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Give Thanks on Solid Ground

by Mike McKinniss

What do you believe about God today that you did not believe previously? What do you no longer believe about God that you once did?

It’s an intriguing thought. It shouldn’t take very long before we realize that there’s something we once thought of God that we no longer do. And that, at the very least, ought to make us pause the next time we dig in our heals and sharpen our claws in preparation for a red-hot theological row. But that’s for another time.

Rather, I asked myself these questions recently. One of the places my mind has changed the most regarding the Lord fell in the area of God’s will, his goodness and my role in whatever the Lord may actually do on the earth.

You see, I thought at one time that God’s desire to heal sickness and disease today was essentially his sole prerogative. He might choose to heal; he might not. Neither I nor anyone else had much to do with it. Bottom line, I didn’t get what prayer was all about or how it might influence the Lord or events in “real life.” I was thinking like a fatalist, which is no fun, neither for the fatalist nor anyone else around him.

The broader question—”What was the Lord’s will?”—is a common puzzle for a lot of believers. Personally, since I didn’t know and believed I couldn’t affect it, I’d assume generally that whatever actually happened must have been God’s will by default. It was a natural outflow of a pair of theological tenets most of us never question: God is all powerful and God is all knowing. If these are true, then the Lord’s will is what is.

This is all well and good when the question at hand is whether we’ll get the promotion we’re aiming for or whether our offer on a house will be accepted. If it doesn’t come to pass, then the Lord must have some good reason for it. Que será será.

But when darker issues arise—like personal tragedy or global conflict—this line of thinking becomes extremely problematic. The omnipotent God crashes headlong into another theological tenet: the omnibenevolent God. The result for many is some kind of divine monster who would will—let alone allow—something like the Montecito mudslides. No decent human being shrugs her shoulders and says of the Holocaust, “It must have been God’s will.”

Set with such a dilemma, it’s not hard to see that one thought or another about God has got to change if we’re to keep from closing down our faith altogether.

So here’s a token of advice, if you’ll have it. When you find yourself in an impossible theological position, find one piece of solid ground to stand on. Make it your center, and allow everything else to be refashioned around it.

Here’s one of mine: “Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever.”

It’s the most repeated refrain in the Psalms—perhaps even in all of the Old Testament. These were, I believe, the last words to leave Jesus’ lips before heading to his arrest, trial and crucifixion (see Mark 14:26, which may be a reference to Psalm 118, the last of the Hallel psalms traditionally recited at Passover). You’d be hard pressed to find more solid bedrock in the scriptures than this brief, easily remembered chorus.

Whatever else may be going on in life, however stressful your circumstances, however tragic your hardship, stand on this: God is good and his faithful commitments to his people and his creation will never be overcome. It worked for Jesus.

Does this mean God is not all powerful? Does this mean the Lord is not all knowing? Not necessarily. Though the theological and philosophical arguments there are too lengthy for now, the point is simply that there may be more going on in reality than we know (always a good lesson to keep in mind), but you can at least stand on one assurance, repeated again and again in Scripture: God is eternally good.

For that it’s worth giving thanks.

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Be a Peacemaker, Be like God

by Mike McKinniss

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Peace” by Jonathan Brown under license CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God” (Mt 5:9, ESV).

Peacemaking, whether we’re trying to make things right with someone else or whether we’re stepping into another’s conflict as a third party, almost always requires some kind of personal sacrifice. To make peace where we’ve been offended means forgiving the one who has offended us. It means swallowing the “right” to retribution or to recompense. To make peace means we take the hurt and we trust God to make something good and beautiful from it.

This is the model Christ provided us. Did he not make peace with his accusers? Did he not make peace with those who cast him upon the cross? He did. How so? Jesus willingly took the abuse. He silently accepted their false accusations and condemnation. Inso doing, his sacrifice brought peace.

How could Jesus do such a thing? He could swallow the offense because he had full faith that his Father in heaven would deal justly with him and with those who crucified him. Justly? Yes, just to bring good from such deep evil. Jesus believed that if he willingly abandoned his rights and sacrificed all, God would abolish the wrongs that lead us to crucify the one righteous person on the earth.

What we had intended for evil, God turned for good—good to the one crucified by resurrecting him from the grave and good to the murdering mob by pouring out the blessing of forgiveness.

Peacemaking requires personal sacrifice and trust in a good God.

“… For they shall be called sons of God.” What is a son of God? A son of God is one who reflects the true heart of God. It is one who represents God accurately. In Old Testament times among Near Eastern cultures, a son of God is a king on the earth, empowered with the spirit of God to do his will.

Stretching back from the New Testament, the nation of Israel was meant to be a son of God (Ex. 4:22), and so was their king (2 Sam. 7:14). Israel was meant to be a people through whom God hoped to show himself to the world. Going further back, all of humanity were meant to be sons of God, as originally modeled in the hope for Adam—the first man, created in God’s image, that is, his son. (Compare for a moment the language in Gen. 1:26-28 and Gen. 5:1-3.)

And of course, the true son of God is Jesus himself. He perfectly reflected the heart, nature and will of God in all he said and did (Col. 1:15; Heb. 1:3). He took to its fullest the Creator’s hope for a creation at peace. And he assumed the depths of sacrificial love required to bring the world into true peace. It required of him his life.

Now, the promise is that we too might represent God’s heart for peace. How? Through sacrifice. Through the rejection of our rights. Through a full trust that God will see to our needs when we forego them on his behalf.

If we take on ourselves this life—the life of Christ—we will be called sons of God, not because the Creator waves a magic wand and makes it so. Rather, to modify an old saying, we’ll walk like a son of God and we’ll quack like a son of God. And we’ll simply be known for what we are.

Change Something or: How to Get Your Future Wife to Marry You

by Mike McKinniss

“If you want things to change, maybe you should change something.”

Such was the sage advice given to my wife by her wise mother several years ago, which is how we got married.

But I’m getting ahead of myself, because the word of wisdom came to the future Mrs. at a time when I was out of the picture. In fact, I was so far out of the picture, I was hanging from another wall …

in another room …

in another house …

in another state.

But this isn’t about me. (It kind of is.)

You see, future wife was stuck in a rut. Life had been motoring along quite nicely for many years. Out of college, she’d been offered a job that she tackled with fervor. Ten years later and she’d happily grown it about as much as anyone could. That work had kept her in a tight community filled with friends she’d made in school and relationships she’d thoughtfully deepened over time. She’d bought a house along the way and fixed it up just the way she wanted. Life was good.

But she had the sinking suspicion God wanted something more for her. Something had to change.

Read the rest of this entry »

Kingdoms: Yours and God’s

by Mike McKinniss

Did you know that you have a kingdom?

We don’t think much about kingdoms in America, unless, of course, you’re one of those who got caught up with the Princess Meghan business several weeks ago. But you don’t have to marry a figurehead prince to get yourself a kingdom. You’ve already got one.

Let’s put it another way. Better, let me put it in the words of someone much brighter than me. The late, great Dallas Willard defined a kingdom as the range of our effective will. That is, your kingdom is wherever you have the final authority, wherever you have influence, wherever you have say-so.

For most of us, this extends at least to our extremities. Some of us are fortunate enough to have a firm say in whatever happens in our own household. Many of us share that responsibility. A few of us get to the top of our fields, running a company, captaining a boat, what have you. Kingdoms all, big or small.

And this is precisely as it should be. It’s how we were made.

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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?

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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 »

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