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Fondue Traditions

Alas, today is my day. I went playful — or a little playful — with this years Halloween story. I want to thank all my colleagues for the opportunity to participate.

These stories are free — we just want to write something fun for you. No gimmicks, no in-app purchases, no clickbait. But I will tell you most of us have books, and we’ve even written a book together, that we would love for you to consider purchasing. Books make great Christmas presents. Keep in mind, you don’t have to read these books, just buy them. Doorstops, flyswatters, coasters for glasses, and furniture levelers are all secondary uses. Tertiary uses include firewood, large Jenga pieces, and self-defense.

But enough about that. Enjoy the story. We will drip these stories out until Halloween and then come back at you in November with Thanksgiving stories. Thanks for reading.

The Patch

By Jamie D. Greening

            Reginald Uphill was a traditionalist.

            An angel was put atop his Christmas tree, which was always a real tree he cut himself. He used honorific titles when referring to anyone of significance such as his neighbor who was a doctor. They had lived by each other for fifteen years yet Reginald Uphill always called him Dr. Johnson, never David. Someone he had not formally been introduced to was always Mr. or Mrs. and if it were a young woman, he used Ms. The President of the United States, regardless of party or his approval was always referred to as The President of the United States. Even if there wasn’t another car for five miles, he used his turn signal to indicate he was changing lanes. Popcorn was eaten at a movie theater, hot dogs at baseball games, and funnel cake at the fair. His home was filled with elegant but old wooden furniture, tiffany lamps, oriental rugs, and heavy curtains. The church he attended sang hymns and read the liturgy, and he wore a suit and tie to worship, even though every other person in his church wore blue jeans or cargo shorts. He flew his American flag on Patriots’ Day, Memorial Day, Flag Day, Independence Day, September 11, and Election Day. 

            Tradition was his default setting.

            New, trendy, innovative, and groundbreaking were not words or ideas he valued. 

            He always preferred to stand on ceremony if that were an option.

            This was also true in Mr. Uphill’s daily life. It was his personal tradition to have roast beef every Monday. The only other day with a traditional meal was the Saturday morning oatmeal and two pieces of toast. It was his tradition. Even when traveling he needed to have these meals set. Once while on a business trip in Florida, he drove forty miles to another city to eat pot roast at the only restaurant in his vicinity that had it on the menu for Monday. The meat was tough and not savory, but that was beside the point. It was Monday, and Mondays are roast beef day, so he left the restaurant satisfied. 

            His wife and two young children accepted Mr. Uphill’s oddities as a part of his personality. They enjoyed it, for with his traditionalism and formalities came dignity and respect for the other people in his life. His wife, whom he always called, ‘My Bride,’ and his children, whom he always referred to by their full names, ‘Elizabeth Roth Uphill’ and ‘Dominic Tuttle Uphill’, depended upon the constancy and regularity that came from their father. Elizabeth’s middle name was the maiden name of his bride and Dominic’s middle name was his mother’s maiden name. Very traditional.   

            There were other strange traditions Mr. Uphill kept, totally unique to him and which came from his childhood. One example of these traditions was his insistence that only yellow legal pads were to be used in the home. His grandmother had told him these formal writing tools were the only correct way to record anything needing written down. He once threw out an entire box of spiral notebooks because they were inferior. True to his character, he replaced them with a box of yellow legal pads without comment. 

            Perhaps his strangest tradition, and definitely most immature reflex, was rooted in the Charlie Brown cartoon It’s The Great Pumpkin from his childhood. A traditionalist personality is always present within people with that bent regardless of their age, and at the age of ten, deeply impressed by this jewel of Americana, Mr. Uphill began standing watch in nearby pumpkin patches every Halloween. He certainly did not believe in a Great Pumpkin, but it was something he started doing as a child, and now as an adult, he simply could not break the habit. It had become his personal Halloween tradition.

            In his younger years this was easy, as pumpkin patches were abundant. However, most of those patches had been replaced by strip malls, big box stores, and housing developments. Finding a pumpkin patch, sincere or otherwise, was an arduous task. The patch he had visited the last three years was paved over in preference for a mega-church worship center where they only sang choruses and never repeated liturgy. For Mr. Uphill it was a double-abomination. 

            As All Hallow’s Eve approached, he busied himself with finding a patch. The nearest one was an hour drive away. When the sun dipped behind the trees and children began to crawl the neighborhood, he packed a thermos of hot cocoa, a bundle of smores, and a blanket. He kissed his bride goodbye as she took the children trick-or-treating. Elizabeth Roth Uphill was dressed as Elsa from Frozen. Dominic Tuttle Uphill wore a powdered wig and dressed as George Washington. The costume had been used earlier that year at a school performance where different children had been chosen to present brief speeches by various presidents. Mr. Uphill had been greatly pleased that his son had been chosen to represent the first president, who was by far the most traditional of all our leaders.

            His bride loved the fact the costume could do double duty. 

            Mr. Uphill arrived at the field as the quarter moon rose over the horizon. He’d called ahead to the owner to ask permission, so he knew where to go. They had left a gate open for him along the highway’s edge under the sign that read, ‘Pumpkin Spice Emporium’. It wasn’t long before he’d found a nice spot in the middle of the field to hold his annual watch. He always stayed until midnight, and then he would return home. The benefit of the evening was more than the fulfillment of the ritual. The time alone in the crisp air always blessed his soul. He would often think about his life, his family, and the world. It was a solace for a simple man trapped in a busy and chaotic culture. 

            The cocoa was superb. His bride made it with rich, creamy milk and Mexican cocoa and that perfect hint of vanilla he loved so much. He devoured half the smores and held the other half until right before he left.

            His mind wandered, but eventually he began to think about his parents. His mother had died the previous year, and his father lived in the same home he’d grown up in across town from him. He decided he needed to spend more time with the older Mr. Uphill, and perhaps needed to record some of the stories his father had told him over the years. In particular, he thought about the stories regarding his great grandparents settling in America from Europe. He was thinking about life in England in the nineteenth century when he spotted a pair of headlights on the dark highway. He checked his watch, and it was half-past ten. The lights pulled in behind his Buick. 

            Soon he saw the semblance of a man walking through the vines towards him. He assumed it might be the owner coming to check on him. He’d prepared his speech of gratitude, as well as a twenty-dollar bill for the owner’s trouble. The shadow moved toward him.

            ‘Hello,’ the man said to Mr. Uphill. ‘I see I have found another Great Pumpkin pilgrim tonight.’

            ‘Indeed,’ said Mr. Uphill. ‘Are you the kind owner of this patch.’

            ‘No,’ the man said. ‘I am just another person looking for a sincere pumpkin patch. Do you think this is it?’

            ‘That remains to be seen,’ said Mr. Uphill. ‘Midnight has not yet come.’ 

            ‘Fair enough,’ said the man. ‘My name is Richard. This is the third patch I’ve visited tonight. You’re the first person I’ve seen. For years I would find at least a handful of people each year, but the last five autumn’s or so it has been much lonelier. We are a dying breed.’

            ‘I suppose we are.’

            ‘What’s your name?’ Richard asked.

            ‘I am Mr. Reginald Uphill.’

            ‘Mind if I call you Reggie?’

            ‘Actually, I do. No one calls me Reggie. You may call me Mr. Uphill. What, pray tell, is your formal name?’

            ‘Just call me Richard.’

            ‘Very well, Mr. Richard.’

            Mr. Richard sat on Mr. Uphill’s blanket next to him. There was an uncomfortable silence until Mr. Uphill offered the intruder a smore. It seemed like the decent thing to do for this man who had barged in on his moment. 
            ‘Thank you,’ Mr. Richard said. ‘I’ve never seen The Great Pumpkin, have you?’

            ‘No, but I don’t expect to. It is just something I do. Do you expect to see anything?’

            ‘Absolutely,’ Mr. Richard replied. ‘I waited every year as a child, but nothing ever happened. Several years ago, I decided The Great Pumpkin might want something. So, I started bringing various offerings. For about three years I brought bags full of rocks, you know, because that is what Charlie Brown kept getting.’

            Mr. Uphill chuckled. ‘That’s funny. I see that didn’t help.’

            ‘No, so I started bringing sweet treats in those plastic pumpkins kids use. That didn’t work either.’

            Mr. Uphill’s eyes narrowed. ‘That’s strange, Mr. Richard. You know this is just a made-up story, right?’

            ‘But all stories have some kernel of truth. The Great Pumpkin must be real, or Schulz would have never written about it. He knew something the rest of us didn’t know. He left us clues.’

            ‘Clues?’ Mr. Uphill scooted over a little away from the stranger beside him.

            ‘Yes, clues.’ Mr. Richard said. ‘I’m determined to find The Great Pumpkin and learn his secrets.’

            ‘Mr. Richard, I am worried about your plan.’ Mr. Uphill checked his watch again. It was now a quarter of midnight. ‘I do not think there are any secrets beyond contemplation and self-awareness. A night in the pumpkin patch is good to keep tradition and habits, but there is no meaning beyond that.’

            Mr. Richard didn’t seem to hear Mr. Uphill. ‘Do you have any more of those smores. That was good.’ 

            Mr. Uphill gave him another but held back the last smore for himself. After this strange encounter, he would need it for the ride home.

            ‘Last year,’ Mr. Richard began, ‘I brought a Beagle to this very patch.’

            ‘A dog? What did you do with a dog?’

            ‘I sacrificed it.’

            ‘You what?’

            ‘The rocks, the treats, and the blood of the Beagle weren’t enough to bring The Great Pumpkin. It was very discouraging, so I need to try something else.’

            ‘That is insane. What do you think this imaginary Pumpkin wants?’

            ‘‘The blood of a sincere human is what makes a pumpkin patch sincere, Mr. Uphill. The Great Pumpkin will come tonight. I can feel it.’

            Mr. Richard shoved a butcher knife through the warm coat and into Mr. Uphill’s kidney. ‘Happy Halloween,’ he said to his victim. 

            The last thought Mr. Uphill had was of the last uneaten smore in his bag.    


Just When You Thought It Was Safe To Fondue

Today we start the next installments of the Fondue Writer’s Club. Me and my penmonkey friends have collaborated again to provide you with free entertainment. You read that right — FREE!

We started doing this when the Pandemic hit last year, thinking people would need something to help them get by. Turns out, our stories didn’t really help at all but we we enjoyed doing it so much we kept at it. One book later and enough short stories to vanquish Hallmark Channel forever, we are geared up for Halloween themed stories, then Thanksgiving, and Christmas.

Joseph Courtemanche starts us off. To read his story click Stephen King’s beard . . . if you dare. And thanks for reading The Fondue Writer’s Club.

My Big Fat Greek Vacation


Greenbean went to Greece, and it was amazing.

Mrs. Greenbean and I spent the better part of September in Greece with two of our friends. It was wonderful and I highly recommend going. But go before your knees and lungs give out, because the entire country is uphill both ways. The mainland is affordable, and if you do what we did and buy food in markets and eat a lot of meals on benches or on the balcony of your hotel, you can save euros. Let me take our trip in big categories. I’ll start with the places we visited.


We landed in Athens on a Tuesday morning and spent that exhausting day walking around. Our hotel was in the Plaka neighborhood, which is near The Acropolis. On that day, we walked around Hadrian’s Arch and the ruins of Olympian Zeus. We were too tired to really know what we were doing. Our plan for fighting jet lag was to stay awake, eat an early supper, and go to bed. It worked for the most part.

The day we landed I found the Acropolis. Imagine how awful I smell. Just imagine.

The next three days we spent in Athens visiting The Parthenon, Mars Hill, the Roman Agora, the Ancient Agora including the Temple of Hephaestus, The National Archaeological Museum, and a few other sights. Athens is a very enjoyable city, but the neighborhoods change suddenly and dramatically. My favorite part had to be visiting Mars Hill. To stand in that spot where Paul preached, with the Acropolis behind him and the city below, frames that famous sermon in Acts in a way my imagination could never grab.

We rented a car and traveled to Delphi. It was far more alpine than I expected. The remoteness of the Temple of Apollo highlights the effort and intention exerted by the ancients to visit the oracle. We only spent the day there, and drove on to Kalambaka where we visited the impressive monasteries of Meteora. Monks have lived on those rocks for over a thousand years. We visited it on a Sunday, and I lit the candles, wrote my prayers, and contemplated the call of Christ and the odd interpretation of the gospel that moves men and women to remove themselves from the world Christ died for. I do not understand that impulse nor do I agree with that mode of ministry, but I am in awe of their devotion and discipline.

Me sitting on Mars Hill. Notice the Parthenon/Acropolis behind me. When Paul preached here,
the Parthenon was already 500 years old.
The famous Lion’s Gate at Mycenae. So large, the ancients believed it was built by cyclops.

We drove down across the peninsula to the Peloponnese and spent two nights in Patras. It is a very young town full of life and energy. We used that as a base of operations for visiting Olympia and Mycenae. Both were impressive. We made our way south to Nafplion, which is a delightful seaside resort where we ate too much gelato and I bought a pair of leather sandals made right there on sight.

The Grand Meteora Monastery. There were six of them, we climbed up and visited four.

On our way back to Athens we visited the ancient city of Corinth and I was able to see with my eye the bema seat mentioned in Acts where Gallio judged the Apostle Paul. Again, standing here, and knowing that right behind (or in front, depending on perspective) was the giant temple of Apollo. The museum there was good, with pieces of ancient, Hellenic, and Roman origin. The picture below is me standing in front of the Bema and a zoomed out shot for size. It was definitely built to overwhelm whoever was standing in Rome’s judgment.

We returned the car at the airport and stayed at a miserable hotel at the airport before flying the next morning to Santorini. We stayed in Santorini four nights and five days. We cruised out at sunset and ate shrimp and swam in the Aegean, we cruised again to the volcano and climbed up the summit, swam, and ate at a very rustic fishing village, walked the seven mile hike around the rim, visited the Ancient Theran Museum which is amazing, swam at Red Beach, which takes a lot of dangerous pathfinding to get to. Santorini does not have good beaches. I am completely convinced, after visiting the island, that Santorini and the disappearance of the Theran people three and a half millennia ago is the root of the Atlantis myth.

We flew back to Athens and spent one final day shopping in the Monastiraki neighborhood, which is basically a giant flea market.

These blue domed white church buildings are all over Santorini. I estimate about six billion of them.
This one is in Oia, which we walked seven miles and crossed Mordor to get to.


You know me, and food is an important part of any experience. I ate very well in Greece. I love the Greek salad — a salad without lettuce! They serve the feta cheese on top in a slice, not crumbled the way Americans do. Soulaki is a staple, and is basically just a k-bob. They grill mushrooms and serve a saganaki dish which is like a fried cheese. Very very good. Every meal seems to include tzatziki which is a yogurt mixed with cucumber and other spices. It is delicious with pita bread.

And the kalamata olives! I could eat my weight in those.

The seafood was so abundant and delightful. We ate calamari, octopus, and sea bass. On Santorini I ate a pandora fish, which I’d never done before. Also, they put French fries with everything, but do not put ketchup on the table. We asked for ketchup at one place, and what we got was not ketchup. I am still uncertain of what exactly it was, but it was good.

The leftover fish after our last dinner on Santorini

The only thing that was not good was the coffee. They push a lot of Nescafe in Greece. A Greek Coffee, as best I can tell, is just about a half a cup of Nescafe and hot water, unstirred. In the afternoons they serve a caffe freddo, which is iced coffee with milk. Its not awful, but its not that good either.

The water is fine to drink. No need to waste euros on bottled water.

The best food we had was at restaurant called Paramithi in Kalambaka. Kalambaka is very rural, rustic, and about a billion miles away culturally from Athens or Santorini. The food was fresh made just a few feet away, local, and a man who looked a little like Anthony Quinn in Zorba played Greek tavern tunes on his stringed instrument.

With the exception of a couple of breakfasts locations, every meal we ate was outside. I do not think this was COVID-19 protocol, for the buildings were structured this way. The Greeks eat outside. It is just what they do. It felt so wonderful.

We saw one McDonald’s the whole time we were there, and that was on Santorini. Other than that, I didn’t see any fast food restaurants. I saw tons of people, not tourists but Greeks, sitting in those wonderful cafes and taverns outside. It is not a bad way to live. I loved the Greek diet, and the times they eat — lunch around 2PM and a really late supper around 9PM.


There is not much to write here, other than to praise the Greek people as wonderful souls. Every one we met was kind, generous, and very understanding and helpful. They were also talkative. They love their country and their culture, and are proud to share it with you. It seemed to me they loved the fact people from other countries value their history, culture, and heritage.

Just about everyone we met had some working knowledge of English, and most of the signs are written in Greek and English. Language and communication was never a problem. Many of the people we met had lived for a while in either The United States or England. Some used us to practice their English — especially in Patras where they don’t get many American tourists. Some will want to tell you about their region, and one man pulled up a chair and wanted to talk to us about the San Antonio Spurs and Houston Rockets, because he was a big NBA basketball fan.

The only words in Greek you need to know is ef-charisto — a variation of the New Testament word eucharisto, which means thank you. The other is parakalo, which means both thank you and please. That too is a New Testament word. W.C. means water closet, which is the bathroom. Most are clean with a women and men’s side but a public hand washing sink outside both.

The Greek people are hard workers. They hustle for business and to make the customer happy. I never encountered any kind of snobbery or laziness.

The people in Athens dress very casually — t-shirts, jeans, and comfortable shoes. They dressed a little more formally in Patras and Nafplion. On Santorini everyone dressed up quite a bit. The narcissism was on full display there with selfies and people getting the perfect social media picture. Lots of fancy dresses. Also lots of skin. People dress very modestly on the mainland, but on Santorini it is scandalous.

The tourists we met were mostly good as well. We saw a Russian man propose to his fiancé at the top of the Acropolis, cruised the caldera with a Nigerian/Brit, talked about business with a pub owner from Manitoba, Canada, and swam with a couple from Long Beach, California. We heard lots of people speaking German, many Russians, and a lot of Americans and Brits. There are more Americans on Santorini than Greeks, I think.

A couple of fashion notes. The only long beards I saw was from the Greek Orthodox priests. Most of the men had a kind of five o’clock shadow beard and a heavier mustache, but not like a Magnum P.I. mustache. And because it is me, I was noticing the watches people wore. The Greek people have not adopted the smartwatch. They all had nice analog watches that matched what they were wearing. Only tourists wore hats.

The people who ran the museums were the meanest we saw. They kept blowing whistles at us. We were those people. We may have touched things we weren’t supposed to. And by touch I mean walked around in closed off areas. Maybe.

Our last meal in Athens before we came home.


This trip was taken in the midst of the rise of the Delta Variant of COVID-19. When we planned it, we figured the pandemic would be behind us. We were wrong. There were three major inconveniences to us in this regard. The first was wearing a mask on the airplane. Crossing the Atlantic and changing planes in Chicago meant wearing that mask for about twenty-four hours nonstop. That was pretty rough, not for my mouth or nose but my ears. The second was the required COVID-19 test to get back. I confess I was a little anxious as we all stood outside the pharmacy on Santorini waiting for our results. The third was that we had to show our vaccination card to get into most of the museums and archaeological sites. These were minor inconveniences, though, and did not hinder the enjoyment of the trip.

For the travel parts, the American Airlines Verifly App made it very easy. Once the airline cleared us on the App, it was just normal passport issues at customs. Here is a protip — don’t smile at the customs officers when they check your passport picture. They don’t like that.

Greece takes masks seriously, and anything indoors you have to mask up, and most of the shops, not restaurants because they are outdoors, but the shops, markets, banks, and post offices have limits on how many can be inside at one time — usually only three or four people. But once you get into the rhythm, it wasn’t that big of a problem. Again, only the long air travel seemed to be burdensome.

Misclleaneous Items

If I ever go back, I want to visit Mykonos, Crete, and Rhodes, perhaps Thessaloniki and Philippi. The world is big and there are lots of places I want to visit, so I don’t know if ever I will make it back, but if I do, I know I will have a good time.

How expensive is it? It could be done a lot cheaper than we did it, but it is cheaper than Disney World. I know that from experience. Disney is about five or six days, and for less money we spent nineteen days in Greece.

The flight is about nine and half hours from Chicago going and ten and half coming back. I crossed several things off my bucket list on this trip, and one of these was flying on the 787 Dreamliner. Great airplane. Also, if you can leave from an airport other than O’hare, do it. That place is a dump. We traveled on RyanAir to Santorini, and that was just fine — they flew these nice Boeing 737s. You can see just how dotted the Aegean is with islands as you make the thirty minute flight.

There is a whole lot more I could say, but this post is already far too long.


Go to Greece. Take cash — and I mean euros — because lots of places don’t do cards. Bring good walking shoes. Eat delicious food. Take pictures. Talk to people. Swim in the sea.


Book Review: Howdy Pilgrim, a Review of Jesus and John Wayne

Okay, I couldn’t resist putting a John Wayneism in the title for my review of “Jesus and John Wayne”.

Please forgive me.

The book is 309 pages of text plus a lot more pages of notes, paperback, written by Kristin Kobes Du Mez. She has done good historical work, documented her sources, and covered the time period in a chronological way that I appreciate. There are sixteen chapters, and each chapter is thematic around a basic idea related to the rise of evangelicalism in the United States since the turn of the twentieth century.

Let me begin by addressing the salacious title. This book is not about Jesus. Actually, there is very little about Jesus in it. It is also not about John Wayne. There are a few scatterings about John Wayne and his politics and how it influenced his later movies, especially films like The Green Berets, but if you buy this book thinking there will be a lot of stories about The Duke in it and how he relates to Jesus, then you’ll be disappointed.

This book is about one thing, and one thing only — it seeks to describe and explain the emergence of toxic masculinity, or the patriarchy, within evangelicalism. The subtext of the book is that we are to believe the way evangelicals embraced former president Donald Trump in 2016 is a direct result of that toxic masculinity which had been carefully nurtured by key leaders for at least seventy years. If you want a book that is all about Donald Trump and his relationship with Christ-followers, this book is not that book, as he only occupies pages on the periphery, the beginning and the end. This book is more about the mindset of evangelicals rather than the politics of President Trump.

Du Mez believes evangelicals embraced Trump precisely because he was a testosterone-filled alpha male who put women and his enemies in their place, and that is what they had come to expect from strong leaders. As such, I think she comes up short of proving her argument en toto. She may be right, but I think she overplays the masculinity politics just a tad and underplays the genuine concern many Christians have about issues like abortion, the Supreme Court, and immigration. I don’t write this to defend those positions, but I don’t think it is just the issue of Trump filling the idealized image Christians have of a strong man. I admire her attempt though, because I have often struggled to understand exactly how a New Yorker who built an empire of casinos, had a penchant for pornography, was guilty of womanizing, said his favorite pastor was Norman Vincent Peale (a man evangelicals absolutely couldn’t stand), and cursed so much in public became the darling of Southern Christians. I am less than satisfied with her explanation, but I admire the attempt.

What I like about this book is the thoroughness. It is so thorough at times you feel like it is repetitive. Du Mez can sometimes belabor the point, but that is just good historical footwork. In doing this work she weaves a coherent narrative of evangelical thought from Billy Graham’s famous Los Angeles crusade to Bill Gothard to Phyllis Schlafly to Tim and Beverly LaHaye to Oliver North to John Piper to Mark Driscoll, covering all points in-between. She glosses over a lot of years and personalities, but the way she paints the picture it was one successive leader after another reenforcing gender stereotypes and tropes into the hearts and mental pictures of Christians.

If I were to say there is one particular target for Du Mez, it is not Donald Trump, but James Dobson. She spares no energy in attaching him and his organization, Focus On The Family, to every bad thought or bad idea or bad person. She really, really, really, really does not like him. Yet, it is hard to find anyone she is flattered with. The book is a virtual compendium on the agenda, style, and problems of key Christian leaders — and most of them are in my library — the ones mentioned above, plus folks like Wayne Grudem, Stu Weber, Bill Hybels, Rick Warren and Tim Keller.

Her critique is needed. There is much in the way of abuse, politics, agenda, and just plain-old-fashioned power grabs that have marred and scarred churches in America. This is an issue of repentance and of change. Do not read her book if you don’t want to argue with her a little bit, and do not read her book if you only read things that conform to your preconceived notions.

I agree with many of her assertions. For example, I think she is right when she highlights how complementarianism has been used by abusive personalities for their own gratification. As an egalitarian, I can completely join in on that perspective. However, not all complementarians are abusive, and the vast majority of them I know are good, honest, wonderful Christ-followers who are seeking to follow the Bible as they understand it. To paint them all with that broad brush of abuse or manipulation is going too far. Egalitarians can be just as guilty of abuse, as the sad situation with Hybels exemplifies.

But my criticism on this front is a minor issue because the church deserves this kind of evaluation from a skilled set of eyes willing to go through the actual historical record. She has the receipts, so to speak, on something I’ve said often but without the data, just more of a gut feeling — and that is this — when we look at what the last seventy years of church life has produced, biblically illiterate people who call themselves Christian, sex scandal after sex scandal, spiritually weak churches, church leaders obsessed with marketshare and media, and then put the cherry on top of a loss of credibility with just about everyone then I ask the honest question, why would we continue to follow any pattern in church life that has been handed down to us? If we are to have healthy Jesus-focused congregations in the future these congregations must break the paradigms that have produced so much poison. Taking away the power of celebrity pastors to set the agenda is one place to start. Another is to reject the idea that growing a big church is somehow the goal. Another is to reject power-players and bullies within local churches. And another, which this current volume aligns with, is the empowering of women to fully exercise ministry gifts. I mean, come on, men have made a pretty big mess of things. Maybe it will take godly women leaders to clean it up.

I recommend this book if for no other reason than we all need to be exposed to our own history.


A Prayer For The First Day of School 2021

Dear Lord, the buses are running and the backpacks are filled, lunches are made and pencils are sharpened. In many ways it feels normal, and so I make the normal prayers.

I pray for children to learn, about words, worlds, bugs, and books but also learn about themselves and to grow as people. May kindergarteners make messes and laugh, and fifth graders run too fast and hard, and eight graders finds a way to not be awkward when their body shouts awkwardness, and may eleventh graders dream of changing the world.

Let these children make friends — good friends. Allow them to discover what their own passions are and what the right avenue of expression is. Let them make mistakes, then be gently corrected by a firm, but kind hand.

I pray for parents. Some are sending their children off for the first time, and some for the last time. Being a parent is the hardest work in the world, Lord, and I ask that you give these parents a special dispensation of grace.

We also pray for teachers — bless them for their heroic work. Let it be a fulfillment for them of their own true vocation. We ask that bus drivers, cafeteria workers, custodians, and administration personnel all have years which are meaningful and significant, and that you will let their work be a blessing and not a frustration.

Our schools do so much more than teach, Lord, and as we have put this burden on that system, we ask that you help us to make it work. Allow the school to make certain every child has plenty of food to eat. If there are children who are being hurt or abused, allow justice to prevail. If a child needs special help with development or mental health, then let it be discovered and assessed in a helpful way.

So, Lord, these are the normal prayers. But we do not live in normal times. We live in COVID. This is our third year with this disease. I thank you for last year, that our school did a phenomenal job, but this year brings new fears, new variants, new rules. Protect our children and teachers, and Father I ask that soon a vaccine for children will emerge to take this pressure off, and to help us safeguard our most precious resource — the future.

There are other things we worry about, Father, and we bring these before you as well. Protect our children from bullets and evil people. Protect them from bad ideas, from the wolves who sneak in among the sheep and exploit trust and pervert innocence. Protect them from the poison that is seeping through our culture, poisons like division, politics, hate, and lies.

O Lord, we believe that you have given us children as a gift. We want to treat them that way, as a wonderful gift that confirms your blessing and that also teaches us about how we relate to you, as children who are always learning. Show each of us our part to play as parents, grandparents, neighbors, and friends.

May 2021, with all its challenges, be the greatest school year ever for our children and those who love them.

In the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, in the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen.


Pastoral Ministries And COVID-19

One of the aspects of pastoral ministries I take very seriously is the hospital visit. I know a lot of pastors do not do those any more, but I still think it is important. For most of my twenty five years of ministry, this has two phases. One phase is someone in a room, and in that room and it is just as you would expect, like a regular hospital visit. The biggest challenges in these situation are 1) getting them to turn the television down 2) finding a place to sit 3) not interfering with the medical folks coming and going. It is always important to remember, pastorally, you are on their turf when in the hospital and you must accommodate whatever they have going on.

The second phase of this, is what I think is the most important, and that is pre-op. I have never had any problem walking to the front desk, saying I am so-and so’s pastor, then calling down to get clearance from the patient, and then they walk me down — usually to the last stop before the patient goes in. It is in this setting that I read a little scripture, talk about eternal things, anoint them with oil, and then pray with them for a successful surgery, wisdom for the doctor, a speedy recovery, and no long term problems. The greatest challenges to this was 1) arriving at just the right time, 2) not staying too long, and 3) finding your way back out when finished because those places are a maze.

COVID-19 changed all of that.

I remember the visit I was trying to make the very day they changed the policies at one of our local hospitals and was denied access. I did leave behind a little “prayer bear” from one of our ministries that I take to patients in the hospital.

One of our little prayer bears

For over a year now, hospital visits have been prohibited across the board. In this in between time I have prayed on the phone with a lot of people and visited them in their yard the night before, all masked up and often wearing gloves. Sometimes people prefer to come by my study at church — it feels a little more official, I think for some folks.

Now, though, some hospitals are opening up, our local hospital is, for the Phase One kind of visit. I’ve been able to see people in their rooms the last three or four weeks and that is very nice. It feels almost normal.

The Phrase Two type, though, still seems out-of-reach. I was reminded of this yesterday when we called a hospital to find out if I would be able to do that and was told “You can pray in the lobby before the patient checks in.”

What I am wondering is, as a spiritual guide, if the hospitals will ever open this back up to us as a possibility. I feel like there is a good chance they will not, which is unfortunate. It deprives people of faith of a holistic approach to their well-being.

What I am working through is how this change will combine and steamroll with the rapidly increasing trend toward sending people home the same day of their procedure. More and more surgeries are ‘day surgeries’ or perhaps ‘overnight’ surgeries. The window of opportunity for seeing someone in the hospital has been shrinking steadily. When I first started pastoring in the mid-90s, if a woman had a hysterectomy she was often in the hospital fo a week. Now she is home that afternoon. Back surgeries were usually long stays, but now they schedule them at 6AM and have the patients out the for by four.

I am not complaining about this from a medical perspective — although we all know these rushed times are the result of insurance and not healthcare — but instead my concern is how do you do meaningful hospital ministry in these accelerated programs when COVID-19 protocols are in play? The answer will probably involve some kind of hybrid approach that involves the night before the surgery prayer in home, Sunday at church prayer, video-calling people in the hospital, and the incredibly rare opportunities to hold someones hadn’t, touch their forehead, and pray with them.

What I refuse to do is surrender the playing field, so to speak, and walk away from the sick, the hurting, and the afflicted. As things change, we who give pastoral care will have to work hard to stick our nosey little face in and ask the questions like, “If your surgery doesn’t work out the way we are hopeful it will, are you ready for eternity? Have you told the people you love all the things you need to tell them? What is your biggest fear going into this? How is your relationship with Jesus?” What is more, those we minister too will have to help us, because we’re navigating waters that are fresh and new to us and are contrary to both our training and our temperament.


Baptism: Three Possible Futures

Not that baptism only has three futures, but I see three possibilities.

I’ve been thinking of this important Christian practice a lot lately as I’ve recently finished up a six weeks small group class that has covered the biblical material, origins, history, practice, and theology of baptism. In the last session I talked about contemporary issues, and among those was a speculation of where baptism may be heading in modern American culture. What I see is not all that great.

Future One–People Are Getting Baptize All The Time

Many Christian groups, particular those with an Arminian disposition, may have people who feel they’ve lost their way and come back to faith in Christ and want to celebrate this with getting baptized again. Other traditions, like my own Baptist heritage, has begun to view baptism as an almost expected double or triple experience. It is not uncommon for people to have been baptized as a child, then again as a teenager or in their 20s, and then finally when they join a new church that has a different practice. None of these things in itself might lead us to this new future of everyone getting baptized all the time, but combine it with the idea of using baptism to cleanse a conscience after a traumatic event or a startling life change, and it is not hard to see the idea of baptism as a symbol of renewal of Christian faith that might be repeated multiple times a year as Holy Communion is celebrated.

Future Two–No One Is Getting Baptized

Another variation is one in which the act of baptism has been ‘metaphored’ away into something that represents a decision to follow Jesus as Lord but the symbolic representation of the water has been removed as an artifact of a pre-enlightened world. This move would certainly be welcome to the large mega-church movement which are functionally non-denominational in their affinity appeal to ideology and style rather than theology or heritage. It is easier to move people without the trouble of water.

Before you object to this as an impossibility, consider this has already happened in most places with the concept of anointing with oil for prayer and healing. Whereas our foremothers and forefathers would have likely seen and participated in such moments of symbolic action, today’s Christ followers rarely if ever experience it.

Future Three–Everyone Is Getting Baptized

No, not because everyone is become a follower of Jesus, but because baptism has been secularized and no longer is rooted in faith in Jesus. In this concept, the world co-opts the baptismal font as a statement of cleansing or renewal in a psychological or emotional sense but no need to bother with faith or theology. The best example of this having already occurred is the cross. People adorn their bodies with a cross who have no faith in Jesus at all. Indeed, the government designates the cross as a secular symbol (click here for Greenbeans outstanding ‘The Cross Is Not A Secular Symbol’) that means death or cemetery. Can you see a future in which people are baptized after a bad day, a breakup with their boyfriend, or quit a job, or smoking? Sadly I can see backyard pool parties in which people promise to be loyal to themselves and to serve the better good as citizens of the world an some other bilge about the heart wants what the heart wants, then a good friend baptizes them and everyone sings a John Lennon song.

Each of these futures is horrific to me.


Best Picture 2021 — A Great Batch of Movies

Movies have been weird this year. I haven’t seen a single nominee on the big screen because . . . COVID-19. Instead, I’ve watched them at home, which has been cheaper, easier, and more convenient. However, it doesn’t quite feel the same. Nevertheless, in typical Greenbean fashion, let me present to you my summation and prediction for best picture. Let’s take them in alphabetical order.

The Father — Tear jerker, great performance by Anthony Hopkins, but the only award this French rehash will win is editing (which may be the only sure bet this year). The editing is actually the key to understanding this film, and figuring out when Oliva Colman is wearing that blue shirt.

Judas And The Black Messiah — One of two films set in Chicago in the late 1960s. The story is amazing, and the acting is brilliant. This movie has a better than average chance of winning, particularly because of the subject material’s relevancy. I really liked this movie.

Mank — Well told story about old Hollywood using techniques and pacing that is reminiscent of the old stories themselves. Pro Tip: watch Citizen Kane BEFORE you watch Mank. Oldman will win best actor because Hollywood loves Hollywood more than anything except money and it will probably win cinematography, but Mank can’t win best picture. It is a great movie, but not up to snuff with some of these other films.

Minari — I am sentimental about this movie. It reminds me so much of my own childhood — right down to the barn burning and kids riding the van to church. This movie has a very good chance of winning. Brilliant acting, pacing, and it may well be the best overall storytelling we’ve seen in an Oscar nominee in a long time.

Nomadland — This is the weakest of the movies nominated. It is still a fine film, and I particularly loved the homage to the West as my family has been to so many of the places visited. Specifically thrilling for us was Wall Drug. I just found it a little simplistic. Felt much more like a documentary.

Promising Young Woman — This movie has a better than average chance of winning. Brilliant, thrilling, riveting, and heart breaking. Again, the subject matter is very contemporary, but Carey Mulligan is a powerhouse in this movie making the most of every word she says and every glare she gives. I think Mulligan wins (Mrs. Greenbean thinks Andra Day wins) best actress, and this movie may be an upset winner.

Sound of Metal — Mrs. Greenbean loved this movie. It is a well told tale with riveting characters you care about. The story of a person losing his hearing and how he copes and the folks who help him is the stuff of real life. This movie, along with Promising Young Woman, is one of those that stays with you long after you’ve watched it.

The Trial of the Chicago 7 — I loved this movie. The Aaron Sorkin script will win best original screenplay and Sacha Baron Cohen may steal a best supporting actor Oscar, because Oscar has set up Judas And The Black Messiah actors to fail by nominating Kaluuya and Stanfield in this category, thus splitting that vote. If you love political drama, this your movie. Such a wonderful ensemble cast, especially the always riveting Mark Rylance who, in a different less crowded year, would have been nominated for best supporting actor.

I really did like all of these movies and could make a case for each one winning the Oscar, so I will not be mad at all this year (I’m looking at you, Birdman and The Shape of Water). But if I were picking, I would pick Minari, and I think Minari will win. After Parasite, Koreans are on a streak.

A couple of auxiliary notes. First, with the exception of Frances McDormand’s naked skinny dipping, there was no nudity or sexually explicit scenes in any of these movies. The language in all of them was harsh, Minari being tamer than the rest, but the absence of nudity was a very pleasant surprise. I hope it is a harbinger of things to come. Even McDormand’s scene was more of a hippy dippy moment and not designed to be sensual.

Second, I always like to find themes in the movies to see where Oscar’s head is, or where Hollywood’s is. A surprising one emerged: community. Each movie emphasizes the strength of a community that holds us together. It is very prominent in Metal as the real heroes are the deaf community who also are Christ followers. But Promising has the subset of med school students, Chicago 7 is protesters, Nomadland is the community of nomads, Minari is the immigrant community, Mank is that small Hollywood cloister of olden times, Judas is the Black Panthers, and The Father is literally a family. it doesn’t take a rocket scientists to point out that in the world of COVID-19, those tight communities and being together tends to tug at our heartstrings a little more.

If things allow, I’ll be back later with more Oscar predictions. It is a very good batch of movies this year. Very good.



That is what we call it in the office here at church. Stupid COVID.

Today (March 11) seems to be the day we as a nation are marking the one year awareness of C-19. As a caveat, I would like to say I distinctly remember being aware of it by late January and all through February. I think what we are remembering is when people recognized how serious it was with the cancellation of NBA games and the public announcement that Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson tested positive for COVID-19.

I know when I took it seriously — it was March 4 when Sony MGM announced they were postponing the release of No Time To Die, the newest James Bond film and probably Daniel Craig’s last turn as 007. I remember my thought process very clearly — studios are designed to make money, and if they see the risk of releasing it in April then this must be quite the problem. The second real stand-up moment for me was March 13 when the NCAA announced it was cancelling the annual basketball tournament. March Madness is a huge money maker for these colleges. Cancelling it was serious. The best way to judge what people really think and feel is to follow the money. These two cancellations were demonstrable that people were afraid enough to throw money away.

At present, a year down the line, I am very optimistic about the future. It seems like the vaccines are working. Case numbers are down. People are rolling up their sleeves. I am very hopeful that by May or June we can be back to something like normal.

Since everyone else is dong it, let me make some observations about the past year.

  1. I am very impressed with the vast majority of Americans in general, people in my community in specific, and our church in the extreme. Most of us have gone above and beyond to help others, to take precautions, and to support the decisions that needed to be made.
  2. At the same time, the number of people who flippantly put other people’s health in jeopardy and show no concern for their neighbor disgusts me. COVID-19 has showed us who people really are and what they value.
  3. The pandemic has already changed us and how we interact. I’m pretty sure for the rest of my life when I fly or am in a crowded space, I will put on a mask. I know it has changed government and our expectations of it. It has also changed church. I don’t know if we will ever be completely comfortable in a potluck or really crowded classrooms ever again.
  4. Let me speak about that government business for a second. For a variety of reasons, the pandemic demonstrated we were not ready for it. It was humbling for our nation, which is okay. Pride is a sin, and recognizing weaknesses is an important part of growth. My fear is there will be an overreaction in the other direction which will be too much reliance upon government to solve every personal issue. Wisdom will find that sweet spot of competency and preparedness.
  5. Still on the government bit — I fully support the COVID relief bill which just passed through Congress. However, we need to start thinking right now of how we are going to pay for it. My recommendation is we tax hard and fast the tech industry, particularly digital communications. These were the platforms that made a killing during COVID-19 because we all had to use their products. While restaurants and airlines and cruise ships and cinemas and concerts were closed Amazon was making mad bank. We should tax them specifically for recovery. After that, something like a 1% added income tax for everyone until the national debt is paid. That’s my big idea.
  6. The most valuable workers in our nation are medical workers, grocery store workers, truck drivers, childcare/education workers, and of course police officers. When the pandemic hit, these were the people we needed the most to keep us fed, supplied, and safe. How many parents now realize the work their school does for their children? All of us, I bet. I would like for our pay structures to reflect this. I’m not against athletes, entertainers, and CEO’s making as much money as they can negotiate for, but I am against the pathetic salary structure of people we so desperately need. We will have the money to do this, because pent up demand is going to set the worldwide economy on soaring heights. Soaring.
  7. Our church faired very well through this and I adamantly believe our church is the greatest church in the world. We took a super-cautious approach from the beginning. Nevertheless, I will freely admit it has been the hardest year of ministry I have ever experienced. It has taken a toll on my soul. Some of it is the amount of work we had to do to reinvent almost everything we did in order to maintain ministry, but most of it is the very negative, hateful, and personal attacks people have made. The number of people who have hurt me is very small, but the cuts are deep because they are relational.
  8. As to church in general, I think the church in American, at least, coming out of this will be smaller, poorer, but stronger. Some people who got out of the habit or who have filled the gap with other things, will never come back. Some folks who are angry at cautious protocols will stop giving. That’s okay, but the Lord is always using the ebb and flow of life to separate the wheat and the chaff.
  9. I am thankful for Zoom and Facebook Live because it has helped us stay in touch and connected. However, we have learned in the pandemic that remote learning and digital classrooms are a poor substitute for in-person instruction. This is true of schools and churches where learning is key. My perception is these technologies will be helpful in the business world because transformation and learning is not the goal, but information exchanges.
  10. Many people who learned to work from home will never return full-time to an office environment. Many people who used to travel for work will see their travel diminished as they’ve learned to do it from home via conference call. This will change the workplace and our culture, particularly parenting. What we have to do is remember that until the modern world, this was normal. Everyone worked from home before the Industrial Revolution.
  11. We are not out of this yet. In Texas, 202 people died yesterday from COVID-19 and 1,477 in the United States. We need to keep vigilance until we have the necessary 70-80% of the population vaccinated. That means masks, distance, hand sanitizer, and caution until at least mid-April. The weather here is getting better, so we are moving our worship services outside again in two weeks. Why? Because it is safer. Ignore the politicians and instead remember the words of Jesus and love your neighbor. Don’t be selfish and don’t give into the fatigue. Now is the time to stay vigilant. Don’t be afraid, but exercise love and self-control.


The Greatest: Part IV

“Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more,” we focus upon The Greatest. We’ve done general stuff, fictional characters, food and now today: products.

This is my list — but I love seeing yours because it is fun to share our #opinions.

  1. pencil — Blackwing Palomino
  2. blue jeans — Levi
  3. footwear — Nike
  4. wristwatch — Timex
  5. auto — Ford Explorer
  6. computer — Macintosh
  7. hat — Tilley
  8. cleaning product — Pine Sol
  9. lip balm — Carmex
  10. speaker — Bose

Honorable Mention: Ticondergoa #2, Eddie Bauer, Vans Off The Wall, Justin, Citizen, Rolex, Nissan Altima, Ford Mustang, Dell, Stetson, Tommy Bahama, Arm and Hammer, Chapstick, and JBL.


The Greatest: Part III

Tom Brady’s seventh Super Bowl win has sparked lots of conversation about the greatest of all time (GOAT). I riffed on that Monday and Tuesday, (click here and here) and thought I’d keep at it today with The Greatest Foods. The most enjoyable part of this process for me has been seeing other people’s lists and then bantering a bit, because these are all just #opinions.

  1. cereal — Corn Flakes
  2. cut of meat — ribeye
  3. nut — pecan
  4. sliced bread — Mrs. Baird’s
  5. fruit — peach
  6. beverage — French pressed Italian roast
  7. sandwich — pimento cheese
  8. dessert — banana pudding
  9. dish in a bowl — chili
  10. fried food — chicken fried steak

Honorable Mentions: Cap’n Crunch, Frosted Mini Wheats, tenderloin, peanut, pistachio, Wonder Bread, watermelon, banana, Topo Chico, Earl Gray, tomato and cheese, Rueben, pecan pie, oatmeal raisin cookies, lobster bisque, pho, fried chicken, fried catfish.


The Greatest: Part II

I had so much joy writing “The Greatest” blog yesterday, especially with some of my friends who chimed in with their own lists. Check it out by clicking here if you missed it.

Do not go qentle into that good night

I had so much fun I want to turn the page by picking up where yesterday’s list ended. I used real people and actual life callings in defining who I thought was the greatest, but I cheated by finishing up with “The Greatest Star Trek Captain”, which is, of course, Jean Luc Picard. Today we play a little more and go totally fictional.

  1. Greatest Jedi — Luke Skywalker
  2. Greatest James Bond — Daniel Craig
  3. Greatest Fictional President — Thomas J. Whitmore
  4. Greatest Disney character — The Genie
  5. Greatest book to film — To Kill A Mockingbird
  6. Greatest literary character — Sherlock Holmes
  7. Greatest action hero — Dr. Henry Jones, Jr.
  8. Greatest villain — Sauron
  9. Greatest Wizard — Hermione Granger
  10. Greatest Avenger — Iron Man

Honorable mentions: Obi-Wan Kenobi, Sean Connery, Pierce Brosnan, Laura Roslin, Tom Beck, Mickey Mouse, Jiminy Cricket, Jaws, The Godfather, Odysseus, Beowulf, John Rambo, Ethan Hunt, Tarzan, Darth Vader, Cylons, The Man in Black, Gandalf the White, Merlin, The Black Widow, and The Black Panther


The Greatest

Tom Brady winning the Super Bowl yesterday has sparked a lot of comments on the greatest athlete ever. TB12 is definitely the greatest quarterback ever; without exception or qualification. In fact, most every athlete of this generation is light years ahead of the past generations because of nutrition, training, and devotion. However, honorable mentions would definitely include Joe Montana and Terry Bradshaw.

But I don’t care about athletics that much. It’s just a game, but I thought I’d make a little list — just a simple list — of the greatest in their fields. This is a matter of taste and opinion. But here is the list — and I’ve taken The Father, The Son, and The Holy Spirit out of the equation because he is, obviously, not the greatest but the ultimate, and likewise I’ve removed biblical answers from possibilities. Also, this list is horrifically skewed toward white males. Part of that is the nature of history, and part of that is the nature of taste. For example, while Jane Austen is many people’s favorite writer, I have a hard time getting through four pages. J. K. Rowling is many people’s favorite author, and she creates great characters and a great world, but her abuse of adverbs precludes her from being the greatest writer. Again, this list is my list and so it will skew in my own demographic.

  1. Greatest singer — Frank Sinatra
  2. Greatest chef — Jacques Pepin
  3. Greatest writer — Charles Dickens
  4. Greatest leader — Winston Churchill
  5. Greatest actor — Tom Hanks
  6. Greatest Artist — Michelangelo
  7. Greatest journalist — Walter Cronkite
  8. Greatest theologian — N. T. Wright
  9. Greatest band — U2
  10. Greatest Star Trek Captain — Picard

Honorable mentions: Aretha Franklin, Norah Jones, Julia Childs, Alton Brown, J. R. Tolkien, Oscar Wilde, Papa Hemingway, Abraham Lincoln, Franklin Roosevelt, Ronald Reagan, Meryl Streep, Wil Smith, Helen Mirren, Caravaggio, Monet, Edward R. Murrow, St. Augustine of Hippo, Fleming Rutledge, Millard Erickson, R.E.M., The Allman Brothers, Led Zeppelin, The Beatles, James T. Kirk, and Benjamin Sisko.


On COVID-19 Vaccines

I plan on taking the vaccine as soon as I can.

Now, being a healthy middle aged person I don’t expect to get one anytime soon. But when I can, I will. I know that some of you are suspicious of it and I understand those sentiments, so I am not judging you or anyone else. I do not believe in forced vaccinations for COVID-19. I am simply sharing my thought process.

For certain this process of thinking about it is skewed by the fact I’ve been vaccinated several times throughout my life. Indeed, I think it would be accurate to say I was vaccinated half a dozen times before I could read. These vaccines have made me and others healthy and made the world safer to live in. Vaccines have saved untold lives all around the world and nearly eliminated things like measles, mumps, rubella, whooping coffee, tetanus, and polio. Without vaccines, we all would know someone who had died of these diseases, or we would now be dead ourselves.

But that is not the only calculus in my head. I’m also factoring in probabilities. The risk of having a negative effect from a COVID-19 vaccine is much smaller than the risk of getting COVID-19, and it is smaller than the risk of dying from C-19. In that sense, I perceive rolling the dice on a vaccine is really not that big of a gamble.

I also think about the effects of a potential vaccine as compared to other things I’ve done to my body. I snorted a whole package of powdered candy when I was fifteen. I had a headache for a week. That was probably worse for me than a vaccine. For a skin cancer they once gave me a radioactive cream to put on my face. That wasn’t very fun. I’ve had fillings, root canals, and all kinds of metals put into my mouth permanently. And while I’m on the dentist side of things, the X-ray they take of my mouth is probably way more dangerous than a vaccine, as was probably most of the food I ate in college.

Pixy sticks, weather eaten or inhaled, are probably riskier than a COVID-19 shot

Now if I compare the vaccine’s risk to other dangerous endeavors, the risk factor becomes even more mitigated. I have flown thousand and thousands of miles in airplanes, often in bad weather. I have shot firearms and disarmed threatening people of their firearm. I have thrown knives, axes, and stood over open pits leading to the abyss. I have been attacked with weapons at church, robbed on the street in Dallas, not to mention driven cross country a half-a-dozen times. I’ve driven in Los Angeles. I’ve been caught out on the lake when a lightening storm sparks to life. I have handled snakes, trod on scorpions, and watched a bear eat through trash. I swam in a lake that smelled so awful from industrial pollution people held their nose when driving by.

I have wrestled flesh and blood as well as spirits in high places.

I don’t think a vaccine is the most dangerous or risky thing I’ve done. Not even close.

Of course, all of this pales in comparison to the greatest single reason I will take the vaccine as soon as possible. I want life to return to normalcy, and my society needs me to take the vaccine to do it. By immunizing myself I lower the risk for grandparents, heart patients, diabetics, and asthmatics. The vaccine will make church small groups, unfettered seating, and hugging at church a part of life again. By taking the vaccine, I make the possibility of watching the new James Bond movie in a theater a reality and then having a giant bowl of spaghetti in a restaurant afterward a definitely doable event. I make it safe for grocery store workers. I relieve the burden on the health care professionals who are currently stressed to the level of near exhaustion. By doing my small part I make the economy stronger. I make America stronger. I make the world stronger.

I am not asking you to come to the same conclusion I have come to. All I ask is that you operate from a place of reasoned thought and logic rather than fear and misinformation. When I do the work of thinking about it and analyzing the risk and benefits, it is not even a hard choice.


Predictions For 2021

I am not a prophet. If you’d like proof, click here to take a look at last year’s predictions. It was an unusually abysmal year for prognostication, but usually I get about thirty percent. Time will only tell how wrong or right I may be for this year. I will say this, my prayer is for it to be much better for all of us.

And away we go . . .

From an economic perspective, the entertainment industry has been hit hardest by the pandemic. I predict Disney will either sell off most of its component parts (ESPN, Marvel, Lucasfilm, ABC) or simply close down most of is operations.

Democrats Ossoff and Warnock will win the Georgia runoffs on January 5. As an aside, ‘Georgia Runoffs’ would be a great name for a band. Or A Baseball team.

Congress, strangely united from the right by President Trump’s Section 230 rhetoric and on the left by lingering memories of Facebook’s 2016 electoral manipulations, will break up Facebook in the biggest antitrust legislation since the dissolution of Ma Bell and pass tough restrictive legislation on social media and possibly Amazon.

President Trump will not attend the inauguration of President-Elect Joe Biden on January 20.

A lot of international tension has been ‘on hold’ because of the pandemic. As the vaccine(s) promise a way forward, wars will erupt. The world should expect two or three major conflagrations this year. I mean major.

The NFC East champion of the NFL — whoever that will be — will win a first-round playoff game. While on football, dissatisfaction over the college football playoff will bubble so hot they will expand it to six or preferably eight.

We will still be wearing masks through the summer, but by Christmastime next year COVID-19 will be mostly in our rearview mirror. However, for a variety of reasons, the United States death toll will top out at over a million sometime in March or April. Easter will be tough.

It will be interesting to see what legislative priorities President-Elect Biden will start with, because you really only get one shot at one thing early on (President Obama rammed through healthcare and President Trump similarly rammed through tax cuts). I predict Biden will opt for climate legislation because he is more likely to get bipartisanship on that than healthcare or criminal justice reform. Even some oil companies and many tech corporations are on board.

Given last year’s high numbers of hurricanes, 2021 will see far fewer than average. However, there will be a devastating earthquake in a major urban area.

The Oscars will be moved to the winter, as Hollywood, crushed by the pandemic, scrambles to maintain relevancy. The new James Bond (No Time to Die) will finally be released in theaters in July.

The one thing that hasn’t been touched by the pandemic is real estate. That can’t hold. As the virus wanes, the real estate market will crash. The bubble will burst. Part of this will be fueled by people who have learned to work at home and they will want to continue to do so even after the pandemic abates. Zoom and strong internet connections and apps have changed the work environment and it will not go back. All those office buildings will stand empty.


This Santa Is Gonna Need Some Alka-Seltzer When It Is Over

Merry Christmas, everybody! Today is the last day of the Fondue Writers Club free Christmas stories, and we finish with a delightful Santa story — a different kind of Santa story — from a man who has tons of experience in the field. Joseph Courtemanche has written us a contemporary drama that speaks to our fears, troubles, and hopes in the furnace of our present.

Click on the giant bowl of Pho to read about Santa John in the wonderful story “Santa Claus is Here”.


Advent 2020: Revelation 21:22-22:5 (Christmas Eve)

During the season of Advent, I am translating from Greek to English the weekday epistle readings out of the Daily Lectionary of the Book of Common Prayer.

Thursday 24 December 2020 Revelation 21:22-22:5

The Text

22. I saw no temple in it, for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. 

23. The city had no need that the sun or the moon should shine upon it for the glory of God illuminated it and the Lamb is its lamp. 

24. The nations will walk by its light and the kings of the earth will bear their glory into it.

25. Its gates never close in the day, for there is no night.   

26. They will bring the glory and the honor of the nations into it. 

27. Nothing unclean, anyone committing abominations, or falsehoods may enter into it, only those people written in the Lamb’s book of life. 

Chapter 22

1. He showed me a river of living water glimmering like crystal coming out from the throne of God and the Lamb.

2. In the middle of the town square, on both sides of the river, the tree of life bore twelve kinds of fruit, producing the fruit according to each month. The leaves of the trees were for the healing of the nations. 

3. The curse, all of it, will be no more. The throne of God and the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him. 

4. They will see his face and his name will be upon their foreheads. 

5. Night will be no more. They will have no need of the light from a lamp or the sun because the Lord God will shine upon them and they will reign forever. 


Our Advent readings have come to an end. This is the last one, as today is Christmas Eve. I had to make a choice, because the Christmas Eve reading is different than the one for “Thursday” of the week. I went with the textual conclusion, because the Christmas Eve reading is from Philippians. Besides, having been so long in this subject of Christ’s second advent, it felt right to continue there, and did it ever.

There is so much to say, but not at this present moment. Allow me, however, to make the following brief observations. The idea of light is woven throughout these verses, specifically the idea that lamps and the sun are no longer needed, and indeed, seem to no longer really exist. God and the Lamb — the Father and the Son, now are the light source for humanity. Along with this is the idea that night has been banished. The banishment of night goes along with the banishment of the curse. All bad things are wiped away.

A second big idea is healing. The tree of life somehow is nestled across both sides of the river of life, maybe as a bridge. This scene is located in the town square where everything is transparent gold. The tree produces twelve different kinds of fruits (there is that number again) and the leaves will heal the nations. That is some serious pharmacology there — the medicine we need is from this tree. Healing wounds, hurts, traumas, marriages, relationships, families, churches, and yes, even nations. I am reminded of the prophetic line from Isaiah, that it is by his stripes we are healed. Jesus was crucified upon a tree where his healing blood flowed. The tree of life has some kind of connection to that work.

One more curiosity that has intrigued me since my childhood. The kings are bringing their glory and honor into the city. This sounds like tribute. But that is insignificant. The bigger question is: who are these kings on the outside who are coming inside? Are they the nations needing continual healing? Why are there other kings and kingdoms in heaven? I have to admit, to me, it is a very confusing notion of which I have several possible explanations, but it is not appropriate at this time to share those.

Verse 5, I think, might be the most beautiful words ever etched. God and the Lamb, the Father and the Son, will shine and they will reign forever. Amen. Maranatha.

Questions For Application

  1. How do you think it is that God and the Lamb are the temple? What is the temple of the Holy Spirit right now? How might these two ideas blend into one thought?
  2. There seems to be a coming and going into the city — with gates being opened — and entry determined by registry in the books. How does that challenge your ideas of eternity?
  3. Here at the end, the curse is banished. What is the curse, and where did it start?
  4. What ways can we implement the teachings of Christ’s second advent into our nostalgia filled sappy Christmas celebrations?

Vanillekipferl Lebkuchen Butterkekse

Today’s free Christmas story from Kathy Kexel is an excellent example of what I’ve been saying all year. The Fondue Writers Club has the best writers. Period. If Hallmark and any sense at all, they would get Kathy Kexel under contract right now to adapt today’s ABSOLUTELY FREE story into a screenplay to show next year during the Christmas season.

Although, I have to admit, I can’t tell if some of the things eaten and drank in here are German or Klingon. They could be both. I think they are German, but in my heart this is a Klingon Christmas story.

Click on General Chang (Christopher Plummer, aka Captain Von Trapp, German or Klingon? — You decide) to read Kathy’s outstanding story “Christmas Fair”.


Advent 2020: Revelation 21:9-21

During the season of Advent, I am translating from Greek to English the weekday epistle readings out of the Daily Lectionary of the Book of Common Prayer.

Wednesday 23 December 2020 Revelation 21:9-21

The Text

9. One of the seven angels who had the seven bowls filled with the last seven plagues came and spoke to me. He said, “Come here. I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb.” 

10. He took me away in spirit to a large, high mountain and showed me the holy city, Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven.   

11. The brilliance of it had the glory of God, like precious stones, like jasper stones sparkling like crystal.

12. It had a large and high wall, and twelve gates. Upon the gates were twelve angels and the names of the twelve tribes, the sons of Israel, were inscribed. 

13. There were from the east three gates, from the north three gates, from the south three gates, and from the west three gates. 

14. The city wall had twelve foundation stones, and upon those twelve were the names of the Lamb’s twelve apostles. 

15. The one speaking to me had a golden measuring stick so he could measure the city, its gates, and its wall.

16. The city is laid out as a four-cornered square. Its length is equal to its width. He measured with his stick twelve thousand stadia. The length, width, and height are equal. 

17. He measured its wall at one hundred forty-four cubits, as a human measures, so does an angel. 

18. The enclosure of the wall is jasper. The city is pure gold like clear glass.

19. The foundation of the city all had been adorned with all kinds of precious stones. The first foundation was jasper, the second sapphire, the third chalcedon, the fourth emerald,

20. the fifth sardonyx, the sixth carnelian, the seventh golden stone, the eighth beryl, the ninth topaz, the tenth chrysoprase, the eleventh jacinth, the twelfth amethyst.

21. The twelve gates were twelve pearls. Each of the gates was one pearl apiece. The city square was pure gold like transparent glass. 


This beautiful text is mostly a description of what the angel shows John regarding the heavenly city, New Jerusalem. It is fantastical to visualize in our mind, but the text is fairly straight forward, but there are three themes I’d like to call your attention to.

The first theme is the number twelve. Revelation is a book filled with numerology and symbolic use of numbers, and here it is no different. We have in our text twelve gates, twelve angels, twelve stones, twelve tribes, twelve apostles, and twelve different kinds of stones. In addition to that we have twelve thousand stadia as the length. I did not render this in miles in my translation — which is a little over thirteen hundred miles — because that loses the twelve mojo. It is twelve thousand stadia. Then the wall is measured at one hundred forty-four cubits — I didn’t render that in feet — about 216 feet — because the point is that the width is twelve squared — one hundred forty-four.

A second theme is the completely outlandish building materials. The gates are each made from a single grand pearl. I do not want to see the oyster that produced those pearls. Then there is the references to gold, pure gold, and what I think is transparent gold (v. 21). I have rendered ‘streets of gold’ as the city square’ because that is what I think is being referenced, the town center, something like a boardwalk of plaza. It is made of something like pure gold. The taxonomy of different precious stones is not only impressive it is dizzying. Jasper is mentioned three times by my count, as well as various other rare jewels. There seems to be some discussion about what exactly is meant by chalcedon–the ESV uses agate–but it is certainly an impressive list. It seems to me to indicate that heaven is such a place of plenty that rare and valuable building materials are used for common every day functions.

The third theme is size and dimension. If I understand it correctly, this city, this New Jerusalem that comes down out of heaven is equal in width, height, and length and it is a four cornered square. Heaven is then, a cube city of sorts. I don’t know how that works, but the size is enormous. Thirteen hundred miles long, wide, and high is roughly the size of North America but three dimensional. Heaven, if this description of New Jerusalem is indeed our eternal heaven, will be plenty big enough to house us all comfortably.

Questions For Application

  1. Which is more impressive to you, the building materials of this city or the size of it?
  2. Why do you think there is equal representation for the twelve tribes of Israel as well as the twelve apostles? (Side note: Do you think these twelve apostles names include Judas, or has his name been replaced with someone else, say, Paul?)
  3. Do you own any of these precious stones mentioned? Why do humans value these stones?
  4. Can you imagine walking around in this place?

Grandpa and Grandson

Remember being in school?

I think Paul Bennett does. Today he provides our free Christmas Story from the Fondue Writers Club. Paul paints a scene with words as well as anyone you’ll ever read — the sound of the turn signal, the smell of the pencils, the taste of forbidden ice cream.

To read his story click on the left headlight.

This story is Built Ford Tough


Advent 2020: Revelation 20:11-21:8

During the season of Advent, I am translating from Greek to English the weekday epistle readings out of the Daily Lectionary of the Book of Common Prayer.

Tuesday, 22 December 2020 Revelation 20:11-21:8

The Text

11. I saw a great white throne. The earth and the heavens fled from the face of the one sitting upon it, but there was no place found for them.

12. I saw the dead who stood before the throne, both great and small. Books were opened, then another book was opened: the book of life. The dead were judged from what was written in the books based on their works. 

13. The sea gave up the dead in it. Death and Hades gave up the dead in them. They were all judged according to their works.  

14. Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire, which is the second death – the lake of fire.

15. If anyone was found not written in the book of like he was thrown into the lake of fire. 

Revelation 21

1. I saw New Heaven and New Earth, for the first heaven and the first earth vanished, and still the sea was not. 

2. I saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down from heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.

3. I heard a loud voice speaking from the throne, “Behold, the dwelling of God is will human beings. He will dwell with them and they will be his people and he himself will be God with them.

4. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes. Death will not exist, neither mourning, wailing, or pain. They will no longer be, because the first has vanished.

5. The one sitting upon the throne said, “Behold, I make all things new.” Then he said, “Write! For these words are faithful and true.”

6. He said to me, “It is over. I am the alpha and the omega, the beginning and the end. I will give as a gift the water of life from the spring to the thirsty person. 

7. The one who conquers will inherit these things. I will be his God and he will be my child. 

8. But those who are cowards, faithless, desecrators, murderers, fornicators, magicians, idol worshippers, and all those liars their part is the lake burning with fire and sulphur. This is the second death. 


First, let’s talk about verse 3. There are two textual difficulties and they make the reading of the text challenging. There is also a marvelous word association.

The textual variants are the word ‘people’. It has good authority, so I think it holds, but the meaning of the text is not changed — ‘they will be his’ and ‘they will be his people’ are no different, although I think the people was probably added later by someone familiar with the biblical material in the Old Testament. The real conundrum is an extra phrase ‘God of them’ at the end. The actual text we have goes like this, ‘and he himself will be God with them [God of them].’ I put the variant in the brackets. My gut tells me the harder reading, “God with them” is solitary, and a later scribe has added the ‘God of them’ as a teaching note to clarify anyone who might think human beings become a god alongside the One True God. Therefore, I have omitted the phrase in my translation. Check the study notes in your English Bible for more information on this.

The brilliant word choice is dwelling. Those following these Advent translations will remember I made a big deal about the use of the word ‘skin’ for dwelling in 2 Peter. Well, here, the dwelling of God is ‘skin’ again. In this context, it is definitely a reference to the Tabernacle and God’s dwelling. I think there a Christmas reference as well, as “Immanuel” means God with us, and that is the context of the dwelling of God here. The Lamb has arrived!

I could, I think, spend all day talking about this passage, but let me briefly point out seven things.

One–There are more than one book. There is the book of life, but there are others.

Two–People are judged, everyone, by what they do. I translate it works, the ESV translates it ‘what they had done.’ My translation is better. We are judged by our works. There is no way around it.

Three–Death and Hades give up their dead for judgment, then those two entities are cast, apparently void of people, into the lake of fire. I don’t know what that means, but that is what it says.

Four–People are thrown into the lake of fire after they are removed from Death and Hades.

Five–The old and new are contrasted — as the one on throne makes all things new. There is New Heaven, New Earth, and New Jerusalem. The old ‘vanished.’ I can’t even begin to imagine how that happens.

Six–Jesus says he is the alpha and the omega. These are simply the first and last letter of the Greek alphabet. The interesting part to me, and I don’t know I there is a technical reason for this or not, is that John spells out ‘alpha’ in the text in Greek but he just uses the letter omega.

Seven–Revelation 21:8 tells us who goes to the lake of sulphur and fire, and it is something we should all meditate on. The list begins with cowards and ends with liars.

Questions For Application

  1. Does it bring comfort or fear that there are record books in eternity?
  2. This ‘Great White Throne judgement’ seems to be the very very last, and it seems like it is a different kind of judgment that previous ones. How do you understand it?
  3. It is an unexpected emotional moment when the Lord wipes away tears and ends wailing, pain, and sorrow. How can we appropriate some of that emotional support now?
  4. In what area of your life are you most cowardly? What lies do you cling to?


It’s Like A Ghost Story, But Not Really

Rob Cely is a delightful maker of worlds. Today he brings a rebuke and social commentary to our Fondue Writers Club free Christmas Story. There will be one every day now right up to Christmas Eve. We do this without gimmick or pay, because we love you all, and we want to entertain you as best we can while so many of us engage in struggles old and new.

To read Rob’s delightful story, ‘The Christmas Spirit’, click on the old Honda.


Advent 2020: Revelation 20:1-10

During the season of Advent, I am translating from Greek to English the weekday epistle readings out of the Daily Lectionary of the Book of Common Prayer.

Monday, 21 December 2020 Revelation 20:1-10

The Text

Revelation 20

1. I saw an angel coming down from heaven. He had the key to the abyss and a great chain in his hand.

2. He seized the dragon, the ancient serpent who is the devil and Satan. He bound him a thousand years.

3. He cast him out and shut him in the abyss. He sealed it from above, so that he might not deceive the nations anymore, not until the thousand years were over. Then he will be unleashed for a little while.

4. I saw thrones. Judgment was given to those who sat on them. The souls of the people beheaded for their testimony to Jesus—because of the word of God, everyone who did not worship the beast or his image, and those who did not receive the mark upon his forehead or hand, these people lived and reigned with Messiah a thousand years. 

5. The remaining dead people did not live until the end of the thousand years. This is the first resurrection. 

6. Blessed and holy are those having a part in the first resurrection. The second death has no authority over those people, and they will be priests of God and Messiah. They will reign with him for the thousand years. 

7. When the thousand years are over, Satan will be released from his prison.

8. He will go out to the four corners of the earth to deceive the nations. He will gather together Gog and Magog into war. Their number will be as the sand of the sea.

9. And they went up upon the whole earth. They surrounded the encampment of the saints and the beloved city. Fire came down from heaven and consumed them.

10. The devil, the one who deceived them, was cast into the lake of fire and sulphur where also was the beast and the false prophets. They will be tortured day and night forever.


One of the greatest proofs, in my mind, that the book of Revelation is true is the jumbled grammar and incoherent train of images. The writer of Revelation is clear in his words, it is not that he is difficult and undisciplined to read as say, Peter is. Instead, what I find is the words are choppy and disturbing. They have the feeling of someone reaching for a word to describe something which is indescribable. In other words, you have the words of someone who has seen something that is shaking him to the very core of his being.

Our Advent readings finish up with visions of the second advent, and John is trying to write down what he is seeing, but it is a mess. Take verse four, for example. Most English translations smooth this out, but I have left it intentionally choppy because that is the way it comes off the page at me. It reads like John is trying to say everything all at once: these people are dead but now alive and their on thrones and oh wait you need to know who these people are they are the ones who were beheaded and didn’t cave into the beast and who kept the testimony and they rejected the mark and they will reign a thousand years that is who these people are and you need to know that.

It carries the sense that immediately when he saw them, he knew exactly who they were.

Let’s take a moment and try to reconstruct a timeline of what the author is communicating to us. He tells us 1) An angel from heaven seized the dragon and cast him into an abyss. 2) Martyrs have been resurrected and they are beginning their rule, but everyone else is still dead. 3) These martyrs are priests and hold a special office in the eschaton. 4) After a thousand years Satan will be released to ply his trade of lies once more. 5) He will make war and surround the beloved city, Jerusalem. 6) Fire will come down from heaven and consume them. 6) At this point, Satan is cast into the lake of fire and tortured for ever.

I understand this timeline, but I do have questions. Chief among them: why let him out after a thousand years? This has troubled me since I was a little fundamentalist child reading my KJV Scofield Study Bible. The traditional answer is that children will born to those who survive the period of pain leading up to this wonderful thousand year reign who have never known temptation of trials. Satan is given opportunity to provide one final test of humanity.

Apparently, some, many indeed, take the bait.

The Bible lists Gog and Magog as the chief place where Satan finds an audience. There is great speculation about this, but conventional wisdom places the geography in Russia, although there is also a connection to India. My perception is that it is a borrowing of terms from Ezekiel that simply mean enemies and thinking of it geographically is futile. I could be wrong. Either way, Gog and Magog are funny names.

Questions For Application

  1. Have you ever had to write something down after you were shaken by events? How does that experience help you understand the biblical text in Revelation?
  2. Think about the angel seizing Satan. It is not really even a battle. Who is more powerful, the angel of the Devil? What does that tell us about the limitations of demonic power?
  3. Why do you think Satan will be released?
  4. Why would people listen to Satan and follow him after living in peace for a thousand years? Why does anyone? What kind of lies might he be telling? What kind of lies did he tell Eve and Adam?


Book Review: Strange Rites

This afternoon was perfect. The morning rain dried up and the sun came out. The temperature was a comfortable mid-60s with only a slight wind. For mid-December, this is as good as it gets. So I made a cup of Darjeeling and finished the last bit of the book I’ve been working on since Thanksgiving. It is titled Strange Rites: New Religions For A Godless World and was written by Tara Isabella Burton.

The premise of the book is people are moving through the essence of religion without the belief in God. She makes much of the Durkheim principle of collective effervescence. What that means is people bond together through rituals that create its own meaning and define what the community is. A common example is an athletic event where people all know the fight song and the cheers and are enthralled as one community for one purpose.

Burton argues this happening in several different ways in our culture right now. The biggest examples she gives are wellness culture, witchcraft, social justice advocacies, techno-utopians, and the alt-right movement which she labels as atavistic.

The strength of this book is the interesting nature of the subject. She is an excellent researcher and every chapter has historical, cultural, and religious background that she brings out in explicit and delicious detail. One of her arguments is nothing new is happening in essence because America has always been ‘intuitional’ at its core. She backs this up with lots of historical figures. At the same time she argues something really big and new is happening, because it is now a much bigger deal with more people.

A second strength of the book is the intellect Burton brings. She is very smart and her vocabulary is impressive. Reading this book will make you far more comfortable with words you don’t use every day.

It has some weaknesses, though. One is she repeats herself. The second is she references a lot of cultural phenomena that I am not plugged into. She assumes I know things I do not know. A third weakness is, and forgive me, she COMPLETELY OMITS GEN XERS! I mean, there is one reference to us in the whole book and it is a throw away. She goes on and on about boomers and busters and millennials and genZ and blah blah blah and she forgets about those of us in the middle here who are paying all the bills and taking care of everything for everyone else. Statistics show many Gen Xers are supporting a child and a parent AT THE SAME TIME.

Okay, sorry. I just had to get that out of my system. Us Gen Xers are used to it. We were latchkey kids, after all. Remember. No, you don’t remember, because ALL 66 MILLION OF US ARE USED TO BEING IGNORED.

Where was I? Oh, right, the book. Burton has taken a deep dive into the history of the internet, and one finds this theme throughout, that the internet is what has created the strength and proliferation of these godless religions. She goes on and on about Harry Potter, including some rather interesting footwork on the deification of Severus Snape.

Is she right? Is America blossoming new godless religions which form communities, liturgies, and belief systems all their own? She may be onto something, but she might also be confusing herself and others. My final analysis of her work is that corporate culture is using religious language for its own greedy gain. People are being used to line the pocketbook of people selling something — whether it is Goop or iPhone apps. What we see is really the success of the Christian church. Everyone uses our words, our models, and tends to parasitically adopt our structures.

Her research is thorough and her subject is interesting. I disagree with her religious assumptions, but her book is valuable in knowing what is going on out there from SoulCycle to The Singularity to Jordan Peterson. I just think her evidence that it is religious is flawed. It is no more religious than Marxism or people who love Superman, and both of those have been around for a long time. Americans are prone to fads, and the internet, combined with great prosperity and conspicuous consumption, have made it seem like these things have more of a pull than they really do.

One more caveat on the book. It came out this year, but before COVID-19 became what is. I have some ideas about how the pandemic has impacted these godless communities, but perhaps that is for a different blog post.

I encourage you to read the book, but watch out. I almost didn’t get past the first chapter. I’m not kidding. It was so bizarre I almost put the book down for good. I’m glad I didn’t, but you might want to skip the first chapter and maybe, read it after the third or fourth chapter. Maybe.

The book is loaded with profanity, and lots of very disturbing language, particularly the chapter on sexual communities. It is not appropriate for teenagers or the who are easily offended.


Advent 2020: Jude 17-25

During the season of Advent, I am translating from Greek to English the weekday epistle readings out of the Daily Lectionary of the Book of Common Prayer.

Saturday, 19 December 2020 Jude 17-25

The Text

Jude 17-25

17. But you, beloved, must remember the words which have been spoken by the apostles of our Lord Jesus Messiah.

18. Because they kept saying to you that at the end of time there will be scoffers who will follow their own ungodly desires. 

19. These people who are creating divisions are materialists only, having no spirit. 

20. But you, beloved, build up yourselves in the holiest of faith, praying in the Holy Spirit. 

21. You must keep yourselves in the love of God while waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Messiah [to take you] into eternal life.

22. And you must have mercy on some of these who are doubting. 

23. You must save those people, snatching them from the fire, showing mercy, yet still hating the flesh as a stained shirt. 

24. And the one who is able to keep guard over you, to stand surefooted in his presence, in gladness, without blemish.

25. To God our only savior through our Lord Jesus Messiah – glory, majesty, might, and authority before all time and throughout eternity. Amen.   


They told us it would be this way.

That is basically what Jude tells us here. The apostles predicted it. There would be ‘scoffers’. And what is the primary activity of scoffers? Scoffing, of course. Scoffers come scoffing. Scoffing is a word we don’t use a whole lot today. It means to mock or to scorn. Better words might be to ridicule or to bully. Scoffers bully you into submission by using words and social exclusion to make you conform.

Jude says these scoffers, who mock us and deride us, are materialists that do not think about the spiritual implications of life. For them it is only what they can get, what they hold, what and who they can exploit, and who they can manipulate. Scoffers do not live on the spiritual plane.

Textually, verses 22 and 23 cause problems for me. Most English renderings see these lines as being about different groups — doubters to whom we must show mercy, the lost whom we must save, and those on fire whom we must snatch. It could be read that way, but the more I cogitated on it and prayed through it, I think Jude is talking about the same thing to the same group of people — the doubters who are lost and must be snatched out of the fire. This teaches us the work of discipleship and of ministry is to answer the questions of the doubters with gentleness, seek out those who have turned astray, and actively remove dangerous situations. It is a lot like raising children.

The benediction here is beautiful and is a tradition for some at funerals. It is easy to see why.

Questions For Application

  1. Mocking is not always bad. Elijah mocked the prophets of Baal. How can you tell when mocking is okay and when it is a symptom of unbelief?
  2. Divisions are bad in the church. Those people who force or create these divisions are materialists who rejecting the spiritual reality of unity and fellowship. Why do you think the church allows itself to be divided the way it does?
  3. Who snatched you from the fire? Whom have you snatched?
  4. If you are able, rewrite the benediction (24-25) in your own words using modern language.

Advent 2020: 2 Peter 2:17-22

During the season of Advent, I am translating from Greek to English the weekday epistle readings out of the Daily Lectionary of the Book of Common Prayer.

Friday, 18 December 2020 2 Peter 2:17-22

The Text

17. They are waterless springs, mists driven out by a windstorm, people for whom the gloom of darkness has been reserved.

18. For they talk of empty boasts, enticing people who just barely escaped error with their lives with even more fleshly desire and debauchery.

19. They promised them freedom, but they themselves became slaves to corruption, for anyone who has been defeated has been enslaved.

20. For if, having fled the pollutions of the world by knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Messiah, they then become entangled, defeated again, then they have become at the last worse off than they were at the first. 

21. It would have been better had they not known the way of righteousness than know it and then turn away from the holy commandments passed on to them.

22. The truth of the proverb has happened to them: “A dog returns to his own vomit” and “a washed pig will roll in the mud.”       


Again we are given a short reading.

Two different but related things seem to be happening here. The first is condemnation for the false teachers and heretics who have slipped into the church and have continued to ‘entice’ others along the same path. It is a path that leads to slavery, even though ‘freedom’ is what has been promised.

Sound familiar? The cry of modernity is ‘freedom’ and ‘acceptance’, which is supposed to make people happy and lovely and joyful. Do people seem happier to you? Do people seem freer to you? Do people seem more accepted to you? No, because, it is all a lie. Sexual freedom is to be enslaved by the flesh whims. Material freedom is to be enslaved by greed. Of course, realize, neither Peter nor I am talking about political freedom or even religious freedom. We are speaking about the ethical restraints that are in place for a reason.

The second thing going on here is a little more shocking to me. It poses serious challenges to people who argue that people who are ‘saved’ are forever in that secure position. Peter does not agree. He says these people who entice others, they come after those who have just barely gotten out of it, to bring them back again into error. Peter says they are worse off than they were then they started. If we apply that to faith we find he may be saying that someone who is living a destructive life — finds the Lord and reforms — but then experiences recidivism and returns to their sinful ways — they are worse than they were before they were saved.

That might be exactly what he is saying.

The metaphors in verse 22 are hard to stomach, literally. The dog and his vomit is a sentiment from the book of Proverbs and the business about the pig is a popular idiom used in Greek literature and rabbinical writings. The use of dogs and pigs, something our Lord did often, is designed to make the audience groan, for these are two odious animals to the Hebrews and represent so much, and may even refer to gentiles who never were truly transformed.

Questions For Application

  1. The choice of windstorm might not be happenstance. Peter was at Pentecost. How can the Holy Spirit’s wind blow away false teaching?
  2. Our Bible does not think highly of boasting. What are you guilty of boasting about the most? How can you work on that?
  3. Verse 22 is rather disgusting. How does it make you feel?


Cue The Sappy Music in Three, Two, One

Just when you thought you could count on Joe Shaw to deliver the goods, he goes ands pulls a Hallmark sweet sappy story on us. But man, is it good. I really loved this. It has just enough ‘bad boy’ motif to keep it interesting, and a whole lot of sweet, innocent nostalgia to make the heart melt. But don’t make this a habit, Shaw, we don’t want to read stories from you about young women who discover their true love is really the guy who runs the croissant shop four doors down but who secretly is also the son of the powerful business magnate who is trying to put her struggling Santa Cookie store out of business so he can replace it with luxury condominiums. If you do that, we’re all coming to Florida to teach you a lesson.

Joe’s story, “Charlie Miller Hates Christmas” is the third of seven free Christmas themed short stories the Fondue Writers Club is giving you. We do this, as we say, free of charge with no gimmicks because we love you.

If you love us half as much as we love you, consider going over to THE AMAZON and buying the audio/print/Kindle version of our anthology, ‘The Covid Quarantine Cantina’. You can CLICK HERE to do just that — but make sure and remember to come back and read Shaw’s free story. Click on the second from the bottom golden ring to read it.

don’t click the third ring, or you’ll turn into a toad


Advent 2020: 2 Peter 2:10(b)-16

During the season of Advent, I am translating from Greek to English the weekday epistle readings out of the Daily Lectionary of the Book of Common Prayer.

Thursday, 17 December 2020 2 Peter 2:10(b)-16

The Text

10(b). Insolent, arrogant people who do not tremble when blaspheming glory. 

11. Whereas angels, being of greater power and strength, do not bring blasphemous judgment from the Lord,

12. by contrast, these people in their ignorance blaspheme, so that in their state of deterioration they will rot. They are as illogical animals, born in the wild and captured into decadence. 

13. Pain is payment for unrighteousness. They take pleasure in regarding the day as for indulgence. They are blots and blemishes celebrating their deception. All the while feasting with you.

14. They have eyes filled with adultery, are incessantly sinning, enticing unstable souls that have been trained in greediness. They are a curse on children.

15. Forsaking the straight path, they were misled. The followed after the path of Balaam of Bosor, who loved unrighteous wages.

16. But he had his own rebuke of wrongdoing by a dumb beast of burden who spoke as a man and so prevented the prophet’s poor judgment.


This may be the shortest reading of the Advent cycle, with only six and a half verses. But man, are they loaded with all kinds of hot language. I translated this section in short, punchy jabs because Peter is all kinds of angry and the lines are tight. “arrogant people who do not tremble”, “captured into decadence”, “pain is payment”, “they are blots and blemishes”, “souls that have been trained in greediness” and so forth are linguistically delicious. Peter is doing his best Hemingway.

He begins with a contrast. Angels, though in many ways more knowledgable and stronger than humans, do not speak against spiritual forces at play but these false teachers do. This verse very much informs my predisposition to not speaking about angels and demons too much, and certainly not engaging in the kind of freewheeling gibberish I hear in many prayer lives about binding and rebuking and standing against. Peter seems to be affirming the sovereignty of God over all spiritual power, even evil. If I may be so bold, Peter is telling us to hold our tongue about things we do not understand.

Peter calls them dumb animals at the beginning, but then he says they are worse than dumb animals, because even Balaam’s donkey knew more than these people.

I chose the word ‘decadence’ in verse 12 because I think there is a word-picture link with decaying dead animals and the word decadence. Decadence feels right, but it is really putting one foot in he grave.

I rendered the ending of verse 14 as ‘they are a curse on children’ where as I think most English translations go with “they are accursed chidlren” or something like that. The more I looked at it and studied, though, I think my view is best.

Questions For Application

  1. Peter says blaspheme comes from arrogance and ignorance. How do these twin vices manifest themselves in your life?
  2. Not all pain is a mark of individual sin. However, it is true we often bring pain on ourselves with poor choices and poor judgment. As painful as it might be, can you name a current source of pain that is the direct result of your sinful choices or of not listening to the wisdom of others?
  3. Do you know the story of Balaam? If not, why not take the time to read up on this fascinating example who is referenced several times in the Bible?

With A Special Appearance By Suzie Snowflake

Yesterday Derek Elkins got us started with some strong action. Today, it is my turn. This story first appeared as a plot idea in a blog in which I was making fun of Hallmark Christmas Movies. I argued they needed more Zombie.

Well, here we are. I hope you enjoy this bit of frivolous fun. Remember, we are just trying to entertain you a bit with some free stories from the Fondue Writers Club. No paywalls, no credit card numbers, no email lists. Just read.


Drool ran down the corner of Santa’s mouth and onto his beard. He only did that when he was bone-tired, and he was only bone-tired two days a year. July 16 always found him exhausted beyond measure, because July 15 was elf bath day. As the Chief Elf, Santa’s primary responsibility to the elf community was to make certain all one hundred or so elves who lived at the North Pole got their annual cleaning. It was by far the hardest day of the year for him and it took weeks for the bite marks to heal.

            The second hardest day was, of course, December 24. Delivering toys to every good boy and girl on the planet wasn’t as easy as it once was. Back in the old days, there just weren’t that many children, but now with human population nearing ten billion, Christmas Eve was becoming exceedingly difficult. The result was December 25th always found Santa in his favorite recliner with drool oozing out of his windburned lips and puddling onto his white whiskers. If he was lucky, a pile of cookie crumbs would bounce up and down on his belly as he snored.

            On this particular Christmas Eve, he’d already achieved a level of R.E.M. sleep, so he didn’t hear the door buzz. He did hear the shout, though.

            “Father Christmas, we’ve got to get you to the safe room.”

            It was Dropsy, chief of security. He was a competent elf who had inherited his position from his father, Popsy. 

            “Safe room,” Santa roused himself out of the chair. “What on earth for?”

            “We don’t know exactly, but something is wrong with some of the elves.”

            “What do you mean, wrong?” 

            “No time to explain, Nick. We gotta get you to the safe room.”

            Dropsy escorted Santa from his recreational room and out into the darkness of the North Pole. “Where is my wife?” Santa said. 

            “She is en route as well,” Dropsy said. “Sopsy, is taking her there now.” 

            The wind blew fiercely. Snow swirled around in the darkness. Santa’s brilliant, timeless mind began to wake up as the cold slapped his synapses. His mind reviewed the previous day. It had been a near perfect Christmas, executed flawlessly. What could have gone wrong? He had successfully avoided the Jihad in the Middle East and the sad dark peninsula of North Korea. New York was navigated without difficulties. He couldn’t figure out what the problem could be.

            Dropsy reached out his hand and halted his boss. 

            “Do you see them?” he said. They had just rounded the bend in the trail that went around the Egg Nog Cistern. 

            “Yes, I do,” Santa nodded. “It looks like Raspy and Daspy. Maybe they will have some answers.”

            “I don’t think so. Look closer, sir.”

            Santa squinted. His impish eyes adjusted to night vision. He saw the two people he recognized, but their faces were gaunt. The pupils of their eyes glowed red. Cobalt puss oozed down their cheeks.”

            “They’re sick,” Santa shouted. “We have to help them!” Santa lunged away from Dropsy and rushed toward his friends. “What happened to you?” He shouted as he neared.

            Dropsy yelled, “No, wait!” but Santa was too fast to be thwarted. 

            Raspy and Daspy growled at the giver of gifts and opened wide their mouths to chomp on the pink flesh. Santa was caught unawares. They grabbed him and pushed him to the ground and were ready to tear him from limb to limb. Just before they sank their teeth into him, Dropsy, fired two shots from his service revolver, exploding both of their heads. 


            Mrs. Claus rushed toward her husband when he and Dropsy entered the safe room. 

            “Step back, ma’am,” Dropsy said. “I don’t want to break the two of you up, but Papa Noel here is covered in, well, whatever is now pumping through the veins of about thirty of our elves.”

            “Thirty?” Santa whispered.

            “Probably more like fifty by now,” said Smartsy. 

            Smartsy was the chief scientific officer of the North Pole. Usually, that meant he developed toys of a scientific nature. His most successful enterprise of the last half century was the iPhone. He developed it in the late 1980s, but it took almost three decades to find someone to manufacture and market the device. Even then, Steve Jobs almost ruined the whole thing with his perfectionism and insistence upon Apple Music. 

            Mrs. Claus turned to Smartsy, “What is going on?” She raised her hands, palms up. “We haven’t had to come to the safe room since those Heaven’s Gates fanatics stopped by on their way to the comet.” She said comet in air quotations with her long and perfectly manicured fingers.

            “We just rode those out,” Smartsy said. “This time will not be that easy. This will be more like the unfortunate Soviet Incident of 1972.”

            “I wasn’t here for that,” Mrs. Claus said. Smartsy winced. He’d forgotten Santa gets a new wife every twenty-five years.

            Smartsy, demonstrating his smarts, changed the subject by punching up a display on the computer panel that formed the long backwall of the safe room. “It took me and my team a while to go through all the data, but if you will look carefully at this video feed from the rear skid on Santa’s sleigh, you will see just as you took flight over the housetops in this Louisiana swamp, Junior Assistant Elf Flappsy was bitten by what looks like a rabid politician. That politician has since been diagnosed with Zombie and was, as is the custom in the United States for all Zombies, immediately sworn in as United States Senator. It seems like the disease has spread to our peaceful habitat here in the Arctic.” 

            “What can we do about it?”

            “I have a couple of options, but Dropsy, why don’t you present your plan The Big Guy first?”

            Santa and Mrs. Claus looked at Dropsy, eyes wide with hope. Dropsy pushed a few buttons on his own communications device and the screen turned to a layout of Santa’s compound. “We have gathered fifty-three of the elves who are positively not infected with the Zombie virus in these four holding rooms. Each one is guarded by one of my children. The rest, those wandering the perimeter the way we found Raspy and Daspy, well, they are expendable.”

            “Expendable?” Santa shook his head. “You mean killed?”

            “Yes, in about thirty minutes I can take them all out. It is unfortunate, but it might be the only way we can save everyone else. It is fast, efficient, and one-hundred percent effective.”

            “You’re talking about killing almost half the elves?” Mrs. Claus brought her hand to her mouth. “Half.”

            “Yes, that is true, but Smartsy and I have talked about it, and we can recruit cobbler elves to take their positions and have them trained for toymaking by mid-summer. The following Christmas might be a bit smaller than previous years, but we will survive. Survival is what matters.”   

            “Isn’t there any way to save them?” Santa’s head drooped.

            Smartsy began, “We hypothesize sunshine will do it. Political Zombieism cannot survive the light of day. It is what has cured every other batch in human history. The problem for us, of course, is we will not see daylight here until June. We can’t survive and hold them off that long without killing them, and likewise, they will not survive that long out of doors without shelter or food. At some point they will turn on each other and their death would be horrific.”

            “I will not let them suffer.” Santa said.

            “There is one more option,” Dropsy said. He pointed to Smartsy. “Tell him, Smartsy. Tell him what you told me.”

            “There is another way.” 


            “I took the liberty of calling Suzie to confirm it.” Smartsy looked at the ground and then finally at Santa. “Just as I suspected, Suzie Snowflake tells me there is one person who has continually and constantly dealt with this kind of disease that infects the soul as well as the body.”

            Santa stood up and put his hands over his ears. “No, don’t say it.”

            “I’m sorry, sir,” Smartsy said. “But it is true. He can freeze it out of them. Just as light exposes the virus, cold can, like truth, eradicate it.”

            “Okay,” Santa nodded, “I accept that logic. But can’t we generate enough cold around here, I mean, this is the North Pole for crying-out-loud, can’t we get them cold enough to heal them? We don’t need him to do it, right?”

            “All we can do,” Smartsy said, “is make them cold from the outside in. He, and to our knowledge, he alone, can freeze them from the inside out. That is where it has to start. All change, and you know this, sir, all real change starts on the inside. And only he can do that.”


            The “Him” Smartsy spoke of was Jack Frost. It was no secret The Man In the Red Suit and Jack Frost were on bad terms. Once upon a time they had been close. Rumor has it they are cousins, but no one has ever come up with definitive evidence or a family tree. As far as any of the elves know, Santa has no mother or father and he and Baby New Year are sui generis. It is accepted fact, though, amongst the elves that Jack Frost is himself elfish, but from a different line of elves who experimented with magic and the taboo elements of nature. Modern elves disdain magic and opt instead for hard work, peppermint, and cheap electronics from China. 

            Another rumor is that Jack Frost had an affair with the thirteenth Mrs. Claus, the one who preferred everyone to call her Veronica. Santa found the two of them in flagrante delecto on a New Year’s Eve where too much holiday wine was shared. The rumor goes further that Santa banished that Mrs. Claus to sell low-grade jewelry on QVC and Jack was never invited back for another party. The rumor further goes that Santa caught them in the Slinky warehouse which is why no one gets a Slinky for Christmas anymore.

            The elves who help Santa in the tropical regions, and who never come to the North Pole, tell a different tale. They say Santa won a game of dice against Frost and the wager was the warm weather climates where old Frozen Jack couldn’t encroach. Jack tried to renegotiate, and Santa wouldn’t let him. This, according to the Caribbean elves, is why they are at odds. It was a favor Santa owed to the pirates who rescued him once when he was stranded asea. It was during that time period Santa developed the “Ho-Ho-Ho Merry Christmas” he is now famous for, which is a slight variation on ‘Yo-Ho-Ho a Pirate’s Life For Me.’

            No one knows if any of this is true or not, but everyone knows what happened in 1986. The facts of that incident are verifiable and undeniable because of the CCTV. Jack Frost crashed the St. Valentine’s Day party. He brought four minions, Frostbite, Windchill, Hypo, and Thermia with him. It is hard to know if Hypo and Thermia count as one or two, because they are twins frozen at the hip. During the party, Jack Frost drank way too much, started cursing, picked a fight with Yukon Cornelius, and urinated in the fruit punch.

            That was when Santa banished him, placing him for all time on the naughty list. It is an oath he swore to never go back on. Indeed, it would take a great team of elfish lawyers to undo the oath. In all of history, only four others have been put on the forever naughty list: Atilla, Henry VIII, Rasputin, and Alec Baldwin.   


            Santa took five minutes to change out of the soiled clothes. He traded the soiled flannel shirt and sweatpants he’d been napping in and put on the tan Carhartt heavy coat, Wrangler jeans, and Doc Martin boots which were in the Safe Room. He also armed himself with a Kringle revolver, a set of brass knuckles, and a Tanto knife. One never knew what to expect at Jack’s igloo.

            “I’ll travel by Magic,” Santa said when he came out of the lav. “No sense taking any chances on sleds, sleighs, or snowmobiles.”

            “Do you have any magic left?” Dropsy said. “Didn’t Christmas use it all up?”

            “Most of it, yes. My Magic will not be back at full strength until the Ides of March. But I do have a little in me. I can feel it. There is just enough to get me there.”

            Mrs. Claus eyes narrowed. “What about getting back?”

            “If things go well, that won’t be a problem. If they don’t go well,” Santa looked away, “then it really doesn’t matter, does it?”
            “Don’t say that!” Mrs. Claus embraced him, pulling him tight. “I need you. The world needs you. Don’t lose your focus.”

            Smartsy cleared his throat, “We will send a rescue sled in that direction as soon as you depart, as a backup.” He punched a few numbers on his keypad. “But I’m sure we will not need it.” 

            “Good plan,” Santa nodded. “I guess that is why you are in charge of intelligence.” 

            Santa checked his gear, zipped up his jacket, and then brought his index finger to his nose and wiggled it, while at the same time visualizing in his mind Jack Frost’s igloo.


            Frost’s igloo was in Antartica, which was the other side of the world. By sled this trip would take at least two hours. By Magic it took fourteen seconds. 

            The igloo sat on the rim of the large gaping hole that led to the center of the earth. It was from here that elves emerged eons ago, though no one has ever gone back to explore. Some of Frost’s pixies have, over the years, gone down to try and discover the mystery but they never returned. Frost knows what is down there, but he will not divulge that information. He has made it his sworn duty to keep any humans from entering. So determined was he to protect the secrets of the hole he engaged in what could only be described as a war with the United States Navy in 1946 and 47, eventually forcing Admiral Byrd to withdraw. 

            Santa emerged from the stretch of Magic into the brightest of light. He shielded his eyes with his hand. The sun’s radiance reflected off the ice cap. He’d remembered to bring his Ray Bans, and he slid them over his eyes. Taking a deep breath, he surveyed the igloo compound. Frost’s flag, a navy-blue snowflake pierced by a dazzling white icicle, flapped in the wind. Santa sniffed, and he smelled nothing. Just the way Frost likes it. He popped a piece of butterscotch into his mouth to remind him of home. 

            Claus took a step toward the igloo. The proximity alarm went off. The snow around his feet came to life. It crawled up his leg, freezing him in place as it inched up toward his groin. He kicked and fumed, but it was no use. Santa breathed a sigh of relief when the trap stopped mid-thigh. The wind came from behind him and lifted him into the air and towards the igloo’s roof. Three ice blocks slid aside as the wind brought the not-so-jolly soul onto the ice floor. 

            “That was not a very warm welcome,” Santa said shaking his head at Jack Frost, who stood over him. 

            “Warm is not my thing,” Frost said. His deep voice vibrated the ice. 

            Santa’s voice was high-pitched and squeally, and he’d always envied Frost’s resonate bass.

            Before Santa could realize what happened, the floor liquified, then refroze around his hands and feet, sealing him on all fours. 

            “What brings you here?” Frost put his foot on Santa’s back.

            The bearded man took a gulp of air. He spoke the words he’d thought through while changing back at the North Pole. “We are in trouble. I need your help. Only you can save the elves.” 

            “What have you done, old man?”

            “About half of them, around fifty or so, are sick. They have a zombie virus that is transforming them into monsters.”

            “Just kill them. You can always get more elves. That is what you did with the twenty-eight who became Nazi’s in 1938.”
            Santa winced. Yet another old wound Frost never let him forget. It was like Jack was a computer which held all of Santa’s failures. 

            “We’re hoping to avoid bloodshed. Smartsy says—”

            “Smartsy!” Jack shouted. “You still have that nerd around? I thought for sure you’da gotten rid of him after that embarrassing issue with the Segway.”

            Santa ignored the jab. The Segways weren’t entirely Smartsy fault. Everyone thought they’d be a hit. 

            “Listen, Frost. It was hard for me to come here and ask you for help with all we’ve been through. But I can’t do it without you. Smartsy says your ability to freeze them from the inside out is the only thing that can kill the virus. Will you help me? Will you save my elves?”

            Frost circled around his captive, then sat down on the ice in front of Santa and folded his legs underneath him. “What’s in it for me?” He looked into Santa’s eyes and the two saw each other clearly. “You know what I want, Saint Nicholas. You know what I need. I can’t keep living this life of exile and isolation. It has gotten so bad that I have started blogging about shaved ice and snow cones. Can you imagine, me, the mighty and powerful Chieftain of Chill reduced to liking and commenting on SallyScherbertsUltimate blog about where to get the best coconut snow cone in SoCal?”

            Ice pellets fell from his eyes and piled onto the floor.

            “You say you need me, and only I can help. But Kringle, I need something only you can give. Only you can lift the banishment. Only you can bring me home from exile.”

            Santa sighed. “I know. And I’ve been thinking about that, too.”

            Old Man Christmas wiggled his hands and shook his boots which shattered the ice cuffs. He stood erect. 

            Surprised, one of Frost’s guards, a fanged pixie named Tundra lurched at Santa. Before Tundra knew what happened, Santa chopped him into cubes with his Japanese blade. 

            Santa twirled the knife in his left hand and pivoted around the room. “Anyone else want to try me? I’m not in the mood for this and I haven’t had my nap out, so I’m a little spicy.”

            The room was silent. Frost knew he was no match for Santa.

            Papa Noel sheathed the weapon and knocked more of the ice from his hands and boots. “Jack, I’m prepared to lift the banishment. If that is all you want that is what I will give you. But I am also willing to bury the ice pic completely. I’d like for you to come back as a full member of the Elf Community. I’ll reinstate your seat on the Yule Log. It was wrong of me to banish you. It was a kneejerk reaction. We all need each other, as this recent incident has demonstrated.” Santa reached out an open hand in peace, “I was wrong.”

            Jack Frost took Santa’s hand, and they both envisioned the North Pole in their minds.


            They arrived just in time. The Elfin Zombies had worked their way into the gymnasium where about twenty noninfected elves had taken shelter. Jack sprang to action and froze them all solid. The zombiecicles were then taken outside and chained together. After they were secured, Smartsy wrapped them all in thermal blankets so they could slowly thaw. It took about fifteen hours, but it worked.

            “No sign of infection or any aggressive tendencies” Dropsy reported to Santa, who was playing backgammon with Jack in the Gingerbread Lodge. “There are two unfortunate side effects, though.”

            “What side effects?” Santa looked up and sipped from his hot wassail.  

            Dropsy frowned, “All the rescued male elves are walking with a limp, and the female elves all think they are Jennifer Lawrence. Smartsy says this should clear up in a week or so, but he also adds he doesn’t really know.”

            Jack grinned, and Santa saw it. “Jack, did you do that on purpose?”

            Frost’s only response was a chuckle so deep the pieces on the board moved.   


Is Santa Batman or Is Santa Superman? I Can’t Quite Tell . . . You Decide.

The Fondue Writers Club is at it again. This time we are bringing you fun Christmas stories. These are all free — no paywall, no gimmicks, no email lists to sign up for. Just the workings of our imagination to share with you during these days of COVID, and quarantine, and so much troubles in our world.

Derek Elkins, who once weaponized the WeinerMobile, brings us the story of Krampus and Santa engaged in an epic battle. Click on the image of the man hiding in the closet to read “Krampus V. Santa: Dawn of Righteousness”. We’ll be back tomorrow with another story, and every day up until Christmas Eve.

Eugene’s been a bad boy

Advent 2020: 2 Peter 2:1-10(a)

During the season of Advent, I am translating from Greek to English the weekday epistle readings out of the Daily Lectionary of the Book of Common Prayer.

Wednesday, 16 December 2020 2 Peter 1:1-10(a)

The Text

Chapter Two

1. It happened that false prophets were among the people just as false teachers are among you. Some of them introduced destructive heresies, even denying the master who brought them, bringing instead destruction on themselves. 

2. Many will follow them into debauchery, which is how the way of the truth will be blasphemed. 

3. They will exploit you with greedy desire and phony words. Their ancient judgment is not idle, and their destruction does not sleep. 

4. For if God did not spare sinning angles, but bound them to gloom, sent them to Tartarus, and gave them over to be kept for judgment,

5. and since he spared not the ancient world, but protected the preacher of righteousness, Noah, and his eight, then brought on the deluge upon the godless world

6. and ruined to ash the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. He judged them to set an example of what is to be for the godless.

7. He rescued righteous Lot, worn down by the undisciplined debauchery of their behavior.

8. The righteous person living among them, seeing and hearing their lawless work, kept being tortured in his righteous soul.

9. The Lord knew how to rescue the godly from temptation and how to keep those being punished until Judgment Day.

10. Especially those following the flesh, following polluted desires, despising the Lordship. 


The text changes abruptly at the end of verse 10. The lectionary follows this change by breaking up the reading mid-verse. It is a curious choice, but this is a good time to remember there were no verse divisions or chapter breaks when Peter wrote it. So, really, nothing to see here with that issue.

What is to be seen is the breathtaking argument Peter makes. We have to remember his target is false teachers. These false teaches have snuck into the church and spread heresies. Peter says God knows exactly how to deal with these people. We know how God deals with them, because of what he has done in the past. What has he done in the past? Peter is happy to explain it to you.

First, he punished the angels who went astray. This probably is a reference to Genesis 6 and is certainly a reference to the inferred but not definitive moment when angels rebelled against God and were smote down with the evil one. Peter says God sent these angels to gloom and destruction, a place called Tartarus. I gave the transliteration here, because it is significant. Tartarus is a synonym for hell, but it carries with it a different feeling than Hades or Sheol. Whereas Hades is kind of a shadowy murky place where people live and exist but without the hope of life on earth, Tartarus is a dungeon prepared for the Titans after the Olympians defeated them and banished them. Peter is linking the angels fall to the Titan’s fall, which is not something to glance over. It is an amazing bit of comparative religion that could inform us of how the early Christians understood the pagan world around them. To contextualize it in the modern sense, perhaps UFO’s, ghosts, and the legends of Zeus, Thor, and Thunderbird have more in common with demons and the devil than most of us think.

God knows how to handle rebellious spiritual beings, so he very well knows how to handle false teachers in your church.

But wait, there is more. He also knows how to punish them, because he did so in the flood and Sodom and Gomorrah. The deluge is literally a cataclysm, that is the word Peter uses. The ruined ashes of Sodom and Gomorrah show us he knows what to do with a city and a people who have rejected right and aligned with evil and exploitation.

So let’s review Peter’s argument: God knows how to put rebellious beings in dungeons, he knows how to drown wicked people, and he knows how to burn unrighteous heathens to a crisp, therefore the false teachers in your church will be no match for him.

Textually, verses 4, 5, and 6 are not a sentence in English, but it makes perfect sense in Greek. I left it the way it is because you get more of a feeling for it this way. At least, that is what I think.

I have to tell you, as a pastor who has fought continually one false teaching after another including but not limited to prosperity gospel, faith healers, political allegiance, and sexual debauchery this kind of affirmation of hard punishment brings a tear of joy to my eye. Burn, baby, burn.

We can’t leave this text, though, without thinking about Lot. I have serious problems with Peter’s understanding. He refers to Lot as ‘righteous’ and as someone who was ‘tortured’ in his soul. I’m not buying it. I’m not saying Peter is wrong, I am saying he gives Lot far too much credit. the Genesis account shows us a greedy compromised man who is willing to throw his daughters to a pack of sexually depraved wolves. If Lot was so tortured, he would have moved. But he didn’t, because he pitched his tent in that direction. He chose Sodom. He chose Gomorrah. He chose them because it is what he wanted.

I am not saying Peter is wrong, but Peter is wrong.

Questions For Application

  1. A heresy is not something you just disagree with, but something that is doctrinally incorrect, like saying Jesus is not the son of God or he was not born of a virgin. What heresies do you think the church is particularly vulnerable to right now? Which ones are you a little too dangerously fascinated with?
  2. How does debauchery (sensuality, sexual sin) lead to blasphemy?
  3. What do you think a gloomy dungeon would be like?
  4. Peter is speaking here about judgment. Do you think about judgment on God’s enemies very often? Is it possible to oversell forgiveness and love and neglect the doctrinal necessity of judgment?
  5. We are very much like Lot, living in a an age of apostasy and debauchery. The question for us is, are we tortured or do we like it? Do not answer that question too quickly.


Advent 2020: 2 Peter 1:12-21

During the season of Advent, I am translating from Greek to English the weekday epistle readings out of the Daily Lectionary of the Book of Common Prayer.

Tuesday, 15 December 2020 2 Peter 1:12-21

The Text

12. It is my intention to remind you always about these things which you have known, and to be steadfast in the arrival of truth. 

13. I consider it proper that as long as I am in this skin, to rouse you with reminders

14. because I know I will lose my skin soon, just as our Lord Jesus Messiah showed me.

15. I will be diligent so that at any time after my exodus you will be able to remember these things.

16. For we do not follow cleverly made myths. Having become spectators of his majesty, we then made known to you the power and presence of the Lord Jesus Messiah.

17. For he received honor and glory from Father God when the voice was carried as it were from majestic glory – “This is my beloved son, in whom I am well pleased.”

18. We heard this voice from heaven when we had been brought to be with him on the holy mountain.

19. We have the prophetic word, which is even firmer. You would do well to hold onto it as a shining lamp in a gloomy place until the day should dawn and the daystar may rise in your hearts. 

20. First, know this – that all prophetic scripture does not become open to personal interpretation. 

21. No prophecy was brought by a person’s will, but by the Holy Spirit carrying what they spoke from God. 


It seems to me Peter views his primary task as that of reminder. He thinks it is proper and right for him to remind them of things, and as long as he lives he will do it. He even goes so far as to say that long after he is gone, he wants what he says to still be a reminder. The word he uses to describe his existence in this world is ‘tent’ or sometimes ‘tabernacle’. Many English renderings use ‘flesh’ but I think ‘skin’, which a tent was a skin of animals, because I think it works well in the parlance of tent making. What’s more, the first four letters in Greek word for ‘tent’ are roughly analogous to the four letters s-k-i-n. I always try to keep cognates if I can.

There is a strong connection in my mind, and if I were preaching this I would pull this out in a very long and probably boring way, with the biblical imagery and metaphors Peter is using. First, he says he is in a tent, and he will soon have an exodus out of that tent. The word exodus means departure, but I chose to keep the transliteration of the Greek here because it should remind the reader of the tents of the Israelites in the desert and also fo the tabernacle for God’s dwelling. Second, later he will reference the Mount of Transfiguration where the glory was revealed. It was there that Peter recommended, according to the Gospels, the erecting of tents for Jesus, Elijah, and Moses. Third, Luke tells us that it was on that mountain that Jesus spoke to the two Old Testament heroes about his upcoming exodus, or departure. Fourth, the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle but it was present in Jesus. Peter calls it majestic glory. What a beautiful phrase.

This is the kind of thing Peter is reminding them, and us, about.

As powerful as that memory is for The Fisher Apostle, he puts it behind the prophetic word. The truth of this concept cannot be delineated. Our experiences are interpreted by scripture. We do not interpret scripture by our experiences.

Questions For Application

  1. What thing or things do you continue to keep doing until you ‘lose your skin’?
  2. Once you have your exodus event, what do you want the memory of you to remind people about their own faith journey?
  3. What do you hold on to that is like a lamp in a gloomy place?
  4. What is your favorite part of the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament)?

Advent 2020: 2 Peter 1:1-11

During the season of Advent, I am translating from Greek to English the weekday epistle readings out of the Daily Lectionary of the Book of Common Prayer.

Monday, 14 December 2020 2 Peter 1:1-11

The Text

2 Peter

Chapter One

1. Simon Peter – a slave and apostle of Messiah Jesus – to those sharing our privilege by receiving faith through the righteousness of God and our savior Messiah Jesus.

2. Grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and our Lord Jesus,

3. who has bestowed on us all, everyone alive, his divine power and godliness through knowledge. He has called us to his own glory and virtue.

4. Being given the precious and greatest promises, that through this, we might share in the divine nature and so escape the coming evil desires of the world.

5. For this same reason, with all diligence you must supplement your faith with virtue, virtue with knowledge,

6. knowledge with self-control, self-control with patience, patience with godliness, 

7. godliness with kindly affection, kindly affection with love. 

8. For if these things are a part of you and multiply, you are not idle nor fruitless. It is a consciousness of our Lord Jesus Messiah.

9. To anyone where these are not present, he is blind and has closed his eyes, oblivious of his old sins being cleansed.

10. Therefore, all the more, brothers and sisters, you must be diligent. Make your own calling and election steadfast, for in doing so you will never stumble.

11. For such people, entry into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Messiah will be richly afforded.


The lectionary goes from the cataclysmic Thessalonians to the equally cataclysmic 2 Peter. So many interesting and theological discussions emerge in this book. I don’t know if we’ll have time for them all, but we spend all week here.

Let me begin by saying this is not easy to translate. Unlike Paul, who uses a very linear thought process, Peter feels more to me like word salad. I think this betrays a Hebrew mindset, because that is the way I found Biblical Hebrew — just nouns thrown down with the verb hidden in there somewhere.

Peter lays aside his privilege, a very 21st century thing to do, by affirming that all those who have faith in Jesus share in his privilege of apostle and slave of Jesus. He is not claiming any authority greater than that of follower of Jesus. There is a humility in this approach that I find attractive. It makes the power of his rhetoric that much more convincing.

And his rhetoric is powerful. The ladder of virtues he employ is a classic ancient world concept. Verses 5-7 start with faith and end with love, and in between we find many of those spiritual fruits we are accustomed to partaking of. Take note, however, the big finale. He uses two different words for love. The first is brotherly affection, phileo. The second is agape, covenantal love. In its poverty English doesn’t have the flexibility to describe these different aspects of love, but both should be present in followers of Jesus. It is not enough to love someone at a deep level commitment, we must love everyone with kindness, with affection, with affirmation, and with respect.

If we think about verse 8 long enough, our brains explode. It appears to me what he is saying is these virtues, if we work on them and implement them, will give us an awareness of Christ’s presence and of his will. Maybe we can connect this thought to Paul’s words in Romans 12:1-2 — letting our mind be transformed, and through that process we can discern God’s will.

Perhaps those people who say they do not hear from the Lord or do not perceive his will are those who give no attention to these virtues, thus, as Peter says here, they are blind and cannot see.

Verse 10 brings a smile and a tear to my mind. In the first church I pastored there was a very kindly man who quoted this passage all the time — in almost every conversation — “make your calling and election sure,” he would say. This man was wise to emphasize these two paradoxical aspects of our life in Christ. On one hand, we are called and elected by him. On the other hand, we have a powerful obligation to tend to that election and to confirm by choosing to engage in the virtues with all diligence.

Questions For Application

  1. Privilege is a hot button issue right now. What privilege do you enjoy? Who else could you extend that privilege to as an act of inclusion?
  2. Agape love is something we hear a lot about at church, but how do you work on phileo love, which is sometimes understood as brotherly or familiar kind of love?
  3. Read over the virtues again. Which one do you really need to work on?
  4. Have you made your calling and election sure?

Advent 2020: 2 Thessalonians 3:6-18

During the season of Advent, I am translating from Greek to English the weekday epistle readings out of the Daily Lectionary of the Book of Common Prayer.

Saturday, 12 December 2020 2 Thessalonians 3:6-18

The Text

6. And we command you, brothers and sisters, in the name of the Lord Jesus Messiah, avoid any brother or sister walking without discipline and not in accordance with the traditions you received from us.

7. For you yourselves know how necessary it is to imitate us, because we were not undisciplined among you. 

8. We ate no one’s free bread. Instead, we worked in labor and toil night and day to not be a burden to you.

9. Not that we do not have the right, but we gifted you an example in how to imitate us. 

10. Indeed, when we were with you, we commanded this to you; if anyone doesn’t want to work, neither shall he eat.

11. We hear about some among you who walk around idly working at nothing and bothering those who are working. 

12. To those doing these things, we command and encourage in the Lord Jesus Messiah that they work quietly and eat their own bread.

13. Brothers and sisters, do not grow tired of doing what is right. 

14. If anyone does not obey our word in this letter, you must take note not to associate with him so that he may be ashamed.

15. You must not consider him an enemy but as a brother. 

16. Now may the Lord of peace give you his peace through all time and in all places. The Lord be with you.

17. This greeting is in my hand – Paul – it is the signature in every letter I write.

18. The grace of our Lord Jesus Messiah be with all of you.  


The Thessalonian correspondences end with a shocking turn. Way back in the beginning of 1 Thessalonians (1:3), Paul commended their hard work ethos. It was one of the attributes he was thankful for and that helped the Thessalonians become so famous. But now, things have changed. Reading the text it becomes clear that A) Some people are not working. Paul calls this ‘undisciplined’ behavior. B) These people are begging for food (and money) from others who are working. C) The people who are not working are disturbing the labor of others. D) This behavior is contrary to what Paul taught and demonstrated when he was with them and it has made him angry they are using his words to justify their laziness. To show this frustration, verse 8 has two words that both mean work and taken together kind of mean something like “we worked our tails off” I modern vernacular. I used ‘labor’ and ‘toil’, but you get the drift.

The question for Bible students is, “What happened at Thessalonica?” The answer seems to be theological in nature. It appears that people had come to the conclusion that since Jesus was returning very soon then there was no sense or need at all to work and prepare for the future. It is the, “If I knew I was going to die next month, I’m going to quit my job and spend as much money as fast as I can” kind of thing. This is the plot to more than one book or movie.

Paul calls them out on this and tells them, in no uncertain terms, to knock it off. One of my favorite lines in all the Bible is found in verse 10: “If anyone does not want to work, neither shall he eat.” Within the community of faith there is zero tolerance for freeloaders. This is a different from helping the poor or needy. We are not talking about that situation or benevolent needs. What we are talking about are brothers and sisters who can work, should work, but instead choose not to and rely instead on others hard work.

I see two very practical applications here. The first is the obvious economic incentive that teaches us labor and work is good. Work is not bad, and we were made for meaningful productivity. The second, though, is a little more nuanced to get at. Dare I even say, it takes a little work. Just as a person who is lazy and uses theology to justify it is wrong, so too is it an abrogation of our commitments to not take work and care for things because we think the end is near. I’d like to point out the general feeling among most Christians in the 1970s and 80s was that Jesus would soon return and therefore, things like saving money for the future, environmental care, and debt spending were ignored. What did it matter if Jesus was coming soon?

Well, Jesus didn’t come.

To be sure, he will someday, but the result was ill prepared people, a decimated environment, and debt as a way of life.

Oh, you want another example? How about this one: Since God will take care of me and protect me (a theological excuse) it doesn’t matte whether I wear a face covering to protect others from COVID-19. After all, I don’t have a spirit of fear (theological excuse). Meanwhile, people are dying and hospitals are full. You see the connection here? A person’s lazy theological excuse which justifies their inaction has caused a great deal of labor and strife (even death) for someone else. This is the opposite of loving your neighbor as yourself.

Questions For Application

  1. Can you think of someone who has used theological justifications to not do something difficult?
  2. Would you work if your livelihood (food on the table paying bills) didn’t depend on it? If yes, what kind of work would yo want to do?
  3. Paul writes, ‘Do not grow tired of doing what is right.’ This pandemic has worn me down and worn me out — I find myself weary. If you are like me, what we do to maintain our spiritual stamina?

Advent 2020: 2 Thessalonians 2:13-3:5

During the season of Advent, I am translating from Greek to English the weekday epistle readings out of the Daily Lectionary of the Book of Common Prayer.

Friday, 11 December 2020 2 Thessalonians 2:13-3:

The Text

13. We owe it to God to give thanks always for you beloved brothers and sisters in the Lord. God chose you as first fruits in salvation, sanctification of spirit, faith, and truth,

14. into which he called you by our gospel to acquire the glory of our Lord Jesus Messiah. 

15. So then, brothers and sisters, you must keep the traditions and stand firmly in what you were taught by us; whether by word or letter.

16. Now, may the Lord Jesus Messiah himself, and God our father, who loved us, give unending encouragement, hope, love, and grace. 

17. to encourage your hearts and to strengthen every good work and word.    

Chapter Three

1. Finally, brothers and sisters, pray for us that the word of the Lord might run and might be honored just as it has with you, 

2. and that we might be delivered from perverse and evil people. For not everyone is faithful. 

3. But the Lord is faithful. He strengthens and guards you from the evil one. 

4. And we are persuaded about you that what we command in the Lord you do, and you will do. 

5. May the Lord straighten out your heart in the love of God and patience of Messiah. 


It is a little unusual to have the chapters broken up in this way, and it is even more unusual in that it makes very little logical sense with the text. However, that is what the lectionary did, and that is what we have.

The end of Chapter two is a behavioral exhortation in light of their redemption. Since they have been saved from all the gloom and destruction mentioned earlier, they should have a corresponding faithfulness. This faithfulness is a call to keep the traditions. Paul doesn’t take the time to spell those out, but we can assume the Thessalonians disciples would have known exactly what he meant. Likely these traditions are the teachings of Christ, the practice of baptism, communion, and of interpreting the Hebrew Scriptures through the life, death, resurrection, and eventual return of Messiah Jesus.

I find the appeal to tradition appealing. This appeal is, I admit, biased with the weariness of a lifetime of being sold the latest innovation in church life. Innovation is not evil, but the addiction the American church has to innovation, faddism, and the ever growing desire to be in the cool crowd is tiresome. It is enough, I think, to hold to the tradition, the New Testament tradition.

I wrestled with the grammar of verse 16 for much longer than I should have. The “may” in the verse comes with the verb “encourage” and is difficult to place. The whole thing is made that much harder because Paul treats Jesus and God the Father as one rather than two. To make the English smooth I really wanted to render it, “The Lord Jesus Messiah and God our Father, may they encourage …” But I did not. I think it would be justified to keep the verb tense together, but it reads clunky.

Chapter three begins with a request for prayer. It is an interesting prayer in that it is for deliverance from people seeking to thwart the work. He adds, almost as a throw away, “for not everyone is faithful.” That is when I stand up, applaud and say, “Preach it, Paul. Preach!” It does not take much imagination to think of someone who has abandoned the work and is yet throwing darts at Paul and the ministry from a distance. Paul is asking the Thessalonians to pray for him to overcome this kind of adversary. I wonder if this is the Satan from 1 Thessalonians blocking him.

I don’t know that I do enough specific praying in my own life about people who stand in the way. I tend to pray specifically for people, but I rarely pray specifically that problem people would be removed as an obstacle. I probably should work on that more . . . although I may enjoy a list of people to pray against far more than I should. Lord, help me.

Questions For Application

  1. “To acquire the glory of Jesus” is a great mission statement. What would the glory of Jesus look like in your life?
  2. Paul prays for God to give them encouragement, hope, love, and grace. I honestly tell you right now encouragement is what I feel I need most. What do you feel you need most?
  3. Paul seems very preoccupied with heart and emotional issues. He asks for the Lord to straighten out their heart. What in your heart needs straightening out?

Advent 2020: 2 Thessalonians 2:1-12

During the season of Advent, I am translating from Greek to English the weekday epistle readings out of the Daily Lectionary of the Book of Common Prayer.

Thursday, 10 December 2020 2 Thessalonians 2:1-12

Chapter Two

1. Now, brothers and sisters, we ask you, as it pertains the coming of our Lord Jesus Messiah and our gathering together around him

2. to not be hastily agitated in your mind nor be disturbed in your spirit about the Day of the Lord, especially not by any word or letter passed off as if it were from us.

3. Let no one deceive you. In no way will it come except the apostasy comes first. Then the man of lawlessness, the very son of perdition, shall be revealed,

4. the adversary, the one exalting himself over everything called or worshipped as god, so much so as to sit himself in the Temple of God claiming that he is god.

5. Do you not remember I kept telling you these things while I was with you?

6. Now you know what is restraining the one to be revealed until his own time. 

7. For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work, until the only one restraining him is out of the way. 

8. When the lawless one is revealed, the Lord will kill him by the breath of his mouth and annihilate him in the manifestation of his coming. 

9. Him who is by his actions, power, and marvelous lies the coming of the Satan.

10. Every deception and wickedness of those being destroyed is for those who did not welcome the love and truth that would save them.

11. Because of this, God sends them an effective error so that they will believe a lie.

12. Such that everyone who doesn’t believe the truth and who takes pleasure in wickedness shall be judged.


Four things stand out in this tight section of amazing prophecy.

First, we are told to not be agitated by any kind of discussion regarding the end of all things. If only the people of God would listen to the Bible on this issue, for our history seems to be one of constant agitation about these things. Paul gives us the amazing stuff, but he couches it with the encouragement we need to just go on with our peaceful lives and not be bothered by it. These are things Jesus will take care of and he doesn’t need our help.

Second, the break in the levy is not the coming of the evil one, the antichrist, but instead it is the apostasy that seems to give him oxygen to operate. Not to be too wound up, but we live in a age of apostasy — ever increasing apostasy. People are walking away from the belief systems of the historic faith in favor of selfishness, sensuality, or down-right occultic practices. I am not saying the antichrist is imminent, but I am saying the cultural soup we live in is the perfect environment for one such as him to thrive.

Third, Jesus will kill this man of lawlessness, this son of perdition, the denizen of destruction. He will kill him with the breath of his mouth. That reminds me of Jesus saying, “I am” in John 18 and the guards falling down. It also reminds me of the image of Jesus with the word coming out of his mouth as a sword in Revelation 19. Jesus needs no army to accomplish is goals and to set things right.

Fourth, God is the one who will send a lie to the people who rejected him. I translate this as ‘effective error.’ The ESV talks about a ‘strong delusion.’ Either way, the Lord himself will bait the trap and then spring it. If you are concerned about this apparent duplicity in the Lord’s behavior, don’t be. This seems something closer akin in my mind to the decision the Lord made in Romans 1 where he let people who chased after idols and lies have their way and so he, ‘gave them up’ to their own desires. If people want to follow a lie, then he will let them follow it right one the cliff.

Questions For Application

  1. Are you agitated about world events? How can faith help you?
  2. Apostasy is all around us. Who do you know that has walked away from the faith? Assuming they are gone, what can you do to help others not make the same awful mistake?
  3. God’s word is a sword — cutting and piercing. How might this idea of Jesus cutting down the antichrist be about the proper application of the scriptures?
  4. How can you sharpen your skills to detective errors in the way people think and live, and also keep them from infecting your heart and mind?

Advent 2020: 2 Thessalonians 1:1-12

During the season of Advent, I am translating from Greek to English the weekday epistle readings out of the Daily Lectionary of the Book of Common Prayer.

Wednesday, 9 December 2020 2 Thessalonians 1:1-12

The Text

2 Thessalonians

Chapter One

1. Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy: to the Thessalonian church in our Father God and Lord Jesus Messiah. 

2. Grace and peace to you from God our father and the Lord Jesus Messiah.

3. We owe it to God to give thanks for you, brothers and sisters, which is proper, because your faith thrives and the love you have for each other always increases. 

4. We ourselves brag to the churches of God about your patience and faith in all the persecutions and afflictions you endure,

5. evidence of the righteous judgment of God to consider you worthy to suffer for the Kingdom of God.

6. Since it is righteous to God to repay with afflictions those afflicting you,

7. and to relieve your affliction along with ours at the revelation of the Lord Jesus from heaven with his powerful angels 

8. coming in fiery flames punishing those who have not known God and those not obeying the gospel of our Lord Jesus. 

9. Whoever these people are being punished, they will pay with eternal doom from the face of the Lord – from the glory of his strength.

10. When he shall come, he will be glorified among his saints and marveled at by all those believing, because our testimony about you was believed on that day. 

11. Our prayer always for you is that you might be worthy of the calling of our God and desire goodness and faithful work in power. 

12. So that the name of our Lord Jesus might be glorified among you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and Lord Jesus Messiah. 


The same three who were behind the first letter have written this second one. After spending a couple of verses (3-4) rehashing how great a church they are and how all the churches know about them, Paul moves on to the subject at hand: Judgment.

Jesus is coming to settle the score, to ‘afflict those afflicting you.’ This sentiment is not something we generally associate with Christian motivation, but revenge is certainly involved. It should call to mind the wonderful verse we often quote, “vengeance is mine, says the Lord” from its original context in Torah, Deuteronomy 32:35 and repeated by Paul himself in Romans 12, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay.” Paul is spelling it out here–this is exactly how he will repay. When Jesus returns he is going to do some serious smoking of those who have harassed, harmed, and hurt his people, his church. Vengeance is not bad, what is bad is when we seek revenge because we can’t do it without the problem of our own sin and guilt. The Lord however has no such hindrance and he is able to dish it out. This is a part of eternal justice.

The scene is like something from a science fiction movie. Jesus returns from heaven surround by the host of angels. Try as I might, my imagination cannot grab what that would look like. I feel it in my heart, but I can’t creatively work it out. But the scene is accompanied with fire.

Out of this free comes punishment. The punishment is for two distinct kinds of people. First, those who do not know God. This term feels nebulous to me and woefully unspecific. I would prefer here if Paul, Silvanus, or Timothy would have spelled it out that it is those who do not know Jesus as Lord. God is a looser term and may mean something less than the specificity we often give. The second kind of people he is after are those who do not obey the gospel of Jesus. This is more specific, but not enough to provide comfort. The gospel of Jesus, the good news of Jesus, in this context might mean the good news Jesus preached about repentance, kindness, and love. As a Baptist, I would really like for this to be about believing in the gospel, but it is not. It is about obedience. That means, as uncomfortable as I may be, some who do not know or believe could be obedient to the essence of the gospel while those of us who do believe, and know, may yet still be found disobedient.

I am no universalist, but in the depth of my soul I am certain we will all be surprised by who the Lord accepts and whom he rejects at his great day. That Paul feels this urgency is apparent in verse 11 — “our prayer is that you might be worth” — Yeah, when the stuff comes down, Paul is praying that the church might not be the ones receiving this judgment. Let that sink in a moment.

The punishment is a separation from the face of the Lord, from his presence into ‘eternal doom.’ A question we have to ask is this: is the doom one that lastings for eternity, or is the doom such that it has eternal consequences.

You’re on your own as you grapple with that.

Questions For Application

  1. Verse three indicates Thanksgiving is owed to God, like a payment, or honor, or worship. What thanks do you owe to God?
  2. Who is afflicting you, and do you want them punished by God? Now turn that around — are you afflicting someone else, and how exactly does God feel about that?
  3. Can you imagine the scene of Jesus’ return?
  4. I was once scolded by a parishioner for preaching about ‘doom’ — I was told that message was positive enough. Do you agree with that parishioner, that doom(ed) topics should be avoided or do you think folks should know all the possibilities?

2020 Advent: 1 Thessalonians 5:12-28

During the season of Advent, I am translating from Greek to English the weekday epistle readings out of the Daily Lectionary of the Book of Common Prayer.

Tuesday, 8 December 2020 1 Thessalonians 5:12-28

The Text

12. We ask you, brothers and sisters, to appreciate those working among you, leading you, and advising you in the Lord.

13. Have immense regard for them in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves.

14. Brothers and sisters, we encourage you that you must warn the undisciplined, cheer up the sad, hold onto the weak, and be patient with all. 

15. You must see to it that you do not return evil for evil, but always pursue good for one another and for everyone. 

16. You must always rejoice.

17. You must constantly pray.

18. You must give thanks in all things. This is the will of God in Messiah Jesus for you. 

19. You must not quench the Spirit. 

20. You must not despise prophecy.

21. You must test all things. You must hold fast to the good. 

22. You must avoid every form of evil.

23. May the God of peace himself make you holy through and through – in spirit, soul, and body – that you may be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Messiah Jesus. 

24. The one who called you is faithful to do it.

25. Brothers and sisters, you must pray for us.

26. You must greet all the brothers and sisters with a holy kiss.

27. I solemnly charge you in the Lord to read this letter to all the brothers and sisters.

28. The grace of our Lord Jesus Messiah be with you. 


Appreciation for Christian leadership is absent in our culture. I continually speak to ministers and one after the other share with me how miserable their life is. I am in a great situation, but I am worried about my brothers and sisters in other environments.

The sad thing is, this was avoidable. For the last generation preachers and church pontificators have turned worship and church into a spectator sport geared toward gaining the largest possible marketshare regardless of the consequences. The result is a fanbase and not a fellowship. This is at best a fickle faith that says when the pastor no longer says everything I agree with or who tells me something that challenges me, well, fine I’ll go somewhere else where they will tell me what I want to hear.

Church is not a consumer good, and communities are not interchangeable. Treating it as such demonstrates infantile behavior.

Itching ears always want to be scratched. By contrast to this itching playing to the crowd, verse 14 teaches something which would make a great four point sermon. First, warn the undisciplined. Given the earlier verses, we can assume this is a warning against their lifestyle of selfishness that has them teetering on the edge of destruction. Second, cheer up the sad. The sad are those who are suffering loss. This is about grief ministry revolving through our hope of eternal life. Third, hold onto the weak. These are no doubt weaker brothers and sisters in Christ whom we must hold close to and drag them along the walk of faith. Fourth, be patient with all. This probably is a reflection on the tension he felt earlier in the letter about whether or not they had walked away from the faith. Patience is an important part of any relationship.

Most of the verbs in this section are imperatives, like verse 13 where the teaching to be at peace is not a suggestion but an imperative, literally “you must be at peace”. But beginning with verse 16 there is a series of eight imperatives with two more in verses 25 and 26 that ratchet up the intensity. Most English renderings drop the imperative feel with things like “pray continually” “Do not quench” or “greet”. However, I feel like as Paul is winding this down he wants that urgent feel of command. This is not optional. In light of issues like life, death, defection, and the return of Messiah these are vital nonnegotiables. We must do these things.

Questions For Application

  1. What have you done to demonstrate appreciation for your spiritual leadership?
  2. Which comes most natural to you — warning others, cheering others, holding others, or being patient with others?
  3. Which is hardest for you — warning others, cheering others, holding others, or being patient with others.
  4. Among those ten imperatives, which one do you need to focus on most right now?
  5. Is there another ‘must’ you feel is missing from your life that is not on this list?

Advent 2020: 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11

During the season of Advent, I am translating from Greek to English the weekday epistle readings out of the Daily Lectionary of the Book of Common Prayer.

Monday, 7 December 2020 1 Thessalonians 5:1-12

The Text

Chapter Five

1. But brothers and sisters, you do not have a need for me to write about the times and moments. 

2. For you yourselves know full well the Day of the Lord comes as a thief in the night.

3. Right when they shall say, “Peace” and “Security”, suddenly destruction then will come upon them just like birth pangs come. They shall not escape it.

4. But you are not in the dark brothers and sisters, therefore that day will not seize you like a thief.

5. For you are all children of light and children of day. We are not of the night and darkness. 

6. Consequently, we should not sleep as everyone else, but we must be watchful and sober.

7. For those who sleep, sleep at night; those who get drunk, get drunk at night.

8. But we, being creatures of the day are putting on the breastplate of faith and love and the helmet of hope for salvation. 

9. God did not put us here for wrath, but to acquire salvation through our Lord Messiah Jesus,

10. the one who died for us, so that together we might live with him whether we are awake or asleep. 

11. Therefore, continue as you are doing, encouraging one another and edifying one by one. 


The twist in verse three should get our attention. The text reminds us that when people thing all will be well, when people are saying “we have achieved peace” and “we are all secure” that is when the Lord will come. It reminds us what every good storyteller knows: right when things are going too good to be true, that is when the bottom falls out. I am fascinated by the echo of Babel (Genesis 11) here. It might be a reach, but it was right at the height of human achievement when human beings thought they had achieved peace, unification, and power that the Lord came and confounded everything.

The two images of what the day is like are also gripping. One is birth pangs. Birth pangs are severe, and when things go well, it ends in something wonderful: new life. But, the pangs themselves start relatively mild (ADMISSION HERE–AS A MAN I DON’T NOW THIS FIRST HAND, BUT I HAVE OBSERVED IT FROM VERY CLOSE QUARTERS) but then the intensity increases with each successive wave. We can expect some sense in which the end will be like that — pangs, waves of problems that ebb and flow, but each wave is successfully worse.

This gradual onset of increasing pangs seems at odds with the other visual put forth by Paul — the thief in the night. There is no preparation, no warning, and usually no awareness of the event until after the fact. How do we square these two? One solution is to think not of the entire birth pangs, but of the sudden onset of them. A woman may know her time is near, but the uncertainty of the exact moment (unless induced) still lingers over her and her family. Another solution is perhaps to view it like a thief coming in the night at the start — but then the pangs come in successive waves until it is over.

Either way, it doesn’t seem very pleasant.

For verse 8, consider the longer treatment of this theme in Ephesians 6:10ff. The exhortation here to be awake and be sober is not about abstaining from drinking, unless one is prepared to argue we should abstain from sleep as well. These are examples of when we are not alert. Spiritually, we must not fall asleep on our obligations and our community, and we must not become intoxicated with either the world or ourselves. These will cause us to not be ready when the the first contraction hits.

Questions For Application

  1. If you were awaken in the middle of the night to the presence of a prowler, what would your first thought be? Now, apply that to the coming of Jesus?
  2. When the birth pangs come, what is the greatest fear a woman has? Now, apply that to the coming of Jesus.
  3. How exactly are you watching? What proactive steps are you taking?

Advent 2020: 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18

During the season of Advent, I am translating from Greek to English the weekday epistle readings out of the Daily Lectionary of the Book of Common Prayer.

Saturday, 5 December 2020 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18

The Text

13. Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to not know about the ones who have fallen asleep, that you might not grieve as everyone else who has no hope. 

14. For we believe that Jesus died and rose, that God, through Jesus, will then lead out with him those who sleep.

15. We say this to you as a word from the Lord, those of us left living at the coming of the Lord will not arrive before those who are sleeping.

16. The Lord himself will command the archangel sound the trumpet of God, then he will come from heaven. The dead in Messiah will rise first.

17. Then, those of us remaining alive will be seized and carried off together with them in the clouds, meeting up with the Lord in the air, and we will be with him always.

18. You must comfort one another with these words. 


Saturday’s reading is not long, but boy does it pack a powerful punch.

I usually read these verses at gravesides for funerals. They don’t have the same ring in the chapel or the worship center as they do right beside the grave. For our faith teaches us that the dearly beloved we are laying to rest, if they have faith, will come up out of this very grave and meet Jesus in the air before those living do.

Verse 14 is an interesting grammatical pretzel for me. In the GNT there is an “if” in the text that should read something like “If we believe that Jesus died and rose” but then the “if” doesn’t fit the rest of the sentence unless something is supplied — like “If we believe that Jesus died and rose, then when we are asleep God will lead us out (of the grave) through Jesus.” That kind of construction is the only way I know to make the ‘if’ feature work, but I want you to know there is an ‘if’ there. Paul means this kind of redemption over death is contingent upon our personal beliefs. What we believe matters. If.

This is the essence of the comfort, and it is only for us if we believe and if the dead believed. We need to be careful to not preach or talk as if dead people who didn’t believe have this same assurance. They do not.

Paul seems to see an order that goes like this: The Lord commands the archangel to play the trumpet, Jesus comes from heaven, then the dead rise up. After that, and lastly, the believing community alive are caught up with Jesus in the air as he is en route to the earth to bring all things to an end.

Death is a fascinating subject, but I have always interpreted these lines to mean that for me, as a believer, when I die, the next moment after my death is the coming up into heaven with Jesus in the clouds rather than entry straight away into heaven.

That’s my take, anyway.

Questions For Application

  1. Believers are not devoid of grief, but our grief is different. How so?
  2. Do you believe Jesus died and rose again and is coming again? (I do)
  3. Which do you believe — that we who believe go straight to heaven when we die or that we awake in the clouds as Jesus is coming back? Why?
  4. These are advent verses precisely because Jesus came the first time and promised to come again. How can you incorporate the promises of a second advent into your celebration of the first?

Advent 2020: 1 Thessalonians 4:1-12

During the season of Advent, I am translating from Greek to English the weekday epistle readings out of the Daily Lectionary of the Book of Common Prayer.

Friday, 4 December 2020 1 Thessalonians 4:1-12

The Text

Chapter Four

1. Therefore, brothers and sisters, finally, we ask and encourage you in the Lord that it is necessary for you to walk just as you received from us, and that you walk to please God more and more. 

2. For you know what instructions we gave you through the Lord Jesus.

3. For this is the sanctifying will of God, that you abstain from fornication. 

4. Each of you know how to control his own vessel in holiness and honor,

5. not in passionate desire as the Gentiles, who have not known God.

6. Not to transgress in the affairs of or defraud a brother or sister, for the Lord is a punisher of those who do these things. Just as we forewarned and solemnly swore to you. 

7. For God called you not to impurity but holiness. 

8. Consequently, the one who disregards this does not disregard man, but God, the one who gave his Holy Spirit to us. 

9. But about love for brothers and sisters, you have no need to write about. You are taught by God to love one another. 

10. For you do – all the brothers and sisters in the whole region of Macedonia – and we encourage you, brothers and sisters, to do so more and more. 

11. Make it a core value to be tranquil, to mind your own business, and work with your hands just as we commanded you

12. so as to walk properly with those on the outside and that you might not have any need.


The verb in verse 1 is “walk”, and I have translated it that way but that is a metaphor. It would be just as appropriate to translate it ‘live’ for that is what it means. I like, though, the idea of my life is as walk. That is religious jargon, I admit, but it is meaningful jargon for this GenXer who views life as a journey — a walk along a path that leads me closer to the Lord. If I choose improperly, I can walk away from him and travel the wrong path. Paul encourages to walk along the proper way.

“Vessel” is a provocative word in verse 4. The word could be translated ‘pot’ as in a clay pot. Some may render it as body, which is fine but I decided to leave the double-entendre, because Paul may well be referring to the sex organ itself. Controlling that bit of our life — our passionate urges — is clearly what he has in mind. It gets more pointed when he tells us we must be careful to not ‘defraud’ a brother or sister. This could literally be a command to not sexually abuse or sexually harass someone else. Purity and holiness is as much about how we view and treat the bodies of others as how we treat our own. There is surely a powerful lesson here about objectification culture, as well as a solidarity emotive with the #metoo movement. Violating others is never okay, and it is a sin against God, and he is a punisher of those who engage in it.

The transition from verse 8 to 9 is stark. Sexual abuse and self gratification is the farthest thing from real love that can be imagined. One is about self while the other is about others.

Before this section concludes, The Apostle reminds us again about the importance of hard work. By working hard, earning an honest living, we pave the way for us to live in tranquility, minding our own business. How much better would the world be if we all made our goal to be quiet and mind our own business? Infinitely better.

Questions For Application

  1. What instructions has Jesus given (v. 2) us?
  2. Sanctification is not a popular topic these days. What is it, and more specifically, how do you make certain you are engaged in it?
  3. We are not called to impurity. It is easy to name sins of intimacy here, but there is more to purity than fornication. What impurities have you tolerated?
  4. Would you describe your life as tranquil?

Advent 2020: 1 Thessalonians 3:1-13

During the season of Advent, I am translating from Greek to English the weekday epistle readings out of the Daily Lectionary of the Book of Common Prayer.

Thursday, 3 December 2020 1 Thessalonians 3:1-13

The Text

Chapter Three

1. Therefore, enduring it no longer, we determined to be left behind alone in Athens. 

2. We sent Timothy, our brother and coworker in God—in the gospel of Christ—to strengthen you and to encourage your faith 

3. so that no one be disturbed in all these troubles. You know yourselves that we are destined for this. 

4.  When we were with you, we told you beforehand we were about to be persecuted, which as you know is what happened.

5. Because of this, when I could no longer stand it, I sent to know your faith, whether the tempter had tempted you or not, and whether our labor became in vain.

6. Now that Timothy has come to us from you, and brought good news about your faith and love, and that you have remembered us well, always longing to see us just as we do you. 

7. We are encouraged by this, brothers and sisters, by all your faith in our distress and persecution.

8. Because you stand firm in the Lord, now we live.

9. How are we able to return thanks, a thanksgiving to God for you, for all the joy and rejoicing for you before God? 

10. Begging, pleading night and day to see your face, to complete what is lacking in your faith. 

11. May Father God himself and our Lord Jesus straighten out our road to you. 

12. And may the Lord increase your love and make it sufficient for one another and to all, just as he has for us to you 

13. to strengthen your blameless hearts in holiness before God our Father in the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints. [Amen.]


As is my custom, let’s first speak about the textual variant in verse 13. The concluding ‘Amen’ is hard to cipher. Metzger summarizes it nicely by indicating it is difficult to know whether it was dropped by copyists who didn’t think it fit or was it added as a liturgical response to the soaring language of verse 13? I have taken the GNT’s lead and included it in brackets, however, to me it seems inauthentic. The text reads better without it.

What grips me most about the opening verses is Paul’s fear. He is terrified someone has soiled the Thessalonians discipleship while he was away. He refers to a ‘tempter’ who, probably is Satan from chapter 2, the same Satan that blocked him, but I do not dismiss the possibility Paul has some human being in mind who is working on the Thessalonians and trying to lead them away with a watered down false gospel. I don’t know who that person might have been, but let’s call him Joel Osteenus bar Orellus Robertus.

Whoever it was tempting them, Paul was worried all the time and effort he had spent would be wasted if they turned from the true faith. Is it wrong if I confess to you I am comforted by this? Why does it comfort me? Because I often fear those I have led, taught, and instructed in the faith will fall away (indeed, some have). That Paul had a similar fear makes me feel better about my own failings.

Verse 10 gets to the issue: Paul had some things he still needed to teach them. He refers here to what is lacking. I use the rendering “complete” as in complete a course where the ESV and NIV uses the word “supply” as in a good to be delivered. The thing is, I have been at this Jesus-following thing for decades and I still don’t feel complete.

Paul finishes the chapter with two requests. He asks God to straighten out the road that leads back to Thessalonica because he wants to visit, and he asks God to increase the love they have for everyone. The road business is self evident, but the idea of God making us love better is fascinating because Paul qualifies the object — Love for each other and love for everyone. So there you have it in black and white, the idea we should increasingly love one another and the whole world; everyone! However much you love right now, it can always be more and it can always do more (sufficiency). In Romans Paul says it like this, “Owe no one anything, except to love each other” (Romans 13:8). You never pay off love, it is always a debt because God holds the mortgage.

Questions For Application

  1. If a tempter was seeking to derail your faith, how would he or she come at you? How would you deflect it?
  2. Paul longed to see the Thessalonians. Who do you long to see?
  3. Do you feel like there is anything lacking in your faith? What is it, and how will you complete it?
  4. Paul prayed for a straight path to Thessalonica. What do you pray for the Lord to straighten out?
  5. Paul prayed for the Thessalonians to have sufficient love — is there any way in which your love is deficient?


Advent 2020: 1 Thessalonians 2:13-20

During the season of Advent, I am translating from Greek to English the weekday epistle readings out of the Daily Lectionary of the Book of Common Prayer.

Wednesday, 2 December 2020 1 Thessalonians 2:13-20

The Text

13. And for this we ourselves give thanks continually to God, that you welcomed what you heard from us not as human words, but as it truly is – the word of God – that is active among you who are believing. 

14. Brothers and sisters, you became mimics of the churches in Messiah Jesus in Judea, because of the things you suffered from your people, just as they did from the Jews.

15. And these people, the ones who killed the Lord Jesus and the prophets and drove us out, are not trying to please God. They are against humanity. 

16. They hindered us from speaking to the Gentiles so that they might be saved. The fullness of their sins always comes, which will be wrath to them at the end. 

17. But we were orphaned from you, our brothers and sisters, for a little while, physically but not emotionally. We eagerly desired to see your face more than ever.

18. We wanted to come to you, I, Paul, tried one and twice, but was blocked by Satan. 

19. For what is our hope, joy, or crown of boasting if not you, and you before our Lord Jesus at his coming? 

20. You are our glory and joy. 


The theme of mimicry emerges again, a holdover from 1:6. The difference is who is imitating whom. The church in Thessalonica is imitating, not by choice or pleasure but by necessity, the mother church in Jerusalem. Just as that church was persecuted by Jews, by their very people, so too the Thessalonians were persecuted by their own people. I wonder if this stung Paul to write, because he was the Jew of Jews who took such zeal in persecuting the primitive church? Was there a similar Paul-figure who ferociously persecuted the Thessalonians but then, saw the light, and turned, and became a Christ-follower? That would be some serious mimicry.

Paul describes these persecutors as being against humanity. The text is literally “all people” or “all human beings” with the word ‘anthropos’. I almost translated it as “against everyone” but decided humanity had a nice ring to it, for they are not just opposite of an idea, they are against human beings.

Paul wants to visit them, but Satan has blocked him. Satan has blocked Paul. That sounds incredibly personal. There is a school of thought out there that teaches evil is not a personification, that it is a great power but it is impersonal, like gravity or friction. But Paul did not see the universe that way. He understood there was an adversary who had lined up against him to stop him from doing certain things. I agree with Paul. I know there is an enemy out there and he is in stark opposition to me.

Questions For Application

  1. Is the word of God active in your life? Serious — does it have verbal powers to move and to change you, or is it just a noun that lies there?
  2. If you could imitate any church you’ve ever seen, which one would it be? Why? Now that you’ve done that exercise, how much persecution and pain has that church gone through? Are you wiling to go through that, to suffer, and to sacrifice?
  3. Is Satan blocking you right now? What are you going to do about it? (Note: Paul wrote this letter as a solution)
  4. Who is your glory and joy?

A Book Review — A Book To Make You Smarter

Some books you read for the joy of it.

Some books you read because you want to learn something.

Sometimes, a both does both. That is the case with Christopher Manske’s excellent new book, The Prepared Investor. It was an unexpected pleasure.

I was eager to read The Prepared Investor because I wanted to learn. Markets, investing, and financial planning are all things that I, as a middle-aged person, need to start thinking about a little more seriously. It started as a learning project. As I read, it turned into a joyful experience. The Prepared Investor is a guide to financial planning and investing, but it is really about human nature and history.

Manske indicates in the book it took him a decade to write it, and the research and skill at storytelling show he did his homework. He is as comfortable telling about Napoleon’s escape from Elba as he is referring to tables and charts of marketplace indices. But more than this, he shows how things such as leadership (Napoleon), terrorism, or social unrest play a very important role in financial stewardship. Take for example this excellent observation from 1970.

While it is easy to find articles about the Kent State shooting itself, its much more difficult to find the Wall Street Journal’s description of the stock market published the day after the tragedy: ‘Stock prices took their steepest dive since President Kennedy’s assassination.’

P. 160

The Prepared Investor is filled with this kind of cause-effect analysis. Without giving too much away, the point of the Kent State example is observing how markets react to unfamiliar actions of a dramatic nature. The lesson to be learned is an investor, regardless of ideology or politics, should recognize the responses people and markets make to various stimuli and then, knowing what history says will happen next, make appropriate investments to capitalize on it.

Manske is talking about wealth. I read the book, however, and thought about spirituality and maturity. We live in very unsettling times where something dramatic happens almost daily, and everyone knows about it instantly. Recognizing their patterns of behavior can help me identify how these variations impact my daily life and work. People respond spiritually much the same way they respond financially — when uncertainty comes, they withdraw to ‘bunkers’ of safety. Manske spends a lot of time on analyzing 9-11. I remember those days well. I never saw as many people in church as I did the month after 9-11. But, when the crisis abates, people return to their normal patterns. Within two months of 9-11, church attendance declined to below numbers of what it had been before the crisis. We held several special prayer services right after 9-11 and the church building was filled with people, elbow to elbow. A year later, we held a special one year anniversary service and only about fifteen people showed up. People return to normal, and sometimes it is a new normal, and that normal comes much quicker than most people anticipate.

It is human nature at work, and that is the background for Manske’s work.

There are three features of the book that were helpful.

  1. The outline is easy to follow, and he uses “Action Steps” as a checklist for those wishing to implement what is being learned.
  2. Charts and graphs. Then more charts and graphs. And now some charts and graphs about the charts and graphs. The Prepared Investor is loaded with this kind of data, and if you like that, there is plenty to enjoy.
  3. My favorite part was the long chapter near the end as a timeline of Manske’s own notations in real time about the spread of COVID-19. As a reader, I would be interested to see his contemporary notes right now as we spike. If for nothing else, this part of the book documents in historical fashion what has already happened, because people forget and they bend their memories toward ideologies and preconceived notions rather than reality.

The Prepared Investor is a quick read coming in at 209 pages. I read it in one week, and a big part of my leisure time during that week was making pies and chicken and dressing.

Who would like this book? People who love history will want this book, so too would someone who has a little bit of savings and is wanting to invest it well, People who are interested in human behavior will like it as well. Manske is well read and references everyone from Yuval Noah Harari to Henry Kissinger to Quentin Tarantino.

Who should read this book: I think every graduate of high school and certainly college would benefit. It would make a great Christmas present or graduation gift. In fact, it probably should be on your list of books to read this year simply because the knowledge, though fine tuned to finance, is really universal in nature. This book will make you smarter and wiser.


Advent 2020: 1 Thessalonians 2:1-12

During the season of Advent, I am translating from Greek to English the weekday epistle readings out of the Daily Lectionary of the Book of Common Prayer.

Tuesday, 1 December 2020 1 Thessalonians 2:1-12

Chapter Two

1. For you know yourselves, brothers and sisters, that our introduction to you was not in vain. 

2. And, as you know, we had the courage to speak of our God to you, the gospel of God in great opposition, after having suffered and been insulted beforehand in Philippi.

3. Our appeal to you was not from error, duplicity, or subterfuge. 

4. But, just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so also we do not speak so as to please people but God, who is the one proving our hearts.

5. Just as you know, we came neither with flattering words nor with a pretext for greediness. God testifies to it. 

6. Nor glory seeking from people, not from you or from anyone,

7. although we had the power of authority as Christ’s apostles. Instead, we became as infants in your midst, like a nursing mother cherishes her own children. 

8. So, longing in this way for you, we determined to share not only the gospel of God with you, but our very souls. That is why you have become beloved. 

9. You should remember, brothers and sisters, our labor and effort, working night and day so as to not be a burden to anyone as we preached the gospel of God to you. 

10. You and God are witnesses to how devoutly, righteously, and blamelessly we behaved to those of you who are believers.

11. Indeed, you know, like a father to his own children were each one of you, 

12. Urging you, consoling you, affirming you to walk worthy of your God, who is calling you into his own kingdom and glory.


First, a textual note. For reasons I can’t understand, English renderings tend to put the opening phrase of verse 7 with verse 6, where it would read “Nor seeking glory from people, not from you or from anyone, although we had the power of authority as Christ’s apostles” as all verse 6. All my editions of the Greek New Testament list that phrase about authority being the first part of verse 7. It doesn’t change the meaning, but keeping it in the structure of the GNT allows for that great imagery of authority and power contrasted with being an infant.

Paul claims the gospel came from them not with error, duplicity, or subterfuge in verse 3. If we examine those we get three important claims for ministry. Paul says he was not in error. What he means is not that he doesn’t make errors, but the gospel he preached is not a mistaken one. Often it was claimed of Paul that he was preaching the wrong gospel or an altered version of it. Here he affirms he was not mistake about Christ, salvation, or the way of discipleship. he also claims that he did not have mixed motives. This is important, because a person could preach the right (no errors) but have duplicity. My reading of many churches, ministries, and pastors informs me some of them have sound doctrine but their motives are mixed in that they say it is all for the Lord but in reality they are promoting themselves. Subterfuge is a different kind of impurity Paul says is absent from his preaching. He never tried to trick the people. He was open, honest, and transparent. Any church or ministry that fudges numbers, lies about attendance, or plays politics to curry favor with a certain demographic is engaged in subterfuge.

I am fascinated by the use of infants as a metaphor. If you read it closely, he is not saying the Thessalonians became infants as he was the father. He is saying the opposite, he was like an infant, weak and lowly to them, rather than bossy and pushy. He waited for them to take the lead. I don’t know about you, but it is hard to do this. It is hard to wait, slow down, and allow others to lead. It must have been really hard for Paul. But that is what he did. No wonder he was able to write elsewhere, “I am crucified with Christ.” Crucifying our desires to control, frame, guide, and dominate is vital to spiritual leadership. And here, I would like to note, this is the opposite of what they teach in seminary and what the world defines as ‘real’ leadership. Paul says real leadership is celebrating how others grow into their role rather than grabbing all the headlines and sucking all the oxygen out of the room. I confess, I am a work-in-progress on this one.

There is a joke buried in verse 10. Paul outlines how devout, righteous, and blameless they were toward ‘those who are believers.’ Does this mean he was ungodly, wicked, and guilty to those who were not believers? I doubt it, but Paul’s choice of language is fascinating.

Questions For Application

  1. Paul says he was insulted in Philippi, but that didn’t stop him in Thessalonica. What insults and crude attacks have you worked through? How did it make you stronger?
  2. Paul lays it all out there that he wasn’t in it for the applause, the payday, or the recognition. What was his goal, and, more pointedly, what is your goal in the Christian life? At work? At home?
  3. Who do you share your very soul with? Why? Can a body of believers be called a church if the souls are not shared? Can a pastor or leader lead a church where the souls are not connected?
  4. What does a walk worthy of God look like in 2020 and in your world?

Advent 2020: 1 Thessalonians 1:1-10

During the season of Advent I am translating the weekday epistle readings from the Daily Lectionary of the Book of Common Prayer.

Monday, 30 November 2020 1 Thessalonians 1

Chapter One

1. Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy to the Thessalonian church: Grace and peace to you in Father God and Lord Jesus Messiah.

2. We always give thanks to God for the memory of you, continually making our prayers for you. 

3. Remembering before our God and Father your faithful work, the labor of love, and hopeful patience in our Lord Messiah Jesus.

4. Knowing he chose you, our brothers and sisters who have been loved by God.

5. Because our gospel came not to you only with words, but with great conviction, in power and the Holy Spirit. You know so much of what happened to us while among you, all on account of you. 

6. You became imitators of us and the Lord, welcoming the word with the joy of the Holy Spirit in the midst of great distress.

7. So that you might become an example to all those believing in Macedonia and Achaia. 

8. For the word of the Lord has resounded from you, not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but in every place where your faith in God has gone. There is no need to have you speak anything. 

9. For they tell about you, about what kind of welcome we had from you, and how you converted from idols to serve the living and true God.

10. And to wait for his son out of the heavens, the one whom he raised from the dead, Jesus, the one who will rescue us from the coming wrath. 


Whatever else the Thessalonians may have gotten wrong, they clearly impressed not only Paul and his traveling companions but also the other churches with their readiness and eagerness. It is locked up in the idea of welcome. For Paul this has a powerful meaning, as any student of the letter to the Romans can attest to. It is not merely perfunctory. It is a spiritual reality.

Verses 2 and 3 focus on remembering. In verse 2 it is a noun — “our memory” of you. Paul remembers them, and what they mean to him, and this focuses his prayers. Then in verse 3 he uses memory again — this time a participial verb where Paul remembers what they had done when he prays to the Lord. He remembers to pray for them.

Look carefully at the list of three things in verse 3: faithful work, labor of love, and hopeful patience. We can see our old friend the triad of faith, hope, and love, albeit it slightly dressed up and modified. Faith is about the work–commitment. Love is now also about the work, the reason we work is not the work itself or ego driven success but our love for others. Hope is what keeps us at it without giving way to our lesser nature. The idea of work weaves itself throughout both First and Second Thessalonians. Here it is a commendation. By the time Second Thessalonians closes, it is a rebuke, as if these once hard working people had lost their way with poor theology.

The most powerful idea here is that of conversion in verse 9. Converting from idols to the One True God and with that conversion begins the waiting game: waiting for Jesus to rescue from wrath.

The coming of Jesus is the theme looming over the entire epistle but he dallies around before he gets to it. I think there is a reason for this. It presents a certain clunkiness to the text; like someone beating around the bush before he gets to the point, which doesn’t emerge again in fullness until chapter four. I have some ideas about that but I will save them for later.

Questions For Application

  1. When was the last time you welcomed someone into your life? Home? Church?
  2. Who do you imitate? Why?
  3. The Thessalonian disciples threw down idols to follow Jesus. What are you still clutching ahold of that keeps you from following Jesus fully?
  4. Who should be locked away in your memories to pray for, but you have forgotten?


If I Close My Eyes I Can See The Sunset

This is the perfect story to finish the free Thanksgiving stories from the Fondue Writers Club.

Paul Bennett’s use of visual imagery creates a world where my sensory perception runs wild. I can smell — seriously — I can smell the garage, the hospital floor, the room, and the pie. I can feel the cold stethoscope, the crisp sheets, the steering wheel, the computer. I can hear the beeps from the machines, the car engine, and the voice of the nurse. I can see the headlights in the darkness, the computer screen, and the sunset’s brilliance. I can taste regret.

Click on the slice of pumpkin pie to read ‘The Years the Locust Ate’ and remember we’ll be back soon with free Christmas Stories to keep you entertained as we all continue to persevere in the midst of this horrible health crisis. Stay safe, be well, check on your neighbors, and remember to love each other.

Can you smell the cloves, ginger, and cinnamon in this pie? I can.


I Feel Like the Green Beans In This Story Are A Personal Attack On Me?

Joe Shaw is one of the nicest people you could ever meet. But beneath that happiness and sunshine is a creepy man who writes creepy stores. That is a part of his brilliance. He knows how to take a story dark, and then, well . . . you’ll have to read for yourself.

This is a shocking story with strong imagery, but it is worth the read. You’ll like it. This is the next to the last Free Thanksgiving Story from the Fondue Writers Club. Click on the can of green beans to read Joe’s story, “Thanksgiving With The Family”


Practice Makes Perfect?

Joe Courtemanche is scraping the bottom for a pilgrim story.

You might get that joke when you read the story. Or maybe not.

Two warnings: First, this story is not for people easily offended or with gentle dispositions. My friend Sheila should not read this story. Second, do not be afraid when you click on the link and see the frightening picture of the Bible with a pistol on top of it. That’s just Joe being Joe. He is a delightful and good person who loves the Lord very much and cares deeply about people.

With that, click on the glass of Apple Cider to read Thanksgiving Trauma: A Pilgrim Story.

This may or may not have been what the pilgrims drank?


A Walk To Really Remember . . . Or Forget

Wait for the ending.

That is a must.

Today’s Free Thanksgiving Story comes to us from Derek Elkins. As I read it, I kept thinking the protagonist should own a chain of hotels called The Big Elk Inns. You may get that joke after you read it, or you might not.

Click on the Elk’s horn to read Derek’s great story, “A Thanksgiving To Remember” with the surprise whodunit ending.

Just Click on the Horn. If you Click the nose, you’ll end up as one of Kexel’s spies in Monday’s story