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President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania hosted their first state visit by welcoming President Emmanuel Macron and his wife Brigitte to the White House.

The Macrons arrived on Monday, April 23 and left on Wednesday, April 25.

Emmanuel Macron is the Western leader who likes President Trump the most. The US president also wanted to reciprocate the warm welcome and Bastille Day visit in July 2017 (here and here).

Oh, the irony. Macron was Obama’s pet in 2017 during the French presidential campaign. They were on the phone to each other at least once:

State visits

In 1997, Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty posted an article on the various types of visits made to the White House by heads of state. It is well worth reading. An excerpt follows about the state visit, the most important one (emphases mine):

According to official State Department guidelines, there are five types of visits to be accorded to a ranking member of a foreign government. They are: a “state visit,” an “official visit,” an “official working visit,” a “working visit,” and a “private visit.”

The guidelines say that the “state visit” is the highest ranking visit and can only be offered to a chief of state — such as the president of a country or a reigning monarch like Britain’s Queen Elizabeth — and must be at the invitation of the U.S. president.

During a state visit, the guest is offered a room for four days and three nights at Blair House, the President’s official guest house, located within walking distance of the White House.

A state visit ensures a meeting with the U.S. president, a state dinner at the White House, a full honors arrival and departure ceremony on the south grounds of the White House, and a 21 gun salute. Gifts may be exchanged and spouses can attend the ceremonies and dinners. Press availability and photo opportunities are plentiful

Mel French, the Director of Protocol at the U.S. State Department, says there is a practical reason why the White House ranks the visits of foreign guests.

“Ranking the visits gives a level to what the [U.S.] president wants to do when he invites someone to this country,” she says. “Often they really need an official working visit where they can sit down and work through problems or things that they need to talk about. An official working visit is really a visit of substance and policy. A state visit and an official visit are more of a ceremonial type thing where we are honoring a country.”

French adds that there are limits on state visits.

A country can only have one state visit during a [U.S.] president’s four-year term,” she says.

French says that the decision of what kind of rank to accord each visitor is made jointly by the National Security Council and the State Department.

When asked if foreign heads of state are ever invited to stay at the White House instead of Blair House, French says that can happen occasionally, but only under unusual or important circumstances.

State dinners

On April 18, Jennifer Boswell Pickens, White House East Wing historian, wrote an excellent article for The Daily Caller about previous presidents’ state dinners and her anticipation of this one:

I predict the Trumps’ first State Arrival Ceremony and State Dinner will truly be a meaningful event for the Macrons, as even the smallest details are coming from Mrs. Trump’s appreciation for American History and respect for her French guests … Not since Jackie Kennedy will we have a First Lady able to speak fluently to her guests creating that timeless “Melania Trump je ne sais quoi” that will help the president create deeper bonds, and closer diplomatic ties with our French neighbors.

The White House also issued an interesting history of state visits. The first one was held in 1874, when President Ulysses S Grant welcomed King David Kalakaua of Hawaii:

The White House had never hosted a foreign head of state—Hawaii would not be annexed by the United States until 1898—largely because travel overseas during the 18th and 19th centuries was long and hazardous.

No matter how the visit went, King Kalakaua’s trip would set a precedent.

The result was America’s first State Dinner with a foreign head of state, an intimate but elaborate meal consisting of more than 20 courses and 36 guests. The President, Vice President, and a host of other U.S. dignitaries were in attendance.

The reason for King Kalakaua’s visit and the primary topic of discussion? A trade deal.

Preparations

Everything was planned well in advance, from the security and the dinner to Macron’s speaking engagements.

Meanwhile, Macron gave interviews on both sides of the Atlantic prior to his visit. Chris Wallace travelled to Paris to interview him for Fox News:

The 40-year-old Macron said Sunday that he has a “very special relationship” with Trump, suggesting they’re political “mavericks” mutually committed to fighting terrorism and reducing the influence of rogue nations and dictators …

He said he and Trump “have a very special relationship because both of us are probably the maverick of the systems on both sides. I think President Trump’s election was unexpected in your country, and probably my election was unexpected in my country. And we are not part of the classical political system. … We are very much attached to the same values …. especially liberty and peace,” he said. “And I think the U.S. today has a very strong role to play for peace in different regions of the world and especially the Middle East.”

No doubt Macron was looking forward to getting away from the fray for a few days. He has been facing active opposition in France for some time. The Express had more on the Chris Wallace interview:

Furious protests are regularly held against French Government’s reforms, with up to 200,000 people attending some marches. 

These protests have often spilled over into violence and riots, including tense clashes with police.

On this, Mr Macron said: “If I stop here, because of some protests, they are legitimate but in a minority, then I will never be able to reform again.”

Wallace followed this up: “Your popularity is falling. You were elected with 66 percent of the vote.

“The latest polls show that 58 percent of French people disapprove of your presidency, with only 40 percent approval rates.”

The French president responded: “If you follow the polls, you never reform, you never fix the situation, you never transform.

“You are always obsessed with following where you want to go. I will look at the polls in due time, not now.”

There was also the matter of an immigration bill which caused rifts in the French parliament.

On Sunday, the First Lady was putting the finishing touches on Tuesday’s state dinner:

She tweeted:

After months of preparations, and I are looking forward to hosting our first State Dinner with France! Thank you to everyone who has worked so hard to make this visit a success. 🇺🇸 🇫🇷

ZeroHedge gave us an insight into the planning (bold emphases in the original, those in purple mine):

To prepare for Tuesday night’s State Dinner – the Trump administration’s first – Melania went all out, curiously doing so without the help of an event planner as previous first ladies have used

Preparation began seven months ago, when Melania began cooking up gift ideas – such as a framed section of upholstery from one of the chairs in the White House Blue Room, created by French designer Pierre-Antoine Bellangé as one of 53 pieces commissioned for the room by President James Monroe. 

The Macrons will also receive a photo album upon their departure, full of pictures of their visit – along with an engraved Tiffany & Co. silver bowl which bears the presidential seal and the signatures of both Trumps …

To pull off the event, Melania has assembled a “close-knit” team of 10 people in the East Wing. “The team is small, but mighty” says the first lady’s communications director, Stephanie Grisham.

The Trumps are opting for a slimmed-down dinner of around 150 people – with no invites going to Congressional Democrats or members of the press

In fact, there was one Democrat who attended: the governor of Louisiana. It is customary for Louisiana’s governor to be invited to state events honouring the French head of state.

Monday’s schedule

This was the White House schedule for Monday, April 23:

The US military and various dignitaries welcomed the Macrons upon their arrival at Joint Base Andrews. Macron made a brief statement of thanks to Trump and said the two of them would discuss various bilateral issues, including trade and security (around 7:00):

Macron mentioned the mutual responsibility both countries have in the face of mounting international challenges. As a political commentator pointed out on France’s RMC talk radio, France is the EU nation the US will look to for military presence when needed once the UK completes Brexit:

A motorcade then took the couple to Blair House, where visiting heads of state reside during their visits. There, they were able to rest and prepare for the afternoon’s tree planting and dinner at Mount Vernon. Transport to and from George Washington’s homestead was via Marine One.

That afternoon, the president and first lady officially greeted the Macrons at the White House (longer version here):

They got a tour of the White House. Here they are in the Oval Office. Brigitte Macron admired the Resolute desk:

The Macrons gave the United States an oak tree sapling as a gift. The Conservative Treehouse explains that the sapling is an important one. It was (emphases mine):

taken from Bellau Wood, about 60 miles northeast of Paris in the Champagne region. The site is where a famous World War One battle took place, where the U.S. Marine Corps repelled a German offensive in the final year of the conflict almost exactly a century ago.

The sapling grew close to the so-called “Devil Dog” fountain, a spot that has become legendary within Marines ranks. It is where U.S. soldiers are said to have gathered after the battle. The “dog” in the fountain’s name refers to its spout, which resembles the head of a bull mastiff. But the nickname also stems from the German moniker “Teufelhunde”, or “devil dogs”. That term is said to have been used by the Germans to describe the U.S. Marines due to the ferocity with which the Americans fought.

As a consequence, “Devil Dog” soon became a common nickname for U.S. Marines.

The tree was already planted on the White House lawn, so the two presidents conducted a ceremonial ‘planting’ on the South Lawn:

I rather enjoyed this photo of the wives:

Then it was time to board Marine One:

This was the view:

They arrived a short while later. Macron cannot keep his hands off Trump, whom he sees as a father figure (see 3:10). You can see the exterior of the Mount Vernon mansion at 4:47:

This clip gives a closer view. The outer doors are particularly intriguing (3:00):

After dinner:

Before leaving:

The choice of the venue has historic significance for the two countries. George Washington had a close friendship with General Lafayette, who helped the colonies greatly in the Revolutionary War:

The media stated a more pedestrian reason for the choice of Mount Vernon:

In a statement issued that day, President Trump made it abundantly clear that the historical bonds between the United States and France are significant. An excerpt follows (emphasis in the original):

A LONG AND ENDURING FRIENDSHIP: President Trump is continuing the legacy of French-American cooperation that stretches back to America’s independence and working with President Macron to build the already strong ties between the United States and France.

  • President Trump has made clear that the bond between the United States and France is unbreakable.
    • The relationship between the two countries dates back to the days of the American Revolution, when thousands of French soldiers fought alongside American troops and provided crucial support in our fight for freedom and liberty.
  • Presidents Trump and Macron have reaffirmed and strengthened the U.S.-France relationship. They have met in person and spoken on the phone numerous times.

As dusk fell, the couples boarded Marine One for the White House.

Upon arrival, conversation was lively, as if between friends:

The top left photo shows Macron holding Papa Trump’s left arm (click to enlarge):

The Macrons left for Blair House:

Trump managed to secure an increase in France’s NATO contribution that day. Early that evening, The Daily Caller reported:

President Donald Trump secured a commitment from French President Emmanuel Macron Monday to increase the country’s NATO defense spending by more than a third.

Trump hosted Macron in Washington, DC Monday, after which the White House announced France’s commitment to meet NATO’s two percent GDP defense spending minimum, an increase of 35 percent.

Ah. The Art of the Deal.

Promises made, promises kept.

Tomorrow: The Trumps’ first state dinner

My reader George True has posted eloquent comments here.

I used two, with his consent, as guest posts:

Guest post: a reader’s perspective on the Florida school shooting (February 23 comment)

Guest post: a reader’s perspective on the Deep State and Mueller investigation (April 15, George True)

George’s latest is about Jeff Sessions’s priorities, initially posted here in reply to ‘Increasing outcry for Sleepy Sessions to go’.

George has kindly consented to my using his comment as a guest post. Q is the intel source dropping geopolitical breadcrumbs. Sundance is the founder and author of The Conservative Treehouse. Emphases mine below.

I really do not know what to believe at this point in time. Q keeps saying ‘trust Sessions’. Sundance keeps saying ‘trust Sessions’. Yet Sessions appears to have been MIA for fifteen months, while the entire time his boss (our President) has been continuously savaged by the MSM, the DNC, and rogue agencies such as the FBI and Sessions’ own agency, the DOJ.

One of the highly publicized actions of the DOJ under Sessions is the rounding up of MS-13 gang bangers in certain parts of our country. While I am in favor of this, what good does it do without also reining in the agencies that promoted and facilitated the importation of massive numbers of Mexican criminals in the first place? And in any case, how is arresting MS-13 members MORE important than arresting the ringleaders of what is now known to have been an attempted coup and overthrow of the lawfully and constitutionally elected government of the United States?

As I have opined in prior comments at this blog, I sincerely hope and pray that there is far more going on under the radar than we everyday people can possibly see. One of two possibilities exists. Either Sessions is doing essentially nothing……..OR, he is fully engaged in the greatest stealth operation of getting the goods on the Deep State criminal cabal that there has ever been. In other words, boiling the frog so slowly that he won’t realize it until too late.

Only time will tell. And time is running out. Primary elections are almost upon us, and the mid-term elections are just six months away. If there is no action against the coup plotters soon, the Republicans stand to lose big, possibly losing one or both houses of congress. Just today, April 20, the corrupt and criminal DNC filed suit against the Trump campaign in federal court. This highly visible lawsuit breathes new life into the ab initio false narrative of Trump being elected as a result of ‘collusion’ with Russia.

The suit will go nowhere. Its entire purpose is to continue the fraudulent claims against Trump for the purpose of tilting the all-important mid-term elections to the Democrats. Once they have even marginal control of congress, they will vote to impeach Trump. Even if they are unsuccessful in removing him, they will effectively hamstring his administration for the rest of his time in office. Only the public exposure and prosecution of the Democrat coup plotters by Jeff Sessions’ DOJ prior to then will blunt the ongoing propaganda campaign of the left and prevent a mid-term debacle. We will soon know whether Sessions is the real deal or not. Let us pray we do not find out the hard way due to complete inaction on the part of Sessions.

I couldn’t agree more, George.

What now looms in my mind is the possibility that Jeff Sessions has been compromised.

In February, Sessions had dinner with Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein — the de facto Attorney General after Sessions’s recusals — and Solicitor General Noel Francisco at a restaurant near the Justice Department. Was it, as the Washington Post posits, a show of solidarity?

The same WaPo article, published on April 20, zeroed in on Sessions’s rumoured loyalty to Rosenstein, who is closest to Robert Mueller and his investigation: ‘Sessions told White House that Rosenstein’s firing could prompt his departure too’:

Attorney General Jeff Sessions recently told the White House he might have to leave his job if President Trump fired his deputy, Rod J. Rosenstein, who oversees the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election, according to people familiar with the exchange.

Sessions made his position known in a phone call to White House counsel Donald McGahn last weekend, as Trump’s fury at Rosenstein peaked after the deputy attorney general approved the FBI’s raid April 9 on the president’s personal attorney Michael Cohen

In the phone call with McGahn, Sessions wanted details of a meeting Trump and Rosenstein held at the White House on April 12, according to a person with knowledge of the call. Sessions expressed relief to learn that their meeting was largely cordial. Sessions said he would have had to consider leaving as the attorney general had Trump ousted Rosenstein, this person said.

Another person familiar with the exchange said Sessions did not intend to threaten the White House but rather wanted to convey the untenable position that Rosenstein’s firing would put him in.

Sessions’s primary loyalty should be to President Trump rather than Rod Rosenstein. The Mueller investigation is going nowhere, and Rosenstein is the one who appointed Mueller on May 17, 2017 without consulting with Sessions beforehand:

The decision took Trump by surprise and greatly angered him.

Back to the present: on April 20, Donald McGahn gave Rosenstein a set of presidential cufflinks he wore at his appearance before the Supreme Court on April 23 to argue a case about sentencing in a fentanyl conviction.

It’s difficult for the public to know what to think.

If President Trump did fire Rosenstein and Sessions subsequently resigned, then Trump could get a Senate-approved replacement for the AG spot under vacancy rules.

It wouldn’t hurt for Trump’s supporters to have a bit of clarity about this situation.

A post about Sessions’s recusals is coming soon.

Bible ourhomewithgodcomThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy have omitted — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Acts 17:16-21

Paul in Athens

16 Now while Paul was waiting for them at Athens, his spirit was provoked within him as he saw that the city was full of idols. 17 So he reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and the devout persons, and in the marketplace every day with those who happened to be there. 18 Some of the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers also conversed with him. And some said, “What does this babbler wish to say?” Others said, “He seems to be a preacher of foreign divinities”—because he was preaching Jesus and the resurrection. 19 And they took him and brought him to the Areopagus, saying, “May we know what this new teaching is that you are presenting? 20 For you bring some strange things to our ears. We wish to know therefore what these things mean.” 21 Now all the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there would spend their time in nothing except telling or hearing something new.

—————————————————————————————————————

My past two posts explained the first part of Acts 17: Paul’s establishing churches in Thessalonica and Berea.

These were important developments, as Paul wrote letters to the Thessalonians, who became very devout Christians. Berea appears in the Bible only this one time, but the Bereans are good Christian role models because, even before their conversion, they read Scripture regularly and properly discerned it.

As my posts explain, Paul, Silas and Timothy had to leave Thessalonica, where they were persecuted. The mob from that city then travelled to Berea to persecute the three again. Silas and Timothy stayed in Berea for a time, until Paul received a divine command to summon them to Athens, where Bereans had escorted him.

As Paul was waiting for them in Athens, he was overcome by the idolatry that pervaded the city (verse 16). Even though Paul was well versed in Greek philosophy, he found the sheer number of idols disturbing.

John MacArthur reminds us (emphases mine below):

Now I want us to set the picture, it’s a man and a city. It’s a simple thing. One man against one city. Look at the man. Let’s see what kind of a man he was. He was a Jew. And as a Jew he was beyond just being a Jew he was a Pharisee, a Hebrew of the Hebrews, a student of the great teacher Gamaliel. He was expert in the law, he was expert in ceremonies, he was a leader,-..he was a teacher, he was an expert in the Old Testament. Beyond being a Jew he was a Roman, he was a Roman citizen. And with his Roman citizenship came that kind of special skill in secular affairs that belonged to the Romans, that special knowledge of the military and of politics. Beyond that he was a Greek, not by virtue of his heritage but by virtue of his environ­ment, he was raised in a place called Tarsus which was tremendously influenced by Greek culture. He was a Hellenistic man, he was exposed to Greek art and Greek philosophy. And so he had all of the bests of all of the worlds. He was a man who was cosmopolitan in every sense. And adding to those particu­lar things he had a brilliant and keen mind. He had an intense commitment to the cause he believed in. He was a tireless pursuer of any goal that he set. He was a matchless orator. He was a fearless preacher. He was a brilliant question and answer dialogue man. He was well read, he was well travelled. He was an extraordinary man.

MacArthur gives us a glimpse of Athens’ supremacy at the time, even though it was under Roman rule by then:

… some historians said Athens at the time of Paul was the intellectual center and the university of the world. The minds of that part of the world congregated in Athens. In fact, it was such – it was such a proud city that it even called its university The Eye of Greece and the Mother of Arts. And Athens offered a home, incidentally, to almost every god in existence. In a place called the Pantheon they had a god for everything. They had every god there and every public building in Athens was a shrine to a god. The record house, for example, like the Hall of Records today, was dedicated to the Mother of gods. The Council House housed a statue of Apollo and Jupiter and everything was religious. As I told you last week, some comments were made such as – You can easily find a god in Athens rather than a man. Gods were everywhere. And it was a pagan city in the fullest sense, super cultured. And all of its art had false deities in mind, great monuments were built, great beautiful buildings were built as tributes to gods. Apart from its religion was its tremendous philosophical bent. Socrates and Plato were from Athens. Athens was the adopted city of Aristotle, Epicurus who founded the Epicureans and Zeno who founded the Stoics. And here was the great mind of the world as it were. And from it came the directions that resulted in the activities of other parts of the world. So Athens was some city. Master­pieces of architecture, masterpieces of art, sculpture, the greatest orators who ever lived gave orations in Athens.

As he always did, Paul went to the synagogue to preach and he also went to the marketplace every day to discourse (verse 17). The Greek word for marketplace is agora. Matthew Henry has more …

He entered into conversation with all that came in his way about matters of religion: In the market–en te agora, in the exchange, or place of commerce, he disputed daily, as he had occasion, with those that met with him, or that he happened to fall into company with, that were heathen, and never came to the Jews’ synagogue.

… as does MacArthur:

The marketplace is interesting, it’s the word agora, and in the towns in those times they had a center place, maybe a large area, court kind of a thing, you know, the public buildings were there, the temples were there and around this big area would be a colonnade. And in the colonnade would be little shops and farmers would even bring on the outside areas their cattle in and any goods they’d raised on the countryside and it was a big marketplace. And in the middle area philosophers would walk around with their little groups, you know, and there was always a group of people in the agora, many different kinds, you know, there were peripatetic teachers, philosophers, magicians, hucksters, you know, step right up, folks – that kind of thing, sleight of hand artists.

Paul could debate with the most educated of men, and did so with the Stoics and Epicureans he encountered (verse 18).

Henry explains the Epicureans’ philosophy:

The Epicureans, who thought God altogether such a one as themselves, an idle inactive being, that minded nothing, nor put any difference between good and evil. They would not own, either that God made the world or that he governs it; nor that man needs to make any conscience of what he says or does, having no punishment to fear nor rewards to hope for, all which loose atheistical notions Christianity is levelled against. The Epicureans indulged themselves in all the pleasures of sense, and placed their happiness in them, in what Christ has taught us in the first place to deny ourselves.

MacArthur tells us:

… they got their name from Epicurus who was a philosopher in Athens who has started this movement. He was born in about 342 B.C. so he was long dead and this is like 400 years later but his movement is still going great. Now Epicureans just to give you a little identification believed – 1. that everything happened by chance. They believed everything happened by chance. There was no real reason or rhyme for anything and nobody was running the show. They were the rationalists, see. Second thing, death was the end of everything. You died and that was it. Three, there were gods, they believed in all the gods but they figured the gods were remote and didn’t get involved and didn’t care. Now if you believe everything happens by chance and death is the end of everything and nobody up there cares then the fourth principle of Epicureans is very easy, – pleasure is the main purpose in life. Translated into the modern day – grab all the gusto you can get – you only go around once. See. Which is a very, – which is a beer version of existentialism. Pleasure is the chief end of men. Listen if you believe everything happened by chance and everything was random and you believed that death was the end of everything and you just went into the grave and it was over and you believed that there weren’t any gods who cared what you did, you’d be an Epicurean too, wouldn’t you? Atheistic rationalism ends up in pleasure is the chief end of men. Grab it here, grab it now, do your own thing, live it up. This is ancient existentialism.

Henry describes Stoicism as follows:

The Stoics, who thought themselves altogether as good as God, and indulged themselves as much in the pride of life as the Epicureans did in the lusts of the flesh and of the eye; they made their virtuous man to be no way inferior to God himself, nay to be superior. Esse aliquid quo sapiens antecedat Deum–There is that in which a wise man excels God, so Seneca: to which Christianity is directly opposite, as it teaches us to deny ourselves and abase ourselves, and to come off from all confidence in ourselves, that Christ may be all in all.

MacArthur has this:

… the Stoics. They were the nice guys. They weren’t out each for themselves. They were sort of the humanitarian bunch. They believed, first of all, that everything was God … You know what pantheism is? It’s atheism. If everything’s God, nothing’s God. So everything is God. Secondly, everything is the will of God. No matter what happens in the will of God wills it. They were fatalists. See. The will of God [is] everything. And they believed every so often the world disintegrated and then started all over again. It goes through that cycle every so many years. And, of course, for them believing that every­thing was God, everything was sort of divine and they were Gods and they had to act like Gods and they had to treat everybody else like Gods

The one attribute that both commentators left out about Stoicism is actually a good one: the lack of extreme emotion — no tears, no anger, no complaining.

Some of the Stoics and Epicureans were interested in conversing with Paul (verse 18). While some called him a babbler, others were intrigued by what they understood to be a foreign deity and a resurrection.

Henry explains ‘babbler’, which has always had negative connotations as someone spouting whatever comes into his head:

Some called him a babbler, and thought he spoke, without any design, whatever came uppermost, as men of crazed imaginations do: What will this babbler say? ho spermologos houtos–this scatterer of words, that goes about, throwing here one idle word or story and there another, without any intendment or signification; or, this picker up of seeds. Some of the critics tell us that the term is used for a little sort of bird, that is worth nothing at all, either for the spit or for the cage, that picks up the seeds that lie uncovered, either in the field or by the way-side, and hops here and there for that purpose–Avicula parva quæ semina in triviis dispersa colligere solet; such a pitiful contemptible animal they took Paul to be, or supposed he went from place to place venting his notions to get money, a penny here and another there, as that bird picks up here and there a grain. They looked upon him as an idle fellow, and regarded him, as we say, no more than a ballad-singer.

MacArthur says the babbler is a gutter-sparrow, or guttersnipe:

It was referred to a gutter-sparrow. The gutter-sparrows, you know, they go around and pick up little bits and pieces and scraps of stuff and, you know, that’s how they live. And so this common term which really refers to gutter-sparrows became used for paupers who prowled around the marketplace, parasites who lived off what they could pick up. And it was translated into the philosophy thing and what they were saying was, – Paul, you’re not telling us a philosophy you’re nothing but a philosophical seed-picker. You’ve picked up bits and pieces of philosophy and religion and slapped it all together and you’re trying to pawn it off as knowledge. See. It’s like calling him an eclectic in a negative sense. What an uneducated babble you’re trying to pawn off, bits and scraps of all kinds of random philosophies and religions being passed off as information that is true. And so they mocked him.

As brainy as these fellows were, they did not understand the truth of Christ and the Resurrection, but interpreted both as new gods. Henry gives us the Greek expression:

Ton Iesoun kai ten anastasin, “Jesus they took for a new god, and anastasis, the resurrection, for a new goddess.” Thus they lost the benefit of the Christian doctrine by dressing it up in a pagan dialect, as if believing in Jesus, and looking for the resurrection, were the worshipping of new demons.

Wow.

But, don’t Christians run into similar opposition today? It’s a pity this passage isn’t in the three-year Lectionary. MacArthur gave the sermon I’m citing in 1973 at his church in southern California. Even then, atheism was rife, but, of course, it’s always been around. Atheists continue to give the same objections they always have:

You know, it’s an old story with Christianity but everybody who really believes the Bible and really preaches it at one time or another runs into the mockers who say you’re … intellectually not with it, you – you just, I mean, that’s old wives tales, that’s for old ladies and little kids that believe that Christianity bit. I mean, we intellectuals[,] we’re past that. You know, I get that when I go on a college campus. And I don’t pose to be an intellectlual. But, you know[,] you always hear well, you know Christianity is not even intelligent, well, it’s not even reasonable all that stuff in [the] Bible.

YES!!!

One of the reasons I keep writing Forbidden Bible Verses is to show the truth of the Scripture to those who doubt it. (The other is to learn it better myself.)

But I digress.

The interested philosophers took him to the Areopagus to give him an audience for his ‘new teaching’ (verse 19). There is much to unpack in that verse.

First, Areopagus, translated into English, is Mars Hill. Ares was the Greek god of war. Mars was the Roman god of war. Pagus means hill.

The Areopagus was the most important and most learned place in Athens, as Henry describes. Furthermore, it was the place where new gods could be approved. The philosophers thought Paul would put forward a new deity for approval:

… it was the town-house, or guildhall of their city, where the magistrates met upon public business, and the courts of justice were kept; and it was as the theatre in the university, or the schools, where learned men met to communicate their notions. The court of justice which sat here was famous for its equity, which drew appeals to it from all parts; if any denied a god, he was liable to the censure of this court. Diagoras was by them put to death, as a contemner of the gods; nor might any new god be admitted without their approbation. Hither they brought Paul to be tried, not as a criminal but as a candidate.

Secondly, anything ‘new’ in Athens at that time was seen as intriguing and novel (verse 21). Enquiring minds wanted to know. This is why we call current affairs and any recent information ‘news‘.

Paul explained the risen Christ to them in words they could understand, i.e. from a pagan perspective. More on that next time.

Next time — Acts 17:32-34

Before my next Forbidden Bible Verses entry appears, it is useful to know what happened in the first half of Acts 17.

Yesterday’s post discussed Paul’s establishment of the church in Thessalonica, the recipient of his letters to the Thessalonians.

Today’s post will look at the next destination for him, Silas and Timothy — Berea:

Paul and Silas in Berea

10 The brothers[b] immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Berea, and when they arrived they went into the Jewish synagogue. 11 Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so. 12 Many of them therefore believed, with not a few Greek women of high standing as well as men. 13 But when the Jews from Thessalonica learned that the word of God was proclaimed by Paul at Berea also, they came there too, agitating and stirring up the crowds. 14 Then the brothers immediately sent Paul off on his way to the sea, but Silas and Timothy remained there. 15 Those who conducted Paul brought him as far as Athens, and after receiving a command for Silas and Timothy to come to him as soon as possible, they departed.

Paul, Silas and Timothy had to leave Thessalonica immediately. The converts there sent them to Berea, which was about 60 miles away. Upon their arrival, they made their customary visit to the synagogue (verse 10). That was nearly always Paul’s starting point for preaching and teaching.

Luke, the author of Acts, thought it important to say that the Bereans were more noble than the Thessalonians. That was not a reference to lineage but to the fact that they studied the Scriptures in a deep way for their edification (verse 11). Some translations use ‘search’ instead of ‘examine’. John MacArthur explains (emphases mine below):

The word for search is “to examine.” It was a word to speak of judicial investigation. They sifted the evidence carefully. You know what I believe? I believe that a man who honestly sifts the evidence of Scripture is gonna come to the right conclusion. I think Scripture can defend itself, don’t you?

Jesus had said in John 5:39, He says, “Search the Scriptures for in them you think have eternal life.” And watch, “They are they which testify of Me.” He says, “You go ahead. Study your Old Testament. You know what you’re gonna find? Me.” In verse 46, the same chapter, John 5, “For had you believed Moses, you would have believed Me, for he wrote of Me.” And says, “How shall you believe Me, if you don’t believe him.” Over at chapter 7, verse 17, he says, “If you really want to do God’s will, you’ll know the truth.”

So if someone encourages us to be Bereans, this is what is meant: study the Bible not only regularly but also carefully.

Because the Bereans understood Scripture, they eagerly received Paul’s message. See how that works?

Note the contrast Luke used in the number of new believers. There were ‘many’ in Berea compared with the ‘some’ in Thessalonica (verse 12).

Once again, Luke mentioned the prominent women who converted, just as he did in the account of Thessalonica.

However, the unfortunate persecutors of Paul, Silas and Timothy were on their way from Thessalonica to Berea to wreak the same violent havoc (verse 13).

So the new converts in Berea helped Paul leave. Silas and Timothy stayed behind to minister to the new church (verse 14).

The brethren in Berea took Paul all the way to Athens. Paul received a divine command to ask that Silas and Timothy to join him there (verse 15). Athens challenged Paul deeply, and that will be the subject of tomorrow’s Forbidden Bible Verses instalment.

Sadly, this is the only time Berea is mentioned in the Bible. It would have been interesting to learn more about the people there and how they developed such a love for Scripture.

However, Paul had a special love for the church in Thessalonica. MacArthur tells us:

You never hear another word about Berea in the Bible, but you hear a lot about Thessalonica. And Thessalonica became the most beloved church that Paul ever wrote to. He just loved those people. And of all the churches that are written to in the New Testament, they seem to be the most like Christ wanted the church to be.

Now, watch this. Isn’t it interesting that with Berea, oh, they were so noble, so wonderful, but when they got saved, you never hear another thing about ’em? Thessalonica, they had to be persuaded, they weren’t so noble, but when they got saved, man they went wild. They became what God wanted the church to be. You say, “What’s that supposed to prove?” It is to prove that salvation is the equalizer. It doesn’t matter what you were before you were saved – at the moment of salvation it becomes an issue of what you do with the resources that become yours, do you see? People say, “Well, so and so, before he was saved, was, uh, uh, uh, you know, he was into dope, and into, oh, Satan and into __ __ __. We can’t expect much.”

Oh, believe me, you can expect just as much as you can expect out of Citizen Number 1A. The finest guy that ever was, when he gets saved. Why? Because the resources are the same, you got it? And Thessalonica may not have been noble as Berea, but once salvation happened, the resources were the same and they tapped them in Thessalonica. Now, I don’t know that Berea didn’t; I’m just showing you that there’s no reason to assume that if you come in barely or with all kinds of problems, you don’t get there is. That’s a lot of baloney. Salvation isn’t gradual, it’s instantaneous – you believe that? It’s all yours. You’re complete in Him.

And that’s something that I think we have to remember because I think sometimes we don’t expect enough out of certain people. Because we say, “Oh well, they’ve had such and such a background.” Salvation is the equalizer, beloved – it’s the equalizer.

The strong faith of the Bereans thanks to their examination of Scripture is an important lesson for all Christians. MacArthur gives this analysis:

It’s all in the Old Testament. “They searched the Scriptures and, believe me, God reveals himself.” Paul said to Timothy, “All scripture is given by inspiration of God and is profitable for doctrine for correction, for instruction and righteousness that the man of God maybe be mature, thoroughly furnished” – all good words. “You study the Old Testament,” he said to Timothy, “and you’ll find the truth of righteousness there.” And so these noble folks didn’t need to be publicly persuaded. They sought it out themselves. They were such noble people.

I notice, beloved, I close with this. The Gospel we preach must have two things. It must have qualities that can be open to public questioning. That’s Thessalonica. And it must have quality that can be opened to private research. That’s Berea. Do you have that kind of content? Can you present a message to this world and stand on your feet if the case needs it and defend that message biblically. Secondly, can you present such a message that sends them to the Scripture and find its defense there? … it behooves us to know the Book, to know the Book.

People that make a difference in the world, people who turn it upside down, people who affect this world, are people who know the Word of God. I believe that with all my heart. And are people who can stand on their feet eyeball-to-eyeball with people and defend what they believe and there are people who can take people where they’re at and say, “Here’s what I believe. You take it to the Scripture and let stand the test of Scripture and you’ll find it confirmed.” If you give men answers that you can defend on your feet and answers that you can defend through the Word of God, then you’ve given them answers.

MacArthur goes on to tell us how we can accomplish that in four steps:

If you’re gonna have content, one, confess and repent of all sin. That’s where you start. You don’t start by Bible study. You start by confession. You say, “Why?” 1 Peter 2:1, “Laying aside all malice, guile, hypocrisy, envy, and evil speaking, as newborn babes, the desire the sincere mild of the word.” Before you can ever get into the Word to grow by it, you have to lay aside sin. Purify, that’s point one.

Two, study. You’ll never know the Bible. There’s no shortcut. There is absolute – believe me, if there’s a shortcut, I’d found it a long time ago. There’s none. Paul said to Timothy, “Study to show thy self approved unto God.” What does that mean? Be such a good student that God is excited about the fact that you know the truth.

You know the thing that haunts you all the time when you’re a preacher, when you’re a teacher? The fact that this is supposed to be approved by God, not by you. We can get away with murder with people. You can’t get away with anything with God. So one, purify, confess sin. Two, study. There’s no shortcut, absolutely none. Study the Word. Three, personalize the Word. What does that mean? Translate what is academic into your own life, into your own life.

The things that you’re gonna be effectively teaching other people are the things that you have learned by your own living, right? For me to put something on a piece of paper and teach it to you is one thing. For me to teach you what God has been doing in my life is something completely different.

“What do you mean by that?” Paul says, “Be renewed in your mind.” In Galatians and in Romans 12:2 he says, “Be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” In other words, you know the word and it changes your life and you speak out of experience. So you confess sin. You learn the word and then you personalize it.

I’ll give you the last one. Share it. You say, “I’m gonna learn it and when I get it all learned, then I’m gonna come out of my room and say it.” So somebody, “Oh, that’s ridiculous.” You[‘ll] be talking about it as you’re learning it. There’s no better way to learn than to teach, right? We who teach find out that what we teach we learn.

Let us resolve to be more Berean in our Christian journey. Let us also learn from the Thessalonians who became the strong believers God wanted them to be.

Before I post the next entry of Forbidden Bible Verses, it is important to know where Paul and Silas went after they left Philippi.

The first half of Acts 17 is in the three-year Lectionary but needs explaining. The next post will be about Berea, so this one will be about their first stop in Thessalonica:

Paul and Silas in Thessalonica

17 Now when they had passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where there was a synagogue of the Jews. And Paul went in, as was his custom, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, 3 explaining and proving that it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead, and saying, “This Jesus, whom I proclaim to you, is the Christ.” And some of them were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, as did a great many of the devout Greeks and not a few of the leading women. 5 But the Jews[a] were jealous, and taking some wicked men of the rabble, they formed a mob, set the city in an uproar, and attacked the house of Jason, seeking to bring them out to the crowd. And when they could not find them, they dragged Jason and some of the brothers before the city authorities, shouting, “These men who have turned the world upside down have come here also, and Jason has received them, and they are all acting against the decrees of Caesar, saying that there is another king, Jesus.” And the people and the city authorities were disturbed when they heard these things. And when they had taken money as security from Jason and the rest, they let them go.

Philippi was to the north (see this map of Thrace). Paul and Silas — along with Timothy — travelled south (see map of Thrace, indicated by red dots) to Thessalonica, an important port city from ancient times to the present. Until the Second World War, Thessaloniki (present day name) always had a sizeable Jewish population.

John MacArthur describes Paul and Silas’s journey from Philippi (emphases mine):

When they had passed through Amphipolis, now that was 33 miles from Philippi, they went from Amphipolis to Apollonia that was 30 miles from Amphipolis. And then they went to Thessalonica, which was 37 miles from Apollonia, which was 30 miles from Amphipolis, which was 33 miles – and don’t you ever forget it – from Philippi.

What’s the significance of that? The significance of that is that they had minds set on Thessalonica. They probably stopped for the night in Apollonia and Amphipolis. If they went that way and did cover 30 miles a day and stayed overnight at those two places, which were perfect points – it is as some scholars tell us, evidence that Paul didn’t walk everywhere he went. He probably hired horses, which is an interesting thought. Nevertheless, they just stopped overnight at Amphipolis and Apllonia, likely, that isn’t in the text. That’s a likely conclusion. “And they came to Thessalonica.” Now, watch. “Where there was a synagogue of the Jews.”

As we have read so many times in Acts, every time Paul starts preaching in the local synagogue, he makes a lot of converts, then the Jews who disagree become angry and rile the Gentiles. The angry mob then persecutes Paul and, beginning in Acts 16, Silas.

MacArthur summarises the pertinent persecution points:

Every time he got near a synagogue, wham, he got it. And that’s right. He did.

Chapter 13, verse 6, they had gone to – they met a sorcerer. In verse 6 of chapter 13, the first place they went, the island of Cyprus, they met a sorcerer who was a Jew. Every time they got close to the Jews, they got persecuted and confrontation with Satan.

Go to verse 45. It says that when they came into the area of Galatia, the whole place came together to hear the word, verse 44, “When the Jews saw the multitudes filled with envy, spoke against these things as were spoken by Paul and contradicting and blaspheming.”

Look at verse 50. “The Jews stirred up the devout and honor of women. The chief thieves raised persecution against Paul and Barnabas, expelled them out of their borders.

Chapter 14, verse 1. “They went to the synagogue of the Jews. There were some Jews who believed that just stirred up trouble.”

Verse 2. “The unbelieving Jews stirred up the Gentiles.” They tried to stone them in verse 5. They fled in verse 6.

Go down to verse 19. They threw him out of the city of Lystra. Stoned them there. It was always the Jews, the Jews, the Jews, who persecuted Paul in his ministry.

The same thing happened in Philippi.

However, Paul always began his holy work in synagogues. He would not go near a pagan temple.

Note that Luke, the author of Acts, thought it was worth mentioning that prominent women of the city also converted (verse 4). Recall that Lydia, the purple goods merchant, was the first convert in Philippi. Therefore, women had considerable autonomy at this time.

A man named Jason was among the converts (verse 5) and, perversely, the angry Thessalonians ambushed his house (verse 6). MacArthur describes what happened. Satan was working through these miserable individuals:

Boy, I mean they turned the city up. They got a riot going all through town, they were crying in this blowtorch kind of oratory. “These men are seditious and they are revolutionaries,” and they got everybody all stirred up. Well, they knew they were staying with Jason – who must have been a new Christian there – and so it says, “They all assaulted the house of Jason.” Here comes the whole town, down to Jason’s house. “And they sought to bring them out to the people.” But you know what? God is so far ahead. Paul and Silas and Timothy are gone – they’re gone. And old Jason is there. Well, they didn’t find them, in verse 6 “And when they found him not, they drew Jason and certain brethren under the rulers of the city.”

So, they took Jason and the other Christians instead. “And they hauled them off.” You know, it’s amazing what Satan can do with lazy people. It’s amazing too, what the Lord can do with lazy people who get busy for Him. I was thinking that lazy people must have been a problem in Thessalonica. I don’t know if they had a welfare program or what there, but there was a lot of laziness. These guys were lazy, but later in, 2 Thessalonians 2, in verse 11, he says, “For we hear that there are some who walk among you, disorderly, working not at all, but are busybodies.” You know, some of the Christians were loafing around. I don’t know whether that was a common thing but Satan can always use laziness.

Poor Jason. He and the other Christians were accused of disloyalty to the Romans (verses 6, 7). That stirred up the authorities, in addition to the mob (verse 8). Everyone in the Roman world believed there was only one ruler: Caesar.

MacArthur reminds us of Pontius Pilate’s words to our Lord:

Remember Pilate questioned Him, “Are you a king?” And the Jews all cried out, “No, He’s not our king. We’ll have no king but Caesar.” Well, it was the whole issue of His Kingship, and here Paul had been preaching the Kingship of Jesus Christ, and so they grabbed on that, the same thing that the crowd used to execute Jesus, they were gonna use again, to execute Paul.

Jason had to pay a bond in order for him and the others to be left alone (verse 9):

Boy, that’s smart. You know, what they did, they made Jason come across with a bond, to guarantee that Paul and Silas and Timothy wouldn’t trouble them anymore. So, they had Jason on the spot.

Once again, Paul had to leave a newly established church. MacArthur explores Paul’s letters to the Thessalonians:

Paul reflected back on this, in 1 Thessalonians 2:17, he says, “We brethren, being taken from you for a short time in presence, not in heart, endeavor to more abundantly to see your face with great desire.” Paul says, I tried to come back and see you, but he says, “Satan hindered us.” This whole setup, with the security, the bond, guaranteed by Jason – and Jason did it for their sake – meant that there was never a way he could get back in there, as long as those magistrates were there.

So, the conflict came. Believe me, that’s a good thing. Conflict is a good thing. You know, that that wonderful little church in Thessalonica, became the best church, and probably one of the reasons was it existed in terrible persecution. Paul couldn’t even get back to see them. “We went to Berea” – and what happened there? – You say, certainly, those noble guys wouldn’t give him trouble. You’re right, they didn’t. But guess what? Verse 13, “The Jews of Thessalonica had knowledge that the Word of God was preached by Paul at Berea, and they came there also.” – and did the same thing. So, here comes a gang, 60 miles away, from Thessalonica, and they stirred up trouble.

Boy, Satan if he doesn’t have local people, he imports ’em. “And they dogged his steps.” Paul, in 1 Thessalonians 2:14-16, talks about how the “Jews have dogged his steps all his life. And they stirred up” – the word, stirred, at end of verse 13, is like a wind, shaking, just shook the whole city. Well, Paul had to leave again. You know, I really think, just as a little insight into Paul; I think was the low point in Paul’s life, up to point, as a Christian.

Let’s look at what happened to Paul’s entourage. In Philippi, he was with Luke, Silas and Timothy, but:

He had left Luke at Philippi.

That was so Luke could shepherd the church there.

The next post will be about Berea, where Paul left Silas and Timothy for a while to minister to the new church.

What follows are the Lectionary readings for Year B for the Fourth Sunday of Easter, with many familiar scriptural references.

Emphases mine below.

The first reading from Acts 4 concerns the imprisonment of Peter and John for preaching so powerfully at the temple in Jerusalem. This would have been shortly after the first Pentecost:

But many of those who had heard the word believed, and the number of the men came to about five thousand.

The ever increasing number of converts angered the Sadducees.

Acts 4:5-12

4:5 The next day their rulers, elders, and scribes assembled in Jerusalem,

4:6 with Annas the high priest, Caiaphas, John, and Alexander, and all who were of the high-priestly family.

4:7 When they had made the prisoners stand in their midst, they inquired, “By what power or by what name did you do this?”

4:8 Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, “Rulers of the people and elders,

4:9 if we are questioned today because of a good deed done to someone who was sick and are asked how this man has been healed,

4:10 let it be known to all of you, and to all the people of Israel, that this man is standing before you in good health by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead.

4:11 This Jesus is ‘the stone that was rejected by you, the builders; it has become the cornerstone.’

4:12 There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved.”

The Psalm is familiar to nearly everyone:

Psalm 23

23:1 The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want.

23:2 He makes me lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside still waters;

23:3 he restores my soul. He leads me in right paths for his name’s sake.

23:4 Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff– they comfort me.

23:5 You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.

23:6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD my whole life long.

The Epistle was written by John, the Gospel author. Note the theme of love but also the exhortation against sinning. John often referred to his converts as ‘little children’ because they were young in faith:

1 John 3:16-24

3:16 We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us–and we ought to lay down our lives for one another.

3:17 How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help?

3:18 Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action.

3:19 And by this we will know that we are from the truth and will reassure our hearts before him

3:20 whenever our hearts condemn us; for God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything.

3:21 Beloved, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have boldness before God;

3:22 and we receive from him whatever we ask, because we obey his commandments and do what pleases him.

3:23 And this is his commandment, that we should believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us.

3:24 All who obey his commandments abide in him, and he abides in them. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit that he has given us.

The Gospel reading is also well known, that of the Good Shepherd. Note the message of Gentiles — ‘other sheep’ — in verse 16:

John 10:11-18

10:11 “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.

10:12 The hired hand, who is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away–and the wolf snatches them and scatters them.

10:13 The hired hand runs away because a hired hand does not care for the sheep.

10:14 I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me,

10:15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep.

10:16 I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.

10:17 For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again.

10:18 No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it up again. I have received this command from my Father.”

Those last two verses are also important to remember. Errant clerics, agnostics and others often downplay or distort the power that God gave His Son.

I hope that everyone reading this has a blessed, happy Sunday.

Forbidden Bible Verses will appear soon.

On Tuesday, April 17, 2018, former first lady Barbara Pierce Bush left this mortal coil from the comfort of her family’s home in Texas.

May she rest in peace.

Along with many over the past week, my condolences go to the Bush family, who will sorely miss her wisdom, wit, vim and vigour.

The Conservative board on Reddit had a great portrait of her along with a prescient quote of hers about life:

At the end of your life, you will never regret not having passed one more test, not winning one more verdict or not closing one more deal. You will regret time not spent with a husband, a friend, a child or a parent. 

Mrs Bush was an Episcopalian.

Many years ago, my Episcopalian rector, also since deceased, told our congregation in at least one sermon that he met many people on their deathbeds who regretted not taking chances in life. The one thing they asked time and again was, ‘What if I’d only done this or that?’

It is unlikely that Barbara Bush had any such regrets.

I’m sorry that she never got to sit down with President Trump for a cup of tea and a natter in 2016. They would have got on well. And, yes, she would have made a better presidential candidate than her son Jeb in 2016, but that’s all water under the dam now.

Millions of Americans appreciate Mrs Bush’s dignified, high-WASP tenure as First Lady between 1989 and 1993. By all accounts, she was also a marvellous wife, mother and friend.

May God keep her close to Him for eternity.

Further reading:

Presiding Bishop offers tribute to Barbara Bush

Former first lady Barbara Bush, wife and mother of presidents, dead at 92

Barbara Bush on George H. W. Bush: ‘Still in love with the man I married 72 years ago’

Barbara Bush: Lesser-known facts about former first lady

Live stream: Public viewing for Barbara Bush

Over the past week, there has been an increasing America’s attorney general, Jeff Sessions — former senator for Alabama — to resign or be fired.

He is supposed to be ‘honorable’, yet he fails to stop highly questionable moves by the Mueller investigation against President Donald Trump.

He is known to be the ‘silent assassin’ and ‘silent executioner’ from his days as US Attorney for the Southern District of Alabama and, subsequently, the state’s attorney general.

The problem is that when Sessions thinks of criminals, only gang members, drug dealers and human traffickers come to mind. Fair enough. However, he has spent too long in Washington DC to see another criminal class: politicians and government employees.

Because of that blind spot, he cannot be an effective attorney general (AG). And, as important as jailing gang members, drug dealers and human traffickers is, the overriding national concern right now is upholding the Constitution and putting crooked politicians — past and present — behind bars.

The latest episode in this long drawn out investigation of Robert Mueller’s is that President Trump’s personal attorney, Michael Cohen, had his home, office and the hotel room in which he was staying at the time ransacked by the FBI in New York on Monday, March 9, 2018 (Mueller is pictured at top right, Sessions beneath him):

Remember that Mueller and his team are only supposed to be investigating alleged Russian collusion involving Trump and his team. After nearly a year, they have not found any evidence of that with regard to the Trump campaign, so they have moved the goalposts and expanded their brief to find anything against Trump or one of his associates.

Jeff Sessions can’t help. Shortly after Mueller came on board, Sessions recused himself from any investigation into the presidential campaign of which he had been a part.

As Mueller’s investigation seems to be all-encompassing, Sessions’s hands are effectively tied.

There are those who say he could recuse, because of various irregularities with the investigation. However, it is likely he will play by the rules.

Therefore, for all intents and purposes, deputy AG Rod Rosenstein effectively runs the Department of Justice (DOJ).

With regard to Michael Cohen:

Meanwhile, former Secret Service agent Dan Bongino points out the obvious:

This is something Sessions could — and should — work on:

He can — and should — assign work involving MS-13, drug dealers and human traffickers to subordinates in the DOJ and FBI. As it stands:

A lot of us had high hopes for Sleepy, who seemed pretty alert at first, but now the United States is approaching, if not already in, a constitutional crisis:

Ultimately:

Sessions could be investigating any number of those scandals and crimes, but he is not. His all-around inactivity in this regard is harming the nation, regardless of what many think:

On Tuesday, April 10, Judge Andrew Napolitano, legal analyst for Fox News, blamed the Cohen raid on Sessions’s recusal and said that he never should have accepted the AG appointment (emphases mine below):

Napolitano said the government raided Cohen’s office looking for evidence of bank fraud and believes it never would have escalated to this point if Sessions had made different choices.

[Sessions] should have never accepted the appointment,” Napolitano said. “The Russia investigation started in October of 2016 and he knew he was going to be a witness. But if he felt he had to recuse himself — Mr. President you are entitled to an attorney general in whom have you great confidence. I’m not sure if I’m the guy if I recuse myself. Half of what the DOJ does, I will have nothing to do with.”

Earlier, on Saturday, April 7, longtime political strategist, Trump friend and earliest campaign manager Roger Stone said that congressmen have told him Sessions might not be mentally fit for office. Mediaite reported on a radio interview Stone gave that day to WMAL’s Steve Malzberg:

Stone replied that Deputy AG Rod Rosenstein is the “de facto attorney general,” before making a jaw-dropping allegation:

“I think Jeff Sessions is either neutered or non compos mentis. He may in fact even be senile.”

Malzberg asked if those comments should be taken literally, and Stone responded in the affirmative.

Members of congress who have met with me have told me that he’s around the bend, he makes little sense, that he seems befuddled, confused, bewildered. So yeah, something is not well, he needs to step down.”

After President Trump found out about the raid on Michael Cohen, he spoke out:

“The Attorney General made a terrible mistake when he recused himself,” Trump said, raising again his dissatisfaction with Sessions for recusing himself from matters relating to the Russia investigation.

On April 10, The Daily Caller reported that two congressmen are awaiting overdue documentation from Sessions and Rosenstein about intelligence abuses:

Republican Reps. Jim Jordan and Mark Meadows appeared together on “Fox & Friends” Tuesday to express their displeasure with the Department of Justice and suggested a new attorney general might be the only cure.

Meadows of North Carolina and Jordan of Ohio said they were frustrated by delays within the DOJ, in turning over sensitive document related to intelligence abuses …

[Meadows] accused the FBI and DOJ of trying to hide information from Congress and said if Attorney General Jeff Sessions can’t get the job done then Trump should find someone who can.

Jim Jordan told The Daily Caller:

Congressman Jim Jordan says Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein should be “held accountable” for the leadership they have displayed at the Department of Justice, specifically as it relates to special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation.

“I’ve been extremely disappointed,” the Ohio Republican told The Daily Caller in an interview Tuesday. “They’re keeping critical facts from us, like the conversation between Peter Strzok and Lisa Page where they talk about the relationship Strzok has with one of the FISA court judges, the same judge who by the way heard Michael Flynn’s case and recused himself after Flynn pled guilty.”

It’s not as if Sessions is the only one at the DOJ with conflicts of interests. Rod Rosenstein has them, too:

The congressman had previously suggested Sessions step down as AG, but he specifically stated Tuesday that Rosenstein should see punitive measures for his role in both the Mueller probe and the FBI’s original Trump-counterintelligence investigation.

Rod Rosenstein, who oversees the obstruction of justice investigation into the firing of James Comey, can he really do that when he’s the guy who wrote the memo recommending the firing of James Comey?” he posed. “[Rosenstein] signed one of the FISA renewals, despite knowing that the author of the dossier that the FISA warrant was based on had his relationship with the FBI terminated because he broke protocol and leaked information to the press — I mean, come on!

The Republican-majority Senate told Trump last year they would not approve any new cabinet appointments and still forbid him from making them while they are in recess. This puts the president in a bind. He might be able to make a lateral move by putting Scott Pruitt, current head of the Environmental Protection Agency, into the AG post.

Whatever the case, Sleepy Sessions would do well to wake up and smell the coffee, recuse himself (wherever possible), then get on the case. In terms of investigating politically oriented crimes, he has done a terrible job not only for President Trump — but also for the American people.

Coming soon: Sessions’s recusals explained

Yesterday’s post was about the BBC’s MasterChef.

It could be argued that the 2018 amateur series was the best to date.

Today’s post has more about the winner and a few inside scoops on the show.

More on Kenny Tutt

The Sun has excellent photos of Kenny Tutt’s restaurant quality winning dishes.

When bank manager Tutt beat Dr Nawamin Pinpathomrat and pilot David Crichton in the final, he said:

This whole thing is for my dad. I know he’s looking down and been giving me support. It’s a special day.

The first quarter hour or so of the final programme presented a segment on each of the finalists’ personal lives. Kenny’s mother related that her husband and son died when Kenny was a young man. He was close to both, but she said that he and his father were ‘joined at the hip’.

Kenny is devoted to his mother, his wife and his two daughters.

Yet, to look at Kenny’s characteristically happy face — we dubbed him Mr Smiley — one would never think that he had had two traumatic deaths to make sense of:

I drew two lessons from this.

The first is that we never know what has happened to other people by looking at them. Although far from being as sunny as Kenny, years ago, someone once said to me, ‘Nothing bad has ever happened to you’. I was taken aback, thinking how utterly wrong that person was.

The second is that the resilience and positive attitude that Kenny displays are exemplary.

We also found out from his wife Lucy that he got up when it was still dark to practice his dishes and perfect his culinary techniques for the show.

The Radio Times reported:

Speaking about his plans after the competition, the chef said “he would love to get more young people cooking”, but that his “ultimate ambition would be to run a high-end gastro Pub”. Just save us a seat whenever you open, Kenny.

The Daily Mail told us:

He said: ‘I would love to get more young people cooking. I always love to get my girls involved in the kitchen, and my eldest Emily just loves to cook and taste the food. Cooking teaches so much, from science to maths, and allows children to be creative and proud.

‘I would also love to write about food and want to put together some great food events, be it supper clubs or private dining. The ultimate ambition would be to run a high-end gastro Pub/B&B.’

The dad-of-two lives happily in Worthing, West Sussex, with his wife Lucy as well as their two children three-year-old Emily and 10-year-old Grace.

The Mail explained how he became interested in cooking:

Kenny started his culinary craft at a young age as he always loved watching his mum cooking up a storm in the kitchen.

The bank manager developed an interest in food from different cultures thanks to his love of travelling across the globe.

The Sun told us what he said before the final:

He said: “My mum always said if you just put a bit of love into it, that generally will make the food taste better.

“I’m just going to give it my best shot, try and have a bit of fun and we’ll see what happens.”

He said his job with the bank was his first “proper” job – and he’s worked there for 15 years.

Kenny says he appeared on MasterChef because he wanted to try something different.

Of course, MasterChef finished filming long before it aired. As with similar televised contests, the winner has to keep the victory a secret until the whole series airs. Add on the six weeks it takes for the show to complete on television and that is a very long period of time.

Mirror TV managed to interview him afterwards:

Speaking to Mirror TV, dad Kenny said that he still “couldn’t quite believe” that he had won the competition and described it as “mind-blowing”.

“It’s an amazing achievement for me, my family and everyone. So yeah, I’m really happy,” he said.

Revealing that he managed to keep the result a secret from most of his family and friends, he admitted that he told his wife Lucy and mum the outcome.

“My wife thought I was joking!” he quipped.

Kenny, who is dad to Emily (3) and Grace (10 months) said that he couldn’t have done it without his wife’s support.

The Mirror asked about the trip to Peru during finals week:

One memorable moment saw a contestant attempt to recreate the Andes mountains out of corn, and another arrange piranha heads on a plate. But was it all work and no play?

“We went out and had a bite to eat, but generally there was a lot of us thinking about what we were going to do next,” he told us.

“But yeah, we managed to spend a few hours together here and there which was really time well spent.”

His MasterChef experience far exceeded his expectations. The contestants were decent people:

I thought it would be more like competition – dog-eat-dog with people trying to clamber over each other to win and the thing that made it really good was that there wasn’t any of that.

We were all the best of friends. And the time the bell rang for us to start cooking we were all in our own little worlds anyway.

Judges John Torode and Gregg Wallace:

were the same in real life as they were on screen: “A couple of great guys”.

One thing Kenny hadn’t bargained for was the camera and sound crews:

The thing you don’t see when you’re watching on TV is the things that go on around you when you’re filming like cameras and sound. I didn’t know about that – you don’t even think about it.

It is a bit weird but you quickly get used to it. Once I was used to it it was like they had always been there. They were all great actually – the production crew, camera guys – they all had a great sense of humour.

He also said there was:

a “great atmosphere” on set and said that “everyone was well looked after”.

As for his cheerfulness:

To be honest, that was just me – what you see is what you get and I do get a bit excited to be there. I was just a bit like an excited puppy and that comes across.

I mean, I am a pretty happy guy, I’ve got nothing to be upset about. So I think most people take that as a good thing, but you do get the odd person who is like, ‘God, why is he always smiling?’

Well, you know, I’m on a TV show and I’m doing alright, so I’m not not going to be happy about it.

And:

He also said that he hadn’t realised he was “quite so animated” from the facial expressions he pulled: “It is quite cringe when you watch it back”.

It was all good, Kenny.

He told the Mirror that he was looking forward to relaxing and enjoying the experience before launching into any culinary projects.

Judges’ tasting and food waste

Many MasterChef fans wonder if the judges have to taste the dishes cold. They are also interested in what happens to leftover or unused ingredients.

The Sun posted an article which explains everything. In 2012, Gregg Wallace revealed what happens to the unused food and the cooked food:

The raw food gets divided up by the youngsters in the crew — talented young people who’ve just begun their careers and aren’t necessarily earning very much.

The cooked food is devoured by the filming crew. A lot of them carry their own cutlery!

That said, contestants race the film crew to taste each other’s dishes:

Chetna Makan, from the 2014 series, told Digital Spy: “It’s not just the cameramen who swarm over the food, we (the other contestants) definitely do it too.

“We all run to the food made by whoever got the most compliments. Literally, everybody runs, nearly knocking each other over to have a taste.”

As for the judges’ tasting, the Sun cited former MasterChef: The Professionals semi-finalist Louisa Ellis, who told Birmingham Live:

The food stays there for a bit after you’ve finished so they can get good shots of it.

“So it can be cold by the time the judges get to it – especially if you’re last to be judged – but they take that into consideration.”

The judges are said to get round this by going round and tasting each contestant’s food straight from the pot, in scenes which are later edited out.

Narrator India Fisher

India Fisher breaks the mould with her sultry, intense narration of MasterChef. She narrates all of the various series except for the Celebrity editions.

The Sun profiled her on April 13:

The softly-spoken host gives a commentary on the dishes whipped up by the cooks – and always makes them sound as good as they look …

Others have admitted that they’d love India to narrate their lives and describe their cooking successes with equal vigour.

This can be problematic for viewers when she moves on to other projects, such as commercials:

Fans may have noticed that India’s voice is affiliated with a number of different brands.

She is the voice of Natwest and has presented a variety of different advertisement campaigns.

Amusingly, her voice has become so synonymous with the show, that fans find it hard to focus when she embarks on a new project.

She also does other voice work:

India is also a broadcasting star, providing voice work for Science Fiction audio dramas including Earthsearch Mindwarp and Doctor Who.

She has also appeared on BBC Radio 4 comedy series Elephants to Catch Eels and Dead Ringers.

As we never see her, the Sun has a photo of her at the top of the article. Mystery solved!

India has been with MasterChef since its relaunch in 2005. Yet, we know little about her. The Sun tells us:

The 43-year-old is an actress and presenter who was born in Stoke-on-Trent, Staffordshire.

She comes from a famous family, as her dad is former MP Mark Fisher.

India is also the step-sister of musician Crispin Hunt and actress Francesca Hunt.

The trophy

The MasterChef trophy and logo were updated in 2012 to reflect a 21st century look.

The Sun explains:

It is made of polished aluminium and mounted on a tiered aluminium base.

Makers of the award, Gaudio, say on their website: “The MasterChef trophy is instantly recognisable and is treasured by winners.”

The article also gives updated information on recent winners’ activities in the culinary world.

Another series of MasterChef ended on Friday, April 13, 2018.

MasterChef, in all its incarnations — amateur, professional and celebrity — has comprised most of my BBC viewing. The only other programme I watch is Inside the Factory, which is also food oriented. As everything else is either politicised or revisionist, I avoid the rest of the BBC like the plague.

The last time I wrote about the amateur series of MasterChef was in 2013, when Londoner Natalie Coleman won. I was going to write about Ping Coombes in 2014, but a serious family matter intervened.

I remember well the original MasterChef, which Loyd Grossman — originally from Marblehead, Massachusetts — hosted in the 1990s. Grossman also hosted the British edition of Through the Keyhole for many years.

MasterChef underwent a revamp in 2005. The new studio was large (the current one huge), and the challenges became more involved. Chef and restaurateur John Torode and former greengrocer Gregg Wallace became the new co-hosts. Since then, many the winners have gone on to greatness, opening their own gastro-pubs and restaurants. Thomasina Miers, the 2005 winner, is probably the most successful of all the MasterChef winners. She founded and owns the Wahaca chain of restaurants featuring food you won’t find outside of Mexico.

Every series has some sort of controversy. 2017’s was about the proper pronunciation of chorizo. That year also saw the debut of the market, full of ingredients for the contestants to use. A physician from Watford won: Dr Saliha Mahmood-Ahmed, who now divides her time between hospital work and a cookery career. The doctor had stiff competition in Giovanna Ryan and Steve Kielty:

Now on to the 2018 edition of MasterChef.

The standard of cookery gets higher and higher every year, beginning with the first episode. Successful contestants make and plate restaurant quality dishes. Competent home cooks end up eliminated early on.

This was also the first year that the amateurs went to a foreign country during Finals Week. They spent time in Lima, Peru, cooking for two of the country’s top chefs.

The near diplomatic incident

In Knockout Week, Gregg Wallace nearly caused a diplomatic incident when he criticised a Malaysian contestant’s chicken rendang because the skin wasn’t crispy. On April 4, the London Evening Standard reported:

Wallace sparked a wave of criticism, including from Malaysia’s prime minister, after telling Malaysian-born Zaleha Kadir Olpin her chicken rendang dish needed a crispier skin.

“The skin isn’t crispy. It can’t be eaten but all the sauce is on the skin I can’t eat,” Wallace said on the BBC show.

His sharp assessment of the dish, which saw Ms Olphin crash out of the show, sparked a rebuke from Malaysia’s Prime Minister Najib Razak, who tweeted a picture of the curry dish along with the caption: “Does anyone eat chicken rendang ‘crispy’? #MalaysianFood”.

Wallace appeared on ITV’s Good Morning Britain to explain:

I didn’t mean it should be fried, like a fried chicken. What I meant was, it wasn’t cooked. And it simply wasn’t cooked. It was white and flabby.

It did no good. A Facebook page went up in Malaysia with the title ‘Justice for Chicken Rendang’ and demands for apologies from judges Torode and Wallace:

One commenter, Jin Wee, wrote online: “As a Malaysian, if I could, I would personally go to the show and rendang their head. Uncultured swine, doesn’t know variety of cuisine and claims to be Masterchef?”

The British high commissioner also got involved:

Vicki Treadell, the British high commissioner to Malaysia who was born in the country, tweeted: “Rendang is an iconic Malaysian national dish … It is never crispy & should also not be confused with the fried chicken sometimes served with nasi lemak.”

Torode had the final say, with no apology:

I did a whole series on Malaysia. Malaysian food is fantastic. I absolutely love it. I said to her, it wasn’t cooked enough, that’s what I said.

The Radio Times has more on the incident, including tweets. The magazine gives Torode’s exact quote as he was judging the dish:

I think the chicken rendang on the side is a mistake. It hasn’t had enough time to cook down and become lovely and soft and fall apart. Instead the chicken itself is just tough and it’s not really flavoursome.

Chorizo pronunciation redux

Questions over the pronunciation of chorizo arose again with Portuguese-born Alex, who works in the fashion industry in London. On April 12, the Sun reported:

Alex claims she’s from Portugal but some viewers seemed doubtful due to how she pronounced Chorizo.

One tweeted: “Alex on MasterChef tells us she’s from Portugal but then she says ‘Choritso’…#suspicious.”

The Sun included the tweet:

Alex did not make the cut for the final, but as the fourth remaining contestant, did a great job throughout.

Finalists

The final three contestants this year were all men: bank manager Kenny Tutt, airline pilot David Crichton and another physician, Thai-born Dr Nawamin Pinpathomrat, who is currently studying for his PhD at Oxford.

The Radio Times has more on the finalists, including their style of cuisine.

The apple crumble moment

David Crichton made an outstanding crumble in Finals week:

David’s apple crumble mille-feuille – layers of puff pastry, filled with caramelised apple and cream custard, with a crumble topping and served with clotted cream ice-cream and a caramel sauce – almost reduced John Torode to tears. The judge called it “fabulous, fantastic and faultless”.

The Australian-born Torode speaks as he finds. This crumble brought out a side that viewers had not seen before. The Evening Standard carried the story, peppering the text with tweets.

Torode told David:

“Fabulous, fantastic and faultless,” he said as he came close to shedding a tear. “Like honestly, it makes me well up – that is sensational.

“That’s what this competition is about where you push yourself to the stage where you make your own puff pastry and take the risk.

“You make a crumble, you make an apple pie, an apple tart, an apple [mille-feuille] and you take it to dizzy heights where it stirs emotion. Restaurant quality absolutely and a credit to you David.”

Here are two of the tweets:

Kenny’s cauliflower

On April 12, the day before the final, Alex and the three men were tasked with reproducing intricate recipes served at Dinner by Heston Blumenthal.

Chef director Ashley Palmer-Watts devised his takes on these historic dishes with the help of food historians and the team at Hampton Court Palace. Each recipe is 15 pages long.

The four contestants had five hours each to re-create four of the dishes to Palmer-Watts’s exacting standards. Each contestant was assigned a different dish. One of his sous-chefs was on hand to supervise and offer advice.

SpouseMouse and I really wanted Kenny to win. We think his bank branch is going to close, and he desperately needs another line of work.

We were furious to find that Palmer-Watts’s sous-chef allowed Kenny to leave his cauliflower garnish in the oven. We weren’t alone. Digital Spy reported:

People were fuming that poor Kenny wasn’t reminded about his cauliflower – especially when fellow contestant Alex had been given a helpful hint earlier…

For whatever reason, the sous-chef muttered:

His cauliflower’s still in the oven, so I’m not gonna tell him…

Representative tweets in Digital Spy‘s article follow:

Not only ‘could have’ but jolly well ‘should have’.

After a nail-biting round with Ashley Palmer-Watts joining John and Gregg in the judging, it was a relief to discover that Kenny was going through to the final.

Torode welled up once again:

Alex narrowly missed out on a spot in the final, but said that she was delighted with how well she’d done.

Judge John Torode got rather emotional when the time came to announce the results – and viewers were very quick to notice:

Alex is standing next to Kenny, awaiting the verdict:

The final

In an online poll, most MasterChef viewers did not expect Kenny Tutt to win the final.

However, win he did and in true style. Metro reported:

The 36-year-old father of two is the 14th amateur cook to claim the prize – beating 55 other hopefuls from the current series to the title after seven weeks of culinary challenges.

He ultimately fought off competition from fellow finalists Nawamin Pinpathomrat and David Crichton to take the title.

And he did it by impressing Gregg Wallace and John Torode with a three-course meal which was described by the judges as ‘restaurant-style perfection’ and ‘make-my-heart-thump fantastic’.

Kenny wanted to present the judges with three courses that showed techniques he had learned at the restaurants where he and the contestants cooked during the series to reflect his MasterChef journey:

Kenny kicked things off with roast scallops, smoked cauliflower, shimeji mushroom and pancetta.

His main course was a Squab pigeon breast and bon-bon, heritage beetroot, baby turnip, spiced cherries, bread sauce and game jus, followed by a bitter chocolate, ale ice-cream, malt tuile and smoked caramel.

The judges were impressed, to say the least:

‘Today we watched Kenny coming of age,’ Gregg said of his win.

‘We have just witnessed Kenny having his best round on MasterChef and he saved it for the final. His starter was a stunningly beautiful dish, it was quality restaurant-style perfection and his main course was even better.’

John said:

I think Kenny’s journey has been extraordinary. He has come a long way. His food has got more and more refined and his main course was make-my-heart-thump fantastic!

Kenny said:

I have put my heart and soul into it and it’s been an absolute pleasure. It’s up there with the happiest days of my life!

More on Kenny and MasterChef tomorrow. This series was so memorable in so many ways.

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