Wineskin in the Smoke
“For I have become like a wineskin in the smoke, yet I have not forgotten your statutes.” – Psalm 119:83
“If the gloves don’t fit, you must acquit!” So railed Defense Attorney Johnnie Cochran in OJ Simpson’s famous murder trial. Leather gloves soaked in blood were found near the murder scene, but now the blood had dried, leaving the gloves shriveled and shrunk. Of course they wouldn’t fit. The jury missed the obvious point. Cochran prevailed and OJ was acquitted. This is the same process of wineskins in smoke. Subjected to heat and the smoke of a cooking/warming fire in a tent, leather wineskins will dry, shrivel, wrinkle and blacken with soot. This is how King David described himself, advanced in years, shriveled, wrinkled, and weakened by the impact of age.
In such an aged or very sick state many do not concern themselves with much else than their aches and pains and the self-observation of their body, decrepit with the effects of having lived many, many years or else ravaged by disease. These states sap what strength remains and removes much hope of anything other than future death and the grave. But this is not David’s testimony! Despite his old-age and feeling like a wineskin in smoke, he will not allow a painful, weakened body to cause him to forget the Lord’s statutes; he still longed for His Word, for this is exactly where his hope dwelt. The promises of the Lord would not be forgotten, even in the midst of advanced age, or the debilitating effects of sickness or depression. Above all else David would cling to the Word of the Lord; his attention would not be diverted.
I cannot see anything else able to capture one’s attention in such physical conditions. Money becomes fairly useless if it cannot purchase relief or undying health. Hope of advancement in career and goals fall by the wayside as the body enters old age. Anticipating a vacation or trip holds no more pleasure. Company may help, but not completely. I remember my wife dying from cancer, experiencing its awful pain, during the long nights of sleeplessness when comforters were themselves asleep, quietly exclaiming to herself, in my sister’s hearing, what a ravaging, terrible disease cancer is. Pain has its all-consuming diverting influence from much else of any consequence. It can take over all concentration of thought. All focus and immediate hope is placed on relief from pain and weakness. The loss of hope as well has its “wineskins in smoke” impact on the soul.
But the Word of God, which lasts forever, despite all conditions and diversions having any power to overcome its promises, is the hope to sustain the soul in the midst of tribulation or “wineskins in smoke” impact on the body. God’s Word simply will never pass away. The longest chapter of the Bible, Psalm 119, extols this hope, comfort, and truth of the eternal Word of God. It was for David an ever-present anchor for his soul, an indefatigable hope through the storm of life, a welcoming shore on the far side of the river or sea, a place of certain rest when the body craved nothing else.
Developing a dependence on God’s Word cannot be put off till after the effects of old age or sickness capture the full attention of mind and grabs any remaining strength. If there is no appetite for His Word prior to this weakening of body and mind by age and/or sickness, it is unlikely it will ever be acquired. The mind and heart must hunger for the Word today to capture the same habit in the Word which was David’s habit before and through the “wineskins in smoke” period of life. It sustained him in tribulation. His hope did not waver, his comfort never faded, his love for the Lord continually increased.
How will the growing infirmities of old age impact your soul? In what state will the onset of disease find you? We all grow old, many become sick with pernicious diseases, and all of us decrease in strength as youth or health flees. The wineskin in smoke” analogy becomes more real in our bodies. If we are not yet there, we are certainly on our way; old age for sure and possibly sickness before.
There are many ways that those who consider the future prepare for those years. Save for retirement and buffet the body with exercise and healthy eating, but age (time) like an ever rolling stream bears all its sons away, as the hymn expresses. It is an inexorable march to an end in death and dying which cannot be paused or diverted. The very best preparation for it, as is the best preparation for any period of life, is the steady habit of reading, meditation, and study of the statutes of the Lord. His Word is food for any age, but it is sustaining food for old age when appetite for physical food wanes. You can never eat too much of the Word of God. Develop the habit while there is still time, youth, and health, before the “wineskin in the smoke” overtakes you and it is too late.
“I should have perished in my woe had not I loved thy law divine; that law I never can forget; O save me, Lord, for I am thine.”
(3rd verse of The Psalter, Psalm 119:89-97, 1912)
Sign up for our monthly newsletter and weekly devotional
“You shall not see your brother’s ox or his sheep going astray and ignore them. You shall take them back to your brother. And if he does not live near you and you do not know who he is, you shall bring it home to your house, and it shall stay with you until your brother seeks it. Then you shall restore it to him. And you shall do the same with his donkey or with his garment, or with any lost thing of your brother’s, which he loses and you find; you may not ignore it. You shall not see your brother’s donkey or his ox fallen down by the way and ignore them. You shall help him to lift them up again.” – Deuteronomy 22:1-4
Being a good neighbor goes beyond just being cordial to him or her; you are to be an eager helper of your neighbor, especially when they have a need and the need becomes known to you. But who is your neighbor? Your neighbor is one whom God brings into your path. God makes it obvious to those who listen to and follow Him just who their neighbors are. It is impossible to be a responsible neighbor to everyone in the world; more likely it primarily encompasses those who cross your path and somehow enter into your world. You are neither omnipresent nor omnipotent. So you are not neighbor to the world’s whole population. Nor are you able to have more than two arms or more than 24 hours in any one day. You are a mortal and the neighbor of mortals. But one of your specific callings in life in glorifying God and enjoying him forever is to be a neighbor who is worth his salt; one who helps his neighbors.
Most of us are cordial to strangers, to neighbors who are more distant than family or friends; but God calls us to a higher standard than mere cordiality with our neighbors, who also include family and friends. Needs become obvious to you as you are both observant AND desirous of being helpful. However, one primary problem with helping your neighbor is the sheer busyness and demands of your own responsibilities. You may well think you just do not have the time to divert from what you have on your own plate. Most of us lead such busy lives that we think the time to also help a neighbor is just not there. But if you really believe, as God commands, that part of your responsibility and calling is to your neighbor, you will be surprised that there really is enough time to do both, and you will be happier in your life because of it. Helping others is one of the greatest joys of living.
But helping others can be fraught with frustration as well, and disappointment. All the more reason for you to focus on who it is that you are pleasing most by being a good neighbor. God’s pleasure is your focus so much more than your neighbor. He is the One you are pleasing in loving your neighbor. Your neighbor’s pleasure or even unthankfulness is not really your concern, even though it normally figures prominently in your mind. Do not allow it to be the determinant of your willingness to help and the continuance of your service to others. Do it as though you are serving the Lord Jesus Christ. “As you did it unto them, you did it unto me.”
C.S. Lewis wrote in “Mere Christianity”, “The rule for all of us is perfectly simple. Do not waste time bothering whether you “love” your neighbor; act as if you did. As soon as we do this we find one of the great secrets. When you are behaving as if you loved someone, you will presently come to love him. If you injure someone you dislike, you will find yourself disliking him more. If you do him a good turn, you will find yourself disliking him less.” The decision is one of your will, not of your feelings. I will love my neighbor as myself, because Jesus, my Lord, asks me to, yea commands me to. This I will do because I choose to please Him. This is as important as caring for my own family. I can find the time because my God is the provider of time, and He asks this of me.
“May the peace of God my Father rule my life in everything, that I may be calm to comfort sick and sorrowing.”
(3rd verse of Kate Wilkinson’s hymn, “May the Mind of Christ My Savior,” 1925)
Sign up for our monthly newsletter and weekly devotional
The 24/7 Teacher
“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and you shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.” – Deuteronomy 6:5-9
Essentially, an all-encompassing instructor; a picture of a never tiring, never sloughing teacher of sons and daughters. There really isn’t a time or activity, common or uncommon, in which he is not proclaiming the wonderful truths and commandments of his Creator and One True God and Father to his children.
This is God’s preeminent description of fathers; indefatigable teachers of and living examples to those whom they themselves father. The words of Deuteronomy 6 are direct; the school of righteousness is not relegated to a formal classroom. It encompasses the whole world and time in which you and they live. The only time their instruction hibernates is when they sleep. Either by father or mother, or the teachers selected by their parents, your children are constantly being taught, always under the aegis of their God-given master teacher, their father; until they have a knowledge, picture, and relationship with who their father emulates, their heavenly Father God. It is a responsibility of enormous proportion. The only way to avoid it is to not have children. To procreate is to immediately take on this all-encompassing task.
This appears to be the parameters laid out by God for the work of a father. He still must provide for and protect his wife and family, but in those roles he is always teaching, always nurturing; not always necessarily directly, but, at a minimum, under his authority and plan. What a responsibility! It requires energy, knowledge, and wisdom. No one is equal to the task. Apart from the recognized calling, strength, and guidance of God, it is unattainable.
This is particularly why Paul offers a necessary promise, “I can do all things through Christ, who strengthens me.” It is also why God’s ideal includes two parents. It is why he provides a “help-mate” to assist in the task; each parent brings gender-unique talents and strengths to this work. Two is always better than one, as the wise teacher, Solomon tells us; husband and wife, father and mother. Short of the ideal of two parents, improvisation is required and it is so much more difficult, but still possible.
Families need fathers like everyone needs air to breathe or water to drink. They are essential to family health; if a human father is taken away, a heavenly One must step in more prominently. Human fathers have one supreme model; namely their Heavenly Father. Being natural sinners, prone to failure, they desperately need His grace to survive and succeed. To teach about God and His commandments a father needs to know His Word. Ignorance of the Scriptures seals a father’s failure. Consistent discipline in reading His Word and obeying it, provides promise of success.
C.S. Lewis wrote of the brilliant author George MacDonald: “An almost perfect relationship with his father was the earthly root of all his wisdom. From his own father, he said, he first learned that Fatherhood must be at the core of the universe. He was thus prepared in an unusual way to teach that religion in which the relation of Father and Son is of all relations the most central.” Fathers are that critical to the health of human society and the success of the family, in mimicking the relation which the Father and Son have within the Trinity in their relationship to their own children. Children know and relate to God by the nurture and instruction from their father. Their father in turn must have and know and depend on a relationship with his Father in heaven.
The strength and health of society and especially of the church relies on the strength of fathers, who know who their Heavenly Father is and convey their knowledge and experience with Him to their children. It is God’s plan in this manner to convey His love to one generation after another. In accomplishing this, God uses, particularly fathers to pursue the continuity of His grace to His chosen people. If the relatively recent establishment of a Fathers’ Day can serve to remind many of God’s purpose of relying on godly fathers to be craftsmen working by His side to redeem a people for himself, so be it. Would that God’s people would catch His vision for fathers and that men would commit their lives to fulfilling God’s design for fatherhood. There truly is no greater need of the church today!
“My God is reconciled; His pardoning voice I hear; He owns me for His child; I can no longer fear: with confidence I now draw nigh, with confidence I now draw nigh, and ‘Father, Abba, Father’ cry.”
(4th verse of Charles Wesley’s hymn, “Arise, My Soul, Arise,” 1742)
Sign up for our monthly newsletter and weekly devotional
The Banner Over Me
“He brought me to the banqueting house, and His banner over me was love.” – Song of Solomon 2:4
What is the flag of heaven? Is there a banner which flies over heaven’s population, and if so, what does the flag convey? Perhaps not a material one like the flags of earth, one of many colors and symbols. But Solomon writes of God’s and the Savior’s banner over us; a banner of love, one which marks the people living under it as dearly loved by the Triune God, who provided salvation for them. They are a people who have not only been dearly loved, but kept by His power. Peoples of the earth have been born and resided under various nation/states: entities which have designed, selected, and flown flags symbolizing them as separate peoples of indigenous nationality and tongues.
The populations of the nations of the world are marked by these banners; cloth flags of various designs and colors. All nations of the world have their own unique flag. Why? What is the purpose of a national flag and what does it represent? It appears to eventually represent the character of a people and/or their leaders who rule over them. The flags of the communist nations of the world represent the ideology and practice of communism with its true imperialism, dominating and suppressing the freedoms of peoples who are subjugated by its tyrannical government and ideology. The Nazi flag of Hitler’s Germany came to represent the evils of his fascist regime, perpetrating a heinously evil holocaust upon millions of Jewish men, women, and children due to the utter hatred Satan placed within Hitler and his comrades’ hearts. Ironically, even Hitler had Jewish blood, and should have been relegated himself to the gas chambers under his own racist standard. All sinners break their own standards, and all humans are sinners.
Symbols from the flags of nations are placed on the military armaments of those nations, like the circle of Japan’s flag being painted on the wings of their war planes becoming known as “Zeros.” Or the swastikas of Nazi Germany decorating the sides of their panzer tanks. Or the hammer and sickle of communist Russia; the yellow star of China on red background; the flags of chiefly Muslim nations with various symbols of their Islamic religion.
A flag, or whom it represents, is hated or liked by the world’s population based on the perceived character and actions of the people and leaders over which it flies. The flag of the United States has through the years represented freedom and liberty to many oppressed peoples of the world, whose freedom was won by the blood of American soldiers fighting under the banner of the “stars and stripes.” Oh, there are those who hate the “stars and stripes,” but they most normally do so because their defeat ended their own enslavement of other peoples, or through propaganda they misunderstood what the “stars and stripes” stood for, or it is as simple as their flag’s sports team and athletes lose to the team or athletes flying the “stars and stripes.” But the “stars and stripes” are truly loved by a great many people in the world. People do not fear when they see this flag come into view, especially when they have been oppressed and persecuted. They know it stands for freedom.
Patriotism, a term for pride in country more than for any particular race is a pride and loyalty to the homeland in which one is born and reared or even later adopted. It may be a nation of multiple races, tongues, and former nationalities, as America is, a melting pot. Patriotism is not antithetical to being a faithful follower of the Lord Jesus, for His word commands believers to be good citizens on earth. All Christians know, or should, that their authentic and lasting citizenship is in Heaven and their loyalty to God and His kingdom supersedes earth’s national loyalties. You may not be able as a faithful Christian to ascribe loyalty and respect to some flags of the world, but the Christian should be able to do so to the American flag for what has been achieved in the world through her aid in advancing Christian principles among all peoples; despite the fact that sinners among this nation’s populace and leadership have not always loved nor practiced kindness, mercy, integrity, justice and righteousness in all of their actions. The day may come where it will not be possible any longer to render allegiance to the flag of the United States.
But next Tuesday is Flag Day in America, and our flag still stands for freedom. It is and can still be honored for the liberty and justice it represents. The words in Lee Greenwood’s song “God Bless the USA” still ring true when authentic history remains unrevised by critics. Our American history is not perfect, but there is no doubt that God raised up America to free and keep the world from the tyranny of evil men and their desire to oppress peoples and nations. We can still say today that “the flag still stands for freedom and they can’t take that away”……yet. So as a follower of the Savior who has blessed our nation, honor the Stars and Stripes this next Tuesday. And look forward with eager expectation to the banner of heaven, for His banner over us is love. We shall flourish throughout eternity under the loving sovereignty of our great and mighty triune God; for to be in Christ Jesus is to be free indeed.
“While the storm clouds gather far across the sea, let us swear allegiance to a land that’s free, let us all be grateful for a land so fair, as we raise our voices in a solemn prayer. God bless America, land that I love, stand beside her, and guide her thru the night with a light from above. From the mountains, to the prairies, to the oceans, white with foam, God bless America, my home sweet home.”
(From Irving Berlin’s song, “God Bless America”, 1938)
Sign up for our monthly newsletter and weekly devotional
Incredibly Unique You
“For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well. My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there were none of them. How precious to me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them!” – Psalm 139:13-17
Sitting and people watching is a common, but quite entertaining experience. People come in all shapes and sizes, colors and hair, smiles and noses, thoughts and minds; the variety is unutterably astounding. The uniqueness of every human being is beyond comprehension. The similarity of many plants or animals is such you cannot tell some apart from the other. But it is not so with the creature created in God’s image. There is a special uniqueness to every human creature ever created, even those who never saw the light of day outside the womb. It is an argument that mitigates against the theory of evolution. There is a unique imprint by the Creator, infinite in his creativity, on each one of his human creatures, which renders them individually unique though they number together in the billions.
“Fearfully and wonderfully made” seems to also imply “uniquely made”; for God deals with His creatures not only corporately as “His people” or “not His people,” but individually, as is understood in “the days that were formed for me,” etc. God loves you individually; Christ died for you in a “personal” atonement, covering your “personal” sins with his blood. You can personally relate to your Father in Heaven, and to your Savior, and to the Spirit of God, and He hears your unique conversation with Him, and understands it as your personal relationship with Him, not as a mish-mash of words and emotions from many flooding His way. He is such a God of infinite power and might, He can know and relate to and love you individually as a unique child of His. He knows your name; He knows the number of hairs on your head.
You cannot get lost among the total population of the billions who have lived and died in the history of the world. You will be accountable for your own relationship with Him or your own disregard of Him. Do not count on anonymity to forgo judgment or be fearful, especially for those who love Him, of being lost among the huge crowd and forgotten. It is true He loves His church as a whole, but He also loves you as an individual child of His. You, individually, cannot be plucked out of His hand if you have been regenerated into His family and covered by the blood of His Son. It is a wonderful and comforting thought that you are known personally by the One who created you and will be your God and Abba Father for eternity.
This is a critical truth for you to know and treasure. Your personal salvation is just that, personal. It is also corporate, for you are a part of the body of Christ, the church, now militant, and eventually, beyond the grave, the church triumphant. You are a member, if Christ is your Savior, of the family of God. But you are also an individually loved child of your Father in Heaven, and you are uniquely made, like no other person in the panoply of the ages. There is no other exactly like you. It is hard to understand there is not an exact mold used to make another perfectly and minutely you, but there is not. You have your own accountability, you have your own personal atonement, you have your own relationship with the great and mighty God. Treasure it and make the very most of it, always set on improving your oneness with the Triune God.
Never excuse your sin with “everybody does it.” You are not judged or considered as just “everybody.” You are you, unique and individual. Individually, you will stand at the judgment seat of Christ, and individually, if you are covered by His blood, you will hear the words, “Well done, good and faithful servant. Enter into the reward reserved for you!”
“Rock of ages cleft for ME, let ME hide myself in thee; let the water and the blood, from thy riven side which flowed, be of sin the double cure, cleanse ME from its guilt and power.”
(1st verse of Augustus Toplady’s hymn, “Rock of Ages,” 1776)
Sign up for our monthly newsletter and weekly devotional