Limits of Knowledge

As we’ve said before, among our favorite winter activities is a trip to the Mid-Atlantic Fruit and Vegetable Convention.

When our week of seminars concluded, we reflected on new insights on how to improve our stewardship of what the Lord has given us with the farm.

There were many great topics such as managing cucumber beetles while conserving pollinators, no-till versus plastic bed vegetables, why curcurbits collapse, and water quality and herbicide effectiveness.

Like other farmers, we have a lot to consider before another growing season is upon us. These conferences really showcase the advances in soil science, plant genetics, and disease, pest and nutrient management.

We are grateful to live in a time when the scientific method continues to yield such knowledge and new discoveries. Yet, this opportunity to hobnob with the broader agricultural community also showcased several biblical truths.

For example: Farming is hard, and it will always be hard. It is supposed to be hard — long hours, unpredictable weather, machines that break down, and weeds, insects and diseases that become resistant to our control methods.

It is a constant battle. This is no accident. Genesis 3:17-19 lays it out: “Because you have ... eaten from the tree which I forbade you, accursed shall be the ground on your account. With labor you shall win your food from it all the days of your life. It will grow thorns and thistles for you, none but wild plants for you to eat. You shall gain your bread by the sweat of your brow until you return to the ground.”

Dominion and Stewardship

Notwithstanding labor as a consequence for sin, God has given us dominion over his works, which means we are the stewards of his creation, including plants, animals and land.

Through our God-given ability to reason and communicate with others, we have the ability to mitigate some of challenges we face as farmers.

Psalm 8 confirms this: “O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have your glory above the heavens. Out of the mouth of babies and infants, you have established strength because of your foes, to still the enemy and the avenger.

“When I look at our heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him?

“Yet you made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor. You have given him dominion over the works of your hands; you have put all things under his feet, all sheep and oxen, and also the beasts of the field, the birds of the heavens, and the fish of the sea.”

The complexity and beauty of his creation are beyond our understanding. As we listened to presentations on how to improve tomato yield and quality, we were humbled by how much we take for granted.

Beyond proper pH, timely water and macronutrients, there is a delicate dance of many micronutrients that gives us the blessing of a truly great tasting tomato.

In another presentation, a potato scientist taught us how to design our own farm experiment. In general, these experiments have a control plot and another plot where one variable is altered.

Yes, one variable. Why? Because an equation with six, eight or 10 variables would overwhelm the “fuse rating” of our brains, sort of the like the difference between simple addition and solving a calculus equation.

It was all a bit reminiscent of that great childhood Disney movie “Fantasia,” during which Mickey Mouse decides to play his absent master set to the score of Dukas’ famous “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice.”

However, unlike the real sorcerer, Mickey understands only part of the formula. What results is unintended chaos, as each “adjustment” Mickey makes has yet another unintended effect.

Sometimes, our attempts to alter our natural world don’t look too different from this.

So the vegetable convention was another great week of learning and networking, and realigning our attitude toward our adventure in agriculture.

We gratefully acknowledge God’s sovereignty and majesty. We thank him for calling us as his servants, and equipping us to be both his stewards and his witnesses to the world.

The fact that we get to grow food to feed his children is a great blessing and privilege.

This post was originally published on Lancaster Farming.

In Search of Perfection

It’s always fun when we get to connect with other farmers, increase our agricultural knowledge, and network with suppliers and vendors.

One of the annual events we enjoy is the Mid-Atlantic Fruit and Vegetable Convention. At events like this we find new ideas, build relationships with old and new friends, and stimulate our thinking about how we can improve our processes and practices on the farm.

Last year, we were excited to learn about a variety of potato that might significantly enhance our production.

For many years, we have been devoted to the sturdy, reliable and tasty Kennebec potato. It has been a mainstay in our crop lineup, and it has served us well.

However, we have noticed that depending on weather conditions, the spuds are prone to growing into weird shapes, sometimes with multiple protrusions coming out of them.

There have been times, especially when we have worked with young people in the fields, that the queer-looking shapes of the potatoes became the focus of attention and basis of a contest to find the most comical looking tuber in the land.

Alas, this would unfortunately descend into less productive potato picking because the youths became preoccupied with examining each potato for its humor value.

We would have to work to steer the competition back to quantity of yield rather than uniqueness of shape discovered in the dirt.

So last year at the convention, we were delighted to be introduced to the Eva potato. The Eva is beautiful to behold — consistently uniform and almost perfect in shape, easy to process and an overall good-looking spud.

The Eva was so attractive, we found ourselves looking down in judgment at our old friend, Kennebec, ready to turn from or even deny our longstanding association with it.

We were sold on Eva. It wasn’t until harvest that we learned about a weakness we had not anticipated — Eva potatoes are prone to bruising, especially when handled by the hundreds of 14-year-old boys who come from schools all over the region to help with our potato harvest every year.

The tradeoff was not worth it.

Heart of the Matter

It’s easy to find a spiritual truth in this humbling experience. We too often judge others, even within the church, by appearances.

We may be in search of the perfect Christian, or worse yet, we may be tempted to portray ourselves as having it all together with an external display of spirituality — church attendance, Bible study, prayer.

But we know there are no perfect people, no perfect disciples. And God has made it clear throughout Scripture that he knows the heart of each person and it is the condition of our heart that matters the most, not how we look on the outside.

We learn this in the selection of David to be king. When Samuel the prophet is preparing to anoint God’s chosen one, he is guided by God in 1 Samuel 16:7: “But the Lord said to Samuel, ‘Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.’ ”

Many generations later, in Luke 16:15, Jesus addressed the Pharisees, who loved money, image and power: “He said to them, ‘You are the ones who justify yourselves in the eyes of others, but God knows your hearts. What people value highly is detestable in God’s sight.’ ”

Just as with the produce in the fields, where one genetic trait may be favorable but comes with a less appealing characteristic underneath, each one of us has imperfections that we may try to hide or worse yet, that we may be oblivious to.

One person is hardworking but also judgmental. Another person is full of grace and mercy, but doesn’t always follow through on commitments.

We are called to serve one another and serve with one another in unity of the Spirit. We are to approach each one of our brothers and sisters in love, and to see them as God sees them — precious and the object of his great and unfailing love.

There is no perfect potato and no perfect person, but there is perfect love.

Our search for perfection can be satisfied only when we open our hearts to the perfect love of God the Father, expressed through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and made available to us through his Holy Spirit.

This post was originally published on Lancaster Farming.

Hiding From the Shepherd

We kept sheep for about 10 years. Total joy!

There have been several books written on how the Bible portrays sheep as metaphors for humans. A favorite is “A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23” by W. Phillip Keller.

This book is highly recommended for the author’s personal and spiritual understanding of sheep in relationship to the good shepherd.

Yet, even beyond these explanations, we easily saw ourselves in the sheep we tended, and years later, the lessons continue to ring true.

It is hard to forget those times we would corral the sheep in barn stalls so that we could trim their feet or administer worm prevention by “drench.”

It was comical to watch these animals perform a predictable move called “hiding from the shepherd” by which they thought they could escape the unpleasant tackle, trim and drench.

A ewe would withdraw to a corner of the stall and put her head down, pressed into the wall in a maneuver clearly intended to fool the shepherd.

She seemed to believe that if her head was tucked down and pressed firmly into the wall, we couldn’t see her. It was hilarious.

Yet, how many of us think we can hide from God? We do not want his preventive medicine. We reject his snipping of our overgrown flesh.

We dare to pretend that among all the sheep in the stall, he won’t see us if we do not incline our face toward him. Maybe he thinks it is comical too.

Or maybe it breaks his heart.

Chew On It

There is a different characteristic of sheep that is actually worth emulating in a metaphorical sense.

Sheep, like cattle, are ruminants. Suffice it to say, without getting into the science of four chambers in the stomach, that after the ewe eats grass or hay, she enjoys it again by chewing the cud — rechewing, reswallowing and redigesting that which is good nourishment for her.

Ah! Now we are on to something. Suppose that when we receive the good nourishment of truth — when we read the Bible or spend time in prayer listening for the guidance of the Holy Spirit — we allow ourselves to ruminate on it.

We ponder it; consider it again, let it digest more completely.

In our culture, there’s an emphasis on speed and consumption — even speed of consumption when it comes to things like fast food.

How many of us take time to consider deeply, to meditate on how the Spirit has spoken to us, to reflect on where that still small voice of God is leading us?

In John 10, we read, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. ... I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me just as the Father knows me and I know the Father — and I lay down my life for the sheep. ... My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.”

It takes time to learn the voice of the Shepherd. If we are in a hurry, we may miss his call; we may miss the gentle leading of his voice. But how important it is to recognize his voice amidst all the noise and chaos — or worse, to listen to the voice of darkness masquerading as light.

We must tune into the frequency of the Holy Spirit — the way of righteousness, the truth of Christ.

How much of a difference would it make in this new year, in the newness of each day, to not just seek his leading, seek his truth, seek understanding in the white noise of the messages we are bombarded with every day — but to spend time ruminating, chewing it over again, seeking discernment about how truth applies in each of our lives, really allowing it to be fully digested into our souls?

Resolving to Ruminate

Many of us have made promises for 2018. We promise to do better, to be better, to spend more time with those we love on what matters most.

Perhaps among those pledges, we should add the step of rumination, not just reading the Bible or committing time in prayer — but adding the step of pondering.

What does God have for me in this bit of truth? How can I apply it in my life more personally and more meaningfully?

As described in Isaiah 53:6, “We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way.”

Thankfully, the verse does not end there — “and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all” — and neither does our comparison to sheep have to end there.

Perhaps we can all, like sheep, ruminate on the nourishment of truth, its beauty, reality and application to our own way.

This post was originally published on Lancaster Farming.

Silent Night

Like many farmers, we look forward to the end of the harvest season (ssshhhh!!) because it may leave a few days for deer hunting.

Our favorite time to hunt deer is during a snowfall — quiet, beautiful, easy to pick out silhouettes, not many other hunters around ...

Oh, and yes, we may even come home with something to put in the freezer.

As if a gift from heaven, an early December snow brought more than 4 inches of pretty, fluffy snow to our property.

Sitting in the wide, comfortable deer stand we placed deep in the woods on our farm a few years ago, the only sound one recent morning was the ghostly whistle of a faraway train.

It was like a literary accoutrement to the stillness of the hunt. Funny how with all of the technology we “masters of the universe” depend on, all it takes is a little snow to slow everything down.

All the sounds of daily life fade away. Our modern way of life seems to be uncomfortable with silence. In a few short decades, we have layered most of our daily experience with various types of noise —TV, news, music fed into home, car, tractor, combine, headsets and earbuds while working, recreating or commuting.

This has left an absence of — maybe even a fear of — silence.

Most of us are in a state of constant auditory stimulation. OK, you might say. So what? Why should I care about silence? Or the more penetrating question, what is the value of silence?

We should care because God has shown throughout the Bible that his voice is heard best when there are minimal distractions, indeed in a circumstance of silence.

In Psalm 46, we are told, “Be still, and know that I am God.”

Only in being still, can we appreciate the beginning of this famous psalm when it declares, “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble at its swelling.”

Most notably is Elijah’s encounter with God at Mount Horeb in 1 Kings 19.

After Elijah’s great witness for God on Mount Carmel, the evil Queen Jezebel threatens to kill him. Notwithstanding God’s great faithfulness and the undeniable miraculous demonstration of power, Elijah runs in fear to escape the wrath of Jezebel.

God finds Elijah hiding in cave and asks him a penetrating question; “What are you doing here, Elijah?”

After giving God a lame excuse, the Lord tells Elijah to stand at the mouth of the cave before the Lord.

“And behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind tore the mountains and broke in pieces the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. And after the wind, an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. And after the earthquake, a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire, the sound of a low whisper. And when Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his cloak and went out and stood near the entrance of the cave.”

We humans look for momentous signs in our relationship with God. But the Lord is not often in the wind, earthquake or fire. His voice and his presence are found in a low whisper.

How did Elijah hear this? Because there was silence and he was prepared and available to listen. Now he was ready to hear God’s direction for his life.

Over 2,000 years ago on a cold, lonely night, shepherds watching their flocks heard an angelic message, in part, because they were completely available for God, attentive and undistracted.

The silence of the night provided the setting for God’s voice to be heard. They listened and obeyed.

Just a few miles away in Jerusalem at Herod’s magnificent palace, amidst the deceitfulness of wealth, lust for power and pursuit of pleasure, no one had ears to hear.

The “noise” level there was so overwhelming that God’s low whisper could not be heard.

As we prepare to celebrate the arrival of King Jesus into the world, where is our “noise” level? Are we like Elijah, faithful yet fearful, seeking the Lord’s presence and direction?

Perhaps we are like the shepherds, whose faithful watch, night after night, placed them in a holy and silent place, where they could receive the word of God.

Let us prepare a way for the Lord to fully enter our lives by giving him our ears, our hearts, ready to receive him in silent reverence this Christmas.

This post was originally published on Lancaster Farming.

Sing a New Song

Long ago, Jim found his way down our farm road. He wore an expansive and brilliant smile. He told us he had been watching our operation for a while and wanted to help, but he knew his back wasn’t strong enough for the labor required on the farm.

But when he saw our old Byron 8600 bean harvester arrive, he felt compelled to step forward and offer his services.

He was an equipment operator by profession, and he assured us that he knew how to take the “beast” apart, put it back together again and fix anything wrong with it.

Little did Jim know, we had been praying about how to maintain this very bean harvester. We almost always relied on used equipment, which seems to be made to last forever.

This combine was going to vastly improve our green bean harvest, but it had already served many years someplace else, and needed some serious TLC.

From that moment on, Jim has been a mainstay at the farm, helpful in countless ways. Yet it is not just his skill with equipment repair that is so valuable. His love for the Lord and joy in faith are especially contagious.

Anyone who has met or worked with Jim at the farm knows that his lips sing praise for the Lord pretty much continuously.

“I will sing to the Lord all my life; I will sing praise to my God as long as I live” (Psalm 104:33).

Jim struggles, of course, as we all do, with the challenges of life, which can derail the walk of faith. But before long, his smile returns along with a witness to God’s goodness.

Just recently, Jim showed us the strength available to a follower of Christ.

He experienced a devastating loss the week before Thanksgiving. There was a terrible accident, and Jim learned suddenly that he would now shoulder the responsibility to raise three of his very young grandchildren.

He had already cared for an older grandson for most of that boy’s life. Now Jim would be starting over with three young ones whose daddy had died.

Even in the midst of the shock and grief that Jim was experiencing, he cried out to God for help. Why did this happen? How would he have all that he needed to properly care for this new family? How would he be able to minister to their broken hearts when his own was broken?

Compassions That Fail Not

On the night of the accident, after the effects of the news had started to seep into his being, Jim stepped outside.

Not unlike Abram’s call from God in Genesis 15 to “Look up at the sky and count the stars — if indeed you can count them,” Jim’s face lifted up to heaven in search of the good God he knew.

The next day, Jim came to the regular Bible study held at the farm before every Saturday harvest. He witnessed to everyone gathered that God did meet him in the night sky and gave him the specific encouragement he needed to love his family, be the father they needed and to give God glory.

Jim felt renewed in strength and recommitted to trusting God for his daily provision. Naturally, he broke forth in praise for the Living God.

It will be a difficult road to travel, no doubt. But he knows he will not be on it alone. The children in his home — his new family — will be cared for by one who knows the Shepherd King.

And everyone at the farm has been blessed and inspired by Jim’s faith, and by God’s pouring out of love in the time of need.

There are many mysteries in this life; the disappointment of not understanding can be difficult to bear. Yet, we have really only two choices in such times — to trust in God, or not.

To not trust in him is to disregard all the evidence that he is the Potter and we are the clay. To trust in him is to embrace his great love for us, without understanding the entire plan.

This is easy to say, hard to live. Indeed, God’s question in Job 38:4: “Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation? Tell me, if you understand,” is still a timeless hard truth.

Later that week, as Jim and I talked, gazed at the night sky and sought comfort amidst tragedy, we also recalled the faith affirming words of one our favorite hymns, “Great Is Thy Faithfulness.”

Great is thy faithfulness, O God my Father.

There is no shadow of turning with Thee.

Thou changest not; thy compassions, they fail not.

As thou hast been, thou forever wilt be.”

This post was originally published on Lancaster Farming.

Harvest of Blessings

Our pastor used to say, “Look for the blessing in each day.” He liked to remind the church that God’s goodness is all around, and that God intends us to live joyful, peaceful lives, which is possible when we trust in him.

Some of the most reassuring words in all of Scripture are found in the beloved wisdom attributed to King Solomon: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight” (Proverbs 3:5-6).

It seems that this wisdom is clearly understood by many farmers, whether or not they can quote the Bible passage.

We have enjoyed many a conversation with farmers who seem to be eternally optimistic. They know from experience that you don’t have to look too far on the farm to find a blessing or evidence of God’s favor.

If you don’t find it over here, well, it may be apparent over there. For us, the deep truth of this wisdom is not lost, but sometimes it is covered by weeds.

When our children were very young, we moved out to the “country,” which meant a small parcel just south of the Pennsylvania- Maryland line. It was April, and we were all excited to explore the space of our lush backyard.

The previous owners had left us a surprise. We discovered buried treasure when we first tilled the garden patch. To our delight, small red potatoes appeared in the dirt. They had never been harvested.

That afternoon, our young children filled two 5 gallon buckets with perfect little potatoes, and we were all thrilled. This was the beginning of our adventure in growing food — even though we had nothing to do with growing this food — and in particular our fascination with potatoes was born.

We started to grow potatoes every year, and when we moved to the farm several years later, it became a staple crop.

Since our farm is a nonprofit, dedicated to growing food for people in need, we recognized early on that the spud would be a valuable part of our production.

The potato crop promised good yields per acre. It is easy to store, popular and, best of all, it will wait until we have enough volunteers assembled to harvest.

Twenty years later, we look forward every season to a bumper crop of potatoes. The size and yield vary with the timing and amount of rainfall, but it remains a pretty reliable crop.

We have upgraded our potato harvesting equipment over the years, but we still need many hundreds of hands to pick up all the taters.

It can be quite fun. And we have discovered, too, that the heavy, dirty work of potato harvesting is best accomplished by 14-year-old boys who need community service hours.

Let’s just say we became a tad bit proud of our potato growing prowess.

Weathering a Change

Now it came to pass that this November we were closing in on the end of the harvest season. We had just 6 acres of potatoes left to gather, and the growing season would be complete.

We did not, however, factor in several days of cold rain followed by a record low of 18 degrees.

To our dismay, as we made our way out to the potato field with a host of eager volunteers ready to pick up what our digging equipment unearthed, the cold weather had wreaked havoc on the crop.

Most of the potatoes were frozen and no longer salvageable.

But wait!

That same cold snap had accomplished something amazing in another section of the farm. We observed some deep green coloring in the landscape that was otherwise brown at this point.

There was a small kale field that we had previously figured would just be plowed under because it was so overrun with weeds.

The same frigid temperatures that humbled us in the potato field killed all the weeds that had been choking the kale, and the green kale was now visibly triumphant and calling out to be included in the fall harvest.

Our volunteers regrouped in the kale field, and several hours later we had a beautiful harvest of many hundreds of pounds of green leafy vegetables.

We had found the blessing in the day, and we were filled with joy after all. “Taste and see that the Lord is good” (Psalm 34:8).

Maybe the lesson will stick this time. There is blessing in every day, and it is not too hard to find when your trust is in the Lord.

This post was originally published on Lancaster Farming.

Every Person Has a Story

It happened one morning not too long ago. The driver of the tractor-trailer pulled into the farm and came down the lane to the barn area around 5:30 a.m.

He was picking up potatoes that had just been harvested the day before, and he would be delivering them to impoverished communities in West Virginia.

We have come to understand with some degree of clarity that the opportunity to cross paths with someone may be fleeting, but it may also be a valuable encounter.

For many years, we were so busy with the farm that we rarely made time for sharing life with others. We likely missed many messages from the Lord as a result.

After we finished loading the trailer together, we got to talking over cups of coffee before he headed back to West Virginia.

After describing some common farm experiences, he mentioned that he had served in Vietnam. We had lots of older friends who had served there, so we asked him to tell us more.

He said he was an RTO — radiotelephone operator — and he went on to describe his situation. As the RTO for the company, he was the hub of communications to receive instructions, get help and more.

He reported activity on the ground and worked closely with the unit’s commander. He said RTOs had an exceptionally short life expectancy. It was as if the RTO wore a large target on his back. Actually, he wore a large antenna on his back. It made him vulnerable to being spotted, our new friend said.

It was chillingly obvious why he would have been a favorite target of the enemy. If his unit were cut off from communications, it could not summon airstrike support or call for help with casualties. If the enemy could pick him off, the rest of the unit would be badly crippled.

Sure, snipers go after strays who are on the periphery. But taking out the communications hub has much greater impact.

So it is for us all. If our communications with one another — whether in the fields, in our families or in our churches — become frayed or fragmented, we are much more vulnerable to attack.

As Martin Luther so aptly said in his famous hymn “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God” — “For still our ancient foe, doth seek to work us woe. His craft and power are great. And armed with cruel hate. On earth is not his equal.”

Yes, our ancient foe is clever. He knows he can destroy a Christian leader’s effectiveness by attacking the leader’s ability to communicate, encourage, teach and direct.

How often have we been rocked by revelations within our churches when people in leadership suffer “falls from grace” due to sin and corruption?

When that happens, their witness is tarnished.

What is our best defense? The hymn’s second verse gives us the answer — “Did we in our own strength confide, our striving would be losing. Were not the right Man on our side, the Man of God’s own choosing ... and he must win the battle.” So we look to our fortress, Jesus Christ, for protection and strength.

In Psalm 46 we read: “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.

“Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar, and foam and the mountains quake with their surging.

“The Lord Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress ...

“He says, ‘Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations; I will be exalted in the earth.’

“The Lord Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.”

Our farm ministry is unusual in the number of people who help with the harvest or distribute the bounty to people in need.

Even so, there is a network of people in every farm operation, and good, clear, honest and reliable communication is a key to success. Put Christ at the center of your daily communication.

As our new friend got ready to leave, we asked him how he survived his tour of duty. He said the Lord gave him a sign when a rocket-propelled grenade directed at him and his best friend failed to explode.

As his truck pulled away, we reflected on our conversation and marveled that God had spared this man’s life in the jungles of southeast Asia for many untold reasons and purposes, but one of them was clearly so that in 2017 he would minister to people in need in West Virginia and bless these potato farmers in Maryland with his story — a witness of the goodness and power of God.

This post was originally published on Lancaster Farming.

What's in a Name?

When we first embarked on a farm ministry in 1998, it was in response to our pastor’s challenge to live out the call to discipleship.

He said if we want to follow Christ and serve the least among us, we must use the gifts that have been promised to us in connection with our faith.

For us, there wasn’t a strong sense of our spiritual gifts, but we had a strong desire to serve others through the land, with the beauty and richness of God’s creation.

So, the farm ministry was born to provide fresh produce for the hungry, and we summoned the assistance and sweat equity of those in our congregation — especially the youth.

Within a few years, we decided to incorporate as a separate nonprofit. In addition to assembling a board of directors, we had to come up with a name for the corporation.

We labored over this task for more than a little while. Ultimately, we chose a name that we felt could point folks to meaningful application.

We chose the name First Fruits Farm, and we looked forward to opportunities to explain its meaning to our volunteer farmhands.

We knew that the concept of “first fruits” was not easily retrievable to most folks, especially those unfamiliar with the Bible, and we believed this would provide a springboard for conversation about why we grow, harvest and donate fresh food for the hungry in our communities.

Little did we realize that our name almost became a stumbling block to understanding. People had trouble with it.

They didn’t say or remember it correctly. We were confused with other food operations. It became an inside joke when article after article in local print media would get our name wrong — calling us Fresh Fruit Farms, for example.

Once, a local TV station came out to do a story on the ministry and the schools that sent hundreds of students to serve at the farm.

We explained to the reporter that although it may seem obvious to please get the name right, and we’re sorry to belabor the point — because, you see, others have goofed it up — but we are called First Fruits Farm, and there is a reason for it.

This reporter recorded the news story literally standing in front of and with the camera trained on our farm sign, and proceeded to report on the work being done for the hungry at “Fresh Food Farms.”

God’s Bountiful Blessings

The Old Testament of the Bible is full of references, festivals and requirements to make offerings to God.

Some offerings are made as a symbol of repentance from sin. Some are made as a sign of praise and worship. Some offerings are made as a ritual celebration of a season or temple calendar event.

The “first fruits” offering was made as part of the harvest festival, and to signify that any bounty came as a result of God’s goodness and provision, so an offering of the first — the top, most select part — of the harvest should first and foremost be given to honor God in thanksgiving for providing the abundance of the harvest and bringing us to this season of celebration.

We named our nonprofit First Fruits Farm to remind people that all of the gifts that we enjoy, indeed every blessing in our lives, come from Almighty God, the source of everything good.

When we offer the first of the harvest of that blessing back to him, we invite his glory to be revealed through it.

We think of the parable Jesus shared in Luke 12: 16-21: “The ground of a certain rich man yielded an abundant harvest. He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’

“Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain. And I’ll say to myself, you have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy. Eat, drink and be merry.’

“But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’

“This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God.”

We should not try to keep and hold tight God’s blessings for ourselves and for our own pleasure, but instead offer them back to him for his glory to be made manifest as he uses them to bless others.

That is when the harvest is most fruitful for the kingdom and the most meaningful for us.

This article was originally posted on Lancaster Farming.

Weaning of Calves

Sometimes, we refer to ourselves as “accidental farmers” because we did not enter farming vocationally.

Even as we are in the homestretch of our 20th growing season, we realize that what we don’t know about this way of life surpasses the collective knowledge and wisdom we have gained by learning as we go for 20 years.

Still, every so often we experience a special joy when something happens that connects us with the larger world of agriculture, and we have that sense of shared experience and community with other farmers.

The weaning of calves provides just such an experience. In addition to the variety of produce that is grown on our farm, we also raise beef cattle.

We manage the herd in two locations. The pasture next to our home is reserved for the young steers to graze on for a year or so until they are ready to “graduate.”

We learned early on that it is best not to name the calves in the same way we had enjoyed finding just the right name for each lamb. Many years ago, we named the first two calves “Pit” and “Beef,” and that was the end of naming calves.

Most of the herd, including mother cows and their calves, enjoys lush grass in another pasture near our main property. So when the young steers are moved to the home property, they are freshly weaned.

The sound of bellowing that emanates from a just-weaned calf can be rather alarming to the untrained ear.

The first couple of seasons we raised cattle, the sound was so disturbing we felt like we needed to apologize and explain to the neighbors that this was a normal process of weaning, and we weren’t neglecting the poor beasts in their misery.

This year, an incoming class of eight steers joined in the din of crying and bellowing that lasted for almost a week.

Instead of being disturbed by it, we are now able to nod knowingly, in solidarity with every cattle farmer around the world, in recognition that this cacophony will be short-lived and represents the process of moving from mother’s milk to solid food.

Who can blame these young steers for wanting to stay connected to the readily accessible supply of milk available to them 24 hours a day?

Spiritual Weaning

Are we any different? Growing up and making our way in this world is hard. There is a spiritual parallel for the Christian.

When we first come to faith, the decision for Christ is in many ways the easy part. There can be a great temptation to stay “infant” Christians, resting on the knowledge of our eternal salvation.

But, in Hebrews 5:13-14 we learn: “Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil.”

We are called to maturity in our walk of faith, which means living under the lordship of Christ, becoming an active soldier in spiritual battle.

The abundant life is characterized by the pursuit of righteousness and feeding on truth so that we can be prepared in ministry to others, not content to rest in the milk of our own salvation.

It is only in spiritual maturity that we are able to withstand the storms of this life and at the same time serve others in love and fidelity to our Christian calling.

Paul writes in Ephesians 4:14-15: “Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ.”

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the great German theologian and Christian martyr, spoke in his writings of “cheap grace,” which he contrasts to “the cost of discipleship.”

Bonhoeffer challenges all who claim faith in Jesus Christ to consider just how costly the sacrifice was that made the way of grace possible, and to embrace the path of sanctification — or growing in Christian maturity — which leads each follower into a deeper knowledge of the glory and goodness of God, and our obligation and opportunity to be a beacon of his light and love to others.

This post was originally published on Lancaster Farming.

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