All That Can Be Shaken…

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Copyright 6/24/13 by Sarah G. Pemberton

“Yet once more I will shake not only the earth, but the heavens.”  And this expression, “yet once more” denotes the removing of those things which can be shaken, as of created things, in order that those things which cannot be shaken may remain.  Therefore, since we receive a Kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us show gratitude, by which we may offer up to God an acceptable worship of service with reverence and awe; for our God is a consuming fire. ~ Heb. 12:26-29

This past week, my church had a conference, called, Back to the Future, with a focus of recovering powerful revival fires of the past, which had been lost, in order to carry us into the future, centered in our true destiny in Christ, not stuck in past mistakes.  So it seemed no coincidence that today, I read several articles online about the folding of an international ministry, with which my husband and I have been familiar for many years. (This ministry announced its closing the day before our Back to the Future conference began.)

This ministry is one in which we have seen much good over many years, even attending some of their conferences, but also in which we have often seen a mix of man-made methods that look good and biblical on the surface, but which sometimes miss the power of what it means to walk by the spirit. (Gal.5)  One friend of ours seems to think, based on the confusing (to me, at least) letters and videos put out by this ministry, that the new direction they are seeking will actually do exactly what I’ve been praying for them for years – that the Lord would teach them to discern between mere “good programs,” versus God-focused intimacy by which we flow in His supernatural power, which produces good fruit as a byproduct of that relationship with Him.  I hope my friend is right about the new direction this ministry is now planning to take (reforming as a new organization altogether, redefining itself and its goals).  Perhaps the problem with the public perception of this announcement is merely one of miscommunication and semantics.  I hope this ministry isn’t merely back-peddling and caving in to the culturally popular approach of “freedom from sin is good, but staying stuck in something difficult to overcome is OK, too.  God loves you anyway.”

But this leads to two major issues that warrant discussion in general for all of us:

[1]  The common evangelical misperception of some that the gospel is merely about forgiveness of sin.

[2]  The common evangelical misperception of others that overcoming sin is the primary goal of the gospel.

Now, most evangelicals are well-familiar with the idea of “saying the sinner’s prayer” and then being told, “Now you’re saved! You’ll go to heaven when you die!  Yay!”  But if that is our only understanding of the gospel, we are, as Paul said, “…of all men most to be pitied.”  (I Cor. 15:19)  He meant the opposite, as in those who denied the resurrection, but only seeing salvation for this lifetime.  But seeing heaven after we die is not the goal of the gospel, either.  It’s a small byproduct of living in Christ here on earth.  Likewise, being forgiven, just so we can get rid of our consciences telling us we are in sin is not the goal, either.  In fact, that is demonic.  (Rom. 4:18-6:23)  Saying, “I’m not perfect, I’m just forgiven” is a common heresy.  It shortchanges the transformational power of the real gospel, which is about dying to the old nature and being reborn with the DNA of Jesus Christ, Who only did what He saw the Father doing, and only said what He heard the Father saying.  (Jn. 7:16; 6:38-39; 5:30)

The purpose of this earthly life is to fall increasingly in love with Jesus, Who first fell in love with us by His vision of who He intended, created, and knew us to really be.  He is the Hero who rescued His Bride with His very Life.  That’s too high of a price to pay to keep jilting Him for someone or something else.  A girl doesn’t love the flowers, the candy, and the ring more than the suitor who brought His gifts to her.  If she does, He’s going to find someone who wants Him, not just His gifts.

The result of that intimate love is for us to be promoted “from glory to glory,” (II Cor. 3:18) like moving from kindergarten to first grade, all the way up to our Ph.D., in overcoming sin, as a result of being one with God in Christ Jesus’ death and resurrection.  It’s not because we’re such geniuses in ourselves that God promotes us in His Kingdom.  It’s because Christ in us is such a fabulous Teacher that He is giving us the wisdom we need to partner with Him in the rule of His Kingdom, as we meditate upon and worship only Him.

Salvation means putting our soul, spirit and body in the spiritual laundry of the Cross on the “soak cycle” of love and grace until all the impurities are removed.  That’s a life-long process, though there are many sub-victories along the way.  It’s not about hanging up the muddy shirt and saying, “That’s OK; I still like my favorite shirt, even though it stinks. You, know, I think I like that pattern that the mud makes on the front there…  Yeah, let’s call that creativity…”  It’s also not about saying, “It’s hopeless!  Nothing will clean this old shirt!  I’d better use it for a rag, or burn it.”

With deep, real, ongoing salvation, God gets all the glory (not any church program, ministry, or minister) because it is His will to save us, and because intimacy with Christ is His means for doing so.  That intimacy of worship and meditation upon the Lord Himself, by which we receive the Living Word of God – which is the Seed, the DNA of God – is that which becomes One with our seed of Faith (which also comes from God – Gen. 2:20-25; Eph. 2:8).  This Life of God is carried in the womb of Hope until it is mature enough to become evident in our lives to others and be revealed, as that which looks just like its Daddy.  That labor and delivery is by prayer, fasting, and whatever process is needed to not give up on God’s Promises for our lives, until we hold that living reality and love it.

So God is neither about compromise, nor condemnation; neither about making friends with sin, nor about attacking sinners; neither about redefining His commandments, nor about minimizing the power of grace.  Salvation is about falling in love, staying in love, and being transformed by His love into the full recovery of the image of God that was marred by once believing demonic lies about Him and about ourselves.  Then we will have the pure, true, holy love of God for others that does not get distorted by the demonic lies and wounds of sin (ours or the sins of others against us).

It is my prayer, not only regarding this unnamed ministry, but that I and all churches and ministries which profess Jesus Christ as Lord will be deeply shaken of everything which does not have the strength and character of Jesus Christ Himself and of the Spirit of the Living God.  (Isa. 11:1-5)  When God shakes, it is so that He may rebuild something stronger than ever in the place of anything lost in that earthquake.

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Taking the Mantle of a Legacy of Reckless Abandon for Christ

Copyright June 15, 2013, by Sarah G. Pemberton

It was getting toward our bedtime last night, and my daughter was already asleep, when I saw a Facebook post that baffled me.  It was a photograph of two, dear, favorite, prophetic intercessor friends from our previous church, on the “wall” of the lady in the photo (whom I rarely see any more, except on Facebook).  Her post and the ensuing comments didn’t make sense – until I went to the wall of the man in the photo, and learned that his sister posted the notice on his page, dated June 8, that he had passed away the night before on June 7, 2013.  I was shocked, as I realized that the baffling comments on our mutual friend’s page were her processing the grief of his loss.  I cried, as I went to tell my husband the sad news.  I knew Charles had suffered many long-term health issues from a rough “pre-Jesus” past, but had no idea he was that imminently close to death.  I learned later today that he had a fairly sudden, recent terminal diagnosis of cancer, and that none of us really had time to process what happened.

I was especially sad to realize I had missed his funeral last Monday, because I had been taking a break from my newsfeed and other distractions for a week to seek the Lord in fasting and prayer.  If I could apologize to Charles for missing his funeral, he no doubt would have said, with that huge, cheerful grin of his, “Sarah, spending time in the Lord’s Presence, you chose the better portion, so you were where I now am!  Don’t feel like you missed anything!”

So this blog post is my eulogy and my funeral tribute to help me process my grief over the loss of my dear friend, as well as to share insights to communicate spiritual truths which will be universal, even to Christians who never knew my friend Charles.

I was initially struck last night, as is typically shared at Christian funerals, by the paradox of rejoicing that Charles’ years of quiet suffering were over (he never complained about anything), even though I was still deeply grieving in the midst of his triumph.  I realize there is no looking forward to bumping into him somewhere.  I will miss seeing his Facebook posts, which were always either edifying quotes of Scripture, prophecy, teaching, or of his own declarations of worship to the Lord.  I will have to wait until Eternity to again hear that musically resonant voice, so full of the joy of the Lord.   No more of his zealous prayers for Israel; no more encouraging prophetic words to his friends ringing in my ears; no more cheery hugs; no more of his passionate worship of the Savior who rescued him from a life of deep personal pain.  There is no ever “getting used to” the feeling of grief and loss, no matter how many losses one faces in this lifetime.  Our souls know we are made for resurrection, and it just feels wrong when a loved one is no longer available to visit.

But Charles is no doubt now dancing, laughing, and singing with the Precious Savior for whom he had lived the latter half or so of his life.  I was sad, but knew that even if God had granted me faith to raise him from the dead, I had no doubt that Charles would have just hugged me goodbye, then said, “I love you, Sis!  Now, let me go back to my Lord!  I’ll save you a seat!  It’s a great party!”

But more significantly than this typical grief process, I have begun to see a number of “dots” connect spiritually and prophetically with the timing of his death.   First, I want to note that I now see a prophetic sign, even in the manner in which Charles left our previous church. (And I missed him badly at the time, when he did; but my current insight helps me to not question how the Lord may lead others, even when their choices may make no sense to me at the time.) Charles told me back then, that he felt our then-mutual pastor needed to “focus more on Christ’s second coming, because it is imminent,” while our pastor had a passion for equipping the saints with faith to get through a rough economy without fear.  Both are great focal points in preaching.  In hindsight, perhaps the Holy Spirit was showing Charles, Christ’s personal coming for Charles himself; and knowing in his spirit that his own time was short, he had such an urgency about his own ministry as an evangelist, to make the gospel known to as many as possible before going home to glory.  I have attended several funerals in recent years of young people with an extreme urgency for the times we are living in.  They did not know how brief their own evangelistic ministries would be, but Holy Spirit in them did.  They lived hard and fast for Jesus in that short window of opportunity, as did Charles.

Secondly, I noted that his last Facebook post, before his sister announced his passing, had been a quote from one of my favorite prophetic teachers, Mark Chironna:  “You’ve been entrusted with the ability to interpret your reality… Seeing [the past] with new eyes, leads to naming the present with new words.”  Above this, Charles had written as his last FB status, Praise the Lord Jesus Christ!  Charles had once shared his personal testimony with me, and it was one of those dramatic testimonies which gives life to Jesus’ words, “He who has been forgiven much, loves Me the most.”  Charles focused very little on the failures or sins of his past, and was consumed with gratitude for the grace of God, which defined his present.  This is the beautiful legacy of faith, hope, and love which I have inherited from him.

Thirdly, I noted that seven (the date of his passing) prophetically symbolizes completion or perfection in Scripture, while eight (the date his sister posted the sad news) is both death and new beginnings, or resurrection.  Harvest (nine) is what follows.  Tying this together, a friend from my current church shared on our church’s Facebook page, a prophetic word by Doug Addison, which was entitled “Time to Bloom.”  It was about coming out of a current season of weary discouragement and sadness this month into a fresh season of fulfillment of God’s promises in our lives, beginning in July.  This brings to mind Jesus’ parable, “Unless a seed falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone.  But if it dies, it bears much fruit…”  It is my desire to see Charles’ life and death bear much fruit for the coming season in the Kingdom of God.

I believe, therefore, that Charles’ passing at this time was a prophetic sign from the Lord – to me, at least – confirming the word God recently spoke through Doug Addison.  I believe that it is a sign of Great Harvest being brought into God’s Kingdom, of many prodigals getting saved from very rough backgrounds.  These rising saints will be so full of love and gratitude that they will be willing to spend their lives in a lifestyle of grateful worship, just as my friend Charles did, risking all for God’s Kingdom; drawing attention, not to their sordid pasts, but to their magnificent present in God’s Presence, and to their glorious future in Eternity with Him.

It is into this Promise of Divine Glory that I invite you to invest your life, as my friend did.  I love you, my brother, Charles.  I know your intercessory gifts for us are more perfect now than ever.  I will miss that million dollar smile, and look forward to seeing you greet me one day, when my assignment here is complete.

Matthew 25: Locked Out — Part 2: The Servants with the Talents

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When Jesus warns farther along in Matt. 25:30 that those who are afraid to spend the talents, (measures of grace which have been given them for the building of God’s kingdom) will be “thrown into outer darkness, where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth,” that passage is generally interpreted by evangelicals as unbelieving sinners being thrown into hell, or the Lake of Fire (Rev. 19:19-20:3).  Although this may well be an accurate aspect of its interpretation, may I suggest that there is a much more personal meaning to each of us as believers.  As with the foolish virgins, the negative person in this parable is not a pagan (foreigner), but a “servant” of the king.  Therefore, this passage deals with those who have experienced salvation from sin, but have refused to fulfill their calling for building God’s Kingdom by grace

The outer darkness, therefore, in this context, is simply the place of losing the revelation of grace which one once had.  It is the place of experiencing negative consequences which one doesn’t understand (no light of revelation), because one has failed to take the time to truly “know” the gracious, generous King.  The servant whose talent is taken from him accuses the king of being an unfair “taker” of what is “not His.” (Mt. 25:24)  So that is the judgment he receives.

The part about “gnashing of teeth” always sounded to me like someone in pain.  But actually, throughout the rest of Scripture, this expression refers to angry, bitter accusation and attacking of others.  (Acts 7:54 & Lam. 2:16, for example)  Therefore, because Jesus said, “As you judge, so shall you be judged,” (Mt. 7:1-2) may I suggest that the “gnashing of teeth” here refers to the “wicked” servant:  [1] being stuck with his own false view of harsh accusation against the king (i.e., his own “gnashing of teeth” against his king), by which he feels resentfully sorry for himself that the king was “so mean” to him; and [2] being attacked by the judgments of others, who falsely accuse this servant and “gnash their teeth” at him, just as he treated his king.

A victim mentality is the most deadly of all sins, because it leaves no room for humility that leads to repentance.  It allows us to maintain an excuse for self-pity, failure, depression, and blaming others for our problems.  It demands sympathy, manipulates pity where tough confrontation is what is really called for, and hides behind a wall of false “compassion,” wherever it finds a sympathetic ear.  It slanders those with the discernment to see through its self-centeredness, and it likes to collect malcontents as its friends.  It accuses of “harshness” or “hard-heartedness” those who see the truth.

But Jesus, who had more compassion upon desperate sinners, upon the weak, and the poor than anyone could fathom, had no tolerance for this imposter demon.  His biggest miracles sometimes came from saying or doing things which sounded terribly unkind, but which exposed the true motives of those seeking healing, and which forced them to embrace humility over potential offense:  For example, he called the Syro-Phoenician woman a “dog,” a common Jewish description of Gentiles (Mk. 7:24-30); He ignored two blind men who followed Him for a long way, begging Him to have mercy upon them (Mt. 9:27-30); He asked the lame man at the Pool of Siloam (Jn. 9:7-11) if he wanted to be healed, and then ignored the man’s excuse of not having anyone to carry him into the water on time.  But in each case, the person had the desperation to put humility and cooperation over the temptation to get offended or to accuse Jesus of being “mean.”  As a result, each received a miracle recorded for posterity, encouraging people, still, 2000 years later.

So ask yourself:  Where have I been cast into the outer darkness of missing God’s grace, because I was more determined to accuse Him than to invest the grace He gave me?  Eagerly receiving miracles or blessings by faith is not about “selfishness;” quite the contrary, rejecting or burying God’s grace is about the selfishness of being afraid to risk failure.  It is about the selfishness of justifying our failure and blaming God for it, claiming it “just wasn’t His will to heal me.”  It is time to abandon our distorted theologies which sound humble on the surface, but which are really fearful and lazy, accusing God of not being good and generous.  (And lest you think I’m being rough, I write the lessons I am in the process of learning the hard way myself.)

Matthew 25: Locked Out — Part 1: The Wise and Foolish Virgins

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Then the Kingdom of heaven will be comparable to ten virgins, who took their lamps, and went out to meet the Bridegroom.  And five of them were foolish, and five were prudent.  For when the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them; but the prudent took oil in flasks along with their lamps.  Now while the bridegroom was delaying, they all got drowsy, and began to sleep.

But at midnight, there was a shout:  “Behold, the Bridegroom!  Come out to meet Him!”  Then all those virgins arose and trimmed their lamps.  And the foolish said to the prudent, “Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.”  But the prudent answered, saying, “No, there will not be enough for us and you, too; go instead to the dealers and buy some for yourselves.”  And while they were going away to make the purchase, the Bridegroom came, and those who were ready went with Him to the wedding feast; and the door was shut.

And later, the other virgins also came, saying, “Lord, Lord, open up for us!”  But He answered and said, “Truly, I say to you, I don’t know you.”  Be on the alert, then; for you do not know the day, nor the hour.” ~ Matt. 25:1-13

All of my life, because of the later context of parables in this chapter, I have heard it taught that the foolish and wise virgins, and the sheep and the goats parables, all describe the difference between true disciples of Jesus, whose actions reflect an unhypocritical life, versus religious people whose lives are superficial, legalistic, and/or hypocritical.  I was taught that it simply represents the Final Day of Judgment for all people – the saved versus the unsaved, those who accept Jesus as Lord, versus those who reject Him as Lord.  That interpretation certainly may have some merit, but is, I believe, incomplete at best.

So I wish to dig here a little bit deeper.  When we place this parable’s interpretation as merely some Last Days eschatological, final judgment application, it becomes easy to distance ourselves from its daily application to our own personal lives, and to blithely say, “Well, I asked Jesus into my heart, got saved, baptized, go to church, support missionaries, give to the Salvation Army at Christmas, and handed out tracts last week at the mall, so I’m OK.”

Some Pentecostal traditions even teach that this parable distinguishes between those who have been baptized in the Holy Spirit and those who are merely “saved” or “born again” as Evangelicals.  Again, although there may be some degree of merit to this argument, (as we are in spiritual danger if we ever reject anything Jesus commanded us to receive from Him) nevertheless, I find both of these interpretations somewhat shallow and limited.  They allow too many Christians to pat themselves on the shoulder, as they mark off their “I’m-spiritually-OK” checklists. Such an attitude is the hallmark of Phariseeism and legalism, rather than walking by the Spirit through faith by grace alone. (Eph. 2:8)

…Which brings us precisely to the real point of this parable:  Grace is the fuel of true faith, and the real power behind the Baptism in the Holy Spirit.  We have to recall that all the women in the parable were virgins – pure, undefiled, waiting eagerly for the same Bridegroom, unselfishly looking forward to celebrating His union with His Chosen Bride.  The Bride is the corporate unity of believers in Christ, whose love makes us one with each other (John 17:11), and with Christ in Holy Communion (Luke 22:14-20; Rev. 19:5-9; 21:1-2).  These foolish virgins are not those who reject covenant with God; these are not the pagans, the atheists, the agnostics.  These are those in covenant with God, awaiting His promises eagerly.

First, we must recognize that all prophecies in Scripture must be interpreted in layers; they have multiple levels of fulfillment, both in typology, in differing periods of history, and in ultimate fulfillment in the Last Day.  Although it is possible to come up with a completely heretical interpretation, nevertheless, most of the arguments of interpretation for Scripture stem from theologians thinking there is only one “right” interpretation or application – theirs.  So I am merely presenting one important, and I believe often overlooked, layer regarding the interpretation of this parable.

Virgins are those who have preserved themselves for a holy covenant fulfillment that is life-producing.  They are also, as attendants, those who purely celebrate the blessings of their friends, who are coming into the same type of covenant.  Their lamps are the Word of God. (Ps. 119:105) The trimmed wicks represent lives of faith that await the Promise of God to be revealed in its fulfillment.  The oil is the fuel of abundant grace that is powerful enough to enable the will to endure fiery testing, in order to reveal the Light, the Revelation, of God’s Word, shining in a dark world awaiting her Messiah.  Falling asleep while waiting represents the period of history, or of one’s life, in which no more light (prophetic revelation of the day for accomplishing spiritual work) is shining, and spiritual darkness (the encroachment of sin and evil in a given period of history) is at its darkest and most enduring.

Historically, this can be unpacked for the Jews of Jesus’ generation as the fact that all the Jews of Jesus’ day were eagerly awaiting their Messiah.  All had God’s Word, and all had faith that He was coming.  The Jews had been given glimpses of their Messiah, hidden in prophecy, for thousands of years; but there had been no fresh revelation of Him for 400 years (the period of the virgins’ falling asleep).  But only some were receptive to paying the price of deep repentance in time to recognize Messiah when He came.  This was via the baptism of repentance which John the Baptist preached was necessary to prepare for the Messiah, Who was just around the corner.  The Chosen Ones who spent their time criticizing John’s ministry (no grace to accept the fire of God’s fresh prophetic light in their own generation) missed seeing the very Promise for which they had waited, even though He was standing right in their midst, ministering powerfully for 3 ½ years.  A critical, Pharisaical spirit depends on the oil of yesteryear, which has run out, and it fails to gather a fresh supply for a new generation, when God is offering fresh grace.  The willingness to lay down one’s own life, one’s own self-righteousness, one’s pet traditions, and one’s own timetable of expectation is the only price necessary to purchase today’s grace for today’s Promise.

The ones who recognized and purchased from that “merchant of oil,” John, during the “day of their visitation” were equipped with grace to endure through the night, which provided them light in the darkness to recognize Jesus in His Virgin Birth, His holy Life, His powerful Ministry, His wise Teaching, His baffling Cross, His promised Resurrection, and His glorious Ascension, even though things got very “dark” under the oppression of Roman rule, and even darker still for Jesus’ disciples at the end of His Ministry in Gethsemane.

So, most of the Jews of Jesus’ day depended upon the grace of the Old Covenant, which was running out.  When John called them to repent in a whole new way, they didn’t realize their old supply would not last through the darkness of what was coming.  They thought they were “just fine,” and were not willing to pay a new price while there was time to do so.  So a generation later, when the Temple was destroyed, they were left “locked outside,” with no Old Covenant light of fresh revelation still shining under Roman persecution, while Jesus began to celebrate the New Covenant with those who had already replaced their old supply of grace with His new Oil to get them through the darkness of persecution.  The Jewish people, whom the Lord still dearly loves, have been “left out in the dark” (lacking understanding) for 2000 years of frequent terrible suffering and persecution (though that has never been God’s desire for them), not understanding why the Lord doesn’t recognize them and save them the way they thought salvation was supposed to look like.  In their self-imposed darkness, they still do not recognize their Messiah (Anointed One) as the Source of Fresh Oil that they lack.

The foolish virgins got locked out of the wedding hall, being told, “I’m sorry, but I really don’t know you.”  In the darkness of our self-imposed shortage of grace, when we reject a current opportunity to recognize Jesus in a fresh new celebration of the Holy Spirit’s promises, God really doesn’t know us because He can’t recognize us in the darkness of disobedience which we have chosen!  We cannot draw on someone else’s grace, nor upon an old, used-up supply of grace which was paid for to get us through a past season, because we must pay our own current price of willingness to lay down every attitude that keeps us in darkness.  Darkness is simply the lack of grace which keeps us from seeing Jesus in time to respond to what He is leading us to celebrate today.

Judas Iscariot failed, as a “foolish virgin,” to draw on God’s grace to endure through that dark night, failed to see his Messiah rise from the dead as promised, failed to be restored by grace, as Peter was in contrast.  Peter had the grace to endure through the night, even though the darkness of shame for his failure was impenetrably deep all around him, as he wept for denying his Lord.  For this reason, when Jesus rose from the dead – “The Bridegroom is here!” said Mary Magdalene  – Peter saw his Savior, even in the dark night of his shame, because he still had the oil of New Covenant grace to sustain him.  Jesus’ promise that “I have prayed for you” sustained Peter.

So what I am saying is that Christians – no different from the Jews of Jesus’ generation – have a tendency to reject any current, fresh revelation of grace, depending upon an old revelation, which is used up by the time we wake up.  Then we miss the day of our visitation.  (Lk. 19:44; I Pet. 2:12)  In other words, we cannot go back in time to merely recognize the validity of what God did in the ministry of St. Francis of Assisi, or in The Great Awakening, or in the Azusa Street Revival, or in the Charismatic Movement and get on board with that past movement now.  The door of opportunity on any historic move of God – wonderful as it was in its day – is closed.  We may, and should, honor and respect the fathers and mothers of past moves of God; but it is even more important to recognize and be willing to pay the price of humility, repentance, and dependence on God’s grace to embrace what He desires to do in each of our lives via whatever current move of the Holy Spirit that He is sending us.  Otherwise, we will pray for revival, but only criticize it when it comes, because it doesn’t look like we thought it should.  It doesn’t look “right” to us because we’re peering through the darkness to which we have grown accustomed, because our lamps of old, traditional oil from a bygone era have gone out!  By the time we see lots of good fruit in the new move, and we realize the good thing we have missed, those who have been remaining in grace to accept that move by faith from the start, have moved on to a still-fresher move of God without us.

“My God, My God, Why Have You Forsaken Me?”

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Copyright 5/23/13 by Sarah G. Pemberton

Who has never felt abandoned in this life?  Virtually everyone can relate to this overwhelming emotion to some degree, at some point in time.  For some, it may be little more, for example, than the momentarily traumatic memory of being lost in a public place as a child.  But then, the security guard found you, took you to the Lost and Found, and your mother found you safely there, licking a sucker.  She hugged your neck, perhaps scolded you a bit for not staying with her, and took you happily home.

But for others, the pain of abandonment trauma goes much deeper, with far more lasting effects.  Think of the recent stories of the three women held captive:  Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus, and Michelle Knight, plus Amanda’s daughter born in captivity.  Their joy of newfound freedom, according to some reports, is still plagued by nightmares of their captor coming back to get them.  Healing will take time, therapy, much prayer, and the grace of God.

Others may struggle with abandonment trauma related to the early loss of a parent.  Even when an adult logically understands that death is not something over which we have much control, and that Mommy or Daddy did not intentionally leave the child, yet the memory of that now-adult child may still be plagued with irrational fears of abandonment, resulting in all kinds of irrational coping behaviors as an adult.  In my own life, my mother being hospitalized for nine months when I was a preschooler had a profound impact on my life.  I had to be hospitalized for pneumonia for about 4 or 5 days during this time, and the difference it made for me — compared with my husband being hospitalized at the same age for the same condition, but with his mother there the whole time — was huge.  Other things which went wrong with that experience made it a terrible memory, indeed.

So how do we get healed of the irrational fears of the past?  How do we get past the fear that beloved people currently in our lives will “surely leave me, or die, or simply reject me, just like X did”?  First, regardless of whether or not our fears are unfounded, or even based on accurate discernment, Jesus remains the One Who most profoundly understands this trauma, and Whose victory over suffering is our timeless key to escape from the prison of paralyzing fear.

Merely memorizing the dozens of Scriptures which reassure that God will not forsake us will not alone heal a deeply traumatized soul.  Yet meditation upon these Scriptures, worshipping the Lord and proclaiming daily to one’s own spirit the faithfulness of His Word, is the seed-planting act of hope which precedes a harvest of “righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit.”  (Rom. 14:17; 8:6) For most of us, seeking concentrated and perhaps long-term prayer ministry with someone who understands inner healing will help to slowly dismantle the strongholds of fear which have built up in our minds over a lifetime.  Renewing one’s mind (Rom. 12:1-2) according to God’s Word, involves diligence and not giving up.  These deep fears didn’t get there overnight, and they won’t be dismantled overnight.  Healing is usually experienced in layers.

Understanding Jesus’ road to victory will, however, help us to also find that same path of faith, hope, love, and trust in the faithfulness and goodness of our heavenly Father.  Upon the Cross, we know that Jesus took the load of all the sin, and of all the hopelessness, guilt, shame, loneliness, and despair it produces in our lives. (Ps. 22:1) He carried all the abandonment of our separation from God, so that we might be restored to right intimacy with God.

How did He bear this incomprehensibly massive load?  By having girded His mind, will, emotions, and spirit with the Truth of His Father’s love, His Father’s promises of resurrection and victory, over a period of thirty-three years of unbroken intimacy with His Father – that’s how.  He drew from the well of His Father’s declaration, “This is My Beloved Son, in Whom I am well pleased.”  (Mk. 1:11)  Our hope in the midst of despair is to draw from the well of Jesus’ Own Faith.  Gal. 2:20 is usually quoted as, “…I live by faith in the Son of God;” but the more accurate translation is, “I live by the faith OF the Son of God.”  It is by drawing upon His gift of faith, not something which we must “produce” by self-effort, that we are empowered to stay in a place of spiritual shelter from life’s storms.

So here is what I saw today in my prayer time, which I had never connected before:  The same Jesus who said, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?” – “My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?” – while hanging on the Cross, also said just hours later, “It is finished!  Father, into Your Hands, I commit my spirit.”  How does one commit one’s spirit into the care of Someone who feels far away, even completely withdrawn?  Was Jesus “feeling better” by then?  Not likely!  Had the Presence of His Father returned to comfort Him?  I doubt it very seriously, as He carried the full weight of the condemnation we deserved for our sin all the way to the grave and Sheol, to the place where the dead who had died in the hope of God’s covenant promises yet awaited their salvation.  But rather, even while covered in the ugliness of our sin, even feeling a million miles away from His Abba, He made a statement of faith, of trust that this abandonment which he felt would not be permanent, because His Father had promised to raise Him on the Third Day.

Read the entirety of Psalm 22.  It crosses back and forth from the emotions of utter despair to faith in a hope unseen, built on the faithfulness of God’s promises.  Likewise, Ps. 27:10 says, “For my father and my mother have forsaken me, / But the Lord will take me up.”   Heb. 13:5-6, addressing fears of the lack of provision (perhaps in a depressed economy like ours) says, “Let your way of life be free from [not in slavery to] the love of money, being content with what you have; for He Himself has said, ‘I will never leave you, nor will I ever forsake you,’ so that we may confidently say, ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid.  What shall man do to me?’”

Heavenly Father, I pray for each person reading this now, that You will draw each heart to a supernatural revelation of the power of Jesus’ suffering as the solution to all of ours.  As we meditate on the loneliness of Jesus, may our own loneliness fade as nothing by comparison.  As we meditate on the abandonment of Jesus by His Abba, so that He could bear the sin that causes us to abandon one another, may we feel the saturating Presence of the Holy Comforter; for Jesus promised he would not leave us as orphans.  We know God cannot lie; so we choose to trust You to fill every void in our hearts, every place of desperation in our souls, with Your grace and peace that gives hope in the midst of hopelessness; in Jesus’ Mighty and Merciful Name.  AMEN.

Joseph Williams' friend Paige

Sarah’s Sacrifice

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Copyright 5/21/13 By Sarah G. Pemberton

Truckloads of excellent theological ponderings have been written over the centuries about Abraham’s sacrifice of Isaac, and of God’s provision of the ram in the thicket to save Isaac’s life, just in the nick of time. (Gen. 22; Heb. 11:8-19)

But who has considered the eerie silence regarding Isaac’s mother, Sarah, in this story?   Where was she when Abraham was journeying to obey God in the hardest thing ever asked of him?  Did he tell her what the Lord had said?

Picture the scene:

Early one morning, Abraham says to Sarah:

“Darling, the Lord has told me to go on a journey to Mt. Moriah with our only son, Isaac, and offer a sacrifice to Him in worship there.”

“Of course, Dear.  Do you have your camping equipment?”

“Check.”

“Do you have plenty of water for the road?”

“Check.”

“Here’s plenty of matzo.  It travels best, as it won’t get stale like regular bread.”

“Thank you, Sarah.”

“Be sure and let Jake and Elwood go with you to serve as needed for the trip.”

“Yep.  I think two servants should be plenty.”

“Are the donkeys in good health?”

“Of course! The vet checked them out yesterday.  They’re strong for the journey.”

“Do you have plenty of wood?  It’s desert-terrain down there, you know,

so you need to load the donkeys with plenty for the sacrifice,

as well as for campfires on the way.”

“The donkeys are loaded with wood, Beloved.”

“Don’t forget a change of clothes, and your toothbrush.”

“Naturally, Dear.”

“And of course, which lamb or kid is best for this sacrifice, Darling?

We certainly want the Lord to have our very best!”

“Ummmm… He will most assuredly have the very best, Sarah.  The very best, indeed…”

She now worries about the faraway look in his eyes, as he forms the words slowly, and gently.

“Where is the lamb, Dear?”

“Don’t worry about the lamb, Beloved.  Now, Eliezar will take excellent care of everything while I’m gone,

so don’t you worry about a thing, Sarah!”

“Of course, Dear!  But where is that lamb?”

“The Lord will provide the lamb for the sacrifice, Sarah.

Now give me a kiss goodbye, Darling!”

“Of course.  I love you.  Goodbye.

Isaac, my sweet baby angel, come!

Give Mommy a big kiss and a hug…

How about another one?

…Oh, you’ve grown so handsome, Sweetheart…

Just one more…”

“We have to go now, Darling. It’s a long trip…”

 

As Sarah watches their treasured figures grow small upon the horizon, as they edge slowly down the dirt road, it still bothers her.  “Abraham has never gone to a sacrifice before without a lamb, or a kid, or a calf, or something appropriate from our flocks.  And I know he rarely simply does anything rash, without consulting the Lord’s will.  But he says the Lord will provide the lamb….”

Her thoughts begin to be plagued by a Voice not from God – a Voice of Fear and accusation:

“The local peoples here in Canaan occasionally even sacrifice their own children to their gods…”

“Surely… surely, our wonderful, faithful God Who gave us this beautiful son in our old age as a miracle, would not ask Abraham to give him up as a sacrifice?  …Would He?”

Now her soul begins to wrestle between the faith, hope, and trust she has spent the last 30-some-odd years of her life learning with her husband, and the fear of a cruel God who will demand to take the very blessing of her inheritance, which He promised her.  She has not been invited on this journey.  She must stay home, in blind faith that all shall be well with her precious little treasure, Isaac.

The Voice taunts:

 “Your God is like all the other gods – cruel, demanding, harsh, greedy for blood.  You’ll die with nothing!”

“But the Lord saved me from the harems of Pharaoh and Abimelech.  When I trusted God and didn’t argue with my crazy husband’s fears of being killed in foreign lands, and when I even lied for Abraham, God’s grace and mercy kept me from being defiled, from being abandoned, from being abused.”

“Your God is a tease!  He gives only to take away! 

You are a cursed, barren woman, after all!”

“The Lord promised us a son within a year, and He was faithful!

Even when I laughed, He didn’t punish me!  He fulfilled His Promise.”

“He promised you this land, but do you own even one corner of it?”

“If He has been faithful to every other promise,

and all His prophecies have proven true,

He will prove true with this one, too!”

“But suppose your crazy husband sacrifices your son,

and he actually didn’t hear God accurately at all? 

You’ll be bereft of your only child!”

“If God could raise my womb from the dead,

and if God could raise my elderly husband’s virility from the dead,

He can raise my son from the dead!”

 

At this point, the fear departed, the Voice ceased, waiting for a later, opportune moment.  Sarah waited one day.  She waited two days, three days.  By now she knew, they should have arrived at their destination for the sacrifice.  Tomorrow they would begin the journey home…  Four days, five.  Every time she was tempted to despair, she reminded herself of God’s past faithfulness.  Her emotions were screaming at her.  Her spirit chose to worship.  The Voice of Fear tried again to rear its ugly head with tormenting thoughts of the Unthinkable.  She chose to review her history, all the God-stories her husband had written down in his journal since they lived in Ur.

Now it was the sixth day since they had left.  She kept looking to the horizon, hoping to see the familiar forms walking up the road.  Suddenly, nearing the end of the day, she saw in the distance a moving speck on the road’s horizon.  She could not yet count the number of figures, nor yet discern man from beast.  Her eyes had been kept strong all these years – another testimony to God’s faithfulness, she whispered to herself.

Now she sees the donkeys, and one, two adult forms.  Where was that tiny little figure most precious to her heart? Her heart begins to race, as the Voice tries to scream at her mind one last time,

“See?  You might as well have stayed in Ur as to follow this God

Who has taken your family on a wild-goose-chase,

and stolen your most precious treasure!”

She told the Voice to shut up.

Then, emerging from behind one of the donkeys, she caught a glimpse of a small figure.

“There’s my boy!!!”  She rushed, faster than any nearly-100-year-old woman ever ran, and received her Precious Promise into her arms again.

“Mama!” the boy said excitedly, “You won’t believe what God did…!”  She looked into the face of her husband, Abraham, the “Father of Many Nations,” Gold had called him. She saw the awe, the joy, the relief, the amazing peace, the fear of the Lord – the face of a man who had escaped disaster with his life, and is eager to share his miracle-story.  She knew now that her God was able to even raise the dead.  She answered the boy, “Actually, I think you will be surprised at how I will not be the least bit surprised at any story you men have to share.”

As the servants moved toward the tents of their own families, Abraham Isaac, and Sarah moved toward their tent, where dinner was waiting…

A dinner for three.

 

 

Practical Cure for Self-Pity: Turn it Around

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Copyright 5/11/13 By Sarah G. Pemberton

It never fails.  Every time I am tempted to soak in a self-pity bath, the Lord reminds me of those whose best days are not as blessed as my worst.  So as I let go of my whiner’s list yesterday afternoon, and took a hold of the Bread and Wine of Holy Communion and prayed over it, I meditated upon those people whose circumstances today look truly hopeless.  I asked the Lord to send out His armies of angels to every innocent captive of kidnappers and slave traders, to every prisoner in a communist concentration camp, every persecuted Christian being beaten or tortured, and I asked Him to lift the load of despair from their shoulders.  I asked Him to make His comforting  Presence known to them, to open their spiritual eyes to see Him in their darkest hour.  I asked Him to miraculously free those who are crying out to Him, and to save from the deception of evil, their guards and captors.  I asked Him to raise up many “Sauls of Tarsus,” as well as many “Philippian jailers,” in this generation, from among the darkest, most evil and unlikely places.  I asked Him to multiply the miracle rescues of many Amanda Berrys, and many Elizabeth Smarts, and many Jaycee Dugards in the coming years, that they might know there is a God in heaven who hears the cries of those who trust Him.

As I prayed, I felt from God’s heart the anguish of the mothers who would do anything to see their lost children again; of the families whose loved ones have been arrested for the gospel.  I wept tears that were much more expensive than the self-pitying ones I had wished to shed earlier, before Holy Spirit got my attention and snapped me out of it.

So my goal was to make Satan sorry he worked so hard to get me into that self-pity, because I turned it around and used it as a weapon of empathy for the lost, turning it against him, instead.  Best of all, it left me with a feeling of empowerment where I’d felt powerless; it left me with a feeling of accomplishment where I’d felt like a failure; and it left me feeling connected with the Lord, where I’d felt far away.

So where is it that you struggle with that common nemesis of all mankind, Self-Pity, and its close cousins, Discouragement, Doubt, Despair, and Hopelessness?  The most powerful weapons we have as Christians against these demonic lies are [1] gratitude for the blessings we do enjoy (even when life may not be going as delightfully as we desire), and [2] prayer for the needs of those whose circumstances make our worst nightmares look like a Sunday picnic.  Either one disarms Self-Pity faster than Superman can stop a speeding bullet.

Imagine you are Satan.  Your goal is to distract, discourage, disarm, and destroy the faith, trust, hope and love of every human being from the intimate, powerful, authoritative partnership with God for which we were all designed.  One of the devil’s favorite weapons, therefore, is to invert our focus from true worship, praise, and obedience toward God, (as he knows how true worship is our mightiest weapon against him), and to turn our eyes inward to our own insecurity.  If Satan can get us focused on ourselves, rather than on God, he has his first hook in.  If he can convince us that God is “holding out on us” some basic need, he can hook us into self-pity, built upon doubt of God’s Word.  (Gen. 3:1-5)  If he can get us to feel sorry for ourselves, he can persuade us to give up trusting the last Truth God said to us.  (Gen. 3:6-7)  And if he can persuade us to not trust God’s Word, he can persuade us to disobey, failing to see the long-range value in obedience.

So you can see quickly what a powerful strategy it is to simply: [1] Confess your frustration (over whatever-it-is-that’s-not-going-your-way) as sin; [2] Remind yourself that if there’s a discrepancy between your feelings and God’s Promises, that the question of Who’s Right should be a no-brainer; [3] Begin to think of those whose circumstances are so bad that your current situation would seem to them like heaven-on-earth; [4] Ask the Holy Spirit for His strategies in effective prayer (Jas. 5:16) for those desperate people He puts on your heart; [5] Begin to thank and praise God for the everyday blessings you had started to take for granted, for which others desperately cry out in prayer.

There now!  Don’t you feel better already?

“Rejoice always; pray without ceasing; in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”  (I Thess.  5:16-18)