Bride-Atude Nine: The Faithful Witnesses

Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for my sake.    

In China we are imprisoned and tortured; in Egypt we are denied justice; in Nigeria we are regularly gunned down or burned to death; in Myanmar we are used as slaves by the military; in North Korea we are subjected to medical experimentation; in Gaza we are kidnapped and forcefully converted to Islam; in Somalia we are beheaded.  These are just a handful of examples of Christian persecution worldwide that are happening, now, daily, in our own times.  Why do I use the word ‘we’ rather than ‘they’?  Because when Jesus spoke these words He used ‘you’ in the plural sense; He spoke to us as His Body, members of one another who rejoice as one and suffer as one. 

Western countries are not immune from persecution. The time is here when Christians are indeed being falsely accused of ‘all kinds of evil’, prosecuted, and denied basic rights, on an unprecedented scale, all for Christ’s sake.  In many democratic countries Christians can be prosecuted for expressing a politically incorrect opinion, wearing a cross in the workplace, praying publically or sharing the gospel. 

Following Christ fully and wholeheartedly is no easy thing in these tumultuous days.  Any one of us may at some time be called on to suffer persecution for His sake.  

Uh oh, did I just use the word ‘suffer’?   

OK, I confess.  I’m one of those believers who actually does believe Jesus meant it when He said ‘whoever does not bear His cross and come after me cannot be my disciple’ (Luke 14:27).  I’m certainly not out to glorify suffering, nor do I believe we should deliberately seek it out.  But have you ever asked yourself what this means: 

So they departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for His name. Acts 5:41 

Or this: 

Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ (Phl. 3:8) 

In choosing to follow Christ we have chosen to identify with His Cross. The truth is you can’t have Jesus without His Cross, it’s a package deal.  But the Cross is multi-faceted.   

On the one hand the Cross is absolutely, profoundly, eternally victorious.  Christ’s Cross represents total and irreversible victory over sin, death, failure, the flesh, and every evil that can be named.  It stands alone, unsurpassed in history as much more than an historical event or a moral example.  Its supernatural power to redeem and restore humanity is unconfined by time, reaching into eternity past, eternity present and eternity to come.  Nothing can ever come near or erase the victory available to us in the Cross.  

On the other hand, the Cross also represents fellowship between the Bride and her Beloved of the very deepest kind.  It is a very precious and unequalled privilege to encounter Christ in the ‘fellowship of His sufferings’ (Phl. 3:10). Until you have met with Him there you have not fully known Him.   The emphasis here is not on sufferings, but on fellowship. Perhaps this is why the apostles rejoiced at being ‘counted worthy’ to suffer for the sake of Christ.  I think they knew something many Christians today do not…..at least not yet.   

Jesus obviously shared the same opinion about suffering persecution for His sake as the early church, because He concluded this blessing by saying: 

Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.  (Mat. 5:12). 

Exceedingly glad? Really?  I think some of us may need a little help with that ‘exceedingly’ part Lord!   

Which spiritual fruit is birthed in the Bride when we are persecuted for His sake?  The fruit is faithfulness.  Some Bible versions use the word ‘faith’ rather than ‘faithfulness’ in Galatians 5:22, but both words are different translations of the one Greek word, ‘pistis’.  What’s important to understand is faith is conviction and faithfulness is the character of one who holds convicting faith.  Convicting faith is deeper than a set of beliefs.  People do not endure suffering or death for a mere belief. They do for a deeply held conviction. 

The primary calling of the Bride of Christ on the earth is probably not what you thought.  It’s not going to church or reading the Bible; it’s not even helping the poor, ‘church planting’ or evangelism. The Bride’s over-riding call on this earth is this:  to be the faithful, living, perpetual witness of Christ’s resurrection before the supernatural principalities and powers.  Paul, who was somewhat of an expert on persecution, called it a mystery.  Check it out in Ephesians 3:8-1: 

Though I am the least deserving of all God’s people, he graciously gave me the privilege of telling the Gentiles about the endless treasures available to them in Christ. I was chosen to explain to everyone this mysterious plan that God, the Creator of all things, had kept secret from the beginning. God’s purpose in all this was to use the church to display his wisdom in its rich variety to all the unseen rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. This was his eternal plan, which he carried out through Christ Jesus our Lord. (New Living Translation) 

Is it any wonder they like to kill us?

“Salvation is free, … but discipleship will cost you your life.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer

 ©Cheryl McGrath, Bread for the Bride, 2012

Bride-Atude Eight: The Light Keepers

Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven…   

We have a habit of associating persecution only with ‘non-Christian’ countries and oppressive regimes. Especially in democratic societies we tend automatically to think that persecution belongs to a world we don’t really know.   The idea that we may also be among those Jesus was addressing in this statement seldom occurs to us. 

But consider this:  any time someone has mocked your belief in Christ, any time you were rejected because you weren’t ‘cool’ enough to participate in actions that jarred your conscience, any time you suffered unjust criticism for taking a stand for Biblical truth, you were persecuted for righteousness’ sake.  Persecution doesn’t have to be about violence and imprisonment.  Persecution can be subtle and covert as well as obvious and life-threatening.  Persecution for the sake of righteousness will definitely come in some form to all who sincerely set out to follow Christ, no matter where we live in the world: Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution. 2 Tim. 3:12 

When we look at the life of Jesus, however, it becomes obvious that persecution because of righteousness will more often than not come from the self-proclaimed ‘righteous’.  It was man-made, man-controlled, man-centred religion that persecuted Jesus far more than unbelievers or the civic authority.  It was scripture-wielding, theologically educated, law-keeping religious leaders who: 

Slandered Him (Matt. 9:34)

Complained about Him (Luke 15:2)

Plotted against Him (Mark 3:6)

Tried to trick Him (John 8:3)

Spied on Him (Luke 6:7)

Tested Him (Matt. 19:3)

Accused Him (Luke 11:53, 54)

Mocked Him (Luke 16:14)

Sought to control Him (Luke 19:39)

Sought to stone Him (John 8:59)

And finally rejected Him (John 11:53) 

Hmmm….seems it can be dangerous to stand for righteousness, especially among the so-called ‘righteous’.   

The point? Don’t confuse righteousness with religion; don’t confuse the Kingdom with your local church or your family’s denomination.  The traditions of men will not save your soul or negate your need for a Saviour.  God doesn’t care two figs for your religious pedigree, He cares about righteousness.  And if we learn anything at all from the gospels it’s that righteousness and man-controlled religion (“Christianity” included) are at war, and it’s a war to the death.   

One thing is certain.  We can’t live in Christ-righteousness and live in dead, legalistic religion at the same time.  Sooner or later we will have to choose and if we choose righteousness we may very well find ourselves on the receiving end of some very ‘devout’ but hateful persecution.   

To be able to stand for Christ in the midst of persecution produces the fruit of self-control in the Bride.  God has ordained it that trials and tribulations serve only to refine her, not destroy her.  Self-control is about responding rather than reacting.  The Bride’s thoughts and actions are a response to the Bridegroom in the realm of the Spirit, not a self-focused reaction to the circumstances around her in this world. 

The Bride is the light-filled city set on a hill. In the radiance of her light darkness is revealed as nothing more than false light.  The Bridal company presently being raised up will, by their righteous nature, reveal all false righteousness in the world and in the church.  That which is not of Christ will be uncovered for the deceptive counterfeit that it truly is and so will persecute the Bride ‘for righteousness’ sake’ (Matt. 13:43).

 …..that you may become blameless and harmless, children of God without fault in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, Phl. 2:15.   

Final Bride-Atude coming soon!

 ©Cheryl McGrath, Bread for the Bride, 2012

Bride-Atude Seven: The Good Will Ambassadors

Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called the sons of God 

Somewhere in eternity there is a garden.  In that garden humankind was created and co-existed in peace with the Creator. Then catastrophe struck.  Man rejected God and the peace between them was shattered.  No longer could they peacefully co-exist with God so Adam and Eve left the garden to dwell elsewhere.  But the consequences of the un-peace had only just begun.  Next, man subjugated woman; then one of their children, Cain, grew envious of his brother Abel and killed him, resulting in the first violent shedding of human blood on the earth.   

Through following generations, the un-peace spread like an unstoppable plague.  Man against earth, men against women, brother against brother, children against parents, clan against clan, tribe against tribe, race against race, Jew against Gentile, nation against nation, alliance against alliance.   

But God had a plan, and at the appointed time He sent angels into the clear skies over Bethlehem to announce His peace treaty to humanity:   

“Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!”  they proclaimed in joyful song over the earth (Luke 2:14).   

At the same God-appointed time, a Prince of Peace made His humble entry into the world.  The Prince grew to manhood and established His Kingdom of Peace on the earth.  But by this time man had learned that un-peace can be profitable on many levels, so the Prince of Peace was killed by those who benefit from the absence of peace.  However, the Prince also had a plan.  Before dying, He sealed the peace treaty with His own Blood as guarantee of God’s good will; then He committed the completion of His peace mission to a people who had abandoned their earthly heritage and joined His Kingdom.  And to them He gave a unique and peculiar mission, which He called the ministry of reconciliation:   

Now all things are of God, who has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation, that is, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them, and has committed to us the word of reconciliation. 2 Cor. 5:18, 19 

And so it is we find ourselves in a world devoid of peace.  Rumours of peace break out almost as often as rumours of war, but peace when it is found is not easily maintained and usually short-lived.  Peace treaties are rarely worth the paper they are written on these days.  The un-peace still dominates humankind and impacts humanity at all levels, from family life to workplace to ethnicity and international relationships.   

Within the collective soul of humankind there remains a dream-like yearning for the peace we knew in that long ago garden but despite all our strivings to regain it we drift further from it with each passing day.  Un-peace is now our normal state.  This un-peace is the outcome of sin, not necessarily yours or my individual sins, but the sinful condition of humanity as a whole.   

The truth is that there is only one path to peace among men, and that is through peace with God.  The good news is that there is hope and the bearers of that hope are the emissaries of the peaceful Kingdom established by the Prince of Peace.  These are the true peacemakers on the earth, carrying the message that God has offered peace to man and His attitude is one of goodwill towards all humanity.   The Prince of Peace came to ‘guide our feet into the way of peace’ (Luke 1:79) and has sent His goodwill ambassadors into all corners of the earth that men, women and children should know true peace: 

And how shall they preach unless they are sent? As it is written: “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the gospel of peace, who bring glad tidings of good things!” (Rom. 10:15) 

The better news is that this same Prince of Peace is even now planning His return to expand and oversee the rule of His peaceful Kingdom on the earth.  Then and only then can all humanity once again dwell in peace.  

The fruit of this Kingdom peace in the Bridal company is, of course, peace:   the peace she carries from God to mankind. The peace-making Bride bears the message that the Bridegroom has already broken down every wall of separation, the greatest of which is between God and man, and she herself is both the good-news bearer and the living evidence. 

The Bride of Christ walks among warring humanity with the peace treaty written in her heart and the key in hand to reconcile every man, woman and child first to God our Father and then to one another.  All creation groans for the unveiling of these children of God (Rom. 8:19).  You will know her by her fearless message of hope, for peace is simply the absence of fear. 

For it pleased the Father that in Him all the fullness should dwell, and by Him to reconcile all things to Himself, by Him, whether things on earth or things in heaven, having made peace through the blood of His cross. Colossians 1:20 

Another Bride-Atude coming soon! 

Cheryl McGrath, Bread for the Bride, 2012 

Related Articles:

Bride-Atude One, The Joyful Poor

Bride-Atude Two, The Passionate Mourners

Bride-Atude Three, The Mighty Meek

Bride-Atude Four, The Dove-Eyed Lovers

Bride-Atude Five, The Blood-Soaked Mercy Bearers

Bride-Atude Six, The Greatest in the Kingdom

Bride-Atude Six: The Greatest in the Kingdom

Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God

A pure heart is an innocent heart.  Not innocent in regard to sin, but innocent in regard to having nothing to hide.  Hidden agendas and self-centred manipulation of others are unfamiliar to the pure in heart.  A pure heart is transparent.  A pure heart reflects truth.  The pure in heart do no harm and intend no evil. 

The Lord hides His ‘pure in heart’ Bride in some unexpected places.  I am close to someone who throughout his life has experienced more than his fair share of illness and suffering. As a result he struggles daily with rejection, misunderstanding and social isolation.  Like the rest of us, he is far from perfect.  Yet he is one of the most unassuming and transparent people I have ever known.  He is unaware of it, but the unconditional love of God can literally beam out of him warming hearts like sunburst on a rainy day.

God creates these pure, transparent, hearts of gold through a process of refinement.  “I counsel you to buy from Me gold refined in the fire that you may be rich…..” He says to His church (Rev. 3:18). In other words, He offers us a refinement that is costly but well worth the price.

Gold as it is found in nature is unrefined and impure.  During the refinement process the raw gold is placed in a furnace and mixed with other materials that cause the impurities to rise to the surface so they can be removed. The purest gold, 24 karat, is also the most malleable and easily yielding gold.

The symbolic connection between purity and heat doesn’t stop there.  Jesus taught that “everyone will be seasoned with fire, and every sacrifice will be seasoned with salt” (Mark 9:49).  He was using a metaphor clearly understood by His hearers. In Hebrew custom, according to Levitical law, every religious sacrifice was sprinkled with salt before being offered to the Lord (Lev. 2:13).  Salt was a purifying agent. Jesus was stating His disciples would be purified (seasoned) through refining fire in a similar way that the temple sacrifices were purified with salt.  I am not talking here about salvation or purification from sin.  This is about leaving behind our old ways and learning how to walk truthfully and transparently before God and each other.

Through the refining process a Bride emerges who is blameless as a dove, yet wise enough to deal with serpents (Matt. 10:16). We speak of the Bride being ‘without spot or wrinkle”, in other words flawless in her innocent beauty of character. When the apostle John was shown a vision of the Lamb’s Wife, the new Jerusalem, he saw in her a street of pure, unblemished, transparent gold (Rev. 21:21b).  

The pure in heart “see” God because they have learned to become like little children in their response to Him.  They have discovered they have a Father and His Name is Love.   

At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Who then is greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”  Then Jesus called a little child to Him, set him in the midst of them, and said, “Assuredly, I say to you, unless you are converted and become as little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore whoever humbles himself as this little child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. ( Mat. 18:1-4) 

It is wise not to resist the refining process.  The fruit of it is pure, uncontaminated ‘agape’ love. This is the same selfless, sacrificial, unconditional love the Father, Son and Holy Spirit share freely with each other.   

Look for the pure in heart Bride smiling back at you among those who don’t quite ‘fit in’ to mainstream society.  You may be delightfully surprised! 

Could we with ink the ocean fill,
And were the skies of parchment made,
Were every stalk on earth a quill,
And every man a scribe by trade;
To write the love of God above
Would drain the ocean dry;
Nor could the scroll contain the whole,
Though stretched from sky to sky.

This verse was pencilled on the wall of a narrow room in an insane asylum by a man said to have been demented. The profound lines were discovered when they laid him in his coffin”.

Thanks to David at Rough Hewn Ministries for the above quote.

Stay tuned for another Bride-Atude soon! 

©Cheryl McGrath, Bread for the Bride, 2012

Related Articles:

Bride-Atude One: The Joyful Poor

Bride-Atude Two: The Passionate Mourners

Bride-Atude Three: The Mighty Meek

Bride-Atude Four: The Dove Eyed Lovers

Bride-Atude Five: The Blood Soaked Mercy Bearers

Bride-Atude Five: The Blood Soaked Mercy Bearers

Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy

The greatest act of mercy in human history took place on a crude Roman cross at Golgotha when God the Mercy Bearer was denied mercy by those who needed it most. 

“Go and learn what this means”, said Jesus to the Pharisees:  “I desire mercy and not sacrifice”  (Matt. 9:13).   Why?  Because the sacrifice has been fulfilled once and for all.  The Lamb of God was sacrificed on our behalf as a once only historical event to which nothing can be added or removed.  Any activity believers undertake in an effort to earn holiness is an offence to the all-sufficient Blood of Christ and the finished work of the Cross. 

Mercy, on the other hand, is an ongoing event.  Every true act of mercy contributes to the continually unfolding revelation that God is abundantly merciful. Through no co-incidence it was on the Mercy Seat that the sacrificial, atoning blood was sprinkled before God by the Old Testament High Priest (Lev. 16:15).  But that was only an earthly shadow of our present Heavenly reality.  The Blood of Christ has eternally secured the mercy of God for all who take God at His word and believe.   The Blood speaks of mercy, and mercy points to the Blood.  The mercy-bearing Bride who understands this enters boldly, unashamedly, into the very presence of God obtaining mercy wherever, whenever it is needed (Heb. 4:16).  Our Father delights in mercy! 

The world is desperately in need of mercy-bearers. For too many the world is a cruel and merciless place, offering condemnation instead of compassion, injustice instead of justice, discrimination instead of equity.  Of all people on earth, those who belong to Christ are the most perfectly equipped to sow mercy among mankind.  The merciful Bride constantly bears witness that she loves and serves a merciful God. The false bride, fleshly religion, demands continuing sacrifices devoid of mercy.  The true Bride of Christ,  however, sows mercy abundantly and from her merciful heart brings forth the fruit of kindness.   

This Spirit-birthed kindness can only come from one who has known unmerited mercy.  Have you ever noticed that in the world, kindness is shown according to how ‘deserving’  someone is judged to be?   In the Kingdom, however, kindness is not about the recipient’s worthiness;  it’s about the giver’s character. God does not show kindness based on whether it’s deserved; He is kind because that’s simply who He is.   He “makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.”   This too is the heart of the mercy bearing Bride.

More Bride-Atudes coming soon! 

©Cheryl McGrath, Bread for the Bride, 2012 

Bride-Atude Four: The Dove Eyed Lovers

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness for they shall be filled.  

How do you add water to a river in flood? How do you add righteousness to unlimited righteousness? Answer:  you don’t.  The point being that in this statement Jesus wasn’t encouraging us to try to  increase in righteousness through our own efforts.  His shed Blood declares us holy and nothing we can do can add to or improve what has already been fully supplied for us.  Hungering and thirsting for righteousness therefore has nothing to do with the religious observance of rules, Old Testament laws, or denominational traditions.   

For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him. 2 Cor. 5:21 

So what’s it all about? 

Righteousness is foundational to God’s own character (Ps. 89:14).  In the same way  a river runs to the sea and becomes absorbed in its greater being, this hungry, thirsty Bride fervently desires to be lost in God.  This is not desiring to be like God, nor asking ‘what would Jesus do?”.  It is instead to be so thoroughly consumed with Christ, who is called the Righteous (1 John 2:1), that our greatest desire is to become emptied so God can fill us with His Son.   

And Jesus said unto them, I am the bread of life: he that cometh to me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on me shall never thirst. John 6:35 

This is the Bride with dove’s eyes (SOS. 1:15).  Doves are single-eyed;  whatever they focus on has their full and undivided attention.  This is the Bride who is no longer being distracted by the world or controlled by events around her because she has  glimpsed the Bridegroom and He has captured her heart.  Her will is becoming lost in His will, her life absorbed into His Life.  She has become single eyed.   

The fruit of this Bridegroom/Bride communion is goodness, but not the world’s idea of goodness.  Goodness as the world defines it is based on charitable works and “good” deeds that society deems worthy, usually rewarded with some form of acknowledgement or recognition.  But Kingdom goodness is powered by Christ’s own righteousness flowing out through laid down, hungry, thirsty, surrendered vessels.   

As for me, I will see Your face in righteousness; I shall be satisfied when I awake in Your likeness.Ps. 17:15

Stay tuned for more Bride-Atudes!

 © Cheryl McGrath, Bread for the Bride, 2012

 

Bride-Atude Three: The Mighty Meek

Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.

“God helps those who help themselves”  the world screams at us. Success belongs to the aggressive and the assertive.  Admiration is for those who go after what they want at any cost.   

Not surprisingly, success in the Kingdom looks somewhat different.

The King of Kings walked meekly among men such that He would not even break a bent reed or quench a dying flame (Matt. 11:29; 12:20; 21:5).  The Son of God had no need to prove Himself, His authority or His credentials.   His voice was not heard crying out in the streets to draw attention or collect more followers.  The meek Bride marches to the same drum, happiest when going about her Father’s business unhindered and unknown. She just doesn’t crave the limelight, and because of this God bestows on her the real mark of success: His trust.   

But meek ain’t weak; quite the opposite in fact.  The meek are actually incredibly strong in character.   Meekness goes hand in hand with humility and both are highly esteemed by God.   

Moses is a good example of the combination of meekness and humility and in his day was called the most humble man on earth (Num. 12:3).  Moses wouldn’t even get to first interview stage for leadership in the majority of our churches or business organizations today.  Just the fact that he spoke with a stammer would likely be enough to disqualify him from serious consideration (Ex. 4:10).   Yet God chose Moses to lead His people at a most crucial time in their history because of his meekness.  Moses, armed only with his stammer and his shepherd’s rod, was endorsed by God before all the elders of Israel and the mighty Egyptian Pharaoh (Exodus chapters 4 –14).  And it was Moses who was summoned into the manifest Presence of God (Ex. 19:3).   

We can discern the meek among us by their willingness to say their piece, do their thing, and then disappear back into the crowd unrecognized and unrewarded. 

God is comfortable around the meek because they’re not contending for His glory.  Consequently He blesses them with tremendous authority in the spiritual realm.  We will not appreciate the full value of all the meek have achieved here on earth until we reach Heaven.  They are the quiet achievers of the Kingdom. 

And out of this strong meekness comes, wait for it….the fruit of gentleness.  The meek can afford to be gentle because they know who they are.  And they’re more likely to hitch a ride on a gentle donkey than in the back seat of a chauffeur driven limousine (Mark 21:5).  

More Bride-Atudes to come!

©Cheryl McGrath, Bread for the Bride, 2012