New Wineskins

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Do you fast? By fast I mean have you denied yourself food over an extended period of time; not just turning off the TV for a week, or deciding not to play videogames for a weekend. The bible has a lot to say about food fasting, and I believe that it is something that we as believers should practice often. Jesus fasted for 40 days before he began his ministry. And during that time, I believe that he was totally emptied, so that he could be completely filled. There are several references to fasting throughout the new testament. And every time I hear about something completely miraculous happening today, it usually comes on the heels of a fast. I believe that Matthew 9:16-17 explains why it is so important. In it, Jesus says:

“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. Neither do men pour new wine into old wineskins. If they do, the skins will burst, the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine into new wineskins, and both are preserved.”

Jesus said this after answering a question about fasting from the Pharisees. You see, I believe that God wants to fill us with his Spirit, so that we can do the things he wants us to do. When people are healed, when men prophesy, when miracles happen, it is because the Holy Spirit is moving through us. But if we are to be filled with His spirit, we need to be a new wineskin. To become a new wineskin, we need to fast. By fasting, we are emptied of ourselves because we are consciously denying our flesh and are focusing on our relationship with Christ. During that time, God is making our old wineskins new, so that we can accept the new wine - or Holy Spirit. It is then that the Spirit can flow through us and do mighty things. When Jesus walked the earth and healed people, the bible mentions that power flowed out of him. He could actually feel or sense it happening. I believe that this is the wine, or Spirit, that filled him during his fast and that it is this Spirit that flowed out of him. How can the Holy Spirit truly flow through us if we are old wineskins? The bible says that it can’t because we would burst and the wine would run out.

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Fasting is important. It isn’t just something believers did in bible times, it is something that we should be doing today. I heard a tape from a man who fasted for several weeks and God used him in the bush lands of India to heal broken bones, raise people from the dead and stand against the evil spirits that voodoo priests were casting upon him. He was fasted up, prayed up, and being a new wineskin was able to have the Holy Spirit fill him, and flow through him like nothing I’ve ever heard of in our current history. So, I encourage you to fast by denying yourself food, even if it is for just a day. And spend a concentrated amount of time in the word and praying to our Lord. I usually fast when something big is coming up, like when preparing for a ministry opportunity or if someone is about to have surgery. I encourage you to fast as well.

Is Jesus Serious?

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I have to be honest… Sometimes I read scripture from the bible and I wonder if I’m understanding things right. Jesus tells us that we’re supposed to be able to do amazing things in his name like drive out demons, heal the sick, or even raise the dead. I know this isn’t by our own power, but by the power of the Holy Spirit. Even still, when is the last time you’ve seen miracles like these? Do they happen anymore? Let’s take the example that Jesus gives in Matthew 21:21-22. This is after Jesus commanded the fig tree to never bear fruit again and shortly thereafter it withered. The disciples asked how the fig tree withered so quickly. Then the scripture says:

"Jesus replied, 'I tell you the truth, if you have faith and do not doubt, not only can you do what was done to the fig tree, but also you can say to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and it will be done. If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask in prayer.'”

Now that is a powerful statement. But I rarely hear about anything close to this happening in anyone’s life. Are there prerequisites that we have to have before the Holy Spirit will act in such a way or does it just come down to faith and faith alone? I had a friend who saw a man drown. He actually pulled him out of the water and tried to save him to no avail. He then prayed that God would heal him right then and there, believing with all his might that it would happen. But in the end, the man remained dead. This really shook my friend’s faith. Why wasn’t this man raised when we’re told that we’d be able to do the things that Jesus did? I don’t have all of the answers, but I’ll give you my thoughts on the matter...

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If we’re told that if we have faith and don’t doubt we can say to a mountain, “Go, throw yourself into the sea” and it will be done, then why don’t we see things like that happening? My guess is that miracles are happening, just not so much in my circle of existence. But when they do, in my opinion, I believe that there are prerequisites to whether the Holy Spirit will act on our behalf. Is there sin in our life? Is our relationship with God strong? Do we really believe what we’re praying for will happen? And does what we are praying for fall within the bounds of God’s will? Are we praying with correct motives? The bible tells us that the prayers of a righteous man availeth much. That makes me believe that our life and relationship with God matters, and faith means everything. The bible tells us that without faith, it is impossible to please God. But David prayed and his son still died. Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego knew that God could save them from the fiery furnace, but didn’t know if he would. And I believe that we have to pray, believing in faith, but ultimately knowing that God will answer in his time and in his way. We also have to realize when God answers our prayer. If we’re starving and pray for a fish, but God gives us a chicken, did he answer our prayer? I say all of that to say this… I believe the bible to be true. Jesus wasn’t lying when he said that we’d be able to do these things if we believe and not doubt, but as you can see, that scripture puts the ownness on us. So if people aren’t being healed before our eyes, if mountains aren’t jumping into the sea, I truly believe that it is something we’re lacking, not the Holy Spirit.

One in Spirit

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We live in a country where our churches are divided into denominations. And at times, with no force of racism, they may even be ethnically segregated. There is also evidence that some church leaders are not open to working with other church leaders to reach the lost for Christ. Of course, this isn’t always the case, but wherever these divisions occur, I personally don’t believe it is what God intended. Philippians 2:1-2 reminds us that we should be unified under Christ, not separated. It says:

"If you have any encouragement from being united in Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose." 

Paul is encouraging the church to be like-minded, and to be one in spirit and purpose. God knows what we can do when we work together. In the book of Genesis, at the tower of Babel, God says that “If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them.” I realize that whatever we accomplish as a people for the kingdom of God must be led by the Spirit and not our own flesh, but even God acknowledges that when we work together there is nothing that we can’t overcome. So, I encourage you to pray for unity in the body of Christ. Imagine what we can accomplish if we were indeed united and likeminded.

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I believe that every believer on earth is a part of one single body. Jesus says that a house divided against itself cannot stand. We need to be united. Paul encourages us to be likeminded. For the past few years, churches in Kalamazoo, Michigan have come together to reach our community. About 8-10 congregations come together every summer for a “Jesus loves Kalamazoo” outreach. It is awesome to see us all come together to reach out to those in need and to spread the gospel. I believe that is what unity looks like. You may know of instances like this in your area where believers, or even churches, have united for the cause of Christ. If you do, then that’s awesome. If not, I encourage you to pray that God bring the body of Christ together, because as Paul reminds us we should strive to be one in spirit and purpose.

Give Account

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The vast majority of the bible is filled with awesome promises, hope and praiseworthy content. But then there are those verses that make you think, feel convicted or even scare you half to death. This is one such scripture and I encourage you to take these words seriously. It comes from Matthew 12:36-37 which says:

“But I tell you that men will have to give account on the day of judgment for every careless word they have spoken. For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned.”

These are words spoken by Jesus himself. From what he is saying, the words we speak on earth matter. After we die, we’ll be judged, and the words that we’ve spoken can come back to haunt us or help us. In another part of the bible, it says that everything we do will be judged. I’m not sure if you consider life to be long or short. But compared to eternity, life on earth is like the blink of an eye. I believe that when we are judged, our lives will be dissected even to the most minute details. Everything we say, whether flippantly or without thinking is subject for judging. And everything we do, whether selfishly or sinfully will also be judged. The bible teaches us that even when we do something as simple as give a glass of water to one of Jesus’ followers we will be rewarded in heaven. So, we need to take our words and actions seriously, no matter how small or insignificant we think they are. Everything we say and do is subject to judgment. And if we realize that our entire life will be on display and dissected, we’ll understand how important every instance of our existence really is.

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We need to take our words seriously. When we are judged, they can either condemn us or acquit us, because God knows that out of the heart the mouth speaks. My mother used to say that if I didn’t have anything nice to say, then I shouldn’t say anything at all. This portion of scripture gives new credence to that saying. Proverbs also warns us to be slow to speak. And even when you are alone or trying to impress someone, I encourage you to watch what you say. We’re supposed to be a people that speak words of love and encouragement; words that build people up not tear them down. The bible warns us about the tongue and how it can cause us to sin. But it can also bring life. I hope my words do that, and I hope yours do too because what we say will be examined by God himself one day.

Praise The Lord

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Sometimes I think we may grow so comfortable with God that we forget that he is – well, you know, God. Yes, he is our friend and helper, but he is also the creator of the universe and master of everything we know and can even conceive. He is God and worthy to be praised as God in reverence, love and admiration. But thankfully, he is also a God of love and faithfulness. Psalm 117 puts it this way:

"Praise the Lord, all you nations; extol him, all you peoples. For great is his love toward us, and the faithfulness of the Lord endures forever. Praise the Lord."

I don’t think we’ll ever be able to grasp how much God loves us. Yes, we know that he sent his son to die for us. In our human minds, we might conceive that act as the pinnacle of love. But could his love for us extend beyond our human understanding? We’ll probably never know this side of heaven, but we do know, as this portion of scripture states, that his love is great and his faithfulness endures forever. That’s right forever. So, I encourage you to never forget who we pray to, who we serve, and who loves us so much that he sent his son to die for us. He is worthy of all of our praise, all of our love, and all of our lives.

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Remember that God is not just our Father, our provider and our friend, but that he also must be reverenced as almighty, as God, and as absolutely everything to us. I love this psalm that reminds us that his love is great and his faithfulness endures forever. I encourage you to praise him today for who He is. Sometimes we need to take a step back and realize that we pray to the God of all things.