Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

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Stony ground

Matthew 13:5 Some fell upon stony places, where they had not much earth: and forthwith they sprung up, because they had no deepness of earth:
6 And when the sun was up, they were scorched; and because they had no root, they withered away.
20 But he that received the seed into stony places, the same is he that heareth the word, and anon with joy receiveth it;
21 Yet hath he not root in himself, but dureth for a while: for when tribulation or persecution ariseth because of the word, by and by he is offended.

Jesus told a parable about a man who went out to sow his grain by hand and didn’t seem to be all that particular about where the seed landed. Some landed on hard packed trails, some on stony ground and some among thorns and thistles. I was a Saskatchewan farm boy, I got the picture, he was just throwing his seed away. Some even landed on soil that was cultivated, weed and stone free, and it grew to produce more seed for the man to throw around the next spring.

Preachers loved to read this parable to us and urge us to get out there and break up that hard-packed soil of our hearts, pull the weeds and thistles and clear away the stones, so the good seed of the Word of God could take root and grow. It all made sense to Saskatchewan preachers and farm boys.

Stones seem to grow on about half the farm land in Saskatchewan. You go out in the spring and pick stones on a field and by next spring there is a fresh crop of stones on the field. Where did they come from? Long, long ago stone boats were invented to help move stones from fields. They were flat sleds made of planks nailed to timber runners and pulled by oxen or horses. Later, tractor drawn wagons were used, but the actual rock picking was done by hand.

I picked rocks one day with a helper who was physically capable, yet unable to decide on his own if a stone was big enough to be picked or small enough that it would cause no harm if it was left. He was a willing worker, but had to ask me about every stone he saw.

About 60 years ago a farmer somewhere in Saskatchewan built himself a tractor-drawn machine with heavy duty teeth on the front, spaced so that smaller stones would fall between and the bigger ones would be scooped into a pan as it was pulled through a field. It was equipped with hydraulic cylinders to dump the load of stones at some location off of the field. Before long there were farmers all over the place working in their shops to build their own version of rock picker; some of these farm shops developed into industrial operations.

That pretty much eliminated the back-breaking labour of rock picking. The reason the rocks had to come off the field was because they damaged farm equipment. When cultivator shovels and other tillage tools are continually bouncing off of rocks it reduces their life span. The shaking and rattling doesn’t do good things for the frame of the implement either.

I knew of a father and son who didn’t ever bother to pick rocks, or make any attempt to control the weeds in their fields. It seems strange to call guys hillbillies when they lived on the flat prairie, but I can’t think of a better label. Their home was pretty basic and there was never any sign of a woman around. I wondered if they might have some source of income other than the pitiful crops they produced on their land.

One spring they announced that they were going modern. They bought registered seed wheat and fertilizer. The weeds grew super high. The wild mustard resembled another parable of Jesus, with birds perching on the branches. They still had to maneuver their equipment around the rocks when they seeded and harvested, I wondered if they didn’t leave as much grain in the field as they put in their bins.

But what do stones have to do with hindering root growth? That was what Jesus talked about in his parable and I guess I missed it for years. You know, you hear a story repeated for years and just take it in the way it is told. But then you go back to the source and read the words of Jesus, and all of a sudden it just doesn’t add up. What does that part of the parable mean?

About that time, my wife and I took a trip to St. Lawrence County, New York, where my grandparents grew up. This is straight south of Ottawa, not far south of the St. Lawrence River. We visited several of my second-cousins. They were all dairy farmers, or retired dairy farmers. That seemed to be the only kind of farming that was viable in that county. As we drove around, we saw areas of exposed bedrock and were told that most fields had only six inches of soil, below that was solid bedrock. They could grow hay and silage crops, but grain crops would dry up before they matured, because the summer heat would dry the soil down to the rock.

The light went on. This is what Jesus was talking about. There are probably many fields like this in the areas where He walked. Comparing this to Christian life portrays the person who receives the gospel with enthusiasm, but the enthusiasm is only superficial. When the heat is on, it becomes apparent that the good seed never took root in the hardness of their heart.

Is the state of such people absolutely hopeless? I don’t believe it is. There are trees growing in St. Lawrence County. Their fine roots find tiny fissures in the rocks, take hold, find what nourishment they can and grow. As those tiny roots grow, they split the rocks and more fissures develop. Finally you have a tree that is firmly rooted and grounded and immune to pretty well anything nature can throw at it.

There’s a twittering in the trees

The snow is gone, lawns are starting to turn green, but the trees still appear brown and lifeless. Yet there is definitely life among the trees. From the open window we can hear are loud and continuous chorus of bird songs.

There are robins, meadowlarks, blackbirds, juncos and others that we haven’t identified. The juncos will move on soon and their place will be taken by brown thrashers, goldfinches, yellow warblers, orioles, wrens and others. My wife saw the first swallows this morning.

The ravens have moved farther north and crows have taken their place. Soon we will be seeing eagles, both golden and bald eagles nest in this area, the golden eagles are seen more often. They are awesome birds with their huge wingspread, often seeming to hang gracefully in one place, with no visible movement of their wings.

We have been seeing snow geese and Canada geese for awhile and today as we drove to the town of Outlook and back home, my wife saw swans. Soon the sandhill cranes will be back. Most of these birds nest farther north and are only spring and fall visitors around here, but many varieties of ducks nest on the sloughs and ponds around us, as well as many kinds of shore birds.

In the evenings we hear the frog chorus. Three kinds of frogs are native to this area and together they can make a lot of racket. There are also three kinds of toads and perhaps they add something to the chorus, though it gets hard to differentiate all the sounds.

When I was young, I knew where to look for the first flowers of spring. The crocus blooms before the leaves grow.  When we lived in Ontario, I knew where to find the trillium. I don’t think I’m within walking distance of crocus flowers where we now live, yet I see evidence of life bursting forth all around me. Even the trees that seem lifeless, when I look more closely I see the swelling buds.

Soon farmers and gardeners will be dropping dry and seemingly lifeless seeds into the soil and those seeds will abundant growth both below ground and above ground. We know that is going to happen, so we sow the seed and we are not disappointed. The farmer and the gardener do not make those seeds grow, they simply plant them with confidence that those seeds have life within themselves that when placed in contact with the soil they will spring up into healthy plants and produce a harvest.

We have been given another kind of seed, the Word of God that produces growth springing up unto eternal life. Are we sowing it?

A tree falls on the prairie

One hundred years ago, settlers came to the flatlands of Saskatchewan. No need for axes and saws to fell trees, just a team of oxen and a plough to turn the virgin sod and prepare it for a first crop. Of course, the lack of trees also meant a lack of building materials, so the first home was often built of strips of sod laid one on top of the other.

The lack of trees on the open prairie also meant that you were fully exposed to the wind. And wind is an almost constant, though invisible, feature of the prairie landscape. So the settlers planted trees – poplars, willows, caraganas, Manitoba maples. Folks today consider those trees to be almost weed species, but they were the ideal trees for creating a shelter from the wind. They grew quickly and they were tough enough to survive during the dry spells and the winds. The poplars grew tall and strong, with massive trunks.

Now those poplars have grown old. Long ago, through damage caused by rodents, birds, insects and weathering, a fungus had penetrated the protective shell of the bark. Slowly the fungus worked on the inside, while the tree still appeared healthy and strong. Branches began to die and be broken off in the wind. Finally, the inner strength was gone and the trees began to fall, one by one, during windstorms. One tree was almost dead, yet one branch still produced fresh green leaves in the spring. Then one day, without a breath of wind, the tree fell. There just wasn’t enough sound wood left to bear the weight of the massively tall tree.

One hundred years ago, the settlers brought with them a faith in God. There were different varieties of faith, some seem to have been more vigorous and sturdy than others. Their faith gave them strength to persevere during the hardship of the pioneer years. Churches were established that appeared strong and substantial, able to stand for generations. Today, one by one, those churches are closing their doors.

The cause is the same: somehow a foreign life was allowed to enter in. New doctrines, new ideas, new methods of working. They didn’t seem dangerous, but the decay set in and no one knew the source, or what to do about it.

Many Christians and churches remain, but not all have a strong connection to the source of truth and life. In many places the decay is still very active and there is much confusion about how to arrest it. Some still seem healthy and strong, but how long can that last if they only want to save themselves from the decay that is evident in others? Do they perhaps have another type of decay that will eventually bring them down, too?

Only God can save His people. Will they hear His call, or will they let the opportunity to save themselves and others from the wrath to come pass unheeded?

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