Usually in these posts I write what I’m thinking, but in this one I want to do something out of the ordinary. Since it was Spring Break last week I did not go to school to teach; and because I had a Texas’ panhandle cold I stayed home all week. I took advantage of the opportunity and as I lay around I did a lot of reading rather than just watching TV. Some of what I read got my attention and I thought some readers might be challenged and encouraged as I was by a few quotes that got my attention.

An observation by Lois Tverberg in her book Reading the Bible with Rabbi Jesus about devotional reading: “A lot of us do Bible study microwave-style. We gulp down a prepackaged, presweetened devotion with a few slurps of coffee before heading off to work. Is it at all surprising when it’s bland and unmemorable, like a vending machine sandwich?” (p. 10)

Ouch! If our daily (or regular) devotional reading is basically just going through the motions, we probably need to give it a little more focus and energy to get out of it what we need.

A comment from John Dickson in his book A Doubter’s Guide to Jesus about the original sin in the Garden of Eden: “The story of Adam eating from the ‘tree of the knowledge of good and evil’ has nothing to do with gluttony and sensuality; it is all about man [sic] wanting to determine for himself, without God’s involvement, what the parameters of ‘good and evil’ should be” (p. 198).

Uh oh! It sounds like it is not up to us to decide what is right or wrong, but that determination is made by God and we need to accept it.

An interpretation of the Bible’s general teaching about submission from Dallas Willard in his book Life without Lack: “. . . submission is not assigning our responsibility to others, abandoning our own judgment, or allowing others to simply dictate to us. It is setting aside our own ideas as supreme and our own will as ultimate, freeing us from the burden of having our own way and of being all-wise in our own eyes” (p.64).

What? So submission is not a dirty word, nor is it exclusively intended for wives. It’s the opposite of thinking we know it all and are always right.

An assessment of Jonathan Edwards in article about him in Comment Magazine by Ray Pennings: “He had a whole-hearted desire to live life to God’s glory. His faith wasn’t simply a set of propositions; it had a comprehensive scope, impacting how he thought about food, vocation, old age, and relationships. A few years later a university friend helped me to put a finger on it when he described Edwards as ‘making natural things spiritual and spiritual things natural.’”

I think I would like to be more like Jonathan Edwards; and I have a ways to go in my growth as Christian.

A teaching from Jesus recorded in Mark 12:38-40, “Jesus also taught: ‘Beware of these teachers of religious law! For they like to parade around in flowing robes and receive respectful greetings as they walk in the marketplaces.  And how they love the seats of honor in the synagogues and the head table at banquets.  Yet they shamelessly cheat widows out of their property and then pretend to be pious by making long prayers in public. Because of this, they will be more severely punished’” (NLT).

My mom would have called this “showing off.” I wonder if any of us (especially pastors and preachers) ever act like those bad teachers of religious law.

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The phrase Prime Time is used in a variety of contexts. Most prominent, perhaps, is the period of TV programming in the middle of the evening when the most people are watching. Many years ago when we purchased a timeshare (that we finally unloaded a couple of years ago) I noted that certain weeks of the year were designated Prime Time and the rules for using the timeshare those weeks were different.

For the past 45 years or so in my life, Prime Time has meant something different to me vocationally and personally. Prime Time for me comes once a year, but is not the same time each year — it varies. Nor is its length always the same for me; it’s sometimes longer and sometimes shorter. This year Prime Time began for me on Monday.

Prime Time for me each year is anywhere between seven and three weeks before and including Easter Sunday. It was Prime Time for me vocationally all these years because I was serving as a pastor. I never preached the same series, but I always preached a series of sermons leading up to Easter focusing on the life and ministry of Jesus, concluding with his resurrection.

But the reason the time leading up to Easter was Prime Time for me was not just because of the preaching. That period was Prime Time for me also because I always used it to focus on and cultivate my personal spiritual life. Preparing to preach was part of it, but certainly not all of it.

This year will be the fourth Easter since I retired after 30 years as pastor of Discovery Christian Church. It will be the fourth year I haven’t prepared a sermon series leading up to Easter or preached on Easter Sunday. And I am fine with that. Preparing sermons and preaching is a great joy and privilege, but it is also a lot of work!

I haven’t prepared a series or preached on Easter the past three years, but I have maintained my practice of focusing on and cultivating my personal spiritual life. I started reading the Gospel of Mark on Monday thinking if I read a chapter a day five days a week I would read about the crucifixion (chapter 15) on Good Friday and the resurrection (chapter 16) on Saturday or Sunday.

If you don’t have a plan for this year’s Prime Time I invite, challenge, and encourage you to join me. One chapter a day five days a week of Bible reading doesn’t take long, but can be very rewarding—especially during Prime Time!

(Let me know below if you are going to join me in reading Mark these three weeks and/or share this post on Facebook or other social media.)





During his ministry Jesus was often questioned by his critics. Several of those questions are still relevant today, and for some the one about divorce is especially challenging.  I have had some significant discussions about divorce the last couple of months and thought a review of the back and forth between Jesus and his critics might be helpful.

Both Matthew (19:1-12) and Mark (10:1-12) record the incident, but the reports are not exactly the same. Nor is this exchange with the Pharisees the only time Jesus discussed marriage and divorce. There is a brief teaching in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5:21 and 22 and another in Luke 16:18, neither of which was prompted by a question.

The questioning about divorce took place as Jesus and his disciples traveled from Galilee to Jerusalem. Matthew indicates “Large crowds followed him, and he healed them there” (19:2) while Mark notes “crowds of people came to him, and as was his custom, he taught them” (10:1). It was typical of Jesus’ ministry that he both healed and taught, and he did so as he made his way to Jerusalem for the last time. What was also typical in the midst of His teaching and healing was that some Pharisees would test Him.

Both Matthew and Mark tell us the Pharisees came to test Jesus, but Matthew’s account of their first question has an additional phrase Mark’s does not have. Mark reports they asked Him, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” (verse 2). Matthew, however, reports they asked him, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?” (verse 3). While the questions are not exactly the same, both do reflect the culture of the time with regard to men and women: divorce was an option only for men. A wife did not have that option.

The additional phrase in Matthew’s record of the question not included by Mark (“for any and every reason”) reflects Old Testament teaching and rabbinic interpretation that is not immediately obvious to us when we read it today. And we need keep in mind the initial question in Matthew was intended to “trap” Jesus concerning the acceptability of divorce “for any and every reason.” The question reflected controversy at the time of the interpretation of the teaching about divorce in Deuteronomy 24:1. The New International Version renders Deuteronomy 24:1, “If a man marries a woman who becomes displeasing to him because he finds something indecent about her, and writes her a certificate of divorce . . . .”

The question that was debated was the meaning of “something indecent about her.” The two main schools of interpretation were from two rabbis (Shammai and Hillel) who represented a strict position and a lenient position. The lenient position was represented by the phrase in the question “for any and every reason.” (The example often cited for this position is that if the wife was a bad cook she could be divorced!) The strict position limited permissible divorce to some kind of sexual infidelity by the wife. The Pharisees were drawing Jesus into the dispute about the interpretation of the phrase with the hope he would give an answer that contradicted the Mosaic Law.

In Matthew’s report Jesus did not directly answer their question, but went all the way back to the Genesis account of the creation of male and female and the establishment of marriage. Jesus reminded his questioners that Genesis teaches “at the beginning the Creator made them male and female.” And in marriage a man “is united to his wife, and they become one flesh.” Jesus then adds his own observation that because of that, “what God has joined together, let no one separate” (Matthew 19:6). With his first response Jesus seems to be suggesting there is no lawful reason for a man to divorce his wife.

The Pharisees, however, responded to Jesus’ answer by asking Him about a key provision in the Law about divorce in Deuteronomy 24:1-4. They paraphrased, “Why then did Moses command that a man give his wife a certificate of divorce and send her away?” (Matthew 19:7). There was indeed teaching in the Old Testament about divorce, but the Pharisees cited only the first part of it in order to press Jesus.

Jesus, of course, knew what Deuteronomy 24 said and was not surprised by their follow up question to his first response. He replied, “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning” (verse 8). Note how Jesus changed their word “command” from Moses to “permitted” and again pointed them back to what he had already stated from Genesis. The “certificate of divorce” was a legal document indicating the dissolution of the marriage that allowed the woman to remarry. It was for her protection.

After Jesus’ response regarding the “certificate of divorce” he returned to their original question and in verse 9 answered it: “I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery.” Jesus took the strict position only allowing divorce in the case of sexual unfaithfulness. While there is no unanimity among scholars concerning the exact meaning of the Greek word translated “sexual immorality,” I agree with John Stott and others who suggest it points to behavior that in itself destroys the “one flesh” covenant reality of marriage.

Something still needs to be said about the parallel account and why Mark does not have “the exception clause” included in Matthew. I confess I don’t have an answer; nor do I find any of a variety of proposals that have been put forth totally satisfying. If pressed on the matter I think the observation made by some, that everyone at the time agreed sexual unfaithfulness was just cause for divorce, Mark took it for granted his readers knew that.

In talking about and dealing with divorce today I think Christians should follow the example Jesus set in his responses to the Pharisees. Before divorce is discussed we should first make sure we give attention to the meaning and purpose of marriage. Jesus did that by going back to the creation account of the institution of marriage. In contrast to so much thinking today, marriage is not a contract, but a covenant. After the marriage ceremony “they are no longer two, but one flesh.” Therefore, God’s original intent for marriage was and still is that it be life-long.

In addition to the divine ideal, however, there is also the reality of human failure. God’s ideal is not always carried out. And that is what is at the root of the Deuteronomy 24 passage, however it is interpreted. Jesus was clear that God permitted divorce because their “hearts were hard.” Because of the reality of human failure marriages fail and divorces take place. The dissolution of a marriage may be the lesser of two evils, but the divine concession does not cancel the divine intention for marriage.

Permission for divorce was granted because “sexual unfaithfulness” violated the “one flesh” unity and foundation of marriage. But just because divorce was permissible under such circumstances, it is not mandatory. In fact, most readers probably know couples who have experienced unfaithfulness in their marriage, but worked through it and have rebuilt a stronger “one flesh” partnership than they had prior to the breach.

I cannot answer all the questions Christians ask about divorce and remarriage. Entire books have been written about the issue, and all Christian leaders and teachers are not in total agreement. I have tried to emphasize what Jesus emphasized in his response to the Pharisees’ attempt to trap him. We have to understand that according to Jesus, in God’s eyes marriage is a permanent covenant commitment. And we need to hold high God’s divine ideal.

But I think we also have to realize human beings do not always carry out God’s ideals–we sometimes fail. That is the reason for the teaching of Deuteronomy 24:1-4. Because of human hardheartedness, and going beyond sexual unfaithfulness, some marriages end in divorce. Thankfully, neither adultery nor divorce are unforgiveable. In the same way that we hold God’s divine ideal for marriage high, we also need to hold high the grace, love, and forgiveness of God. In terms of marriage and divorce my best suggestion is to begin with people where they are and go from there.

(This post is adapted from chapter 9 of my book Questioning Jesus: Considering His Responses. Feel free to leave a reply below and/or share this post on Facebook or other social media.)


From the time I first saw a promotion for the new TV show Living Biblically I was interested in checking it out. From the promo I could tell it would be a comedy, and I was curious whether it would belittle the Bible and religion or perhaps show some respect. My first thought was that it would use humor to demean faith and the Bible, but I held out hope that a sitcom could be both funny and somewhat positive.

I watched the first episode Monday evening and was pleasantly surprised. My expectations may have been too low, but I was not offended nor did I feel the Bible or faith was being belittled or demeaned. And I found most of the humor to be funny and was regularly smiling as I watched.

The premise of the show is that following the death of his best friend, a man named Chip determines to live his life by the rules of the Bible. He goes to a catholic priest for help in carrying out his commitment. Later the priest introduces him to a rabbi and they become his God Squad. His wife is an atheist, and is pregnant, but is not against his plan.

After I watched the show I went online and read three reviews, none of which was as positive about the show as I am. One reviewer wrote the show “wastes a promising premise.” Another suggests it “Plays it Safe.” With clear reserve, Christianity Today correctly notes “the series finds comedy neither by attacking people’s faith nor presenting a holier-than-thou look at the character’s Christianity” (at least in the first episode).

I’m not recommending you watch the show, but I am interested in how it plays out in the weeks ahead and plan to watch it. Based upon what I saw last night, I think it may create interest and discussion concerning the Bible and religion. And I think that is a good thing.

I also think Christians need to keep in mind the show is intended to entertain, is a CBS sitcom, and does not have the goal of spreading Christianity or promoting the Bible. Right now I’m looking forward to next week’s episode, but realize I may be disappointed in the future.

Did you watch it? Do you think you will watch it in the future?

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Last week in our Encore Bible Study we began a new study entitled “Great Prayers of the Bible.” Our goal for this study is that we will learn more about prayer, as well as be challenged and encouraged to pray. This week we’re looking at Solomon’s prayer in I Kings 3.

In coming to the account I think it would be safe to say that Solomon’s prayer is not a normal prayer so to speak. Solomon had recently been established as king following his father David. He went to worship, and while there the LORD appeared to him in a dream and told him, “Ask for whatever you want me to give you” (I Kings 3:5).

Solomon thoughtfully responded to God’s offer. The first thing he did was express gratitude to God for his kindness (verse 6). Whenever and wherever we pray, it is always appropriate to be thankful. Solomon also expressed humility (verse 7). He knew being king was a great responsibility and he was not overly confident of his ability. As a matter of fact, he suggested he was inadequate for the job. Heartfelt humility is always appropriate, and perhaps especially when we go to the LORD in prayer.

After expressing gratitude and humility Solomon made his request: “give your servant a discerning heart to govern your people and to distinguish between right and wrong” (verse 9). I’m impressed by what Solomon did not ask for, but more importantly, so was God (verse 11). As impressed as I am by what he did not ask for, I’m more impressed by what he did ask for. But again, so was God. “The Lord was pleased that Solomon had asked for this” (verse 11). God was so pleased that he told Solomon he would grant his request by giving him a wise and discerning heart, but he would also give him what he did not ask for (verses 12 and 13).

I’m thinking asking for wisdom is a request you and I should regularly be making in our prayers today. Who doesn’t need wisdom? Or perhaps better yet, who doesn’t need more wisdom? There is an interesting promise in the New Testament in James 1:5, “If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.” Wisdom is available to us if we seek it and ask for it.

Here’s my takeaway from this for your consideration: Solomon’s thoughtful request for wisdom tells me he was already somewhat wise. His request shows that, doesn’t it? And the primary wisdom book of the Old Testament tells us in Proverbs 9:9, “Instruct the wise and they will be wiser still; teach the righteous and they will add to their learning.”

Most of us have heard the saying “The rich just get richer.” If that’s true, and it often is, I want to add another similar phrase that is also true: “The wise just get wiser.” If we are wise it seems to me we should humbly ask for more wisdom, always remembering that it will be difficult to grow in wisdom if we think we already know everything.

Feel free to leave a comment below and/or share this post on Facebook or other social media.

photo credit: cuatrok77 <a href=”″>BARRED OWL</a> via <a href=””>photopin</a&gt; <a href=””>(license)</a&gt;


Many people are familiar with Rodney King’s question asked in light of riots and unrest in Southern California on May 1, 1992, “Can we all get along?” It seems the answer is obvious, but my sense is that even if we can’t, most of us would agree we could do better with our conversations, discussions, and debates.

In my reading the past two or three weeks I have noted thoughtful observations from a variety of authors, that if put into practice, would greatly improve the quality of our discourse. All the authors I will be citing are writing from a Christian perspective about how Christians should interact, and Christians certainly need to hear what is being said, but the points made speak to all our interactions regardless of with whom we are speaking or whatever the subject.

The initial quote that grabbed my attention was in an article by Mark Galli in Christianity Today concerning disagreements among believers about biblical interpretation. He suggests, “We are not asked to be right but to be faithful to the truth we believe God has revealed to us. And to be charitable toward those who believe God has led them to a different conclusion.” While Galli is writing to people who believe the Bible, his basic point about being charitable to those who think differently than we do covers a lot more than just Bible interpretation.

A second article from Christianity Today by Mark Alan Bowald is about the death of longtime professor of historical theology at Yale Divinity School George Lindbeck and what evangelicals can learn from him. Bowald relates Lindbeck’s answer to a question about what holds evangelicals back: “Their unwillingness or inability to be self-critical about the ways in which they undertake and express their commitment.” Again, while Lindbeck was talking about Christians, his point about an unwillingness or inability to be self-critical covers a lot more than just matters of faith. A second lesson Bowald underscores evangelicals might learn from Lindbeck is to be more generous towards those who come from other traditions. I hope it is obvious how this lesson also has a much wider application.

What struck me last week was a couple of comments from John Dickson in his new book A Doubter’s Guide to Jesus. Encouraging readers to take a strong stand in certain matters, he also implores “but do so humbly and graciously.” He concludes the paragraph by cautioning that we should not make our case with smugness on our part or with disdain for those who do not agree.

I realize I am not the first person to raise this matter of how we talk with, to, and about one another. Lots of articles have been written as well as entire books dealing with the subject. As much as I wish we all would get along, I don’t think we all will ever completely agree on much. I think the authors I have quoted give us some real challenges for our discourse and interactions with those with whom we disagree in the Christian community as well as at large.

Part of the reason I am writing about this and citing these observations is that I needed to hear what these writers are saying. How about you?

Do we need to be more charitable to those with whom we disagree? I do.

Do we need to be more self-critical about the way we express ourselves? I do.

Do we need to be more generous towards those who come from a different background? I do.

Even when taking a strong stand, do we need to be more humble and gracious? I do.

Do we need to guard against being smug and/or showing disdain for others? I do.

Feel free to leave a comment below and/or share this post on Facebook or other social media.

(Photo courtesy of the boy’s grandmother, my wife–staged!)



It would be difficult to overstate the power of words. Sometimes we forgot that; and it is good to be reminded just how powerful they can be. The Bible’s book of wisdom, Proverbs, gives us a lot of practical help. The book contains over 100 references to the tongue, mouth, lips, and words.

The power of words can be seen in their potential for destruction. Proverbs 18:21a declares “The tongue has the power of life and death” and Proverbs 15:4b reminds us “a deceitful tongue crushes the spirit.” Most of us probably know and have recited the saying “Sticks and stones will break my bones, but words will never hurt me,” but it simply is not true. Every one of us has been hurt by words.

Words can do damage at either close range or at a distance. We’ve all been hurt by words spoken directly to us. Sometimes what is said to us is worse than a physical blow–things like “I never should have married you” or “I wish you’d never been born.” We’ve also been hurt by words at a distance.

Author Roger Thomas notes eight specifics in the book of Proverbs of how words can be destructive:

Lying – Proverbs 25:18, “Like a club or a sword or a sharp arrow is the man who gives false testimony against his neighbor.”

Deceit – Proverbs 4:24, “Don’t talk out of both sides of your mouth” (The Message).

Slander – Proverbs 11:2, “A man who lacks judgment derides his neighbor, but a man of understanding holds his tongue.” (Slander goes beyond the truth, but has a grain of truth.)

Gossip – Proverbs 16:28, “A perverse man stirs up dissension, and a gossip separates close friends.” Proverbs 20:19, “A gossip betrays a confidence; so avoid a man who talks too much.” (Gossip rejoices in the flaws and failures — or rumors of such — of others.)

Thoughtless Words – Proverbs 29:20, “There is more hope for a fool than for someone who speaks without thinking” (NLT).

Flattery – Proverbs 28:3, “He who rebukes a man will in the end gain more favor than he who has a flattering tongue.” Proverbs 29:5, “Whoever flatters his neighbor is spreading a net for his feet.”  (Flattery is insincere compliments to gain favor.)

Boasting – Proverbs 27:1 and 2, “Do not boast about tomorrow, for you do not know what a day may bring forth. Let another praise you, and not your own mouth; someone else, and not your own lips.”

Too Much Talk – Proverbs 18:2, “A fool finds no pleasure in understanding but delights in airing his own opinions.” Proverbs 10:19, “Don’t talk too much, for it fosters sin. Be sensible and turn off the flow” (NLT).

The power of words can also be seen in their potential for good. Again, Proverbs 18:21a declares “The tongue has the power of life” and Proverbs 15:4a that “The tongue that brings healing is the tree of life.” Proverbs 12:25 reminds us “An anxious heart weighs a man down, but a kind word cheers him up” and Proverbs 16:2 “Pleasant words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones.” Through words we express our love and concern for each other — our deepest feelings. Words can cheer us up and provide encouragement. Who does not remember a time when the right word was spoken and everything changed?

With the reminder of the power of words in mind, let’s consider some advice for the use of words from Proverbs (and other selected Bible passages).

Learn to listen. James 1:19 challenges us, “Everyone should be swift to listen and slow to speak.” It’s not wise to assume we know what someone is saying before we hear them out. I like the directness of Proverbs 18:13 in the Message, “Answering before listening is both stupid and rude.”

Think before you speak and thereby choose your words carefully. Proverbs 17:28 warns us, “Even a fool is thought to be wise if he keeps silent, and discerning if he holds his tongue.” And Proverbs 29:20 presses the point, “Do you see a man who speaks in haste? There is more hope for a fool than for him.”

Be honest. Proverbs 6:17-19 tells us seven things God hates, and two of them are “a lying tongue” and “a false witness.” Paul’s related instruction in Ephesians 4:15, “Speak the truth is love,” has always presented a challenged to me. Even though some speak of being “brutally honest,” I think situations that call for that description would be rare. We are to speak the truth, but to do so in love.

Finally, Use words to build others up. We need to take Ephesians 4:29 seriously: “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs , that it may benefit those who listen.” Other verses deal with crude talk, but “unwholesome talk” in this verse is the opposite of “building others up according to their needs”—talk that is caustic and sarcastic, that attacks, and is negative and rude. To take Ephesians 4:29 seriously is to use our words to express appreciation and to be encouraging.

Words are powerful — let’s use them wisely.

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