Tractor Time with Pastor Tim

Steel Mule tractor

A tractor is an engineering vehicle specifically designed to deliver at a high tractive effort (torque) at slow speeds for the purposes of hauling mechanized implements used in agriculture.  The word “tractor” comes from a Latin word, trahere, which means “to pull.”  Tractors, like people, come in all sizes, shapes, and colors – exuding both resilience and strength in their existence.

The Bates Steel Mule tractor was one of the most unique and oddest-looking farm machines ever built.  First built in 1913, it was like a cross between a steam boiler, a garden tractor and a Harley-Davidson motorcycle.  Bates Machine Company had the following advertisement for their Steel Mule tractor: “The only machine in the world which you can hitch up to any horse-drawn implement you now have and operate it from the same position you would your horses.”  In other words, you could operate the tractor by sitting in the implement seat, not the tractor seat.  The Steel Mule survived until they became one of the many victims of the Great Depression in 1937.

My grandfather (whom I never knew – he died when I was a year old) owned and operated a Steel Mule tractor (not the particular model shown above).  There was once a picture of him in the local paper using his tractor (I have it packed away somewhere and am still looking for it).  Grandpa was known for being the guy who would try new things and buy unique machinery – all in the quest for better farming methods.

The Steel Mule seems to represent my current state of ministry.  Like Grandpa, I have a drive and a desire for improving my pastoral craft.  I am open to trying new things and entering into a new way of being with the hospital patients I serve as a chaplain, as well as my peers, other staff, and really everyone I encounter throughout a day.  Yet, at the same time, I stubbornly hold to the past – sitting on the implement and not quite ready to fully embrace the new era of machinery instead of horses.  Which brings me to the whole point of this circuitous rambling of Tim’s Tractor Time:  What holds me back?  And, in so asking this question of myself, I also as it of you: What holds you back?

Yes, what does hold you and I back from taking the initiative to be vulnerable and open with our lives, instead of fearful, anxious, and hesitant?  What holds us back from collaborating with others?  Consulting before acting?  Consulting after acting?  Divulging our emotions and not just our thoughts? Speaking without always measuring and analyzing each word before we say it (or write it)?  As a seasoned minister, I can plow deep furrows with my Steel Mule into others’ lives – so, why not let others do the same in my field?  What is it I’m really pulling in that field?

Perhaps it is fear.  When Charlie Brown came to Lucy for a bit of practical psychosocial help, Lucy spouted a litany of various fears which she wondered Charlie Brown might possess.  Finally, she expressed that maybe he has “pantophobia.”  “What is ‘pantophobia’?” Charlie Brown asks.  Lucy responds, “The fear of everything.”  To which Charlie Brown demonstratively pronounces, “That’s it!”

A-Charlie-Brown-Christmas-image

Could be.  Could also be anger.  After all, anger often lurks in the shadows our hearts with a combination of it getting expressed in an unhealthy way or becoming twisted into depression.  There’s plenty of anger under the surface of the topsoil ready to get turned over and exposed.  Too much of it turned inward.  Certainly, it needs some plowing and cultivating, that is, processing outwardly with others… maybe… if we’re brave enough.

Then there’s this thing called liminal space – the space in-between where we can’t go back to the way things were ever again, yet, we aren’t quite where we want/need to be. It’s awkward being caught in the nexus between the past and the future.  Does this hold us back?  Or maybe it’s the fear of imperfection, of not doing something with utmost excellence?  Are we apprehensive about opening up because we don’t understand ourselves fully, so, therefore, I won’t (like a stubborn old Steel Mule) utter half-baked ideas or fragments of thoughts or, God forbid, emotional musings?  Like the Steel Mule, perhaps we are crossing over into a new era with the past very much there with it.

So, perhaps the greater question is: What are you and I really feeling, in this moment?  Figures it would take me all this thinking type verbiage to get to the emotional universe of feelings.  If we’re honest, we all are a diverse jumble of emotions – presently feeling overwhelmed; sad; happy; angry; hopeful; confident; scared; hungry; tired….  Oh, well, let’s just say we’re feeling everything.

Like the interlocutor in the book of Ecclesiastes, the conclusion of the matter is this: “Fear God and keep his commandments; for that is whole duty of everyone.” (Ecclesiastes 12:13).  I hold back because of me.  You are hesitant because of you.  Nobody is twisting my arm.  That old enemy of our souls, the Adversary, would like nothing more than to keep us feeling weak and insecure so that he can keep us under his evil thumb.

No one is forcing you to use the Steel Mule tractor.  Quite the opposite.  In truth, there is nothing holding us back.  Nothing is stopping us from pulling our emotions out and discovering new ways to express them with confidence in healthy redemptive ways.  Nothing outside of our power to act is preventing us from the courage to do what we already know deep in our hearts we need to do…. Nothing.  So, then, I’ll look for you in the next tractor advertisement doing your unique, wonderful, and amazing work which comes from the depths of your love for God and others.

The Seven Deadly Vices (Sins)

            Being aware of both vice and virtue in our personal lives, in the workplace, in our neighborhoods, families, and churches can create an environment of trust, love, fellowship, and enjoyment.  Intentionally cultivating virtue, while identifying and forsaking vice, allow for a thriving community who attends to the common good of all.
            It’s likely that you have heard of “the seven deadly sins.”  In medieval Christianity, these were vices to avoid at all costs because they eroded personal integrity and poisoned the social community.  A “vice” is a bad habit which corrupts character and debases society.  Today we rarely, if ever, use the word “vice.”  City police departments still have “Vice Squads” which investigate illegal gambling rings and try to deal with prostitution.
            The early church eventually formed a short list of the most corrosive vices, the seven deadly sins, which were considered the most heinous desires/actions of all.  They are:
Lust
 
Lust is an intense desire, coupled with lack of mental self-control, which is manifested in pursuing that desire in the heart.  It is, especially, to have a passion for someone that is not meant for you, i.e. another person’s spouse.  Lust is mental adultery.  Lust leers at and indulges daydreams of another person, with only selfish ideas and no real concern for the other.
“But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” (Matthew 5:28, NIV)
 
“Run away from adolescent cravings. Instead, pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace together with those who confess the Lord with a clean heart.” (2 Timothy 2:22, CEB)
 
Gluttony
 
Whereas lust is mostly lack of mental self-control, gluttony is the lack of bodily self-control. Gluttony doesn’t stop eating, buying, talking, drinking, or binging.  It only excessively indulges to the point of physical and/or relational sickness.  Addiction is the modern-day gluttony – it consumes to the point where it cannot control the consumption any more.  The thing desired and indulged becomes the master.
“When you sit down to dine with a ruler, carefully consider what is in front of you.  Place a knife at your throat to control your appetite.  Don’t long for the ruler’s delicacies; the food misleads.” (Proverbs 23:1-3, CEB)
 
“So, whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, you should do it all for God’s glory.” (1 Corinthians 10:31, CEB)
 
Greed
 
Money. Money. More money – is the mantra of the greedy person.  It is to have an inordinate desire and pursuit of wealth.  Just as sex and food are good, but have their proper boundaries, so money is both good and necessary.  But money is powerful in more ways than one.  It can take over a person’s life in such a way that charging exorbitant interest, rent, or price gouging is justified by satisfying the greed.  The greedy person lives every waking moment for leveraging wealth to get more wealth.
“People who want to be rich fall into all sorts of temptations and traps. They are caught by foolish and harmful desires that drag them down and destroy them. The love of money causes all kinds of trouble. Some people want money so much that they have given up their faith and caused themselves a lot of pain.” (1 Timothy 6:9-10, CEV)
 
“Make sure that your character is free from the love of money, being content with what you have; for He Himself has said, “I will never desert you, nor will I ever forsake you.” (Hebrews 13:5, NASB)
 
Sloth
 
Sloth is more than laziness.  It is failing to do good when it is in your power and ability to do so.  To be slothful is to be indifferent to the great need of the world.  Whereas the previous sins are more active in the pursuit of some desire, sloth is passive, not wanting to get involved in making a difference.  The slothful always have an excuse why they can’t participate; they expect everyone else to do the work.  The irony is that for all of Ebenezer Scrooge’s hard work and thrift, he was really a sloth who had no intention of improving the condition of humanity, depending on poor houses and work farms to do all the work.  It took supernatural means to get him to think differently.
Don’t be lazy in showing your devotion. Use your energy to serve the Lord. Be happy in your confidence, be patient in trouble, and pray continually. Share what you have with God’s people who are in need. Be hospitable.” (Romans 12:11-13, GWT)
 
“Do your work willingly, as though you were serving the Lord himself, and not just your earthly master.” (Colossians 3:23, CEV)
 
Anger
 
As with most things in life, anger has its proper place.  We ought to be angry in the face of evil perpetrators.  Anger motivates us to not be slothful, but helpful.  But excessive selfish anger is a vice.  Whereas righteous anger seeks to help a victimized person or group, sinful anger is fueled by hatred for another.  Whether it is a violent verbal decapitation of another, or a deep smoldering feeling which only seethes with hatred, anger destroys relationships.
“Dear friends, never take revenge. Leave that to the righteous anger of God. For the Scriptures say, ‘I will take revenge; I will pay them back,’ says the Lord.” (Romans 12:19, NLT)
 
“Stop being angry!  Turn from your rage!  Do not lose your temper— it only leads to harm.” (Psalm 37:8, NLT)
 
Envy
 
Envy and lust are kissing cousins.  They both traffic in excessive desire for what they don’t possess.  The subtle difference has more to do with the object of the affection.  Lust leers at longs for a person who belongs to someone else.  Envy fixes its gaze on a material possession or a respected position which someone else has.  It is to have a passionate pursuit of taking over someone else’s job or keeping up with Jones’s.
“Envy rots the bones.” (Proverbs 14:30, NIV)
 
“For where there is envy and selfish ambition, there will also be disorder and wickedness of every kind.” (James 3:16, NRSV)
 
Pride
 
Many people consider pride as the original sin which gave birth to all other vices.  Pride is to have an over-inflated view of one’s opinions, thoughts, and self.  Pride has an excessive understanding of itself.  The proud person truly believes that if only other people believed what they believed, did what they told them to do, and followed their advice and strategy that the world and the church would be a better place to live.  Every antagonist in the movies, comics, and classic literature are full of themselves.  They justify stepping on others to achieve what they think is the greater good of imposing their agenda in the situation.  Its no wonder that in the Bible Satan is the ultimate antagonist.
“If you respect the Lord, you will also hate evil.  I hate pride and bragging, evil ways and lies.” (Proverbs 8:13, NCV)
 
“For if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself.” (Galatians 6:3, ESV)
 
“Get along with each other; don’t be stuck-up. Make friends with nobodies; don’t be the great somebody.” (Romans 12:16, MSG)
 
            The seven deadly sins mostly live in the shadows, in the secrecy and darkness of one’s own heart.  Yet, they do come out and manifest themselves in bad behavior.  Long before an a hurtful action of sin is committed, it has spent time incubating in the darkness waiting for its chance to make the desire real.
            We cannot hold one another accountable if we do not share the things which are in our hearts.  None of these vices can exist when exposed to the light of confession.  That is why it is so very important to have safe places within the church in which people can share all their desires and their struggles.
How will you respond to the seven deadly sins?
Are there safe places and people for you to talk about your inner struggles?
In what ways and/or behaviors do you see these vices being manifested in the church?

 

What do you think can be done about it?

The Perpetually Upset Person

“Angry people must pay the penalty; if you rescue them, then you will have to do it again.”  –Proverbs 19:19

always upset

Dealing with upset people is a drag.  But there is such a simple solution to it that you might not even believe it.  If you learn to practice the one simple solution to dealing with angry people, your time will open much wider; your own emotions will calm down a great deal; and, you may find the kind of peace and settled conviction that you long for.

You know the type.  We have all dealt with them.  That chronically upset relative or in-law who demands your time and attention; the insecure co-worker who is constantly chirping about something he does not like in the company; or, the cranky neighbor who only talks to you when something infringes on his person or property.  These scenarios, and many more, you and I either have or will face.

I once was in a wedding in which a bridesmaid was constantly upset about something all throughout the rehearsal and into the wedding day.  It got so bad that, just as we were about to walk down the aisle, she became agitated about something she did not like, and angrily stormed away.

What would you do in such a situation?  What did I do?  Absolutely nothing.  I ignored her, told the rest of the wedding party to not follow her, and went about the ceremony.  When she saw no one was going to rescue her, she was in line at the last minute to participate.

If there is a person in your life who has frequent emotional meltdowns about most anything, here is a wisdom principle that can change your life:

Angry people get upset because it works – they get their way.  Someone will come to their rescue and fix their anger.  But if you will practice the simple solution of letting them just be upset and stew in their own juices without coming to their aid to make it all better, they will eventually stop sucking your time and energy into their angry vortex.

The angry person is typically one with some sort of entitlement mentality.  The bridesmaid didn’t like the way things were being done, and she felt “entitled” to have things go her way.  She wasn’t used to accepting “no” like most other people have to do.  She believed everyone else ought to adjust for her behavior.

The important point to note here is that it is not your job to fix their emotions; it isn’t your responsibility to smooth everything out so that everyone feels just fine and are calmed down.  Instead, it is my job and your job to practice self-control and be responsible for our own emotional well-being.  If you keep trying to calm an angry person and assuage their emotions to an even keel, you will have to do it again, and again, and again…. Until they figure out their anger doesn’t work, it just does not pay to be upset.

This means that, deep within your soul, you must move from the fear of negative emotions in others to positive possibilities in the right direction.  Not everyone is going to like you, no matter how hard you try.  Please understand that this does not mean we avoid helping others.  It just means we don’t enable their bad behavior by solving their problems for them.  We can walk beside them, encourage them, and teach them, but all without doing it for them.

Think about some ways you might deal with an angry person.  What can you say to them that will be positive and helpful, yet not take ownership of their problem?  Are you willing to be bold and tell them when they need to leave your office, home, etc.?  Can you live with their negative response to you for having firm boundaries in your own life?  How will you take charge of your own time without letting an angry person dictate how to use it?

Violence

man-yelling

Those who have worked with abused spouses and with domestic disturbances know that long before the physical battering ever occurs there exists a history of verbal abuse.  Verbal violence always precedes physical violence.  Whether it is domestic violence, the stereotypical bar fight, wars between nations, or mass murder, it all begins with words.  This is not an original thought on my part.  Jesus got to the heart of violence in his Sermon on the Mount.

“You have heard that it was said to those who lived long ago, ‘Don’t murder, and all who murder will be in danger of judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with their brother or sister will be in danger of judgment.  If they say to their brother or sister, ‘You idiot,’ they will be in danger of being condemned by the governing council.  And if they say, ‘You fool,’ they will be in danger of fiery hell.” (Matthew 5:21-22)

This kind of language might seem somewhat over-the-top from Jesus.  After all, it could be argued, this is just a bit of name calling; I have a right to be angry and let those #*%!’s know about it!  But here’s the deal:  Whenever we resort to altering a person’s identity by not calling him/her by their actual name, then we make a significant change in how we view them.  By using words like “moron” and “airhead” (the literal meanings of the words condemned by Jesus) then people become monsters and something other than people.  Like the conquistadores justifying genocide toward “savages” we go after our gold agenda by whatever means necessary.  We can’t justify the murder of people, but we sure can wipe out idiots and fools and those who are not civilized and enlightened like we are.  There is no conscience if there are no people involved.  Murder results from objectifying others, which begins with the hate speech of name calling.  Actual physical homicide is committed after first verbally decapitating others, whether to their face, or not.

Now as soon as I say this it ought to become clear that the current use of words by many people surrounding the mass shooting in Las Vegas needs to change.  I have seen the “f” word thrown around more than ever, with less than kind responses between differing views of gun control.  Whenever we resort to name calling we actually become complicit in murder.  It is far too easy to get sucked into the wide vortex of using violent words toward others, not realizing that it is a one way road to murder, to hell.  The narrow path, instead, involves something different.

Jesus doesn’t just identify where murder begins, he also gives the solution as to what to do about it:

“Therefore, if you bring your gift to the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift at the altar and go.  First make things right with your brother or sister and then come back and offer your gift.” (Matthew 5:23)

Atrocities begin with words, and end in carnage.  The feeling of moral and religious superiority over others only exacerbates the situation.  Before it gets to the point of physical violence, we can stop the progression through sincere reconciliation.  That takes a willingness to engage in civil discussion, real dialogue, and genuine listening.  If we do not create avenues to authentic relationship that eschews name calling and hardened opinions of others, we are no better than the people we vilify.

So, how will you use your words today?  Do you have the humility to admit when your speech is hateful?  What will you do to forge bonds of connection?

Grace and Anger

 
 
            I once dealt with a woman who was so upset with her husband that she was literally shaking with anger.  There had been a time when her husband had been abusive, but he came to know Christ and became a loving person.  What was so upsetting to this woman is that God saved her husband instead of punishing him for all the abuse he had dished out.  She wanted some divine payback!  She was actually furious about God showing grace and compassion.
 
            This is not a novel or new experience.  In the ancient world, the Assyrians were notorious for their brutality toward conquered peoples.  They thought up forms of torture as a creative past-time. It was a violent culture full of inhumane practices and soldiers who were the scourge of the Middle East.
 
            We know from the little Old Testament book of Jonah that the ways of the Assyrians caught the notice of God, who was ready to pronounce judgment on the heart of the Assyrian Empire, Nineveh.  So, as God typically did in the Old Testament, he tells one of his prophets to go and give a message.  And the message was simple:  “Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me” (Jonah 1:2). 
 
            For whatever reasons, when Jonah did not immediately obey God, God stuck with him.  God did not call another prophet to take his place, but insisted that Jonah be the one to preach.  If God calls us to something and we neglect to do it, we cannot simply think that someone else will do it.  Sometimes God insists that we do it, not someone else.
 
            Jonah eventually does go to Nineveh (after the infamous being in the belly of a great fish for three days and nights) and there is a great repentance of sin.  The entire city turns from their evil ways.  God saw this mass repentance and relented from sending disaster.  Instead of destroying the city with all its inhabitants and animals, he was gracious and compassionate, abounding in love.  If there is a response God delights in more than anything it is humility and the courage to admit personal evil and turn from it.
 
            But Jonah has a problem with what is going on.  He is not just a little ticked-off; he is greatly displeased.  He is angry enough about this whole affair to want to die.  Jonah was actually annoyed and angry by God’s goodness.  He wanted justice and judgment, not grace!  The grace of God is so massive that it even extends to some of the most evil people in history, and Jonah wanted no part of that theology.
 
            God asked Jonah twice:  “Do you have a right to be angry?”  It is the same question that God is asking his people today.  Jonah wanted destruction and pay-back for all the sin of the Assyrians.  But God searches our hearts and to expose our expectations.  Often, when those expectations do not happen we are disappointed.  But more than that, when the very opposite happens of what we want and expect, we can become very angry and upset.
 
            A lot of people are angry about radical Muslim groups killing and torturing Christians.  It is evil and it is upsetting.  In fact, many of the killings have taken place in the same geographical area as the ancient city of Nineveh.  Yet, perhaps God is asking us Western Christians who are looking for judgment the same question the little book of Jonah ends on:  “But there are 1.6 billion Muslims in the world; should I not be concerned about that great number?”
 

 

            God wanted Jonah to share the same heart he has, and God desires to see us have a heart that beats for lost people to know Jesus – a heart that has grace and compassion even in the face of flat-out evil.  Sometimes God calls us to do what we least want to do in order to reveal what is really in our heart.  Hating people to the point of wanting nothing but destruction upon them does nothing to bring about the righteous life that God desires.  But the blood of Jesus Christ has the power to bring healing and hope, even to the worst of sinners.  Thank you, Jesus, may it be so.