Winter Work in the Orchard

Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. 2 Timothy 4:2

When the average person hears the word apple, they picture a bin overflowing with ripened fruit at the farmer’s market, but for me, having pruned, sprayed, and harvested apple trees for more than a few years, it brings back memories of Wintertime in the orchards. I remember again that it takes four seasons to grow a single apple. In today’s verse, Paul tells us to be ready to do God’s work “Out of season”.  We need to live and love and serve, not only when the sun is warm and things are sweet, but also when the snow drifts stand around us and our sap is hidden deep underground. In an orchard there is always something to be done, and Winter is actually even busier than Fall. Trees that are left to themselves in the off season, produce smaller, more diseased and fewer apples each year. Winter is the time to cut out fire blighted branches, before they spread their deadly bacteria to the rest of the tree. Then, we must cut out the tall sucker growth that saps energy from the hard-working fruit wood. Last, and perhaps saddest of all, we have to saw off once fruitful limbs that have succumbed to age, disease or damage done by storms. In the same way that Paul tells Timothy about his work with the church, this activity is not just something to keep us busy in the off season. It must sometimes be performed regularly and in the worst possible working conditions. Even on days when temperatures barely creep above 0˚ Fahrenheit, we reprove uncontrolled selfish growth, rebuke the diseased limbs and exhort and encourage faithful fruitful branches. And on the day we finish an orchard, there is no sight more beautiful, than looking out over orderly stands of well-trimmed trees and seeing with eyes of faith the harvest to come.  Yet, even as we walk away with relieved smiles, we know that there will always be a next Winter when someone must patiently return. We remember that without our, “Out of season” work the harvest will never make it to market.

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Harvest Time

But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things! Galatians 5:22-23 NLT

Now that we have retired to Florida, I miss seeing the leaves change, feeling a nip of frost in the air and finding fresh apple cider at the market in September. While I was working I spent several decades pruning apple trees during the winter and then watching in delight as they blossomed in May, started forming little green apples in June and standing ready for harvest in September. Then harvesters began arriving and worked through mid-October. The orchards were ready for them with special housing set aside for those workers, many of whom came every year. They picked the old classics like Macintosh and Cortland as well as newly minted favorites like Honey Crisp. Even the trees are all different. Some are tall, needing ladders to reach the sweet fruit far up in the crown, while dwarf varieties can be picked with both feet firmly on the ground. But no matter what variety of apple, or what kind of tree they are picked from, they all share one thing in common. Their fruit is picked and sent to people who wait eagerly to bake them into pies or put into them into bowls on their kitchen tables. Only wild trees stand unattended and unpicked, yet even these provide their harvest for deer, rabbits and squirrels. No one picks apples and then dumps them under the trees as fertilizer.

Yet that is often what we Christians think we should do. We are God’s orchard because He has planted us (all different varieties). In winter He has pruned us and in Springtime sent rain. In summer His sunshine has helped us grow, then at harvest we are given the privilege to bear the fruit of His Spirit. But we see baskets filled with love, joy peace, and patience, thinking, “Hooray! It’s all for me!” We show up for church, raise our hands and sing joyfully. Then we sweep out the doors, soaking in the peace of God’s Spirit. But is there an apple or two of kindness left for the waitress who is slow with our lunch? Can we share a piece of joy filled pie with a crabby relative or pour a glass of the fresh pressed cider of patience for a neighbor who has an opposing political view? Is God’s sweet fruit only for us or are we ready to load our bushel baskets filled with goodness and mercy and head to the marketplace to share them with our hungry world?

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Pulling out Those Pesky Thorns!

Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them.             Matthew 13:7 ESV

Thorns come with a wide variety of nasty consequences to their recipients. From the big ones that roses hide beneath their blossoms to the tiniest that coat the stems of stinging nettles, they are designed to cause pain. Why would any farmer choose to plant in such a place? Oh that is because without his knowing the thorn’s seeds are carried by the wind and rain and bed themselves down in the same nicely plowed field as the wheat or corn.

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The message for us is that we not only need for things to be taken out of our field, like rocks and roots, but we need to watch out for what comes in. It is not only about having good soil; it is also about guarding against bad seeds. Living for Jesus isn’t complicated. Wrong motivations, temptations and sin are constantly working to try and make our lives seem more complex than they really need to be. So how do we pull out those thorns from our lives? Paul’s message to his friend Timothy makes it simple. Focus on the things that matter to God and He will take care of the harvest!

The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.  1 Timothy 1:5 ESV