How Long Will This Last?

Chaos is all around us! There’s infighting both politically and religiously. Government officials are imposing new laws and regulations and restrictions. Lots of rival voices are clamoring to be heard. Loss of personal freedoms, civil liberties, and even the freedom of worship. Uncertainty about the future. Fear in the present. 

Although this may sound like current conditions in the USA, I’m actually describing life in Israel around 31 BC. 

The people of Israel were frustrated beyond words with the restrictions they faced. They thought they were living in their land and that they should be able to govern themselves as they saw best. 

Have you ever been in that place of utter frustration? Are you there now? “What’s happening? Why is this not going according to plan? Isn’t there anything I can do? How long is this going to last? God, where are You in all of this?! 

We humans like to think we are in control. Or at least we like to think that we know God’s timetable. Throughout the Bible—and still today—the questions persist: 

  • How long will this last? 
  • When will this take place? 
  • What about him? 
  • Is this the right time? 

(see Psalm 13:1-2; Matthew 24:3; John 21:21; Acts 1:6; Revelation 6:9-10) 

When we ask God, “How long?” He never answers us by pointing to the calendar or the clock, but He points us to principles in His Word.

Here are four principles that we need to ask the Holy Spirit to help us grasp: 

  1. God’s timing was determined before Time even started. 
  2. God is using this “How long?” time to perfect us for His service.
  3. God is using this “How long?” time to empower us to point others to Him.
  4. God is calling us to trust Him alone during our “How long?” times. 

(see Psalm 90:2; Isaiah 46:10; Psalm 13:5-6; Romans 5:3-4; Matthew 24:13-14; Acts 1:7-8; John 21:21) 

Those Israelites I described earlier were so frustrated with asking “How long?” and apparently getting no answer, that they frequently took matters into their own hands. This never turned out well for them. But God’s perfect timing was heading toward His perfect fulfillment.  

We may not perceive it, but God IS doing more than we will ever know during our “How long?” times. 

God’s perfect timing for His people couldn’t be until Caesar Augustus came on the scene and brought an end to the political uncertainty that kept everything in chaos. Nearly 30 years before Jesus was to be born in Bethlehem, Augustus was launching the pax Romana—the peace of Rome—all over the world. Pax Romana was creating the perfect environment in which Jesus could be born and minister, as well in which His followers could then take the Good News all over the world. 

Jesus was born “in the fullness of time” (Galatians 4:4), around 5 BC, in a land where a Jordanian king (Herod the Great) served an Italian emperor (Caesar Augustus) to a people frustrated with waiting. But God knew exactly when and where and how to send His Son to be our Savior!

So, my friends—Trust God in the “How long?” times! 

God’s perfect plan includes YOU, so guard against any anxious thoughts that would make you bail out of His perfectly-timed plan early. (see Psalm 139:16, 23-24)

Join me this Sunday as we continue our series called Where’s God? 

Whose Fight Is It?

In great fear and distress Jacob divided the people who were with him into two groups… (Genesis 32:7). 

Jacob’s brother Esau is approaching with 400 men! 

Esau is the man who sold his birthright to Jacob, and then had his father’s blessing swindled away from him by Jacob. And now he is rapidly approaching Jacob and his entourage. 

Jacob’s natural response is, well, natural: great fear and distress grip his heart (v. 7). In his agitated state of mind “he thought” of a strategy to try to appease his brother and save as many of his family members and possessions as he could. 

And then another strategy popped into Jacob’s agitated mind: Then he prayed (v. 9). He concocted his own plans first and then he prayed. Prayer should have been his first response, but at least he finally did get around to praying!

In his prayer, Jacob twice reminds God, “You said” (vv. 9, 12), and in-between those reminders he confesses to Him, “I am afraid” (v. 11). 

As he speaks to God, reminds God of His promises, and confesses his own heart-quaking, knee-knocking fear, God says:  [crickets chirping in the warm evening]. 

God is silent. 

So Jacob returns to his own strategizing—once again we read “for he thought” (v.20)—until he is utterly out of options. All he can do now is wrestle with God (vv. 22-30). All out of his own options, Jacob now tenaciously clings to God and will not let Him go! 

In the Hebrew language, the name Jacob means a man who struggles, thinks, and strategizes using his own abilities*. 

After finally submitting to God, Jacob’s name is changed to Israel**. Now Israel lets God do the strategizing and the fighting. Jacob tried to figure things out on his own; Israel lets God’s plan prevail. When Israel bought his first plot of ground after his name had been changed, he built an altar there and named it El Elohe Israel—The Almighty God is my God (33:20). 

Israel now says, “I’m done striving with men on my own. I’m done fighting people and trying to figure out how to make things happen for me. From now on I will only wrestle with God, and I’ll let Him fight the battles for me!” 

How often do I strategize on my own first, and only after I have run out of options do I run to God in prayer? This is a Jacob spirit in me! I don’t want to live this way. I want to be like Israel—clinging to God as my first and only Source of help. 

How about you?

* In the Faithlife Illustrated Study Bible, there is an interesting note on Jacob’s name. For instance, when Esau says, “Isn’t he rightly named Jacob?” (Genesis 27:36), the FSB editors offer this commentary: “Esau uses the Hebrew word ‘aqab here, which is a wordplay on Jacob’s name in Hebrew, ya-aqov. … Esau suggests that Jacob’s name actually has to do with him being a person who supplants or cheats other people.” 

** Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel (Genesis 32:28). The FSB commentary points out, “Jacob’s name must be changed due to its association with his misdeeds. Here, the reasoning for the name Israel (yisra’el in Hebrew) is the verbal phrase ‘you have striven with (or struggled with) God.’ This suggests the name derives from the Hebrew verb sarah, meaning ‘to struggle,’ ‘to strive’ or ‘to fight.’ The name yisra’el itself could mean ‘God will struggle,’ ‘May God struggle’ or ‘God fights’….” 

What’s In A Name?

Leah became pregnant and gave birth to a son… (Genesis 29:32). 

Jesus said that ALL the Scripture pointed to Him (John 5:39). That means even the various names of people in the Scripture give us some insight into the nature of Jesus. 

Consider Jacob and his sons, who become the fathers of the tribes of the nation of Israel. Jacob the deceiver is transformed into Israel the guileless, and the names of his sons point to what Jesus does to transform all of us into His righteous brothers and sisters. 

[Check out the links posted below to read all the Scripture references.]

Reuben—God sees my misery and sends His Son (Genesis 29:32; John 3:16). 

Simeon—God sent His Son when I was unlovable (Genesis 29:33; Romans 5:6-8). 

Levi—after I am saved from my sins, I am joined to God (Genesis 29:34; Ephesians 2:1-5).

Judah—my salvation brings praise to God (Genesis 29:35; John 15:8).

Dan—God has vindicated me in Jesus (Genesis 30:6; John 8:11).

Naphtali—Christ’s righteousness has given me victory over my struggles (Genesis 30:8; Romans 8:1; 1 Corinthians 15:54-56). 

Gad—God’s favor now advances toward me like an unstoppable troop (Genesis 30:11; Romans 8:31-39). 

Asher—I am now able to enjoy God’s happiness (Genesis 30:13; Matthew 25:21, 34). 

Issachar—God IS my reward (Genesis 30:18; Revelation 3:20-21).

Zebulun—my Husband (Jesus) honors me (Genesis 30:20; Ephesians 5:22-23; Hebrews 2:11).

Joseph—God has taken away my disgrace and added His blessing (Genesis 30:24; Romans 8:1, 32).

Manasseh—God has made me forget my past (Genesis 41:51; Psalm 103:12).

Ephraim—God has made me abundantly fruitful (Genesis 41:52; 1 Peter 2:9-10).

Benjamin—I am God’s son (Genesis 35:18; Ephesians 2:6)! 

God has done ALL this—and more!—through Jesus! 

When you read the Bible, don’t rush through it. Slow down. Meditate on it. Soak in it. And then see how the Holy Spirit will illuminate truth to you. 

[Please check out the Bible references I’ve listed above for yourself. All of the Genesis references are here, and all of the other references are here.]

How Will You Respond To Jesus?

Although most nativity scenes show the wise men visiting Jesus alongside the shepherds the night He was born, in reality the Magi showed up much later. 

They came first to Israel’s capital city—Jerusalem—and went to the man who currently bore the title King of the Jews—Herod—with an odd question, “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? We’ve come to worship Him.”

The call to come to worship the Christ has always stirred different responses in people’s hearts. But I have noticed that the responses today aren’t any different than they were over 2000 years ago at Christ’s first Advent. 

Notice these four responses in the Gospel of Matthew:

  1. King Herodwhen King Herod heard this he was disturbed.

The word disturbed means an inward commotion, someone robbed of any calmness; someone who has become restless and agitated. 

King Herod wasn’t all that different from a lot of people today who have their personal lives organized according to their own plans. They have everything figured out. They are masters of their own fate. They know how everything is supposed to work. They are god of their own world. 

But inside it’s a different story. They may not acknowledge it to anyone else, but they are uneasy. King Herod was political, not religious. He knew how to play the games with the right Jewish leaders and Roman politicians to get and keep his throne. So when he hears, “Where is He who is born KING OF THE JEWS?” you can understand why he instantly becomes so agitated! He feels like his well-ordered world and best-laid plans are about to crash in on him! 

  1. All JerusalemKing Herod…was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. 

The people of Jerusalem had a love-hate relationship with King Herod. If you were on his side, he could be quite generous with his gifts and favorable with his influence. But if you were against him, he could be incredibly cruel (just take a look at verse 16!). 

So when Herod got upset, you can imagine why the citizens of Jerusalem were as well. They all longed for the Messiah—the Christ—to come and set them free, but in the meantime they were trying to keep their options open. They wanted the Messiah, if they could have Him, but they didn’t want to abandon Herod yet, just in case the Messiah couldn’t follow through.  

  1. Religious leadersHerod…called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law. 

Of all the people looking for the Christ, you would think the chief priests and teachers of the law would be the most excited! When Herod asked them for the birthplace of the Messiah, they immediately knew the answer, but after they delivered this information to King Herod they aren’t mentioned again in this narrative. Bethlehem was only 6 miles away, but they didn’t do a single thing! The Messiah being born in such a lowly manner didn’t fit the image they had concocted in their minds. Later on, Jesus would challenge them on this (see John 5:38-40). 

  1. MagiMagi from the east came to Jerusalem. 

Whereas the Jewish religious leaders were only 6 miles away, the Magi that came from the east might have been anywhere from 400-800 miles away. They left the comforts of their home to travel perhaps as long as 4 months. But, Oh! the journey was so worth the effort! They got to see the Christ with their very own eyes! We read that they were overjoyed, and that they bowed down and worshiped Him and opened their treasures. 

What’s your idea about Jesus? 

  • King Herod wanted a Savior that would enable him to continue to run his own life, but he didn’t want a King that would call the shots. 
  • The people of Jerusalem wanted access to God’s power, but they didn’t want to give their full allegiance to Jesus. 
  • The religious leaders wanted Jesus to fit their mold, but they didn’t want to have to change anything about their own lives. 
  • Only the Magi accepted Jesus as both Savior and King, willingly laying everything at His feet. 

What about you? What’s your idea about Jesus? He isn’t just a Baby in a manger; He’s also King and Judge and Ruler and Lord. When you hear the call to come worship Him, what will your response be? 

Poetry Saturday—Exhortation To Prayer

William CowperWhat various hindrances we meet
In coming to a mercy-seat!
Yet who that knows the worth of prayer,
But wishes to be often there?

Prayer makes the darken’d cloud withdraw,
Prayer climbs the ladder Jacob saw,
Gives exercise to faith and love,
Brings every blessing from above.

Restraining prayer, we cease to fight,
Prayer makes the Christian’s armor bright;
And satan trembles when he sees
The weakest saint upon his knees.

While Moses stood with arms spread wide,
Success was found on Israel’s side;
But when through weariness they fail’d,
That moment Amalek prevail’d.

Have you no words? Ah! think again,
Words flow apace when you complain,
And fill your fellow-creature’s ear
With the sad tale of all your care.

Were half the breath thus vainly spent
To Heaven in supplication sent,
Your cheerful song would oftener be,
“Hear what the Lord has done for me.” —William Cowper

 

A Leader’s Broken Heart

My heart will cry out for Moab … Therefore my heart shall resound like a harp for Moab, and my inner being for Kir Heres (Isaiah 15:5; 16:11). 

Judgment from God falls on Israel’s enemy and Moab is inconsolable (Isaiah 15:2-4, 5-9; 16:7-8, 10). And yet Isaiah weeps for them!

No gloating.

No “I told you so.”

No smug self-righteousness.

A mark of a godly leader is one whose heart is broken by what breaks God’s heart.

“Do not gloat when your enemy falls; when he stumbles, do not let your heart rejoice” (Proverbs 24:17).

Remember—there, but for the grace of God, go I. 

It is actually God’s mercy that His throne is established and judgment can bring an end to the suffering of punishment (Isaiah 16:5). But in the meantime, we should rescue those careening toward God’s punishment, watering our testimony with our tears.

This is part 27 in my series on godly leadership. You can check out all of my posts in this series by clicking here.

Going Into The Heavy Presence Of God

“The King of glory” is a phrase that’s only used five times in the Bible, and all five times are packed into just four verses of Psalm 24. In this psalm, David lets us know who can enter into this awesome, heavy presence of the King of Glory. 

Why do I say “heavy”? The definition of the Hebrew word for glory always refers to a heaviness. There is something majestically, awesomely heavy about going before the All-Righteous, All-Powerful, All-Holy, All-Knowing, Absolutely Perfect God. Can any mere mortal enter into this presence? 

In an earlier psalm, David said, “For the Lord is righteous, He loves justice; the upright will see His face” (Psalm 11:7). But in this psalm, David asks, “Who can ascend Your holy hill? Who can come into Your presence?” (Psalm 24:3). 

He answers the question with these words: the upright, the one with clean hands and a pure heart (he expands this list even more in Psalm 15), then he calls on us to Selah—pause and weigh this as if on a scale. David is asking, “Do you really want to enter into the weighty presence of the King of Glory?” 

If you do, something needs to happen first. David calls his generation (and our generation) the generation of Jacob. You can read the story of Jacob’s life beginning in Genesis 27. Jacob was a pragmatic man. If he could get away with something, he did. He only looked out for his own interests. He deceived, he connived, he bribed, he calculated his odds—he did what he had to so that he could advance himself. He didn’t realize God’s weight. He saw God only through a scarcity-mindset that gave God limits. He thought there was only a limited supply, and if somebody else was getting a blessing, then that meant there was less for him to get.

Then Jacob encountered God and discovered that he couldn’t do a thing against this weighty King of Glory. When he finally submitted to God, his name was changed to Israel. Jacob—the self-sufficient man—would never be allowed to enter the doors into God’s heavy glory. But Israel—the submitted man—may ascend the hill of the Lord and stand in His holy presence. Jacob means deceitful; Israel means the man without any deceit. 

For the rest of his life, Israel walked with a limp. It was a constant reminder that he simply wasn’t the man he was before he wrestled with God.

  • Jacob could only obtain what he could finagle; Israel is the recipient of all God’s blessings. 
  • Jacob could only keep his gains for this life; Israel got God’s blessings for eternity. 
  • Jacob might be vindicated by men; Israel is definitely and completely vindicated by God. 
  • Jacob couldn’t enter the presence of the King of Glory; Israel was welcomed as a prince into God’s presence.

Here’s the challenge I would give you… Use either Psalm 15 or Psalm 24:3-4 and let the Holy Spirit wrestle with you. Is there anything that’s holding you back from going through those doors into the weighty presence of the King of glory? If there is, confess it, repent from it, and even limp away from it (if you have to) so that you don’t miss out on God’s eternal blessings. 

Join me this coming Sunday as we continue our look at the Selahs in the Book of Psalms. 

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