Matthew chapter 15

“But evil words come from an evil heart and defile the person who says them. – Vs 18 (NLT)

If you’ve ever had the impression that Jesus was some mild-mannered, wimpy moralist who wandered around the Judean landscape spouting obscure, hard-to-understand riddles, this chapter should change your mind forever. Matthew records with painful honesty the words of Jesus as He lights up the false righteousness of the Pharisees and, by extension, any of us who give Him lip service, but not our hearts. He is talking to men and women who are more concerned about keeping up appearances by keeping a certain set of rules, than having a relationship with Him.

It all started with the Pharisees accusing Jesus’ disciples of eating with unclean hands. This wasn’t about good hygiene. It was about the disciples breaking the rules that the Pharisees had come up with on their own. There was no requirement in the Law that required anyone to wash their hands before eating. Only priests were required to cleanse themselves from any impurity before they could perform their priestly duties. But the Pharisees had expanded this rule to include that everyone be required to wash their hands before eating. And now Jesus’ disciples were breaking their rule.

Jesus doesn’t hold back. He calls them hypocrites. He accuses them of coming up with their own set of laws that would allow them to get around the actual laws of God. That way they could appear righteous without actually having to being so. In verse 11, Jesus cuts to the chase and lays out the real problem: “You are not defiled by what you eat; you are defiled by what you say and do.” This wasn’t about eating with impure hands. It was about living with impure hearts. Jesus makes this painfully clear when He explains the true source of our words and actions in verse 18: “But evil words come from an evil heart and defile the person who says them” (NLT).

I love the response of the disciples. “Do you realize you offended the Pharisees by what you just said?” Yes, I think Jesus knew He had offended them because that was His obvious intent. Not because He hoped to change them with His searing sarcasm, but I think He was hoping that the disciples would take in what He was saying and no longer idolize these men as icons of religious virtue. Jesus was pulling them down off the pedestal upon which they had been placed by the people. Jesus was exposing their false righteousness and introducing a new form of righteousness that flowed from the heart. A heart that would require the radical transformation that His coming death, burial and resurrection would make possible. To Jesus, the Pharisees were like “blind men leading blind men” (Vs 14) – futile, dangerous, and hopeless in their attempt to provide direction for spiritual transformation. But in some ways, we are a lot like them. In his book, The Wisdom of Tenderness, Brennan Manning describes our similarities this way:

“The violence with which some Christians expound their beliefs makes me think that they are trying to convince themselves. The specter of their well-concealed unbelief frightens them, so they become more militant and strident. When this same fear grips the churches, they disintegrate into lifeless propagators of formal rituals or intolerant agents of repression.  Without an intimate, heartfelt knowledge of Jesus, the preachers who staff these churches resemble travel agents handing out brochures to places they’ve never visited.”

So how does Jesus describe these kinds of people? “These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far away. Their worship is a farce, for they replace God’s commands with their own man–made teachings” (Vs 8-9). No heart. Just head. No heart transformation. Just behavior modification. More good behavior and less bad behavior MUST equal godliness. But how did that formula work out for the Pharisees? Not so well. And it won’t work for us today. No, Jesus is still all about heart change – change from the inside out. And He is the only one who can bring it about.

Father, I don’t want to worship You in vain. I don’t want my man-made rules and attempts at self-righteousness to keep me from coming to You. I want true heart change, not superficial self-induced behavior modification that never seems to last. Thank You for sending Your Son and making it possible for me to live a new life in a whole new way. Thank You for Your Holy Spirit who provides me with the power I need to live the life I’ve been called to live. Amen

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men

Matthew chapter 14

But Jesus said to them, “They do not need to go away; you give them something to eat!” – Vs 16 (NASB)

It’s been a long day. It started with news that John the Baptist had been beheaded. This had hit Jesus hard, causing Him to withdraw in a boat to a secluded place by Himself (Vs 13). But Jesus’ solitude didn’t last long. It never did. There were always the crowds. And this day was no different. So after a long day, the disciples found themselves surrounded again by thousands of men, women, and children, all there to get a glimpse of Jesus, or to receive healing from Him. The location was remote and when it started getting late, the disciples recommended to Jesus that He call it a day and send the crowds away so they could go into the nearby villages and find food to eat. Many of these people were miles from their own homes, having traveled long distances in order to see Jesus. The disciples were weary and probably tired of all the crowds, and who could blame them. So when they told Jesus that He ought to send the crowds away they were more than a little surprised at His response. “They do not need to go away; you give them something to eat!”

What?! You have got to be kidding Jesus. Where are we supposed to find enough food to feed this many people. There are at least 5,000 men and that doesn’t include all the women and kids. We’re talking well over 10,000 people here. And you want us to give them something to eat?

The disciples were stunned. A few of them were probably even put out at the audacity of this request – or command. Jesus was telling them to do the impossible. And they proved it by listing their meager supplies on hand: Five loaves and two fishes. That wasn’t even enough to feed 12 hungry disciples, let alone a crowd like this. The facts were clear. There were too many people and not enough resources. Case closed. Or so they thought.

Jesus doesn’t want to hear their excuses. But He does want their fishes and loaves. He takes what they’ve got and then orders the disciples to seat the crowd on the grass. Can you imagine what is going through the disciples’ minds? They’re probably thinking they’re going to have a riot on their hands when Jesus starts handing out little bitty pieces of fish and bread to these people. The people aren’t going to stand for this. They’re going to get upset. But as they do crowd control, Jesus calmly takes their five loaves and two fish and looking up into heaven, He blesses it. Then He begins dividing up the food and handing it to the disciples, who in turn give it to the people. And He keeps breaking and dividing, and the disciples keep handing it out. Over and over again. Until every single person in the crowd has eaten their fill. Matthew recalls that “they all ate and were satisfied” (Vs 20). Slowly, calmly, unspectacularly, Jesus had just performed one of His greatest miracles. He had fed a huge crowd of people with just a handful of loaves and fishes. And when the disciples did clean-up duty they picked up twelve baskets of leftovers. One basket for each of them.

Matthew records no statement by Jesus condemning the disciples’ lack of faith. In fact, Jesus seems to say nothing. I think the twelves baskets were probably statement enough for the disciples. They started out with little and walked away with an abundance. Jesus had presented them with an impossible situation. He had made an unrealistic request. All the facts pointed to failure. Their resources were too small. They lacked what was necessary to do what Jesus was demanding of them. Or did they? Jesus used the very resources they had to do what He did. He simply multiplied what they had. He blessed what they had. He took their lack and made it more than sufficient. And isn’t that what He wants to do in your life and my life? Take what little we have and bless it and multiply it? He isn’t concerned about the quantity of our strength, the amount of our wisdom, the abundance of our ability. He just wants us to bring it to Him and let Him use it as He sees fit. We have to admit our lack. We have to confess that we don’t have enough, but then trust that this is NOT a problem for Him. He’ll use it. And we’ll find that there was really was more than enough after all. Because in His hands our meager resources become more than sufficient for the need.

I love this story because it is a reminder of what my life is to be like every single day. I face situations each day that require more of me than I have to give. They demand of me more than I can deliver. But Jesus simply says, “Bring to Me what you have. Give me what you’ve got.” And when I obediently let Him have it, He blesses it, multiplies it, and works miracles with it. It reminds me of the old song that says, “Little is much when God is in it.” Little is much. That is to be the story of my life as I live it in obedience to Jesus Christ.

Father, little really is much when You are in it. Your power makes my weakness a non-factor. Your ability to multiply even my meager abilities and resources make anything possible. I have no excuse for not serving, sharing, giving, or going in Your name. Jesus just asks that I bring to Him what little I have and let Him use it. Thank You for using me in spite of me. Thank You for being willing to take what I have and use it to accomplish Your kingdom work here on this earth. Amen

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men

Matthew chapter 13

“Other seeds fell among thorns that shot up and choked out the tender blades. – Vs 7 (NLT)

In chapter 13 we have the well-known parable of the seeds. Or better yet, the parable of the soils. Jesus tells of four different types of soils on which the seed of the Word is spread. Four soils – four different responses. One was soil by the side of the road. Another was soil surrounded by rocks. A third was soil in which thorns had already taken root. And finally, there was the good soil. All four soils received the same seed. All four soils represent different kinds of people and their responses to the hearing of the Word of God. In this case the Word refers to the Gospel – the good news regarding Jesus Christ and His kingdom. In Jesus’ audience that day were all four types of people. Jesus goes on to give us a clear explanation of what these people were like.

The first group are those who hear the word of the kingdom but do not understand it (Vs 19). It makes no sense to them. So it never takes root in their lives. There’s no response. And what they have heard is snatched away by the enemy. He distracts them and diverts their attention away from the truth of the Word.

The next group hears the Word and receives it with joy (Vs 20), but they never allow it to take root in their lives. This is an emotional response and it proves temporary. Because as soon as any kind of trouble comes into their lives due to the Word, they bail. Initially, they loved the idea behind the Gospel, but when it fails to make their life easier, happier, and trouble-free, they jettison the truth of God’s Word. They walk away disappointed and disillusioned.

The third group are those whose lives are already filled with the things of this world. They’ve allowed their lives to become infested with the “thorns” of materialism, wealth, pleasure, prestige, etc. The uncultivated soil of their lives has been the perfect place for weeds and thorns to take root. So when they hear the Word, it is unable to take root and flourish because it is overpowered by the presence of worldly desires. Jesus calls it the “worry of the world and the deceitfulness of wealth” (Vs 22). Charles Haddon Spurgeon, the 19th-Century pastor of the Metropolitan Tabernacle in London, referred to this group of people in the following way in a sermon entitled “Sown Among Thorns”: “You are religious persons, and to all appearance you are under the influence of godliness. You exhibit plenty of leaf, but there is no corn in the ear, no substance in your Christianity.”

Spurgeon goes on to say: “The seed sown among thorns lived and continued to grow. And in many people’s minds the Gospel of divine truth is growing after a fashion: they understand it better, can defend it more valorously, and speak of it more fluently. Moreover, it does influence them in some form and degree, for gross vices are forsaken. They are decent imitations of believers: you can see the shape of an ear: the stalk has struggled up through the thorns until you can see its head, and you are led to expect corn. But go to that apparent wheat-ear, and feel it: there are the sheaths but there is nothing in them; you have all the makings of an ear of wheat, but it will yield no grain. I would speak to those before me who, perhaps, have been baptized and are members of the church; I want to ask of them a question or two. Do you not think that there is a great deal of empty profession nowadays? Do you not think that many have a name to live and are dead? ‘Yes,’ say you, ‘I know a neighbor whom I judge to be in that condition.’ May not another neighbor judge the same of you? Would it not be well to raise the question about yourself? Have you really believed in the Lord Jesus? Are you truly converted from sin and self? Turn that sharp eye of yours homeward for a while. Examine your own actions, and judge your condition by them. Put yourself into the crucible. O my God, what if I should be a preacher to others, and should be myself a castaway! Will not every deacon and elder, and every individual church member, speak to himself after the same fashion. You will go to your Sunday school class this afternoon; will you be teaching the children what you do not know? You mean to go to a meeting this evening and talk to others about conversion; will you be exhorting them to that which you have never yourself experienced? Will it be so? You do not need fine preaching, but you do need probing in the conscience. A thorough examination will do the healthy no harm, and it may bless the sick. ‘Lord, let me know the worst of my case,’ is one of my frequent prayers, and I suggest it to you.”

This third group is a significant one in the church today. It consists of those who hear the Word, seemingly respond to it, but never seem to live lives that exhibit the fruit of a life that has been changed by it. Why? Because the Gospel, with its message of salvation and sanctification, has been choked out by worldly cares and obsessions. Spurgeon puts it this way: “So much then about the seed: it was good seed, it was sown, it was received by the soil, it grew and promised well, but yet in the end it was unfruitful. No doubt multitudes, who receive Christianity, become regular attendants at our place of worship, and are honest in their moral character; but Christ is not all in all to them. He holds a very secondary place in their affections. Their wheat is overshadowed with a thicket of thorns, and is so choked that it comes to nothing. Their religion is buried beneath their worldliness.”

We all have thorns in our soil. We all struggle with the worries of the world and the deceitfulness of wealth. That doesn’t mean we’re wealthy, but that we’ve bought into the lie that wealth and affluence is the answer to all our problems. Our lack of material possessions or adundance of them can both lead to the life-changing message of the Gospel being choked out of our lives. There’s nothing wrong with the seed and there’s nothing wrong with the soil. It is just that we have allowed our love affair with the things of this world to fill our lives to the point that there is no room for the Gospel to grow. And without its growth and maturity, there is no fruit. As Spurgeon said so well, our religion becomes buried by our worldliness. So is the Word being choked out in your life? Are the worries of the world and the deceitfulness of wealth crowding out the message of spiritual transformation in your life? He who has ears, let him hear. Listen to the words of Jesus. Examine your life. Confess your love affair with the world. Allow Him to do some serious weeding so that He might pull up the thorns that fill your life and create room for His message of truth to take root and grow. He can and He will. And then your life can be like the fourth soil – fruitful and abundant.

Father, open the eyes of those whose lives are choked by the cares of this world. It happens to all of us. We get wrapped up in materialism and pleasure, worldliness and wealth. This world seems to offer everything we need for happiness. But Your Word makes it clear that true joy and eternal life can only be found in Your Son Jesus Christ. Forgive us for our religiousness that only simulates a changed life, when in reality we are still living lives that are in love with the world. Remove the thorns so that our lives might be fruitful and full.  Amen

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men

Matthew chapter 12

“Something greater…is here. – Vs 6, 41, 42

Three times in this chapter, Jesus makes the statement, “something greater…is here.” Three times He makes a comparison between Himself and a person or place from Israel’s past. He compares Himself to the Temple, to Jonah, and then to Solomon – all in the middle of an ongoing confrontation with the Pharisees. They accuse His disciples of violating the Sabbath because they are picking heads of grain and eating them. In their legalistic minds, this constituted “work.” Jesus responds to their accusations by reminding them that the priests themselves work on the Sabbbath and are innocent. And because He, Jesus, is greater than the Sabbath, He and His disciples are likewise innocent. He is greater than the Sabbath because He is Lord of the Sabbath.

The next confrontation is over Jesus’ healing of a demon-possessed man. The crowds are amazed and begin to wrestle with the idea that Jesus just may be the Son of David, the Messiah. This sets the Pharisees off and they accuse Jesus of healing by the power of Satan.This accusation garners a fairly intense response from Jesus against the Pharisees. He reveals that their denial of His healing power as being from God was to deny the Holy Spirit and to deny that the power and reign of God was present in the world. They were committing the unforgivable sin – attributing the Spirit’s word to Satan.

Even after this confrontation, the Pharisees have the gall to come to Jesus and ask Him for a sign. But Jesus refuses, telling them that the only sign they will receive is “the sign of Jonah the prophet” (Vs 39). Jesus is referring to His own death, burial, and resurrection. Just as Jonah was in the belly of the great fish for three days and nights, so Jesus would be three days and nights in the earth after His crucifixion. But Jesus slams the Pharisees, reminding them that while the people of Ninevah responded to the preaching of Jonah and repented, they are their contemporaries refused to listen to the preaching of Jesus – even though He is greater than Jonah. Jesus’ preaching is greater than Jonah’s. His message is greater than Jonah’s. He is preaching about the kingdom of God and the means to enter it – through Him. Jonah was preaching a temporary salvation from judgment. Jesus is preaching a permanent salvation from eternal judgment to come. It is interesting that Jesus chose to compare Himself to Jonah, one of the prophets to the Gentiles. It would not be long before Jesus would expand His message of salvation to the Gentiles as well.

Finally, Jesus compares Himself to Solomon, the great king and the son of David. He says the the queen of Sheba, who came to visit Solomon and to witness his wisdom, would stand up and condemn this generation, because they have the true wisdom of God standing right in front of them, but refuse to believe. Jesus is greater than Solomon because He is wiser than Solomon. His kingdom is greater than Solomon.

Jesus has compared Himself to three of their icons: The Temple, Jonah the prophet, and Solomon. This had to have rubbed the Pharisees wrong. Jesus was claiming superiority to the very house of God and two of patriarchs of their faith. He was claiming to have power over the Temple itself – the very place where God Himself dwelt. He was claiming to be preaching a greater message than that of Jonah. He was claiming to possess a greater wisdom than Solomon. But they refused to recognize His power, His message, and His wisdom. The refused to acknowledge His greatness. But can we be guilty of the same thing today? Can we refuse to acknowledge God’s greatness? Are our plans greater than Him? Are our rules greater than Him? Do we refuse to acknowledge His infinite wisdom, His incomparable message, His limitless power? If we are not careful, we can find ourselves questioning the wisdom of Jesus, doubting the power of Jesus, and rejecting the message of Jesus. He is calling us to daily repentance and dependence on Him. But we can become arrogant, refusing to see ourselves as sinners in need of a Savior every day of our lives. We can refuse to repent, content with our “ticket to heaven.” We can think of ourselves as wiser than He is by following our own plan, instead of His. We can refuse to admit that He has the power and authority to tell us what to do with our lives, by living according to our own set of rules and standards.

He is greater than…everything we can think of. And He wants us to acknowledge that fact.

Father, Your Son is greater. He is greater than anything that I might want to compare Him with. But I do not always live my life as if I believe that fact. I doubt Him. I reject Him. I refuse to obey Him. May I continue to grow in my understanding of His infinite greatness. I want to increase in my understanding on His power, His wisdom, and the life-changing message that He brings. He is greater! Amen

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men

Matthew chapter 11

“Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke fits perfectly, and the burden I give you is light. – Vs 28-30 (NLT)

The-Yoke-Visual-colorYou’re probably familiar with the Great Commandment and the Great Commission. But have you ever heard of the Great Invitation? Well, you’ll find it in the verses above. It’s one of the most overlooked of the three “Greats” in the Scriptures. Maybe it’s because it uses a farming metaphor that most of us can’t relate to. Or maybe it’s because we’ve determined it is just talking about salvation. But the more I read it and study it, the Great Invitation is one of the most powerful statements about spiritual growth and formation in the entire Bible. It goes hand in hand with the Great Commandment – to love God and to love others – and the Great Commission – to make disciples. In fact, without the Great Invitation, keeping the other two will be impossible. It provides the foundation on which to build a simple, yet vibrant spiritual growth strategy.

In this passage, Jesus is offering an invitation with two parts. The first is an invitation to the lost. He is addressing all those who are weary, worn out and burdened down by a religious system that is based on rule-keeping and self-righteousness. The average Jewish peasant was living a life burdened with the legalism imposed on them by the Pharisees. There were literally hundreds upon hundreds of laws they were required to keep – most of them man-made, not God-ordained. Their righteousness was based on their ability to keep up. Their standing with God was dependent on their strict adherence to rules that were impossible to keep. So they were beaten down, tired, and staggering under the load of guilt and shame that came with their failure. So Jesus invites them to come to Him. He extends a personal invitation to have a relationship with Him. And He offers them rest. Jesus offers them a new way into a relationship with God – through Him. It is not burdensome or wearying. It’s restful. Jesus extends to them the Good News of the Gospel.

But there’s a second part to this invitation. And I think it is the part that most often gets overlooked. Once Jesus has invited us into a relationship with Him, He issues a command. He says, “Take My yoke upon you.” This is a critical next-step that most of us refuse to take. We refuse to get into the yoke with Jesus. We accept His invitation to rest, but we balk at the idea of the yoke. Maybe it’s because we don’t fully understand it. Maybe it’s because it sounds like too much work. But either way, we miss out. Because Jesus tells us to get into the yoke in order that we might learn from Him. To get in the yoke was a common phrase in Jesus day. It was used by rabbis and teachers when referring to their disciples or followers. You were invited by a rabbi to yoke with him and so learn from him. It was a common farming term that all understood. When a farmer wanted to train up a new oxen to plow in the yoke, he would take a young calf and place him in a yoke next to a “veteran” ox. In this relationship, the young ox would learn from the “master.” He would learn to submit to the older ox’s leadership and direction. He would learn the ways of the plow. He would learn to die to his own way of life and to live his life with a new sense of purpose. Prior to getting in the yoke, the young ox lived a life that was his own. He ate when he wanted to eat. He slept when he wanted to sleep. He had no responsibilities or cares. But once in the yoke, his life changed. He now had work to do. He had a purpose for living. His existence took on new meaning and his world no longer revolved around him. He was walking and working alongside his mentor – learning the way of the yoke. Sure, it was work, but it was easy as long as he did it the master’s way.

That is the relationship Jesus longs for with each of us. He wants us to get in the yoke next to Him. He has work for us to do. He has a plan for our lives and a purpose for our existence, but we will never know it or experience it outside of the yoke. Yet, many of us refuse to get in the yoke with Him. Or perhaps we never knew we were supposed to get in the yoke with Him. But it’s never too late to get in the yoke. He calls us daily to join Him and learn from Him. It is in the yoke that true discipleship takes place. It is in the yoke that we learn to live like Jesus lived. It is in the yoke that we develop the desire to love God and others. It is in the yoke that we develop a passion for the lost and a commitment to make disciples. The yoke trains us, equips us, empowers us, and inspires us for service.

•    Being in the yoke is … worship
–    You are living a life of obedience and, which is worshipful
–    You are living a life of dependence, which is worshipful
–    You are glorifying God, which is worshipful
Being in the yoke requires that you … connect
–    First, you must connect to Christ
–    But ultimately, being in the yoke connects you to other believers
–    You become part of the body of Christ through your connection to Christ
Being in the yoke is where you learn, which means you … grow
–    You can’t help but learn in the yoke
–    Jesus says, “learn from Me”
–    The purpose of the yoke is discipleship
Being in the yoke will require you to … serve
–    You are in the yoke to do God’s work according to His will
–    Jesus came to serve, not be served
–    He is still serving today and He wants us to serve alongside Him
Being in the yoke is the message we model and … share
–    When we live our life in the yoke with Jesus, we are modeling what it means to be His disciple
–    We don’t just share the good news, we live it out
–    Jesus told us to “make disciples”
–    We cannot effectively “make” what we don’t understand or have not experienced

The yoke is about a discipleship/apprenticeship relationship in which we learn from Jesus…
…How to be a shepherd
…How to be a leader
…How to be a son of God
…How to be a good soldier
…How to be a citizen
…How to be a priest
…How to be a prophet
…How to be an advocate
…How to be a reconciler
…How to be a steward
…How to be an encourager
…How to be a servant
…How to be an evangelist
…How to be a sacrifice
…How to be a healer
…How to be a fruit bearer
…How to be a worshiper
…How to be a teacher
…How to be a student

These are produced out of a relationship with Christ. They are the fruits of Christ-likeness. We are becoming what He is – which is at the heart of sanctification. It all begins with the Great Invitation, Christ’s gracious offer of life, rest, and relationship with Him. If someone does not accept His invitation, which includes an offer of salvation and a life of sanctification, the other two commands are impossible to keep. Outside of the yoke, fulfillment of the Great Commission and keeping of the Great Commandment are impossible. A journey of spiritual growth must begin in the yoke. Maturity in Christ is essentially growth in Christ-likeness. That is the by-product of a life lived in the yoke, where a disciple learns from the Master Himself.

Father, thank You for the yoke. May I increasingly find myself more at home there than at any other place. I want to learn from Jesus Himself as I work alongside Him. I want to experience the rest He offers in the midst of a life of service to Him and for Him. Give us a greater desire to live in the yoke with Jesus.. Amen

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men

Matthew chapter 10

“So do not fear…” – Vs 31 (NASB)

This is a pretty intense chapter. As I read it, I kept trying to get in the sandals of the disciples and imagine what they were feeling as Jesus gave them this little “pep talk.” He is getting ready to sent them out on their own for the first time as His apostles or literally His “ambassadors.” But rather than give them words of encouragement, it seems as if He is trying to scare them. He starts out pretty positive, telling them that they are to preach that the kingdom of heaven is at hand. They are to heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, and cast out demons. But even those instructions could be a little intimidating to a group of rag-tag fishermen and tax collectors. But then Jesus starts to turn up the heat. He starts intimating that they will face rejection. Not everyone is going to accept what they have to say. They won’t necessarily be celebrities everywhere they go. And Jesus makes this very clear in His instructions. Just take a look at some of His words of warning:

“I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves.” – Vs 16 (NASB)

“…beware of men, for they will hand you over to the courts and scourge you in their synagogues.” – Vs 17 (NASB)

“…you must stand trial before governors and kings because you are my followers.” – Vs 18 (NLT)

“Brother will betray brother to death, fathers will betray their own children, and children will rise against their parents and cause them to be killed.” – Vs 21 (NLT)

“And everyone will hate you because of your allegiance to me.” – Vs 22 (NLT)

“When you are persecuted in one town, flee to the next.” – Vs 23 (NLT)

“Don’t imagine that I came to bring peace to the earth! No, I came to bring a sword.” – Vs 34 (NLT)

“I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter–in–law against her mother–in–law. Your enemies will be right in your own household!” – Vs 35-36 (NLT)

“If you refuse to take up your cross and follow me, you are not worthy of being mine.” – Vs 38 (NLT)

This is scary stuff. If I’m one of the disciples, I’m thinking, “What have I signed up for?” Jesus’ speech isn’t exactly what I would expect if He’s trying to send these guys out enthusiastically. But right in the middle of all the doom and gloom, Jesus three different times, “Do not fear!” He reminds them that God is watching over them. They will have divine protection.

“Not even a sparrow, worth only half a penny, can fall to the ground without your Father knowing it. And the very hairs on your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are more valuable to him than a whole flock of sparrows.” – Vs 29-31 (NLT)

Not all that Jesus says in this chapter was going to take place in the time the disciples were on this little expedition. There are some forewarnings included that deal with the time after Jesus death, burial, and resurrection. There are also some events that have to do with the Tribulation period. All of these men would have been long dead by the time this future event takes place. So some of what Jesus is talking about has to do with His followers in general. So this message has immediate application to the twelve, but also to us. These are going to be difficult days. Jesus is not promising His followers a rose garden. This is not going to be an easy path to follow. We will face persecution. We will face difficulties. Our message will not always be accepted. Even among our own family members. Jesus’ message is controversial and divisive. The gospel divides. That’s why He says, “Don’t imagine that I came to bring peace to the earth! No, I came to bring a sword.” Listen to how The Message paraphrases that verse: “Don’t think I’ve come to make life cozy. I’ve come to cut – make a sharp knife-cut between son and father, daughter and mother, bride and mother-in-law — cut through these cozy domestic arrangements and free you for God.” I think that really does sum up what Jesus is trying to say to these men as He sends them out. While this trip would prove to be fairly non-eventful, the day was coming when they would experience much of these things in full. After Jesus resurrection, the disciples would go through extreme difficulty and persecution. They would find themselves under tremendous persecution. But Jesus wants them to remember that they have no reason to fear. So He tells them three times, “Do not fear.” Better yet, He warns them to fear God, but not man.

“Don’t be bluffed into silence by the threats of bullies. There’s nothing they can do to your soul, your core being. Save your fear for God, who holds your entire life–body and soul–in his hands.” – Vs 28 (The Message)

We have been sent out into the world. A lot of what Jesus warned the disciples about, we face. These are difficult days. The message we have to share is not a popular one. It is divisive and controversial. It is exclusive and not politically correct. But we need to go out fearlessly, knowing that we have the power of God and the presence of the Holy Spirit (Vs 20). We do not need to fear men. But we DO need to fear God. We are His ambassadors, His representatives. He is expecting us to be aware of the difficulties. He doesn’t want us to be uninformed or ignorant of the realities we face. We are sheep in the midst of wolves. But we can be bold, because we serve a powerful God who loves us and knows us so intimately, that He knows exactly how many hairs we have on our heads! So do not fear.

Father, thank You for reminding me of the mission on which You have placed me. I am not here for my comfort or convenience. I am on mission. You did not promise me an easy road or path to follow. You have warned me that it would be difficult. Your own Son was murdered because of His message. Why do I think it will be any different for me? Give me the strength to be bold. To not fear. But keep me fearful of You, because You are worthy of my fear. You hold my life in Your hands. You purchased My life with the blood of Your own Son. I owe You my allegiance and faithful service.. Amen

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men

Matthew chapter 9

“Now go and learn the meaning of this Scripture: ‘I want you to be merciful; I don’t want your sacrifices.’ For I have come to call sinners, not those who think they are already good enough.” – Vs 13 (NLT)

Chapter nine has couple of encounters between Jesus and the Pharisees. These guys are beginning to turn up the heat. The more Jesus teaches and ministers, the more they decide they don’t like what they’re hearing. He is unwanted competition for the hearts and minds of the people. Jesus is upstaging them and they don’t like it. For years, the Pharisees have been the main act in town. They are the recognized spiritual elite – the A Team. And now Jesus comes along preaching repentance and a new view of righteousness – a righteousness distinctly different than the brand the Pharisees had been practicing. In fact, that was a big part of what Jesus was teaching in His Sermon on the Mount. Remember, He said, “Beware of practicing your righteousness before men to be noticed by them” (Matthew 6:1). He was talking about the righteousness of the Pharisees. They gave to be noticed by men. They prayed to be seen by men. They prayed to impress men. They fasted to be admired by men. These guys did a lot of good things, but they did them for the wrong reasons. Yet they were viewed as righteous by the people.

Now Jesus comes along and begins to upset their idyllic little world. He is operating by a different rule book. He rejects their brand of righteousness and unveils His own. So when He sits down to have lunch with Matthew, a tax collector, and his tax collector buddies, the Pharisees are appalled. They can’t believe a good rabbi would ever lower himself to eat with the likes of tax collectors and sinners. These people were considered the bottom feeders of the community. They were the dregs of humanity – despised and avoided at all costs. But here was Jesus having a meal with them. So the Pharisees confront Jesus’ disciples. “Why is your Teacher eating with the tax collectors and sinners?” Jesus overhears their question and responds: “Healthy people don’t need a doctor––sick people do.” Jesus is revealing the true purpose behind His coming. He came to rescue the perishing. He came to save the lost. He came to heal the spiritually sick and dying. He came to bring light to those living in spiritual darkness. He came to feed the spiritually hungry. He came to set free the spiritually captive. Jesus is also revealing another important ingredient to His ministry. It is to those who recognize their need for a Savior. Jesus came to rescue those who know they are in need of rescue. He came to heal those who know they are sick and are willing to admit it.

He goes on to say to His questioners, “Now go and learn the meaning of this Scripture: ‘I want you to be merciful; I don’t want your sacrifices.’ For I have come to call sinners, not those who think they are already good enough.” He quotes from Hosea 6:6.

“I want you to be merciful; I don’t want your sacrifices. I want you to know God; that’s more important than burnt offerings.”

The Hebrew word for “merciful” is heced. It means “goodness, kindness, and faithfulness.” In the book of Hosea, God is speaking against the people of Judah for their unfaithfulness to Him. Sure, they were still making sacrifices and going through the religious motions, but they didn’t really know God. So, because they didn’t know God, they weren’t living lives that reflected a relationship with God. These people refused to come to God in true repentance. They refused to admit that they were really spiritually sick. In Hosea 5:15, God says, “I will go away and return to My place, until they acknowledge their guilt and seek My face; in their affliction they will earnestly seek Me.” The response God is looking for from them is this: “Come, let us return to the Lord, for He has torn us, but He will heal us; He has wounded us, but He will bandage us, He will revive us after two days; He will raise us up on the third day, that we may live before Him” (Hosea 6:1-2).

When Jesus quotes from the book of Hosea to the Pharisees, it does not go unnoticed. They know the context. They were experts in the Old Testament and knew what was going on in the story. So the point of Jesus’ statement did not escape their notice. He was saying that they were like the people of Judah – stubborn, unrepentant, spiritually sick, but unwilling to admit their need for a doctor. They saw themselves as perfectly healthy and spiritually whole. In his gospel, Mark records Jesus’ response this way: “Healthy people don’t need a doctor––sick people do. I have come to call sinners, not those who think they are already good enough.” Jesus sums it up right there. The Pharisees were self-righteous and blind to their own spiritual illness. They didn’t need a Savior, because they thought they could save themselves.

But before we slam the Pharisees, we probably need to take a look at our own lives and see if we don’t sometimes suffer from the same problem. Even as believers, we cannot afford to forget the fact that we are still sinners in need of a Savior. We are still prone to sinfulness and sickness of the soul, because we are constantly doing battle with the flesh, the world, and the Devil. My process of sanctification or progressing in Christ-likeness, is a constant state of healing that is taking place. I am putting off the old and putting on the new. I am rejecting my old way of life and embracing the new life made possible through Jesus’ death on the cross. I am growing in my dependence on God and my reliance on the Holy Spirit for power to live by faith instead of in the flesh. But before I can begin the healing process, I have to admit my sickness. I need to daily recognize my need for a Savior. Not just for salvation, but for sanctification. I can’t live the Christian life apart from the power of Christ. I can’t offer up my religious sacrifices as a replacement for His once-for-all sacrifice on the cross. Because all of my works are as filthy rags.

“We are all infected and impure with sin. When we proudly display our righteous deeds, we find they are but filthy rags.” – Isaiah 64:6

Jesus came “to call sinners, not those who think they are already good enough.” I need to recognize my sinfulness each and every day. Not wallow in it and demoralize myself because of it. But allow it to remind me that I still need the healing touch of the Great Physician each and every day of my life.

Father, how easy it is for me to become complacent in my relationship with You. I can lull myself into a false sense of self-confidence and self-righteousness, thinking that all that I do for You is good enough. Yet, You want me to know You and to live a life that reflects that I have an intimate relationship with You. A life of compassion and mercy that reaches out to those who are sick, because I recognize that I have received the touch of the Great Physician on my life. In fact, you heal me daily from the effects of sin and my own addiction to self. Thank You for sending Your Son to heal those who are sick. Help us to daily admit our need for His healing touch. Amen

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men

Matthew chapter 8

Great faith Vs. Little Faith

There are two interesting stories of faith in this passage that seem to be meant to contrast one another. The first one is the centurion – a Roman army officer who would have been in command of 100 men. He came to Jesus literally strongly encouraging Him to do something about his servant who was suffering from paralysis and in a tremendous amount of pain. In response to this man’s urgent request for help, Jesus said, “I will come and heal him.” You would have thought that this man would have been ecstatic at this news, but instead he says, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you come into my home. Just say the word from where you are, and my servant will be healed!” (Vs 8 – NLT). This man seemed to understand that Jesus, as Lord, had authority to command the healing of his servant without even having to be in the same room with him. Jesus is blown away by this Gentile’s faith and responds, “I tell you the truth, I haven’t seen faith like this in all the land of Israel!” (Vs 10 – NLT). In the original Greek, Matthew records Jesus using an adjective to describe this man’s faith. He refers to it as a “great” faith. That word in the Greek is tosoutos and it refers to the quantity or greatness of this man’s faith. He had a lot of faith in Jesus and expressed it by saying that he knew Jesus had the power and authority to heal his servant just by commanding it to happen. His faith was coupled with his humility. As a Gentile, a centurion, and a sinner, he didn’t feel worthy to have Jesus come into his home. That is what motivated his request that Jesus heal his servant from a distance. He knew he was undeserving of Jesus’ help, but humbly made his request knowing that Jesus had the power and authority to heal his suffering servant. And that’s exactly what Jesus did. Jesus tells him, “Go on home. What you have believed has happened.” And the young servant was healed that same hour” (Vs 13 – NLT).

The second encounter with faith involves the disciples. It’s the familiar story of the storm at sea and Jesus asleep in the boat as the disciples battle the waves. Now keep in mind that these guys had been present at the encounter with the centurion. They had heard Jesus’ remarks about his faith and the lack of faith of the people of Israel. They had also just seen Jesus heal Peter’s mother-in-law. They had been witnesses to him casting out demons and healing the sick. Now they find themselves in a boat on the Sea of Galilee, stuck in a storm and they wake Jesus up, shouting, “Save us, Lord; we are perishing!” (Vs 25 – NASB). Many of these guys are seasoned fishermen, but they are panicking and fearing for their lives. This isn’t a case of NO faith, because they were calling out to Jesus to save them, to rescue them. They were turning to Jesus for salvation. But the problem that Jesus exposes is their faith mixed with fear. He asks them, “Why are you afraid?” Then He seems to immediately answer His own question when He says, “You have so little faith!” The Greek word is oligopistos and it means “people of little faith.” Their trust in Jesus was small. They really didn’t believe He was going to be able to do anything about their situation, so they were anticipating death. They were hopeful He could do something, but their hopes were being overwhelmed by the circumstances. Yet, in response to their “little” faith, Jesus rescues them by calming the wind and the waves. And they are amazed!

So what’s the point? Both the centurion and the disciples had faith in Jesus. But the point seems to be the presence of fear that accompanied the disciples’ faith. The centurion was not fearful that Jesus might not be able to heal his servant. If he had any fear at all, it was based on his unworthiness to expect Jesus to respond to his request. But he had no doubt or fear in Jesus ability to do what he was requesting. He was confident in the power of Jesus. The disciples on the other hand exhibited faith mixed with fear. They were not exactly sure that Jesus was going to be able to handle their request. Sure, they turned to Him in their time of need, but they still feared for their lives. They literally thought they were going to die right there and then. Their faith was being overwhelmed by their fear and their circumstances.

How often do I respond the same way? I turn to Jesus in my time of need. I make my request known to Him, but I really don’t believe He is going to be able to do anything about it. My faith becomes overwhelmed by my fear. I turn to Him, but I don’t trust Him. That is about little or weak faith. It is about trusting Jesus too little and believing our circumstances way too much. The centurion’s faith was based on the power and authority he believed Jesus had. The disciples’ faith was hampered by the power and authority they believed the storm had. What is our faith based on? Do we really believe Jesus is who He says He is, with the power to do what He says He can do? Or do we let our circumstances overwhelm our faith in Jesus, causing us to doubt His ability to deliver us from the storms of life? It reminds me of that often-quoted passage from Philippians. It has to do with fear, anxiety, and the peace that can come when we take our needs to God, trusting fully in His power and authority to meet all our needs completely.

Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. If you do this, you will experience God’s peace, which is far more wonderful than the human mind can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus. – Philippians 4:6-7

Father, I want to learn to trust You more and more. Forgive me for letting my circumstances overwhelm my faith in You. May I have the faith of the centurion. May I humbly trust in your power and authority and not allow the storms of life to overwhelm my faith with fear. Amen

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men

Matthew chapter 7

“So then, you will know them by their fruits.” – Vs 20

In this passage, Jesus has been talking about fruitfulness. He uses the imagery of a tree. And He does so to expose what He calls false prophets – those who “come disguised as harmless sheep, but are really wolves that will tear you apart” (Vs 15). These people are deceivers, liars, and charlatans. The term for false prophet in the Greek means “one who, acting the part of a divinely inspired prophet, utters falsehoods under the name of divine prophecies.” They claim to be speaking for God, but aren’t. They claim to be speaking the truth, but aren’t. They look the part. They appear to be one of us, but they aren’t. These are people who have chosen the wide gate and the broad way (Vs 13) that leads to destruction, instead of the small gate and the narrow way. So the path they have chosen doesn’t lead to life, even though it gives all the appearances that it does.

Is this a problem today? You bet it is. We have all kinds of false prophets and prophetesses running around who look like one of us, sound amazingly like one of us, but who are not speaking for God. Jesus indicates that these peoples’ real intent is negative, not positive. He calls them “ravenous wolves.” The word “ravenous” in the Greek means “to carry off by force.” Like a wild wolf, their intent is selfish and sinister. They will use trickery and deception to get what they want. Jesus uses a metaphor here to point out that these false prophets appear to be one thing, but in reality they are something quite different and dangerous.

So what does this have to do with fruitfulness? Well, right after warning us about false prophets, Jesus tells us we can know them by their fruits (Vs 16). The New Living Translation words verse 16 this way: “You can detect them by the way they act, just as you can identify a tree by its fruit.” The Message paraphrases verse 16 this way: “Who preachers are is the main thing, not what they say. A genuine leader will never exploit your emotions or your pocketbook. These diseased trees with their bad apples are going to be chopped down and burned.” Look at what their lives produce. Listen to what their words teach. So many of the false prophets of our day are promising health, wealth, blessing, and abundance, and their lives reflect it. They drive big cars, live in beautiful homes, have huge television ministries, and tens of thousands of followers. But their message, while containing some truth, is usually not biblical. They are not inviting people to enter through the small gate and walk the narrow way. They are offering a wide gate and a broad way that is easy, commitment free, and that promises a life of ease, happiness, and self-fulfillment.

So we need to look at their fruit. A truly good tree bears good fruit. Not good fruit according to its own terms, but God’s. A bad tree cannot produce good fruit. It will always produce bad fruit. Bad fruit lack nutritional value. It can’t feed or fill up the needs of those who attempt to eat it. In the book of Jude, these people are described in pretty graphic terms:

“When these people join you in fellowship meals celebrating the love of the Lord, they are like dangerous reefs that can shipwreck you. They are shameless in the way they care only about themselves. They are like clouds blowing over dry land without giving rain, promising much but producing nothing. They are like trees without fruit at harvesttime. They are not only dead but doubly dead, for they have been pulled out by the roots.” – Jude 1:12

They are hidden reefs, rainless clouds, and fruitless trees. They promise much, but deliver little of substance. And the only way we can spot them is by their fruits. Don’t judge by appearances only. Like a reef, they are hidden beneath the surface, waiting to bring destruction. They can appear as a water soaked rain cloud, but never deliver on the promise of rain. They can appear as healthy fruit-bearing trees, but when it comes time to deliver the fruit, they can’t. So Jesus says, “you will know them by their fruits.” Now the really scary part is that many of these people will be doing good things in the name of the Lord. Jesus says that they will be prophesying in His name. They will cast out demons in His name. They will perform miracles in His name. In other words, they will give every appearance of being spokesmen for Him, but what does He say? “Not all people who sound religious are really godly. They may refer to me as ‘Lord,’ but they still won’t enter the Kingdom of Heaven. The decisive issue is whether they obey my Father in heaven” (Vs 21). He goes on to say that when the time of judgment comes, “I will reply, ‘I never knew you. Go away; the things you did were unauthorized'” (Vs 23).

So we need to look for the fruit. The fruit flows from within. It is the result of a real and vibrant relationship with Jesus. Take a few minutes to read John 15:1-17. In it you will find Jesus unpack what He means by fruit and where this fruit comes from. Jesus is looking for fruit in His followers. He desires for us to bear fruit. But the only fruit He will accept is the kind that flows out of an abiding relationship with Him. This kind of fruit will be other-centered. It will be healing and helpful. It will bring life. It will have the characteristics that Paul outlines for us in Galatians 5:22-23. “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.”

Father, there are wolves in sheep’s clothing all around us today. They are out to deceive and distract us from the truth. They are out to take us captive by slick words and empty promises. Teach us to look for the fruit. Your fruit. And help us to be fruitful ourselves. We are all susceptible to the packaging, the outward appearance and the image of success. But You look at the heart. Give us discernment to see beyond the surface and to look for the fruit. And give us the boldness to expose those who are trying to deceive the sheep in order to line their own pocketbooks and stroke their own egos. Amen

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men

Matthew chapter 6

“Beware of practicing your righteousness before men to be noticed by them; otherwise you have no reward with your Father who is in heaven.” – Vs 1

Chapter six is a continuation of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. He has been talking about raising the bar on righteousness. He isn’t looking for some kind of external brand of righteousness based on keeping a set of rules. He isn’t interested in Pharasaical, hypocritical righteousness that looks good on the outside, but is just a sham. No, Jesus is looking for godly righteousness. And in chapter six He elaborates even more on what He means. Jesus says, “Be careful not to do your ‘acts of righteousness’ before men, to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven” (NIV). To illustrate what He is talking about, Jesus uses three common “righteous” practices of the Pharisees: Fasting, prayer, and money. For the Pharisees, this had become a spectator sport. They did everything to be noticed by men. They wanted the accolades and recognition for all their effort. But Jesus says that when you pray you should do so in secret. He says that when you fast, don’t broadcast it to all those around you so they will think you’re religious. No, instead, do your best to look as though you aren’t fasting at all. Don’t let anyone know. And when it comes to money, Jesus says that we are to seek heavenly treasure, not earthly. The Pharisees were guilty of tithing, but also hoarding. They were storing up treasure for themselves here on earth. And their love of treasure reflected their own hearts.

Again, theirs was an external righteousness. It was all for who. For the recognition of men. But Jesus says that we are to have a heavenly perspective. Our prayers are heaven-directed. Our fasting is God-focused. Our treasure is heaven-oriented. We are God-pleasers, not men-pleasers. We fast to get closer to God, not to be recognized by men. We store up treasure in heaven so that we can free with whatever treasure we have on earth. Jesus is talking about a new kind of righteousness. It is not of this world. It runs counter to the religions of this world.

Jesus knows that most of our problems stem from a worry that we will miss out. We worry that we won’t have enough. We worry that we won’t be recognized as righteous by others. We get anxious over not having enough or losing what we have. So Jesus reminds us not to be worried. He says not to worry about food, drink, or clothing. He will take care of His own. Instead, we are to seek God’s kingdom and His righteousness. We are to make His kingdom the highest priority in our lives, not our own kingdom. We are to make His brand of righteousness our goal, not some man-made brand of self-righteousness.

Jesus came to bring a new kingdom. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus is disclosing what that kingdom is like. It is radically different. It is not of this world. It has different priorities and is backed by a different power. What Jesus was teaching was revolutionary and different. This wasn’t religion as usual. God’s brand of righteousness has a better reward than just the recognition of men. It is eternal and internal. It really does change who we are and how we act. No more facade. No more faking. It’s the real thing.

Father, thank You for providing a righteousness that is not only real, it’s attainable. It isn’t based on my self-effort. Because if it was, I would always fail. It is based on the blood of Jesus Christ, Your Son. What He accomplished on the cross made His righteousness available to me. I no longer have to try and fake it and attempt to impresss men. My righteousness is from Him, not me. It is based on what He has done, not on what I do . Help me to keep seeking Your kingdom first and Your righteousness. When I start seeking my own righteousness, please patiently show me. Amen

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men