Guard Your Steps Before the King


“Choose your next words, carefully,” were the words of the king to his disgruntled general, the parent to her grumbling teenager, the teacher to his defiant student. While authority brings sobering responsibility for those who wield it, it also demands respect from those who are under it. Words are never more meaningful than when spoken to one with authority and power. Flippancy is vanity in the presence of a king.

In Ecclesiastes 5:1-7, the Preacher is perhaps more clearly theocentric than he has been thus far in the book. So far in Ecclesiastes, he has been walking us through the various vanities in the world as it is. “Do you see what life is like under the sun?” he asks. Most of what he has helped us see is brutal and downright depressing. In chapter 5, the Preacher continues walking with us, but now he points toward heaven.

Vanity under the sun is as sure as the death that ends our time here. Vanity is perpetuated and tolerated under the sun. It is more a reality to recognize than an attitude for which to repent. But, vanity before the face of God is different. God is the sovereign creator and king of everything. He alone is before and beyond everything under the sun. There is no vanity with him. Nothing is fleeting. No mere breaths. Everything is meaningful. We walk on thin ice when we bring our vanities before him.

The Preacher warns his readers to approach God carefully. He is righteous, glorious, holy, and pure. He is the essence of power and authority. Vain words and actions before God will not be tolerated. We must guard our steps when we go to God’s presence. It is better that we sit in silence before him than try to flatter him with our words.

Going through the motions of worship is the height of blasphemy. It presumes God can’t tell the difference between real and hypocritical worship. It presumes God isn’t worthy of real worship, or maybe that he doesn’t care. Phony worship mocks God’s knowledge and holiness. It’s vanity. But such vanity isn’t something to merely recognize. Vain worshipers should fear for their lives and repent before a holy God.

I fear we approach God far too flippantly. We approach a ferocious lion as if he were a fluffy kitten. God is in heaven. We are on earth. God is sovereign. We are subjects. God is creator. We are creatures. We must approach him accordingly. Flippancy in worship is the result of failing to properly see who God is and who we are. John Calvin famously wrote, “Wisdom consists almost entirely of two parts: the knowledge of God and of ourselves.”

When we forget God is far beyond us, we will take for granted that he speaks to us. We won’t listen. We will forget that without God revealing himself we can’t respond in worship. Likewise, when we forget that we are mere humans, we will presume to have the authority to worship God however we please. We will forget that we are sinful. We will forget how dangerous the presence of God is to the unrighteous. So, how should we approach God?

First, be guarded. Consider God’s holiness and your sin. Be thoughtful before you approach him. Read his Word with a listening, rather than a certain spirit. Pray with a contrite, rather than a demanding heart. Second, be grateful. You can approach God because he first approached you. You can worship a holy God and because he provided for your sin in Jesus. You can dwell in the presence of God because Jesus was cast off for your sin.

Don’t waste your time by uttering vain and flippant words before God. Instead, rejoice that you can live your life before the face of God in pleasure.


57e49e4c-549a-49d7-8fb4-ab7175a05d39Mathew 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 three boys, Jude, Jack, and John.

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Two Are Better Than One


The Preacher in Ecclesiastes writes, “Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up!” (Ecclesiastes 4:9-10).

The Preacher observes the vanity of trying to work alone as a means to outdo another. What good is achieving all of your career goals if you’re alone? Two are better than one. “Again, if two lie together, they keep warm, but how can one keep warm alone? And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him—a threefold cord is not quickly broken” (Ecclesiastes 4:11-12).

He is painting a picture of the benefit of community. Community is integral to Christianity. God didn’t just redeem individuals. He redeemed and created a new people for his own possession. The end of the Bible’s story is one of togetherness: “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God” (Revelation 21:3). Them, not him. They, not she.

Cultural individualism has crept into the life of the church. We talk about a personal relationship with God. We share our testimony of coming to faith in Jesus as our personal Savior. While we do have a personal relationship through a personal Redeemer, these phrases are insufficient and leave us wanting more.

In the life of a Christian, community is more than important. It’s necessary. We are better together than we are alone. We can’t follow Jesus, slay sin, loves neighbor, or truly flourish in isolation. Whatever happens to individuals within the community affects the entire community. We rejoice together. We weep together. Personal sin has corporate consequences. Personal blessing, when shared, is enjoyed by the whole. Membership in a local church is important because we are human, and humans thrive in community. The church, no matter how messy, is a gracious gift of God to redeemed humanity.

But how does it work? What does it look like in the life of the church?

1. We gather together. Sunday morning gatherings are not just for you. They aren’t just for your immediate family. Sunday morning gatherings are for the church. We worship as a people. We sing together. We sit under the Word together. We come to the Table together. We serve together. We fellowship together. We call our gatherings corporate worship, not individual worship, for a reason. This is why your individual participation on Sunday mornings is so important. You aren’t just singing, listening, responding, giving, or serving for yourself. Everything you do on Sunday morning is for your faith family, those sitting in the chairs next to you.

2. We grow together. Discipleship is literally impossible in isolation. Just as plants can’t grow without water and light, you can’t grow in Christ without your brothers and sisters in Christ. We really need each other. Without instruction, correction, admonishment, and affirmation, our faith will be choked out. Our souls will starve without others speaking life into us. Doing life together provides the opportunity for mutual prayer and encouragement.

To commit and covenant in a true biblical community is to reflect both the commitment of Jesus and the future reality of the New Earth. Jesus has promised to be with us always, to never leave us or forsake us (Matthew 28:20; Hebrews 13:5). Perfected humanity will be a perfect community living in harmony with God forever.


57e49e4c-549a-49d7-8fb4-ab7175a05d39Mathew 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 three boys, Jude, Jack, and John.

Lamenting and Longing


Following the death of his wife, C.S. Lewis wrote a beautiful and painful reflection later published as A Grief Observed. In this book, Lewis poured out his heart and laid his grief bare for all to see. After describing the nature of his grief, Lewis unapologetically wrote,

“Meanwhile, where is God? Go to Him when your need is desperate, when all other help is vain, and what do you find? A door slammed in your face, and a sound of bolting and double bolting on the inside.”

Who talks like this? We may expect to find such a confession from the pen of an atheist, but not a world-renown Christian author and apologist. The same man who wrote Mere Christianity, a guide to faith in Christ for so many, questioned God’s very presence in his time of need. What is Lewis doing?

Lewis is practicing the art of lament; quite beautifully actually. He hates his grief. He mourns his loss. He confesses his loneliness. Much like Jesus on the cross, Lewis feels forsaken by his Father. He looks at the world as it is and longs for something better.

Ecclesiastes is a book that teaches us how to lament the world as it is and long for the world as it will one day be. In Ecclesiastes 3:16-4:3, the Preacher observes the injustice and suffering that fills every corner of our fallen world. Even when he looks in places where justice should prevail, he finds wickedness. Powerful people oppress weaker people. We see it in our world all the time in various wicked forms: racism, misogyny, bribery, extortion, gentrification, slavery, sex-trafficking. The worst part is that it can’t be stopped. Those with power will continue to take advantage of those without no matter how hard we try to change it. Life is simply not fair.

In light of our fallen, broken, wicked, unjust world our passage this week provides three sobering reminders:

Reminder 1: Lament the painful parts of life. Lamenting is a godly discipline. Like the Preacher, observe the brokenness of the world. See the injustice. See the oppressed. Hear the repetition of life’s tragic chorus of pain and suffering. See it and hate what you see. Weep over what you see. Grieve the world as it is. Though sprinkled with remnants of Eden, every day reminds us just how far from the Garden we have drifted.

Reminder 2: You are a mere creature. Sin, evil, pain, and suffering are often outside of our control. We can’t stop them. We can’t predict them. The world as it is reminds us that we are creatures, not Creator (Eccl. 3:18-22). It’s a humbling thought that one day you will die just like your dog. But humility is necessary to face a brutal, unjust world without going mad. When suffering and injustice cause you to feel confused, angry, and abandoned, remember that you are not God. You are his creature. He is perfectly wise, perfectly good, and perfectly in control.

Reminder 3: Long for the perfect judge to execute perfect justice. The only way we can cope with rampant injustice and suffering in the world is to know a reckoning is coming. Judgment day is coming. God will not allow one oppressor to go unpunished (Eccl. 3:17).

The best part is that God made a way for his justice to be satisfied and his people to be pardoned. The innocent Jesus simultaneously faced injustice at the hands of sinful men and justice by the hand of our sovereign God in our place. A day is coming when God will set all things right. In the meantime, lament injustice, trust the God who loves you, and long for that day with sure hope.


57e49e4c-549a-49d7-8fb4-ab7175a05d39Mathew 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 three boys, Jude, Jack, and John.

Our Sovereign God


Nothing reminds me of my finiteness and limitations like being in a hospital. Whether I’m visiting a family member or friend who is sick or the three times my wife has given birth, sitting in a hospital room always reminds me how powerless I am. Even doctors and nurses are little more than managers of our symptoms. Healthcare is by nature reactionary. It seemed with every late OB appointment my wife had, her doctor would say, “We’ll see what happens.” Of course, he had plans and his experience and wisdom informed him of what would “likely” happen. But his plans and our plans were all tentative and in response to what was actually happening in my wife’s body.

In a hospital room, I can’t cause anything to happen. That’s why there is so much waiting in hospitals. Waiting for test results. Waiting for consultations and second opinions. Waiting to hear good or bad news. With all of the difficult decisions that must be made comes the sobering realization that we aren’t in control.

Ecclesiastes 3:1-15 reminds us that we are subject and God is sovereign. The beautiful poem of Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 is fun to read and quote, but it serves as a mirror to remind us of just how small we are. There is a time for everything but we don’t set the times. We merely act accordingly in them. Everything we do is either a willing or unwilling submission to God’s sovereignty. When the seasons change and the temperature drops, we order our lives accordingly. We submit to God’s orchestration of creation whether we admit it or not. No one can escape God’s sovereignty by opposing him.

God is in control. We are not. He is in the heavens and has the prerogative to do whatever he pleases (Ps. 115:3). His universal and eternal sovereignty deserves and demands praise. “Whatever God does endures forever; nothing can be added to it, nor anything taken from it. God has done it, so that people fear before him” (Eccl. 3:14).

This is true whether we agree with God’s timing or not. Since we aren’t in control, there much about our lives we can’t choose or change. Whatever happens to us, good or bad, is well within the sovereign control of God. Since God is good and is working all things for the good of his people, we can trust him even if we don’t agree with him. His timing is always best and sufficient. If we face hardship or suffering, it’s not necessarily the result of faithlessness or sin. God has done it. He isn’t an equal and opposite force to Satan. He is a sovereign Lord who is weaving all of history for his purposes, according to his wisdom, and toward his appointed end.

We can trust God because he is in control and because he is graciously moving history for the good of his people. He’s in control because he’s Creator. He saves because he is Love. God has appointed a time for everything, including the incarnation. “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son…so that we might receive adoption as sons” (Gal. 4:5-6).

Our lack of control, our natural submission to time, should scare us. We don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow. We don’t know if we will take another breath tomorrow! But the God who wields history for his glory also works for our good. We can trust him in every time, season, and occasion because he is God and he is good.


 

57e49e4c-549a-49d7-8fb4-ab7175a05d39Mathew 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 three boys, Jude, Jack, and John.

 

The Preacher’s Pursuit


“I said in my heart, ‘Come now, I will test you with pleasure; enjoy yourself’” (Eccl. 2:1). The Preacher, much like the rest of mankind, is on a search for meaning and happiness. He’s already shown us the end from the beginning, namely, “all is vanity.” His search for meaning and satisfaction in the things of earth leaves him empty. The Preacher positions himself as an old sage with a lifetime of experience. This wise man passes his wisdom on to his readers by bearing forth his failures and confessing his emptiness. Ecclesiastes 2 is all about a failure to find. The Preacher says, “I looked for meaning here, but I didn’t find it.” “I looked for happiness there, but came up empty.” He looked and he looked and he looked. But he never found what he was looking for.

In order to properly understand Ecclesiastes, we need to remember the error of the Preacher is rooted not in his quest, but in his sources. His quest for meaning and happiness is both natural and good. God has put eternity into man’s heart (Eccl. 3:11). Augustine has said, “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.” We were made to pursue meaning and happiness. Humanity was originally created for these two ends. God’s blessing rested on Adam and Eve, and they were created to reign over creation as image-bearers. Adam and Eve never had to search for meaning and happiness, because they were created with it. The root of their sin was thinking God couldn’t provide what he had already given them. They started seeking happiness in sources outside of God. They failed and the rest is history.

The Preacher is taking the wrong paths on his journey, but he doesn’t realize it until he hits a dead end. He travels down paths of pleasure and power. He indulged in everything his money and influence could buy. He had great possessions, great wealth, an army of workers, and a harem of women. He searched in the bottle (Eccl. 2:3) and the backhoe (Eccl. 2:4-6). But neither fine wine nor impressive buildings and gardens could quench his heart’s thirst. He tried everything. “And whatever my eyes desired I did not keep from them. I kept my heart from no pleasure” (Eccl. 2:10). No pleasure evaded him. And each pleasure was real. His heart actually “found pleasure” (Eccl. 2:10). But the pleasure he found was never enough.

The Preacher concluded at the end of his search, “Then I considered all that my hands had done and the toil I had expended in doing it, and behold, all was vanity and a striving after wind, and there was nothing to be gained under the sun” (Eccl. 2:11). Have you ever felt such emptiness? Maybe you put all your time, energy, and resources into a work project and it turns out even better than you hoped. There is real satisfaction in such work and success. But that feeling fades and another project looms. There is no natural rest from our work. There is no natural rest in our parenting, marriages, or ministries. If you ever finally “have it all” you realize it’s not enough.

Our hearts are searching for meaning and happiness. The quest is good. But heed the Preacher’s wisdom. He says, “I’ve tried it all. I’ve done it all. I’ve had it all. All sources for happiness under the sun are deficient.” There is a path, however, that doesn’t have a dead end. In fact, it’s end is a beginning. The path of wisdom, the path of godly fear, leads to a cross where One outside of the created order entered it to fix it. Jesus returns God’s people to God’s presence, the essence of meaning and happiness. Keep your quest. Change your source. Journey down the path of the cross. Find what your heart desires.


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Mathew 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 three boys, Jude, Jack, and John.

When Mother’s Day Hurts


Mother’s Day is a strange day in the life of the church. Historically, it has never made an appearance on any liturgical calendar. There are no biblical mandates for formally honoring mothers during a corporate gathering. However, there are occasions for utilizing our cultural calendars for biblical purposes. We don’t have to recognize or thank God for mothers in a worship gathering, but Mother’s Day gives the church an opportunity to praise, thank, and honor God and mothers in our midst.

Although it is right and good to recognize and honor mothers, Mother’s Day often creates more pain than pleasure in the hearts of Christian women. Even mothers with full quivers feel inadequate. Their Instagram posts aren’t up to snuff. They doubt whether they have done enough or been enough for their children at the end of most days. Women who have or are struggling with infertility feel alienated. Women who have lost children may skip this service altogether. Mothers of wayward children would rather run and hide than stand and receive a gift. Mother’s Day creates pressure to appear perfect. Mother’s Day picks at scabs as old wounds are irritated. Mother’s Day, for some women, is nothing more than a glamorous reminder of the shame they feel.

Shame is the product of failing to meet expectations. Steph Curry, one of the best free throw shooters in the NBA, would be ashamed about missing a free throw late in a playoff game later this week. Shame awakens on days like Mothers Day when women feel they have failed to meet expectations. Some women have biblical expectations of themselves that can create a healthy shame over sin that causes us to run and cling to Christ. Others have culturally or self-imposed expectations of themselves that they were never created to meet, which causes them to run from Christ.

The ultimate and greatest calling of a woman is not to motherhood, but to Christlikeness. Season and station of life cannot change God’s expectations of us. They merely change the expression of a static goal. The goal of womanhood is to be like Christ, be with Christ, and live for Christ. The magnification and multiplication of God’s glory is the goal of every man and woman. Mothers are expected to pursue this goal in the context of their motherhood. Single women pursue this goal in the context of their singleness. The same is true for all of us. The expectations of our lives don’t change even when life circumstances change their expression.

Before crushing yourself with unhealthy shame, check the expectations you have for yourself against God’s expectations of you. You are not accountable to the culture’s expectations or your self-imposed expectations. You are accountable to God’s expectations. God’s expectations are rooted in your God-granted identity. From eternity past, God has set his unmerited and unchangeable grace on you. In Christ, he chose you. In Christ, he redeemed you. In Christ, he is sanctifying you. In Christ, he will make you what you were always meant to be.

Pursue what God calls you to be and look at your life through his eyes. Who does God say you are? Chosen. Called. Redeemed. Adopted. Forgiven. Loved. You are his pleasure because at your core, despite your failures, you are in Christ. His view of you in Christ will never change. His view of you in Christ is all that matters. Ladies, you are not a failure if you cannot bear children. You are not a failure if your motherhood doesn’t meet social media standards. But, as you know, you will fail as a woman and mother. But praise God your identity is found and secured in the sinless life and substitutionary death of Jesus.


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Mathew 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 three boys, Jude, Jack, and John.

The Emptiness of Wisdom


After establishing his main point in 1:2 that all is vanity; that life in a fallen world is short and vain, the author of Ecclesiastes begins to search for meaning in life through a variety of avenues. Like Lewis and Clark, the Preacher seeks uncharted land. Surely there is something more out there. Surely there is hope and joy in the world after all. Surely not all is vanity. Without knowing what he will find, the Preacher launches into the unknown with one goal in mind: find meaning in life.

He begins his journey on the path of wisdom. And this seems like a good place to begin. If anything in life can provide meaning, something as holy and good as wisdom should do the trick. Many of us understand how self-pleasure, alcohol, success, and power could easily be abused. It makes sense that things such as these would not and could not provide ultimate meaning and satisfaction (2:1-11). But what about wisdom? Before jumping into the passage, we need to make a couple initial observations about wisdom.

First, wisdom is an attribute of God. God is wise. It is essential to his being. Paul writes of the “only wise God” (Rom. 16:27). God’s wisdom is manifested in creation and redemption. God created the world in wisdom and nothing displays his wisdom quite like his redemption of fallen men and women. Wisdom resonates truest and fullest in God. And all wisdom outside of God finds its source in God.

Second, wisdom is a gift of God to people. God created mankind in his image. In part this means that we share some attributes with God. Wisdom is one attribute of God that he gives to us. We can be wise. According to the Bible, we should be wise. Christians should especially be marked by wisdom.

We should be surprised then when we read the Preacher refer to his use of wisdom to pursue meaning in life as “striving after wind” (1:14). He writes, “What happens to the fool will happen to me also. Why then have I been so very wise?” (2:15). Wisdom itself is good. God is wise. As his image-bearers, we can be wise. “There is more gain in wisdom than in folly, as there is more gain in light than in darkness” (2:13). But wisdom as a source for finding meaning and satisfaction in life will always fail us.

Wisdom is a good gift, but a puny god. When we seek significance and satisfaction in wisdom, we are looking for it to provide what only God can. No matter how much wisdom you accrue in your life, it will always fall short of your hopes. Finding meaning and happiness through wisdom is as hopeless as catching the wind. God’s inscrutable providence smashes our wisdom. There are just some things only God will know. Wisdom is grieving. The more you know the more you know you don’t know. Wisdom is ultimately powerless because sometimes knowing what to do and how to do it just isn’t enough.

What’s worse, wisdom can’t save us from our deepest problem—death. So, if wisdom itself can’t satisfy our desire for meaning, and if wisdom itself can’t save us from death, then what good is wisdom anyway?  Hear the words of the Preacher: “How the wise dies just like the fool!”

When we fail to live by the limits of wisdom, we will ask it to do what it was never meant to do. Wisdom is a gift to enjoy and utilize for God’s glory, not a god to provide ultimate satisfaction and salvation. Only Jesus, the ultimate manifestation of God’s wisdom, can provide what our hearts are desperately seeking. In the wisdom of God, Jesus died to bring us life, was shamed to bring us glory, and defeated death by dying. Hope, joy, and life are found in him alone. And only through him can we rest in God’s wisdom and relentlessly pursue wisdom for the purpose of bringing him glory.


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Mathew 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.

Life Is A Vapor: Meditations on Ecclesiastes 1:1-11


Fiction is one of my favorite genres to read. I love the experience of transporting to another world. Reading fiction is great therapy for a tired and weary soul. It helps you to get outside yourself and your world as you consider the life and movements in a fictional world. Fiction is an escape. Sometimes, after a long week, traveling to Narnia or Middle Earth is the best rest.

While reading fiction can be a healthy form of escape, there are other more dangerous versions. Escape from reality is sometimes found in more dubious sources, like drugs, alcohol, or pornography. Others find escape in Twitter, Netflix, or a host of hobbies. We escape because we are dissatisfied with life as we know it. Ecclesiastes is for all those who lament the world as it is and long for a better one. Ecclesiastes is for those looking for escape.

Ecclesiastes forces us to see the world as it is. It opens our eyes to the raw fallen world. You won’t find a sugar-coated message in Ecclesiastes. Some of us will be deeply encouraged as we find a friend in the Preacher who “gets it.” Some of us will be appalled by his honesty. All of us must deal with the Preacher’s sobering observations about life “under the sun.” Brace yourself, because you may not like what he sees.

The main thrust of the book is stated in verse 2. “Vanity of vanities…vanity of vanities! All is vanity!” The author used a Hebrew word that is often translated “breath” or “vapor.” Everything is a vapor. Everything is a breath. In verses 2-11, the author utilizes this picture to discern the meaning of work. “What does man gain by all the toil at which he toils under the sun?”

Every answer we can give is temporal. It is vanity to live for our careers because all we gain by them is temporary and fleeting. By observing the cyclical patterns of nature, the Preacher concludes that life in a fallen world is naturally dissatisfying. A full life is still a short life. The happiest life is microscopic in comparison to the constant ebb and flow of nature. The ground you stand on will far outlast you. Life is like smoke from a candle. It’s here one minute and gone the next. Generations come and go, but the earth remains.

What a humbling thought to consider! No matter what you do with your life, death is coming. And the sun will rise the day after your funeral. The winds will blow and the rivers flow without a hiccup. Earthly gain is not just foolish, it’s impossible! David Gibson has said, “People do not gain from their labor and toil because ultimately they are going to die and be forgotten.”

The Preacher doesn’t qualify his poem. Life is short and elusive; death is certain for all of us living under the sun. We object, “Well, this is true from a secular perspective.” “Well, life does seem that way without Jesus.” But the Preacher doesn’t offer softening qualifiers. He doesn’t care about our sensibilities. He simply looks at the world and tells us what he sees.

There isn’t one reality under the sun for believers and another for non-believers. In fact, his goal is to help us stop pretending the world isn’t the way it is. The world really does repeat itself. No matter how hard we work, we will one day die and another will take ownership of all we have. Eventually, we will be forgotten while the earth on which we toiled will be home to a new generation. Life under the sun is temporary.

The Preacher counters our desire to escape by showing us that we can’t escape. Whatever we gain will vanish. It is vanity to think otherwise. Are you depressed yet? The point of Ecclesiastes 1 isn’t to depress but to illumine. It is a light to help us see the darkness that we try to avoid. Death is coming, so how then should we live?

Coming to grips with the brevity and elusiveness of life will help us seek escape in the only One who can truly provide. it. We long for a world greater than our own. We long for a reality far different from the one we have. Press in to these desires. Lament the fact that we can’t find such gain in this world. And look to Christ, the one who entered our fallen world to rescue us from it. Only in Christ can we delight in a short, elusive life and find true gain.


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Mathew 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.

Choose Whom You Will Serve


The Christian life is a journey. We see the theme of sojourning in a foreign land applied to the Christian life in a number of places in Scripture. John Bunyan also famously personified the Christian life as a journey in his classic work, Pilgrim’s Progress. As Christians, we are plodding along in a foreign land longing for our home in God’s presence.

In the course of this journey, God’s people will face countless obstacles and road blocks to our holiness and our happiness. Christians are not immune to temptation. While the penalty of sin is canceled and the power of sin is overthrown, the presence of sin remains. Our sinful natures continue to haunt us as we strive by grace to walk with Jesus. To deny the presence of sin and reality of temptation is to set yourself up for failure.

We are tempted every day to find replacements for God. This has been the story of God’s people since Eden. And God’s people have imaged the sin of our proto-parents rather than imaging the glory of God. We have failed to fulfill our creative purpose. God’s people in Egypt and the newly conquered Promised Land fell into idol worship. Rather than imaging God, they imaged the culture around them. Even today, we too are faced with a choice. Will we serve the Lord alone? Or, will something or someone else take his place? Will we fulfill the purpose for which we were created? Or, will we turn it on its head?

At the end of Joshua’s life and ministry, he challenges the nation of Israel to remain faithful to the God who has been nothing but faithful to them. Before calling the Israelites away from idols and to faithful service and worship, Joshua reminds Israel of God’s grace and gifts (Josh. 24:1–13, 17–18). By walking Israel through her history, Joshua shows God’s people how weak they are and how strong God is. Apart from God’s power and grace, the Israelites would still be in slavery. The land they now possess is the direct result of God’s unilateral power and grace on behalf of his people. The conclusion of the story is that no man or woman in Israel can boast in their conquest of Canaan. They are where they are by the grace of God alone.

After essentially showing the lunacy of idolatry by highlighting God’s grace in the past and present, Joshua soberingly commands, “Put away the gods that your fathers served” (v. 14). Most ancient peoples were polytheists. Polytheism infected the Israelites, who repeatedly tried to serve both the God of Israel and the “gods” of the peoples around them. If they choose the deadly path of idolatry, they can’t add the one true God into the mix. The Israelites are free to serve either the false gods of Egypt or Canaan, but if they do, they cannot also serve the Lord.

God will not play second fiddle. Nor will he be the first among many gods. As historic catechisms have put it, “God is the first and best of beings.” So, he alone is worthy of worship. You can’t serve God and anything else. Joshua makes it very clear where he stands: “But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord” (v. 15). This is a message we need to hear. Like Israel, we tend to think, “Why not both?” We try to serve God and family, God and career, God and sports, God and school, God and prestige. But none of us can serve two masters. Even God’s wonderful gifts make puny gods.

Despite measures taken to help the people keep their commitment (v.18), they will prove faithless again and again. Our story would be the same. If staying in the favor of God was up to our faith, we too would fail. But in Jesus we have a seal that will never be broken. Jesus was perfectly faithful to God alone and died for all our unfaithfulness. His faithfulness in life and death empowers us to worship God alone, and eternally atones for our failures as we walk with him for the rest of our journey in this foreign land.


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Mathew 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 Is With Us


After the death of Moses, God called Joshua to lead his people. He calls Joshua to a daunting and frightening task. Leading God’s people will require great strength and courage. In Joshua 1 alone, God commands Joshua to be strong and courageous three times. But he doesn’t leave Joshua alone to find strength and courage for himself. Instead, God provides the sources of his Word and his presence for Joshua to draw the strength and courage he needs.

God commands Joshua, “This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success” (Josh. 1:8). Notice that God doesn’t call Joshua to have a passing acquaintance with the Scriptures. He doesn’t call him to read his Word for the sake of religious duty. Instead, God calls Joshua to meditate carefully on all of God’s Word.

The word “meditate” means to think deeply. Bible meditation isn’t a form of emptying your mind, but a diligent practice of filling your mind with the Word of God and patiently working out its meaning and purpose in your life. God’s Word is a spiritual feast. God wants us to chew on his Word for the joy of its sweetness and the strength of its nourishment. Joshua needed strength and courage. Just as we strengthen our bodies by eating healthy food, our souls find strength as we meditate on God’s Word. When we meditate on God’s Word, we are meditating on God’s voice–the ultimate source of life-giving power and joy.

The purpose of meditating on God’s Word is obedience: “so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it” (Josh. 1:8b). Obeying God in a new and scary land will not be easy for God’s people. It will be tempting for Joshua, as it was for Moses, to capitulate to his flesh and the will of a wearisome people. However, God’s Word provides the strength and courage necessary for obedience.

Isn’t it encouraging that God doesn’t command much of his people without providing the grace they need to obey? What was true for Joshua is true for us. Obedience is the goal of our Bible studies. Obedience is the goal of Bible meditation. God will provide the grace you need to obey him in even the most difficult seasons of your life.

God doesn’t just leave Joshua with his Word as his only source of strength. God also provides his very presence to strengthen and give courage to his servant. The God of the Bible is no distant deity. God reassures Joshua by saying, “Just as I was with Moses, so I will be with you. I will not leave you or forsake you” (Josh. 1:5b). God can give no greater comfort than to supply us with his omnipotent and loving attention: “Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go.”

For Joshua, the assurance of God’s presence was validation of his new position as the leader of God’s people. In fact, God’s people wouldn’t have followed Joshua unless God was with him (Josh. 1:17). If you are in Christ today, you are a part of God’s people, which means God is with you. What does this mean for you? What validation or assurance does God’s presence bring?

Knowing God is with you should assure you of his love. God loves you and his love will never depart because in Christ, he will never leave you or forsake you. Knowing God is with you helps you endure deep pain and suffering. Knowing God is with you is validation of your identity and mission in life. You can freely strive for holiness, knowing God already loves and accepts you.


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Mathew 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.