Bethel—Finding the Only Gateway to God’s House

There has always been only one way to God—even in the Old Testament. That way is by grace through faith in the object of God’s choosing. Bethel gives us a peek at that way.

Bethel—Finding the Only Gateway to God's House

(Photo: Modern Beitin, ancient Bethel. Courtesy of the Pictorial Library of Bible Lands)

In his flight to Haran, Jacob spent the night at Bethel, where years earlier his grandfather Abraham had heard God promise that he would receive all the land as far as he could see. There, Jacob dreamed of a stairway to heaven, and the Lord repeated to him the promises that Abraham received.

Shaken, Jacob awoke and cried:

How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven. —Gen. 28:17

Jacob named the site Bethel—“house of God.” The dream gave more than a vision of God’s house.

It offered a foreshadowing of how to get there.

What the Kosher Laws Can Teach Us Today

Before I went to the Holy Land, the kosher laws of Leviticus seemed mere words on a page. For example, Exodus 34:26 says not to boil a goat in its mother’s milk. When have you last applied that?

What the Kosher Laws Can Teach Us Today

(Photo: Baby goats in Israel. Courtesy of the Pictorial Library of Bible Lands)

The verse has been misunderstood to mean people shouldn’t eat meat and milk during the same meal. Yet, even if that meaning was true, the truth isn’t timeless. Abraham himself had no qualms in serving both together—even to God (take a peek at Gen. 18:8)!

Although all of the Bible’s commands for dietary laws aren’t represented in modern Israel, the fact that any are observed serves as a powerful illustration of what God first intended the diet code to accomplish.

Even in the Garden of Eden, with the first dietary law given to eat from any tree except one (Gen. 2:16-17), God’s command centered around one question.

Would they obey?

But food also had another purpose.

How to Deal with Difficult People Who Refuse to Change

Several years ago I found myself at odds with someone. This individual had spoken severely to our daughter, and I confronted this person with the truth—but in anger, and I failed to speak truth in love.

How to Deal with Difficult People Who Refuse to Change

(Photo by Photodune)

Later, I tried to get together and talk it through. I knew I needed to ask for forgiveness for how I said what I said. But those in authority asked me to leave it alone until later. Although I tried to comply at first, I felt miserable keeping quiet. I came to realize I needed to ask forgiveness, no matter what.

The only way I felt I could honor both the Lord and those in authority came by writing a letter and asking for forgiveness. I never heard back from the individual, nor did I expect to or need to. But I needed to do my part. I needed to reach out.

But it was tough.

Rosh Hashanah— It’s Time to Start Over

Everybody uses a calendar. Some hang it on the wall with pictures of puppies, landscapes, or old cars. Others use Google Calendar or carry their schedules on their smartphones. Some do all of these.

Man blowing shofar during Elul at Western Wall.

(Photo: Man blowing shofar during Elul at Western Wall. Courtesy of the Pictorial Library of Bible Lands.)

In fact, most of us operate with several calendar systems at the same time. My calendar year begins in January, but I also march to a fiscal year, a school year, and occasionally, a leap year.

But as God’s people—just like the Hebrews of old—a calendar does much more than keep us on schedule. Especially on a New Year.

The Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah, begins this evening and reminds us of essentials we mustn’t forget.

What is Forgiveness? Here’s a Helpful Lesson I’ve Learned

Some people collect stamps. Some collect antiques. And others, it seems, collect offenses. Ask them what any person has done to offend them and they can rattle off the list. They get historical in a hurry.

What is Forgiveness? Here's a Helpful Lesson I’ve Learned

(Photo by oomph)

After a talk I gave one time, a woman came up to me with a determined look. She asked: “So you’re saying all a person has to do for forgiveness is believe in Jesus Christ—and all their sins are forgiven?”

“That’s what the Bible says, yes—.”

“I can’t accept that,” she interrupted. “Some things just can’t be forgiven.”

I paused and looked into her eyes. “Who has hurt you deeply?” She gave no answer, except for the tears that welled up immediately.

The problem with forgiveness is the debt is real. Someone has taken from us and hurt us deeply. In order to forgive, it feels like we must give even more than has already been taken.

This is hard. Very hard. So, what is forgiveness?

Why You’ll Never Find the Bottom of Your Bible

We have thousands of questions on dozens of issues the Bible never addresses. On other topics though, it seems it’s just the opposite. Scripture supplies liberal space to minutiae that seem trivial.

Why You'll Never Find the Bottom of Your Bible

(Photo by Photodune)

Let’s be honest. Have you wondered if we need all the Bible gives us?

  • Take genealogies, for example. Do we really need nine chapters of 1 Chronicles to tell us who begat who? I mean, would our faith fall apart if we didn’t know Hadad begat Bedad?
  • And what about Deuteronomy’s lengthy retelling of the Law?
  • Or even the huge amount of content devoted to repeating the same events of Peter’s visit to Cornelius?

These represent mere samples of what seem like a lopsided emphasis. I mean, if we only have so many verses in the Bible, could we not give a little less to the genealogies and more to, say, how to raise a teenager?

Amazingly, in spite of all the Bible doesn’t tell us, it still remains an inexhaustible book.

You’ll never find the bottom. Here’s why.

The Greatest Danger of God’s Blessings in Your Life

Sometimes our blessings get piled so high, it’s difficult to see around them. Blessings are ours in abundance—and tempt us to forget God. Of course, this is nothing new.

The Greatest Danger of God’s Blessings in Your Life

(Photo by Photodune)

As the redeemed Hebrew nation anticipated entering Canaan, the Lord issued them an important warning:

When the Lord your God brings you into . . . great and splendid cities which you did not build, and houses full of all good things which you did not fill, and hewn cisterns which you did not dig, vineyards and olive trees which you did not plant, and you shall eat and be satisfied. Then watch yourself, lest you forget the Lord who brought you from the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. —Deuteronomy 6:10-12

Notice God’s emphasis by the repeated phrase: “which you did not.” The blessings His people would receive would come from God’s hand—not from their own wits or wisdom.

Moses warned his people of the greatest danger from God’s blessings: to forget God.

We have that same vulnerability, don’t we?

Living Your Insignificant Life with Your Big God

In moments of honesty, it’s easy to see our lives as, well—insignificant. What we do often seems to matter very, very little. Whether it’s pushing papers or changing diapers, it can seem pretty pointless.

Living Your Insignificant Life with Your Big God

(Photo by Photodune)

We often can fall for the thinking that because what we do seems small, or behind-the-scenes, or insignificant, or unequal with our abilities or qualifications, that what we do matters little.

After all, if we foul up, no big deal. The world still turns. Nobody notices. Few seem to care.

Except God.

God’s Goals for Your Life Begin Here

Sometimes the dreams and goals you have for life are good goals—even godly goals—but just not God’s goals. Your expectations of life are just that—yours. God has His own set of plans, and He isn’t telling.

God's Goals for Your Life Begin Here

(Photo by Photodune)

God may lead you initially one direction simply to take you another.

  • He may give you a vision as a single, or for a family, or for a ministry only so that He can sanctify you by his grace in experiencing a slammed door.
  • Slammed doors do more than bend your nose; they keep your heart pliable, sensitive, and available to God’s leading.

Not only does He keep secret the difficult valleys you’ll experience (and many of the mountaintops), but also the tremendous lessons you’ll glean no other way. Lessons you didn’t know you needed to learn. Lessons you’ll thank Him for one day.

Very often, we fail to recognize God using us significantly because we define God “using us” in terms of what we consider significant: results.

Can You Always Let Your Conscience Be Your Guide?

I smiled when I heard about a mother who taught her son the difference between the words conscious and conscience. After her explanation, she asked him if he understood the difference.

Can You Always Let Your Conscience Be Your Guide?

(Photo by Photodune)

“Yeah,” he answered. “Conscious is when you’re aware of something, and conscience is when you wish you weren’t.”

That’s better than Jiminy Cricket’s catchy tune that reminded Pinocchio: “Always let your conscience be your guide.” Sounds great, but unfortunately, it’s sloppy theology.

God never intended your conscience as your guide.

It has another purpose.