1 Timothy 6:1-10

True Godliness.

1 Timothy 6:1-10

Yet true godliness with contentment is itself great wealth. After all, we brought nothing with us when we came into the world, and we can’t take anything with us when we leave it. So if we have enough food and clothing, let us be content. – 1 Timothy 6:6-8 NLT

True godliness should make a difference in the way we live our lives. In this short series of verses, Paul addresses three different groups of people in the church in Ephesus. His point was to remind Timothy that the Christian faith was to be a practical part of everyday life. It was to make a difference in the way believers lived and interacted with the world around them. First, he addresses slaves – specifically those slaves who had come to faith in Christ and were now part of the body of Christ. Slavery was a huge part of the culture in Ephesus, with all kinds of slaves living and working in the community. Some had been sold into slavery. Others had been forced into slavery because they had been unable to pay their debts. And these slaves would have been of various backgrounds and cultures. There would have been both Jewish and Gentile slaves. But the ones to whom Paul is referring are believing slaves – those who had placed their faith in Jesus Christ and were now part of the local fellowship in Ephesus. Paul encourages Timothy to teach these individuals to show respect to their masters and to work hard. Paul doesn’t spend time condemning slavery or attempting to disrupt the social fabric of his day. He doesn’t condone slavery, but neither does he condemn it. He simply wants those who find themselves impacted by it to live their lives in a way that would honor God and illustrate godly behavior. In his letter to Philemon, a Christian slave owner, Paul was asking him to receive back Onesimus, a runaway slave who had become a believer. Paul encouraged Philemon, “he is no longer like a slave to you. He is more than a slave, for he is a beloved brother, especially to me. Now he will mean much more to you, both as a man and as a brother in the Lord” (Philemon 1:16 NLT). Faith in Christ does not always change our circumstances, but it does change the way we should live within them.

The next group Paul addressed were false teachers – those who were contradicting Paul’s teaching and stirring up “arguments ending in jealousy, division, slander, and evil suspicions” (1 Timothy 6:4 NLT). These individuals were obsessed with arrogant and lacked true understanding. They had turned their back on the truth of God and were concocting their own version of the truth. And their motivation was purely selfish and financial in nature. Paul said, “to them, a show of godliness is just a way to become wealthy” (1 Timothy 6:5 NLT). Their ministry was materially motivated. And their godliness was all for show.

But Paul had a different understanding of godliness. It was to be, in and of itself, the objective. It was not to be a means to and end. Godliness was not to be used as a device to gain respect, power, or financial gain. It was sufficient in and of itself. And when godliness was accompanied with contentment, it would prove more than profitable to an individual’s life. That’s why a godly slave could remain a slave and be content with his lot in life. Circumstances have little or nothing to do with godliness and should have virtually no impact on the degree of our contentment. Godliness is not dependent upon material possessions. The godly individual does not rely upon the accumulation of things to find contentment. Which is why Paul writes, “So if we have enough food and clothing, let us be content” (1 Timothy 6:8 NLT). The motivation of the false teachers was money. The motivation of the godly is Christ.

Paul ends up this section talking about those who love money. Each of these three groups were part of the church in Ephesus. There were slaves, false teachers and lovers of money participating in the body of Christ there. And not all those who had a love affair with money were false teachers. There were obviously some who had much and wanted more, and there were those who had little and dreamed of having more. In both cases, the love of money would prove to be dangerous. “…people who long to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many foolish and harmful desires that plunge them into ruin and destruction” (1 Timothy 6:9 NLT). Their lives are not marked by contentment. Godliness is not their goal, the accumulation of wealth is. God is not their provider and protector, money is. Paul does not condemn money or wealth. He simply points out that the love of it and obsession over it is potentially harmful for the believer. It can have devastating consequences on a believer’s pursuit of godliness.

True godliness is accompanied by contentment. The desire for more of anything, other than Christ, can be deadly to the believer. The desire for something other than Christ for our contentment, joy, fulfillment and hope can also prove to be harmful to our spiritual maturity. Slaves needed to be content with their circumstances and live godly lives right where they were. The false teachers needed to be content with the truth of God’s Word and the message of Jesus Christ, just as it had been preached, and live godly lives without expecting any financial reward in return. Those who loved and long for money were to be content with their current financial status and live godly lives regardless of how little or how much money they had. Godliness combined with contentment is the real currency of God’s Kingdom.

Father, may we learn to pursue godliness more than anything else in this earth? We get so obsessed with changing our circumstances, thinking that  is the key to happiness and contentment. But the reality is that You are and have always been the only source of contentment for our lives. Help us to continue to discover that true godliness with contentment is itself great wealth. Amen.

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men

2 Corinthians 3:1-6

Giving God the Credit.

2 Corinthians 3:1-6

It is not that we think we are qualified to do anything on our own. Our qualification comes from God. He has enabled us to be ministers of his new covenant. This is a covenant not of written laws, but of the Spirit. The old written covenant ends in death; but under the new covenant, the Spirit gives life. – 2 Corinthians 3:5-6 NLT

There is no doubt that some among the believers in Corinth had been questioning Paul’s authority. They had been spreading rumors that Paul was not really qualified to address the various issues he been writing about. Evidently, false teachers had been influencing the Corinthians, contradicting the teachings of Paul, and using as their basis of authority, forged letters of recommendation from Judea. In other words, they had papers to back them up. It appeared as if they were official representatives “true” apostles back in Jerusalem. The inference was that Paul was an imposter and charlatan. He was a fake. And all that he had been teaching was to be rejected as false and dangerous.

But Paul had no desire to play their game. He was not going to waste his time trying to prove his validity by producing letters written by men. He knew his calling and who it was that had issued his call. As far as Paul was concerned, the proof of his ministry’s integrity was to be seen in the transformed lives of the men and women of Corinth. He knew that others could see the change and that was why the Corinthian believers were suffering persecution. Paul viewed their changed lives as “a letter from Christ showing the result of our ministry among you” (2 Corinthians 3:3 NLT). The Spirit had clearly been at work in Corinth, opening the eyes of men and women as they had heard the gospel message proclaimed by Paul. This had not been the result of Paul’s efforts, but it had been the work of the Spirit – from beginning to end. Paul didn’t need letters of recommendation, because it wasn’t his work to begin with. It was God’s work. Paul had no delusions of grandeur. In fact, he fully understood that he was not “qualified to do anything” on his own. The work in Corinth had nothing to do with Paul’s competence or credibility. It had everything to do with God and His decision to work through someone like Paul. “Our qualification comes from God. He has enabled us to be ministers of his new covenant” (2 Corinthians 3:5-6 NLT). In essence, Paul was telling those who were casting aspersions on his ministry, to take it up with God. What Paul had been able to accomplish in Corinth had been a clear work of God, made possible through the power of the Holy Spirit. He had simply been a tool in the hands of God to accomplish His will.

How easy it is for us to believe that we are vital to God’s plan. How quickly we can assume that God needs us to accomplish His will. We can find ourselves taking credit for what God has done and becoming prideful about our own competence and significance to His Kingdom cause. We want to boast about our credentials and brag about our qualifications. But Paul knew that he was nothing without the Spirit’s work. He knew that he was not qualified or competent to do anything on his own. The ministry of life transformation and redemption was entirely the work of God, not man. Our degrees, diplomas, education, intelligence, gifts, abilities, talents and resumes mean nothing if God is not in it. He is not dependent on us. We are dependent on Him. If lives are being changed as a result of anything we have done, it is because God has chosen to work through us. We are not accomplishing great things for God, but instead, He is simply choosing to accomplish His work through us, and oftentimes, in spite of us. God did not need Paul to accomplish His will. But He had chosen and commissioned him to spread the good news about Jesus Christ among the Gentiles. And God’s Spirit had clearly worked through Paul, preparing hearts to hear and accept the gospel message. Paul didn’t need any other proof than the transformed lives of the Corinthian believers. He knew that God was at work, because he could see it. Paul had no reason to brag, but he also had no reason to doubt. It could have been easy for him to question whether or not what he had been doing was truly of God, but the evidence was undeniable and irrefutable. Lives had been changed, and only God can bring about true, long-lasting life transformation. Only the Spirit can give life. So Paul was confident and content that what he was doing had God’s blessing and complete recommendation.

Father, we need to look for life transformation. We need to learn to see where Your Spirit is at work in our midst. Too often we base our success based on our own qualifications and efforts. But the true criteria for success in Your work is changed lives. And only You can bring that about. Open our eyes so that we might see where You are at work. Don’t let us focus on what we are doing, but on what You are doing through us. We can measure programs and we can count heads and think we are making a difference. But if lives are not being changed and if people are not being saved, our work is in vain. Remove from us any desire to please or prove our significance to men. Let us be content with the proof of changed lives as Your Spirit works among us. Amen.

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men

1 Corinthians 15:12-34

The Reality of the Resurrection.

1 Corinthians 15:12-34

But in fact, Christ has been raised from the dead. He is the first of a great harvest of all who have died. – 1 Corinthians 15:20 NLT

The future resurrection of the dead may have been in question with some of the believers in Corinth, but Paul affirmed it’s reality. His argument was that if there is was no such thing as a future resurrection of the dead, then Christ Himself was not resurrected. Their rejection of the doctrine of bodily resurrection had ramifications. It eliminated the possibility of Christ having been resurrected from the dead. “And if Christ has not been raised, then all our preaching is useless, and your faith is useless” (1 Corinthians 15:14 NLT). And if there was no such thing as the resurrection of the dead, then Paul and the other apostles were nothing more than liars, having taught that God raised Jesus from the dead. Without the doctrine of the resurrection, there is no such thing as a risen Savior, forgiveness of sin, or an eternal estate. All it would leave us with is the present reality of this world, then death.

One of the things that jumps out at me in this passage is the danger of human logic and reason. When men begin to try and explain away what they see as difficult to understand, it almost always leads to heresy. The Corinthians were wrestling with their cultural concept of the dichotomy between the flesh and the spirit, the body and the soul. They had been indoctrinated with the idea that the body was material and therefore evil. But the soul was spiritual and therefore good. So the idea of a resurrection of the body was inexplicable to them. They couldn’t fathom how that could be. So their human reasoning kicked in and they simply denied the possibility of a bodily resurrection. It didn’t matter to them what God may have to say about the subject. They had reached their conclusion and were completely comfortable with it. But Paul wasn’t. He wanted them to understand the dangerous ramifications of their human reasoning. By denying the bodily resurrection of the dead, they were denying the very thing that was the key to their forgiveness and future glorification: The resurrection of Jesus. When God raised Jesus from the dead, it was not just to prove His own power, but as a precursor of what was to come. As Paul said, “Christ has been raised from the dead. He is the first of a great harvest of all who have died” (1 Corinthians 15:20 NLT). Paul made a comparison between Jesus and Adam. When Adam sinned, he brought death (both physical and spiritual) to the world. When Jesus was raised from the dead, He brought new life (both physical and spiritual) to the world. Paul gave them a glimpse into the future when he wrote, “Christ was raised as the first of the harvest; then all who belong to Christ will be raised when he comes back” (1 Corinthians 15:23 NLT). He is referring to the Rapture of the Church. Paul goes into greater detail about this future event in his letter to the Thessalonian believers. “For the Lord himself will come down from heaven with a commanding shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trumpet call of God. First, the Christians who have died will rise from their graves. Then, together with them, we who are still alive and remain on the earth will be caught up in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. Then we will be with the Lord forever” (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17 NLT). Just a few verses earlier in this passage, Paul made it clear that when Christ returns for His Church, He will be accompanied by all the believers who have died. But then he wrote that all “the Christians who have died will rise from their graves.” They will return in their spirit form, but will be reunited with their resurrected, renewed bodies. And those believers who are alive at the time of Christ’s return will also be given new bodies. Paul addresses that a few verses later in this section of his letter to the Corinthians. “It will happen in a moment, in the blink of an eye, when the last trumpet is blown. For when the trumpet sounds, those who have died will be raised to live forever. And we who are living will also be transformed. For our dying bodies must be transformed into bodies that will never die; our mortal bodies must be transformed into immortal bodies” (1 Corinthians 15:52-53 NLT).

The resurrection of our earthly bodies is a non-negotiable aspect of our faith as believers. God is not redeeming just a part of us, but all of us. He is going to restore ALL things, not just some things. He will redeem and restore what has been marred by sin, including all of creation and our bodies. All that God made in the physical universe He deemed as good. But it has all been damaged by sin. God will restore it all. He will bring back to life even those bodies that have been dead and buried for centuries. But if none of this is true, and there is no resurrection, then as Paul said, “Let’s feast, and drink, for tomorrow we die!” (1 Corinthians 15:32 NLT). But Paul also warned the Corinthians to avoid people who thought that way. He wanted them to know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that the resurrection was a reality. Christ Himself was proof of it. And His own resurrection was ample evidence and assurance of our own future resurrection. It’s going to happen. We don’t know when or how, but it is going to happen. “So encourage each other with these words” (1 Thessalonians 4:18 NLT).

Father, thank You for this timely reminder. We live in a world where everything is growing old, decaying, and falling apart. While I have Your Spirit living within me, my body continues to show the effects of sin. But there is a day coming when I will receive a new, resurrected body. You will make all things new, including my own physical body. Your work of transformation in my life will be complete and whole, because You don’t do anything halfway. Amen.

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men

Day 131 – John 18:15-18, 25-27

In Front of Witnesses.

John 18:15-18, 25-27

Simon Peter followed Jesus, as did another of the disciple. That other disciple was acquainted with the high priest, so he was allowed to enter the high priest’s courtyard with Jesus. Peter had to stay outside the gate. Then the disciple who knew the high priest spoke to the woman watching at the gate, and she let Peter in. – John 18:15-16 NLT

John’s account of what happened that fateful night when Jesus was arrested and Peter denied Him sheds a whole new light on things. In his usual style, John refers to himself in the third person, saying, “as did the other disciple” and “then the disciple who knew the high priest.” Previously unnoticed by most of us, John was at the scene of Peter’s worst moment and witnessed it all. If you’re like me, you probably pictured Peter as having been alone that night. And if you only read the  three synoptic gospels, you would never have realized that John accompanied Peter and even made it possible for him to gain entry into the inner courtyard of the high priest’s house. Somehow John was acquainted with the high priest and was recognized by the woman who was manning the gate, so he was afforded immediate access into the courtyard. Peter, unknown to the woman, was denied entry. But a word from John made it possible for Peter to join him inside the courtyard. And it was there that Peter’s already devastating night turned into a personal nightmare. His denial of Jesus did not take place in anonymity, but was witnessed by one of his closest friends and fellow disciples. John seems to be gracious in his account, somewhat softening the force of Peter’s three denials. And yet, it was probably he who informed Matthew, Mark and Luke just what was said that night. Or perhaps, some time after Pentecost, Peter himself was the one who shared the exact words he used that night.

But it is painful to think just how embarrassing and humiliating Peter’s actions must have been to him, having been witnessed by his friend John. But John makes to statement or levels no indictment against Peter. He draws no conclusions or reaches no verdict. He simply states what happened in a somewhat matter-of-fact manner. “Again Peter denied it. And immediately the rooster crowed” (John 18:27 NLT). But the weight of what Peter had done drove him to run from the courtyard weeping bitterly. He had denied His Lord and Savior. He had done exactly what Jesus had predicted he would do. And he had done it right in front of one of his own friends. It is one thing to fail alone. It is another thing to fail in front of witnesses. It is quite another thing to fail in front of those you know and whose opinion of you matters. And failure had to have been one of the feelings Peter encountered that evening. He had failed to live up to his own hype. He was the disciple who had sworn that he would die for Jesus before He ever denied Him. Strong words. Weak resolve.

While we are not told what happened next in the courtyard, we can assume that John stayed right where he was as Peter ran away. And John seems to have stayed by the Lord’s side all the way to the cross. He will be the only one mentioned as having been at the cross the day Jesus died. Everyone else, including Peter, had run away. There is not a lot to conclude from all this. There is no real moral lesson at this point. Jesus is under arrest. He has been beaten about the head and face, spit upon and ridiculed. Peter has denied him. John has had to witness it all and must have felt incredibly alone and despondent as he watched his friend slink away in shame and His Master be led away in chains. It was not a good night. And the next day would not get any better. But for those of us who know how the story ends, we know there is a light shining in the darkness. There is hope right around the corner. Peter’s shame will turned to rejoicing. John, all alone for the moment, will once again find himself surrounded by friends and fellow believers. This dark moment was necessary. Peter’s denial had to happen, but he would one day proclaim unashamedly and boldly, “God raised Jesus from the dead, and we are all witnesses of this. Now he is exalted at the place of highest honor in heaven, at God’s right hand” (Acts 2:32-33 NLT). And John would be there to witness his transformation from a denier into a proclaimer.

Father, the story of Peter is the story of us all. We are all capable of denying Your Son at any given moment. We are all guilty of having denied Your Son on numerous occasions over our lifetimes. But You are the God who transforms deniers into proclaimers. You are always using our weakest moments to remind us of our need for You. You even use those who witness our failures to encourage us to remain faithful. You are still writing the next chapter of each of our lives. Because You are faithful, loving and gracious. You were not done with Peter and You are not done with me. Amen.

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men

Day 123 – John 16:1-15

Better Off Without Him.

John 16:1-15

“But in fact, it is best for you that I go away, because if I don’t, the Advocatewon’t come. If I do go away, then I will send him to you. And when he comes, he will convict the world of its sin, and of God’s righteousness, and of the coming judgment.” – John 16:7-8 NLT

The more Jesus talked about His coming death, the more confused and depressed the disciples seemed to get. Jesus saw it and commented about it: “But now I am going away to the one who sent me, and not one of you is asking where I am going. Instead, you grieve because of what I’ve told you” (John 16:5-6 NLT). And it made sense. They had just spent the last three years of their lives following this man and now He was telling them that He was going to die. Their concept of death, like ours, was permanent. In their understanding of things, once Jesus was dead, He was gone. In spite of all His talk about coming back. That part was a mystery to them. So Jesus somewhat muddies the waters by telling them, “it is best for you that I go away” (John 16:7 NLT). That had to have sounded so strange to the disciples. How in the world could His leaving them be best for them? But Jesus knew something they didn’t know. He knew that when He ascended back to heaven, God the Father was going to send the very Spirit of God to be with the disciples. And that could not happen until Jesus left. For the last three and a half years they had enjoyed the presence of God in the form of Jesus. He was God in human flesh. He had lived with them, talked with them, done miracles among them, and taught them the truth of God on a daily basis. But when the Holy Spirit came they would not only have God with them and among them, but in them. They would be empowered by the very Spirit of God. This was going to be a game-changer for the disciples and for the world, mainly because of the three things Jesus said the Spirit would do when He arrived.

The NET Bible translates verse 8 this way: “And when hecomes, he will prove the world wrong concerning sin andrighteousness andjudgment.” The very presence of the Holy Spirit in the lives of believers would be proof that the world’s view of Jesus was wrong. It was their rejection of Him as Messiah that was their most condemning sin. The Holy Spirit would also convict the world about righteousness because He would only indwell those who had placed their faith in Christ and not on their own self-righteousness. In other words, the Spirit proves that man’s righteousness before God depends not on his own efforts but on Christ’s atoning work for them. Finally, the Spirit would convict the world concerning judgment, because His very presence would prove that Jesus had conquered sin and death by His resurrection and glorification. The Spirit’s presence in the world in the lives of believers would be proof that Satan had already been defeated. His was a lost cause. And the fact that the Spirit of God only lives within the people of God, is a daily judgment on all those who refuse to believe in Jesus. The presence of the Holy Spirit is our guarantee of salvation and as Paul puts it, our down payment on the future promises of God. “…and he has identified us as his own by placing the Holy Spirit in our hearts as the first installment that guarantees everything he has promised us” (2 Corinthians 1:22 NLT).

So when Jesus told the disciples that they would be better off once He was gone, He knew what He was talking about. Jesus was limited to the restraints placed upon Him by a human body. He could not be everywhere at once. He could not indwell His disciples. He had all the limitations we suffer from as humans. His coming to earth was for one purpose and that was to act as the perfect sin substitute. He came to die. But the Spirit came to indwell, empower, convict, and teach. Jesus told the disciples, “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own but will tell you what he has heard. He will tell you about the future” (John 16:13 NLT). He would teach them, enlighten them, encourage and empower them. They would perform miracles in His power. They would preach and teach in His power. They would spread the Gospel around the world by His power. Not only would the disciples be better off when Jesus returned to the Father, the world would be too. The rapid expansion of the Gospel message immediately after the Holy Spirit’s coming at Pentecost is proof of this fact. Thousands would come to Christ daily and the Good News of Jesus Christ would spread around the world like wild fire. We, as modern believers, are the beneficiaries of the Holy Spirit’s convicting presence in the world. We should be grateful Jesus came, but also thankful that He left and sent the Holy Spirit to live within us. His presence and power are proof of Christ’s resurrection and the reality of our own salvation.

Father, what more can I say than, “Thank You for the Holy Spirit”? I would not be who I am without Him. I would not have proof of what Jesus has done for me without the presence of the Holy Spirit within me. Thank You! Amen.

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men

Day 121 – John 15:1-17

Fruitfulness and Friendship.

John 15:1-17

“I am the true grapevine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch of mind that doesn’t produce fruit, and he prunes the branches that do bear fruit so they will produce even more.” – John 15:1-2 NLT

Not only does Jesus desire that His followers fully know Him, and understand the significance of His deity and sovereignty, but He wants them to comprehend their complete dependence upon Him. Here Jesus uses the metaphor of the vine and the branches to help the disciples understand both the intimacy and dependency of their relationship with Him. He illustrates that relationship with the image of a vine and its branches. He repeatedly encourages them to “remain” or “abide” in Him. He lets them know that, just as a branch cannot bear fruit apart from the vine, so they cannot bear fruit apart from Him. But fruitfulness requires abiding or remaining. The greater the degree of intimacy and dependency, the more fruitful the branch will be. The vine will produce fruit through the branch. The branch doesn’t produce the fruit on its own – it simply bears the fruit.

Jesus warns His disciples that constant attachment is required for fruitfulness to occur. Those who choose to disconnect themselves from the life-giving power of Jesus will find themselves living fruitless lives. And eventually, God will prune them from the vine. This is not speaking of a loss of salvation, but sadly, a loss of usefulness. You can be in Christ, yet useless to Him. You can be saved, but refuse to be sanctified, remaining satisfied with the current state of your spiritual life, and neglecting to grow in Christ. But when we remain in Him, He produces His fruit through us. And God, the faithful gardener, prunes and cleanses us in order that we might produce even more fruit. It is when we refuse to remain in and depend on Christ that we lose our fruitfulness. We become severed, so to speak, from the vine and lose our ability to bear fruit. I branch that becomes separated from the vine will never bear fruit, because it has lost its connection with the source of fruitfulness. Jesus said, “Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5 NLT). And it is our fruitfulness that reveals or proves the reality of our relationship with Christ.

Jesus makes it clear that one of the greatest expressions of our fruitfulness is our love for one another. In other words, we can’t love the way He requires unless that love is produced by Him through us. Which is why He tells the disciples to “remain in my love” (John 15:9 NLT). Remaining in His love requires remaining that we remain attached to Him, so that He can love through us. A big part of remaining or abiding in Christ is reflected in our obedience to Him. And obedience is a willing submission to His will for us. It is not so much about rule keeping as it is about trust that He knows what is best, and obeying what He tells us to do. Even the capacity to obey Him comes from Him. When Jesus said, “When you obey my commandments, you remain in my love” (John 15:10 NLT), He was not teaching that His love is contingent upon our obedience. In other words, Jesus’ love for us is not conditional. No, our obedience is a reflection of His abiding love for us, flowing through us, creating in us a desire to obey. It also creates in us a desire to love others. “This is my commandment: Love each other in the same way I have loved you” (John 15:12 NLT). When we abide in Him, His love flows through us and is to be shared with those around us. One of the interesting things about fruitfulness is that it is other-oriented, not self-centered. The fruit produced by a branch is not for the benefit of the branch, but is for others. My fruitfulness is not for me, but for the benefit of others. Think about the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control – none of these things are self-directed. They are to be outwardly focused and exist for the good of others. Fruitfulness is about otherness. It is about loving others as we have been loved by Christ. Abiding in Him will result in our ability to love like Him. Even to the point of laying down our lives like He did for us. As branches, we exist for the vine and, ultimately for the gardener. It is God who prunes us in order that we might be increasingly more fruitful. Our job is to remain or abide. We don’t produce the fruit, Jesus does. We simply have to be ready and willing for Him to flow through us. What we end up producing is His work and belongs to those He brings into our path. For the believer, fruitfulness is a non-negotiable. Fruitlessness results in uselessness. A fruitless branch is a useless branch. And we must understand that our fruitfulness is simply the result of our willful desire to remain intimately attached to Jesus so that He can do through us and in us what we could never do on our own.

Father, I want to be fruitful. But I don’t want to try and produce that fruit in my own effort. I want it to be a natural outflow of my intimate relationship with Your Son. I want His love to flow through me. I want His fruit produced as a result of me abiding in Him. I want the fruit of my life to be proof of my relationship with Him. Help me abide. Help me remain completely dependent on Jesus each and every day of my life. Amen.

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men

Day 117 – Matthew 26:31-35; Mark 14:27-31; Luke 22:31-38; John 13:31-38

Ready To Die.

Matthew 26:31-35; Mark 14:27-31; Luke 22:31-38; John 13:31-38

“But why can’t I come now, Lord?” he asked. “I’m ready to die for you.” – John 13:37 NLT

I love the impetuousness of Peter. He was a speak-before-you-think kind of a guy. Too often he put his mouth in gear before his brain was engaged. And this was another one of those times. Peter was constantly speaking up. He wasn’t afraid to share his views or speak his mind. And it oftentimes got him in trouble. Jesus knew that his last days were going to be difficult for the disciples. As He drew nearer to the culmination of His ministry here on earth and His divine appointment with the cross, the pressure on the disciples was going to increase dramatically. So He warned Peter, “Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift each of you like wheat. But I have pleaded in prayer for you, Simon, that your faith should not fail. So when you have repented and returned to me again, strengthen your brothers” (Luke 22: 31-32 NLT). This statement had to have hit Peter like a fist to the stomach. It took the wind out of him and sent him reeling in confusion. He immediately defended himself and denied that he was a liability or a potential quitter. He responded, “Lord, I am ready to go to prison with you, and even to die with you” (Luke 22:33 NLT). It all sounded so good. Not only was Peter NOT going to do anything worthy of needing repentance, he was willing to give his life for Jesus. Or so he said. But Jesus knew better. He knew Peter better than Peter knew himself. He regretfully, but accurately informed Peter exactly just how he was going to deny Him. “Peter, let me tell you something. Before the rooster crows tomorrow morning, you will deny me three times that you even know me” (Luke 22:34 NLT). Again, Peter speaks before he thinks. He doesn’t stop and consider that Jesus, the Messiah and the Son of God, might know something he doesn’t know. Instead, he vehemently denies Jesus’ words, in essence, calling Him a liar to His face. “No! Even if I have to die with you, I will never deny you!” (Mark 14:31 NLT). The others heartily agreed with Peter, not wanting to look like they were any less committed than he was.

But Jesus had already told them that they would all desert Him in His hour of greatest need. He quoted from Zechariah 13:7, “God will strike the Shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered” (Mark 14:27 NLT). They would all scatter like cockroaches in the sudden glare of light. This would be a wholesale desertion of Jesus by the disciples. In fact, the only one we know for certain was at the site of the crucifixion during Jesus’ final moments, was John. No one else was anywhere to be found. But Jesus told Peter He was praying for him. He told him that, in spite of his denial, he would repent and return to Jesus. He would also serve as a source of encouragement to the other disciples.

One of the most encouraging stories in all of Scripture is the one that reveals the depths of Peter’s denial and the joy of his return. What Peter did that night in the garden was indefensible. It was incomprehensible. But it was forgivable. Peter would ultimately deny that he even knew Jesus. Not once, but three times. The man he claimed he would die for, he denied even knowing. His human nature would get the better of him. In the face of fear and possible death, he would forget all about his promise to die with Jesus and run for his life. But Jesus understood. He was gracious and kind, merciful and forgiving. Peter would be given a second chance. The real key to service for Jesus is not in our ability to remain steadfast and faithful, never failing or falling, but in our willingness to repent and return to Him. We will let Him down. In spite of the greatest of intentions, we will let sometimes end up denying the very one we way we love and to whom we have committed our lives. But just as Jesus had prayed for Peter, He has prayed for us. “I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one.They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify themin the truth; your word is truth” (John 17:14-17 NLT). Jesus knows we live in a difficult environment, surrounded by a world that hates us. He knows that because we belong to Him, we are no longer of this world. So He has asked God to protect us and to sanctify us with the Word. Jesus does not expect perfection from us. He knows we will struggle and sometimes stumble and fall. But each time, when we repent and return we will find forgiveness and restored usefulness.

Father, like Peter, I sometimes talk a bold game, but then fail to come through in the clutch. I can come across as super-faithful in the good times, but when things get a bit tough, I can easily turn and run. But thank You that there is always forgiveness each time I return and repent. I can never wear out my usefulness to You, as long as I never stop remembering my complete dependence on You. I can’t live this life on my own. I can’t remain faithful on my own. I need Your strength, Your Spirit, Your Word, and the body of Jesus Christ, Your Church, to help me. Keep me dependent and repentant. Amen.

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men

Day 111 – Matthew 25:1-26:5; Mark 14:1-2; Luke 22:1-2

The King And His Kingdom!

Matthew 25:1-26:5; Mark 14:1-2; Luke 22:1-2

“But when the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit upon his glorious throne.” – Matthew 25:31 NLT

One of the themes of the Gospels that most of us seem to overlook or simply ignore is that of the Kingdom of Heaven. When we think of the Gospels, we tend to concentrate on Jesus as the Savior of the world. Because we are 21st-Century believers living in a western context, the whole idea of a King and a Kingdom does not resonate with us. But we have to remember that the New Testament is in harmony with and a fulfillment of the Old Testament. Jesus was the one who had been promised by God to Abraham. “And the Lord came to Abram, and said, I will give all this land to your seed; then Abram made an altar there to the Lord who had let himself be seen by him(Genesis 12:7 BBE). That word translated “seed” is important. It can be translated “seed, offspring, or even descendants.” So it would be natural to assume that God is promising the land of Canaan to Abraham’s descendants. And that would be a right assumption. But Paul gives us an even better understanding of this passage. He writes, “Now the promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. He does not say, ‘And to seeds,’ as referring to many, but rather to one, ‘And to your seed,’ that is, Christ” (Galatians 3:15-16 NASB). In other words, when God made His promise to Abraham, He was saying that, ultimately, He was going to give the land to Jesus, a descendant of Abraham, but also the Son of God and the King of kings. The land would belong to Him as its rightful ruler.

The Gospels are full of references to the Kingdom. In fact, when Jesus came into the world He was a fulfillment of countless Old Testament prophecies that predicted and promised the coming of a King, a descendant of David, who would sit on his throne forever. God had promised David, “Furthermore, the Lord declares that he will make a house for you – a dynasty of kings!…Your house and your kingdom will continue before me for al time, and your throne will be secure forever” (2 Samuel 7:11, 16 NLT). But it had been hundreds of years since a descendant of David had ruled from a throne in Jerusalem. In fact, since their return from exile in Babylon, Israel had had no king at all. Then there was a 400 year period of oppression under a string of different countries, most recently Rome. The king who sat on the throne when Jesus was born was Herod, an Edomite, and not a descendant of David. But Jesus WAS a descendant of David. The lineage of Jesus found in Luke traces His line back to David through Mary. This establishes Jesus’ legal claim to the throne. The lineage found in Matthew traces the line of Jesus through Mary. This establishes Jesus’ hereditary claim to the throne. When Mary and Joseph obeyed the decree to go to their ancestral home for taxation purposes, they went to Bethlehem. “And because Joseph was a descendant of King David, he had to go to Bethlehem in Judea, David’s ancient home” (Luke 2: 4 NLT). Jesus was of royal pedigree.

What did the angel tell Mary when he announced to her God’s plan? “You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be very great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David. And he will reign over Israel forever; his Kingdom will never end!” (Luke 1:31-33 NLT). Her son would be a king. He would rule just like David did, but His kingdom would be everlasting. Some time after Jesus’ birth, even the magi came looking for a king. “Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying, “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we have seen His star in the east and have come to worship Him” (Matthew 2:1-2 NLT). At the birth of John the Baptist, his father, Zechariah prophesied about the royalty of Jesus even before He was born. ”Then his father, Zechariah, was filled with the Holy Spirit and gave this prophecy: “Praise to the Lord, the God of Israel, because he has visited and redeemed his people. He has sent us a mighty Savior from the royal line of his servant David” (Luke 1:67-68 NLT).

Why is this so important? Because Jesus was not just born to be our Savior, but to be King. The reality is that, one day, He will be King over all mankind whether they believe in Him or not. Paul reminds us, “Therefore, God elevated him to the place of highest honor and gave him the name above all other names,that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth,and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:9-11 NLT). But we will not all worship Him in the same way. Some will be His loyal subjects. Others will bow in subjugation. Some will be citizens. Others will be slaves – the captives of war. Some will be welcomed into His presence. Others will be cast out. Jesus’ redemptive work on the cross, made it possible for men to be restored to a right relationship with God, so that we might live in His eternal Kingdom, under the righteous rule of Jesus Christ, forever. He will be our Savior AND our King. In fact, He is our Savior and King even today. But the problem is that, too often, we want to welcome Jesus as Savior, but refuse to let Him rule in our lives. We accept His gracious offer of eternal life, but we want to be the ones who rule and reign over our own lives.

Jesus spent a great deal of time teaching about the Kingdom. It was going to be drastically different than the one the Jews were anticipating. They were looking for a conquering king who would establish His kingdom on earth and set them free from subjugation to Rome. But Jesus came to establish a different kind of Kingdom. He came to set them free from slavery to sin. He came to release them from captivity to Satan and to release them from the condemnation of death as rebels against God. So much of what Jesus said about the Kingdom had to do with His future return. He was going to come back. And when He did, He would set up the kind of Kingdom the Jewish people had long been waiting for. Jesus taught about His eminent return as King. But it would not take place until He had suffered and died, paying the penalty for the sins of mankind. He would have to redeem mankind before they would accept His rule over them. Without His offer of salvation, we would never accept Him as sovereign. But the whole story of the Bible is about the righteous rule and reign of God over His creation. Jesus was born as King and He was crucified as King. At His trial, the soldiers mocked Him as King. “They dressed him in a purple robe, and they wove a thorn branch into a crown and put it on his head. Then they saluted him and taunted, “Hail! King of the Jews!” (Mark 15:17-18 NLT). On the cross, the sign that was nailed above His head carried the charge, “The King of the Jews.” As He hung on the cross, the religious leaders mocked Him as King. “He saved others,” they scoffed, “but he can’t save himself! Let this Messiah, this King of Israel, come down from the cross so we can see it and believe in him!” (Mark 15:31-32 NLT). Jesus died because He was King. But He is coming again because He is King.

The Return of the King!

Jesus had taught His disciples that He would die, but He would rise again. He also told them that He would go away, but He would return some day. And when He did, He would establish His Kingdom once and for all. The Messianic Kingdom they anticipated would come, but not when they expected it.

“But when the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit upon his glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered in his presence, and he will separate the people as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will place the sheep at his right hand and the goats at his left. “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the creation of the world.” –  Matthew 25:31-34 NLT

The Gospels record the arrival of the King and the beginning of His Kingdom. They record Jesus’ teaching regarding the Kingdom. They contrast the false view with the true image of the Kingdom. They establish Jesus as the King. It was for His claim to be King that He died. And it will be as a King that He returns.

Father, too often I am more than willing to acknowledge Jesus as my Savior, but refuse to let Him be my King. I take on that responsibility, attempting to rule my life according to my own standards and in an effort to live life on my own terms. But He died that I might live, and do so as His subject, a citizen of His Kingdom, submitting myself to His righteous rule over my life. Show me how to live, not just because of Him, but for Him. Amen.

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men

Day 110 – Luke 21:5-36

Watch Out!

Luke 21:5-26

“Watch out! Don’t let your hearts be dulled by carousing and drunkenness, and by the worries of this life. Don’t let that day catch you unaware, like a trap. For that day will come upon everyone living on the earth. Keep alert at all times. And pray that you might be strong enough to escape these coming horrors and stand before the Son of Man.” – Luke 21:34-36 NLT

This is Luke’s account of the very same message given by Jesus and recorded by Matthew and Mark. So rather than go back over the content that I covered the last two days, I want to concentrate on how Jesus closed His teaching to His disciples. It is clear that some of what He told them was going to take place within their lifetimes, once He had been crucified, resurrected and ascended. He had warned them of this before. When Jesus had sent them out two by two, He had told them, “Look, I am sending you out as sheep among wolves. So be as shrewd as snakes and harmless as doves. But beware! For you will be handed over to the courts and will be flogged with whips in the synagogues.You will stand trial before governors and kings because you are my followers. But this will be your opportunity to tell the rulers and other unbelievers about me.When you are arrested, don’t worry about how to respond or what to say. God will give you the right words at the right time” (Matthew 10:16-19 NLT). If you read further in Matthew’s account, you realize that none of this took place while they were out ministering, so Jesus was talking about some future time. It would all be fulfilled once they began their ministry in His absence. The book of Acts records the death of the apostles James and of Peter’s imprisonment. “About that time King Herod Agrippa began to persecute some believers in the church. He had the apostle James (John’s brother) killed with a sword. When Herod saw how much this pleased the Jewish people, he also arrested Peter. (This took place during the Passover celebration.) Then he imprisoned him, placing him under the guard of four squads of four soldiers each. Herod intended to bring Peter out for public trial after the Passover” (Acts 12:1-4 NLT).

Church history records that most, if not all, of the apostles died martyr’s deaths. So what Jesus told them did come to pass. But in this passage in Luke, Jesus is telling them about things that were going to happen long after they were gone. And yet, He closes His message to them with the words, “Watch out!” He tells them to be alert. Why would He tell them to “pray that you might be strong enough to escape these coming horrors and stand before the Son of Man”? (Luke 21:36 NLT) The fact is that every generation will suffer their fair share of trials. Jesus had told the disciples, “Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world” (John 16:33 NLT). James wrote, “Dear brothers and sisters,when troubles come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing” (James 1:2-4 NLT). Paul echoed the same theme: “That is why we never give up. Though our bodies are dying, our spirits arebeing renewed every day.For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever! So we don’t look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever” (2 Corinthians 4:16-18 NLT).

Trials are part of life. Difficulties will come. Persecution may be our lot in life. But Jesus told His disciples to watch out. He told them to keep alert. He told them to pray for strength. They were to keep their eyes on the end. They were to live like Jesus was going to come back any day. They were to be prepared for His appearance. Their lives were to be marked by an attitude of anticipation. That’s why He told them to not let their hearts be dulled by carousing and drunkenness. There is no time to get distracted or have your senses dulled by the things of this world. It’s interesting that he adds to the somewhat negative acts of carousing and drunkenness, the worries of this life. Jesus had earlier told the disciples, “That is why I tell you not to worry about everyday life—whether you have enough food and drink, or enough clothes to wear. Isn’t life more than food, and your body more than clothing?” (Matthew 6:25 NLT). Then He went on to say, “So don’t worry about these things, saying, ‘What will we eat? What will we drink? What will we wear?’ These things dominate the thoughts of unbelievers, but your heavenly Father already knows all your needs. Seek the Kingdom of Godabove all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need” (Matthew 6:31-33 NLT). It is so easy to let the worries and cares of this life get us off task and distract us from what we are really to be doing. We can lose sight of our true purpose as God’s people and begin to live as if this is all there is. Rather than live for His coming Kingdom, we try to establish our own little sovereignties right here on earth, with ourselves serving as king and lord of our own domain.

But Jesus said, “Don’t let that day catch you unaware” (Luke 21:34 NLT). We are to live in a state of readiness, as if Jesus could appear any day. We need to be alert and diligent. We can’t afford to fall asleep at our post or get distracted by the cares of this world. Paul told his young protege, Timothy, “Endure suffering along with me, as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. Soldiers don’t get tied up in the affairs of civilian life, for then they cannot please the officer who enlisted them” (2 Timothy 2:3-4 NLT). Paul wanted Timothy to be ready. He wanted him to take his role seriously as a servant of Jesus Christ. He had been commissioned for service by the Lord Himself, and Paul wanted Timothy to serve well. That is what Jesus wants from each of us who call ourselves His followers. The world is going to try to distract us. The enemy is going to try and discourage us. Our own sin nature is going to attempt to defeat us. But we must watch. We must remain alert. And we must pray for strength. But we must also remind one another and encourage each other of the reality that Jesus is coming again. This is NOT all there is. He is not done yet. We have been saved. We are being sanctified. But one day we will all be glorified. Jesus Christ is going to come again and complete what He has begun. That is our hope. That is where we need to keep our focus. One day we will stand before the Son of Man, and all of this will have been worth it all.

Father, thank You that You are not done. Help me to keep my eyes focused on the end. Give me the strength to stand firm, remain alert, to keep my eyes open and to stay faithful. Don’t allow me to get distracted by this world. Don’t let me get dulled by all that this life offers than can take my eyes off of the hope of Christ’s return. Amen.

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men


Seven Days To Sunday – Week 5

7daystillsunday_screenThis is the fifth week in the series, “Seven Days To Sunday: A Week That Changed the World.” In this lesson, Jesus deals with the question of His authority by telling three simple parables that all carry one single message.