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

Life is Hard

Old Testament Reading: Deuteronomy 23 & 24

Psalms Reading: Psalm 88

New Testament Reading: Galatians 4

Life is hard.  There are terrible things that all people, even Christians, experience simply because we live in a fallen and sinful world.  Some of the hard things people experience are because of their own poor choices, others are because of someone else’s poor choices, and still others are simply things that cannot be controlled.  Financial stress comes to those who are unwise with their money, car accidents happen when people are paying attention to their phone instead of the road, sickness such as cancer can occur in the healthiest and best people.  Life is hard.

This Psalm (88) is written by Heman the Ezrahite, and unlike most other laments in Psalms, it doesn’t end on a positive, hopeful, note.  Instead, it concludes with darkness.  This psalmist equates his life’s troubles to nearing Sheol (v.3).  He feels weak, overwhelmed, desperate, rejected, and lonely.  Heman writes that his eyes are worn out from crying out all day long (v.9). 

If you’re like me, you may be wondering why in the world this Psalm is included in Scripture… it offers no hope and seemingly no connection to an amazing God.  Why would this be allowed in the Bible??  Doesn’t it turn others off our faith to have someone just writing about how hard life is, even after worshiping God?  How does this chapter bring me anything for my faith walk if it’s just about sadness?

Well, despite being credited as one of the saddest psalms, after some prayerful consideration I also see how important this psalm can be.  Throughout the psalm Heman writes about coming to God, crying out to Him, raising his hands to the Lord, and continually praying (vv.1, 9, 13).  It seems that even with his world crashing down around him and when he feels like he is drowning, his first reaction is to reach out to God.  What an example of faithful living!  

The life of a Christian is never stated to be easy.   In fact, there are times in everyone’s life that I would expect them to be in a similar place as Heman was when writing this psalm.  Overwhelmed, exhausted, alone, in the dark.  If God ‘allowed’ this psalm to be part of his God-breathed Scriptures, then we have to believe it holds value for our lives.  There must be value in the pain and hardship that Heman describes, and the pain we still go through in the modern day.  The lesson we can take away from Heman’s writing is that in all the pain, we can always come to God.  Whether it’s through prayer or simply crying out, God is there to hear us no matter where we are in our life. 


Heman wrote this psalm long before Christ came around.  While he had hope of a coming Savior, our hope resides in a Savior who came, and is coming again.  How does this change our laments or prayers to God?

Balancing hopeful positivity and the real difficulty of life is truly an art.  How does what we know about God impact this balance in your life?

What did God reveal to you about his character in this passage?


Lord, we live in a broken, sinful world.  This life is hard.  Today we pray for you to comfort those who are struggling, to give strength and hope to those who need it.  But we also pray that no matter what life circumstances they are in, they ultimately know that they can go to you in any form.  God, thank you for the hope we have in Christ Jesus.  We are excited for your Kingdom to be brought to earth where there will be no more suffering.  We longingly look to that day.  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.

A Good God

Old Testament Reading: Deuteronomy 19 & 20

Psalms Reading: Psalm 86

New Testament Reading: Galatians 2

People have been messing up by accident (or on purpose) for our entire existence… in Deuteronomy, we see a few different ways that God helped set up processes for when people are people and mess up. 

In Deuteronomy 19 God has already established laws to follow, but He knows people will still mess up unintentionally, and so He takes the time to establish ways of showing justice and grace in those random, accidental sins.  Killing people will always equal sin, yet God creates a safe haven to run to for those who commit this sin unintentionally (v. 4).  Put yourself in that world and think of the magnitude of this gracious retreat to a neighboring city instead of facing death… in a culture where the governing law is “life for life” (v.21), having the opportunity to flee to a nearby city shows just how loving our God truly is.  No murder (or sin) is exempt, but God makes a way out of the death penalty that someone should be subject to… sound familiar?

In Deuteronomy 20 we get a GREAT “refrigerator” verse: “…for the LORD your God is the one who goes with you, to fight for you against your enemies, to save you. (v.4)”.  God knew the Israelites weren’t strong enough to defeat their enemies on their own, He knew He had to go with them and fight FOR them.  God uses the priests to weed out those who are not confident in His power, because He knows that a smaller, faithful army is stronger than a larger, cowardly one.  And He knows that there are plenty of cowards and uncommitted people in His people!  God knew that His people were easily influenced, which is why He tells them to utterly destroy their enemies, so that there is zero chance His people can be pulled away from Him in that way (v.17-18).   God also knew that His people would get rid of good things when they shouldn’t, which is why He clearly states to leave the trees that can feed His people (v.19).  He covered everything the Israelites needed, just because He is a Good God, who loves His people.  Again… sound familiar?

-Sarah Blanchard Johnson


Where do you feel in your life God has covered you like He covered the Israelites?

These chapters give us several examples of God revealing His character.  How many words can you come up with using just these passages that describe God?  I came up with 6… 


Lord, we praise you because you are a Good God.  Thank you for the way you have always covered your people even when we mess up.  God, thank you for the gift of your son and the safe haven he is for our sins.  I pray that today we all feel your grace covering us, and that we show everyone around us that same grace – ultimately, being a light for you and for your glory.  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

Paul on the Truth

Theme Week – 1 God, 1 Messiah: 1 Timothy 2

Old Testament Reading: Deuteronomy 13 & 14

Psalms Reading: Psalm 83

     Paul had asked one of his best supporters, Timothy (Philippians 2:19-22), to stay at Ephesus and address false teaching (1 Timothy 1:3-7). In 6:20-21 Paul warns against “the opposing arguments of what is falsely called ‘knowledge’ – which some have professed and thus gone astray from the faith.” (NASB). By writing of “knowledge” (gnosis in Greek) this way Paul suggests the presence of “gnostic” thought in Ephesus. “Gnosticism” covers a range of belief systems from the early centuries of the Christian era and grasping all of that history isn’t the point here, but I will mention some possible links to a gnostic group later.

     The chapter begins with a support for prayer, highlighting its benefits for good order. The Jews had an exemption from sacrificing for the emperors and gave prayer for the emperors. The Romans accepted this compromise in part because they knew the strength of the Jewish conviction in their one God, and the risk of rebellion if they rejected it. For a time Christians were accepted under that compromise by the Romans, being seen as a category of Jewish believers. But Paul was not necessarily speaking of the compromise at all, but just of the benefits of prayer itself.

     Paul goes on to state that he wants all to know the truth: “For there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself as a ransom for all, the testimony given at the proper time.” (verses 5-6). The fact of Jesus being a mediator between God and humanity doesn’t come up often – the word for mediator only shows up six times in the New Testament, here, in Galatians 3, and in Hebrews 8, 9 and 12. Mediation is relevant for Jesus in his position as High Priest, one of the three tasks tied to being the Christ / Messiah, the anointed one. Once a year the High Priest would enter the Holy of Holies (where the Ark of the Covenant was) and pray on behalf of the nation. This text in 1 Timothy addresses how Jesus is also the ransom, the sacrifice, which permitted the High Priest to enter the Holy of Holies. The High Priest did not perform a sacrifice inside that room, he brought in blood from a sacrifice of a lamb that had taken place outside the room, and sprinkled it in the room. And so Jesus, our High Priest, is able to enter the true Holy of Holies in heaven and remain there – not one day but perpetually – based on having provided his own blood as the lamb (Revelation 5:9; Hebrews 10:11-25).

     I also see Jesus as a proper mediator in how he understands the perspectives of both sides – he is the one sinless human being (1 Peter 2:22), better fit than anyone else to speak for God’s concerns (and, of course, God’s chosen representative as the Christ), but he is a human who suffered temptations as we do (Hebrews 4:15).

     The later part of the chapter may explain why Paul was giving a brief explanation of the true faith – I would suggest he made his statement when he did in contrast to the teachings being presented by those he was having issues with in Ephesus. Sometimes people have argued about whether these statements should be taken as universal to all churches. I do not see them as universal, nor do I see them as restricting all women in Ephesus, because of inconsistencies this would create and because of an alternate explanation I perceive. But first the inconsistencies.

     Some translations say “teach or have authority” in verse 12, but texts like 1 Corinthians 11 show that Paul accepted women as teachers (and he named various female co-workers in his letters, such as the well-known Priscilla, Phoebe, etc.). It seems better from the Greek to see this phrase as “teach with authority” which means it is not two issues but one, guided by whatever type of authority we are dealing with – because this is not the normal word for “authority” in the New Testament. The Greek word used in 1 Timothy 2:12 for “authority” only appears here in the Bible, telling us little, but its extrabiblical uses suggest it is more like a kind of stolen authority which Paul would not wish any Christian (male or female) to obtain. The reason that this passage links it to women will be made more clear shortly. The text says that Adam was created before Eve but does not state why this is significant – many have suggested this should relate to some greater authority for Adam due to being made first, an authority extending to men in general. But this is not discussed elsewhere in the Bible, and commonly greater responsibility results in greater punishment upon failure, not a continuation of such responsibility after failure. Next, the text says that Adam was not “deceived”, which has sometimes been thought to mean (in supposed context of Paul’s point) that Adam handled the truth about the tree better than Eve so men were to be able to handle the truth better than women. But both Adam and Eve sinned regarding the tree, and most texts about this Bible event refer to Adam, not Eve, as key to the punishment of humanity for sin (even if they are only using his name symbolically because he was the first human). And lastly, verse 15, in some readings, makes it sound like a woman’s salvation depends on bearing children rather than upon her relationship with Jesus. This seems to be a complete absurdity, particularly considering Paul’s stated support for Christians remaining unmarried (1 Corinthians 7:8).

     Now to a proposed alternative, that there were female teachers in Ephesus advocating for a gnostic sect who had infiltrated the church. Such sects cover a range of ground, but they included those who claimed that the physical universe in which we live was created by accident as an off-shoot from the powers of a purely spiritual being too different from us to even interact with us or to create matter. They would propose that this far away being self-generated a lesser spirit (like a plant gives off fruit) which in turn generated a lesser spirit, and so on (some versions went through hundreds of levels, possibly mocked as the “endless genealogies” of 1 Timothy 1:4). Eventually the story would arrive at a being that was weak / foolish enough to produce matter rather than spirit, and that being created our universe. The result was the trapping of fragments of spirit in matter – souls stuck in bodies – which needed to be retrieved to re-merge with the higher beings. Thus one of the higher spirit beings gets sent to provide the necessary knowledge to these fragments (which are unaware of their own origins) for them to escape their reality.

     It was popular in some gnostic circles to steal the writings of other groups, Jewish, Christian, Zoroastrian, philosophy, etc., and rewrite it to present the beliefs of the gnostic group. The Genesis account of the tree of knowledge of good and evil was popular to twist, given the tree’s name. One particular group we know of presented that tree as a positive thing to eat from to gain understanding, and described the snake as a heroic spirit-being who came to convince Eve to eat from it. They described the God of the Old Testament as the creator of the physical universe who was blocking information about higher reality from the creation. Eve was presented as having been the original human (not Adam) and, since the snake supposedly told truth, she was also specifically not deceived. This type of switch in Eve’s origin story also plays into the fact with some gnostic groups of favoring priestess figures over priests.

     You can see how what Paul says in verses 13 and 14 may be a repudiation of teachings by people in Ephesus who supported gnostics. Paul is asserting truth from Genesis. Adam was created first. Adam was not deceived by God about the tree, Eve was deceived by the serpent.

     Verse 15 caps things off – among gnostics there were two views on sexuality. Some groups said that they should be celibate to avoid physical attachments, since their goal was to leave the world behind as spirits. Some groups said that since they were going to leave their bodies behind it didn’t matter what they did with them at all. But all gnostics agreed on one thing as being an unforgiveable sin – to have a child. They saw having a child as trapping a fragment of “soul” in flesh within the creation. I see verse 15 as offering reassurance to women who had been told they were not allowed to have children that doing so was fine. What actually mattered was continuing in faith, love, and sanctity with self-restraint.

     I can’t demonstrate that the particular gnostic group I discussed was active in Ephesus – I can’t even demonstrate that the writing I was discussing about Genesis 3 had already been written at that point – but the details do seem to match together pretty well. If my proposed alternative were certainly incorrect, the inconsistencies I am concerned with would continue to concern me. And, of course, the ministry of the many women who worked alongside Paul would continue to be notable and compelling.

Lord, thank you for the opportunity to write these devotions. It has been difficult, but it has been useful to me as a demonstration that I can still be of use. I pray that I have not offended unnecessarily by anything I wrote, and that I have not mislead anyone or made an error in emphasis that would put them on the wrong course. I know that you are able to guide what people perceive in my words by your Spirit to take them where they actually need to go, and so now that my part is finished I entrust the next steps to you. Not that I did not rely on you to have been helping me along the way already. Please forgive my pride whenever I thought I was writing well, I was only writing about your words in the first place. Thank you for taking care of me, and for letting me know that you do. In the name of your son Jesus I pray these things, Amen.

-Daniel Smead


  1. Do you make a practice of praying for worldly leaders? Do you pray only for your own leaders, or also for the leaders of other areas? Do you expect these prayers to matter?
  2. What do you think of 1 Timothy 2:5-6 as a possible stand-in for John 3:16? John 3:16 has a ring to it, but I wonder if these verses would be more likely to get people looking for the details they need. Sometimes the idea of “believing in him” sounds vague, without the context. Saying there is “testimony” might remind people to find out what the testimony said. Of course no one is meant to be a Christian without context. What do you think is your “key” verse or verses for your faith at the moment?
  3. Verse 8 says, after Paul’s statement about faith and truth, that he wants prayer everywhere “without wrath and dissension” – do you think this might be another reference to the unity of the believers being a testimony to the world? Does prayer with wrath and dissension sound appealing?
  4. The fact that Paul kept saying what he wanted from the believers may suggest that he wasn’t always getting it from them, or that he was warning them, or that he was aware how many other people would read his letters. It really isn’t clear. Which do you think is the most likely situation? How often do you read something Paul said to do and think about applying it directly to yourself? How often do you read something Paul said to do and object to the idea of applying it to yourself? How much of that is based on you thinking your circumstances are different now?

To the One God through the One Man

Theme Week – 1 God, 1 Messiah: Romans 5

Old Testament Reading: Deuteronomy 11 & 12

Psalms Reading: Psalm 82

Today we move out of the Gospel accounts into some of Paul’s reasoning in Romans 5. Paul explains / rejoices in how our relationship with Jesus benefits us, including by creating / allowing a relationship with God.

     Early in the chapter Paul says some things about suffering and what can be gained from it (v. 3-5) that can remind us of the text near the end of Matthew 16 on those who gain from self-surrender. Though believers have been saved, they have not been saved from all suffering, they are saved from sin and guilt. We are servants of God, and our growth may sometimes depend upon what we experience.

     Verse 5 says “the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit”. It is by sharing in God’s love that we can do what God desires. God wants us to open our whole hearts to Him, but that is not the end. Then God can fill us with His own goodness and love and thus permit us to achieve a level of purity and grace which otherwise would be beyond us. But to really achieve this God needed Jesus. The separation between sinful humanity and holy God was too great for God to give the kind of gift He wished to make, until Jesus opened the way.

     Those are the terms of the discussion when Paul discusses Jesus’ death in verses 6-11, and it explains why so much of the talk is about God’s credit for Jesus dying (did you notice that part when you were reading the text?). The plan came from God, and at the right time “while we were helpless” God provided the lamb for the sacrifice (Genesis 22:8).

     God likes to promise things and have people look forward to them. We will not just live, we will share with Jesus in blessings. Verse 2, in a line that could remind us of John 17:22, says “we exult in hope of the glory of God.” In verse 10 Paul said the believers were no longer enemies but were reconciled to God through the death of Jesus – and “much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life”. In verse 17 Paul said “death reigned through the one, much more those who receive the abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ.” Getting to live more isn’t just about having more life, but better life. We can’t really grasp at this point what that life will be like, but we know that God thought it worth taking thousands of years to prepare for, and that He let His only son die to bring it about. I bet it will be excellent.

Lord, you are awesome. You are so holy and so merciful that it is hard for me to figure out how you bring them into balance together but somehow you did so that your plan could work and we could live. You wanted more from us and for us, and you made a way to achieve that, and I love you. You saved our lives through your son, Jesus, even though you love him so much and the plan caused him so much pain. And you are reshaping our lives. Please reshape the ways that we treat each other as believers to let us be more of what you desire, and let us provide a stronger witness together for you and your son to the world around us. In the powerful name of your son Jesus I pray these things, Amen.

-Daniel Smead


  1. On the whole, would you be willing for your life to be more difficult if it meant it were also more purposeful, more useful for God and the people He loves?
  2. Paul several times refers to a “gift”, or a “free gift” in this chapter – do you tend to think of what you expect to receive from God as a gift, or do you think of yourself as owing something?
  3. Verse 11 uses the language “Not only this, but we also exult in God through our Lord Jesus Christ”. Look up the word “exult.” How frequently, or to what extent, do you think that you do “exult” in God? Is this something you think you should do more? Do you see it as a group activity?
  4. As a reminder, verses 2 and 3 also refer to exulting – how often have you engaged in these types of exulting?
  5. Romans is sometimes thought of as more “theological”. Do you read Romans very often for devotional purposes? It may be that a longer chunk will allow the flow to come across, or perhaps a smaller chunk at a time will allow a morsel of meaning to come through. Thinking about what Paul actually wrote in this chapter, do you find his passion here surprising?

Who do You Say Jesus Is?

Theme Week – 1 God, 1 Messiah: Matthew 16

Old Testament Reading: Deuteronomy 9 & 10

Psalms Reading: Psalm 81

In Matthew 16 Jesus asked for the public’s opinions of him and the answer was a range of prophets: John the Baptist, Elijah, Jeremiah, or someone else. Considering that John and Jesus had careers that overlapped, spent time together in public, and notably behaved differently, that made little sense. Elijah had been taken up by a whirlwind before his death, leaving people to question if he had died, and a return for him was predicted in Malachi 4:5-6. But Elijah provides the special case of Elisha who had asked to serve in Elijah’s “spirit”, or rather a double-portion of it, so the return of Elijah may well suggest a return of Elijah’s “spirit” or attitude/ministry. And Jesus said that John the Baptist fulfilled the prophecy of Elijah, implying that was the case (Matthew 11:14). As for Jeremiah, who we associate with grief, perhaps Jesus gave a more solemn impression than we might guess, maybe with his attacks on religious leaders. It has also been pointed out that because of God’s instructions Jeremiah was unmarried, which could be a way for Jesus to remind people of him in a culture where almost all men married. There was even a tradition that said Jeremiah had hidden the Ark of the Covenant before Jerusalem fell to Babylon, and which expected him to return and reveal where he had put it.

     Have you noticed what these expectations tell us about the capacity for some in the public to believe nonsense? Jesus had made no claim to be any of these people. His origins were known, or should have been – and here were people wanting to think he was someone else. No wonder Jesus’ death and resurrection needed many witnesses, and so much evidence. It would be too easy otherwise for people to suppose that any claims of him being alive were just the result of fools accepting a story that the wise should ignore.

     But when Jesus asked who his disciples believed he was, Peter declared “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (16:16). This was new. ‘Christ’ is a title meaning anointed one (some versions use the Hebrew equivalent Messiah in place of the word Christ). Jesus was anointed, and not meaning with oil, but with what oil symbolized, the Holy Spirit Jesus had received at his baptism. And Jesus was the son of God, not normally a part of the discussions about the Christ.

     Peter was blessed because he was not told this by flesh and blood (a person), but was told by God. I think Jesus meant Peter is the starting point for this awareness, which could then be spread by word of mouth, but it started by revelation. Jesus uses a play on words from Peter’s name, that sounds like the word for “stone,” and says he will build his church (his gathering of believers) on the stone of the truth Peter was given. Also the gates of “hades” will not stand against the church. That is, the believers will be able to leave hades/the realm of the grave at the resurrection. Jesus’ attention is drawn back to his death in this chapter, and to the effect it will have. The keys promised to Peter seem to involve a role for Peter’s future. If you look at Isaiah 22:22 it suggests being a steward in the household of the king.

     We don’t know all of the things people thought then about the Christ, but we recognize that the Old Testament had three anointed roles which linked with roles for Christ: prophet, high priest, and king. (This idea may have been recognized very quickly in New Testament times, but we don’t find it written about until by Justin Martyr in the second century.)

     Prophet – Deuteronomy 18:15-18; Acts 3:22 – God promised the nation a special prophet “like Moses” who would speak for God.

     High Priest – Hebrews 2:17, etc; Psalm 110 – the High Priest had a special role of sacrifice and ministry on behalf of God’s people, which Jesus took on.

     King – 2 Samuel 7, Matthew 21:5, etc. – The expectation of Christ as a king was the most well established in the people’s minds, reflected in many places. People did not expect the kind of king Jesus turned out to be, or the delay in his earthly rule. Many people in Israel expected that the Christ-King would free God’s people from their mistreatment by the nations. Not many looked for the child of David to die to accomplish salvation. Certainly none looked for God’s child to do so.

     The events of Matthew 16 were a dividing point in Jesus’ ministry. Earlier the disciples may have had private guesses about Jesus’ role, but now Jesus asked the question they wanted the answer to and things came into the open. But when Jesus made other matters about his plans more plain for the disciples, things that did not seem to put glory onto his name in Peter’s eyes, Peter objected. Peter did so because his idea of the Christ didn’t match God’s idea of the Christ. It really was a revelation that had opened his mind, not his own wisdom. He still didn’t understand all that God had planned. In his reply, among other things, Jesus says that the Son of Man will come in the Father’s glory – not his own – and repay each man according to his deeds. Unless a man give up his life for Jesus’ sake, how can he get a new one? Peter didn’t get this at first, but he would get there.

Lord, help me to set my mind on your interests. Help me not to be a stumbling block to anyone around me by the way that I speak, or how I act, or how I respond to their choices. Please help me not to be held back from what I should be doing for you by hesitancy I gain from seeing the responses of others around me, either. Let me be prepared each day to lift my cross again, if I find I have set it down, and to follow Jesus. In his name, Amen.

-Daniel Smead


  1. Have you ever thought before about the risks of some people in the first century being too willing to believe in someone coming back from the dead? When God plans He plans for the details needed by every culture – what does that mean for believers’ efforts in writing about the scriptures, and translating them?
  2. Do you think it hurt Jesus for Peter to oppose him as he did? Do you think it hurt Peter for Jesus to speak to Peter as he did?
  3. With a really difficult lesson to learn, what are some advantages to having as good a teacher as Jesus?
  4. What is Scripture teaching you regarding who God is? What is Scripture teaching you regarding who Jesus is?
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