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.


The Greatest Tragedy of Divorce

There are many examples of faithlessness in our world. We see it in something as trivial as the lack of loyalty in a professional basketball player leaving one team for another. We see it when people quit teams, schools, or jobs when they become difficult. But the most prominent and public version of faithlessness is in the realm of relationships. Few things cause pain, heartache, and long term emotional distress like faithlessness in a relationship. This is true of relationships between friends, among church members, and within families. The most tragic, and sadly the most common, form of relational faithlessness is in marriage.

Witnessing divorce and its consequences in my own immediate family has given me a front row seat to the devastation it causes. My brother, sister, and I know full well the brutal pain divorce inflicts. But as bad as the emotional consequences of divorce are, the greatest tragedy in divorce is the horrible picture it paints of the gospel.

Paul taught that the mystery of marriage is that it was created to show the world a picture of God’s relationship with his covenant people (Eph. 5:32). Marriage is the primary metaphor in both the Old and New Testaments of God’s relationship to his people. Marriage is the means of raising up a new generation of disciples. When a husband or wife leaves, mutually or otherwise, they paint a picture of relational faithlessness and God-forsakenness. We tell a story of the gospel in our marriages. Divorce horribly distorts the story. When we quit in our marriages, we tell a lie about the gospel because God will never quit on his people.

This is the heart of Jesus’ prohibition of divorce and remarriage in Mark 10. “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her. Also, if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery” (Mark 10:11-12). As one author has strongly said, “Divorcing your spouse without biblical grounds is an assault on the Lord’s plan of redemption.”

If you have either witnessed or participated in marital infidelity, your trust in relationships may be shaken. You have likely brooded with bitterness. Seeing my parents dissolve their marriage, regardless of reasons, was one of the most heartbreaking experiences of my life. If you have walked through a divorce, either as a participant or spectator, I would encourage you to press in on your feelings of hopelessness and issues with trust. Deal with them. Talk about them. Write about them. Weep over them. Do anything but ignore or hide from them.

It’s a great tragedy that our society has become comfortable with divorce. It’s almost expected. Don’t run from that uncomfortable, sick feeling that overcomes your heart when you hear of another marriage imploding. Christians more than anyone should mourn divorce because of the false narrative it tells of God’s covenant faithfulness. Mourn the sight of couples making and breaking promises to one another in marriage.

I cannot continue this post without a word of caution. The context of my call for covenant faithfulness in marriage is rooted in our quick and easy divorce culture. However, if you or anyone you know is in a truly physically or emotionally abusive marriage, proper authorities must be contacted. Using God’s design for and declaration through marriage to justify or neglect abuse is morally reprehensible and evil.

Hope and motivation for faithful living rests in God’s faithfulness, which always overcomes our unfaithfulness. In light of rampant relational faithlessness, God enters into an eternal covenant with us through the blood of Christ. In light of a culture of quick and easy divorce, we are motivated to remain faithful to our spouses because though we deserve to be abandoned by God for our idolatry, he remains faithful to us and even pursues us in our adultery (Hosea 1-3).

The greatest tragedy of divorce is the lie it tells about Christ’s faithfulness to his Church. A desire to proclaim God’s covenant faithfulness to his people in Christ motivates covenant faithfulness in marriage. Pursue permanence in your marriage because God pursues permanence with you.

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.

From Snack to Smorgasbord

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Child Is Not Dead But Sleeping

Now, finally the time has come. Jesus had first told a man named Jairus that he would go with him to heal his daughter. Well, when they were on their way, Jesus stopped to heal a woman who had been sick for twelve years. As Jesus was talking to her, another man came up to Jairus and said, “Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the Teacher any further?”

Wow! Can you imagine what Jairus must have been thinking? He was probably both sad and mad. He was very sad that his daughter had died. He was probably mad that Jesus had waited too long to come to her. Maybe if Jesus had not stopped to talk to the sick woman they would have made it in time. The men and Jairus were now not just helpless. They were hopeless. This is because death is final. It is the end. There is no stopping it or reversing it. Once death comes, there is no turning back. Jairus knows this, so he weeps and worries. His faith grew very weak.

But look what Jesus said to him. He looked him in the eyes and said, “Do not fear, only believe” (v. 36). Now, how can Jesus say such a thing? Jairus knew Jesus had power over sickness. But how can he believe in Jesus now? He can only believe in Jesus if he knows he has power over death as well!

Jairus must have believed Jesus could bring his daughter back to life, because the men continued their journey. When they arrived at Jairus’ house, they saw people crying and screaming in sadness over the death of the little girl. When Jesus came to the house, he looked at everyone and said, “Why are you making a commotion and weeping? The child is not dead but sleeping” (v. 39).

What? The people laughed. Jesus may have had a lot of power and wisdom, but he didn’t seem to have much street sense. To the people it seemed Jesus couldn’t tell if a person was dead or not.

The girl was not sleeping. She was dead. But Jesus said she was sleeping. Why? Because when Jesus is in the room, death is no more than a cat nap!

Jesus does have power over death! He took the child by the hand and said, “Little girl, I say to you, arise” (v. 41). Can you guess what happened next? Yes! She got up and walked! Only Jesus has the power to command dead people in such a way that they obey. Jairus could truly not fear but only believe because Jesus has power over death. After seeing Jesus conquer his daughter’s death, he was now able to trust him with anything and everything else in his life.

The Bible tells us that we are all dead in our sins, and we will all one day physically die. Jesus brings us to life as he creates faith in our hearts. He gives us new life that never ends. And even something as bad as death cannot stop us. Death does not have the final word. Jesus does.

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

Morning Mashup 09/28


Injury Interrupted My Idolatry – From time to time, Desiring God will feature an article written by a professional athlete. They are always profound for me. This piece from NBA player Landry Fields is no different. Fantastic perspective.

3 Ways to Teach Your Kids to Pray for the Persecuted Church – Great post from Ruth Ripken on how to get your kids thinking and praying about persecuted believers.

Sex Belongs to Believers – John Piper: “The pleasures of sex are meant for believers. They are designed for their greatest expression by the children of God. He saves his richest gifts for his children. And as we enjoy his gift of sex, we say, by our covenant faithfulness to our spouse, that God is greater than sex.”

Springtime for Liberal Christianity – Typical excellent cultural and religious analysis from Ross Douthat.

The Cosby Conversation We’re Still Not Having – Thabiti Anyabwile: “What we are not discussing is how to prevent the many Cosbys in our homes, families, friendship networks, schools and churches from preying upon our daughters, sisters, and mothers.”

Don’t Hide Behind “The Gospel” – Barnabas Piper: “Only when we can make the connection between the gospel and the centuries of racial inequality in the United States, the lasting impact on our government and social structures, and the insidious and subtle effects on our own minds and hearts is it a solution.”

The Eight Kinds of Commenters in the Christian Blogosphere – Excellent analysis of commenters on Christian blogs. I’ve experienced each of these. My favorite is the “heresy hunter.” They are so pleasant.

Why I Am a Complementarian – “It seems to me that on a very base level the problem of the feminist movement and the patriarchy movement, and indeed sin itself, is principally a lack of trust. We have, from the very beginning, been attempting to wrench what was not given in the search of what was labeled off limits.”

Why Students Hate School Lunches – Just one of many stellar pieces in the Sunday Review section of the NY Times this week. I love this line: “Consider that in France, where the childhood obesity rate is the lowest in the Western world, a typical four-course school lunch (cucumber salad with vinaigrette, salmon lasagna with spinach, fondue with baguette for dipping and fruit compote for dessert) would probably not pass muster under the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, because of the refined grains, fat, salt and calories. Nor would the weekly piece of dark chocolate cake.”

Papelbon, Harper Fight Highlights Nationals’ Deep Problems – The dugout fight between Nationals teammates Jonathan Papelbon and Bryce Harper has sparked much debate in the sports world. Personally, I agree with Papelbon’s principle, but not with his methods. Harper may be a NL MVP frontrunner, but he has a lot to learn.

The Art of Conversation – Tips for how men should engage in conversation.

42 Things We Learned from Week 3 – It usually takes a few weeks to gauge how the NFL season will go. Here is what we know after three weeks.

Spieth’s Stellar PGA Season – Young Jordan Spieth’s spectacular season broken down. I don’t think he’s the next Tiger, but the dude can play.

For us to be in love with ourselves is idolatry. For God not to be in love with himself is idolatry. –Zane Pratt

Leaning on the Promises of God: 3 Ways to Apply God’s Promises to Your Life

rainbow-god-promisesHow many of us believe the promises of God are true, but see no fruit of this belief in our lives? I think there is a common disconnect between assenting to the promises of God and trusting the promises of God. Trust or belief in the biblical sense of the words are inextricably tied to action. We believe, so we act on that belief. Any faith that does not result in a changed life where actions and works are altered is worthless.

While the promises of God are far from empty, I wonder if our belief in them is. American Christians are far better off than the majority of people who have ever lived, and yet we probably worry more than any other society in the history of the world. Worry, discontent, and fear of losing our comforts mark many Americans today, Christians included. What would happen if Christians truly trusted the promises of God?

Puritan William Spurstowe (1605-1666), an English pastor and member of the Westminster Assembly, wrote a beautiful work entitled, The Wells of Salvation Opened. In it, he discusses the promises of God and our response to them. He warns that we should not rest in “a general faith, which goes no further than to give a naked assent unto the promises of the Gospel as true; but does not put forth itself to receive and embrace them as good.” True faith works. It doesn’t just mentally assent to the truth of something. It receives and embraces the truth or reality or Person as good. True faith is a work of the heart. Yes, our minds are definitely (crucially) involved. But without the heart’s affections being moved to delight in a thing as good, faith is absent or false.

Why is it crucial then for a Christian to truly trust the promises of God with his whole being and not just mentally assent to their truth? In the gospel, God has promised to rescue, redeem, and secure sinners from death unto life in Christ. We receive this promise through faith in Christ, but there are many who only assent with their minds without ever acting on their faith in Christ (See Acts 8:13, 23; John 2:23; Matt. 25:11). In each of these examples, God’s promises are believed to be true, but not embraced as good.

Trusting the promises of God produces sweet fruit. Mere assent to the truth of the promises of God produces a bitter and barren life. Trusting God’s promises is the building blocks for a solid and firm stance in the face of sin and suffering. Mere assent to the promises of God is like standing on shifting sand on the brink of a storm. When it comes, you will be swept away in its floods.

How do we practically trust the promises of God? How do we apply them to the messiness of every day life? What do the promises of God in the gospel mean for the stay-at-home mom, the CEO, the teacher, the 5th grader, the college student, and the pastor? How can each of these people apply God’s promises on a daily basis?

A critical word from Spurstowe is helpful here:

When a Christian first turns his thoughts towards the promises, the appearances of light and comfort which shine from them do oft-times seem to be as weak and imperfect rays which neither scatter fears nor darkness; [but] when again he sets himself to ripen and improve his thoughts upon them, then the evidence and comfort which they yield to the soul, is both more clear and distinct but when the heart and affections are fully fixed in the meditation of a promise, Oh! what a bright mirror is the promise then to the eye of faith! What legions of beauties do then appear from every part of it which both ravish and fill the soul of a believer with delight!

Spurstowe beautifully describes the Christian’s experience with the promises of God. At first they seem too good to be true, so distant they can do us no good. But spending more time with them, like sitting by the fireplace, will warm our hearts with indescribable comfort. To think, that when I sin against God even after being found in Christ, condemnation is not consigned to me because God promised “Therefore, there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 8:1). To think, when I am abandoned by everyone around me finding enemies on every side, love everlasting kisses my face and embraces my soul because God promised nothing will separate me from his love (Rom. 8:31-39).

What if we truly trusted the promises of God? Our lives would be radically impacted. Our view of the world would gain much needed perspective. We would never look at our circumstances the same. We wouldn’t fall into despair, because leaning on his promises means a Pauline sorrowful joy is existentially possible. Don’t live life independently from the promises of God. Take them with you wherever you go. Where them around your neck and cling to them when the waves of life crash against you. Don’t just know the promises of God are true, apply the promises to your life.

How can we practically trust and apply the promises of God on a daily basis? I believe there are three ways we can do this:

1. Know the Promises of God

While we can’t end with mental assent, we must begin there. Know the promises of God. This requires pointed and intentional Bible reading. Read the Bible every day and you will encounter many direct and indirect promises to wield in the daily fight for joy.

2. Meditate on the Promises of God

It isn’t enough to have a list of Bible verses of God’s promises. In order to know how to apply them in your particular life setting you must meditate on them. Think deeply about these promises. What are their implications? What are you going through that requires dependence on this or that promise? Fix your mind on God’s promises in such a way that the promise is turned into “a strengthening and reviving cordial.”

3. Memorize the Promises of God

A very practical way to apply the promises is not only to know and meditate on them but to commit them to memory. According to Spurstowe, we should commit specific passages to memory for specific trials we may face. Scripture memory isn’t just an activity for children’s ministry. It is a weapon used to attack the powers of darkness in this world. It is a means of grace to fight for joy in the midst of sorrow.

When life creates hunger, feeding on the Word will provide satisfaction and spiritual nourishment unlike anything else. Act with faith in the promises of God and you will be radically transformed and freed to live and love to the glory of God in all circumstances.

Oh! how securely and contentedly then may a believer, who acts with faith in such promises, lay himself down in the bosom of the Almighty in the worst of all his extremities! Not much unlike the infant that sleeps in the arms of his tender mother with the breast in his mouth, from which, as soon as ever it wakes, it draws a fresh supply that satisfies his hunger, and prevents its unquietness.

11751958_1209158262442953_3486622930933138849_nMathew Gilbert (B.A. Boyce College) is Associate Pastor of Children and Preschool at The Church at Trace Crossing in Tupelo, MS. He is an M.Div student at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Mathew is married to his high school sweetheart, Erica. They have one son, Jude Adoniram.

Precious Time: Brief Reflections on 1 Thessalonians 2:1-16

Infinity-Time1Have you ever done something or went somewhere and then said to yourself, “Boy, that was a waste of time!” I remember waiting in line to get the autograph of one of my favorite authors. I had one of his books with me and was so excited for him to sign his name on the inside cover of the book and take a picture with me.

I waited in line almost an hour and my favorite author still wasn’t there. Suddenly, I heard the crowd at the front of the line grumble. Word passed from front to back that the author was unable to sign autographs after all. He wasn’t feeling well and was heading to the airport to fly home. I remember rolling my eyes and sighing with everyone else, saying, “Boy, that sure was a waste of time!”

When we spend a lot of time or energy doing something, we want it to be worth something. We want it to count. We want it to matter. We never want to waste our time. Paul wanted the Thessalonian Christians to know that he had not wasted his time with them. He wrote, “For you yourselves know, brothers, that our coming to you was not in vain” (v. 1). You see, being a Christian in Thessalonica was not easy. Christians were not popular in this city. Paul himself suffered in this city, but he wanted the Thessalonians to know their time and his time was not wasted.

Why? Why would Paul’s time with these Christians not be wasted? And how does Paul know this? Is it worth it to follow Christ when it’s not a popular thing to do? Is it a waste of time to go to church? Is it a waste of time to have family devotions? Is it a waste of time to intentionally pray or share the gospel with your neighbor?

We will never waste our time when we talk about, think about, and share the gospel. Spending time on the gospel is always time well spent. Paul had shared the gospel with these Christians “in the midst of much conflict” (v. 2). Through all the trouble Paul faced, he continued to share the gospel and do whatever it took for these Thessalonians to believe in Jesus. Paul didn’t waste time trying to please other people because he wanted to please God. Paul didn’t waste time keeping the gospel to himself. The gospel was given to him, so he wanted to give it to others (v. 4). Paul didn’t waste his time bragging on himself. Instead, he spent his time bragging on Jesus (v. 5-6).

Paul shared everything he had with the Thessalonians. Most importantly he worked “night and day” both earning a living and sharing the gospel (v. 9). He didn’t waste his time with what he taught the Thessalonians. He taught them the gospel and showed them how to live it out each day (v. 10-12).

Do you know how Paul knows his time wasn’t wasted? First, he obeyed God’s command to teach and preach the gospel. You will never waste your time obeying God. But his time was also not wasted because the gospel found a home in the hearts of the Thessalonians and they were changed. They started imitating Jesus (v. 14). They suffered for Christ (v. 15). When the gospel changes your life, you know you are not wasting your time in church or in Bible study or in family devotions or sharing the gospel with your neighbor. Whatever helps you look more like Jesus is not a waste of time.

You can do a lot of things that are a waste of time. Following Jesus is never one of them. You will never waste your life following Jesus. You will find it.

11751958_1209158262442953_3486622930933138849_nMathew Gilbert (B.A. Boyce College) is the Children’s Pastor at First Baptist Church in East Bernstadt, KY. He is an M.Div student at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Mathew lives in London, KY with his wife, Erica, and their son, Jude Adoniram.

Quick Quotes: 10 Quotes from “Show Them Jesus” by Jack Klumpenhower

Q-train-logoEvery Friday, I plan to share select quotes from a book I am either currently reading or have previously read. Few things have impacted my faith and life as much as reading has. This will be just one way I promote books and reading. These articles will be for the dedicated reader who loves to gain insight from as many books as possible. They will also be for the Christian looking for new books to read. I am always on the lookout for new books to read. Hopefully some things I share will lead you to pick up a new book. Finally, these articles will be for those of you too busy to read. Hopefully these quick quotes will provide you with easy access to books you would otherwise not have time to read. Each article will include a brief discussion of the author and his work followed by ten (or more) pertinent quotes from the book.

As I was looking through the books on a shelf in my study, I came across one of the best books I read in 2014. Show Them Jesus is one of those books you read quickly the first time because the content and writing style is so good. But the second time through you take time to draw out every principle and learn from each concrete example. My simple conclusion after reading this book twice over: If you teach the gospel to kids, be ashamed if you don’t have this book. Pastors should require every staff or lay leader in the church who teaches kids. Even if you only teach kids for one semester, you would immensely benefit from this book. All pastors to children or children’s ministry directors should be required to read this book.

Do I agree with every example given? No. Do I think the author could have provided a better illustration here or there? Sure. But most points of disagreement were in the realm of personal preference. The principles given for teaching the gospel to kids are biblically and theologically rich. Klumpenhower, a veteran children’s ministry curriculum writer, knows the struggles and inadequacies in most children’s curriculums. He also knows the struggle in teaching the tough parts of the Bible to kids, as well as the issue of discussing personal sin with kids. He is honest and open about the struggle, but offers no excuses for refusing to habitually lay the gospel before our kids.

Show Them Jesus is instructive. One could easily take the author’s principles and concrete examples and immediately put them to use in a children’s ministry or family devotion time. You will immediately feel the benefit of this book. I dare you to pick up a copy and not see improvement in your teaching and children’s ministry.

41YDWctSBDLIf my embellishing doesn’t lead you to Amazon, hopefully these ten quotes will send you to pick up and benefit from Show Them Jesus.

1. The message of Jesus’ death and resurrection is a tool of the Spirit to change hearts. Nagging is not. Rather than coax the kids into temporarily acting better, Joe told about Jesus and trusted God to use that message to make the kids become better.

2. When it comes to teaching the gospel, all of us are clumsy.

3. If you feel uncomfortable talking with your kids about how Jesus died for us, start changing that right now by building a habit of mentioning the cross.

4. A good-news teacher must not sugarcoat God’s demands.

5. The good news does not let Christianity become a guidebook by which kids adjust their lives.

6. The gospel-day trap happens when we think of the good news as very important—critical to salvation!—but as something that only some kids need to hear some of the time.

7. Kids will always choose according to their nature, and the conversion from a sinful nature to a reborn-by-the-Spirit one seldom comes by pressing for an external decision. It comes from being convicted of sin, hearing of God’s saving love, and finding delight in the matchless person of Jesus,

8. We should teach the good news with an urgency and expectation that its payoff is good behavior, or else our doctrine will be served cold. And we must teach good behavior only when we show it flowing from the good news, or else kids will choke on moralism.

9. Jesus isn’t anything like the moody, distant God many kids imagine. In Jesus, God’s absolute authority and his utter love come together—and the result is “Wow!”

10. In lesson after lesson kids need to see a thousand wonder-filled details that make up the character of Jesus, until they realize, with a gasp, that they have seen the face of God. And God is so, so good.

11751958_1209158262442953_3486622930933138849_nMathew Gilbert (B.A. Boyce College) is the Children’s Pastor at First Baptist Church in East Bernstadt, KY. He is an M.Div student at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Mathew lives in London, KY with his wife, Erica, and their son, Jude Adoniram.

Like Shakespeare to Hamlet

Photo Credit | Shakespeare MIT
Photo Credit | Shakespeare MIT

Many times we are frustrated when God doesn’t interact with or respond to us the way we expect. The problem though is not with God, it is with us, or more specifically, the problem is with our expectations. We expect our relationship with God to be like our relationship with our best friend. Maybe more accurately, we expect our relationship with God to be like our relationship with ourselves. I wouldn’t do this to me, so why does God do it?

Others may require empirical evidence to believe in God. They do so because they require empirical evidence to believe in anything. The problem is they are applying the nature of their relationship with the world to their relationship with God. They expect to relate to God on the same terms as they relate to everything else. But God is unlike anything else in the world. He is beyond the world. He is before the world. And, lest we forget, he is the maker of the world. As children at First Baptist Church in East Bernstadt, KY will be learning tomorrow: God is the first and best of beings.

So we should not expect to relate to this God the way we would relate to anyone else. It is like traveling to space, not seeing God, and then concluding that he must not exist. It is like create an absolute assertion, such as “God would not let suffering and evil exist,” observing suffering and evil, and then concluding God mustn’t exist. C.S. Lewis argued that if God exists, we shouldn’t expect to relate to him the way a person on the first story of a house relates to a person on the second story. God isn’t just someone who lives “up there.” He isn’t merely “the man upstairs.” So, everything we know or could know about God isn’t left up to our empirical devices or investigative abilities. Our relationship with God is entirely dependent on God’s desire to relate to us–something he has no obligation to do.

We know as much about God as God wants us to know. My brother, Michael, has gained much insight from Tim Keller’s teaching that we are on need-to-know terms with God. So, questions that require information or explanation that we have not been given should be approached with humility and shouldn’t be a stumbling block to our faith. We are on a need-to-know basis with God. But what we need to know is fully supplanted and revealed by God in his Word.

If we do not relate to God empirically or in a way similar to our human-human interactions, how do we relate to him? Working from C.S. Lewis’s essay, “The Seeing Eye,” Tim Keller believes we relate to God the way Hamlet relates to Shakespeare.

Our relationship to God…is more like Shakespeare’s relationship to Hamlet. How much will Hamlet know about Shakespeare? Only what Shakespeare writes about himself into the play. Hamlet will never be able to find out anything about his author any other way. In the same way…we can’t find God just by going to higher altitudes. We’ll only know about God if God has written something about himself into our life, into our world. And he has (Encounters with Jesus, 55-56).

Keller then moves to show how the gospel works out of this relationship.

God looked into our world–the world he made–and saw us destroying ourselves and the world by turning away from him. It filled his heart with pain (Genesis 6:6). He loved us. He saw us struggling to extricate ourselves from the traps and misery we created for ourselves. And so he wrote himself in. Jesus Christ, the God-man, born in a manger, born to die on a cross for us (56-57).

Your relationship with God is not determined by your ability to discover him. It is based on God’s desire, resolve, and action to discover you. He writes himself into the story of the world. Without this initiative, we would know nothing about God. And worse, we would not know God. Praise God that though we could never find him no matter how hard we looked, he came and found us to bring us back to him.

11751958_1209158262442953_3486622930933138849_nMathew Gilbert (B.A. Boyce College) is the Children’s Pastor at First Baptist Church in East Bernstadt, KY. He is an M.Div student at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Mathew lives in London, KY with his wife, Erica, and their son, Jude Adoniram.