We don’t say it out loud, but often we expect that if we believe and live correctly, we’ll have great marriages, healthy bank balances, well-balanced children, and freedom from major problems.
Of course, we know better—but we still lean on the side of expecting blessing for obedience.
The truth is, we have expectations of God. And sometimes, honestly, He fails those expectations.
Who would have ever thought to use stairs as a memory-trigger? At the southern edge of Jerusalem’s Temple Mount, a 200-foot wide flight of stairs represents both original and restored steps from the Second Temple period.
Millions of sandals (including Jesus’) shuffled up these steps in antiquity as Jewish pilgrims came from all Israel and the Diaspora to worship the Lord for the annual feasts.
Some suggest the pilgrims sang the Psalms of Ascent on these steps. If so, the place brought to mind critical themes.
The place echoes of our need to be reminded of what we already know.
The 2012 cinematic adaptation of the musical based on Victor Hugo’s novel, Les Misérables, was tremendous. But my favorite adaptation of the novel was the 1998 film starring Liam Neeson. There’s a reason.
(Photo: from Columbia Pictures, Inc. 1998)
Even though the acting is superb, and the costumes, music, and scenes look first-rate, there is another element that outshines them all.
The grace of God.
Before I show you the clip of my favorite scene, here’s a brief set-up: Jean Valjean is a ex-convict living in pre-revolutionary France. Just released from prison, he wanders the streets because no one will take him in. Finally, a kindly old bishop feeds him and lets him sleep overnight.
Let’s watch my favorite scene in the movie to see what happens.
Sometimes reading the Bible can get, well—can I say it?—boring. Yeah, I know that sounds really unspiritual. Yes, I understand that statement is more of a commentary on me than on the Bible. But it’s true.
And that’s the whole point.
(Photo: By William Hoiles from Basking Ridge, NJ, USA (CC-BY-2.0), via Wikimedia Commons)
How can a book that has changed the lives of billions ever seem boring?
Very few places in the Holy Land still look original. Most historic sites in Israel have some church, or a mosque, or a settlement, or thirty feet of civilization piled on top of them.
The places pilgrims come to see today show centuries of scars from the ruins and reconstructions of many faiths and peoples.
But in the Wilderness of Judea, one can see what the ancients saw. Deep ravines. Rocky terrain. Barren grades with scant vegetation. Horizontal lines cut in the hills betray generations of flocks that have worn trails like terraces in the stony slopes. Miles and miles of desolate land, interrupted only by an occasional camel, a shepherd with his flock, or a group of Bedouin tents with satellite dishes.
Bleak, inhospitable, stark, and harsh—the Wilderness of Judea has sat virtually unchanged for thousands of years.
It was the perfect place to escape.
I read that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle played a joke on twelve of his friends. He sent them each identical telegrams that read: “Flee! All is discovered!” Just four words. But within 24 hours, all 12 fled the country.
(Photo: Design Pics, via Vivozoom)
What Conan Doyle did in jest, God does to us in all seriousness.
The Lord will use situations to awaken ignored or unresolved guilt, testing our willingness to come clean and clear a guilty conscience.
Are you willing? Here’s how.
I loved the innovation of how some New Yorkers chose to deal with their drought-dried lawns. They paced their yards a few times with a can of green spray paint, and whala! Lawns to dye for. No more watering, no more mowing, just bright, green grass all summer.
(Photo: Elena Elisseeva, via Vivozoom)
Actually, such innovation applies beyond the front yard straight into the human heart.
On the surface, every one of us seems vibrant, successful, content, and happy. And except for the occasional “scene”—when the truth bursts from behind our thin veneers—most of us manage to keep it together long enough to preserve the image.
In social circles where hurting is unacceptable (insert your church’s name here), we quickly learn how to paint on the smile and shake all the hands—while inside we feel as dead and needy as parched grass.
While we may have ideal hopes about tomorrow, and how in that ever-elusive “someday” things will get better, the truth is, life doesn’t fix itself.
Instead, God must fix life.
One of my daughters used to come to me as a toddler and say, “In the air, Daddy, in the air!” She wanted me to hurl her up and catch her. I did so to her utter delight. My other daughter saw this and asked me to toss her too. Yet as she leveled off, her face contorted into sheer terror.
When I caught her, she clung to me with all four limbs and begged, “No, not again!”
Later I considered why the same flight gave joy to one and terrorized the other.
- One focused on my ability to catch her.
- The other focused on her inability to control the flight.
We do the same thing with God.
Everything was going so well. A good job. Promising future. Nice place to live. Health in good shape. Peace among peers. Then God got involved, and it all changed.
(Photo: David Gallaher, via Vivozoom)
Ever had that happen? Me too. So did Israel of old.
The Hebrews sought opulent furniture, the finest food, first-class entertainment, the best wine and perfumes. But they did not seek the Lord.
Sometimes God invades our comfortable lives. He has His reasons.
Sometimes fear keeps us from enjoying what God has promised. We want so badly to have faith in what the Lord says. But fear of what we see seems more compelling than mere words.
Gideon longed to believe God. But the enemy army before him was enormous.
It was almost as large as the fears we face today.