Archive for the 'Lent' 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.


The Living Word: More Than Hosannas

The Living Word: More Than Hosannas

I Kings 17:8-16; John 4:39-45

On Palm Sunday, the crowd praised Jesus with simple things: branches from local trees, voices raised, lifted hands. Today, what can we use, or raise, or lift to make a difference?

It Doesn’t Take Much To Change Your World

* A Little Faith Can Go A Long Way ~ I Kings 17:8-16

  • 13/6 the woman offers what little she has for God’s use, and she is cared for; NOTE: this is HISTORICAL NARRATIVE – I don’t think it’s wise to say that because God HAS DONE a thing, He is obligated TO DO that thing again.
  • What I DO take from this is that God Provides. He may not provide FOR you as you think… but He might well provide THROUGH YOU; WHO ARE YOU GIVING TO?

* A Little Word Can Change A Lot of Lives ~ John 4:39-42

  • 39 consider this woman’s reputation: she was KNOWN to be “shady” – and Jesus STILL ministered to her; THAT is a powerful truth!
  • 40 they came to investigate based on HER NOT BEING JUDGED
  • 41 and once they actually heard Jesus’ words, many more came to faith
  • 42 “we heard for ourselves” – important to share Jesus’ actual words, and not OUR INTERPRETATION of Jesus; WHO ARE YOU SHARING WITH?

* A Little Witness Can Bring A Big Welcome ~ John 4:43-45

  • 43/4 Jesus is headed home, not expecting much (hometown boy)
  • 45 they had WITNESSED Jesus’ signs: the cleansing of the Temple; WHAT HAVE YOU SEEN HIM DO IN YOUR LIFE?

The Living Word: Going Past The Mountain

The Living Word: Going Past The Mountain

John 4:16-30

I saw a post on social media last week: “and just like that, every pastor became a televangelist” – the challenge of doing distant-but-connected ministry is one that many churches are now facing all over the world. But this reminder is worth remembering: Only Buildings have been closed – CHURCHES are people, and we are still Open!

What Makes Worship Work?

* Excludes Particular Place ~ John 4:16-21

  • 16/18 Jesus is demonstrating WHO He is: the One who KNOWS HER HEART
  • 19 she gets it!
  • 20 and tries to change the subject
  • 21 Jesus’ answer: worship isn’t about PLACE

* Includes Proper Parts ~ John 4:22-26

  • 22 worship includes RIGHT KNOWLEDGE
  • 23 worship includes RIGHT RELATIONSHIP
  • 24 worship includes RIGHT ACTION
  • 25/6 worship includes RIGHT RESPONSE

CLOSE: vs 28/9 look at her response to His answers: Come And See (to her neighbors)

The Living Word: Samaritan Setup

Samaritan Setup

John 4:1-15
C.S. Lewis said, “You never know how much you really believe anything until its truth or falsehood becomes a matter of life and death. It is easy to say you believe a rope to be strong as long as you are merely using it to cord a box. But suppose you had to hang by that rope over a precipice. Wouldn’t you then first discover how much you really trusted it?”
Belief without Trust isn’t Belief at all.

To Understand the Benefits of Believing, Look at:

* The Setting of Samaria ~ John 4:1-6

  • 1/3 concern: a movement of people seeking a connection to God that bypasses the Temple/Organized Religion; this Scripture isn’t about being “a better church goer”
  • 4/6 The physical setting: about 2 days walk from Jerusalem

* An Unconventional Conversation ~ John 4:7-10

  • 7/8 Jesus needs this woman’s help; she’s the only one there with a bucket; WHAT DO YOU HAVE THAT JESUS CAN USE?
  • 9 woman knows Jesus is breaking social convention; she’s asking about His motives; WHAT DOES JESUS ASK YOU TO DO THAT IS UNCONVENTIONAL?
  • 10 “if you only knew what was really going on with you and God” you would ASK; WHAT DO YOU ASK GOD FOR? WHAT **SHOULD** YOU BE ASKING FOR?

* An Understandable Curiosity ~ John 4:11-15

  • 11 her 1st Question: How can you meet my needs?
  • 12 her 2nd Question: Who Are you?
  • 13/14 Jesus answers her need; WHAT NEED CAN JESUS ANSWER FOR YOU?
  • 15 Notice she doesn’t get her 2nd Q answered BEFORE she trusts Jesus to meet her needs; She trusts before she knows. DO YOU?

Can this be our example? Can we meet other’s needs BEFORE we lead them to faith in Jesus? Is that part of the process?

The Living Word: Being Born Again

Being Born Again

John 3:1-13

One of the neatest things about going to Star Trek: The Cruise is seeing all the costumes. One of the challenges of Star Trek: The Cruise is figuring out what all those costumes are meant to convey. Some are just “hey, I’m into Trek”, but some are much more obscure, and it begs the question: “who ARE you supposed to be?” – as we read in chapter 3 of the Gospel of John, we see this same question raised, and Jesus’ answer is a lot more challenging than a simple answer.

The Process of Being Born Again Raises

* Kingdom Questions ~ John 3:1-8

  • 1/2 implied question: Who ARE You? From God, yes, but WHO?
  • 3/4 Jesus’ response is about SEEING THE KINGDOM; Jesus points back to God’s work, not His own; Nicodemus misses
  • 5/6 now about ENTERING THE KINGDOM; action of the Spirit, not the person
  • 7/8 Notice the PUN: Wind/Spirit are the same word; the Spirit/Wind moves, but YOU aren’t in control; not even when you belong to the Spirit. We move IN RESPONSE to the Spirit (like a hang-glider or a sailor)

* Costly Answers ~ John 3:9-13

  • 9 Nicodemus is all about following the Law of his own will; it must be disheartening to discover that our effort isn’t effective
  • 10/11 Jesus isn’t teaching a new concept:
    Ps.51~create new heart & spirit;
    Ez.11&36~give a new heart & spirit; remove heart of stone, give heart of flesh;
    Jesus KNOWS how the Father & Spirit have chosen to work because He’s PERSONALLY PARTICIPATED IN THE PROCESS
  • 12/13 Jesus tells Nicodemus (and us) that He KNOWS what He’s talking about because He’s BEEN THERE.

Therefore, to SEE and ENTER the KINGDOM is a matter of TRUSTING: is Jesus who HE says He is: the one who came from God to tell us about God?

We either hold to that belief and surrender our lives to Him – or we reject it.

The Living Word: To Bear Witness

To Bear Witness

John 1:6-8; 15-18

One of the neat experiences we have in participating in Fan culture is watching so many people who are passionate about their interests being willing to live out those interests in public.

Witness the Noun, not the Verb

* Bearing Our Being ~ John 1:6-8

  • 6 John sent specifically from God for a purpose: to point to the coming Messiah; WHAT’S YOUR PURPOSE?
  • 7 notice: he didn’t come “witnessing”; this wasn’t about what he did, but who he was; WHO HAS GOD MADE YOU TO BE?
  • 8 there is a singular focus here: John’s whole life was built around BEING ‘only as a witness’; WHAT IS YOUR LIFE BUILT AROUND?

* Showing The Son ~ John 1:15-18

  • 15 John explains his context; brings previous into focus; ON WHAT DO YOU FOCUS?
  • 16/17 tells the truth about God: Law was gift – MEANING of the Law was Jesus
  • 18 IMPLIED SEMI COLON No one has seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, that One reveals Him. (LITV) WHAT DO YOU REVEAL?

Jeremiah 31:7 ~ This is what the LORD says: “Sing with joy for Jacob; shout for the foremost of the nations. Make your praises heard, and say, ‘O LORD, save your people, the remnant of Israel.’

If you want verbs, consider these: SING, SHOUT, PRAISE, SAY

Pastor Ed Backell

Flickr Photos

Pastoral Tweets

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 232 other followers

%d bloggers like this: