Flourishing in Life, Fearless in Death

In our pluralistic culture, it’s truly difficult to find much common ground between different groups of people. For example, in what ways are right wing fundamentalists, libertarians, and left wing socialists the same? Is there any common ground between religious hate groups and the people they hate? With the number of polarizing issues and worldviews marking the cultural landscape of America, it really is tough to find relatable common ground between you and someone you disagree with on every conceivable and important idea.

However, in my recent experience leading a non-Christian family through a funeral service and counseling them through the early days of the death of their loved one, it has become clear to me that we all relate to one another through four given expectations.

  1. We all want to live a reasonably pleasant, comfortable, and enjoyable life. We want to flourish in work, play, and home.
  2. None of us wants to die. But we all know death is coming. And none of us knows when it’s coming. True, some of us believe death is nothing more than a channel to an abyss of utter nothingness. Others believe death is a channel to true gain and lasting joy. But none of us wants to die, though we all know we will.
  3. We all want our lives to count. We want to matter. We want people to remember us with affection and miss our presence when we’re gone. We want to leave the world a better place than when we were born. We want to make our mark on the world through the things we believe, say, and do.

Because of these four things, the way you live your life and the way you view your death are absolutely crucial! So much so, that I tremble as I approach this topic. It is no small thing to talk about the way you live your life and the way you view your death. Both of these topics are offensive to think about and offensive to talk about. It is offensive to presume to tell someone how to live his or her life and it is offensive to tell someone how to view his or her death.

In fact, if there are two topics that are most uncomfortable for us to discuss with our families and friends, they are life and death. This is why we excel at small talk. This is why we make excuses for those we care about when they live recklessly. This is why we avoid visiting cemeteries and gloss over the reality of death by reminiscing good memories of the deceased. But the truth is, the most important realities in your life and my life are the way we live and the way we die.

And the pressing questions that come from this consideration are these: Can you find lasting joy and satisfaction in life and death? And, will you waste your life? I believe there is no other worldview, no other religion, and no other philosophy that probes these issues, which can provide an adequate answer to these questions. But, in the Christian faith we find answers to these questions that surpass all of our desires and fulfill all of our deepest longings.

The way we live and the way we die are directly impacted by whether or not Jesus was raised from the dead. The resurrection of Jesus informs us on what a wasted and unwasted life looks like. It also shows us where lasting joy can be found.

The way we live and the way we die must center on Christ. A Christ-centered perspective of life and death is the perspective that brings joy to the heart and purpose to life in the midst of tragedy and turmoil. True human flourishing in life and human conquering in death are only possible if it is true that a man named Jesus from Nazareth actually died and actually came back from the dead.

Lasting joy and satisfaction in life and death are only found in an empty tomb and in a risen Savior. The resurrection of Jesus directly impacts the way we live our lives and the way we approach our deaths. God glorifies himself and brings his people joy in the death and resurrection of his Son.

It is an endless quest to seek to find fulfillment in those three basic desires in anything other than Christ. And that’s not just smug, my-way-is-best-so-deal-with-it talk. That’s real talk. Consider where you find most happiness in life. If you are trying to fabricate or manufacture happiness, or flourish by working yourself to death to prove yourself to others, you will be both exhausted and unfulfilled. And no matter how hard you try to convince yourself otherwise, thinking about your death scares the life out of you. You know death is coming. But the fact you don’t know when you die and you have no control over how you die scares you to death. Only in Jesus can we find certainties in and beyond death. Only in Jesus can we face death with hope.

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.


Confessions of a Young Preacher

So, here’s a confession: I’m a young preacher who is learning on the job. My homiletical, communication, exegetical, and expositional skills are still raw and in need of much grooming. I learn far more than I teach every time I stand to proclaim the gospel on a Sunday morning. With each sermon I preach, I learn more about God, the gospel, preaching preparation and delivery, and just how much I need the grace of God and the patience of the people who sit under my preaching. God bless anyone who sit under the preaching of raw preachers like me! We are often passionate, eager, excited, naive, and inexperienced.

There are already things I’ve said in sermons I would never say again, and there are things I’ve said I would definitely say differently. I resonate with Tim Keller when he says the first 200 sermons a preacher preaches will be terrible. I find comfort in this no matter how much the people who sit under the 200 sermon threshold may cringe. The good news for every young preacher like me is that the edification and sanctification of those under our preaching is not ultimately dependent on our preaching abilities, but on the Word that we are preaching. I’m thankful God uses us not only despite our deficiencies, but also through them.

Any preacher, young or old, who faithfully preaches the Word as it was revealed is a competent preacher. Sermon preparation, writing, and delivery skills will develop over time (at least I hope!). But when a preacher preaches the Word, it is the Word that will not return void, not the sermon.

One of the things I am learning as I hone my preaching skills is that preaching can be simple without being childish. Preaching can be both deep and clear. Preaching should be both deep and clear. There is a tendency among preachers in my particular theological camp to give a running commentary on a passage to expose exegetical truths while offering solid theological points along the way. In the process, many of us fail miserably at application. And preaching that doesn’t include application is, well, not preaching.

I believe this is why so many young preachers like me are tempted to draw so heavily on the work of other preachers we follow. In fact, we want to interpret and teach a passage correctly so much that we are tempted to just borrow from the sermons of these preachers. How many of Tim Keller’s sermons have been preached outside of Redeemer Presbyterian? Good intentions that end in plagiarism are still sinful and lazy.

The church is best served by a pastor who labors over the text and seeks to faithfully expose its meaning. Even though the man who wrote the sermon may have wonderfully exposited the text, the man preaching the sermon did not and was not personally impacted by the text. Part of the impact of the sermon is the passion of the preacher who has been overwhelmed by the grandeur of the text he is preaching. This is lost when a preacher preaches someone else’s sermon. Remember, pastor, you are God’s man for the local church you are shepherding. As helpful as Piper and Keller are, they do not know your people. You do. God has called you and will use your unique abilities to preach the riches of God’s grace in Christ week in and week out.

With that said, it is vital for preachers to continue to grow. Growing as a preacher begins with humility. Be keenly aware of your weaknesses and be willing for a seasoned pastor you trust to speak into you. I’m grateful to God that he has called me to serve alongside a faithful and gifted expositor. Put down your guard and allow the arrows of healthy, loving, and biblical criticism to pierce your heart. It hurts to be told where you are weak, but nothing will benefit your preaching like listening to criticism with an open and humble heart.

Preaching is hard work. I’ve never been more spiritually and physically exhausted than after prepping for a sermon and then preaching it. My wife can attest to the turmoil that rages in my soul on a Monday morning after preaching on Sunday. However, the joy I feel in preaching is hard to describe and even harder to exaggerate. I count it a privilege and joy to proclaim the gospel and help people see and savor the greatness and grace of the God who is and speaks and saves. Every growth pain is worthwhile.

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 Real MVPs in Christian Discipleship

Timothy Paul Jones once wrote, “What you do for God beyond your home will typically never be greater than what you practice with God within your home.”[1] Some of the most memorable stories we hear in worship services and Christian conferences are of those heralded missionaries who risked all for the sake of Christ. Who isn’t moved by the heart-wrenching sacrifice of Adoniram and Ann Judson? Who wouldn’t be motivated by the unashamed commitment to Christ of John and Betty Stam? Christian missionaries and leaders who have given and even lost their lives for the sake of the gospel are rightly heralded as heroes of the faith.

While it is right and good to honor men and women in church history who have taken big risks for Christ, with this honor comes an unfortunate tendency to look down on Christians who live unassuming and relatively ordinary lives. We teach little boys to be like Moses and David, as we talk about bushes burning and giants falling. The problem with this is that when we look at our own lives, which probably look little like David, Moses, Adoniram Judson, or John Stam, we begin to slowly crumble under the weight of mediocrity.

It would be hard to number the amount of households that are filled with prayers over children like, “Lord, make our son into a great man of God who will do great things for you.” The problem with this prayer is not the desire or the expression. The problem is the perception of what a “great man of God” is. The problem in many Christian households is ordinary, consistent, faithful obedience to the Word is viewed as second-rate.

Dads who lead their families in nightly worship or devotion are not viewed as heroes. Moms who read the Bible to their children before bed are not heralded as heroic. While the heroic tales of missionaries are deeply moving, the primary way God expands his kingdom and the realm of his presence is through ordinary discipleship in families. Moms and Dads who commit to make disciples in their own home are taking part in the fulfillment of the role of dominion given to Adam and perfectly fulfilled in Christ.

This misconception and erroneous perception of greatness is the root of much discipleship deficiency in Christian homes. When greatness is measured only in terms of rare, special ministries and testimonies, the ordinary elements of Christian family discipleship are overlooked. Within my own household, these tendencies to overlook ordinary obedience to disciple my wife in the gospel prevents meaningful and significant discipleship from ever taking place.

There are many reasons for breaking this trend and implementing a disciplined routine of discipleship in the home. In reflecting on my current practices of family discipleship and projecting future practices, it is important to first consider reasons for implementing a disciplined routine of family discipleship in the first place.

One of the reasons a disciplined routine of family discipleship should be implemented in the home is the overwhelmingly biblical evidence, which places the responsibility for the spiritual development of children in the hands of the parents. Contrary to popular opinion, the role of parents isn’t to drop their children off in the church’s ministries solely depend on the church’s pastors to lead their children in the gospel. Jones puts it this way, “Scripturally speaking, the primary responsibility for the spiritual formation of children does rest squarely in the hands of parents.”[2]

As God called a people to himself, he prepared fathers to lead and teach their children. Jim Hamilton observes that when God led his people into the Promised Land and prepared them to live life in it, he called them to extend the glory of God to all nations. This grand purpose was to be carried out through instruction. Hamilton claims, “Moses made clear in Deuteronomy—particularly in Deuteronomy 6:4-9—that fathers of households were responsible to see that this happens.”[3]

The ordinary disciplined discipleship in Israelite homes was the means for magnifying the glory of God in all nations. The blessing of the nation depended on the individual actions of fathers to disciple their families. In the words of Hamilton, “It doesn’t take a village; it takes a father.”[4]

Fathers were commanded to repeat the commands of God to their children. They were to teach them to their children continuously. Disciplined family discipleship is expressed most clearly in the Shema. Family discipleship is disciplined and word-centered. The great command of Deuteronomy 6:5 is to be taught “diligently to your children, and [you] shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise” (Deut. 6:7).

In reflecting on my own family discipleship practices, daily Scripture reading and prayer with my wife and boys is the most biblical way to lead my family in the gospel. It is through the teaching of the Word in families that disciples are made and multiplied in the nations. By reading through books of the Bible, my family is able to reflect the heart of the biblical witness on discipleship practices.

The design for the family is for fathers to lead their families in disciplined instruction of the Lord. My family’s current practices are lacking in consistency. I need to grasp the comprehensive vision for family discipleship of Deuteronomy 6. Faithfulness to the Word in family discipleship is only beneficial when it is accentuated by a disciplined framework. God uses many means in the discipleship of your children, but Mom and Dad, he primarily uses you–you the real MVPs!

While we rightly herald missionaries and biblical men and women as monumental heroes of the faith, the Bible itself suggests that the true heroes are moms and dads who consistently lead their children in the gospel. Christ has come to reorder our relationships in such a way that we can effectively train our children in the fear of the Lord. The picture of a heroine in my home is the young wife and mother who reads and prays over our two boys before bed. True heroes wear pajamas. Be the hero your children need everyday. Call them to the table or the bedroom. Open the Word. Help their little minds and hearts soar.

[1] Randy Stinson and Timothy Paul Jones. Trained in the Fear of God: Family Ministry in Theological, Historical, and Practical Perspective. Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 2011. p. 14.

[2] Ibid., 15.

[3] Ibid., 35.

[4] Ibid., 37.

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.

Celebrating and Stewarding American Freedom

pexels-photo-4Hot takes are for chumps or experts. I’m not an expert on much, if anything. And I definitely don’t wanna be known as a chump. But as I sit on my back porch enjoying some wonderfully suffocating Mississippi heat on this July 4, I thought I’d share a few meager thoughts on celebrating Independence Day from a Christian worldview.

Reader beware: No one could ever label me as a patriot, and I’m not overly patriotic. I love history and am grateful for the independence America gained in the late 1700s. Admittedly, I’m probably less patriotic than I’ve ever been. That’s probably because I’m guilty of being a prisoner of the moment. I’m more pessimistic than I should be about politics. To be honest, this latest political season has left me discouraged, defeated, and disappointed in many Republican and evangelical leaders.

However, I love my country. I love my country regardless of who holds the presidency or which party dominates Congress. I love the inherent and basic human freedoms granted us by God and recognized by the Constitution. With that in mind, here are a few thoughts, for whatever they may be worth, on celebrating Independence Day as a Christian.

Being citizens of a country as free and powerful as the United States should cause us to feel gratitude toward God for providentially placing us here. Being proud to be an American should cause us to be humbled by God’s providence. We contributed nothing to the founding or development of this country. We did nothing to achieve a birthright to the privileges and freedoms America provides. We were simply born here. The fact that I was born in Kentucky instead of North Korea is a mysterious grace from God. I can raise my family without fear and can expect a relatively easy, comfortable, and prosperous life.

However, our celebration of our American citizenship shouldn’t cause Christians to forget their heavenly citizenship. Because we have dual citizenship on earth and in heaven, we should be mindful of God’s providential placement of us in our earthly home. We are citizens of a vastly powerful and advanced nation. We have wealth other civilizations, peoples, and nations could only dream of having.

But what are we doing with the freedoms and privileges the Lord has blessed us with in this country? Are we stewarding them well? Are we leveraging our position as Americans to advance the kingdom that will never end?

If celebrating American freedom is an end in itself for us, we will have wasted our lives. Protecting our American freedoms only matters if we are willing to risk our lives so that others may walk in life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. And ultimately, our hope and work as Christians should be to leverage and steward our American citizenship so that others would gain heavenly citizenship.

How can we not stop at celebrating, but also steward our American freedom well? I told you I’m not an expert, and this list is far from exhaustive, and feel free to disagree with me, but I hope this is good place to begin utilizing our freedoms for the common good.

1. Weep with those who have a vastly different American experience than you.

Not everyone feels deep American pride when they see an American flag. America is a difficult place to live for some of our own citizens. The American experience isn’t congruent in every corner of our land. While I will never worry if my son is one day pulled over by a police officer, other fathers say goodbye to their sons with far different expectations. The killing of Philando Castile and the horridly botched trial of the police officer who killed him, is the latest in a long history of examples of systemic prejudice, racism, and injustice levied against the Black community. Instead of arguing over minor details, try to understand and empathize with a grieving people. Your American experience isn’t everyone’s American experience. As we celebrate, we will better steward our freedoms by listening to those who don’t feel as free.

2. Work to use your wealth, privilege, status, and success for the sake of the hurting and hopeless among us and beyond.

If American freedom has been nothing but a gift to you, then work to extend that gift to others. Whether it is those in our own country who, for whatever reason, haven’t been able to take advantage of American freedom, or those who are trying to come to our country to flee oppression, Christians should be the first to deny self and sacrificially love neighbor as self. We should speak freely about the hope of the gospel, but we should also work out the implications of the gospel in our neighborhoods, counties, and cities. The gospel is enough motivation for us to love and show mercy to the oppressed and helpless around us. But our American freedom give us the position to do creative and constructive work to advance human flourishing.

As you celebrate today, shoot off fireworks, grill hot dogs, play in the pool, enjoy a cold beer, and sing along with Lee Greenwood until your lungs give out. But don’t let your celebrating be an end. Celebrate your American freedom by stewarding it for the good of all people and the sake of Christ’s name.

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.

When God Shatters Your Weekly Routine: Reflections On a Full Week of Ministry

The past two weeks have probably been the most full weeks of gospel ministry in my life to this point. I’ve only been serving as a pastor in full-time ministry for a few years now, so I don’t have a ton of ministry mileage logged. Most of my weeks in ministry have been pretty predictable. Aside from the occasional unplanned meeting, lunch, or phone call, I’ve more or less been in control of much of my ministry experience.

As a pastor, I love to plan ahead. I enjoy thinking about where our people will be in the coming months and years, and planning accordingly. Because of this propensity to think three steps ahead, I’ve had to slowly learn how to be in the moment. I’ve learned that a blown plan isn’t the end of the world, and fulfilled plans can sometimes be sinful if they neglect the hearts of the plans’ subjects.

My lead pastor and brother in ministry has taught me that shepherding the flock takes time, patience, endurance, perseverance, and any other word that requires sitting, waiting, thinking, trusting. As important as planning ahead in ministry is for the advancement of the gospel in and through your people, sometimes it’s best to blow up our plans for the sake of being present with our people in their time of need. And nothing has caused me to lean on the ever strong and able arms of God than when my week doesn’t go as planned.

This past week I had the privilege of ministering to a local family who lost a loved one in a sudden and tragic way. I didn’t know them and they had never heard of me. Many of them are not members of a church. They were simply a hurting, grieving family in need of a minister to officiate a funeral service for their loved one. I count it a privilege now, even though I initially recoiled at the prospect of having the end of my week interrupted by an unforeseen need in my community. I had originally planned to work on lessons for a children’s biblical theology class I’ll be teaching this Fall. So, when I was asked to officiate this funeral, my mind first rushed to an unholy place. I thought about how I could rework my schedule to both minister to this family and get ahead.

On top of having to officiate a funeral, I was called on to fill in to preach for our lead pastor, who had become ill. So, a normal week for many pastors became a first for me, and one filled with unexpected twists and turns. In the midst of all my last minute preparation, I was faced with a tough question–do i care more about making and fulfilling personal plans and goals than I do the people these plans and goals are meant to serve?

Plans are good, but when they are held so tightly that you are unable to move them aside for the sake of others, they have ceased being a helpful tool and become a dangerous idol. No one enjoys being confronted with sin, but it is always a grace to us when God stops us in our sin. The Lord has worked mightily in me over the past 48 hours to help me see that while plans are important, people matter more. Thinking about how to love and serve both God and neighbor has alleviated my anxiety over my plans. As I planned the funeral service, I found myself more concerned about the hearts of those I was ministering to than how I would be received and perceived by those who would hear me lead and preach. I found myself with a radically God-centered and others-centered mindset, which empowered me to do what God has called me to do as a minister–love and lead those entrusted to my care as well.

Even though my sermon prep last week was much shorter than my three-steps-ahead mentality would have liked, it was much more fruitful because I was acutely aware of my limitations and weakness. I genuinely called out to God for help. And he answered. I worked to understand the text in its original context, make gospel connections and applications to the people I help shepherd. With every passing week, I’m continually blown away by God’s grace in choosing to use me to proclaim and minister his gospel.

Brother pastor, it’s easy to get caught up in the whirlwind of ministry planning. We are used to thinking months and years down the road. Is there ever an accomplished task? One finished sermon or lesson only means a new one must be written. Seeing one person conquer a sin-battle is met with seeing another walk in a dark valley of loneliness and depression. We see the highs and lows, the best and worst, the brightest and darkest points of humanity. But we are warrior shepherds wielding a piercing weapon of good news. We bring hope everlasting, joy incomparable, and love unconditional through the gospel of Jesus Christ. We don’t have all the answers, but we know the guy that does.

Last week, I was caught in a whirlwind of planning, but through God’s providence and kindness, I was given a unique opportunity to truly and deeply depend on God’s grace. I needed the gospel last week. But what is so easy to forget is that I will need it this week and the week after that. My need will never cease, but praise God neither will his sufficiency to provide for my need. I’m thankful when my plans fail, his plans are greater. May the Lord continue to shatter my plans if it brings more weekends like the one I just experienced.

Two Books on Believer’s Baptism

Last night, I taught children at Trace Crossing what Baptists believe about baptism. Using a catechism I have written specifically for children, I explained three important truths about baptism:

  1. Baptism is a command, not a choice
  2. Baptism is a picture, not a performance
  3. Baptism is a sign, not a saving act

The doctrine of baptism has been debated by Christians for centuries and will continue to be debated until we learn in the New Earth just how wrong all the Presbys were! But for now, I’m content to continue learning from those with whom I disagree and from those who are right. *wink wink*

In all seriousness, while my view of baptism is firmly planted in Baptist soil because I believe the Baptist position makes the most sense of the Bible’s teachings on baptism, I do not presume to have the upper hand on my Presbyterian brothers and sisters. I’ll admit that as Baptists, we could be wrong. However, for now I’ll stick with the view of baptism that teaches it as a command and picture of the gospel in which being immersed in water shows we belong to Christ and his Church.

I love recommending resources, so here are a few helpful books I used in preparation to teach baptism to kids. Consider grabbing both of these resources to increase your understanding of what Baptists believe about baptism.

Understanding Baptism (Bobby Jamieson)

Understanding Baptism Book

Jamieson’s short book on the basics of a Baptist view of baptism is well worth your money and time. It’s perfect for those of you looking for a brief and concise description of the what, why, and how of baptism.

Believer’s Baptism: Sign of the New Covenant in Christ (Tom Schreiner & Shawn Wright)

Believer's Baptism Book

Schreiner and Wright pack a heavy punch in their book on baptism. I believe their exegesis is convincing as they deal extensively with each biblical text relating to baptism. They even have a chapter on infant baptism, which helps with perspective.

17498999_1870940272931412_6999370580315029592_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.

God Provided A Way: Why Christians Need the Gospel

pexels-photo1.jpgWithout the gospel there are no Christians. It goes without saying that Christians need the gospel. Despite this truth, many Christians act as if they have no need for the gospel after the point of conversion. How often have you been sitting in a church service and tuned out a pastor who begins to explain the content of the gospel? Christians are tempted to think that once they have trusted Christ, there is no need to hear the gospel again. They think, “That’s not for me.” The job is done. What is the point of hearing the gospel week in and week out after one has already repented and believed? However, to cave to these tempting thoughts is spiritual suicide because of the sinfully seductive world we live in.

We live in a world filled with seductive sinful passions that entice our lingering flesh. Everything from television, books, magazines, and various websites tempt us to treasure pleasures that are fleeting at best and destructively damning at worst. We are also tempted with everyday social sins such as gossip. We all know the dangers of a prayer meeting gone awry, as too often we are left with a smorgasbord of gossip topics when we return home or head to work the next day. The destructive yet alluring “he said, she said” conversations can lure us in to the point that we are numb to the hurtful words that we speak.

These temptations and the rest are readily available to us everywhere we look on any given day. Facebook, Twitter, TV programs, newspapers, and casual conversations provide temptations to fall into sin at any moment. And if we are honest, we sometimes actively seek these venues in order to satisfy our sinful passions. Christians are called to holiness and to conform to the image of Christ (Rom. 8:29). So then, how is a Christian to live in a world filled with sinful seductions? How is a Christ-follower, a child of the Holy One of Israel, to survive in this daily battle of (or for) the heart?

The gospel of Jesus Christ is the primary means by which we fight and kill sin. If you want to overcome the temptation that is vying for your heart’s worship, look to Christ and his gospel. One tremendous benefit of these dangerous temptations is the fact that they remind us of our dreadfully sinful condition and the pre-grace predicament all of humanity is in from birth (Ps. 51:5). All the more reason why our eyes should gaze upon the glory of God’s grace in the gospel—the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ that provided the only way for us to be legally justified and paternally adopted by our holy and sovereign God.

Paul realized the necessity of reminding Christians of the gospel when he wrote to the church at Corinth, “Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain” (1 Cor. 15:1-2). Paul directly connects sanctification to reminding these believers of the gospel. Gospel reminders serve our sanctification.

The gospel is a sanctifying means of grace that we need on a daily basis. So as you take in your daily dose of sinful temptations through your conversations and mouse clicks, consider how to combat this satanic onslaught with the sword of the Spirit, the Word of God, and most pointedly, the gospel. God provided a way for you to be made right with him and for you to be made like his Son. Your holiness was achieved on the cross, but it is being worked out in you every second of every day (Phil. 2:12-13). One means for you to grow into this blood-bought and Spirit-wrought holiness is to meditate on the glory of God’s grace in the gospel.

Do you find yourself neglecting your need for the gospel? Do you yawn when your pastor preaches the content of the gospel? If so, know that this kind of thinking is perilous to your faith. According to pastor and author Mitch Chase, “leaving the gospel behind in pursuit of Christian growth is actually the abandonment of the path to Christian growth.”

One way to remedy this gospel neglect is to remind yourself of the undeserved gift of grace of the gospel often. One exercise that I have found helpful is to put the gospel into words from time to time. Take a sheet of paper or open a blank document on your computer and simply write out the content and benefits of the gospel. Focusing on the power of God in the gospel will allow your eyes to gaze upon pleasures that are unending in Christ (Ps. 16:11) and provide the assurance that your battle for holiness is indeed being worked out by God in you and will be achieved in the last day (Rom. 8:30; Phil. 1:6).

God provided a way for you to be made right with him, and he is still providing a way for you to flee and fight sin. The means in both cases is the same—the gospel of Jesus Christ—for your justification and your sanctification. Jesus died to cancel the debt of your sin, absorb the wrath of God against your sin, and free you from the slavery of sin.

Here is just one example of an articulation of the gospel by K. Scott Oliphint that may help you fight sin this week or this month:

Man fell from his original state and consequently lost the ability and the will to worship and serve the Creator. The covenant relationship that, prior to the fall, existed in harmony with the Creator’s will was, after the fall a relationship of animosity and rebellion on our side and was one of wrath on the side of the Creator.

But there was still a relationship. It is not that man ceased to be a covenant creature after the fall. He was still responsible to God to obey and worship him. He turned this responsibility, however, into occasions for rebellion. Instead of walking with God in the cool of the day, man began to try to hide from God, to fight with God, to run from him, to use the abilities and gifts he had been given to attempt to thwart the plan of God and to construe for himself a possible world in which he was not dependent on God at all.

So God provided a way in which the obedience owed him and the worship due his name could be accomplished. He sent his own Son, who alone obeyed the spirit and letter of the law, and who also went to the cross to take the penalty we deserve in order that those who would come to him in faith would be declared not guilty before the tribunal of the covenant Judge.

*This post first appeared as a chapter in my book, Come to the Well. You can purchase a copy from Amazon, CBD, and other book retailers.

17498999_1870940272931412_6999370580315029592_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. Mathew and his wife, Erica, live in Tupelo with their two boys, Jude and Jack.

March Madness Hope and Queen Esther: A Summary of Esther 8

rust-king-iron-bronzeEsther 8 ushers in the beginning of a final resolution to the story. Things have definitely started looking up for the Jews, but Haman’s death is only the beginning of their salvation, not the end. Much is still uncertain in Susa other than Haman’s decree that didn’t die with him. Esther senses the momentum she and her people have gained, and alongside Mordecai, who is elevated to Haman’s previous position, she pleads with the king for the salvation of her people.

Unlike her previous meetings with the king, Esther is not emotionally reserved this time around as she falls at his feet and weeps for her people. However, her cunning remains as she asks the king to save the Jews for her sake, not their own. The Jews’ only hope is not in the king’s kindness or mercy, but in his affection for the queen.

King Xerxes once again finds favor with Esther and gives Mordecai authority to write a second decree to combat Haman’s. Haman’s decree could not be revoked because it carried the authority of the king. So, a competing decree which nearly perfectly mirrored the first allowed the Jews to defend themselves against anyone who would come against them. The chapter ends as the kingdom’s fastest horses are sent out in blazing speed to take the new edict to the ends of the empire. The Jews who were once fasting and weeping are now feasting and rejoicing as they prepare themselves for battle against their enemies.

Mediation is an important theme in this chapter alongside God’s sovereignty in bringing about an ironic reversal of fates. Esther serves her people maybe not as the mediator they were looking for, but exactly the mediator they needed. Esther won favor with the king and won salvation from his decree of death.

Jesus is a better Esther. He stands in the place of his people and mediates for them before the King. Esther provides March Madness hope. When your favorite college basketball team wins another game in the NCAA tournament, they give you hope that they may win it all. But this hope is fragile. It is hope in a chance to win. The hope Jesus brings his people as their mediator is not like March Madness hope.

Jesus won favor with God the King through his sinless life and substitutionary death. But while Esther’s mediation gave her people a chance for survival, Jesus’ mediation gave his people a certainty of salvation.

17498999_1870940272931412_6999370580315029592_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. Mathew and his wife, Erica, live in Tupelo with their two boys, Jude and Jack.

Loving Delay: God’s Love and Glory in Your Suffering

mountains-nature-man-personChristian, have you ever prayed for something over and over again that resulted in no apparent answer from God, so much so, that it led you to question his love for you?

Battle of the Heart

This question is like a hardcore game of tug-of-war in your heart and mind. You know that God’s love for you is uninhibited, unbound, and unmerited. You know that he loved you despite your deliberate rebellion against him in sending Christ Jesus to die for you (Rom. 5:8). You know that God loves you because he adopted you; you are his child, and he is your Father. You know he loves you as the Holy Spirit sanctifies you and reorients your desires toward God. And you know he loves you because by his preserving grace you wake up each morning saying, “I believe in Jesus.”

Yet, at the same time, your heart is breaking at the sound of bad news; your faith is shaking with doubt, or your world has been completely turned upside down by tragedy, suffering, or some raging consequences of sin. You cry yourself to sleep at night. No one can say anything that can ease the pain. Broken relationships. Broken bodies. Broken health. Broken hearts. Just sheer brokenness fills your life. And so you pray. You pray, and you pray, and you pray. Each morning and afternoon, evening and night, you pray for God to lift the pain, cure the disease, mend the broken relationship. The cry of your heart could not be clearer. With the psalmist you cry:

I am weary with my moaning
every night I flood my bed with tears;
I drench my couch with my weeping.
My eye wastes away because of grief;
it grows weak because of all my foes (Ps. 6:6-7).

 Deafening Silence

But what comes out of these heart-wrenching prayers? What is the response of the God of the universe in whom you have trusted and to whom you belong to your humble, desperate cries?


Silence. Piercing silence. Deafening silence. The suffering and the tragedy persist. The night will not end. You wonder, “Is God ignoring me? Does he even hear me?” This silence or delay from God seems surprising and uncharacteristic of his love. Can God truly claim to love us with the intensity that he says he does if he delays in answering our prayers?

I want you to see that in delaying, God is loving you. He loves you when you cry, “My soul also is greatly troubled. But you, O Lord—how long?” (Ps. 6:3). The basis from which all of this flows is the truth that God is love (1 John 4:8, 16). His love for you is not something that must be learned or acquired; it is crucial to his character.

Loving by Delay: Example from John 11

An example of this can be found in John 11, which begins with a request for help from Mary and Martha. Their brother Lazarus had fallen ill. It is clear that Jesus loved this family, for Lazarus’ sisters refer to their brother as “he whom you love” (John 11:3). The one whom Jesus loves is sick and dying, and the ones who Jesus loves are pleading with him to help. Mary and Martha call upon Jesus to demonstrate his love for them by doing something about the illness. Just to be clear here, a family that Jesus loves deeply has been struck with tragedy. A brother is dying, and his sisters are crying. His love for them is real and deep, and this is how he responds:

But when Jesus heard it he said, “This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it” (John 11:4).

The NASB uses the phrase: “This sickness is not to end in death…” Though Lazarus’ sickness would definitely lead to death in one sense (Lazarus does die), this illness does not end in death. In other words, the story does not end with Lazarus’ death. The sickness does not have the last word—Jesus does. But it may also be that Jesus says this with emphasis on the event’s purpose. The true end or purpose of what is about to happen is not death but rather the glorification of God in Jesus Christ. “It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” So, the one central thing to Lazarus’ and his sisters’ suffering is the glory of God in Jesus Christ.

Two things are clear so far: (1) Jesus loves Lazarus and his sisters, and (2) the suffering of this family (Lazarus’ illness) has its end or purpose as the glory of God in Jesus Christ.

John now moves to focus on Jesus’ love. “Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus” (John 11:5). What John is about to write must be taken with this knowledge fresh on our minds. He then writes something shocking, surprising, and seemingly scandalous. What we might expect from John in verse six would be something like this: “As a result of this love, Jesus immediately went to Lazarus and healed him from this illness.” This is what we would expect from the love of Christ poured out on those whom he loves. This is what we expect from him when we are suffering: immediate response and immediate healing. However, the story goes much differently.

So, when he heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was (John 11:6).

John reminds us of Jesus’ love for Martha, Mary, and Lazarus and then proceeds to tell us that the way he demonstrates this love is by staying two days longer where he was. He does not rush to Lazarus’ rescue; he delays.  In response to a desperate plea from the ones he loves, Jesus demonstrates his love by delay. The original Greek is much clearer than the English translation in verses 5-6. John essentially says that because Jesus loved Martha, Mary, and Lazarus, he delayed in coming to his rescue. Delay was Jesus’ way of demonstrating his love for his friends.

Reasons to Love by Delay

But why the delay? Doesn’t Peter clearly teach that God does not delay? “The Lord does not delay His promise, as some understand delay” (2 Pt. 3:9). If Jesus loved this family, why would he wait two (what ended up being four) days to come to them? I believe there are two main reasons.

  1. To Magnify His Glory

Remember, the end or purpose of Lazarus’ sickness is that God may be glorified in the glorification of Jesus Christ. When Jesus and his disciples finally arrived, Lazarus had been dead and in the tomb for four days. This is highly significant because of Jewish thought. At that time, there was a Jewish superstition that when someone died, the spirit of that person hovers over their body for up to three days, after which no resurrection or resuscitation would be possible. When Jesus arrives at Lazarus’ tomb after four days, there would be no question that any resurrection would be nothing short of divine. Nothing would be able to explain a resurrection at this point, and Jesus’ deity and glory would be on full display. Death does not have the last word. Jesus does. And he has the final word on your suffering as well. In the end, he will magnify his glory.

  1. To Magnify His Love 

How does Jesus show his love for this family in his delay? We have already seen that he shows his love for them by glorifying himself in Lazarus’ resurrection, which was magnified through delay. However, there is something more personally significant that happens when Jesus demonstrates love by way of delay. In his book Scandalous, D.A. Carson observes that oftentimes Christians act like immature children when we pray. He says this:

Sadly, many of us act like very young and immature children when we deal with God. We, too, want specific blessings now, now, now. But God takes the long view, and he understands that sometimes delay is what is best for us.

Our view of God is too often far too small. We view him, speak of him, and deal with him in human terms—and as Carson has demonstrated, childish human terms at that. Peter writes that the Lord does not delay “as some understand delay” (2 Pt. 3:9). Even though he is specifically referring to the second coming of Christ in this passage, it is clear that God’s delay is intentional and is not the result of some limitation of his power or love. Delay from God is evidence of his patience to accomplish his purposes in perfect timing.

Our view of God’s love is also too small. We feel that God does not love us if he does not answer or bless us immediately, but what we see in John 11 refutes that thinking. Jesus loved Martha, Mary, and Lazarus, and yet he delayed in coming to them. He did not immediately relieve their suffering. God does not always immediately relieve the suffering of his children, and it isn’t always the case that he relieves our suffering at all. In these cases, with Paul we must submit to the truth that God’s grace is sufficient (2 Cor. 12:9).

Suffering to the Glory of God

Jesus showed his love for Lazarus and his sisters by delaying in relieving their suffering. Therefore, delay does not imply lack of love or neglect but rather it implies a higher wisdom and grander purpose.

Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us (Rom. 5:3-5).

God is glorified in the joy of his people, and when his people find joy in him amidst tremendous suffering, the worth of God radiates from his suffering people. The vision of God that we must take up in order to accurately view personal suffering is that of Romans 5:3-5. This vision is that the increase of character, perseverance, and future hope is more important than relief from suffering. Paul would later write, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Rom. 8:18). One means that God uses to work this joy out in us is delay. God’s love through delay produces perseverance, character, and hope—hope that will never fail us and hope that vanquishes all need for relief.

D.A. Carson is poignant on this point: “God is sovereign. He is wise. He is unqualifiedly good. Part of Christian maturation is understanding that even his delays are not foolish or stupid or mistakes or exercises in whimsy. He is to be trusted, and even the delays are to be improved upon by the way we respond to them.”

Likewise, John Piper exhorts, “We can draw no deadlines for God. He hastens or he delays as he sees fit. And his timing is all-loving toward his children. Oh, that we might learn to be patient in the hour of darkness.”

Christian, when your suffering will not cease, when the darkness over your soul will not lift, and when you feel your prayers are going unanswered, know that this is one of the innumerably glorious and mysterious ways that your God loves you. His glory and love are magnified in his delay. You can rest assured knowing that the grand purpose in suffering is the glory of God in the satisfaction of his suffering saint. Find solace and identification through suffering in these words from Christian poet, George Herbert:

Ah my dear angry Lord,
Since thou dost love, yet strike;
Cast down, yet help afford;
Sure I will do the like.
I will complain, yet praise;
I will bewail, approve:
And all my sour-sweet days
I will lament, and love.

*This post first appeared as a chapter in my book, Come to the Well. You can purchase a copy from Amazon, CBD, and from many other book retailers.

Mathew Gilbert is Associate Pastor of Children and Preschool at The Church at Trace Crossing in Tupelo, MS. He is the author of Come to the Well: 50 Meditations to Fuel Your Joy in God and founder of Grace Satisfies. He is an M.Div student at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Mathew is married to his high school sweetheart, Erica. Mathew and Erica live in Tupelo with their two sons, Jude and Jack. You can follow Mathew on Twitter @Mat_Gilbert.

Delighting in a Difficult Doctrine: Four Reasons to Find Joy in Election

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The doctrine of election is without a doubt one of the most central yet most misunderstood doctrines in the entire Bible. Wayne Grudem defines the doctrine of unconditional election like this: “Election is an act of God before creation in which he chooses some people to be saved, not on account of any foreseen merit in them, but only because of his sovereign good pleasure.”

Election is God’s free choice in eternity past of certain sinners that he would save based on his sovereign grace and according to the purpose of his will. Paul gives a biblical example of our election in God’s choice of Jacob over Esau (see Rom. 9). He concludes that God chooses to save some sinners to exalt the glory of God’s grace. “So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God who has mercy…So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills” (Rom. 9:16).

This doctrine is a hot topic. In fact, your blood might be boiling even now as you read this! Election can split churches and has split denominations. J.I. Packer sees this very thing when he writes, “Texts from Paul are waived like banners; the words ‘Calvinist’ and ‘Arminian’ fly like bullets; people blink and go red; everyone ends up fluttered and hot under the collar. Sometimes, looking back on these unhappy exchanges, we find ourselves resenting the very existence of the doctrine which occasions such high feelings.”

As a result of such heated discussions over the doctrine of election and the prospect for church division and angered congregants, many pastors ignore this doctrine altogether. This hostility is often the result of ignorance, as many rioters understand the doctrine of unconditional election in terms of its various caricatures. Still yet, there are those who object to this doctrine with more serious concerns.

Grudem gives six objections to the doctrine of election that are typically proposed: (1) Election mean ave no choice to trust Christ, (2) Election means our choices are not real, (3) Election means we are merely robots or puppets in the hands of God, (4) Election means unbelievers never had a chance, (5) Election is unfair, (6) Election denies that God wills to save everyone.

While we will not look at these objections in fuller detail here, it is important to note them so that we are clear that the objections and accusations against those who hold to this doctrine are serious. It has even been argued that according to a Reformed understanding of salvation, especially the doctrine of election, God is conveyed as a moral monster with little difference between him and the devil. One of Calvin’s earliest opponents, Frenchman, Sebastian Castellio, wrote in a letter to Calvin, “But the God of Calvin is the father of lies.”

Objections to God’s unconditional election of sinners to salvation shoot arrows directly to the heart of God’s character. As a result, any pastor who casually addresses this doctrine with a lighthearted attitude from the pulpit is only setting himself up for possible disaster.

In other words, the stakes are high for the pastor who preaches this doctrine. In biblical exposition, debate, and discussion, there comes a kind of warfare within Christianity, one in which there will be casualties. And so, we must approach it with extreme delicacy, humility, and tact. It is easy to understand why a pastor would choose to avoid ever mentioning this doctrine in his pulpit ministry. Nevertheless, a doctrine that is so central to God’s saving work in Christ and so abundantly clear in the Bible cannot simply be swept under the rug.

The path to avoiding uproar among congregants with regard to controversial topics in Scripture must be blazed with tact, not total ignorance. This doctrine must be probed carefully with theological and biblical precision. Still yet, it would be easy to write this doctrine off as a nuisance or unnecessar for the church. I mean, why create a tension that could so easily be avoided? I think Scripture provides us with four key motivational reasons that we can and should not only discuss the doctrine of election, but find true and lasting joy in it.

1. Divine Election Is Biblical

It first needs to be established that this doctrine must be preached, taught, and discussed because it is found in Holy Scripture. In Acts 20, Luke records Paul testifying to the elders in Ephesus, “For I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:27, emphasis added). Paul held nothing back from them. He did not skip over anything because it was difficult or did not fit into the Ephesians’ little Hellenistic box. Neither should pastors today ignore portions of our doctrines within God’s word simply because they might cause some to get “hot under the collar.” James Montgomery Boice was adamant about the necessity to preach the whole counsel of God, especially the doctrine of election.

Commenting on John 10, Boice writes, “This is the doctrine of election which we have already seen many times in John’s Gospel and which we will see many times again. It is not liked, it is not often preached. But it is in Scripture and it must be preached, above all, by anyone who is serious about expounding the gospel.”

These are strong words. Boice is saying that the doctrine of election must be preached, especially by those who are serious about exposing the depths of the gospel, because at the heart of the gospel, and truly at its very origin, is an eternal plan and decree from God to have a people for himself.

We as Christians should not avoid the doctrine of election for the simple reason that it is in the Bible. There is no avoiding it. When Paul wrote to his young protégé, Timothy, he taught him, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:16-17). All Scripture? Yes. Even passages on election? Of course! We should read, teach, preach, and discuss this doctrine simply because it is in the Bible, and we trust that God has inspired it for our good (Rom. 8:28).

2. Divine Election is a Great Comfort to Christians

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified (Rom. 8:28-30).

The great comfort of Romans 8:28 is rooted in the eternal prerogative of God to save sinners in Christ (Rom. 8:29-30). Christians find great comfort in the fact that our salvation is not based on any good or bad work. He foreknew us and chose us from eternity past according to his divine goodness, grace, and wisdom. The election of Jacob gives great insight into God’s elective purpose in salvation: “[T]hough they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad—in order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls—she was told, ‘The older will serve the younger.’ As it is written, ‘Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated’” (Rom. 9:11-13).

Take comfort in knowing that your salvation is based on the work of God in his divine election, not in your work to become worthy of being saved. You can rest in the fact that God did not base your salvation on your performance or anything he saw in you. In hose you in spite of knowing how sinful you would be, according to the purpose of his will.

3. Divine Election is Uniquely God-Glorifying

[H]e predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved…In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to he purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory (Eph. 1:5-6, 11-12).

But we ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers beloved by the Lord, because God chose you as the firstfruits to be saved, through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth (2 Thess. 2:13).

Divine election is a tremendous reason to praise God. Sam Storms writes, “In brief, election evokes gratitude. It is God’s gracious and loving action to which we contribute nothing and for which, therefore, God receives all the glory.”

The unconditional election of sinners presents us with a humble view of man and a high view of God. All praise and honor are due the one who chose us in Christ from before the world began.

4. Divine Election is an Encouragement to Evangelize

Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory (2 Tim. 2:10).

And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd (John 10:16).

The source of courage to evangelize and the hope of all global missions is the truth that God has chosen a people for himself in Jesus. We can go to the nations with the gospel with the assurance that some will believe. No questions asked. We can risk all for the sake of the elect because we know with certainty that God has chosen persons from every tribe and every tongue (Rev. 7:9). May the divine election of God encourage you to boldly proclaim the gospel in your neighborhood and in all nations, knowing that success has been determined in eternity past through God’s tremendously gracious electing love.

Delight in Election

For these four reasons (and more) we should delight to read, preach, study, teach, and share the doctrine of election. Because of election’s appearance and highly practical function in Scripture, it cannot be ignored. J.I. Packer writes, “[W]e can hardly be right in treating the doctrine of election as an unedifying encumbrance when in Paul’s hands it becomes a motive and mainspring of worship and assurance and holy living.” The doctrine of unconditional election is a difficult doctrine for some, but it is without a doubt a delightful doctrine for all who embrace it, because it provides the greatest hope for dreadful sinners, the greatest glory to the lone worthy God, and the deepest joy for those in Christ.

*This post first appeared as a chapter in my book, Come to the Well. You can purchase a copy from Amazon, CBD, and from many other book retailers.


Mathew Gilbert is Associate Pastor of Children and Preschool at The Church at Trace Crossing in Tupelo, MS. He is the author of Come to the Well: 50 Meditations to Fuel Your Joy in God. He is an M.Div student at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Mathew is married to his high school sweetheart, Erica. Mathew and Erica live in Tupelo with their two sons, Jude and Jack. You can follow Mathew on Twitter @Mat_Gilbert.