The Best Word

Scrabble Word

“Oxyphenbutazone” is theoretically, the highest-scoring word in Scrabble.  Placed a certain way on the board, it would earn a whopping 1,778 points.

The best word.

I was on the playground today with my Lunch Buddy, when I saw a 5 or 6 year old boy kneeling in the grass, broken piece of orange chalk in hand, drawing a picture on a pizza slice-sized rock. 

“What a cool design you’re making on that rock!” I said as my Buddy and I stopped.

The little fella looked up at me, looked back at the rock, looked at me again,  and asked, 

“It is?”  

“It certainly is.  You are so creative to think of making a picture on a rock.”

“I am?”  

“You sure are.  You’re turning that rock into something really special. You’re a good artist!”
A big smile crossed his face as he stood up a little straighter, and he beamed:

“Yeah, I think I’m an artist!” 

“Keep it up, Picasso,” I said as my Buddy and I went on our way.  

He may not know who Picasso is.  But maybe he will.  When I called him “Picasso,”  I was thinking of this statement by Picasso, 

“My mother said to me, ‘If you are a soldier,  you will become a general.  If you are a monk, you will become the Pope.’ Instead, I was a painter, and became Picasso.”  

I’m not sure if Picasso’s success was due to his mom’s positive words, but I have to think that her words didn’t hurt.  He believed in himself and I think his mom’s words made that happen.  

Deepak Chopra said, “Language creates reality.  Words have power.  Speak always to create joy.”  

People speak in one of two ways.  They either speak life or they speak death (Proverbs 18:21).

“The Message” puts it like this: 

Words kill, words give life; 

they’re either poison or fruit –  you choose.”

The conversation with that budding artist took less than 2 minutes.   I’m hoping the positive effect will be a lifetime.  

“I know words.  I have the best words,” said then candidate Trump back in 2015.  I like that. 

We all know words.  We have in our vocabulary the best words and the worst words.  

I saw today again the power of “best” words.  

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“God Helps Those Who Help Themselves” Part 3 of “Shoot Christians Say”

I-NEED-HELP-GUYS-meme-29959

 

“God helps those who help themselves.”

Most frequently, I hear the phrase from people in relation to the poor and/or homeless.  “Well, as the Bible says, ‘God helps those who help themselves.’”

Except it doesn’t say that.

Benjamin Franklin said it.  And others before and after him.  But Jesus didn’t.  No one in the Bible did either.

Paul did say something like it.  What he said is recorded in 2 Thessalonians 3:10: “If anyone is not willing to work, he should not eat.”  

In some people’s minds, the two phrases go hand in hand.  Paul’s words to the church in Thessalonica are even heard on Capitol Hill in debates on funding for the poor.  

I get amused by those debates.  People use the same Bible to support their completely contradictory views.  A person who wants to cut aid to the poor quotes the “don’t work don’t eat” text.

A person who doesn’t want to cut aid to the poor quotes verses like Leviticus 23:22.

Using the Bible can be so confusing!    

Back to Paul.  Obviously, Paul wasn’t writing to Americans.  He didn’t see a homeless person on the street and say, “If you don’t work you don’t eat.”  What he did see were church members not working because they thought Jesus was going to come back any minute.  “Why go to work when Jesus might come back?”  

I like N.T. Wright’s take on that:  “Jesus is coming- plant a tree!” 

Back to “God helps those who help themselves.”

Using this phrase to avoid helping the poor misses the whole point of Jesus and the Scripture.

Those who enact unjust polices are as good as dead, those who are always instituting unfair regulations, to keep the poor from getting fair treatment, and to deprive the oppressed among my people of justice (Isaiah 10:10-2).  Let’s put that on a plaque and hang it in the halls of Congress!

Don’t mistreat widows or orphans or foreigners or anyone who is poor…(Zechariah 7:10).

If you don’t help the poor, don’t expect to be heard when you cry out for help (Proverbs 21:13).

The Lord’s Spirit has come to me…to tell the good news to the poor…to free everyone who suffers (Luke 4:18).  

Suppose you see a brother or sister who has no food or clothing, and you say, “Good-bye and have a good day; stay warm and eat well” – but then you don’t give that person any food or clothing.  What good does that do (James 2:15-16)?

So, let’s forget about this phrase absolving us of our responsibility to help the poor. 

Let’s feed and clothe. 

Let’s challenge and change unfair legislation and structures.  

Let’s identify with the poor. 

What’s good about the phrase?

*It reminds us that God uses people to change the world.  We’re partners.  ‘Blessed are the peacemakers for they will be called children of God” (Matthew 5:9).  It’s a “God plus us” thing.  

*It reminds us that we do have some responsibility.   It doesn’t make any sense to ask God to help me not eat so many potato chips unless I quit buying potato chips.   

“There is an expiry date on blaming your parents for steering you in the wrong direction; the moment you are old enough to take the wheel, responsibility lies with you.”  J.K Rowling

Here’s my biggest problem with the phrase:  It seems to me to go against grace – you know,  “unmerited favor” – as I learned in Sunday School.  

God gives me love and acceptance when love and acceptance are undeserved.  

“While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” Paul writes. 

I love this from Philip Yancey, “There’s nothing I can do to make God love me more.  There’s nothing I can do to make God love me less.”  

Now that’s something we should be saying!

“Shoot Christians Say, Part 2 -” “God Said It, I Believe It, That Settles It.”

holy shit 2

“The B-I-B-L-E.  Yes that’s the Book for me.

I stand alone on the Word of God.

The B-I-B-L-E”

That little song, learned and sung around snacks of Kool-Aid and Animal Crackers, flannel graph Bible stories in the Sunday School of my childhood, formed the foundation of my understanding of the Bible.  

It’s dangerous to mess with someone’s foundation. 
It’s uncomfortable.  Scary. Risky.

But that’s what I did with last Sunday’s phrase in our “Shoot Christians Say” series.  Here it is:  

“God Said It, I Believe It, That Settles It” 

The teaching, for some, was tantamount to messing with motherhood, the flag and apple-pie. 

A bit unsettling.  

Think it through with me:  “God said it, I believe it, that settles it.”  Except it doesn’t.   Settle it, that is.  If it settled it, why do we debate it?  If it settled it, how do we explain books like Zondervan Counterpoint Series – “indispensable for understanding different views on Christianity’s vital issues” (Zondervan’s description of the series)?  

If “that settles it” why are there “different views” not just on side issues, but on “vital issues?”  

We want to be settled.  We want to be sure.  Being settled is a basic need. The two largest Christian groups have addressed the need to be settled.

Protestants, the folks that protested the Catholic Church developed the infallibility of Scripture.  

Catholics developed the infallibility of the Pope.  

“Infallibility”- the inability to be wrong.

Both the Bible and the Pope speak for God – depending on if you are Catholic or Protestant.  

And what is spoken is infallible. That is settling. 

 Both positions come from a need for security, for something strong on which to stand.  These positions give us that, “I’m secure with ‘the Bible tells me so, ‘“ or “I’m secure with ‘the Pope tells me so.’”  Standing on this foundation, I don’t have to think, wrestle, or try to figure things out.  I just go with what is said.  

This position meets our need for security, but does it meet our need for truth?  Maybe not.

The Pope “said it” but got it wrong about the sun orbiting the earth.  Ask Galileo.  The church admitted it was wrong 359 years later.

The Bible “said it” but got it wrong about slavery.  

 “Slaves, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling” (Ephesians 6:5).

 “Teach slaves to be subject to their masters in everything, to try to please them, not to talk back to them” (Titus 2:9).

“Slaves, in reverent fear of God submit yourselves to your masters, not only to those who are good and considerate,  but also to those who are harsh” (1 Peter 2:9). 

The Southern Baptist Convention, the denomination into which I was born, raised and educated, admitted in 1995 that it got it wrong, apologizing for its support for slavery and segregation.

The Bible did not “settle it” when it came to slavery.  In fact, what the Bible says about slavery is unsettling.  

Jesus did not operate on the basis of  the “God said it, that settles it…” position.

Do you remember all of those, “You’ve heard it said, but I say to you…” verses?
Compare and contrast the following:

Deuteronomy 6:13 and Matthew 5:33-37

Deuteronomy 19:21 and Matthew 5:38-39

Numbers 15:32-36 and John 5:8-10

If  it were “settled” why did Jesus challenge and change it?

The apostles didn’t stick “God said it, that settles it” on the rump of their horse or the bumper of their chariot.  Acts 15 tells us that the apostles debated how the Bible applied to their lives and situation.  When they set aside circumcision as a requirement for following Jesus they reinterpreted the Bible for their times, recognizing that some of what “God said” was not God’s will for all time, all places, all people.

Even those today who say the phrase, don’t practice the phrase.  How many of you give other church-goers a “holy kiss” each Sunday?   You don’t? Why not?  Paul commanded it 4 times in his letters.  Try it next Sunday and see how it goes. 
“God said it”  but with that command, and others, it’s not settled.  How many other things did “God say” aren’t settled?  “Welcome interpretation.  Come on in and let’s get to know each other better.”

This post is already too long, kind of like my teaching last Sunday – 35 minutes! So, I’ll cut to the chase ( a phrase used in the movie world by directors to get past the boring dialogue and to the excitement of a chase scene).

I don’t call the Bible the Word of God.  I call Jesus the Word of God.  So does John.  A “word” is an expression of an idea.  It is my understanding that Jesus is the “exact expression” of God. 

Not the Bible.  Check out Hebrews 1:1-3 and note the phrase “exact expression.”  Does that mean that the Bible (Hebrews 1:1) is inexact?

Maybe the problem is not the Bible.  Maybe the problem is how we use the Bible – what we expect out of the Bible.  Again, let’s take our cue from Jesus.  Seems to me like a good idea.

John 5:39. No one knew the Bible better than the Pharisees.  They knew it up and down, in and out, forward and backward.  Yet they missed God in the flesh who was standing right in front of them.  

Is it possible to be so busy following the Bible that we miss Jesus?  The Bible is a sign that points to Jesus – to his life, to his way, to his values.  

Why do we settle with the sign instead of going on to the destination?  

I’ve written too much.   If you’ve stayed with me, you’ve read too much.  Let’s both stop. 

Let’s spend some time looking at Jesus. Appreciating him. Following him and his way.  

 

“Shoot Christians Say”

holy shit 2

“Love the Sinner, Hate the Sin” was the first statement we looked at in our new teaching series that started last week: “Shoot Christians Say.”

“Shoot” was a Southern Baptist substitute for the more colorful cuss-word.  Saying “shoot” was fine in that world.   Saying  the other word was not.   We compromised in the series by using punctuations marks: “S*@#! Christians Say.”

I ran out of time before I ran out of sermon – which is not unusual.  So, in this space, I will finish.  

“Love the Sinner, Hate the Sin” has most often been used to refer to the LGBT community.  I first heard it some 15-20 years ago.  It was an attempt to maintain and express a strong protest against a behavior while showing a love for the individual. 

I never used it.  It didn’t ring true to me then.  It certainly does not now. 

To me, it is like saying “I love left-handers but hate their left-handedness.”  Strangely enough, being left-handed was, at one time, associated with sin and still is in some circles.   Throughout the Bible the right-hand is given higher status than the left.  People took the metaphorical use of “right-hand and left-hand” and developed a theology around it.  Left-handedness became associated with evil.  In 19th century Europe homosexuals were referred to as “left-handed.”  In Protestant-majority parts of the United Kingdom, Catholics were called “left-footers,” and vice versa in Catholic-majority parts of Ireland and Irish America.  

“Love the Sinner, Hate the Sin” is not just a statement about what someone is doing, but about who they are.  

To condemn the behavior is to condemn the orientation.  It’s like saying, “I love you, but I hate your freckles.”  “I love you, but the color of your eyes is unacceptable.”  

A friend told me that it was after he heard a preacher state “Love the sinner, hate the sin,” that he attempted to take his own life.  Certainly, his despair was not due to the pastor’s statement alone but the statement was, to him, the tipping point.   To hate the behavior was to hate him and who he is.  

Our society is split on the issue.  Our churches are too.  The position held by the church has changed over the years.  There was a day in which the church did not even recognize the possibility of sexual orientation.  Homosexuality was a choice and choice only.

There are 6 passages in the Bible, written by Moses and Paul, that address some form of same-sex behavior.  Today, a growing number of Christ-followers, myself included, wonder if these passages express God’s will for us today.  Think about it:

*Is it possible that these writers describe same-sex acts that even LBGT folks today would condemn? 

*Many scholars question whether the Biblical writers even had “sexual orientation” in their mental dictionary.

*Are these passages similar to the Bible passages that very clearly condone slavery or prohibit women from speaking in church or from teaching older boys and men – verses that reflect a cultural norm rather than God’s will?  (Am I the only one who has a problem with the Bible condoning slavery or prohibits women from teaching?) 

I have friends and members of the church I pastor, who are on different sides of the issue.  Some see me as compromising the truth.  I get that.  I would have said the same thing about me at one time in my life.  

Regardless, I want to love.  In the context of love we can understand.  We can grow.  

Over the next few weeks, we’ll look more closely at some of these phrases many of us say without thinking of what they really mean.

For Such is the Kingdom

Love Comes Naturally

 

 

One of the most frequently told stories of my childhood in a Southern Baptist Sunday School was of “Jesus and the Children.” Matthew records two events in back-to-back chapters.

In Matthew 18, Jesus uses a child to answer the adults’ adult question, “Who then is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”  We see some adults today who are obsessed with being “the greatest” or “the best.”

Jesus answered the question by calling a child to stand beside him.  “Here’s the ‘who’ you were asking about…and if you don’t change and become like this child, you won’t even enter the kingdom much less be the greatest in the kingdom.”  Whoa.  Probably not the answer the adults were expecting.

In the next chapter, Matthew records the disciples acting like Jesus’ gatekeepers, rebuking parents for bringing their kids to Jesus.  The disciples must have thought Jesus had more important people to see than children.  Jesus came back with,  “Your thinking is wrong.  Let the children come to me.  Stop stopping them.  For the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.”

As a child, these stories gave me comfort  – “Jesus loves me!”

As an adult, these stories give me pause – “What does Jesus mean?”

I don’t know.  Do you?

My experience with my 8 year old lunch buddy helps me a bit.  “Lunch Buddy” is a program of the Big Brother’s organization. He and I have been “buddies” for 4 years.

We were playing “Go Fish” and I asked him if he liked to play games with his family.  He said he did but that his uncle gets mad when he loses the game and throws things.

“What do you think about that response?” I asked.

“I think it’s stupid,” he answered.

“Why is it stupid?” I probed.

My lunch buddy, in a matter-of-fact manner replied, “Because it’s just a game.  Get over it.”

A wise 8 year old.

Children often show more wisdom than adults.

A 3-year old said, “It’s ok if she isn’t kind to me.  I can show her how.”

After seeing a spider web, a lady said, “That’s a pretty web.  I don’t like spiders, though.”  Her 6 year old nephew, in a serious tone replied, “You have to appreciate the spider to appreciate the web.”

A 2-year old said to her mom, “Mommy, I make you happy; you make me happy too.  Everybody should make everybody happy.”

Children seem to have a goodness, a sense of fairness, a generosity, a wisdom, an innocence that adults have lost.  Is Jesus telling us in these events recorded by Matthew that there is something good and pure at the core of our being that needs to be re-discovered and nurtured?

Is that the conversion Jesus describes in Matthew 18:3 (change and become like children)?

Thomas Merton puts it like this: “For me to be a saint means to be myself.  Therefore the problem of sanctification and salvation is in fact the problem of finding out who I am and of discovering my true self.”

I saw in my lunch buddy who I wanted to be.

I saw in him who my true self is.

That’s the kingdom.

Is Racism Still a Thing?

racism

 

“Why do you talk about racism?”  That’s the question I was asked by a man who had told me he was looking around for another church.

“Racism may have been a problem in your day, but we’re over it today,” the 30-something claimed.

“In your day” is kind of an “ouch” phrase, but I appreciate it.  I don’t want to be guilty of bringing into the present the problems of the past.

But, is racism an ancient problem of days gone by?  Oftentimes when I talk about racism, I get some push back:

“No one owns slaves.”

“I never see racism.”

“What I see is discrimination against whites.”

“We had a black President!”

What do you think?

Before you answer, read what happened to me last week.

I was at Sam’s Club in the fresh fruit section.   A food sampling stand made the aisle really narrow and crowded.  A narrow aisle and a wide cart.  And, I didn’t park my cart very well.  It was  sticking out into the aisle a bit.    Two African American ladies, maybe mother and daughter, were pushing their cart toward me.  I smiled at them and said, “Hey, how ya doing?” while pulling my cart closer to the fruit display to make room for them to get through.

You need to know that in the section of the cart where we used to set our kids, I now set my “man-bag.” Yes, I carry one.  That’s a topic for another post.

Another shopper passed by, leaned over to me, and said, “You were smart to protect your purse,” and kept right on walking.

I was stunned.

“Did I hear that right?”

“Did she really just say that?”
“Did she call my Man-Bag a purse?”
“Did she think I moved my cart out of fear that the two black ladies would steal my bag?”

Moving my cart, to her, was “smart?”  Really?

That’s why I talk about racism.

Racism is not a thing of yesterday.  It’s a thing today.

When I got home I told Denise about the experience.  “Did you say something to the lady?” she asked.  “No,” I answered, “I was too shocked.  By the time I came back to my senses, she was gone.”

Let’s be shocked by the labeling we see and the labeling we do.

Whenever we’re labeling, we’re not seeing.

Let’s come to our senses.

Let’s challenge ourselves and others.

Our youth choir at Forest Park Baptist Church, Joplin MO, used to sing a song called “Let There Be Peace on Earth.”

“Let there be peace on earth,  

And let it begin with me.

Let there be peace on earth,

The peace that was meant to be.

With God as our Father,

Brothers all are we.

Let me walk with my brother

In perfect harmony.”

Yes, that was “back in the day” – 1970 or 1971.

We needed it then.  We need it now.

Keep the Lent in VaLENTine’s Day

AshHeart

Two worlds merge this Wednesday, February 14 – Valentine’s Day and Ash Wednesday.  Maybe a better word than “merge” is “collide.”

Two worlds collide.

Indulgence and Deprivation

Feasting and Fasting

Chocolate and no chocolate

Yep, the number one day for giving chocolate falls on the same day people start giving up chocolate for the Lenten season.

This hasn’t happened since 1945, 73 years ago.

So, what do we do?

Do we use chocolate to make the sign of the cross on our foreheads?
Do we use ashes to make a heart instead of a cross on our foreheads?

The Archdiocese of Chicago released a statement that the “obligation of fast and abstinence must be the priority…”.

Maybe it’s not a matter of either/or.

  1. Both celebrations are about love: love for God and love for another.
  2. Both celebrations are opportunities to focus on the one we love – obviously something that shouldn’t be relegated to one day or season of the year.
  3. Both provide an opportunity to acknowledge the ways we have drifted, or turned away from the one we love and correct the course of our lives.

Lent is partly about giving up something during the Lenten season – the period between Ash Wednesday and Easter.  Well, what if we gave up something for Valentine’s Day?  You know, give up those behaviors that irritate our partner and chip away at the relationship.

*Bodily Quirks – nose picking, gas passing, air burping, teeth picking… You get the idea. Give ’em up.

 *Bad manners – leaving the toilet seat up, leaving an empty toilet tissue roll on the holder, bad manners at the table, forgetting or choosing not to say “Please” and “Thank-you.” Remember the “love is not rude” line from 1 Corinthians 13?  Well, it really isn’t.

*Being a slob – Clothes in the corner, dishes in the sink, papers piled on the cabinet.  Slobbishness is defined differently by different people. See if you all can use the same dictionary. And then, when there’s a pile, pick it up.  When there’s a mess, clean it up.  When there’s a splatter, wipe it up.

*Half-listening – You know.  Our partner is talking and we’ve got one ear tuned in to them and the other ear tuned in to the T.V.  Give that up.

*Listening to respond instead of listening to understand.  I do this a lot. I need to give it up.

Two celebrations that seem contradictory can be complimentary.  VaLENTine’s Day.

Now, I’ve got to start figuring out what to do about Easter – which happens to be on April 1!