Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Preliminary Work: What we can learn from Joseph and Daniel

Our mission is to grow vegetables for hunger relief programs, so you’d think that that most of what we do is working with plants and distributing produce. We do a lot of that, but there is other work that is equally essential to accomplishing what God wants from this garden. We craft garden plans to make the most of the space He’s given us. We set up irrigation systems, put down plastic mulch, and install fencing to keep critters away from the crops. We write grants to have the resources we need. That shows that there’s more to ministry than meets the eye; it usually doesn’t happen unless other things happen first.

That reality is reflected in scripture, particularly in the lives of Joseph and Daniel. God had important tasks for both men. Joseph was to provide for God’s people during a time of severe famine. Daniel was to take care of later generations of those people by, among other things, influencing the foreign leaders God had placed over them. They were only in a position to do those things because they first faithfully performed other, more mundane, tasks. Joseph was only in a position to provide for Israel because he first did a good job managing a prison. Genesis 39: 22-23, 40:1-6, 41:9-16. Daniel was able to influence those leaders because he had a record of irreproachably discharging his secular duties. Daniel 1:19-20, 6:2-5.

The examples of Joseph and Daniel are not the only places where scripture reflects that principle. Colossians 3:23 instructs that “whatever your work is, put your heart into it as done for the Lord.” (New Jerusalem Bible, emphasis added). 1 Peter 4:11 similarly teaches that “if anyone serves, he should do it with the strength God provides so that in all things God may be praised.” (NIV). The same principle underlies Sirach 11:20. The point is clear: We have to take care of business in order to take care of the people God calls us to serve.

Monday, August 23, 2010

What we can learn from our okra: we are blessed so we can yield blessings

Although our okra is strong and productive now, it didn’t start out that way. It required a LOT of attention earlier in the season. The seeds needed soaked before we planted them. The young plants were in danger of being overwhelmed by the spring crops they were interplanted with, requiring us to repeatedly trim those spring crops. The same was true with weeds, requiring us to put down newspaper/straw mulch. Then there was side dressing and thinning. Okra was definitely a high maintenance crop during May and June.

We did all that work for a reason—we knew that the okra would bear much fruit later. It is a steady producer (averaging 30 Lbs. a week so far this year), and the plants themselves are pleasing to the eye. We were therefore willing to give it extra attention at the outset.

The same dynamic occurs between individual Christians and God—He invests much in us early in our relationship with Him so we can bear fruit later. Think about it. Your early months/years walking with the Lord were probably filled with graces, blessings, and a sense of His presence that seem extraordinary in hindsight. That dynamic underlies Jesus’ parable of the patch and the wine skin. Matthew 9:14-17, Mark 2:18-22, Luke 5:33-39. It is also displayed, on a corporate level, in the book of Acts; God lavished extraordinary blessings on the very early church. Acts 2:43-47, 4:32-35, 5:12-21, 12:1-18.

Scripture makes it clear that there is a reason for those great early blessings: to prepare us to bear fruit later. Isaiah 5:1-7 speaks to that dynamic, explaining how God richly blessed Israel so that it would bear the fruits of justice and righteousness. Isaiah 5:1-2 describe how God built “a vineyard on a fertile hill. He dug it all around, removed its stones, and planted it with the choicest vine … then He expected it to produce good grapes” (emphasis added). Jesus taught the principle; it is implicit in the parable of the barren fig tree set out in Luke 13:6-9 and is the basis for the parable of the vine. John 15:1-11. The principle is unmistakable: God blesses us so that we can yield blessing.

There is also an unmistakable corollary to that principle: extraordinary blessings will be withdrawn if we don’t bear fruit. Isaiah 5:3-7 describe how God took away His special blessings from Israel when it didn’t produce the fruit He expected. The property owner Jesus describes in the parable of the barren fig tree threatens to cut the tree down if it doesn’t produce, offering a rationale any gardener can understand: “It is taking up space we can use for something else.” Luke 13:7 (NLT). John 15:2 describes similar consequences for the failure to bear fruit. Perhaps that’s what James was referring to when he wrote that “faith … if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.” James 2:17.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Glenn DeMott: Community Gardener of the Year!

Every year the Franklin Park Conservatory's Growing to Green Program makes awards to honor outstanding gardens and gardeners in Central Ohio. Tonight our own Glenn DeMott was recognized as the 2010 Community Gardener of the Year. Here's why:

Glenn’s contribution to our garden’s goals

We have two goals for this year: to increase the quantity and quality of food we produce for hunger relief programs and to involve more people in our garden. Glenn has been instrumental in helping us accomplish both.

He singlehandedly brought about a significant increase in the quantity and variety of our produce. Glenn dramatically increased the size of our spring crop, taking it from 200 Lbs. last year to 1,618.9 Lbs. this year—an 800% increase! He also expanded the range of produce that made up that crop. Last spring we only grew mustard greens and turnips. Glenn expanded that by introducing many new crops: peas, onions, beets, radishes, kohlrabi, spinach, potatoes, cabbage, garlic, and lettuce. All of that was Glenn’s doinghe pushed us to do a spring crop when some us didn’t want to, he expanded the range of vegetables grown, and he did the lion’s share of the work to get the crop planted, nurtured and harvested. His initiative and effort resulted in hunger programs receiving a lot of fresh produce at a time when it is generally unavailable (May and early June).

Glenn has also been successful in involving new people in our garden. Quantitatively, he has exponentially increased the number of core volunteers. We went from a group of 5 regulars last year to approximately about 20 this year. Qualitatively, he has increased the diversity of our group. We went from a homogeneous group of middle aged gardeners to a group that now includes young moms, school children, and retirees. Glenn brought those new faces into our garden and we couldn’t be more grateful.

Glenn’s unique focus on the “least among us” has intensified our impact

Glenn has made two unique contributions that have fine tuned our overall effort to serve the “least among us.” See Matthew 25:40.

The first is his focus on prison ministry. He has made a point of directing a portion of our produce to Harbor on the Hill, a ministry that helps ex-offenders grow into productive lives by helping them immediately after they’re released from prison. Glenn’s focus on that ministry helped feed folks that few others would give the time of day.

The second is his attention to children. He has made real efforts to get kids involved in our garden. He started a spin off garden for our church’s pre-school program, involved children from our vacation Bible school in our main garden, and brought junior high school students into help plant our spring crops.

Glenn helped us meet the challenges of relocating and expanding our garden

Our major challenge this year was relocating and expanding our garden. The land we previously gardened was sold, so we had to start from scratch at a new site. Further, we had significant “growing pains” because our new garden is twice the size of our old garden, and expansion brought its own issues. Glenn helped us meet those challenges in two ways.

First, he has devoted an incredible amount of time to the garden. That started last winter when he researched new techniques and crops, including many of the new spring crops discussed above. It continued through the spring as he recruited and worked with volunteers to do the hard work of getting our new beds in place and cleaned up. Since then he has spent countless hours thinning, watering, weeding, and harvesting our crops—most of which he planted! No other volunteer has put more time into our garden.

The second is in his generosity. He purchased seeds, tomato cages, and stakes for us. He has lent us many invaluable tools, everything from seed planters to tillers.

We simply couldn’t have accomplished all that we have without Glenn’s contributions of time and resources.

The specific impacts of Glenn’s contributions

There have been two specific sets of impacts from Glenn’s work this year, one tangible and intangible.

The tangible impacts are what we’ve been able to produce. So far this year we’ve generated 4,167.93 Lbs. of produce for hunger programs—That’s 192% more than we produced at this time last year. That has benefited homeless individuals fed by the Faith Mission, families served by Lutheran Social Services’ food pantries, ex-offenders trying to get on their feet through Harbor on the Hill, and Somali refugees served by the Hilliard Summer Lunch program. More than half of that food came from Glenn’s spring crop, he has been indispensable in producing our summer crop, and he is already planning our fall crop. Glenn is responsible for feeding a lot of people.

The intangible impact is on the “community” part of our community garden. Although we were pretty good at gardening, we weren’t too successful in building community before Glenn got involved. He changed that by bringing in many new folks, as discussed above. But beyond the raw numbers, he has really gotten the new people engaged. More than one has commented on how Glenn’s patient instruction helped them get into this new activity. That wouldn’t have happened without Glenn.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

A Garden Hose as a Metaphor for the Productive Christian Life: Solutions to Those Problems (part 4 of 4)

Fortunately, there are remedies, and better yet preventives, for all the problems discussed in the previous post.

Clogs can be unplugged, and avoided, through regular prayer and time in God’s Word. Those disciplines improve our connection to God, the essential spigot, which in turn increases our spiritual water pressure. And regular time with God tends to keep us out of the dirt that might otherwise clog us. See Proverbs 2; Sirach 14:20-15:6; Hebrews 4:12-16; Philippians 4:6-7; James 1:2-5; 2 Timothy 3:14-17.  

Those same fundamentals—prayer and scripture—also undo kinks. They show us where we should be and inspire us to get there, helping realign us with God so He flows through all parts of our lives. Indeed, that increased spiritual water pressure actually helps push into proper alignment with Him. See James 1:25

We can dramatically increase our usefulness by connecting with other believers. Our overall capacity is exponentially increased and areas we could not reach on our own can be quite easily covered if we connect with our brothers and sisters in Christ. See Ecclesiastes 4:9-12

We can also significantly boost our effectiveness by focusing what God gives us (time, energy, skills, and talents) on the tasks He’s given us. Just as the same amount of water has much greater impact when forced through a nozzle, we are much more powerful when we allow God to channel us into a particular task. We do that by getting rid of the extraneous. For example, cutting back on media alone can have amazing impact, removing distractions and outright corruption. See Proverbs 4:25; Sirach 3:21-23; Sirach 11:20; Sirach 51:30; Luke 9:62; Proverbs 10:5.   

Finally, we have to let God’s living water flow through us. Hoses are meant to pass water onto where it is needed, not to store it. Let water sit in a hose without release and the hose will rot. We are the same way. God blesses us so we can bless others. Holding onto things God gives us to give to others will not only deprive the intended recipients, but will rot us as well. We must instead pass God’s blessings on by sharing His Gospel and giving to others. See Luke 12:16-21; Sirach 11:19-20; Proverbs 11:26; Matthew 25:14-30; Luke 16:9.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

A Garden Hose as a Metaphor for the Productive Christian Life: Problems That Limit Our Effectiveness (part 3 of 4)

Any one who’s ever used a garden hose knows it can be less than effective, even if it’s hooked up to the spigot and pointed where water is needed. It can clog with dirt, reducing and polluting the water that flows through it. Segments can out of alignment with the spigot and kink, drastically diminishing the amount of water going beyond the kink. It can be too short to reach where the water is needed. It can lack the force needed to accomplish the intended task without a nozzle. Or it can rot if water is allowed to sit in the hose, rather than pass through it.

Similar problems can beset us. Sin can clog us if we lack spiritual water pressure and let our selves get into the dirt. We develop kinks when parts of our lives are out of alignment with God. We can come up short, failing to reach the areas God wants watered, if we try to do His work on our own because we are too proud, or shy, to ask others for help. We can have only a portion of the force God intends if we lack a focused flow. Or we can simply decay by keeping the things God intends to flow through us, in us, rather than allowing them to pass onto others.

Taked from Images from God

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

A Garden Hose as a Metaphor for the Productive Christian Life: Connection to The Source (part 2 of 4)

Another thing we can learn we can learn from a garden hose is that we can’t accomplish what God calls us to do apart from Him, no matter how hard we try.

Just as it is impossible for a hose to perform its function if it's not hooked up to a spigot, no one can fulfill God’s plan without being connected to God and His living water. We can try with all our might, but our efforts will have no lasting value if we don’t access that source. We’ll just be like a hose apart from a spigot—hollow, dry, and useless.

Taken from Images from God

Sunday, August 1, 2010

A Garden Hose as a Metaphor for the Productive Christian Life: Serving Our True Purpose (part 1 of 4)

What can Christians learn from a garden hose? Quite a bit.

As we’ll see in this and each of the three following posts, we can learn about the importance of serving our true purpose, the importance of staying connected to God, some of the problems that can limit our effectiveness for God, and some solutions to those problems.

First of all, a hose shows us how important it is to use our lives for the purpose God intended. A hose can be used for other things besides moving water, but the results will be substandard. For example, a hose can be used like a rope to bind something, but the knot won’t last and the hose will likely be damaged in the process. Used for its intended purpose, that same hose can successfully accomplish many things, from watering a garden to washing a car—and do so far more effectively than it could tie something together. It is a simply a waste to use a hose for any other purpose.

The same is true of people. God has specific a purpose for each of us and we are each specially designed for our particular purpose. Both the ultimate value and immediate quality of our lives are directly related to how closely we follow His plan. We can accomplish wonderful things if we direct our energies to what He intends, but will be next to worthless, and unhappy, if we do not. The lesson is clear—we and others are blessed if we follow God’s call and hurt if we don’t.

Taken From Images from God