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Archive for November, 2009

This article first appeared in the West Douglas County Record on September 3, 2009:

Life on this Earth is filled with hard knocks. In fact, many of you readers are Honors Graduates of the School of Hard Knocks, and I salute you. What do we learn when hard knocks come our way? One man in the Bible who received a hard knock was named Nabal, and I Samuel 25:38 says “the LORD struck Nabal, and he died (ESV).” That almost doesn’t sound fair. Did God single out Nabal for an especially hard knock? I don’t think so, and let me explain why.

Here’s the background story. Nabal was a rich but foolish man who lived during King David’s time, about 1000 BC. In fact the name Nabal means “Fool.” It makes me wonder if it was his birth name or if he acquired it later through reputation. But he had a wise and beautiful wife named Abigail. Before David gained power as king, he and his men had protected Nabal’s shepherds while they were tending their sheep, and the shepherds appreciated their protection and their honesty. When it came time for the shepherds to shear the sheep and take the wool to market, David sent a few men to Nabal to ask for payment for their protection services, but Nabal rudely refused. In anger David ordered his men to take up arms against Nabal and his men, but Abigail quickly brought David a peace offering and begged for mercy and forgiveness for her husband. David realized the error of his own angry, murderous response, and granted Abigail’s request by calling off the war. Abigail didn’t tell Nabal about this until he woke up
the morning after a drunken feast, and when he heard what all had happened, “his heart died within him, and he became as a stone (I Sam. 25:27), and ten days later he died.

So, what killed Nabal? Was his hard knock from God harder than other people’s hard knocks from God? I don’t think so. I think he died because of the stony hardness of his heart. If a strong man hits a rock with a sledgehammer, the rock will shatter, but if he hits a bouncier object like a basketball just as hard, it will absorb the impact and probably bounce all the way to the other end of the court. What was Nabal’s hard knock? He was confronted with the fact that he had been wrong, and that only the wise actions of
his wife and servants had saved him from disaster. I think that if he’d been willing to admit that he was wrong, he would have bounced back instead of dying when the LORD struck him.

Nabal’s servant said that Nabal was “such a worthless man that one cannot speak to him.” Sometimes we bring hard knocks upon ourselves, but other times they come by no fault of our own. Either way, God has allowed them to come our way. When God allows us to go through hard knocks, it’s because He wants us to learn something from them. He could be telling us we need to change our ways, or He may be simply building our patience, or training us to be a help to someone else. Let’s learn to be willing to listen to the voice of God, and listen to the good advice of others, and be willing to admit when we’re wrong. Then, when the hard knocks come, we’ll bounce back and learn and grow while enrolled in the School of Hard Knocks!

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This article was first published in the West Douglas County Record on September 17, 2009:

What does the word “religion” mean to you? Sadly, to many people it means a list of dos and don’ts, trying to follow a ritual (I hope I don’t stand or sit at the wrong time, or someone might frown at me!), or worst of all, a “holier-than-thou” attitude. I think this is why many Christians say that “Christianity isn’t a religion, it’s a relationship.” They’re really trying to say that Christianity is basically about knowing a Person named Jesus and not about the rules and regulations, and I agree completely.

Yet, what does the Bible say about religion? Is it always something bad? The truth is, the Bible says many things about God the Father, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, grace, faith, hope, love, and good works, but very little about religion. In fact, the word “religion” is used only five times in the Bible. If you’d like to read those five verses for yourself, they are Acts 25:19, Acts 26:5, Colossians 2:23 and James 1:26 and 27. If you read those verses, you’ll see that sometimes religion can be worthless, but it can also be good. James 1:27 is a key verse: “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.” That verse clearly says that there’s a such a thing as good religion that pleases God, and that’s why I can’t bring myself to say that the Christian faith is not a religion. I’d rather say that it’s the right kind of religion, based upon a right relationship with the right Person.

The English word “religion” comes from a root that means to tie or bind. Worthless religion ties us to burdens we can’t bear and to habits that destroy us and others, but “pure, undefiled” religion ties and connects us to that which gives us freedom and life. The word “ligament” comes from the same root (notice the “lig” in both words), and without our ligaments and sinews binding muscle to bone, we wouldn’t be able to move! They are a type of binding that gives us freedom. Pure, undefiled religion means being bound by love to God and neighbor, and showing this love by being a positive, helpful presence in the lives of the poor, small, suffering, and weak. The purest, most undefiled religion of all was when the Son of God and Son of Man, bound by love for us sinners, allowed Himself to be tied and nailed to a cross, freeing us from the bonds of sin by taking them upon Himself.

“Blest be the tie that binds our hearts in Christian love, the fellowship of kindred minds is like to that above.” That’s religion AND a relationship!

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This article was first published in the West Douglas County Record on October 1, 2009:

Psalm 37:4 says “Delight yourself in the LORD, and He will give you the desires of your heart.” That’s quite a promise, isn’t it? I certainly don’t get everything I want, even when I pray for it. Someone has said that God answers prayer in three different ways: Yes, No, and Wait. I think God must think I need to learn more patience, because He frequently gives me what I ask for eventually, but not until after a long delay. Why is this? I think a key to understanding Psalm 37:4 is to focus on the first phrase, “Delight yourself in the LORD.” Put aside the second phrase for awhile, and just take delight in knowing Him by trusting, praying, and reading a little from the Bible each day. Go ahead and ask the LORD for what you desire, take those things to the cross and leave them there, and let Him decide what to do with them. Do you know what will happen? When you delight yourself in the LORD, it changes your desires! You will want less and less of the things that you don’t really need, and more and more of what the LORD already wants to give you! Delighting yourself in the LORD is like delighting in someone else you love: you want to spend time just being with that person, and you start becoming like that person. It’s the same way with God. The more time you spend with Him, the more you will want the good things He already plans to give you, and when you ask for them, He’ll say, “yes, I have it here ready and waiting for you (although sometimes He’ll still say “Yes, but wait a little while!).

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This article was first published in the West Douglas County Record on October 15, 2009:

Sixteen years ago I was working as an activities coordinator at a nursing home. I regularly checked in on a lady who was 103, in good health, and very friendly, but rather hard of hearing. She also had poor vision, and to say hello I had to bend down and get right in front of her face. But when she saw me, and almost heard me, she would smile, and her eyes beamed right through her thick glasses. It was fun to talk with her, but very difficult to communicate, because she never quite understood what I was saying, even though she thought she did. Once she thought she knew what I was saying, it was impossible to correct her, and I eventually gave up on trying to correct her. I just went with whatever story she thought she had heard from me.

C.S. Lewis, author of the Chronicles of Narnia, Mere Christianity, and many other famous books, had a similar communication gap with his father, but with more serious results. He writes in his spiritual autobiography, Surprised By Joy:

“The first and simplest barrier to communication was that, having earnestly asked, he did not ‘stay for an answer’ or forgot it the moment it was uttered. . . .Long before he had understood or even listened to your words, some accidental hint had set his imagination to work, he had produced his own version of the facts, and believed that he was getting it from you. . . .Tell him that a boy called Churchwood had caught a field mouse and kept it as a pet, and a year, or ten years later, he would ask you, ‘Did you ever hear what became of poor Chickweed who was so afraid of the rats?’ For his own version, once adopted, was indelible, and attempts to correct it only produced an incredulous ‘Hm! Well, that’s not the story you used to tell.’”

It sounds humorous, but this communication gap caused real damage to the relationship between Lewis and his father. He stopped telling his father anything that was truly important to say, knowing it would only be misunderstood.
The Bible has lots to say about listening to others. James 1:17 says “Be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger.” Proverbs 18:13 tells us not to interrupt: “He who answers before listening- that is his folly and his shame.” A few verses earlier, Proverbs 18:2 says “A fool finds no pleasure in understanding but delights in airing his own opinions.” That reminds me of the t-shirt I’ve seen that says, “If I want your opinion I’ll give it to you!” I think people who actually wear the t-shirt understand that it’s a joke, but sadly there are others who really don’t see any need to have their own thoughts interrupted by listening to someone else’s.
Three things that make it hard for us to listen to others are impatience (I think I already know what she’s going to say, so why should I let her finish her sentence?), anger (Why should I listen to HIM?), and pride (What does anybody have to tell ME?). A tip: if someone close to you has stopped telling you anything that’s truly important and just tells you things that are nice or vague or safe, it could be a sign that you have a listening problem and they’ve given up on trying to communicate with you. Another tip: the greatest Listener in the Universe is God, and He’ll listen to your prayers anytime, without interruption!

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This article was first published in the West Douglas County Record on November 12, 2009:

I love Bible mysteries. Here and there the Bible mentions something truly fascinating, then goes on to the next subject without any further explanation. One such place is in Matthew 27:52 and 53, where Matthew is telling us about things that happened immediately after Jesus died on the cross: “And the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised; And coming out of their graves after His resurrection, they went into the holy city and appeared to many (NKJV).” I find this story utterly amazing, and what further amazes me is that these two verses are the only place in the whole Bible where this story is told. Matthew’s Gospel is the only one of the four Gospels (Bible books about the life of Jesus) that breathes a word about these events. What really makes me scratch my head is wondering, what happened to these people after they rose from their graves and appeared to many in Jerusalem? Did they eventually die again? Did they go on to Heaven? Are they still on Earth appearing to people? We don’t know, because the Bible doesn’t tell us.

Back in 1987 I was studying how to tune and repair pianos, and my Dad bought me a big old upright piano so I could practice my new craft. We hauled it home in a pickup and unwisely thought we could get away without strapping it down. Our last turn before reaching home was a downhill left turn from Highway 27 onto Birch Avenue on the East side of Alexandria. In those days that corner was a hazardous five-way intersection, and Dad unexpectedly had to brake for a car that appeared while he was already turning left. We felt the back end of the pickup lurch upward as the piano tumbled out of the box and into the middle of the intersection. Things did not look good. Suddenly a huge, burly man with dark curly hair and beard stepped out of a car, single-handedly lifted the piano on his shoulder, set it back in the pickup box, and was gone as suddenly as he appeared. Sometimes we wonder, was he an angel? The Bible tells us that angels are real, “ministering spirits sent forth to minister for those who will inherit salvation (Hebrews 1:14 NKJV).” Or could our rescuer have been one of the resurrected saints from Matthew 27, still travelling about on Earth and doing good deeds? Or was he simply someone with a lot of brute strength, perhaps an Olympic Greco-Roman wrestler? We don’t know, but whoever he was, we’re awefully thankful that God sent him at our time of need. By the way, the piano didn’t make it, but thanks to our big God-sent friend, nobody was hurt.

Pastor Michael Peterson

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Inspired Zaniness

Daniel Amos, Da, The Swirling Eddies, The Neverhood Chronicles, SkullMonkeys, The Lost Dogs. However packaged, Terry Scott Taylor and his henchmen have brought Contemporary Christian Music some of its most memorable, original, and sometimes strange music. Here’s a little gem I hadn’t heard since the Reagan Era. First, the track from the Vox Humana album, with just a couple of still pictures to go along with it:

Then here they are at the Cornerstone ’85 festival collaborating with a cooperative audience. Man, that’s almost a quarter century ago …

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