Friday, August 31, 2012


The third truth we have exchanged may be one of the most pervasive and dangerous of the 4. 

God and his Word are absolute! We have, just like the other truths, bought into this one. And we have every reason to. That statement is entirely truthful. But, let me tell you what it doesn't mean. Just because God and his Word are absolute doesn't mean they allow no room for margin. When Scripture tells us that God and His Word are absolute, we tend to believe that this means everything, with God, is black and white; however, I don’t see this to be the case.  I see a God who can function in the vague and yet remain absolute.

For this discussion we will turn to the 14th chapter of Romans. If you have time, read it! But for the sake of this post, let me give you a summary. Paul lays out a teaching on two types of people. We find the two types of people he mentions are the "weaker brother" and, through our powers of observation, we see the second person inferred is the "stronger brother." A few key things to keep in mind about these individuals. First and foremost, I find it interesting Paul refers to the individual that cannot eat certain things, worship on certain days, etc. as the “weaker brother.” So, the individual who is so constrained by these boundaries, these “absolutes,” is the weaker brother. Why? Because this individual doesn’t see that God is much bigger than all of that. And Heaven forbid, there might be more to Christianity that what is in black and white. It is highly probable there are some gray areas...which we will get into in a bit. The second important element of this teaching to take note of is in reference to the "stronger brother." To them, Paul warns not to condemn the weaker brother because it is very possible God has accepted them as well. (I realize I am oversimplifying all of this, but bare with me.)

Reading through this passage, it seems to me, the logical conclusion is that there are certain areas God will speak to each of us about differently. Believe it or not, people within the same denomination, the same church, or even the same household may have differing “convictions” regarding food, drink, worship, or any other number of things. If you didn't believe that last statement, what I'm about to say next will totally blow you away. This might be hard to swallow, but it is entirely possible for people to have varying beliefs, still be Christian and, catch this, get along. It's a shocker, I know!

God is large and in charge! So much so, that he may tell me it is fine to do something or go somewhere all the while telling someone else the exact opposite. Does this mean God and his Word are not absolute? Absolutely not! To believe otherwise would show a blatant disregard of Scripture. Furthermore, it would make God very impersonal.

Here's the deal, God knows my past experiences, my present circumstances, and my future hopes and dreams. And given the fact that he is God and knows what he is doing, he is able to utilize all of that in a way he sees fit. Andy Stanley offers some great insight on this topic; "In light of my past experiences, my present circumstances, and my future hopes and dreams, what is the wise thing to do?" Let me illustrate this point. I may have a past that doesn't allow me to participate in certain behaviors that Scripture does not condemn. For example, if my past involves addiction, drinking (not condemned by the Bible) would not be a wise thing for me to do. If my present circumstances involve some sort of purity battle, dating (perfectly legitimate way to interact with the opposite sex) may not be a wise thing for me to do. Perhaps my future hopes and dreams hinge on being debt free; buying that brand new vehicle would not be a wise thing for me to do. As I hope you see, there is nothing wrong with any of these things in and of themselves--until they are put under scrutiny and we ask ourselves, "What is the wise thing to do?" There may be things that are perfectly acceptable or not Scripturally forbidden that I need to abstain from…simply because they are not wise.

Therefore, when it comes to the gray areas, God advises that we establish Biblical convictions. (And, contrary to what some believe, you should have several Biblical convictions.) Know that if you take a stand, you will have to be ready to offer an explanation. In addition to that, be on guard that you don't look down on others with varying convictions nor should you presume they need to follow or agree with you. God, in his sovereignty, has given some people the freedom (or grace) to fulfill his purpose in their life. But here is the key: While your convictions may be personal and may vary from everyone else, they are in no way ambiguous! The more you are in God’s word, the more you will know what your convictions should look like.

Following is a list of questions to help determine what convictions may or may not be legitimate in God's sight:

1. Does the Bible prohibit this conduct in specific or in general terms?
“All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right.”  ~2 Timothy 3:16

2. Will this conduct be an example of good stewardship?
“To those who use well what they are given, even more will be given, and they will have an abundance. But from those who do nothing, even what little they have will be taken away.”  ~Matthew 25:29

3. Will this conduct help or hurt me with the mission God has given me?
“We live in such a way that no one will stumble because of us, and no one will find fault with our ministry. In everything we do, we show that we are true ministers of God.”  ~2 Corinthians 6:3-4a

4. Does this conduct align with the standards I profess to uphold and expect of others?
“So practice and obey whatever they tell you, but don’t follow their example. For they don’t practice what they teach. They crush people with unbearable religious demands and never lift a finger to ease the burden.”  ~Matthew 23:3-4

“You may believe there is nothing wrong with what you are doing, but keep it between yourself and God. Blessed are those who don’t feel guilty for doing something they have decided is right…If you do anything you believe is not right, you are sinning.”  ~Romans 14:22-23b

Thursday, August 16, 2012


Now it's time we take a look at the second truth we have inadvertently exchanged for a lie.

Truth #2: God is a God that is changeless.

If you have been a part of a church circle, you have probably heard them discuss the idea that God is changeless. That is in fact a correct statement. Our God does not change! I can't refute the fact that Scripture informs us "[God] is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow." However, we have perverted this truth in such a way that we have succeeded, yet again, in creating a caricature of God. We have reduced him to a being we can relate to more easily. One we are more willing to accept. We have twisted this factual attribute of God to the point where God is unable to change what he does or how he responds; and heaven forbid he were to actually change his mind!

To gain some insight, it's imperative we turn to Scripture.

If you have a Bible handy turn to the sixth chapter of Genesis. There you will find a couple of interesting verses on this very subject. In verses 6 and 7, we discover "The LORD was sorry he had ever made them and put them on the earth. It broke his heart. And the LORD said, 'I will wipe this human race I have created from the face of the earth. Yes, and I will destroy every living thing—all the people, the large animals, the small animals that scurry along the ground, and even the birds of the sky. I am sorry I ever made them.'"

You likely noticed the first verse stated "God was sorry he had ever made [man]." Wait a minute, did that just say God was remorseful? Is this an instance in which God had second thoughts about his decision? Did God change his mind? At first glance, this seems to be the case. Just to make sure this isn't a remote instance, take a look elsewhere in Scripture. In Exodus 32:14, Jonah 3:10, Genesis 18:22-33, Numbers 16:20-35, and 2 Kings 20:1-7, we will find similar accounts of God seeming to change his mind. Since we know (or at least I hope we know) that Scripture doesn’t contradict itself, we have to deal with these issues and determine what is really meant by all of this.

The word of the day is 'anthropomorphism.' Drop this word in theological discussions with your friends and they will either think you are making up words, or it may just leave them speechless. Anthropomorphism is defined as ascribing human emotions and characteristics to God. The Biblical writers make use of this tool throughout all of Scripture. They talk about God 'desiring' a relationship with us. In some instances Scripture talks about God 'mourning.' We are told that our repentance brings 'joy' to God. The Bible even talks about his 'beauty.' The Biblical writers viewed it necessary to use this terminology in fear that the Bible would have otherwise lost all meaning to humanity. In other words, God, in his sovereignty had the writers dumb things down for our sake. Otherwise the Bible would have made even less sense than it might now. Furthermore, it would have likely made God seem too far removed from us. And I hope we realize that he is not. God is involved in our lives, if we only would allow him to be.

Now, for the nagging question at hand, is God changeless? Yes. Does God change his mind? Yes. Aren't those two statements contradictory? No! To understand why they aren't contradictory we need to realize first and foremost that God is God and we are not. If you can come to grips with that, then we can move on. While God does change his mind as Scripture points out, he doesn't do so in the way we might think. And definitely not in a manner similar to us, with the same motivation. God changes his mind out of sorrow and compassion, whereas we might change our mind out of hatred, anger or bitterness...and occasionally sorrow. I will have you note the Hebrew word we translate as God's “changing of his mind,” literally means to have compassion or to be sorrowful. The picture is God being so moved by his grace and mercy that he can't help but go a different direction.

Before we go any further in this discussion, I need to throw out 4 presumed truths to set the framework.

The first truth is that God cannot lie. The second truth is that God knows everything. Third, God is not bound by space or time. And lastly, God does in fact respond to prayer.

Let me make it clear what Scripture is not saying when it states that God does not change. It does not mean that God is static; that he never does anything or never says anything. Neither does it mean that God does not alter his "plans" in response to the choices we make based upon our free will. (Let me reiterate, God knows everything, so he knows how we will respond better than we do). The suggestion that God doesn't change does not mean our prayers are pointless. Furthermore, for God to change his mind does not make him out to be a liar, as some would have us believe. To hold these views is far too narrow an interpretation!

When the Bible talks about God changing his mind, it is first and foremost about things that Scripture doesn't set in stone. Anytime he changes his mind, there is usually some sort of action or response on the part of his creation. Often times, his change in mind was the result of humanity altering some sort of behavior...i.e. repentance. We see this throughout the book of Jonah. Here's how it goes: the city of Nineveh is sinful, God speaks of their impending judgment, through a series of circumstances Jonah heads to Nineveh, prophecies, and the city repents. Ultimately, God spares the judgment he first spoke of. Jonah's ticked, because in a round about way, he feels God didn't uphold his end of the deal. The problem with that is there was really no deal and Jonah only saw a very small piece of the grander puzzle.

The Scriptures that are interpreted as God seeming to change His mind are human attempts to explain the actions of God (refer to anthropomorphism). God was going to do something, but instead did something else. To us, that sounds like a change; and in reality it is. But to God, who is omniscient and sovereign, it is not a change. God always knew what he was going to do. God does what he needs to do to in order that humanity will fulfill his perfect plan. And that plan, in case you are wondering, is laid out in 1 Timothy 2:4, "[God] wants everyone to be saved and to understand the truth." Understanding this is vital to our understanding of God!

Confused yet?

Bottom line, God is not altering the end result of anything. The only changes being made are slight variations along the path that leads there.

I think our limited view (not to mention the fact we can only know God and not understand him) has led us to improper conclusions about his character. This very topic has to keep in a constant tension both his sovereignty (the idea that God is ultimately in control) and his transcendence (the idea God is involved in our lives). There must be some sort of balance here. If God is completely and utterly transcendent, then there is no need to pray. Things are already set in stone. Everything is already predestined (this is quite a Calvinistic stance). On the other hand, because God has given us free will, he must constantly be “changing his mind” for in our indecisiveness. We are for God one day and against God the next (this is quite an Armenian stance). Perhaps the answer lies in the gray area--there are some instances in which God has no choice but to change his mind. And this leads right into the next truth we have twisted into a blatant lie!

Tuesday, August 14, 2012


I will never forget the day I got into my first fight. It was a brisk day, with streaks of white painting the otherwise bright blue sky. The summer, sandwiched between my fourth and fifth grade years, had been pretty uneventful thus far. Little did I know this day would set off a chain reaction of events that would send the rest of my summer into a whirlwind of chaos. Actually, I just made all of that up! I find the memory of my younger years is pretty hit and miss. I have bits and pieces here and there; not enough to really put the entire puzzle together.

I'm not sure how old I was. Which season the day actually fell on is still a mystery to me. I can't even tell you if this was my first fight. Honestly, none of that really matters. But I am certain this was one of many fights I took part in until I reached high school. Growing up, I'm 99% certain I had what some people would call "Little Man Syndrome." Perhaps you have heard it referred to as "Napoleon Complex." Not that it makes much difference what the technical terminology is. There are only two things you really need to know in reference to this psychological phenomenon. First, I was short. How short exactly, I don't recollect. But considering the average height of a male is just a hair over 5'9" and I'm only 5'4", it is safe to assume most guys had about 6 inches on me. The second thing you should know, I was overly aggressive. That was my way of compensating for my lack of height. Let me put it another way for you. If someone looked at me funny, I was ready to rumble.

Now that I've set the scene, let's pick up with the action. For the sake of the story we will say it occurred one weekend while school was in session. This is pretty plausible since I vaguely recall an altercation leading up to this fight a day or two prior. The contender, who happened to be my arch nemesis throughout Elementary School, was named Kenneth Leathers. There was something about this guy that just rubbed me the wrong way. Perhaps it was the incessant harassment. After a while, it really began to wear on me. Come on, a kid can only take so much!

Kenneth was tall and lanky. But then again, from my perspective, everyone was tall. He was the cowboy type; always strutting around in Wranglers and cowboy boots. We were roughly the same age. And it just so happened that we lived in the same trailer park. (If you don't believe any of this, feel free to look him up on Facebook. You will see we were both from Rapid City, graduated high school the same year and he is even wearing a cowboy hat, leaning against a tree, holding an acoustic guitar. And by the way, he still looks taller than me.)

As I mentioned, there were regular altercations between the two of us. Apparently I had enough! And I decided we were going to settle this once and for all. After some discussion, the two of us agreed to meet by the old barn, the following day at dusk. Actually, it wasn't a barn at all. The meeting place was a playground near the trailer park. And I'm pretty sure it was broad daylight when the fight went down. (It sounded a bit more cinematic meeting by the old barn at dusk.)

The day finally arrived and my older brother and I made preparations for the throw down that was about to ensue. I put on my tightest fitting clothes so he wouldn't really have anything to latch onto. And I certainly wasn't going to wear a shirt he could easily pull over my head in order to beat me to a pulp. Then I grabbed my only pair of cowboy boots from the closet and slipped them on. (Don't judge me! I was a little kid and didn't know any better.) I should probably leave out the fact that we came across some brass-knuckles to take to the fight as well...but I guess it's too late now. I'm not sure where they came from, but I can guarantee you, they were never put to use that day.

While my brother and I made the journey to the playground he proceeded to give me a pep talk. Picture Mickey telling Rocky Balboa "You'll be able to spit nails, kid. Like the guy says, you're gonna eat lightning and you're gonna crap thunder. You're gonna become a very dangerous person." and you get the idea. Knowing my brother, it was likely eloquent and pretty inspiring (take note of the sarcasm). It was probably something more like "Beat him up!"

In the distance I saw Kenneth standing in the middle of the playground. He had a small crew of guys with him; which was why my brother came along. To ensure it was a fair fight and there wasn't any tag team stuff going down. When I got to the playground, I walked toward Kenneth, likely spouted off a few smart remarks and came out swinging. I landed a few punches before he grabbed ahold of me and threw me to the ground. I got back up, charged in swinging and took a few hits from him in the process. It was then I decided to make use of my cowboy boots and kick him...anywhere really. We continued to tussle for a few minutes as the fight made its way to the merry go round. For some idiotic reason he decided to stand on it. I guess he thought taking the high ground was a wise decision. I used my quick wit, grabbed one of the bars and started spinning the merry go round as fast as pssible. He held on as long as he could; but eventually gravity won and threw him to the ground. At this point I found it prudent to jump on his chest and throw a few punches.

And that's where it ended. I don't recall why the fight stopped. I know we both had a few bumps and bruises. It was interesting trying to explain that to my parents when I got home. But, I was able to hold my head a little higher that day. I finally had the courage to defend myself. And according to Fight Club, I now knew myself. Oh yeah, Kenneth never messed with me again.

I'm not sure why I shared this with you. Maybe it's because my buddy John Samuel said I should share some of my stories. I guess perhaps it has to do with the fact that I just needed to write and this happened to be on my mind. In addition to that, I have been wrestling with my other posts a little too much lately and needed a break from them. Hopefully this will help the words to start flowing on the 4 or 5 posts I have in progress right now. In the meantime, you have something to read and you know a little more about me.