Lessons from the Olive Tree

Did you know there are olive trees alive today that are estimated to be between 2,000 – 4,000 years old?  There are trees at the Mount of Olives who some believe may have been there when Jesus prayed in the garden.  Pretty incredible.  Makes we want to plan a trip to visit the Holy Land!

I’ve never given olives or olive trees much thought (expect when contemplating going on a Mediterranean diet which sounds completely wonderful . . . except that anything with the word “diet” tends not get past mental contemplation for me).  But as I was doing my morning Bible reading I read a verse that stuck out to me:

But I am like an olive tree flourishing in the house of God; I trust in God’s unfailing love for ever and ever.  Psalm 52:8 NIV

I love this image that David created in this Psalm.  “An olive tree flourishing in the house of God.”  I can just picture it – a beautiful tree in God’s garden.  So I dug a little deeper into this verse as well as other verses about olive trees and branches in both the Old Testament New Testament, as well as from a historical perspective.  The Bible is full of references to olives and olive trees:

  • The olive was a major agriculture product in Israel.  In addition to food, the oil was used for cooking, lighting lamps, sacrifice and anointing.
  • When Noah was on the ark, looking for dry land, he sent out a dove.  The dove returned with an olive leaf in his beak which was a sign to Noah that the flood was receding.  It symbolized that God was done with his judgement and the world was coming back to life.
  • When two battling enemies were ready to make peace they would extend an olive branch between them to show they were done fighting.
  • In Romans 11:17-21, Paul referred to Gentiles as wild olive shoots, being grafted into Israel.  He said:

    “If some of the branches have been broken off, and you, though a wild olive shoot, have been grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing sap from the olive root, do not consider yourself to be superior to those other branches. If you do, consider this: You do not support the root, but the root supports you. You will say then, “Branches were broken off so that I could be grafted in.” Granted. But they were broken off because of unbelief, and you stand by faith. Do not be arrogant, but tremble. For if God did not spare the natural branches, he will not spare you either.”  

  • Not necessarily an olive tree, but I love this picture that Jesus creates in John 15:

    “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.  I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.”

There are so many more verses that reference olives, trees, and branches . . . and so many lessons to be learned.

How to Be a Flourishing Olive Tree

  1.  Be Planted in Good Soil:  Jesus told a parable of a man scattering seeds that landed on different types of ground – a path, rocks, thorns and in good soil. I can relate to each of these  – sometimes I think I’ve been each of them in the span of a week! What does it mean to be good soil? Jesus explains in Mark 4:20: “Others, like seed sown on good soil, hear the word, accept it, and produce a crop—some thirty, some sixty, some a hundred times what was sown.”  Read the Bible, believe it, and apply what it says.
  2. Stay in the Vine: How do we bear fruit?  Jesus says it is by staying in the “vine”. Spending time reading the Bible.  Praying.  Meditating.  Fasting.  I even love meditating on John 15 and picturing myself as branch attached to Jesus.  If I am spending time with Jesus and applying what I learn from him I will naturally bear fruit.
  3. Let your Light Shine: The fruit of an olive tree is an olive.  When crushed, olives produce olive oil.  Olive oil had many uses in the Bible, including lighting a lamp. In Matthew 5, Jesus said:  “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.
  4. Accept Pruning:  God is my gardener.  And sometimes I need pruned.  I need to get rid of bad influences and bad habits.  I need to cut sin out of my life.  I need disciplined.  And I need to understand that God does it because he loves me and it will help me mature as a Christian.

Let’s follow David’s lead.  Let’s become Olive Trees.  Flourishing.  Trusting God.  And going deep into the vine of Jesus.

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Putting God First

A Life Focused on What Matters Most.

God had offered the Israelites blessing upon blessing if they just followed him.  And they would . . . for a short while.  And then they would reject him.  He wanted to be their King and take care of them, but they kept walking away from him.

I can relate to this.

I could give you a million examples from my teens and early 20s, but even now in my 40s (when I am reading my Bible every day and should be more mature) I reject God regularly.  I put idols above him.  I disobey him.

God’s number one command is to love him with all my heart.  And second to love others.  If you were a fly on the wall in my house some days, observing how I spend my time, you’d think my greatest loves were Facebook, being exasperated with my kids, Word Cookies, and my career and budget.

God had offered the Israel – his chosen people – a life of peace and blessings.  But they chose something else.  They wanted another king.  A human king.  They wanted to fit in with other nations who had “real” kings.  They came to the prophet Samuel and asked him to find them a king.  Samuel was personally offended, but when he came to God, God said:

“Listen to all that the people are saying to you; it is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me as their king.”  1 Samuel 8:7 NIV

Wow.

How many times have I done the same thing?  Put someone or something on a pedestal.  How often have I made it my main focus, instead of Jesus?

But the wonderful thing is, even though Israel strayed from God over and over, when they repented and turned back, God was right there waiting.  Still loving them.  Still protecting them.  Showing mercy and grace.

And he does the same thing for me and for you.

Prayer:  Dear God, Please show me areas of my life where I have put people or things above you. And help me to always put you first.

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Freedom

Jesus didn’t come to save people who are perfect . . . he came to save the sinner.  The drunk.  The prostitute.  The liar.  The cheat.  The adulterer.  The mom who struggles with anger and unforgiveness and unkindness.

He didn’t just come save us from hell; he came to save us from the sin we are currently living in.

We don’t change from a lifestyle of sin by following a bunch of rules.  We change by faith in Him.   Everyone who believes is set free from every sin!Acts 13-38-39.jpg

“Therefore, my friends, I want you to know that through Jesus the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you. Through him everyone who believes is set free from every sin, a justification you were not able to obtain under the law of Moses.  Acts 13:38‭-‬39 NIV

Three Sources for Financial Advice

I’ve always been interested in financial management.  Even as a kid I used the envelope system and tried to get my siblings to listen to my lectures on money.  Financial management is systematic and strategic . . . and this woman loves systems and strategies!

As a Christian, here are three sources I lean on for developing financial strategies for my life.

#1. The Bible

By far, the Bible is the most important resource for advice on money.  Did you know there are over 2,000 verses about money in the Bible?   No, you won’t find specific advice on investing strategies, but the Bible gets to the most important thing – where the heart is in terms of finances.  Is my security in God or in my bank account?  Do I demonstrate love for others by how I share my resources?  Who does my money belong to?  Am I a wise steward of resources?

Jesus himself talked frequently about money  . . . so if it is important to Jesus it should be important to me.  I should be seeking biblical wisdom on how I deal with finances.  Fortunately, whether I am reading the Old Testament, the Gospels or anywhere else in the New Testament, I regularly come across advice on how to think about and handle money.

For example, if you are reading along with me through the Bible (this year I am using the Skövde Pingst YouVersion Plan in NIV – Click Here to Start!), yesterday’s reading included Psalm 49:16-20, which talked about not being jealous or greedy; wealth will fade.  I should focus more on gaining wisdom than gaining money.

  • 16-17: Do not be overawed when others grow rich, when the splendor of their houses increases; for they will take nothing with them when they die, their splendor will not descend with them.
  • 18 – 19: Though while they live they count themselves blessed— and people praise you when you prosper— they will join those who have gone before them, who will never again see the light of life.
  • 20: People who have wealth but lack understanding are like the beasts that perish.

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#2. Dave Ramsey

I love Dave Ramsey.  I’ve never done his Financial Peace University classes, but have heard rave reviews.  He has simple, biblically-based concepts that have worked for me.  The resources I’ve used are:

  • Radio program:  I listen on-line; usually every day.  I love Dave’s advice and the inspiring stories of people who have paid off all their debt.
  • Baby Steps:  As outlined on the website and in his books.  Simple.  Clean.  Makes sense.  And it works.  I’m on Baby-Step 5 . . . and I want to sell my house and buy a new house with the equity to fast-forward to complete Step 6.  (But I have a lot of work to get my house ready to sell!)
  • Total Money Makeover book:  quick read, great resource.  And it works if you follow it!

 

#3. Joshua Becker

Josh spoke at my church several years ago about his journey and philosophy on possessions.  It was such a different concept than the consumerism that I was caught up in . . . and it made total sense.  I follow Josh’s blog www.BecomingMinimalist.com which has great insight on topics on minimalism, getting out of debt, becoming un-busy, decluttering, etc.

His blog as great reminders on getting rid of the things that don’t matter and focusing on what matters most.

I haven’t read any of Josh’s books yet . . . but have them on my to-read list.  If you have read any, please share thoughts.  Josh’s latest book is below:

Hope for Living in Hard Times

Yesterday I watched a few minutes of the Today Show and the hosts and their guest were talking about all the horrible things going on in the world today.  They weren’t talking specifics, but big picture – people unhappy with the current political environment, war and threats of war, etc.  And I agree, there is a lot of unrest.  There are people who think Trump will destroy America and possibly the world.  There were people who thought the same thing about Obama, Bush II, Clinton, Bush I, Reagan . . . and I bet there were people who thought the same about Nixon, Lincoln, Truman, Roosevelt, etc.

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Unfortunately, there has always been war, murder, incest, racism, rape and hate.  Around the world there are good leaders and bad leaders.  There is peace and there is war.  There is love and there is hate.  Nowhere is perfect.

Today in my Bible reading plan it was pretty depressing reading about horrible things that happened thousands of years ago.  In Judges 18-19 I read about:

  • The complete destruction of a peaceful city
  • A priest “taking” a concubine, who was then unfaithful to him
  • The men of a city banging on the door of a house where the priest was staying, asking the owner of the house to send the priest out so they could have sex with him
  • The owner of the house instead offering his virgin daughter and the concubine for the men to “use them and do to them whatever you wish” in order to protect the priest from rape
  • The rape and abuse of the concubine
  • The priest then cutting up the woman into 12 pieces and sending her limbs to each of the tribes of Israel

Gruesome stuff.  I’ve read it before but it still makes me feel sick to my stomach.

But then my reading plan took me to Psalm, where the Psalmist wrote (Psalm 49)

  • Why should I fear when evil days come, when wicked deceivers surround me
  • No one can redeem the life of another
  • But God will redeem me from the realm of the dead; he will surely take me to himself

We live in a fallen world.  There is sin and evil all around us; but our hope isn’t in this world or its leaders.  I can’t change the world, but with God’s grace, I can change myself.  I can impact my children and husband.  I can make a difference, for the better, in the lives of the people around me.

Are we living in tough times?  Yes, some of us are.  Is there hope for the future?  Yes, especially a future in heaven with Jesus.  Can I have peace in the present?  Yes, by continually reminding myself that God is in control and focusing on fixing myself and letting God take care of the rest.

Top Five Devotional Books for Tween Girls

This blog post is for all the moms of tween girls who are hoping to instill a habit of daily time with Jesus.  I have two girls ages 9 and 11.  I’ll be honest with you; most of the time I feel like I am barely pulling off this “mom” thing.

  • We rarely eat a meal at the kitchen table.  Usually we’re eating Taco Bell in the car or processed chicken nuggets on the couch while watching The Middle re-runs on the Hallmark channel.
  • After I’ve asked  my youngest to clean her room 50 times without a response I end up yelling at her and threatening to ground her from screen time for a month.  #MomFail
  • I put up job charts and forget about them.
  • I read lots of parenting books and blogs and the concepts sound great, but usually my implementation falls flat.
  • While I completely believe in the importance of consistent discipline, I don’t do it.  Half the time I don’t discipline and half the time I’m overly strict.  So I guess I am consistently 50/50.  Does that count?

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But there is one thing I think I have done a good job of and that is having a pretty consistent nightly devotional time with my girls.  (And “pretty consistent” in my house is about 70% of the time.  I call that a huge accomplishment!)  I started with they were little and some months we’ve done it almost every night.  Some stages of life I’ve been lazy and had my priorities out of whack and we’d go months without reading and praying before bed.  But we always come back to it.  My girls are the ones who usually remind me when I’ve fallen into bed exhausted.

Here are my top recommendations on devotional books for girls ages 7-12, in no particular order:

  1. The One Year Mother Daughter Devo by Dannah Gresh and Janet Mylin
  2. 3-Minute Devotions for Girls by Janice Hannah Thompson
  3. You’re God’s Girl by Wynter Pitts
  4. A Girl After God’s Own Heart Devotional by Elizabeth George
  5. The One Year Be-Tween You & God Devotions for Girls by Sandra Byrd

When my girls were a little younger sometimes I’d run across a topic that I thought was too mature, and we’d go to a different devotion, but most of them have been great for their ages.  Some examples of topics:

  • Happiness vs. Joy (A Girl After God’s Own Heart)
  • How Do I Speak Love? (You’re God’s Girl)
  • Me?  Stuck up? (3-Minute Devotions for Girls)
  • The Beatitudes:  Peacemakers (The One Year Mother Daughter Devo)
  • I’m Not Popular at School (Be-Tween You & God)

This devotional time has not only been a great opportunity to build a habit of daily time with God, but it has also opened up opportunities for discussion about what my girls are dealing with in their lives.  And when it comes down to it, that is what is the most important thing to me: teaching my girls to be more like “Mary” by spending time on what matters most.

Even if they don’t always eat healthy, have messy rooms, and unfinished job charts . . . if they are spending daily time with Jesus everything else pales in comparison.

Three Easy Steps for Controlling Your Temper

My temper gets me all the time.  Even if I don’t explode I can feel irritation creeping up.  90% of the time my irritation is toward my husband and children.  The rest of the time it is toward the telemarketer that keeps calling my cell phone or the person at customer service whose service is pretty crappy.

Earlier this week I heard a radio program as I was driving to the gym – it was James MacDonald talking about a simple discipline to help me not give into temptation or lose my temper.   I’m testing it . . .and so far results are pretty good.

Example A:  My husband and I are both currently working from home.  I am so happy to be working from home and believe 100% that it is where God wants me.  Even so, it is an adjustment.  We haven’t both worked from home, together, for several years.  We are sharing an office.  We have very different work habits.  And very different philosophies on how the office should be organized (his style includes piles on the floor).  Yesterday as he was dropping our daughter off at school I could feel my irritation level getting higher and higher as I tried to find an organized and clean place in the office to work.

I have found that starting my day with daily Bible reading and prayer makes a huge difference, but often in the moment I still lose my temper.

When faced growing irritation with my husband I tried the steps below.  And it really seemed to help.  I didn’t handle the situation perfectly and I am sure I was more irritated than I needed to be, but it could have been a lot worse.

  1. Stop and say:  “I am Dead to That.”  Out loud.  (I did it in the bathroom, looking in the mirror.)  I love this concept – thank you James MacDonald!  
  2. Pray:  Ask God to give me grace, peace and His love in dealing with the situation.  
  3. Meditate:  Over and over in my head say the verse Romans 6:11 “In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus.” (NIV)

I’m going to keep trying this and see if it helps . . . as I need all the help I can get!  But bottom line as we just celebrated Easter, Jesus didn’t just die to save me from hell, He died to save me from a life of sin.  There is freedom in Him.  I just need to grasp that freedom.

In closing, I love section from James MacDonald, found here:

I know what you might be thinking. If I’m dead to sin, why do I feel so alive to it? Dead is the last word most of us would use to describe our experience with sin. Forgiven, maybe. Or cleansed—even changing. But dead?

First consider what dead to sin does not mean. It doesn’t mean sinless perfection or that our old nature is gone. And it doesn’t mean we’ve merely identified theoretically with the death of Christ.

It means that because Christ died in our place, we are dead to the power of sin. It’s as if we used to live in an apartment with an awful landlord who would burst in whenever he wanted, but now we’ve moved to a new apartment with a new landlord. We have new locks; we owe the former landlord nothing. He can’t get into our new apartment unless we open the door and invite him in.

Unfortunately, some Christians still open that door and listen to the old landlord. But he’s no longer in control. In Christ, the power of sin is broken and defeated. Sin is not in charge. You have a new Master.

Times of Refreshing

When I started this journey – and shortly after started this blog – my intention was to become like Mary.  To sit at the foot of Jesus and focus my energy and attention on what mattered most.  My walk with Jesus.  My husband.  My kids.  Serving others.  Loving others.

A year and a half ago I told all my clients I was quitting – shutting down that chapter of my life to find a new pace where I could be more balanced.  I felt strongly that God was leading me every step of the way.

But I still need to pay bills.  I still needed income.  The doors of another job opportunity opened and I walked through those doors.  I prayed for God to open the doors and they opened.  I never felt 100% peace in the decision . . . but I felt 90% peace.  And the doors were wide opened.  So I walked in.

It wasn’t a good fit.

So, why did the doors open?  I am not sure.  Maybe God wanted me there for a short season. Maybe it was to teach me once again that my “career” doesn’t define me.  That I need to find my definition in Christ.  Maybe it was to teach me to wait on Him.

Now that I have quit that job I can see even more clearly the importance of being still with God.  Listening for His voice.  And experiencing His refreshing.  And once again to focus on the things that matter most.

Acts 3:19:  Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord (NIV)

Today’s Reading:

  • Joshua 13
  •  Joshua 14
  •  Acts 3:11-26
  •  Psalms 43

I kept my 2016 Resolutions . . .

I kept my 2016 resolutions . . . but the results weren’t quite what I expected.

I had very high hopes for 2016.  For the first time ever, I was being extremely intentional with my life and I was making massive changes.  My main resolutions at the beginning of 2016 were to:

  • Make a career change
  • Read through the Bible in the year
  • Minimize my personal belongings
  • Cut out things that waste time and focus on what matters most

And for the first time ever, I really stuck to my resolutions.

I quit my company that I had had for years – I let all my clients go by the end of May.  I walked away from a large source of revenue in order to cut down on stress and give myself a less crazy schedule.

I read through the Bible and used the SOAP method to journal (most days) outlined in the Divine Mentor.  I just finished Revelation yesterday morning!

I did a massive purge following Marie Kondo’s supposedly Life-Changing Magic.

By the end of the year I was finally off Facebook after many attempts.

And I really thought 2016 was going to be amazing.  That with these massive changes I thought I would start 2017 a new person with a completely new life.

It’s been a little like our trip to the Dominican Republic – lots of planning but the outcome wasn’t exactly what I had hoped for.

I’m still trying to figure out my job – and how to use my strengths in my job.  I’m not used to not being the boss.  I’m used to calling the shots and making my own schedule.  The adjustment it much harder than I imagined.  And where I thought I was going to be changing the world on a daily basis, mostly I’m still trying to figure out how to maneuver the organization’s database.

And for all the purging and the massive garage sale we held in June, my house is still a mess.  This was my kitchen when I went downstairs to reheat my day-old coffee.  I am sure Marie Kondo would be appalled.  This wasn’t her vision when she said everything should have its place . . . and the magic didn’t seem to work on me.

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I still struggle as a parent and a wife.  It is a daily struggle.  I fail and get back up.  Fail and get back up.

So what did I learn in 2016 . . . and what I am still learning?

  • The grass isn’t always greener on the other side of the fence.  And regardless of the color of the grass – whether it is green or brown – I’m what ultimately needs to change.  A change in circumstance can be a good thing.  But an internal change in me is what is going to make the difference in how I see and experience the grass, regardless of the color.
  • Having less stuff is freeing in ways, but it is also time-consuming and a never-ending process.  If you think my kitchen is bad you should see the pile of crap in my bedroom.  The lack of stuff or the accumulation of stuff won’t make or break me.  It is more about how I view my material possessions.  Am I living for stuff (whether it is the accumulation or the minimization)?  Or am I living for what really matters – God, People, Loving Others, etc?
  • Does God care about what I do for a living?  Yes, I think he does.  He cares about if I am doing my work (regardless of what it is) for his glory and that I am putting him first.  He cares if I am seeking his will and following it.  He cares about my priorities and what is in my heart.

Colossians 3:23 (NIV): Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters

Proverbs 3:5-6 (NIV): Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.

Proverbs 16:9 (NIV): In their hearts humans plan their course, but the Lord establishes their steps.

So do I regret making very intentional changes in 2016 and sticking to my resolutions?  Absolutely not.  Reading through the Bible in 2016 was the most serious spiritual discipline I’ve ever accomplished, and I hope it is just the beginning of a life-long dedication to daily Bible reading and application.

And for all the other changes – only time will tell how they shape my future and future generations.  I’d rather be intentional than not, but I also need to keep in mind that results might not be apparent for years to come.  And some actions won’t have the results I hoped for at all.

And as I kicked of 2017 with my morning devotions I read:

Philippians 1:6 (NIV):  being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.

A very comforting thought as I begin to prepare to write my 2017 Resolutions.  And even more so a reminder, that whatever I plan to do, I need to make sure the Lord is the one establishing my steps.