Two Are Better Than One

The Preacher in Ecclesiastes writes, “Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up!” (Ecclesiastes 4:9-10).

The Preacher observes the vanity of trying to work alone as a means to outdo another. What good is achieving all of your career goals if you’re alone? Two are better than one. “Again, if two lie together, they keep warm, but how can one keep warm alone? And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him—a threefold cord is not quickly broken” (Ecclesiastes 4:11-12).

He is painting a picture of the benefit of community. Community is integral to Christianity. God didn’t just redeem individuals. He redeemed and created a new people for his own possession. The end of the Bible’s story is one of togetherness: “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God” (Revelation 21:3). Them, not him. They, not she.

Cultural individualism has crept into the life of the church. We talk about a personal relationship with God. We share our testimony of coming to faith in Jesus as our personal Savior. While we do have a personal relationship through a personal Redeemer, these phrases are insufficient and leave us wanting more.

In the life of a Christian, community is more than important. It’s necessary. We are better together than we are alone. We can’t follow Jesus, slay sin, loves neighbor, or truly flourish in isolation. Whatever happens to individuals within the community affects the entire community. We rejoice together. We weep together. Personal sin has corporate consequences. Personal blessing, when shared, is enjoyed by the whole. Membership in a local church is important because we are human, and humans thrive in community. The church, no matter how messy, is a gracious gift of God to redeemed humanity.

But how does it work? What does it look like in the life of the church?

1. We gather together. Sunday morning gatherings are not just for you. They aren’t just for your immediate family. Sunday morning gatherings are for the church. We worship as a people. We sing together. We sit under the Word together. We come to the Table together. We serve together. We fellowship together. We call our gatherings corporate worship, not individual worship, for a reason. This is why your individual participation on Sunday mornings is so important. You aren’t just singing, listening, responding, giving, or serving for yourself. Everything you do on Sunday morning is for your faith family, those sitting in the chairs next to you.

2. We grow together. Discipleship is literally impossible in isolation. Just as plants can’t grow without water and light, you can’t grow in Christ without your brothers and sisters in Christ. We really need each other. Without instruction, correction, admonishment, and affirmation, our faith will be choked out. Our souls will starve without others speaking life into us. Doing life together provides the opportunity for mutual prayer and encouragement.

To commit and covenant in a true biblical community is to reflect both the commitment of Jesus and the future reality of the New Earth. Jesus has promised to be with us always, to never leave us or forsake us (Matthew 28:20; Hebrews 13:5). Perfected humanity will be a perfect community living in harmony with God forever.

57e49e4c-549a-49d7-8fb4-ab7175a05d39Mathew 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 three boys, Jude, Jack, and John.


Do You Know the Real Jesus?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Count the Cost

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

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

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

“Do you want to believe in Jesus?”

“Why do you need to believe in Jesus?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Three Non-Negotiable Expectations in Children’s Ministry

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

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

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

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

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

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

1. Show the Kids You Love Them

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

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

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

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

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

2. Show the Kids You Love the Bible

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

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

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

3. Show the Kids You Love the Gospel

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.