Here we are at the end of another year – 2008, and facing a new year – 2009. I like this time, as it provides me with a great opportunity to thank God for what He has done, evaluate it and anticipate the new season of opportunity. In light of this, I am sensing God challenging me on a few issues as a leader in His Church. In 2008, I have sensed an incredible battle in the heavenlies regarding the Church. I am not one for speculative spiritual warfare type talk. (The Western Church is often confusing and messy over the issue.) However, this year I cannot get away from it. It’s as if there is an incredible opposition against the Kingdom of God. ‘Well, that’s obvious,’ you may say, but this last year has been significant in a way I cannot quite convey, and leaders across nations are saying the same thing. The enemy does not want the Kingdom being expressed as Jesus prescribed through the Church in these final days. Satan is attacking God’s people on all fronts – pride, secret sin, unbelief and fear of the new. It is crucial that the Western Church comes through this season in the right way, because I am convinced that there is a new day of Kingdom emphasis about to dawn. But it will cost us!
In the year 1998 the Lord changed my life during a season of intense dealing in the fires of revival at Brownsville, Pensacola, FL. I found myself as a 20 year old British guy standing face to face with Jesus. It seemed that everything I knew of the Christian life had suddenly taken on a larger magnitude, or had been emptied from me altogether. Everything now for the Lord was ALL or nothing. He wanted me to be His disciple, and in return, He wanted to give me Himself.
To add to that, the time of revival was not just about good feelings, although I experienced those. Rather, it was a time of incredible pain, as I went through a season where the Lord allowed a ‘dark night of the soul’ to come upon me for a month. A power of darkness came during that time and tested me, not with sin, but my standing before God and His call on my life. Yet in all of this, God was not only pouring in the new wine of the outpouring of the Spirit of revival, but He was preparing a new wine skin to hold that for future years to come. I needed stretching, changing, emptying, and that was painful but needed.
Mark 2: 22 says: “He pours new wine into new wine skins…”
This is a segment of Scripture which is remarkable, especially in the light Mark portrays these words of Christ. Mark has a beautiful way of putting accounts of Jesus’ life in a type of invisible connection, so that what the Spirit is speaking through Mark is not only seen in an isolated verse, but sometimes, in the connecting stories around it. Let me illustrate:
Mark 2 & 3 at first glance are an ad-hoc series of stories, with the lessons of the wineskin and Sabbath put right in the middle. But if we read this as a whole, in context, Mark is portraying a powerful truth. In Mark 2: 1 – 12, a paralytic man is placed before Jesus. But rather than proclaim healing over the man first, Jesus forgives the man’s sins! Never in Israel has anyone had authority to do this or dared to say this before! Yet Jesus did before the religious leaders of the day. And what’s more, to prove that that man’s sins were in fact forgiven, the man is healed – demonstrating that Jesus has the authority; that the man’s sickness was a result of sin; sins have been removed; and that Jesus was God – the Son. This was a new day, and it demanded a new understanding of this visitation of God through His Son.
Secondly, in Mark 2: 13 – 17, Jesus calls Levi to become one of His disciples. Levi is a tax collector, scorned by the people of the day. To make matters worse, Jesus and His disciples go to eat with Levi and other collectors and ‘sinners!’ Pharisees make judgments about those with whom He is eating and the One who is supposedly the Messiah. In a nutshell, Jesus says that He will call sinners to Himself and do it on His terms. This was not how men had perceived the supposed Messiah to have chosen His followers. This was new and demanded a new understanding of what this glorious Man was all about!
Then thirdly, the disciples are not fasting, as are those of John and the Pharisees. Jesus establishes before the critics that those with Him are not of an order according to man’s ideals, rather they are joined to Him. Those that are with Him are taking on a new law and Spirit as opposed to that of the old. This was not as men had prescribed things, yet a new understanding of the times and seasons was called for!
Fourthly, in verses 23 – 28, the disciples of Jesus are picking and eating grain on the Sabbath. Again, the establishment challenge Him. He replies that He is Lord of the Sabbath. A new understanding of Sabbath was dawning, and it demanded a new understanding of its meaning for the called out ones of Jesus.
Then in connection to the above, let’s take a general look at Mark 3. Jesus heals a man with a shriveled hand in a synagogue on the Sabbath. Now the authorities want to kill Him. The old cannot contain Him!
After this, Jesus is healing and delivering the masses. Evil spirits cry out in acknowledgment and fear. This has never been seen before! Jesus then goes and prays all night on the mountainside, and chooses the twelve to be His Apostles. THEY are now to carry this same authority and power. They are to take this ‘new thing’ of the Kingdom to the villages and towns. Yet despite this, the authorities claim He is working miracles and setting men free by Beelzebub’s power and even His own family says He is out of His mind! This demanded a new understanding of the Kingdom of God working through a Man and an uneducated band of followers in an unprecedented way.
To summarize, let’s get this straight in our thinking: Jesus is ushering in a new age of Kingdom ministry and grace, the religious establishment cannot grasp it; His family says He is crazy; yet demons KNOW and cry out and the everyday people want to be with Him. This ‘new wine’ is being poured out into a new wineskin, and religious men cannot fathom it, and powers of darkness are afraid and know of its potency!
You see it’s not that Jesus’ is being the latest new fad in town just to be different. Men like that kind of thing generally, and we have lots of that in the West today. Weird for the sake of weird, or radical for radical’s sake. (It might be rebellion!) But rather, the new thing He is doing carries a unique Spiritual power of a Divine order – that in itself is radical by nature. It’s as new wine, and it comes with tremendous force against the powers of darkness. The old order of Israel had tried to fit Him within their traditions, yet He was Lord of the Law and Prophets. Pharisees would not and could not hold Him, nor could His family understand Him. But demons know what’s really taking place, and a random concoction of young men from all backgrounds and dispositions are the ones chosen to be the new wineskin and carry the new wine. Through them demons are driven out. God is altogether radical and unique in His movements and His choosing of vessels, and He delights to reveal His Kingdom through such.
In Acts 1, Luke begins by recalling to Theophilus, ‘all that Jesus began to do and teach…’ – and then Luke proceeds with the beginnings of the new people of God, who carry on as a new breed of disciples, by continuing to do ‘ALL that Jesus is doing and teaching..’ Ministry is incarnational. The Local church is as Christ’s physical presence in a community – His wineskin, carrying what He is saying and doing to a lost world.
Therefore, as Christ’s initial ministry came with the potency of new wine fermenting in a wineskin, so too does His continuing ministry. His mercies are new every morning. Revival is like new wine, but so often the establishment wants to destroy or dampen, or our peers don’t always understand. History shows with the Wesleys, that the old cannot contain the new. It’s not that Jesus wants us to be divisive or rebellious – God forbid! But rather, when He pours out His works through us, the inevitable opposition will come, but His disciples are those who not only embrace the new thing but they allow deep reformation to come, that they may contain the wine.
A. W. Tozer said the following:
A religion, even popular Christianity, could enjoy a boom altogether divorced from the transforming power of the Holy Spirit and so leave the church of the next generation worse off than it would have been if the boom had never occurred. I believe that the imperative need of the day is not simply revival, but a radical reformation that will go to the root of our moral and spiritual maladies and deal with the causes rather than with consequences, with the disease rather than with symptoms.
Let’s remember that God has set His principles in His Word, for us to live by and practice, both individually and corporately. However, let’s not be guilty of trying to put our mold upon God’s people. I believe He is looking for the local church to carry His Kingdom, as a fresh and dynamic expression of the Head through a Body.
Finally, a new wineskin not only means that the Church’s practices must be radically examined, but that God’s vessels must be tested by fire. One man once told me: ‘If a man tries to bear the anointing without purity of the heart, eventually that anointing will crush him…’ We must allow God to radically reform us in such a way that pride, secret sin, unbelief and fear will be utterly eradicated from our hearts. Allow God to expand and enlarge our capacity for Him – what He is doing and saying.
God has also established His ministries in His people, through leadership. Leaders are a gift from God and needed to keep people from wandering and on track in ministry. We leaders are to be an example of flexibility in God’s Kingdom mission. Our job is to warn and instruct – yes, but also to train and release.
My prayer 10 years on from the fires of revival in Pensacola, and for this coming year, is that we will become that new wineskin that facilitates what He is DOING and TEACHING through us, to the World at large. We are to be stretchable and moldable in His hand, not according to systems of this world but according to His holy nature revealed in His Son, Jesus. God is looking for people as the sons of Issachar, men who understood the times and seasons. Such people uncompromisingly look for what God is doing and saying, and as Arthur Wallis said, ‘throw themselves into it…’
Nothing except this will turn the World upside down.
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