What Will You Carry?

Old Testament Reading: Deuteronomy 27 & 28

Psalms Reading: Psalm 90

*New Testament Reading: Galatians 6

In the beginning of this chapter, it seems Paul is almost contradicting himself, telling believers to carry one another’s burdens (v.2) but also to carry their own load (v.5 -HCSB).  When comparing translations, the NLT changes verse 5 to each being ‘responsible for their own conduct’, which really removes the discrepancy, especially when in context with the previous verse about focusing on oneself and not comparing.  Essentially Paul is writing: support other believers while doing your best and be responsible for your own behaviors. 

Paul is also sure to caution and encourage these believers; he reminds them that satisfying their sinful nature now will ultimately lead to death, but that living to please God will result in everlasting life (v.8).   In verse 1 he describes humbly and gently bringing believers from that sinful life back on the right path – and this of course makes sense when you know that the wrong path leads to death!  And Paul must know that living in this way will be challenging at times, as he immediately follows it with words of encouragement to not get tired of doing good, and a reminder of the blessing to be reaped to those who don’t give up (v.9).  But my favorite part is verse 10, where Paul says THEREFORE, do good to everyone, especially those in the family of faith!  Because living the life of a Christian is tiring at times, because it is challenging, and because there are temptations to give up, BE KIND TO ONE ANOTHER.  

As fellow believers we know how hard it is to be a Christian, so it is up to us to share one another’s burdens, not create more obstacles and hardships through shallow competition of who “looks better” in the law.  Paul is telling the Galatians that their responsibility in the church is to support and build one another up, not comparing themselves, but working together to live a life that is called to be more than just following a law. 

You are part of a church, and, if you have made the commitment to be baptized and follow Christ, you are part of the Church!  You have a responsibility to fellowship, to support, to love and to live alongside your body of believers.  In today’s day of technology, you can meet this responsibility through online connections or in person.  There are church services you can stream, summer camps you can attend, online devotionals you can participate in… If you have not yet taken up that responsibility, this is your sign… get connected, because life is hard to do on your own! 


Where do you feel connected in the church?  Are you satisfied with this level of connection?

Who in your church can you think of that may need their burdens shared?  Reach out to them!

Based on Paul’s writing today, what does his message tell you about who God is and what His expectations are for believers?


God, thank you for giving us a Church to be part of.  Today we pray that we find strength and support within our local body of believers, and we ask that you show us which believers are in need of a lighter load to bear on their own.  Thank you for making us new through your son, and allowing us the opportunity to reap a harvest of blessings.  In your son’s name, Amen.

Sarah Johnson


Old Testament Reading: Deuteronomy 25 & 26

Psalms Reading: Psalm 89

*New Testament Reading: Galatians 5

What does freedom look like to you?  You may visualize prisoners being set free from their jail sentence, dogs off of broken chains, large, open spaces outdoors, maybe even a child who snuck away from the crowd and is exploring their world all on their own (while parents panic…).   

Paul is describing here in Galatians freedom from living life following a strict law.  In our passage in Deuteronomy, we read about some of the punishments (flogging, losing credibility with the whole nation, having a hand cut off…) for not following the laws, or accidentally breaking them.  With that in mind, this makes the concept of freedom that Paul is reminding people of that much more dramatic.  Before Jesus, the only way to be right with God was to follow these strict laws, it was only meant for a certain group of individuals set apart from the rest, and it was nearly impossible to achieve as an outsider, let alone someone born and raised as a Jew. 

In verse 13 Paul tells the Galatians they have been called to be free.  Imagine being told your whole life that there is nothing more for you, and suddenly having hope and opportunity through a man that loved enough to die for strangers.  This concept would be (and still is) life-altering!  Paul is reminding the people of this church that they have freedom, they are no longer bound by the previous laws that kept them from God! 

In this reminder Paul also cautions them to be wise in their freedom, and to use this freedom to serve one another.  It is crazy to see the statistics on the number of children that grow up in a Christian household, maybe isolated or sheltered, and go to college and drastically change their lifestyles by going overboard with poor life choices with their newfound ‘freedom’.  That is our human nature!  And that same mentality must have existed with the Galatians as Paul warns them to not use this freedom or this gift of grace to indulge in the flesh, but rather to serve one another humbly in love (v.13). 

Our freedom was bought with a price, and yet we are not in debt.  We no longer have to live under a strict law, rather, we can keep the entire law by loving our neighbor as ourselves (v.14).  And while our freedom could create opportunity for sin, we are told that we walk by the Spirit to avoid desires of the flesh(v.16) and that through that Spirit we can experience the good fruit such as love, joy, and peace (v.22).  Knowing all that, it’s hard to imagine freedom any other way besides the cross.


What does “walking by the Spirit” look like to you?  Do you see the fruits of the Spirit come from that walk?

How do you use your freedom?  Do you meet the commands of loving your neighbors?

Paul writes in verse 6 “the only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love” (rather than appearance of ‘righteousness’ through circumcision).  How do you express your faith?


Lord, thank you for the freedom you give us through Christ.  Thank you for his sacrifice that paid our debt and moved us out from under the strict law.  God, we pray that we would walk by your Spirit each day, that our faith would be expressed in our love, and that we would experience those good fruits.  Amen. 

-Sarah (Blanchard) Johnson

Do You Get It?

Old Testament: Deuteronomy 21 & 22

Psalms Reading: Psalm 87

New Testament Reading: Galatians 3

Despite much of the media’s focus, there are many good people in the world.  Our current culture has a strong humanistic viewpoint, with many people claiming to be “spiritual”, but not Christian.  Many spiritual people have strong moral values often aligning with Christian perspectives; they are kindhearted and they do good works.  These people (typically) believe in a “higher power” but not necessarily God, and they may feel like Jesus was a good man but don’t acknowledge the power he held or the magnitude of his sacrifice for everyone.  People with this perspective live what I would call a good life, and yet they are missing something so critical.

Paul writes in Galatians 3:5, “…Does God give you the Holy Spirit and work miracles among you because you obey the law?  Of course not!  It is because you believe the message you heard about Christ.” (NLT).  The Message translation writes that God lavishly provides his Holy Spirit to his people, not because of their “strenuous moral striving”, but because of their trust in Him.  We, as Christians baptized in the faith, have access to the power of God, His Holy Spirit.  THAT IS A BIG DEAL.  That is something that no other religion or humanistic worldview has.  Christians are unique in this way, and yet just like the Galatians, we all too often get caught up in following the law, or looking good to others, to remember we have access to this incredible power simply by believing in the message of Christ.  Just by recognizing that the man Christ Jesus died on the cross for our sins and was raised again for our salvation is enough for us to invite the Holy Spirit into our daily lives. 

There are good people in this world, but Christians should be standing out against the crowd of “good” by being AMAZING because of what we have access to!  This makes it all the more important for Christians to maintain their moral good; while we know keeping the law does not make us right with God (v. 11), breaking the law is not a reflection of receiving the Holy Spirit and does not show the world why they should believe the message of Christ.  If a “spiritual” person treats the widows and orphans with more kindness and love than someone who has the Holy Spirit, we have failed.  In the same way, if we think our kindness and love will sustain and save, we are just as foolish as the Galatians were! 

We are no longer confined or imprisoned under the law, but we are justified through our faith in Christ (v.23-24 HCSB).   In our justification, we have been given the Holy Spirit… does your life reflect that amazing power?

-Sarah (Blanchard) Johnson


There are some great verses in Galatians 3 that dig even deeper into the law, who we are in Christ, and overall Abrahamic faith.  What stood out to me may be different than what stood out to you!  What did God put on your heart while reading this Scripture?

What characteristics of God did you find from our passage today? And what can you discover about His son Jesus from your reading?


God, thank you for sharing your son with us so that we may have access to your Holy Spirit, and ultimately, eternal life.  Lord I pray that our works bring you honor and glory, that we boldly call on your Spirit each day as a way to show the people in our life just how amazing you are.  God, you are a good God; gracious, loving, powerful, and kind.  We praise you and thank you.  In your son’s name, Amen.

Sharing the Truth of Jesus

Old Testament Reading: Deuteronomy 17 & 18

Psalms Reading: Psalm 85

* New Testament: Galatians 1

Paul’s letters always offer great lessons, and his letter to the Galatians is no different.  In this letter, to fully understand the lesson or example Paul has for us, we have to dig into the context and understand why Paul is writing in the first place.

In this letter, especially in the introduction, Paul is not impressed with how quickly the Galatians have fallen away from his message of truth and started to doubt his “credentials” as an apostle.  Despite this, Paul still greets these believers with grace, peace, and truth about Jesus (v. 3-4).  I don’t know about you, but if I have been abandoned, disowned, and essentially ignored, I don’t know that I would have the same gracious greeting… Think of all the energy, effort, and overall dedication Paul poured into this group of people when he was traveling, only to find out that someone came along shortly after and messed with everything he built.  You would feel so betrayed by this group!  You would maybe even want to give up on them and just focus elsewhere, but Paul writes to rebuild and refocus the Galatians.

While Paul does go into a defense for his apostleship, you’ll notice that he isn’t defending himself or his character, but rather he is defending his story that brings glory to God and explains the importance of Jesus.  Paul is not interested in being seen as a popular guy; he specifically has no interest in that (v. 10)!  He is passionate about making sure the churches of Galatia know the truth about Christ, and that is all!  In fact, in some areas he didn’t even want people knowing his name, only his story of redemption and God’s grace, as a way to glorify God (v. 22). 

Without explicitly telling us how to live in this chapter, Paul’s response to Galatia churches models several things about living the life of a Christian:

1.       We should greet and treat others with grace, and speak truth, no matter what our relationship with them may be.

2.       Proclaiming the gospel can be lonely and there will probably be people working against us at times, but our purpose is not related to gaining favor or status with people; it is focused on sharing Jesus.

3.        God wants to be glorified in our life, no matter what path we started on, and God has the ability to use our bad history for his glory.

-Sarah Johnson

Questions for reflection:

  1. Who in your life needs to be greeted with grace, peace, and truth by you?
  2. Where do you see yourself proclaiming the gospel in your life?  If you aren’t sure, try starting with the person that came to mind from the previous question.
  3. Paul says God set him apart from birth (v. 15); what does this reveal to you about God’s character?


God, thank you for the amazing gift of your son, Jesus Christ.  Please help us to share this gift with everyone we meet – but today I pray that you reveal to each one of us exactly who you want us to share your truth with.  Give us strength and courage when we get lonely, help us remain focused on you and not our own status, and above all, let our lives be glorifying to you.  In your son’s name, Amen.

Your Longing

Old Testament Reading: Deuteronomy 15 & 16

* Psalms Reading: Psalm 84

New Testament: Galatians Intro below

We are currently looking for a new house.  We love where we are now, but we’re outgrowing our space and ready to raise our family with more room!  We have toured SEVERAL houses, put in offers for a few, and yet still have nothing to show.  I’m looking for a house that fits my needs, or at least one that I can alter (without too much cost) that will give me happiness in a home.  I would say right now, I am yearning for a house.  There have been moments where I have even shed a tear of disappointment, frustration, and sadness over ‘losing’ a house that was never mine.  There are times where there is intense emotion behind my desire for a dwelling place.

God sure has a funny way of teaching me lessons… He really likes to teach me especially while I am trying to teach others.  When I signed up for this week of devotions, I hadn’t even met with a realtor.  Now, as I type up this message, I just spent three days stressing over what amount to offer on a house only to be rejected without a counter within hours and I opened up my Bible to “Longing for God’s House”… ironic, huh? So now, here I am reminding you but reminding me that the house I should be longing for is the house of God (Psalm 84:2).  My heart is aching for a space to call home, and yet I am ignoring the promise of a dwelling place of the LORD of Hosts (v. 1).  I’m out here struggling to feel “happy” with my current circumstance, but I have forgotten that I can reside in the house of an Almighty God and I should be praising Him CONTINUALLY (v.4)! 

We are told God gives grace and glory; that he doesn’t withhold the good from those who live with integrity (v.11).  I have been so focused on seeking out something for myself rather than focusing on how I am living and trusting God to show me the good He is providing.

Maybe you aren’t looking for a physical home right now, but I bet you are searching and yearning for ­something.  Maybe it’s a promotion at work, a hand to hold, a new car, to finish school, peace for your mental health, anything.  Everyone in some capacity is seeking “happiness”.  Are you looking in the right place?

-Sarah Johnson

Hello!  I am Sarah (Blanchard) Johnson.  My husband and I just welcomed little Eli in August of 2022 and we are LOVING being parents, although we miss some sleep too… We live in Minnesota and attend Pine Grove Bible Church; I have a heart for missions and would love to talk to you about it!

Questions for Reflection:

This Psalm gives us four ways to be happy:

1.       Reside in God’s house

2.       Praise God continually

3.       Get your Strength from God

4.       Trust in the LORD of Hosts

Which area do you need to focus on to feel happy?  Is there more than one?

I found one verse especially that caught my eye in how God reveals Himself… Which verses did you find?


LORD of Hosts, I pray today for myself and others, that we put our energy into longing for your house.  I pray that we live our lives with integrity so we can experience your good things.  I pray those seeking happiness find it through trusting in you.  God, thank you for all you are and all that you do in our lives each day.  We praise you for the promise of a perfect dwelling place to come.  In your son’s name, Amen.

And, in preparation for starting the book/letter of Galatians tomorrow in our New Testament reading, here’s Steve with our…

Introduction to Galatians

Paul wrote the book of Galatians to the churches in Galatia.  Paul was very direct in addressing their turning away from the gospel.  In 1:6, Paul says, “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel…”  This was obviously a serious problem, since Paul then went on to say in 1:8, “But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned!”

You’ll find out in Chapter 3 that their problem was that they were trying to be justified by observing the law.  Paul argued that justification comes through faith in Jesus alone, not by works performed according to the law.

Paul also pointed out that as far as Christ is concerned, there is no distinction between Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male or female – all are one in Christ.  Paul then went on to say that if they belong to Christ, then they are Abraham’s descendants, and heirs according to the promises to Abraham.  This applies to us today, as well.

Paul defined the fruits of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.  He also pointed out that they (and we) should live by the Spirit, and not gratify the desires of the sinful nature.

In 6:7-8, Paul wrote, “Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked.  A man reaps what he sows.  The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life.”

The book of Galatians is just as relevant to us today as it was to the original audience when it was written.  As you read it, consider how this letter applies to you today.

-Steve Mattison

Your Own Load

Saturday, August 13, 2022

 Galatians 6

“A young boy came across a butterfly cocoon and brought it into his house. He watched, over the course of hours, as the butterfly struggled to break free from its confinement. It managed to create a small hole in the cocoon, but its body was too large to emerge. It was tired and became still.

“Wanting to help the butterfly, the boy snipped a slit in the cocoon with a pair of scissors. But the butterfly was small, weak, and its wings crumpled. The boy expected the insect to take flight, but instead, it could only drag its undeveloped body along the ground. It was incapable of flying.

“The boy, in his eagerness to help the butterfly, stunted its development. What he did not know was that the butterfly needed to go through the process of struggling against the cocoon to gain strength and fill its wings with blood. It was the struggle that made it stronger.” https://www.lifeandwhim.com/first-moments-blog/2018/the-struggle-makes-you-stronger

The point of that story is that sometimes “helping” someone doesn’t really help them.  The first few times you try to do something new and different it’s quite probable that you won’t be very good at it.  Sometimes you need some extra help to get you going.  When a child is learning how to ride a bike they usually start with training wheels or a parent walking alongside them to keep them from falling.  They have to get used to the feel of peddling and how to get up to speed.  But eventually, the training wheels need to come off or the parent needs to let go.  Often, that may result in a wobbly ride or the child might even fall.  They might even skin their knee and that hurts.  But still, even at the risk of falling and skinning a knee, the training wheels need to come off if the child ever wants to learn how to ride the bike.  Sometimes, the loving thing to do is give the person the freedom to struggle, to fall down, to make a mistake.

This is true of children learning to ride a bike, and it’s true of Christians learning to live by the Spirit.  As we live as spirit-filled believers in the spirit filled-community, the Church, we will live fruitful lives. We will love, be at peace, be patient, kind, good, and gentle among other things (see Galatians 5).  We will live by the spirit, not by the flesh, except when we don’t.  Unfortunately, there are times when love gives way to hate, we become impatient, we aren’t kind, we do bad instead of good and we are harsh instead of gentle.  There are times when we fall down in our faith and we need a hand to get back up again.  When a member of the community falls beneath the weight of a burden, Paul says that others in the community should gently lend a hand and help them back up again.  We should not be harsh with the one who has fallen and remind ourselves that we too could also fall and need a hand up.

Sometimes Christians do dumb things that are completely against what we believe.  Sometimes the best of us let temptation get the worst of us.  Think of King David, the man after God’s own heart, who committed adultery with his neighbor’s wife and then arranged to have her husband killed in an attempt to cover up the sin.  Certainly not the finest moment for an otherwise godly man. 

 Paul doesn’t want us to be morally lax and intentionally sin against God.  He just finished telling the Galatians to walk by the spirit and not by the flesh.  But when we do fall, we need others to help us back up again.  And the rest of us need to be ready to help the one who has fallen to get back up and on their feet.    Paul here balances burdens and loads.  We are to help others with burdens, but we are to manage our own loads.  Sometimes people get handed something overwhelmingly heavy that they can’t carry on their own, we should help them. At the same time, we each have normal daily loads which we are expected to carry.  We have jobs to do, and responsibilities at home to do.  We have ministry responsibilities to carry out.  We each need to keep up with our daily loads.  I should not expect you to do my regular responsibilities.  If I’m the pastor and it’s my job to preach, then most Sundays I need to be preaching.  Once in a while, I take a Sunday away from preaching- vacation or other ministry responsibilities may take me away for a week here and there and I’ll need someone else to do the preaching for me that week, but most Sundays I carry my preaching load.  The only exception to this for me was after I had surgery for cancer a few years ago. I took off about 4 Sundays in a row while I was recovering.  That was an unusual burden.  I was not able to carry that burden for a few weeks and others helped.

We shouldn’t do other people’s daily loads for them because it keeps them from flourishing and getting stronger.  It would be like cutting a hole in the cocoon.  Our “helping” is actually hurting when we don’t allow someone to carry their own daily load.  But when a load becomes a burden, then the loving thing to do is help carry the burden.  Sometimes, we need to practice “tough love”.  Do what is your responsibility to do and give others space to do what is their responsibility to do, and when special circumstances arise and extra burdens need to be born, we help each other.

-Jeff Fletcher

Questions for discussion:

  1.  When was a time that you had a burden you could not carry yourself? Did someone help you and how did they do it?
  2. Was there ever a time when you just didn’t feel like carrying your daily load?  Did someone hold you accountable and tell you to carry your own load?  How did that feel?
  3. Have you ever thought you were “helping” like the little boy with the cacoon?  Is it sometimes harder to watch someone else struggle with their daily load than to step in and carry it for them?  Why is it important to resist doing that?

FREEDOM. Not Legalism. Not Lawlessness. FREEDOM

Friday, August 12, 2022

 Galatians 5

            Every year on the 4th of July people in the United States come together to celebrate our freedom.  If you are living in another country you might have different ways of celebrating freedom or you may not be particularly focused on freedom.  Freedom means different things to different people.  For the person who has been in prison, freedom means being able to go where you want to go and do what you want to do.  For a student who is on vacation, freedom means not having to go to class and turn in homework.  For a person who is single, freedom means being able to date.  For the people who originally established the United States freedom meant being able to choose whatever religion or church that your conscience told you was the way to know God.  It was also about the freedom to self-govern rather than be governed by a dictator.

            Freedom can be a very good thing when it is rightly understood and practiced, but wrongly understood and practiced, freedom can be very dangerous.  America is about freedom in some ways, but not every way.  I’m not free to drive as fast as I want or in whatever direction I want on the highway.  I have to obey traffic laws or else I could cause injury or death to myself and others, or I can be criminally punished and lose the privilege of driving.  Freedom has to be rightly understood.  What am I free from and what am I free to do?

            When Paul talks about freedom here he has a couple of things in mind.  We are saved by God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ.  We are not saved by following some law or other legalistic ritual practice.  In the Church of Galatia, those who heard Paul preach the Gospel and were baptized into Jesus Christ were set free from the power of sin and death.  They were free to allow the spirit of God to transform their lives so that they could do what is most important, love. 

            Paul is obviously very angry in chapter 5 because he sees that they have chosen to reject the freedom given by the Gospel and have chosen to place themselves under the yoke of slavery to the Jewish Law.  Circumcision was the physical act of mutilating part of your body as a way of marking you as different.  Jewish boys were circumcised to distinguish them as children of Abraham and followers of the Mosaic Law.  One under the Law was required to obey all 611 laws ranging from what foods to eat, to how and where and when to worship, how to properly dispose of human waste, and ceremonially clean mildew.  Paul had been raised under that Law and it didn’t make him any closer to God.  It made him an enemy of Jesus Christ, and it certainly didn’t make him a more loving person.  He found faith in Christ and receiving the Spirit of God to be truly freeing and life-transforming.  He could not imagine going back to the slavery of the law.  So he cannot understand why the Galatian Christians were choosing to trade their freedom in Christ for enslavement to the law.

            Paul’s main emphasis is the Spirit and Love.  “The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.” (Galatians 5:6) “For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: ’Love your neighbor as yourself.’” (5:14) “The fruit of the Spirit is love” (5:22).  This is what’s most important for Paul, not the practices that separate Jews from Gentiles (circumcision, food, and observing The Law.)

            But Paul also doesn’t want followers of Christ to get the wrong idea about their freedom in Christ.  It is the Freedom from the power of sin, not the freedom to do whatever your flesh desires.  Some believers take grace and freedom to a place where Paul and God never intended for it to go.  The acts of the flesh that Paul lists: “sexual immorality, impurity, and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions, and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like.”  He is clear that a life that is given over to the flesh is not the life that results in life in the kingdom of God in the age to come.  It’s a freedom from the power of sin, not the freedom to do whatever you want that opposes the life of God.

            Receive God’s spirit through faith in Jesus Christ and live a life of love, that is what a life of fruitful and flourishing discipleship to Jesus Christ looks like.  Legalism is one extreme to avoid, lawlessness is the opposite extreme to avoid.  The goal is faith expressing itself through love.

-Jeff Fletcher

Questions for Discussion: 

  1.  Which extreme do you find more challenging in your discipleship- legalism or lawlessness?
  2. Why is our freedom in Christ so easily misunderstood?

No Longer a Slave

Thursday, August 11, 2022

 Galatians 4

            Parts of the Bible have been around for nearly 4,000 years.  Some parts are very clear and transcend time, place, language, and culture.  Instructions to not steal or to not murder generally don’t need a lot of contextual background to be understood.

            Other parts of the Bible come from contexts that are very different from our context and certain points can be confusing or easily lost in translation.  Galatians 4 uses words like slaves, heirs, and sons.  Paul wrote this against the backdrop of the Roman Empire so it is helpful to have a background understanding of civic and family life in ancient Rome to more easily understand Paul’s points in this part of his letter to the Christians in Galatia.

            Rome had different categories of persons.  To be a citizen of Rome was to be a person of privilege.  You had a lot of rights as a citizen: to vote, to run for public office, to get married, to make use of the legal system, to not be tortured or whipped.  This citizenship status and the accompanying rights were given to certain men.  Women had a lesser status as citizens and fewer rights- they could not vote nor run for public office.  Children had no rights, but they came under the protection of their fathers until the time when their fathers released them to become full citizens.

            There were other categories in the Roman Empire including Freedmen (former slaves, now free) who had some rights but were not automatically granted citizenship.  There were also Client States or allies who had some limited rights as citizens but not full citizenship.  Slaves had no rights and were not considered to be persons under Roman law.

            Because Paul was a Roman citizen and was writing to Christians who were in the Roman Empire, they would have had a basic understanding of these facts.  In addition to being a Roman Citizen, Paul was also a Jew and there were elements of the Jewish faith that would also have been well understood by these Galatian Christians, particularly those who themselves were Jews.  Paul also utilizes what is known as an allegorical interpretation of the Bible as he argues his case here.  An allegorical reading sees beyond the literal meaning of the story to the deeper symbolism found therein.

            With this as a background, Paul is showing these Christians that life in Christ is far superior to life under the Jewish Law.  Becoming a Christian is like going from being a slave to becoming a son.  To be a son is vastly better in terms of the rights given compared to being a slave.   Paul uses this to show the stark contrast between living under the law of Judaism vs. being redeemed by God and granted the spirit and the gift of sonship whereby we are now heirs of God’s coming Kingdom.  This should be a no-brainer.  And yet, Paul has been facing opposition from those who are teaching that Gentile converts to Christianity must live under the Jewish Law.  That is like telling an adopted son that he has to live under the rules of the slave.  It’s crazy.

            Today, it’s not terribly likely that you as a Christian are going to be bombarded by people trying to convince you to live under the Jewish law.  When was the last time someone insisted that you get circumcised (if you are an uncircumcised male), eat kosher foods, strictly observe the Jewish Sabbath, make pilgrimages 3 times a year to Jerusalem and offer sacrifices at the temple (when there is no temple anyway)?  We’re not likely to be enticed to enter into the “slavery” of law-keeping.  However, we very likely are being invited to enter into the slavery of lawlessness or sin.  Far more commonly, Paul talks about being a slave to sin and death.  As sons of God, we don’t have to become Jews and follow Jewish dietary and ceremonial laws, but we do have to follow Christ and live godly lives.  In Galatians 5 Paul will contrast living by the flesh vs. living by the spirit.  Paul wants Christians here to understand that in Christ we are not slaves but free.  We are not slaves we are sons (and daughters).  We should use that freedom wisely and not misuse it to be enslaved again whether it be to the law or to sin/the flesh.

-Jeff Fletcher

Questions for Discussion:

1.  How does seeing yourself as a son or daughter rather than as a slave change how you live?

2.  How have you misused your freedom?  What parts of slavery do you find most tempting?

The End of Division

Galatians 3

Wednesday, August 10, 2022

            I don’t know about you, but to me, it feels like the world is really divided right now.  More divided than we’ve been in a long time.  Liberal vs. Conservative.  The liberals call the conservatives Fascists or Nazis, the conservatives call the liberals Communists.  We are divided between theists and anti-theists, or some would divide us as racist or anti-racist.  Still, others would divide us as binary or non-binary, pro-live or pro-choice.  Living in perpetual states of division is stressful, painful, and exhausting.  In the words of Rodney King during the L.A. racial riots of the early 1990’s “Can we…can we all get along?”

            That’s kind of what Paul was saying to the Galatian Christians.  There was division going on in their Church.  Paul taught them that we are saved by putting our faith in Jesus Christ as the son of God who died for our sins and whom God raised from the dead.  This salvation is open to everyone who believes, young or old, male or female, Jew or Gentile (non-Jew).  As Paul was traveling on his mission to other places in Asia and Europe to share the message of Jesus Christ and the Gospel of the Kingdom of God with as many as he could, he received reports that people had come into the Churches in Galatia insisting that Gentile believers must begin practicing Jewish law in order to be saved.

            Paul was pretty angry with the Christians there who were being led astray by the teaching of these “Judaizers”  (people who insisted that Gentile Christians must practice Jewish Law in order to be saved).  Paul calls them fools and victims of witchcraft for allowing themselves to be taught something so clearly contrary to the gospel that he preached to them previously.

            Paul goes back and shows from the Hebrew Bible (our Old Testament) that even back in the time of Abraham God made his plan very clear.  God always planned to bring salvation not only to the Jews who were descendants of Abraham but also to Gentiles who were not biological descendants of Abraham.  Paul shows that God called Abraham long before the Ten Commandments and Ceremonial Laws were given to the Jewish people.  As Jews, they were always recipients of God’s grace.  The Law was never a precondition to them being chosen as God’s covenant people.  Paul wants it to be clearly understood that for the Gentiles they are brought into God’s chosen family not on the basis of observing Jewish ceremonial law or even moral law, but on the basis of faith in Jesus Christ.

            In Christ, old barriers and divisions come falling down.  We all become a part of the one family of God through Jesus Christ. It doesn’t matter our nationality, our age, our sex, our citizenship status or our righteousness according to the law.  What matters is that we come to Jesus Christ and have been clothed in Jesus Christ.

            Later in Galatians Paul will talk about what it means to crucify the flesh and to live according to the spirit and produce virtuous actions by the spirit, but the fruit is a result of salvation, not the precondition to being saved.

            The only true way to end division in the world is by becoming one with Jesus Christ through faith.

-Jeff Fletcher

Questions for Discussion:

1.  What are the kinds of things that divide Christians and Churches today?  What action will you take to help remove divisions where you worship and serve?

2.  Why is it important to understand virtue as a result of salvation rather than as a precondition to salvation?

How Do You Save the World?

Tuesday, August 9, 2022

 Galatians 2

            The following story is based on a Poem by Loren Eiseley called The Star Thrower:

Once upon a time, there was a man walking along the shore. As he looked down the beach, he saw a human figure moving like a dancer. He smiled to himself to think of someone who would dance to the day. So he began to walk faster to catch up. As he got closer, he saw that it was a young man and the young man wasn’t dancing, but instead, he was reaching down to the shore, picking up something and very gently throwing it into the ocean.

As he got closer, he called out, “Good morning! What are you doing?” The young man paused, looked up and replied, “Throwing starfish into the ocean.”

“I guess I should have asked, “Why are you throwing starfish into the ocean?”

“The sun is up and the tide is going out. And if I don’t throw them in they’ll die.

“But young man, don’t you realize that there are miles and miles of beach and starfish all along it. You can’t possibly make a difference!”

The young man listened politely. Then bent down, picked up another starfish, and threw it into the sea, past the breaking waves. “It made a difference for that one!” https://starthrower.com/pages/the-star-thrower-story

            How do you save the world?  One starfish at a time.  That seems to be how God does it.  When you look at the history of salvation as revealed in the Bible, God often begins the work through a single person.  When God decided to create one special nation who would enter into a personal, covenant-based relationship with Him, He began with one man, a man named Abram (later Abraham).  God entered into a special bond with Abraham and promised to make him into a great nation that would eventually bring blessing to all the earth.  Abraham was the father of the nation of Israel, God’s chosen people.  Israel’s mission as God’s people was to be a light to all the nations of the world. 

            Israel struggled to fulfill that calling from God and became very inward-focused.  They elevated their unique relationship with God and emphasized their “set apart” status, worn as a badge of superiority.  They lost the mission imperative that God first gave to Abraham.

            God always had the heart to reach all people, not just descendants of Abraham by birth.  When the time came to expand his relationship with all humans and open the doors of salvation to the nations not descended from Abraham, God again started small.  Through one man, Jesus of Nazareth, God’s only begotten Son, God would open the doors of salvation to people from every nation.

            It was difficult for many of Abraham’s descendants to grasp that in Christ, God was extending his saving hand to all people.  One of the issues the early church wrestled with was “what is necessary for one who is not a descendant of Abraham, not from the nation of Israel, to do to become a member of God’s chosen people?”  The church agreed that they needed to be baptized into Jesus Christ and be obedient to Christ as their Lord and observe the basic commandments to not worship idols, not steal, kill, commit adultery or misuse the name of the Lord.  But still, for many of the descendants of Abraham who had lived separated lives, eaten special kosher food, and not shared meals with Gentiles, it was very difficult for them to imagine embracing those Gentiles, whom they had previously considered to be nothing better than dogs, as equals in the sight of God.

            While Peter, James, and the other Apostles continued to make their primary focus on sharing the message of Jesus Christ died and risen and coming again as King with their fellow Israelites, the Apostle Paul was called by God to bring that same message about Jesus to the Gentiles.  Through Paul’s preaching and missionary work, God’s kingdom was expanding to include people from every nation, and language on earth.  God made it clear to Peter in a vision that the dietary laws that they followed as Jews and the physical act of having all males circumcised were not to be a requirement for Gentiles coming into the Church.  You didn’t have to become a Jew in order to become a Christian.  But this did not sit well with many Jewish Christians who found it challenging to let go of those old prejudices and barriers.

            Paul’s letter to the Galatians was written to correct his fellow Jewish Christian and convince them to change their attitudes and practices in relation to Gentile Converts.  When they tried to make the Gentiles become Jews when they became Christians, Paul called this a “different gospel”.  They were creating unnecessary barriers to salvation.

            Do we today put up unnecessary barriers to salvation for people who are outside of the Church?  Sometimes we place our cultural preferences and traditions in the same category as the message of Jesus Christ and require others to jump through those hoops in order to be accepted into the Church.  When we create extra requirements beyond the basic teaching of the gospels and expect people to meet our cultural expectations in order to be saved, we are preaching a different gospel and keeping people away from Jesus and his saving love.

-Jeff Fletcher

Questions for Discussion:

1.  What can the young man in the Star Thrower teach us about going about the overwhelming task of rescuing the world from sin?

2.   What are some unnecessary barriers to salvation that you have observed in church or in your own witness to unbelievers?

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