Bible Study: Galatians chapter 1

Getting Started with Galatians 1

Begin with prayer: Ask God to make your heart pure, soft, and undivided. Confess your sins so you can receive his mercy and grace. Humble yourself so you can hear his voice. Release your worries so you can rest in his presence.

First read: read without pausing, to get an overall sense of the chapter.

Second read: make a note of any words, phrases, or verses that are personally encouraging, convicting, and/or confusing. It is a good thing to approach Scripture with questions!

 

Re-read 1:1-5, out loud if possible.

In just a few words, Paul sets the tone for his letter to the Galatian churches. What does his introduction say specifically about Paul? God the Father? Jesus?

Paul:

God the Father:

Jesus:

 

Re-read 1:6-10.

In your own words, how would you describe Paul’s tone and feeling?

According to this passage, what were the core issues or problems facing Paul’s audience? Why was Paul “astonished?” What are the specific words from the text that support your answer?

In your opinion, was Paul too harsh? Why or why not?

In this passage, Paul talks about the gospel, but he doesn’t yet define it for us. In your opinion, based on what you’ve already learned, how would you define the gospel in a single sentence?

For Paul’s original audience, the ancient church was “quickly deserting” Jesus and turning to a different gospel. In our world, what are some things that move people away from Jesus? In your opinion, what are some false messages about Jesus?

Have you ever been “like Paul,” meaning, do you know someone who has wandered from Jesus? What happened? Do you think God might use you to encourage that person? If so, how?

Have you ever been “like Paul’s audience,” meaning that you have wandered from what you know to be true about Jesus? What happened? How were you pulled away? What did you do to return? (Or, what could it look like for you to return?)

 

Re-read 1:11-24.

In this passage, Paul talks a lot about his life: before Christ, his calling, and his ministry. Compile a list of facts about Paul’s life, as if you were making a biography.

Based on your study of this passage, what is the primary theme about Paul and the Gospel?

In the last section, you wrote a definition for the word, “gospel.” Is there anything in this passage which would enhance or change your definition?

Why is it important that the gospel is “not of human origin?” Why is this teaching personally significant?

Paul’s confidence was grounded in the fact that his calling was from God. His goal was to please God and not people. Based on your experience, why do so many people work for the approval of other people? In your opinion, why to we, the human race, care so much about what others think?

Before Paul knew Jesus, he worked hard to destroy the church. After coming to faith in Jesus, Paul spent his entire life building up the church. In your own life, what kinds of changed have you seen? What transformation has happened because of your faith in Jesus?

Surviving the Sting of Rejection [updated]

No one likes rejection. It’s sting is so painful because it’s personal.

Get a black eye from an injustice and it’s because the world isn’t fair….rage against the world!
Get knocked down from a rejection and it’s because I’m not good enough….you can try to rage against the world, but you always end up attacking yourself.

How do you respond when you experience rejection? These waters aren’t fun to swim in, but the reflection is worth the effort. Here’s how I typically respond to rejection. Fair warning, this isn’t a delightful list:

Retreat—I engage my friends, but withdraw from my enemies (or “non-friends”). When I’m rejected, I retreat. I won’t even argue when I’m rejected because I feel like disagreement is a gift for my friends. (I’m so opinionated, I’ve got plenty to give! HA.). Isolation feels like the best way to minimize the painful and poisonous effects of rejection. And while this may be a common response, it’s counter productive. We are deceiving ourselves if we think life is better spent alone. For me, maturity refuses to retreat and I choose to engage.

Rage—I rage at the (apparent) injustice of not being accepted. In the universe named “Matt,” there’s no logical reason why I wouldn’t be chosen. I mean, I’d choose me, so everyone else should do the same? For me, maturity rejects ego and chooses humility.

Devalued—I create a list of all the reasons I must not be good enough to be accepted. For me, maturity shifts the focus, to seeking approval from God rather than others.

Comparison—I begin to think, “If only I was different, like someone else who was accepted, then I could have avoided the rejection.” The feelings and thoughts left in the wake of rejection are paradoxical. On one hand, nothing about me needs to be changed, on the other hand, if I was different, the rejection wouldn’t have happened. For me, maturity means learning how God is changing me rather than becoming a duplicate copy of someone else.

Flee to the familiar—This response isn’t negative. Rejection in one area of my life pushes me to the comfort of other relationships, ones that are trusted and true. This response is different from retreating because it’s a reminder of the good relationships that already exist in my life. We are called to carry one another’s burdens, and it’s ok to let the trusted carry our burdens.

Demonize—I can attack the rejector, listing out their countless flaws and innumerable foolishnesses. Some of  are real, but many are imagined. Truth is that nothing clouds judgment and creates bias like rejection. For me, maturity means withholding judgement; and when this is not possible, it means withholding ACTION based on on that judgement.

Self-Praise—When I’m rejected, I’ll counteract the “not good enough” feelings (devalued, above) with all of my achievements and success—some of which are real, but many are imagined. Nothing inflates the ego like a rejection. For me, maturity means submission to God according to Romans 12:3, seeking a sober self assessment.

Re-define—Near the end of my response to rejection, I work to burry it. I re-write history by reinterpreting the rejection as ignorance. I haven’t been rejected, just misunderstood. I land on thinking, “They weren’t worth the effort of explaining myself anyhow.” For me, maturity means avoiding the pity party, and trying to understand what happened by making up stuff that isn’t true.

What an Ugly List!

Maybe you are thinking, “That’s more nasty than the scorpion at the top of this post.” Yea, I agree.

There are tons of unhealthy ways to respond to rejection. Many people try to pretend it didn’t hurt (this is one response I don’t have). Without the self-insight that comes from reflection, our rationalizations will run rampant and the self-deceptions will quickly become self-destructive.

We can’t eliminate rejection—we live in an imperfect world.
However, we can mitigate the damage done to our souls and relationships.

Let’s take our rejection to the foot of the cross. Surrendering, confessing, resting in his perfect love–a love that is utterly rejectionless.

 

 

 

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If you felt like this post would help someone, share it. Better yet, put it into your own words and encourage someone.

 

Bible Study: Psalm 23

One of our small groups recently used the Psalms Bible study (download here for free) and decided to also study Psalm 23. I wrote the following to help guide their personal reflection and group discussion.

 

Psalm 23

The twenty-third Psalm is a classic! The imagery is simple, yet powerful and profound. It is easy to read for the first time, yet the psalm’s depth allows for a lifetime of reading and reflection without ever running dry. This psalm is a well the soul can return to time after time, secure in the promise of renewal.

Begin with prayer, thanking God for his goodness and blessings. Confess your sins and ask him to make your heart pure. Beg for wisdom and cultivated an open heart so that he might draw you closer to him.

 

HISTORICAL BACKGROUND

Table — In the original usage, this referred to a leather mat spread on the ground upon which food was placed.

Rod and Staff— “Palestinian shepherd normally carried two implements, a club (or rod) to fend off wild beasts and a crook (or staff) to guide and control the sheep.” (Craigie, P. C. (2004). Psalms 1–50 (2nd ed., Vol. 19, p. 207).)

Anoint—Literally, “make fat” with oil. The imagery of excess is paralleled with the cup that is overflowing. In the Bible, an anointing was special, signifying that the person (or object) was chosen and set aside for a purpose.

 

QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION AND DISCUSSION

After reading this Psalm, what was personally encouraging, inspiring, or uplifting? What new insight, lesson, or teaching did you learn? Did this psalm raise any questions or confusion for you? If so, what are they?

According to this psalm, what specifically does it mean for the Lord to be a Shepherd? What actions and promises does the shepherd make?

In our world, who or what can take the place of the Lord as our Shepherd? What are some common things people follow and trust?

Expressing a deep sense of contentment, the Psalmist says, “I lack nothing” (NIV). In your opinion, how did he win the battle against greed and envy? Why is contentment so difficult for people to attain?

What does it mean, the a the Shepherd acts “for his name’s sake?”

The Shepherd leads the psalmist to “green pastures” and “darkest valleys.” How can it be both? In your opinion, why isn’t it only green pastures and quiet waters?

Share a definition of fear. What are some common things many people fear? In your opinion, why is fear so powerful? According to this psalm, what is the antidote to fear?

How does verse 6 describe the life and after-life for those under the care of the shepherd?

In your own life, what do you need most from the Shepherd?

  • To be content
  • To be led
  • To be refreshed
  • To be free from fear
  • Something else?

Summarize, in your own words, the significance of this psalm in a single sentence.

Respond to the following summary, what changes would you make?
“No matter what is happening in our lives, we can find contentment and comfort from the presence and promises of the Shepherd.”

Elements of Effective Evaluation

It’s hard to look back and learn from the past, especially when we’re looking forward to the next thing. Here are a few habits that I believe are essential for an effective debrief:

HONESTY: Evaluation isn’t helpful if it’s not true. It’s great to be an optimist, but not at the expense of facing the hard truths. Actually, that’s not optimism, it’s denial. Sticking your head in the sand doesn’t accomplish anything other than more disaster. Getting better is more important than feeling good in the moment … and over the long haul, honest debriefs will lead to feeling great.

IMPERSONAL: If you are working with a team, everyone ought to be committed to growth and improvement. This means a criticism/critique/feedback shouldn’t be a personal attack. Evaluation takes courage, which is why it is very rare.

OFTEN: Everything that is important ought to be debriefed, even if the evaluation is very short. Ministry programs, events, retreats, meetings, and even significant conversations ought to be looked at to gain lessons for the future.

SOON: Do your evaluation sooner rather than later. The longer you wait, the less you remember, which means you’ll fall back on your assumptions rather than what actually happened.

STRATEGIC: There is an important difference between observation and evaluation. An observation states a perception. Evaluation takes observation further by keeping an eye on the big picture. For example, “Last night was high energy” is an observation. Evaluation says, “High energy came at the expense of relational, we missed the mark.”) You can’t move the ball down field if you aren’t evaluating how the “little things” (program, event, retreat, etc.) connect to the “big things” (vision, values, strategy, etc.). Naturally, this assumes there a Big Picture has already been clearly defined …

PRACTICAL: A good debrief is like the Red Cross, it ought to provide real help— the kind that’s desperately needed. If an evaluation is too short, it doesn’t capture enough information. If an evaluation is too long, complicated, or cumbersome, you’ll never do it. A good debrief is structured just right.

DYNAMIC: In most situations, a few voices are better than a single perspective. Pull other people in to help with your evaluations.

REVIEWED: Don’t be doomed by repeating your past mistakes. Stand on the shoulders of your experience by periodically reviewing your past debriefs.

What’s missing from this list? What habit have you found to make for an effective debrief?


Here is a SHORTER debrief we will use for our weekend services:

[1] Over all rating, 1 to 5, (higher being better)
[2] What worked?
[3] What didn’t work?
[4] What, if anything, did we learn this weekend? (about successful programing)

Here is a LONGER debrief we use for our bigger things:

Reflection leads to wisdom. It’s worth thinking about the stuff we want to do well. Our people deserve our best, so let’s commit to getting better.

In just a few bullet points, what was the purpose/reason/objective of the event/meeting/trip/camp/retreat?

Include the agenda, both planned and actual. If there’s a difference between the two, make a note of why.

Attach the attendance list, leaders and students, both planned and actual.

On a scale of 1-10, was this event/meeting/trip/camp/retreat a success? (10=awesome and 1=very not awesome)

In just a few bullet points, briefly explain why you rated this thing the way that you did. Avoid PROS and CONS, you’ll hit those in a minute.

Was each element intentional? Was anything done “just because we’ve always done this?”

PROS: What was great? (and, what are the things that MUST happen next time?)

CONS: What wasn’t so great? (and, what are the things that MUST NOT happen next time?)

Anything else? What would you do differently next time?

What follow up is needed? Who is doing it? When is it due?

NEXT STEPS (spiritual commitments, gateway to primary program, etc.)
Missing People (those that should have been there, but weren’t)
Questions/concerns/conflicts
Thank You’s / Encouragement
Any other follow up action items

Promotion / Communications: Attach the promotion plan. Did people know about the event/meeting? What would you do differently?

 

Three Warnings From Jesus

Jesus taught the crowd: “Be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy.” (Luke 12:1)

A little yeast, when worked through the entire dough, radically transforms the bread.

The yeast of the Pharisees was hypocrisy. Some of the things they said weren’t true, they lacked a consistency believers ought to have. Presumably they had a “Do as I say, not as I do” mentality.

In this short and simple teaching from Jesus, there are several warnings:

Hypocrisy is contagious. It is a lesson easily learned, because short cuts require less work. The hypocrite thinks, “I can just pretend to be good without actually needing to be good.” Hypocrisy is persistent because one hypocrite rarely exposes another, because they fear the same exposure. This is a network of relationships that says, “Let’s All Lie Together.” Hypocrisy is contagious and we must guard against it.

Sin is powerful (so is foolishness). Like yeast, it only takes a little to radically change the dynamic of the whole. You don’t need to lie ninety nine percent of the time for it to damage your life, 1 or 2 percent will lead to epic destruction in your relationships. For the Pharisees, their yeast was hypocrisy. However, I’m certain there are many “kinds” of yeast. What is one of your struggles, if it’s not hypocrisy? Gossip? Indulgence? Laziness? Pride?

Consider one more warning: the Pharisees were leaders in their communities. You may not be a formal leader in the church, but what are you passing on to others? Even the best parents pass along bad habits to their kids. Spiritually speaking, what is the “yeast” in your life that others need to look out for? Jesus was clearly teaching the crowd, “Don’t be hypocritical like the Pharisees.” Jesus is also calling us to keep careful watch over our influence.

Three Warnings:

Watch out for the negative influences, specifically hypocrisy.
Identify your personal “yeast,” if it’s not hypocrisy.
Be careful of what you are passing along.

How to find Significance This Season

The Christmas season is in full gear! The decorations are out, houses lit up, eggs are being nogged, and the fruitcakes are in the mail.

For me, over the years, I’ve discovered that I can get so busy WITH Christmas that I loose sight of the reason FOR Christmas. I have to be intentional with slowing down to make sure Jesus remains front and center. Rather than just surviving the season, what if we made it a goal to pursue significance?

Message Notes (PDF): how-to-find-significance