Never Forget.

May the Lord direct your hearts to the love of God and to the steadfastness of Christ. – 2 Thessalonians 3:6 ESV

Living life on this planet can be difficult at times. As followers of Christ, it can be especially so, because we have been called to live lives worthy of God in the midst of a culture that is diametrically opposed to us. It can be easy to lose our focus, grow impatient, feel scared, or become angry. Paul knew that. That is why he prayed this short little prayer on behalf of the believers in Thessalonica. For the most part, they were former pagans who had come to know Christ and were now struggling with everything from persecution to the influence of false teaching. Paul referred to these false teachers as “perverse and evil people” (2 Thessalonians 3:2 NET). The believers to whom Paul wrote and for whom he prayed were struggling with trying to love the Christian life while constantly having to deal with the attacks of the enemy and the daily reality of their own sin natures. So what was Paul’s prayer for them? That God would direct their hearts to the love of God and to the steadfastness of Christ. Notice that he does not pray that God would remove them from their difficulties. He doesn’t ask God to remove the false teachers or stop the persecution. His request of God isn’t that He give them joy. No, he asks God to direct their hearts. He wants God to gently, kindly guide their hearts into a better understanding of just how much they are loved by God. Not only that, Paul’s request includes that they fully comprehend the degree to which Jesus suffered in order that they might have a right relationship with God. The writer of Hebrews emphasizes the suffering of Jesus and our need to fully comprehend what He endured in order that we might have eternal life – “let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith. Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now he is seated in the place of honor beside God’s throne. Think of all the hostility he endured from sinful people; then you won’t become weary and give up. After all, you have not yet given your lives in your struggle against sin” ( Hebrews 12:1-4 NLT). Those two things – the love of God and the endurance of Christ – should provide us with the motivation we need to keep on keeping on. But our natural tendency will be to take them both for granted. It is so easy for us to forget just how amazing it is that God loved us so much that He sent His Son to die in our place. And that He expressed that love “while we were still sinners” (Romans 5:8 ESV). When we deserved the worst, He gave us His best. And we also tend to overlook the incredible reality that Jesus willingly and humbly took on human flesh, lived life as a man, was tortured and hung on a cross, and died so that we might be restored to a right relationship with God the Father. Paul puts it this way: “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:5-8 ESV).

When we find ourselves suffering and struggling in this life, we need to be reminded of the love of God as expressed in the suffering and death of His Son. God’s love for us is directly tied to the gift of His Son for us. God sent His Son because He loved us. Jesus came and died because He loved us. Jesus was willing to suffer humiliation, persecution, rejection, false accusations, and a death He didn’t deserve – all out of love for us. With all that that in mind, Peter tells us, “In his kindness God called you to share in his eternal glory by means of Christ Jesus. So after you have suffered a little while, he will restore, support, and strengthen you, and he will place you on a firm foundation” (1 Peter 5:10 NLT). We need to keep life in perspective. Along with Paul, we need to constantly remember that “what we suffer now is nothing compared to the glory he will reveal to us later” (Romans 8:18 NLT). We are loved by God. He gave us His greatest gift – His own Son – as proof of that love. And His Son suffered in ways that we will never be able to comprehend, as proof of His love for us. We must never lose sight of those two realities. But because Paul knew that the tendency of all believers would be to do just that, he prayed that God would guide their hearts back to those two incredible truths: the love of God and the faithful, loving endurance of Jesus. I can’t think of a better way to wrap this up than with the words of Paul found in his letter to the believers in Rome.

What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. – Romans 8:31-39 ESV

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Ephesians 4:1-16

A High Calling.

Ephesians 4:1-16

Therefore I, a prisoner for serving the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of your calling, for you have been called by God. – Ephesians 4:1 NLT

One of the things to constantly keep in mind when reading most of the letters of Paul is that he is typically writing to a congregation, not an individual. Except in the case of his two letters to Timothy and the one he sent to Titus, most of his letters are intended for a particular body of believers. He is addressing the church corporately. In his letter to the Ephesian church, he is stressing the unique nature of their identity as part of the body of Christ. They are a diverse group of individuals from all walks of life and a variety of religious backgrounds, whom God has called together and placed within His family. They share a common bond as recipients of the grace of God made possible through Jesus Christ. And while everything about their diverse backgrounds might naturally result in disunity and dissension, Paul calls them to unity. They have been loved by God, so now they should love one another.

He begs them to lead lives worthy of their calling. He wants them to conduct their lives in a manner that is in keeping with God’s purpose in calling them in the first place. Then he gives them concrete examples of what that kind of corporate life will look like. They are to be humble, gentle, patient with each other, and willing to love in spite of one another’s faults and failures. He stresses that their union as members of God’s family was the work of the Spirit of God and, as a result, they should strive to maintain their peace with one another. This was not an easy thing considering the natural animosity Jews and Gentiles had toward one another. And it’s important to remember that, as a result of the Gospel, the church in Ephesus was made up of both factions. Paul reminds them that “there is one body and one Spirit, just as you have been called to one glorious hope for the future. There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism, and one God and Father, who is over all and in all and living through all” (Ephesians 4:4-6 NLT). Unity is the theme of this section. Unity in diversity.

God, in His infinite wisdom, has not only called together a diverse group of individuals and placed them into His family, He has gifted each and every one of them with special Spirit-enabled gifts designed to benefit the body of Christ. Among them are the leadership gifts He has given to the church in form of apostles, prophets, evangelists, and pastor-teachers. These individuals were given to the church by God in order to strengthen and equip the body of Christ so that each member would do his or her work effectively, resulting in a vibrant and growing church. The Greek word Paul uses for “equip” is katartismon which means preparing, mending, or restoring people to their proper use. There are those in the church whose primary responsibility it is to help the body function efficiently and effectively. The church functions best when each individual believer is utilizing his or her spiritual gift in order to build up the rest of the body. When everyone is doing their job and conducting their lives within the body of Christ according to their individual calling, the entire body prospers. And the goal of all of this activity is spiritual maturity – “until we all come to such unity in our faith and knowledge of God’s Son that we will be mature in the Lord, measuring up to the full and complete standard of Christ” (Ephesians 4:13 NLT).

Spiritual maturity or increasing Christ-likeness is God’s objective for the church, and everyone plays a vital role in the process. God’s plan calls for unity and a shared concern for one another. “He makes the whole body fit together perfectly. As each part does its own special work, it helps the other parts grow, so that the whole body is healthy and growing and full of love” (Ephesians 4:16 NLT). We are in this together. The church is not a collection of individual believers growing independently and in isolation, but a body where each part has been meticulously and strategically placed by God and designed to function in a symbiotic and sympathetic relationship. This God-ordained and Spirit-empowered entity called the church is to be a remarkable witness to God’s amazing wisdom. It shouldn’t work, but it does. But only as long as we live in humility, gentleness, patience and love with one another, doing everything we can to maintain the unique spirit of unity that God has created to experience.

Father, thank You for the church. When I consider the incredible diversity of the body of Christ and the wide assortment of personalities and backgrounds represented, I am amazed that it works at all. In spite of our individual sin natures and tendency to live self-centered lives even in the midst of community, Your Spirit makes it all function – in spite of us. Give us a growing desire to live in unity, using our God-given gifts to benefit one another. Help us to understand that we grow best when we grow together. Amen.

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men
kenm@christchapelbc.org

1 Corinthians 13

The Lasting Legacy of Love.

1 Corinthians 13

Three things will last forever – faith, hope, and love – and the greatest of these is love. – 1 Corinthians 13:13 NLT

This section of Paul’s letter has come to be known as the famous “love chapter.” It is a staple at most weddings and has come to be the consummate statement from the Scriptures on the topic of love. And while what it has to say about love is completely applicable to the context of a marriage relationship, it is essential that we not lose sight of the situation going on in Corinth that caused Paul to write these words to begin with.

There was a great deal of disunity and division going on among the believers in Corinth. A spirit of selfishness and self-centeredness had crept into their fellowship and was causing all kinds of strife and animosity. They were even taking one another to court. There was a certain sense of spiritual pride among them, that was causing them to treat one another with disrespect. An attitude of spiritual aloofness and arrogance was evident because of the way they treated one another. There was a marked lack of love. Personal rights and freedoms ran rough shod over love for others. It seems that they were even using the spiritual gifts as a barometer of self-worth and a badge of honor. Certain gifts were seen as more important and, as a result, were more eagerly coveted among them. These more “significant” gifts had become a source of bragging rights for some within the fellowship. But Paul brings them back down to earth and provides them with a sobering reminder of what is really important among the people of God. There is one essential ingredient that they have ignored and which, if absent, invalidates all their efforts at spirituality and so-called godly living.

What was missing was love. They had salvation. They had all the spiritual gifts among them. They had their new-found freedom in Christ. But they lacked love. And Paul let them know that it really didn’t matter whether they could work miracles, predict the future, or speak in foreign languages – without love, all of their efforts were worthless. Love is to permeate and motivate all that we do as Christians. The spiritual gifts performed without the spirit of love are a waste to breath, time, energy and effort. The outward evidence of spirituality among the Corinthian believers was little more than hypocrisy without the inner reality of love. And the kind of love Paul was speaking of was not some kind of sappy, sentimental emotion. It was a rubber-meets-the-road kind of attitude that expressed itself in action and showed up in the worst of circumstances and expressed itself to the least lovable and most undeserving. This kind of love showed up in the form of patience, kindness, humility rather than pride, selflessness, forgiveness, trust, hope, perseverance, and truth. In other words, this kind of love is the very essence of the gospel and a snap shot of the way in which Jesus Christ loved us.

Love is eternal. It lasts. It has staying power. So much of what we seek and what we place our hope in in this world is temporal and short-lived. It doesn’t last. Our acts of service fail to make a lasting impression because so often they are done without love. Our words of wisdom seem to fall on deaf ears because what we say, while possibly profound, is lacking in love. All our efforts on behalf of God – done without love – are a waste of our time and a lousy measurement of our spirituality. Long after words of knowledge, tongues, prophecy, healing and the other spiritual gifts are gone, love will remain. Because God is love. It is not what He does, it is part of who He is. Love is His nature, His essence. And as His children, we share in that divine nature. Our love for one another – in spite of one another – is the greatest proof of our spiritual heritage and validates our claim to be sons and daughters of God. Love is our divine DNA. It has been passed down from the Father to His children. It is the very essence of who we are and it is to the motivating factor behind all that we do.

Father, like the Corinthians, we find love too often missing from our midst. We have allowed selfishness and self-centeredness to replace the sacrificial, selfless love that we have been called to express to one another and to this lost and dying world. Bring us back to the heart of love. May our love not only be visible, but practical. May the world truly know we are disciples of Jesus Christ because of our love. Amen.

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men
kenm@christchapelbc.org

2 Thessalonians 3:1-5

Two Simple Truths.

2 Thessalonians 3:1-5

Now may the Lord direct your hearts toward the love of God and the endurance of Christ. – 2 Thessalonians 3:5 NET

The people to whom Paul was writing were still relatively young in their faith. Christianity itself was virtually unknown and misunderstood, viewed by many as some kind of  kind of strange religious sect. These new believers were living in a part of the world where tolerance for other religions was not the norm. They were under constant persecution and pressure. Their knowledge of God was minimal at best. Their understanding of the Old Testament Scriptures was negligible. They were struggling with how to make sense of their new-found faith in Christ. They were a minority living in a very hostile environment, with very few who could effectively teach and lead them. Which is why Paul was writing to them in the first place, because he knew exactly what they were going through. But in this section of his letter, Paul calls them to prayer. He encourages them to lift up Silas, Timothy and himself as they continued to spread the Gospel around the world. He asked them pray for their safety, because they were surrounded by “wicked and evil people” who opposed the message they were preaching. Paul reminds them that God is faithful. He encourages them to remember that God will strengthen and guard them from the enemy. But they needed to know that the enemy and the war he waged were both real. There lives were not going to be easy and their pursuit of spiritual maturity was not going to be unopposed.

But Paul gave them two simple things on which they needed to focus their hearts. In the midst of the spiritual warfare in which they found themselves, they needed to concentrate their hearts on these two unchanging realities: The love of God and the endurance of Christ. Paul knew that when difficulties came, the natural response would be to doubt the love of God. When facing trials, it is easy to conclude that God must be angry with us or that He has fallen out of love with us. In other words, we allow our circumstances to determine our view of God. But Paul says, that we need to direct our hearts toward the love of God. He loves us. He never stops loving us. His love is unchanging and unwavering. Paul would later write the believers in Rome, “And I am convinced that nothing can every separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow – not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below – indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39 NLT). Our greatest weapon against the attacks of the enemy and the difficulties and trials of this world is the love of God. Nothing can change God’s love for us. That should give us hope and strength, regardless of what we might have to face in this life.

The second thing we need to focus our hearts on is the endurance of Christ. As we go through difficulties in this life, we must constantly remind ourselves of all that He went through during His life on earth. The writer of the letter of Hebrews puts it this way: “and let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfect our faith. Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame” (Hebrews 12:1-2 NLT). He goes on to write, “Think of the hostility he endured from sinful people, then you won’t become weary and give up. After all, you have not yet given your lives in your struggle against sin” (Hebrews 12:3 NLT). When we face difficulties and trials, we need to focus our hearts on the endurance of Jesus. We need to remind ourselves of what He went through in order that we might have eternal life. Our suffering, as great as it may seem to be, is nothing when compared to that which Christ endured on our behalf. And His suffering was motivated by love for us. He endured it all out of love for you and me. So we need to focus our hearts and minds on two things: The love of God and the endurance of Christ. We need to remind ourselves and each other constantly of these two realities. We are loved. And we have the capacity to endure just as Christ did. We have His Spirit within us. Jesus knew that everything He went through had come through the loving hand of His heavenly Father. So He endured it willingly and gladly. We two need to understand that nothing reaches us that has not first passed through the all-powerful hands of our loving Father. He has a reason for it and a purpose behind it. He knows what He is doing. He loves us and has our best interests in mind. Jesus could endure because He knew He was loved. We can and should do the same.

Father, You love me, and I should never measure that love based on my circumstances. I need to continue to learn to accept Your love as what it is – unchanging, unwavering, and constant. Nothing can change it. And it is recognition of that love that should give me the ability to endure anything and everything that comes my way, because I know You love me and would never allow anything to happen to me that was not in Your divine will and for my eternal good. Help me to remember these two incredible realities. Amen.

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men
kenm@christchapelbc.org

Galatians 5:16-26

The Fruit of the Spirit.

Galatians 5:16-26

But the Holy Spirit products this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things! – Galatians 5:22 NLT

Not only are we free to love others, but we are free to live under the power and influence of the Holy Spirit. But if we’re not careful, we are also free to live according to the desires of our own sinful flesh – our sin nature. It’s a choice. I can choose to let the Holy Spirit guide and direct my life, or I can give in to the constant cravings of my sin nature. It’s not only a choice, it’s a daily battle. “These two forces are constantly fighting each other, so you are not free to carry out your good intentions” (Galatians 5:17b NLT). The Holy Spirit directs us one way, while our sin nature prompts us to take an opposite and radically dangerous path. Allowing ourselves to get enslaved to the law only feeds our sin nature. Paul pointed this out in Romans 7. “…it was the law that showed me my sin. I would never have known that coveting is wrong if the law had not said, ‘You must not covet.’ But sin used this command to arouse all kinds of covetous desires within me!” (Romans 7:7-8 NLT). The law tells me what I should not do, and then my sin nature desires to do just that. It’s like telling a young child not to touch a hot stove, and that becomes the one thing they want to try and do. Their sin nature creates a desire for the very thing they have been denied. Like Eve in the Garden, we can’t seem to stay away from the one thing God has told us is off limits. When you attempt to live according to laws, decrees, rules and standards, your sin nature will always resist, tempting you to break those rules or justify your ignoring of them. When you try to do what God wants in your own strength, you will fail. But when you live empowered and guided by the Spirit of God, you will have all the strength you need and the motivation to do what needs to be done.

Following the desires of our sin nature produces obvious outcomes. Paul gives us a comprehensive list. Sexual immorality, impurity, lustful pleasures, idolatry, sorcery, hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, dissension, division, envy, drunkenness, wild parties, and other sins like these” (Galatians 5:19-21 NLT). Notice the diverse nature of his list. He includes sexual immorality alongside jealousy. Drunkenness makes the list right there by envy. All of these things, from the dramatic to the seeming inconsequential, all have one thing in common – they are focused on self. They are self-centered and driven by selfish desires. This list contains destructive behaviors that are anything but conducive to community and selfless servanthood. Trying to live your life according to some set of standards or rules will feed your sin nature and produce an unhealthy and destructive list of outcomes. You’ll end up comparing yourself with others. You’ll compete and attempt to outdo others in rule-keeping. You’ll attempt to justify your own insufficiencies and expose those of others. All this will lead to division, dissension, quarreling, jealousy, anger, and more.

It’s interesting that when we try to produce the fruit of the Spirit on our own, we end up with results that look nothing like what we were aiming for. Rather than love that is focused on others, we end up loving ourselves. In place of joy, we find ourselves with discontentment and dissatisfaction. Instead of producing patience, we become irritable, judgmental and angry. Kindness gets replaced with pettiness and an overwhelming need to find fault in others so that we can feel better about ourselves. Goodness gets trumped by selfishness. Faithfulness comes out as unreliability and self-seeking. Gentleness becomes harshness. And self-control goes out the window, as love of self takes over our lives, turning out attention inwardly rather than outwardly.

Only the Spirit of God can produce the fruit God is looking for in our lives. These things are not self-produced. We are incapable of manufacturing any of them on our own. If we try, we only end up with cheap imitations that are like those knock-off perfumes you can buy at the local drug store. They may cost less, but they stink in comparison to the real thing. Paul encourages us to live by the Spirit, according to His power, not our own. Rather than having to live enslaved to the desires of our old sin nature, we are now free to live in the Spirit’s power, allowing Him to produce in and through us what we could never have done on our own. He produces in us supernaturally what we could never have produced naturally. Like our salvation, it is the work of God, not man. This is no longer about trying to live up to some kind of standards, rules or laws. It is not about trying to behave in such a way that we somehow make God happy and satisfied with us. It is not about comparing ourselves with others and measuring our righteousness based on that of others. This is learning to recognize that our righteousness is the work of God, from beginning to end. It is the fruit of His Spirit, not our flesh. It is made possible by the work of Christ, not anything we do or don’t do. So Paul encourages us, “Since we are living by the Spirit, let us follow the Spirit’s leading in every part of our lives” (Galatians 5:25 NLT). Let’s live in His power. Let’s operate according to His agenda. Let’s seek His will, not our own. Let’s watch Him produce His fruit in us, rather than try to produce it on our own. “So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus. And because you belong to him, the power of the life-giving Spirit has freed you from the power of sin that leads to death” (Romans 8:1-2 NLT). We are free to live in the power of the Spirit and to bear the fruit of the Spirit – for the good of others, not ourselves.

Father, I want to live increasingly in the power of Your Spirit. I want to say no to my sin nature and yes to Your Spirit’s leading. I desire to see His fruit produced in and through me. My attempts at fruitfulness always fall short and never produce what You’re looking for. My sin nature tends to make everything about ME. But I want to live for You. Continue to patiently show me how to live in Your power, according to Your will, and expressing Your love for others through my life. Amen.

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men
kenm@christchapelbc.org

Day 91 – Luke 18:1-14

A Just Judge.

Luke 18:1-14

Then the Lord said, “Learn a lesson from this unjust judge. Even he rendered a just decision in the end. So don’t you think God will give justice to his chosen people who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off?” – Luke 18:6-7 NLT

Jesus taught a great deal by using comparisons. The parable of the prodigal son was really a comparison between two sons. The parable of the rich man and the poor man in chapter 16 was a comparison. And here Jesus uses the same teaching technique to drive home a message regarding God. He tells a story about a judge “who neither feared God nor cared about people” (Luke 18:2 NLT). This man was in a position of power and authority. His job was to render justice. He was to settle disputes and help determine the proper and just decision in all cases, equitably and without prejudice. There was a widow who had a dispute with her enemy. She repeatedly brought her problem before the judge, asking for him to give her justice. She was presenting the facts of her case and desiring this judge to render a just judgment. Finally, the judge decided to see that she received justice. NOT because he was just and fair, but “because she is wearing me out with her constant requests!” (Luke 18:5 NLT). While Luke prefaces this story with the qualifier, “One day Jesus told his disciples a story to show that they should always pray and never give up” (Luke 18:1 NLT), the lesson is less about persistence than it is about expectations. In other words, we should not walk away from this story thinking that we can have whatever we want as long as we badger God enough for it. We can’t get God to give us whatever we want just by persistently asking for it. This woman’s need was justice. As a widow and a woman, she had little to no power or authority in that culture. She was helpless and hopeless. Her only source of justice was the judge. So she went to him regularly and persistently because he was her only hope.

Jesus makes the lesson of this story very clear. He says, “Learn a lesson from this unjust judge.” In other words, Jesus doesn’t make the woman the point of the lesson, but the judge. Jesus says, “Even he rendered a just decision in the end.” This judge, who had no respect for God and cared little for people, rendered a just verdict in the end. Why? Because the widow persistently brought her need for justice to him. She was literally driving him crazy with her repeated requests. So, Jesus says, don’t you think God will see that justice is done for His own people who cry out to Him day and night? The comparison Jesus seems to be making is between the judge and God – between an earthly, flawed judge and a heavenly, compassionate, completely righteous and just Judge. Interestingly, Jesus says, God will grant  justice quickly. The judge in the story ignored the widow’s request for a time, and put her off. But God, the just judge, will not do that. He will respond quickly and justly. God won’t put them off. He won’t delay out of indifference. He will hear and He will act. So we are to come to Him – in faith. We are to believe that He hears us and that He will respond to us. His answer may not come in the form we expect or at the exact time we want it to come. But He will render judgment, quickly and justly. So when we need a just decision to be made, we are to pray faithfully, expectantly and persistently – until God answers.

Jesus then tells another story that seems to be addressed to the Pharisees again – to those “who had great confidence in their own righteousness and scorned everyone else” (Luke 18:9 NLT). Again, Jesus uses comparison, by contrasting a Pharisee and a tax collector. Both men are portrayed praying in the Temple. But the Pharisee’s prayer is self-focused and self-righteous. He views himself as better than anyone else. “I thank you God that I am not a sinner like everyone else” (Luke 18:11 NLT). He then proceeds to tell God all about his character. Notice that he gives a list of all the things he doesn’t do and all the things he does do. His is a behavior-based righteousness. But the tax collector takes a different approach. He is humble, penitent, and only refers to himself as a sinner in need of mercy. Jesus makes a powerful point from this story. He says, “I tell you, this sinner, not the Pharisee, returned home justified before God. For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted” (Luke 18:14 NLT). I believe Jesus told these two stories at the same time for a reason. Each involve prayer or petition. They include someone with a request or need and someone being addressed with that need. But notice that the Pharisee has no request. He needs nothing from God, except His admiration and respect. Ultimately, he wants God’s blessing, but only because he believes he deserves it. The tax collector needs mercy. He recognizes his sinful state and only comes to God for one thing: His mercy and forgiveness. He knows he is undeserving. So he humbly approaches God and asks Him to extend mercy. The real issue in both stories seems to involve a recognition of need. The widow needed justice. She recognized her helplessness and went to the one person who could help. The tax collector needed mercy, so he went to the only One who could give it. And Jesus said this man went home justified before God. In other words, God viewed him as righteous, because he had recognized his own sinfulness and need, and turned to God for help.

Why do you turn to God? What is it you want from Him? Are you asking Him to bless your decisions and rubber stamp your will? Or do you come to Him in need, recognizing your own helplessness and hopelessness? Do you believe God owes you something because of all you do for Him? Or do you realize that all your righteous deeds are as filthy rags in His sight and humbly rely on His mercy in spite of your undeservedness? God renders justice. He judges fairly and faithfully. He is impartial and always decides rightly and righteously. Trust Him. Turn to Him. Pray to Him. He will answer, and He will answer justly.

Father, too often my prayers are all about me. I come with all my needs, requests, and demands. I have a list of what I want and need, and I simply expect you to give me the answers I want. But Lord, You fulfill Your own will, not mine. You render just judgments, not answer unjust prayers. Show me how to bring my needs to You and then allow You to do the right and just thing, regardless of what I think is best. I can trust You to judge fairly and equitably – every time.  Amen.

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men
kenm@christchapelbc.org

Proverbs 13d

Easy Money.

“Wealth from get-rich-quick schemes quickly disappears; wealth from hard work grows over time.” – Proverbs 13:11 NLT

The Proverbs are all about inner character that reveals itself in the way we live our lives. These are not helpful tips on better parenting, improving your marriage, growing your business, or how to win friends and influence enemies. No, this entire book is about a relationship with God that manifests itself in changed hearts, a new perspective on life, and reformed behavior that is motivated from the inside out. The Proverbs expose the inherent weaknesses in mankind. It reveals us as we really are: lazy, foolish, stubborn, prone to selfishness, flattery, gossip, and self-promotion. It shows what man tends to become apart from God, and it is not a pretty picture. The amazing thing is how accurate it is in its portrayal of mankind. It lays open for all to see our painfully obvious shortcomings and encourages us to seek God’s way in place of our own. But the difficulty is that we usually prefer to do things our way. We choose outer circumstances over inner character virtually every time. Take today’s topic for instance. There is something built into us that makes us long for easy money. Rather than work hard to achieve financial success, we would prefer to dream about ways in which we could cash in quickly and easily. The success and popularity of the lottery system in this country is evidence of that. People purchase tickets with money they can’t afford to do without in the hopes of winning millions of dollars, but at million-to-one odds. Their chances of winning are next to nothing, but it doesn’t keep them from trying and hoping. They look for the easy way. They see the money as the goal, when God sees hard work as the real objective for our lives. Solomon tells us, “Lazy people want much but get little, but those who work hard will prosper” (Proverbs 13:4 NLT). This is not just an indictment of the poor. While we all know there are plenty or poor people who will spend their last ten dollars on a lottery ticket when they really need gas of food, there are just as many well-to-do people who waste their time and money dreaming of striking it rich with a scratch-off ticket. They rationalize their behavior thinking that they can afford to squander a few extra dollars on the lottery. But their actions reveal something about their heart. Their hopes of winning are motivated by a desire to gain without pain, to prosper without putting in any effort. It is always about the heart.

One of the interesting things about today’s verse is it reveals the reality about easy money. When it comes to wealth gained without effort, it’s almost always easy-come, easy-go. “Wealth from get-rich-quick schemes quickly disappears” (Proverbs 13:11a NLT). It’s here one day and gone the other. The stories of those who have won the lottery only to end up in bankruptcy are sad, but true. There is something to the idea that what we have to work hard for we will value. What comes easy, we treat with an air of flippancy and disdain. But “wealth from hard work grows over time” (Proverbs 13:11b NLT). God’s design is that we value hard work over easy money. He is much more interested in our inner motivation. Think about the Israelites. When God set them free from captivity in Egypt, He promised to bring them to the Promised Land. Now God could have miraculously transported the entire nation of Israel directly to their destination. After all, He’s God. But instead, He chose to have them WALK across the wilderness and put in the time, energy and effort required to reach their goal. And all along the way, God revealed Himself to them, guided them, protected and provided for them. And He attempted to transform their hearts and change their behavior.

The point of all this is not to ban the lottery, but to cause us to examine our motives. This Proverbs deals with a principle inherent in all of our lives. We tend toward taking the easy road. We forget that God is all about transforming our inner character and we focus far too much on external circumstances. We think that if we can change our circumstances (more money), we will be happy. But God knows that quick-fixes produce short-term results.

Father, there are so many things in this life that can distract me from what You are trying to do in my life. It is so easy to buy into the lies of this world and look for the easy way out. It is so tempting to take shortcuts to get where I think I want to go. Keep me on Your path and following Your ways. Amen.

Ken Miller

Grow Pastor & Minister to Men
kenm@christchapelbc.org

Proverbs 16c

Better.

“Better to have little, with godliness, than to be rich and dishonest.” – Proverbs 16:8 NLT

There are simply some things that are better than others. But who gets to choose? According to Solomon, God determines the value of one thing over another. He establishes the relative worth of one action as opposed to another. As is so often the case in the Book of Proverbs, he uses comparison to get his point across. He contrasts poverty and wealth and deems it better to have little than much. But he inserts a qualifier. Because by themselves, these two conditions are amoral. They are neither wrong or right, just or unjust. The qualifier has to do with the spiritual condition of the individual in each case. It is better to have little AND be godly than to be rich and dishonest. The presence of godliness in the life of the person with less automatically improves the condition of his life. Wealth, while it appears to improve life, does nothing for the person who achieved his income through dishonest means – without doing the just and right thing.

Solomon goes on to say that it is actually better to get wisdom than gold, and good judgment than silver (Proverbs 16:16). As has been made perfectly clear through the Book of Proverbs, these things are only available from God and require determination and dedication to find. We must search for them like we would hidden treasure. They must be a priority and a passion in our lives. Their value is far beyond that of riches of any kind. To put it simply: They’re just better. And as if to drive home his original point even more, Solomon tells us it is “better to live humbly with the poor than to share plunder with the proud” (Proverbs 16:19 NLT). Now while the qualifier is less clear, its comparison of these two types of lifestyle go beyond mere poverty and wealth. It has much more to do with the condition of their hearts. One is humble. The other is proud. Our friendships should be based more on the condition of the heart than quality of lifestyle.  We should be more concerned about the spiritual state of the ones with whom we associate than their financial health.

Solomon gives us two more comparisons. “Better to be patient than powerful; better to have self-control than to conquer a city” (Proverbs 16:32 NLT). Once again, the emphasis is on character, specifically patience and self-control. While God is not mentioned in these verses, it is clearly He who establishes the basis of these comparative clauses. God values patience over power, self-control over what appears to be success. Man tends to judge by externals, while God looks at the heart. He examines the motives. We see that clearly in verse 2: “People may be pure in their own eyes, but the Lord examines their motives.” God values godliness, justice, wisdom, good judgment, humility, patience and self-control, because each of these things are given by Him. They are not man-made or self-manufactured. They are evidence of a life lived in dependence upon God. And therefore, they are better. The world puts little to no value on any of them. The world looks to results. It basis value on externals and judges worth based on effectiveness. But God judges by different criteria, and at the end of the day, He alone determines what is better and best.

Father, I want what is better. Give me a desire for heart change. Produce in me a desire for character. Let my life be marked by godliness, patience, humility, patience, and self-control. Produce in me what I cannot produce on my own. Amen.

Ken Miller

Grow Pastor & Minister to Men
kenm@christchapelbc.org