Monday, February 27, 2012

Like A Wineskin In The Smoke

“Though I have become like a wineskin in the smoke, I do not forget Your statutes” (Psalm 119:83).

A careful student of the Bible acknowledges that “cultural distance” often makes it difficult to understand certain biblical words and phrases. “Cultural distance” describes the wide gap that often exists between the customs, traditions, and verbiage of an ancient document, such as the Bible, and the customs, traditions, and verbiage of the modern reader. A good example of the difficulty is found in found in Psalm 119:83. What in the world is “a wineskin in the smoke?” A couple of interpretive tools will help us understand what the original author intended.

The first tool is context. In the surrounding verses, the Psalmist is describing the struggle he is experiencing during at time in which God seems to be distant. His soul languishes as he waits for the Lord’s deliverance (v. 81). His eyes fail as he waits the Lord’s comfort (v. 82). He wonders if he will live long enough to see God bring judgment on his persecutors (v. 84). He pleads for the revival necessary to remain faithful in the midst of his struggle (v. 88). We are given a picture of someone whose body and soul is under duress. Whatever “a wineskin in the smoke” means, it is descriptive of someone in that kind of situation.

The second tool is an understanding of the culture. During the times of the psalmist, wineskins were animal skins prepared for use as containers for liquids. When properly constructed and cared for, they did their job reasonably well. But what would happen to a wineskin that spent extended time in warm and smoky conditions, such as were common in tents and houses of the day? Over time, they would become dried out, shrivelled, and covered with soot, ultimately rendering them useless. The psalmist is saying that he felt dried out, shrivelled, and soot-covered spiritually but he wasn’t giving up.

The lesson for us? When God feels distant, don’t give up!

God loves you!

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Coarse Jesting

In Ephesians 5:4, Paul speaks of some sins of the tongue that are to be avoided among the holy people of God. Included in the list is what is called “coarse jesting” (NASB). Other versions use similar words or phrases like “jesting”, “coarse joking”, “words said in sport”, or “crude joking”. In our culture, it could refer to things like dirty jokes, crude double entendres, masking hurtful words as humor, and making fun of things that are not joking matters.

It’s the last example that might be the most common because it appears to be the most innocent. It seems that anything is fair game for humor, regardless of whether it is holy or unholy. We make fun of marriage, adultery, and divorce. We joke about someone’s speech and appearance. We laugh about using drugs and alcohol.

But the trouble is, not everyone finds such things funny. I can assure you that those who are having problems in their marriage will find it difficult to laugh about such things. Those who have been through a divorce likely won’t find it as funny as someone else. Someone who struggles with how they speak or how they look may smile on the outside, but be weeping on the inside. Those who have lost a loved one to the ravages of drug and alcohol abuse or experienced it themselves will find it hard to see any humor in it.

No, God isn’t against humor. The Bible tells us that there is “...a time to laugh” (Ecclesiastes 3:4). We are called “ serve the Lord with gladness” (Psalm 100:2). But let’s make sure that our joking doesn’t become coarse. Let’s not jest about things that are holy to God. Let’s be very careful about finding humor in things that are destructive to others.

“Two indications of a person’s character are what makes him laugh and what makes him weep” (Warren W. Wiersbe). Let’s be men and women of godly character. Coarse jesting should have no place in the life of a servant of God.

God loves you!

Monday, February 13, 2012

Practice, Practice, Practice

“The things you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you” (Philippians 4:9).

The apostle Paul was an incredible servant of God. In spite of his shortcomings, he accomplished great things for the kingdom. We read the stories of his life and say, “I could never be like Paul.” Are we sure about that? It appears that Paul would disagree with those who have that attitude. He tells believers to “be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1; cf. 4:16; Philippians 3:17; 1 Thessalonians 1:6; 2 Thessalonians 3:9). We are to be like Paul as he was like Christ.

How do we become like Paul? PRACTICE. As the opening verse of the article says, we take the things we have learned about godly living and service from the life of Paul and then PRACTICE those things. In most cases, we won’t be good at them at first, but with REPETITION we will improve. Some activities and attitudes will be unfamiliar and difficult initially, but will become easier with USE.

Why is it that we extol the virtues of practice in every other area of our lives, but when it comes to Christian living and service, we are comfortable with our excuses? “I just not any good at that.” Then practice until you become better at it. “I can’t do it.” Then practice until you can. “It is just too difficult.” Then practice until it becomes easier.

Ted Williams, baseball superstar of 40's & 50's was known as a "natural hitter." Once he was asked about this natural ability and replied, "There is no such thing as a natural born hitter. I became a good hitter because I paid the price of constant practice, constant practice" (Ted Engstrom, The Making of a Christian Leader, p. 95).

Don’t settle for mediocrity and excuses. Be all that God created you to be. With God’s help, all it takes is practice, practice, practice!

God loves you!

Monday, February 6, 2012


“But Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much harm he did to Your saints at Jerusalem; and here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call on Your name.” But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of Mine, to bear My name before the Gentiles and kings and the sons of Israel; for I will show him how much he must suffer for My name’s sake”” (Acts 9:13-16).

Have you ever wondered if God really knows what He was doing? Oh, you may not have verbalized your doubts, but you probably have entertained them anyway. It commonly happens when we are called to do an extraordinarily challenging task for God. We weigh the difficulties in our minds and begin to wonder if God has thought of all the ramifications and consequences of what He is proposing.

You can hear it in Ananias’ response when God tells him to meet with Saul of Tarsus. “But Lord, haven’t you heard the reports?” “But Lord, are You aware of the terrible things this man has done to Your people?” “But Lord, do you know that he has the backing of the chief priests?” “But Lord, have you thought this thing through?”

Ananias is not alone in his doubts. Abraham wondered if God knew what He was doing when He told him that Sarah would have a child. Moses wondered if God knew what he was doing when He told him to go to Egypt. Jonah wondered if God knew what He was doing when He told him to go to Nineveh. And if I am honest, I add my name to the list as well.

Perhaps our “wonderings” are tied more to a reluctance to tackle a difficult task than a real doubt in God’s abilities. In our heart of hearts we know that God knows the situation better than we do. The real question is whether we will have the courage to trust God in what He calls us to do.

God loves you!