Saturday, May 28, 2011

Touching Base! Part 127


(This article can also we found on our website at
http://www.bethelkingston.comunder the tab called "Blog")

This Touching Base is a useful tool for small group discussion, personal reflection or in a one-on-one conversation. We believe that if the Sunday teaching is discussed outside of the morning services, it will be an opportunity to go deeper and build healthy community because God's Word needs to be discussed in community.

Imagine these two pictures:
  • The first picture is of a person working hard to keep their balance as they walk across a tightrope.
  • The second picture is that of a beautiful path, framed in by lush green trees
Now ask yourself the question, which one does your walk with God more resemble these days?

Where is it that you experience the most growth in your walk with God? We all could probably make long lists under each picture - wide path experiences where God’s ways were sweet, tightrope experiences where following God’s ways make us sweat. The walk of faith is not always easy is it?

This past Sunday we talked about these two pictures, and how they represent some of the tension we experience in following Christ.

Text: Galatians 4:21-31
The question that is raised in our text (v.21) should be fairly straightforward to answer if you have been tracking with us through Galatians. Short and simple, the answer is: the law does not save anyone, and it doesn’t matter if you are Jewish, God has no grandchildren. Faith in Christ is accessible to all people and is the determining factor of whether you are God’s kid, PERIOD.

However in answering that question again in v.21-31, Paul reveals three tensions we will live with as we seek to follow in God’s superior ways.

1. “I cannot do this”( corresponding to the tightrope) vs. “ I can do this” (corresponding to the path) v21-23

Ever been in a situation where what God has called you to do, or be, is impossible, and you feel like saying (or actually say) “ I cannot do this!” Our text gives us a historical example of a current day tension we live with at times in following God.

Most of us know this story. God makes a promise to Abraham that he will be the father of a great nation, and have many descendants. The only problem is, as Hebrews 11:12 tells us, he is as good as dead, a real blow to his manhood. 75 is an old age to start having kids. On top of that Sarah has been barren. This certainly seems like a “I cannot do this” kind of scenario. That is exactly what Sarah and Abraham said and they went for the other option, “I can do this”. which was for Abraham to have sexual relations with Hagar. This was culturally acceptable and a normal way of overcoming barrenness. Not sure it did much for the marriage though.

Note in this section of Scripture how these two ways are referred to. There is ordinary way - that is according to the flesh or nature - what is normal, acceptable, or common. Then there is the “unordinary” way - a result of a promise. In other words, in a way that is unusual.

The tension and temptation Abraham and Sarah experienced is exactly what we are often confronted with in following God.

Interesting point

The superheroes of the Jewish faith had fallen into the same temptation the Judaizers and Gentiles had fallen into.

The religion of Ishmael is a religion of nature, of what man can do by himself without any special intervention of God – law-keeping (“I can do this”). The cross is not necessary or at least not sufficient. “I can help God out by improving on his work - I will add the Mosaic law to the equation of salvation.” “I’ll take things into my own hands.” “ I will help God be more efficient.” Interesting that Islam comes out of the line of Ishmael. As I understand it, Islam does not understand the grace of God.

Isaac -this is a religion of grace, of what God has done and does, a religion of divine initiative and divine intervention, for Isaac was born supernaturally through divine promise - this is a place of total dependence.

Questions to ponder

Have you stepped outside of God’s plan because you thought you had a better one?
Is there a step you are failing to take, an action you’re failing to follow through with, an issue you’re not dealing with because you are saying “I cannot do this”?
Do you feel like your faith walk has stalled because you have set up a barrier with the words- “I cannot do this”

Here is the next tension we live with as we follow God.

2. “ This makes no sense” (Tightrope) vs. “ “This makes sense” (path) v24-27

Read Isaiah 55:8,9; Proverbs 3:5-7

Many scholars believe that Paul is allegorizing this section because that is what his counterparts are doing. So he uses their form of logic to prove them wrong. Essentially in this section he is saying that Hagar represents a way of relating to God out of the law - the result is slavery. The Law does not allow someone to earn God’s grace. Mount Sinai is where the law was given through Moses. Note in v.25 this all corresponds to Jerusalem, the capital city of Israel, from which the Judaizers came. Paul is saying that the Jews may think they are excelling and pleasing God because they are law keepers and because they are Jewish, but in actual fact they are not, they are slaves. They are stuck in man-made religion, man’s logic and reasoning. In other words, they were following the path that said “This makes sense.” They are guilty of exactly what Sarah and Abraham were guilty of. Many Jews had said that Hagar represented the Gentiles – outsiders - now Paul turns the tables and says that Hagar actually represents them- they are outsiders.

But notice there is another way of thinking and living –v.26- the new Jerusalem which is above. It reflects not the thinking of man- the Jerusalem on earth but the thinking and ways of God- a new covenant - grace, freedom – the teachings of Jesus.

Can you imagine what the Judaizers were thinking “Paul is crazy”. He is not crazy but is demonstrating the crazy love of Jesus that, to these Judaizers, was outside their box, paradigm, and categories. They insisted on sticking to categories they were used to, familiar with - man made religion. Paul is saying that 0when you live that way, you are slaves - stuck.

While much of Christianity can appeal to logic and reason, there are certain steps in the Christian life we will never take, places we will never go, and heights we will never attain unless we submit our logic to God’s higher ways. At times God will ask us to go in the direction of “This makes no sense”

Questions to ponder

Do you agree that there will be times God will call us to obedience and our logic will resist the wisdom of God?
Do you agree that while much about faith does make sense- there is an aspect of faith that is beyond reason?
Have you ever faltered, got stuck, because your head wouldn’t let your heart take the next step in obedience to God’s word?
Have you ever in your Christian experience been surprised how God went about doing His work?

Here is the final tension of this text regarding following God.

3. Mockery (Tightrope) vs. Applause (The Path) vs. 28-31

Choosing to follow God and accept His grace can lead to being persecuted. Note (v.28) in this text that those who have faith in Christ (brothers are Gentiles who have placed their faith in Christ 3:26) - not the right genes - are like Isaac and are children of promise. In other words, you might be able to say Abraham is your father but without the right mother, Sarah (symbolic of the promise) you are not a child of God.

Just like in the original story when Ishmael mocked Isaac, so today the same happens. Paul is clear on what needs to happen. We need to oppose such teaching and be prepared to be attacked.

The reality is that sometimes God will call us to walk a path, head in a direction where all we will get is persecution. Mocked or laughed at. Ostracized, excluded. It might not be because of the exact same issue as in this text- grace vs law but other issues.

Questions to Ponder
Who is the laughing, mocking voice that belittles your faith?
What acts of obedience in your life might bring the mockery, laughter of others? i.e. Choosing to wait- sexual purity, choosing to forgive, choosing to be honest, choosing to.....

If interested in joining or starting a small group contact

There is no evidence that the verse Paul now quotes (Isa 54:1) was ever associated with the story of Hagar and Sarah and their children; nevertheless, it is highly appropriate. The verse is a prophecy of Jerusalem's restoration following the years of Babylonian captivity and involves the thought that the blessing of the latter years will be greater than that enjoyed formerly. The pre-exilic Jerusalem and the post-exilic Jerusalem correspond, then, to Paul's distinction between the earthly and heavenly Jerusalems and the promise itself to the blessings of God to Israel under the old covenant as contrasted with the greater blessings to the church under the new covenant. The one element common to these verses is the supernatural intervention of God in order to establish Christianity. The new element is the suggestion, soon to be fulfilled, that the numbers of Christians will outnumber those within Judaism.

(Resource: The Expositors Bible Commentary) - Commentary on v.27

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Touching Base! Part 126

The Cost of Love can be Grief

(This article can also we found on our website
at under the tab called "Blog")

This Touching Base is a useful tool for small group discussion, personal reflection or in a one-on-one conversation. We believe that if the Sunday teaching is discussed outside of the morning services, it will be an opportunity to go deeper and build healthy community because God's Word needs to be discussed in community.

When we choose to love we choose to get hurt.

How true does this statement feel for you? Do you even agree with what it is saying? If you are discussing this TB in a small group, take a few moments to talk about this statement.

Text: Galatians 4:1-20
In our text we find lots of great theology. In fact the deep end of the theology pool is v.1-7. In this section, Paul is using an everyday example to help them understand a truth about their (Gentiles and Jews) status before God. In v.1, 2 Paul raises the issue of an heir and a slave. Back in Paul’s time, until the age of 20-25 the heir, in many ways, was no different from the slave. The child had no access to the inheritance, but in fact was under the watchful eye of the guardians and trustees. In v.3 Paul makes the spiritual application. “We”- referring to all of humanity - were in slavery to the basic principles of the world. In other words, it didn’t matter what your gender, social status or cultural background was, we were all enslaved. Like the child in v.1 we were waiting for the day when we would receive the inheritance. The basic principle that Paul is referring to, I believe, is that the law cannot regenerate or save any man or woman- see chapter 3. But what happened? Just like the child in v.1 the time arrived and we received our inheritance. All humanity that place their faith in Jesus Christ (3:26) step into the “much more” of God. Notice the words and phrases describing this inheritance and new intimacy with God:
  • Sons of God - not a statement that refers to manliness but to intimacy with God
  • Spirit sent into our hearts - God comes near and facilitates that nearness - the Holy Spirit facilitates intimacy but also, in contrast to the law, gives us the power to live for God.
  • Abba Father – a term of intimacy - not everyone can call God “Father”. “Abba” is the Aramaic word for “Papa,” a term of special intimacy rarely if ever used in Judaism to address God directly (see comment on Mk 14:36; Rom 8:15).
Stop and ask yourself or small group these questions:
  • Do I relate to God as though I am His son or a slave? What is the difference?
  • Do I daily welcome the Holy Spirit to empower me? Do I experience the Holy Spirit?
  • Do I view God as my Father in heaven or do I have an unhealthy characterization of God the Father?
Ok, you may be asking, how does the statement, When we choose to love we choose to get hurt, tie in to this text? Well, as we read on, we discover that Paul, who dearly loves these folks (Gentiles who have come to Christ), is broken-hearted over what is happening in their lives. From here to the end of our text we want to answer the following question, why do some relationships hurt so much?

1. Because of the direction some lives take (v.4:1-10)
Ever been hurt in a relationship because someone you loved was doing well, but then they started to regress? It might not be in their spiritual life but in some other area. Note v.8-10. These guys are turning back, turning back to weak and miserable principles. V.10 defines what Paul is talking about. The law is weak and miserable in that some (Judaizers) have said the law can save you. When you try and misuse something it can be weak and miserable. For example try using a tooth pick to paddle a canoe across the Atlantic. That would be a picture of weakness and that would be miserable!

Talk about the pain of watching someone you love turn back. It might be turning away from God and back to old ways or perhaps it could just be the fact that someone is taking steps backward in another area of their life.

2. Because we wonder if anything we did made a difference (v.11)
Note the emotion of fear. In the original language it means to be to be seized with alarm. To be startled by strange sights or occurrences. Have you ever looked at someone you loved and noted strange patterns, concerning ways? Have you ever wondered if all your effort as a friend, parent, mentor, has been a total waste of time?

3. Because we feel like the relationship has changed (v.12-16)
Read through these verses and note statements and phrases that illustrate how the relationship between Paul and the Gentiles has changed.
How painful can it be to realize that a relationship that was at one time strong and healthy has now regressed?

Here are some contrasts in thinking about how relationships can go backwards:

Open… to selective
Trust… to suspicion
Relaxed… to tense
Vulnerable… to guarded
Friend… to enemy (Paul)
Respected… to maligned

What would you add?

4. Because we still care 19-20
One of the reasons we experience the hurt is because we still care about the person who might be rejecting us or doing things that pain our hearts to watch. Paul uses some language here that illustrates how dear these folks are to him. Note the imagery that Paul uses – “dear children”, “in pains of childbirth until Christ is formed in you”. Paul is like a mother. There are all kinds of factors attempting to abort the work of God but like a mother he is fighting for them because he cares.

What endearing term would you use to describe the person you love who is causing you pain? Paul called them his dear children.

How would you describe the process of wanting to see them change, grow and mature? Paul draws the parallel of child birth. Mothers might be best to comment here. Dads, don’t even try.

Perhaps it would be appropriate to take some time to pray for the person who comes to mind after reading this article. We all experience pain because of our love for people and the direction their lives sometimes take. It is part of being human.

If interested in joining or starting a small group contact

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Touching Base! Part 125

Walk Across The Room

(This article can also we found on our website
at under the tab called "Blog")

This Touching Base is a useful tool for small group discussion, personal reflection or in a one-on-one conversation. We believe that if the Sunday teaching is discussed outside of the morning services, it will be an opportunity to go deeper and build healthy community because God's Word needs to be discussed in community.

On Sunday I told the true story of Jenna Bowers, an extremely sad story of a young teenage girl bullied and ostracised, consequently pushed to the brink. In January of this year, Jenna killed herself. The bullying had demeaned her and beaten her down. Perhaps one of the most disparaging states is the state of feeling like a second-class citizen. I imagine many reading this have felt like an outsider at times, wondering what you have to do to be included in the “in” group.

Bullying or segregation doesn’t just happen in schoolyards but in every walk of life - even in the church. This week we are looking at a text of scripture that tackles this issue in the church.

Before we jump in, talk about an experience of being bullied. Or comment on your observations in our culture where you see unhealthy “in” groups and “out” groups.

Text: Galatians 3:26-29
Notice how many times Paul refers to “all” in verses 26-28. Verse 28 helps us understand who Paul has in mind when he says “all”.

  • Jew or Greek – cultural - In that culture gentiles/Greeks were not always looked upon with great favour by the Jews. Gentile ways were often spurned and looked down upon. It would be very accurate to say that many Jewish leaders bullied the gentiles. They had developed a bullying theology.

Do we ever look at other cultures and shun them, see them as inferior to our ways?

  • Slave or Free - social - John Stott says “Nearly every society in the history of the world has developed its class or caste system. Circumstances of birth, wealth, privilege and education have divided men and women from one another. But in Christ snobbery is prohibited and class distinctions are rendered void.” (The Message of Galatians, p.100.)

Are we ever guilty of snobbery?

  • Man or Woman- sexual - This has been an explosive issue. Note the context. He spoke these words in a context that believed in the inferiority of women. Whether he quotes from the Greco-Roman world (the Galatians’ context) or from the Jewish world (the context of Paul especially and of some Galatians), there was widespread conviction that women were inferior. Women were talked about in rude and condescending ways, they were not to be taught the law, not considered reliable witnesses in court, they may have sat in separate seats from the men in the synagogue.

As a woman have you ever felt the glare of chauvinism?
Note that in these couplets we see “the advantaged” vs. “the disadvantaged”. For example it would be far better to be born a Jewish free man in Paul’s context, than a Gentile slave-woman. The culture and society of the time had developed some pretty humiliating definitions for various classifications of people.

On Sunday I shared some modern day couplets. Can you think of some that would apply today? For example, in some cultures, the couplet man vs. woman still applies. Women are “bullied” in some cultures and even in some churches. Others couplets: WASP vs. First Nations, Rich vs. Poor, Married vs. Divorced.

Note that Paul is not saying that because of Christ, you lose your cultural distinctiveness, social background or gender, but he is saying that when it comes to salvation, it is a level playing field. And when it comes to the Gospel, every person has infinite value in the eyes of God. Check out how this level playing-field is further developed in Paul’s text.

V.26-29 - What are the common experiences of such a diverse group of people listed in v.28?
For example we are all sons of God through faith in Christ. Be clear on this: our solidarity as humans is not in our innate goodness, it’s not due to the spark of divinity residing in everyone. Our solidarity is in our bondage to sin. In this solidarity, there is neither Jew nor Greek. God justifies us all on the basis
of our trust response, and we become one in Christ.

Another example is that if we belong to Christ, we are all heirs, all Abraham’s seed. That means Jew and Gentile now stand side-by-side and have the exact same spiritual genealogy.

Some “take-aways”:

  1. It is pretty clear from this text that culture (even Church culture) and God may, at times, be on opposite sides. All the disadvantaged people in these couplets have full access to the Gospel and, in fact, have been pursued by God. However some in Paul’s context were rejecting those whom God desired to embrace. Is it possible that we look at certain kinds of people and think “loser” and God thinks the opposite? It happened in Paul’s day. Is it possible we avoid a certain kind of person but God desires us to engage them? Is it possible that we are afraid to draw near to a certain kind of person, when God wants to touch the heart of that person?

  2. We need to stand against cultural forces that, at times, can dilute the power of the Gospel. For example why has it been that a black man or woman demeaned in a culture has found the same attitude in the church? Why has it been that women who have been prejudiced against in society have experienced at times the same in the church? Why has it been that the poor who feel ostracized on the street can feel no different in the church?

  3. Move towards someone very different than you (“walk across the room”). Pray that they would become more like Christ or come to Christ.
By our words and deeds, may we demonstrate the power of the Gospel. Jesus has created a level playing-field where every person has infinite worth in the eyes of God. Might we reject some of the humiliating classifications our broken humanity has come up with!

If interested in joining or starting a small group contact

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Touching Base! Part 124


(This article can also we found on our website
at under the tab called "Blog")

This Touching Base is a useful tool for small group discussion, personal reflection or in a one-on-one conversation. We believe that if the Sunday teaching is discussed outside of the morning services, it will be an opportunity to go deeper and build healthy community because God's Word needs to be discussed in community.


Earlier this week, I was driving south on Perth Road in Inverary (north of Kingston) and found myself doing 80 km per hour in a 60 km per hour zone. I was late for a meeting at Coffeeco (near Bethel) and was coming from my mentor’s house outside Westport.

You guessed it… I meet an OPP officer driving towards me in his cruiser. And he saw me coming. The officer immediately turns his car around, and thinking that I have been caught, I immediately pull over, hoping that my quick act of repentance will spare me a ticket. The OPP officer actually drove past me and continued heading south on the road in front of me.

We have all been there, 80 in a 60, blowing through stop signs or even jaywalking (yes jaywalking is illegal in Kingston, go figure). As the OPP passed me, I had this thought: this is an illustration of Christ’s work on the cross and the law! If I look at the good and perfect Law and turn to Jesus and say I blew it, and I am sorry, he will forgive us. Because I deserved a $100-plus ticket this week, but I also deserve death.

Yep, that’s right, death. “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 6:23)

Now this Touching Base is not my personal confession letter, but those who know me best know full well that I sin, and sometimes I really blow it.

How do I know when I have really blown it? I can feel it in my gut, and my conscience, given to me by the Holy Spirit, tells me. Worse yet, if I don’t repent and turn to God, I will later find in Scripture that I have blown it more than I realized.
This begs the question - what is more important, doing 60 in a 60, or staying at peace with God? Same thing? It depends on our focus. The Judaizers in Galatia were focused on the “60 in the 60”, not on following Jesus.

Scot McKnight, in One.Life (p.47) states, “There is a difference between focusing on what is right and focusing on being a follower of Christ”.

Focusing on what is “right” will only cause:
  • legalism
  • self-righteousness
  • exhaustion
If you want to read about what Jesus thought of focusing on what is right, or the Law, see Matthew 23.

Focusing on your relationship with Christ will cause:
  • life, and life to the fullest (John 10:10)
  • freedom from the prison of sin (Galatians 3:23)
  • Christ’s Spirit will live inside you (Galatians 2:20)
Which would you rather do? Now, I’m not suggesting we all do 80 in a 60 this week. My challenge to myself and to you, the reader, is to stop and think this week when you catch yourself disobeying God’s laws.

Ask yourself, do I want to change my ways because I love Jesus, or because I want to be right with the law? When is the last time a police officer stopped you on the sidewalk and said “I just noticed that you walked through that intersection when you had the walk sign and you did so safely, and I just wanted to thank you for obeying the law!”

Living for the law is a thankless job. But when we take the law, God’s law, and the law that our governments have put in place, and want to do what is right out of love for Christ and our neighbour, it changes everything, and the rewards are present and eternal.

Enjoy your week, and walk (and drive) in the love of Christ our Lord!

If interested in joining or starting a small group contact