Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Burning the Plow

Have you ever heard the phrase “burning the plow”? It comes from the story of Elisha’s call to ministry. The prophet Elijah sought out Elisha while he was busy plowing a field. The text says, “He was plowing with twelve yoke of oxen, and he himself was driving the twelfth pair. Elijah went up to him and threw his cloak around him” (1 Kings 19:19).

This story has always been very rich to me. I was a teenager when I first experienced something similar to what Elisha experienced that day on the farm. I have always identified with Elisha because I was raised on the farm and know something of the hard work that goes with that farm life. This was a prosperous farm because Elisha was plowing with twelve yoke of oxen. In other words there were eleven other men plowing, and he was using the twelfth pair. This is the equivalent of twelve large tractors plowing in the same field today. 

Elisha responded by running after Elijah and letting him know that he accepted the call. He then went back and killed the two oxen and burned the plow as fuel to roast the meat for all the people. He bid his mother and father and all the people goodbye and left to follow Elijah in a prophetic ministry. The burning of the plow was symbolic of saying “I am never coming back to this life again.”

Later on, Elisha was with Elijah as they traveled to various places in preparation for Elijah’s unusual departure to heaven without facing death. That day finally arrived as the two men arrived in Jericho and then stood on the bank of the Jordan River. Elijah struck the water with his mantle, and the waters parted for them. Elijah asked Elisha, “What do you want me to give you before I leave?” Elisha responded "Let me inherit a double portion of your spirit." "You have asked a difficult thing," Elijah said, "yet if you see me when I am taken from you, it will be yours — otherwise not" (2 Kings 2:9-10). As they stood there, suddenly, a chariot of fire and heavenly horses flew between the two men, and then Elijah was caught up to heaven in a whirlwind. Elisha walked over and picked up Elijah’s mantle that had fallen to the ground. As he struck the water he cried out, “Where now is the Lord, the God of Elijah?” (1 Kings 19:14), and the water divided.

We refer to this incident as the moment that the anointing rested on Elisha or at least a double portion of it. I like to define the anointing as the endorsement of the Holy Spirit upon a person or movement. Elisha is the kind of person the Spirit anoints—a person who is willing to be obedient and burn the plow, thus leaving the old life behind and becoming a servant.

Ministry with the anointing is a wonderful experience, and ministry without the anointing is a dreadful experience. I was sixteen when God called me into the ministry. I was so young, but the call was nonetheless very real. I was so overwhelmed with the call of God on my life that I sold my guns and a boat and gave the money to the church. God never asked me to do that, but it was my way of burning the plow. It was my response to having experienced that anointing for the first time in my life. Now 46 years later, I still value the anointing of God’s Spirit on my ministry.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

The Resurrection

1940 was a year of uncertainty with the dark clouds of war hanging over much of the world. So it made the discovery of the tomb of Psusennes 1 and his wife Mutnedjmet even more important. That is why French archaeologist, Pierre Montet worked against the clock to excavate the tomb. After years of searching for this Pharaoh, the moment finally arrived to open the tomb that had been sealed for 3000 years. Montet found priceless jewels and a mummy case of granite. Beneath it was a second coffin of silver and below that another of solid gold. Inside lay the remains of Pharaoh Psusennes 1. He ruled with absolute power and claimed to be a god. Although great and small bowed before his throne he like all people bowed to death. No amount of money or gold could stave off this last enemy of humankind. Inside that mummy was a shriveled, blackened corpse that testifies to the relentless grip of death on all of us.[i]

There is however, one who overcame the powerful grip of death; his name is Jesus Christ. The resurrection of the Christ is the monumental foundational belief of Christianity. Perhaps that is why it is so hard for some to believe it. Gilbert West, Frank Morison and Simon Greenleaf are examples of those who could not accept the truth of the resurrection. These well-known scholars all set about in one way or another to prove that it was not true, but changed their minds in the process. All wrote of their absolute belief in the resurrection of Christ because of the certainty of the evidence.[ii] Let’s look at some of the evidence.

Mary Magdalene was the first to see the risen Christ early that Easter morning, to which she exclaimed,
“I have seen the Lord!" (John 20:18). Mary the mother of Jesus and other women went on Sunday morning to finish preparing Jesus’ body for burial and were met by an angel in dazzling raiment. The angel said to them, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay” (Matt 28:5-6).

Simon Peter, who fell into despair because of his denial of Christ, was restored by a meeting with the resurrected Lord. James, one of Jesus’ own brothers, who at first did not accept Jesus as God's Son, likewise stood face to face with Jesus, and he later became the leader of the Early Church. Then there were 500 witnesses who saw Jesus at one time, “that he appeared to Peter, … After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time… Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles” (1 Cor 15:3-8).

Then there was the doubting disciple, Thomas who asserted that he would not believe that Jesus was alive unless he could see the print of the nails in his hands. John tells what happened, “Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you!’  Then he said to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe’ Thomas said to him, ‘My Lord and my God!’” (John 20:26-27).

I love the story of the two disciples who were journeying in great sadness, and suddenly they were filled with unspeakable joy when Christ came and talked with them as they walked the Emmaus road. These are their words: "Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?" (Luke 24:32).

The Apostle Paul wrote, “Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.” (Rom 6:4). Easter means that because Jesus defeated death, we can too through Christ. Easter is about each of us experiencing new life. What is it that keeps you from believing the evidence of Christ’s resurrection? Have you been crushed by personal crisis or hurt so deeply that resentment overwhelms you? Let the skepticism go and believe that Jesus died to take your burden of sin and shame away and that he arose from the grave.  Jesus’ promise to us is, “Because I live, you also will live” (John 14:19).

[i] http://www.thecultureconcept.com/circle/the-silver-pharaoh-psusennes-i-facing-the-afterlife-in-style
[ii] Warren Wiersbe, Classic Sermons on the Resurrection of Christ, Sermon by Walter A. Maier, (Christ is Risen!) Kregel Publications, Grand Rapids, MI, 1991, p. 12-15.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Palm Sunday

Wilmer McLean lived on the site of the first Civil War battle of Manassas. Because of his dislike for the war he moved in hope of escaping the war, however, four years later his house would be site of the surrender of General Robert E. Lee to General U.S. Grant. That surrender was signed on Palm Sunday April 9, 1865.[i]

The war had dragged on for four years, and the toll it exacted from the nation was horrendous. By 1865 Grant’s army had rooted the Confederates from Petersburg and Richmond where they had been entrenched for ten months. Lee’s army was in want as supply lines were cut off, and the men were literally starving to death.

Finally, on that Palm Sunday the two generals met, and the surrender took place. Lee was dressed in a clean, pressed full uniform, while Grant, who had just finished a 16 mile ride, was dressed in a common soldier’s attire except for the stripes that bore the rank of Lieutenant General. With the signing of that document, the war would end. Still to this day we are baffled by the losses: 620,000 dead, 476, 000 wounded, another 400,000 taken prisoner, and an estimated 50,000 civilian deaths. That day was none-the-less a very unique celebration as Grant ordered the men to celebrate without firing volleys. The terms had been lenient and generous as Lincoln wanted them to be. However, before another week had passed, President Lincoln would be assassinated.

Travel back two thousand years to the first Palm Sunday and see another unique celebration. Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey as the Prophet Zechariah prophesied he would do. Jesus’ humility was clearly in view as the people cried “Hosanna to the Son of David” (Matt 21:9) as David prophesied they would do. However, within days Jesus would be crucified. These two Palm Sundays may have some striking similarities with the unexpected deaths of Lincoln and Jesus, but that is as far as the comparison goes. Jesus, on the third day, arose from the dead and is alive today. He is the first and the only one to have been raised from the dead. Others have been resuscitated, but only Jesus has conquered death forever.

Easter is our celebration of the resurrection of Jesus. We know that because he arose from the grave, we, too, will one day see our bodies raised from the grave. Paul writes: “But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep” (1 Cor 15:20).

[i] Varon, Elizabeth R. (2013-09-06). Appomattox: Victory, Defeat, and Freedom at the End of the Civil War (p. 53). Oxford University Press, USA. Kindle Edition.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014


One of the lowest feelings a human being can experience is rejection. It can plunge the human spirit into the depths of depression and hopelessness. This is what the Apostle was dealing with while writing his last letter from a Roman prison. He wrote, “You know that everyone in the province of Asia has deserted me, including Phygelus and Hermogenes” (2 Tim 1:15). Clearly not everyone had deserted Paul, but it felt like they had. Depression exaggerates the hopelessness of a situation.

Paul was most likely experiencing some depression when he wrote these words. There is a variety of opinions as to the sources of depression. Some think it is caused by abnormalities of the chemicals in the brain or the endocrine system. Some point to the presence of strong negative emotions such as anger, resentment, guilt or frustration. Still others underscore the social origin of depression that comes from losses experienced in childhood or through faulty relationships in the family of origin. Some Christians say it is caused from the spirit of depression and simply must be rebuked. On one thing we can all agree, and that is that depression is real and it is very complex.

Richard Winter writes:

Most reasonably mature and stable people have a deep inner sense of their significance, worth and value. They are neither over-inflated with pride nor so self-demeaning that they feel that they are hopeless failures. The most important fact that emerges from the many psychological and sociological studies of depression is that anything which undermines a person’s awareness of their significance and security will tend to reduce their sense of self-esteem and thus make them prone to depression. Conversely, anything which raises a person’s awareness of significance and security will tend to increase their sense of self-esteem and make them less prone to depression.[i]

From my own experience of working with people, I have observed the loss of a parent through death or divorce can make a person vulnerable to depression later in life. Aaron Beck, a pioneer in the study of depression, believed that depression arises from negative ideas a child develops very early about himself or herself. Then later in life, these erroneous ideas have explosive power to set off a person on the course to depression.

This is one of the reasons why helping young parents is important. Good parenting from a Biblical model helps a child see themselves in the image of God. They learn that they are loved by their parents and by God and thus develop a good healthy self-esteem that will protect them from these dangerous attacks against their self-confidence later in life.

From this passage there are two things that helped Paul in his depression. One thing Paul did for himself and the other Onesiphorus did for Paul. The first thing was that Paul disciplined himself to think biblically and trust in God for his future, thus not allowing himself to plummet into despair and self-pity. The other thing was done for Paul by a caring person. Paul says of Onesiphorus, “May the Lord show mercy to the household of Onesiphorus, because he often refreshed me and was not ashamed of my chains.  On the contrary, when he was in Rome, he searched hard for me until he found me. May the Lord grant that he will find mercy from the Lord on that day! You know very well in how many ways he helped me in Ephesus” (2 Tim 1:15-18).

Onesiphorus searched hard for Paul and never gave up until he found him, and he ministered to him physically, emotionally and spiritually. Onesiphorus showed mercy to Paul. That is one of the best things we can do for someone who is experiencing depression. Telling them to stop being depressed doesn’t work, but showing mercy refreshes and lifts a person out of their sense of loss.

[i] Richard Winter, The Roots of Sorrow, Eugene, OR, Wipf and Stock publishers, 2000, pp. 34-35.