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Back to Bethel

Scripture Passage: 
Genesis 12:1-20; Genesis 13:1-4
  1. ABRAM’S DIVINE CALL (Genesis 12:1-9)
    1. The Fourfold Call (Genesis 12:1)
      1. Out of thy country
      2. From thy kindred
      3. From thy father’s house
      4. Unto a land that I will shew thee
      5. NOTE:  It was not until Abram completed the first three commands (by separating from Lot) that God actually showed him the land that He had promised him (see Genesis 13:14-15).  When we refuse to complete what God has clearly shown us, we miss out on blessings He has for us.
    2. The Sevenfold Promise (Genesis 12:2-3)
      1. I will make of thee a great nation
      2. I will bless thee
      3. I will make thy name great
      4. Thou shalt be a blessing
      5. I will bless them that bless thee
      6. I will curse him that curseth thee
      7. In thee shall all families of the earth be blessed
      8. NOTE:  This promise has never been done away with or disannulled (see Galatians 3:15-18).
  2. ABRAM’S SOJOURN IN CANAAN (Genesis 12:4-9)
    1. He comes to Canaan (Genesis 12:4-5)
      1. At age 75 (Genesis 12:4)
      2. With Sarai and Lot
    2. In the place called Sichem (Genesis 12:6-7)
      1. God appears to him again
      2. He builds an altar to the Lord
    3. Between Bethel and Hai (Genesis 12:8)
      1. He builds an altar
      2. He calls on the name of the Lord
    4. He journeys on to the south (Genesis 12:9)
  3. ABRAM’S JOURNEY INTO EGYPT (Genesis 12:10-20)
    1. Abram Journeys to Egypt (Genesis 12:10-13)
      1. He goes because of a famine in Canaan (Genesis 12:10)
      2. He worries about his wife (Genesis 12:11-12)
      3. She is very beautiful (Genesis 12:11)
      4. He is afraid the Egyptians will kill him in order to get her (Genesis 12:12)
      5. He instructs her to tell the Egyptians that she is only his sister (Genesis 12:13)
      6. NOTE:  In this, the first mention of Egypt in the Bible (Genesis 12:10), Abram goes “down into Egypt.”  Throughout the Bible, Egypt is a type of the world.  The Israelites are in captivity in Egypt and must be redeemed from the land in Exodus.  Isaiah 31:1 says, “Woe to them that go down to Egypt for help.”  This theme is continued throughout the Bible.  Even in this story, Abram builds an altar at Bethel (Genesis 12:8).  However, there is not another altar until Abram comes back to Bethel after he leaves Egypt (Genesis 13:3-4).
    2. Abram in Egypt (Genesis 12:14-17)
      1. Sarai taken into Pharaoh’s house (Genesis 12:14-15)
      2. Abram treated well for Sarai’s sake (Genesis 12:16)
      3. Pharoah’s house plagued because of Sarai (Genesis 12:17)
    3. Abram Sent From Egypt (Genesis 12:18-20)
      1. Pharaoh reprimands Abram (Genesis 12:18-19)
      2. Pharaoh sends Abram away (Genesis 12:20)
  4. ABRAM’S RETURN TO BETHEL (Genesis 13:1-4)
    1. Abram comes out of Egypt as a rich man (Genesis 13:1-2)
    2. Abram returns to Bethel and builds an altar (Genesis 13:3-4)
    3. Bethel means “house of God”
    4. For centuries, preachers have used Bethel as a picture of those who come back to God after leaving Him and getting in the world.  Perhaps you have a student who needs to come back to Bethel.

As to returning to that clean feeling of being forgiven and right with God, that may be a bit more difficult. Even faithful believers have a tendency to lose their first love (Revelation 2:4). That is, they lose their first conviction that all Christians love God and have pure hearts; their original sense of nothing between them and their Saviour; their first zeal for the Lord. Often, even if they continue to go to church and serve, they live the remainder of their days as spiritual dullards, not growing in the things of the Lord and not fully enjoying their inheritance in Christ. Let's look at how this happens and then at how to return to the center of God's will and favor.

THE PATH OF FIRST LOVE LOST

This is only a narrow survey and does not cover everything, but we will look at three trends in the life of believers as they stray away from the Lord. First, they lose their innocence about other Christians. Second, they lose their confidence in their ability to maintain a right relationship with God. Third, they lose their joy in service to the Lord. We need to consider each of these separately.

First, new Christians have found the solution to life in Jesus Christ and have an initial zeal for all things pertaining to Him. The full forgiveness of sins, the hope of heaven, the presence of God, and a newfound family of brothers and sisters in Christ who join with them are all causes for great joy and fulfillment. However, somewhere, sometime, it will surely happen. They will discover the flaws in other believers. They find that their Christian family is not only imperfect; but sometimes as petty and mean as those who are lost. They may even be shocked by a complete failure of one they admired and looked up to with great confidence. Some new believers do not survive this initial shock and go back to the world; others never return to the initial level of joy. It is a very dangerous time and mature believers should be aware of this trial and help weak Christians through it. Unfortunately, today's churches have few mature Christians who will look out for others in this way.

Second, although new believers know their own weakness, they have the proper understanding that this new way of life is forever. They have changed forever and never want to return to the old ways. Initially, their faith for this is in God, but as they continue to live a clean Christian life, that confidence invaribly transfers to themselves. They recognize that they have changed and they unconsciously begin to take credit for who they now are. When this happens, they invariably fail in some major way. They may not fully go back to their old ways as you did, but they see themselves in an ugly light that they thought was left behind. They realize with shock that they are still capable of doing any wrong. Those who do not handle this in God's way will at best become cynical in their Christian life. They will be convinced that the Christian life is different only in degree but not in essence. We become dirty sinners trying to live up to an impossible ideal.

Third, much as a result of the first two steps, service to God loses its special joy. Malachi 1:13 describes the people as saying, "Behold, what a weariness is it!" That is, "How boring living for God has become." At this time, the Bible seems like a closed book, prayers seem to go nowhere, church services lose their joy, and it becomes a struggle to do anything for the cause of Christ. This is a very dangerous time. Some quit on God. Some keep showing up at church but quit inside. They join the band of dead Christians that make up most churches today. But others get serious with God and keep coming back to the center of God's presence. Let's see how they do it.

THE RETURN TO THE FIRST LOVE

The path back to God is to reverse the errors that brought you this way. Some preachers call this Back to Bethel because of Abraham's return to Bethel to make things right after he had left God's place for him and gone to Egypt (Genesis 12:8; Genesis 13:3). You have to go back by the way you came.

First, you have to put your confidence in the Lord and not in other believers. Psalm 118:8 states, "It is better to trust in the LORD than to put confidence in man." Others will sometimes disappoint us, but the Lord will never fail us. God and He alone must be your hope and confidence. There will be times when the Lord allows you to see the flaws of those you admire most in order to force you to recognize Him as you sole source of strength and help. This step involves a full return to looking on the Lord and recognizing that even the best men will sometimes fail you. Renew your confidence in the Lord. Go to Him and confess your error in looking too much to others and He will again lift you up.

Second, it is not enough to lower your confidence in others; you must also lose your confidence in yourself. A mature Christian has a strong sense of his own weakness and fallibility. He knows all too well that anything he has done or will do for the Lord is done by the grace of God. Everyone says this; the mature believer knows it by second nature. The return to God begins with repentance. Immediately after Jesus scolds the Ephesian church for losing their first love, He tells them: "Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do the first works" (Ephesians 2:4-5). They are to recognize and admit what they had lost; they are to repent of their sin; they are are then to return to their first works. This experience does something else in the life of the believer. It leaves them sadder but wiser. They come to realize that salvation is not a guarantee that they will never fall into sin. They must keep eternal vigilance. They realize their own leanings to sin--even as a child of God. In Romans 7:18, Paul admitted, "For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing." In Philippians 3:3, he identified faithful believers as those who "have no confidence in the flesh." This realization is a most difficult lesson, but if we use these times to renew our reliance on the Lord, we will grow in grace.

Third, you must exercise yourself in godliness (1 Timothy 4:8) in order to overcome your deadness to spiritual things. You don't feel like going to church? Go anyway, every time the doors are opened; and ask God to give you something. You don't want to read your Bible? You will not get over this by refusing to read. You will get over it by forcing yourself to read more while asking the Lord to once again open the windows of heaven and give you a blessing. This works the same with prayer, giving, witnessing, and so one. If you cannot at first do it with joy, do it with determination. The joy will return in God's time. He has to see if you will be faithful. As Christ told the Ephesians, "do the first works" (Revelation 2:5).

CONCLUSION:

Although this letter has become long, I have only touched the surface. The exact same feeling you had when you were first saved will not return. I do not say this to discourage you. However, now that you have faced some of the ugly realities of even Christian life in this world, you cannot return to the ignorance of this possibility. You will never again be able to think that this could never happen. You know it can. That knowledge brings a gravity to your heart that can never be taken away.

But this is not to say that you cannot return to your first love, only that it may not be what you are looking for. What you can gain after the experience of failure is actually greater and deeper than the first experience of salvation. You learn how faulty you are and how faulty others are and find that God still loves and cares for you. As you grow in the Lord, He becomes ever more precious to you. Your relationship with Him goes from that of a small bubbly brook to that of a deep, flowing river. He is just as precious; even more so. But you learn to recognize and halt any transfer of confidence in Him to yourself or to others. You even learn that many of the trials and troubles we face are meant to teach us deeper and deeper confidence in Him alone.

I pray that the Lord shows you the way to return fully to Him and that you will be faithful until He brings you back into the center of His love and joy. May the Lord bless you on this journey.

David Reagan

Daily Proverb

Proverbs 28:3

A poor man that oppresseth the poor is like a sweeping rain which leaveth no food.