Where to Find Real Simplicity

It seems everyone is feeling fragmented these days. Has the human life ever been more perforated between disparate spheres: family and friends, virtual and physical, social media and social circles, urban diversity, suburban squalor, work and life and play?

At least in America, there’s always been an opposing tendency toward simplicity. The Puritans defined themselves around a simple life that culminated in simple worship on Sunday morning. We see it in Henry David Thoreau’s deliberate self-exile in the Connecticut woods, from which he returned with the famous proclamation to “simplify, simplify, simplify.” He was arguing that the good life is revealed in the alarmingly simple tasks needed in order for one to survive, and that such simplicity is better than the fragmented life complicated by the emerging technologies of the mid-19th century. (From our perspective in the 21st century, we say, you have no idea.)

Search for Simplicity 


The search for the simple life continues today, particularly in the educated class: simple clothing, minimalist design, local dining, and thinking about these things while thumbing through the latest edition of Real Simple magazine.

But the effect is limited. We set out to to eat, pray, love, but we often end up with binge, purge, regret.

All of this interest in simplicity is fine, and a lot of it is wise, but notice the logic. It’s working from the theory that if we can simplify things outside ourselves—our style of dress, the furniture in our houses, our travel, our food, our relationships, our children’s schedules—then we will find ourselves becoming simpler.

In short, this simplification is aimed at our circumstances, the world around us. Not that there’s anything wrong with this approach. It can be gratifying, but the Bible talks about a quite different kind of simplification. The Scriptures call us to a simplicity that springs up within the heart of the one who loves the God who is one.

There’s nothing wrong with eating a diet of only raw food and wearing only underwear sewn from locally grown cotton. But the biblical notion of simple living doesn’t arise from the character of our lifestyle. Rather, it arises from the character of the God who gives us life.

The God Who Is One

In fact, this is the theology of Deuteronomy: the character of the God who loves us should and does make claims on who we are and what we love for ourselves.

There’s a section in Deuteronomy known as the “Shema” after its first word, which in Hebrew means “hear” or “obey.” And it’s been considered ever since to be the core, the beating heart, of the covenant under Moses:

Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. (Deut. 6:4-5)

The Shema provides a simple summary of every claim the Lord makes on the life of his people. The claim is simple in many senses of that word. It’s marvelously simple, challengingly simple, terrifying and life-giving in its simplicity.

God’s character as one and whole and simple demands a response of undivided and simple love. Whether public or private, individual or corporate, spiritual or carnal, God’s people are to be simply and wholly in love with him.

Ever since the fall there’s been a general and constant slide toward the divided life. The most obvious image of humanity’s shattered simplicity is the scene of Adam and Eve, the images of God, hiding behind the hedge when their Lord calls them in the cool of the day (Gen. 3:8-13). Fragmentation must be maintained by careful secrecy and deceit.

Simple Life, Simple Love

Moses is saying in Deuteronomy 6 that the Lord hasn’t abandoned his call for simple love but that, through a relationship called covenant, he seeks to restore and expand the relationship he always meant to have with his people. This relationship must happen on his terms, and it must reflect his character. Any other attempt at simplicity will fail.

The Lord’s identity and character require a response of wholehearted faith and simple love. The wholeness of the people’s love is the only appropriate response to the oneness of God’s character.

This is why the Shema cannot end with verse four but must continue to verse five. Knowing the truth about God is not the focus of this confession; the focus is on how to respond to that truth in kind. Mere recognition of the truth is not equal to faith. The apostle James quotes the Shema in order to make the same point: “You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder!” (James 2:19).

Faithfulness is not synonymous with theological familiarity. Faithfulness responds to the character of God by giving birth to a life of simple love and worship.

Building Laborers on Campus

Every Square Inch Cropped

Editors’ note: The weekly TGCvocations column asks practitioners about their jobs and how they integrate their faith and work. Interviews are conducted and condensed by Bethany L. Jenkins, director of TGC’s Every Square Inch.

MattFranciscoMatt Francisco is the campus director of Campus Outreach (CO) at Samford University in Birmingham, Alabama, where he works to build Christ-like leaders through evangelism and discipleship. He grew up in Marietta, Georgia, and graduated from Samford, where he met his wife, Erin. They have a daughter, Sarah, and a child on the way in December.

How did you come to do this work?

When I was a student at Samford, I saw several of my friends who were uninterested in spiritual things come to faith in Christ through the work of CO. At the same time, I was trying to grow and share my own faith in my fraternity, but I was disheartened by the lack of fruit I saw. I started to get involved with CO in part to grow in evangelism, and eventually I came on staff because I saw how much I personally needed to grow as a godly man and as a leader. Also, I was excited by their mission to equip laborers for the lost world—for ministry and the marketplace.

Why did you decide to work with college students?

College is a pivotal time. In many ways, students’ time in college sets the trajectory for the rest of their lives. During college, students are making important decisions, discovering who they are, and asking big questions about purpose, meaning, reality, and significance. It is also a time when community is usually engaging and accessible. A relationship that might take two years to develop in a marketplace or neighborhood might only take two weeks on a college campus.

What are your fears for college students today?

My fear is that, in general, students don’t know how to be still before the Lord, wrestle with Scripture, and struggle with God in prayer because they’re addicted to amusement and cannot disengage from technology. I’m also troubled that, when most students talk about figuring out God’s will, they really mean wanting some sort of sign—total inner peace, writing in the sky—instead of becoming a person who knows, pursues, and reflects God. I fear they’ll drift through life and be unable to say that they “ran the race” to win, simply because they didn’t take the time to consider what it would mean to do so.

How do you speak into and heal this brokenness?

These students—like the rest of us—want to be a part of something greater than themselves. They want to know the why of their lives so that they can endure almost any how. So at Campus Outreach, we talk about God’s grand, beautiful, and glorious plan of redemption. In relationship, we wrestle through how our individual lives—academics, relationships, extracurriculars, careers—are a part of that grander narrative. In my work, I’ve been more focused on helping students understand eschatology than I anticipated because it’s a big part of the why. I want these students to catch God’s heart of reconciliation until they’re overwhelmed.

You are successful at your job if . . . what?

CO’s mission statement is, “Glorifying God by Building Laborers on the Campus for the Lost World.” As I work toward this goal, I pray that my students would be bold, broken-hearted servants wherever they go and whatever they do—bold in confessing their sin and sharing the gospel, and broken for the world. I’m successful if they graduate knowing that their joy is found in seeking God’s glory and in loving others as Christ has loved them. Whether they’re working as accountants, pastors, or nurses, I long for them to embody passages like Jeremiah 29, Philippians 2, Ezra, Nehemiah, and Daniel—passages that show deep humility and bold cultural engagement.

4 Ways to Minister to Older Saints

I thought it was just another Tuesday when I walked into the hospital to minister to people from our church. But that day would change my ministry forever. When I entered his room I saw an older man in his 80s who had that once-upon-a-time deacon look to him. I figured he had probably been in our church for 50 years and put up with at least four senior pastors and countless youth ministers. I expectd a full download on why the church today is struggling and the younger generation is to blame.


As I sat down in the chair beside his bed, he asked me who I was, and I identified myself as the student pastor at his church. The gentleman sat up in his bed and began to open up his heart about his ministry days. He had been a pastor for more than 35 years. Now retired, he had recently become a member of our church. Rather than giving me an hour-long lecture on the state of the church, he gladly talked to me about what he learned about being a pastor for almost four decades. He talked about loving Christ, loving his family, and serving the flock that God had entrusted to him. He was more interested in listening than talking, but when he did talk it was like reading one of my favorite biographies about a Christian hero.

We’re tempted in ministry to take one bad situation with an older man and apply it to the whole age group. But just as we want to be known personally and not stereotyped as a young hothead, older saints want to be known indivudally and not just as the grumpy, disinterested old men who sit in the back of the church with their arms folded. If we younger ministers would only humble ourselves and seek out relationships, we can gain untold wisdom from the many older and faithful souls in our churches.

If you desire a revival of gospel-centered ministry, then you’ll need to learn from and engage the the older generation. Consider these four ways to minister to older saints.

1. Spend time listening to their life stories and learning how they were and are shaped by the gospel. Start in your church but extend this same courtesy to the pastors you criticize among your peers at a conference. It is possible that if we would be patient to listen, we may learn good reasons for why the older men hold unpopular opinions. You don’t need to agree, but you should at least take the time to learn and understand.

2. Ask them how they have seen the gospel advance. The gospel is not just for our day and time. It is timeless. The good news has gone forth in every generation and circumstance since Jesus rose from the dead. Older saints in your church want to see their kids and grandchildren saved. They know the church needs to raise up younger leaders. And as I’ve learned from the older men in my church, they’re praying for our pastors more often than we know.

You and I have many blind spots in ministry. My biggest help has been pastors in their 50s and 60s who have humbly shared what they did wrong at my age. These men lean across the table and tell me, “John, I do not want you to make the same mistake I did.” These are the conversations that I reflect on regularly.

3. Ask them to serve. Even as they stand at the door to eternity, these older believers want to be used by God in their last days. You need to encourage them to stay in the battle. They have already given so much to the church. With a little love and respect, you can recruit these saints to be your strongest allies. Rather than putting them to pasture ask them to engage. They may not be beating down your door to learn of volunteer opportunities, but I have found they are eager to help when asked. It’s an amazing example when younger leaders see an older man serving, no matter the job. If we have breath we have a job to do.

4. Thank them. If not for them we would not be here. Our churches and budgets exist because the generations before us bought in and sacrificed for the gospel. They were planting churches before planting churches was cool. We may disagree with some of their suggestions, but we probably would not even have the option to disagree if not for their faithful years of service.

One day we will be in the same position as they are now, and we would want the young pastors to treat us the same way—as useful and fruitful believers engaged in the same battle.

9 Things You Should Know About the Gosnell Infanticide and Murder Trial

Today marks one year since Kermit Gosnell, an abortionist from Pennsylvania, was convicted  of three counts of first-degree murder. Here are 9 things you should know about the case of America’s most prolific serial killer:

gosnell kermit1. Gosnell was arrested in January 2011, charged with eight counts of murder: one patient died under his care after a botched abortion, and seven infants supposedly born alive whose spinal cords Gosnell  severed with scissors.

2. According to prosecutors in Philadelphia, Gosnell catered to minorities, immigrants, and poor women, and made millions of dollars over 30 years performing illegal and late-term abortions in squalid and barbaric conditions. Gosnell took extra precautions with white women from the suburbs, according to the grand jury report. He ushered them into a slightly cleaner area because he thought they would be more likely to file a complaint.

3. Women paid $325 for first-trimester abortions and $1,600 to $3,000 for abortions up to 30 weeks. The clinic took in up to $15,000 a day, said authorities. Although abortions after the 24th week are illegal, Gosnell aborted and killed babies in the sixth and seventh months of pregnancy and charged more for bigger babies.

4. According to the grand jury report, the clinic reeked of animal urine and the furniture and blankets were stained with blood. Medical instruments found in the practice had not been properly sterilized. State officials have failed to visit or inspect his abortion clinic since 1993. Prosecutors also claim that Gosnell was not certified in either gynecology or obstetrics.

5. Prosecutors said that none of Gosnell’s staff, including his wife, were licensed nurses or doctors and that a 15-year-old student performed anesthesia with potentially lethal narcotics.

6. A woman who worked for Gosnell testified that she was called back to a room at his abortion clinic in Philadelphia where the bodies of aborted babies were kept to hear one screaming amid a shelf-full of dead babies. “I can’t describe it,” says the woman. “It sounded like a little alien.” She says the body of the child was about 18 to 24 inches long and was one of the largest babies she had seen delivered during abortion procedures at Gosnell’s clinic.

7. On January 31, 1998, a then 15 year old Robyn Reid sought an abortion from Gosnell’s clinic. Once she was in the clinic, though, Reid, an 87-pound teenager at the time, told Gosnell she changed her mind about the abortion. She claims Gosnell got upset, ripped off her clothes, restrained her, and repeatedly told her, “This is the same care that I would give to my own daughter.” Reid regained consciousness 12 hours later at her aunt’s home, with the abortion having been completed against her will.

8. At the time of Gosnell’s arrest and trial, his crimes received almost no coverage by the national media. During the early part of the trial ABC, CBS and NBC did not cover the trial at all, yet gave 41 minutes and 26 seconds of air time to the story of Mike Rice, the Rutgers basketball coach who was fired for verbally and physically abusing his players.

9. The 3801 Lancaster Film Project is an ongoing documentary series about Kermit Gosnell, the Women’s Medical Society, and the cover-up by state and local oversight agencies.

(Warning: The video contains graphic images.)


Other posts in this series:

9 Things You Should Know About Prayer in the Bible

9 Things You Should Know About the National Day of Prayer

9 Things You Should Know About The Rwandan Genocide

9 Things You Should Know About The Chronicles of Narnia

9 Things You Should Know about the Story of Noah

9 Things You Should Know About Fred Phelps and Westboro Baptist Church

9 Things You Should Know About Pimps and Sex Traffickers

9 Things You Should Know About Marriage in America

9 Things You Should Know About Black History Month

9 Things You Should Know About the Holocaust

9 (More) Things You Should Know About Roe v. Wade

9 Things You Should Know About Poverty in America

9 Things You Should Know About Christmas

9 Things You Should Know About The Hobbit

9 Things You Should Know About the Council of Trent

9 Things You Should Know About C.S. Lewis

9 Things You Should Know About Orphans

9 Things You Should Know about Halloween and Reformation Day

9 Things You Should Know About Down Syndrome

9 Things You Should Know About World Hunger

9 Things You Should Know about Casinos and Gambling

9 Things You Should Know About Prison Rape

9 Things You Should Know About the 16th Street Baptist Church Bombing

9 Things You Should Know About the 9/11 Attack Aftermath

9 Things You Should Know About Chemical Weapons

9 Things You Should Know About the March on Washington

9 (More) Things You Should Know About Duck Dynasty

9 Things You Should Know About Child Brides

9 Things You Should Know About Human Trafficking

9 Things You Should Know About the Scopes Monkey Trial

9 Things You Should Know About Social Media

9 Things You Should Know about John Calvin

9 Things You Should Know About Independence Day and the Declaration of Independence

9 Things You Should Know About the Supreme Court’s Same-Sex Marriage Cases

9 Things You Should Know About the Bible

9 Things You Should Know About Human Cloning

9 Things You Should Know About Pornography and the Brain

9 Things You Should Know About Planned Parenthood

9 Things You Should Know About the Boston Marathon Bombing

9 Things You Should Know About Female Body Image Issues

Nehemiah Helps Point the Way

Editors’ note: This excerpt comes from Rebuild: A Study in Nehemiaha new group study by Kathleen Nielson with D. A. Carson. Hear more from Carson and Nielson on Nehemiah when you attend The Gospel Coalition Women’s Conference, June 27 to 29 in Orlando. 

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God’s covenant love to his people shows itself not just in their survival but also in his continuing provision of godly leaders who make clear the path of faith. No longer do these people have a king—although Zerubbabel as David’s descendant represents God’s sure promise of an eternal king in that line. There were post-exilic prophets sent by God: Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi. There remained faithful priests, as in the case of Ezra, who “set his heart to study the Law of the Lord, and to do it and to teach his statutes and rules in Israel” (Ezra 7:10). Ezra led his group back to Jerusalem to rebuild the temple.


And then there were leaders like Nehemiah, called to specific tasks. God provides in Nehemiah a wise leader, from whom we can learn much about effective, godly leadership. Nehemiah’s task is to bring God’s people together at this point in history to rebuild—the wall, yes, but most importantly the people. Nehemiah aims to bring this people together within the city of Jerusalem so that they can live according to God’s law—not just a compilation of rules but a system of worship that provides a means of coming as God’s people into God’s presence.

The Book of Nehemiah highlights God’s merciful provision of that means, through the temple with its priests and sacrifices. There is great joy as the people reassemble within Jerusalem’s walls, hear the Law, and reinstitute its prescribed worship. As they repent of their sin, and even as they fall into sin, we understand that we are reading about a God who in his unfailing love provides a way for his people to be forgiven. As we hear of sacrifices for sin offered by priests, we understand that this is the unfolding redemption story—one that culminates in Christ the Promised One who through his life and death and resurrection fulfilled the Law. These people were not able to fulfill it, nor are we; Jesus Christ was able.

The Old Testament closes with assemblies of worship led by priests in Jerusalem; the New Testament opens four centuries later with the coming of the one great High Priest, who shed his own blood as the final, perfect sacrifice for sin. No longer do we need priests and sacrifices and temple; Christ has once and for all accomplished the purification of God’s people toward which the sacrificial system pointed.

As we open Nehemiah, we can get ready to watch the God of history at work. We are reading the unfolding story of our redemption in Christ the Promised One who came, who died, who rose again, who ascended, who reigns, and who is coming again. In Christ the climax has come, but the story is not over. And we get to live in it, right now. Even in the midst of our struggles, we get to trust and obey the same faithful God and his same faithful Word. Nehemiah helps point the way.

Skip the Verse, Memorize the Book: Andrew Davis on Extended Bible Memorization

After the death of Moses, when Joshua is installed as leader of the Israelites, God commands him, “Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it” (Jos. 1:8).

Meditating on Scripture means to keep the mind fixed upon Scripture. But how can we keep our mind fixed on God’s Word today when we keep it trapped in our Bibles or on our smartphone apps?

memorization-davisAndrew Davis, senior pastor at First Baptist Church in Durham, North Carolina, wants to help encouraging Christians to meditate on Scripture by teaching how to memorize more of the Bible. In his new ebook, An Approach to Extended Memorization of Scripture, Davis provides daily procedures for memorizing entire chapters and books of the Bible at one time. Davis, a Council member for The Gospel Coalition, has used these techniques to commit 35 books of the Bible to memory over the course of his ministry.

I recently corresponded with Davis about his book, his methods, and why Christians should memorize Scripture.

In an age when most Christians have access to a Bible all the time (e.g., through an app on their smartphones), why is extended memorization of Scripture still necessary?

The beauty of memorization comes in the deeper understanding that results from continual meditation (“day and night” as Psalm 1 puts it) on the Word of God, and from the purifying effects of having a mind that concentrates fully on the Word rather than on worldly things. Memorization is a great way to “be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Rom. 12:1), because it gives the Word much more concentrated access to your heart. It doesn’t rest lightly but hits you more fully with great impact.

Beyond this, having the Word of God flowing through your mind continually transforms the way you speak: “Out of the fullness of the heart, the mouth speaks” (Matt. 12). It provides a ready answer to various life situations: temptation, prayer, witnessing, counseling, sermon preparation (for pastors like me), and so on. Having the Bible on an app is helpful, but it doesn’t guarantee anything. The Bible has transforming power only when it moves through our minds and rests with convicting power on our hearts.

What are some of the biggest benefits to memorizing entire chapters or books of the Bible?

The Word of God comes to us, for the most part, in paragraphs—developed trains of thought that tell a story (narrative, Gospels), unfold a law (Pentateuch), make a doctrinal argument (epistles), make a case against God’s people and their sins or reveal the future of God’s people (prophets), or describe in complex imagery an apocalyptic vision of the future (Revelation). Individual verses do not capture the train of thought and therefore are more likely to be taken out of context.

The fuller the section of Scripture we can memorize, the better. Also, Jesus said, “Man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matt. 4:4). Memorizing individual verses usually gravitates to the more “famous” verses and likely misses some precious truths hidden in less familiar verses. Memorizing whole books gives people a sense of the perfection of every word of God. It is a continual learning experience, a journey of discovery in which details come alive with incredible power. I am in awe of the majesty of every word of Scripture, and that has come in great part from 30 years of memorizing less famous verses and seeing the wisdom of God in every letter.

How did you develop this method of memorization?

Over the first few years of seeking to memorize whole books of the Bible, I learned immediately the essence of it: repetition over time. I then developed some simple techniques for repeating the new verses while holding onto old ones. The process that I have written down in the booklet An Approach to the Extended Memorization of Scripture was pretty much intact after about two years of working on it. Details like repeating the whole book for 100 days, and how to memorize larger portions of scripture, and the value of memorizing chapter and verse numbers developed in those first two years.

The last key insight I added was the humble recognition of a practical limit to how much a normal person (like me) can retain at any one time and the need to keep learning new books of the Bible. So I added the advice that after the 100 days, a memorizer should “kiss the book goodbye” in favor of learning a new portion of Scripture.

I do not assert that this is the only, or even the best, way to memorize Scripture, but it has been effective for me.

Which books of the Bible would you recommend a believer start with when memorizing Scripture?

I like to urge people to start with something relatively short that really grabs their heart’s affections. If they have no preference, I point them toward Ephesians, because it is manageable and so incredibly rich for such a short length. Other starting places are Philippians, 2 Peter, Romans 8, the Sermon on the Mount, Hebrews 11, and so on. But I personally like to finish a whole book, so that points toward the epistles.

In your book An Infinite Journey: Growing Toward Christlikeness you say there are two disciplines that a mature Christian will not let a day go by without accomplishing. What are those two activities, and how do they relate to extended memorization of Scripture?

In that book I say that Christians should not let a single day go by without Bible intake (reading or listening) and prayer. These are like two legs on which we walk to make progress in the journey of Christian growth in Christlikeness.

The Word is the food of our faith; without it our faith will shrivel up like a plant with no water. Prayer is essential because every blessing we need in life we should seek from the hand of God. Prayer is a constant expression of total dependence on God.

Scripture memorization helps both disciplines. I would not substitute memorization for other Bible intake. I think one should combine knowledge in breadth (by reading through the Bible in a year) with knowledge in depth (memorizing a book of the Bible) for an optimal diet of Bible intake.

Scripture memorization is a rich form of meditation that feeds the soul throughout the day with God’s nourishing Word. Memorization also deeply enriches our prayer lives by giving us biblical patterns of speech and promises and commands that we can hold back up to God in prayer. One Puritan pastor said that in prayer we should, “Show God his Script; God is tender of his word.” Memorization helps us pray more effectively.

An Approach to Extended Memorization of Scripture is available as an ebook for just $0.99.

College Senior Project: An Economist, a Peacemaker, and an Engineer

Every Square Inch Cropped

In May, as many students prepare for graduation, we are featuring reflections written by college seniors from universities across the United States. Today, we have three students from three different schools (UVA, Columbia, Penn State) going into three different fields (economics, international relations, architectural engineering). Join us to celebrate their achievement and pray for their “every good endeavor.”

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Studying Economics in Light of Shalom

caronlinecrossCaroline Cross is a graduating senior at the University of Virginia. Her major is economics. While in college, Caroline’s favorite class was Principles of Macroeconomics, which explored some of the public policy implications of economic theory. Upon graduating, she is moving to the Washington, D.C., area to participate in a fellows program at McLean Presbyterian Church. She will intern with the Institute for Faith, Work & Economics during her time as a Capital Fellow.

Vision of Vocation

As a high school student, I tended to view my work as an extension of myself. In a vague sense, I knew that my papers and tests were ways to worship God, but my work was strictly between God and me—that is, I had little consideration for how my calling could affect others or how it fit into the narrative of Scripture. In short, I had no imagination for a holistic Christian vision of vocation.

Last year, however, I took a class at The Center for Christian Study in Charlottesville. Taught by the center’s director, Bill Wilder, the class progressed through the Old Testament with a “Skyline Drive” view, as Bill affectionately called it. For me, the most influential part of the class was one particular refrain: Christians are priests and kings. I learned that God calls his people to image him as Lord by ruling over the world and reflecting his character to it in our roles as intermediaries. Bit by bit, my vision of my vocation expanded. Fundamentally, I was beginning to see that my work was not about my success or failure. Vocational stewardship offered me an opportunity to see my work as participation in God’s story for the whole world.

Along with taking the class, I served as an intern for the center. Not only did I have the opportunity to see my work in a wider theological context, I also had the chance to live out this compelling vision. My supervisor, Shelly, who serves as the director of administration and development, encouraged me to take my internship seriously. She gave me books (Amy Sherman’s Kingdom Calling and Steve Garber’s Visions of Vocation) to help me work out what my vocational calling as an intern and as a student looks like now as well as dream about how my vocation would take shape in the future.

Economics and Shalom

Looking forward to next year, I’m thankful for the opportunity to take part in the Capital Fellows Program at McLean Presbyterian Church, which is located just outside of Washington, D.C. I anticipate that this upcoming year of work and study will deepen my sense of specific vocational calling even further.

Having spent the last four years studying economics, I eventually plan to return to business school. As an industry, business appeals to me because I can use economic tools to help bring about shalom. In Kingdom Calling, Sherman quotes Cornelius Plantinga Jr., who defines shalom as “the webbing together of God, humans, and all creation in justice, fulfillment, and delight . . . We call it peace, but it means far more than mere peace of mind or cease-fire among enemies. In the Bible, shalom means universal flourishing, wholeness, and delight.”

For me, reading Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert’s When Helping Hurts fleshed out a gospel-centered view of economics, particularly as it relates to poverty alleviation. Corbett and Fikkert’s work gave me a glimpse of what it might look like for me to apply what I was learning in the classroom to bring about shalom in the world. While in D.C., I look forward to exploring the ways that my background in economics might enable to me to play the role of a priest and king who, in a small way, brings about redemption and healing in the world for the glory of God and the joy of all people.

That Little Extra

In a few weeks, I will walk down the marble steps of the Rotunda, cross the emerald green Lawn, and officially graduate from the University of Virginia. Even as this austere moment beckons me, though, I am reminded of my days in elementary school.

I vividly recall a poster that hung above the window in my third grade classroom pushing us to excel: “The difference between ordinary and extraordinary is that little extra.” Not necessarily bad advice, but as I anticipate post-college life, I am incredibly grateful that Christ does not call me to be successful, brilliant, or extraordinary. He simply calls me to be faithful, to die to self, and to be made new in him. His grace is and has been sufficient for all areas of my life, and I look forward to experiencing even more of that abundant grace as I venture into the life to which he has called me.

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Called to Be a Peacemaker

danielgarciaDaniel García is a graduating senior at Columbia University in New York City. He was born in Orlando, Florida, and is of Mexican heritage. While in college, he pursued a BA in political science-international relations, and interned at the Council on Foreign Relations and at the Mayor’s Office for International Affairs. Upon graduation, he plans to stay in New York and work as a paralegal at a commercial litigation law firm.

Ensuing Years

“Something terrible has happened in New York City,” the principal of my elementary school announced through the grainy intercom on September 11, 2001. Although it was 13 years ago, that day is seared into my memory—the unfamiliar expression of angst on my teacher’s face, the parents picking up their children in haste, the sun shining in the clear blue sky.

What affected me was not so much the trauma of that particular day, but my experiences in the ensuing years. The American public—including my own family—scrambled to identify those responsible. The media talked about Iraq, the Middle East, Arabs, and Muslims. It introduced us to a robed man called Osama bin Laden, who spoke in a foreign language and whose sinister quality seemed more important than his fleeting words. I sensed how the words Arab, Muslim, and terrorist became synonymous and how any person with origins in the area between North Africa and Southeast Asia became one and the same.

I could feel how so many in my community—at school and at church—were turning this glob of labels and people into “The Other.” One day in fifth grade, when I was on the school bus, a veiled woman boarded and called one of my fellow classmates to her. As he blushed with his head down, she held back tears of desperation. With the fury of a protective mother, she demanded that we leave her son, Osama, alone and told us with a heavy Egyptian accent, “My son is not a terrorist. We are not terrorists.”

My Diverse Community

In middle school and high school, I became friends with people from many different backgrounds. My best friends at school included a Muslim Indian American, a Presbyterian American, and a Catholic Venezuelan. At my church, I had a large extended family of aunts, uncles, and grandparents in Christ from all over Latin America. From them I learned about God’s infinite love for humanity and the beauty of community.

Looking back on my pre-college experiences, I feel incredibly blessed to have grown up in the midst of such diversity. Thanks to the values that my parents instilled in me and to my exposure to different cultures and religions, I developed an affection for all types of people and an ability to find common ground with anyone—to become a Greek to the Greeks, a Jew to the Jews (1 Corinthians 9:20).

For that reason, the more fear and hate toward Muslims, Arabs, and Arab-looking people grew, the more I became confused and frustrated. What did Indians have to do with 9/11? What did my Muslim friends have to do with a network of evil individuals? How could I reconcile the media caricature of Muslims with my experiences with my friends?

Searching for Answers

My desire to understand and help resolve the complex web of conflicts related to 9/11 has influenced my college experience and my future career plans. I took five semesters of Arabic and several classes on the culture and politics of the Middle East—at Columbia and at Sciences Po Paris. I chose to major in political science because, as I struggled with what course of study would best prepare me to resolve these conflicts and puzzles, I realized that I wanted to explore regional, inter-state conflict resolution. Through a research paper, I considered regional integration as a possible remedy to the challenges faced by the Middle East. This, in turn, led me to learn about the success of European integration, a subject that I have been exploring for more than a year now to see whether there is anything we can apply from that context to other contexts.

As I move forward, I am eager to gain technical and professional skills. After two years working as a paralegal, I hope to return to school to earn a joint JD/MBA in international affairs. In the long term, I want to work at the State Department to promote policies that strengthen regional intergovernmental unions.

Imagining Redemption

But what does all of this have to do with my faith? A few key biblical passages are at the core of my professional goals: “For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself'” (Galatians 5:14); “Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves; ensure justice for those who are perishing. Yes, speak up for the poor and helpless, and see that they get justice” (Proverbs 31:8-9); and “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God” (Matthew 5:9).

Although I believe humanity will always fall short of constructing the kingdom of God on earth as it is in heaven, I do not believe that means that we should stop trying. After all, Jesus taught us to ask him for it: “Our Father . . . May your kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10). One way this happens is through proclaiming the gospel of peace. Paul says that Christ himself is “our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility” (Ephesians 2:14). To the Galatians, he writes that, when it comes to gaining access to God, there is no material distinction between us—“for you are all one in Christ” (3:28).

Although God is glorified in our “multiformity,” he calls all kinds of people together to be one in Christ. This is the gospel of peace. And I feel that God has called me to be a peacemaker, contributing the construction of the most peaceful and prosperous world possible.

* * * * *

Building Systems as an Architectural Engineer

As told to Bethany L. Jenkins

fayepoonFaye Poon is a graduating senior from Pennsylvania State University in State College, Pennsylvania. Although she was born and raised in Hong Kong, she moved with her family to a small town outside of Boston when she was 15. In college, she participated in a college ministry called Elements, in the Penn State student chapter of the Illuminating Engineering Society (IES), and a recreational dance troop. Upon graduation, she is heading to Boston to work at an architectural engineering firm.

Functional Things

I was raised going to church, but—as a kid—I didn’t really like it. The children’s ministry was great, but the main emphasis was always doing expressly spiritual things like reading the Bible. These were good things, of course, but I wanted to know and understand more. I wanted to know what God said about some of my favorite subjects—science, math, and art.

When my family and I moved from Hong Kong to Massachusetts, we started attending a Chinese American church that had a great Friday night youth group. There I met my friend Rachel. As we did church Bible studies together, we came to understand that God created things for a purpose. Since I wanted to join him in creating things with functionality and since I loved buildings, I decided during my senior year of high school that I wanted to be an architect. Unfortunately, though, I wasn’t good at architecture. (She laughs.)

I entered college without a declared major. Engineering wasn’t even on my radar. (She laughs again.) However, one of my freshman advisers noticed that I was good at math and encouraged me to consider architectural engineering—an industry that seeks to make buildings suitable for living and use.

Everything Matters

Around this time I went to the Jubilee Conference in Pittsburgh and attended a session with one of the architects of PNC Park. How he talked about his work as a means to create community and bless the environment was a turning point for me. God opened my eyes to see that humble human beings could be called to steward creation for God’s glory and the common good of all people.

As I began to see all industries—architectural engineering, education, civil service—as potential means to glorify God and love others, I began to realize that I needed to learn more about God and his Word. For no matter what he was calling me to do, my work needed to be informed by my faith. Just because he wasn’t calling me to full-time vocational ministry did not mean that I could slack off in seeking him.

Although I didn’t leave Jubilee with a clear sense of my particular vocational calling, I returned to school reinvigorated in my studies. I continued to pursue architectural engineering and, through an internship, put names and faces to the industry. As I saw first-hand how my colleagues were using the raw materials of creation to build functional and useful things for people, I began to find real joy in my work.

I also saw, however, the brokenness of the industry. As with any industry, there’s the possibility of corruption or unethical business practices. In architectural engineering, in particular, there’s also the temptation to take advantage of our clients. Since our work is specialized and necessary, we can manipulate the trust that our clients place in us and advise them that they need certain things even if we know those things may not be the best for them. We can do it subtly by changing their desires with new information. It’s not illegal, but it’s not necessarily ethical either.

Thankfully, in our industry, client-driven awards incentivize good and honest business dealings. For me, of course, I’m also driven by a desire to work with integrity “as unto the Lord” (Colossians 3:23-24), not treating clients or colleagues as transaction costs or tools, but as human beings made in God’s image. I want to treat people with as much dignity as possible.

Life After College

After I graduate, I’m moving to Boston to work at one of the top engineering firms. It combines the environment of a think tank with the world of application, being innovative with current research and assessing the needs of our clients.

In my work, I’ll mainly be looking at the reliability of building systems, which is probably the biggest concern for architectural engineers. Reliability is why we run so many calculations—to ensure that nothing will fall apart and that the system will require little maintenance. Making sure that systems are safe and reliable, of course, is a wonderful way to love and serve my neighbor.
In addition to reliability, we also care about efficiency; we want to create building systems that waste as little energy as possible. Not only is this efficiency good for the end user because it saves money in energy bills, it is also good for the environment. The industry is moving toward net-zero energy buildings, which are buildings that get half their energy from a conventional power grid and half their energy from renewable resources. To me, being a humble and faithful steward of God’s creation is an important way to integrate my faith and my work.

What Does 1 + 1 = 2 Mean? — Why Christianity Matters for Math (and Everything Else)

[Note: This is the sixth article in an occasional series on apologetics and worldview analysis.]

Over the past few decades evangelicals have expressed a renewed interest in the concept of vocation. No longer is it uncommon to hear call to “think Christianly” about our work or, for academics, their fields of study. Some people (like me) go a step further and claim that we’re merely fooling ourselves if we believe that we can approach our vocations at the deepest levels of engagement with a sense of religious neutrality. “Thinking Christianly” about our work is not something we add on as an afterthought; it radically changes the nature of our work.

111Not surprisingly, this view is often met with skepticism. Even those who agree with my general point do not see, for example, how there could be a particularly Christian view to subjects like mathematics.

While I certainly understand their hesitation, I do in fact believe there is a Christian view of mathematics. Indeed, I believe that there is a distinctly Christian view of everything.

The reason this idea seems so foreign (if not downright absurd) is that most of our theories about the world have only a minimal pragmatic affect on how we actually live our lives. Both my neighbor and I, for example, may get sunburned even if we hold radically different beliefs about the sun. The fact that I think the sun is a ball of nuclear plasma while he believes that it is pulled across the sky in a chariot driven by the Greek god Helios doesn’t change the fact that we both have to use sunscreen. It is only when we move beneath the surface concepts (“The sun is hot.”) to deeper levels of explanation (“What is the essential nature of entities like the sun?”) that our religious beliefs come into play.

Even the concept that 1 + 1 = 2 — a formula which almost all people agree with on a surface level — has different meanings based on what theories are proposed as answers. These theories, claims philosopher Roy Clouser, show that going more deeply into the concept of 1 + 1 = 2 reveals important differences in the ways it is understood, and that these differences are due to the divinity beliefs they presuppose.

But before we can see why this is true, let’s review the claims made in my previous article about what constitutes a religious belief.

A belief is a religious belief, says Clouser, provided that (1) It is a belief in something(s) or other as divine, or (2) It is a belief concerning how humans come to stand in relation to the divine. The divine, in this definition, is whatever is “just there.” He contends that self-existence is the defining characteristic of divinity, so that the control of theories by a belief about what is self-existent is the same as control by a divinity belief and thus amounts to religious control of all theories.

Whether we refer to it as being self-existent, uncaused, radically independent, etc., it is the point beyond which nothing else can be reduced. Unless we posit an infinite regress of dependent existences, we must ultimately arrive at an entity that fits the criteria for the divine.

Different traditions, religions, and belief systems may disagree about what or who has divine status, or whether such an ontological concept should be considered a “religious belief.” But what they all agree upon is that something has such a status. A theist, for instance, will say that the divine is God while a materialist will claim that matter is what fills the category of divine. Therefore, if we examine our concepts in enough detail, we discover that at a deeper level we’re not agreeing on what the object is that we’re talking about. Our explanations and theories about things will vary depending on what is presupposed as the ultimate explainer. And the ultimate explainer can only be the reality that has divine status.

Returning to our example, we find that the meaning of 1 + 1 = 2 is dependent on how we answer certain questions, such as: What do “1” or “2” or “+” or “=” stand for? What are those things? Are they abstract or must they have a physical existence? And how do we know that 1 + 1 = 2 is true? How do we attain that knowledge?

Let’s look at the answers proposed by four philosophers throughout history:

Leibnitz’s view — When Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, an inventor of the calculus, was asked by one of his students, “Why is one and one always two, and how do we know this?” Leibnitz replied, “One and one equals two is an eternal, immutable truth that would be so whether or not there were things to count or people to count them.” Numbers, numerical relationships, and mathematical laws (such as the law of addition) exist in this abstract realm and are independent of any physical existence. In Leibnitz’s view, numbers are real things that exist in a dimension outside of the physical realm and would exist even if no human existed to recognize them.

Russell’s view — Bertrand Russell took a position diametrically opposed to Leibnitz. Russell believed it was absurd to think that there is another dimension with all the numbers in it and claimed that math was essentially nothing more than a short cut way of writing logic. In Russell’s view, logical classes and logical laws — rather than numbers and numerical relationships — are the real things that exist in a dimension outside of the physical realm.

Mill’s view — John Stuart Mill took a third position that denied the extra-dimensional existence of numbers and logic. Mill believed that all that we can know to exist are our own sensations — what we can see, taste, hear, and smell. And while we may take for granted that the objects we see, taste, hear, and smell exist independently of us, we cannot know even this. Mill claims that 1 and 2 and + stand for sensations, not abstract numbers or logical classes. Because they are merely sensations, 1 + 1 has the potential to equal 5, 345, or even 1,596. Such outcomes may be unlikely but, according to Mill, they are not impossible.

Dewey’s view — The American philosopher John Dewey took another radical position, implying that the signs 1 + 1 = 2 do not really stand for anything but are merely useful tools that we invent to do certain types of work. Asking whether 1 + 1 = 2 is true would be as nonsensical as asking if a hammer is true. Tools are neither true nor false; they simply do some jobs and not others. What exists is the physical world and humans (biological entities) that are capable of inventing and using such mathematical tools.

For each of these four philosophers what was considered to be divine (“just there”) had a significant impact on how they answered the questions about the nature of the simple equation. For Leibnitz it was mathematical abstractions; for Russell it was logic; for Mill is was sensations; and for Dewey it was the physical/biological world. On the surface we might be able to claim that all four men understood the equation in the same way. But as we moved deeper we found their religious beliefs radically altered the conceptual understanding of 1 + 1 = 2.

What all of the explanations have in common, what all non-theistic views share, is a tendency to produce theories that are reductionist — the theory claims to have found the part of the world that everything else is either identical with or depends on. This is why the Christian view on math, science, and everything else must ultimately differ from theories predicated on other religious beliefs. We may appear to agree on the surface, but dig a little deeper and we find that what we believe about God changes everything.


Other Posts in This Series:

What is a Religious Belief?

When Atheists Are Angry at God

Do Tummy Aches Disprove God?

Naming Your Turtles

Should You Trust the Monkey Mind?

Celebrities Are Not Commodities

Between movies, television shows, pop music, websites, and podcasts, our lives are full of background noise created by and in service to celebrities. Even if you’re not obsessed with Hollywood and tabloid culture, you’ve no doubt been a little too excited about being in the same room with your favorite pastor, writer, or theologian.

The reality of celebrity throws a wrench into our well-oiled mastery of relationships. We may have learned to restrain our judgment of those closest to us, to give those around us the benefit of the doubt, and to show grace to those who sin against us. We might have learned not to keep a record of wrongs. We might have learned to forgive our friends 777 times. We allow ourselves to continue in friendships that inconvenience and disturb us, because that’s what Jesus would have done. But all of this is exhausting. We need a break.

We’re in luck. When it comes to celebrity, there’s something for everyone: film stars, indie bands, renowned pastors, popular writers, and corporate superstars. Our relationships with these celebrities are decidedly one-sided affairs. It’s not that we’re actively shunned by those on the other side. Instead, the laws of time and space prevent most celebrities from interacting with us on a personal level, and psychological realities may very well prevent them from even caring about our own lives.

Struggle of Unreciprocated Relationships 

Unreciprocated relationships can be an emotional struggle even if that lack of reciprocation is logical and inevitable. How many times have we heard a story of someone being blown off by a celebrity when all they wanted was a picture or autograph? How often have we balked at their handling of a confrontation on Twitter? How often have we felt as if a celebrity was not accessible enough? If we don’t actively acknowledge the limits that apply to these real people, we’re likely to experience perpetual personal bitterness and frustration that bleeds into our actual relationships.

These kinds of one-sided relationships—with intense fascination on our part and social apathy or ignorance on theirs—are abnormal, if not inevitably harmful. We grow to know these personalities only through carefully mediated and curated opportunities. Even when the control of that mediation is out of the famous person’s hands, it is in the hands of someone else.

The human heart is deceitful and evil above all else, the Devil is roving to and fro like a prowling lion, and this seemingly mundane and trivial area of our life is an ideal foothold for sin. Rather than allowing our basest instincts to kick in, we must use our interactions with these personalities as opportunities to act in holiness, grace, and truth.

Celebrities as More than Commodities 

Celebrities are more than mere commodities who exist to dispense entertainment, information, products, or even sermons for our edification and enjoyment. They are whole people with a spectrum of needs and preferences that have little to do with our desires or expectations. If we’re not careful, a film star can become an avatar for us to project our dissatisfaction, or a celebrity pastor can become a stand-in for impossible spiritual expectations, or worse, an idol that diverts our attention from God’s good work to their own. The best way to avoid this pitfall is empathy, a holy speculation about the various aspects of a celebrity’s life we may not see or understand.

It’s human nature to either excessively judge or revere those with whom we share little experience. Because it’s easier to write off those we’ll never have to confront face-to-face, we sometimes fail to discern the need for grace. While a graceless attitude toward the perceived missteps of celebrities may or may not have a direct effect on the celebrity, giving yourself to such postures only reinforces and normalizes that approach toward others.

We’re entirely too comfortable with the morally meticulous games we play with celebrities and other renowned personalities. Celebrities aren’t commodities who give us a break from loving our neighbor. Despite what we’ve been telling ourselves, Brangelina, Bieber, Obama, Piper, and Keller are as worthy of being treated with dignity as our neighbors or friends.

Students, Don’t Waste Your Summer

Students, you know it’s the end of the spring semester when it’s 58 degrees and you’re studying outside in shorts and playing frisbee on gray blustery days. You’re sick of school, ready to go home, and more than ready for warm weather—it’s time for summer break!

But August will be here before you know it—you’ll be tan, have a few bucks in your pocket, and (gasp!) eager to move back to campus. Don’t wait until then to realize all the things you should have done to grow in Christ while home for the summer. Prepare now to spend these months away from tests and dining hall food enjoying rich and plentiful grace from God. Here are 10 ways to help you grow in your faith while on summer break.


1. Make a plan. The old saying really does hold true: “Those who fail to plan, plan to fail.” Just like you’ve spent time lining up work and planning out vacations and trips with friends, take some time to plan out your spiritual priorities for the summer. Schedule a time when you’ll be able to be consistent each day in reading the Word and prayer. Look for a daily devotional (my personal favorites here and here) and use it to guide the Scripture you read each day.

2. Rehearse your need for the gospel daily. As Tim Keller has said, “The gospel is not just the ABCs of Christianity, but the A to Z. The gospel is not just the minimum required doctrine necessary to enter the kingdom, but the way we all make progress in the kingdom.” We never move past our need for the simple, yet profound, truth of the gospel: Christ died and rose for our sins. Each morning when we wake up we’ll be tempted to think we failed God the day before, or need to live up to a standard today in order for him to accept and love us. Preaching the gospel to ourselves each day is rehearsing the truth that God accepts and loves us on the basis of what Christ has done for us, which we accept by faith.

3. Anticipate temptation. You’ll be stepping back into situations that likely remind you how much you’ve failed in the past. Know your temptations and seek accountability. Sin always wants to convince us that we are strong enough to resist it. Don’t call your old boyfriend just to hang out thinking it won’t end up where it always has in the past. Ask yourself, What will likely tempt me to have my attention and heart drawn away from Christ this summer? Think about why this particular sin is alluring and apply Romans 13:14: “Put on the Lord Jesus Christ and make no provision for the flesh to gratify its desires.” Figure out what’s distracting you from following Christ and take intentional time to pursue Christ each day by fighting sin.

4. Recognize you need the church. Relationships between Christians are likened to a body to show us we need other believers in our lives (1 Cor. 12:12-26). A hand needs an arm. An ear needs an eye. Find a church that is preaching the Bible and plug in for the summer. It won’t look just like your campus ministry, but that’s actually a good thing. When you hang out with a guy who is 75 and has walked with Christ for double your lifespan, you are going to learn from him! Look for every opportunity to sit under teaching of God’s Word. If there are midweek services or men’s or women’s groups, fit them into your schedule.

5. Meet regularly with a brother or sister in Christ. Make a point of intentionally meeting with another believer for accountability and prayer. If you don’t know a lot of Christians in your hometown, talk with a fellow believer before you leave about some areas where you will face temptation and brainstorm some specific questions you can ask one another over the phone. Some examples: Are you making a priority out of spending unhurried time in God’s Word and prayer, or is it an afterthought in your daily life? How are you responding to your parent’s authority and instruction?

Part of fellowship is recognizing you have a responsibility to your brothers and sisters in Christ to help them grow, and they have a responsibility to you. God is calling us to be involved in each other’s lives, and one way we can do so is by picking up the Bible when you’re together or on the phone and reading verses that have been encouraging during the past week.

6. Look for ways to serve your family. Maybe you became a Christian at college this year. Or maybe you’ve rediscovered a love for Jesus that’s been dormant for far too many years. Take the opportunity to let the light of God’s grace shine in the way you treat your parents and siblings. Look for ways to serve when you’re home. “How can I help?” and “I’d be glad to” go a long way in demonstrating how much you desire to serve others and how God has been at work in your life. Look for opportunities to engage in meaningful conversations. You don’t know how much more time you’ll have living at home, so seek to make the most of the time now in both your attitude and also actions toward your family.

7. Turn off your phone. Really. Actually turn it off for an hour so you don’t check Facebook or Twitter for the 34th time today. Better yet, take these apps off your phone completely or at least make yourself sign in every time you want to look at your newsfeed. This will help keep you from turning to it out of boredom and release you to notice others.

8. Set a goal to read. Remember when you said a few weeks ago how you looked forward to not having required textbook reading so that you could pick up that book you actually wanted to read? Make a list of two or three books you think will be helpful and then set aside time to read them. Maybe start by picking out a biography, a work of fiction, and a classic book about how to follow Jesus more closely. If you haven’t read Knowing God by J. I. Packer or the Holiness of God by R. C. Sproul, start there.

9. Memorize a passage of Scripture. Pick a Psalm or another well-known passage like Romans 8 or Philippians 2. Whatever you choose, take a couple of minutes each day to review the verses you’ve learned. If you work a boring job (who doesn’t?), write out your verses on an index card and take it out of your pocket to ponder while you sit on the mower or babysit the kids down the street.

10. Seek to be as bold with the gospel as you have been at college. You’re going to be around friends you haven’t seen since high school, and it’s going to be obvious to them you’ve changed. Instead of mumbling some excuse about how you don’t feel like going out to party like you used to, tell them the real reason. Tell them about how your desires have changed and take the time to explain the plain but powerful truth of the gospel and how they can follow Jesus as well. Invite them to meet for coffee and read through the Gospel of Mark with you. By God’s grace he has put you in their lives, so point them to Jesus just as others have done for you.