Category Archives: desert dwelling

A Harsh Splendor – a Lenten thought (guest post by Chuck Killian)


The Gospels make it clear—you can’t make the ‘Lenten Journey’ without the desert and wilderness. That forty-day trek is rough terrain. All that stuff about wild beasts, temptations, and hunger, we’d rather not talk about it. And the cruelty of it; “Lord, can we do an ‘end run’ around the wilderness? We can meet you in forty days and celebrate.”

I never go through Lent without thinking of the Harsh Splendor. That is how Death Valley, California, is described. It is three thousand square miles of desert. The weather is hot and dry, reaching 134 degrees. The rain turns to steam before it hits the ground. Yet, in this place, stories abound about eager and greedy miners, who came in search for gold and silver. Instead, they found borax, and with mule teams made their way to the railroad 160 miles away.

Upon closer examination, some other amazing facts are known about Death Valley. Over 1000 different varieties of flowers grow there. Sheep graze atop Cottonwood Range, and the mesquite bush sends down a single tap root 100 feet in search for water. In spite of the fierce landscape, abundant life goes on; even the bristle cone pine has made it for more than 3000 years.

So, I ask, where is this Lenten Journey going to end? We know—the Cross! It is hard to find water there. Where is life amidst a grizzly death? In our Lord’s ‘death valley’, where is the splendor?

The harshest thing you can say about it all is that once this trip is over, it is death for Jesus. But, the splendor of that is there must be death before there can be a resurrection. And for that, there will always be ‘streams in the desert’.

It is recorded that an old pioneer once said, “Someday folks won’t have to make excuses or have a reason to come to Death Valley; they’ll just come because they like it and it’s good for their souls.”

Can it be that the wilderness is rich and verdant in its promise of healing and transformation? What is Lent but getting ready for the feast! Yes, come to the desert—it’ll be good for you soul!


DSCN0253PS: So honored to have my dad guest posting today. He was the first man to ever hold me in his arms and to teach me about my heavenly Father. His walk with Jesus continues to radically shape mine. Love you, Daddy.

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an opportune time . . .

A couple of nights ago, I called my older boys and offered them this caution:

“Be on guard, sons. Apparently our family is now Satan’s new, favorite chew-toy.”

The next morning, my mother called with a similar warning:

“Elaine, I’ve been standing here in front of the mirror, curling my hair and thinking about all that’s been going on in our family over the past couple of weeks. We’re fighting something we cannot see, a battle of spiritual proportion.”

It seems as if my family is standing up against a formidable foe in this season, feeling the constraints of our faith in overload. Accordingly, I go to God’s Word this morning and allow it to speak truth to my soul. In thinking about Christ’s struggle against the enemy, I am strengthened in my own efforts at resistance.

“When the devil had finished all this tempting, he left him until an opportune time.” –Luke 4:15

Two things strike me about this verse:

  • An opportune time known as desert testing.
  • An opportune time yet to come.

There’s a plurality to the devil’s scheming. Funny how often we’re surprised by this reality. It’s not as if one opportune time is more difficult than the other. Opportune times are straining times, all of them stretching the comfortable boundaries of faith and requiring a step beyond what feels reasonable. I don’t imagine many of us go looking for opportune times (especially ones involving a forty day fast in the desert or a gut-wrenching surrender to nails and a hammer); instead, they seem to find us, pulling us in without notice. Almost accidentally.


Opportune times. The Greek word kairos, meaning “season, opportune time. It is not merely as a succession of moments, which is “chronos,” but a period of opportunity (though not necessity). It is a critical or decisive point in time; a moment of great importance and significance; a point when something is ready or favorable, a propitious moment.” (NIV Key Word Study Bible, 1635-1636).

Read that again slowly and consider Christ’s conflict; consider your own. Go ahead. I’ll wait.

Opportune times are not accidental occasions. Instead, they are orchestrated, carefully selected, and purposely planned. Whether schemed by the devil for our destruction or willingly allowed by God for our perfection, opportune times are those hinge moments in our life’s history that swing faith in one of two directions: a right one or a wrong one. Really, there’s no middle ground in opportune seasons. Either we live them right—live them forward and in faith—or we live the lesser road. A road of regression, wrongful conclusions, and regrettable distrust.

I don’t want to live on the side of distrust. I want to live rightly on the side of faith, fully believing that no weapon forged against me will prevail. That, in fact, victory is my heritage as a servant of the Lord (see Isaiah 45:17). Accordingly, I must pick up the sword of the Spirit and strap on my spiritual armor, because the opportunistic arrows of the enemy will not be quenched by feeble, weak-minded, and weak-willed faith. No, to stop his forward progression, I must stand in the strength of who I am in Jesus Christ.

I am God’s child. I am his chosen bride. I am the apple of his eye.

So are you.

Be on guard, friends. If you’re not in the middle of an opportune season right now, I imagine one is waiting for you down the road. Don’t fear its advent; rather, recognize it as it arrives and for what it has the potential to be—a hinge moment in your faith’s history that will strengthen your understanding of God and will catapult your witness forward for the exponential increase of the kingdom.

Satan may have come to me and my family in what he thought to be his opportune time. However, he seems to have momentarily ignored that my times (opportune and otherwise) are in God’s hands. They all belong to him, and his purposes for my life override any schemes to the contrary. God holds the chain to the short leash attached around Satan’s roaming, and today my Father has willingly and forcefully yanked it a few times so that the devil remembers who’s in charge.

I am grateful for God’s strength in this season and for your prayers that have, undoubtedly, tightened the noose around the devil’s neck. What privilege there is in standing alongside you, my mighty warrior friends! As always . . .Peace for the journey,

In the Olive Press with Jesus {part nine: Keep the Change}

This is one of my favorite stories of grace. It’s a good one to walk us home to Easter. I’ve grown up hearing it, time and again, and it never fails to stir my heart in the deepest way. Thank you, dad, for sharing it with us, and thanks to my Grandpa Al for giving and living grace all those many years ago… just when my daddy needed it most. Perhaps you, readers, need it today.


The Crossroads Restaurant, Lent, March 25 {written by Charles Killian}

When I went off to college (Marion College, now Indiana Wesleyan University) in 1955, I had less than fifty dollars to my name. I remember clearly that matriculation fees were $19.50. My tuition and books were covered by two wonderfully gracious men from my local church: Robert Huffman and Jesse Shatford. They asked nothing in return, except a pledge that I would remain ‘true to the Lord’. That was it.

For my room and board, my job was washing pots and pans in the kitchen, seven days a week. It was boring, and I was lonely. During the middle of that first year, I had decided that I didn’t need college, and was going to quit and join the army. I was only 17, and I needed my parent’s permission. When my folks heard of this they called and said they wanted to come down to Marion and talk to me about this. They came, and we went out to the Crossroads Restaurant, which was famed for its plate-sized tenderloin sandwiches.

I don’t remember much of our conversation that day, but it had to do with my staying in college. My brother, George, was in the army and after ‘boot camp’ I could join him and we could see the world, so I was told by the recruiter. That sounded a whole lot better than doing dishes, going to college, and being penniless. When the meal was over, Dad gave me a piece of money and said, “Go pay the bill and keep the change.” Not noticing, I took the check and money to the counter to pay and realized I was holding a $100 bill. I had never seen such a large bill except for monopoly money.

I returned to the table and told Dad, “You gave me a $100 bill, you meant to give me ten.” He said, “No, pay the bill and keep the change.” My father knew I didn’t have two dimes to rub together, and believed if I had some extra change in my pocket, I might stay in college. After paying the bill, I was left with $94.

Years later, I learned that my parents stopped at the Marshall County bank in Plymouth on their way to Marion. Dad took out a loan for $100 for his homesick boy, and was hoping and praying for the love of God his boy would stay in college. And I did.

The journey has taken me around the world a time or two, but that luncheon at the Crossroads long ago, still looms as one of the greatest moments in my life. And the words, keep the change, stand as the watershed statement that best articulates my understanding of grace.

Keep the change. My father’s words to me at the Crossroads. My heavenly Father’s words to me at the cross. Oh the depths and stretch of such a gift. I don’t suppose I’ll ever get to the end of it. I don’t suppose I’m meant to.

Keep the change. Keep the faith, and by all means, keep telling the story. The best is yet to be.

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In the Olive Press with Jesus {part five: Gifts from the Desert}…

Once again, my father is making an appearance today to share with us a few thoughts from his Lenten journey. In doing so, he asks us to consider our own pilgrimages to the cross this year. I pray you are blessed by his words, even more so challenged by them: to walk deeply with Jesus, think thoughtfully about Jesus, and apply willingly the truth He reveals about himself on the road to Calvary. There are gifts to be found along the way and as we go. Here are a few…


In the desert we are free of distractions. We are reduced to the bare necessities of existence; survival is our only quest. And we soon discover that all the distractions that once claimed our attention have become, in fact, our bondage. This awakening is the first gift of the desert. And like the children of Israel in the wilderness, we must make a choice: either to return to Egypt with its slavery and comfortable idols, or strike out boldly into the unknown for the sake of a promise given, yet unrealized.

And if that is done, it won’t be long until we discover the second gift of the desert—we leave behind our false selves and get a glimpse of our true self-image; that is, we see ourselves as God sees us—the beginning of the person God always intended us to be—the persons we always hoped to be!

The third gift of the desert is community. In community we will find courage to admit our vulnerability and weakness, and we will discover a wisdom and strength for one another we never knew by ourselves. Community will teach us that we move ahead together or not at all. In community we will be surprised to learn that the things we thought would bring frustration and anxiety are, in fact, our very salvation.

The best part of the desert, the uncharted part of Lent, is all about receiving gifts: gifts of freedom, of knowing who we are and that we are not alone. Blessed be God who every year gives us 40 days to rediscover these healing and transforming gifts for ourselves and one another. The desert can end up being the most giving place we have ever been. We can make a choice: to return to the distractions of our bondage, or to be free!

Open our eyes and our hearts, Lord, to see and to receive the many gifts you have for us as we travel this desert road together. Amen.

*What “gifts” have you discovered in your desert pilgrimages?

In the Olive Press with Jesus {part four: Healing in the Desert}

“Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the desert, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil.” –Luke 4:1-2
The Lenten journey begins in the desert. It is the undiscovered country that invites us to participate in the desert experience of our Lord. A desert and a wilderness, we are told. That doesn’t carry much hope. Its very mention conjures up images of aloneness and aloofness—with austerity, abstinence, and self affliction. Why would one want to visit that place or take that journey?

Well, let me suggest a reason why we’d better take the trip! Gifts are waiting there that will not come easily; but those who are interested in the ‘healing gifts of the desert’ will discover that the desert is rich and verdant in its promise of healing and transformation.

Healing and transformation in Lent? Aren’t those spiritual realities more appropriate to the Easter Season, when all the world is turning to Spring…when alleluias are sounding from everyone’s lips and a crucified Jewish carpenter comes leaping and dancing from his tomb? Certainly Easter is the season of new life as epitomized in the resurrection. But this new life begins long before the Paschal celebrations. It begins back in the wilderness desert of Lent where it is known by another name—conversion.

Could it be that we frequently fail to appropriate and appreciate the healing gifts of Lent because we are so blissfully unaware that we need them? Lent is about giving up of something, yes—giving up our false gods, our false selves, and our false notion that we can make it on our own. And the ‘desert’ is just the place for that to happen.

Change me in this desert, Lord. Let this be a journey of personal decrease and spiritual increase. May the healing work of your cross be the healing, transformational work of my heart as we travel this road together. Amen.


Join me each week on Wednesdays throughout the Lenten season to hear a few thoughts from my dad, Dr. Charles Killian (a.k.a. “Chuck”).

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