Category Archives: Religion


What does it mean to be pure?  Merriam-Webster offers several possible meanings for our consideration.   The first is “unmixed with any other matter”.  This is somewhat of a scientific definition, there is stuff and not stuff  and when there is stuff and no not stuff in the container it is pure stuff.

The second is “being thus and no other” as in sheer or unmitigated.  Pure evil or pure folly would be two examples of this usage.

Yet again, it could be “free from what vitiates, weakens or pollutes or containing nothing that does not belong”.  The pure/clean food movement currently making the rounds (at least in restaurant commercials) would fall in this category.

But what does it mean in a Christian context?  What does it mean to be Pure?  I think that we have spent most of our time as church people talking and thinking about purity in terms of sex.  We throw in a few other things, like language occasionally, but purity in church tends to be code for discussion of our sexual behaviors, outlooks, and thought life.

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The Cost of the Gospel

I’d like to go back this week to 1 Corinthians 9.  Bruce led an excellent and highly charged discussion of this chapter where we focused on Paul’s refusal to take money for preaching in Corinth.  It’s natural that we would focus on that aspect of the chapter.  What is appropriate for those who work in what we moderns call “full time vocational ministry” to be paid, and just how much of the wealth of this world should be held by the church (however that is defined) and its leaders has always been a hot topic.

It even manages to make it into modern fiction (albeit set in a 14th Century monastery).  If you read Umberto Ecco’s excellent book The Name of the Rose , the main character, William of Baskerville (played by Sean Connery in the movie of the same name), travels to a remote Monastery in the Italian Alps to witness a theological trial on the topic, “did Jesus own His own clothes.”  This was big stuff in the Medieval world because if He did not, then the Holy Church had no claim on its vast estates and the secular powers and prerogatives it took for itself.  The arguments end badly in the book and people burn at the stake.  There is a lot of that going on today in a metaphorical sense.

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Patience and Prayer

James (Ole Camel Knees) concludes his epistle with a discussion of patience and prayer in the face of adversity.  Patience is not a well regarded virtue these days.  Just about the only time you’ll see it lauded is during a football game (that’s real football not some ersatz game with grown men in short pants playing kickball).  You’ve heard the announcer on TV talking about the quarterback being patient waiting for the receiver to open up or the running back being patient waiting for his blockers.  Its ironic that this patience takes so little time that its occurrence may be easily overlooked by the casual observer.

Mostly, as Americans, we don’t want to be patient.  It is certainly in short supply in my life.  I’m looking for the shortest line in the grocery store.  I don’t want to wait for anything (not even for football season, I’m seriously Jonesin’ for some football right now).  Service is always too slow.  The internet is too slow.  Traffic is too slow. I want what I want and I want it right now.  It took a month and a half for the bank to approve and close my fast track mortgage refinance and I spent at least a month of that time yelling at them to go faster.

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Have you ever presumed things and in doing that been embarrassed or worse?  Jesus had plenty to say about presumptuousness, most famous was his advice regarding seating at banquets.  In Luke 14:7-11 Jesus says:

When he noticed how the guests picked the places of honor at the table, he told them this parable: “When someone invites you to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honor, for a person more distinguished than you may have been invited. If so, the host who invited both of you will come and say to you, ‘Give this person your seat.’ Then, humiliated, you will have to take the least important place. But when you are invited, take the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he will say to you, ‘Friend, move up to a better place.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all the other guests. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

In 4:6 James says the thrust of scripture is that “God opposes the proud but He gives grace to the humble.”  Now he continues to further inveigh against presumption and hubris on our part.  If you don’t know the word hubris Webster defines it as “a great or foolish amount of pride or confidence.”  It comes from a Greek word and Greek tragedy, hubris lead to nemesis or destruction by the Gods or by some other invincible force.  Its the pride that comes before the fall.

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Passion and Pride

The title sounds like a soap opera, and correctly so.  Have you ever watched a soap opera?  I must confess that during my senior year in college I (and many others) were so hooked on General Hospital we scheduled our classes around it so we could catch the latest in the trials of Luke and Laura.


Remember that?  Hall and Oates playing on the radio, Luke and Laura on TV, I had hair, those were the days.

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More Troublesome Thoughts from James

With whom do you wish to be seen?  In what contexts are you comfortable and with whom?  That’s pretty easy generally, we like to be with people with the same outlook on life we have and who are generally of our same our higher socioeconomic status.  Especially the part about socioeconomic status.  Here is one of my favorite movie scenes, its not Monty Python per se because its from the movie Time Bandits, but it does feature John Cleese as Robin Hood.

The video accuses the charitable (that would be us in case you’re missing the point) of giving to the poor outside of our own cozy community while laughing at them and punching them in the face (all in the politest possible terms of course).  Now James is being a little more oblique than John Cleese’s slapstick (litterally) broadside, but he makes the same sorts of accusations none the less.

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James Begins to Cause Trouble

Not content with the notion that we should welcome trials, (not because they make us happy or we enjoy them, but because they represent opportunities to be tested, and tested faith leads to completness) James lays into us about how we speak.  As Americans we like to say things, a lot.  We almost worship our 1st amendment right to free speech and say things like,”I disagree with what you say, but I would fight for your right to say it.”  We have whole shows on radio and TV about nothing but speaking, Talk Shows.  We like to talk and we like to hear ourselves talk and the more we talk the more we like to hear ourselves.  Its an endless circle.  I feel certain that this propensity to speak, even with nothing to say, is part of the human condition, as applicable to the 1st century Christians as to 21st Century Americans.

As usual he presents his thoughts in pairs,  quick hearing/slow speaking, anger of man/righteousness of God, wickedness/meekness, hearing/doing, looking at your self and forgetting/looking at the law of liberty and forgetting.

He starts this strand by urging Christians to shut up and listen.  To listen quickly, listen first and speak slow, speak last.  Why?  Well one commentary suggests its related to the trials he talks about in the first part of the chapter.  That these trials may cause friction among Christians or families that are undergoing them and that, as a result, they may lash out at those around them.  As James says “…the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God”. He urges us, instead, to put away “filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive meekness”.  The meekness is commended to us because of its ability to save our souls.

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James, A Start

Since Bruce was brave enough to lead us through Ecclesiastes, with serendipitous results, I though I would try something challenging as well.  I have told you before that James is my least favorite book of the Bible, mainly because it steps on my toes, and does so badly.  I fear that I may be one of those who tries to show his faith without works, or at least with woefully insufficient works.  Where do you stand on the Book of James?  Have you ever considered that question?

NOTA BENE:  I have lifted a lot of the following information about James from a very nice study by Bob Utley from East Texas Baptist University which can be found in its entirety here:

It’s an important question, and one asked early and often by the church as a whole.  Traditionally, authorship of this book has been ascribed to James the half brother of Jesus, called “James the Just”.  According to one of the patristic writers, Esuebius, who quotes another writer named Hegesippus, James was also nicknamed “camel knees” because he prayed so much on his knees (we’ll be referring to “Ole Camel Knees” or OCK through this study because I like the idea of a Biblical author with a nickname).  Jerome says that James was Jesus’
Cousin and Catholic tradition has James as a half-brother by a prior wife of Joseph.  Most protestant theologians believe James was the son of Mary and Joseph and that the Catholic Tradition was developed so that Catholics could continue to assert the perpetual virginity of Mary.

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WHEN Jesus

When is a matter of timing.  It could be used like a child’s entreaty on a long trip,”When will we be there?” It could be used as a threat, “When your father gets home…!” When could be used as a promise, “When we are finished shopping we’ll get ice cream.”  But no matter how it is used, the event in question is not theoretical, its considered by all parties to be something that will definitely happen.

We talked about what our response might be IF God showed up with a word for our lives, whether in the form of an Angel or otherwise and considered how we would react.  But I have GOOD NEWS.  In fact, the best of all possible news.  It isn’t a matter of IF God is going to show up, its a matter of WHEN God is going to show up.

As a matter of fact, I can tell you when He did.  It was when Quirinius was Governor of Syria and when Caesar Augusts was Emperor.  That was when is showed up in “the meat”, that’s kind of what incarnate means, when he took on our physical form.  In the words of Philippians 2:6-7 Jesus, “..did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.”

But that is not the end of the WHEN.  When Pontius Pilate was Governor of Palestine, the baby who was born when Quirinius was Governor died in our place.  At the right time.  Romans 5:5-8 tells us,
“You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

And WHEN was the right time?  It had little to do with Quirinius and Pilate, and everything to do with us, that’s all of us who are now, ever were or ever will be.  It had to do with when we were powerless against sin and death and hell.  When is that?  Its right now because we are always powerless against those.  Jesus didn’t just come back then, He is with us now!

Romans  5:9-10 reminds us, “Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him! For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life!”

Jesus Christ, Immanuel, God with us,  has come!  The power of death is defeated.  And the WHEN is now, for those who belive.

Merry Christmas and the Peace of the Born, Crucified and Risen Christ be with you.

2012-12-10 22.48.50

IF Angels

If, like its cousin while, is also a complex logical construct.  It suggests a possibility and asks (or tells) what will happen if the possibility becomes reality.  If does not deal in probability, only possibility and reality.  It is also a construct subject to analysis by Boolean methods (evaluating as true or false) and therefore extremely useful in computer programming.

It is also useful in planning  for contingencies, and it is the core of at least one entire industry.  What if you run into another car while driving?  What if you get sick or hurt?  What if there is a hail storm or your house catches fire?  What would happen to my family if I died?  What happens if my tree falls on my neighbor’s car?  You get the point?

So ubiquitous is IF that we don’t even catch ourselves using it.  Can I still retire if the markets tank?  What if I won the lottery?  What if Baylor wins the Big XII football title? (Oh snap, they did.)  Everything we plan and most of what we think about involves an if.

But here’s one you might not think about all that often.  What if God or one of His angels, showed up for a word with us?

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