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.

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. The other ministries of our church, such as small groups, have even more random and unpredictable attendance by families in our church.

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

If you are following the Old Testament in a year reading schedule, read 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 2:24, “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 you 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) and 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 spent and make some changes for God’s glory and for your own flourishing (v. 3).

Thanks for reading and happy new year!

Revelation 22

Read Revelation 22.

Well, we made it! If this is the first time you’ve ever read through the New Testament in a year, way to go!

And, what a way to end the Bible, with the promise of living with God for all eternity. As verses 3 and 4 put it, “The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads.”

It is interesting, isn’t it, that this chapter describes “the tree of life” on “each side of the river” (v. 2)? This fact recalls the garden of Eden, as the NIV’s section heading suggests. Although God is hidden from us now because of the curse, he has revealed himself in nature, in our conscience, in his word, and in Christ. But his intention has always been to live with humanity. God’s will and his ultimate purpose is to live on earth with humanity. When this chapter is fulfilled, human life will finally exist as God intended.

Until then, we who know God by faith should be waiting for Christ’s coming (vv. 12, 20). While we wait, we have the Word and the Spirit of God with us and, by faith, we should live before the face of God. The way we think, the way we live our lives, the choices we make, and the way we use our time should all be done as consciously as possible that God is with us and is watching us.

Revelation 21

Read Revelation 21.

Now that justice has been done and all unrepentant sinners have received their just penalty, God starts over here in Revelation 21.

This fresh start is different than the one involving Noah and his family. Recall that God judged the world back in Genesis and started over with Noah, his family, and representatives of everything in the animal kingdom. It wasn’t long, however, before sin re-entered the world because Noah and his offspring were sinners. So, humanity’s efforts to start over after the flood had cleansed the earth were unsuccessful.

Here in Revelation 21, God made a new heaven and new earth AFTER he redeemed people to live in it (v.7). God unveiled his new created world and city only after creating a new society of people through the redemption of Christ to live in it. Then–and only then–will God himself “be with them and be their God” (v. 3).

And what a God he proves to be! Instead of enslaving his people and demanding our worship–which he has every right to do–God moves to “wipe every tear from their eyes” (v. 4) to make us his “children” (v. 7b) and to cause the victorious to “inherit all this” (v. 7). Although God’s kingdom is for him–he’s the king, after all, he generously shares it with us and serves us in it even though he is the exalted king. When we arrive there, we will worship God but God will honor us, enlightening us with his glory (v. 23) and comforting all of troubled hearts.

Are you looking forward to that day? Or are you consumed with the things of this world, trying to build yourself a mini-kingdom instead of seeking first God’s kingdom? The eternity God has prepared for those he loves is beyond the ability of even an inspired writer like John to describe. Live for this; it is the only home that lasts forever.

Revelation 20

Read Revelation 20.

This chapter is where we get the doctrine of the Millennium. The word “millennium” is Latin for “one thousand years,” the exact period of time that verse 2b says Satan will be bound. During this one thousand year period, those who were martyred during the Great Tribulation were resurrected (v. 4) and “reigned with Christ a thousand years” (vv. 4, 6).

No Christian likes the idea of being persecuted for Christ; being “beheaded” for him is a gruesome and terrifying concept. Yet, verse 6 says, “Blessed and holy are those who share in the first resurrection” (which is the one described in verses 4-5). The reason they are blessed is that “the second death has no power over them.” Their faith in Christ stood the test of persecution and even martyrdom which demonstrated that it was genuine. Therefore, they are safe forever from the “second death” and, in fact, “will be priests of God and of Christ and will reign with him for a thousand years.”

In contrast to this resurrection, verses 11-15 describe the general resurrection of the rest of mankind (v. 13). These people did not reign with Christ; they were judged by him for how they lived during their time on this earth. (v. 13: “each person was judged according to what they had done”). But notice that the result of this judgment was not based on what they had done; rather, “Anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire” (v. 15). God will judge every sinner at the judgment of the dead and he will describe the reasons why they deserve to be in the lake of fire based on their works. But those who escape that judgment do not escape it because they had good works. Instead, those who escape the lake of fire did so because they were found in the book of life.

This is the gospel; this is the central truth of our faith. An impartial judgment of our works by a just God would ensure that every one of us would be a goner. But God, in his grace, chose some of us–not because of our works but simply because he is gracious. He wrote our names in his book of life so that we would escape this judgment. But, so that he would not be unjust for forgiving us, he sent Christ to pay the penalty for our sins.

If you’ve been reading these devotionals over the last year, it seems very likely to me that you’ve trusted Christ and are following him. But it is possible that you haven’t done that or that you found this page on our website through some other means. Do you understand that, on your own, you have no basis on which God should allow you into his presence after this life is over? You may be a very good person relative to many other people but compared to God, all of us are wicked, fallen, and completely deserving of eternity in a lake that burns with fire.

Do you understand that Christ came into the world to save sinners from this lake of fire? Have you come to God at some time in your life and put your faith fully and only in Jesus Christ? If not, please cry out to God for mercy and ask him to save you because of Jesus’ death on the cross for you.

If you have trusted Christ, remember that God has an incredible, eternal future waiting for you. Whatever problem you face in life today, whatever price you pay for following him will be forgotten when you serve him and reign with him forever. Take hope in that!

Revelation 19

Read Revelation 19.

In Revelation 18 God defeated Babylon. At the end of chapter 19 (vv. 11-21) Christ returned to personally defeat the Beast.

In between these two victories, we read verses 1-10. Have you ever been to a sporting event–a football game or basketball game–where the cheering was so loud and so intense that it muffled every other sound? Verse 1 describes the worship of our Lord in similar language when it says, “After this I heard what sounded like the roar of a great multitude in heaven shouting: ‘Hallelujah! Salvation and glory and power belong to our God, for true and just are his judgments.’” It was “the roar of a great multitude in heaven.” Verse 6 echoes this when it says, “Then I heard what sounded like a great multitude, like the roar of rushing waters and like loud peals of thunder, shouting: ‘Hallelujah! For our Lord God Almighty reigns.’”

It is difficult for us to imagine what eternal life will be like, so language like this helps us get a picture to look forward to. The most exciting game you’ve ever witnessed and cheered for will not compare to the excitement and joy and loud shouts of rejoicing that we will make for our Lord. The most enthralling musical concert you’ve ever witnessed will sound like an out-of-tune middle school band recital compared to how we’ll sing and shout the praises of God.

Eternal life will not be boring; it will be infinitely better every moment than the greatest highlights of your life. This hope of eternal life can carry us, it can help us “hold to the testimony of Jesus” while we wait for him to return. When your life is disappointing or worse, remember what God has promised to us in Christ. Then, sing a song for worship and thanks to him as an expression of hope and faith for that coming day.

Revelation 18

Read Revelation 18.

The judgment that was prophesied for Babylon in chapter 17 was described here in Revelation 18. Nothing specific is detailed about her demise; instead, it was described by angels then mourned by men on earth. But, before he destroyed Babylon, God warned his people to flee it so that they would be delivered from his judgment (vv. 4-8).

There are unbelievers in our world who object to our message by pointing to what they call the genocide of the God of the Old Testament. What is often missed, however, is that God routinely warns the wicked before he brings judgment on them. He warned the world through Noah before the flood, he warned Lot and his family before Sodom was consumed, he warned Ninevah through Jonah, Nebuchdnezzar in Daniel, and so many others. Although God is just when he judges humanity, even his justice is tempered by mercy because he warns people to repent and flee his wrath. Keep this in mind when people object to the gospel, particularly the doctrine of hell. God told us about hell so that we would fear him and receive his grace in Christ to avoid it.

In fact, part of the message of Christmas is that God came down into our world to warn us of his coming judgment and deliver us from that wrath in Christ. As we give thanks for Christ at Christmas time, let’s remember to look for opportunities to warn others around us and show them how to escape God’s judgment through our Lord Jesus Christ.

Revelation 17

Read Revelation 17.

Some people crave political power. They desire to get it either personally by becoming a ruler or collectively by associating with a party in power. Humanity has a long history of using political power to oppress people, particularly people in a disfavored group. In this chapter, the rulers of the world (“kings of the earth”) formed an alliance first with “the great prostitute” (vv. 1-2) then with “the beast” (vv. 12-14). Both of these alliances were oppressive and destructive to God’s people (vv. 6, 14). “The beast” is defined for us as “an eighth king” (v. 11) while “the great prostitute” is identified as “the great city.” God ultimately pits the beast and the prostitute against one another as enemies (vv. 16-17) and, despite the beast’s best efforts, Jesus triumphs over all of these powerful forces (v. 14b) “because he is the Lord of lords and King of kings.”

This is something to remember when you don’t like the powers that control our government. Ultimately all of these powers will fight against Christ and his kingdom but they will not win. So we should never get too attached to any ruler or any political group, whether in power or seeking power. Our allegiance is to Jesus. He is our hope and his kingdom is the one we are waiting for.

I don’t know what bad news we may read about today but I can predict there will be something in the news that you don’t like. Don’t get discouraged; ask God to establish his kingdom. Set your mind and your hope there. Lay up treasure for yourself there and, if we are persecuted, rest in justice of God which will be done when Jesus reigns.

Revelation 16

Read Revelation 16.

Have you ever wondered why people who are dying don’t just pray the “sinners prayer?” After all, if God will save everyone who calls on the name of the Lord, then someone could live a completely selfish, sinful life and be saved just before they reach eternity. So, why don’t more people do that?

One answer is that becoming a Christian is not just about praying some words, like a magic incantation. Receiving the gospel starts with changing your mind which is the act we know theologically as “repentance.” That change of mind requires a work of God in someoane’s heart which causes them to want God instead of sin. If you genuinely want God, you’ll turn to him as soon as you realize that you want him, not wait until the very end of your life. Although there are exceptions, the longer people live, the more hardened they usually become in their sin and rejection of Christ. To receive Christ is to renounce your pride, to admit that you’ve been living wrongly your whole life, and to fall on his grace alone because you’re unable to fix yourself or your situation. Apart from the grace of God, human pride keeps us from such repentance.

This is why the people described in today’s chapter “refused to repent and glorify him” (v. 9, and similar wording in verse 11). Instead of calling for God’s mercy, then, people cursed him for his justice (vv. 9, 11, 21). This is the natural response of humanity to the holiness, righteousness, and justice of God.

This is why we must pray for God to open hearts and change minds so that people will turn to God for grace instead of cursing him for his justice.

Revelation 15

Read Revelation 15.

Verse 1 of today’s chapter celebrates the end of God’s wrath but, before it is completed, there are seven bowls of wrath that will be poured out on earth in the form of plagues. The end is in sight but many horrors would come before the end did.

In verses 3-4, however, the believers who “had been been victorious over the beast” (v. 2b) sang stanzas from Old Testament songs. Why? To remind us and all the world that these expressions of God’s judgment are not acts of cruelty inflicted on innocent people. Instead, “just and true are your ways, King of the nations” (v. 3b). The painful, destructive acts of God are the just payment for disobedience against him.

We need to be reminded of this again and again. When we recoil from the destruction described in these chapters, it is because we are too familiar with sin and too used to excusing it in ourselves and others. While compassion for sinners is always a godly characteristic, so also is a firm commitment to the holiness and justice of God. God’s judgment, then, is something to rejoice over—not because of the pain it brings people but because it points to God’s glory and calls everyone to worship him.