Do You Know the Real Jesus?


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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Count the Cost


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

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

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

“Do you want to believe in Jesus?”

“Why do you need to believe in Jesus?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

From Snack to Smorgasbord


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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.

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.

Bad Leaders Make Bad Followers


Picture in your mind a line of bouncing, giddy preschoolers following behind an adult, doing whatever she did. If she hopped, they hopped. If she ran, they ran. If she sat, they sat. They perfectly followed every move she made. But, this adult leader was disobeying the instructions of her partner. So, he would say, “walk in a circle,” but they would sit down. He would say, “jump up and down,” but they would walk in a circle. I’m sure the parents of these preschoolers really appreciated us leading them to disobey!

It really was a strange sight to see so many children simultaneously obeying and disobeying. They were following the actions of their line leader, yet disobeying the clear instructions of the one giving directions. They did this because we all follow our leaders, especially if they are charismatic, fun, energetic, and compelling. Even though the children were rightly following their leader, they were literally walking in disobedience precisely because they were following a bad leader. The lesson we were teaching the preschoolers was that bad leaders bring culpability on and consequences to everyone they lead. In other words, bad leaders make bad followers.

The impact and influence of leaders cannot be understated. When leaders succeed, so do their followers. When leaders fail, so do their people. And the consequences of a leader’s failure is felt not only by him or her, but everyone around and under his or her authority. We see this dynamic in families, businesses, sports, schools, nations, and churches. There is a disastrous trickle down effect from leaders to followers when leaders fail. Wicked kings of Israel created wicked people and a wicked nation. Bad leaders make bad followers.

Every decision a father makes impacts his children. Every decision a principal makes impacts her teachers and students. The same is true for presidents and pastors. Character is maybe the most significant qualification for leaders. The sobering truth for spiritual leaders in particular is that moral lapses, spiritual apathy, and downright disobedience in his own life leads to moral lapses, spiritual apathy, and disobedience in the lives of his people.

Maybe the most frightening aspect of the priests’ failures in Malachi’s day is the fact that they weren’t ignorant of the Law. They knew what God required of them in their duty as priests. They were technically fulfilling their role by offering sacrifices. They were going through religious motions, which meant they knew the proper forms of worship. However, their right knowledge of God’s word wasn’t leading to obedience in their lives. Their knowledge of the Law only heaped more guilt on their heads. There was a serious disconnect between the priests’ heads and their hearts.

We learn much from others’ failures. The priests’ in Malachi’s day were not following the example set by Levi, the father of the Levitic priesthood. Unlike Levi, they were faithless, ungodly, and silent with God’s word. They weren’t fulfilling their roles of representing God to the people and the people before God. And their moral lapses led to moral decay and chaos in Judah. The priests teach us that biblical knowledge on its own is not enough to save or sanctify us. Beware of vain or empty biblical knowledge. What we do with our biblical knowledge is everything.

Although the priests were faithless to both the Levitic and Sinai covenant, God will forever remain faithful to his promises and his people. God’s desire to grant his people life and peace will not be frustrated by the failures of their earthly representatives. His people need a perfect priest who will offer right sacrifices on their behalf and teach them the law accurately and fairly.

We have such a priest in Jesus. He perfectly revealed God’s will to us and offered himself as a sacrifice for sin. With the coming of Christ, the Levitical priesthood has ended because Christ once for all offered himself on the altar of God for our sins.


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

Don’t Just Pray for Your Pastor


I hope you pray for your pastors and elders. I really do. As a pastor and elder at my church, I know how much our pastors and elders depend on and covet the prayers of our people. The church is not an organization where leaders give and followers receive. Pastors aren’t performers, nor are they caterers. Pastors aren’t called to put on a show for their people, nor are they called to cater to their people’s preferences. Pastors are called to shepherd God’s flock according to God’s Word in the power of God’s Spirit.

It is a noble, humbling, and daunting task. Pastors often feel the weight of the spiritual needs of their people as well as the needs of their own families. And they often hold these weights in tension. At times it can feel like the better husband and father I am, the worse pastor I am, and vice-versa. When pastors labor for hours over the Word and spend time texting, calling, and visiting their people, that is time away from their families. And when pastors give significant time to their families, they feel guilty for not spending as much time meeting with others in the church. Many pastors wade in a pool of guilt as they try to manage ministry time and family time.

Faithful pastors are also usually the world’s worst for taking time off. Most of us are just wired to work and tirelessly give ourselves for the sake of others. Pastors are often perpetually tired–physically, mentally, and emotionally. Pastors experience waves of emotions throughout any given week. They face encouragement and criticism. They see joys and pains. They witness growth and moral lapses. Some faithful members leave for jobs and others leave in anger. Both produce tears in a loving pastor.

Pastors also preach a mix of good and bad sermons. And I can assure you that no one is a bigger critic of a sermon than the one preaching it. There isn’t really a sense of accomplishment in the pastor’s work. There are few tasks that can be started and finished in a short period of time. Even when a sermon is finished and preached, there’s another one coming next week. So, it’s really tough for a pastor to rest.

Granted, many pastors bring these problems on themselves. Pastors need to become experts on time management. Pastors need to be intentional about balancing ministry and family time. Pastors need to carve out time for personal rest, and they should be taking serious care of their minds, hearts, and bodies. However, unless the pastor intentionally seeks out rest and care, there often isn’t much pastoral care for the pastor in the church. While the pastor often preaches the gospel to others, he usually has few if any people in his life who preach the gospel to him.

I don’t mean to throw a pity-party on behalf of myself and my brother pastors. I hope you’re not feeling sorry for your pastor or rolling your eyes at me. Healthy pastors find strange joy in the burdens of ministry. Like Paul, they are sorrowful, yet always rejoicing. Many pastors love their work and their people deeply. My purpose in writing is simply to get you thinking about the stress your pastor is under every single week. I hope you are aware of this, and it compels you to pray for your pastor.

Saturday is a great day to pray for your pastors and elders, especially your preaching pastor. As much as we all work to have our sermons finished before the weekend, many pastors are still cleaning up their sermons on Saturday night. I’ve finished a sermon at 1:30 AM on a Sunday morning. And I don’t even preach on a weekly basis. It happens. And when it happens, I can assure you that your pastor is tired and in need of the prayers of his people.

What an excellent practice it would be to pray for your pastor with your children, spouse, or friends on a Saturday night. What an excellent practice it would be to text your small group and remind them to pray for your pastor. What if you called another church member and decided to intercede for your pastor on a Saturday afternoon? God uses prayer to accomplish his purposes. I wonder how different a Sunday morning would look if the church was intentionally praying for the service the day before.

But I hope you do more than pray. Praying for your pastor should be a given. It’s honestly the least we can do. Your pastor needs more than your prayers. He needs your words. He needs to hear from you. He needs you to encourage and exhort him. Consider ways you can serve your pastor and his family with your words and service. You could offer to watch his children so he and his wife can go on a date. Maybe you could take your pastor out to lunch and share ways his ministry has impacted you. You could even simply be engaged and involved on a Sunday morning. Or at least try not to fall asleep! Paul knows what I’m talking about (Acts 20:9)! And be creative! Have a spirit of humility and service among everyone in the body of Christ, including your pastor.

Apart from general encouragement and acts of service, your pastor also needs something you may not think he needs. He needs you to remind him of the gospel. I know it’s ironic, but it’s really easy for a pastor to forget the gospel–not the content, but the benefits. The nature of a pastor’s work makes it easy for him to find his worth in the approval of his people. It’s sinful when he does so, but it’s easy for a pastor to find identity in how well he preaches, teaches, and counsels. Your pastor needs the gospel just as much as you. What a blessing it is to a pastor to be reminded of the gospel by his people.

It’s Saturday. Your pastor may be chilling with his family not thinking about his sermon or Sunday morning at all. He may be totally content and satisfied with his work. He may not be worried about certain suffering individuals or families in his flock. He may be. But don’t assume it. It’s more likely that his mind is consumed with Sunday morning–both the service and the people. His sermon may not be finished. He may be having a challenging day as a parent. He may be arguing with his wife. He may be burdened by a difficult Bible passage. He may have just received a hurtful phone call, text, or email. And he may just be having a bad day.

Pastors need their people. They need the prayers of the saints. But don’t just pray for your pastor. Encourage him. Exhort him. Love him. Serve him. Remind him of the gospel. Watch how the Spirit will use your resolve to intercede and serve your pastor as he seeks to shepherd you well.


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

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.