“For I am full of words, and the spirit within me compels me; inside I am like bottled-up wine, like new wineskins ready to burst.” Job 32:18-19.
Church can be tough. There are no do-overs on Sunday. Every week, we must have something that is practical and can be applied in real ways in real lives. The music needs to be ready to prepare people for the message. We need hundreds of volunteers to make things run smoothly and create a welcoming and relaxing atmosphere. Add kids programs, logistics, communication, technology and then do it week in and week out. But, the truth of the matter is, it doesn’t seem like work. I really look forward to Sundays just to see who God is going to bring across our paths. It’s really incredible to watch Him work in our midst.
People are being pointed to Jesus. People are growing in love with Jesus. Students are talking to their parents about Jesus. People are wanting to obey Christ through baptism. Marriages are being saved from the brink of disaster and healed through Jesus. New volunteers are stepping up and serving selflessly. Northstar groups are creating bonds from doing life together. I am excited because people like you are chasing after the Savior and inviting others to come to one of our campuses and chase after Him too. We believe these are the vital signs of a church that God will use to further His kingdom.
This isn’t happening in some mega church in some mega city. It is happening right here in Panama City. And just when the only word you can use to describe what is happening at Northstar is “whoa,” God does more. We opened our Beach campus to nearly 600 people for the first service. Nearly 400 show up to the second service. At the same time, our main campus services are full as well. Double whoa.
All of this is part of our Northstar Vision, a subject which I routinely write about on this blog. My approach to communicating our vision is like when you hear a drip in your house. Drip, drip, drip. It’s constant and you can’t not think about it. In one drip I will talk about why the vision matters? In another drip imagining the future. Still another embracing the vision. The next drip is why it must be more than language that we developed to frame and put on the wall, it must be part of our culture. That is why I do these regular vision reviews on this blog. Hopefully, you heard the drip, drip, drip.
Jesus was once asked, “What is the greatest command?” He answered without hesitation that it is to love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength and to love our neighbor as ourselves. So that’s what we’re about. Our vision is to HELP PEOPLE FIND AND FOLLOW JESUS. We have faced opportunities and challenges throughout our 16 year history as a church. Today, we are faced with a new vision. We believe God is calling us to help reach all in the name of Christ.
To illustrate that vision and the subsequent changes that have occurred the last few months and the changes that lie ahead, I’d like to use a parable found in Luke 5.
“And no one puts new wine into old wineskins. Else the new wine will burst the wineskins and be spilled, and the wineskin will perish. But new wine must be put into new wineskins, and both are preserved together. Also no one having drunk old wine immediately desires new, for he says, The old is better.” Luke 5:37
In Biblical times, a wineskin was created when an animal skin was crafted into a container to hold wine. Over the years the skin ages, becomes inflexible and sets in shape. If new wine is put into the old skin the gas of fermentation would stretch and burst it. The old containers will not be able to hold the new wine.
Obviously Jesus was not interested here in literal skins, but it was a metaphor for the structures and systems man makes. New ways must be made to accommodate the fresh working of the Holy Spirit. The wineskin that Jesus was referring to was the religious system that had developed in Israel and was led by the Scribes and Pharisees. The Scribes, Pharisees and synagogues had become unresponsive to the Holy Spirit – the “new wine.” Rather than receiving the fresh outpouring of the Holy Spirit, they would not change.
This parable has direct application to us as a church. The church shows signs of being an old container or wineskin when it takes form or function over what the Holy Spirit is trying to do, or when those raised on the old are satisfied and not willing to endorse the new wineskin. Conversely, the church shows signs of being a new wineskin when it is doing whatever it can do to saturate the nation and the world by helping people find and follow Jesus wherever they may live. Or, when the church prays for new ideas and for God to inspire the church with doing ministry in the power of the Holy Spirit.
I believe the Holy Spirit is asking Northstar to be ready, to be flexible and to be responsive to His direction. That does not make us special as the Holy Spirit wants the same thing from every church. Frankly, sometimes I wonder if we are ready as a church community. We may be willing, but it is tougher to break out of the system you are accustomed to. We may want God to move, but the only way we can think of, is to shuffle a few things around that we hope will alleviate the problem at least in the short-term. You see, we are trying to get the new wine to fit the shape of the old inflexible skin. It won’t fit. We constantly pray for God to inspire us in a new way. To give us new wineskins. Because He will not give you new ideas or a new vision until we have become new.
When we began Northstar all those years ago, part of what I sensed God putting on my heart was to foster the kind of community where people, even people who had never been to church or had been hurt by a church, would feel welcomed. We want to be a place for all: The old, the young, the rich, the poor, those who believe in God, and have for a long time, those who doubt. That did require and may continue to require a new container, a new wineskin that would hold people both far and close to the heart of God.
My prayer continues to be that God will show Northstar the new ways, but without falling prey to the things that appear to be new wine skins but are not. God wants us to adapt, but not to compromise.
In my thinking, part of the new thing that God is doing is He is mobilizing His people to go into the world and bring the saving message of Jesus Christ. Not that this isn’t what He has always wanted, it is. But, He is breaking down the walls of tradition and demolishing wrong mind-sets each day and we see the evidence of that.
Our goal is to be as big a part of that as God wishes us to be. That is our vision. Although the wine skin may seem pretty new, it could change as the Hold Spirit leads us.