Read short inspirational articles by Olive Tree staff members.
As Summer approaches so does ‘wedding season’. Thousands of couples will exchange vows and commit to be faithful to each other but unfortunately just as many will wrestle with the temptation of infidelity, give in to it altogether, or even choose to end their marriage. In the video below produced by I Am Second Jeff and Cheryl Scruggs share their incredible story of how they both found God and in doing so also found his heart for reconciliation and redemption that saved their souls and their marriage.
From Moses being taken in by Pharaoh’s daughter to Joseph’s relationship with Jesus, the theme of adoption is evident throughout scripture. In Romans 8:15 the Apostle Paul talks about the spiritual side of adoption when he says, “For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!”
Something powerful happens when we physically demonstrate the love of God through adoption and spiritually grab a hold of it’s implications for our own lives. The truth of adoption is absolutely life changing and eternity shaping!
Check out the video below to see how one family has said ‘yes’ to adoption.
I can’t think of any bigger understatement than saying, what we celebrate this weekend is ‘significant’. The life, death, and resurrection of Jesus absolutely changed everything! When Jesus died and rose again – three days later – it reversed the centuries old curse of sin and death that was over all humanity.
Jesus fulfilled hundreds of impossible to fulfill prophecies about the messiah that had been written centuries before but the most amazing of all was that after three days in a grave, he was alive! What did this mean? In the history of the world no one had ever lived and died a sinless life. Jesus – God in the flesh – did. In that instant the sin that we’re all born into was stripped of its power. Things on this Earth would never be the same. As John ends his account of Jesus life he says, “But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” His resurrection proved he was who he said he was.
What does this mean today? It means absolutely everything! What Jesus did made a way to be free from the power that sin once held over us. Where sin makes us strangers and even enemies of God, Jesus death and resurrection makes us sons and daughters of God. This type of reconciliation had never been known and now it’s accessible to anyone who believes. In Romans 5:10-11 the Apostle Paul says, For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.
Not only did Jesus resurrection set into motion the reconciliation available to all who believe but we now get to be agents of his reconciliation while we await the restoration of all things. The book of Revelation tells us of this day that will come: And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.”
Resurrection, Reconciliation, and Restoration; this is the good news of the Gospel of Jesus! This Easter and in the days following let’s not only be reminded of the power of what Jesus did but let’s be actively living in the reality of it.
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Regardless of which stance you take on calling the day we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus “Easter” or not, there are strong opinions and reasons for each side. On the one hand, the term “Easter” is linked to some pagan rituals. On the other hand, the word “Easter” has become so closely related with the Resurrection of Jesus and easily recognizable among Christians, the de-churched, and the un-churched that to call the day by any other name might only cause confusion.
Let’s start with the arguments against “Easter.” There are similarities to pagan rites and rituals of Sun worship and the spring equinox. Although it is not entirely certain, there are many that think the origin of the word Easter is derived from Eostre – the pagan Anglo-Saxon goddess of the dawn. Another theory is that the mistranslation of the word Alba (corresponding to the color of the robes worn during the resurrection festival) into German Ostern, which also means sunrise, is the origin of Easter. Considering all of this, it is easy to see why people would look for another term.
Enter “Resurrection Sunday”. Proponents of renaming Easter to Resurrection Sunday quote the history and ties to the pagan rites and rituals, and rightly so. However, albeit very descriptive and theologically accurate, the term “Resurrection Sunday” is often confusing to non-believers. It’s almost as if we’ve given away the punch line before setting up the joke. I have been involved with local churches that went the “Resurrection Sunday” route only to be met with confused looks from the congregation and local community. As the old saying goes, “if it’s a mist in the pulpit, it’s a fog in the pew.”
So, what to do? Is Easter by any other name just as powerful? Do we hold on tight to a term that is possibly connected to pagan worship or do we confuse those that Jesus has called us to reach? How do we bring the power of the Gospel to those that need to hear it with clarity and conviction without confusing the main point of celebrating the resurrection of Jesus Christ?
Here lies the crossroads that each of us need to wrestle with. In other words, what is the point? I’ll admit that I see the issue from both sides. But the answer lies in what we are trying to accomplish and what our particular culture will see, hear, and understand. For example, if “Easter” seen as a highly religious term in your local culture that has lost all meaning and value, most closely associated with candy and bunnies, then “Resurrection Sunday” would give a fresh perspective to our celebrate and draw those in far from God. However, if “Resurrection Sunday” would only cause a stumbling block and obstacle to those used to the term “Easter”, then stick with “Easter” by all means.
Whatever terms we use to represent the resurrection of Jesus Christ, let us use those that speak to our culture and make straight the way for the Lord (John 1:23) to remove obstacles so that people can meet Jesus Christ.
This Sunday commemorates Jesus triumphal entry into Jerusalem and is called Palm or Passion Sunday, depending on your tradition. All four gospels record this significant and prophetic event and I highly recommend you read them for yourself. You can find them in Matthew 21:1-11; Mark 11:1-11; Luke 19:28-44; and John 12:12-19. As I reread each account myself here are four things that stick out about this historic event that we still commemorate today.
Jesus Fulfilled Prophecy.
Not only was Jesus the long awaited King that the Jews had been longing for but his very entry into Jerusalem was just how it had been prophesied over 500 years earlier.
Zechariah 9:9 says, “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”
I can imagine that Jewish theologians had been trying to reconcile their picture of a King (think David or Solomon) with the idea that he would ride in on a little colt, his feet barely off the ground. Yet here he was, having given his disciples an awkward command on how to get the colt, fulfilling prophecy that had been written centuries earlier. This was a plot twist that I don’t think even Hollywood could dream up.
What’s with the Palms?
The imagery of palms was a part of the Jewish culture and often reflected honor and nobility. 1 Kings chapter 6 and 7 record how Solomon had them as part of the sacred carvings of the temple. In Mark’s account of Jesus entry, people are spreading palm branches out on the ground along with their cloaks in what I imagine would be a sort of ancient red carpet that probably helped keep the dust down.
The significance of this honor paid to Jesus also foreshadows what is to come. In Revelation 7:9 there’s an incredible description of worship that – you guessed it – includes palm branches. So we see here Jesus is fulfilling the prophecy of Zechariah and also pointing forward to an even greater scene of worship that is to come.
The chances are pretty good that at some point you’ve sung a song at church with the word ‘Hosanna’ in it. As Jesus made his entry there was definitely some worship going on but what does Hosanna actually mean? It was a desperate cry from an oppressed people living under Roman rule that means ‘Oh save’ or ‘Save us now’. He would certainly save them but not quite how they imagined.
Where’s the Victory?
The Jews had been waiting and their King was finally here! Sure he was riding on a baby donkey and didn’t have a sword, armor, or an army but he was there none the less. As the shouts of Hosanna went out, everyone anticipated what this long awaited Kings next move would be. How would he save them? Would he be like David and his mighty men? Would he be like Solomon with wisdom and riches? “Save us now”, they cried!
One week later, many of these same people who had shouted ‘Hosanna’ would be shouting ‘Barabbas’ . They would trade their long awaited King for a thief and a murderer. He hadn’t fulfilled their image of a King or brought about their idea of salvation and so they turned on him.
But God in his sovereign grace had a plan that included a vastly different idea of what salvation was to look like, one that we’ll be celebrating this coming week. I’ll leave you with these words from Revelation 7:9-10:
“After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, ” Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!”
That’s my King!
It’s funny to me that spring is at once bursting with promise and notoriously lean. The bursting-with-promise part is easy to imagine as spring bulbs begin to pop up everywhere. However, the notoriously lean part only occurred to me after reading (or re-reading) one of my favorite non-fiction books, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, by Barbara Kingsolver. The second-to-last chapter in Kingsolver’s book about eating locally with her family for a year is entitled “Hungry Month: February-March.” She writes:
“January is widely held to be the bugbear of local food, but the hungriest month is March, if you plan to see this thing through. Your stores are dwindling, your potatoes are sending pale feelers out into the void, but for most of us there is nothing new under the sun of muddy March, however it might intend to go out like a lamb. A few spring wildflowers, maybe, but no real eats. Our family was getting down to the bottom of our barrel” (322).
When I take my almost daily walks, it doesn’t look like spring will ever come. The grass is dank and yellowed and it’s hard to imagine it will ever be lush and green or that the trees will ever have blossoms and leaves. If you really do live off the land and what you have to eat is all in your freezer and root cellar, you have to be creative with what you have left. The root veggies of winter are wrinkled and woody and the asparagus, lettuce, and spinach of spring are only just beginning. It’s an awkward, in-between time.
I’m definitely in the thick of my Lenten discipline of fasting from dessert. We’re already almost five weeks from Ash Wednesday, but we’re still two weeks from Easter. For one deprived of sugar on a daily basis, Easter seems especially distant. If I’m honest with myself, I am longing for Easter, but I also like that Easter feels distant and that my deprivation weighs on me and temptation surrounds me. These are the necessary and even, dare I say, good rigors of Lent. I love that the Church Year acknowledges the times in the course of a normal human life that are in limbo. It’s not winter and not yet spring. It’s not Christmas and not yet Easter. Primroses on racks outside the grocery store and royal purple crocuses are the only harbingers of spring.
That makes me wonder about the harbingers of Easter. When we look to Jesus’ life and ministry, I would say baptism, temptation, cross, and grave. The road ahead of us to Easter is Lenten and is so very like this time between winter and spring. Where there is life after Easter and spring, we see only death during Lent. Yellowed grass and gnarled trees. Temptation and deprivation. Sin and selfishness.
But the great news about Easter is that it radically changes everything, and it’s not just the appearance of things that change. It’s not just that the grass becomes green and lush and the trees bud and the flowers bloom. It’s not just that I can once again eat cookies and ice cream. It’s that our very nature changes.
“We know that our old sinful selves were crucified with Christ…for when we died with Christ [in baptism] we were set free from the power of sin. And since we died with Christ, we know we will also live with him” (Romans 6:6-8).
Temptation gives way to victory. Darkness becomes light. Death leads to life. And, best of all, the crucified Christ becomes the Risen Christ.