The Way Forward

Rural signboard with two signs saying - Forward - Backward - pointing in opposite directions with the sign saying Backward scribbled through and an arrow pointing to the route forwards to success.

So we’re off and running, or so it would seem.  2017 looms large and beckoning before us, promising all kinds of ‘newness’. Christmas pudding and tinsel are already so yesterday.  The tree is back in storage until needed for its brief seasonal appearance in around 350 more sleeps.  Before we know it we’ll be shedding those kilos, quitting those unwanted habits, mending that relationship, taking that course, or whatever other thing we’ve vowed to ourselves under the guise of ‘new year’ and ‘resolution’.  Let’s go!

We’re not getting stuck in the same old same old, no way.  Let those with their heads in the sand stay there.  We’re taking off into this fresh new year with new ideas, new hope, new plans, new commitment to do newer and bigger things for God.  You won’t catch us being like those stodgy old Pharisees, entrenched in their religious comfort, unable to see the forest for the trees.   Jesus told them things had changed, but they refused to believe Him.  ‘The Law and the Prophets were until John’ He told them.  ‘Since that time the Kingdom of God has been preached and everyone is pressing their way into it.’¹

What did they want to know about this so-called new Kingdom – they with their ornate robes, phylacteries, and solid commitment to tradition and the old ways?  They were the heirs of Abraham.  They would vehemently resist this upstart Galilean and His blasphemous talk of some new Kingdom, whatever it took.  What did He mean the Law and the Prophets ‘were’?  The Law and the Prophets had been good enough for their fathers and their fathers before them, and they would continue to be the way forward thankyou!  Anything else was unthinkable.

No, we’re not like that, stuck in the ‘were’ of the past.  We are like Jesus disciples, following hard on His heels, running with this new way of life He kept talking about, determined to shake off all that’s been holding us back.  We are the ones pressing in, the people of the ‘will be’, the ‘now generation’.  Let the ‘were’ crowd cling to their past glories.  We’re moving forward and nothing can stop us, right?  2017 here we come and this time things are going to change!

But wait.

Therefore when they had come together they asked Him saying ‘Lord will You at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?’² 

Um, it appears the ‘now’ disciples were a little confused.  What kingdom are they talking about?  Could it be that all along they thought they understood ‘new’ but didn’t?  Surely not!

But here they are asking Jesus, Who is about to leave them in the capable hands of the Holy Spirit, when He’s going to ‘restore the kingdom’.  He’s been talking God’s Kingdom, while they’ve been thinking David’s Kingdom!  And now it’s crunch time and they’re a little nervous.  They’ve invested everything in this new kingdom, but where is it, and when exactly will He proclaim Himself King, kick out the Roman overlords, and make Israel great again, with each of them at His Kingly side?

Hmmm.  It seems the ‘now ‘people were really ‘were’ people all along and didn’t know it.

And maybe that’s the problem with trying to change our lives according to times and seasons as we understand them. ‘It is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father has put in His own authority.³  The world shouts at us : ‘everything’s new, you can make a fresh start!’, and to prove it throws some mesmerizing lights up into the heavens.  The calendar shouts: ‘ it’s time for new resolutions!’, and once again we get busy vowing to make things happen. By the time those bright new year fireworks light up the skies again life will be very different. Well that’s the plan anyway – and this time we’ll make it work!

Jesus stands before us outside time, above the realm of man-made festivities and timetables.  He is the “I AM” who IS and WAS and IS TO COME.  The ‘Is’  of God stood in human flesh before the Pharisees, offering His Kingdom, offering His Lordship, offering His timeless Presence, and they chose the ‘were’ of the Law and the Prophets.  The manifest ‘Is to come’ of God sat with His followers inviting them into the imminent newness of His Kingdom, and they were blind and deaf, longing for a glory era that had long since faded.

The Pharisees preferred their religious tradition and top-down hierarchy (with them at the top of course!)  Their lives were thoroughly established on what ‘had been’ but was already passing away. The disciples wanted something different but their expectations of newness were firmly rooted in how they believed things ‘should be’ in the future.

One way was old.  One way was a false new. Neither was the way forward.

Hope is good, if that hope is founded in Christ and His Love for us. Change is profoundly possible, if the source of that change is Christ and His redemptive Life in us.  But expectations of forward motion and positive change can be based on false hope, which is not really any better than being stuck in the past.

To make a resolution is to “come to a definite or earnest decision about something” and “to determine to do something”.   A resolution is totally dependent on you and I being the primary agent of change.  Depending on our willpower it may or may not work….for a while.  It will not provide the healing we need to move forward into a life that is authentically new and different.

Jesus was clear about His resolution:  I have come that they may have Life, and that they may have it more abundantly⁵.   And He promised He, not we, would fulfil that resolution: Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.

There is a way forward from our old lives, but it involves surrender – surrender of identity, past and future.   Our self-perceived identities have too often been built around either what was or what we think should be.  If our identity has been based on family life, our ideal of a perfect future will depend on family being the way we expect they should be.  If our identity has been built on ministry, our future plans will be dependent on the continued expansion and fulfilment of our ministry.  If career is where we have found our identity, we will anchor our future into whatever a successful career could build for us.  And so on.

Letting go of our personal history isn’t easy.  Letting go of how we think things should be in the future is just as difficult.  But the freedom Jesus would lead us into can only be fully grasped with empty hands.  He alone is the Is and Was and Is To Come and only He can handle all three of those at the same time.  Trust me, I’ve spent Christmas and New Year re-learning this truth at a deeper level than ever before.

We don’t have to wait for a New Year to make deals with ourselves and start fresh.   In Christ all things have already been made new for us.  He is able to provide the grace to let go both the past and the future and He is only too ready to walk with us through that process. He is our ever-present, eternal Now, every moment, every breath, every step.

I AM waits. He has a new name to reveal to each of us, a name we have never before heard or seen, a new identity⁷.  Or we can settle for some coloured lights in the sky that promise us brilliance and fizzle out in a few seconds.  Choose Life!

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come.  The old has gone, the new is here!  2 Cor. 5:17

¹Luke 16:16

²Acts 1:6

³Acts 1:7

Dictionary.com

John 10:10

Matt. 11:28

Rev. 2:17

© Cheryl McGrath, Bread for the Bride, 2017 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.

The Marks of Jesus

Walking direction on asphalt

A friend recently shared with me this quote from the sermons of Theodore Austin Sparks:

“Beloved, you and I will never come through to God’s eternally intended place for us in the heavenly Kingdom until everything of this earthly life has been smitten, has been smashed. We have got to be broken men and women on the side of this nature; we have got to know the meaning of the cross as planted right at the centre of this whole life of nature, to bring it to naught, so that we can do no more of ourselves, we cannot speak as out from ourselves, we cannot work as out from ourselves, we can do no more organising as of ourselves, we can run nothing as of ourselves, we are brought to the place where we know nothing as of ourselves — and we know it; and if there is to be anything, and if there is anything at all, it is the Lord only doing it — doing it at the time, and then usually leaving us empty and spent and helpless, until He comes along again. It is so different from this continuous, everlasting go, go, go of the flesh. “

There was a time, it seems like another life now, when I was the most organized person I knew. There was a time when I could manage, delegate, arrange and categorize people and things so that everything lined up in the kind of orderly fashion I needed. There was a time when I could speak knowledgeably on some subjects, and people nodded their heads and listened. There was a time when I, and others I thought knew about such things, considered all this as evidence of spiritual growth.

But the Cross!

If we are to go on any distance with Jesus, if we are sincere in our often voiced claims to ‘follow the Lamb wherever He goes’, the Cross is going to take a toll on us. It cannot be any other way. The Cross redeems, the Cross heals, the Cross deals with our sinful natures, the Cross reconciles us to God: all of these, yes.

But the Cross also separates.

When the Cross is applied to our lives to the measure that Austin-Sparks is referring to here, it will first separate us from the world. But the separation does not finish there.

Next it will separate us from ourselves – that is, our former selves. It will reveal to us the stark futility of everything we do or say that does not flow from ever increasing dependence on the Life of Christ within us. It will bring us to a place where our natural talents, knowledge and even our spiritual giftings become hindrances to us. We will find ourselves dysfunctional apart from that Life that is filling and flowing through us. We are being conveyed by the Spirit of God to a realm where “we can do no more of ourselves, we cannot speak as out from ourselves, we cannot work as out from ourselves, we can do no more organising as of ourselves, we can run nothing as of ourselves, we are brought to the place where we know nothing as of ourselves — and we know it.”

And as the process continues we will find ourselves separated even from those we love – family, friends, colleagues. The Cross will separate us from everything and everyone who is not absolutely intent on the same journey into the depths of Christ as we are.

I’m not speaking here of a separation that looks down on, disdains or fears others. That would not be of Christ. No, I am speaking of a separation that sets us apart in such a way that we no longer find satisfaction in the former conversations, activities, and friendships that we once considered were vital to life. It does not mean we don’t love others; in fact we love them better because we are learning to love through Christ rather than through our own motivation and need.

But still we are separated, set apart. We are tasting glorious and heavenly things, we are partaking of Christ Himself, and the former things no longer have the power to hold out attention or engage us as they did.

I wonder are you finding this to be true also? It is often a solitary life, this Christ journey. Yes, we belong to a corporate entity called ‘the church’, historically and practically, and we have genuine reasons to be with one another, sharing gifts, worship, fellowship and expressing Christ as His Body.

But the Cross!

Even among those who profess to follow Christ, we will be separated in ways we didn’t anticipate. That same Cross that brings together people from all tribes and tongues also leads them onto individual pathways that they may walk a journey with Christ only He and they alone can walk together. If we are to walk without hindrance with our fellow Christ followers, we must first walk with Jesus and His Cross in the ‘aloneness’ of His crucifixion journey. There the old life must, as Sparks puts it, be ‘smitten’ or ‘smashed’ completely. Without this process, we have done nothing more than join a club.

Authentic Christian fellowship is found only among those who are also experiencing crucifixion with Christ.

Nearing the end of his letter to the Christians at Galatia, Paul stated: From now on let no one trouble me, for I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus.’ Were these marks, as some claim, literal stigmata – piercings in his hands and feet? Personally, I don’t believe so.

I believe Paul was referring metaphorically to a common practice of his time: slaves and soldiers were often ‘branded’ or ‘marked’ somewhere on their body with the name of their master or their military general. Some voluntarily chose this manner of ‘marking’ as a sign of loyalty. These days we may call such a mark a ‘tattoo’.

Paul understood, taught and daily lived the significance of the Cross. Jesus had called him a chosen vessel of Mine to bear My name before Gentiles, kings, and the children of Israel’ (Acts 9:15). In his journey with Christ Paul was shown many Heavenly mysteries, but He also had the Cross applied to His life in significant measure: ‘For I will show him how many things he must suffer for My name’s sake’ (Acts 9:16). He experienced being separated because of the Cross, even from other respected apostles of his time.  Paul did literally bear the Name of Jesus in His earthly body as had been foretold.

But the Cross!

If we are truly going to be followers of Christ in this world that hates Him, we will have to be willing to carry the marks, or signature of the Lord Jesus, in our own bodies. Those invisible marks set us apart in heaven and on earth. They separate us from what has gone before in our lives on every level; they continually pull us deeper into Christ and further from all that is not Christ.

To bear the marks of the Lord Jesus Christ is no light thing. It is costly and the cost needs to be counted prior to the journey. If we are truly going to go ‘wherever He goes’, even beyond the clamoring crowds of popular Christianity, we will need to be willing to bear the sense of spiritual separation the Cross will impose on us.

The Crucified One has invited us into the fellowship of the crucified.

And yes my friends, the gate is narrow.

© Cheryl McGrath, Bread for the Bride, 2016 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.

Related Article: And The Bride Wore…Scars?

Grieving In Zion

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I can say no more about the poem below than this:  there will be those who will treat it like a snack on the run and quickly move on to something more satisfying.  Hopefully, there will also be those to whom it will be more like an anticipated expensive meal, to be tasted, carefully considered and allowed to be digested in full.  By reading slowly and thoughtfully, and perhaps more than once, you may find yourself hearing and connecting deeply with the Lord’s heart.

Grieving In Zion

When the great machine rolls ever onward

Laying waste to holy ground

When souls are crushed in the race to greatness

Left trampled in the putrid dust

When good is evil and evil’s good

And truth polluted with compromise

When sacred and profane are poured

Mingled in the golden cup

 

Who is there will raise a tear

And take up a lamentation

Who’ll lift a voice of mourning

And grieve with me in Zion?

 

When love is just a commodity

To be traded for expediency

When hate hides in ideology

And dresses in democracy

When ‘Kingdom come’ is ours not His

Who will dare lament the loss

And who will stand against the crowd

When the flag obscures the cross?

 

Come all you cloistered prophets

Come you who suffer long

Amid the stench of Babylon

There are those who grieve in Zion

 

When those who say they lead the way

Never even learned to follow

When deception makes us strangers

And there’s none to heal the gap

When the freedom bell rings hollow

And justice picks and chooses

When the church has sold her soul

Who will be the greatest losers?

 

But we will dust our heads in ashes

And sackcloth we will don

Amid the proud procession

We will bear our grief in Zion

 

And when it’s all been said and when it’s all been done

When the silver tongues fall silent

And the empires crumble headlong

When there’s nothing left to fight for

And nothing left to win

And Babylon writhes in her grave

Whose name shall our allegiance claim

And who shall be our king?

 

So let us sing our song of sorrow

And let Heaven join the chorus

Till all that can be’s shaken

And the Kingdom stands before us

And let our tears fall full and free

And our steps be sure and strong

As we dance our dance of sadness

With those who grieve in Zion

 

© Cheryl McGrath, Bread for the Bride, 2016   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.

About Those Heavenly Places…..

Caucasian woman sitting on a white fluffy cloud looking at a big, bright; blue; glowing cross

Am I alone in having kept a vague little picture  hidden in my mind that I used to pull out and dust off every time I heard the phrase ‘heavenly places’? (I’m guessing I’m probably not.)

Take this example for instance: ‘But God….made us alive together with Christ…and raised us up together and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus’ (Eph. 2:6 NKJV).

Back in the seventies and eighties we used to sing a song: ‘I’m a conqueror and victorious, I’m reigning with Jesus, I’m seated in heavenly places with Him, with Him….’ In my imagination I would see myself sitting on a sweet little chair beside Jesus on His much larger Throne, perched on a fluffy white cloud far above the earth in this mysterious locality called ‘heavenly places’, both of us apparently having a great time though I admit I did sometimes wonder should we be doing something other than just sitting there being happy and victorious.

(Oh, and by the way, if you’re still singing that song with a similar snapshot in your mind, now may be the appropriate time to issue a spoiler alert.)

It turns out those imagined heavenly places of long ago aren’t exactly what  Paul had in mind when he was writing to the Ephesians. For one thing, my pretty little picture didn’t take into consideration that being ‘raised up’ means raised up from death, which logically suggests there has to be a burial first (gulp!) (Eph. 1:20).

And nobody told me the original language used by Paul was far more specific than just sitting beside Jesus on my own little throne. The word he used, ‘synegeiro’, doesn’t mean ‘together with’ in the sense of being in the company of someone in the same physical locality. It means being totally bound to them in unbreakable and absolute union and implies an intimate covenantal relationship.

Then there are those undefined, cryptic ‘heavenly places’. Paul mentions them five times in Ephesians ¹. Rather than actual ‘places’ somewhere in Heaven, the word here (G. epouranios) more specifically conveys a spiritual realm, an atmosphere, and a perspective. In fact ‘places’ is not even in the original text and was added by translators.

These ‘heavenly places’ Paul was referring to are better understood as a supernatural sphere where spiritual activities take place. Even Satan and his troops are active in the heavenly places (Eph. 6:12), but their activities are far below the authority and power of Christ and those who are His (Eph. 1:18-23).

So far my long ago imaginative picture of ‘heavenly places’ is not holding up well under scrutiny, is it?

Did you ever wonder why Christ is ‘seated’ in this spiritual sphere we call ‘heavenly places’? Or why we too are said to be ‘seated’? There is a hint in the book of Hebrews:

And every priest stands ministering daily and offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But this Man, after He had offered one sacrifice for sins forever, sat down at the right hand of God… ( Heb.10:11,12)

The writer of Hebrews wanted to prove to his or her readers the superiority of the New Covenant ushered in by Jesus Christ over the former law covenant instigated by Moses. The context of this passage compares the Old Covenant priesthood to the New Covenant, in which Christ is our eternal Great High Priest, whose own innocent blood is sufficient to deal with sin once and forever.

The Old Covenant priests ministered in rostered shifts and were required to stand as they performed their duties in the presence of God, repeatedly offering sacrifices to atone for the people’s sins day by day, year after year.  No priest could sit until his priestly role was completed for the day (Deut. 10:8, 18:5-7; Num. 16:9; 2 Chron. 35:5; Judg. 20:28).   Christ however, after offering His one time, eternal sacrifice, sat down, signifying that His work was forever finished.

The reference in Ephesians 2:6 to being seated with Christ now takes on deeper meaning for us. When Paul speaks of God having raised us and made us sit together with Christ, he uses the word ‘sugkathizo’. Once again, this word implies an intimate, binding connection, not simply sharing the same space. This is the same word that the Septuagint², an ancient Greek translation of the Old Testament often quoted by Jesus and New Testament writers, used when Abraham sat by God as a blood covenant was established between the two of them. Later the same word was used when Moses sat before the people to minister the Law (Septuagint Gen 15:11; Ex. 18:13).

So being seated with Christ is something more than relaxing on a fluffy cloud surveying the heavens. It speaks to us of our covenant relationship with Him. And it is positional. In Christ, we are made to sit, because His work is finished and we can add no more to it. These heavenly places in which we are seated are a supernatural realm we increasingly inhabit as we come to rest in the truth that our redemption is finished and we can do nothing to complete or increase it. This truth is known in the Heavens, it is known by angels, it is known by Satan, it is known by creation – it is only human hearts that fail to grasp hold of it.

Hmmm…it seems my long-ago neat little mental picture of heavenly places is so not the truth Paul was trying to convey to his fellow believers.

And yet……do you sense this truth taking hold of us? Do you sometimes momentarily, as a friend recently described it, ‘catch a glimpse’ of something so complete, so restful, so beautiful in its finality and its perfection, that you want to run deep into it and never return to this earthly domain where faith is ridiculed and chaos seeks to rule? Could it be that something new is happening within us, something momentous and without precedent?

Christ’s journey from the Cross to the right hand of the Father did not end with His resurrection. There were three major events in that journey: burial, resurrection and ascension.

But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. (Eph. 2:6,7)

Our journey into the depths of Christ has led us to the Cross where we have embraced Him in His sufferings, died to our old natures and been buried with Him; it has led us on to an empty tomb where we have been raised to the new living way of resurrection Life and Kingdom dwelling with Him. And now, just as He ascended to the right hand of the Father, we must journey on to learn to live in the glory of His ascension, where we have been lifted into the heavenly atmosphere of His undisputed rule and reign.  (I am not referring to a ‘rapture’ here where believers are bodily lifted off the earth….this is a spiritual realm available to us while we learn to walk in the Spirit here on the earth.)

So….about those heavenly places? They are not a faraway celestial location at all. Could it be they are a spiritual realm that may be apprehended anytime, anywhere, by Christ-followers who have ceased striving for their own righteousness and to whom His finished work of redemption is becoming a moment by moment reality? I believe so.

Christ Jesus, after burial, after resurrection, ascended to sit at the right hand of the Father – a scriptural phrase signifying a position of unequalled divine authority (Acts 5:32; Rom. 8:34; 1 Pet. 3:22; Eph. 1:20; Col. 3:1). And here’s the thought I want to leave with you: in Christ we occupy that same position, seated with Him on His throne, just as He sat down on His Father’s throne (Rev. 3:21).

This authority is not an authority that has constantly to be proven as some apparently feel they must do. It is not an authority we must strive to demonstrate. It is an authority born out of brokenness, forged in a furnace of affliction and sealed with the Father’s approval. Whether we feel we have it is not the issue: whether we are conscious of it is also not the issue. It is not earned by anything we do or think we are, it is covenantal. It is ours by inheritance.

This authority is exercised as we walk in the Spirit and live in the Presence of Christ the King, without any conscious effort on our part. It will flow naturally from us from a position of rest in the finished work of Christ.

Put simply it is the authority of the overcomer. As I have mentioned elsewhere, the Bride of Christ is on the ascent. Hold that thought until the thought holds you.

¹ Ephesians 1:3; 1:20; 2:6; 3:10; 6:12

² The Septuagint, meaning ‘seventy’ (also known as the LXX) is a translation of the Hebrew Bible into the Greek language.  The tradition is that 72 Jewish scholars translated the Hebrew scriptures into Greek in the third and second centuries BC in Alexandria, Egypt. It was the first known major effort at translating a significant religious text from one language into another. Many New Testament quotes from the Old Testament Hebrew are taken from the Septuagint indicating the apostles and New Testament writers obviously felt comfortable using it.

© Cheryl McGrath, Bread for the Bride, 2016   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.

Until Christ Is Formed

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Travail.

It’s a very outdated way of describing a woman’s heavy labor during childbirth. A word rarely heard these days. Try dropping the word ‘travail’ at the local Playgroup or nearest women’s health clinic and it’s pretty certain people will look at you like you just landed from Mars. It’s right up there with: ‘curmudgeon’ (ill-tempered person), ‘flummoxed’ (confused) and ‘lollygagging’ (a word my mother used when she meant ‘wasting time’).

In older Bible versions ‘travail’ (Greek ‘odin’) is used instead of ‘labor’ to describe a deep sense of spiritual anguish that can only be compared to a woman in the last stages of giving birth. It is a word Paul used to warn of the sudden destruction coming with the Day of the Lord (1 Thess. 5:3). In a much more personal sense it’s also the word he chose to convey the intensity of his own passion to see his spiritual children, those he said he had ‘begotten through the gospel’ (1 Cor. 4:15), grow into the fullness of their salvation:

My little children, of whom I travail in birth again until Christ be formed in you…

Gal. 4:19 KJV

What was it that caused Paul, an apostle, teacher and preacher, such inner distress? It was the lack of tangible evidence that Christ had ‘been formed’ in the spiritual children he loved.

This concept of Christ ‘being formed’ in us is not one that gets much discussion today. In fact it’s about as popular as the word ‘travail’ is. Maybe that’s why modern Christianity is crowded with believers who seem to be permanently parked at ‘Salvation Station’ and seldom progress to their great destination: ‘Christ In Us’.

Paul’s anguish wasn’t confined to the Galatians. To the Corinthians he wrote:

And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual people but as to carnal, as to babes in Christ.   I fed you with milk and not with solid food; for until now you were not able to receive it, and even now you are still not able; for you are still carnal. 1 Cor. 3:1-2 NKJV

It’s quite possible to be a Jesus-believer, to have come to the knowledge of Jesus Christ as Saviour, but yet not to have Christ formed in us. For Christ to be formed in us we must do more than believe in Him, we must partake of Him. To partake of Him we must be fed the ‘meat’ of His Kingship and His Kingdom.

The word ‘Christ’ is Jesus’ title, not His surname. It is the English translation of the Greek ‘christos’ and the Hebrew ‘mashiach’. It means Anointed One, Messiah, and King. In Old Testament times only kings and priests were anointed with oil, a sign someone was being sanctified and set apart for service to God and to His people. Jesus Christ is both our Great High Priest and our Messiah/King, set apart as God’s chosen One – the only One worthy to mediate before the Living God for humanity and the only One worthy to reign as humanity’s King.

It is this Christ, God’s chosen and eternal Anointed King who must be formed in us. It is of the knowledge of Him and His Kingdom that we must partake if we are to grow up into mature Christ-followers. It’s important that we start out  adoring Christ as Saviour and seeking to know Him. But it’s important also that we grow beyond that initial stage into the knowledge of Christ as more than Saviour – as the Risen Lamb of God who is King of Kings and Lord of Lords. I know this statement may be a new thought to some, but evangelization of the world, though a worthy cause, is not God’s greatest purpose for the church. His greatest purpose is to have a people conformed to the image of His Son (2 Cor. 3:18).

Until Christ is formed in us we will continue to follow after men and women in His place. This was the Corinthians’ problem. They had become divided into warring factions, some loyal to Paul, others loyal to Apollos. Paul called their behavior carnal. They may have believed in Jesus Christ, but they had not yet allowed Him to be formed in them. They preferred milk to meat. They preferred to remain as babes in Christ rather than ‘spiritual people’ growing in the fullness of the knowledge of the Christ and His Kingdom (1 Cor. 3:1-9).

Until Christ is formed in us we will continue to live under the bondage of law in place of the freedom of the Spirit. This was the Galatians’ problem. They had been deceived by false apostles into departing from the pure gospel Paul had delivered to them. They were embracing elements of the Old Testament Law, such as physical circumcision, in an effort to be more acceptable to God. They were rejecting the freedom secured at the Cross. Rather than having Christ formed in them they were becoming alienated from Him by nullifying their Blood-bought freedom and seeking a righteousness of their own (Gal. 5:1-8).

The issues Paul anguished over among the Corinthian and Galatian believers have not gone away with the passage of time. Modern Western Christianity is still plagued with the problem of believers who remain immature and carnal for far too long, who prefer milk to meat and whose leaders seem incapable of delivering the solid meat of Christ in any case. Similarly, way too many believers still struggle under a gospel of law-keeping and fail to enter into the soul-rest available to them in Christ (Matt. 11:28-29; Heb. 4:10-11).

Add to this sad situation an army of ‘apostles’ who wouldn’t have a clue what Paul was talking about when he wrote: ‘My little children, of whom I travail in birth again until Christ be formed in you…’ and it’s no wonder hungry Christ-followers are increasingly crying out for that which will satisfy their longing to be filled with the fullness of Christ.

Let me just add a word of warning here: anyone who claims apostolic authority and does not ‘travail’ in the Spirit until Christ is formed in God’s people is not an authentic apostle. I believe there are apostles among us, and always have been, because Christ gave them and others as gifts to His church when He ascended (Eph. 4:8-13). But they are not busy insisting on a title, accumulating personal wealth, or building little empires. In many cases they are hidden away, unknown and dishonored, but rest assured they know what it is to travail ‘until Christ is formed’ in His church. And they do it again and again, as Paul intimated.¹

The good news is that there is a people in whom Christ is being formed. There is a remnant whose hunger for Christ will not allow them to settle for anything less than ALL the promises of God that He embodies (2 Cor. 1:20). There is a Bride being raised up by the Spirit of God in whom Christ can and will display His fullness. This Bride pursues Him ardently, worships Him as King and increasingly lives within His Kingdom. His Presence with her is her greatest delight.

Let’s not be distracted or distressed by either the chaotic state of the world, or the confused state of organized Christianity. Let’s watch, let’s encourage one another, let’s continue to pursue the Bridegroom above all else…..

Until Christ is both formed in us and comes forth from us in all His Kingly majesty.

¹ For a Biblical perspective on what an apostle looks like read 1 Corinthians 4:1-15.

© Cheryl McGrath, Bread for the Bride, 2016. 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.

Fire And Water

adobestock_91356836Last week I clocked up sixty-six years of living on this planet. I like to deal with the mixed emotions advancing years can bring by imagining each passing year as just another mile. The greatest part of my life’s journey has been travelled together with Jesus. Frankly, I wasn’t in much of a mood to celebrate the conclusion of mile ‘sixty-six’, but not surprisingly the Lord had a more positive spin on my somewhat reluctant milestone. He drew my attention to Psalm 66, in particular verses 9 to 12:

Bless our God, O peoples, And sound His praise abroad,

Who keeps us (me) in life and does not allow our (my) feet to slip.

For You have tried us (me), O God; You have refined us (me) as silver is refined.

You brought us (me) into the net; You laid an oppressive burden upon our (my) loins.

You made men ride over our (my) head/s; We (I) went through fire and through water, Yet You brought us (me) out into a place of abundance. (NASB)

The ancient word-pictures of being caught in a net, aching loins or people riding over our heads can be a little hard to get our twenty-first century minds around. But oppressive life circumstances, dealing with very real life and death scenarios for ourselves or those we love, and enduring false accusation, injustice, heartbreak or soul destroying rejection are things each one of us will taste, some very deeply, on this Christ-following journey.

Sometimes this Christian life can feel like a thousand thunderous riders above us pushing our faces back into the earth we were made from, in case we fix our gaze heavenward and find hope and redemption reaching out to us.

What’s hard to take is the thought that God has actually allowed some of these things to come upon us. “You have tried me, You have refined me as silver is refined.” Silver was refined within a crucible heated by very hot flames. The heat would cause the pure metal and the dross to separate so the dross could rise to the top and be removed by the refiner.

Really? Surely a God Who loves us and died for us would not willingly allow us to suffer hardship, heartbreak or oppression? After all, we now live under a covenant of grace, right?

Ah, but don’t you see it’s grace that bears you up, despite the net that threatens to ensnare you? Do you not perceive the grace that declares victory over that deep-seated fear in your loins? Do you not understand for each rider that pushes your face into the dirt, by grace you will rise again, stronger and more alive than ever, shouting ‘You can’t stop me!’ (Rom. 8:35-39).

Many of us have experienced times and events in our lives when trusted people and man-made religious systems deceived us. When we finally find ourselves walking free from that net of deception it’s natural to ask why God allowed us to walk into it in the first place.

Similarly, we may have endured painful circumstances or devastating loss. We find ourselves under the weight of an ‘oppressive burden’ with no option but to walk it through, clinging shakily to our hope in a God Who has promised never to forsake us.

Where is God, and why does He not always deliver us from such ‘nets’ and ‘burdens’?

Actually, He is right here…..keeping us. The keeping power of God is greater than anything this life can throw at us. If we think we can keep ourselves righteous, strong and committed, we will most certainly be disappointed. It is God’s hand alone that keeps us (Luke 17:33; Jde 1:24; 1 Jn. 5:18; 1 Peter 1:5).

During my journey with Jesus I have failed Him and others many, many times. I have been deceived by the systems and selfishness of men and women; I have known the deepest, darkest fears; I have had my face pushed into the mud more times than I can count. I’m guessing, wherever you are on the journey, you have lived or are living some or all of these things also.

Beloved, we have been through fire and through water.

Fire is a biblical symbol of the testing of God, but it is also a symbol of His Presence (Ex. 3:2, Daniel 7:9,10; 1 Peter 4:12). God’s testing is not an examination to determine our level of righteousness. He has already declared us righteous and holy (Rom. 5:17; Phl. 3:9; Heb. 12:23).

God allows testing to expose hidden areas of our soul to us – things such as fear, unhealthy habits and lying mindsets. God will allow us to experience situations, sometimes several times over, that lay bare these problem areas so that we will let Him touch and heal them. Our natural preference is to hide our weaknesses from Him (and often from ourselves), but His heart is always to reveal and then heal.

Water can symbolize those life-circumstances that threaten to overcome us – to drown and bury us in despair and unbelief; it can also represent bitterness (Ex. 15:23; Rev. 8:11). Such waters can come at us like a flood, leaving us feeling overwhelmed, buried beneath their weight and lost in their darkness.

But many waters cannot match His love for us (Sng. 8:7). We are children of the resurrection. God will never leave us buried beneath such a flood. The waters cannot overcome us, for just as He has set their physical boundaries, so He has set the boundaries of these waters of despair and bitterness that seek to bury us and make our testimony ineffective (Pro. 8:29; Jer. 5:22).

There is another Psalm that celebrates this ‘keeping power’ of God. It is one of fifteen Psalms that are called the Songs of Ascent, because the Israelites would sing them on the uphill ascent into Jerusalem as they came to worship during the festivals.

Had it not been the LORD who was on our side, let Israel now say,

Had it not been the LORD who was on our side

When men rose up against us,

Then they would have swallowed us alive,

When their anger was kindled against us;

Then the waters would have engulfed us,

The stream would have swept over our soul;

Then the raging waters would have swept over our soul.

Blessed be the Lord, Who has not given us to be torn by their teeth.

Our soul has escaped as a bird out of the snare of the trapper;

The snare is broken and we have escaped.

Our help is in the name of the LORD,

Who made heaven and earth. (Ps. 124)

However the view may appear from where we are right now, you and I, if we are in Christ, are on the ascent. Our destination is the Kingdom of God in fullness. Our calling is to take our place within the New Jerusalem (Rev. 21).

Psalm 66 concludes like this:

Come and hear, all who fear God,

And I will tell of what He has done for my soul.

I cried to Him with my mouth,

And He was extolled with my tongue.

If I regard wickedness in my heart, the Lord will not hear;

But certainly God has heard;

He has given heed to the voice of my prayer.

Blessed be God,

Who has not turned away my prayer

Nor His lovingkindness from me.

God allows the fire and water that we may be a living testimony to Him. He has never promised otherwise (John 16:33). We don’t undergo painful times apart from Him. He walks with us and keeps us by His enduring grace. He is in the business of transforming us from victims to overcomers. His intention, if we will trust Him, is to bring us through the fire and the water forever changed, with a testimony of His faithfulness, His goodness and His incomparable Love.

As I enter my sixty-seventh year this is my testimony: that He has kept me through the fire, and through the water. Seldom do I share about these things but He has kept me through childhood abuse, despair, betrayal and deceit at the hands of fellow Christians, spiritual abuse, intense spiritual battles over the lives of my children, dangers and isolation while ministering in remote places, false accusation and impending imprisonment in a war-torn country, serious illness, and being disowned by members of my own family. God has allowed refining fires and deep dark waters in my life, but His grace has kept me and His Love continues to enable me.

I share this for one reason: I am a living testimony of God’s keeping power. So are you. You are the bearer of testimony. You are the evidence of Christ’s resurrection. Your testimony has been, and continues to be, wrought in the fires of affliction and the waters of oppression. But the fire and the water cannot stop us because we are held in the arms of Christ Himself. We are on the ascent, we are born to rise. No grave can hold us and no devil destroy us.

Though our flesh be destroyed, yet with our eyes we shall see God. This is not a pep-talk; this is reality for every true Christ-follower. May the truth of who we are and Who we belong to penetrate and transform us as this great journey continues.

Come and hear, all you who fear God, and I will tell of what He has done for my soul. Blessed be God who has not turned away my prayer, nor His lovingkindness from me!

© Cheryl McGrath, Bread for the Bride, 2016   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.

 

Correction to “Where Shall We Buy Bread” Part One

An astute reader  has pointed out to me that there was an error in the first part of this week’s post “Where Shall We Buy Bread?” Part One (thankyou!).

In the section discussing ‘logos’ and ‘rhema’ I stated the Greek word used in Hebrews 4:12 is ‘rhema’, when in fact it is ‘logos’.  The rhema reference should have been to Ephesians 6:17.  The relevant section has now been corrected at  Bread for the Bride to read as follows: 

For instance, Hebrews 4:12  uses the word ‘logos’ in referring to the living Word of God:. 

For the word (logos) of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.

But Ephesians 6:17 uses the word rhema for the Word of God:

And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word (rhema) of God.
As I know some Bread for the Bride subscribers do use these posts as group Bible Study resources, could you please ensure the above correction is made to any notes before sharing, to avoid any confusion. Thankyou!