some things that I would gladly share and other things I did, said, or even thought that I am not so proud of.  I don’t typically do things which would warrant my arrest, but not everything is above reproach either.  So, if it was up to my works alone to evidence my faith, I wouldn’t make the cut.  So, what does it take?

Have you ever known people of another faith or even atheists who are good people?  They are friendly and at times go out of their way to help others.  It may even elicit the question, ‘why do you so nice’ or ‘what is your motivation’?  I’m sure if you looked closely at their life, like you, they would fall short of doing everything perfectly as well.  If someone is a Muslim, Chritian, Jewish, or of most any other faith, they have a set of standards or rules by which they strive to abide.  Even ask an atheist and I’m sure you can agree on some things that are right and wrong, by which they live.  But just as faith without works is dead, works without faith is dead as well.  You need both. 

Our deeds are evidence of our faith.  We need both, or it is empty.  If we say we have faith and don’t follow through with love for others, our faith is false.  If we just do good things and think that will qualify us for heaven without a trust in Christ, we are fooling ourselves.  My faith compels me to good works, and is evidence of my faith, even though my works do not justify me.  My hope is in Christ, not in what I can do for others, but in what He has done for us all.

Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy,  for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls.  1 Peter 1:8-9

Yours in Christ,

Clark

The Ride of Your Life

Whether or not you ride a bicycle, if you live in Iowa, you have likely experienced RAGBRAI at some point.  When 10-15,000 bikes roll through a town, or along the countryside, it’s hard not to notice the largest bike tour in the world.  It’s not a race, though some cyclists take off at the crack of dawn and finish the 50-70 mile ride before many have started.  When you get this many riders participating in the same event, you get a mix of reasons people ride.  Some do it, just to prove that they can complete the physical challenge of a 7 day bike ride, some do it to eat, some do it to drink, some do it to spend time with or away from friends and family, and some do it for other reasons.   But the short term goals are usually the same, get from this town to that town each day.  I grew up in Iowa, but each time I ride through a small town, even one that I have been in 100 times before, you see it in a new way.  Another motivation for me is the social aspect of a short conversation with another rider, or a local resident or food vendor along the way.  It is amazing how much you can share of find out about someone in a few minutes, especially if you may never likely see them again.  What would you ask someone if you only had a couple minutes with them?

The Lord is my light and my salvation— whom shall I fear?  The Lord is the stronghold of my life— of whom shall I be afraid?  Psalm 27:1

The first day of the first year I did the week-long ride (2004), there were a couple of accidents that happened in the same county where I was born.  One was a participant in the group I was riding with who suffered a severe head injury, while another unrelated rider, with a name similar to mine, was killed.  It was a bit of a wake-up call to many of us and made you think – ‘that could easily have happened to me.’  So this week long bike ride started to show many metaphors for life, and death.  Even just trying to get up a long, steep hill, makes you realize the limits of what you can do, and realize there is not always shame in getting off to push your bike, when you have to.  There are times on the ride where you need to accept help from others if you are broke down in the middle of nowhere.  Do you know your limits well?

Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him.   James 1:12

Not everyone is a biker, but there are all kinds of people who ride bikes, with all kinds of abilities.  I grew up on the farm learning to ride a bike down the lane, and eventually all around the farm and countryside.  I was mountain biking before I knew what that was.  So, the idea of riding 10, 50 or 100 miles was a little out there when the longest ride I did as a kid was probably 2-4 miles at one time.  Each year on one day of Ragbrai, they offer an extra loop to get your daily total over 100 miles.  The first year I did this, I was a little skeptical of my abilities, as 70 miles could be a rough day.  But I had been riding with a German fellow for a while and we both pushed through it, somewhat to my surprise, but the company and encouragement probably made it easier.  What challenges in life have seemed impossible for you, with some that you may have accomplished, and some that may still seem out of reach? 

If God puts an idea in your mind, or you feel He is asking you to do something that you can’t see a direct path on how to get there, what do you do?  You can hesitate and wait till the opportunity becomes more clear, you can ask others for advice and/or prayer for helping you understand, or take a step of blind faith even though you don’t know where your foot will land.  None of these is right or wrong for everyone, as we all will make mistakes along the way, but there is something to be learned from each encounter and each trial.  It is our own motivation to do things within our comfort zone, but God often challenges us to extend way beyond this area of comfort to things that seem difficult or impossible.  It is in doing this that our faith grows, regardless of the result.  May you continue to be challenged and blessed as you put your trust in the Lord more and more each day, in the ride of your life.

I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.  2 Timothy 4:7

Yours in Christ,
Clarks

 

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