This blog is mostly sermons of a pastor serving Riverside Community Church, Mattawa/Desert Aire, Washington. An eremite is someone who lives in a wilderness or desert of some kind. I have often lived in remote places. Early Christian eremites lived under the discipline of solitude within the discipline of community. I try to be involved in worshiping, studying, and praying with others; and serving others wherever I find myself. I try to keep up with my correspondence in the electronic desert.
Preached on Sunday, June 9, 2013.
Scripture readings: Acts 13:4-12; Ephesians
Paul and Barnabas were honored to be invited into the
presence of the Roman governor of Cyprus to tell him the message
about Jesus. They found that he was, in so many ways, the perfect audience for
the good news.
Photos Taken around the Church & Manse In Washtucna WA
He was intelligent; which didn’t mean that he was
merely very smart. Being merely smart can cause so much trouble. Intelligence
meant that he could understand, and sort things out, and see what was really
there, and come to the right conclusion. And this intelligent audience had a
wizard, a sorcerer, right by his side.
We can’t be sure that Barnabas and Paul knew about
the sorcerer from the start. There was some shifting in what they knew. There
was some shifting in what they knew they had to do about it.
There was a kind of inspiration involved on Paul’s
part. We read that he was, “filled with the Holy Spirit, looked straight at
Elymas (the wizard)” and spoke judgment upon him. (Acts 13:9)
While Barnabas and Paul were trying to share their
faith and lead the governor to faith in Jesus, the sorcerer “opposed them and
tried to turn the governor from the faith.” There was this growing conflict
until the Holy Spirit opened the eyes of Paul to who this man named Elymas was,
and what he stood for. The conflict was an outbreak of what has been called
I know, from my own experience that such warfare is
real and that it is going on all the time. There is the Kingdom
of God and there is the ShadowKingdom
of this present darkness. There are armies of these kingdoms fighting some kind
of war that we can’t see, but that war involves us and has an affect on us.
At the same time, I want to avoid obsession. C. S.
Lewis said, "There are
two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils.
One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to
believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them." (C.S.
Lewis, “The Screwtape Letters”)
I think our human race can fall into the same pair of
opposite errors related to angels: either to disbelieve in them or to have an
unhealthy interest in them. Angels almost never make their presence known
unless they have a special mission that requires them to communicate with us.
Elymas the wizard probably would never have called
his familiar spirits devils. They were just spirits, and maybe even gods to
him. Or he thought they were angels at his service. As Paul says, “Satan
himself masquerades as an angel of light.” (2 Corinthians 11:14)
Paul, in his thoughts on our struggle against “the
spiritual forces of evil”, doesn’t tell us much about either devils or angels.
The angels may well be working or fighting all around us but, for Paul, the main
point is all about living inside of the spiritual realities that come to us
through Jesus: truth, righteousness, the good news of peace, faith, the Spirit
and word of God, and prayer. He calls this our armor, or our defense. He calls
it our means of standing through it all; standing up in resistance and going
forward. (Ephesians 6:11)
I have seen angels, myself, a few times. One summer
night, when I was sixteen, I struggled with an invisible devil until I was able
to say, “Go away, in Jesus’ name and don’t come back.”
That is one way of being aware of a spiritual warfare
but there is no need whatsoever for any kind of experience like that. In fact,
if you tried looking for experiences like this it might get you in a lot of
trouble. I would solemnly warn you that there are much more important and
necessary ways to be aware of such a warfare.
Paul said for us to be aware of it in the form of
things like truth, and peace, and faith, and prayer. Our hold on the truth, and
the peace that comes from the good news, and a faith and loyalty toward God in
our heart, and all kinds of prayer make us part of the warfare.
Seeing these in others is also a way in which we take
part. We see the armies of the kingdom
of God when people live
out the truth, and bring peace to others, and patiently cope by faith and
prayer; trusting and communicating with God.
At such times, you see and feel the unseen. You see
and feel the power of God living in others and living in you. You see it in the
love and integrity of families. You see it in the baptism of babies, and children,
and adults. You see it in weddings. You see it in holy funerals.
You see the glory of the armies of the kingdom of
light. You see people living out what God is putting into them, but you also
see it as a sign of the march of a whole kingdom (a whole new world) on the
move; holding out and advancing against the darkness.
On the other side of the war, it is easy to see the
sadness and the badness lurking in human nature; but sometimes you see
something much worse. You see self-fulfilling fears. You see self-destructive
behavior. You see the irresistible and irrational descent into misunderstanding
and misinterpretation between people who should be working together; people who
should be friends, or who should love each other.
You see something beyond human weakness. Sometimes
you hear the cackling laughter of the spiritual forces of darkness.
Paul was aware of something strange in his meeting
with the governor. There was this other man. His name was Bar-Jesus (bar-Joshua,
son of Joshua, a common name) Elymas (a Jewish and a Greek combination). In
this way he was just like Saul who was also Paul (Saulus Paulus, a Jewish and
Roman combination). One was a Jew who had turned into a sorcerer. The other was
a Jew who had turned into a Christian. They had parted ways. They had been
swept apart by the forces of the spiritual warfare.
The Romans were so much about mastery and control,
and this Roman governor was being mastered by the sorcerer every time Paul
tried to share Jesus with him. The governor was “intelligent”, meaning that he
had a gift for putting things and ideas together. He had the skill to see where
and how things added up, and he was oddly not able to hold on to anything Paul
In the governor’s oddly disabled intelligence Paul
saw something more than the work of a man who simply posed as a sorcerer. He
saw that Elymas was more than a poser. He saw that the spiritual forces of evil were
The power and the wisdom of God, in the form of the
Holy Spirit, filled Paul. So Paul could speak for God and put his finger on
exactly what was going on. Paul saw the hand of God was at work in this moment
of time. God himself was there with Paul to face the spiritual forces.
The interesting thing is that, as far as we know,
nothing worse happened to the sorcerer than what happened to Paul on the road
where Paul had met Jesus. Paul, too, had been blinded for a time, and had to be
led by the hand, just like Elymas. (Acts 9:8 and 13:11)
Paul’s blindness and having to be led by the hand were
the mercy of Jesus. They were part of the story of Paul’s salvation. They could
be part of the salvation of Elymas. When it all happened to Paul it was a
matter of hope. The salvation and hope that come through Jesus are the power
that created the armor of God.
They come to us not as a feeling but as a fact.
Jesus, and everything he has done for us, almost forces itself upon us in a way
that leads us to repent and surrender. We see Jesus, and the cross, and the
resurrection. How can we say no to what he shows us? How can we escape?
We see the truth of it; and it is that truth (that
factuality) that serves like a belt that holds our lives together: the belt of
truth. However much we may struggle, Jesus has made the fact of his love, the
truth of his love, just as great a reality as any of our struggles.
There is the “breastplate of righteousness” where
everything is set right. Jesus is the righteousness of God and our
righteousness too. He is the justice of God who sets us right with himself and
In the cross of Christ we die to ourselves. From the
tomb of Jesus we rise as new people who can stand against the devil, because
Jesus has made us right before God.
We are still sinners, but Jesus stands up for us
against all accusers. The word “devil” means accuser. The spiritual warfare
seeks to accuse us and make us give up. The grace of God in Jesus enables us to
There is “the shoeing of your feet with the gospel of
peace”. Paul almost never says anything in a simple way. The gospel means good
news. The good news of Jesus gives us peace with God, but it also gives us
peace in every way. In Hebrew, the word peace is shalom and it is all about
relationships. It doesn’t mean an absence of conflict it means all
relationships are healthy and flourishing.
The spiritual warfare attacks us when we are not
nurturing our most important relationships. Or the warfare tempts us to mess
with our most important relationships. The gospel of peace prepares us to stop
and pay attention to people. The peace of Christ teaches us how to nurture our
relationships and this protects us, and it protects them, from the spiritual
forces of evil.
There is “the shield of faith” and faith is a kind of
loyalty and trust in God, in Jesus. Loyalty listens to Jesus instead of listening
to our doubts, or despair, or weariness, or weakness, or our strongest desires
Loyalty and trust helps us to listen to Jesus who
forgives our sins, and so we have another way to defend ourselves than by
proving ourselves, or by justifying ourselves, or by pretending we are
something other than what we are. True faith saves us from pride as well as
Then there is the “helmet of salvation”. When I was
seventeen I drowned, but I was saved from the lake. I was rescued from the
water by Charlie Lucas.
I was rescued, then I was resuscitated, then I was
safe and alive. Salvation is our rescue by God in Jesus, and we are safe.
Knowing we are safe in Christ is how we stand up to the struggle of the war.
Then there is “the sword of the Spirit, which is the
word of God”. In Isaiah chapter eleven we can see the power of the Lord working
through the Holy Spirit, and through the Messiah. Isaiah wrote like this, “A
shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear
fruit. The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him; the Spirit of wisdom and of
understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of power, the Spirit of knowledge and
of the fear of the Lord; and he will delight in the fear of the Lord. He will
not judge by what he sees with his eyes, or decide by what he hears with his
ears; but with righteousness he will judge the needy, with justice he will give
decisions for the poor of the earth. He will strike the earth with the rod of
his mouth; with the breath of his lips he will slay the wicked.” (Isaiah
This would tell us that the sword of the Spirit is
the word that Jesus speaks in healing, mercy, and judgment. In a way, Paul
spoke for Jesus to the sorcerer Elymas. The Spirit put his sword on Paul’s
hands, or the Spirit put his sword in Paul’s mouth. The Spirit gave him God’s
word to speak God’s truth. It sounded like judgment, and yet it had the potential
In spiritual warfare, we can see things as they are, and
name them for what they are. At the same time, we can also leave the door of
mercy open. We know that the sword of the Spirit has been given us with an end
in view; to make all things new.
Then there is prayer. Prayer isn’t given a name as a
part of the armor of God. Yet, maybe it is also part of the sword of the
Spirit. In Romans chapter eight, Paul says, “We do not know how to pray as we
ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words.”
In the spiritual struggle we may be too tired, or
confused, or frustrated to know how to pray, but God’s own words and thoughts
(what we would pray if we were faithful, and loving, and wise) gets said. The
word of God gets said I prayer, and that prayer changes things.
What God does for us in Christ is the real armor that
we wear. God is our strength. The Lord’s Supper tells us this. Here is the
gospel set upon a table. “Eat and be strong,” it says. “Be strong in the Lord
and in his mighty power.” (Ephesians 6:10) “O taste and see that the Lord is
good.” (Psalm 34:8)
Scripture readings: Psalm 104:24-26; Matthew
Photos from Southern California, June 2012
I love the ocean. My only problem with the ocean is
that I know about it the same way I know about most things in life: by reading
a lot about it, by looking at it from the shore and by wading in no deeper than
my waist. I have never been on the ocean.
That being said; I love the ocean. I lived about a
mile from it for over five years during the time I served my first church on
the south coast of Oregon.
But I don’t seem to manage to get to the ocean any more than once a year, or
once every two years.
If I love the ocean so much, why haven’t I been on
the ocean? It’s almost embarrassing. I don’t think it is because I am afraid.
It is because I have either been too poor, or too cheap to go. And (just as
truthfully) I have not gone out on the ocean because I have been too busy, too
preoccupied, too distracted with other things.
The sea that the people of the Bible liked the best
was the Sea of Galilee. That is probably
because it is not an ocean at all, it’s only a great big lake. The people of Israel were
awestruck by the real ocean. It was majestic. It was huge, and it reminded them
of the power of God. But they were afraid of it.
It meant danger. It represented chaos and death, and
all the uncontrollable and the undependable in life. The ocean was the place
where you could lose everything, including yourself.
The ocean means a lot to me. It’s one of the most
serene and restful places to be. And then, I have stood on the shore of the
ocean in times of storm and seen the trunks of huge trees tossed in the air by
the raging surf. I have seen waves break on the cliffs and send plumes of spray
over a hundred feet up and over the tops of those cliffs.
I once spent hours in an emergency shelter in my
small, coastal town, waiting for news of an approaching tsunami. The emergency
point where everyone was waiting was, as we all knew, only ten feet above sea
level. We waited there as we were told, but we felt strangely vulnerable.
So I have watched the ocean and had some experience
of its majesty, its power, and its fearsomeness.
I have never counted them, but I wouldn’t be
surprised to find that half the mentions of the ocean, in the Bible, are
negative ones, fearful ones. They are full of the notions of all the things
that could go wrong.
The people of the Bible knew that God made the ocean.
They knew that God rules the ocean. They accepted the fact (technically) God
should be able to take care of them out on the ocean. But it gave them the
shivers and they didn’t want to go there.
Very few of the people of the Bible would have been
capable of putting the ocean in a song of wonder and delight like the Psalm we
read. Very few could write words like the psalm we heard, which I am going to
read in a paraphrased version, “O, look --- the deep, wide sea, brimming with
fish past counting, sardines and sharks and salmon. Ships plow those waters,
and Leviathan, your pet dragon, romps in them.” (Psalm 104:25-26, “The Message”
by Eugene Peterson)
The difference with this writer was attitude. You
could call it mental attitude, but the writer says that it comes from God; and
that makes the attitude spiritual. It’s a thing called faith.
There was a high school kid named Ralph Asher who
wrote about his experience in track. He wrote, “Running is a mental sport. You
have to be insane to do it.”
He wrote how, in just a few months he trained to run
in a half-Marathon. He grew from barely being able to run three miles to making
the 13.1 miles of a half-Marathon. He said that there were some words by the
apostle Paul that meant a lot to him in his running. Paul wrote: “I have fought
the good fight, I have finished the race: I have kept the faith.” (2 Timothy
4:7) (Ralph J. Asher, in “Devo-zine, Sept.-Oct. 2003, p. 53)
It isn’t just running that is mental, or spiritual.
If life out there is like an ocean, what does that mean to you? Is life out
there about joy, and beauty, and even fear?
The matter of making the ocean a thing of joy and
beauty is partly mental but (much more than that) it is spiritual. It is a
matter of faith. Life as an ocean is not just a mental problem. It is a gift: a
matter of faith. This is how it is with life. This is how it is with the future.
It is a matter of the confidence we call faith.
When Peter stepped out on the water of the stormy Sea
of Galilee, in the middle of the night, to walk with Jesus, and Jesus said to
him, “O, you of little faith,” I think Jesus was joking. Peter had dared to do
a daring thing because Jesus said, “Come!” He did it for Jesus. He wouldn’t do
it for anyone else.
The Sea of Galilee
had always been Peter’s life. But he would never dream of walking on it,
without Jesus, so he dared to do a daring thing, and it looked a lot like
There are a lot of things about Peter, and about this
part of the story, that loving parents would not want their kids to imitate. It
does seem that Peter is a person who is reckless and takes unnecessary risks. Just
like his walking on the water, on more than one occasion Peter got in way over
his head. Parents don’t want their kids to imitate that.
Just being a fisherman could be (and still is)
dangerous. You kids! We don’t want you to do dangerous things, not unless they
are great, good things, and not unless you believe that these great, good
things are the very things that you are really and truly called to do.
One thing you can say for Peter is that he was always
willing to stretch. He was always making mistakes, and he was always learning
from them (although it took some time for that learning to show). Sometimes it
might seem that he had little faith, but he was always growing in faith.
Parents might want me to point out that Peter made a
mistake when he thought that he would be in no danger at all if he went out on
the water with Jesus. He seemed to think that there would be no risk to his
risky behavior if Jesus was with him.
Peter found, by experience, that this was not true.
Going with Jesus was often risky behavior. Faith could mean taking a risk that
was a real risk.
In Jesus we see the behavior of a God who did the
daring and dangerous deed of going from heaven, to earth, to hell (to hell, at
least for a visit, after his crucifixion). He did this daring and dangerous
deed for the world he loved, and for each one of us. In Jesus, God did not make
safety or comfort his priority. He did not take his own glory seriously.
Although he was God, he became human in Jesus. He
became a servant who died for the sins of the world. He died as a daring deed
to win you and give you life: live abundant and everlasting. So what would it
mean to follow him? What does it mean to have faith in a God like that?
You might follow Jesus and sink. But again, I
believe, that although you may sink with Jesus, with Jesus you will never be
sunk. That’s how it went with Peter. That makes the difference. Faith means
knowing that (with Jesus), whatever happens, you are not sunk.
Something worth doing has been done and, from that
point, there is always a next thing that can be done. Faith has a clear head to
assess what that next thing is, that you will do with Jesus.
Peter grew as a result of his adventure. His growth
went two ways. He understood himself better; that is, he had a clearer idea,
now, of what he was made of. And, secondly, Peter knew Jesus much better.
Self confidence is very helpful, but self confidence can
sometimes make you forget yourself. Peter grew, and his life ripened, when he
discovered his own limitations. He knew what he could do and what he probably
couldn’t do, and he dared to do a thing worth doing anyway. In this way he grew
in his confidence in the Lord. Peter grew in that gift called faith.
There is a self confidence that comes when you begin
to learn (as Peter was only beginning to learn) that his life was a miracle and
he could live in the joy of what Jesus gave him to do. That was something he
could have confidence in.
Peter, I think, wanted his life to be a miracle. It
was the very thing Jesus offered when he told Peter, “Come, follow me.” Peter
wanted to be extraordinary. And I hope you do too.
We see, from the story, that the ambition of being
extraordinary is a scary ambition. Some people have handled it far worse than
Peter. This is often because they don’t understand that life is a miracle. There
is a book by Wendell
Some people seem to never know this. Sometimes the
curse of growing up is losing the ability to see that you are a miracle in the
making, and that everyone else is too.
People get bogged down, and stressed out, and
burdened. They misunderstand the purpose for which God has made them. People
lose their sense of wonder and the lights go out. This is a horrible mistake.
It is a thing that God does not intend for human life; for the lights to go
Peter was often foolish, and reckless. He often wildly
overestimated himself, and overestimated his faith; but, on the waves of the Sea of Galilee, Peter did something that no other human
being has ever done. Having so little faith, he did walk on water with Jesus.
And Peter went on to make many other mistakes and learn from them, too. Maybe
that is what made him a miracle.
The Bible does not tell us to be optimists or
pessimists. It tells us to be people of faith. Just as true athletes know that
sports is not just physical but mental, some actually know that sports can be
So it is with life. Nine people out of ten may see no
wonder out there, or in themselves. They might accomplish a lot of things. They
might make a lot out of themselves, but they are doing this with the lights
out. They are still only dog paddling, staying afloat, treading water in the ocean of God; in the ocean of faith.
What I hope and pray for you is this: that you know
for yourself that the world is God’s ocean and you are God’s child called to
launch out on the waves, or walk on them. Don’t just tread water. Have faith,
and keep walking, and maybe you’ll wind up walking on water. Someday, I
believe, that you will look back and see that this is exactly what you have