Lent – Saturday, Day 34

“”For from him and through him and to him are all things.

To him be the glory forever. Amen..” Rom. 11:36


Where can I go to escape God?  I came from him, live through him, and when I die, I return to him.  Even my ancestors prepared the way for me.  Those who were faithful bequeathed a legacy of faith; those who ate sour grapes set their children’s teeth on edge.  What we do with Jesus will effect  generations who follow.  May they find us faithful.


Jeremiah 31:29-34

“The parents have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge.”

30 But all shall die for their own sins; the teeth of everyone who eats sour grapes shall be set on edge. . .  This is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 34 No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, “Know the Lord,” for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.

Romans 11:33-36

33 O the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!34 “For who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor? 35 “Or who has given a gift to him, to receive a gift in return?” 36 For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be the glory forever. Amen.

John 12:37-50 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

“Lord, who has believed our message,and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?”

39 And so they could not believe, because Isaiah also said,40 “He has blinded their eyes and hardened their heart,
so that they might not look with their eyes,
and understand with their heart and turn—
and I would heal them.”. . .

44 Then Jesus cried aloud: “Whoever believes in me believes not in me but in him who sent me. 45 And whoever sees me sees him who sent me. 46 I have come as light into the world, so that everyone who believes in me should not remain in the darkness. 47 I do not judge anyone who hears my words and does not keep them, for I came not to judge the world, but to save the world. 48 The one who rejects me and does not receive my word has a judge; on the last day the word that I have spoken will serve as judge, 49 for I have not spoken on my own, but the Father who sent me has himself given me a commandment about what to say and what to speak. 50 And I know that his commandment is eternal life. What I speak, therefore, I speak just as the Father has told me.”


You will teach your children to worship something.  What is the god in your home? Is it education, financial success, good social connections, sports, the arts, nature, career, entertainment, food?  Does the God who created you fit in that list?  The recent death of seven Syrian refugees in a house fire in Halifax has brought home the importance of caring for your family and making every moment count. How have you prepared your children to meet death and disappointment in a broken world?  Ask God to open the eyes of your heart to understand truth so you can pass it on to those more precious to you.  The prayer of St. Patrick is a morning and evening prayer that children recited as they faced their day or the dark night.

Prayer of St. Patrick

“Christ be with me, Christ within me,
Christ behind me, Christ before me,
Christ beside me, Christ to win me,
Christ to comfort and restore me,
Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ in quiet, Christ in danger,
Christ in hearts of all that love me,
Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.”
― St. Patrick


Lord, We need to include you in our daily thoughts.  What we model for our children returns to them in their adulthood as they face the big questions of life.  We need to give them the tools to meet those challenges when we are no longer there to help them.  Christ be in me.  Amen


Lent – Friday, Day 33

Never be afraid to trust an unknown future to a known God.”  (Corrie ten Boom)


Jeremiah assured the Israelites that they would eventually return home, even though they were captives in Babylon.  Jesus waited until Lazarus died before answering the call for help.  God sent his only son to the cross.  Believing that God works for good in the midst of tragedy sustains us. He asks us to trust in His love even when we don’t understand why.


Jeremiah 29:10-13

10 For thus says the Lord: Only when Babylon’s seventy years are completed will I visit you, and I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place. 11 For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope. 12 Then when you call upon me and come and pray to me, I will hear you. 13 When you search for me, you will find me; if you seek me with all your heart.

John 11:21-26

Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. 22 But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask of him.” 23 Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” 24 Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” 25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, 26 and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.


Through the years I have used the verse in Jeremiah as a way to speak to my non-religious friends: “I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for good and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.” It speaks to the heart of anyone going through adversity, even if they have no religious affiliation. It has always been accepted with tears and a hug. It’s the promise given to the Jewish remnant as they settled into the “new normal” in their 70 year Babylonian captivity.

Life consists of a series of challenges.  When there is no hope, we look to God for comfort: “For we know that all things work together for the good of those who love God.” (Rom. 8:28)  We are not denying the pain; we’re transferring it to the Lord who walks us through it.  You may never understand the “why”, but believing that he loves you in spite of the difficulties, gives you the courage to get out of bed each morning.  We pray to one who chose to suffer.  He knows what it means to face physical pain, misunderstanding, abandonment, fear, and death.  Knowing that there was a resurrection in three days didn’t make Gethsemane any easier. “Everyone wants to go to heaven, but no one wants to die to get there.”

“Tapestry” by Corrie ten Boom

 My life is but a weaving between my God and me. 
I cannot choose the colors He weaveth steadily. 
Oft’ times He weaveth sorrow; And I in foolish pride, 

Forget He sees the upper, And I the underside. 
Not ’til the loom is silent, And the shuttles cease to fly 
Will God unroll the canvas And reveal the reason why. 
The dark threads are as needful In the weaver’s skillful hand 
As the threads of gold and silver In the pattern He has planned. 
He knows, He loves, He cares; Nothing this truth can dim. 
He gives the very best to those Who leave the choice to Him.


Lord, As we pass through trials, we ask for your comfort and love.  You know what it means to suffer and die.  We give you all that is ours, trusting you to hold on to us during the most difficult days of our lives.  Amen


Lent – Thursday, Day 32

“We have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by a new and living way opened for us through Christ Jesus.” Heb. 10:19



For centuries, Abraham’s descendants were preserved as God’s chosen people.  They were given exclusive access to the one true God through revelation, tradition, and the Torah.  There are hints in the books of the prophets that non-Jews would be invited into the family of God, but it isn’t until Jesus came into the world that the plan was fully revealed.  He was God’s entry ticket into the kingdom.  “Whosoever will may come.” Rev. 22:17


Romans 11:1-5 

I ask, then, has God rejected his people? By no means! I myself am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, a member of the tribe of Benjamin. God has not rejected his people whom he foreknew. Do you not know what the scripture says of Elijah, how he pleads with God against Israel? “Lord, they have killed your prophets, they have demolished your altars; I alone am left, and they are seeking my life.” But what is the divine reply to him? “I have kept for myself seven thousand who have not bowed the knee to Baal.” So too at the present time there is a remnant, chosen by grace.

John 10:36-42

Can you say that the one whom the Father has sanctified and sent into the world is blaspheming because I said, ‘I am God’s Son’? 37 If I am not doing the works of my Father, then do not believe me. 38 But if I do them, even though you do not believe me, believe the works, so that you may know and understand that the Father is in me and I am in the Father.” 39 Then they tried to arrest him again, but he escaped from their hands.

40 He went away again across the Jordan to the place where John had been baptizing earlier, and he remained there. 41 Many came to him, and they were saying, “John performed no sign, but everything that John said about this man was true.” 42 And many believed in him there.

 Hebrews 10:19-23

Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, 20 by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. 23 Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful.


In 2012, Christianity was the number one religion in the world with 2.4 billion followers, or 33% of the population.  Islam was second with 24% followed by Hinduism at 16% and non-religious secularists at 15%.  Buddhism came in at 7%, and Judaism was .2%, or just over 15 million people.  (2012 census as reported in Wikipedia).

The three major monotheistic religions, Judaism, Christianity and Islam make up over 57% of the world’s population, and all share a common source–Abraham.  From his descendants, approximately 2,000 years later, Jesus was born.  If he had come to save only the Jewish nation, we likely would have never heard of him.  God preserved his word through revelation, tradition, and the Torah. The Jews were waiting for a Messiah to lead them to victory.  When he came, they did not recognize him.  Crucifixion (“cursed is anyone who hangs on a tree”) and resurrection revealed a new and living way to enter the kingdom of God. The faith was passed on to the rest of the world through Jesus.

Some day, our Queen will die and there will be an inauguration of a new King.  Imagine if we were all given a personal invitation to attend.  Who wouldn’t put on their finest and find a way to be there?  We have been given an invitation to enter the kingdom of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.  The gates of the temple have been opened.  Let us enter with grateful hearts.


Lord, We have been given access to the Kingdom of God because of Jesus. We are grateful that you chose the Jews to hold this treasure until his coming. Let us never lose sight of the cost of obtaining this inheritance.  Amen


Lent – Wednesday, Day 31

“My sheep hear my voice.  I know them and they follow me. .” Jn. 10:27


There are times when we long to return to childhood.  Children are secure in the arms of their parents; all their needs are met.  Life seemed uncomplicated and sweet before we went to school.  This is in stark contrast to the angst we can feel as adults when all the responsibility rests on us.  Jesus wants to be our comforter.  The “good shepherd” is a prominent theme in both the old and new testament.  The image of being carried “through” our troubles strengthens us when we are vulnerable.


Is. 40:11

He tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart; he gently leads those that have young.

Is. 43:2-4

When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you.  When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze.  For I am the Lord, your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior; . . . Since you are precious and honored in my sight, and because I love. . . Do not be afraid, for I am with you.

John 10:11-18; 27-30

11 “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12 The hired hand, who is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away—and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. 13 The hired hand runs away because a hired hand does not care for the sheep. 14 I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep. 16 I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. 17 For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again. 18 No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it up again. I have received this command from my Father.

27 My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me. 28 I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand. 29 What my Father has given me is greater than all else, and no one can snatch it out of the Father’s hand. 30 The Father and I are one.”


father.jpgI could recognize my father’s voice in a crowd.  Even if I was playing in the neighbour’s yard or wandering through a store.  When he spoke, I listened.  The image of Jesus calling us in that same way is strangely comforting.  The good shepherd speaks and we “know his voice.”  There have been many “false prophets” in the history of the church.  They preach a message that doesn’t ring true to that internal voice of the Holy Spirit, and we stand back and turn away.

Having a “good shepherd” to care for us has other benefits.  He fights our battles and carries us through the most difficult times of our lives.  I had the Isaiah 43:2-4 passage tacked to the wall beside my desk at work.  I looked at it frequently as I met with people going through a family crisis, illness, loss, depression, and uncertainty.  It had been given to me by our Pastor’s wife who knew what it meant to walk through the valley of death.  She added this comment to the verse, “You will get through this.  Everything will be OK.  The Lord has revealed it to me.”  That was ten years ago, and while she has since gone to be with the Lord, the words of that promise have sustained me through every trial.  She knew the shepherd’s voice and He gave her eternal life.  She passed that blessing on to me.


jesus childLord, We need to be carried by the good shepherd through the most challenging parts of our life.  Spending time reading your word, praying and listening through the silence helps us to recognize your voice. We do not need to go through this life alone, and in the end, you will gently hold us as we pass through the gate to eternal life.  Thank you.  Amen


Lent – Tuesday, Day 30

“If you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” Rom. 10:9


During the first few centuries, the Christian church exploded with converts.  Because they came from diverse backgrounds, it became evident that they needed instruction in the faith to keep them from developing heresies and misrepresenting the truth.  Once they completed catechism, they were eligible for baptism and participation in the Lord’s Supper.  The process could take up to three years; only those who were serious remained. Yet, the Apostle Paul reduces salvation to one simple act of faith: confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe that God raised him from the dead.”


Romans 10:8-13

“The word is near you, on your lips and in your heart”(that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); because if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For one believes with the heart and so is justified, and one confesses with the mouth and so is saved. 11 The scripture says, “No one who believes in him will be put to shame.” 12 For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all and is generous to all who call on him. 13 For, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”


As a Christian I struggle with the ignorance, bigotry and narrow-mindedness I see portrayed in the media by “so called” followers of Christ.  Anger and hatred are mixed with political activism that is closed to civil discourse and honest debate.  Whether it comes from the left or the right, mingling Christianity with divisive issues does a disservice to everyone.  It marginalizes anyone who does not share your views and reduces Christianity to a bumper sticker.

At the heart of the faith is Jesus.  The dividing line is his divinity, death and resurrection. Divinity has been debated from the first century; his death and resurrection were disputed from the moment the tomb was found empty.  Accepting the story of God’s incarnation as a baby in Bethlehem is inoffensive—who doesn’t like babies, angels, animals and peace on earth.  Add a few nice sayings like, “Love your neighbor,” and all is well. Taking that same man and equating him with God and believing that his death was necessary because of sin, is beyond the comprehension of billions of people. Who then can be saved?

childrenNo matter your age, gender, level of education, or ethnicity, we all come to Christ through faith.  While there are good and sufficient reasons to accept the truth of Christianity, we first come as children: trusting in what we do not see; responding to a voice no one else can hear.

N. T. Wright, a famous 21st century theologian says: “[Arguments about God are] like pointing a flashlight toward the sky to see if the sun is shining.” C. S. Lewis said, “I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.”



Lord, We can be confused by theological debates, heresies and misguided Christians.  Yet, we were created with a longing for God and we keep returning to that simple faith:  “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.” Amen

Wilderness Testing

By Paul Knudtson

The church’s observance of the forty days of Lent is rooted in Jesus’s forty days of testing in the wilderness after his baptism. Jesus’s wilderness testing recalled Israel’s forty years of testing in the wilderness following her deliverance from Egypt (the exodus) and preceding her entrance into the promised land.

The dates for the season of Lent differ each year, based on the varying dates for the celebration of Easter. This year (2020) Lent is from February 26 – April 11. Easter Sunday will be on April 12. Lent consists of forty days that begin on Ash Wednesday and conclude on the Saturday before Easter (and does not include the Sundays during this period).

During Lent this year, I have been preparing to teach a church history course on the history of the Christian church prior to 1500, that is, on the early church and the medieval church. This course was to be offered in an intensive, one-week format offered March 23-27, but has now been cancelled due to the COVID pandemic. Yet the preparations for this class, together with the enforced social isolation due to the virus, have combined to give me a unique perspective regarding my experience of Lent this year.

What has especially caught my attention in my study of the early church has been the birth of monasticism in the eastern Mediterranean around the time that the Roman Emperor Constantine identified himself as a Christian (though he was not baptized until he lay on his deathbed in A.D. 337). As Christianity enjoyed the support of the empire, and as many of its rich and influential citizens became Christian rulers of state and church, so a counter-cultural movement of lowly believers arose in the Egyptian wilderness and elsewhere. These believers sought to live out the radical demands of the gospel as they gave up wealth and the comforts of human society in order to know and love God above all.

The word “monk” comes from the Greek word, monachos, which means “solitary.” So the first monks went out into the wilderness alone as they sought fellowship with God. In doing so, they patterned their lives after Jesus, who after his baptism and then at various times throughout his ministry, went out to be alone with God. “But he would withdraw to deserted places and pray” (Luke 5:16).

Following the example of Jesus (see also Mark 1:35), a principal focus of these wilderness Christian monks was prayer. Jesus’s teaching on prayer includes an admonition to shut out all outside distractions. In his sermon on the mount, he says, “But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you” (Matt 6:6). So the monks sought God in the hiddenness of their wilderness cells. While most monks throughout history lived in communities with other monks, they maintained a focus on leaving the distractions and comforts of the world in order to pray.

The early Egyptian monks (both men and women) came to be referred to as the “desert fathers and mothers.” Many of their sayings have been preserved and are still available. As I was preparing for my church history class during the past month, I have been reading a book that includes many interesting samples of these sayings: Desert Fathers and Mothers: Early Christian Wisdom Sayings—Annotated & Explained (Skylight Publishing, 2012) by Christine Valters Paintner.

The Coronavirus pandemic has meant that this year we are forced into a kind of monastic retreat from the world as we each learn to practice social isolation, each living apart in our homes as if in monastic cells. Like most others, I spend my days now almost completely at home, together with my wife, Elaine. In days to come, I will always remember how during Lent 2020 I was forced to live like the monks of old, separated from the world. Each day Elaine and I go for walks in our little “wilderness,” a walk that takes us on a path running through the trees along the Bow River. We listen to the honking of Canadian Geese, or chatter of other birds. We hear the soothing sound of the water as the river flows along. We feel the warmth of the spring sun on our bodies. And I think of the desert monks—and before them, of Jesus of Nazareth—who sought God in the wilderness. And I wonder what I am to learn during this Lenten time about prayer and about the pursuit of what is most important in life.




Here I am in warmer days in a wilderness setting, with a bag of books and a folding chair.






So, for Lent this year, I am learning afresh from the desert fathers and mothers about seeking God as I spend time alone in this present wilderness. Let me quote some of these early monks. Abba Moses said to another Christian brother who was seeking a word, “Go sit in your cell, and your cell will teach you everything” (Paintner, p.7). Just so, I feel that I (we) have been given the same instruction. It would be more fun to enjoy the usual distractions of visiting others, or of going out to eat, or even of going to the mall, but now is a time for simply sitting in our cells. Christine Valters Paintner says, “It is a way to retreat from the noise and activity of life and remove the disorienting and distracting voices—our own inner voices and those of others (p.6).

Another desert father, Abba Arenius, gives this counsel to a person troubled by a compulsive need to do something: “Go, eat, drink, sleep, do no work; only do not leave your cell” (Paintner, p.13). These monks had learned the value of staying put, of stability and steadfastness. The followers of the rule of St. Benedict (A.D. 530) made a “vow of stability,” which meant that they pledged themselves to remain at one monastery for the rest of their lives. They were not to move about from monastery to monastery seeking the one that would best suit them at any given moment.

We live in a highly mobile culture. We are accustomed to moving about quickly and spontaneously, even travelling to far off lands by airplane. Elaine and I love to travel to Europe for vacation. Now all of that has stopped as we are no longer permitted to travel to other countries, nor even to go to places where people congregate, or even to go to our places of work. We are told repeatedly on the public media to “stay at home!” We are, as it were, being given the council of Abba Moses, “Go sit in your cell,” and of Abba Arenius, “do not leave your cell.”

Amma (mother) Matrona said, “We carry ourselves wherever we go and we cannot escape temptation by mere flight” (Paintner, p.23). An anonymous desert father similarly says, “If a trial comes upon you in the place where you live, do not leave that place when the trial comes. Whenever you go, you will find that what you are running from is there ahead of you. So stay until the trial is over . . . ” (Paintner, p.23). So one of the blessings of a Lenten season such as we are having this year may be that it makes it easier for us to face our demons, to acknowledge our besetting sins and temptations, in order to deal with them adequately. To do this, it helps to stay put rather than escape to some far off land of distraction.

As I think about the thousands of Christian men and women who left the comforts of city life to live in their cells in the wilderness, I ponder their lives in order to learn about finding God by eliminating the distractions of a busy life. Though this enforced time of social isolation in the spring of 2020 is difficult and unsettling, it may also be a way to become reoriented concerning what is most important in life.

Here I am sitting in the sun with my sister Lois in our farmyard 60 years ago (Spring 1960).

From early childhood we learn that life is wondrous and precious. How I enjoyed exploring our farmyard as a preschool boy. I would wonder from the barn, to the corral to observe the cattle, to the garage, and among the trees of the shelter-belt around our yard—often accompanied by our dog, Sport. It is easy as we become adults to lose the sense of wonder we enjoyed as children. The monks invite us, I think, to rediscover this, and to leave behind a superficial life that often misses what is most important. Abba Poemen said, “Do not give your heart to that which does not satisfy the heart” (Paintner, p.31). Perhaps Lent this year will give us opportunity to consider what truly satisfies out hearts, what quenches our deepest thirsts. “O God, you are my God. I seek you, my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water” (Psalm 63:1).

This is the Bow River just a block from our house and the place where I go for walks almost every day. It is a little piece of wilderness that runs through our neighborhood.

As stated above, those early monks who sought God by leaving society to go into the wilderness, did so in imitation of Jesus in the gospels. In the midst of his busy ministry, with crowds of people coming and going, Jesus says to his disciples, “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while” (Mark 6:31). So it is that the desert fathers and mothers and sought God in wild, deserted places.

As I reconnect with these monks—and with Jesus and his disciples—during this Lenten season, I reflect on how what we refer to as “nature” is a good context for renewing one’s relationship with God. Indeed, many monasteries came to be built in places of special natural beauty. God’s presence is mediated through creation. The apostle Paul writes, “Ever since the creation of the world [God’s] eternal power and divine nature, invisible though they are, have been understood and seen though the things he has made” (Romans 1:20). Lent is a good time to become more observant of the beauty of this creation and to consider how it bears witness to a good Creator. Psalms 65 and 104 celebrate the goodness of creation.

You visit the earth and water it, you greatly enrich it; the river of God is full of water; you provide the people with grain, for so you have prepared it. 10You water its furrows abundantly, settling its ridges, softening it with showers, and blessing its growth. 11You crown the year with your bounty; your wagon tracks overflow with richness. 12The pastures of the wilderness overflow, the hills gird themselves with joy, 13the meadows clothe themselves with flocks, the valleys deck themselves with grain, they shout and sing together for joy. (Psalm 65:9-13)

My wife, Elaine, and I have had the privilege of taking a number of trips to Norway, to beautiful locations such as those pictured here. Norway is the land of my ancestors.

I will remain ever thankful that I grew up in the country on a farm. Our farm was a half mile from a coulee, which was a kind of wilderness to which I would often retreat. I loved riding my bicycle down the dirt road leading to the coulee and then along the coulee bank. My brothers and I enjoyed countless hours exploring the coulee hills as we looked for special rocks, such as pieces of petrified wood or petrified shells, or pieces of crystal or other attractive stones.

In the winter we would toboggan in the hills of the coulee. Our father purchased two quarter sections of pasture in this coulee, so we also often traveled to the coulee to check on the cows or to have family picnics with wiener roasts. As an adult I often thought that it would be a great place to have a cabin where one could find a place of retreat. Sadly, in recent years our family sold these coulee quarter sections, but I still treasure the memories of the many hours spent among these hills. And I have learned that there are countless places where one can seek retreat.

This is the path to the coulee that I often rode along on my bicycle.



We often met for picnics as a family at the coulee.




After mom moved off the farm to live in an apartment in Camrose, she still enjoyed visits to farm and to the coulee. Here she is taking a photograph of our beloved coulee.



It remains for me to examine and consider the biblical roots of the monastic retreat to the wilderness and of the church’s annual observance of the forty days of Lent. As stated at the outset of this reflection, these roots lay in Jesus’s forty days of testing in the wilderness and Israel’s forty years in the wilderness before entrance into the promised land.

The book of Exodus in the Old Testament describes how the people of Israel were delivered from slavery in Egypt through God’s act of deliverance. This liberation from Egypt through a series of plagues and rescue at the Red Sea is known as the exodus. It is followed by Israel’s forty-year period of wandering in the wilderness, followed by her entrance into the promised land (as described in the book of Joshua).

Israel’s forty years in the wilderness was a time of testing and temptation. Life is difficult in the wilderness. One’s life becomes vulnerable and precarious because the basic needs of food, water and shelter are in short supply. Just so, the severity of life in the hostile wilderness environment tested the limits of Israel’s faith in God. When there was no water, the people complained to Moses their leader, saying, “Why did you bring us out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and livestock with thirst?” (Exodus 17:3). Their desperate situation even caused them to doubt God’s love and care for them. They asked, “Is the LORD among us our not?” (Exodus 17:7).

In a similar way the desert times in our lives can push us to our very limits where we wonder whether we will live or die, and whether God is with us or not. In wilderness periods, people sometimes give up on God. Many become atheists. Others become bitter. In the case of Israel, the lack of food and water in the wilderness led them to complain against their leaders Moses and Aaron, and against God (Numbers 21:5). They told Moses and Aaron, “If only we had died by the hand of the LORD in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the fleshpots and at our fill of bread; for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.” (Exodus 16:3) “They tested God in their heart by demanding the food they craved. They spoke against God, saying, ‘Can God spread a table in the wilderness? Even though he struck the rock so that water gushed out and torrents overflowed, can he also give bread, or provide meat for his people?’” (Psalm 78:18-19)

In the New Testament, the apostle Paul discusses the spiritual significance of Israel’s time in the wilderness. In 1 Corinthians 10, he compares Israel’s deliverance at the Red Sea to Christian baptism (10:2), and implies that Israel’s reception of food and water in the desert should be likened to the spiritual food and drink in the bread and wine of the eucharist (10:3-4, 17, 21). Paul calls upon the believers in Corinth to resist the temptations of this life and to not be like the Israelites who gave in to the sins of idolatry (10:7), sexual immorality (10:8), putting the Lord (or, Christ) to the test (10:9), and complaining (10:10). Paul affirms that God provides the needed help to overcome the testing or temptations of the wilderness. “No testing has overtaken you that is not common to everyone. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tested beyond your strength, but with the testing, he will also provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it” (10:13).

Finally, it is fitting during Lent to consider Jesus’s forty days of testing (or temptation) in the wilderness (Matthew 4:1-11; Mark 1:12-13; Luke 4:1-13). Jesus’s time of wilderness testing followed immediately his baptism in the Jordan River. “Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil” (Matt 4:1). As stated above, this forty day period of testing (Matt 4:2; Mk 1:13; Lk 4:2) has become the template for the Church’s annual observance of Lent.

It may be helpful to note how the key Greek terms used in such scriptures may be rendered in English. The Greek verb peirazo may be translated as, “tempt” or as “test.” Similarly, the Greek noun peirasmos may be translated in English as either as, “temptation” or “trial.” Therefore, it would be correct to translate the phrase in a passage like Matthew 4:1 as either, “to be tempted,” or “to be tested.” Jesus’s wilderness time was a time when he faced testing and temptation. A test always involves the possibility that one will fail the test—that is, that one will succumb to the temptation.

It is also interesting to note the Spirit’s role in Jesus’s experience of testing by the devil. Matthew uses a purpose clause here: “Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil” (Matt 4:1). God evidently wanted Jesus to face the testing presented by his foe, the devil. In a certain sense, spiritual testing or temptation is a good thing, a necessary thing.

Similarly, educational training involves testing. Students must demonstrate through testing that they have mastered the material. All professions require those who are to become practitioners to pass rigorous tests. It is not possible, for example, to become a medical doctor or engineer or airplane pilot without passing tests. In a similar way, God prepares people—even his own Son—for ministry through rigorous testing. The book of Hebrews speaks of the mature “whose faculties have been trained by practice to distinguish good and evil.” (5:14). Concerning Jesus, Hebrews say, “Although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered” (5:8). Similarly, just as Jesus’s baptism was followed by a period of testing, so we should anticipate that our baptism into Christ should lead to our testing as well. As is clear from the more extensive descriptions of Christ’s temptation in Matthew and Luke, Jesus faces this spiritual testing of the devil by quoting scripture. In response to each of the three temptations, Jesus quotes from Deuteronomy 6-8, texts that describe how Israel was to meet her challenges in the wilderness. But in the wilderness Israel failed to learn to trust in God as they ought to have done. When food and water were lacking, they turned against Moses and God, thereby putting God to the test. Jesus reenacts or recapitulates Israel’s history as God’s obedient, trusting Son. Jesus’s threefold quotation of Deuteronomy highlight lessons regarding life in the wilderness:

1. “One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” (Deuteronomy 8:3 in Matt 4:4 and Luke 4:4) 2. “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.” (Deuteronomy 6:16 in Matt 4:7 and Luke 4:12) 3. “Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.” (Deuteronomy 6:13 in Matt 4:10 and Luke 4:8)

As we live in the company of Jesus in our own wilderness, we may learn several lessons. First, life does not consist of having and consuming those things that people commonly use to satisfy human cravings. Life is more than bread alone. [Interestingly, it was in the desert that Israel received supernatural food, that is, manna or “bread from heaven” (Exodus 16:4).] So, Jesus reminds us that “one does not live by bread alone.” Similarly, the desert father Abba Poeman says, “Do not give your heart to that which does not satisfy your heart.” (Paintner, p.31)

Second, one learns from Jesus the difference between trusting in God for protection from harm and “putting God to the test.” The devil quotes portions of a wonderful Psalm to Jesus, Psalm 91. This Psalm is especially fitting for those living amidst the dangers of the wilderness. The Psalm offers this promise to those who trust in God: “You will not fear the terror of the night, or the arrow that flies by day, or the pestilence that stalks in darkness, or the destruction that wastes at noonday” (91:8-9). These words seem especially relevant to our present circumstance.

In the wilderness one is cut off from the usual supports and protections that one relies on in the city. But while the Psalm gives exactly the sort of promises of divine protection that one needs in a dangerous land, Jesus rightly discerns the difference between faith in God’s protection and putting God to the test. Putting God to the test involves pressuring God to bring about our deliverance in a way that we have determined.

Third, in the wilderness one learns what it means to trust in the one true God. In the wilderness Israel succumbed to the temptation to worship other gods. While Moses was away on the mountain with God, the people of Israel grew impatient and made a golden calf and worshiped it. “[Aaron] took the gold from them and formed it in a mold, and cast an image of a calf; and they said, ‘These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!’” (Exodus 32:4). Matthew and Luke describe how the devil sought to tempt Jesus to worship him. Jesus showed Jesus “all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor” and promised, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” (Matt 4:89; see also Luke 4:5-7)

In the wilderness we are often tempted to worship what is not God.

Severe testing reveals the true character of a person. People may appear pleasant when all is going well, but when hardship comes, one learns what a person is really made of. Trials cause some to become angry and bitter, and even to turn against God. When Job suffers horrendous trials, loosing his children, his property, and then his health, his wife gives him a council of despair. “Curse God, and die,” she says (Job 2:9). But Job cannot do this. He tells her, “Shall we receive good at the hand of God, and not receive the bad?” (2:10). Though Job does not understand the meaning of what has happened to him, he does not give up on God.

All humans, including Christian believers, encounter many trials and temptations in life. A relationship to God does not exempt a person from troubles. Biblical narratives illustrate how various people of God have experienced such trials. The story of Abraham in Genesis shows how his life is determined both by the promises of God (of descendants, land, and blessing) and by a multitude of threats that endanger these promises (such as famine, his own fear, infertility, and old age). In each instance, God’s promises seem endangered by trials. Yet, in spite of obstacles, Abraham believes God’s word of promise. “And he believed the LORD; and the LORD reckoned it to him as righteousness” (Genesis 15:6). Eventually Abraham and Sarah in their old age experience the joy and laughter brought about by the fulfillment of God’s promise as they have a son, Isaac. But even then God sends a trial to Abraham. In what is surely one of the most poignant lines in all of Genesis we read, “After these things, God tested Abraham” (22:1). Genesis 22 records what is, in effect, Abraham’s final exam. God asks Abraham to offer up his beloved son, Isaac, as a burnt offering. Once God sees that Abraham is willing to do even this, God stops Abraham as he is about to slay his son. Abraham passes the test and God tells him, “now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son from me” (22:12).

While Jesus is tested in the wilderness for forty days prior to the beginning of his public ministry, his final test comes as he learns that he is about to be condemned to death, after being mocked and flogged (Mark 10:34). As he faces this test, Jesus tells his disciples, “I am deeply grieved, even to death” (Matthew 26:38).  He prays to God in the garden of Gethsemane, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet not what I want but what you want” (Matthew 26:39). But like Abraham and Job, Jesus passes the test, remaining faithful until the end. Concerning this, the author of Hebrews writes, “In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to the one who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission” (Hebrews 5:7).

Though Lent officially ends this year on April 11—with Easter Sunday on April 12—our enforced social isolation due to the COVID pandemic may, in effect, extend our wilderness period considerably longer. But as always, the wilderness is not to be our permanent home. In the wilderness we are to learn how to look forward, to anticipate the goodness that awaits us. In the wilderness, Israel looked forward to her entrance into the promised land, “a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey” (Exodus 3:8). Later while they were living in this land, the prophets taught the people to look forward to that day when “they shall all sit under their own vines and under their own fig trees, and no one shall make them afraid” (Micah 4:4). Similarly, Jesus endured the trials of suffering and death while anticipating “the joy that was set before him” (Hebrews 12:2).

In the words of the Nicene Creed, “we look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come.” And while we wait, we pray in the words of the Lord’s Prayer, “Save us from the time of trial” (modern translation) and “deliver us from the evil one” (my translation).

lent12Some wandered in desert wastes, finding no way to an inhabited town; hungry and thirsty, their soul fainted within them. Then they cried to the LORD in their trouble, and he delivered them from their distress; he led them by a straight way, until they reached an inhabited town. Let them thank the LORD for his steadfast love, for his wonderful works to humankind. For he satisfies the thirsty, and the hungry he fills with good things. Psalm 107:4-9

(Scripture References throughout are from the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible.)

Lent – Monday, Day 29

“I am the light of the world.” Jn. 9:5


Jesus notices a blind beggar along the road and seeks him out.  Even though the man didn’t know who Jesus was, he received the gift of sight.  His friends and neighbours watched in amazement as Jesus applied a mud pack to the eyes and told him to wash in the freshwater pool of Siloam.  His obedience resulted in healing.  Because the miracle was performed on the Sabbath, the Pharisees were upset.  Only God can work on the Sabbath.  “Who do you think he is!” they asked the blind man.  “He is a prophet,” he declared.  His meeting with Jesus enlightened him to the point where he understood more than the professional religious leaders.


John 9:1-38

As he walked along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him. . . . As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” When he had said this, he spat on the ground and made mud with the saliva and spread the mud on the man’s eyes, saying to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (which means Sent). Then he went and washed and came back able to see.

13 They brought to the Pharisees the man who had formerly been blind.  17 So they said to the blind man, “What do you say about him? It was your eyes he opened.” He said, “He is a prophet.”

18 The Jews did not believe that he had been blind and had received his sight until they called the parents of the man who had received his sight 19 and asked them. . .  22 His parents said, “He is of age; ask him.”

24 So for the second time they called the man who had been blind, and they said to him, “Give glory to God! We know that this man is a sinner.” 25 He answered, “I do not know whether he is a sinner. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.” . . .

35 Jesus heard that they had driven him out, and when he found him, he said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” 36 He answered, “And who is he, sir? Tell me, so that I may believe in him.” 37 Jesus said to him, “You have seen him, and the one speaking with you is he.” 38 He said, “Lord, I believe.” And he worshiped him.


blindMany people have a limited understanding of who Jesus is.  Their belief system is formed by second hand stories, media stereotypes, family mythology, or distant childhood memories of being taken to church by a grandparent.  They don’t recognize God’s work in the world because their eyes are shut to the possibility that God is active and interested in them.  It’s rather like being unable to notice details on a Rembrandt when the lights are turned off in the art gallery.

Because it’s unpopular to be identified with Jesus, even if they have a sense of God, they hide behind the phrase, “I’m not at all religious.”  It is to those who are sitting on the sidelines that Jesus turns his attention.  Their first encounter may be as a result of illness, or being backed into a corner with nowhere to turn.  “There are no atheists in foxholes.” God is the hound of heaven who pursues us to the end.  A small act of recognition that he exists can open the unbeliever to infinite possibilities.  Once the light is turned on, the black and white monochrome of their religion is flooded with colour and they see details they never noticed before.  For believers standing patiently by, waiting for those moments, it is the opportunity to shine the light of the world into dark corners.


Lord, Help us to recognize your work all around us.  May we be open to sharing our faith with those who have no religious connections, even if it makes us vulnerable.  You do the work, we simply turn on the light to the possibility that you exist.  Your love does the rest. Amen

Larry Gerbens and Rembrandt by Don Prys

Lent – Saturday, Day 28

“Now that is the wisdom of a man, in every instance of his labor, to hitch his wagon to a star, and see his chore done by the gods themselves.” Ralph Waldo Emerson, “American Civilization”


We may not always like the direction our leaders take, but once we have committed to being part of something, we follow it through to the end.  The disciples had marveled at the miracles and absorbed the wisdom of Jesus’s teachings.  Just at the height of his popular, following the feeding of the 5000, he turned and faced the cross.  “Unless you eat my flesh and drink my blood, you cannot be my disciples.”  This cannibalism was too harsh for the crowds and many left him.  Only those who understood that they were in the presence of God stayed with him.  “Are you leaving, too?” he asked. “Lord, to whom shall we go?  You alone have the words of eternal life.”


John 6:52-59; 66-69

52 The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” 53 So Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. 54 Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day; 55 for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink. 56 Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them. 57 Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me. 58 This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like that which your ancestors ate, and they died. But the one who eats this bread will live forever.” 59 He said these things while he was teaching in the synagogue at Capernaum. 60 When many of his disciples heard it, they said, “This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?” 66 Because of this many of his disciples turned back and no longer went about with him. 67 So Jesus asked the twelve, “Do you also wish to go away?” 68 Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life.


eurostarWe were trapped in a holding area in the basement of the Eurostar station waiting for the next train from Paris.  Construction on the rails had delayed its arrival by three hours, and the backlog of passengers filled the room to capacity.  Some had left the line before they even got to this point, but we had stubbornly committed to the process four hours previously and weren’t about to walk away.  There was no other way to get to Paris that night, so we had to wait.

The number of followers of Jesus swelled as word of his miraculous healings and teachings spread throughout the countryside.  He was like no one else.  The act of feeding five thousand from five loaves and two fishes fit with their vision of the promised Messiah.  Yet, just at the moment when his popularity was at its peak, he turned towards Jerusalem and started talking about suffering and death.  The crowds were separated by their response to his dogmatism:  “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man (the Messiah), and drink his blood, you have no life in you.”  This was too harsh a saying and many left.

Those who stayed didn’t understand what he meant any more than those who left, but they were committed to Jesus and they had nowhere else to go.  Later, at the last supper, they heard these words again. His prophecy was fulfilled in his death and resurrection.  Those who remained formed the nucleus of God’s plan for the whole world, and the Eucharist (communion) became an essential component of that movement.  In hindsight, we understand what he meant; those who were with him that day, didn’t.  This side of eternity, we live by faith and not by sight, but God is trustworthy.


Lord, we trust you even when we don’t understand your ultimate plan.  Our faith is in you, because experience has taught us that you alone hold the keys to an abundant and eternal life.  Assure us that you are with us while we await your final coming. Amen

to whom.jpg

Lent – Friday, Day 27

“We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.” Rom 8:28


Romans 8:28 is the beginning of a rallying cry for those in despair.  When we come to the point where we are ready to give up, we hear the words, “all things work together for good.”  What does this mean?  It is not “deus ex machina” (God in a box), coming in at the last moment to remove our pain and suffering; rather it is God coming as a conqueror to fight beside us against hardship, distress, persecution, famine, and disease.  We are not alone: “Nothing will be able to separate us from the love of God.”


Jeremiah 23:1-18

Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture! says the Lord. Therefore thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, concerning the shepherds who shepherd my people: It is you who have scattered my flock, and have driven them away, and you have not attended to them. So I will attend to you for your evil doings, says the Lord. Then I myself will gather the remnant of my flock out of all the lands where I have driven them, and I will bring them back to their fold, and they shall be fruitful and multiply. I will raise up shepherds over them who will shepherd them, and they shall not fear any longer, or be dismayed, nor shall any be missing, says the Lord.

Romans 8:28; 31-39

28 We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose. . .

31 What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us? 32 He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else? 33 Who will bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. 34 Who is to condemn? It is Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us. 35 Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? 36 As it is written,

“For your sake we are being killed all day long; we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered.”

37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.


jillOur young daughter had a poster hanging in her room with Romans 8:39 written on it.  As we were saying nightly prayers she commented, “I love that poster.  It just makes me happy all over.  I think about heaven.”  My eight year old knew something I had forgotten—God was her champion.

Creativity is messy.  We start with an idea, gather the necessary tools and raw materials, and set to work.  Often our first try is less than perfect; we learn from our mistakes and try again.  The more time we give to a project, the better the final result.  My mother was an excellent seamstress.  She told me that the first requirement was the willingness to rip things apart and start again.

God is our creator.  He is fashioning our eternal souls.  I told my children, “Life is just the opening act for the main event.”  He is more concerned with developing our character than giving us a perfect life.  It can be messy.  There are times of testing.  Life comes at us from unexpected directions, and the enemy of our souls knows our weaknesses.  But we are not alone.  What we see as adversity may simply be our creator “working in us” to produce the fruits of righteousness—love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, self-control.  He isn’t successful the first try because we are human.  But we can be assured that He will never leave us, and in the end, we will conquer.


Lord, at times when I feel most alone, you are standing beside me, working through the circumstances of my life to create a more godly character.  Even in the chaos, we are assured that ultimately your love will prevail.  Thank you for not giving up on us.  Amen


Lent – Thursday, Day 26

” The problem is not that we have too much pleasure,

 but that we are far too easily pleased with that which is second best..” C. S. Lewis


In the 1942 sermon, “The Weight of Glory” by C. S. Lewis, we are reminded that we await a future glory.  His elegant prose reminds us that we have a longing to please God and be honored by him in paradise.  The Apostle Paul equates our present suffering to “light and momentary afflictions” in comparison to the “glory that is to be revealed to us.”


 Romans 8:18 –27

I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us. 19 For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; 20 for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. 22 We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; 23 and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. 24 For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? 25 But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.

26 Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. 27 And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.

2 Corinthians 4:17-18

17 For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, 18 as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.


cancerWhen I was walking through cancer treatments in the early 2000s, I needed to know that there was more to life than this present reality.  I received great comfort from reading C. S. Lewis.  It helped put my troubles into perspective.  These excerpts remain some of my favorites.  I had the entire sermon tucked under my desk pad at work and packed it with my treasures when I retired.  I frequently referred to it when others were experiencing their own dark valleys.

To talk of this desire for our own far-off country almost feels like committing an indecency. It’s like ripping open an inconsolable secret in each of us. Our experience constantly suggests it, but it is a desire for something we have never actually experienced.

And our whole education is devoted to silencing this shy, persistent, inner voice, seeking to convince us that the earth is our home. But despite all efforts, we remain conscious of a desire which no natural happiness will satisfy.

In the end, that Face which is the delight or the terror of the universe must be turned upon each of us—either with the expression of conferring glory inexpressible or the expression of inflicting shame that can never be cured or disguised. To please God . . . to be a real ingredient in the divine happiness . . . to be loved by God, not merely pitied, but delighted in as an artist delights in his work or a father in a son—all of this it seems impossible, a weight or burden of glory which our thoughts can hardly sustain. But so it is. (C. S. Lewis, “The Weight of Glory”, sermon 1942)


Lord, this world is not our final home.  We have a longing and hunger for much more.  Our deepest desire is to “behold thy face in righteousness: [we] shall be satisfied, when [we] awake, with thy likeness.” (Ps.17:15). Amen