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.
Surely everyone here has heard this saying, “You can
take the boy out of the country, but you can’t take the country out of the
boy.” I didn’t move to the country till I was twelve but, by the time I was in
college and being evaluated for the ministry, the psychologist who completed my
evaluation wrote, “Dennis is something of a country bumpkin.”
I think the saying is a good one, but there are
things that we really need to get taken out of us. Parents know this about
their children, as well as the importance of putting certain things in. And
there are places and circumstances that we need to be taken out of.
One word for this is “deliverance”. The Bible has
lots and lots of different words to describe the action of deliverance:
salvation, redemption, rescue, ransom, healing, forgiveness, grace, and more.
The great story of the Bible is a story of deliverance almost from the
God turned the story of the creation into the story
of deliverance from the very moment when human ambition took our very nature as
humans and our whole world in the wrong direction. Deliverance is the story of
God taking us back and retracing our steps from the wrong direction to the
God gave Moses the basic plan that goes all through
the story of the Bible: “I have come down to rescue them.” (Exodus 3:8) This is
the heart of the whole story from the Exodus, to the Gospels, to the Book of
Revelation. God came into our world in Jesus, so that he could say this in the
most radical and complete way possible: “I have come down to rescue them.”
God’s story of deliverance is the story of how he
will take the ruin of the old creation and make a whole new creation in its
place. He will take our own ruins and make us into new creations as well.
What has gone wrong with us, and with the world,
affects everything, and so the story of God’s deliverance is huge, and it has
to work on many levels. It is a plan that will take everything into account;
the universe and each one of us.
Deliverance began on the level of an individual and
his family (as their lives were changed by grace and faith). These people were
Abraham, and Sarah, and the rest of their family. Eventually the family grew
into a tribe. The plan was for the tribe to grow into a nation, and for the
nation to become a kingdom based on grace and faith.
At first it became the kingdom
of Israel, but the plan has always
been for the kingdom of Israel to reach out to all people and become the kingdom of God.
The king of the kingdom of God is God, himself, in
Jesus, and that kingdom is a living thing, built upon the work of God, coming
down to rescue us from our slavery to sin and death, and leading us to a
promised land through the cross and the resurrection.
The kingdom of the cross and the resurrection is the
grace of God taking the form of deliverance that makes our faith possible. Faith
in who God is and what God has done (and will do) is what opens our lives to
the deliverance that he has provided. It is by faith that we die to ourselves
and live a new life as a gift from God every day.
In the Book of Exodus we see the story of deliverance
working on more than one level. One level is simply God working through
geography, taking his people on a journey across many miles from point “A” to
point “B”; from Egypt to Canaan.
On the most visible level God used Moses to lead his
people out of the land where they were slaves for generations. God used Moses
to lead his people on a journey of many miles to a place where they would no
longer be under the power of their former owners. They would be able to live as
free people in the land that God promised to Abraham and his family.
The biggest problem with this is that the people of Israel really
didn’t want to go. They were not only owned by the Egyptians. They were owned
by a state of mind, or a state of heart and spirit. They were owned by a cycle
of dependence, fear, and blame. They were owned by not knowing how to be free
and how to take responsibility for themselves under God’s care.
As slaves, they had a kind of freedom in their not
having to plan for themselves, or to take risks. So they had the freedom of not
needing to live by faith. Since they were slaves, their owners owed it to them
to take care of them. Since everything they got in life was owed to them, they also
had the freedom of not needing to be thankful. This is a terrible freedom.
As slaves they were owned by a cycle of dependence
and expectations. Until they learned how to be free, their lives would play out
as a continual crisis of fear and blame.
In the story of the Exodus God’s people were always
afraid, and always complaining, and always blaming Moses and God himself. In this
story there seems to be a problem that goes like this: “You can take God’s
people out of slavery, but how can you take the slavery out of God’s people?”
As free people they would need to live by faith and
gratitude, instead of living by fear and blame. Deliverance, in this case,
required another kind of journey; a much longer and harder journey.
This is the journey we all have to travel. In some
ways it is simply the journey of growing up. It is the journey that everyone
must take if we want to be truly mature. It is surely the journey we all must
take in order to stop being a burden and a source of frustration to others, and
to become a blessing to others.
Faith and gratitude, as opposed to fear and blame,
are the only way to live. They are the best form of freedom.
The best way to learn faith and gratitude comes from
the faithfulness of God in Christ. This faith and gratitude are empowered by
the work of the Holy Spirit that makes us new creations through the cross and
There is another story of deliverance, on a personal,
individual level, in the life of Moses. Moses was the son of Hebrew slaves, who
was found by an Egyptian princess, and raised as a prince in Pharaoh’s palace.
As an Egyptian prince, Moses would have studied all
the fields of knowledge possessed by the Egyptians. He would learn about their
philosophy, and literature, and engineering, and religion. He would be trained
as fighter, a warrior, and a military commander. He would understand the
principles of Egyptian government, and know how to exercise authority.
Moses also knew that he was not an Egyptian. He knew
he was the son of Hebrew slaves. He never entirely lost his connection to his
birth family. He knew the story of his people and what the Egyptians has done
to them. He grew more and more concerned about them and he wanted to do them
Trained, as he was, to lead armies, Moses knew how to
kill and he knew how to lead, so he killed an Egyptian slave driver who was
beating a Hebrew slave. This triggered a sudden decision to change his course
in life. Moses thought it was time for him to start leading his people.
But he was premature. His crime was reported. He had
to escape. He became a renegade, a refugee, and a shepherd in the desert. Moses
began his life as a success story (if it is possible to be a success without
having done anything) and he became a failure. He became a wasted opportunity.
When God called Moses from the burning bush, Moses
was a different kind of slave. Moses was accustomed to power and success, but
he had misused his talents and his potential, and he had become a slave to self
Moses needed his own journey of deliverance. He
didn’t need a journey from self-doubt to self-confidence. He needed a journey
from self-doubt to faith in the undeserved grace of the power and the ability
of God. He needed faith in the faithfulness of God. He needed to know that no
failure on our part can disqualify us from the calling of God.
I don’t think that Moses, as a leader of his people,
used very much of his Egyptian training. There is no name for what Moses
became. He became the servant of God and he became a prophet. (Deuteronomy
34:5-12) There is no job description for such work and you can’t train for it, although
you can grow in it; and Moses grew.
A servant is ready to do whatever his master says to
do. A prophet has no job description either. The word prophet means nothing
more that to tell others whatever God has told you, and to show to others whatever
God has shown you.
Moses claimed to be excused from God’s calling on the
grounds of inability and disqualification. Moses asked, “Who am I?” (Exodus
3:11) For one thing, Moses said he couldn’t speak. God told Moses that mouths
and the words to say were God’s own gifts. God would give Moses what to say and
the ability to say it the way God wanted it. Moses had his own journey of faith
and gratitude to take; his own journey of deliverance.
Moses had begun and failed at his first attempt at
leadership, because it had been based on his idea of what his upbringing
deserved, and what others owed him. Directly, Moses had killed the slave
driver, so the Hebrew slaves owed him their loyalty.
In the future, Moses would have to learn not to be a
leader who was owed something. He would have to learn to be a servant. God
would lead his own people through the servanthood of Moses. The role and the job
of Moses were grace-given, and they were God’s grace itself.
All our jobs and callings and roles in life are
grace. We do not deserve them. Freedom comes from knowing this. Deliverance
comes from knowing this.
Deliverance, in the story of the Exodus will be the
story of how God delivered his people from slavery, from injustice and
oppression, from disappointment and failure, from wasted potential, from hunger
and thirst. God loves deliverance and it is his passion, on every level. It is
why, in the end, God will say, “Behold I make all things new.” (Revelations
It is part of our journey to have a passion for the
deliverance of other people in all its many forms. It is our job to pray for
and work for the deliverance of other people in any form where it is needed.
We need to say that understanding God’s passion for
deliverance helps us to understand the plagues of Egypt. There are many things we can
learn about these disasters that came upon Egypt as a way of getting the
Egyptians to let God’s people go. The most important point is that God simply cares
about delivering people from all bad and enslaving things.
The first plague was when God turned the NileRiver
to blood. In this plague, no one was hurt and no one died. It was a terrifying
inconvenience. There was no punishment in it at all. It was nothing more than a
warning. But it was a serious warning, because God cares about the deliverance
and salvation of people.
It is a dangerous thing to stand in the way of the
love of God. God will not allow his most important work and his deepest desires
to be postponed forever. To stand in the way of the deliverance of others is,
in some way, deadly.
If someone wants to change, and you make change hard
for them, you are hardening your own heart. You are creating something
monstrous within yourself. There are families that select their members for
different tasks as if to say, “You will be our ne’er-do-well. You will be our
good boy or girl. You will be our clown. You will be our dummy.” This is a kind
of enslavement. There are teachers who will pigeonhole a student and keep them
down. Bullies are always on the lookout for rebels in order to nip in the bud
any threat to their status. The alcoholic friends of alcoholics who want to get
sober put all kinds of guilt and obstacles in their way.
Those who want to prevent deliverance in others may seem
to succeed, but the consequences are always deadly to themselves. They enslave
themselves in their own little imitations of hell. They have seen the good
thing that the God of love wants, and they have rejected it and, in doing so,
they have rejected God.
The oddest thing in the world is that the Hebrew
slaves also rejected their own deliverance. They resisted Moses every step of
In the final plague, when the Angel of Death was
going to visit every home in Egypt
and claim the life of every first born, even the Hebrew slaves had to be
protected. They were just as guilty, in their resistance of God, as the
Egyptians were and they needed to know that it is a dangerous thing to stand in
the way of the deliverance of God.
The only protection from the Angel of Death was for a
lamb to be sacrificed for every one, in every home, and the blood of that lamb
had to be put as a mark on the door-frame, and the lamb had to be eaten in that
home. The blood of the lamb and the meal of the lamb stood for the sacrifice
that was made for their deliverance from sin.
June 2013: Pictures from the Vicinity of Hooper, WA
The most important deliverance is our deliverance
from sin. It is often the hardest deliverance to face and to accept. I may be
perfectly convinced of my own sins until you try to point them out to me.
The mark of the blood saved the people who bore the
mark. Not just any mark would do. Paint wouldn’t do. The lamb represented a
life that was given for the sake of their life. Even the forgiveness of God is
not a matter of mere words, or thoughts, or feelings. The problem of sin is the
problem of spiritual death.
We have all tried to be our own gods. We all try to
go our own way and be in charge of ourselves. We try to be in control of what
we want and what we don’t want. The only way to do this is to try to put at
least a part of your life outside the jurisdiction and fellowship of God.
To go outside of God’s fellowship is not only sin. God
is life itself, and to try to live outside of him is to go outside of life
itself. So we are all the slaves of sin and of the angel of death. To resist
deliverance and to look for some way to escape is very much the same thing. It
God’s forgiveness is his mission to give us life, and
he has no life to give us but his own. To defeat our death meant God coming
down to fight death personally. We have plagues of our own making, and God’s
mission was to take our plagues on himself. In Jesus, on the cross, God became
the first born who died. But, in Jesus, God met death and defeated it, hand to
For us, we have a journey of our own to make. It is
an exodus of our own from slavery to freedom, from sin and death to harmony and
life in Christ. And Christ is our Passover lamb who has been sacrificed for us.
(1 Corinthians 5:7)
His blood has been shed for us, but even that is not
enough. We have to receive it. We have to want it and wear it. I mean that we
have to live in Christ, in faith and gratitude, every day. The lamb had to be
eaten, and Christ must be our food. We need to take Christ in. Then the great
story of the God who came to be deliverance, in the flesh, in the Exodus and in
Jesus, will be our story. Deliverance will be our story.