Thursday, April 5, 2018

Friendly Fire

Wandering too close to danger,
to charging currents skirling up,
reeling skyward through the murk
past kites and flocks and Boeing busses,
odor of ozone in their wake...

I defy the winds and wariness
that seek to drive me back to safety--
to the shelter of my hall of mirrors
where all I sense is under control.

Daring the death darts flashing past
as if they fly at my command:
celestial surges coruscating
in ingenious fractal forms,
I feel warmed by bolting flames
that once lapped up Carmelite waters,
wood, stones and sacrifice...

For I trust the Genesis, the Just One,
the Generator of all photons, forces,
phenomena that threaten things physical
with the holy hazard of unapproachable light.


MNA
4/5/2018

Friday, March 23, 2018

Choices

Jonathan Edwards famously defined the will as "the mind choosing."

I look at our culture, our media, our supermarkets, our institutions, our churches, and what do I see?

Choices.

Am I the only one who gets mind freeze when confronted by the continual endless parade of choices that passes before our eyes?

More and better choices are a GOOD thing, right? They're what our Free Enterprise System is all about! I mean, what did people do before they could choose between 200+ varieties of ice cream?

Sometimes I imagine what a mind from Jonathan Edwards' generation would make of this century's unlimited access to streaming online videos 24 hours a day from the convenience of your laptop/cell phone/tablet/game system/(insert latest tech-wonder here).

Would such a mind be paralyzed? Or just choose at random?

I guess what I'm wondering amounts to: as what point does the multiplex of choices exceed rational thought?

Am I just being a Puritan-esque kill-joy here? To be considering the dark side of endless choices?

Or is the expanding universe of options training our wills to choose mindlessly? Or even worse, to choose un-spiritually?

For one thing, evaluating each of a multitude of choices takes more time. Lots more.

Just think of the the hours and hours you and I have wasted channel-surfing or sifting through the websites that pop up when we Google?

Older guys like I can recall the time when a trip to the movie theater or drive-in involved a single screen with one or two features preceded by a Bugs Bunny or Mickey Mouse cartoon. Now it's a mega-plex of choices that leaves you wondering if you are missing a better choice in the neighboring theater.

Time is a limited commodity. More choices mean lengthier decision-making, taking up more time.

Yes, there are people who revel in endless choices, who are always hankering after something new, who have every flavor at Baskin Robbins on their bucket list.

But I want to suggest that there's something reassuring to meet a person who's content with the tried and true, content with one or two favorite channels, doesn't lose sleep wondering what he's missing out on by settling on one breakfast cereal, or one well-worn pair of shoes...

A person like that usually has time to spare, time to ponder and meditate, time to spend with a friend who's hurting, time to turn some pages of a time-honored Book.

Time to spend with the Author.

The will is "the mind choosing." You and I can choose wisely...

If we take the time.


MNA
3/23/2018



Sunday, March 4, 2018

Wonder in Capernaum

A crumbling roof above the preacher’s head...
A stirring in his soul...
A male quartet lowering a sick man’s bed
Down through their desperate hole...
No obstacle barred the way
To their plea for aid that day.
And faith in Jesus led them to their goal.

The Son of Man assured the palsied soul
He now was reconciled
To a holy God, his spirit now made whole--
A cleansed, forgiven child...
And to prove Christ had that power,
Freed the man that very hour
From the scourge by which his body lay defiled.

And criticisms crumbled like that roof
As, healed, the man strode out,
His bed-mat carried off as living proof--
No margin left for doubt...
For visible was the sign
Fit to change any skeptic’s mind...
And to give the crowd a Savior to cheer about!

based on Mark 2:1-12
MNA
3/4/2018

Saturday, March 3, 2018

a trillion moons


circling fragments
studding the throne of heaven
without light of their own
gravitate to a body of
immeasurable glory

void of atmosphere
void of native moisture
or the molecules of life
they obey a spheroid symphony
born of jealous animation
from creation’s womb

named by the original mind
who sang love into the stellar wind
and into the hearts of angels
they are called out like their
brighter cousins to add their masses
to the extravaganza...to the consummation
to the dazzlement of the cosmic dance

mna
3/3/2018

Sunday, January 14, 2018

A Dark Place to Pray

Image result for jonah's great fish

If Jonah is a well-known biblical character, it’s most likely because he was swallowed by a great fish, or possibly, by a whale. This mammoth sea creature became a tool in the hands of God to rescue His prophet from drowning in the stormy waters, to bring Jonah back to the dry land, and to be a resting place in which Jonah could reason with himself and repent of his rebellion against God.

For three days and three nights, Jonah was safe and secure in the fish’s belly. What was it like in there, I wonder? What thoughts went through Jonah’s mind during those many hours? Did he fear that he’d never see the light of day again? That he would die of suffocation or starvation? Surely he thought a lot about his disobedient behavior--how he’d run from the presence of the Lord, and how the Lord had pursued him with a mighty storm.

Whatever Jonah may have been thinking, the Bible tells us what he DID: “Then Jonah prayed to the Lord his God from the belly of the fish.” The opening of Jonah’s prayer tells of his heart-cry to the Lord as he sank into the murky depths of the sea. It also tells of a living God who not only hears the desperate cries of His children, but answers them. We often take it for granted that God hears and answers our prayers. But this is a precious, precious truth! Those who bow down to other gods might wish and hope for some kind of answer, but they hope only in vain! Believers in the God of the Bible can be assured that every prayer of theirs finds their heavenly Father willing and eager to listen...able and willing to help them in their time of need.

The next part of this prayer recounts how Jonah found himself in trouble: “For you cast me into the deep, into the heart of the seas...all your waves and your billows passed over me.” Notice how the prophet gives glory to God. Gives the Lord the credit for everything that happened. Even though it was the sailors on the ship that physically threw Jonah overboard, Jonah knows that the sovereign God of heaven acted behind the scenes to engineer the whole thing. “YOU cast me into the deep...YOUR waves and YOUR billows passed over me.”

Several weeks ago, a great theologian and Bible teacher, R.C. Sproul, went home to be with the Lord. In his teaching, he’d often refer to his favorite fiction book, Moby Dick. This great American novel tells the tale of a ship’s captain named Ahab, who uses his ship and crew to hunt down a great white whale, Moby Dick. The whale had attacked Ahab in the past and taken off one of the captain’s legs. It had crippled both Ahab’s body and his soul. Ahab searched and searched for Moby Dick to get his revenge by killing it. R.C. Sproul believed that this was a symbol of man’s pursuit of God, not out of love, but a hunger for vengeance.

Yes, there are those who know that our God exists, and yet do all they can to put Him out of their thinking--to kill God off in their hearts and minds. They do this so that they can be free of His laws and demands and expectations. In effect they are, like Jonah, running away from the presence of the Lord. But when those same people get into some kind of deep, dark trouble, where do they turn? Many of them turn to God out of desperation. They come to the end of their rope and have nowhere else to turn, so they PRAY.

Prayer, however, is no panacea--no magical formula that automatically solves all of my problems. People wrongly think of God as a kind of supernatural bellhop who is just waiting for us to ring for Him when we have a wish or request. What we discover in the book of Jonah, is that God is SOVEREIGN. That is, He is in control of all that exists in His creation, and all that happens to all His creatures, all the time. When he was sleeping in the hold of his ship, and even when the storm was raging all around them, Jonah failed to pray. But God arranged the events and circumstances in such a way that when Jonah was cast into the sea, at last he was willing to cry out to the Lord his God.

Do you see the purpose in God’s treatment of Jonah? The story began with Jonah running away from the presence of the Lord. He was running from the responsibility of being God’s prophet, of going to Ninevah and preaching against that city. But the Lord pursued him. The Lord didn’t give up on him. The Lord loved him and planned to return Jonah to a life of loving obedience. At first Jonah’s reaction to God’s casting him into the sea was: “Then I said, I am driven away from your sight.” But soon, inside the fish, he prayed: “yet I shall again look upon your holy temple.”

When dangers and tragedies happen to you and me, often we are tempted to become bitter like Captain Ahab. We are tempted to say, “Lord, why are you treating me this way? Are you trying to drive me away? I don’t deserve this harsh trial.” Or, perhaps we think, “I really DO deserve this. God must be doing this to punish me because He has stopped loving me.” When Jonah was tempted to turn bitter, he remembered instead the lesson of God’s “holy temple.”

What did the temple represent to God’s people Israel? A God who dwelt in their midst. A God who didn’t want to keep away from those He loved. A God who chose to share His own holy presence with them in a special, concentrated way. A God who wishes to be available for fellowship, not just with perfect, holy people...but with fallen, rebellious, guilty sinners.

Jonah went on in his prayer to describe the terrors he experienced as he sank deeper and deeper into the angry sea. He was staring death in the face. The concept of Sheol that he mentioned earlier is a shadowy underworld where the wicked dwell after death. Even as he drew closer and closer to drowning in the waters, Jonah’s hope in His God welled up inside him and he prayed for help!

The temples of false gods are so often UNHOLY temples. They are places where idol worshipers released their sinful passions and broke the laws of decency in order to please their wicked deities. But Jonah’s God came close to His people in a HOLY temple. A place where people were cleansed from their sins and gave sacrifices to a God of truth and purity and beauty: a God who called His people to be holy as well. A God of great and precious promises about a coming Savior who would bless not only Israel, but ALL the nations of the earth!

God longs to bless His people, to answer our faintest prayers. Remember this when you are weak, discouraged, fainting, even drawing close to death! Remember that this is often WHY you are tried and tested by dangers and difficulties: because God desires that we turn to Him for His blessings. He is well able to bring us up from the deepest pits just as He did for Jonah. Even our weakest, faintest prayer is heard in the heavenly courts of our all-seeing Father. He can but speak a word, and his almighty life-giving power can be unleashed to save His child.

Even the bonds of death are no match for the strength of our mighty God. Think of all the people in the Bible who were raised from the dead! Our Lord Jesus suffered death on a terrible cross at the hands of sinners and under the curse of God the Father, so that believers could be freed from their sins and receive eternal life. Then Jesus arose from the tomb three days later, fulfilling what He called “the sign of the prophet Jonah.”

The three days Jesus spent in the tomb were not like others who died. He saw no decay, because God had promised He wouldn’t. And the three days Jonah spent in the belly of the fish, God also preserved him from decay. Both Jesus and Jonah still had work to do. Jesus rose from the tomb to send His followers into all the world to make disciples of all nations...Jonah rose from the fish to take the message of the true God to the lost sinners of Ninevah.

But before Jonah fulfilled his mission, Jonah had a pledge to pay. A vow to fulfill. The Israelites would sacrifice to the Lord for several different reasons. They would make offerings for the covering of sins--to acknowledge their guilt before a holy God. But they would also bring offerings of thanksgiving, sacrifices to celebrate the answers to prayer they had received. Jonah was now more than ready to lift his voice in thanksgiving to the Lord of his salvation.

“Those who pay regard to vain idols,” he prayed, “forsake their hope of steadfast love.” Even after running from God’s presence, Jonah hadn’t lost his basic awareness that the false gods of the sailors could do nothing to assure their salvation. He knew that the One pursuing him with a storm was the Maker of heaven and earth, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. He realized that his own people were making a grave mistake by paying regard to the vain idols of the neighboring nations.

“As for me,” Jonah concluded, “I with the voice of thanksgiving will sacrifice to YOU.” The covenant-keeping God of the Bible, the One who keeps all His promises. And then he tells us why: “Salvation belongs to the Lord!”

MNA
1/14/2018


Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Wanted Dead or Alive

When we last left the prophet Jonah, he was running away from his God and his responsibilities.

You remember the circumstances: Jonah was an Israelite prophet, a spokesman for Yahweh, the God of the Hebrews, the Maker of heaven and earth. But he chose to rebel and defy God’s orders to travel to the great Assyrian city of Ninevah and preach against their sins that had come up before the Lord, righteous Judge of all the nations.

No, that was an assignment Jonah was NOT willing to accept! Instead, the runaway prophet hurried down to Joppa on the shore of the great sea, and boarded a ship sailing in the opposite direction away from Ninevah. He meant his actions to be a clear negative answer to God’s command: “No way will I obey You in this matter! Just You try and MAKE me do it!”

But we learned last time that God’s plans cannot be turned aside by anyone’s puny human will or human choices. It is foolish and futile to say “no” to our Creator when He has made His will plain about what He wants us to do. If necessary, as it was in Jonah’s case, God will even send a STORM to wake us up and bring us to our senses.

Humanly speaking, of course, we know that Jonah had a pretty powerful REASON for disliking the task God had ordained for him. The Assyrians were Israel’s bitter enemies. Two other prophets had even predicted that one day they would come and punish the Israelites for their sins! So, we can sympathize with a Hebrew prophet resisting a preaching mission to the Ninevites.

But the fact is that those who love and serve the true and living God must be prepared to “deny themselves, and take up their cross, and follow Me,” to quote the words of the Lord Jesus. This has always been true. Think of the challenges faced by Moses and Joshua and Gideon and Samson and David...as well as all the other prophets God sent to those who had no love for them or for their message of repentance.

By assigning us difficult--even hateful--duties to perform, the Lord is putting our faith and our love for Him to the test. In the 22nd chapter of Genesis we read the story of Abraham’s greatest test of faith: God’s command to take the son he loved--Isaac, the child of promise--and offer him up as a burnt sacrifice. What a terrible assignment and what an impossible test of Abraham’s love for his God! And yet, the patriarch was ready to kill his own son when the angel of the Lord called out for him to stay his hand.

Even the Lord Jesus Himself was tested by God to prove both to Himself and to all of creation that He really was the perfectly obedient Son of God! Immediately after His baptism by John in the Jordan river, we read in Matthew chapter 4, Jesus was led by the Holy Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil for forty days. Of course, our Lord passed this test and never gave in to the demonic seduction of Satan. And because He passed the test, He gained a perfect record of obedience that is credited to the account of all that trust and follow Christ!

At this point in Jonah’s career, it certainly looked like he would never pass the test of obedience God had arranged for him. It appeared that even the great storm the Lord hurled on the sea was not enough to convince the prophet to obey. The ship’s captain had to rouse Jonah from his sleep in the hold of the ship, and urge him to “cry out to your God--perhaps He will take pity on us and we will not die!” At this time, we don’t even read that Jonah DID pray. How strange!

And yet, perhaps it isn’t so strange. Jonah seemed to calmly answer the sailors’ questions about who and what he was and where he was from. He didn’t seem to be alarmed at the ferocity of the storm, or the danger they were in. Almost as if he’d been expecting God to pursue him and punish him for his rebellion. Jonah may have been thinking, “I would rather die in a storm at sea than follow the Lord’s instructions and preach to the Ninevites. Just let me DIE!”

The Bible is a very true and practical Book. It never shrinks away from or turns a blind eye to the negative aspects of life. In several places it speaks of the desire to end one’s own life. Moses and the prophet Elijah both asked the Lord to take their lives--because the demands of their responsibilities seemed too great. The Apostle Paul struggled with his “thorn in the flesh--a messenger of Satan” he called it. Many times he longed to “depart and be with Christ, which is far better.” But in all those cases, God had other plans besides death for His faithful servants.

And in spite of Jonah’s stubbornness, the same was true for him.

We saw before that God uses His storms to display His awesome POWER, to remind us of His PERSONALITY, and to achieve His righteous PURPOSES. Far from signaling Jonah’s death, God was letting the prophet know: “Jonah, I am not finished using you yet. When I give my man an assignment, I expect it to be done, whether he is happy with it or not!”

Are you and I always HAPPY with the commands and duties God assigns for us? Is it always pleasant and easy to obey our parents or to submit to those in authority over us? Is it always a cheerful duty to submit to our husbands or to love our wives as Christ loved the church? Is it ever difficult and painful to live with a debilitating disease when our bodies long for the freedom of ending our physical lives? And yet, these are things God gives to His beloved children.

Hebrews 12:11 and following reminds us that “no discipline seems to be joyful for the present, but painful; yet, afterward, it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.” Every one of God’s children is being trained and made ready for a future life where all is peaceful, and all is right with our Creator. And, as every parent knows, no child can be prepared for a brighter future without being trained by discipline--by difficult duties.

“Jonah,” the Lord was saying, “I realize this assignment is distasteful to you. I know you’d rather die than obey me and take on this task. But you are My child and I love you. I know what is best for you and what lessons you still must learn. Your training is not over yet.”

Jonah’s faithful God used far more than the STORM we spoke of last time. He even used the pagan sailors and passengers on Jonah’s ship to point him back in the right direction. Proverbs 16:33 says “The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord.” Jonah’s shipmates used the casting of lots to find out whose guilt had brought this awful storm upon them. And God, with whom nothing happens by chance, caused the lot to fall upon His wayward prophet. Finally, Jonah knew that he was found out. Trapped and ensnared by the divine Fisherman!

Even though the sailors were furious with Jonah for putting them all in danger by his rebellion against the Lord, they tried their best to avoid throwing the prophet overboard. They rowed hard to bring the ship to dry land. Maybe they feared that killing Jonah would make God even angrier with them...or perhaps they were simply being kind and gracious, feeling sympathy with their miserable shipmate.

But whatever the reason, they finally saw no alternative but to follow Jonah’s instructions and cast him into the violent sea. Imagine their wonder and relief when the wind immediately stopped blowing and the billowing sea became instantly calm! Can you remember another time and place where a violent storm became so miraculously still? Our God in heaven is Master of all the forces of nature--as is His only begotten Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, who can calm a troubled sea with the mere words: “Peace! Be still!”

As he was hurled into the turbulent waters, Jonah’s heart was far from peaceful, however. He surely felt that this at last was the END. God had pursued him in His fierce wrath and meant to drown him as punishment for his crime of treason.

And we must ask ourselves, “Would that have been a just thing for God to do?” What if the Lord chose to put us to death any and every time that we sin? After all, He warned Adam and Eve that the day they ate fruit from the forbidden tree, “you shall surely die.” Death, Paul reminds us in Romans 6:23 is “the wages of sin.” Every time we break God’s law--any of His commandments-- we are inviting the death penalty. Immediate death is the just payment we owe for any act of treason against our merciful, loving, righteous God.

So...Jonah undoubtedly expected the death he rightly deserved. And yet, even as he sank into the sea, there was reason for the prophet to HOPE. Because, as he would later confess, “I know you are a gracious and merciful God, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness, One who relents from doing harm.” Perhaps even the desperation of the sailors still rang in his ears: “Perhaps your God will consider us, so that we may not perish.” Would God forgive and save Jonah, even now?

Is it possible that one of us has been stubbornly resisting the authority and righteous commands of God? Is one of us convinced that we’ve been too far from God to expect any grace or forgiveness from Him? That we’ve sinned too badly or too habitually to ever be given another chance? The Good News is that there is a living Savior who died for sinners just like you and me. The Lord Jesus Christ is able and willing to receive lost and dying rebels who will cast all their hopes on Him alone to save them from eternal judgment. Call on Him today to save YOU!

Who would have dreamed that the King of the universe would save men and women by becoming a baby in a manger, growing up in our sin-cursed world, and dying on Calvary’s tree as our sin-bearing Substitute? How strange and unexpected that was!

And equally strange was the way God chose to rescue His prodigal prophet: by having Jonah swallowed whole by a gigantic FISH! But Jonah was as safe and sound in the belly of that fish as a sailor would be in a modern-day submarine. And in that dark, smelly, slimy resting place, Jonah had three days and nights to compose a magnificent prayer: a psalm of thanksgiving and confession of sin, a plea for God’s salvation and a pledge to honor Jonah’s vows of loving service.

No, Jonah’s merciful God wasn’t done with him yet. And there is no depth of sin and rebellion too far gone for our faithful Lord to pursue those He loves and assure them of His forgiveness!


MNA
12/27/2017



Saturday, October 28, 2017

An Ode to Jonah


Old Jonah lived in old Gat Hefer
Back in Israel’s days of yore.
He preached and spoke as Jehovah’s prophet
Doing happily every chore…
‘Till the message came: “Rise and journey east
To the gates of Ninevah the Great.
Cry against their sin; tell them God has heard
Of their evil, wickedness and hate!”

So Jonah rose, but fled away
From the presence of the Lord of heav’n.
Down to Joppa’s shore, then to sail away
To Tarshish soon his fare was giv’n.
“Never shall I go to those Ninevites,
Wretched enemies of all I know!
But my home I’ll make on the coast of Spain…”
Thought the prophet as he stole below.

God hurled a wind, a frightful gale
On the calm Mediterranean Sea.
Jonah’s ship was tossed and battered sore,
Thinking, “This shall be the death of me!”
With waves so high, the sailors cried
To their idols, golden, wooden, stone…
Casting off their goods to the raging sea,
All were fearing that their lives were done!

The captain roused sleeping Jonah up:
“Call quickly, sleeper, on your God!
Do you not care that we are perishing?
This is no time to drowse and nod!
Perhaps these lots will reveal the culprit
Whose guilt has brought this beastly storm.
Maybe chance will point out the one to blame;
The one this storm-god means to harm!”

When Jonah drew the shortest straw,
The sailors questioned him with fright:
“O tell us, please, what and who you are,
Where you hail from and what is your plight!”
So Jonah knew that his flight was over;
He’d been overtaken by his God.
A rebellious child of the Lord of heaven,
He prepared his soul to feel God’s rod.

“I serve and fear the God who made
The earth and heaven, sea and land.
I ran away from His holy presence
But I never could escape His hand.
Because of me has the tempest come;
God demands my life be sacrificed.
Come, cast me out into the sea--
For the Lord demands I pay the price.”

The kindly sailors rowed and strained
Against the shrieking, blasting wind,
But finally prayed to Jonah’s God
For pardon if perchance they’d sinned…
For overboard they let him go,
Throwing Jonah into waters deep.
And the waves grew still as the prophet said,
So they humbly sacrificed a sheep.

Down Jonah sank, a guilty soul,
And the seaweed wrapped and held him fast.
Yet, God still loved and planned to use
This erring child with sin-stained past.
He’d loved him with the threat’ning storm
Sent as easily as one could wish…
And now, as Jonah despaired of life,
God loved Him with a saving fish.

In the fish’s belly Jonah prayed,
Thanking God for sending help so rare.
Three days and nights the man of God
Composed and memorized his prayer.
“Up out of the grave You brought me, Lord,
And toward your temple call I now
Salvation surely is Yours to grant;
Give me liberty to keep my vow!”

Old Jonah got his second chance
Once the fish had given up his catch…
For the prophet learned that to challenge God,
Anyone would find he’d met his match!
“Go to Ninevah, and preach my word,”
Came the urgent call from God again.
And Jonah went, for it’s best to say
“Yes” to God--no matter where, or when.

MNA
10/28/2017