Country Wisdom: Garwoods Style

I got to thinking the other night – I didn’t have anything else to do! I’ve heard a lot of preachers talk over the years. I don’t talk like them. There are some I hope and pray I never talk like! There are some I wish I were at least half as good at talking as they are. 

Sometimes when I get wrapped up in what I’m saying, I use words that mean one thing to me and another thing to someone else. I forget that Country Wisdom, Garwoods Style, colors how I think about things.

Be Known By Who You Are - Not By What You Are Not!

Occasionally some might wonder if I come from a different planet! I didn’t come from a different planet! But I did come from a unique country community called Garwoods. Garwoods is a meeting place of two roads. It has a church and a few houses. The people earned their living as farmers. It was the country wisdom that grew out of their experience as farmers that I want to tell you about today.

Several years ago our family was driving along some back roads in southern Oklahoma where our son-in-law was from when he made some observations about the people living there. 

He said you wouldn’t want to wander about too much. The people were “rednecks” and dangerous. 

A “redneck” in that area is someone who calls himself conservative, and who is extremely prejudiced, and extremely tough, if not unruly. Back in the woods, you will find the moon-shiners and drug traffickers. These are people who live more by their prejudices, than by reason.

A lot of church people are like that! 

They are prejudiced for or against something. No amount of reason or proof can make them change their minds. It’s as though our prejudices embed themselves in us like nutgrass, with roots going every which way. You pull up a clump, but the roots break off and send up new shoots. 

People in denominations have grabbed onto ideas and prejudices so strongly, and try so hard to distinguish themselves from others, that they describe themselves by what they are not rather than what they are

“We don’t speak in tongues.”

“We don’t believe in music in our worship.”

“Jesus was born of a virgin.”

“All religions are just spokes on a wheel leading to God.”

“Believe like us or go to hell!” 

Having defined themselves by what they are not, they have forgotten who they are. Let’s just step back, and see what “Country Wisdom Garwoods Style” has to say about all of this.

“Country Wisdom Garwoods Style” can be summarized by three rules:

  1. Question everything, seek the truth, act on it.
  2. Base your decisions on facts, not fancy.
  3. Say what you mean and mean what you say.

First: Question Everything, Seek the Truth, and Act On It

Hand with chalk drawing a question mark on a chalkboard.

A man becomes a farmer because he wants to earn a living doing what he enjoys doing the most. He likes living in the country. He likes working outdoors in all kinds of weather. He likes working with cattle. He likes working in the soil. He enjoys the camaraderie of his fellow farmers. But those things mean nothing if he doesn’t know how to manage and how to plan.

Managing and planning means asking the critical questions: 

  • What do I need to do? 
  • When do I need to do it? 
  • Is there a better way? 
  • How can I make the land more productive? 
  • How can I increase milk production from each cow? 
  • What crops will give the best yield on this soil with the least expense?

Garwoods farmers knew that the secret of financial success was to study, ask the right questions, and do the right things. The Bible was an important part of their study. They recognized its wisdom. The long hours they spent plowing, cultivating, and harvesting, gave them time to think. 

As a result, these farmers became fountains of wisdom.

Wisdom has a way of uprooting prejudices because it is always seeking the truth. There is an interesting side effect that comes with this kind of wisdom. It carries over into matters of faith and practice. That’s what you’d discover if you were talking to my Sunday School Teacher, Philo Gates.

The Wisdom of the Sunday School Teacher

In the city of Hornell, about 26 miles away, there was a Pentecostal church. They claimed that the baptism with the Holy Spirit with the evidence of speaking in tongues, was a second blessing. They said you aren’t complete without it.

If I asked Philo about this, this is how our conversation might go:

“Philo, those people say we’re missing something because we don’t speak in tongues. Are they right?”

Philo answers by asking a strange question: 

“Tell me,” he asks, “is their church growing? Are they adding daily those who are being saved? Have you heard any reports of wonders and miraculous signs?”

“Well, no,” I answer, confused by this strange question. 

“They’re the same size they’ve been for years. All they’re really known for is speaking in tongues. What’s that got to do with it?”

“What does Acts 1:8 say?” Philo asks.

I read, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” 

“Philo, are you sure that’s the right verse? Or maybe you didn’t understand my question?” 

“But it does tell you something, Matt. Jesus is telling you what the baptism with the Holy Spirit is for! It is to empower you to be a witness. Turn to Acts chapter 2 and tell me what happened when they got baptized.”

I turn to chapter two of Acts. It says, first came a violent wind. Next, what seemed like tongues of fire came and rested on each of them. Then they started declaring the wonders of God in all kinds of languages they didn’t know. 

People from all over came running and were amazed. Peter, who had been sacred for his life just a few days before, stood up with such boldness and power that the crowd shut up and listened. 3,000 got saved. The Lord added to their number every day those who are being saved. The apostles did many miraculous signs and wonders.

“Now,” Philo looks at me with a twinkle in his eye that wise men seem to have, “if that is what happens when you are baptized with the Holy Spirit, don’t you think it just might be possible that people who make a big issue out of speaking in tongues, might be guilty of 2 Timothy 3:5?”

“What’s that?”

“Read it.”

I read: “Having a form of godliness but denying its power.” 

“Now I get it! The baptism with the Holy Spirit is really about being empowered to witness. Speaking in unknown languages was something that happened to them in the process. Getting empowered to witness was the real thing. People who make an issue out of speaking in tongues have missed the whole purpose.”

“Right!” Philo nods his head, and then asks, “What are you going to do about it?”

Yikes! I just got put on the spot. There’s that country wisdom again. It isn’t enough to know the truth. I have to do something with it. I have to decide if I want to be empowered to witness, too.

“I do. More than anything I want to be empowered to witness like Peter and the disciples.”

“What about speaking in tongues?” Philo asks.

“If speaking in tongues comes as part of the empowerment package, I’ll accept it like the 120 did at Pentecost. But that is not what I am after. What I am after is to be empowered to witness and see people saved because of my witness.”

Country Wisdom In Action

“Country Wisdom Garwoods Style” teaches us to question everything, seek the truth, 

and act on it. Great freedom comes from doing this. It is so sad today to see churches defining who 

they are by saying “We speak in tongues,” or “We don’t believe in speaking in tongues.” While all the time Jesus wants them to be known as empowered churches witnessing for Him – churches where signs and wonders happen every day. 

Second: Base Your Decisions On Facts, Not Fancy

Farmer inspecting a crop

The second rule in “Country Wisdom Garwoods Style,” is to base your decisions on facts, not fancy. 

A couple miles from Garwoods, just outside the town of Canaseraga, the Birdseye food company had built a pea vinery. Pea vines would be brought in from the fields and dumped in the hopper. Somehow it would pop open the pea pods and shell out the peas. The empty pods and vines would be piled up outside. Talk about hog lots smelling – you haven’t smelled anything until you’ve smelled a hill of rotting pea vines!

Birdseye needed peas. The only way it could get peas was to convince farmers to grow peas for them. Naturally, they painted a rosy picture of how much money a farmer could make growing peas. The picture they painted was pure fancy. If a farmer was going to grow peas he had to get the facts first:

  • How much work was involved? 
  • What would it do to the soil? 
  • What would it cost him to grow the crop? 
  • Was there a price guarantee? 
  • Who would pay for the loss if there was a crop failure? 
  • What would be his net profit when all the work was done and the soil nutrients had been replaced?

A farmer could not afford to be taken in by all the fanciful tales and rosy pictures painted by the salesmen and the advertising agencies. If you got suckered in you could go broke in the twinkling of an eye. Decisions had to be based on fact, not fancy.

They applied this same rule to matters of faith. 

More Sunday School Wisdom

Suppose one day I said to my Sunday School Teacher, 

“Philo, I’m confused. All these different churches are telling me why I should join their church. Each one has a list of selling points that sounds pretty good. How do I choose one over the other?”

Again, Philo looks at me with a twinkle in his eye, and asks a strange question. 

“Which church did Jesus recommend?”

“Jesus didn’t recommend any church,” I answer back. 

“There weren’t any churches then.”

“Read John 13:34-35,” Philo says with a chuckle. 

And so I read: “A new commandment I give you: love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. All men will know that you are my disciples if you love one another.” 

“That doesn’t say anything about a church,” 

I look up confused.

“But it does,” Philo responds. “What happened just before Jesus said those words?”

I look. “Jesus began by washing his disciples’ feet. Then He said that that was an example, that they should wash each others’ feet.”

“Why?” Philo asked.

As I read the passage over several times it seems to me that Jesus is showing them how to relate to each other. Just as He served them in love, they are to serve each other in love. It’s almost as if Jesus was saying that loving service is to be their way of life.

“Good,” said Philo, “now you’re getting down to the basic facts. All these wonderful reasons the churches are giving you as to why you should join them is just fanciful fluff and sales pitch. Don’t base your decisions on fancy. Base them on facts, the facts revealed in the Scriptures.”

We search the scriptures to discover truth, not to find verses to support our opinions and prejudices. I think about some ads I’ve seen. Don’t you wish sometimes, that the product would do just half what the ad says it will do? I figured out once that if each product would do what the ads said it might do, I could combine them all, and lose 100 pounds in a week!

Christians are to be known by their loving service to each other. That is the basic fact. A church can boast of a thousand different programs and plans, but if the loving service to all Christians is missing it is only a church of sounding brass and a tinkling symbol. All fancy and no fact. It can boast of speaking in tongues, of having the correct doctrine, of obeying the list of things Christians don’t do, but if loving service to all Christians is missing, it is only a church of sounding brass and a tinkling symbol. It is all fancy and no fact. When fact rules, when they are known by loving service miracles happen.

This all reminds me of an experience I had with an old friend and his wife.

A Miraculous Experience of Love

I first met Dick at a Camp Farthest Out. We struck up a friendship. When I discovered that Dick was a seminary student at Drew University where I was in college I saw a chance to make a deal. I did not care for institutional cooking. Two years of Army food had not changed my mind. Dick and his wife Carolyn agreed to let me eat my meals with them. We both benefited. They got a little extra spending money. I got to witness a miracle. And through Dick, God taught me much about His Love.

The events and circumstances of his childhood had left Dick emotionally crippled, unable to receive love or give love. He had suicidal tendencies and was without hope. One day came Dick received Christ as his Savior. Hope awoke as a light suddenly turned on in a dark room. He knew that in Jesus there was a way out of his darkness into God’s marvelous light. His search led him to a Camp Farthest Out. It led him to attend Drew Theological Seminary. And it led him to a book that dramatically changed his life. It was The Healing Light by Agnes Sanford.

Agnes had suffered from deep depression. A pastor visited her one day, when her baby was sick. He laid his hands on her sick baby, and it was instantly healed. Later, in the midst of her depression, the Holy Spirit sent her to that same pastor. With a simple prayer the depression lifted. Agnes was set free. The anointing for healing came upon her, and she began a healing ministry that has touched countless thousands.

Agnes described a prayer for the healing of the subconscious mind (a part of man’s soul). When Dick read about that prayer he immediately wrote to Agnes, and asked for an appointment. Agnes wrote back, and said that she and her Episcopalian Priest husband, conducted a School of Pastoral Care. She invited Dick to come and attend one of the week long schools. Dick went. We waited for his return, not knowing that an amazing story awaited us.

When Dick returned he didn’t tell us anything about the school. But, a most fascinating thing happened. His children, Carl and Martha, climbed up onto his lap, and refused to get down. They clung to Dick tenaciously. Dick looked at Martha and asked, “Martha, what do you see in my eyes?” “Love,” Martha answered.

Then I understood. Dick had never been able to really love his children. Because he hadn’t known love as a child, he didn’t know how to give love. But now a wonderful thing had happened. Dick had been set free to love for the first time. Carl and Martha were hungrily soaking up that love. After Carl and Martha went to bed Dick told us what had happened.

Agnes had arranged for the chaplain of the Good Samaritan Hospital in Los Angeles to come to Massachusetts for the School of Pastoral Care. At the last minute the chaplain called, and said he just couldn’t make it. At first Agnes accepted that. But the Holy Spirit worked on her, until she called the chaplain back and said, “I don’t know why, but you just have to come.” The chaplain came.

As the week progressed, the chaplain kept looking and wondering who the person was for whom God had had him come. During this time he observed Dick, and he said to himself, “If that man doesn’t come to me by the end of the week, I’m going to him.” The last day of the School came, and Dick did go to the chaplain. He told the chaplain about his early home life, the lack of love, his feelings towards his parents, and his suicidal tendencies.

Immediately the Holy Spirit told the chaplain just how to pray for Dick. He led Dick in a prayer of confession of all hate that had built up within him. Then he pronounced Dick forgiven, and prayed the prayer of healing the memories. Just one thing remained. Somehow he had to show Dick God’s Love. Again, the Holy Spirit told him what to do. He put his arm around Dick, and the Love of God poured in. In that moment, Dick knew that he, too, was a beloved of God. God had brought the Chaplain all the way across the United States, forcing schedules to be changed, just for Dick. Loving service enabled a miracle to happen. Basing decisions on fact, not fancy, enables miracles to happen.

Third: Say What You Mean and Mean What You Say

Father holding hand of little child.

One constant in their “Country Wisdom Garwoods Style” was that they accepted the Bible as the authoritative Word of God. They did not question it, but searched it for truth. It was easy for them to believe it because of their third rule of wisdom: “Say what you mean, and mean what you say.”

If you want to enter into a contract with someone what do you do? You hire a lawyer. Every part of the contract is written as though the person you are making the contract with is a thief and con artist. Then you sign it in blood. No verbal agreements, no handshakes. Suspicion surrounds every part of it. It wasn’t like that in Garwoods.

Men trusted each other. A handshake would seal a deal, and the deal would not be broken. If a man gave his word that was as good as law. They expected each other to be honest, open, straight dealing. Because that was what they expected of each other, that was what they expected of God. They believed God meant what He said in His word. They took His word at face value. They looked at it as a source book from which to gain knowledge and understanding. It was the manufacturer’s handbook, and was to be used as such. If God said it, He meant it.

There was no talk about dispensations, or this or that being for the disciples and not for us. If it wasn’t for us, the Bible would say so very plainly. Since the Bible did say very plainly that the promises are for us, then they are for us. They got what they expected and God did not disappoint them.

I’ve been very thankful for these rules of “Country Wisdom, Garwoods Style.” They’ve helped me a great deal, and there have been times when I needed a great deal of help.

Desiring a Father's Love

A little child’s mind can come up with some really weird ideas. Mine did, and it caused me quite a bit of trouble. I don’t know where it got the idea, but my little child’s mind decided that I could not be loved unless I was perfect.

In 1938 we moved to the old family farm, to be near Grandma and Grandpa, whose health had failed. World War II broke out, and dad went to Buffalo, 90 miles away, to work in a defense plant. I loved my father. I looked forward to the weekends when he would come home. How it happened, I don’t know, but my little child mind got the strange idea that I had to earn my father’s love. I had to earn my father’s love by being perfect. If I weren’t perfect, my dad wouldn’t love me. The worse thing I could imagine was for my dad not to love me.

One night dad and I were having a lot of fun. He was sitting in a chair next to a wall. A mirror hung on the wall above him. I stood in front of him, and we bounced a ball back and forth. I having so much fun, and everything seemed so wonderful. My dad loved me. My dad was laughing with me. My dad was playing with me. Then it happened. I threw the ball too hard. It bounced high. Dad missed it. It hit the mirror. The mirror shattered. As that mirror shattered, I shattered. I had committed the unpardonable sin. In that one foolish moment I had lost my father’s love. I had not been perfect, and so I lost it all. That is how I felt in my little child’s mind and heart.

Mom and dad tried to comfort me. They could not understand why I cried so hard. It didn’t matter what they said. They could tell me over and over again that it was all right. But I knew the truth. I knew I’d lost my father’s love. I had tried to be perfect and I’d failed. Because I had failed, because I had cost myself the love of my father that I desired so much, I could not forgive myself, and I could not love myself. In my heart I “knew” what I was like, I “knew” that God could not possibly love me either.

How could a little child come up with such weird ideas? I don’t know. But all of us do. How do you suppose God would break through and let me know that He loved me? Do you remember how Jesus instructed his disciples that loving service to each other was how they were to be known? That kind of love is described in First Corinthians Chapter 13. I’ve mentioned the Camps Farthest Out before. It was in August 1950, at a CFO in Lake Winnipesauke in New Hampshire. One afternoon I was sitting by myself on a bench in front of the main lodge.

An elderly lady, seeing me there, came and sat by me. She was concerned that something might be wrong. With compassion flooding her heart, she came to sit by me. Then it hit me! In that moment I knew that God loved me! This lady, coming in loving service, broke through all my defenses, and I knew that God loved me. That little boy inside, who had been so hurt because he couldn’t be perfect, began to heal. As my inner healing continued a day came when God said, “Now son, it’s time for you to stand on your own feet and trust my word.”

The Healing Power of God's Word

I was in college. One day I went into New York City with some friends to attend a Jack Wyrtzen’s “Word of Life” Rally. At the end of his message the speaker asked those who wanted to be saved to come forward. Something inside me compelled me to go as though it was saying, “This is for you.” I went. I prayed the sinner’s prayer. I asked Jesus to come into my heart. I didn’t feel any different. No great load lifted from my shoulders. No bells rang. No lights flashed. I doubted that anything had happened. Maybe God had rejected me like I had always feared He would. Maybe my sins weren’t forgiven after all. I was mixed up and disappointed. I’d invited Jesus to come into my heart and I couldn’t feel Him. I didn’t know it, but God was teaching me a lesson in trust. He was using the loving service of a disciple, Louise.

Louise went with me to the counseling room. “Are you saved?” she asked. “I don’t know. I don’t feel any different.” “What does the Bible say in Romans 10:9, and I John 1:9?” she demanded. “If you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved,” I read. “Did you confess your sins? Did you confess the Lord Jesus with your mouth? Do you believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead?” “Yes,” I answered to all three questions. “Well, if God said it, and you believe it, that settles it,” Louise said with finality. “Now, are you saved?”

“I don’t know. I don’t feel saved.” Poor Louise! She had her work cut out for her. It took a while, but it finally got through. I finally understood my salvation did not depend on my feelings. It depended on God’s Word. Because I had repented, confessed, believed, and received, it was done – regardless of what my feelings said. It was through the loving service of one of God’s disciples that I finally got it through my head that God said what He meant and meant what He said. I was forgiven. I was loved. I was His child. I could trust Him, He would not disappoint me, and I didn’t have to be perfect.

Live Garwoods Style Country Wisdom In Your Own Life

I’ve been telling you about “Country Wisdom Garwoods Style” because it can set you free to receive God’s best. It has three rules:

First – Question everything, seek the truth, act on it. Following that rule we learned the Baptism with the Holy Spirit empowers us for witnessing.

Second – Base your decisions on facts, not fancy. Following this rule we learned that loving service is the mark of Jesus’ disciples.

Third – Say what you mean and mean what you say. Following this rule we learned that God meant what He said and said what He meant, and we can trust Him. If you want to be empowered, ask Him. If you want to be known as a disciple, give loving service. Trust Him to do all that He has promised.

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