“No one puts new wine into old wineskins; otherwise the wine
will burst the skins, and the wine is lost, and the skin as well;
but one puts new wine into fresh wineskins.” (Mark 2:22)
Shortly before the Berlin wall toppled, I was performing my one-man show in East Germany. The novelty of an American actor in Communist theaters always attracted a good audience. Stefan, an actor from Leipzig, was chauffeuring me from one theater to the next. On the road between shows, we casually talked about life, relationships, and sometimes God. One day Stefan said, “I love the piece you do about God creating everything. But do you really believe that it happened the way it’s written in the Bible?” Stefan, who had grown up as an atheist, found that impossible to believe.
In our many conversations I had never tried to convince Stefan that he should believe the way I do; we simply talked. As I considered his question that was deeper than his words had expressed, I knew he needed a unique response. I prayed that God’s Spirit would reveal those words to my heart. I said, “Stefan, I think it’s impossible for the Bible to explain how God created the universe. Instead, the creative images of the Bible tell us the heart behind that event. In Genesis, God kneels down in the clay and forms mankind. Then with a kiss, He breathes life and spirit into His creation. The artistic language of Genesis tells us how intimately God was involved at the beginning and how intimate He still desires to be in our lives.”
That day in a rickety East-German car, something momentous transpired in Stefan’s life. “I’ve never heard anyone explain the Bible in such real and simple terms,” he said. In that completely normal moment, a barrier, like the iron curtain, dissolved into thin air. Stefan said, “I get it.” That was it. No altar call, no “repeat after me” prayer, just one step away from darkness and closer to His light. For Stefan, an atheist, that step was huge. A few months later he wrote to inform me that his life had been completely transformed by Christ. He was on a brand new path.
When Jesus met a woman at the well in Samaria, He didn’t tell her she was a sinner; He just asked for a drink of water. Though she responded with racial, gender, and religious aggressions, Jesus didn’t argue. Instead He offered her a brand new image of God: “Worship isn’t about a place or a race — it’s an honest relationship to God, open to anyone.” A few moments later that same woman was a member of the Jesus fan club: “You’ve got to meet this man. I think He might be the Messiah.”
You and I meet people everyday, like Stefan and that Samaritan woman, who need a tailor-made response. God is the same yesterday, today, and forever, but He’s not interested in stale answers or set routines. What God did yesterday is not exactly what He’ll do today. For this day, Papa’s got a brand new bag. God wants to give people fresh, living bread through our words and our lives. For that to happen we must open our hearts to the God of infinite possibility and tune our ears to His voice.
Responding to people with God’s wisdom is truly a dance of grace. There are no set time-lines, no ABC’s or how-to manuals. The woman at the well was not an easy customer. She was a racist: “How is it that you, a Jew, are asking me for a drink?” But Jesus spoke the words that broke through her hurts and went straight to her heart.
You have no idea what your “woman at the well” is going through. Her aggressive words will put you on the defense. Her religious debate will push your mind toward “tried and true” answers. Jesus didn’t go there. He spoke about living water and truth. When it comes to opening hearts, He’s the expert. Remember, Jesus is alive and we can follow His lead.
This is a new day. God has new packages and new ideas that will communicate His heart to our world and to our own souls. What happened yesterday will surely be of encouragement today, but it won’t get you through the obstacles that lie ahead. A new revelation of God and His Christ is required. If the bones of our inner life get brittle and the breath of our spirits goes stale, God is not to blame. God always has a brand new bag. It’s our job to embrace it and bring His new wine into this new day.
Reconsider any prepackaged concepts you use to communicate God’s kingdom and prepare your heart for the improvisational dance of grace.
“Jesus I want to respond to people with Your bread of life. Help me to be open for those new wine skins: unique words and actions that will express Your heart in every moment to every need.”
Garold Andersen is a creative communicator, actor, and author of Brand New Bag.