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:  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.

 

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.

Related Article: And The Bride Wore…Scars?

About Those Heavenly Places…..

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© Cheryl McGrath, Bread for the Bride, 2016   Copyright Notice: Permission is granted to freely reproduce any Bread for the Bride articles in emails or internet blogs, unaltered, and providing this copyright notice is included.     To permanently display an article on any static website please contact me for permission.

Until Christ Is Formed

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Travail.

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

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

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

Gal. 4:19 KJV

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© Cheryl McGrath, Bread for the Bride, 2016. Copyright Notice: Permission is granted to freely reproduce any Bread for the Bride articles in emails or internet blogs, unaltered, and providing this copyright notice is included.     To permanently display an article on any static website please contact me for permission.

From The Archives: Of His Flesh and Of His Bones: A Mystery

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One of the things I like about some more historic versions of the Bible is their poetic language. I know not everyone will agree and some struggle to understand the older translations, so this is purely an individual observation. Modern language translations and paraphrases also have an important place and personally I enjoy consulting a variety of Bible versions, old and new, to catch the full panorama of what the writers were trying to convey.

A certain phrase that always draws me in the New King James Version is found in Ephesians 5:30, describing our mysterious relationship with Christ as our Bridegroom:

‘For we are members of His body, of His flesh, and of His bones.’

In many more recent Bible versions this phrase has been omitted on the grounds it doesn’t appear in some of the oldest manuscripts. I’ll leave the ongoing ‘fors’ and ‘againsts’ for its inclusion in Ephesians to the translators, while still choosing to meditate on the beautiful implications of the words in revealing the depths of Christ’s passion for us. (For a list of some Bible versions that do include this phrase see my footnote at the end.)

In the preceding verses Paul is writing to the church primarily about relationships, with God and with others. He begins to speak about the marriage relationship and in the middle of his statements seems to catch hold of a revelation of Christ and His Bride. (Now I’m not going to divert into the varied viewpoints on Christian marriage in this post, but in case you’re interested in that topic you may find this useful.)

The phrase Paul uses to convey his revelation takes us back to Genesis 2:23 and Adam’s announcement: ‘This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called woman because she was taken out of man.’ The first bride, Ishshah (woman), was formed by God from the very physical substance of the first man. (Ishshah was not called Eve until after the Fall.) She was not a separate creation to the man, as many believe. The Hebrew word used to describe her formation by God is ‘banah’, meaning to build, rebuild or establish, and implies a continuation of something already begun (Gen. 2:22). It is not the same word used for humanity’s creation in Genesis 2:7, which is ‘yatsar’.

An enduring truth we learn from the New Testament is that God reveals spiritual revelations first through natural circumstances (1 Cor. 15:46). Jesus is the second Man and the last Adam (1 Cor 15:45-47). Just as the first bride was formed of natural substance from the opened side of the first Adam, so was Christ’s Bride brought forth from His spiritual substance when blood and water flowed from His pierced side at Calvary (John 19:34).

Genetically you can’t get any closer to a person than being their flesh and blood. In using the phrase ‘of His flesh and of His bones’ I believe Paul wanted to bring the church to the realisation that Jesus looks on His Bride not as separate to Himself but as an essential part of Himself, more intimately connected to Him than anything else in all of creation.

Genesis 2 continues: ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh’ (v.24). This blueprint for human marriage, which is an imperfect shadow of Christ and His Bride, was reaffirmed by Jesus under questioning from the Pharisees in Matthew 19:3-6.

The perfect ‘one flesh’ unity experienced by the first man and woman is something that was lost to humanity at the Fall. Between them there was no shame, fear, contention, suspicion, envy, or striving to control or rule the other – just a wondrous sense of being ‘one flesh’ in everything. The flesh referred to here is more than just a physical union. The Biblical concept of flesh encompasses the entire earthly nature of man: body and soul, which includes our minds, emotions, wills and thought lives. The very essence of the man, the physical framework as well as the ability to function as a fully individual, intelligent personality, was the material with which the newly fashioned woman was formed. Her breath of life, the spirit, however, was from God (Gen. 2:7). And this ‘new creation’ of womankind had been there, hidden inside the male, from the beginning (Gen. 1:27)

It is not the first Adam and his bride that I want to focus on in this post, but reviewing some of the events in Eden is helpful in understanding our own role as Christ’s Bride. The story of Adam and his bride Ishshah is only a foreshadowing of the more perfect and wondrous oneness that Jesus intends to establish between Himself and His perfected Bride.

Jesus, as the last Adam, left “His father and His mother” – God. (And yes, God is both Father and Mother in the sense that He encompasses what we ourselves have neatly divided into male and female qualities). Jesus, like the first Adam, experienced a deep sleep in the tomb and while His human body slept God was busy building another body: the spiritual Body of Christ we call the church. God specialises in bringing form out of chaos. Amid all the confusion, fear and despair of those hours between the death and resurrection of Christ, the young church, having come forth from the opened wound on His side, was being formed.

Jesus came not only to offer salvation but to ‘be joined to His wife’. This phrase “be joined” does not accurately convey, in the English, the true depth of its ancient meaning. It means to be stuck together like glue, cemented, or to be fastened to one another as two oxen were yoked with the same yoke. Perhaps this is what Jesus had in mind when He told us His yoke was easy (Matt. 11:29-30).

‘This is bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh’, proclaimed Adam. But in Christ, the last Adam, the order has been reversed: we are of His flesh and of His bones. Bearing in mind that the natural comes before the spiritual, in the first Adam’s statement bone came before flesh. Bones are the rigid inner structure of the body, representing the Old Covenant with its inflexible framework of law inscribed on hard and impersonal stone tablets. The flesh nature, the part of us that houses the heart and the individual personality, characteristics and disposition, is mentioned second, symbolizing the New Covenant relationship of grace instituted by the second Adam, Christ. The law of the Spirit is now written on our fleshly hearts and fulfilled in us by Christ Himself. That is why in Christ, the order has been reversed and we have become ‘of His flesh and of His bones’.

This ‘flesh and bone’ Bride was hidden in Christ from before the foundation of the world (Matt. 25:24; Eph. 1:4), even before the creation of Adam and Ishshah.   She is being made ‘one flesh’ with Him, not through natural means but through His Spirit. We acknowledge this every time we partake of the bread and wine that symbolically represent our Bridegroom’s flesh.

The place Christ has reserved for His Bride could not be any closer or any more intimately connected to Him. He has prepared her a royal table and calls her to sit with Him there, even in the thwarted presence of her defeated spiritual enemies. At that table He pours out His Spirit abundantly upon her, in an unending anointing of His own divine essence. He clothes her richly in His own righteousness and gracious mercy, and provides her a dwelling place with Him into an eternity which God has ordained they will cohabit (Psalm 23:5-6).   Once and for all, two shall be one, not in the flesh, but in the Spirit.

Yes, it is a mystery, but a glorious mystery being unfolded in and upon us, even now. Selah!

Footnote: King James Version, New King James Version, 21st Century King James Version, Youngs Literal Translation, Wycliffe Bible, World English Bible, Jubilee Bible, International Standard Version, Geneva Bible, Darby Translation

© Cheryl McGrath, Bread for the Bride, 2014   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.