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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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.

The Bible, Spanking, and Hermeneutics

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“‘Use the rod.  Beat the child,’ that’s my motto,” asserts Ms Trunchbull, Headmistress of Matilda’s school in Roald Dahl’s remarkable story, Matilda.

Sounds a lot like another motto, “Spare the rod, spoil the child” from another piece of literature.  The Bible?  Nope.  Good guess, though. The exact line is from a 17th century poem by Samuel Butler.  In the poem, a love affair is likened to a child, and spanking is commended as a way to make the love grow stronger.  I guess that’s for another post.

“Spare the rod, spoil the child” may not be in the Bible but what’s in the Bible is close enough.

Proverbs 13:24 “Whoever spares the rod hates their children. But the one who loves their children is careful to discipline them.”

Proverbs 23:13-14 “Do not withhold discipline from a child; if you punish them with the rod, they will not die.  Beat them with the rod and save them from death.”

Proverbs 10:13 “Wisdom is found on the lips of the discerning, but a rod is for the back of one who has no sense.”

Proverbs 20:30 “Blows and wounds scrub away evil, and beatings purge the inmost being.”  

Proverbs 22:15 “Foolishness is bound in the heart of a child; but the rod of correction shall drive it far from him.”

Proverbs 26:3 “A whip for the horse, a bridle for the donkey, and a rod for the backs of fools.”

Denise (my wife of 33 years) and I raised our two boys on a “modified” version of the above verses.  I say “modified” because the spankings were…
-on the bottom not the back.
-administered not by a rod but by a paddle on our boys – You remember the paddle with the ball attached to it?  Devin, one of our sons said, “It’s messed up when parents spank their kids with their own toys.”  He’s right.
-not close to “beatings. Though from the perspective of a child, it may have felt like a beating.
-limited to 2-3 smacks.
-not so severe that they left marks.
-not given beyond 10 years of age.

But this is not a post on parenting.  It is an invitation to think about how we interpret the Bible.

You see, each of the above characteristics of spanking were “modifications” of the Biblical instructions found in Proverbs.  Nope.  We didn’t follow the teaching of the Bible when it came to corporal punishment.  We modified them.  But, we didn’t make these modifications on our own.  They were suggested by the guru of parenting instruction in our day, James Dobson. If you look at the website of the organization Dobson founded, “Focus on the Family,” you will find an article with this title:  “The Biblical Approach to Parenting.”   The “Biblical” approach, it says, is to spank.  But, as is asked in the first paragraph, “What does it look like to spank in a way that obeys Scripture…?”  Their answer doesn’t sound very much like what the Bible actually teaches about “spanking.”  So, what’s up?

They have, according to Dr. William Webb in his book Corporal Punishment in the Bible: A Redemptive Movement Hermeneutic for Troubling Texts, gone “beyond the Bible biblically.”

Abolitionists went beyond the plain teaching of the Bible concerning slavery (Exodus 21:20-21; Ephesians 6:5; 1 Peter 2:18; Titus 2:9-10) to a “better ethic,” an ethic that reflected the spirit of Christ (See Mark Noll’s book, The Civil War as a Theological Crisis).   It appears that some of the “pro-spankers” have gone beyond the plain teaching of the Bible concerning corporal punishment.

I’m glad they did.  So are my sons!

Here’s something Denise and I are contemplating and discussing:  If Dobson and other “pro-spankers” have moved away from the clear, literal teaching of the Bible to an ethic that is more in line with the spirit of Jesus, is it possible that as we learn more about raising kids, we can move away from spanking altogether?  Every pastor and parent needs to read Dr. Webb’s book before either lifts a hand or teaches others to lift a hand.

Something else… What does this say about how to interpret the Bible?
Especially those tough to understand passages like slavery and spanking?
Are we moving toward an ethic that reflects the spirit of Jesus?

A Taste of Grace

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A  highlight of my week is a 30 minute lunch with my “lunch buddy” at a local elementary school.  The “Lunch Buddy” program, administered by Big Brothers/Big Sisters, pairs an adult with a kid who needs a good adult role model.

 “Big Brothers” thought I would fit the bill -as the adult.

I was paired with a 6-year-old kindergartner.

Sitting in the school library for our first lunch together several weeks ago, we unpacked our lunches.   I opened my Zip-Lock bag of apple slices.  He opened his Spider Man lunch box filled with three bags of chips, 2 cereal bars, and a Capri-Sun fruit juice.

Maybe he felt sorry for me. “How sad,” he may have thought, “all this man has to eat is an apple.” Because each time he opened a bag of food, before taking some food for himself, he would hold it out to me,  “Mr. Bill (that’s what he calls me – I’m good with that –  “Phil”- “Bill” sound the same), do you want one?”

“Thank-you, but (How do I explain Celiac to a 6 year old?),  I have some food allergies. I’ll just eat my apple.”  Not being able to comprehend eating only an apple for lunch, he persisted.  He unwrapped his cereal bar, tore off a piece, held it up to me, “Can you eat this?”

“No, thanks though, I really can’t.”

He was relentless.

“How about chocolate?  Can you eat chocolate?”

“Yes,  I love chocolate.”

So, like a miner digging for diamonds the little fella dug into his cereal bar with those little 6-year-old fingers until he pulled out a bit of chocolate.  “Here you go,” he said with a beaming smile, “here’s some chocolate for you!”

Forget cross-contamination – a Celiac’s fear.
Forget where those fingers may have been.
How could I say “No” to such a face, to such grace?

Some of the best chocolate I’ve had.

I wonder if Jesus had this boy in mind when he said,

“Most certainly I tell you, unless you turn, and become as little children you will in no way enter into the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:3)?

I signed up to be a “lunch buddy” to inspire a kid.  The kid inspired me.