A Man on a Tractor, by Rodney Atkins

This is one of my favorite songs by Rodney, and probably the first one I really saw myself in. Even though I do live in the country, it’s a quite frequent occurance to look out the kitchen window or off the front porch and see how much “more” there is to life than what I’ve already got. In that moment I’ve felt myself longing for this or that, only to come back to reality a while later and realize “that’s not me.” In a way, that was very disappointing. You see someone who’s “got it together,” maybe in their little farm on 5 acres, or even beyond the realm of stuff to the man and wife sitting on the front porch, relaxing, just enjoying life. And I wonder, “can I have that?” I think that’s what this song is all about. Coming to that realization that while there are an infinite number of other lives out there for us to idolize or wish we had, there is only one that we do have, and that’s our own. The question is, what will we do with it? Will we “make the most of it,” but still always be comparing our life to that of someone else, or will we take that image of the “ideal life,” boil it down to the values it really means to us and what draws us to it, and then see where that fits into the life we’ve been given.

I woke up the same way this morning
like a stranger in my own life
tired and confused with too much to do
nothing left for my kids and my wife
oh I clung to that first cup of coffee
praying god, won’t you show me what’s real
then out in the distance I saw through the window
a man on a tractor with a dog in a field

How many mornings have I woken up to this feeling? Like I know, without a shadow of a doubt, that I’m lost. Not like lost for eternity, but just plain old lost… don’t know where I am, where I’m going, where I should be, or how to get to any of those places. You sit there at the kitchen table, coffee in hand, looking through the steam at the imaginary world that “could be mine.” And then you see it. In your minds eye, a vision comes to mind. A farm on 40 acres. A career that lets me take a month off every year. A family full of happiness and smiles. And you want it. You wonder what it would take to get “that” for your life.

the dog walked just like it was smiling
the man drove like the world was all right
the tractor hummed on like a part of a song
that you sing to your children at night
his work was laid out there before him
in rows of green, his whole life was revealed
oh what I wouldn’t give if I could just live
like a man on a tractor with a dog in a field

Peace. Joy. The good life. Clear direction. A friend you can count on. “What I wouldn’t give for that,” I think. How much of the life I’m living now would I sell just for that life. The life that may not have all the stuff, but at least it has peace. At least it has clarity.

let me do what I’m doing
let me be where I am
let me find peace of mind
on my own piece of land
when I’m lost, help me to let go
and find someway to feel
like a man on a tractor with a dog in a field

The chorus in thing song says it all… I see all that’s out there, I dream “bigger” than will fit into my life, but I have to find some sort of compromise, don’t I? I’ve got to be satisfied, don’t I? If i can’t have “that,” I can still “make do” with what I do have, right? I’ve got a good family… a nice home… a home for eternity… but is that really enough? Am I really satisfied to the point that I don’t sense that longing for the life of a rocking chair on the porch, or strumming a guitar into the night, of spending all day plowing a field, planting seeds, and then spending the next several months watching what I’ve planted come to life?

There I was watching and wondering
my wife came down and sat beside me
she said. “It’s not about living another man’s life
it’s about seeing your own differently
oh this home that I love and my children
what more could one man hope to yield
then she touched my face
and said, “there’s more than one way
to be a man on a tractor with a dog in a field

I love how the last verse goes here. It takes an intervention. It takes that friend – that spouse – that other set of eyes – to help you see that what you’ve already got in front of you IS all that you could ever want, or dream of. “It’s not about living another man’s life; it’s about seeing yoru own differently.” And that’s what it takes. It may take it over and over again, but that’s what it takes. Realizing that this life I have to live is worth every ounce of effort and heart I can pour into it, that the “home” I live in has very little to do with drywall, 2×4’s, and dirt. That my children, my wife, my job, or even a lack of any of those things, is so much more than many people would dream of. For that matter, someone might be looking at my life and say, “wow, I’d love that.” What shall I model for them? The constant desire for more? Or true satisfaction. With what I have, where I am, and probably most of all, who I am?

I know the answer to that. Most of us do. But it’s songs like this that remind me, put it in perspective, and make me proud to just be… me.

The Horses are Loose!

Another story on the power of prayer… in this one, though, I was mainly an observer. This occured earlier this summer, while my wife, son, and I were over at my mom’s house one Sunday afternoon.

We’re all just taking it easy, hanging out at my mom’s house, when my cell phone rang. It was Nancy, my neighbor in “the big house” just around the corner (the best set of neighbors I’ve ever known, I might add). I figured she had a computer question for me, as that’s the “going rate” for me borrowing farm equipment every now and then. But we were in for a bit more drama than that this time.

“Your horses are running loose,” she told me. “Some other neighbors down the road came to us thinking they were ours, but they’re yours. They said they last saw them galloping east down the road, running as fast as they could towards freedom. Are you guys nearby?”

Of course we weren’t. We were around 30 minutes away, under normal conditions. So we pack up real quick, and take off. What can we even do? We can speed home, hoping to make a difference. We can pray our neighbors find them, first of all, and then can somehow catch them. We can freak out, worry, and think that will make a difference.

So I’m driving, Erin’s riding, hanging onto her seat, I suppose. Colton’s in the back doing who knows what. And I ask Erin to pray. I can’t really remember how it goes, but it’s much the type of prayer I would have prayed. “God, keep us safe. Get us home quickly. Keep the horses safe. Please, God. Keep them safe.”

There’s a little back story to this (actually more than a little, but I’m only writing about a little). As I’ve mentioned in other posts, prayer has been all over my radar screen this year. At this time, I’d just been part of a virtual “class” called The Hope of Prayer,” (Links 1, 2, 3, 4) led by John Eldridge and provided by The Daily Audio Bible. It contained quite a bit of teaching on what they called “The Prayer of Intervention,” in which we really get down to effectual prayer that gets things done. Not fancy words that have special effects, or deeper levels of understanding, but simply understanding how prayer works – historically, through the Bible, and today. I’ve shared bits and pieces of it with my wife, and one of the things I’ve learned most is to “chase peace.” That fruit of the spirit – peace – is so helpful in prayer. Even if we don’t know the answer, or how to get there, peace is still available. Not the kind of peace that makes it all better or even makes us confident that it will all just “work out,” but the peace that understands that God Is In Control, no matter what… and releasing our own grip.

So I ask Erin if she has peace. I don’t really, and neither does she. So we try again. This time, she gets more specific… I don’t remember the whole thing, but one part stood out: “God, I don’t know how to ask this, but would you, could you, just have our horses come home?” Sure, they were last reported 1/2 mile away from the house and running, but what the heck… if someone’s going to step in, it’s God. “Do you feel any peace now,” I ask her. “Yes,” and so did I.

As we near home, when we’re about 2 miles away, we do what any logical human would do, we start looking around for our horses. We slow down, scan the then short fields of corn and bean seedlings, but see nothing. We get closer… still nothing. We drive past the house, and on down the road a little bit. Not slow enough that we could see anything, and we’re still thinking about that prayer a while back. “Could they be home?” So we turn around and decide to take a closer look around the house and barn before we continue the search.

As we head back toward the house, WE SEE THEM. They’re not on our property, but instead, they’re standing in the neighbors’ large pasture, not 5 feet from “home” but on the wrong side of the fence, just standing there, like they’re waiting on something. I can almost picture them, galloping away down the road… Erin’s prayer is lifted up (the first one), and they just keep running. “Yeah, we’re safe, and having a great time!” But on that second prayer, the daring one, the specific one… they put on the brakes. They hear their creator. “Go Home,” he tells them. And go home they do. Somewhere along the way they take a wrong turn and wind up at the wrong house, but they see where they need to be and the shortest way to get there, so they head off, running straight through a single-strand electric fence to get there. And then they wait.

How cool it was to call our neighbors and tell them we found them, and that they were not but a few feet from home. “We never thought to look there,” is something of the response I thought to get.

How great it is to see a prayer from start to finish. To see and get a glimpse of the authority God wants us to have in this world, and that He’s given to us, if we will only put it to use.

Should I even ask Him?

Prayer has been all over my map this year. In teaching, in being taught, in reading, and even in applying, trying, failing, and succeeding. I was remided yesterday about how “informal” we can be with God in terms of the whole “process,” but how much He just loves to hear from us and also, how much he longs to answer us.

At the beginning of September, we start a new Sunday School “year” at our church. Being the team leader for that ministry has put me into a number of situations, but the one I love the most is raising up new leaders into spots of ministry that are just right for them. While I say that, I also love the opportunity to watch these people be raised up by others… it’s a wonderful opportunity to watch miracles in action. This event yesterday showed me both sides of this, how prayer fit in, and how wonderful God is to us.

One of our preschool classes (the one my son is in, it so happens) has been in need of a helper for the teacher. It’s not at all that Kelley (their teacher) can’t handle them – she does an excellent job at that – but we feel with any age of kids, it’s just best to have a couple adults in their – for a whole number of different reasons. Kelley was one we were able to pray in and raise up about a year ago, I think… she was hesitant at first, as I think it was her first time at something like this, but it didn’t even really take “convincing” on our part. We told her the opportunity, told her we thought she was “our girl,” gave her the time she needed, prayed and prayed and prayed, and she stepped up to the plate, and is hitting home run after home run after home run with these kids. I love it. She’s one of my favorite success stories on raising up the right person for the right ministry opportunity, instead of just filling “the spot” with a warm body… even with 2 and 3 year olds.

So we’ve been talking about getting her a helper again. Sara, my Preschool Leader, writes up a job description for me. Not just one of your standard “you need to be comfortable with diapers and misdirected pee” job descriptions, but one highlighting the importance of ministering to these kids at this young age, the “setting” into which this helper will be placed (definitely a “helper” spot not a “co-teacher” or anything like that), and we are prepared to share it with the church on Sunday in print and in word.

But Oh, how God flipped this one around on us! I got a reply to a generic email I sent yesterday from Kelley that starts off like this:

“Guess what??????? I have a helper!”

How great is that. We haven’t even announced our announcement yet, and God has filled the spot. What I’m loving even more is that he used one of “our recruits” to recruit him! She goes on in a later email:

“He said he had been thinking about it but didn’t say anything and he came in Sunday to help me so from then on I was thinking about it and then I talked to him last night. What a PRAISE”

I LOVE that! Part of the back story to this, and really the real reason I wanted to write about this, was because I “threw up a prayer” to God about this very class, and even this very guy, about a week ago. Not a “God, please put it on Josh’s heart to step into this or let us convince him” type of prayer, but just a “Hey God, what about this guy?” type of prayer… and it never went beyond that – at least not with me. But behind the scenes, in the realms of heaven, prayer, and the Holy Spirit, i picture it like one of those little chain reaction things where you start off tipping over a little domino, and in the end, a toaster pops out a piece of toast, butters it, and puts in on your plate, ready to enjoy… I don’t even know if I was that first domino – I really don’t think so or even care – but it’s just amazing to see the chain reaction of prayer and trust, even in the little things we throw up to God for him and let him “manage.” Even in the prayers we don’t take time to consider how well we can put them together. Even in the prayers we aren’t even all that serious about.

At last count, there were at least 4 people, plus our new recruit, that were involved in this this past week… some just in prayer, others in writing up job descriptions we’d never need except to highlight God’s resourcefulness, and others to encourage, to ask, and to take that final step in bringing the new leader/helper into the fold. I love how this has all worked together, and it’s reminding me again about how important, necessary, and wonderful it is to not have to “manage” all of this on our own.

Thanks, Father!

Sunday School Commissioning – Responsive Reading

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We’re having a Sunday School “commissioning” service this Sunday at church as we launch into a new year of reaching, teaching, and ministering to our community. As part of this we’re going to bring all the leaders, teachers, and helpers up front, both to be recognized, but more importantly, to be visibly “set apart’ by our church to do the work God has called them to. These 35+ people in our church touch lives in ways no other single person could, and I love them all.

We’re coming up with a bulletin insert talking about the importance of “commissioning” and a little “responsive reading” to get everyone involved in the service, and I thought I’d post the reading here:

Pastor: Jesus said, “Go and make disciples.” (Matthew 28:19)

SS Workers: We will make disciples, and we will be disciples.

Pastor: Whatever your assignment may be –  leader, teacher, or helper – your ministry is important to our Sunday School.

SS Workers: We believe that we are guides for the blind, and lights for people lost in darkness. We will do our part. (Romans 2:19)

Pastor: No ministry can function with leaders alone. We must ALL participate.

Congregation: We will support our Sunday School workers. We will faithfully and regularly pray for them. Lead us. Equip us.

Adults in Congregation: Create opportunities for us to reach, teach, and minister. We will follow you.

Children and Youth: Teach us truth. Help us learn to follow the Lord.

Pastor: Many barriers could keep you from your work. Fear. Busyness. Distraction. But we believe in you, and trust in the Lord, because with God, all things are possible. (1 Corinthians 10:13, Matthew 19:26)

SS Workers: With God, all things are possible.

Congregation: With God, all things are possible.

Everyone: With God, all things are possible. Amen.

 

Memory Jogger

I am tired. I don’t know but perhaps it’s been such a full week I need to refresh. For now, some memory joggers for later.

  • Talked to the neighbor kid about his drummer. He sees where I’m coming from, what my complaint is, and where we can compromise.
  • Played quite a bit of softball; had a blast, and finished strong.
  • Helped Erin husk and freezer-prep 2-3 bushels of sweet corn.
  • Brought in another key spot to our Sunday School leadership team that we’ve been praying for. PERFECT FIT, I think.
  • Made it through the weekend of softball without compromising my desires but at the same time refusing to allow any conflict of interest with other “real” priorities.
  • Made some serious progress on projects, alone and with help: retaining wall, garden fence, mowing grass.
  • Talked to my next door neighbor.
  • Prayed with my wife and feel leading / direction with her mother.
  • Rode horses… by my self, with my son, and with my wife.
  • Had lunch with a TON of friends today. I am so blessed.
  • And now, blogging for just a minute to jog the memory later on. And then 42 minutes of Jack Bauer and my elliptical machine.
  • Note to self: also need to recount the story with the horses gone missing a few months ago.

What I didn’t do:

  • I need to find a way to get my Bible reading in on the weekend instead of playing catchup on Mondays and Tuesdays.
  • Prayer. Prayer. Prayer.

C.S. Lewis on Church

From The Screwtape Letters, by C.S. Lewis
I note with grave displeasure that your patient has become a Christian. Do not indulge the hope that you will escape the usual penalties; indeed, in your better moments, I trust you would hardly even wish to do so. In the meantime we must make the best of the situation. There is no need to despair; hundreds of these adult converts have been reclaimed after a I brief sojourn in the Enemy’s camp and are now with us. All the habits of the patient, both mental and bodily, are still in our favour.

One of our great allies at present is the Church itself. Do not misunderstand me. I do riot mean the Church as we see her spread but through all time and space and rooted in eternity, terrible as an army with banners. That, I confess, is a spectacle which makes I our boldest tempters uneasy. But fortunately it is quite invisible to these humans. All your patient sees is the half-finished, sham Gothic erection on the new building estate. When he goes inside, he sees the local grocer with rather in oily expression on his face bustling up to offer him one shiny little book containing a liturgy which neither of them understands, and one shabby little book containing corrupt texts of a number of religious lyrics, mostly bad, and in very small print. When he gets to his pew and looks round him he sees just that selection of his neighbours whom he has hitherto avoided. You want to lean pretty heavily on those neighbours. Make his mind flit to and fro between an expression like “the body of Christ” and the actual faces in the next pew. It matters very little, of course, what kind of people that next pew really contains. You may know one of them to be a great warrior on the Enemy’s side. No matter. Your patient, thanks to Our Father below, is a fool. Provided that any of those neighbours sing out of tune, or have boots that squeak, or double chins, or odd clothes, the patient will quite easily believe that their religion must therefore be somehow ridiculous. At his present stage, you see, he has an idea of “Christians” in his mind which he supposes to be spiritual but which, in fact, is largely pictorial. His mind is full of togas and sandals and armour and bare legs and the mere fact that the other people in church wear modern clothes is a real—though of course an unconscious—difficulty to him. Never let it come to the surface; never let him ask what he expected them to look like. Keep everything hazy in his mind now, and you will have all eternity wherein to amuse yourself by producing in him the peculiar kind of clarity which Hell affords.

Work hard, then, on the disappointment or anticlimax which is certainly coming to the patient during his first few weeks as a churchman. The Enemy allows this disappointment to occur on the threshold of every human endeavour. It occurs when the boy who has been enchanted in the nursery by Stories from the Odyssey buckles down to really learning Greek. It occurs when lovers have got married and begin the real task of learning to live together. In every department of life it marks the transition from dreaming aspiration to laborious doing. The Enemy takes this risk because He has a curious fantasy of making all these disgusting little human vermin into what He calls His “free” lovers and servants—”sons” is the word He uses, with His inveterate love of degrading the whole spiritual world by unnatural liaisons with the two-legged animals. Desiring their freedom, He therefore refuses to carry them, by their mere affections and habits, to any of the goals which He sets before them: He leaves them to “do it on their own”. And there lies our opportunity. But also, remember, there lies our danger. If once they get through this initial dryness successfully, they become much less dependent on emotion and therefore much harder to tempt.

I have been writing hitherto on the assumption that the people in the next pew afford no rational ground for disappointment. Of course if they do—if the patient knows that the woman with the absurd hat is a fanatical bridge-player or the man with squeaky boots a miser and an extortioner—then your task is so much the easier. All you then have to do is to keep out of his mind the question “If I, being what I am, can consider that I am in some sense a Christian, why should the different vices of those people in the next pew prove that their religion is mere hypocrisy and convention?” You may ask whether it is possible to keep such an obvious thought from occurring even to a human mind. It is, Wormwood, it is! Handle him properly and it simply won’t come into his head. He has not been anything like long enough with the Enemy to have any real humility yet. What he says, even on his knees, about his own sinfulness is all parrot talk. At bottom, he still believes he has run up a very favourable credit-balance in the Enemy’s ledger by allowing himself to be converted, and thinks that he is showing great humility and condescension in going to church with these “smug”, commonplace neighbours at all. Keep him in that state of mind as long as you can.

Your affectionate uncle
SCREWTAPE

Found this on Facebook today, need to look at it more, later.