A Wineskin in the Smoke

Psalm 119: 81-88wineskin

Came across an interesting verse in my daily Scripture readings yesterday.  Psalm 119:83 – “Though I have become like a wineskin in the smoke,  I do not forget Your statutes.”  Not sure why I have never seen this verse before.  It is probably because it is buried among 176 similar sounding verses within the longest chapter in the Bible.

What did this expression mean and why did I feel like it describes me right now?  The surrounding context is a Psalmist that is facing hardship.  His soul is languishing for deliverance (v.81) and He asks God:  “When will you comfort me?” (v.82)  He then says he feels like a wineskin in the smoke.  Now in the culture of the day, wine was stored in animal skins.  These skins if stored indoors with a fire present would become dry, then blackened and eventually would crack and become useless.  Good word picture, huh?

In the midst of feeling as used up and worthless as a discarded beverage container, he adds:  “I do not forget Your statutes.”   God’s word alone is the balm he needs for his wounds.  He might feel forsaken by man, but the Word says God has not forsaken him… and he is banking his life on it.

Sometimes, a word of Scripture can help when nothing else will do.  N. T. Wright remarks:

“Some parts of the Bible are best drunk like a large glass of water on a hot day—in other words, large quantities at a time—while others, such as many parts of the letters, are best sipped and savored, drop by drop… (always remembering that, especially in a letter, every verse means what it means in relation to the whole thing, not on its own.  But the point is that reading the Bible is habit-forming:  not just in the sense that the more you do it the more likely to want to do it, but also in the sense that the more you do it the more it will form habits of mind and heart, of soul and body, which will slowly but surely form your character into the likeness of Jesus Christ.”  (After You Believe, p. 262.)

Barely holding it together?  Too weary, you think, to turn to the Bible?  His Word is a lamp (v.105) and it can provide you the light of hope you need… even in the midst of the smoke.

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Taking Your Response to the “Christ-like” Level (A Christian’s Response to Evil – Part 5 of 5)

forgivenessMark 11:25

Typical response to evil in this world:  bitterness.   Our Christ-like calling:

Forgiveness…

As Matthew West put it in his recent song: “It’s the hardest thing to give away.  And the last thing on your mind today.  It always goes to those that don’t deserve.  It’s the opposite of how you feel when the pain they caused is just too real.  It takes everything you have to say the word.”

I’m not going to suggest to you that this will be easy.  This is Christianity 401.   An advance course.  You need a little righteous anger, a little enduring hope… in order to get to Christ-like forgiveness.  But it has to come.

There is a whole host of Scriptures I can share at this point, but one will do…  Mark 11:25 – “Whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father who is in heaven will also forgive you your transgressions.”

Christ hasn’t called you to some mamby pamby religion.  The one who said “Come follow me” walked the Via Dolorosa.  He let his enemies beat him mercilessly and murder him on a wooden cross and used one of his last breaths to pray:  “Father forgive them.  They don’t know what they are doing.”

You might be thinking right now:  “I CAN’T FORGIVE!”  (You may be one of those people for whom it does NOT come easy.)  You are right… you can’t forgive.  You have to let Christ do it for you… and through you.

He is working even now to reconcile the world to himself and calls us to be ministers of that reconciliation.

God can change the hardest of hearts.  While the world cries out for vengeance… we cry out for justice… and offer hope to both the victims and amazingly to the perpetrators as well.

Philip Yancy in his book, “What’s So Amazing About Grace?” wrote: “…in the final analysis, forgiveness is an act of faith. By forgiving another, I am trusting that God is a better justice-maker than I am. By forgiving, I release my own right to get even and leave all issues of fairness for God to work out. I leave in God’s hands the scales that must balance justice and mercy.

One of the most moving interviews I have ever witnessed was that of Robbie Parker, the father of Emilie Parker, one of the grade school children killed at the Sandy Hook Elementary story.  He was a believer that reached out to comfort victims, to offer hope to those in need and to  offer the first words of forgiveness just a day after the tragrobbie parkeredy.  Here is a portion of what he had to say to reporters:  (see video at http://www.godvine.com/Father-of-a-Sandy-Hook-Victim-Offers-Forgiveness-to-the-Troubled-Shooter-2560.html)

“It’s an horrific tragedy, and we want everybody to know that our hearts and our prayers go out to them. This includes the family of the shooter. I can’t imagine how hard this experience must be for you. And I want you to know that our family and our love and our support goes out to you as well. At this time, our thanks go out to so many people, so many friends and family. And complete strangers who we don’t know. For all the love, condolences and is support that you have given to us.

My daughter Emilie would be one of the first ones to be standing and giving her love and support to all those victims. Because that’s the type of person that she is. Not because of any parenting that my wife and I could have done. But because those were the gifts that were given to her by her heavenly father. As the deep pain begins to settle into our hearts, we find comfort reflecting on the incredible person that Emilie was, and how many lives she was able to touch in her short time here on earth. Emilie was bright, creative and very loving. Emilie was always willing to try new things, other than food.

Here at the church last night, there was a special meeting, and I was given an opportunity to be able to speak at that, as well. And in that, I just mentioned that, you know, the person that chose to act in this way was acting with a God-given right that he was given by God to — with his own free agency. And that free agency is given to all of us to act and choose to do whatever we want. And God can’t take that away from us. And I know that that’s something that he was given and that’s what he chose to do with it.

And I know that God can’t take that away. I’m not mad. Because I have my agency to make sure that I use this event to do what I can to do whatever I can. So, I want to make sure that my family and my wife and my daughters are taken care of and that if there’s anything that I can do to help anybody at anytime, anywhere, that I would be willing to do that.”

Not mad… but resolved to serve.  That is the response of a mature believer.

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This concludes my “A Christian’s Response to Evil” series… please comment if it touched you in any way.  Thanks again for reading!

Overcoming Compassion Fatigue

A Christian Response to EvilGalatians 6:9

This is the third in the series “A Christian’s Response to Evil.”  In this series we are looking at common responses in a season of terror and how we as believers need to be responding.  Last post I wrote that the common first reaction to evil is rage… but how our response needs to be Godly anger or resolve.

In this post I want to address the common response in the wake of tragedy of weariness or compassion fatigue.  The last 7 years in American history have shaken up all of us.  Clackamas Town Center, Oregon shooting (12/11/12)… Sikh temple shooting in Wisconsin (8/5/12)… Aurora, Colorado theatre shooting (7/20/12)… Cafe Racer Espresso shooting in Seattle, WA (5/29/12)… Oikos University shooting in Oakland, CA (4/2/12)… Chardon High School shooting in Chardon, OH (2/27/12)… IHOP restaurant shooting in Carson City, NV (9/6/12)… Safeway shooting in Tucson, AZ (Rep. Gabby Giffords shot in the head) (1/8/12)… Fort Hood Shooting (11/5/09)… Virginia Tech Shooting (4/16/07)… Amish Schoolhouse shooting in Lancaster, PA (10/2/06)….  that is just seven years back… and I didn’t include all of the mass killings in the list.

If you are like me when you heard about the Boston Marathon bombing last week your first thought was:  “Again?”  It is so easy to want to give up on caring… to get tired of helping.  Because the tragedies don’t end.

Last Monday in Boston someone literally blew up the finish line.  Weary runners that had been on the course for 4 hours… exhaustionwith the end in their sights watched as chaos ensued.  Have you ever felt that way about life?  You help and help and there seems to be no keeping the darkness back.  Then… there goes the finish line.  You want to sit on the track and cry.  You reach the point that your heart shrinks and you want to go back to caring for  “me and mine” and leave all that saving the world stuff for somebody else.

The Scriptures teach that as believers we are not to “… lose heart in doing good, for in due time we will reap if we do not grow weary.”

Jesus taught us to go an extra mile.  Some of the runners at the marathon crossed the finish line and didn’t stop running until they ran to the nearest hospital to offer blood.  Some dehydrated runners in medical tents with IV’s in their arms, ripped them out to clear the tent for the wounded.

Let me ask you, believer… “What extra mile are you running?”  For the hurting, the downtrodden, the exploited, the lost in this world.

Romans 12:17 & 21 teaches us: 17 Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. …21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.  The goodness that comes out of you thwarts the efforts of the “terrorists.”  So give, help, serve and love.

How can I help a city that is 1,100 miles away?  You can start by helping your neighbor across the street.  Don’t lose heart… instead offer  a compassionate “extra mile” kind of compassion.

Mark Buchanan in his book, The Holy Wild, shared an excerpt from a letter written by a missionary couple in Brazil:

“Driving through the Christmas traffic, fighting the drizzling rain, I chanced on a four-year-old little girl.  She was wet and cold and shaking.  Her clothes were ragged, her hair was matted, and her nose was running.  She walked between the cars at the stoplight, washing headlights because she was too short to wash windshields.  A few gave her coins, others honked at her to get away from their vehicles.

As I drove away only some fifty cents poorer, I raged at God for the injustice in the world that allowed the situation.  “God, how could you stand by, helpless?”  Later that evening, God came to me softly with that still small voice and responded not in like kind to my rage, but with tenderness, “I have done something.  I created you.”  (The Holy Wild, pp.  86-87.)

God hasn’t moved the finish line.  The finish line is Christ-like character.  And every crisis is another chance to grow in His grace.

Feeling the Weight of It – Extra!!!!

simon of cyreneLuke 23:26

On him they laid the cross, that he might bear it after Jesus.

As a pastor I try to read and study a passage from as many view points as possible.  Recently I posted “Feeling the Weight of It” regarding Simon of Cyrene‘s carrying of the cross of Jesus.  I looked at it from several angles, but as is often the case, a few weeks later, found another yet another possible preaching point.  The following is from Charles Spurgeon‘s daily devotional from Morning and Evening and this is a “pastorpresnell” wordpress extra!

Charles Spurgeon:

charles spurgeonWe see in Simon’s carrying the cross a picture of the work of the Church throughout all generations; she is the cross bearer after Jesus. Mark then, Christian, Jesus does not suffer so as to exclude your suffering. He bears a cross, not that you may escape it, but that you may endure it. Christ exempts you from sin, but not from sorrow. Remember that, and expect to suffer.

But let us comfort ourselves with this thought, that in our case, as in Simon’s, it is not our cross, but Christ’s cross which we carry. When you are molested for your piety; when your religion brings the trial of cruel mockings upon you, then remember it is not your cross, it is Christ’s cross; and how delightful is it to carry the cross of our Lord Jesus!

You carry the cross after him. You have blessed company; your path is marked with the footprints of your Lord. The mark of his blood red shoulder is upon that heavy burden. ‘Tis his cross, and he goes before you as a shepherd goes before his sheep. Take up your cross daily, and follow him.

Do not forget, also, that you bear this cross in partnership. It is the opinion of some that Simon only carried one end of the cross, and not the whole of it. That is very possible; Christ may have carried the heavier part, against the transverse beam, and Simon may have borne the lighter end. Certainly it is so with you; you do but carry the light end of the cross, Christ bore the heavier end.

And remember, though Simon had to bear the cross for a very little while, it gave him lasting honour. Even so the cross we carry is only for a little while at most, and then we shall receive the crown, the glory. Surely we should love the cross, and, instead of shrinking from it, count it very dear, when it works out for us “a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory.”

Check out these related Scriptures (John 15:18-25/1 Peter 2:21-23/Philippians 1:29/Mark 10:38-40/2 Timothy 1:8-12) and have a blessed day!

Feeling the Weight of It

simon of cyreneMark 15:21

21 They pressed into service a passer-by coming from the country, Simon of Cyrene (the father of Alexander and Rufus), to bear His cross.

Simon was pressed into service (a Greek word commonly used of coercing slaves and animals in work).  It was an example of  Rome’s power over a subjugated people.   They could lay the flat of their sword on your shoulder and compel you to go one mile carrying their baggage.  Jesus refers to this when he teaches:  If you are compelled to walk one mile, walk two.  We call that:  “Going the extra mile.”  Not sure how far Simon had to go… but it had to be the longest mile or two he ever took.

There were two parts to the cross, the patibulum (the beam) and the stipes (the post).  The victim was to carry his own patibulum to the site of the crucifixion site.  It was a heavy weight… particularly for Jesus who was losing too much blood from his flogging and the ghastly “coronation” he endured by the soldiers.

Simon was from Cyrene which was on the north coast of Africa.  This may indicate that Simon was a man of color.  Mark includes two other names:  Alexander and Rufus (known by the readers?)  Mark doesn’t name a lot of people in his Gospel.  Here are 3 names in one verse.  We do know that Rufus was a member of the early church (Romans 16:13).  It is not much of a stretch to imagine that Simon of Cyrene might have been the first disciple to literally follow the command of Christ to “take up his cross and follow.”

How about you?  Have you taken up yours?  Are you following the suffering Jesus?

You might ask me:  How do I do that?  How will I know if I have done it?  You will know it because you will notice the increased weight.

Heard a story recently about a business man who visited the great Passion Play in Eureka Springs, Arkansas.  Afterward he went backstage to meet the actor who portrayed Jesus. As they talked, the man saw the cross that the actor carried in the play.
Before the actor had a chance to stop him, the business man handed over his camera and said, “Hey, take a picture of me carrying the cross.” And He bent over and tried in vain to lift the huge cross to his shoulders.
With sweat rolling down his face, he turned in frustration to the actor and said, “I thought it would be hollow; why is it so heavy?”
With a smile of compassion the actor answered, “If I could not feel the weight of it, it would be impossible to play the part.”

Are you like Simon?

Are you devoted, faithful, embracing of suffering, vigilant, ultimately bearing the suffering of others?  Count the cost; take up your cross; feel the weight of it all.

Song Origin: “Blessed Be Your Name”

Job 1:20-22

In my short list of contemporary Christian songs that I feel will one day become cherished hymns, one song has surely risen to the top.  “Blessed Be Your Name” by Matt Redman has been sung in just about every church I have visited in the past few years.   Its lyrics which invite us to praise God in the midst of whatever is going on in our lives, has truly touched the hearts of millions. 

Blessed be Your name when the sun’s shining down on me.  When the world’s “all as it should be,” blessed be Your name.  Blessed be Your name on the road marked with suffering.  Though there’s pain in the offering, blessed be Your name.

This modern hymn, written by Matt and Beth Redman, was penned during the aftermath of 911.  Matt wrote:  “It struck me how little a vocabulary we have in church worship music to respond appropriately in dark times of life.  We all face seasons of pain and unease. And in those times we need to find our voice before God. The church, and indeed the world, needs songs of lamentation.”

In an article about the song’s origin, Lindsay Terry writes:  “Many believe the Book of Job is about suffering, but Matt has a different interpretation.  ‘I think it’s really about something much grander–the sovereignty of God–of which suffering is a subcategory. At the end of chapter one it says: ‘The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away. May the name of the Lord be praised.’   Trust is a beautiful act of worship.  It says to God, ‘I believe in You–in Your unfailing goodness and greatness–no matter what season of life I find myself in.'”  (“Story Behind the Song: Blessed Be Your Name,”  Lindsay Terry, Today’s Christian, May 1, 2007.)

I think Matt’s song captures the spirit of what Job had to say.  Job’s statement reminds us be happy with what the Lord has given us… and to remain content if He decides to take it away.  I struggle with one side or the other of these two things.

When I receive things, I struggle with a desire to “Super-Size” what has been given me.  I love the words of Bob Russell:  “It is a rare person who, when his cup frequently runs over, can thank God instead of complaining about the limited size of his mug!”

I also struggle with the bitterness of those times that things are taken away from me.  Being uprooted from place to place can create a resentment if one is not careful.  Contentment is to be delighted in God, the giver and taker.

Thank you, Matt Redman, for making Job’s words even more memorable for us today.  Feelings of joy and sorrow flow freely in this work of worship that will be sung for generations to come.