Living For God’s Will In 2018

One of the most confusing and difficult aspects of living the Christian life is the ongoing struggle with sin. Christ has set us free from the penalty of sin. Christ has overthrown the power of sin. We who find refuge under the blood of Christ are free men and women sojourning in the dangerous land of the in-between. Our freedom from sin actually creates a paranoia in our hearts when we are tempted to sin.

Before Christ, we did not consider God’s ways or God’s will when making decisions or life choices. We considered our own wants and needs and possibly the wants and needs of those close to us, but God’s desires mattered not. But now we know better. Ignorance was bliss. Only now are our hearts tormented by the disparaging struggle we endure.

We feel the perpetual guilt and agony of our spiritual schizophrenia and hypocrisy. We claim freedom, yet walk as slaves. Sin still holds a prominent place in our hearts. It is a confusing and frustrating reality. We wish it weren’t so.

Recognizing the presence of an ongoing battle with sin is the first step to begin waving a flag of victory. But what’s next?

Peter tells us that in order to defeat sin and overcome temptation, we must “arm ourselves” with a certain kind of thinking. Arm yourselves, Peter says, with the thought that Christ suffered in the flesh. What a strange weapon! Slay sin by pondering suffering. Slay sin by thinking about the Lamb who was slain. What could this mean?

The key is in the rest of the phrase. “For whoever has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, so as to live for the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for human passions but for the will of God.” Think about the suffering of Christ because whoever has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin.

In other words, think about Christ’s suffering because his suffering is yours. In Christ’s death, we died to sin. Sin has ceased to point a finger of guilt in our direction. Sin has ceased to reign in laughable power over our chained hearts. Thinking much on the suffering of Christ helps us make sense of our struggle with sin. And it helps us trample over sin as we walk in righteousness.

Rejoice in the suffering your fight against sin produces. Christ suffered and died for this. He suffered and died to usher in a new age of life. Through his suffering and death, human flourishing is finally truly possible. Christ’s death has opened up a whole new world of possibilities for those who believe. It’s a world where sin is present, yet powerless. It’s a world where Satan tries to lure us away from a feast with a piece of candy.

What are your goals for 2018? I pray living more for the will of God is among them. How can we live for God’s will in 2018? We must no longer live for human passions. How is this possible? We must remember who we are in Christ. We are alive to him and dead to sin. How can we walk in our new identity in 2018? By thinking. Think much this year about the suffering of Christ in the flesh. He suffered much to deliver you from sinning. Jesus suffered and died to give you not less, but far more pleasure than sin or Satan ever could.

For 2018…

  • Think about Christ’s suffering and death for you
  • Remember you have died to sin in Christ
  • Live for God’s will by rejecting sinful human passions

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.


The Key to Eternal Life

In the past five months, I’ve preached three funerals. One for a stranger in my city. Two for my grandparents. Funerals for Christians are strange floods of emotion. When a saint dies, family and friends are left in an emotional lightning storm. Sorrow and joy collide. Tears fall with grief of loss, but are wiped away with hope of gain in Christ.

Every person handles death differently. Some are inconsolable. Others are more stoic. Some prefer to grieve in groups. Others would rather weep alone. Though everyone may respond differently to death, everyone is uncomfortable at a funeral. Whether a body or urn is displayed at the front of the room, we all cringe at the sight. It causes us to face the unavoidable reality that we are all on a crash course with death. The older and weaker we become, the more real the situation sets in–“one day that will be me.”

Death is coming for us all. Naturally, though unwillingly, we are faced with the question of all questions: what happens after death? And if we believe anything happens after death, we want to know what we can do have a pleasant, pleasurable afterlife.

Once in Jesus’ life, a man approached him with a question about life after death (Mark 10:17-31). He asks, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” It’s a question we only ask or think about when we are acutely aware of the inevitable. Our life will end. This man believes in an afterlife. He wants to know how his afterlife can be good. He wants to know how his afterlife can be spent in peace and pleasure. He’s asking how he can spend eternity with God.

The question, “What can I do to inherit eternal life?” is natural. Surely there is something we can do in our life to earn reward after death. Maybe if we are good, kind, and moral people, we will earn some browning points with God. Maybe if our good deeds outweigh our bad deeds, we will inherit eternal life. Heck, maybe we’re off the hook and everyone inherits eternal life. Jesus creatively clarifies things for this man and for us.

He walks the man through half of the Ten Commandments. He asks the man if he has kept the Law. The man responds, “Yep.” With eyes rolled, we doubt his sincerity. But he was probably thinking in terms of degrees of obedience and disobedience. His affirmative response is probably more like, “More or less, I’ve obeyed the Law. I’ve been a pretty good person. I have my faults, but I’m a pretty decent guy.” On the surface, I’m sure many of us would consider ourselves closer to law-keepers than law-breakers.

Then Jesus drops the bomb. He says, “If you’re a law-keeper, then you only lack one thing to inherit eternal life.” We can see the man’s eyes widen and his palms sweat in anticipation. Just one thing? Jesus says, “Go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come follow me” (Mark 10:21). That’s it. Just give up your self-sufficiency and depend on me. Give away all your earthly treasure and follow me, then eternal life will be yours.

Just one thing. But he couldn’t do it. The incredibly wealthy man was devastated because he knew he couldn’t give up his financial security. He couldn’t give away his treasure, not even to gain the one thing he was looking for.

In this story, Jesus does what he does best. He exposes this man’s heart. In one simple proposal, he digs down past all of his self-sufficiency and self-righteousness to show him his need. The man’s greatest need was to recognize his need. Jesus later uses this to teach that it is difficult for those with wealth to enter God’s kingdom. This is because wealth creates a false sense of security. This rich man had everything he needed and wanted, yet he was spiritually bankrupt. He was a slave to his possessions.

What is the key to unlock the deep mysteries of eternal life? A humble recognition that we don’t have it all together. A child-like dependance on Jesus to provide for all of our unrighteousness. The key to facing death with sorrowful joy and deep hope is to hold all that we have loosely, discard our self-sufficiency, and cling to Jesus. The key to inheriting eternal life is to become like a needy child. “Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it” (Mark 10:15).

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.

Not To Us, O Lord

At the heart of every kind of sin is a root that provides constant demonic growth in every human heart.

Pride is sin that is the root of all other sin. It was the pride of Adam and Eve that the serpent tugged in the Garden.

Pride is the essence of all idolatry, dishonesty, immorality, dishonor, covetousness, and discontent. Pride in the heart says, “I know best. I am best. I know what is best for me.”

Pride always expresses itself in sin and knows not how to hide. The office, the classroom, the church sanctuary, the kitchen, the dugout, and the nursery are all camouflaged outposts of the kingdom of pride. Because of the fall and our union with Adam from birth, pride is the natural expression of our hearts.

As a result, rebellion is the natural action that flows from the broken cistern of pride. In our pride we desire self-exaltation and glory apart from God and even above God.

The greatest hope for our pride-poisoned hearts is the antidote of the absolute sovereignty of God. God’s sovereignty cripples our pride and destroys the mountain of glory we have built in our hearts.

Self-exaltation crumbles at the foot of the mountain of God’s sovereignty. Self-righteousness is laughable in the face of a sovereign and righteous God. But there is also grace immeasurable and love unknown in the God who sovereignly does all that he pleases (Ps. 115:3).

While we stand as our own “sovereigns” doing all that we please, we learn that autonomy as an end leaves us powerless and empty. Only when we walk in the shadow of the wings of the all-satisfying Sovereign who reigns in the heavens in majesty and rightful glory will our rebellious hearts be cut down and filled with the joy we all so crave.

The question we all want to ask Jesus is, “Who is the greatest?” What we mean is, “Who among us is the greatest?” According to Jesus, greatness is found and expressed in humility—realizing we are not great. Our answer to the question, “Who is the greatest?” should always be, “not me.”

“Not to us, O Lord, not to us, but to your name give glory” (Ps. 115:1). It is through this humble disposition that is so contrary to our sinful inclinations that we will find joy in communion with God. While pride is the root of all sin, John Chrysostom once remarked, “Humility is the root, mother, nurse, foundation, and bond of all virtue.”

God’s universal rule and reign over all crumbles our pride. The glory of God is an eternally satisfying well we taste in Christ. Our self-exaltation and self-proclaimed glory is a joy-killing falsity. Glory and honor are not found in pride and self-exaltation. Trusting self is not the path to glory. True and lasting glory is ultimately found in the humility of Christ on the cross.

Pride is dethroned as the one who possesses universal power bows his head in humiliating, crucifying defeat. Through his death and resurrection, Christ delivers a powerful death-blow to all phony sovereigns and satisfiers. True greatness and true joy are found only in the cross-empowered, self-renouncing humility that God in the flesh embodied on the tree.

May the song of our hearts each morning be “Not to us, O Lord, not to us, but to your name give glory” (Ps. 115:1). The sovereign God who is abundant in steadfast love and faithfulness is worthy of our complete, uninhibited trust. Fight pride today by humbly trusting the God who reigns in power, freedom, love, and grace over all.

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.

Do You Know the Real Jesus?

In the Gospels, the apostle Peter comes across as a dimwitted, well-meaning, overly self-confident, zealot with a foot-shaped mouth. Those of us who always seem to speak before thinking find a kindred spirit in Peter.

He is presented at minimum as the vocal leader of the twelve, and finds himself on both the right and wrong side of history. He confesses Jesus as the Messiah, but then tries to stop him from accomplishing his mission. He confesses willingness to die for Jesus, but flees when he had the chance.

Peter is a testament of the slow, but sure progress of God’s grace in the life of a fallen, yet redeemed saint. In Peter we have a vivid picture of simul justus et peccator–“at the same time righteous and sinner.”

In Mark 8, we see Peter make a stunning confession that he believed Jesus to be the Christ, or the Messiah. Which was huge! Because Jesus didn’t really look like a savior or a king. There were moments when Jesus appeared to be a Savior-King possessing even divine power. But there were other moments when Jesus seemed rather ordinary. The mysterious hypostatic union of divine and human natures in Jesus caused his disciples, especially Peter, to be confused about his identity.

Peter saw enough in Jesus to confess his belief that Jesus was indeed the long-awaited Warrior King who has now come to deliver his people from their enemies and bring with him the dawning of a new age of peace and righteousness that will last forever. Peter’s confession is followed by Jesus’ claim that he would soon suffer and die. Peter rejects this idea as preposterous and rebukes Jesus. Foot. Shaped. Mouth.

We can laugh, but have you ever paused to consider how alarming Peter’s rebuke really was? Why couldn’t Peter just believe Jesus? Ya know? Why couldn’t he just take him at his word? Jesus would foretell his death and resurrection many more times, but Peter and the disciples just couldn’t seem to understand or believe him.

You see, Peter had some strong preconceived notions and ideas about what the Messiah would do. Some of these ideas were rooted in Scripture. Others were rooted in tradition. Peter sounds an alarm to us that it’s entirely possible to have a right confession of Jesus without actually understanding that confession. Even though Peter was granted knowledge that Jesus is the Christ, this knowledge did not lead to faith—at least not yet.

There are many people in our country, many people in our churches in fact, that may have correct confessions of Jesus without correct understanding of Jesus. If we are not careful, like Peter, our traditions can dominate our understanding of Jesus.

If you asked yourself the questions, “Who is Jesus? and, what is Jesus’ mission?” would your answers be based more on what Jesus actually says about himself or based on what you have heard about Jesus. Peter’s understanding of the Messiah was partially true. But his traditions and culturally-informed views of the Messiah caused him to miss the mission of the Messiah entirely. So much so, that he openly opposed Jesus when something he taught contradicted his own traditional beliefs.

At this point in the Gospel story, Peter is actually walking step-by-step with the real Jesus while missing him entirely. Which is the last thing I want for my faith family. I don’t want us to sing about a Jesus, pray to a Jesus, take communion in remembrance of a Jesus, baptize in the name of a Jesus that is only partially real. I don’t want us to believe in a Jesus that is based on cultural traditions rather than biblical truth.

So how can we know whether or not we are worshiping the real Jesus? How can we know if we are actually growing in the likeness of the real Jesus?

We have to see the real Jesus. Peter was given a full vision of the real Jesus for the first time on Mount Hermon when Jesus was transfigured. We need to behold this real Jesus just as Peter did. Paul tells us in 2 Corinthians 3:18 that “we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another.” We must behold the glory of the Lord to become the glory of the Lord. We need what Peter would receive on Mount Hermon when the ordinary looking Jesus burst into a glorious light.

In the Transfiguration scene, Jesus took Peter, James, and John up a mountain to give them a vision of himself they would never forget–a vision that would confirm his identity, clarify his mission, and convey a future kingdom that will one day come in glorious fullness.

The transfiguration of Jesus gave Peter what he (and we) need to have not just a correct confession of Jesus, but a correct understanding of him– a glorious and comprehensive view of Jesus the Christ. In the transfiguration, we see Jesus in his unsurpassable majesty and beauty. On this “holy mountain” we see Jesus in his gritty resolve to take a death march to Jerusalem to deliver his people and conquer their enemies.

We see Jesus in his transcendent otherness and his immanent closeness. We see Jesus on a mountain radiating boundless light only to treck down the mountain into the darkness of sin, suffering, and evil. We see Jesus’ identity and mission as the eternal God in flesh resolving to suffer and die with and for his people. The transfiguration of Jesus and his subsequent journey down the mountain into a valley of darkness is so full and grand and clear that it confronts our preconceived notions and traditional beliefs with the real and raw Jesus who shatters what we thought we knew about him. That is the power of revelation.

But we will not receive a face-to-face vision of Jesus in all his splendor until he returns or takes us home. But take heart, because Peter himself shows us that the reliability of the Word of God is greater than even visual experiences:

“For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. For when he received honor and glory from God the Father, and the voice was borne to him by the Majestic Glory, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased, we ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain. And we have the prophetic word more fully confirmed, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts, knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” –2 Peter 1:16-21

Peter tells us that the Scriptures themselves contain power and light comparable to Christ’s great and glorious transfiguration we are about to consider. In order to have both a correct confession and understanding of the real Jesus, we must behold the King in his beauty.

Do you want to see the real Jesus in the splendor of his transcendent glory and immanent substitutionary suffering? Open your Bible and look.

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.

Jesus: The Intersection of Law and Grace

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From Snack to Smorgasbord

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Hated Hometown Hero

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

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

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

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

There are really only three ways to respond to Jesus.

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

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

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

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

The Child Is Not Dead But Sleeping

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From Jonah to Jesus: A Parallel of Two Storms

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

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

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

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

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

1. Both Jesus and Jonah were in a boat.

2. Both boats were overtaken by a storm.

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

4. Both Jesus and Jonah were asleep.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.