The Good News of Gods Immutability

“I the LORD do not change. So you, the descendants of Jacob, are not destroyed.”

– Malachi 3:6 

            Lofty words and expressions we ascribe to God can easily get lost on me.  Omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent, transcendent, immanent, majestic…. the list goes on.  Some might use these words to sound smart (me); others might not understand what they mean (also me). Recently, I caught a Q&A with N.T. Wright after his address to the Seattle School of Theology and Psychology. In true bishop form, he made a comment about how “some thought they could offer a few [more] sacrifices to manipulate the gods.”  The comment wasn’t central to his point, but it struck me… manipulate the gods.  That led me to think about the ‘immutability’ of God; or God’s unchanging nature.  The mountains and the earth will perish, but you remain the same, declares Psalm 102.  Every good gift comes from God, who does not change like shifting shadows, says James (1:17).  Deuteronomy 32:4 might say it simplest: God is a rock.

            The preacher can easily, and correctly, say, “if God could change, he would cease to be God!” Great. I don’t know about you, but that means almost nothing to me.  What does Gods unchanging nature have to do with me?  I’ve been in the habit recently of taking seriously Jesus’ call to be an evangelist; a spreader of the euangelion.  I truly want to be in the business of spreading joyful news in whatever situation I find myself.  So, it’s great that “God is immutable,” but can we at least ask ourselves how exactly is this good news?  Let’s just start with the verse at the top of this page: “I don’t change… therefore, you are not destroyed” (Malachi 3:6).  Perhaps said another way, “If I was changeable, you would be destroyed.”  God’s immutability is good news because that means we won’t be destroyed.  Well, that’s certainly a start.

How often do we think we can manipulate God through our behavior?  What about through our religious behavior?  You did something wrong so God is upset with you, you say? Fast and pray more. You want God to ‘move in power’ in your life? Offer a few more sacrifices.  As a pastor at Fresno Pacific University, I come across a fair number of students who “feel empty,” who “don’t feel God’s presence”…. But they are quick to note that they are doing their ‘quiet time’ every morning! They haven’t missed a small group.  They might have even fasted and prayed.  When times get tough, ramp up the religious behavior… and God will move.  But, too often, they conclude, it’s not working.

This disposition is human nature.  You get what you give, so if I “give” more to God, I will “get” more from him.  Not so fast.  God is immutable.  And, as NT Wright alluded to, ‘you can’t manipulate God with more sacrifices.’ If we think we can change God based on what we “give” to him, who is really in power here? God, or you?  To say that God will change his thoughts toward you, his interaction with you, his presence with you – all based on your activity – this actually puts YOU in control of the situation. This, in my opinion, removes God from the throne of the universe and from the throne of your life to a pathetic deity who can be manipulated based on what you do.

But the good news is that God is immutable… he does not change like shifting shadows… he is a rock… and that is joyful news because God’s opinions, actions, feelings toward us, and presence with us can’t change based on what we do.  You can’t manipulate God with sacrifices.  Continue the Malachi passage: “ever since the time of your ancestors, you have turned away from my decrees and have not kept them.”  If God were manipulated by our actions – considering our actions consistently betray God – we would be destroyed.  I’m thankful I don’t serve a God who fly’s off the handle when I screw up (somewhere there’s a parenting lesson in here). God is immutable, and that is great news. 

“if we are faithless…he will remain faithful, because he cannot disown himself.”

– 2 Timothy 2:13

I Support Non-Traditional Families

Dan Cathy’s comments in support of “the biblical definition of the family unit” have me thinking about what exactly IS the “biblical definition” of a “family unit.”  Cathy says he believes part of the “definition” of a traditional family unit is marriage between one man and one woman for life. I don’t disagree with this assertion but am wondering how Jesus “defines family unit,” if we are going to phrase it in those terms.

I can only turn to scripture and see where Jesus seems to address the topic directly.  One instance is in Matthew 12:48-50, where Jesus – the one who was born to an unwed teen mom – points to his disciples and calls them his “mother and brothers.”  Already we are seeing that the biblical definition of a “family unit” goes beyond “tradition” to include everyone in the world who does the will of God.  Salvation into the family of God is about re-birth into a new family (of misfits… as we will see).

This next example broadens who our “brothers and sisters” are beyond “those who do the will of God.” Again, Jesus: “Whatever you did for the least of these brothers and sisters of mine… you did for me.”  Who are Jesus’ brothers and sisters according to this parable in Matthew 25?  The hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick… those on the margins of society. When you and I were reborn, we inherited a new family of outcast people.  How many of us consider the “crap” of society our very brothers and sisters?

When I think of the way Jesus defines “family,” I think of my neighbor across the street, who has three teenage kids of her own, but has chosen to adopt a three year old child she initially fostered – a child who was born to a mother strung out on drugs and was in and out of hospitals due to her poor choices. This kid was born with drugs in his system – which is clearly evident in his behavior today.  If that weren’t enough, the same woman whose child was stripped from her by CPS had another baby.  It seems old habits die hard because within the last few months, the woman ended up in the hospital with CPS taking her other child.  Who went to the hospital to reunite her first adopted kid with his little sister?  Yeah, my neighbor.  When I look at this situation directly across the street from me, there is nothing about it that screams “traditional family unit.”  In fact, there is quite a bit dysfunction across the street – dysfunctional behavior that actually resulted in an ER trip for my own child to have stitches put in her lip. But I’m left with the conclusion that my neighbor has simply been re-born into a new family unit where she is “mother” to the broken people in society.  I admire this woman.

I’ll be completely honest and say that I saw no need whatsoever to eat chicken yesterday to “stand up for what I believe in.”  But in the end, it was as easy for me to write write about “what I believe in” as it was for my brothers and sisters to buy a chicken sandwich yesterday… the hard part comes when we, like my neighbor, actually live in the reality of a dysfunctional, non-traditional “family unit.”

UPDATE: bella’s experience with dr. edward dove

gia and i are totally grateful and almost overwhelmed at the support we have received over this situation.  THANK YOU for your kind words of support, for your prayers, and for sharing this story with your friends.  in less than 24 hours after i posted about our experience, my blog received over 13,000 views, and we have already heard from two separate people that they actually had appointments with dove and canceled them!

perhaps the most important thing for us at this point was hoping and praying that bella would simply return to normal. as i mentioned previously, bella was far less enthusiastic and energetic than her “normal” self.  one simple example was that gia took bella to the disney store at the mall — normally, bella would basically sprint to the store, with gia struggling to keep up.  bella was so subdued on that day, however, that bella actually even asked to get in the stroller and go home.  at any rate, i am VERY happy to say that within the last few days, bella has been a LOT better.  she still says her teeth hurt a little, and even mentions going to the dentist (in trepidation), but we are hopeful that the trauma  should pass — and are taking steps to re-build her trust in anyone in the medical field.

since so many of you asked about the steps we will take from here — and suggested everything from calling the police to filing complaints with dental boards and insurance companies — i’ll just say a quick word:  first, let me say that it is very tempting for us to just leave it alone… there is so much within us that simply wants to move on with our lives, to leave this in the past, and seek a normal life going forward — rather than re-hashing all this over and over again.  BUT, already knowing that because of my previous post, at least a few other children have already canceled their appointments with dove, i still feel the need to get the word out regarding this dentist.  so please, if you are in Fresno, Bakersfield, Chatsworth, Lancaster, or any other place where dr. dove practices, PLEASE let them know about our experience (or point them to the blog).  further, knowing that what really gets the attention of people like this is a dent in their wallet, i will be contacting lawyers to see if it will go anywhere. i doubt it will, and i have no interest whatsoever from profiting from this, but i’ll do it just to see what happens.  i will also be contacting ALL of the dental boards that will listen.

we have already contacted kaiser, who referred us to this dentist, but they said while the complaint will be on file there, they will basically do nothing because we need to contact our insurance provider (delta dental).  we have done this, and are waiting for a response.

some of our friends with media contacts have forwarded our story to them — if somehow this gets picked up by local media, i will certainly share our story.

in the end, after talking with a our dentist friend, unfortunately we think this kind of thing happens a little more than we would like to imagine.  my friend referred to it simply as the “old school of dentistry,” where the dentist does whatever it takes to “do his job.”  it’s all traumatizing, reckless, outrageous, etc — but not out of the ordinary and certainly not “illegal.”  in other words, this guy is probably safe to continue practicing dentistry in this manner.  i know — it’s incredibly disturbing and we hope that this line of thinking in pediatric dentistry changes drastically, but the most we can do is spread the word regarding this particular dentist, to raise awareness that this stuff actually happens, and the importance of choosing a GREAT dentist (rather than simply trusting the guy who says he’s a professional.

There are some GREAT dentists out there — don’t be skeptical of everyone.  But do your homework, listen to your friends, send me an email, etc, before you see any pediatric dentist.

once again, THANK YOU ALL for your kind words and prayers.  we are thankful for each of you.

bella’s experience with dr. edward dove

after going through a few days of regret, anger and tears over bella’s recent experience at the dentist office, gia and i felt that we simply could not let the experience go, and have to share with whoever might listen.  my sole motivation for sharing is that prospective clients of pediatric dentist Edward Dove of Fresno (and Chatsworth, Bakersfield, and Lancaster) might read this and simply pass on his services — so that no other child has to endure what my daughter did this week.  please read this whole post.

bella was referred to dr. edward dove of fresno through her health insurance with kaiser.  she took x-rays a few weeks ago, which according to the dentist, showed she needed fairly extensive dental work (several crowns and “baby” root canals).  the dr recommended “oral conscious sedation,” which involves taking medicine that supposedly makes the child VERY drowsy and loopy — enough to where they “don’t care” that dental work is being done.  we had this work done once before at USC school of dentistry, and they were fantastic, so although we asked many of the same questions, we felt like a dr. who “specializes in pediatric dentistry” and has done this for a long time should be the expert, and we followed his plan. in our conversations, dr. dove made me feel like a complete idiot for asking certain questions — as if he was an excellent dentist, this was completely routine, and the questions were virtually worthless to even ask.

we arrived at the 11 am appointment at least 30 minutes early, and bella was given her medicine around 10:45.  we immediately noticed LOUD music from the back and wondered why in the world the dentist would play music like this (more on this below).  it took a while for the medicine to seem to work, but bella began to be very drowsy and loopy.  around 11:20, a big, burly nurse came in and virtually ripped bella from my arms — saying nothing to me.  i began to follow her into the room, when dr. dove stepped in front of me, clearly wanting me to stop — i said, “i’m going in there to comfort my daughter and say goodbye to her.”  dove said flatly, “what’s that going to help?”  Then looked at my mom and said, “she’ll be right back” in a demeaning tone — as if i was a complete moron to want to comfort my daughter.

i followed them into the back room — aware that even though they use this medicine, that they need to restrain the child in case of sudden movements while doing the dental work.  they placed bella on the table and strapped her in.  bella seemed ok, so i told her i loved her, kissed her forehead, and left the room.  again, we had done this at USC, and everything worked according to plan.  only about 5 minutes later, my mom and i hear a distinct shrill from the back room.  another scream… and MORE.  bella was screaming as loud as she could — heard even above the loud music that is clearly designed to drown out any crying.  my mom left the waiting room.  i also left a few minutes later — only to still be able to hear her FROM OUTSIDE the building. the screaming continued off and on for the duration (about 30 min) of the procedure.

the nurses assured me “she was not in actual pain” because she was numb — but whatever the case, it was entirely clear that the medicine DID NOT do it’s job, and i now know that the dentist should have stopped IMMEDIATELY.  but he pressed on.  the nurses also assured me “they are almost done.”  the screaming and yelling continued, and i know that i should have told them to finish whatever they were doing, and let me in.

when the job was complete, dr. dove comes into the waiting room.  i don’t really even look at him and try to make it past — but again he stops me, and says, ”your daughter has quite the forceful personality.”  — clearly in attempt to shed any responsibility from himself over what just happened.

when i got in the room, bella was completely drenched in urine and sweat. my daughter was so terrified that she had wet herself, and had been struggling so much that her upper shirt was drenched in sweat.  i grabbed her and her heart was literally beating out of her chest.  she, of course, was sobbing and crying, uncontrollably, having difficulty catching her breath, and her mouth still bleeding from the work.  i took her to my car and had my mom sit with her while i went to get more gauze from the office.  bella, thankfully, had began calming down, and started to fall asleep again.  later that day, we noticed BRUISES on her shoulders — i am convinced they pinned bella down forcefully (i took pictures today, which show light bruises).

my only prayer during the whole thing was that the medicine would at least make her forget what had happened (something the dentist said was likely to happen… ”they forget it all anyway”).  not wanting to remind her of what happened, i waited a day and a half to ask her if she remembered.  unfortunately, she said, “yeah, they strapped me into that thing, and i was screaming a lot.” since tuesday, i’ve noticed a pronounced difference in the demeanor of my daughter — she’s fairly lethargic and sluggish when normally she is VERY happy and energetic.  please pray for her.

unfortunately, bella is only one piece of what’s going on with dr. dove.  i have recently been in contact with a man from bakersfield who had a similar experience last august, and has since been in contact with literally dozens, if not hundreds, of other parents from bakersfield, chatsworth, and lancaster with the same story.  i am the first from fresno to be in contact with him.  there was a lot of media attention with this doctor over these issues in bakersfield (google it if you want).

what’s more, i didn’t know until after that gia had called the office on monday to cancel — primarily, gia didn’t feel comfortable with having an 11 am appointment since we were required to have her fast. the office also made her feel like an idiot — instructing her that if we canceled, we wouldn’t get another appointment for 6 months while “your daughters teeth will get worse and worse.” we were guilted and almost coerced into going through with it (at all points along the way), fearing that something worse could happen should we NOT do it (this was the mantra given by the office at multiple points).

i am utterly shocked, appalled, and saddened that this man is practicing dentistry and basically torturing children.  i am so sad for my daughter right now, and am 100% regretful that i didn’t do something to stop it. the most glaring problem, among the many, was that the doctor actually continued on with the procedure when bella CLEARLY was not properly sedated. they paid absolutely no regard to the well-being of my child, and made not attempt whatsoever to encourage comfort and peace (how about turning down the music, turning down the lights, and simply being caring for a 4 year old?).

my only hope at this point — other than my daughter returning to normal with no emotional (or even physical) problems resulting from this — is that other children and parents don’t have to go through this same thing.  PLEASE spread the word regarding Dr. Edward Dove, who does pediatric dentistry in Lancaster, Bakersfield, Chatsworth, and Fresno.  PLEASE point them to this website and post, and feel free to comment in this section if you have a similar story to mine regarding dr. dove in fresno.

thank you so much for reading this, and i would appreciate your prayers for my daughter.

acts 4

  • again, didn’t take long for the apostles to be put in a position to witness, huh?
  • i wonder what it was like to stand before the jewish authorities.  i’ve stood before a judge before, but all he could do was deny my request to dismiss my traffic ticket and demand me to pay the fine.  i’ve stood before a social worker who has the authority to take my children away from me in an instant (tends to be what happens when your 9 month old falls off the bed and breaks his leg in a way that looks like child abuse). that was fairly nerve wracking to say the least, but i’ve never stood before a council that basically has the authority to kill you.
  • also, the church in acts 4 is pretty rad.  they actually sold their homes and held all of their positions in common.  i keep going back to the fact that these people had experienced pentecost — they experienced the Holy Spirit coming in power.  maybe that’s how they were empowered to sell their things, knowing they would be ok. we surely don’t do anything like this today, and maybe it’s because we haven’t been empowered by the Spirit.  just wondering.

acts 3

  • without question one of my favorite stories in the bible.
  • it’s not hard for me to imagine myself in the position of Peter and John.   if you ever have the pleasure of visiting calcutta, india, you’ll notice that the few western/white tourists in the city generally make their way to the Kali Temple — named after the goddess of death and destruction — at some point in search of some sort of spiritual experience. i can vividly remember visiting the temple in 2004 – the sights, smells, feelings, colors, atmosphere, etc. but it is still difficult to recount the experience and do it justice.  it seems Dominique Lapierre doesn’t have that difficulty, however, judging by how he describes the temple in City of Joy:

Like a flower straining toward the sun, the sugarloaf-dome of the temple of Kali surfaced from the imbroglio of alleyways, residences, hovels, stores and pilgrims’ rest houses.  This high place of militant Hinduism, built near a branch of the Ganges, on the banks of which the dead were burned, was the most frequented shrine in Calcutta.  Day and night crowds of the faithful swarmed inside and around its gray walls.  Rich families, their arms laden with offerings of fruit and food wrapped in gold paper; penitents dressed in white cotton, leading goats to the sacrifice; yogis in saffron robes, their hair tied up and knotted on the crowns of their heads, the sign of their sect painted in vermillion on their foreheads; troubadours singing canticles as plaintive as sighs; musicians, tradesmen, tourists; the motley throng milled about in an atmosphere of festivity.

This is alone one of the most congested places in the overpopulated city.  Hundreds of shops surround the temple with a string of multicolored stalls.  There is something of everything sold here: fruit, flowers, powders, imitation jewels, perfumes, devotional objects, gilded copper utensils, toys, and even fresh fish and caged birds.  Above the antlike activity hovers the bluish mist of the funeral pyres and the smell of incense mingled with the burning of flesh.  Numerous funeral corteges wend their way between the cows, dogs, the children playing in the street, and the flock of faithful worshippers.  At the temple of Kali, the most vibrant life goes hand in hand with death.

  • One thing Lapierre misses is the beggars surrounding the temple.  the temple attracts most of the white/western tourists in the city and that, in turn, attracts beggars.  i just wish i had the courage to tell one of them to stand and walk.

acts 2

  • peter really knew the scriptures.
  • immediately after pentecost, IMMEDIATELY, peter becomes a witness to Jesus’ death and resurrection.
  • people repented because they were awestruck over signs and wonders. i realize there there is a lack of awe at the things God has done in my circles… maybe because we are not witnessing miracles. maybe we should ask God to do miracles through us and see what happens… (well, what happens will be awesome).
  • maybe we should just ask the Spirit to come in power first…
  • also, i realize that peter didn’t give well rounded reasons for ‘becoming Christian.’ he didn’t argue anyone to Christ. the apostles just relied on the power of the Spirit that came to them to do crazy stuff… and then watched as people came to know Christ.
  • day by day the LORD added to their number. peter or the apostles didn’t.