Hidden In Plain Sight

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In April 2014 in this post I wrote:

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

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

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

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

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

© Cheryl McGrath, Bread for the Bride, 2017.  All rights reserved.  Copyright Notice: Permission is granted to freely reproduce any Bread for the Bride articles in emails or internet blogs, unaltered, and providing this copyright notice is included.     To permanently display an article on any static website please contact me for permission.

Unlearning A Perverted Gospel

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

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

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

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

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

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

What got him so stirred up?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How about you?

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

Choose Life!

© Cheryl McGrath, Bread for the Bride, 2017 and beyond.  All rights reserved.  Copyright Notice: Permission is granted to freely reproduce any Bread for the Bride articles in emails or internet blogs, unaltered, and providing this copyright notice is included.     To permanently display an article on any static website please contact me for permission.

So You Want To Be A Lover?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© Cheryl McGrath, Bread for the Bride, 2014, all rights reserved.   Copyright Notice: Permission is granted to freely reproduce any Bread for the Bride articles in emails or internet blogs, unaltered, and providing this copyright notice is included.     To permanently display an article on any static website please contact me for permission.

The Magnificent Pursuit

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

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

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

Let the pursuit begin. 


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You see, it’s all about the walking.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Choose Life!

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

I fled Him, down the arches of the years;

I fled Him, down the labyrinthine ways

Of my own mind; and in the midst of tears

I hid from Him, and under running laughter…

From those strong Feet that followed, followed after….

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

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

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.

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.

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

wedding favors and wedding ring on on colored background

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.