Children’s Books, God’s Sovereignty and Man’s Free Will


The last couple of years I have taken to reading youth fiction. It’s a great balance for the heavy reading I do for school, and I love revisiting books that I read as a child. They take on a whole new meaning as an adult. A truly gifted writer is able to weave together multiple, complex themes, and some of those themes are only visible after time and maturity grow us up a bit.

The Chronicles of Narnia are a prime example. I read them two summers ago for the first time since I was in the 5th grade, and they came alive to me in a completely different way than they did when I was eleven. It is a treat to be able to go back and glean deep theological truth found on such simple terms. To describe God in the words of a child is a literary skill I envy.

While on vacation a few weeks ago, I found a copy of Madeline L’Engle’s book A Wrinkle in Time at a thrift store, and I purchased it. Her writing intrigued me as a child as well, and I looked forward to reading it through the lens of adulthood. I’m finishing it today, and I as I read the conversation below, it struck me as such as simple yet profound way of describing the concept of God’s sovereignty and humanity’s free will working simultaneously in harmony with one another. Being fiercely independent, the concept of God being in complete control and me still having any choice in the matters of my life never really meshed, but this makes sense to me.

“In your language, you have a form of poetry called the sonnet.”

“Yes, yes…”

“It is a very strict form of poetry, is it not?”

“Yes.”

“But within this strict form the poet has complete freedom to say whatever he wants, doesn’t he?”

“Yes… You mean your comparing our lives to a sonnet? A strict form, but freedom within it?”

“Yes. You’re given the form, but you have to write the sonnet for yourself. What you say is completely up to you.”

I tend to think that either I’m in control or someone else is. But God is pleased to work with us, within our lives. He has given us the structure in which He desires us to work. God gives us a range of choices for our lives; “This is the will of God for your life…” But within that strict structure, we are free to create a masterpiece or a trainwreck of the sonnet he has asked us each to write.

Seems to me, in my simple human mind, that this may be a good way of describing how God works in our lives. God gives us choices in life, any of which He would be pleased with. He has given us boundaries in which to live, guidelines to follow, and reason, knowledge and logic with which to make decisions.

And considering we are told in Ephesians that we are God’s handiwork, His masterpiece, I don’t have a problem at all with the idea of my life being a sonnet. Or a Haiku. Or any other type of art in which the artist is required to express his or her genius within certain boundaries. In fact, I believe expressing yourself within a set of externally given guidelines is more beautiful and more challenging than just “freestyling” whatever comes to mind.

So I guess the only question is: what is your sonnet going to be about?

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The Sins of Our Youth


Remember not the sins of my youth or my transgressions; according to your steadfast love remember me, for the sake of your goodness, O God! Psalm 25:7

This was the daily verse that appeared in my Twitter feed this morning. Thinking on some things I knew were coming up today, I was reflecting on the past a bit, and I was in a regretful frame of mind. My knee-jerk reaction to reading it was, “‘Remember not the sins of my youth.’ That must be nice. I can’t seem to get away from them.” Not exactly a heart of thankfulness to a loving and forgiving God, but I’ll blame it on the fact that I hadn’t had my coffee yet, and being awake definitely helps my spiritual well-being.

There are times in which it would be nice to be able to forget the sins of our youth. Some choices we make really do stay with us for a lifetime, even when we want to shake them off, be free from them and literally move on. But what we must remember is that Christ, by remembering not our sins, does allow us to move on. Those choices cannot be changed, and the consequences remain, but there is freedom from the condemnation of those sins. The word remember here isn’t the opposite of “forget” but means “don’t hold it against me”. The psalmist is saying, “I’m not that person anymore, please don’t hold my past over my head anymore.” And he makes a case to God for why God should not hold his sin against him.

First, the psalmist says that God’s love is everlasting. A loving God forgives sins, never to bring them up again. “Love covers a multitude of sins” (1 Peter 4:8). Isaiah says that in God’s love he took our sins upon His back, delivering us from a pit of destriction (Is. 38:17). Love doesn’t throw us back in the pit.

Second, the psalmist tells God that no longer holding our sin against us is for the sake of His goodness. How is forgiving our sin good for God? One way is that it enables us to join Him in His work. Now, does God really need us to do His work? No, but in His plan, He asks us to join Him in His Kingdom work. Makes sense to me; work is always easier when you’re doing it with people you love. But what the psalmist is saying is that, when our sins are forgiven and we are able to stand up from underneath their oppressive load, we can then take upon ourselves His easy load of service for the Kingdom. We can’t carry our sin and His Kingdom simultaneously. When we allow Him to take the sin, and the accompanying secrecy, shame, guilt, condemnation, it frees us up to serve Him like He has called us to serve Him.

A prime example of this is found in the life of Peter. I relate more to Peter than to any other person in Scripture, and he is a great testimony of being set free from the sins of his youth for the ultimate goodness of God. In Luke 22, Jesus tells Peter, “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat,  but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.”

Jesus knows that Peter is about to fail Him miserably. He says, “I’m praying that you won’t. But when you do…” Have you ever had a conversation with someone like that? Has anyone had that conversation with you? “I’m warning you. I know where this is headed, and it’s going to be bad. I don’t want you to, but I know you’re going to anyway.” That’s pretty much what Jesus tells Peter.

But He adds something to the end of the statement. He adds hope and purpose to the failure. He tells Peter, “And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.”

So why does God forget our sins but not allow us to? One reason is because we can’t use past failure to connect with and strengthen others if we act as if it never happened. God trades in our beauty for ashes, He restores the years the locusts have eaten (Joel 2:25), and He works all things together for our good and for His glory (Romans 8:28). And for Him to be able to make the worst decisions of our life beneficial, they must be exposed to the light and applied to the lives of others.

My ashes couldn’t have been traded for beauty if there hadn’t been people who had previously been sifted by Satan like wheat and then obediently strengthened this sister. Same goes for me. When I want to forget my times of sifting and “move on” with life, I remember that those times are a waste if they are not used to strengthen those behind me who are still spinning from their own sifting.

So I am thankful that God remembers not the sins of my youth. But today I am equally thankful that He makes sure I never forget them.

Amy Winehouse and the Deification of Celebrities


Like so many others in the blogosphere and in Twitterverse, I was saddened over the weekend by the death of music artist Amy Winehouse. She had tremendous talent, but also tremendous scars and pain that she simply could not seem to escape in this life.

I am saddened by the loss, but I am not shocked, as so many proclaimed to be. Her struggle with addiction and her refusal to humbly submit to admitting a weakness, her many failed attempts at rehab, her public meltdowns and relational explosions have been well documented the last few years. It has been painful to watch a human life spiral into destruction through the lenses of the paparazzi. An honest social commentary entitled “Amy Winehouse Dies, Before Our Eyes” was published by Gazelle Emami on Huffington Post on Saturday; it’s a good read for anyone who is concerned about the ever-present self-destructing celebrity.

This is not the first time that society seems to have been shocked by a celebrity succumbing to a human ailment. Shock and dismay were proclaimed in the streets when Michael Jackson died two summers ago. Some simply could not believe that Patrick Swayze could have fallen victim to cancer in September of 2009. But since the advent of movie and television, celebrities have taken on a form of immortality that is rocked at each unexpected death. Look at the impact on American society of the deaths of celebrities like James Dean and Marilyn Monroe.

To believe that celebrities should be somehow immune to the natural consequences of living in a fallen world show that they have become functional gods. To be dismayed that they are “merely human” indicates that, deep down, we believe them to be something more.

Why do we place celebrities in the entertainment world on a deified pedestal? Is it that they possess fame and fortune that we really do desire to be our own? Are they the ones we worship, or does it eventually all go back to self-worship; we worship what we desire for ourselves?

Matt Maher has a song entitled “Flesh and Bone” and in it the chorus states, “I’m dying to believe/ I’m trying just to show/ That we are less than perfect/ More than flesh and bone”.

It is written on the human heart that we are in fact more than mere flesh and bone; we are created in the image of the God of the Universe, the only thing in all of creation for which God felt it necessary to get His hands dirty and then breathe life into us. But just like we are told in Romans 1 that certain things are written on the heart of man as universal Truth, we also have exchanged the Truth for the lie; that the created one can be worshiped instead of the Creator. And the unusual amount of sorrow displayed over the deaths of people we don’t know, people who just happen to have careers that place them in the limelight, display both of these truths perfectly.

We know there is something inherently special about humanity. And we choose to worship the creation rather than the Creator.

So should we as believers approach tragedies like the death of Amy Winehouse? How does one address grief over a life lost too soon while still keeping a check on one’s own heart and focus of worship? Can such tragedies open the door to healthy discussion with the body of Christ concerning the worship of celebrity?

Some questions are difficult to answer, but one thing is for certain, the life and death of Amy Winehouse is a painful real life lesson that choices can have disastrous natural consequences when we choose to worship creation over Creator.

Myth of the Mean Girl: Living without Masks


I recently had a couple of conversations with a man about relationships between women. In one conversation he talked about his young daughter and her best friend and their love/hate relationship with one another, and in the other he mentioned the ever complex friendships between his wife and her friends. In both conversations he eventually ended his observations with a hopeless sounding statement of, “But you know, girls will be girls.”

He was talking about women hurting one another other with words and actions, about spending unhealthy amounts of time together until we blow up at one another, about betrayal and competition and unforgiveness. He’s bought into the myth of the Mean Girl. Our culture is built upon the idea that women are “Bridezillas” and “Real Housewives”, that we are “Gossip Girls” and “16 and Pregnant”, or that we are participants on “The Bachelor”, competing with one another for the attention and affection of a man. Young girls today watch tv and are taught to treat one another as competition at best and mortal enemies at worst. Girls believe this is how women are to behave, and so that is how they behave.

I used to believe the myth, too. Even in the church, all I had really seen was gossipy competition and hurt feelings, with excuses ranging from hormones to home life, but never hearing that there was another option for how women could behave.

But then I spent some time in a little town called Wake Forest (my parents kindly refer to it as the “seminary bubble”), surrounded by people who, for the most part, were genuinely pursuing Christ and desperately seeking to serve Him and be conformed to His image. There, I found a group of women who were more interested in pleasing God than pleasing one another, who were seeking Christ more than a husband, and who desired to learn from one another more than they desired to prove they were better than everyone else.

Does that mean we were without drama? Of course not! I distinctly remember one tear-filled confrontation between myself and two friends that ended in my throwing a pencil at one of them. I cried on a professor when she compared me to another student and I defiantly declared that I was NOT that person and then intentionally completed a project the way I wanted to, just to drive the point home. We had hopeless crushes on indecisive men and sometimes responded to the corresponding broken hearts with a frustrated “I told you so”. I was jealous when I friend was chosen for a position over me, and had many snarky conversations about “those girls”; the cute, and therefore shallow, ones that we were convinced were not “serious students” like us because they only came to seminary to land a husband. Sometimes, girls will be girls.

But there was a distinct difference in that time of life compared to previous times, and I have tried to carry it with me since I left that precious circle of friends. The difference is that, when we walked in the flesh and hurt one another’s feelings, we didn’t just move on with life, piling offense upon offense. We faced the moment and faced it together. We sought the wisdom of Scripture, we confessed our sins and shortcomings, we asked for forgiveness, we prayed together. Then we worked to walk together in the Spirit. We studied the Word together. We confronted weaknesses in our friends’ lives before they became strongholds of sin. We opened ourselves up to humble and transparent examination and offered the same to one another.We lived for a season without masks, and it was life changing. No one had it all together, and no one expected anyone else to have it all together. In fact, we called you out on it if you started acting like you did!

In short, we lived lives of discipleship together. We desired to be more like Christ and we expected our friends to help us along in that journey, not hold us back from our goal. The Christian walk is the only race in which every person who crosses the finish line is a “winner” and in turn, makes every other finisher that much more victorious. We are “more than conquerors” because we are not competing against our fellow runners; we’re all on the same team!

So will girls be girls? Yes, as long as we believe the lie of the world that we are competition for one another and as long as we hold one another back, pursuing goals of our flesh and our pride, devouring one another with our words and deeds. But if we will commit to humble discipleship, to encouraging one another, if we will transparently walk alongside one another and bear one another’s burdens as teammates and not enemies, then the type of girls we become will be more like Christ and not like the world.

Women don’t have to “be girls”. We can be like Jesus.

How have you fought to overcome the “myth of the mean girls”? How does your circle of friends lift one another up instead of tearing one another down? Can women walk in the Spirit together, in grace and Truth, or will girls be girls?