Strong Wine (Angel in the Kitchen)

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Our home in New Kent, Virginia is within a short drive of two wineries. When out-of-state guests visit us, we like to take them to tour one of these companies nursing a process that’s about 8,000 years old. As we previously stated, we’re not wine connoisseurs, nor do we drink alcoholic beverages of any type; but we do cook with it. And we find the history and process of winemaking an interesting subject. For instance, God created winemaking.

New Kent Winery, New Kent, VA

Take a deep breath and relax. When God designed the grape, He impregnated the skins with a microorganism known as yeast. This microorganism occurs naturally on every single grape that ever grew on a vine — and it’s the key ingredient needed to jumpstart the fermentation process, which produces wine from plain juice. So, if you crush grapes and leave the juice to it’s own devices, sooner or later the fruit sugars will ferment to alcohol! Hence, it was inevitable that God’s people discovered a process that God in His wisdom engineered.

Grapes are an excellent source of antioxidants, and regular consumption of the fruit may yield several potential health benefits, such as the prevention of cancer, heart disease, and high blood pressure. But wine made from grapes seems to intensify these health benefits, and its alcohol content has a medicinal affect. In fact, the Apostle Paul, instructed his protege Timothy to “Stop drinking only water, and use a little wine because of your stomach and frequent illnesses.” (1 Timothy 5:23 NIV) No doubt, the stress of shepherding a sometimes contrary congregation was beginning to take a toll on Timothy in the form of an upset stomach, and a little wine can be soothing. Note, however, the keywords a little! 

As with several other wonderful things created by God, many people have abused alcohol and reaped the destructive effects of doing so; but God actually intended wine to be a comfort. Psalm 104:14-15 declares, “You make wine to cheer human hearts, olive oil to make faces shine, and bread to strengthen human hearts.” (GW) The fermented drink was consumed during all of “The Feasts of the Lord” (Leviticus 23:1-2) which most people now refer to as specifically Jewish holidays. And Jesus made it the object of His first public miracle when He turned water into wine at a wedding feast.

Wine is furthermore linked to joy in a dozen Bible verses, such as, “[God’s people will] cry out with joy … over the Lord’s goodness, over the grain, the new wine, the fresh oil….” (Jeremiah 31:12 ISV); and “Fill my heart with joy when their grain and new wine abound….” (Psalm 4:7 NIV) “Joy” is defined as a sense of well-being, gladness, or exhilaration of spirits — despite one’s circumstances. It’s the inner conviction that everything is going to turn out for the best, even in the midst of adversity. Joy is listed among the fruit of the Spirit, in Galatians 5:22; and it’s cultivated by “abiding” in God (John 15:5). See also yesterday’s post, “New Wine.”)

Joy is one of the main themes of the Book of Philippians. In expounding on the theme, Dr. David Jeremiah writes, “The reason for Paul’s joy was his relationship with Christ! …We will observe the testing of that joy in the crucible of Roman imprisonment. If Paul’s relationship to his Master could bring joy under those conditions, then surely we who also love the Savior can learn to rejoice in our difficult times as well.” (Turning Toward Joy, p.13)

Extended periods of sorrow, and a gloom-and-doom attitude can make you sick! On the other hand, “A joyful heart is good medicine.” (Proverbs 17:22 NASB) So no matter what happens, no matter what someone says, it’s far better to stay filled with the spirit of joy than to munch on sour grapes! Sour grapes will do nothing but pucker up your mouth, but maintaining your joy will actually empower you!

The Prophet Nehemiah stated, “Don’t be dejected and sad, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.” (Nehemiah 8:10 NLT) The prophet wrote this to his people during some truly tough times. But he was admonishing all of us that joy and strength are connected: they flow from the same divine wellspring.

Charles Swindoll states in his book Laugh Again! (also based on Philippians): “I know of no greater need today than the need for joy…. When that kind of joy comes aboard our ship of life, it brings  good things with it — like enthusiasm for life, determination to hang in there,  and a strong desire to be an encouragement to others…. There is nothing better than a joyful attitude when we face the challenges life throws at us.” (p. 19)

Joy is like strong wine! But how do you keep your joy, and hence, your strength, in the midst of a fallen and often negative world? First, you make a conscious decision to be joyful, because joy, like love, is a choice — not a feeling! That’s why Paul wrote, while sitting in a dirty prison cell, “Rejoice in the Lord always, and again I say rejoice.” (Philippians 4:4) Train your mind to focus on the positive, because you are what you think! (Proverbs 23:7) Continually count your blessings; focus on God’s love and acceptance; and be glad to be alive!

Don’t get stuck in yesterday’s disappointments. Each day is a new beginning with new opportunities. Declare each new morning, “This the day the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it.” (Psalm 118:24 Holman)

Stay in God’s presence, because “…In [His] presence there is fullness of joy.” (Psalm 16:1 ESV) How do we stay in God’s presence? As we wrote last week, by abiding in Him. Remember, Christ said, “I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever abides in Me … bears much fruit….” (John 15:5 ESV) We abide in Christ by staying closely connected to God, the source of our strength, through prayer and daily Bible study. Give God a little quality time each day, and let Him guide you in all things; and in return, He’ll give you the strength to overcome life’s challenges!

No matter what comes your way, you’ll lead a fruitful life characterized by contagious joy! Declare to God, “You have given me greater joy than those who have abundant harvests … and new wine.” (Psalm 4:7 NLT) “The Lord is the strength of my life!” (Psalm 27:1 KJB)

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New Wine (Angel in the Kitchen)

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We continue our discussion of grapes with a juicy bit of culinary history that begins in 1861, when Charles K. Landis purchased 30,000 acres of agricultural land in New Jersey with the intention of creating an alcohol-free “utopian” society for himself and like-minded families who were willing to help farm the countryside and construct his “temperance town.” Landis eventually named the town Vineland, because after discovering the soil and climate were ideal for growing grapes, the entrepreneur started selling 20-acre parcels to numerous Italian grape growers … who quickly arrived and started growing grapes … to use in the production of wine … a fermented drink … containing alcohol … in a temperance town. See, fact is always stranger than fiction!

Vineland ultimately became famous for the grape adventures of Thomas Welch, a Wesleyan Methodist minister who lived a very full and colorful life. He was ordained at the age of 19 and, because the Methodists were staunchly opposed to slavery in America, Welch became active in the Underground Railroad transporting escaped slaves from the South into Canada.

Welch preached the Gospel until his voice played out — literally — and then went to medical school in New York. After becoming a doctor, and later specializing in dentistry, he moved to Vineland and set up a practice. Vineland was home to a large Methodist community, and Methodists were as staunchly opposed to the sale and consumption of alcohol as they were to slavery. However, since wine is served during communion services, this posed an interesting problem for the church.

Prior to the arrival of Welch, the church substituted grape juice, made by adding water to a juice concentrate, for wine. But in 1869, the good doctor invented a method of pasteurizing grape juice to stop the fermentation process. He then formed a company to manufacture “Dr. Welch’s Unfermented Wine,” and persuaded local congregations to use his non-alcoholic “wine” in their communion services. So, next time you see a jar of Welch’s grape jelly, or a bottle of the company’s grape drink, remember that behind their label there’s a history involving quite a colorful fellow!

And the next time you think about wine, consider this: The Bible does not prohibit the drinking of wine! Now, before we go any further, please allow us to state several things in our defense: first, we understand that people tend to be divided over the issue of alcohol; the consumption of alcoholic beverages can be habit forming, leading to overindulgence and drunkenness; and in such cases, alcohol has destroyed careers, torn families apart, and claimed countless lives. Alcohol has a horrible reputation for being a catalyst for evil. So, If you’re teetotalers, just as we ourselves are, then we applaud you. But the fact remains, alcohol was present in the wine consumed throughout the Bible.

Wine — fermented wine — was enjoyed during the Jewish holidays designated as “The Feasts of the Lord.” (Leviticus 23:2-4) Furthermore, Jesus Christ chose to perform His first miracle at a wedding feast in Cana by turning water into wine. In doing so, Christ answered the anxious social concerns of His mother Mary, by saving His hosts from an embarrassing situation: running out of wine during a celebration — a definite no-no in a culture that viewed wine as an integral part of life.

Wine was so prevalent in Biblical times, that Jesus used the subject of wine to illustrate several spiritual lessons. For instance, He stated, in Matthew 9:17, that new wine (symbolic of the Holy Spirit and salvation by grace through Christ) should never be stored in an old wineskin (symbolic of an inflexible, legalistic, usually hypocritical mindset that refused to accept the teachings and saving work of the Savior) — because the old wineskins would burst! Why? Because gases are released during the fermentation process that produces alcoholic wine; but new wineskins were “stretchy” enough to expand like a balloon. An old wineskin had lost its elasticity, and could no longer expand; instead, it would burst from the pressure of the fermentation gases produced by new wine.

So we have this bit of science, along with several Biblical references, as proof that the wine being discussed in the Word of God is of an alcoholic nature — and not just grape juice. Alas, as every wino knows, too much of the “grape” leads to a dissolute life. Proverbs 20:1 states, “Wine is a mocker, strong drink a brawler, and whoever is intoxicated by it is not wise.” (NASB) Anyone who’s had a little too much to drink can probably attest to this truth: alcohol lowers inhibitions, diminishes good judgement, and loosens the tongue. An overindulgence in strong drink can cause a person to lose control. When you’re “under the influence,” it’s the alcohol that’s calling the shots.

The Apostle Paul commands us not to overindulge in anything — or to lose “self-control,” which is one of the fruits of the Spirit we’re to cultivate. He writes, “…Don’t get drunk with wine, which leads to reckless actions, but be filled by the Spirit.” (Ephesians 5:18 Holman) Sound words!

Remember that Christ compared the Spirit of God to “new wine”? That’s because the abundant life God grants each believer can be “intoxicating” — as long as we’re abiding in Him! (John 15:5) It’s the only “wine” we really need. It’s impossible to overindulge in it, but even when we do, we don’t have to deal with early-morning hangovers, or worry about the stupid things we did the night before. We don’t lose control, but we do stay tuned in to God and ready for every good work. (Titus 3:1) See “God is Grape!”

In moderation, wine is okay. Alcoholic abuse is not; nor is letting strong drink control our lives. God set us free; let’s stay that way!

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