[Rest from your] Labor Day

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(These thoughts were spurred by a post by Seth Godin on “scuff-proof shoes”.)

Just like Adam and Eve in the garden, our tendency when we sin is to pull away and hide, both from others and from God (Genesis 3:8). But we’re told that by doing this — hiding our screw-ups is essentially the same as claiming not to have any — we’re both lying and calling God a liar (1 John 1:8-10).

(It’s also exhausting.)

Like Adam and Eve, it’s when we come out into the open (being honest with God, ourselves, and the people we’ve wronged) that we receive His mercy, healing, and rest (1 John 1:9, 2:1-2; Hebrews 4:9-11).

But unlike them, the sacrifice made to atone for our sins and cleanse us is far superior than the animals slain to cover their shame (Genesis 3:21; Hebrews 9:13-15): their atonement was accompanied by curses (Genesis 3:16-19) and banishment (Genesis 3:23); through Christ, ours is accompanied by God adopting us as His own sons and daughters — and promises of a rich inheritance befitting our new status as His children (Ephesians 1:4-14)!

We are the recipients of such amazing blessings and promises — blessings and promises God prepared for us when we were still His sworn enemies (Romans 5:8-11)! So when we sin, let’s not shrink back into the shadows like our “first parents”, thinking we can cover our failures and shame by our own efforts — and all the while, those very efforts robbing us of the forgiveness and healing God can provide. Instead, “let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most” (Hebrews 4:16).

Then Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.” — Matthew 11:28-30 (NLT)

We love and reason because God loves and reasons…

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(Longer quote on Facebook.)

I love the way Lewis describes this, because when people say things like, “well if God’s in control, then what does it matter what I do?” I feel the same as when I’m helping my kids form letters (or shapes), and their grip goes slack because I’m guiding the pencil’s movement. It’s like the point of what we’re doing is lost on them — as if so long as the triangle’s drawn, our work is done.

Of course, if I wanted to get a triangle on a piece of paper, I could do it all by myself — and with a lot less trouble, to boot. But the goal of the exercise isn’t the triangle; it’s that my children learn — in a real, first-hand, experiential way — how triangles are made.

Asaph the Psalmist quotes God talking about our obedience in relation to His needs:

“I do not need the bulls from your barns
    or the goats from your pens.
For all the animals of the forest are mine,
    and I own the cattle on a thousand hills.
I know every bird on the mountains,
    and all the animals of the field are mine.
If I were hungry, I would not tell you,
    for all the world is mine and everything in it.”

— Psalm 50:9-12 (NLT)

God doesn’t call us to “love and reason” — and pray, and read the Scriptures, and care for the poor, and extend hospitality to strangers, and sing our hearts out to Him — because He needs anything from us. He calls us to these things because His goal is to make us like Him:

“But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord.”

— 2 Corinthians 3:18 (NKJ)

“…work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.”

— Philippians 2:12b-13 (ESV)

Dunbar’s General Store

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When an economy operates locally, everyone in it enjoys some measure of power. But when an economy operates globally, only a select few ever rise to a level of power.

Dan says that statement seems backward, but if you toss Dunbar’s number into the equation, I think it all makes sense.

When the scope of the economy is, say, 50-250 people, then (generally speaking) each person is able to maintain a relationship with each other person in the group. These connections keep us “in the loop,” which is absolutely necessary for one to retain that measure of economic power.

When the scope is increased to over 5 billion people, there will be only a very few who are able to forge and maintain a sufficient number of relationships to key players. Those few become the key players, and it’s only by their maintaining those relationships (or by being pursued by other key players) that they retain their power and influence.

Granting that we don’t like such a system, what would the solution be? We can’t force people to not use the transportation and communication tools at their disposal—particularly when doing so appears to be economically sound. (Just look at the environmentalist movements of the 20th century: it’s still the case that, for the vast majority of humankind, “earth-friendly” alternatives are only pursued when they are cheaper, more convenient, or both.) Very few households are truly willing to pay higher prices supporting local economies when they can save a few bucks buying from China.

How did this happen? It’s said that “if you tax something, you get less of it.” For decades our Local, State and Federal governments have increased taxes and regulations on businesses within this nation’s borders while removing tariffs and other barriers to trade with foreign nations. The result is that it’s cheaper to have food shipped over by boat or plane from the other side of the planet than it is to stock shelves with produce from the farmer on the edge of town.

Ultimately, I don’t think we can say that the customer is the one to blame. Free trade with other nations has been pursued at the same time that trade amongst ourselves has been made more and more restrictive. (It’s gotten to where you risk fines, or even jail time, for keeping an eye on your friends’ kids for a few minutes “without a license”!) So if you want to change the system, you may need to change the system.

What sort of speech is “good for building up”?

coffee talk, by AnyaLogic on Flickr

I wanted to take a few minutes and share my thoughts on a passage from the Bible that’s been on my radar lately:

Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.

Ephesians 4:29 (ESV)

Y’know, I think there’s a world of difference between what Paul was thinking when he said this, and what people today tend to think when they read it.

This verse marks the last of four times in this epistle where Paul uses the same word (Gr. oikodome, but your translation probably says something like “good for building up,” or “edifying”). Even so, when I’ve heard pastors preach on this topic they’ve typically focused in on an understanding of the word that’s informed solely by the verse itself, and divorced from other passages where Paul’s usage could shed light on what he means by it. This sort of thing always bugs me: if pastors are trying to build a true understanding of what Paul’s telling us to do here, then at the very least they ought to point us to those previous instances of the word. Right?

Because let me tell ya… it certainly helps it all make sense!

Here’s all four appearances of oikodome as they’re translated in the ESV. Continue reading

Dish Rag Jesus

(This is the first in a series of rediscovered writings from one of my first web sites back in 1999. Some may have aged well, others… not so much. I’ll let you decide.)

This morning at the kitchen sink, I was hit with a revelation. Jesus is kind of like a dish rag. Hey, don’t give me that look. Let me explain before you flame me, okay?

A dish rag washes dishes that are caked with all sorts of nasty stuff like dried ketchup and crusty eggs. Likewise, when we ask for forgiveness, Jesus removes the sin from our lives and makes us sparkle like new.

Another parallel is in the cleaning method. The way a dish rag cleans dishes is by taking the food (if you want to call it that) and getting it stuck to itself. It’s common knowledge that the dish rag is the dirtiest, most germ-ridden item in the sink. The Bible says “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.” (2 Corinthians 8:9) In other words, Jesus got dirty to make us clean. In his death on the cross, all of our sin was placed on Jesus. Matthew 27:46 says “About the ninth hour Jesus cried out in a loud voice, ‘Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?’–which means, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?'” If you’ve ever cleaned out a refrigerator and had to toss out things like chunky milk and something with fuzzy green stuff growing on it, you get the picture. We ain’t talkin’ ’bout no rotten egg. The stench of the sin placed on Jesus was so strong, God had to turn his face to keep from barfing.

Yet another similarity is in what is washed. Have you ever washed a plate, and think you have déja vu, until you realize you really DID wash that plate before? That’s right. Even though you’ve cleaned the plate, it got dirty again. “Well, duh, Travis! You really WERE born yesterday, weren’t you!” Gimme a break. Jesus is like that, too. No, he doesn’t get déja vu. What I mean is that even when he’s forgiven all of our sin, we still mess up. That’s why 1 John 1:9 says “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”

There is one difference, though. (Okay, maybe more than one, but it’s all you’re getting out of me.) After a while, a dish rag gets so worn from continuous cleaning that it has to be tossed out and replaced, but Romans 6:10 states that “The death he died, he died to sin once for all”. Jesus’ act of mercy covered the sins of every single human who ever lived and ever will live, and will never run out. There’s no ‘sin limit’, and there’s no sin so big that he can’t forgive. All that is needed is to ask. According to Matthew 7:7-8, “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.”

Y’know, I think I’ve had my head in the suds too long.

Fubsian Economic Theory

"Utahraptor! Are you telling me Fubs is embraced by nearly ALL world leaders? This... this is the happiest day of my life."

This conversation actually happened (more or less) on a message board Nicole and I dual-admin for her digital scrapbooking creative team. I’m not much of a digital scrapbooker, so all I end up “contributing” is goofy, geeky stuff (like Dinosaur Comics). It’s all good, though, because Nicole’s CT is chock-full o’ nuts like the two of us, so they (usually) appreciate the geeky things I toss in there. :D

Anyway, I thought I’d share this one with everybody (especially maybe Ryan?). Also, in this comic Utahraptor’s reading my lines. I know y’all were dying to know that, so you’re welcome.

HT: Myself on Twitter. (Can I get more lame than that? LET’S NOT FIND OUT, MMMKAY?)

A Bittersweet Christmas

Nicole and I just returned from a last-minute trip to Knoxville, TN. We learned on Saturday that one of Nicole’s best friends was in a fatal car accident the day before. Alexis had been driving out with her two young sons (ages 4 and 2) to Nashville to sing at her brother’s wedding when she lost control of her vehicle. The boys didn’t get any serious injuries, but Alexis died instantly.

Alexis and her husband Tim were there with us when I first met Nicole. I proposed to Nicole when I came down to Knoxville for their wedding. They were our closest friends during the first two years of our marriage (spent in Knoxville). Nicole and Lex even experienced their first pregnancies together; their eldest son was born only weeks after Katie. Needless to say, we’re grieving now and will be for a while yet. It’s not a grief without hope, but it’s rough to lose a friend so young. My heart goes out to Tim, their two boys, Alexis’ parents and the rest of their family.

In the midst of this tragedy Tim and Lex’s church has really stepped up to help. Tim has so many things to deal with right now, and it’s enough to break a man… but God’s grace is stronger, and he’s showing his grace in part through the men and women coming alongside Tim right now.

Still, this is a difficult journey to be on. So if I could ask one thing of you, my friends… would you please pray that God would draw close to the Cantrells and Shraders this Christmas?

Love the Church, Hate Her Papers

Wow. Codepoke came out early this morning with both guns blazing:

I realize there will be some argument against my definition of paper as the enemy, but I think it’s pretty close. The real enemy of the church is the flesh of each of her members. I attack paper because it’s our generation’s go-to defense for our flesh. Lurking behind every piece of paper you’ll find a sin waiting to happen. Whether it’s the church budget allowing greed, the bylaws enabling sloth, the calendar supporting procrastination, or the membership roll feeding pride; red tape is always the first defense of the bureaucrat and the cheapest ammunition to fire at messengers of the Spirit.

Here is my proposal.

Ignore all paper in the church.

Statement of Faith? Burn it. Bylaws? Owe all men nothing but love; against such there is no law. Denominational missives? Chaff. Membership rolls? Printed lies.

I already felt like God was moving me in this direction. It’s encouraging to see other Godly men moving the same way.