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What If? The Blog

Praying Like Jesus

Mary Vinson

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Today's Reading - Matthew 26: 36-46

“Jesus Christ taught his disciples to pray, healed people with prayers, denounced the corruption of the temple worship (which, he said, should be a ‘house of prayer’), and insisted that some demons could be cast out only through prayer. He prayed often and regularly with fervent cries and tears (Heb. 5:7), and sometimes all night. The Holy Spirit came upon him and anointed him as he was praying (Luke 3:21–22), and he was transfigured with the divine glory as he prayed (Luke 9:29). When he faced his greatest crisis, he did so with prayer. We hear him praying for his disciples and the church on the night before he died (John 17:1–26) and then petitioning God in agony in the Garden of Gethsemane. Finally, he died praying.”  From Timothy Keller on Prayer

In our reading today in Matthew 26, verses 39 and 42, Jesus facing the cross prays first that this cup or what he is about to do be taken from him. In his humanness he is asking – is there any other way?  In both verses he ends with saying it’s not his will but the Father’s.  “May your will be done”.   Thessalonians 5:17 tells us to pray continually and Romans 8:26 tells us that when we don’t know what to pray, the Spirit intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express.  Finally in our Matthew passage, Jesus shows us that praying for the Father’s will to be done is a matter of constant trust, no matter our circumstances. Sometimes what we want and God’s will for us may not be the same. He shows us that our prayers should not really end with a period or exclamation point, but a comma, always adding “if it be your will”.

How do you pray to the Father?

Do you trust HIM in everything so you can pray with honesty that His will be done? 

Do you make prayer a part of your day every day?

Ok put down the bible and pray this week like it was your last! 

by Mary Vinson

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Grace Changes Everything

Josh Vaughan

Today's Reading - Matthew 26:14-35

When I began praying through what portion of this text to write about. I was very conflicted because this text covers so many important portions of scripture. It is where Judas betrays Jesus and sets in motion the most profound event that has ever, or will ever happen in human history. Namely Jesus’ death on the cross. It covers how Jesus has full knowledge of what is to come, even down to who is going to betray him for what is today's equivalent of $25. This proves that Jesus could have tried to stop Judas but instead willingly goes to the cross. What love!

It also covers the first ever communion service where Jesus sits down with the disciples and enjoys the bread and wine in a new way, thereby teaching them how to pass down the story of Jesus’ body and blood which was broken and poured out for the forgiveness of our sins. He leads them through the exact same process that we still follow nearly 2,000 years later. Also an extremely significant event.

Then lastly, it shows Jesus as He quoted Zechariah chapter 13: “Strike down the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock shall be scattered”. He is referring to how all of the disciples will fall away that very night. Peter refuses to see himself as a coward and tells Jesus that even though all may fall away that he never will. To which Jesus famously replies: “Truly I tell you that this very night, before a rooster crows, you will deny me three times. Again Peter replies that even if he has to die he will not deny Christ and all the disciples agreed with him.

A lot happens in these 21 verses but what I want to wrestle with today is grace. Grace is easy to earn, because it is given undeservingly, but is difficult to accept because we feel unworthy. When Jesus is talking with Peter at the end of this section He knows that Peter will deny Him. He knows that He will be left alone without a friend in the world and even though Peter is so fervent in his decision to stick with Christ, he will not only run and leave Him in His time of greatest need, but will also publicly deny Him 3 times in the hours that follow.

In spite of all of this Jesus still uses Peter just 50 days later to begin “the way” or the church. That's right just 50 days after Peter’s greatest failure, and probably lowest moment in his entire life, he is given the privilege to be the one who preaches on the Day of Pentecost. He is allowed to be the Pétros or Rock on which Christ builds His church. He is shown grace and not because he earned it, but because he accepted it, he was given the privilege of being the one who set in motion a revolution that has continued to this day, and will continue until the end of time.

We need to learn to lean into the Grace that Christ offers before we can ever be used to our full potential. We must let go of our past and be able to live in the truth that when we accept Christ we are a new creation and that the old is dead and new now lives. Peter left his short comings in the past and stepped into the future that Christ has orchestrated for him. Will you be able to to the same?

Do we let our past define our future?

Do we live in the regret and pain of our shortcomings, or do lean into the grace that only God can provide?

If you had one week left would you be able to let God use you to your full potential or would you be held captive by your past?

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

by Josh Vaughan

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What Has God Put Before You Today?

Jordan Crouthamel

I’m not going to lie, when I think of someone pouring ointment on me, it doesn’t exactly sound pleasant. Here in the text today we are presented with the story of the woman anointing Jesus in Matthew 26. The text tells us nothing of the woman other than that she was a woman with a costly ointment in an alabaster container. Maybe this is because that is all we need to know about her. She seems to be a regular woman who recognizes the presence of Jesus.

She doesn’t give a speech or even have a word recorded, no response to the angry disciples or a word of encouragement for Jesus. She simply gives him what is probably her most expensive possession, most likely an heirloom that has been passed for generations. When she anoints Jesus, the disciples immediately reproach her and ask why she has wasted all this when it could have been sold and given to the poor. This is when the words of our Lord come to us, “There will always be poor among you, but you will not always have me.” This is a challenging statement as he speaks not only to disciples, but to us as well.

How many times do we forsake moments in front of us when Christ is calling us to honor him with our actions, and we look forward instead to our next volunteer day or Sunday worship. Jim spoke yesterday about the choice being in front of us each day and this is total confirmation. If it was your last week, would you refuse the presence of others? If today was your last, would you show honor to those in front of you or choose to keep waiting for the big moment of worship or service. Jesus stands before us today and asks us to look up from our calendars and upcoming opportunities and look into his eyes and see who we need to give our best today. Many people leave this world with alabaster jars intact and ointment that is waiting to be poured. Don’t leave anything on the floor today. Honor those in front of you, give everything to God, and pour out the best of your life onto whomever or whatever God has set before you today.

What situation or person has God put in front of you in the past that you should have given your best to?

What situation or person do you feel him calling you to give your best to right now?

What then, will you do differently today to give your best?

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

by Jordan Crouthamel

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1…2…3…Go!

Valena Hoy

Today’s Reading – Matthew 25

We encounter three major parables in the 25th chapter of Matthew that are focused on the coming of the Son of Man for final judgment.

The first parable, the Parable of the Ten Virgins, speaks of readiness for his return. 

The second, the Parable of the Bags of Gold, tells of our responsibility during the in-between time.  You have been entrusted with gifts, how will you use them on the Master’s behalf?  What will he receive when he returns from you? Are you using the gifts that he gave you for his benefit?

The third parable, the Sheep and the Goats, explains the criteria of the final judgment when the Son of Man returns. 

It’s a nice outline, really…

1 – Be ready, stay ready

2 – Live responsibly with the talents you have been given

3 – Be careful how you treat his family.  Who’s his family??  The hungry…the thirsty…the stranger…those without clothing…the sick…the imprisoned…

1…2…3…Go! 

Questions for reflection:

How will you stay ready for his return?

Are you living responsibly with the gifts and talents entrusted to you?

How do you treat Jesus’ family?

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

By Valena Hoy

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What if…Jesus returned tomorrow?

Laura Arana

Today's Reading - Matthew 24: 1-35

Signs, signs, signs.  Don’t we always ask for signs?  Signs that he or she loves you, signs that we are on the right path, signs that we are making the right choices.  “Lord, if you would just give us a sign, then …. “  We aren’t alone in asking for signs.  The disciples asked Jesus what would be the sign of His return and the end of the age (vs3), and Jesus tells them.  He gives this most eloquent but scary speech of His return:  Wars, famine, earthquakes, increase in wickedness, love turning cold, desolation, and false prophets.  Jesus tells us that when He returns, we will know it!  We wont have to guess or chase down the Messiah.  Verses 30-31 tell us, “They will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky, with power and great glory.  And He will send His angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other.”  There will be no mistaking the Lord’s coming with a bout of indigestion.  We will know!!  In a world in which we are so uncertain of so many things rest assured that the coming of the Lord is not one that we need to question. 

So instead of spending our time looking for signs of the Lord’s return, why not focus on being a witness to our unbelieving friends?  We all have friends that do not have a personal relationship with Christ.  Are we doing anything to invite them to be one of the elect?  I don’t like to offend people or make them feel uncomfortable, so I completely understand skirting this topic but this is exactly what we are called to do.  Jesus himself said He did not come to save the righteous but the lost.  We may not have to look for signs of the Lord’s return but we do need to be vigilant of His return and inviting others to experience it as well. 

Who can you invite to church this week?

What are you holding on to that needs to be turned over to God’s control?

Whose heart can you be praying for?

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

by Laura Arana

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Do As I Say, Not As I Do!?!?

Valena Hoy

Today’s Reading – Matthew 23

Jesus’ attack on the leaders of Israel is relentless.  He charges them with hypocrisy and insincerity.  On the surface these leaders “looked” devoted to the Lord and his laws but inside they lacked devotion and faith. 

These leaders were performing external rituals without first cleansing the heart. They were giving blind guidance.  They were absurdly regarding lesser oaths as binding while regarding greater oaths as not binding. How confusing to the people that followed their lead!

This vitriolic attack on the leaders of Israel, I assume, was not taken with humility and gentleness. We can read these words and say, “You preach it, Jesus!”  “Tell those religious leaders how hypocritical they are!”  “Get’em, Jesus!”

Just remember, Jesus longs for his disciples to truly practice what they preach.  He expects us to not only speak the truth, but live the truth…even when no one is watching.

Some questions for reflection:

How do your actions match your words and promises?

Do you practice what you preach?  How would your spouse, children, friends and co-workers respond to this question on your behalf?

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

by Valena Hoy

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Who Is Your Neighbor

Jennifer Giblin

Today's Reading - Matthew 22

Most of the accounts in this passage are examples of how the Pharisees and the Sadducees tried to trick Jesus.  First, the Pharisees asked Jesus whether taxes should be paid to Caesar.  Then, the Sadducees asked Jesus if a woman married seven brothers, the next after the previous one died, whose wife she would be at the resurrection.  Next, the Pharisees asked Jesus what the greatest commandment is.  Finally, Jesus silences the Pharisees by asking them whose son the Christ is and proving them wrong when they answer, “David.”

The verse from these chapter on which I am going to focus is 39.  In Luke 10, in response to the question, “Who is my neighbor?” (v. 29), Jesus tells the story of the Good Samaritan and states the robbery victim’s neighbor is the Samaritan because he “had mercy” on the victim (v. 37).  Jesus is likewise saying we should have compassion on others.  This does not mean giving financially to every person and organization, just treating everyone as a human being.

One example of treating everyone with kindness and respect is the Humans of New York (HONY) blog.  Brandon, the blog’s founder, goes around New York City and takes pictures of people.  When he posts the picture, he includes a few sentences about the person they provide.  The people featured in the blog epitomize Jesus’s definition of neighbor from Luke 10 because HONY has featured people who are homeless, addicts, victims of abuse, and mentally ill, not just those who appear to have it all together.  Brandon started the blog as a way to index and map the people of NYC, but it has become much more.

Last month, HONY posted a picture of Vidal, a student at Mott Hall Bridges Academy (MHBA), a charter middle school in Brownsville, a low-income neighborhood in Brooklyn with the highest crime rate of all the neighborhoods in NYC.  When asked who inspired him, Vidal answered his principal, Ms. Nadia Lopez.  She seeks to inspire and motivate young people who society expects to fail.  To that end, she wished to send her incoming sixth grade classes on a trip to Harvard University to show them anything is possible if they keep their minds to it and they belong at a place like Harvard.  Before HONY photographed Vidal, funding this trip seemed impossible.  There was no room in the budget for it and the families of the incoming scholars do not have the means to pay for it out-of-pocket.  However, a crowdfunding campaign started by HONY that sought to raise $100,000, or the estimated cost of sending three classes on the trip, raised a total of $1,419,284.  Seven hundred thousand dollars ($700,000) will be used to sponsor the trips for successive sixth grade classes.  The remaining money will go towards what has been named The Vidal Scholarship Fund, a scholarship for a graduate of MHBA, and summer programs for the scholars of MHBA.

HONY, a blog that initially sought to features neighbors using the earthly definition of neighbor, serves as an example of following the Biblical definition of neighbor through its profiling people from all walks of life and attempting to better the lives of people from a neglected neighborhood.  The blog’s creator was not seeking fame when he started the blog in 2010.  It was just an outgrowth of his following the principle mentioned in the movie Home Run, “Nothing great happens when you hold back.”

When have you done something good for someone else by taking a chance?

What are some examples of social media doing good for a person or group of people?

 If you could start a social media campaign to help your neighbor, what would it look like?

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

by Jennifer Giblin

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By What Authority Are You Doing These Things?

Valena Hoy

Today's Reading - Matthew 21:23-46

Jesus did not speak like the religious leaders of his time.  The chief priest, elders and Pharisees were troubled by Jesus’ popularity and, I assume, were very threatened by his teaching.  I can see the chief priest, elders and Pharisees huddled together…trying to find a way to trick him, to stump him, to humiliate him.  

Jesus turns the tables on them with a question.  He traps them in their own game. Jesus has them reflect on John (the Baptist)…for in evaluating John they evaluate Jesus.  These religious leaders regroup and calculate attempts to answer the question Jesus asked them. Their concern is focused on what the people will think of their answer.  They are not as concerned about answering with the truth.

Jesus attacks the leaders (not all of Israel) with three parables that expose their greed and unjust behavior.  

With questions, Jesus exposes the leaders.  He exposes their motives and their hearts.  It’s not a pretty picture, is it?!

For Jesus, action is crucial, not empty words.

Questions for thought and action:

What question do you have for Jesus?  Could he expose your motives with a question in return?

Do you think more about how people will respond to you or are you more interested in speaking the truth?

What have you learned from Jesus today through this reading?

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

by Valena Hoy

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What if…God really isn't done?

Josh Vaughan

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

These verses come only two chapters before the betrayal of Christ. Knowing this, He begins to prepare His disciples for His imminent departure and eventual ascension back to the Father. His goal here is let those closet to Him know that even though He personally is leaving them, they will not be alone. Jesus mentions that the disciples are upset about the fact that He is saying that He is leaving them because they do not understand that He has to leave in order to make way for what is to come. He is going to leave them and in His place we will receive “The Advocate”. This “Advocate” that Christ is referring to of course is the Holy Spirit.

Verse 12 is one of the most powerful, and promising verses in this section. It says: “I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear.” What an awesome statement made by the living Savior of all of mankind. This verse means that Jesus not only has plans to continue telling us things after He is no longer physically here, but it goes as far as to say that He has “much more” to say to us.

Christ tells us in these verses that if we follow the Holy Spirit then He will guide us “into all the truth”. This is a very telling statement about relying on the power of the Holy both for salvation, and for daily direction. Lastly, Jesus finishes by claiming His position as part of the God-head, thus giving further credence to all that He has said and done in His earthly ministry. Not a bad thing to be able to put on a resume huh? He lets us know that He is the physical man who lives among them as part of the triune God. Wow, what a big God we serve!

Are we ever too distracted by our own losses or circumstances in the present to be aware of how God wants to bless us, or how He wants to use us in the future?

Do we ever fall into the dangerous trap of believing that God has nothing left to say to us or teach us?

Do we let our lives be truly lead by the Holy Spirit, or do like to pretend as if we are in control?

If we knew we only had one week left, would we be able to surrender control to a God who has our best and His glory in mind?

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

by Josh Vaughan

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What If You Could Change Your Ending?

Ashley Buehler

Today's Reading - Mark 15:1-47

This chapter is one of the hardest for me to read and I usually want to skip it.  Experiencing the fully human emotions of pain at being beaten; shame and anger at being mocked; Jesus could have stopped it all. This is the same (fully God) Jesus who expels demons, commands the weather, reverses illnesses, and raises the dead. 

Knowing what He is capable of makes me want to shout, "STOP IT!! Come on, Jesus. Wipe these guys out!!" All it would have taken was one spoken word, but Jesus wanted to change the ending... our ending. His acceptance of torture and death, allowed His triumph over death in His resurrection. It changed our end from permanent separation from God to eternal life for everyone in His Name. 

What if we could change the ending to our individual stories?  I'm not saying we all have to be martyrs in order to glorify God. But we are all avoiding, not accepting, or fighting against something which, if we would accept it, would lead to closure, healing, or triumph.  Christ's death gives us the unique opportunity for full redemption. So what if we chose to take it?

When I examine my heart, what things do I need Christ to resurrect and renew?  What do I need to give over to him?

If this were my last week, how could I offer peace to others with my acceptance?

How can people who briefly encounter me, also encounter Christ?

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

by Ashley Buehler

 

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To Deny Jesus or Not to Deny Jesus

Jennifer Giblin

Today's Reading - Mark 14

The 72 verses of this chapter are filled with stories about Jesus’s last few days on earth before his death.  First, we have the story of a woman pouring perfume on Jesus’s head.  This is followed by the story of the Last Supper.  Then, Jesus predicts that Peter will deny him three times.  Next is the account of Jesus praying at Gethsemane, after which He is arrested because of Judas’s betrayal.  Jesus is then taken to the Sanhedrin, or the Jewish court.  The chapter concludes with Peter’s multiple denials that he is a disciple of Jesus. 

 It is this final story on which I will focus.  We may have never been in the same position as Peter, denying Jesus for fear of losing our physical life, but we may have been in the position where we deny Jesus for fear of losing our social life.  Sometimes, it is easier to go along with the crowd, even when we know it goes against our beliefs, than to do the right thing and stand apart from the crowd.

I wish I could say I have a story where I stood firm in support of Jesus despite strong opposition from peers, but I do not.  The story I do have is more of a combination of Peter’s and Paul’s.  Although I attended Catholic school for a total of 13 years, taking Religion every year and regularly going to church, I would not have labeled myself a Christian during that time…hence how I denied Jesus as Peter does in this chapter.  I resembled Paul during my high school and most of my college years because I “persecuted” my brother for being into the whole religious thing.  He received Confirmation (I chose to watch my recording of Saturday Night Live from the night before during that time instead…I did say I used to be a super fan of the show in a previous post), attended youth group all throughout high school (I took advantage of that time to watch sports on TV), went on multiple retreats (I loved what I dubbed “only child weekends”), and lived in a religious-themed house his sophomore year of college (which I called the “Jesus House”).

I had my “road to Damascus” experience when I studied abroad seven years ago.  I decided to attend a church recommended to me by a friend in the Christian organization at my undergraduate institution.  It was my experiences at one of the Bible studies at this church that led me to convert to Christianity.  From these experiences, I now understood what this Christian thing was all about.  Since then, I have reaffirmed my faith, attended retreats, lived in a Christian-themed house, became an intern at a church, and volunteered to assist a youth group…all things (or variations of things) in the past I made fun of my brother for doing.

Since my conversion, I have not had an experience where I felt it was me against the world because of my Christian beliefs, but I know I have been judged for my faith.  One experience in particular I still remember is when a former coworker, after I mentioned I regularly attend church, became more standoffish towards me.  My guess is she assumed I was going to judge her for her life choices and that anything she told me from that point forward I would use against her (her assumptions could not be farther from the truth).  The awkwardness this created was short-lived because she left that place of employment less than a month later, but the experience was not lost on me.  It was the first time I felt “persecuted” for my faith.  Up until then, since my conversion I tried to live in a “Christian cocoon” so as to avoid encounters of the sort.  Deep down, maybe I was afraid I would be the Peter we find in Mark 14 when faced with that situation.  Instead, I learned what it feels like to live according to 1 Peter 4.

 Who are you: Mark 14’s Peter, the Christian described in 1 Peter 4, or someone else? 

When faced with opposition because of your faith, how do you respond or react? 

If you have ever denied Jesus, how did you feel afterwards?     

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

by Jennifer Giblin

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Love Is All You Need

Mary Vinson

Today's Reading - Mark 12: 28-34

I honestly don’t know if any of the Beatles returned to Christianity, but they seem to get it right in their song, “All You Need is Love”.  Penned by John Lennon and credited to Paul and John,

All you need is Love
All you need is Love
All you need is Love, Love
Love is all you Need.

By the time of Jesus, the Jews had accumulated hundreds of laws, 613 by one count.  248 Do’s and 365 don’ts.  Do this, Don’t do that.   Some leaders tried to distinguish between major laws and minor laws, while some said all were equally binding.   In Mark 12:28, one of the teachers of the law asked Jesus “Of all the commandments, which is the most important”.  Jesus responds with two commandments, one from Deuteronomy 6:5, and one from Leviticus 19:18. 

“Love God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength”  (Det)  and

“Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against one of your people , but love your neighbor as yourself.  I am the Lord” (Lev)

Jesus’s response both had to do with love.  Why?    When you love God completely and care about others as much as you care about yourself, you have fulfilled all of the 10 commandments. When you do these two things, everything else will fall into place . In reality, God’s laws are not burdensome. They can be boiled down to two simple principles.  Loving God and loving others.

All You Need is Love, Love is All You Need!

Do you love God with everything you have?

Do you love others as much as you love yourself?

What disciplines can you start today that will help you with these two love commandments?

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

by Mary Vinson

Editor's Note: If you are following our reading schedule, today's blog actually considers the scripture you studied yesterday. We will be back on course tomorrow. 

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Are You Ready?

Mary Vinson

Today's Reading - Mark 13

I’ve at times been fascinated reading about one group or another’s prophecies about the end times. Headlines say “World ending on this date…..PREPARE!”  In all honesty, I’ve laughed about all these folks preparing for a certain date their group believes will be the end of the world as we know it. I guess the funny part to me is them thinking they know the exact date. The not so funny part is they are preparing, and we should all be doing that too. Every day we should be prepared for Jesus. He really could come today or tomorrow. Would we be ready?  Have we really thought about what that would mean?

Jesus tells us in our reading today that we are to be on guard, and alert.  That no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, when he will return. He tells us about a man going away and putting his servants in charge, each with an assigned task. He tells the one at the door to keep watch.   They don’t know exactly when the owner will return, whether in the evening or at midnight, maybe at dawn. If he comes home suddenly, it would be bad if he found the servants sleeping. Maybe the door would be locked and no one would be there to let the owner in.  If he was tired from the journey and wanted something to eat, it’s not so good if the cook has gone to bed and left nothing out.  I’m a big fan of Downton Abby. When I think of this story in that context, what in the world would happen if the Earl of Grantham returned from a trip and Carson and Mrs. Hughes were fast asleep? I’m thinking things would not go so well for them!

Will things go well for us when Jesus returns? 

When He returns will he find us sleeping or will he find us prepared?

What kinds of things should we be doing to be ready?  

Are we keeping the commandments he gave us ?

Are we loving God and loving others as ourselves in every way we can imagine?  

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

by Mary Vinson

Webmaster note: This post actually considers our reading for tomorrow, Feb. 19, Mark 13. We apologize for jumping ahead. Tomorrow's blog will look at Mark 12:28-34.

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Modern Day Temple Merchants

Jennifer Giblin

TODAY’S READING - MARK 11

In verses 15-17, Jesus overturns the tables of those who are selling goods outside a temple.  As a note in my Bible (NIV Student Bible, Revised, Compact Edition by Zondervan) says, some of the commerce that occurred at the temple in Jesus’s time was legitimate (ex. selling animals for individuals to make sacrifices), but that some merchants were more motivated by making a profit from the goods than the fact that these goods were used for worship.  This leads me to think about examples of churches and individuals more interested in bringing glory to themselves than to God.

In my LIFE Group we read The Good and Beautiful Community by James Bryan Smith.  The chapter titled “The Serving Community” mentions a church should be focused on investing in people and not chasing numbers.  The chapter uses the example of two churches that sought to cater to college students.  The first church only wanted the students for the potential extra regular attendees they may become, and did not try to meet the students where they were or even talk to them.  The second church took a genuine interest in trying to get to know the students and meet their needs.  As one might expect, the students felt more connected to the second church.

One group of individuals who use religion to bring attention to themselves is campus preachers.  These individuals regularly visit college campuses and “set up shop” in the free speech area on these campuses and “preach” their unique version of Christianity.  The controversial nature of their message is what brings them fame.  There are multiple YouTube videos of these preachers’ “sermons” and one even made it onto an episode of Campus PD.  These preachers appear to turn off students who are not Christian.  In addition, the preachers are a thorn in the side of Christian organizations that are trying to bring more students to Christ. 

It is up to us to only buy from legitimate merchants, or to critique churches and individuals to determine their true motives and to focus on those which will bring us closer to God.  It is also our job to be living examples of the love of Christ to others so they will not be swayed or discouraged by those with personal agendas rather than godly agendas.  Our goal should not be numbers or fame, but rather leading others to the One who has been there for us through thick and thin.

Today’s Questions

·         What advice would you give to someone who is “church shopping”?

·         What would you say to someone who is clearly preaching false teachings?

·         How can we be true examples of Christ in a world where many false alternatives exist?

Ok, put down the Bible and go do it!

by Jennifer Giblin

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Jesus Is Everything

Mary Vinson

Our God is fully divine and fully human.  Not one or the other, but both. Sort of hard to wrap our heads around at times but scriptures help us.   Today’s reading gives us insight into both aspects of Jesus. The book of John up to this point has Jesus performing miracles that have been leading up to this moment.  Throughout these first eleven chapters, we have seen one sign after another.  Each of these signs has grown in intensity.  Each was more striking than the one before.  

What is the point of this narrative?  It is to show that Jesus is indeed the Christ, the Son of God.   He had been teaching in the villages beyond the Jordan when he received the news about his friend Lazarus’s illness.    Jesus waited two days before going to where Lazarus lived. Upon arrival, John tells us that Lazarus had been dead for four days. As is the case when anyone dies, many friends and family had been with the family to comfort them.    We can picture them all sitting in their house, sad and lamenting but maybe telling stories about their brother and friend. Suddenly, Martha heard that Jesus was coming, and she ran out, going some distance to meet him.

This first interchange with one of the sisters in John 11: 21 – 27 gives us particular insight into Jesus’s divinity.  The next one with the other sister gives us insight into his humanity.   

“Lord,” Martha said to Jesus, ‘if you had been here, my brother would not have died.  But I know that God will give you whatever you ask”.  Jesus said to her, “ your brother will rise again.”  Martha answered, “ I know he will rise again at the resurrection at the last day.”  Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life.  He who believes in me will live even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?”

“Yes Lord,” she told him, “ I believe you are the Christ, the Son of God who was to come into the world.”

Martha believes!  Can she help us to see the same in Jesus?

After this encounter Martha ran back to the house to get Mary.  She told her the teacher is here and asking for her.  Mary got up to leave quickly and those with her followed to the place where Martha had met Jesus.

When Mary reached that place, she fell at his feet and told him if he had been there her brother would not have died.    She really said the exact same thing to him that Martha said, but Jesus’s response was different this time. He shows us his human side. When Jesus saw her weeping John 11:33 tells us “ he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled”.  “Where have you laid him?” he asked.   “Come and see Lord”, they replied and then  “Jesus wept”.  He loved Mary and Martha and their brother and was moved at their distress just as he is when we are troubled.

Our God is fully human and fully divine. Not one or the other, but both.  No other religion can make that claim.

Do you believe that Jesus is fully human and fully divine?   

How is that a comfort to you?

Do you rest in HIM when you are troubled?

Ok, put down your Bible and go do it! 

by Mary Vinson

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The Shepherd and the Flock

Ashley King

Today's Reading - John 9-10

 “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.”

 Today’s passage begins with the bizarre account of Jesus healing the blind man on the Sabbath, and continues with the Pharisee’s struggle to understand Jesus as God. But I want to focus on the imagery that Jesus uses of himself and his followers: a Shepherd to his flock. Now, I’m not going to pretend to be any kind of sheep expert. Nonetheless, here we go.

Through this image we see the good Shepherd’s love and tender care for his flock.

Jesus says, “My sheep listen to my voice, I know them, and they follow me.” He speaks of being the gate that opens, allowing the sheep to move pastures and guides the sheep. He warns of thieves and deceivers that steal into the pasture over the fence. But he calls himself the good shepherd who cares for the flock that His father has entrusted Him with. The flock that will never perish nor that anyone can steal from His hand. Once we believe and realize that we are a part of Jesus’ flock, this passage challenges us to think of the nature of the way in which a flock interacts with not only the Shepherd, but with each other.

I considered while reading this passage the nature of a flock being tended by and following a Shepard or even being corralled by a sheep dog. The sheep have no idea where they are going, they are followers. And I can imagine that most of the sheep begin to move because one next to them does, a sort of chain reaction from the first sheep that responds to the Shepherd. They push and bump into each other. If one reacts to the Shepherd, the dog, the gate being opened and moves, the others around it react to him and move. They respond to each other, moving collectively, hence the term flock.

And as we know, the issue comes in when there is a stray sheep, who, by choice or confusion, sets off from the flock. And just as the sheep respond to the moments of the sheep following the Shepherd, others will respond to the stray sheep and follow him. The fate of the stray sheep? The Shepard tries to guide him back, but there are threats being separated and not under the protection of your flock - think big hungry wolves.

And now I want you to consider this metaphor for our lives. Are there Christian brothers and sisters moving around you in response to God’s shepherding? Are you close enough, mixed in enough in the family of God that another’s movement into the Father’s will bump and nudge you towards it? Or are you far enough out of the flock that you don’t feel the moving life of the family of Christ? We believe and hear our sweet good Shepherd’s voice, but we also jump into the thriving, pulsing, moving flock of sisters and brothers who spur us towards the Father.

 Questions for today:

Do you hear His voice to prompt you to move first?

Do you feel the pushes and bumps of the family of God around you responding to the Father?

How can you take steps to grow closer with your Christian family?

 Ok, put down the Bible and go do it!

by Ashley King

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God in a Box

Josh Vaughan

Today's Reading - John 7-8

These two chapters are packed full of information about who Jesus is, His divinity, and likewise His authority.  In these two chapters alone, Jesus’ life was threatened numerous times because of who He claimed to be and the message He delivered. He was a divisive figure in history and this was never seen more clearly than in these chapters. Some believed, others thought he had a demon. Some followed, others wanted Him dead. He was radical and unabashed and fit into none of the stereotypes of the coming Christ that the Jews were expecting.

You see the people of the time had their own idea of what the Messiah would look like and where He would come from and when Jesus did not fit these criteria they dismissed Him as the Christ. This begs the question, how often do we do the same thing? How often do we want Jesus to fit into our “box” and when He doesn't, we dismiss Him? The struggle comes when God asks us to conform to the image of His Son, while at the same time we want God to conform to the image of the prefabricated god of our own theology. Scary thought…

The only character that we meet distinctly in these two chapters is the woman caught in adultery.  In this story, The Pharisees try to trap Jesus and He (Jesus) uses the law against them in order to give life and demonstrate grace to the woman. According to the law to which the Pharisees are referring, the couple has to be caught in the act of adultery and be brought together to be put to death. Jesus knew this and knew their hearts. He knew that they did not care about the woman or even that she had been caught in sin, but that they were only accusing her in order to trap Him and had completely neglected the law by allowing the man to not be punished in the same way as the woman. Do we ever in our own way act as the Pharisees did? Do we ever test God to see if He will remain faithful to His word?

Knowing the hearts of the Pharisees and knowing that their motives were impure he flipped the script on them and pointed out that none of them who were accusing the woman was without sin themselves. He then bent down and wrote something in the dirt (this was the second time He had done this) and they walked away in order from youngest to oldest. The scriptures do not tell us what He wrote. Did He write out the accusers’ sins? Did He write personal information about them in order to let them know that He was speaking with authority? Clearly we do not need to know, but what we do know is that He chose to show grace in spite of obvious evidence and reason to condemn. Aren't you glad that we serve a God of second chances? Do we live like Him and likewise show grace while at the same time calling sin what it is and calling for repentance, or do we simply say that the god of our theology is solely a god of grace and therefore would not call out the sin and command repentance?

Do we recognize God even when He doesn’t fit into our “box”?

Do we ever put God on trial as a test of His faithfulness?

Do we live in an equal balance of calling for repentance and displaying grace to others? 

Ok, put down the Bible and go do it!

by Josh Vaughan

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"It's All About Me!"

Jordan Crouthamel

Today's Reading - John 5-6

In our reading today we see a couple different stories. First, we see the story of the man lying by the pool of Bethesda and then the feeding of the five thousand. These two stories seem really different and they definitely are. One deals with healing, another with feeding. Yet, one common trend can be seen after both stories: the reaction of the people around the miracles.

After Jesus heals the man at the pool, he does as Jesus tells him and picks up his bed and walks. As he is walking the Pharisees stop him and ask why he carries his bed on the Sabbath, asking who told him to do this. The man can’t even answer as Jesus hid himself after healing him, but upon seeing Jesus again later, he tells the Pharisees who healed him. They at once become infuriated and question Jesus. After explaining that he does the work of his Father, who is the God of the Sabbath, you would think these men who should know God would realize their mistake, but somehow they do not believe and Jesus states something that applies to us today, “You search the Scripture because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me.”  

How many times do we, as one version states, “miss the forest for the trees.” The people after the feeding of the five thousand do the same thing. They want more bread, they want more signs; they don’t really want Jesus at all. They are just there for a show, they never truly believed, and all the while, Jesus is screaming, “These Scriptures are all about me!”

We study Scripture, but we don’t pray. We come to church, but we don’t actually worship. We say we love God, but we don’t listen to hear him saying he loves us back. All the while Jesus stands before us constantly screaming,  “it’s all about me!”  It’s time today we all started to realize why we have been given the Word of God. There’s something huge behind all this church stuff we do and Scripture we read, but it’s not hiding! It’s God, Jesus, and Holy Spirit and they’re all screaming, “IT’S ALL ABOUT US!” It’s time we started to see the forest and the trees of our faith. It’s all about God. It always has been. It always will be. I challenge us today to start acting like it.

 When was the last time you asked God to let you see him in your time of Bible study?

When was the last time you really gave all of yourself in worship?

When was the last time you expected to hear something back as you prayed?

Folks, It’s all about Him. He’s jealous for your attention today,

Now put your Bible down and go do it!

by Jordan Crouthamel

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A Journey Toward the Kingdom

Grace Weedman

Today's Reading  - John 3 & 4

Having read these chapters again and again, I have discovered a message running below the stories that has emerged to me as an illustration of a faith walk.  In John 3:1-21, Nicodemus begins the journey by seeking out Jesus so that he might learn more about Him.  Jesus explains that to enter the kingdom of God, one must choose to believe in His Son.  The rest of the chapter concerns John the Baptist, who has a great following of his own.  However, because he believes that Jesus is the Messiah, he chooses to relinquish his own influence and to point his disciples and followers to Jesus.  He yields himself to the omnipotence of Christ.

Chapter 4 begins with the story of the Samaritan woman at the well.  Here, Jesus begins a dialogue with her and offers her living water.  He makes her aware of the sin in her life and reveals to her that He is the Messiah.  She excitedly returns to her town and invites others to see Jesus.  Between the time the woman returns to her town and the time she comes back with the others, Jesus interjects a lesson to his disciples by telling them that even though one person might sow seed, it might be others who harvest the crop. The woman at the well came from Cana, the place where Jesus had performed his first public miracle by turning water into wine at a wedding.  I’m sure that word of that event spread rapidly throughout Cana and that hearts and the minds of the people had already been prepared to believe.  Thus, when the woman led her friends and neighbors to Jesus, a seed of interest and curiosity planted at a wedding was harvested, and many of them believed.

Jesus then left Cana but returned later to be met by an official begging him to heal his dying son whom he had left at home.  He told Jesus that He need not go to his home.  He had faith that Jesus could heal his son where he stood….and he did!  On his way home, the man’s servants met him and said that his son had been healed whereupon the official and his entire household believed.

Although not always experienced in the following order, these scriptures portray several stages in a Christian journey toward the Kingdom of God.  At the beginning of each step, there is a choice to be made.

Seeking, learning, trusting
Accepting the Living Waters that He offers
Acknowledging our sins
Deciding to put Christ before ourselves
Witnessing, testifying, bringing others to Christ
Putting our complete faith in Him

Are you actively seeking Christ and trying to learn more about Him?

Are you willing to acknowledge your sins before Jesus and to put Him before everything else in your life?

How long has it been since you have really been excited enough about Jesus to want to go out and bring others to church to learn more about Him?

Do you really have faith that you can trust God completely?   If you don’t, what do you plan to do so that you can get to that point?

Ok, put down the Bible and go do it!

by Grace Weedman

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He's the One

Jordan Crouthamel

This passage is so packed with Christology it’s not even funny. John (most likely John, I should say) wastes no time in introducing what he sees as the most important news about who Jesus is. He makes it clear that the Word has been there right from the beginning with God, and now Jesus is the Word incarnate. John doesn’t use a lot of time to introduce the reader to the birth or childhood of the incarnate Jesus, as the other Gospels do. Instead he emphasizes the reality that Jesus isn’t just a man, he’s not just a great teacher or a prophet like John. He’s the one. The Jesus he knows is the one who is the only Son from the Father full of grace and truth and the one who is here to save us all.

One version I love of this passage states that, “The Word became flesh and blood and moved into the neighborhood." We all know what it’s like to have a new neighbor, maybe a new employee at the workplace, maybe a new baby in the family. It’s a chance for us to meet somebody new, learn a little about them and open ourselves up in a fresh way. So when Jesus moves into the neighborhood here it’s time for us to do the same with Him. You see, John knows Jesus. John took the time to follow him around, to introduce himself and let Jesus in. He doesn’t feel the need to explain himself, knowing the details of his life. He just wants you to know his favorite thing about Jesus; John wants you to know that Jesus is the guy. He is the neighbor we’ve all been waiting for, the one guy we are going to tell all our buddies about. He knows because he walked to the door and knocked and once he got let in, he knew he never had to leave.

We have a chance to open up to Him in a way that we hadn’t been able to before. Jesus comes into the picture and tells people they have a place in an even better neighborhood, namely heaven. So it’s time that we strolled over to Jesus and said hello, welcomed him into our homes and lives and started to open ourselves up in new way today.

Have you introduced yourself to Jesus?

What areas do you need to open afresh to him about?

Who do you need to let know Jesus is in town?

Ok, put down the Bible and go do it.

by Jordan Crouthamel

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