My Favorite Theology Resources for Kids

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What would you add?

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


My Favorite Bible Resources for Kids

As a pastor to children and families, I love to research solid resources that would help parents introduce their children to the Bible and the Christian faith. Discipling children is challenging for any parent, so I’m thankful for solid resources that help us as parents plant biblical seeds in our children’s hearts.

I was recently asked by a parent to share the best Bible for his kids to begin using.  With the understanding that any faithful English Bible translation (ESV & CSB being my personal favorites for children) is sufficient for training children in the instruction of the Lord, there are also many different supplemental biblical and theological resources that can help parents pass on the faith to their kids.

Below, I’ve compiled 10 of my favorite Bible resources for children. Later this week, I will share 10 of my favorite theology resources for children.

Bible Resources for Kids

I’ve intentionally tiered my list to show a good way to introduce kids to the Bible and progress them from story Bibles to their first Bible. In short, I think it is best to read your copy of the Bible to your children while using story Bibles to help them grasp the purpose of the Bible. The Bible is overwhelming for young children. But with the use of story Bibles, parents can slowly transition their kids from what I call “big picture” Bibles to their first  “big kid” Bible.

  1. The Beginner’s Gospel Story Bible | Jared Kennedy
    • Aimed at toddlers and preschoolers, this story Bible would be a great first story Bible for your children. Check out my review.
  2. The Gospel Story Bible: Discovering Jesus in the Old and New Testaments | Marty Machowski
    • Next, I would move to a story Bible. My favorites are listed as numbers 2-4. Walking through each of them wouldn’t be redundant. Each story Bible has a particular lens with the same goal in mind. They each present the Bible as a story with Jesus at the center.
  3. Jesus Storybook Bible: Every Story Whispers His Name | Sally Lloyd-Jones
  4. The Big Picture Story Bible | David Helm
  5. The Biggest Story: How the Snake Crusher Brings Us Back to the Garden | Kevin DeYoung
    • DeYoung’s book drives home the idea that the Bible is one big story. It helps children trace the Bible’s plot from beginning to end.
  6. ESV Big Picture Bible | Crossway
    • The ESV Big Picture Bible is pitched as a great segue between story Bibles and “real” Bibles. It makes a great first “big kid” Bible.
  7. ESV Children’s Bible | Crossway
    • This is another excellent first Bible for children.
  8. Exploring the Bible: A Bible Reading Plan for Kids | David Murray
    • I’m currently reviewing this book, so I will save many of my thoughts for that review. I will say that this is a unique and useful book for helping kids develop a skill for Bible study and interaction. It teaches children to ask questions of the Word and reflect on the Word. As your children begin reading the Bible on their own, you’ll want to get this book in their hands.
  9. Long Story Short: Ten-Minute Devotions to Draw Your Family to God | Marty Machowski
    • Both numbers 9 & 10 are devotional books that pair well with Machowski’s The Gospel Story Bible. They are interactive guides to help you in family worship.
  10. Old Story New: Ten-Minute Devotions to Draw Your Family to God | Marty Machowski

What would you add to my list?

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.

Follow the Crazy Guy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

The Uncomfortableness of Bringing Bad News

sweep-under-rugGood news carries little significance unless it is on the heals of bad news.

My wife and I have a few TV shows that we watch regularly (other than sports, which I watch and she sleeps to). We love Criminal Minds, which we look forward to every Wednesday night. But we also love to watch reruns of The King of Queens, because, well, Kevin James. The dude is just too funny. The more of the sitcom that you watch, the more you learn about Kevin James’ character, Doug Heffernan, and his family. One thing that you begin to realize over time is that Doug and his parents cannot handle bad news.

In one particular episode, Doug and his wife, Carrie, visit Doug’s parents in Florida. While there, the couple is greeted by a lively and beloved family dog, Rocky. The mini family reunion is going well until they all begin watching home videos from when Doug was a kid and you start to realize that the old family dog is, well, just a little too old. In the video, the family is celebrating the Bicentennial with a backyard barbecue featuring, you guessed it, Doug and Rocky. The problem is that if the dog in the video was the same as the dog in Doug’s lap, the dog would be over thirty years old!

Evidently, Rocky had died, but not only that, his replacement dog had died two times over! The Rocky he was playing with in Florida was the third replacement of the original Rocky! Carrie learns very quickly that the Heffernans hide bad news in order to avoid awkward conversations and keep from upsetting anyone. They sweep everything under the rug, or in this case, bury everything in the backyard!

It is tempting for Christians to take this same sweep-under-the-rug mentality when it comes to sin. Evangelism is hard because it involves telling someone that he or she is a sinner. This is why evangelism is often defined as a “conversation between two nervous people.” The awkwardness involved in sharing the gospel is so thick you could cut it. I have at times felt so awkward while sharing the gospel that I could barely stand up after the conversation was over. It felt more like torture than the positive spin we often try to put on evangelism.

If I can be honest for a minute, I must admit that telling someone that without Jesus they will remain forever lost in their sin is not as appealing as, say, talking about how dominant UK’s defense is. I honestly don’t wake up saying, “Yes, a new day to go tell some friends and strangers that their throats are an open grave and the venom of asps is on their lips (Rom. 3:13). But oh how necessary is this to realize before the gospel can be cherished!

Evangelism is the daily outworking of grace in a child of God to share grace with an enemy of God. It occurs in daily life. From the body shop to the beauty shop, the glory of God’s grace in the gospel extends to sinners. But as glorious as this is, the message of the gospel never reaches the ears of the mechanic or the hair stylist because of a desperate fear of bringing bad news.

Like the Heffernan family, bringing bad news is so uncomfortable that we would much prefer to sweep it under the rug and just focus on positive things. In fact, we are so allergic to bringing bad news that we try to find creative ways to share the gospel without even one mention of sin. We will talk about how God loved us all so much that he sent his Son to die for us. However, if we forget to mention the purpose in this sacrificial love and death, we miss the point of the gospel. If you leave sin out of the equation, you must leave the cross out as well.

The gospel cannot be received as good news until it is preceded by the bad news. Only when we see how dreadful our condition in sin is will we desire a Savior. So, in one way if your experience with evangelism has led to some awkward conversations, you should be encouraged. More than likely, you brought up the reality of sin. The gospel makes no sense without lovingly and winsomely confronting people with the truth that they are sinners in need of a Savior.

Don’t take a sweep-under-the-rug approach to sin. Bringing bad news is incredibly uncomfortable, but it is eternally significant. What does it profit a man to see his friend lose his soul because he gained comfort by not talking about sin? Like a raving maniac waving his arms, running, and yelling to warn drivers of the turned-over semi around a curve, we must willingly risk looking or sounding awkward for the sake of the salvation of lives. The message of the gospel is important enough to sacrifice your sense of comfort. Be awkward for the sake of Christ. Bring bad news to your lost friends because you know how indescribably good the Good News really is.

396110_519885398036913_1852978654_nMathew Gilbert is a student at Boyce College (B.A. Biblical and Theological Studies). He is the author of the forthcoming book Come to the Well: 50 Meditations to Fuel Your Joy in God (CrossBooks). Mathew lives in London, KY with his wife, Erica, and their dog, Simba. You can follow him on Twitter @Mat_Gilbert.

Why Should We Go and Tell?: Motivation for Discipleship and Evangelism

discipleship-copyIt has been the experience of many pastors and churches that it can be quite difficult to motivate genuine and passionate discipleship and evangelism. Discipleship and evangelism are two aspects of a church’s ministry that remain stagnant more often than any other areas.

Do you need people to serve in outreach ministries like food drives or seasonal activities? No problem. Do you need people to invite others to church on Facebook? Cake. However, what if you are looking for people to intentionally disciple one another in a more significant way than the typical discussion-facilitated Sunday School setting? What if you are looking for people to not only invite their friends to church (which should be encouraged and done), but to actively pursue gospel conversations with their lost friends? What motivation is there for risk-taking discipleship and evangelism that accurately expresses a heart that adores Jesus?

I believe we can look no further than the words that came from the mouth of Jesus himself to find satisfactory motivation that can fuel passionate discipleship and evangelism.

And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:18-20, ESV).

The context of this passage falls directly after the resurrection of Christ. Evangelism, baptism, and all discipleship flow from the gospel. Jesus has already suffered the anguish of the cross. He has already bore the wrath of God. He has already taken on sin, so that by faith we might become the righteousness of God. He has already stood in our place as our sin-bearing, wrath-bearing substitute, as he became our Savior-King. And now he commissions his disciples.

But before he commands anything, he roots his commands in a glorious and powerful statement: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me” (v. 18). Authority here means the power and the right to do something. Basically, Jesus is saying that there is nothing in heaven and nothing in earth that can frustrate his will. He has the power and the right to do as he pleases and to command as he pleases. The psalmist definitely alluded to Jesus’ proclamation when he exclaimed, “Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases” (Ps. 115:3).

“Therefore, Go!”

It is on this declaration that the following command stands. Anything that Jesus commands must be taken seriously and observed because all authority in heaven and on earth belongs to him. This is why he follows this declaration with the word “therefore.” “Go therefore and make disciples…” In other words, because Jesus has all authority in heaven and on earth, we are commanded to make disciples. Because Jesus is Lord over every man by his death and resurrection, we proclaim his gospel to all men. But we share the gospel, not merely because Jesus said to do it. We share the gospel because it is the only thing that makes sense.

Pastor David Platt once said, “Jesus’ authority compels us to go, for missions only makes sense if He has all authority in heaven and on earth.” The message we bring in the gospel is incredibly controversial. It confronts people in their sin and it is appalling to the human heart born in sin (Ps. 51:5). Calling people to turn from their sin only makes sense if the Jesus we call them to turn to is the Lord of every man. Since Jesus has universal authority, it would be incredibly unloving for us to keep the good news of salvation to ourselves. Why do we go and make disciples? Because Jesus is Lord!

Is this not tremendous news for us today? The mission that the church seeks to carry out in making disciples from East Bernstadt to West Africa and beyond is rooted in the truth that Jesus is Lord of heaven and earth—all authority has been given to him. It is by that declaration that we call those outside of Christ to totally renounce themselves, flee their sin, trust in Christ, and live for him. It is by that authority that we call sinners to abandon their delight in sin and take up delight in God. Gospel proclamation finds confidence in the universal authority and lordship of Jesus.

“Of All Nations”

This declaration of Jesus’ absolute authority goes even further for our disciple-making. Because Jesus has authority in heaven and on earth, we are commanded to make disciples not only in our community, but in all nations. We are called to fill the earth with the glory of the Lord by proclaiming the gospel to the ends of the earth, because Jesus has all authority!

There is no nation or people group or person beyond the reach of Christ’s authority. And so there is no nation or people group or person beyond the reach of the disciple-making mission of the church. We must proclaim the gospel to all men with the absolute confidence that some will believe. In John 10:16, Jesus assures our missionary efforts: “And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice.”

Time to Work

Why should you engage your neighbor with conversations that lead to the gospel? Why should you give to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering? Why should you seek out a teen to mentor? Why should you actively and frequently have Bible studies with that new believer you know? Why should you face the probability of some awkward conversations or even awkward silences? Why should you risk comfort, reputation, time, and money for the sake of the cross?

Because Jesus is Lord. He is reigning. He is returning. He is with you. It’s high time we realize this and get to work!

396110_519885398036913_1852978654_nMathew Gilbert is a student at Boyce College (B.A. Biblical and Theological Studies). He is the author of the forthcoming book Come to the Well: 50 Meditations to Fuel Your Joy in God (CrossBooks). Mathew lives in London, KY with his wife, Erica, and their dog, Simba. You can follow him on Twitter @Mat_Gilbert.

Morning Mashup 08/08


Links, articles, book deals, and more for your information, edification, and enjoyment. Have a great Friday!

ISIS Systematically Beheading Children – Weep. Mourn. Pray.

A Time to Mourn – Christians aren’t the only ones being persecuted by the ISIS agenda to create a caliphate.

Leaving Ninevah – Historian Philip Jenkins speaks to the historic significance of the religious cleansing in Mosul.

Ebola Case Prompts Criticism – See Denny Burk, Andrew Walker, Russell Moore, and others respond to the criticism of the Ebola crisis from Donald Trump, Ann Coulter, and Ben Carson.

I Have Decided to Follow Jesus…Maybe – Why do some young people make a decision for Christ and then abandon the faith when they go to college? Parker Reardon offers a biblically and theologically sound answer, though you may not like what he says.

How to Keep the Spark Alive – Tim Challies: “Why do married couples have sex? And how can they ensure that they keep enjoying the sexual relationship throughout their marriage?”

4 Moments I’m Preparing Students to Face – I work with the children in my local church and I was helped so much by this article. As I continue to disciple children I will keep these four moments in mind.

Your Wedding is Still Something Worth Wanting – Marshall Segal offers five supernatural reasons to pursue marriage.

PGA Championship Leaderboard Day 1 – Rory is one shot off the lead. Although Westwood is at the front of the pack, all eyes are on the hottest player in the world right now, Mr. McIlroy. Tiger only finished with one birdie and finished at +3, nine strokes back.

Finally, Amazon’s Big Deal is back and there are some awesome Kindle deals available:

Taking God at His Word by Kevin DeYoung ($1.99)

The Insanity of Obedience: Walking with Jesus in Tough Places by Nik Ripken ($2.99)

Disciplines of a Godly Man by R. Kent Hughes ($1.99)

When I Don’t Desire God and Bloodlines by John Piper (both $1.99)

The Promises of God by R.C. Sproul ($0.99)

Transformational Discipleship by Eric Geiger, Michael Kelley, and Philip Nation ($1.99)

What is the Mission of the Church? by Kevin DeYoung and Greg Gilbert ($1.99)

What Every Christian Ought to Know by Adrian Rogers ($1.99)

Doxology and Theology by Matt Boswell ($1.99)

Grace is not opposed to effort, it is opposed to earning. –Dallas Willard

Ten Truths About Christian Discipleship

soil-typeSpiritual Discipleship by J. Oswald Chambers is a compelling book that, not only defines biblical discipleship, but also exhorts, urges, and encourages disciples of Christ to continue to grow in discipleship. There were many viable and valuable truths that deserve to be discussed here. Ten truths that spoke to me and helped me grow spiritually and in knowledge of God in this book will be outlined below.

Truth 1: The “ideal disciple” takes the world by surprise

Chambers outlines in his first chapter what an ideal disciple of Jesus Christ looks like. He does this by going through the Beatitudes and organizing them as “passive personal qualities” and “active social qualities”. The ideal disciple or blessed one will demonstrate “spiritual inadequacy, spiritual contrition, spiritual humility, and spiritual aspiration”. These are each passive qualities that Jesus considers blessed. Then he moves to outline Jesus’ description of the blessedness of four active social qualities. The ideal disciple will be “compassionate in spirit”, “pure in heart”, “conciliatory in spirit”, and “unswerving in loyalty”. Chambers makes it clear that these descriptions by Jesus of what makes up blessedness is directly for his disciples since he addressed it to them (11). Although there was a massive crowd assembled to hear his sermon, Jesus addressed these words specifically to those followers who he had called.

With that in mind, Chambers makes a very important point to begin this book on discipleship.

Many think that if they had abundant wealth, absence of sorrow and suffering, good health, a good job, unrestricted gratification of appetites, and kind treatment from everyone, that would be blessedness indeed. But Jesus completely reversed that concept and substituted many of the very experiences we would like to sidestep—poverty, mourning, hunger, thirst, renunciation, persecution. True blessedness is to be found along this path, He told them.

The main truth of this first chapter is that the call to discipleship is distinctively counter-cultural. At the outset of his earthly ministry, Jesus asserts that his followers will be starkly different from the world and will have other-worldly desires and natures.

 Truth 2: Discipleship is difficult and demanding

Chambers writes in chapter two that “[Jesus] began to thin their ranks by stating in the starkest of terms the exacting conditions of discipleship” (19). This truth is compelling and often left out of gospel presentations. Too often the gospel is presented in such a way that Jesus ends up being the desperate party who is in need of the other. But when Jesus called his first disciples, he laid out some very hard sayings that would rub many in our culture the wrong way. I believe that if we would lay out in clear and stark terms the conditions of discipleship, it would diminish the number of false confessions of faith, for who would half-heartedly want any part of a man who said that his disciples must love him more than family?

Jesus’ method of discipleship is so often opposite ours. Many of us desire big crowds and churches. We desire quantity. Chambers makes it clear that Jesus desires quality. He calls men and women by his grace and they follow knowing the cost.

Truth 3: Discipleship is predicated on regeneration

This truth was found in just a short couple of paragraphs. But these small lines of text speak loudly. Chambers complains about the tendency for pastors to leave out the need for repentance in their preaching. This is utter foolishness since “without repentance there can be no regeneration” (21). And while I would contend Chambers’ position by arguing that regeneration leads to repentance, I get his point. Repentance and regeneration go hand in hand. The disciple is formed through repentance and regeneration. While this call to discipleship is on the basis on faith alone, this faith will not be alone. Indeed, “obedience is evidence of the reality of our repentance of faith” (21). This leads to the next truth.

Truth 4: There are many fruits of discipleship

The disciple is proven to be a disciple by his works. His faith is illuminated by his obedience to Christ. Chambers makes this abundantly clear. He also gives some specific examples of this obedience as taught by Jesus. Firstly, Chambers describes a “continuance principle”. He exposits Jesus’ words in John 8:31-32 and writes that continuing in the Word is stark evidence of a Christ follower. Chambers asserts that “Continuance in the Word is the evidence of reality” (29).

He then outlines what he calls the “love principle”. Citing John 13:34-45, Chambers describes that the disciple of Christ will demonstrate love for others, both friends and foes. The third evidence of discipleship according to Chambers is the “fruit principle”. This is based on Jesus’ teaching in John 15. A true disciple of Jesus Christ will show evidence of his or her union with him by his spiritual fruit. Chambers rightly writes that the fruit of true believers is demonstrated in the person’s character and service. This chapter is helpful for both self-examination and gospel proclamation since “a fruitless disciple of Christ is a contradiction in terms” (33).

Truth 5: A disciple of Jesus is not following an ordinary teacher

What I love most about Chambers’ book is the fact that he gives proper attention to Lordship salvation. The disciple is not one who merely adheres to truths (although he does that). The disciple of Jesus must trust in his Savior and submit to his Master. Jesus is both Savior and Master. And it is submission to Christ’s lordship that makes the disciple, not just mere acknowledgment of his lordship, since even the demons do that. Tragically, there are countless in our culture and maybe even in some of our churches who, like Gandhi, either directly or indirectly admire Jesus as a man and teacher, but say, “I cannot accord to Christ a solitary throne” (45). Disciples of Jesus, therefore, are marked by self-submission to an exalted King.

Truth 6: A disciple of Jesus has a holy ambition

I loved Chambers’ statement, “too many disciples are content with the status quo and cherish no ambition to improve their spiritual condition and fulfill a more useful ministry.” I think too often in the Christian life we can become complacent. So many Christians, including myself, can be guilty of abusing grace by not growing in holiness. Somewhere along the way, we lose an ambition to pursue Christ and likeness to him. While it is very tempting to become complacent as a Christ-follower, that is not the life we have been called to. I want to point out two holy ambitions mentioned by Chambers.

Firstly, disciples of Jesus should have an ambition to become more like Jesus. More pointedly, disciples of Christ are to have an ambition for Christ. We should want more and more and more of him. We should have the attitude of the Moravian church and her leader who once said “I have one passion: it is He, He alone!”

Naturally, this ambitious and fiery passion for Jesus will lead to a holy ambition to see peoples from all nations come to Christ. This is the second ambition. Of all the things that I gleaned from this book, this was the most important. When the gospel is shared, these two things are sadly left out in so many cases. Chambers made it clear that the disciple of Jesus has the “passion for the glory of Christ in the salvation of souls” that David Brainerd had when he proclaimed: “I cared not how or where I lived, or what hardships I endured, so that I could but gain souls for Christ.”

These two ambitions are to embody the disciple of Jesus Christ. These two desires and ambitions will lead to a fruitful ministry since the goal in all of these is the glory of God. God is glorified when we desire him above all others and desire others to know him.

Truth 7: A disciple of Jesus is to grow in maturity

Similar to the last truth, followers of Christ are to continue to grow in maturity. In fact, this is great evidence of a true disciple. True Christ-followers will continue to grow in holiness. Chambers makes a key point that I agree with. He writes that “no rapid growth in Christian maturity will be attained until the first indispensable step of submission to the lordship of Christ has been taken” (emphasis his, 82). However, this is only the first step. One who is in Christ will take strides in spiritual maturity. This is primarily due to the grace of God in working in us, although disciples of Christ are to work out our own salvation (Phil. 2:12-13). This means that the life of a Christian is the life of a warrior who fights sin at nearly every moment. But the Christian can do so with the unshakeable hope in the truth that sin has been defeated and we are reigning with Christ!

Truth 8: The life of a disciple of Jesus is one of intense training

One of my favorite chapters in this book is entitled “The Disciple’s Olympics”. I played basketball and baseball competitively in high school so this chapter was very personal to me. The essence of the chapter is summed up in this concise statement by Chambers: “The Holy Spirit urges each of us to do in the spiritual sphere what the athlete does in the gymnasium” (91). A disciple should therefore continually work in a disciplined manner to become more like Christ. This is in a real sense the goal of salvation—to glorify God through conformity to the image of Christ (Rom 8:29). Intense Bible study, frequent prayer, and intentional disciple-making should mark our lives as disciples. Just as the Olympic athlete trains strenuously for hours upon hours, Christ-followers are to train their hearts and we have the assurance that “it was He who initiated our faith, and it is He who will strengthen us to complete the course” (95).

Truth 9: Compassion should fill the heart of the disciple of Jesus

Walking directly in the footsteps of the Master, a follower of Jesus should be compassionate toward the “crowds”. There are thousands of unreached people groups and billions of lost people in our world. Our hearts should be broken at this reality, knowing that there are so many who have yet to hear of Jesus as well as countless in our own cities and neighborhoods who stand in rebellion to God. I love Chambers’ statement concerning this truth: “[E]very disciple of the compassionate Christ will be concerned to see that the unevangelized millions will have an opportunity to hear the gospel” (102). Apart from Christ there is no hope. At the truthful thought of millions and even billions with no hope, our hearts should break and as a result our lives should be centered around glorifying God through disciple-making. We should be compassionate toward the physical and spiritual needs of those around us and around the world. This Christ-like compassion should always lead us into sacrificial living and giving.

Truth 10: The prayer life of the disciple should be radical

While Chambers does not directly use the term “radical,” I do believe he implies this. This is an area of life that many Christians struggle with, including myself. In my early years as a Christian, I was never taught how to pray. As a result, in my own ministry with children and youths, I teach them how to pray biblically. According to Chambers, the disciple can pray with authority and should pray audaciously (108-109). Each day we fight battles against sin and temptation to sin. One of the weapons we use in this fight is prayer. Chambers strongly writes “the fulcrum on which defeat or victory turns is our ability to pray aright and make intelligent use of our weapons” (108). As followers of Jesus we can pray with authority because we are united to the conqueror of sin, Satan, and death. In praying with authority, we demonstrate the reality of our reigning with Christ.

I often am guilty of being too mild in my prayers. I can identify with what Chambers says about most disciples’ prayer lives: “[Our prayers] seldom soar above past experience or natural thought” (109). Although our intercessor is the Lord of all the universe, we so often pray mildly and repetitively (in the sense that our prayers reflect on past experiences). A disciple should pray for things that are unknown to us or what we think to be impossible. Praying like this requires faith.

While in my immediate future I can only see myself doing ministry in my small town, my prayers should be for a very fruitful ministry maybe among an unreached people group. Will that happen? Is that what God has called me to? I do not know. But that is the point. Disciples of Jesus should pray for their family members who are callously hardened against God. For those atheist friends who want no part of God, we should pray for God to save them. Through confident prayer in faith in a risen Savior and almighty God, the impossibilities of men can become realized possibilities with God.

396110_519885398036913_1852978654_nMathew Gilbert is a student at Boyce College (B.A. Biblical and Theological Studies, Dec. ’14). He is the author of the forthcoming book Come to the Well: 50 Meditations to Fuel Your Joy in God (CrossBooks). Mathew lives in London, KY. with his wife Erica.

Follow Me Simulcast

followme-simulcast-530x350LifeWay and David Platt have teamed up once again to provide a very valuable resource for the church and for Christians everywhere–the Follow Me simulcast. A simulcast is a live broadcast streamed through the internet. The simulcasts that I have participated in through Lifeway (Secret Church and Multiply) proved to be tremendously fruitful for my life as well as the lives of those who participated with me. The cool thing about these simulcasts is their unique ability to be a blessing to groups of 100+ as well as for an individual. Churches can stream these simulcasts onto a large screen in their sanctuaries and college students can stream them to their laptops. LifeWay simulcasts are just cool.

This particular simulcast is called Follow Me. It will be teaching/discussion session featuring David Platt and others. Platt and the other speakers will be streaming this simulcast from the Middle East. The topic of the simulcast stems from Platt’s recent work, Follow Me: A Call to Live. A Call to Die. The Follow Me simulcast will dive into the aspects of what it means to follow Christ. It is a call to discipleship, but even more than that, it is a call to deep discipleship; the kind that extends much further than a six-week, periodical study of a certain topic on Sunday nights in comfortable classrooms. The fact that this simulcast will be hosted in the Middle East makes this event especially unique as Platt will be calling Christians to the kind of devotion to Christ that is worthy of death in the very area he will be speaking.

The best part about this event will obviously be the profoundly biblical and applicable teaching of David Platt. However, another amazing feature of this simulcast is the fact that it is free! In other words, if you have free time this coming Wednesday, you would be foolish to not spend and hour and a half going deep into the implications of Jesus’ call to follow him. You will definitely not regret taking part in this experience. There is my plug. I will include all of the information you would need to take part in this event below. Feel free to comment if you still have any questions about what a simulcast event can look like in your church or home. My small group of friends and I cannot wait to take part in this event!

Follow Me Simulcast

Date: August 14, 2013

Time: 6:00-7:30 (EDT)

Price: FREE

Requirements: (1) A laptop or desktop computer (You can then obviously connect your device to a projection screen or TV). (2) An internet connection

Suggested Materials: (1) Bible. (2) Notebook. (3) Pens.

*Above information adapted from LifeWay’s product description of the Follow Me simulcast*

David Platt on the Follow Me Simulcast