Archive for the 'Devotion' Category

Holy Week Thoughts: Friday’s Trial

Mark 14:53-64
Do you know how olive oil is made? It’s not just a matter of squeezing an olive; the process needed to extract the valuable oil is extensive. First, the olives are crushed. Traditionally, a large press is used to grind the olives into a paste, and then the paste stays under pressure for a length of time. Next, the paste is spun in a centrifuge, which adds even more pressure to the crushed olives. This separates the oil from the water contained in the olive itself.

When I consider what pressure Jesus voluntarily placed Himself under as He headed for the Cross, I am stunned. Jesus gives himself over to those whom He knows will place Him under pressure unlike what He has ever experienced. In Mark 14:43-52, we see Jesus being taken into custody. Unlike many people who have been held for trial (a very stressful time), Jesus does not overcome through strength; rather, He allows the process to happen because of the agreement with God the Father in the garden of the olive press. The parallel is too poignant to pass up: Jesus knows He’s going to be pressed, and yet He does not give a defense.

In fact, in verses 53-65, we see that Jesus is put through an illegal trial. This kangaroo court contrived by the Jewish leaders was in violation of Jewish law and culture. Nevertheless, Jesus allows it to continue. When accused of being the Christ in verse 61, He admits the unpopular truth.

The leaders can’t stand to hear Jesus’ reply, “I am,” said Jesus. “And you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.” Notice the leader’s response: they rend their clothes, shout accusations, and condemn Jesus.

Consider this: if anyone else had said the same thing, the high priest would have been right. But the priest was so focused on his own role that he was unable to consider that Jesus was telling the truth. When we face pressure, are we willing to be crushed so that the truth would be made known? Or would we rather hold a position that doesn’t consider any other view except that which we already believe to be true?

Lord, as we enter Good Friday, please help us remember that the very existence of pressure doesn’t mean that we’re wrong. It also doesn’t automatically mean we’re right, either. It may just be the circumstances that You’re allowing to let Your glory and Your work be seen. Help us to look to You, no matter what we’re experiencing. We ask it in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Holy Week Thoughts: Thursday’s Last Supper

Mark 14:12-26

Have you ever had the experience of getting lost on a trip? A few years ago, I was coming back from family visit in a different city, and I wasn’t yet familiar with the highway layout. What should have been a simple switch from one highway to another ended up being traveling in a convoluted journey through three different cities. I’m grateful that my family slept through it all! I find it helpful to remember that in the midst of change, God knows what He’s doing.

In Mark 14:12-16, Jesus gives His disciples instructions about the Supper. Notice that He’s prepared for the Passover (the text says the room was “furnished and ready”). The disciples are just preparing the food: Jesus has taken care of the details. He still does; we don’t need to worry, because God works in the background!

As the meal begins, verses 17-21 tell us that Jesus knows what’s coming. Christ shifts the focus from retelling the story of the Exodus to a more personal matter of betrayal. Each disciple asks: “Is it me?” because they can’t understand how anyone would betray Him. Jesus knows our weaknesses; we don’t need to be afraid to be honest with Him.

The scene we see in verses 22-26 portrays Jesus giving the disciples a new ritual in the midst of an old one. Passover is full of very specific rituals of meaning to the Jew, but notice that very little of the Seder ritual is mentioned.

The bread is the “Afikomen”, the broken matzo bread used in the Seder, but Jesus says a NEW thing: “This is My Body.” Jesus gives a new meaning and explanation of why the matzo is broken. Likewise, what Christ does with the cup is similar. There are four cups in the Seder meal; the cup that Jesus reinterprets is called “the cup of Redemption”. Passover tradition teaches that God will redeem Israel, and Jesus shows how when He says, “this is My Blood of the covenant.”

The disciples thought they’d be navigating familiar territory during the Seder. But Jesus changes the map somewhat, taking us all in new directions on this journey of faith: God speaks to us with the old and the new.

Lord, as we join with Christ on this Lenten journey, we may have expectations that You will do what You have always done in our lives. This may well be the case: but it’s not necessary that You lead us without change. We hear the words of Scripture: “See, I am doing a new thing!” (Isaiah 43:19). Lead and guide us as You do Your will in Your way. Amen.

Holy Week Thoughts: Wednesday’s Devotion & Treachery

Mark 14:1-11

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, German theologian and pastor during the Nazi regime, wrote a book. In German, it’s title was simply “Following”. It described the cost of following Jesus through a consideration of the Sermon on the Mount. He wrote this as the Nazis were on the rise, and pointed out the cost of devotion. You see, devotion doesn’t guarantee godliness. The Nazi’s were devoted to power, while Bonhoeffer was calling for devotion to God.

The depiction of leaders devoted to protecting their power is seen in Mark 14. Look at the first two verses. We see that the religious leaders are looking for some way to entrap Jesus. But it can’t be just an immediate snatch-and-grab: it has to be a trap that doesn’t put them in danger of the crowd.

Others are devoted to something else: conserving the cash flow. As the scene switches in the text from the inner sanctum of the chief priests to the dinner table of a humble home in Bethany, we see an act of extravagance, and a strong reaction against it. Verses 3 through 5 tell of a woman using an expensive perfume on Christ, to anoint Him. Instead of everyone being blessed to witness such an act of devotion, we see the phrase “Some of those present were saying indignantly…” We see from the gospel of John, chapter 12, that Judas by name is the frustrated one. It even explains why he was upset: greed.

But look at Jesus’ rebuke in verses 6-9: He says that the woman’s action was a beautiful thing, because it was extravagant on Christ’s behalf. Devotion to the poor is admirable; but devotion to God is more so. Jesus is preparing for death; and the disciples didn’t want to hear it. They had their own ideas about how the Kingdom of God was going to play out, but Jesus was devoted to following the Father.

Lord, we see the different kinds of devotion played out here: to power, to financial gain, and to the Kingdom. We reflect on our own devotion: are we willing to follow the Father into self-sacrifice? What are we devoted to? What receives our extravagance? Lord, let it be You. Amen.

Holy Week Thoughts: Tuesday’s Questions

Mark 12:28-34

As we look at Jesus’ journey during Holy Week, we see that He gets asked a LOT of questions on Tuesday. Some of the questions are spoken out loud: “On whose authority do you do these things?” (Mark 11:28); “Is it right to pay taxes to Caesar or not?” (12:14) Some questions are unspoken, but implied by the situations themselves: “How did Jesus affect the tree?” (11:20-26); “Who gave more: rich people, or the widow?” (12:41-43).

Out of all the questions Jesus was asked on that Tuesday, the one that jumps off the page to me is found in Mark 12:28-34: “Which is the most important commandment?” This is a litmus test, a way to check Judaic orthodoxy. And there IS a standard answer, found in the Shema, Deuteronomy 6:4-5. Jesus knows this answer, and gives it right away.

But He doesn’t stop there. He moves from the answer that everyone knows (“Love God”) to a more obscure part of the Law. Love your neighbor is found in Leviticus 19, along with laws covering how much grain you can harvest, when you should pay day laborers, and the refusal to seek advice from wizards! In the midst of this collection of laws covering all kinds of situations comes this powerful concept that Jesus draws us to consider: love your neighbor as yourself.

A friend of mine who is a United Methodist mission pastor in the middle of the country summarized Jesus’ response in this short statement: “Love God – Love people”. That is an easily remembered phrase that can really shape how we interact with others this Lenten season.

Lord, to “love God – love people” just about covers everything we are to do as people of the Kingdom. Put people in our path to love; and remind us that as we serve them, we’re serving You in our midst as well. Amen.

Holy Week Thoughts: Monday’s Cleansing

Mark 11:12-19

Every week over 8,000 Americans die of heart attacks. Far more of these deaths occur on Monday than any other day. When you know that the coming week is going to be stressful, facing Monday can be tough. It certainly was for Jesus. As we consider Jesus’ last week before the cross, notice the Kingdom values He demonstrated on that Monday so long ago.

In verses 12-14 of Mark 11, we see that Jesus curses the fig tree. The lack of fruit leads to Jesus’ disappointment. The first Kingdom value we want to remember is that bearing fruit in our own lives is expected. As we keep reading in verses 15-17, we see Jesus clearing the Temple. Specifically, He’s clearing the Court of the Gentiles, the outermost portion of the Temple Yard, about 18 acres in all.

Christ is upset at the religious leader’s choice of displacing the Gentiles with animals. That outer courtyard was designed to let non-Jewish people see the wonderful worship of Yahweh. This leads to Jesus’ anger, and our second Kingdom value: replacing ministry with profit is wrong.

As Jesus’ righteous indignation is shown, a less-than-righteous response of anger is also seen in verses 18-19: the chief priests want to kill Jesus! Confronting the power structure leads to Jesus’ arrest; the leaders aren’t going to stand for the change in the status quo. This shows us that the events in Jesus’ final week are incorporated into God’s plan for humanity’s rescue. In other words, nothing thwarts the Lord’s ability to bring about God’s plan.

Using the Law to justify lawlessness is hypocrisy. That brings to mind a Kingdom value as well: we are called to be consistent people in God’s grace. It invites us to consider this question as we join with Jesus during His Lenten journey: Are there any misplaced motives in our lives that need to be driven out?

Lord, we’ve all faced tough Mondays. Remind us by Jesus’ example that our week is so much more than just what we face, but HOW we face it. Plant Your Kingdom deep in our hearts this day, and every day.


Pondering Peacemaking


What does it mean to be a peacemaker?

Of course, I know Jesus’ words on the subject: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” (Matthew 5:9)

But HOW?

With all the rancor seen in the world today, with so many people at odds with others, how can I be a peacemaker?

Perhaps it starts with me.

Instead of looking to foster peace between others in conflict, I should first address the conflict within me.

Why am *I* upset? What is it that moves me, shakes me, disturbs me?

Why am I NOT at peace with so many events happening around the world, in my community, and in my own life?

Could it be that I’ve lost sight of my Father?

Could it be that I’ve forgotten who I am, and Who has me?

I *am* a child of I AM.

THAT is my identity. That will always be true, whether I remember it consistently or not. I have been adopted into God’s family.

When I focus on the conflict I see, I absorb that conflict. I didn’t think I was that empathic, but — surprise, surprise — apparently, I get upset when I see those who are upset.

When I focus on the Father who sees all sides of the conflict that I witness, I am able to be at peace.

I remember Whose I am.


Lingering in Worship: Calling

Lingering in Worship: Calling Sermon Audio Here

Ezra 1:1-6

When I was a new Christian college student, someone challenged me to open the Bible, point to a random verse, and let it change my life. For the record, I think this is a bad practice, but at the time, I didn’t know any better. I prayed, asked the Lord to show me something that would change my life, and then opened my Bible to a random page. My finger landed in the book of Ezra. I’d never read it before, and to my surprise, I did indeed find a truth there that changed my life: the necessity and importance of worship.

Worship is ACTIVE:

God’s Call Moves Us To Consider ~ Ezra 1:1-2 (we mull over what we’ve heard)

  • 1 God moves the hearts of people
  • 2 realize you’re appointed! But for what?

Our Choice Moves Us To Respond ~ Ezra 1:3-4 (we decide we’re going to get involved)

  • 3 non-believers can encourage you in your faith…
  • 4 …and resource you, too!

Our Conclusion Moves Us To Plan ~ Ezra 1:5-6 (we ask HOW will we get involved?)

  • 5 we prepare to serve
  • 6 engage your neighbors in your faith

Worship isn’t an accident; it’s something we do ON PURPOSE. What kinds of choices do we make to prepare our lives for worship?

Pastoral Prayer from Psalm 138

from Psalm 138

from Psalm 138

Pastoral Prayer (Psalm 138)

Lord, once again, it is our privilege to come before You and pray… and in those times when we just don’t know what words to say in prayer, we thank You that we’re able to turn to the Psalms, and pray Your word back to You.

We let the Psalms inform us; we let them fill our hearts and reflect our state. So, from Psalm 138 I read and I pray:

1I will praise You, O LORD, with all my heart; before the "gods" I will sing Your praise.

I read those words, Lord, and I’m reminded of that little g “gods” in quotes, and I think of all the things that vie for attention in my life, that try to replace You.

It’s our honor and privilege to come before You in prayer, even over those things. When I feel that siren song to stay online for just a little bit longer; or to feed that personal addiction a little bit stronger; I can come to You and pray instead. I can even pray through it, Lord.

2I will bow down toward Your holy temple and will praise Your name for Your love and Your faithfulness, for You have exalted above all things Your name and Your word.

Amen! Lord, I so agree with the Psalmist here that Your name and Your word trump everything. And when I get concerned about this life, and the issues that I face, and the information with which I’m being bombarded, I can once again reflect on Your name and Your word… and recognize that no matter what happens now, You win! I might walk through times of frustration in the the struggles of life, but at the end, You win! Thank You for that.

3When I called, You answered me; You made me bold and stouthearted. 6Though the LORD is on high, he looks upon the lowly, but the proud he knows from afar…

and I have to admit, there’s times when I get proud enough to try to drown You out. I don’t want my boldness and my strength to come from me, because that’s that’s fallen stuff, broken stuff… so God, I ask that You forgive me for my sin, for my pride, for my tendency to try to stand on my own and do it my way, and that just doesn’t work.

And yet, You lovingly and consistently and faithfully call us back to You. You forgive us; You restore us; and we’re so grateful.

7Though I walk in the midst of trouble, You preserve my life; You stretch out Your hand against the anger of my foes, with Your right hand You save me.

8The LORD will fulfill [his purpose] for me; Your love, O LORD, endures forever– do not abandon the works of Your hands.

So Lord, right now, we pray for those people who are in the midst of trouble. Your word says that You are the preserver of life, and so we pray– we lift up those who are struggling with physical illness. Of course we ask that You would be the healer; that You, Jehovah Rapha, would reach down and miraculously restore to perfect health those who are in sickness. Sometimes You do this, and we give You all the praise and glory, and it’s a huge shot in the arm for our faith.

And yet sometimes, You don’t. We don’t know why. If there were some formula that we could pray consistently, and make You intervene the way we want You to intervene every time, of course we’d pray it!

But that’s not how You work. You use this whole process of sickness and health and healing and even death to draw us closer to Yourself; that we would give You glory in all circumstances. So, Lord, we pray a very conflicted prayer: we ask You to heal. We have faith that You can; we see from Your word that You do; in fact, we’ve seen in our lives that You do, but You don’t always answer our prayer the same way — so we ask for healing and we also pray that Your will would be done.

In the midst of all of this, no matter how You answer, remind us that You do not abandon the works of Your hands. You are always there, always faithful; for this, we thank You.

4May all the kings of the earth praise You, O LORD, when they hear the words of Your mouth.
5May they sing of the ways of the LORD, for the glory of the LORD is great.

We thank You, Lord that all things are subject to You. We pray for the leaders of our world; we pray especially for those who would be the leaders of our country, and Lord, through this din of political noise that so often rises, we ask that You would speak to them. May You prompt them, may You remind them that the leaders of this country are supposed to be kind and compassionate.

Strong, yes, but not hateful. Bold leaders, yes, but not leading us into foolish choices that only build their administration. Lord, our founding forefathers, while they may not have been as Evangelical as some of us would like, recognized Your hand at work in the founding of this nation. God, we would ask that Your hand would be seen again; that You would move Your people to rise up and be called by Your name, and to take their stand in the ballot box.

Not to vote for any one particular candidate, but to vote as You would have them vote; that we would bathe this whole election process in prayer, recognizing that You are King over a country who has no King. May we realize that You need to be present as we choose a president.

In all things, we look to You; we ask for Your help, and we thank You for how You will respond in Jesus name. You taught us to pray together this prayer of recognition of kingdom and surrender; hear us as we pray, Our Father…

A Prayer After A Storm

I wrote this prayer years ago, in the aftermath of a hurricane. I found it this week as my family was cleaning out some old boxes, and I thought it might be worth sharing.

Infinite and Sovereign Lord, we ask that You would hear our prayer. We know You are aware of the longings of our hearts, the fears of our souls, the questions in our minds, and the faint nature of our spirits. Hear us from Heaven and speak deeply to our soul. Reassure us of Your infinite love as our finite minds so often lose sight of Your character, Your strength, Your wisdom, Your love, Your power, Your glory, and Your plan.

When the winds blow and the rains come down, we often take our cue from weather reports rather than take refuge in Your unchanging hand. Forgive us, Lord, when we cling to our fear, instead of trusting in Your heart. You know we are concerned about the storms of life, and we ask that You would calm the wind and the waves; let us not lose sight of You in the midst of the storm. We love You; we trust You; and we grasp the grace that You provide, even in the eye of calamity.

We offer up our praise because of how You have blessed us. We thank You for how You shower us with good and perfect gifts. We see Your provision in who You bring into our family. Thank You for the birth of children into loving families, and Lord, we ask that You bring new life into our church family as well. Lord, by Your sovereign will, graft new sons and daughters into Your faith family. We trust You to provide a place where Your people can grow and flourish.

Above all, Lord, break us and shape us so that we can be like Christ. As we share in His suffering, sculpt our hearts into what You would have us to be. It’s Your plan; it’s Your will. Have us pray like Jesus: not our will, but Yours be done. Hear us as we beg Your will be made known in us, and with one voice we say together, Our Father…

The Gospel Challenge ~ Feed The Crowd

The Gospel Challenge ~ Feed The Crowd Sermon Audio Here

Mark 6:30-34, 53-56

Sociology professor Anthony Campolo recalls a deeply moving incident that happened in a Christian junior high camp where he served. One of the campers, a boy with spastic paralysis, was the object of heartless ridicule. When he would ask a question, the boys would deliberately answer in a halting, mimicking way. One night his cabin group chose him to lead the devotions before the entire camp. It was one more effort to have some “fun” at his expense. Unashamedly the spastic boy stood up, and in his strained, slurred manner — each word coming with enormous effort — he said simple, “Jesus loves me — and I love Jesus!” That was all. Conviction fell upon those junior-highers. Many began to cry. Revival gripped the camp. Years afterward, Campolo still meets men in the ministry who came to Christ because of that testimony.

Our Daily Bread, April 1, 1993.

To Carry Out Our Convictions, Remember

The Context of Our Values
Mark 6:30-34

  • v30 gathered: Jesus is our central desire
  • v31/32 quiet place: recognize value of rest
  • v33/34 Jesus, moved by compassion, changed his plans

The Value of Connection
Mark 6:53-56

  • v53 minister in your regular context
  • v54/55 changed lives change lives
  • v56 connection with Jesus is crucial

The difference between a conviction and a preference, according to SCOTUS case Wisconsin v Yoder, 1972: A preference is a very strong belief, held with great strength; a conviction is a belief that you will not change. Our gospel challenge isn’t to talk about our preferences; it’s to share our conviction.

Pastor Ed Backell

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