Kill Him or Crown Him

There are really only two ways to respond to Jesus. You can fully submit to Jesus by faith, or you can fully reject Jesus through pride. Throughout the course of Jesus’ ministry, the religious leaders who should have welcomed the Messiah with open arms and bowed heads, were threatened by him and sought a way to kill him. Tradition had taken the place of the Scriptures for the chief priests, the scribes, and the Pharisees. Their minds were so clouded by tradition that they couldn’t recognize the Messiah even when he was standing two feet in front of them.

Following Jesus’ ominous cursing of a fig tree and condemnation of the temple and its leaders, the chief priests and scribes were seeking a way to kill Jesus. They were threatened by his authority and what its implications could have on their own authority. Jesus had essentially pronounced the end of the temple and sacrificial system. It was clear, even to Jesus’ opponents, that something new had arrived in Jesus. And the religious leaders didn’t like it one bit.

In Mark 12, Jesus begins to interact with his religious counterparts by telling them a story. Jesus frequently utilized parables in his teaching, but this is the first parable his opponents clearly understand without explanation.

Jesus’ parable consists of a man who owns a vineyard. He goes on a trip and hires farmers to tend to the vineyard in his absence. When the time comes for fruit to come in, the man sent a series of servants to gather the fruit from the farmers. Instead of handing over the owner’s fruit, the farmers assaulted the servants and sent them back to the owner empty handed. Finally, the owner decides to send his own son to the vineyard. Surely, the owner reasoned, the farmers will have too much respect for me and my son to bring him any harm. To the contrary, the brutal and greedy farmers killed the owner’s son in hopes of snatching his inheritance. Their plan backfires, however, as the owner destroys the farmers and gives the vineyard to others.

The chief priests and scribes immediately recognized that the parable was directed at them. They wanted to arrest Jesus. They wanted him dead. All because they recognized what Jesus was saying.

Jesus was comparing the religious leaders and Israel as a whole to the wicked tenant farmers. They had been given the privilege to tend to God’s people and kingdom, but they rejected God and his will for selfish gain. Their lust for power led them by the hand into destruction because of their rejection of God’s Son. The chief priests and scribes wondered where Jesus’ received such authority, but Jesus gave them no answer. Why? Because the answer lied in their reaction to Jesus. They wanted to kill him because his divine authority was a threat to their own.

Both the parable and the reaction of the religious leaders reminded Jesus of a Psalm. He quoted Psalm 118. “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone. This is the Lord’s doing; it is marvelous in our eyes.” But it wasn’t marvelous in the eyes of the religious leaders. And it isn’t marvelous in the eyes of anyone who does not humbly submit in faith to Jesus.

The religious leaders of Jesus’ day rejected Jesus. They cast him away like an unwanted stone. But the stone they rejected is actually the cornerstone. They rejected the foundation and tried to build a faith of their own. But a faith built on anything other than Jesus will crumble. And rejecting the cornerstone not only means your faith is destroyed, but also that you will be destroyed.

Jesus has thrown down the gauntlet. From this point forward, his opponents will be seeking any way to shut him up forever. In the words of Tim Keller, you can either crown Jesus or kill Jesus. There is no middle ground.

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.


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.

The Greatest Tragedy of Divorce

There are many examples of faithlessness in our world. We see it in something as trivial as the lack of loyalty in a professional basketball player leaving one team for another. We see it when people quit teams, schools, or jobs when they become difficult. But the most prominent and public version of faithlessness is in the realm of relationships. Few things cause pain, heartache, and long term emotional distress like faithlessness in a relationship. This is true of relationships between friends, among church members, and within families. The most tragic, and sadly the most common, form of relational faithlessness is in marriage.

Witnessing divorce and its consequences in my own immediate family has given me a front row seat to the devastation it causes. My brother, sister, and I know full well the brutal pain divorce inflicts. But as bad as the emotional consequences of divorce are, the greatest tragedy in divorce is the horrible picture it paints of the gospel.

Paul taught that the mystery of marriage is that it was created to show the world a picture of God’s relationship with his covenant people (Eph. 5:32). Marriage is the primary metaphor in both the Old and New Testaments of God’s relationship to his people. Marriage is the means of raising up a new generation of disciples. When a husband or wife leaves, mutually or otherwise, they paint a picture of relational faithlessness and God-forsakenness. We tell a story of the gospel in our marriages. Divorce horribly distorts the story. When we quit in our marriages, we tell a lie about the gospel because God will never quit on his people.

This is the heart of Jesus’ prohibition of divorce and remarriage in Mark 10. “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her. Also, if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery” (Mark 10:11-12). As one author has strongly said, “Divorcing your spouse without biblical grounds is an assault on the Lord’s plan of redemption.”

If you have either witnessed or participated in marital infidelity, your trust in relationships may be shaken. You have likely brooded with bitterness. Seeing my parents dissolve their marriage, regardless of reasons, was one of the most heartbreaking experiences of my life. If you have walked through a divorce, either as a participant or spectator, I would encourage you to press in on your feelings of hopelessness and issues with trust. Deal with them. Talk about them. Write about them. Weep over them. Do anything but ignore or hide from them.

It’s a great tragedy that our society has become comfortable with divorce. It’s almost expected. Don’t run from that uncomfortable, sick feeling that overcomes your heart when you hear of another marriage imploding. Christians more than anyone should mourn divorce because of the false narrative it tells of God’s covenant faithfulness. Mourn the sight of couples making and breaking promises to one another in marriage.

I cannot continue this post without a word of caution. The context of my call for covenant faithfulness in marriage is rooted in our quick and easy divorce culture. However, if you or anyone you know is in a truly physically or emotionally abusive marriage, proper authorities must be contacted. Using God’s design for and declaration through marriage to justify or neglect abuse is morally reprehensible and evil.

Hope and motivation for faithful living rests in God’s faithfulness, which always overcomes our unfaithfulness. In light of rampant relational faithlessness, God enters into an eternal covenant with us through the blood of Christ. In light of a culture of quick and easy divorce, we are motivated to remain faithful to our spouses because though we deserve to be abandoned by God for our idolatry, he remains faithful to us and even pursues us in our adultery (Hosea 1-3).

The greatest tragedy of divorce is the lie it tells about Christ’s faithfulness to his Church. A desire to proclaim God’s covenant faithfulness to his people in Christ motivates covenant faithfulness in marriage. Pursue permanence in your marriage because God pursues permanence with you.

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.

Count the Cost

Do you remember when you became a Christian? I remember when I trusted Christ for the first time. I was nine years old and had heard the gospel many times. However, for some reason I was never captivated by its message.

One summer, I remember being told just how guilty I was before a holy God because of my sin. This convicted me to the core. Looking back, it was clear that the Holy Spirit was removing my stone cold heart and replacing it with a heart of flesh. When I responded to the call to trust Christ by the youth pastor, I was asked if I would like to believe in Jesus. I just nodded my head and desperately prayed for God to save me through Jesus. He did.

I joyfully reflect on that day, but I only remember being asked a few questions.

“Do you want to believe in Jesus?”

“Why do you need to believe in Jesus?”

“How are you saved from the guilt of your sins?”

While these are necessary and important questions to ask, the questions that were not asked are questions Jesus’ early disciples had to answer. We don’t ask them because they feel totally unnecessary in our comfortable Christian culture. Following Jesus is a decision that is easy to make for many of us once there is a desire to make it. However, Jesus did not seem to suggest this. He actually suggested the opposite. Jesus said things like this:

“Follow me, and leave the dead to bury their own dead” (Matt. 8:22).

“If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it.” (Mark 8:34-35).

“Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me” (Matt. 10:38).

These passages are foreign to many of us. Barely any of us have to decide between Jesus and family, or between Jesus and job. The crosses we bear are more like toothpicks. The risks we take for Christ are often small or non-existent.

Following Christ has become another nominal aspect of our lives. “Christian” is just another title to add to our Twitter bios. In the same way that we are fans of our favorite sports teams, we are followers of Jesus. There is no risk. In fact, I have heard the gospel presented in terms like this more often than not:

“Following Jesus is simple. Why would you not want to do it? Following Jesus will not challenge your life at all. The only change a decision to follow Christ will make will be positive! Follow Jesus and your life will improve without changing much at all.”

Americans are attracted to this version of Christianity because it is no threat to their way of life. This is not the case everywhere. There are some places in the world where following Jesus is indeed a life and death decision. Often the decision is Jesus or family, or Jesus or life. This is especially true in some Asian countries.

A few years ago, Asian Access, a Christian missions agency in South Asia, listed a series of questions that church planters were to use to determine a new convert’s readiness to follow Jesus. Before a person commits to follow Jesus, he or she counts the cost by answering the following questions:

  1. Are you willing to leave home and lose the blessing of your father?
  2. Are you willing to lose your job?
  3. Are you willing to go to the village and those who persecute you, forgive them, and share the love of Christ with them?
  4. Are you willing to give an offering to the Lord?
  5. Are you willing to be beaten rather than deny your faith?
  6. Are you willing to go to prison?
  7. Are you willing to die for Jesus?

Are you willing? Are you sure? Do you want to follow someone who could be the cause of your death? Are you sure you want to follow someone who will cause you to risk your livelihood, family, job, and life?

Now, I understand we are comparing apples to oranges here. Following Jesus in America looks significantly different than following Jesus in other parts of the world. We enjoy religious freedoms other Christians only dream of. I don’t think any of us should feel guilty for living in a free country or think we are somehow sub-Christian for suffering relatively less than others.

However, I do hope we are able to see that our American Christian experience isn’t normal. I hope we recognize how difficult it is for many of us to identify with Jesus’ radical call to discipleship.

Though our comfort doesn’t condemn us, it should caution us. If following Jesus doesn’t make our lives uncomfortable in any sense, we would be wise to examine our hearts. Living a gospel-centered, kingdom-minded life leads to certain uncomfortable risks for the cause of Christ.

Jesus calls his followers to a life that models his death. Self-sacrifical living should be normal for a Christian. We should be known for dying to our own wants and needs for the good of others and the glory of Christ.

The call to follow Jesus is a call to a death march. The stench of death to sin and self will carry far and wide in our self-centered, individualistic culture. So, count the cost or you might not be willing to pay the price of following the Christ.

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.

Three Non-Negotiable Expectations in Children’s Ministry

Ministering to children in the local church is difficult for a number of reasons:

  1. Children’s ministry leaders and servants are often under-appreciated.
  2. Children’s ministry leaders and servants are often taken advantage of.
  3. Children’s ministry leaders and servants are often under-staffed. There are rarely enough of us.
  4. Teaching the Bible to children is challenging, and none of us is an expert.

Recognizing these challenges, and the many more that could be added, helps me see why burnout in children’s ministry is so common. It’s exhausting to lead and serve with children. And almost every children’s ministry servant I’ve met confesses inadequacy in teaching. Most children’s ministry volunteers are not school teachers. Most haven’t been formally trained in child psychology or development. Most of us are just trying to figure out our own kids, let alone someone else’s!

It has been my experience that the more equipped a volunteer feels, the less likely he or she will experience burnout. There are many ways to equip volunteers as leaders and teachers. There are techniques for classroom management and Bible teaching skills that can and should be shared.

Even though I train all of my K-6 small group leaders, I have three non-negotiable expectations of them. I remind my servant-leaders of these three expectations on a weekly basis. Without these expectations, teaching children is both ineffective and invaluable.

To put it more positively, I believe when these three expectations are met, the foundation is laid to lead and teach the gospel to children with much effectiveness.

1. Show the Kids You Love Them

Man, this is crucial. When you love the children, you will create the safest environment possible for them. You will protect them. You will value them. And you will gain an audience with them.

Ask any teacher in a public or private school and they will tell you that until you show children that you truly care about them they will not listen to you. You have to earn their ears. I want the kids I lead to know I care about them. I begin each of our large group teaching sessions with a sharing time I call “Awesome, Not So Awesome.”

During this time I ask the kids to share one awesome thing and one not-so-awesome thing that has happened recently. This is an easy and fun way for me to learn a lot about the kids, and it helps them see that I genuinely care about them.

In my opening prayer, I always thank God for creating each of the kids in his image exactly the way he did. I affirm that he didn’t make any mistakes, and that they are unique and special because they are made in his image.

Whatever you do and however you do it, I would encourage you to show the kids you aren’t just there to pass along information. Talk to them about their lives. Ask questions about family and school. By asking questions and getting to know them better, your prayers for them will be much more personal and intimate and your teaching will carry much more weight.

2. Show the Kids You Love the Bible

I want to be very specific here. The kids in your ministry need to see you run to the Bible for guidance, answers, and instruction for doctrine and godliness. When kids ask questions of a theological nature, let them hear you say, “Let’s see what the Bible has to say about this,” rather than “Well, here’s what I think about this.” They need to see not only the supremacy of the Bible, but also the sufficiency of the Bible in your life.

Augustine once said, “Where the Bible speaks, God speaks.” Teach this. But let it also be true, “Where the Bible speaks, I speak” in the sense that when it comes to thinking through things about God, salvation, and life in general the Bible is our guide. We speak where the Bible speaks.

And the kids in your ministry need to see your passion and love for the Bible. I tell my volunteers that the kids may not understand everything we teach them, but they won’t be able to miss our disposition toward the Bible. If we are apathetic toward the Bible, it will show. We want to pass on a passion for God’s Word. At bare minimum, I expect kids in my ministry to leave knowing that I love the Bible.

3. Show the Kids You Love the Gospel

Most importantly, show the gospel to kids through your words and actions. Let your words be seasoned with grace. Take sin seriously. Extend grace extravagantly. Teach forgiveness. Ask forgiveness when necessary.

All roads in the Bible lead to Jesus. The key is learning how to navigate through the historical and literary contexts without abandoning the original intent of the biblical authors. And we want to point to Jesus in all of our lessons.

But it doesn’t take a biblical scholar to show your love for Jesus. Show that Jesus isn’t just a mythical figure trapped in an ancient book through your white-hot love for and devotion to him.

Show the gospel in your actions. Show that it isn’t just a message of empty words, but a message of power from a holy and gracious God.

Effective teaching in children’s ministry is not limited to these three expectations, but they are foundational. Without them, you can use as many methods as you like, but you will not capture their minds or pierce their hearts. Show the kids in your ministry these three basic loves, and you will experience more joy as a leader or volunteer, as the gospel will come alive in your ministry.

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.

Gutsy Faith

Did you know that some of the most important characters in the Bible are not given names? It’s true! Some of the people that Jesus admired most are not even named. Why do think that is? You would think that if these people were so important to Jesus that we would know their names. But nothing about Jesus is normal. Jesus delights in people who want to make Jesus look big, not themselves. He delights in people who care more about his fame than their name. In Mark 7, we learn about an unnamed Gentile woman whose gutsy faith led to contagious praise of the Jesus who came to rescue sinners.

After showing us that Jesus had gone into a Gentile region, Mark tells us about a Gentile woman who approached Jesus. She had probably heard about Jesus’ healing power and came to him because her daughter was possessed by an unclean spirit (Mark 7:25). Like any mother with a sick child, this mother is very upset.  Her love for her daughter and her faith in Jesus led her to not just ask Jesus a question, but fall down on her face in front of him. She didn’t just ask Jesus to heal her daughter. The Bible tells us she “begged him to cast the demon out of her daughter” (Mark 7:26).

I want you to see how crazy this situation is and how bold her question is. A Gentile woman, who was unclean, came to a Jewish rabbi, and asked him to heal her daughter who was possessed by a demon, which made her unclean. This Gentile woman was basically asking her enemy, a Jewish teacher, to come to one of the dirtiest places he could come. Culturally, she has everything going against her. She is a Gentile, a woman, and has an unclean daughter. In other words, she was off-limits to a Jewish rabbi like Jesus. And do you see what she was asking? She was asking Jesus to come right in the middle of her filth. She was asking Jesus to risk his reputation and go against all Jewish tradition to heal her daughter.

We are all very much like this woman. We are unclean. We are the kind of people who do not deserve to approach Jesus. But Jesus is the kind of savior that runs to our weakness. He isn’t afraid of our deficiencies. He doesn’t shirk back from our sin. Jesus is a divine rescuer who gets up close and personal with those he is rescuing. He is not a distant savior. Jesus shows us mercy by entering our mess. The eternal Lord of heaven and earth made himself subject to suffering and death to save his enemies. A Gentile woman with a sick child recognized this at a time when his own disciples were slow to understand and believe Jesus’ power and identity.

We would do well to learn from this Syrophoenician woman. Instead of hiding in our sin, or wallowing in our filth, we must come out in the light and fall on our faces before Jesus because he is the one who went into the darkness and dirtiness for us by dying in our place. We need gutsy faith because our sin problem is great. Approaching a holy God in your sin takes both guts and humility. It takes guts because God’s holiness plus your sin equals certain death for you. It takes humility because to approach a perfect God all of your flaws are laid bare. But the humility in recognizing that you are unworthy and undeserving before him is the path to eternal joy in an eternal kingdom.

Be bold in what you ask of Jesus. Trust in his power to do far more for you than you could ever hope or imagine.

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 Theology Resources for Kids

Earlier this week I shared ten of my favorite Bible resources for kids. Each of those resources serve the purpose of introducing kids to the Bible. My list included story Bibles, “big picture” Bible books, Bibles aimed at children, family devotionals, and a Bible study resource.

Introducing children to the Bible is only part of telling the next generation of the glory of the Lord (Ps. 78). It’s also important to introduce children to Christian theology. I’m actually convinced that teaching children a biblically and historically rooted theological framework is more effective than teaching Bible content and stories.

We don’t just want to introduce our children to an ancient book. We want to introduce our children to the eternal God who inspired the book. We want to introduce our children to the specific elements and implications of the Christian faith. We want them to learn and know words like gospel, salvation, grace, faith, justification, sanctification, holiness, and obedience. We want our kids to know God, so we need an organized framework or system that clearly explains who God has revealed himself to be.

The psalmist exhorted the Israelites to tell their children of the wondrous deeds of the Lord. We do this by reading the Bible and teaching them the deep things of God.

I can think of few more daunting tasks than attempting to explain big truths to young minds. Explaining the Trinity or the relationship between justification and sanctification are frightening prospects. But we know how crucial and immediately practical it is to teach our kids they and everyone else in the world are made in the image of God.

As parents, we feel the equally heavy weights of importance and difficulty in teaching Christian theology to our kids. We recognize our need for help. Thankfully, there are many resources available to do just that.

Below, I’ve compiled a list of ten of my favorite theology resources for kids. The books are listed in no particular order. Most of them are best suited for children ages 6-12, though children younger and older can benefit from them.

  1. The Ology: Ancient Truths, Ever New | Marty Machowski
    • Machowski takes on a massive task in writing what amounts to a systematic theology for kids. It is creative, fun, accessible, simple, and rich with deep truth.
  2. God’s Very Good Idea: A True Story of God’s Delightfully Different Family | Trillia Newbell
    • I’m so thankful for Trillia Newbell has extended her voice and ministry to children and families. Her new book should be required reading for all children’s ministries and all Christian families. She teaches idea of imago Dei and the beautiful diversity that God has created in the world and church. Click the link and buy two copies. One for your family and one for another family!
  3. The New City Catechism: 52 Questions and Answers for Our Hearts and Minds
    • I love catechesis and catechisms. I’ve even developed a catechism myself. I think they are sadly missing in many churches and families. It has become a lost tradition in the church. I’m praying a widespread return to catechesis is imminent with the publication of The New City Catechism. This book is perfect for morning, evening, or bedtime devotions.
  4. The New City Catechism Devotional: God’s Truth for Our Hearts and Minds | edited by Collin Hansen
    • This devotional pairs wonderfully with The New City Catechism.
  5. The Radical Book for Kids: Exploring the Roots and Shoots of Faith | Champ Thornton
    • Champ Thornton’s book will easily become your child’s favorite book. It’s exciting, interesting, and thought-provoking. It covers a plethora of topics related to the Bible, history, worldview, and theology. Truly, your kids will love this book!
  6. The Garden, the Curtain and the Cross | Carl Laferton
    • Last Easter, I used this book with the preschoolers and elementary aged children at my church. It shows the historical and theological significance of the cross through story. The Garden, the Curtain, and the Cross is a biblical theology of sorts. It shows how what was lost in the Fall was restored in the cross. Grab a copy to teach the gospel story in a  simple, straightforward way.
  7. Thoughts to Make Your Heart Sing | Sally Lloyd-Jones
    • Sally Lloyd-Jones is an amazing story-teller. This book will help your kids stand in awe of the majesty of God.
  8. God Made All of Me: A Book to Help Children Protect Their Bodies | Justin & Lindsey Holcomb
    • This is one of those books I wish we didn’t need, but so glad we have. I don’t have to advocate for the importance of teaching our children how to protect their bodies, but I know those conversations can be paralyzing. This book is an easy conversation starter that I pray helps protect many children from abuse.
  9. Everything a Child Should Know About God | Kenneth Taylor
    • This is another book that teaches big truths to young minds in a simple, yet significant way. It walks through much of Christian theology in a child-friendly manner. It’s a great tool that can easily be plugged into times of family worship.
  10. The Pilgrim’s Progress | John Bunyan
    • My list wouldn’t be complete without one of the most read books in history. The Pilgrim’s Progress  is an amazing story that vividly teaches readers about the Christian faith and life. I look forward with joy to the day I can read this great book to my boys. If your kids are learning to read, I can’t think of a better bedtime story to begin.

What would you add?

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.