When Pride Infects Our Prayers.

The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: “God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.” But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” – Luke 18:11-13 ESV

Two men. Two prayers. One conclusion.

Jesus told a parable. He told a lot of parables. But this one had to do with prayer. He used two characters. One a Pharisee, the other a tax collector. In the culture of Jesus’ day, these two men were on opposite ends of the spiritual spectrum. The Pharisee represented the religious elite, the spiritual superstars or their day. They were considered righteous because they were strict adherents to the Mosaic law. They were meticulous in their rule-keeping, but tended to twist the rules to fit their own agendas. Jesus was unflinching in His assessment of their religiosity. “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others” (Matthew 23:23 ESV). These men had the average Jew fooled by their outward appearance of piety, but God knew their hearts. In fact, that was the point behind Jesus’ parable. Luke records that Jesus “told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt” (Luke 18:9 ESV). In other words, He was telling this parable directly to the Pharisees themselves.

In His parable, Jesus juxtaposes a Pharisee, a self-righteous, religious rule keeper with someone everyone would consider a selfish, self-centered sinner: the tax collector. These people were despised in Jewish culture because they were considered pawns of the Roman government. They collected taxes on behalf of the Romans, but added fees on top to line their own pockets. They were money-hungry and greedy, taking advantage of their own people in order to make a buck.

So Jesus chose to portray one against the other, and He chose to do it by having them pray. Why? Because their prayers revealed their hearts. What they said to God opened up a window to their souls. Their prayer lives reflected the true condition of their relationship with God. By having them pray, Jesus showed what they thought about themselves and what they thought about God. Prayer has a way of doing that. When we turn our prayer lives into a time to boast about all that we’ve done for God, and expect Him to bless us for being such a blessing to Him, we miss the point. The Pharisee’s prayer was all about him. He bragged about his superior spiritual condition, especially when compared to everyone else. He was arrogant and prideful. He could have used the wisdom of Paul who said, “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves” (Philippians 2:3 ESV). He looked down on others. He pridefully boasted, “I thank you that I am not like other men.” No humility. Just hubris.

But the other man, the tax collector prayed a starkly different prayer. He couldn’t even raise his head to pray. All he could say was, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” He knew who he was. He wasn’t self-deceived and self-righteous. He knew he was a sinner and in need of a merciful God. His prayer reflects a solid understanding of his relationship with God. He was a sinner. God was his only hope for salvation.

Earlier in the book of Luke, there is recorded a confrontation between Jesus and the Pharisees. They were upset that He associated with sinners. He even ate with them. A certain tax collector named Levi held a party in his home and invited his work associates to join him as he hosted Jesus and His disciples. In the room was “a large company of tax collectors and others reclining at table with them” (Luke 5:29 ESV). The Pharisees caught wind of this party and expressed their disgust with Jesus’ poor decision making. They asked Him, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?” (Luke 5:29 ESV). And Jesus calmly replied, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance” (Luke 5:31-32 ESV).

The Pharisees considered themselves righteous. They had no need of a Savior. They would never have admitted that they were sinners. In their minds, they were spiritually “well”. Their pride created a barrier between them and the very one they needed to forgive them of their sins. It seems that this kind of attitude shows up all too well in our private prayer times. Do we come to God in need of His love, grace, mercy and forgiveness? Or do we come expecting Him to somehow repay us for all the good we do for Him? Do we enter His presence in a state of humility and neediness or with pride and an attitude of expectation?

Jesus drew a very simple conclusion from His parable. He said, “I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted” (Luke 18:14 ESV). Prayer requires humility. There is no place for pride in the presence of God. Even as believers, we should never forget that there is nothing we bring to Him, other than the blood of Christ, that provides us with any worth or awards us any favor in His eyes. Like the tax collector, we should come saying, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” Without the blood of Jesus, we would all remain sinners. Our works would still be as filthy rags. Our hope of salvation would be non-existent. We come into His presence only because of what Jesus has done on our behalf.

Luke chapter 9

Not Exactly Good News

“For I, the Son of Man, must suffer many terrible things,” he said. “I will be rejected by the leaders, the leading priests, and the teachers of religious law. I will be killed, but three days later I will be raised from the dead.– Luke 9:22 NLT

When these words came off the lips of Jesus, His disciples were less-than-ecstatic. In fact, they were surprised and confused. This wasn’t exactly what they had signed up for. After all, they were fully expecting Jesus, as the long-awaited Messiah, to set up His kingdom on earth and destroy the oppressive rule of the Romans. He was going to be the warrior-king who, like His ancestor David, would wage war against the enemies of Israel and set up His kingdom in Jerusalem. It was going to be great, and the disciples thought they would be ruling right alongside Christ in His earthly kingdom. Now here He comes talking about suffering and death at the hands of the elders, chief priests and scribes of Israel. None of this made sense. Why would the religious leaders of their day want to kill the Messiah? This all had to sound preposterous to the disciples. And as if that wasn’t bad enough, Jesus goes on to tell them that they were going to have to deny themselves and take up their own crosses if they were going to continue following Him. Wow! Not exactly good news.

But we know that is exactly what it was – good news. Jesus’ death was the key to His coming. He came to offer Himself as a sacrifice for all. Ephesians 5:2 tells us that Jesus “gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” He died so that we might live. His death resulted in a different kind of victory than the disciples were looking for. He came to set them free from the rule of sin and the penalty of death, not the Romans. He came to give them victory over the grave, not some foreign occupying army. The life Jesus was offering was going to require death. His own. And it would require of the disciples a daily dying of themselves. They were going to have to die to their expectations and dreams. They were going to have to die to their addictive habit of trying to save themselves. They were going to have to lose their lives in order to gain the new life that Jesus offered. But it would prove to be an exchange that was well worth it. Our sin for His righteousness. Our forgiveness for His condemnation. Our new life for His death. His power for our weakness. Our salvation for His sacrifice.

So the bad news would prove to be very good news after all. And it still is.

Father, thank You for the good news regarding Your Son Jesus Christ. Thank You for coming up with a plan that was far better than anything the disciples could have dreamed up or dreamed of. Your way is the best. And I am grateful that the bad news regarding Your son’s death would prove to be the best news of all time. Amen.

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men

Luke chapter 8

Where is your faith?

“And He said to them,’Where is your faith?’ They were fearful and amazed, saying to one another, ‘Who then is this, that He commands even the winds and the water, and they obey Him?” – Luke 8:25

Where is your faith? This isn’t so much as a question of its existence as to its focus? In other words, we all have faith. We all trust in something or someone. The issue has to do with the who or what our faith is in. For the disciples, they were having to learn to have faith in Christ. And every time they turned around they were having their misguided, misdirected faith exposed. In the case of verses 22-25, they had their misguided faith in themselves exposed. Think about it, a good portion of these guys were professional, seasoned fishermen. They had been around and on the water for most of their lives. They had seen their fair share of storms. So they knew what to do when one blew in while they were out on the water in a ship. They could probably predict the weather without fail. The could read the signs. They could ride out the worst of storms like the best of sailors. In other words, they had faith in themselves and their own abilities.

In this story they found themselves in a storm on the sea of Galilee and they began to panic. They woke up Jesus who was calmly sleeping in the bow of the boat. They fearfully explain the gravity of their situation to Jesus. “Master, Master, we are perishing!” (Luke 8:24 NASB). What happened to all their boating acumen and experience on the waves of the Sea of Galilee. It was all gone. They suddenly discovered that they were no match for this storm. They weren’t going to be able to get themselves out of this one. No, from their perspective, they were about to drown. Which is right where Jesus seems to want them. Jesus heard their cries and calmly rebuked the wind and waves. The sea suddenly calmed and so did the disciples. To a degree. They were now fearful because of what they had just witnessed. They realized that they had just been part of something truly amazing. They had just seen a power displayed that that they had never seen before. A power greater than the waves and winds of nature. A power greater than anything they could bring to bear on the situation. Jesus asked them, “Where is your faith?” It seems to be a rhetorical question. He knew the answer. Their faith was non-existent. At one time it would have been in themselves and their own abilities. Now it was nowhere. Nothing they had ever relied on before was going to help them out of this predicament. Only Jesus!

That’s where we need to be each and every day. We need to stop putting our faith in anything or anyone other than Christ. And every day they spent with Him was going to be a lesson in faith. They would watch Him heal. They would hear Him teach. They would see His power on display. They would take in all His parables and witness Him casting out demons and healing the sick. They would even see Him raise the dead. They were eyewitnesses to the power of Christ. And it was rocking their faith system. Over time they would learn to put their faith in Him and not in themselves. That is the journey of the disciple. Before we can place our faith in Christ, we must openly admit where our faith has been. In whom or what have I been trusting? Where have I been turning for comfort and consolation? Tearing down the idols we have erected and the sorry substitutes we have turned to for years is the first step in putting our faith in the One who is always faithful.

Father, I feel as though you are asking me each and every day, “Where is your faith?” And the truth is, I still struggle with putting my faith in the wrong things. I still want to trust myself and others more than I trust You. Forgive me for that and show me how to trust You more. Your power is limitless. You alone are worthy of my faith. Everything and everyone else will fail me. They don’t deserve my faith. But You do. Amen.

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men

Luke chapter 24

“Then their eyes were opened.” – Vs 31

It’s just days after the death of Jesus. Two of His followers are slowly making their way from Jerusalem to their home in Emmaus. As they walk along they discuss the events of the last few days. How did this all happen? Where did it all go wrong? Their Messiah, Jesus, had failed to establish His kingdom. Instead, He had suffered the fate of a common criminal by being hung on a Roman cross until dead. And their hopes had died with HIm. No more kingdom of the Jews. No more overthrow of the Roman oppressors. Their precious Messiah was now just a memory. A phantom of what might have been.

Suddenly, their intense conversation is interrupted by the voice of a stranger. They hadn’t noticed him walking along beside them. He asks them what they are talking about. They are a little surprised and put out by this strangers seeming lack of awareness of current events. But they politely bring him up to speed on all that had happened in Jerusalem during the Passover celebration. They revisit the painful events of the last week, pointing out that Jesus, the Nazarene prophet, had been crucified by the Romans, thus ending any hope they had of Him redeeming Israel from their slavery to Rome.

They share one more interesting bit of news. It seems that the body of Jesus had disappeared. The tomb was empty. Some were even claiming that He was alive!

But they were headed home.

I love this story. Here are two followers of Jesus walking along the road with Jesus, but they fail to even recognize that He is there. Their eyes are blind to His presence. They talk about the risen Lord, but fail to see Him. Isn’ t that just like you and me? We can get so wrapped up in our circumstances, sadly recounting how things have not turned out quite the way we expected since we started following Jesus, that we fail to see Him walking right beside us. We can accurately tell His story, including His death, burial, and purported resurrection, but be blind to His presence in our lives. Why? Because things are not as we expected they would be. Our version of the kingdom didn’t come about. Sure, we hear He is alive, but we don’t really believe it. Our eyes are blind to the reality of His presence.

But then God does graciously opens our eyes, just like He did theirs in verse 31 of chapter 24. Something happens that makes us suddenly recognize that what they said was really true – He is alive! He has conquered death! He is exactly who He claimed to be! But what was it that opened their eyes? Why was it that they were unable to see the truth of the Savior’s presence in their lives that day? I think it was a lack of vision. They had become near-sighted, unable to see beyond the borders of their own limited little worlds. Like me, they suffered from a severe case of spiritual myopia. Anything beyond their own little world was a blur. All they could see was that their hopes had been dashed, their dreams had failed to materialize, their goals had gone unreached, the desires had bone unmet.

Then Jesus opened up the Scriptures and helped them focus on something beyond themselves – namely Him. “He explained to them the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures” (Vs 27). Later, at a casual meal in their home, Jesus broke the bread and handed it to them. “Then their eyes were opened and they recognized Him” (Vs 30). I am sure these two had heard first-hand accounts from the lips of the disciples of that final Passover meal they had shared with Jesus. They knew about the cup and the bread. And when Jesus broke it that day in their home, it all came into focus. Their perspective changed. They were no longer two myopic, disappointed, self-absorbed individuals. They were hopeful, expectant followers of the risen Lord. He really was alive. They had seen Him. They had experienced Him. So they returned to Jerusalem with “hearts burning” and hopes soaring.

Isn’t that how we should live? Yet many of us mope around as if Jesus never had risen from the dead. Sure, we claim He has. We sing about it, talk about it, and say we believe it. Yet we fail to see Him in the everyday affairs of life. Why? Because we can’t see the big picture. We are self-absorbed, focused on our own little kingdom agendas. Jesus has failed to deliver what we expected. Our lives have not turned out the way we planned. The future looks dark and out of focus. We fail to see beyond our immediate circumstances.

But He is there. Waiting for us to lift our eyes and see Him for who He really is. He is the King of kings and Lord of lords with His own agenda and His own plans – for this world and for our lives. His kingdom is bigger and better than ours. And He wants us to get a glimpse of it. When we do, we will see clearly for the first time why we are here and what it is that He wants us to do in us and through us.

Father, Open my eyes, that I may see glimpses of truth Thou hast for me; place in my hands the wonderful key that shall unclasp and set me free. Silently now I wait for Thee, ready my God, Thy will to see, open my eyes, illumine me, Spirit divine! Amen.

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men

Luke chapter 23

He was oppressed and He was afflicted,
Yet He did not open His mouth;
Like a lamb that is led to slaughter,
And like a sheep that is silent before its shearers,
So He did not open His mouth.
By oppression and judgment He was taken away;
And as for His generation, who considered
That He was cut off out of the land of the living
For the transgression of my people, to whom the stroke was due?
Isaiah 53:7-8

This chapter is a case of the guilty versus the innocent. In fact, Luke goes out of his way to make it clear that Jesus was innocent of the crimes for which He was accused. I counted at least seven times in this passage where Jesus was determined to be without guilt. Pilate, a pagan Roman politician declared Him so. Herod, a corrupt Jewish puppet king couldn’t find any fault in Him. Even a condemned criminal, hanging on the cross next to Jesus, clearly saw the innocence of Jesus.

But there He hung. The Just for the unjust. The innocent for the guilty. The sinless One in the place of sinful men.

You see this theme of innocence and guilt throughout this chapter. Even in Luke’s recounting of the release of Barabbas. Here was a man, a condemned insurrectionist and murderer, who is chosen by the people for release over Jesus. The one who was really guilty was set free. Yet the One who was guiltless was condemned. In doing some research on this passage I discovered something I had never seen this before regarding Barabbas’ name. It means “son the the father” in Aramaic. Isn’t it interesting that this “son” was set free while the Son of God was sent to die in his place?

Another glimpse into the innocense and guilt theme is found in the two criminals who were crucified on either side of Jesus. Three men received the death sentence that day, yet only two deserved it. Jesus was quiltless, yet He suffered the same humiliating, agonizing fate. Even one of the criminals could see the difference when he exclaimed, “We indeed are suffering justly, for we are receiving what we deserve for our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong!” – Vs 41.

Jesus was completely sinnless and guiltless, yet He died in my place and yours. Sinless perfection took on the penalty for our sins. In 2 Corinthians 5:21, Paul reminds us that “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.”

Jesus suffered a criminal’s death in the company of criminals.
Jesus died while a murderer was spared.
Jesus took the place of a guilty man.
Jesus was declared guilty allowing Barabbas to go free.

But isn’t that exacty what Jesus has done for you and me? Like Barabbas, I have been allowed to talk away from my death sentence a free man. Someone else paid my penalty. Someone else took my punishment. Someone else suffered the pain meant for me. Jesus “gave Himself for our sins so that He might rescue us from this present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father” (Galatians 1:4). And “He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live to rrighteousness; for by His wounds you were healed” (1 Peter 2:24).

We don’t know what happened to Barabbas. But we do know he walked away that day a free man. Did he return to his life of rebellion and murder? Or was he forever changed by the events of that day? We have no way of knowing  But the real question is whether you and I have been changed by the events of that day? Do we fully recognize and appreciate what Jesus did for us that day? You see, we were just as deserving of death as Barabbas was. We were on death row awaiting the inevitable death sentence. Then Jesus showed up and He took our place. He sacrificed His perfectly sinless life for our sin-saturated one. He took the nails meant for us. He suffered the abuse that was rightfully mine to bear. But has that selfless, sacrificial, substitionary act changed us forever? Do we really see our guilt up against His innocense? Until we do, we will never fully appreciate what He has done for us.

Because He did, I can truly be called Bar Abba – a son of the Father. Fully forgiven and completely free!

Father, thank you for sending Your Son to die in my place. Jesus, thank you for sacrificing your sinless life for my sinful one. Thank you for enduring death so that I might enjoy life. I can never repay You, but I hope to thank You by living my life in such a way that it brings glory and honor to You. I owe everything to You! Thank You!!!! Amen.

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men

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Luke chapter 22

I love the disciples!

These guys are great. They are so down-to-earth and real. With the disciples, what you see is what you get. No pretense or posturing. If they think it, they say it. These are salt-of-the-earth kind of guys – fisherman and tax-collectors – regular Joes who were fully human and lived out their faults and failures right out in clear view for everyone to see.

I guess that’s why I can relate to them. But if the truth be known, I used to look down on and judge the disciples for their seeming ignorance and inability to trust Jesus for who He was. I say, “I used to” because one day I woke up and realized that I am just like them. I can be just as stubborn, near-sighted, and self-absorbed that I fail to see the truth in who Jesus was and what He was saying.

I can relate to the disciples. I can see myself in their thoughts and actions. Take a look at verse 24:

“And there arose also a dispute among them as to which one of them was regarded as the greatest.”

Amazing! Look at the context. Jesus has just shared the Passover meal with them. He has been talking to them about His coming suffering. He has talked about giving His body and His blood. He has revealed that one of them is about to betray Him. And their response? They immediately break out into a discussion over which one of them was going to be the betrayer and that naturally led to a debate about who among them was the greatest.

This wasn’t the first time this topic had come up. It seems that this was a favorite point of discussion among the disciples (Mark 9:34; Matthew 18:1; Luke 9:6). Even the mother of two of them got into the act by asking Jesus to “command that in Your kingdom these two sons of mine may sit one of Your right and one on Your left” (Matthew 20:21).

Power, position,and prominence were important to the disciples. Why? Because they were looking for a different kind of kingdom. They had each followed Jesus because they believed Him to be the Messiah, but their understanding of what Jesus had come to do was off? They had each followed Jesus for purely selfish reasons. For what they could get out of it. They saw Jesus as a conquering king who was going to set up His kingdom on earth and each of them would get to play a part in helping rule over and administrate that kingdom. Therefore the debate.

But isn’t that what we do? Isn’t that how we think to some degree? Didn’t many of us come to Jesus for what we thought we would get out of it? A better life, a happier marriage, a ticket to heaven? We can even be guilty of jockeying for spiritual significance in the kingdom of God. We want to be thought of as more spiritual than someone else. We want to be given authority or some degree of honor for who we are and what we contribute to the kingdom cause.

But Jesus had other plans. He had come to bring another reality. His kingdom was about serving, not being served. In His kingdom the first were to be last and the last first. In His kingdom the least would be the greatest. The leader must be like the servant. He even told the disciples, “I am among you as the one who serves” (Vs 27) and “the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve” (Matthew 28:20).

Paul describes it this way in his letter to the Philippians:

“Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.” – 2:3-4

He goes on to use Jesus as the perfect example of this new mentality we are to possess as His followers. We are to have the attitude that Jesus had. One of service and self-sacrifice for the good of the kingdom. An attitude of self-denial and humility, putting the will of God above our own, and the kingdom of God in place of our own.

So how are we doing? Do we have the attitude of Christ? Or are we spending our time debating where we stand in the spiritual pecking order? Are we more interested in being served or serving? Do we prefer special treatment or treating others as more important than ourselves?

What is amazing is that Jesus chose the disciples – men just like you and me – and He was able to use them. But first He had to transform them. Which is what He is doing in us. He is slowly weaning us off our obsession with power, position, and prominence and transforming us into His own likeness. Selfless, sacrificial, humble, and possessing a heart for the things of God.

Father, forgive me for being too obsessed about me. Help me to see that your kingdom is not about me. It is about You. Continue to open my eyes and give me a heart for others. Give me the attitude of Christ so that I might consider myself as “the least of these” and others as more important than myself. Thank you for your patience with me as I struggle with my humanness. Continue to transform me into Christ’s likeness. And may Your kingdom come and Your will be done in my life. Amen.

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men

Luke chapter 21

Wow! This was a heavy one.

As I read through this chapter, I have to admit that I had a strong urge to reach up to the shelf in my office and crack open a trusty commentary on Luke in order to gain some insight into the meaning behind this passage. Because what Jesus had to say here had my head spinning.

But then I thought about the poor disciples. Can you imagine how much their heads were spinning as they listed to these words of Jesus? I don’t think they had a clue as to what he was talking about. Sure, they got all the references to earthquakes, famines, conflicts, persecution, and betrayal, but they had no way of knowing when all these things were going to take place. I just picture them standing there, jaws slack, eyes wide open, inwardly panicking about all they are taking in. “Is this what we signed up for?” they ask themselves.

So as I read this passage again, I began to look for words of comfort to go along with the words of conflict, confusion, and chaos. And there they were. Strategically placed throughout Jesus’ discourse are some helpful reminders from the lips of the Savior to help His disciples survive and thrive during difficult times. And they still apply today.

Use every opportunity to share – In verse 13, Jesus tells the disciples that even though they are going to be arrested, put on trial, and persecuted for His names sake, they need to see it as an opportunity to tell others about Him. Don’t try and protect yourself, make the most of the situation and share about the life-changing love of Jesus Christ.

Rely on the Lord – Verses 14-15 remind us that God will give us everything we need to endure everything that comes our way. We don’t have to worry about having enough strength to face the difficult days ahead, because we have God on our side.

Remember that you will endure – Verse 19 reminds us that no matter what we face in the future, we WILL endure. Saving faith doesn’t fall apart or fade away – it endures. To cease to trust Jesus is to never have trusted Him. Your ability to endure persecution and pain is proof of the faith within you.

Watch and wait expectantly – Verses 27-28 remind us to have an eternal perspective – to live in anticipation of the Lord’s return. Don’t wallow in the despair of the day, but lift up your heads and keep your eyes open for the ultimate answer to all of life’s problems” The redemption of this world that will come with the return of the Lord.

Trust God’s Word – Verse 33 puts it all in perspective. While the entire creation could evaporate tomorrow, the word of God is lasting, permanent, and trustworthy. This world and everything in it is impermanent and untrustworthy, but you can count on God’s word.

Guard your heart – Tough times can be tough on our hearts, causing us to worry, weighing us down with doubt and despair. We can take our eyes off the hope of the Lord’s return and focus in on the circumstances around us. In verse 34, Jesus tells us not to let that happen.

Stay alert and pray for strength – The opposite of a life filled with worry and despair is a life of complacency and carelessness. Jesus encourages us to be alert, to have our eyes open to all that is going on around us. In other words, be realistic. This stuff is real and it calls for prayer. We need endurance. We need strength. We need wisdom. And these things only come from one place: God.

So, what are you going to do in the difficult days in which you live? There are signs of despair everywhere. People are suffering. The news is not good. But are we supposed to panic? Not according to Jesus. We live in a fallen world in need of a risen Savior. Let’s turn to Him – even when we don’t understand all that is going on around us.

Father, help me to be a glass-half-full Christian who sees Light in the midst of darkness. Who sees Hope in the midst of despair. Who looks up when the temptation is to be down. Give me an eternal perspective. Help me keep my eyes focused on  You! Help to me to trust that you have the details of my life and this world all worked out and Your plan is perfect.  So I have no reason to worry. Amen.

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men

Luke chapter 20

“Then render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” – Vs 25

I know it’s only the end of January, but it’s hard not to think about tax season. Before we know it, April 15 will be here and all of us will be rushing to “render unto Caesar.” In fact, the ads and commercials for tax preparation services have already started. Most try and take a humorous approach, but for some reason I find it very difficult to see paying your taxes as a laughing matter. Especially in the midst of economic hard times.

But I digress. As I look at Jesus’ response to a trick question posed to him by the Jewish religious leaders who were obsessed with finding some charge they could level at Him and get Him out of the way, I am convicted. Not about paying my taxes, but about false worship.

You see, Jesus tells them to “render” or literally “discharge what is due” to the government of their day. That just happened to be the Romans. They had a civic duty and responsibility to pay their taxes. Even if those taxes were unjust and exorbitant (which they were). But the thing that hit me is that I tend to give the government more than it deserves or even demands. I render unto government what really belongs to God:

My trust, confidence, hope, dependence, expectation, desire for protection, need for stability. In short, I end up worshipping government instead of God. This morning the news agencies are all talking about the House having passed President Obama’s $819 billion stimulus package. Many Americans are placing their hope and confidence in this bill being our way out of the financial crisis this country is in. There are even a lot of believers who are hoping someone, anyone in government will come up with a solution.

But is government where my hope should lie? Are politicians the ones in whom I should place my confidence? Is Washington or Rome where I should turn for solutions to the difficulties of life?

I am to render unto God what is rightfully His and His alone. My confidence, my trust, my hope, my allegiance, my dependence, my obedience, my life. So this April 15 I will render unto Caesar what is rightfully his. But beginning today I will attempt to give God what only He deserves. Care to join me?

“Be strong and let your heart take courage, all you who hope in the Lord.” – Psalm 31:24

Father, these are difficult days, but you are a powerful God. Help me to remember that you alone are worthy of my trust, allegiance, confidence, hope, and love. Give me a confidence to face each day with peace, hope, and joy. Amen.

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men

Luke chapter 19

“For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.” Vs 10
If the Lord ever needed a purpose statement, this would have been it. In one short sentence we read the real reason behind His birth, His life, and His death. He came to seek and to save the lost. Which included me! And some vertically challenged Hebrew tax collector named Zaccheus.

I love this story. I can’t read it without thinking about the little Sunday School song I learned growing up as a child.

Zaccheus was a wee little man, and a wee little man was he.
He climbed up in a sycamore tree, for the Lord he wanted to see.
And as the Savior passed him by, He looked up in the tree,
And he said, “Zaccheus, you come down from there;
For I’m going to your house today, for I’m going to your house today”

Zaccheus came down from that tree, as happy as he could be,
He gave his money to the poor, and said: “What a better man I’ll be.”

But while this clever little ditty covers the “chance” encounter Zaccheus had with Jesus and the subsequent life change that resulted, there’s something missing, and it’s the statement recorded in verse 10. What happened to Zaccheus is a picture of what Jesus came to do for every man, woman and child: To save them from their lostness. You see, Zaccheus was a “wee little man” in more than just height. He was lacking in more than physical stature. He had come up short on the righteousness index and was going to find himself standing at the gate of heaven unable to meet the mandatory holiness height requirement to enter.

He was LOST. A sheep without a shepherd doomed to get as much out of his earthly life as he possibly could because his hopes of heaven were blocked by an insurmountable wall of righteous standards he could never get over. Especially at his size!

But something remarkable happened. Jesus enters the scene. Zaccheus is up in a tree, attempting to overcome his height disadvantage and catch a glimpse of Jesus. But Jesus found him and said, “Zaccheus, hurry and come down, for today I must stay at your house.” Wow! Jesus was offering this sinful man an opportunity to have his home, and subsequently his heart, occupied by the Son of God. You can tell by the reaction of the crowds that Zaccheus was far from deserving. He was a known sinner. By his own admission he had become rich through fraud and corruption. Yet Jesus chose him over over all the others in the crowd that day.

You see, Zaccheus is me. I was once the same spiritually stunted sinner in search of a savior. I couldn’t measure up. I consistently came up short on the righteousness requirement. I was lost. But Jesus was seeking for me and He found me. And like Zaccheus, my life has never been the same. Salvation came to my house.

Amazing grace! How sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me!
I once was lost, but now am found;
Was blind, but now I see.

Thank you Father for sending Your Son to seek me. Thank you Jesus for finding me. Let me never forget that like Zaccheus, I was undeserving of your grace and mercy. I didn’t measure up. I was a “wee little man” unable to reach You, so you reached out to me. And I am eternally grateful. Amen

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men

Luke chapter 18

Could you use a little justice?

As I read through Luke 18 this morning, one verse jumped out at me, and it happened to be the very first one.

“Now He was telling them a parable to show that at all times they ought to pray and noe to lose heart.”

Have you ever prayed and lost heart? Have you ever prayed and felt like God was wasn’t answering or that He didn’t even hear your request in the first place? If you’re anything like me, you’ve probably had this feeling more times than you would like to remember. So this passage really struck a chord with me. You see, I thought I knew this passage pretty well. But in doing my devotional this morning I tried to look at it with a fresh set of eyes. In the last I had always seen the first parable as a lesson in persistent prayer. After all, it’s a story about a widow who kept “continually coming” to the unjust judge and ultimately wore him down. But is persistence the real point here? If so, then we run the risk of turning this parable into a license for asking for and getting whatever we want from God. Just ask loud enough, long enough, and persistently enough, and God will eventually have to give in to your request.

But the real point seems to be about the content of the woman’s request, not her methodology. Yes, she ultimately got what she was asking for, but what was it that she was requesting? According to Jesus, it was justice. She had asked this judge for legal protection from her opponent. In verses 7-8, Jesus says, “…will not God bring about justice for His elect who cry to Him day and night, and wil He delay long over them? I tell you that He will bring about justice for them quickly.” This woman was in need of justice. So she turned to the only source she knew coudl deliver it, and she asked for it consitently and persistently until she received it. Why? Because she was helpless and hopeless to do anything about it herself. This earthly judge was her only hope — for justice.

So what’s the point? I need to pray for justice to be done. I need to believe that justice will be done. But when will it happen? According to Jesus, it will come “when the Son of Man comes.” Ultimate justice on this earth will only come when the Lord returns and makes everything wrong right. But when He returns will He find His people praying faithfully and expectantly for justice to be done or will He find that we have long since given up and given in? The real message in this passage for me is about praying for the return of the Savior. It is about allowing the injustices I see in this world to remind me that the only solution is His return. When I see someone suffering from a potentially life-threatening disease, I am not only to pray for their healing, but to pray that justice be done. That this wrong be made right. When I encounter yet another marriage disentegrating before my eyes, I am not only to pray for restoration, but to allow it to remind me that the ultimage, long-term sotution is His return.  Seeing and experiencing injustice in this world should cause us to pray for His return. I should long for His return more than anything else. To pray for anything less is to expect too little and to settle for far less than true justice.

Do you long for His return? Are you eager to see justice done? I am. And what a joy it is to know that that day is coming. His second coming will bring justice on the earth once and for all.

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth passed away, and there is no longer any sea. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, made ready as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Hiimself will be among them, and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.” And He who sits on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” –– Revelation 21:1-5a

Father, may I continue to grow in my understanding of and desire for justice, which is available only through Your Son and will ultimately come when He returns. Help me long for and pray persistently for  that day more than anything else. Amen.

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men