Category: Inspiration

Why Lenten Discipline is a Good Thing

Posted by on 02/17/2015 in:

Tomorrow marks the beginning of Lent, the 40 days leading up to Easter in which many Christians observe a form of self-denial as a way to identify with Christ’s 40 days of fasting in the wilderness. It’s easy to relegate Lent to a time of “giving something up,” maybe chocolate or Facebook or fast food. While our waistlines might affirm these Lenten fasts, our spiritual nature begs for something more. Throughout Church history, Christians have turned to classic spiritual disciplines during Lent. But human nature can’t seem to make up its mind about the virtues of discipline. Sure discipline is a good thing. I brush my teeth every morning and evening. I drive safely. I read my Bible every day. But let’s face it: Discipline is hard. Why do we need to practice discipline in a season like Lent anyway?

In essence, discipline helps us to be more like Christ. As Jesus himself taught, denying oneself is integral to the Christian life and necessarily tough. Even Jesus’ discipline of obedience to the Father led to Calvary. As Christianity Today’s editorial from March 1960 puts it, Lent is a time in which we “follow the battered path to Calvary” and recognize our need to “yield ourselves afresh to God…” Just like we discipline ourselves in the care of our physical bodies, we must also do the necessary work of discipline in order to be healthy spiritually.

In this Lenten season, we encourage you to spend time with God each day as we approach the heart of the Christian faith in the agony of Good Friday and the glory of Easter. Along with the Bibles and Study Bibles that Olive Tree offers, check out the Lenten devotionals 40 Days with Jesus by Sarah Young and Walk with Jesus: A Journey to the Cross and Beyond by Charles Swindoll at OliveTree.com. We pray that the discipline of reading a devotional and your Bible daily will help you become more Christ like this Lenten season.

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God Is Passionate and Poetic – The Passion Translation

Posted by on 02/16/2015 in: , ,

From Guest Blogger: Dr. Brian Simmons, Lead Translator for The Passion Translation

God Is Passionate and Poetic.
It may surprise some of us to hear God described this way, as passionate and poetic. Yet the heart of God is filled with holy longings, passions which he expressed in creation and through redemption. And we would never discover such passions completely without the gift of God’s poetic Word, spoken to us in our own language. The Passion Translation is committed to translating the Word of God with all of its poetic nuance, flavor, passion, and truth—without compromising accuracy in any way. It expresses God’s passion for people and His world by translating the original, life-changing message of God’s Word for modern readers; it is every bit reliable as it is relevant.
God’s Word is potent, it has power to transform lives. As you read the Bible in this new, modern English version, expect to be delighted by The Passion Translation with new insights and a fresh understanding of all that God wants to say to our hearts. This is a heart-level translation, from the passion of God’s heart to the passion of your heart. Written by passionate men, the Bible is unlocked and understood more fully when passionate people read it.

God is a Poet—the Poet of Poets.
I’m so thankful for the poetic books found in the middle of our Bible. There is something about the Psalms and the Proverbs that keep our lives fueled with praise and guided by wisdom. It would be hard to imagine the Word of God without poetry, parables, and proverbs, because they unfold an entirely different dimension of the wonderful heart of God!
I have cherished the Psalms for over four decades. I contemplate them almost daily, for they have been my comfort and joy, leading me to the place where worship flows. When discouraged or downcast, reading these divine poems has given me new strength. They charge my batteries and fill my sails. In fact, the older I get the more powerful they grow: their thunder stirs me; their sweet melodies move me into the sacred emotions of a heart on fire like never before! The dark rain clouds of grief turn to bright rainbows of hope, just from meditating on David’s soul-nourishing songs.

The Psalms find the words that express our deepest and strongest emotions, no matter what the circumstances. Every emotion of our heart is reflected in the Psalms. Reading the Psalms will turn sighing into singing, trouble into triumph. The word praise is found 189 times in this book. There is simply nothing that touches my heart like the Psalms. Thousands of years ago my deepest feelings were put to music—this is what we all delightfully discover when reading the Psalms!

God’s Wisdom Is a Fountain—Come, Drink Freely!

Then there are the divine words of wisdom from Solomon, the book of Proverbs, written by the wisest man (well, maybe second wisest man) to ever walk the earth! Imagine reading a 2800-year-old book of wisdom: How many secrets would be uncovered? What kind of wisdom would be revealed? How would your life change as you drank in its advice? That’s Proverbs! These powerful words are anointed to bring you revelation from the very throne room of God—the wisdom you need to guide your steps and direct your life.

When you read Psalms and Proverbs, you’re engaging your heart and mind with the greatest book of wisdom and the greatest book of praise ever written, penned by two kings full of sage advice and God’s favor. God has given away his secrets in these books and he longs for you to read and receive them deep within. The Passion Translation seeks to express them in a way that would unlock the ‘passion’ of God’s heart, change your life, and launch you into the kind of life God has destined for you.

Dr. Brian Simmons is a former missionary, linguist, minister, and Bible teacher. As a missionary, he and his wife, Candice, pioneered church plants in Central America. As a linguist, Brian co-translated the Kuna New Testament for the Paya-Kuna people of Panama. He and his wife have birthed numerous ministries, including a dynamic church, Gateway Christian Fellowship, in West Haven, Connecticut. He is also a gifted teacher of the Bible who has authored several books and serves churches worldwide through his teaching ministry.

You can find Psalms and the Proverbs from The Passion Translation here.

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Stuck in Your Reading Plan? Be Encouraged!

Posted by on 02/11/2015 in:

By Olive Tree Employee: David Mikucki

calendar-photoIf you look at the calendar, you’ll see that it is now February and it has been February for a number of days. But for many of us, if we look at our Bible reading plan, we’re stuck somewhere in January.

A lot of us start out with noble intentions, perhaps wanting to read the whole Bible in a year. The wheels typically start to fall off around the time we get to the book of Leviticus and forward progress comes to a complete halt by Numbers. Reading Scripture can be hard, especially when we don’t feel like we understand what we’re reading.

But God does offer us encouragement, and a lot of it. First of all, for those of us who struggle to read the Bible regularly, there is grace and peace in Jesus Christ. God is not up in heaven with a strict reading plan, ready to slap you down because you haven’t kept it. Jesus was struck down for our sins and our failings (Isaiah 53:5). If you’ve put your faith in Jesus Christ, you are still loved and forgiven even if you’ve failed to love God’s Word.

Besides the good news of forgiveness and acceptance by God the Father through Jesus the Son, there is still more good news to be found for those of us who struggle as we read Scripture. We have a promise from God that His Word doesn’t go forth without doing the thing He sent it to do (Isaiah 55:11).

This should encourage us, because it means that even when we feel like our time in Scripture is dry, God’s Word is still working as He wants it to. We can approach Scripture reading in faith, trusting God instead of our feelings about whether or not our reading is doing anything. We can trust that God works through His Word and believe that He can be working in us in ways we can’t yet see. We can walk by faith, not by sight (2 Corinthians 5:7).

What you read yesterday (or perhaps last week) might not make a lot of sense to you now, but that doesn’t mean God isn’t using it to mold and shape you. Few of us understand what our parents are doing as they raise us, but we’re thankful for it later on. We don’t need to see God working to know that He is.

You see, if you read through Leviticus in your daily reading half a dozen times before you come back around and study it on your own or with your church, you’ll be better equipped to understand it. This is because reading it all those times will have made you familiar with it.

Moreover, there are times when an application of a particular passage isn’t clear to you. Several weeks or months later, however, God may bring that passage to mind at a time in your life when it is very applicable. In an age where technology makes us want results as soon as possible, our God still loves to plant a seed and let it grow over months and years.

Take heart, Christian. God works through His Word even if you don’t see it just yet.

David is a front end web developer at Olive Tree. He also writes on his personal blog, And the Rest of It.

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5 questions to ask when choosing a Bible reading plan

Posted by on 01/09/2015 in: ,

readingplanGuest Blogger: Rachel Wojnarowski

You intended for 2015 to be the year- the year that you settled into a daily Bible reading routine. Yet January 1st came… and the first week went, and you still haven’t started reading the Bible daily.

Guess what? I have wonderful news; it’s not too late to choose a Bible reading plan for 2015!

In fact, it’s never too late to begin a daily quiet time routine with God. The key to establishing a routine is to have an actual plan. Without a plan, we all know it just won’t happen; intentionality is a must. Today I have five questions to ask when choosing a Bible reading plan. These questions will provide guidance for choosing a Bible reading plan that works for you!

1. How much time do I intend to spend reading the Bible daily?
Choosing the amount of time you are going to spend each day reading the Bible doesn’t have to be set in stone, but it’s a great idea to estimate how much time you are going to set aside each day for reading. Knowing how much time you are going to use will enable you to choose a plan that will work for you! Whether it is 10 minutes or 20 minutes, choose an amount of time that is reasonable for you.

2. What is the best time of day for me to read the Bible daily?
While there is much to be said for beginning the day in God’s Word, there are seasons of life when taking 20 minutes in the morning is not the most ideal time for a larger segment of reading. Currently I am doing my daily reading in the morning, but there have been times in the past when I read just one verse in the morning and waited until a better time later in the day to read a full chapter or more. I believe the more consistent you can be with the time you have, the better the results.

3. How many chapters do I want to read in a day?
For the past two years, I’ve read the M’Cheyne Bible reading plan (available in Olive Tree’s Bible Study App) in order to read the Bible through in a year. This plan requires four chapters a day, as most Bible reading plans designed to be completed in a year. For me, this plan took about 20 minutes a day. Every reader will have a different comfortable speed of reading and different amount of time to spend reading each day. Think through these factors as you choose a Bible reading plan. This year I wanted to spend more time reflecting on the passage, so I chose to read one chapter a day. I won’t finish reading the Bible in a day, but that’s ok.

4. Do I plan to use any Bible study methods as I read or simply read and reflect?
Determining your study intentions before you begin the Bible reading plan will help you decide both your time factor and number of chapters per day. Whether you use a highlighting method or a simple Bible study guide each day will determine how much time you need to anticipate beyond the reading time.

5. How long do I plan to use this particular Bible reading plan?
Are you choosing your plan for the entire year or do you want to focus on a smaller increment of time, such as 3 months? It is sometimes difficult to know what you can do for an entire year and a shorter amount of time is a better way to commit. At the end of the 3 months, you can choose a new plan or even repeat the plan you finished for more impact.

What if I want to read through the Bible, but I know it will take longer than a year?

You can still read through the Bible AND do it all on your own. The first time I read through the Bible, I didn’t read 4 chapters a day and I didn’t use a set plan. You can find out what I did right here.

I hope these questions will guide you through the process of choosing a Bible reading plan that fits your current needs and desire.

Learn More about Rachel at RachelWojo.com
Watch a short video to learn more about Bible Reading Plans in The Bible Study App

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Free Resource Friday!

Posted by on 06/20/2014 in: , ,

Free this Friday Only! Vertical Church: What Every Heart Longs for. What Every Church Can Be by James MacDonald

Infighting, backbiting, heartbreaking, frustrating … church.

Though exceptions do exist, the reality is that church in America is failing one life at a time. Somewhere between pathetically predictable and shamefully entertaining, sadly sentimental and rarely authentic, church has become worst of all … godless.

Vertical Church points to a new day where God is the seeker, and we are the ones found. In Vertical Church God shows up, and that changes everything.

If you want to experience God as you never have before and witness His hand at work, if you want to wake up to the first thought, “Thank God it’s Sunday,” if you’re ready to feel your heart beat faster as you drive to your place of worship … then devour and digest the lessons of Vertical Church.

Search for this title in the in-app store or go HERE and click the “Go Get It!” button for download instructions.

Celebrate Charles Spurgeon & John Wesley’s Birthdays with these titles!

Free offer expires June 20, 11:59 PM EST.

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Free Resource Friday!

Posted by on 06/13/2014 in: ,

Free this Friday Only! To My Sons: Lessons for the Wild Adventure Called Life by Bear Grylls

This humorously illustrated book is a collection of wisdom that renowned adventurer Bear Grylls wants to share with his sons about the risks, tumbles, and victories of a well-lived life.

Fatherhood is the greatest adventure. Mountain climber, world-record holder, and internationally known television personality Grylls knows a thing or two about adventure. The greatest adventure he’s experienced, though, is raising his three boys. In To My Sons, Grylls shares the quotes, Scripture verses, and spiritual wisdom he has learned through the literal ups and downs of an exciting life. Featuring cartoons from well-known sketch artist Charlie Mackesy, this book is a poignant primer for boys and men of all ages.

Search for this title in the in-app store or go HERE and click the “Go Get It!” button for download instructions.

Browse more titles for Dads HERE.

Free offer expires June 13, 11:59 PM PST.

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Free Resource Friday!

Posted by on 05/23/2014 in: ,

FREE TODAY ONLY! Letters to a Young Pastor by Calvin Miller

Calvin Miller has long been one of the most creative voices in the church. As a best-selling author and poet he has enabled believers to flourish. As a pastor and educator he has equipped countless thousands to know and serve God more fully. Having survived these tumultuous decades, Dr. Miller now shares his well-earned wisdom with the next generation of pastors– including you, or someone you know.

Miller acknowledges much has changed over his years of ministry, as we’ve moved from switchboards to smartphones and from big-haired evangelists to cigar-smoking emergents. But two truths remain the same: God is love and people are broken. In this honest, engaging, and humorous collection of letters, he encourages you to fight the good fight, stay the course, and keep your eye on the Author and Finisher of the faith, to serve well every Sunday so you’ll never feel the urge to resign on Monday.

Search for this title in the in-app store or go HERE and click the “Go Get It!” button for download instructions.

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National Day of Prayer

Posted by on 05/01/2014 in: ,

PrayerToday is the first Thursday in May, a day set aside by our country’s leaders as a national day of prayer. The Bible speaks of prayer often and encourages us with numerous examples of people who spent time in prayer. Examining the lives of those prayerful individuals in the Scriptures reveals that they are no different from you and me; they have their shortcomings and, in many cases, it is only through the Lord answering their prayers that they succeeded.

Learning to Pray from Moses

Moses’ example—that is, his overcoming his fear of public speaking and leadership—speaks volumes about prayer. Moses knew he wasn’t a capable leader of his people, so he spent much of his time in conversation with the Lord, often pleading for God to have mercy on the stubborn and rebellious Israelites. It was only through his conversations with the Lord that Moses was able to deliver Israel from Egypt.

Moses said to God, ‘Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the children of Israel out of Egypt?’ [God] said, ‘But I will be with you, and this shall be the sign for you, that I have sent you: when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall serve God on this mountain.’ (Ex. 3:11-12 ESV)

Moses continued to ask the Lord for guidance, and when it was clear Israel would need a new leader to take them in to the land, he appealed to God, saying:

‘Let the Lord, the God of the spirits of all flesh, appoint a man over the congregation who shall go out before them and come in before them, who shall lead them out and bring them in, that the congregation of the Lord may not be as sheep that have no shepherd.’ So the Lord said to Moses, ‘Take Joshua the son of Nun, a man in whom is the Spirit, and lay your hand on him.’ (Num. 27:15-18 ESV)

God provided Joshua to be the new shepherd to the Israelites, a direct answer to Moses’ prayer. However, not all of Moses’ prayers were answered. In Deuteronomy 3:23-28,  Moses pleads with God to let him enter the Promised Land with the Israelites.

And I pleaded with the Lord at that time, saying, ‘O Lord God, you have only begun to show your servant your greatness and your mighty hand. For what god is there in heaven or on earth who can do such works and mighty acts as yours? Please let me go over and see the good land beyond the Jordan, that good hill country and Lebanon.’

But the Lord was angry with me because of you and would not listen to me. And the Lord said to me, ‘Enough from you; do not speak to me of this matter again. Go up to the top of Pisgah and lift up your eyes westward and northward and southward and eastward, and look at it with your eyes, for you shall not go over this Jordan.  But charge Joshua, and encourage and strengthen him, for he shall go over at the head of this people, and he shall put them in possession of the land that you shall see.’ (ESV)

God’s answer to our prayers, like His answer to Moses’ here, may be “no,” but the truth still remains that God is willing and ready to listen to our prayers, but we must be equally willing to speak to Him and listen for His answer.

As a Christian, prayer is an important part of spiritual life.  It’s a time when we draw into the presence of our Lord and offer Him our praise, thanksgiving, supplication and repentance. We want to encourage you today and every day to spend time taking advantage of the privilege of speaking to our Lord personally and intimately through prayer. The writer of Hebrews invites us to do the same:

Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (Heb. 4:14-16 ESV)

To help equip you for this day, all of our prayer titles are 25% off through May 5th!

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Easter’s Over. Now What?

Posted by on 04/21/2014 in:

The community outreach events are completed.  The music hit home.  The preaching connected.  Lives were changed forever.  Everything you’ve worked towards and focused on the last several weeks has come to fruition.  Now what?

seven days of week from Monday to Sunday in isolated vintage letYou knew this moment would happen, but the hustle and bustle of preparing for the most important service and sermon of the year consumed your every waking thought.  Now it’s Easter Monday and the next Sunday sermon is only 6 days away.  Maybe you had the forethought to plan the next series, but haven’t had the time to actual prepare.

Not to worry.  There are plenty of themes to discuss.  Here are a few questions to help you brainstorm and get the ideas flowing:

Consider your Easter Sermon.  What was the main point (beyond the obvious)?  What are some secondary points that could be used as a sermon series?  Could you take the bullet points from your Easter sermon and create a series of sermons to drive the point home?  Were there things you left unsaid because of time constraints? Perhaps you can take that sermon and use it as a launching pad into the next few weeks or months.  You spent a lot of time preparing for that Easter sermon.  Use those resources to your benefit.

Consider your Calendar.  What is coming up next on the calendar? Some of the obvious answers would be Pentecost Sunday and Mother’s Day.  But what else could you bring a biblical perspective to?  What about Tax Day, Earth Day, Cinco de Mayo, or Memorial Day?  Okay, maybe Tax Day is a stretch.  Take a look at your local calendar as well.  Is your church celebrating a significant event?  What is going on in your community in the upcoming weeks and months?  What can you point out and use as a bridge to your community?

Consider your Context.  What are the issues going on in your community right now? Are there social justice issues that need to be addressed from a biblical perspective?  Are there positive outcomes in the local government or law enforcement that you can affirm?  What are the heart concerns of the community?  How can you speak to these issues?  Take a few minutes to feel the pulse of your context.

Consider your Church.  How’s your church doing?  Are there aspects of disunity, bitterness, or un-forgiveness to be confronted?  On the other side of this, who do you need to say “thank you” to?  Who needs to be encouraged, affirmed, strengthened, and appreciated for all the hard work they did on Easter Sunday?  How can you champion the volunteers in the nursery, Sunday school, small groups, greeters, ushers, worship team, and all of the various aspects that it takes to make a service happen?

Consider Christ. Perhaps the most overlooked sermon prep tool is prayer.  How is Jesus speaking to you?  What is Jesus saying that needs to be preached?  How can you point people to Jesus and use their felt needs as a starting point?  We have to remember that Christ is more concerned about people than we are.  It’s easy to fall into the trap that we alone are responsible for bringing the Word of God to people.  However, it’s Jesus who said that He will build His church (Matthew 16:15).  Let’s remember to ask God for His help in bring His Word to His people.

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