Warning! Read This and Your Life Might Never Be the Same! (continued)
"And no one puts new wine into old wineskins. For the new wine would burst the wineskins, spilling the wine and ruining the skins. New wine must be stored in new wineskins. But no one who drinks the old wine seems to want the new wine. 'The old is just fine,' they say."
I began yesterday's reflection on Luke 5:37-39 by saying that this passage can radically change your life. It certainly changed mine. Let me explain briefly what I mean.
Four years ago, I was Senior Pastor of Irvine Presbyterian Church in southern California, a role I had filled for sixteen years. I always thought I would remain in that fine church until I retired, or at the very least until my children, who were fourteen and twelve, finished high school. During my time in Irvine, whenever I was asked by another ministry to consider a new position, I always declined quickly because I felt called where I was. Period.
In 2007, I was preaching through the Gospel of Luke. On Thursday, February 8, I prepared my sermon on Luke 5:37-39. As I studied this passage about new wine and old wineskins, I felt a powerful move of the Spirit within me. I realized how much my church needed to hear the challenge of this text. It was terribly easy for us to cling to our old wineskins to such an extent that we were unable to receive the new wine of Christ. As I wrote on that Thursday, I prepared to call my congregation to a bold openness to the new work God wanted to do in our lives, even if this was scary and unexpected. When I finished writing that sermon, I felt exhilarated and exhausted. I knew the Lord wanted to speak a prophetic word to the Irvine church, and I was eager to share it with my people.
The next day, I received a phone call from a man named Paul. He was a representative of a pastoral search committee for an outstanding, large church on the East Coast. Paul said he wanted to talk with me about the possibility of becoming their senior pastor. I listened for a while and then politely informed Paul that I had received their request in January and had declined to begin a conversation for many good reasons. Paul said he knew this, but hoped we could talk anyway. As he explained the vision of his church and their interest in me, I could hear the words of my sermon ringing in my ears. But now they were directed at me. Was I truly open to the new wine of the Gospel? Was I willing for God to do a new thing in my life? Or was I so attached to the old wineskins of my life that I wasn't open even to considering that God might have something new for me?
Paul finished his spiel and then asked a simple question: "Would you be willing to pray about this and then talk with me in a week?" I realized at that moment that I really had no choice before the Lord, unless I wanted to be a hypocrite. How could I preach my sermon on Luke 5:37-39 if I rejected Paul's invitation outright? Honestly, I felt as if God had trapped me into saying "yes" to something I did not want. Yet, I knew I could not preach with integrity unless I agreed to have another conversation with Paul. This would be the first time in sixteen years that I ever told a church anything but "no" when they expressed an interest in me. And, frankly, I wasn't happy about it. But the clear word of Jesus about wine and wineskins challenged me to take this step of faith.
I did preach my sermon on Luke 5:37-39 that weekend at Irvine Presbyterian Church. I was unnerved when, after church, a good friend asked Linda, "Mark isn't thinking about moving, is he?" I did have my conversation with Paul the next week, which led to an interview. I soon came to realize that, although Paul's church was outstanding, I sensed no call to become their pastor. I felt a strong sense of peace about this.
That's not quite the end of the story, however. You see, the weekend following the one in which I preached my sermon on Luke 5:37-39, I was slated to speak at Laity Lodge, one of my all-time favorite places to speak. About a year earlier, I had been approached by a representative of Laity Lodge who wondered if I'd be willing to have a conversation about their search for an Executive Director. I brusquely declined this invitation without, I must confess, even stopping to ask the Lord if he had an opinion. I was not open to such a wild idea as joining the staff of Laity Lodge, not to mention moving my family to Texas.
But, given my new conviction that I needed to be open to the new wine of the kingdom, I wondered if I should say anything to the folks at Laity Lodge. My wife and I decided that I would not bring up the subject during our trip to Texas unless, for some reason, Laity Lodge's director mentioned it. Then I would tell him the truth: "I love Laity Lodge, but I can't imagine coming to work here. Yet, I believe I'm supposed to be open to God in a new way. So you can tell your people this. All I know is that I should be open to God." Sure enough, Dave, Laity Lodge's director, did ask me if I was ready to come to work at Laity Lodge. And I told him "No," but then filled him in on the strange happenings of the last week. The rest, as they say, is history.
As I think of all that has happened to my family and me in the last four years, I marvel at God's amazing grace in our lives. Moving to Texas was the most difficult thing we've ever tackled as a family, but the blessings of this move have overflowed our cups many times. How thankful I am for the power of God's Word in Luke 5:37-39 to change our lives! And how grateful I am for the privilege of working with Laity Lodge and the Foundations for Laity Renewal, of which The High Calling is a crucial ministry. Now you can understand what I shared yesterday about Luke 5:37-39. If it were not for this text, I would not be working here, and therefore I would not be writing these Daily Reflections.
If you are open to the new wine of Christ, this doesn't necessarily mean, of course, that you'll change jobs or move your family. But it will require humble trust in the Lord. And it will probably stretch you beyond your point of comfort, much as literal wine stretches literal wineskins as it ferments. When we say "yes" to the call of Jesus, when we open our lives to his new wine, we embark on an adventure of discipleship. Thus, we have the extraordinary privilege of participating in God's kingdom work, and there's nothing better in life than this.
QUESTIONS FOR FURTHER REFLECTION: What passages of Scripture have had a profound impact on your life? Are you open to the new wine of Christ? What might Jesus be saying to you today? To what might he be calling you? What holds you back from saying "yes" to Jesus?
PRAYER: Gracious Lord, every time I remember how you spoke to me through Luke 5:37-39, I am profoundly grateful for your grace. Even though I was clinging to my old wineskins, you found a way to help me let go . . . at least a little. You surrounded me with your grace and mercy, enabling me to be open to you in an unprecedented way. Thank you!
Dear Lord, today I want to pray specifically for my sisters and brothers who are reading this reflection. I don't know their lives, but you do. I don't know where they are holding on for dear life to their old wineskins, but you do. I do know that you want to pour the new wine of the Gospel into their lives. I do know that you want to do a new thing in them and through them. May it be, Lord! Help them to take the risk of letting go of their old wineskins so they might be open to the new wine of the kingdom.
All praise be to you, God of grace, God of new beginnings. Amen.
P.S. from Mark
Those who know the history of Laity Lodge will appreciate a delightful irony in the story I have just told. When Laity Lodge was founded by Howard E. Butt, Jr., in the early 1960s, its first director was a man named Keith Miller. Keith, while serving at Laity Lodge, wrote a book called The Taste of New Wine. This bestselling book brought renewal to millions of Christians and thousands of churches throughout America. In fact, it had a powerful impact on my own parents and our church. How fitting that what first pointed me to Laity Lodge was Jesus' own words about new wine! (If you're interested in reading The Taste of New Wine, you can order it here. It is truly a classic that still speaks with God's power today.)