POP! Goes the Wineskin

“Neither is new wine put into old wineskins. If it is, the skins burst and the wine is spilled and the skins are destroyed. But new wine is put into fresh wineskins, and so both are preserved.” (Matthew 9:17 ESV)

A while back I read right through that passage, unable to grasp its implications. Later, I understood its literal concept but couldn’t see how it applied to me; I’m neither wine nor a wineskin. Then I read what Apostle Paul had to say, and God’s truth began to dawn on me.

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.  (2 Corinthians 5:17 ESV)

As it turns out, I am indeed the wineskin that Jesus expounded upon, and in my old age the resemblance becomes even more obvious. But seriously, folks …

Before I applied the gospel of Christ to myself, allowing Him to give me rebirth in His Spirit, my flesh and its demands were all I knew. Of course, those fleshly demands included my religion and its rigid dogma. Even though someone always read a brief passage from the Gospels and the Epistles during the Mass, those holy words sailed high over my head, crashing and burning upon the sanctuary’s rear wall.

At some point, however, God’s Word began to hit its target, gradually changing the way I saw it. I began to ask questions that the priests couldn’t answer from God’s Word. If I had mindlessly accepted the Church’s dogma and rules and become a, “good Catholic,” I would have, in effect, sewn a patch of good behavior on the old wineskin of my heart. Jesus’ parable of the wineskins graphically portrays the painful result if I had chosen to go that way.

A transformed life doesn’t make a transformed spirit. Rather, by grace, through faith, God gives new life to your spirit, then to your heart, and finally to your way of life. That way, you needn’t worry about such things as torn wineskins and spilled wine.

Sorry Doesn’t Cut It

John the Baptist’s head on a platter

In Matthew 14:1-12, Herod, the mock-king of Israel, responded to his alluring step-daughter Salome’s demand for John the Baptist’s head on a platter with—well, God’s Word says it best:

[Mat 14:9 NKJV] And the king was sorry; nevertheless, because of the oaths and because of those who sat with him, he commanded [it] to be given to [her].

So easily we preface our deliberate disobedience with, “Sorry Lord, but …” Then we try to condone our actions with a litany of excuses. Flip Wilson showed himself an acute observer of churchy behavior with Geraldine’s, “Da devo made me do it.”

My theology may be better than Geraldine’s, but my rationalizations are just as transparent. I pray for the self-control to resist my baser nature, so when I ignore the red flags I, in effect, tell God, “You didn’t answer my prayer,” diverting my guilt to the righteous One.

What presumption! I hold myself above God’s judgment by judging Him for treating me unfairly. How can God forgive such deliberate blasphemy?

Am I alone in this sin? Do such rationalizations cross your mind when you condemn someone else for their worldly behavior? When you envy someone else for their undeserved good fortune? When you rationalize consuming worldly entertainments as your, “liberty in Christ”? When you lust after material goods, presuming upon God’s future provision to, “Buy now, pay later”?

I plead, “Guilty as charged.” I must join the sea of sinners at the Judge’s left hand, bound for perdition’s miserable pit of eternal fire. And that would be my fate, if not for my Lord’s infinite grace, expressed in 1 John 1:6-10, where He pronounces the conditional, “If”:

If we say that we have fellowship with Him, and walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth.
But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin.
If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.
If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us [our] sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us.

Warning—We must not simply read those key verses. We must study them. Meditate upon them. Live by them, so we can claim God’s unfathomable grace.

HARD WORDS

Jesus said some hard things to His disciples, like in John 6:60-66, where many of His disciples turned away at His teaching about eating His flesh and drinking His blood. But His hard teachings didn’t end there; some are difficult even for today’s believers, such as in the very next chapter of John’s gospel.

Matthew 7:1-5 ESV
(1)  “Judge not, that you be not judged.
(2)  For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you.
(3)  Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?
(4)  Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye?
(5)  You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.

Oh yes, we’ve all heard this passage preached many times, but have we unstopped our ears to hear what our Master is really telling us? Yes, this is for you there, the one who shows little tolerance for doctrinal disagreement! If that lesser brother contradicts you, why, he’s trying to teach error, and conscience dictates that you expose him for what he is.

Have you, O know-it-all, ever entertained the possibility that you may not have all of God’s Truth? As much light as He has shown you, is it not possible that He has illuminated someone else where He has not you? Assuming that you have a complete grasp of God’s truth is presumption, regardless how exhaustively you have studied His Word. It embodies the sin of vain pride, which is the one sin that hides behind itself. Unless you repent, you will stand before the Judge perfectly upright, until you notice which side of the throne you are standing on.

And yes, it’s for you, the one who won’t dirty himself by offering friendship to a homosexual, just in case perversion is contagious. You’re a manly man, and your Internet surfing habits attest to that. Better to sate your sexual frustration with hetero-porn than to risk sullying yourself by exposure to the real perverts.

Take solace in the fact that God’s Word commands relative sexual purity, right? Wrong! Consider what Jesus said earlier in His sermon on the mount:

Matthew 5:27-28 ESV
(27)  “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’
(28)  But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.

You may try to answer, “Lusting after porn isn’t the same as lusting after a real woman.” If so, you’d be wrong. Porn is like a drug, constantly desensitizing its user so ever harder porn is needed to satisfy. Also like a drug, it’s habitual, changing the way you see women in general so you are tempted to look at them more as sex-objects than as sisters in Christ.

Not so? How often do you dwell on physical characteristics below women’s faces? Yes, it’s hard not to notice, but dwelling and noticing are hardly the same.

And you, O media-engorged woman, cannot stand with condemning finger pointed at those lousy men. Does the word, “Hot,” occur to you upon glimpsing an Adonis? Do you love your sizzling soaps? Do regency romance novels disappoint if they are not explicit? Whether or not you like to admit it, that is chick-porn, even without graphic pictures. Do you dress to accentuate your more favorable features, attracting men’s attention? Don’t be a hypocritical, blaming men for objectifying you as a sex-object.

Those are just two of many possible examples where hypocrisy is rampant within the church. I picked them because they are also my personal battlegrounds.

Ever wonder why today’s church seems so impotent compared to the first-century church? Pray for insight, and look deeply within yourself to find the answer.

TRUE FREEDOM—John 8:31-36

John 8:31-36 EMTV

(31) Then Jesus said to those Jews who had believed Him, “If you abide in My word, truly you are My disciples.
(32) And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free.”
(33) They answered Him, “We are Abraham’s descendants, and have never been in bondage to anyone. How can you say, ‘You will become free’?”
(34) Jesus answered them, “Most assuredly I say to you, that everyone that practices sin is a slave of sin.
(35) And a slave does not remain in the house forever, but a son remains forever.
(36) Therefore if the Son sets you free, you will be truly free.

We usually think of this as an evangelistic passage, yet, verse thirty-one says Jesus was addressing, “Jews who had believed Him.” Then He followed with an “if” statement, which means the promise is conditional upon abiding, or staying, in His Word.

Does this mean we must always tote a Bible around under our arm and quote Scripture at every turn? I only wish I could quote Scripture to every situation, but my lame power of recall prevents that sort of fluency with His Word. Even so, God’s Word incarnate lives in me, and I in Him. The blessing in that intimacy is the God-colored glasses that His Word provides for me. While book-chapter-verse eludes me, my general familiarity with His Word often enables a red signal flag in my mind when I’m about to go out on my own in disregard of His will, or witness flagrant violations of His principles. I think that is what Jesus meant by staying in His Word.

Verse thirty-two promises to set us free, but free from what? Jesus’ blood covers our sin in the Father’s view, freeing those of us who believe with saving faith from the eternal death we deserve. If Jesus’ blood gives us His eternal life, why worry about living in His Word?

That’s exactly the same as asking why we should live holy lives for Him, because without His Word we will never achieve that holy life. Here’s where His Word comes in again:

1 Peter 1:15-16 NKJV
(15) but as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct,
(16) because it is written, “BE HOLY, FOR I AM HOLY.” (Leviticus 11:45)

That’s a command, my friend. It’s not optional, or impossible, this side of heaven. Apostle Paul summed up God’s command for our lives:

1 Thessalonians 5:23 NKJV
(23) Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you completely; and may your whole spirit, soul, and body be preserved blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.

You might insist that is optional, based on a best-case scenario. If so, read the rest of that passage for the knot that ties it all up:

He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it. (1 Thessalonians 5:24 ESV)

Please see my followup post for the grace side of the gospel.

THE THORN IN MY HEART

St. Paul’s Thorn in the Flesh

Apostle Paul wrote of several aspects of his life that could cause him to be proud:

2 Corinthians 12:1-4
(1) It is doubtless not profitable for me to boast. I will come to visions and revelations of the Lord:
(2) I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago–whether in the body I do not know, or whether out of the body I do not know, God knows–such a one was caught up to the third heaven.
(3) And I know such a man–whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows–
(4) how he was caught up into Paradise and heard inexpressible words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter.

(Romans 11:13) For I speak to you Gentiles; inasmuch as I am an apostle to the Gentiles, I magnify my ministry,

(2 Corinthians 12:12) Truly the signs of an apostle were accomplished among you with all perseverance, in signs and wonders and mighty deeds.

Most scholars believe Paul spoke of himself regarding these wonderful claims. Yet, in all these, he glorified God rather than himself, and for one reason:

2 Corinthians 12:7-10
(7) And lest I should be exalted above measure by the abundance of the revelations, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I be exalted above measure.
(8) Concerning this thing I pleaded with the Lord three times that it might depart from me.
(9) And He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.
(10) Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

What a truth! The eminent apostle recognized a fundamental spiritual law: that everything we naturally think we know is completely backward compared to God’s eternal truth.

My Thorn

I have a few physical issues, but none so deep or painful as to be compared to Paul’s thorn in the flesh. For that I thank my Creator, God’s eternal Word, the Lord Jesus Christ. My thorn is entirely different from anything physical; it is a thorn in my heart.

God’s Word calls the seat of our emotions, faith, mind, will, and temperament, the heart. Of course, God doesn’t mean that muscular blood-pump in our chest, but the in-most home of our nonphysical functions.

My personal thorn pierces a number of my heart’s functions, and my born again life’s work has been dealing positively with it. Here’s a litany of my heart’s bleedings: my emotions are too tender, my faith is too weak, my mind is too loud, my will is too weak, and my temperament is too fearful. Just ask any women who have been in my life.

I praise God, though, for the way He’s used that thorn, and the incorporeal blood that drips from it. My tender emotions give me empathy for others’ suffering. My weak faith makes me skeptical of anything that is not of God and His Word. My loud mind is also analytical, giving me a sensitive bovine manure-detector.

Let’s see, what possible redeeming value could my weak will and fearful temperament have? They work together, feeding off of each other, and have always been the cause of my deepest regrets, so I must dig deep to find the answer. For one thing, weak will prevents me from overpowering those around me. Even though some really need overpowering (that’s where the fear flattens my resolve), apparently God wants me to leave that job to someone else. Or is that a cop out? There are times when I realize that God has placed me where I should assert myself, such as sharing my faith and dealing with others’ wrong demands, and I pray constantly for the assertiveness to overcome such resistance when needed.

God’s Solution

And He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.

Jesus bore that cruel crown of thorns to tell me that my sins pierced His divine soul. How trivial my personal thorns are in comparison.

Though we sometimes must seemingly dig to China to find God’s richest blessings, those gold nuggets give us unrivaled cause for grateful rejoicing. Join me in praising Him for the hard things!

Who Do We Worship?

First, What Is Worship?

Technically, it is an expression of our lowliness compared to our object of worship. It demonstrates recognition of another’s superiority or sovereignty over us. Praise is an expression of worship that recounts the qualities and works of the one we worship. I didn’t capitalize “one” in that sentence because we too often worship our temporal gods of material goods, people, or positions of power.

Today’s worship is usually programmed to elicit worshipful feelings, even if the content is non-Scriptural. Too often we feel we’ve failed to worship if we somehow fail to reach that tearful ecstasy. Despite all its wonderful aspects, Pentecostalism has elevated emotional response to where it can become the main priority of worship, with a neopentecostal worship style becoming the norm for Evangelical churches.

Now look! Did I say emotional worship is wrong? Not at all, as long as it isn’t our main priority. If our tears are in response to our love for God, or our conviction of sin, and not merely emotional contagion, God is well served by our tears.

God, or Jesus?

That’s a trick question. Jesus is the human expression of God, the eternal Word, so worshiping God is worshiping Jesus the Christ, the unique Son of God. In the same way, worshiping Jesus is worshiping God.

CAUTION! We can easily analyze the heart out of worship, and getting hung up on technicalities is the heart of legalism. Speaking of hearts, God knows and understands our deepest motivations. If love for God motivates our worship, it glorifies Him even if we fail to understand all the Scriptural particulars.

We mustn’t worry about how we worship God, whether we focus on the Father, the Son, or the Holy Spirit. Instead, we need to concern ourselves with obeying God according to the light He has cast upon His Word.

Amazing Grace

No one will ever get living for God exactly right. That’s why He gave us 1 John 1:8-10.

If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us. (1 John 1:8-10)

If you can’t praise God for that, you don’t know Him as you could.

Why I am Not a Calvinist

I was raised Catholic, and if there’s any confusion among Protestants reading this, that means, “Roman Catholic,” or my preferred label of “Romanist.” Their dogma is about as far from Calvinism as ideologically possible, but that’s not why I have a problem with Calvinism.

Considering my conservative view of God’s Word, it’s a wonder that I don’t embrace Calvinism; some of the best Bible scholars, both now and throughout history, are or were Calvinists. Yet, they are missing one significant fact about God: The eternal, self-existent One governs His universe outside of our temporal constraints. Yes, God understands time. He aught to; He created it. Thing is, we limit God according to our understanding of creation. For example, we call God, “Him,” even though He is neither male nor female. The Bible anthropomorphizes Him by speaking of His hands or wings, and non-believers do the same by thinking of Him as a wizened old man with a long white beard, gazing at us through a heavenly telescope to catch us in misdeeds.

Why do we limit our ideas of what’s possible by our understanding of cause-and-effect? Calvinism teaches that we’re saved because God “elected” those who would be saved, individually, from time’s very beginning. In other words, we’re saved because He chose us. Isn’t it also possible that He chose us because we’re saved? Why not both at the same time?

Without going into a hodgepodge of doctrinal proof verses, I can say there is enough solid Scriptural evidence supporting both Calvinism and Wesleyan/Arminian holiness positions that I hesitate to align myself with either side. Can I lose my salvation? Absolutely not, if I am truly saved. Am I truly saved? I have the witness of the Spirit (Romans 8:16), so I must be. Right? Why, then, have so many who claimed that promise apostatized, not only leaving the faith, but vehemently opposing it?

When attempting to evangelize people we often ask them if they’re saved. When they answer, “I hope I’m saved,” we assume they aren’t. But God’s Word tells us, “For we were saved in this hope, but hope that is seen is not hope; for why does one still hope for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we eagerly wait for it with perseverance.” (Romans 8:24-25) Apostle Paul said we “were saved,” meaning it’s a done deal. But we can’t “see” that hope, or it wouldn’t be hope. So we can’t know with a certainty that we’re saved. Claiming that would be claiming the same foreknowledge that only God possesses. According to Paul’s words, “perseverance” is the key to our ultimate salvation.

My intent here isn’t to place your faith in doubt. Rather, I hope to shake it just enough to send you into God’s Word to prove me wrong, and I look forward to seeing those proofs in the comments.

Accepted in the Beloved

If you ever feel bumfuzzled, just review Ephesians 1:3-10. Seriously!

I began with verse six because it jumped out at me with some urgency while reading in Ephesians chapter one. “To the praise of the glory of His grace, by which He made us accepted in the Beloved.” (Ephesians 1:6)

Not to minimize the praise of the glory of His grace, I’ll focus on the latter part of the verse. First, throw out the word, accepted. I looked it up and found it means way more than just that; it means God has made us charitoō, or graceful, charming, lovely, and agreeable in His sight. He examines us with grace, and has poured out His favor and blessings upon us. God tells us here that we are favorably regarded as members of the “beloved,” which is agapaō, and everybody knows that’s God’s special kind of love.

Now, if that didn’t put a little Sonshine in your day, you really need help.

LISTEN UP!

If you’ve ever been in the military you know that two-word phrase well; vital directions were to follow. Or maybe you heard it in a classroom when the prof disclosed the subjects of an upcoming exam. Regardless the context, you know it means you should pay attention.

How many times have you thought you were listening to your spouse, when suddenly you realized he or she had quit talking—usually that’s the case for men—and was sitting there, glaring at you. You couldn’t repeat what was last said if your life depended on it. The stream of words had gradually become a humming in the background of your own musings.

I know that’s happened to you in church because it’s happened to me; the preacher’s words recede into the background while you mentally travel to the Sizzler’s order line or plan a project or outing for Sunday afternoon. Hopefully, your mind wasn’t busy applying the message to someone who “really needed it,” while missing the application to your own life.

The Bible deals with an issue like that:

But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man observing his natural face in a mirror; for he observes himself, goes away, and immediately forgets what kind of man he was. (James 1:22-24)

Here, Apostle James addresses the issue of actually listening to preaching, maybe even with some conviction, and then forgetting to seriously apply it to yourself.

Has God’s subtle voice become a background humming as you pursue the more important concerns of life? Or have you heard Him speak, but failed to listen seriously, as though the message were trivial? One of Jesus’ more frequent appeals was, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”

There’s more to hearing than wearing a couple of ears on your head. There’s more to listening than sitting in a pew with glazed eyes and distracted mind. And there’s more to reading than passing your eyes over a page—hint, hint. A huge part of living intentionally is breaking the habit of ignoring what comes in through the ear-gate and the eye-gate, but instead, paying attention.

So, let’s listen up! How else can we discern the garbage from God’s gold?

“THE LAW OF ABUNDANCE”

How Tempting!

Patricia Gras begins her program by asking, “Are there universal laws to reach wealth and success? Do you ever wonder why some people succeed no matter what they do, while others fail miserably?” According to Sherry Buffington PhD, author of The Law of Abundance, life’s all about luxury, balance and happiness.

What interests me is not her Laws of Energy, which govern everything, or the subconscious mind, both of which, she claims, are underrated. What fascinates me is her definition of life’s purpose, and the order in which she states its elements.

First, life is all about luxury, which Noah Webster defined as, “A free indulgence in costly food, dress, furniture, or anything expensive which gratifies the appetites or tastes.” I’m afraid old Noah missed the deeper implications of pursuing luxury; while it indeed gratifies the appetites or tastes, it appeals to the fleshly pride of, “I’m a Have, and you’re a Have Not.” The New Testament speaks eloquently to pursuing luxury:

Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—is not of the Father but is of the world. (1 John 2:15-16)

But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and harmful lusts which drown men in destruction and perdition. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, for which some have strayed from the faith in their greediness, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows. (1Ti 6:9-10)

Abundance, according to the good doctor, is also about balance. Yet, pursuing a life of luxury is anything but balanced, as life is about so much more than luxurious living, as evidenced by all the happy folks who live at a subsistence level, and all the affluent folks who have dysfunctional lives.

And regarding happiness, Jesus spoke powerfully on the subject:

Then He opened His mouth and taught them, saying:
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are those who mourn, For they shall be comforted.
“Blessed are the meek, For they shall inherit the earth.
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, For they shall be filled.
“Blessed are the merciful, For they shall obtain mercy.
“Blessed are the pure in heart, For they shall see God.
“Blessed are the peacemakers, For they shall be called sons of God.
“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake.
“Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” (Matthew 5:2-12)

Jesus aptly began His beatitudes with, “the poor in spirit.” That doesn’t mean spiritual poverty, but just the opposite, Spiritual Abundance! It means being content in whatever state God allows in your life. Three Scripture passages contribute directly to that thought:

Not that I speak in regard to need, for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content: (Philippians 4:11)

Now godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. And having food and clothing, with these we shall be content. (1 Timothy 6:6-8)

Let your conduct be without covetousness; be content with such things as you have. For He Himself has said, “I WILL NEVER LEAVE YOU NOR FORSAKE YOU.” (Hebrews 13:5)

Dr. Buffington obviously speaks from the context of fleshly, temporal values, which means we Christ-followers must not subscribe to the “Prosperity Gospel” that so many false teachers push upon us. Let us not follow a, “different gospel,” as Apostle Paul condemns so heartily:

I marvel that you are turning away so soon from Him who called you in the grace of Christ, to a different gospel, which is not another; but there are some who trouble you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again, if anyone preaches any other gospel to you than what you have received, let him be accursed. (Galatians 1:6-9)

Remember, people are watching your life, and your values, whether Biblical or worldly, serve as a guide for those seeking God’s truth. You and I are letters from God, more to be believed than any televangelist. So make sure you’re life is preaching God’s gospel, and not man’s.