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.

1 Samuel 18, Ezekiel 29, Philippians 1

Read 1 Samuel 18, Ezekiel 29, and Philippians 1.

This devotional is about 1 Samuel 18.

First Samuel 18 presents us with a study in contrasts. Saul was king but David has been anointed his successor. Saul was jealous of David, but David was not jealous of Jonathan, even though Jonathan would be the natural human successor to Saul. David had the Spirit of God on his life; Saul has lost the Spirit’s anointing and was, instead, troubled by an evil spirit. Saul wanted to kill David but David was so humble that he did not consider himself worthy of marrying Saul’s daughter.

Remember that David had already been anointed king by Samuel and had received the anointing power of the Spirit that kings and judges received. There was inevitability about David’s becoming king and, as you would expect, he was ascending in the ranks of the military.

Remember that being king, at this point in Israel, was mostly about fighting battles. That’s what the Israelites said they wanted: “We want a king over us…  to lead us and to go out before us and fight our battles” (1 Samuel 8:19b-20). So the fact that David “was so successful that Saul gave him a high rank in the army” (18:5), and “…in everything he did he had great success” (18:14) and “…all Israel and Judah loved David, because he led them in their campaigns” (18:16) showed how Samuel’s prophecy about David was becoming a reality.

Yet David showed no sense of entitlement. He knew that the kingdom will be his and he saw the fulfillment of that prophecy developing day after day, but he did not assassinate Saul, not even in self-defense (18:11) Also, Saul had promised his daughter to the man who defeated Goliath (17:25) so David was entitled to become Saul’s son-in-law. But David did not demand what was promised to him and even declined the opportunity to marry Saul’s daughter twice (18:18-19, 23) until he finally felt worthy to marry Michal after “skinning” a hundred Philistines (vv. 25-27).

If anyone could have felt entitled–SHOULD have felt entitled–it was David but all we see is humility, humility, humility. That humility was shown in service—fighting Saul’s battles even in far-flung places (v. 13) and playing the harp on demand whenever Saul wanted (v. 10). Why was David so humble and why did he live like a servant? Because he trusted the Lord and walked with him.

Entitlement is one of the most subtle sins that tries to seduce us. I know that the word “entitlement” does not appear in any sin lists in the Bible, but entitlement is simply one manifestation of pride.

An entitled person is one who thinks he deserves whatever he has now, gets in the present and future, and usually thinks he deserves even more. A person who feels entitled usually shows a (1) a lack of gratitude for the things he has and (2) anger about the things he is not getting. A disgruntled employee is often one who suffers from entitlement. Church conflicts are often caused when someone feels entitled. Bratty children and spousal unrest are often the result of entitlement.

The best antidote to entitlement is to realize that everything we have was given to us by God, so we should be grateful for what God gives and wait for what God has promised. If you are suffering from ingratitude and conflict, check your heart. Are you walking with God, thanking him for what he’s given you and seeking to serve him and his children? Or is your mind and heart focused on what you think you deserve that you are not getting?

An entitled person will never live up to his potential because he thinks he deserves things, so he won’t work hard to get them. Consequently, an entitled person is constantly disappointed.

We see that in Saul when the women were praising David more than Saul, the “mighty king” who was too cowardly to fight Goliath (16:6-8).

If you find yourself disappointed, you need to focus on what you’re not giving instead of what you aren’t getting. Maybe your disappointment, your anger, and your ingratitude are the poisonous fruits of self-entitled pride.

1 Samuel 17, Ezekiel 28, Psalms 102-104

Read 1 Samuel 17, Ezekiel 28, Psalms 102-104.

This devotional is about Psalm 102.

The superscript to this Psalm, “A prayer of an afflicted person who has grown weak and pours out a lament before the Lord,” describes verses 1-11 very well. The person who penned this prayer cried out for the Lord’s help (vv. 1-2), then described what his current life felt like in verses 3-11. In verse 10 the phrase, “because of your great wrath,” coupled with verse 16 seems to indicate that the songwriter was writing in response to the Babylonian captivity. He is distressed, then, because God’s judgment has fallen on Judah. Although it was a national event, it affected the Psalmist in a deeply personal way. He was emotionally devastated when he considered his circumstances.

In verse 12, however, he turned his prayer from describing his circumstances to describing God. Despite what had happened, he was confident that God was still ruling the universe securely from his throne (vv. 12, 15) and that he would be merciful and restore the nation (vv. 13-20). Someday, God would be glorified in the land among his people again (vv. 21-22).

The beginning of that restoration was 70 years away, however, and would probably be outside the remaining lifetime of this writer. What hope, then, could he have?

Verse 23-28 answer that question. The Psalmist would not live to see the promises he wrote about in verses 13-22 but he still had hope. His hope was in eternity. Verse 26 told us that this world would come to an end but that would not be the end of God’s people. In verse 28 he wrote,

“The children of your servants will live in your presence; their descendants will be established before you.” – Psalm 102:28

Given that those words came after the Psalmist described the end of heaven and earth, it seems clear that he is describing eternity with God.

Life in this world can be disappointing, even devastating, but this is not the only reality that exist. When we hope in God and believe his promises by faith, we can be confident that a perfect future awaits us in eternity. Let this hope encourage you today no matter what you’re dealing with now or what may happen today. God is still ruling and when this age is over, we will live eternally in his presence.

1 Samuel 16, Ezekiel 27, Proverbs 20:16-30

Read 1 Samuel 16, Ezekiel 27,. and Proverbs 20:16-30.

This devotional is about Ezekiel 27.

Tyre was an incredible place to live. Its location on the shoreline of the Mediterranean Sea made it a pleasant place with sandy beaches and expansive views of the water (vv. 1-3).

Its location on the coast also made it a profitable place to be. Merchants would dock their ships there bringing goods from far away places. People—like the Israelites, for example—who were further inland would go to Tyre to buy what the ships brought; they would also go there to sell what they had to offer. It was a key marketplace for the nation of Israel and her neighbors (vv. 12-25).

Because there was so much interesting merchandise coming and going and so much money changing hands, Tyre was not only a naturally beautiful lakeshore, it was beautiful for human reasons as well. The very best building materials and the best craftsmen constructed an incredible city to live in and to visit (vv. 5-9).

Imagine what it must have been like for the people of Israel to travel to Tyre. They would arrive loaded with wheat, honey, olive oil and balm (v. 17). After selling it all off, they had money in their pockets so maybe they strolled the beaches for a day or two and enjoyed the food and entertainment the city offered.

All that Tyre had, however was taken away from them because of their wickedness (vv. 27-36).

The prosperity they enjoyed could not protect them from the wrath of almighty God.

It is an important lesson for us, too, given that we live in a prosperous nation. As Jesus told the Laodiceans: “You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked.”

When someone has financial prosperity, many material things to enjoy, and a beautiful home situated near a picturesque setting, it is easy to forget God. May God’s word of warning and judgment to them cause us to fear him instead of depending on prosperity.

1 Samuel 15, Ezekiel 26, Philemon

Read 1 Samuel 15, Ezekiel 26, and Philemon.

This devotional is about the book of Philemon.

This is yet another of Paul’s prison letters as we saw in verse 1, “Paul, a prisoner of Jesus Christ….” Verses 1b-2 tell us the recipients of this letter who were, “Philemon… Apphia [almost certainly Philemon’s wife] our sister and Archippus [possibly the son of Philemon and Apphia].” When we take this mention of Archippus and compare it to Colossians 4:17, “Tell Archippus: ‘See to it that you complete the ministry you have received in the Lord’’ we begin to see that Philemon lived in Colossae.

This family was not the only recipient of this letter, however, for the last part of verse 2 says, “…and the church that meets in your home.” Although Paul has a couple of big, generous things to ask of Philemon, he did not want his requests to overwhelm the people too much.

In verses 4-7, Paul described his prayers for Philemon and the others. Then, in verses 8-19, Paul got to the core of the letter–to ask Philemon to forgive his runaway slave Onesimus (vv. 17-19).

After he forgave Onesimus, Paul then wanted Philemon to free Onesiumus so that he could serve with Paul.

But the verse that intrigues me in this chapter is verse 6: “I pray that your partnership with us in the faith may be effective in deepening your understanding of every good thing we share for the sake of Christ.” Paul considered Philemon a partner because of his faithful giving to God’s work (v. 7). But here in verse 6 Paul prayed for a spiritual benefit to come to Philemon. That benefit was that the “partnernership with us… in the faith may be effective in deepening your understanding of every good thing we share for the sake of Christ.” In other words, Paul wanted Philemon’s financial support and prayer investment to strengthen Philemon’s faith. He wanted Philemon to know God better as a result of his “partnership” with Paul’s ministry.

Have you ever considered that serving the Lord and giving to his work could actually be good for you, spiritually? Not only do others benefit from this kind of “partnership” but YOU benefit from it because it “deepens your understanding” of Christ and his mission.

So I have to ask, What is your level of spiritual growth? Did it peak when you were called to be saved or is it growing? If you feel that you are stuck and not growing, then you need to find a place to serve. Serving Christ, investing in his kingdom, is helpful to your spiritual life. So, find a place to serve if you don’t have now already and watch how your understanding of God, his goals, and his people grow as a result.

1 Samuel 14, Ezekiel 25, Colossians 4

Read 1 Samuel 14, Ezekiel 25, and Colossians 4.

This devotional is about Colossians 4:5-6: “Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.”

These verses speak to us about how we speak with unbelievers. Verse 5 encouraged us to to “be wise.” The word “wise” simply refers to skill. In the Old Testament, God called some men who were “wise” in craftsmanship to create the furniture for his tabernacle (see Exodus 31:1-5).

Here, the wisdom we are commanded to have refers to the “soft” skill of communication. Part of our faith, the result of being raised with Christ, means learning how to skillfully talk with unbelievers about Christ. Verse 5b encourages us to think about talking with unbelievers as an “opportunity” that we should “make the most of.” In addition to understanding the gospel message well enough to explain it clearly to someone else, we should develop our conversational skills so that we can speak of Christ in ways that draw the interest of unbelievers. Think about how Jesus skillfully spoke with Nicodemus, the woman at the well, and others about himself. He did not use a canned speech, a one-size-fits-all approach. Instead, he engaged the other person at the level of their own interest and then led them to see that they needed him.

What does this kind of evangelistic conversation look like? Verse 6 says it is “always full of grace.” Grace, of course, is an undeserved gift. In evangelistic conversations, we want to get to God’s grace, to tell people what Christ can give them by faith. But I think Paul means more than just filling our conversation with God’s grace. I think he means that the tone of the conversation is giving so that the unbeliever understands we have something to offer them. We have hope and joy and peace to offer them. We can show them how to truly know God, so the way we speak to them should be inviting, encouraging them to “taste and see that the Lord is good” and that we can “take refuge in him” (Psalm 34:8).

Verse 6 (here in Colossians 4) tells us that these conversations should be “seasoned with salt.” That image tells us that our talks with unbelievers should be stimulating and pleasant. It might be taking the “salt” image too far, but what if “seasoned with salt” means that our talks with unbelievers about Jesus makes them want to talk with us again about him in the future? Of course we don’t ignore the problem of sin or give them reassurances that everything will be OK whether they believe in God or not. Instead, we show them the possibility of a better life–the ability to know God, to feel that he is listening to us, the opportunity to understand why the world is so beautiful but also broken and how the world Christ promises will be the perfect one that we all deeply crave.

What would you need to do to be able to speak the gospel to unbelievers like this? Have you read any books about it or taken a class to learn how to engage in a spiritual conversation like this? This is part of growing in grace–learning to speak gracefully to unbelievers about the grace of God. May God give us opportunities to hone our skills in evangelism and opportunities to practice those skills among unbelievers with hungry hearts.

1 Samuel 13, Ezekiel 24, Colossians 3

Read 1 Samuel 13, Ezekiel 24, and Colossians 3.

This devotional is about 1 Samuel 13.

Although Samuel had retired as a judge, he continued his ministry as priest. In today’s passage, Saul wanted Samuel to come to Gilgal to perform a priestly function, namely to offer sacrifices on behalf of Israel’s army as they went out to fight the Philistines (vv. 7b-8).

It is important, when reading this passage, to realize that Saul’s men—including his son Jonathan—were already engaged battle with the Philistines at Geba (v. 3). The battle was not going well (vv. 6-7b) and the Philistines had shown up in large numbers and with heavy equipment for the fight (v. 5). But instead of attacking and helping their Israelite brothers who were already battling, Saul was told by Samuel to wait for a full week (8a)! Yet even after the full week had passed, Samuel did not arrive.

Fearing an attack at any moment (v. 12a) and wanting the Lord’s favor on them (v. 12b), Saul decided to take matters into his own hands. He offered the sacrifices himself instead of waiting for Samuel any longer (v. 9).

Samuel arrived almost instantly after the offering was given (v. 10) and he confronted Saul about his disobedience (v. 11a). Saul explained his justification for acting as he did: The situation was dire, he had already waited a week, and the timeframe Samuel gave him had expired (vv. 11b-12).

But Samuel had no time for Saul’s explanation. Saul’s act was an act of disobedience. Twice Samuel told him, “You have not kept the command the Lord your God gave you” (v. 9, 13b, 14c). Saul’s act was motivated by fear, not faith. Like all disobedience, it was the result of unbelief. Whenever we knowingly do what is wrong, we believe in that moment that we will be better off doing what seems right to us than what God said.

Also, like Saul, we usually have good reasons for what we did. At least, we have reasons that seem good to us in the moment. If Samuel had only shown up on time for the appointment, none of this ever would have happened. If Samuel had decreed a more reasonable timeframe, one that did not leave God’s people so exposed to attack, Saul would not have disobeyed.

If you recall a major sin in your life, I’ll bet you remember thinking that your sin was justified in this one instance.

Adam and Eve had their excuses, too, and so has every one of us who has ever sinned against God.

Saul may have had his reasons, but God had his own response. Samuel told Saul that, as a result of his choice to sin, his kingdom would not endure (vv. 13-14). He reigned in Israel for forty-two years (v. 1)—a nice long tenure, to be sure. But his son Jonathan would never be anointed king after him, nor would any of Jonathan’s children or any of their generations after.

Remember this:

Our justifications for disobedience may help us dampen our guilty conscience or defend ourselves against the questions and allegations of others, but we are only fooling ourselves, not God.

God is gracious to forgive our sins when we turn to him in repentance, but rarely does God choose to stop the chain-reaction of consequences that our disobedience triggers.

When we feel the pull of temptation in our lives, passages like this one encourage us to trust God and obey instead of following our fear, our desires, our rationalizations. God was more than able to deliver Israel if Saul looked to him in faith and obeyed his commands. He is more than able to take care of you and me if we trust and obey his word, too.

1 Samuel 12, Ezekiel 23, Colossians 2

Read 1 Samuel 12, Ezekiel 23, and Colossians 2.

This devotional is about 1 Samuel 12.

When the people began clamoring for a king in 1 Samuel 8, Samuel took their demands before the Lord. Their desire for a king must have seemed like a personal rejection because God told Samuel not to feel as if he had been rejected: “Listen to all that the people are saying to you; it is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me as their king” (1 Samuel 8:8).  Since Saul had been anointed king, announced as king, and ratified as king, Samuel was ready to retreat from the stage of public leadership.  

Here in 1 Samuel 12 we read Samuel’s retirement speech. In verses 1-2a, he acknowledged that leadership has fully and permanently passed from himself to Saul. In verses 2b-4, he challenged Israel to bring testimony against him. If he had abused his leadership in any way, the victims were now to speak up so that he could finish his administration cleanly by making restitution. No one brought any charges against him (v. 4-5).

But Samuel himself had a charge to make against God’s people. In verses 6-12, he rehearsed briefly Israel’s checkered spiritual history. Then in verses 14-15, he commanded the people to follow the Lord in obedience and warned them about the consequences of their disobedience. He then authenticated his message by calling on the Lord to send thunder and rain out of season which the Lord did (vv. 17-18). God’s people were afraid and felt regret (at least) and begged Samuel to pray that God would not kill them all (v. 19). Samuel reassured them and called on them to be faithful to the Lord (vv. 20-21), then reminded them of God’s covenant of love with them that he established through Abraham. Although God was loving toward his people (despite their lack of faithfulness to him), verse 22 reminded them that God would be faithful “for the sake of his great name.” In other words, to break his covenant with Israel, God would have act contrary to his nature.

Then, in verse 23, Samuel said: “As for me, far be it from me that I should sin against the Lord by failing to pray for you.” That is quite a statement.

First, the people did not ask Samuel to make it a habit of praying for them; they asked him to pray for them now so that they would not die in God’s wrath in that immediate moment (v. 19). Yet Samuel generalized their request and reassured them that he intended to pray for them continually. Secondly, Samuel not only prayed for God’s people because of his love for them, but because it saw it as his obligation. That’s what the phrase, “…that I should sin against the Lord by failing to pray for you” means in verse 23. Prayerlessness could only be a sin if Samuel was obligated to pray for God’s people and refused to do so. Yet, that’s exactly how Samuel saw the situation.

Prayer is a privilege and it is our right as God’s children to do it, but have you ever thought about prayer as an obligation? We live in an age theologically where Christians do not like to talk about obligations. Because many of us grew up in legalistic environments, we have learned to lean on God’s grace in our failings—and we should! God’s grace is all over this passage. It is evident in God’s history with Israel (vv. 6-11) and in God’s mercy for not judging Israel for seeking a king (vv. 17-20). But the reason we need grace is because we fail in our obligations, not because no obligations exist. Grace does not relieve us of the responsibility to obey God’s word. It does not minimize our responsibilities as people who belong to God. Instead, it is an expression of God’s great compassion for us despite our weaknesses and failures. God’s grace is what put us in his favor and it is what keeps us in his favor when we fail to obey him—either through ignorance, or weakness, or direct disobedience.

So whom are we responsible to pray for? Here’s a quick list to think about: your spouse, your children, your parents, your siblings, your nephews and nieces, your pastor, your church, your friends, your ministry team, your neighbors who need Christ, your co-workers, our missionaries, our nation. Are we prayerless toward any or all of these people? Do we seek God’s grace when we do fail to pray for them? 

Remember, too, that Samuel seemed to be wounded emotionally by Israel’s desire for a king. Yet his feeling of rejection did not give him an excuse to stop praying for God’s people. Although Saul was now responsible to lead them and to judge them, Samuel still felt responsible to intercede with God for them. Keep this in mind if you have a parent who wounded you deeply, or a spouse who divorced you unbiblically, or children who denounced you and walked out on you, or anyone else who has wounded you. Since God commands us to intercede and pray for one another (even our enemies—Luke 6:28b), we should realize that the gift of prayer is also, in a sense, an obligation—a command to obey. Here’s an opportunity to think about whom you should be praying for and to ask God’s forgiveness if your prayer life has gone prayer-less.

1 Samuel 11, Ezekiel 22, Colossians 1

Read 1 Samuel 11, Ezekiel 22, and Colossians 1.

This devotional is about 1 Samuel 11.

Considering what became of Saul later in life, it is surprising how powerfully he began as a leader. After being identified as king in chapter 10, Saul may have wondered, “Now what do I do?” Samuel, when he told Saul privately that he would become king, told him, “Once these signs are fulfilled, do whatever your hand finds to do, for God is with you“ (1 Sam 10:7). Not much to go on there, if you were looking for what to do next as king.

Here in chapter 11, however, a crisis jump started Saul’s career as king. The people of Jabesh Gilead were under siege from Nahash the Ammonite. Although they offered to surrender, the terms Nahash said he would accept were inhumane (vv. 1-2). Given how unreasonable his demands were, it is quite surprising that he was willing to give the people of Jabesh Gilead time to seek someone to rescue them, but he did (v. 3).

When Saul heard of this, God guided him just as he had promised to do, and Saul acted quickly. First, he creatively compelled the Israelites to join him as his army (vv. 6-10). Then he attacked the Ammonite army with strategic skill and was effective in defeating them (v. 11). His actions united Israel around him as king to the point that they wanted to execute his detractors (v. 12), but Saul wisely decreed no retaliation against those who had opposed him. Instead, he deflected the attention to God who had chosen and empowered him (v. 13). God used this incident and Saul’s wise leadership throughout it to solidify his kingdom and unify the people under his leadership (vv. 14-15).

This incident illustrates and proves the importance of humility in leadership. Sometimes you need to leverage your position as a leader to get people to move quickly in the right direction as Saul did in verses 7-8. But a leader who is constantly overbearing, who demands respect instead of earning through skillful leadership, and who retaliates against those who question him will eventually weaken his leadership and, probably, lose his position altogether. If you can learn to live with humility, to lead people in the right direction, for the right reasons, to the glory of God, you won’t have to pound on the table and insist that people follow you. You won’t have to humiliate and punish your critics. Instead, people will voluntarily follow you because this kind of leadership is so rare.

Where do you serve as a leader now? In your workplace, your ministry here at Calvary, your home as a parent, or somewhere else, someone looks to you for leadership. At times you may need to be bold and dramatic, but if you are godly and effective at what you do, God will reward you. Your reputation and your following will grow because you will be a leader who serves. Think about how these truths can impact your life in your leadership role today.

1 Samuel 10, Ezekiel 21, Psalms 99-101

Read 1 Samuel 10, Ezekiel 21, and Psalms 99-101 today. This devotional is about Ezekiel 21.

This devotional is about Ezekiel 21:6-7: “Therefore groan, son of man! Groan before them with broken heart and bitter grief. 7 And when they ask you, ‘Why are you groaning?’ you shall say, ‘Because of the news that is coming. Every heart will melt with fear and every hand go limp; every spirit will become faint and every leg will be wet with urine.’ It is coming! It will surely take place, declares the Sovereign Lord.”

God is holy and God is just.

God’s holiness means that he is separate from sin so he hates sin and loves righteousness.

His justice means that every sin must be appropriately punished. All is right within God’s creation when sin is punished. 

Despite these truths, we should not conclude that God enjoys the suffering that his judgment brings to people. Just the opposite is true:

God is satisfied when justice is done but he mourns the pain and suffering that just punishment brings to his creation.

In these verses, then, God commanded Ezekiel to groan and express sadness, grief, and fear for the judgment of God that was coming on his people. 

Similarly, as Christians we should feel a sense of satisfaction when justice is done but also empathize with the sinner who experiences the pain and loss that come with judgment. That empathy can best be expressed through the gospel of Christ. In Christ, every bit of God’s wrath was poured out in justice but it fell on our Lord Jesus Christ rather than on us sinners. Because God’s justice has been satisfied, mercy, grace, and forgiveness are possible. When we groan and grieve for sinners, God’s love and the offer of forgiveness in Christ is expressed. If God is pleased, then, sinners can be saved.

Do you empathize with criminals when they are found guilty and sentenced for their crimes? Or, are you happy in a vindictive way for their suffering? The people Ezekiel prophesied to were wicked people who deserved every bit of God’s judgment that they got. Yet God ordered his prophet to “groan before them with a broken heart and bitter grief” because God loves his creation. Are we developing that ability in our hearts? Do we truly “love the sinner but hate the sin” or do we secretly hate the sin and the sinner too?

1 Samuel 9, Ezekiel 20, Proverbs 20:1-15

Read 1 Samuel 9, Ezekiel 20, and Proverbs 20:1-15.

This devotional is about Proverbs 20:4: “Sluggards do not plow in season; so at harvest time they look but find nothing.”

A sluggard is someone who is sluggish. It is a word that describes a person’s work habits, or, to be precise, his lack of work habits. A sluggard is lazy. He avoids work as much as possible and, when he does work, he moves at the slowest possible pace. When I was in college, I worked landscaping for two summers. We called one of the guys I worked with “two speed.” He never asked why we called him that, but we called him that because he had two speeds–slow and slower. He dragged his feet at everything, so working with him was a drag for the rest of us.

The book of Proverbs contains many sayings about sluggards. This one tells us that sluggards “do not plow in season.” Plowing was hard work. If you didn’t have a donkey to pull the plow, it was really hard work. But it had to be done so that you could plant and, later, reap. This proverb says that sluggards won’t “plow in season.” They avoid doing the hard work of breaking up the ground “in season,” meaning at the time when it should be done. Instead of starting early in the semester on a term paper, the sluggard does nothing. He waits until the night before the paper is due to get started. Or, if he’s in the workforce, the sluggard doesn’t follow up on customer calls or sales leads quickly. He doesn’t get to work when the work shows up. Instead, he shuffles papers, talks to colleagues, gets more coffee, writes another to do list, or does anything he can to appear working without actually doing the productive thing.

What is the consequence of being sluggish about one’s work? The last part of Proverbs 20:4 says, “…so at harvest time they look but find nothing.” For the lazy student, it is failing a class or not getting nearly as good a grade as the student could. For the lazy worker, it means missing promotions and raises or being the first to get laid off when the company needs to cut costs. The point is that the lazy person fails to get results. The lack of results are not because the sluggard lacked ability; instead, it is because he did not work when he could have worked. He avoided the hard work, so the results avoided him.

Are you a sluggard anywhere in your life? Are you dragging your feet, procrastinating on tasks that really need to be started or completed soon? A sluggard must live on the kindness of others, such as a boss who is too compassionate to fire him or a relative who can’t bear to let his family member get evicted, or become homeless, or accumulate debt to have food to eat and clothing to wear.

There is a type of sluggard that we Christians sometimes meet. That sluggard says, “The Lord will provide” or “I’m waiting on God” instead of working or seeking work or just putting basic effort into life. It sounds spiritual, but it is just a covering for laziness. There are times when we do have to wait on God because we’ve done everything we can. But, too often “waiting on God” is justification for doing nothing.

We do need God to provide. The anti-sluggard may plow diligently, plant and cultivate carefully, and still miss the harvest because of drought. Hard work usually pays off, but not always. There are circumstances that only God can control.

But from the very sixth day of creation, when God created man, his will was for humanity to work. God provides for us most often by us putting effort into our work. So, don’t procrastinate today. Don’t make excuses or avoid doing hard things.

In fact, if there is something you’ve been avoiding–a phone call you need to make, a problem you need to address, a client who has been waiting too long–do that first today and stick with it until it is done. That’s the way to become an anti-sluggard, a believer who lives a work-life that is pleasing to God.

1 Samuel 7-8, Ezekiel 19, Ephesians 6

Read 1 Samuel 7-8, Ezekiel 19, and Ephesians 6.

This devotional is about 1 Samuel 7-8.

I don’t know about you, but I always think of Samuel as a priest. It is true that he served in that role (see 7:10), but the Bible speaks of him more as a judge—think guys like Samson, Gideon, and other characters from the book of Judges—than as a priest (see 7:15 where he is called a “leader”).

Although he attempted to install his sons as as judges (8:1-2), they failed morally (v. 3) and were rightly rejected by the people (vv. 4-5). So Samuel was Israel’s final judge. After him, kings took over.

Samuel was also Israel’s best judge, even though he and Deborah were the only non-military judges. The quality that Samuel and Deborah shared was spiritual: they feared God and judged justly as a result. Yet, godly as he was, Samuel’s own sons used their position as leaders for personal gain rather than to serve God’s people. Instead of becoming a spiritual dynasty, Israel continued the same cycle of deliverance in one generation and disobedience in the next.

One thing we’ve learned in the past three chapters of 1 Samuel is that God did not need a military ruler to defend himself or his people. Although God had decreed that battle would be the usual way that Israel secured and defended the land promised to them, their military successes were secured by God. He kept his promise to fight for them, as we see 7:7-12.

Yet despite God’s supernatural work on their behalf, Israel did not ask him for another godly judge like Samuel. They asked for (and, indeed, insisted on) a king (8:6, 19-20). Note their reason for wanting one: “Then we will be like all the other nations, with a king to lead us and to go out before us and fight our battles.” I have heard people emphasize the first phrase, “Then we will be like all the other nations…” and warn against wanting to be like the world. But I think the key phrase is the next one: “…with a king to lead us and to go out before us and fight our battles.”

Remember that God had told Samuel that their desire for a king was a rejection of him as their king (v. 7). God had shown himself more than capable of protecting and providing victory for his people if they followed his word, obeyed his leaders (like Moses, Joshua, Samuel, etc.), and—believing his promise to go before them—fought in faith.

Although Samuel spelled out for Israel the high costs of having a human king (8:10-18), they chose to pay dearly for one to do the dirty work instead of believing God and fighting based on his promises.

We have the same kind of problem, frankly. God has given to each of us, as believers, his word, his Spirit, and his church. “His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us” (2 Peter 1:3). But how often do we want someone else to fight our spiritual battles for us—our parents, our spouse, our elder, some devotional writer, or someone else. Yes, we need leadership and all the people I mentioned in the previous sentence can and should provide spiritual leadership for us. But that’s all they can do for you.

Consider this: I have always taught that people need to be in God’s word daily. That idea is not remotely unique to me; you knew that already if you’ve been a Christian for any length of time. But it is easy to lose our way, to develop habits that crowd out Bible reading, or just to be overwhelmed with the task of finding a plan. I know how it is, so I created this devotional. Everyday it arrives in your inbox; all you have to do is click on the link and read the passages. If you don’t want to read all the chapters, you can just read the one I’m commenting on. And, I write enough to hopefully get you thinking about what the passage means and how it might apply to your life. I do this because, as your pastor, I want to provide you with some tools to help you grow. That’s my role as a leader.

But I can’t come over to your house and read the passage to you. I can’t make you listen to it, I can’t make you think about it, and I can’t force conviction of sin on you.

I also can’t force you to obey what the Word says. Sometimes, though, people seem to think that I should; they think I have some magic power that can make them live a godly life. They think I should be calling them if they don’t come to church. Or they sometimes seem to think that my words or my presence or my prayers can cause them to do something they don’t want to do.

It doesn’t work like that.

God has given you everything you need to develop into a godly man or woman. He will do some of the work for you—purging and purifying your desires through conviction of sin and causing you to realize areas where you still need to grow through trials and discipline. But he’s promised us that we can overcome sin by the new nature he’s planted in us (see 1 John 2:1-6). It takes faith to believe that promise of God, then obedience to God’s word to make it happen. You can look all you want to someone outside of you, but only you can walk with God.

1 Samuel 5-6, Ezekiel 18, Ephesians 5

Read 1 Samuel 5-6, Ezekiel 18, and Ephesians 5.

This devotional is about Ezekiel 18.

Way back in the Ten Commandments God had said, “I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me…” (Ex 20:5). God said that to explain his command against making graven images to worship. It sure seems like God said that one generation sins but the generations that follow will pay the price for those sins by receiving God’s judgment.

The people in Ezekiel’s time seem to have interpreted God’s law that way. They believed they were being defeated and deported into exile by the Babylonians because of the sins of their parents. They even created a little proverb for their pity parties, which we read here in Ezekiel 18: “The parents eat sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge” (v. 2). Translation: “This bitter defeat and exile is all mom and dad’s fault! They drank the Drano but we’re the ones throwing up!” [Note: Do not drink Drano. Or Liquid Plumber.]

God used their pitiful proverb to raise the issue of responsibility here in Ezekiel’s prophecy, chapter 18. God promised to stop their proverb from spreading in Israel (v. 3) by teaching the people that the judgment they received was due to their own sins. Starting with Adam and Eve, people who are called to account for their sins have usually looked to shift at least some of the blame to someone else.

Here the Lord spoke through Ezekiel to tell him that God’s judgment falls on those who deserve it (v. 4c). He then illustrated this truth over three generations from one family. The patriarch of this family was a righteous man (v. 5) whose righteousness manifested itself in multiple ways (vv. 6-9a). God decreed then, “That man is righteous; he will surely live” (v. 9b).

Despite his righteousness, he had a son who was a very wicked man (vv. 10-13a). About him God said, “…he is to be put to death; his blood will be on his own head” (v. 13b). The sinful man’s son, however, followed his grandfather’s righteous steps, not his father’s wicked ways (vv. 14). His righteous life was despite the fact that he “…sees all the sins his father commits, and though he sees them, he does not do such things” (v. 14b). Verses 17c-18 say, “He will not die for his father’s sin; he will surely live. 18 But his father will die for his own sin, because he practiced extortion, robbed his brother and did what was wrong among his people.”

Verses 19-30 are a restatement and defense of the principle that God will punish each person for his own sins. The point for the Jewish people in Ezekiel’s day was stated in verses 30b-32: “Repent! Turn away from all your offenses; then sin will not be your downfall. Rid yourselves of all the offenses you have committed, and get a new heart and a new spirit. Why will you die, people of Israel? For I take no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Sovereign Lord. Repent and live!”

This is why God’s word speaks so directly and forcefully to us about our sins, allowing us no exceptions, excuses or blame-shifting. It isn’t that God wants to punish us; it’s that he DOES NOT WANT to punish us.

It assaults our pride to repent and take full responsibility, but it will save us so much pain if we simply repent and fall on God’s mercy.

If all of this is true, then what does Exodus 20:5, “I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me…” mean?

It means that sin often has consequences beyond the first generation. Those consequences are an indirect punishment.

Think about it this way: If one man kills another man and goes to prison for murder, he pays for his own crime. However, his children also pay. Although neither God nor the state hold the murderer’s children responsible for his crimes, they suffer the loss of their father, a bad reputation in the community, and the loss of his provision for the family. Those children are not responsible for his sins but they are paying a price for them.

Exodus 20:5 is a warning, then, about the snowball effect of sin on your children; it is not a promise that God will be vindictive.