October has long been my favorite month. I love the cool mornings and generally warmer afternoons. I love the colors – which, admittedly are a bit slow this year. I love the smells of Fall. I love the finishing up of the harvest. Granted – raking leaves is not my favorite chore but every silver lining exists on a cloud, I guess. And October is generally the month in which the first frost occurs. I never find myself cheering for the first frost on its own account exactly. I like Fall a lot better than Winter and I know how the beginning of frosts signals the shift from the one to the other. But the first frost portends a few other things as well. These days it signals the end of the mowing season. Again – if only it didn’t also signal the beginning of the raking season! But I have a grandson mowing my lawn for the first time in my life this year so my celebration at parking the mower for the last time in a calendar year is somewhat reduced. As a kid I knew the first frost meant we were soon going to have persimmon pudding. This was (and remains) a matter of some excitement. I love persimmon pudding. Some years before we left the parsonage and purchased our own home, I had planted several persimmon trees. When I planted them, they were twigs with a few root hairs on one end and a few leaf buds on the other. By the time we left they were past being saplings and turning into nice young trees. I saw from the road the other day that they are actually bearing fruit this year. I wonder if the new owner would accept a claim on the first fruits – after all – I planted the trees! Probably not. But whoever harvests and eats those persimmons, they won’t be fit to eat (my wife says persimmon pudding is never fit to eat – to each their own) until after the first frost. That’s just the way of persimmons. At the home we purchased I really don’t have room to start another persimmon grove. I did, however, build a couple of raised beds and planted, among other things, an experimental crop of salsify (oyster plant). I have never grown or eaten salsify before and am looking forward to a trial dish at a coming Sunday family dinner – after the first frost. Salsify is another plant that requires a frost to develop its distinctive flavor. I’ll let you know how all that goes – after the first frost. The first frost is the seasonal end of some things – ruining whatever tomatoes, peppers, etc. may still be out there. But it is the completion/perfection of other things like persimmons and salsify. It is no surprise that the changing of the seasons should have become a metaphor for life and death. I will add only this: death ruins the hopes of the world but completes/perfects the hopes of the saints. I find that God is good to me here and now. But I know the best things can’t come until after the frost.
Last year we rounded up a truck load of black walnuts and took them to a hulling station down in Holmes County. We’re trying to make a little bigger project of it this year. I have taken two truckloads so far and the hulling station is open for another month! We make a little money (about $100.00 a truck load) which we give to the same ministries we take all the garden produce to. I’ve learned a lot. The meats of the nuts themselves of course are used for food and flavorings. The hard wooden shells of the walnuts make top-notch mulch or can be used in sand blasting. The outer hulls of the walnuts are used in de-worming medicines, stains and dyes (of course – it sure works well on the pants I wear when doing this job!) and as fertilizer. The hulls can also be used to stun fish so you can just pick them up from the surface of the water but I wouldn’t let the DNR catch you at that! There are two species of flies that lay their eggs in the outer hull of black walnuts. If you gather large numbers of nuts you will become acquainted with the maggot stage of the life cycle of those flies. It’s OK. The maggots do not penetrate into the nut itself, content to feed on the (to most other organisms – toxic) outer hull. And – the chickens belonging to the guy who runs the hulling station can’t get enough of them! Those chickens scratch through the hull pile searching the maggots out with great efficiency. We provided them with a feast by sweeping out the truck bed. By the way, all those chickens have black feet. A few of them appear to have rolled in the hulls as well. Perhaps it kills mites and lice. Interestingly enough, the younger children of the guy who runs the hulling station also have dark colored feet! But I digress. Because it’s the way my head works – I counted the number of walnuts it takes to fill the bags I use – about 340-350. I then divided the price I got for each truck load by the number of bags in the truck loads. The long and short of it is this – picking up black walnuts is not quite – but almost – the same as picking up pennies. You take it for what it’s worth – which is about a dime for every twelve walnuts! For myself, I don’t count the time and gasoline against the project because it’s a beautiful time of year for a drive to Holmes County and the guy who runs the hulling station is pretty sociable! If you want in on the action – you can collect your black walnuts – or those of friends and family – and drop them off at the church. Put them in the grass between the barn and the parking lot and I’ll find them. I’ll even give you bags is you need them. Or – if you have a location where a person could pick up anything resembling a truck load – say twenty five to thirty bags – give me a call and we’ll come to you! God bless. In the meantime, remember this truth from Ecclesiastes 11 – Cast your bread on the waters – try seven things or even eight, morning and evening – because you don’t know which one might succeed. Ministry is where you find it and most things are worth a try!
The current set of Facebook devotions (friend and follow us!) is a series of sketches of the minor prophets – generally, the single most neglected portion of Scripture. Jonah, of course is pretty well known to us since the story of Jonah and the fish made great flannel graph episodes in our early Sunday School experience. (If you didn’t get your first sense of the drama of the bible watching an elderly lady move a paper fish with a wide-open mouth up a blue flannel graph background and watch wide-eyed as the dog paddling prophet disappeared behind it – well, you missed it!) As adults, most of us have learned the story of Hosea – the salacious aspects draw us in I guess. And we’ve heard enough sermons on tithing to become acquainted with at least Malachi 3:10. But most Christians can’t tell you what Obadiah is about or even locate Habakkuk without consulting the index. It’s a shame. The background of Habakkuk makes the book fairly riveting material and you really aren’t prepared to read the book of Revelation until you have first read the prophecy of Zechariah. My point – we should not neglect the minor prophets. In considering these twelve prophetic voices (Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum. Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai. Zechariah and Malachi) I think probably Nahum is the most neglected of the overall neglected set. You can prove me wrong (or right) by stopping right now to summarize what you know about Nahum before reading any farther. I’ll wait. … OK
We know almost nothing about Nahum’s personal circumstances except that he was an Elkoshite and we don’t know for sure where that village may have been. There are various proposals for locations in Galilee and Judea though the traditional tomb of Nahum is in Alquosh, Iraq. The book was likely written in Judea but Nahum may have been born abroad.
Nahum is, in a sense – the Anti-Jonah. Jonah (reluctantly) preached repentance to the great city of Nineveh – and Nineveh repented and escaped destruction. About 200 years later Nahum prophesied the complete and utter destruction of Nineveh – and Nineveh was completely and utterly destroyed. The book is generally dated (neverminding the varied assertions of more liberal Bible scholars who don’t accept the possibility of prophecy) around 620 BC. In Nahum 3:8 the destruction of No-Amon is (Thebes) is recalled as a past event. Thebes fell in 661 BC. Nineveh fell in 612 BC. A fairly firm set of parentheses is thus established and the prophecy of Nahum is seen to be a short term prediction.
Though it is not obvious to us as readers of an English translation, the prophecy of Nahum is a masterful acrostic poem. Calvin thought Nahum painted the most-clear picture of the nature of God in all of the Bible. Calvin would! The terms used to describe the humiliation, pillage, and destruction of Nineveh are stark, brutal, and graphic – including the bit about pulling her (the city’s) dress off over her head and putting her nakedness on public display. The idea is that in the destruction, the corruption of the city (and the larger Assyrian Empire) will be laid bare. For instance, when people see the way that Nineveh’s leaders grab what they can of the city’s vast wealth and flee like rats from a sinking ship – lessons are learned by the onlookers. The principle remains true – judgment reveals corruption.
Nahum teaches other important truths. The repentance accomplished in the days of Jonah did no good for those folk’s great grandchildren. Every generation has to answer for itself.
And last here (though there is much more that can be learned from Nahum) I concentrate on Nahum 3:12 ‘All your fortifications are fig trees with ripe fruit. When shaken, they fall into the eater’s mouth.. Nineveh (like many another locale we might name) enjoyed the pleasures of sin – for a season. For a while, the sinful store up treasure and enjoy prosperity and seeming security. But God did once say that the sin of the Cannanites was not yet ripe. When it was ripe, all their houses, lands, and crops turned out to be built, tended and raised for their conquerors. It can be galling to see the wild prosperity of the wicked. How do men like Weinstein and Epstein gather so much money and power unto themselves while treating their fellow humans so abominably? Well, people pursue what they value – even if what they value is abominable. Little surprise that they sometimes get it in spades. And while I take no personal delight in the fall of such men – it is good that they fall – and that their fall should be instructive to onlookers – that their pride should be revealed by judgment to be shame. And – that we should realize – the fruits of evil are tended and grown for those who will execute that judgment. Yes, it’s still stark, brutal and graphic – but also true. And even Calvin had a point. We forget these truths at our peril. Thanks Nahum.
I just returned from Indiana where I conducted the funeral of my brother-in-law, Jim Renn – a genuinely good guy whose last few years were troubled by Parkinson’s and a stroke. Perhaps another stroke or a heart attack - at any rate something sudden and catastrophic accounted for his death at age 69. Jim made pretty good use of those years. And I am a firm believer in eternity and the world to come, so I plan to see him again. But every death should be a caution to all of us. I knew four of my great grandparents and one great great grandmother. They are all gone. All four of my grandparents are gone. My father is gone. My mother suffers severe dementia and no longer really knows me. And now the first of the sibling set (10 of us – five birth siblings and five in laws) is gone. Jim was five years older than I and, as women generally live five or so years longer than men and my only older sibling is a sister a single year my senior, odds are – I’m next up after mom. And, of course, I have no guarantee of the twenty or so years I ought to have remaining. Jim didn’t get them. All man is appointed once to die. Again, I believe in the world to come so I’m not trying to build up a sense of desperation about THE END. But I am saying that the good we can do in this world has an expiration date – and it’s coming. Do the things that are important. Anyone who isn’t planning on death is a poor planner. And there is another aspect. The life we live here has an impact on our entry into the next world. I believe this to be true even beyond the initial question of salvation – and remember, salvation is to be saved OUT OF this world – which is doomed. But even the saved need to give some thought to this life as preparation for the next. I have greeted every death for the last three decades with one of the requests from the prayer of Moses So teach us to number our days that we may present unto Thee a heart of wisdom.
Pastor and Author Terry Bailey, Senior Minister of Indian Run Christian Church