Go Back to “Bethel”

God met with Jacob at Bethel when he was still a needy person. And now that Jacob is already full to the brim, God commanded him to go back to Bethel.

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Bethel is the place where Jacob first encountered the Lord. It was the place where he was given a dream and a promise. The place was originally called Luz, but Jacob renamed it Bethel because for him, it is where God resides – “house of God”. It was a special place, a refuge, a safe haven.

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Jacob landed on Bethel as he was fleeing from the wrath of his brother Esau whom he deceived. He was so broken then, fearful, helpless and without anything to go on living. But it was during that most trying time, when everything has been stripped away from him, that God made him a promise – “I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go, and I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.”

And in response, Jacob promised:

“If God will be with me and will watch over me on this journey I am taking and will give me food to eat and clothes to wear so that I return safely to my father’s household, then the Lord will be my God and this stone that I have set up as a pillar will be God’s house, and of all that you give me I will give you a tenth.”

A few years passed and God has been faithful to His part of the promise. Jacob’s wealth has increased tremendously and he became a father to a huge household. Moreover, he has once again earned the trust and the forgiveness of his brother Esau. And true enough, God has brought him back to Bethel, with all of God’s promises fulfilled!

God met with Jacob at Bethel when he was still a needy person. And now that Jacob is already full to the brim, God commanded him to go back to Bethel. It is as if God wants him to look back on how things went in his life. God wants him to go back to his first altar, to where his faith begun.

Surprisingly for Jacob, he demanded his household to purify themselves and to give him their pagan idols to be buried in the ground. And as Jacob went to worship the Lord in Bethel, God once again confirmed His promises – and for the second time Jacob was blessed with the name Israel – a name change signifying that he is no longer identified with his past sins and mistakes.

If you are a Christian, like Jacob, we all have our “Bethel” where we first encountered the Lord. Our Bethel can be a place or even a person. While we all know that God is everywhere, Bethel is a special because you know you commune closer with God there.

Are you in a moment of loss and despair? Why not go back to your Bethel and take refuge there? If life’s anxieties has brought you to your knees, rest your case to God and find relief in Him. Or perhaps everything in your life is going well right now. Still, God will be pleased to meet you at Bethel. It doesn’t matter whatever season you are in, Bethel is where the God of the universe meets with the vulnerable you.

As you return to Bethel, think of the things you might need to bury: your pains? Your regrets? Maybe your achievements? Anything that takes off your focus from God can be a pagan idol that might need to be buried on the ground.

Go back to Bethel. God is waiting for you there. He will gladly refresh you with His promises to never leave you, and will remind you that you are no longer the same fearful, broken and helpless person you used to be. You are no longer “Jacob”, but “Israel”.

 

Living Room of Heaven

He spoke life to me: “My son, you are accepted. In this living room of heaven, everyone’s welcome. The only question is, are they gonna welcome me in their life as well?”

To us, Filipinos, our living rooms reveal much about our cultural personality. We are known for being hospitable and accommodating to our guests, whether they are really dear to us or not. We are too courteous to welcome people in our homes, asking them to dine with us though we don’t have that much on our plate. We put our best foot forward by allowing them to use our “well-kept” china wares, give them the best portion of our inihaw na manok or sinigang na bangus, and even running to the nearest sari-sari store to buy ice cold soft drinks that we wouldn’t think of buying if not for our visitor. We are even too generous to make them “feel at home” and provide them the best entertainment by giving them access to our most precious “remote control” should they ask for it. And to top it all, the kids will automatically be obedient and silent, on their best behavior as if a switch has been turned on. A typical hospitable Filipino family, right?

Living Room of Heaven

Our living room is the extension of our individual lives. Slowly dethroning the dining room, our living room becomes the primary place in home where families meet together to share their experiences throughout the day. This is because some family members opt to eat their food in the presence of their digital member of the family – the television.

If there is a place where everything must be pleasing to the eye and striking to the senses, it must be the living room. It speaks much about the family who lives in the house. In here visitors are welcomed, entertained and given the best of treatment.

During Bethel’s worship concert held at the Smart Araneta Coliseum on March 18, Amanda Cook, one of the worship leaders, expressed that she feels like she’s in the “living room of heaven”. It’s really one awesome moment really to be inside a huge room with your brothers and sisters in Christ while you are all singing songs of praise to the Lord.

Then I wondered, what does it feel like to be in the “living room” of heaven? Join me as I try to visualize heaven with my own silly imagination:

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During a time when my spirit’s too consumed with stresses in work and in ministry, I found myself in dire need of spiritual refreshing and release. I am so full of worries and emotional burden that all I can ever think of is I am experiencing burn out and I need to find my rest.

Then I found myself in front of a door with a sign that reads: “Living Room of Heaven. You are Welcome.” I looked around and found no one so I knocked at the door. To my surprise, Jesus opened the door, welcomed me and asked me to enter. As I enter, I noticed that the room is just a typical room, but the feeling’s so light and relaxing. There’s a couch, a coffee table with photo books, the lighting’s good and the ambiance’s comfortable. I wonder what’s in store for me in this Living Room of Heaven.

Jesus is very welcoming and warm. After a few introductions, He told me that He just have some things to do, and that I make myself comfortable in the living room. A very typical courteous act. So I was left alone in that room.

Are there soothing hymns in the background?

A soothing song is played before my very ears. Unlike the songs I usually hear somewhere, this heavenly chorus focuses on the glory of the Lord. At last, no longer I feel distressed by the songs of selfishness and greed of people around me. I am no longer hearing the songs of disappointments and frustrations. I am no longer dragged down by the depressing song I used to hear: “You can’t do it” by ConDem Nation.

In this place, all I hear are songs of victory, of celebration and of God’s goodness. Songs that heal all wounds and scars will soothe my soul. I feel so refreshed, renewed, strengthened. And all of happened as soon as I entered the living room.

Are there amusing photographs available?

I took the photobook. As I open each page of the photobook, I am amazed how the Lord has kept and captured all the things that has happened to me since I was born. He has captured all smiles, all laughter. It’s a walk down the memory lane as I flip the pages of God’s photo collection.

Yet what puzzles me is that He has also captured the moments I stumbled and earned a bruise for myself. I can vividly remember the times I seemingly failed in life – my first heartbreak, when I lost my job, when I lost someone dear to me, among others. I told myself that I will ask the Lord about such pictures but then I saw below each photograph a note that reads either: “This has made you stronger”, “This has made you wiser”, or “This has made us closer”. For every heartbreak, for every fall, the Lord indeed has a purpose. I can’t help but utter my thanksgiving. I felt relieved. No he is not concerned about my heartbreaks, He is in fact concerned about me.

WAIT! If He keeps such records, does it mean He also has photos of me in my most disgusting state? When I was so full of myself and of the world? I felt so terrified for the first time since I entered the living room. I can’t understand myself, should I continue flipping the pages of this photo book? Unknowingly I came to the pictures when I was 21 years old – the time I can vividly remember I have done a terrible act against the Lord (actually, even before and after 21 years old, I have been a terrible Christian). But to my surprise, some pictures are missing! I thought to myself, how can He lose some pictures, but I also felt relieved that He doesn’t have proof of my waywardness in the past.

Curious enough, I carefully inspected the blank pages, and in marks of red there are notes written: “I remember your sins no more”. Only then I remembered what’s written on my Bible and what my pastor’s been preaching about my sins. I have been forgiven – in full. His love doesn’t keep any record of wrongs.

Curious enough, I carefully inspected the blank pages, and in marks of red there are notes written: “I remember your sins no more”. Only then I remembered what’s written on my Bible and what my pastor’s been preaching about my sins. I have been forgiven – in full. His love doesn’t keep any record of wrongs.

Are there foods to be served?

Oh my! I felt so excited! I became so curious about the delicacies of heaven! To us, Filipinos, food equates to fellowship. So I assumed if there will be food, there will be fellowship! But then again, the reflective me was reminded of how many food fellowships I have shared with people I should not have alliances with. I have compromised my ideals, my principles and my calling by partnering with people with ungodly motives and with no regard to high morals. I have had unholy alliances with certain people God told me not to partner with, and most of our transactions and dealings went over luscious servings of food. I felt embarrassed.

And then one by one familiar faces enter the living room. I remember my childhood friends, my elementary schoolmate, high school teacher, college buddies, even people I am not sure when I first met. They all joined me in the living room of heaven and had a share of laughs and joyful reminiscing. We discussed how we have met the Lord, how one have been instrumental to one’s knowledge of the Good News, and how they have waited to join me in the living room of heaven. But what kept me thinking and curious is that, as beautiful and awesome the living room of heaven is, they said that the whole kingdom is beyond description. That is the place that I should be looking forward to enter into, in God’s time.

Funny thing is, they have seen my excitement in the beginning – that I am curious about the delicacies of heaven. No, they didn’t bring any food with them but they told me that a great banquet is being prepared for the “Wedding Supper of the Lamb”. Amazingly as well, since I entered the room, I didn’t feel thirst nor hunger. If this living room is perfect in itself, how much more the whole kingdom!

But while I am pondering about all these, a very radiant Person entered the room. Jesus, so white and magnificent, beaming with glory and kindness is walking towards me and as He draw nearer, I felt nervous and afraid. At the back of my mind, I’m asking:

Am I really accepted in the Living Room of Heaven?

He motioned me to sit, since I stood up from my seat as He draws close. He looks at me in the eye, not with condemning stare but with eyes full of compassion and grace. His love emanates from His presence, and His holiness is so extravagant that I cannot really look directly at Him. Again I am reminded of my previous life – about how I tried to be good, to be loving, to be gracious to people. How I served Him in church, how I spoke about Him, how I lived my life as a Christian. But all those things doesn’t really count in His presence. No amount of my efforts and sacrifices will make me feel better in His presence.

But in His most reassuring words, He spoke life to me: “My son, you are accepted. In this living room of heaven, everyone’s welcome. The only question is, are they gonna welcome me in their life as well?”

I remembered the time I first accepted Him as Lord and Savior. That’s the time I gained the keys to the living room of heaven. A special place in His presence, where my sin meets forgiveness, my weakness meets strength, my failures meet victory and me as a sinner meets Jesus as Savior.

This is the living room of heaven, where the song of my salvation’s being played, the panoramic episodes of my life is being blessed by the Lord, and where genuine fellowship with brethren is being generously served. This is the living room of heaven – a place where I am accepted. And in this living room of heaven, I can find rest for my weary soul and burn out spirit.

This is the living room of heaven, where the song of my salvation’s being played, the panoramic episodes of my life is being blessed by the Lord, and where genuine fellowship with brethren is being generously served. This is the living room of heaven – a place where I am accepted. And in this living room of heaven, I can find rest for my weary soul and burn out spirit.

If you’re gonna ask me where is this living room? It’s not out of reach. Just seek for the Lord. He’ll lead you to it. There you can find comfort and rest, salvation and hope.

In this living room of heaven, are you willing to meet the Lord too?