Bethel Reveals What You Need to Know to Connect with God

There has always been only one way.

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

Modern Beitin, ancient Bethel

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

In his flight from his murderous brother Esau, 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 Abraham received.

Shaken, Jacob awoke and said:

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.

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How Unlearning the Past is like Untying a 6-Ton Elephant

God gives 3 steps to freedom from the lies that hold you back.

We’ve all heart it. When we’re young and impressionable, some unthinking, insensitive person says it to us. Maybe it’s a parent or a teacher. Or someone of the opposite sex. Or a preacher.

The secret to untying your 10-ton elephant.

(Photo by SuperJew. CC-BY-SA-3.0, via Wikimedia Commons.)

They tell us things like:

  •  “You’re stupid! You’ll never amount to anything.”
  •  “Your nose is ugly.”
  • “You are going to hell for that!”
  • “You’re not very good at what you do.”

Ever heard words like that? I sure have.

These words embed in our brains like a stake in the ground. Loosening that stake is like trying to untie a 6-ton elephant.

But God can help you. In fact, He already has. Here’s how.

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How to Fill the Empty Hollow at the Center of Your Life

Review and renew your purpose for living in 3 steps.

A lot of people have lives like an old tree. From all appearances, they look full of life and vigor, but on the inside they have an empty hollow. Life can weather your faith.

How to Fill the Empty Hollow at the Center of Your Life

(Photo courtesy of Unsplash)

I remember reading about the incredible yew tree at Crowhurst, England, which is more than 4000 years old! That means when Jesus walked the earth two thousand years ago, the Crowhurst yew had already stood for two thousand years—dating to the time of Abraham! From its lush exterior you’d never guess the tree had a center lifeless and hollow.

For many, like this tree, the longer they live, the bigger the hole gets on the inside.

Only God can make the changes needed to fill that emptiness.

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Trying to Figure Out God’s Odd Leading in Your Life

Christmas shows us God’s leading proves wiser than our impatient pleas for progress.

God’s leading and timing in our lives often don’t make sense. We know that almost 2,000 years ago Joseph and Mary journeyed to Bethlehem. But we forget that approximately 2,040 years before they did, Jacob and Rachel, another expectant couple, traveled south along the same road.

God's Unusual Leading in Your Life

(Photo: Anton Raphael Mengs. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

Rachel gave birth to Benjamin, but died soon after delivery, and Jacob buried her near Bethlehem (Gen. 35:19). Rachel’s death foreshadowed the devastation that the territory of Benjamin would suffer in Jeremiah’s time:

Rachel is weeping for her children . . . Because they are no more. —Jeremiah 31:15

Yet the prophecy found its final fulfillment in Jesus’ day, when Herod the Great slaughtered all baby boys in Bethlehem (Matt. 2:17-18). So, at God’s direction, Joseph fled to Egypt with Mary and Jesus to live until Herod’s death.

Each movement of Jesus’ family finds its cause in God’s revelation to Joseph:

  • Fleeing Bethlehem to Egypt
  • Returning from Egypt to Israel
  • Avoiding Judea to settle in Galilee

God’s purposes for these moves lay first in the protection of His Son, but Matthew notes that each directive also fulfilled Scripture. I doubt anyone but God saw beforehand the murky prophecies fulfilled by these geographic moves. But in hindsight, they become clear.

God’s leading and timing in our lives often don’t make sense either.  At least at first.

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Bethlehem—A Powerful Metaphor for Your Life’s Greatest Need

The place of Jesus' birth puts our priorities in their proper place.

Christmas cards and carols venerate Bethlehem as an idyllic, quiet place with “silent stars” above it and “deep and dreamless sleep” within its walls. A pleasant picture, for sure. But it wasn’t always so.

Bethlehem—A Metaphor for Your Heart

(Photo: Today’s little town of Bethlehem, courtesy of the Pictorial Library of Bible Lands)

Scripture’s introduction to Bethlehem isn’t pretty.

  • Jacob buries his favorite wife, Rachel, on the way to Bethlehem (Genesis 35:19).
  • The book of Judges mentions Bethlehem in conjunction with a corrupt priest who became a mercenary for idolaters (Judges 17:8-9).
  • Another account describes a Bethlehem concubine who, after leaving town, was brutally raped and dismembered (Judges 19:1-30).

Not a great beginning for the little town of Bethlehem.

But then, the scene shifts.

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Jesus’ Birth in a Humble Bethlehem Had You in Mind

What His ignoble birth means for you.

It must have seemed really strange. Honestly, it still does. Two thousand years of waiting for the Messiah, and He is born in a barn and laid in a feed trough.

Jesus' Birth in a Barn Had You in Mind

(Shepherd in modern Israel, courtesy of the Pictorial Library of Bible Lands)

If it had been up to us, we would have given God’s Son a room in the finest five-star hotel in Bethlehem. But Jesus got only a one-star motel—and God had to provide the star!

When the shepherds hurried into Bethlehem to find the baby of whom the angels spoke, the wonder of God’s power must have seemed a strange contradiction to the conditions they found.

  • No halos hovered over Joseph, Mary, and Jesus.
  • Instead, they saw a poor couple surrounded by animals and the smell of manure.

Actually, the crudity of Jesus’ birth story offers really good news.

Because it had you in mind.

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Did the Old Testament Offer Only One Way to God?

The exclusivity of salvation isn't a new question.

Of course, we can only approach God’s presence God’s way. The New Testament clearly reveals that only through Jesus can anyone come to God the Father (John 14:6; 1 Timothy 2:5; 1 John 2:23). But what about in the Old Testament? Are there multiple ways? 

Did the Old Testament Offer Only One Way to God?

(Photo courtesy of the Pictorial Library of Bible Lands)

After King David conquered Jerusalem and secured it as his capital, he desired to bring the Ark of the Covenant up from Kiriath-Jearim into his new City of David. But in his passion to have God’s presence, David neglected to follow God’s principles. That negligence of improperly transporting the Ark cost a man his life (2 Samuel 6).

Three months later, David correctly transported the Ark into Jerusalem and placed it in a tent he pitched for its keeping.

In this experience, David gained a profound respect for God’s holiness.

This principle directly relates to the question: did the Old Testament offer only one way to God?

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Clear Your Guilty Conscience in 3 Steps

When God gets your attention, here's what to do.

It’s amazing how God can get our attention. I read that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle played a joke on 12 of his friends. He sent them each identical telegrams that read: “Flee! All is discovered!” Within 24 hours, all 12 fled the country. What Conan Doyle did in jest, God does to us in all seriousness.

Clear Your Guilty Conscience in 3 Steps

(Photo courtesy of Unsplash)

The Lord will use situations to awaken ignored or unresolved guilt, testing our willingness to come clean and clear a guilty conscience.

The Father may remove what He gave—money, possessions, even family—to get us to a place where we’re willing to listen to Him and to come clean with sin we’ve buried. We’d rather try to live with a guilty conscience than to face the pain of accountability and confession. But God provides the right circumstance to help us face what we’ve avoided—and this for our good.

When God puts you in a situation that awakens your unresolved guilt, are you willing to come clean before God and man?

How do you do that?

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2 Essential Choices Help Destroy the Painful Void in Your Life

Everything else only deepens the chasm.

I love how some homeowners chose to deal with their drought-dried lawns. They paced their yards with green spray paint, and they had lawns to dye for. No more watering. No mowing. Just fake, green grass all summer.

2 Essential Choices Help Destroy the Painful Void in Your Life

(Photo courtesy of Unsplash)

Actually, such innovation applies beyond the front yard straight into the human heart.

On the surface, most of us look 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. Two essential choices can help.

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How to Resist Temptation Like Jesus

The Lord's strategy in the Judean Wilderness also works today.

Everybody faces temptation. And on some level, everybody has fallen to it. Everybody but Jesus. I have walked in the wilderness where Satan tempted Jesus.

Judean wilderness

(Photo: Judean wilderness. Courtesy of the Pictorial Library of Bible Lands)

Good grief, what a place. As far as my eye could see, it was empty, dry, and depressing. I tried to imagine the solitude and struggle Jesus would have endured for over a month. But I could not.

How did Jesus resist temptation here?

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