PBJ : Pastor Brian Jones

PBJ : Pastor Brian Jones

I am a follower of Jesus Christ, a teacher of His Word, Senior Pastor at Calvary Bible Church of Ann Arbor / Ypsilanti, Michigan. I am a husband and father of three.

I hold a Bachelor of Arts in Bible, a Master of Divinity, Master of Theology, and a Doctor of Ministry degrees.

Genesis 9-10, Ezra 9, Psalm 9

Today we’re scheduled to read Genesis 9-10, Ezra 9, and Psalm 9.

This devotional is about Ezra 9.

Do you want the good news or the bad news first? Sometimes you don’t get a choice; Ezra didn’t get one.

Things were going well in Jerusalem, finally. God’s people were back in the Promised Land, they were rebuilding God’s temple and had a new priest teaching the law and calling people to obedience. They had cash to pay for the work and had just received God’s protection as a large group of them returned from Babylon to Jerusalem in Ezra 8. That was the good news, after long last.

Now the family leaders of Israel came to Ezra with “the bad news.” And, it was terrible news–the people of Israel had disobeyed God’s commands and had married women from the unbelieving nations around them (v. 1-2). As if that kick to the gut wasn’t enough, it was delivered with a steel-toed boot carrying tetanus: “And the leaders and officials have led the way in this unfaithfulness.” The men who should have been teaching and warning and leading by example against this sin were instead the trendsetters in Israel.

I’ll be honest with you; had I been in Ezra’s situation, my instinct would be to distance myself from it. If we were there, you might have heard me say, “That’s on you. May God deal with you for it. It isn’t my fault you disobeyed.” Well…, I would have been speaking Hebrew, so it would have sounded much different than that to you. But, the point is, I would be inclined to move away from this issue.

Ezra was a much better spiritual leader than I am. [I can imagine your collective statements of, “Duh!”] He was offended on God’s behalf about this (vv. 3-4). But, instead of denouncing the people like a prophet would, he led them in national repentance owning their sins with his language:

  • “OUR sins are higher than our heads” (v. 6)
  • “OUR guilt has reached to the heavens” (v. 6)
  • “WE have forsaken the commands you gave (vv. 10b-11)
  • “Here WE are before you in OUR guilt, though because of it not one of us can stand in your presence.”

Did Ezra really believe himself to be guilty of this? Did he really think–given that he knew about Noah and Lot–that God would include Ezra in his judgment if it came? Of course not. But, he was a priest not a prophet. It was his job to reconcile the people with God.

And, Ezra knew that God’s people were interconnected. In order for God’s promises to Abraham, Moses, David and the whole nation to happen, the nation had to survive so that God would bless it. That’s a main reason why God gave the command not to intermarry–so that Israel would survive as an independent nation instead of being absorbed into other nations and cultures. Think about the other nations listed in verse1: “the Canaanites, Hittites, Perizzites, Jebusites, Ammonites, Moabites, Egyptians and Amorites.” Only the Egyptians remain from that list. The rest were absorbed into other nations through intermarriage just like this. Israel remains to today, too, but this disobedience could easily have caused Israel’s extinction. Furthermore, intermarriage with other nations and cultures would have corrupted Israel’s worship just as Solomon worshipped other gods to please his foreign wives.

We’re not ethnically interconnected like Israel was but we are interconnected with one another spiritually. It goes against the culture of “rugged individualism” that we’ve inherited as Americans* but we are the body of Christ. The legs of a person’s body may be strong enough to run a marathon but if that person has a heart attack while running, the whole body dies. Even those strong, tan legs will fall.

So, sins that are widespread among our church body affect us all. We need each other and God has given us the ability through spiritual gifts to help one another. But we can also harm one another. One aspect of spiritual leadership, then, is to lead in what might be called “corporate repentance” for widespread disobedience in a church, a family, or any other group of professing believers.

*Apologies to those who read this in Kingston, Ontario and elsewhere in the world.

Genesis 8, Ezra 8, Psalm 8

Today we’re scheduled to read Genesis 8, Ezra 8, and Psalm 8.

This devotional is about Psalm 8, specifically verses 3-9.

We look back at people who lived in Old Testament times and think they were primitive. They didn’t have electricity, indoor plumbing, or climate controls. The tools they had were crude and they spent an inordinate amount of time just trying to stay alive by providing for each day’s needs for themselves and their families.

Secular people think they were even more crude than this. They think these people didn’t understand mathematics or natural laws like gravity. They think that David and his contemporaries didn’t even know what the sun and moon were and some people in this time even worshipped those heavenly bodies as if they were gods.

Here in Psalm 8, we see that David had a much better understanding of the physical world than we might expect. He knew that the sky he looked at in the night was showing him the “heavens” (v. 3a) and that the lights he saw in those heavens were celestial bodies in the heavens just as the earth was. In other words, he saw that the earth was not like the set of a movie with everything above being an illusion or a prop. He knew that God had created a vast universe of which the earth was just one planet.

Now that we have telescopes and satellites, we see how vast the universe really is and how small we really are in comparison. But David had a sense of it which is why he marveled, “…what is mankind that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them?” With so much stuff in the material universe, why would God care about humanity as a group, much less the individuals in it?

I just googled the earth’s population and it is estimated at 7.6 billion people. I can’t even begin to visualize that number, much less think about knowing each person’s name, story, thoughts, and so on. Yet God knows it all and cares about each of us individually. That’s why David concluded this Psalm with, “Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!” Nobody comes anywhere near his majesty.

Genesis 7, Ezra 7, Psalm 7

Today we’re reading Genesis 7, Ezra 7, Psalm 7.

This devotional is about Ezra 7.

Isn’t it interesting that this book of the Bible is named after someone who doesn’t appear until chapter 7? And, the book of Ezra only has 10 chapters, so the man Ezra is absent from most of it.

And yet, it is fitting that this book is named after Ezra because Ezra, we will see, was given by God to be a key spiritual leader for Israel. Verses 1-5 told us that Ezra had the human pedigree needed to hold the office of priest (see also verse 11: “Ezra the priest”). This was important because of God’s commands about the office of priest. But, one could be humanly qualified to be a priest without actually being a true spiritual leader. Eli’s sons from another era are an example of that.

So what made Ezra special? Well, the grace of God of course. But, in keeping with that grace, Ezra prepared himself. Before he showed up in Jerusalem to be a spiritual leader in Israel, he “was a teacher well versed in the Law of Moses, which the Lord, the God of Israel, had given” (v. 6b). Ezra prepared to teach God’s word before he showed up to serve as a leader of God’s people.

That preparation is elaborated on in verse 10. How did he become the man verse 6 says was “well versed in the Law of Moses”? According to verse 10a, he “had devoted himself to the study… of the Law of the Lord.” He put in the time; he was in the word himself.

That’s not all though, because verse 10 goes on to say, “Ezra had devoted himself to the… observance of the Law of the Lord.” That means he obeyed it himself. After he learned what it said, Ezra abided by it in the way that he lived his life. Only then did he devote himself “to teaching its decrees and laws in Israel” (v. 10c).

This is the pattern that any and every one of us who leads spiritually must follow. We must be in the word personally, applying it personally and obeying it personally before we teach it to others. If we try to teach without study, we will lead people to error and false doctrine. If we study without application, we will be exposed as hypocrites, creating a crisis of credibility for ourselves and causing some who follow us to stumble.

Are you an elder in our church? A deacon or deaconess? A Calvary Class teacher? An AWANA leader? A parent? Almost everyone of us is leading someone in some way. May the Lord use Ezra’s method of preparation for leadership to call us to prepare well before we speak in God’s name.

Genesis 6, Ezra 6, Psalm 6

Today the schedule calls for us to read Genesis 6, Ezra 6, and Psalm 6.

This devotional is about Genesis 6.

I don’t think that a greater contrast could exist between Noah and the rest of the world around him. Noah “was a righteous man, blameless among the people of his time, and he walked faithfully with God” (v. 9b) while the world around him was “…corrupt in God’s sight and was full of violence” (v. 11). Regarding the rest of the world, “The Lord regretted that he had made human beings on the earth” (v. 6) but “Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord.” The contrast here is not subtle. God approved of Noah and was “deeply troubled” (v. 6b) about everyone else.

Although Noah was “righteous” “blameless among the people” and “walked with God” (v. 9b), he was not perfect. He “found favor” with God because of God’s grace, not because of his own righteous merits. As a man, Noah had a sinful nature like everyone else on earth. Apart from God’s favor, he would have been as wicked as everyone else and just as worthy of divine punishment. So God’s divine election of Noah is what is meant by the phrase “Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord.”

Practically speaking, God’s favor came through divine revelation. God explained to Noah his plan to destroy everyone and everything (v. 13), commanded Noah to build a means of escape (v. 14), instructed Noah about how to do it (vv. 15-16), then made a promise–“my covenant”–to protect Noah and his family (vv. 17-21). Because Noah was a man who knew God and walked with him, Noah received God’s word by faith, believed God’s promise, and obeyed accordingly (v. 22).

The details of our lives are different, but the pattern is the same with every person who knows God. God chooses us, God reveals what he wills to us, God commands us to obey, promises to protect us if we do, then calls us by faith to act. We can apply this to our own lives. Every truth taught in Scripture is God’s gracious gift to us, revealing what he wills to do, commanding us to believe and obey it, and promising blessing to us after we do what he said.

Are you struggling with obedience to the Lord in some area of your life? I don’t mean building an ark, I mean receiving the truth from his Word in some area and obeying it? Understand from this passage that God’s commands are not burdens for us to bear through obedience; they are his means for blessing us. If we will trust the Lord and do what His word commands, we will receive the promises he makes. It’s guaranteed because it is backed by God’s grace.

Genesis 5, Ezra 5, Psalm 5

Today we’re scheduled to read Genesis 5, Ezra 5, and Psalm 5. This devotional will focus on Genesis 5:21-24.

The genealogy in this chapter follows a clear pattern. A man lives for a number of years, has a son, lives for many more years while also having “other sons and daughters.” Then his total lifespan is given, followed by the fact that “he died.”

Moses recorded this genealogy for historical purposes. He wanted to document the family line from Adam (v. 1) to Noah (v. 32). No interest is given to how tall or short a man was, how intelligent (or not), whether he had a great personality or a dull one, or whether he invented anything that moved the human race forward. Nobody’s story is recorded; no color is provided. They are names on a page documenting that they lived, died, and left an heir.

Except for Enoch. If it weren’t for verses 22-23, you and I would be no more likely to remember his name than we would the name Mahalalel (v. 15). Yet, after he lived 65 years and fathered Methuselah, we learned that “Enoch walked faithfully with God 300 years” then “had other sons and daughters” (v. 22). We know he didn’t live the longest in this genealogy (at least, not on earth). Was he the smartest of these men? The best looking? The most prosperous?

Who cares.

The Bible doesn’t compare him to the others directly and say, “he was the godliest man alive” but it says that “he walked faithfully with God.” Moses remarked on that because it was remarkable. Others, like Lamech (v. 29), knew God. But “Enoch walked faithfully with God.” That’s what he was known for. And, in grace, God spared him from the curse of death (v. 24). He went from walking with God by faith on earth to walking with God in person in eternity.

Because of Christ and his grace to us in the gospel, each of us is walking with God. But would you be known for that? If someone were trying to describe your life, is that the phrase they would choose–he or she walked with God? Faithfully walked with God?

As Christians, that a life we should aspire to have.

Genesis 4, Ezra 4, Psalm 4

Today we’re scheduled to read Genesis 4, Ezra 4, and Psalm 4. This devotional is about Ezra 4.

Have you ever owned car that was hard to start on a cold winter day? Did you ever get that car going (finally!) only to have it stall out a few yards away from your house? This is what a stuck project feels like to me. It takes so much effort to start something new, but we do it because we have high expectations. Then, for reasons we can’t control–and sometimes don’t even understand–all progress on the project just stops.

God’s people in Jerusalem came back to build a temple. Yes, they came back to rebuild their nation and community, but the government officially authorized and allowed them to return to Jerusalem to rebuild God’s temple (Ezra 1). And, they did it! First, they re-established obedient worship, then they laid the foundation for the temple and started building as we saw yesterday in Ezra 3.

But, from the very beginning, there were problems. I did not mention this yesterday, but at the end of Ezra 3 there were both shouts of joy from the people (Ezra 3:11b, 12b) and loud weeping from “many of the older priests and Levites and family heads, who had seen the former temple” (v. 12a). Were these tears of joy? Hardly. Ezra didn’t say so, but those who wept did so because the foundation of the new temple was so small and humble compared to the great temple Solomon had built. That is suggested in verse 12 by the phrase “who had seen the former temple.” It is confirmed by Haggai 2:3 where the prophet Haggai asked these people, “Who of you is left who saw this house in its former glory? How does it look to you now? Does it not seem to you like nothing?” So, there was internal dissension and opposition to the Lord’s work by God’s people themselves.

Here in chapter 4, we see opposition to building the temple from outside of Israel as well (vv. 1-3). First, foreigners offered to help but, of course, their “help” would almost certainly have come with expectations. God allowed Israel and Judah’s enemies to force them from the promised land because they had mingled the true worship of God with idols. The enemies described here in Ezra 4 wanted that same result.

When God’s enemies failed to infiltrate the construction of the temple they “set out to discourage the people of Judah and make them afraid to go on building” (v. 4). They used bribes (v. 5) and political maneuvering (vv. 6-23) to successfully stymie the construction of the Lord’s temple (v. 24) less than a year after the work began (compare 3:8 to 4:24).

What was behind all of these roadblocks? Satan was, of course. There were human actors in all of this dissension, whether internal or external, but God’s ultimate enemy, Satan, was the one doing the damage.

I’ve encountered this in every ministry I’ve ever been involved in. We set out to do something for the Lord. Just when we start to get some momentum some problem discourages people, complicates the work, or stops it altogether. Maybe you’ve encountered this in your life, too. You’ve set a path to serve God in some new way and, unexpectedly, problems cause you to stall out.

Don’t give up. That’s exactly what Satan wants! Opposition to God’s work is part of living in a fallen world. God’s people got through this and, if we keep trusting the Lord and seeking to do his will, he’ll get you and me and us through the problems too.

Genesis 3, Ezra 3, Psalm 3

Today we’re reading Genesis 3, Ezra 3, and Psalm 3.

This devotional is about Ezra 3, so read that chapter if you can’t do all of today’s reading.

The events recorded in Ezra happened late in Old Testament history. They happened after the kingdoms of Saul, David, and Solomon and after those kingdoms were divided into the Israel (the northern kingdom) and Judah (the southern kingdom). Because of Israel’s idolatry, God used the Assyrian Empire to scatter the northern kingdom of Israel. Years later, God then used the Babylonians to take the southern kingdom, called Judah, into captivity. Daniel and his friends were living in Babylon due to that captivity. Daniel, while reading Jeremiah, realized that the captivity would end after 70 years. Ezra recorded what happened after that 70 years of captivity ended.

Cyrus the king of Persia was moved by the Lord to send the people of Judah living in exile back to Jerusalem to rebuild the temple. We read about that in Ezra 1. Ezra 2 recorded the names of those returned. At the end of Ezra 2, yesterday, we read, “When they arrived at the house of the Lord in Jerusalem, some of the heads of the families gave freewill offerings toward the rebuilding of the house of God on its site” (Ez 2:68).

Today in Ezra 3 we read that the people “assembled together as one in Jerusalem” (v. 1b). They built an altar and began the routine sacrifices commanded in Moses’ law (v. 3). They also celebrated the Feast of Tabernacles (v. 4) and began rebuilding the Temple (vv. 7-13).

One thing that is impressive about this chapter is how quickly the people organized to begin worshipping the Lord together as a group. Verse 1 refers to the “seventh month” but that doesn’t mean seven months after they arrived. It means the seventh month on the Jewish calendar, the month when the Feast of Tabernacles would be celebrated (v. 4, 6). Although Ezra did not say so, the events of verses 1-6 happened probably only 3 or 4 months after the exiles returned to Jerusalem.

The Jerusalem they returned to was a mess. It had been completely destroyed by the Babylonians 70 years before and was uninhabited during that time. When they got there, they had to figure out who owned what property, then repair or rebuild some kind of home to live in.

But the people who returned also needed to make a living, so they also had to begin working to start an economy going again. Verse 3 says that they “had settled in their towns” but that “settling” was only a bare subsistence. They were far from a thriving, vibrant community at that point.

And yet, they began their worship as a nation and their obedience to God’s word pretty quickly. It is true that Cyrus sent them there to rebuild the temple (chapter 1), but it would have been easy to make excuses–very plausible excuses–about the importance of making sure they could survive before they began worshipping God corporately again. They also could have said, “Well, we need to rebuild the temple first, then we can do the sacrifices and feast days.” But the temple took two years to get going (v. 8). Rather than wait, their faith in God and zeal for his glory caused them to obey his word as soon as they could.

All of this indicates what a priority worship was for these Israelites. Unlike their ancestors who worshipped idols and mixed God’s word with pagan gods and rituals, the 70 years of exile had chastened them and had shown them the importance of faith in God’s word and obedience to it.

I wonder if we would respond the same way? If some natural disaster wiped out all of our homes and businesses and leveled our church building, would those of us who survived that want to get together as soon as possible to start worshipping again?

I’d like to think that gathering again as a church family would be very important to us. Maybe a tragedy like that would make it so. But, when I think about how many people in our church only attend our Sunday worship here and there, I wonder.

Many people are faithful to our worship services Sunday after Sunday but many others attend for a Sunday or two, then disappear for weeks at a time. They all have reasons but how many of those reasons are just excuses laid on top of poor priorities? And that’s just Sunday services we’re talking about. Small group attendance and Calvary Class attendance is even more random and unpredictable.

This passage, and the coming of a new year, give us a chance to think about our priorities and where our time is spent. The fact that you’re reading these devotionals probably puts you in the category of people who are committed to the Lord and his work in our church. But, there is always the temptation to get distracted and let priorities fall out of whack. Don’t let that happen to you and, if you have a chance to encourage someone else who isn’t attending regularly, take the opportunity to speak to them for their good as a believer in Christ.

Genesis 2, Ezra 2, Psalm 2

Today’s readings are Genesis 2, Ezra 2, and Psalm 2. This devotional is about Genesis 2.

After he described God’s break from work on the seventh day in verses 1-3, Moses, the author of Genesis, focused his attention on Day 6 of the creation week. The events of Day 6 were described in summary form in yesterday’s reading from Genesis 1:24-31. In today’s reading, from Genesis 2, God’s work on day six was detailed more explicitly.

We know that the events of Genesis 2:18-25 all happened on Day 6 because Genesis 1:27 says “…male and female he created them” when it summarized God’s work on Day 6 of creation. Since Genesis 2:18-25 discussed the creation of woman, everything described in today’s passage must have happened on Day 6 of the creation week.

According to Genesis 2:18-25, the creation of man and the creation of woman were separated by enough time for Adam to name the animals and to realize that there was no corresponding partner for him (vv. 18-20). That was an object lesson for Adam to teach him his absolute uniqueness among the living things God created. While he was to tame and make productive use of these animals, none of them was his equal nor could any of them provide what he needed to fulfill God’s command to fill the earth in Genesis 1:28.

Naming the animals also seems to have given Adam a profound sense of loneliness. His loneliness was indicated by Adam’s exclamation “at last” in verse 23. The NIV translates this “now” which lacks the punch and excitement of his original statement. Though it is not my favorite, the New Living Translation gets this one right by beginning verse 23 with “‘At last!’ the man exclaimed.” https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Genesis+2%3A23&version=NLT

Remember that feeling? Maybe it hit you on your wedding day when you saw your bride walking down the aisle or as you were walking down the aisle toward your groom. Maybe it was when you were walking arm-in-arm down the aisle together just after the pastor presented you to the congregation as husband and wife. Regardless of when you realized it, one blessing God intended for your marriage was to replace the sense of loneliness in your life with a partner who corresponds to you and complements you.

Moses applied the personal experience of Adam and Eve to humanity in general when he wrote in Genesis 1:24, “That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh.” What compels a man and a woman to get together? God’s creative work.

Do you believe that, for most of us, we are incomplete without a spouse? Do you understand that divorce breaks the blessing God created marriage to be in your life (see Matthew 19:8)? Do you know that adultery may awaken youthful passions that have been dormant for a while and may make you feel honored and desired but that it costs far too much (see Proverbs 5:1-14)? How is the state of YOUR union? If things at home are troubled, unsatisfying, or just a bit dull, you may be tempted by divorce, infidelity, or just some “harmless flirting.” God’s prescription, however, is to recommit and reinvest in your spouse. Don’t believe me? See Proverbs 5:15-23.

Genesis 1, Ezra 1, Psalm 1

Welcome to the first installment this year’s devotionals. If you read each chapter, you’ll read through the Old Testament this year.

Today the schedule calls for us to read Genesis 1, Ezra 1, and Psalm 1. This devotional is mostly about Psalm 1, so read that if you can’t read all three chapters.

God created us to be social creatures. It is natural for us to seek acceptance from others, to try to find a group where we fit in and belong. One way to belong is to do what others are doing. Find a group that seems like they might accept you, do what they do and sooner or later, they will accept you as “one of us.”

People have differing personalities so the desire for acceptance is stronger in some of us than others. But we all want to fit in somewhere. Our happiness is largely determined by the quality of our relationships, so we look for friends in order to be happy.

That desire to fit in can be a positive force for good in our lives, but it can also be destructive. I said above that, “our happiness is largely determined by the quality of our relationships,” but Psalm 1 says that a happy person (that’s what “blessed” means in this context) is one “who does not walk in step with the wicked.”

This statement runs counter to our instincts. If people accept us and offer us friendship, we naturally want to “walk in step” with them. Psalm 1:1 warns us, however, that the happiness we find in acceptance will not last if we find our acceptance with wicked people. Wickedness is always destructive. Ultimately, God will judge the wicked but even before that judgment, the Bible teaches us that wickedness leads us into destructive ways. The feeling of acceptance and safety we find among wicked friends will lead us to do wicked things to “keep in step” with them. Those wicked actions are like seeds buried in the ground; eventually, they will bear fruit in our lives and the fruit of wickedness will always be painful and destructive.

The contrast to those who seek acceptance from the wicked is found in verse 2. The happy person, the “blessed one” (Ps 1:1a) is the person “whose delight is in the law of the Lord.” Because God is eternal and perfect, his word points us to eternal principles that will always be right. They may bring short-term pain but, if we love God and his word, if you are one who “meditates on his law day and night,” you will find stability and fruitfulness in your life (v. 3). Meanwhile, the wicked seeds sown by the wicked will cause them to be blown away (v. 4), rejected in God’s judgment (v. 5). Ultimately, their ways will lead “to destruction.”

I’m glad you’ve subscribed to these devotionals and I hope they are a blessing in your life. My goals for them are (a) to help you be in the Word each day by making it as easy as possible and (b) to help you look at your life through the microscope of God’s word, think about what you see there, and make changes accordingly.

The first thing I want you to consider is, who do you spend your time with? Do you spend your time in God’s word and with his people? Or are you trying to keep in step with wicked people–ungodly friends as school, ungodly co-workers or family members, celebrities, actors, and journalists who care nothing about God? The beginning of a new year is a great opportunity to re-assess your life. Maybe it is time to look at where your time is spend and make some changes for God’s glory and for your own flourishing (v. 3).

Thanks for reading and happy new year!