My Favorite Bible Resources for Kids


As a pastor to children and families, I love to research solid resources that would help parents introduce their children to the Bible and the Christian faith. Discipling children is challenging for any parent, so I’m thankful for solid resources that help us as parents plant biblical seeds in our children’s hearts.

I was recently asked by a parent to share the best Bible for his kids to begin using.  With the understanding that any faithful English Bible translation (ESV & CSB being my personal favorites for children) is sufficient for training children in the instruction of the Lord, there are also many different supplemental biblical and theological resources that can help parents pass on the faith to their kids.

Below, I’ve compiled 10 of my favorite Bible resources for children. Later this week, I will share 10 of my favorite theology resources for children.

Bible Resources for Kids

I’ve intentionally tiered my list to show a good way to introduce kids to the Bible and progress them from story Bibles to their first Bible. In short, I think it is best to read your copy of the Bible to your children while using story Bibles to help them grasp the purpose of the Bible. The Bible is overwhelming for young children. But with the use of story Bibles, parents can slowly transition their kids from what I call “big picture” Bibles to their first  “big kid” Bible.

  1. The Beginner’s Gospel Story Bible | Jared Kennedy
    • Aimed at toddlers and preschoolers, this story Bible would be a great first story Bible for your children. Check out my review.
  2. The Gospel Story Bible: Discovering Jesus in the Old and New Testaments | Marty Machowski
    • Next, I would move to a story Bible. My favorites are listed as numbers 2-4. Walking through each of them wouldn’t be redundant. Each story Bible has a particular lens with the same goal in mind. They each present the Bible as a story with Jesus at the center.
  3. Jesus Storybook Bible: Every Story Whispers His Name | Sally Lloyd-Jones
  4. The Big Picture Story Bible | David Helm
  5. The Biggest Story: How the Snake Crusher Brings Us Back to the Garden | Kevin DeYoung
    • DeYoung’s book drives home the idea that the Bible is one big story. It helps children trace the Bible’s plot from beginning to end.
  6. ESV Big Picture Bible | Crossway
    • The ESV Big Picture Bible is pitched as a great segue between story Bibles and “real” Bibles. It makes a great first “big kid” Bible.
  7. ESV Children’s Bible | Crossway
    • This is another excellent first Bible for children.
  8. Exploring the Bible: A Bible Reading Plan for Kids | David Murray
    • I’m currently reviewing this book, so I will save many of my thoughts for that review. I will say that this is a unique and useful book for helping kids develop a skill for Bible study and interaction. It teaches children to ask questions of the Word and reflect on the Word. As your children begin reading the Bible on their own, you’ll want to get this book in their hands.
  9. Long Story Short: Ten-Minute Devotions to Draw Your Family to God | Marty Machowski
    • Both numbers 9 & 10 are devotional books that pair well with Machowski’s The Gospel Story Bible. They are interactive guides to help you in family worship.
  10. Old Story New: Ten-Minute Devotions to Draw Your Family to God | Marty Machowski

What would you add to my list?


19149367_2014653971893374_3834793165439186257_nMathew Gilbert is Associate Pastor for Children and Preschool at The Church at Trace Crossing in Tupelo, MS. He is a student at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and the author of Come to the Well: 50 Meditations to Fuel Your Joy in God. Mathew and his wife, Erica, live in Tupelo with their two boys, Jude and Jack.

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Jesus: The Intersection of Law and Grace


Few things are more confusing for a Christian than the relationship between law and grace. Legalism and Antinomianism are the two ends of a fluid spectrum of law and grace that can send the same Christian from hardline fundamentalism to the fringes of liberalism and back again. In my own wrestling with the importance, value, and role of the law in the life of a Christian who has been saved by grace, and not on the basis of works of the law,

I have learned that both legalism and antinomianism result from the same source–a misunderstanding of the gospel. Legalism adds to the gospel. Antinomianism takes away from the gospel. Legalism robs the gospel of its liberating power from the burden of the law. Antinomianism robs the gospel of its liberating power from slavery to sin.

At minimum, it seems there is a lack of understanding when it comes to what the law is and how it functions in our lives. At most, there seems to be a disdain for the law. Theological error, which directly impacts the way we live, exists when the law is viewed as a ruthless slave driver meant to burden the people with legalistic demands, or when the law is viewed as an ancient relic with no relevant purpose. But the truth is there is a great intersection of grace and law in the Bible.

The law itself is a grace from God that serves many purposes for his people. Alec Motyer has written, “The grace of God precedes the law of God. His grace reaches out to save, and it is to those whom he has saved that he reveals his law.”

God didn’t give his law to the people to keep in order to be saved. It was only after God rescued his people that he gave them the law. So, we must assert from the beginning that obeying the law is nothing more than a proper response to God’s grace, which produces delight. Motyer continues, “God’s law is not a ‘ladder of merit’ by which we try to climb, by grim obedience, into his ‘good books;’ it is a way of life revealed to those who are already by redemption in his good books. He brings us to himself and then requires us to live so as to please him.”

In the first five books of the Bible, there are 613 commands or laws from God. They range from moral laws to laws about social justice to laws regarding circumcision and food. Jesus would later teach that the whole law depends on the two greatest commands—that we should love God with all that we are, and that we should love others as much as we love ourselves. However, with each of these laws comes a consistent expectation: perfect obedience. Leviticus 19:2 makes the Lord’s expectations clear: “You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy.” The kind of holiness God requires is perfect. The problem is, we personally fail to properly respond to God’s grace through loving obedience.

Obeying the law of God is faith in action. Trusting the Lord as the sovereign and all-satisfying God of the world produces a faith that works through obedience to the Lord’s commands. Though we all fail to keep his law personally and perfectly, Christ never failed to do so. He always responded to his Father with loving obedience. By trusting in his work to obey the Lord and die for our disobedience, we are empowered to obey God from the inside out as the law he requires is written on our hearts.

This is where the rubber meets the road with regard to the relationship between law and grace. If God acts on our behalf by ignoring his law or by adding to it, his action is actually of no benefit to us. If God is legalistic or antinomian, there is no salvation. God has revealed himself in the Bible to be incomparably glorious and holy. He dwells in unapproachable light. So, a God who “saves” legalistically or by ignoring the law, is not only a God who is unable to save, but he isn’t even God at all.

The good news of the gospel is that God is neither legalistic or antinomian. And I’m glad he isn’t. I’m glad he identifies with my suffering, not my sinfulness. I’m glad God doesn’t violate his law to save me, but instead fulfills his law in my place and bears the weight of all my lawbreaking. In other words, I’m thankful sees the depths of my depravity and provides for me anyway.


19149367_2014653971893374_3834793165439186257_nMathew Gilbert is Associate Pastor for Children and Preschool at The Church at Trace Crossing in Tupelo, MS. He is a student at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and the author of Come to the Well: 50 Meditations to Fuel Your Joy in God. Mathew and his wife, Erica, live in Tupelo with their two boys, Jude and Jack.

Encouragement for Children’s Ministry Leaders and Servants


Charles Spurgeon once wrote, “If you want big-souled, large-hearted men or women, look for them among those who are much engaged among the young, bearing with their follies, and sympathizing with their weaknesses for Jesus’ sake.”

Kids ministry is a unique thing in the life of the church. It is simultaneously one of the most challenging and one of the most rewarding ministries. There are few things in the life of a church that can leave you exhausted and refreshed quite like working with kids in the church. On any given week, kids ministry leaders can be found running, crawling, jumping, shouting, whispering, laughing, crying, smiling, and frowning.

Leaders in kids ministry are caretakers, teachers, playmates, mediators, parent-figures, and role models. These roles, when fulfilled, produce tired bodies and full souls. Ministering to kids is exhausting. Yet, there is nothing so satisfying as seeing kids learn deep biblical truths for the first time, begin to trust Christ, and grow in intimacy with Christ.

Nevertheless, the labors of kids ministry often go unnoticed and servants can feel unappreciated. It is tempting to feel like serving in kids ministry is nothing more than a glorified babysitting service so the rest of the congregation can do real ministry. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Kids ministry is foundational in the spiritual, theological, and worldview formation of a person. Paul encouraged Timothy,

But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus (2 Tim. 3:14-15).

John Calvin believed the teaching of children was fundamental to the future of the church. He once said, “Believe me, the Church of God will never be preserved without catechesis.” Likewise, Puritan Thomas Watson once said, “To preach and not to catechize [teach] is to build without foundation.”

If you serve in kids ministry, know that your work is most valuable not only for the spiritual formation of the kids you teach, but also for the future of the church. You are not just a babysitter. For some kids, you are a trusted and invaluable partner with their parents as they disciple. For other kids, you may just be the only source of love, grace, and truth they will ever see.

If you lead or serve in children’s ministry, Lord knows you aren’t in it for personal glory. But never forget that you are in children’s ministry for glory. Children’s ministers and servants are laboring for the glory of the Lord in the little hearts and minds of boys and girls. We are praying, teaching, loving, and leading children for the praise of the glory of the grace of God in Christ.

So, I pray my fellow children’s ministry leaders and servants find deep satisfaction in our often difficult and thankless work. I pray we find satisfaction in presenting the gospel to kids. I pray we find satisfaction in teaching small kids big truths to blow their minds and ground their feet. In a culture that is constantly shifting, I pray we resolve to continue teach children the immovable truth of the gospel even if we don’t see any results in our time with them.

Spurgeon said it best:

Teach the little ones the whole truth and nothing but the truth; for instruction is the great want of the child’s nature. A child has not only to live as you and I have, but also to grow; hence he has double need of food. When fathers say of their boys, ‘What appetites they have!’ they should remember that we also would have great appetites if we had not only to keep the machinery going, but to enlarge it at the same time. Children in grace have to grow, rising to greater capacity in knowing, being, doing, and feeling, and to greater power from God; therefore above all things they must be fed. They must be well fed or instructed, because they are in danger of having their cravings perversely satisfied with error. Youth is susceptible to evil doctrine. Whether we teach young Christians truth or not, the devil will be sure to teach them error. They will hear of it somehow, even if they are watched by the most careful guardians. The only way to keep chaff out of the child’s little measure is to fill it brimful with good wheat. Oh, that the Spirit of God may help us to do this! The more the young are taught the better; it will keep them from being misled (Come Ye Children: Practical Help Telling Children About Jesus, pp. 10-11).


19149367_2014653971893374_3834793165439186257_nMathew Gilbert is Associate Pastor for Children and Preschool at The Church at Trace Crossing in Tupelo, MS. He is a student at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and the author of Come to the Well: 50 Meditations to Fuel Your Joy in God. Mathew and his wife, Erica, live in Tupelo with their two boys, Jude and Jack.

 

From Snack to Smorgasbord


I’m currently meeting with an unbeliever on a weekly basis to talk about Christianity, Jesus, faith, and the Bible. He is very curious about Jesus and what Christians believe about life and the world. We have been reading through the Gospels and he’s been asking questions and making observations about who Jesus is and what Jesus came to do.

One of the things about Jesus that has really stood out to my friend is how Jesus is at the same time authoritative and compassionate. He made the comment, “Jesus is a guy who has authority and power over sick and even dead people. He calls himself God and in a way demands worship. But, at the same time he feeds hungry people and weeps over hurting people. He doesn’t retaliate when he is opposed by the people who should know most about him. Man, Jesus is a strange guy. And I kinda like him.” I’m praying his admiration leads to faith.

I have to agree with my friend. Jesus’ authority is astonishing. But his compassion is a surprising comfort. Sadly, many leaders with ultimate power over their people are not good guys. Dictators throughout history have been power-hungry tyrants who have abused their own people for personal gain. Jesus has all authority in heaven and earth, but he weeps over human brokenness.

When Jesus notices the hunger of the massive crowd following him, he responded with tenderhearted compassion. Jesus came to bring a spiritual kingdom to earth. He clearly cares deeply and provides sufficiently for the spiritual needs of fallen humanity. However, Jesus is not cold to basic physical human need. Jesus shows himself as one who cares for the physical needs of people.

On two occasions, Jesus demonstrates his divine authority and power over the natural order by turning a snack into a smorgasbord (Mark 6:30-44; 8:1-10). These miraculous feedings were reminiscent of the Lord raining manna from heaven on the hungry Israelites (Ex. 16:31). Jesus once again proves his deity by doing what only God can do. Jesus is the unique God-man who acts both powerfully over nature and compassionately on behalf of people.

As disciples of Jesus, we should remember and reflect Jesus’ compassion for both the spiritual and physical needs of others. Because Jesus has ultimate authority over both physical and spiritual needs, we can trust his power and wisdom to provide in ways we can’t. So, the disciple’s life in the kingdom is marked by faith-empowered, sacrificial work for others.


19149367_2014653971893374_3834793165439186257_nMathew Gilbert is Associate Pastor for Children and Preschool at The Church at Trace Crossing in Tupelo, MS. He is a student at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and the author of Come to the Well: 50 Meditations to Fuel Your Joy in God. Mathew and his wife, Erica, live in Tupelo with their two boys, Jude and Jack.

3 Things to Remember When You Pray


As I was reading in a morning devotion time in 1 Thessalonians last week, I read a tiny two-word phrase so small that if it were not so profound I could easily pass through without even noticing. Paul closes his letter to the Thessalonians by giving them succinct and specific instructions, most likely to supply what they are lacking in their faith. We all have room to grow, even beloved congregations. Hidden snuggly in this quick-paced list of commands are two that you can easily miss, but once you notice them you will never be the same. Who knew just five words could change a person so much? “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing” (v. 16-17).

These five words make up two whole verses. Whoever divided the Bible into chapters and verses must have realized the gravity of these words. Either that or he just randomly assigned verses and divided chapters. Yeah, the latter is probably true, but the point is, these five words are massively challenging for the Christian. Rejoice always? Pray without ceasing? Spend a little time meditating on these two commands and you will realize just how much you need Jesus.

But it got me thinking. While I’m praying without ceasing, while prayer is a constant attitude in my heart, what should be on my mind? How should I think about prayer? In another of Paul’s letters, I believe he gives us three things to remember when we pray. Philippians 4:6-7 calls us to pray in three ways. When you pray, keep these things on your mind.

[D]o not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

  1. Pray for specific things.

The word “supplication” used in verse 6 refers to an urgent specific plea. There are some people who say they only pray for others; that they do not pray for themselves. This sounds very humble and holy, but it is very biblical and right to pray for specific personal requests. Jesus teaches us to pray this way when he tells us to pray for food and for deliverance from temptation (Matt. 6:11-13). It is good to pray for specific things going on in your life. As a Christian, you are a child of a heavenly Father who desires your good and joy in all things. It is good to ask God to provide for you, your family, and your friends. It is good to ask God to forgive you and protect you. This recognizes that all forms of provision and protection come from God. Be quick to call on God to help you when you worry personally about things in your life.

  1. Pray as you remember God’s goodness.

Notice that Paul tells us to pray “with thanksgiving.” Praying with thanksgiving means remembering all of the good things God has done and is doing. Praying with thanksgiving recognizes that God is not only able to answer your prayers, but he is also willing to answer them according to his goodness and wisdom. This is also encouraging when it comes to the way God answers our prayers. God does not always answer our prayers in the way we want or think he should. Sometimes we ask for things for which we do not understand.

We are like little children asking to eat playdoh. When a child asks this, his parents don’t give him what he asked for, but instead something better. Sometimes God doesn’t give us what we ask, but he gives us something better for us, even if we do not understand it. God does not always answer prayers the way we want. But he answers them according to his perfect goodness and wisdom. The way our prayers are answered is not dependent on how wise or good our prayers are. It is dependent on how wise and good God is. Know that even if there are a lot of bad things happening in your life or the world around you, they are only temporary and the God to whom you pray is eternally wise, good, and powerful.

  1. Pray expecting an answer.

This can be the most exciting and frightening part of prayer. It can be exciting to expect God to answer, because we can be confident that our loving Father gives us good gifts. However, it can also be frightening, because we are unsure of how God will answer our prayers. It can be frightening in another way as well. For example, if you pray for God to use you in any way he wants, you can be sure that he will answer this. But this might mean that he could send you to another country to share the gospel. It could mean that God could send you to have that awkward conversation with your neighbor or coworker about Jesus. Praying for an opportunity to share the gospel may just mean you will get that opportunity.

So we should pray with an expectant heart. We should pray expecting God to answer. He could say “yes,” or he could say, “no.” He could even say, “not yet.” We usually want a “yes” from God, but our Father who is in heaven knows what is best for us. Like a parent who only gives good gifts to his children, God does not answer our prayers based on what we want. This is because sometimes we want things that would not be for our best. When you pray, expect God to answer according to his glorious goodness and grace.


19149367_2014653971893374_3834793165439186257_nMathew Gilbert is Associate Pastor for Children and Preschool at The Church at Trace Crossing in Tupelo, MS. He is a student at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and the author of Come to the Well: 50 Meditations to Fuel Your Joy in God. Mathew and his wife, Erica, live in Tupelo with their two boys, Jude and Jack.

Book Review: CSB Reader’s Bible


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Reader’s Bibles have taken the Bible publishing world by storm. Whether formatted and published in single or multiple volumes, publishers are rushing to get in on what’s becoming the hottest new trend in Bible publishing. And I couldn’t be happier.

A reader’s Bible can be described as a raw text version of the Bible, meaning that only the words of Scripture are found on the pages of the book. There are no verses, no chapters, no footnotes, no study notes. A reader’s Bible contains a raw English translation of the Bible with no other helps, marks, or divisions.

One of the world’s newest English Bible translations, the Christian Standard Bible, has published a simple, beautiful, and inviting reader’s Bible.

Simple & Beautiful

The CSB Reader’s Bible is simple and beautiful. Admittedly, simple and minimalism are beautiful to me. Simplicity is an attractive element in every reader’s Bible. Without the distractions of footnotes, verses, chapters, or study notes, readers are able to absorb the words of Scripture and nothing more. The design of the CSB Reader’s Bible complements the text well. Published as a gray cloth over board, this reader’s Bible contains a simple and small blue diamond design on the front cover with minimalistic descriptive design on the spine. The book itself looks great on a shelf or desk.

As a single volume Bible, the CSB Reader’s Bible is substantial in size, but not overwhelming. Publishers, editors, and designers did an excellent job using paper thin enough to publish the Bible in one volume, even though the paper is more transparent than I would like. Despite some transparency, it’s not unbearable as the reading experience is barely affected. The simple and clean black text of the Scriptures is accented by blue book and chapter titles subtly placed at the bottom of each page.

Like all reader’s Bibles, the CSB Reader’s Bible is structured and functions much like any other classic novel. The design reminds the reader that the Bible is a work of literature. With generous margins for every book of the Bible, the poetic and prophetic genres have even larger margins, which benefits the reader. The CSB is unique in all of its Bibles in that all Old Testament quotations in the New Testament are bolded.

Inviting

As I started reading the CSB Reader’s Bible, I noticed how warm and inviting it is. As a pastor, writer, and seminary student, my default approach to the Bible is study. I love cross-reference footnotes, alternate translation footnotes, and study notes. For readers like me, a reader’s Bible feels naked. I initially felt exposed and impatient. However, I also found myself absorbing more of the Bible in one sitting.

Without the distraction of cross-reference notes or study notes, I was able to just read and admire the beauty of the Word. Without the distraction of verse and chapter numbers, I never found a natural “stopping place.” So, instead of planning to read x-number of chapters or verses, I just read until I ran out of time or attention.

If you are a natural-born reader, you will love the freedom of the CSB Reader’s Bible. If reading is not your thing, I think you’ll be surprised how much more of the Bible you will read in one sitting. You cannot become a better Bible reader without reading the Bible a lot. The CSB Reader’s Bible is an accurate and readable translation formatted in such a way that you will do just that–read the Bible a lot!

For more information about the Christian Standard Bible, you can visit csbible.com.

You can find a copy of the CSB Reader’s Bible at LifeWay ($28), Amazon ($29), or CBD ($28).


I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for a fair and honest review. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html.


19149367_2014653971893374_3834793165439186257_nMathew Gilbert is Associate Pastor for Children and Preschool at The Church at Trace Crossing in Tupelo, MS. He is a student at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and the author of Come to the Well: 50 Meditations to Fuel Your Joy in God. Mathew and his wife, Erica, live in Tupelo with their two boys, Jude and Jack.

The Hated Hometown Hero


My family left our hometown of London, KY almost two years ago to help shepherd a local church of God’s people in Tupelo, MS. No one in either of our families had moved away from home for a job or ministry or anything permanently. So, our move went against the status-quo of our family. And while some of our family members didn’t understand our decision to move, I’ll never forget something both my dad and papaw told me. They said, “I’m happy for you. I’m proud of you. And no matter what happens, remember you will always have a home here.”

Homecomings are usually very emotional and reason for celebration. When the NBA’s villain, LeBron James came back home to Cleveland after leaving his hometown team for Miami, there was endless partying in the streets. The hometown hero came home and he was welcomed with open arms.

Jesus’ story was a little different. When the hometown kid returned to Nazareth, he wasn’t met with parades and parties, but torches and pitchforks. Jesus faced ugly opposition from his own hometown despite the astonishment that filled the synagogue where Jesus taught. The people were genuinely recognizing Jesus’ wisdom and power, but there was just something about him that rubbed the Nazarenes the wrong way. As Mark puts it, “they took offense at him.” They even took a shot at his profession as a carpenter. Knowing Jesus as a child, teenager, and young adult didn’t produce loyalty and love, but rather doubt and contempt.

Their ridicule neither surprised nor sunk Jesus. He knew from the experience and example of the prophets that he would not be welcome in Nazareth (Isa. 53:3). The disciples learned that anyone identified with Jesus would share his fate. Seeing Jesus’ rejection was the training they needed just before they were sent out to proclaim the news of Jesus’ kingdom.

There are really only three ways to respond to Jesus.

First, you can be offended by Jesus. Jesus isn’t just a good teacher or good guy. He is a sovereign King who demands sacrificial obedience. He makes radical claims that confronts our selfishness and sinfulness. Jesus is offensive.

Second, you can be opposed to Jesus. Jesus may not offend you, but you may have no interest in submitting to his authority. We naturally have a desire to create a kingdom for ourselves where we can reign as kings and queens. Jesus and his kingdom oppose our kingdom-building efforts.

Third, you can offer worship to Jesus. Jesus is either rejected or worshiped. There is no middle option. If you only want Jesus for the power of his miracles or the wisdom of his teaching, but want no part of his sovereign authority to reign as king over your life, you can’t have him. Jesus will never be used as a pawn for your amusement. Jesus is the unapologetic Lord of heaven and earth who produces astonishment, amazement, and lasting joy in those who renounce themselves and run to him.


19149367_2014653971893374_3834793165439186257_nMathew Gilbert is Associate Pastor for Children and Preschool at The Church at Trace Crossing in Tupelo, MS. He is a student at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and the author of Come to the Well: 50 Meditations to Fuel Your Joy in God. Mathew and his wife, Erica, live in Tupelo with their two boys, Jude and Jack.

Just Go to Church


We hear the mantra, “Don’t go to church, be the church” so much I fear it diminishes the importance of church attendance. We lament churches who care about numbers disproportionately so much that we lose sight of the spiritual significance of just showing up. The Christian life is more than going to church, but it’s certainly not less.

Church attendance almost feels lame. We don’t want to be “that guy” who boasts in his impeccable Sunday School attendance while spending the rest of the week bowing at the altar of the culture. We don’t want to be the snooty and grumpy old woman who has her own personal attendance roll in her purse next to her tissues and peppermint candy. We don’t want to be known as the parents who have their kids “in church” to justify the absence of discipleship in the home. We rightly despise the legalistic judgments of those who gauge a person’s entire relationship with Jesus based on how many Sundays they attend each month.

I get it. I really do. I don’t want to be a hypocrite. I don’t want to be a faithful church attender and a failed disciple.

But I hope you and I both see the beauty and glory in ordinary regular church attendance. Just showing up on Sunday mornings proves momentous for the spiritual growth of individuals in the church and the church as a whole. There is something uniquely heart-warming about seeing the same people in the same place gathered for the same purpose every week.

My grandfather has season tickets to Kentucky men’s basketball games. Growing up, I went to many Kentucky games with him at Rupp Arena. I became familiar with other season ticket holders that sat next to us and behind us. I knew only one thing about them, that they, like me, loved Kentucky and wanted them to win. But that one frivolous commonality caused me to feel affection for these people when I had to stand up to let them walk by me to their seats. I was glad to see them. I was glad to cheer and boo with them. I didn’t care about their character or personal lives. I enjoyed being with them because of the one thing we had in common.

We make church too difficult. If others in our church haven’t texted, called, or spoken to us in a while outside of our Sunday morning gatherings, we almost intentionally keep ourselves from enjoying their presence. We look around the room and start making judgments on one another. When we do this, we miss out on the simple beauty of the gathered church.

When you meet with your faith family on a Sunday morning, try to take in the radically ordinary elements. Notice where people sit. Remember they are broken sinners in need of grace just like you. Remember they are in the same place as you because they too believe in the mission of your local church.

We tend to thank people in the church who lead or serve in loud or important ways. We thank the preaching pastor. We thank the worship pastor and worship team. We thank nursery servants. But when was the last time you thanked a fellow church member just for showing up? When was the last time you said, “Thank you for being here. Your presence brought me joy today”?

I know I’ve never done that. I’ve never thanked someone for showing up. I never have because I’ve never thought much about even being thankful for their presence.

But I can tell you that on a Sunday after a tough week of ministry or family life, I’ve been genuinely refreshed by the mere presence of my brothers and sisters in Christ. I’ve learned that some weeks my heart needs a handshake and joke from Mr. Tommy more than a sermon from John Piper.

Christians go to church because we recognize our need for community. We go to church because our people are there. As I’ve seen pastor David Prince tweet many times, “The gathered church is a weekly family reunion.”

The fellowship element of a service is incredibly spiritual. Hugs, handshakes, tears, and laughs build the church up in the gospel.

We sing and listen to the Word preached and partake of the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper with and for one another, even if we aren’t close friends outside of church.

So, just go to church.

Just go to church to be reminded of the gospel, because you are prone to forget.

Just go to church to sing the gospel to and with one another.

Just go to church to pray for and with one another.

Just go to church to read and listen to the preached Word with one another.

Just go to church to carry out a common mission with one another.

Just go to church. Not to have an individual spiritual experience, but to share in the spiritual experience of worship with your family. Even if you don’t feel close to the people in the room, you are eternally bound to them in Christ. They are your brothers and sisters.

One of the best way you can serve your church is by just showing up. One of the best ways to be the church is to go to church. Build someone up in the gospel this week just by going to church.

Show up. Shake hands. Sing. Pray. Read. Listen. Together.


19149367_2014653971893374_3834793165439186257_nMathew Gilbert is Associate Pastor for Children and Preschool at The Church at Trace Crossing in Tupelo, MS. He is a student at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and the author of Come to the Well: 50 Meditations to Fuel Your Joy in God. Mathew and his wife, Erica, live in Tupelo with their two boys, Jude and Jack.

The Child Is Not Dead But Sleeping


Now, finally the time has come. Jesus had first told a man named Jairus that he would go with him to heal his daughter. Well, when they were on their way, Jesus stopped to heal a woman who had been sick for twelve years. As Jesus was talking to her, another man came up to Jairus and said, “Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the Teacher any further?”

Wow! Can you imagine what Jairus must have been thinking? He was probably both sad and mad. He was very sad that his daughter had died. He was probably mad that Jesus had waited too long to come to her. Maybe if Jesus had not stopped to talk to the sick woman they would have made it in time. The men and Jairus were now not just helpless. They were hopeless. This is because death is final. It is the end. There is no stopping it or reversing it. Once death comes, there is no turning back. Jairus knows this, so he weeps and worries. His faith grew very weak.

But look what Jesus said to him. He looked him in the eyes and said, “Do not fear, only believe” (v. 36). Now, how can Jesus say such a thing? Jairus knew Jesus had power over sickness. But how can he believe in Jesus now? He can only believe in Jesus if he knows he has power over death as well!

Jairus must have believed Jesus could bring his daughter back to life, because the men continued their journey. When they arrived at Jairus’ house, they saw people crying and screaming in sadness over the death of the little girl. When Jesus came to the house, he looked at everyone and said, “Why are you making a commotion and weeping? The child is not dead but sleeping” (v. 39).

What? The people laughed. Jesus may have had a lot of power and wisdom, but he didn’t seem to have much street sense. To the people it seemed Jesus couldn’t tell if a person was dead or not.

The girl was not sleeping. She was dead. But Jesus said she was sleeping. Why? Because when Jesus is in the room, death is no more than a cat nap!

Jesus does have power over death! He took the child by the hand and said, “Little girl, I say to you, arise” (v. 41). Can you guess what happened next? Yes! She got up and walked! Only Jesus has the power to command dead people in such a way that they obey. Jairus could truly not fear but only believe because Jesus has power over death. After seeing Jesus conquer his daughter’s death, he was now able to trust him with anything and everything else in his life.

The Bible tells us that we are all dead in our sins, and we will all one day physically die. Jesus brings us to life as he creates faith in our hearts. He gives us new life that never ends. And even something as bad as death cannot stop us. Death does not have the final word. Jesus does.


19149367_2014653971893374_3834793165439186257_nMathew Gilbert is Associate Pastor for Children and Preschool at The Church at Trace Crossing in Tupelo, MS. He is a student at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and the author of Come to the Well: 50 Meditations to Fuel Your Joy in God. Mathew and his wife, Erica, live in Tupelo with their two boys, Jude and Jack.

From Jonah to Jesus: A Parallel of Two Storms


The Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, John) provide some of the most interesting reading in all of the Bible. They are filled with eyewitness testimonies of the person and work of Jesus. The Gospels are an excellent starting place for any new Christian or anyone exploring Christianity.

One of the most attractive elements in the Gospels is the many stories that fill their pages. Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John convey who Jesus is and what he did by telling stories. Another element that is particularly intriguing to me is the way the Gospel writers make use of the Old Testament. Whenever I read the Gospels my eyes are always opened to the Christocentricity of the Old Testament. In the Gospels, the Reality has come and the shadow of the Old Testament can properly be seen and more fully and truly be interpreted.

One example of such excellent storytelling that makes use of the Old Testament is found in Mark 4:35-41. In this passage, Mark tells the story of Jesus calming a storm. This is the way Mark tells the story:

 On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side.”And leaving the crowd, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. And other boats were with him. And a great windstorm arose, and the waves were breaking into the boat, so that the boat was already filling. But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion. And they woke him and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?”  And he awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm. He said to them, “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?”And they were filled with great fear and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”

Not only can we appreciate this amazing story that causes both child and adult to marvel at the sheer power of Jesus, we can also see numerous, almost eerie, parallels to an Old Testament prophet. In fact, the language used by Mark is nearly identical to the language of the account of Jonah. I see at least seven parallels between Jesus calming a storm and Jonah being swallowed by a whale, though there may be more.

1. Both Jesus and Jonah were in a boat.

2. Both boats were overtaken by a storm.

3. Both storms are described in almost exactly the same way.

4. Both Jesus and Jonah were asleep.

5. Both groups of sailors wake their passenger with the fearful statement, “We’re going to die.”

6. Both situations included divine intervention over nature as the sea was calmed.

7. Both groups of sailors grow more terrified after the storm was calmed.

Seven clear parallels. One major difference; or so it seems. Mark’s story ends after Jesus calms the storm with a word. However, in Jonah’s account, he says to his sailors, “Pick me up and hurl me into the sea; then the sea will quiet down for you, for I know it is because of me that this great tempest has come upon you” (Jonah 1:12). Jonah basically says, “If I die, you will live.”

Even though we don’t see this sacrificial substitution directly in Mark’s account of Jesus calming the storm, we do see another parallel when we consider the larger context of Mark’s Gospel. Mark is a skilled storyteller who is establishing the identity of Jesus now only to convey the mission of Jesus later. Later in Mark’s Gospel, Jesus would come to a cross to face the greatest storm of all–the wrath of God against our sin.

Jesus is the greater Jonah as he is thrown into the tempest so that we might live. In the words of Tim Keller, “Jesus was thrown into the only storm that can actually sink us–the storm of eternal justice, of what we owe for our wrongdoing. That storm wasn’t calmed–not until it swept him away.”

The most crucial element in these two texts is how both of them so beautifully point to the doctrine of substitutionary atonement. In other words, as Jonah is hurled into the sea and as Jesus calms a storm with his words, they both foreshadow the coming storm Jesus would ultimately calm by being tossed into the tempest of God’s wrath so that we may live.

So, when you feel that God has left you alone in the storm in your life, remember that he cares infinitely more than you could imagine. If Jesus did not leave you to suffer the ultimate storm of God’s wrath against your sin, then you can trust his infinite wisdom and power to be sufficient for you when you suffer smaller storms in your life.


19149367_2014653971893374_3834793165439186257_nMathew Gilbert is Associate Pastor for Children and Preschool at The Church at Trace Crossing in Tupelo, MS. He is a student at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and the author of Come to the Well: 50 Meditations to Fuel Your Joy in God. Mathew and his wife, Erica, live in Tupelo with their two boys, Jude and Jack.