Lent and the spiritual wilderness experience

Death Valley

Death Valley, California

The season of Lent recalls Jesus’ 40-day temptation in the wilderness. All Christians sooner or later go through their own spiritual wilderness. And so, in the Old Testament, did one of the Sons of Korah, who left behind Psalms 42 and 43to instruct and comfort us in our own struggles with wilderness experience.

These two psalms appear to have been originally one song of three verses with refrain: “Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.” (I use “verse” in the sense of familiar songs or hymns, not in the sense of a verse of scripture.)

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Hard times, a song of joy, and the meaning of Christmas

Today’s news seems bad all around. Pollsters find an unprecedented level of pessimism and anger at the ineptitude of our national government. Besides the sour economy and a bipartisan failure of leadership, we are beset with a number of foreign challenges. Do we have to shut out current events in order to find anything to be glad about this Christmas? Probably so for people who only celebrate the season. Not at all for people who understand the meaning of Christmas and celebrate the birth of the Savior.

The prophet Isaiah lived in bleak times. Early in his ministry an ungodly king, Ahaz, made a cowardly alliance with the Assyrian empire, which reduced the once proud kingdom of Judah to vassal status.… Read the rest

Roadwork on the way to Bethlehem

In this Christmas season, many of us bustle around trying to get ready for Christmas. We take to the streets to buy decorations, presents, and special holiday foods. We take to the highways to travel. While we get ready to go to Christmas, are we observing Advent and preparing to go to Bethlehem? Christmas is where we celebrate an anniversary. Bethlehem is where we meet Jesus. If we don’t make it to Bethlehem, making it to Christmas counts for nothing. And whatever the condition of the streets and highways we drive on for Christmas, the way to Bethlehem requires major roadwork.… Read the rest

A prophetic word for a new heart in hard times

hard times

Today, we’re in an economic meltdown. People are suffering in these hard times. It appears now that when people act in their own self-interest—save, pay down debt, do the kinds of things that we all should have been doing in the first place—it makes the general economic climate even worse. Unfortunately, the scope of the trouble is so large and complex that looking for someone to blame is a lot easier than deciding what to do about it. So goes the coming election cycle.

Where is God in all this? Can we cry out to him for help, or is this mess somehow his judgment?… Read the rest

The foolishness of a disappointed heart

The fool says in his heart there is no God (Psalm 14:1). Some folks over the past 200 years have become durn fool enough to say it out loud. People have been questioning God far longer than they have questioned his existence. The questions mainly come from disappointment, and the disappointment comes mainly from a false sense of our own innocence. When things don’t go well, people turn to God for help, too often as a last resort. At such times, they focus on their own needs, their own helplessness, but not on the reality of sin.

I’m adapting this post from a Sunday school lesson on Isaiah 44:21-26, but all the prophets had basically the same message.… Read the rest

Walking through the valley of the shadow of death


No one goes looking for hard times to go through, but no one escapes them, either. David described encountering and overcoming the valley of the shadow of death. What kind of hardship is your valley of the shadow of death? A path in a valley might wind through a dense forest. In David’s time, there might not even have been a real path. It might be impossible to see very far ahead. In this metaphorical valley, when we don’t know quite where we’re going, I can attest from personal experience how easy it is to be afraid. How can we come to David’s boldness in claiming to fear no evil?… Read the rest

Keep watch, because you do not know . . .

I got back from the gym one recent morning and found the garage door open. Some dry leaves hung from the bottom of it and must have persuaded the automatic mechanism that it was unsafe to close it. Fortunately, I live in a neighborhood with hardly any burglaries. I have two “watch dogs,” but the biggest weighs 12 pounds. I understand that little yappy dogs more effectively discourage burglars that big ones, but if a thief had come, I would have been totally unprepared.

Some time earlier, I was sitting at my computer and felt a bump. It was as if something very heavy had fallen on the ground nearby, or something heavy had bumped into the house.… Read the rest

Rejoice? Always?

“Rejoice always; pray constantly; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 (RSV)

Does it sometimes look like the writers of the Bible just didn’t get it? Perhaps people living when it was written just didn’t face the troubles we do. After all, who can rejoice always with all we have to live through?

For the last couple of years, our economy has been rocked by very tough conditions: high unemployment, long term unemployment, lots of foreclosures on peoples’ houses.

We just had a particularly nasty election, with no limits on how much anonymous corporate entities could spend on vicious attack ads.… Read the rest

God’s presence in the storms of life

Clouds get so thick they obscure the sun. The air becomes heavy with humidity. The wind picks up. Rumbles of thunder come closer and closer. Soon it’s raining hard. Forget your plans and run for safety, as lightning flashes and all manner of debris flies through the air.

Does that sound like a description of what the weather outside can be like? Or does it sometime sound like a metaphor for our lives? The loss of a job, the breakup of an important relationship, the death of a loved one, health issues–don’t these things often seem like a storm, with the ensuing flooding or loss of power or damage from falling trees?… Read the rest

Struggling in the storm

Jesus had not planned to feed a crowd. Earlier that day he had invited his disciples to come away to a quiet place where they could get some rest and talk in peace, but a large crowd of 5,000 men and who knows how many women and children had interrupted their plans. Perhaps it was from compassion that Jesus told the disciples to get in the boat and row across the Sea of Galilee while he dismissed the crowd.

Whether Jesus intended to be compassionate or not, it appears the disciples didn’t like the idea. The NIV says he made them get into the boat.… Read the rest