Category: Inspiration

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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Jesus is the Key to the Bible

Posted by on 04/18/2014 in:

Jesus is the Key to the Bible

By Olive Tree Staff: David Mikucki

Jesus’ followers were convinced that He was the coming King—the Messiah of Israel who would rule the nations with a rod of iron. All His disciples were severely disappointed when the unthinkable happened: Jesus was crucified. The coming, conquering King had come and didn’t seem to have conquered. Maybe Jesus wasn’t the Messiah? If He wasn’t, then… now what?

That’s the backdrop for Luke 24. With Jesus dead, His followers were distraught. They were on a seven mile journey from Jerusalem to Emmaus, talking about everything that had just happened, trying to sort through it all—still unaware that Jesus had been raised. Jesus met them on this road, but He kept them from recognizing Him (Luke 24:17). To them He was a stranger passing on the road. They told this ‘stranger’ that they thought Jesus was the one who was going to redeem Israel. They said that some of their friends were telling what they thought were fairytales about Him rising from the dead.

At this point, Jesus says something that shocks everyone. He tells his followers that the prophets said all of this was going to happen: the Messiah would suffer and then enter into His glory. No one expected the Messiah to suffer! Who expects a King to suffer? Jesus says the prophets expected it. Then in Luke 24:27, He explains the things concerning Himself from Moses and all the prophets. Jesus went to each book of the Bible and explained all the things about Himself (see also Luke 24:44).

People these days have a lot of different ideas concerning what the Bible is about. Jesus has His own idea. The Bible isn’t a book of rules we have to follow in order to go to heaven (John 5:39). It’s not just a bunch of do’s and don’t’s. It’s not just a bunch of neat stories. Jesus said the Bible is about Himself. Humanity’s biggest problem is that we sin our whole lives and then we die and enter into judgment. The Bible teaches us all we need to know about our Savior—the King who suffered and died in our place and rose from the dead three days later to make us right before God and give us a new life like His.

One of the last things Jesus did before He ascended into heaven was to tell us that the Bible is about Him! Jesus is our Savior—the only Savior—and He says that all of Scripture points us to Him: the One we really need. When we study the Bible, let’s remember that it’s all about Jesus.

Olive Tree has got some great resources that explain Jesus in parts of the Bible we might not have expected to find Him. Here are some of my favorites…

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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Jesus Washed Judas’ Feet

Posted by on 04/17/2014 in:

I’ve been reading through the Bible chronologically this year with one of the Olive Tree Bible App reading plans.  Right now, I’m reading the Gospel accounts of the Last Supper.  I’m struck again by Jesus.

At the last meal they would have together before the cross, the Messiah, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, takes off his robes, wraps a towel around himself and washes the disciples’ feet (John 13:1-20).  I’ve read this account that’s only recorded in John’s Gospel dozens of times.  Yet, like the Holy Spirit often does, this passage was made anew as I read it recently.

Here’s what struck me: Judas was heavily influenced by Satan (if not possessed) at this point (Luke 22:36, John 13:2), but Judas was present for Jesus to wash his feet.  I find this humbling and encouraging.  What?!?  Yes, encouraging.  Why?  Because even though Jesus KNEW Judas was going to betray Him, Jesus served him.  Jesus knew what was in Judas’ heart.  He knew the betrayal was coming.  Jesus knew the anguish that was coming. The beatings, the scourging, the agonizing walk to Golgotha, and the ultimate torture, the cross.  Yet, even in this moment of humbling Himself, Jesus washed Judas’ feet, this man Judas who was pivotal in fulfilling the Scriptures and prophecies about the Suffering Servant.

Jesus humbled Himself and SERVED His greatest enemy.

I don’t know about you, but I have trouble serving my closest loved ones.  It is difficult to humble myself, to serve, and to put others’ needs before my own.  I can’t fathom putting a backstabber’s needs in front of my own.

At the same time, that is what I am.  I am the backstabber, the betrayer.  I am the one who put Jesus on the cross.  It is my sin that put Jesus there.  How many times have I turned from God’s grace to live, act, be, and do what I want for my own selfishness?  But Jesus served me by going to the cross.  This is humbling because of my sin, but encouraging because of how much Jesus loves me.  Even though Jesus knows me, He served me.  Even though Jesus knew that I would betray Him, He went to the cross willingly.

John 13:14 If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. 15 For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you.

Here is my example:

I am to serve, love, and do for others like Jesus did for me.  I am to put down my own needs, my own pride, and serve others, even those who will betray me.  Even those who will turn their backs on me.  I am to love and serve as our Lord and Teacher Jesus Christ loved and served me.

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Not Recognizing Jesus

Posted by on 04/16/2014 in:

Not Recognizing Jesus

 That very day two of them were going to a village named Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, 14 and they were talking with each other about all these things that had happened. While they were talking and discussing together, Jesus himself drew near and went with them. But their eyes were kept from recognizing him. — Luke 24:13-16

It’s easy to read this passage and think “How in the world were they not recognizing Jesus?!?”  But taking into account what they said, I can appreciate what they were going through.  They were sad, hurting, afraid, and confused.  And Jesus kept them from recognizing Him.

NOT RECOGNIZING JESUS IN MY OWN LIFE

A few days ago, I ran into a former co-worker.  It had been over a year since we connected, so there was a lot to catch up on.  After the initial questions of small talk, the conversation turned to our former workplace.  She left about nine months after I did, and gave me some insight on how things went.  Hearing the stories, change, and “occurrences” reminded me of the goodness of God. I realized how I often have my eyes closed to the reality of Christ and His direction in my life.  A renewed sense of the sovereignty and grace of God swept over me during our conversation.

I don’t always recognize Christ in my daily life.  From my everyday encounters, to those monumental life events, do I truly open my eyes to see Jesus? In times where my family is sick, finances are tight, or work is stressful, do I remember to look for Christ? Fortunately, Jesus gives us “breaking of bread” reminders to gently lead, guide, and direct us.

JESUS OPENS OUR EYES

 When he was at table with them, he took the bread and blessed and broke it and gave it to them. And their eyes were opened, and they recognized him. — Luke 24:30-31

Like these two disciples, I need the jolts, nudges, and reminders to open my eyes to the risen Christ.  Thankfully, Jesus “interprets to us in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself”. He leads us by the Holy Spirit to open our eyes.

Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he was known to them in the breaking of the bread. — Luke 24:25

I am thankful that Jesus makes Himself known through everyday events.  It’s up to me to proclaim the risen Christ to others and remember that “The Lord has risen indeed!”

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The Cross Demands Forgiveness

Posted by on 04/15/2014 in:

The CrossBy Olive Tree Employee: LaRosa Johnson

Holy Week is a somber time of the year for me. As I look at the gospel accounts that detail the crucifixion of Jesus, I often ask myself, “What’s so good about Good Friday? Jesus died. He was brutally murdered. How can that possibly be good?” From there, I am reminded of the weight of my own sin that forced him to come and die on the cross. Ultimately, I find relief knowing that Jesus didn’t stay in the tomb, but rose again victorious. Yet, why did God do all of that? He did it to pay the penalty of our sins that we might be forgiven.

Yes, when we look at the cross, we are asked to look at the subject of forgiveness and reconciliation. The perfect place for us to turn in the Bible to look at the forgiveness found in the cross isn’t in the gospels, but it is found in Paul’s epistle to the Romans, Romans 5:6-11 to be exact. In this short paragraph we see statements like: “Christ died for the ungodly,” “while we were still sinners, Christ died for us,” and “we were reconciled to God.” Jesus Christ didn’t come to bring salvation to those of us who were already on his team; no, he came to give his life on behalf of his enemies so that we could be forgiven and found righteous in the sight of the one perfect and holy God. We were saved to be spared from the wrath of God (v. 9), even though it came at the expense of the shed blood of God’s only begotten son.

Now, just think about the cross for a moment and look at Paul’s illustration in verse 7. As a husband and father, the odds are pretty good that I’d risk my life and die to save my family. I might even be persuaded to do it for a friend. Ask me to do it for my enemy and I’d tell you that you’d lost your mind! But, this is precisely what Christ did for us, with us being God’s enemy because of our sins against him. He took our punishment upon himself. By his blood he justified & saved us, and we are reconciled to God through his resurrection life. How mind blowing is that?!

We can still take this a step further. 2 Corinthians 5:18-21 tells us that we, as Christians, have now been given the ministry of reconciliation that was once Christ’s. This means that it is now our job to: 1) forgive others like Christ forgave us, and 2) tell others about the forgiveness that can be found in God. First, we should look at our own lives and how awful our sins are in the sight of God; yet, as vile offenders against his law and holiness, he chose to forgive and bring about our reconciliation. If God was willing to do that for us, how much more should we extend that same compassion toward everyone in our lives (Luke 7:41-43, 47)? Even as we’re forgiving others, it is also our job to tell them that their sins can be forgiven through the blood of Christ. Jesus didn’t die just for me, but his mission was to save so many more.

While Holy Week might indeed be a somber time, I’m glad that it can also brighten my spirit. Jesus didn’t just die; he died to pay the penalty for my sin. He didn’t just rise again, but he rose to bring about my forgiveness and righteous standing before God. As a result, the cross demands forgiveness. The cross was the stipulation of our forgiveness with God, and it is also the vehicle that demands we forgive others in the same manner that we’ve been forgiven. For me, that’s what this week is all about.

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Resurrection, Reconciliation, Restoration

Posted by on 04/14/2014 in:

I can’t think of any bigger understatement than saying what we celebrate this coming 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.

Resurrection
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.

Reconciliation
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.

Restoration
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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Where is Patience?

Posted by on 02/13/2014 in: ,

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such bigstock-HS-Patience-48914204things there is no law.” Galatians 5:22-23 (ESV)

If we’re honest, most of us would admit that one of our least favorite words is patience. In a ‘me first’ western culture we can often get what we want, when we want it. Whether it’s Burger King saying, “Have it your way” or the Staples slogan, “That was easy,” our natural desire to be selfish only seems to be magnified by the messages marketed to us on a daily basis, so it shouldn’t be a surprise that the message of patience is nearly impossible to find in our culture. For those who have placed their faith in Jesus, however, patience is the fruit of God’s Spirit at work within us.

It’s easy to read about the people in the Bible that God used in amazing ways and yet forget about where God showed up in the timeline of their lives. The theme of patience and endurance is one we see throughout scripture. Abraham and his wife Sarah weren’t young when they finally had the child God had promised. Joseph spent years in jail on wrong accusations before he became a powerful leader, fulfilling the dreams God had given him. Moses lived a non-descript life before God called him to lead his people out of Egypt. The Israelites had to spend 40 years in the desert before God released them into the Promised Land. Even Jesus didn’t start his public ministry until he was 30 years old.

If you’ve ever been in a place in your spiritual growth or your ministry where you feel that nothing is happening, you can take great comfort that you’re in good company. God is always concerned more about our depth of character than our width of ministry.  So how do you know if God is working in your life during a season where nothing seems to be happening? Jesus answers that question in the ‘Parable of the Sower’ in Luke 8.
“As for that in the good soil, they are those who, hearing the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patience” (Luke 8:15, ESV).

If you’ve placed your faith in Jesus, hear God’s Word, and are holding it fast in your heart, then be on the lookout for seasons of patience and embrace them. As you do, be reminded that you’re walking the same spiritual road as Abraham and Sarah, Joseph, and Moses. And  God used these individuals to change whole cultures.

Patience and God’s Timing
When my son was three, he and I were hanging out at home and lunch time was fast approaching. He was getting increasingly irritable and fussy, and I hadn’t quite learned how important it was to feed kids on time. He then asked me when lunch time was, and I told him I’d start making it in five minutes. Instead of saying, “Sounds good Dad,” my three-year-old son (to my ignorant surprise) proceeded to throw a tantrum that made me wonder if he had heard me say five hours instead of five minutes. As I quickly made him a delicious peanut butter and jelly sandwich two thoughts hit me.

First, my son didn’t have a concept of time. As an adult, waiting five  minutes is nothing. For a preschooler with no concept of time, any amount of waiting is too long, whether it’s five minutes or five days.

Second, I am just like my son. Sure, I may not throw a fit if I have to wait five minutes but if something doesn’t happen on my timeline my response isn’t much more mature than his. How many times have I approached God and said, “Here’s what I need and when I need it.” The big problem here is that if God doesn’t answer my prayers on my timeline then I assume he’s just not going to answer them. But this isn’t necessarily true. While a young child has no concept of time, we as adults also don’t understand God’s concept of time because it’s eternal. He sees our needs  but through the perspective of eternity. Though we don’t have an eternal viewpoint, God’s eternal viewpoint should give us comfort that God provides our needs and our answers at just the right time.

Jesus’ brother James says this about patience and God’s timing:
“Be patient, therefore, brothers, until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient about it, until it receives the early and the late rains. You also, be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand.” (James 5:7-8, ESV).

As sons and daughters of a perfect and loving God, being patient is evidence of our trust and faith in our heavenly Father. As we pray and make requests of our Father we can be confident that his timing is the best timing.

Take time to reflect on both answered and unanswered prayers. When and how did God answer those prayers?
For those prayers that have yet to be answered, ask God for his perspective and trust in his perfect timing.

 

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In Desperate Need of Hope

Posted by on 01/22/2014 in: ,

“And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.”
– The Apostle Paul in Philippians 1:6 (ESV)

“I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world. “
-Jesus in John 16:33 (ESV)

Since Adam and Eve were cast from the garden, every generation has been on a desperate search for hope. Hope that there is a cure, that there is a way out, that something ‘I’ can do will make all things right again. For those of us who have placed our faith in Jesus we know that He alone is our hope. It’s only through his saving grace that our desperate search for hope finds an answer.

But, here’s the thing, it’s not yet fully complete. The day of Jesus Christ that the Apostle Paul references in Philippians 1:6 (see above) is yet to come. Our hope begins when we accept the gift of God’s grace and say ‘yes’ to Jesus – and it’s fully and wholly completed on Christ’s return.  So what do we do in the meantime? What do we do when health fails, depression overwhelms, and the circumstances of life overwhelm us?

We still cling to hope! We still believe the promises of Jesus (see above verse) and at that moment – as the writer of Hebrews says – hope becomes our anchor. If Jesus isn’t that hope that anchors us down – then just like a ship in a storm – we become lost, aimless, and desperate. Have you ever felt like that? I certainly have and it’s in those seasons of desperation that everything the world has to offer is no more solid than sinking sand.  Jesus says, we ‘will have tribulation’ but despite the hardships of life we choose hope. Hope in him and his promises – knowing he is faithful.

This is the good news the world needs to hear and we need build our lives on!

Watch the video below to hear how the reality of Jesus brought hope despite the circumstances of life. If you find yourself in a season that has tried to steal your hope check out the book 365 Days of Hope or check out other great books on hope here.

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