From The Archives: Destination Christ

  A Road Through Autumn

The Bride’s journey is not a journey to somewhere.  It’s a journey into Someone.  Her goal is communion with the Father, by means of the Spirit, through oneness with Christ the Bridegroom.  Her destination is nothing less than Christ’s fullness (Eph. 4:13).

This is the very thing Jesus prayed for in his final hours of life: “that they may also be one in Us”  (John 17:21)

What is it Jesus is seeking from His Bride at this crucial time in human history?   What is it He passionately desires to find deep in her heart?

It is faithfulness. And faithfulness may not be what we have thought it is. 

King David is often referred to as a ‘man after God’s own heart”. So how was David a man after God’s own heart?  He reflected God’s own faithfulness.  Faithfulness is intrinsic to the Lord’s character; He cannot be otherwise (Is. 11:5; 2 Tim 2:13).

But David was far from perfect.  He failed spectacularly when he committed adultery with a married woman who was in no position to refuse His royal advances.  He failed also in his family relationships.  Despite these failings, God saw fit to call him a ‘man after My own heart” (1 Sam. 13:14).   

Moses too was commended by God as “faithful in all My house”, but he also had some serious character flaws.  He feared to go before Pharaoh unless God sent someone else with him.  He lost the right to lead Israel into the Promised Land through a fit of temper. But more than these things, Moses is remembered as one God called ‘faithful’ (Num: 12:7).

So, contrary to popular opinion, faithfulness is not moral perfection.  It can’t be learned by studying and it can’t be practised by following a rigid set of rules. 

Faithfulness is not regularly attending church, tithing, caring for the poor, or reading the Bible. 

We can choose to do any of those things rigidly, yet still be found by God to be without faithfulness, because faithfulness is not about doing – it is about an attitude of heart. 

Faithfulness is also not necessarily the same as faith.  There is a certain kind of faith we can exercise yet still be lacking in faithfulness (Matt. 7:22, 23

Faithfulness, however, cannot be found apart from active, living faith. 

It seems to me faithfulness is steadfast pursuit of God in the face of intense pressure.  It is being so in love with the Bridegroom that nothing, not even our own failures, can keep us from running after Him with all our strength.  It is to have the eyes of our hearts set firmly on Him simply because we have found Him matchless. 

Taking spiritual inventory of ourselves from time to time, (only in partnership with the Holy Spirit) can be useful.  But those who walk in faithfulness will not allow their failures, weaknesses or sins to become their focus. They may fall, but ultimately their shortcomings cannot overcome them.  The desire to follow hard after the Beloved compels them onward in His pursuit.

Faithfulness is born when somewhere along our spiritual journey we are granted a glimpse of the Beloved up ahead of us, and we are forever ruined for anything less. 

Unable to look away, we are, as Paul described it, ‘laid hold of’ by Christ: …”I press on so that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus.” (Phil 3:8-12).  

The phrase means “to seize upon” and “to take possession of”.  Elsewhere it is translated ‘apprehended’.  These are deeply powerful descriptions of someone who is no longer free to follow his/her own way but has been overcome by another. 

To press on also means so much more than dawdling along like a small child behind its parent, distracted by the butterflies and flowers along the way.  To press on has intensity about it, a determined objective.  To press on is to run with abandon in eager pursuit of the goal.  And the Bride’s goal is to be found in Christ, not behind Him, not beside Him, but in Him. 

I believe faithfulness is the single most desirable thing the Lord is seeking from His Bride right now.  When I asked Him how that faithfulness looks, this was His reply:

“She does not have wandering eyes.” 

Selah!

© Cheryl McGrath, Bread for the Bride, 2012 and beyond.   Copyright Notice: Permission is granted to freely reproduce any Bread for the Bride articles in emails or internet blogs, unaltered, and providing this copyright notice is included.     To permanently display an article on any static website please contact me for permission.

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Awakening

The golden grassy head of a reed stem blowing in the wind.

He will not crush the weakest reed or put out a flickering candle…… Matthew 12:20

Sometimes we need a reality check.   Sometimes we fall for our own propaganda.  Sometimes we just need to sit at the feet of Jesus long enough, still enough, to cease striving to live up to our own warped image of ourself.   Sometimes, no often, we need to give ourselves permission to admit we don’t have it all together and quite probably never will.  And then we need to understand, in our deepest places, that’s actually OK. 

God is profoundly attracted to brokenness.

 Awakening

I saw You cup your hands

Around a fading flame

And gently breathe it back to life

And crown it with your name

I heard You whisper love songs

Of promises unbroken

And sing upon that fragile flame

‘Till its fire was awoken

 

I saw You hold a dying reed

Bent low upon its knees

And blow upon its crippled heart

A soft and tender breeze

You kissed its ancient bruises

And lifted up its face

‘Till sorrow bowed to mercy

And death gave way to grace

 

It’s I who am that smouldering flame

I too, the wounded reed,

I am the flawed, the spent, the crushed

I am all who break and bleed

A prisoner of my brokenness

I lay me down to die

To finish what I did not start

To sleep and never rise

 

But You refuse to dim this flame

Though it waivers in the storm

And You withhold to break this reed

That’s weatherworn and torn

So let this flame be fragile

And this reed be tossed and blown

And let brokenness surrender

To Love that won’t let go


© Cheryl McGrath, Bread for the Bride, 2015 and beyond.   Copyright Notice: Permission is granted to freely reproduce any Bread for the Bride articles in emails or internet blogs, unaltered, and providing this copyright notice is included.     To permanently display an article on any static website please contact me for permission.

Royal Seal – SoS Saturday

Cheryl McGrath:

Sharing today this post from Ben Nelson at Another Red Letter Day. May it help us remember how very much we are loved…..

Originally posted on Another Red Letter Day:

Put me like a seal over your heart,
Like a seal on your arm.
For love is as strong as death,
Jealousy is as severe as Sheol;
Its flashes are flashes of fire,
The very flame of the LORD.

Song of Songs 8:6 NASB

As you may know, in the days of Solomon a seal was a mark of identification and ownership.

A seal acted as a signature for kings and nobles. They used wax seals to signify the authenticity of a document or artifact. A title-deed for example, or private communication,  after it’s writing, would be rolled or folded. Then the writer melted wax and the pressed his seal into the it. If the recipient found the seal broken, he knew that the communication was no longer secure.

The king’s army was the force behind the kings seal, and it was that force that would ensure the safety of the message, and…

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Of Wolves and Kings

 

Dollarphotoclub_wolfsheepThe scene was somber. Weeping unashamedly each one in turn fell upon the apostle’s neck, covering his face with kisses, embracing him for what they now knew would be the last time.  Each of them feared for their spiritual father’s fate, but none could contend with his determination to go on. Regardless of whatever might await him, he would continue by sea to Jerusalem, for the Spirit compelled him.

With moistened eyes and heavy hearts they watched as the ship disappeared on the horizon, straining to follow the last glimpse of the beloved leader for as long as possible. Turning then, they set their faces for the journey home, each one pondering the apostle’s parting words and his warning of the serious challenges ahead (Acts 20:17-38).

Such was the final meeting between the apostle Paul and the leaders of the Ephesian church. Aware that he would not see them again in this life, Paul had tempered his final message to them with this warning:

For I know this, that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock. Also from among yourselves men will rise up, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after themselves. Therefore watch, and remember that for three years I did not cease to warn everyone night and day with tears. (Acts 20:29-31)

We’ve all heard about wolves in sheep’s clothing, haven’t we? Jesus said these would come into the church claiming to be believers but in reality they would be hungry wolves seeking to devour the sheep (Matt. 7:15). Oh, we keep a wary eye out for them and their cunning ways, herding our sheep into ever tighter compounds as we protect ourselves from the wolf ridden world outside.

But Paul’s warning was twofold. There would also be those rising up ‘from among yourselves’. They would be gifted communicators, using their oratory gifts to pervert the gospel and attract followers.

Sadly, Paul’s prophetic warning to the Ephesian elders is as relevant today as it has ever been.

While the church guards herself against the world, home grown wolves roam among us, drawing multitudes to themselves. Abandoning the leadership of the Holy Spirit, who alone embodies ‘all truth’, believers flock to drink in the latest utterances of celebrity ‘apostles’, ‘prophets’ and ‘pastors’. Every day, via conferences, internet, books and other media, itching Christian ears are tickled by smooth speakers whose intent is to make disciples for themselves.

The doctrines spread by these wolf-sheep are not Christ-centered, do not lead us in the way of Love, and are not born of the Spirit of God. They teach us to live in the kingdoms of men rather than seek the Kingdom of God. At their heart are some ‘perverse things’…..things that are contrary to Christ while claiming to be leading us to Christ.

Let’s not blame the world for the poisonous mixture now in our midst. We are not called to condemn the world; the world is already condemned (Jn 3:17).

It is we, the church, who have been content to simply fill pews and sit in enraptured obedience while our demi-gods build their ever expanding kingdoms. We may call these human idols apostle, prophet, senior pastor, bishop, reverend, priest or pope, but what we have really wanted is a king we can see, handle and adore. A king like us.

The ancient Israelites had the same desire. ‘Give us a flesh and blood king to rule over us” they cried out to God, “so we can be like the other nations’ (1 Sam. 8:4-22).

Recently I had a conversation with a fellow Christian that went along these lines:

Friend: ‘You must read so and so’s (contemporary theologian) works. He is so wonderful in the way he explains the Bible. I’ve read all his commentaries.’

Me: ‘I rarely read commentaries.  They don’t form my understanding of scripture.’

Friend: ‘Oh, but so and so’s different. When I’m reading his books it’s like having him in my own house. You should read them too.’

Me: ‘Why would I want him in my house?’

Friend: ‘Because reading his words feels like he’s following you around the house talking to you while you read.’

Me: ‘You mean like the Holy Spirit?’

The person I was talking with is a believer of many years and holds a Masters Degree in Theology.

Jesus did not leave His church defenceless. He sent the Holy Spirit to comfort, teach, reveal truth, and anoint her with supernatural power and spiritual gifts. He also gave her the people-gifts of apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds and teachers to serve, equip, edify and mature her (Eph. 4:11-16).

These ones are among us and always have been, but very often they do not look the way we think they should.

The hard working believer beside you riding the train to work could be a prophet. The Christ following lady at the supermarket checkout may be an apostle. That unshaven old man waiting at the bus stop could be an evangelist, a teacher or a shepherd. While the Israelites were fawning after a king who was tall, handsome and from a powerful family, God’s unknown, chosen king sat in a lonely field, as a lowly shepherd guarding his father’s sheep (1 Sam. 9:1-2).

Christ’s people-gifts don’t normally come wrapped in expensive suits and driving the latest model car. They don’t need fancy business cards or state of the art auditoriums and they would probably prefer to ride a donkey than sit in a limousine. You could be one of them. What? Haven’t been to seminary? You’re shy, awkward, a nobody? That sounds just like the raw material God prefers.

The Bride of Christ recognizes only one King. All others desiring her adoration are usurpers craving His crown. God ordained authority does not seek to stand out in the crowd celebrity-like. It looks like you, and me, and Mr and Mrs Blogs down the road.

When we come into Christ we are encouraged to no longer recognize anyone ‘according to the flesh’ (2 Cor. 5:16 NASB). That means how someone looks, where they come from, their academic credentials or their Bible-quoting should not impress us. Neither should their charismatic personality, their ability to gather a crowd or even their spiritual gifts.

When we elevate others in their flesh, no matter how spiritual they may appear to us, we diminish the call of God on our own lives.

We convince ourselves that we have no place of service in Christ’s Body because we could never do as well as the one we’ve elevated. The good news is we were never meant to be like someone else – we are to be conformed only to the image of Christ. Knowing each other after the Spirit is simply recognizing, receiving from and responding to Christ in one another.

John the Baptist did not recognize the One He had been waiting for among the crowd until the Spirit revealed Him (Jn. 1:33). ‘One stands among us whose sandal strap I am unworthy to even loose’ he told the Pharisees who were supposed to be watching for their Messiah. Regardless, Jesus insisted on submitting to John’s baptism (Matt. 3:14,15). In a beautiful act of mutual submission, Jesus recognized and honoured the Holy Spirit in John, and John complied and submitted to Jesus’ wish.

When we refuse the anointing and call of God upon us, no matter how inadequate we feel, we dishonor the Spirit.

It is no accident of chance that you and I are alive at this moment in history. Our Kingdom is not of this world. Because we belong to a King and a Kingdom that are outside the boundaries and systems of our surrounding world, we are always placed in a unique position to be part of the solution.

We are alive at such a time as this because our King has need of us for such a time as this! None of us were born simply to warm pews. None of us became Christ followers in order to help build and maintain the kingdoms of usurpers who seek the Bride for themselves.

Nor are we here to ‘tut tut’ and shake our fingers at the messed up world. We are here to get our hands in among the grime and the muck and demonstrate another, better way.

We are here as light among darkness.

We are here as healing among suffering.

We are here as a royal priesthood of lovers and peacemakers.

We are here as Lifebearers in the shadow of death.

We are here to be about our Father’s business, and His only.

Let’s each of us find out what that business is for us, and seek, together, to be the answer in a church and a world rapidly running out of answers.

For truly, there has never been such a time as this, and never will there be again.

© Cheryl McGrath, Bread for the Bride, 2015 and beyond.   Copyright Notice: Permission is granted to freely reproduce any Bread for the Bride articles in emails or internet blogs, unaltered, and providing this copyright notice is included.     To permanently display an article on any static website please contact me for permission.

Unconditional Love – Or Not

Blue Hills at Ulong

Then the whole multitude of the surrounding region of the Gadarenes asked Him to depart from them, for they were seized with great fear. And He got into the boat and returned.( Luke 8:37)

“Just go Jesus, OK? We don’t want anything to do with you. Don’t even think about entering this city. We’ve seen what you can do and we’re not interested. No thanks, just go away – anywhere but here.”

Most of us would consider a response like this to a potential visit by Jesus as utterly foolish. Who wouldn’t want Jesus to come to their city, healing the sick, ministering to the oppressed, comforting the poor, teaching the mysteries of God?

The people of Decapolis didn’t. And while we may wonder at their foolishness, there was a bizarre kind of method in their madness. The citizens of Decapolis had figured something out about Jesus – He changes things.

Two thousand fat, healthy pigs had just plunged into a watery grave at Jesus’ say so. That’s no small loss in agricultural terms. That’s no small impact on a community depending on local farmers for food and adequate supply for a thriving economy.

What else would this Jesus do to upset the routine and regularity of everyday life if He was made welcome? How would their lives be impacted by His presence? There might be a short term benefit for those needing some kind of healing or hope, but such an unpredictable man might also cause much longer lasting major disruption to their idea of normality. It just wasn’t worth the risk.

God is not always easy to have around. To put it in contemporary language, He’s the ultimate mover and shaker. It’s not possible to engage Him without radical transformation within and around us.

Jesus does not come to us to live in a corner of our life. He does not come to ‘fit in’ with what we’ve already got going on. He’s not a house guest, He’s a revolutionary. If we really want Jesus in our lives we’d better be prepared for some inconvenience and even some radical, life altering adjustments. We’d better count the cost.

The people of Decapolis did some quick reckoning and decided they didn’t want the kind of change Jesus would bring to their city. Jesus didn’t contend with them. He simply heeded their request and departed.

We hear a lot about God’s unconditional love. Some people seem to think God will never challenge their behavior, attitudes or choices, because in doing so His love would no longer be ‘unconditional’. Unconditional love to them means God should benignly show His love towards us without needing any expression of unconditional love back from us. Yet few of us would be willing to accept that kind of arrangement in any healthy human relationship for very long.

If God’s love is unconditional what should we make of the following gospel incident?

Now as He was going out on the road, one came running, knelt before Him, and asked Him, “Good Teacher, what shall I do that I may inherit eternal life?” So Jesus said to him, “Why do you call Me good? No one is good but One, that is, God. “You know the commandments: ‘Do not commit adultery,’ ‘Do not murder,’ ‘Do not steal,’ ‘Do not bear false witness,’Do not defraud,’ ‘Honor your father and your mother.’ And he answered and said to Him, “Teacher, all these things I have kept from my youth.” Then Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, “One thing you lack: Go your way, sell whatever you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, take up the cross, and follow Me.” But he was sad at this word, and went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions. Then Jesus looked around and said to His disciples, “How hard it is for those who have riches to enter the kingdom of God!” (Mark 10:17-23 NKJV)

Jesus’ great love for this man is not in question, but He was not willing for him to become a disciple unless He clearly understood the cost of discipleship. The man considered the cost and went away sorrowful.

And if unconditional love means God requires nothing of us, what can this mean?

Then He said to them all, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me. “For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will save it.” ( Luke 9:23,24)

Hmmm…maybe we don’t get to define unconditional love to the One who is Love. God doesn’t just demonstrate unconditional love, He IS unconditional love. The One whose name is Love has made Himself available to us without condition.   For God so loved…..so completely, unconditionally, irreversibly……that He gave….. completely, unconditionally, irreversibly ….His only begotten Son to the people of the world – every tribe, every nation, every colour every generation, every man, woman and child – unconditionally.

The Cross is unconditional. The Love for humanity displayed there is without precedent or match in human history. On the Cross God died for both His friends and His enemies, for those who love Him and for those who despise Him; for those who welcome Him and those who reject Him. Never before or since has Love laid itself down for others as unconditionally as Jesus did at Calvary. His grace is indeed unconditional, requiring no repayment. That’s the gospel of salvation.

But His fellowship is costly. And that’s the gospel of the Kingdom.

There is a love deeper than unconditional love. There is a meeting place between God and humanity where unconditional love evolves into covenant love, and its name is Christ. In this place of covenant love our will to be independent, to do our own thing without strings attached, evaporates. The will of the Beloved becomes more dear to us than our own.

Those who set their hearts to pursuing that covenant love above all else in life are more than believers – they are disciples. When we are overtaken by covenant love, our fallen, corrupted idea of love becomes conformed to Christ, in whom, for the first time, we behold perfect love (1 John 4:18). Never again will we willingly injure or take advantage of the One who is the object of that love. No longer do we speak in terms of unconditional love, but we think, speak and act as those who have entered into holy covenant with another.

“My yoke is easy” Jesus said, ‘and my burden is light’. A covenant love relationship is not something forced upon us by One bent on controlling us. It is a holy place of mutual communion where we choose willingly to be yoked to our most Beloved, as He has chosen to yoke Himself to us. And without exception that yoking is going to be costly, because it’s going to be conditional on loving the Lord our God above all else, with all our heart, all our soul and all our mind. Things in and around us are going to change, and change is not always welcome by those who may be affected by it.

Jesus, too, committed Himself to some pretty decisive conditions in this covenant of love. He has already clearly demonstrated the depth of that commitment in the sacrifice of His lifeblood at Calvary. And He spelled out His ongoing commitment to us in John Chapter 14:

He is preparing a place for us

He will come again to take us to Himself

He has sent us the Spirit of Truth as our Helper

He will not leave us as orphans

We will see Him again

Because He lives we will live

He and His Father love us and will manifest themselves to us and dwell in us

And what is the one thing this Covenant Lover requires of His Bride? It is faithfulness, nothing less, nothing more (Rev. 17:4).

The purpose of God’s unconditional love is to lead us further……into the intimate depths of His covenant love. If we are willing, His grace is more than sufficient  for the journey.

© Cheryl McGrath, Bread for the Bride, 2015 and beyond.   Copyright Notice: Permission is granted to freely reproduce any Bread for the Bride articles in emails or internet blogs, unaltered, and providing this copyright notice is included.     To permanently display an article on any static website please contact me for permission.

A Crucified Man

As a follow up to yesterday’s post David Bolton at Christ Centred Christianity kindly found this Vimeo video of Graham Kendrick’s moving song.   Thanks David!  Enjoy!

A Crucified Man

From The Archives: In The Company of Fools

Christ carrying cross up Calvary on Good Friday over dark and stormy skyAtheism is popular right now.  Being offended at Christianity, and in particular ‘born again’ Christians, is becoming topical among many authors, intellectuals, journalists and social commentators.  Around us a chorus of disbelieving mockery grows increasingly influential as the offended voices of atheists grow louder and angrier by the day.  The Western world is seemingly separating into two camps, the intellectually wise, born to rule the world of course,  and the Christ-followers, at best deluded fools, at worst religious fanatics. The offence of the Cross has never been more obvious.

Truth be told there have been some very admirable fools in this company.  Consider Abram for instance. He left his home, his country and his religion to travel somewhere he didn’t know to find something he couldn’t see, muttering about looking for a city that didn’t exist.   Or take Simon bar Jonah, better known as Peter the Apostle.  He abandoned a thriving fishing business, a home with lakeside views to team up with a carpenter (rumoured to be illegitimate), who turned up on the beach one day, said “Follow me” and offered him nothing but trouble.   And let’s not forget Saul of Tarsus, up and coming brilliant theological scholar and probable candidate for the Jewish Sanhedrin.  After seeing a bright light (some say it was the mid-day sun),  and hearing a strange voice he discarded his very promising future to become a travelling preacher, enduring shipwrecks, whippings, imprisonment and finally beheading in the  name of a man who’d been crucified for blasphemy.

This list of fools continues throughout history to the present day.  I humbly but proudly admit my name has been added.  Yes, as far as the wise of this world are concerned, I am a fool.  I intend to remain so.  There are countless others who will stand beside me in my foolishness.

How did we become part of this prestigious company of fools?  We didn’t arrive at doctrinal consensus (some of us can’t even read);  we didn’t hold a worldwide conference and draft a manifesto (some of us couldn’t find our way out of a paper bag);  we didn’t elect a charismatic leader to tell us what to believe or who to trust (some of us have never even voted).  We simply placed our hope in a crucified Man. Simple really. There is still room in this company of fools. If you haven’t already done so, you are warmly invited to join us.  The odds may be against us but the Man has a plan that beats anything the atheists are offering.   Songwriter Graham Kendrick expresses it well:

I have placed all my hope in a Crucified Man

In the wounds in His side, His feet and His hands

I have traded my pride for a share in His shame

And the glory that one day will burst from His pain

 

I’ve abandoned my trust in the wise and the proud

For this fragile, mysterious weakness of God

And I dare to believe in His scandalous claim

That His Blood cleanses sin for whoever will call on His Name

Live or die, here I stand

I’ve placed my hope in a Crucified Man

 

I believe as they beat on His beautiful face

He turned a torturer’s chair to an altar of grace

Where the worst we can do met the best that God does

Where unspeakable hate met the gaze of unstoppable Love

At the crux of it all there He hangs

I’ve placed my hope in a Crucified Man

 

When the purest and best took the force of our curse

Death’s victory armada juddered into reverse

And either we bow or we stumble and fall

For the wisdom of suffering God has made fools of us all!

I gladly admit that I am

But I’ve placed my hope in a Crucified Man I have buried my life in the cold earth with Him

Like a seed in the winter I wait for the Spring

From that garden of tombs Eden rises again

And Paradise blooms from His Body and never will end

He’ll finish all He began….

Creation hopes in a Crucified Man

 

When I stand at the judgment I have no other plan

I’ve placed my hope in a Crucified Man

Like the thief nailed beside Him I have no other plan…

I’ve placed my hope in a Crucified Man

Words and music  © 2006 Make Way Music
www.grahamkendrick.co.uk

© Cheryl McGrath, Bread for the Bride, 2012 and beyond   Copyright Notice: Permission is granted to freely reproduce any Bread for the Bride articles in emails or internet blogs, unaltered, and providing this copyright notice is included.     To permanently display an article on any static website please contact me for permission.