Calm in the Canoe – a parable

canoeFrom the shore we can see the man in the canoe.  He is not paying attention to the danger he is in, because his eyes are closed.  What he does not see, we can see clearly.  Just down river is a quick succession of rapids through large boulders and then a 30 foot waterfall.  We call out, but he is not connected to the world.

I am in my canoe.  It is taking me on a journey.  I do not strive or turn, but am satisfied to follow the path of water and current.   I have closed my eyes and taken the position.  I have been breathing slowly, allowing myself to be completely in this time and place.  The flow of the river, the lapping of the waves, the gentle breeze on my face all are sensed, not as separate sounds, but part of one sound.

We start to shout, but he is not listening.

I heard chattering monkeys just then, but now they have receded.

We call out: Danger is ahead!  Turn to Shore!  Your life is in danger.

Quietly I flow, the water flows, the canoe flows, all time flows, we flow as one.
He must have fallen asleep.  We try tossing a stone against the boat, but it is hard to reach.  The first and second try miss, but on the third we hear the “clunk” of success. He stirs, but then returns to his sleep.

Nature and I are one. The river and I are one.  Time and I are one.  Words have no meaning.  All is at peace.

Just now we see the boat enter the rapids…he awakes at the third stone he hits, but not in time.  He starts to paddle, but will he get to shore in time?

What is that, the flow is interrupted. I open my eyes and the peaceful waters are shouting. The mirror water is mist.  There is a roaring just ahead.  Rapids!  Waterfall!

I grasp my paddle and pull deeply in the water, but the roaring grows louder.

Just as he goes over the edge, he reaches upward and cries out. Then he is gone.

It’s too late.  I’ve come to the edge.  Someone help me!


David Carlson


Who are “the least of these” in Matthew 25


I am aware of two interpretations of the expression, “the least of these my brethren.”  It is used in the parable of the sheep and the goats in Matthew 25:31-46.

One view emphasizes “brethren” and indicates that we will be evaluated by how we receive the servants of Christ. This interpretation notes that receiving the messengers of Jesus brought a blessing when the 12 were sent out in mission to the towns of Judea (Matthew 10:1-16).

Another passage on that theme is Matthew 18, where there is a blessing to those who humble themselves like a child to receive the kingdom. (Mt. 18:1-4)

Both of those passages indicate that a faith response is what makes someone one of Jesus “brethren.”

The other view puts the emphasis on “the least of these.”  This passage has been seen as a central motivator in missions of compassion to the poor.  Some go so far as to say that since God has a preference for the poor, they are already his brethren, and so this is very inclusive. There is no need for the recipient of acts of mercy to have a faith response because they are already God’s children.

This interpretation stands behind a lot of Christian ministries of compassion and justice.

Now, how can we answer this from Matthew?

First, we have to include both parts of “the least of these” and “my brethren.”  So Jesus is indicating something about social insignificance and about a faith response.  I say that because of verses like “blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of God.”  a recognition of need is a prerequisite to entrance into the Kingdom.(Mt 5:3)

Secondly,  we notice in Chapter 25, there is a division between those who receive grace and are included and those who do not.  In the parable of the 10 Bridesmaids, 5 are prepared and enter and 5 are left out.  In the parable of the Talents, the third servant is cast outside for his lack of faith in his master.  In the Sheep and the Goats, the nations are divided between those who are Sheep (who enter the Kingdom) and the Goats (those sent to eternal punishment.)  So Matthew 25 does not support the idea of total inclusion of all people into the Kingdom of God.  Some are outside, and can hardly be considered to be brethren of Christ.

Third, there is an equivalency between those who follow Jesus and becoming the least.  The Sermon on he Mount as a manual for discipleship is opposed to self-sufficiency.  The call to discipleship is the call to leave everything, (Mt:16:24)
The mission of the 12 involved self-denial and dependency on reception by those who hear the message. (Mt 10:8ff).

Finally, there is a connection between receiving Jesus messengers and receiving Jesus.  Matthew 10:40-42 reads as follows.

40 “Whoever receives you receives me, and whoever receives me receives him who sent me. 41 The one who receives a prophet because he is a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward, and the one who receives a righteous person because he is a righteous person will receive a righteous person’s reward.42 And whoever gives one of these little ones even a cup of cold water because he is a disciple, truly, I say to you, he will by no means lose his reward.”

Notice the strong connection between giving water to “little ones” with their being a “disciple”.

I believe we do have a strong calling to generalized compassion ministries.  We can find that all through the scriptures from the Law, the Prophets, the Wisdom literature, the teaching of Jesus and the Apostles.  But that does not seem to be the meaning of this text.

This text does call us to compassion.  Let us help the needy and seed justice for the poor.

But we can not separate sharing the compassion of Jesus from receiving the message about Jesus.

That Guy in Matthew 22:8-14


“Then he said to his servants, ‘The wedding banquet is ready, but those I invited did not deserve to come. So go to the street corners and invite to the banquet anyone you find.’ 10 So the servants went out into the streets and gathered all the people they could find, the bad as well as the good, and the wedding hall was filled with guests.

11 “But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing wedding clothes. 12 He asked, ‘How did you get in here without wedding clothes, friend?’ The man was speechless.

13 “Then the king told the attendants, ‘Tie him hand and foot, and throw him outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’

14 “For many are invited, but few are chosen.”   Mt 22:8-14 NIV


           When the king came to visit his guests he saw everyone was wearing wedding clothes but one guy.  So he asked him, “How did you get in here without wedding clothes?”

    There is some debate about these wedding clothes.  Some say that they represent the good works of those who keep Jesus teaching.  They are robes of righteousness that we create for ourselves by our good lives.  Do you think that is possible?

One of the first things Jesus taught was “blessed are the poor in spirit.”  He did not teach that we can be righteous, but he did teach that we must be made righteous. No, it is not possible to weave for ourselves wedding garments by doing good works.

There is another way of looking at this.  This garment indicates the change God has made in us.  It is probably taking it too far to say that the robes in this verse refer to Justification by Faith – because Matthew does not speak of that. But what Justification by faith means is that a person is not made right before God by actions.  That right-ness is a gift.  It is the work God does for us.

So the man in the wedding without wedding clothes represents those who are inside the community of believers, but who do not belong there.  He is in a place that he does not belong because he is not a believer himself.  Jesus said that in this age the wheat and the weeds will grow up together and in the last day they will be sorted out.  He also said that God will cast his net, and will separate the good fish from the bad fish.  So there is to be a sorting out. (Matthew 13)

If a person comes in who is bad that is not a problem because of verse 10.  If a person comes in who appear good, that is not a problem.  But if a person comes in and has not been robed by the work of God, that is a problem.

The king asked him where his clothes were and the man was speechless. And so he was thrown out.  This last part, the only guy who was inside out, is a warning.  Do not think that location is salvation.  Do not think that because you are in church or have become a member or have been baptized or have taken communion that you belong.

Only those who have had the work of God in them can stay.  Here is how this is described in Isaiah 61:10

I delight greatly in the Lord;
    my soul rejoices in my God.
For he has clothed me with garments of salvation
    and arrayed me in a robe of his righteousness,
as a bridegroom adorns his head like a priest,
    and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.

The Insiders are out

You do not want to be one of these, who think they are chosen but who refuse the real invitation.

The Outsiders are in

You do want to be one of these, who knows that they do not belong, but who have accepted the invitation.

And One Guy is inside out.

You do not want to be this guy, who presumes that location is not salvation.  

“Frankly” – A Parable on Race

biscayneYears ago my brother and I traveled in the back seat of the family car, a 1962 Chevrolet Biscayne 4-door.  Of course mom and dad were in the front seat, and we were sharing the back.  Sharing the back seat on this trip from our home town in Washington State to the big wide state of Montana turned out to be an epic adventure.

By mutual agreement, we stayed each on our own side of the rear seat bump.  But after a time, things started to happen to break the peace.  My middle name is Eric, and somehow that became Earache.  I never saw the humor in it, but by older siblings thought it was hilarious. “Well,” I thought, when the first Earache comment happened, “there has to be something to do with my brother’s name.”  

His name is Frank, and it always annoyed him when people started a sentence with “Frankly…”.  So, I said, “Frankly, I don’t care for that nickname, Frank.”  And so it begun.  Between the Cascade Mountains that divide Western and Eastern Washington State and the distant prospect of Spokane, several more Earaches and Franklys were heard.

As we approached the Rocky mountains, I decided to step up my game.  I remembered my sister’s phrase: “Franky Panky Stinky Stanky.”  I laid that marker down around Coeur d’Alene.  As we rode higher into the mountains, the temperature in the back seat was getting hotter.  

About this time Mom looked back and said that we should tone it down.

So we were quiet. Then I broke the silence. About every 10 minutes I would just say, “Frankly.”  Or “Stinky”.  Or “Stanky”.

The subtlety of the delivery was such that I was never heard in the front seat, but it was very clear what I was doing in the back seat.

At about the 25th saying of “stinky stanky” there was an explosion.  We had driven now about 500 miles and we were nearing Missoula, Montana.  500 miles was the family driving limit in those days.  And 25 “stinky stankys” whispered across the back seat was my bothers limit.  He launched himself across the divide and let me have it.

I cried out with great surprise and innocence, “What is wrong with you?”

My dad looked around and said….

Now here is the question.  Who is at fault?

My brother clearly took the conflict from words to fists.  Should we look just at the part where he launched himself across the back seat at his sweet younger brother?  Or should we look at the whole lead up of the 500 miles of back seat shenanigans, where I do not look so sweet and innocent?

Some look at the events of Ferguson, MO by only focusing on the 90 seconds of a confrontation between a police officer and a young black man.  Others see that this 90 seconds was part of a longer story with many provocations that came before.

Parable of the Sower – a Fresh Read



I am trying to think about Matthew 13:1-23 with a fresh read perspective – that is to try to read it for what it syas, not for what people say it says.

So here are a few questions.

  • What exactly is the seed?
    •  Is what Jesus has been teaching and preaching?
    • Is it the “deposit” mentioned in the NT letters?
  • Can the seed/message be tweaked or changed for the soil/audience
    • That seems to happen in the sermons in Acts.
  • What exactly is the act of sowing?
  • Is there any strategy to sowing?
    • It looks to be non strategic in the parable – the farmer sows everywhere.
  • What exactly are the soils?
    • Kinds of people by sociological category?
    • or by Spiritual openness?
  • What is the secret?
  • Why don’t some see/hear/believe when others do?
  • Are there more actions than sowing and receiving?
  • Does the soil have a choice in its condition?


There seems to be a structure

A – Parable of Sower v. 1-9

B – Why Parables? v. 10

B’ – Why Parables. v. 11-17

A’ – Parable of Sower. v. 18-23

Advice from Abraham

DivesLazarusIn the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus, in Luke 16, the formerly rich man, now in the torment of Hades, asked Abraham to send Lazarus to warn his brothers of what would happen to them.

Does this remind you of Dickens, “A Christmas Carol,” where Scrooge’s old partner comes and warns him of his fate?  It seems Dickens and Abraham do not agree on this point.

‘Then I beg you, father, to send him to my father’s house— 28 for I have five brothers—so that he may warn them, lest they also come into this place of torment.’ 29 But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.’ 30 And he said, ‘No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ 31 He said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.’

Abraham says that they have Moses and the Prophets (i.e. the Old Testament).  If that is not enough, sending Lazarus will not help.

In the light of the fascination with media in churches, and with celebrity pastors and celebrity football players, or actors, or any other sort of famous person who is a Christian, whether we should heed the advice of Abraham, which is really the advice of Jesus, who is telling the story.

The scriptures, with we presume, the help of the Holy Spirit, carry the power of salvation.  Special effects, specters from the dead, and the like may create excitement, but will they really accomplish anything?


Two Sinners in the Prodigal Son Story – Luke 15

The-Prodigal-SonThere are three characters in the Prodigal Son parable.  Most of the attention goes to the younger son, but the story is about the Father and his TWO lost sons.

Younger:   And the younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of property that is coming to me.’ And he divided his property between them.   Not many days later, the younger son gathered all he had and took a journey into a far country, and there he squandered his property in reckless living.

This son is one kind of sinner.  He thinks about himself and his desires.  He does not care for the teaching he received. He does not care for tradition. He does not a care for doing the right thing.  He breaks all the rules and eventually he finds himself facing the results.This kind of sinner plants trouble and ends up getting more trouble

I do not think he knows about forgiveness.  He believes that he can make a plan to work for his father.  The last thing he expects is to be forgiven.  He knows his father is fair – he would do the right thing to give him a job.  He does not know that his father loves him enough to forgive him.

Older:  But he was angry and refused to go in. His father came out and entreated him,   but he answered his father, ‘Look, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command, yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might celebrate with my friends.   But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him!’

The older son is a second kind of sinner.   Yes he is a sinner.  He is lost .The younger son was lost because of his selfishness.  The older son was lost because he kept the rules.  He did not know his father or  his father’s live. He only knew the rules. He only understood that you earn your way by your work.

The Father: But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. 21 And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’  But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet.  And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate.  For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to celebrate.

When the son returned, the Father saw him first.  He was waiting for the time when the son was ready to come back.  God is also looking for people to return home to him.  You may be far from God.  Maybe you know someone who is far from God.  God is looking for those who are far off to return.

The Father ran and gave a robe and a ring and a party to his son.  In the same way, when we return to God, he gives us many gifts.  We are received as his children, we are forgiven, we are given an inheritance.  God desires to welcome people back because he wants so pout out his live on us.

Literary Notes:

Luke 15:1-2 shows that “sinners and tax collectors” as well as “scribes and Pharisees” interacted with Jesus.  the Sinners were drawn to him but the religious were offended. They were offended that Jesus accepted sinners into his company

“Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him. 2 And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.” v. 1-2

The Father went out to both sons to welcome them home from their estrangement:  The Younger son as he returned from the pig pen. The older son who stood outside in anger against his Father and judgment against his brother.

At the end of the story, the younger son returns but the attitude of the older son is left unresolved.

Worksheet: Forgive.luke15

Parable of the Talents – Updated

When Jesus told stories he did not have to explain the background, because he used every day objects and customs.  We who live in the 21st Century sometimes need help with understanding sheep, grapes and ancient business practices.  For this reason I re-wrote the parable in a contemporary format.  This might be something you could use for your own benefit – the process of translating the story to a current format will help you observe the original more closely. 

It is not possible to preserve everything of the original and we don’t want to replace it, or even compete with it.  The point is to create a bridge from here to there.  Once you travel the bridge, you don’t need it any longer.

Click here to read: ACME

Micah 6:8 What Does God Want?

Consider this part one. 

 Tonight we will be using the parable of the Vineyard in Matthew 20 with the 3rd to 5th graders to explain the idea of “doing justice” and “loving mercy.”    We tried earlier to walk humbly, but that is hard to do with that age.  There was more success in acting out the Good Samaritan parable (Luke 10) to illustrate what it means to “love mercy.”

Micah 6:8 – ESV
    He has told you, O man, what is good;
        and what does the Lord require of you
    but to do justice, and to love kindness,
        and to walk humbly with your God?

Words such as these need windows, and that is what the stories and parables provide.  The words are black and white, concepts with power and meaning, but the stories bring them to life