Seeing the Hand of God

Throughout our years on the farm, the Lord has provided many remarkable “coincidences.” Today, as we have traveled far along our faith road, we call these divine appointments.

They serve as regular reminders that our farm ministry is under his control, not ours. As the years have flown past, we not only welcome such appointments, we depend on them.

The return of a friend from Germany recently brought old memories of such a divine appointment back to life.

Ziegfried, or Ziggy, as we call him, is a German engineer who is a missionary to Africa. Occasionally, he visits a fellow engineer here in Maryland who has devoted several months every year joining him and others for African missionary work.

In addition to introducing people to Jesus, they also build small hydroelectric plants and telecom towers, and teach welding.

Several years ago, before we knew Ziggy, we bought a German potato harvester, a Grimme 1700. As with all old machines, it needed some work. Unfortunately, the manual was in technical German and not written for laymen. What to do?

A couple of weeks later, we were invited for dinner at a friend’s house. Who was there? Ziggy. As the evening progressed, we discovered that he understood technical German, had grown up around potato harvesting equipment and knew a lot about the Grimme 1700.

Oh, and yes, he had the desire and time to help. Within a few days, the machine was ready for work. What a “coincidence.”

Surplus of Spuds

We saw the hand of God at work in another circumstance last season when we had a very rewarding potato crop.

It was almost hard to keep up. Just as we shipped out several trailer loads, the barns would refill as hundreds of volunteers and two Lockwood windrowers kept the wagons filled and moving.

After a particularly busy harvest week in late September, we found ourselves with about 200,000 pounds that needed to be shipped out before the arrival of scheduled volunteer groups.

That evening, we found out that one of our major distribution partners couldn’t take any more of our potatoes for the remainder of the season.

We were out of available storage space, so planned potato production would have to be rescheduled. Not good.

Late that night, trying to puzzle it all out, we reached out to one of our board members — more to vent, than for advice.

After we hung up, Bill called back. After a moment of prayer, he had a revelation. Why not call some of the areas with chronic hardships that had been hard hit by summer floods?

Through his connections with various archdioceses, within an hour, we were in contact with brothers and sisters in West Virginia and North Carolina who were in true need.

The West Virginia story was especially powerful. The southern area of that state desperately needed the potatoes but had no resources to come get them.

Enter a friend of the farm, Rob, whose trucking company provided the tractor-trailers free of charge. Praise the Lord.

Just then, a new obstacle emerged, our West Virginia friends couldn’t find a working forklift or skid steer for multiple locations.

Twenty four produce bins full of loose potatoes weighing around 1,100 pounds each were not something you lift off with people power, not unless everyone looks like Arnold Schwarzenegger.

The next couple of days, multiple volunteer groups stepped forward and bagged more than 50,000 pounds of potatoes that had been sent in two separate trips to our new friends in West Virginia.

Today, that relationship has grown and we are sending help to our friends there almost every week. Was this part of our operating or strategic plan? No, but it was part of his plan.

Fortunately, we were listening and obeyed his command in Matthew 25:35, “For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in.”

Praise the Lord, who is endlessly patient with his servants. He often gives us unwelcome circumstances that prove it is by his power that we are able to accomplish anything.

In John 15, the Lord reminds us that he is the vine, we are the branches. With that connection, the Lord promises we will do mighty works in his name and for his glory.

 

this post was originally published September 30, 2017 at Lancaster Farming. 

Working Through the Weeds

 

In the famous parable of the sower, Jesus speaks of the seed of faith sown in different types of spiritual soil with widely varying results.

“A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up.

“Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root.

“Other seed fell among the thorns, which grew up and choked the plants.

“Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop — 100, 60 or 30 times what was sown. He who has ears, let him hear” (Matthew 13: 3-9).

Later in the passage, Jesus tells us that the seed sown in the thorns — or, if you will, in the tall weeds — was choked out and became unfruitful because of the “worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth” (Matthew 13:22).

The words of Jesus remind us that both the “worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth” are sins that separate us from a relationship with God.

Instead of trusting him, we worry. Instead of depending upon him, we pretend that our wealth will keep us safe.

As we harvest our fields of sweet corn, we sometimes come to an area where the spray rig operator did a poor job of overlapping the seam when spraying herbicides to control weeds.

As a result, this area will have weeds, sometimes a bumper crop of them. Such was the case this past week. We marveled at the difference in size and quality of the sweet corn in the field we were harvesting.

In weed-free ground, we found beautifully large, well-developed ears. Just a couple of rows away in a weed patch full of lamb’s quarter, we found only small, unattractive, poorly developed ears.

In the same way, when we allow weeds — sin — to interfere with our relationship with the Lord, the Spirit will not produce the fruit God intended for us to produce and our witness is severely damaged.

We might still produce some fruit for God’s kingdom, but nothing compared with what he planned for us.

Why weren’t these weeds removed? Small weeds — sins — are easy to ignore, and it takes effort to remove them.

In the words of Scarlett O’Hara, “I’ll think about that tomorrow.” Yes, and the weeds get bigger and bigger.

Soon, there is no easy way to remove the weeds in our lives. Their root systems are so well established that pulling them out would wreak havoc in our lives and the lives of others.

Sin is deadly serious business, as it separates us from the living God. The time to remove weeds is when they are young.

A wonderful book, “Sitting at the Feet of Rabbi Jesus,” reminds us that the rabbis of Jesus’ day were so serious about sin that they tried to put “a fence around the Torah.”

In simple terms, they added interpretations designed to keep people far away from the possibility of breaking the law and sinning.

They did this because they rightly viewed sin as something that did not stay static. Like weeds, it only grows and gets worse.

Unfortunately, the unintended consequences were legalism and a focus on satisfying the minimum demands of the law.

Jesus also talked a lot about sin. His approach was not the law’s minimum, but its maximum, the intent and fulfillment of the law.

In Matthew 5, Jesus reminds us that not committing murder is not enough. Being angry with a brother is how the progression of sin begins. Anger leads to resentment, which leads to hate, which leads to grudges. And sometimes an emotional spark can lead to actual murder.

This is why we need a savior and the indwelling of the Spirit. By ourselves, given the deceitfulness of wealth, we would always be tempted to put off the weed removal for another day.

Meanwhile, the weeds of our life grow and retard our God-ordained potential and, even worse, impede our relationship with the Lord.

 

this post was originally published in Lancaster Farming - September 15, 2017

Each Day's Trouble

In the discourse section in Matthew 6, after the well-known Beatitudes, Jesus tells us not to worry about the things of this life:

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes?

“Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?

“Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?”

We experienced the wisdom of this truth with fresh understanding on a recent Saturday morning.

In early August, we entered into what we at the farm fondly refer to as “the vegetable vortex.” This is when the maturity dates of most of our vegetable crops collide — snap beans, squash, sweet corn, tomatoes, peppers and potatoes.

This is a time of multiple harvests, multiple locations, multiple logistic options, and multiple ways for unplanned challenges and “opportunities” to crop up.

Naturally, we had been working diligently for weeks before these harvests managing the requisite number of volunteers to harvest hundreds of thousands of pounds of whatever is just coming into its harvest schedule.

Given the time sensitivity of most of these crops, getting the right number of people on the right date harvesting the right crop with the right logistical support takes planning, a little Kentucky windage and, of course, the Lord’s blessing.

We went to sleep the night before a big Saturday harvest event a bit anxious, because we had not been able to reach several groups to confirm their planned arrival time and the number of volunteers expected.

As we had our early morning coffee and read our daily devotional, the text messages on the phone began to chirp.

Bad News

Two groups weren’t going to make it at all. Down 40 volunteers, yikes! Later, as we welcomed the arriving volunteers, it became apparent that we were going to have less than half the number we had been told to expect when folks scheduled their volunteer groups with us earlier in the season.

We have learned to roll with such margins of error. Sometimes, we are told to expect a group of 100 and only 20 actually come, and other times we plan for the 25 who signed up, only to be swarmed with 100 or more volunteers because friends brought friends, or the volunteer activity was posted broadly with no RSVP.

This is normal for an all-volunteer operation like ours. However, on this morning, we faced a 4-acre sweet corn field to harvest with about 50 people. Normally, these are long odds.

Suddenly, two vans pulled up. A brother in Christ, whom we had met only a few weeks ago, reintroduced himself and asked if there was anything to do on the farm today.

He had been in prayer that morning and felt a prompting from the Spirit to drive the hour to the farm and see if we needed any help.

Out of the vans came a dozen brothers from Latin America, all of whom had many years of corn picking experience.

With these veteran pickers setting the pace, our small — but mighty — group harvested more than 52,000 pounds of sweet corn in less than three hours.

As we surveyed the field when we finished, someone remarked, “Did you ever think we would finish this field today?”

It was hard to conceal our delight, and we admitted that, in truth, we weren’t sure.

“But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.

“Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”

The passage in Matthew is completed with what amounts to a promise — each day does have enough trouble of its own.

In the context of an all-volunteer operation, which often feels like a “feast or famine” roller coaster ride, we don’t have to worry but only seek God and his righteousness, and rest in his provision.

This is our 19th growing season on the farm, and we have never yet lacked for the volunteers we need to complete the harvest.

Most years, we have to turn people away as the season comes to a close because God has provided for us well beyond what we even need or imagine.

 

this post was originally published September 5, 2017 on Lancaster Farming.

Rhythm of Life

Rhythm of Life

The ebb and flow of life on the farm is a compelling, appealing and comforting reality.

It is somewhat of a cliché to observe that the farm is the place, maybe uniquely so, where we cannot escape the truth that there is a cycle of life — where birth and death are part of the same story and sequence of every age and every created being.

We remember the early years when we were learning about caring for and managing livestock. For about 10 years, we kept sheep, along with dozens of chickens and cows, a couple of dogs, cats, hamsters and tens of thousands of honeybees.

We loved the sheep, even though our herd never numbered more than about 15.

Of course, there are many reasons we humans are likened to sheep in the Bible. The spiritual metaphors are numerous and fascinating, but we digress.

We navigated the birthing process of the cows and sheep in those days with the advice of other farmers and shepherds, trying to be attentive to the mothers, but not too aggressive in offering assistance.

Most of the time, calves and lambs appeared without too much intervention from us. But we still recall the day, in the wee hours, that our beloved ewe Lilly Fluff died in the lambing process.

It was awful.

The privilege of witnessing the birth of lambs, which we enjoyed many times over the years, was sheer delight. But to see a ewe lose her life in the struggle was heartbreaking.

Yet it was also part of the process.

Certainly, the wisdom of Ecclesiastes echoed in our spirit: “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens: a time to be born and a time to die ...”

We all face the temptation from time to time to deny that death will be a part of our story too. It was integral to the first temptation recorded when the serpent challenged Eve’s thinking as she gazed at the forbidden fruit — “surely, you will not die.”

Sometimes, we are still shocked by death, despite its inevitability, because we are tempted in the same way.

Beyond Birth and Death

But there is more to the life cycle on the farm than the dichotomy of birth and death.

This point was driven home to us not long ago as we were in the midst of what has become something of an annual prayer vigil for rain.

Sure, we trust God and remind each other daily that God is in control and knows our need for rain for all the crops.

God’s power to water the earth is mind-boggling. We remember when we were in a season of drought several years ago and Rick put pencil to paper to calculate the amount of water it takes for 1 inch of rain to water 1 acre.

We think he did this to inform his prayers, because he was counting on God to water 200 acres in short order.

Something else captured our imagination during this year’s prayer vigil for rain. As we contemplated the small snap bean plants and the need for rain to help them mature, for a moment we saw ourselves in the life cycle of this plant.

Here were these little green plants, in their youth, so to speak, where all that matters is growing in size and stature.

It is as if they might say, look at me! Look how tall and how attractive I am! But then like clockwork, the Lord has hardwired the end of the plant’s vegetative phase and the beginning of its reproductive or fruit state.

At the end of the plant’s life cycle, it is all about the fruit that provides the seeds for a new generation.

While it all takes place in a short growing season for the snap bean, it offers a reminder for us in our own seasons of life.

We too, reach the end of our growth phase as we age and move into the season of reproductive activity. And as we mature spiritually, we will bear fruit by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Are we focused on bearing fruit — seeds for the next generation of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Gal. 5:22)?

Or are we fixated on maintaining our outward appearance, which has no future at all?

We can be easily enthralled by the rhythms of life on the farm, especially birth and death. But the fruit we bear in our daily living is our spiritual legacy, which has eternal value.

This post originally ran at Lancaster Farming. 

Staying on Course

Some things on the farm are just self-evident and make for good, plain illustration of spiritual truth. You reap what you sow, for example. You can’t plant peppers and expect a crop of tomatoes.

It has been fun, over the years, to identify many agricultural themes in scripture and watch the application unfold on the farm.

But sometimes, we don’t recognize the meaning immediately.

For instance, in Luke 9:62, “Jesus replied, ‘No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.’”

What was he saying? What does plowing have to do with serving the kingdom?

It wasn’t until we learned, as our parents would say, “the hard way,” that the truth of this scripture was illuminated. It is not about plowing so much as it is about our focus as we plow.

Although in today’s no-till world, fewer farmers are using moldboard plows, we have used one for years to prepare our 45 acres of potato ground.

OK, we confess. The past two years, we switched over to chisel plowing, but we digress.

Anyone who has used a moldboard plow while looking behind as they plow will tell you that it doesn’t work. You will be led off course — sometimes right out of the furrow.

This becomes painfully evident at harvest when the rows of potatoes are unearthed, sometimes in spectacularly crooked patterns.

The picture of the backward looking farmer also points to the story in 1 Kings: 19-21 of when Elisha the prophet was called to serve Elijah:

“So Elijah went from there and found Elisha son of Shaphat. He was plowing with 12 yoke of oxen, and he himself was driving the 12th pair. Elijah went up to him and threw his cloak around him.

“Elisha then left his oxen and ran after Elijah. ‘Let me kiss my father and mother goodbye,’ he said, ‘and then I will come with you.’

“ ‘Go back,’ Elijah replied. ‘What have I done to you?’

“So Elisha left him and went back. He took his yoke of oxen and slaughtered them. He burned the plowing equipment to cook the meat and gave it to the people, and they ate. Then he set out to follow Elijah and became his servant.”

To be called in ministry, in the service of the kingdom, is to step forward without hesitation and not to look back.

Forever Forward

There are many temptations in our age to look backward — college reunions, Facebook pages, cosmetic surgery and more.

Sometimes, looking back keeps us locked in shame or unforgiveness. Satan wants us to focus on the past so that we do not move in the direction of God and we hesitate to trust him with our future.

But the old self is gone. “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!” (2 Corinthians 5:17)

God is always calling us forward into his plans and purposes for us.

The windshield of the car is many times larger than the rearview mirror because we need to be attentive to what is before us, with only a glance to our past to remember how gracious God has been to us.

When we are nostalgic for the way things used to be or stuck in the pain we have caused or experienced by plowing crooked paths, we may miss the blessing that God has just ahead.

Or we may miss the opportunity to nurture faith in those we meet along the path before us.

We need to stay focused on the prize and plow straight furrows with our gaze fixed on the hope we have.

 

This post was originally featured on Lancaster Farming.

After a Good Rain

We moved to the farm to plant a ministry, not because we are farmers. We wanted to draw people to the land, where God’s beauty and goodness are apparent to all.

We have made many discoveries along the way that may be commonly understood by other farmers, but which cause our eyes to open in wonder.

One example of such a revelation occurred in the early days of our agricultural adventure. Rick was turning ground that hadn’t been plowed in a while. We would be planting potatoes in land that hadn’t been tilled in years.

There began a steady stream of unexpected and delightful surprises when he would report simply that “something caught my eye in the dirt.”

This typically occurred after a heavy rain. What Rick would have found was a perfectly formed, sharp as a tack, white quartz arrowhead.

Over the years, his prowess at finding Native American artifacts has been challenged by many. Yet he continues to be the only person who actually finds them in our fields.

There is no mistaking these weapons of survival, which were traded for and used by the Susquehannocks, a fierce tribe whose hunting and warpath routes went throughout central Maryland.

Rick has found troves of them — arrowheads, spearpoints, knifepoints, tomahawk heads, beads — dozens of items that appear to be “Smithsonian-worthy.”

Every once in a while, he will bring a specimen into the kitchen and ask me to use my imagination. He says, “look, can’t you see it is a pre-form? — they had fashioned one side but either the other side wasn’t finished or it broke off.”

I can see it, but it is easy to dismiss in the midst of his vast collection of perfectly formed pieces that could kill for supper today if lashed to a good stick.

These episodes always draw our attention to irrefutable truths of scripture and remind us that we are but passers-by on this beautiful planet

“The life of mortals is like grass, they flourish like a flower of the field” (Psalm 103:15).

While this truth could be unsettling to some, it brings comfort to consider the sovereignty of God, whose plans are being worked through every generation.

We are not the first stewards of this land, and we won’t be the last. We step up to the responsibility with awe for God’s creation, and we try to honor the call to care for and manage the land and animals over which he has given us dominion.

“And he who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five talents more, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me five talents; here I have made five talents more.’

“His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master’ ” (Matthew 25: 20-21).

It is always a thrill to find these artifacts and stop to ponder who walked this land before us — who was it that sat by the stream and sharpened these stones? What was his name? How old was he? What was his story in the chapters of the generations who have come before us?

There comes also a feeling of empathy for Job, when God questioned him. “Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation? Tell me, if you understand’ ” (Job 38:4).

When we struggle in the day to day of hoping and praying for rain, being vigilant about pests and predators, scheduling harvest work and other activities on the farm, we may be tempted to think too highly of ourselves and our plans.

Finding an arrowhead — or more precisely, holding the arrowhead that Rick found — reminds us always that our time is fleeting, and this day is a gift, so we offer it to God for his glory and for the good of his people.

We feel connected to those who walked this ground in centuries past and grateful for the opportunity to share its abundance today.

 

This post was originally featured on Lancaster Farming.

Manna, Like Mercy

On a sunny, but chilly, spring day at the farm, we put our energy to planting onions.

And in that moment of anticipation, we did what we always do — that is to say, we looked at the buckets full of onion sets and the long rows ahead of us, and we pondered the job before us in the light of the generations that have gone before us facing the exact same task.

Somehow, our hearts centered on a particular story from those who fled captivity in Egypt.

In the Old Testament Book of Numbers, we read of the people who wandered in the desert. These were the same people whom God had delivered from slavery — the people for whom God had provided dry land to cross the Red Sea, which he had piled up on both sides.

Was holding back the Red Sea like erecting highway sound barriers? No, much more like huge walls of protection, awesome power and peace.

Yet after a while in the wilderness, the people cried out against Moses and Aaron.

Even as God had sent manna for their daily provision, so plentiful to fill their sacks and earthen vessels, they yearned for more, and they cried out.

“Now the rabble that was among them had a strong craving. And the people of Israel also wept again and said, ‘Oh that we had meat to eat! We remember the fish we ate in Egypt that cost nothing, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions and the garlic. But now our strength is dried up, and there is nothing at all but this manna to look at’ ” (Numbers 11:4-6).

Somehow, these people had lost sight of the goodness of God working in the midst of their need. They longed for onions, to provide flavor, or garlic and leeks to enhance their taste sensations, forgetting altogether that God had met them at their place of need and provided — in proportion far surpassing that need — the manna, like mercy, delivered fresh each morning.

So God told Moses to prepare the people to receive his blessing. And say to the people, “Consecrate yourselves for tomorrow, and you shall eat meat, for you have wept in the hearing of the Lord, saying, ‘Who will give us meat to eat? For it was better for us in Egypt.’

“Therefore the Lord will give you meat, and you shall eat. You shall not eat just one day, or two days, or five days, or 10 days or 20 days, but a whole month, until it comes out at your nostrils and becomes loathsome to you, because you have rejected the Lord who is among you and have wept before him, saying, ‘Why did we come out of Egypt?’ ” (Numbers 11:18-20).

Onions of Our Past

We consider that account, and we are often quick to question the faith of those desert wanderers. How could they have witnessed the awesome and mighty hand of God, right in their midst, and been so ready to fall away and question his faithfulness, his goodness and his love for them?

Are we so different in our day? Are we any less foolish? Do we not see his glory, his provision, his hand of abundant life open to us at every turn?

And somehow we find a way to long for the days when we were captive to our own desires and earthly satisfactions of our needs.

Do we not see the God who generously pours his blessing to every generation, calls each of us to come, see and taste the goodness of the Lord, and to experience his glory in this day, in our time?

Do we look forward to kingdom living or is our gaze fixed on “the onions” of our past?

 

This post originally ran on Lancaster Farming.

Battle Ready

Scripture: Ephesians 6:10-20.

After a savage mink managed to kill 30-odd chickens on our farm last year, Rick was able to kill it, handily ending its reign of terror.

Sad to report that we’re now battling with “son of mink” here on First Fruits Farm in recent weeks. This guy has found his way into our chicken coop three times in as many weeks, despite our best efforts to close every opening and patch every hole. We are down 32 chickens and counting.

We’re farmers — or in our case, at least we’re laborers for the Kingdom harvest. We aren’t sentimental about chickens. But the mink’s methods are downright creepy, the stuff of campfire stories.

Once inside the coop, he bites a chicken’s neck to drink its blood. He’s not interested in the meat and leaves the chicken’s mangled lifeless body in a heap.

Each time he’s gotten in the coop, the mink has had his fill of chicken blood, killing two, three and four of them before disappearing when Rick arrives too late with his gun.

What is the biggest threat to your chickens? Maybe at your farm you battle hawks, owls, raccoons, possums, snakes, foxes or weasels.

And what about our metaphorical chicken coop? What happens when we lower our guard, assume we’re secure and think we have it covered?

One of our biggest threats, on the farm and to our souls, is complacency.

Like the mink on our farm, our spiritual enemies are always out there, waiting for a small hole to open up, a weakness to develop.

We don’t intentionally let things slip into disrepair, but life has a way of lulling us into a false sense of security, especially when we think that something is “once and done.”

It’s exactly when you don’t take the time to look for tracks around the coop, to tack loose boards or to provide welded wire coverage over the runs that the mink will strike.

Predators don’t rest. Minks will find their way to chickens and drink their blood. Satan prowls among us, looking for the ones he can devour.

Even worse than minks for killing chickens are weasels. They’re small and can get in anywhere. They practically kill for the fun of it, thinking nothing of slaughtering 30 chickens in a night.

Weasels attack a hen house with vengeance, like warriors in a pitched battle, and are notoriously hard to catch.

They are in the same family as minks — mustelidae — much like all the forces of darkness work together as minions of the big, overarching enemy — Satan.

And just as we can identify what kind of creature killed the chickens in our coops by the carnage it leaves, we can also see clearly Satan’s devastation in the wake of evil.

And so it is with our spiritual lives. We long for peace, for a connection with God and for freedom from sin and despair.

But so often we forget the fury of our enemies and we become complacent. We start to think it’s easy, that we have it covered, that our chicken coop, once secure, will stay that way.

We forget to stay battle ready.

As followers of Christ, we can and should be prepared for the onslaught of temptation, of sin, of evil. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians encourages us to be battle ready through the armor of God.

We are protected when we realize that it is God who leads the charge. We will be delivered safely when we receive and listen to his orders through daily prayer.

We are well-prepared when we study his battle manual through daily Bible reading. We stay strong when we confer with our fellow soldiers through Christian community.

We are battle ready when we tend our coops and pay attention to God, every day in ways small and large.

originally published on Lancaster Farming Journal