By Jenny Needham
Just before the lock-down period started we were lucky enough to have the 'Unlock the Bible' team visit us at Pathways Church, to teach us about the inductive process. We used this to help us study Paul's letter to the Galatians.
The inductive process
Inductive bible study involves looking at what the bible actually says, rather than what we think it says or what we have heard in the past. It involves learning about the historical and cultural background of the book, so we can understand what it would have meant to the people at the time. Once we appreciate what it meant to the intended recipients, it is possible to draw out timeless principles that apply to our lives today.
We decided to put this process into practice and use it to study the book of Galatians, which we have done over the past term. It was quite a challenge doing this with social distancing in place! I am used to teaching the bible, but had to quickly learn how to make videos so that the information could be shared with our cell groups each week. We looked at one chapter each week individually, then shared together in our small groups over Zoom.
"I loved the video teachings and fresh insight into the letter"
I for one, had never used the inductive process to study Galatians before. I am very familiar with some of the passages such as the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5. However, understanding the letter as a whole, and seeing every chapter as a well thought out part of a persuasive argument was eye-opening for me.
Galatians was written early on in church history at a time when the Christians were facing a theological crisis. A group of legalistic Jews known as 'Judaizers' were teaching that the Christians must still keep the law of Moses, and were even insisting that Gentile followers of Christ must be circumcised. Therefore Paul wrote this letter to correct this wrong idea, and to emphasize our freedom in Christ and justification by faith alone.
In my opinion this was a masterpiece of a letter; full of clarity on the subject of grace, but also containing wisdom on maintaining love and unity through the power of the Holy Spirit as they dealt with the controversy.
"Through reading Galatians, for the first time I properly understood why Jesus died for me."
The gospel of grace
Galatians is often thought of as the book of 'grace', because it is the gospel of grace that Paul defends throughout. It will help our understanding if we remember that grace is the power of Christ, and that this power of Christ is within us by his Spirit. In contrast to that, the word 'flesh' refers to our own effort or works (trying to do things in our own power/strength).
Paul asserts that we have been crucified with Christ, and made righteousness through Christ alone by faith. Therefore he concludes in Galatians 5:15 that it actually makes no difference whether we are circumcised or not. (This also applies to anything we might do from human effort or legalism that would seek to add to what Jesus has already done). This truly is a message of freedom if we are able to fully grasp it.
"I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the son of God who died and gave himself up for me." Galatians 2:20
"In my life this has been an ongoing journey. God has continuously led me to deeper revelations of grace over the years, and He has freed me from many burdens. I have discovered that the more I appreciate how much God already loves me and is pleased with me, then the more I am free to be who I was created to be and love others in the process."
Paul's life message
We were also blessed to be able to watch a teaching session by Andy Faulkner on Galatians. Andy reminded us that Paul himself had been the most ardent Jew, keeping every rule and studying the Law conscientiously. Paul knew from personal experience what it was like to realise that everything he had been taught was wrong! This was what it must have been like for the Jews in those days, as they struggled to comprehend how much everything had changed. Paul had left everything behind to follow Jesus, and wasn't going to let anyone drag the church back into the bondage of that old Legalistic system again!
As I read these chapters in context, I understood for the first time that Paul was not exhorting us to try and love one another or act in better character. He was saying that we can only love one another through grace, by the power of the Holy Spirit. It is only by walking in relationship with God day by day that the good fruit of character will develop in our lives.
"I found that this book was all about the grace, faith and truth of the living God. We are not to follow the crowd, but live by the prompting of the Holy Spirit who dwells within each of us. We are to produce fruits as the Holy Spirit lives in us: kindness, gentleness, love, patience and self-control. We are to demonstrate goodness in all our actions."
Going back to the big picture of the controversy they were facing about circumcision: The examples in this letter would have greatly encouraged the Gentiles regarding their inclusion and freedom in Christ. It would have given Scriptural examples for the Jews to use, to help them embrace the good news. It raises the argument to a much greater glorious level. It provides a common ground that both Jews and Gentiles could unite around.
For those of us in the church today, we are usually good at accepting that we have been saved by grace, through faith. However after that is often where the trouble begins. It is so tempting for us to start adding requirements of how we should live, rather than focusing on our relationship with God, from which everything good naturally flows.
The conclusion to this matter in found in Galatians 5:25: "If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit"
We have thoroughly enjoyed reading Galatians at Pathways, and hope that you are inspired to read it too.
Through the reading of Galatians I have been inspired to read more of Paul's letters. I have just started reading Thessalonians this morning."
Here are our Galatians videos for those who are interested. (These were mainly just made for sharing at our small group meetings, but feel free to take a look!! They do improve in quality as the weeks go by!). This is the first video, the rest can be found on the same playlist.
Estelle brought a message at the beginning of July about how seasons naturally change and move on. There is a definite sense that the season is changing at Pathways Church. Here is an encouragement on this subject from Jenny using the illustration of her cat!
Seven lessons I learned from my cat
By Jenny Needham
Our cat as a prophetic sign
We have been under a kind of extra 'lock-down' in our family. Three weeks ago our cat, Bilbo, came home with very badly injured back legs. We rushed him to the vet who stitched him up, bandaged him, and prescribed complete rest. Since then we have been supporting his recovery! A few days ago he was allowed to go outside again for the first time, as shown in the above picture. The Holy Spirit has been impressing upon me that this is a timely prophetic sign for Pathways, that we are indeed to prepare for the next season.
In the UK we have been in lock-down for nearly four months now, and there is a sense that things are slowly easing. Some people have really struggled with the isolation aspect and missed the social times and the hugs. Some people have actually enjoyed having permission to ‘just be at home’. But however we have found the experience, the Holy Spirit is nudging us to look ahead and to get ready to more on: Not to go back to the way we were before or return to an old season, but to embrace a NEW season.
There is an appointed time for everything
Lesson 1. We can pretend everything is OK when it isn't
When Bilbo was first injured he crept in and sat near to where I was working. He was so quiet that I didn’t realise anything was wrong for about half an hour or so. The way he was sitting masked the fact that he was injured, so it was only when he started dragging himself across the kitchen that I realised that something had happened.
We are also very good at pretending that nothing is wrong. We can present a good face to the world and even persuade ourselves that we are fine. Sometimes I think that God allows us to come to the end of ourselves, for our own sake. I don't believe that God sent the virus, but I do think He has worked it into His plan and is bringing good out of it. I think that maybe some of us needed a wake-up call.
And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.
Lesson 2. God is with us
While I was waiting at the veterinary surgery to hear whether we could save Bilbo, I was praying, and I saw a 'picture' in my mind of an angel with two swords guarding him. I felt God whisper the words, ‘no bones will be broken.’ From the severity of his wounds, the vet was convinced that he would have some broken bones, but when they x-rayed him not one single bone was broken, not even in his feet! The vet was totally amazed, and kept repeating, “I can’t believe it!”.
In the same way, we know that we have angels watching over us. However, that doesn’t mean we can always avoid facing difficult situation, but it does give us strength to face the processes that we need to walk through.
For he will order his angels to protect you wherever you go.
Lesson 3. If we won’t rest then sometimes it is enforced upon us
To start with Bilbo had to go in a cage to stop him walking around. The vet was worried that some muscles and tendons had been torn, and said they time needed time to heal properly. Bilbo hated being in the cage, and he actually made his face and forelegs raw trying to get out (see pictures below).
There is a sense with this virus of the world not being allowed to just carry on with ‘business as usual’. Maybe some of us have experienced this personally in the sense of God intervening and telling us to stop and rest. Moreover, for many of us, having had more space to reflect and spend time with God will have helped us to hear His heart for the new season. Maybe as individuals we have been able to reconnect with our destiny.
If we resist God’s purpose through this time and just try and get back in with our lives as before, we may just end up damaging ourselves like Bilbo did. Things will go much better if we are at peace, and embrace the process.
Lesson 4. Times like this can drive us into God’s arms
Bilbo hated his cage and resisted his restrictions, so in the end I mostly carried him with me wherever I went. This reminds me of the well known 'footprints' poem, with the lovely line at the end, “It was there that I carried you.”
I believe that God has been very close during this season, and that it has been a time for pressing in to God. So let us use any free time we still have now to do just that; and let us also maintain that and not let things push out our time with God as we move on.
Lesson 5. We tend to keep going back to old thoughts and ways
After a couple of weeks the vet took his bandages off, and that's where the real trouble started. Bilbo was so desperate to lick his wounds that he made himself bleed again. There was a certain sore patch that he kept going back to, so we had to watch him continuously, and in the end we took shifts to be with him though the night. This actually turned out to be the hardest phase of his recovery.
As we start to move out of lock-down and transition into the new season, this is a potentially dangerous time, so let's be vigilant and not allow the enemy to steal the things God has done in our lives.
Bilbo's injured back legs could also be seen as symbolic of wounds of the past. We have been set free from the past in various ways, but we can keep reopening those wounds by going back to them, and act as if we’re not healed.
It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery.
Lesson 6. Are we ready to move on?
A few days ago, exactly three weeks after his accident, the vet took Bilbo’s stitches out and pronounced that he was well enough to go out. We knew that this was a potential danger time. Would he go straight back and do the same thing again that got him injured in the first place?
I think it will be a real shame if we pass by this opportunity to change. If everything goes back to how it was before lock-down, I think we will have missed something. I think that now is a good time to seek God about what he has for us in the next season, both individually and as a church
Lesson 7. We are so much more valuable!
In Matthew 10:31 we read how Jesus drew attention to some sparrows as an illustration of how well God looked after the birds. Then he reminded his listeners that they were each so much more valuable than any number of sparrows, so they could be confident that God would look after them!
The example of my cat carries a similar heart to this. As we reflect on how Dave and I devoted time and money to saving Bilbo, and how God looked after him too, I invite you to consider how much more valuable we are to God than that! We are so precious that God was prepared to give His own life to save us. He paid the highest possible price, the price of death on a cross. In the same way that we nursed Bilbo back to health, we can be absolutely sure that He will never leave our side.
We have an opportunity through the rest of July and August to take stock of where we are, both individually and as a church.
Video One: SEASONS by Estelle 5th July 2020
Video Two: 7 LESSONS I LEARNED FROM MY CAT by Jenny 19th July 2020