3 Things to Remember When You Pray

As I was reading in a morning devotion time in 1 Thessalonians last week, I read a tiny two-word phrase so small that if it were not so profound I could easily pass through without even noticing. Paul closes his letter to the Thessalonians by giving them succinct and specific instructions, most likely to supply what they are lacking in their faith. We all have room to grow, even beloved congregations. Hidden snuggly in this quick-paced list of commands are two that you can easily miss, but once you notice them you will never be the same. Who knew just five words could change a person so much? “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing” (v. 16-17).

These five words make up two whole verses. Whoever divided the Bible into chapters and verses must have realized the gravity of these words. Either that or he just randomly assigned verses and divided chapters. Yeah, the latter is probably true, but the point is, these five words are massively challenging for the Christian. Rejoice always? Pray without ceasing? Spend a little time meditating on these two commands and you will realize just how much you need Jesus.

But it got me thinking. While I’m praying without ceasing, while prayer is a constant attitude in my heart, what should be on my mind? How should I think about prayer? In another of Paul’s letters, I believe he gives us three things to remember when we pray. Philippians 4:6-7 calls us to pray in three ways. When you pray, keep these things on your mind.

[D]o not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

  1. Pray for specific things.

The word “supplication” used in verse 6 refers to an urgent specific plea. There are some people who say they only pray for others; that they do not pray for themselves. This sounds very humble and holy, but it is very biblical and right to pray for specific personal requests. Jesus teaches us to pray this way when he tells us to pray for food and for deliverance from temptation (Matt. 6:11-13). It is good to pray for specific things going on in your life. As a Christian, you are a child of a heavenly Father who desires your good and joy in all things. It is good to ask God to provide for you, your family, and your friends. It is good to ask God to forgive you and protect you. This recognizes that all forms of provision and protection come from God. Be quick to call on God to help you when you worry personally about things in your life.

  1. Pray as you remember God’s goodness.

Notice that Paul tells us to pray “with thanksgiving.” Praying with thanksgiving means remembering all of the good things God has done and is doing. Praying with thanksgiving recognizes that God is not only able to answer your prayers, but he is also willing to answer them according to his goodness and wisdom. This is also encouraging when it comes to the way God answers our prayers. God does not always answer our prayers in the way we want or think he should. Sometimes we ask for things for which we do not understand.

We are like little children asking to eat playdoh. When a child asks this, his parents don’t give him what he asked for, but instead something better. Sometimes God doesn’t give us what we ask, but he gives us something better for us, even if we do not understand it. God does not always answer prayers the way we want. But he answers them according to his perfect goodness and wisdom. The way our prayers are answered is not dependent on how wise or good our prayers are. It is dependent on how wise and good God is. Know that even if there are a lot of bad things happening in your life or the world around you, they are only temporary and the God to whom you pray is eternally wise, good, and powerful.

  1. Pray expecting an answer.

This can be the most exciting and frightening part of prayer. It can be exciting to expect God to answer, because we can be confident that our loving Father gives us good gifts. However, it can also be frightening, because we are unsure of how God will answer our prayers. It can be frightening in another way as well. For example, if you pray for God to use you in any way he wants, you can be sure that he will answer this. But this might mean that he could send you to another country to share the gospel. It could mean that God could send you to have that awkward conversation with your neighbor or coworker about Jesus. Praying for an opportunity to share the gospel may just mean you will get that opportunity.

So we should pray with an expectant heart. We should pray expecting God to answer. He could say “yes,” or he could say, “no.” He could even say, “not yet.” We usually want a “yes” from God, but our Father who is in heaven knows what is best for us. Like a parent who only gives good gifts to his children, God does not answer our prayers based on what we want. This is because sometimes we want things that would not be for our best. When you pray, expect God to answer according to his glorious goodness and grace.

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


Book Review: CSB Reader’s Bible


Reader’s Bibles have taken the Bible publishing world by storm. Whether formatted and published in single or multiple volumes, publishers are rushing to get in on what’s becoming the hottest new trend in Bible publishing. And I couldn’t be happier.

A reader’s Bible can be described as a raw text version of the Bible, meaning that only the words of Scripture are found on the pages of the book. There are no verses, no chapters, no footnotes, no study notes. A reader’s Bible contains a raw English translation of the Bible with no other helps, marks, or divisions.

One of the world’s newest English Bible translations, the Christian Standard Bible, has published a simple, beautiful, and inviting reader’s Bible.

Simple & Beautiful

The CSB Reader’s Bible is simple and beautiful. Admittedly, simple and minimalism are beautiful to me. Simplicity is an attractive element in every reader’s Bible. Without the distractions of footnotes, verses, chapters, or study notes, readers are able to absorb the words of Scripture and nothing more. The design of the CSB Reader’s Bible complements the text well. Published as a gray cloth over board, this reader’s Bible contains a simple and small blue diamond design on the front cover with minimalistic descriptive design on the spine. The book itself looks great on a shelf or desk.

As a single volume Bible, the CSB Reader’s Bible is substantial in size, but not overwhelming. Publishers, editors, and designers did an excellent job using paper thin enough to publish the Bible in one volume, even though the paper is more transparent than I would like. Despite some transparency, it’s not unbearable as the reading experience is barely affected. The simple and clean black text of the Scriptures is accented by blue book and chapter titles subtly placed at the bottom of each page.

Like all reader’s Bibles, the CSB Reader’s Bible is structured and functions much like any other classic novel. The design reminds the reader that the Bible is a work of literature. With generous margins for every book of the Bible, the poetic and prophetic genres have even larger margins, which benefits the reader. The CSB is unique in all of its Bibles in that all Old Testament quotations in the New Testament are bolded.


As I started reading the CSB Reader’s Bible, I noticed how warm and inviting it is. As a pastor, writer, and seminary student, my default approach to the Bible is study. I love cross-reference footnotes, alternate translation footnotes, and study notes. For readers like me, a reader’s Bible feels naked. I initially felt exposed and impatient. However, I also found myself absorbing more of the Bible in one sitting.

Without the distraction of cross-reference notes or study notes, I was able to just read and admire the beauty of the Word. Without the distraction of verse and chapter numbers, I never found a natural “stopping place.” So, instead of planning to read x-number of chapters or verses, I just read until I ran out of time or attention.

If you are a natural-born reader, you will love the freedom of the CSB Reader’s Bible. If reading is not your thing, I think you’ll be surprised how much more of the Bible you will read in one sitting. You cannot become a better Bible reader without reading the Bible a lot. The CSB Reader’s Bible is an accurate and readable translation formatted in such a way that you will do just that–read the Bible a lot!

For more information about the Christian Standard Bible, you can visit csbible.com.

You can find a copy of the CSB Reader’s Bible at LifeWay ($28), Amazon ($29), or CBD ($28).

I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for a fair and honest review. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html.

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.

Just Go to Church

We hear the mantra, “Don’t go to church, be the church” so much I fear it diminishes the importance of church attendance. We lament churches who care about numbers disproportionately so much that we lose sight of the spiritual significance of just showing up. The Christian life is more than going to church, but it’s certainly not less.

Church attendance almost feels lame. We don’t want to be “that guy” who boasts in his impeccable Sunday School attendance while spending the rest of the week bowing at the altar of the culture. We don’t want to be the snooty and grumpy old woman who has her own personal attendance roll in her purse next to her tissues and peppermint candy. We don’t want to be known as the parents who have their kids “in church” to justify the absence of discipleship in the home. We rightly despise the legalistic judgments of those who gauge a person’s entire relationship with Jesus based on how many Sundays they attend each month.

I get it. I really do. I don’t want to be a hypocrite. I don’t want to be a faithful church attender and a failed disciple.

But I hope you and I both see the beauty and glory in ordinary regular church attendance. Just showing up on Sunday mornings proves momentous for the spiritual growth of individuals in the church and the church as a whole. There is something uniquely heart-warming about seeing the same people in the same place gathered for the same purpose every week.

My grandfather has season tickets to Kentucky men’s basketball games. Growing up, I went to many Kentucky games with him at Rupp Arena. I became familiar with other season ticket holders that sat next to us and behind us. I knew only one thing about them, that they, like me, loved Kentucky and wanted them to win. But that one frivolous commonality caused me to feel affection for these people when I had to stand up to let them walk by me to their seats. I was glad to see them. I was glad to cheer and boo with them. I didn’t care about their character or personal lives. I enjoyed being with them because of the one thing we had in common.

We make church too difficult. If others in our church haven’t texted, called, or spoken to us in a while outside of our Sunday morning gatherings, we almost intentionally keep ourselves from enjoying their presence. We look around the room and start making judgments on one another. When we do this, we miss out on the simple beauty of the gathered church.

When you meet with your faith family on a Sunday morning, try to take in the radically ordinary elements. Notice where people sit. Remember they are broken sinners in need of grace just like you. Remember they are in the same place as you because they too believe in the mission of your local church.

We tend to thank people in the church who lead or serve in loud or important ways. We thank the preaching pastor. We thank the worship pastor and worship team. We thank nursery servants. But when was the last time you thanked a fellow church member just for showing up? When was the last time you said, “Thank you for being here. Your presence brought me joy today”?

I know I’ve never done that. I’ve never thanked someone for showing up. I never have because I’ve never thought much about even being thankful for their presence.

But I can tell you that on a Sunday after a tough week of ministry or family life, I’ve been genuinely refreshed by the mere presence of my brothers and sisters in Christ. I’ve learned that some weeks my heart needs a handshake and joke from Mr. Tommy more than a sermon from John Piper.

Christians go to church because we recognize our need for community. We go to church because our people are there. As I’ve seen pastor David Prince tweet many times, “The gathered church is a weekly family reunion.”

The fellowship element of a service is incredibly spiritual. Hugs, handshakes, tears, and laughs build the church up in the gospel.

We sing and listen to the Word preached and partake of the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper with and for one another, even if we aren’t close friends outside of church.

So, just go to church.

Just go to church to be reminded of the gospel, because you are prone to forget.

Just go to church to sing the gospel to and with one another.

Just go to church to pray for and with one another.

Just go to church to read and listen to the preached Word with one another.

Just go to church to carry out a common mission with one another.

Just go to church. Not to have an individual spiritual experience, but to share in the spiritual experience of worship with your family. Even if you don’t feel close to the people in the room, you are eternally bound to them in Christ. They are your brothers and sisters.

One of the best way you can serve your church is by just showing up. One of the best ways to be the church is to go to church. Build someone up in the gospel this week just by going to church.

Show up. Shake hands. Sing. Pray. Read. Listen. Together.

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.

Kingdom Work Is Never In Vain

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Book Review: The Beginner’s Gospel Story Bible by Jared Kennedy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pretend Snake

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

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

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

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

I received an advanced digital copy of this book from the author. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html.

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

Follow the Crazy Guy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Labor Day and Sabbath Rest

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

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

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

Three Reasons We Struggle to Rest From Our Work

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

1. Security-Driven Work

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

2. Technology-Driven Work

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

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

3. Identity-Driven Work

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

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

Universal Desire for Rest

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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