Crossing Over / Farewell

BIBLE READING

1 Thessalonians 1: 2

We always thank God for all of you and continually mention you in our prayers.

Deuteronomy 1: 6-8 (NLT)

When we were at Mount Sinai, the Lord our God said to us, ‘You have stayed at this mountain long enough. It is time to break camp and move on. Go to the hill country of the Amorites and to all the neighbouring regions - the Jordan Valley, the hill country, the western foothills, the Negev, and the coastal plain. Go to the land of the Canaanites and to Lebanon, and all the way to the great Euphrates River. Look, I am giving all this land to you! Go in and occupy it, for it is the land the Lord swore to give to your ancestors Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and to all their descendants.’

Proverbs 16: 9 (NLT)

We can make our plans, but the Lord determines our steps.

REFLECTION

By my reckoning, this is the 235th daily devotional I have written since I became part of the team at CCV. To be honest, I have never found them easy and each one has probably taken much longer than it should have. People occasionally ask me if I write them all on a Monday for the week ahead. I wish! I’ve never been able to do that. Each one has been written the day before it arrives into your email inbox. This is now my final one and I feel a mixture of relief and sadness (but mostly the former).

Seriously though, as I said on Sunday past, it has been such an immense privilege for Becky, Elijah and myself to be at Causeway Coast Vineyard for the past year. It is a community that we had loved and admired from a distance for a long time, and just to be a part of it would have been enough for us. But to be asked to come onto staff and for me to have the honour of opening God’s Word so regularly with you has been beyond a blessing. You truly are a very special, loving, generous, encouraging, open-hearted, risk-taking, Jesus-loving, world-transforming bunch of people and we have grown so deeply fond of you. To serve under the leadership of Alan and Kathryn and then, more recently, under Neil and Janet, alongside the rest of the amazing team, has been such an immense honour for which we will always be grateful.

We always knew that our stay here would be temporary but it’s so good to know that we have an extended family here on the Causeway Coast. Right now we’re still not 100% sure where we’re going next but the Lord seems to be opening a door and making a way clear for us. We’ll be around the area through most of September so hopefully we’ll bump into you.

Thank-you once again for allowing us to be part of your community and for welcoming us so warmly. We will be praying for CCV in the days ahead that the Lord would continue to bless you immeasurably, that through your life and witness both individuals and communities would be transformed, and that Holy Spirit would guide your steps into the good future He has prepared for you.

Blessings and favour in abundance,

Craig

Gather with us at 9.30am and 11.30am this Sunday when we will hear stories from and celebrate with those who are going to be baptised. The baptisms themselves will take place at Portstewart Strand at 1.30pm, followed by a beach BBQ! Our evening celebration will take place at 7.00pm.

Crossing Over / Day 4

BIBLE READING

Joshua 1: 10-11

Joshua ordered the officers of the people: ‘Go through the camp and tell the people, “Get your provisions ready. Three days from now you will cross the Jordan here to go in and take possession of the land the Lord your God is giving you for your own.”’

Joshua 6: 1-5

Now the gates of Jericho were securely barred because of the Israelites. No one went out and no one came in.

Then the Lord said to Joshua, ‘See, I have delivered Jericho into your hands, along with its king and its fighting men. March round the city once with all the armed men. Do this for six days. Make seven priests carry trumpets of rams’ horns in front of the ark. On the seventh day, march round the city seven times, with the priests blowing the trumpets. When you hear them sound a long blast on the trumpets, make the whole army give a loud shout; then the wall of the city will collapse and the army will go up, everyone straight in.’

1 Corinthians 16: 8-9

I will stay on at Ephesus until Pentecost, because a great door for effective work has opened to me, and there are many who oppose me.

REFLECTION

“Whenever God’s people endeavour to do God’s work in God’s way, it will not go unopposed.” (Alistair Begg)

God’s plan for his children was never that they would be a wilderness people, living in the desert and surviving on the bare minimum. However, after 40 years of existing there they had become used to manna and water for every meal, living in tents and worshipping in the tabernacle. There was a familiarity with it, life was fairly predictable, safe and secure.

It’s amazing how we sometimes get comfortable in uncomfortable situations. We settle for less than our potential in different areas of our lives. It could be our jobs, our relationships, our marriage, the use of our gifts. We stop stretching, lower our expectations, we don’t want to rock the boat, we avoid risk, we play it safe. Often the greatest enemy of the new is the known.  We settle in a wilderness when there’s a promised land with our name all over it.

God brought His people out of Egypt so that He could bring them into their inheritance – a land of abundance and blessing, a spacious and fruitful place, a land where they could flourish, multiply, plant, build, worship, grow, prosper and thrive. That’s the only place that they were to settle. But to enter this land there was going to be obstacles and opposition, a river to cross and battles to fight.

Often we think that if something is really God’s will it should be easy and straightforward. We expect open doors and little resistance. Occasionally that is the case, but what I have found more often is that when God opens a door, there are obstacles, and even opposition, both in front of it and on the other side when you walk through it. There is an enemy trying to keep you out of it. There are forces seeking to discourage you so that you stop short. As Seth Barnes says: “If God's dream is to see you free, then your enemy's goal is to keep you in bondage.” Take the following Biblical examples:

  • God opened the door for Joseph to lead a nation – but the doorway involved being sold as a slave and time in prison.
  • God opened the door for David to become King – but along with that came years living as a fugitive on the run from Saul.
  • God opened doors for the Apostle Paul to share the Gospel – but the journey involved shipwrecks, beatings and various afflictions.

Not every door that opens is from God and not every opposition, attack or resistance is a sign that you’re going the wrong direction. The bottom line is always this – what has God said? If you know for sure that you are stepping into God’s will then you can move forward in faith and confidence no matter what stands against you. He will go with you, He will fight for you, He will provide for your needs, He will take you into what He has promised. As Deuteronomy 31: 8 says:

"The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged."

 

Crossing Over / Day 3

BIBLE READING

Joshua 1: 6-9

Be strong and courageous, because you will lead these people to inherit the land I swore to their ancestors to give them.

‘Be strong and very courageous. Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, that you may be successful wherever you go. Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful. Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.’

Matthew 14: 25-33

Shortly before dawn Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake. When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified. ‘It’s a ghost,’ they said, and cried out in fear.

But Jesus immediately said to them: ‘Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.’

‘Lord, if it’s you,’ Peter replied, ‘tell me to come to you on the water.’

‘Come,’ he said.

Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came towards Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, ‘Lord, save me!’

Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. ‘You of little faith,’ he said, ‘why did you doubt?’

And when they climbed into the boat, the wind died down. Then those who were in the boat worshipped him, saying, ‘Truly you are the Son of God.’

REFLECTION

“A choice lies before you: Either waste your life or live with risk. Either sit on the sidelines or get in the game. After all, life was no cakewalk for Jesus, and he didn’t promise it would be any easier for his followers. We shouldn’t be surprised by resistance and persecution. Yet most of us play it safe. We pursue comfort. We spend ourselves to get more stuff. And we prefer to be entertained.” (John Piper)

John Wimber, the founder of the Vineyard movement, famously said: “Faith is spelt R-I-S-K.” In a world where the most adventure many men get is through playing video games and where the best-selling chair is the La-z-boy, we need to be men and women who are radically bold, courageous and passionate for the sake of the Kingdom. The world needs Christians who are willing to risk everything, surrendering our perceived right to comfort and security, for the spread of the Gospel.

No less than three times in a four verses God tells Joshua to be strong and courageous. God is communicating that to do what He is calling Joshua to do is going to be terrifying, if not seemingly impossible. It was a task that 40 years before had overwhelmed a whole generation of Israelites and their fear kept them out of the Promised Land. They refused to risk and missed out on such a great reward.

It’s the same for us. While there is always a risk in taking a bold step of faith into something new, there is also a risk in playing it safe. We miss out on the adventure that following Jesus was always meant to be, we don’t experience the abundant life Jesus promised, and we fail to see God move powerfully and supernaturally on our behalf.

In Matthew 14 Peter was the only one of the disciples who dared step out from the safety of the boat during a fierce storm. He may have been overwhelmed and started to sink, but at least he was willing to risk it all to walk towards Jesus. He was the only one of the twelve who knew what it was to take a few steps on the roaring waves, he was the only one who was lifted up by the hand of Jesus, he was the only one who experienced supernatural power.

I don’t want to grow old and harbour regret about a life that I could have lived if I had only trusted God more. I want to reflect on my life with the knowledge that I risked it all, spent all I had and poured out my everything for the glory of Jesus and the spread of His Gospel.

I don’t want to experience what one writer calls ‘The Common Cold of the Soul’. This is how he describes it:

It’s the sinful patterns of behaviour that never get confronted and changed.

Abilities and gifts that never get cultivated and deployed-

Until weeks become months

And months turn into years,

And one day you're looking back on a life of deep intimate, gut-wrenchingly

honest conversations you never had;

Great bold prayers you never prayed

Exhilarating risks you never took,

Sacrificial gifts you never offered.

And you're sitting in a recliner with a shrivelled soul,

And forgotten dreams,

And you realize there was a world of desperate need,

And a great God calling you to be part of something bigger than yourself-

You see the person you could have become but did not;

You never followed your calling.

 

 

 

Crossing Over / Day 2

BIBLE READING

Deuteronomy 34: 7-8

Moses was a hundred and twenty years old when he died, yet his eyes were not weak nor his strength gone. The Israelites grieved for Moses in the plains of Moab thirty days, until the time of weeping and mourning was over.

Joshua 1: 1-6

After the death of Moses the servant of the Lord, the Lord said to Joshua son of Nun, Moses’ assistant: ‘Moses my servant is dead. Now then, you and all these people, get ready to cross the River Jordan into the land I am about to give to them – to the Israelites. I will give you every place where you set your foot, as I promised Moses. Your territory will extend from the desert to Lebanon, and from the great river, the Euphrates – all the Hittite country – to the Mediterranean Sea in the west. No one will be able to stand against you all the days of your life. As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will never leave you nor forsake you. Be strong and courageous, because you will lead these people to inherit the land I swore to their ancestors to give them.

REFLECTION

At the beginning of the first chapter of Joshua, God tells the new leader of Israel, “Moses is dead.” This is strange because if you turn back a page in your Bible you'll read in the final chapter of Deuteronomy about Moses’ death followed by 30 days of morning.

Why is God telling Joshua something that he clearly already knows? Why is God stating the obvious?

I believe what God is saying is: “Moses is dead. Therefore you are now entering a completely new season. But to experience the new, you’re going to have to let go of the old."

Moses was the only leader Israel had ever known. He had led them out of slavery in Egypt, brought them through the desert and spoken to God on their behalf. Therefore when he died, they must have been in devastated. Many among them probably said: “How will we ever survive without Moses?”  God however says: “Face reality, Moses is gone. Honour him, remember him, but you can’t bring him back. Stop trying to resurrect and resuscitate things that are dead. Move forward because I have so much more for you."

It’s human nature to reminisce about the good old days, the glory days, as if all of God’s best work was in the past. Often however, the glory days weren’t nearly as glorious as we remember them. And I believe that, with God, the best days are always yet to come. 

In our own lives we maybe need to face that 'Moses is dead'. There may be habits, mindsets, associations, even relationships in your life that were once good or served a purpose but now you may need to let them die. They were once fruitful, but they reached their expiration date a long time ago. And that’s okay, because God always has new resources for your new season. Moses was dead, but God had already raised up a Joshua.

Some people were part of your journey for a season, but they could only take you so far.

What worked ten years ago will probably not work today.

What got you to where you are isn’t going to take you to where you need to go.

When I read Joshua 1, two words stand out for me in verse 2: “...now then…”.  Moses is dead. Now then…. It’s as if God is saying: “It’s only because Moses is dead, now you can step into your inheritance and destiny. It’s only because Moses is dead that you can now receive the fulfilment all the promises I have for you.” And actually, that was true, because if you read Numbers 20 you will see that Moses sinned against God and God told him:

“…Because you did not trust in me enough to honour me as holy in the sight of the Israelites, you will not bring this community into the land I give them.” (Num 20: 12)

God essentially says that as long as Moses is alive, the people cannot enter into the Promised Land. You can’t have Moses and the Promised Land. You can have one or the other. It sounds harsh, but if Moses didn’t die, a whole nation couldn’t enter their inheritance.

And God would say to some of us today: "You want some things in your life, but you can’t have them, unless you are willing to let go of these other things. There has to be a separation before there can be a possession. There has to be a letting go before there can be a taking hold."

In this new season God isn’t about reviving something that is dying or already dead - He’s about birthing something completely new. Will you trust Him and step into it?

Crossing Over / Day 1

BIBLE READING

Joshua 3: 2-5; 14-16

After three days the officers went throughout the camp, giving orders to the people: ‘When you see the ark of the covenant of the Lord your God, and the Levitical priests carrying it, you are to move out from your positions and follow it. Then you will know which way to go, since you have never been this way before. But keep a distance of about two thousand cubits between you and the ark; do not go near it.’

Joshua told the people, ‘Consecrate yourselves, for tomorrow the Lord will do amazing things among you.’…

…So when the people broke camp to cross the Jordan, the priests carrying the ark of the covenant went ahead of them. Now the Jordan is at flood stage all during harvest. Yet as soon as the priests who carried the ark reached the Jordan and their feet touched the water's edge, the water from upstream stopped flowing. It piled up in a heap a great distance away, at a town called Adam in the vicinity of Zarethan, while the water flowing down to the Sea of the Arabah was completely cut off. So the people crossed over opposite Jericho.”

SUMMARY OF SUNDAY'S MESSAGE

God’s people had been in slavery in Egypt for around 400 years when God sent Moses to deliver them. However due to their ongoing sin, rebellion and idolatry, instead of entering the Promised Land, they spent the next 40 years wandering in the desert.

In Joshua 3, it’s now 40 years later. Moses, their great leader has died, and the baton has now been passed to Joshua. They’re looking at the Promised Land but there’s still one huge obstacle standing in their way and that is the River Jordan which is in flood. In human terms it would be absolutely impossible to traverse. And so they are faced with a choice: Will they camp or will they cross?

38 years before this God’s people had been in almost exactly the same place. They’d sent spies into the Promised Land to see if it was all God had told them it was. Ten of the spies came back and reported: "It’s all there, it’s incredible, it’s just like God said – but we can’t do it, the people over there are too big and strong for us." Only 2 of them, Joshua and Caleb, had trusted God. In the end the majority won and a whole generation died in the wilderness. They never inherited what God had for them.

And now, almost 40 years later, they’re back in the same place and they have to decide – will we play it safe and stay where we are or will we press in and enter into all that God has for us.

Here’s a few simple principles I see here in Joshua that can help us to take hold of all that God has promised us:

DON’T SETTLE: Don’t settle for less than God has for you?

“…the Lord said to Joshua son of Nun, Moses’ assistant: ‘Moses my servant is dead. Now then, you and all these people, get ready to cross the River Jordan into the land I am about to give to them – to the Israelites.” (Joshua 1:1-2)

God’s intention was never just to bring his people out of Egypt, but to bring them into a Promised Land, a land of abundance, flowing with milk and honey, a place they could call home, where they could build and flourish and thrive and be a light to the nations showing the world the goodness and love and holiness and justice and kindness of God.

A generation had died in the wilderness and now we have a whole new generation of “desert babies.” Their experience was that God took care of all their basic needs. He led them with a cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night, fed them with manna every morning and gave them water to drink from a rock. It wasn’t abundance – but they had enough. Plus they had no major obstacles in their way and no battles to fight.

Now they are standing looking into the Promised Land and, as great as it appears, in front of them is a huge river which they have to cross and there’s no bridge. Then if they do manage to get across there will be battle after battle which they will have to fight as they drive out the nations who already occupy Canaan. I’m sure there was a huge temptation just to settle where they were and not to bother crossing over the Jordan. At least here they were safe and secure.

As Christians, we are supposed to be a pioneer people who respond in obedience to the call of Jesus, people who are willing to leave the safety and security of the familiar, people who don’t settle for average, normal and mediocre, people who pray bold prayers and step out in audacious faith, placing our trust and our future completely in the hands of Jesus.  That’s how we enter into the abundant life that Jesus promised, that’s what it means to be a disciple of Christ.

Many people feel stuck in their lives – when actually they’re not stuck – they’ve just stopped. They’ve stayed in a place longer than they were ever supposed to because it was comfortable and secure and now they feel stuck.

THERE IS MORE: It’s only in the risk that we discover the more. It’s when we step into the unknown that life becomes exciting.

Often the greatest enemy of the new – is the known. We are creatures of the known, of habit, of the familiar.

God didn’t bring His people out of Egypt to spend their lives in the familiarity of the wilderness but so that He could bring them into their inheritance – a place of abundance and blessing.

These people who have been following God for over 40 years, they have seen him work miracles, they have experienced supernatural provision and guidance first-hand. They must have thought they had seen and experienced all of God that it was possible to see and experience and yet look at what God says:

“…you have never been this way before.”

For some of you right now, you’re in a season of change, transition, there’s disruption, things are unsettling, shifting, shaking. God is moving you, doing something new in you – and God is saying, ‘I’m taking you to places you haven’t been before.’

TAKE THE FIRST STEP: How can we get across from where we are to the new place God is calling us to? It begins by simply taking the first step.

The feet of the priests carrying the ark actually had to touch the water before it stopped flowing. It was only as they did what He had called them to do, that He did all that He had promised to do and stopped the water from flowing.

God says: “Just take a step of faith, one step showing that you trust me. And if you will take that step out of your comfort zone and do what I have asked you to do, you’ll see me do miracles in and through your life.”

In many ways, as we read the Bible, we could say that our God is a ‘motion sensitive God.’ When we move, He moves. We take a step of faith into the unknown, and God responds and releases His divine power.

What is your one step of faith that you need to take today?

 

Would You Like Some Change? / Day 5

BIBLE READING

Acts 3: 4-8

Peter looked straight at him, as did John. Then Peter said, ‘Look at us!’ So the man gave them his attention, expecting to get something from them.

Then Peter said, ‘Silver or gold I do not have, but what I do have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.’ Taking him by the right hand, he helped him up, and instantly the man’s feet and ankles became strong. He jumped to his feet and began to walk. Then he went with them into the temple courts, walking and jumping, and praising God.

Isaiah 55: 11

… my word that goes out from my mouth:

it will not return to me empty,

but will accomplish what I desire

and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.

Hebrews 6: 12

…imitate those who through faith and patience inherit what has been promised.

Hebrews 10: 23

Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful.

REFLECTION

The lame man we read about in Acts 3 was over 40 years old. He had never walked and so had to depend on the kindness or charity of others for almost everything. His whole life revolved around his disability. His world was limited by his weakness. Day after day his routine was the same. He would be carried to the gate of the temple, placed onto the ground, and there he would sit begging until it was time to be carried home. He lived with a mindset of survival, of just scraping enough together to get through another day. As Peter and John are passing, in verse 5 we read:

“…the man gave them his attention, expecting to get something from them.”

What did he expect to get? At best, a few coins. That was as high as his expectation could go. Painful experiences throughout his life had caused him to set the bar very low.

So when Peter said: “Silver or gold I do not have….”, his heart probably sank a bit. What he thought he needed most wasn’t going to be given to him.

However Peter continues, essentially saying this: “I can’t give you what you want but I can give you what you really need most. I’m might not give you silver or gold but I will give you something that money can’t buy.” He declares the man healed in Jesus’ name, grabs him by the hand and helps him to his feet.

The best the man had expected was some spare change but God wanted to give him a complete life change. He wanted a little money but God gave him complete mobility. Why? Because our God is able to do exceedingly, abundantly, far above all we can ask or imagine.

Many of us start out in life, in work, in marriage, even in our walk with God, with great expectations and excitement for the future. We believe for great things and dream big dreams. But along the way we often encounter pain, disappointment, setbacks, discouragement and obstacles. That’s just part of life. However, if we don’t guard our hearts, over time we may begin to slowly and subtly lower the bar of our expectations. Our dreams shrink to the size of our experience. Our plans become more ‘realistic’ and ‘sensible’. And very soon, like the man in this story, we find our lives become predictable and routine.

Today, I believe God wants to remind some of us of the dreams He has placed in our hearts, of the promises He has spoken over us, of the prophetic words from our past which we have yet to see fulfilled. He wants us to recall them, declare them and believe them. The promise still stands because He who has promised is faithful. Raise the bar of expectation once again.

William Carey who lived about 150 years ago was the first missionary to India sent out by the Baptist Missionary Society. His motto was this:

Expect great things from God.

Attempt great things for God.

When we lower the bar in our lives and expect little, it says more about what we think of God than how we view ourselves. Expect more from God, believe Him for the seemingly impossible.

One of my great heroes is the 19th Century preacher C.H. Spurgeon.  He made these statements.

“I make bold to assert that, in the service of God, nothing is impossible, and nothing is improbable. Go in for great things, brethren, in the Name of God; risk everything on His promise, and according to your faith shall it be done unto you.”

“It is proven by all observation that success in the Lord's service is very generally in proportion to faith. It certainly is not in proportion to ability, nor does it always run parallel with a display of zeal; but it is invariably according to the measure of faith, for this is a law of the Kingdom without exception, "According to your faith be it unto you." It is essential, then, that we should have faith if we are to be useful, and that we should have great faith if we are to be greatly useful.”

Don’t aim too low or ask for too little. Our God is a more than God. Don’t settle for anything less.

We look forward to seeing you this Sunday at 9.30 am and 11.30 am. Also, our Sunday evening gatherings recommence this week at 7.00 pm when Mark Marx will lead us in a healing service.

 

Would You Like Some Change? / Day 4

BIBLE READING

Acts 3: 6

Then Peter said, ‘Silver or gold I do not have, but what I do have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.’

Ephesians 1: 3

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ.

1 Corinthians 1: 7

Therefore you do not lack any spiritual gift as you eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed.

1 Peter 2: 9

But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.

REFLECTION

When the lame man asks Peter and John for money, at first their response seems negative:

“Then Peter said, ‘Silver or gold I do not have….”

Most of us have probably said something similar when confronted with someone begging, collecting for charity or even selling ‘Big Issues’ magazine: “Sorry, I’ve no change right now.”

Peter was an uneducated former fisherman who had traded in his nets to become a disciple of Jesus. He was merely telling the truth – he didn’t have silver or gold. He was aware of what he didn’t have.

What would you replace ‘silver and gold’ with in Peter’s response?:

______ I do not have.

Most of us are very conscious of what we lack, of where we feel deficient, of our deep insecurities and sense of inadequacy in certain areas. No one needs to point them out. In fact, we probably do a good job of trying to cover them up and compensate for them.

However, that’s not where Peter finished his response to the lame man. Yes, he was aware of what he lacked – but he was even more aware of what he did have:

“… but what I do have I give you.”

Peter was endowed and equipped with spiritual authority and supernatural power. The authority came from permission by Jesus to pray in his name and the power came from the infilling of the Holy Spirit. Therefore he was able to boldly declare:

“In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.’”

He didn’t need a long prayer meeting, soft worship music playing in the background, or even a “if it be the Lord’s will” tagged onto the end. Peter simply did what Jesus would do using the power and authority he had been given.

Authority is having permission to do something. Power is actually having the ability to do it. If the Prime Minister were to say to you: “I give you authority to go out and stand in the road and stop the traffic,” there’s a good chance you’ll get hit by a car because you might have the authority, but you don’t have the power to actually do it. But if she gives you authority and also gives you a PSNI uniform to wear – the traffic will stop because you now have both power and authority.

Jesus not only gives us permission to do what he did, he actually gives us his power to do it.

Do you know that, as a believer, you carry the same power and authority as Peter? As a child of God you have been granted permission to speak in Jesus’ name. You have the Holy Spirit living within you. You have been equipped and empowered to transform seemingly impossible situations. To bring life, healing, wholeness and hope into every place and space. It’s now up to you to use what is already yours.

During the Great Depression of the 1930’s, a man called Ira Yates owned a sheep ranch in West Texas. Because Yates wasn’t able to make enough money on his ranching operation to pay the mortgage, he was in danger of losing his ranch. With little money for clothes or food, his family, like many others during the depression years, had to live on government subsidies.

One day a crew of men from an oil company came into the area and convinced Yates there might be oil on his land. They asked permission to drill a test well. Yates agreed and signed a lease contract. At 1,115 feet, the drillers struck a huge oil reserve. The first well came in at 80,000 barrels a day. But that was only the beginning. Many more wells came in, some more than twice as productive as the first.

By the 1960’s, after oil had been pumped for more than 30 years, a government test of just one of the wells showed that it still had a potential flow of 125,000 barrels of oil a day. In the year 2000, Yates Field was still one of the top 10 producers of oil in the United States.

Think about it - Ira Yates, a poor sheep rancher struggling to make ends meet and living on subsidies, was a multi-millionaire, but hadn’t accessed what was rightfully his. 

We too need to know who we are in Christ and make full use of all of the resources of Heaven which have been made available to us.

 

Beach Baptisms : Sunday 27th August

If you have recently become a Christian or have never had a chance to get baptised then we would love to encourage you to do so. Beach Baptisms will take place on Portstewart Strand on Sunday 27th August at 1.30 pm, followed by a beach barbecue!

You can sign up online at causewaycoastvineyard.com/baptism. Registration for Baptism will remain open until Friday 18th August.

Would You Like Some Change? / Day 3

BIBLE READING

Acts 3: 1-4

One day Peter and John were going up to the temple at the time of prayer – at three in the afternoon. Now a man who was lame from birth was being carried to the temple gate called Beautiful, where he was put every day to beg from those going into the temple courts. When he saw Peter and John about to enter, he asked them for money. Peter looked straight at him, as did John.

Psalm 39: 4

Show me, Lord, my life's end and the number of my days; let me know how fleeting my life is.

Psalm 90: 12

Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.

Hebrews 3: 13

But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called “Today,”....

Ephesians 5: 15-17

Be very careful, then, how you live - not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is.

REFLECTION

"People create success in their lives by focusing on today. It may sound trite, but today is the only time you have. It’s too late for yesterday. And you can’t depend on tomorrow. That’s why today matters. Most of the time we miss that." (John Maxwell)

The average life expectancy in the UK is 80.9 years – that’s 29,548 days. We read in Acts 3 that this incredible healing happened “one day”. It started out as just another ordinary day. There was nothing special or significant about it. Yet, the middle of what seemed mundane, God broke in with the miraculous. A man who hadn’t walked in over 40 years finished the day being able to run, leap and dance.

As followers of Jesus every day contains the potential for a miracle. Even those days which seem very ordinary and routine. After all, each of us are walking miracles. God has supernaturally broken into our lives and lives within us by His Spirit. We are infused with divine life, empowered and equipped with Kingdom authority, and have Heaven’s resources at our disposal.

As Peter and John are going about their habit and routine of daily prayer at the temple, they encounter this man who, no doubt, hundreds of other people had just walked past. However, they not only notice him, they actually take time to stop and speak to him. They make room for a divine disruption in their schedule. They welcome the interruption.

I wonder how many of us miss potential miracles that God places before us in the monotonous moments of our daily routines. Often we expect God to move powerfully at church services or in Christian conferences but not in our office, on the factory floor or at the school gate. We are so busy keeping to our schedule, trying to complete all the tasks we have on our ‘to-do list’ or scrolling through other people’s lives on our phones, that we often walk past the need or disregard the opportunity right in front of us.

Today, keep your eyes, ears and heart open to all that is in front of you and around you. Stay sensitive to the whisper of the Spirit. In the most ordinary incidents and mundane moments, there is the potential for God to do something great through you.

Dale Witherington wrote a poem called “The Lifebuilder’s Creed.” In part, this is what it says:

Today is the most important day of my life.

Yesterday with its successes and victories, struggles and failures is gone forever.

The past is past.

Done

Finished.

I cannot relive it. I cannot go back and change it.

But I will learn from it and improve my Today.

Today. This moment. NOW.

It is God’s gift to me and it is all that I have.

Tomorrow with all its joys and sorrows, triumphs and troubles isn’t here yet.

Indeed, tomorrow may never come.

Therefore, I will not worry about tomorrow.

Today is what God has entrusted to me.

It is all that I have. I will do my best in it.

I will demonstrate the best of me in it - my character, giftedness, and abilities - to my family and friends, clients and associates.

I will identify those things that are most important to do Today,

and those things I will do until they are done.

And when this day is done

I will look back with satisfaction at that which I have accomplished.

Then, and only then, will I plan my tomorrow,

Looking to improve upon Today, with God’s help.

Then I shall go to sleep in peace . . . content.

 

Would You Like Some Change? / Day 2

BIBLE READING

Matthew 4: 23

Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and illness among the people.

Matthew 9: 35

Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and illness.

Matthew 24: 14

And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.

REFLECTION

Over these summer months we’ve been doing a teaching series on miracles in CCV. The foundation of what we believe about miracles and healing are these Biblical truths about God:

  • He is all-powerful;
  • He is always good;
  • He loves every person passionately; and,
  • He longs to take our fallen world, and the pain and brokenness of our lives, and make all things new.

With the coming of Jesus into our world 2000 years ago, God’s Kingdom broke in. Jesus’ ministry began with the announcement:

“The time has come,’ he said. ‘The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!” (Mark 1: 15)

Jesus continually spoke about the Kingdom of God and demonstrated what it looked like through healing, deliverance, compassion, miracles such as feeding the 5000, his power over nature, and in raising people back to life. These were signs or marks of God’s Kingdom, showing that Satan’s kingdom was being overthrown and ousted by the rule, power and authority of God.

Through Jesus’ perfect life, his sacrificial death on the cross and his grave shattering resurrection, Jesus won a decisive victory over Satan, sin, death and hell. Our enemy has been defeated and will one day be destroyed. Therefore God’s Kingdom has come, it is still coming, and one day, when Jesus returns, it will be consummated and all things will be restored and made new.

We now live in this in-between time, in the space between Jesus’ first coming and his second coming. Jesus has given his church, both power and authority to do what he did, to continue his ministry of extending his Kingdom here on earth.

As his church we have no other mandate, mission or purpose. We exist to bring glory to God by doing what Jesus did. We are a Kingdom people, called to proclaim and demonstrate the rule and reign of Jesus Christ throughout the earth. As scattered servants, we are empowered in our ordinary, everyday lives, to share the good news and do the wondrous works of Jesus.

The centrality of Jesus’ core message is encapsulated in how he taught us to pray:

“your kingdom come,

your will be done,

on earth as it is in heaven.”   

(Matt 6: 10)

 

Beach Baptisms : Sunday 27th August

If you have recently become a Christian or have never had a chance to get baptised then we would love to encourage you to do so. Beach Baptisms will take place on Portstewart Strand on Sunday 27th August at 1.30 pm, followed by a beach barbecue!

You can sign up online at causewaycoastvineyard.com/baptism. Registration for Baptism will remain open until Friday 18th August.

Would You Like Some Change? / Day 1

BIBLE READING

Acts 3: 1-10

One day Peter and John were going up to the temple at the time of prayer – at three in the afternoon. Now a man who was lame from birth was being carried to the temple gate called Beautiful, where he was put every day to beg from those going into the temple courts. When he saw Peter and John about to enter, he asked them for money. Peter looked straight at him, as did John. Then Peter said, ‘Look at us!’ So the man gave them his attention, expecting to get something from them.

Then Peter said, ‘Silver or gold I do not have, but what I do have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.’ Taking him by the right hand, he helped him up, and instantly the man’s feet and ankles became strong. He jumped to his feet and began to walk. Then he went with them into the temple courts, walking and jumping, and praising God. When all the people saw him walking and praising God, they recognised him as the same man who used to sit begging at the temple gate called Beautiful, and they were filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened to him.

SUMMARY OF SUNDAY’S MESSAGE

One ordinary, insignificant day, as Peter and John are going to the temple, their routine is interrupted, there is a divine diversion. If we will listen to the Spirit’s promptings, miracles can happen in the mundane moments of our lives.

At the gate they encounter a man who is being carried to his usual spot outside the temple where he sits every day begging. We’re also told that this man been lame or crippled from birth. He’s never walked for his entire life of over 40 years. It’s important to note that this miracle happens outside the church. That is still where God sometimes will do his greatest work. If we go out, He will show up.   

This lame man lives out this monotonous existence day after day. He lives in survival mode, trying to make the best of a bad situation. His whole routine is built around his disability. He can’t even imagine that his life could ever look different.

Perhaps you’re paralysed by fear, addiction, insecurity, stress, anxiety. Maybe you’re stuck in a place of pain from your past, anger, hurt, loss, grief. Maybe your life revolves around your depression, lack of money, drowning in debt, maybe a physical illness. It could be anything, but you’re stuck in this rut of survival mode where every day is just the same, trying to get by, trying to scrape through. What was once nasty has become normal.

Notice the place he sits each day is called the “Beautiful Gate”. One preacher said this: ‘He was living an ugly life in a beautiful place.’ His surroundings didn’t match his circumstances. Similarly, you seem to have a good life to everyone around you, but you’re stuck, you’re just about surviving and you’re not sure it’s ever going to be any different. 

As Peter and John are walking past, they’re just two more people who he assumes will probably ignore him like everyone else. He asks them if they can spare any change. They stop, give him their full attention, and Peter says: “Look at us”.

As well as trying to get his attention I think Peter is trying to get him to lift his head which is probably bowed low with shame and low self-esteem. Psalm 3:3 says:

“..you are a shield around me, O LORD; you bestow glory on me and lift up my head.”

God would say the same to some of us who are weighed down by shame, guilt, sadness or pain from your past: “Lift your eyes, lift up your head, I love you, you’re so precious to me, I see you, even though you feel no one notices you. Lift your eyes, expect more, because something is about to change.”

The man looks up, expecting to get a few coins from them. His expectations were low.

Peter starts: “Silver or gold I do not have….” That’s where most of us would leave this statement because we are much more aware of what we don’t have than what we do have. We find it more natural to focus on our lack and where we feel deficient than on the resources we do have.

However Peter keeps going: “I might not have money but I know what I do have and I think God just might be able to take it and use it.”

Instead of waiting for what you don’t have, why not start working with what you have? When we give it to God, He takes a little bit and turns it into a lot.

Peter was a very ordinary man. He had no education, religious qualifications or worldly power. But he knew who he was, whose he was, and he knew what he carried. He knew that he was a connector of the current of the power of Christ. So he says: “I can’t give you what you want but I can give you what you most need.” The man wanted some spare change but God wanted to give him a complete life change.

Peter takes him by the right hand he helps him up. It was God’s power but it came through Peter’s hand.

Once the man is on his feet, he can’t help himself. He goes into the temple and starts dancing, causing quite a stir. Everyone recognises him as the guy who used to sit begging. He looks the same, but something has clearly changed.

When you encounter Jesus, you might still look the same to all your old friends, but inside you know something radical and supernatural has changed, you’re different.

However, not everyone is as happy is the dancing man who was healed. Religious people don’t like change as much as God does and so Peter and John are arrested and brought before the exact same people same people who not long before this had sentenced Jesus to death by crucifixion. 

There was a very strong chance that they were going to meet the same fate as their leader so one would think they’d tone it down a bit, maybe water down the message. Hardly. 

Look at what Peter says in Acts 4: 10 and 12:

“It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you healed...Salvation is found in no-one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.”

He boldly declares that Jesus Christ is the only way to God.

There is still power in the name of Jesus. Salvation, healing and freedom are found in no one else.

Beach Baptisms: Sunday 27th August,  9.30am & 11.30am @ CCV

Gather with us at 9:30 & 11:30 am to hear stories and celebrate with those taking the plunge this Summer. The Baptisms themselves take place on Portstewart Strand at 1.30pm, followed by a beach barbecue!

If you have recently become a Christian or have never had a chance to get baptised then we would love to encourage you to do so.

You can sign up online at: http://causewaycoastvineyard.com/baptisms

Registration for Baptism will remain open until Friday 18th August.

These Sundays are some of our favourite times together and this will be no exception!

A Better Story / Day 5

BIBLE READING

John 4: 27-35; 39-42

Just then his disciples returned and were surprised to find him talking with a woman. But no one asked, ‘What do you want?’ or ‘Why are you talking with her?’

Then, leaving her water jar, the woman went back to the town and said to the people, ‘Come, see a man who told me everything I’ve ever done. Could this be the Messiah?’ They came out of the town and made their way towards him.

Meanwhile his disciples urged him, ‘Rabbi, eat something.’

But he said to them, ‘I have food to eat that you know nothing about.’

Then his disciples said to each other, ‘Could someone have brought him food?’

‘My food,’ said Jesus, ‘is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work. Don’t you have a saying, “It’s still four months until harvest”? I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest.

Many of the Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, ‘He told me everything I’ve ever done.’ So when the Samaritans came to him, they urged him to stay with them, and he stayed two days. And because of his words many more became believers.

They said to the woman, ‘We no longer believe just because of what you said; now we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this man really is the Saviour of the world.’

REFLECTION

Once this Samaritan woman has an encounter with Jesus she can’t help but tell others about him. She wants her neighbours to experience the grace and transformation she has found. Her words clearly have an impact on her local community because we read:

“They came out of the town and made their way towards him.”

The disciples, however, seem much more concerned with eating lunch than with reaching lost people. Jesus uses the discussion about food as an opportunity to teach them important spiritual truths, telling them that his greatest satisfaction is not in filling his stomach with food but in doing his Father’s will. Steven Furtick puts it well: “While the disciples were meal-minded, Jesus was mission-minded.”

A Messiah on a mission, Jesus then begins to teach them about harvest. Often when we hear the term ‘harvest’ we think of the joy of reaping what we have previously sown. Our hard work has paid off and we now get to collect the spoils. While that may in a sense be true, any seasoned farmer knows that harvesting means long days and hard work. You can’t reap the harvest sitting in a recliner chair with your feet up. It is an urgent task. You only have a limited time to harvest otherwise the crop will rot and be ruined. You must reap when the harvest is ready.

I believe we are living at a time when the fields are ripe and ready for harvest. Think about the thousands of individuals on the streets of our own community who have said ‘yes’ to Jesus in recent years. Consider the crowds who show up every Saturday to be prayed for at HOTS. Now there are reports of similar things happening across the UK and further afield. These are truly exciting times to be a follower of Jesus. The harvest is ripe and ready. However, many Christians are more meal-minded than mission-minded. We are more concerned with consuming than reaching. We are so wrapped up in our immediate needs and desires that we ignore the real brokenness and hurt all around us.

Look at what Jesus says:

“Don’t you have a saying, “It’s still four months until harvest”? I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest.”

This is fascinating. Often when we talk about reaping the harvest we are future-minded: “One day God will move"; "Someday we’ll see revival"; "Keep praying for a great work of God".

Jesus is saying, “Open your eyes, the harvest is right in front of you.”

At that very moment, as Jesus says this, I can picture crowds of men, women and children from this Samaritan woman’s village streaming towards the well where Jesus and his disciples are sitting. They represent that harvest Jesus is speaking of but the disciples don’t recognise it because it’s not what they had expected. It was a harvest of Samaritans - a people group that the Jews despised.

Often God sends us the harvest as people who are less than perfect and situations that are far from ideal. What we see as a problem, Jesus sees as a potential world-changer; what we regard as hard work, Jesus calls a harvest.

Don't miss what God places right in front of you today because it's not what you expected. The fields are ripe, it's time to reap.

We look forward to seeing you this Sunday at 9.30 am and 11.30 am.

A Better Story / Day 4

BIBLE READING

John 4: 6-10; 13-20; 25-26

Jesus, tired as he was from the journey, sat down by the well. It was about noon.

When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, ‘Will you give me a drink?’ 8 (His disciples had gone into the town to buy food.)

The Samaritan woman said to him, ‘You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?’ (For Jews do not associate with Samaritans.)

Jesus answered her, ‘If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.’…

…Jesus answered, ‘Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.’

He told her, ‘Go, call your husband and come back.’

‘I have no husband,’ she replied.

Jesus said to her, ‘You are right when you say you have no husband. The fact is, you have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband. What you have just said is quite true.’

‘Sir,’ the woman said, ‘I can see that you are a prophet. Our ancestors worshipped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.’….

…The woman said, ‘I know that Messiah’ (called Christ) ‘is coming. When he comes, he will explain everything to us.’

Then Jesus declared, ‘I, the one speaking to you – I am he.’

REFLECTION

There is so much we can learn about reaching into our community and impacting lives with the love of Jesus through this Bible passage. I want to highlight just some of the truths I see here.

JESUS WENT TO PEOPLE WHO NEEDED HIM: When Jesus made the decision to travel through Samaria instead of going around the region it was because he had to meet this woman whose life was in a mess. There was no other way this would take place except in her territory at this time. Jesus knew his primary mission was to find lost people and welcome them into the Kingdom. In exactly the same way, if we want to see lost people come to experience Jesus we need to go where they are. We can’t wait for them to come to us.

JESUS INITIATED THE CONVERSATION: The disciples have gone into town to get food, so there’s just Jesus and this Samaritan woman at the well. Jesus immediately initiates a conversation. He finds the one thing they have in common, the one point of contact between them – they both need water. And that’s where he starts his conversation.

I have discovered that with every person I meet, I can always find at least one point of contact to begin a conversation. When we show genuine interest in others, it may start off on a superficial level, but it can often lead to more significant conversations about important issues further down the line.

JESUS MOVED FROM EVERYDAY CONVERSATION TO TALKING ABOUT SPIRITUAL THINGS: Jesus asks the woman for a drink and she says, “I thought your crowd didn’t talk to our crowd.” Look at how Jesus responds:

“If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water." (v. 10)

One minute they’re talking about natural water and the next minute Jesus has moved the conversation onto spiritual issues and living water.

There comes a time in every relationship where we need to move beyond shallow, superficial chat and talk about ultimate issues. What I have found is that most people are generally open to talking about God and faith as long as they don’t feel that they’re being preached at.

JESUS CONFRONTED BUT DIDN’T CONDEMN: Jesus knew all about this woman and her past before he even spoke to her. He had supernatural knowledge of the immoral life she had been living. And yet he didn’t launch into an attack on her promiscuous lifestyle. He didn’t condemn her, but he did confront her with the reality of who she was and her own sin.

The world doesn’t need more self-righteous Christians. It does need grace-filled people whooffer life and hope.

Jesus always spoke the truth, but the truth was never used to condemn or shatter others. It was always wrapped up in grace and love to draw them and soften their hearts.

JESUS FOCUSED ON TALKING ABOUT JESUS: Jesus talked about himself. He didn’t get side-tracked by all other sorts of issues because he knew what people needed most was himself. Look at verse 13:

“Jesus answered, "Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life."

Jesus points to himself and tells this woman that he is the only one who can satisfy her thirst that she is trying to satisfy with relationships.

She then tries to side-track him with all sorts of issues about religion and the right place to worship. She even mentions the Messiah who is expected among her people. Look at how Jesus responds:

"I who speak to you am he." (v. 26)

Again Jesus points to himself, essentially saying, “I am the one you have been waiting on, the Messiah, I am what you really need.”

When confronted with the reality of who Jesus is, some people will try to get into all sorts of debates about evolution and science and other religions. While we should try to answer their sincere questions, what I have found is that very rarely will anyone become a Christian if you answer all of their questions. Becoming a Christian isn’t just a head issue, there’s always a heart component. 

The key to sharing your faith is to do what Jesus did and stay focused on him – who Jesus is, what he has done, what he is doing in your life, and what he can do for them. It’s all about Jesus.

A Better Story / Day 3

BIBLE READING

John 4: 3-7

So he left Judea and went back once more to Galilee.

Now he had to go through Samaria. So he came to a town in Samaria called Sychar, near the plot of ground Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired as he was from the journey, sat down by the well. It was about noon.

When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, ‘Will you give me a drink?

Mark 3: 5

He looked around at them in anger, deeply distressed at their stubborn hearts.

Mark 8: 12

He sighed deeply…

Mark 14: 34

My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death.

Luke 10: 21

At that time Jesus, full of joy….

REFLECTION

“In my own journey with Jesus, there has been no greater motivation for my faith than the deep, dawning realisation that God is one of us. More (far more!) than the hope of heaven or the fear of hell, it is this bedrock belief - that we have seen the face of God in Jesus - that inspires and informs my faith.” (Trent Sheppard)

In this story in John 4 we see a beautiful picture of Jesus’ humanity set alongside his divinity. Later we will see him sharing supernatural prophetic insight into the Samaritan woman’s past and declaring himself to be the Messiah. But for now we simply read that he was tired and thirsty, so he sat down to rest. Wearied from his long walk from Jerusalem he needed a break while the disciples went off to get food.

I love singing songs of worship about the glory, power, majesty and authority of Jesus. But I often lose my wonder at the full humanity Jesus took on when he left heaven and came to live among us.

Jesus really did become one of us, not just in appearance, but in substance and essence. He came forth from Mary’s womb; he grew up having to learn to speak, read and write; he had to learn carpentry skills; he had hormones and went through puberty; he got tired, thirsty and hungry; he became physically weak; he died an excruciating death and he had a real human body after his resurrection.

Throughout the Gospels, Jesus also clearly displays human emotions. He felt compassion; he was angry, indignant, and consumed with zeal; he was troubled, greatly distressed, very sorrowful, deeply moved, and grieved; he sighed; he wept and sobbed; he groaned; he was in agony; he was surprised and amazed; he rejoiced greatly and was full of joy; he greatly desired, and he loved. The only aspect of our human life he never experienced was sin. Jesus reveals what it means to be fully human and made in the image of God without any deficiency or distortion. As John Calvin summed it up, “Christ has put on our feelings along with our flesh.”

In our own moments of weariness or weakness, seasons of sorrow and times of testing, it is so helpful and encouraging to be reminded that Jesus understands how we feel. As Hebrews 4: 15-16 (MSG) puts it:

“We don’t have a priest who is out of touch with our reality. He’s been through weakness and testing, experienced it all - all but the sin. So let’s walk right up to him and get what he is so ready to give. Take the mercy, accept the help.”

Jesus took a human body to save our bodies. And he took a human mind to save our minds. Without becoming man in his emotions, he could not have rescued our hearts. And without taking a human will, he could not save our broken and wandering wills. In the words of Gregory of Nazianzus, “That which he has not assumed he has not healed.”

Jesus became human in full, so that he might save us in full.

A Better Story / Day 2

BIBLE READING

John 3: 1-3

Now there was a Pharisee, a man named Nicodemus who was a member of the Jewish ruling council. He came to Jesus at night and said, ‘Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the signs you are doing if God were not with him.’

Jesus replied, ‘Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.

John 4: 3-7

So he left Judea and went back once more to Galilee.

Now he had to go through Samaria. So he came to a town in Samaria called Sychar, near the plot of ground Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired as he was from the journey, sat down by the well. It was about noon.

When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, ‘Will you give me a drink?

REFLECTION

In John 3 we read about Jesus’ encounter with a religious professional called Nicodemus. This devout, educated Pharisee was well-known and widely respected in the community. Yet he sensed that in Jesus he might find an experience of God which he knew was lacking in his life. Jesus tells him plainly that he must be born again to see the Kingdom of God.

Then in the very next chapter we read about Jesus’ interaction with a woman whose credentials and character couldn’t be more different than Nicodemus’. She was a Samaritan, an immoral woman who, because of her bad reputation, had to fetch water from the well in the heat of the day, when the other women were gone.

I think that John deliberately placed these two figures side by side to show that the gospel is for everyone. Regardless of gender, religious background, race, education, wealth, or social position - anyone and everyone may be saved through faith in Jesus Christ. His grace is radically indiscriminate and scandalously inclusive.

The other difference I notice is that Nicodemus came seeking Jesus secretly at night but the woman was sought by Jesus publicly during the day. Notice that the Bible says:

“Now he had to go through Samaria.” (4: 4)

That’s not entirely true. He didn’t “have to go” through that region. In fact, for any devout Jew this was not the preferred route to travel from Jerusalem to Galilee. They would normally take a longer, less direct way around the region so as to avoid passing through the hated Samaria and mixing with its despised inhabitants. The hostility between Jews and Samaritans had existed for centuries since, during the exile, a group of Jews had inter-married with foreigners. These Samaritans were seen as religious half-breeds who followed some aspects of the Jewish religion but mixed it with detestable pagan practices. They were considered to be ethnically polluted, religiously confused, and morally debased.

Yet we read here however that Jesus “had to go through Samaria”. If geographically he could have avoided the region, in what sense did he “have to go” this way?

Jesus lived in such an immediate and intimate communion that he heard the Father clearly telling him that there was a divine appointment in Samaria that he “had to” keep. There was a guilt-ridden, love-starved woman who needed to know the Father’s deep affection and compassion towards her.

One old preacher, Donald Barnhouse, compared this detour by Jesus to an American soldier who returns from overseas and travels from San Francisco to his home in Boston. Along the way, he has to stop in Miami. Why is such a detour needed? He answers, "Because my fiancée lives there!" Likewise, Jesus was compelled to go through Samaria because of love.

Most of us, including me, are far too concerned with our own plans, itineraries and getting to our destination by the quickest and easiest route possible. What would happen if more of us were like Jesus in this story? What if we were prepared to listen intently and obey the Father when he said, “stop here” or “go there”? We would have so many more divine appointments and experience so many miracles that our lives would become a daily adventure.

Why not ask the Father today if there is anyone he wants you to speak to, make contact with, show generosity towards or anywhere He wants you to go. If you get a sense of Him speaking, don’t overthink it too much. You’ll talk yourself out of it. Act in simple obedience and see what He does through you.

 

A Better Story / Day 1

BIBLE READING

John 4: 3-10; 23-26 (MSG)

Jesus left the Judean countryside and went back to Galilee.

To get there, he had to pass through Samaria. He came into Sychar, a Samaritan village that bordered the field Jacob had given his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was still there. Jesus, worn out by the trip, sat down at the well. It was noon.

A woman, a Samaritan, came to draw water. Jesus said, “Would you give me a drink of water?” (His disciples had gone to the village to buy food for lunch.)

The Samaritan woman, taken aback, asked, “How come you, a Jew, are asking me, a Samaritan woman, for a drink?” (Jews in those days wouldn’t be caught dead talking to Samaritans.)

Jesus answered, “If you knew the generosity of God and who I am, you would be asking me for a drink, and I would give you fresh, living water.”…

…“It’s who you are and the way you live that count before God. Your worship must engage your spirit in the pursuit of truth. That’s the kind of people the Father is out looking for: those who are simply and honestly themselves before him in their worship. God is sheer being itself—Spirit. Those who worship him must do it out of their very being, their spirits, their true selves, in adoration.”

The woman said, “I don’t know about that. I do know that the Messiah is coming. When he arrives, we’ll get the whole story.”

“I am he,” said Jesus. “You don’t have to wait any longer or look any further.”

SUMMARY OF SUNDAY’S MESSAGE FROM PETER LYNAS

We’re thinking about the question, “Who is my neighbour?” looking at John 4 and Jesus’ interaction with the Samaritan woman at the well.

COMPASSION: To reach people no one else is reaching we're going to have to go places no one else is going. Wherever Jesus went, it looked radically different after he had left.

Traditionally Jews wouldn't talk to Samaritans or even associate with them. Nor would a man publicly speak with a woman in that culture. Yet Jesus intentionally initiates conversation with this woman drawing water. He asks the woman a question as a way of opening a conversation. The church needs to become a community that welcomes questions. To do that we must be secure enough in our story to be able to engage meaningfully with alternative and even conflicting stories.

Jesus offers this woman compassion. But he takes it further than that. He offers ‘living water’ which can satisfy the thirst she has been seeking to quench in the wrong places.

Here at CCV ‘Compassion at the Centre’ is so much more than just a building. It’s who we are.

INTEGRITY: Jesus then moves the conversation towards deeper issues of truth and integrity. In the same way, we should always lead with compassion but some point the integrity conversation has to come up. After all, Jesus said the Father desires both “spirit and truth”, not just one or the other.

In the past the church has often signalled that if people want to belong they must first behave as we do. However, in some sections of the church a shift has taken place where we welcome people to belong but never expect their lifestyle to change. This undermines the transforming power of the Gospel. Who you are and the way you live counts before God. It’s the spirit pursuing truth that counts.

In a post-truth world George Orwell’s quote is particularly relevant: "In a time of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act."

In our culture the emphasis is on individual truth. My truth works for me and your truth works for you. In a post-truth society language begins to lose its meaning. However without truth there can’t be trust as trust requires we are speaking a common language. When we want justice then we try to find the universal truth in a situation. This isn’t a new issue. When Jesus was on trial Pilates asked: “What is truth?”

N. T. Wright points out that Christianity “offers a story which is the story of the whole world . It is public truth.”

For 1800 years the church knew and told the big story of the Bible. However over the last 200 years this story was truncated and shrunk to merely cover fall and redemption. The Gospel became individualised Gospel primarily concerned with saving the soul rather than seeking the renewal of all things. We need to present the world with the larger story of God’s good redemption.

REDEMPTION: The goal is to help people enter into a redemptive relationship with Christ and see the image of God restored in others. When you live in the light of Jesus’ victory, the future is certain. One day all powers with bow the knee before Jesus.

Jonathan Sacks states: “We are going through one of the most profound revolutions in all of human history … and I sum it up with a single phrase: cultural climate change… Just as literal climate change breaks down old patterns and radically changes weather conditions, this new cultural climate change is causing a series of storms in the West that will upend conventional notions of faith and the role religion plays in society.”

Under the myth of progress, human relationships are being redefined. This change in our culture has huge implications for society, especially in terms of the breakdown of family and community.

This time of fragmentation is also a time of great opportunity. Where there is deep uncertainty among the populace, the church’s response is very important. We can:

  • Fight: Seek to restore cultural domination which won’t happen.
  • Flight: Hide away from the dark world in our Christian ghettos.
  • Fold: Compromise and blend in with the rest of culture.
  • Flourish: Thrive like Daniel and the other exiles in Babylon by living differently while building the city and getting involved in culture.

What unites every human on the planet is “the living water” - everybody needs Jesus.

Jesus moves the Samaritan woman through her story towards redemption showing her that she is more than her failed relationships. She is a child of God, released from shame, fear and guilt.

The role of the church is to be at the well, asking questions and praying that God shows up in power. People deep down know there is more to this world than science can offer and they are hungry for a supernatural encounter. As those who carry God’s presence, we can move people towards redemption through Jesus.

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Multiplying a Miracle / Give

BIBLE READING

Mark 6: 38-44

‘How many loaves do you have?’ he asked. ‘Go and see.’

When they found out, they said, ‘Five – and two fish.’

Then Jesus told them to make all the people sit down in groups on the green grass. So they sat down in groups of hundreds and fifties. Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then he gave them to his disciples to distribute to the people. He also divided the two fish among them all. They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces of bread and fish. The number of the men who had eaten was five thousand.

Luke 6: 38
Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.

REFLECTION

If I had been one of the twelve disciples, I would have been annoyed. Not only did I not get the rest time alone with Jesus that I had planned, but now I am expected to walk around giving out food to thousands of people.  

If the crowd was hungry, what about the disciples? I’m sure they needed dinner as well. Every bit of bread and fish they gave away, they were probably thinking: “Well there’s one bit less that I get to eat. It’s okay for Jesus to ask me to serve and look after everyone else’s needs. What about my needs?” And yet look at what we see:

“…the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces of bread and fish.”

Twelve baskets full of bread and fish. How many disciples were there? That’s right, twelve. As they gave, as they served others, they got more than enough in return for themselves.  They got a whole basket of food each!

There are certain Kingdom principles, spiritual laws, that God has built into His creation and they never fail, they apply to everyone and they work for everyone. And one of these key principles is this: It’s in giving that we receive. Whatever we have, whatever God has entrusted to us - time, talent or treasure – as we give it away, we always get more back in return. The little boy in the story might not have known the principle, but he experienced the blessing of it.

I’m sure out of approximately 15,000 people present that day, there was more than one little boy who had brought food. However the mentality of the masses is always, ‘I can’t give this away, I need it myself. If I give it away then I won’t have enough. I’ll hold onto it and at least I’ll have enough.’

Others might have had food but were so overwhelmed by the crowd that they thought their little bit of bread won’t make much difference. What’s the point in giving it to Jesus?  
Imagine if the young boy had done that. If he had just eaten his bread and fish himself. Two minutes later the food would have been gone and life would have continued as normal. But because he was willing to give it away, he became part of a miracle. His little offering was the seed of a huge miracle. Two thousand years later and we’re still talking about him.  
Do you know what I think one of the most amazing things about this story is?  The little boy is one of the ones who isn’t even counted.

“The number of the men who had eaten was five thousand.”

Only the men were counted. That’s how it was in that culture. Women and children weren’t seen as significant enough. And yet the miracle came through someone who didn’t matter enough to be counted.

God counts in those who most people count out. The small, the insignificant, those behind the scenes, He loves to do some of this best miracles through the least outwardly impressive people.

I don’t think that little boy ever forgot that day. I can imagine that when he was an old man, he sat on his porch and talked about the day when he was 9 years old that he gave Jesus all that he had, and Jesus took it and did a miracle with it.  

Our job is just to give what we have. It isn’t to ask what Jesus will do with it. It’s simply to give him our lives, our everything, even if it doesn’t seem like much. And as we give it into His hands, he takes it, he blesses it, he may even break it, but then he transforms our little and makes it much to many.

Join us this Sunday at 9.30 am and 11.30 am.

Multiplying a Miracle / Abundance

BIBLE READING

Mark 6: 35-37

By this time it was late in the day, so his disciples came to him. ‘This is a remote place,’ they said, ‘and it’s already very late. Send the people away so that they can go to the surrounding countryside and villages and buy themselves something to eat. But he answered, ‘You give them something to eat.

2 Peter 1: 3

His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness.

REFLECTION

The disciples are faced with an overwhelming need. Thousands of hungry men, women and children and seemingly no possible means of feeding them. Their solution – send the people away. Sadly that has been the attitude of much of the church over the centuries. When faced with deep need and impossible situations we offer no answers or solutions. We are more aware of our inability and inadequacy than God’s ability and abundance. That is never Jesus’ response:

“But he answered, ‘You give them something to eat.’” (v. 37)

The disciples ask Jesus to do something and he replies: ‘No, you do it yourself.” That’s what I think he often says to each of his followers today: “You feed them. You give them something to eat. You meet the need.”

I wonder how often we pray for situations, asking God to do something, when He has already given us the power, authority and responsibility to do it ourselves. The Kingdom of God is within us. The Holy Spirit empowers us. The resources of Heaven are available to us.

Jesus is trying to get the disciples to go beyond the limitations of their own ability and to now see everything from a renewed mindset of what God can do through them.

From a purely human viewpoint, they’re right – they don’t have enough. But rewind a few verses in Mark 6 and remember what they’ve just been reporting to Jesus - healings, deliverances, miracles. They’re no longer living from a merely human viewpoint. They’ve already experienced supernatural power working through them and miraculous provision being made available to them.

Jesus wants them (and us) to see every problem, not through the lens of human limitation, but from Heaven’s perspective. Not to focus on earthly lack but to depend on Kingdom abundance.

God has chosen to work through His people. He longs to partner with His children to bring Heaven to earth.

There’s a story about a man who bought an old plot of waste ground, worked really hard and in five years had turned it into a magnificent garden. People came from everywhere to admire it. One day the pastor of a church came by, saw the garden and thought it was fabulous. The pastor and his wife were introduced to the gardener. Shaking his hand, the pastor remarked to the gardener, “You must be so thankful that the Lord has blessed you with this beautiful garden.”

The gardener replied with a small smile, “Yes, I am. If it wasn’t for the sunshine and the rain, and the miracle of the seeds, the soil and the seasons, there would be no garden at all.” Then he continued, “But you know, you should have seen this place a couple of years ago when God had it all to himself.”

God works through people. It’s always been the same. Just read through the Bible. Any time God wants something done He raises up men and women to do the job with Him.

We need to grasp that and get away from false humility that says: “It wasn’t me – it was all God.” I understand the sentiment behind that. However, God’s resources and provision don’t generally fall down from the sky. They are released through ordinary people who know what God has given them. They grasp who they are and what they carry – and they give it away, releasing it wherever there is need.

Think through some of your prayers today. Might you already hold the answer in your hands?

Multiplying a Miracle / Compassion

BIBLE READING

Mark 6: 31-34

Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, he said to them, ‘Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.’

So they went away by themselves in a boat to a solitary place. But many who saw them leaving recognised them and ran on foot from all the towns and got there ahead of them. When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. So he began teaching them many things.

Matthew 14: 14

When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them and healed those who were ill.

Matthew 20: 34

Jesus had compassion on them and touched their eyes.

2 Corinthians 1: 3-4

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.

REFLECTION

Yesterday we saw how, in the midst of physical, emotional and spiritual weariness, Jesus invites his disciples:

“Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.” (v. 31)

However, the crowds are unrelenting and the needs unending. By the time they cross the lake and reach their destination, hundreds of people have started to gather, each seeking a touch, a deliverance, a healing or a word of hope. To be honest, if it were me, I’d be tempted to get back in the boat and leave them there. I deserve a day off after all! However, Jesus shows us that while boundaries and rest are vital, we should never get to a place where we are hard-hearted towards the genuine needs around us. We are told:

“When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. So he began teaching them many things.” (v. 34)

Jesus was tired but he didn’t have what has been described as ‘compassion fatigue’. He had come to earth with the primary mission of seeking and saving lost humanity, so when confronted with this mass of people who were lost and helpless “like sheep without a shepherd”, he can’t help but meet their needs.

The English dictionary defines ‘compassion’ as ‘sympathetic pity and concern for the sufferings or misfortunes of others.’ The Greek word however carries much more emotion. It literally means ‘to be moved as to one's bowels’ (for the bowels were thought to be the seat of the more violent passions) and it connotes the idea of being profoundly moved in your inner being or deeply affected at a gut level. Jesus looks on broken humanity and feels our pain, lostness and suffering at the core of his being. His compassion moves him towards those places that we hide or that others want to avoid.

Notice what Jesus immediately does: “…he began teaching them many things.” Later he will physically feed them, but his priority is to feed them spiritually. When I hear the word ‘compassion’ I generally think of social action like feeding the hungry and clothing the poor. And while these are absolutely vital, it’s important to note that Jesus’ first demonstration of compassion was to teach them Kingdom truths and impart Heaven’s wisdom.

At a time when some churches emphasise the ‘Social Gospel’ of good deeds and others the ‘Salvation Gospel’ of preaching, it’s helpful to see that Jesus held them both together. Genuine Christ-like compassion both shares the good news about Jesus and demonstrates the love and power of Jesus. It seeks to both clothe and convert. To heal the body and save the soul.

As we allow our own hearts to be broken with the things that break God’s heart, we too will feel deep compassion and be moved to love, serve, heal and meet the physical needs around us. Yes, we will need rest. And boundaries are important. But rest and boundaries are there to replenish us to be among people, not to keep us isolated from people’s needs. As Mother Teresa said:

“I believe God loves the world through us - through you and through me…we are real co-workers and carriers of His love. Today God loves the world through us. Especially in times like these when people are trying to make God ‘was,’ it is you and I, by our love, by the purity of our lives, by our compassion, who prove to the world that God ‘is.’”

Multiplying a Miracle / Rest

BIBLE READING

Mark 6: 30-31

The apostles gathered round Jesus and reported to him all they had done and taught. Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, he said to them, ‘Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.’

Matthew 11: 28-29

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.

Psalm 62: 1; 5

Truly my soul finds rest in God; my salvation comes from him....                                            

...Yes, my soul, find rest in God; my hope comes from him.

REFLECTION

"Busy-ness always wars against your awareness of God." (Bill Johnson)

Over the next few days we’re going to look at a miracle which is familiar to most – the feeding of the 5000. Along the way we’ll focus on a few particular aspects of the miracle that we might often overlook.

Mark 6 starts with Jesus returning to his hometown after a busy period of ministry elsewhere. However, instead of receiving a warm welcome, he is rejected by those who knew him as a little boy. Their overfamiliarity with Jesus causes them to treat him with dishonour and they are therefore unable to receive all He came to bring them. The simple principle is this: honour releases favour and life; dishonour locks up the good things God wants to give.

We then read that Jesus sends out his disciples in pairs to preach, heal and cast out demons. In other words, to do everything that they had seen Jesus doing. While they are away, Jesus’ cousin and friend, John the Baptist gets executed by Herod because of his stand for righteousness. This is the same John who leapt in his mother’s womb when Mary was pregnant with Jesus, the same John who later proclaimed that Jesus was the lamb of God, and the same John who baptised Jesus in the Jordan before the Holy Spirit descended on him. Jesus and John were clearly very close. Therefore when Jesus heard this news it would have affected him deeply.

The disciples then return from their mission trip, they’re excited about all they’ve seen and experienced. There’s been a lot happening. It’s in that context that it’s no surprise that Jesus says to his followers,

“Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.” (v. 31)

Isn’t that a beautiful verse? I think Jesus would say to some of you who are reading this today. Your life has been busy, perhaps too busy. There’s been a lot of demands on you recently, even more than usual. You’re exhausted - physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually - and I sense that Jesus is saying: “Come with me by yourself to a quiet place and get some rest. Come and be refreshed by me. Come and be strengthened for the next part of the journey. Come away from the busyness, noise and stress that your life has become. Get some rest and refreshment. I am waiting for you.”

John Ortberg says this:

“The soul craves rest. Our wills sometimes rejoice in striving; our bodies were made to (at least sometimes) know the exhilaration of tremendous challenge; our minds get stretched when they must focus even when tired. But the soul craves rest. The soul knows only borrowed strength. The soul was made to rest in God the way a tree rests in soil… When you give your soul rest, you open it to the peace Jesus intends for you. A rested soul is an easy yoke.”

 

 

Celebrating 10,000 Hours

BIBLE READING

Mark 12: 28-31

One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, ‘Of all the commandments, which is the most important?’

‘The most important one,’ answered Jesus, ‘is this: “Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.” The second is this: “Love your neighbour as yourself.” There is no commandment greater than these.’

Jeremiah 29: 4-7

This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: ‘Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.’

REFLECTION

This week we celebrated the completion of our 10,000 Hours project. As a church we have always believed that a city isn’t transformed through gathering in church on a Sunday but through scattered servants making a difference everyday, everywhere. That conviction is at the heart of 10,000 Hours. As we began to look at some of the areas of our community that were a bit run down or needed some care and attention, we began to ask: what would it look like if hundreds of people contributed thousands of hours for the sole purpose of making a difference to the physical appearance of our community?

Over the past few years 16,000 Hours have been given to over 130 projects, with 1200 volunteers saving the local authorities an estimated £130,000 in labour costs.

Jesus said that the most important commandment was that we love God and we love our neighbour. We realised it’s difficult to love our neighbours if we don’t even know them. Sometimes we can have faith for the nations to be saved but fear of sharing our lives and hope with our neighbours. We want to break down walls of suspicion in our community and therefore it’s not so much about giving hours of our time, but bringing life. The ultimate goal is that within a few years 10,000 Hours will no longer be a CCV project but will be adopted by our community as something we do to serve one another every July.

We are so thankful that a local business ATG Group sponsored this year’s project. We would love to see local businesses partnering with and adopting schools for longer term support.

Finally we got to see the work carried out at one of our special secret projects this year. A young man called Gavin was born with complicated, severe needs. While he loves the outdoors and playing football, the back garden at his family home was uneven and not safe for him to play. A team from CCV transformed it into a flat, safe piece of ground where Gavin can now enjoy freedom and play without hindrance or concern for his safety.

A huge thanks to every person who took part in 10,000 Hours this year. Your time, hard work and love for our community have brought life, colour and joy to many people and institutions. Plus our community has experienced something of the compassion of the Kingdom extended through God’s people serving and giving.