Why Lenten Discipline is a Good Thing

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.

God Is Passionate and Poetic – The Passion Translation

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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.

A season of Lent

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By Olive Tree Staff: Molly Van Ryn

I still remember the first Lent that I was really considered old enough to give something up on my own.  It was jr high, and like just about everything at that age it quickly turned into a contest.  For weeks lunchtime conversations revolved around Lent: who was giving up the hardest thing, who had been successful the longest, who had fallen off the wagon and whether they were going to try again.  Most people gave up some sort of food, like candy or soda.  Some brave souls even went so far as to give up television, to exclamations of “No way!  That’s so hard!  You’ll never make it!”

I don’t remember what I gave up that year, or whether I carried it through until Easter.  But I vividly recall the jockeying for position.  The people who were giving up something that was perceived as more difficult exuded a sense of smug superiority, only to be replaced by people who had picked something easier and stuck with it.  I learned a lot of lessons from that about setting realistic goals, but hardly any about being in relationship with God, or what the season of Lent is actually about.

Since then, my relationship with Lent has evolved.  There was the year that I realized that not all Christians participate in Lent in the way that I always had.  I was just beginning the long journey of understanding how many ways there are to be Christian and starting to take ownership of the path I had chosen.  This was the year that I first did Lent as a conscious choice, instead of just as something that everyone did.  Then there was the year I came to the conclusion that I could add a spiritual discipline to my life, such as a more dedicated time of prayer in my day, instead of picking something to give up.  It was immensely freeing to have this whole other set of options I hadn’t considered before.  It really helped me to focus on the idea that Lent isn’t about getting rid of bad habits, a sort of 40 days of self-help, but an opportunity to grow closer to God and focus on preparing myself for the celebration of His passion.

I look forward to Lent these days.  It’s no longer about picking the most difficult thing I can think of.  I don’t feel particularly comfortable anymore telling people what I’ve chosen to do for a given year, unless I want them to help keep me accountable.  But there is something very meaningful to me in having those 40 days of discipline set aside each year.  It is an annual reminder to evaluate my relationship with God, to dust the cobwebs out of the corners of my prayer life and be mindful of ways in which I am not prepared to receive the gift that was offered on the cross.  It gives me a reason to set aside resources that I might otherwise consider indispensable to the other areas of my life, a boost to drop the excuses I surround myself with.  And I know that there is a community around me, waiting and anticipating as Easter approaches.

Free Resource Friday

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Free This Weekend Only: Divine Design: God’s Complimentary Roles for Men and Women

For decades our culture has tried to blur the lines between men and women, to make gender irrelevant, all in the name of equality. It’s a message that has slowly infiltrated our marriages, our homes, and even our churches. Yet instead of creating harmony, this message has only caused confusion, ultimately leading to a tragic breakdown of relationships and families. Divine Design calls us back to God’s original intent for men and women. Clearing away the cultural noise and misconceptions, author <b>John MacArthur</b> tackles big issues such as authority in marriage, mothers in the home, and God’s view of equality, all while exploring the innate differences between men and women. Throughout, he provides an indispensable guide for understanding your mate and shares how embracing your unique design can foster security, balance, and love in a marriage and family.

Find  this great resource in the Bible Study in-app store or go HERE for install instructions.

Free Giveaway ends February 15, 2015 at 11:59 PM PST.

Please note than a Free Olive Tree account is required to access this Free Download.

Stuck in Your Reading Plan? Be Encouraged!

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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.

Advanced Bible Study with The Bible Study App

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Have you ever thought about preaching or leading a Bible study from your iPad or mobile device? What about preparing a study on that same device? If the answer is yes, then this is a video you’ll want to watch.

In this video Olive Tree employee LaRosa Johnson shows you how to use the Olive Tree Bible Study app to do, what he likes to call, advanced Bible study. LaRosa will walk you through the steps of studying the Bible and taking notes using the same steps that he uses when he is getting ready to preach a sermon. After watching this video you’ll be equipped with the tools you need to do in-depth Bible study using the Bible Study app, whether you’re preaching or doing it for personal study.

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