Archive for the 'Faith' 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.

Amen.

Pondering Peacemaking

Peace_MG_0261

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.

I AM.

Revived Thoughts Podcast 2


Some time ago, I was really blessed to be able to voice a minister from the late 1800’s named J.C. Ryle for the Revived Thoughts podcast.

It really was a devotional experience for me. It bolstered my walk significantly, and I told them that I was **really** looking forward to doing it again.

Well, apparently, they liked my interpretation, because it has been my honor to be selected as one of their regular voices. They wrote, “It’d work out well if you wanted to be our J. C. Ryle! If this is something you’re interested in, let me know.”

I let them know right away, and so for my second recording for them is the J.C. Ryle sermon, The Christian Race. I hope you’ll go over to Revived Thoughts, and give it (and the other excellent sermons) a listen!

God bless you as you seek to deepen your faith.

Revived Thoughts Podcast 1


Some time ago, I found myself reading social media, and came across a podcast that I thought was brilliant. Two young men decided to record great sermons from the past, from Reformed preachers throughout history.

They mentioned that they were looking for people who would be willing to record these historical sermons, and that sounded like fun to me! I contacted them, and they added me to the group of preachers.

Here is the first episode I recorded: a sermon titled, “Unbelief – A Marvel,” by J. C. Ryle (John Charles Ryle).

He lived in the 1800’s and had a powerful and impacting career in ministry. A well educated man, he started his ministry in a rural church.

It was a real joy to record this sermon for the Revived Thoughts blog. So far, I have recorded two sermons for them, and I hope to be able to record more as time goes on. Please give this podcast a listen!

Aha Moments: The Partnership of Faith

Aha Moments: The Partnership of Faith

Hebrews 11:1-7, 39-40

One farmer said to another: “Friend, I heard that you asked the Lord for that good garden. Is that correct?” “Yes, sir, it is,” proudly replied the man whose flourishing garden was his delight; “only I never pray for a good garden unless I have a hoe in my hand. I say, `Lord, you send the sunshine and the rain, and I’ll keep down these weeds.’ “

How Can We Partner With God?

We Build Our Base Through Faith ~ Hebrews 11:1-5

  • 1 “being sure”=related to foundation; faith is foundational
  • 3 faith here is a verb: we are to use our faith to help us understand the universe
  • 4 Abel used faith as his reason for sacrifice, and it was credited to him as righteousness (like Abraham)
  • 5 “was taken”=translated/transposed/changed; God brought him home; ask: how could you use your faith in a way that would please God?

We Receive Our Rewards Through Faith ~ Hebrews 11:6-7,39-40

  • 6 “rewards”=lit. BECOMES A REWARDER: as we seek God, He rewards us with HIMSELF
  • 7 “in holy fear”= moved to minister because of reverence;
  • 7b “condemned” Noah judged the world not worth his time compared with saving his family through obedience to God
  • 39 people of faith might receive individual blessings, but these saints had not received their salvation BEFORE they acted in faith; they stepped out in faith FIRST
  • 40 better for us: Jesus! OT saints trusted God to save them through faith; NT saints (us) trust God the same way: but we have a NAME TO USE

CLOSE: Acts 4:12: Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.”

Sola Fide: Only by Faith

Sola Fide: Only by Faith

1 Peter 1:3-9

In my junior year, got in as many pictures in year book as possible – FBLA club – but never actually did anything with any of them! Intent does not equal accomplishment. DOING is considered important. Must we DO something to gain faith?

Why such an emphasis on faith ALONE?

Faith is GIVEN (not earned) ~ 1 Peter 1:3-5

  • 3 what job does the baby accomplish to be born? NONE: it’s the RESULT of love
  • 4 where is salvation/faith based? NOT in us; it would fail!
  • 5 what fuels our faith? NOT our strength, but God’s power

Faith is GENUINE (Provable) ~ 1 Peter 1:6-7

  • 6 “this”-salvation; “trials”-prove through experiment/experience
  • 7 God doesn’t test our faith; God already knows its depths. WE TEST IT (2 Corinthians 13:5), and what do we see when we do that? Christ IN us – our hope of glory (Col. 1.27)

Faith has a GOAL ~ 1 Peter 1:8-9

  • 8 faith not based on SIGHT, but GOD’S CHOICE (Eph 2.8-9)
  • 9 “are receiving”= not a one-time thing, not an ongoing thing.

More like a wide receiver on a football team; we’re receive because we’ve been chosen to receive (Jesus is our quarterback???) Eventually, the game will end, and we will be on the winning side. THAT is the content of our faith: JESUS WINS!


Pastor Ed Backell

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