The Lord Gives, the Lord Takes

Then Job arose and tore his robe and shaved his head and fell on the ground and worshiped. And he said, ‘Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD.’ In all this Job did not sin or charge God with wrong.” Job 1:20-22

Job, the righteous, upstanding man of God, had just lost everything but his wife: livestock, livelihood, servants, children. All he had worked for, and all that would be easy to live for, was gone, in one day, yet Job fell on his knees and worshiped. How could this be an immediate response to the shock and breathless sorrow of losing all this? What prevented him from lashing out in anger, blame, confusion, inexplicable grief, or even crying out in anguish and questioning? Job was a man who feared and revered holy God, who knew He was LORD Who owned everything, and himself merely flesh who had no right to anything. His hope and sure foundation were grounded not in man or possessions, but in His Redeemer. His true wealth and sovereign preference was God, his value and treasure and identity in Him.

The freedom in acknowledging, and living it to be true, that God owns everything, and all we have is from Him, is that when it is taken away, it is well with our souls. We may say we know we are only stewards, our children are a gift from Him, and every grace and ability is bestowed by Him, but the test of whether we really believe these things is when He takes them back, when we are called to relinquish them and trust His goodness. Does the pain of the fire prove us true? (Psalm 50:10; 127:3; 1 Corinthians 4:2,7; 10:26)

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At what altars do I worship? That of children, grandchildren, security, material beauty? To what rights do I cling? Right to comfort, self-rule, self-defense, my time, my plans for our family and future ‘because I have been faithful’? In order to get me to a place of intimacy and full identity with Him, God may strip away what I claim as mine to get me to the point of singular devotion to Him, of being solely satisfied in Him. He rules all with sovereign wisdom and goodness, and is in loving pursuit of my whole heart every day. Will I choose to cherish and bless nothing but His name?

“If God has made your cup sweet, drink it with grace; and if He has made it bitter, drink it in communion with Him.” ~Oswald Chambers (1874-1917)

“When peace, like a river, attendeth my way, When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say, It is well, it is well with my soul.            
Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come, Let this blest assurance control,
That Christ hath regarded my helpless estate, And hath shed His own blood for my soul. It is well, it is well, with my soul.”  ~Horatio Spafford (1873)

Lord, You are a bountiful and gracious Giver. And You are also bountiful and full of grace when You take away. Help me accept and rejoice in this, and no matter what comes, exalt Your glory.

Light in Darkness

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it… The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world…And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.John 1:1-5,9,14

When all is dark, Jesus’s light is present and irrepressible. As a fat bright moon breaks through on a frigid winter night, rising in wondrous, captivating glory to split and illuminate the thickest dark, so does Jesus rise, again and again, into the darkness in our lives. What was in the beginning is now still, His light in place, transcendent, shedding its magnetic light to bring hope and understanding to the shadows in which we daily move. He pierces our deepest despair, irradiates our unseen way forward, brightens the places we doubted could ever be bright again.

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Jesus, the Light of the world, dispels our darkness with His comfort and abiding presence, infusing us with His light of life. Jesus the Word, our lamp, reveals the path before us and shows us the way to go. Though our hope may flicker, our future be uncertain, our faith waver and wane, He can be trusted. He cannot be extinguished. He has brought us out of darkness into His glorious light; His light is our life. (John 8:12; Psalm 119:105; 1 Peter 2:9)

And when we are living in the light, we can carry His light to others, into caves of loneliness and sorrow, the strangle of harsh circumstances and sin, the foggy web of unbelief. As vessels of light, we expose darkness, and as beacons ablaze with the fire of truth and compassion and love, we are at once subversive and strange in a dark world, but oh, so greatly hungered for and needed. His light, though not always recognized as emanating from the Divine, makes a difference and attracts true seekers. (Matthew 5:14; 2 Corinthians 4:7; Ephesians 5:8-11)

Jesus, thank You for being the Light of my world. I look to the day when all nations and kings of the earth will walk by Your glory, heaven’s light, when the Lamb is heaven’s lamp. Until that day, blaze in me to shine before those who live in darkness, that they know and give glory to You, and so walk with me there. (Revelation 21:23-24; Matthew 5:16)

Going Bad When Doing Good

One day, when Moses had grown up, he went out to his people and looked on their burdens, and he saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew, one of his people. He looked this way and that, and seeing no one, he struck down the Egyptian and hid him in the sand. When he went out the next day, behold, two Hebrews were struggling together. And he said to the man in the wrong, ‘Why do you strike your companion?’ He answered, ‘Who made you a prince and a judge over us? Do you mean to kill me as you killed the Egyptian?’ Then Moses was afraid, and thought, ‘Surely the thing is known.’ When Pharaoh heard of it, he sought to kill Moses. But Moses fled from Pharaoh and stayed in the land of Midian.” Exodus 2:11-15

Moses, of the line of Levi, rescued from certain death and raised by the Egyptian princess daughter of Pharaoh, instructed in all the wisdom and ways of the Egyptians, never lost his heart for his Hebrew roots. He looked every part the Egyptian, so his people did not recognize him as a fellow Jew; instead of appreciating his bravado on their behalf, they became wary of his impulsive violence. While his motive to defend had been right, his method was all wrong, and tangled him in consequence of accusation, fear, and self-banishment. We know from the whole story that God, in lavish grace, greatly used the next 40 years in Midian to prepare Moses to become one of the greatest leaders in all history, but we will never know how God may have done this had Moses not taken retribution into his own hands. (Acts 7:22; Romans 12:19,21)

Path in Aspen forest, Beaver Creek, CO vertical

What good motives have I that I fail to bring before God to direct and measure against His word? When have I impulsively barged ahead with righteous intention but wrong implementation, only to face a backlash of misunderstanding? We can trust that if the Spirit is inspiring our thought, He will guide our method. He Who plants ideas also orchestrates their execution, according to His truth and pattern, and for the fulfillment of all His good purposes. We need to offer them first to Him and seek His way. (Psalm 119:105)

The plans of the heart belong to man, but the answer of the tongue is from the LordAll the ways of a man are pure in his own eyes, but the Lord weighs the spirit. Commit your work to the Lord, and your plans will be established. The Lord has made everything for its purpose, even the wicked for the day of trouble. The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps. Whoever gives thought to the word will discover good, and blessed is he who trusts in the Lord.” Proverbs 16:1-4,9,20

Good Father, when You plant right motives and upright ideas, please prompt righteous action. May I never rush forward outside Your leading, but follow You and follow through in the ways that accomplish all You intend, and that honor Your holy character.

The Presentness of God

During those many days the king of Egypt died, and the people of Israel groaned because of their slavery and cried out for help. Their cry for rescue from slavery came up to God. And God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob. God saw the people of Israel—and God knew.” Exodus 2:23-25

On earth: strain, pain, mistreatment, injustice, cruelty, anguish, helplessness that can only be groaned. In heaven: watching, listening, hearing, remembering, seeing, knowing.

On earth: restlessness, striving, agitation, bent-over despair, impossible burdens. In heaven: peace, control, calm authority, power, hope, promise, limitless strength.

God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble at its swelling. The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.” Psalm 46:1-3,7,11

Addiction that destroys ministry and marriages, suicide that crushes the family and friends of a young man, pain and the poison of treatments that wreck quality of life, natural disasters and tragedies that ruin livelihoods and make nightmares of happy dreams– all of these man bears with heavy sorrow and longing, all of these our merciful, present God bears on high, all of these our Savior, the Man of Sorrows, bore on the cross at Calvary. He is present in our suffering, compassionate toward our pain. He is affectionate to His own whom He loves with everlasting love, to whom He is faithful always and will never leave or forsake. This is our God. In Him can we find respite, peace, comfort, and hope in our groaning. (Isaiah 53:3; Jeremiah 31:3; Hebrews 13:5)

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“For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another. My heart faints within me!” Job 19:25-27

For our sake, O Lord, You are not silent and You do act. Thank You for understanding all that concerns and weighs on me, and for taking it up as Your own and working Your brightness and salvation out of darkness and bondage. May Your presentness infuse how I see and behave and minister to others, moment by moment. (Isaiah 62:1)

The Sword of Levi

On the third day, when they were sore, two of the sons of Jacob, Simeon and Levi, Dinah’s brothers, took their swords and came against the city while it felt secure and killed all the males. They killed Hamor and his son Shechem with the sword and took Dinah out of Shechem’s house and went away. The sons of Jacob came upon the slain and plundered the city, because they had defiled their sister. They took their flocks and their herds, their donkeys, and whatever was in the city and in the field. All their wealth, all their little ones and their wives, all that was in the houses, they captured and plundered.” Genesis 34:25-29

Levi was raw and impetuous early on. Fueled by righteous anger against the humiliating of his sister (and the inaction of his conflict-avoiding father), he and his brother Simeon tricked Hamor and the Hivites into getting circumcised, and, while they were still healing, exacted vicious revenge. On his death bed, his father Jacob cursed him for his violence, prophesying he would be scattered in Israel: Cursed be their anger, for it is fierce, and their wrath, for it is cruel! I will divide them in Jacob and scatter them in Israel.”  (Genesis 49:5-7)

Interestingly, the strain of this passion for justice and standing unabashedly for what is right coursed through the tribe of Levi, and was boldly exhibited generations later in judgment on those who had made and worshiped a golden calf. Moses said, ‘Who is on the Lord‘s side? Come to me.’ And all the sons of Levi gathered around him. And he said to them, ‘Thus says the Lord God of Israel, “Put your sword on your side each of you, and go to and fro throughout the camp, and each of you kill his brother and his companion and his neighbor.”‘ And the sons of Levi did according to the word of Moses. And Moses said, ‘Today you have been ordained for the service of the Lord,.. so that he might bestow a blessing upon you this day.’” This time, harsh justice was directed explicitly by God and measured without anger on the guilty for the purity of His people. The man of the sword, using his weapon for good, became the tribe of Levitical priests, bearers of the “sword of the Spirit, the Word of God,” scattered throughout Israel for holy ministry. (Genesis 49:5-7; Exodus 32:26-29; Numbers 35:8; Deuteronomy 10:8;18:1; Ephesians 6:17)

Waves crashing sand, rocks, Western NZ

God appoints personalities and proclivities, and through our lives, He redeems them for His good purpose. What, when untrained and immature and unsurrendered, is initially used for troublemaking or destruction, can be sanctified into an instrument for good. For us, we offer these uncultivated inclinations to God to shape; for others, we direct and discipline and pray that God correct and train in constructive usage. Ofttimes, those with the strongest personalities can be effective leaders and orators, those with creative minds keen strategists and encouragers, those with clever mischief the light and sweet humor in any gathering. When bridled, and tamed if necessary, young tendencies can develop into remarkable talents God uses greatly.

Gracious Appointer of every good and perfect gift, take and mature and employ all You have entrusted to us, for the blessing of Your church and the glory of Your name. (Romans 12:6; James 1:17)

Crushed and Spread

All the descendants of Jacob were seventy persons; Joseph was already in Egypt. Then Joseph died, and all his brothers and all that generation. But the people of Israel were fruitful and increased greatly; they multiplied and grew exceedingly strong, so that the land was filled with them. Now there arose a new king over Egypt, who did not know Joseph. And he said to his people, ‘Behold, the people of Israel are too many and too mighty for us. Come, let us deal shrewdly with them, lest they multiply, and, if war breaks out, they join our enemies and fight against us and escape from the land.’ Therefore they set taskmasters over them to afflict them with heavy burdens… But the more they were oppressed, the more they multiplied and the more they spread abroad.” Exodus 1:5-12

Joseph, as Prime Minister of Egypt, had saved the nation during a seven-year famine through his foresight and disciplined leadership, but even brilliant legacies can diminish to nothing over time. God’s intent to increase the Jewish nation had come to pass, and the new Pharaoh was threatened by this immigrant people’s strength, so he ordered their oppression. His plan backfired, as the more they were crushed, the more they spread.

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Richard Wurmbrand, evangelical minister who endured 14 years of Communist imprisonment and torture in his homeland Romania in the mid-1900s, tells of a wordless sermon in an underground church. Spies often infiltrated the middle-of-the-night services, looking to nab the preachers for something said that could be discerned as against the state. Upon suspecting one in their midst, a preacher took his small glass of water, dropped it to the ground, and crushed it under his feet, only to break the pieces into multiple shards and have them spread across the floor. He walked through them, through the congregation, teaching without a word this Exodus lesson, one that was recorded throughout the book of Acts and repeated over and over in Christ’s church through the centuries. “There arose on that day a great persecution against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria. Now those who were scattered went about preaching the word… And the hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number who believed turned to the Lord.” (Acts 8:1,4;13:45,49-50;9:29-31;11:19-21)

We are promised persecution. How do, or will, we respond? Do we shrink away from disagreement or opposition to keep comfort and peace, or are we willing to speak and stand for truth no matter the consequence, and allow God to use the trouble to spread His word? Do I care more about my safety and security than God’s broader eternal plan? How willing am I to bear the cross today for what I may not see Him doing now, but what I can trust He is doing for down the road? (Luke 9:23; 2 Timothy 3:12)

Lord, in the face of opposition that is now and what will come, keep me faithful to You with steadfast determination, filled with Your Spirit. When afflicted, perplexed, persecuted, or struck down, may I rejoice to bear Your life, manifest Your grace, and spread abroad the love of Christ for Your sake, that others can know Your life also. (Acts 11:23-24; 2 Corinthians 4:7-12)

Fruitful in a Foreign Land

Thus Israel settled in the land of Egypt, in the land of Goshen. And they gained possessions in it, and were fruitful and multiplied greatly. And Jacob lived in the land of Egypt seventeen years. So the days of Jacob, the years of his life, were 147 years.” Genesis 47:27-28

The elderly Jacob, after early reluctance and limited trust, traveled with 70 from his family and household to Egypt to be reunited with the favored son he had long thought dead, and to survive. God had sent Joseph to Egypt decades earlier for the saving of His people, and although shepherds were an abomination to the Egyptians, Pharaoh allotted this family, because of his love and respect for Joseph, the best of the land. And there, far from the promised land on this foreign soil, three generations of God’s chosen were fruitful, and multiplied greatly. (Genesis 45:5,7;46:34)

Sometimes the Lord takes us from a ‘home’ of comfortable and familiar, a place of health, harmony, financial security, ease, into a foreign land of illness, discord, fiscal upheaval, tragedy, the tangled and painful consequences of dark sin, or isolation, to plant us anew, teach us, and make us fruitful. When the place is at first strange, we cannot imagine anything more than adjustment, getting through- all is unfamiliar and uncomfortable and has not yet possibilities. There is no bigger picture or longer view. But once we agree to accept that God has brought us to this foreign soil, and release ourselves to the new venture crafted by His sovereign hands, we can begin to see beyond our own wants to a farther horizon, make inroads, put down roots, and begin to grow. Sometimes what never occurred to us, never showed as the slightest blip on our radar screen, is a luxurious next place for us in God’s grand plan, and we miss out when we refuse to set out on the journey He is prompting us to take.

“I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” John 15:16,5

Am I resisting new and different, foreign and difficult? If so, likely my eyes and fears are set on those very places and things, rather than on my Lord and Leader. His plans for new work, ministry, relationships, skills, service, involvement, even habits, are creative and good. The One Who calls not only enables, but finishes the work He intends, and that to His glorious praise. Why would I pull back, or turn away? Why would I choose complacency and famine over fruitfulness and spiritual plenty? (Numbers 23:19; Philippians 1:6)

Good Master, make me always willing to go where You call, and make the most of the lands and situations You appoint. Bear Your lasting fruit through my life.