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, as well as Master of Divinity, Master of Theology, and Doctor of Ministry degrees.

2 Samuel 1, Ezekiel 41, Proverbs 21:15-31

Read 2 Samuel 1, Ezekiel 41, and Proverbs 21:15-31 today.

This devotional is about Proverbs 21:20.

You’ve heard people say, “We live hand to mouth.” Maybe you’ve even said it. When someone says that, they are telling you that they do not save anything. Whatever they earn in income is immediately consumed. Every penny is spent and, with easy credit these days, many people have already spent more money than they will earn for many paychecks to come.

This is the American way, unfortunately.

But it isn’t the wise way. According to Proverbs 21:20, “The wise store up choice food and olive oil, but fools gulp theirs down.” Remember that wisdom has a moral quality to it in Proverbs. So, the way of the wise isn’t just something that smart people do; it is what godly people do. 

If a person takes God’s word seriously, that person knows that God created people to work and provide for ourselves. Also, God’s word tells us to prepare for difficult days. These revelations from God’s word are what cause a wise man to “store up choice food and olive oil.” A believer in God understands that difficult days will come so he prepares for them by saving.

A fool, by contrast, is a consumer. He or she craves the experience of pleasure, the excitement of new purchases, the status provided by nice things. Instead of saving, then, the foolish consumes everything as soon as it comes in. And so, verse 17 of our passage today prophesies, “Whoever loves pleasure will become poor; whoever loves wine and olive oil will never be rich.”

A person’s savings or lack of savings is not the only indicator of faith and godliness. Every Christian has areas where they are doing well and areas they need to improve. If you’re reading these devotionals every day, you’re taking a positive step toward a holy life. If you’re putting into practice the things that you read, that’s even more important. Maybe today’s proverbs will give you a new area in your life to work on for developing godliness. If you’re not saving anything, understand that is both a financial and spiritual problem, then ask the Lord to help you curb your spending and start saving.

1 Samuel 31, Ezekiel 40, Mark 6

Read 1 Samuel 31, Ezekiel 40, and Mark 6.

This devotional is about Mark 6.

If you live long enough, at some point someone whose birth and childhood you remember becomes someone important–a judge, a doctor, a professor, your governor, maybe even your pastor. Some people have a hard time respecting the accomplishments of someone they knew as a younger person. It might be hard to let someone take out your appendix if you remember changing that kid’s diapers.

Jesus faced this kind of credibility crisis here in Mark 6 when he returned to his hometown of Nazareth.

On one hand, the wisdom Jesus had was undeniable. As they said in verse 2, “What’s this wisdom that has been given him?” They never saw him apprentice with a rabbi, so how could they trust the things that he said? Likewise, his miracles were impressive. Again, verse 2 recorded the question, “What are these remarkable miracles he is performing?” Some of these people might have remembered that time he got lost, as a child, in Jerusalem. How was that kid now capable of restoring people’s limbs and returning sight to their blind eyes? He was just a simple carpenter and they knew his whole family (v. 3), so it was difficult to accept that God’s power was on him so clearly. Verse 3 ended by saying, “…they took offense at him.”

Of course, this is all an expression of unbelief. To believe that Jesus was the Messiah or even a great spiritual leader would require some humility. It’s a lot easier to retain your pride and cast doubt on Jesus’ legitimacy than it is to humbly accept that little Jesus, now grown, was really being used by God.

The result of their faithlessness was, according to verse 5 that “He could not do any miracles there, except lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them.” The people who should have been most proud of him were his biggest skeptics. Their skepticism–aka their unbelief–meant that God’s power in their village was restrained. When verse 5 says that “He could not do any miracles there” it isn’t saying that it was impossible for him to do miracles. Jesus had the same power that he always had. The point is that he couldn’t do miracles because people who needed healing would not come to him for it. They would rather keep their dignity in place than admit they needed Mary’s kid for anything. Verse 6 says, “He was amazed at their lack of faith.”

Faith, of course, is a response to God’s word, a positive reception of God’s promises and revelation. Although Christ is not physically here to do miracles for us, he has made many promises to us. I wonder how many times our unbelief keeps us from asking God to save someone we love, or to turn a wayward friend to repentance.

I wonder what God would do in our church if we came to him more often for help and asked him to work in our lives or the lives of others. I wonder how much our Lord wants to do for us and in us and through us if we would just show our faith and ask him.

What do you want to ask him for today?

1 Samuel 29-30, Ezekiel 39, Mark 5

Read 1 Samuel 29-30, Ezekiel 39, and Mark 5.

This devotional is about Ezekiel 39.

This chapter prophesies military disaster for Gog (a man described as “chief prince of Meshek and Tubal” (v. 1b) and Magog (a place—v. 6). Identifying this person and place is a subject too complex for a simple devotional like this one. The chapters surrounding this one in Ezekiel as well as the use of Gog and Magog in Revelation 20:8 locates these events in the end times after the Millennium. So, what is described here in Ezekiel 39 is still future to Israel and to us. 

But two items in this prophecy are helpful for us today in our walk with God. First, in verses 7-8 God explained why his judgment will fall on Magog so severely. Verse 7 says, “I will make known my holy name among my people Israel. I will no longer let my holy name be profaned, and the nations will know that I the Lord am the Holy One in Israel.”

It is God’s holiness that causes him to judge humanity and bring punishment on people. God is not angry with humanity for no reason and he is not unreasonably brutal toward people. People deserve God’s wrath because we profane his holy name. People do this when they use his name in vain, when they use it to curse others, when they mock biblical standards of righteousness, when they try to deny God’s existence or explain away his word. Our biggest problem spiritually is that, apart from Christ, we hate God. That’s why we disobey his word and try to live life on our own terms. Humanity’s antipathy toward God causes people to speak against him and live in violation of his word. God has been very merciful and patient; allowing humanity thousands of years to enjoy life on earth and the gifts of creation God gave to us. Despite his mercy and patience, humanity has become more evil, more depraved over time. God’s patience will run out and, as he promised, his wrath will fall, and everyone who experiences his wrath more than deserves it. 

We recoil from passages that describe God’s wrath because we are human. We can identify with the pain and horror of human beings suffering the wrath of God. But, in addition to being human, we are also sinners, so most sins are not nearly as evil or offensive to us as they are to a holy God. 

A second item in this prophecy that is helpful to us is the reassurance in verses 25-29 that God is compassionate. This is specifically applied to Israel, but we know that Christ came and died not only to redeem Israel but also people all over the world. So although it is true that God will punish his enemies, his punishment is not unjust nor is it applied without mercy. God is merciful to those who look to him in faith; indeed, Christ himself came to bear the punishment for the sins of all whom God has chosen to be his children. 

1 Samuel 28, Ezekiel 38, Mark 4

Read 1 Samuel 28, Ezekiel 38, and Mark 4.

This devotional is about Mark 4.

This chapter contains some of Jesus parables about the kingdom (vv. 1-34) followed by the incident where Jesus miraculously calmed the storm (vv. 35-41).

The parable of the soils here in Mark 4:1-25 uses a farm metaphor to demonstrate that failure to receive the gospel is due to the hearts of people, not the seed or the sowers.

The parable in verses 26-29 also uses a farm metaphor to teach about the kingdom of God. In this parable, a farmer scatters the seed into the ground and…. that’s it. He just leaves it there. It doesn’t matter how else the farmer spends his time for verse 27 says, “whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed spouts and grows.”

Once he has done the work of sowing, the land and the seed take over the work and work together. Verse 27c says that the farmer’s planting works even “though he does not know how.” The farmer knows that process of sowing and reaping works, but he didn’t know why it works. He has no idea how the process of germination happens. Neither did I until I read this hideously ugly webpage about it. Once the seed is planted, the process works “all by itself” (v. 28a). If the farmer waits patiently, he will reap the results.

Although the farmer didn’t know how the seed germinates, he knew that it would germinate if he planted it. He did not have to understand the process to benefit from the process.

A lot of effective processes work this way. You do not have to understand the process to benefit from the process.

So what was Christ teaching us about his kingdom here? He was teaching that God will sow the gospel into the world and then it will bear fruit. You and I, the sowers, don’t need to understand how it works, nor do we need to do anything else but plant the seed. We don’t need to “know… how” (v. 27c); God uses the gospel to his work “all by itself” (v. 28a).

Many of us never witness for Christ or we stop witnessing for Christ because we fear failure.

But the only way to fail is not to plant or not to reap. If we stay in the farmhouse, we will fail. If we plant the seed of the word, Jesus said it would work “all by itself” (v. 28).

When was the last time you tried to invite someone to church? When did you last open a spiritual conversation with someone and tell them about Christ? The kingdom is growing and when Christ returns, the harvest will come.

Are you planting anything?

1 Samuel 27, Ezekiel 37, Mark 3

Read 1 Samuel 27, Ezekiel 37, and Mark 3.

This devotional is about Ezekiel 37.

Here we have, perhaps, the most famous vision of Ezekiel—the valley of dry bones. Remember that Ezekiel was a very visual guy so many of God’s messages to him were in the form of stunning, even strange, visions that were highly visual metaphors for spiritual truth. Today’s passage is an excellent example. The Lord took Ezekiel to a valley and put him on the floor of that valley. As he looked in all directions, he saw human bones strewn across the valley (vv. 1-2). Then God asked him a very loaded question: “…can these bones live” (v. 3a)? Wisely, Ezekiel punted on the question; instead of giving a direct answer, Ezekiel deflected the question back to the Lord with the response, “Sovereign Lord, you alone know” (v. 3b). God then commanded Ezekiel to prophesy to the bones that the Lord would bring them to life (vv. 4-6). When Ezekiel obeyed, the bones flew together and assembled full skeletons (v. 7). Then, out of nowhere, they were covered with tendons and muscles and skin so that they looked like people, “but there was no breath in them” (v. 8). 

Ezekiel then spoke again, calling in the name of the Lord for breath to enter these dead bodies (vv. 9-10). All of this would have terrified me, but for Ezekiel it was just another strange vision. At least, that’s how it seems. With this living army of soldiers standing all around Ezekiel, God gave him the interpretation of this vision. It was a vivid picture of how God was going to bring the dead nation of Israel back to life again (vv. 11-13). A change in metaphor (but not in meaning) happened in verse 15. There Ezekiel was commanded to write on two sticks—one to signify Israel and the other to stand for Judah (vv. 15-16). He was then to hold them in his hand so that they appeared to be one stick (v. 17). This indicated that God would not only resurrect Israel, he would reunite it (vv. 18-22). 

Finally, God told Ezekiel some more detail about this incredible prophecy. This people, Israel, who had struggled with idolatry for hundreds of years would finally be devoted to God (v. 23). Furthermore, God promised, “My servant David will be king over them, and they will all have one shepherd.” This is a reference, of course, to David’s greater descendant, the Lord Jesus Christ himself. God promised that, when he came and took the earthly throne of David everything would be different. God’s people would be obedient to him (finally!—v. 24), would live in the promised land forever (v. 25) and would enjoy a thriving existence under God’s eternal covenant (vv. 26-28). This is all a reference to the coming Millennial kingdom of Christ. Despite all Israel’s sins, God has not abandoned his promises to them. Some day, Christ will rule over all. 

It is amazing that Israel still exists today as a people. The Babylonians, the Assyrians, the Philistines, the Hittites have all be assimilated into other cultures and ethnicities. But God’s chosen people still exist; you’ve never met a Midianite but you’ve met more than one Jewish person in your life. All of this is evidence that God is keeping his promise to Abraham; when Christ returns, that promise will be completed. And, by the grace of God, we Gentiles will be included by faith when this happens! 

1 Samuel 26, Ezekiel 36, Mark 2

Read 1 Samuel 26, Ezekiel 36, and Mark 2.

This devotional is about Mark 2.

Who is most deserving of the chance to hear the gospel?

You and I both know the right answer to the question, “Who deserves to be saved?” The right answer is “nobody” because we’re all sinful and guilty before a holy God.

But who among us guilty sinners most deserves to hear the gospel message? If not everyone on earth can receive the gospel witness in his or her lifetime, then who should we evangelize first?

Jesus answered that question here in Mark 2:17 when he said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” This statement of Jesus was in response to the Pharisees’ criticism that Jesus ate with “tax collectors and sinners.” Jesus explained that these sinners received his attention because they needed it the most.

At this point in his ministry, a disinterested observer might argue that Jesus should have spent his time with the Pharisees because they had already demonstrated a clear interest in spiritual things. The sinners he chose to be with, by contrast, had turned away from God’s word. They had heard it in their homes and synagogues growing up but had chosen to live a different kind of life. For these reasons, the Pharisees would appear to have been a more receptive audience to Jesus than the tax collectors and other sinners.

But the key word in that last sentence is “appear.”

The Pharisees were all about appearances and their spiritual interests were about appearing righteous before others, not really becoming righteous. Sinners, by contrast, had the appearance of righteousness ripped from them when they sold out to become tax collectors, or thieves, or prostitutes, or whatever. The benefits they had received at first from their sinful lifestyles were diminishing when Jesus came into their lives and they were now experiencing the heavy costs of a sinful lifestyle. In a society as judgmental and rigid as theirs, it would be impossible to reverse course, stop collecting taxes, and become a respectable man again. These companions of Jesus–these sinners–were ripe for the grace-filled message of repentance and faith. That’s why Jesus wanted to be with them.

Who then is most deserving of the chance to hear the gospel? Well…, all sinners need it, of course, so we shouldn’t be picky when opportunity comes along.

When we intentionally try to reach someone, however, we should think like Jesus did. So many churches have started in our area recently. How many of them are seeking to reach the poorest areas of Ypsilanti. How many are attempting to reach the working class family that is out of work or the single mother on welfare? How many of them are reaching out to the many Muslims who have moved into our area? How many have created prison ministries or outreaches to addicts?

How about our church? Literally surrounded by corn, we are a church located where the suburbs and the farms meet. That’s where God put us so we should try to reach those around us.

We have poor people around us, too, that we serve through our food pantry. There are addicts and alcoholics in every place–urban, suburban, and rural–so we have those around, too. Have we done as Jesus did and looked for people who may be ready to hear about true hope in Christ?

1 Samuel 25, Ezekiel 35, Psalms 105-107

Read 1 Samuel 25, Ezekiel 35, and Psalms 105-107.

This devotional is about 1 Samuel 25.

David was an emotional guy. That is a good thing; we have the incredible gift of so many Psalms that came from the deep feeling he had in his walk with God. Being corrupted by depravity means, however, that most human strengths can also be human weaknesses. In the hands of God, our strengths are great tools for his glory; when in the grasp of our sinful nature, our strengths can do great damage to ourselves and others.

Here in 1 Samuel 25, David asks Nabal, a wealthy rancher, for food (vv. 2-8). David’s request was sent respectfully. David started his message with a friendly greeting (vv. 4-6). He pointed out that Nabal’s sheep had not been forcibly taken by David’s men even though they were hungry and had the opportunity (vv. 7-8a). David did not make demands, but rather asked for “whatever you can find for them” (v. 8b).

Nabal, on the other hand, acted according to his nature (v. 3c) and was, therefore, rude and selfish in his response (vv. 10-11). 

David, emotional guy that he was, reacted with anger to Nabal’s response and was ready to be the warrior that he was (vv. 12-13). David’s response was completely unjustified; Nabal should have been generous to David, but he was under no moral or legal obligation to give David anything. David’s intention to respond with violence to Nabal shows that he was acting out of his sinful nature, not in wisdom, self-control, or in reverence to God.

Fortunately, there were two people who were able to think clearly, rationally, and strategically in this situation.

The first person to act appropriately was an unnamed servant of Nabal who knew all the relevant information about the situation and knew who to contact about the impending threat (vv. 14-17).

The other person who did well was Nabal’s wife Abigail. As soon as she heard what was going on, she quickly formulated and executed a plan. She prepared food for David and his men and went on the road to meet David before he brought violence to her house (vv. 18-22). Where her husband was brash and rude, she was apologetic and reverent (vv. 23-25). Although she may have said more about her husband than she should have (v. 25), she was acting in his best interests. The things she said about Nabal in verse 25 demonstrate her frustration. It must have been very difficult to be married to someone who was as unkind, self-centered, and sinful as Nabal was. Yet Abigail was not defecting from his team and trying to join David’s instead. Although she seems to have dropped a hint of her interest in David (see v. 31b), everything she did in this passage is righteous. It was righteous of her to protect her husband and their household from the danger his foolishness was bringing. It was righteous of her to see what God was doing in David’s life and to dissuade him from sinning against God in a way that would hurt him later (vv. 26, 28-31a). It was righteous of her, having saved her family, to tell her husband what she had done and not keep it secret from him (v. 37). No wonder David wanted to marry her once she became a widow; not only was she “intelligent and beautiful” (v. 3) she was faithful to her husband despite his foolishness and truly acted in his—their—best interest. Because she trusted God and acted righteously in a very tough situation, God brought justice into her life by punishing her husband and bringing her a spouse she could truly admire.

I wonder how many people would have acted this way? I wonder how many people would have just gotten themselves to safety and let David do what he wanted to do? I wonder how many would be tempted to defect to David’s army and overtly court David’s attention, feeling justified that Nabal deserved to get what was coming to him through David? I have talked to enough people with troubled marriages to know how hard it is to do what is right when your spouse does what is wrong. Yet the Lord’s will for his people is not to give up on one’s marriage, betray one’s spouse, or hope for God’s judgment so that you can have another chance at a better life. Your marriage is the most important thing you will do with your life. Read that sentence again: Your marriage is the most important thing you will do with your life. It impacts the lives of your children and the relationships they’ll have with their spouses and children, creating a legacy that, potentially, will replicate itself for generations. If you cultivate a good marriage, your spouse will be there for you when life goes sideways; in fact, he or she may bail you out of your own foolishness just as Abigail did for Nabal. What your spouse says about you and thinks of you may be the most accurate assessment of your life that anyone but God will ever have. Others may be impressed by your professional achievements and think you to be a great man or woman, but if your spouse thinks differently, what does that suggest about you? Wouldn’t it be wise to strive to be the spouse your spouse wants and needs? 

Nabal had so much wealth but apparently took the incredible wife he had for granted. It is easy to do that with any of God’s blessings. Yet for all of Nabal’s problems and failings, she was good and faithful to him until the very end. If you’re mentally comparing your spouse to Nabal after reading this, you’re looking at it the wrong way. Focus on being like Abigail. Do you have your spouse’s back, even when he or she does something foolish? If you have issues with your spouse, are you looking at things objectively or are you too focused on his or her flaws to see what a blessing, overall, he or she is to you? Seek to live like Abigail and ask God to build the same desire in your spouse. 

If you’re single, be wise about who you date. Someone said, “Every date is a potential mate” and that’s a very good, wise way to look at it. If you can’t see yourself married to the person you’re dating, or know that you shouldn’t marry him/her, those are clear signs that you shouldn’t be dating that person. Abigail, likely, had no choice but to marry Nabal with arranged marriages being what they were. You have the freedom to choose your spouse, so look for someone who will bring the same blessing into your life through wisdom, loyalty, and righteousness.

1 Samuel 24, Ezekiel 34, Proverbs 21:1-14

Read 1 Samuel 24, Ezekiel 34, and Proverbs 21:1-14.

This devotional is about Proverbs 21:1-14.

“Get Rich Quick” schemes have a well-deserved bad reputation. If anyone gets rich from them, it is usually the one selling the scheme, not the one buying it or investing in it. In Proverbs 21:5, we read in these words in the last half of the verse, “…as surely as haste leads to poverty.” “Haste” can refer to the desire to get rich “quickly,” but the verse suggests that being in a hurry, generally, is poverty-inducing. When we are in too big of a hurry, we look for shortcuts, we may be tempted to be dishonest, we take foolish risks, we look for big scores through gambling instead of investing for the long-term.

That leads us to the first half of the verse, “The plans of the diligent lead to profit….” “Diligence” is a word that refers to deliberate, careful, conscious effort. It is a word that goes well with the word in the first part of the verse, “The plans” Diligent people make plans. They don’t take their life savings and give them to some guy who calls up offering to invest for them. They don’t make hasty decisions. Consequently, their plans “lead to profit.”

This verse, then, contrasts two diverging paths. The path that looks like a shortcut to wealth leads inevitably to “poverty” while the conscious, careful, deliberate strategy created by the diligent and followed step-by-step leads to profit. These verses are proverbs, of course, so they are not iron-clad promises but rather broad descriptions of what usually happens. Sometimes people put everything on one spin of the roulette table and win big. But, most of the time, people who try to strike it rich fast lose everything. Likewise, sometimes people plan carefully, save diligently, invest wisely and still lose everything. It happens, but not usually.

Is there any area in your life where you are seeking a shortcut to success, a fast lane to easy street? Do you make plans and carry them out or are you in too big a hurry making a living that you never have time to design a life? Consider the warning and the encouragement in this proverb.

Also, remember the tortoise and the hare. You may feel like your plans are taking too long to develop and that you’re way behind. Don’t get hasty. Trust the process of diligence; it usually pays off in the end.

1 Samuel 23, Ezekiel 33, Mark 1

Read 1 Samuel 23, Ezekiel 33, and Mark 1.

This devotional is about 1 Samuel 23.

God had chosen David to be Israel’s next king. David knew this, because Samuel had anointed him (1 Sam 16). Saul’s son Jonathan knew it, and he claimed that Saul knew it as well (v. 17). It was inevitable. Despite Saul’s best efforts to hunt David down and kill him, “God did not give David into his hands.”

This passage demonstrates David’s love for the LORD and his desire to please and obey him:

  • David sought the LORD’s will when the Philistines were attacking a Jewish city (vv. 1-2). He attacked the Philistines and defended them successfully, despite the fears of his men, because the LORD commanded him to do it (vv. 2-5).
  • David sought the LORD when he heard that Saul was coming for him (v. 10), and he believed and acted on what the LORD told him (vv. 11-13).

Why did God subject David to this relentless attack by Saul? Why did David have to wait for many years to become king, given that God had chosen him? Why did David have to travel from place to place to be safe and experience so many close calls (vv. 26-28)?

The answer is not specified in this passage, but it is revealed in many other passages of scripture. The LORD makes us wait and puts us in pressure situations to test our faith. Testing reveals whether we truly trust the LORD or whether we are following him only for the benefits he promised. It

Testing also strengthens our faith and teaches us to pray. When David did become king, he had experiences like this one to look back on. He could remember how God used him in military campaigns to save his people (v. 5). He could remember how God protected him from Saul (v. 14) and how God answered his prayers. These incidents would strengthen his resolve to do what was right when he became king later and they would form a habit of asking for God’s will and God’s guidance in his decisions as king.

But none of this was easy. It must have been discouraging and unpleasant to live on the run the way David and his men did. The Psalms that David wrote while he was on the run show that he struggled with fear as Saul chased him (see Psalms 59 and 63 for two examples).

So it was appropriate and necessary for Jonathan to encourage David, as we’re told he did in verses 15-18. But notice that Jonathan didn’t encourage David by telling him, “Everything will be ok. You’re too good at hiding for Saul to ever find you. He’s getting too old and won’t be around much longer.” In other words, Jonathan didn’t minimize the problem to try to make David feel better.

Instead, verse 15 tells us that Jonathan “…helped him find strength in God.” How did he do this? Two ways:

  1. By telling him not to be afraid (v. 17a). Fear is a natural human emotion, but it is the opposite of faith. When Jonathan told David not to be afraid, he was reminding him of the power of God. The LORD God who had protected David’s life to this point would not fail to keep protecting him in the future. So David had nothing to fear.
  2. By reminding him of God’s promises. When Jonathan told David that he would be king, he wasn’t making up a fanciful wish out of thin air. He was reminding David what God had promised. Samuel had delivered this promise to David when he anointed David. Jonathan believed it and reminded David of it.

What a great friend Jonathan was! Not just because of his humility (v. 17e), but because of his godly heart, solid theology, and determination to bolster David’s faith when his circumstances were bad.

Do you have any Christian friends who are discouraged? Follow Jonathan’s example. Remind him or her that God is all powerful, so there really isn’t anything to fear because the LORD’s will will overcome. Remind your friend, too, of God’s promises: that Christ is coming again for us, that he will raise us again to new life, wipe every tear from our eyes, vanquish his enemies and bring us safely into his kingdom where we will rule and reign forever.

A friend who can speak this kind of encouragement is a godly friend. Help your friends “find strength in God.”

1 Samuel 21-22, Ezekiel 32, Philippians 4

Read 1 Samuel 21-22, Ezekiel 32, and Philippians 4.

This devotional is about Philippians 4.

Paul experienced many difficulties and stressors during his ministry. So, it must have been incredibly encouraging to have the Philippians as his friends. While they had some interpersonal problems (cf. 2:3-4 with 4:2-3), they were loved deeply by the apostle and they returned that love, even sending Epaphroditus to help personally (2:25) as well as financial aid (4:10-18).

There is so much joy in this letter that it is easy to forget that Paul was in prison when he wrote it (cf. 1:12, 17). The Philippians’ friendship and Paul’s imprisonment form the background out of which he wrote the chapter we read today. His imprisonment, particularly, was the circumstance he lived in when he wrote verses 6-7: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

Undoubtedly Paul was a man who had practiced these commands in his own life repeatedly. His command to the Philippians to deal with their fears that way rose out of his own experience as well as from the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.

In verses 8-9 he commanded them to discipline their thoughts toward good and godly things instead of focusing on their problems, complaints or fears.

Many of our negative emotions rise out of undisciplined thinking. We attach meaning to things that happen, then tell ourselves negative stories about the meaning we’ve made up.

It is easy to do and we’ve all done it, at least at certain times in our lives or with certain events of our lives. God’s word, however, gives us a different story–a truthful one–to tell ourselves about anything and everything that happens in life. A sovereign God has ordered the events of your life for his glory and your good. There will be problems, pains, stresses, heartbreak, sorrow, and grief in this life. That’s because this life and this world have been broken by sin, not because God doesn’t love you.

The solution to the problems of life is to trust God’s promise and put your hope in his future kingdom. When it comes, the pains of this life will be forgotten and the perfect life that you and I want will be real; it can never be real until then.

When life tempts you to think thoughts of despair, replace those thoughts with truth: God loves you and redeemed you from the guilt of your sin and the punishment you deserve for it. He is preparing a perfect, eternal kingdom for you and is re-making you into a perfect person by his grace.

While we have much less to fear than the martyrdom that ultimately took Paul’s life, his teaching reminds us that, no matter how little or much we fear, the Lord is waiting to hear our prayers and give us peace as we look to him.

1 Samuel 20, Ezekiel 31, Philippians 3

Read 1 Samuel 20, Ezekiel 31, and Philippians 3.

This devotional is about Ezekiel 31.

This portion of Ezekiel’s prophecy was directed to Pharaoh, king of Egypt. God began by favorably describing Pharaoh’s majesty (v. 2) but then pointed Pharaoh to the nation of Assyria (v. 3). Remember that the Assyrians were once a world power before the Babylonians came along. In fact, it was the Assyrians who defeated the Northern Kingdom of Israel. God used them as an agent of judgment for Israel but they conquered many other Middle Eastern nations as well. The Assyrians were fierce warriors and cruel to their enemies. People and nations feared them, so they had a lofty position, like “a cedar in Lebanon” (v. 3a). Verses 3-9 poetically described the greatness of the Assyrian empire but then in verses 10-11, God described how he punished the Assyrians because they were proud of all they had attained. 

At the end of this description of Assyria’s greatness and downfall, God applied the lesson of Assyria to the Egyptians. Verse 18a says, Yes, you are great. If you were a tree, you’d be mightier than any tree in the Garden of Eden.” Verse 18b, however, says, “Yet you, too, will be brought down with the trees of Eden to the earth below; you will lie among the uncircumcised, with those killed by the sword. “‘This is Pharaoh and all his hordes, declares the Sovereign Lord.’” 

So what was the point of this chapter? It was that Egypt should learn a lesson from Assyria. Egypt was great, yes, but so was Assyria once. Yet God cut them down like a lumberjack fells a tree and he would do the same to Egypt, too, unless they repented. 

There are three ways to become wise: (1) Fear God, believe his word and obey it. (2) Despise God, disobey his Word, then watch as he brings the consequences into your life that he promised for disobedience. (3) Notice how God keeps his promises when he punishes others for their sins and repent because you learned a lesson from them. Egypt had the opportunity to be wise in the third way, but they did not repent at the Word of the Lord from Ezekiel.

You and I should learn from Egypt’s bad example. When we see others sin and suffer the consequences, we should repent if we’re involved in that sin or avoid that sin if we are tempted. If you think you can commit the same sins as someone else but that you will escape the consequences, you are a fool. So learn the lesson of Assyria that the Egyptians failed to learn or learn from the Egyptians. Avoid the sins that destroy the lives of others and, if you’re already involved in them, repent now and ask for God’s mercy.

1 Samuel 19, Ezekiel 30, Philippians 2

Read 1 Samuel 19, Ezekiel 30, and Philippians 2 today.

This devotional is about Philippians 2.

What are some ways we believers in Christ are distinct from the world around us? We have different beliefs about the past and the future, for one. We have different morals that cause us to make different choices and respond differently when we sin. We spend our time and our money differently. We certainly have a different understanding of who God is and what he’s done for us in Christ. These are all important differences, but maybe they don’t distinguish us from the rest of the world as much as we’d like to think that they do.

Here in Philippians 2, Paul invited the believers and us to consider the immense humility and sacrifice of Christ to save us. He urged us to follow Christ’s example by “looking to the interests of others” (v. 4).

But when he wanted to teach us how to stand out from the unredeemed people around us, he commanded us: “Do everything without grumbling or arguing” (v. 14). Living this way “in a warped and crooked generation” would cause us to “shine among them like stars in the sky.” (v. 15).

Let’s face it–people complain a lot.

We complain about the weather, about relatives and friends, about bosses, about what’s required of us in our jobs, about how little we’re paid and how much we pay in taxes.

We complain about having to fix our cars or stuff that breaks at home, about traffic jams and long lines at the grocery stores.

People also argue a lot, too. Look at your Facebook feed. You probably don’t even have to scroll more than once or twice (or at all) before you see two or more people arguing about politics or sports or something else.

Complaining and arguing are symptoms of discontentment. When we complain to someone about their behavior, we’re showing our discontentment with them. Complaining like that is about trying to change that person, to control him or her into acting differently or becoming different in some way.

But, if someone does change that behavior, then we move on and find something else about them that makes us discontent. Complaining about the weather or the traffic, or something else is an expression of discontentment with our circumstances.

Arguing is about being discontent with what we’re getting or not getting. If I argue with a clerk in a store about the price of an item, it is because I am unhappy about the price. If I argue with a co-worker that I’m doing too much of the work on a project that we’re both assigned to do, that’s an expression of discontentment. Arguing comes from having a different point of view in some instances—like sports or politics–but it often results from a feeling of injustice.

Jesus was treated with extreme injustice. He had no sin but was made a sin offering for us. It was quite inconvenient (to say that least) to give up the worship of heaven for the scorn of humanity. If anyone had the right to complain or argue about the glory he wasn’t getting (or the mistreatment he was getting), it was Jesus. But Jesus never complained about anything nor did he ever argue with anyone about anything but truth.

There are many differences between believers and unbelievers but verses 14-15 tell us that the most obvious difference to an unbeliever between us and them is our contentment. As we saw yesterday, Paul was content to live and minister for Christ or die and be with Christ. He was content to remain in prison and give the gospel to the guards or be released to witnesses to another city about Christ. Instead of complaining or arguing, we should find something to give thanks for.

The traffic that frustrates me so much is no fun, but I’m thankful that a car can take me long distances much faster than I could walk them. If you want to shine brightly like the North Star on a pitch black night, learn to speak words of thanks and contentment instead of complaining and arguing. This is a very specific, daily way we can show the difference Christ and faith in him has made in our lives.