In His Image [Devotional]

Going Deeper with the Message:

Images of God in a Broken World
by: Ben Biles

On Sunday, Pastor Tim discussed the problem of racism in its current context. Far from being resolved in the aftermath of the Civil War or at the end of the Civil Rights Movement, racism in our country has revealed itself to be systemic in nature. While individuals might see themselves as non-racist, the large picture dictates that we all are a part of a system in which white people have general economic and social advantages over people of color. This leads to the continued suffering of people of color under a prejudiced system. Believers in God understand that this runs contrary to the will of our God. 

In Scripture, we see an important truth concerning all human beings: all people are created in God’s image (Gen. 1:26-27). As bearers of God’s image, we have a responsibility to treat all people equally with love and grace for they are also made in his image. But as broken, sinful human beings, we have the natural tendency to self-centeredness that blinds us to the needs of others. We entrench ourselves in our own personal views and fail to recognize the injustice within our nation. Racism grows stronger when we close ourselves off to the suffering of others. Now, we cannot help but see those made in God’s image shamefully treat others who are made in the same image.

As believers, we know that the gospel of Jesus frees us from sin and enables us to live in alignment with God’s character. In order to combat hatred, violence, and oppression, we need to cultivate the attitudes of humility and love with a view toward action. We need to actively seek out those who are hurting, and, in love, move to help and to bring healing, even at our own expense. The love of Jesus meant sacrificing himself on a cross for our sins so that we may be free. We must ask ourselves, “what sacrifice does loving others require of me?”

Throughout his life, Jesus shows the compassion of God by going to the poor, the lame, the deaf, the mute, the broken, and the needy. He goes to those taken advantage of, who have little to no power in the current system, and he speaks with love and uses his power to heal. If we are to be reflections of Jesus, bearers of his image, bearers of the name Christian even, we have a responsibility to do as Jesus did. We must recognize the broken system we are a part of and then use our lives and our voices to extend God’s love to the oppressed and hurting people.

Living out the Message:

Unity in Diversity
By Ben Biles

For all believers, we know that the moment we placed our faith in Jesus Christ, our lives changed forever. Through our faith, God gave us eternal life and the ability to know him in a personal relationship. We were indwelled by His Holy Spirit and are now able to understand God. In the light of His infinite holiness, we saw clearly our own imperfections, sins, and vices, but experienced the restoration and salvation that only He could provide. Still, as we journey through life, we understand our failings and weaknesses, but rely on God’s grace and provision. Though we struggle with sin, we strive for righteousness.

When it comes to the racism and injustice we see in our nation, we must also realize our part in it. In humility, we must acknowledge the ways in which we’ve failed in our ignorance and inactivity to counteract racism. Yet, we must not lose hope, for God is transforming our minds and hearts to align with His own. Even more, God is working and moving in our world and is uniting His people to reach the world with His love and grace. Though we are imperfect and still in the process of growing in faith, we get to be a part of God’s mission, and He has supplied us with His Spirit to accomplish His will. Yet, we must understand that this is a call to action that places us outside our comfort zone. 

It would be naive to think that the problem of racism could be resolved quickly and simply, but there are steps we can begin to take on this journey. Tony Evan, a black pastor from Dallas, acknowledged this truth, but encouraged his listeners of all races to start by reaching out to families outside of their cultural background and establish consistent, intentional relationships. Then, he encouraged them to serve together in a meaningful way. If thousands upon thousands of believers started doing this, it would impact our nation in incredible ways. It would showcase an antidote to racism—that God has united diverse communities of His people who are serving together in love. But it starts with one person reaching out to another. It starts with you. 

This week, I encourage you to reach out to a family or an individual of a different culture background than your own and start building that relationship. This step will take you out of your comfort zone, but God will use it to transform you and build up your faith in way that can truly impact others.

YOLO—Part 8 [Devotional]

Going Deeper with the Message:

Seriously, Honor Your Parents
by: Ben Biles

On Sunday, Andrew Archer talked about the importance of honoring your parents as seen in the book of Proverbs. This makes a lot of sense because Proverbs is written from the perspective of a father to a son. “Listen, my son, to your father’s instruction, and don’t reject your mother’s teaching, for they will be a garland of grace on your head and a gold chain around your neck” (Prov. 1:8-9). The general idea gathered from Proverbs is that when you listen and follow your parent’s instructions, then you will be benefited from their wisdom. 

Throughout Scripture, we see many times that God gives the command for everyone to honor their parents. In fact, it’s one of the 10 commandments found in Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5. God was so serious about this commandment that he issued a capital punishment for anyone that cursed his father or mother (see: Matthew 15:4)! Why was that? Because the family unit was responsible for the transmission of spiritual values from generation to generation. God set up the family in a way that children learned to love and worship God from their parents. So, if children rejected their parents, they were, in essence, rejecting God as well. 

Perhaps you don’t see your parents as spiritual role models. Many of us don’t. This, however, does not release us from God’s command, for he adds no exception clause to his command. You will never find: “honor your father and mother if they have earned it.” However, we do see in the Gospels that Jesus perfectly honored his father and mother. Consider that God himself honored his earthly parents though they were sinful, broken people! He sets the standard for all of us. The truth is that God knows that parents are broken people who fail their children. And yet, the command remains. Our honor and love for our parents should persevere despite all circumstances.

In God’s economy, his people should love without bounds. This kind of love transforms lives and relationships as it showcases the nature of God’s love. Whether or not you have a great relationship with your parents, we know that when you love and honor your parents, it will transform your relationship.

Living out the Message:

The Attitude of Honoring
By Ben Biles

Many of us have grown up hearing God’s command to honor our parents. As we mature into adults and our relationship with our parents shift, we tend to associate this particular command with our childhood faith. Yet, God did not have an age in mind when giving this command, but rather the role as a child. This means that everyone is commanded to honor their parents, regardless of age, for we all have parents. 

Interestingly, the command to “honor” is noticeably different from a command to love. Though honoring someone may include aspects of love, the associated attitudes and actions differ. On Sunday, Andrew explained the four essential actions of honoring: obey, listen, respect, and appreciate. You might notice that these same elements are all involved with our relationship with God as well. The parallels point us to the reality that God gives us parents as authority figures to show us how to live well under any authority, but specifically, His authority. The effect is this: the better we honor our parents, the better we honor God.

In order to obey, listen, respect, and appreciate our parents well, we first need to align ourselves with the proper attitude. You might remember from your teenage years how you begrudgingly obeyed your parents as various elements of disrespect whirled in your heart. The actions were right, but the heart was not. To cultivate the right attitude, you should consider 3 things. 

1// Though our parents are not perfect, they are have positive characteristics that we can admire and emulate. Reflect on these qualities.

2// They have sacrificed much to raise us through giving up time, energy, and financial resources. Reflect on their sacrifices.

3// Paul encourages us, “be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving one another, just as God also forgave you in Christ” (Ephesians 4:32). If you feel wronged by your parents in any way, you need to start the process of working toward forgiveness in these areas.

Once our attitude is properly aligned, the appropriate actions can flow naturally. This week, set aside time to call your parents and tell them how much they mean to you. Though you might feel appreciation internally, it takes effect when we actually express it. If your parents have passed, take some time and reflect joyfully on the memory of your parents. For when we honor our parents, we honor God as well.

YOLO—Part 7 [Devotional]

Going Deeper with the Message:

The Rewards of God
by: Ben Biles

On Sunday, Pastor Tim’s takeaway for the day “Give, and it will be given to you” highlights an interesting promise when it comes to our relationship with God. Giving to the poor leads to God giving to us. We see this truth in Proverbs 19:17, “Kindness to the poor is a loan to the Lord, and He will give a reward to the lender.” This might seem counter-intuitive to those that don’t believe in God. Usually, when we give our own resources away, they are lost. We forfeit our ability to use them for ourselves. Yet, Proverbs says that God will reward those who give.

Tim also said that the Lord gives a great ROI (return on investment). Essentially, when we give to the poor, our reward will be of greater value than that which we gave away. However, I doubt many of us have seen a mysterious increase in our bank accounts. So what kind of reward should we expect?

It is possible that God will reward you in any number of ways. 1) By obeying God’s guidance on giving to the poor, you will deepen your relationship with God. 2) Through giving, you further your trust in God’s ability to meet your financial needs. 3) You enrich your own character by developing God’s characteristic of generosity. 4) The joy in giving will outshine the joy in spending on yourself. 5) Perhaps even, God will open new doors for you that weren’t previously available. Yet, God points us to the superiority of eternal rewards given for faithful obedience. Jesus talks about this in Matthew 6:19-21, encouraging us to use our earthly resources to store up treasures in heaven. All eternal rewards have infinite value to us because they last forever. In contrast, all of our earthly resources have limited value. After all, we can’t take them to heaven with us. 

Wise people understand the superiority of eternal rewards, use their financial resources to bless others, and thereby, store up these eternal rewards. You can be sure that giving to the poor in faithful obedience to God will store up heavenly treasures and that these will benefit you to a far greater degree than any amount of money ever could.

Living out the Message:

God Blesses Us to Bless Others
By Ben Biles

God has given to us in extraordinary ways. First and foremost, he sent his Son, Jesus Christ, as a sacrifice for our sins. Through him, we are given a life-changing relationship with God where we can experience his love and peace continually and eternally. We can also see how much God has given us with the friends and family he has used to impact and shape our lives. He has provided us with meaningful purpose through our jobs and life-callings. He has given us passions, abilities, and skills, shaping our competencies and character. Truly, God has blessed us in many ways.

Yet, we must also understand that God gives to us so that we can give to others. As believers, we live as reflections of his love and grace and are placed in unique positions to share God with other people. When we give to others, we advance God’s purposes in this world as he uses us to bless others. Yet, many of us feel like we don’t have much to give to others, especially when it comes to money.

Personally, my dream in college was to be a successful businessman who was able to donate substantially to the church and nonprofits carrying out God’s mission. God had a different plan that has been an incredible blessing, but I’m not able to give money in huge sums like I thought. Thankfully, I’ve found that giving in small ways, consistently and frequently, has a huge impact over time. For example, I’ve noticed that paying for a friend’s meal, helping a friend move houses, or even just inviting a family over for dinner can have an incredible effect.

This week, I encourage you to think of ways to consistently and frequently give back in small ways. When you do, you can use your resources as God desires and be a blessing to others. One small way for you to give back to our community is by participating in our Change the Community event. Simply by collecting spare change in a jar, you are able to give financially and help the needs of our ministry partners. When we all join together in doing this, our impact can be extraordinary.

YOLO—Part 6 [Devotional]

Going Deeper with the Message:

The Infinite Value of a Soul
by: Ben Biles

On Sunday, we talked about the characteristics of a true friend: love, loyalty, sacrifice, and honesty. This morning, I wanted to highlight the characteristic of love. We understand that love has many different facets. Love between a married couple will look different from the love between siblings and parents. Even more so is the love between friends, for this one seems to be the least permanent. Friends can flow in and out of our life depending on the circumstances. Yet, the love between friends need not be less powerful and impactful. 

C.S. Lewis once wrote that there are only two things in life that are eternal: the Word of God and the souls of men. Because we are eternal beings, we all have infinite value in the eyes of our Creator and our value is reflected in the way he loves us infinitely. Throughout the Bible, God calls us to love one another in the same way. Due to each person’s infinite value, we should show them an equally infinite love. 

Yet, as humans, we have the tendency is downplay the infinite value attached to each and every person. To us, they just seem like normal people, each with strengths and weaknesses. We value the strengths, but tolerate the weaknesses. Often, we love people based on their good qualities and reject them based on their negative qualities. Not so with God. He loves us even in the midst of our sin, brokenness, and failure. When we begin to see people in the way that God sees them, we understand why God commands us so often in Scripture to love one another, for this is the only appropriate way for people to treat each other.

Therefore, our friendships carry a responsibility to love that is far greater than we often imagine. Proverbs 17:17 says that “a friend loves at all times.” In John 15:13, Jesus explains that the greatest form of love is seen in laying down our lives for our friends. Both of these verses place a high calling on friendship. If we want to be better friends, our love must be unconditional and sacrificial, for these show our understanding of their true, infinite value.

Living out the Message:

The Friction of Friendship
By Ben Biles

No matter the quantity and quality of your current friendships, we all could use a little improvement in our ability and willingness in being a good friend. As Proverbs 27:17 says, “Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another.” The process of iron sharpening iron causes friction, but leaves each piece sharper than before and able to be used for greater purposes. In the same way, our friendships should cause friction. That is, friends should be honest with each other, calling out the sin in each other’s lives. This requires each person to be intentionally vulnerable and transparent enough to be open to criticism.

However, we are often reluctant to be vulnerable with others because we don’t want to expose our weaknesses and insecurities. Our pride prevents us from revealing our insufficiencies for that might damage our friend’s perception of our supposed greatness. C.S. Lewis calls pride “the complete anti-God state of mind.” The prideful person struggles in their faith because they fail to see where their sin damages their relationship with God. They don’t feel the need for a Savior. Pride also damages us because it masks the areas in which we need to be challenged by our friends. The more we allow pride to dominate the way we think and act, the more we prevent our friendships from growing us.

If we truly want to build great friendships, we have to cultivate our humility and vulnerability. We need to lay aside our desire to be seen in the best possible light. Instead, we need to expose our weaknesses and allow our friends the space to be honest with us. When we do that, we are sharpened and are able to be used for greater purposes in God’s plan.

This week, sit down with a friend and be honest about where you are struggling in your faith. Ask to them for their advice and then have them hold you accountable to growing in areas of weakness. Ask them also to keep you accountable in growing in your relationship with God. If you do, we believe that these friendships and conversations will truly change your life.

YOLO—Part 5 [Devotional]

Going Deeper with the Message:

With Words, Less is More
by: Ben Biles

The overall impression from the book of Proverbs when it comes to speaking with wisdom is simply to talk less. Take Proverbs 10:19 for example: “When there are many words, sin is unavoidable, but the one who controls his lips is wise.” The idea is that when we become emotionally charged, we react by speaking impulsively. Think of a time you were insulted or angered. What were your reactionary words? My guess is that they weren’t the best fit for the situation. In Proverbs, we come to understand that someone who can restrain his or her impulsive words displays wisdom.

This idea of talking less might seem counter-cultural to us because we live in a society in which conversation and discussion have become competitive at times. Think of a corporate board meeting. The person who says the most, makes the most persuasive points, or talks the loudest or longest is the person who wins. Aren’t the people who talk more the same ones we see rise to power? Sure, we’ve seen “power talkers” use words to get ahead fast, but we’ve seen countless examples of them run into trouble with what they say and experience the backlash from their community.

Proverbs is after a different kind of success. It displays the richness of gaining wisdom and how wisdom makes one successful in all areas of life. If we want to speak with wisdom, we need to learn to restrain our speech. Speaking less make you a better listener, allowing you the time to absorb all the relevant information and decide on what to say. It will also give you the opportunity to think over and deliver wise words when it matters the most or when it has the biggest impact. This manner of speaking gains respect and will lead to people reaching out for advice and wisdom. When it comes to speaking, the wisdom of Proverbs suggests that less is more.

Living out the Message:

Reflections of Character

Last Sunday, Pastor Josh encouraged us to speak life to everyone, drawing from Proverbs 18:21 which says, “Life and death are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruit.” He went on to say that speaking life specifically means speaking words of love, affirmation, gratitude, and healing. When we make the effort to say “I love you” or “I’m proud of you,” these encouraging words give people life. They build people up and lead to better and deeper relationships. 

Words are simply reflections of our hearts. They show the world around us what we’re thinking and feeling. They outwardly display our inward character. Look at the way Jesus speaks throughout the Gospels. He is always intentional, always on target, and always purposeful in what he says. He never says anything out of line with his own character. With truth and grace, he speaks life to all the people he meets and thereby shows us the character and love of God. 

When it comes to our own lives, we must understand that our words reflect our character. Loving words come from a loving heart. Words of gratitude come from a thankful heart. In Luke 6, Jesus tells us, “A good tree doesn’t produce bad fruit; on the other hand, a bad tree doesn’t produce good fruit. For each tree is known by its own fruit. Figs aren’t gathered from thornbushes, or grapes picked from a bramble bush. A good man produces good out of the good storeroom of his heart. An evil man produces evil out of the evil storeroom, for his mouth speaks from the overflow of the heart” (Luke 6:43-45). If we want to be people that speak life, then we must work on our own character first. We must first become loving, grateful, affirming people, then these words will flow naturally out of overflow of our character. 

This week, repeatedly ask yourself this question after personal interactions: “How did my words reflect my character?”