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What If? The Blog

Are You a Pilate?

Hunter Johnston

Today’s Reading- John 18:28- 19:16a

The scriptures in chapters eighteen and nineteen of the gospel of John cover the period where Jesus comes before Pilate, prior to His crucifixion.  He was brought to Pilate as a prisoner by Jewish leaders during Passover, all while they were taunting Him as “King of the Jews”.  In traditional Passover custom one prisoner was to be released.  A group that was gathered refused Pilate’s offer to release their “King” to them and they insisted on receiving a criminal, Barrabas, instead.  After that, Pilate took Jesus and flogged Him.  The soldiers put a crown of thorns on His head and cloaked Him in a purple robe, all while beating Him and continuing to mock Him as “King of the Jews”.  

Pilate came to the crowds once more telling them that Jesus was an innocent man.  Yet they refused to hear him and insisted Jesus be crucified.  Pilate offered Jesus to the crowd for them to crucify, because he knew Jesus wasn’t guilty.  Pilate continuously tried to convince the crowds to release Jesus, but they shouted at him and said that anyone claiming to be a king opposes Caesar. Finally, after the riotous crowd continued to harass Pilate, he handed Jesus over to them for crucifixion.

After reading and re-reading these passages, I continually go back to considering Pilate’s position as a Roman governor.  And it makes me think of all the ways in my life where I can be a “Pilate".  Times when I know what is right and just and yet I fall victim of social expectations and peer pressure.   Times when I know what is right, but I do the wrong thing anyway.  As a human who makes mistakes, I find myself in those scenarios quite often.   Especially in times where life is so crowded and chaotic that it’s much easier to make poor choices; when I don’t consciously seek the quiet and stillness where I find Christ and hear Him speaking to me most clearly.  

Are there places in your life where you find yourself to be a Pilate?

If so, how do you stop and seek Christ’s discernment for His will in your life?

What are some ways you clear the crowded chaos to hear Christ speaking more clearly in your life?

Okay, now put your Bible down and go live this week like it was your last!

by Hunter Johnston

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Play the Hand You Were Dealt

Jennifer Giblin

Today's Reading - John 18:1-27 

In this passage we have the arrest of Jesus, his first being taken to and then questioned by Annas, and Peter’s denials of Jesus.  The verse on which I am going to focus is 11, more specifically, the final sentence, “Shall I not drink the cup the Father has given me?”  After Peter cuts off the ear of Malchus, Caiaphas’s servant, when he and others come to arrest Jesus, Jesus speaks the above quote.  The quote can be interpreted as, “By allowing myself to be arrested, I am fulfilling my Father’s plan for me.”

When I read this sentence, I immediately thought of the expression, “Play the hand you were dealt.”  This is an expression I have thought about a lot lately as I have reflected on the negative events in my life and how they could have been different (read: better) if I received a different hand or cup.  Leave it to God to give me this passage on which to blog, one I chose because I was trying to blog on unique accounts in the gospels.  This was not even the topic about which I was going to initially write for this blog post…that was the difference between Jesus’s questioning by Caiaphas and an American trial or hearing.  However, when I read the passage after reading through some commentaries for ideas, it was verse 11 that stuck out to me and the one I believe God wants me to discuss in this post.

The events I believe have most made me the person I am today are the ones that caused me a lot of pain.  These events were not fun when I was in the midst of them, and I am sure in some ways I am still negatively affected by them.  At the same time, I have done my best to overcome them and become a better person in spite of them.  The quote that has become my life’s motto is, “It’s not the sun that causes you to grow, it’s the rain.”  I found this on the Twitter page of Corbette Jackson, a country singer from southwest Georgia.  Although I discovered the quote months after it was posted, it was ironically posted on a day I was happy to see end.

In life, I have had no choice but to drink from the one cup that was given to me.  Good thing I had Someone looking out for me and guiding me during the hard times because I never would have come out on top any other way.  I have studied enough about criminals and watched a fair amount of episodes of Intervention to know things could have gone very differently.  Yeah, His working in my life this way does not give me that, “I hit rock bottom and then Jesus entered into my life” testimony that impresses people and may lead them to Christ, but I am perfectly alright with the fact that I did not have to experience rock bottom to believe and live a life of which I can be proud.

If I knew this was my last week on Earth, I would sit down with the people who made my life more difficult than it had to be and hear their side of the story.  Maybe if I had the opportunity to walk a mile in their shoes I would be more understanding of why they acted the way they did and why they said the things they said.  After all, a book without any pages missing is easier to read than a book missing every other page.

Who in your life do you need to forgive?

What is one instance in your life when you know His guidance helped you through it?

What is one way you changed after accepting Christ into your life?

Ok, put your Bible down and live this week like it was the last.

by Jennifer Giblin

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Who Are You Praying For?

Laura Arana

Today's Reading - John 17

John 17 is a prayer to God from Jesus.  It is broken down into three parts.  The first is Jesus praying for himself, second is Jesus praying for his disciples and the third part is Jesus praying for all believers.  There is so much in this chapter that we can model in our own prayer life, examples from Jesus himself.   Before we break these 3 parts down, I would like to focus first on the position Jesus took in this prayer.  It says, “He looked toward heaven and prayed:” Now, I love bowing our heads to pray.  It represents so much, our humility and reverence toward God the Father, submission to His will, etc. Maybe for some of us it is merely comfort and habitual, something we have done since childhood; but there is something about looking up to heaven that resonates with me.  It seems so much more of a posture of having a conversation with God.  Ready to receive His instructions and dialogue back with Him.  I think some times I look at prayer as totally one-sided, me talking to God, but what this verse reminds me is that prayer is two-sided.  God speaks to me while I am praying to Him, and I have experienced this dialogue.  It is in those times that my prayer life is most fulfilling.

The first part of this chapter is Jesus praying for himself.  Now I know we all pray for ourselves.  Truth be told, I bet most of our prayers are for ourselves.  Now I am not judging, I am being honest.  We should pray for ourselves, but what is interesting is not that Jesus prayed for himself, but He prayed that God would glorify Him so He could glorify God.  Even when He was praying for himself, it was all for the glory of God. I know that when I am praying for myself, most of the time it has nothing to do with glorifying God.  This is example number one on how I should pray.

The second thing Jesus prays for are His disciples. He prays for them as a parent would pray for their children.  He prays for protection and sanctification.  It is a prayer of love and satisfaction. Verse 11b says, “Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name-the name you gave me-so that they may be one as we are one.”  This example to me is on how we should pray for those we love.  Our loved ones need prayer: prayers for protection from the evil one, prayers for guidance in their decisions and prayers for strength in the name of the Lord.

Lastly, Jesus prays for all believers.  I must confess it is easy to pray for myself and those I love, but I do not often remember to pray for believers all around the world.  Jesus says, “My prayer is not for them alone.  I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message.”  He goes on to say, ”that they may be brought to complete unity.”  See, when we pray for all believers we are uniting with them.  As Christians we have all taken up the cross to follow Christ, and yes, our burdens are heavy but we are in it together.  Christians on the other side of the world need my prayers and I need to stand united with them as I do for my brothers and sisters in Hampton Roads. 

What a beautiful image and example Jesus shows us on prayer: face upturned in conversation with our heavenly Father, praying for one another. 

Will you practice a stance of praying facing the heavens?

Can you commit to praying for all believers today?

Who can you pray for that needs an invitation to church? 

Ok put down the Bible and live this week like it was the last!

by Laura Arana

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Grief to Joy

Ashley Buehler

Today’s Reading - John 16: 16-33

Do you remember the movie Stepmom with Susan Sarandon and Julia Roberts? Reading this passage reminded me of a few scenes of this film.  The mom, played by Susan Sarandon, is dying of cancer and after trying to shield her children from the news of her illness, she finally has to tell them she is about to die.  So what does she do?  She tells her children what to expect. She outlines what will happen and how she thinks they might feel. In one scene you can see the tears falling from the mom’s face as she lists the important moments she knows she will miss in her daughter’s life. She tells her daughter about heartbreak and about mean girls, and how she will get over these crushing events while mom watches over her.

Jesus tries to explain his last days to his disciples in ways they will understand, but he sees they aren’t getting his metaphors too well.  And knowing he is about to die on the cross, he attempts to prepare them for the horror they will see and the anguish they will feel. Christ speaks to them like a parent would attempt to explain their death to a child.  The disciples’ lives are about to turn upside down and maybe knowing what to expect might bring them a little peace. He doesn’t want them to become swallowed by their grief.  In his last week, Christ reminds them that trouble will come, but he has overcome it all.

In your last week, what would you say to give peace to your loved ones about their futures?

What events would you remind your friends & loved ones not to get lost in?

How would you leave your best impression if it were your last chance at work, school, with family, or friends?

What would you allow Christ to do through you if this were your last week?

Ok put down the Bible and live this week like it was the last!

by Ashley Buehler

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The Cure for Knock Down, Drag Out Loneliness

Becky Lyle Pinkard

Today's Reading - John 15:26-16:15

Have you ever felt alone? Like the kind of alone that happens when you feel like someone abandoned you? The kind of alone that hits you like a linebacker from the blindside, takes your breath away and takes your feet out from under you? That’s what Jesus was trying to prepare his disciples for. That’s the alone he knew they’d feel when he would offer himself for all of them and ultimately for me and you. See, Jesus knew that his guys wouldn’t get it. He’d been telling them all along that his going away wouldn’t be in vain. He would accomplish more in his death than he ever did in his life. He takes a second to make sure they hear, one last time, that even though they may feel alone the Spirit of truth will be there to testify witness about him.

The Holy Spirit gets a bad reputation sometimes when people use Him to make claims and push their own agendas, but if we paid attention we’d realize that he’s really here to, like vs. 13 says, “Lead us into all the truth.” Holy Spirit testifies to us that though we may feel like it sometimes, we’re never alone. When Jesus told his disciples about the Holy Spirit coming, he knew it would take them awhile to understand, but he knew that someday they’d understand when they felt most alone, hiding in a room waiting for something or someone to come.

The point is we don’t have to feel alone, because we have the Spirit. He came, just like He was promised. He dwells within you and is constantly speaking. So, if today you feel that knock down drag out loneliness, there is hope. That hope is already in you, working through you, and working for you. That hope is God in you, the Holy Spirit shaping, changing, revealing, and loving you. Take a second and let that soak in. You are loved; you don’t have to be scared because you are never alone.

When was the last time you listened to the Holy Spirit speaking to you?

When you feel alone today, how will you apply what this passage tells us?

How can you let the Holy Spirit work through you today to make someone feel not alone?

Ok put down the Bible and live this week like it was the last!

by Jordan Crouthamel

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Relinquishing Your Life For The Beloved

Ashley King

Today's Reading - John 15:1-25

“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this that someone lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you.”

When I read a passage like the one above, it hits me…would I lay down my life for the ones I love? Honestly, would I really? I would like to think so and hope in the moment of a lifesaving situation I would be willing to lay my life down to save another. But then the Lord prompts me to consider His words differently. When I consider laying down my life I always think of physically dying for someone, martyrdom or jumping in front of a bullet for someone, but those are not the only times we’re called to lay down our lives for the ones we love. What about the career switch that you don’t want to do but the Lord is asking you to lay down for Him? What about when someone asks for a moment of our time, but we selfishly continue walking or pretend we didn’t hear them? Do we cling to the control of and the idea we have for our own lives that we become unwilling to relinquish control to the Lord and by doing so love Him in the highest way He taught us to love? As we consider how we would live if this was our last week, I also want us to consider if this was our last day, would it be worth it to not give our lives wholly to the Lord? If this was our last day or week why hold anything back from Him?  Why hold anything back now?

What does laying down your life for the Lord look like in your daily life?

How does living your life for someone else testify to the Lord’s sacrifice for us?

How has someone who has laid their life down for you impacted your life?

Ok put down the Bible and live this week like it was the last!

by Ashley King

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What If I Were Obedient?

Grace Weedman

Today's Reading - John 14:15-31

It would be so easy for me to examine the gifting of the Holy Spirit by Jesus which He explains in today’s passage.  I could talk about the fact that the Holy Spirit is our Counselor, Teacher, the very Spirit of Truth and that He lives within us and is active within us 24/7, even in our dreams.  But I won’t do that.

It would be such wonderful joy to me to discuss verse 27, one of my favorite passages in the entire Bible.  It is personal to me because I have experienced Jesus’ inexplicable peace and can testify that it runs totally against all that one can expect of human nature.  Unless you have experienced it, you can’t possibly understand it.  But I don’t do that either.

I won’t go into those things because I fully accept both the Spirit and the peace.  Both bring me joy, and I am grateful beyond measure for them.  I can’t say the same for what I’m actually going to discuss.

Today I’m going to dig into obedience.  I don’t know about you, but I’m uncomfortable with the principle of obedience.  However, Jesus is so adamant about it that He tells us three times that we will obey Him if we love Him (verses 15, 21, and 23).  He goes on to say that obedience is so very important for His disciples to understand that He is going to have to demonstrate that He Himself loves the Father so much that He will obey Him by going so far as to die on a cross.

Now this really hurts me.  I love the Lord with all my heart, but I fail to be obedient to Him time and time again.  I want to obey Him, and I really do try to obey Him; but somehow impulse or fear or timidity or anger takes over.  So, His words equating love for Him with obedience gives me pause.  They aren’t words of comfort and peace.

As I ponder Christ’s words today, these are the questions that confront me:

Do I really love God enough to try to become obedient to Him with my service, my money, my body, my time, and my mind?

What is the source of my disobedience?  Is it greed? lust? envy? self-centeredness? insecurity?  The list could go on and on.

Which is the area of obedience in which I most often fail, and can I commit to work on trying to eradicate  my disobedience in that one area before moving on to the next?

If I had only one week left, what would I do in obedience to Christ to prove my love for Him?

Ok put down your Bible and live this week like it was the last!

by Grace Weedman

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Will You Be Amazing?

Laura Arana

Today's Reading - John 14:1-14

Have you ever had a conversation with someone in which you were expected to know what they were talking about but just did not?  That is a little how I envision this conversation Jesus is having with his disciples.  Jesus is telling them about this amazing place that He is preparing for them and that He will one day take them to.  Jesus says, “You know the way to the place where I am going” (vs. 4).  But do they?  Thomas, good old Thomas, he seems to always be the one who says what everyone else is thinking.  Thomas says now wait Lord, how can we know how to get there when we don’t even know where it is you are going?  Jesus answers so very clearly, “I am the way and the truth and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me.”  I can just see the dumbfounded looks on the faces of the disciples.  In my daughter Silvia’s words, “Wait, what??”  The disciples still do not understand.  So Philip gives it a try. He says, “Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us” (vs. 8).   Now that question must have really hurt Jesus’ feelings.  He tells him, really Philip, after all this time, you still don’t know who I am?  How can you say that to me, don’t you believe me?  If you don’t believe my words then at the very least, believe the evidence of the miracles performed! 

Now before you go judging those disciples and calling them dunces, think about what Jesus is saying to them.  Think about what we have, the Bible, the complete story, and how we still don’t get it.  Do we truly believe Jesus’ words?  In verse 12 Jesus says, “I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing.  He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. (Italics added)” I don’t know about you but I cant imagine doing anything greater than the works of Jesus.  He healed people and brought them up, I feel like too often, my words bring people down.  Jesus gave everything to the poor; how many times have I walked by a homeless person without even a second thought?  Jesus loved all people all the time, always giving of Himself without anything in return - I feel pulled in so many different directions that sometimes I feel I don’t have anything left to give.  Does any of that sound familiar?  The truth is we can’t do any of those things Jesus did, not on our own. But Jesus isn’t asking us to do; He is asking us to have faith in Him.  He will do all those things for you, if you have faith in Him, if you ask Him.  Will you join me today in asking Jesus for the faith needed to be amazing!

 Will you pray for greater faith?

Are you willing to give up control of your life to the Lord?

Who will you invite to church on Sunday? 

Ok put down the Bible and live this week like it's the last!

by Laura Arana

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Free Will & Good Intentions

Ashley Buehler

Today’s Reading:  John 13:18-38

God is so good that He gives us choices. For all the “yes”-es and “no”-s made each day, I know I don’t take time to consider the full-spectrum-spillover from each of my decisions. But God in His greatness fully knows the immediate and eternal consequences of each nod and lane change I make. And when I choose the wrong thing, even the worst thing He still calls me, and you, to accept His love and forgiveness.

In today’s passage, Jesus was noticeably upset when He announced that one of the disciples would betray Him. Even with the caveat that He was not referring to everyone, and that He knew whom He had chosen, the idea that one of the Twelve would turn against Him was painful. It didn’t bring Jesus joy or satisfaction to have this knowledge. The passage says he was “troubled in spirit” (v21). He knew the sin, the sinner, and the gravity of the final decision about to be made by Judas.  Everyone else, however, didn’t know who it would be.  And eyes darted around the room, resting upon one another as they looked among themselves to find the guilty party.

Peter talked with Jesus after Judas left, and fervently told Him that he would go wherever Jesus went, even so far as to give his own life. And Jesus let Peter in on his own humanity:  Peter too would deny Christ. Not just once, but three times!  Did He tell Peter just so Peter wouldn’t be surprised when it happened?  Did He say it to let Peter know that He knew, and still loved him?  Or did He say so Peter would understand Judas wouldn’t be the only follower to mess up?  With all the free will we have for our hearts’, our bodies’, our minds’, and our spirits’ decisions, we will at some point make the wrong choice. It grieves our Savior, but His Love for us remains unchanged. He offers us His love and forgiveness from beginning to end, knowing our decisions along the way.  When our free will and our good intentions have gone wrong, Christ’s offer to us still stands.

Of all the things Jesus chose to share in his last moments with the disciples, why do I think he shared his knowledge of betrayals?

What can I remember about a time when I considered doing the wrong thing, and then did it?  How about a time when I did the wrong thing without having to think about it?

If this were my last week, what decision would I choose to reverse? Who would that effect?

In His grief over my sins, Christ loves me the same. Does this change how I feel about reconciling my “betrayals”?

Ok put down the Bible and live this week like it was the last!

by Ashley Buehler

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Clean Feet

Ashley Buehler

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As much as we uphold these qualities, humility and loving-kindness are usually rejected.  We refuse them almost daily; way too often. We don’t accept simple compliments, but rather turn them into demeaning comments about ourselves. And when someone offers to buy our coffee, we can’t seem to say yes to their charitable offer. Jesus knows that about us. In John 13, we read of HIS gesture of humility towards the disciples:  washing their smelly, dirt-crusted, sunburned feat. And Peter refuses; like we certainly would have.  Jesus replies unexpectedly sternly.  He says that if Peter doesn’t let him wash his feet, then he will have no “share” with Christ. Now this word used for “share” (Greek, “mervo”) is also translated as heritage, or inheritance. Surely, refusing a foot bath wouldn’t leave Peter out of his heritage in Christ?

A few commentaries on this passage suggest that Christ anticipated his disciples’ very human tendencies to refuse an offer of humility or sacrifice. In this case the foot-bath foreshadows Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. Jesus wanted to be sure that his disciples, his guys, his “besties”, would accept his gesture of not only this foot bath, but also his soul-bath of crucifixion and resurrection. Jesus needed to hear them say yes to humility NOW.  Peter got the gist of Jesus’s implication; he wanted to inherit all Christ had to give. And so Christ washed his feet, and Peter was made clean.

What does my refusal of someone else’s kindness cause that person to feel? Why do I choose not to accept someone’s gift of humility?

Am I refusing Christ’s sacrifice for my sins?  Are there things I have said, done, or thought which I don’t ask or accept Christ’s forgiveness?

Will I accept someone’s compliment, or another type of kind gesture, without rebuttal this week? 

How is Christ glorified by giving and also receiving gestures of humility?  

Ok put down the Bible and live this week like it was the last!

by Ashley Buehler

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Sir, We Wish To See Jesus

Jordan Crouthamel

In our reading today, one of my favorite phrases in all of Scripture is found. “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” Some Greeks say this as they have come to worship for the feast in Jerusalem. Surely they had heard the crowds before crying Hosanna, and were now curious to see this anointed one who they have only heard stories about. They must have felt the wonder and excitement of a child who is waiting to see their favorite superhero or sports star.

It makes me wonder if I still get this way about Jesus. I remember when I was in high school and had a chance to meet two of my favorite basketball players. I was a freshman and Tyler Hansbrough and Danny Green were fresh off one of the best seasons in college basketball history. I am a HUGE North Carolina fan. Like they say in our fight song, I’m a Tar Heel born, I’m a Tar Heel bred, and when I die I’ll be Tar Heel dead. So, on this Saturday I was at a Carolina football game and walked down to the field to watch warm-ups before the game. To my surprise Tyler and Danny walked up close to where I was standing to be introduced on the field before the game, and I seized my chance. I walked up and shook hands and got my copy of The Daily Tar Heel signed by my heroes. It was a great day.

Do I feel that way about Jesus? I know he is always with me, but do I always want to see him? The answer is probably no. I wish I could say yes, that I am always praying for eyes to see him in all that I do, but most of the time I am too distracted or busy. Today, I am challenged to have the same excitement that these Greeks had; the same excitement I had over meeting my favorite players. I want to be somebody whose prayer is constantly, “I wish to see Jesus.” I challenge you to check yourself and see if this is your prayer as well. Are you still excited to hear his name? Are you still wishing to see him all day, every day? Today, you can catch that flame again. Pray that the Lord would give you eyes to see and a heart that desires Jesus today, and I guarantee your life will be better for it.

When is the last time you were excited to hear the name of Jesus?

When was the last time you prayed to see Jesus in your day?

When will you pray today to see him?

Ok put down the Bible and live this week like it was your last!

by Jordan Crouthamel

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Cling To the Compassionate Ones

Becky Lyle Pinkard

Today's Reading - Luke 22:66 - 23:56

There are a lot of haters in this text - the chief priests and teachers of the law; the crowd of accusers; the soldiers who mock Jesus; even one of the thieves nailed to the next cross. They’re loud attention-seekers. Crucify him! Crucify him!

But interestingly, Luke dials in on the sympathizers. He seems to say to us, yes, this is an angry crowd but don’t let them poison your heart. Find the goodness, cling to the compassionate ones.

We know about Pilate. He understands that Jesus is innocent and desperately wants to let Him go. But Pilate caves to the demands of an angry crowd. Pilate has compassion, at least briefly, but he certainly doesn’t bind himself to the goodness of Christ.

Simon of Cyrene is made to carry Jesus’ cross. Simon may not feel any compassion for Christ at this moment, but we know that later he will raise his children to love the man whose cross he carried. (Romans 16:13) Simon’s compassion for Jesus charted his family’s course and molded their hearts for eternity.

Then there is this large crowd, mostly women, following Jesus as He moves toward death, mourning and wailing. They aren’t believers yet. They are simply decent people who have compassion for an innocent man. I would like to believe these protesters are clinging to the goodness they see in Christ and at least some are later saved.

On the cross, hanging between two thieves, one hurls insults, but the other says, “This man has done nothing wrong.” Word gets around in a prison; both these thieves know Jesus is innocent, but only one clings to His goodness. “Remember me when you come into your Kingdom.” And Jesus takes the thief to paradise that day! Bind yourself to the innocence of Christ; be remembered by the King.

The centurion who sees Jesus commit His Spirit and literally speak His own death understands that he is witnessing God down from His throne. In Matthew and Mark he says, “This man was the Son of God.” Think about it - the man overseeing the soldiers who executed our Savior chooses to cling to His goodness. Jesus saves another one!

Then there is this large group in verse 48 who come in from the city to watch the execution. They have no personal interest in Jesus. But something happens and they leave “beating their breasts.” They come to be entertained; they leave passionately grieved. Cling to His goodness. Let it mold you in His image.

Of course the women who have been following Him from Galilee are with Jesus at the cross. They understand His innocence and they are horrified at what is being done to Him. They come back later to minister to Him in the tomb. Even in their agony, they are defined by their compassion.

Lastly Luke tells us of the boldness of Joseph of Arimathea, a God-fearing Jew, who takes Christ’s body, wraps it in linen and lays it in a new tomb. I remember standing inside what some believe to be that very tomb, in the shadows of the place called The Skull. I choose to remember it as a place where beautiful, Holy things played out between Jesus and Joseph and Simon and the centurion. And the thief who saw paradise that very day! I choose to cling to the compassionate ones.

Is there anyone in your life who resembles the thief who hurled insults on someone he knew to be innocent? Will you pray for a softening of their heart today?

Can you think of a time you went simply to be entertained but left changed by an encounter with goodness?

If you knew you had but one week left, would you allow the haters to poison your heart? Or would you be defined by His compassion?

Ok put down the Bible and live this week like it was the last!

By Becky Pinkard Lyle

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What If...You Finally Felt At Home?

Jennifer Giblin

Today's Reading - Luke 22:1-65

This passage includes stories we read about in Matthew and Mark.  Judas agrees to betray Jesus in return for money, Jesus has His final meal with His disciples, Jesus goes to the Mount of Olives to pray, Jesus is arrested, Jesus is disowned by Peter, and Jesus is mocked by the men guarding Him.  The part on which I will focus was inspired by a note in my Bible entitled, “Status-Conscious Disciples.”

During the Last Supper, the disciples are arguing about who was the greatest (v. 24).  The majority of the disciples come from humble backgrounds, as they were farmers or fishermen before being called by Jesus to do His work.  Jesus warns the disciples in Luke 10:20 to keep their egos in check after they proudly tell Him, “Lord, even the demons submit to us in your name” (v. 17).  As the quote in Luke 22:24 shows, they never learn this lesson during Jesus’s lifetime.

A little over three years ago, my ego probably could have given the disciples’ egos a run for their money.  I was in my second year of my job, my primary boss was on sabbatical, and my boss’s boss was new.  Needless to say, the fact that I knew more than someone above me in both title and education level made me feel important.  In addition, this person would regularly ask me questions about how to do something.  Once my primary boss returned and my boss’s boss learned the ropes, my arrogance disappeared, leaving me with the awareness of what an unchecked ego feels like.  I realized I acted like a know-it-all who was all too happy to have this power and who did not think about how her arrogance affected others.  To this day, those others will not come out and tell me I was an arrogant individual during that time, but they will not disagree with me when I talk about how arrogant I was.

So how do I resemble the disciples in terms of the reason for my arrogance?  In some ways, I too come from humble beginnings.  Yes, I attended private institutions for all of my K-12 and most of my undergraduate education, an opportunity not available to all.  However, by some definitions I am considered a first-generation student since, while my parents took course post-high school, neither of them have a bachelor’s degree (nor even completed more than a year of college-level classes).  Therefore, I was on my own navigating the complexities of college.  I was the first in my family of influence to live at college and the first to consider, let alone pursue, advanced education.  On top of all this, I transferred a lot in undergrad by choice and graduated from a one-year Master’s program so I never established roots at a school before I came to Old Dominion University.

In all honesty, succumbing to the fact that I felt like I finally belonged somewhere was kind of scary.  Even though I lived in the same town my whole life before I started living in other places for college, I never felt at home there.  I think one of the reasons why I went to so many schools is I wanted to find a geographic location I wished to live in long-term.  What is another place where I did not feel 100 percent at home?  Within my own family.  For reasons that include my not feeling at home where I grew up and my pursuit of advanced education, I was different from everyone else.  Even worse, they did not understand the reasons for these differences.  This made discussing certain topics difficult because I always felt misunderstood and on the defensive.  At ODU, I not only found people who understood me and with whom I had things in common, I also found a city I could call home.  Once I stepped outside my ODU bubble, these feelings did not subside; in fact, they have grown stronger as I continue to meet people with similar interests and who respectfully expand my comfort zone.

Maybe the same is true for the disciples.  Not only did they, like me, let power get to their heads, but perhaps they also felt more at home in the locations they traveled with Jesus, places they may have never visited otherwise, than where they grew up.  And maybe they felt more comfortable around Jesus and each other than their families.  As I learned firsthand, power and a sense of belonging is great, but not when you let it get to your head and your arrogance has a negative effect on those around you.

When has your over-confidence had a negative effect on a situation or person?

What does it feel like to belong somewhere?

How can we help others feel at home in a group in which we are both members?

Ok, put your Bible down and live this week like it was the last!

by Jennifer Giblin

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The Condition of Your Heart

Mary Vinson

Today’s Reading Luke 21:1-4    

Our reading today gives us the familiar story of the widow’s mite.  A lot of people think this story is about giving.   I think it’s more about the condition of our hearts.  Notice in the picture above, how the other people aren’t even looking at the widow.  They are ignoring her and her needs perhaps.  Jesus calls the disciples' attention to the widow saying that she gave all she had to the Lord.  Verse 2 shows us that this woman was destitute. Not only was she poor, she was a widow, which meant she had no means of support in that day and age.  The two small copper coins were of little value in the grand scheme of gifts that were being given in the Temple that day. .

In Verse 3, Jesus compares her gift, not just to the gifts of the rich, but to all gifts given, and he considers hers the greatest of all.  In verse 4 Jesus explains why he considers her gift to be the greatest.  Others there gave out of their abundance yet she worships by giving all she had. His teaching here is one of proportion. Money was important to her.  She depended on it for rent, for prescriptions, for food. I think she gave away her money however because she understood that we are all poor no matter how much we have at our disposal. She knew that her monetary resources were God’s and that she was merely entrusted with them.

Do we treat our resources in this way?  If Jesus were to use our giving patterns as a teaching for others, would it be an example of what not to do? Or would it be one that demonstrated joyful, generous giving?  Are we attentive to the needs of the poor and needy around us?  Are we doing all we can?

The widow gave her very life, showing her deep trust in God. I think the difference between her and the others in the story is the difference in their hearts.  Where is your heart today?

Where am I giving from and what am I holding back?  

Am I attentive to the needs around me?

How can I be more generous with my money, my time, with all my resources?

Ok put down your Bible and live this week as if it were your last!

by Mary Vinson

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What is Caesar’s? What is God’s?

Hunter Johnston

Today's Reading - Luke 20:  20-47

Today’s reading begins with a well-known quote and charge for us to “render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and unto God the things that are God’s”.  In the gospel of Luke this commandment from Christ is answering the question as to whether the Jews should pay taxes to Caesar.  As I consider these scriptures this morning, in the comfort of my Norfolk home with a warm latte and my laptop, it provokes a thoughtful consideration for me in my own life.  As both a woman and Christ-follower, in what circumstances is it appropriate for me to submit to earthly authorities and the comfortable trappings of earthly temptations?  And when should I forsake those trappings and follow Christ instead?

As a Christian woman, wife, and mother, this juxtaposition is constantly being dangled in front of me like a carrot.  If women were truthful with one another, I believe we would admit to each other that we really struggle with the challenges the world and the Church place on women these days.   It’s tough and some days I don’t quite feel like enough.  

As a woman, do I succumb and focus on the world’s concept of beauty or do I focus on the beauty to which Christ calls me?  The beauty in a woman who cares for others more than myself, seeks Christ’s love and wants to share it with others?  As a wife, do I put all of my energy into my earthly marriage to a wonderful husband or do I look to emulate Christ’s marriage between Him and the Church?  And as a mother, do I make my earthly focus my sweet daughter or do I constantly seek out and love all Christ’s children?  How does a Christian woman balance all these things just right and what is the right balance?

I am in a season in my life where I am seeking Christ fervently trying to find the right balance for me, wanting to please both Christ and those most precious that He has entrusted in me.  I honestly don’t have an answer yet, as I constantly finding myself feeling like I am withdrawing from one account to make deposits into another. But what I do know is that I am in a much better place for knowing that I don’t have it figured out and I’m trying my best.  This morning my challenge is to myself and to all other women who seem to be “doing it all” in this world.  Let’s admit to each other that we don’t have it all figured out and that this life is hard.  Really hard.  And let’s give each other a break as we are trying our best to figure the balance to which Christ has called us here on earth.

In what areas do you struggle to find balance in this world as a Christian?

How do you personally find balance between your spiritual life and your earthly life?

How do best listen to Christ so you can hear how He is guiding you in these areas?

(PS, if you’ve got good answers to these questions, let me know.)

Ok, put down your Bible and live this week like it was your last!

by Hunter Johnston

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What If...We Do Not Listen To God?

Jennifer Giblin

Today's Reading - Luke 20:1-19

On the surface, the Parable of the Tenants reads just like a story of a scenario a landowner during the time of Jesus would encounter.  The landowner purchases land; plants a vineyard on this land; and, because he lives far away from this land, rents it out to farmers to tend to the crops.  Once the harvest time comes, he sends first servants and then his son to collect the crops that are rightfully his.  The farmers beat the servants when they are sent one-by-one to collect the crops for their master.  When the son is sent, they kill him, expecting the landowner will then give them his inheritance.  Instead, the landowner plans to kill the farmers and give the vineyard to other individuals.

In actuality, the parable is loaded with meaning.  The landowner represents God and the vineyard His promise to us.  The farmers are the leader of Israel, the servants are the prophets, and the son is Jesus.  The message Jesus is trying to convey to the teachers of the law and the chief priests is that because they have rejected Him and the messengers His Father sent before Him, they will not benefit from the promise.  However, their people, who did not take part in the leaders’ wickedness, will not be punished for the behavior of their leaders.

Do I have an exact, real-life personal example of this parable that comes to mind?  No, because that would mean, more than likely, I am writing this post from prison (technically, if I were a convicted murderer, I would not have had the opportunity to write this post because I doubt I could have become an intern at a church).  Can I think of a less-extreme example?  Yes.

I should have left Norfolk three and a half years ago.  Yes, you read that correctly.  The person who probably appears at home in Norfolk and tries to make others feel so too almost left what has become her adopted home.  Back in 2011, I was going to leave Old Dominion University because I wanted to enter a PhD program for criminal justice, the field in which I received my first two degrees.  Most of the individuals with whom I discussed my plans to leave tried to talk me out of it (these people represent the servants in the passage).  Did I listen to them?  No.  Instead, I made more concrete plans to leave.  I notified the program I was going to enter of my intent to accept their offer of admission.  I booked a flight to my new location.  I signed a lease and put a security deposit down on an apartment in my new city.

My currently being an intern at a church in Norfolk makes it obvious I did not follow through with these plans.  What happened?  Unlike the farmers (who I most closely resemble in this story), a combination of continued messages from my “messengers” and some self-reflection led me to the conclusion leaving Norfolk, ODU, and my academic program would be the worst decision I ever made.  I analyzed the real reasons I wanted to leave and made the appropriate changes to my life so I would have better experiences from there on out.  Has it been all rainbows and butterflies since I decided to stay?  Of course not!  Have all the experiences I have had in Norfolk made me a better person?  Definitely!  I think about who I was when I came here and who I have become on account of these experiences and I am very grateful I was not as close-minded as the farmers in the parable.

My story is far from a perfect example of the parable, but the basic moral is the same.  God puts people in our life for a reason, in this instance to deliver a message.  Unlike the farmers, I finally listened to the message God wanted to tell me and I benefitted from having an open mind.

When were you stubborn and wanted to take one course of action even though multiple messages and messengers told you to take another?

In hindsight, do you wish you made a different decision, why or why not?

How can we continue to show patience towards those who are not open to our advice?

Ok, put your Bible down and live this week like it was the last!

by Jennifer Giblin

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Will You Recognize Me?

Laura Arana

Today's Reading - Luke 19:28-48 

The Triumphal Entry, for me, is one of the most glorious events in the Bible.  Right up there with the dove descending on Jesus at His baptism and God speaking through the clouds.  But Luke’s version leaves out two of our most famous traditions celebrated during Palm Sunday- the palms and the shouting of Hosanna!  As a child growing up in the Catholic Church it was my favorite Sunday, as it was the only time we did not have to sit perfectly still.  We actually got to move our arms around!  

I love the fulfillment of prophecy that is shown to us with the colt, I love the humility of Jesus to ride a lowly donkey; but what I love most is the praise from the people.  The people are throwing their cloaks down in front of Jesus and shouting praises to Him.  Vs. 37 tells us, “the whole crowd of disciples began joyfully to praise God in loud voices for all the miracles they had seen.”  Can you imagine this scene? In my childhood mind, I see the people in celebratory praise, palms and branches waving, maybe even a little confetti coming down from the sky and Jesus smiling at the people.  And even though this image for me is from my childhood, I can’t help but think of this every time I celebrate or read about the Triumphal Entry. 

What Luke’s account shares that is different from the other gospels is Jesus weeping over the city.  Jesus is weeping for His people, He is weeping, “because you did not recognize, the time of God’s coming to you.”  Jesus weeps for us too.  How many times do we not recognize Him? We are so busy running around in our daily lives that many times we miss that Christ is all around us.  How many times are we so burdened and broken in our lives that we don’t feel like we can offer praises to God?  One of my favorite songs is Broken Hallelujah by The Afters.  A line from the chorus says,

I’ve seen joy and I’ve seen pain,
And on my knees, I call your name
Here’s my broken Hallelujah
With nothing left to hold onto
I raise these empty hands to you

So as we are in Lent and preparing for Christ’s Triumphal Entry, will you be one of the people that Christ weeps over because you don’t see Him or will you offer your broken praises to Him?

What areas of your life can you offer praise even though it is difficult?

Will you commit to seeing Christ in others?

Who can you invite to church for Palm Sunday? 

Ok put down the Bible and live this week like it was your last!

by Laura Arana

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Do You Believe in Miracles?

Becky Lyle Pinkard

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Today's Reading - Matthew 27:32-66

Take a look at verses 45-53. There are SIX MIRACLES in those nine verses!

The first miracle was darkness. Verse 45. From noon until three in the afternoon darkness came over all the land.

Darkness over the entire earth! There are historical records to back this up. Half the earth would have been in darkness already, but for three hours, from noon to 3:00 p.m., every culture in the world was in the dark. The sun literally went out. Why did God do that? This was the darkness of judgment. God judged every one of us, found each of us guilty, and poured all of our punishment on the one He loved the most in the darkness of those three hours. He did this miracle for me and for you.

The second miracle – verse 46. About three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lemasabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”).

Jesus cried out; he screamed. He had been scourged and beaten. After carrying a 200-pound cross up a hill, he had been nailed to a cross for three hours. He lost blood. He lost strength. His body collapsed onto his lungs so he pushed himself up with wounded feet to catch a breath. With His life almost over, Jesus cried out in a loud and clear voice. That’s supernatural. But his cry wasn’t from the pain of the physical crucifixion. He cried out from the agony of his soul at being separated from His father. God, in His holiness, couldn’t look at the multitude of sin Jesus bore for us, so He turned away. And Jesus cried out from the torment of that separation for me and for you.

Miracle number three – verse 50. And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit.

In John 19:30, He says, It is finished.” Not I am finished. I love that. In Luke 23:46, He says, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” I mean, who does that? Who can do that? You and I can’t say, “Lord, here’s my spirit. Take it because now is when I want to hand it over to you and I’m just going to fall over dead.” We can’t end our life by speaking. But Jesus did. He poured out His spirit and ascended into Heaven. Another miracle performed for me and for you.

Fourth miracle – verse 51. At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom.

At the very moment Jesus gave up his spirit and left His body, the curtain that separated the holy place from the Holy of Holies was ripped from top to bottom. That curtain was high and inaccessible and God ripped it from top to bottom. No man could have done that. A miracle. This Holy of Holies had represented the presence of God where no man, except the high priest, had a right to go. It was a place where you risked death at the hands of God if you entered. But at the very moment Christ died and gave up His spirit, the way was cleared into God’s presence through the blood of Christ. For me and for you.

Miracle number five – verse 51. The earth shook, the rocks split.

A destructive earthquake sent by God! He did that a lot in the Old Testament, furious, shaking the earth in judgment. And this time, it was just a preview of things to come. Check out Isaiah 24:19. Isaiah is looking forward to the time of judgment. The earth is broken up, the earth is split asunder, the earth is violently shaken.  So at the moment He gave up His spirit and the curtain was torn, God sends that earthquake and reminds us that Christ will come again one day and righteousness will prevail for eternity. For me and for you.

Now for the last miracle and it's huge  – verse 52. and the tombs broke open. The bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. They came out of the tombs after Jesus’ resurrection and went into the holy city and appeared to many people.

Graves opened up. Not out of the ordinary when you have an earthquake. But then there is this – bodies were raised from the dead. Earthquakes just don’t do that. Bodies came out of graves; there was a physical resurrection. Their spirits came down from heaven and three days later, they went into Jerusalem, after the resurrection of Christ. In this miracle, God gives us the hope of the resurrection of our own bodies living in the presence of Christ! He gave this miracle to me and to you.

Do you believe in each of these miracles?

Will you commit them to your heart and share them with others?

Will you take advantage of the torn curtain today and enter into God’s presence?

Will you be in agony if not?

Ok put down the Bible and live this week like it was the last!

by Becky Lyle Pinkard

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A Scandal of Biblical Proportions… (the Trial of Jesus)

Josh Vaughan

Today's Reading - Matthew 27:11-31

Every time I read these verses I find myself wanting to interject and yell at the top of my lungs… “STOP!” I want to speak up on Jesus’ behalf and tell Pilate that Jesus had done nothing wrong. I want to tell Pilate that “The only thing He is guilty of is teaching, healing, loving, inviting, and accepting. He has come to give sight to the blind, give strength to the weak, and give life to the dead. Leave this man alone, He has done nothing wrong!”

I have such a hard time watching my Savior as He is unfairly tried, accused, and beaten in front of a hateful crowd who He loves enough to stay silent for. Jesus chose to be silent. He had every right to speak up on His own behalf. Not only that, He had the most air-tight case in the history of all cases. But Jesus chose silence, because He loved His accusers, because He loved His mockers, and because He loved you and me.

Luckily, Jesus knew and understood His purpose. Jesus was stronger than I would have been or even, if I am honest, stronger than many times I want Him to have been. My sense of justice wants Jesus to look at His accusers and do what He did so well and teach them, and tell them why He is innocent. But I sure am glad He didn’t. I am so thankful that I serve a Savior that is bigger than I am.

 Jesus knew that He came to earth for such a time as this. He came to live, and love, and die for us. His purpose was greater than His pride, His love was bigger than life, and His sense of service was greater than His sense of self preservation. Jesus understood why He had to die at the hands of people who would never accept the free gift that He was dying to give them.

So, what can we learn from this? First, I think we learn that we need to figure out our purpose in life. Jesus understood His purpose and willingly went to the cross on our behalf. Likewise, we need to find our purpose, and if our purpose is something that does not outlast us then it is not big enough. If our biggest dreams for our life die with us, they are not big enough.  I would even go so far as to say that if our dreams for our life aren’t intimidating to us, then they are probably insulting to a Savior who died so that we could have them in the first place.

Second, I think we can gather from these verses that a life lived for the benefit of others over ourselves is a life well lived. If Jesus is our ultimate example, then I think that it is pretty safe to say that Jesus would want us to live to exalt others over ourselves, and to live a life of sacrifice for the benefit of those around us. Jesus wants us to put others first.

Lastly, I think that we need to learn to love the unlovable. In this passage we find an obscure character named Barabbas. Now Barabbas was an insurrectionist, a murderer, and a thug. In spite of that Jesus dies in His place. Jesus took the chains, and the torture, and the cross that Barabbas deserved in order to set Barabbas free. Jesus understood that the Father has to treat Jesus like Barabbas so that He could treat Barabbas like Jesus.

One thing that we need to understand is that in the story about Barabbas, is that we are Barabbas. We are the unlovable. Jesus took those nails for not just Barabbas, but also for you and me. In the same way that Jesus loved Barabbas, you and I need to learn to love the unlovable ones in our own lives, because many times we ourselves are that very person.

Do we know our purpose, and is it God-sized?

Do we know how to put others before ourselves?

Do we love the unlovables in our lives?

Ok put down the Bible and live this week like it was your last!

by Josh Vaughan

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Would You Still Deny Me?

Laura Arana

Today's Reading - Matthew 26: 69-27:10

Denied, Denied, Denied.  This is the passage in which Peter denies Jesus three times.  As we read this we cant help but yell at Peter and say, “No, don’t do it!”  We can read his regret a few verses later and want to spare him from this terrible mistake that I am sure haunts him for a long time.  We have grown to love Peter and up to this point, many of us can really identify with him.  OR is it that because of this moment, we can identify with him even more?  The truth of these 6 verses (26: 69-75), of Peter’s denial, hits home for so many of us.  We want to believe that as Jesus’ close follower, as the gregarious and highly opinionated person that we are, I mean, that Peter is- that he and we would stand up and say, “Yes I am a follower of Christ”, but do we? How many times in conversations with others do we deny our faith?  Maybe not by saying, “I don’t know the man”; but maybe it is more deceptive, like being a part of a conversation that we know we should not.  How many times have we closed our eyes to things of this world because we want to be “easy going” or amicable?  I am ashamed to say it happens to me more than I care to admit.  The Christ living in me wants to shout from the rooftops that I AM A CHRISTIAN, I LOVE JESUS CHRIST! But so many times my actions do not convey my intentions, my Christ-self. 

This is not the end of Peter’s story.  Peter bounces back from this like a bat flying out of Sheol.  He becomes that Rock that Jesus needs to build his church.  Peter receives the gift of forgiveness from Christ and he accepts it.  He does not let his past denial define him.  He becomes so much more than the man who denied the Christ.  He becomes a biblical hero for many of us.  He becomes the man who is relentless in bringing others into the Kingdom.  Peter’s story can be your story; I am praying it becomes mine. 

What do you need to accept Christ’s forgiveness for and let go?

How can your actions and your heart be connected?

Who can you invite to church this week that needs to experience the love and forgiveness of Christ?

Ok put down the Bible and live this week like it was the last!

by Laura Arana

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