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 / Dec 14

One of the best parts of the Christmas season is getting to give 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!  

Russell Moore | President

Echoes of Scripture in the Gospels by Richard Hays

What a magnificent book. All four gospels—including and maybe especially my favorite, Luke—are shot through with OT allusions from start to finish. Hays demonstrates this, and he demonstrates why it is hard for many to see this. This book will help Christians grow in affection and understanding not only for Jesus in the Gospels but also, through them, for Jesus in the Old Testament as well.

Jason Thacker | Creative Director

ESV Reader's Bible, Six-Volume Set

This reader's edition of the English Standard Version Bible is designed to read like a novel, which is a great reminder that the entire Bible is to be read as one amazing love story from God to the world. This hardback edition has thicker pages than most bibles and is laid out with a readable typeface and line spacing. It doesn’t contain chapter and verse references for distraction-free reading. It will make a great gift for those wanting to change up the way they read the scriptures this next year.

Andrew Walker | Director of Policy Studies

Shoe Dog: A Memoir by the creator of NIKE, Phil Knight

NIKE is everywhere throughout the culture. Something that is with us everywhere can make us forget how small this influential brand once was. That's what Shoe Dog is about—it’s the autobiography of Phil Knight, the co-founder of NIKE. As I read the book, it struck me how small decisions had enormous dividends down the road. In a similar way, the book reminded me about the small acts of divine providence that God uses to shape each of us.

Dan Darling | Vice President for Communications

The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism by Timothy Keller

This book, more than any, has reshaped the way I think about telling the grand gospel narrative. If you have a friend who is far from God, this book will gently invite them in by addressing their deepest questions. If you have a friend who loves God, this will be a helpful tool in guiding his or her conversations with unbelievers.

Jill Waggoner | Deputy Press Secretary and Brand Strategist for Global Hunger Relief

They Say We Are Infidels: On the Run from ISIS with Persecuted Christians in the Middle East by Mindy Belz

This book walks through Mindy's personal experiences of reporting on the happenings and the people in the Middle East since the 9/11 attacks. It was such a refreshing, enlightening and moving book for me to read this year as I better understood this historical Christian church and the plight of current believers in the Middle East. These are our brothers and sisters, and the people and places in Belz' book are the same as those going through the headlines today—Mosul, Aleppo and the Nineveh Plains. I can't recommend it enough.

Phillip Bethancourt | Executive Vice President

The Big Picture Interactive Bible Storybook: Connecting Christ Throughout God's Story

Our family with four young boys loves using this Christ-centered kids resource. This storybook Bible goes beyond typical children's Bible stories to tackle the complex passages in the Bible in a kid-friendly and Christ-centered way. We have used many children's Bibles, and this one has become one of our favorites.

Travis Wussow | Director of International Justice & Religious Liberty and General Counsel

The Aleppo Codex: In Pursuit of One of the World's Most Coveted, Sacred, and Mysterious Books by Matti Friedman

This fascinating book is perfect for the history buff. The Aleppo Codex is a thousand-year-old manuscript of the Hebrew Bible, regarded by scholars as the most accurate copy of the Old Testament. This book is the story of the manuscript, preserved through a thousand years of upheavals in the Middle East and eventually smuggled to the new state of Israel. It is a thrilling story of spies, diplomats, scholars and the underground market in antiquities.

Daniel Patterson | Vice President for Operations and Chief of Staff

ESV Reader's Gospels

Crossway has beautifully bound the four Gospels into a Reader's Edition, that strips all the normal verse and chapter numbers (not to mention the study notes, cross-referencing, etc.), which drives the reader into the actual text of scripture. To be sure, all these tools and notes exist for a (good) reason, but using this for daily devotional reading has been eye-opening and refreshing, causing me to get caught up in the flow of the text itself more naturally. I've thought this a unique tool to give to people with questions about Christianity too, as the simplicity of the layout, and the centrality of the Gospels might be a unique and unintimidating format to consider the claims of Christ.

Lindsay Swartz | Managing Editor of Content

The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics by Daniel James Brown

A book about competitive rowing didn’t sound all that interesting initially. But from first listen (I would highly recommend the audiobook!), I was captivated. Set during the Great Depression, this dramatic true story about destitution, grit, determination, hope, integrity and victory is everything you want a story to be. The author weaves masterfully a narrative about Joe Rantz that will challenge you to examine your fortitude and perseverance through life and the extent of your gratitude for the “assumed” things—like a family that loves and wants you—that God has generously given. Rantz’s story— and the invisible hand of God that the Christian knows is behind the unfolding of his days—will leave you crying, cheering and undone by the sheer enchantment of a story that reads better than any Hollywood plot.

Julie Masson | Digital Marketing and Social Media Strategist

Bend, Not Break: A Life in Two Worlds by Ping Fu

Ping Fu was born in China during the cultural revolution and because her family was educated and wealthy, she was forced to live in squalor and endure ridicule and abuse from the Red Guard. This autobiography begins during her childhood, and follows Ping all the way to her exile from China to the US where she worked as a busboy at a restaurant while learning English. She puts herself through college and eventually becomes the CEO of a multinational tech company. I learned so much reading about the Cultural Revolution through the eyes of someone who experienced extreme crimes against humanity first hand. This reminded that the world has evil in it and that evil seeks to destroy God’s image bearers. It also reminded me that we must stand up for human dignity. While this book does not chronicle the life of Christian, I highly recommend it as a gift for anyone who loves business, different cultures and a good ole’ American success story.

Matt Herriman | Executive Assistant to the President

Unparalleled: How Christianity's Uniqueness Makes It Compelling by Jared Wilson 

In the age of COEXIST, Jared Wilson, clearly communicates to readers how Christianity stands apart from the vast religions of the world. Unparalleled, reminds the Christian of the uniqueness of the gospel that brought them saving faith, while communicating to the lost world a gospel that will satisfy the deepest yearnings of their souls. 

By / Jun 2

Dan Darling interviews Joe Rigney about his book The Things of Earth: Treasuring God by Enjoying His Gifts, and why we should enjoy what God has made.

Rigney serves as Assistant Professor of Theology and Christian Worldview and Institutional Writer at Bethlehem College & Seminary.

By / May 6

Dan Darling interviews Joe Rigney about his book "The Things of Earth" and why we should enjoy what God has made.

By / Feb 27

Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms.

– I Peter 4:10

God has given each one of us unique abilities, talents, and gifts. The question is, how do we put them to work?

The Purpose of Gifts and Talents

We talked about discovering your gifts and talents earlier when we discussed personal vision, the first of five mental models for thinking biblically about faith, work, and economics. Gifts and talents are the second mental model. This model involves understanding your comparative advantage, but also how we begin to effectively apply these God given capabilities in our everyday lives. Ken Boa writes:

God has entrusted us with certain resources, gifts and abilities. Our responsibility is to live by that trust by managing these things well, according to his design and desire.

In the quote above, Boa suggests that as Christians we must use our gifts and talents according to God’s “design and desire.” We are called to be a virtuous people in all that we do.

Unfortunately, far too many Christians go to work with the idea that their talents exist simply for them to make a lot of money so they can retire. God gave you talents to benefit others, not yourself. And God gave other people talents that benefit you.

Today’s popular culture teaches that the ends justify the means, a message of “I can do whatever I need to in order to get what I want.” This is certainly not a new concept. At the end of the book of Judges we read that “everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (Judges 17:6). Yet, as Christians we must reject this false strategy and embrace the teaching of Scripture that establishes a moral law that guides all our actions.

Easton’s Bible Dictionary defines the moral law as, “the revealed will of God as to human conduct, binding on all men to the end of time. It was promulgated at Sinai. It is perfect (Psalm 19:7), perpetual (Matt. 5:17-18), holy (Romans 7:12), good, spiritual, and exceeding broad (Psalm 119:96).”

Jesus summarized the moral law this way: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” and “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:36-40).

Yet the New Testament tells us that we are not to live legalistic lives. How are we to understand this?

Gifts, Talents, and Virtue

The Apostle Paul explains in his letters that legalism stems not from what you do, but from why you do it. Legalism is present any time we try to make others or ourselves ethical through conformity to the rules.

This is a trap far too many of us fall into. The only way out of this dilemma is to rediscover the biblical idea of virtue.

God’s character is the source of the biblical idea of virtue. The Holy Spirit is the cause of virtue in the believer, and Christians have Christ to look to as the model of virtue.

Virtue is developed in the context of the spiritual life as God, through the Holy Spirit, writes his laws on our hearts (II Corinthians 3:3Hebrews 8:10). As this happens in our lives, we stop obeying the law in an attempt to make ourselves righteous. We begin to obey because we love the one who made us righteous. Thomas Aquinas wrote in the Summa Theologica that:

The proper effect of law is to lead its subjects to their proper virtue.

Although forgotten today, this idea of virtue is not new in our country. The founders understood it well. It was public virtue that allowed them to found our republic. And they believed that this public virtue was the sum of private virtue established from the moral and religious beliefs of its citizens.

In 1776, John Adams wrote in a letter to Mercy Warren, saying,

Public virtue cannot exist in a Nation without private, and public virtue is the only Foundation of Republics.

The first step in correctly using our gifts and talents is understanding that they are to be used within the context of a moral and virtuous life. I’ll develop this idea further in my next article.


Five tools for thinking biblically about faith, work and economics

Why is personal vision important?

Discovering your personal vision

Why I Am Not A Plumber

This article originally appeared on the website of the Institute for Faith, Work, and Economics.

By / Feb 20

What if every member of your church tithed? How much more ministry could your church accomplish? For most churches, the circumstance of universal tithing is a pastor’s dream, but it is beyond the power of a pastor to accomplish it by any means other than running off most of the non-tithers in the congregation.

I know someone who could accomplish that impressive feat for your church without running off any of your church’s members. Who, you ask, is this stewardship wizard? Dave Ramsey? No. I’m talking about your state legislators. What if your state government were to pass a law taxing every citizen without exception and forwarding that money to the church of each taxpayer’s choice?

This is not a hypothetical situation. In Virginia in 1779 Patrick Henry (yes, THE Patrick Henry) proposed exactly such a law. Baptists did not gleefully rub their hands together while they imagined the largesse soon coming to their church coffers; they opposed the bill and defeated it. They realized that state involvement in the funding of churches was a violation of their principles of religious liberty and would eventually result in the state’s taking more than it would ever give them.

Temptation of that nature did not go away in 1779, and that kind of wisdom has never been needed more than today. The worst church-state court decisions of my lifetime have all given me something that I wanted. I’m opposed to the abuse of illegal drugs. In Employment Division v Smith the United States Supreme Court upheld Oregon’s laws criminalizing the use of illegal drugs—laws that I want to see upheld—by setting aside an important legal doctrine, the “Sherbert test,” upon which American citizens had depended for ongoing religious liberty.

I’m also opposed to racism. In Bob Jones University v United States the Supreme Court penalized a private religious school for its policy of denying enrollment to students who supported or practiced interracial marriage—behavior that I think deserved to be penalized—by empowering the Internal Revenue Service to judge whether tax exempt organizations are “at odds with the common community conscience.” Bob Jones University was standing at odds with the community’s conscience in a reprehensible way. But sometimes the very reason why our nation needs churches is so that they can stand at odds with the community’s conscience. For example, the very ruling that enables the IRS to revoke the tax exemption of those who forbid interracial marriage today would have enabled governments a century ago, had it been in place, to revoke the tax exemption of those prophetic few who endorsed it.

After it survived the Limmat River, Newgate Prison, Bedford Jail, and the Boston Commons, the movement to secure universal religious liberty had eliminated all doubt about its pluck. Persecution can never be so fierce as to quell the yearning for liberty. But sometimes, whether Greeks or governments are bearing the gifts, the friendlier foes are the more formidable ones.