Category: Inspiration

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.

Continue Reading

Reactions to the Resurrection

Posted by on 04/12/2017 in:

Taken from Feasting on the Word:

John 20:1-18
Pastoral Perspective

The narrative here seems almost two separate stories, that of the woman Mary and that of the two men, Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved.

I call the disciples “men,” but the word that comes more quickly to mind is “boys.” There seems such a childish competition between them. When they get word of the missing body, they run to the tomb, but their racing is not presented just as a run to arrive: it is reported as a race, with care taken to tell that the “other disciple,” the one with whom the author identifies, outran Peter and got there first. He won the race, even though Peter, typically brash, was the one who forged first into the tomb. So yes, the common claim that Peter was the first of the male disciples at the actual site of the resurrection may have some truth, but only by a technicality. The other one, John, was really first, and the faster runner. Besides, he was the one whom Jesus loved. Perhaps I overstate the comic quality of John’s account here, but it is hard to ignore at least the suggestion of such childish, such boyish, competition between these two iconic figures.

The story of Mary Magdalene, on the other hand, has nothing of such comedy. Arguably, there is something of comedy in the classic sense in the confusion about Jesus and the gardener, but that is very different from the boys-will-be-boys rivalry that brings a smile of recognition at the footrace. What we have in the Magdalene story, rather, is deep and intimate emotion. Unlike the empty-tomb stories of the other evangelists, John’s account gives us just one woman, one who comes to the tomb alone. She comes out of her own desire to be where the body of Jesus is. She is bereft that he has been taken away, not just by death but by the disappearance of his body. She grieves, she yearns, she weeps. Her words are poignant, and we can feel the hurt and longing in them: “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him” (v. 13).

Try as I might, I cannot help but hear a resonance of the Magdalene’s voice in Jesus Christ Superstar, that of the amazed and devoted lover of the man who has moved her so deeply. Volumes have been written on all that is problematic with that tradition of imagining Mary Magdalene, both as it has diminished her likely importance as an apostle in her own right and as it has played out as a paradigmatic male fantasy about women. This story, like other images of feminine devotion to a messianic male figure, is fraught with danger, with both a history of and a potential for misappropriation. Let the teller of the tale take care! Cognizant of such risk, however, I am moved once more by this woman who loves with such longing for a lost beloved. Lurid legends or prurient speculation about the Magdalene set aside, this does seem the depiction of an intimate and deeply embodied affection.

Is it not both curious and wonderful that these two stories—one of the boys and one of the woman, the comic and the passionate—sit here, one within the other? While we might opt to preach primarily from the one or the other, why not let both play upon us, reminding us that the encounter with the resurrection can be experienced differently by different people at different times, its music in different keys and danced in different ways?

The empty tomb found by the disciples is a place pregnant with potential meaning not yet understood. What it means is still unknown, but what it will mean transforms both past and future for the eager disciples who run to it. They see nothing within but empty wrappings, the leavings of one who left, and only later will they understand what presence that absence bodes.

Mary, on the other hand, has not raced with curiosity or hope, but has come to pay grief’s necessary homage to one she loved. When she looks in, she sees not only the emptiness but the angels who make the slab no longer a mere place of absence but a vision of the mercy seat and the ark of God’s presence (Exod. 25:17–22). Yet, after responding to the angels and telling her grief, Mary turns away from the tomb; even with angels, with religious symbolism, with supernatural promise and implications, it cannot hold her interest. It does not compensate for the reality of Jesus, does not dissolve her grief. He is not there, and she turns away. It is when she turns around that she encounters the one whom she seeks, in reality and not just potential. At first she does not recognize him—we may think of all the different reasons we also do not recognize our Christ—but he calls her by name. Then she sees and exclaims her greeting in return, “Rabbouni, my teacher.”

There is tenderness of affection here and the joy of a real presence, but there is finally that Noli me tangere and a new incompleteness: she may not hold on to him, perhaps not even touch him. He is going away, and as she seems to reach for him, he retreats from her. She will be his apostle to the disciples, but he does not stay to be held. That withdrawal is also part of the story.

There is much that may engage our reflection here, much familiar from our parish experience—comedy and devastation, symbol and realities, encounters and absences, the dance of nearness and distance in relationships—all of it laid out, not as the tired story of human life through the generations, but as it shines in the transfiguring light of the resurrection morning. May we preachers see it, and show it, so freshly new.

JOHN K. STENDAHL


If you enjoyed this excerpt & want more biblical insights for preaching & teaching, then consider adding Feasting on the Word to your Olive Tree library today.

Continue Reading

Discover the 5 Covenants in the Bible

Posted by on 04/06/2017 in: ,

This is a guest post from Bible Connection

Content adapted from the NIV Zondervan Study Bible. Don’t own your own copy? Click here to view your buying options.

Covenant is one of the most important theological ideas in biblical theology. It is reflected in the traditional labels Old and New Testaments, i.e., covenants. The concept exists at significant points in the Bible’s storyline and is the theological glue that binds promise to fulfillment. So the biblical history of salvation and the unfolding of God’s covenants are almost synonymous.

Although the Bible does not explicitly mention a covenant until Gen 6:18 (when God announces that he intends to establish a covenant with Noah), many believe that God made a covenant with Adam (cf. Hos 6:7; see NIV text note there). They refer to this covenant with Adam as “the covenant of works” or a “covenant with creation.” Others, however, while not denying that God had a relationship with Adam involving mutual obligations, distinguish this from a covenant, which involves additional formalizing elements such as a sworn and/or enacted oath. Understanding covenant in the more formal sense, the first divine-human covenant is the one God established in the days of Noah (cf. Isa 54:9). That covenant affirms God’s commitment to creation after the flood.

However, while the concept of a covenant may not appear until after the flood, the major divine-human covenants (Noahic, Abrahamic, Mosaic, Davidic, and the new covenant) all support and advance God’s creative (and redemptive) goal. Each covenant provides further divine assurance that God will realize his purpose for creation in general and humanity in particular by fully establishing his kingdom on earth.

The Universal/Noahic Covenant

While God announces his covenant with Noah and all creation prior to the flood (Gen 6:18), he establishes it after the deluge subsides (Gen 8:20—9:17). The first mention of this covenant simply highlights God’s plan to preserve Noah and the others in the ark (Gen 6:18). God’s covenant with Noah reaffirms his original creational intent that the flood had “disrupted.” So he solemnly promises that a suspension of the natural order will never again interrupt (Gen 8:21–22; 9:11–15) the fulfillment of humanity’s creational mandate (cf. Gen 1:26–30; 9:1–7). Moreover, the additional commands (Gen 9:4–6) emphasize the value of human life in particular, which further highlights the primary rationale for this covenant: preserving life on earth without further divine interruption. It is at least implicit from the scope of this covenant that God’s redemptive goal will ultimately encompass the whole creation. That global emphasis in Gen 1–11 is not lost in the subsequent chapters of Genesis and beyond, despite their narrowing focus.

The Abrahamic Covenant

The promises encompassed by the patriarchal covenants (those God established with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob) are recorded in Gen 12:1–3. The essence of these divine promises is that God would bless Abraham in two ways: (1) God would make him into a great nation and so make his name great, and (2) through him God would mediate blessing to others (i.e., all peoples on earth). Significantly, each of these two aspects are subsequently ratified by covenant: (1) the national dimension of God’s promise is the focus of Gen 15, where God establishes (lit. “cuts”) “a covenant with Abram” (Gen 15:18); (2) the international dimension of the promise is apparently ignored in Gen 15, but it is alluded to in Gen 17 (cf. vv. 4–6,16), where God announces an “everlasting covenant” (Gen 17:7), the so-called “covenant of circumcision” (Acts 7:8). While many hold that the latter simply elaborates or enhances the covenant already established back in Gen 15, the different circumstances and emphases at very least suggest that this is a significant second stage in God’s covenant history with Abraham. Indeed, if Gen 17 is read in conjunction with Gen 22 (see below), these chapters arguably present a second covenant—one that is distinct from, but related to, the earlier covenant established in Gen 15.

The first of these covenants (Gen 15) formally ratified God’s promise to make Abraham into a “great nation” (Gen 12:2), thus the primary focus is on how God will work out his creative goal in Abraham’s biological “offspring,” subsequently identified as the sons of Jacob (Israel).

This, however, was only the preliminary stage in God’s unfolding plan of redemption. The second stage relates to how Abraham, through that great nation descended from him, would mediate blessing to “all peoples on earth” (Gen 12:3). This seems to be the main focus in Gen 17 and 22.

Even though the promise of nationhood is not altogether absent in Gen 17 (cf. v. 8), stress is placed on “nations,” “kings,” and a perpetual divine-human relationship with Abraham’s “offspring” (Gen 17:4–8,16–21). Significantly, particular focus is placed on Isaac (Gen 17:21; cf. Gen 21:12) as the one through whom this covenant will be perpetuated, highlighting what was at stake in the divine test of Gen 22. There Abraham’s obedient faith (Gen 22:16b,18b) met the demands of Gen 17:1 (cf. Gen 18:19; 26:5), thus prompting God to ratify the promises of Gen 17 (cf. Gen 22:17–18a; 26:4) by a solemn oath (Gen 22:16a; cf. 26:3).

Thus understood, two distinct covenants were established between God and Abraham. The first (Gen 15) guaranteed God’s promise to make Abraham into a “great nation.” The second (anticipated in Gen 17 and ratified by divine oath in Gen 22) affirmed God’s promise to bless all nations through Abraham and his “offspring.”

The Mosaic Covenant

God established the Mosaic covenant just after a significant development anticipated in Gen 15 had taken place: the emancipation of Abraham’s descendants from oppression in a foreign land (cf. Gen 15:13–14; Exod 19:4–6; 20:2). The focus at Sinai is less on what Abraham’s descendants must do in order to inherit the land and more on how they must conduct themselves within the land as the unique nation that God intended them to be (Exod 19:5–6). In order to be God’s “treasured possession,” “kingdom of priests,” and “holy nation” (Exod 19:5–6), Israel must keep God’s covenant by submitting to its requirements (i.e., the stipulations set forth in Exod 20–23). By adhering to these and the subsequent covenant obligations given at Sinai, Israel would be manifestly different from other nations and thus reflect God’s wisdom and greatness to surrounding peoples (cf. Deut 4:6–8).

By such means, Abraham’s descendants would not only follow in the footsteps of their ancestor (cf. Gen 26:5) but also facilitate the fulfillment of God’s promises (Gen 18:19). Thus, like Abraham, Israel must “walk before [God] faithfully and be blameless” (Gen 17:1). Failing to do so would undermine the very reason for Israel’s existence, a lesson that the golden calf incident so graphically illustrates (Exod 32–34). Although God reestablished the covenant (Exod 34), this was an act of grace rather than justice (Exod 34:6–7). Moreover, by reissuing the same covenant obligations at the end of this incident, God demonstrated that Israel’s responsibility had not changed.

Israel had to obey God in order to fulfill his purpose for delivering them from Egypt and subsequently giving them the promised land: They were to be his priestly kingdom and holy nation. By reflecting God’s holiness (Lev 19:2), Israel would showcase true theocracy and thus serve as God’s witnesses to a watching world. Moreover, since human rebellion threatened to jeopardize God’s ultimate objective (i.e., blessing all nations through Abraham’s “offspring”), the Mosaic covenant also encompassed the means by which the divine-human relationship between Yahweh and Israel could be maintained: Sacrificial worship, particularly on the Day of Atonement (Lev 16), would ritually atone for Israel’s sin and symbolically express God’s forgiveness. Therefore, just as the Noahic covenant guaranteed the preservation of human life on earth, so the Mosaic covenant guaranteed the preservation of Israel, Abraham’s great nation, in the land. Such was crucial for the next stage in fulfilling God’s promises: establishing a royal line through which Abraham’s ultimate “seed” and covenant heir would eventually come (cf. Gal 3:16).

The Davidic Covenant

After Sinai, the next major covenantal development comes with Nathan’s message to David (2 Sam 7; 1 Chr 17). David intends to build a “house” (i.e., temple) for God, but God promises to build a “house” (i.e., dynasty) for David. Neither 2 Sam 7 nor 1 Chr 17 explicitly describes God’s promise as a “covenant,” but several other texts do (cf. 2 Sam 23:5; 2 Chr 7:18; 13:5; Ps 89:3; Jer 33:21).

The Davidic covenant continues the trajectory of both the Mosaic and Abrahamic covenants. God’s plans for David and Israel are clearly intertwined (cf. 2 Sam 7:8–11,23–26). Moreover, significant parallels link David to Abraham:

  • God promises both a great name (Gen 12:2; 2 Sam 7:9).
  • In the future both will conquer their enemies (Gen 22:17; 2 Sam 7:11; cf. Ps 89:23);
  • Both have a special divine-human relationship (Gen 17:7–8; 2 Sam 7:24; cf. Ps 89:26).
  • A special line of “offspring” perpetuates both of their names (Gen 21:12; 2 Sam 7:12–16).
  • The descendants of both must keep God’s laws (Gen 18:19; 2 Sam 7:14; cf. Pss 89:30–32; 132:12).
  • The offspring of both would mediate international blessing (Gen 22:18; Ps 72:17).

The Davidic covenant thus identifies more precisely the lineage of the “offspring” who will mediate international blessing: He will be a royal descendant of Abraham through David.

This covenant therefore introduces a subtle but significant shift in focus. With the great nation promised to Abraham now firmly established (2 Sam 7:1), attention zooms in on his royal progeny (cf. Gen 17:6,16). This royal line, already traced explicitly in Genesis (cf. Gen 35:11; 49:10; see also Gen 38; Ruth 4:18–22), culminates in an individual, conquering “offspring” who fulfills the promise of Gen 22:18 and the hope expressed in Ps 72:17.

The New Covenant

Persistent failure to live according to God’s covenant requirements led to inevitable disaster for both the nation and its monarchy, culminating in judgment: the destroyed temple and Babylonian exile. This might have spelled the end had God’s plans for Israel not been crucial for fulfilling his covenant promises. The exile of the nation and the demise of the monarchy had to be overcome for God’s creation plan to be realized. Covenant history thus continued through the prospect of a “new covenant”—one that would be both continuous and discontinuous with those of the past.

Though referred to explicitly as a “new covenant” only once in the OT (Jer 31:31), several passages, both in Jeremiah and elsewhere, allude to it. In Isaiah this everlasting covenant of peace is closely associated with the servant figure (Isa 42:6; 49:8; 54:10; 55:3; 61:8). It is inclusive in that it incorporates even foreigners and eunuchs (Isa 56:3) but also exclusive in that it is confined to those who “hold fast to” its obligations (Isa 56:5–6; cf. 56:1–2).

While Jeremiah and Ezekiel use different terminology to describe it, both anticipate a fundamental change taking place in the covenant community: Jeremiah speaks of internalizing the Torah (Jer 31:33), whereas Ezekiel speaks of spiritual surgery and radical transformation (Ezek 36:26–27). For both prophets, this inner renewal would result in the ideal divine-human relationship, which this and earlier covenants express in terms of the covenant formula “I will be their God, and they will be my people.” In this new covenant, all the hopes and expectations of previous covenants will attain climactic fulfillment and eschatological expression.

It is unsurprising, therefore, that the New Testament (“covenant”) declares that all God’s covenant promises are realized in and through Jesus (cf. Luke 1:54–55,69–75; 2 Cor 1:20), the long-awaited Davidic Messiah (Matt 1:17–18; 2:4–6; 16:16; 21:9; Luke 2:11; John 7:42 Acts 2:22–36). As the ultimate offspring of Abraham (Matt 1:1; Gal 3:16) and royal offspring of David (Matt 1:1; Luke 1:27,32–33; 2:4; Rom 1:3; 2 Tim 2:8; Rev 5:5; 22:16), Jesus also fulfills the role of Isaiah’s servant (Acts 3:18; 4:27–28; 8:32–35)—not only in redeeming Israel (Luke 2:38; Acts 3:25–26; Heb 9:12,15) but also by mediating God’s blessing to an international community of faith (Acts 10:1—11:18; 15:1–29; Rom 1:2–6; 3:22–24; 4:16–18; 15:8–12; Gal 3:7–14,29).

According to the NT Gospels and letters, the new covenant was ratified through Jesus’ sacrificial death on the cross (cf. Matt 26:28; Mark 14:24; Luke 22:20; 1 Cor 11:25). In the inaugural Lord’s Supper, Jesus alludes to both the forgiveness linked by Jeremiah to the new covenant (Matt 26:28; cf. Jer 31:34) and the blood associated with the establishment of the old (i.e., Mosaic) covenant (Luke 22:20; cf. Exod 24:8. Accordingly, the NT emphasizes the forgiveness of sins, something only fully attainable under the new covenant (Acts 13:39; cf. Heb 10:4), as the primary benefit of Jesus’ death (e.g., Luke 1:77; 24:46–47; Acts 2:38; 10:43; 13:38; 26:18; Rom 3:24–25; Eph 1:7; Col 1:14; Heb 9:12,28; 1 John 1:7; Rev 1:5; 7:14; 12:10–11).

Thus, according to both Paul and the writer of Hebrews, the new covenant is far superior to the old (i.e., the Mosaic covenant). Such is already implicit in the use of the adjective “new” in 1 Cor 11:25 (cf. Luke 22:20), which clearly alludes to Jeremiah’s negative contrast (Jer 31:31–32). Paul is even more pointed, however, in 2 Cor 3, where he explicitly contrasts the new and the old covenants, highlighting the vast inferiority of the old in comparison with the surpassing glory and permanence of the new. A similar, negative comparison is also made by his “figurative” contrast between Hagar and Sarah in Gal 4:21–31.

Analogous conclusions are drawn by the author of Hebrews. Having noted the superiority of the new covenant in Heb 7:22, the writer elaborates his point through an extended comment on Jer 31:31–34, which forms a literary bracket around much of the argument in Heb 8–10 (cf. 8:9–12; 10:16–17). Not only does Jesus exercise a permanent, perfect, and heavenly priesthood (Heb 7:23—8:6), but the covenant of which he is mediator “is established on better promises” (Heb 8:6b), explained in terms of an “eternal redemption” (9:12) and “eternal inheritance” (9:15) secured through the blood of Christ (Heb 9:11—10:18)—later described as “the blood of the eternal covenant” (Heb 13:20). Like Paul, therefore, the contrast is not between something bad and something good, but between something good (but temporal) and something better (because, unlike the old covenant, the new is unbreakable and eternal).

While these new covenant realities are in many respects already present (cf. Heb 9:11), it is nevertheless true that the best is still to come. Just as Israel’s restoration hopes were not exhausted in repatriation after the Babylonian exile, neither were they fully realized in the first coming of their Messiah. While in Jesus—the promised “seed” of Abraham (Gal 3:16), the anticipated prophet like Moses (Acts 3:22–23; cf. Deut 18:15; Matt 17:5), King David’s greater son (Matt 22:41–46), and the mediator of the new covenant (Heb 8:6)—God’s covenant promises for both Israel and the nations have come to fruition, the ultimate expression of God’s creative and redemptive goal awaits fulfillment in the eschatological reality of the new creation. Only then will the hope expressed in the age-old covenant formula be most fully experienced (Rev 21:3), for “the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him … And they will reign for ever and ever” (Rev 22:3,5).

Content adapted from the NIV Zondervan Study Bible. Don’t own your own copy? Click here to view your buying options.

Continue Reading

What is Advent?

Posted by on 11/17/2016 in: ,

Three Advent Candles Lit In Snow

If you would have said the word ‘Advent’ to me when I was a kid my first thought would have been some sort of calendar with doors that a few of my friends families had hanging in their house during the Christmas season. Advent – in any form – was not a part of my family tradition. When my wife and I got married however we were a part of a church that did Advent readings and candle lighting in the weeks leading up to Christmas. I began to explore the tradition more fully and grew to really appreciate the Biblical context it brought to the Christmas season. Now, years later with several kids, we have made Advent one of the ways that our family seeks to keep the focus on Jesus during the Christmas season. In a culture that has made it all about other things (presents, parties, decorations, etc.) we have found Advent readings and times of reflection as a family to be a beautiful centerpiece of the way we celebrate.

What is Advent?

Maybe like me your understanding of Advent was limited or non-existent and you’re just wondering what it is.  Advent comes from the Latin word adventus which means “coming” or “arrival.” For Christians it is the time of year when we specifically look to the coming of Jesus Christ, first in his coming to bring our salvation and then his subsequent return to reign in glory. The advent season begins four Sundays before December 25, so the start date varies from year to year. This year Advent begins November 27. For four weeks the idea is to meditate on Christ’s coming, much like God’s people waited the thousands of years for him to arrive.

Advent Reading

If you are looking for a way to personally observe Advent we have created an Advent reading plan that is available in the Olive Tree Bible App. Starting on November 27 this plan will guide you through 28 days of select scripture that will end on Christmas Eve.

To find this plan tap on the Reading Plans section of the app then tap ‘Get More Reading Plans’ and you’ll see Advent Reading Plan 2016 available for download at the top of the list.

(Please note: on some devices you may see a preinstalled Advent Reading Plan. To get the most up to date one you’ll need to tap the ‘Get More Reading Plans’ button.)

Additional Christmas Season Resources

If you’re looking for further Advent resources such as devotionals, study guides, or eBooks here are few that can be used in the Olive Tree Bible App.

Continue Reading

Share Some Encouragement

Posted by on 07/06/2016 in: ,

medicine, technology, nutritional supplements and people concept

If you’ve ever been through a tough season in your life than you know how important it is to get support and encouragement from those close to you. A kind word can be a much needed ray of hope and really give you the perspective you need.

From your smartphone you can easily text a quick word or prayer to a friend right when you’re thinking of them. With the Olive Tree Bible App you can actually share a scripture verse or even an entire devotional reading right from the app, via text, to your friend or loved one who needs to be encouraged. Here’s how to easily share right from the app!

For Android

  1. Tap and hold to select the text you want to share.
  2. Select ‘Share’ in the menu bar. For some phones you’ll need to scroll the menu bar to the side to see the share button.
  3. Select your messaging app and then enter the recipient just as you would for any text message.

android share

For iOS

  1. Tap and hold to select the text you want to share.
  2. Select ‘Share’ in the menu bar. For some phones you’ll need to scroll the menu bar to the side to see the share button.
  3. Select your messaging app and then enter the recipient just as you would for any text messaging.

iOS share

This sharing feature works with any type of word based resource like a Bible, Devotional, eBook and more. Try it out today and share some encouragement with someone you know!

Don’t have a devotional for the app yet? Go here to add one!

Continue Reading

He Is Risen

Posted by on 03/26/2016 in:

Fully God and fully man.

For over 30 years Jesus lived as a man, yet in the few years leading up to his death on a cross it became clear that he was no ordinary man. What man could do these type of things?

  • End a storm with his words
  • Multiply food
  • Heal those who couldn’t walk, see, or talk
  • Walk on water
  • Raise the dead

His miracles were always clues that this Jesus was more than a man.  Another astonishing clue to his divinity was that he was sinless. Tempted? Yes, but he had never given into that temptation. Sinless?! That fact alone seems to be impossible when we consider the world around us.

From the beginning of time until that moment on the cross there had never been one to die having lived a sinless life. And like some sort of science fiction movie, when Jesus breathed his last breath as man something unseen shattered. The power of the unseen so great that the physical world manifested it by way of sudden darkness and a trembling earth. At that moment the sacrifice made by a sinless man would forever change destiny.

The proof of this change? That’s what we celebrate today. All of Jesus followers initially had no idea what we know and celebrate today. Jesus, had actually won! Three days later they would find this out when the man they thought dead would appear – and in so doing confirm that he was no ordinary man. He is God who came near (Immanuel) to change the course of history. And it’s His Story that we celebrate today and our place in that story. So when we say ‘He is Risen’ it’s not just a statement of a past event but it’s declaration of a current reality.

He is risen means:

  • We are forgiven
  • Belonging to Jesus we are not bound by sin
  • Our today is part of our eternity with the creator God
  • Our identity is secure as his sons and daughters

The reality of his rising from the grave points to the Spirit by which he came, by which we’re saved, and by which we’re empowered today. After the cross and resurrection Jesus says to his followers,
Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,  teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
Matthew 19-20

He is Risen!

bigstock-Easter-Christian-Motive-Resur-83358035 copy

Continue Reading

My Favorite Three Bible Study Methods

Posted by on 09/14/2015 in: , ,

From Guest Blogger: Andy Deane, author of Learn to Study the Bible

learntostudythebible

Studying the Scriptures is supposed to be exciting! That’s why King David tells us in Psalm 119:103: “How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth!” Like me, I hope that you have found this verse to be true. Maybe, like me, you have also discovered that having plain honey multiple times a day can get repetitive. I’m not saying that God’s word becomes boring over time. Actually, it’s quite the opposite. I love that God’s word is so diverse and continues to excite and bless the reader taste after taste. The Scriptures are not to blame if we lose our taste for them. The Bible is designed to be a continual blessing to the believer. But believers may sometimes need to mix up how they study the Scriptures to make sure to avoid the ruts that their method of extracting the honey can bring about. Sometimes when we use the same approach to studying each and every day, the approach can become repetitive. It’s not God’s word that needs new spice, it’s the method of study that needs variety. That is why I wrote Learn to Study the Bible. With forty different ways to study the Scriptures, you always have a fresh way to prepare and digest your daily manna from heaven.

I’d like to share briefly the three ways that I personally enjoy studying the Bible.

FAVORITE VERSE BIBLE STUDY METHOD:

To start, please consider buying a new Bible to use with this method, or at least a new color highlighter. Begin by reading one to four chapters of the Bible a day. Remember that reading one chapter a day will get you through the entire New Testament in a year with one hundred make up days for when you miss a day of reading. Four chapters a day will get you through the entire Bible in a year in less than 25 minutes of reading time. The key is that each day you underline only one favorite verse from each chapter you read. That’s easy when you are in Leviticus but extremely difficult when you are in Matthew! After you are finished reading the entire book, go back and circle one favorite verse from the verses you underlined in the whole book. Write a few sentences in your Bible about why that is your favorite verse for that book. After you’ve read the whole Bible, you’ll have 1,189 favorite verses underlined (one from each chapter) and 66 all-time favorite verses (one from each book). Think about how valuable that Bible will be to you because of this investment. As you turn to any page in Scripture you will remember which verse spoke to your heart the most. You might even consider putting the date next to the verses you choose to connect them to your daily journal to enhance the experience even more. These will become the verses you choose to memorize since they have meaning to you. It’s a simple but fruitful and personal way to study the Bible.

TRANSLATION COMPARISON BIBLE STUDY METHOD

Not every student of God’s word is going to have the blessing of learning the original biblical languages. But that doesn’t mean that we can’t stand on the shoulders of scholars who spend their lives steeped in these languages, and this is the beauty of the Translation Comparison Bible Study Method. Every translation of the Bible represents the understanding and choice of dozens of skilled language scholars. When you see a unique word in a verse, you can be sure an important decision was made to choose that word over another word. This method helps you notice the different word selections that scholars made when creating English translations of the Bible. You’ll also learn how to prayerfully meditate on why these words were chosen over other words and how that can impact your understanding of the text.

DAILY BREAD BIBLE STUDY METHOD

Sometimes our biggest problem is rushing our reading of a passage of Scripture. If we simply slow down and chew on God’s word then we would be blessed by it. Slowing down is exactly what the Daily Bread Bible Study Method will force you to do. With this method, you’ll learn techniques that invite you to take the time to make sure you’re squeezing all the meaning you can out of the Scriptures. If you’ve struggled with understanding what your pastor means when he tells you to “meditate on God’s word,” then this method is for you.

I hope these three Bible study methods that I use personally will bless you as you experiment with them. Remember that however you mix it up, keep it exciting—don’t let your Bible study time become dull or a duty. I hope you’ll enjoy and use one of these methods, but don’t forget that you should never become devoted to the method—only to the Savior to whom the methods lead!

Learn to Study the Bible by Andy Deane can be purchased for the Bible Study App on www.OliveTree.com here.

See other titles that will help you in your own Bible study here!

Continue Reading

Encouragement from the Prince of Preachers

Posted by on 06/22/2015 in: ,

Spurgeon

Charles Haddon Spurgeon is a popular figure in Christianity. Most Christians have encountered his works at some point in their spiritual walk, even if it’s just his Morning and Evening devotional. His works have impacted millions of lives, so it’s no wonder we often commemorate his birthday when it comes around. Today, instead of giving you details about why Spurgeon was such a great preacher and writer, I want to share this morning’s entry from his beloved Morning and Evening devotional. I read it this morning as part of my quiet time and I felt it was an encouraging word to share that speaks perfectly to the heart that Spurgeon had for those he ministered to.


“He shall build the temple of the Lord; and He shall bear the glory.” Zechariah 6:13

Christ Himself is the builder of His spiritual temple, and He has built it on the mountains of His unchangeable affection, His omnipotent grace, and His infallible truthfulness. But as it was in Solomon’s temple, so in this; the materials need making ready. There are the “Cedars of Lebanon,” but they are not framed for the building; they are not cut down, and shaped, and made into those planks of cedar, whose odoriferous beauty shall make glad the courts of the Lord’s house in Paradise. There are also the rough stones still in the quarry, they must be hewn thence, and squared. All this is Christ’s own work. Each individual believer is being prepared, and polished, and made ready for his place in the temple; but Christ’s own hand performs the preparation-work. Afflictions cannot sanctify, excepting as they are used by Him to this end. Our prayers and efforts cannot make us ready for heaven, apart from the hand of Jesus, who fashioneth our hearts aright.

As in the building of Solomon’s temple, “there was neither hammer, nor axe, nor any tool of iron, heard in the house,” because all was brought perfectly ready for the exact spot it was to occupy- so is it with the temple which Jesus builds; the making ready is all done on earth. When we reach heaven, there will be no sanctifying us there, no squaring us with affliction, no planing us with suffering. No, we must be made meet here- all that Christ will do beforehand; and when He has done it, we shall be ferried by a loving hand across the stream of death, and brought to the heavenly Jerusalem, to abide as eternal pillars in the temple of our Lord.

Beneath His eye and care,
The edifice shall rise,
Majestic, strong, and fair,
And shine above the skies.


For me, this devotion forced me to remember that my life as a Christian is all about being molded into the image of Christ. This means God brings difficulties and trials our way for our good, which leads to our sanctification. With this as our perspective it should motivate us to praise God because he uses all things for the good of those who love him (Romans 8:28).

To Celebrate Spurgeon’s birthday we have the 37 Volume Olive Tree Charles Haddon Spurgeon Collection discounted this week. This collection includes his Sermons, Autobiography, and several Devotionals and eBooks written by C.H. Spurgeon. There are also several more titles discounted to celebrate Charles Spurgeon and John Wesley’s birthdays this week. You can find them here.

Lastly, since I didn’t bore you with a biography, let me leave you with this song from Shai Linne that eloquently sums up this great preacher’s life.

[bandcamp width=100% height=42 album=1667819430 size=small bgcol=ffffff linkcol=e99708 track=1613635066]

Continue Reading

Your Labor Is Not in Vain

Posted by on 04/04/2015 in:

By Olive Tree Employee: David Mikucki

labor-in-vainA Christian without a resurrection is a dismal Christian indeed. In 1 Corinthians, Paul goes so far as to say that if Christ has not been raised, our faith is futile and we are still in our sins (1 Corinthians 15:17). Praise God, then, that Christ died for our sins and was raised for our justification (Romans 4:25). The resurrection of Christ can be a great encouragement to us when we feel like we’re experiencing deadness. Christians can feel discouraged in many areas, but the resurrection helps us to understand that our God is a God who brings life out of death. The word “impossible” isn’t in His vocabulary.

Most Christians take encouragement from the fact that Jesus is going to return and resurrect the dead. Jesus’ resurrection means that those who are in Christ will be raised on the last day to spend eternity with God (1 Corinthians 15:24). The resurrection is our great hope as Christians, but the resurrection also offers us hope in this life.

Hope in This Life

You might be discouraged because the world has grown darker in recent years. Jesus said, “destroy this Temple, and in three days I’ll raise it up,” referring to His body (John 2:19–21). When they killed Jesus, they destroyed His temple—but He raised it. He also began building up His body, the church (1 Corinthians 12:27), which is also God’s temple (1 Corinthians 3:16). The Church is built because Jesus’ body was destroyed and because He rose again—the Church is His rebuilt temple.

Things never looked more grim than when Jesus was in the tomb, but God chose to start the Church when right when things looked completely impossible. Regardless of how dark and sinful the world gets, we can look to where Jesus said “I will build my church; and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.” (Matthew 16:18) In this way, we can be encouraged by Christ’s resurrection in this life.

Another area we are often discouraged is that of our own personal walk with God. John reminds us that we all sin (1 John 1:8), and we know that our sin can often discourage us. Our walk toward holiness sometimes feels like we’re on a treadmill—taking a lot of steps but not getting anywhere. The resurrection helps us here by first reminding us that we are justified before God because of the resurrection of Jesus (Romans 4:25). There is no condemnation for sin if we are in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1). Jesus’ resurrection means we’ll be raised, even though we’ve never done anything to deserve it—not even in our best efforts.

The resurrection also reminds us of the new life we receive in Christ. Our sin-enslaved self died on the cross with Jesus (Romans 6:6). Through the resurrection we can walk in newness of life. We see this in our baptism (Romans 6:3–4). Even though we may see a lot of sin and darkness in our lives, God is transforming us by His Spirit through Christ’s resurrection. The fact that you can say “no” to sin at all and you’re not totally enslaved is an evidence of that new life working in you. If you’re having trouble saying no to sin, remember that your wishing you could say no more is also an evidence of God’s grace working new life in you. Dead men don’t want to love God more. Thank God for this grace and ask for then seek more grace through prayer, reading Scripture, and attending church.

There are many other reasons that we can be discouraged as Christians. Relationships, marriages, churches, businesses, and more can be marred by sin. The resurrection reminds us that nothing is impossible for God and that He loves to bring life out of death. He loves to work good out of evil (Genesis 50:20)—although it’s not always the good we’re expecting. If you’ve been discouraged lately, this Easter might be a good time to read and study 1 Corinthians 15 to see the triumph God is working in Christ through the resurrection.

1 Corinthians 15:58 (ESV): Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.

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

Continue Reading