Category: Food for Thought

A Better Understanding of Biblical Joy

Posted by on 05/17/2017 in: ,

Originally posted at Bible Connection.

On the twenty-third day of the seventh month he sent the people away to their tents, joyful and glad of heart for the good that the Lord had done for David, for Solomon, and for His people Israel. 2 Chronicles 7:10 NKJV

3 Hebrew Word Studies on Joy

Sameach: The joy the people felt was more than just a spontaneous subjective emotion – it was rooted very concretely in all “that the LORD had done for David, Solomon, and for His people Israel.” Indeed, the Feast of Tabernacles was intended as a time of rejoicing for all the ways the Lord had blessed His people (Deut. 16:15). The people were filled with “great joy” at Solomon’s coronation (1 Kin. 1:40). Haman’s joy at his plot to kill Mordecai (Esth. 5:9, 14) backfired when he was executed instead, “and the city of Shushan rejoiced and was glad” (Esth. 8:15). But more often, joy is connected directly to God: “The Lord has done great things for us, and we are glad.” (Ps. 126:3).

Simchah: This Hebrew word is one of several frequently occurring Hebrew words that express exceeding gladness of rejoicing. Like its synonyms, this word can apply to a disposition of heart (Prov. 14:10; Jer. 15:16). It is frequently set in a context of feasting (Neh. 8:12) and singing (1 Sam. 18:6; Ps. 137:3), as it is in a prophecy concerning God’s singing over Jerusalem (Zeph. 3:17). The word is also used for the senseless happiness of the enemies of God’s people (Judg. 16:23; Ezek. 35:15; 36:5), of the foolish (Prov. 15:21), of the lazy (Prov. 21:17), and of the hypocrites (Job 20:5). However, joy in the Bible is usually associated with the people of God who celebrate God’s blessing at a number of occasions – feasts, coronations of kings, victories in battle, and the dedication of the rebuilt walls of Jerusalem (Num. 10:10; 1 Kin. 1:40; 2 Chr. 20:27; Neh. 12:27). In fact, Moses exhorts the Israelites to serve God with joy, so that they would not lose their blessing (see Deut. 28:47).

Gil: A somewhat rare form that is more familiar to us as rejoice (1 Chr. 16:31, Ps. 2:11; 21:1; 51:8; Prov. 23:24-25). In Isaiah, when the prophet has already declared he will rejoice, but wants to emphasize his response to God, this term offers that direct form of exultation.

Which Hebrew word would you use to describe the joy you feel about the Lord Jesus?

Drawn from word studies in the NKJV Word Study Bible.

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Understanding the Lord’s Prayer

Posted by on 05/08/2017 in: ,

He said to them, “When you pray, say: ‘Father, hallowed be Your name. Your kingdom come. ‘Give us each day our daily bread. ‘And forgive us our sins, For we ourselves also forgive everyone who is indebted to us [who has offended or wronged us]. And lead us not into temptation [but rescue us from evil].’” Luke 11:2-4 AMP

The Lord’s prayer illustrates the variety of requests that one can and should make to God, as well as displaying the humble attitude that should accompany prayer. The use of the plural pronoun us throughout the prayer shows that it is not just the prayer of one person for his or her own personal needs, but a community prayer.

Your Kingdom come: The references here is to God’s program and promise. This is more affirmation that request, highlighting the petitioner’s submission to God’s will and the desire to see God’s work come to pass.

For we ourselves also forgive: The petitioner recognizes that if mercy is to be sought from God, then mercy must be shown to others. We need to adopt the same standard that we expect others to follow.

Lead us not into temptation: This remark is often misunderstood as suggesting that perhaps God can lead us into sin. The point is that if one is to avoid sin, one must follow where God leads. In short, the petitioner asks God for the spiritual protection necessary to avoid falling into sin.

Which part of the Lord’s prayer resonates most with you?

Find more content like this in the Amplified Study Bible. Add it to your Olive Tree library today.

Originally posted at Bible Connection.

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8 Marks of Authentic Faith

Posted by on 05/04/2017 in: ,

Now the chief priests and all the council sought testimony against Jesus to put Him to death, but found none. For many bore false witness against Him, but their testimonies did not agree.

Then some rose up and bore false witness against Him, saying, “We heard Him say, ‘I will destroy this temple made with hands, and within three days I will build another made without hands.’” But not even then did their testimony agree.

And the high priest stood up in the midst and asked Jesus, saying, “Do You answer nothing? What is it these men testify against You?” But He kept silent and answered nothing.

Again the high priest asked Him, saying to Him, “Are You the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?”

Jesus said, “I am. And you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven.”

Then the high priest tore his clothes and said, “What further need do we have of witnesses? You have heard the blasphemy! What do you think?”

And they all condemned Him to be deserving of death.
— Mark 14:55–64, NKJV

Israel’s religious and political leaders wanted to rid themselves of Jesus, so they tried every means possible to convict Him of a crime. They paid an informant from among Jesus’ own followers, but he returned their money and declared the Lord innocent (Mark 14:43–46; Matthew 27:3–5). They orchestrated an armed mob to intimidate Jesus, but He kept His cool and restrained His followers (Matthew 26:51–54.). The leaders even presented witnesses to testify against Him, but the witnesses perjured themselves and contradicted each other (Mark 14:55, 56).

People tried to convict Jesus of a crime for which they lacked a shred of evidence. They failed because Jesus lived His life in plain sight. For every false accusation lodged against Him, there were countless examples of His love and moral perfection.

What signs of authentic faith do people see when they scrutinize our lives? Is it enough evidence to prove that our trust in God is real? The Bible suggests eight outward marks of authentic faith:

  1. We display the Beatitudes that Jesus described in His Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:3–16).
  2. We think with a transformed mind, we express genuine love, and we respect authority (Romans 12:1,2; 13:1–7).
  3. We overflow with love actions (1 Corinthians 13).
  4. We display the Spirit’s fruit (Galatians 5:22–26).
  5. We imitate Christ’s humility and look out for others’ interests (Philippians 2:1–4).
  6. We pray without ceasing, and in everything we give thanks (1 Thessalonians 5:16–18).
  7. We carry out works of faith and compassion (James 2:14–17), we control our tongues (3:1–11), and we speak wisdom (3:13).
  8. We hold to the truth about Jesus (2 John 4; 3 John 3, 4) and defend it (Jude 3).

As others study our lives for evidence that we are followers of Christ, how many of these marks do they see?

Drawn from the Apply the Word Study Bible Notes. Click here to add it to your library.

What challenges and successes have you encountered as you seek to pursue faith that is transformative and authentic?
Join the conversation below!

Originally posted at Bible Connection.

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Prayer Journaling with the Bible App

Posted by on 05/01/2017 in: ,

Everyone knows that the Olive Tree Bible App is great for reading and studying the Bible. But, did you know that it can help you with other areas of your spiritual life? With the National Day of Prayer approaching, I want to show you how you can transform your Bible App into a tool for journaling and keeping track of your prayers.

What is Journaling?

There are numerous ways to define journaling. In a spiritual sense, journaling involves writing out your thoughts and prayers as you study the Bible. Some people write with pen or pencil in a physical notebook, while others type them out in a journaling app or word processor. Just about anything that falls within those parameters can qualify as journaling.

Now, let me show you how you can start journaling within the Bible Study App because it’s easy!

Praying with the Bible App

Instead of showing you different methods for journaling, I want to show you how to do it in the Bible App.

To begin journaling in the Bible App, you don’t need to do anything more than create a note. If your note is based on a specific passage or verse, it’s best to make a verse or word based note.

To create a note tied to a verse, tap the verse number and select “Note.” Otherwise, if you want it based on a word or phrase, select your text and then tap “Note.”

Alternatively, you can also create a standalone note by opening the Split Window to the “My Notes” screen. At this screen tap the “Add Note” button and begin writing your note.

Organizing Your Notes

If you’re going to regularly pray and journal with the Bible App, keeping your notes organized is important. The easiest way to keep your journal organized is to use categories. I like to start by creating a top level category called “Prayer Journal.” To create this folder have the “My Notes” screen open and tap “Add Category” at the bottom. You can then further refine your categories for greater organization. For example, you can create subcategories for each year. Once the categories are created to your liking, you can then start placing your notes in each category.

Adding Tags

Tags are another great way to organize your prayer journal. As you write in your journal, you can add tags to your notes to help you find them later. You can create your own tags, or you can use the preexisting tags. The nice thing about using the preexisting tags is that they are tied to the Resource Guide. With the Resource Guide integration, your journal notes will appear under your tagged topics in Resource Guide when you are in a relevant Bible passage. This is a great way to keep old notes in front of you, while also using them as a part of your Bible study.

Try It Today

If you’ve been an Olive Tree user for any length of time, I haven’t shown you anything that you didn’t already know how to do. You know how to makes notes within the app. But, I hope I broadened your thinking about how to use notes within the Olive Tree Bible App. If you’re already using the Bible App to take notes, then start adding your prayers as well. If you haven’t made any notes, today is a great day to get started!

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Making Space for God

Posted by on 04/13/2017 in: ,

When I was a sophomore in college, I studied abroad in the British Isles for three months in a group led by four professors. We spent most of our time in cities: London to York to Edinburgh to Glasgow to Manchester to London again. Occasionally the subjects we studied—Wordsworth and Roman ruins—would take us into the countryside where we could reconnect with soft earth and silence. This trip laid the foundation for my later realization that I am a nature-loving, silence-seeking introvert. In cities, I would find parks and churches. Quiet spaces. Places that would lessen both the external hustle and bustle of the city and my internal noise as I tried to take it all in.

A month after I returned home from England, I was at a snowbound camp called Tall Timber living like a monk for a Christian Spirituality course during my school’s three-week January Term. After the relentless pace and variety of travel, the monastic schedule was jarring in its routine. Our days were anchored by a modified Divine Office, specific times of prayer and worship that define the day in some monastic communities. Our daily rhythm was this: worship, breakfast, lecture, personal study time, worship, lunch, chores, lecture, free time, worship, dinner, small group, worship, free time, and bed.

The days were full, perhaps even as full as when I was abroad. But there was suddenly freedom in the day that had been lacking on my study abroad sojourn. The freedom I felt was linked to the structure of our daily routine. Each activity had its allotted time, so there was time for fellowship and time for solitude. There was time for activity of the mind and activity of the hands. And most importantly, we had time for God through our personal study and journaling, through our small groups, and through the rhythm of worship four times each day.

As I reflected, the word finally came to me: space. We had space at Tall Timber, both physical space in that quiet corner of the world and mental space. Studying abroad had felt cramped. We lived in tight quarters in hostels, cities were crowded with people, and my mind was busy with processing the experience. Even spending time with God had been pushed into the margins. Time itself was squeezed to wring out every minute of every day. At Tall Timber, the strictness of our daily rhythm led to the space I craved to think and reflect.

I had another transition on returning to a regular college semester in the spring. The time at Tall Timber had been charmed; the demands of life were so physically and emotionally distant. Normal life could feel more like the pace of studying abroad than the spacious rhythms of Tall Timber. I learned that I had to be flexible with the structure I created for myself as life changed.

In the nearly 10 years since that quasi-monastic experience, I try my best to create a structure that gives me space: space for God, space for relationships, space for my own reflection. I’ve embraced the liturgical year, which has its own structure to help us attend to the story of Christ and our place in that story. The Lenten and Easter seasons are particularly meaningful for me because I take more time to journal and read Scripture. With Holy Week upon us, when we remember Christ’s suffering and death, I pray you’ll find your own space to be with the crucified and risen Christ.

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Is that in the Bible?

Posted by on 02/07/2017 in:

When I was youth pastor, at least once a year I would open up my Bible and tell the students to turn to the book of Hezekiah. After 30 seconds of pages flapping and Bible app searching I would then reveal that there is no such book (although you can find King Hezekiah in 2 Kings). While it’s true that social media has fed our desire for bite sized quotes and Bible verses our proclivity for out of context bites of wisdom predates Twitter.

Here are four of the most common quotes attributed to scripture that aren’t actually in the Bible. There’s a good chance you’ll recognize one or all of them. 

“Cleanliness is next to Godliness.”
If your Mom ever used this to convince 8 year old you that God wanted you to take to take a bath, it probably worked. This idiom had been circulating since the 1500’s but reportedly made it’s way into Christendom in the 1700’s via a sermon by the founder of Methodism, John Wesley.

“God helps those who help themselves.”
This quote may pluck at the part of us that values hard work but it is nowhere to be found in scripture. While similar ideas have circulated for centuries the earliest attribution of this quote is to Algernon Sidney in his Discources Concerning Government (link). It seemed to gain greater traction when Benjamin Franklin included it in Poor Richard’s Almanac in 1736.

“Spare the rod spoil the child.”
If only eight year old you knew this wasn’t in the Bible! While Proverbs 13:24 seems to have a similar principle, this is an English Proverb, not a Biblical one.

“This too shall pass.”
This phrase has been used to help change perspective in times of difficulty. While it is not in the Bible, 2 Corinthians 4:17 captures a similar but far richer truth.

Have any others to add? Leave them in the comments below.

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Bible Reading Plans for 2017

Posted by on 12/28/2016 in: ,

Tablet pc looking like ipad mini on table with coffee cup

The New Year is a great time to start a Bible reading plan!

Every year we start out with the best intentions to eat better, exercise and feed ourselves spiritually, yet without out a plan and some level of accountability our best intentions often run out of steam. While the Olive Tree Bible App can’t help you with diet and exercise, it can help you start a new spiritual habit of regularly being in the Word.

In the app you’ll find a variety of reading plans that are as short as a week and as long as two years. With a variety of topics and structures, a reading plan in the Bible App is a great way to dive into the word on a regular basis. There’s also no reason to feel guilty if you miss a day or two as our reading plans are setup to allow you to go at your own pace.

Of all the goals you can set for 2017 this is one that you can make and keep!

Click the link below for step by step instructions for your device!

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We Pray When…

Posted by on 05/05/2016 in:

Woman with Bible

If you want to know about the current state of your faith, start with your prayer life.

If I only pray at meal times and before my kids go to sleep at night what does that say about my faith or my relationship with God? It may just mean that all I care to trust him with is food and a good night’s sleep.

As silly as that sounds, our prayers reflect our dependence. That’s why some of the most powerful prayer times in my life have come when I was literally powerless to change my situation. It’s in these moments of desperation and dependence that I cried out to God with more than a pat request for a blessed meal or a good night’s sleep.

The Psalmist talks about these kind of prayers when he says this in Psalm 18:6

In my distress I called to the Lord;
    I cried to my God for help.
From his temple he heard my voice;
    my cry came before him, into his ears.

So what types of things do we bring to God in prayer?

In scripture we see prayers for:

  • Forgiveness like David
  • Wisdom like Solomon
  • Healing like Hezekiah
  • A child like Hannah
  • Deliverance like Jonah
  • Mercy like the 10 lepers
  • Salvation like the thief on the cross

These types of prayers aren’t religious rituals but heartfelt, passionate requests brought to the King of all creation. These types of prayers are brought in faith by people of faith.

So what is the state of your faith?

Ask yourself these questions:

When do you pray to God?
A growing relationship involves regular, ongoing, communication.

What do you ask God for?
Our dependence on God reflects the place he has in our life. If he’s our King then we’ll certainly ask him for more than a good night’s sleep.

What do you trust God with?
We often classify and segment things in our lives into spiritual and not spiritual but a life sold out to Jesus is one that trusts him with everything that we have and are.

On this National Day of Prayer may our prayers truly reflect our faith and dependence in a mighty and loving God!

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It Is Finished

Posted by on 03/25/2016 in:

By Olive Tree Staff: David T.

Later, knowing that everything had now been finished, and so that Scripture would be fulfilled, Jesus said, “I am thirsty.” A jar of wine vinegar was there, so they soaked a sponge in it, put the sponge on a stalk of the hyssop plant, and lifted it to Jesus’ lips. When he had received the drink, Jesus said, “It is finished.” With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.
John 19:27–30 (NIV)

I struggle to begin, here, at the end of Jesus last breath. I struggle because there is a depth of richness in these few verses. There is so much that I want to share, but if I shared it all, then I would lack a necessary focus for a meaningful a message. I also fear that I could easily over simplify what I want to say to make it more meaningful to us finite beings, and in that simplification misrepresent our Lord and his finished work on the cross.

I would like to go back to the Sunday just prior to this day where Jesus makes his triumphal entry on a donkey and then proceed forward and take a quick snapshot of the days leading up to this moment.

Sunday
Jesus very deliberately rides into Jerusalem on a donkey to proclaim himself as the King of Israel (Matt 21:1-9). Earlier in Jesus ministry the people tried to force Jesus to become their king but he wouldn’t allow it (John 6:15). I think we can safely say that this would have been an amazing moment for any one of us to experience. The disciples must have been elated at that moment, and were probably thinking ‘this is it, our King is taking his throne’. For Jesus however, we see that instead of rejoicing, he wept over Jerusalem for the people were ultimately still blind (Luke 19:31).

It is easy for us to read these few verses and to miss the point, which is: Jesus wept, an emotion we all have had, but this is the God of the universe weeping as a man. Let that sink in for a moment.

Monday
The next day we read that Jesus clears the temple saying that they had turned his Father’s house into a den of robbers (Luke 19:46). Jesus is obviously very angry but his anger is not like our anger, his anger is rooted in righteousness and driven by his love for his people. Despite the fact that his anger was fully justified, consider how emotionally draining that day must have been for Jesus the man.

Tuesday
On Tuesday we read that Jesus was back in the temple but this time he is teaching. As he is teaching he is confronted by the chief priests and elders asking him by what authority he was doing these things. This led to a long dialogue between Jesus and these religious leaders who are trying to trap Jesus with his own words.

Consider how arguments take energy out of us and if you love those you are trying to persuade otherwise those arguments are that much more taxing. Now, try to imagine with me how Jesus must have felt that night after dinner as he sat with his disciples and pondered the conflicts of the day behind him and of the days still ahead of him.

Wednesday
We have no written record of what Jesus was doing on this day. It has become known as the silent Wednesday. Perhaps Jesus and his disciples took the time for some much needed rest.

Thursday
On Thursday we know that Jesus celebrated the Passover with his disciples. Jesus knew what was to come in just a few hours and that this would be the longest and most agonizing night of his life. Yet he used the time to teach them about communion and to wash their feet. We also read that they sang a hymn after their meal (Matt 26:30). In the midst of all this Jesus leads his disciples in a hymn? This simply amazes me!

Later that night we find Jesus agonizing in prayer and sweating drops of blood while his closest friends were asleep. Then, as though that wasn’t enough, we find Judas leading a band of soldiers to come and arrest Jesus. Consider what a toll that must have taken on the human side of Jesus.

The night is just beginning.
Jesus is betrayed with a kiss, he is abandoned by his disciples, he is mocked by the soldiers, he is denied, he is flogged, he has the hair of his beard plucked out. Isaiah says that he is marred beyond human recognition (Isa 52:14).

That night he is tried several times. By Annas the high priest, before the Sanhedrin, before the Romans, before Pilate, before Herod, and one last time again before Pilate where he is finally turned over to be crucified.

Friday
Jesus is finally nearing the end of his passion. He is tired, he is in pain, In the last few weeks he has experienced the full gamut of human emotion. Each day as the cross grew closer and more into focus, the intensity and frequency of those emotions increased.

So imagine with me for a moment what it must have been like for Jesus to realize that everything he was sent to accomplish had been accomplished. Imagine how he felt as he was just moments away from entering into the joy that had been before him all along. This joy is what the author of Hebrews tells us enabled Jesus to endure the cross and allowed him to despise its shame (Heb 12:2).

What was that joy that was set before Jesus? Could it actually be us, the mockers, the floggers, the ones yelling crucify him? Amazingly, yes!

Consider now the weight and the ultimate outcome that Jesus’ final words represent.

‘It is finished’

τετέλεσται

Jesus Christ on the cross

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The New, Holy Standard of Love

Posted by on 03/23/2016 in:

John 13:33-35
Little children, yet a little while I am with you.
You will seek me, and just as I said to the Jews, so now I also say to you,
‘Where I am going you cannot come.’
A new commandment I give to you,
that you love one another:
just as I have loved you,
you also are to love one another.

By this all people will know that you are My disciples,
if you have love for one another.

Detail closeup of New Testament Scripture quote Love One Another

Supper had been eaten. The cup had been blessed. Fellowship had been shared. Betrayal had been foretold.

After Judas left Jesus and the other disciples at the table in the upper room, some of my favorite parts of the Holy Week narrative take place. They are common, familiar, lowly, home-centered—perhaps that is why they prick me especially poignantly, as I am a full time homemaker and homeschooling mama of four small children. I am daily surrounded by the common and the lowly. Morsels of bread, washing off dirt, and commands to love one another are tools of my own trade.

What Jesus says to His disciples grabs my attention: not just love one another, but prefaced. A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another. Was this shockingly new to the disciples? Had they not known that Jesus was preaching a gospel of love during His ministry? Did they not see Him loving others already? How was this new? And why does He take the time to say this now, when chaos is about to ensue? When squabbles arise or tempers begin to bubble, this is actually a phrase I speak over my children—love one another. I whisper it in little ears at the table, I call it out loudly from the kitchen window to kids running on the grass, I repeat it to each one of these little people around me who are image-bearers and baptized members of Christ. They too are little disciples of this Lord. How quickly they lose sight of what it means to love one another… how quickly I lose sight of it… how quickly even the inner circle of Jesus lost sight of it.

Had the disciples ever not seen Jesus act in love? Had they not been taught the Golden Rule? Of course the disciples knew that Jesus had love for others, and that they were to have acts of love as they followed Him. Even in the law of Moses, they were told to love their neighbor. But the standard seems to be clarified, if not changed, here in the book of John. Rather than loving their neighbor as themselves, according to Leviticus 19:18, the standard for sacrificial love is now no longer the standard of self—rather, it has become the standard of Christ. He said in John 13:34, just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.

Is this what makes the commandment new?
No longer love others as you love yourself.
Now, love others as Christ loved you.
Post-crucifixion and post-resurrection, we can see plainly how tall an order that is.

How will you embrace this commandment today?
How will you raise the standard of loving your neighbors, so that it isn’t about you, but rather about Christ?
Where is God asking you to give of yourself?
What cross is Jesus asking you to pick up, as you follow Him?
And what is the foot-washing that you will do, in His image and for His glory, during this Holy Week?

Melissa Joy seeks to grow in grace and wisdom alongside her husband Steven (Olive Tree’s VP of Operations), while pursuing joyful domesticity by nurturing her home and family. The joy she finds in her family, homemaking, music, writing, ministering to those in grief, and seeking to be a pillar of loving strength in her home can be seen unveiled at Joyful Domesticity.

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