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.

SANTA CLAUS GRACE?

My previous post laid out some pretty stringent requirements for salvation that seem to leave no room for our human weakness. If that were all of God’s revelation to us, we would be in seriously bad straits. But there’s also this little thing called, “grace,” and it’s not to be taken lightly.

Searching, “did evil,” produced twenty hits in the KJV’s Old Testament. Each time, God judged that generation with some calamity that lasted until Israel begged His forgiveness and repented of their adulterous ways. And each time they repented, God gave them victory over their oppressive enemies. That’s grace.

Popular misconceptions have God either wearing a red suit and long, white beard, or throwing lightening bolts at anyone who steps out of line, but those who seriously read the Old Testament will see the depths of God’s love and grace toward His wayward people. God used all that failure, and all that judgment, simply to show us that we have no hope for salvation outside of His grace.

The fact that you’re reading this indicates your interest in things Biblical. The teaching of God’s inexhaustible grace is the hinge pin of all Bible doctrine.

Here you will find a treatment of God’s grace that, while not exhaustive, is thorough enough that you may learn something about it. Though I recommend the article, please know that I don’t agree with every point the author makes, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that I am right in my conclusions, or that he is wrong. Weigh his propositions by God’s Word. If nothing else, it will give you insight into the teachings of Calvinism.

With all this teaching about God’s grace, remember that He is not Santa, keeping a balance sheet of good and bad boys and girls. From the age of accountability, we are all on God’s “bad list,” and only by obeying the good news of His grace can we hope for eternal life with Him.

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!

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.

My Old Shoes

Yesterday I bought new shoes at Famous Footwear. Of course, as I had worn my old shoes into the store and removed them to try on some fresh footwear, my impression of all the samples was jaded by my old shoes’ relative comfort. Despite the new shoes’ foreign feeling, however, I knew they would supply the improved support that I badly needed.

Thing is, my feet are my body’s structural foundation, and even though the old, loose shoes felt more comfortable than new shoes ever could, they didn’t contribute to the stable posture needed to prevent aches and pains throughout.

Today’s Sermon

You may wonder how buying new shoes could apply to Pastor Ona’s sermon this morning, so I’ll tell you. He preached about our core values as Spirit-filled Christians, which includes walking as Jesus walked, and sharing His love for God’s word and His creation. Pastor Bob spoke of going to church to get blessed by worshiping God in Spirit and Truth, then reverting to our customary entertainments and worldly patterns of life as soon as we walk out of the church building.

It seems we’re creatures of habit, or at least those of us who are or were fallen human beings are that way. As such, the old ways feel more comfortable than the new behaviors that our faith dictates. Apostle Paul said it best:

Romans 7:14-24  For we know that the Law is spiritual, but I am of flesh, sold into bondage to sin.  (15)  For what I am doing, I do not understand; for I am not practicing what I would like to do, but I am doing the very thing I hate.  (16)  But if I do the very thing I do not want to do, I agree with the Law, confessing that the Law is good.  (17)  So now, no longer am I the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me.  (18)  For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh; for the willing is present in me, but the doing of the good is not.  (19)  For the good that I want, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not want.  (20)  But if I am doing the very thing I do not want, I am no longer the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me.  (21)  I find then the principle that evil is present in me, the one who wants to do good.  (22)  For I joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man,  (23)  but I see a different law in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin which is in my members.  (24)  Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death?

Sound familiar?

Yeah, yeah, I know you’ve heard it all before, but if it does not align rather closely with your testimony; if you don’t struggle with the comfortable habits of your “old man,” you are either a saint waiting to be canonized by the Catholic Church, or you’re lying to yourself and to God. Apostle John said:

1 John 1:8,10  If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us.
(10)  If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar and His word is not in us.

But neatly inserted between those two rather dismal statements is the hope of verse 9:

If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

Does that mean we can get away with presuming upon God’s grace by willfully transgressing His standards and principles? Here’s what Apostle Paul said about that:

Romans 6:1-2  What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase?  (2)  May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it?

Honestly, this piece could go on to become an encyclopedia of Scriptural admonitions for Christlike living, but to alleviate your eye strain I’ll just refer back to my shoe-shopping experience; resist the temptation to continue enjoying those old-shoe-habits simply because they are comfortable. If your activities don’t lead you to godliness, they won’t lead you to heaven.

Lord, Don’t Let Me Fall

Falling isn’t fun, whether it’s caused by clumsy feet or weak spiritual will. By God’s grace, however, the latter isn’t necessarily fatal. Psalms 37: 23-24 says, The steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord, And He delights in his way. Though he fall, he shall not be utterly cast down; For the Lord upholds him with His hand. (NKJV)

Lots of people try to avoid sinning because they’re afraid of going to hell; they view God as the Heavenly Parole Officer, just waiting to slap the eternal cuffs onto their weak wrists. The Lord’s apostle John took a different view: There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.  (1 John 4:18 ESV) According to that powerful passage, we are not to fear God’s punishment. But how can be “perfected in love”? Verse nineteen gives us the answer to that key question. We love because he first loved us.  (4:19)

So then, loving God is automatic for Christians. Right? Wrong! Just because we’ve, “decided to follow Jesus,” doesn’t mean we know of God’s love in giving His Son over to ridicule, torture, and death to free us from the eternal penalty of our sin’s guilt. To know of God’s love we must at least begin to know God, and only His Holy Spirit, working through our ever-deepening understanding of His Word by prayer and meditation, can give us that knowledge. But heed Apostle Paul’s warning in 1 Corinthians 8:1, Now concerning food offered to idols: we know that all of us possess knowledge. This “knowledge” puffs up, but love builds up. Some in the Corinthian church understood the liberty we have in Christ, but they were proud of that knowledge and ridiculed the “weaker brethren” without such understanding. Bible knowledge alone makes us no better than Satan’s minions. You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe–and shudder!  (James 2:19)

While I’m not afraid of going to hell—praise God! Jesus took care of that—I am petrified of damaging my Savior’s holy name through my thoughtlessness and sin. When I pray, “Lord, don’t let me fall,” I’m deadly serious. I love my Lord and will not besmirch His name.

 

Where Is Your Closest Idol?

An idol is anything you place between yourself and God. It’s something to which you pray and offer sacrifices. The Bible speaks of idols manufactured of wood, stone, silver and gold, but it doesn’t limit them to those materials. Idols can be of flesh and blood. Instead of the dumb idols of heathen religions, we hold idols such as money, possessions, property, vocations, recreation, power, and even loved ones, if we place a higher priority on them than on God. But possessing idols doesn’t stop there; if we spend more time primping before our mirrors than offering our heartfelt praise and petitions to the only living God, we have an idol. If the TV demands more of our time than ministering to our families, or helping others in need, we have an idol. The same could be said of gaming, shopping, or even working. If that is the case we may just have idols.

How can we pray and offer sacrifices to all those things? If we gain gratification from them in exchange for time offered to them, they may be our idols.

Please don’t think I’m trying to guilt trip you. I’m not suggesting that you have to live as a monk, constantly praying and reading your Bible. Not at all! I’m simply urging you to keep worldly pursuits and spiritual pursuits in balance. For instance, after a day’s work in the New Life Center thrift store … my sore feet prove it … I looked forward to just vegging with Netflix, but after watching one program I felt led to read today’s Our Daily Bread, which suggested this topic.

Am I “Saint James” for doing that? Hardly! I simply enjoyed a moment’s lucidity, motivated, I’m sure, by God’s Holy Spirit. He wanted to speak to me through the devotional which, in turn, motivated me to write this piece, preaching to myself all the while. I don’t know how to type with fingers pointed back at myself, but I’m trying (figuratively).

Don’t think that praying and offering sacrifices to yourself is always positive. I well know that engaging in negative self-talk, instead of asking God for positive change, can be a prayer of sorts. I also know that flagellating yourself emotionally can produce a perverse sort of self-gratification. I know because I spent many years doing just that, even after I offered my life to God through Jesus. Nothing can be a greater joy-kill than negative self-talk.

Our most devastating idols are the ones closest to us, because they make seeing beyond them well nigh impossible. Please, pray for God to open your eyes to all the idols in your life, then ask Him to give you the grace to strike them down. Only then will you gain power over them. God worked through prayer in the Old Testament, and He can work for you now.

C.S. Lewis on Immortality

Once again, Uncle Jack gave me pause to think. And what I think will follow what He thought.

I think that Resurrection (what ever it exactly means) is so much profounder an idea than mere immortality. I am sure we don’t just “go on.” We really die and are really built up again.

He was right about our really dying and being really built up again, but what kind of death do we face? Obviously, we all die physically, suffering the corruption that our Savior was spared. That is the death of the flesh. But there is another death that must precede physical death, in order that we might gain the resurrection to which Lewis referred. That is the death to the flesh, referred to in the Bible as death to sin (Romans 6).

Honestly, I struggled with the whole “dead to sin” thing for years after I came to Christ, not because I didn’t want to die to sin, but because my actions told me that I had not yet achieved it. Every time I opened the New Testament I stumbled into it; if I was saved I was dead to sin, but I wasn’t, or at least I didn’t seem to be. But, praise God, I also stumbled upon Romans 8:1-2, Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death.”

Of course, that begged the question of how I knew I was in Christ Jesus. My first answer to that troubling question was, before my rebirth I sought every opportunity to sate my carnal impulses, but was never satisfied. After my rebirth I wanted to be in Christ, and my sins grieved me terribly.

My second answer was what the Bible calls, “the witness of the Spirit,” (Romans 6:16-17) in which we suffer with Him that we may be glorified with Him. Suffering with Him includes the grief over sin that I mentioned above. When Jesus fell on His face praying in the Garden of Gethsemane, His sweat became like great drops of blood falling to the ground. Was He grieved because of the physical suffering ahead of Him? While that would worry me terribly, I think His grief lay in the fact that He, the perfectly righteous, eternal Son of God, would shortly bear upon His body God’s righteous judgment for all the world’s sin. And that judgment would separate the man Jesus from His Father God, resulting in Jesus’ anguished cry from the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46)

And my third answer (Do you remember the question?) is my absolute certainty about my eternal fellowship with my Savior. That certainty grew from the most fragile of faith-seeds to a confidence that surmounts even my, at times, shaky faith due to my tendency to rely on the seen, rather than the unseen (Romans 8:24-25). I can’t praise my Savior enough for that assurance, and I can’t wait to do it in person, for eternity.