By / Jan 1

I was in the middle of a massive crowd at a sold out U2 concert the first time it hit me. The thousands of fans around me collectively stretched out their arms in a posture of worship. Our hearts swelled with emotion. As we sang and praised together, I realized the atmosphere in the amphitheatre felt similar to what I experience during worship on Sunday morning. I looked around at the faces of my fellow concert goers and realized with a gut punch that, in the words of Bono, “[We] still haven’t found what [we’re] looking for.”

Talent isn’t ultimately meant to sell t-shirts. The creative gifts God has placed inside of us were meant for so much more. After that moment, I couldn’t help but see the travesty of talent all around me—gifted thinkers, artists, musicians, writers, and craftsmen who have God-given gifts but, because of the fall, aren’t using them for his glory.

As someone who loves the church with every God-designed cell of my body and who knows that the harvest is ready and the workers are devastatingly few, I can’t help lament the gifts that have been lost to the causes of fame, wealth, and personal achievement. This grief hasn’t primarily motivated me to look at headline grabbers and judge how they use their gifts. Rather, it has led to a near obsession with making sure my own gifts aren’t wasted and to remind others to do the same. As we turn the page on a brand new year, I’m praying that obsession will be a spark that bursts into wildfire.

For the common good

In my role as a women’s ministry leader in my local church, I see the travesty of talent almost daily. The women I lead often don’t know what their gifts are or don’t feel like they’ve been given a permission slip to use them. And so the gifts of teaching, encouragement, hospitality, prayer, prophecy, exhortation . . . go unwrapped. These women aren’t necessarily using their gifts to bend the spotlight toward themselves. They’re simply not using them at all. The gifts meant to equip the Bride for her mission to seek and save the lost become like a forgotten present, left to collect dust under the Christmas tree. The phenomenon isn’t isolated to my church, and it isn’t isolated to women. God’s people have been given remarkable gifts, and far too often, we’ve buried them in the backyard. I feel the loss of it in my bones.

God’s Word is crystal clear: my gifts belong to you. Your gifts belong to me. As the culture increasingly focuses on the idea that our “calling” is to use our talents and abilities to create our own brand, God’s Word speaks a different truth.

For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness (Rom. 12:4-8, emphasis added).

Paul gives us two essential tenets of our theology of gifts in this passage. They’re so simple, we might be tempted to rush past them. As we plan and pray about the year ahead, let’s slow down and listen carefully: We have gifts. We should use them!

We don’t have to wait for the perfect opportunity or to be asked to serve by a member of the pastoral team. As I’ve considered my own role in the body, I’ve started to consistently ask this question: “What gifts do I possess uniquely that the church needs desperately?” As you make prayerful resolutions for 2018, I’d like to invite you to ask the same question and then get busy doing the things that you do best for the good of God’s people.

In his letter to Timothy, Paul gave advice we should all hear with urgency, “Do not neglect the gifts you have” (1 Tim. 4:14). We belong to each other. Paul acknowledged that we are all different in our function but united in our purpose to serve Christ and reminded us that we are “individually members of one another.” This was a drum that Paul beat often.

“Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good” (1 Cor. 12:4-7).

“And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” (Eph. 4:11-13).

Peter said it this way: “As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God's varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.” (1 Pet. 4:10-11).

Your gifts belong to me. My gifts belong to you. We lend our time and talents for the health of the body we are all attached to through Christ. Rather than using my gifts to primarily serve my own needs and pad my personal pet projects, I surrender them for the good of others. It’s a distribution of wealth that works because we’re building something supernatural together.

Treasuring all gifts

As we consider our theology of gifts, it’s worth noting that God has given us “spiritual gifts” but not all of them seem super spiritual. Just ask Bezalel.

The Lord said to Moses, ‘See, I have called by name Bezalel the son of Uri, son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah, and I have filled him with the Spirit of God, with ability and intelligence, with knowledge and all craftsmanship, to devise artistic designs, to work in gold, silver, and bronze, in cutting stones for setting, and in carving wood, to work in every craft. And behold, I have appointed with him Oholiab, the son of Ahisamach, of the tribe of Dan. And I have given to all able men ability, that they may make all that I have commanded you’ (Exo. 31:1-6).

Bezalel wasn’t a pastor. He wasn’t a prophet. He was a craftsman. He worked with his hands, but instead of using his gifts to build a palace for himself, he used them to create a tabernacle so that God’s people had a house for worship. This is a picture of gifts in the body. There aren’t blue collar and white collar gifts here. Just essential gifts to be used to build the church, equip and encourage the saints, and give God glory.

I’m convinced the best of the best in every area of thought, art, industry, and creativity are sitting beside me in the pews on Sunday morning. The travesty happens when those gifts remain unopened, and God’s people have to go without. What are we waiting for, church? Let’s get busy doing the things that we are uniquely gifted to do. Let’s not sacrifice another gift to culture or stand by and let some remain unwrapped. As each of us has gifts (and we do!) let us use them to serve each other.

By / Nov 29

One of the best parts of the Christmas season is giving gifts. Here at the ERLC, we are huge fans of books. So, we thought a great way to combine these two things was to compile a list of some of our favorite reads in hopes that one of these suggestions will be a good fit for someone in your life. We hope you find it helpful. Happy giving!

Daniel Darling

The Imperfect Disciple: Grace for People Who Can’t Get Their Act Together by Jared C. Wilson

Wilson is a gifted writer, but this is his best work. For many Christians, the word “discipleship”  is mystifying and complicated. Wilson makes it plain and earthy in a way that the Bible makes walking with Jesus plain and earthy. It’s a thoroughly, gospel-saturated guide for sinners who genuinely want to walk with Jesus.

Lindsay Swartz

Letters to My Daughters: The Art of Being a Wife by Barbara Rainey

I dreamt of getting married for almost 17 years before the Lord graciously gave me the gift of my husband. Prior to that, I read all the dating and marriage books I could get my hands on. But none captured my attention—with its wisdom and aestheticallyaesthtically pleasing design—like Barbara Rainey’s new book has. Letters to My Daughters: The Art of Being a Wife is a winsome and whimsical compilation of advice given to her own daughters but made accessible to a whole generation of women who never had the privilege of seeing or learning about what makes a godly marriage. I highly recommend this book, for in reading it, your eyes will be opened to the beauty of marriage and the amazing God who designed it for his glory.

Travis Wussow

You Are What You Love: The Spiritual Power of Habit by James K.A. Smith

I happened to read this book at the right time, when I was rethinking a lot of things about my life. Smith’s basic thesis is that all of the routines of your day—the way you eat your dinner, put your kids to bed, get up in the morning—make up the liturgies of your daily life. And these liturgies are either forming you into or deforming you from the image of Christ. This is a great book to read during Christmas and the New Year, when many of us are thinking about what we want 2018 to look like.

Julie Masson

Buck Denver asks: What’s in the Bible? by Phil Vischer

I’m deviating from the rest of the staff and recommending a video gift rather than a book because I think it’s just that good. If you’re looking for a fun resource to help your kids (and probably you!) understand church history, how the Bible was written, and who wrote it, I highly recommend Phil Vischer’s DVD series. My kids (ages 10, 8, and 6) regularly request we watch these videos together, and it makes it easy for me to ask them questions about the Bible later on in the week. And they actually know the answers! I just ordered three new DVDs in the series to give to our kids this year as stocking stuffers. I recommend you do the same!

Jason Thacker

The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration by Isabel Wilkerson

This book is a fascinating and eye-opening read about one of the least told stories of the 21st century. From the early 1900s through the 1970s, America experienced a mass immigration of African-Americans from the South and into the rest of the country. Many fled from the South because of the Jim Crow laws and rapid racism to various receiving cities in hopes of a better life for themselves and their families. Wilkerson follows the stories of four different people. She is a prolific storyteller, and her work helps show a different side of our nation that is often glossed over in the history books. This book would serve as a great gift for those that love history, but also those seeking to make sense of current racial tensions in our nation.

Bobby Reed

Love Big, Be Well: Letters to a Small-Town Church By Winn Collier

Winn Collier gives us a gift that shows the way church was meant to be—full of deep, meaningful, long-time, committed friendships. Winn is a dear friend, but I was swept away to a fictional congregation full of real life relationships. I found myself longing for those friendships and not wanting the story to come to an end. The book is easy to read, full of short letters from a pastor to his congregation. Fortunately, it ends with the pastor departing for a sabbatical, which probably means he will return, and the letters will continue.

Lauren Konkol

Morning and Evening by Charles Spurgeon

Other than Scripture, there has been no book more foundational to my spiritual life than Charles Spurgeon’s Morning and Evening devotional. Spurgeon’s tender words have become my prayers, his careful exegesis a theological anchor, and his deep and intimate knowledge of the savior a pastoral voice in times of both joy and pain. With an entry for each morning and evening, it is a collection of meditations I treasure greatly. I’ve given away my copy—marked-up and coffee-stained—and recommended this gentle work more times than I can remember. It will be a blessing to believers and non-believers alike, for we all need to be reminded, often, of the sweet beckon of the gospel.

By / Jan 9

Sex is wonderful! In fact, sex is a gloriously good gift of God. Christian dad, do your adolescent sons and daughters know this truth? Have you directly and unapologetically taught your sons this truth and have you led your wife to do so with your daughters? If you fear having an open and honest conversation about sex would increase the chance of your adolescent child being involved in sexual promiscuity, then you have an insufficiently Christian understanding of sexuality. The opposite is true.

Taking every thought captive to obey Jesus (2 Cor. 10:5) includes sexual thoughts. The sexual liberationist abstracts sex from God and the gospel of Jesus Christ. Sex, for them, is about personal self-expression and self-fulfillment. Consequently, their pursuit of sexual satisfaction is a never-ending treadmill of vain experimentation. Within this impoverished worldview, pornography makes perfect sense. The Christian father who refuses to teach his children a biblical view of sex joins the sexual liberationists in abstracting sex from God, albeit from the opposite direction. Perhaps this abstraction of sex from family Christian discipleship provides some explanation for the relative impotence of the church in effectively responding to the contemporary porn epidemic as it spreads within our own walls.

Our ubiquitous sex culture has not produced greater a fascination with sex, as Russell D. Moore has noted, it has produced a culture bored with sex (“The Spiritual Danger of Boring Sex,” Southern Seminary Magazine, 6-9). I saw this boredom on full display in a young man sitting next to me in a barber's chair as he responded to a question of whether or not he went to a strip club on his 21st birthday, “Yes, I did, but it was boring. Who needs strip clubs when you have porn.” It is not uncommon in our present culture to counsel a recently married couple trying to figure out what to do because they have been unable to consummate the marriage since his sexual senses have been dulled through almost constant exposure to pornography from his early adolescence. When sex is abstracted from Jesus, it is corrupted. This is true whether it is liberal atheistic progressives, or evangelical conservatives abstracting it.

After 20 years of counseling young adults who have grown up in evangelical churches, I know the message they have been hearing from the church and their parents: “Sex is wrong, do not do it.” Now, I know that those churches and parents are actually intending to emphasize that sex outside of marriage is wrong, but too often that is the only thing we have told them about sex. In fact, evangelical programs to promote sexual abstinence have often grounded their appeal for abstinence in narcissism rather than the gospel. I can remember one Sunday school teacher saying, “You don't want to have sex before marriage because you won't be able to live out your dreams. After all, how will you be able to go to college with a baby? You are too special to ruin your life.” Living out ones narcissistic dreams is at odds with Christianity whether it expresses itself in sexual libertinism or sexual abstinence.

Just say, “no” to sex, so that you can say, “yes” to college is not a Christian sexual ethic. Could it be we avoid talking to our adolescents about sex because we are not really sure what to say since we do not think about sex in the context of Christian discipleship? A biblical approach to sex begins with its goodness and then warns about ways God’s good gift can be corrupted. Christian parents must tell adolescents that sexual feelings and desires are good and meant to be satisfied and enjoyed in marriage. In other words, sexual desire is God-given, and should be directed toward finding a spouse. Within the context of marriage, the physical one-flesh union of a husband with his wife in sexual intimacy is to be enjoyed and celebrated as a vital way of exulting in Gospel of Jesus Christ (Eph. 5:32, Rev. 19:9). This poses a problem if we want our children to live out our dream of their individual success. Focusing on marriage could get in the way of our plan for their lives. It is good and right to say true love waits for marriage. However, it is wholly different to suggest that true love waits for college, career, and a fantastic house in the suburbs—and then marriage.

Christian fathers, your adolescent sons and daughters will have thoughts about sex. The only question for you to answer is who will shape those thoughts? Christian parents often excuse their sexual silence by saying it would be too awkward to talk to them about sex. That attitude is tantamount to saying, “I do not have the courage to talk to my children about something so weighty and intimate, I will just let the movies, television, and kids in the locker room take care of it and hope for the best.” Parental silence about sex and sexual desire is a cowardly failure to love. Your adolescent children desperately need you to help shape their thoughts and desires about sex in a cruciform way and to help them develop convictions about how they will respond to inevitable sexual temptation (Prov. 5:1-5, 20-21; 7:1-5; 23:26-28; 31:3). Some Christian parents naively assume that if they shelter their adolescents from sex altogether, then their kids will not face sexual temptation. They forget that lust does not originate in Hollywood, but in the hearts of sinful men.

Adolescent children desperately need Christian fathers and mothers to look them directly in the eyes, and with wide-eyed wonder, communicate to them that sex is wonderful; after all, God designed sex. They need to hear Christian parents say the reason to remain sexually pure is that the monogamous sexual union of a husband and wife is honorable and uniquely transcends daily life by pointing to the glorious cosmic mystery of the love relationship between Christ and the church (Eph. 5:31-33). Christian marital sex is not getting away with something naughty, it is an act of worship. Immoral sexual behavior constitutes lying to the world about the absolute self-sacrificial commitment of Christ to his bride, the church.

Sex education in a Christian home is a key component of gospel education. Christian dad, you are accountable to lead your family and to lead your children into Christ-centered, biblical manhood and womanhood. Will you make a sexual resolution for the new year? Will you commit to teach your adolescent sons a Christian view of sex and lead your wife to do the same with your daughters? Sex is a wonderful and gloriously good gift from God. Your adolescent children desperately need you to not only believe it, but to also unapologetically say it to them.