Friday, July 3, 2009

Farming and the Holy Spirit

Ten or so years ago I was traveling through the Midwest to speak at a conference. A young man had picked me up at the airport and we were driving through farmland country. I liked him immediately, and we jump straight into conversation. As we drove through the flatlands everywhere we looked there were farms, tractors and men plowing. I asked the young man what he was planning to do when he gradated from college. He quickly replied, ‘I am going to seminary.’ ‘So you want to be a pastor?’ ‘Yes,’ he replied. So I asked if he had ever thought about how the Holy Spirit related to all those farmers plowing their fields. ‘No, not really,’ he said, ‘I have never thought about that.’ ‘Well,’ I said, ‘it would be a good idea for your think on that, as almost all of your parishioners will be farmers, or from farming families. These men spend 60 plus hours a week farming, and their families are right with them. So if you don’t know how the Holy Spirit relates to what they do, you are essentially saying that most of their lives fall outside the realm of the Trinitarian life of God. As their pastor, what exactly are you going to urge them to do to be spiritual?’

After a moment of awkward silence, I asked him if he prayed before he ate supper in the evening. ‘Of course,’ he said, ‘I always thank the Lord for the food we are about to receive.’ ‘Why?’ I asked. ‘Why thank the Lord?’ It was one of the first times that the utter craziness of the sacred-secular dichotomy was so clear to me. The young man looked at me like I had grown a third eye. ‘How is it that you thank the Lord for the food that these farmers and their families grew with such great care, and yet you do not know how the Lord relates to their lives as farmers? And what exactly is the good news that you will be proclaiming to these farmers and their families?’

One of the great disasters of Western deism here stares us in the face. These farmers and their wives and children give their lives, day after day, month after month, year after year, to grow food to feed thousands of people. And I would hazard a guess that for the most part they love what they do. On Sundays they do their religious duty and go to Church, or at least they used to. I wonder if they have ever heard a single sermon on the way their lives and farming are a participation in Jesus’ anointing in the Holy Spirit, one of the ways they are a part of the kingdom of the Triune God. And if not, what then have they heard?

What do we say to the man who drives the bread truck six days a week, or the teacher who gives her heart for children with little recognition of her real value and less money? What do we say to the fishermen, the firemen, the oil workers and architects, the nurses and mechanics, the sanitation engineers, social workers and business men and women, to the fathers and mothers, grandfathers and grandmothers about what they do with the vast majority of their time on this planet? ‘Sorry, what you do is nice, but second class, just on the edge of the Holy Spirit, but still outside?’ I have seen preachers do the lip quiver asking for money to support people who are in ‘full time’ Christian ministry, as if the farmer and his family, the nurse, the grandmother are not.

I think this is one of the great issues of our day. If the ‘modern’ Christian message is incapable of affirming people in their humanity, in their work and play and relationships, then we don’t have anything much to say to them, other than ‘do your duty now so you can go to heaven when you die’? Why should they come to Church? Why would they be interested in anything we have to say. The modern message is irrelevant to their lives here and now.

But what if we told people who they are? What if we told them that they were included in Jesus, and in his relationship with his Father, and in his anointing in the Holy Spirit? What if we told the bread truck driver that his work was inspired by the Holy Spirit himself? What if we treated him as if it were true? What if we told the teacher that her burden for her students did not originate in her at all, but in the love of the Father, Son and Spirit, and that her participation in their love was as beautiful as it was critical? What if we told the farmer and his family that the Lord has no intention of being the Lord without them (to borrow from Karl Barth) and that their farming was the fruit of the Holy Spirit? What if we began to relate to people and to what they do with the honor and respect that belongs to Jesus himself and the Holy Spirit?


Ron said...

It has got to be true if God becomes bigger and better because of what we're learning doesn't it? Anyone that studies this with an open mind comes away with God being more exalted and good. Much more.

A God that is this good is the most wonderful news that man is able to think. Just give it a chance sceptic and you will find three 7s lined up on the hundred dollar machine which pays more than you will ever spend.

The Triune Embrace said...

Nothing to do w/farming, but the very same sentiment soared out of my soul as I watched a documentary on how Phantom of the Opera was made. If that awesome production was not inspired by the creativity of the Third person of the Trinity then I cannot imagine what is. And yet,we are more inclined to relegate the world of the theater and so-called secular music to the fallen realm rather that belonging to the glorious Trinty who is the source of all beauty,sound and senses.A thousand thanks, Baxter, for heightening my senses to the largesse and all-inclusiveness of God.

Anonymous said...

I used this story with a pastor friend of mine last week (I remember you telling us about it a while back) and he said he never thought of the gospel in this way! I hope you don't mind us using it!

Anonymous said...

what happend to personal sin, depravity, election, wrath of God abiding on the unbeliever? How do we know the incarnaion included all of humanity? It seems you take truth for the saints and make them apply to everyone?

Anonymous said...

Anonymous sums up what the majority of Christians believe. I want what you say to be correct but I have been taught the contrary for much too long. What if everyone really matters to God. I mean really and not just those of us fortunate to hear a salvation message and had the nerver to respond.

Anonymous said...

another comment: what do you tell an impenitent sinner? He/she is united to Jesus in the incarnation?
what of imputed righteousness? repentance?
How do you show vicarious humanity and as tf speaks about vicarious repentance?

Anonymous said...

where do you prove that jesus made a vicarious human response for me? as TF Torrance claims? Is His love no different for the elect than for those who refuse to believe and repent?

Anonymous said...

anonymous, I want to answer this question with a question if you do not mind.

Which came first, repentance on our part or God's love?

Without God first loving us, we cannot repent. God would not love us enough to help us to repent. God would not love us enough so that "while we were still sinners, he died for us".

Here is what we are taught in mainstream:
"If you repent, then God will love you and apply the blood of Jesus on you."
First of all, it implies that we first have to come to God before God can come to us. It puts the power into our hands, not God's.

Second, it asks God to change his mind about us, which is to say, "God repents". I don't think so.

Third, it says that God did not love the world enough to die for it, making the scripture quoted a lie.

Either God loved us first, while we were still "impenitent sinners", thus, no matter who we are or what we have done, we all come to God on HIS terms, which is love and forgiveness, or we have no hope for anyone.

Another question, why did God call you? Because you were less of a sinner than your neighbor? If God can forgive me, he can forgive anyone! I am not a special case, (though I feel like sometimes) and have no more special treatment from God than any other human being. Nor have you any more special treatment.

"For God so loved the world" and we can stop right there, but he did not. He kept on until "that he gave his only begotten son" which has already been done. Then "so that whosoever shall believe" and that is something we do ONLY because God has already done! PERIOD.

Either we believe it, or not.
then "[we] shall have everlasting life"

God loved us first.


Anonymous said...

To Boyd: without personal faith in christ as your savior you have no way of knowing about being righteous before Almighty God. Barth, etc. all present humanity as elect in christ and this is heresy. The gospel calls us to repent and believe. All who come shall find a welcome by the great physician who justifies the ungodly. The wrath of GOd abides on those in unbelief. THese are the words of scripture.

Anonymous said...

I suppose we can continue to ask questions, such as where does faith come from, and is my faith good enough?

Even devout Christians who are honest with themselves will confess that their faith is still lacking when it comes to their salvation. Do I trust my own faith? Or am I given that faith from God to begin with?

It was not my faith or belief that God created me. It was not my faith or belief that He sent his only Son to become human. It was not my faith or belief that he lived, suffered, died and resurrected for me. It was not my faith or belief that he ascended back to the Father and sat at his right hand.

These events were in spite of my faith and belief. What is there to believe if salvation has not come? Jesus Christ himself IS Salvation! If he has not done what he has done to me already, there what is there to believe?

Who can guarantee that by MY faith and MY belief that God will bend his ear to me? God already has his ear to me! God has already committed his only begotten son to me! THAT is what I need to believe!

What works of faith and belief do we have to get God's attention? If God has not spoken to me, how did I hear? God has already created everything about me to be his son from the beginning, so belief is something I do only because God has already done so.

With our without our help.

Do you believe?


Anonymous said...

Justification before God is by the faith of Christ, or His work. My knowledge of that is by coming to Him as I see my need for a cure. He dispenses faith to His people just like He dispenses grace and every other gift purchased at the cross. I dont cause HIm to "bend" His ear by a work or so called faith. He grants me the remedy to come to HIm and confess to HIm Lord Jesus rm10.9-19

Anonymous said...

Exactly Anonymous, and that is how God works in and through humanity.

And when they respond (finally), they already have God's ear there waiting, ready to listen.

God's grace is already there, we just need to respond. And what Baxter is explaining is that all the talents and all the "good" works we have on earth, in spite of us being "broken" by our sins, are only by the grace of God being involved in humanity.

That does not mean that all of humanity is aware of God's involvement, but I think more of them are aware than we think. We just look at people from the outside, not understanding what is going on in their personal lives on the inside.

If you see a homosexual walk into your church, will you kick him out? Or will you realize God may be calling him and he is responding and crying out for help? Many will kick him out not realizing God is working with him.

As for farmers, carpenters, teachers and the fishermen (tip o' da hat to Baxter) and other professions or hobbies, all come from God's talents, abilities and gifts that were given to us at creation. We are simply using those gifts and talents to help each other, which God wanted all along.

Give them time, let them know how much God is involved in their lives, and maybe they will get the big picture and accept God's love and forgiveness. THEN they can truly repent (that is, change their minds about God and who they are in Him).


Warren said...

Anonymous, I'd like to know why you think that Baxter's teaching denies the need for repentance, or for faith in Christ. Have you presumed, based on reading a small portion of what he's written and said, that because he's not saying things the way Calvinist evangelicals say things, that he's automatically saying things that are 'unbiblical'? I think you have. I think you are an intellectually arrogant observer, a spiritual curmudgeon and a person who is fearful of opening your mind up to the possibility that Jesus and the Bible have MORE to say than you ever thought possible. How about you read all of Baxter's writings and meet the guy before you decide to pull the speck out of his eye. There seems to me to be an awfully large log in yours.
BTW do you think he's never encountered your kind of objection before? Not on your nelly. But his main response, as I understand it, is this - why get hung up on the idea of who's in and who's out, rather than simply offer to everyone you meet the unconditional love of God through Christ? Seems to me that your preference is to condemn people first and hang onto that until they meet YOUR conditions, rather than dine with 'sinners' and 'tax collectors' the way Jesus did.