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Advent 3, Year C–Luke 3:7-18

If you are not careful, John the Baptist can swallow your Advent calendar. No lie. I’ve actually had it happen to me a time or two. You think you’re plugging along doing the right thing with these verses from the lectionary laid out every week, and the next thing you know you’ve essentially peached a four part sermon on the prophecy, birth, ministry, and death of John the Baptist. It can happen to anyone.

The reason it can happen is because, quite honestly, there is so much juice there. The third Sunday’s Gospel reading is Luke’s synopsis of The Baptist’s preaching ministry, and quite honestly, it has some of my favorite lines in it.

You brood of vipers! Luke 3:7

The Baptist did not follow seeker sensitive paradigms. I feel like this was his opening. Whereas most preachers today would tell a lighthearted story or a joke to warm the crowd up, JB just lays into them by inferring they were a bunch of snakes. I wonder what insults he’d come up with to open a sermon today? Maybe, “You entertainment entrepreneurs” or perhaps “self-help supplicants” or something biting. I’ve often wondered if he isn’t, by saying ‘vipers’ intimating a connection with the serpent in the garden.

We have Abraham as our Father. Luke 3:8

This is the claim of the religious leaders–we are the children of Abraham so we are automatically spiritually significant. It is a type of elitism that boils my skin. Pedigree is meaningless in the Kingdom of God, and those who would hide behind it or revel in are grossly mistaken. I like how he called them out on it. There is no place for snobbery or nepotism in the church.

The axe is laid to the root of the trees. Luke 3:9

The people are the trees and the axe is the activity of the Lord. Having grown up on a farm, this image is powerful to me. The tree is not being chopped off where there will be stump. It is being cut at he roots and pushed over. Nothing of it will be left exceptionalities the hole that is left in the ground.

Share with him who has none  Luke 3:11

There is nothing in his sermon to this point that is complicated or necessarily doctrinal. He gives the warning and then launches with ethics. Share. Whatever you have, share it.

Be content with your wages Luke 3:14

This is what he said to the soldiers who were out there. Soldiers in the ancient world padded their income with extortion, bribes, and violence. I am certain in some parts of the world this is still the situation. JB says don’t do that. I find it fascinating that he doesn’t, and neither does Jesus, say “stop being soldiers.” Soldiery is honorable, good, and important. But not all soldiers are good. For the record, these are probably the priests soldiers and not Roman soldiers.

With many other exhortations he preached good news to the people. Luke 3:18

Verse 18 is not JB’s words. These are Luke’s words’ and Luke refers to the harsh, combative, confrontation words of The Baptist as “good news” or “gospel”.  That is not how most of us would define a gospel message. We would define it as the love of God proclaimed, a discussion about the need for salvation, and an invitation to make Christ your Lord. But that is not JB’s message. His gospel is humility, share, fairness, and contentment with honesty. That is fiery stuff in any age.

In addition to these jabs, there is the constant backdrop of fire in JB’s words. He tells them fruitless trees will be thrown into the fire, the Messiah will baptize with fire, and the chaff is burned with unquenchable fire. The emphasis upon fire is the prophetic mantle he wore. Prophets don’t hold hands and comfort, they rebuke and challenge with fiery words and fiery images. They remind people of the certainty of judgment as well as the certainty of purification. Neither one is pain free, and both will leave burn marks.

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Advent 3, Year C–Philippians 4:4-7

These verses from Paul’s inspiring prison epistle come close to hitting just about every Advent theme there is.


Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made to known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 4:4-7

Let’s just count those Advent themes, shall we?

  1. Joy (Rejoice)
  2. The coming of the Lord (The Lord is at hand–literally, ‘the Lord is near’)
  3. Anxiety
  4. Prayer
  5. Thanksgiving
  6. Peace
  7. Love

Some might quibble with the inclusion of love, but Paul references ‘hearts’ in verse 7 and even uses along with ‘minds’ as two different things-cognitive and affective. This indicates he is speaking about love. The words ‘faith’ and ‘hope’ are missing, but they can be deduced through the activity of prayer, which is faith in action, so to speak. Hope is about the future, which is where the passage goes in terms of God’s peace guarding our hearts and minds.

Now, let’s make another list. Let’s make a list of the things that can make us anxious during the Advent season leading up to Christmas?

  1. Gift buying
  2. Gift receiving
  3. Family
  4. Money problems
  5. Health Issues
  6. Weather
  7. Busy Activities
  8. Loss/Grief
  9. Bing Crosby
  10. Elf on the Shelf
  11. Pressure to cook
  12. Weight gain
  13. Schedule interruption/loss of routine
  14. Christmas cards
  15. Christmas parties
  16. Travel
  17. Houseguests
  18. Crowds
  19. Christmas trees
  20. Christmas music

That is a quick list, but hardly exhaustive, amiright?

If I were preaching this passage this Sunday (I am not), the bulk of the sermon would live with that idea-what makes us anxious. I’d spend considerable oxygen on seasonal anxiety but then I would shift to anxiety in general and perhaps have our congregation daydream with me about a warm day in June and the anxieties there.

  1. Vacation plans
  2. Plane tickets
  3. Sunburns
  4. Graduation Parties
  5. College Issues (there are about a hundred that go with this)
  6. Juggling schedules at work
  7. Children getting out of school
  8. Mowing the grass/yard work (this is a high source of anxiety for me, personally)
  9. Church activities
  10. Air conditioner broken
  11. New tires for the car
  12. Dropped phone in the lake/fountain/toilet
  13. Dog’s veterinary visit
  14. Frenemies at work (textually, this is close to the source of anxiety in Philippi, c/f 4:2)

You can see anxiety is not just a seasonal issue. It is continual and always with us. Having made that point, I would then pull from the text two different aspects that Paul seems to offer as solutions.

The first one is prayer. Whatever makes us anxious is an issue of prayer. Certainly this means focusing on these things when we pray, but it probably also means letting the moments of anxiety themselves become prayer opportunities. When the crowd makes me nervous it will help if I center myself and pray in that moment. This practice makes the awarenesses that “The Lord is near” more relevant than ever. His presence, his Immanuel, can help with anxiety.

But he seems to give us more than prayer to work with. Paul says that we should let our ‘reasonableness’ be known. The ESV chooses reasonableness as the rendering, but ‘gentleness’ has a fine tradition for interpretation, and the word could even indicate ‘graciousness.’ One of my favorite little Greek New Testament tools indicates ‘considerate’ as a baseline meaning. When you have this kind of word soup for options, I find it nice to put them in a blender and hit puree. What we get at is the concept people should not be jerks and take whatever actions are relevant to ease anxiety, whether it is their own or someone else’s. In our modern context, I take that to mean enjoying the science-based evidence that medication, therapy, a psychologist, meditation, or any other treatment that might help is in play here. It is only reasonable. Some people face anxiety in different ways than others. This could be as much biochemistry as it is spiritual. That doesn’t mean you stop praying, though. It means you let your faith and reasonable activities partner together to help you enjoy the peace that guards your hearts and minds.

 

 

 

 

 

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Advent 3, Year C–Zephaniah 3:14-20

There is no hope in the book of Zephaniah until the backend. Well, perhaps I should temper my sentence down a bit, as hope is sometimes a subjective thing. It would be more accurate to say there is only judgment in Zephaniah until the last section that begins in 3:9. From there it is all hope all the way to the end. Verses 9-13 are prophecies which speak to the future conversion of other peoples besides the Hebrews.

Our Old Testament reading for the third Sunday of Advent doesn’t begin until verse 14, though. We have to be careful to always take note of the historical situation, because that matters too, but in the themes of Advent we should read these words primarily as prophetic oracles about the Lord Jesus.

Sing aloud, O daughter of Zion; shout, O Israel! Rejoice and exult with all your heart, O daughter of Jerusalem! The Lord has taken away the judgments against you; he has cleared away your enemies. The King of Israel, the Lord, is in your midst; you shall never again fear evil.

Zephaniah 3:15-15

Remember, Zephaniah has been pronouncing judgment–powerful condemnation–and he started with Judah (1:4). But now something has changed. The Lord takes it away. The reader is designed to come to the conclusion this is so because the Lord himself is in our midst, and his presence vanquishes evil.

The Lord doesn’t promise he will remove evil, he just promises that the people will no longer fear it, because the enemies have been cleared away. As a follower of the Lord Jesus, we see “Immanuel” in these lines–God with us who vanquishes the enemy, the only true enemy which is death. Jesus is with us, therefore we have no fear of death. Those dots are not hard to connect.

Let me push farther. It might be a reach. I understand that, so no scolding or judgment. The phrase “Daughter of Zion” is found throughout the Hebrew Bible and is usually understood to mean the Hebrews. What if, though, through the lens of prophecy, we could see the offspring, the daughter of Zion as the bride of Christ. The child of Israel might therefore be the church. The daughter of Zion.

Fear not, O Zion; let not your hands grow weak. The Lord your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing.

Zephaniah  3:16B-17

The idea of the Lord quieting us with love is evocative of maternal action. The baby is afraid, so the mother comes into the room and is with the frightened infant. She holds the baby as she laughs and says, “There there, all is well” holding the baby near her chest and the pumping, beating heart. The baby is still jittery, so to nestle her back to sleep she begins to sing a lullaby.

Behold, at that time I will deal with all your oppressors. And I will save the lame and gather the outcast, and I will change their shame into praise and renown in all the earth.

Zephaniah 3:20

I am smitten by these words.

  • Save the lame–Jesus heals those who cannot walk.
  • Gather the outcast–Jesus makes a people from those who were not a people.
  • Change their shame into praise–the forgiveness of sins leads into the doxology of worship.

At that time I will bring you in, at the time when I gather you together, for I will make you renowned and praised among all the peoples of the earth, when I restore your fortunes before your eyes . . .

Zephaniah 3:20

Pentecost, the great ingathering day of the harvest festival, when the Holy Spirit brought the nations into one speech (Zephaniah 3:9).

 

 

 

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Advent 2, Year C–Luke 3:1-6

For use in my own preaching, I moved this Advent reading to week 3 (December 16) as the sermon text. The reason? I started working on Luke 3:1-6 for week two, but it blew up to about four thousand words (which is about one thousand too many) so I cut it in half, changed the form on the first part, and made it two different sermons. The point of my little opening aside here? These lines here at the beginning of Luke 3 can take you to many different places, and most of them are good.

The historian inside Luke screams out as he gives us a backdrop of the time period we are in and the location where things are happening.

. . . the reign of Tiberius, Pontius Pilate . . . Herod . . . Philip tetrarch of the region . . . Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene . . . priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas . . . in the wilderness .. the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance fo the forgiveness of sins.

Luke 3:1-2

We know when we are, which is important because Chapter 2 ended with the boy Jesus in the temple. Luke is reminding us we’ve shifted to the future when Jesus is no longer a child, and the powers in this world are political and religious. In contrast to these powers, John The Baptist is preaching something difference. He is preaching forgiveness and repentance. So Luke, the ever careful writer gives us who, what, when, and where.

The part of this text which most people will focus on, and rightly so, is the quotation from Isaiah’s vision of the future. This is the why.

As it is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet, ‘The voice of one crying in the wilderness: Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall become straight, and the rough places shall become level ways, and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.”

Luke 3:4-6

I’m preaching this passage in ten days, so I will not show all my cards. Let me just point out three things about this amazing text.

  1. Luke doesn’t say John is saying this. In our imagination we often put these words in The Baptist’s mouth. That is a mistake. This is Luke’s interpretation of who John is and what prophetic function he fulfills. It is often other people, and later generations, who are benefited and understand our work the most.
  2. It is hard to know what is meant in the opening of the prophesy. A clear reading is nearly impossible, and in every language it seems to be muddled. I have never been fully satisfied. It could be, “The voice of one crying, ‘In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord” as if a person is crying out that the highway should be built in the wilderness. Or, is it “The voice of one crying out in the wilderness, prepare the way of the Lord” where the wilderness is more about where the person is shouting and not necessarily where the road is to be built. Either way, though, the Lord is coming and you better be ready.
  3. Luke, and the other gospel writers as well, see this passage then as a connected to the message of repentance and forgiveness, and continues, in the rest of Luke 3, to wed these ideas with ethical behavior, fairness, and integrity. It is about this time we should remind ourselves this was a huge part of the prophetic message in the Old Testament, including Isaiah. Belief and faith are important, but if they are disconnected from ethical behaviors all that remains is superstition.

 

 

 

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Advent 2, Year C–Philippians 1:1-11

Paul’s affinity and connection to the Philippian church is well documented, and these lines from our second Sunday of Advent highlight the issue. Paul gets emotional when he prays for his friends there.

This opening section can be broken up into three loose categories: Opening, A celebration of God’s work among the Philippians, and Paul’s prayer for them.


1. Opening

The apostolic greeting is familiar enough to most of us.

Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus, to all the saints in Christ Jesus who are at Philippi, with the overseers and deacons. Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Philippians 1:1-2

It is so familiar we tend to skip over it, but let me tell you there is a lot of juice in these lines. The first drop of juice would be word selection. Paul refers to himself and Timothy as servants, but the people at Philippi as saints. Then he drops the words “grace” and “peace” as blessings. His desire for them is shalom.

The second drop of juice flows from the leadership language. The ESV renders these as overseers and deacons. The words are actually episkopoi and diakonoi which could be rendered bishop and servant, respectively. Some people put a lot of meaning on these types of words, but I am not one of those people. My reading of the New Testament leads me to think of all of these leadership words as synonymous–pastor, bishop, elder, deacon and so forth. The one word that is different, and is a cut above, is that of apostle, which Paul will use in other places, but curiously, note how he doesn’t use apostle in the greeting. He uses the word servant, a different word that means servant from the word deacon. Curious indeed. Also note, the words are plural.

One more slurp of juice from these lines is the language of “in Christ Jesus”. I’m telling you, if I were preaching this passage this Sunday, I could spend a lot of time on what it means to be “in Messiah Jesus”.

2. A Celebration of God’s Work Among the Philippians

A quick outline shows us that verses 3-8 are Paul’s description of the work and how this bonds him together with the saints at Philippi.

I thank my God in all remembrance of you . . . because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now . . . he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ . . . for you are all partakers with me of grace in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel. For God is my witness . . .

Philippians 1:3-8

The tricky part here is identifying the work itself. This becomes more problematic because of generations of self-appropriation of verse 6. By that I mean, people have become accustomed to view the promise of completing work “in you” to be that somehow God will bring each of us into greatness and completion. The “you” here is plural, and I take it to mean the unified church and its mission—you saints as a group, rather than some divine promise that guarantees success in any particular venture. Failure happens, and we who love and follow him must admit failure in some task or project is often God’s plan for us and for those around us.

The work Paul is celebrating is the presentation of the gospel, which the Philippians joined in with him almost immediately. He calls this a partnership, a fruitful theme in Philippians–sharing in labor, sharing in ministry, sharing in suffering. Not even prison and distance had terminated this partnership.

Nor can time. To me the most interesting pat of this is the almost thrown away line, “at the day of Jesus Christ.” It might take a while for this work to be completed.

3. Paul’s Prayer

The prayer is beautiful because it specifically asks from the Father attributes, rather than things, for the church at Philippi.

It is my prayer that your love may abound more and more with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ to the glory and praise of God.

Philippians 1:9-11

It might be helpful to enumerate these prayer requests as a flow that starts with love and finishes with glorifying God.

Abounding love → leads to knowledge and discernment → to approve right behavior → to be pure and blameless → which is filled with righteousness → to the glory of God

Paul is praying about their character and spiritual strength. He does not pray for ease, comfort, wealth, or even health. He doesn’t pray for the things most of us spend our time praying for. Instead, he prays that the Philippians will be better people, and as such, the Lord will be glorified. We think of God being glorified by the great things we do or accomplish (v. 6), but the reality is the Lord is glorified when we live the way we should.

 

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Advent 2, Year C–Malachi 3:1-4

We read this passage in our worship service last Sunday as the prophetic passage for the first Sunday of Advent. It is one of my favorites.

Behold, I send my messenger, and he will prepare the way before me.

Malachi 3:1

Much is happening here, but it starts with the promise of a messenger. I would like to begin by asking you to think what a weird word choice this is for the Lord. We expect the Lord to send a prophet, one like Samuel, perhaps. We expect the Lord to send a king, maybe one like David. We expect the Lord to send a priest? Like Aaron.

He doesn’t send those. He sends the messenger. I think this is a play on words with the title of the book. The word Malachi means “My Messenger” — and 3:1 might be a self-reference by the author. Maybe he views himself as the messenger. Likewise, I have often though of the similarities between the idea of “messenger” here in Malachi 3:1 and the New Testament word “angel” which is roughly the same–a messenger from God.

Jesus identified John the Baptist as this messenger in Matthew 11:10. That makes, for me, the word choice of messenger that much telling. Why doesn’t it say, “I will send my prophet, or my priest, or my king”? The answer is because Jesus himself is the prophet, the priest, and the king. The messenger can’t be, in relation to the ultimate, any of those. The messenger must decrease, while the Lord must increase (John 3:30).

After The Messenger’s work is done, the Lord will do two things:

  1. Suddenly appear in the temple.
  2. He will purify and refine the sons of Levi

Of course, the language Malachi uses is more beautiful than this.

The Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple . . . who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears? for he is like a refiners fire and like a fuller’s soap . . . he will purify the sons of Levi . . . and they will bring offerings in righteousness to the Lord

Malachi 3:1-4

Before we jump to the many messianic concepts here, we must do the work of context. In the book of Malachi there is one central complaint from God: the priests have neglected their work and have brought polluted and inappropriate offerings before the Lord. This is spelled out strongly in Malachi 1. Later, this pollution of sacrifices will be connected to the call for tithes and offerings to be again given by the people and collected by the priests. Malachi finishes abruptly with a flourish about The Day of the Lord.

So, in context, Malachi is looking for the Lord to first send a messenger with a warning, whom Malachi might see as himself, that the priests need to get their act straight because the Lord is coming to purify the priesthood through reform of the offerings.

We can spend a lot of time critiquing the priesthood in the Old Testament, but it is enough to say here that it failed, and that failure was total and complete by the time Jesus arrives on the scene in the early first century. Jesus was many things, and one of those was a reformer and critic of the priests, as was John the Baptist. To emphasize the point, there is a reason why John the Baptist was out in he desert baptizing: he was protesting the Jerusalem temple complex and the priesthood.

The reader of these words from Malachi would do well to connect them, though, not to John the Baptist, but to Jesus cleansing the temple (Mark 11:15-19), running out the priests and their polluted, greedy sacrifices, then teaching every day until the priests gathered enough courage to have Jesus arrested and murdered. But the priests fell into his hands, because this was the way he purified and washed. His blood was the soap and his cross was the fire. What he did, then, was, as Peter put it, was to reject the Hebrew priesthood for something new–a complete reform with a new kind of priest, the priesthood of the believer with immediate access, by the power and presence of the Holy Spirit, to the Lord.

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light

1 Peter 2:9

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Advent 1, Year C–1 Thessalonians 3:9-13

The Epistle reading for the first week of Advent seems whittled down for my taste. I would prefer it take a bigger bite and include the earlier material in chapter 3 about afflictions, because the theme of afflictions matches the other readings as all the travail leading up to the Day of the Lord and the coming of the Son of Man will be filled with afflictions. It will get worse before it gets better.

But instead we have these encouraging words. Maybe the lectionary thinks we need some encouragement after the harsher materials from Zechariah and Luke.

“For what thanksgiving can we return to God for you, for all the joy that we feel for your sake before our God, as we pray most earnestly night and day that we may see you face to face and supply what is lacking in your faith.” 1 Thessalonians 3:9-10

How can I thank God enough for you? I got it–I will pray night and day for the opportunity to come fix what it is that you clearly don’t understand yet. Okay, I admit that is a little harsh, but I’ve been reading Paul for so long that I feel like I understand his sarcasm. He is writing 1 Thessalonians because they have questions about things they should have already understood. He clearly perceives they are lacking some finer points of discipleship or theology (v. 10) and he needs to come fix it. For the record, they still didn’t quite get it, which is why we have . . . 2 Thessalonians.

The concept, though, that people who earnestly follow the Lord and try to do and be right, yet have something lacking is intriguing. Paul hints at the same thing in the Roman church (Romans 1:11) and there is no end of problems in Corinth. Here in this time of advent, maybe we should consider–is something lacking in our own faith?

  1. Perhaps our personal faith is lacking. What I mean is, we could devote ourselves to learning more. Stop relying on whatever the pastor is leading and read books on your own, listen to podcasts, do some study. Learn. Fill in the gaps. This personal lacking might be practice as well. Perhaps you don’t pray as often as you should, or at least don’t pray ‘earnestly’ as Paul mentions.  Only an arrogant fool would say ‘There is nothing lacking in my spiritual life–I’m a perfect 10.’
  2. It could be something is lacking in our local church. Maybe your church is a sweet fellowship, but it doesn’t lift a finger to help solve the problem of clean drinking water in Africa and could not care less about child sex-trafficking. Flip it around, maybe your church is great at reaching children and young families, but terrible at discipling older adults. Maybe your work is to address what is lacking in your congregation.
  3. There is no way anything is lacking in Western Christianity, though. We have our act together perfectly. #sarcasm.

From this desire to fix a problem, Paul turns to benediction. In fact, this benediction could be crafted and worked very nicely as the spoken benediction to finish a worship service.

“Now may our God and Father himself, and our Lord Jesus, direct our way to you, and may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, as we do for you, so that he may establish your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints.” 1 Thessalonians 3:11-13

Having read the benediction, we see Paul’s desire for the Thessalonians and we see how it fits the familiar pattern. As much as Paul wants to fix their theology and fill in the gaps, the things that really matter in our daily living are:

  1. Love. Paul is quite specific when he says love for one another and ‘for all.’ I take this to mean all people. Love within the church fellowship is important, but love for neighbor, love for stranger, love for enemy, love for the confused, love for the addicted, the immigrant at the border, the extremist Muslim in Malaysia, and even Tom Brady.
  2. Holiness. The curious thing about holiness is Paul doesn’t mention their behaviors when he describes this, but instead their hearts. Remember, Jesus told us that it is what comes out of our hearts (Matthew 15:18) that defiles a person. If we are not holy the root is not behaviors. The root is the heart. In the end, we do what we want to do.

The apex of this benediction is the eventual coming of Jesus, which is a major theme of 1 Thessalonians and it is what I am preaching about this Sunday.

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Advent 1, Year C–Luke 21:25-36

The gospel reading for the first week of Advent plunges us into the heart of some of Jesus’ scariest words, near the end of the Olivet Discourse. Jesus is teaching in the temple, in the shadow of his own cross. By the end of the week he will be dead. You can feel the weight of atonement in his words.

Several years ago I translated these passages, let me share them with you here again:

There will be a sign on the sun, and on the moon, and among the stars as well as upon the land.  The Gentiles will have anxiety over not knowing what to do, like a sound tossing the sea.  Men will have died from fear and the whole inhabitation of the earth will be waiting, for the power of the heavens will be shaken.  Then they will see ‘the son of man coming in the clouds’ with power and all glory.  Now, when these things begin to occur, you straighten up and lift up your heads because your redemption is near. And he spoke a parable to them, “You see the fig and all those other trees?  When it blossoms you see for yourselves and you know now that summer is near.  In the same way, when you notice these things happening you will know that the kingdom of God is near.  Truly I say to you that this generation will not pass by until everything happens.  The heavens and the earth will pass away but my words will never pass away.  Watch yourselves, that you do not let wildness, drunkenness, and the cares of everyday life overtake your hearts in those days.  It will come upon every one of those living everywhere like a trap.  You must be awake at all times; praying that you will have the strength to flee out of all these things that are about to happen and to stand before the son of man.”–Luke 21:25-36

Let’s just pick apart what Jesus is saying in a literal way.

  1. Signs–some kind of omen– will be everywhere–sun, moon, stars and the land.
  2. People will be so afraid, that fear itself will kill them.
  3. The heavens will shake.
  4. The Son of Man will come from the cloud.

I can’t tell whether this is theology or science fiction. This is some worthy of blockbuster special effects. You can see why Christ-followers have struggled for years to imagine this as metaphor rather than literal activities. However, as I contemplate the text, it sounds more and more plausible.

Could a sign not simply be atmospheric changes? Pollution that blots out the sun at day and changes the color of the moon at night could be seen as a sign. The stars I find particularly fascinating as we, today, see far fewer stars in the sky than our ancestor because of light pollution. Then we think of the land. Has the land not changed? Is it not a sign that whales beach themselves, bees die off, and the forest burns constantly?

Then Jesus talks about fear and anxiety that leads to death. Perhaps he means heart attacks, strokes, or paralyzing fear. You know, the kind of fear that would rather die than keep on living. Just being honest, I can think of no better description for some segments of our society today than to describe it as afraid. Politicians make their living stoking fear.

Shaking heavens seems harder to explain, but not entirely so. The powers of the heavens are what is shaken. Maybe this is an allusion to the gods, the false gods who live in the sky. They are shaken because the cosmic order is shuffling. Another view might be a simpler technological idea: airplanes and rockets moving through the sky could be described as powers shaking the heavens.

Last, the son of man comes on the clouds. Perhaps he comes to put a stop to the shaking heavens, the fear, and to heal the land. This is an article of faith, that some day we will look up (maybe not me as odds are death will claim me first, but it will be people who have the same faith convictions I do from all over the world) and Jesus will be coming again to set all things right.

The great teacher says these words, and he sees the trepidation on his disciples face. So he tells them to not be like the gentiles, don’t be afraid. He tells them that when this stuff starts going down, their redemption is near (v. 28). Lift up your heads, he says (Ps. 24), because the King of Glory is coming.

The Lord then comes back with promises.

  1. This generation (the disciples) will not pass away until this happens.
  2. Heaven and earth will disappear, but Jesus’ words will not.
  3. Wildness, drunkenness, and everyday cares will consume peoples thoughts.

Let’s work backwards. The promise of wildness, drunkenness and the trap of being swallowed by the mundane is stated as a warning. Jesus expects his followers to be better than that. His words, which mean his teachings but also, I think, extend out to the entire word of God. Philosophies, political systems, the power dynamics of this world will all disappear but the way of God does not.

But the generation–it surely did pass away and here we are, yet remaining? How can such a thing be? The simple answer is this all began before the end of the week when Jesus was crucified and signs were in the heavens, people were afraid, and everything changed. But it was not the end of this transition, for a generation later Jerusalem itself fell in a great holocaust–and ever since we have lived in the tension between the times. It is the times we live in now when the wildness, drunkenness, and mundane seeks to swallow us alive, trying to make us forget that we serve a God who shakes the heavens and terrifies the world with his death defying love.

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Advent 1, Year C, Zechariah 14:4-9

In my opinion, there is no more Christological Old Testament book than Zechariah. Word for word, it punches way above its weight. This is especially true in the latter section of text, beginning around Chapter 9. The lectionary reading to start the advent observance doesn’t disappoint. Nestled here in the ‘fly-over country’ of the Bible which most Christ-followers skip are words with deep messianic meaning.

“On that day his feet shall stand on the Mount of Olives . . . [it] shall be split in two from east to west.”  Zechariah 14:4

This is probably the idea Jesus is alluding to when he says, rather bluntly, that if we ask for a mountain to be moved in prayer, it will be moved into the sea in Mark 11:24. It should be noted by the interpreter that Mark puts this after the triumphal entry into Jerusalem, a theme which is prevalent in Zechariah (c/f 9:9)

What specifically interests me about the Zechariah reading is the eschatological emphasis.

“On that day there shall be no light, cold, or frost . . . neither day nor night . . . living waters shall flow out of Jerusalem . . . and the Lord will be king over all the earth.” Zechariah 14:6-9

It doesn’t take a brilliant scholar to point out these ideas also emerge in the ending chapters of The Apocalypse.

“The sea was no more . . . behold the dwelling place of God is with man . . . and God himself will be with them as their God . . . To thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payments . . . and I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God . . . and there will be no night there . . . the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding is fruit each month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be anything accursed.” (from Rev. 21:1-6, 22-25, 22:2-3).

There are, then at least three identifiable themes that emanate from Zechariah 14.

  1. One is the literal earth shattering nature of the coming of Messiah. When partnered with Jesus’ prayer words when he is standing in a place where the Mount of Olives could be seen in the distance for Mt. Zion, we see the power of Jesus’ advent in our own spiritual lives.
  2. The second theme is one of newness. Jesus not only made all things new, he makes all things new in a continual manner. Things cannot stay the way they are and also be in the presence of Christ.
  3. The third theme is healing and wholeness. No frost. No night. The Lord’s presence. Jesus is the balm of Gilead for a sick soul, a sick culture, a sick family or a sick church.

Zechariah’s vision of the future is not about when Jesus comes as a nativity event, but when The Day of the Lord Comes and turns upside down the cosmic order the same way he turned upside down the moneychangers tables in the temple. He turns the frost of winter and Christmas into the springtime of Easter. He exchanges winter’s shortened days with summer’s elongated sunshine. He takes us from the desert wanderings to the living waters in his oasis.

 

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The Crimes of Grindelwald is a Crime

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NO SPOILERS! I PROMISE. NO SPOILERS


Thursday night Mrs. Greenbean and I watched the new Wizarding World flick–Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald. I was looking forward to it because I love backstory, and these tales seem to me basically back story. Also, Jude Law is an amazing actor and I looked forward to him as a young Albus. Here is my review, in my usual format: The Good, The Bad, The Ugly.

The Good

I liked three things about this movie. First, I liked some of the acting. Jude Law, as I said, was great. Eddie Redmayne and Katherine Waterston were also enjoyable but they take a back seat to Zoe Kravitz, who really does a fantastic job as Leta Lestrange. I also liked the effects.  The first scene is clumsy, but after that the imagery gets much sharper and more spectacular. The “final battle” was very well done. Third, I think they did a great job with the setting in Paris.

The Bad

There  was a lot of bad. There is “continuity” bad, which has been talked about in many other places, but there is also “story” bad. The plot is confusing and the character’s actions and reactions are hard to reconcile with the way people would actually react. In fact, almost no one in this movie at any time behaves in a way that is believable. There is a particular scene and a choice at the end of the film that I liked as an idea, but the character’s journey to that choice is baffling.

Johnny Depp’s portrayal of Grindelwald is, to put it bluntly, boring. It’s just not very exciting at all. I don’t know if that is Depp or the director, but I’m sure some middle school theater student could have given more life to Grindelwald than did Depp.

There is plenty of other bad, but these are the main offenses.

The Ugly

In an ocean of bad, one ugly rises above the surf. That is the issue of focus. This movie doesn’t know what it is. They seem to have thrown a pot of spaghetti against the wall to see what will stick–and none of it really does. Because of this lack of focus, when credits are rolling, I’m thinking I don’t care about the fate of any of them because I’ve been given no compelling reason to care. It is difficult to characterize this without spoilers, but when you watch it I think you’ll understand. It’s not one story, or even three woven stories. It is more like seven different stories with five different themes and three different genres none of which are intrinsically connected while the whole thing is spiraling out of control in vastly different directions. More time should have been spent tightening up this narrative arc.

Summary

As I have written on this blog before, the Harry Potter films never match the brilliance of their literary light, and this film, which has no literary underpinning, falls even further into the realm of the mundane. This movie might be redeemed if the next one connects some dots, but as it stands now, The Crimes of Grindelwald is the Star Trek III: The Search for Spock of the Harry Potter Universe. It provides interesting filler–no one will ever really care about it–and it is only important because of the film before it and after it.

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2018 Midterm Elections Analysis

I didn’t even try to predict what would happen last night. After 2016, I have no confidence in my ability to determine what the American people will do but that just makes following it all that much more enjoyable. We popped the popcorn and made the Kool-Aid and I stayed up way too late.

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But it is the morning after, and that makes analysis the name of the game.

First, let’s start with rating the coverage. That is always fun.

Every time I turned to FOX they were running a commercial.

Did anyone else have a hard time with CNN’s map? The blue looked so much like the gray that I had a hard time differentiating. Also, I love John King’s analysis, but he seemed to be trying to ‘willpower’ more votes from Miami.

NBC had the best set up–both the parent company and MSNBC.

What the deuce was going on at ABC? Did they have 172 people on the screen at the same time? Seriously. Seriously.

Steve Kornacki needs to slow down on the Red Bull. He was yelling and waving his hands like, ‘PEOPLE ARE VOTING !!!!! LOOK AT THE MAP !!!!!!’


Now we can talk about the actual results.

  1. For me, last night was a win all around. I like divided government, and I love that so many more people voted this year. Well done, America. Well done.
  2. If the Dems had taken the Senate as well, which was always a long shot, then I think then we would be seeing impeachment hearings next year, and I am on the record as decidedly against any attempt to impeach The President. It would be horrible for the country. Just horrible.
  3. But, with the Dems in control of the House, they have the power to provide a solid check on The President, which is what we desperately need.
  4. There was no blue wave. No blue tsunami. What we saw was a correction where things balanced out. I think we forget just how much Hillary Clinton tainted the electorate both Red and Blue.
  5. Florida.
  6. Remember boys and girls, never trust exit polls. Never. When a Republican votes, he or she doesn’t want to talk to anyone about it. Democrats, by contrast, want to tell everyone, and will even tell people twice. It skews the numbers.
  7. From what I can gather, the real story is not Blue or Red, but how many women won, and how many veterans won. I made it a priority where I could to vote for people who had military service, and I think other people did as well.
  8. I like how everyone is claiming victory. The best quote I saw on it was a tweet by Jon Acuff–he compared it church church league basketball–everybody won, and the score doesn’t really matter. However, we all know, Trump lost, because his cover in the House, specifically that thrown by Nunes, is now gone.
  9. Beto O’Rourke outperformed, but there was just too much East Texas for him to win. However, him dropping the strongest vulgarity in his concession speech was . . . special . . . and simultaneously showed why he lost.
  10. The upper midwest turned decidedly bluish. The one exception is Ohio–but Kansas was a real shocker as was Iowa. Something is happening there. It could be the mean and debasing rhetoric of the GOP is rubbing the naturally nice and kind people who live in the heartland the wrong way.
  11. I’m not a Nancy Pelosi fan, not by any stretch, but her speech was very nice. If she means it, then maybe things will get better. We will see how the Dems play their hand, but if she is serious about ‘peace’ then I have another reason to be optimistic.

 

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Fred and Christopher Made My Weekend

Over the weekend Mrs. Greenbean and I watched two outstanding films, and I want to share them both with you. This is not so much as a review as it is a recommendation.

Sunday evening we watched Won’t You be My Neighbor?, the documentary about Fred Rogers. It was wonderful. Anyone who cares about the quality of life and world we create for our children should watch it. Keep in mind, children shouldn’t watch it—children should watch Mr. Rogers Neighborhood–adults should watch the documentary. Powerful stuff.

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Saturday night we celebrated one of our nephew’s birthday by watching Christopher Robin at the cinema. I was prepared to be bored and underwhelmed, as these types of films seem to always overpromise and underdeliver. I was pleasantly surprised. I found the dialogue witty, the story compelling, and the visuals captivating. I think children would enjoy the story, but the real target is parents. Ewan McGregor (Obi-Wan Kenobi) and Hayley Atwell (Agent Carter) were delightful, but as far as I am concerned Eeyore steals the show.

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We live in such a cynical, jaded, and gloomy world right now; I don’t want to minimize that fact, but watching these two films back to back had a therapeutic effect on my soul. I am grateful for them both.

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Blood Letters: A Book Review

9781541644236On the plane ride home from vacation I read the biography Blood Letters: The Untold Story of Lin Zhao, A Martyr in Mao’s China by Lian Xi. The book is a quick read, has lots of notes, and is compelling in the extreme. It is incredible.

The book is a biography of Lin Zhao, a woman who spent most of her adult life in prison under the evil dictatorship of Mao Zedong in China. She was born in China to what I think of as a middle-class family with intellectual leanings. Lin Zhao became enamored with Mao and communism in high school. In college, she studied writing and journalism for the express purpose of facilitating “The Revolution.” Her initial enthusiasm for communism was likely a reaction against the Nationalists abuses and the general confusion following the invasion of China by Japan and the general unsettledness in the world following World War II.

It wasn’t long before she realized that communism was (is) merely a disguise for a new kind of dictator, and her disillusionment lead to the writing of anti-Maoist poetry. Early in her rebellion against the communist regime, she returned to the Christian heritage she had been raised in and which had been nurtured by Methodist missionaries. She participated in the publication of opposition pamphlets, and for that, was imprisoned. She was in prison for eight years where she was tortured until she was executed in 1968.

She continued to write throughout her imprisonment. Deprived of ink and pen, or sometimes out of conviction, she wrote letters, treatises, and even plays in her own blood on toilet paper, which the authorities kept as a apart of her file. Part of that file was released in 1981, which is why we know of her story. It is a story which ranks with those of Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Nelson Mandela as compelling accounts of voices that refused to be silenced.

The book is not always easy to read. Part of this is because of the difficult subject matter of torture and prison, another part is due to my unfamiliarity with Chinese culture and nomenclature. But a big part was the the author’s style. He has an odd time-slip tendency in his writing of moving between years and events without bridges or explanation. Once I got use to this quirk, the reading was easier.

I can’t tell if Lin Zhao was martyred because she was a Christian or if she was martyred because she was a political dissident. Perhaps in Maoist China there was no difference, as the cult of Mao was all that mattered. In that sense, she might be closely akin to Martin Luther King, Jr. who was no doubt assassinated because of his brave political activity against the unjust and totalitarian Jim Crow regime in the American south, but it was no doubt his Christian faith that lead him to be so brave and daring in his prophetic zeal. That is the way I view Lin Zhao–the more she resisted, the more it became clear her strength came from her inner convictions of faith.

I highly recommend the book.

 

 

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Greenbean went to France

To be specific, Greenbean went to Paris.

That Paris. Oui!

And now, for some observations and pics. Per my usual, I have broken these down into categories.

The People

  1. I was expecting French people to be rude, given all I’d read and heard. Nothing could be farther from the truth. We found the French delightful, conversational, fun, jovial, and good-humored. The only rude people we encountered were tourists from other countries–and I’m taking to you rude American woman who cut in line with your two loud-mouth children at Notre Dame.
  2. Also, the French are a well-put-together group of people. They dress well, carry themselves well, love uniforms, and are incredibly fit. The only overweight people we saw were . . . tourists.
  3. But . . . the French smoke. A lot. We were unable to get away from the noxious fumes of cigarette smoke. It seemed specifically bad in restaurants. No one was smoking indoors, but it was summer and windows were open and sidewalk cafes and  . . . fumes!
  4. Most everyone spoke English. We never had a problem communicating.

The Food

  1. My new favorite cheese is camembert. Love that stuff. They serve it after the meal to cleanse the palate. Yum.
  2. Oh, and crepes. I had a honey crepe in front of the weird obelisk at Concorde. The guy who made it was funny and wore a little hat.
  3. Duck confit. I had it twice. The ducks on the lake better watch out, because I might just have to try and make that at home.
  4. Baguettes. Every. Meal.
  5. The coffee was good, but they don’t give you a lot of it.
  6. I ate the snails, but wasn’t specifically enamored with them. They tasted earthy to me, like some varieties of uncooked mushrooms.
  7. Perhaps my favorite was the macarons. I especially liked the pistachio.

The Sites

  1. The Eiffel Tower is really tall. Four hundred feet taller than my beloved Space Needle and five hundred feet taller than the Washington Monument. Of all the things we saw, it was the hardest to navigate the lines, waiting, and the top. It was so crowded at the top that it wasn’t as enjoyable as you’d expect.
  2. We did the Louvre in one day, and we saw all the floors and all the exhibits. All. The. Things. The big time exhibits were nice, like the Mona Lisa, the Venus de Milo, but the Egyptian exhibit and the paintings on the top floor (where no one else was) were some of my favorites.
  3. We visited Notre Dame, but my favorite was Sacra Coeur in Monmarte. I actually had a genuine spiritual experience there. It was nice, and unexpected.
  4. We skipped Versailles.
  5. It took a while, but we eventually conquered The Metro. I think I’m as much an expert on the Metro right now as a tourist from another country can be.
  6. The Louvre is monumental, but the D’Orsay is more enjoyable because its size is manageable.

Extras

  1. One of the highlights of our trip was watching the new Mission Impossible film, most of which was filmed in Paris, in Paris! That was way cool. The best part was the commercial before the movie started for a doctor who specialized in lice removal.
  2. I thought Delta provided great service getting there and back. Charles De Gaulle Airport is easy to navigate.
  3. I was surprised at how much I enjoyed the Latin District and the night time boat ride on the Seine. Both were extremely pleasant.
  4. We’d been told that going in August would be a drag because people would be gone and the shops would be closed. We didn’t experience that at all. Everything was open and the weather was perfect.
  5. On the plane ride home I read a great book, Blood Letters: The Untold Story of Lin Zhao, A Martyr In Mao’s China. I’ll probably blog about it tomorrow.
  6. The French way of having supper late, like around nine at night agrees with me.
  7. The picnic we had by the fountain under the Eiffel Tower will stay with me as one of the sweetest memories with my family.

And now, some pics!

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A statue of Apollo at the Louvre. Looks like he is taking a selfie, doesn’t it? Doesn’t it?
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This is Leonardo Da Vinci’s “John The Baptist”. He looks like Loki, a bit, and we thought it would be a great movie, Tom Hiddleston as Loki AS JOHN THE BAPTIST. Think about it.
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Even heretics go on vacation
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Texas Rangers, Captain Kirk, and A Reflective Quaker

I’ve finished three different books in the past week. And yes, I don’t think you could find three more distinct and different books–not only in subject matter but in style and genre. The first is a history book about the Texas Rangers, the second a weird Star Trek book, and the third is Parker Palmer.


9781574416916-usTexas Rangers: Lives, Legacy, and Legend by Bob Alexander and Donaly E. Brice.

I bought this book at a great book store in Kerrville and looked forward to reading it for a long time. The history in these pages is wonderful. I wish the authors would have gone into a bit more detail about some of the individuals and escapades, but their intent is more of a survey than specifics. The main problem with Lives, Legacy, and Legend is at times the prose is not quite clear–as the authors seem to try and write paragraphs in the most muddied way possible to demonstrate their clever way of saying common things.

There are also a lot of digs against “Political Correctness” which I never understood in the text. One reference to it is an indulgence. Two references are pushing it. But by the seventeenth time the authors remind us that political correctness and modern sensibilities have no place in studying Ranger history, the point seems belabored.

There are some great photographs and primary documents, which alone is worth the price of the book.

UnknownThe Autobiography of James T. Kirk: A Story of Starfleet’s Greatest Captain ‘Edited’ by David A. Goodman.

Two things up front: I enjoyed this book and laughed out loud several times. Also, it is a quick, easy read, unlike the Texas Rangers book, which is slow, plodding and laborious. The problem is, I think I enjoyed the book because I enjoy Star Trek, and the writer clearly does as well. But I don’t think the book is that well written.

The best are the early pages where we learn things about James T. Kirk that aren’t covered in the television shows or movies. But about sixty percent of the book is really lame plot summaries of shows. Yes, we get Kirk’s perspective on those things, but nothing  really new is brought to the table.

But the book is funny. That should come as no surprise because it is written by Goodman, called the ‘editor’ on the book cover, who wrote for Family Guy and Golden Girls. What it lacks is emotional depth. The book was given to me as a gift for Christmas by a kind friend, and I looked forward to reading it, thinking it would give more character depth about the famous alpha male. But nope. Goodman is funny, but he is not that good of a writer. He does more ‘telling’ than ‘showing’ and as a result he leaves Kirk shallow.

There are two things that will stay with me a while, though. The first is how Goodman ‘washes’ over Star Trek V: The Final Frontier, the movie almost everyone agrees is the worst ever. It is quite clever, and I must say I like it. The second was this line thrown in to describe the mind-numbing administrative work of being an Admiral that Kirk hated.

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Of course the Obama was over budget and behind schedule. Of course it was.

Parker-Palmer_Hidden-WholenessA Hidden Wholeness: The Journey Toward An Undivided Life by Parker J. Palmer

I’ve read Palmer before, but not this book. What interests me is that I think Palmer believes he wrote a how-to book, when in reality he wrote about the inner voice, overcoming our fears and paranoias, and the need to learn to trust.

The format of the book is laid out as the steps to forming circles of trust. A circle of trust is a group of people who dedicate themselves to allowing people to hear their own soul in protected communication. It is good material, and I recommend the book to small group leaders of any kind, because the principles he shares are nearly universal.

The book is a gem, but what will stay with you for a long time is the story of the woodcarver. I’ve seen Palmer use it before, but I think his exposition of it in this text is his best.

Of the three books I’ve shared about, this one is the most vital; it is the one I think everyone would benefit from.

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Long Shot Supreme Court Nominations

I should be working right now, but I’m taking some time during lunch to share these long shot supreme picks. Solid money has it as one of the four Federalist Society nominees–and of those four I say Amy Barrett has at least a 60% chance of being President Trump’s pick. The reason I say this? She is the one that would cause the biggest fight–and POTUS loves a good tussle.


But this blog is not about the likely choices. This blog post is about what if President Trump goes way off course and does something crazy. It is not outside the realm of possibility. Remember when President Bush nominated Harriet Meyers, then White House Counsel and who had never served as a judge anywhere, to the Supreme Court? Or that time when Franklin Roosevelt wanted to add a lot more judges? Presidents do crazy stuff sometimes, and none more so than President Trump. It’s kind of his brand to go off script. So, here are my long shot predictions.

  • There is a 7% chance he will nominate Jeff Sessions. This is the genius of the day pick. By nominating Sessions, he can get him out as Attorney General without firing him, then put someone else in as Attorney General who can then fire Robert Mueller. Unknown
  • There is a 4% chance he will pick Andrew Napolitano. You know there is. You just know it. If President Trump could pick without any kind of political considerations at all, this would be his guy.
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  • There is a 3.5% chance he picks Jeanine Pirro.images
  • There is 2% chance the pick is Judge Judy. He would lock up the Florida vote forever   with that pick.

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  • There is a .75% chance he picks Ivanka Trump. I know, I know, it is silly to think that, but can’t you see him doing it? TBH, I thought he might pick Ivanka as his Veep.  He needs someone on the court he can count on in case this Russia thing goes bad, and who can he count on more than Ivanka?

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  • I’ve got one more long outsider pick. You know who we haven’t heard from in a while? That’s right, Sarah Palin. Back during the primaries, Palin was one of the first people to back Donald Trump, and that gave him a strong boost, especially in the midwest. It might be time for payback . . .and I predict a .5% chance it is Palin. You betcha!

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I’m glad President Trump is picking, because if I were picking SCOTUS nominees, my first thought would be is to go Doc Hudson. Or Maybe John De Lancie as Q from Star Trek?

 

 

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Happy Birthday, America–242 Years Young!

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On birthdays we tend to celebrate and share the things we love about the person having the birthday. So, how about it for our nation? There are so many things about The United States that I love dearly, it would be impossible to list them all. Here are some political, historical, cultural and a bunch of other things that came to mind.

  1. I love that we have three co-equal branches of government.
  2. I love that criticizing leadership, elected officials, and policies we disagree with is an act of patriotism. America was born in rebellion!
  3. I love Election Nights. I’ll take Super Tuesday results over a Super Bowl any day.
  4. I love the Bill of Rights and the fundamental freedoms–religion, speech, press, assembly, personal protection, and trial by jury.
  5. I love that we can amend our Constitution to correct wrongs, like slavery.
  6. I love all of those Lincoln/Kennedy comparisons.
  7. I love that spot in Michigan where I can look south and be looking at Canada.
  8. I love that the French helped us beat the Brits, and then we repaid the favor by kicking the Nazi’s out of France.
  9. I love the ideals of our Founding Fathers–equality, opportunity, fairness under the law, and liberty.
  10. I love that we chose English as our language, because English is so messed up and thus is more fun to play with.
  11. I love that Texas history is pretty much American history.
  12. I love the Southwest–desert, cactus, dry, and beautiful.
  13. I love Puget Sound.
  14. I love the sugar white beaches of Destin.
  15. I love the unique characteristic of each region of the nation, that New Yorkers and Idahoans share the same love of country and national destiny, but not the same culture.
  16. I love how we are an amalgamation of so many different peoples–Germans, French, Mexican, Irish, Iranian, Native American, Polynesian, and so many other rich heritages that add to this unique experience of being American.
  17. I love the classic movies of Hollywood–Casablanca, Red River, North by Northwest, Bullitt, and Mars Attacks.
  18. I love Hamburgers with mustard, onions, tomatoes and French fries doused in ketchup washed down with a cherry Coke.
  19. I love American cars and blue jeans.
  20. I love the American Flag. It has an intrinsic beauty beyond the sum of its parts.
  21. I love baseball at the diamond on a hot day.
  22. Speaking of baseball, I love that our national anthem is practically unsingable–because who wants an easy national anthem!

I tried to keep my list to twenty, but alas, in America I have the freedom to do what I want.

Is our nation a perfect nation? No. Not by a stretch. We have many problems that need addressing and are cause for alarm and calls to prayer, not the least of which is the evil of racism, mass violence by disturbed young white males, childhood hunger, our disastrous health care system, and the squabble over how we will handle the great influx of people from other countries who believe what we already know–that America is the greatest place in the world to be.

Happy Birthday, America!

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#Philippians #Iwashavingfun

For various reasons, I’ve always thought that it would be fun to Tweet the book of Philippians. I shared some of this madness with our church yesterday as I preached Philippians 4:10-20 in preparation for our week of vacation Bible school.


Here is what the text could look like, Tweeted.

v. 10 – I thought you had 4gotten me. Whew #justintime

V. 11– #igotthis#contentment #stateofmind

V. 12—I’ve had everything and I’ve had nothing and I know the #secret of both.

V. 13–#icandoallthings #Jesus #winners!

V. 14—You are awesome #generous

V. 15—I can’t believe no one else sent help to me at all – just you, you’ve always been there for me. #thankyou #MacedoniaMissionsTrip

V.16—@baptistchurchofThessaloniki are slackers! Sad.

V. 17–#gifted

V. 18–SHOUT OUT to @epaphroditusset

V. 19-Jesus has mad bank. #blessed

V. 20-#PTL Puts your hands up high!

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Jesus’ Preoccupation With Thievery

Sunday I preached about the eighth commandment from Exodus 20, and during that sermon I highlighted the following eight ways Jesus seems to be preoccupied with stealing.


  1. When Jesus cleared the Temple, he referred to it as having become a den for thieves. Yes, he was quoting Jeremiah, but he chose that particular scripture to quote (Mark 11:17).
  2. Jesus referred to the devil as a thief (John 10:10). Two verses earlier, he said all those who came before him were thieves and robbers.
  3. In the Olivet Discourse, Jesus referred to the unknown timing of the end of all things as like knowing when a thief is coming at night (Matthew 24:43).
  4. In the Sermon on the Mount, the Lord said we should store up treasure in heaven where rust, moth, and thieves can’t get to it (Matthew 6:19).
  5. The Lord tells a weird parable about the need to tie up a strong man before you steal his stuff out of his house (Luke 11: 21-23).
  6. The parable of the Good Samaritan begins with the unfortunate traveler falling in among robbers as he goes down from Jericho (Luke 10:30).
  7. Judas was thief. Jesus knew this, but chose him anyway (John 12:6).
  8. The Lord was crucified between two thieves (Mark 15:27).

357110f18ce7fa5c52c33246b44ca58fThere are probably more of these thievery themes interwoven in the Gospels, but these are the eight I highlighted. I don’t know if I would build a theological argument from this data alone, and if so what that argument wold be, but I do think it is safe to say Jesus had a slight preoccupation with thievery, and that in and of itself is fascinating.

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The Gospel of Mark: A Translation

 

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I spent the winter and spring translating the Gospel of Mark from New Testament Greek to English.  Here are a few sample lines from the first six verses of Chapter 3.

  1. He went up again into the synagogue, where there was a man with a shriveled hand.
  2. They watched him closely in the synagogue, to see whether he would heal him, so that they might denounce him.
  3. He says to the man with the shriveled hand, “Stand in the middle.”
  4. He says to them, “Is it legal to do good or to do bad on the Sabbath? To save a soul or to kill it?” They kept silent.
  5. He looked around with anger, having been saddened by their hard hearts. He says to the man, “Stick out the hand,” and he stuck it out. His hand had been restored again.
  6. The Pharisees and Herodians left immediately. They conspired about how they might destroy him.

 

If you’re interested, CLICK RIGHT HERE to download the whole document.

 

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Proverbs 4–The Forward Gaze

Proverbs 4:25 teaches us,

Let your eyes look directly forward,

and your gaze be straight before you.

Wisdom and righteousness are always forward looking. These twin attributes do not dwell on the past, for that leads to bitterness and regret. Right now is important, but only insofar as right now is the first movement toward the future. The future is just the present that hasn’t happened yet, and therefore, unlike the past, the future is something we can control and change. The present is a downpayment on the future.

The more I ponder it, the wise person doesn’t even dwell too much on the right now. True, wisdom learns to enjoy the moment, but we never have all the information we need right now. In the future we will have more information, and that is when we make more informed opinions and thoughts. The mind is always adjusting and changing with new data. The wise person will choose the future over the present. Fools, by contrast, throw the future away and only live in the moment. Wise people plan for the future, enjoy the present, and learn to let go of the past.

  1. Wise people prepare. Fool are never prepared.
  2. Wise people dream. Fools squander opportunities.
  3. Wise people watch trends to see where people and things are headed. Fools wish for yesteryear.
  4. Wise people keep options open. Fools shut doors.
  5. Wise people don’t burn bridges. Fools keep matches in their pockets.
  6. Wise people “might” burn boats. Fools are afraid of change.
  7. Wise people learn how to forget. Fools never learn how to move on.
  8. Wise people don’t hold grudges. Fools have scores to settle.
  9. Wise people don’t waste time on nostalgia. Fools build monuments to the glory days.
  10. Wisep people use the past (history) to inform the future, not to shape it. Fools use the past as a template for the future.

Don’t waste energy by dwelling on the past. The future is where the action is.

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Infinity War and Religious Symbolism and Language (Spoilers)

This is not a review of The Avengers Infinity War, Marvel’s latest superhero offering (notice the word I used there, how it is a religiously loaded word. That is how this blog post is gonna roll). However, there are spoilers below. Lots of spoilers. But before I get there, here is this one spoiler-free thought–Thanos is the best bad guy in a while, precisely because he thinks he is the good guy.

SPOILERS

SPOILERS

SPOILERS

STOP READING IF YOU DON’T WANT SPOILERS!!!

 

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So, notice the Crucifix-like post of Iron-Man? Also, remember where he was pierced in the film?

Good. You’ve been warned.

What this is, instead of a review, is a quick study of some of the religious themes in the movie. Superhero movies have always been religious tales, the most blatant is Superman, but Marvel is not afraid to engage in a little theology, too.

To that end, I ask you to consider the following observations. Keep in mind, I have only seen the movie once, so I likely missed some good things.

  1. Loki is the traitor who has remorse, but then dies by strangulation, very Judas-like.
  2. There are six infinity stones (gems), which perhaps symbolize the six days of creation. I would wager that somehow this gets solved in the next installment of Infinity War by the existence of a seventh infinity stone that can undo or set all things right–“one stone to rule them all” kind of thing? And of course, there is nothing biblical about the number 7 at all. Actually, the more I think about it, Infinity War is almost a mash-up of the book of Revelation.
  3. The portrayal of the ‘half the world is gone’ at he end, specifically the bonus scene of Nick Fury, could have been a scene from any “Left Behind” type film.
  4. Thanos mission is to ‘bring balance’ which he symbolizes with a blade. In religious speak, it is symbolized with the Yin-Yang of Taoism. Which is interesting, in that it casts this Eastern mystic idea as the problem. Hollywood usually casts mystic theologies as the good guys, so there is a definite zig and zag in that Yin and Yang.
  5. Three times (by my count) someone asks to be killed for the greater good. Loki and Thor, Gamora and Quill, then fatally with Scarlet Witch and Vision. Three end up dead, but not with the beneficial consequences they desired.
  6. Thanos, of course, is a derivation of the Greek Thanatos which is either death, or the personification of death. (note–my publisher’s name is Athanatos, which means, not dead). You know before this is over, Thanos will be defeated–(because they have made a Spiderman 2 and Guardians 3 etc… so these people have to come back) and thus a kind of fulfilling of “The last enemy to be defeated is death” which is an integral part of the gospel of Jesus–that he defeated death at the Resurrection. 

More predictions for the next installment: Captain Marvel is the obvious one–Gamora returns, but not Loki or Vision–Tony Stark and/or Captain America die for reals–and Phil Coulson returns to the big screen. 

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Heroes–Just In Time

This blog has a theme song–it is David Bowie’s “Heroes.”

Hero #1–The Southwest Airlines Pilot

Her name is Captain Tammie Jo Shults. I listened to the cockpit recording of her during the incident, when the engine blew up and tore a hole in the plane. Absolutely awesome. Can I get her to pilot all my flights?TAMMIE-JO-SHULTZ-SW-AIRLINES-PILOT-FORMER-NAVY-PILOT-NERVES-OF-STEEL

She was a fighter pilot in the Navy.

She has degrees in biology and agribusiness.

She goes to church, and is described as a, “Strong Christian lady”.

After the landing, she texted a friend, ‘God is good.’

I think she is emblematic of many heroes. In so many ways she was just doing her job, but she did it well, and in the crunch, she saved lives. Just like doctors, nurses, police officers, firefighters, and so many other people do every single day. A big shout out to all of you!

Hero #2–The Guy At The Waffle House Who Took The Gun

His name is James Shaw, Jr. He wrested the AR-15 from the murderer before he could kill anyone else. “I decided he would have to work to kill me.” That is what he said. “I took it (the rifle) from him and threw it over the countertop.” Like. A. Boss.180422153400-james-shaw-jr-waffle-house-hero-large-169

He is a college graduate.

He has a four year old daughter.

He apparently likes waffles at 3AM.

He is a vegan who works as a wire-tech for AT&T.

He went to church later that morning.

Who knows how many lives he saved?

Hero #3–The kid Who Remembered The Sermon And Stood Strong

His name is Lawrence Wollek. He is in elementary school.

He listened to the sermon I preached on Sunday about the third commandment–not taking the name of the Lord in vain. Sunday night his parents, both his mother and his father, texted me to tell me that their neighbor was over that afternoon and his language got out of hand. That was when Lawrence told him he needs to watch it.IMG_0004

I love that kid.

It is not the same as landing a plane with one engine or wrestling away a firearm from a murderer, but in its own way, speaking truth to power is heroic. We need more people like Lawrence to gently remind people of truth.

 

Remember, the world is filled with heroes.

 

 

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Harry Potter — A Blog Post At Least A Decade Too Late

A friend of mine suggested I title this post, “Last one in.”

When the Harry Potter books came out, I was busy. Very busy. We had just moved to the Northwest and I was working nonstop, then I started my doctoral work. Everything I read in those days was either theology or churchy books. For the record, I still enjoy theology books, but I will never read another church how-to book for as long as I live.

But back to Harry Potter. I watched the movies as they came out, and enjoyed them with my family. Mrs. Greenbean and the sprouts all read the books and often mocked and cajoled me for not reading them. When I did get time to read for pleasure, I thrust myself into other series and works. When my family or friends brought up Harry Potter, I always said something like, “Well, I’ve seen the movies, so I know how the story ends, so reading it would be a waste.”

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Well, I finally read them. Mostly just to appease my family, but I am glad I did. I enjoyed the books much more than the films, which is always the case. Having read them, I have some observations. Of course I do.


1. The theme of the books has to be something like “Adults and people of responsibility who don’t do what they should.” Seriously, no adult or person in a position of trust does their job. No one. It starts with Harry’s aunt and uncle. I don’t care what your prejudices are, those people are awful and fail to fulfill the responsibility of humanity. But how about every single government official in the magical ministry? Then there is Dumbledore. I know he is a hero/sage/mentor figure, but he is lousy at protecting people. And how about those teachers. Snape should be fired, but so too should just about every other teacher. No one is protecting the children. Hagrid is the best example. Never forget he sent the kids into the extremely dangerous Forbidden Forest time and time again, unsupervised, because he had something that needed doing. He cares not one wit about the fact the giant spiders will likely try to eat the children. A possible second theme might be-, “One generation’s failures threaten the next.”

2. I would never let my child attend Hogwarts.  Ever. It is dangerous and they really don’t learn anything. When do they take grammar classes? Science? Mathematics? Plus, this quidditch game is ridiculously dangerous. It makes concussions from football look like a game of tag.

BONUS OBSERVATION ABOUT HOGWARTS: The movies put too many students at the school. The way I read it, Hogwarts was a very small private school, where everyone would have know everybody, and the classes would not have been very large at all. Notice how there really aren’t that many teachers there. You don’t need that many teachers when there aren’t that many children. I’m thinking there are probably fewer than 175 students for the seven grades, which means there are an average of 25 students per year, and only about 40-45 students per house. It’s a pretty small school. So in the movie, when there are about 50 kids out there learning how to ride a broom, there probably should only be about 12.

3. Rowling is great at telling a story. This is a wonderful world she has created, and I am thankful to have experienced it. I don’t find it as intriguing as Tolkien’s Middle-earth or Narnia. Neither did it almost swallow my mind as did Stephen King’s Dark Tower world, but it is fun and enjoyable. I would put it above Asimov’s Foundation Series (but only because the last four books were much worse than the original trilogy). Rowling’s at her best with dialogue. She does a great job of creating realistic, meaningful speech between characters that move the plot along. She is also a true master of POV–Point of View. She demonstrates such discipline with the POV that the entire story, almost all of it, is told though Harry’s eyes. That is something to celebrate. The only real negative I have in her writing is the blatant adverb abuse. That woman will put “ly” on the end of anything quicker than Hermione can remind us you can’t apparate into Hogwarts.

Question: How bad does she abuse adverbs?

Answer: The Deathly Hallows.

4. The movies are fun, but they are the one rare case where I think the movies muddle the story rather than smooth it out. Most movies gloss over things to simplify, but I think these films actually take some things that are simple and makes them complex. For example, in the novels, the relationship between Harry and Voldemort is very clear and easily grasped. By contrast, in the movies, it is a muddled mess that is never quite explained. I think the reason for this comes from the movies missing the point. The books are quite clear, this is basically a coming of age story about Harry Potter the boy. The movies want this to be a morality tale of Good versus Evil in which Harry Potter is the key player, but the main point is good winning in the end. In the books, the focus is always Harry. In the movies, the focus is the struggle. At least, that is the way I read it.

5. Robes. We need to talk about robes. Forget the movies for a moment, because in the films the robes function more like school uniforms than a separate attire for an entire culture. I want to know, and Rowling never tells us, what is worn underneath a robe? Is anything? What kind of shoes did they wear? We know there are dress robes, and there is a traveling cloak, but are there coats? Insulation? I’d like some specs on this. I guarantee if this were a Tom Clancy novel there would be seventeen chapters dedicated to exactly how these robes worked, fabric type, factory of origin, and possible other uses.

6. Male/Female relationship are strained in this series. I don’t know if that is a motif, or if it flows from the author’s heart. The Weasleys are the only family portrayed on the page that seems to work as a married husband and wife. I assume all the teachers are single, I don’t think we’re ever told, and most of the wizards and witches we meet are likewise. The Malfoys are an exception, but it is an exception that moves the point, for the Malfoys are most decidedly not happy. There are two weddings in the novels–and one of those is tragic at every front while the other has a very definite negative flow to it, as no one likes Fleur. Snape was in love, obviously, but that was unrequited romance, and the adolescent never outgrew it. Of course we see Harry and Ginny pair up as did Ron and Hermione, but none of it feels like romance. It is far more about the pressures of being in a war. Or, does Rowling view love and romance as something only for teenagers? Things ring true even if you surmise that Dumbledore and Grindelwald had a fling, which, is altogether possible and still proves the point that these witches and wizards just don’t do family very well.

7. Why does it seem like they care so much about who wins this house cup thing? I mean, for reals? Its not just the students, either. The teachers are all caught up in it. I don’t understand it at all. Is there a cash incentive for winning? Do your grades bump up? I can’t really buy that students would care that much.

8. Two words: Luna Lovegood. If I attended Hogwarts (and lived to tell the tale) I would have you know that Luna would have probably been my bestie. I’d had a subscription to her dad’s paper, and we would talk long and hard about all the different conspiracy theories. In fact, I would really like it if we could have a spinoff book about the grown up Luna and her adventures with the nargles. I recommend she look for them on the dark side of the moon, which is where they are hiding the secret base, anyway.

9. As a villain, Voldemort is a little too one dimensional. This is certainly true of his Death Eaters. Most baddies think they are good, which is one of the things that makes them so bad. They also usually have some sympathetic human characteristic–they love their mother, they are loyal to friends, create beautiful art, gives lavish gifts, or something. Voldemort has none–he is just 100% bad. He kills for sport, has no true affections, and is most assuredly insane, as are his closest allies. Given that level of insanity and evil, it is hard to believe he would have ever gathered any serious following.

10. Last observation. I don’t like the part of this world where magic is just something you’re born with or not. This was the part of the Star Wars universe I didn’t like, too. It gets worse, even among those who can do magic, there is a hierarchy based solely upon how powerful the magic is in you. No matter how much Neville studies, works, learns, or achieves he will never be as powerful a wizard as Harry Potter, who is quite the slacker at his studies, because Harry just has power in him. This worldview is elitist, and I have always rejected it. I don’t like any world where some people are just born better than others.

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The Old Testament and Resurrection

Yesterday in the Easter Sermon I spent a good bit of time talking about five key verses of scripture from the Hebrew Bible, the Old Testament, that point to a view of life after death. We would rightly call these resurrection verses in light of Jesus and the empty tomb, as well as the explicit teaching of the New Testament, particularly landmark passages like 1 Corinthians 15.

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Me preaching on Easter, or am I playing Rock, Paper, Scissors?

 

The compilation of these five verses comes from Millard Erickson’s epic theology book Christian Theology, on page 1201 of my copy. It is not in his section on the work of Jesus, but rather on “Last Things” which I find fascinating. So, if you missed them yesterday because you were dazzled by my homiletics (or, like most of the 7 or 8 billion people in the world, weren’t there) here they are.

  1. Isaiah 26:19, “But your dead will live; their bodies will rise.  You who dwell in the dust, wake up and shout for joy.  Your dew is like the dew of the morning; the earth will give birth to her dead.”
  2. Daniel 12:2  “Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake: some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt.”
  3. Psalm 49:15, “But God will redeem my life from the grave; he will surely take me to himself”
  4. Psalm 17:15 “And I—in righteousness I will see your face; when I awake, I will be satisfied with seeing your likeness.”

Erickson doesn’t list Job’s ancient words. I find this to be a glaring omission, for they are the most New Testament sounding of them all and are my personal favorite. As I said, it is part of my funeral liturgy, and for good reason.

“I know that my redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand upon the earth.  And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God; I myself will see him with my own eyes—I, and not another. How my heart yearns within me!” (Job 19:25-26).

I’d like to point out as well that Erickson does in his work what theologians always do–offer serious caution about reading too much into these words. I know where he is coming from, but I think his caution is too strong. The Bible teaches us about Jesus, and though the language is imprecise in the Hebrew texts, it is still applicable and I believe appropriate at Easter.

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My Unvarnished Opinion On Seven Current News Items

What an exciting time for news. There is more things happening than I can really keep up with, especially with Easter on the horizon. But that doesn’t keep me from having opinions. I’ve always got opinions.


1. As it pertains to “March For Our Lives” this weekend, I have three thoughts. Thought one–I am proud of those students who marched, and I hope they learn something about civics, citizenship, and democracy. Thought two–A nation that doesn’t listen to its children will miss a blessing, because our children can often see things we’e become too hardened to perceive. Thought Three–A people that let’s children dictate the terms of the argument or worse yet, govern by mob or sentiment, is a people that will not last much longer.

2. This “Cambridge Analytica” thing is really a giant nothing burger. Facebook was designed to do this exact thing–gather data and sell it. Why do you think Facebook is free to users? I don’t understand why anyone is shocked that Trump organization would have used this data in its campaigning. Now, if they shared this with Russians, or got the information from Russians, that would be different (although historically, that really isn’t that big of a deal either) but just using the information is something all campaigns have always done. Anyone who truly follows politics knows this.

3. I pastored in 90s. I remember Monica Lewinsky. I remember the media’s constant reporting on it. I remember downloading The Starr Report on the internet before the internet had learned to walk. It took something like six hours to download. Morality mattered then. It matters now. I don’t want the details, I just want us to hold our leaders to account for their actions.

4. I am very pleased with the Final Four. I predicted two of them–Kansas and Villanova. Gonzaga let me down, but there is nothing new there. I adore the mid-major being in the mix and even though I got Kansas winning it all, I wouldn’t be mad if those Catholics from Chicago won.

5. As predicted on this blog one week ago, President Trump is on a firing spree. I polled you, and 18% predicted correctly that it would be H. R. McMaster who got the boot. Good job, 18%. What no one saw coming was that POTUS would replace him with a warmongering nut job who has publicly advocated for the United States to attack Iran and North Korea, is unrepentant in his advocacy of the Iraq War, and in general doesn’t favor diplomacy at all. Also, note how Trump keeps hiring people who are talking heads on FOXNEWS. If Eric Bolling becomes the chief communications director or Sean Hannity is announced as the new Chief of Staff, I think we’ll be in real trouble.

6. Expelling diplomats from Russia is at least something, but it seems the wrong something. We need diplomats to talk to each other. That is how wars are avoided. When you get rid of diplomats, war becomes that much likelier. Perhaps some kind of economic sanction would have been better, or more of those ‘targeted’ sanctions used in the past. But considering this all started with the death of a Russian double-agent sitting on a park bench in London under the protection of MI-6, I think the best use of this story is as the plot for James Bond 25.

7. Once upon a time, Republicans were fiscal conservatives. That was a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. President Trump dumped really bad protectionist trade tariff’s last week and then signed a ginormous spending bill that people have already forgotten about because of salacious news (see number 1, above). This is when the GOP has control of both houses of congress, the White House, and the Supreme Court, for that matter.

 

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Vote Early And Often–Who Gets Fired Next!

Vote in my highly unscientific poll. Which person will President Trump fire next?

Whether you love him or hate him, you have to admit, he is on quite a roll. Last week he fired his Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and then fired Andrew McCabe over at the FBI on Friday night, a mere twenty-six hours before his pension would have kicked in. Technically it was Jeff Sessions who did it, but everyone knows the order came from POTUS.

Now I’m wondering, who will he fire next? I predicted he would fire Jeff Sessions before July 4 LAST YEAR (click here to read that blog I wrote after Comey was fired). It might still be a safe bet he’ll be fired because, as I pointed out then, the first rule of an assassination is to kill the assassin. Sessions did the dirty work, now he’s got to go, too. As you vote, and for future clarity, remember a resignation counts here, because we all know those are ‘fall on your sword’ type things. For example, I suspect H. R. McMaster will not be fired, but will resign and that is the same, for our purposes here, as a termination.

So, vote below on who you think will get the axe next. Remember, you have to click on the “vote” button for it to go through, after that, you should be able to see how the voting is going.

 

 

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2018 Oscar Preview and Picks

I watched them all. All nine of them. Here is a brief, no spoiler review of each Best Picture nominee. Following that, I will predict some winners in the major categories. Then I will elaborate on some themes from this year’s movie selections. So, here here we go, in alphabetical order.


Best Picture Quick-Review

Call Me By Your Name

Pretentious. Snobbish. Boring. The only truly great part of this film was the acting done by Michael Stuhlbarg. I can’t get the thought out of my mind that this film is nominated solely because it is a homosexual love story. If it were a straight love story, with all the same elements, people would yawn. What is not a yawn, though, is the very disturbing ages involved–a grown man and a 17 year old boy. I’m pretty sure that is a crime.

Darkest Hour

This film has some great one liners, and the storytelling is superb. It is hard to take such a well known subject and historical figure as Winston Churchill and make it interesting, but this movie does just that. There are some bits that are ahistorical, but that doesn’t take away from the truly outstanding film this is.

Dunkirk

If like you lots of scenic panoramas, then this is your film. However, if you like a little dialogue, then maybe not so much. I bet the screenplay for this movie is no more than a page and a half.

Get Out

Of all the films, this one surprised the most in how much I enjoyed. It is equal part Rosemary’s Baby, The Village, and Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner.

Lady Bird

If you like Juno, you’ll love this movie. Great acting. Witty dialogue. Religious overtones, both positive and negative, as well as that great classic mother/daughter angst.

Phantom Thread

Asparagus. Mushrooms. and Loud breakfast. That is all you need to know. The acting here is superb, but the story leaves me flat. The MC is interesting, but not interesting enough to make me care.

The Post

Great historical film, but I think it misses the mark in terms of greatness. It wants to be Spotlight for the Vietnam War. This is not Spotlight.

The Shape Of Water

Of all the movies nominated, this was the one I was most excited about. Boy, was I disappointed. I know lots of people love this film, but I just couldn’t. The acting is good (again, Michael Stuhlbarg steals the show) but I hated the overall story. And what is with the Parisian arthouse soundtrack to a 1960s era movie set on the East Coast? This movie ruined some of the sweet nostalgia I have for The Creature From The Black Lagoon.

Three BillboardsOutside Ebbing, Missouri

This is a disturbing movie. Its s loud, profane, vulgar, and shocking. These elements combine in a powerful way to evoke deep emotions. It reminded me of the Coen Brothers.


Predictions

Best Picture

I predict Darkest Hour. Billboards has a punchers chance, and Get Out is a long shot.

Director

This is the toughest one for me to pick. It should probably go to Christopher Nolan for Dunkirk, with would split the best picture and best director categories. The problem is, Jordan Peele did so much with so little in the movie Get Out that I really think I want him to win.

Leading Actor

If anyone besides Gary Oldman wins it is a travesty. I love Denzel Washington, but if he wins it is because the academy feels guilty for not picking him last year for his outstanding role in Fences.

Leading Actress

Frances McDormand in a landslide. If Saoirse Ronan won, though, I wouldn’t be mad.

Supporting Actor

Woody Harrelson. He and Rockwell could split the vote, but I think Harrelson has this. The biggest question is why is Willem Dafoe even on this list. The best acting in The Florida Project was Brooklynn Prince as Moonee and Bria Vinaite as Halley, who aren’t nominated for anything anywhere, which is a real shame.

Supporting Actress

Laurie Metcalf wins.

Animated Feature

Coco

Cinematography

Blade Runner 2049, although Dunkirk might sneak in there.


Themes

It is always interesting to me how the Oscar films tend to follow themes that might reveal a lot about culture and the times in which we live. This year is no different.

  1. The historical Dunkirk as the symbol of snatching hope in the moment of despair. This is the focal point of both Dunkirk and Darkest Hour. I  feel like these are companion films that should be watched together.
  2. Elaborating on that theme, the overall feeling of ‘trapped’ comes to mind. That is true in Dunkirk and Darkest Hour, but also Get Out, The Shape Of Water, and even Call Me By Your Name if you get right down to it. One can even spot that theme in the movie Lady Bird and it shines brightly in The Florida Project and MudBound.
  3. Only two films are set in the present time–Billboards and Get Out. (Caveat, it is possible in mind that Get Out is actually set in the future, but that is a different discussion). As the world gets more complicated and technologically driven, the stories we tell go back to simpler times. This might be because telling a story in the era of technology is difficult. This is what some of the problem was with the Blade Runner reboot. Technology is not all that interesting, and it removes opportunity for narrative.
  4. Women are the future. Water, Billboards, The Post, and Lady Bird are female driven films. This is a very good thing. The next hurdle for Oscar will be women behind the camera getting serious consideration for directing.

You know I’ll be watching the Oscars Sunday night. I guess we will wait and see who wins and how right or wrong I was. I still have not forgiven Oscar for Birdman, so disappointments are possible.

 

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5 Things I Love About Billy Graham: In Memoriam

c93b53ad616e615faf39c2a908de98fd--billy-graham-quotes-travelingThere is a lot to love about Billy Graham. Learning of his death today at the age of 99 is bittersweet. Bitter because it represents the end of something special, but sweet because it is the actual beginning of something else–something Billy talked about so often–eternal life. I’m a little younger than those who were very influenced by Graham, for by the time I came into the ministry his primary years were already behind him. Nevertheless, he still had an impact on me as a believer and as a pastor. To be sure, he wasn’t perfect–only Jesus has that wrapped up, but he was a positive and powerful influence in the world. Here are five things I love about him.


1. I love the Billy Graham Rule. In a world filled with #metoo, we need to remember Graham was way ahead of the curve here. He pioneered the idea of never being alone with a woman who wasn’t your wife. I was taught this in seminary as the Billy Graham model, and it has served me well. A corollary to this involved the establishment of a board to handle money and make salary decisions. Graham taught us that staying away from temptation on the two fronts where men and ministers are most vulnerable is good ethics.

2. I love the way he adopted whatever media worked. We often think off I’m with the big crusades, but he used television, radio, leaflets, tracks, and even films. I am sure many of us remember watching those evangelistic movies from the BGEA. I am certain that if Graham were hitting his stride today, he’d be tearing it up on Twitter and Youtube. Scratch that, he’d be all over #thesnapchatofdecision.

3. I love his book on angels. I don’t really agree with everything he writes in it, but I love that he took the time, did the work, and wrote a theological treatise. It demonstrates to me that even though his gospel ministry was really the same message over and over again, he had a heart for academic pursuits and biblical knowledge.

4. I love that he helped found the magazine Christianity Today. CT is one of my favorite magazines.

5. I love his commitment to Jesus as Lord and Savior rather than a commitment to politics, denominations, or particular churches. To be truthful, there were times when it seems like the power of politics, particularly during the Nixon years, threatened to sweep him away like yet another fad. Yet, to his credit, he chucked all that and turned back again toward his first love. He got burned, but learned his lesson.

Rest in Peace Billy. The Lord gives, and the Lord takes away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.

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Some Words About Gun Violence

I’ve waited, using the time to think, before writing about gun violence. Again. I am not so arrogant as to think my words could change anything, nor do I wish to persuade anyone of my positions. I even hesitate to write at all. I waffle from anger, to cynicism, to hope and then at some point I worry this kind of news will no longer shock me.

As I wrestle with it, I’ve tried to focus on what is true in all of this. We live in a time when truth is under attack from every front, so it is better to work from truth rather than from cliche or assumptions. Here goes my attempt, and then I will give some analysis. But before I share the truths I’ve come to accept on this issue, I need to remind you that multiple things can be true at the same time, and those truths aren’t necessary always in harmony with each other or with a particular worldview.

The first truth, a big picture truth, is that an unarmed populace is a vulnerable populace. Specifically, it is vulnerable to tyranny. Whatever else our founding framers might have envisioned when they crafted the Constitution, keeping people armed in case of an outbreak of tyranny was certainly on their mind, especially given the fact of the Revolutionary War they’d just fought. The first thing a tyrant seeks to do is take away the populations defense mechanisms.

The second truth is that guns have always been regulated in our nation. Always. Most cities and towns in the past had very strict gun control laws, such as no one could have a gun on them in the city limits. These types of restrictions were very common throughout our history.

The third truth is liberty and security do not play well with each other. The more secure you make something, by definition, you restrict its liberty. A well educated, rational society that cares about both liberty and security will learn to find the balance between these two in order to create the best possible outcome for the majority of people.

The fourth truth is a society has an obligation to its children to protect them until they reach adulthood.

The fifth truth is that decisions made out of fear are never good decisions. Our nation is afraid right now. I see it on the faces of people at church, at work, in the supermarket, at the movie theater–everywhere I go. People who are afraid are often not thinking properly, which makes them susceptible to bad ideas or demagoguery.

The sixth truth is though they are alike in kind, there is a difference between the random killings we’ve seen at schools and churches and the traditional gun violence demonstrated in urban environments or domestic violence. Do not misread me, those are horrible problems and need to be addressed as well, but they are different problems than what we saw in Parkland, Florida last week.

Here is the last truth, the seventh truth, I’ve come to. We don’t have a gun problem. We don’t have a mental health problem. We don’t have a teenage problem. What we have is much more specific than this–we have a young, white, male with mental health issues who has access to guns problem.


Now, for a little, but not much, analysis.

  1. One possible solution would be to think about schools and education differently. Maybe large schools with a high concentration of students is the wrong way to go. Perhaps some of the mental health issue is caused by the attempt to raise our children in large, massive industrial-styled complexes with hundreds or thousands of students as if they were a product being made. Maybe we need to decentralize, create smaller, more intimate learning spaces where children can’t fall through cracks.
  2. Banning particular kinds of weapons is not a viable solution. The solution would be more akin to restricting, or banning, certain types of people from having firearms. Most Americans, myself included, have no problem whatsoever with a sane, well-adjusted soul owning a weapon. But I think, given the recent issues, we need to put the onus on the individual to prove sanity and stability. This would require far more than a background check. Bonus thought–if people are serious, they will not restrict weapons at all, but instead restrict, limit, regulate, and record the purchase and sale of ammunition. A gun without bullets is just a heavy stick.
  3. Look at the venues where these tragedies occur–schools, churches, concerts, movie theaters, and night clubs. If we turn these places into fortresses complete with armed guards, razor wire fences, metal detectors, and staff (think kindergarten teachers, theater ticket takers, pastors, bartenders) who are armed, then liberty has not only diminished, it is dying. It will also kill these institutions. The movie theater experience will die, as well as congregational worship as we know it, along with schools. Parents will pull their kids out, and thus the public school will fade away. I just don’t think the answer to these issues is more security, because that poses greater issues and takes us down the slope toward a police state–where everyone is secure, but liberty is a myth. I have already witnessed the loss of too much liberty in my lifetime. I don’t want to see us lose any more.
  4. I have argued in the past, and still believe, that the mental health issue emerging in young boys as random violence is actually a larger problem. The problem presents itself differently in other demographics, but has the same causes. I say causes because there is no one cause, but I do believe there is one basic solution. The causes are manifold and include but are not limited to–fatalism, despair, glorification of violence, dissolution of home life, the teaching of Darwinism, and propserity. The solution, though, is singular. As a believer in Christ Jesus, all of this points to the need for spiritual renewal. Our society is broken, because we have neglected our soul.

Thanks for taking the time to read this. Good people can disagree on issues, and you might be in a different camp on some of this, and that is okay. Whatever we do, it is imperative that we learn to listen to one another and realize that we are all on the same team, because none of us want what happened in Parkland, Sutherland Springs, Sandy Hook, Columbine, Charleston, Miami, Las Vegas  . . . and sadly so many other places, to happen ever again.

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6 Things You Might Not Agree With

Lots of stuff going on around here. Tonight is Cajun food night at our church meal, and I got nothing, so I’m just gonna go get tacos from Taco Bell. I know, it is the lowest form of food, but I figure they have Taco Bell in Louisiana, too.

But here are some things that are on my mind, and I need to get them out. I recognize you will probably not agree with some of them, which is fine. Maybe It will stimulate some thinking.


1. President Trump is right to question why good financial news, like more people working and higher wages, causes the stock market to go down. Probably points to the reality that Wall Street and Main Street have two completely different sets of priorities.

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2. As a Seahawks fan, it is extremely rewarding that the man who cost us a Super Bowl victory also cost the Patriots a Super Bowl victory to a team wearing green. Thanks, Malcolm Butler.

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Seeing this picture still stings.

3. Yesterday was Ronald Reagan’s birthday. He would have been 107, if my math is right. It made me a little nostalgic to remember a time when conservative Republican presidents advocated for walls to be torn down, not built.

4. I have an almost uncontrollable desire to buy a red Tesla Roadster. Watching that launch was amazing, and really made me miss when NASA use to do great things.

5. I’m watching a lot of Oscar movies right now, which means I’m eating a lot of popcorn. I will blog about them all when I’ve seen all the best pic nominees, but for now I will tell you that The Shape Of Water was a terrible disappointment. I mean, it was almost unwatchable at times, but it did make me miss The Creature From The Black Lagoon.

6. I’m preaching about the Holy Spirit right now, and finish the series up on Sunday. I think the smartest thing I’ve said in a very long time is something I tried to point out this past Sunday.

The reason we have so many different churches and kinds of churches is a strength, not a weakness. The Holy Spirit takes pleasure in diversity, and this diversity makes it possible for there to be a spiritual home for all different kinds of people.

 

Okay, that’s all I got for now.

Update, while writing this, I decided to go with KFC and a bucket of chicken. Everyone loves chicken, right?

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Orphans in Uganda

The last month has been very hard on our friends in Jinga, Uganda.

Pastor Dominic and Rachael Achen run the Tender Love Care Orphanage there. They feed, care, and teach. Many of the children were orphaned because parents died of diseases, violence, or were simply abandoned in the streets. Dominic and Rachael responded, opening up their lives. They have thirty children that they care for. Thirty! And they do this work pretty much by themselves.

Thirty!

To add to the normal stresses of this work, in the last month:

  1. Someone has tried to rob the orphanage.
  2. Their water has been turned off.
  3. Their electricity has been turned off.
  4. The orphanage is four months behind on rent, and the landlord is threatening eviction.
  5. The school year started up, and that means tuition and expenses for all those kids.

Here is the good part. Dominic met the guy who tried to steal from them, and forgave him, and shared the love of Christ. The man repented and gave his heart to Jesus. How cool is that? Also, the funding for the kids to start school for the first term has been met. There will be a big need in July for funding for the second term, but for now the need is covered.

However, just feeding these children is expensive. One can only imagine the struggles just to make ends meet in this environment. Mrs. Greenbean and I started a GoFundMe for them, which makes it easy for you to help out. Please consider giving–every little bit helps. Click HERE for the link.

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I don’t post things like this often, and it is certainly not intended to guilt anyone. If you want to help, this is how you can do it. If you don’t, that is fine, too. I know that you all have many things you help out with and contribute to, and sometimes it is overwhelming. But if you can, and you want to, I can think of no more noble way to be a blessing than by making sure the lights stay on, the water runs, and thirty orphans are fed. Dominic and Rachael need to know they are not alone–we stand with them.


Below I’ve posted a scan of some of the letters they sent us at Christmas. They call my wife “Momma Kim”, which she loves. One of the letters called me “Aunt Jamie.” I don’t know what that was all about, but . . .

 

 

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Vegetable Soup

Over the winter I’ve been perfecting this vegetable soup recipe for our #meatlessmondays.

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This is an actual picture of this vegetable soup that I made all by myself.

Start with half a red onion and four celery ribs. chop them very small. Heat them in the bottom of your soup pot with a splash or two of olive oil. I generally use my large dutch oven. Throw in a little kosher salt and fresh ground pepper. If you want, you can dash a bit of Tabasco sauce. I also add a dash or two of garlic powder. I don’t find that fresh garlic works well in this recipe, because it doesn’t always blend as easily. Many vegetable soup recipes will call for thyme and oregano as well, but I don’t like them with this soup. The flavor comes from the ingredients here, not the spices. You’ll want the fire up on high at this point.

So to summarize the base: olive oil, red onion, celery, salt, pepper, garlic and if you want a little Tabasco for punch.

Once that sweats out well,  reduce the heat on your stovetop burner to low. Start adding other delicious chopped veggies. I have found the more the merrier. There are three I always use are tomatoes, broccoli, and cabbage. The tomatoes I use are stewed frozen tomatoes from my mom and dad’s garden. However, any canned tomatoes would work. I wouldn’t use fresh ones. I have put as many as six different veggies in if I have them. This is a great recipe for clearing out fresh veggies that are on the downward path toward rotting in the crisper. Other good veggies to add are green beans, snap peas, carrots, mushrooms, and cauliflower. All of them are delish. Here is some advice, though. Stay away from potatoes and corn. These things always end up as filler in these kinds of soups, but this is not a chowder. Corn brings an unsavory sweetness and potatoes bulk it up too much. Stick with the skinny fresh veggies.

Once those are in the pot, add enough broth to thicken, but not enough to cover it. Right now we just want to cook up the veggies with a little more direct heat. Bring the pot to a simmer, and let simmer for about three to five minutes. take out the toughest veggie at three minutes and see how done it is. If you are using carrots, those are a good tester. Broccoli can be tough too, so that is a good bellwether for how ready the veggies are. What we are looking for is soft enough to bite but still a little firm. Once they get to this point, add enough broth to cover the veggies completely.

Throw in a bay leaf or two. Let simmer about ten minutes, stirring three or four times. Taste the soup to see if it needs more salt or pepper or garlic. This is completely subjective.

A big question here is what kind of broth. To keep this recipe truly meatless and vegan, you’ll need to use vegetable broth. However, chicken broth brings this soup to an exceptional level of flavor. You can’t lose either way, though, unless you use water. DON’T USE WATER OR BOUILLON CUBES. Can you hear me shout that? The only water you should use in this recipe is to wash the veggies when you clean them.

For best results, after simmering the soup for ten minutes, let it set for about an hour. The next day it will taste even better. That’s just the nature of all soup and chili type foods. After an hour, it might still be hot enough, but if you need to raise the temperature.

If I am in a particularly enjoyable mood, I will use that rest time of an hour to make homemade croutons to serve with the soup. This is simple. Just take a loaf of French or garlic bread. Cut it up into blocks (whatever size you want your croutons). Splash them with olive oil, salt, and garlic then bake on a cookie sheet at 350 degrees for about ten minutes, or until they have that nice golden color.

Put the croutons in the bottom of your bowl and label the soup over them. Top with Parmesan cheese if that is your jam. Enjoy.

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Five Questions–The Last Jedi

 

SPOILERS

SPOILERS FOLLOW

STOP NOW UNLESS YOU’RE OKAY WITH SPOILERS

SPOILERS FROM THIS POINT ON

IF YOU HAVEN’T SEEN THE MOVIE YET–STOP!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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This isn’t a review of The Last Jedi. However, I’ll take two lines right here–I really loved the movie and thought it was the best since Empire Strikes Back. I love jaded, cynical, 2017 Luke Skywalker as much as I loved whiney, entitled 1979-83 Luke Skywalker. He has always been hyper-emotional and in this film we see the other pole.

But enough with the review. What I write here are five questions the movie leaves me with. This is not intended in a negative way, because good books and films always stoke the imagination and bring the consumer in so he or she can ponder the story. But here are my questions.

  1. Is Snoke a MacGuffin? It’s actually okay with me if he is–if the makers of the film just did an “insert mysterious bad guy here” and he is only useful in this moment. But is there more? Are we being set up to think of him as only a plot foil and then we get the sucker punch later? I want there to be more, but I suspect Snoke was never intended to be a major plot point. This story is all about Kylo and Rey. So for now I’m going with Snoke as MacGuffin.
  2. Is The Resistance really this small? I can’t tell after a first viewing. Are we supposed to believe this is all there is to it or is it a fragment that has been cornered?  This matters to me, because if this is all there is, then my feelings somewhat change. Perhaps the galaxy wants an authoritative government that suppresses liberty. It is something to consider.
  3. What is it with Luke Skywalker and milk? Is that the key to midichlorians?
  4. Is that the last word on Rey’s parents? I am still enamored with Rey’s true identity. I know many people think the issue is settled. That might be so. It is a major moment in the movie when it seems like she and Kylo come to the agreement that her parents were nobodies. Part of me likes this, because I never really jammed on the elitist/birth blessing of Jedi skills. That always seemed just a little too much like nobility and royalty; and those are two things I despise. The flip though is what if this is a deception. Work with me–The Last Jedi parallels ESB in so many ways. In ESB Darth Vader tells a truth to Luke about his parentage, which Obi-Wan later talks about as looking at it from a, “certain point of view.” What if a different point of view paints the picture of Rey’s parents differently. The reason I say this is because I still believe Rey is Obi-Wan’s granddaughter or niece or somehow related.
  5. Is Rey a Jedi? This question, put a little differently, could read, “Does training matter at all for Jedi?” Because if she is a Jedi, she has zero training. Luke got more training from Obi-Wan in the lounge of the Millennium Falcon in the original Star Wars film than Rey has received. So is she a Jedi?

 

Predictions for the next one: Rey goes back to that island and steals Luke Skywalker’s green lightsaber. Obi-Wan Kenobi will force ghost visit Rey. If there is any justice in the galaxy, Chewbacca will be the one to kill Kylo–choking the life right out of him with his furry dexterous hands. There is another Solo kid–the one we all loved from the EU–and he will join with Rey to rebuild the order (note–Rey is playing the role of Jaina in this tale, so we need the third one to show up somehow for the story to make sense: IMHO).

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A Prayer For My Youngest Daughter On Her Eighteenth Birthday

I have two children–daughters. Today is my youngest’s 18th birthday. This thought is more than I can completely comprehend. She was born in the shadow of a new millennium in a place far-away from the land of my fathers. Where has the time gone? It seems like only yesterday I teased about naming her “Y2K”, but instead I chose to name her after a deacon in the Bible. This is my prayer for Phoebe. 

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Phoebe Greening, My Baby Girl

Dear Lord, first I want to give you thanks for Phoebe’s presence in the world and in our lives. To say she is unique would be an understatement–and I thank you for that. Her physical beauty is only eclipsed by her wit, charm, maturity, and intelligence. I thank you that she is bright, conversational, and likable. These are characteristics that make sharing life with her so enjoyable. I thank you for the confidence she feels in her bones–and I likewise thank you for the humility easily visible in her heart.

One of her attributes, Lord, is that she is a hard worker. She throws herself into tasks, sometimes to the point of obsession. I pray two specific things about this. First, use this for good by giving her the wisdom and discernment to choose wisely what to throw her effort into. Guard her from the mistake of giving her heart and efforts to people and projects unworthy of her devotion. The second thing I pray is that she learn to temper this passion for work with a healthy balance of rest, enjoyment, and pleasure. She has it in her to over-focus on the task and neglect what really matters. Keep her from that temptation.

I pray she achieves her many goals. She has a preferred college and I ask that you show her favor with the admissions process. She has dreams of being a diplomat. Let her, let her do that work and use her to bring peace in at least some parts of the world. She wants to get married someday, and I ask that you begin to prepare that young man for her. I ask that he be a kind, generous, nurturing man who loves you and who will love her, support her, and give her the space to be the woman she yearns to be. She wants to have at least one child–I pray that you let her. Let her have a boy or girl, and more if that is your plan. I further pray her children be as big a blessing to her as my daughters have been to their parents.

As she transitions from childhood to adulthood, I ask four things:

  1. Give her a heart for purity.
  2. Lead her in an unwavering commitment to truth.
  3. Surround her with good friends who will love her.
  4. Put good leaders–teachers, supervisors, mentors–around her that will challenge and instruct her with wisdom.

The world she lives in is so very different than the one I became an adult in. Lord, I ask that you protect her from the evil hand of terrorism and the hatred of war. Give her understanding to not become entrenched in the ugly pettiness of divisiveness inherent in today’s public discourse. May she never know  poverty. I ask that her health be good. Protect her from temptations of drugs, addictions, and easy solutions to complicated problems. May her wine vats always be filled with the best vintage. May her cattle multiply on every hillside. May the oil of peace and blessing flow freely upon her head. When hard times do come, as they always do, show her how to let integrity be her guide, faith be her comfort, and your presence be her bedrock.

Teach her when she should stay and fight for what she believes in.

Teach her when she should run as fast as she can from a toxic situation.

Teach her when to ask for help or counsel from others.

Teach her when to stand alone or reject the folly of others.

Almighty God, the four of us have always been tight-knit and close. I am so grateful that there are no barriers among any of us, and that my children love each other and like each other. I can see in their eyes and the way they interact, that even though they are both so different from one another, they are the best of friends. I pray that remain, but in a grown-up way as we all transition. It is hard for me and my wife to let them go into the big world. My desire is to always protect, always provide, always be present. But that is not the way you made us. You made us to grow up and leave home and make our own way in the world, yet having the reliable connections to family as a safe and nurturing support. Help me to make that leap–the leap of walking beside her as an ally and not in front of her or over her as if I were a ruler. She doesn’t need me to carry her any longer. She needs me to watch as she walks on her own. She doesn’t need me to drag her down the right path, she needs me to be ready to explain to her where the different paths lead and how she will have to live with her choices. Help me do that, Lord. I’m not very good at it.

You know the good I want in her life because I love her, and I have loved her long before she was ever in the womb. Yet you have loved her from before the foundations of the world. Therefore, in all I ask, I submit to your divine will and plan–and I make it my ultimate prayer for her–that she will commit herself to you throughout life, follow your will and ways, and be used by you for you purposes.

I ask all of this in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, through the power of the Holy Spirit, and in the knowledge the Father loves all of his children. Amen.

 

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My Thoughts On A Theoretical Presidential Knife Fight

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Some ideas are good.

Some ideas are bad.

And some ideas are completely genius.

I found one of those tonight thanks to my friend Joe Shaw. He posted a blog post link on his Facebook page. The blog was written by Geoff Micks who I think calls his blog faceintheblue. The link to the blog post is RIGHT HERE CLICK ON THIS NOW and you all should go read the blog, in its entirety, from start to finish and then share it. Don’t want to read the blog–check out this video below, but I warn you, the blog post is gold. Pure. Gold.

Apparently this has been around for a while. There is even a card game. How is it I am just now discovering this over the Christmas holiday?

Here is the premise: All forty five U.S. Presidents are locked in a Thunderdome or Roman Coliseum type arena and must fight with a knife to the death. Who walks out? In the end, there can be only one.

I want to see this made into a movie. Of course we’d have to enlarge it to a Hunger Games type competition, or maybe it is the theme for a one-off Fantasy Island feature film.

Who do you got? Here is some of my thoughts.


The Favorites

The first reaction is to start picking up military folks for favorites. The problem is, before Barack Obama and Donald J. Trump, all presidents had military experience of some sort. That being said, some stand out, and that makes this a bit easier.

  1. George Washington–He was a ruthless warrior who executed a plan for survival with brutal efficiency and without mercy.
  2. Andrew Jackson–the writer of the article rightly said he’d have the highest kill count. He loved killing people, and his first victim would be Barack Obama, because Jackson was as big a racist white supremacist as you could imagine.
  3. Teddy Roosevelt–he would use his cousin in an alliance, and then shove FDR’s cigarette holder down his throat with one hand while sticking his knife into Polk’s kidneys.
  4. Abraham Lincoln–Lincoln would last a while, but his great weakness is that at some point he’d stand up and ask if people couldn’t put down their knives and appeal to their better angels. That is the moment LBJ would stab him in he back.
  5. George W. Bush (43)–I know you might not think this likely, but 43 has Jedi reflexes when it comes to dodging things, like a shoe thrown at him by an Iraqi reporter. He also runs, so, like the movie Zombieland, cardio is gonna be big in this.

 

The First Outs

Most of the presidents from the 19th and early 20th century were overweight and slothful. All of those, most of this people whose names you don’t know, would be gone quickly, like Grover Cleveland, William Howard Taft, Chester A. Arthur. Aside from this group en masse, there are some notable names who will fall quickly.

  1. Barack Obama would be gone before the first minute. Whatever else you might think of him, and this is not a political statement, but he wasn’t rugged by any means. And I think it would be Andrew Jackson who kills him.
  2. Richard Nixon, and it would be Gerald Ford who did it because he’d be looking for the slimy fellow.
  3. Woodrow Wilson, like Obama, was far too academic to survive this environment.
  4. Trump would be gone very quickly.
  5. Thomas Jefferson’s brilliance and poetics would not be much use here, plus John Adams would be looking for him.
  6. U.S. Grant would go quickly because one must be sober to fight. Usually.

 

Alliances

There would be alliances, of course, that form to get through the initial melee.

  1. The Bush boys would ally, and they might drag Reagan in too. It is not hard to imagine George Washington finding a natural affinity here, as well.
  2. The two Roosevelts would do well together. They would probably have LBJ on their team.
  3. The two Adam’s boys would team up. I think they might draft Eisenhower into their lot.

 

Underdogs

I don’t figure these people to do particularly great, but they might have a fighting chance.

  1. Franklin Pearce–He was very tough man.
  2. Jimmy Carter–Read the original blog post on this. Just read it and tell me you don’t think he’d be capable of hanging in there. Plus, Carter was a Southern Baptist, which means he is filled with Klingon guile.
  3. John Kennedy–his health was famously awful, and his moral character was almost non-existent, but there was a gritty toughness to him. The man who didn’t blink at the thought of WWIII over Cuba and Berlin probably has a good chance of walking over the dead bodies of Bill Clinton, Millard Fillmore, and Calvin Coolidge.
  4. Andrew Johnson–not Jackson and not Lyndon, but Andrew Johnson. This child of the South who could never fill Lincoln’s shoes might have enough pent up frustration to go a while.

 

And the Winner Is?

I think it comes down to George W. Bush (43) and Andrew Jackson. In the end, Jackson will be wild-eyed and crazed, but spent. Bush’s extended cardio regiment and zen-like connection to paint brushes, not to mention that Dick Cheney’s voice is in his head, will be the difference.

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Predictions for 2018

I am no prophet. I have a hard time predicting what Mrs. Greenbean will want for dinner, much less long term trends. This deficiency doesn’t keep me from trying, though. I just went and looked at 2017’s predictions, and I was almost 50% accurate–and I completely nailed the entertainment predictions, particularly the decline in football ratings. Sadly, 2016 saw me only get 20%, and 30% in 2015, and even more dismal in 2014 with only one prediction really happening. However, in that year, I predicted a Facebook scandal–which actually happened in 2017. Maybe I was just early?

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I try to mix up the predictions in various areas of life–entertainment, politics, business, science, religion, and faith so I’m all over the place. Anyway, here goes my predictions for 2018.

10. The Houston Astros will repeat as World Series Champions.

9. A White-Supremacist will do something so horrible it will make Charlottesville look pale and insignificant.

8. Some big secret will be revealed at NASA—not like aliens or anything, but it will be something like we’ve already been to Mars in a covert plan, or the Columbia space shuttle explosion wasn’t an accident. Something scandalous or controversial.

7. The implementation of new internet regulations (net neutrality) will be a shot in the arm to traditional cable and television corporations, temporarily stabilizing a dying industry.

6.  The Republicans will lose heavily to Democrats in the 2018 elections, losing at least one chamber of congress.

5. Subscriptions to self-driving car services will be big Christmas presents.

4. Theresa May will be booted out as British leader in the midst of an ugly undoing of the Brexit vote.

3. The economy will continue to cook under conservative policies.

2. Two or three major mega-churches will close their doors, beginning the coming wave of emphasis upon small, neighborhood, community churches.

1. Robert Mueller’s investigation into the 2016 election will not produce any incriminating evidence against President Trump, and then POTUS will pardon everyone who received indictments, particularly Michael Flynn.

 

BONUS PREDICTIONS–This year will be an unseasonably cold winter and spring, POTUS will drop an F-Bomb in major speech (State of the Union?), Eli Manning will be the starting quarterback for the Chicago Bears, and Wal-Mart will be bought by Amazon.

Coming into work this morning I heard on NPR about a “March Madness” bracket for choosing the top political stories of 2017.

Obviously, I was interested–two things I really enjoy. The whole thing is on twitter at the account of the NPR political guy @DomenicoNPR (click here for a link to the NPR page)  .

I had wayyyyyy too much fun playing with this. There were so many stories, and all of them were important. I was careful to make selections which emphasized the immediate political impact of 2017, and not the long-term policy impact. An example of this thinking is the appointment and seating of Gorsuch as a Supreme Court justice. I think this will have huge implications for the future, but politically, right now, it is not that earth shattering. Yet.

I was also careful to not let my personal opinion sway the pick. I was only thinking about the political impact of the issue. An example of this is I have Doug Jones win in Alabama higher than net neutrality, yet in my personal opinion net neutrality and the travesty that has happened by giving the internet corporations free reign to control access is a much bigger deal. Yet, it is not that politically hot except to a few well-informed special interest folks.

My Final Four has two number one seeds, Trump’s Inauguration and Sexual Harassment along with two number two seeds, Charlottesville and the Tax Overhaul. The Finals are Sexual Harassment and Charlottesville, with Sexual Harassment winning it in a buzzer beater.

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In Memoriam: My Dad

My father would have loved his funeral.

The service was about twenty five minutes–a simple graveside. All of his living children were there, as were all his living siblings. Many friends and family from his present and his past were there. When the service was over, we all stood around for over an hour talking, laughing, telling stories. Dad would have told the most stories, done the most laughing, and enjoyed the talking.

He would have loved three specific things about his funeral.

  1. He would have loved that it had rained the night before, and we were basically standing in a big bog of East Texas red dirt.
  2. He would have really loved the picture my sister chose for the program handout. It was perfect. I love that it was from when he was in his mid forties–about halfway through life. (Editors Note: That is the present age of Greenbean right now, and he
    25550338_1424994250962103_2552188773047529973_n
    This was him on a trip in Colorado, circa 1974. 

    looks nowhere near as cool and awesome as his father did at that age.)

  3. He would have loved that we buried him in Nacogdoches. Most of the stories I heard about took place there in that area north of Nacogdoches—Timpson, Tenaha, Appleby, Garrison, and Pisgah (which the Greenings all pronounce Piss-Key).

I would not be who I am were it not for him. This is true of all of us–for good of or for bad our parents are an important part of our formations. Jack Greening was not a complicated human being, nor was he perfect. But he was smart, and he lived life by a kind of ethical code that, at its baseline, could be summed up in two ideas.

  1. The only true virtue is hard work.
  2. Leave well enough alone.

I could go one and on about his methodology. One example will do.

Me: Dad, how tight should I tighten this bolt?

Dad: As tight as it will go.

Me: Okay.

Dad: And then one more half-turn for good measure.

There was almost nothing he could’t do. He left school at 9th grade to work and help with the family after his mother died, nevertheless, my father could do complex mathematical calculations in his head as fast as any machine or computer. Seriously. I’ve seen him do it. He only had two fingers on his right hand, yet his penmanship was elegant and beautiful, like a scribe of ancient lore. He was a hard man, but little children melted his heart. He could make you smile and laugh one moment, and the next infuriate you to the boiling point.

Five fun facts about my father:

  1. He saw a UFO in Arkansas once. This experience later led him to murder a mylar Smurfette ballon that landed in his pea patch, thinking it was an invader.
  2. He could call owls from a large distance, and converse with them.
  3. To avoid paying an electrician, he rigged a system of extension cords in our home to provide power from one side to the other. This system lasted over two years.
  4. In the forty-five years of my lifetime, I’ve never known him to change the oil in a car or truck. He just runs them until they die. This is why we never had reliable transportation.
  5. When he was a long-haul truck driver, and I was a very little boy, he would always buy me a Moon Pie and RC Cola in the lounge when we’d go pick him up from a long trip.

There is one thing, though, that is special and unique to me. Of all his other children, and all his other relationships, there is this one thing. Jack Greening is not my biological father. he met my mother when I was two months old. They married a week before my one year birthday. I was raised in his home as a young child, but I was not his son.

That changed when I was twelve yeas old, and had reached a sort of legal moment when I could make a choice. I chose to be his son, and he chose to be my father, and he adopted me, thus I became his son, his only son. He chose me knowing full well who I was, where I came from, all my baggage, and the quirks and peculiarities about me as a human being. He chose to be my dad. He didn’t have to, and no one would have thought anything untoward about it if he hadn’t. But he did. All the years growing up, before the adoption and after it, he never treated me as other or different. He treated me exactly as he would have treated any son.

I tell you honestly this experience has always shaped my understanding of the biblical usage of adoption–that we are adopted children of God. Jesus is the firstborn, but we, through faith in him, choose to have God as our special father, and he likewise chooses to have us as his children.

I tried to explain this to my father one day. He didn’t quite understand it, but not because he was stupid, but because he couldn’t perceive that it could be any other way. I’ve often hung my hat on this, for my father was not a spiritual man, but maybe he was able to intuit some of the things of God in a way differently than the rest of us. Maybe that was the farmer in him. Folks who work the dirt tend to view the universe differently than other people.

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Dad’s living siblings–from left to right: Aunt Marguerite, Uncle Homer, Uncle Chuck, Uncle Donald, Aunt Mary. He was preceded in death by his brothers Bobby, Gary, and sister Sadie.
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This is me and my three living sisters: from left to right–Paula, Becky, and Jill. Our older sister Reecie died in 2011. 
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These are the cousins on the Greening side
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Some of the grandchildren–The girls are my daughters, Phoebe and Belle

 

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Fifteen Questions for Senator Al Franken

 

This is not a Republican issue. It is not a Democratic issue. It is not a celebrity issue. It is not a women’s issue. It is a men’s issue. It is men who have the problem.

  1. Have you always thought objectifying women was funny?
  2. How far will you go to get a laugh?
  3. Does the word ‘hypocrisy’ mean anything to you?
  4. How exactly does one recommend that they themselves be investigated?
  5. Can you see how your first attempt at an apology really was no apology at all?
  6. Can you see how your second apology feels a little disingenuous?
  7. If pictures like this were about Ted Cruz–who you’ve admitted to despising–would you call for his resignation?
  8. Do you think saying, “I’m sorry” after being caught makes the whole issue go away?
  9. Who else, sir, have you treated like that when there weren’t cameras around?
  10. Do you think being a liberal gives you a free pass?
  11. Will you call on congress to release details of the $15 million in payouts to ‘workplace discrimination’ on Capitol Hill?
  12. Have you realized yet that you have lost all credibility on almost any issue that might come up?
  13. Can you understand that a person can be forgiven for their actions, but still be unqualified for positions of leadership?
  14. Have you considered resigning your seat, and then running again to see exactly how the voters in Minnesota feel about your actions?
  15. How does it feel to have created yet another #metoo ?
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Fifteen Questions For Alabama Voters

 

I find that questions often help me, and others, come to a form of clarity on a subject. This started out as five questions, but became ten, and then morphed into fifteen. Go figure.

  1. Do you understand that ‘innocent until proven guilty’ is a legal concept applicable to crimes and not about suitability to be a U.S. Senator?
  2. How many women, with credible stories, would it take to convince you?
  3. How young is too young for a thirty-two year old man to chase?
  4. Has it occurred to you that some people engage in behavior that is wrong, but they don’t think it is wrong and this gives them the appearance of innocence?
  5. Would you let Roy Moore babysit your daughter?
  6. Do you believe that two wrongs don’t make a right?
  7. Similar to that, do you believe that the ends justify the means?
  8. If you were about to eat something that had poop in it, would it matter to you at what point someone warned you about the poop so long as it was before you put it in your mouth?
  9. Have you ever heard of a “write-in” campaign?
  10. Does the boring and uninspiring Luther Strange look better to you now?
  11. Have you considered that the kind of person who waves a gun around at a political rally could be perceived by a woman as a threatening figure?
  12. Do you know about victimization and the psychology of victimhood?
  13. The name Harvey Weinstein, does it mean anything to you?
  14. Sadly, Bill Clinton got away with abuse of power and violating trust with a young intern, but tell me how that has anything to do with a candidate who has yet to be elected?
  15. Can you see how, if you elect Roy Moore as a U.S. Senator, you will prove that personal morality and character no longer matter?
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Proverbs 3–Trust and Good

There are two different things going on in this rumination on Proverbs 3.

The first comes from that classic passage–3:5-6. “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.”

Recently I worked on this passage for a sermon (okay, it was last Sunday) and I played around a bit, rewriting these words with a different twist. I called the first one “Still True From A Negative Angle.”

Trust in yourself with half your heart, and lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge and call attention to yourself, and you will utterly destroy your path.

I enjoyed doing that so much, that I decided to write what I called the “Spiritual Sounding But Not Right Angle.”

Trust in The Lord when things are tough, and lean not on the understanding of fools. In all your spiritual ways acknowledge him, and your path will become evident.

This rendering sounds true. The problem is that is not what the Bible teaches, but rather accurate of what we often teach and how we talk.

The last one I wrote is just ridiculous. I call it the “All Wrong But Exactly How We’d Like It To Read Angle.”

Trust in The Lord with some of your heart, and pray through your own

understandings. When you are hurting, acknowledge him and he will send a Facebook meme to cheer you up.


My second thoughts come from Proverbs 3:27. Here, the writer tells us, “Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, when it is in your power to do it.” I think this verse properly applied could change the world. Seriously.

My mind began to think about current political issues. The application of this is much broader, but here is a place to dialogue.

  1. Immigration
  2. Health care
  3. Taxes
  4. Opioid crisis
  5. Mass killings

You’re doing right now what I was guilty of, I think. If not, you are a better soul than me. For each of these, I assumed that what I thought and what I felt emotionally would be the ‘good’ that should be done.

But my opinion, or my knee-jerk, is not always the good. My perception of the writer’s intention is to inform us of the hard work in the application of wisdom to perceiving what the good is. Let’s take the opioid issue. I readily admit this is complicated, but fixing it might involve something more than more crisis managers, more first responders, or more federal dollars. Perhaps the good involved is about addressing the cultural, economic, religious, and educational systems that provide such a fertile ground for destruction. As such, maybe the best good is to admit not much good can be done for those who are addicted now, but the money should be spent on the next generation. My power for the now is low, but my leverage for the power to do good for the future is high.

And if that is not enough to push me along, the question comes with the phrase “to whom it is due.” Is help due to someone who has willfully, voluntarily, and repeatedly put themselves and others in harms way? I know that is a tough line, but goodness you have to ask at what point has someone’s actions disqualified them from assistance and help. This question is important. Resources are limited.

To children, to communities, to the unborn next generation, much is due. They are due a healthy environment. They are due a hopeful, optimistic world. They are due security. The are due a fighting chance.

What is in my power? To whom is it due?

If we apply these questions, we might find we don’t like the answers, and that is the exact point of wisdom.

 

 

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Pick A Winner–Seriously, Pick A Winner

I need your opinion.

I’m playing again. I should be working. In fact, staff meeting is in ten minutes.

But I’m playing.

Writer’s Digest has a contest for writing prompts. You’re supposed to write an opening line, in twenty five words or less, for a story that goes along with the picture that is the writing prompt. I have entered four or five times over the past couple of years, but I’ve never sniffed victory. This time, I thought I’d get you guys to help me pick. I’ve written several different possible lines. Vote for which one you like best.

Here is the picture.

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If you want to play too, click on THIS LINK. It’s fun and easy.

Now, back to my problems. Below are my opening lines, and then a poll for you to vote. Remember, you have to click the word “vote” to register your selection. Thanks!

A. With each step into the dark woods, Jenna sealed her fate.

B. “Here kitty, kitty.”

C. Maybe the red coat wasn’t the best choice for hide-n-seek?

D. Maybe the red coat wasn’t the best choice for war games?

E. Mary regretted her decision to accompany her boyfriend on his family’s annual Thanksgiving wild-turkey hunt.

F. As night began to fall, she remembered how the old man at the lodge had warned them funny things happen in these woods.

G. It had been eleven days since Jenna had seen another person.

H. “I found Carmen Sandiego,” the boy shouted.

 

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Proverbs 2–If . . . Then

Proverbs 2 seems to imply the search for wisdom is in and of itself the path to understanding. This is mainly because the search for wisdom is the search for the Lord, and he is the one who grants a wise heart.

The chapter is divided, to my eye anyway, in two portions. The last portion is a warning to stay away from the harlot. Here, the harlot is not literal (although it is literally good advice) but instead the harlot represents the way of foolishness. This second part is shorter, and begins in earnest in verse 16.

The first portion is what intrigues me. It is a series of “If . . . Then” statements which remind me of my computer class back in high school in the 1980s. We were always writing these silly programs that began with something like “If x<3 then …” whatever. I can’t remember anything beyond that. This is the same style the author of the proverb uses.kenyon-starlin-code-screenshot_c

If you call out for insight and raise your voice for understanding, if you seek it like silver and search for it as hidden treasures, then you will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God.” (Proverbs 2:4-5).

The search is key. It must be the key. God is the one who gives wisdom, so it is not as if the Lord is some kind of rubric waiting to be translated or the maker of mazes hoping you’ll find your way out. That would be a wrongheaded way of understanding the search for wisdom. The search is learning the ways of the Lord, studying the scriptures, and listening to the world around us as he reveals himself. We don’t search for wisdom because we want to know the secret to wisdom; we search for wisdom because we want to know the one who gives wisdom, the source of wisdom. We do not search so that we can know, we only know that we must continue to search.

This concept culminates in verses 9-10.

Then you will understand righteousness and justice and equity, and every good path; for wisdom will come into your heart, and knowledge will be pleasant to your soul.

Then–and only then–will you understand.

  • Righteousness: the requirement of the Lord, and the ways of faith. This is the moment you realize there is no one righteous. No, not one.

 

  • Justice: There is no peace without justice. Justice is not simply law and order, but it is holding people accountable for their actions and protecting the weak who have no advocate.

 

  • Equity: The world is not fair because it is baed upon power and force. Wisdom, by contrast, sees the necessity for equity and can spot when things are inequitable.

 

  • Every good path: A catchall phrase that can be loosely understood as the good life. Wisdom allows a person to see the things that really matter and maximize those for the benefit of all.

The goodness of God is that he grants these things to the wise.

The failings of humans is that we think we can have these without the Lord. The result is a foolishness that knows no bounds. We want righteousness in the world so we try to make people be righteous through coercion, politics, or law. We think we have justice, but really there is only a masquerade of justice that protects the powerful and exploits the weak. We claim equality for all, but as soon as we get a chance we remind everyone of how much better we are. We believe we can have the good life, but all we do is pop another pill and download another video. There is no true wisdom in any of this, because we have not sought the Lord.

If you and I search for wisdom for the sake of wisdom, we will never find it. If we search for the Lord and seek him, wisdom will wash over us.

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I’m Like Bogie, But Cooler

James Rubart says many interesting things. Which is a good thing, since he is a writer of such big selling books as The Chair and Rooms.

I was locked in a room with him sitting in an uncomfortable chair last weekend, along with best selling legal thriller writer Cara Putman and about twenty-five other folks. We were learning about story. Okay, I was learning about story. I can’t speak for what the other twenty-four were doing. We’d all paid to be at the ACFW, and I wanted to get my monies worth.

In the midst of the intriguing discussion Rubart said, “Tell me your three favorite movies, and I will tell you the theme of your life, which is really the theme of all your stories.”

I told you he says interesting things.

What I wondered was, is it true? Can someone deduce your major life theme (assuming a person actually has a life theme, which is not something I’m sold on completely) from the films you really like. He did the experiment with himself–and showed how it fit into the theme of his life and therefore was the overarching theme of his books. Then he performed the wizardry on a couple of other attenders to the seminar.

It was fun and entertaining. But is it true?

As others were talking and sharing, I began to make the list of my top three movies. This is a near impossible task, as I have shared here before. I love many movies across many genres. Picking three is a fool’s errand. But I worked at it.

The first thing I did was work on stand alones. That meant Star Trek II was out the window, and so was The Lord of the Rings trilogy. Series of movies can grab so many different themes and are primarily character driven. My love for them might have more to do with memory or character bonding than anything else. That is why From Russia With Love can’t be on the list either. No Indiana Jones. No Star Wars.

Should I put The Godfather on the list? It is such a great film, but I decided it might be in my top ten, but not the top three. This is the same fate as The Outlaw Josey Wales. These movies are wonderful, and in the top ten, but not the top three. Same goes for you, Dr. Strangelove and Mars Attacks (although I have found Mars Attacks to be prophetic. Someday I’ll blog about that, but that day is not today).  As for recent films, Spotlight came close. Very close, to making the list. But it didn’t.

Before I give you the top three, a caveat. The list may change. Nothing is settled. I reserve the right to change my mind.

  1. Casablanca
  2. North by Northwest
  3. Close Encounters Of The Third Kind

Bogart5a_thumbThere they are. The mother of all cliches, the greatest spy movie, and pure 1970s alien nostalgia.

Now find my theme! I’ll give you a moment to work it out.

Okay, I’m tired of waiting. It took me a bit to work through what Rubart was saying, but then it hit me. Each one of these films features a man trying to find a way to beat the system that is blatantly set against him. Bogie has to beat the Franco-German officials to find a way out for Ingrid Bergman. Cary Grant must find a way to survive in the face of Russian spies, Martin Landau, and American intelligence. Richard Dreyfuss knows what he saw and where he must go even though everything is telling him he’s wrong.

My theme is me against the system. You can see how Spotlight, Dr. Strangelove, The Godfather, The Outlaw Jose Wales, and even Mars Attacks all fit this same basic template? Interesting (strokes beard), very interesting.

Realization washed over me when I found that Butch Gregory’s theme is the same. The inherent evil in the broken system was a major part of the plot in The Little Girl Waits and the conspiracy angle was high in How Great Is The Darkness.

Then there are my monster stories, which I have taken down because I am re-releaseing them with five times more story early next year, which are all about the evil system of mad scientists at Deep Cove.

Guess what? That motif pops up, not as strong, but it pops up, in my current WIP.

I guess Rubart was right.

I’m gonna turn on comments for this post. I’d love to hear your three favorite stories and how it fits.

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Oh Look, A Writer’s Conference

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I met up with fellow Athanatos Author Joseph Courtemanche. You can spot us because . . . beards. 

I left the Hill Country yesterday, traveling north to Grapevine, Texas where I am attending the American Christian Fiction Writer’s annual conference. The facility here at the Gaylord Convention center is huge. I keep getting lost. Maybe my next book will be about a writer who gets lost at a writer’s convention and finds that he has been tricked by a demented muse, and thereby must write himself out of the danger with sharp, crisp prose.

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It is not a road trip without Fiji Water. Notice the banana? It was too green

This is not my first writer’s conference, but it is my first ACFW conference. The people here are so friendly that it is hard not to like everyone. Seriously. Writers must be the friendliest people in the world. No lie.

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ACFW wants everyone to know when you’re a newbie

People keep asking me, “What do you write,” to which I reply something like, “Christian supernatural stories where people die gruesome deaths” or something like that. This is the moment they turn their head sideways and take a step back and wonder if I am at the right place. Most of the people here write historical fiction, contemporary fiction, or women’s fiction.

Indeed, men are an endangered species here. I would say the ratio is something like one man for every fifteen or sixteen women. At a panel discussion last night someone asked, “Is there a market for books directed toward men,” and the consensus was no. This does not fill me with hope, because I feel my books are targeted mostly toward men. I’m gonna plunge ahead anyway. I think I can be the trendsetter with theologically rich supernatural books about fascinating characters.

Regardless, writing is cheaper than therapy.

Here is what I have learned so far.

  1. Randy Alcorn knows a lot about heaven. He brought the keynote yesterday and it was a sermon–a Sunday morning go to meeting sermon–on heaven complete with a quote from Victor Hugo. I would love to buy him a cup of coffee and talk about the hermeneutics of Revelation 21.
  2.  I probably don’t have much of a chance with my pitches here, because I am only 75k words into my work in progress (WIP) and I really should be finished if I want any kind of success. That’s okay. Perhaps my goal is simply that when they get that query letter from me, they remember something.
  3. Tyndale house has nice representatives.
  4. I need to work on my hook. Probably after lunch I will devote some time to polishing it a bit.
  5. YA (young adult fiction) is not as big of a deal here as I thought it would. It surprises me that YA is not a hot commodity in Christian circles, given that everyone has children and grandchildren. It feels as if it should be a target for faith-based audiences. As a person concerned about culture, this troubles me. It’s almost like we’ve surrendered the literary mind of the next generation to nothing but dystopian nightmares.

Gotta run now. The next workshop starts in a few minutes.

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Proverbs 1–The Fear of the Lord

FullSizeRender.jpgDuring the summer I read through the book of Proverbs and made some notes. My plan is to share these in an on-again-off-again kind of way.


Proverbs 1 is clearly a general opening to the theme of the book. Two paths are before each of us. One path is that of wisdom. Wisdom’s path is clearly marked by the finger of God. Those who fear him are on the right path. The other path is folly. The way of folly is easy to find as well, because it is littered with the fools who have sinfully gone ahead.

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge;

fools despise wisdom and instruction. Proverbs 1:7

Two thoughts came at me quickly as I read this verse. The first is the word ‘beginning.’ I’ve never reckoned with that word before, but it indicates our spiritual connection, or awareness, of God is where our knowledge begins. We might think of that as a foundation. No lasting knowledge can be gained without the foundation of a heart and head pointed toward the Lord.

It is intriguing to me what the text doesn’t say. It doesn’t teach us the fear of the Lord is the end of all knowledge. This is because God is more than knowledge, and our journey with him is one in which we grow and change. We never stop learning. Knowledge is not finite. This is especially true in the knowledge about ourselves. The older I get, the more I learn about who I truly am. This could rightly be called self awareness–about my tastes, preferences, privileges, disadvantages, biases, and so much more. Wisdom is recognizing myself as I interact with the world around me and knowing my role in it.

The second thought that came to my mind is what fools despise. They despise instruction–because a fool is one who is arrogant. A fool rejects other people’s wisdom or insight, believing that he or she already knows all about everything. This is their pride, and they think they are already wise and need no teacher. They know more than everyone else. A fool chooses to stay foolish. It is not a congenital defect a person has no choice over, and as such it is not linked to intelligence. A fool refuses to see the world through anyone else’s eyes, but steadfastly insists they and they alone are all that matter.

The wise says, “Tell me what you think. I want to hear what you’re view is.”

The fool says, “Shut up and listen to me and I’ll tell you how it is.”

What fools despise is what the wise crave–to be taught and learn things from other people.

“O Lord, mold me into a person who craves wisdom, and rejects folly.”

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Some Analysis On What Happened

Warning: What follows is snarky political commentary. Read at your own risk.

Waiver: I am not partisan. I am too concerned about the unborn to be a Democrat. I am too much in favor of immigration and open borders to be a Republican. I am too cynical of the human condition to be a Libertarian. I trust no politician.

Disclosure: I will not, at any point in the future, buy or read Hillary Clinton’s book. Its just not something I’m inclined to do.

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What Happened is the title of her book. It is not lost on me that her book title doesn’t have a question mark. She is not asking, she is telling. And that is perhaps as much insight as anyone needs into why she lost in the first place. Nevertheless, I take it as a question. What follows are my answers to her not-so-rhetorical question.


  1. Hillary lost. That is what happened. She was a bad candidate. I am not a Trumper, and that has been made manifest on the pages of this blog before, but he out campaigned her. It has been said before, and should be said again– There is nothing anyone else did that kept her from going to Wisconsin. It could be argued that Trump didn’t win; Clinton lost.
  2. The emails are a fact of her own making. She tries hard to blame Jim Comey for her defeat as if he invented the problem. The problem was one she made. If one thinks on it from a certain perspective, Comey can become a sympathetic character who was between a rock and a hard place as it concerned the Clinton emails.
  3. Bernie Sanders did her a favor. If Sanders hadn’t been such a magnetic candidate, even fewer people would have cared about the election from the Democratic end. The truth is, the Dems made a terrible mistake in fronting HRC to begin with. Elizabeth Warren would have been the preferred candidate, IMHO to either Bernie or HRC. The only positive thing for the Dems is that the table is set for a strong Warren run in 2020. I, for one, think that Warren V. Trump would be compelling to watch. I’m already making popcorn and Kool-Aid. I mean, can you imagine the fiery Elizabeth Warren’s righteous indignation if Trump would have stalked her in a a debate the way he did HRC? She would have lit him up right then and there.
  4. America is sick of the Clintons. In many ways, she lost for the same reason Jeb Bush could never get traction in the GOP primaries. Most people are ready to move on. I am one of them.
  5. Benghazi mattered. Yeah, that was a big deal to a lot of people. I understand diplomacy means risks, but the way she and President Obama tried to sell that debacle to the American public was a disgrace and many Americans remembered that at the voting booth.
  6. If she couldn’t handle Trump’s tactics in the campaign, how on earth did she expect to handle Russia, China, and North Korea? I think Putin might have overplayed his hands when he worked so hard at undermining the Clinton campaign, because he would have run roughshod over her presidency.
  7. Whining is not pleasant. As a leader, you have to own your problems, and sometimes even own the problems of others. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve taken the blame for something I had nothing to do with, but because I’m the leader it is my responsibility. Blaming others and whining is not productive. Someone should tell her this.
  8. There is a gender problem in our country, and some people didn’t vote for her because she was a woman.  That is true. It is stupid and sad, but true. However, that is not why she lost. There are some people that didn’t vote for Trump just because he was a man, or who voted for Obama because he was black or didn’t vote for him because he was black or didn’t vote for Bush because he was from Texas or because he was from Texas. A strong candidate worthy of being the President of the United States overcomes this. How many people didn’t vote for Kennedy because he was Catholic? or Romney because he was Mormon? I don’t think I ever heard Mitt Romney complain about Mormon bias.

I do not wish HRC any ill will. I wish her the best. I want her to ride off into the sunset with Bill and spend time being a grandmother, doing philanthropy, advocating for women’s issues, and perhaps giving political commentary whenever she wants. But I don’t ever want to see her name on ballot again. Her time is up.

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THANKSGIVING PILGRIMS AND THE ROMANS?

I’ve been thinking about this blog since I woke up this morning. I don’t know how it will turn out.

I love Thanksgiving because of all the holidays we celebrate, the only one with any true biblical commandment is Thanksgiving. We are never told in the Bible to celebrate Jesus’ birth or his resurrection with holy days. We are, however, told to give thanks many times. So, for me, this is a religious holiday, which might be why “Black Friday” and shopping the day after Thanksgiving is so distasteful and evil to me. But I digress.

The Thanksgiving Ideal

For me it is religious, but for the vast majority of people Thanksgiving is a secular affair with parades and shopping and football.  A new tradition has emerged though on the secular landscape. That tradition is the emergence of hand-wringing and guilty confessions of communal sin about the origins of the New World. Every year at Thanksgiving commentators and news analysts feel compelled to spell out how evil the holiday really is because of what the European settlers did to the Native Americans. For a particularly vitriolic and depressing rendition of the song and dance, click here.

It is true that the Pilgrims and the early settlers did bring problems and displaced the Native Americans who were here when they arrived. However, from what I can tell, the archaeological evidence seems to indicate various waves of migration, settlement, and then displacement have occured throughout the history of North America. We are simply the first society to feel guilt over such displacement. This is good, as I do not think we should wash over the sins of our fathers and mothers. I just don’t think it is beneficial to replace the positives with all negatives. Likewise, it is not good historical practice to hoist the atrocities of white people in the 19th century onto the intentions and actions of the white settlers two hundred years earlier.

But that is not the point of my pondering on this Thanksgiving Eve. The Pilgrim story is the original “founding of America” myth. Upon that myth such principles of harmony, helping one another, gratitude, survival, and innovation are reinforced. Even if our ideals do not reflect reality, the myth of the Pilgrims and Native Americans in some part encourages us to live up to the pluralistic beauty of being an American. But that myth has been replaced with a version of the truth that says America was built on violence, greed, oppression, and genocide. Although I believe that is a gross overstatement, that is what many people would have us believe about our founding parents on Plymouth Rock and in the Massachusetts Bay Colony. That myth of violence and destruction is becoming the dominant view of America and the United States. What does that reinforce? It reinforces an angry, divisive, selfish, entitled, and jealous view of the world.

Which myth do you think is  better for us as a society? Which one helps us become what we want to be? How can we keep the truth of history and the ideals of our myths at the same time?

Romulus and Remus–The Republic Myth

The ancient Romans likewise had two competing myths of its founding. During the glory years of the Roman Republic, the dominant myth was that of Romulus and Remus. The struggle of the twins suckled by she-wolves supposedly resulted in the founding of Rome on the banks of the Tiber river and led in the formation of a government that rejected kings and embraced a type of republican government based upon debate, ideas, and votes. That myth was about as true and accurate as the Pilgrim myth is for the United States. Yet, it established the ideal.

A new myth won the day when the Empire emerged and democracy was suppressed. This is the story of Aeneas. The poet Virgil wrote the Aeneid for the Emperor Augustus to explain the origins of Rome in different hues. Aeneas founded Rome, says Virgil, after fleeing Troy as a refugee following the destruction of Troy in the Iliad. It was the gods who willed the founding of Rome and of the Empire. As the empire grew, the Aeneas myth replaced the Romulus and Remus myth.

Aeneas carrying his father–The Empires Myth

The United States of America has become the dominant empire on the world stage.  Yes, there are competitors such as China, Russia, and the EU but everything is predicated upon the leadership and stability of the American Empire and all those competing powers define themselves against the U.S.

I prefer the republican (I use this term in the generic sense, not political sense) myth of our infancy when we as a people emphasized cooperation, harmony, survival, pluralism, and gratitude. It most certainly is a flawed history that people should be aware of, but it is the ideals–what we want to be–that matter. That is what I will choose to think about.