I have often read and re-read the parable of the wineskins, it’s one that serves as a reminder for me to renew my thoughts daily, to keep aligned with the mind of Christ, and not with that of the world. This parable is taught by Jesus in 3 of the 4 gospels, however I had not paid as much attention to the passage which immediately precedes this. “No one sews a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment, for the patch will pull away from the garment, making the tear worse.” Matt 9:16
I find it funny, as someone who sews regularly, that this point didn’t pop out to me first. As a young girl learning to sew with my mother, the first thing we had to do after bringing home our fabric treasure hoard, (and it was often a hoard) was wash it. You should never create your masterpiece out of unwashed fabric, or after washing a completed garment, it may shrink, tearing the stitches, pulling away from the zipper or, even worse, end up smaller than you’d planned. The point being made here, is if you try to patch something old with new, unshrunk fabric, it doesn’t work. It’s the same with trying to patch holes in old ideas, legalistic views, or worldly habits, with Christ, they don’t fit. One will pull away at the other until the whole garment is destroyed.
This concept of not patching the old along with the new is woven throughout the scriptures. We read that we must loose the old dead self, we can’t fill old wineskins with new wine, unshrunk cloth to old garments. We can’t continue to live our old life once we become a new creation in Christ.
There is a level of dissonance that will keep us from enjoying all the fullness that is our inheritance with Christ. When we have an encounter with Jesus through the Holy Spirit and give him our lives, we can’t continue to live as we did. That is the whole point! Why would we reach out for Christ to free us from the death trap of our lives, then chose to live a life unchanged. We’re robbing ourselves of Christ’s promises. That kind of life, isn’t really a life at all, in constant battle with one’s self. This is what Christ meant when He spoke about being hot or cold, cause lukewarm He’ll spit you out (Revelation 3:15-16).
This internal warring can only lead to corruption and death. When we continue in our old ways not only are we missing out on God’s best for our lives, we aren’t being a good witness to those around us, we will not live in peace, we will not grow in Christ and eventually get discouraged and fall prey to the pulls of the flesh. Jesus, when responding to the Pharisees claim that He had cast out demons in the name of Beelzebub, “How can Satan drive out Satan? If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. If a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand. And if Satan opposed himself and is divided, he cannot stand; his end has come.” Mark 3:23-26
If we, as followers of Chris,t continue to pursue our fleshly desires, our end will come. We can not survive in a state of division against ourselves. We will either chose to give Christ our all or chose to follow the world, there is no in between. Also, if we are indeed all members of one body (as we are told in scripture) and you are still choosing to live as part of the world, what effect will that have on the body? How can we perform the function God created for us, if we are still choosing to live in world?
Unshrunk cloth destroys old garments, old wineskins burst from new wine, a house divided against itself can not stand. We have a daily choice, to design our garments with new fabric woven from threads of scripture, stitched together with prayer and cleansed by the blood of Christ.
We can’t continue to try and cover the old with the new, the old must be completely thrown away, that is the only way we can walk anew with Christ.
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Your identity is in Christ.
That statement in and of its self is HUGE; however, we still fight the concept. Our work has become our identity. Our happiness is based on our work status and whether or not our job fulfills us. We want to find a partner who is as ‘dedicated to their work’ as we are. We talk about finding ‘work life balance’ not ‘life work balance’.
In a world where we are inundated day in and out on TV, social media, news, virtually every media outlet you can think of with finding and elevating our career satisfaction, it’s no wonder that so few do. After all, if hundreds of people can make millions of dollars teaching others how to be happy in their jobs, there must be a lot of unhappy employees out there. Work, job, career, vocation have taken the place of the only thing that can truly fulfill our lives…Christ.
No I am not saying that you shouldn’t work or that you shouldn’t want to be happy with the work you do. I’m saying that we should not be spending disproportionate amounts of time worrying, being anxious and crying over our jobs.
Recently I’ve had several individuals come to me with challenges that are rooted in their job satisfaction. They don’t feel appreciated, valued or perhaps challenged. They don’t feel they get paid enough or that the stress their job creates is wearing on them. I too have had some doubts recently about where my ‘career’ fits into my life. Then I read something that began to alter my perception of my job.
“Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men.” Colossians 3:23
It doesn’t say work heartily for the things you like to do, or are fun to do, it says ‘whatever you do, work heartily as for the Lord and not for men.’ It doesn’t matter if I’m at home folding socks (which I HATE doing) or weeding my garden (which I LOVE doing) I am called to work heartily as if I’m doing it for God Himself. If we begin, just begin to start seeing our jobs as something we do for the Lord, not something we do that takes the place of the Lord, our feelings might change.
God does not want you to hate your job. Yes, that is another truth. God has given you the work you have to do, regardless of what it is, He can bring amazing things forth from it.
“I know that nothing is better for them than to rejoice, and to do good in their lives, and also that every man should eat and drink and enjoy the good of all his labor – it is the gift of God” Ecclesiastes 3:12-13
The Lord blesses us with employment so that we have meaningful work, to provide for our families (2 Thess 3:10-13), to provide for those in need (Eph 4:28), and to live as part of the body of Christ (Eph 4:11-16) He does not provide us this work so that we become the work, or so that work becomes our life.
All the labor of man is for this mouth, and yet the soul is not satisfied. Ecclesiastes 6:7
I have spent the better part of my adult life striving to be the best at whatever I do. Early on I discovered that I could receive all kinds of positive reinforcement, awards, accolades and advancement if I worked harder, smarter and longer than anyone else. I achieved great success in the world…at what cost? I had a fancy office on the Potomac, traveling 3-weeks a month away from my family. I would introduce myself to people I met using my title as if it were my last name. I could never just be Betsy Stuetze; no, my true identity was found in what I did, my job title, not who I was. For the record; I was lonely, sad, scared, and desperately empty, and none of this could be cured by my job, my office, or my expense account.
Over the past year, some of which I’ve been serving as a bi-vocational pastor, I have learned that when you keep your (secular) work in its proper place, it can be incredibly satisfying. Our work can be a blessing to our families, others and ourselves. Our work can glorify God. Our work can have far reaching impact on those around us, however, it is not supposed to define you.
“Let every detail in your lives – words, actions, whatever – be done in the name of the Master, Jesus, thanking God the Father every step of the way.” Colossians 3:17
Sitting face down on my bed praying, crying really, someone said something to someone else, gossip starts which creates distractions, hurt feelings and damaged relationships. I’m not sure how the snowball got formed or who pushed it down the snow covered hillside, but by the time it slammed into me it was a hard, cold, dirty and painful.
As I placed my head in my folded hands and cried, I wanted so desperately to cry out to God, intercede! I wanted to be bold like David before the throne and cry out to the Lord God of the universe to fight my battle, to carry His standard before me.
“I come to you, Lord, for protection; never let me be defeated. You are a righteous God; save me, I pray! Hear me! Save me now! Be my refuge to protect me; my defense to save me. You are my refuge and defense; guide me and lead me as you have promised. Keep me safe from the trap that has been set for me; shelter me from danger. I place myself in your care. You will save me, Lord; you are a faithful God.” Psalm 31:1-5
I wanted so much to cry out for the Lord to fight this battle and defend me, but I felt unworthy. I sat there with my face to the floor wanting to cry out for my Father’s help and couldn’t because I know I’m not perfect. I wanted to go to my Father and show Him I was bleeding and ask for His help, but I was afraid because I was dirty.
Does any of this sound familiar? This was one of those moment where God truly spoke to me. David wasn’t perfect, neither was Paul, neither was Peter. He doesn’t call people because they are perfect, actually they are usually very very imperfect. In that moment the God of the universe showed me that His love, His protection, His defense was not dependent on my perfection, or even on my being worthy. It is only dependent on His love.
Let that sink in a moment… how often have we not gone to God because we feel we are unworthy?
There’s no shadow You won’t light up
Mountain You won’t climb up
Coming after me
There’s no wall You won’t kick down
Lie You won’t tear down
Coming after me
He fights for us, He chases us, there is no distance, no pain, no sin, no obstacle to big (or too small) that He can’t – won’t overcome to get to us. Hear me dear ones, there is NOTHING that can separate you, make Him love you less (or more). We all need to step out with the boldness of David and claim the amazing grace God has given to each of us. There is nothing out there that can separate you from Him.
I cried harder at the realization of the depth of God’s love for me, than I did at the pain that this situation caused. He stands between me and trouble, He defends my right and left side, He goes before me and protects behind me. The only part I play in this relationship is to keep my eyes and heart on Him, and follow. He will guide my steps and lead me in the way of righteousness.
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A couple of weeks ago we attended my youngest son’s school play. They did a rendition of School House Rock where a new teacher was having some serious conversations about whether or not he could cut it as a teacher. Throughout the program the School House Rock songs were used to illustrate how much this teacher really knew and build up his confidence to start his first day. It was a wonderful production and my synopsis doesn’t really do it justice. However, one of the songs they played, truly brought a tear to my eye, not just because of the childhood memory it invoked, but because of how far we have fallen away from the very concept. To see a group of almost 100- 3rd graders from incredibly diverse cultural backgrounds holding hands, and singing The Great American Melting Pot, filled me with joy and sadness at the same time.
I don’t think I realized at that moment, how much the moment affected me until this morning. The drive to get three of my kiddos to their various schools each morning takes me about an hour. During the second half of that drive, we travel through an economically depressed neighborhood. The street is lined with mobile home parks, and at the time of the morning we drive through, it is also lined with children walking to school. There are children from Somali families taking refuge here, there are Hispanic, African and Dominican children walking to school in large groups; the older children keeping an eye on the younger children. Many of the parents are walking with them.
What struck me this morning were the smiling faces not just of the children but of the adults as well. Many of them wearing yellow crossing guard vests as they man the street corners where children will cross to get to school. They smile and wave as many of the cars pass by. Then there are those who take this street as it’s a cross between to major roadways. They are booking it down the road, way over the speed limit in their high end cars. They don’t like the crossing guards, they don’t like the school speed limit signs, they like to slam on their breaks and honk their horns…schools crossings are an inconvenience to their very busy and very important lives.
“Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor.” Romans 12:10
I think that we’ve forgotten, that unless you are a full blood native american, you too probably come from a refugee family. Somewhere in your background either distant or recent, someone came to The Great American Melting Pot to start a new life, for a better chance for your children, to escape tyranny and oppression, there are so many reasons why. When did we become so much more important, more valuable and more entitled than everyone else?
“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” John 13:34-35
This morning broke my heart! I felt nothing but love for the incredible people living in this city who, to some, are nothing more than a commute slowing bother. I applaud the courage it took to leave behind everything they knew, to start over, and work for something better for themselves, and their families. I am so grateful to be an American, my family came here, some on the Mayflower, to start a new life and to build something great, to be a better example for the world. Sometimes, I think we need a reminder of that. I’m a French, German, English, Irish and Native American Indian, American and I am so proud of that.
Christ called us to be disciples of ALL nations, not when it’s convenient, not when it’s safe, not when they look like us; ALL nations. How can we possibly be the people we are called to be if we are just rushing by at 55 mph in our cars with tinted windows, wearing our dark sunglasses, not making eye contact?
“Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:19-20)
As I write this, I am praying that it will be received in the spirit with which it was written. It is written in love, for everyone, love takes time, intent and compassion. Please, don’t lose sight of who we are called to be.
God holds up my life?
Driving home after a bowling trip with my two youngest, my son made a random statement while looking out the window, “God holds up my life”. I quickly replied, “yes, son He does.”
I’m not sure why he felt prompted to make that simple statement, but it got me to thinking. How often do we hear statements from people, but don’t really listen to them? My son just made a profound statement and I thought it was cute.
I remember a time when my oldest daughter, who was then all of 4-years old, tell me that she wanted to accept Jesus as her Lord. I smiled down at her and said, “that’s wonderful Alex, we can talk about it more when we get home.” We were at a youth rally, I was serving at that time as the youth pastor and trying to corral 12 teenagers. My pastor walked up to me and simply stated, “are you going to take her down to pray or am I going too?” Yup, I assumed she was just repeating something she’d heard someone else say, but when my daughter got down to alter she sat in a circle with a few other younger children and led them (didn’t follow them, lead them) in the sinners prayer.
Our children are an incredible source of inspiration, they have amazing discernment and they speak the truth…always, even when we really don’t want to hear it.
Jesus knew how special children were when He said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” Matthew 19:14
I am amazed on an almost daily basis by what comes out of my children’s mouths; both solicited and unsolicited.
This week during Friday Night’s at Tucson Central; our youth were reading John 3:16-18. Of course we all know this as the most popular verse in the bible. We learn it almost as early as we learn how to say Amen and or interrupt the pastors sermon at the most inopportune time.
I asked the youth to try and explain to me why this verse is so popular. I got all kinds of answers ranging from; it’s short, it’s easy and it’s written everywhere to it’s cool and Pastor say’s it a lot; then my 14 year old son says, “it explains the whole gospel”. WHAT!!!
It was yet another wake up call or at the very least get the wax out of your ears. We are surrounded by people who ‘get it’, we constantly read scripture and yet miss so much. Are we really listening or in our straining to hear God are we failing to hear the tree falling in the forest.
I want to be open to all that God has for me. That means that I need to be open to all He says to me. Sometimes the Holy Spirit speaks to me through my children, through strangers sleeping on the sidewalk, through scripture and even through individuals who make us uncomfortable or we don’t particularly want to listen too. The thing is, if we want to hear God we need to be prepared for his voice to come from anyone, anywhere at anytime.
Jesus didn’t just listen to the people around them, He heard them with ears full of love and compassion and mercy. Several times, even Jesus was surprised by what He heard.
“When Jesus had entered Capernaum, a centurion came to him, asking for help. “Lord,” he said, “my servant lies at home paralyzed, suffering terribly.” Jesus said to him, “Shall I come and heal him?” The centurion replied, “Lord, I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. But just say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I tell this one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and that one, ‘Come,’ and he comes. I say to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.”
When Jesus heard this, he was amazed and said to those following him, “Truly I tell you, I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith. I say to you that many will come from the east and the west, and will take their places at the feast with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven. But the subjects of the kingdom will be thrown outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
Then Jesus said to the centurion, “Go! Let it be done just as you believed it would.” And his servant was healed at that moment.” Matthew 8:5-13
I want to listen with expectation of how the Holy Spirit is going to speak to me today, I hope you do too.
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“See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ.” Colossians 2:8
God is not relative, He is and always has been relevant; yesterday, today and tomorrow. We don’t have to guess about which scriptures are true, which are relevant for today, which ones are for ‘us’ vs. ‘them’. The God we serve is bigger than our speculation, doubt and fear. He is absolutely, absolute.
Matthew 28:20 “Teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
1 John 1:9 “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
Romans 8:38-39 “For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Lamentations 3:22-23 “The LORD’S lovingkindnesses indeed never cease, For His compassions never fail. They are new every morning; Great is Your faithfulness.”
John 4:14 “but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him shall never thirst; but the water that I will give him will become in him a well of water springing up to eternal life.”
I could go on and on but, I don’t think that I need to. God is who He says He is, He will keep the promises He makes, and will do the things He says He will.
I’ve been noticing with myself and my children that absolutes are something we throw out all the time. “I always tell the truth”, “I would never do that”, “I am faultless”, “the situation is ideal”, “It’s perfect” and of course my favorite from my children, “I need that!”
One day I was talking with my oldest son, I believe that he was 10 at the time and he told me he needed for me to buy him something; at that age it was more than likely Legos. Having heard him inform me more than once over the years of something he ‘needed’, I asked him to look up the meaning of the word. This is what he read, “to require something that is essential or something one must have to survive.” He looked at me with his sweet face and very quietly said, “I would like to have them mom?” From that point on, anytime one of his siblings requested that I purchase them something they ‘needed’, Nik would look them in the face and ask, “are you going to die if you don’t get it?” Hysterically enough, often the answer was yes, but again, story for another time, you get the picture.
Absolutes in our world have become so commonplace that they have lost their meaning. They have lost their meaning so much we feel compelled to add words to the absolutes to be more emphatic; “I promise to never ever do that again”, “I swear I will always do that from now on”, “I swear there isn’t anything I wouldn’t do for you”. It’s as if our word no longer holds any weight. So, then it doesn’t surprise me that in a world where absolutes mean absolutely nothing we have the same doubts of God. If our word doesn’t mean what it should and the word of the people around us doesn’t mean what it should, and we were created in God’s image then does His word mean anything?
James 5:12 “Above all, my brothers and sisters, do not swear–not by heaven or by earth or by anything else. All you need to say is a simple “Yes” or “No.” Otherwise you will be condemned.”
Absolutes exist for a reason, they don’t need embellishment to convince us. God didn’t use fancy words to convince us what He said was true. He just did it, his actions are enough; He upholds every promise and follows through on every utterance; you don’t have to guess with God, you can take Him at His word.
“And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.” 1 Corinthians 2:1-5
I challenge you for one day to listen to the words that come out of your mouth. What are you saying to your family, and friends, to your peers and co-workers; how often do you use absolutes in situations where it is unnecessary? How often do you say the words always, never, promise, swear; are you doing it because you think the people you’re speaking with don’t believe you… or are you saying it because you don’t believe you?
In either case, perhaps we need to take our lead from the Psalms, “May these words of my mouth and this meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer”. Psalm 19:14
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“Therefore, salt is good; but if salt has become tasteless, with what will it be seasoned? “It is useless either for the soil or for the manure pile; it is thrown out. He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” Luke 13:34-35
Salt is the seasoning of life. Salt enhances flavor, dries and preserves food, salt is everywhere. In the Old Testament, salt was regarded as a necessary ingredient of daily food and as such a required part of all sacrifices offered to God (Lev 2:15). As Christians we are called to be the salt of the earth, to bring the flavor of Jesus to a tasteless world.
Think about it, we spend so much time, energy and money trying to find meaning, and purpose in our lives (flavor). We are constantly making substitutions for the real thing. We look for satisfaction in relationships, entertainment, careers, possessions and substances but we never find true fulfillment in them.
I remember when my father was told he needed to cut back on his salt intake. This was not a pleasant conversation to have with my dad because this man LOVES salt! He loves salt as much as I do. My mom had to get very creative with alternate ways of seasoning food. Our table had ‘salt alternative’ in the shaker (yuck), she used a LOT of garlic and onion and then she discovered Mrs. Dash Salt Free Seasoning. Man were we excited. It was so colorful, so well advertised, packaged beautifully and man on man did it look good on your food…it wasn’t salt.
I recall my dad saying how he liked it, that it made the food taste great, very flavorful. He put on a good face and utilized all the flavor alternatives that were presented to him, although I have to say the salt alternative was terrible. Even Mrs. Dash didn’t cut it…dad still wanted salt.
It’s really amazing to me that this is how so many people go through life, substituting anything and everything for what will truly fill them, fulfill them, restore them, and make them whole. If we are truly to be the salt of the earth, to bring Jesus to the world, then we need to be just that. Not a salt alternative, not a salt substitute… the real salty deal.
Salt is an enduring mineral that can’t spoil. We are to be the same to the world. Salt and light; flavor and good news, one can’t be separated from the other. The world is full of all kinds of ‘alternatives’ to what will truly satisfy. The word alternative has its roots in medieval Latin alternativus, meaning ‘purporting to be a superior choice to what is in general use.’ I can tell you from first hand experience, Mrs. Dash is not superior to salt, nor are worldly alternatives superior to Jesus.
If you want to enjoy all that life has for you, to be whole, restored and complete, don’t turn to an alternative that is ‘reported’ to be a superior choice, go to the truly superior choice, the only choice, Jesus!
“In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and understanding, he[c] made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times reach their fulfillment—to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ.” Ephesians 1:7-10
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