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Who do we think we are?

by Mike McKinniss

It has been a common theme among scientifically minded secularists to point to our ever-expanding awareness of our ever-expanding universe and come to the rather small conclusion that we are but specs of accidental cosmic dust in the midst of a vast unimaginable cosmos.

David, without the benefit of telescope or satellite, posed much the same question 3,000 years ago: “When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars that you have established; what are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them” (Ps 8:3, NRSV)?

It’s a humbling thought, and its weight only increases the more we learn of our universe—a fifteen-year-old estimate on the number of stars in the universe put the expanse at 70,000,000,000,000,000,000,000.

Who are we, against so vast a creation? Of what significance could humankind really be?

Read the rest of this entry »

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The Continual Failure of My Eyes

by Mike McKinniss

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myopia” by joseph chang under license CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Lately, I’ve been thinking a bit about my future and God’s will. It’s an infection that comes on us all, and its cure in one season does not, sadly, leave us immune from subsequent attacks. It is a perilous disease, which, allowed to run its rampant course, may leave the sufferer paralyzed or worse.

Over the years, many friends and acquaintances have quoted to me Jeremiah 29:11, claiming it gave them comfort and, indeed, confidence in facing their futures. “‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future'” (NIV).

It’s an encouraging word, to be sure, but I’ve rarely heard anyone offer comfort in the context of the preceding verse: “This is what the LORD says: ‘When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfill my good promise to bring you back to this place'” (Jer. 29:10, NIV).

The long and short: every Israelite living in exile at the time of Jeremiah’s utterance, captives of their archenemy the Babylonians, would be dead before God’s good plans for the people of Israel would come about. There’s no way around it, Jeremiah 29:10 is a gut punch to his people, even if everyone’s favorite life verse—don’t get me started—offers a glimmer of hope.

So it’s all got me thinking about my future. Life has twisted and turned on me in unforeseen directions and left me wondering how that’s affected the years that lay ahead. Am I doing it right? Did I miss something along the way and jeopardize the whole affair? Where will it all lead? And what if I do it all wrong?

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What To Do in the Face of Tragedy

by Mike McKinniss

 

Forgive me, but I’ve been thinking about tragedy lately.

In the early morning hours of Wednesday, January 10, a torrential rainstorm dumped several inches of precipitation onto Santa Barbara, CA, in a matter of minutes. Normally, such a violent shower would have done little more than force the shedding of some old palm fronds from their trunks. But this storm came immediately on the heels of California’s largest recorded wildfire, which burned a vast area nearby, including the hills just above the tiny town of Montecito. Denuded of the vegetation upslope, the massive amount of rain in so short a time triggered powerful mudslides, which bulldozed through portions of the village.

Dozens of homes and places of business were destroyed in a moment. At writing, 21 people are counted among the dead and two remain missing in the aftermath.

The torrent of rain and the flash flood is only the beginning of the anguish for people in this seaside community, for a similar torrent of fearful and desperate questions follow. These will likely linger for a long time—probably long after the clean up and reconstruction is completed.

Where was God when this violent storm struck this peaceful community? Where is God now that the event has wreaked its havoc? How could God have allowed such destruction? Could God have not stopped such a tragedy? And what do we do now?

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Christmas Is Not under Control

by Mike McKinniss

If the world always ran in accordance with my wishes (sigh!), there would eternally remain two to three unblemished days on the calendar every week. Naturally, the work day would be busy with productive toil, but at least a pair of evenings would ideally remain sparkling and unsoiled by plans. I’m forever hoarding a bit of space for myself, you see.

It wasn’t long ago—just before Thanksgiving, if I remember correctly—I took a peek at my December calendar, and I rather reflexively expectorated a mild but genuine curse. The whole flippin’ month is jammed full of events. Somehow without my notice, I lost control of my time this holiday season. I don’t like feeling out of control. Read the rest of this entry »

Are My Beliefs Paramount to the Lord?

by Mike McKinniss

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Disagreement” by kodakhrome under license CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

I had an interesting conversation with a friend the other night, at times intense, sensitive and personal. We were talking about things that mattered deeply to us about family and trauma, about healing and God.

And we disagreed. She, on the basis of her reading of Scripture and her experience, believed one way about the Lord and his work in the present. I, from similar grounds, believed another.

Sola fides. We’re only now a week past the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther’s epoch-altering convictions. His ideas he hammered to the parish door, then into the minds and hearts of generations of Protestants, and chief among these is the notion that it is through faith alone (sola fides was his Latin term for it) that we are saved by God. He got his cues from Paul: “For by grace you have been saved through faith” (Eph. 2:8a, ESV).

This is no small matter. Read the rest of this entry »

Perfection Is Moving the Right Direction

by Mike McKinniss

Sometimes, while reading Scripture, you find yourself nodding along in total agreement. “Yes,” you whisper to yourself. “It’s so true!” And the warm fuzzies cover you head to foot like a Snuggie. Sometimes, the words leap off the page, get right up into your face and cut you in the heart. Like surgery, conviction is an uncomfortable, often grueling, but entirely necessary affair. Cutting out a cancer still requires a painful incision.

And then there are the passages that simply stop you dead in your tracks. Neither affirming nor convicting, they simply elicit a good long head scratch.

Luke 2:52 is one such passage:

And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and with people (HCSB).

Now, I can understand the young Jesus increasing in stature. Luke inserts this tidbit right between Jesus’ dedication in the temple as a young man and the arrival of John the Baptist heralding the Christ’s arrival. I couldn’t tell you how tall Jesus was at 13 or at 30, but I’ll bet there was a significant difference.

I can also wrap my head around Jesus growing in favor with people. I, for one, am typically fairly skeptical of a teenager’s sufficient character to follow through on a pledge or listen to instructions or generally act like a decent human being. It’s easy to imagine Jesus consistently having to prove himself worth his young salt as he approached manhood.

But how does Jesus Christ grow in wisdom? And how does the Son of God increase in favor with God?

Read the rest of this entry »

More of Him AND More of Me?

by Mike McKinniss

When in my early twenties, I did as all good Christian young adults do and sacrificed a few summers working at a Christian summer camp. Each year as a staff we would put our heads together and cook up a theme verse we thought might be appropriate as a banner over our ten-week stint.

One year we were rather excited to have landed on John 3:30, wherein John the Baptist reflects on Jesus’ arrival on the Judean scene: “He must become greater; I must become less” (NIV).

We were giving each other high fives over it. “Yeah! This is what it’s all about! More of Jesus; less of us!” We thought we’d really landed on a juicy bit of theology, and we were eager to slap it on the sweatshirts we were soon to commission—because what’s a summer camp experience with apparel to commemorate it?

I’ve since come to think we were mistaken.

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Our Fractal Gospel

by Mike McKinniss

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fractal fun” by hairchaser under license CC BY-SA 2.0

Is there such a thing as a “simple gospel”?

I know from whence the desire comes, the beckoning for a simple gospel by which we may abide faithfully without the encumbrance of convoluted strictures. No one wishes befuddlement in such consequential and eternal matters. We wish, rather, for certainty or, at least, confidence. After all, souls are at stake.

But our longing is as the one who desires to retire alone and in peace to a log cabin in the vast open country, though he is tied to a covenanted spouse, bears responsibility for the offspring of that union and the charge of his employment. Perhaps the solitary life is simpler, but it does no justice to the complex reality of our station. Read the rest of this entry »

Why I Don’t Get Tattoos or Have a Life Verse

by Mike McKinniss

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Bad Tattoo” by Matt Niemi under license CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

I don’t get tattoos. I mean that both in the practical and cognitive sense.

People who do get tattoos—people I admire and respect—have told me they’re a way of memorializing a time or event in their life. If it was especially meaningful, they say, why not get it permanently written on your body so it goes with you everywhere?

There’s a certain logic to that, but I’m not going there. And here’s why: I can’t think of any one thing I’d want to have written on my body both now and—God willing—when I’m 94.

These days, I’m really into this one pizza joint in town and I’m telling everyone around they’ve just got to go. But by the time I walk out of the tattoo parlor with the restaurant’s name and logo emblazoned on my chest, I’ll probably be hungry for the Thai place across the street because: drunken noodles.

This is likely the same reason I don’t have a life verse. Read the rest of this entry »

Ready Your Ears in 2017

by Mike McKinniss

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whisper” by cortto under license CC BY 2.0

Like so many of my fellow Americans, I was to varying degrees mesmerized, horrified, surprised and bewildered at much of the political events of the year 2016. And although I consider myself a conservative—not always a safe thing to confess these days—I like to pay attention to the action on both sides.

Early in the year, I was astounded that so many Americans were feeling the Bern. Given our long history of successful free market enterprise, I assumed even those on the political left would never support an avowed socialist. I believed from the start Hillary would be the Democrats’ nominee, but not because the party would feel the need to secretly undermine its own primary process and effectively lock Bernie out.

Further, it seemed with each week a new billow of smoke arose from the Clinton camp. And although no singular fire was discovered, the closer we came to election day, the more embarrassed I was feeling that we might elect a president with so many obvious smoldering embers trailing in her wake.

And speaking of things that smolder, I was stunned by the rise of The Donald. Read the rest of this entry »

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