A Protective Father – Andy Brown

Last year, I wrote a series of blog posts on the early part of the book of acts. The below post, which is about a protective father seems appropriate for this fathers day!

To all of the fathers out there, I wish you a very happy Father’s Day! It is both a very difficult and very rewarding job to raise children in this difficult world. Be encouraged and God bless you and your children today.

At long last, we move on to Acts 5. This chapter opens with a rather disturbing set of events, and I want to try to shed some light on what is happening here. This particular passage is a difficult one, and I admit to having struggled with it for many years. I will explain why,…
— Read on andy-brown.org/2020/06/16/a-protective-father/

Reuben Returns (Joseph #7)

Reuben returned to the pit, and saw that Joseph wasn’t in the pit; and he tore his clothes. 30 He returned to his brothers, and said, “The child is no more; and I, where will I go?” 31 They took Joseph’s tunic, and killed a male goat, and dipped the tunic in the blood. 32 They took the tunic of many colors, and they brought it to their father, and said, “We have found this. Examine it, now, and see if it is your son’s tunic or not.”

33 He recognized it, and said, “It is my son’s tunic. An evil animal has devoured him. Joseph is without doubt torn in pieces.” 34 Jacob tore his clothes, and put sackcloth on his waist, and mourned for his son many days. 35 All his sons and all his daughters rose up to comfort him, but he refused to be comforted. He said, “For I will go down to Sheol to my son, mourning.” His father wept for him. 36 The Midianites sold him into Egypt to Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh’s, the captain of the guard.

Genesis 37:29-36 (WEB)

Reuben Returns

If you cast your mind back to an earlier part of the story, you will recall that Reuben was the one who convinced his brothers not to murder Joseph in cold blood. Instead, he talked them into leaving him in the pit and letting nature take its course. This somehow seemed more palatable to them.

Secretly however, Reuben had planned to return and rescue Joseph so that he could return him to his father, and claim the credit. This is pretty low…

Our passage today picks up the account and opens with Reuben’s return. His is more than a little dismayed to find Joseph gone!

Reuben tears his clothes as a sign of grief, or perhaps regret. It does not appear to be a sign of repentance, as he was not exactly acting out of the purest of motives. Rather he recognises that he won’t be able to “save the day” and claim the credit now. He is sorry of course, but for quite the wrong reasons.

I acknowledged my sin to you.

    I didn’t hide my iniquity.

I said, I will confess my transgressions to Yahweh,

    and you forgave the iniquity of my sin. Selah.

Psalm 32:5 (WEB)

Psalm 32 is one of the Penitential Psalms or Psalms of Repentance. Here in verse 5, the psalmist asked to be forgiven for the iniquity of their sin – other translations say the “sinfulness of my sin.” See my post of the same name – The Sinfulness of my Sin.

Often when we are caught in wrongdoing, we are sorry for the consequences, not the sin itself. A bank robber is sorry he got caught red-handed, but would feel no guilt had they gotten away with it. Reuben, here, is likewise sorry for the consequences of his sin, not the wrongdoing itself.

The Cover Up

There is a possible gap between verse 30 and 31, as the text moves from Reuben’s cries straight to the brothers’ cover up of events. Presumably one of them told him what had happened in his absence.

Joseph is gone, and the brothers must now deal with the obvious. What will they tell their father? Taking Joseph’s coloured coat, they kill a goat and use its blood to stain the tunic. This will be evidence enough of Joseph’s supposed fate.

Taking it to Jacob, they ask him to identify it. In the absence of a body, this is the next best thing and they do not correct him (of course) when he assumes Joseph has been killed by a wild animal.

Look at the grief they inflict on Jacob! His heart is broken and he descends into deep mourning for many days. His other sons and daughters try to comfort him, but to no avail.

Did they feel any guilt, I wonder, as they looked upon their father during this time? He was so broken that he wished to go to Sheol – the place of the dead – so that he might be with his beloved son. Would a spark of remorse have been felt by any of them? The Bible does not record it.

To what lengths people will go to cover up their sinfulness. I see it in myself at times too. I make a mistake at work and there is clear temptation to sweep it under the carpet, or to give a version of events which look less unfavourable. Surely I am not alone in feeling such temptation in those moments?

Christians must not lie however. We must be honest and truthful, even if it means admitting we’ve done wrong and facing the consequences.

The passage, and this chapter, close by telling us that Joseph (meanwhile) is taken to Egypt and sold to a man named Potiphar, who is a servant of Pharaoh and the captain of the guard. This will later turn out to be another divine appointment for Joseph – but we’ll pick that up another day.

Every blessing to you!

Opportunity Knocks (Joseph #6)

They sat down to eat bread, and they lifted up their eyes and looked, and saw a caravan of Ishmaelites was coming from Gilead, with their camels bearing spices and balm and myrrh, going to carry it down to Egypt. 26 Judah said to his brothers, “What profit is it if we kill our brother and conceal his blood? 27 Come, and let’s sell him to the Ishmaelites, and not let our hand be on him; for he is our brother, our flesh.” His brothers listened to him. 28 Midianites who were merchants passed by, and they drew and lifted up Joseph out of the pit, and sold Joseph to the Ishmaelites for twenty pieces of silver. The merchants brought Joseph into Egypt.

Genesis 37:25-28 (WEB)

Joseph has found his brothers in the wilderness, and they hatched and executed a plan to capture him. Tearing off his coat of colours, they throw him into a pit. Having talked themselves out of killing him directly, they now plan instead to leave him to the elements.

Verse 25 opens by telling us that they sat down to eat bread. I am not sure if there is any significance to this in particular, but it strikes me that having captured and essentially murdered their brother, food might be the last thing on their minds! It takes a callous heart to condemn someone to death, and then in the next moments enjoy a hearty meal.

Perhaps the significance lies in the timing. The text tells us that while they were eating, they look up and see a caravan of Ishmaelites heading their way. Had they dumped Joseph in the pit and moved on, they may not have run into this group at all, and the rest of our story may have been quite different.

There are no such things as coincidences with God.

Opportunity Knocks

Judah is quick to come up with an alternative ending to Joseph’s life. Rather than murder him outright, he sees an opportunity. Judah sees the chance of making a profit by selling Joseph into slavery. He also adds that why should they shed his blood, after all, Joseph is their brother. His words show perhaps little respect for Joseph himself, but for the family. They all recognise that shedding one’s own brother’s blood is not exactly a righteous thing to do.

So they haul Joseph out of the pit, sell him to the merchants and gain a bag silver in return. We learn that the merchants are heading to Egypt, and surely the brothers expected that to be the last they would ever see of this dreamer. How wrong they would one day prove to be!

God has not been directly mentioned in any of this up to now. Clearly though, He is ever present in the account. God is the source of the dreams that Joseph has had, and surely God is the one who has preserved Joseph’s life at the hand of his brothers. Likewise, God decreed events to take place in such a way that these merchants just happened to be passing at the precise moment necessary.

God has a plan! And this is no less true for you. What happened to Joseph was truly terrible, and yet it was all part of the tapestry of God’s plan. As he lay in the pit, Joseph was likely questioning his dreams and wondering what on earth was to happen to him. Even in our darkest moments, we can cling on to the promises of God and know that they will never fail.

There is a well-known verse from Jeremiah which is often quoted, although I’m not certain if the context applies to all people at all times, but here you go:

For I know the thoughts that I think toward you,” says Yahweh, “thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you hope and a future.

Jeremiah 29:1 (WEB)

When you know Jesus, the future is bright. That does not mean there are no dark days ahead of us, but we can rely on Him to take us through. Whatever God’s plan is for you in this life, there is an eternity in paradise to look forward to.

To finish, let me ask you what opportunities may present themselves to you today? How can you be a blessing to someone, or to share your faith with a person who needs to hear it? Don’t just wait and see if an opportunity presents itself, ask the Lord for divine appointments where you can act as a light in this world.

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ!

The View from the Pit (Joseph #5)

Reuben heard it, and delivered him out of their hand, and said, “Let’s not take his life.” 22 Reuben said to them, “Shed no blood. Throw him into this pit that is in the wilderness, but lay no hand on him”—that he might deliver him out of their hand, to restore him to his father.

Genesis 37:21-22 (WEB)

To remind you where we are, Joseph was not popular among his brothers. In fact, the Bible makes clear that they hated him to point of not be able to speak to him kindly. Having shared with them some controversial dreams, their resolve against him has only been strengthened. Searching for them in the wilderness, an opportunity has presented itself to them to finally be rid of him for good. Putting it bluntly, they plan to kill him.

Reuben to the Rescue?

Reuben, hearing the plan to murder Joseph, delivers him out of their hand. It may sound as though Reuben has had a bout of conscience but in fact, his motives are purely self-serving.

Instead of shedding Joseph’s blood, an obvious crime, he convinces them to simply throw him into the pit and let him die “naturally!” To the brothers, this apparently seems less unsavoury than actually doing the deed itself. However, would God see them as guiltless for this? I hardly think so.

James, in his letter, says:

So any person who knows what is right to do but does not do it, to him it is sin.

James 4:17 (Amp)

If we know what is right, and yet refuse to do it, that is sin – plain and simple. For the brothers here, it is not as though they have stumbled across a Joseph who has accidentally fallen into a pit, and refused to rescue him… that would be sin enough! Instead, they plan to throw him in there themselves. Whichever way you shake it, to fulfil such a plan is no different from shedding his blood themselves.

Selfish Motives

We see from the final words of verse 22 that Reuben was not actually concerned about Joseph at all. His motives for rescuing him were purely selfish. He wanted to sneak back later on and pull Joseph out, claiming to be the one who had rescued him and gaining favour with his father.

I wonder if Jacob must take a slice of the blame here. Imagine being in a family where you felt you had to go to such lengths to obtain a father’s favour. Clearly Reuben’s actions are very wrong, but so was the favouritism which drove him to it.

In the pit

When Joseph came to his brothers, they stripped Joseph of his tunic, the tunic of many colors that was on him; 24 and they took him, and threw him into the pit. The pit was empty. There was no water in it.

Genesis 37:23-24 (WEB)

I wonder, as Joseph approached his brothers that day, if he had any idea what was coming. Even a naïve dreamer (if that’s what he was) must have known their feelings towards him. Perhaps he simply thought the best of them, and never expected them to act in this shocking way.

They strip him of his coat of many colours, and this, in their minds, would have been like ripping off Jacob’s favouritism from him. The coat would have been a sign of leadership too, and likewise they are saying, “You are not above us!” Throwing him into the pit is to throw him beneath them once and for all.

The text makes a point of saying that the pit (or water cistern) is empty. Why is this important – apart from the obvious consequences for Joseph? I want to address that at a later date – so stay tuned! Suffice it to say that I do not believe any detail is in the Bible for no reason.

Water cisterns were no small holes in the ground. The picture above shows the size and scale of some of these pits. We do not know how long Joseph was in there, but from the bottom he would have seen little but sky.

The Bible does not seem to reference Joseph prying all that much, but I can only imagine that as he sat or lay at the bottom of this pit, that he was praying earnestly for rescue. “Get me out of this pit, please God!” he might have said, and would we have prayed any differently? Yet God does answer his prayer (as we will see next time) but not into freedom, rather instead into slavery.

Similarly, if God had rescued Joseph completely in this situation, he would never have found himself in Egypt and in that place God had called him to. Joseph, if he was praying to escape the pit, was praying against God’s will and against his own dreams. That is something to pause on. When we pray, we pray from our human viewpoint and not from God’s stance. Could it be that some of our prayers of rescue are not answered because they would contradict God’s plans and our dreams? I’ll leave that with you…

Let our prayers be led by the Holy Spirit today and every day!

Evil (Joseph #4)

The man said, “They have left here, for I heard them say, ‘Let’s go to Dothan.’”

Joseph went after his brothers, and found them in Dothan. 18 They saw him afar off, and before he came near to them, they conspired against him to kill him. 19 They said to one another, “Behold, this dreamer comes. 20 Come now therefore, and let’s kill him, and cast him into one of the pits, and we will say, ‘An evil animal has devoured him.’ We will see what will become of his dreams.”

Genesis 37:17-20

After a time of searching, Joseph is directed to the town of Dothan where he finally catches up with his brothers. Suffice it to say they were not exactly thrilled to see him coming…

Coat of Many Colours

We have pointed out before that Joseph was wearing his coat of colours and this is no doubt a large part of how they saw him coming from afar. I do not want to draw an overly spiritual point out of this, but do people see you coming a mile off? Do they recognise your clothes, behaviour or attitude? Do they look forward to your approach, or does it fill them with dread as it does Jacob’s sons?

We ought to be properly dressed. Ephesians 6 instructs us to put on the armour of God, and Romans 13 tells us to clothe ourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ. I want to write a fuller post on that subject another day, so won’t say a great deal more here.

However, just as Joseph’s brothers saw him coming, recognising him immediately, I want us – the church – to be immediately recognisable by those who look upon us. Let them see how we conduct ourselves, and spot our holiness, and by so doing draw them into relationship with our wonderful Lord.

The Plot and the Lie

The brothers decide they have had enough of this dreamer, and make a plan to kill him, toss him into a pit and then lie about it to cover it up. We have spoken of their hatred several times in this series so far, and now it bubbles up to a point where they intend to act on it. Surely the Lord Jesus was right when He said that to hate someone in your heart is to murder them.

It sounds absurd to say, but clearly the brothers knew this was not the right thing to do. No one who believes themselves in the right, then lies about it to cover it up. If it was all above board, then they would have had no need to lie. There is a lesson for us there too. If you find yourself “decorating” the truth, or just outright lying about something, then you likewise must know that it is wrong. When I walk into the office and find members of my staff quickly turning off their screens or hiding what they were doing, chances are they were not working!

Beyond that though, the brothers don’t just lie in the heat of the moment, but they plan to lie. Someone caught red-handed may try a bold story to get out of trouble, but it is a whole new level of deceit to plan to lie and cover up ahead of time.

They intend to pass the blame on to some “evil animal.” This is rich, as I know of no animals which are truly evil. Perhaps mistreated ones become mean or untrustworthy, but we would unlikely describe such an animal as evil. Humanity though, we were born with a sinful – evil – nature which corrupts us in every way. The only thing that can rescue us from this evil nature is the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. He not only cleanses us from our sin, but puts a new nature inside of us, one free of corruption. Praise His Holy Name!

What Will Become of His Dreams?

The final line of our passage today may seem a bit throwaway. “We will see what becomes of his dreams.” It is a sneer almost; the brothers believe they will never see the dreams come to pass because they will end his life right here and now.

God’s plans are not so easily thwarted though.

Next time, we will see how Joseph escapes this murderous plot. For now though, Joseph’s dreams were a sign from God that He had a great plan for this young man’s life. God has a plan for you also. There may be those who try to end your dreams in the here and now, although I pray it is not in such a gruesome way! Nothing can stop God’s plan for your life, so rejoice in that truth today. His plan may not always be comfortable, but continue to trust Him with all of your heart and He will bring you safely to your heavenly home.

Joseph Searching (Joseph #3)

Soon after this, Joseph’s brothers went to pasture their father’s flocks at Shechem. 13 When they had been gone for some time, Jacob said to Joseph, “Your brothers are pasturing the sheep at Shechem. Get ready, and I will send you to them.”

“I’m ready to go,” Joseph replied.

14 “Go and see how your brothers and the flocks are getting along,” Jacob said. “Then come back and bring me a report.” So Jacob sent him on his way, and Joseph travelled to Shechem from their home in the valley of Hebron.

15 When he arrived there, a man from the area noticed him wandering around the countryside. “What are you looking for?” he asked.

16 “I’m looking for my brothers,” Joseph replied. “Do you know where they are pasturing their sheep?”

17 “Yes,” the man told him. “They have moved on from here, but I heard them say, ‘Let’s go on to Dothan.’” So Joseph followed his brothers to Dothan and found them there.

Genesis 37:12-17 (NLT)

We return to the story of Joseph today, and pick up a section of text which is, well, not apparently all that interesting! You can sum it up in a few lines. Joseph’s brothers go to pasture the flocks, and after a while Jacob sends Joseph to go check on them. Joseph can’t find them, and an unnamed man directs him to them. No great theological revelation there right?

Is this section just padding though? Is it just a build up to the real action scenes that follow? It is my firm belief that nothing is in the Bible by accident, and every single word is in there for a purpose. If so, what is the purpose here? Let’s walk through the text and see what we can find. And I do not claim to have all of the answers.

Ready To Go

The first thing I want to note is how ready Joseph is to serve his father and family. Jacob wants to check on his sons and the flocks, but doesn’t immediately give reasons. Is he potentially concerned about what they might be getting up to? Verse 14 is an instruction to go and see, and then return with a report. This may suggest concern on Jacob’s part, but it may also just be a fairly normal practice. Remember, they had no mobile/cellular phones in those days!

A few questions start to emerge here. Why was Joseph not with them? It could be that they simply did not want him around, so left him behind. It could have been that Joseph was favoured such that he did not have to go along, and could stay home and please himself.

Given the brothers’ hatred of Joseph, which they made little attempt to hide, neither Joseph nor Jacob showed any apparent concerns for sending the dreamer off into the wilderness to look for them. Clearly, neither had any idea of what the brothers would soon do, or were even worried about giving them such an opportunity.

Sending Joseph to bring back a report reminds us of the early verses in this chapter where Joseph had brought an evil/bad report back about some of the brothers. Perhaps he and/or Jacob made a habit of checking up on them. Why? Were they known for their not so exemplary behaviour?

Shechem and Dothan

Shechem is an interesting place to go and pasture the flocks. The last time we encountered Shechem, was in Genesis 34. This is a rather grizzly affair where one of Jacob’s daughters in defiled, and the brothers hatch a plan to take vengeance on the man and town of the same name. We do not know how much time has passed since those events, but it is probably advisable to steer clear of the place for a long while. That may explain Jacob’s concern for how they are getting on.

I cannot help but wonder if there is some prophetic or symbolic inference here. Joseph travels to Shechem – the place of recent violence – but does not find either the brothers or trouble there. The fact that they have moved on, and he too heads away from Shechem may allude to Joseph avoiding the same kind of violence the people of that place felt at the hands of the brothers.

I certainly do not want to read more into the text than is there, but as I mentioned above, every word and every place mentioned in the Scripture is there for a purpose.

Verse 15 sees Joseph arrive in Shechem, find nothing and encounters a man of the area. On the surface, he asks what Joseph is looking for, and then directs him to where his brothers have travelled on to. Again, the text could simply be reporting what happened, and there always danger of seeing things that are not there.

Likewise, however, some questions arise in my mind. Does Joseph bump into this man by accident? There is no such thing as coincidence in the Bible! Also, Joseph does not appear to introduce or identify himself to the man, so how does he know who “my brothers” are? The family of Israel were likely quite well known in that area of course, and we know from later events that Joseph was once again adorned with the coat of many colours. No ID required in that case!

Whenever I see an unnamed individual or servant in the Bible, I immediately ask if this is a representation of the Holy Spirit. That statement takes some explaining, but often in the Old Testament we see the Spirit of God prophetically depicted as a servant with no name – because He never testifies about Himself. In Genesis 24, an unnamed servant (named elsewhere) is dispatched by the “father” to obtain a bride for the “son.” This is prophetically similar to the Father sending forth the Holy Spirit to prepare the Bride of Christ.

Back to Genesis 37, this unnamed man directs Joseph away from Shechem (the place of former violence) and towards a place called Dothan. As far as I can tell, the only other time that this place was mentioned in the Bible was in 2 Kings 6.

In 2 Kings 6, we read of the Aramean king who was attacking Israel. Every time he formed a plan against them though, God would reveal this to Elisha – the man of God – and the plan would be thwarted. The King of Aram became so frustrated, he believed there was a spy in his ranks. It was told to him that Elisha was the one who somehow knew ahead of time, so the king sent to capture him. Where? At Dothan.

When the Arameans arrived however, they were met with a heavenly army that not even Elisha’s assistant could see. Elisha prayed, and the invading army became blind and he was able to lead them out and into captivity.

What does any of this have to do with Joseph? Well… truth be told, potentially nothing whatsoever! I do think it is interesting though that Joseph was heading into a place known for violence, was directed away by an unnamed man, and ends up going to Dothan. Dothan would later be the place of a great rescue. It could have been a slaughter, and yet God rescued Elisha and the rest in a miraculous way. Joseph is likewise rescued… although it may not seem like it.

If you know what happens next, then you know Joseph is sold into slavery. This is not a pleasant fate of course, but it is rather better than the brothers first idea, which is to kill him. As I say, without reading too much into the text, Joseph avoids violence (Shechem) and is instead led away into slavery (Dothan).

Let me restate that not every passage of the Bible has a hidden meaning, or some code you have to crack. I do not advise missing the obvious meaning of the text in favour of some other mysterious interpretation.

On the face of it, this text simply tells us that Joseph went to look for his brothers, and ultimately finds them. If we see other possibilities, then it is not wrong to explore them, but we must be very careful not to wander into heresy or falsity looking for things that simply are not there. I share what I have shared today to help us examine the text on different levels.

We will explore what happens to Joseph at Dothan next time. Thanks for reading.

Beloved Christians (Psalm 100 #6)

Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth!

2     Serve the Lord with gladness!

    Come into his presence with singing!

3 Know that the Lord, he is God!

    It is he who made us, and we are his;

    we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.

4 Enter his gates with thanksgiving,

    and his courts with praise!

    Give thanks to him; bless his name!

5 For the Lord is good;

    his steadfast love endures forever,

    and his faithfulness to all generations.

Psalm 100 (ESV)

Today we conclude our short series on Psalm 100. Verse five culminates in a crescendo of praise and focusses solely on our Heavenly Father.

The Lord is good

Verse five tells us a simple truth – that the Lord is good. When things get difficult, or we look at the problems of the world, it can be easy to forget this fact. If God is so good, then why… <insert here>? We have all asked this at times, and there are no answers that can satisfy this side of heaven I believe.

The suffering of the world, and the pain we experience, does not disprove the existence of a “good” God. This world is broken, corrupted by sin and far removed from what God had originally intended. Yet He has not left us in this mess, alone and uncared for. The cross has said it all. God is indeed good because He came down into this fallen place, lived perfectly and died for each of us.

Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.

James 1:17 (NIV)

This verse from James not only tells us that God is the source of every good thing, but that He is ever unchanging. He is good now, and will always be.

Enduring Love

Psalm 100:5 goes on to say that God’s steadfast love endures forever. This continues the theme of the verse from James above, in that God is unchanging. The word “steadfast” (describing God’s love) can be defined as “fixed in direction.” God’s love is not whimsical. It depends not on our behaviour, and His mood. He loves you today, and He will love you just the same tomorrow. You can count on it!

I have sometimes heard Christians say, and probably been guilty of saying it myself, “I just don’t feel that God loves me…” God’s love is not dependent on mere feelings. When your feelings are in disagreement with God’s Word, it is your feelings that are wrong, not the Bible. Whether you feel the love of Christ or not, you can know without a shadow of a doubt that it is true. This is but one of many verses which extol the permanence and endurance of God’s love for all of the saints.

For this reason I kneel before the Father, 15 from whom every family[a] in heaven and on earth derives its name. 16 I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, 18 may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, 19 and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.

Ephesians 3:14-19 (NIV)

What a prayer! And I pray it for you dear reader, and please do pray it for me!

Faithful to all generations

Psalm 100 closes with words about God’s faithfulness. God is faithful to His people, and we can rely on Him and His Word without question. God is true to His Word, and if He has said it, you can consider it done.

God is not just faithful to us however, but also to the generations that come after us. This is another sign of His steadfastness and consistency. We can rely on the fact that God is no respecter of persons, and that He will bless my children in the same way He has blessed me. Too few of us take a generational view, thinking primarily of our own lives. If the Lord tarries however, then a new generation will rise up after us and we are responsible to them.

We can trust in the goodness of God, and we can know that God’s faithfulness will remain for those who come after us.

Summary

Psalm 100 may only be short, but I hope it has encouraged you as we have plumbed its depths in the last few posts. It is no doubt a Psalm of praise and thanksgiving to our Creator God, and I want you to come way with many reasons to “shout for joy!”

You are a “Beloved Christian!” That is the culmination of this psalm. God’s love endures, and as a result we have much to thank and worship Him for. God’s love for each of us is reciprocated, and in turn we live to serve Him with gladness. We belong to Him, marked as His people, and so live our lives in gratitude for all that He has done for us.

Are there parts of this passage which really stand out to you? Is God saying something in particular to you during this season of your life? As we read and study the Bible, it should often lead to some form of change in our lives. This might be a specific action you take – like starting all of your prayers with words of thanks – or it may be less tangible than that. Has this psalm provoked you to action? I’d love to hear from you if it has.

Serve the Lord with gladness! Give thanks unto Him, and bless His Name!

Further posts in this series, if you wish to read more, are:

Shouting Christians #1

Serving Christians #2

Singing Christians #3

Created Christians #4

Thankful Christians #5

Thankful Christians (Psalm 100 #5)

Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth!

2     Serve the Lord with gladness!

    Come into his presence with singing!

3 Know that the Lord, he is God!

    It is he who made us, and we are his;

    we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.

4 Enter his gates with thanksgiving,

    and his courts with praise!

    Give thanks to him; bless his name!

5 For the Lord is good;

    his steadfast love endures forever,

    and his faithfulness to all generations.

Psalm 100 (ESV)

Thankful Christians…? Is there any other kind? A Christian who does not give thanks, is like a Christian who does not pray!

This psalm directs us to enter the gates of our God with thanksgiving. Even in the midst of terrible trouble, we have much to be grateful for. It should not take us long to reel off a list of things we can thank the Lord for.

It was a privilege recently to record an interview with “understand the Bible.” When the video comes out, I’ll share it here so you can see it. One of the questions I was asked was, “Why do Christians pray?” Had you never heard of prayer, and studied our prayer lives to find the answer, what would you say? If you are anything like me, one might study my prayer life and say that prayer is “asking God for things.” Of course, this is woefully inadequate, and yet our prayer lives reflect little more than “petition” at times.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll no doubt say it again, but in our prayer lives, our praise should always outweigh our petition. We should thank God and worship Him with far greater frequency than we make demands of Him.

As we “enter His gates” why not use this as the primary way to start off your prayer time. Enter the prayer time with thanksgiving. Tell God what you are especially grateful for right now, and let that overflow into praise.

Verse four concludes by again telling us to give thanks, but also to “bless His name!” Could it be that by giving thanks, we are blessing His name? Is it a blessing to the Lord when He hears His people expressing their gratitude? I think so.

Being thankful is an admission of how good we have it. It helps us remember that no matter whatever else is going on, we do have some positives to focus on. The Bible is full of exhortations to thank God, and I for one am convicted that I should be doing it all the more.

How about you? On a scale of 1-10, how thankful would you rate yourself? Be honest…

Let us all get into a habit of being grateful. Help each other by commenting below with tings you are grateful for. It doesn’t have to be long, even one-word answers will inspire each of us to say “thank you!” to God for something.

It must go deeper than just saying the words however. I train my children to say “thank you,” after we give them something they have asked for. For a long time (even years) they may repeat the words out of pure habit. Hopefully, sooner or later though, they will learn that thankfulness is in actuality an attitude of the heart.

A heart which is not thankful is one which is arrogant. It demands, or even, expects to have whatever it wants. A humble heart though gives thanks for even the smallest of contributions. One who is humble and thankful recognises what others have done, and acknowledges it.

Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good and His mercy endures forever! Amen!

Further posts in this series, if you wish to read more, are:

Shouting Christians #1

Serving Christians #2

Singing Christians #3

Created Christians #4

Created Christians (Psalm 100 #4)

Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth!

2     Serve the Lord with gladness!

    Come into his presence with singing!

3 Know that the Lord, he is God!

    It is he who made us, and we are his;

    we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.

4 Enter his gates with thanksgiving,

    and his courts with praise!

    Give thanks to him; bless his name!

5 For the Lord is good;

    his steadfast love endures forever,

    and his faithfulness to all generations.

Psalm 100 (ESV)

We pick up where we left off at verse three of this fantastic psalm. We have so far thought about us shouting and singing to the Lord, and also how we can serve Him with gladness. Today we turn our thoughts to who God is, and the fact that He made each one of us.

Verse three in the ESV Bible (as above) tells us to know the Lord, he is God! This word “Lord” here is again the Holy Name of God – Yahweh – which is often rendered Lord or LORD in other Bibles.

In our society, we use the word “God” a great deal. Sometimes it is a simple curse, but other times just a flippant throw away term. Other religions use the same word – God. Christians believe in “God” but so do Muslims or Jews, and then other religions such as Hinduism believe in more than one god.

My point is that we may all use those same three letters, but we mean very different things by it. The God of the Bible, of both the Old and New Testament, is the LORD – Yahweh, and He is God!

We, Christians, must never fall into the trap of believing that any religion that claims to follow God is actually doing so. There is One God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and He is the One this psalm sings of.

This God is the One Who made us – we are Created Christians.

The Bible opens with the words, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” (see Genesis 1:1). Understanding and accepting that truth is critical in grasping the full extent of the Gospel. As our society strays further and further away from this truth, we fall further from God and deeper into sinfulness.

If we are indeed “created,” then we are not the top of the food chain. We are not the masters of our own destiny, nor are we supreme or sovereign. Humanity may be the pinnacle of all created things, made in the very image of God, yet we are not equal to God Himself. We have a Creator, and we are His (see verse three above, again!).

If we really did just evolve from the ether, then humanity is nothing more than the mere product of chance. And, may I add, the “chance” is so small you would have better odds of winning the lottery every week for the rest of your life in comparison! Spontaneous life without a Creator has no meaning. We are no more than animals who come and go, and life has no meaning.

Thank the Lord God this is not so! We were made by a Loving Creator, we belong to Him and we belong to each other. Verse three also tells us that we are His people. We are not individuals, but a crowd. We are a people who belong, and belong to Him!

The Bible often uses the analogy of sheep and their Shepherd.

As above:

    It is he who made us, and we are his;

    we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.

Psalm 100:3 (ESV)

And here:

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.

Psalm 23:1 (NKJV)

And perhaps the ultimate example:

I am the good shepherd. (Isaiah 40:11; Ezekiel 34:11-12,15,22) The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12 He who is a hired hand, and not a shepherd, who doesn’t own the sheep, sees the wolf coming, leaves the sheep, and flees. The wolf snatches the sheep, and scatters them. 13 The hired hand flees because he is a hired hand, and doesn’t care for the sheep. 14 I am the good shepherd. I know my own, and I’m known by my own;

John 10:11-14 (WEB)

I have left in a couple of the references which also point to Scriptures about sheep and Shepherds.

Jesus is our Good Shepherd, and we are the sheep of His pasture. He laid down His life for each of us, bearing our burdens and sin on His very own shoulders that we might go free. The world may not value you, but Christ does! If you ever feel worthless, remember that Jesus poured out His blood for you.

Now that makes we want to shout (or make a joyful noise at least!)

We thank You Lord Jesus that You died for us! Thank You that You became as one of Your created beings, suffered and died that we might live. We shout for joy to You today! Praise Your Holy Name! We recognise that You are indeed God, the Creator of all things. We humbly surrender to You and Your Lordship. In the Name of our Saviour and Lord, Jesus Christ! Amen!

Further posts in this series, if you wish to read more, are:

Shouting Christians #1

Serving Christians #2

Singing Christians #3

Plan Ahead

A prudent person foresees danger and takes precautions.

    The simpleton goes blindly on and suffers the consequences.

Proverbs 22:3 (NLT)

We take a little break from our series on Psalm 100, and turn to look at one of the proverbs today.

As a rule, I try to read a chapter of Proverbs every day. It is something I heard of a while back – that there are enough chapters of Proverbs to reach one each day of the month, namely 31. You read chapter one on the first of the month, chapter two on the second, and so on. It is the 22nd May today, and this particular verse nudged me.

Proverbs is frequently comparing the actions of the wise with the actions of the foolish. A wise person does one thing, while the fool does something quite the opposite. The same is true here.

A prudent (or wise) person sees danger coming, and makes preparation to either avoid or suppress it. The foolish person however, charges straight into its path.

On a practical level, there is much we can apply to our own lives. It is wise to save for a rainy day, or to address the blinking red engine light on your car’s dashboard before you see smoke in the rear view. When we see a sign that says, “Icy road ahead,” it is a good idea to slow down or find an alternative route.

There are many examples we could look at here. What might be on your horizon that you need to prepare for? If you already know it is coming, then don’t put off getting ready. Act today to make sure when that “thing” comes, whatever it may be, you are well prepared to deal with it.

In the same chapter of Proverbs, we read:

The lazy person claims, “There’s a lion out there!

    If I go outside, I might be killed!”

Proverbs 22:13 (NLT)

This is quite the imagery, and not immediately obvious perhaps. It is astonishing at times, the excuses you hear from people who are just trying to get out of something. I have seen individuals spend enormous amounts of energy trying to avoid something, far more energy than it would have taken to just do the thing in the first place. Here, we see someone who doesn’t want to go outside, and perhaps does not wish to leave their warm bed. Instead of crying wolf, they cry “lion!”

It is all too easy to put off preparing for the future. When we are in our twenties, saving for a pension may not seem all that important, but of course we hear many stories of those who left it too late. When we see danger ahead of us, we must take necessary action.

But what about when we do not see it coming? What if all seems well and we do not know what is around the next corner?

What if you had a friend who could somehow warn you of what is ahead? That would be truly wonderful!

However, when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth; for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak; and He will tell you things to come.

John 16:13 (NKJV)

Here we read that the Holy Spirit will tell you of the things that are to come. We can draw on this revelation knowledge and be pre-warned of things that we need to prepare for. These may be dangers of course, but they may also be opportunities.

I want to be so close to God the Spirit that I hear Him directing me. I want to be in the exact place He wants me to be. If there is a chance for me to serve Him in some way, then I want to be prepared to do that.

Join with me in praying that the Spirit of Christ will guide us:

Holy Spirit, we thank You that You are our Advocate, Helper and Friend. May You guide us in all things, showing us the things that are to come so that we might be ready. If there is danger up ahead, we pray that You would help us avoid it, if it be Your will. If there are opportunities to minister Your grace, please give us the words we need to share Your truth. Above all, help us to draw ever closer to You in worship and prayer, and that through Your guidance, You may be truly glorified in our lives. In the Name of Jesus, Amen!

Thanks so much for reading today.

Singing Christians (Psalm 100 #3)

Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth!

2     Serve the Lord with gladness!

    Come into his presence with singing!

3 Know that the Lord, he is God!

    It is he who made us, and we are his;[a]

    we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.

4 Enter his gates with thanksgiving,

    and his courts with praise!

    Give thanks to him; bless his name!

5 For the Lord is good;

    his steadfast love endures forever,

    and his faithfulness to all generations.

Psalm 100:1-5 (ESV)

Today, we continue our look at Psalm 100 and it might only be a short one, as I intend to focus only on the second part of verse two! If you want to catch up on the previous posts in this series, then the first was Shouting Christians and the second was Serving Christians.

Verse two continues “Come into his presence with singing!”

It is a simple and straightforward phrase, but we should not gloss over it without thought. It directs us to enter the presence of Almighty God… that ought to make us pause!

Imagine a royal throne room, its grandeur and splendour, and a great king or queen seated on a high throne above the crowd. Whatever picture you have in your mind, it pales in comparison to the heavenly throne room where the King of kings is sat at the right hand of God! This is the place we are directed to enter – the very presence of God! I imagine myself almost crawling in, wearing filthy clothes and my head bowed so far departed do I feel from the holiness of that place.

And yet…

Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. 15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. 16 Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

Hebrews 4:14-16 (ESV)

And:

For you know that God paid a ransom to save you from the empty life you inherited from your ancestors. And it was not paid with mere gold or silver, which lose their value. 19 It was the precious blood of Christ, the sinless, spotless Lamb of God.

1 Peter 1:18-19 (NLT)

We enter that throne room, and into the very presence of God, not on our own merit, but because we have been bathed in the precious blood of Christ. We have been made righteous by inheriting His Righteousness, and we are made holy, set apart and consecrated for Him. Sin cannot dwell in the presence of God, so it must be dealt with at the cross. Once done, it is done forever and we can walk with confidence before Him.

We come in not quietly, but in song! We are “Singing Christians!”

Singing is somehow universal. All people from all manner of places sing. They may use different languages or styles, but singing is not unfamiliar to any group of people. Singing is somehow or other built into us. Perhaps because God Himself is a Singer?

For the Lord your God is living among you.

    He is a mighty saviour.

He will take delight in you with gladness.

    With his love, he will calm all your fears.

    He will rejoice over you with joyful songs.”

Zephaniah 3:17 (NLT)

Notice that last line – He will rejoice over you with joyful songs! The Lord our God loves to sing, and He has put that same desire in our hearts too.

Singing with others is a bit alien to new believers however. We all sing in the shower, or along with the radio, but where outside of church, do you get together with others and just sing? Unless you are part of a choir (or rugby team!) you probably don’t sing all that much outside of church. We must bear that in mind when we welcome new people into our fellowships, as some of the things we do may seem strange to them!

Singing is not the same as worship, but certainly it can be a vehicle to doing so. God has placed songs in our heart for Him, and irrespective of how good or bad your singing voice may be, each of us can raise our voices in praise of our God.

We sing to God, and we sing to each other about how great our God is. We are singing Christians! Whatever you are doing today, set aside some time to come into the Lord’s presence, and sing your heart out before Him.

Praise His Holy Name!

P.S. – perhaps this post wasn’t as short as I’d led you to believe! Apologies!

Serving Christians (Psalm 100 #2)

Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth!

2     Serve the Lord with gladness!

    Come into his presence with singing!

3 Know that the Lord, he is God!

    It is he who made us, and we are his;[a]

    we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.

4 Enter his gates with thanksgiving,

    and his courts with praise!

    Give thanks to him; bless his name!

5 For the Lord is good;

    his steadfast love endures forever,

    and his faithfulness to all generations.

Psalm 100:1-5 (ESV)

Yesterday, in my post – Shouting Christians – I began talking about Psalm 100. The psalm opens with an encouragement to “shout” or if you are reading from the ESV (as above), then to “make a joyful noise to the Lord!” Before we continue thinking about the next part of the passage, why not pause for a moment and offer the Lord a word or shout of praise?

Verse two instructs us to “Serve the Lord with gladness!” Christians are (or should be) marked out by their acts or even lives of service. We are to be a people known for serving others. The world looks only after itself and its own, whereas we are to put others before ourselves. We sacrifice that others may have.

Bearing that in mind, it is a poor reflection on our society that really does look down on those who would serve. Whether it’s waiting staff in a restaurant, or noble care staff meeting the most basic needs a person can have, it is so sad that such individuals are often looked down upon. We must recognise the massive contribution such “servants” make to our families and our communities.

During the height of the COVID pandemic in the UK, people were encouraged to step outside and onto their front doorstep at 8pm each Thursday evening. There, we would clap and applause our health service staff showing them a small token of our appreciation for their hard work during a very troubling time.

Christians should be serving Christians… but none of this is what this Psalm is really talking about.

Verse two directs us not just to serve, but to serve the Lord. How do we do that? How do we serve the Sovereign God who needs nothing from us? There are a few ways in which I can suggest.

Worship

First and foremost, we serve the Lord by worshipping Him.  This is indeed a psalm which encourages us to do that in myriad ways. There is no shortage of things to thank God for, and studying His character will give you a thousand more reasons.

So many people float through life without purpose. I have been watching a TV show about people who gave up their “normal” lives to live in wild or far-flung places. The show tells their stories; the pain they felt, the reasons they changed everything in their lives, and the dreams they sought and fought for. Yet so many of them, once the battle was over and they had their dreams in their hands, felt lost and unfulfilled. Having achieved all they wanted, they had nothing left to live for.

Not so for the serving Christian! We were created for a specific purpose. Our very nature is established to worship the Living God. If we achieve nothing else in life, we have lived life well if we’ve lived a life dedicated to worshipping Father, Son and Holy Spirit!

Dying to Self

I know that the phrase “dying to self” isn’t exactly an exciting one, and neither its alternative “crucifying the flesh.” In simple terms, it means killing off our old sinful nature and its whims. We die to self by starving it of its power. We deny our fleshly desires, and instead choose to follow Christ.

Jesus said:

23 And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.

Luke 9:23 (ESV)

We serve God and follow Christ when we deny ourselves, and put God and others first. This is not easy, and as Jesus says above, is a daily exercise of our faith. You cannot deny yourself one time and it be dealt with, instead it takes a lifetime.

With Gladness

Verse two isn’t just about serving God however, but serving Him with gladness. This means to do so cheerfully, and not begrudgingly.

I’ve only given two examples of serving the Lord above, and yet each can be very difficult to do with gladness at certain times. Denying ourselves is rarely easy, but there are times and seasons in life where worship may be a sacrifice. When all is well in our lives, it may be easy to lift up holy hands to the Lord. In times of trial or despair however, it may be a real effort to worship.

Serving God is a privilege that not all accept or relish. We are indeed privileged and humbled to know and be known by the Creator of all things. We are a chosen people, and a Holy Priesthood dedicated an set apart to serve the Lord. The eternal promise of heaven should be more than enough to make us “glad!”

I commented yesterday that I do not find joy the most natural of things (or maybe I cut that out during editing!) I’m not the most exuberant of people, so the idea of shouting for joy isn’t all that easy for me. Joy is a cousin of gladness of course, and so as we turn our attention onto our loving Heavenly Father and off of ourselves and our problems, gladness will soon follow.

What might your service of God look like? It may be slightly different for each of us. If yesterday I encouraged you to be a “shouting Christian,” then today let me exhort you to be a serving one.

Two posts in, and we’ve not yet completed verse two! More from this fabulous psalm another day! God bless.