Prepare the Way of the Lord!

A voice cries:  “In the wilderness, prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God.  Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill made low; the uneven ground shall become level and the rough places a plain.  And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken”.  Isaiah 40:3-5

This wonderful passage of Scripture heralds the coming of Jesus the Messiah. John the Baptist proclaimed this in the desert to an unbelieving generation with power and authority.   Frederic Handel, the famous 18th German composer, set these words and other prophetic passages to music in his much beloved work, Messiah.  If you have never had the opportunity to hear this two and half hour worship of the Living God and gift of Jesus Christ to us, I urge you to do so.  This concert has been a holiday tradition for my extended family for many years.  My parents, both opera singers, always enjoyed the beauty of the music, but were not convicted by the words and life-saving message of Messiah..  I marveled at this and once even quipped to my father, “ Imagine all of this, just for some itinerant rabbi from Galilee!, what are the odds of that!”.  While they were alive we sadly agreed to disagree on the question, “Who is Jesus?”.   In the last several years, I lost both of my parents.  As I sat in the concert hall, I gazed across the orchestra pit to where my parents always sat.  Their seats were empty.  Did they in their last hours, prepare their hearts for the Lord?  Had they made a straight path for the Lord, removing obstacles that got in the way? 

What about you?  Have you prepared your heart to meet the Living God?  Are you like an ancient workman, preparing the path for the Kings’ arrival, clearing away thorns, boulders, ditches, so the Lord has a clear road to your heart?  If not, why not?  What obstacles are getting in the way of your obedience to Messiah?  This time of Advent is a time of repentance, a time of surrender, a time of rededication to the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.  Today is the day, sometimes tomorrow is too late.  Prepare the Way for the Lord!  The King is coming!  Hallelujah!  For the Lord Omnipotent Reigns!

Making Time for Silence

Like many farmers, the end of the harvest season often leaves a few days for deer hunting.  My favorite time to hunt deer is during snow – quiet, beautiful, easy to pick out silhouette’s, not many other hunters around.  Oh, and yes, I usually come home with something to put into the freezer! Last weekend, an early December snow brought over four inches of very pretty fluffy snow.  Sitting in the deer stand, deep in the woods on our farm the only sound was the ghostly whistle of a faraway train. Funny how with all of our technology we “masters of the universe” depend on, all it takes is a little snow to slow everything done.  All the sounds of day to day life fade away. It seems to me that our modern way of life is very uncomfortable with silence. In a few short decades, we have succeeded in stuffing most of our day with various types of noise-TV/music at home/car/tractor/combine, headsets/earbuds while working, recreating, or commuting, etc.

This has left almost no time available for silence.  Most of us are in a state of constant auditory stimulation.  Ok, you might say. So what? Why should I care about silence?

We should care because I believe that God has shown throughout the Bible (and in my own experience too) that His voice is heard best when there are minimal distractions, indeed silence.  Let me share several examples. In Psalm 46, we are told to, “ Be still, and know that I am God”. In being still, we are able to appreciate the beginning of the 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.”

One of my favorite Bible stories is Elijah’s encounter with God at Mount Horeb in 1st 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 undeniable miracle, Elijah in fear runs away to escape the wrath of Jezebel.  God finds Elijah hiding in cave and asks him a very penetrating question; “What are you doing here, Elijah?” After giving God a lame excuse, the Lord tells him to stand on the mount 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 was not in the wind, earthquake, or fire. He was in a low whisper. How did Elijah hear this? Because there was silence and he was prepared to listen. Now he was ready to hear God’s direction for his life.

Over two thousand years ago on a cold winter 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 to be sensitive to God’s voice. 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.

This season as we prepare to celebrate the arrival of King Jesus into the world, what is our “noise”” level like?  Are we like Elijah, faithful yet fearful, looking for the Lord’s presence and direction in the wrong places? Or are we 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 the honor and glory of meeting Him is silent reverence this Christmas.

This article was originally published with Lancaster Farming in 2017.

The Parable of 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 at 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 – a hundred, sixty, or thirty 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 from 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 sweet corn fields, we sometimes come to an area where the spray rig operator (usually me) 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 the size and quality of the sweet corn in the field we were harvesting.  In weed free ground, beautiful large, well developed, ears. Just a couple rows away in a weed patch full of lambsquarter, small, unattractive, poorly developed, ears. In the same way, when we allow weeds (sin) to interfere with our relationship with the Lord, our ability to produce the fruit God intended us to produce is severely damaged.  We might still produce some fruit for God’s Kingdom, but nothing compared to 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 I have been reading, “Sitting at the feet of Rabbi Jesus” reminds us that the rabbis of Jesus day were so serious about sin that the tried to put “a fence around the Torah”.  In simple terms, they added law interpretations (oral law) designed to keep people far away from 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 get 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 why we need a Savior and the indwelling of the Spirit.  By ourselves, trusting 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 our relationship with the Lord.   

This article was originally posted 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 awhile, and he 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. (It would seem that farm equipment is 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. Psalm 104:33 I will sing to the LORD all my life; I will sing praise to my God as long as I live.  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 father 3 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?  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 He 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 Him is to disregard all the evidence that He is the potter and we are the clay.  To trust Him is to embrace His great love for us, without understanding the entire plan. Easy to say, hard to live it. Indeed, God’s question to Job: “Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation? Tell me, if you understand.” (Job 38:4), 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 will be.

“Summer and winter, and springtime and harvest,

Sun, moon, and stars in their courses above,

Join with all nature in manifold witness,

To Thy great faithfulness, mercy, and love.

Great is Thy faithfulness!, Great is Thy faithfulness!

Morning by morning, new mercies I see,

All I have needed,, Thy hand hath provided,

Great is Thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me!

Thanks be to God for his great faithfulness and his great mercy and love!

This article was originally published on Lancaster Farming.


Do Not Worry

Our harvest season has now entered the “back to school” phase. In contrast to the summer season that offers a lot of scheduling flexibility with volunteer groups, a much higher proportion of the harvest must now occur on the weekends or evenings now that students are at their desks.

Despite a lot of specific prayer, the Lord doesn’t always schedule completely sunny dry days on Saturdays and Sundays. This is particularly important for us, as our major fall crop is potatoes. Notwithstanding well-drained ground with lots of rocks, our season continues to provide a seemingly endless supply of rain; 5 inches of it just this past weekend alone. Any potato farmer knows that harvesting potatoes through a sea of mud is not helpful to anyone. With more than two thirds of our potato harvest still to go, the “worry meter” among some of our gang is beginning to move into the red zone.

This past weekend was a perfect example. After a slow volunteer week, due to the beginning of school, we were anticipating a large group of helpers on Saturday. Ground conditions were decent in the potato field, so all the equipment was moved to that field in preparation. In the early morning hours of Saturday, an inch of rain derailed our plans. We began to worry. What if the volunteers don’t show up? What if the other options, such as tomato or corn picking, aren’t doable either? What if, what if, what if? Fortunately, the rain stopped for several hours, dozens of volunteers showed up, and we were able to harvest thousands of pounds of tomatoes and peppers as a “Plan B.” Praise the Lord, indeed.

As the volunteers left, our regular gang of core volunteers began to talk about what had just happened. Farming involves a lot of uncertainty. There is truly a lot to plan for, think about and, most importantly, pray about. Sometimes there is a great temptation to look backward and argue about what could have been done differently. Sometimes, there is a great temptation to worry about what might happen in the future. Neither of these, a focus on the past or the future, is particularly fruitful.

The theologian Henri Nouwen, in his famous book, “Here and Now,” opines that Satan wants us distracted by the past and the future. Whether trapped by the guilt of the past or the worries of the future, such distractions prevent us from living in the moment.

He says, “The real enemies of our life are the ‘oughts’ and the ‘ifs.’ They pull us backward into the unalterable past and forward into the unpredictable future. But real life takes place in the here and now. God is a God of the present. God is always in the moment, be that moment hard, easy, joyful, or painful. When Jesus spoke of God, he always spoke about God as being where and when we are. … God is not someone who was or will be, but the one who is, and who is for me in the present moment. That’s why Jesus came to wipe away the burden of the past and the worries of the future. He wants us to discover God right where we are, here and now.”

In a later chapter, Nouwen encourages us that radical trust in God is rooted in the discipline of prayer; of being in daily conversation with the living God.

The apostle John in his first letter reminds us that, “By this we know that we abide in him and he is us, because he has given us of his Spirit. …Whoever confesses that Jesus is the son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. ... God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. … There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear.” (1st John 4: 13-18).

Jesus in Matthew 6:25-34 tells us, “… do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? ... But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.”

Each day has its own opportunities and challenges for ministry. It demands our full attention. And thanks be to God, we can do so with the full confidence that comes from these wonderful words of confirmation from the Lord: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.” (John 14:27-28).

This peace allows us to approach the past without regret, the uncertain future without fear, and the present with the absolute faith that the Lord has ordained our steps, is with us, and will sustain us no matter what circumstances we might encounter. We serve a faithful and awesome God! Onward, Christian soldiers!

This article was originally published on Lancaster Farming.

Steer Clear of the Ruts

Our potato crop is our largest by volume and is a staple for area food banks. Potatoes travel well, need no refrigeration, can be prepared in many ways and can be part of every meal. What’s not to like about the common spud?

After we plant them in late April/early May, we wait for the plants to get just tall enough so that we can hill them. If they’re too short, the hiller can bury the little plants; too big and we might run over parts of the plants and the rows will be harder to see.

As with many things associated with farming, timing is crucial.

Notwithstanding this year’s challenging weather, we were able to hill our potatoes while soil conditions were just right. The four-row hiller did beautiful work as its moldboards made tall, well-shaped hills around each potato plant. You have to love growing potatoes to appreciate how enjoyable this is when the timing is right.

As I sprayed a potato field in preparation for harvest the other day, I remembered how hard it was to move over a row or two if I had miscalculated my spray overlap. Once the tractor and sprayer were in those two rows, the high potato hills made those rows like ruts. Once committed, you were pretty much in those ruts until the end of the row.

We all know how easy it is to fall into ruts. The Oxford dictionary defines a rut as “a habit or pattern of behavior that has become dull and unproductive but is hard to change.” We can all relate to various earthly ruts, such as becoming a couch potato. What about spiritual ruts?

Habits or patterns of behavior are not in and of themselves bad. Ritual is an important part of a full spiritual life. The commandments of God as revealed in the Torah were there to provide a pattern of righteousness. However, due to mankind’s inherent sinfulness, the people of Israel struggled to follow the spirit of the law. As compassionate as Jesus was with sinners, lost sheep who needed a shepherd, he was as profoundly disappointed and full of righteous indignation with those who claimed to honor God but whose lives did not.

In Matthew 5:17-20, Jesus reminds his fellow Israelites, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets. I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. ... For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and the Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”

In a sense, what happened over generations was that God’s people had begun worshipping the commandments, rituals and the traditions of the elders. Indeed, many of Israel’s prophets had warned the people about this danger. They had lost sight of the original intent of God’s word. They were in a spiritual rut.

As the Scriptures recount, Jesus repeatedly tried to get them to understand what fulfilling the law meant.

“On another Sabbath, he entered the synagogue and was teaching, and a man was there whose right hand was withered. And the scribes and the Pharisees watched him, to see whether he would heal on the Sabbath, so that they might find a reason to accuse him. But he knew their thoughts, and he said to the man with the withered had, ‘Come and stand here.’ And he rose and stood there. And Jesus said to them, ‘I ask you, is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save life or to destroy it?’ But they were silent.” (Mark 3:1-4).

The Bible says the Lord was both sad and angry at that moment. Sad that the heart of God’s people had become so dull, and angry that the religious folks of his day were trying to twist the law of life he had given them into something devoid of God’s love.

It is surprisingly easy to get into a spiritual rut. Meaningful relationships take time, are intentional and take effort. This is true with people, and even more so with God. Through prayer, worship and time in the Word, God invites us to have intimacy with him. Our merciful God knows our weaknesses and our tendency to get stuck in a pattern of behavior that is dull and unproductive. We need to steer clear of spiritual ruts, even in our prayer life.

Jesus said in Matthew 6, 8-13, “Pray then like this: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.”

Jesus gave us this great gift of the Lord’s Prayer as an example. The next time you offer this prayer, focus on the meaning of the words, rather than reciting it without thought and purpose. The aroma of prayer is pleasing to God when it is lifted with the sincerity of heart and mind, rather than in a rut of religious ritual.

This post was originally published on Lancaster Farming.

Resurrection Power

Several weeks ago, in early July, we planted some 60,000 cabbage transplants.

Ground conditions were dry, but the rain forecast looked promising. Over a three-day period, our two-seater water wheel transplanter chugged along, planting row after row after row. Almost as soon as we were finished, the weather forecast changed substantially. Instead of thunderstorms, we got almost two weeks of very hot, dry weather. Despite lots of transplant water, the plants were really suffering. Now mind you, we have planted such transplants in early July for many years with great success. However, this season was proving to be a real humbler.

After missing several storms, we finally got a tanker with 6,000 gallons of water and went to work with modified spray rigs to rescue the plants. Then, within days, we got over 17 inches of rain!

We laughed and commented that maybe the water tanker was the last straw. The Lord observed our feeble attempts, and said, “OK, folks, now let me show you what a heavenly tanker looks like!”

After the monsoon ended, we surveyed the damage and estimated that perhaps as much a third of the transplants had been lost. Disappointing, but it could have been much worse. Some of our farm friends have lost whole fields after they had been flooded for days.

As our normal routine of crop care resumed, we noticed something curious as we sprayed the cabbage field. Amid the larger plants, every once in a while a small cabbage plant had emerged from the ground. Clearly the transplant plug had survived. It was almost as if it had been raised from “death” to new life. What was dead to us, was actually waiting for sufficient water for a rebirth. In the same way, all the dried-out seeds we plant in the ground, whether they be beans, corn or squash, must decompose before a new, wonderful, unimaginable life begins. Of course, this truth is throughout the Bible — God is the God of resurrection.

In Ezekiel 37, God reminds the prophet that the Lord can, and will, raise the dead to new life. Ezekiel is set in the midst of a valley full of dry bones. And the Lord said to him, “Son of man, can these bones live?... Then he said to me, ‘Prophesy over these bones and say to them, O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord.’ Thus says the Lord God to these bones, ‘Behold, I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live.’... So I prophesied as I was commanded. And as I prophesied, there was a sound, and behold, a rattling, and the bones came together, bone to its bone….”

Finally, Ezekiel saw a great army of reborn people. Just when we have given up hope that whatever we are facing in life can never be restored, God often reminds us of his life-giving power.

“Then he said to me, ‘Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel.’ Behold, they say, ‘Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost, we are indeed cut off,’... Thus says the Lord God, ‘Behold, I will open your graves and raise you from your graves, O, my people.’”

Remarkably, in the latter part of this chapter, God foreshadows the Messiah with a promise of the Holy Spirit, an everlasting covenant, and one shepherd (a descendent of David).

Early in Jesus’ ministry, John the Baptist is in prison, and he is discouraged. He sends his followers to ask Jesus if he is actually the Messiah, or should they expect somebody else. It is an amazing and encouraging section of Scripture. We should take heart. Yes, even John the Baptist got discouraged!

“And he answered them, ‘Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have good news preached to them.’” (Luke: 7:22).

Later in Jesus’ ministry, news of his healing and teaching is spread everywhere, even into the capital city of Jerusalem.

In John 3:1-6, we read, “Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. This man came to Jesus by night and said to him, ‘Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.’ Jesus answered him, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.’”

Nicodemus, like many of the learned and faithful Jews of his day, was confused as to how could one literally be born again.

“Jesus answered, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.’”

Once we are reborn, we have the great privilege to bear spiritual fruit.

In the parable of the sower, Jesus gives examples of how various seeds are cast. Some are flung onto bare ground and are immediately taken away. Some are cast on rocky ground and, having no root, fail to grow due to having no real foundation.

“And others are the ones sown among the thorns. They are those that hear the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches and desires for other things enter in and choke the word, and it proves unfruitful. But those that were sown on the good soil are the ones who hear the word and accept it and bear fruit, thirtyfold, and sixtyfold and a hundredfold.” Mark 4:18-20.

Rebirth gives us not only the opportunity of spending eternity with God, but also enables us in this life to bear an abundance of spiritual fruit that draws others to a love relationship with Jesus.

How blessed are we to be called to his service!

This post was originally published on Lancaster Farming.

What Could Be Next?

Our farm is located on the Mason-Dixon Line, the border between Pennsylvania and Maryland. Given the proximity, perhaps there are other readers of Lancaster Farming who will be able to relate to our current circumstances.

In the 20 years of our farm’s operation, this has been the toughest one yet. And it’s just the beginning of August.

Let’s recap. Soon after the first plantings of several crops, we had 25 days with no rain and almost daily temperatures around 90 degrees.

 

Following this stretch, we received 17 inches of rainfall in five days.

Adding to this weather calamity, we have observed that the deer population has reached new dimensions in size and brazenness. These critters are so tame, they are routinely spotted munching in our fields in the middle of the day, quite oblivious to our presence.

What can it possibly mean that for the first time last week we witnessed deer devouring zucchini? We have never seen that before.

They seem to ignore fish oil, Irish Spring, hot pepper and other repellents (yes, we know, we haven’t used enough lead).

Needless to say, our production numbers are totally out of whack this season.

We have lost several crops to drought, sadly having to plow under acres and acres of green beans that never got a chance.

Despite ample amounts of transplant water, thousands of our cabbage plugs were lost due to the unrelenting heat.

A recent irony is that one of the replanted drought-stricken snap bean fields was actually lost to rot, due to 19 inches of rain at that particular field.

And now the loss of sweet corn to deer foraging has reached unprecedented proportions.

Actually, it’s a misnomer to call it foraging. It’s more like we set a table for the local deer population.

Elsewhere in our nation, wildfires too numerous to count burn across land masses the size of small states and continue to rage, while volcanoes spew molten lava into the atmosphere and across the landscape.

And yet, we are not downtrodden, neither despairing nor destroyed.

As the saying goes, we do not know what the future holds — but we know who holds it.

Times like these send us right into the Psalms, where we can find authors from thousands of years ago pouring out emotions that run the entire spectrum of human experience.

This always brings the reader back into alignment with the God of the universe, who is sovereign over all.

Psalm 46:1-3 proclaims that “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.”

In what can be a time of confusion and uncertainty, we are assured.

“He says, ‘Be still and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth’” (Psalms 46:10).

Knowing that God is sovereign means that we can trust in his plans and purposes. Even in the midst of great loss and suffering, Job was able to declare, “I know that you can do all things; no purpose of yours can be thwarted” (Job 42:2).

The trouble for us is that we want to figure it all out when our faith tells us not so fast.

“‘For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,’ declares the Lord. ‘As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts’” (Isaiah 55:8-9).

In extreme times like this we are reminded how much we take for granted. In our temperate Maryland climate, we have come to expect generally favorable growing conditions.

And indeed, most seasons here have ample and timely rain, favorable temperatures, and manageable problems. During these “normal” seasons, most of us probably don’t reflect and marvel at what an incredible and orderly world God has created for us to enjoy.

Perhaps like us, you too are shaking your heads and wondering what could be next on the horizon for your farm, your families and our nation.

Thankfully, in faith we know that God never says, “I did not see that coming!” In fact, he is way ahead of us, calling us forward to his purpose and plan, and calling us to himself.

This post was originally published on Lancaster Farming.

The Greatest Among Us

July is our time for planting our fall crop of cabbage. Most years, the spring rains are a distant memory and the mid-July weather is often hot and dry. Somehow, even in tough conditions, our cabbage transplants have made it through.

All systems were “go” early this month when we began to plant 60,000 transplants. The plants were in good condition, ground prep done, we had plenty of help, and the extended forecast had lots of rain potential.

As we finished the planting, the extended forecast changed dramatically. Near term, our poor transplants, even with copious amounts of transplant water, were really struggling after five days of unrelenting hot, dry weather with no end in sight.

 

Stress levels among the farm brethren began to rise. Notwithstanding weekly Bible study and prayer time together, the stresses and strains of the season sometimes take their toll. At times like these, we may be tempted to compare ourselves to others.

Take snap beans for example. Our mechanics have our machines ready to work, our operators have to be ready to harvest beans, our volunteer leaders need to organize the bagging process, and someone has to share our mission and message with the volunteers who have signed up to help with the harvest. Is there one who is most important in this chain of events? Ah, yes, the quest for position, power and recognition goes all the way back to Genesis. Our sin nature wants to exalt ourselves. Like the famous boxer Muhammad Ali, whose tagline was “I am the greatest,” we too have that dangerous desire. Why dangerous? Because this desire, throughout history, has been the spark that ignited all sorts of conflict among nations, neighbors, church members and families.

This is such an elemental idea that all three synoptic Gospels include a version of the following story. According to the account in Luke 20:24-30, “A dispute also arose among them, as to which of them was to be regarded as the greatest. And he said to them, ‘The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them, and those in authority over them are called benefactors. But not so with you. Rather, let the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leader as one who serves. For who is the greater, one who reclines at the table or one who serves? Is it not the one who reclines at the table? But I am among you as the one who serves.’”

In John 13: 13-18, Jesus gives a practical example of what this means. After the washing of the disciples’ feet, Jesus said to them, “You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. ... Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master.”

The apostle Paul magnifies this in his letter to the Philippians: “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who though he as in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” (Phil 2:5-9).

This servant attitude, made visible in Christ, and made possible in us by the work of the Holy Spirit, is what enables the Christian to live a set-apart life in communion with other believers.

It is this foundation that makes sense of what Paul describes in 1 Corinthians 12 when he uses the analogy of the human body. All parts of the body are essential, but they have distinct roles. Each of us is called to serve God’s kingdom with our own unique gifts. When we fully comprehend this, the idea of comparing the worth of an “eye” to an “ear” seems ludicrous. It is also a great sin that, left unchecked, can allow pride to wreak havoc among God’s family.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the famous German theologian, whose willingness to oppose Hitler cost him his life, shared much wisdom on what a Christian life in community looks like. Even writing from prison, Bonhoeffer exhorts, “The first service one owes to others in a community involves listening to them. Just as our love for God begins with listening to God’s word, the beginning of love for others is learning to listen to them.”

He adds the profound observation that “Nothing that we despise in other men is inherently absent from ourselves. We must learn to regard people less in the light of what they do or don’t do, and more in the light of what they suffer.”

Who is the greatest? Seems like a silly question, doesn’t it? And for the record, back to our green bean harvest operation — the greatest in the sequence of events is the good, good God, in whom we live and move and have our being (Acts 17:28), and who blesses us with crops to harvest so the people will have food to eat.

This post was originally published on Lancaster Farming.

Finding the Right Words

It seems like every walk of life has its own lingo, a special technical language that is unique and largely only understood by the folks working in that profession or area of specialized skill.

When we were new farmers, we tried to sound like we knew what we were talking about down at the local feed mill as we tried out new and various terms related to agriculture, and especially livestock. We learned about tools of the trade, such as knowing the proper seed population per acre, or how best to deliver subcutaneous injections to the sheep. We learned about crop planting techniques, cultivation practices, pre-emergent herbicides and soil test analyses, and slowly but surely we picked up some of the language of agriculture.

Then, like many other specialists in a field, we quickly forgot that most other folks don’t speak that language, and communication can be hindered or rendered ineffective if we don’t meet people where they are.

 

For example, last growing season we had some very kind ladies who helped us to harvest sweet corn with a large group of volunteers. They received instruction on the proper technique to handpick the corn. Some time later, we noticed that these fine people were seriously lagging behind the others in working their way down the long rows of corn. When we asked them if they were having difficulty removing the ears from each stalk, they said no, it was just a laborious process. When we approached them to see how we could help, we noticed that they had meticulously shucked each ear, including carefully removing each strand of silk. This is how the corn appeared at the market where they shopped, and they thought this is a requirement of the harvest process.

Another example was found in the orchard. As we attempted to train the volunteers on good apple harvest quality control, we have had to warn our apple pickers to stay clear of the damage of the insidious coddling moth, most clearly visible on the bottom of the apple where small holes resembling drill bit shavings appear. This is an important step in quality control, because nobody wants to bite into an apple where the center is inhabited by the worm of this moth. The infected apple might otherwise look wonderful if you are not wary of the telltale blemishes created in the bottom of the fruit. Ultimately, we have to stop explaining about the coddling moth and just say don’t keep any apple that looks like it has been drilled into on the bottom.

We have learned to be as clear as we can be in our use of language, and to remind one another that we should meet people coming to help on the farm exactly where they are, and take nothing for granted with regard to their understanding of terminology about the crops or harvest process. After all, we have been on the other side of such communication, and it can be downright frustrating.

Recently, in the face of a major health challenge, we gave up trying to understand our test results and medical records. It seemed that every word on the page had seven syllables and many strange combinations of consonants, such as x, y and z.

Similarly, when we try to speak with others about the Lord, our excitement and desire to share our witness or application of scripture can leave some people shaking their heads in bewilderment if we fail to use language that is familiar to them. If instead we employ too much Bible-speak, using words like salvation, sanctification, grace or righteousness, without explaining their meanings, we can lose people even before we have the chance to point to the love and glory of the Lord.

In Paul’s first letter to the church in Corinth, he spoke about his freedom and the opportunity to meet people where they are for the sake of sharing the gospel. In 1Corinthians 9:19-23, he said, “Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.”

This is a good encouragement to remember that we can show our love to others by acknowledging that faith does not require an in depth knowledge of the Bible, or theological language. It is simply a response to a loving God who has made himself known in a personal way, and through a personal Savior.

This post was originally featured on Lancaster Farming.

 

 

The Farm is a Fellowship of Believers

The longer we live in the milieu of the “church,” that is, the body of Christ, the more we are struck by the challenges and difficulties of proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ in the midst of a broken and fallen world around us and within us.

Sometimes, to be honest, we look to the farm as an escape hatch of sorts. It feels like a place where the normal “rules” don’t apply, and where people can just be people. We pray daily that it is a place where our community, in a very real sense, is centered in Christ.

One of the common sayings at the farm is that there are two types of equipment — broken equipment and equipment that will be broken. It is an acknowledgment that even with proper maintenance this is a hostile world, and farm equipment eventually breaks down and needs repair and restoration.

People are no different. This world is hard. Sometimes the crushing load, the duration of hard service and the “soil conditions” wear us down.

We are reminded that the church is a hospital. The church is the place where broken people may find healing and compassionate care.

Mark 2:17 — “On hearing this, Jesus said to them, ‘It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.’”

We knew at the outset of this farming ministry 20 years ago, that this adventure would be no different, maybe even the same as “the church universal.” Help us, Lord! And graciously, he has!

So, 20 years into this experiment in ministry, we hear the words of the apostle Paul to the church in Rome — a church, by the way, that he did not plant and did not meet until he visited as a prisoner.

Romans 15:1-6 — “We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves.

“Each of us should please our neighbors for their good, to build them up.

“For even Christ did not please himself but, as it is written, ‘The insults of those who insult you have fallen on me.’

“For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through the endurance taught in the Scriptures and the encouragement they provide we might have hope.

“May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you the same attitude of mind toward each other that Christ Jesus had.

“So that with one mind and one voice you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

We acknowledge that our farm is not like other farms. We are, in every possible sense, dependent upon teamwork. We are a collection of volunteers who are united in the purpose of feeding the hungry. We are a farm like many farms, but also unlike most farms. We grow food for the hungry as a Christian ministry. However, our farm must function like any other, because we are not above the basic agricultural (and Biblical) principle that you reap what you sow.

So, here we are, a band of brothers and sisters, knit together in purpose and in heart. And Paul instructs us to keep these thoughts first and foremost:

• We must love one another, consider one another, put what is best for one another first.

• Be steadfast in our pursuit of truth through study of the Scripture. It is only the truth that will set us free and lead us into the life of joy and peace that God promises.

• Live in harmony. We can give voice and expression to different opinions, but only in the community of love and harmony can these expressions be fully enlivened.

• It is the hope of Christ that is fully alive in man. We may hope for worldly things, but it is only in the power of Christ that our deepest and most authentic hope is realized.

• Our example is always and only Christ. We do not have to try to figure out what this looks like. It looks like Jesus Christ.

• Our fellowship will always be characterized by praise. Praise always has been and always will be the hallmark of our faith. God is good! Now and always! We praise him for what he has done, for what he is doing and for what will be to come! Amen, amen and amen!

So although our farm may be unique in some important respects, it is still a working machine, composed of sprockets, chains, bearings, belts and many other parts. It is about Christian teamwork, devotion to stewardship and taking the time to listen to others. It is about order, not chaos, and each part performing as it should as part of the whole. It is about unity of purpose, bound together by the centrality of Christ. Ah, the church.

Don’t shrink from it. Step into it. Lean into it. With God’s help and provision, we can be who we are purposed to be — the people of God for the people of God.

This post was originally published on Lancaster Farming.

Order Amidst Chaos

One of my favorite hobbies is beekeeping. And not just one or two hives, but 20 or more!

The whole family helped during the honey harvest, which produces hundreds of pounds of great local honey every year. A couple weeks ago, I headed down to the bee yard to check on their progress and to make sure they would have sufficient room for the upcoming nectar flow. As I watched them fly in and out of the hives by the thousands, I marveled at what a great work of God the honeybee is. Consider the following facts that give manifold witness to the living God:

They build their hive in total darkness out of wax that they secrete from their own glands. These wax plates are fashioned into the honeycomb we all recognize. Even the ancient Romans speculated on why the honeybee chose to always make perfect hexagons. Modern engineering has confirmed that the perfect hexagon stores the most honey with the least amount of building material (wax) and is stronger. Wow, those bees sure are smart! I wonder how many generations it took for them to figure that out.

But wait, there’s more.

The hive has three distinct residents — female workers, the queen and drones. After spending their early days cleaning the hive, minding the nursery and other domestic duties, the female workers begin to forage for nectar. Their flights can range as much as 3 miles; they will literally work themselves to death in a couple of months. As various nectar sources become available, the worker bees communicate through a dance that gives other workers distance and coordinates. You might be wondering how a colony could stay alive if its worker force had such low life expectancy.

Enter the queen bee.

Each colony has only one queen. Her presence (and scent) provide hive stability. Although she begins her infancy like her sisters, after being fed a special diet she is transformed into an anatomically different female. After becoming impregnated (more on that next), she begins to lay somewhere between 1,000 and 2,000 eggs a day. Yes, a day. She may continue this pace for several years.

So, how do her eggs get fertilized?

Enter the drone.

Drones are male honeybees. They don’t do hive housework, take care of the bee nursery or guard the entrance. They don’t forage for nectar or pollen, or scout for a new home. Their sole role is to mate with virgin queens. They do this by flying to drone congregating zones and flying around in a wide circle waiting for a virgin queen. To this day, we humans do not understand how they know where these zones are. What is amazing is that there is no generational transfer of this information. How do we know this? At the end of every season, remaining drones are driven out of the hive to die, so as not to be a burden to the hive during the winter. Somehow, every year a new crop of male drones knows where their work station is. I wonder how much trial and error that took.

Worship the Creator

There are probably a million other examples in God’s glorious creation that speak to his majesty, creativity, connectedness and sense of order. Indeed, such numerous examples give the words of Paul in Romans 1:19-23 special power:

“For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not think to honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.”

Yes, much of our modern world sadly worships the created things and the gift of science without giving glory to the actual creator.

Lastly, the example of the humble, hardworking honeybee is here to remind us of another encouraging biblical truth. God loves order, not chaos. The Genesis account is one of order and purpose. The honeybee family structure is there by God’s design. So is God’s design for the health and happiness of the human family.

Everyone has a job to do. Worker bees don’t try to be queens. If you want to see what that looks like, open up a queenless colony some time. You won’t forget it — chaotic, angry, confused bees.

Some worker bees are trying to pretend to be queens, since they are sterile by God’s design. Bad results. No one is in charge … shalom is gone.

In our lives, shalom is possible when we put things in the proper order. When the Lord is Lord of your life, and we live obediently in accordance with the design and calling of the creator, our “hives” will be productive, fruitful and happy places. This is not to say that females alone have responsibility for domestic duties, and that males should, well, never mind ... it is to say that there is one God who is sovereign of all the universe and we are wise to worship him, rather than any created thing.

This post was originally published on Lancaster Farming.

Impostors Among the Kale

In the blink of an eye it is almost June again. Depending on the late spring weather, the first harvest will come sometime after the middle of the month, and it will be a crop of kale and collards, Lord willing.

The deep green of the fields ready for harvest is a pretty sight. However, every year it seems, the dark and lush green is visited at some point by a squadron of soft, white, fluttering impostors. Many people who come to the farm to help harvest the first crops become almost entranced with the scene of butterflies hovering over the kale and collards. But, alas, these almost angelic looking insects are not as pure and innocent as they portray. They are, in fact, white cabbage butterflies, which are not present in abundance to beautify the field of kale, but to exploit it, as they lay white cabbage eggs under the vegetable leaves; then, the eggs hatch worms which destroy the plants.

So when folks helping to pick kale remark about how pretty the butterflies are, we try to educate them about why we need to employ some pest management techniques, because these insects are not beneficial.

Of course, it took some “discernment” on our part to learn about the perils of the soft, silent, clean-looking butterflies. We too were mesmerized for a season or two by the appealing and seemingly harmless lovers of kale. Discernment, or in this case researching enemies of the cole crop group, comes from spending time in truth and seeking the leading of the Spirit.

The Same Can Be True About People

We are all well-advised to be cautious around people who look and sound a certain way, but who may in fact be frauds focused on their own personal gain.

Indeed, Paul warns us in 2 Corinthians 11:13-15, “For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. So it is no surprise if his servants, also disguise themselves as servants of righteousness.”

A great illustration is found in the Acts of the Apostles.

It is a good thing to be studying the book of Acts this time of year. With Pentecost and all the demonstrations of the power of the Holy Spirit, the dramatic scenes contained in Acts are compelling. Consider Acts 19:11-20, during which the demon actually speaks and condemns a group of exorcists, who are attempting to use the name of Jesus for their own personal gain.

“God did extraordinary miracles through Paul, so that even handkerchiefs and aprons that had touched him were taken to the sick, and their illnesses were cured and the evil spirits left them.

“Some Jews who went around driving out evil spirits tried to invoke the name of the Lord Jesus over those who were demon-possessed. They would say, ‘In the name of the Jesus whom Paul preaches, I command you to come out.’ Seven sons of Sceva, a Jewish chief priest, were doing this. One day the evil spirit answered them, ‘Jesus I know, and Paul I know about, but who are you?’ Then the man who had the evil spirit jumped on them and overpowered them all. He gave them such a beating that they ran out of the house naked and bleeding.

“When this became known to the Jews and Greeks living in Ephesus, they were all seized with fear, and the name of the Lord Jesus was held in high honor.”

What a scene! The Bible tells us that even demons know and respect Jesus. (James 2:19 You believe… Good! Even the demons believe …and shudder.)

And when this family of sons was trying to exploit the name of Jesus for their own purposes, they were pummeled and sent running because the evil spirit recognized their fraudulent behavior and refused to allow it. The upshot of this attack was that the name of the Lord was magnified. Remarkable!

This story is a warning to all disciples to stay far away from those who claim the name of Jesus, but do not bear the fruit of his spirit (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control — Galatians 5:22).

The work of the Spirit is to guide us into all truth (John 16:13) and to glorify Jesus. Note that in the Acts 19 passage, it is God who does miraculous things through Paul. All the glory goes to God. The sons of the chief priest had thought they had a new tool in their bag of tricks. They thought they would use the name of Jesus without following Him. There was no power in that, and the demon knew it. So “pest management techniques” were employed, and the sons of Sceva went running. Their pretense of being members of the Way offended even the evil spirit. When their deceit was exposed, the name of the Lord Jesus was elevated. How would any one of us, who calls him or herself a disciple of Christ, respond to the question — Jesus I know, and Paul I know about, but who are you?

This blog was originally published on Lancaster Farming.

The Play Has a Theme

After the first of many crops were planted early in the season, I got ready to spray off the day’s acreage for weed control.

This particular farm task is usually pretty formulaic, which often allows me some time alone with the Lord.

On this particular day, the wind was too strong so I had to wait until almost dark to spray. As I got to the field, a beautiful sunset appeared amid the dark clouds and quickly directed my mind to prayer.

As I drove up and down, row after row, I began to reflect on a few questions.

How many hundreds of acres have I traversed on a tractor over the years? Has this made any difference? When I am gone, will anyone remember me or the farm ministry? Will anyone care? What has my life actually been about? Have I spent my time wisely?

These are universal questions that arise from the human heart.

Such reflections brought to mind a great Shakespeare quote from Macbeth. In Act V, as the end is near and all is crashing down around Macbeth, he laments, “Out, out, brief candle! Life is but a poor player, who struts and frets his hour upon the stage, and then is heard no more. It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”

Wow, rarely has there been penned such a concise description to capture the futility of life without God.

Our lives are not a dress rehearsal. Every day is a fresh performance. Never mind that we don’t know the script for the day, the supporting actors or even which role we may play. Without a central theme to our lives, an essential plot if you will, we may be one who “struts and frets our hour upon the stage.” We may be prone to lurch from prideful focus on ourselves to worrying about all of life’s troubles and what might become of us. This amounts to a colossal, and tragic, waste of the gift of life the Lord has given us. Without the Lord, and the daily guidance of the Holy Spirit, our days lack unifying sense or ultimate meaning.

String a life of tens of thousands of days together without God, and yes, “it is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”

God Has a Clear Plan

Thankfully, in contrast to the hopeless cry of Macbeth, God reveals the central theme of love, grace and salvation found in Christ throughout the Bible. All the dots of purpose and meaning are connected in the gospel of Jesus Christ.

God does have an eternal plan for each of us that is presented clearly throughout his word.

In Matthew 22, the religious authorities ask Jesus to name the greatest commandment. Jesus answers them saying, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

This command is so simple, yet so difficult to live out faithfully. Our daily mission is to love God and to reflect and share his love with everyone we meet.

The things of this world which are seemingly valuable, such as position, power, wealth, possessions, are in the end merely props in the eternal play. The abundant life promised by God does not consist of stuff. God allows us to use these props in order to magnify his message of grace, mercy, and love to a world that is desperately searching for meaning in life. It all begins with our becoming a new creation in Christ. As Jesus says to Nicodemus in John 3:3, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the Kingdom of God.”

Discover the Mission

Once we relinquish the desire for control over our lives, and give it back to its rightful owner, we are ready to discover God’s personal mission for each of us.

Strutting and fretting?

The indwelling of the Spirit releases us from the tyranny of both those temptations. We lean into the story that God is writing with our lives, and we approach each new scene with a sense of anticipation for how the director will choreograph the players for surprising and glorious outcomes.

As for “sound and fury signifying nothing,” this is the noise of the enemy, who is the one spinning the tale of the idiot. This tale would have us believe that our life has no value, our relationships with others are doomed to disappointment, betrayal and deceit, and we are merely taking up space on a rock spinning in the universe.

No, we have been called by the living God to live lives of abundance, full of God’s mercy, truth and power, signifying not nothing, but everything — all pointing to the theme of his everlasting love!

This blog was originally posted on Lancaster Farming.

Sprouts of God's Truth

Praise the Lord! Spring has finally arrived!

The latest snow is gone, the nighttime freeze warnings appear to be over, and the soil temperature is slowly rising. We are more than midway through our potato planting, and everyone’s general disposition has improved.

Wagon loads of cut seed potatoes are safely in the ground. More room is available in our potato seed cutting barn for the last shipment of seed potatoes to be received, cut and readied for planting. All that needless worry, conjecture, worst-case analysis review ... O ye of little faith!

As the ground warms up, daffodils and crocuses are in bloom. In the woods, the skunk cabbage has been reborn. In our fields, some of the barley and rye cover crops, planted late last year, seem to be literally bursting out of the cold ground. Soon, the potato shoots will be poking their heads out of the earth, ready for a new season of growth and harvest.

Sprouts of Truth

These seemingly mundane events, while often ignored, are used by the Lord to help us remember biblical truth.

It is no accident or coincidence that the redemption of Israel at Passover, and Jesus’ atoning death as the Lamb of God at Easter, occur during the spring.

This season is full of rebirth, a reawakening and a sense that God is doing something new again. No matter how many winters we experience here in the Mid-Atlantic, the anticipation of spring, watching it unfold in so many ways, never gets old.

In the same way, God had been preparing Israel to encounter “spring” after many centuries of “winter.”

In the centuries after their deliverance from slavery in Egypt, Israel had experienced a long winter of divided loyalties, disobedience, exiles and prophecy drought. However, as we know, God’s timing is not our timing, and his ways are not our ways. In Isaiah 11 hundreds of years before the birth in Bethlehem, we are told that, “There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, a branch from his roots shall bear fruit. And the spirit of the Lord shall rest on him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, and the spirit of the knowledge and fear of the Lord.”

Later in Isaiah 53, the prophetic voice continues, “Who has believed what he has heard from us? And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed? For he grew up before him, like a young plant, and like root out of dry ground.”

Yes, Israel had experienced a time of spiritual dryness, yet a root had emerged out of this barren, dry, ground.

Later in Isaiah, we encounter one of my favorite passages, Isaiah 61. It is the Scripture that Jesus uses in his home synagogue in Nazareth to announce that he is Messiah. After Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness, he begins his ministry in Galilee. Word spreads quickly of his miraculous healing power.

“And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up. And as was his custom, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and stood up to read. And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it is written, The spirit of the Lord is upon me because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor. And he rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. And he began to say to them, Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

Salvation for All

Ever wonder why all the eyes of the synagogue were fixed on Jesus after he read this passage? We forget that in Jesus’ day it was not uncommon for people to have memorized the Bible. Jesus didn’t read all of Isaiah 61; he didn’t have to. His audience mentally finished it for him as their eyes were fixed upon him.

“I will greatly rejoice in the Lord; my soul shall exult in my God, for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation; he has covered me with the robe of righteousness ... For as the earth brings forth its sprouts, and as a garden causes what is sown in it to sprout up, so the Lord God will cause righteousness and praise to sprout up before all the nations.”

Jesus, the tender shoot, the root of Jesse, was about to bring salvation, righteousness and praise, not just to long-suffering Israel, but to all the nations.

In the everyday wonders of spring, God reminds us that, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Praise the Lord for his love, mercy and faithfulness.

This blog was originally posted at Lancaster Farming.

Here Comes the Sun

The growing season begins for us the exact same way every year.

We kick it off with great fanfare as the team assembles to cut and plant tens of thousands of pounds of seed potatoes. The fanfare is partly due to the pent up demand among all those close to the farm to finally DO SOMETHING!

Potatoes are the perfect kick off crop. It’s one of our most important crops due to its versatility, durability and easy storage. And we are told pantry clients like spuds for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. What’s not to like?

So, after months of machinery repair, snow, ice and raw cold mornings, our gang is itching to get back in the dirt. The plowed ground is ready for final tillage, the seed potatoes are here and ready to be cut, and the fertilizer cart is ready to be filled.

We just need spring weather to cooperate. Alas, it rarely does. You would think we would have learned by now, yet here we are debating about whether to take a risk and cut the potato seed so we will be ready to plant.

The scene is both remarkable and funny. We know that the ground is still cold, that we have many weeks to plant and that potato seeds (once cut) can dry out. We even know that potato seed placed in warmer ground germinates faster, is less prone to rot and many believe produce better yields.

However, despite the dictates of logic, our humanness fights back. We do not like to wait.

There is great temptation to: (1) grumble, and (2) to decide to go ahead without waiting for the right planting conditions. Both temptations have real consequences. Grumbling affects our spirits and calls into question God’s faithfulness and sovereignty. And doing it “my way” (a la Sinatra), adds the real possibility that things will turn out badly. Turning to scriptures, we find many examples of the wisdom and blessing of waiting on God.

The Wisdom of Waiting

Three biblical illustrations seem particularly instructive.

In Genesis 6, we read of the perseverance of Noah. “The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually ... But Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord ... And God said to Noah, I have determined to make an end to all flesh ... Make yourself an ark.”

This is an incredible story. Noah is told to build an immense structure, fill it with animals, and wait. It took many years to build the ark, and Noah no doubt suffered continuous ridicule from his neighbors. Sometimes God calls us to wait faithfully without an apparent road map.

Later in Genesis 15, God makes his covenant with Abraham: “Fear not, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be great.

But Abraham said, “O Lord God, what will you give me, for I continue childless?”

And behold, the word of the Lord came to him: “This man shall not be your heir; your very own son shall be your heir.”

But like all of us, Abraham and Sarah, grow impatient. They were old — Where is this son the Lord spoke about? They decide to take matters into their own hands. Sarah offers her servant Hagar as a surrogate and Hagar gives birth to a son, Ishmael. The consequences of their disobedience continue to this day. Trusting in our own understanding, not God’s, never brings peace.

Sometimes God calls us to wait in a situation that doesn’t seem smart or safe. Jesus has been raised, the tomb is empty, but the city of Jerusalem is in an uproar. In Luke 24, Jesus appears to his fearful friends huddled somewhere in the city. Jesus greets his disciples, “Peace to you!” But they were startled and thought they saw a ghost. Jesus calms their fears, then “he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning in Jerusalem … I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay (wait) in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.”

Stay in a city where they could be arrested or worse?

But we know God’s ways are not our ways.

After a long winter, we vegetable farmers are eager to get to work. We could even get ahead of ourselves. Praise the Lord, who is full of mercy and grace, and helps us to learn to trust Him through the gift of waiting. The crop will be planted. The harvest is the Lord’s. We are well advised to walk in obedience, and in so doing, perhaps we will bear a new fruit — the fruit of the Spirit known as patience.

This blog was originally posted on Lancaster Farming.

A Lesson From Holy Week

Feels like the preseason these days. There is lots of excitement building for the possibilities about to unfold.

The “preseason” on the farm is also a great time to shop for new or used equipment, and learn about upgrade potential. This is the time when a well thought out buying decision can be made, as opposed to that pressured purchase that comes with an immediate need. There is nothing worse than figuring out during a snap bean harvest with a two day window that the old combine really wasn’t ready for another year! (Can I get an amen!?)

So, in the wake of a couple of years when we endured “emergency” capital decisions, we have prudently learned to make our wish list and shop before the last snow, even if we didn’t know the last snow would coincide with the first day of spring.

It was during such a procurement outing that I recognized the wisdom of the book of James with fresh insight.

The writer in James 3:9-12 cautions us:

“With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be. Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring? My brothers and sisters, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water.”

Oh, but we can be so casual with our tongue, so careless! We don’t know people’s stories — their joys, their sorrows, their proud moments, their regrets, their shame, their hidden selves.

You Will Have Trouble

Not long ago, we were looking at a disc harrow-cultipacker combination at a local dealer, and we were skeptical about a few things. We pressed the salesperson for some answers. For whatever reason, he was not forthcoming with a ready answer, and one among us got impatient, making a few sarcastic comments.

The salesman reacted sharply, “What did you say?! Are telling me that I don’t know what I’m talking about? I spent my whole life farming! How long have you amateurs been farming!”

He walked off in a huff.

Our sarcastic words had insulted him. Is sarcasm ever really funny? At least, not since Don Rickles.

We were a bit taken aback — surely he didn’t think we were disrespecting his experience! Alas, in his mind, we had done just that. Everyone’s story contains struggles and sorrows, along with moments of joy and achievement. It is axiomatic to say that at some point during our lives, we will experience suffering. Even more than that, it is a promise of God!

We like to rehearse and “stand on” the promises of God that work in our favor — “He will never leave you nor forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5), or “nothing can separate you from the love of God in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:39).

But what about this promise: “In this world, you will have trouble.” (John 16:33)?

In our humanity it is very tempting during Holy Week to want to jump quickly from the glory and hosannas of Palm Sunday to the victory of the empty tomb on Easter morning. We don’t want to experience betrayal, rejection, humiliation, and suffering — i.e. the passion of Christ. But in the midst of the persecution and pain of Jesus’ walk to Calvary, he accepted the Father’s will. As his disciples we should be prepared for no less.

How should we prepare our hearts for the suffering that is surely to come, or even at our doorstep now? Consider the rest of the passage in John 16:33: “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

As we grow in grace and mercy, we understand that each of us experiences suffering, and we are mindful that the person we interact with this day may be struggling mightily with the hardships and sorrows of life.

Many bear it quietly, privately, fearfully. Jesus came to set us free from that, and to call us to help carry one another’s burdens.

Jesus came to show us that approaching one another with a heart of compassion can turn even a brief interaction into a divine appointment, centered in the love of Christ. A time of blessing, not cursing. Then, the promise of God has special meaning:

“By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:35).

This blog was originally posted on Lancaster Farming.

Every Tribe, Every Tongue

This past week, a lovely couple from Haiti visited the farm. We often have visitors who are curious about our all-volunteer farm ministry. They want to know how it works, why we do it and most of all, are we a red or green farm.

This Christian couple are different. They wanted to talk about strategies to build community and empower local leadership within the church to care for the families in their congregations.

Now American citizens, Joseph and Joycelyne came to this country for refuge many years ago. She came by boat, amidst great hardship, and he was sponsored by a church in rural Ohio.

They met as students at Duke University and now both work for World Relief, a Christian ministry that, among other things, helps refugees to flee oppression for new life here in America.

In Haiti, this couple works to build church leadership, in a multiplier model, to care for the community.

As we toured the farm and marveled at each other’s journeys of faith, a prophetic scriptural phrase kept coming into my mind — “from every tribe, and every tongue.”

In Revelation 7:9-10, we read, “After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!”

Reflecting on this vision, we see how God’s perfect plan is revealed. After the great flood, the descendants of Noah get into trouble quickly. They decide they want to become like God.

The account is contained in Genesis 11:1-8, “Now the whole earth had one language. ... And they said to one another ... come let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves. ... And the Lord said, ‘Behold, they are one people, and they have all one language, and this is only the beginning of what they will do. And nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them. Come, let us go down and there confuse their language, so that they may not understand one another’s speech.’ So the Lord dispersed them from there over the face of the earth, and they left off building the city.”

Sin of Pride

The original sin of pride and wanting to be like God is a persistent theme in every generation. Later in Genesis, God calls Abraham and establishes his everlasting covenant.

Hundreds of years later he calls his descendants out of slavery in Egypt, and sets them apart in the crossroads of the ancient world to be his ambassadors to a sin-filled world.

Like all human beings, the children of Israel struggle again and again to remain faithful to God’s call, wanting to go their own way.

Ultimately, God’s design of setting Israel apart to demonstrate and share God’s grace and mercy with others becomes sterile. The sin of pride fuels tribalism, separation and isolation.

Jesus came to fulfill the law and to redeem all of us from the power of sin. However, his fellow Jews were bewildered as Jesus broke down the walls of exclusiveness, tribal pride and prejudice.

We learn in Galatians that even Peter struggled with this issue when he was afraid to eat with gentiles.

The Good Samaritan, the faith of the centurion, the parable of the great banquet and healings of gentiles were all used by Jesus to illustrate that God’s mercy and grace are available to all.

Israel was simply the messenger.

Paul reminds us in Romans 10:8-13, “The word is near you, in our mouth and in your heart ... because if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. ... For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. For everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

What great and good news is the Gospel. What a joy to be reminded that we — from Freeland, Maryland — together with our new friends from Haiti, and countless other brothers and sisters from every tribe and every tongue, are called by the Living God to be his witnesses to a world otherwise bereft of answers, hope or peace.

Our Lord and Savior brings one language — the language of love — to all who answer his call.

This blog was originally posted on Lancaster Farming.

Connecting to the Source

Some years, our equipment maintenance/repair/rebuild schedule is a lengthy one. Sometimes, it is dominated by one complicated, large undertaking, such as a snap bean combine overhaul or a potato harvester upgrade.

We have been fortunate this off-season, as we had no major projects.

This past week, as the weather warmed up a bit for a day or so, we got around to working on our largest disc harrow.

Even though we have adopted a no- or minimal-till practice for most vegetable crops — beans and sweet corn especially — our cabbage, potato and black plastic crops need ground that has been worked up properly. That usually means chisel plowing and discing.

Beyond our vegetable planting, once the crops have been harvested, all of our ground is put into a variety of cover crops.

Yes, the old Sunflower disc gets regular workouts. Last year, we noticed that three of her five hydraulic cylinders were leaking fluid and needed a seal kit rebuild.

As anyone who has rebuilt hydraulic cylinders knows, this is a messy job where old coveralls and sawdust are a must!

We had finished rebuilding all of the cylinders, making sure any unwanted air had been purged from the lines, and were ready to test the finished product.

Expecting all systems go, we were quite surprised when the wings didn’t move. After much discussion, review and prayer, we decided to begin the disc harrow review at the beginning.

Yes, we began at the hydraulic tips that connected the wings to the remote. Using a spare set, we discovered that one of the tips was defective; it allowed almost no flow. Problem solved.

As we laughed about how simple this “problem” was to solve, I reflected on the biblical lesson we had learned amidst all the hydraulic mess.

Implements must be regularly maintained if they are going to be effective in the field. In the same way, we — as “implements” of the Living God — need to be regularly “maintained” if we are going to be effective in the “field.”

It goes without saying that a disc harrow whose bearings are shot, whose discs are past worn and whose hydraulics don’t function isn’t going to do its job in preparing the field.

We, as ambassadors of Christ, need to make sure we are field-ready for ministry.

Preparing the soil in both a physical and spiritual sense is tough work. We need to do our part as servants of the Lord to be ready.

Being in church fellowship, studying the word, setting time aside for daily prayer are all part of our “required maintenance.”

Connecting to Him

Yet, for all of this, the implement can’t do a thing without the power to pull it through the field. We need a tractor with power!

In John 15:1-12, Jesus reminds us that by ourselves we can do nothing. In this very familiar chapter, Jesus says, “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. ... Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. ... Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love. ... This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.”

Yes, as the Apostle Paul so rightly points out in 1 Corinthians 13:1-2, “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.”

Yes, we must be faithful servants readying ourselves for his service. But without the connection to the him that provides the power, we are nothing.

Our hydraulic tip was the smallest part of the whole implement, almost ignored in our maintenance process, but in the end, in this instance, it was the most important.

Take time this week to abide in his love so that we might truly love others, and in doing so accomplish the work the Lord has set out for us to do.

This blog was originally posted on Lancaster Farming.

In Pursuit of Immortality

Twenty years after our adventure in agriculture was launched, the original pioneers of our farming ministry don’t move quite as nimbly as we used to.

It is self-evident yet worth noting that the farm work we accomplished easily when we were in our late 30s takes considerably longer in our 60s.

Many mornings as we face the tasks at hand, we kid each other about getting old. We whine, it’s not fair! But of course, it is precisely fair.

Time waits for no one and passes in the same way for everyone who is blessed to see another day. Yet the desire to stay young forever seems to be universal.

Throughout history, we see many examples of this, such as Ponce De Leon’s quest for the fountain of youth or Bram Stoker’s infamous story of Dracula.

Even today, such fanciful notions are popular and gaining credibility as the pace of technological advances accelerates.

Hundreds of millions of dollars are being invested in the quest to end all disease, arrest the aging process and find a way to attain immortal life — to defeat death as it were.

An astonishing amount of this investment comes from several technology billionaires who have issued statements saying: “I am not actually planning to die.” “Death makes me angry.” And “Death has never made sense to me.”

Some are funding research into cryogenics — freezing bodies — or new technologies that could allow the transfer of your personality to a robot.

Before we are too quick to condemn such ideas, consider how much of this mindset infects our own thinking.

In contrast to American culture a century ago, being old today is not cool. Wisdom — gained through a lifetime of experience, victories, defeats, struggles and prayerful reflection — has given way to thoughts of retirement living.

The concentration of older folks in senior living communities reflects a societal view that aging and the aged should be out of view before they say or do something embarrassing.

Once considered the norm, most families no longer have grandpa or grandma living out their years with the next generation.

Our “forever young” culture is celebrated by a media platform that hawks plastic surgery, Viagra, air-brushed faces and unnaturally white smiles, and a have-it-your-way approach to all things spiritual.

With such a world view, who — or what — do we put our trust in?

No Ransom Large Enough

In Psalm 49: 7-13, we are reminded who is trustworthy and who is not: “No one can redeem the life of another or give to God a ransom for them — the ransom for a life is costly, no payment is ever enough — so that they should live on forever and not see decay. For all can see that the wise die, that the foolish and the senseless also perish, leaving their wealth to others. ... People, despite their wealth, do not endure; they are like the beasts that perish. This is the fate of those who trust in themselves, and of their followers, who approve their sayings.”

As finite creatures, we can’t possibly fully comprehend concepts such as forever and eternity. But Jesus helped us when he appealed to our very human experience of thirst in the familiar account in John 4 of the woman at the well.

In verses 10-15: “Jesus answered her, ‘If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.’

“‘Sir,’ the woman said, ‘you have nothing to draw with and the well is deep. Where can you get this living water? ...’

“Jesus answered, ‘Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.’

“The woman said to him, ‘Sir, give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water.’ ”

And then in a breathtaking exchange, Jesus reveals himself to the woman. He is the Christ, the long-awaited Messiah.

Perhaps the woman was present at the cross or was witness to the resurrected Lord — the only one in the span of all time to defeat death.

And in so doing, Jesus opened the door for each of us to enter eternal life. Hallelujah!

This blog was originally posted on Lancaster Farming.