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.

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:  https://vimeo.com/89705938

© 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.

Everybody Got A Hungry Heart

Double exposure hunger begging hands and dry soil. Represent that lot of people in the world are hungry and starvation, they need help and hope for better life

Within the recesses of the human heart there is a gnawing hunger common to all humanity.  Whether one is unschooled or highly educated, whether we live in the lap of luxury or in a grass hut, whether we feast at kings’ tables or scratch for roots and berries, the hunger in our souls is common to our race.

Human bodies were created to experience, enjoy and be satisfied by food (Gen. 1:29).  Human souls were created to experience, enjoy and be satisfied by communion with God (Ps. 42:1-2). Before God created humanity He filled our environment with edible vegetation and fruitful trees, each containing their own seed so that humanity could reproduce and cultivate the life these plants held.  All food that was needed for their physical survival and ongoing well-being was abundantly provided in readiness for the creation of the human race.

And in the midst of the garden He planted the Tree of Life to ensure that the hunger of the soul would also be continually satisfied (Gen 2:9).  The Tree of Life was provided by God as spiritual food for the souls of the man and the woman.  Its fruit included the nine fruit of the Spirit we read about in Galatians 5:22-23, which in one word can be summed up as ‘righteousness’.

But another Tree was also planted in the midst of the garden, because righteousness must be chosen but cannot be imposed.  Righteousness imposed becomes Law,  and Law can never produce Life, it can only imitate Life. The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil was provided so that humanity could choose the Tree of Life, a choice of righteousness and life over law and death.  When Adam knowingly chose to side with the rebel angel Satan, he chose death over life.  (Remember, Adam was not deceived, he understood what he was doing (1 Tim. 2:14).  See also Romans 5:12, 15).

The result, as we know, was catastrophic both for humanity and for the earth.

Until it wasn’t.

Jesus Christ turned the greatest calamity in human history on its head.  “Blessed are they who hunger and thirst after righteousness” He proclaimed, “for they shall be satisfied.”  When challenged by those whose power resided in Law He made it clear He had come as the the spiritual food humanity was craving (John 6:33-35).  He had not come to fill human bellies, but human souls.  So they found a tree and hung Him on it, but He turned that tree into a Tree of Life too.

The only remedy for the deep hunger of the human soul is Christ.  The story of the prodigal son is not simply a parable about rebellious teenagers.  It is about each and every one of us.  What drove the prodigal home? Hunger (Luke 15:17).  His soul grew weary of the unsatisfying dregs of the world and longed for the feast at his father’s table.

Is there anything human beings haven’t tasted to try and satisfy the soul-hunger that drives us?  For some it’s the pursuit of money, career and a comfortable lifestyle, for others it’s the temporary thrill of dangerous lifestyle choices.   Some find solace in the haze of substance abuse.  Others pursue all kinds of physical pleasures.  For some it’s the approval and applause of fellow humans.  Some believe a life spent in charitable service or a worthy cause will appease the hunger. And so the list grows endlessly. “To a hungry soul every bitter thing is sweet” Pro. 27:7

Jesus Christ, both divine and human, is the only person who lived without being subject to human soul-hunger. “I have food to eat that you don’t know about” He once told His disciples when they urged Him to eat (Jn. 4:32).  When He spent forty days and nights in the wilderness fasting, it was not until afterward that He felt physically hungry (Luke 4:2).  His communion with the Father was so perfect and so satisfying at times it over-rode the physical needs of His human body. But it was at the Cross, as He bore the full weight of humanity’s separation from God, that He experienced the depth of human soul-hunger.  “I thirst” was not just a cry for physical sustenance but the cry of God Himself tasting what it is like to be eternally separated from God.

On this earth there is just one group of people who hold the key to remedy this human soul-hunger. Jesus, our Tree of Life, has entrusted His church with His message to every human soul: “Taste and see that the Lord is good.”  There will always be those who will reject Life and continue to choose the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, but each soul inherits the right to choose, because righteousness must be chosen.

Why then are so many churches able to run food programs for the physically hungry and homeless, but unable to deliver a living, satisfying Christ to the human soul? Why are so many hungry, thirsty people pouring out of organized Christianity (aka as ‘Church’) in desperate need of the only thing that can satisfy them:  Christ?  People are dying of spiritual hunger in the middle of the largest storehouse on earth.  As I’ve shared elsewhere, it is just too easy to label them all as “rebellious church hoppers”.  Something is drastically wrong.

Not long ago I had a dream in which a friend I was travelling with said she was hungry and was going to find some ‘fast food’.  We discussed the wisdom of this and despite her hunger she agreed to go with me instead to the town library.  On the way we passed three memorials to renowned Christian teachers, now all deceased, and stopped in front of each memorial to consider their legacy.  Reflecting on this I realized each of these teachers, who lived in different parts of the world at different times and were vastly different in culture and personality, had an intensely deep knowledge of Christ and His Cross.  We know this because each has left us his teachings in books and articles that are still widely available. By the time we arrived at the Library (symbolic for God’s Word) we were no longer seeking ‘fast food’ but something far more satisfying:  more of Christ.

Jesus literally handed out fast food once when He turned a few fish and loaves into a meal for thousands.  When the people wanted more He said they would never be satisfied unless they ate from Him, the Living Bread.  Sadly, most of them turned away in search of the nearest McDonalds (Jn. 6:1-66).

The mixed fruit from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil was good for food and pleasant to the eyes, as God had ordained all the trees in the Garden to be, but it had another ingredient that delivered death, not Life (Gen. 3:6).  And it created within humanity a gnawing spiritual hunger that can be satisfied by nothing and no-one except communion with Christ Jesus.

The fast food gospel of entertainment, prosperity, law and Cross-less Christianity now so prevalent across the Church landscape promises hungry souls an end to hunger,  but can only deliver a clever imitation that cannot sustain them. Sooner or later people hungering and thirsting after Christ and His Kingdom must settle for the imitation or go in search of the real thing, even if that search leads them outside the comfort and familiarity of traditional Church settings.

Like a bride stirring to the Bridegroom’s call after a long and restless sleep many believers are now awakening, hungry, thirsty and restless of spirit.  This hungry Bridal company will leave the apparent safety of her chambers to pursue the Bridegroom through the dangerous ‘streets and squares’ crying “Have you seen the One I love?” until she finds Him.  And when she finds Him, she will not let Him go  (Song of Songs 3:1-4)

Choosing the wrong tree has cost humanity dearly. Its mixed, bitter fruit has produced a soul-destroying hunger which in turn is the cause of all violence, injustice, and every kind of human misery.

But the Tree of Life still stands in the midst of the Garden.  The way back has been provided – no flaming sword can keep us from the Love of God in Christ.  Death and hunger are defeated. Wandering can cease, souls can be satisfied, rest is at hand.

Choose Life!

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

 

Women And Priesthood

Some of you may be aware that for the last two and a half years I, along with three other women bloggers, have been involved in a joint project-blog called Ishshah’s Story.  Ishshah’s Story has recently been retired due to our various commitments elsewhere, but I want to share the last article I posted there because the subject of spiritual abuse and gender injustice towards women and girls within institutional Christianity is one I am passionate about.


Recently one of the world’s foremost Christian leaders reiterated his organisation’s official stance excluding women from the priesthood. Elsewhere in the Christian world woman’s entitlement to ordination on an equal basis with her male counterparts is still being hotly debated and is far from settled. Women who believe they are being called by God to serve His church pastorally or in other leadership capacities are anguishing about how to both obey God and fall in line with their denomination’s opposing stance on the matter.

The arguments from both sides of this debate obviously can’t be covered in one article and there are many resources available for those who wish to study more widely¹. In this particular post I want to focus on three core elements and consider each of these from a Biblical perspective: calling, priesthood and ordination.

Calling

Whatever pathway we choose in service to God, most Christians would agree His Word is our first guidepost, accompanied by the conviction of the Holy Spirit that God is desiring us to follow a specific direction in which our God-given gifts can be best utilised for His people and His glory. This sense of deep, consistent conviction is what most of us would recognise as a ‘calling’ from God in a specific area of service to Him (1 Tim. 1:9; Eph. 4:1-7).

There are certain areas of calling that are universal for all Christ followers, including the call to take up our cross and follow Christ, the call to love one another and our neighbour, and the call to share the good news of the gospel. Individual Christians, regardless of gender, can also experience a personal calling to a specific area of ministry, such as a deep desire to serve God in a particular location or within a certain people group.

Throughout Christian history women have sensed God’s calling to serve Him in the same way in which men have felt called to serve God. The Holy Spirit has not been poured out on females in a lesser measure or in a more limited way than on males (Acts 2:17). A man sensing God’s calling on his life may struggle with issues such as finance, education or social and cultural barriers, but a man is never restricted from serving God on the basis of gender. On the other hand a woman sensing God’s calling is frequently told she may not serve God in certain capacities simply because she is not a man.

Great swathes of Christianity still place severe limitations on the expression of a woman’s spiritual calling, regardless of how gifted she may be, based on a narrow, biased interpretation of some New Testament passages which are held above the fuller counsel of the whole of scripture.

Certain trailblazing women throughout history have challenged these restrictions and had fruitful ministries, usually at great personal cost. For the most part though, untold numbers of Christian women have historically been locked out from officially pursuing their calling to ministry by a church firmly dominated by male leadership and a culture of gender discrimination that does not reflect the words or the teachings of Jesus Christ. As the link in the first paragraph of this article demonstrates, in some powerful Christian circles things have not changed: calling and gifting take second place to gender.

Priesthood

So, despite this male dominated atmosphere, does the Bible shed any light on whether or not a woman who feels called to serve God in ministry can be a priest?

Under the Old Covenant, the whole nation of Israel, i.e. men, women and children, were appointed by God as a holy nation of priests among the nations (Ex. 19:6). Within that national calling to priesthood a specific priesthood from the tribe of Levi was also set apart from the general Hebrew community. Their role was to minister to God, observe the ritualistic Law, and serve as the people’s mediators before Him (Ex. 28:41; 29:44).

In the New Covenant, however, Christ alone is the one mediator between God and His people. Only He is designated specifically as our Priest and Great High Priest (Heb. 3:1; 4:14,15; 6:20). Christ has replaced the Levitical priesthood and became the eternally risen mediator between God and humanity (Heb. 8:4-11; 1 Tim. 2:5).

Under this New Covenant of grace all God’s people are called equally to priesthood, regardless of ethnicity, age, class or gender (1 Peter 2:5,9). Neither is there any hierarchy in this universal priesthood of believers, for all are set apart and placed ‘into’ Christ, in Whom there are no divisions (Gal. 3:26,28). The book of Revelation confirms this new priesthood of all believers (Rev. 1:5,6) and declares that this priesthood will reign with Christ during the Millennium (Rev. 20:6). Again, there is no indication in these scriptures that this universal priesthood is exclusively male. It is a priesthood of believers, not based on gender or any other factor, but solely on faith in Christ.

It is vitally important for anyone sensing a specific call of God on their life to understand this truth. All believers belong to God’s spiritual priesthood, set apart for God’s purposes and for His glory. In the Kingdom of God women are joint heirs with Christ and as such have been appointed as serving priests on the same basis as men (Rom. 8:17). The right to serve in any capacity to which God calls her is a woman’s inherent entitlement under the New Covenant.

Ordination

The problem area is around the word ‘ordination’. Generally speaking, ordination is acknowledgement that an individual can officially serve in leadership within a Christian denomination. It is recognition that they have undertaken the required educational process and have the desired spiritual attributes to function within that denomination in an official capacity. The dictionary defines it as the act of receiving ‘holy orders’.

Ordination, however, is not known in the New Testament. It is a practice that, like many other church practices, gradually crept in to church life as Christianity grew and increasingly merged with the religious cultures of the world. There is no New Testament evidence that the earliest Christian leaders distinguished themselves from fellow believers either by wearing certain items of clothing or taking such titles  as reverend, bishop, priest, pastor, etc. Some were called apostles, some elders, others deacons, but these were descriptions of recognised function, not titles.

Neither Peter or Paul in their letters introduced themselves as Apostle Paul or Apostle Peter, but as ‘an apostle’, in the same way as they described themselves as servants, or bondslaves (Rom. 1:1; 1 Cor. 1:1; Gal 1:1 ; Titus 1:1; 2 Pet. 1:1)

As Christianity began to embrace the practices of the surrounding world and formalised itself into rankings and heirarchy, a special title and specific clothing became necessary to set apart an individual from other believers and indicate his position in church leadership.

As an example of how Bible translators have sometimes interpreted scripture to support this creation of a priestly class let’s consider the following passage from 1 Timothy 3:1 in the KJV: “This is a true saying, if a man desires the office of a bishop he desireth a good work”.

In the original NT language, the word translated ‘man’ is not gender specific – it is a Greek pronoun meaning ‘whoever’.   ‘Bishop’ is the Greek word ‘episcope’ which means someone who takes general oversight (not a title but a function). And the word ‘office’ is not present in the original Greek at all.

The nearest thing to ordination we find in the New Testament is the ‘laying on of hands’ which is mentioned in relation to the filling of the Holy Spirit and impartation of spiritual gifts (Acts 8:18; Acts 9:17; 1 Tim. 4:14; 2 Tim. 1:6; Heb. 6:2).

In Acts 8 we read about a great outpouring of the Holy Spirit in a city of Samaria during which ‘both men and women were baptised’ in the name of Jesus Christ (Acts 8:12). When Peter and John arrived to witness what was happening, they laid hands on these new believers and they were filled with the Holy Spirit (Acts 8:17). There is no indication at all that the laying on of hands was something reserved only for men in the early church.

Whether denominational ordination is God’s pathway for her is something each woman sensing a calling to ministry must work out prayerfully for herself. However, I firmly believe no Christian woman should ever believe herself disqualified from God’s holy spiritual priesthood on the word of any Christian leader or institution. If God is calling you, you have received your ‘holy orders’ – follow that call, even if it leads outside the walls of your denomination. God has not disqualified you, men have.

Summary

  1. Every Christian woman or girl is a member of God’s appointed priesthood by virtue of being ‘in Christ’, regardless of the rulings of human leaders and their institutions.
  2. Any Christian woman or girl may experience a calling from God and this calling is not Biblically restricted on the basis of her gender. It is restricted only by individual denominational doctrines.
  3. Some Christian women feel their calling to serve God lies within their denomination and therefore seek ordination within their chosen organisation. This decision should be respected, but denominational ordination should not be confused with God’s calling or appointment. God has already appointed women to His priesthood.

The full, equal and unrestricted priesthood of women and girls in Christ cannot be Biblically disputed. What continues to be sadly lacking is the ability and willingness of some Christian institutions to recognise and act on this foundational Biblical truth.

¹Women For The Nations is a good place to start studying if you’re new to this debate.

© 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 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 our 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.

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