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4
Feb

Gains: Contentment

Each topic in this series uniquely considers the various aspects of a Christian’s life, showing how to achieve a deeper level of devotion to Christ and experience greater personal transformation. This week’s topic on contentment gets to the heart of the experience of Spiritual Disciplines. Paul wrote in 1 Tim 6:6–8, “But godliness with contentment is great gain, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content.”

In our consumer culture, there is always more to be gained—another rung on the ladder to be climbed. In some ways, this type of ambition is a good thing as people strive for more instead of settling for less than what God is ready to supply. But being content is learning to live in the balance of both extremes. In one sense, contentment is not settling, while finding satisfaction in where you are and what you have. Contentment is based on the understanding that you are already rich in Christ (Eph. 1), and you possess everything needed to live godly in Christ (2 Peter 1:3).

Many of the disciplines are personal, not depending on other people. However, some disciplines, like contentment, are “others-entered” and not “self-centered.” Contentment causes us to arrange our lives in consideration of the needs of others. One lesson we learn from the life of Christ is that he became poor for us. Leaving the glories of heaven, the eternal Son of God was manifested in the flesh, born in a stable and wrapped in rags. He sacrificed, gave, lived simply, and served others. He did not come seeking earthly riches, He knew he already possessed all the wealth of creation and instead chose to live in contentment that others may be made rich (2 Corinthians 8:9).

We prove that we are content in Christ and in his provision when we choose not to live extravagant lifestyles that only benefit our personal gratification. This guards the heart from finding security or satisfaction in temporal things instead of in God. It also frees us to have expendable resources so that we can more readily give and provide for the needs of others. You don’t have to be rich to be a giver. You simply need to be disciplined in your lifestyle by living below your means.

Every Christian is called to be a giver since it reflects the heart of God who did not spare even his own Son, but gave him up for us. This might mean giving not just out of your excess, but also from your personal expenses. To give sacrificially is to deny yourself something that you need in order to give to the needs of others, elevating their needs above your own. We do this for the sake of the gospel and out of love for one another.

A Christian chooses to live simply because they recognize above any other group that they are stewards of Another. The means and resources that are at your disposal are not yours, but God’s. Therefore, being content in what God has supplied to you as a steward is implied in your role.

 

26
Jan

Gains: Worship

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Some might think it strange to see the topic of worship in a series on spiritual disciplines. After all, isn’t everything that the Christian does in an effort to know and glorify God considered worship? And in that sense, they are right; in all the Spiritual disciplines there is a level of worship taking place. If a Christian is practicing the spiritual disciplines of reading their Bible, praying, witnessing to others, and doing service in the name of Christ then they are also engaged in worship.

This week we are going to address the topic of worship as a spiritual discipline. The disciplines stir in us a heart to worship while worship stirs in us a longing to seek and know God through the other spiritual disciplines. So worship is also narrow while at the same time all-encompassing.

Unfortunately, many new or novice Christians make the mistake of assuming that worship is a genre of music. Music is a meaningful and important part of worship, but there are other ways to engage in the worship of God. Therefore, it would be foolish to reduce worship to only a small portion of its parts.

In a broader sense, human beings are made for worship. Of course, not everyone worships God in the way they were created to, but everyone worships something. Sin has destroyed man’s ability to worship rightly. People are inclined to self-praise, seeking satisfaction in lesser things, secondary things of creation rather than in their Creator, God.

So how can we fix this? Truth is, we can’t, but God can! And he has, by sending his Son as a ransom-sacrifice to reconcile us back into a relationship with Him. Jesus said in John 4:23, “But an hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshipers.”

We can conclude from this verse and others that the purpose of our salvation and, therefore, the chief characteristic of our Christianity is the worship of Christ. As the Westminster Catechism says, “What is the Chief end of man? Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.”

Two questions to consider: First, What is worship? Worship is first a response of love, affection, devotion, and submission to the grace of God shown in Christ. Secondly, How do we worship? This question has a bit more to it. In one sense we worship privately when we choose to put God first in our lives. It involves a devotional reflection on the person and work of Christ. In another sense we worship God corporately as we gather together with other believers, in unity of faith and conviction, celebrating our infinite and personal God.

18
Jan

Gains: Divine Dependence

As children we are dependent upon our parents. As adults we desire independence. But when we are old we become dependent again. But no matter how dependent or independent we are on other people, we are always dependent upon God. He is our creator and sustainer of life, and nothing we have is of our own but has been given to us from God. We came into this world with nothing and we will leave it with nothing. If there is one universal truth of humanity, it is that we are utterly dependent creatures.

But like the original sin in the Garden of Eden, which was a desire to become independent of God. We struggle to humble ourselves before God and acknowledge our dependence upon him. With this in mind, the disciplines that specifically show our dependence upon the Lord are some of the most difficult to cultivate. Therefore, disciplines like prayer, fasting, silence, and solitude are directly opposed to our desire for independence.

The practice of these disciplines shows that a person truly understands what Jesus said in John 15, “Apart from me you can do nothing.” When you pray, you are acknowledging that you are weak but He is strong. John Piper wrote, “Prayer is God’s delight because it shows the reaches of our poverty and the riches of His grace.” Remember, the disciplines are not ends in themselves but a means to intimacy with God.

Like Sacred Reading, it is important to be consistent in prayer and to choose the right time and place. People often presume that prayer should only be spontaneous and unplanned as if you’re holier when you pray that way But prayer should be planned and thought out. Fasting is another means to intimacy with God. By abstaining from eating physical food, you are acknowledging that you are not dependent upon “bread alone” but upon the divine presence of God as you, instead, seek him in prayer.

One of the biggest hindrances to divine dependence, outside of our fleshly desire for independence, is the high volume of distractions that exist in our lives. For this reason, the disciplines of silence and solitude are unique habits that aid in intimacy with God. Most people hate to be alone for any length of time. And the only time we notice all the white noise around us is when it is gone. For many people, to be alone and in silence for any measure of time is nearly impossible. It is possible that this directly inhibits a person’s ability to hear the still small voice of God speaking into their souls.

It is a wonderful thing to see, however, that in the life of Christ he often had these moments where he would retreat away to a deserted place (silence), far from the crowds and even the disciples (solitude), for intentional times of fellowship with the Father (prayer and fasting). But how do you begin to cultivate this habit in your life? Below are some suggestions that will hopefully enhance how you practice the discipline of dependence:

  • Choose a place where nothing will interrupt your thoughts, then decide how long you will pray for and stick to it.
  • Leave your phone and other devices in another room. Distractions can come in many forms; isolate yourself from these subtle deterrents.
  • For fasting, start small. Skip a meal and work your way up to longer fasting. Be sure to plan this out so that you don’t have some physical activity to do that day. If you have health issues, consult a doctor first.
  • The ACTS acronym (adoration, confession, thanksgiving, supplication) is helpful when planning a time of prayer. Arrange your prayer topics under these categories.
14
Jan

Gains: Sacred Reading

The Word of God is an indispensable tool in the life of every believer. Without it we could not know God nor understand anything about salvation. The difference between strong believers, someone full of faith and hope, and weak believer is that they regularly and intentionally engage with the Word of God. In many ways, all the spiritual disciplines hinge on reading and understanding the Bible. A quick look at Psalm 119 will provide a list of the benefits of the word of God: it brings happiness (v.1-2); it produces cleansing (v.9-11); it gives liberty (v. 45); it shows direction (v. 105); it infuses understanding (v. 130). Many of the Biblical writers affirm these benefits and more and show the Word of God to be invaluable.

Most people who attend church for any length of time understand the importance of the word of God in their lives. However, you can own a Bible, believe that it’s important, and even have a fancy case to protect it, but if you don’t read it, it has no value to you spiritually.

Furthermore, it is not enough to simply tell someone (especially a new believer) to go home and start reading their Bible without first showing them how to read it. So the issue is not simply valuing the word of God, but practically developing the disciplines and habits that supply the means of receiving the benefits God’s word provides. This discipline is called sacred reading because there is more to engaging with the Bible than simply reading it.

To help you further understand this, below is a list of principles that will help you get the most out of your Bible reading:

  • Have a plan for daily Bible reading. Use the New Testament reading plan that we have provided for you.
  • Mix it up. Try reading large portions of scripture (maybe even a whole book) in order to gain a big picture perspective. Then go back to a section and read it slower and more intentionally.
  • Write key ideas down. Have a journal or note cards handy. This will also help with memorization.
  • Memorize scripture. The word of God is only going to benefit you when it jumps off the pages and begins to reside in your heart and mind.
  • This is not eastern mysticism. Mediation is simply to think deeply about something, to have it consume your thoughts and shape your attitude.
  • Read it all. Don’t just read the easier books of the Bible. Read both Old and New Testaments. Read all the genres (historical, apocalyptic, poetic, and narrative).
  • Choose a quiet and consistent place and time. Habits can be developed by sensory stimulation and repetition. In a world full of distractions, train yourself to be quiet before the Lord as you study, meditate, memorize, pray through and seek to apply his word.
  • Read secondary sources. The Bible is the primary document that we grow by. But there are secondary documents that help us to understand the primary document better. Reading commentaries, books of theology, Christian living, and biographies will only help to stimulate our Bible reading.
12
Jan

How do We Know the Bible is True?

gains-screen-10Christians base all of their beliefs on one book: the Bible. Secular culture mocks this reliance on Scripture, and many believe that the Bible is inaccurate and unreliable. How exactly can we know that the Bible is true?

External Evidence — SAT’s

S- Science 

Though the Bible is not a science book, it is completely accurate any time that it makes scientific observations. For example, thousands of years before mankind discovered that the earth was round, Isaiah wrote that, “The Lord sits on the circle of the earth” (40:22). Leviticus 17:11 says that “the life of the flesh is in the blood,” signifying that blood is extremely important to the life of human beings and animals. However, even in the 1700’s doctors still drained people’s blood in order to cure them of sickness. It was this procedure that took the life of our first President, George Washington.

Because the Bible has spoken more accurately about science, even when the people of its day would not have agreed, we must conclude that the Bible was written by someone who knows more about nature than the rest of mankind.

A- Archeology 

The Bible has continually proven to be a reliable guide to discovering the remains of ancient civilizations. Nelson Glueck, a renowned Jewish archaeologist, stated that “No archaeological discovery has ever controverted a biblical reference.” For centuries, historians and archeologists doubted the existence of the Biblical Roman Governor, Pontius Pilate, until they discovered a seat in a coliseum with his name engraved on it. This discovery validated the historical accuracy of the New Testament, and there are literally thousands of similar examples.

T- Testimony 

While some people may attempt to argue against any evidence for the bible, nobody can argue against its power to change lives. Millions of people have been positively changed by the message of the gospel contained in the pages of Scripture.

Internal Evidence — RPM’s

R- Resurrection

Discovering if Jesus really did rise again from the dead is of utmost importance to knowing whether or not to believe the Bible. The entire story of redemption is contingent on the resurrection occurring; if it did not, Christianity is meaningless.

We can, by historical means, see that the resurrection is something that actually happened. One simple reasons is because of the disciples faith. Every single one of the disciples was tortured, and all but John were killed, for the belief that Jesus rose again from the dead. There is no reason that these 12 men would go through so much suffering if it were not true.

For more arguments for the resurrection, read this article.

P- Prophecy 

No other book has predicted the future as often and as accurately as the Bible. To give one example, Jesus claimed that the temple would be dismantle brick by brick, a prediction that many would have mocked at the time (Luke 21:5-7). Thirty years later, this very thing occurred when the Roman general Titus sieged Jerusalem and began to burn the temple. Once he saw that there was gold inside, he commanded his army to tear it down brick by brick, fulfilling exactly what Jesus said.

For a more thorough list of fulfilled Bible prophecies, you can read this article.

M- Manuscripts

Even though the Bible was written thousands of years ago, we can still know we have the original words in our Bible today. The New Testament is better preserved and has more documentation than any other book of antiquity; there is no comparison. Trusted documents, such as Plato or Aristotle’s writings, have less than 50 manuscripts to support the accuracy of our copies. The New Testament has 5600 copies, which show us that the New Testament has not changed.

Even with these short examples of why we can trust the Bible, it becomes clear that this was not a book merely written by man, but it has been inspired by God.

Listen to the audio message by clicking here.

Recommended Resources: 

Defending Inerrancy by Norman Geisler

Seven Reasons Why You Can Trust the Bible by Erwin Lutzer 

Inerrancy of the Gospels by Vern Poythress 

Understanding Scripture by Wayne Grudem 

8
Jan

Gains: Introduction to the Spiritual Disciplines

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Introduction to the Spiritual Disciplines The Christian walk is filled with tension. In many ways a believer is pulled in different directions. An obvious contrast would be the tension between the flesh and the spirit, between sinful acts and holy living. The Christian is constantly battling this tension of choosing to walk in the Spirit while not giving into the lusts of the flesh (Gal 5). In these types of tensions, the Christian is supposed to be completely imbalanced by leaning more towards the side of Christ-like living and not reverting back to sinful behavior.

There are other tensions in scripture where the Christian is supposed to seek a more balanced position. The topic we will discuss is the tension between a person’s role and God’s role in the in making us more like Christ, which is called sanctification. An imbalanced view on this would be that we do all the work or that God does all the work. Instead, the biblical balance is that the spiritual life is both human and divine. On the human side, we are responsible to work out, not work for, our salvation. On the divine side, God gives us the desire and empowerment to accomplish his purposes.

Finding a proper balance is important in thinking and living out this tension of human and divine activity, especially when it comes to the topic of spiritual disciplines. Spiritual disciplines are things that we do in order to become more like Christ, such as bible reading, praying, fasting, etc. The disciplines focus mostly on the human side of this tension. However, it is not intended to ignore the divine. The disciplines that will be discussed in this series are not to be seen as ends in themselves or supernatural means. Instead, they should be thought of as practical steps in response to divine grace. Because God loves us and invites us into a relationship with him personally, we respond by seeking him through the means of spiritual disciplines.

You might find it fascinating to discover as we go through these disciplines that Jesus himself practiced the very things that we are encouraged to do in our pursuit of God. For Jesus, these were means of fellowship and intimacy with the Father, and we are invited to do the same. As disciples of Jesus, let’s follow his example and engage in these disciplines while maintaining balance of human effort and divine initiative.

 

5
Jan

Farewell Thoughts — KC McCauley

I feel as if I have been in high school forever. Sure, I went to college, worked fulltime, got married, and had a baby. But the reason I feel that way is because I’ve been serving in the high school ministry at Harvest ever since I was in high school, for the past 10 years! And now, it seems like graduation time has come as the Lord is directing Michelle and I into a new season of life and ministry (I can hear the graduation song now, thanks to my wife’s affection for High School Musical 3). I was recently asked to serve as a Pastor at Harvest, particularly over the South Corona campus and other help ministries. We are very excited to follow the Lord’s leading, but of course, we will miss the high school ministry!

IMG_3798Student ministries will always have a special place in my heart. I was first invited to church as a sophomore in high school. As I attended the youth group I came to learn about God and the message of the gospel, and I became a Christian. I was baptized at the first summer camp I attended right before my senior year. After graduation, I started to serve and get involved in leadership, where I developed the majority of my closest friendships. Best of all, I met my wife, Michelle, while serving together. And then the Lord provided me an opportunity to serve on staff as an assistant. My time in the ministry has surely been full of God’s grace and love towards me.

As I reflect on all that God has done in my life, both as a student and as a leader in the ministry, I think about how influential the truths of Christianity are in the lives of young people. As I follow the Lord’s leading into new ministries, I want to briefly share the most impacting lesson that I have learned in the high school ministry: students are stewards. I believe that the high school years provide an incredibly formidable time for students to develop and cultivate stewardship in many areas of life, particularly in being stewards over their time, talent, treasure, trust, and truth.

And because it is within our youth that the trajectory of life is built upon, it is so important for students to understand such truths. As J.C. Ryle writes,

“Experience tells me that people’s hearts are seldom changed if they are not changed when young. Seldom indeed are men converted when they are old. Habits have deep roots. Once sin is allowed to settle in your heart, it will not be turned out at your bidding. Custom becomes second nature, and its chains are not easily broken.”

Time: We all have the same amount of time in the day, and whether students are crammed with AP classes or are bored staring at a screen for hours, one thing is for sure: our youth provides us with an unparalleled season and time in life for potential growth. Just look at your picture from freshmen year to senior year! Instead of taking a vacation from responsibility, so many students have taken advantage of this season of life to accomplish great things as they love God and love others. As Solomon would say, “Remember also your Creator in the days of your youth” (Eccl. 12:1). Don’t waste the time of your youth!

Talent: It’s in this season of life that many young people discover what they’re good at and what they like to do. Whether its education, sports, technology, the arts, service to others, etc., so many gifts, traits, and characteristics are developed at a young age. Instead of using these for self-glorification, it’s a joy to see students who live in a selfie generation use their spiritual gifts and talents for the glory of God and for the good of others. One of the joys of youth ministry has been to help students discover and develop their God-given abilities for the flourishing of society and the building-up of the Church. Don’t waste your talent!

Treasure: Every kid learns to say “mine!” at a young age, but it’s in the teen years that responsibility really starts to develop, whether for good stewardship or irresponsibility. As students get jobs, plan for college and future careers, it’s an amazing thing to see a young person realize that their money and possessions come from the Lord and that they can use their resources to invest in the kingdom of God. It’s also been a blessing to see so many students gain support and pay their own way for various ministry trips and events. Such experiences have long-term effects as they loosen the grip of selfishness in order to enjoy the blessing of reaching out to others. Don’t waste your treasure!

Trust: So many lifelong friendships are formed in the high school years. And it’s in this time that students are given the great responsibility of trust. It can be argued that the most important thing in life is relationships, as seen in loving God and others (Matt. 22:37-40). And so there is no greater investment than in people—to love, serve, and invest in others for their well-being. Besides the baby-mamma-drama and gossip of so many high school social-media based “friendships,” the meaningful trust that is developed among BFF’s and besties provides a framework for future responsibility in relationships. It’s been such a joy to meet so many great young people and to develop friendships that will last long beyond their time as students. Don’t waste your trust!

Truth: There is one thing that changes everything about stewardship: God’s truth. Because we are stewards of the truth about life, it changes our view on time, talent, treasure, and trust. It takes the focus off of selfish desires and places it in the right perspective as revealed in God’s Word. There has been no greater joy in youth ministry than seeing students come to know the truth, walk in the truth, share the truth, and to be set free by its life-giving, liberating power (John 8:32). This will always be fresh in my mind as I vividly remember first hearing about the truth of gospel as a student, and as I’ve seen so many students share it with their peers. Don’t waste the truth!

As I reflect on my time in youth ministry, and as I transition into a new season of life and ministry, I think of the one statement that motivated me to minister to students and that encapsulates their amazing potential for growth in godliness: Don’t Waste Your Youth.

It’s been a joy to serve,

Pastor KC McCauley

kcm@harvest.org