Saturday, February 8, 2014

Part 7: The Yeast (Luke 5:37-38)

And no one puts new wine into old wineskins; otherwise the new wine will burst the skins and it will be spilled out, and the skins will be ruined. But new wine must be put into fresh wineskins. (Luke 5:37, 38 NASB)

After the crushing, most winemakers today add yeast and sugar to stimulate and control fermentation. There are some winemakers, however, who rely on "natural" or "wild" fermentation. It turns out that yeast actually gets onto the grapes in the field and, once the grapes are crushed, the "wild" or field yeast begins the fermentation process. Those grapes come in from the field with everything they need to become wine already! The only thing lacking is the crushing!

Imagine that! God, in His infinite wisdom and design, has already arranged everything in advance to allow for preservation of the juice.  

What we need to understand is that He has done the same for us. Even while we were in the field of our rebellion, God was placing in us everything we needed to become the mature believers He intended us to become. All that was lacking was "the crushing" for the process to begin! 

Take heart, dear ones. Crushing is not a bad thing. Allowed to progress to completion, crushing can bring the grapes to maturity as wine, even without any other intervention  (added yeast or sugar) except what God has already done. Those wonderful consequences we can barely stand to experience ourselves or watch in the lives of our loved ones can be the very thing God will use to bring maturity and rich flavor to our lives. Crushing consequences can be the thing that starts the process of preservation of our very lives. How important it is to allow the crushing! 

Dear ones, as we watch our loved ones struggling along the road to faith, trust the One who loves them most. Do not despair! There is a plan, and the crushing is only the beginning of what will become something wonderful. 

Pray that what God has started will be allowed to progress to completion exactly as He planned and that maturity and a firm faith will be the result. 

Friday, February 7, 2014

Friday Night with Friends

Jeff Gray is a sales executive with Systagenix corporation in Arkansas. He is a man of God with a deep love for His Lord, his wife, his family, and the people he serves. He shares a wonderful and timely message that speaks to us all.

Don't forget to make him welcome and leave him some sweet comments at the end of the blog. (Go to the web version to do this. Just click on the link at the end of the blog). Thanks. 

Hope you enjoy!

The Do Over

I want a “DO OVER”!

As I am sitting here in Jackson, MS, watching an inch or 2 of snow bring this city to a standstill, I am thinking that for this business trip, I want a “DO OVER”!!  I saw the weather report with only a 30% chance of winter weather, and I thought that, this far south, there would be no significant problems with the weather.  Well, I was wrong! I need a "DO OVER"!

When I was a youngster, my brother and I would play any sport offered to us, usually basketball or baseball.  Being more than two years younger, I often wanted a DO OVER, since I had just received a thrashing!  

As an adult, I reflect on events of my past, and can remember many times where a DO OVER would have been really nice.  I often think why did I do that, or say that, or participate in that activity……..and the list goes on…
In the midst of my "why did I?"'s, I turn to scripture, and see how many times throughout God’s Word, Old and New Testament,people would have loved to have a DO OVER.  From the beginning with Adam & Eve, to Samson, King Saul, King David, and nearly every other King of Israel or Judah, I bet they would have loved a DO OVER!  How about some New Testament examples?  When Jesus spoke of the Rich Man & Lazarus (Luke 16) it is pretty obvious that the Rich Man would have loved an opportunity for a DO OVER.  When we look at the Apostle Peter, don’t you know he would have LOVED to get a DO OVER of the night he denied his Lord and Savior not once, but THREE times!?!  In the life of the Apostle Paul, while still named Saul, he KILLED Christians, and was one of those opposed to Jesus and calling for his Crucifixion!  I’m sure he would have loved an opportunity for a DO OVER!

And so back to today, to reality, to the daily trudge of work and life in which we we all participate…..  Think about how you live and treat others.  So many of the people in Scripture that we hold in high esteem had the same faults, weaknesses, struggles, and temptations in life that we have today.  We need to learn from their mistakes!  Don't spend your life wishing for DO OVERS. Live today and all your tomorrows in such a way that you long for a DO AGAIN rather than a DO OVER. 

Part 6: The Must (Luke. 5:37-38)

And no one puts new wine into old wineskins; otherwise the new wine will burst the skins and it will be spilled out, and the skins will be ruined. But new wine must be put into fresh wineskins. (Luke 5:37, 38 NASB)

The Latin term for young wine "vinum mustum" refers to what is commonly called "must" in winemaking. The must is the just-pressed juice and all the skin, pulp, and seeds. Since wine is a liquid and not a jumble of crushed fruit, the juice will eventually be separated from the must. After the crushing, wine yeast is added to begin the fermentation process. 
For the first few days, while fermentation begins (and those crushed grapes are beginning to be transformed into rich, full-bodied wine), the must remains. It adds flavor to the juice and makes the wine better. Those first few days, it is "must" but in a few days the usefulness of the must comes to an end and it is simply sediment that has to be separated from the juice to avoid spoilage. Must that is allowed to remain with the juice indefinitely will destroy any chance of transformation into quality wine. 

In that same way, the "crushing" that begins the process of transformation for believers will cause the "must" (the old sinful ways, ungodly lifestyle, thoughts, and habits) to separate from the essence that will be retained.  Because of God's great mercy, He does not separate every bit of that must away at once. Instead, He generally peels those layers of sin and hurt away gently and painstakingly. At just the right time, however, our old life will have to go for us to become all that God intends. Separation from our spiritual must is not only inevitable, it is essential and invaluable. If we choose to keep the old way, habits, addictions, hurts, it will only serve to bring destruction to the new creature in Christ we were meant to become. 

What remains of the must in our lives and the lives of our loved ones? How much longer will we cling to what can only bring destruction? Pray today that God will shine light in our darkness and reveal exactly what lingering must needs to be removed so that we can become what God intended. Pray too for hearts that are so tired of the destruction that letting go of the must becomes the highest priority.  

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Part 5: the Crushing (Luke 5:37,38)

And no one puts new wine into old wineskins; otherwise the new wine will burst the skins and it will be spilled out, and the skins will be ruined. But new wine must be put into fresh wineskins. (Luke 5:37, 38 NASB)

The symbolism is this passage is so rich that it will take us a few more days to get through it, so please bear with me. There is a plan. :) 

The people in the agrarian society in which Jesus lived and taught understood the winemaking process, and they understood exactly what He meant in this parable. The process was clearly familiar to Him, as well. Because we are relatively removed from the growing and processing of our food, the analogy loses a little in translation unless we learn the background. 
There are so many references to the fruit and the vine, as well as to wine, in Scripture, that understanding the basics of processing the fruit into the finished product can greatly enhance our understanding in Scripture.   We will save the fruit/vine lessons for later. Today, we are looking at the fruit. 

Once the fruit is ripened on the vine, it is picked by hand and carefully placed in shallow baskets to avoid bruising the fruit. Now, that is interesting because, while you don't want to damage the fruit ahead of time lest it spoil before processing, it is going to have a rough time in that process. When it is time for the winemaking to begin, the carefully protected fruit must be crushed to obtain the juice. It is only with a clear endpoint in sight that crushing is allowed for the fruit. Crushing is no easy process, either.  The grapes are removed from the stems, gathered together, and are crushed by hand in order to split the skins and allow the pulp and seeds to pour forth. While still a grape, albeit a damaged one, that fruit is now in the process of becoming something completely different. Multiple steps will be needed to convert the grape into the wine, some of which may seem as if nothing is being done, but in the end, if everything proceeds according to plan, the grape will be converted to a richly colored, clear liquid that is matured, preserved, and relatively free from the risk of spoilage. It's no longer a grape, but it has become so much more!

The initial crushing is a critical step in the process of transformation for the grape. To become what it is intended to become, the crushing is not optional. In fact, hard as it might seem to a grape, the crushing is desirable because it allows the juice or essence to be recovered and the seeds and waste pulp to be removed. 

None of us really enjoy the crushing, but it is a critical step in becoming what God intends for us as Christians, as well. Our old ways and ungodly self must be removed so that we can become more like Christ, just as the seeds and stems must be removed from the grapes. While the crushing is usually not a pleasurable experience, it is the first step in the journey of becoming the person God intends us to become - mature, stable, full of richness and flavor, more like Christ. That crushing may come in the form of a difficult experience or an overwhelming conviction, but you can be sure that it will come. When we see the crushing as an indication of God at work in our lives and embrace the changes He is bringing in our transformation, that difficult time can become the sweetest experience as we find fresh mercy and grace every step of the way. In the end, the crushing can be one of the most precious gifts of our lives. 

Are you or a loved one experiencing a "crushing" or have you already made it through? Today, thank God that He does not leave us as we are when we come to Him, but continues to change us until He transforms us into Christ's likeness. Pray that the process will be completed in each of us and that we and our loved ones will become exactly what and who He intended us to be. 

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

It's My Fault: The First Step Toward Healing

A few weeks ago, Dr. Ed Leap did a guest blog for Friday Nights with Friends at Lines From Leanna. My guest blog for him was published today at his blog, and I've included the link below. While you are there, look around his website and read a few articles. He's an excellent and insightful writer and a great friend. 

Thanks for "tracking me down" at his website. Enjoy!

Part 4: Perfect Pairings (Luke 5:37-38)

And no one puts new wine into old wineskins; otherwise the new wine will burst the skins and it will be spilled out, and the skins will be ruined. But new wine must be put into fresh wineskins. (Luke 5:37, 38 NASB)

Wine connoisseurs have very specific pairings for their wines. The choice of a particular food/wine combination is based on which wine best enhances and complements the flavor of the food. Characteristics like food texture, aroma, and method of preparation all enter into the choice of pairing. Generally speaking, a white wine would be paired with fish or chicken while a red wine would be paired with beef or lamb. (You can read more about this from WikiHow or just Google it). 

The point is that no wine is suitable for every food. In that same way, no one way of sharing the gospel will be effective for every person. In his letter to the Corinthians, Paul wrote:

"19 Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible... 22b I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. 23 I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings."
1 Corinthians 9:19-23

Paul was one of the most effective evangelists of all time because he took note of the individual and their characteristics. He tailored his presentation of Christ to what they could best understand and to which they could easily respond. It was the same gospel, the same Christ, but presented in a fresh way for each person he met. It was exactly the way Christ met the individual. To some He offered living water, to some the bread of life, but for all He was the spotless Lamb of God come to take away their sins. 

Not every person comes to Christ by the preaching of Billy Graham or the prison ministry of Chuck Colson. In fact, the majority of people come to Christ because of a divinely perfect pairing between seeker and believer. For many, that pairing happens when their friend meets Christ first and shares the Good News with them. Today, pray that those in our loved ones' circle of influence will be so excited  about their relationship with Jesus that they cannot fail to share it in a way that is irresistible. Pray for the perfect seeker/believer combination that leads to life everlasting and fills our loved ones with the sweet aroma of Christ. 

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Part 3: Variations (Luke 5:37)

And no one puts new wine into old wineskins; otherwise the new wine will burst the skins and it will be spilled out, and the skins will be ruined. (Luke 5:37 NASB)

The people of Jesus' day understood the parable intimately because they had either seen wine being made or participated in the making of it. Understanding a little of the process brings fresh light to the words of Jesus, so we are going to spend some time learning about making wine. 

Of course the first ingredient in making wine is grapes, and the variety of grapes have a great deal to do with the flavor and quality of the wine that is produced. In the United States, the name of the wine indicates the type of grape used. For example Chardonnay wine is wine made from a Chardonnay grape. In this country, a wine can be blended with up to 25% of a different variety of grape and still retain it's name. In Europe, however, the name of the wine indicates the region and type of soil where it is grown. 

You may be asking what this has to do with a morning devotion, but it's more pertinent than you might think. The different varieties of grapes produce different types of wine. Red grapes make red wine, white grapes make white wine. The different red or white grapes also make a variation in the types of wine. For example, Zinfandel and Merlot wines both come from red grapes, but the character and color of the wines are vastly different. The location where the grapes are grown (weather, soil) also influence the ultimate outcome of the wine. 

There are different colors, different varieties, different countries of origin but all the grapes can be used to make wine. In that same way, all the different colors, varieties, and nationalities of people may have churches that are vastly different in flavor, but still serve the same Lord. The experience in an African church may be very different from a church in rural Mississippi, but neither of them are any less the body of Christ. Worship styles should not be a point of division, but simply a matter of preference. 

When Jesus talked about the wine in this passage, His only distinction was based on maturity of the wine and nothing else. Perhaps we would do well to see the body of Christ in this way, too. We learned it as children, but it's worth reviewing. 

"Red and yellow, black and white, Jesus loves the little children of the world."

He loves the adults, too, and so should we. 

Today, pray for the eyes of our heart to look for the commonality of Christ in others rather than our differences.  Pray, too, that our loved ones would be drawn to the style of worship that best draws them to Christ, even if it is different from our own. 

Monday, February 3, 2014

Maggie and the Sunbeam

Maggie the Wonder Dog's favorite spot in our house is on the edge of my green ottoman in front of the big picture window. She spends as much time as possible there, usually stretched out and napping. Until recently, I thought it was just a comfy spot for her. 

A few weeks ago, Maggie made a day trip with me and we carried her "upstairs bed" along. When we returned home, the extra bed ended up on the floor in the great room. The next day, I was off work and doing some household chores. Maggie's not much on helping with housework, so she was sleeping on the ottoman. After an hour or so, I realized she had moved to the other side of the ottoman. She got up and played for a while, then started dragging her bed around. She spent the next several hours dragging the bed around, positioning it just right, then snuggling down. It took me a bit, but I finally realized she was chasing the sunbeams. Her first spot on the ottoman is her favorite because that's where the sun shines in on her. She worked all afternoon being sure she could rest in the light of the sun. 

I wish I was as diligent about resting in the light of the Son, don't you? The Heavenly Sonlight of Christ should be the place we most want to inhabit and the place of our greatest rest. Like Maggie dragging her bed around, we need to make whatever adjustment is necessary in our position or priority to be sure we are right in the center of the Light from above. Has your faith walk grown a little cool?  Perhaps you need to move closer to the Son. 

In case you aren't sure how to get in position, take a hint from Maggie. She looks for the light and keeps moving until she's right in the center of the beam, and we should, too. 

Part 2:The Wineskins (Luke 5:36-39)

And He was also telling them a parable: "No one tears a piece of cloth from a new garment and puts it on an old garment; otherwise he will both tear the new, and the piece from the new will not match the old. And no one puts new wine into old wineskins; otherwise the new wine will burst the skins and it will be spilled out, and the skins will be ruined. But new wine must be put into fresh wineskins. And no one, after drinking old wine wishes for new; for he says, 'The old is good enough.'" (Luke 5:36-39 NASB)

Wineskins are also referred to as bota bags. The process is interesting and, until you understand how the wineskins are made, you can't really understand this verse. When an animal, in this case a goat, was slaughtered, nothing was wasted. The skin was tanned and used for variety of projects. One project might be to make a wineskin. Two pieces of the tanned leather were cut to shape and fitted together. Using an awl, tiny holes were punched all around the leather and cord or thin strips of leather were used to stitch the two sides together. Pitch (tree resin) was used  to coat the inside of the bag to seal it. The goat bladder (cleaned and secured at one end) would be carefully inserted into the mouth opening, and a piece of horn would be used as a mouthpiece. 

The bag, once made, had to be matured. As I understand it, there was an important step between the pitch coating and the bladder insertion. New wine was used to finish the bag. The newest wine was needed. Ideally, wine that had just begun to ferment would be used. As the carbon dioxide was released in the fermenting process, the gas would cause the bag to stretch and expand. While the pitch made it waterproof, the new wine made it flexible. The new wine also absorbed the taste and odor of the pitch, and was discarded after the bag was matured. Once matured, the bag would no longer be used for new wine. It was ready to perform the service for which it was made - to carry the fully fermented wine. In essence, the new wine made way for the mature wine because it made a secure place for the mature wine to be carried.

Jesus was not saying that He had come to discard the old wine, nor that the new wine was better. Remember these verses immediately follow the discussion about why His disciples didn't fast. Matthew Henry suggests two possibilities. The first is that He was teaching His disciples a new way to experience their faith (new wine in flexible wineskins). There would come a time when more mature wine and greater discipline was appropriate but for now, the new wine experience was needed. 

Have you had a "new wine" experience with Christ recently? Have you experienced the expansion and sparkle of fresh wine in your faith walk? This exciting time was part of what drew people to Jesus, and it still draws people today. 

Pray today for a "new wine" faith experience for us as well as for our loved ones. Pray that our faith will be expanded and that the sweet aroma of Christ would be released to those around us. 

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Part 1:Wineskins:old and new (Luke 5:36-39)

And He was also telling them a parable: "No one tears a piece of cloth from a new garment and puts it on an old garment; otherwise he will both tear the new, and the piece from the new will not match the old. And no one puts new wine into old wineskins; otherwise the new wine will burst the skins and it will be spilled out, and the skins will be ruined. But new wine must be put into fresh wineskins. And no one, after drinking old wine wishes for new; for he says, 'The old is good enough. '" (Luke 5:36-39 NASB)

There was a reason Jesus told this parable following the discussion about why his disciples were not fasting. When Jesus arrived, the Jewish religion was " established". There was the law as well as the countless other rules and regulations that had been added to "explain" the law. The whole business had become bulky and rigid. It wasn't about faith anymore. It was mostly about rules. There were people who found faith in the midst of the rules, but the rules predominated. 

Jesus came and clarified religion for us. Our religion, our righteousness was to be by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone. Radical! Jesus cut the entire law down to two brief sentences. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind.  Love your neighbor as yourself. This faith was based on relationship with the Almighty rather than rules that could be mindlessly followed. 

When you have a series of rules to follow, but not a relationship, it becomes a stiff, inflexible kind of religion. A religion based on love and faith is completely different. There is room to grow and expand. 

What does this have to do with wine and wine skins? Wine skins were made from goat skin and lined with goat bladder. The bladder is obviously designed for holding liquid. If one end is secured, it becomes an excellent receptacle. Because it is fragile, the bladder would be protected by an outer covering of tanned skin. 

New wineskins are flexible until the tanning process is complete. An old wine skin is stiff and strong with age, but not flexible at all. Jesus was comparing the Jewish religious structure to the old stiff wineskin. No longer flexible or able to expand. He was suggesting that flexibility was needed. More on this tomorrow as we talk about the wine in those wine skins. 

When you've done something a while, whether in work or religion, it is easy to become "set in your ways". It is also easy to become so "set" that you become rigid and unbending. How about our faith? Are we doing the same thing day after day or experiencing Christ in a new, fresh way on a daily basis?  

Pray today that we will have a fresh encounter with our Lord and that He will surround our loved ones with those who also experience Christ with a fresh, ever growing and expanding faith. Pray, too, that they will desire that faith for themselves.