“Let’s begin shall we?”
If you were to attend his Wednesday evening bible study, you would hear Mike Clark begin the class by saying the words “Let’s begin shall we?”
My name is Dr. Jeff Daniels and I am a husband, father, son, professor, engineer, doctor, manager, and have many other titles. But today I prefer to be known as Mike Clark’s longest tenured student. I studied under Mike from 2008-2012 every Wednesday evening. I considered Mike my spiritual father, mentor, and friend.
I want to share with you what Mike taught me during those years as a tribute and memorial to him.
Love & Praise
Mike taught me about love and praying for one another. Mike held that despite our differences each man was created in the image of God and therefore worthy of prayer and love. His Wednesday class was open for all to bring their petitions to the Lord, share their burdens with others, and learn from each other.
Mike often quoted Philippians 1:21 where the tentmaker taught us “for to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.” Mike taught from the scriptures that death is a carnal loss from our earthly world, but a true believer gains….for he is living with Christ now. No weakness, no misery, only love as God intended. Surely Mike has gained all that God has offered us in Heaven and I know he has heard those words, “well done thy good and faithful servant.”
I will forever remember the image of Mike hugging my daughters Mackenzie (10) & Cambrie (5) as they entered the church lobby. His face would turn to a smile and his tall body would lean down and hug two little girls that were just as excited to see him as he was to see them. Over the years Mike and I became close and he had a hug for me each time as well. It was uncharacteristic for Mike to be affectionate. Despite this, a hug became the preferred greeting when we saw each other. It was a transformation for the tall, stoic, “Lonesome Dove” type figure to give a bear hug to his friends.
Mike was truly a picture of how the church should be, accepting us with open arms when we arrive – full of love.
Mike taught me about preparedness. He was always prompt and on time, lesson prepared ahead of time. He allowed for small talk and socializing at the start of class, but I could see the gears turning in his head as he waited for us to finish the banter and he would deliver what God put on his heart. Anyone could see Mike’s affection for Nancy – she would tell a humorous yarn with her hands telling half the story and he would patiently wait for her to finish, attempting to feign impatience, but enjoying the story all the while. They were such a pair together – complimented each other to a “T.” After the small talk and stories, Mike would say, "Let's begin shall we?" and we were soon down to the business of bible.
One of the remarkable things about I observed about Mike was his dedication to the Word. Mike loved the bible; he lived it and studied it as the gift from God it was intended to be. Mike led us through a year-long study on the book of John. It was tedious, but Mike’s research and insight made it the longest but most informative study I have ever undertaken – if it was a graduate class, I would have demanded 24 credit hours! The class joked we were crawling forward and if we kept the snail’s pace we might re-align with the following year’s Easter, but Mike followed a method that was content focused, not schedule-driven. The deliverable for Mike’s study of the Book of John was learning, comprehension, and application for each student, not simply finishing the book. I had deadlines at the university, at the office, and the farm consequently, I found Mike’s class refreshing to just be “in the Word.”
From 2005-2011, I was trained to be a doctoral-level researcher. I learned how to do literature reviews and research a subject until it is fully vetted and I became an expert on that specific topic. All the techniques I learned could not compare to Mike as he was empowered by the Holy Spirit to study. Mike became an expert at preparing a lesson and studied all angles of the subject, ready to respond to questions from his students and offer insights into each passage. I was amazed at the depth to which he would cover a subject – the logical, physical, symbolic, and spiritual angles he would discuss.
Mike shared some of his methodology with me over the years. He would study Weirsbe, Tozer, Edwards, Spurgeon, EM Bounds, and other “giants” of the faith, drawing inspiration from their reflections and his own meditation on the bible. He studied commentary, texts, and biblical passages, often referencing ancient Greek and Hebrew interpretations. Most importantly, he told me, "As I prepare the lesson for each week I always ask God to direct my words and thoughts and then to bring to class those He has prepared to hear."
Mike soaked up the message and synthesized all the sources into a weekly 45 minute lesson. It was never a "canned" study from some commercial outfit with the participant booklets and "leader guide" with unimaginative questions and mind-numbing discussion points. Mike said, "it is hard to go wrong when you base what you are saying and believing on God's word."
When Mike said, “Let’s begin shall we,” the room illuminated and his face was serious – as the Holy Spirit was about to deliver the message through his servant. Mike could be deeply sarcastic with his dry sense of humor; his deadpan delivery was sometimes hard to distinguish a light hearted comment or casual joke during the lesson. I would observe a slight grin under his mustache and know he meant for the comment to be humorous. If the group was distracted, he would allow the class a short sidebar, then steer us back to the lesson as a vigilant teacher should.
Mike had a notebook where he prepared notes for each lesson. He covered the topics in the outline “religiously” with each session. Nancy bought him a metal notebook stand one might use when transcribing a page when typing. We teased him that the stand looked more like a dowsing rod one might use to search for water wells or ground water. He entertained our jokes and promptly set up his notebook in the stand each week. He would search for his narrow spectacles and hang them on the tip of his nose and dive into his notes.
One of the most memorable lessons Mike taught was from 1 Peter where we observe “believers are a royal priesthood.” I often shared that in conversations with Mike and others. It was one of many lessons with Mike where the “light bulb went on” and the class “got it.” Through the years, our class of “royal priests” marched on.
One of the hallmarks of Mike’s class is everyone read aloud from the Bible – it was active participation by all who could or were willing to read. In the early years he would prepare verses on cut-out strips of paper and distribute them to read at the appropriate time. Later he dropped the paper distribution method in favor of a more efficient technique. At the start of each lesson, Mike would verbally assign verses to read to each student. We sat around a table or circle of chairs. In the later years Mike would sit at a rectangular table with his dowsing rod, spectacles (of which he usually had a backup pair), and bible like a school headmaster might sit at the front of the room full of pupils. We students arranged ourselves in a “horseshoe” like formation as best we could around him.
When Mike assigned bible verses, he would rattle them off as a livestock auctioneer might: “Gail, Ephesians 2:5 through 8, Nancy, Galatians 3:4 through 6. Ron, Philippians 1:3 through 8,” and so forth until he reached the end of the assignments, sometimes assigning double which added to the confusion.
He wasted no time and started the topic of discussion immediately after distributing assignments. A murmur would rumble across the horseshoe, the sound of pages flipping, frantically trying to find the assigned verse. After having secured their own assignment, students would help others locate their passage. Mike would guide Gail (or any of us) to the proper testament, “new” he would simply say upon sensing frustration in locating an obscure book between Genesis and Revelations. “After Hebrews” he might say, “God’s Electric Power Company,” referring to a methodology he taught us to remember the order of the smaller NT books Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians. Mike always had these little tips he picked up. The way he authoritatively said these things one might think he had known them since God gave Moses the tablets, but the reality was most of these were recent discoveries; he just absorbed so many pieces of information as he read.
Often Nancy sat to his right which meant she would have the first reading assignment. Nancy would undoubtedly ask what her assigned verse was again. To the relief of the entire class, Mike would repeat all the assignments; students eagerly took the opportunity to verify our thumb and fingers had the right spot marked. As Nancy got oriented to the proper location, Mike could be seen with a slight smile under his Tom Selleck-like mustache as he watched her shuffle through chapters. Nancy would read the passage beautifully and many nights she would get into the study so much she would not stop at Mike’s desired verse. Instead, Nancy would blow right by the designated end-point and keep reading! The class, heads down and faithfully following their own copies, would continue along with the eager reader. But the headmaster would forcefully issue a “Stop!” and halt her progress. “I asked you to stop at verse 6,” he would say to which she would reply, “I thought you said ‘8’.” And we would all laugh, Nancy most of all.
The pressure was off for the moment, but in each of the students’ minds we kept replaying our assigned reading, “He said those numbers so fast, did I hear the correct verses? I hope I stop at the proper location.” The scenario was re-played weekly and became as much a norm of the class as praying and our positions in the horseshoe.
I enjoyed reading the bible and I appreciated how Mike allowed everyone to participate. When it was my turn, I took pride in reading my verse. I tried to speak clearly and use my best biblical reading voice, even though Mike was not one for theatrics. It was an opportunity to be part of the lesson, not just lectured to.
A couple of times I asked Mike how long he anticipated teaching and his response was always, “Jeff, as long as somebody shows up to learn about the scripture, I will teach the class.” And there were nights when I was the only student. We held the study, just the two of us, with Mike saying, “as long as I prepared the lesson, and you and I are here, let’s get into the Word. Let’s begin shall we.”
Those were some of my favorites – just the teacher and the student having a discussion as I envisioned the ancient Greek philosophers might have done. There were nights when the room was packed and we had to get additional chairs for students who came to learn. Through and through Mike revealed his steady hand and conducted the class as he always did - assigning rapid verses, sorting out the confusion, and marching through the prepared message.
Pray for Others
Mike is one of the few friends I have that has seen me at the highest peak of success (earning the PhD)….and the lowest point of my life where I lay in the hospital intubated after 9 transfusions and emergency surgery.
In 2011, I was rushed to the hospital fighting to live. After a successful procedure, I came back to consciousness and Mike Clark was at the foot of my bed. The towering cowboy looked even taller as I lay on a hospital bed. I did not expect to see him, but there was his tall figure in my room, and I was glad he was there. Reading his eyes I knew I did not look good. He said, “when I heard I came as quickly as I could.” Mike was on his lunch break that Monday and drove to the hospital from work. We talked for a few minutes and then he prayed with me. A time I will cherish for eternity.
In a matter of weeks I recovered and Mike came out the house with supper one evening. He shared with me, "we serve an awesome God who loves to answer prayer." Years later Mike would say nearly the same thing when he was in the hospital.
Later that year, I prepared for my final defense and travel to the university at Terre Haute, Indiana. Mike led our class in prayer that I might find the words to say in defense of my research and have safe travels up north. When I returned with the official doctorate from a successful defense, Mike celebrated with me. He and Nancy brought baked treats to our class that night and gave me a beautiful card. It was a new beginning for me, a high-water mark achievement. Again, Mike was there.
Mike had been with me through highs and lows. Mike was always there, steady hand, calm demeanor. A hug, a smile, a warm greeting, a handshake, and a dry sense of humor that I grew to love.
Mike led his class in prayer through health concerns, relationship issues, financial situations, personality problems, and even divisiveness in the church body. He was steadfast in prayer and willingly accepted those around him.
Over the course of four years, I became Mike’s longest tenured student. People joined his class, others left. Some found new churches, others began new ministries. I once told him he built a wonderful legacy, but always humble, he declined any credit saying, “It’s all God’s work.”
In our last meeting outside of a hospital, we had lunch at a BBQ place (where else with Mike?!) in the early fall. Mike prayed over the meal and asked God to give us the will to be strong leaders, the type of men God can use. He was busy preparing for the fall semester at the school. The hustle and bustle of a new school year brings with it excitement: children beginning a new school year, things to learn, new people to meet. The coming months would bring new challenges for all of us.
As Mike’s health declined, I visited him in the hospital with greater frequency, first in Fort Worth, later in Weatherford. I would often just sit, quietly observing him. I am aware it can be uncomfortable to have visitors in and out of a hospital room like a carousel; the patient in pajamas, tired, frustrated, all the while striving to be a proper “host.” I know he tired of explaining the latest test results and next steps. I did not even talk many days; I just enjoyed the silence with him. Mike was comfortable with the silence, he was never big on small talk. Mike’s actions always seemed deliberate, even the words he spoke.
Two things struck me when I saw him in the hospital in Fort Worth:
I prayed with him numerous times during those days, but I’m not sure I could say the right words. When his eyes got bad, I offered to read the bible to him, but I really wanted him to read to me, to teach me another lesson. Each time I departed the hospital, I would kiss him on the forehead and say, “I love you brother” and he would say, “I love you, too.” I stopped by the hospital before and after work – it became part of my routine in November and December. We repeated the ritual: promise to visit shortly, and off again knowing each visit might be the last (but never actually saying it). Selfishly I wanted to spend more time with Mike. Didn’t we all?
Mike’s last message to me was this: “We serve an awe inspiring God.” He said, “thank you for the prayers, thank you for your love, and I love you brother.”
With the funeral services concluded, I shared with Nancy that I was honored to be included in the celebration of Mike’s life. I mentioned to her how Mike helped me as a spiritual father, a mentor, and a friend, to which she replied, “Jeff, you helped him be the man he was.”
As I left the church that brisk Thursday afternoon, I shuffled up to the second floor room where Mike held class. It was an ordinary room with plastic chairs about, roughly organized in a horseshoe. I thumbed through the notebook where he took attendance each week - four years’ worth of checks by my name. In grade school I got checks on the blackboard for misbehaving in class and when I got too many, I would have to talk to the teacher. Surely I have earned enough checks to talk to Mike again, if only for a minute.
The rectangle table Mike used was in the corner, patiently waiting for the teacher to show up Wednesday night, move it to the front of the room, and place his dowsing rod and bible on it. The room will never be the same without Mike at the front leading his “royal priesthood” each Wednesday evening. It was so quiet in there now…no pre-class bantering, no conversations, no laughing, only void of the headmaster and students. Mike's work in the classroom was finished, his tenure over Wednesday night studies was completed abruptly, faithfully.
I am left with the memory of Mike Clark and the short time we spent together. I replay as many of them as I can remember, knowing cruelly the memories will fade. I want one more Wednesday class, one more lunch, one more bear hug. I have poured through three notebooks full of notes I took from our four years of study. So many anecdotes, observations, verses he covered. I close my eyes and try to put myself back in the class, with the instructor assigning those verses…what did he say, what did he speak about? The student should have taken more notes, would those help me recall each class, each moment with Mike?
Mike invested time in my life, just as he did many of yours. We all have stories about how Mike affected us and I would love to hear each of them.
My tribute to Mike Clark is to carry forward the biblical lessons he taught. There are challenges ahead of us and victories to be won. We will be with Mike again one day and I pray that there are treasures stored up in heaven for each of us. Until then, we have work to do here.
“Let’s begin shall we?”
- Dr. Jeff Daniels
PS: Mike left us with the verse below at his memorial. As the cancer worked through his body, his soul was strengthened. He lived a life worthy of a royal priest, the kind that meet on Wednesday nights.
Therefore we do not lose heart.
Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.
For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us eternal glory that far outweighs them all.
So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.
- II Corinthians 4:16-18