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.

Whiter Than Snow

For some of us at the farm, late winter is our least favorite time of year. Not that we don’t appreciate the down time, slower pace and ability to cross important things off the never-ending list, but the weather can be somewhat depressing.

Of course, it is too early to plant anything. On some days, it is so raw that it makes working on repairs in an unheated barn downright unpleasant.

And yes, when it rains, the fields and pastures, especially cattle-feeding areas, turn into a sea of mud. There is nothing that can be done to change that muddy, semi-thawed ground except endure and wait for the promise of spring.

It was in the midst of these circumstances the other day, when as darkness fell, the weather changed and it began to snow. As the sun rose the next morning, several inches of wet snow covered the landscape.

How great is our God! The sea of mud had been transformed into a beautiful unblemished carpet of snow. The bright sunshine made the snow so bright it was almost uncomfortable to look at for too long.

This called to mind the transfiguration story of Jesus. “Now after six days, Jesus took Peter, James and John, and led them up on a high mountain apart by themselves; and he was transfigured before them. His clothes became shining, exceedingly white, like snow, such as no launderer on earth can whiten them” (Mt 17:1-2).

The purity and brilliance of the snow was an everyday manifestation of who Jesus is, and who we are not. There are further biblical illustrations of such purity.

In Isaiah 1:18, the Lord provides a foreshadowing of Christ when he says, “Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord; though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool.”

In Psalm 51:7, David pleads with the Lord, “Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.”

Yes, our God wants to create in us a new heart and a new spirit. And this is made possible through Christ, who is not only Immanuel, God with us, but also through our salvation, God in us.

Our Spiritual Mud

In the same way that our only choice in a sea of mud is to wait expectantly for the spring thaw, there is nothing we can do with our human strength to achieve God’s righteousness and lift ourselves out of a spiritual “sea of mud.”

As stated in the Westminster Confession, our whole nature is corrupt.

Psalm 14:2-3 reminds us of this reality: “The Lord looks down from heaven on the children of man to see if there are any who understand, who seek after God. They have all turned aside; together they have become corrupt; there is none who does good, not even one.”

The apostle Paul reminds us that our corruption is so systemic that even when we know what God requires, we cannot carry it out.

How familiar to our own experiences are these sage words of Paul found in Romans 7:15-24: “For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but do the very thing I hate. ... For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. ... So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin, that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!”

Yes, who will rescue me from this “sea of mud”? Certainly not me! Significantly, Paul’s question is who will deliver me, not what will deliver me.

The deliverer is a person, and the person is Christ. God’s provision of snow that morning was a beautiful reminder of his power, provision and grace.

Oh, what a Savior we have in Jesus!

This blog was originally posted at Lancaster Farming.

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.