1 Peter chapter 3

“Finally, all of you, live in harmony with one another; be sympathetic, love as brothers, be compassionate and humble. Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult, but with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing.– Vs 8-9

What if we actually did this? What if husbands and wives really did live these verses out in their marriages? What if members of the body of Christ were able to illustrate these truths in their lives together?

Can you imagine the impact we would have on the world around us? Everything Peter lists here is simply the outcome of a life lived in the Spirit. We can’t manufacture it or muster it up in our own strength. At least, not for long. Yet because we are new creations with the Spirit of God living within us, we have the capacity to do all of these things. We really can live in harmony with one another, in our marriages, homes, and church. Which means we can be of “one mind,” having a common focus, a single purpose for our lives. We can and should sympathize with one another, showing compassion and a mutual understanding of what the other person is going through. Think about that one. If we see a brother or sister, or a husband or wife struggling with sin or stumbling in their walk, we tend to look down our nose at them. We even criticize them, or worse yet, we avoid them. Instead we should have the attitude, “but for the grace of God go I.” To sympathize with them is to feel their feelings, to understand their pain, and to express that understanding in love and compassion, not judgment. That’s what it means to “love as brothers,” compassionately and humbly, not mercilessly and pridefully.

We really can extend blessing to one another instead of getting back or getting even. As followers of Christ we can suffer insult or injury, even from those we love or those we attend church with, and keep a good conscience (Vs 16). We can respond in a Christ-like way because we have the Spirit of Christ within us. In fact, we can do all these things because it was for this purpose we were called. We are to be living out our transformed lives in the midst of life. It should be reflected in our behavior toward one another – in our homes, marriages, and churches. Believers loving believers. But it also extends beyond our relationships to one another to those outside the family of Christ. To our lost family members, neighbors, co-workers and friends. The words found in these two verses are a reflection of the words Jesus spoke in Luke 6:27-28.

“But I tell you who hear me: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who ill-treat you.”

This is the Christ life, the life to which we have been called. We are change agents in a world that is desperately looking for something different than the same old thing. We have what they are looking for: The hope that is in us (Vs 15) lived out in daily life through our actions. That is the best defense of the Gospel there ever was. Far more powerful than a well-articulated, biblically sound defense of the faith. Because actions really do speak louder than words.

Father, may I continue to learn to live these verses out in my daily life. Forgive me for the lack of harmony, sympathy, compassion and humility that so often marks my life. It is a reminder that I am living according to the flesh and not the Spirit. Open my eyes to see that You have called me to something far greater than to live out my own petty, self-absorbed life. I am called to be Your hands and feet on this earth, living out Your love to all those around me. Amen

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men

1 Peter chapter 2

But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.– Vs 9

This is who we are. It’s our identity. As believers, we no longer belong to this world, but we are “aliens and strangers” (Vs 11). We are “free men” (Vs 16). We are “living stones” (Vs 5). We are a people who have been handpicked, chosen by God Himself. We are a royal priesthood, set apart to serve Him. We are a holy nation, serving a new King. We are a people who belong to God and Him alone.

Sure, we still live in this world and we are susceptible to its temptations and trials. But the fact is, we are no longer of this world. We can and should live lives that are different and distinct. We can say no to the desires of the flesh that tempt us to do what we know we shouldn’t do (Vs 11). We can live good and godly lives that produce acts of goodness (Vs 12). We can submit to those in authority over us, whether we think they deserve it or not (Vs 13-14). We can enjoy our new-found freedom in Christ without using it as an excuse to snub our noses at those in authority, whether it’s the president of our country or the boss where we work (Vs 16). We can show honor to ALL people, not just those who are honorable (Vs 17). We can patiently put up with undeserved suffering (Vs 20). We can die to sin and live to righteousness (Vs 24).

Why? Because we are His. We belong to Him. We have His Spirit within us. We have His power available to us. We have His nature. So we have the capacity to live as who we are. And when we do, we “show others the goodness of God” (New Living Translation). Our lives become living proof of God’s grace, mercy, and transformational power. We live differently because we are different. We stand out because we have been set apart. And together we create a spiritual temple where we offer up sacrifices to God as we live out our lives in faithful obedience and service to Him.

“Therefore I exhort you, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a sacrifice – alive, holy, and pleasing to God – which is your reasonable service.” – Romans 12:1

Father, help me to live as who I am. May my life be increasingly more reflective of my set-apart nature, my alien status in this world. I want my conduct and speech to reflect Who I belong to, and to literally shout Your praises as I live my life. Amen

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men

1 Peter chapter 1

“Therefore, prepare your minds for action, keep sober in spirit, fix your hope completely on the grace to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.– Vs 13

Sometimes when reading a passage, I like to look at other translations of the Bible in order to get a better grasp on the meaning. Check out how these versions translate the same verse:

Therefore, get your minds ready for action by being fully sober, and set your hope completely on the grace that will be brought to you when Jesus Christ is revealed. (NET Bible)

So think clearly and exercise self–control. Look forward to the special blessings that will come to you at the return of Jesus Christ. (New Living Translation)

So roll up your sleeves, put your mind in gear, be totally ready to receive the gift that’s coming when Jesus arrives. (The Message)

So make your minds ready, and keep on the watch, hoping with all your power for the grace which is to come to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. (Bible in Basic English)

Get your minds ready, roll up your sleeves, think clearly, prepare your minds for action. Do you get a sense of what Peter is saying? He is talking about having minds that are on the alert and ready to act. They are not distracted or weighed down by the cares of this world. It is a picture of a soldier who is fully prepared for battle. He can respond without delay to whatever need may arise. He is focused on the job at hand. Peter says that is the way our minds should be.

Be sober, self-controlled, put your mind in gear, keep on the watch. The Greek word used for “sober” has to do with abstaining from wine, but it can also mean “to be sober, to be calm and collected in spirit.” Basically, Peter seems to be saying, “Don’t let anything or anyone else influence you.” The senses of your spirit need to be alert and ready at all times. Yet how often do we find ourselves “drunk on” or “under the influence of” the things of this world. We fill our spirit with the false messages of hope, happiness, fulfillment, and satisfaction this world offers. Then when God calls on us to act, we are unresponsive. Our spiritual reflexes are slowed or impaired. Instead of keeping watch, we become distracted or even fall asleep at our post.

Fix your hope, look forward to, be totally ready, hope with all your power. There’s a reason we are to have our minds ready and our spirits on high alert. So that we can fix our hope on what is to come. The final measure of God’s incredible gift of grace that we will receive when Jesus Christ returns. Our hope is not in this world. Sure, we are enjoying God’s grace right now, but the real basis of our hope is yet to come. Jesus is going to return one day and complete God’s plan of redemption and reconciliation. He will make all things right. He will restore everything back to the way it was meant to be. Righteousness will reign. The rule of sin will be over. That is what our hope is fixed on. It is what our salvation is based on.

So what’s the point? Peter gives it to us just a few verses later when he says, “like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves in all your behavior” (Vs 15). Peter isn’t saying that we have to be perfect and sinless. He is saying to see ourselves as set apart unto God. We have been chosen by Him (Vs 1). He has caused us to be born again (Vs 3). He has reserved an inheritance in heaven for us (Vs 5). So we should live lives that reveal we are His. We have been set apart by God for His use. We belong to Him. So Peter says act like it. Live like it. Behave like it. Don’t live like the world. Don’t live according to its standards. Instead, live according to God’s standards. Get your minds ready for action. Keep your spirits sober and alert. Fix your hope on the return of Jesus.

Father, thank You for choosing me, for setting me apart as Your own. I want to live up to my calling. I want to reflect with my life the unique nature of who I am: a child of God. Help me keep my mind ready for action, my spirit sober and alert, and my hope fixed on the future return of Your Son. Don’t let me get distracted, disillusioned, or drunk on the things of this world. Because I am Yours! Amen

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men

Mark chapter 16

“He is risen; He is not here; behold, here is the place where they laid Him.– Vs 6

He is risen. He is not here. Jesus was not where they expected Him to be. Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome had come to the tomb expecting to find a body. A dead body. Their earlier expectations of Jesus being the long-awaited Messiah, had been replaced with much lower expectations. As they made their way to the tomb, they carried spices used for anointing the dead. Their hopes had ceased with Jesus\’ final breath on the cross. Now as they walked together their only concern was about who was going to help them roll away the stone from the entrance so they could anoint the body. What a sad scene. How demoralized these three women must have been. But they weren\’t alone. The rest of the disciples felt the same way. All was lost. Their Savior was dead. Their dreams were dashed. Their hopes for salvation were lying in a cave carved into a rocky hillside. Or were they?

\”Here is the place where they laid Him.\”

Much to their surprise, astonishment and shock, the tomb was empty. The very stone they had been talking about as they walked to the tomb was rolled aside. The body they had come to anoint was gone. All that was left were the burial clothes and an angel. He tells them to look at the place where Jesus body had been. He wants them to see that it is empty. There is nothing there. No body. No death. No defeat. The tomb is empty. Just as their fears had been. They had come expecting to find a dead body. They \”fled from the tomb\” in a state of shock, fear, and disbelief. They had come crying. They left running. They had come defeated. They left excited. They had come demoralized. They left energized. Their emotions of sadness and sorrow had been replaced with amazement, astonishment, trembling, and fear. The tomb was empty.

\”But go, tell His disciples and Peter!\”

I think it is interesting that the angel did not allow these three women to sit and linger at the tomb. He didn\’t allow them to fixate on the place, but instead, he kept them focused on the person. Jesus was going ahead of them. He wasn\’t in the tomb, but had gone on. The tomb had been their original destination, but the angel redirected them. He gave them a new destination and a new occupation. Rather than anoint, they were to announce. They had a message to share. Go! Tell! Spread the news! Jesus was alive!

As we wrap up the book of Mark, I am reminded how easy it is for me to lower my expectations when it comes to Jesus. Sure, I know He is risen. I know He sits at the right hand of the Father. I know He is coming back again some day. But I can still be guilty of acting as if the tomb really isn\’t empty. I can live as though He never really did rise from the dead. I mourn. I doubt. I fear. I question. I live as though my Savior was the victim, instead of victorious. Or I fixate on the empty tomb. I recognize that He is alive. I get amazed at the fact that He is alive and the tomb is empty. I worship His victory, but I still live in defeat. Like these three women, if left to my own devices, I would sit in the empty tomb and stare at \”the place where they laid Him.\” But in doing so, I would accomplish nothing. I would miss out on the excitement of seeing Him, of experiencing Him. The women were instructed to go and tell. They had a job to do. They were told that if they did as they were instructed, they would see Him. They would see the resurrected Lord with their own eyes. Which is a whole lot better than looking at where He used to be. An empty tomb can\’t compare to a risen Savior.

So are you going and telling? And as you do, are you expecting to run into the risen Savior Himself? Have you seen Him? Has He confirmed for you that the tomb really is empty? Are you experiencing Him daily? Is He revealing Himself to you regularly? That is what He wants to do. He wants us to go, to tell, and to see. He wants us to share from our experience. He wants to prove to us that He is risen, by showing Himself alive and well in our lives and our circumstances. Has He done that for you? He wants to.

Father, Your Son is alive and well. He is risen. But how often I live as though the tomb is NOT empty. I live as though My Savior does not live. I doubt. I fear. I live in defeat. I fail to see Jesus as living and active in my life. I fail to recognize His presence around Me. Help me to see that the tomb is empty. Help me be obedient to go and tell. Then allow me to see Him every day of my life in the experiences of my life. Amen

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men

Mark chapter 15

“Those who passed by hurled insults at him, shaking their heads and saying, “So! You who are going to destroy the temple and build it in three days, come down from the cross and save yourself!– Vs 29-30

Jesus is hanging on the cross and the crowd is mocking Him. One of the things they are throwing into His face is the statement He made after He cleaning out the temple the first time. He had stated the temple would be destroyed, but that He would raise  it up  three days later. We find this exchange recorded in the book of John.

Then the Jews demanded of him, “What miraculous sign can you show us to prove your authority to do all this?” Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.” The Jews replied, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and you are going to raise it in three days?” But the temple he had spoken of was his body. After he was raised from the dead, his disciples recalled what he had said. Then they believed the Scripture and the words that Jesus had spoken. – John 2:18-22

Now as Jesus hung on the cross, the people stood there mocking Him for claiming that He would destroy their precious temple in three days, then rebuild it. But as usual, they had missed the point. First of all, Jesus never claimed that He was going to destroy the temple. He said that THEY were going to be the ones who destroyed it. But He wasn’t talking about the temple in Jerusalem. Jesus was talking about His own body. He had predicted the very event that was now taking place. The Jews were in the process of destroying His body and, but what they didn’t know was that  HE would come back to life three days later.

And that’s exactly what He did. Which is really good news when you consider the bad news that seems to fill this chapter. The crowds are mocking Jesus. They are shouting, “save Yourself, and come down from the cross!” They don’t get it. They don’t understand that Jesus did not come to save Himself, but to save others. Even the chief priest and spiritual leaders are mocking Him saying,

“He saved others; He cannot save Himself. Let this Christ, the King of Israel, now come down from the cross, so that we may see and believe!” – Vs 31-32

No, they don’t get it. They don’t understand. Right there in front of them hung the Son of God. The very Messiah or deliverer they had been waiting for for generations. But they had no intention of believing. Instead they mocked and jeered and laughed. And Jesus died. Mark records, “And Jesus uttered a loud cry, and breathed His last.” The Jews had accomplished their objective. They had destroyed the Temple of God. They had eliminated the One who had been a thorn in their side for over three years. Their problems were over. Now things could get back to normal. Or so they thought.

Jesus was down, but He was far from out. He was dead, but the grave would not be able to hold Him. Death could not stop Him.

“But God raised Him up again, putting an end to the agony of death, since it was impossible for Him to be held in its power.” – Acts 2:24

Chapter 15 of Mark seems like the climactic end to a very sad story. But we know, as Paul Harvey used to say, “the rest of the story.” We know about chapter 16. We know that the worst intentions of man could not halt the divine plans of God. All the repulsive schemes of the enemy could never stand in the way of the redemptive plan of God. Chapter 15 ends at the tomb. Chapter 16 begins in the very same place. But something has changed. The mockers are gone. The Pharisees are gone. The soldiers are gone. The crowds are gone. But more importantly, the body of Jesus is gone. But more on that Monday.

Father, never let us forget the rest of the story. Because when we do, we get discouraged. We come to the grave looking a body, instead of a miracle. The enemy wants us to live in defeat instead of victory. He wants us to see the empty tomb as just another empty promise. He wants us to doubt its power and importance. But there is victory in death. “The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law; but thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 15:56-57).  Amen

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men

Mark chapter 14

I am; and you shall see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of power, and coming with the clouds of heaven.‘” – Vs 62

Jesus’ days on this earth were coming to a close. In this chapter we find Him anointed by Mary with costly perfume, eating the Passover meal with His disciples for the last time, praying in the Garden of Gethsemane, and then being betrayed by one of His own followers into the hands of the religious leaders who have long waited for this moment. This is a bitter-sweet chapter that is full of emotion. The mood seems to swing from joy and celebration to anger, sorrow and deep melancholy. It starts with threats of death and is followed by an act of sacrifice by a woman who was extremely grateful. The Passover meal was supposed to be a celebration, a commemoration of God’s redemption of the people of Israel out of slavery. But it was turned into a time of disappointment and disillusionment as Jesus revealed His coming betrayal and death. For 72 verses this chapter is a roller coaster of emotion. But in verse 62, there is a bright shining moment of hope and anticipation. It is a glimmer of light in the darkness of despair. And it jumps off the page as a reminder that this story has a very happy ending.

“I am,” said Jesus. “And you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.”

Does it bring a smile to your face? It should. Right when everything is looking like it has all gone wrong, when the joy has been replaced with darkness and despair, when it feels like the bad guys are going to win, Jesus reveals the ending of the story. For the disciples, it appears as if everything has gone wrong. So much so, that after Jesus’ arrest, they all go into hiding. Peter ends up denying Him. But Jesus knew something they didn’t know. God had set this stage and knew how the story was going to end. Jesus revealed it in His statement in verse 62. It reminds me of a song by David Wilcox. In his lyrics, he talks about the author of a play who wants to write about love being greater than hate. So he writes his play to make it look like hate is going to win. When everything is at its darkest, and the audience is expecting the worst to happen, the author of the play reveals what he has known all along: But it’s love that wrote the play…

Look, if someone wrote a play just to glorify
What’s stronger than hate, would they not arrange the stage
To look as if the hero came too late?

He’s almost in defeat
It’s looking like the Evil side will win, so on the Edge
Of every seat, from the moment that the whole thing begins
It is…

Love who makes the mortar
And it’s love who stacked these stones
And it’s love who made the stage here
Although it looks like we’re alone
In this scene set in shadows
Like the night is here to stay
There is evil cast around us
But it’s love that wrote the play…
For in this darkness love can show the way

So now the stage is set. Feel you own heart beating
In your chest. This life’s not over yet.
so we get up on our feet and do our best. We play against the
Fear. We play against the reasons not to try
We’re playing for the tears burning in the happy angel’s eyes
For it’s…

Love who makes the mortar
And it’s love who stacked these stones
And it’s love who made the stage here
Although it looks like we’re alone
In this scene set in shadows
Like the night is here to stay
There is evil cast around us
But it’s love that wrote the play…
For in this darkness love can show the way

Love wrote the play. God has an ending to this seeming tragedy called life. And it will involve His Son coming again in power and authority to play the role not of the suffering Servant, but conquering King. Jesus knew something the disciples didn’t know – how the story was going to end. And we need to remind ourselves daily that when it looks like there is evil cast around us, and the night is here to stay – it is Love that wrote the play.

Father, all I can say is “Thank You!” You have written the play and it has an incredibly joyful ending. Help me keep my eyes focused on the last scene where the great I Am enters to restore this crazy, sin-filled world back to the way it was always meant to be. Thank You!  Amen

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men

Mark chapter 13

Be on the alert!'” – Vs 33, 35, 37

This is one incredible chapter. If you’ve got a red-letter edition Bible, then your page probably contains very little black ink. Because this chapter is almost all the words of Jesus from beginning to end. He is sitting opposite the eastern walls of Jerusalem on the Mount of Olives, probably in one of His favorite spots, the Garden of Gethsemane. Back in January of 2008, I had the privilege to go to Israel and sit in that very garden, surrounded by ancient, gnarled olive trees that have been in that spot since the days of Jesus. Across the Kidron valley you can still see the walls of Jerusalem. What’s missing is the Temple. In its place sits the Dome of the Rock, a Muslim mosque. But the scene is still breathtaking for any believer. And here sat Jesus with His disciples, enjoying the shade of the olive trees. The disciples want to continue a conversation Jesus had begun as they passed by the temple on their way out of the city. They had commented on the beautiful stones and buildings that made up the magnificent Temple Complex.

A model of the Temple as it would have appeared in Jesus' day.

A model of the Temple as it would have appeared in Jesus' day.

Rather than comment on the beauty of the buildings, Jesus surprises them by saying, “Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left upon another which will not be torn down.” This had to have come as a shock to the disciples. After all, this was the Temple, the dwelling place of God Himself, and Jesus is saying that it is going to be destroyed. It must have left the disciples dumbstruck, because it is not until they sit down to rest on the hillside across the valley that they are able to continue the conversation. They want to know when this is going to happen and what the signs will be that it is going to take place. Jesus then goes into a rather lengthy monologue regarding the future. He tells them about events that are going to be fulfilled in the not-to-distant future and those that will not take place until the end of the Tribulation, just prior to His second coming. The Temple would be destroyed in A.D. 70 and we saw the fulfillment of Jesus’ prophecy when we stood at the base of the Temple mount and saw gigantic stones lying on the ground, the remains of the once-glorious Temple.

But as bad as the news about the Temple had to be for these men, the more devastating news had to do with them. Jesus tells them they are going to be delivered over to the courts, flogged in the synagogues, stand trial before governors and kings, be arrested, imprisoned, and hated. Now that had to make their day! So he tells them to “be on their guard” (Vs 9), to “take heed, keep on the alert,” (Vs 33), to “be on the alert,” (Vs 35), and to warn others to “be on the alert!! (Vs 37). These guys had no idea when any of these things was going to happen. And neither do we. Oh, we know that some of these things have already been fulfilled, but there is much that Jesus discusses that has yet to happen. And even as bad as things may appear to be right now, many of these things could be a long way off. And some of these things will only happen at the end of the Tribulation period, and we will have been long gone due to the rapture of the church at the beginning of the tribulation. So what are we supposed to take away from this? The same thing the disciples did. Be on the alert.

We are to remain in readiness. We are to be prepared for anything and everything. Paul tells us, “So then, let us not be like others, who are asleep, but let us be alert and self-controlled” (1 Thessalonians 5:6). He encourages us to “… pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints” (Ephesians 6:18). He reminds us to “be on guard. Stand true to what you believe. Be courageous. Be strong” (! Corinthians 16:13).

We’ve got to be ready. We’ve got to remain diligent and mindful of what is going on around us. Just like the disciples of Jesus’ day. We are on a mission. We are soldiers in the army of God, and we must remain battle-ready at all times. Paul warned Timothy, “No soldier in active service entangles himself in the affairs of everyday life, so that he may please the one who enlisted him as a soldier” (2 Timothy 2:4). Are you ready? Are you on the alert? Or are you tangled up in the affairs of life? Let’s constantly remind each other what Jesus said, “What I say to you I say to all, ‘Be on the alert!'” (Vs 37).

Father, I want to be ready. I don’t want to fall asleep on my post. I don’t want to get distracted by the things of this world and lose sight of the war that you are waging all around me. You are at work, and I want to be ready to be used by You for whatever role You might have for me. So help me heed the call of Jesus to “Take heed, keep on the alert!” Amen

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men

Mark chapter 12

The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.'” – Vs 29-31

In this chapter we see Jesus in a number of discussions with the religious leaders of His day. It starts our with Jesus’ stinging indictment on the people of Israel – faintly veiled in the form of a parable. But we know they got the message because verse 12 says, “they understood that He spoke the parable against them.” So they went away only to return with a plan to trap Him through the use of a series of questions, each designed to expose Jesus as a fraud. One had to do with the unfair taxation of the Romans. Another had to do with the resurrection. A third had to do with which commandment was the greatest or most important. Each time they were trying to put Jesus in a predicament where any answer He gave would get Him in trouble. Jesus handles all their attempts at entrapment with ease, frustrating their plans and feeding their growing contempt for Him.

But the one exchange that stands out from them all is found in verses 28-34. Jesus has already been confronted by the Pharisees, the Herodians, and some Sadducees. Each group had their own “trick” question  for Jesus answer. Now along comes a scribe. He is a member of a well-respected occupation, whose job it was to copy the law. But he was more than a mere copyist. By constant and careful copying of the Old Testament laws, he would have become an expert. In the New Testament period the scribes were learned teachers and authoritative leaders, who were drawn from the priests and Levites, as well as the common people. Mark portrays them as high officials, advisors to the chief priests, and teachers of the Law. They were well-educated and well-informed in matters of the law.

So this guy comes up to Jesus and asks Him, “What commandment is the foremost of all?” It is impossible to know the intent behind this man’s question. We assume he was trying to trick Jesus just like the others. But something leads me to believe he was looking for a legitimate answer to his question. Verse 28 says that he recognized that Jesus had answered the other questions well. So it seems that, as an expert on the law, he was anxious to see if Jesus could answer a question that had probably haunted him for all his professional life. Jesus’ answer does not surprise him, because Jesus quotes directly from the Old Testament. Surprisingly, the scribe actually agrees with Jesus when he says, “Right, Teacher; You have truly stated…” (Vs 32). But there is something in the man’s statement that is worthy of closer inspection. He requotes the very same passage from Deuteronomy 6:4-5, but makes an important addition.

“The scribe said to Him, “Right, Teacher; You have truly stated that HE IS ONE, AND THERE IS NO ONE ELSE BESIDES HIM; AND TO LOVE HIM WITH ALL THE HEART AND WITH ALL THE UNDERSTANDING AND WITH ALL THE STRENGTH, AND TO LOVE ONE’S NEIGHBOR AS HIMSELF, is much more than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.” – Vs 32-33

Do you see it? This expert on the law states that loving God and loving others is more important to God than an abundance of burnt offerings and sacrifices. Basically, he is saying that the intentions of the heart are more important than efforts of the flesh. Anyone can offer sacrifices and burnt offerings and be going through the motions. In Matthew 15:8, Jesus said this of the Pharisees, “”These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.” Love comes from the heart. Love for God and love for others is impossible without something happening in the heart. You can’t fake love God or others. But you can certainly DO all the right things that make it appear as if you love God and others.  So we tend to concentrate on the outside, focusing of acts of sacrifice that are the result of self-effort more than they are a natural outflow of legitimate love for God and others.

So how’s your love life?

Sounds kind of personal doesn’t it? But love is personal. It’s intimate. And it has to come from the heart for it to be real. But some of us have a hard time loving ourselves, let alone others. We have a hard time believing that God loves us, so we find it hard to love Him in return. We withhold love from others until they show love to us. But fortunately for us, God doesn’t love that way. He just loves. And according to Jesus, the two greatest commandments He gave us are to love Him back, and to share His love with others. This journey we call the Christian life is not about rules, rituals, and religious creeds. It isn’t about accomplishing things for God with our hands. It is about the heart. It is about love. It is about relationship. It is about loving because He has loved us. But it’s hard to love others when you don’t feel loved. It’s impossible to love others when you can’t even love yourself. But God does love you. He sent His Son to die for you. Not because you were lovely or lovable, but because love is the essence of God. And His undeserved, unmerited love for us is what motivates and empowers us to love Him in return and all those He brings into our lives.

“We love, because He first loved us. If someone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for the one who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from Him, that the one who loves God should love his brother also.” – 1 John 4:19-21

It is interesting that after this exchange with the scribe, Mark records, “After that, no one would venture to ask Him any more questions” (Vs 34). Why do you think that is? I think Jesus had just nailed down the real issue going on with the religious leaders. It was their hearts. They didn’t truly love God and they didn’t love others. They had missed the point altogether and had made their lives nothing more than a list of religious rules and rituals to keep. But how easily we can fall prey to the same kind of mentality. But God calls us to a life of love.

Father, forgive me for not loving more. I confess that I often find it easier to offer you my sacrifice of self-effort and offerings of self-righteousness when all you are asking for is love. Love for You and love for my neighbor. May these two commandments truly become the greatest in my life. May I learn to be loved and love. May I extend to others the kind of love You have given to me. Sacrificially and selflessly. Amen

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men

Mark chapter 11

“May no one ever eat fruit from you again.” – Vs 14

In reading through the book of Mark, you could almost reach the conclusion that he had some kind of Attention Deficit Disorder. Time after time he begins one story, then suddenly changes gears by beginning another story, only to return to the first story a few sentences later. Chapter 11 is no exception. It marks the beginning of Jesus’ Triumphal Entry into the city of Jerusalem. He sends two of His disciples ahead to help prepare for His entrance. They are to locate a colt on which He will ride, in fulfillment of Zechariah’s prophecy:

Rejoice greatly, daughter of Zion!

Shout, daughter of Jerusalem!

Look! Your king is coming to you:

he is legitimate and victorious,

humble and riding on a donkey—

on a young donkey, the foal of a female donkey. (Zechariah 9:9)

Mark records that the two disciples found the young donkey and Jesus made His entrance into the city seated on it – with the cheers and shouts of the crowds filling the air. Jesus makes His way into the Temple, “and after looking around at everything, He left for Bethany with the twelve, since it was already late” (Vs 11). The next morning Jesus and His disciples make their way back to Jerusalem from Bethany. On their way, Jesus becomes hungry. Seeing a fig tree full of leaves, He takes a closer look to see if it had any fruit. Discovering the obviously healthy tree to be fruitless, Jesus curses it, saying, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again!” The only comment Mark makes regarding this event is, “And His disciples were listening.” He doesn’t say they were puzzled. He doesn’t say they were concerned or confused. He simply says they were listening.

This is where Mark’s A.D.D. seems to show up. He drops the fig tree story and picks back up with Jesus returning to the Temple. It’s interesting that neither Luke or Matthew record the story of the cursing of the fig tree in their accounts. Instead, they give the story of the cleansing of the Temple more priority. But in his record of this passage, Mark deliberately sandwiches the two encounters with the fig tree in between Jesus’ cleansing of the temple. Why? What’s the point?


I find that it is no coincidence that Jesus cursed the barren fig tree, then made His way to the Temple, where He violently threw out those who were buying and selling, and exchanging money. Jesus’ anger was over the fact that this was all being done for profit by the religious authorities. They were in charge of this whole affair, and were lining their pockets with the profit. They had taken the courtyard reserved for Gentile worshipers and turned it into a Super Walmart. You could exchange your currency for the official Temple currency (for an exhorbitant fee). You could have your lamb examined by the priests, only to be told it was unfit for sacrifice. But you were in luck, because you could buy a replacement lamb right there (for an inflated price). In fact, you could buy doves or any other sacrificial animals right there in the courtyard of the Gentiles. And all the while, the religious leaders were making a killing off of the whole thing. That’s why Jesus was so upset. They had turned a place of sacrifice, repentance and worship into a place of commerce. They were disguising their greed and sinfulness with a seeming act of righteousness.

“His disciples were listening.”

After cleansing the Temple, Jesus and His disciples return to Bethany for the evening. As they made their way back to Jerusalem in the morning, they encountered the fig tree again, but this time it was withered and dead. In fact, Mark records that it was “withered from the roots up.” Peter is the first to speak and points out the dead tree to Jesus. Obviously, Jesus had intended this all along as a teaching moment, revealing to His disciples something they desperately needed to know.

Looking for fruit

You might call this a living parable. Mark links the incident of the fig tree directly to the situation that had occurred on the Temple grounds. Jesus was using the fig tree as a lesson for His disciples. He had come to the fig tree looking for fruit, but found none. Instead He found only leaves. The tree was had every appearance of life, but lacked the very thing for which it existed: fruit. Mark records that it was not the season for figs, so why did Jesus curse it? Mark’s point was that it was not the time for ripe figs, but with this variety of fig tree, there should have been small, unripened figs, because budding precedes leafing and small figs should appear before the leaves. But Jesus finds nothing but leaves. There were no buds, no small figs, and therefore no promise of future normal figs. So Jesus curses it. Why? Because the tree, while full of leaves and having all the appearance of being a healthy, fruit-bearing tree, would never produce fruit.

The message is pretty simple. The Jews of Jesus’ day had all the appearance of being healthy and whole. They should be producing fruit. They kept the law, they observed the sacred days and sacrificial requirements. Yet something was missing: fruitfulness. They had the pretension of life, but not the substance of life. They looked good on the outside, but lacked internal faith and external fruit.

This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me. They worship me in vain, teaching as doctrine the commandments of men.” – Mark 7:6-7

Have faith in God

When Peter pointed out the withered fig tree, Jesus simply said, “Have faith in God.” What the disciples were going to experience in the coming days was going to require extreme faith. Faith in God, not in man, or in the religious system of their day. They were going to have to trust God. There were going to have to believe Him. To the point that they would be willing to ask Him for the unbelievable. Faith is the key to fruitfulness. They were going to have to trust and believe even in the midst of some very difficult days. But the result would be incredible fruitfulness. So how’s your faith today? Are you trusting Him in spite of all that is going on around you? Or do you have all the appearances of spiritual health, but with no fruit to show for it? God is interested in fruit. Fruit is the byproduct of faith. Why not trust Him today? Place your faith in Him and watch Him produce fruit through you?

Father, I want to be fruitful. I don’t want to look righteous, but lack the fruit that comes from a life of righteousness. I want my life to be fruitful because I am faith-full! I want to trust You more and me less. Forgive me for looking on the outside too much. For concentrating on appearances instead of the heart. Make me fruitful Father. Amen

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men

Mark chapter 10

“With people it is impossible, but not with God; for all things are possible with God.” – Vs 27

They say the key to good Bible study is context, context, context. In other words, if you want to understand a passage, you must look at it in its surrounding context. What do the verses around  it say? What is the basic content or message of the story in which it is found? This verse from Mark 10 is a great example. We take a verse like this and, because of the tremendous nature of the promise it contains, we turn it into a panacea for all situations. And I am as guilty as anyone. How many times have I been in a difficult situation or been talking to somone who finds themselves going through a trying time, and I break out this verse. In the midst of my dilemma I find solace in reminding myself of God’s incredible power. “All things are possible with God!” And that is true. The Bible clearly teaches it. Experience clearly proves it. But the problem is, this verse is talking about something altogether different. Let’s look at the context:

The disciples were amazed at His words. But Jesus answered again and said to them, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God!It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” They were even more astonished and said to Him, “Then who can be saved?” – Vs 24-26

You see, the context is dealing with salvation. Jesus has just had the encounter with the rich young man who had come to Him asking what he needed to do to “inherit eternal life” (Vs 17). The young man does not like Jesus’ answer and walks away saddened. Because Jesus had told him to sell all he had and give to the poor. Jesus had basically told him to trade his earthly treasures for treasure in heaven. The young man couldn’t do it. His love affair with his stuff was too great. Mark says, “he was one who owned much property.” When the young man walks away, Jesus responds to His disciples, “How hard it will be for those who are wealthy to enter the kingdom of God!” (Vs 23). Again, the context is entrance into the kingdom. Jesus is talking about salvation. For the disciples this was a difficult statement because they had been raised to believe that a person’s wealth was a sign of the blessings of God. The more someone had, the more they must have the favor of God. Which is why they were amazed at His words and asked, “Then who can be saved?” The basic thought behind their question seems to be, “If the rich are going to have a hard time getting into heaven, and they’re blessed of God, then what hope do the rest of us have?” That’s when Jesus responds with our verse for the day:

“With people it is impossible, but not with God; for all things are possible with God.”

It is impossible for anyone to enter the kingdom of God – whether rich or poor. For the rich it is seemingly harder because of their dependence upon and attachment to their wealth. But every individual has something in this life they are attached to that prevents them from following Christ and finding salvation. For the young man in the story, it was his attachment to his possessions. He was possessed by his possessions. So when Jesus said, “Follow me,” he couldn’t, and instead walked away sad. This young man had been trying to keep the law, and he was looking for anything else he might be leaving out that he needed to do to inherit eternal life. Jesus simply told him to give up everything of importance in his life in exchange for treasure in heaven, for salvation. To this young man, that was an impossible request. He just couldn’t do it. But with God, all things are possible.

You see, this is really a promise regarding salvation and God’s role in it. He is the one who saves. We cannot save ourselves. He is the one who redeems, we cannot redeem ourselves, no matter how rich we may be. When it comes to salvation, all of us have to walk away saddened, because it is impossible for us to save ourselves. But all things are possible with God. And those of us who have been redeemed from a life of slavery to sin are living proof of that fact.

For the rich young man, it was impossible for him to let go of all that he had become dependent upon for life, comfort, security, and a sense of self-worth. But God offers more. He offers something eternal and everlasting. I think it is interesting that earlier in this chapter Jesus had the discussion with His disciples regarding children. He told them

“…the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Truly I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it at all.” – Vs 14-15

Childlike faith. Innocent. Dependent. Unquestioning. No baggage. No attachments. That is what Jesus was looking for from the young man. But instead He found a man who was bound by the things of this world. A man looking for ways to earn eternal life. He had come asking what he must do. Children in Jesus day had no rights, no real value or worth. They owned nothing. They had no power. Yet Jesus said the kingdom of God belongs to “such as these.” The overlooked, the undervalued, the unimpressive, the weak, the despised, the foolish, …

“…but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, and the base things of the world and the despised God has chosen, the things that are not, so that He may nullify the things that are, so that no man may boast before God. But by His doing you are in Christ Jesus…” – 1 Corinthians 1:27-30

All things are possible with God. He can and does save anyone He chooses. He can do what is impossible for man. He can save when man can’t. And I am living proof of that promise. He saved me! He did what I never could have done. He had His Son pay a price I never could have paid. He did the impossible and the improbable. And He is still doing it today. So when I look around me and see individuals who are in need of His saving grace, I need to remind myself that with God, all things are possible. He can save anyone. Which means we should be sharing the gospel with everyone.

Father, you are the God of the impossible. That any of us are saved is testimony to that fact. I was like that rich young man, attached to the things of this world and unwilling to let go, but you did the impossible. You redeemed me. You brought me to an end of myself. You showed me that I could not earn your favor. Instead, you saved me and for that I am forever grateful. I didn’t deserve it, but You did it anyway. Thank you, thank you, thank you!!! Amen

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men