He came the first time, 20 years ago now, holding a pair of shoes out to me. “Pastor, I need some money. Will you give me $10. I’ll leave these shoes with you.”

Well, there is an actual verse about not taking a persons cloak in pledge. Exodus 24:12

12 If the neighbor is poor, do not go to sleep with their pledge in your possession.

So I helped him. that was the start of a number of visits. He came to the office, he came by my house at times.  There was always a small need.  He had a prescription, but needed a co-pay.  He needed a few dollars for gas to get to a food pantry.  He turned out to wear my size of shoes and pants, so I would save any shoes that were old but not worn out and give them to him.

He did day labor when I first knew him.  He had a series of old cars that somehow he kept running.  Over time he was not able to work due to his health.

Yesterday his partner of 30 years came by in tears. Larry had died on the evening of Thanksgiving.  They were not married, so she did not know if she could see him.  I called the funeral home and we arranged to meet there the next today. She asked for a bible and a prayer, which we did in the parking lot.

Larry was laid out. down stairs in a small room,  under a cover.  He looked calm, as he usually did.

She wanted to know if she could kiss him. Yes she could.

Larry had some family and a few friends who were there, saying good-by.  His brother read a couple of verses from the New World Bible.

What is next?  Larry is in the hands of the Almighty, as is his partner for many years. He on that side and she on this.

She kept saying, “I want to take him home.”

I tried to say that he is home.  “You can take him home in your heart, but he has to stay here.”

If you read this, pray for Larry’s partner, Donna.


scribe.2 This is from a talk given to a chaplains group.

Romans 12:2:  Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

Since no one has used this verse, I thought I would!  The verse talks about transformation through the life of the mind.  Or maybe it is better to say the new life of the mind.  For this verse follows the previous which references the mercies of God.  We are not talking the power of positive thinking, or a mental exercise, but how God goes about making us over into the image of Christ.

I’d to talk about this with a few stories of how words can be transformative.

In high school I was not in the popular group, we called them “soshes”.  I was not in the smoker group, the shop guys or the jocks.  I was in a group of guys who ate lunch together every day at the same table in the cafeteria.  We did not really do anything all that well except to insult each other. This is a rather common form of male humor.  The point of which is not to be left without a response but to answer every sharp word-strike with a counter blow.  I was pretty good at this.

All this time I was coming to terms with my faith.  It was when I was a junior in high school that I prayed the prayer. I was at a Christian conference in Seattle, and while walking through he hallways of the basketball arena, I tried to imagined a conversation with Jesus.  The thing that struck me was that I had nothing to say – Nothing at all.   Something was wrong.  The speaker gave an invitation to receive Christ.  I took the chance.

Shortly after that I was reading in the book of Proverbs.  I came to this verse Proverbs 10:11:

The mouth of the righteous is a fountain of life,
but the mouth of the wicked conceals violence

Bam!  The verse, more or less, reached out and slapped me across the face.

I realized that my mouth was a fountain of insults, not of life.  So things started to change for my last year of high school. I discovered that I had been friends with these guys for years but did not know anything about them – one guy wanted to go into social work, another wanted to be a radio announcer.  When I quit insulting them I came to see them as pretty interesting guys

The next year I was at the U of Washington and involved with Inter Varsity.  At a conference we were supposed to use a paper bag to talk about what is the difference between what is on the inside and the outside.   From years of insults  I had learned to keep anything very important tucked deeply inside.  As I recall the speaker was making a point from the Sermon on the Mount.  The beatitude which says: Matthew 5:8

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.

The idea here is not so much spotlessness, but that the out ward and the inward correspond.  Blessed are those who are truly who they are on the inside and outside, who do not pretend to be something. This verse was added to the one before.

The book of James that has a lot to say about the tongue.

When we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we can turn the whole animal. Or take ships as an example. Although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot wants to go. Likewise, the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.

All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and sea creatures are being tamed and have been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.

The tongue has power, would I use mine for good or evil?

Now that I work along truck drivers and construction workers, I see the pattern of communication that I was very much a part of back in high school.   I hope that by a few well spoken words, some of that also might be transformed.

A few years ago I began to get interested in Wisdom Literature in the Bible – these are books such as Proverbs, Ecclesiastes and Job as well as certain literary forms such as parables and proverbs.  I came across the passage in Proverbs 6 that talks about adultery.  It dies not quote the 7th commandment.  It paints a work picture: Pv 6:27

Can a man scoop fire into his lap
without his clothes being burned?

Wisdom Literature is like the music of revelation in another key signature. It does not work so much from commands, but with comparisons.  It observes and puts things side by side for us to notice. The interesting thing is that it can get to some places where the Ten Commandments might not be well received – such as Progressive Madison.  These words tell us that playing around sexually is playing with fire.  These are a lot like James’ point that words themselves are playing with fire.

I believe in the transformative power of words.  Not a flood of them.  Not the same words for every audience.  But in terms of another proverbs, words that are well crafted to the situation:  Proverbs 25:11

A word fitly spoken
is like apples of gold in a setting of silver.

In our work we often only get a few words to share. I believe that these can be transformative, because I believe in the power of the word.

Words & Images


“You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below.You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.

             It might seem as if the Lord was against all art, but we know that in the tabernacle, there were many images that were approved by God. The command does not prohibit arts and crafts that contain images.

There are no images allowed for worship.  We are not to use images of any kind to stand as God for us.

When looked at the word image I found something interesting. The verb form of the word means to carve, hew or shape.  The old form of the command accurately used the expression “graven images.”  An idol or image that is prohibited would be something of wood, stone, metal or any other medium that was to represent God or any so called god for worship.  We are not to hew out any image to represent God to us.

What is interesting about the verb form of the word “idol” is that it is also used for the stone tablets that hold the Ten Commandments.  They were hewn out of the mountain and the words of the command were hewn into them. In fact, God cut out the stones and wrote on them his commands and gave them to Moses. God “engraved” the 10 Commandments one “hewn stones.”   Now the Second commandment says, do not make for yourself any “graved” images

One insight is that God will allow himself to be represented by words.  In Exodus 34, there is a passage where God allows Moses to “see” his glory.  But Moses only has a glimpse, as if from behind, of the glory of God, but the words are clear “The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin…

            Engraved words, indeed the Bible whether engraved, written or spoken are the way in which God has chosen to reveal himself to us.  We are not to make graven images, but open our ears and our hearts to receive the engraved words of God.


Repeat words

and they fade

like documents

from another time.


Speak of passions

felt long ago

by others

or your former self.


Preach on texts

of mighty acts

by those

no one knows.


And the words

found in books

clatter like arrows

missing the mark.


Weekly, weakly

we make words

that are overcast

by time.

David E. Carlson



the challenge for the preacher is to keep from being only an observer and teller of what others have done and said.  keep it fresh.

Episodic Proverbs and a Cup of Coffee


The one liner proverbs in life and from the Bible seem to lie dormant until a situation brings them to life.  I thought of this while studying some proverbs on how to listen and how to speak regarding the news.

This week there is a kerfuffle about Starbucks red cups.  someone somewhere declared that Starbucks made war on Christmas.  Now this is clicking all over social media.  In a week or a month this will pass.  No one will remember except that some religious folk are prone to goofiness.

Let me suggest this: read and think before you click, like, forward, paste and otherwise multiply this sort of thing.  Here is a proverb that applies:

The one who states his case first seems right,
    until the other comes and examines him. 

Proverbs 18:17

The news reader should always check the source, and even listen to another point of view. If you only listen to the news you agree with, don’t you wonder if you are getting the truth?  Listen to who who don’t agree and you may get a better sense of the issue.

About 20 years ago, a man become famous in my city by suggesting that a building burning down was God’s judgment on a particular kind of behavior that was associated with that location.  This kind of overstatement occurs around social issues and political campaigns.  It was an overstatement; who can tell us the mind of God in a situation?

In  a political year some prosper by division – their guiding proverb is “divide and conquer.”  Others simply don’t care if their claims are true or helpful.  A biblical proverb that applies here is:

Scoffers set a city aflame,
    but the wise turn away wrath.

Proverbs 29:8

As a teenager my clan rejoiced in well placed insults.  That continued until I read this proverb which jumped out of the book and slapped my upside the head:

The mouth of the righteous is a fountain of life,
    but the mouth of the wicked conceals violence.

Proverbs 10:11

Violence seems strong.  Words are not supposed to hurt, like sticks and stones.  Yet words can do violence to a community, to good will, to the chance of getting a hearing in the larger public, to friendships, to reputations and to friendships.  The righteous produce words that give life, like a fountain of fresh water.


Seven Words for Pastors – #4 “Words” – John 6:68


oldest fragment of John

oldest fragment of John

“Come, all you who are thirsty,

come to the waters;

and you who have no money,

come buy and eat!

Come buy wine and milk

without money and without cost.

Why spend money on what is not bread,

and your labor on what does not satisfy?

Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good,

and your soul will delight in the richest of fare.”

Isaiah 55:1,2


     The fifth word comes after a long section on Jesus as the bread giver and Jesus as the bread of life.

     It begins with the great crowd who had followed Jesus out to the wilderness.  We worry if our people have to walk from the far end of the parking lot, but these people left home and traveled to the wilderness to see Jesus on the far side of the Sea of Galilee.

Jesus gave a test to the disciples.  “How shall we feed this crowd?”  They had no money.  The best they could do was a boy’s lunch.  That was so small that to share it was insignificant.  That is, until Jesus changed the arithmetic.

He had the people sit down in groups and he blessed the lunch and began to divide it.  God multiplied the loaves and the fish so the people had more than enough.

This sign was clear.  If Caesar can offer bread and circuses, this man can make bread out of nothing?  So they rose up to make him King by force.

This is very impressive ministry.  Jesus drew the crowd by his teaching, and he fed the crowd, tending to their felt needs.  They saw his power and wanted to make him King over their lives.  Surely this is the point where John will write, “and they lived happily ever after.”

Instead, Jesus withdrew to the wilderness.

Later after the crowd found Jesus again, now on the other side of the lake, they came to him.  Here began a dialogue between Jesus and the people.

“What must we do?” they asked. Jesus said to believe him.

“What sign will you do to make us believe in you?”  As if the feeding was not enough sign.  Moses gave manna day after day in the wilderness, could Jesus give daily bread to them?

    Jesus answered that he was the true bread was that which gives them life.

They asked for the bread, and Jesus said, “I am the bread of life.  He who comes to me will never go hungry and he who believes in me will never be thirsty.  But….you still do not believe.”

The crowd began to murmur about this man whom they knew from childhood.  He grew up right around this place.  How could he say he is the bread of heaven?

Jesus made it harder for them, he said, “I am the living bread that came down from heaven…..This bread is my flesh, which I give for the life of the world.”

They were stunned at these words, and he made them harder to accept.  “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you….”

The disciples even began to waver.  “Who can accept this teaching?” they said to themselves.

Then many of this numbered crowd left.  He turned to the Twelve and said, “Do you want to leave too?”

Simon Peter answered, and this is our fourth word:

“Lord, to whom shall we go?  You have the words of eternal life.”


    I can only imagine what Jesus would have heard from the consultants, the denominational officials, the financial officers and the workshop leaders if this were a contemporary story:

“All these “seekers” had overcome obstacles that should have kept them away.  We really will have to address the issues of accessibility  and publicity as well.  But they had come a great distance.  And it was a good idea to feed them.  People feel comfortable eating, and it shows concern for them.  You met them at their felt-need.

But why were you so negative?  Why did you say things that were so hard to understand?  Why did you offend their sensibilities?  Why did you drive them away?  We will have to work on your communication skills in the future.

You had them in the palm of your hand.  Do you know how rare it is to have the people united around anything?  But you threw away this opportunity.  I suppose it is not to late to repair the damage……”

The only thing I can imagine that Jesus would say to these men is what he said to the Twelve:

    “Do you want to leave too?”


    All this conversation had to do with bread.  America has led the way in ruining bread.  It really started with bleached white flour.  Before WWI white flour was gotten by screening out the part of the ground wheat that was not wanted – all that dark gritty stuff in whole wheat flour.  In order to be able to transport and store flour in large quantities for long periods of time, white flour was also bleached.  This bleached flower was fine and could be stored safely for months.

The trouble is that wheat, as God created it and man developed it by his cultivation, was a pretty complete food.  Within the grain was starch, oil fiber  vitamins and minerals.  The process of sifting out the white from the whole wheat leaves the fiber and the oils out.  The process of bleaching what is left removes all the remaining vitamins and minerals.  The result is a form of starch and little more.

This flour after the war was put on the commercial market and the result was Wonder Bread.  Now what is wonder bread?  It is made of bleached white flour.  We all learned in the school lunch room that a kid can squish a slice of wonder bread down to a very small ball of dough.  In order that this bread can be nutritious, the vitamins and minerals that were removed in the process of making the flour were added back in.  Thus we have a bread with vitamins and minerals that build bodies in twelve ways.

What God gave us we changed, stripped of it’s original value, made it more convenient and profitable and added back in some of what was lost.

We Americans have led the way in doing the very same thing to the Bread of Life.  We have taken Christ, and the Scriptures and found ways to make them more manageable.  We have found how to store them in larger quantities and to gather them in larger amounts.  To do this we have had to remove some things.  We have removed the offensive and the uncomfortable.  The stuff that is dark and gritty.  Then because what we have left is so lacking in God-given nutritional value, we add back in artificially produced vitamins.

We have produced large churches where people can not possibly know each other by name or face, and so we create artificial fellowship groups, care groups, community groups and discipleship groups to put back in what was taken out.

We have turned these large churches increasingly into audiences.  And so we have to develop measurement tools to find the gifts and personality profiles of those we try to recruit into leadership.

We have taken out the Old Testament for the most part, along with the hard sayings of Paul and Jesus on judgment and holiness.  We have extracted from the books God had written little booklets of 6 to 8 lessons, principles, or sermons which give us crumbs off the loaf.

    Jesus would say to us as well, “do you want to leave too?,” except that we have already mostly left.


       Jesus knew the crowd for what it was.  After his popularity began, it is written, “But Jesus would not entrust himself to them, for he knew all men.  He did not need man’s testimony about man, for he knew what was in man.”  2:24,25

That is why he departed when they wanted to make him king.  That is why his answers were difficult.  He did not want easy mis-believers.  He wanted those who would come to him because in him they could find the words of life.

The problem for pastors is this.  We do not want to offend people by our own style or words or methods.  Yet we can not avoid the offense that is caused by the Word of God itself.  How do we discern the difference between our offense and the offense of the Gospel?

Elsewhere Jesus had confrontations with the Pharisees and the Sadducees.

The Pharisees were rigorous rule-makers.  They liked to make rules in addition to the rules of scripture.  If God said not to work on the Sabbath, they developed and defended hundreds of other rules to interpret God’s word.  But Jesus said, to them, “You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to the traditions of men.”  And he said to them: “You have a fine way of setting aside the commands of God in order to observe your own traditions.”  Mark 7:8,9.

In  another place he said, “They tie up heavy loads and put them on men’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them.”

Those who want to make the burden of receiving Christ light, and who want to make the taste of the Gospel sweet, have warned us against laws and commands.  However, Jesus did not say that there were no commands or laws to present to the people.  He said that the Laws of God should not be added to.  What God has given should not be made burdensome.  He said, “My burden is light.”  Even so, there is a burden.  His issued commands: “Love one another as I have loved you.”

We should not be against the demands of discipleship, but only against those we have made ourselves.

The Sadducees had no time for Scripture.  They were upper class power brokers.  The High Priests came from their ranks.  The religious rules and squabbles of the common rabble were not for them.

Some of them came to Jesus with a sophomoric question, about marriage in Heaven.  He told them off: “You are in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the Power of God.”  Mt 22:29

We in the church who want to be power brokers, and who long to be seen as professionals who deal only in excellence, are constantly tempted to diminish the Scriptures.  Quoting the Bible has less punch with the powerful people and the beautiful people than quoting a song or a scholar.

The only tools we have are ourselves, yielded as instruments of righteousness, the Word of God and prayer.

If the word is sharp, we shouldn’t try to dull it down or it won’t be able to do it’s work.  If the word is tender, we should not be callous toward those who need to hear it.