This is a recent article about our son, Austin. I’m so proud of his perseverance and the hard work he has put in to achieve his dream of becoming a collegiate athlete!
Originally posted on The River Walk:
Read: Genesis 28:6 – 30:24
John testified about him when he shouted to the crowds, “This is the one I was talking about when I said,
‘Someone is coming after me who is far greater than I am, for he existed long before me.’”
Relate: Almost every time I am preaching or teaching on a scripture I do my best to interact with it in three ways. For these devotionals I call it relate, react, and respond because ultimately I want myself, and anyone reading, to ultimately turn our attention to God. When I am publicly preaching it is reversed because I want to prepare people to enter their world. So I call it upward, inward, outward. The upward (respond) is a time of allowing the scripture to teach us about God. What does this show me of how great, or loving, or just, or holy, or true…
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For me, it began in January with a spiritual battle. At times, it felt like a tailspin- a close call to a crash and burn. But I experienced gradual progress- clawing my way back. I saw glimpses of hope that helped me keep going forward. Was my struggle self-perpetuated? Was it a refining fire from God to get my heart clean and righteous? Or was it an attack from Satan? I could barely take it. I don’t ever, ever, ever, ever want to go through that torment again. But what has resulted? Humility. Dependence. Intimacy. Clarity. Grace. Mercy. Love. Compassion. Joy. Boldness. Becoming engaged in God’s Kingdom once again. Understanding. Creativity. Passion for studying God’s Word. Passion for being in His Presence. Fresh, renewed spirit within me. Hope. For those things, I am eternally grateful.
I still battle nerves and a racing heart- which is so physically uncomfortable and exhausting. Not sure if it’s from changing hormones in this aging body of mine, but whatever it is, I endure and I’m learning to turn my weaknesses over to the Lord. Oh, the flesh. Such a battle.
As I reflect on 2013, what were the lessons I learned? With all the battles, it was such a rich year for spiritual growth and victory. I feel compelled to share my ‘Top 10′ with you.
10) Learn from the past and then let it go. (Replaying negative past events is counter-productive. If I’ve asked for forgiveness, trust God’s promise to forgive, cleanse and heal. Then place those things at the foot of the Cross and leave them there.)
9) Don’t waste time evaluating everyone else’s spiritual condition. I’m not an accurate and objective judge of other people, or even of my own heart. Seek and ask the Lord to reveal areas that need to be addressed and then obey what He says in His Word. (Doing a spiritual inventory is a healthy thing, but comparing my ‘good lists’ and ‘bad lists’ to others is not. God’s holy and perfect Law is my standard- and only by faith and in Christ’s grace can I be empowered to live it out!)
8) Thank God continually for His blessings- His love and presence in my life ARE my greatest reward! (And thanking Him for my trials, as well.)
7) One day at a time. Focus on what the Lord has for me, what He wants from me, right here and right now.
6) Be informed, but not consumed about world events. Look at all things from a biblical perspective, always having His eternal plan in focus.
5) Ask, “Okay, what now? How can I be a part of the solution, rather than just being a complainer?”
4) Separate ‘good things’ from ‘God things.’ There are many opportunities and time fillers available to me- even self-fulfilling and gratifying things. But what does God the Father want me to do?
3) Don’t hold on to the things of this world too tightly. Only clutch to one thing- the Lord…. and don’t ever let Him go!
2) Honor and invest in my commitments to my husband and children.
1) Forgiveness is freedom to my soul. (Forgiving others and forgiving myself.)
I’m sure there are many, many more things I could add. And each of us has our own unique list. But whatever it is, I pray that we each recognize how the Lord is working in our lives and then walk in it. God bless from our family to you and yours!
A- Acknowledging His Goodness in our lives!
P- Praising His Glorious Name!
P- Praying for His Will to be accomplished!
Y- Yeshua is the ONLY Way!
N- Needs are met through His Amazing Grace!
E- Every good gift comes from above!
W- Washed in His Atoning and Cleansing Blood!
Y- Yearning for His Return!
E- Eternal Life is a promise from our Heavenly Father!
A- Ask and you will receive!
R- Repentance leads to salvation!
2013 was a year of healing, restoring and refocusing for our family. We are so grateful for the blessings God gave to us and for His peace in our lives. I look forward with great anticipation as to what the Lord will show us and where He will lead us.
Thank you so much for taking the time to read my blogs this year. I have deeply enjoyed the process of journalling, studying and passing on the nuggets I have learned. I very much appreciate your feedback and pray that the messages that have been shared have blessed you. I wish you a year of deep intimacy with our Lord Jesus Christ. And may His Will be accomplished here on Earth in and through your lives, as it is in Heaven.
Love God and love others,
This morning I was doing a bible lesson on Psalm 119. It’s a very long chapter so I was assigned to break down just the first 88 verses! LOL! Anyway, from all the things I gleaned from that passage, the most significant to me was this…. Obedience is all about the heart. It’s not about checking things off your ‘religious list’ or your ‘good deeds lists.’ No, God wants a loving and personal relationship with each of us. He wants to spend time with us. He wants our heart more than anything. He loves us so much. And when I trust Him to know what’s best for me, I wholeheartedly obey. (Often though, my pride, selfishness or disbelief gets in the way!) Here are just a few of the observations I jotted down in my journal from Psalm 119…..
May I add that my trust or understanding in the Lord’s love for me is only possible by the power and grace of the Holy Spirit through Christ. I can’t know God the Father apart from the saving power of His Son, Jesus Christ.
The more I embrace His loving grace, the more I want to seek His face!
So, how do I sum up Psalm 119:1-88? In a nutshell, “LEARNING, LOVING AND LIVING OUT GOD’S WORD!”
‘The people walking in darkness have seen a great light….for to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing it and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this.’
(Verses from Isaiah 9)
And ready the house for all to see.
Ornaments, garland, gingerbread houses,
And we can’t forget the flocked tree!
Untangling the lights is quite a chore
And removing the Snow Village with care,
How shall I decorate the mantle this year,
Will I have time to mend the tree skirt tear?
Now where is Baby Jesus?
Cookie exchanges and cards to address,
It’s time to prop my feet up for awhile!
Burnt appetizers, crumpled gift bags
From the previous holiday season,
Santa’s beard is a mess, the parking lot is full,
Have I forgotten the true Christmas reason?
Now where is that God-Child?
I began searching with all my might.
When I was hanging the wreath last night?
Broken angel wings, chipped China dishes,
The snowflake tablecloth has a crease.
Oh, how I need to find that pristine
And heavenly Prince of Peace!
Hours upon hours of gift-wrapping,
The Butterfinger bells have all but disappeared.
The fire is crackling, the coffee is brewing,
Then I heard a “smash!” from the tree- was it what I feared?
A broken baby Jesus, “Oh no!”
I could only sigh and stare.
I tenderly held the pieces of Him in my hands,
And thought about my sins He did bare.
Distractions, bad attitudes,
Anger, lust, envy and pride;
Vanity, hate, materialism and guilt,
Ridding my heart of these things, I had tried.
The appearance of true beauty Is not what first appealed,
He was pierced for my transgressions,
He was crushed for my iniquity;
He chose to take my punishment Upon that ancient tree.
His love is everlasting,
In Him my spirit is sealed;
When I chose to bend my knees and confess,
By His wounds I was now healed!
Forgiveness and eternal life He has given me,
From His shattered body He’s made me new;
How beautiful the salvation gift,
He has offered to me and you!
I thanked Him for many things;
But especially that the One who loves me,
Will be returning as the King of Kings!
- Lisa Epperson
What person in the Bible do you most identity with? I hear busy moms often say Martha. The bold, but sometimes wavering people say Peter. The doubters say Thomas. Those that have endured great trials, say Job. I would have to say; I feel a special connection to is Ruth. Like me, Ruth was a gentile. She was a simple girl from Moab that married into a Jewish family. Now, I did not marry a Jewish man but the spiritual covenant is so cool! I will explain as we go…
Ruth’s first husband, Mahlon, his brother, Killon, and his father, Elimelek, all died during the famine that hit at that time. So Ruth, her mother-in-law, Naomi, and her sister-in-law, Orpah, were all left widowed and destitute. Naomi, who was originally from Bethlehem, had journeyed with her husband and boys to Moab- which is where her boys found their wives. But after the deaths of the three men and the scarce work because of the famine, the women were forced to find work elsewhere. They decided to return to Bethlehem, their original home. Ruth began gleaning the fields that belonged to a man named Boaz.
It was a Jewish law that if a woman lost her husband, the next of kin to the husband was to marry the woman- to ‘redeem’ and preserve the family name. He was also obligated to take on all the financial duties and pay off any debts that may have been left with her. This role is called the kinsman redeemer. In Ruth’s case, the next of kin to her husband declined the offer, so the next in line was Boaz, and he graciously accepted the responsibility (Ruth 4:1-9).
Fortunately for Ruth, Boaz was a generous, kind and wealthy man- and a man that quickly became smitten with her. It was love at first sight. Their courtship is a beautiful story of love, commitment and grace. Boaz married Ruth and gave her a new identity, a new purpose and a new life!
The story of Ruth also describes a unique friendship that grows between Naomi and Ruth. A popular verse we often hear recited is Ruth 1:16, where Ruth is declaring her loyalty and commitment to Naomi. She chooses to stay with her- leaving her old identity and life as a Moabitess and following Naomi to Israel.
And then in chapter 4, there are two very prophetic blessings and promises that are spoken – first by the elders at the city gates (:11-12) and then by the women in the new city (:14-15).:
‘Then the elders and all the people at the gate said, “We are witnesses. May the Lord make the woman who is coming into your home like Rachel and Leah, who together built up the family of Israel. May you have standing in Ephrathah and be famous in Bethlehem. Through the offspring the Lord gives you by this young woman, may your family be like that of Perez, whom Tamar bore to Judah.”
‘The women said to Naomi: “Praise be to the Lord, who this day has not left you without a guardian-redeemer. May he become famous throughout Israel! He will renew your life and sustain you in your old age. For your daughter-in-law, who loves you and who is better to you than seven sons, has given him birth.”
So this amazing story is now taking place in Bethlehem. How awesome, that Boaz, the Kinsman Redeemer of Ruth, was from the same town our Messiah and Spiritual Kinsman Redeemer, Jesus Christ was born! Boaz is a beautiful picture of Jesus- one whose name means, “Strength is with him,” who is full of love, forgiveness and grace. (He ‘forgave’ Ruth of all her debts, remember!)
This story keeps getting better and better…. Ruth and Boaz of course got married, gave birth to a son named Obed, who then had a son, Jesse, who then had a son, David. David becomes king! So Ruth is the great-grandmother of King David! Isn’t it amazing how the Father wove a woman from Moab into the royal lineage of Israel? And it didn’t stop there. The royal and priestly lineage of King David continued all the way to Jesus Christ- the King of Kings, Lord of Lords and Prince of Peace!
Ruth is a picture of all gentile believers in Jesus who are spiritually brought into the lineage of our Savior!
Well, we can’t forget Naomi in this story. She is a picture of Israel- a natural descendant of Israel. Ruth’s commitment was first to Naomi. As gentile believers, we must also remember our relationship with Israel. And it is because of this lineage that we are given the opportunity to have a covenant relationship with the King of Kings.
Gentile believers don’t become Israel, but Jews and Gentiles are reconciled and become ‘one man’ through Christ. Let’s examine this passage in Ephesians chapter 2 for a better understanding:
‘Therefore, remember that formerly you who are Gentiles by birth and called “uncircumcised” by those who call themselves “the circumcision” (which is done in the body by human hands)— remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ.
For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.
Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.’
This in part, is happening right now, and has been happening for over 2,000 years! Both Jews and Gentiles are being redeemed by the same Lord, Jesus Christ (or Yeshua HaMashiach, in Hebrew)! This promise will eventually come to complete fruition in God’s perfect time!
How eternally grateful I am, to be given the invitation to enter into the Lord’s family- just like Ruth. To be sought out, loved and cared for. To be redeemed and forgiven of all sin. And to be given a new name, a new life and a new destiny! To Him be the glory forever and ever. Amen!
*** Here’s a cool side note…. The name, Bethlehem, is ‘bet lekhem’ in Hebrew-, which means, ‘house of bread.’ When you read the full story in Ruth, you will see that the story takes place in a field that belonged to Boaz. And Boaz is the prophetic picture of the coming Messiah, who declared hundreds of years later, “I am the Bread of Life.”
Just as Ruth gleaned the field belonging to Boaz, may we all experience the blessing of gleaning the treasures we find in our Savior’s field! Reap and be satisfied!
One special field the Father has cultivated in me over the years is my love for Israel- His Covenant People and also His Covenant Land. About twelve years ago, the Lord truly broke my heart. I had been clicking around the tv channels one day when I came upon a show covering a religious service. The two men on the stage were a Lutheran minister and a Jewish rabbi. The minister was asking forgiveness on behalf of his Christian brethren to the rabbi and the Jewish congregation. He referred to the Jews as their ‘elder brother.’ I just wept. I had never heard this type of public confession or this choice of relationship with the Jews from a Christian leader in my life- at least that got my attention like it did this time. I was finding myself also asking forgiveness for the atrocities that were committed during the Holocaust- especially for those that were committed by professing Christians. During this somber moment, I clearly remember the Lord telling me, “Pray for Israel.” Honestly, I had never before had an inkling of a desire to do such a thing and at the time I didn’t really understand what He was asking of me. “Who is Israel?” was my first question! And my second question was, “Why would I, a 32 year-old American gentile woman care about a country the size of New Jersey on the other side of the world, or a people group I had very little interaction with?” It didn’t make any sense to me. But I could not deny what the Lord was telling me or the ache I felt in my heart. I knew I needed to first figure out who Israel was if I was to obey His instruction to pray.
I started with a few phone calls. My only Jewish-Christian friend gave me some guidance, though I could tell my inquiry baffled her a bit. When she came to accept Yeshua (Jesus) years before I met her, she seemed to have left most traces of her past Jewish heritage- at least from what I saw at church. I didn’t know her all that well. What she did in her home may have given me a different perspective than what I saw during Sunday morning. Though I do remember she loved to dance during worship. That may have been influenced by her Jewish upbringing. I would watch her with admiration, wishing I could express myself that freely and joyfully!
The Lord was so gracious to me as He continued to plant seeds of truth. Below are a few verses He led me to that helped me figure out how this ‘holy whisper’ about Israel fit into my life (and into the bigger story unfolding according to the biblical account):
The Lord had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you.
“I will make you into a great nation,
and I will bless you;
I will make your name great,
and you will be a blessing.
I will bless those who bless you,
and whoever curses you I will curse;
and all peoples on earth
will be blessed through you.”
‘Pray for the peace of Jerusalem:
“May those who love you be secure.’
The next passage of Scripture explaining the relationship between Jews and Non-Jews is a bit long, but it is well worth a complete read through, so don’t skim! I’ve chosen The Message translation because it speaks my language very clearly. I hope you are blessed by it. Please look up another translation if you prefer.
Romans 11:11-31 (The Message) ‘Ingrafted Branches’
‘The next question is, “Are they down for the count? Are they out of this for good?” And the answer is a clear-cut No. Ironically when they walked out, they left the door open and the outsiders walked in. But the next thing you know, the Jews were starting to wonder if perhaps they had walked out on a good thing. Now, if their leaving triggered this worldwide coming of non-Jewish outsiders to God’s kingdom, just imagine the effect of their coming back! What a homecoming!
But I don’t want to go on about them. It’s you, the outsiders, that I’m concerned with now. Because my personal assignment is focused on the so-called outsiders, I make as much of this as I can when I’m among my Israelite kin, the so-called insiders, hoping they’ll realize what they’re missing and want to get in on what God is doing. If their falling out initiated this worldwide coming together, their recovery is going to set off something even better: mass homecoming! If the first thing the Jews did, even though it was wrong for them, turned out for your good, just think what’s going to happen when they get it right!
Behind and underneath all this there is a holy, God-planted, God-tended root. If the primary root of the tree is holy, there’s bound to be some holy fruit. Some of the tree’s branches were pruned and you wild olive shoots were grafted in. Yet the fact that you are now fed by that rich and holy root gives you no cause to crow over the pruned branches. Remember, you aren’t feeding the root; the root is feeding you.
It’s certainly possible to say, “Other branches were pruned so that I could be grafted in!” Well and good. But they were pruned because they were deadwood, no longer connected by belief and commitment to the root. The only reason you’re on the tree is because your graft “took” when you believed, and because you’re connected to that belief-nurturing root. So don’t get cocky and strut your branch. Be humbly mindful of the root that keeps you lithe and green.
If God didn’t think twice about taking pruning shears to the natural branches, why would he hesitate over you? He wouldn’t give it a second thought. Make sure you stay alert to these qualities of gentle kindness and ruthless severity that exist side by side in God—ruthless with the deadwood, gentle with the grafted shoot. But don’t presume on this gentleness. The moment you become deadwood, you’re out of there.
And don’t get to feeling superior to those pruned branches down on the ground. If they don’t persist in remaining deadwood, they could very well get grafted back in. God can do that. He can perform miracle grafts. Why, if he could graft you—branches cut from a tree out in the wild—into an orchard tree, he certainly isn’t going to have any trouble grafting branches back into the tree they grew from in the first place. Just be glad you’re in the tree, and hope for the best for the others.
I want to lay all this out on the table as clearly as I can, friends. This is complicated. It would be easy to misinterpret what’s going on and arrogantly assume that you’re royalty and they’re just rabble, out on their ears for good. But that’s not it at all. This hardness on the part of insider Israel toward God is temporary. Its effect is to open things up to all the outsiders so that we end up with a full house. Before it’s all over, there will be a complete Israel. As it is written,
A champion will stride down from the mountain of Zion;
he’ll clean house in Jacob.
And this is my commitment to my people:
removal of their sins.
From your point of view as you hear and embrace the good news of the Message, it looks like the Jews are God’s enemies. But looked at from the long-range perspective of God’s overall purpose, they remain God’s oldest friends. God’s gifts and God’s call are under full warranty—never canceled, never rescinded.
There was a time not so long ago when you were on the outs with God. But then the Jews slammed the door on him and things opened up for you. Now they are on the outs. But with the door held wide open for you, they have a way back in. In one way or another, God makes sure that we all experience what it means to be outside so that he can personally open the door and welcome us back in.’
The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.’
Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.’ (Philippians 2:6-11)
Application? Serve others like Christ did. Consider others more important than yourself.
Days three and four of Hanukkah (or Chanukah? Or Hanukah?), we looked at the practical uses and biblical symbolism of olive oil. Olive oil was the type that was used in the Tabernacle and Temple Menorahs, as well as the Hanukkiahs.
Throughout Bible times, olive oil was also used for cooking, medicine, anointing and lighting. Before candles, Menorahs only used oil in the lamps (and many still do today). I have a clay oil lamp and bottle of olive oil from Nazereth, Israel, so we decided to light it as well. Pretty cool.
In several verses throughout the whole Bible, oil symbolizes the Holy Spirit. We read this awesome passage about how we are like the clay vessels and how the Holy Spirit indwells in us, like the vessel holds the oil. The wick ignites as our faith is ignited in our hearts by God’s power and knowledge!
‘For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ. But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.’ (2 Cor 4:6-7)
Application? Let your light shine!
On day five, we continued our lesson of the olive oil (which was the type of oil used to light the Temple Menorah). We took a closer look at the tedious process of extracting oil from the olive fruit- the ancient method of the olive press.
Did you know that the Greek name for olive press is Gethsemane? The olive press, or gethsemane, was a circular stone basin where the olives were poured into. Then a very heavy millstone (pulled by an animal) crushed the olives and the extracted oil dripped down into a groove in the basin and into a gathering pit at the bottom.
This, of course, ties in perfectly to the Easter and Passover stories, but it also expresses the very reason Jesus came to Earth two thousand years ago as a baby. He came to die. He was the promised Messiah that the prophets spoke about and yearned for!
“But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.” (Isaiah 53:5)
Yesterday, we read the verses in 2 Corinthians 4:6-7. The next three verses in this passage are the following: ‘We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body.’ (2 Cor 4:8-10).
Application? Remember the eternal life-giving Holy Spirit that is in us that gives us hope and strength in times of affliction and persecution. Jesus already took the crushing punishment of death for us so that we may have life; abundantly now and forever!
On days six and seven, we looked at the history, elements and symbolism of the seven-branch Menorah). In Exodus 25:31-40, we learned the Lord instructed Moses that the Tabernacle Temple was to be made of one solid block of gold and molded into seven branches. Lesson? The people of God are to be unified, but are diversified.
Jesus also expresses in John 17 His desire that His followers would be unified. ‘I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.’ (John 17:20-23)
This Menorah symbol is also mentioned in Revelation 1:12, 20, which represents the seven churches or congregations of Asia Minor and symbolizes the worldwide body of believers. ‘I turned around to see the voice that was speaking to me. And when I turned I saw seven golden lampstands,…The mystery of the seven stars that you saw in my right hand and of the seven golden lampstands is this: The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches.’
Application? Strive for unity within the body of Christ.
Day eight has been recorded in its own entry, titled, “Hanukkah: Preparing the Way to Christmas!”