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.

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.