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Tag: jesus christ

Old Hope for the New Year

by Mike McKinniss

I’ve got babies on the brain. My wife and I are expecting the arrival of our first—any day now!—and the occasion has propelled my mind, quite naturally, to new beginnings. During the Advent season, it was a new and wonderful experience to be anticipating the birth of our own daughter while we read the stories of our savior’s arrival. Now, I don’t expect our little girl to be the world’s redeemer, but we’re excited, nonetheless.

In the process, I landed for a time on a passage occasionally associated with Christmas, though it doesn’t highlight the nativity. It’s John’s prologue:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it (Jn 1:1-5, NIV).

In the beginning. Made. Life. Light. Darkness.

We’ve heard these words before. They’re words borrowed from the very first pages of the Bible. (Go ahead and read Genesis 1:1–2:3 to get the full context.) It’s a funny thing for John to begin his story about Jesus by first reminding us of creation. What’s he trying to do?

What John and his original audience would have known—and we might not—is that the Christ-child entered a world predominated by darkness. Jesus was born to Jewish parents in the heart of Palestine, maybe a year or two on either side of what we would now call year one. At the time, Jesus’ countrymen were weary. For 700 years (700!), this once noble people had been toiling under foreign oppression. Their latest overlords, the Romans, were among the most brutal, at one time (not long after Jesus’ resurrection) publicly executing so many Jews on crosses, they ran out of wood. Many of Jesus’ contemporaries were enslaved by crippling debt. Where could they look for relief?

It was as Isaiah had predicted several generations earlier: “See, darkness covers the earth and thick darkness is over the peoples” (Isa. 60:2a, NIV).

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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.

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 »

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?

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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 a Child?

by Mike McKinniss

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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 »

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

by Mike McKinniss

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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 »

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.

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