New Wine and New Wineskins

Last month I preached on a text from Luke 5:36-39. In his first parable recounted in Luke’s Gospel, Jesus told his followers that no one puts new wine into old wineskins.

Goatskins were used to hold wine. As the grape New WInejuice fermented, it gave off gas. The skins had enough elasticity to expand with the wine before hardening into their final shape. New wine poured into old wineskins would burst the container, leading to the loss of both the wine and the wineskins.

Jesus said that new wine must be poured into new wineskins. Then the container can provide a context for the contents. The Holy Spirit blows into our lives with a tornado force that disrupts our lives. The resulting chaos gives us the opportunity to experience God’s new order.

We forget that change can be a positive experience when we embrace the new. For example, our daughter, Katie, is a Pediatric Nurse Practitioner who works with the General Surgery Team at Egleston Pediatric Hospital.

If you and yours have ever undergone surgery, you know the drill—no food or drink for 8 hours prior to surgery, massive use of narcotics during and after surgery to control pain, and no solid food for a day or two after the procedure.

Everyone KNOWS this is the best way to care for children during surgery. Except maybe it isn’t.

Katie was recently part of a team that developed a new protocol with the catchy title of Enhanced Recovery after Surgery  or ERAS for short. Children receive a loading dose of pain killers along with a high carbohydrate clear liquid two hours prior to surgery. After surgery, children are allowed to eat whatever they want as soon as they want. Most will eat a full meal on the same day of surgery and be up walking around.

The results from the study have been amazing. Children’s postoperative hospital stays have shortened. Use of narcotic drugs for pain control have significantly decreased. And most important of all, the boys and girls are recovering more quickly.

Everyone KNEW the old way of doing things was best . . . until someone showed it wasn’t.

However, you know human nature. People cling to the old even when the new is better. The result is countless children will not benefit from the proposed changes which are demonstrably better for all involved. It will take years for this new protocol to become the accepted way of doing things.

The Holy Spirit calls us to be pioneers, embracing the new through the holy chaos of change. Cast off the old ways of doing things and be open to God’s fresh wind of transformation. Put on the new clothing of holiness and be intoxicated by the new wine of grace.

Story Teller

Story Teller

Our back-to-school worship series at church is entitled Story Teller. During August and September worship, we have been exploring eight parables told by Jesus in the Gospel according to Luke.

Parable comes from the Greek word parabole which means to cast alongside or to place beside. Parables are stories that include comparisons, contrasts, exaggerations, illustrations, analogies, similes, and metaphors.

During seminary, our professors taught us: A parable is an earthly story with a heavenly meaning. Which says everything—and nothing! Most of the stories are based on ordinary life but reveal extraordinary truths. Jesus’ parables give human insight into God’s kingdom.

Some parables are quite short, told in the turn of a phrase or a few sentences. Others are rather long, containing plot, characters, descriptions, conflict, and resolution.

Parables typically make one point—except when they don’t. The details are usually secondary—except when they’re not.

The Gospel parables are also insidious. They seem simple enough. After listening to Jesus’ words, the listener concludes: “Oh, well, the moral of the story is                  .”

However, it’s not that simple. Parables are multilayered and multidimensional. There are always new depths to plumb. They cast fishhooks into our minds, tugging at our thoughts and catching our imaginations. We wake up in the middle of the night, exclaiming: “OH, THAT’S what Jesus meant!”

Yet there is a richness to Christ’s parables that can never be exhausted. We read the same story years later and discover new and unexpected truths.

The parables—like all stories—are also eminently memorable. They define the difference between the declarative and the narrative—between statements and stories.

It’s one thing to say: God loves you. It’s another to say: There once was a man who had two sons . . . .

It’s one thing to say: Love your neighbor as yourself. It’s another to say: One day a man was going down the road from Jerusalem to Jericho when he was attacked by a band of thieves . . . .

Parables are also dangerous. They slip past our defenses and through the backdoor of our minds, inviting us to change and challenging us to act.

So we’re invited to sit at the feet of the Master Storyteller and ask: Jesus, will you tell us a story?

15 Years Later

The horrific images of September 11, 2001 are forever seared into our collective conscious. Kamikaze planes, billowing smoke, imploding buildings, panicked crowds, and broken bodies overwhelmed our souls. To borrow a phrase from President Roosevelt, this day of infamy changed the landscape of our country forever.

In the aftermath of theWorld-Trade-Center-Cross terrorist attack, the United States appeared to experience a religious reawakening. The catastrophe literally brought America to its knees in prayer.

We did not engage in ACLU approved, politically correct moments of silence or personal meditation. God’s people prayed. We prayed in churches, cathedrals, synagogues, and mosques. We prayed at home, work, school, and worship. We prayed at flagpoles, street corners, courthouses, city halls, and seats of government. We prayed in words, song, silence, and tears.

People also turned to the church for comfort and consolation. In the aftermath of the Twin Towers’ attack, believers and non-believers alike attended worship services in record numbers. Church attendance grew a dramatic 25% in the days following September 11.

According to a Barna survey, however, church attendance quickly returned to normal levels within a month of the tragedy. People who had packed sanctuaries in September found better things to do in October. The immediate crisis had passed, a semblance of normalcy had returned, and people seemed to remain the same.

Military chaplains say that there are no atheists in a foxhole. Life-threatening crises often evoke a temporary faith. People play “Let’s Make a Deal” with the Lord God Almighty serving in Bob Barker’s stead as the game show host.

There are no atheists in a foxhole; but it does not take folk long to lose their faith once the crisis has passed. Perhaps this observation is too harsh. It might be more accurate to say that people lose any URGENCY about their faith on the far side of a disaster.

However, in the aftermath of September 11, we dare not be the same people or nation ever again. We are called to live faithful lives as citizens and Christians.

America was brought to its knees on September 11. As God’s people, we are challenged to remain upon our knees in service, remembrance, prayer, and changed lives. In the midst of uncertain times, we also remember that our lives are based upon the firm foundation of Jesus Christ our Savior and Lord. Even if all else around us falls apart, our God will care for us this day . . . and forever more.

Fifteen years later we are called to pause . . . to remember . . . to pray . . . and to hope.

 

Mirror, Mirror

I hate to shave.

Shaving wastes about seven minutes daily. The math equals to almost three days annually. If I live to eighty years of age, then eight months will have been dedicated to scraping whiskers off my face.

I hate to shave.

I try to minimize the time and maximize the experience. Over a year ago I Shaving Mirrorbought a shower shaving mirror from Bed, Bath, Bathroom, Basement, Bargains, and Beyond. However, the reflective surface never impressed me. After a cleaning with Windex, the so-so surface dissolved into a blur.

So my wife and I visited the Bed, Bath, Bathroom, Basement, Bargains, and Beyond to buy a replacement. I found the same model and held it up for my wife’s inspection. “See,” I said with annoyance, “it’s as bad as the previous one.”

Tracy gave me THAT look wives reserve for their sometimes slow husbands. Then she reached over and pulled a plastic layer off the reflective surface. With a sigh, she asked, “You DO realize that these ship with a protective cover over the mirror, don’t you?”

Sure enough, I could see myself clearly in the mirror . . . which got me to thinking . . . .

When we arrived home, I went to the master bathroom shower and examined the old mirror. I carefully scratched the corner with a fingernail. Lo and behold, a protective sheet peeled away from the surface. I stared in amazement at the clear image looking back at the idiot looking into the mirror.

The incident recalled a New Testament passage from James 2:22-25. The author—traditionally identified as Jesus’ brother and the leader of the Jerusalem church—emphasized good works are an essential complement to deep faith. He wrote:

Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like!

However, it’s hard to DO God’s word if we don’t first READ it. So open your Bible and take a good look. You’ll be amazed at the clear vision God reveals.

And, by the way—I still hate to shave.

Cents per Therm

Last month I renegotiated the annual agreement with our natural gas provider. No need to name the company—let’s just say it’s an electric membership corporation in northeast Georgia.🙂

Natural Gas FlameIn 1997, Governor Zell Miller signed a bill deregulating natural gas in Georgia. Politicians hoped to encourage greater competition among companies and lower prices for consumers. Each household now picks a supplier among a handful of choices.

The companies provide the same product—natural gas is a commodity that does not vary in quality regardless of provider. However, the prices can range greatly.

Consumers must choose between a variable and fixed rate. Variable rates . . . well, they vary! The cost goes up and down based on supply and demand. Fixed rates remain the same for a period of time typically ranging from six months to two years.

Companies charge for natural gas per therm. Don’t worry, I looked it up on the Internet. A therm equals 100,000 British thermal units. So there you go. A therm also provides the energy equivalent of burning 100 cubic feet of natural gas. NOW we’re getting somewhere!

When first faced with this incomprehensible equation, I thought we might need a handful of therms to make it through the winter. However, the gas company doesn’t sell them by the dozen. A nifty little meter outside the house measures the flow of gas.

Last month my gas provider (the aforementioned electric membership corporation in northeast Georgia) sent a reminder that our twelve month contract would soon end. If we wanted to avoid a variable rate, we could renew the contract at $.49 per therm.

It sounded like a really good deal—even better than last year. However, we had received a postcard from another company offering the exact same product for $.34 per therm. I called the current provider to inquire about the difference. The clerk on the other end immediately agreed to match the other offer.

Wait a minute.

I’m a good customer and pay my bills on time. We currently have THREE—count them, THREE—different utilities with the same company (the aforementioned electric membership corporation in northeast Georgia), including electric, gas, and home security monitoring.

Call me naïve, but I assumed the company would offer its current customers the best possible rate from the start. Instead, we haggled over the price like a merchant and buyer in a Middle Eastern marketplace.

I’ve discovered a similar phenomenon with companies providing Internet service, satellite TV, and other utilities. The practice amazes me. The gas station doesn’t bargain over the cost per gallon of unleaded. The grocery store doesn’t haggle over the price of milk. The Bible doesn’t offer an introductory 8% tithe. Yet this is an accepted practice for some industries.

If the officers of the aforementioned electric membership corporation in northeast Georgia happen to read this blog, here’s an idea. Treat your good customers better and offer them the best possible deals. It will make you money in the long run–and save me an annual phone call.

Click!

Adam Sandler starred in the 2006 movie Click. Sandler played the role of a workaholic architect named Michael Newman who struggled to balance work and home.

One evening he visited a Bath and Beyond to purchase a television remote control. Newman Remote Controlstumbled into a backroom filled with gizmos and gadgets. An eccentric clerk sold him a remote control with unusual powers.

The architect discovered that the universal remote actually controlled his universe. The pause button caused everything around him to freeze. Rewind allowed him to revisit past events. Fast forward enabled Newman to avoid unpleasant or boring moments.

Without spoiling the plot, let’s just say the use of the remote led to unintended consequences. What initially appeared to be a blessing ultimately turned out to be a curse. The main character eventually realized that he had willfully skipped over the most important parts of his life.

I am not an Adam Sandler fan. However, the movie’s previews intrigued me. I eventually saw “Click” on network TV. Despite an interesting premise, I found the plot disappointing. A less charitable part of me thought that Sandler’s character got everything that he deserved.

During the movie, I pondered the uses of a universal remote that really controlled the universe. One could skip over television commercials, dental procedures, graduation speakers, political campaigns, committee meetings, in-law visits, sick days, and other disagreeable events. (Note that I did NOT include Sunday morning sermons in the list!)

If Click ended with a moral to the story, then the movie’s message reminded viewers about the importance of everyday life. We tend to recall the milestones of our years; however, most of life’s journey occurs between the milestones. Ordinary, boring, same-old-same-old, everyday living is when and where real life occurs.

Even the painful parts of life play a role in shaping our character. ESPECIALLY the painful parts of life play a role in shaping our character. An old Arab proverb declares: All sunshine a desert makes. Trials, troubles, tribulations, and tragedy help form our character. With the perspective of hindsight, we realize that we have become the people that we are today because of all our yesterdays.

The ultimate irony of the movie—perhaps lost even on the film makers—is that escapist Hollywood entertainment also fast-forwards us through a segment of time. Viewers disengage from reality in order to enjoy fantasy. I am not railing against popular movies and books, but perhaps we could more profitably use such time in the actual living of life.

  • If we are not careful, real life slips past without notice.
  • Click.
  • A spouse’s words go unheard.
  • Click.
  • A chance to help a neighbor vanishes.
  • Click.
  • Time to play with your child disappears.
  • Click.
  • Days slip past with no time for prayer.
  • Click.
  • Money slips away.
  • Click.
  • Healing words remain unspoken.
  • Click.
  • A sunset, moonrise, and star-spangled night go unnoticed.
  • Click.
  • Life is over.

Each day God gifts us with the precious present of life. We dare not waste a moment. Hit “Play” and enjoy every second.

This IS the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.

Driver’s Education

In 1974, Coach Henderson taught the Driver’s Education course at Cherokee High School in Canton, Georgia. Perhaps he possessed a first name, but we all called him “Coach.”

Driver EdHis real job was managing the football team’s offensive line. During the school day, however, he also taught teenagers how to drive. Fortunately, he was better at the latter than the former since the Warriors went 2-8 that year.

Students spent time in the classroom before graduating to an actual automobile. We learned the rules of the road and traffic signs in preparation for the driving exam. Decades before computer simulators, novice drivers practiced in mock-ups of car interiors. A battery of tests checked visual and aural acuity.

The local Ford dealership in Canton supplied the school with a fleet of cars. Coach Henderson would pile four students in the car, and off we would go. Little wonder that the hair he had not already pulled out turned prematurely grey.

I learned many valuable lessons in Driver’s Education. Most primarily pertained to operating a motor vehicle; however, a few lessons possessed a wider life application. I didn’t learn everything I needed to know in Driver’s Ed, but some of the lessons have continued to inform me over the years.

Coach Henderson always stressed keeping one’s eyes on the road. Over and again he would recite: “The car will go wherever you look.” This dictum applies both on and off the road. Vision determines life’s direction. Fixing one’s sight on a higher goal guarantees personal growth. Glance to the side and you can end up in a ditch. Look backwards too long and no progress is made at all.

Another Henderson adage warned: “Where there is a ball, there is a boy.” If a ball bounces into the street, then a child is almost always in close pursuit. Several times I have slammed on the brakes moments before I actually saw a child darting out into the road. The coach’s advice has saved more than a few lives over the years. If we pay attention, most trouble can be avoided before it begins.

When in danger, Coach Henderson drummed into our heads: “Use your brakes AND your steering wheel.” Most drivers react to danger by locking down the brakes. Following Newton’s Law of Inertia, however, cars in motion tend to stay in motion. Even in an era of antilock systems, braking alone is not always enough. Coach taught us that many accidents can be avoided by steering around the obstacle. His words have saved me on more than one occasion. If you’re headed for a collision in life, consider taking a new direction.

Coach Henderson taught us that defensive drivers look a long distance down the road. Both rookies and pros make the mistake of focusing on the car immediately in front of them. At highway speeds, however, reactions occur in split seconds. Good drivers anticipate situations by glancing further down the road. Cultivating a greater perspective is always a good idea.

Teenage drivers think they know it all; and I was no exception. I did not appreciate the lessons Coach Henderson taught our class forty-some-odd years ago. However, these basic rules continue to inform my driving and life.

  • Watch where you’re going.
  • Most accidents can be avoided.
  • Consider a new direction.
  • Maintain your perspective.

Oh, and don’t forget to enjoy the ride!