Author Archives: Clark

Who are You?

If someone asks who you are, what is your reply?  Usually, the simplest way to convey our identity is through our name, so we just say ‘My name is Clark, who are you?’  Often tied to our name, especially our surname, is our family identity.  Especially when we are younger, not only are we often seen with our parents, but when we are often identified with them as well, ‘Oh that is Kevin Arnold’s son, Steve.’  In some Scandinavian traditions, they even took the name of their father, e.g. Leif Erikson was the son of Erik Thorvaldsson.  Though we can legally change our names when we are old enough, we really have no say when it comes to what family we are born into, good or bad.  There are likely times we are proud of our parents and immediate family, and other times we would not like to be associated with them.  So, how do you identify, and what comes to mind when someone asks ‘who are you?’

For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.  Matthew 12:50

Closely tied to who we are is the question, ‘what do you do?’  When someone asks me this, I often reply with what I am currently doing, ‘Oh, I often travel around and also attend 2 year old birthday parties.’  Most of us reply with where we currently or formerly worked.  Especially for men, much of our identity is tied into what we do.  We are often driven to do things and our work provides us an outlet for that.  Our identity is also closely tied to our roles with others in our lives, as a son, a husband, a brother, a father or grandfather.  Who or what in your life gives you the greatest sense of your identity? 

Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God—  children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.  John 1:12-13

How much of who you are comes from your identity as a Christian?  When you became a believer, you were adopted into a new family, with a whole new set of rights and responsibilities, many of which we did not fully realize when we ‘signed up’.  When God grants us rights as His heirs, through Christ, it is not something we have earned by our works, but something given to us through grace.  Many of us may not see ourselves as adopted children, but when we come to faith in Christ, that is what we are, part of a large and diverse family with the same Father.  This has become more significant to me recently, because in the coming weeks, we are planning to adopt two young boys who have been living with us for the past 2.5 years.  For better or worse, they will now be part of a new family, and will be given new names. 

So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.  There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.  Galatians 3:26-28

So, whether your identity comes from your family, your work, your community, your faith, or maybe a little of each, continue to examine how that influences your sense of self and how you view others.  One of most humbling and exciting things I realized when I became a believer, was that Jesus leveled the playing field for those that enter into His family.  Regardless of your family of origin, your background, and all the good or bad things you have done, He gives the opportunity for anyone to have a new life with Him.  When we do this, we still do not have all our questions answered or fully know how our lives will go, but we have faith that our new Father will be for us as we surrender our lives and our identity to Him, and we are given a new name. 

Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who is victorious, I will give some of the hidden manna. I will also give that person a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to the one who receives it.  Revelation 2:17

Yours in Christ,
Clark

 

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Have you ever had a perfect day?  Maybe some days things seem to go your way and you don’t run into any major difficulties, but maybe no day is perfect.  Every day is usually a mixed bag of things that go smoothly, some things that don’t go so well, and some surprises that knock you out for a while.  Have you ever been around someone who complains, no matter what happens?  You may know others who never seem to get upset or flustered, despite their circumstances.  Why the difference…are they born that way, have different expectations, or just have different outlooks on life?  What about you?  Does what happens to you from one minute to the next change your attitude or even your view of God’s love for you? 

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.  James 1:2-3

There is a common karmic misconception that when we are ‘good’, then our lives will be good, and if we are ‘bad’, then we will get what we deserve, from whoever determines these things.  To some degree this is true in that if you keep speeding, stealing, or breaking other laws of the land, you will eventually get a ticket or will reside in jail.  If you are rude to everyone you encounter, you will most likely get back similar treatment from others, and if you are kind toward everyone, others will be kind in return, and some will take advantage of you.  The longer you live, the more you realize that bad things do happen to generally ‘good’ people, and people who do bad things, sometimes get away with it, for now.  I’ve known children that have had difficult lives and died early, not because of anything they did.  So, there seem to be no concrete rules to dictate whether we will have a good, bad or ugly life, because anything is possible in a fallen world.  Some Christians even teach that if your faith is strong enough, then only good things will come your way, which is essentially a works based faith.  What do you believe? 

But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,  that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.  Matthew 5:44-45

The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it.  Psalm 24:1

Opposite to what many movies and myths would have you believe, there are no inherently evil places.  As long as there are evil people, evil things will be done in every corner of the earth, regardless of the outward appearance.  Yet, as long as there is hope in Christ, redemption and good are possible in any situation also.  He has redeemed us back to himself, and is redeeming this world back to Him as well.  What that will ultimately look like, we don’t fully know, though he gives us some glimpses in Revelation.  So, let us not grow weary in doing what is right with each opportunity through the day, for by doing so, we expand a small part of God’s Kingdom here in this world.  Be generous in love and forgiveness toward others, just as God has been with you.  Regardless of whether each moment is good, bad, or ugly, we live knowing that in the end, good triumphs over evil!  

Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.  Galatians 6:9

Yours in Christ,
Clark

Close Call

I love to watch a ball game that comes down the last play of the game!  The interest and excitement level is so much better when a game can go either way and it comes down to one play instead of a boring blowout.  If you are ever bored, you can also find lots of videos of accidents and near misses from the road or fails in the backyard.  Accidents are never good, but if they remind us to be a bit more cautious and value life more, then they can help.  After having a child born 2 weeks ago, I have already found that I take a few less risks while driving by myself and especially with family members along for the ride.  The line between life and death can be fairly thin at times.  Sometimes things that frighten us into realizing what could have been is a good thing, if it moves us to action, or to make positive changes.  What was the last close call you had, and did it cause you to change anything in your life? 

My son, do not forget my teaching, but keep my commands in your heart, for they will prolong your life many years and bring you peace and prosperity.  Proverbs 3:1-2

We probably come close to big and small disasters each day, but may not even realize it.  Just yesterday, after plugging my phone in overnight, it was dead in the morning and would not charge after trying 5 times through the day.  I gave it up for gone, but tried a couple more times and eventually, to my relief, got it charging – small disaster averted, but eventually my phone will be done.  A week ago I was about 2 seconds from having my fingers broken from being caught and twisted in an electric auger.  I recall my mom telling me a story where she nearly wrecked in a car and sat and trembled for 30 minutes from the adrenaline (all before I was born).  I’ve had a few close calls over the years as well.  It does not always turn out so well, as the accident or medical report can easily be bad news.  My 16 year old brother was killed by a drunk driver when he was a passenger in a car just 2 blocks from our house.  All these things make us look at our own mortality, and maybe even help us re-prioritize how we are spending our lives, right now.  What type of wake-up call would it take for you to change what you are doing?

And do this, understanding the present time: The hour has already come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed.  Romans 13:11

Maybe the older we get, we better realize that our lives are moving pretty fast.  I remember going back to where I grew up and sitting with my dad in the barber shop as he asked about people he had not seen for decades, and hearing that many of them had passed away.  We take it for granted that friends and family will be with us indefinitely, but as we find out, this is not the case.  Opportunities come and go and those we know and love pass away as well.  Eventually, those we leave behind will be reading about us.  How do you want to be remembered?  One eye opening exercise is to sit down and write your own obituary.  Try it!  You can share it or tear it up if you like, but what verse or songs would you want others to sing after you pass from this world? 

Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.  James 4:14

How about when it comes to your faith, is that a close call?  Can you imagine saying, wow, I just made it to Heaven by the skin of my teeth!  If your perception of what it takes is a works-based, pop-culture, earn your way to heaven where one ‘good deed’ puts you over the top kind of deal, then maybe it would be a close call.  If you are trusting in the forgiveness and shed blood of what Christ has already done for you, then it shouldn’t even be a question, no instant replay needed!  Questioning your salvation should hopefully lead you to a closer examination of your life and your faith and eventually lead you to the truth.  It is that truth, found in Christ, that makes us free. 

Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.  John 14:6

Yours in Christ,
Clark

Deal With It!

Most of us don’t give a second thought to what happens to things after we take out the garbage or flush the toilet in our homes.  The past couple months, I have learned more about what goes down the sewer line than I would care to deal with.  I’ve learned it is 80’ from one rental house to the sewer and seen things come back up out of a basement toilet that should not have been flushed.  I’ve dealt with a couple different plumbers, one who treated some symptoms and made things better for a week, and another who dealt with the problem causing some of the other issues.  If you grew up on a farm, there were a few ways you could deal with manure and the stink it brought.  Have you ever cleaned up a barn or animal shed with a pitch fork?  One early memory I have is sitting with my dad on the tractor as we scooped up the cattle yard and filled a manure spreader.  It’s not pretty, but you had to do something about it.  How do you deal with the manure that stinks up your life? 

As part of your equipment have something to dig with, and when you relieve yourself, dig a hole and cover up your excrement.  Deuteronomy 23:13

If you ever walk your dog around town or at the dog park, it is customary, and polite, to bring a doggie bag, so you can scoop up the mess your dog makes instead of leaving it around for others to step in.  Hopefully, you are responsible for your own messes, but what about when it comes to cleaning up other people’s messes?  If you are a parent you have likely changed a fair amount of dirty diapers, and done other things for your children that you would be hesitant to ask anyone else to do.  We often go above and beyond the call of duty for the health and well-being of those we love and care about.  Do you think others, or even God, would do the same for you?

All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags;  we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away.  Isaiah 64:6

One argument I often heard from people, even if they are born again, about why they didn’t want to attend a church, is that they first had to get their life ‘cleaned up’ before they would be acceptable to others in the church, or to God.  They were worried that their past mistakes, or how they looked or acted now, would not allow them to fit in with other ‘Christians’.  In a way, they are right.  Most of us can put on a fairly good show for a couple hours and appear ‘put together’ to others, but none of us can appear perfect before God, based on our own good deeds.  All we have to offer is our sin and the mess that is our lives.  All of our own good works will never be ‘good enough’ to be acceptable to Him, but only through the righteousness that was given for us, in Christ.  We need His help.

But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.  Romans 5:8

Unless we deal with our sin as God asks us to, we are not really addressing it.  We are just moving it around, hiding it, trying to make it not look so bad, and basically trying to manage it.  When we keep shoving things into the hall closet, where we hide stuff we don’t want seen, eventually it will get crowded and come falling back on us.  Confess your sins and bring them out before God, and others you can trust.  Sure it will smell for a bit, but until you deal with things that make your life stink, it won’t get any better. When God deals with the mess in our lives, I wonder how he sees us?  When we are born again and the Holy Spirit resides in us, we are always in the process of being sanctified, though we will never become clean or ‘perfect’ in this life.  Take comfort in knowing that He is always willing to help us clean up the messes in our lives when we confess our sins and deal with it. 

Yours in Christ,
Clark

 

Born Again

Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.  James 1:17

When have you felt the most alive?  Maybe you can still remember a moment that is frozen in time and feels like it was just yesterday.  Many of us remember moments around when we graduate, are born again, get married, have a child, celebrate with friends, or experience the death of a loved one.  Some of these things are planned, and some catch us by surprise.  The moments we remember that are most meaningful to us are usually tied to a strong emotion such as extreme joy, fear, sadness, or even peace.  How do these moments shape your life?

Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.  James 4:14

One big day for us we may not remember is the day we were born.  Just 5 days ago, I had the opportunity to welcome a new person into the world, as my wife gave birth to our daughter.  While she was not new to us, as we had talked to her and prayed for her several months prior, she is now a much greater responsibility and joy to interact with each day.  Holding her for the first time in my hands brought up thoughts and emotions that I had never experienced before.  A new life is definitely a life changer.  It also made me jump down the road 5, 20, or 40 years to what the future might hold for this little girl, as I asked God to look after her and bless her in ways that I would not be able to do.  I asked Him to use me in whatever way would bring about His will for her.  It humbles me to think of what lies ahead, all expectations aside.  This was a moment for me. 

He says, “Be still, and know that I am God;  I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.”  Psalm 46:10

People can spend their whole lives chasing experiences, trying to make it from one thrill to the next to fill the emptiness in between, and in doing so miss much of the full experience of life that God offers us.    My greatest thrill during my failed attempts to surf were not in catching a big wave, but just in lying on the board and taking in the world all around me as I moved with the waves.  A term used fairly loosely today is the word ‘mindfulness’, which means an awareness of something, or oneself, and is often tied to practices like meditation.  A similar, but different, take on this is a focus not on oneself, but others, and notably on God, which Brother Lawrence outlines in ‘The Practice of the Presence of God’.  You can experience God’s presence with you not just in the peaks of life, but in the valleys and day-to-day routines as well.  Can a life have significance without acknowledgement or interaction with God?  Have you visited with God today? 

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

While it is good to celebrate unique experiences and milestones in life, we also realize that life is more than just these things.  One feeling that most fills my heart during these times is gratitude – an appreciation of what God has done for me, and others, in any given moment.  One speaker termed this ‘appreciation love’.  When we regularly, and sincerely, give thanks to God for all things in life, we live life with a greater awareness for what He has done and is actively doing in our lives and the world around us.  An attitude of gratitude helps us be more aware of opportunities to share with others, the love that God has shown to us. 

Yours in Christ,

Clark

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