Beliefnet
Mark D. Roberts

Part 7 of series: Why Move? Stewardship, Wineskins, and the Enigmatic Will of God
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To read this series, Why Move? Stewardship, Wineskins, and the Enigmatic Will of God, from the beginning, click here.

As I explained yesterday, on Thursday, February 8, 2007, I wrote a sermon based Jesus’s parable of the new wine and wineskins (Luke 5:37-38). In this sermon I passionately warned my flock at Irvine Presbyterian Church about the dangers of “Oldwineskinitis.” I called them to a daring openness to the new wine of the gospel. I had so much to say in that sermon that I included some of what I had written in a Pastor’s Letter, where I called individuals to “to surrender to the Lord all of your wineskins and to ask for the filling of new wine.”
As I finished writing that sermon, I felt strangely moved. It was as if the word I had just written was much more than my best insights into Scripture. I felt as if what I was about to say to my congregation was like a word of prophecy, a clear and direct word from God to my people. I remember praying with particular fervor that God would give us ears to hear what He wanted to say to us. Yet I had no idea how God would answer that prayer in my own life.
On Friday, February 9, I received a phone call from a man who was on the pastor search committee for a church on the East Coast. This was the same church that, a month earlier, had expressed an interest in me as a candidate for their pastor. At that time I had declined to pursue a conversation with them. The man on the phone, Paul, wanted to give it another try. He explained why they were interested in me and why their church might be a good place for me to pastor. At the end of his presentation, he asked, “Would you be willing to think and pray about this? And then could we have one more phone conversation?”
In January it had been easy for me to say “no” to this church. But that was before I had written a passionate sermon on wine and wineskins. How could I turn down Paul’s invitation when I was going to stand up in a few hours and call my people to a bold openness to the new wine of Christ? How could I cling to my favorite wineskin – my pastoral role at Irvine Presbyterian Church – and preach against “Oldwineskinitis”? I realized that I had to say “yes” to Paul or be a hypocrite who had no right to preach.
I told Paul that I wasn’t looking for a new job, that I didn’t want to leave Irvine Pres, and that I couldn’t imagine moving my family away from Irvine. So I wasn’t sure that he wanted to waste time on me. But, I explained, I felt that I needed to be open to the Lord in a new way. “If that’s enough for you,” I said, “then we can have another conversation.” That was enough, so we planned to talk in a couple of weeks. (Photos below: my former office at Irvine Presbyterian Church, where I talked with Paul on the phone. I had a great office, thanks to our architect and a fantastic building committee. The next pastor will be truly blessed.)


What extraordinary timing! Here I was going to preach on being open to new wine and new wineskins and I was having to deal with the very thing I was going to preach. This couldn’t be just a coincidence. It must be God at work.
Now you might think I was thrilled to know that God was busy in my life, helping me to work through a passage on which I was to preach. Were I a godlier person, I expect that might have been true. But, to be honest, I was bugged. I felt as if God had sneaked up on me and cornered me. If Paul had called on Wednesday rather than Sunday, I would have found it easy to decline his offer, and that would be that. But, because of that doggone wineskins sermon I had written, I now had to be open to the potential new wineskins in my life, and I wasn’t happy about that one bit. It made my life much messier and much scarier.
Before I get a hundred e-mails rebuking me for my terrible theology, please understand that I’m not making doctrinal statements here, but personal confessions. I do believe that God’s will is always the best. And I do believe that new wineskins are best, even if they’re frighteningly unfamiliar. But I often find that my thoughts and feelings don’t catch up with my theological convictions right away. They’re generally on the slow track of discipleship. This is a track I’m committed to going down, however, and so I did.
When I got home on Friday evening, I told my wife what had happened earlier that day. I related my phone call with Paul, and my sense that God had cornered me, so that I had to be open to another conversation with him unless I were to travel the unacceptable route of hypocrisy. Linda was impressed by what seemed to be God’s unusual timing, but not altogether happy about the idea that our lives might change in some unexpected way. She loved our life in Irvine, and couldn’t imagine ever moving our family away, at least for the foreseeable future. Nevertheless, Linda agreed that I needed to have another conversation with Paul. Like me, she gives God the first place in her life, even when it’s scary.
At the end of my discussion with Linda, as I was walking out of the room, I turned to her and said something I meant mostly as a joke: “Well, maybe this conversation with Paul is God’s way of getting us to Laity Lodge.” Maybe? Indeed!
In my next post I’ll explain further why I mentioned Laity Lodge at all, even in jest.

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