CQ…Clark Here

Thoughts and opinions. LOTS of opinions.

Archive for the tag “Prayer”

Lessons from the fast.

Our week of fasting was interesting.  I am not naturally inclined toward fasting, it is not something toward which I am drawn.  The fact is, I like food.  I like the smell, the taste, the texture.  There is very little that I do not like about food.  Beth and I have fasted in the past, including two Daniel fasts in conjunction with our church, and the infrequent day of fasting through the years.  So I am somewhat familiar with fasting, at least to some degree, but I do not look forward to the times I go without food.

I think I was looking for some sort of “breakthrough” moments like I experience during our week-long missions trip to the Dominican Republic.  That was not a mountaintop experience, but more of a consistent, gradual healing of my spirit, one that I have needed for some time.

But that was not what I experienced during the fast.  That fact alone was a bit disconcerting, which is my fault for setting up expectations and not just waiting for the week to unfold.

The hunger was a great reminder to pray, and I did.  I prayed a lot through the week, on a variety of topics: family, friends, my wife, myself.  I seriously prayed a lot over the week, and that was very good.  Further, my daily readings in the Bible were also very good, very nourishing, if you will.  I found a real enjoyment in the reading, in the praying, and in the closeness that I felt with God.

And there were several other good things through the week.

For quite a while I was a Facebook junkie.  Keeping up with friends and family was very enjoyable, as was posting my opinions on topics and the give and take  with people who had different opinions or political persuasions.  It was a good opportunity to reconnect with childhood friends as well.  One of which was an acquaintance from high school.  I can’t guarantee this, but I believe he had friended me.  We weren’t really close way back when, but going to a small school we knew each other, and he was ok as far as I was concerned.  I remember him as a good-natured guy, easygoing, rather quick-witted and fun to be around.  However, something changed.  I noticed that on FB he was frequently acerbic, and rather taunting in his posts on my page, both with me as well as with others who posted on my comments.  I tried using humor to tone down his anger and pointed posts, but apparently my efforts were not appreciated.  It culminated in a post I made on a very controversial topic.  I posted what I thought I was simply a throwaway line on a topic that I am very passionate about.  In retrospect, I should have known what a backlash this would generate, but at the time I was caught completely by surprise.  What a firestorm!  A friend of my daughter questioned my Christianity, and would not dialogue.  Others blasted me as well, including my high school acquaintance.  Here’s what he wrote:

“It must be comforting in your black and white world, clark. One victim is obviously too many…you think you know me because we went to high school a long time ago…you don’t. I don’t know anything about you since then either…this is not a jibe, a bait or even sarcastic humor….it is adios. I have better things to do in this short life than read your self-rightous bullshit…good luck….”  (I’m not sure he really meant the “good luck part”)

In and of itself not that big a deal, but combined with his sarcasm and rather mean replies to my friends, it was a bit much.  He then un-friended me.  I attempted dialogue, but he refused.

This type of issue is very difficult for me.  I do my best to get along, and much prefer reconciliation to discord.  And for him to act in this manner was disconcerting to say the least.  It has been very difficult to let go of this, and it has been bothering me to some degree since around mid-January.

This has all been background for me to explain how huge it was that God laid it on my heart to let go of this whole thing during our week of fasting.  I noticed that early in the fast I seemed focused on this incident, and it seemed to be affecting my spiritual life.  I had no peace, just a jangled sense of disturbance, and it seemed to focus on my old acquaintance.  I realized (yeah, I can be a bit of a slow learner sometimes) that I needed to let the incident, as well as my acquaintance, go.  I’m not certain I was able to do so one-hundred percent, but I am much, much closer than I was before the fast.  And boy does that feel good!

Further,  as I had stated in an earlier post on this blogsite, I experienced some fairly intense kidney pain right around day three through day four or five of the fast.  I thought it would dissipate quickly, but it lingered, and prevented sleep for a couple of nights.  I had intended to take no analgesics at all for the duration of the fast, including aspirin, ibuprofen, and so on.  However, with the pain I experienced, not only did I need some pain relief, I loaded up.  I was quite disappointed in myself for that.  Also, I was at a local shop about mid-way through the fast, and they always have a small bowl of Hershey’s kisses for the customers.  I always have one or two, and without thinking, I picked one up, unwrapped it, and popped it in my mouth.  Enjoyed it, too.  It wasn’t until later that I realized I had unthinkingly broken my fast.  And that frustrated me as well.

But as the week went on, I kind of changed my thoughts on this.  I think I’m kind of grateful that I did “fail” in those regards.  I could easily become a bit proud of the fact that I completed the fast, and that I did so to the very smallest detail or requirement that I had set for myself.  Which, of course, would have been completely contrary to the entire intent of the fast itself.  So I wound up being thankful that I had not had the “perfect” fast.

Various other insights were also given to me through the week.  I will describe just a couple here.

As part of his Sunday message on March 4th, Pastor Bob Klecan shared a text he had gotten from a friend, talking about the fast we had just begun.  The text said, “Do you think this week of fasting is causing people to realize that they’re actually not replacing food with a fast but rather that they’re actually replacing food with a feast?”  I found that to be profound, and this thought was echoed through the week with my reading in the Word.  One example is from Phillipians 1: 9-11.  It says, “9 And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, 10 so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, 11 filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God.”

This passage calls to me.  This is exactly what I want my life to look like.  This is exactly what I want to be.

In the end, the week of fasting was not a spiritual rocket taking off.  If anything that “liftoff” was what I gained from our week in the Dominican Republic.  The week of fasting was instead, a booster attached to that rocket.  The fasting did not give me liftoff, but it kept me going.  I am grateful for the lessons learned, and for the spiritual applications I gained.  In fact, as unbelievable as this is to me, it is likely that Beth and I will be much more regular with fasting.  We have discussed making this a quarterly event, with our next one as early as sometime in June.  And for someone who loves food as I do, that’s a miracle in and of itself.

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I am just not used to this (part one).

When we returned from our short-term mission trip to the Dominican Republic, we talked about sharing our experiences at church, First Baptist Church in North East, PA.  I know this is pretty standard fare for people serving in this capacity.  One goes on a mission trip, comes back, and talks about the trip at church.  What isn’t standard is that I was “volunteered” to speak.  I kind of thought we would all speak for a couple of minutes, but was unanimously (minus one) voted down.  It was decided that I would speak for the group.  Lovely.

Our pastor, Bob Klecan, agreed that a presentation would be appropriate, and he figured ten minutes would be a good time for the report.  He scheduled me to speak yesterday, February 19.  I wasn’t too worried about it, I write fairly well, and I belong to Noon-Time Toastmasters in Erie, PA.  So I was comfortably confident I could turn out something coherent and present it in an acceptable fashion.  This isn’t to brag, I’m just saying that the basic skills required were not a huge concern.  I just wanted to honor God with what I did.

Through the week I worked on it, and as of Saturday I had about four minutes, thirty-eight seconds.  Wow!  Expanding this would not be difficult, I was happy to add stuff that I had been afraid would not fit.  Beth made a couple of suggestions which I incorporated, and I got the talk ready to go.  I made a few fine-tuning changes later on Saturday, and even Sunday morning until just before service started.  I prayed about it, Beth prayed about it, and we prayed about it together.  I was confident that I would at least present it ok, and not embarrass myself.  Good enough for me.

I have been fighting a cold for a week or so, but getting better.  I did not think that would be a factor.  However, on Saturday I sneezed for about five minutes straight.  When I was done sneezing, my nose became a faucet and my sinuses were completely clogged.  Beth and I serve on the worship team at church, with Beth being one of the guitarists, and I am one of the singers.  With the unbelievably nasty cold hitting like a blizzard (uh, flood?), I was doubtful I could sing, and was concerned about my ability to talk on Sunday

The cold hit me mid-morning Saturday, just before I started working on the talk.  So, I did what I would expect anyone in that position to do.  I took my laptop, got a cup of coffee, and headed out to our unattached, unheated garage to work on the missions report.  One might ask why in the world I would do that?  Well, the answer is that I had determined to smoke one of the Dominican cigars I brought back while working on the report.  And I’m not permitted to smoke my cigars in the house.  So, I was left with no choice but to work in the cold, cruel wastes of northwestern Pennsylvania, sheltered only by an unheated garage, and with a nasty cold no less!  See how cruel my wife can be?  (Kidding, honey!!)

In any event, I was fairly calm about the whole thing, cold and all.  We went to bed Saturday night, and I prayed (and we prayed) that God would take away the cold for Sunday morning.  Vitamin C, zinc, echinacea tea, NyQuil, and lights out.  Interestingly, Saturday night I wound up doing an all-nighter; I’m at the age where that means I don’t have to get up even once to use the bathroom.

Not just solemn lessons learned.

This has been a very interesting journey.  On this blog  site, I have chronicled my frustrations, my reservations, my anger at going on a short-term missions trip to the Dominican Republic.  And I have posted that much to my surprise and gratitude, it was a fantastic trip.

But in reading my posts about the trip, it might seem like this was just a solemn, pious, boring trip.  And it was anything but that.  I haven’t laughed that hard or that often in a great while, and my wife Beth said the same thing.  Of course, some of the stuff wasn’t funny to me except in retrospect, and I was so cranky about the whole thing that the laughter didn’t start until at least Tuesday or Wednesday, but that’s ok, I’m a bit slow sometimes.

It started on Sunday.  Saturday night when we arrived, we were told some of the rules, with a full orientation to be given on Saturday at 3:00 PM.  One of the things we were told right up front is that the septic systems in the D.R. cannot handle toilet paper, and they have a strict rule about not putting used toilet tissue in the toilet and flushing it.  We had to put it in waste containers beside the toilet.  In fact, our friend Jen told the entire group that if you forget and put the tissue in the toilet, “Don’t flush.  Go fishing.”  Hardy-har.  Real funny.  Especially since I forgot (just once).  Any idea how gross it is to have to retrieve such an item and put it in the waste container?  *Sigh*

At the Sunday meeting, we were introduced to the various areas available for us to volunteer our time during the week.  I had no idea what I was going to do, but at least I would be with one of my teammates from our church.  I was not real comfortable being in that place with a bunch of people I didn’t know, and took comfort in knowing I would be around at least one of the other four from home.

I am not a handyman.  I’m not too bad at home projects big or small, but I don’t enjoy them.  And (speaking in my attitude at the beginning of the week) if I had to go on this stupid trip I’ll be hanged if I do anything that smacks of handy work.  So when they said they had light construction and painting, I was able to rule them out in about a nano second.  Beth, my lovely, supportive, wonderful wife, who I held tighter on that trip than Linus held his security blanket, pipes up in a chirpy, cheerful voice, “I’m gonna paint!”  Say what?  Great, just great.  One down, but I have three to go.  Out of the remaining three, I’m fairly sure I’ll be with someone from home on one of the groups.  Vacation Bible School (VBS) for the kids in the village?  Not likely, before the end of the week, I’ll likely wind up in a Dominican jail, and wouldn’t that be just lovely?  Steph decided that was for her.  Two down, two to go.

Then there’s the prayer team, which went into the villages with the medical, dental, and optical teams (and VBS).  Ok, I pray frequently, but walking around asking strangers to pray wouldn’t likely happen at home, let alone in a place that, as we all know, I was not real thrilled to be at in the first place.  Debbie, John’s wife, decided to go with the prayer team.  Three down.  Now I’m getting nervous.

I asked John what he thought he might do, and he said he was thinking about going with the medical team.  Whew!  That’s what I was thinking, so now I’m a bit relieved.  Wow, I was worried a bit there, God, thanks that John’s going medical with me.  John and I went and sat down, and listened to the presentation by the medical team leader.  After, oh, maybe five minutes, John leans over and says, “I’m gonna go see what the prayer team’s gonna do.”  Are you kidding me??!!?  Real good, God, way to maneuver me into a position of maximum discomfort.  Was that really necessary?  Well, yeah, I guess in retrospect it kind of was.  And I have posted on what God did with it.  I can kind of giggle about it now that I’m on this side of the situation, but I gotta tell you, I was less than happy at the time.

John often wound up riding on the same cattle truck that I did, since the prayer team travelled with the medical team.  So I did have the comfort of a friend nearby, at least for the ride out and back.  But after he left me sitting on the bench, I shoulda heaved him over the side.

…more to come…

Really? Come on, Really?

I remember a number of years ago that I had examined my life, and found many aspects lacking.  Whether due to a sermon, a book I was reading, I’m not sure, but I remember fervently praying, “God, make me like Christ.  Make my life like Christ’s, my thoughts, my attitudes.  Mould me, shape me, make me like Christ.”  In retrospect, perhaps I should have prayed for God to leave me alone.  I’m being facetious, but my main point is that when one prays a prayer like that, God takes you at your word.  I swear the answer I heard to that prayer was a chuckle, and then, “Ok son, hang on.  It’s gonna be a bumpy ride.”

And so it has been.  Clearly I am not even close to that goal, but believe it or not, I am light years closer than I was when I first prayed that prayer.

So I guess this weekend shouldn’t have been a surprise, but wow!  It has been a few weeks since I have had what I call a “decompression weekend.”  I was really looking forward to a relaxing couple days, reading a bit, watching a couple movies, hanging out with friends.  Believe me, that is not what I got.

On Friday, Beth and I were scheduled to meet with another couple for dinner.  However, I had gotten a two shots on Thursday (Hepatitis A and tetanus, specifically, t-dap) for the upcoming Dominican Republic trip.  Friday afternoon, I reacted to the shot(s).  I had a low grade fever and chills so bad that I wouldn’t have been surprised to see an arm or leg get shaken right off my body.  Needless to say, we cancelled the dinner plans (picked them up on Saturday evening).

Saturday morning, I learned that a potential business opportunity had in all likelihood fallen through.  Being a “planner,” I had been playing with all the possibilities in my head, and having a ball.  Seeing that the opportunity might not be there was extremely disappointing.  Actually, it rocked me pretty badly.  Stunned, disappointed, frustrated, sad.  It pretty much affected the whole day (and it did indeed fall through.  Not sure why, but there it is).

Sunday?  Well, I posted on Facebook, a rather mild post regarding a really controversial topic.  It was intended by me as basically a throwaway, just a two liner to blow off a bit of steam about the topic.  But what a firestorm it started.  My Christianity was called into question, my integrity insulted, and I was absolutely pounded from multiple directions.  For any of you familiar with the game Civilization V (I am a self-confessed addict, by the way), I felt like what it must be like to play the game as Gandhi, and find out your civilization is sandwiched between Russia and Germany.  You just know it isn’t going to turn out well.  It got to the point that an aquaintence of mine from high school insulted me and immediately unfriended me.  I’m still puzzled at that one.  I have my suspicions, but whatever.  I was surprised by the vehemence of others’ opinions, and the venom in some of the responses to me.  Because I was surprised, and because I am struggling with other stuff (including the D.R. trip), it really hit hard.  Sleep came fitfully Sunday night, and in total there was precious little actual sleep by the time I needed to get up on Monday morning.

In any event, each day of the weekend was worse than the day before, and continued into Monday at work.  It was one of those days…

Which brings me back to my original point.   I have little doubt this is all due in some cosmic way, at least in part, to the D.R. trip.  I have little doubt that this is all designed to assist in knocking off my rough edges, and to mould me into a more Christ-like man.  But really?  All this does little to dispell the notion of me lying curled up on the ground, battered and beaten.  “How long, Oh, Lord?”  Wow.  This is really difficult, and I have no idea how long it’ll last.  Don’t know how to get past it, don’t know how to let it go.  It’s like a marathon, and I’ve been training for a five mile race.  2 Chron 20.12, “…We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you.”

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