A Bottle In The Smoke

This is a re-post.  This article previously ran on Servehiminthewaiting on August 17 of 2012.

In Bible times, “bottles” were leather pouches made from animal hides that had been through the “tanning” process.  This was a procedure by which the skins were dried, cured and preserved through “smoking” them over a fire of oak , chestnut or other woods with high tannin content.  To this day, tannin is highly valued and widely used for it’s anti-oxident qualities, by the wine-making as well as the leather-making industries.  

My husband and I have been married for “going on 18 years”, now.  We were both 30 years old when we met.  I had been married before, (no children), and came with some significant wounds and baggage.  He was not previously married.  We have two boys, now 16 and 14.  Our family has been through some pretty rocky times through the years.  Times when we didn’t know where the money was going to come from to put food on the table, times of facing sickness and unknown outcomes, times of struggle and hardship, like most families.  Sometimes it seemed there was just no end in sight, of the “plugging through” the challenges.  We would pray, sometimes weep, pray, stumble and trudge our way through another wearying day in a long series of wearying days under frustrating and disappointing circumstances.  There were times that in our own heartache, we’d  draw inward, and drift apart, things growing quiet as we each strived to conquer our own doubts and fears.  But always, always we came back together, prayed through together, and our faithful Lord would give us either the unexplained peace that comes from the acceptance of what is, or sometimes even insight into the why’s and wherefores.

One such instance took place recently.  As my husband has struggled a long time in regards to his work and his desire, like every good man has, to provide well for his family.   It seemed to my husband that despite always seeking God, submitting himself to the Lord and pleading with God to make him what God wanted him to be, my husband remained frustrated and at a loss.  He kept saying, “where have I grown, why does it seem like I haven’t learned anything?  Why does God seem unable to get through to me, when I keep praying for wisdom?  I just want to feel like I am pleasing Him.  What am I doing wrong???!!!”

There are just times when we can’t see where God is making any headway with us at all, and sometimes we find ourselves praying,”Lord, if you don’t mind doing it, I could really use some affirmation, some indication from You that I am not unteachable, that there is something somewhere along the line I have learned or have done that pleases You”.

And He does!

He showed us that all the closed doors, all the set-backs, all the disappointments, and all the “doing without” has given us a strong marriage, made us a closer family that works great as a team, given us obedient and contented kids, who know the value of the Bible, prayer, and church.  Had things been easy-breezy, and had He given us the desires of our wicked and foolish hearts, things would have been very different.  Instead He has given us new desires.  Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart.  But first he has to purify those desires, and mold them into the desire for things that are actually good for us.  The process is painful, harsh, unpleasant.  Just as a bottle in the smoke.  Once we are “cured” then He delights in granting and fulfilling those new and Godly desires within us.

God deals in matters of the heart.  My husband wanted the satisfaction and fulfillment of being able to give his family a nice home, and other things just to please us.  Who doesn’t feel good when they give someone a nice gift?  But God has better gifts in mind.

Everybody, I mean everybody, has something that is “their thing”.  That thing might evidence itself as their own measuring stick of success as a human being, like my husband’s desire to give to his family,  or it could manifest as some line they refuse to allow to be crossed.  Having been in abusive relationships in the past, my “thing” is a dogged determination that no one is going to take me for granted,  pressure, abuse, bully or disrespect me.  And they shouldn’t.  But as a Christian, this determination could potentially lead to less-than-Christlike attitudes.  We are supposed to ”turn the other cheek”, after all.  So this “thing” in me, has to be tweaked and tuned until it lines up with God’s standard.   It is good that I know my worth in Christ, and refuse to be a doormat or punching bag, just as the natural desire of a good man to provide for his family is programmed into men’s hard-drive by God Himself.  But God must purify these things in us, and our understanding of them, or else we could turn right around and get prideful about knowing what we know, or could mis-apply them somehow.

Some men and women pride themselves in career accomplishments, some in their physical fitness, or any area of expertise.  Some stay-at-home Moms are very proud that they don’t run off and leave their kids for someone else to raise, “like certain other moms do”.

Anyone can take a good principle, and veer off the”straight and narrow” with it.

Even churches do this.  Well-meaning leaders make small compromises that, over time, and allowed to drift into  extremes, result in error or even apostacy, all in the name of trying to keep “relevent”.

What my husband and I have ultimately learned about church, is there is only one template by which to measure a church and that is the Holy Bible, and it’s example in the New Testament church.  If something comes up at church, that doesn’t quite ring true or doesn’t set right, we don’t run to the preacher, but to the Word.  If there is an expectation that doesn’t line up, then we know we are free to disregard it, and anyone inclined to give us grief over that, can  show us  the Biblical basis for their assertion, at which time we will comply, but otherwise, they might just get set free from a yoke of bondage when they do search it out in scripture for themselves.  Satan likes to entangle us in legalisms, extremes, and gray areas.

My son asked me the other day, in terms of church and the Bible, why are  pierced ears okay, and a piercing of the nose or lip or eyebrow not?  That is a legitimate question.  I am thankful God has enabled us to raise kids who are learning to think for themselves, rather than just do what they are told unquestioningly.  If we teach them to merely do what they are told, then what is going to happen when they get under the authority of someone later in life who has no scruples and a morality based on humanism or some other ungodly ideal?

The truth is, the reluctance about piercings  has sprung from passages in I Peter 3:3 and I Timothy 2:9 that speak of modesty for women who are followers of Christ. (And maybe Leviticus 19:28, which I’ll get to below).

 Whose adorning let it not be that outward adorning of plaiting the hair, and of wearing of gold, or of putting on of apparel;  In like manner also, that women adorn themselves in modest apparel,  with shamefacedness and sobriety; not with braided hair, or gold, or pearls, or costly array.

As you can see, there is no specific mention of earrings nose rings, eyebrow rings, etc, and if you were going to be strictly literal, you could say, there’s nothing there about wearing silver, (only gold), that women should never braid their hair, and  I Peter 3:3 could even be construed to say women’s adorning should not include putting on apparel.  (Whaa?) ( Hey, God inspired the writing of it. Read it for yourself.  Take it up with Him., lol).  Of course we know from the “whole counsel” of scripture, that public nakedness is reprobate and forbidden.  So that cannot be what is meant there.  The principle is that your focus should not be on your adornment, your outward appearance, but “the inward man/woman”.  I think it is saying more than anything, the outward stuff is pretty irrelevant, but we should avoid creating a distraction of attention away from God. If it’s gaudy or ostentatious, or immodest, you’ll be drawing attention to self.  Same with tattoos and such.  I have a tattoo.   It is a small gold ladybug on the top of my left foot. It was actually a commemoration of a really precious memory of something the Lord did for me one day.  I did not know 4 years ago, even as a Christian when I got it, that tattooing is historically a pagan practice.  I knew tattoos were controversial, but somehow had never been aware of Leviticus 19:28 which says  Ye shall not make any cuttings in your flesh for the dead, nor print any marks upon you: I am the LORD.  My tattoo certainly wasn’t in memorial of the dead.  But ”nor print any marks upon you” is pretty straightforward.  Still, does that mean when I sat in class, bored, drawing smiley faces on my fingertips to make finger-puppets, I was breaking God’s law? If I had been aware of that verse, and I admit I should have been, I don’t think I would have had the tattoo.   I did put it in a spot where even most flip-flops cover it up, so that I would not offend those who might be offended by it.  When Jesus came, it was to set us free from the condemnation of the law.  The law is in effect still, but the condemnation is not, (for the blood-washed believer).

The truth is, a lot of the specific standards which various churches cling to, are based much more on culture and tradition than the  Bible, whether they would like to admit it or not.  Here is another example: the Bible says we should be joyful in our salvation, but it also says there is a time for everything under the sun.  So the idea the Christian should be ever-smiling and upbeat also doesn’t square with the “whole counsel” of the scriptures.  Here is another thought-provoking question: Where in the New Testament, are believers told to kneel at an alter to pray,  or when they want to be saved, to pray a prayer asking Jesus to “come into their heart”?

There is probably nothin wrong with using those particular words.   There’s certainly nothing wrong with striving to look your best for the Lord, and keep high standards in all you do.  That is scriptural.  The concept of Biblical separation should, however, only be based on the Bible’s examples of being in the world but not of it.  If a church sets out merely to be as different from the world as it can be, it is still using the world, instead of the Bible, for its reference-point, and may even end up pushing away the very people they would like to draw in.   It could be “so separate” it loses all impact.

These extremes are  like a man who was raised by an overbearing and violent father, choosing to never spank or discipline or deprive his kid in any way.  The result of both courses, is a ruined and socially mal-adjusted kid.  One broken and crushed, the other overly indulged and self-centered.  Following the old paths is good, as long as it is the paths of The Old Book, not just of the old previous generations  (who were, incidentally,  wicked-hearted and prideful like the present generation) .  Heck, the Pharisees did that much!

I was raised in a sheltered environment, and when I left the safety of that I was ill-equipped to successfully navigate the treacherous obstacle course of temptations and pitfalls of the world.  It was very costly in the end.  We all have stuff from childhood and upbringing in an imperfect world by imperfect parents that we have to overcome, but the hardships we go through, when taken to the Lord, can be the very means by which we grow and learn. Just like an artist creating a masterpiece, there are many steps and phases to God’s molding us into Christ-likeness. We are thankful that God loves us enough to place us in the “smoke” of uncertainty and frustration, learning and testing, so that He can make us into the promised “new creatures in Christ” and just like that bottle in the smoke, cure and perfect and preserve His masterful work in us.

I  am become like a bottle in the smoke; yet do I not forget thy statutes. Psalm 119:83