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Tag: christianity

To Honor Is to Give Life

by Mike McKinniss

honor

What does it mean to honor someone?

Does it mean we humbly submit to that person under any and all circumstances?  Does it mean we revere that person and place her on some unassailable pedestal?

I don’t believe so, no.

Rather, to honor is to recognize and praise that which is truly valuable in a person without getting hung up on those elements that are unremarkable, unskilled, or even downright ugly about the person. Read the rest of this entry »

Is Anyone Attracted to You?

by Mike McKinniss

Dallas Willard was telling me this morning how few Christians actually allow (or possibly want) Jesus to teach them how to do life.  We’ve got all these well-meaning Christians turning to Oprah or Dr. Phil  or Foucault or Sartre (if you can believe it) for a way to guide their lives.  We tend to ignore, when it comes down to it, the very person our faith tells us lived life to the fullest. Read the rest of this entry »

Island Time

by Rob Dunne

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I wait for the LORD, my soul waits, And in His word I do hope. Psalm 130:5.

In 2004, I went on my first mission’s trip. Five young adults and I went to the beautiful island of Jamaica to conduct a vacation bible school. Weeks of planning went into the trip. Each moment of the day was meticulously planned out. Our team arrived at the church and quickly finished preparations. As the 10 o’clock hour came and went, we were all dejected by how few children showed up. Did they neglect to advertise the event?

We quickly learned about the concept of ‘island time’. In a nutshell, Jamaicans have two speeds – slow and slower! In the fast-paced world of New England, we expect everything yesterday. We lack patience or tolerance for things that take longer than a few seconds.

Admittedly, it took us all a few days to adjust to this slower pace of life. Personally, it took even longer to appreciate why they live the way that they do. First, it is hot. If you do things too quickly or exert unnecessary energy, you won’t last the day. Second, they are simply more laid back than us.

As a litigation attorney, I am in a profession that requires me to rise early and work late. By the time I get home and eat supper, my mind and body are drained. Making time to be with Jesus can be difficult. Therefore, I find myself getting creative. 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

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“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.

Step One to Breakthrough

by Mike McKinniss

Meanwhile Moses was shepherding the flock of his father-in-law Jethro, the priest of Midian. He led the flock to the far side of the wilderness and came to Horeb, the mountain of God (Exo. 3:1).

There is a particular technique in devotional meditation on Scripture that encourages the reader to immerse himself in a biblical story. The idea is to read and re-read a narrative passage again and again and, in so doing, more and more deeply imagine oneself in the midst of the story.

It can be a powerful and insightful process, employing the imagination in such a way as to feel the weight of, say, Jesus’ parables, Elijah’s contest with the priests of Baal, or Paul’s harrowing shipwreck. What would I think if I were there? How would I respond?

Occasionally, the reader is encouraged to put herself in the dusty sandals of certain characters in the tale, to try to see the narrative through a biblical figure’s eyes.

There are some people in the Bible with whom I imagine it might be rather easy and natural to trade places. I can often see myself in the lives of the disciples, especially pre-Pentecost; consistently missing Jesus’ point is a forté of mine. Gideon’s shoes fit me perfectly; I could ask God for signs as a stall tactic in my sleep. And I may have been cut from the same cloth as Jonah; my natural direction in life is generally opposite the way God is pointing.

Rarely, however, do I dare put myself in the position of the Greats. Paul would no doubt dismiss me as a timid mouse of a man. I quiver in Elisha’s gaze. When I stand at my tallest, David towers over me.

Yet recently, I have dared to imagine my life in the model of Moses.

Yes, Moses: the man who looms over the entire Old Testament. Moses: the prophet who called down plagues, carried God’s Law and formed a nation from a ragtag league of slaves. Moses: the man called the most humble who ever lived. I can see myself in him.

That is, I can see myself in Moses at a particular time in his life.

Although Moses began his life in peril—he was quickly hidden as a newborn because Pharaoh had demanded the life of every Hebrew boy—he was taken into the household of Pharaoh himself and raised amidst royalty. Exodus doesn’t tell us much about Moses’ upbringing, but we can imagine that he must have had the finest clothes, food and education as Pharaoh’s own adopted grandson.

Some time later, in a rather rash moment, Moses killed an Egyptian who was lashing out against a fellow Hebrew. The deed was discovered and Moses was forced to flee the country, heading toward the wilderness to the east. He married into a foreign family and took on the job of herding his father-in-law’s sheep. Moses’ prospects had sunk low.

This is the point at which I find it easy to picture myself as Moses. Though I could never claim royalty, I have been many times brought low from what I had perceived as a higher plateau. Indeed, how often does this happen to us all? We achieve certain accolades, a certain standing, but then circumstances shift and we find we are quickly at the bottom of the pile.

Scripture does not say how long Moses lived in Jethro’s household, walking his sheep over every desolate hill and dale. Some suggest it may have been as long as thirty or forty years. The Bible only says it was a long time.

It must have felt even longer for poor Moses, thinking of the height from which he’d plummeted. The attendant questions come easily to mind: God, how could you have brought me to this terrible place? Oh, to think of where I had been just a few years ago! God, when will you ever save me from this damnation to anonymity?

Many of us long for breakthrough. The circumstances differ from one to another, but we each are desperate, at various times, for the Lord to emerge in our lowly state and rescue us. For Moses, I imagine it was a longing to return to some kind of prominence. For others, it is a health issue for which they have prayed relief, recognition in the workplace for years of hidden toil, rescue from an abusive relationship. Whatever the source of our trouble, we rightly recognize the Lord as our savior.

But when might he come to save? That is so often the plaguing question.

For Moses, his breakthrough began when he noticed a peculiar thing. Walking the flock of sheep near the mountain of Horeb, the Lord caught his attention in a remarkable way. God set fire to a bush, but refused to consume it. Finally, the Lord shows up! This is what Moses had been waiting for.

But Moses must also have done an important thing. In order to receive the breakthrough God had planned for Moses and the Hebrew people, Moses had to respond: “Moses thought: I must go over and look at this remarkable sight. Why isn’t the bush burning up?” (Exo. 3:3).

Moses’ breakthrough came because God suddenly appeared but Moses would have missed it had his eyes not been open. Had Moses not been on the lookout for the Lord, and had he not been ready to respond, he may have trudged on past that burning bush, never turning aside.

Perhaps this is step one to breakthrough: Daily set expectations to see God. Moses did not know when God would appear to him, but he was ready when the Lord did reveal himself. So it may be with us. Whatever breakthrough we seek, we know the source will be our God. And though way may not know when the Lord will act, we can know that we’ll be ready to see him and respond when he does.

How Does One Get Ready for the God of the Universe?

by Mike McKinniss

"Quiet and Calm" by nate2b used under license CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Quiet and Calm” by nate2b used under license CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him (Psalm 37:7a).

I couldn’t tell you how many times I’ve been advised, as part of a congregation, “to prepare my heart for worship.” In most instances, this came to mean something like, “Everybody quiet for, like, 15 seconds, at least. This is church and its supposed to be serious business, you know.”

We would all dutifully bow our heads and observe a moment of silence, not unlike we used to do in grade school after reciting the Pledge of Allegiance, a moment designed, I suspected, to give the teacher a moment of peace. Then, because you can’t lead with a downer, the worship band would rip into a full-blast up-tempo chorus to get us all moving and shaking in the Spirit.

The juxtaposition was jarring, and I began to wonder what this “preparation” was all about. Or, at least, I wanted to be able to prepare rightly. What did it mean to come to worship? And how does one get ready for that?

I decided to take on for myself a little experiment. Barring a catastrophe, I made every effort to get into the church sanctuary five to ten minutes before the service started. Often enough, this meant eschewing pre-church conversations with good friends and finding my seat quickly upon arrival. Once seated, with the hum of people still exiting the early service (to arrive early to the first service would have been too much), with the buzz of others still coming in, with the purposeful commotion of musicians up front getting their gear situated, I would quiet myself.

My goal was to focus on one thing. I had come to church that morning not for great sounding worship, nor for a positive and inspiring message, though I liked both of those things. I was not there to see friends, though we would likely go to lunch afterward and enjoy one another’s company. I was there, rather, to meet with the living God, who raised Jesus from the grave and promises to do the same for me, as a son in his family. I was there to encounter the Lord of creation, who is making all things new. I was there to be with Jesus, who is actively working to put all God’s enemies under his feet, even and especially death.

I found I needed this preparation. Why? Because it was so easy to sing along with everyone else, and think about whether the guitar is out of tune, or I am. Because it was so easy to listen to another sermon, critiquing the style and delivery, or, frequently, to not listen at all. Because there are literally hundreds of other people around me who have interesting faces and clothes and hair. Because it is too easy to come to church and miss the thing I need most there.

So I would prepare by asking the Lord to send his Spirit into the room. I would invite God to come to church and do whatever he wanted to do. And I would say to him, “Please, God, don’t let me miss it.”

Invariably, I discovered I was indeed prepared. I knew why I was there in the sanctuary with hundreds of other worshippers. I was confident and expectant that the Lord had heard my prayers and that he would show himself that morning.

And then, most times, having been duly prepared, God would go and do something completely unexpected and surprise us all.

The Slow Rain of the Soul

by Mike McKinniss

"Lightning" by snowpeak is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Lightning” by snowpeak is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Ask the LORD for rain in the springtime; it is the LORD who makes the storm clouds. He gives showers of rain to men, and plants of the field to everyone (Zecheriah 10:1, NIV).

Having recently moved to draught stricken California, I’m suddenly more aware of the various benefits and hazards to different types of rain. This was never a concern in saturated New England, where rain was rain and a regular occurrence. Funny, when a thing becomes scarce, it not only becomes more valuable, but also more particular.

Just the other day, for example, our region received the remnants of a hurricane that had struck Mexico and crawled its way up the coast. The vast front brought with it a few strong but brief storms. Quarter-sized raindrops pummeled the streets for about 15 minutes at a time, with a couple iterations. One might have assumed this would be cause for rejoicing, considering our reservoirs are holding less than a year’s supply of water in their stores.

Yet when the ground is so dry, a hard pounding rain will not penetrate the earth, but instead runs off to the dry stream beds and off toward the ocean. Little seeps into the groundwater and the reservoirs are hardly replenished.

There is a lot of flash and bang to a powerful storm, but it does little of actual sustaining value.

Contrast this with a very different front that blew through a couple months ago. Rather than a hurricane, this system blew down from Alaska, moving very slowly through the region. When that particular rain finally reached us, it came in a vastly different manner, enfolding the area in a dense constant drizzle, lasting hours and hours.

Whether a slow rain or a hurricane, the same amount of water fell to earth in our city, but the differences in their benefits could not have been greater. The soaking northern storm allowed the ground to soften so that it could receive and drink the water deeply. Less impressive, perhaps, than the hurricane, but far more effective.

From time to time in our walks with the Lord, we discover ourselves in the midst of draught. Whatever the circumstances that put us there, it’s not immediately important. There we are in a spiritual desert. Coming to our senses and seeing our wilderness situation, a way out must be found. We must be wary, however, of the hurricane solution.

Relief from the draught may come not from the big bang—the sudden 3-day fast, the spur of the moment all-night prayer vigil, the gorging consumption of the Psalms in a single sitting.

Seek instead the soaking route and begin taking measured and steady steps toward the Lord. Come to him humbly, acknowledging the reality of your desperate plight and allow the slow drizzle of his love to saturate your heart and soul once more. You may not realize it’s happening at first. There may be no thunder and lightning. But in time the groundwaters and reservoirs of your faith and hope will rise to overflowing.

Love Creates

by Mike McKinniss

via NASA.com

On days like today, when my creative capacities sleep soundly, unwilling to be roused, I reminisce about a period not long ago, when the ideas flowed like wine, resulting in a kind of creativity inebriation. The ideas were not only endless, but so too the objects to which they were applied—writing projects, strategic plans, conversational witticisms. Like those who never lived through the 1950’s yet fantasize about them, I look back on that creative period as an idyllic time.

How did this imaginative interval come about? And could it be reclaimed?

What was it that spawned such an inventive spell? It began, as I recall, with a rendezvous with the love of my life. This was, at the time, one of those what-could-have-been relationships, and we had not spoken for some 18 months. Nevertheless, my heart was still in it, as the occasion revealed. I found, to my delight, her affections bent my direction as well.

Our meeting that day, I am embarrassed to say publicly, was exactly like your favorite romantic comedy. Birds sang. Rainbows appeared. Fireworks exploded. A year and a half of silence gives birth to any number of doubts about one’s love for another. Those doubts swiftly dissolved that day. I was a new man.

This was the fuel for the creative express that then hurtled down every track of my life: love. Carried by the rushing wave of awareness that someone loved me completely, the next several days were a geyser of ideas and energy. Suddenly there were a million things I wanted to do and I felt as though I could do them right then.

Occasionally people ask why God created the world at all. If, as his divine omniscience would suggest, he knew all the pain and suffering that could come of His endeavor, what would possibly compel him to proceed? The answer is elemental. Love compels every act of creation.

God is love (1 John 4:8, 16), after all, and so it was an inevitability that he would create–and create beings that could enjoy and spread that love. I suspect God could not help Himself. I imagine He must have simply been bursting to get to work on the ideas that would have kept coming, wave after wave.

And if our current awareness of the universe is any indication, the Lord’s creative projects have yet to cease. According to NASA, our universe is expanding at approximately 46.2 miles per second per megaparsec (a megaparsec being about 3 million lightyears). What does that mean? It means our universe is growing by inconceivable amounts every second, and it’s accelerating. All of this while suns and planets and solar systems are still in the process of developing as we speak.

God is love. And love creates.

The explosion of inspiration that erupted when love revived in my life got me thinking. Is this the way the Lord meant things to be at all times? Supposing I lost myself in His love perpetually, could I expect this kind of boundless ingenuity at all times?

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