Category Archives: Noteworthy

Sabbath Rest and the Moral Limits of Consumption

Each year it seems like the Christmas season starts a little earlier. I’m not talking about the four weeks of Advent or the Christmas season that begins on December 24. The church calendar and the liturgical year remain the same. It is, rather, the Christmas shopping season that seems to be pushed forward bit by bit with each passing year.

black-fridayStores stocking Christmas-themed paraphernalia well before Thanksgiving are only one aspect of the creeping consumerism that marks much of contemporary popular culture. Other holidays and holy days, too, have been invaded by the spirit of materialism. National retailer Kmart plans to begin its normal Black Friday sales, named for the Friday after Thanksgiving, at 6 a.m. on Thanksgiving morning. Internet giant Amazon just announced plans to offer regular Sunday shipping service on packages in the New York City and Los Angeles markets by employing the otherwise-dormant United States Postal Service fleet. After this year’s holiday season, Amazon plans to extend the Sunday delivery options to more markets.

These are just the latest in a series of incremental steps that have increasingly threatened the moral limits of consumer activity. And although prudence is needed to discern them, and disagreement about where these limits are is unavoidable, such limits do exist.

Consumption and the Sabbath

Consumption is not in itself a bad thing. Indeed, it is a necessary and even salutary activity, instituted by God himself. We enjoy our daily bread and, for those of us living the midst of the blessings of affluence, much more besides. The exchange of material possessions, notably in the form of gifts, is a meaningful and often beautiful phenomenon. The first Thanksgiving was founded on gratefulness for provision of material needs, and we give gifts on Christmas in part because of the rich gifts bestowed on the Christ child by the Magi.

But unlimited consumption is not salutary. Although it is unfashionable nowadays to acknowledge it, the moral order imposes limits on human behavior. Gluttony and greed remain vices, and the commandment to keep the Sabbath day holy still matters.

To be sure, the fourth commandment (as numbered by the Reformed tradition) does involve significant complexity in terms of its application and relevance in today’s world. In spite of sometimes-remarkable divergences in the understanding of the Sabbath, and particularly how it relates to the Saturday Sabbath as observed by Jews and seventh-day churches, Christians have long recognized the need for a separate day for corporate worship and rest from mundane works.

John Calvin defended the validity of these two uses of the Sabbath commandment, even as he drew attention to the spiritual rest represented in Sabbath observance. Thus, Calvin wrote, the pursuit of holiness “is not confined within a single day but extends through the whole course of our life, until, completely dead to ourselves, we are filled with the life of God.”

So on one level, there is nothing special about Sundays or holidays like Thanksgiving. As Calvin puts it, because we seek spiritual rest from our evil works every day, “Christians ought therefore to shun completely the superstitious observance of days.” We still need, however, to regularly observe days for corporate worship as well as physical and mental rest from labor. These “reasons for the Sabbath ought not to be relegated to the ancient shadows,” Calvin says, “but are equally applicable to every age.”

Daily Bread and Weekly Rest

Different Christians in various traditions have worked out these implications in distinct and sometimes contradictory or idiosyncratic ways. But amid diverse expressions of faithfulness to the Sabbath-keeping mandate, the principle of the commandment still governs the morality of human activity.

A key lesson of the Sabbath is that money is not the measure of all things, and that all of our human activity should not be oriented toward material gain. As Jesus himself said, “Life does not consist in an abundance of possessions” (Luke 12:15 NIV).

For these reasons, it is important for Christians to recognize that their consumption habits affect the larger society in significant ways. Blue laws are increasingly passé, often for good reasons. But blue laws represent a central cultural insight: certain times and places ought to be above the considerations of material consumption. We need room and time for spiritual nourishment as well as physical.

Kmart is opening at 6 a.m. because it perceives, rightly or wrongly, that people want to go shopping to get deals early on Thanksgiving morning. Amazon is offering Sunday delivery because it thinks people want such convenience. So ultimately the blame for encroachment and violations of the moral limits of consumption lies with those who demand such violations. It lies with the people who line up overnight for Black Friday sales and with those who trample others in mad rushes for discounted gadgets. It lies with those of us who prefer the convenience of ordering at the last minute and the instant gratification of delivery any day of the week.

The responsibility of moral consumption becomes all the more salient when we realize that markets are good at delivering what people want. As the economist Paul Heyne observed, this efficiency of the market “is no reason to cripple it. It is reason, however, to think more carefully about what we want.” The market will make sure we get what we want. Let’s make sure that what we want is what is really good for us.

Know Your Christianese: Prayer Edition

A young associate pastor accompanies his mentor to a private meeting of pastors from around the country. As they take their seats the host says, “To start us off, let’s have a few rounds of the best jokes.”

An elderly minister stands up and says “37,” and everyone laughs. Another yells “49,” and the crowd cackles hysterically. This goes on for a while, when the young pastor turns to his senior and says, “I don’t get it, numbers aren’t funny.” His boss explains that since the same folks attend this meeting every year, they know all the jokes. Instead of wasting time by telling the same jokes everyone has heard, they just tell the punch lines, which they’ve numbered to save time.

christanese-prayerThe associate, wanting to fit in with his colleagues, jumps up and yells “44.” When absolutely no one laughs, he sits down, embarrassed and confused. The old pastor leans over and says, “You told it wrong.”

Christianese Spoken Here

Whether we’ve been in the church for a few days or several decades, we often find—like this young pastor—certain terms or phrases that everyone but us seems to understand. Like most groups, we Christians have our own insider language, technical terminology, or characteristic idioms that only those in the know can comprehend. It can be frustrating when we hear such jargon and don’t know what exactly it means or where it came from. Too embarrassed to ask for a definition, we flip through our Bibles or search through a concordance to find elusive explanations.

As an aid in translating “Christianese” (and because we aren’t sure what the terms mean either), The Gospel Coalition is putting together an ongoing series to explain the meaning of obscure phrases that Christians use when we talk to our fellow believers. In this inaugural article, we’ll examine a few terms often associated with prayer.

Hedge of Protection

Example: “The congregation will be praying a hedge of protection around John and Jill as they go off to college this fall.”

Explanation: “If somebody didn’t know that Christianity’s roots began in a rural, agricultural area (such as the near Middle East),” says Tim Stewart, creator of the Dictionary of Christianese website, “it wouldn’t take them long to figure it out, judging by the language we use when we pray.”

As Stewart explains, in the Bible hedges are mentioned as secure barriers around vineyards (Isaiah 5:5; Mark 12:1), and Satan refers to God’s protection and favor on Job as “a hedge around him” (Job 1:10). Christians likely adopted this imagery and language from Job 1:10. The prayer is often invoked (e.g., a hedge around, about, or even over the person being prayed for) as a request for God to protect a person from threats both spiritual and physical.

Prayer Warrior

Example: “We’re going to ask Sister Betsy, one of the congregations most ardent prayer warriors, to pray a hedge of protection around Jill and John.”

Explanation: “Effective intercessors who are greatly used by God in prayer are at times referred to as ‘prayer warriors,'” former missionary Wesley Duewel says in his book Touch the World Through Prayer. “It is correct to use the term in this way, for great prayer demands doing battle with the forces of evil.”

The Bible doesn’t use the term “prayer warrior,” though the warfare imagery is biblical. In Ephesians 6, Paul tells believers to,

Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and shaving put on the breastplate of righteousness, and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication.

Covet Your Prayer

Example: “As our family faces this difficult time, we covet your prayers for John and Jill.”

Explanation: In the Ten Commandments, God clearly says, “You shall not covet” anything that is your neighbor’s (Ex. 20:17, ESV). So why do some Christians say they “covet” our prayers?

In modern usage, the term covet is almost exclusively used to mean “to desire wrongfully.” But in many of the older translations of the Bible, such as the King James Version (1611), the word was used in both a positive and a negative sense. Like the NIV and ESV, the KJV uses the term “covet” in the negative sense, such as in Exodus 20. But the KJV also uses the term positively, such as in 1 Corinthians 12:31, when Paul admonishes us to “covet earnestly the best [spiritual] gifts.” Newer versions translate that phrase as “eagerly desire” (NIV) or “earnestly desire” (ESV) rather than “covet earnestly.”

When Christians say they “covet your prayers” they simply mean they earnestly desire that you pray for them.

Traveling Mercies

Example: “Please pray that God will give Brother John and Sister Jill traveling mercies as they head out on their mission trip to the Congo.”

Explanation: In Luke 10:25, Jesus tells a parable that begins, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead.” We tend to gloss over this part of the parable, treating it as the setup to the entry of the good Samaritan. But for Jesus’ original audience—and for most people prior to the 20th century—such dangers encountered while traveling were all too real.

There is no record of frequent travelers in the Bible, like the apostles Peter and Paul, ever asking for “traveling mercies.” The phrase appears to have become popular in the late 19th century and was used at first almost exclusively of church workers on a long journey for the purpose of ministry work. In the 20th century, however, the phrase began to be used in asking for God’s blessings and protection on believers traveling for any reason.

What terms of phrases would you like to see discussed in future articles in this series? Leave your suggestions in the comment section below.

Most Popular at TGC Last Month

Top Articles

(1) Can a Christian Commit Suicide? (Miguel Núñez)


Though Scripture doesn’t tell us explicitly, there are good reasons to believe even the sin of suicide can be forgiven.

(2) Why You Should Criticize Your Pastor (Jared C. Wilson)

Measure your thoughts out appropriately, choose the right hills to die on, and pray for your pastor. He needs it.

(3) Church, We Have a Problem (Tullian Tchividjian)

Is preaching the gospel of grace really the means by which God rescues the lawless, the unethical, and the disobedient?

(4) Toward a Biblical Approach to Dating (Paul Maxwell)

The Bible legitimizes dating in this age, but it is not necessarily holy.

(5) How the Ayers Family Buried Their 8 Children (Kristen Gilles)

We can trust our Lord no matter what suffering we may endure because he has already endured it for us. He will help us until the day he returns.

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(1) Why We Should Legalize Murder for Hire (Betsy Childs)


(2) Where Did All These Calvinists Come From? (Matt Smethurst and Mark Dever)

(3) Learning from a Lesbian Visitor to Your Church (Trevin Wax)

(4) The Loving Intolerance of God (Melissa Kruger)

(5) How to Get Real, Honest Community (Bob Thune and Will Walker)

Top Interviews

(1) How to Prepare for Pain and Suffering (Tim Keller, Collin Hansen)

Tim Keller’s new book forces us to confront life as it really is and not as our Western fairy tales suggest.

(2) Evidences of a Maturing Evangelical Mind (Michael Lindsay, Albert Mohler, Phil Ryken)

Three respected institutional presidents discuss evidences of a growth in Christian thinking.

(3) Is God a Moral Monster? (Bryan Chapell, J. D. Greear, Mike McKinley)

Three pastors discuss street-level objections to God’s morality.

Top Book Reviews

(1) Strange Fire (John MacArthur | Review by Thomas Schreiner)


Though I largely agree with MacArthur exegetically, I’m afraid he paints the charismatic movement with too broad of a brush.

(2) A Call to Resurgence (Mark Driscoll | Review by Andrew Wilson)

The flaws in the central chapters of Mark Driscoll’s new book are significant enough to spoil it.

(3) Walking with God through Pain and Suffering (Tim Keller | Review by Joni Eareckson Tada)

After 46 years of quadriplegia, Joni Eareckson Tada sometimes wonders if there’s anything new to say about affliction and the Almighty. That’s why Tim Keller’s new book is so special.

News and Notes

(1) TGC Announces a New Site en Français

Our new French-language website [Twitter | Facebook] is filled with editorial content provided by pastors, theologians, and other church leaders in France, Quebec, the United States, and elsewhere. Our editors they hope to highlight and assist the French-speaking church by producing and distributing thoughtful, faithful resources from a variety of sources.

(2) Arabic Translation Web Project: The Gospel as Center

Edited by Don Carson and Tim Keller, this book will help Arabic-speaking church leaders join the movement dedicated to a Scripture-based reformation of ministry practices and the centrality of the gospel—and stand united under the conviction that what holds us together is worth fighting for. Please consider helping us make this resource available.

(3) God’s Word, Our Story: The Gospel Coalition 2014 National Women’s Conference (June 27-29 | Orlando, Florida)

Join us for this conference for women but all about the Word! We’ll focus on listening to this Word . . . living in light of it . . . helping others hear it . . . worshiping according to it . . . waiting on the Spirit who inspired it . . . exalting Jesus at the center of it. The stellar lineup of speakers includes TGC founders Don Carson, Tim Keller, and John Piper. Dozens of workshops run in themed tracks and cover topics such as biblical theology, sexuality, evangelism, writing, the persecuted church, and the ministry of hospitality.

Chan and Platt Reflect from the Korean DMZ

Just a few hours ago David Platt and Francis Chan were standing at the Korean Demilitarized Zone (DMZ)—a strip of land serving as a buffer between North and South Korea. They recorded this short, candid video reflecting on the realities of a closed country with little or no access to the gospel.

They offer a challenge for church to be more active in helping North Korea rather than simply observing the situation like a tourist. Let us pray more fervently for Kim Jong Un and the people of North Korea, and act with greater urgency to bring them the gospel.

5 Ways Pastors Can Affirm Faith, Calling, and Vocation

At least in America, evangelical churches have largely neglected the subjects of faith, work, and calling. We tend to focus on salvation, evangelism, or basic personal discipleship (Bible reading, prayer, fellowship) but ignore what most people do 40, 60, or 80 hours a week.

When I read the following quote from William Diehl’s book, Christianity and Real Life, it jumped off the page at me:

I am now a sales manager for a major steel company. In the almost 30 years of my professional career, my church has never once suggested that there be any time of accounting of my on-the-job ministry to others. My church has never once offered to improve those skills which could have made me a better lay minister, nor has it ever asked if I needed any kind of support in what I was doing. There has never been an inquiry into the types of ethical decisions I must face, or whether I seek to communicate my faith to my co-workers. I never have been in a congregation where there was any type of public affirmation of a ministry in my career. In short, I must conclude that my church really doesn’t have the least interest in whether or how I minister in my daily work.

When I first read this quote many years ago, I didn’t know any churches that were attempting to address this deficiency. This issue remains even today in many quarters. Gabe Lyons offers this anecdote in an interview with TGC:

Andy Crouch tells a story about a lady in Boston who taught Sunday school at her church for 30 years. She was also responsible for cleaning up the whole Boston Harbor, which was a nightmare for the city. But the first time she was brought up in front of her church was to talk about how she had taught Sunday school for 30 years. They never mentioned that she had been responsible for helping the entire city by leading this huge project.

There isn’t anything wrong with recognizing someone’s faithful service to the church. However, we’re much more likely to recognize those types of service rather than someone’s faithfulness to their vocation outside the church. Fortunately some churches and organizations are beginning to wake up to this need through their public teaching. But there is much that can be done to implicitly address these topics as well. G. K. Chesterton said, “Education is implication.” We often remember not what is explicitly said, but what is implied.

Here are five things pastors can do to communicate implicitly the importance of work and vocation:

1. Watch your language.

One top Christian leader referred to his work of training pastors as equipping people for a “higher calling.” When someone objected, “We don’t believe that,” he apologetically admitted that the pastoral calling is not intrinsically higher than that of a doctor, lawyer, government worker, carpenter, music teacher, and so on. It’s easy to fall back into this kind of hierarchical thinking (pastoral ministry being higher than other work) even if we ought to know better.

2. Pray for people in professions.

Make it a regular part of pastoral prayer to pray not only for those who are sick, but also for doctors, homemakers, business executives, construction workers, and so on, that they might do excellent work that gives glory to God.

3. Interview workers.

For instance, call three lawyers to come forward and interview them about how they see their faith being expressed in their work. Then pray for them and any other lawyers in the congregation. You could do this with different professions—say, once a month, or on another regular cycle.

4. Commission people for ministry in their work.

Periodically call all the practitioners in a particular vocation to come up, have the elders lay hands on them, and commission them just as you would do for someone entering the pastorate or going as a missionary overseas.

5. Stress that you can have a ministry at work.

In Romans 13:4, Paul twice calls government workers “ministers.” They are ministers not just when they evangelize or lead Bible studies at work but also when they practice their calling in government. The same could be said for any other valid profession. Emphasize that on Sunday we are the body of Christ gathered, and on Monday we are the body scattered to work in the world by bearing witness in what we say and do.

These are just suggestions of ways pastors and churches can regularly communicate implicitly that they value the connection between faith and work as well as the validity of various callings. If more churches did this, it would go a long way toward strengthening people in our congregations who work outside the church.

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We’re doing it again! The Gospel Coalition’s second National Women’s Conference will take place June 27 to 29, 2014, in Orlando, Florida. Registration will open August 1. We look forward to sharing this event with thousands of women from across the nation and around the world.


Top Articles

(1) Why Gay Marriage Is Good (and Bad) for the Church (Trevin Wax)

We have too many layers of self-justification to grow without hard knocks.

(2) Why You Can’t See Your Biggest Flaws (Tim Keller)

While our faults always seem small to us due to the natural self-justification of the heart, you can be sure they don’t look so small to others.

(3) 6 Pillars of a Christian View on Suffering (Don Carson)

God wants our trust even more than he wants our understanding.

(4) Perspectives on Our Children’s Education: Going Public (Jen Wilkin)

If you are not the stereotypical public school parent, your child will probably not be the stereotypical public school student.

(5) 6 Things We Need to Learn from Youth About Preaching (Cameron Cole)

The teenagers to whom I minister do not think like most of my preacher friends.

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(1) A Prayer for the Mom Who’s Worn (Christina Fox)

(2) Marriage Is Not Ultimate (Phillip Holmes)

(3) 8 Things I Wish Someone Had Told Me Before Seminary (Matt Damico)

(4) FactChecker: Does College Cause Young Adults to Lose Their Faith? (Glenn T. Stanton)

(5) 4 Reasons Zombies Won’t Die (Barry Cooper)

Top Interviews

(1) Is John Piper a Hypocrite? (John Piper, Mark Mellinger)

There are 98,000 evangelicals for every unengaged people group. What are we doing about it?

(2) Russell Moore on the Supreme Court’s DOMA Decision (Russell Moore, Mark Mellinger)

The implications of this decision, he argues, will in the fullness of time, apply to all 50 states.

(3) Should Christians Try to Legislate Their Morality? (Kevin DeYoung, Collin Hansen, Trevin Wax)

When it comes to legislating morality, how do we help people find an authority outside of themselves?

Top Book Reviews

(1) Jesus Is (Judah Smith | Review by Gavin Ortlund)

This Bieber-approved book captures much of Christ’s character but falls short of yielding a reliable, rounded portrait of who he is.

(2) Sexual Sanity for Women (Ellen Dykas, ed. | Review by Amber Walsh)

Resources that point struggling women to Jesus, pulling no punches yet speaking with great compassion, are greatly needed in our sex-saturated culture.

(3) Lean In (Sheryl Sandberg | Review by Kathleen Nielson)

Though we can learn much from Sandberg, what stands out in her values is a dramatic lack of transcendence.

News and Notes

(1) Engage the South (September 24 | Birmingham, Alabama)

Sponsored by Acts 29 Network and hosted by Beeson Divinity School, this event seeks to equip leaders for the kind of revitalized churches we need in the American South. Join speakers including Matt Chandler, David Platt, and Ray Ortlund.

The first album from The Gospel Coalition, by the church for the church, features songwriters and musicians from around the country. Download it today and hear original lyrics and music by D. A. Carson, Sandra McCracken, Aaron Ivey, Matt Boswell, and more.

(3) The Gospel of Luke from the Outside In

This new 12-session group study—from scholars David Morlan and D. A. Carson—shows through written and video commentary how Luke brings the good news from the “outside in” as Christ embraces the unknowns, the outcast, the lost, and the hopeless.

Most Popular Last Month

By God’s grace, all of our TGC13 conference media—78 talks—are now available, with translations of all plenary sessions and selected workshops in Mandarin, Farsi, French, Portuguese, and Spanish. All of this content is free to be used and shared around the world. As our founding documents state, TGC’s desire is “to serve the church we love . . . in an effort to renew the contemporary church in the ancient gospel of Christ.” To that end, we hope you will be instructed, edified, and spurred on by this content from our fourth biennial National Conference. May Jesus alone be exalted.


Top Articles

(1) How to Discourage Artists in the Church (Phil Ryken)

Many Christian artists live between two strange worlds. Their faith seems odd to many of their friends in the artistic community, almost as odd as their calling seems to some of their friends at church.

(2) Forgive Us These Faults (Tim Keller)

While our faults always seem small to us due to the natural self-justification of the heart, you can be sure they don’t look so small to others.

(3) How to Survive a Cultural Crisis (Mark Dever)

Here are 7 principles for surviving the cultural shifts we’re presently enduring.

(4) The Difference Between Autographs and Original Texts (Michael Kruger)

If Bart Ehrman is correct, then he has uncovered the single thread that would unravel the entire garment of the Christian faith.

(5) The New Purpose of Marriage (Collin Hansen)

Marriage based on needs and affection will struggle to endure when the needs change and the affection fades.

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(1) Parents, Do You Think Before You Post? (Jen Wilkin)

(2) 9 Things You Should Know About Pornography and the Brain (Joe Carter)

(3) Can God Save a Fundamentalist School? (Chris Bruno)

(4) Help! I Married an Introvert (Stephen Miller)

(5) The Plastic Fruit of Online Living (Lindsey Carlson)

(6) 12 Things to Do After Graduating (Matt Jenson)

Top Interviews

(1) Out of the Rubble, Hope for Renewal (Sam Storms, Collin Hansen, Mark Mellinger)

No matter what comes sweeping down the plains, nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ.

(2) When Carl Henry Trash-Talked with Karl Barth (Greg Thornbury, Collin Hansen, John Starke)

If you’ve never heard of Carl Henry or don’t know where to begin, Thornbury and Hansen are good guides.

(3) Are You Ready for the Urban Future? (Matt Smethurst, Stephen Um)

We hope this resource will aid you in situating your own contextual ministry within a broad understanding of our world’s shifting cultural currents.

Top Book Reviews

(1) The Evangelicals You Don’t Know (Tom Krattenmaker | Review by Mike McKinley)

Turns out what social activist progressives can find to like about Christianity is when Christians act like social activist progressives.

(2) Humble Orthodoxy (Joshua Harris | Review by Derek Brown)

Humble orthodoxy begins with you, not others.

(3) Dictionary of Scripture and Ethics (Joel B. Green, ed. | Review by Ray Van Neste)

As cultural pressure increases to accommodate the spirit of the age rather than hold fast to Scripture, we must decide where we stand. This volume has made its choice.

News and Notes

(1) Now Available! Songs for the Book of Luke

The first album from The Gospel Coalition, by the church for the church, features songwriters and musicians from around the country. Download it today and hear original lyrics and music by D. A. Carson, Sandra McCracken, Aaron Ivey, Matt Boswell, and more.

(2) The Gospel of Luke from the Outside In

This new 12-session group study—from scholars David Morlan and D. A. Carson—shows through written and video commentary how Luke brings the good news from the “outside in” as Christ embraces the unknowns, the outcast, the lost, and the hopeless.

(3) Help Us Relieve Theological Famine

We’ve raised more than 50 percent of our goal of providing Tim Keller’s Galatians for You to thousands of church leaders in Asian, Africa, and South America. Can you help?

The Place for Help and Healing

How many friends do you have? It’s a surprisingly difficult question. After all, the categories of friendships are many: friends from childhood, college, work, church, online friends, even tweeting. While the number of friends listed on our social media accounts may be many, our true friends are actually very few.

How many of your friends know the real you? How many would know if you were struggling, really struggling? And to be honest, how many of them would you tell?

For many years, I went through seasons of depression all on my own. I wandered in the darkness, feeling isolated, helpless, and in complete despair. I often stood among the crowd at my church each Sunday, watching everyone fellowship, and feeling utterly alone. Hiding my thoughts and feelings inside, I felt great shame and guilt about the battle going on in my mind. Because if people really knew the horrible, dark, and frightening thoughts I had, they would surely reject me.

But then God brought a few friends in my life with whom I could be real, honest, and transparent. I told them my story, revealing the depths of pain I had endured. God used those friends to encourage and support me. They pointed me to the hope of the gospel. Over time, our relationship has become mutual. We share our burdens with one another, point each other to Christ, and walk alongside each other during the difficult trials of life.

Silent Pain

The sad truth is, not everyone has such friends in their church body. There are many hearts crying out in silent pain within the church. As we sit in our pews each Sunday, surrounded by painted-on smiles and neatly pressed clothes, inside many are weeping. The issues may vary—grief, worry, shame, depression, fear, even severe mental illness—but each one needs the love and encouragement of others in the body of Christ. God uses us in the body to build up, spur on, encourage, and bless one another (Romans 12, Hebrews 3:13, 10:24-25, 13:1). In fact, the church body ought to be a place where people find help and healing, not where we simply voice our social media status face to face, providing updates on where we had lunch that week and the funny thing our child did the other day.

It is important that we recognize the fact that there are hurting people sitting next to us in our pews. We need to look beneath the masks and casual statements to see the hearts of each other. Because we are related to one another through the blood of Christ, each of us has the Spirit living within us. When we go beneath the surface and speak life-affirming words to the heart of another, it stirs the Spirit within them. It triggers hope within their soul. The love and encouragement from one believer to another is not the same as the world gives, for it is empowered by the Spirit himself.

May our churches be a place where the definition of friendship means something more than what it does online. May God open our eyes and hearts to see those among us who are hurting. And perhaps you already know of someone who needs help. Maybe you’ve wanted to reach out and help but don’t know how. While by no means complete, this list provides a few ways you can love and encourage them.

1. Reach out: It may take time, but be intentional in letting that person know you care. Trust is something that has to be earned, but over time, they will open up and begin to share their burdens. Be sincere, genuine, and real.

2. Listen: Listen with ears of grace. Don’t be like Job’s friends who assumed they knew why Job was suffering. Enter their pain with them and listen. Don’t try to come up with solutions to their problems. You are not responsible to take away their pain or make their life better. You are there to encourage and point them to the One who does take away all pain and sorrow.

3. Pray: Don’t say, “I’m praying for you,” and then not do it. Ask how you can pray for them and then commit to doing it. Consider writing a gospel-centered prayer and send it to them. I’ve received written prayers from friends, and it gave me great encouragement. Pray and ask God to give you wisdom and grace to encourage them.

4. Speak the gospel: You won’t be able to solve their crisis or change their circumstances, but you can speak the hope of the gospel to their heart. We find true healing in the truths of the gospel. Remind them of who they are in Christ. Remind them of their standing before God, their inheritance, and what Christ has accomplished for them. Point them to the love their heavenly Father has for them, the very same love he has for the Son. And point them to the power of the Holy Spirit to work in and through them to live for Christ, despite their weakness. These gospel truths stand secure, no matter how strong the storm.

5. Check in: For some, the journey through pain is long and tedious. Stick it out with them. Check in often, even if they don’t respond. Send a card, an email, a text. Leave encouraging messages to let them know you care and are praying for them. God will use your efforts. You may not see immediate fruit, but God is at work and will use your attempts to reach out to them, for their good and his glory.

Can God Save a Fundamentalist School?

Most readers of The Gospel Coalition probably aren’t familiar with the story of Northland International University. In fact, many readers of this blog have probably never heard of Northland at all. But for more than 50 years God has been doing some amazing things in northeastern Wisconsin at Northland Mission Camp, then Northland Baptist Bible College, and now at Northland International University.

As the camp ministry grew and a small Bible college launched on the property, the school had a decided emphasis on the proclamation of the gospel and servant leadership. Along with that, however, the college was also connected to the fundamentalist movement. This connection led to an uncompromising position on separation from the world in nearly every way and a strong stance against certain types of music and ministry. Not only did the school take strict positions on many of these less-than-clear issues, but it also drew strict lines of separation from those who did not.

By the time I arrived on campus as a freshman in 1998, Northland was a pretty separated place. Most types of modern music were off limits, as were most movies, TV shows, and other popular media. In the classroom, we read books by authors like John Piper, R. C. Sproul, and John MacArthur, but they always came with a disclaimer. I spent my last two years on campus wrestling over the theological and exegetical foundations for these practices and felt like we needed to be somewhere more biblically and theologically robust. So in the summer of 2002, we packed up and moved to Minneapolis, where I started the apprenticeship program at Bethlehem Baptist Church.

But I knew this move would lead to a separation from Northland. While I certainly maintained relationships with many on campus, I assumed that I would never be able to have close ties to my alma mater. There was much about Northland to love: a unique emphasis on servant leadership; a humble administration, faculty, and staff; a strong love for the Word of God; and a radical commitment to world missions. But it seemed like the strict separatism and all that went along with it would keep me, and many other alumni from my generation, from having close relationships with Northland. It was a fundamentalist school in every meaningful sense of the word, and none of us expected that to change.

Deeper Root

But God was at work in ways many of us alumni never expected. The centrality of the gospel was taking deeper root at the school, and the results we have seen are encouraging. Over the course of three or four years, Northland underwent some important transformations, including receiving accreditation and changing some of the unnecessary rules. But more importantly, Northland became a place where the gospel is at the center, and rules and regulations are not.

In a recent letter, outgoing Northland president Matt Olson listed some of the changes the school underwent in the last few years. He explained:

  • Northland went from the exclusive use of the King James Version in the pulpit and classrooms to allowing other translations.
  • Northland went from a demerit system to a discipleship platform for our students. Yes, we still have rules: we still confront, and we still have consequences. We just believe we have a better and more biblical model now. It is built on relationships. We are always looking for better ways to accomplish our mission.
  • Northland went from practicing some forms of “secondary separation” to what we now understand to be a more biblical separation. Where we would not have had men like John MacArthur, Rick Holland, Ken Ham, Bruce Ware, or Mark Dever, we would now. We see no reason to separate from these men. We would consider them to be in the spirit of historic fundamentalism; they believe in the orthodox faith, will separate over it, and live godly lives.
  • Northland went from only allowing “traditional” styles of music to accepting more modern styles as well. A blend of traditional and current music is used in our programs and chapel.
  • We created an overarching name of Northland International University to give our students greater opportunities with the gospel worldwide. The change was driven by our passion to reach every tribe, tongue, people, and nation.

To many TGC readers, these changes might sound obvious. But at Northland, they reflect something deeper. They reflect the way the gospel, rightly applied, will eventually work itself out at the institutional level. While some of the parallels break down, Michael Horton’s explanation of semper reformanda was applied at Northland: “It is not because the culture is always changing and we need to be up with the times, but because we are always in need of being re-oriented to the Word that stands over us, individually and collectively, that the church can never stand still.” In the same way, an institution must always be re-orienting itself to the Word and asking whether its practices and policies could reflect greater fidelity to the Word of God. And when this practice is taken seriously, great things can happen.

Now there is more hope for Northland than ever. Along with a renewed emphasis on the centrality of the gospel, the school is still committed to a unique emphasis on humble, servant leadership; strong love for the Word of God; and radical giving to world missions (in a 2009 survey, 44 percent of the student body planned to serve overseas). So Northland is worth knowing about and praying for. Especially now. The school is facing some significant challenges in the coming months. In just a few weeks, Olson will be moving on from his role as president of the school. Also, it is no secret that most Christian colleges live and die by their constituencies, and making changes means alienating some of those constituents.


I don’t pretend to speak for Northland. I have recently re-connected with some of the leaders at the school and teach an occasional course for their distance program. That doesn’t mean I agree with everything the school says and does. But I have seen the way a re-centering in the gospel can transform a school, and for that I praise God.

Some of my fellow Northland alumni are upset because the school did not change fast enough or pursue change in the way they would have done it. Others are upset because they thought nothing should change. Ever. Still others are upset because of Olson’s departure on the heels of many of these changes. To those alumni and friends, I would simply ask that you to grant the same grace to the institution that you would to a fellow Christian who is growing in grace. We will all make mistakes, and we all have room for growth.

We can all learn from the example of an institution that is willing to further submit itself to God’s Word—in spite of the criticism and challenges these changes will bring. So pray for Northland as it searches for a new president and be praying about God’s continued work there, knowing that when the gospel moves to the center, amazing things can happen to an individual, a church, and even a fundamentalist school.

Pursue Justice or Extend Grace in Sexual Harassment?

Several years ago I was in a work situation where men often said sexual, inappropriate things to me and about me. One coworker even went as far as to grab me and then made it a big deal when I asked him not to and pushed him away. It was jolting, and there was no amount of education or discipleship that prepared me to deal with sexual harassment.

I knew it was wrong the whole time it was happening. As a Christian, I felt the tension of how to respond to the sexual harassment: do I pursue justice or extend grace?

Once I finally admitted to myself what was happening, I talked to a few friends. They said I should take the verbal harassment as a compliment and not overreact. “What woman doesn’t want to be seen as attractive?” In a culture driven by sex, if it isn’t sexy, it doesn’t sell. So, according to my friends, I should take what those men were saying as a compliment. But I didn’t, and I couldn’t.

The words of those men were debilitating, because I knew that my fundamental identity had nothing to do with my physical appearance. I knew that the type of beauty I wanted to be recognized for wasn’t fundamentally for my looks or body shape, but with the God who dwells in me. “Charm is deceptive and beauty is fleeting, but a women who fears the Lord shall be praised” (Prv 31:30).

Sadly, my friends and those men didn’t get that.

Comments Continue

After my first experience of sharing with someone, I waited a few months to talk to someone else about it. I had just reported one incident to human resources, but the comments only continued to come from those men. I decided to talk to an older Christian woman in the workplace to get her advice on how to handle it.

She said that I, as a woman, must be doing something to encourage it, because she had never experienced sexual harassment. I left thinking that now I was somehow to blame. I dreaded going to work and would cry almost every night while begging the Lord to remove me from the situation.

By God’s grace, I finally admitted my feelings of shame in enduring sexual harassment. As I shared with my roommate the truth, she graciously stepped into all of the mess with me. She assured me that what was happening was not right. She reminded me that I was not responsible for the men’s comments.

On the really hard days, she listened, cried with me, and reminded me that God is faithful and that he is fighting for me (Ex 14:14). I began to open up more about it with people to let them in and walk through the struggle with me. I continued to seek the Lord on what would be the most honoring way for me to respond to the company, the men, and others. I wanted to stop any other person going through what I did.

“Do I pursue justice or extend grace?” The truth is, I needed to do both. I reported the incidents and the men to the company. Then as I continued to talk openly with my faithful and godly community, by God’s grace I was able to extend grace. I was able to offer forgiveness to them and hold no bitterness against them.

This didn’t happen instantly. It took several months for me to truly forgive them—months of prayer, months of support and counsel from God’s people.

Faulty Definitions

At first I thought if I forgave them, it would be akin to admitting that everything thy did was okay. My definitions of forgiveness and grace were faulty. The ability to even begin to forgive would never happen so long as I was responding to these men in light of their actions or words toward me.

Any possibility that I could forgive came from events that happened long before any of this trouble. Forgiveness for them—and me—began on a cross. It’s there that I am reminded of a great God who offered forgiveness by sacrificing his own Son for me when I didn’t deserve it.

My pride and selfishness are no different before a holy and just God than their harassment. I was only able to forgive because I know and believe that God is a grace-giving God who is in control. In that assurance, I find the freedom to forgive. Extending forgiveness didn’t take away the pain or the reality of what happened, but it was and still is a reminder of my own need and desperation for Christ. I learned more about our God who is not only my protector, but who is also good . . . even in a situation so ugly and wrong as sexual harassment.