Monday, January 9, 2017


On a blogging and social media hiatus. 

Please feel free to stick around and read a few of the more than 470 posts available that I've written over the past 8+ years (That's nearly half a million words, or about 5 novels worth of reading!).

Simply read and scroll down then click on the "Older Posts" link to continue. Or, use the "Table of Contents," the "Search This Blog" box, or the "Categories/Topics" to the right to explore the posts. You can also enter your email in the "Subscribe" box to be notified when new posts become available.

Update 1/20/17 -- A thought while on hiatus:

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Delight. Fail. Rinse. Repeat. Now!

Many who make resolutions and don’t keep them feel as if they’ve failed for the whole year and can’t try again until the old year once again turns into a New Year.

But why put off what you’ve discerned is a thing that needs addressing?

Could it be, perhaps, you really don’t want to let go of that thing? Maybe you want to play with that bad habit one last time? < Wink, wink. Nudge, nudge.>

Delaying for any reason is avoidance which means failure is likely your fate.

It’s the Holy Spirit in you nudging

As a Christian the reason you’re even considering making resolutions is because the Holy Spirit in you is nudging you. When the Holy Spirit nudges toward needed changes, you can be assured that God will enable you to carry them out.

Let’s examine this methodically with Scripture:

  • Abiding. As a Christian, you live in obedience to God’s word with the Holy Spirit as your Helper: “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you” (John 14:15-17, ESV). See also John 16.
  • Conforming. As you bend your life to godly living, God works in you: “Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Philippians 2:12-13, ESV).
  • Thinking. Your mind is attuned to the things of God: “‘For who has understood the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?’ But we have the mind of Christ” (1 Corinthians 2:16, ESV).
  • Choosing. You have access to godly wisdom which yields good choices: “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him” (James 1:5, ESV).
  • Doing. You are equipped to do what the Holy Spirit prompts: “I can do all things through him who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13, ESV).
  • Walking. The Holy Spirit leads you away from evil and toward holiness: “But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh” (Galatians 5:16, ESV).
When you resist or put off these Holy Spirit nudges you are delaying your own spiritual growth.

Daily resolve is better than annual resolutions

Since change is a process, it won’t be smooth going. But that’s okay. Because, “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases...” (Lamentations 3:22-23, ESV).

Also, “If we confess our sins, [Jesus] is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9, ESV).

And since living out the Christian life is an ongoing endeavor, there is no need to wait until the New Year to “begin” again, and again, and again. Every time you fall down, get up. Now!

Ultimately, there is only one resolution you need to make on a moment-by-moment basis, all year, every year:
“I resolve to, as best I can, love and delight in the Lord my God with all my heart and with all my soul and with all my mind, and love my neighbor as myself, right now” (see Matthew 22:34-40).

And if you fail?

Rinse and repeat. As often as needed. No waiting necessary.

How do you feel about New Year’s resolutions? Do you make them? Keep them? Break them? Love them? Hate them? Did you make any? Share your thoughts and experiences in the comments!

Note: This is a heavily revised and shortened version of “I resolve to be resolute in avoiding New Year’s resolutions” first posted on December 31, 2015. 

Saturday, January 7, 2017

How your personality impacts reading the Bible (American Bible Society)

Reading and interpreting the Bible through our twenty-first-century sensibilities has its challenges.

Serious students of God’s Word will recognize that assessing and applying Scripture faithfully requires at least a cursory grasp of the culture of the original writers. It helps to keep in mind such simple things as that the biblical writers had no indoor plumbing, that transportation involved using either your own or an animal’s feet, that electricity wasn’t even a spark of an idea.

Not to mention the challenge of writing an entire book with no word processor, typewriter, or even a number two pencil!

On top of such details, knowing that a writer of a particular Bible book was Jewish or Gentile, a prophet or an apostle, a doctor or a fisherman can add to our understanding. It gives us context to wrap around metaphors and figures of speech.

But one other piece of knowledge can also make a drastic interpretative difference: your own personality type.

Do you believe your personality style/type influences how you read the Bible? How you see the world? Why or why not? Do you view yourself as an introvert or an extrovert? If you are an extrovert, do you view introverts as being broken? Why or why not? Please share your thoughts in the comments!

Friday, January 6, 2017

Basics of a good group, Part 3 of 3: Outreach

This three-part series explores some basics on how to build, maintain, and grow good small groups in your church, fostering healthy biblical engagement together.

There’s nothing like a well-functioning small group.

After a tough week, it’s nice to be able to go where everybody knows your name. Where they're always glad you came. Where everyone’s troubles are the same. Or so promises the theme from the old TV show, “Cheers.”

But what about your neighbors or friends who are unchurched? Do you invite them to your group?

Typically, when it comes to “bringing in the sheaves” we immediately offer invitations to strangers to visit our church. In my experience, resistance to such invitations is high. In many cases, it was a bad church experience in the past that is keeping people out of church now.

Church, for many, carries a negative connotation. The experience is viewed as ritual, formal, impersonal, and even a little weird.

Yet, when invited into a Cheers-like scenario, even sans alcohol, those outside the church are much more interested in trying it out. Mostly because a small group in their neighbor’s house doesn’t look like church!

Yet, welcoming newcomers does have its challenges.

The good group is cozy, safe, and maybe even a little predictable. Rocking the boat by adding newcomers can be resisted by the group, but it’s a resistance that should be overcome. Why? Because the group isn’t just about you or your buddies! Or any one person. Well, other than Jesus.

Exactly because small groups are cozy, safe, and predictable, they are the perfect, non-threatening place to invite your skeptical friends and neighbors for these four reasons:

1. It’s just people. Instead of an institution, the small group is basically just some folks hanging out. While some may have issues with “The Church,” fewer have a problem with getting to know their neighbors and their neighbor’s friends, enjoying some snacks, and engaging in casual discussion of the Bible or issues of faith.

2. More than a book. Engaging with people of the Word who view the Bible as God’s living Truth, makes the Bible accessible to those who view it with suspicion. Instead of being confronted with a harsh set of esoteric rules, the warmth of the Word is released through the sharing of those who seek to live it authentically.

3. Hey, this is nice! Being welcomed into an intimate, caring, loving group of people translates the Gospel into reality for those encountering it. Instead of being “preached at” in a sermon,  in a group people engage with other people who are just like them. People who have car payments, trouble at work, childcare issues, health challenges, and all the rest of the stuff of real life. Instead of ritual, they encounter reality.

4. Is there more? A good small group exhibits the attractiveness of the Gospel and, therefore, attracts outliers into the group and then into the church. Often those who object to church do so for reasons that aren’t really valid. Their fears or objections are based on misinformation or time- and location-specific incidents that are not representative of the full Body of Christ. Acceptance into a good group helps dissolve the barriers to meeting the personal God and finding a relationship with Jesus.

It’s tempting to rest in the enjoyment of the group we know and ignore those outside we don’t. But to be true to our calling to share Christ everywhere, even our cozy groups need to be open and inviting. Is yours?.


Previously in part 1: Logistics of the good group.

Previously in part 2: Leading the good group.

Are you in a good small group or any group? What makes it a good group or a not so good group? Do you have other good ideas for creating good small groups? Please share them in the comments!

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Basics of a good group, Part 2 of 3: Leading

This three-part series explores some basics on how to build, maintain, and grow good small groups in your church, fostering healthy biblical engagement together.

A small group leader training booklet lists 15 tips for leaders. Number 13 is my favorite: “You’re not Spurgeon.”

Right now, in my church, we’re wrestling with the need to grow up new group leaders. We have several small groups that are at or near capacity. This means they soon will need to split in two, with each part needing a leader.

This then raises the question, ”What makes a good leader?” To answer that requires addressing another question, “How do you lead a small group well?” And to answer that, you need to answer, “What’s the role of a small group?”

The primary role of a small group -- and in fact, of the church experience in general -- is discipleship. By that I mean helping those who claim Christ as their Savior grow into spiritual maturity. Spiritual growth, in the very simplest sense, occurs two ways:

  • Content infusing. This happens through intentional Bible study, listening to sermons, attending Sunday school, and so forth. You could label it “Christian education.”
  • Relationship building. It’s in the environment of relationships that the head knowledge of content infusing is moved into the heart of meaningfulness. Information is made practical, truth is turned into experience.

A sermon on a Sunday morning is high on content infusing while low on relationship building. This is why small groups are essential. Here’s how I guesstimate the ratios break out for various activities:

Discipleship - The purpose of the church

Content Infusing
(Christian Ed /
teaching, etc.)
Relationship Building
(Personal interaction)
Small groups
Sunday school
Doing life together

There’s no science here. Just my own guess based on several years of being in church and small groups. Doing life together, by the way, simply means believers hanging out with each other outside of church.

Given that the primary emphasis in small groups is relationship building, to lead one well means ensuring that this happens. And now we can address the key traits of a good leader with these four insights:

1. Be a person, not a Spurgeon. You don’t need a seminary degree* to be an effective small group leader. If you have a heart for God and a good study Bible, you’ll be okay. What’s most important is that you are honest and real. This means you’re going to have to be a little vulnerable, sharing your own experiences, both the good and the bad. Opening your heart to the group will encourage others to open their hearts as well.

*Caution to those with seminary degrees: You know a lot and that’s a wonderful thing. However, the small group is not a seminary classroom where you need to bring all of your knowledge to bear. Feel free to prepare like you would for a test, but dial your presentation way, way back for the group. Otherwise you risk coming off as intimidating, overwhelming the participants, and perhaps even discouraging others from considering leading a group.

2. Protect and serve. For relationships to form and grow requires a safe place. Make sure everyone has a chance to be heard. Facilitate a “no wrong answers” environment. This doesn’t mean endorsing heresy, but rather allowing people to ask hard questions and share their doubts and fears. Therefore confidentiality -- what’s said in the group stays in the group -- is paramount.

3. Keep it moving. A small group leader is mostly a facilitator. You want to keep things moving. Make sure one person doesn’t dominate the discussion. Sometimes you’re going to have to cut off a lively discussion to ensure there’s time for addressing individual needs. While it will feel awkward, everyone will understand what you’re doing and appreciate your intervention.

4. Wrap it all in prayer. A good leader prays. Seek God’s help as you lead and prepare. Pray for each member of your group when you’re not together. Make sure each session is opened and closed in prayer. Ensure when needs become known, time is taken to pray and care for the one in need.

Leading a small group is simply one way we can fulfill the Great Commission. And we are all called to be His witnesses near and far. You don’t have to be a theologian to facilitate a group. But you do need a basic knowledge of God’s Word and a caring heart that burns to see others grow in the grace of Christ. The Holy Spirit will provide the wisdom to those who step out in faith as small group leaders.


Coming next in part 3: Outreach of the good group.

Previously in part 1: Logistics of the good group.

Are you in a good small group or any group? What makes it a good group or a not so good group? Do you have other good ideas for creating good small groups? Please share them in the comments!

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Basics of a good group, Part 1 of 3: Logistics

This three-part series explores some basics on how to build, maintain, and grow good small groups in your church, fostering healthy biblical engagement together.

It’s the first night of your small group. Several people are now gathered at the front of the sanctuary. You begin with prayer and dive into the study.

After a few minutes, you notice Ted looking around, appearing distracted. Beads of perspiration are on his forehead and he’s fidgeting.

“Wow,” you think. “The study must really be hitting home. Ted seems under a fair amount of conviction.”

Just then Ted gets up and makes a beeline for the exit.

Was Ted’s behavior driven by conviction? Nope.

It was too hot, the room too large, and he had to go to the bathroom but wasn’t sure where it was and if he’d make it in time.

Small groups are a big deal in churches and a great vehicle for fostering biblical engagement while building relationships.

Here are six key ingredients for success that too often get overlooked:

1. Is there an echo in here? Years ago, I read Em Griffin’s great book, Getting Together: A guide for good groups (IVP). One piece of advice always stuck with me. He writes, “Meet in a room small enough to put you in touch with each other. Bank lobbies and church fellowship halls may be impressive, but the cavernous space they allow kills intimacy.”

I’ve tested this by holding meetings in very big and much smaller rooms. The differences are significant. Putting a little group in a large room makes people feel small and lost. Minds and eyes wander as every sight and sound is a distraction. A large group in a too small room is just annoying. Fit your group into an appropriate space; big enough that no one feels cramped, but small enough that it feels cozy and safe.

2. Lukewarm is okay. Thermostat battles are real! While it’s impossible to please everyone perfectly, be aware of the room temperature. An empty room that’s a little cool is a good thing -- don’t bump the heat up! The room will warm on its own when bodies arrive. Pay attention to such things as sleeves being rolled up or down, booklets being used as fans, sweaters being pulled on or off, etc. Ask people if they’re comfortable. Make adjustments gradually to avoid wide temperature swings.

3. The lay of the land. Whether you’re meeting in the church or someone’s home, let everyone know where things are, especially the bathrooms. Explain that bringing a cup of coffee to their seats is okay. Allow time for introductions. If you’re located near a quarry (as a group I participated in was) and there will be a loud explosion or two, let people know what’s going to happen so they won’t panic or become preoccupied wondering if they should.

4. Arranged for success. Yes, how you arrange the chairs makes a difference. The circle is most common. If you’re using a video, then a u-shaped arrangement allowing easy  viewing is okay. However you arrange the seating, make sure everyone can see and hear each other easily. Better Bible engagement comes through better sharing.

5. Just say no to technology. Technology is amazing, but can also be annoying. While using PowerPoint is helpful in the college classroom or sanctuary, it’s seldom useful for a small group. Dimming lights induces dozing when it’s cozy! If you choose to use a video or any technology, make sure you know how to use it. Set everything up before people arrive. Test, test, test. And if there are any glitches, be prepared to set the technology aside and go analog, just like Jesus did.

6. The reason I’ve called you together. Small groups are great for building Bible engagement and relationships. Except when the group’s purpose becomes diffused and ambiguous. Have a purpose, mission, and a goal and make sure everything the group does drives toward them. Ambiguity and loss of focus -- which happens over time with inattention -- will kill the best of groups.

Griffin states, “The good group has cohesiveness.” People know what to expect and where they fit. This doesn’t happen by accident. It takes intentionality and effort. The payoff is the good relationships and better Bible engagement that ensues.


Coming next in part 2: Leading the good group.

Coming next in part 3: Outreach of the good group.

Are you in a good small group or any group? What makes it a good group or a not so good group? Do you have other good ideas for creating good small groups? Please share them in the comments!

Monday, January 2, 2017

Day old (#PoetryMonday*)

So quickly it’s stale,
not New! New! New! New!

The day old year droops,
drops, sighs, aging fast,
devalued off the lot,
dinged and dented
before it’s even broken in,
becoming last year’s model as
already our eyes and hearts
and longings are set
on the newer new
coming soon to a life near us
in 364 days.

Our short attention span
winded, breathless
we look to the future,
the always shiny, ever fresh,
always receding,
false-promising future.

For now, we’re stuck here
with this day old “new” year
and its grand resolves gone sour
in a mere 24 hours.

* Its PoMo! To learn about PoMo (POetry MOnday), click here. This one probably is a little raw and may need some more work. But isn't it true that we tire of the new quickly? Have your ever really wanted something that, as soon as it was bought, you weren't as enamored with? We look forward to a New Year and a "fresh" start, then wake up and are met with the same old same old. Any thoughts? Please share them in the comments!

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Outrage vs. the Living Daylight

This is the devotional message
I gave on 1/1/17 at my church,
Huntingdon Valley Presbyterian Church.
It’s been edited slightly for this pos

Some of you know me. Some don’t. I probably should tell you something about myself.

My name is Stephen Clark and I go by Stephen. I write stuff now and then.

I grew up in New Castle, Indiana, the home of the world’s largest high school fieldhouse.

In July of 2015 I moved from Cleveland, Ohio to Oreland, Pennsylvania with my wife BethAnn. Oreland is her hometown. We live with her dad, Walt.

Coincidentally, my dad’s name was Walter, too. But, oddly, everyone called him Buddy.

My mom’s name was Grace and she loved hymns. She had a sweet, tremulous voice that I can sometimes hear when certain hymns are sung.

When I was a kid, it used to crack me up every time we sang, ‘Tis So Sweet To Trust In Jesus because of the verse that declares, “Oh for grace to trust him more.”

Even my dad giggled at that one.

And, of course, there was “Amazing Grace.”

I’ll have a whatever-you-call-it

I lived in New Jersey for about 10 years where I learned how to say FUGGEDABOUTIT. Here, I’m being influenced to say WOOTER but am hoping it doesn’t stick.

I’ve moved around the Midwest a bit. I’ve lived in Illinois, near Chicago -- DA BEARS! In Missouri -- or rather, MISSOUR-AH. As well as Ohio.

If you’re counting, that’s six states, all connected.

This has caused me great confusion as I’m now never sure whether to ask for a soda, a pop, a cola, a soft drink, or something else. Seems no matter what I call it someone looks at me confused or corrects me.

When I was a kid back home in Indiana, we’d go into a restaurant and ask our waitress or waiter for a coke. They would bring you a Pepsi or an RC or perhaps even an actual Coca-Cola.

Whatever came, it was dark, cold, and fizzy and you were okay with it. Even if it was root beer.

Today, that’s not the case. No matter what you ask for, you risk annoying or offending your wait-person.
“I’m sorry, you want a WHAT? How dare you! We don’t serve that kind of garbage here!”
Or, the wait-person runs the risk of offending you by bringing something you didn’t expect.
“What’s this dark stuff? I specifically asked for diet bottled spring water with a twist of gluten free lime!”
Whoever is offended, there are raised voices, ugly name calling, possibly even the threat of gun play and lives being put at risk.

Seriously. It happens!

A time for everything

Ours is an outraged society.

We will not be pushed around, slighted, or stand for even the tiniest potential offense. We don’t give ground on the road or anywhere else. Hair-trigger sensitivity and stabbing snark abounds.

This doesn’t feel like a very Christian way of life to me -- being outraged at nearly everything all the time. Yet Christians are just as outraged as everyone else.

Sure, there are times when outrage may be called for.

Poet Dylan Thomas protested against death encouraging that we “Do not go gentle into that good night” but instead “Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”

I won’t argue with that.

Even Ecclesiastes 3 tells us, “For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven.”

That would include a time for outrage.

But this well-known passage also teaches that there needs to be balance. It’s not all outrage all the time for every reason.

I resolve to....

It’s a New Year and a time for new resolve.

This brings me to my text. John 15:12 and 13. This is Jesus speaking:
 “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.”
What does it mean to lay down one’s life?

Well, it’s something that I have a very, very, very hard time doing.

And BethAnn is mumbling to herself, “Amen! Preach it brother!”

Laying down one’s life can take many forms. The most extreme form may be someone who throws themselves in front of a bullet meant for another. That’s pretty dramatic.

In other cases it can be as simple as shutting up.

Not expressing an opposing opinion.

Choosing to not make an issue over something that could be viewed as a slight.

Not reacting to someone’s insulting comment or cringing at a homeless person’s body odor.

Keeping the snark to yourself.

Or, simply eating Aunt Sally’s Jell-o Salad Delight, with a smile.

These are just a few specific applications.

General biblical principles that support these can be uncovered by considering what Jesus did or said. The Sermon on the Mount in Matthew is a good source.

You know, the part where Jesus says soul-prodding, ego-deflating things like:
  • “Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.
  • And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well.
  • And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles.
  • Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you.
  • But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven.”
Paul even weighs in telling us in Romans that, “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with everybody.”

This all points to laying down our lives for others.

First you die, then you love

But the John text also mentions love.

Anyone who hangs around me for any length of time will likely hear me reference Francis Schaeffer on this point. In his excellent book, The Mark of the Christian, Schaeffer cites John 13:34-35. He explains that Jesus gave the world the right to decide the genuineness of our faith by the love we show toward one another.

Schaeffer says,
“What then shall we conclude but that as the Samaritan loved the wounded man, we as Christians are called upon to love all men as neighbors, loving them as ourselves.”

“[Also], that we are to love all true Christian brothers in a way that the world may observe. This means showing love to our brothers in the midst of our differences – great or small – loving our brothers when it costs us something, loving them even under times of tremendous emotional tension, loving in a way the world can see…. ”

“Love and the unity it attests to is the mark Christ gave Christians to wear before the world. Only with this mark may the world know that Christians are indeed Christians and that Jesus was sent by the Father.”
So the mark that the world has a right to observe in us who call ourselves Christians, that validates us as true Christians, is “love”.

Especially love expressed to those who are not Christians.

And very emphatically it is love we show to each other within this entity called the Body of Christ.

Not outrage. Love.

Not anger. Love.

Not assertion of rights. Love.

Not political points. Love.

Not religious rules. Love.

Not jealousy. Not criticism. Not exclusion. Not intolerance. Love.

Of course, not the love as promoted by Hamilton's Lin-Manuel Miranda who blithely declared, as he accepted his Tony award, “Love is love is love is love is love is love is love is love....” Let’s see [counting] ‘em all in.

But what Schaeffer means and what I’m getting at is love as evidenced in the life of Christ and wrapped in the context of Scripture.

A much kinder, deeper, truer love than the world could ever hope for.

A love that can happen only when we lay down our lives and consider others before ourselves.

A love that’s costly, difficult, thoughtful.

A love that’s beautiful, attractive.

A love that looks radically different than anything the world labels as love.

Getting mad at the right stuff

But what about our outrage?

It’s there.

Perhaps we should channel it toward better, more worthy targets. Like injustice, bigotry, poverty, abuse, trafficking, hunger, homelessness, and the like.

Or, getting more personal, how about raging against sin? My sin. Your sin. Our sin. The sins we are so quick to overlook and cuddle up with.

You know -- lust, envy, greed, lying, gossiping, bigotry, and -- dare I say it -- not being loving.

To name only a few.

Loving away the hurt

My point is that love is a big deal. The only good love -- and the only love that covers a multitude of sins -- comes from the God who is Love. Who empowers us by His Holy Spirit to be as loving as He is. Who exampled His radical love through the giving of His Son, Jesus.

We all want to be loved. It hurts when we’re not. Perhaps that’s the source of some of our outrage.

You and I could use less outrage and more love.

The world definitely needs far less outrage and a lot more love.

Look again at the text: 
“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.”
Jesus isn’t making a request. He issued us a directive. A commandment. This is not optional.

So, at the start of this brave New Year, let’s resolve together to be more loving. To let go of outrage. To lay down our own lives. To live up to the mark of Christ on our hearts, and -- instead of being outraged at others -- to love the Living Daylight into people.

The Living Daylight.

Oh Lord, help us to so resolve today and every day this year.

What have you been angry and outraged over recently? Do you think it is a good think to be outraged? Sometimes? All the time? Never? What are some practical ways you can think of to live out the idea of laying down your life? Are these things you have done or experienced? If so, how did it feel? What happened? Please share your thoughts in the comments!