by Eric S. Love
podcast available

What happens when things don’t turn out the way you planned?
What do you do when things you have fought for become lost? Broken? Stolen?
What do you do when your dreams are crushed and your hope is sick?
How do you keep walking when you barely know how to stand?

The House That Burned

Several weeks ago we took our boys the home of a friend of the youth home that had caught fire. We went to help clean out the shell of her house and see what could be salvaged, which was basically nothing. What the fire hadn’t destroyed, the water to stop the fire did.

To feel this elderly woman’s exposure and vulnerability of having all these people sifting through the ruined ashes of what used to be your home was very discouraging. The house smelled something like sour dough bread and char - and, to some extent, it represented the whole of her life. Her and her husband had raised their children here. Birthdays were celebrated. Anniversaries. Holidays. Engagements were announced. Victories in school or work were honored. And day to day was walked out, enjoyed, weeped over, lived.

There was a tiny, blackened rocker leaning sideways in the burned attic. It had been her son’s as a boy.

To have the shattered pieces of her home carted out before you and thrown into the belly of a dump truck - every piece with a story or memory attached to it - was like having them sort through the most intimate places in her heart.

And our boys loved the opportunity to tear down walls and break out windows... what would it feel like to hear the enthusiastic cries of ruffian boys tearing down the walls of your home? To hear the squish of watery ash with every step you took? To have to hold the arm of a stranger and have them walk you through your own home so you didn’t fall? To smell the ruin of it all?

And those boys having so much fun tearing down so quickly what had taken you a lifetime to build?

Fire is unforgiving. Merciless.

But then there was a dollar bill. Somehow it had miraculously survived. And a little glass boot filled with coins... each one represented a cold drink or an ice cream cone, a warm cup of coffee or a newspaper. These tiny icons of daily life survived the fire. Their worth now was not determined by what had been stamped on their face but by the soot that was easily wiped away.

Why? Because they survived. Because they remained.

Faith. Hope. Love.

We know that all the gifts of the spirit will one day be all that remains: the other gifts of the Spirit will be unneeded, since we will see God face to face (1 Cor. 13:12-13). We know that greatest of these is Love.

So what do we do when we feel ourselves losing hope? We must look to faith and love.

These three work in concert together. Faith is the substance and evidence of hope and is based on love. Love carries within itself faith and hope. Hope is fundamentally an act of faith and love - allowing them to move outside mere concept and into living reality. So if one of these is lacking, we should look first to the other two for strength.

If our hope is shaken, we have to push on in faith. Faith strengthens hope, just as hope validates faith (or maybe it’s the other way around). But underneath all of this, Love is the foundation and the most critical piece.

So let’s start there. LOVE.

Red Sea Crossing

Israel’s deliverance from Egypt was a challenging time for them. It continually got more and more difficult as they got closer to it. Their labor was intensified, as was the brutality aimed at them from angry Egyptians. God covered them, but still they must have experienced apprehension.

When it came time for them to cross the Red Sea, they carried with them treasures from Egypt. The Egyptians were so ready to be done with them, that they sent them on their way in haste - loading them down with silver and gold - the Israelites were so hurried they didn’t have time to add yeast to their bread, so they took in unleavened (which is where the Festival of Unleavened Bread originates).

When the Israelites were crossing the Red Sea, it was not a walk in the park. The reality is they were being pursued by a massive, lethal army (that was held at bay at the the mouth of the Sea Road they were traveling by a Flaming Angel). And they are actually walking along the sea floor. Imagine the awe, combine with undiluted fear, that must have been driving them: they were literally in the heart of this impossible miracle, not simply being protected against something (which had happened several times in Egypt). Surrounded by walls of water that were held in place by winds strong enough to hold them there. Imagine the noise of it.

My guess is their travels were strained - not impossible, but challenging at least. And it is probable that there were things they had to leave behind. These things were possessions they had taken away from Egypt - not bad things necessarily. We know their provisions weren’t exactly abundant on the other side, because they complained about it constantly. God had to feed them and water them with miracles. They lost some things crossing over.

Moving forward always requires us to let go of things. Life gives, but it also takes.

My question today was this: what do we do when walking out our freedom lasts longer than weeks, months, years? I simply heard, “keep walking.”

Israel did this, not in a bright shining example of complete trust, but they did it. And God supported them with miracles. Food. Water. Even their clothing and shoes didn’t wear out.

How did they carry on?

Listen to the words of their song on the other side (Exodus 15):
“The Lord is my strength and my song; he has become my salvation. He is my God and I will praise Him. (faith leads to praise) In you unfailing love you will lead the people you have redeemed. In your strength you will guide them to your holy dwelling. (Love always  leads to hope) You will bring them in and plant them on the mountain of your inheritance - the place o Lord you made for your dwelling, the sanctuary o Lord your hands established. (faith, hope and love in concert)”

See God’s perspective of it all (Exodus 29:45):
“They will know that I am the Lord their God, who brought them out of Egypt so that I may dwell among them.”

This hope motivated them to keep walking. And the walking got tough, and their hope wavered. But God’s love never left. He manifested it through Moses, and later Joshua. Their faith was tested, and many failed, but many did not. And hope was ultimately restored.

Joseph the Dreamer

Joseph had many dreams, prophetic and full of meaning. He saw himself ruling - sitting in a place of God given influence. In response to this dream (and his immaturity in prematurely telling everyone about it) led to his betrayal: betrayal by his own family.

He was beaten by his brothers, sold into slavery, separated from his father. He became a servant in Egypt and did so well as a slave he was promoted to manage the house. But a lustful wife led to him being imprisoned - unjustly! There, he walked in his gifting, interpreting dreams for the cup bearer and baker of Pharaoh. The cupbearer, who was released, forgot all about him for several years. Joseph literally grows up in prison. Then he is promoted to a position just under Pharaoh himself because of his gifting. But it took his whole life and he still has no identity in himself. No family. No home. And he is still a foreigner in Egypt (even with his position, he isn’t allowed to eat with the Egyptians, see Exodus 43:32).

When you read Exodus 45 and 46, you see the power of a life lived in hope of something that seemed impossible. Joseph is not only reunited with his father, but also with his brother, Benjamin, whom he had never had a chance to know. He saved his entire family, which were about 70 (and made the way for the fulfillment of God’s promise that Abraham’s descendants would become a mighty nation: when they left Egypt with Moses, there were 600,000 of them).

Moses the Angry Leader

Reading the story of Exodus, you can understand why Moses was always angry. The Israelites were a tough lot to lead. But in one instance, Moses reacted in anger when God reacted in patience, and he misrepresented God’s heart to the people (this is when he struck the rock for water instead of spoke to it), The penalty? He couldn’t enter the promised land.

And wasn’t that the whole point of this expedition? And now here, literally in sight of the promise, he had to raise up his own replacement in Joshua and wait to die. What hope is there in that? His anger was understandable - but God is pretty strict when it comes to how his heart is represented to his people. So Moses died just outside of Canaan.

But that isn’t the end of the story. Death seems pretty final, but Moses does eventually stand in the promised land. He does ultimately see the fully realized, fully embodied Promise... not just in land inhabited by Israel, but in the human form of God Himself.

When Jesus took Peter, James and John up on the mountain in the gospels (Mark 9, Matthew 17, Luke 9), it says that Moses and Elijah appeared and talked to Jesus. This is the ultimate way to visit the promised land... talk to Jesus on a mountain shrouded with God’s presence and glowing with His Spirit.

A Beautiful Hope

These stories of Joseph and Moses are two of my favorites and are easily the most moving stories for me in the entire Old Testament. The reason is because neither Joseph nor Moses planned for things to go the way they did, but God’s redemption was considerably better than anything they themselves could have dreamed.

I look at myself now. I have my dream job. It includes all the elements of things I’ve always been interested in doing and also functions as a direct outlet for the Spirit of God in me to manifest itself in the way it can only through me. I have seen miracles there. I have witnessed transformations so incredible they borderline on the unbelievable. I have witnessed God’s sustaining power in extraordinary ways. I have developed friendships through hurt young men who have survived the burning of their lives and have been changed deeply by those experiences. I have gained brothers and sons.

But I never planned to do it. Not until a month or so before I began work there, my plans were always different. At one point I wanted to be a Christian rock star! I wanted to travel the word, doing missions in tough places... doing something daring and exciting. The spectrum of my own dreams stretched wide. But working at a youth home was not in the mix. Not until right before it happened.

And when it did, something clicked into place. I realized I had found my place. No matter where else I go in life, I knew that right then, right there was my place. And I’m still there, almost nine years later. And I could see how every step of my life was training for that place.

It was the same for River. Coming to River at the beginning was like breathing for the first time and only then realizing I had been holding my breath for years. It wasn’t necessarily my plan to come to River. I was loyal to my former church. I was loyal to people there. And it was difficult for me to follow what I believed were God’s instructions to me - to go... I was excited, but leaving hurt. But coming to River led to healing in wounds I didn’t know I had. I didn’t even know I had been sick.

It was not what I had planned. It was better.

God of Hope

Sometimes hope for us, lie faith and love, must be a choice. But just because you choose to believe or choose to love doesn’t mean it is less substantial. In many cases, that is when they are at their purest forms. And it is the same with hope.

God is made up of those things. For Him they aren’t choices. They are part of his character. In fact, God is love (see 1 John) and hope reverberates throughout every syllable uttered from His mouth, from every move of His Spirit, from every thought in His heart. And He never stops believing in us (Jesus washed Judas’s feet in the midst of his betrayal).

That is why we choose to believe. Choose to love. And choose to hope. We are prisoners of a hope that will not let us go because we understand God’s heart, even when we don’t understand His actions.

Zechariah 9:12-13:
Return to the stronghold you prisoners of hope. Even today do I declare that I will restore double your former prosperity. For I have bent Judah for myself as my bow, filled the bow with Ephraim as my arrow, and will stir up the sons of Zion against the sons of Greece, and will make Israel the sword of a mighty man.

This passage falls between the first and second Exodus BACK to Israel following the deportation of Israel into Assyria and Judah into Babylon. Most of the Jews are now exiled under Persian rule (since Persia conquered both Assyria and Babylon). This happens somewhere in the sixty or so years when nothing seems to happen at all. Persian rule is suffocating. The hope that had been restored with the rebuilding of the Temple is dampened by the obvious resuming of life as normal under the tight fist of a foreign oppressor.

And yet, God calls His people “prisoners of hope” because the hope born in them is not something they can quit. Zechariah’s message in the ninth verse of this chapter begins: “Rejoice greatly, o daughter of Zion! Shout, daughter of Jerusalem. See, your king comes to you, righteous and having salvation, gentle and riding on a donkey.”

The hope they are prisoners to are not just a hope that will rescue them from their current prison, but will see them through to the coming of their Messiah - Jesus, who brings with Him their ultimate salvation.

Because God is a God of hope, and we are prisoners of that hope. In was in this hope that we were saved (see Romans 8).

We keep walking “by having the eyes of you heart flooded with light, so that you can know and understand the hope to which he has called you...” (Ephesians 1:18)

Eric Love, 6/27/2010