Please be sure to read (or at least scroll) to the end of this e-mail, to see important praises, prayer requests, and announcements, including a family-friendly halloween alternative taking place at the Orange SDA church this weekend!
Anaheim SDA Church
Mid-week Pastor’s Update
October 26th, 2022
“The mouth speaks out of the overflow of the heart. That is what makes a person clean or unclean.” Matthew 15:18
What do you “put in your tank”?
I remember, back when I was teaching at Mesa Grande Academy some fifteen years ago, the outdoors club at our school went for a weekend camping/boating trip to Lake Havasu. Several of the teachers and parents came along, along with our school science teacher/assistant principal.
As we got everything packed, and everyone gathered and organized into the several vehicles, we agreed we’d stop at a gas station before getting on the freeway for the long drive. There, we filled-up, made sure bladders were empty, tummies were full, and got on our way. I was riding in a “dually” pickup, it’s bed in the back packed to the gills, and also pulling a trailer.
Several miles down the freeway, the dually (being driven by the science teacher/assistant principal) started to sputter and shudder quite strongly! “What’s going on?” we thought, “Do we need to stop and go to a mechanic?”
What we discovered had happened was that, at the gas station, the science teacher/assistant principal had filled up the dually’s tank with diesel fuel instead of gasoline! I don’t remember whether perhaps the vehicle was borrowed, or belonged to someone else in the group, but somehow he wasn’t familiar with the vehicle and, assuming it was a diesel engine, had put in the wrong type of fuel.
Several of us worried and wondered aloud whether we’d be able to go on at all, of if we’d need to abandon the vehicle (and perhaps the whole trip!) because of this error. But no, he said, being a science teacher, he knew that a gas engine can run (albeit poorly) on diesel fuel. Plus, it was a mix of gas and diesel in there, since the tank had some leftover gas from before the fill-up.
He explained that the reverse is not possible, though: that diesel engines cannot run on gasoline at all, because diesel engines do not provide a ‘spark’ to the ignition chamber: diesel fuel explodes on compression, whereas gasoline needs a spark.
So we continued down the freeway several hours to our destination. It was an uncomfortable ride, though: our teeth were jostling, and our ears were suffering from the sound!
Years later I thought of that experience in relation to how we live life: what motivates us: our actions, our words, even our thoughts.
God made our hearts, our “tanks” to run on something, but are we all too often putting in the wrong kind of ‘fuel’ to motivate & power us?
I think the blend of ‘fuel’ that many people put in their tanks is a mix of ambitions, fears, resentments, and aggressions. These are their primary thoughts which motivate and push them. Such people live pretty unhappily, and may even face a shorter lifespan due to stresses, addictions (entered into in order to cope with the negative effects of living in such a way), and even subjecting oneself to physical danger (perhaps through ‘thrill seeking’, or even drug use).
Then there’s the more gentle ‘fuel’ of competition, competitiveness, that probably much of society fuels itself on. Competition is viewed as healthy and overall helpful in the world of commerce & business, sports, politics, even evolutionary theory! “Survival of the fittest”, and “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” are common phrases based on such an outlook.
And I somewhat agree: competition often causes us to strive and perform at our best. Students in law school or business school, what have you, study their hardest to achieve their best, knowing that great success, wealth, and reputation lie down the road of victory. Athletes reach the very peak of physical and strategic ability in perfecting themselves for competition. And, competition ensures that only the most efficient companies, with the best return on investments will survive to sell another day. In this widely-accepted view, competition is really what makes the world go round.
But, is that the ideal ‘fuel’ God intends for us to put in our tank? Or does it result in the similar sputtering and shuddering that we experienced in the dually that day? While competition seemingly makes all parties strive for greatness, there are some who look at the whole pyramid of competition and just feel intimidated or even exhausted by even the prospect of entering into it, and never even get into the mix of things. Others, by definition of the majority, strain and struggle and might achieve a moderate level of success, but ultimately have to admit their limitations and accept that something/someone is practically always going to be better than they are. Though there are of course many psychological ways to cushion the blow and comfort oneself, competition inherently creates more losers than winners by its very nature.
So what would be the ideal ‘fuel’ God would have us ‘put in our tank’, to motivate and drive us? Is there a fuel that doesn’t exhaust, doesn’t intimidate, doesn’t eventually humiliate the majority?
You may already have a sense of where I am going: God’s solution, His ideal motivator in life for us is love. As 1st Corinthians 13 reminds us: love always cares, always protects, always hopes, always forgives, always perseveres, and *never* fails. It consoles and encourages the weak and the young, it motivates acts of kindness, goodness, and charity. And, possibly best of all, it doesn’t divide people into camps of ‘winners’ and ‘losers’. Everybody feels good in a loving environment! The strong use their strength to lift others up, and the week find themselves lifted up by others. Everybody benefits! It’s a worldview that bases itself on different fundamental principles than the competitively-based world does.
I think many many Christians try to run with both kinds of ‘fuel’ in their tanks simultaneously. “Love yet competition” is probably what’s actually in the minds of most people in the pews on a given weekend. But can they mutually coexist? Can each philosophy thrive without endangering or squelching out the other? I’m not sure. I think of the average male Sunday churchgoer, who listens to a lovely sermon on love and perhaps enjoys a potluck in Christian community, but then goes home to watch football players smash each-other for hopeful victory and glory (and lots of money coming in). Which of those messages makes the stronger impact on the soul? Which impresses the mind more strongly? Which one is the hypothetical person more likely to talk about with his co-workers on Monday? Again, I think of that sputtering, uneasy trip we had to Lake Havasu, with a mix of unintended fuel in the tank.
I’ve got to tell you: I’m kind of down on competition. As a teen, I never liked the way the athletes carried themselves in school (even though it was a Christian school). I never liked aggression, or the concept of “victory over” someone else. I read once in Ellen White’s writings that we shouldn’t engage in competitive sports, and I was surprised to read that, since varsity teams are really ubiquitous in our schools. But, it’s true: since reading that I’ve just seen it too much: that though it causes our students to strive and improve and strategize and cooperate toward a group goal (and keeps them physically fit in the meantime), I’ve seen competitiveness bubble-over into defining self-worth (either self-pity or pride, depending on their ability to achieve), I’ve seen parents go over the edge in the stands, yelling and cussing at the referees or the coaches (or even their own kids!) for what they’re doing out there. And, of course, a certain percentage of kids receive injuries they have to recover from for weeks, if not months. I wonder if similar damage could be going on in their hearts.
I’m really not here to judge anybody, I enjoy my fair share of sports too, but I just believe there’s a corrosion at the center of competition that is just inherent to it, which love doesn’t have.
Perhaps it comes from my joyful belonging times in choirs, plays, or worship teams that make me feel it’s so much better to be involved in cooperative endeavors than competitive ones. Of course: a running team, a cycling team, a camping trip, or a building project can all provide camaraderie, physical striving, and an overall situation in which people can come away all feeling fulfilled, like they’ve aided and contributed, rather than “I’ve won” or “lost”.
So, obviously I’m not advocating an extreme position that would exclude all types of competition (no pickup basketball games? No potato sack races? To propose such things would be absurd). I just want to ask the question: What’s the fuel you’re putting in your tank? Is your ultimate goal to uplift, help, and encourage everyone? Or to squash someone else so you can have victory?
I think whatever your answer is has far-reaching implications in life, in relationships, and in the professional arena. I believe over time the fruits of the one or the other will make themselves known. And of course, we know which motive/philosophy will exist and dominate in heaven. I don’t think I even need to say which one will. Let’s remember Jesus’ key line (among many) in the Lord’s prayer.
I pray a blessing for you and your family the remainder of this week and beyond. Greetings to your family from ours.
Pr. Mark Tatum