A Big Gulp of New Wine

Daily Reflection / Produced by The High Calling
6006008672 7d806f3534 b

[Jesus] told them this parable: "No one tears a piece out of a new garment to patch an old one. Otherwise, they will have torn the new garment, and the patch from the new will not match the old. And no one pours new wine into old wineskins. Otherwise, the new wine will burst the skins; the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined. No, new wine must be poured into new wineskins. And no one after drinking old wine wants the new, for they say, 'The old is better.' "

Luke 5:36-37

Every now and then, people ask me how a pastor in Southern California ended up serving in a family foundation in Texas. Usually, I explain how much I admired the work of the H.E. Butt Foundation and the ministry of Howard E. Butt, Jr. I speak of my sense of calling to join the team at Laity Lodge. If I were going to be a bit cheeky, I could also say, quite truthfully, "I took a big gulp of new wine."

Here's the backstory. In January 2007, I was preaching through the Gospel of Luke at Irvine Presbyterian Church, where I had been senior pastor for sixteen years. When I got to Luke 5:36-39, the passage about new wine and old wineskins, I wrote a fiery sermon about how the new wine of the Gospel changes our lives and how often we tend to reject the new thing God wants to do in us because we cling to our old wineskins.

I had written this sermon for my congregation, not for myself. But, on the day after I finished preparing the sermon, I received a phone call from Paul, a member of a pastor search committee that had shown interest in me. I reminded him that I had recently told his committee I was not interested in talking with them. I couldn't imagine leaving my church and taking my family far away from familiar Irvine. Paul understood my hesitation, but asked if I would be willing to pray about this for a week and then get back to him.

I wanted to say "No. This is a waste of everyone's time." But my mind was ringing with sentences I had written just the day before. Did I really believe God's new wine can dramatically change the wineskins of our lives? How could I challenge my people to be open to God's transforming novelty if I was not open myself? Begrudgingly, I said "Okay" to Paul, feeling as if he and the Lord had cornered me.

I did preach that sermon on Luke 5:36-39. And I did pray about whether God might be calling me to something completely unexpected. As it turned out, I did not sense any divine nudge in the direction of Paul's church. But, a week after preaching on new wine and old wineskins, I was speaking at Laity Lodge, the retreat center of the H.E. Butt Family Foundation and a sister program of The High Calling. Dave Williamson, the director of Laity Lodge, asked if I had any interest in joining their team. I told him the truth. "I can't imagine leaving parish ministry and moving my family to Texas. But all I know is that God is pouring new wine and I have to be more open to receive it." Thus began a long conversation that led to our family's move to Texas in August 2007.

Let me close with a story that frames this whole conversation with providential irony. When I was about ten years old, I noticed that my father was reading a book called The Taste of New Wine. This puzzled me, because my dad didn't drink. He explained that the book was about how to live as a real Christian. It had quite a powerful impact on my father's life. Later, I learned that The Taste of New Wine was written by Keith Miller, the first director of Laity Lodge. Much of the book reflects what he experienced while leading retreats in the Frio Canyon alongside Howard Butt, Jr. Little did I know that, one day, I would be blessed to serve in the role Keith once held at Laity Lodge.

How did I end up here? You could say that I had a taste of new wine. But it hardly felt like just a taste. When God turned my life upside down through Luke 5:36-39, it felt like I swallowed a big gulp of new wine, a gulp so big that it required new wineskins I never anticipated and, at first, was quite sure I didn't even want. Now, looking back, I am filled with gratitude for the transformation that comes through the new wine of God's grace.

QUESTIONS FOR FURTHER REFLECTION: Have there been times in your life when the new wine of God's grace has required new wineskins? Do you sense that God has new wine for you today? Are you open to tasting this new wine? Are you clinging to your old, comfortable wineskins so much that you are closed to the new thing God wants to do in your life?

PRAYER: Gracious God, thank you for the new wine of your grace, the new wine of the kingdom, the new wine of the Gospel. Thank you for wanting to do a new thing in me and through me.

Lord, I confess that I can cling so tightly to my old wineskins that I am just not open to receive your new wine. I find change scary. I want to control my life and the lives of those I love. It's hard to trust you, to accept the new and the new wineskins they require. Help me, Lord, to be more open to you today, tomorrow, and the next day. Pour your new wine into my life, so that I might be all you have created and re-created me to be, for your sake and glory. Amen.


P.S. from Mark: There are a couple more ironies in my story that I'd like to share with you. During my visit to Laity Lodge in 2007, I met with Dan Roloff and Marcus Goodyear, the editors of The High Calling. They wanted to talk with me about writing for them. We had a great conversation and I was eager to start contributing to The High Calling. Little did we know that, seven years later, I would have written well over 1,200 pieces for The High Calling, namely, the Daily Reflections.

After that meeting with Dan and Marcus, I told my wife, "I would love to work with those guys. They are so creative and knowledgeable. But it will never happen." I felt wistful, as if I were passing up an exceptional opportunity. Little did I know that Dan and Marcus would someday be two of my closest colleagues as we lead together the digital media outreach of our organization.

EDITOR’S NOTE: All week on The High Calling, we’re focusing on transitions in the workplace, home, and community. Are you experiencing change in your life? Join us each day this week for articles, interviews, and reflections on thriving in transition. Or, do you know someone who is going through a transition right now? Encourage them by sharing one of this week’s articles via email or social media.