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The Law of the Wineskins

“No one puts new wine into old wineskins.” Mark 2:22-28 

New wine provides a familiar metaphor in Scripture for the Holy Spirit.  “Thus, says the LORD: ‘As the new wine is found in the cluster, and one says, ‘Do not destroy it, For a blessing is in it,’ So will I do for My servants’ sake, that I may not destroy them all.’” Isaiah 65:8. The prophet Joel said, “And it will come to pass in that day that the mountains shall drip with new wine.” Joel 3:18. The critics of the first Pentecost used the nature of new wine in a pejorative sense.  “Others mocking said, ‘These men are full of new wine.’” Acts 2:13.  

Fermentation creates enormous pressure on its container.  Alive and dynamic, the new wine seems innocuous in its nascent stages of development, but it soon turns into a powerful agent. The pressure it exerts must be anticipated with a container that will expand with the fermentation process.  It will either have its way or it will burst open the container.  

What was Jesus talking about? The new wine of the Holy Spirit calls for a new wineskin of a relationship with God. Specifically, He meant that the Jewish religion and tradition was not adequate unless major, radical changes were to take place. The sacrificial system, the observances of feasts, moons and sabbaths— especially given the Pharisee’s bigotry and man-made doctrines—had to go.  Most importantly, the Jewish rejection of their Messiah was an error of the first magnitude.  This is why John’s gospel contains these verses: “He came to His own, and His own did not receive Him. But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name: who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.” John 1:11-13. The old wineskins had to be replaced with new.

Today, the Apostolic church cannot expect to see or embrace the full range of Apostolic revival unless we are willing to make major changes in our concepts of having church. Our traditional definitions of pastors, saints and the basics of serving God must not set the standard for new growth.  While the authority continues to reside in the ordained ministry, the power of God’s Spirit must be decentralized into a free-flowing wave that saturates the church.  How are we going to move into the next level of revival?  It will be through people.  Not just any people, but people who are willing to be bothered, to be responsible for the souls of others, to give up glory, to work without pats on the back.   

The body must be cohesive. When the Spirit of God begins to move, we must not come apart at the seams with confusion, negativity, anger or jealousy.  The body must be flexible.  Be willing to give up your seat. Be willing to put up with some mistakes, some differences in operation.  Be willing to see others move into a more prominent position than you have.  The body must be expandableWe’ve got to have a growth mindset.  Witnessing, outreach, friendliness, cheerfulness, helpfulness, must be our disposition.  We’ve must be willing to get bigger!  What changes are you willing to make?  What conceptual transformations will you embrace?  If you cling to old, rigid, stale wineskins, you are headed for disaster.  

The real tragedy is this: Not only do old wineskins lose their usefulness, they also lose the wine that they contain! The precious Spirit of God will not be harnessed by human fear, pride, arrogance or stubbornness. Let the revival come!  


Plateau Perils

“Plateauing” entered the language back in frontier days, when wagon trains pushed along mountainous paths for long, grueling months.  Suddenly, the punishing pathway opened up into a high, level plain or plateau, bringing a welcome relief to the climb.  Today, business analysts use the term to describe flat lines in their growth charts.  Plateaus describe times when we’re neither climbing higher nor going downhill.  We’re just taking a break.  Spiritual plateaus do not bode well for believers.  They yield a false sense of security and beguile weary travelers with smug satisfaction.  On a plateau, distant goals lose their luster, the stretch of tomorrows in the trail ahead blurs together with numbing sameness, and the temptation to stop and camp is nearly irresistible.  The following dangerous mindsets signal perilous plateaus: 

  • I have a good understanding about the basics.  (I don’t need to learn anymore.)  Two illusory courses lead to error.  Either you lose interest in the Scripture or you venture off into novel doctrines.  Continually refresh yourself in the basics of the Gospel: salvation, the nature of God, separation from the world, discipleship and the fundamentals of the faith.  Never think you have no need for rehearsing them yet again.  God has packed more treasure in the bedrock foundations of the church than you will deplete in your lifetime. 
  • I have my personal life in order.  (Relax!  I am not going to do something stupid.)  The basics of prayer, church attendance, giving, Bible reading and ministering to others are not little things that will take care of themselves.  You must take care of them.  Otherwise, you will indeed do something stupid if you assume you won’t.  Personal responsibility never stops being important in your heavenward journey.
  • I have achieved a level of respect.  (Everybody thinks I’m okay.)  Reject the elixir of popular opinion. Reputation cannot save you.  Regardless of the favorable opinions others may have of you, your spiritual welfare is between you and God alone.  Please God, period. 
  • I have accomplished something of significance. (I’ve done enough.)  None of us has done enough.  God may have rested on the seventh day, but man still labors on in the sixth.  Your duties may change and your performance may diminish, but you haven’t arrived until the pearly gates click behind you.  Work for God and resist the temptation to look back and admire your accomplishments. 
  • I have nothing to prove.  (The big battles are behind me.)  Satan never gets discouraged and quits, even after years of hassling you unsuccessfully.  He continues to probe for a point of entry.  When major transitions take place in your life such as graduation, marriage, children, new job, pay raise, moving into a new home, death of a loved one, and so on, brand new battles will crop up on your horizon. 
  • I have no pressing spiritual needs.  (No need to pray, fast and study).  Plateaus have no discernible inclines or declines, so you may feel cocooned into security.  But, the danger is not the climb; it’s the respite at the end of the climb.  Just as eating and sleeping are daily needs, so also your spiritual life makes constant demands.  No one matures past his or her spiritual needs.
  • I’m not perfect, but I’m not as bad as others.  (Actually, I kind of like myself.)  This is the favorite refuge of the flesh.  Don’t forget that there are infinite ways to fail, but only one measurable way to succeed.  Peg your progress to Christ, not to the bad guys, or even the good guys around you.  You may be more perfect than others, but the goal is to be remade into the image of Christ.   

One final danger that plateaus represent: loss of spiritual momentum.  Sometimes momentum carries us through a crisis when nothing else can.  The only way to keep up momentum is to keep climbing.  Jesus said, “While men slept, his enemy came and sowed tares.”  Matthew 13:25. Stick with the task.  Stay “on message.”  God’s will in your life does not reside in the status quo, but in the unrelenting reach for higher ground.   


The Irresistible Force vs. the Immovable Object

The familiar axiom, “the irresistible force versus the immovable object” is a conundrum, an impossible encounter for which there is no solution.  If the force is irresistible and the object is immovable, then they effectively cancel each other out.  The riddle’s author, however, did not factor in the Almighty God.  If God is your irresistible force, then there is no immovable object!  In spiritual terms:  Satan tries to convince you that your problem is an immovable object.  He says that you are stuck in your situation; whether addiction, sin or generational curse.  But, he omits the Word of God that says, “[God] is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think!” Ephesians 3:20. 

Never underestimate the irresistible force of God.  Remember, “the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep.”  But the Spirit of God did not accept the deadness as the final word.  Instead, “the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.” But after the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters, something else happened.  “And God said, Let there be light: and there was light. And God saw the light, that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness.”  He set the coldness on fire; He penetrated the darkness with light; He broke up the silence by the sound of worship.  It was the irresistible force of God that the dark, foreboding cosmos could not stop. Three misconceptions make your problem seem immovable:  1. It is too big.  2. You’ve had it too long.  3. It is you, not someone else. 

First, how big is your problem? Jesus said, “If you have faith as a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible for you.” Matthew 17:20. Mountains are big.  Mountains are rocky.  Some mountains have paths, cliffs and caves.  Some are home to wild animals and some have dangerous rockslides. Your mountain may seem so huge, so complex, and so evil that nothing can be done about it.   But, Jesus told us to say, “Move, mountain!”  He didn’t say it would disappear or be destroyed.  He said, “Mountain, get out of my way!”   How big is your problem?  Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were dwarfed by a gigantic, ugly problem—an idol ninety feet tall—but they didn’t bow to it.  Their resistance landed them in the fiery furnace, but that’s where they were delivered and that’s where Jesus showed up!  

But, you say, things have been this way for so long that it can never be any different.  A man named Jairus had a twelve-year-old girl who was dying.  He wanted Jesus to come to his house to heal her.  But, on the way to the house, a woman who had been sick for twelve years touched the hem of Jesus’ robe and was immediately healed.  (Luke 8:43-44). Did you catch that?  This woman had a TWELVE YEAR-OLD problem!  Right in front of Jairus’ eyes, Jesus healed a twelve-year-old problem with one touch!  How long had the problem been in existence?  A twelve-year problem was no match for the irresistible force of God!  

Finally, you say it’s you. You can believe God for others, but not for you personally. You feel you’re not worthy.  You think you have disappointed, hurt, been unfaithful or failed to believe God for so long that He won’t hear your prayer.  Your prayer is not selfish.  You are exercising faith!  Let your faith soar!  Your God is so powerful that devils flee at the mere mention of His name!  And, just so you’ll know, the scientific answer to the conundrum of the irresistible force against the immovable object is that no object is immovable. All objects can be moved.  The irresistible force is just that—it cannot be resisted!  The Spirit of God, the Name of Jesus and the Word of God constitute an irresistible force! 

Have you thought that your object is unmovable?  Have you believed the devil’s lie?  Have you collapsed in a heap of failure and disappointment?  It is time to rise up! “Arise, shine; For your light has come—but the LORD will arise over you!” Isaiah 60:1-2.


The Last Piece of the Puzzle

“And you are complete in Him.” Colossians 2:10 

Have you ever been the lucky one to find the last piece of the puzzle all by yourself?  The 1000-piece jigsaw puzzle has been scattered out on the card table for weeks. You toy with a single piece, and suddenly, it starts coming together.  You get on a roll and put the last piece into place. You shriek and shout, but no one is there to see it happen and your moment goes unappreciated except for your inner satisfaction.  You no longer have to stare at an incomplete picture with its gaping holes. 

Incomplete is a frustrating word.  It is the bane of our existence; it carries the baggage of failure; it sags with disappointment; it weighs heavily with depression.  An incomplete grade; incomplete test; incomplete treatment. To a quarterback, an incomplete pass is not good; neither is an incomplete game to a pitcher; or an incomplete three-point play to a point guard.  We hate an incomplete manuscript, an incomplete call, an incomplete contract, an incomplete portrait.  But, that’s where we are. 

The world cannot complete you.  Not only does the world fail to complete you; it actually depletes you!  In Colossians 2:8-10, Paul alerts us to the dangers that exist in the world, dangers that threaten our faith and leave us with an incomplete life. We can be spoiled—meaning stripped of all value and left with nothing, e.g. the spoils of war; or “to the victor goes the spoil.”  We can be stripped of value by philosophy, by vain deceit, by the tradition of men, by the rudiments of the world.  Our incomplete life cries for a greater understanding about God. 

God completes; He is the essence of wholeness.  “For in him dwells all the fulness of the Godhead bodily.” Some wonder about the importance of the oneness of God.  Does it have practical value?  Is it meaningful to us in real life?  Absolutely!  The doctrine of the oneness of God is more than a mere theological position. The plenary indwelling of God in Christ Jesus, the awesome revelation that all of God—His height, His depth, His length, His breadth—is in the man Christ Jesus. All of God I will ever see, all of God I will ever know, is in Jesus Christ!  This truth profoundly impacts my life.  “Ye are complete in Him…” The two words—fulness and complete—both come from the same root word. In fact, some versions of the Bible use the same word in both verses.  

Have you grasped this powerful concept?  However incomplete we may be by the standards of the world, we are complete in Him!  Because God dwells fully in Christ, we are full by living in Christ. Because Christ has access to every attribute of God, so we have access to every attribute of God by dwelling in Christ. Jesus Christ is totally complete and fully divine.


Dietary Supplements for the Soul

Vitamins and dietary supplements are all the rage today, due to the lack of quality in much of our food.  Our grocery shopping habits lead us to buy processed foods, foods with non-organic additives and produce from corporate farms that are more mindful of dollars than quality. While we continue eating meats, vegetables and other primary foods, more and more we are supplementing these main courses with ingredients that have been stripped from them.  It’s a daunting task; the sheer array of choices staggers the mind (specialized stores exist that only sell food supplements), but with a little research and advice, we can usually figure out what we should get.  

But, what about our spiritual diet?  Far too many believers live in survival mode, eating only the main course of attending church, listening to preaching and perfunctory prayer.  These necessities may keep them alive, but they need spiritual supplements to grow and thrive.  I compare them to patients in the hospitals versus workers in the factories and offices.  You may be technically alive—and not much more than that—but, you need to enhance your soul with some supplements that will give you what you’re missing.  Here are some suggestions to get you going. 

  • Memorize the Word.  Committing the Word of God to memory serves as a pantry for your life. 
  • Manage your days.  Avoid sporadic and chaotic consumption of spiritual junk food in your daily life. 
  • Witness.  You have a story to tell. You strengthen and spice up your own life each time you tell it. 
  • Read a book.  Books help you stay fresh, alive, alert and informed. 
  • Read a daily devotional.  A specific thought may be exactly what you need for your spiritual health. 
  • Subscribe to spiritual magazines.  Keep current. Stay plugged in. Trends inform your prayer life.
  • Listen to recorded sermons.  Hearing the Word exposes you to both the passion and the words.
  • Meditate.  You read for information and understanding; you meditate for meaning and experience. 
  • Listen to spiritual music.  Music nourishes the soul.  It fulfills many emotional needs of your life
  • Write or keep a journal.  Thoughts are treasures.  Unless you preserve them, you will lose them. 
  • Correspond with a missionary friend.  Knowing missionary needs adds a depth to your life.
  • Talk about your faith.  Dialogue with others will make your life purposeful and inviting.
  • Get involved in a ministry.  Don’t get isolated and paralyzed.  Contributions bring satisfaction.
  • Do good deeds.  Helping others elevates your own spirit.  Accomplishments birth good feelings.
  • Encourage.  Refrain from negativity. Be a lifter, an encourager, a person who strengthens.  

Any or all of these actions will make your world a better place, but they will have an even greater impact on you than others.  They will not replace the main course of spiritual meals in your life, but they will make you feel stronger, more alive and more useful in the kingdom of God.  Don’t live on life-support. Don’t set your goals at subsistence levels.  Live revived and thriving!  You should feel challenged, your talents should be tapped to the limits, and your imprint on the world should be the result of all-out living for God! 


The In-Between Disciple

But Thomas, one of the twelve, called Didymus, was not with them when Jesus came.” John 20:24-31 

We call them deniers.  Some deny the Jewish Holocaust.  Some refuse to believe that man walked on the moon.  Some deny that Islamic terrorists brought down the twin towers on 9/11.  Despite reports, evidence and personal visits, they refuse to believe, and we don’t always know why.  Some are obstinate.  Some are naturally skeptical.  Some think they are being conned.  Others won’t abandon long held political viewpoints.  But, many doubt because they lack personal experience.  They think they are at the mercy of others for history.  History, they say, is someone else’s S-T-O-R-Y. 

Guess what? God has already thought about this human propensity for doubt!  That’s why you don’t have to take someone else’s word about salvation!  You don’t have to be an outsider, an on-looker, a spectator to the greatest story that ever transpired in the annals of history.  God had designed an experience for you.  He has your name on it.  It’s called the baptism of the Holy Ghost!  The Holy Spirit is given to us to complete our new-birth experience.  It lifts us out of our human limitations into the realm of the Spirit.  

Thomas was not with the disciples when Jesus came, post-resurrection. (When you skip church, you never know what you’re going to miss!)  Maybe he had a good excuse for his absence. Maybe he was tired. Maybe he was confused about when and where the service was going to be held.  Maybe he heard some incredible rumors that Jesus was alive before he encountered the disciples, and he couldn’t process this information. Amazing.  Thomas saw Christ on the mount of transfiguration. He saw Jesus heal and deliver.  Most astounding is that Thomas was present at the raising of Lazarus.  And yet, he had trouble believing that Jesus rose from the dead.

But I do not want to be too hard on Thomas.  I admire his honesty and bluntness.  He simply said, “If you expect me to believe this, I need to put my fingers in His hands and thrust my hand into His side.”  He needed a personal touch from the Master.  So, after eight days, he joined the disciples.  This makes Thomas a sort of mysterious person to me.  He did not fully believe, yet he did not leave.  There was an eight-day period in which he pondered these things in his heart. 

Why did Thomas come back?  He could have gone fishing or joined some other group.  He could have denounced Jesus.  He could have become an enemy of Christ and the disciples. Yet, he stuck around. Evidently, he had enough loyalty and respect that he could not sever his connections with Jesus.  Or, maybe, he hoped something would happen to change his mind. He was just being Thomas, always in between decisions. 

I hold out hope for the Thomases of this world.  Jesus will reward your honesty. After eight days, Jesus showed up.  Thomas was there. Jesus didn’t show up just for the disciple’s sake.  He had already appeared to them.  He came for Thomas. He did not denounce him for his unbelief or scold him for his denial.  He reached out to him with compassion.  Never mark yourself off the list.  Never pass judgment on yourself that you are beyond hope or help.  You do not know the lengths to which God will go to reach you where you are and in whatever condition you may be. 

Jesus challenged Thomas to put his fingers in His hands and side.  There is no record that Thomas did this.  His encounter with Christ was enough to erase all his doubts and fears. Thomas wanted something authentic, not a hand-me-down religion.  He wanted Jesus to be real. Today, you can also say, “My Lord and my God.”  It’s good to call Jesus Lord and God.  It’s far better to know him as your Lord and your God.


Sometimes, It All Comes Down to One Thing

“One thing have I desired of the LORD … that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life.” Psalms 27:4 

On January 28, 1986, the space shuttle Challenger broke apart seventy-three seconds into flight, killing its seven crew members. The entire vehicle disintegrated after an O-ring seal in its right solid rocket booster (SRB) failed at liftoff. The failure caused a breach joint, allowing pressurized hot gas to reach an external fuel tank. The structural failure of the external tank broke up the orbiter.  The O-ring breakup caused the disaster.  The Challenger catastrophe tragically illustrates the importance of one thing. 

How many times have you looked at your problems and told yourself that things are just too complicated to fix?  Maybe the cause of today’s mess actually started years ago.  You can’t go back and undo it to come up with a different result.  Life seems complicated when you want to do something, and you aren’t allowed to do it; when you have to do something but don’t have the money; when you did something but shouldn’t have; when you didn’t do something and later wish you had.  When you loved someone, who didn’t love you in return; when you loved and later realized you didn’t really love that person in the first place; when you committed and then changed your mind too late; life seems complicated. 

If only David had gone to war with his troops, the Bathsheba incident wouldn’t have happened.  It became a complicated mess of intrigue and murder for which David would pay through the death of his own family members.  The truth is that the unbelievably twisted and hopelessly complicated disasters of life will not be solved by trying to figure it all out.  The bars and clubs fill up with people every weekend because it’s easier to forget troubles by drinking than to face them.  It’s seen as less painful to throw a marriage away than to confront the man or woman in the mirror.  It’s easier to quit a job, quit school, jump into a new relationship or move a thousand miles away than to reduce everything down to God and self.  Don’t drown in the abyss of life’s complications.  It all comes down to one thing.  

One thing I desire.  Psalm 27:4. Go to church.  Jesus said, “Upon this rock, I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”  Desire church.  Desire to stay in fellowship with the people of God.  Desire to keep your relationship to God intact.  God is going to save the church.  You will be saved as a part of the church, not as an individual, free-lance Christian.  

One thing you lack.  Mark 10:21. We call this man the rich, young ruler.  The answer Jesus gave him caused him great pain and sorrow because he believed that the way to happiness was paved with gold and silver.  “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil.” 1 Timothy 6:6-10 (NIV)  

One thing Is needful.  Luke 10:40-42.  Martha allowed her life to become complicated with her own expectations.  She was a perfectionist and a busybody, always trying to fix someone else’s life. (Have you ever known a happy perfectionist?) Jesus told her that she needed one thing; stop all of her fussing and fuming, her busyness and worry, her obsession with the affairs of her own life and sit at the feet of the Master.  

Citing complications seems justified, but it only masks the simple truth.  Get down to the one thing.  It’s amazing how much it will mean.


The Defense Never Rests

“Therefore, He is also able to save to the uttermost … since He always lives to make intercession for them.” Hebrews 7:25.

F. Lee Bailey, one of the most sensational trial lawyers of the last century, practiced the creed that every person is innocent until proven guilty.  He did all that was humanly possible to defend a client.  He entitled his autobiography, “The Defense Never Rests.”  The word translated as Comforter or Helper in John’s gospel comes from a Greek word, Paraclete.  It means advocate, or defense lawyer.  Anyone accused of a crime needs—and has a right to—a defense attorney.  Defendants in a capital crime must withstand a formidable prosecution by a District Attorney.  The most chilling moment in the proceedings arrives when the defense lawyer says, “The defense rests its case.” The harrowing questions now bombard you. Has everything been said? Has every loophole been closed? Has all the evidence been countered and all the hostile witnesses been refuted?  Ten, twenty years, life imprisonment, or death, hangs in the balance. 

Did you know that you are on trial?  From the very moment God’s word influenced your heart and Christ’s love drew you to him, you have been undergoing a great spiritual ordeal.  Your difficulty in loving God is not just an insignificant, trivial personal battle.  Out of revenge, Satan introduced sin into the world, seeking to erase God from the minds of men. Failing in this, he tried to destroy the personification of righteousness, Jesus Christ.  Having failed once again, he is now attempting to nullify the work of Christ in this world. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.” Ephesians 6:12. 

Yes, you are on trial—and you are guilty! Man is born in sin. “All the world may become guilty before God.” Romans 3:19. Sin is our natural heritage and death is our fixed destiny.  The human heart is deceitful. All have transgressed the commandments of God.  You are on trial and Satan is the prosecuting attorney.  He is called Satan fifty-six times, meaning opponent or adversary. He is called the devil thirty-five times, meaning slanderer, accuser. He is the source of evil, a liar, the tempter and the great deceiver.  

News flash! We have a Defense Attorney who never rests His case. “Therefore, He is also able to save to the uttermost … since He always lives to make intercession for them.” Hebrews 7:25. Your defense is flawless, and your defense attorney, the Paraclete Comforter, never rests! He brings these things to your remembrance: 

When Satan says “You’re my possession,“ the Paraclete says: “I redeemed you!”

When Satan says “You’re a troubled individual,” your Defense Attorney says, “No! I’ve given you My peace!”

When Satan says, “You’re not good enough for heaven,” your Holy Ghost says, “I have justified you!”

When Satan says, “You are soiled with sin,” your Helper says, I have cleansed you!”

When Satan says, “God is angry with you,” your Advocate says, “I have forgiven you!” 

When Satan says, “You’re too far from God,” your Eternal Lawyer says, “I’ve drawn you close to Me!” 

When Satan says, “I can still control you,” your Comforter says, “I’ve given you victory!” 

When Satan says, “You are still guilty,” the Almighty God says, “I can’t remember your sins!” 

The defense—YOUR DEFENSE—never rests!