of angels and gospels

(by Pastor Joe)

The Word for Today: Galatians 2

mark this- Galatians 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!

In our lives, each one of us has some “not so proud moments” that we’d rather forget about. One of my career low-lights come from a White Elephant gift exchange gone horribly wrong. I was in a college at the time, and this took place in a small group of about 15-20. (If you’ve never participated in a White Elephant- do yourself a favor and stay far away!)

There were lots of decent gifts for the taking: games, candy, gift cards. But for some strange reason, I had my heart dead set on the Sea Monkeys. I picked them up early, and thought I was safe, because no one else seemed to want them. I was already planning out how and where I could hatch these glorified brine shrimp, when all of the sudden the final person decided to forgo all of the more appealing prizes, and went straight for my Sea Monkeys. That made me a bit upset, but I at least had the opportunity to open up a small wrapped box and maybe get something decent. To my shock and utter horror, the present that I was stuck with was none other than a small, porcelain baby angel.

I have a very low tolerance for cheesy and sentimental “Christian paraphernalia,” especially when that junk is decidedly un-biblical. As I look throughout the Bible, it’s become very clear to me that there are not any “chubby naked babies with wings.” So in my frustration I took that porcelain angel, and wrenched off its wings, head and left foot. I felt vindicated doing so, even though the poor girl who brought the original gift was right there in the room. (She was speechless- I tend to have that effect on people.) Looking back, I am sure that my rage had less to do with my righteous indignation and more to do with my lack of Sea Monkeys.

So I will admit, as we come to today’s reading, that episode left me with somewhat of a bias against angels. But from what Paul wrote in Galatians and what has happened in history since, maybe we all need to hold a bit more caution. As we learned from yesterday’s reading, the people of Galatia were in danger of abandoning the true Gospel. The had allowed outside forces to infiltrate and water down the Gospel. That’s a big deal, hence the harsh words from Paul.

He gives them (and us) a key truth: A different gospel is really no gospel at all. Or, to put it in other words: As soon as you change the good news it ceases to be good news. Once the Galatians tried to add to the message of Jesus Christ, once they made keeping the Jewish Law in order to be saved a requirement, they left the true Gospel behind.

No one has the authority to change or add to the gospel- no apostle, no human, not even an angel. Consequently, any kind of person, be they king, pope, bishop, pastor, politician, prophet, blogger, or historian who attempts to add or alter the message of Christ is merely heaping condemnation upon themselves. So what then is that message?

Try 1 Corinthians 15:3-4 first:
For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures…

If that’s too long for your liking, try 2 Corinthians 5:21:
God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

For nearly 2000 years, all kinds of people have tried to add all sorts of stuff to the Gospel. Hundreds of heresies have come and gone, all kinds of religious fads have gained prominence, only to fall out of favor. Other falsehoods seem to hold on much more tenaciously. But no matter how many adherents they gain, their basic premise is wrong. Even if an actual angel appeared to Muhammad (Islam) or Joseph Smith (Mormonism), that angel could not trump or override the  “the faith that was once for all entrusted to God’s holy people (1).”

There is only one message that convicts, converts and saves sinners; follow Paul’s advice by accepting no imitation.

(1) Jude 3

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what a mess!


(by Pastor Joe)

The Word for Today: Galatians 1

mark this- Galatians 1:6-7
“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— which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ.”

Whether it was your kitchen, or your car, or your office, or your back yard, each one of us has experienced a situation where we left a certain area in pristine condition, left, and then returned to find a huge, unexpected mess. Whether caused by a dog, or a flood, or an errant bowl of chili, it’s a terrible feeling. I got my first taste of this several years ago, in the early stages of toilet-training our son. We tucked him real nice & clean in on a warm summer night thinking our job was done. The next morning, we were in for a pleasant surprise. During the night he managed to remove his diaper and leave all sorts of surprises for us- all over his bedding, clothes, & blankets.
What a mess!

What a mess indeed! This is exactly what is going on here in the letter to the Galatians. Paul had figuratively tucked them in safe and sound, only to find a royal mess upon his return. So everything is set? Not at all! Let’s recount some background information:

- Galatia was not a city, but a Roman province in Asia Minor (what is modern day Turkey.)
- This area was so important in the early church. Center of correspondence of the letters.
- Paul was born nearby, and he had been to Galatia well before this letter was written. He ministered there and brought the Gospel. He saw the people receive it with great joy. He left the Gospel in good hands and moved on, to proclaim the Gospel to other areas (1).

But soon he gets a report back that these church plants in Galatia have some huge issues. Evidently a group of false teachers within the church know as the Judaizers , have brought some serious upheaval & confusion to the faithful of the entire area. And we see Paul cutting the usual pleasantries, like an angry parent, as he demands: “What in the world is going on!?!”

Throughout the entire letter, some very strong language used- ‘astonished…deserting…eternally condemned’ (And that’s just from the first chapter!) The Judaizers had infiltrated and attempted to alter the true gospel by adding new requirements- keeping the law, circumcision, adherence to Jewish rules & traditions. They basically required those who wanted to be Christians to become Jews first.

Of course they were dead wrong, but Paul is even more heartbroken at the fact that his spiritual children were so quickly and easily deceived. There are many more strong words to come! Over the next week we will see how this plays out…

(1) Acts 13:13- 14:23

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the trailing edge of faith

The Word for today:
Joshua 24

There’s a well-known verse in today’s reading, the kind of verse that ends up painted or embroidered, then framed and hung on the wall:
“As for me and my house, we will serve the LORD.” (Joshua 24:15)

Embroidered and hung on the wall like that, out of context and cut in half, the verse sounds like a commitment to “God” (whoever that might be).

But here’s the complete verse, within its context:
“Now, therefore, fear the LORD and serve Him in sincerity and truth. Put away the gods which your fathers served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the LORD.

“If it is disagreeable in your sight to serve the LORD, choose for yourselves today whom you will serve: whether the gods which your fathers served which were beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living; but as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD.” (Joshua 24:14-15)

What Joshua is saying, in his final speech to the nation, is that there are many so-called “gods.” You can take your pick from a vast array of false gods, he tells them–the false gods of Egypt, the false gods of the Amorites (and the false gods of the Americans, too.)

But he and his family will reject those idols and choose the LORD. (“LORD,” when spelled with all capitals, is the covenant name of Yahweh/Jesus–the Savior who is revealed in Scripture.)

So the passage, when understood in its fullness, is as much about rejecting the false as it is about serving the true.

The New Testament says the same thing this way:
You turned away from idols to serve the true and living God. (1 Thessalonians 1:9)


As we turn to Jesus Christ, we are turning away from a false god or “idol” of some kind or another. (An idol can be anything we put first, ahead of God.)

The “turning to” is called faith. The “turning from” is called repentance. They are two sides of the same coin.

This can be literally demonstrated by reaching into your pocket for a dime. When you stand it on edge and turn the leading edge toward something, the trailing edge simultaneously turns–putting what used to be first behind.

Faith and repentance are so much a part of each other that faith unaccompanied by repentance is barely worth a nickel.


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east vs. west pt. 2 (from problems to solutions)

(by Pastor Joe)

The Word for Today: Joshua 23

Yesterday we left off at a cliffhanger of truly biblical proportions. In it we saw the 2.5 tribes that settled to the East of the Jordan river being threatened with impending military action by their fellow Israelites who settled to the West of the river.

Why? Well building a stone structure without a permit, to start. Then serious accusations of religious and national apostasy. Next rumors of, and then a mustering for a civil war. This is exactly what the barely-settled nation of Israel needed least, and yet that is what they faced. This could get real ugly real quick. And yet-it didn’t.

As mentioned yesterday, the real miracle from this story is that there isn’t one (no sun stopping, no river parting, no walls a’tumbling down.) Just some good old fashioned crisis intervention. When we actually examine what they did, the contemporary application is astounding. Let’s take a look:

First of all, we have to give some acknowledgement to the 9.5 tribes for taking action (albeit a bit premature). They at least cared. They took their faith, and the Law of Moses seriously (1). If the accusations were true, and these tribes were indeed going rogue and putting up an alternate location for sacrifice, that was a big deal. After years wandering in the wilderness, and then an extensive military campaign in the Promised Land, the last thing that any soldier wanted was to go to war with their fellow Israelites. Yet, that is what they were willing to do.

If there is a legitimate issue, you have to deal with it. You have to take some action. The worst thing in the world to do is ignore it. The greatest temptation for many of us (yours truly included) is to try to pretend the issue is not there or that it will take care of itself. But not dealing with anything is really weakness or laziness.

In a surprisingly fresh analysis (considering it is about 100 years old) Mr. G.K. Chesterton spoke about his native country of England:

It is customary to complain of the bustle and strenuousness of our epoch. But in truth the chief mark of our epoch is a profound laziness and fatigue; and the fact is that the real laziness is the cause of the apparent bustle. Take one quite external case; the streets are noisy with taxicabs and motorcars; but this is not due to human activity but to human repose. There would be less bustle if there were more activity, if people were simply walking about (2).

We complain of being too busy, but the evidence shows otherwise. I would argue that the greatest sins of America and the American church are sins of omission: not caring, not dealing with anything, not taking action, not wanting to be bothered, not doing much of anything.

Secondly, we have to commend the Western Tribes for their wisdom of sending an investigative delegation before actually launching offensives. For lesser people, seeing that altar on the other side of the Jordan would be all the information they need. They would be swift, they would be self-righteous, they would show those apostates a thing or two, and they would be dead wrong in their assumptions, leading to much destruction. I know that each of us have been to a place of deep regret when we acted on incomplete information, thinking we had everything figured out, only to find that we didn’t. There’s no easy way of getting out of that mess.

We’ve all been told not to jump to conclusions or to assume anything. But in any real conflict, the temptation to do both skyrockets. We need to make sure that we are not ignorant of our own ignorance. We need to actually research and investigate and double-check our facts. When you’re cutting a 2 X 4, you’re always told to “measure twice and cut once.” I think we’d better follow the example of this delegation and get our facts straight before we start cutting off heads ourselves.

Finally, conflict requires that we deal with the specifics. Consider how specific the interchange is between the leaders of the two different parties involved. It’s just the facts, ma’am! Consider the exchange (3):

Westsiders Concerns:
- How can you break faith with the God of Israel?
- How can you build yourselves an altar?
- Don’t you remember what happened last time?
- Your sin will affect all of us
- Come move over with us if this land isn’t good enough
- Please do NOT rebel against the Lord

Eastsiders Response:
- God knows what is going on here
- If we are indeed rebelling then you ought to destroy us
- But we are not rebelling
- This altar is NOT for offerings and sacrifice
- This altar is a memorial for our and your descendants
- This altar will point us to the true altar of God

There’s no mention about anyone’s childhood, no vague generalities, nothing about feelings, no appeals to Oprah or Dr. Phil. No third party gets involved. These folks are committed to being reconciled, and they do it the right way; all which leads us to the grand finale and it is a happy one. The crisis is averted. The day is saved. Now go and do likewise. (Just remember it’s always harder than it looks!)

(1) see Leviticus 17:8
(2) GK Chesterton, Orthodoxy, chapter 7
(3) Joshua 22:15-29

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the original east versus west–pt. 1

(by Pastor Joe)

The Word for today: Joshua 22

Have you ever felt like the whole purpose of your life was to serve as a warning to others?

For us, we can never really know if that is our lot in life. But for the Israelites, it was a much different story. Whether they knew it or not, they have for ages been on display for all to see and know about. Remember the words of the Apostle Paul:
For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope (1).

After all, they are our spiritual ancestors, and we can certainly look to the great heroes of old for inspiration and encouragement. But we are naive if we do not admit the truth that they were flawed people, that they had a very checkered history with all sorts of skeletons coming from all kinds of closets. (Come to think of it- they sound a lot like you and me!) For every Joshua and Caleb, there were 10 faithless spies. Ever since their Exodus from Egypt, we’ve seen all sorts of depravity: repeated grumbling, idolatry, false worship, rebellion, and sexual immorality (2).

So far in this book of Joshua, we’ve also seen a mixed bag. Great successes, but also failures- (e.g. the troubles with Ai and Achan’s sin, being foolishly duped by the Gibeonites (3). It has not been a cake walk to conquer all the Promised Land, and there have been different setbacks. Today’s reading finds us at another crisis, where things can really go bad for this fledgling nation of Israel. But the encouraging part is that here, for this moment, the crisis is actually adverted. There is no direct divine intervention, nothing supernatural, but perhaps the bigger miracle is the fact that we have a genuine, bonafide success story.

Today, we’ll explore the the details of the story…

Here’s a brief summary of what we know:
A. As seen from the map above, 9 (and a half) of the 12 Tribes of Israel found their land allotment on the West side of the Jordan River. (We’ll call them “Westsiders”)
B. The other 2.5 tribes: Reuben, Gad and half of Manasseh had the territory to the East side of the Jordan. (We’ll call them “Eastsiders”)
C. Since the East side was conquered first, the women and children of the Eastsiders were permitted to settle in their territory. But the men who could fight were required to remain with the Israeli army until all the land was secure (4).
D. Israel indeed conquered the nearly all of the Promised Land (5).
E. It was time for the soldiers of the Eastsiders to go home, and home they went, with Joshua’s blessing.

Okay. So far, so good; so what is the big deal?

First there are rumors, then a confirmed report that an altar-like structure is indeed being constructed. The problem is that the Law of Moses allowed for exactly one place for sacrifice and offerings, and that was at the Tent of Meeting (Tabernacle). The penalty for violating this was death (6). That Tent was residing, at that time, in Shiloh (7). So when the other 9.5 tribes heard about the altar the Eastsiders were building, they immediately assumed the worse, and they planned to wage war in order to correct this breach of faith…

(To be continued. Tomorrow we’ll focus on what they got right and how we can learn from what happened here.)

(1) Romans 15:4
(2) see Exodus 16 & 32; Leviticus 10; Numbers 14, 16, 31
(3) see Joshua 7 & 9
(4) Numbers 32:29-33
(5) see Joshua 1-21
(6) Leviticus 17:8
(7) Joshua 18:1

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