This year marks 20 years that I have been involved in Christian Education and I wanted to reflect a little on my ministry philosophy.
PASSAGE 1- PATIENCE IN THE PREPARATION OF WINESKINS
Luke 5:33-39: 33 They said to him, “John’s disciples often fast and pray, and so do the disciples of the Pharisees, but yours go on eating and drinking.”
34 Jesus answered, “Can you make the friends of the bridegroom fast while he is with them? 35 But the time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them; in those days they will fast.”
36 He told them this parable: “No one tears a piece out of a new garment to patch an old one. Otherwise, they will have torn the new garment, and the patch from the new will not match the old. 37 And no one pours new wine into old wineskins. Otherwise, the new wine will burst the skins; the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined. 38 No, new wine must be poured into new wineskins. 39 And no one after drinking old wine wants the new, for they say, ‘The old is better.’”
This passage has always helped me in my work with students AND as a parent. I know that the applications may be less direct in my line of work, but some clear principles are here both for the teacher/parent and for the students. And even though the context here is the nature of the New Covenant Kingdom- the applications are valid.
Context and Overview: Jesus is being carefully watched and critiqued. It is interesting how the flow fits here, and you almost paint a narrative though I admit it brings in some speculation. Jesus is getting active and drawing interest and the implications of His ministry is causing uneasiness. The status quo is being challenged and it always attacks rivals. The key word is found right above this passage, in verse 29 “But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law who belonged to their sect ‘complained’. What is the difference in a complaint and a question? What is the dividing line of helpful critique and a damaging complaint? We know the answer- matters of intentionality.
Their first critique is that they are eating and drinking with sinners. Jesus answers the sinner issue. The second criticism is that they are eating and drinking. In their understanding, religious zeal is regulated and evaluated by ascetic lifestyle. I find it interesting that Jesus uses a wine analogy to answer the charge.
Of course the biblical principle centers around the timeliness of behavior and allowance of the pleasurable when appropriate. Basically Jesus is saying- sometimes the time is right and sometimes the time is not right. Ultimately we enjoy pleasure at the allowance of our King who also is our Father. We serve at his will and not ours. There are times for feasting and there are times of fasting- it’s not important what we do, it is important why and for who we do it.
This seems to be an important point of the New Testament and the emphasis on conscience and concern for the weaker brother- or in other words- not using freedom as an offense (another day and another topic).
Jesus implies that He is involved in a process and the first step is preparation. You prepare a new wineskin, then fill it with new wine, as it ferments both the wineskin and wine are changed. The structure influences the substance and the substance changes the structure. The process takes time and involves pressure and constriction and contraction.
At some point, the wineskin is opened and the aged, desirous, aromatic and beneficent drink is used.
To put new wine into an old/used wineskin is foolish. The old skin cannot withstand the new process – it can only take so much for so long. And it is senseless to patch an old with a new piece- you ruin both. You must make allowances for time and pressure to produce the good stuff.
The overall point is that Jesus is bringing in a new administration of the covenant of grace and these disciples are going to carry this new wine into a new structure. They will face pressure and suffering- they will fast in time-AND the product will be beautiful.
APPLICATION TO THOSE WHO PARENT/WORK WITH TEENS:
PATIENCE- wineskins are in process. As sophisticated as a senior seems, they are still just a new wineskin that will be filled and capped in time. My guess is that they will pour out the gospel in whole new structures and I have no clue what it will look like. I will not be able to work in that new structure- I just need to pour out my wine in faithfulness to my Father.
PROPRIETY: In a weird twist- we should teach the teens to serve at the Lord’s will, not their hasty whim. The bridegroom is away for now- so we need to fast and practice self discipline- enjoying pleasure- YES- but in His timing and in His way.
So we have a strange application- the trials of life are coming- be patient. I do not expect my senior daughter to have the sanctification of a 30 year old. God will fill her and ferment her in circumstances and time to produce a beneficial fruit. She will be changed and the world will be impacted- at His pleasure and for His glory.
At the same time- trust God in this timing by obeying Him. There is a reason He wants abstinence and soberness- pleasure is not sinful- using pleasure outside his allowances is sinful. As a parent/teacher I am to be patient with their spiritual immaturity and they are to be patient with God’s restrictions. Both are points of perseverance.
PASSAGE 2 - THE INEVITABLE ANTI-OUTCOME OR WHAT ARE WE RESISTING?
II TIMOTHY 3:1-9 "1 But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. 2 People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, 3 without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, 4 treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God— 5 having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with such people. 6 They are the kind who worm their way into homes and gain control over gullible women, who are loaded down with sins and are swayed by all kinds of evil desires, 7 always learning but never able to come to a knowledge of the truth. 8 Just as Jannes and Jambres opposed Moses, so also these teachers oppose the truth. They are men of depraved minds, who, as far as the faith is concerned, are rejected. 9 But they will not get very far because, as in the case of those men, their folly will be clear to everyone."
Passage was more optimistic- be patient- God will get them where they need to be.
Passage 2 is more pessimistic- there is a downward spiral that doesn’t offer much promise to change.
Every time I read the above passage I get sad. I grieve over the slow decay of society and pray for renewal. Oh Lord please rend the heavens and delay this decay!
Yet, it is important to be realistic- the city of man will have a consistent testimony throughout history- and the bottom line is not a pretty picture.
G.K. Beale has a very interesting quote regarding this: “Worldliness is what any culture does to make sin seem normal and righteousness seem strange.”
The list above is where all of us are headed without an intervention. Don’t I see these base impulses in myself? At my core nature I am selfish-materialistic-arrogant and boastful- autonomous- slanderous, especially of the weak or downtrodden- an addict- an animal self and a diabolical self- pursuer of leisure and pleasure more than a pursuer of God- living in a Christ haunted land – holding to my rituals- but cold in my relationships. I am manipulative. The more I learn, the less I know. And the fruit is shameful.
The application of this verse is to combat the decay and the trend. What tools are at my disposal to see that this ‘default mode’ is resisted at every point?
Fortunately, the gospel takes aim right at the root of the issue. The renewal that comes in by embracing justification by grace through faith strikes a mighty blow to this cycle of cynicism and addiction. The employment of all the means of grace can stop and reverse these deadly trends and issues.
For me personally, and for those who dwell in these communities of faith, it is incumbent to encourage and stir one another up in love and good deeds- to memorize, study, and meditate on God’s Word, to assemble for worship, to proclaim Christ, and participate in the sacraments to fight against the domain of darkness.
Have we not grown weary of the ineffective programs and snappy slogans? We must all agree with Dr Martyn Lloyd Jones “ I am never tired of saying that the church does not need to embark on some new methodology or program but must herself start living the Christian life.”
What can we do to inspire young leaders to fight against this 'default mode'? This is my largest goal and constant prayer!
PASSAGE 3- The Fruit of Faith Produces Obedience
Ephesians 2:8-10 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9 not by works, so that no one can boast. 10 For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
This last passage is one that will take some very special and careful explanation. We all love this verse- how can it be any clearer? Our justification is purely Christ alone! Nothing can be added to Christ as the atonement for our sin. He paid it all and we simply receive this immeasurable gift by trust. We can not work or earn God’s favor- we do not merit it by good deeds- we can not add to it.
But the Scriptures do present a part 2. We do not believe in faith plus works- but we do hold to a faith that works. The amazing forgiveness we receive and the indescribable love that accomplished this feat compels us to follow the one who gave so much. Over time- an understanding of the gospel and the presence of God’s Holy Spirit should produce a general trend of obedient and abundant living. It is a slow process, it is a frustrating up and down, forward and back, existence- but there is ample Scripture to show that Christ died so that we may live- not to our ourselves- but to Him.
POTENTIAL PROBLEMS IN APPLICATION OF A SANCTIFICATION STANDARD OF OBEDIENCE
Now, the biggest mistakes we make in this area is when we (1) try to sanctify others or (2) buy into a false belief that education equals reformation. Let’s take these two things separately. As soon as I begin to grow in obedience and receive the blessings of living within God’s design I want others to join me. Often, this is a good intention- and it can serve a dual purpose: I want to celebrate success and bring someone with me. But before long I see a subtle and sinister root take hold- I begin to expect things in others that I have done myself. I begin to compare my successes with failure in others and at some point I begin to demand in others MORE than I expect in myself. In a short amount of time- I have walked away from the gospel of grace and built a prison of legalism and instead of loving others, I am oppressing them. How quickly I have abandoned salvation by grace through faith.
The second mistake is to accept the notion that education is the key to reform. This is a tough one, because my entire professional life has centered round the value of education. There is a noble use of education and also a diabolical one. In its purest noble application, education is about teaching skills of observation, communication, thinking logically, reading, writing, and mathematical computations to allow for a greater degree of knowing God and evaluating all of life by His truth. The potential problem of education and its diabolical application is producing knowledge that creates pride and artificial division of people. A Christian is NEVER anti science/technology/or knowledge- but he must see this pursuit as what it is- a result of the Biblical mandate to subdue and rule the earth as a good steward and not a power grab.
I guess the clearest example of this is what has transpired to human society in the wake of the enlightenment- once we elevate education over piety – it creates and unintended competition where we judge men according to academic credentials and not the content of character. And we begin to believe that advancements in knowledge will solve man’s biggest problems. The enlightenment, with all of its great achievements, unintentionally lifted up elites and gave them a voice based on knowledge, but not necessarily wisdom or morality. High intelligence has a hard time keeping an ego in check- and slowly trades questioning to cynicism or skepticism- and enthrones reason. As reason generates knowledge- it also creates power- and power in the hands of a man, especially one without a moral compass – can quickly generate oppression and greed.
Now, let me stop here and clarify what I am NOT saying. I am not saying that education is evil. I strongly lament the retreat that has happened in the evangelical world in regards to educational excellence and participation and I sadly admit to the intellectual laziness that places God in the gaps of knowledge and indulges in distraction and distaste for hard questions- we have no excuse here. What I am saying is that the church continues to evaluate progress on the city of man’s standards of intellectual arrogance and not the humility and gratitude of acknowledging that ALL TRUTH IS GOD’S TRUTH and placing everything under the authority of His Word.
Here is a subtle hint of how this is not ingrained in our current thinking. What do I spend the most time on and give the weightiest praise to? My daughter’s knowledge of the high priestly prayer in John 17 or her ACT score? What gets me more excited- her ability to speak in Spanish or her ability to quote Romans 1? Again- we should praise God if our children make a 29 on the ACT and get excited about foreign language… but wouldn’t it excite us if they loved the Bible so much that they read it….memorized it…used it… taught it…? And believe me, I am condemning myself as a parent as I write this.