Teaching Grace From Tomatoes

This article is part 4 of 4 in the series Grace


   Behold, two men without to grow tomatoes. The first took little time for preparation. Taking the tender plants in rough and careless hands, he threw them in makeshift holes, quickly dug. He kicked the dirt about them, thrusting them back and forth, and packing the dirt with the heel of his boot. His movements were harsh and unfeeling and he hardly finished the job of planting one when he moved on to the next one. Then he stood back and commanded the plants to grow. Marching around the little plants he would shout out his instructions, “Produce, I command you! Produce!”
   Day by day he would appear with the stick in hand, moving about in a threatening way. “Your quota is a total of thirty two tomatoes per plant this year and you’re already behind in your growth pattern!”
   The second gardener took an entirely different approach. With tender hands he softened the ground, turning the rich soil again and again. Gently placed each little plant in the best position to catch the morning sun. He noted the shade of the larger trees, and how they would provide a cover during the heat of the day. He mixed his fertilizer with the soil and made a soft texture around the plant.
   Day by day he would come out with a spade in hand and till about the plants, watering and carefully removing weeds that would make their growth difficult. As the plants grew he staked them out, allowing the spines of each plant to be strengthened. He pruned the “suckers” that drained energy from the plants.
   “I know all of you will do well”, he said encouragingly. “Don’t you be in a hurry, harvest time will come and we will feast together.”
   The first man did not water is garden, nor did he bother to soften the hard lumps of clay. His fertilizer, without the necessary water, caused the plants to burn and wither. The ground hardened and the weeds grew. The man just could not understand tomato plants. “They’re just weak” he would grumble. “Next time I’ll plan something stronger – something that can really take it.”
   In time the harvest came.
   The plant that was beaten, in spite of the tragic circumstances produced some fruit. The branches had been broken and withered with the beatings of ‘guilt and failure’. The few tomatoes that were gathered were rather bitter. “Too much acid,” one remarked. No one was more disappointed than the plant itself, yet scars of daily neglect had taken their toll. Seeds were few for next year’s planting.
   The harvest of the other garden was rich and full. Tomatoes in all stages of growth in color literally way down the branches of all the plants. Seeds were set aside for the coming year and the fruit was gathered daily, well past the normal harvest time.
   People are much like tomato plants. Even the strongest ones need loving care, with words of praise and encouragement. Time is also a needed and useful element in maturity and harvest. The tomato plant, like the believer, has within the natural desire to bear fruit. The word of God sums it all up in these simple words… “But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”
   (This was taken from dad’s study book “Amazing Grace – God’s Power To Be”).

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On Moving Preachers (Quitting Members, And Chocolate Pie)

   This is an article from my good friend, and ‘step-in-dad’ Charles Hodge Jr., wrote some time ago.
   “This season is “Fruit-basket-turnover” for preachers… members are quitting work assignments and/or moving. READ THIS ARTICLE SLOWLY AND SURELY! A regular job, a fixed assignment, a continued work responsibility! This is the crux, the key, the issue!
   LOCAL CHURCH PREACHING is the most difficult job on earth! If not, why aren’t more men preaching locally? Why do so many quit? Why do others become “meeting preachers”, “promoters”, or brotherhood gad-abouts? The stern discipline of study, fresh sermons, practical classes, weekly jobs, “same old people” constitute local work. Every succeeding year is harder… you tire and members tire! Any preacher has 4-5 fantastic sermons, but 100 a year! Most preachers do their best work their first year… the downhill! The “fixed assignment”, the regular job – that’s life! That’s why life is so difficult – it is so everlasting daily! So preachers move or quit or stagnate!
   FIXED ASSIGNMENTS? Regular job? This is the issue! Why won’t some members ever identify with a congregation? Why won’t members sign a “pledge card”? Why won’t members teach (“I’ll substitute some)? Why do elders, deacons, teachers quit? Why don’t more members become elders or deacons? Why don’t more deacons become elders? Why do members tire of their peculiar assignments? The issue is “fixed job”, “fixed assignments”, on and on-on-on! Persistence, perseverance, “stick-to-itive-ness”, patience, growth, maturity! It is easier to be “hot than cold”, “in and out”, “hit or miss”. DISCIPLINE! Nowhere is this more evident than in the Bus Ministry! It must be done WEEKLY! You find out what you are “made of” in a “regular job”. Others stagnate with their jobs!
   Yes, all of us want to be featured speakers on brotherhood lectures! But the “nitty-gritty”, the “trenches”, “where the rubber meets the road” is in the local Church pulpit! This is where preachers “root hawg or die” with people! Preachers STAY – BUILD – GROW! Anybody can accept what another has built! If you want to preach for a big church – make yours bigger! god never said it would be easy!

   The chocolate pie — (just) leave it on my desk!”
   Charles B. Hodge

   Hodge is an unusual man. Honest, straight forward, and down to earth… a lover of souls and Jesus, the Gospel and the church… one who loves preachers. Always willing to give advice to those willing to listen. Preaching all his life and being raised on a ranch, has made him a very down to earth yet wonderfully spiritual man full of wisdom…
   The ‘mainest thing is the plainest thing’ for sure, and Hodge is one to tell it as it is.
Truly, preaching is difficult, but rewarding as well. Do we need good preachers of the Word? of course, but we need preachers who know what WORK is. Brethren volunteer to give money each week to pay the bills for the church, and the preacher’s salary. If a preacher does not have a good work ethic, and does not appreciate what it means to really WORK… Then he is not ready… I was not ready. I knew the book, but didn’t have a good work ethic… I have learned!
Another thing which needs to be mentioned is BALANCE. I could preach, and ‘breathe fire’ from the pulpit, but I was not ready to be God’s man in the pulpit. For God’s people seldom need the ‘fire’ of God’s word’ (although there is a time for this). They don’t need ‘guilt’ (a poor motivator) for they already know about guilt. They need to know the wonderful grace and love of God, and they need encouragement to deal with life and fight Satan. For Satan is the enemy, not brethren. They need a man after (ie. WHO IS SEEKING) God’s heart, one who cares for God’s people… and one which knows the BALANCE of scripture. By balance I mean knowing how GRACE and SIN fit together. What good is GRACE without the APPRECIATING THE SINS WE ARE SAVED FROM. What good is preaching on the awfulness of SIN without the WONDERFUL GRACE OF GOD WHICH SAVES US ALL.
   I was not ready… for many years…and regret that… Yes some good was accomplished… but I was not ready. Life has been a hard teacher… learning to submit to the Master, and learning the beauty of His grace and forgiveness. Now I pray, I am ready…. We shall see….. God bless you in your walk with Jesus, and the service of His grace.
   Preacher’s know within themselves, the struggle, the heart ache, the tears as well as the joy, fulfillment and blessings of preaching. Only a preacher knows the struggle of a preacher. We need preachers… and more than that we need communicators… who’s concern is simply to COMMUNICATE as simply, and as powerfully as possible, the wonderful truths of scripture, and the eternal principles of life found there.
   Repeating the harsh words of someone who would rather dwell on ISSUES rather than words of life and encouragement and salvation is not what is needed… Words which tend to build and sustain walls, instead of reaching out to the lost, and striving to keep the unity of the spirit, are not needed. It is one thing to “contend for the faith” and another thing to be “contentious for the faith”. We need preachers, servants who know the difference.
   We can readily see from our past, what ill-prepared preachers have done… now is the time to prepare… learn what it is to WORK, learn BALANCE (not emphasizing one scripture over others), and be COMMUNICATORS instead of ‘professional preachers’. Learn if you must by stepping down a while, and get back the ‘fire’ and ‘love’ that has been missing. Then, with renewed love, concern for the brethren, and for the lost, with a heart in love with God and His word… determine to not seek the favor of any man or group, or click… determine not to add fuel to the fires of ISSUES, and division. Just preach Jesus. Learn what it means…. to be a servant from the heart, and the joy that comes from truly loving the flock of God, and the lost…. Then let this shine forth for all to see.  

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