Category: Inspiration

Silent Saturday

Posted by on 03/31/2018 in: ,

The day after Jesus’ crucifixion (the Saturday before Easter) is one of those interesting, yet unrecorded days in biblical history. If you look at the Gospels, they each give about one verse to what was going on in the world of the Jews: they were “resting.” Whether it was due to traditional obligation or genuine obedience, the majority of people took this day off because of the Sabbath law.

SCRIPTURE

Then Jesus cried again with a loud voice and breathed His last. At that moment, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. The earth shook, and the rocks were split… Many women were also there, looking on from a distance; they had followed Jesus from Galilee and had provided for Him. Among them were Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and the mother of the sons of Zebedee. (Matthew 27:50-51;55-56, NIV) 

Since it was the day of Preparation, the Jews did not want the bodies left on the cross during the Sabbath, especially because that Sabbath was a day of great solemnity… After these things Joseph of Arimathea, who was a disciple of Jesus, though a secret one because of his fear of the Jews, asked Pilate to let him take away the body of Jesus. Pilate gave him permission; so he came and removed His body. Nicodemus, who had at first come to Jesus by night, also came, bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, weighing about a hundred pounds.

They took the body of Jesus and wrapped it with the spices in linen cloths, according to the burial custom of the Jews. Now there was a garden in the place where He was crucified, and in the garden there was a new tomb in which no one had ever been laid. And so, because it was the Jewish day of Preparation, and the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there. (John 19:31; 38-42, NRSV) 

On the Sabbath, they all rested according to the commandment. But on the first day of the week at early dawn, [the women] came to the tomb, taking the spices that they had prepared. (Luke 23:56-24:1, NRSV)

Saturday was one of complete silence.

There seems to be no movement; no advancement; no hope. But what screams out for our full attention are the teachable truths found in the moments before the Sabbath began.

You see, Good Friday – though being the day of Jesus’ death – is also known in Jewish tradition as the “Day of Preparation.” This was important because it was the last day for the Jews to collect their needed supplies before taking the next day off.

Think of the day before a big ice/snow storm. Everyone is running around town, stocking up their pantries, and buying what needs to be bought. Rightly so, people are focused on only one thing: prepping for the next day.

So even though Jesus just died, the Jewish tradition demanded for the world to keep moving.

This is why the Jews wanted to rush the removal of Jesus’ body. They had things to do and people to see…and they definitely did not want His body on display during the Lord’s Day.

But all while everyone – even the Lord’s disciples – carried on with their “needed” prep, two very unexpected people were boldly making other preparations.

“Unexpected” in that they were once closet believers. Yet in all four of the gospels (which is a huge deal), the authors make sure to give credit to Joseph and Nicodemus for their care of Jesus’ body.

We know Nicodemus from his secret (and interesting) conversation with Jesus in John 3. But all that we know about Joseph is that he was a timid and fearful follower of Jesus who cared more about remaining safe from the Jew‘s disapproval than being a bold disciple.

But here, both their silence and their fear seem to vanish.

We see Joseph approaching Pilate to boldly ask for Jesus’ body. Being a man of stature and influence, he was able to quickly receive this request. But think about this:

If it wasn’t for Joseph, the Lord’s body would have been treated like that of a murderer – just thrown into a pile of corpses.

But instead, Joseph is seen delicately removing Jesus from His cross, cleaning off His bloody body, prepping it for burial, and carrying Him to a nearby tomb – a tomb that Matthew states is Joseph’s own property.

He takes his day of preparation and boldly focuses it on his Lord. But he is not alone. Nicodemus also decides to make his adoration for Jesus known by bringing expensive spices to aide in the burial process.

And together, they wrap the body in linen clothes, according to Jewish tradition. This is such a beautiful – yet messy – picture. Here are two random men, doing the difficult work that would normally take many skilled hands. But no one else was present to help.

Yet it was because of their preparations – and bold obedience – that the Lord’s body was also ready for the day of rest. The silence of Saturday – though seemingly despairing – was given a ray of hope because of the complete change in heart that these men expressed.

So then, what was it that changed in the lives of these two? What brought them into such boldness? What enabled them to overcome their fears? Their doubts? Their selfish concerns?

Honestly, I think that it is found in what Matthew records:

“Then Jesus cried again with a loud voice and breathed his last. At that moment, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom…” (27:50-51).

At the exact moment of His death – at the assumed “triumph” of evil – something severe happens: the veil in the temple was torn.

For years, the old covenant reigned.

In this system, a priest would go beyond the veil to make the sacrifice in the presence of the Lord (the ark of the covenant). Before Christ’s death, no one but a priest could do this job.

The separation of God and man was visibly seen when looking at the veil: man as fallen and God as perfect. But in an instance, Christ – being the ultimate priest and sacrifice – died, and the dividing wall was torn.

This means that before Jesus’ resurrection ever took place, there were already hints of His victory. His sacrifice took the separating and isolating power of sin and destroyed it.

Where sin intimidates mankind, shames them in isolation, and binds them with fear, Jesus’ work on the cross began an ultimate reversal. And we see this new freedom already at work in two men who were once known by their fear and isolation.

Jesus’ death gave them courage and boldness – not of themselves – but because sin (and sin’s effects) were torn. Before glory was ever vividly displayed in the resurrection, Jesus was already working gloriously in the unseen.

The Saturday before Easter teaches us that peace was already at work even though “victory” was not yet fully expressed.

It reminds us that even in the silence, God is powerfully at work. And it calls us to live with this same level of boldness and obedience despite our inability to see what victory will soon come.

We all find ourselves in days like Saturday. Where life seems mundane and Jesus seems far. Where failure feels defining and hope appears obsolete. It is in these moments that we must realize that the separating power of sin has been demolished; that Jesus has already given us hints of what will soon become reality. He has already given us a foretaste of glory.

Sunday will come; victory will soon be experienced.

PRAYER

Lord, thank you for Saturday. Thank you for the reminder that regardless of what I feel and what the world around me expresses – You are here. Thank you for already being at work; for giving me glimpses of Your glory. I pray that I can live with boldness today. Give me eyes to see what preparation You are calling me to make. And with courage, I step forward. Amen.

This blog, capturing the importance of the Saturday before Easter, was written by the team at DeclareGlory.com

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Give Us Barabbas!

Posted by on 03/26/2018 in:

Give Us Barabbas

When we look at the Passion Week, we rightly look to the work of Jesus Christ. We even focus on individuals like the disciples or Pilate. Yet, a character we rarely give any attention to is Barabbas, the man who was freed in place of Jesus. So, as we look ahead to Resurrection Sunday, I want us to take a look at this man and see what we can learn from him.

Who Was Barabbas?

Of all the characters that make an appearance during the Passion Week, Barabbas is one of the few names found in all four gospels (Matthew 27:15-26; Mark 15:6-15; Luke 23:13-25; John 18:39-19:16). But, who was this man?

At this time in Israel’s history the people were anxiously looking for the Messiah who would restore their former glory and free them from Roman oppression. Because of this, many individuals arose taking on the moniker, only to fall flat on their face. We cannot know for sure if Barabbas ever claimed such a title, but he at least participated in revolts seeking Israel’s freedom. The New Testament authors describe him as: notorious, a rebel, a murderer, an insurrectionist, and a robber. None of these terms are endearing or give you a feeling that this guy had any good in him. Barabbas deserved to be in prison.

Barabbas’ Place in the Narrative

In each gospel account we are told Pilate wanted to release Jesus, finding no wrong in him deserving death or imprisonment. Yet, wanting to avoid another revolt, which would look bad on his part, he thought he would be clever. With the crowd insisting on Jesus’ death, he decided to give them the choice between two individuals: Jesus and Barabbas. Both he and the people knew how evil Barabbas was, so it should have been obvious that Jesus would be the easy choice to be freed. But, by God’s design, that’s not what happens. Instead, the crowd asks for Barabbas’ release and demands Jesus’ crucifixion. So, Pilate obliges and frees the insurrectionist and murderer, washing his hands of any guilt in the matter.

Barabbas, no longer getting the death sentence he deserved, was now a free man who could go about his way.

We Are Barabbas

When we look at the gospel, we are very much like Barabbas. The Bible tells us our hearts are wicked and seeking evil at all times. We are notorious sinners in God’s eyes who rebel against his commands. Not only that, but we rob God of his glory and harbor murder in our heart. In short, we’re just as bad as Barabbas, deserving of every just penalty God brings our way. Our outward deeds might not be as heinous as his, but our hearts are just as rebellious & sinful.

Just like Barabbas, we were on death row, awaiting our penalty. But then Jesus enters the picture.

Jesus Brings Freedom

When faced with the choice between Jesus and Barabbas, it was easy for the crowd to ask for Barabbas because he was just like them. Sure, Jesus was innocent, healing people, and talking about God’s kingdom; but, he was doing nothing to bring down the Roman Empire. At least Barabbas was fighting, so they thought. He was giving the people what they wanted, so he fit right in. Again, that’s us in our sin, we fit right in with the world.

Silent, Jesus took Barabbas’ place and died in his stead. Jesus should have been the one walking away as a free man, but it was the criminal whose trespasses were forgiven. So, Jesus goes to the Golgatha, where he is crucified between two thieves, who very likely could have been Barabbas’ companions.

But, not only did Jesus take Barabbas’ place, he also took ours. He died on the cross for our sins. Barabbas is a visual representation of what Christ did on our behalf. He took the place of a wicked sinner so that he might live. In like manner, Jesus bore the penalty for our sin so that we might live to God and walk in newness of life.

That is the point of the cross. That is the point of Barabbas. This is the beauty of the gospel!

This week as you ponder the work of Christ, remember that you are Barabbas. and Jesus took your place so that you might be free.

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The Faith of a Dying Thief

Posted by on 03/24/2018 in: , ,

In Christ’s Words from the Cross Charles Spurgeon talks in great lengths about Jesus’ crucifixion, including those who were crucified with him The dying thief did the impossible that day. In front of multitudes of scoffers, he used the only part of his body not nailed to the cross (his tongue) to proclaim Jesus’ identity: the Messiah. The following is an excerpt from Spurgeon’s message.

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THE FAITH OF A DYING THIEF

The story of the salvation of the dying thief is a standing instance of the power of Christ to save, and of His abundant willingness to receive all that come to Him, in whatever plight they might be. I cannot regard this act of grace as a solitary instance, any more than the salvation of Zacchaeus, the restoration of Peter, or the call of Saul, the persecutor. Every conversion is, in a sense, singular: no two are exactly alike, and yet any one conversion is a type of others. The case of the dying thief is much more similar to our conversion than it is dissimilar; in point of fact, his case may be regarded as typical, rather than as an extraordinary incident.

Remember that our Lord Jesus, at the time He saved this malefactor, was at His lowest. His glory had been ebbing out in Gethsemane, and before Caiaphas, and Herod, and Pilate; but it had now reached the utmost low-water mark. Stripped of His garments, and nailed to the cross, our Lord was mocked by a ribald crowd, and was dying in agony: then was He “numbered with the transgressors,” and made as the offscour-ing of all things.

Yet, while in that condition, He achieved this marvelous deed of grace.

Behold the wonder wrought by the Saviour when emptied of all His glory, and hanged up a spectacle of shame upon the brink of death! How certain is it that He can do great wonders of mercy now, seeing that He has returned unto His glory, and sitteth upon the throne of light!

“He is able to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them.”

If a dying Saviour saved the thief, my argument is that He can do even more now that He lives and reigns. All power is given unto Him in heaven and in earth; can anything at this present time surpass the power of His grace?

It is not only the weakness of our Lord which makes the salvation of the penitent thief memorable; it is the fact that the dying malefactor saw it before his very eyes. Can you put yourself into his place, and suppose yourself to be looking upon One who hangs in agony upon a cross? Could you readily believe Him to be the Lord of glory, who would soon come to His kingdom? That was no mean faith which, at such a moment, could believe in Jesus as Lord and King.

If the apostle Paul were here,

and wanted to add a New Testament chapter to the eleventh of Hebrews, he might certainly commence his instances of remarkable faith with this thief, who believed in a crucified, derided, and dying Christ, and cried to Him as to One whose kingdom would surely come. The thief’s faith was the more remarkable because he was himself in great pain and bound to die.

It is not easy to exercise confidence when you are tortured with deadly anguish. Our own rest of mind has at times been greatly hindered by pain of body. When we are the subjects of acute suffering it is not easy to exhibit that faith which we fancy we possess at other times. This man, suffering as he did, and seeing the Saviour in so sad a state, nevertheless believed unto life eternal. Herein was such faith as is seldom seen.

Recollect, also, that He was surrounded by scoffers.

It is easy to swim with the current, and hard to go against the stream. This man heard the priests in their pride ridicule the Lord, and the great multitude of the common people, with one consent, joined in the scorning; his comrade caught the spirit of the hour and mocked also, and perhaps he did the same for a while; but through the grace of God he was changed, and believed in the Lord Jesus in the teeth of all the scorn.

His faith was not affected by his surroundings; but he, dying thief as he was, made sure his confidence. Like a jutting rock, standing out in the midst of a torrent, he declared the innocence of the Christ whom others blasphemed. His faith is worthy of our imitation in its fruits.

He had no member that was free except his tongue, and he used that member wisely to rebuke his brother malefactor and defend his Lord.

His faith brought forth a brave testimony and a bold confession.

I am not going to praise the thief, or his faith, but to extol the glory of that grace divine which gave the thief such faith, and then freely saved him by its means. I am anxious to show how glorious is the Saviour–that Saviour to the uttermost, who, at such a time, could save such a man, and give him so great a faith, and so perfectly and speedily prepare him for eternal bliss. Behold the power of that divine Spirit who could produce such faith on soil so unlikely, and in a climate so unpropitious.

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Confidence in God

Posted by on 03/19/2018 in: ,

“Confidence in God” is an article found inside the NLT Study Bible—a fantastic resource for anyone in the earlier stages of Bible study.

God gave Nehemiah favor in the eyes of a mighty Persian king so that the king responded favorably to all of Nehemiah’s requests (1:11; 2:8, 18). Nehemiah then had the confidence to present his bold plan to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem, and the people of Jerusalem responded positively, believing that God was able to give them success in rebuilding the walls (2:20) and to protect them from their enemies (4:4-5, 9).

THEY CONFIDENTLY CONTINUED IN THEIR WORK…

…in spite of opposition because they knew that God fights for his people and frustrates the plans of the wicked (4:14-15, 20). When the walls of Jerusalem were finished, Nehemiah recognized that the entire difficult project was completed only because of God’s help (6:16).

The book of Nehemiah vividly demonstrates that God is all-powerful and able to accomplish his will, both in individual lives and in nations. Nehemiah’s prayer in ch. 9 focuses on praising God for his sovereign and powerful acts: God created the heavens and earth (9:6), called Abram from Ur, and gave the land to Israel (9:7-8, 22-25). The miraculous signs in Egypt, the parting of the Red Sea, and the provision of guidance, food, and water in the wilderness all demonstrate God’s power over man and nature to provide for his people (9:9-15).

The Lord had sent the Israelites into exile after generations of persistent sin (9:26-27). Now he was fulfilling part of his promise to restore them (1:8-9).

NEHEMIAH HAD THE CONFIDENCE…

…to pray and lead because he knew that everything that happened was part of God’s sovereign plan. This same confidence in God’s sovereignty led Abram to leave Ur and by faith go to an unknown land (Gen 12:1-3; Heb 11:8-10), caused Rahab to trust in God (Josh 2:9-14; Heb 11:31), and prompted Hezekiah not to give in to the demands of the Assyrian king Sennacherib (2 Kgs 18–19).

Confidence comes when people believe that God will keep his promises and complete the work he has started in their lives (Phil 1:6).

APPLICATION

Where do you lack confidence? Can you think of any promises God makes that you can rely on as a source of confidence? Share some of God’s promises that have given you confidence in the comments below.

NLT STUDY BIBLE

Looking for a study Bible that is SO MUCH MORE than footnotes? The NLT Study Bible is jam-packed with articles, word studies, charts, full-color maps, and more. We highly recommend this study Bible! We especially recommend it to anyone looking to start studying the Bible a little bit more in-depth, but with easy-to-understand content.

First, check out the images below to look inside the study Bible. Then, visit our website! You can learn more about this resource here.

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Jesus’ Leadership Mantra

Posted by on 03/05/2018 in: ,

The Bible has a lot to say about leadership—especially in the Gospels. So, resources like the NIV Leadership Bible Notes are great tools for helping you process these passages and apply them to your own leadership style. In Matthew 20:20-26, Jesus makes one of the most profound statements on being a great leader, clearly defining his view of power. The four steps below, taken directly from the NIV Leadership Bible Notes, will assist you in this effort:

MATTHEW 20:17-19

“Now Jesus was going up to Jerusalem. On the way, he took the Twelve aside and said to them, ‘We are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death and will hand him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified. On the third day he will be raised to life!'”

QUESTION ONE

Reread the passage and envision the scene. Imagine the disciples and Jesus walking along on their way to Jerusalem. What mood does the paragraph in verses 17–19 cast on the scene?

MATTHEW 20:20-23

“Then the mother of Zebedee’s sons came to Jesus with her sons and, kneeling down, asked a favor of him.

‘What is it you want?’ he asked.

She said, ‘Grant that one of these two sons of mine may sit at your right and the other at your left in your kingdom.’

‘You don’t know what you are asking,’ Jesus said to them. ‘Can you drink the cup I am going to drink?’

‘We can,’ they answered.

Jesus said to them, ‘You will indeed drink from my cup, but to sit at my right or left is not for me to grant. These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared by my Father.'”

QUESTION TWO

Now, notice the conversation between Jesus and Zebedee’s family in verses 20–23. Imagine the Son of God asking you the question he asked in verse 21!

What would you say?

What were they really asking for?

Think beyond the obvious answer and imagine their dreams. From your knowledge of situations like this, what might have been their (good and not-so-good) motives?

MATTHEW 20:24-28

“When the ten heard about this, they were indignant with the two brothers. Jesus called them together and said, ‘You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave— just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.’”

QUESTION THREE

Now, notice the other disciples’ response in verse 24. What generated their indignation?

QUESTION FOUR

In verse 25, Jesus identified the disciples’ understanding of power positions: “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them.” And in verse 26 he informed them of his approach to power and leadership. Put this approach into your own words.

JESUS’ LEADERSHIP TECHNIQUE

Think about this for a bit. After Jesus’ ascension, these men would be in charge. The disciples would need to be the highest-profile and most authoritative leaders in all of Christian history. They were to take over this ministry with no historical precedent, no written documentation that they could follow. They were the only disciples. However, their highest qualification was being personally groomed by Jesus. They had his example as a point of reference. And here he tells them not to lord it over others or exercise authority in a negative way.

Notice what Jesus told them in verses 25 and 26. He said that the highly visible uses of power around them, namely “lording it over” and “exercising authority over,” were not options. How, then, were they to get people to do what needed to get done? Jesus said, essentially: To be great, be a servant; to be first, be a slave. “First” is higher than “great” and “slave” is more servile than “servant.” Think about it!

Anticipating their confusion about whether this approach would work (actually, most hearers would be quite convinced that it wouldn’t work), Jesus gave a simple and solid closing argument. To those with whom he had lived and worked he concluded that they should serve “just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (v. 28).

LEADERSHIP FOR TODAY

Today, countless articles and journals report on hours of empirical research and careful thinking about what makes leadership work. Increasingly, experts compile theories that affirm and explain what Jesus taught: “Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave” (vv. 26–27).

Jesus taught it, and then he went out and lived it.

COMMENT BELOW: How have you seen this leadership technique work for yourself?

NIV LEADERSHIP STUDY BIBLE NOTES

Wondering how to be a godly leader? Let the NIV Leadership Bible Notes assist you in applying the Bible to your leadership strategy—whether you’ve been in leadership for ages or are looking for an opportunity to start.

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Be Noble: Studying Scripture Like the Bereans

Posted by on 03/02/2018 in: ,

“As soon as it was night, the believers sent Paul and Silas away to Berea. On arriving there, they went to the Jewish synagogue. Now the Berean Jews were of more noble character than those in Thessalonica, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true. As a result, many of them believed, as did also a number of prominent Greek women and many Greek men.” — Acts 17:10-12, NIV

It can be very difficult to know what is true and what isn’t. I often feel overwhelmed and exhausted by all the fact checking that is required of us in 2018. We are CONSTANTLY receiving new information: articles shared on Facebook, opinions on Twitter, advertisements on Instagram, books, movies, app notifications… the list goes on and on.

The Bereans weren’t unaware of the pressure to have correct information. With the news Paul and Silas were spreading about Jesus, everyone was on edge. The Gospel challenged the current thought trends on religion, politics, socioeconomics, and more. So, choosing sides was a lot more threatening than picking Democrat or Republican. This decision was Religious Rulers versus Jesus, Rome versus Jesus, Cultural Values versus Jesus… and behinds the scenes, Satan versus. Jesus.

But in Acts 17:10-12, we see Luke write something attention-grabbing. He lifts the Berean Jews up as an example. This is rare! Why did he choose to say this, out of all the people they met on their journey? A characteristic stood out to him—a very important one.

NOBILITY

According to Strong’s, the use of “noble” here is the Greek word εὐγενής. It means, “well born, i.e. (literally) high in rank, or (figuratively) generous.

In 2018, I picture Luke saying something like, “The Berean Jews knew how to stay classy.” When they were met with a difficult message, they kept their character in check and remained honorable. When everything they were taught was challenged by the Gospel, they didn’t run away plugging their ears or start shouting over Paul and Silas. With eagerness and a willing mind they began the process of fact checking, seeing if the Old Testament really did prophecy Jesus to be the Messiah.

In the end, they discovered the Gospel to be true and became followers of Jesus.

NOBILITY TODAY

Maybe this Sunday you will find yourself questioning if what is being preached is true. Perhaps you’re in a Seminary course and your textbook is making some interesting claims. Or, maybe you’re simply scrolling through Facebook and a headline makes your stomach churn with anger, fear, and questions.

How can we be like the Bereans in these moments? Here are a few tips:

  • Don’t lose your temper
  • Having a willing mind
  • Listen to what others are saying
  • Evaluate the claims others make
  • Compare what we hear with Scripture
  • Ask some friends to join you in your research
  • Rinse and repeat

One of the trickiest situations we encounter is when someone claims the Bible to mean something we aren’t sure to be true. The problem is that the Bible is a translation and not all of us are Greek and Hebrew scholars. How do we evaluate these claims then?

Like I did toward the beginning of this post, you can use a Bible study tool that has Strong’s. With a tool like this, you look up nearly any word with a tap or two and read it’s original definition.

If you do have experience with Greek and Hebrew, you might find it helpful to have a resource that provides you with parsings. If this feature is listed on a product page, it will show you something like this when you use it:

Do you have any advice on how to eagerly examine Scripture to see if what you hear is true? Comment below!

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God Can Show Up Where You Don’t Expect or Deserve

Posted by on 02/26/2018 in: ,

The following is an excerpt from the For Everyone Commentary Series by John Goldingay and N.T. Wright.

WE DON’T ALWAYS GET WHAT WE DESERVE

I’ve remembered why I had that visit from the man I mentioned in connection with Lamentations 5. I’d talked in class about a pastor who ignored a call from God to go and serve him abroad as a missionary. His subsequent ministry in England had been greatly blessed, even though he was not in the place where God had wanted him. One failure in obedience to God doesn’t have to ruin your whole life.

The man who came to see me had been told that persisting with his new relationship and divorcing his wife so he could marry this other woman would mean God would never bless his new marriage. I told him you could never make such predictions because God is always having to decide afresh whether to be merciful or disciplinary. Our calling is to do the right thing because it’s the right thing, not because we might forfeit God’s blessing.

LEARNING FROM EZEKIEL 1:1-28

Ezekiel’s community is people who were transported to Babylon in 597; five years have now passed. Anyone with religious sensitivity or principle knew that they’d deserved this fate (even if there were individuals like Ezekiel who didn’t deserve it) and would wonder whether they could ever expect Yahweh to reach out to them in Babylon. Their feelings might be similar to those expressed in Lamentations after the further fall of Jerusalem in 587. They’ve forfeited any right to expect God’s blessing.

(We don’t know what “the thirtieth year” refers to. Maybe Ezekiel was thirty years old, the age when he might have taken up his ministry as a priest if he hadn’t been transported to Babylon.)

GOD SHOWS UP

Out of the blue, in a literal sense, Yahweh appears in Babylon. Maybe Ezekiel sees a literal storm approaching, with wind, cloud, and lightning. If so, Yahweh turns the literal storm into an appearance of his own cloud carriage. Yahweh is coming to his people in Babylon—Babylon of all places!

Not that he’s coming with a message of comfort; rather the opposite. It does mean he hasn’t simply washed his hands of them. Perhaps the vision’s significance is to show that Yahweh has already been present with his people in Babylon; he now enables this prophet to see behind the veil constituted by the heavens themselves, to see that Yahweh is present, and to report that fact to the people.

There are limits to what God dares let Ezekiel see. Too direct an appearance of God would simply blind a mere human being. Most of what God lets Ezekiel see is his carriage pulled by four creatures—not mere horses but combinations of human being, animal, and bird (so they can fly and transport God through the heavens). They’re subsequently called cherubs. Their combined features give them great maneuverability, as do the crisscross wheels on the carriage that can go this way or that at will. But they’re driven by one will.

HE LETS US SEE & EXPERIENCE HIS GREATNESS

The creatures support a platform on which there stands a throne; on the throne is a human-like figure. Ezekiel is looking from below, so he sees little of the figure. His experience parallels that of Isaiah, who sees only the hem of God’s robe. While God can be pictured as lion-like or rock-like, more often God is described as human-like—it links with the fact that human beings are made in God’s image to represent God in the world. Ezekiel’s account also safeguards God’s transcendence (it won’t let us think of God in too human terms) by using the name Shadday. The traditional translation “Almighty” is a guess. The only other Hebrew word with which the Old Testament links the name is a verb meaning “destroy,” so people might take “Shadday” to suggest “destroyer”; this understanding would suit Ezekiel.

It’s also a solemn fact that the storm comes from the north, the direction where people often located God’s abode, but also the direction from which invaders came. But then it declares that there was something of a rainbow’s appearance about this God, one who put his bow away and let it hang in the sky without string and without arrows (see Genesis 9).

God’s appearing to Ezekiel is both good news and solemn news. For Ezekiel’s audience and for people reading his messages in written form, it also indicates that we’d better take his words seriously.

THE FOR EVERYONE COMMENTARY SERIES

Did you enjoy how this commentary takes a passage of the Old Testament and relates it to daily life?

The For Everyone Commentary Series has 35 volumes, including books from both the Old and New Testament. Each volume includes the editors’ translations of the entire text. Then, each short passage is followed by background information, useful explanations and suggestions, and thoughts as to how the text can be relevant to our lives today.

This resource works with the Resource Guide, showing you relevant articles as you read the Bible. Also, verses and footnotes are linked for quick reading.

Visit our website to learn more about this well-loved commentary series.

COMMENT BELOW: Where have you seen God show up where you didn’t expect or deserve?

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We’ve Reached Another Milestone!

Posted by on 01/19/2018 in:

This week is all about looking back on 2017 and celebrating what we’ve accomplished. Not just us at Olive Tree—although we have done a lot of work on improving the app!—but also what you, our users, have done.

With that being said… we’ve reached another jaw-dropping milestone!

1 BILLION SYNCABLES

It’s hard to be as excited as us if you aren’t sure what “syncables” are.

Syncables are items like:

  • notes
  • highlights
  • tags

Anything that syncs across your devices when you tap “sync” in the app—that’s a syncable item.

WHY IS THIS EXCITING?

It can be hard to measure how engaged everyone is inside our app. Lots of people download Bible apps and then barely use them. We don’t want our app to be just another icon on your home screen. Instead, we want our users to use our app to spend time connecting with God and His Word.

The more syncable items you all create, the more you are interacting with the Bible. This is why we are incredibly excited about reaching the 1 billion mark.

CELEBRATE WITH US

How can you celebrate with us?

Open the app, read the Bible, take some notes, make some highlights, and pray. Reflect on God’s love.

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Tips for Bible Reading in 2018

Posted by on 01/12/2018 in:

A new year can encourage you to try new things or start old things up again. Here are some Bible reading tips we put together for the start of 2018.

1) PRAY PRAY PRAY

It can be easy to pick up the Bible, skim it, and never actually participate in a conversation with God. So, before opening your Bible, form the habit of starting in prayer. Take a deep breath and remember that you have been invited to commune with the Creator of the universe.

Pray Before Reading

What should you pray about? Here are a few ideas in case you’re stumped:

  • Confess any anger or bitterness
  • Share your doubt or frustration
  • Ask for help (for you or others)
  • Acknowledge God’s power, love, and faithfulness
  • Ask God to help you experience His power, love, and faithfulness
  • Give thanks

Look for Answers

This part can be crucial for our walk with the Lord. So often, we ask God to move in our lives… Then, when He does, we forget what we asked for and figure it all worked out because of circumstance or coincidence.

Keep a list of the things you are praying about. It could be as simple as a sheet of paper or you could keep track with your notes inside our app. Praise God and be encouraged by His presence when you see an answer.

2) LOOK TO JESUS

Maybe it sounds surprising, but there can be many reasons to study the Bible: seminary assignments, sermon prep, a love for history, because you feel like you have to…

But honestly, the best reason to read the Bible is to get to know Jesus. The other two members of the Trinity are also important, but Jesus came so that we could know God. He said, “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9).

Jesus is the lover of our souls, our best friend, our redeemer, and our savior. If you’ve been feeling dry about reading the Bible, or about Christianity in general, slowly read through the gospels. Take notes on Jesus characteristics, the things he does, and the people he talks with. Get to know Jesus again.

3) ASK FOR INPUT

The Bible doesn’t speak directly to you and your circumstances alone. It is a historic book that is for God’s people! It can be dangerous to rely solely on how you interpret it. Instead, here are some ideas of who to ask for input:

-Your spouse or housemates
-Children (a unique perspective!)
-A pastor or mentor
-Bible study group
-Study Bibles
-Commentaries
-Other passages of Scripture (really important)

4) HAVE DISCERNMENT

It’s a balance to allow input into your life while also having discernment on what to believe and accept. Ask questions and hear answers from the above list, but also make sure to think critically about their response. And, to bring this blog post full circle… PRAY about what you learn. Ask God to reveal truth to you. If it is good, pure, lovely, gracious, self-sacrificial, and resembles Christ, you’re probably on the right track.

SHARE!

What are your Bible study tips for 2018? What’s the #1 piece of advice you would give someone just getting started? Let us know in the comments below.

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You Can Still Make a New Year’s Resolution

Posted by on 01/08/2018 in:

Do you ever wake up at 8:02 but lay in bed until 8:05 or 8:10? Or maybe, while eating a tub of ice cream, you decide that tomorrow will be the day you start eating healthier? It can be difficult to start something new or hard, so we often wait for milestone moments to make a change. Then, when we miss the milestone moment, we put off whatever we were set out to do. But don’t let that stop you!

Week one of 2018 is completed, but that doesn’t mean you can’t make a New Year’s resolution.

Here are some of our resolution ideas that will encourage spiritual growth in 2018:

1) BECOME A PRAYER WARRIOR

START FRESH

Prayer journaling is really easy in the app when you use our notes feature. You can start by making a category simply dedicated to your prayers if you want to stay more organized. Check out this example!

PLAN IT OUT

Then, create a few different folders for types of prayers. This way, it will be easy for you to not only return to old prayers, but also to make sure your prayers have variety. It’s good to ask God for things, but we also need to give Him our praise!

PRAISE GOD FOR ANSWERS

It can often feel like God isn’t answering our prayers, but that might be from our own lack of looking for His hand in our life. Keep coming back to your current prayers, petitioning God again, and reflecting on His word and response. When you see an answer, move the note to the answered folder. Then, when you experience doubt or fear, remind yourself of God’s faithfulness.

HERE’S AN EXAMPLE

2) TAKE TIME TO REFLECT

VOTD (Verse of the Day) can be something you glance at for 5 seconds or something you use as a catalyst to spend time with the Lord.

Set a goal to always open your VOTD notification. It’s customizable, so you can set it to appear during a time you know you will usually be free. Take time to slowly read the verse, reflect on each word, and talk to Jesus about what it means for you.

PRO TIP: Tap “Read” at the bottom of VOTD to read the verse in context. It’s so important to make sure that we read the Bible as a cohesive book and don’t interpret it incorrectly.

3) READ PARTS OF THE BIBLE YOU DON’T HEAR MUCH ABOUT

Reading plans are great tools to prevent you from reading the same, familiar Bible passages over and over again. Instead, every time you open the plan you’ll be shown a different passage and guided through reading the entire Bible. This way, you don’t have to wonder where you should start.

If you’ve never looked at our reading plans, now is the time to do so. Specifically, you could start a one-year reading plan that would get you through the entire Bible by next January. Simply select a plan, set up your reminders in the settings, and start reading!

4) GAIN WISDOM AND INSIGHT FROM OTHER CHRISTIANS

Following Christ isn’t something that we do alone. Instead, we should always be listening (with discernment!) to our brothers and sisters in Christ, trying to learn from them.

Enhanced devotionals are perfect for this type of learning. Similar to a reading plan, the devotional will be broken up into sections for you to complete. You can also schedule notifications to remind you to read.

Since these aren’t paper devotionals, you will be able to quickly access a Bible or any other study tool in the split window. Use this feature to learn more about what you’re reading or to check what the author is saying.

SEE OUR ENHANCED DEVOTIONALS BY CLICKING HERE.

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