Still Feasting on the Tree of Life

Like an apple tree among the trees of the woods, so is my beloved among the sons. I sat down in his shade with great delight, and his fruit was sweet to my taste. (Song of Songs 2:3)

It is just over five years since I stepped into the unknown and launched Bread for The Bride in April 2012. Back then I had no idea how long this faith venture would last or if there would be any interest at all in the things shared here.  Here we are, however, five years later with 920 social media followers and growing weekly, and having recorded over 30,000 visitors from all over the world. These stats are not even a drop in the internet ocean, I know, but nevertheless I wish to thank each of you who have joined me here, read, discussed, commented, prayed, affirmed, shared, questioned, possibly disagreed, and hopefully been blessed by the posts on Bread for the Bride.

Today’s post is number 220 and I have to say I am amazed to still be here in the Christian blogosphere, which only attests to God’s enabling and sustaining grace.  Those who know me personally will roll their eyes in confirmation when I say I am not known for my longevity in any project and am always looking for the next new horizon.  So thankyou Lord for continuing to stoke the inner fire that keeps this blogsite going and for the ongoing provision of these loaves of fresh Bread for your Bride.  I will continue to serve them up for as long as You enable them and trust You to multiply them and spread them wherever the Holy Breath wishes to blow them.

Today I’ve decided to share again a post first published in July 2013.  For some reason unknown to me Feasting On The Tree of Life continues to be the all-time most read post to date on Bread for the Bride. If you have read it before, I hope it will bless and refresh you again.  If it is new to you, I hope it will feed your spirit and stir you to new understanding of the Bride of Christ, your place in her, and how deeply you are personally treasured by our beautiful Tree of Life, Jesus Christ.

And if you have just recently joined us at Bread for the Bride I hope you will find some time to explore the many articles here, among which you can find poetry and storytelling , discover who the Bride is, explore community, the Kingdom, and the Cross, or sink you teeth into the twisted truth and lethal lies series.  Please feel free to bring your crackers and wine, get comfortable,  and stay awhile.

Come with me to a garden, a magnificent garden where it seems every plant, tree and creature radiates intense life.  In the middle of this vast garden a woman leans to pluck the fruit of a splendid looking tree that towers over all the other plants. Tentatively, she tastes the fruit, and seeing her obvious delight the man with her also tastes.  Their enchantment with the tree is short lived, however.

Soon the woman discovers she has been deceived and the man realizes he has crossed a deadly line that is irreversible.  Now they perceive everything in the garden, and each other, in a different way.  No longer do they think and act in unison, their differences begin to define them.  No longer do they live to please the other, instead their focus shifts to their own individual desires.  The tree that seemed to them so resplendent with promise has become their death sentence, and the death sentence of all their future offspring.   From now on the man will struggle against the earth for his own survival, blaming the woman for his predicament, subjecting her to his control by means of his physical strength.  The woman will learn to distrust the man and will devise her own means of surviving alongside him.

Now come again to the same magnificent garden.  See another woman leaning towards a most majestic Tree.  She tastes and finds the taste good indeed.  So good, in fact, she hungers for more.  As she eats of the Tree she finds herself increasingly entwined in its fruitful branches.  So delightful to her is the fruit of this Tree she soon discovers she has lost all desire for any other food or nourishment.   The Tree in turn embraces her, drawing her further, deeper into its glorious interior.  Its captivating fragrance is all around her, its fruit nurtures and sustains her, and its boughs shelter her.  The Tree has become everything to her.  The Tree has become her Life.

Most of us are familiar with the first scene. It describes the first man Adam, the first woman, and their spectacular fall from grace.  I shall not refer to the woman as Eve, for the first name given to her was Ishshah, or ‘woman’ (Gen. 2:23).  Her name did not become “Eve, mother of all living”, until after the fall.  The tree from which woman and Adam ate was the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, which ultimately leads to death.

The second scene centers on the Tree of Life, which is Jesus Christ.  And the woman?  The woman is His Bride, of whom Ishshah was a mere shadow and type.  The New Testament teaches that Christ is the last Adam, and that the first man, Adam, was a type, or shadow, of the second Man, Jesus Christ (1 Cor. 15:45-47).   Seldom do we consider that the first Adam had a bride, and that she too was a type or shadow of the multi-membered ‘woman’ who would become the last Adam’s immaculate bride.  This spiritual Bride is a glorious mystery hidden within the Word of God from Genesis to Revelation.

So abundant with everlasting life was the Tree of Life that God installed cherubim and a flaming sword to prevent Adam and his bride from partaking of it in their fallen state (Gen. 3:24)).  The tree from which the first Adam and his bride ate looked, smelled and at first tasted like life to them, but in reality was death.  For Adam and his wife to eat from the Tree of Life after their fall into sin would have meant their bodies would never have died.  There would have been a race of human beings on the earth who would sink further and further into the depths of sin, increasing in numbers, but living in immortal bodies that never succumbed to natural death as we now know it.  Every kind of evil imaginable and unimaginable would plague this immortal race.  The consequences are too horrible to contemplate.  God, in His infinite mercy, removed mankind from the presence of the Tree of Life.

In and by the Spirit of God, a spiritual woman is being raised up on the earth who, unlike her natural predecessor,  is rejecting the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil and is choosing the Tree of Life.  She has turned her back on the tree that tastes good to the natural senses, is pleasant to the eyes, and promises to make her wise.  She has tasted of the fruit of the Tree of Life and having tasted has understood nothing else can ever satisfy her.

To this woman, the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, or “the world” as it is better known, becomes increasingly less appealing with each passing hour.  She understands well that the two trees cannot be mixed.  One must feast on one or the other, but not both.  Those who choose the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil will find the fruit from the Tree of Life totally inedible.  Those who feast on the Tree of Life will find the fruit from the other tree bitter and detestable.

At a time of His own choosing in the course of human history God again presented the Tree of Life to humanity.  In the garden the Tree had represented Christ.  On earth, Christ came to offer Himself once again to mankind as the Tree of Life.  Man had chosen death over life.  Christ was sent by the Father to again offer humanity a choice.  A tree was raised up on the sin ravaged soil of the earth, in its very midst.  On that tree was nailed a Man, the last Adam, who Himself was Life incarnate.  In His willingness to provide the spiritual nourishment for which humanity craved, His flesh was torn and His blood spilled into the earth.  The Tree of Life rejected by humankind long ago in a magnificent garden became manifest once more in the midst of the fallen race of man.

Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood you have no Life in you”  He had said.  “Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.  For My flesh is food indeed, and My blood is drink indeed.  He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him.  (John 6:54-56). 

Such graphic language offended most who heard, and still does.  What do you do with a statement like that?  You either write it off as the ramblings of a mad man or humbly admit there is something here you do not yet understand, and follow.

The Tree of Life still stands in the midst of the earth offering to share its fruit of endless, abundant God-breathed Life to humanity. Its access is no longer blocked by cherubim or a flaming sword.  All who wish to eat may taste freely and live.

And within its towering branches a mysterious woman abides, never to leave its shelter, never to crave for any nourishment except that which it provides for her, never to shift her eyes away from its incomparable beauty.

She is coming home.

© Cheryl McGrath, Bread for the Bride, 2017. 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.

Community of Grace

From the shadows they came.  From the dark and dangerous haunts of the city.  From the hidden nooks and crannies where they lingered on the fringes of society.  These were the undesirables, the basest and most shunned in the community…..going about their business with downcast eyes and furtive footsteps, quickly disappearing back into the city’s shadows lest they be subjected to an open display of the contempt in which they were held.

Among them were thieves, insurgents, prostitutes, fugitives, racketeers, outlaws, adulterers, murderers and habitual law-breakers of every persuasion. Outcasts all of them.

And of course the most despised of all, the tax collectors.

These were they who had betrayed their nation’s rich heritage by collaboration with the Gentile enemy.  Jews employed by the Roman authorities, they were deployed at the gates of every city and at designated posts along the highways to collect the taxes Rome demanded for keeping law and order, building roads and other benefits bestowed by the empire.  Bitterly hated by the majority of Israel’s citizens, the tax collectors made a living by adding their own fees to the empire’s taxes and keeping the surplus as income for themselves and their families.

To many Jews of Jesus’ time, paying taxes to their Gentile overlords was considered a sinful act.  Those who collected and lived off these taxes were regarded as traitors and extortioners, to be condemned and scornfully rejected as the very worst of sinners. So despised were the tax collectors they were forbidden even to be called as witnesses in the legal system.

Follow me!’ Jesus commanded Matthew the tax collector, aka as Levi (Matthew 9:9).  And, against all human reason, Matthew immediately left his post and followed.  And he stayed to become one of Jesus’ inner circle.  Along with Simon the Zealot, another surprising choice – the zealots were known for their extreme attitude problems towards Rome, often displayed violently – Matthew was a fully-fledged member of Israel’s marginalized.

No, Jesus didn’t just choose fishermen to establish His church.  A hated outcast and an activist rebel with links to a violent organisation were among His closest friends (Matt. 10:2-4).  Church history remembers Matthew, the tax collector, as the probable writer of the first gospel and missionary to Persia and Ethiopia, where legend says he was martyred.  And Simon the Zealot?  It is rumoured he too was martyred, either in Syria or Britain.

They came, the tax collectors and the sinners, to sit at table with the teacher.  To see for themselves if it was true what their ears had heard.  To ask simple questions about God that would be ridiculed by the religious leaders should they even deem to listen.  They came to see what He was about, this Jesus of Nazareth.  And what they saw they not only liked, they embraced.  And Jesus embraced them back.  He never gave license to their sin, but nor did He write them off because of it, as the religious authorities and their society had done.

What compelled them to come, these hardened fringe dwellers and social outcasts?  More importantly what made them comfortable in His presence?  For we are told again and again that’s where they sought to be….with Him (Luke 15:1, Mark 2:15, Matt. 11:19).  He was the Son of God, the personification of righteousness, yet His holiness did not alienate them.  Convict, certainly, but alienate?  No.

It was the grace emanating from the person of Christ that drew them to His side.  It was grace that kept them there.  It was His grace that convicted them of sin and His grace that gave them hope they could live differently (Mark 2:15).  Grace drew, grace convicted and grace enabled new Life and new lifestyle.  It was by His Presence, the Christ who is grace and truth, callous hearts were penetrated, shame was lifted and faith was born.

Why does your Teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?’ was a genuine question put by the offended religious leaders. In Jewish culture the sharing of a meal was akin to intimate fellowship.  The moral standards of those you ate with were quite literally an indication of your own morality.  But Jesus had no inclination to justify His choices.  Those He fellowshipped with were aware of their sin-sickness and their need for mercy, while those who thought they were healthy were not (Matt. 9:10-12).

Echoing words of their prophet Hosea, Jesus states ‘Go and learn what this means.  I desire mercy and not sacrifice’.   The passage He was quoting would have been familiar to them:

O Ephraim, what shall I do to you? O Judah, what shall I do to you? For your faithfulness is like a morning cloud, and like the early dew it goes away  Therefore I have hewn them by the prophets, I have slain them by the words of My mouth;  and your judgments are like light that goes forth.  For I desire mercy and not sacrifice, and the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings. (Hosea 6:4-6)

When God says, through Hosea, that He desires mercy He is using the Hebrew word ‘chesed’, an ancient concept first mentioned in Genesis 19:19Chesed is usually translated into English as ‘lovingkindness’, ‘kindness’, ‘goodness’, ‘compassion’  or ‘mercy’, but though chesed encompasses all of these it is greater than any single one of them.  In Hebrew chesed is intrinsically tied to covenant, and emphasises the unfailing, enduring faithfulness of God to keep His covenants.

Moses spoke of God’s chesed in covenant terms:

Know therefore that the Lord your God, He is God, the faithful God, who keeps His covenant and His lovingkindness (chesed) to a thousandth generation with those who love Him and keep His commandments. (Deut. 7:9)

So did Daniel:

I prayed to the Lord my God and confessed and said ‘Alas, O Lord, the great and awesome God, who keeps His covenant and lovingkindness (chesed) for those who love Him and keep His commandments’. (Daniel 9:4) 

Being ‘abundant in chesed’ is one of the foundational characteristics of His nature that God declared to Moses when He passed before him on Mt. Sinai (Ex. 34:6-7). Chesed is all about God and His character, and is completely unrelated to the worthiness or otherwise of the one on whom it is being bestowed.  Chesed conveys the mysterious aspect of God’s character we call ‘grace’.

Jesus could not have answered His questioners more plainly.  Despite all their outward ritual and sacrifices, in their hearts Israel’s religious leaders were not honouring their unique covenant relationship with God.  They had missed the boat on understanding the nature of their God, Who fervently seeks out a people with whom He can fellowship through covenant, and towards whom He can freely demonstrate His mysterious, abundant chesed.

They are still among us, the sinners and tax collectors. They have not disappeared with the passage of time.  Only their faces and labels have changed.  The labels our modern day sinners and tax collectors wear are many and various:  drug dealer, gang member, whore, pervert, criminal, weirdo, thug, mentally ill, tramp,….. there’s obviously many more but you get the picture.  Behold the sinners and tax collectors of the 21st century.

And if we’re honest with ourselves and God every one of us has at some time quietly thought: ‘I may not be perfect, but at least I’m not as bad as that one’ in relation to one of these ‘sinners and tax collectors’. Every.One.Of.Us. Are we brave enough to recognise the echoes of ‘I thank you that I am not like other men…’ lurking in our own souls?  (Luke 18:11-14)

The church, above all, is called to be a community of grace.  Grace cannot be present, unless Christ Himself is present.  It is the Presence of Christ that the human soul, whether sinner, tax collector, or disciple, craves.  And it’s directly from His Presence, either in an individual or in the corporate church, that grace, the chesed of God, freely flows.  If Christ’s Presence is not present in an assembly or individual, neither is grace. Good, sacrificial, charitable works may be abundant, but God’s chesed is not.

Wherever the people of God are controlled, influenced and manipulated by the flesh nature of men or women, wherever the Holy Spirit has been relegated to the sidelines, or even out of the building, wherever the centrality of Christ is not preached, lived and shared, Christ’s Presence is not in the midst.  Yet we proudly still call such gatherings ‘the church’.

Jesus founded a community of grace and radically populated it with anyone who recognised their need for that grace, from legalists who visited Him secretly at night, to awkward fishermen, to the outcasts and dregs of worldly society.  Today, rather than a vibrant, living community of grace the organised church too often looks and acts like those who never needed the physician. The good works may be many but they cannot take place of authentic chesed.  Where there is sacrifice but no true hunger and thirst for Christ’s Presence, He moves on seeking those who know He’s got what they need.

There is only one thing that stands between me and the sinner or tax collector I rub shoulders with in the market place – the grace of Christ.  Apart from the grace of Christ, there is nothing I can ever achieve, learn, or undertake, no family or church history, works of charity or moral living, that will make me different or less needy on any level to the ‘sinners and tax collectors’.  Nothing whatsoever.

We need the Presence of Christ in our midst more than we need anything else but we have filled our lack of it with programs, good works, conferences, committees, mission drives and building projects ad infinitum.  The institution called ‘church’ is trying to cover her nakedness – a nakedness that comes from the absence of Christ’s manifest Presence in her midst. But the only one she’s fooling is herself.

God, give us the manifest Presence of Jesus, convict us of our need for Your chesed, make us once again a community of grace, or we will surely, surely perish.

I gratefully acknowledge reference to the following resources in preparing this article:

“Twelve Words Jesus Knew” by Irene Lipson

© Cheryl McGrath, Bread for the Bride, 2017. 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 Rock and The Hard Place (From The Archives)

He is the Rock, His work is perfect; for all His ways are justice, a God of truth and without injustice; righteous and upright is He. Deut. 32:4

A night of high drama. A brotherly kiss between friends, but not all is at it seems. Eyes meet in a silent moment of raw, agonising truth. Hearts are laid bare. One man weeps hot bitter tears; another discards all hope. A bag of silver coins is thrown in the dust. A verdict, a sentence and an execution.

The various threads of that fateful night intertwine in a series of familiar stories, any of which we may follow and examine more closely. Eternal destinies were decided that night. Events were set in motion that will never be turned back. Before the coming day was over mercy would triumph over judgment and truth and grace would embrace.

Let’s turn our attention to just two of the lives eternally impacted for better or worse on that Passover night: Peter, a Galilean fisherman and Judas Iscariot, presumably named for Kerioth, the town he hailed from. Both had been chosen by Jesus as members of His inner circle, and both had been named as His apostles (Jn. 6:70; Lk. 6:13).

From the gospel accounts we understand that Peter was somewhat impulsive and, like the other disciples, struggled with personal ambition (Jn. 18:10: Mt. 18:1). A man of extremes, he could be defiant one moment and remorseful the next (Lk. 5:4-8; Jn. 13:8,9)

Satan had already asked for Peter. Jesus made no secret of this fact, warning Peter that He had interceded for him (Lk. 22:31,32). Peter was unable to believe that he was capable of denying Jesus. Until he did. He had been openly resistant to Jesus’ return to Jerusalem with all its obvious danger. He opposed Jesus’ disturbing references to crucifixion and martyrdom. Such possibilities offended him (Mat. 16:21-23).

As his eyes met the probing eyes of Jesus the truth about himself confronted Peter head on. Christ is Truth – not one of us can meet His penetrating gaze and remain in deception. To his horror Peter discovered he was not a leader, he was a coward; he was not a follower, he was a denier; he was not a friend, he was a betrayer; he was not worthy to reign with the Christ, he was unworthy to even be His disciple. There was not one thing he could bring to his own salvation. But with truth came grace, for in Jesus Christ grace and truth converge (Jn. 1:14). A hardened heart was softened and restored and a life in the balance changed forever.

Less is revealed in the gospels about the personality of Judas but we do know he had a weakness for money and was stealing from the common purse shared by the disciples (Jn. 12:6; Mt. 26:14-15). Satan did have access to Judas and even more so when Judas made up his mind to carry through his plan of betrayal ( Lk. 22:3,4 ;Jn. 13:27). Judas’ actions that night were deliberate and calculated. He had pre-arranged to receive thirty pieces of silver in exchange for disclosing Jesus’ whereabouts to the authorities when He was away from the crowds.

Judas also had his heart laid bare that night. He wanted nothing to do with any talk of dying. When it became clear that Jesus had no plan to resist arrest, lead an insurrection and unite Israel in rebellion against Rome, he was offended. He obviously had not signed up for this turn of events.

At the crucial moment of betrayal, however, he too was confronted with the naked truth about himself. ‘Would you betray the Son of Man with a kiss?’ The question must have stung to the core and echoed in his conscience thereafter. Had he really thought Jesus was unaware of his secret? He had been deceived into thinking his thieving had gone unnoticed and so would his plans for self-preservation. But none of us can kiss the face of God and not be confronted with our need for redemption.

Suddenly thirty pieces of silver meant absolutely nothing. The money was thrown in the temple, unwanted. In similar fashion the grace on offer was declined. Silver is the Biblical symbol for redemption while thirty represents fullness or maturity. But there would be no bitter tears, repentance, and forgiveness accepted by this offended heart. Rather than surrender to a grace he could not understand Judas chose to go his own way, ending his life (Acts 1:25).

Two men. One night. Both of them offended by the Cross of Christ. Both of them finding themselves between the Rock and a very hard place. Two extremely different outcomes.

Years later Peter acknowledged the One whose penetrating eyes met his that fateful Passover night as ‘a stone of stumbling and a rock of offence’ (1 Peter 2:8). Each of us at some time will stumble over that Rock so that our need for Him can be revealed. For Peter that revelation was stark. Peter stumbled badly, and broken, threw himself on the mercy of the Rock. Judas stumbled badly, refused to believe Christ could redeem him, and was crushed by the weight of his sin.

Everyone who falls on that stone will be broken to pieces; but on whomever it falls, it will scatter him like dust (Lk. 20:18)

There is a reason Jesus Christ is called the Rock of Offence. It offends the carnal human mind that we need a Saviour. It offends us that the Saviour we need died violently, innocently, and brutally on an execution stake fashioned by human hands. It offends us that His innocent Blood is the only means of our redemption.

We are offended intellectually. The thought of a blood-spattered cross being our only means of salvation is just too humbling, and let’s face it, too unreasonable for proud human minds.

We are offended morally, because we each think we understand justice, but we don’t understand THIS justice.

We are offended emotionally. We don’t want to acknowledge that such a gruesome suffering and death was willingly undertaken purely on our behalf.

We stumble. The offending Cross either brings us to our knees or sends us running in search of a more reasonable god. We find that more reasonable god in Christ-less religion that demands we work for our salvation, or in humanism that assures us we are our own gods and we get to decide what is just and what is unjust.

Righteousness and justice are the foundation of Your throne; mercy and truth go before Your face. (Ps. 89:14)

Righteousness, justice, mercy and truth are chief characteristics of God.

God gave the Law first to teach us about justice and mercy. Without first knowing Law we would not recognise mercy or our need for it. Similarly, without first being introduced to the cold stark truth about ourselves we would not recognise grace, or our need for it. But a tutor is not meant to stay forever (Gal. 3:24,25). After the Law served its purpose, in the fullness of time, came Jesus Christ, the personification of grace and truth together.

Only in Christ do mercy, truth, justice and righteousness merge. At the Cross mercy triumphed over judgment and God made just all who believe on Christ (Jas. 23:13; Acts 13:39).

A rock can be a place of safety and refuge, or it can be an agent of disaster. Peter yielded to the Rock and found grace. Judas chose his own way and found law. Law says a life for a life. Grace says His death for my life.

The greatest Offender to the fallen carnal nature of every person is Jesus Christ; the greatest offence humanity has ever experienced is the Cross of Christ.

For those of us who follow Him, falling on the Rock is not a single event, it’s a daily choice. The hard places we find all around us loom darkly, threatening to overwhelm and destroy. But we bear witness that there is a Rock of Offence who is our hope, our healing and our ever present salvation. This good news is the gift we offer to a stumbling world.

© 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.

Related Post: Silent Encounter

Hidden In Plain Sight

Let’s be clear.  A gospel that does not progressively awaken us to the truth that Christ’s sacrifice is all sufficient is not the gospel of the Kingdom Christ preached.  A gospel message that teaches we can gain God’s favour by anything in addition to faith in His Son will ultimately produce dysfunctional disciples in whom ‘self’ is king, and Christ is servant.  The perverted and mixed gospel I spoke about in my last post is producing self-focused believers obsessed with a God whose primary function is to meet their every need.

Sadly I’ve recently witnessed this unsavory fruit in believers who openly present themselves as mature disciples.  It’s not a pretty sight.  It has left me grieved in spirit and sorrowful about the delusion so many are walking in.

What are the outcomes of being under a delusion?  One of them is blindness to the truth that’s before our own eyes.

At the time when Jesus walked on earth the great temple in Jerusalem was Israel’s pride and showpiece. A magnificent and imposing building, it was considered sacred by the Jewish people.  It was holy ground, hallowed by all Israel as the place where God’s glory rested.  The temple was the centerpiece of Jewish culture, history and religion.  With its priests, sacrifice and ritual and intrinsically connected as it was to the Mosaic Law, it was a tangible daily reminder of Jewish identity.

Into this context Jesus boldly declares something greater than the temple has appeared (Matt. 12:6). The shock value in His statement cannot be underestimated.  In the eyes of the Jewish authorities and the people, nothing was greater than their temple, not even the might of the whole Roman Empire.

(In 70 AD the Romans would lay siege to Jerusalem and destroy their exalted temple, as prophesied by Jesus (Luke 21:6))

But Jesus hasn’t finished.  Not long after, He singles out one of Israel’s ancient prophets Jonah, announcing that something greater is now in their midst. He then points them to the great wisdom of their ancient King Solomon, son of David, and again declares something greater is now before them (Matt. 12:41,42).

What, or who, could be greater than their revered prophets?  Who or what could surpass the mighty Davidic Kingdom and the legendary court of King Solomon?  Every Israelite grew up believing David’s Kingdom, led by one of his descendants, would rise again and in that day Israel would subdue her enemies and reign among the nations.

The Law, the Prophets and the Kings!  Within just a few hours Jesus had alluded to the three essential pillars on which Jewish society was founded and declared each one of them inferior to the something greater He had come to show them.

One stood within touching distance of them who was immeasurably greater than all of these and whose Kingdom was already operating in front of their eyes, yet they were blind, deaf and ignorant. Their religion was centered on themselves. It was built around their lifestyle, their well-being, their needs.

Lately I have seen fellow believers demonstrate the same blindness to the something greater taking place right in front of them. While they sat waiting for God to ‘meet their needs’ someone desperately hungry for God was being touched by the Holy Spirit just inches away.  Christ was being revealed, the gospel being received and the miracle of new birth taking place.  The Kingdom was being manifested before their eyes.  But those who considered themselves mature and spiritual Christ-followers could not perceive it, nor did they value it.

In April 2014 in this post I wrote:

We are fond of declaring “it’s not about me, it’s about Him”, while we still fail to see the forest for the trees. Words originally uttered in the Spirit quickly become ‘christianese’ (a very dead language) unless infused with Holy Spirit revelation.  It’s better not to speak if all we are speaking is vain repetition (Matt. 6:7).  Newsflash: it really IS about Christ.  It’s not about us, never has been, never will be. 

There is something greater ready to be manifested right before us, and we can’t afford to miss it. The Kingdom is among us.  The Holy Spirit is at work.  Christ the King is present with His people. The Kingdom does not come with observation; it is not a spectator sport, it is not entertainment, it is not our church, our traditions, our national history or our political preferences.

Blessed are the pure in heart, for it is they who shall see God.  If we truly want to perceive the something greater, it will take a humbling and brokenness of heart to open our eyes.  Man-centered religion focuses us on ourselves above all else.  The pure gospel of Christ frees us from self to be part of the something greater only perceived by those hungering and thirsting for righteousness (Christ).

The Kingdom is at hand, which means it is available, within our reach, and has come upon us.   But it remains hidden in plain sight for those blinded by the false gospel of ‘self-first’.  Only a continual revelation of Christ to our hearts and minds can heal us of our love for self, and only the pure gospel of the Kingdom unctioned by the Spirit of God can reveal Christ to us.

Friends, it’s so very easy, and so very comfortable, to fall into the delusion that our needs, our lives, our happiness are front and center in God’s purposes.   God help us to humbly present ourselves to Him as living sacrifices that we may be Life bearers to those who are desperately searching for something greater than the world and self-focused religion can offer.

© Cheryl McGrath, Bread for the Bride, 2017.  All rights reserved.  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.

Unlearning A Perverted Gospel

There are all kinds of ways to hear the gospel.  We may hear it in a church, from someone speaking on TV or radio, or perhaps by direct conversation with another person.  ‘Faith comes by hearing’ is a maxim drummed in to us from very early in our Christian journey.  We hear, through faith the Spirit enables us to believe, and we cross over that invisible line from unbeliever to believer.  The journey begins.

But what if hearing the gospel and receiving the gospel are not the same thing?  What if the gospel that now makes its way across the airwaves, or is preached from the pulpit, or is conveyed by word of mouth has become so distorted and limited that it bears hardly any resemblance to the pure and measureless gospel delivered by Jesus Christ Himself?

Paul didn’t mince words when challenging the Galatian Christians with this very question.

I marvel that you are turning away so soon from Him who called you in the grace of Christ, to a different gospel which is not another; but there are some who trouble you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ (Gal. 1:7 NKJV). Or as The Message put it:

I can’t I believe your fickleness—how easily you have turned traitor to him who called you by the grace of Christ by embracing a variant message! It is not a minor variation, you know; it is completely other, an alien message, a no-message, a lie about God. Those who are provoking this agitation among you are turning the Message of Christ on its head.

Whichever version you prefer, it had become obvious the gospel they were hearing from others was a distorted gospel.  The Greek word Paul used, ‘metastrepho’, translates in English to ‘corrupted’ or ‘perverted’. It means something which has been turned into the opposite character of what it truly is.  Strong language, don’t you think?  He goes on to call those bringing such a perverted gospel ‘anaethema’ or accursed…..not once, but twice (Gal. 1:8 and 9).

What got him so stirred up?

In a nutshell, this perverted gospel the Galatians were hearing from others held no revelation of Christ.  There was no Christ-life in it.  Rather than lead these Christians into spiritual freedom, this corrupted gospel would lead them back into spiritual bondage that had nothing to do with the authentic gospel of grace which Christ suffered for, died and rose to deliver them into.  It was so contrary to the gospel Paul himself had received and originally preached to the Galatians he labeled it a gospel ‘according to man’.

For I would have you know, brethren, that the gospel which was preached by me is not according to man.  For I neither received it from man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ (Gal. 1:12,13).

The gospel we choose to embrace must go beyond our hearing:  it must be received into our inner spirit through a revelation, an unveiling, of Jesus Christ.  This authentic gospel, carried by Heaven’s Breath, the Holy Spirit, will always bring deeper revelation of Christ, because it’s the Spirit’s joy to reveal Christ (Jn. 16:14).  The authentic, Spirit-borne gospel will always draw our faces towards Jesus and progressively liberate us, not only from the rule of sin, but also the rule of Old Covenant Law.  This ever deepening revelation of Christ was the only gospel Paul, once profoundly immersed in Law, knew – and the only gospel He tolerated.

And yet this gospel Paul called ‘perverted’ is today openly tolerated, practiced and preached by multitudes of Christians worldwide.  Millions of Christians boast about their freedom in Christ while still observing such false doctrines as spiritual coverings, mandatory tithing, patriarchy and numerous other distortions that cloud and corrupt the pure gospel.  Any doctrine that teaches we can please God by following certain rules is a perversion of the New Covenant gospel.  Anything!

Jesus Christ did not just come to bring us good news.  He is the Good News.  He did not come to show the way back to the Father.  He is the Way.  He did not come to tell us truth, He is the Truth. He did not come to save our lives. He came to be our Life.  Unless the gospel we receive plunges us into an ever deepening revelation of Christ Himself, it is not His gospel.

So many of us have been literally immersed in a Christianity based on observing commandments,  rules and traditions we don’t even know we are embracing a perverted gospel.  Our only hope of deliverance is a far deeper revelation of Christ, a revelation of Christ that continues to increase within us with every passing hour.  It is as we embrace such a revelation that we are progressively liberated from a religion ‘according to man’ and ushered into the freedom of ‘sonship’.  We are led from the law-based gospel of Moses to the far superior grace-based gospel of Christ:

For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ (Jn. 1:17)

Paul, the former “Pharisee of the Pharisees” spent years unlearning a perverted gospel with none but the Spirit as His teacher and revealer of Christ. After his life-changing encounter with the living Christ on the road to Damascus, it was some years before he even consulted with Christian leadership, and then another fourteen years before he met with them again (Gal. 1:15-19; 2:1-2)  During that time he was being taught by the Spirit and re-educated concerning everything he had formerly believed.

I can bear witness to studying in the same ‘unlearning’ school of the Spirit, and am yet to graduate.  Perhaps you can also. Half a life time spent in institutionalized Christianity takes a lot of unlearning, but thankfully the Spirit is patient!

As He leads us into His school of ‘unlearning’ the Spirit will call many of us away from institutional, organized Christianity into widely diverse pathways, yet always with the same destination in mind:  the deeper revelation of Christ to our souls.

If we are regularly involved in a local church, we may find ourselves becoming restless, hungry of spirit, seeking that ‘something more’ we can’t quite put our fingers on.  The Spirit is wooing us into a deeper revelation of Christ and it will not always be found within familiar walls.  We can ignore, in which case our love for Christ will increasingly grow lukewarm as we distance ourselves from the Spirit’s overtures.  We can knowingly resist, in which case we risk quenching the Spirit.  Or we can follow.

Know that following will come at a cost that may involve loss of relationships, straining of family ties, and isolation.  No-one desiring a greater revelation of Christ can avoid the Cross.  To follow the Lamb we need to have resolved in our hearts that He is worth the cost of following.

Unlearning the gospel of Moses to learn the gospel of Christ is the greatest journey I have ever undertaken, but I would not turn back to the old way for anything this world can offer.  What I have learned about Christ on this journey is far more than I can share in this one post.  I have learned that He is infinitely deeper, wider, higher and greater than my formerly limited gospel would ever allow me to imagine.  I have learned that He is not at all concerned with the rules, customs and traditions I used to think were important to Him.  I have learned that as I embrace Him as both Fulfiller of the Law and End of the Law, together we can explore the vast expanse of His grace without hindrance or condemnation.  I am learning, at last, what it means that He is both my Promised Land and my Rest (Heb. 4:9).

I am unlearning a gospel that measured my value by my hours of church attendance, financial contributions, conformity and rule-keeping and learning a gospel where my righteousness has been freely bestowed without my needing to earn or keep it.

I am unlearning a gospel where a hierarchy of human mediators stood between me and God and learning a gospel where Christ is the only mediator I will ever need or desire.

I am unlearning a gospel that devalues and insults Christ’s sacrifice by adding man-made additions to the finality of His Cross (Gal 2.21).

And I am learning the sheer exhilaration of doing Life with Life Himself.

How about you?

Don’t be afraid to enter the Spirit’s School of Unlearning.  It is the portal to your new life of rest from dead works, ‘for you, brethren, have been called to liberty’ (Gal. 5:13).  That does mean you.

Choose Life!

© Cheryl McGrath, Bread for the Bride, 2017 and beyond.  All rights reserved.  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.

So You Want To Be A Lover?

Rumour has it I’m pretty much a failure when it comes to loving the brethren.  If you like your dollops of Christian love handed over with bear hugs, chatty phone calls and affectionate enquiries about every tiny corner of your life, I may as well warn you now I’m not the one you’re looking for.   Pass me by and move on to those with the gift of “genial and demonstrative” who’ll be waiting for you with open arms.  I’m simply not one of them.  Call me aloof and antisocial (as some have done, not always out loud), those kind of outward expressions of affection don’t come naturally to me.  I’m one of those solitary people who prefer to sit hidden away unobtrusively in the corner of a crowded room, quietly observing.

I think The Supremes were on to something in their nineteen sixties hit You Can’t Hurry Love: “You can’t hurry love, you just have to wait, love don’t come easy, it’s a game of give and take;  You can’t hurry love, no you just have to wait, you got to trust, give it time, no matter how long it takes.”  It’s a little known fact the song actually was based on an earlier gospel song by Dorothy Love Coates in which the words were:  “You can’t hurry God, you just have to wait, trust and give Him time, no matter how long it takes”.

And while we’re on the subject I don’t think I can bear hearing one more time:  “we just have to love each other more to be more like Jesus”; or “love’s not optional you know”;  or  how about this gem: “love’s what we do, not feel”.

But the undisputed fact is Christ called us to be lovers of each other and humanity in general.  He apparently had so much confidence in us He said the world would recognise Him by our love for one another (Jn. 13:35).  Hmmm…did you get that?  The world will recognise HIM by something that’s in us.  Somehow we’ve changed that to “the world will recognise us as Christians when we love like Jesus.  Therefore we should work really hard at loving each other so we can prove Jesus was telling the truth about us and maybe then others will want to follow us into following Him.”

Huh?  Seems to me we’ve done our usual trick of placing ourselves centre stage when it comes to walking out this love thing.

I tried hard to fit into that ‘work hard at loving to prove Jesus knew what He was talking about’ scene for a long time…..really, a l-o-n-g time.  The revelation that I simply could not love at will, or love enough, or love like He loves, didn’t come with thunder and lightning.  But it did come, softly, gradually, with the still small Voice of the Spirit whispering, ‘when will you wake up to the truth that you can’t love others like Jesus, no matter how hard you work at it, because it’s not in you to do so?’

That was Love Lesson Number One.  Human love, as beautiful and encompassing as it may be, is limited.  It is limited because we are, in our natural state, corrupted beings.  And what we are inadvertently trying to do by proving that we can love like Jesus is, well, prove that we can love like Jesus.  It becomes not about Him, but us. It becomes law.

Love Lesson Number Two began to unfold one day when the Lord asked me with His usual directness:  “Why don’t you receive My love?

“What do You mean?  You know I love You Lord.”

That’s not what I asked you.  Why don’t you receive My love?

“But I do believe You love me.  After all, You died for me.”

Yes, you believe it.  But you don’t know it.  You don’t know it because You refuse to receive it.  You don’t allow Me to love you as I wish to.” (1 John 4:16).

Christian tradition had taught me to ask the wrong question and come up with the wrong answer.  In the face of a religion that said I should strive to love others more, one conversation with Jesus turned my love theology on its head.  He wasn’t concerned about how much I loved others.  He was concerned about how much I didn’t know He loved me.

We each arrive at the truth of the gospel hauling the image of ourselves the world has stamped on us.  We sit beneath the cross and drink from the cup of salvation, thankful to have found respite and rescue.  We love Jesus, who first loved us, and we set out to follow Him faithfully.  But we still carry that image in our mind’s eye with which the world has branded us:  we are too fat, too thin, too dumb, too tarnished, too bad, too ugly, too unacceptable, too sinful, too damaged, too whatever, to ever be lovable.  Then religion steps in with its long arm of the law, telling us God loves us but will find us infinitely more lovable if we just get better at this, that or the other thing.  And so the pattern is set.

The truth is Jesus never ever loved us because we were good at anything.  He loves us because He is so good at loving. 

I’m still in Love School.  I’m still on my LL (Lover in Learning) plates when it comes to fulfilling Jesus words in John 13:35.  I’m learning I don’t have to prove I’m a Christ follower by loving you, but Christ in me will love you.   I’m discovering I don’t have to work at loving, but as I abide in Love Himself the love that pours into me flows naturally outward.  It may not look the way you, caught up in your religion, think it should look.  But hey, that’s OK, I’ll love you anyway and maybe one day you’ll catch on.

I’m learning that loving like Jesus means the love of Christ compels me (2 Cor. 5:14)….. in everything. I’m learning to walk in love by walking continually in the presence of the One who is Love.  I’m learning that the key to this love dilemma is allowing Him to love me because, regardless of how I or others see me, He finds me exceedingly lovable.   He finds me lovable not in a cute, warm and fuzzy sense, but in a strong, fervent, impassioned sense that leaves me unable to resist loving Him back with all my wondering being.

So you want to be a lover?  You will never be a lover after Christ’s heart without first being a receiver of Christ’s heart for youYou will never give love until you know Love.  You will never radiate love until you have surrendered to Love and allowed Him to possess you.  You will never be able to Love without limitation until you yourself have been healed of your own ‘unlovableness’.  You have to take ownership of Love before it can flow unhindered from you.

The awakening bride of Christ is a company of lovers who love just because they are loved; a company learning to dance their love dance like unashamed children in the delighted presence of Him whose Name is Love.

No, love don’t come easy…..but it’s free for the taking.  Oh, and by the way, did I mention He’s simply mad about me?

First published on Bread for the Bride 14 October, 2014.

© Cheryl McGrath, Bread for the Bride, 2014, all rights reserved.   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 Magnificent Pursuit

pexels-photo-24289-pursuitHe watched intently, wordlessly, as they departed the sacred Garden where all of them had walked together.  There they had communed, talking, laughing and celebrating each other’s presence, while Spirit-breeze, the Ruarch, gently caressed their faces and the sunset marked the end of another perfect day in Eden.  This day the sunset would not find them together, this day Eden would be lonely without the presence of the man and the woman.  This day would never be forgotten by either God or human. 

But even as His tender heart struggled with, endured and finally embraced the searing, unfamiliar pain of the unimaginable separation another emotion was rising forcefully within Him.  Resolve.  He had been betrayed and rejected.  The freedom which had set apart the man and the woman, created in His very own image, had become the means of their treachery.  Still, He would not have contemplated denying them that freedom.  To do so would have meant they were less than His image, like the beasts of the field or the fish with which He had filled the oceans. 

As he looked around at the Garden, the Tree now guarded by cherubim wielding fiery swords, His resolve grew indominatable, rising until it erupted out of Him in a terrifying, determined cry that echoed fiercely throughout His creation.  In that timeless moment every created being, every rock, tree, river and valley, every light that lit the sky, understood the gravity of that harrowing warrior cry, and trembled.  He would pursue them!  Throughout their wanderings, through their ever darkening history, through their depravity and violence, through their inevitable misery, He would pursue them, even tasting that misery for Himself. He would pursue them even into the depths of Hades to bring them home.  He would redeem them with whatever it cost Him, until once again God and humanity walked together, hand in hand, spirit to spirit, face to face. Whatever it took, He would do.

Let the pursuit begin. 

Seven generations from Adam humans, by choice, were still able to walk with God as the first man and woman had walked with God in Eden (Gen. 3:8).  Enoch walked with God 300 years and God was so pleased He simply ‘took him’ from the earth (Gen. 5:24; Heb. 11:5; Jude 14).   That must have been some walk.

By the tenth generation from Adam the earth had become a very violent place.  Humanity’s wickedness had increased to where their thought and intention was ‘only evil continually’.  But amid such evil Noah also walked with God and ‘found grace in the eyes of the Lord’ (Gen. 6:8,9).  However, Noah was not ‘taken’ by God but instead was chosen to be the seed bearer for all future humanity.

By the time Biblical history reaches the twentieth generation from Adam, we find Abraham and his son Isaac walking not ‘with God’ but ‘before God’, or in the sight of God (Gen. 17:1; 24:40; 48:15).  Things had changed again by the twenty first generation from Adam, when Jacob was asking God to walk with him (Gen. 28:20).

And so it goes.  Where once our race delighted simply in being with God where He was, we now expect God to be with us.  Where once our deepest desire was to walk continually in His Presence, now our thoughts mostly center on ourselves, our own walk and the hope that God might turn up and bless whatever we put our hand to.  Isaiah expressed our situation this way: I have stretched out My hands all day long to a rebellious people, who walk in a way that is not good, according to their own thoughts (Isa. 65:2).

But we have not figured on the determination of this God of ours to restore what was lost between Him and us.  And rarely do we give any thought to the side of Him that caused the Victorian poet Francis Thompson to pen his famous poem The Hound of Heaven.*

We pride ourselves on our apparent knowledge of God – but this God who doggedly pursues us, who in relentless love hunts us down and corners us, who gets in our face and demands a yes or a no from us –  well, we don’t talk about Him much do we?  We hold conferences, write books and have endless discussion about making our church environments more ‘seeker sensitive’ without ever acknowledging the greatest Seeker is God Himself.  We are so caught up in interpreting God, we miss His heartbeat; so driven in our explaining of Him, we are blind to the passion that drives Him.

Through exile in Egypt, years in a dry and dreary wilderness, and into a land flowing with milk and honey this unmentionable God pursued Israel, and continued to pursue them throughout centuries of rejection and grief.  This same God pursued, impregnated and protected a young Jewish virgin whose culture declared she should be stoned.  He turned up at the River Jordan, on a Galilean beach, in marketplaces and synagogues, and of all places the great Jerusalem temple, in His endless pursuit of a people who might once again walk with Him.

Defiantly, He took the road through hated enemy territory in his pursuit of a common Samaritan woman and her neighbours.  He sought out and found tax collectors, publicans, women of bad reputation, the disabled and the outcast in His great pursuit. He healed, pleaded, reasoned, wept, and finally bled pursuing His passion in the midst of indifference and violent hostility.  He stared down the jaws of death and refused to co-operate, rising undaunted from the grave to continue the hunt He had set for Himself in Eden.

He lingered in a burial garden in His pursuit of Mary from Magdala.   He turned up unexpectedly in a darkened room where His confused and disappointed followers hid in fear.  He lit a fire on a beach to attract the attention of weary, hungry disciples just to spend time with them.

He confronted a dyed-in-the-wool Pharisee on the road to Damascus and dared him to return the pursuit.  That former Pharisee, Paul, would later remark that he had been ‘laid hold of’, in other words, ‘arrested’ by this One who pursued and won him (Phl. 3:12).

And so the pursuit continues, with God always as initiator and pursuer, and we as the apple of His eye.

You see, it’s all about the walking.

Can two walk together unless they are agreed? (Amos 3:3)  The walk that God and humanity enjoyed together was like nothing we have experienced in our earthly existence. That walk, face to face, spirit to spirit, cannot be undertaken by angels, or by any created being apart from human beings, because only human beings were made in the image of God.  And God desires that it be restored.

His quest for a company of human beings whose souls are knit together with His own has led Elohim, our Three-In-One God, on the greatest pursuit of the ages.  That perfect communion He yearns for with humans has cost Him more than we can understand or imagine.  It is the search for a Bride for Himself.  It is a mystery above all mysteries, unfathomable by the human mind.  Yet, even though it is mystery, it can be responded to by those who even just begin to perceive it.

Where are you?’: the heartbreaking cry of Eden.  ‘Where are you?’: the ever echoing question through human history.  ‘Where are you?’ reverberates through Heaven and earth even now, even among those who call themselves His own.  If you hear that cry in your soul, be it ever so faintly, there is a very clear choice.  We can hide, as our human ancestors hid among the trees in the Garden, or we can respond: ‘Here am I!’

‘Here am I’ has no conditions to its availability, no ifs buts or whys.  ‘Here am I’ has counted the cost and has deemed the One who asks it worthy. ‘Here am I’ is persuaded that walking with God is the only walk worth desiring.  ‘Here am I’ can only truly be uttered with empty hands.

Wherever we may be on our journey with Jesus Christ, each and every one of us is on this journey only because He pursued us.  Let’s not fool ourselves that we’re here because of our wise choices, moral living, church attendance, respectable family background, theology, Bible study, denomination or being born in the right country.

We are invited into fellowship with God because:  God. Has. Pursued. Us.  It’s that simple.

The invitation to walk with God stands. And the cry still resounds: ‘Where are you?’ Each one of us must answer one way or another, because not to answer is to answer.

Choose Life!

I fled Him, down the nights and down the days;

I fled Him, down the arches of the years;

I fled Him, down the labyrinthine ways

Of my own mind; and in the midst of tears

I hid from Him, and under running laughter…

From those strong Feet that followed, followed after….

Excerpt from ‘The Hound of Heaven’ by Francis Thompson, 1893

*For a modern adaptation of The Hound of Heaven, I recommend this video:

© Cheryl McGrath, Bread for the Bride, 2017   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.