An Invitation to Love, Treasure, and Adventure

Over the last generation, I have been shocked to observe that fewer and fewer people who call themselves Christians really know the Word of God. Three common polarized extremes in the Church are all equally dangerous:
1. Those who have a harsh, legalistic understanding of their own denomination’s doctrinal interpretation of the Bible, but with no personal revelation of intimacy in worship that transforms them to the point that others around them can SEE the supernatural, life-giving power of God’s love operating through them;
2. The ones who love exciting church music, activities, and fun fellowship gatherings with other Christians, but who are completely ignorant of God’s Word and how to apply it to their daily lives.
3. Those who have only the vaguest cultural concept of a sentimental Jesus who requires nothing of any of us but to talk vaguely about “salvation,” or Who wants us to smile and be “nice“ to everyone in His Name. But these sincerely ignorant “fans of Jesus” have no concept of an overwhelming awe and reverence for God that results in TOTAL trust and surrender to His Lordship, because they have never personally encountered the Lord Jesus revealed in the written Word of God. These are the ones who neither attend church, nor do they know the Word of God; but they often spend a lot of their time judging the Christians who do.
I am amazed at the number of Christians of whom I ask a question regarding some very basic Bible story to discover they’ve NEVER even heard it, although some may have attended church for years! They either look baffled as if it is odd to EXPECT them to know Scripture, or they look ashamed as if they thought being a Christian was all about some performance they had to measure up to, in order to earn Brownie points! They are ashamed that they have given up on reading the Bible simply because they say they do not understand it. Then, sadly, many Christians don’t understand why they have such difficulty overcoming life’s challenges, while the answer is the very Book they’re ignoring or avoiding.  It’s like having a baby, never feeding it, and wondering why it is starving to death!
This is called “spiritual anorexia nervosa!” That performance mentality, built on shame, tragically STARVES most Christians to death. Embarrassment at their lack of understanding prevents most Christians from digging confidently and patiently into the deepest and most valuable buried Treasure Chest in the universe.
Yet few Christians have any clue that the solution to their shameful ignorance is both the Baptism in the Holy Spirit and asking God DAILY to increase our hunger and thirst for righteousness and truth, and fill us afresh and anew DAILY with His Spirit. For He Alone can satisfy that hunger and thirst.
The following Scriptures are the foundations for what I am saying. I hope that those in greatest NEED of reading this will be hungry and thirsty enough for God to have the patience to READ the encouragement that God wants to give you today:
“God conceals the revelation of His Word in the hiding place of His Glory. But the honor of kings is revealed by how they thoroughly search out the deeper meaning of all that God says. The heart of a king [i.e., anyone to whom God has entrusted great power and authority] is full of understanding, like the heavens are high and the ocean is deep. If you burn away the impurities from silver, a sterling vessel will emerge from the fire. And if you purge corruption from the kingdom, a king’s reign will be established in righteousness.” Proverbs 25:2-5 TPT
“But you are God’s chosen treasure —priests who are kings, a spiritual ‘nation’ set apart as God’s devoted ones. He called you out of darkness to experience His marvelous light, and now He claims you as His very own. He did this so that you would broadcast His glorious wonders throughout the world. 1 Peter 2:9 TPT
Any of these above reactions is tragic. Tragically rare is the Christian who actually has read the entire Bible over his or her lifetime, let alone anyone who has sought the Lord’s Spirit to fill him or her in order to understand the Scriptures.
I am rather suggesting to you, if you consider yourself a Christian, that the Bible is the most amazing love letter, the most exciting adventure story of overcoming evil, and the greatest encouragement in the world. God is inviting you and me into an intimate relationship, and we cannot know a person with whom we spend no time at all ever listening to that person.
Jesus answered [the devil’s temptation], “The Scriptures say: Bread alone will not satisfy, but true life is found in Every Word, which constantly goes forth from God’s Mouth.” Matthew 4:4 The Passion Translation
“But when the Father sends the Spirit of Holiness, the One like Me Who sets you free, He will teach you all things in My Name. And He will inspire you to remember every Word that I’ve told you.” John 14:26 TPT
“Remember what you were taught from your childhood from the Holy Scrolls which can impart to you wisdom to experience everlasting life through the faith of Jesus, the Anointed One! Every Scripture has been written by the Holy Spirit, the Breath of God. It will empower you by its instruction and correction, giving you the strength to take the right direction and lead you deeper into the path of godliness. Then you will be God’s servant, fully mature and perfectly prepared to fulfill any assignment God gives you.” 2 Timothy 3:15-17 TPT
“Jesus answered them, ‘You are deluded, because your hearts are not filled with the revelation [and understanding]of the Scriptures or of the power of God.’”
Matthew 22:29 TPT
“Stunned, the [disciples] looked at each other and said, ‘Why didn’t we recognize it was Him? Didn’t our hearts burn with the flames of holy passion while we walked beside Him? He unveiled for us such profound revelation from the Scriptures!’”Luke 24:32 TPT
“Then he said to them, ‘Don’t you remember the Words that I spoke to you when I was still with you? I told you that everything written about Me would be fulfilled, including all the prophecies from the law of Moses through the Psalms and the writings of the prophets—that they would all find their fulfillment.’ He supernaturally unlocked their understanding to receive the revelation of the Scriptures, then said to them, ‘Everything that has happened fulfills what was prophesied of Me. The Anointed One, Christ, the Messiah, was destined to suffer and rise from the dead on the third day. Now you must go into all the nations and preach repentance and forgiveness of sins so that they will turn to Me. Start right here in Jerusalem. For you are My witnesses and have seen for yourselves all that has transpired. And I will send the fulfillment of the Father’s Promise to you. So stay here in the city until the Mighty Power of Heaven falls upon you and wraps around you.’”Luke 24:44-49 TPT
“They found that the Jews of Berea were of more noble character and much more open minded than those of Thessalonica. They were hungry to learn and eagerly received the word. Every day they opened the scrolls of Scripture to search and examine them, to verify that what Paul taught them was true. A large number of Jews became believers in Jesus, along with quite a few influential Greek women and men.” Acts 17:11-12 TPT
“I am amazed that you are so quickly deserting Him who called you by the grace of Christ, for a different ‘gospel,’which is really not another [there is only One]; only there are some who are disturbing you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to what we have preached to you, he is to be accursed! As we have said before, so I say again now, if any man is preaching to you a gospel contrary to what you received, he is to be accursed!” Galatians 1:6-9 New American Standard Bible
“So, my beloved friends, with all that you have to look forward to, may you be eager to be found living pure lives when you come into His Presence, without blemish and filled with peace. And keep in mind that our Lord’s extraordinary patience simply means more opportunity for salvation, just as our dear brother Paul wrote to you with the wisdom that God gave him. He consistently speaks of these things in all of his letters, even though he writes some concepts that are overwhelming to our understanding, which the unlearned and unstable love to twist to their spiritual ruin, as they do to the other Scriptures. As for you, divinely loved ones, since you are forewarned of these things, be careful that you are not led astray by the error of the lawless and lose your firm grip on the Truth. But continue to grow and increase in God’s grace and intimacy with our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. May He receive all the glory both now and until the day eternity begins. Amen!”
2 Peter 3:14-18 TPT
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Love, Fear, and Pain:  God’s Rx for Our Healing

 

by Sarah G. Pemberton ©October 2018; Original painting © 2015

Part 1:

A couple of years ago, a friend’s granddaughter hurt herself playing at church.  The child had a history of panicking over the tiniest wound, and wouldn’t let anyone touch it to clean or dress the wound.  The grandmother enlisted my help to take care of the uncooperative child.  She persuaded the little girl that I was a doctor and would make it feel better.  It wasn’t easy, but somehow together, we got the wound cleaned, ointment on it to help the pain, and a cute little Band-Aid on it.  She finally calmed down, and to her, I became “Doc Sarah” ever after.

Many immature Christians are just like my friend’s granddaughter:  When they get hurt, they are so afraid of more pain, they won’t let God – let alone any of His ministers – touch their wounds.  So the wounds begin to fester and get infected, even infecting other Members of the Body of Christ, which is His Church.

Over my lifetime, between my own personal spiritual journey, and what I’ve observed in other believers, I have seen certain predictable pitfalls take out MANY Christians – over and over and over again— from effectiveness for God’s Kingdom.  The sad thing is that some of these people are quick to see those pitfalls taking out others, but may fail to see those same pitfalls destroying themselves.

The biggest demonic pitfall I have ever observed that destroys more individuals, and entire churches, than any other single blind spot that I know of is OFFENSE: 

[1] Getting offended with leaders in churches;

[2] Getting offended with family members, friends, or anyone we meet in our daily business; (Happens a LOT on Facebook!)

[3] And/or Getting offended with God, often as a result of the other two. 

When we are OFFended, we DEfend behaviors which Reason would tell us are counterproductive. But immediate Pain easily clouds Reason.

We have many “good” excuses for this:

  • Our Rights: “Well, I had a right to [Fill in the blank]!”
  • Jealous Comparisons: “But my _______ is as important as his!”
  • Selfish Competitions: “Well, I think I can lead _______ as well as she can!”
  • Majors Sins that Devastate People in the Church: “But you just don’t know what horrible, abusive thing he did to me/our church!”
  • Generalizations: “Well, if THAT’S what Christians are like, I don’t want any part in the Church!”

When we primarily perceive ourselves as “victims,” and everyone else either in the category of “abusers” or as “rescuers,” we build Walls of Fear instead of Bridges of Healing. (I Sam. 18:12) We set some people up on pedestals, off of which they are certainly doomed to eventually fall.  Then we blame them for it, instead of taking responsibility for our own idolatry of mere human beings, when they do fail us. And we also make it impossible for ourselves to have God’s heart of faith, hope, and love toward those who have hurt us, because we are too busy sitting in God’s Judgment Seat to trust Him to resolve the problems that are bigger than we are. (Mt. 6:12-15; II Sam. 15:1-6)

It has been said that “hurt people hurt people.”  When we do to others what they did to us, we only escalate the problem from generation to generation, instead of becoming part of the solution. There was a long time in my life when I made that “self-protective” mistake of not trusting God’s healing process.  I thereby hurt a lot of other people without meaning to.  It took a major personal crisis in my life to get my attention that it was time for me to DIE to my pride and fear and let GOD rule my life HIS Way, not mine.

When I was young, I occasionally heard preachers who said things like, “Christians in this country have grown soft!  They would never survive a heavy persecution, because they worship their emotions!  It’s time to grow up, Church, and take up your Cross, and follow Jesus, even when it hurts!”  At the time, all I could hear was harsh legalism, because grace was just a doctrine that had yet to penetrate my full, deep, understanding of who I really am, as a believer in Christ.  I thought those preachers were just stern and unloving.

Those hard-nosed preachers I heard as a young Christian were John-the-Baptist-style prophets who didn’t mince words, and who, therefore, offended many people by being so direct. But the thought to me of picturing what it really meant to “die to self” was both vaguely confusing and scary. (Rom. 6:11) I tried to persuade myself that I was already succeeding at this better than I was, because I was afraid to admit my own failure to myself.  I wanted people to coddle my emotions to make me feel better about how I was, not point out the failure of my “house of cards” falling at the first slight breeze of trouble blowing on it!

Over my lifetime, secular philosophies took a pendulum swing from my grandparents’ generation of stoicism to the Hippie/Psycho-Babble generation of hyper-focus on human emotion.  This secular trend gave birth to many new Christian approaches to helping people overcome their traumas of the past, as it became very fashionable among Christians to seek counseling and the newly evolving “inner healing ministries.”  Many people got excited and felt hopeful of finally uprooting some deep, bad, old emotional, psychological, and/or spiritual issues, and thus being able to effect deep and lasting change in the areas of their greatest struggles and discouragements.

For myself, I found many of these approaches to be somewhat helpful tools in getting to some root issues in my life.  I went to counselors, and even went through treatment for alcoholism.  Afterward, I earned a Master’s Degree in counseling, myself.  I gained some useful insights, and have used many of those insights for years in ministry with others, who have likewise found that wisdom helpful.

So why then, indeed, does it seem that people in our nation, and especially Christians, are acting MORE wounded and offended than ever?  It’s all over the news, all over Facebook.  Even workplace break rooms and student conversations are full of gossip that revolves around offense.  Churches split, right and left (often literally, in the moral or political senses), over offenses with the pastor, or with other leaders, or over doctrines that offend people.

Now, please understand that I am in no way dismissing such counseling or inner healing prayer ministries as having any value.  I have benefited from such myself, and have the degree myself. But may I suggest to you that although many of these “inner healing” and counseling approaches have been “in the right forest,” yet they still have mostly been “barking up the wrong trees”?  Consider the fact that for many Christians, inner healing and counseling ministries have seemingly only resulted in greater hopelessness, to the point that numerous Christians I know have either given up on Christianity, or have modified their understanding of God’s Commandments to tolerate the sins they felt  hopeless about ever overcoming.  It became easier for some to just “make friends” with sin. (Romans 1:18-32; 6:1-6)

The fault is with both those ministers who allow their ministry to become their identity and primary focus, as well as with the recipients who allow such ministers or counselors to become their idols, and who allow their self-worth to depend on their emotions, instead of depending on the Word of God, come hell or high water.

In other words, if a person talks about his or her “issues” and “need for inner healing” more than he or she talks about what God has done through the Cross and Resurrection of Jesus, then something is wrong!  And if a person depends more on a counselor, prayer minister, or spiritual adviser than he or she does on the Word of God and the Holy Spirit, then something is wrong!  And if a person is still needing such ministry on a regular basis (after being a believer, baptized in water, and baptized in the Holy Spirit and His cleansing fire) for longer than 3 and a half years (the length of time Jesus discipled leaders), then something is seriously wrong!

You see, I’ve concluded that many of the old-school preachers were right. They may have failed to communicate the Truth of the Message of the Cross in ways which the average person can really grasp and receive as a message of love and grace. But they were right, because grace and truth always go hand in hand.  Grace empowers us to become holy as Jesus is holy.  Truth keeps our understanding of that holiness accurate, according to God’s Word, not according to human traditions or popular fads.

Human beings are always looking for what Alcoholics Anonymous members call “an easier, softer way.”  But Scripture (and even good secular wisdom) makes it clear that THERE ISN’T ONE.

Jesus came as God’s ONLY solution to sin, and it cost Him everything.  But He endured that suffering because He also saw the potential of His Sacrifice to gain, for the Kingdom of God, ALL that had been lost since Adam and Eve first listened to The Liar.  Jesus’ idea of “healing” us wasn’t to coddle our emotions, nor to analyze our traumas ad infinitum.  It was to invite us to die with, and in, Him.  The good news, of course, is that He also promises us Resurrection on the other side of that crucifixion.

God did create us in His image, (Genesis 1-2) and Jesus was and is that Perfect Image of God Incarnate. The Triune God has a Mind, a Will, and Emotions, a Soul, Body, and Spirit, as He likewise created us.  God intends our restored, whole, renewed nature to look just like that of Jesus – not like the latest psychological guru, nor even like that of the best ministers we’ve ever met – but like our Heavenly Father. (John 14:9; Mt. 5:48)

But as a result of this current cultural trend of idolizing human feelings, we have an entire society, both secular, and in the Church, that has become crippled by the fear of “offending” someone.  That is NOT the image of God! Then the other culturally popular extreme of dealing with conflict is, “I’ll do what I darn well please! Get over it!” Selfishly running over others isn’t the Image of God either. The cultural pendulum extremes of “Reason-Versus-Emotion”(or the“Pull-Yourself-Up-by-Your-Own-Bootstraps-Versus-Coddling-Self-Pity”) simply cycles back and forth, each generation smugly judging the one before it, failing to recognize that there is nothing new under the sun.  When we focus on “us” and “our problems,” either analyzing them in our heads, OR overreacting with passionate emotion, we’ll NEVER do anything but polarize people into dividing factions and camps that keep hurting each other, generation after generation. We cannot move forward with anything by putting the cart before the horse. As the old song goes, “When will they ever learn?”

God DOES have a solution.  It has never changed, and it never will.  But Jesus said, “Come to God through the Narrow Gate, because the wide gate and broad path is the way that leads to destruction—nearly everyone chooses that crowded road!  The Narrow Gate and the Difficult Way leads to Eternal Life—so few even find it!” (Mt. 7:13-14)  And again, “When He had called the people to Himself, with His disciples also, He said to them, ‘Whoever desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.’” (Mk. 8:34)  Daily forgiveness of those who offend us, along with making restitution for ways in which we have needlessly offended others with our sins, is the first step to following Him with that Cross.

*S.A.D.D. (Part 2)

*Spiritual Attention Deficit Disorder

Copyright July 23, 2013 by Sarah G. Pemberton

In recent years, I have observed many Christians, who in the name of repenting of self-righteousness and of Pharisaism, (which definitely has been a need in the church) have become so focused upon making their churches and ministries “seeker-friendly” that they become like a bride who gets so caught up in making guests feel welcome at her reception, that she forgets why she got married, and never leaves for her honeymoon, abandoning her frustrated groom, standing at the car door!  It is important to make guests feel welcome in our churches.  But just as one’s home does not exist for the guests, but for the family who lives there, we mustn’t revolve our church families around those who are only peripherally interested in meeting our Daddy.  Jesus presented a gospel that was never sugar-coated, but required our very lives for Him.

We must be wise as serpents and innocent as doves (Mt. 10:16), lest some unbelievers with ill motives (or sometimes even professing believers), who are present in our churches, become a source of division, strife, and harm to the church because of their negative or self-driven focus.  (I Tim. 1:20; II Tim. 4:14)   I’m not advocating judgmentalism, nor paranoia, for “God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power, of love, and of a sound mind.”  (II Tim. 1:7)  Yet again, we must learn to spiritually see and hear, so that we only do what the Lord is doing, not being led by our mere intellect, emotions, or good intentions.  (Jn. 9:39-10:5)  But it is a historic fact that many “wolves in sheep’s clothing” have destroyed many good churches, (Acts 20:29) because they were made more welcome than the Holy Spirit was.

So how do we practically apply this, avoiding the ditch on either side of the road?  First, we make our church or ministry a place where welcoming the Manifest Presence of God’s glory in our worship is the number one priority; where waiting together upon the Lord’s clear direction in worship, prayer, personal ministry, teaching and preaching, prophesying, etc. is the main focus.  (That in itself is sufficient topic for an entire book.)  We must be open to allowing God to redirect in the midst of whatever we are doing, as He wills.  The saints of old ministered to the Lord, rather than gathering merely for Him to minister to them.  (I Sam 2:11; I Chron. 6:32) When we minister to the Lord’s heart, He will minister to ours more effectively than if we sought our own needs first. (Ezek. 44:10-16)

Secondly, we must welcome newcomers without apology for who we are, but merely explaining to people what they may expect and why things are done the way they are.  This means being loving, gracious and respectful, even to those who do not stay, if our unique expression of “Christ in us the Hope of Glory” isn’t what they were looking for.  We mustn’t be smug or offended with others whose expressions are different from our own, because we never know when God may bring them back to us later on down the road.

Thirdly, we must ask Holy Spirit for His standards of love and grace, along with His definitions of holiness and church discipline, without sacrificing one for the other, as is historically common.  If we make either end of the spectrum into a lukewarm formula of rules, (Rev. 3:14-22; Rom. 5:20; 6:1) we have just missed it.  If, in the name of freedom and grace, we tolerate behaviors or attitudes which God calls intolerable, we have just missed it.  If in the name of church discipline, we are harsh with those who are already repentant, who are asking for help, we have just broken the Lord’s heart.  If we spend more time in criticism of those whom we suspect of being in sin, than we do in praying for them, we are hypocrites.  If we laugh at sin, in order to make sinners feel comfortable in our midst, we have insulted Jesus’ Cross and the reason He laid down His Life for us.

I’m not saying to reject people, but that we must ask Holy Spirit to set the boundaries and priorities for how we love Him, and how we love people in ministry, in that order.  It’s like on the airplane, when they are showing emergency procedures, they instruct parents to put the oxygen mask over oneself first, then over one’s child, because someone who passes out can’t help anyone else.  So we must attend to the needs of the Lord first in worship and listening for His Voice, and of the sheep, second — the baptized believers — before we attend to the felt needs of the merely curious.  True worship will empower us to love the seekers to the point of revelation and discovery of God’s grace for themselves, but we can’t give them what we don’t have.

So let us not be distracted, nor led astray by the devil’s schemes and tricks.  (II Cor. 2:11)  Let us not confuse the voice of what sounds good, with the True Voice of God (Jn. 10:27).  Let us not confuse our mission (sharing the good news of Christ with the lost) with our purpose for existence (holy intimacy with the Lord Himself).  Let us worship the Creator, not the gifts He gave us.

Wedding get-away

*S.A.D.D. (Part 1)

*Spiritual Attention Deficit Disorder

(Not to be confused with Seasonal Affective Disorder or Students Against Drunk Driving!)

Copyright July 23, 2013 by Sarah G. Pemberton

IMG old Jetta, new Jetta_0007

When my daughter was very young, I discovered an excellent safety video program called “Yello Dyno” [www.yellodyno.com].  It taught kids to be safe from predators and child abusers with the use of songs, videos, and coloring books.  Instead of instilling fear, it instilled wisdom and discernment.  It referred to such dangerous persons as “tricky people,” instead of “strangers,” giving characteristics of which to be wary, so that in an emergency, a child would have a reasonable estimate of whom he might trust to help him, and which people might be higher risk to trust.

A major tactic of “tricky people” is to distract children from focusing upon their responsibilities of the moment, so that they are unaware that they are being lured into a trap.  The distraction may appeal to the child’s sense of compassion, (“Please help me find my lost puppy!”), his sense of justice (“Someone is in danger! I need your help!”), loyalty to family (“Your mother sent me to get you! Your dad’s in the emergency room!”), or ego (“Come with me, and I’ll make you a movie star!”).  If the parent has clarified ahead of time legitimate signals for the child to know if something is genuine or fake, the child’s life can be spared, by knowing the True Voice of the parent, even speaking through representatives in the parent’s name.

For anyone, adult or child, distraction can also become a lifestyle, which hinders daily efficiency, when anxiety becomes a ruling force in our hearts.  When people suffer from Attention Deficit Disorder, they don’t know which voice to listen to first, or not at all.  They can run into trouble by missing essential details of immediate responsibility, because of the distraction of worrying about irrelevant issues, or because of backtracking with old neglected responsibilities, which interfere with the current one.  They are too anxious about missing something important to know how to prioritize activities in an orderly fashion.  Medications help some, but getting to the spiritual roots of the anxieties will work far better in the long-run.  People with ADD or ADHD are usually very creative people, who simply need clear parameters to keep them on task.  This has been a large part of my life’s lessons.

So, tying these two concepts together, I’d like to address a common spiritual malady, which I have dubbed, Spiritual Attention Deficit Disorder, or SADD.  This is where Satan tries to distract us with activities which sound good, look holy, just, or righteous, but which actually distract us from our primary focus of intimacy with the Lord, out of which all true ministry is conceived and is birthed in due season.  Being a Christian whose God is outside, knocking on the door of His own Church, is SADD, indeed.  (Rev. 3:20-21)

Satan was The Original Tricky Person.  The suggestion, “Indeed, hath God said…?” (Gen. 3:1ff.) caused the woman to take a second look at the one thing God had withheld from her, to distrust God’s motives in doing so.  The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil sounded like something she really needed.  When the word “good” describes something, isn’t that a logical assumption?  Furthermore, her husband remained strangely silent during this entire conversation, which is why he was held equally culpable.  Passivity in the face of temptation is still guilt by default, because he neglected his responsibility to love and protect his wife.  But the Tree of Knowledge turns out to reveal a “wisdom” of only shame and fear, not what either one was led to believe.  The moral of the story has been lived painfully by the entire human race ever since.

Adam and Eve were enjoying the best executive jobs on the planet, with the world’s best fringe benefits, until they allowed themselves to be distracted by something which sounded “good,” but which turned out to be a trick of their Worst Enemy – over whom they were created to rule, not to be ruled by him.

Christians have little trouble getting the point of this story intellectually; and many have genuinely had a revelation of this truth in the past.  But still many of us get distracted every day by attempting through self-effort what can only be properly accomplished in intimate partnership with God.  (This is the whole point of the entire book of Galatians.)  One can hear over a lifetime that Jesus only did what He saw the Father doing, and said only what He heard the Father saying, (Jn. 5:30), yet not recognize when we slide subtly from doing what the Lord is immediately showing us to do, to doing what worked last year or in the last move of God, when the Lord showed us to do that particular thing then. (Jn. 9:33-41)  But that is Tree of Knowledge, not Tree of Life.

Or perhaps, we learn a powerful concept, like friendship evangelism, which is great.  But if we try to turn it into a cookie-cutter method or formula, we may get distracted from the intimate sensitivity to the Holy Spirit which puts real love and power behind any ministry expression.  Lukewarm formulas are for babies whose mothers cannot properly nurse them, but intimate close relationship was God’s ideal for true nurturing from the beginning – both naturally and spiritually.

We can become so caught up in friendship with the people whom we are seeking to bring to God, that we forget intimacy with the God to Whom we are desiring to introduce them.  Without that foundation of intimacy with Him, we are dry wells with nothing to offer to the lost.  We may even find ourselves justifying “little” sins to “fit in” with the lost, in the name of “grace” and “not being religious,” which are actually just overcorrecting Phariseeism to the opposite extreme of lawlessness, or even just doing something because it is “trendy,” not because God told us to.  (I Cor. 5:1-13)  The salt has lost its flavor.  (Mt. 5;13-16)  If Satan can’t intimidate you out of being willing to minister for God’s Kingdom, he’ll try to distract you from loving and listening to the King Himself.  He’ll try to seduce you into making the people your focus, which may end up becoming an idol in your life instead.  (I Sam. 13; 15:10-15)

This is eventually doomed to create burn-out amongst those who are seeking to bring in the lost, because intimacy with the Lord for ourselves is the fuel which empowers true evangelism.  It can also cause spiritual stagnation amongst more mature members of a congregation, to have the focus of Sunday worship revolve around the comfort of outsiders, instead of revolving around feeding the sheep.  When we study the story of the Samaritan woman at the well, (John 4:1-42) Jesus did not make her feel judged, but He didn’t seek to make her feel “comfortable,” either.  He zeroed in on her need for true, life-changing worship, which empowered deep healing and repentance, and which brought many others to salvation as well.

The Secret to Rooting New Life (Part 2)

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Copyright 2013 by Sarah G. Pemberton

Allow me to unpack this for you in more detail, looking up the Scriptural significance of “cut branches,” “wounding,” “honey,” and “soil”:

[1] Cut branches and fruitful growth:
15 Jesus: I am the true vine, and My Father is the keeper of the vineyard. My Father examines every branch in Me and cuts away those who do not bear fruit. He leaves those bearing fruit and carefully prunes them so that they will bear more fruit; already you are clean because you have heard My voice. Abide in Me, and I will abide in you. A branch cannot bear fruit if it is disconnected from the vine, and neither will you if you are not connected to Me.

I am the vine, and you are the branches. If you abide in Me and I in you, you will bear great fruit. Without Me, you will accomplish nothing. If anyone does not abide in Me, he is like a branch that is tossed out and shrivels up and is later gathered to be tossed into the fire to burn. If you abide in Me and My voice abides in you, anything you ask will come to pass for you. Your abundant growth and your faithfulness as My followers will bring glory to the Father. ~ The Voice (VOICE) Bible (Jn. 15: 1-8)

Many Christians I know have experienced difficult seasons in which they felt “cut off” from the rest of the Church.  Sometimes, they have cut themselves off because they got hurt in church, and didn’t know how to let God heal those wounds of abuse, neglect, or rejection.  Others were pressured into leaving churches because they had a vision for ministry which was not well-received in that particular congregation or denomination.  God wants all believers to find their true place where they fit in the Body of Christ, so that their gifts will be celebrated, not just tolerated.

Joseph (Genesis 37:2-45:28) was a perfect example of one who had every right to feel rejected and offended, as he kept suffering injustice after injustice, not seeing his dreams from God coming true.  Yet because he served both God and people faithfully everywhere he went, without manipulation as his motive, God promoted him into the very thing he dreamed of, from the least likely prospect he could imagine – a slave condemned to a dungeon.

I also know a few Christians who got kicked out of some churches because of sins in their lives of which they were either unwilling to repent, or some cut themselves off because they had no idea how to find victory over a chronic struggle with sin, though they desperately wanted it.  (I Cor. 5:1-13; II Cor. 2:4-11)  God always wants us to experience the Death of Sin in the Cross and the Life of Christ in us; (Gal. 2:20) but some simply have not had anyone with experience in overcoming the same sins to show them the path of victory.  Many get stuck in legalism and striving through self-effort to change (which never works) because they do not understand the power of supernatural grace.  (Paul’s epistle to the Galatians addresses this.) This is like being told to drive a car with no gasoline. 

Others swallow the lie that forgiveness is the only goal of grace, that they may keep sinning, thinking it is OK as long as they “confess it and ask forgiveness.” (Rom. 6:1-18)  This is like taking a car to the mechanic to replace a bad part, but then smashing the new part as soon as you get the car out of the mechanic’s garage, and taking it right back in, to ask him to replace it again.  Eventually you’ll go broke on the repairs, and you’ll have never gone anywhere in that car.

[2]  Wounding:

There are four types of wounds in life:  [a] the wound experienced by an accident; [b] the wound experienced by one’s own or by someone else’s deliberate malice; [c] the wound experienced by surgery in order to heal and cure a deeper and more devastating issue; [d] the wound of a punishment for a wrong committed.  God is the Healer of the first two, for all who come to Him; and He is the Author of the third.  He Himself took the fourth on the Cross, so that we would not have to be destroyed by and for our sins.

Job pleaded for God to heal the wound of what felt like an unjust punishment, not knowing that God had never punished him at all, but merely given Satan permission to test Job’s faith and his trust in the ultimate goodness and faithfulness of God to bless him more than ever, if Job did not give up.  David felt unjustly wounded by his friend and king, to whom he always remained faithful, even as King Saul persecuted him unjustly.  David passed God’s test of grace and forgiveness toward his enemies, and of not seizing by self-effort what God had promised him; thus David was promised a lasting dynasty, through which the very Savior of the World would one day come.  Jesus was willing to be “wounded for our transgressions, bruised for our iniquities” (Is. 53) in order to trust God to raise Him from the dead, conquering for all time Sin, Sickness, Death, Hell, and The Grave.  (Rev. 20:10-14)  Paul was wounded by such persecution – both by his fellow Jews, as well as by the pagan Gentiles, everywhere he went – to the point that he called this constant battle of opposition his *“thorn in his flesh.”  (I Cor. 12:1-10)

*[(Gen. 3:18)  “Thorns” are sent to curse the ground the man works upon, implying that thorns symbolize a hindrance to fruitful work efforts.  Persecution hindered Paul’s work, because of the long-term effects of his own past persecution of Christians.  This hindrance was not a punishment, since he was saved by grace, but merely a personal challenge to keep him humble, in appreciating the sufferings of others gone before him, (Php. 2:17) lest Paul think God was successfully using him because of his impressive pedigree, education, and prophetic visions.  (Php. 3:3-14) Numbers 33:55 and many other Old Testament passages makes it clear that thorn in the flesh” is a Hebrew metaphor used to refer to negative consequences of our own mistakes, usually referring to irritations from other people, particularly our enemies – never referring to physical ailments, as many scholars interpret Paul’s “thorn.”  “But if ye will not drive out the inhabitants of the land from before you; then it shall come to pass, that those which ye let remain of them shall be pricks in your eyes, and thorns in your sides, and shall vex you in the land wherein ye dwell. (I Cor. 12:1-10, King James Version) ]

[3] Honey:  In I Samuel 14, Saul and his armies are pursuing the Philistines, and become exhausted from the battle.  Jonathan and his armor bearer had just experienced a miraculous victory over about twenty Philistine soldiers, by themselves, but had gotten separated from the rest of the army, not knowing his father’s foolish vow:


24 Saul did something really foolish that day. He addressed the army: “A curse on the man who eats anything before evening, before I’ve wreaked vengeance on my enemies!” None of them ate a thing all day.

25-27 There were honeycombs here and there in the fields. But no one so much as put his finger in the honey to taste it, for the soldiers to a man feared the curse. But Jonathan hadn’t heard his father put the army under oath. He stuck the tip of his staff into some honey and ate it. Refreshed, his eyes lit up with renewed vigor.

28 A soldier spoke up, “Your father has put the army under solemn oath, saying, ‘A curse on the man who eats anything before evening!’ No wonder the soldiers are drooping!”

29-30 Jonathan said, “My father has imperiled the country.  Just look how quickly my energy has returned since I ate a little of this honey! It would have been a lot better, believe me, if the soldiers had eaten their fill of whatever they took from the enemy. Who knows how much worse we could have whipped them!”  (I Sam. 14:24-30, The Message Bible)

Jonathan was only spared from the death penalty because the people pleaded with the king because of Jonathan’s heroic victory.

But the main spiritual symbolism from this story is that many intercessors can wear themselves out, praying diligently, but focused on the Enemy and the need for victory, instead of focusing on the Lord in worship and meditation upon Scripture, which produces heavenly revelation, which gives quick strength and insight for a much swifter and easier victory.  Revelation brightens the spiritual eyes, and honey was part of the diet of John the Baptist, symbolizing his only receiving what the Lord had produced from the Seed of His Word as the strength of his message.

[4]  Good soil:  In Matthew 13:23, the Lord explains in the Parable of The Sower that the soil represents the condition of one’s heart, that the good soil is: [a] that which has not been walked all over by others, due to a lack of healthy, protective personal boundaries, to a point of hardness of heart, in which nothing of freeing truth can sink into one’s spiritual understanding; [b] that which is free of offense, which hinders deep rooting, when pressures or persecutions come; [c] that which is free from worry, anxiety, greed, or other worldly obsessions, which choke out true faith.  In the good soil of trusting faith, enduring hope, and reception of God’s love, the seed of God’s Word can grow deep roots, able to withstand tough seasons, and still be fruitful.

So back to Joseph as our example:  He did not allow offenses to burn him out; he didn’t allow worry to choke him out; he didn’t allow being walked all over to harden his heart against hearing God’s Word accurately, because he was willing to humbly serve, instead of seeing himself as a “victim.”  He kept his heart pure and open, even when his miserable plight seemed to go from bad to worse.  He stayed open-hearted and let God teach him, making him wise, creative, and resourceful in the worst possible conditions.  In other words, when he was cut off from his family, and felt cut off from his destiny, Joseph allowed God to wound him in such a way as to strongly root his spirit in the revelation of what he knew to be Truth, no matter how barren his circumstance felt.  This caused him to put down roots in this foreign place, without losing the true spiritual DNA of who he was.

So, putting all this together:  how many of you feel like cuttings which just haven’t made it well, so far, in the vase of water you’ve been stuck in?  How many feel like pruned, fruitless branches which have been thrown away?  First, ask Holy Spirit to wound you in the very place where you felt cut off – the wound of the Surgeon who knows how to heal you by planting you with a new heart, free of the hindrances of the past.  That wound may look like honoring someone in authority who doesn’t appear to deserve it;  it may look like not defending yourself against false accusation.  It will include forgiving people who hurt you.  L

Secondly, look for Him to feed you and sooth that wound with the honey of fresh divine revelation, especially in the midst of exhausting spiritual warfare.  Soak up the sweetness of Who He is, no matter what your circumstance.  “Taste and see that the Lord is good!” (Ps. 34:8)  Don’t let anyone tell you that you have no right to receive that refreshing truth of Revelation until after the battle is won “their way.”  God’s revelation will give you His strategy for victory, and the people of faith to help you win that battle.

Then let Him plant you by faith, even if the place He plants you first feels like it is far from the promise you have hoped for.  (Ps. 1:1-3; 23:1-6)  As you let those new roots grow down, let love, forgiveness, humility, grace, patience, service with your gifts, and never losing sight of who you are in Christ, keep your heart pure and free of those old rocks and weeds of offenses and obsessions.  And even if family or old friends betray you, keep the sweetness of what God said surrounding that old wound, so no one can pluck you away from your promise.

Then, as you serve the great and the humble with the same love, watch expectantly for the loved ones you never thought you’d see again.  The very wagons of your own gifts will ultimately bring back to you all that you thought you’d lost when you were cut away.

The Secret to Rooting New Life (Part 1)

Mary V. and Gail's Flowers_0046

Copyright 2013 by Sarah G. Pemberton

(Thanks to several preacher/teacher friends, whose recent teachings added detail to the previous personal inspiration for this article.)

Sometimes God speaks to us profoundly through the most ordinary everyday experiences.  This past week, I had such an experience.

A neighbor recently asked me for cuttings of my best rosebush.   It never occurred to me that one might root roses that way, although my best hydrangea was given to me by a neighbor of my in-laws years ago, who rooted it very simply in a bucket of sand, which he kept watered.  But I had never known most cuttings from shrubs, especially, to root this easily for me.  My father-in-law had told me years ago of some product which enables one to root cuttings of plants, but I never can seem to find anything like it at Wal-Mart.  My neighbor who asked for the rose cutting said she used the same, and got it from Home Depot, or some such place.  Some plant cuttings will root profusely just by being kept in a vase with water with plant food.  But others seem to require a little more TLC.  I finally decided this week to check out a YouTube video to see how the experts do it.

What I found was not only simple, but contained a profound spiritual lesson.

In the video, an English gentleman demonstrated how cuttings can be easily rooted without the rooting powder my father-in-law and neighbor had suggested.  He said, “It’s quite simple.  You take the cutting, and you wound the cut end a little; then you dip it in a little bit of honey around the wound, and stick it in a pot of good soil, keep it watered regularly, and it will form new roots.”

Wow!  The picture was suddenly so clear to me what God was highlighting:  When we feel lonely and cut off from others, the very healing we need to revive our lives may feel at first like a worse wound than what led to our isolation to begin with.  But what resurrects Christ’s life in us, is wounding mixed with the sweet revelation of Him in us, rooting us deeply into the true hope for which we were designed to be planted, or established in our faith.  Only then, will we grow to be fruitful for His Kingdom.  But if we reject that wounding and stay isolated, we will die.