Kingdom Work Is Never In Vain

Mark gives his readers far less of Jesus’ teaching than any of the other Gospel writers. His Gospel is fast-paced and Mark is more concerned with presenting the identity and mission of Jesus than all of his teaching. There is no Sermon on the Mount. No lengthy discourse sections. If anything, Mark just states that Jesus was teaching. Mark had a different agenda than Matthew, Luke, and John. Mark was a superb storyteller. He races from Jesus’ early ministry to the cross and empty tomb. Mark didn’t have time for much of what Jesus taught.

Mark 4, however, is like a short pause in the flow of the Gospel as Mark unfolds Jesus’ teaching on the counterintuitive nature of the kingdom. Jesus taught in many ways, but Jesus’ teaching can by and large be characterized by parables. Jesus taught about life in the kingdom through parables.

The main point of Jesus’ teaching in Mark 4 is that things are not as they appear. Resistance to the kingdom should be expected, and the growth of the kingdom will be slow but gradual. God is building for eternity, not next week. This is why sanctification is often slow and painful. We would do well to learn that life in the kingdom is lived by faith, not sight. Sight of the kingdom in its fullness is coming, but right now we walk by faith as the kingdom grows through the sanctification and suffering of his people.

The disciples were learning this truth by experience. The more they followed Jesus, the more they learned the world’s opposition to him. It can be a startling revelation. I remember the first time I experienced opposition from the world. In college I was confronted with an atheist who caused me to question everything I’d ever believed. He didn’t see Jesus the way I did. He was repulsed by Jesus; both by his message, and his mission. I was startled by the reality that the kingdom of God is foolish and disgusting to the world.

Jesus’ teaching on the kingdom is both timely and soothing at this point in Mark’s Gospel. As the Messiah, Jesus came to announce the arrival of the promised kingdom. Jesus is the sovereign Sower. The seed is the gospel, the kingdom, which will grow with irrepressible power. The harvest is guaranteed, though the growth may be slow.

Jesus’ teaching on the kingdom of God brings great comfort and perspective to all Christians, but especially ministry leaders. Ministry can often be grueling. The work is hard. Progress is often slow. It’s easy to doubt whether the hours of prayer, study, counseling, and shepherding are worth the labor. But Jesus assures pastors and ministry leaders of a couple things in his odd stories about farmers and seeds.

First, God sovereignly plants his kingdom in the world and in the hearts of his people when and how he pleases. Second, God grows his kingdom in the world and in the hearts of his people slowly but surely. God gives growth to his kingdom in his people according to his infinite power, sovereignty, and wisdom. The growth may be slow, but it is also certain.

When we become discouraged with the growth of the kingdom in our churches and cities, we must remember that the end is certain and God’s timing is perfect. He will develop and expand his kingdom according to his flawless plan and timing. Our kingdom work will never be in vain! The Lord will accomplish his kingdom purposes in and through us.

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: The Beginner’s Gospel Story Bible by Jared Kennedy

Gospel+Story+BibleAs a pastor to children and their families, I search far and wide for resources that would prove helpful to parents as they seek to disciple their children in the gospel. In my experience perusing children’s resources, I’ve learned that there is a sweet spot of gospel excellence that many authors struggle to hit. Good children’s Bible resources are both centered on the good news of God’s redeeming grace in Christ and accessible and enjoyable for children to read or hear.

Some children’s resources are nothing more than moral lessons aimed at behavior modification. Others get the gospel, but are dry and boring. Few modern children’s resources will stand the test of time because of these failures. However, some diamonds shine through the rough of mass publication and marketing. Books like Sally Lloyd-Jones’ The Jesus Story-Book Bible, David Helms’ The Big Picture Story Bible, and Kevin DeYoung’s The Biggest Story each beautifully expose the heart of the gospel, appropriately account for the development of children, and are written with such skill that both parent and child can’t wait to turn the page to the next chapter.

Jared Kennedy, pastor of families at Sojourn Community Church in Louisville, KY, has added a diamond to the small, but growing ring of excellent, gospel-centered children’s resources with The Beginner’s Gospel Story Bible. Jared Kennedy is a gifted and experienced author whose work has blessed many leaders, especially children’s leaders like me. The temptation to work for behavior modification or moral character development in children is strong, but in all of Kennedy’s work he avoids this pitfall by clinging to and pointing to the free grace of God in the gospel as the only vehicle of change for a child’s heart. The same is true for The Beginner’s Gospel Story Bible.

All parents struggle to find the sweet spot in teaching the Bible to their kids because it’s hard to find, especially with toddlers and preschoolers. The question many parents have is, “How can I teach the deep truths of the Bible to my kids in an understandable and desirable way?” Because we don’t merely want our children to understand the Bible. We want them to want the Bible. We want them to crave the Christ it reveals.

The challenge of teaching deep truth to young hearts increases as age decreases. The younger the child, the more difficult teaching the Bible becomes. I can attest that no amount of seminary training can make reading and teaching the Bible to a two year-old at bedtime easy. While Kennedy makes no promises to magically transform family worship or bedtime Bible reading, he has written a book that will help parents hit the sweet spot of teaching the Bible to the youngest children in their home.

Kennedy divides The Beginner’s Gospel Story Bible into two big sections in accordance with the Old and New Testaments. He structures his book through the lens of promise. The Old Testament section is titled, Promises Made. The New Testament, Promises Kept. I immediately resonated with this and have witnessed how easily kids relate to the idea of promise. Kids understand promises. They know what it means to keep and break a promise. As Kennedy asserts in the introduction, “Kids know the value of a promise.” He frames the Bible as a series of promises made and kept by God.

The Beginner’s Gospel Story Bible is laced with simplicity and flexibility. Each chapter of the book tells a different story of the Bible. It is designed so that families could walk through the book in a year by reading one chapter each week. Most helpful to parents, each chapter contains one key truth and one key question. This format gives children something to remember and consider each week. There are simple and fun elements on every page that are ideal for families with children of varying ages.Jacob and Esau

As I read through this book with my two year-old and one year-old, I noticed they both were intrigued by something different. My one-year old loved the creative and colorful illustrations while my two year-old had a blast with the counting and object recognition elements. This is the first Bible story-book I haven’t had to modify for my boys who are at more challenging ages to understand deep biblical truth.

Kennedy’s storytelling skills shine through on each page as he speaks the language of young children. A glaring example comes in the first story. Kennedy simply and beautifully describes the doctrine of ex nihilo:

Once there was no sky, no trees, and no animals. The world was empty like a blank piece of paper. Then God made everything. God didn’t use crayons or stickers like we do when we make things. God used only words. He said, ‘Let there be sky and water, land and plants, sun and moon.’

Even when it comes to explaining how Adam and Eve were created unlike we are created, Kennedy simply, yet captivatingly writes,

God wasn’t done. He saved his most special creation for last. Do you know what was missing? Us. There were no mommies and daddies. No sisters and brothers. No friends. Do you know how many people God started with? Just 2. 1 man. His name was Adam. 1 woman. Her name was Eve. God made Adam and Eve to be like him.

Kennedy takes on the difficult task of teaching deep abstract truth and does so in such a way that a two year-old can both understand and enjoy. Every chapter tells a different story of the Bible with similar creative and captivating skill.

Pretend Snake

Gospel-centrality penetrates The Beginner’s Gospel Story Bible. Where appropriate, Kennedy makes Christ connections in Old Testament stories. Readers will find it refreshing that Old Testament stories and heroes are not lauded as mere examples or moral ends. Instead, Old Testament stories are rooted in the larger plotline of Scripture and are presented as shadows of a much greater reality.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the pleasant and enjoyable illustrations in The Beginner’s Gospel Story Bible. I’m by no means an art critic, but I can say that my boys had fun with Trish Mahoney’s illustrations. They aren’t distracting or bland.

Even though it causes my blue blood to boil to applaud a Louisville Cardinals fan, author Jared Kennedy has offered Christian families a true gem. With the use of The Beginner’s Gospel Story Bible, family worship will immediately be infused with a dose of laughter, life, and love. Parents with small children will find a resource that will help their children better understand and love the truths of Scripture. If you want to introduce your toddlers and preschoolers to the Bible, I can’t think of a better place to start than The Beginner’s Gospel Story Bible.

The Beginner’s Gospel Story Bible officially releases November 13, 2017. It would make an awesome Christmas gift. I highly recommend pre-ordering a copy from Amazon. You can also learn more about the book from the publisher, New Growth Press. You can follow Jared Kennedy on Twitter @JaredSKennedy,

I received an advanced digital copy of this book from the author. 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 255

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.

Follow the Crazy Guy

You know that one family member that is always getting into trouble or always saying crazy stuff? A lot of families have a crazy family member. We all have that one person in our families who causes everyone else in the family to roll their eyes, hide their face, and give lengthy explanations about how they are kinda sorta, but not really, related.

I actually have a distant cousin that evidently loves to draw attention to his strangeness. I’ve heard it told that he once entered a family dinner wearing a cowboy hat. Normal enough, I guess. But then he took off the hat to reveal his bald head with a long flowing mullet racing down the top of his back. Oh, and when he smiled he had an awesome story to tell about how he lost four of his front teeth.

To say the least, Jesus has been drawing a lot of attention to himself. He’s been bashing the religious leaders. He’s been authoritative over disease and demons. He’s calling people to leave their jobs and families to follow him. And he’s making claims to deity and receiving worship. Although his family surely admired Jesus’ ministry, he was potentially bringing a lot of trouble down on himself and his family. Let’s be frank: Jesus was that relative; saying and doing wild, radical, and seemingly crazy things (Mark 3:20-21).

The religious leaders just knew there had to be something evil inside Jesus since he seemed so intentional in his blasphemy. So, they accused Jesus of being demon-possessed. Because when all else fails, pointing your finger and shout, “He has a demon!” always gets you the upper hand on your opponents.

Jesus’ family thought he had a few loose screws. You can almost hear his brothers: “Now, how exactly is Jesus my brother?” Jesus was saying and doing things that could get him killed. He had no friends in the high places of Judea. In fact, he was alienating them. Jesus’ family probably feared for his safety and definitely didn’t really understand what he was doing.

These two responses to Jesus are common throughout Mark’s Gospel. People who knew Jesus either thought he was an evil blasphemer or a wild spiritual maniac. Of course, there is one other, and only one other, response to Jesus–worship. As much as modern Westerners try to see Jesus as an admirable teacher and religious leader, the Jesus of the Gospels actually doesn’t allow that.

Jesus was a guy who claimed to be God, disrupted the religious frameworks of his day, didn’t have his own bed, cast out demons, healed people by touching them or being touched by them, and hung out with the society’s rejects. In the eyes of his contemporaries, Jesus didn’t walk like a Messiah or talk like a Messiah, so he couldn’t possibly be who he said he was. That leaves two options. Either Jesus is a demonic liar or a raving lunatic. Unless assumptions and presuppositions are off-base.

Jesus faced opposition not only from religious leaders (Mark 3:22-30), but also from his own family (Mark 3:20-21, 31-35). Both of these groups had their own interests in mind and lacked the eyes to see Jesus’ mission and how he was ushering in his kingdom.

We must be careful not to interpret Jesus and his mission and providence in our lives according to our own selfish desires. Our selfish desires cloud our judgment and interpretation of reality.

Sometimes our families will oppose God’s work in our lives. Some of your family members may view your obedience to Jesus as foolish or crazy. They may want to seize you and say you are out of your mind. Jesus never calls his followers to sever ties with their natural families. He does, however, exhort each follower to place the call of Christ above all ties to the natural family (Matt. 10:35).

Our loyalties should lie primarily with the out-of-his-mind Jesus who turns our lives upside down. Living in obedience and submission to Jesus means we have entered into an eternal family where foolishness is wisdom.

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.

Labor Day and Sabbath Rest

Labor Day is a day of rest for most Americans. Rest from work is a myth for most of us unless it is prescribed through holidays or vacations. But Christians of all people should make rest a natural part of their lives because God both offers and demands the rest we need for our souls and our work.

Understanding the rest God offers and demands in the Sabbath is crucial to understanding what it means to be a part of the people of God and what it means to be in the presence of God.

This rhythm of life that God intends for his covenant people Israel teaches us that there is a mutual relationship between work and rest. He commands that they work hard for six days and then rest on the seventh day. An important question for us to ask of ourselves right out of the gate is, “What roles do work and rest play in our lives?” Do we have intentional time set apart for rest? Or, like much of 21st century America, do we push ourselves to the limit in our work in an effort to produce more and accomplish more? Do we find enough satisfaction in who we are and what we do that we can truly and deeply rest?

Three Reasons We Struggle to Rest From Our Work

The truth is that many of us greatly struggle to rest from our work for a plethora of reasons. Here are just three.

1. Security-Driven Work

One reason we struggle to rest from our work is that many jobs are simply insecure. Because of the insecurity of our jobs, we feel we have no time to rest. How can we slow down when at any moment we could be replaced? More production = more job security. I think back to when Erica was a first year teacher. She was stressed out for much of the second semester because she knew as a non-tenured teacher there was a good possibility she could be handed a pink slip. Her stress came from feeling a need to constantly prove herself to her principal so that maybe she wouldn’t be the one to go. Job insecurity produces restlessness in our hearts that physical rest cannot satisfy.

2. Technology-Driven Work

Another reason we struggle to rest from our work is the role of technology in our lives. Technology diminishes rest for two reasons. Outwardly, technology has made our work more efficient, which means we have more work to do. The devices that were created to make our jobs easier have ironically made them more demanding.

Inwardly, technology has connected us to the rest of the world in a way that fuels our innate desire to compare ourselves to others, which causes us to be perpetually dissatisfied with our work. As a pastor, I know that after I preach a sermon, I could download a much better sermon on the same passage before I get home on Sunday afternoon. Technology opens our eyes to see other people who do the exact same job as us, yet are much more gifted. This only causes our hearts to be more restless and dissatisfied in who we are and what we do.

3. Identity-Driven Work

A third reason we struggle to rest from our work is the role our jobs play in our place in society. We are defined by our work in ways that past cultures and societies would never be able to comprehend. A few hundred years ago, one of the first questions you would ask someone after learning their name would be, “So, whose family do you belong to?” This is because people from past cultures found their identity in their family. No one cared who your boss was, just who your dad was. Our experience is much different.

Today, when you meet a stranger on an airplane you typically ask three questions, “What is your name? Where are you from? And What do you do?” Even more telling, what is the most common question we ask our children as they go through school? “What do you want to be when you grow up?” Our identities are swallowed up by our job titles. How can we ever find true and deep rest when what we do is directly tied to who we are? We wouldn’t even know who we are anymore if we lost out on a promotion or lost our job entirely.

Universal Desire for Rest

There is a universal desire for rest in the heart of every person. And this rest we desire goes beyond a physical rest. It goes beyond a need to take a break from work. A week’s vacation cannot satisfy our deep heart-desire for rest. This is because the work we are doing is deeper than our jobs. We all naturally work and strive for soul-satisfaction. We work and strive for identity, purpose, significance, and worth. The reason we work so relentlessly hard at our jobs, the reason we struggle to rest physically, is because our hearts are desperately working for approval, accomplishment, and joy. Our hearts are constantly restless.

We see this in one of my favorite sports movies, Rocky I. In Rocky I, Rocky is a no name small-time boxer who has been challenged to fight the heavyweight champion of the world. As he prepares to fight this unbeatable champion, Rocky trains relentlessly hard. He’s punching frozen meat, chasing chickens, and running up massive flights of stairs to Eye of the Tiger. But why does he do all of this? Why is he working tirelessly to prepare for this fight? Is it because he wants to win?


Rocky says, “If I can go the distance, and that bell rings, and I’m still standing, I’m gonna know for the first time in my life that I’m not just another bum from the neighborhood.” It was a deep inner desire for significance, identity, accomplishment, and satisfaction that drove Rocky to work so hard. It was a desire for rest, a deep inner rest that he tried to achieve through his own work.

The answer for all of this longing and craving for deep spiritual rest is found in the Sabbath rest of God found only in Jesus Christ. The Sabbath itself was a day. It was a day set apart for the purposes of remembering, resting, and revering God’s work on behalf of his people. But the Sabbath day helped focus God’s people’s attention on the Sabbath rest that he freely offers by his grace and for our good.

Working for worth, identity, or salvation will only produce slavery. Sabbath rest is a declaration of freedom from a life of slave-driven work for significance, meaning, and purpose. In the book of Exodus, God’s Sabbath reminders bookend Israel’s idolatry and proceed their building of the tabernacle for an important reason. These reminders to keep the Sabbath are a declaration of freedom for the Israelites. They were slaves in Egypt for 400 years. They are not working to the beat of another slave-driver. They are commanded to rest, which tells them their work no longer defines them. Their relationship with God defines them. God will dwell with them in the tabernacle not because of their work in building it, but because of his work in redeeming them from Egypt.

John Mackay once wrote, “Each week the covenant people were called to remember not just what God had done in creation, but what he was working out in his redemptive action.” What great freedom there is in Sabbath rest! To recall the work of a gracious God who redeemed you from slavery.

The danger in our modern context is that we feel self-sufficient enough to get along just fine without depending on God’s provision. But Sabbath rest is all about trusting God to be enough for you. When God is your supreme treasure you can easily and gladly rest from your work, even if it means coming up short compared to those with a 24/7 work mentality.

Sabbath rest is about the kind of trust that produces total security and satisfaction in who you are. Trusting God’s work as the basis for your sustenance and satisfaction leads to deep inner rest.

So, I hope Labor Day isn’t the only day you rest. I hope vacations aren’t the only times you rest. I hope rest becomes a natural rhythm in your life as you trust in the sovereign providence and redemptive work of God for you. When you are able to rest the way God requires, your work will become much more meaningful because your identity will be found in the work of another.

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.

A Deeper Healing

In my own journey and struggles with weight gain and weight loss, I’ve learned that physical health and spiritual health are in many ways alike. The human body requires certain actions, treatments, behaviors, and lifestyles in order to grow, develop, and sustain. Many of us have learned through experience that you can’t eat whatever you want and never exercise and expect a clean bill of health from the doctor. Winston Churchill once joked, “To be healthy one must smoke, drink, and never exercise.” Ironically making this statement after his first heart attack, Churchill and the rest of us know that a healthy lifestyle typically results in good health.

The same is true for spiritual health. We cannot live however we want and expect to grow and develop in the faith. Pursuing spiritual health requires living life the way God demands and spending much time in the graces God provides in our lives. The means of grace, such as the Bible, prayer, the church, baptism, and the Lord’s Supper, are food for the soul.

Both physical health and spiritual health are individual journeys paved with a lot of discipline and hard work. But sometimes physical health eludes us because of debilitating illnesses or injuries. Some people can never claim to be healthy because of certain conditions or disorders. In the same way, all of humanity has contracted the spiritual disorder of spiritual deadness and blindness. Our hearts are naturally cold to the truth of God, and to God himself. We are unable to know, love, enjoy, or glorify God. We are spiritually sick with sin.

In Mark 2, we see Jesus do two remarkable things.

First, he heals a man who was physically paralyzed. Due to a physical disability or disorder, he was unable to walk. Jesus demonstrates his authority over disease by commanding him to get up and walk. The man obeyed, not because he had the inherent ability, but because Jesus overcame his physical condition, giving him the ability to get up and walk.

Second, Jesus forgives this same man of his sins. Jesus demonstrates his authority over sin and human hearts. One who forgives is one who is sinned against. In order for Jesus to forgive sin, he must be the one being sinned against. The religious leaders were baffled at what they considered blasphemy because by claiming authority to forgive sins, Jesus was claiming sovereign, divine authority over human hearts. Only God can forgive sins.

Although the Jewish leaders opposed Jesus after this encounter, we should feel their astonishment. The Jesus of Mark’s Gospel is radical, authoritative, and dangerous. There is nothing safe in him. Early in his ministry, Jesus doesn’t just perform a compassionate and powerful miracle of physical healing. Jesus says, “I am God. You have sinned against me. I have authority over you. Forgiveness of sins is found in me.”

Are you startled by this Jesus? This Jesus has divine authority to reverse a seemingly irreversible spiritual condition. He can do something far greater than heal a physical disability. He, and only he, can heal your sin sickness and reconcile you to himself. This is the greatest healing we need. And it is exactly the healing he provides.

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.

Pride Will Kill Me

A simple word from the Lord this morning has penetrated the depths of my heart, and it comes in the form of one short phrase: Pride will kill me.

Warnings in Scripture are easy to pass over for Christians. We read oracles of judgment in the Prophets or warnings of judgment in the Psalms and use the cross of Christ as a crutch to limp past these warnings without even pausing to consider their merit and weight. I know when I read warning passages, I am quick to remind myself of context. “This warning was for the Israelites.” “I don’t have to worry about that warning of judgment because Christ was judged in my place.” Sometimes our narrow understanding and view of the gospel can impede our growth in the gospel.

While more knowledge of the gospel should also play a part in producing spiritual growth in and through us, when that knowledge is limited only to one benefit of the gospel, our knowledge can work against us. Justification is a beautiful doctrine. It is our declared righteousness before God as a gift of God’s grace through the propitiation of Christ. We receive full pardon not through our works, but through Christ’s. God bestows an unfathomable gift of grace in justification, and we reach out our hands and receive it through faith.

But justification is just one jewel in the crown of salvation. It’s honestly just one step. Justification isn’t the end of the gospel’s benefits. It’s the beginning. Justification always enables and leads to sanctification, which ends in glorification. When warning passages are interpreted solely through the lens of justification, they’ll be ignored, passed over, and trapped in an ancient Israelite context.

When we take a step back and view Old Testament warning passages for what they are and understanding that we are not merely justified, but in the process of being sanctified, we will be able to receive and benefit from serious warnings.

Back to the warning I received this morning from the Lord. Pride will kill you. Psalm 52 is a warning that the Lord hates and judges pride. Letting pride fester and grow in your heart will end in destruction, banishment, desolation, sorrow, and emptiness. Pride destroys a man. Pride flows from the heart to the tongue. Pride is evil and does evil. Pride inverts the way of God. God opposes the proud. He judges the proud. He brings them down. Rebellion against God is the fruit of pride. Banishment from God is the punishment for pride. Pride will kill you. When it does, here is your eulogy:

Here is the man who would not make God his refuge, but trusted in the abundance of his riches, taking refuge in his destructive behavior. – Psalm 52:7

So, be warned, as I was this morning. If we ignore the pride in us, it will grow. It will dominate our lives. It will be demonstrated in our speech. We will be characterized by pride to the point that our eulogy will be that of Psalm 52:7.

Pride refuses to recognize God as the supreme provider and treasure. Pride is trusting in lesser treasure to provide greater pleasure. I see it in Adam. I see it in Israel. I see it in the church. I see it in me. I pray my family will be able to say the opposite is true of me. I’m praying the Lord would deepen my trust and joy in him. I’m praying he would help me kill pride before it kills me. And I am confident he will because pride was dealt a death blow in the humility of the cross.

May our boast be in the Lord! He has caused us to flourish in his Son and through his Spirit. May we trust in his faithful love forever. My we praise him forever for what he has done. May we put our hope in his name, for it is good.

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.

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.