{re}fresh

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.

Read the rest of this entry »

Our Fractal Gospel

by Mike McKinniss

6187965533_3acc1d50a8_z

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

16921391_43c654e26f_o

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

4225081605_77b51eb120_z

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 »

Why a Child?

by Mike McKinniss

8084964915_16bec8ed1e_z

Ami Cries” by clappstar under license CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Over dinner earlier this month, my inquisitive wife asked a good question: “Why did Jesus have to come as a baby?”

Astutely, I pressed for more. “Wha?”

She forged ahead, despite me. “What I mean is, why couldn’t Jesus have just supernaturally appeared as a grown man and done his thing? Why did he have to be born like every other child?”

There are any number of responses, none of which were coming to me. I mean, I know Jesus’ humanity and the nature of his birth have kept theologians employed for centuries. But I’m no theologian and I’ve only got 600 words to spend on this post.

Still, I’m mindful that as we swipe our Google calendars to 2017, with all the resolutions and fresh hope that typically accompany a new year, there is one particular lesson from the infant birth of Christ that may be helpful for us. Read the rest of this entry »

It’s Chaos out There, and God’s in it Somewhere

by Mike McKinniss

Death and taxes, man. Death and taxes.

Uncertainty plagues us all. It is fundamental to the human condition for two infuriating reasons. One: the universe is far too vast and complex to know intimately the interrelated causalities affecting your future. Call it chaos theory, the butterfly effect, whatever—it’s what God tells Job at the conclusion of his eponymous text: we’re too small to know it all.

Another major cause of uncertainty in our lives, frustrating as it is: all these 7 billion people keep making up their own minds about what they’re going to do all the time. It’s maddening. Read the rest of this entry »

First Things First; or, Why I Drink Coffee in the Morning

by Mike McKinniss

2579778685_ba3624523c_o

Anytime” by Shereen M used under license CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

The day doesn’t begin without coffee. Maybe it does for other people. I’ve heard rumors about such a race of men, though I imagine they must live in a land far from here—Mars, perhaps.

Morning coffee is no mere conveyance for caffeine, mind you. Sure, the miracle drug graciously plays its role, but it’s more than that. It’s the warm mug in your cupped palms, assuring you the world is a safe place. It’s the steam whispering up like a siren song, beckoning you, not toward rocky shoals, but toward a calm haven. It’s the aroma of your childhood home. It’s the deep rich color calling you toward the depth of character you desire. It’s the subtle intermingling of sweetness and bitterness—a complexity with which you identify.

For these reasons, and a thousand others, the day does not begin without coffee. Read the rest of this entry »

Consider the Serpent

by Mike McKinniss

For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it (Luke 9:24, ESV).

Consider the serpent.

He has but one instinct: self-preservation. Survive and produce progeny—that is his one and only goal. But mostly, it’s about survival. It’s about himself.

Look at him, flicking his tongue through deviously curled lips. Always in search of his next meal, the snake is never satiated. A gluttonous beast.

The serpent roams the forest floor alone. Ever solitary, he has no companion, desires no companion. But for fleeting utilitarian encounters with the opposite sex—and this only to preserve his line—he would eternally be a low-lying island.

Oh, the serpent is not indifferent to the rest of the world. He is not solipsistic. But to the snake, every other living thing, if it is not food, is an enemy. See how he curls himself up in a tangled thicket—the only embrace he will ever receive. It is protection the serpent seeks.

The serpent is driven by fear, and so must protect his life at all costs. Fear compels him to cast a slitted eye toward every creature. Wary of all, the serpent is intent on grasping tightly to his own life. He has no room in his heart for anything save himself.

Now he slithers in the dust, for his fear has brought him low.

But you are no serpent.

You are not made for fear. You are not made to cling and protect, to scratch and claw for your own existence. You are not designed to use others for your own benefit alone, to regard the world as existing for your sole benefit. The fear and solitude of the serpent’s life is not yours.

A child of God, you are made for love.

A voice you were given. A voice to reveal the innermost parts of yourself and to share your secret thoughts. Likewise, two ears hang on either side of your skull to listen to another’s story and so commune with the world. Moreover, a heart beats within your chest, a heart that longs to swell within the embrace of another.

You are made for love, and a life of love desires to stretch itself, to touch all the world—not to overpower and subsume, but to know and to be known. Love longs to serve the world.

But to live so is to risk, for a serpent lies in wait. Strike he will, often without warning or provocation. And he may, with a flash of fang and a shock of pain, inject poison into your veins. To live from love is to open yourself to death.

Die you may.  Nay, die you will. But when you live from a place of love and seek not to preserve yourself, when you reject fear and its solitude, you live as you are created. Vulnerable you may seem, yet you live and you die in the safest place on earth. For the life of love rests in the arms of the resurrecting God of love.

Love, and you will rise to new life, while the serpent remains on his belly.

God Isn’t into Nostalgia

by Mike McKinniss

7312960094_1362b26235_o

“Nostalgia Gums” by Effie Yang under license CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

I am, sadly, beginning to encroach upon the age in which nostalgia becomes a real and powerful state of being. That is to say, my hindsight, far from being 20/20, is actually getting worse. I no longer see the rough edges of my youth, only soft and blissfully blurry lines. What’s worse, I don’t think I’d want the corrective lenses necessary to spot the warts of yesteryear.

And like my father before me, and his father before him, I’m prone to decrying the present in favor of the past. If only today could be more like yesterday, I lament. Where did we go wrong? Oh, God! Bring back yesterday!

But in my nostalgic folly, I’ve forgotten two important things.

One: Every age has its problems and n0thing has ever been perfect.

Two: God is not interested in turning back the clock. He moves ever forward.

Now, don’t get me wrong. The Lord is a restorer. He redeems the lost. It is a great theme of the biblical story—perhaps the theme—that something pristine has been lost on this earth and the Creator has been relentlessly working to restore it.

But when God restores, he does not simply return things to the way they once were, but he resurrects to greater glory than had ever before been.

Consider, for example, the resurrected Jesus. Prior to his death, we are given no indication that his bodily existence was anything unlike our own. He ate and slept and rejoiced and wept. He was sinless, of course, and the Holy Spirit settled on him at his baptism. But he was completely human, like you and me. Prior to his death, Jesus’ body was very much like our own.

But upon his resurrection, Jesus was restored by God. He was dead, his life lost, yet God the Father acted on his behalf to give him back what had been lost on the cross. But God does not simply give back what is lost.  Jesus’ body is given back to him better than ever.

The gospels, in their tellings of the story, give odd hints at the difference between Jesus’ life pre-crucifixion and his resurrected body. Jesus is unrecognizable to people who had known him for years (Luke 24:13-35; John 20:11-18). He somehow appears physically behind locked doors (John 20:19). Somehow, in bizarre ways, the resurrected Jesus is not like the first edition.

Paul reflects on this resurrection reality more fully in several places. One such place—in fact his greatest treatise on the resurrection—is in 1 Corinthians 15. There he writes of the resurrection body the Lord restored to Jesus and will also one day give to all the faithful,

So it is with the resurrection of the dead: Sown in corruption, raised in incorruption; sown in dishonor, raised in glory; sown in weakness, raised in power; sown a natural body, raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body (1 Cor 15:42-44).

Do you long for something lost? Do you pine for a time things seemed perfect? Here’s some good news: The Lord is a restorer. What’s more, he’s not satisfied with simply turning back the clock. He’s interested in a resurrection beyond anything we’d ever thought to ask or even imagine.

The Path to Victory

by Mike McKinniss

When Mark gives the record of Jesus’ last supper, he provides us a curious detail at the conclusion to the disciples’ time in that upper room. He writes, “After singing psalms, they went out to the Mount of Olives” (Mk 14:26).

Those familiar with the story know, of course, that it’s at the Mount of Olives that Jesus is soon betrayed by Judas and arrested, ushered to his midnight trial and the next day executed on the cross. Harrowing events face Jesus in this final night, and Mark tells us that Jesus and his disciples do a bit of singing before the plot races toward its conclusion.

What in the world could they have sung?

Traditionally, there are a short set of Psalms that the Jews sing or recite as part of their Passover observances. Psalms 113-118 are known as the Hillel Psalms and largely reflect on God’s covenant faithfulness toward his people, both in the past and in their hopes for the future. They reassure the faithful people of God that, just as the Lord had rescued his people from the hands of the Egyptians at the time of Moses, so too would he again one day save them and decisively.

It is altogether likely that Jesus and his disciples were singing these Psalms before departing the dining room for the Mount of Olives and the Garden of Gethsemane.

And it is quite an expression of Jesus’ faith, knowing what he was in for over the next several hours.

Psalm 118, the last Jesus likely sang, opens with a traditional refrain of God’s faithfulness: “Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his faithful love endures forever” (Ps 118:1). It is a recitation of God’s unfailing commitment to his people. Surely, the Lord will be good to Israel in the end.

As the Psalm proceeds, the dramatic irony for Jesus ratchets up. “The Lord is for me; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me” (v. 6)? What could man do to Jesus? We are about to find out. He can betray him. He can put him on trial. He can level false accusations. He can beat him, humiliate him and force him to carry his own instrument of death and hang him on it. But, declares Jesus, “the Lord is for me.”

Now Jesus moves toward a declaration of God’s impending victory over the wicked nations. “All the nations surrounded me; in the name of the Lord I destroyed them. They surrounded me, yes, they surrounded me; in the name of the Lord I destroyed them” (vv. 10-11). For a Jew in the first century, it is altogether likely his mind would have turned to the Roman legions that occupied Jerusalem. For Jesus, it likely was not lost on him that these Roman authorities would be the very ones executing him.

And most Jews likely would have nodded along or even exclaimed at this point: “I destroyed them!” Surely Jesus knew he would be leveling a certain kind of destruction on the enemy of God’s people, but it would not appear the way so many hoped or expected, neither in the means nor the target. No, Jesus’ path to victory was not lined with soldiers, chariots, swords and shields. Rather, his path marched through the cross and into the grave. And, further, the Romans were not his enemy, but another force far more vile.

And yet, somehow, Jesus is then able to utter this poignant line: “I will not die, but I will live and proclaim what the Lord has done” (v. 17). What confidence the Christ must have had in his God! How can he express such faith? How can he be so certain, knowing what he is about to face?

Yet Jesus is sure that he will walk faithfully through this impending horror, to be welcomed by the Lord on the other side. “Open the gates of righteousness for me; I will enter through them and give thanks to the Lord” (v. 19).

And did Jesus know he was speaking of himself a few lines later? “Bind the festival sacrifice with cords to the horns of the altar” (v. 27b). He had to, and yet he gives his full-throated suport just the same.

How can he do this? How can Jesus hold his head so high in the face of the dire path he’s about to take? He does so by reciting again Israel’s refrain of confidence in their God: “Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his faithful love endures forever” (v. 29). And then he walks out along the path toward Gethsemane and Golgotha, the path to the cross and his own death, the path to victory.

%d bloggers like this: