Student Debt and the Debtor’s Ethic

What does it mean to be grateful?

Southern culture complicates our understanding of gratitude and creates confusion as to how we should actually show gratitude to God. Thankfulness in the South often means paying someone back for doing something kind for you. David Pao says,

“Modern Western conceptions of thanksgiving are dominated by the model that privileges the emotional sense of gratefulness in response to a certain act of kindness and the need to fulfill the ‘debt’ to achieve the balance of personal relationship. Within this model, thanksgiving is detached from social ethics and theological discourse and is reduced to the level of etiquette that is functionally limited to the realm of individual interchange.”

Pao is slicing up most of our experiences with thanksgiving, especially with regard to small gifts. Last night, my neighbor dropped off some tomatoes from his garden. It was a special gift, and it caused my wife and I to feel grateful for him. We talked through some things we could give him in return. Southern gratitude at its finest.

But, how would you feel if someone gave you a massive gift? I remember when my grandfather paid off one of my student loans. I was floored. I was speechless. I didn’t know what to do. Honestly, I felt a little embarrassed. I felt small because I knew there was no way I could reciprocate the gift. I couldn’t give my grandfather anything that would equivocate his gift to me. While my first inclination was to pay him back, I quickly realized how foolish that thought was.

First, it would be impossible for me to pay him back. Couldn’t do it. Couldn’t come close! Second, my debt didn’t shift from the government to my grandfather. My debt was paid in full by another. It was canceled. I literally logged into my account and I no longer had options to make payments, because there were no payments to make. And this was a gift of sheer grace. He didn’t have to do it. He wanted to do it. And he didn’t ask anything of me in return. We receive a similar kind of gift in the gospel. Christ has paid our debt in full with his sacrificial and substitutionary death.

Gratitude toward another person or toward God is the result of a conscious awareness of the giver and his gift. In the Bible, gratitude always, always, always flows from a humble and glad recognition of God’s grace:

  • Psalm 7:17 – “I will give to the Lord the thanks due to his righteousness”
  • Psalm 9:1 – “I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart; I will recount all of your wonderful deeds.”
  • Psalm 75:1 – “We give thanks to you, O God; we give thanks, for your name is near. We recount your wondrous deeds.”
  • Psalm 105:1 – “Oh give thanks to the Lord; call upon his name; make known his deeds among the peoples!”
  • Psalm 106:1 – “Praise the Lord! Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever!”
  • Psalm 106:47 – “Save us, O Lord our God, and gather us from among the nations, that we may give thanks to your holy name and glory in your praise.”
  • 1 Corinthians 1:4 – “I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus.”
  • 1 Thessalonians 5:18 – “give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”
  • 2 Thessalonians 1:3 – “We ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers, as is right because your faith is growing abundantly, and the love of every one of you for one another is increasing.”
  • 2 Thessalonians 2:13 – “But we ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers beloved by the Lord, because God chose you as the firstfruits to be saved, through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth.”

In the Old Testament and the New Testament there is a direct connection between gratitude and God’s saving work in the past, present, and future. When you are aware of God’s glory and grace in your life, your heart will well up with gratitude, which will then overflow in glad obedience to him. Gratitude requires you to rightly see God’s grace and rightly respond to it.

We must beware of the debtor’s ethic. The debtor’s ethic is the notion that since God has done so much for us, we now owe him a life of obedience. It is a way to pay back the debt we have accrued through receiving God’s grace in the gospel. You’ve probably heard it said, and you may have said it a number of times, “Jesus died for me, the least I can do is live for him.” But the debtor’s ethic robs gratitude of its God-centered joy. Trying to pay God back for what he has done for us is both an impossible and joyless task. It causes sanctification to be fueled by duty and guilt when it should be fueled by delight and grace.

I believe the reason many of us fail to pursue holiness with joy is because our motivation for godly living is guilt, not gratitude. The reason many of us cease our spiritual growth after baptism is because we adopt the attitude that we must obey God in order to pay him back for saving us. “Jesus died for you, so what are you going to do for him?” Is this the right kind of motivation to fuel gospel living?


A better way forward to living the good life, the new life we now have in Christ, is to live every second of every day in gratitude to God. When we are grateful to God, we are aware of his grace that he has freely given us in Christ. Gratitude creates the kind of gospel awareness necessary to cut off the lifelines of sin in our lives. Gratitude looks back in thanks to God for his grace in the past and looks forward in faith in God for his grace in the future.

Gratitude is central to gospel living because through our self-renouncing thankfulness we see both our need for God and his ability and willingness to meet our need. This empowers us to kill sin in its tracks and chase hard after righteousness.

Only a grateful heart can thrive in kindness, patience, love, and forgiveness. Only a heart that recognizes God as the rightful ruler of heaven and earth will submit to his will and his ways, and so be conformed to his image.

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.

Bad Leaders Make Bad Followers

Picture in your mind a line of bouncing, giddy preschoolers following behind an adult, doing whatever she did. If she hopped, they hopped. If she ran, they ran. If she sat, they sat. They perfectly followed every move she made. But, this adult leader was disobeying the instructions of her partner. So, he would say, “walk in a circle,” but they would sit down. He would say, “jump up and down,” but they would walk in a circle. I’m sure the parents of these preschoolers really appreciated us leading them to disobey!

It really was a strange sight to see so many children simultaneously obeying and disobeying. They were following the actions of their line leader, yet disobeying the clear instructions of the one giving directions. They did this because we all follow our leaders, especially if they are charismatic, fun, energetic, and compelling. Even though the children were rightly following their leader, they were literally walking in disobedience precisely because they were following a bad leader. The lesson we were teaching the preschoolers was that bad leaders bring culpability on and consequences to everyone they lead. In other words, bad leaders make bad followers.

The impact and influence of leaders cannot be understated. When leaders succeed, so do their followers. When leaders fail, so do their people. And the consequences of a leader’s failure is felt not only by him or her, but everyone around and under his or her authority. We see this dynamic in families, businesses, sports, schools, nations, and churches. There is a disastrous trickle down effect from leaders to followers when leaders fail. Wicked kings of Israel created wicked people and a wicked nation. Bad leaders make bad followers.

Every decision a father makes impacts his children. Every decision a principal makes impacts her teachers and students. The same is true for presidents and pastors. Character is maybe the most significant qualification for leaders. The sobering truth for spiritual leaders in particular is that moral lapses, spiritual apathy, and downright disobedience in his own life leads to moral lapses, spiritual apathy, and disobedience in the lives of his people.

Maybe the most frightening aspect of the priests’ failures in Malachi’s day is the fact that they weren’t ignorant of the Law. They knew what God required of them in their duty as priests. They were technically fulfilling their role by offering sacrifices. They were going through religious motions, which meant they knew the proper forms of worship. However, their right knowledge of God’s word wasn’t leading to obedience in their lives. Their knowledge of the Law only heaped more guilt on their heads. There was a serious disconnect between the priests’ heads and their hearts.

We learn much from others’ failures. The priests’ in Malachi’s day were not following the example set by Levi, the father of the Levitic priesthood. Unlike Levi, they were faithless, ungodly, and silent with God’s word. They weren’t fulfilling their roles of representing God to the people and the people before God. And their moral lapses led to moral decay and chaos in Judah. The priests teach us that biblical knowledge on its own is not enough to save or sanctify us. Beware of vain or empty biblical knowledge. What we do with our biblical knowledge is everything.

Although the priests were faithless to both the Levitic and Sinai covenant, God will forever remain faithful to his promises and his people. God’s desire to grant his people life and peace will not be frustrated by the failures of their earthly representatives. His people need a perfect priest who will offer right sacrifices on their behalf and teach them the law accurately and fairly.

We have such a priest in Jesus. He perfectly revealed God’s will to us and offered himself as a sacrifice for sin. With the coming of Christ, the Levitical priesthood has ended because Christ once for all offered himself on the altar of God for our sins.

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

My Favorite Sunday Morning Pencil

If you know me, or follow me on Instagram, you know that I have developed a love for pencils. I have loved writing for as long as I can remember, but I’ve primarily written using a computer of some kind. However, the experience of writing something down with your own hand, without spell check, feeling each word leave your mind and hand, is strangely satisfying. I’m not gonna spend much time today explaining exactly why I love pencils because that’s for a future blog post. But suffice it to say, I love writing with pencils because of the experience.

Sunday mornings are a special time for me and my family. We gather with our faith family to worship the one, true, and living God. During the sermon time of our service, I will usually take notes one way or another. When I choose to take notes by hand in a Field Notes pocket journal, I will mostly likely only have one pencil in my hand–a Cedar Pointe pencil.

61vY94kVN8L._SL1200_The Cedar Pointe from General Pencil Company is an excellent pencil for note taking because of its firm, yet soft graphite core. It allows me to write much, write fast, and still feel every stroke. This is especially important when you’re needing to write down thoughts quickly, like during a sermon or class lecture. My lead pastor is incredibly insightful and one of the most application driven preachers I’ve ever heard. I learn so much from his ability to take a seemingly obscure passage, preach its meaning in context, and then draw out clear and valuable application points. His preaching style and abilities warrant much note taking!

So, I need a reliable pencil that’s firm enough to not require sharpening in the 45-60 minute sermon, but soft enough to flow smoothly.  Oh, and they smell amazing! I hardly want to admit it, but I often like to use the Cedar Pointe just for the strong and lasting aroma.Generals_Cedar_Pointe_pencil_2HB_1024x1024

If you see me on a Sunday morning, I’ll likely have a Cedar Pointe close by. I highly recommend the Cedar Pointe pencils from General Pencils. Whether you’re a pencil fanatic like me, or just looking for a different writing utensil, picking up some Cedar Pointes will be well worth the money. You can find them on Amazon or at my favorite pencil store, CW Pencils.

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.

Don’t Just Pray for Your Pastor

I hope you pray for your pastors and elders. I really do. As a pastor and elder at my church, I know how much our pastors and elders depend on and covet the prayers of our people. The church is not an organization where leaders give and followers receive. Pastors aren’t performers, nor are they caterers. Pastors aren’t called to put on a show for their people, nor are they called to cater to their people’s preferences. Pastors are called to shepherd God’s flock according to God’s Word in the power of God’s Spirit.

It is a noble, humbling, and daunting task. Pastors often feel the weight of the spiritual needs of their people as well as the needs of their own families. And they often hold these weights in tension. At times it can feel like the better husband and father I am, the worse pastor I am, and vice-versa. When pastors labor for hours over the Word and spend time texting, calling, and visiting their people, that is time away from their families. And when pastors give significant time to their families, they feel guilty for not spending as much time meeting with others in the church. Many pastors wade in a pool of guilt as they try to manage ministry time and family time.

Faithful pastors are also usually the world’s worst for taking time off. Most of us are just wired to work and tirelessly give ourselves for the sake of others. Pastors are often perpetually tired–physically, mentally, and emotionally. Pastors experience waves of emotions throughout any given week. They face encouragement and criticism. They see joys and pains. They witness growth and moral lapses. Some faithful members leave for jobs and others leave in anger. Both produce tears in a loving pastor.

Pastors also preach a mix of good and bad sermons. And I can assure you that no one is a bigger critic of a sermon than the one preaching it. There isn’t really a sense of accomplishment in the pastor’s work. There are few tasks that can be started and finished in a short period of time. Even when a sermon is finished and preached, there’s another one coming next week. So, it’s really tough for a pastor to rest.

Granted, many pastors bring these problems on themselves. Pastors need to become experts on time management. Pastors need to be intentional about balancing ministry and family time. Pastors need to carve out time for personal rest, and they should be taking serious care of their minds, hearts, and bodies. However, unless the pastor intentionally seeks out rest and care, there often isn’t much pastoral care for the pastor in the church. While the pastor often preaches the gospel to others, he usually has few if any people in his life who preach the gospel to him.

I don’t mean to throw a pity-party on behalf of myself and my brother pastors. I hope you’re not feeling sorry for your pastor or rolling your eyes at me. Healthy pastors find strange joy in the burdens of ministry. Like Paul, they are sorrowful, yet always rejoicing. Many pastors love their work and their people deeply. My purpose in writing is simply to get you thinking about the stress your pastor is under every single week. I hope you are aware of this, and it compels you to pray for your pastor.

Saturday is a great day to pray for your pastors and elders, especially your preaching pastor. As much as we all work to have our sermons finished before the weekend, many pastors are still cleaning up their sermons on Saturday night. I’ve finished a sermon at 1:30 AM on a Sunday morning. And I don’t even preach on a weekly basis. It happens. And when it happens, I can assure you that your pastor is tired and in need of the prayers of his people.

What an excellent practice it would be to pray for your pastor with your children, spouse, or friends on a Saturday night. What an excellent practice it would be to text your small group and remind them to pray for your pastor. What if you called another church member and decided to intercede for your pastor on a Saturday afternoon? God uses prayer to accomplish his purposes. I wonder how different a Sunday morning would look if the church was intentionally praying for the service the day before.

But I hope you do more than pray. Praying for your pastor should be a given. It’s honestly the least we can do. Your pastor needs more than your prayers. He needs your words. He needs to hear from you. He needs you to encourage and exhort him. Consider ways you can serve your pastor and his family with your words and service. You could offer to watch his children so he and his wife can go on a date. Maybe you could take your pastor out to lunch and share ways his ministry has impacted you. You could even simply be engaged and involved on a Sunday morning. Or at least try not to fall asleep! Paul knows what I’m talking about (Acts 20:9)! And be creative! Have a spirit of humility and service among everyone in the body of Christ, including your pastor.

Apart from general encouragement and acts of service, your pastor also needs something you may not think he needs. He needs you to remind him of the gospel. I know it’s ironic, but it’s really easy for a pastor to forget the gospel–not the content, but the benefits. The nature of a pastor’s work makes it easy for him to find his worth in the approval of his people. It’s sinful when he does so, but it’s easy for a pastor to find identity in how well he preaches, teaches, and counsels. Your pastor needs the gospel just as much as you. What a blessing it is to a pastor to be reminded of the gospel by his people.

It’s Saturday. Your pastor may be chilling with his family not thinking about his sermon or Sunday morning at all. He may be totally content and satisfied with his work. He may not be worried about certain suffering individuals or families in his flock. He may be. But don’t assume it. It’s more likely that his mind is consumed with Sunday morning–both the service and the people. His sermon may not be finished. He may be having a challenging day as a parent. He may be arguing with his wife. He may be burdened by a difficult Bible passage. He may have just received a hurtful phone call, text, or email. And he may just be having a bad day.

Pastors need their people. They need the prayers of the saints. But don’t just pray for your pastor. Encourage him. Exhort him. Love him. Serve him. Remind him of the gospel. Watch how the Spirit will use your resolve to intercede and serve your pastor as he seeks to shepherd you well.

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.

Flourishing in Life, Fearless in Death

In our pluralistic culture, it’s truly difficult to find much common ground between different groups of people. For example, in what ways are right wing fundamentalists, libertarians, and left wing socialists the same? Is there any common ground between religious hate groups and the people they hate? With the number of polarizing issues and worldviews marking the cultural landscape of America, it really is tough to find relatable common ground between you and someone you disagree with on every conceivable and important idea.

However, in my recent experience leading a non-Christian family through a funeral service and counseling them through the early days of the death of their loved one, it has become clear to me that we all relate to one another through four given expectations.

  1. We all want to live a reasonably pleasant, comfortable, and enjoyable life. We want to flourish in work, play, and home.
  2. None of us wants to die. But we all know death is coming. And none of us knows when it’s coming. True, some of us believe death is nothing more than a channel to an abyss of utter nothingness. Others believe death is a channel to true gain and lasting joy. But none of us wants to die, though we all know we will.
  3. We all want our lives to count. We want to matter. We want people to remember us with affection and miss our presence when we’re gone. We want to leave the world a better place than when we were born. We want to make our mark on the world through the things we believe, say, and do.

Because of these four things, the way you live your life and the way you view your death are absolutely crucial! So much so, that I tremble as I approach this topic. It is no small thing to talk about the way you live your life and the way you view your death. Both of these topics are offensive to think about and offensive to talk about. It is offensive to presume to tell someone how to live his or her life and it is offensive to tell someone how to view his or her death.

In fact, if there are two topics that are most uncomfortable for us to discuss with our families and friends, they are life and death. This is why we excel at small talk. This is why we make excuses for those we care about when they live recklessly. This is why we avoid visiting cemeteries and gloss over the reality of death by reminiscing good memories of the deceased. But the truth is, the most important realities in your life and my life are the way we live and the way we die.

And the pressing questions that come from this consideration are these: Can you find lasting joy and satisfaction in life and death? And, will you waste your life? I believe there is no other worldview, no other religion, and no other philosophy that probes these issues, which can provide an adequate answer to these questions. But, in the Christian faith we find answers to these questions that surpass all of our desires and fulfill all of our deepest longings.

The way we live and the way we die are directly impacted by whether or not Jesus was raised from the dead. The resurrection of Jesus informs us on what a wasted and unwasted life looks like. It also shows us where lasting joy can be found.

The way we live and the way we die must center on Christ. A Christ-centered perspective of life and death is the perspective that brings joy to the heart and purpose to life in the midst of tragedy and turmoil. True human flourishing in life and human conquering in death are only possible if it is true that a man named Jesus from Nazareth actually died and actually came back from the dead.

Lasting joy and satisfaction in life and death are only found in an empty tomb and in a risen Savior. The resurrection of Jesus directly impacts the way we live our lives and the way we approach our deaths. God glorifies himself and brings his people joy in the death and resurrection of his Son.

It is an endless quest to seek to find fulfillment in those three basic desires in anything other than Christ. And that’s not just smug, my-way-is-best-so-deal-with-it talk. That’s real talk. Consider where you find most happiness in life. If you are trying to fabricate or manufacture happiness, or flourish by working yourself to death to prove yourself to others, you will be both exhausted and unfulfilled. And no matter how hard you try to convince yourself otherwise, thinking about your death scares the life out of you. You know death is coming. But the fact you don’t know when you die and you have no control over how you die scares you to death. Only in Jesus can we find certainties in and beyond death. Only in Jesus can we face death with hope.

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.

Confessions of a Young Preacher

So, here’s a confession: I’m a young preacher who is learning on the job. My homiletical, communication, exegetical, and expositional skills are still raw and in need of much grooming. I learn far more than I teach every time I stand to proclaim the gospel on a Sunday morning. With each sermon I preach, I learn more about God, the gospel, preaching preparation and delivery, and just how much I need the grace of God and the patience of the people who sit under my preaching. God bless anyone who sit under the preaching of raw preachers like me! We are often passionate, eager, excited, naive, and inexperienced.

There are already things I’ve said in sermons I would never say again, and there are things I’ve said I would definitely say differently. I resonate with Tim Keller when he says the first 200 sermons a preacher preaches will be terrible. I find comfort in this no matter how much the people who sit under the 200 sermon threshold may cringe. The good news for every young preacher like me is that the edification and sanctification of those under our preaching is not ultimately dependent on our preaching abilities, but on the Word that we are preaching. I’m thankful God uses us not only despite our deficiencies, but also through them.

Any preacher, young or old, who faithfully preaches the Word as it was revealed is a competent preacher. Sermon preparation, writing, and delivery skills will develop over time (at least I hope!). But when a preacher preaches the Word, it is the Word that will not return void, not the sermon.

One of the things I am learning as I hone my preaching skills is that preaching can be simple without being childish. Preaching can be both deep and clear. Preaching should be both deep and clear. There is a tendency among preachers in my particular theological camp to give a running commentary on a passage to expose exegetical truths while offering solid theological points along the way. In the process, many of us fail miserably at application. And preaching that doesn’t include application is, well, not preaching.

I believe this is why so many young preachers like me are tempted to draw so heavily on the work of other preachers we follow. In fact, we want to interpret and teach a passage correctly so much that we are tempted to just borrow from the sermons of these preachers. How many of Tim Keller’s sermons have been preached outside of Redeemer Presbyterian? Good intentions that end in plagiarism are still sinful and lazy.

The church is best served by a pastor who labors over the text and seeks to faithfully expose its meaning. Even though the man who wrote the sermon may have wonderfully exposited the text, the man preaching the sermon did not and was not personally impacted by the text. Part of the impact of the sermon is the passion of the preacher who has been overwhelmed by the grandeur of the text he is preaching. This is lost when a preacher preaches someone else’s sermon. Remember, pastor, you are God’s man for the local church you are shepherding. As helpful as Piper and Keller are, they do not know your people. You do. God has called you and will use your unique abilities to preach the riches of God’s grace in Christ week in and week out.

With that said, it is vital for preachers to continue to grow. Growing as a preacher begins with humility. Be keenly aware of your weaknesses and be willing for a seasoned pastor you trust to speak into you. I’m grateful to God that he has called me to serve alongside a faithful and gifted expositor. Put down your guard and allow the arrows of healthy, loving, and biblical criticism to pierce your heart. It hurts to be told where you are weak, but nothing will benefit your preaching like listening to criticism with an open and humble heart.

Preaching is hard work. I’ve never been more spiritually and physically exhausted than after prepping for a sermon and then preaching it. My wife can attest to the turmoil that rages in my soul on a Monday morning after preaching on Sunday. However, the joy I feel in preaching is hard to describe and even harder to exaggerate. I count it a privilege and joy to proclaim the gospel and help people see and savor the greatness and grace of the God who is and speaks and saves. Every growth pain is worthwhile.

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 Real MVPs in Christian Discipleship

Timothy Paul Jones once wrote, “What you do for God beyond your home will typically never be greater than what you practice with God within your home.”[1] Some of the most memorable stories we hear in worship services and Christian conferences are of those heralded missionaries who risked all for the sake of Christ. Who isn’t moved by the heart-wrenching sacrifice of Adoniram and Ann Judson? Who wouldn’t be motivated by the unashamed commitment to Christ of John and Betty Stam? Christian missionaries and leaders who have given and even lost their lives for the sake of the gospel are rightly heralded as heroes of the faith.

While it is right and good to honor men and women in church history who have taken big risks for Christ, with this honor comes an unfortunate tendency to look down on Christians who live unassuming and relatively ordinary lives. We teach little boys to be like Moses and David, as we talk about bushes burning and giants falling. The problem with this is that when we look at our own lives, which probably look little like David, Moses, Adoniram Judson, or John Stam, we begin to slowly crumble under the weight of mediocrity.

It would be hard to number the amount of households that are filled with prayers over children like, “Lord, make our son into a great man of God who will do great things for you.” The problem with this prayer is not the desire or the expression. The problem is the perception of what a “great man of God” is. The problem in many Christian households is ordinary, consistent, faithful obedience to the Word is viewed as second-rate.

Dads who lead their families in nightly worship or devotion are not viewed as heroes. Moms who read the Bible to their children before bed are not heralded as heroic. While the heroic tales of missionaries are deeply moving, the primary way God expands his kingdom and the realm of his presence is through ordinary discipleship in families. Moms and Dads who commit to make disciples in their own home are taking part in the fulfillment of the role of dominion given to Adam and perfectly fulfilled in Christ.

This misconception and erroneous perception of greatness is the root of much discipleship deficiency in Christian homes. When greatness is measured only in terms of rare, special ministries and testimonies, the ordinary elements of Christian family discipleship are overlooked. Within my own household, these tendencies to overlook ordinary obedience to disciple my wife in the gospel prevents meaningful and significant discipleship from ever taking place.

There are many reasons for breaking this trend and implementing a disciplined routine of discipleship in the home. In reflecting on my current practices of family discipleship and projecting future practices, it is important to first consider reasons for implementing a disciplined routine of family discipleship in the first place.

One of the reasons a disciplined routine of family discipleship should be implemented in the home is the overwhelmingly biblical evidence, which places the responsibility for the spiritual development of children in the hands of the parents. Contrary to popular opinion, the role of parents isn’t to drop their children off in the church’s ministries solely depend on the church’s pastors to lead their children in the gospel. Jones puts it this way, “Scripturally speaking, the primary responsibility for the spiritual formation of children does rest squarely in the hands of parents.”[2]

As God called a people to himself, he prepared fathers to lead and teach their children. Jim Hamilton observes that when God led his people into the Promised Land and prepared them to live life in it, he called them to extend the glory of God to all nations. This grand purpose was to be carried out through instruction. Hamilton claims, “Moses made clear in Deuteronomy—particularly in Deuteronomy 6:4-9—that fathers of households were responsible to see that this happens.”[3]

The ordinary disciplined discipleship in Israelite homes was the means for magnifying the glory of God in all nations. The blessing of the nation depended on the individual actions of fathers to disciple their families. In the words of Hamilton, “It doesn’t take a village; it takes a father.”[4]

Fathers were commanded to repeat the commands of God to their children. They were to teach them to their children continuously. Disciplined family discipleship is expressed most clearly in the Shema. Family discipleship is disciplined and word-centered. The great command of Deuteronomy 6:5 is to be taught “diligently to your children, and [you] shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise” (Deut. 6:7).

In reflecting on my own family discipleship practices, daily Scripture reading and prayer with my wife and boys is the most biblical way to lead my family in the gospel. It is through the teaching of the Word in families that disciples are made and multiplied in the nations. By reading through books of the Bible, my family is able to reflect the heart of the biblical witness on discipleship practices.

The design for the family is for fathers to lead their families in disciplined instruction of the Lord. My family’s current practices are lacking in consistency. I need to grasp the comprehensive vision for family discipleship of Deuteronomy 6. Faithfulness to the Word in family discipleship is only beneficial when it is accentuated by a disciplined framework. God uses many means in the discipleship of your children, but Mom and Dad, he primarily uses you–you the real MVPs!

While we rightly herald missionaries and biblical men and women as monumental heroes of the faith, the Bible itself suggests that the true heroes are moms and dads who consistently lead their children in the gospel. Christ has come to reorder our relationships in such a way that we can effectively train our children in the fear of the Lord. The picture of a heroine in my home is the young wife and mother who reads and prays over our two boys before bed. True heroes wear pajamas. Be the hero your children need everyday. Call them to the table or the bedroom. Open the Word. Help their little minds and hearts soar.

[1] Randy Stinson and Timothy Paul Jones. Trained in the Fear of God: Family Ministry in Theological, Historical, and Practical Perspective. Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 2011. p. 14.

[2] Ibid., 15.

[3] Ibid., 35.

[4] Ibid., 37.

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.

Celebrating and Stewarding American Freedom

pexels-photo-4Hot takes are for chumps or experts. I’m not an expert on much, if anything. And I definitely don’t wanna be known as a chump. But as I sit on my back porch enjoying some wonderfully suffocating Mississippi heat on this July 4, I thought I’d share a few meager thoughts on celebrating Independence Day from a Christian worldview.

Reader beware: No one could ever label me as a patriot, and I’m not overly patriotic. I love history and am grateful for the independence America gained in the late 1700s. Admittedly, I’m probably less patriotic than I’ve ever been. That’s probably because I’m guilty of being a prisoner of the moment. I’m more pessimistic than I should be about politics. To be honest, this latest political season has left me discouraged, defeated, and disappointed in many Republican and evangelical leaders.

However, I love my country. I love my country regardless of who holds the presidency or which party dominates Congress. I love the inherent and basic human freedoms granted us by God and recognized by the Constitution. With that in mind, here are a few thoughts, for whatever they may be worth, on celebrating Independence Day as a Christian.

Being citizens of a country as free and powerful as the United States should cause us to feel gratitude toward God for providentially placing us here. Being proud to be an American should cause us to be humbled by God’s providence. We contributed nothing to the founding or development of this country. We did nothing to achieve a birthright to the privileges and freedoms America provides. We were simply born here. The fact that I was born in Kentucky instead of North Korea is a mysterious grace from God. I can raise my family without fear and can expect a relatively easy, comfortable, and prosperous life.

However, our celebration of our American citizenship shouldn’t cause Christians to forget their heavenly citizenship. Because we have dual citizenship on earth and in heaven, we should be mindful of God’s providential placement of us in our earthly home. We are citizens of a vastly powerful and advanced nation. We have wealth other civilizations, peoples, and nations could only dream of having.

But what are we doing with the freedoms and privileges the Lord has blessed us with in this country? Are we stewarding them well? Are we leveraging our position as Americans to advance the kingdom that will never end?

If celebrating American freedom is an end in itself for us, we will have wasted our lives. Protecting our American freedoms only matters if we are willing to risk our lives so that others may walk in life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. And ultimately, our hope and work as Christians should be to leverage and steward our American citizenship so that others would gain heavenly citizenship.

How can we not stop at celebrating, but also steward our American freedom well? I told you I’m not an expert, and this list is far from exhaustive, and feel free to disagree with me, but I hope this is good place to begin utilizing our freedoms for the common good.

1. Weep with those who have a vastly different American experience than you.

Not everyone feels deep American pride when they see an American flag. America is a difficult place to live for some of our own citizens. The American experience isn’t congruent in every corner of our land. While I will never worry if my son is one day pulled over by a police officer, other fathers say goodbye to their sons with far different expectations. The killing of Philando Castile and the horridly botched trial of the police officer who killed him, is the latest in a long history of examples of systemic prejudice, racism, and injustice levied against the Black community. Instead of arguing over minor details, try to understand and empathize with a grieving people. Your American experience isn’t everyone’s American experience. As we celebrate, we will better steward our freedoms by listening to those who don’t feel as free.

2. Work to use your wealth, privilege, status, and success for the sake of the hurting and hopeless among us and beyond.

If American freedom has been nothing but a gift to you, then work to extend that gift to others. Whether it is those in our own country who, for whatever reason, haven’t been able to take advantage of American freedom, or those who are trying to come to our country to flee oppression, Christians should be the first to deny self and sacrificially love neighbor as self. We should speak freely about the hope of the gospel, but we should also work out the implications of the gospel in our neighborhoods, counties, and cities. The gospel is enough motivation for us to love and show mercy to the oppressed and helpless around us. But our American freedom give us the position to do creative and constructive work to advance human flourishing.

As you celebrate today, shoot off fireworks, grill hot dogs, play in the pool, enjoy a cold beer, and sing along with Lee Greenwood until your lungs give out. But don’t let your celebrating be an end. Celebrate your American freedom by stewarding it for the good of all people and the sake of Christ’s name.

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.

When God Shatters Your Weekly Routine: Reflections On a Full Week of Ministry

The past two weeks have probably been the most full weeks of gospel ministry in my life to this point. I’ve only been serving as a pastor in full-time ministry for a few years now, so I don’t have a ton of ministry mileage logged. Most of my weeks in ministry have been pretty predictable. Aside from the occasional unplanned meeting, lunch, or phone call, I’ve more or less been in control of much of my ministry experience.

As a pastor, I love to plan ahead. I enjoy thinking about where our people will be in the coming months and years, and planning accordingly. Because of this propensity to think three steps ahead, I’ve had to slowly learn how to be in the moment. I’ve learned that a blown plan isn’t the end of the world, and fulfilled plans can sometimes be sinful if they neglect the hearts of the plans’ subjects.

My lead pastor and brother in ministry has taught me that shepherding the flock takes time, patience, endurance, perseverance, and any other word that requires sitting, waiting, thinking, trusting. As important as planning ahead in ministry is for the advancement of the gospel in and through your people, sometimes it’s best to blow up our plans for the sake of being present with our people in their time of need. And nothing has caused me to lean on the ever strong and able arms of God than when my week doesn’t go as planned.

This past week I had the privilege of ministering to a local family who lost a loved one in a sudden and tragic way. I didn’t know them and they had never heard of me. Many of them are not members of a church. They were simply a hurting, grieving family in need of a minister to officiate a funeral service for their loved one. I count it a privilege now, even though I initially recoiled at the prospect of having the end of my week interrupted by an unforeseen need in my community. I had originally planned to work on lessons for a children’s biblical theology class I’ll be teaching this Fall. So, when I was asked to officiate this funeral, my mind first rushed to an unholy place. I thought about how I could rework my schedule to both minister to this family and get ahead.

On top of having to officiate a funeral, I was called on to fill in to preach for our lead pastor, who had become ill. So, a normal week for many pastors became a first for me, and one filled with unexpected twists and turns. In the midst of all my last minute preparation, I was faced with a tough question–do i care more about making and fulfilling personal plans and goals than I do the people these plans and goals are meant to serve?

Plans are good, but when they are held so tightly that you are unable to move them aside for the sake of others, they have ceased being a helpful tool and become a dangerous idol. No one enjoys being confronted with sin, but it is always a grace to us when God stops us in our sin. The Lord has worked mightily in me over the past 48 hours to help me see that while plans are important, people matter more. Thinking about how to love and serve both God and neighbor has alleviated my anxiety over my plans. As I planned the funeral service, I found myself more concerned about the hearts of those I was ministering to than how I would be received and perceived by those who would hear me lead and preach. I found myself with a radically God-centered and others-centered mindset, which empowered me to do what God has called me to do as a minister–love and lead those entrusted to my care as well.

Even though my sermon prep last week was much shorter than my three-steps-ahead mentality would have liked, it was much more fruitful because I was acutely aware of my limitations and weakness. I genuinely called out to God for help. And he answered. I worked to understand the text in its original context, make gospel connections and applications to the people I help shepherd. With every passing week, I’m continually blown away by God’s grace in choosing to use me to proclaim and minister his gospel.

Brother pastor, it’s easy to get caught up in the whirlwind of ministry planning. We are used to thinking months and years down the road. Is there ever an accomplished task? One finished sermon or lesson only means a new one must be written. Seeing one person conquer a sin-battle is met with seeing another walk in a dark valley of loneliness and depression. We see the highs and lows, the best and worst, the brightest and darkest points of humanity. But we are warrior shepherds wielding a piercing weapon of good news. We bring hope everlasting, joy incomparable, and love unconditional through the gospel of Jesus Christ. We don’t have all the answers, but we know the guy that does.

Last week, I was caught in a whirlwind of planning, but through God’s providence and kindness, I was given a unique opportunity to truly and deeply depend on God’s grace. I needed the gospel last week. But what is so easy to forget is that I will need it this week and the week after that. My need will never cease, but praise God neither will his sufficiency to provide for my need. I’m thankful when my plans fail, his plans are greater. May the Lord continue to shatter my plans if it brings more weekends like the one I just experienced.

Two Books on Believer’s Baptism

Last night, I taught children at Trace Crossing what Baptists believe about baptism. Using a catechism I have written specifically for children, I explained three important truths about baptism:

  1. Baptism is a command, not a choice
  2. Baptism is a picture, not a performance
  3. Baptism is a sign, not a saving act

The doctrine of baptism has been debated by Christians for centuries and will continue to be debated until we learn in the New Earth just how wrong all the Presbys were! But for now, I’m content to continue learning from those with whom I disagree and from those who are right. *wink wink*

In all seriousness, while my view of baptism is firmly planted in Baptist soil because I believe the Baptist position makes the most sense of the Bible’s teachings on baptism, I do not presume to have the upper hand on my Presbyterian brothers and sisters. I’ll admit that as Baptists, we could be wrong. However, for now I’ll stick with the view of baptism that teaches it as a command and picture of the gospel in which being immersed in water shows we belong to Christ and his Church.

I love recommending resources, so here are a few helpful books I used in preparation to teach baptism to kids. Consider grabbing both of these resources to increase your understanding of what Baptists believe about baptism.

Understanding Baptism (Bobby Jamieson)

Understanding Baptism Book

Jamieson’s short book on the basics of a Baptist view of baptism is well worth your money and time. It’s perfect for those of you looking for a brief and concise description of the what, why, and how of baptism.

Believer’s Baptism: Sign of the New Covenant in Christ (Tom Schreiner & Shawn Wright)

Believer's Baptism Book

Schreiner and Wright pack a heavy punch in their book on baptism. I believe their exegesis is convincing as they deal extensively with each biblical text relating to baptism. They even have a chapter on infant baptism, which helps with perspective.

17498999_1870940272931412_6999370580315029592_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.