Posts tagged easter

Your Labor Is Not in Vain

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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.

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.

Easter’s Over. Now What?

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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.

 

What does Hosanna mean?

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Cross Cropped

When Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey he fulfilled prophecies that had been made hundreds of years before. His entrance was greeted with the laying down of palms and shouts of ‘Hosanna’.

Hosanna was a cry of hope from an oppressed people living under Roman rule and it means ‘Oh save’ or ‘Save us now’. They had been waiting generations for the Messiah and he was finally here! Just a week later Jesus would save them, but not in the way they ever would have imagined.

He wasn’t a King like David whose rule and reign was only for a limited time. He is a King forever, and his life, death, and resurrection are just as powerful today as they were 2000 years ago.

Hosanna!
In an age where we have continual access to the news from around the world, it only takes a moment to see that the shout of hosanna is still needed.  At this moment there are people living in poverty, oppression, and hopelessness. While they may not say the word hosanna, they are certainly in need of saving and many do cry out on a daily basis for some glimmer of hope.

What do you need to be saved from?
You may or may not live in a country where you are oppressed by a ruling party like the Jews were.  You probably aren’t waiting for a king or savior to come and make things right for you and your family. You may actually have all the food, shelter, and security you need. But this cry of hosanna may still be one that you can relate with. When were separate from God – our creator – we can have all the things of the world and still be as lost and hopeless as ever.

Jesus was the only one who could fulfill the cry of hosanna. His saving supersedes circumstances and physical needs and reunites us with our creator. It’s this kind of saving grace he displayed on the cross. We didn’t deserve it or earn it but he so desperately loves us that he died to save us. His was and is the only answer to the cry of hosanna.

As you remember Jesus resurrection this weekend be reminded that the saving grace of Jesus has the power to change everything!

“For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”
- Jesus in Luke 19:10

 

 

Jesus is the Key to the Bible

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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.

Jesus washed Judas’ feet

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Jesus pouring water from jug to pan to wash feet of disciples

I’ve been reading through the Bible chronologically this year with one of The Bible Study App’s 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.  I find it 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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