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.

Leviticus 5, Song of Songs 8, Luke 20

Read Leviticus 5, Song of Songs 8, and Luke 20.

This devotional is about Luke 20:45-47: “While all the people were listening, Jesus said to his disciples, 46 ‘Beware of the teachers of the law. They like to walk around in flowing robes and love to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces and have the most important seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at banquets. 47 They devour widows’ houses and for a show make lengthy prayers. These men will be punished most severely.'”

Do you have a role model? Is there someone you look up to, someone whose life you’ve patterned your life after? Did you want to be like one of your parents or grandparents as you were growing up? Is there someone whose career you’ve emulated?

What about in your spiritual life? Do you have any spiritual role models–someone who led you to Christ or someone else who discipled you? Maybe you look up to a pastor or author whose work has been helpful to you in your walk with God?

There is nothing wrong with admiring someone else and patterning your life after theirs. In fact, there are many good things about it. A good mentor can help you avoid making mistakes in your life or career or walk with God by showing you some of the mistakes they’ve made or have seen others make. A good example can help you apply God’s word to your life when you’re not sure what to do in a certain situation.

The problem with heroes is not that we have them but that we choose them poorly. Here in Luke 20, Jesus cautioned the disciples not to choose the teachers of the law as their heroes. In fact, Jesus told the disciples to “Beware” of them. The scribes were people who had studied God’s law and had copied it by hand so that God’s word could be preserved and disseminated. They wrote commentaries about scripture and could apply to people’s lives. They could write contracts and were supposed to help people know what God’s will was, based on the Law. Every town had scribes and, because they were better educated and consulted for their expertise, may people looked up to them.

The scribes liked the attention and status that being a scribe gave them, so they cultivated that attention can continually sought more of it. That’s why Jesus said in verse 46, “They like to walk around in flowing robes and love to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces and have the most important seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at banquets.” Their clothes (“flowing robes”) called attention to themselves. They had high expectations about how people would speak to them (“…love to be greeted with respect,” v. 46) and where people would seat them (“…the most important seats,” v. 46). They also acted spiritually for attention because Jesus said, “…for a show [they] make lengthy prayers” in verse 47. It would be easy to look up to men who were so learned, so dignified, and so spiritual.

But, Jesus said, these scribes “devour widows’ houses” (v. 47). This means that they used God’s law to exploit people who were weak and unable to retaliate. They could string some of God’s commands together or use logic to create “principles” that allowed some to take advantage of others. Instead of being servants and wise leaders to God’s people, they made themselves powerful and used their power for their own benefit.

Business leaders and politicians in our times find ways to do this. Did you ever wonder how someone could be a U. S. senator for decades, making a good but not lavish government salary, and yet become a multimillionaire? Isn’t it interesting that billionaires fly in private jets all over the world but cry about how fossil fuels and consumerism are destroying the planet?

What about pastors who buy expensive homes, drive new luxury cars, and live well while telling people that they need to give more? Many people look to others for leadership but our “leaders” are experts in seeking attention, promoting themselves, and getting rich at the expense of taxpayers and faithful givers.

Some people who lived this way get exposed in the media. But other people who live this way may die with their wealth and respect in tact. Jesus said, “These men will be punished most severely” (v. 47). Each of us must stand before a holy God who knows everything we did, how we’ve lived, as well as all of our reasons and motivations. There will be justice for self-centered hypocrites who expose others, but it may not happen in this life.

Still, Jesus told his disciples to “beware” of such people. That means you and I should be careful about who we admire. Do our heroes work hard to look and seem heroic? Do they seek attention more than they seek to do good work, to cultivate personal godliness, and sincerely help others?

What about us? Do we do things to get attention and seek the admiration of others? God knows our hearts and our motives. We must ask him to reveal and root such pride out of us and give us genuine hearts to love and serve him.

Leviticus 4, Song of Songs 7, Luke 19

Read Leviticus 4, Song of Songs 7, and Luke 19.

This devotional is about Leviticus 4.

This chapter of scripture prescribed how the people of Israel were to atone for their sins. The commands in this chapter are tailored to the type of person who sins:

  • an anointed priest who sinned was required to bring a young bull for his sin offering (vv. 1-12). His sacrifice was more costly than that of the other individuals in this chapter because he was guilty of “bringing guilt on the people” as their representative before the Lord.
  • if the whole nation sinned, they too were required to sacrifice a young bull as a sin offering for the whole community (vv. 13-21).
  • if a leader sinned, he was required to sacrifice a male goat (vv. 22-26).
  • if an everyday Israelite sinned, that person was to bring a female goat (vv. 27-31).

There are several things that are worth noting in this chapter, but let’s focus on this one: for all four types of people described in this chapter, the sinner (or his/her representative) was required “to lay his hand on its head” (vv. 4, 15, 24, 29, 33) just before it was slaughtered.

Why?

Because the animal was about to serve as the sinner’s substitute. When a sinner placed his hand on the animal’s head, he was symbolically transferring his guilt to the animal who would then die in the sinner’s place.

This gesture would remind the person offering the sacrifice how serious sin is. Because of his or her sin, something living and innocent would die. Although the expense of animal life was bloody and costly, it was a merciful concession by God to allow the sinner to live by accepting another’s death as a substitute.

All of this pointed toward Jesus who died as our substitute on Good Friday. Animals can’t really substitute for sinful people; only another human could die in our place. But just as each animal had to be perfect (“without defect” — vv. 3, 23, 28, 32), so only a perfect man could truly substitute for sinners.

This is what Jesus did for us! Therefore, we can know that our sins are truly and eternally forgiven. Jesus, the perfect sacrifice, stood in our place, accepted the guilt of our sins, and was punished by God as our substitute. This is why we are accepted by God and can worship him today.

Leviticus 2-3, Song of Songs 6, Psalms 39-41

Read Leviticus 2-3, Song of Songs 6, Psalms 39-41.

This devotional is about Psalm 39.

Psalm 39 is a lament, a type of Psalm where the song expresses sorrow to God.

Usually Psalms of lament express sorrow regarding Israel as a group. This one, however, is an individual lament so the psalmist is sorrowful about his own individual pain and problems. Unfortunately, the psalm tells us nothing about what his problems were. Aging? Disease? Personal betrayal? A crisis of faith?

Your guess is as good as mine.

Clearly, though, something was deeply bothersome to him and affected his relationship with God. Although he was determined not to lose his testimony by saying something against God in the presence of the wicked (vv. 1-2a), he could not contain his pain completely. In verses 2b-11, he cried out to God. He asked God for wisdom in managing his life as he senses his days were few and fleeting (vv. 4-6). Then he asked God for salvation from whatever was oppressing him (vv. 7-13). He seemed to regard the problem as God’s discipline in his life (v. 11, 13a) and he begged God to remove it from him as the Psalm closed (v. 13b) so that he could enjoy what little time he had left in life. Unlike so many Psalms that end with an encouraging note of hope and confidence in God, this one ends with one man’s desperate plea for God’s help.

A Psalm like this may not stimulate us to worship, but it is helpful for us as believers. It shows us that there is an emotional range to our prayers that is much greater than we think is allowable or safe. Our praying tends to be very cautious, very measured, and very predictable. We’ve been taught that it is OK to ask God to save people, to ask God for healing, to ask God for his will to be done, to ask God to bless and help us. Of course these are biblical ways to pray, but Psalms like this show us that there is so much more.

God desires for us to speak to him from the heart. While we should remember that he is the Creator and we are the creation, we should also remember that he is our Father, that he loves us and wants us to pour out our hearts in humble dependence on him. Your questions, your tears, your screams of pain and anguish are not inappropriate expressions for God; they are a sign of your authentic faith. So, if you’re hurting, confused, sad, desperate, or whatever emotion you’re feeling, God gave you the gift of prayer so that you can speak to him from the heart. So, speak up!

Leviticus 1, Song of Songs 5, Proverbs 9

Read Leviticus 1, Song of Songs 5, and Proverbs 9.

This devotional is about Proverbs 9.

This chapter in Proverbs continues comparing wisdom to a woman and folly is also compared to a woman. You remember from high school, maybe, that this is a literary device called “personification.” Solomon has already “personified” wisdom as a woman; now folly is also personified as a woman. I will refer to them as “Wendy Wisdom” and “Polly Folly.”

Both of these women call out to people “from the highest point of the city” (v. 3b, 14b). This means that their invitations are broadcast and can be heard from far away.

They both invite people to come in to their homes and eat. Wendy Wisdom offers her own nourishment (vv. 4-5). It is the nourishment of a godly life (v. 10) which results in a disciplined life. Like healthy food, it isn’t always the most tasty, but it is healthy and will extend your life (vv. 6, 11).

By contrast, Polly Folly offers “stolen water… and food eaten in secret” (v. 17). This is a reference to sin. It is immediately enjoyable, even addictive, but like all addictions, it will kill you (v. 18).

In between the contrasts offered by these two women, Solomon talked about correction. There are two kinds of people: those who reject correction (vv. 7a, 8a) and those who accept correction (v. 8b).

Those who reject correction will turn and attack the person who tries to give it to them. If you’ve ever tried to show someone a problem in their life and they turn and accuse you of being unloving, unkind, critical, judgmental or the bad guy, this is the kind of person you’re dealing with. Of course, there are some people in the world who are unloving, unkind, critical, judgmental, and bad guys. The difference is in the motivation and delivery of the person bringing correction. A loving person cares about you; they want to see you avoid sin or help you get unstuck from a sinful situation, habit, or temptation. They speak up because they want to help you not to hurt you. Those who are unloving, unkind, critical, etc. just want to hurt you. It is the difference between a surgeon who cuts you open with a scalpel and a solder who cuts you open with a sword. Both of them are cutting–which wounds you–but they have very different motivations and results.

The person who accepts correction is wise (v. 8b) and is on a pathway to greater wisdom (v. 9). On one level he may love the sin you are correcting him for, but as a believer, he will recognize his sin is wrong and that it will bring pain and destruction if he persists in it. So your correction will help him grow and he “will love you” as a result (v. 8b). All of this points again to the importance of humility. People resist correction out of pride but those who are too proud to accept correction will eventually pay a much more painful price than wounded pride.

If you want to be wise, you have to start by being humble. Humility calls us to fear the Lord (v. 10) which “is the beginning of wisdom” but we progress down that path by continuing to accepting the truth in humility. That truth may come from the correction of God’s word or the correction of another person but if it is true, we should receive it even though it hurts.

Did you receive any correction this week–any criticism from your boss or a complaint about your actions or character? Criticism delivered lovingly is easier to take, but even our harshest critic can still help us onward toward wisdom if we have the humility to accept the criticism and change accordingly.

Exodus 40, Song of Songs 4, Luke 18

Read Exodus 40, Song of Songs 4, and Luke 18.

This devotional is about Luke 18.

The major theme of this chapter is humility. That theme comes out more clearly in some of the paragraphs of this chapter than in others. But consider this:

  • In verses 1-8 Jesus commanded us to pray persistently, like a woman who kept badgering a judge for justice. It takes humility to pray. It also takes humility to keep praying without giving up.
  • In verses 9-14 the tax collector was justified instead of the Pharisee because “those who humble themselves will be exalted” (v. 14c).
  • In verses 15-17 you have to become helpless like a child in order to enter the kingdom. Verse 17: “Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.”
  • In verses 18-30 the rich man refused the kingdom of heaven because Jesus told him to sell everything. Selling everything would have humbled him, making him dependent on God.
  • Verses 31-34 doesn’t seem to fit the theme of humility except that Jesus’ death required him to humble himself, so maybe that’s why Luke included this passage in this spot.
  • In verses 35-43 the beggar was not too proud to stop calling out to Jesus asking for his sight. His personal dignity and reputation among others were less important to him than receiving this healing from Jesus.

Let’s focus on verses 9-14 for this devotional.

This is a parable about two men–a Pharisee and a tax collector. Both men went to the temple (v. 10a). Both had a purpose for going to the temple–“to pray” (v. 10a).

The similarities end there. The Pharisee intended to pray, but what he really did was praise himself in the presence of God. Sure, he started his prayer with, “God, I thank you….” But the things he “thanked” God for were all action-based: that he was “not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector” (v. 11). Instead, he “thanked” God that he fasted twice a week and paid his tithes scrupulously (v. 12). In other words, he wasn’t really thanking God for God’s blessings. He was bragging to God about what a blessing he had made of himself.

These days, we call this “the humblebrag.” For example, “I can’t believe I aced that math test. I didn’t study for it at all!” The implication is that the test-taker is so good at math and so brilliant that he can outperform his class without even trying.

The other man had no reason to brag. He had no reason to believe that God would do anything for him. He was a sinful man and he knew it. He was so smitten by his sin that he called himself a sinner and cried out for God’s mercy (v. 13). Jesus said that the truly humble man–the sinning tax collector–“went home justified before God” (v. 14c). He was justified because God is a merciful God and his mercy is extended to the humble. “For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

Are you a humble person?

Really?

When you sin against another person, do you seek that person’s forgiveness, in addition to God’s forgiveness? Or, do you avoid owning up to your sin?

When you make a bad decision in your life, do you confess it to your spouse or your boss or whoever is in a position to help you and forgive you? Or do you blame someone else or say, “At least what I didn’t isn’t as bad as what he did.”

Humility is required for salvation. It takes an act of God on your stubborn will to turn us in repentance and faith.

But many blessings in life can be had with some humility:

  • Admitting to your math teacher that you don’t understand and need some extra help.
  • Admitting to your boss when you make a mistake or bad decision and need help correcting it.
  • Admitting to your parents that you were a rebellious (or sneaky) teenager who broke the rules and put your life on a wicked path.
  • Confessing your sins to a friend that you alienated and seeking his or her forgiveness.

My favorite jazz artist, Wynton Marsalis, says, “The humble improve.” In his context, that means a humble musician realizes that he has a lot to learn and a long way to go. So, he keeps practicing, keeps taking lessons, keeps listening to his teachers.

Compared to God, none of us is very virtuous, forgiving, kind, generous, or pure. When we remain aware of our sinfulness, we will not brag to God or others about our spiritual lives; instead, we’ll keep crying out for God’s mercy and help. And God will answer, forgiving us and helping us find new levels of growth.

Where do you need to humble yourself today in order to grow?

Exodus 39, Song of Songs 3, Luke 17

Read Exodus 39, Song of Songs 3, and Luke 17.

This devotional is about Luke 17.

Each one of us is responsible for himself or herself. When you stand before God, you will give an account of your life. You will not answer for the sins of others nor will you be able to shift blame to others for your sins.

But…

…none of us lives alone, unaffected by others or able to avoid affecting others. In verse 1a-b, Jesus acknowledged that: “‘Things that cause people to stumble are bound to come….'” The word “stumble” in verse 1 means to sin. The first part of verse 1, then, says that people cause other people to fall into sin. Just as Eve gave the forbidden fruit to Adam, people continue do things that entice others to sin. Adam was responsible for his choice to sin but Eve was held responsible for her sin and her role in Adam’s sin. 

So, fact one is that sinners lead other sinners into sin. No one can make another person sin but we can cause others to sin by leading them into temptations that their sinful natures cannot resist.

When we do that–when we entice others to sin and they choose that sin–we’ve sinned, too. That’s what Jesus meant when he said, “…but woe to anyone through whom they come” in verse 1c. Verse 2 goes on to say that there will be severe punishment for those who entice others to sin so, as verse 3 says, “So watch yourselves.”

One of the ways we entice others to sin is by sinning against others. If I insult you and you punch me, we’ve both sinned but my sin provided you with the occasion for your sin. But instead of choosing to sin when we are sinned against, Jesus taught us the right way to respond in verse 3b: “If your brother or sister sins against you, rebuke them; and if they repent, forgive them.”

This, then, is how we should treat each other. Be careful not to put others in the way of temptation. Don’t recommend actions that cause others to feel tempted, don’t sin against them and give them the occasion to sin themselves. Finally, if someone sins against you, resist the temptation to sin yourself and, instead, call them into accountability and invite them to repent and receive your forgiveness.

It is impossible for anyone of us not to lead others into sin so the “woe” that Jesus announced in verse 1c applies to all of us. The word “woe” describes the kind of deep sorrow that comes from knowing you are under the wrath of God for your sins. Jesus told us, then, that we are in big trouble.

By God’s grace, however, Jesus is also the way out of that trouble. He took our “woe” before God by his death on the cross. We all can (and do) lead others to sin but in Christ, our sins are forgiven.

Now that they are forgiven, we have the power to deal with sin properly. We should think about how our lives might tempt others–our families, friends, co-workers, etc. By the power of God’s Spirit, we should strive to live a life that doesn’t trip anyone else up and we should deal with the trip hazards others put in front of us with loving confrontation and forgiveness.

Have you knowingly enticed someone else to sin? Have you seen in hindsight how your actions created a sin situation for someone even though you did not intend it? Seek God’s forgiveness and reconciliation with that person if possible. Then “watch yourself” (v. 3a) in the future.

Has someone put temptation into your pathway? Can you learn to bring correction to those who sin against you instead of justifying your sinful response?

These are challenging truths for us but they important ones for us to live by. Blessed is the person who is careful not to cause others to be tempted. Blessed, too, is the person who can resist temptation and restore to righteousness the brother or sister whose sin caused your temptation.

How much better would the world be if we disciples of Christ responded to sin in these ways?

Exodus 38, Song of Songs 2, Luke 16

Read Exodus 38, Song of Songs 2, and Luke 16.

This devotional is about Luke 16.

At the end of this chapter we learned about a rich man, unnamed, and a poor man named Lazarus (vv. 19-31). As rich people do, the rich man lived a comfortable life; conversely, Lazarus the poor man lived a painful, uncomfortable life. Despite his disadvantaged financial standing and the difficulties that poverty created for him, he trusted in God.

When death came to both men, their previous situations were reversed. The wealthy man was in torment in hell (vv. 23-24) while Lazarus was in eternal bliss (vv. 23b, 25b). Unable to be blessed in any way while in hell, the unnamed rich man pleaded for Lazarus to be sent back to warn his family (vv. 27-38). At this point, some interesting details emerge:

  1. The rich man knew Lazarus by name. Verse 20 told us that Lazarus was laid “at his gate.” These two facts suggest that the rich man talked to Lazarus at some point or at the very least had his servants find out about Lazarus. Yet, according to verse 21, the rich man gave Lazarus nothing, not even his leftovers. So the rich man had interacted with Lazarus but day after day ignored his horrible poverty.
  2. The rich man’s family knew Lazarus, too. That’s not stated but it is implied by the phrase, “if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.” If the rich man’s family was unaware of who Lazarus was, they would have been unaware of his death and, therefore, unmoved by his resurrection from the dead. So they, like their brother it seems, had personal contact with Lazarus and yet did nothing to help him.

This gives us some insight into the selfish nature of the wealthy family portrayed in this story. Not only did they receive “good things” (v. 25) in their lifetime, they were stingy with what they had. Once in hell, however, the rich man became aware of how foolish his comfortable life really was. Unable to be saved or to save himself, the rich man called for a miracle to save his family.

The word of Abraham to this rich man in hell explains so much about our faith. Verse 31 said simply, “‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’” Why did so many people see the miracles of Jesus yet reject him as Messiah? Because unbelief is not about evidence; it is the outgrowth of our darkened sinful hearts.

Why do so many people today believe that Jesus did miracles and rise from the dead? Because God’s word has supernatural power. It is not solid logic, or great evidence, or even supernatural displays of power that create faith. It is God who creates faith and he does so with his word. As Romans 10:17 says, “Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word about Christ.”

What do you need to be effective in evangelism? God’s word. That’s it. Be faithful in sharing God’s word when you can and ask God to use it to make faith in others.

Exodus 37, Song of Songs 1, Luke 15

Read Exodus 37, Song of Songs 1, and Luke 15.

This devotional is about Luke 15.

Luke 15 contains three parables of God’s love. They were motivated by the complaint of the Pharisees, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them” (v. 2). Christ explained to the Pharisees that God sees sinners like a shepherd who loses a sheep or a woman who loses a valuable coin. Rather than shunning the lost sheep or the lost coin or criticizing it for getting lost, God actively searches for sinners the way that a shepherd actively searches for his lost sheep and the way that a woman actively searches for her lost coin. Then, when a lost sinner is found, God cheers more exuberantly than the shepherd who finds his lost sheep and the woman who finds her lost coin. What an incredible affirmation of God’s love for sinners! I can never read this chapter without feeling very grateful and humbled by God’s saving love.

But, in verses 11-32, Jesus turned his thoughts back to the Pharisees. In the parable of the lost son (aka “the prodigal son”), Jesus compared God to a father who had two sons. One son rejected his father and squandered his father’s wealth with sinful living; the other son dutifully fulfilled his obligation as a son. When the prodigal son found himself in desperate need, he returned in humility to his father, hoping to be accepted as a slave. Instead, however, his father welcomed him back and threw a party in his honor because of his joy in recovering his lost son.

The other brother, on the other hand, was jealous and angry. He self-righteously condemned his father for celebrating the return of such a sinful, selfish son. In this way Christ revealed the heart of the Pharisee and the temptation of every self-righteous person who has ever lived. Instead of understanding the worth of a soul that has been saved, the self-righteous are angry at the Father’s grace to such sinners.

The other brother, in this passage, represented the self-righteous Pharisees, yet even genuine Christians sometimes struggle with the same self-righteous attitude.

One way might be our attitude toward world missions. If we believe that funding our own lives and even our own church is wiser than giving to people who are going to other parts of the world to reach people for Jesus, then maybe we have a self-righteous attitude. Or if we pray little for the missionaries we know or just other countries that are closed to the gospel, perhaps it is because we believe the people who live there are greater sinners than lost people in America.

As encouraging as this passage is when it describes God’s love, it should also make us pause and think: Do I get excited about the salvation of God’s lost sheep? Can I celebrate the salvation of others in other parts of the world or do I think they deserve judgment more than I do or the people around me?

Exodus 36, Ecclesiastes 12, Luke 14

Read Exodus 36, Ecclesiastes 12, Luke 14.

This devotional is about Luke 14:33-35.

The Pharisee who invited Jesus to eat in his home on this Sabbath day (v. 1) probably had no idea that his own sacred cows would be on the menu.

A recurring theme in Luke has been what is permissible on the Sabbath. The Pharisees had very strict views on this subject and Jesus challenged those views by healing a man on the Sabbath (vv. 2-4), then pointing out their hypocrisy. They would help a child or an animal in a dangerous situation or with an injury on the Sabbath (v. 5) but were deeply offended when Christ healed a man who had been suffering. God is never offended when people do good and relieve the suffering of others on the Sabbath. The intent of the Sabbath laws supersede strict interpretations of that law.

That opening paragraph (vv. 1-6) happened on the way to the Pharisees house, before the meal even began. That is suggested in verse 1 where it says, “Jesus went to eat…” but it is confirmed in verse 7 by the fact that people were picking out places to sit, so the meal had not yet begun. Jesus turned his rhetorical attention to pride, noting how at wedding banquets people assumed themselves to be the most honorable person in attendance by how they chose their seats. He counseled people to go for the worst seat at the banquet (v. 10a); after all, it is better to invited to move to a better spot than to be demoted to a lesser seat.

This is one of the most practical things Jesus said that didn’t have to do with a directly moral or spiritual issue. He addressed a common life scenario in those times and gave very sage advice. While the situation Jesus described in verses 7-10 is far more mundane than the usual topics he taught about, the deeper issue was human pride as we see in verse 11.

Finally, Jesus addressed his host directly (v. 12) and instructed him to be more discriminating about who he invited to dinner (vv. 12b-13). Instead of inviting people he loved and liked, Jesus advised him to invite the kind of people who don’t usually get dinner invitations–“the poor, the crippled, the lame, and blind.” This was about human pride, too. We like to spend time with people we like, friends who elevate our mood and even our status and who might invite us to their homes as well. A party for the poor, however, doesn’t appeal to us but Jesus said we “will be blessed” (v. 14a) if we befriend and include those who are low in social status. This blessing awaits in the future, however, for Jesus said, “…you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous” (v. 14b).

Passages like these indicate that pride was more overt in Jesus’ day than it might be in ours. We are the inventors of “the humble brag” after all. While we might be more subtle about our pride than the Pharisees and others in Jesus’ day, we still struggle with pride. It’s nice to be noticed so putting ourselves in a place where we are noticeable can be just as tempting now as it was in the wedding banquets Jesus attended. Likewise, we enjoy spending time with people who are like us–“your friends,  your brothers or sisters, your relatives” and especially our “rich neighbors” (v. 12). Jesus’ confrontational style of speaking was designed to challenge our pride forcefully–not to say we can never have our friends and family over for dinner but that we should intentionally befriend and include those who are not usually coveted as friends. His teaching calls us to get over ourselves and look for ways to be a true, tangible blessing to others.

So, what might you do today or this weekend or next week that could wound your pride but make a real difference in someone else’s life?

Exodus 35, Ecclesiastes 11, and Psalms 36-38

Read Exodus 35, Ecclesiastes 11, and Psalms 36-38.

This devotional is about Ecclesiastes 11.

The longer I live, the harder it is for me to understand why God allows what he allows and does what he does. Solomon learned that, too, a long time before I did. In verse 5 he wrote, “…you cannot understand the work of God.” The next line, “the Maker of all things” is more than just a descriptive title for God. It explains why we can’t understand God’s ways. He is the Creator; anything we ever know, we know only as created beings. We also, as created beings, only have fragments of knowledge over a short period of time.

Given that we can’t ever understand God’s works, how should we live? There are many answers to that question. The most important answer is simply, trust God’s word and do what it says because in it the  Creator of all things has told us what to do, even if it doesn’t make much sense to us.

Here in Ecclesiastes 11, however, there are some practical instructions for us based on the fact that we “cannot understand the work of God.” One of those practical instructions is, “Don’t wait for better conditions to do what you need to do. That’s what verse 4 is telling us when it says, “Whoever watches the wind will not plant; whoever looks at the clouds will not reap.” God’s ways are unpredictable but, generally speaking, sowing and reaping are reliable so don’t try to guess what God’s going to do. Just do what you know is right. Verse 6 goes on to make the same point when it says, “Sow your seed in the morning, and at evening let your hands not be idle, for you do not know which will succeed, whether this or that, or whether both will do equally well.”

So, on that note: is there anything you’re procrastinating about? Waiting for the stock market to go down before you start preparing for retirement? Looking for a better time to start a business, ask someone out on a date (or to marry you), or strike up a conversation about Jesus? Don’t look for better conditions; seize the moment you have and work faithfully at it.

Going further, though, Solomon commends the choice to be happy despite the unknowability and unpredictability of God’s ways. Verse 8 says, “However many years anyone may live, let them enjoy them all.” Verses 9-10 especially commend this for the young with the understanding that, “God will bring you into judgment.” The point, then, is to be diligent and wise but choose happiness as long as what makes you happy is within the moral will of God.

There are many dark days (v. 8b) for us while we live on earth. We should remember them but not dwell on them. People are anxious about many things but Solomon says you should “banish anxiety from your heart.”  Most of the things that you fear will not happen. Bad things that you never thought to fear will happen, but all of them happen within God’s ways which are unknowable to us. If we believe his word and diligently work and live by his commands, there is more than enough to be happy about in this life. So trust God and stop worrying so much.

Exodus 34, Ecclesiastes 10, Proverbs 8:22-36

Read Exodus 34, Ecclesiastes 10, and Proverbs 8:22-36.

This devotional is about Proverbs 8:22-36.

In our culture, calling someone “old” is usually intended to insult or dismiss them. “Who cares if he tells you to get off his lawn? He’s just a cranky old man,” is one example of what I mean. Youth and beauty are prized in our times so old men and old women are coldly disregarded as being unimportant.

Sadly, this is especially true for women. In our culture, a woman is judged by her appearance more than her character, intellect, personality, accomplishments, or the total of these and other traits. Therefore, the older a woman gets, the more invisible she becomes to some people.

Here in Proverbs 8:22-36, wisdom speaks as if she is a woman. Instead of hiding her age, the key fact that she stresses about herself is that she’s really old. Verse 23as says, “I was formed long ages ago….” She was the first thing God created (v. 22) so she is older than any material thing that exists. With great eloquence, reverence, and no negative judgment at all, Solomon painted a picture of how old wisdom is. Like gravity or the laws of physics or matter, wisdom is a foundational idea, an ancient principle that makes everything else possible. It is true that we humans have only recently discovered things like the laws of physics, but though the ideas are new to us, the principles are ancient because they are foundational.

So it is with wisdom. Except that, too often in our world, wisdom isn’t prized as a great discovery; it is despised as being old and out of date. That’s how our culture treats true wisdom–God’s wisdom–because people in our culture want to lead an immoral life and wisdom directs you to fear God and lead a moral life according to his commands. At the end of our passage today, however, verses 35-36 promise great benefits for wisdom and penalties for folly–wisdom’s opposite.

Wisdom is old but it is far from obsolete; it is crucial! It is foundational to a successful life. Remember that wisdom begins with fearing God, so building your life on a foundation of wisdom starts with welcoming God’s revelation and living obediently to what it says. As sinners we can’t do this naturally but the saving grace of Christ enables us to learn how to obey.

Are you resisting some command of God? Are you questioning some principle of his word or some tenet of the Christian faith? Do you wonder if the Bible isn’t obsolete because it is so old? Wisdom brags about being old because it is a foundational principle to all of life. So seek wisdom in  your life by learning God’s word and–most importantly–obeying what you learn in God’s word. Wisdom won’t let you down, so build your life on it. It is a dependable foundation, the only one worth founding your life on.

Exodus 33, Ecclesiastes 9, Luke 13

Read Exodus 33, Ecclesiastes 9, Luke 13.

This devotional is about Luke 13.

Before radio and TV and cable news channels existed, world news was scarce and was mostly confined to events that related to your own community or, at most, your own nation. So a natural disaster in New Zealand, for example, would never have been known about in Israel during the days Jesus lived on this earth.

Some bad news did get around and Jesus was informed of some here in Luke 13:1. The incident in question was brutal and tragic, but it was also political. It involved “Galileans,” so those were Jewish people who lived in the region where Jesus spent most of his life and ministry, the northern part of Israel called Galilee. These men were in Jerusalem offering sacrifices and Pilate–the Roman governor or that area–had them put to death as they offered their sacrifices in the temple. These men may have been plotting against the Romans, so Pilate may have chosen to make them a public example. Since Jewish people wanted Messiah to lead an insurrection against Rome, Jesus may have been informed of this situation to see if he would take on this revolt as the Messianic leader. Later in the chapter, in verse 31, Jesus was informed that Herod was plotting to kill him So there was a lot of political pressure swirling around Jesus at that moment.

Pilate’s actions were brutal but Jesus did not express moral outrage when he was told of this news. Instead, Jesus warned the people that the men who died were no more sinful than the average citizen of Galilee (v. 2). Jesus then raised the tension in the audience by speaking of eighteen who died in an accident when a tower in Siloam fell on them (v. 4). What about them? Did they deserve an untimely death because they were especially sinful? According to verse 3a, the answer is no. Whether one died by abuse of government power as in verse 1 or in accidentally as in verse 4, Jesus did not condemn the victims as being more sinful than anyone else. Instead, he used these incidents in the news to raise an uncomfortable truth: “unless you repent, you too will all perish” (v. 5).

There was a common superstitious belief that only the worst sinners died prematurely. That belief exists somewhat today in our culture when people talk about “karma.” But Jesus wants us to know that the only reason we are alive today at all is the mercy of God. If God gave us what we deserve, none of us would live a rich, full, happy life. We are all sinners living on the wrong side of God’s laws so he is perfectly just anytime one of us dies, whether at a good old age or way too soon.

Christ has redeemed us who believe from the eternal curse of our sin. Some who believe in him will escape the curse of physical death by being alive when Jesus returns. But none of us is guaranteed anything; physical death is a curse that has been handed down to all of humanity because of the fall.

God’s plan for redemption from physical death is to let most of us die and to raise us from the dead physically at the end of the age. It is wise for us, then, to be thankful for today and to use it as best as we can for God’s glory. It is also wise for us to share with others what Christ has done for sinners so that they may repent and avoid perishing spiritually.

But the most important application of this passage is for any of you who have not turned to Christ for salvation. The only way to avoid the curse of sin is to turn to Jesus for salvation. Take the time you have today to do that; you do not know what God may allow into your life tomorrow.