My wife and I, a few years ago, visited New Brunswick, that far-flung province of Canada where rocky earth and steely sea and windy sky all meet. We began in St. John, spent a few days in the Kingston Peninsula, drove through Moncton into the northwest corner of the province, stayed several nights on a remote lake whose waters were rimmed with massive boulders round as turtle shells. We crossed over into the state of Maine, drove down the coast, crossed back into New Brunswick, and ended, before looping back to depart from St. John, at St. Andrews on the sea. This is an idyllic seaside village with a castlelike hotel dominating the landscape. We stayed here, eating lobster, wading barefoot in the icy Atlantic, walking each morning to shores washed fresh by sweeping tides.
The one thing you need to know is that it was October. I live in British Columbia, another rock-ribbed province far-flung the other side of the continent, and we have our own ocean, and besides, steepshorn mountains, primeval forests, rivers that tumble from heights that turn them white in the tumbling. Few places rival its beauty. But New Brunswick in October comes close. New Brunswick’s trees, especially, are hypnotically beautiful. The forests are mosaics of leaf. I’d round a bend of lonely highway, and the harrowing beauty of yet another hill aflame with color distracted me near to crashing.
Coming from coastal BC, I thought fall meant leaves turned yellow or brown, fell, and then winter, sodden and bleary, stumbled in, noncommittal. But New Brunswick, flaunting itself like Joseph in his coat of many colors, made me jealous as Joseph’s brothers, and I sulked because the Father hadn’t given me one, too.
Biblically, fall captivates for a different reason: it’s harvest time. In ancient agrarian society, harvest was reckoning. The window between bumper crop and famine was an eye of the needle, narrow sometimes as a single day. A good crop was the cause of great rejoicing. A blighted crop, deep distress.
So harvest has a theological dimension to it. In its simplest form, harvest was an occasion for thanksgiving, a time to acknowledge God as provider: rainmaker, sun-keeper, storm-quencher. The seasons proved, yet again, God’s enduring faithfulness. And it demonstrated, yet again, the utmost dependency of God’s children on His faithfulness.
But even in the Old Testament, harvest began to take on a deeper theological significance, though that deeper significance becomes fully apparent only in the New Testament. To put it starkly, harvest is when we reap what we’ve sown. And reap it unto a storing of it. Not only do we reap what we sow, but we we store up what we reap. Our sowing has consequences in the present and in the future. It’s for now, and for then.
That’s good news, or bad. It all depends on what you sow, and how you sow.
But before all that, what does heart in fall feel like?
THE HEART IN FALL
The heart in fall, in a word, expectant. If we’ve prepared well in spring, plowing and sowing and planting, then we wait in an expectancy of hope. If we have not prepared well, we wait in expectancy of disappointment, maybe dread.
“Land that drink in the rain often falling on it and that produces a crop useful to those for it is farmed receives the blessing of God,” Hebrews says. “But the land that produces thorns and thistles is worthless and is in danger of being cursed. In the end it will be burned” (Hebrews 6:7-8). Hebrews alternates this way, between warning and encouragement. But it ties that warning and encouragement to several motifs. One minor motif running through the book is agricultural, the rhythems of planting and reaping. For example, “No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it” (Hebrews 12:11, emphasis mine). Or a few verses later: “See to it that no one misses the grace of God and no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many” (Hebrews 1215, emphasis mine).
Agriculture is all about patience. And it’s about anticipation: we expect something to come from our efforts. The heart in fall especially lives with this expectation. It feels the weight of it., the heft and tug of what’s coming, in a way that it simply doesn’t at other times.
Let me change the image somewhat to illustrate.
It just turned fall a few days ago, but only today it feels like fall. Up until now, days were warm and languid, and bright with the last burst of hibiscus and geranium. Everyone wore shorts and T-shirts, even in the evenings, and some still swam in the rivers. It dawned this morning looking like more of the same. But by midmorning, a greyness squelched the sun, a cold wind barrelled down the sky, a chill spread through the house. And then a cold slathering rain began to fall.
So I started the season’s first wood fire. The wood’s been curing since last winter. I gathered an armload of it, plus a fist full of kindling, and started my fire. In a few minutes, it blazed hot and bright in the stove, the very wood popping and sparkling like firecrackers.
Then I went out and surveyed my woodpile. Just shy of three cords, I reckon. In a typical winter, I burn through three and a half. And if the spring is cool and wet, I’ll push that close to four. I’m short of wood, then.
This was not a revelation. All spring and summer I knew this. I’d kept making, then forgetting, mental notes to myself to lay up more wood. I kept meaning to track down Michel, the French-Canadian guy with no fixed address from whom I usually buy firewood, simply because he has the gall to roll up in his battered truck, unannounced and uninvited, several times a year with a cut load of fir at an unbeatable price. Throughout the summer, whenever I’d see a truck loaded with firewood up to its gunnels and a number to call on its side, I’d call then and there.
The asking price was always, I thought, too high.
So I never got more. And today, estimating in my head the shortfall, I felt in my heart a weight of disappointment. Though I knew about this problem way back, I hadn’t felt the weight till now, standing in my shed with the wind howling at my back, the rain pouring off the eaves. Now the the time to do do something about it has come and gone. Now, I pray for a mild, brief winter.
That’s a long story to remake a simple point-that the heart in fall fills up with anticipation. And that anticipation-joyful, dreadful, eager, resigned-has much to do with how we steward our other seasons.
I heard a friend, Jim, recently address an incoming group of Bible school students. He used the parable of the seeds and the soils. He quoted the popular aphorism, “You get out only what you put in.” In the context-Bible students starting their school year-that sounded wise, if a tad clichê. But then Jim went on to say how untrue the saying is. In truth, we get out much more than we put in. We expect to. “Investors don’t invest, bankers don’t bake, farmers don’t farm, expecting to get out only what they put in. They do it expecting to get out much more. Put it this way,” Jim said, “you should expect to get out this time and experience much more than what you put into it. But you should expect to get out of it only the same kind of thing you put in. Put in gossip, or criticism, or fear, expect to get more out. Put in kindness, or encouragement, or love, expect to get more out.”
I’m not sure how closely the students were listening. I’m not sure it changed any of their minds, altered any of their actions. I do know, though, that come “fall,” come the end of their time at the school, their hearts will feel the weight of the truth Jim spoke about in a way none of them likely feel now.
– – – – – – -(below is my commentary)- – – – – – –
Racing down the German Autobahn is about as fast that the tremendous beauty that fills our summer days went. Yet, it is hard to believe that the summer of 2020 is gone, and it has been a memorable one with the outbreak of the dreaded Covid-19 or Coronavirus causing Americans to quarantine inside their houses, townhouses, garden-style apartments, etc… I work as a Direct Support Professional in the field of Human Services, and I am considered an essential worker since one cannot survive without essential health workers in place due to the need of our individuals that are in need of service. Now this is an election year for the United States of America, and rather than leave the medical science alone to offer true health, unadulterated by politics and money, Democrats, Republicans, and Independents are making their case for wearing a mask to fo over one’s nose and mouth or not, all in the power of government control. Twenty-twenty is an unique year since the perfect vision is twenty-twenty. With years gone by, however, just about all Americans don’t want to repeat this year.
The American national election is to be held the first Tuesday of November. By then, it is not projected to be over, however. Yet this is not what this is about, or is it? In a vague sense, one will reap what he sows in order to get more back. Just like politics, one has a duty to steward the ground which one hopes to get a crop. In His parable concerning money or coins, Jesus used the universal language-money; that way it would be clear on what He was trying to teach. Let’s take a look at Jesus has to say:
As the people were listening to this, Jesus told them a story because he was near Jerusalem and they thought God’s kingdom would appear immediately. He said: “A very important man went to a country far away to be made a king and then to return home. So he called ten of his servants and gave a coin to each servant. He said, ‘Do business with this money until I get back.’ But the people in the kingdom hated the man. So they sent a group to follow him and say, ‘We don’t want this man to be our king.’ “But the man became king. When he returned home, he said, ‘Call those servants who have my money so I can know how much they earned with it.’ “The first servant came and said, ‘Sir, I earned ten coins with the one you gave me.’ The king said to the servant, ‘Excellent! You are a good servant. Since I can trust you with small things, I will let you rule over ten of my cities.’ “The second servant said, ‘Sir, I earned five coins with your one.’ The king said to this servant, ‘You can rule over five cities.’ “Then another servant came in and said to the king, ‘Sir, here is your coin which I wrapped in a piece of cloth and hid. I was afraid of you, because you are a hard man. You even take money that you didn’t earn and gather food that you didn’t plant.’ Then the king said to the servant, ‘I will condemn you by your own words, you evil servant. You knew that I am a hard man, taking money that I didn’t earn and gathering food that I didn’t plant. Why then didn’t you put my money in the bank? Then when I came back, my money would have earned some interest.’ “The king said to the men who were standing by, ‘Take the coin away from this servant and give it to the servant who earned ten coins.’ They said, ‘But sir, that servant already has ten coins.’ The king said, ‘Those who have will be given more, but those who do not have anything will have everything taken away from them. Now where are my enemies who didn’t want me to be king? Bring them here and kill them before me.’ ”
Luke 19:11-27 NCV (obviously you can use any translation one wants by clicking on the underlined verses)
The two out of three servants used what I call righteous risk (a post I did in May 2018). It is ok to use righteous risk to get out much more than what one put in even when the unsaved world tries to squash you down and don’t try to get you to do the higher righteous risk. One does not want to be the one who has hid the coin and suffers because of it. Again, to quote Jim from “Spiritual Rhythm,““Investors don’t invest, bankers don’t bake, farmers don’t farm, expecting to get out only what they put in. They do it expecting to get out much more.“
“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full. “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. You are my friends if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called yojuu friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you. These things I command you, so that you will love one another. (ESV)
Now this should frighten all of us who believe in eternal security on the surface. But Jesus doesn’t deal with the surface as many do, rather He deals with the nitty gritty of our lives. He is not afraid to wade in the deep pile of sin that you and I have seemingly got a knack for getting ourselves into. Dwayne Johnson (a.k.a. “The Rock” in the WWE) has a famous saying, “JUST BRING IT!” In case one thought that Dwayne Johnson came up with that saying, Jesus Christ did it when He said that “It is Finished,” and He was the “TRUE ROCK.” Spiritually, Jesus is challenging, “JUST BRING IT!” for any one of those demons including the head honcho, Satan, who endangers one of God’s children. Instead, Jesus Christ offers salvation for anyone that accepts the free gift of salvation to any one of who accepts it and and lives the life following Jesus’s commands who He gave to us from the Father.
Obviously one has a hard time living up to this. However, remember this: Jesus Christ died for our sins that cover the whole span of our physical lives and no other prayer of salvation needs to be said; yet, when you do sin after that initial prayer, one needs to admit it and ask for God’s forgiveness according to Matthew 6:5-15 which reads:
“When you pray, don’t be like the hypocrites. They love to stand in the synagogues and on the street corners and pray so people will see them. I tell you the truth, they already have their full reward. When you pray, you should go into your room and close the door and pray to your Father who cannot be seen. Your Father can see what is done in secret, and he will reward you. “And when you pray, don’t be like those people who don’t know God. They continue saying things that mean nothing, thinking that God will hear them because of their many words. Don’t be like them, because your Father knows the things you need before you ask him. So when you pray, you should pray like this: ‘Our Father in heaven, may your name always be kept holy. May your kingdom come and what you want be done, here on earth as it is in heaven. Give us the food we need for each day. Forgive us for our sins, just as we have forgiven those who sinned against us. And do not cause us to be tempted, but save us from the Evil One.’ [The kingdom, the power, and the glory are yours forever. Amen.] Yes, if you forgive others for their sins, your Father in heaven will also forgive you for your sins. But if you don’t forgive others, your Father in heaven will not forgive your sins.
So, what does the heart feel like to a True Life Christian? Borrowing the phrase of Jim when he spoke to 1st year Bible college students, “You should expect to get out this time and experience much more than what you put into it. But you should expect to get out of it only the same kind of thing you put in. Put in gossip, or criticism, or fear, expect to get more out. Put in kindness, or encouragement, or love, expect to get more out.” With that sage advice coming from Jim, I wish I could have that advice just as I was starting Southeastern College of the Assemblies of God, now called Southeastern University in Lakeland, Florida. It would have made things that I was going through and my stance with God more confident. However, I didn’t pick up this book till years later. Coming back to rewards, whether one’s reward comes in this life or the next, one can be assured that a reward is coming!
~Darren L. Beattie, The Soul Blogger
Kingdom life, like summer living, abounds in fruit. It relishes the sheer abundance of God’s provision.
God has a knack for doing “exceedingly, abundantly more than we ask or imagine.” For wide swaths of our existence, we take that on faith. But in the summers of our hearts, we acknowledge it as fact. The evidence is everywhere. In earth’s summer, most gardens and fruit trees produce more than an average householder knows what to do with. (Where I live, late summer is like a potlatch of neighbors trying to give one another zucchinis and apples, plums and cabbages.) Likewise in summers of the heart, God provides more than most of us have the capacity to hold. When I’m in summertime, God gives me insight into the Bible faster and thicker than I can write it down or share with others. I live in a perpetual state of discovery. I’m Indiana Jones on the scent of the Spirit. And virtually everything seems another clue. Every book I read, movie I watch, conversation I have, situation I encounter-with maximum effort, each brims with meaning, illuminates some idea, connects with some truth or another. What I can dredge only in trace amounts of winter tumbles down in vast abundance in summer. Which leads to a caution. In summer, it’s easy to become a spiritual consumer-picky, wasteful, taking it all for granted.
Maybe the best way to understand this is to compare it with our tendency to ordinary consumerism. Consumerism’s worst symptom is that nothing’s enough. It imposes no outer limit or inward restraint on our appetites. The result of this is we crave many things and enjoy none. That’s what unchecked appetite does: increases hunger but diminishes satisfaction, so that we’re always wanting and never happy. We’re addicted to pleasure but never pleased.
Perhaps the greatest irony of consumerism is that, for all its treasure-hounding, the one thing it’s robbed us of is the capacity to treasure. Everything is disposable in a consumerist culture. In an article I wrote years ago for Christianity Today, I called it the “cult of the next thing,” an almost religious devotion to chase what I lack rather than enjoy what I have.
So this is where clarification is crucial: kingdom living (which summer gives us a taste of) could not be more different. It delights in the abundance that’s already here rather than looking for more. It takes pleasure in bounty. It treasures treasure. In other words, the kingdom is not when we need more but when we rejoice in the sheer muchness, the ampleness, of what we already have. One sign of this is you share that abundance and, even, give it away. The boy who offered little food he had to Jesus had personal abundance-five loaves and two fishes. It was more than enough, if all he cared about was himself. But in sharing his abundance with Jesus, who shared it with everyone, scarcity turned into abundance for all. Which is another irony of consumerism: it teaches us to hoard, to keep abundance all to ourselves, and so fosters a mindset of scarcity. Only abundance shared let’s us discover more than we asked or imagined.
I’ve learned a lot these past few years from my native friends, the Cowichan people. One of their traditions, for years banned by the Canadian government, was the potlatch-roughly translated “the great deeds.” The government banned the potlatch because they deemed it wasteful. That’s because the potlatch is not about hoarding wealth-a great Canadian tradition-but about giving wealth away. In the potlatch, a tribal chief would flaunt his wealth by bestowing it on another. This struck Canadian lawmakers as counterintuitive, which it certainly is, and opposed to all that is right and good and decent, which it certainly is not. Because in the potlatch tradition, what goes around comes around, and the result is wealth for all, not the few.
What grieves me is that early missionaries didn’t see the potlatch for what it was: a sign of the kingdom, a token of the One who “though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, so that through His poverty might become rich.” The potlatch was the most ready-made container for explaining the Gospel and the kingdom of God, in all of its counterintuitiveness, to native people. Abundance, like love and honor and peace, is increased by giving it away. Instead of seeing that, the Canadian government saw the potlatch as a threat, an upheaval, to our economic system, and got rid of it right fast.
Hoarding wealth, so much the way of the world, is the opposite of enjoying it. Thus, the world is the inverse of the kingdom, where wealth is only wealth when enjoyed, and that only when shared.
The kingdom rhythm of summertime is when we stop living in the mode of craving and complaining and instead live in the mode of giving and thanksgiving. It’s how it must have been in Eden before the serpent began to preach the doctrines of consumerism and scarcity. It’s how Adam and Eve, naked and without shame, must have spent their days, relishing each moment, the cool shimmer of morning, the drowsy heat of midday, the golden light and purple shadows of late afternoon, the riot of song and fragrance that broke out each night. They must have gone from tree to tree, sampling the vast array of fruit, overwhelmed by the abundance, the variety, the goodness of it all. Relishing every flavor, every texture, every everything for it’s own sake, not wanting it to be otherwise, not wishing for it to end or, for that matter, to stay. The joy of having a thing, they knew by holy instinct, was completed only by sharing the thing. All was pure gift, undeserved but gladly received, to be neither hoarded nor squandered, only shared, only enjoyed. The one response to all this: “Thank you!”
Taking a look back through almost 50 years of physical life, I could expound on the moment God had awoken my spiritual eyes to see that I was in need of divine help when God rescued my soul from going to the pit of hell. Or I could expound on my worldly accomplishments that I’ve made such as having my name in the academic National Honor Society in a private, Christian high school. Or I could list my number of awards and acomplishments like my 1995 Wheelhouse Gold Service Volunteer Award earned while I going to college which wasn’t easy since I had a learning disability (I will get to that in the season of winter). While finishing up my Master’s program in higher education, I successfully was able to lead the “HEADS UP!” project, a progam that teaches high school students about brain injury, steps they can take to prevent it, and if they should get a brain injury how to live with the brain injury. I could focus in on my honorary privilege of serving in the New Hampshire Developmental Disabilities Council where I served one year as the Vice-Chair of the Members Relations Committee and four years as the Chair. The late 1990’s, I was president of M.U.D.S. TASK FORCE (MODERNIZATION of the UNIVERSAL DISABILITIES SYMBOL-a grassroots organization that found as its goal to modify the International Symbol of Access. After all the members of M.U.D.S. TASK FORCE traveled to R.I. Central Office for a scheduled meeting, M.U.D.S. TASK FORCE was unable to convince R.I. Secretary General on a design (over 25 designs altogether) that expressed the true meaning of a disability. Instead, in 2013, Rehabilitation International unveiled the new symbol, which depicts a person getting of one’s wheelchair which still speaks of physical disability rather than speak of the whole being. Rather, we were awarded with the 1st design proposal change in the Western Hemisphere. However, I gave all the credit to Christ Jesus for all our work and how far it got M.U.D.S. TASK FORCE as I did with everything in my life. Yet, this isn’t the story I want to tell.
2019 Thanksgiving is the story I want to tell as our family traveled to go spend Thanksgiving with another family, to whom defied the the evils of commercialism (although they had all the technology a house could want). They caused our whole family to be in awe of the One who is broken for all of us (Jesus Christ). And don’t think we were the only ones invited over as they invited other family members as well. Our family could not have felt more at home. No individuals playing with their cell phones, rather we (all of us) played board games. Now that Thanksgiving Day was one of the best, yet the other family that invited us over did not make it into a spiritual enterprise where you had to be a Christian in order to get something out of it. No, no, no! Actually, that’s not at all what they did. They welcomed us along with the other family members with two additional interns staying at their house. What was the most outstanding was the way he honored God before we sat down to eat. However, the prayer to Almighty God before the Thanksgiving Day meal was simple; yet, it was (in my estimation) simply powerful. Then we began to eat and have fun. It was one of the best Thanksgiving Day meals my family and I have ever been a part of as our family was truly blessed by the gathering that celebrated the One whom True Life Christians owe their life to, Christ Jesus! And all we can do is say, THANKS!
~Darren L. Beattie, The Soul Blogger