Reflection Guide - Nehemiah 9:38-10:27

Key points from the sermon:

  • Because of their egregious sin against God, Israel is now making a “firm covenant in writing.”  They feel the weight of their sin and they are remembering God’s faithful, covenant love. They’re repenting and choosing to re-enter that covenant love.  They realize how much they’ve messed up and they’re declaring that they want to do better.

  • Likewise, when we feel the weight of our sin, we try to do better.  Or we give up in despair. Or we try to tweak God’s character. These are all coping mechanisms (unhealthy coping mechanisms, but coping mechanisms nonetheless) for dealing with brokenness.  God had a plan all along for our brokenness. He knew we couldn’t do better, so He had a plan all along for a new covenant through Jesus Christ.

  • In 10:1-27, we see a long list of names.  These people were willing to be known. God knows us too.  He has engraved our names on the palms of His hands (Isaiah 49:16)!  We are fully known and fully loved by our God.

  • By writing down their names, the Israelites are also boldly declaring that they’re all in this covenant together.  This is a corporate covenant.  In American Christianity, we like to tout our individuality.  We are indeed all created uniquely by God. But in reality, this “individuality” is sometimes selfishness disguised as independence and it sabotages relationships.

  • When we trust in Christ, He gives us the Holy Spirit as a seal - a guarantee (Eph. 1:13).  We have total security in His new covenant - not because we are faithful, but because He alone is faithful.  When we rest in that security, we can allow God’s covenant love to truly transform us and all of our relationships.

Scripture to meditate on this week:

“In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood.  Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” -1 Corinthians 11:25

Discussion Questions:

  1. What is a covenant?  How does it compare to a contract?  Why were the Israelites writing this covenant?

  2. How do you typically respond when you feel the weight of your sin?  Do you write a covenant, try to do better? Do you give up and despair?  Do you try to tweak God’s character?

  3. Why is it significant that the people listed their names on the sealed document?

  4. The Israelites were writing a corporate covenant.  Why is this idea of a “corporate covenant” such a challenge for us?

  5. How is God’s covenant good news for us?  How should God’s covenant impact the way we live?

Practice:

This week let’s die to our American “individuality” - selfishness disguised as independence.  Think of one person or one situation this week when you know you’ll be tempted towards “individuality.”  Ask God to help you deny yourself in that moment and “count others more significant than yourselves” (Phil. 2:3).  Journal about the experience - tell God what was hard and what was good about it. Even if you fail miserably in this endeavor, rest in the security we have in the new covenant because of Christ!  While we are unfaithful, God remains faithful and that’s our hope!

Reflection Guide - Nehemiah 9:32-37

Key points from the sermon:

  • Verse 32 begins with an affirmation of God’s character and then an acknowledgement of their own hardship.  Hardship is the consequence and reality of sin. Their hardships are extensive (from kings and princes to fathers and all God’s people) and expansive (nearly 300 years of oppression).  The reach of sin’s consequences are complete and total.

  • Despite their hardship, Ezra began this passage by extolling God as great, mighty, and awesome.  This puts their hardship in its rightful place. Our God is VASTLY BIGGER than any of our circumstances.  The way we quantify our hardship will change in direct proportion to the way we quantify God’s awesomeness.  This does not mean we make light of our hardship - Israel doesn’t minimize their situation (Ezra goes into more detail in the next verses).  Instead, we make more of our God, we magnify our LORD!

  • In verse 33, Ezra proclaims God as righteous in giving them hardship.  All have sinned and fall short of God’s glory. Hardship is the direct result of our sinfulness against God.  God is righteous in disciplining us. He would be righteous in eliminating us; it’s what we deserve. Yet, in God’s faithfulness, He uses our hardships for our good and His glory.

  • In the final verses of this passage we see great distress.  Israel is enslaved, just as we’re enslaved to sin today. Ezra is leading the people to call out to God and beg for freedom.  We too can call out to God - being honest about our depravity and our broken situations, trusting that our sin doesn’t change our God, knowing that God not only hears our cries but gives us His holy presence!  We know that because of Jesus we are set free and that one day the hardship will end, one day we will enjoy God without the grave interference of sin. That is our hope in the midst of hardship!

Scripture to meditate on this week:

“Cast your burden on the LORD, and he will sustain you; he will never permit the righteous to be moved.” -Psalm 55:22

Discussion Questions:

  1. What is Israel’s situation in this passage?  How would you describe their circumstance?

  2. Why is it significant that Ezra extolled God (verse 32) before describing their great distress?

  3. When you’re in the midst of hardship, do you tend to minimize the circumstances or magnify the circumstances?  What are the effects of doing either?

  4. Are you currently in great distress?  If so, what is your hope? How can your MC or DNA join you in prayer in the midst of hardship?

Practice:

In the sermon, Pastor Josh quoted Elisabeth Elliot (who endured much hardship in her life) as saying: “Refuse self-pity.  Refuse it absolutely. It is a deadly thing with power to destroy you. Turn your thoughts to Christ who has already carried your griefs and sorrows.”  This week, let’s turn our thoughts to Christ. Let’s prepare for hardship (if we’re not already in it). Read this article by Elisabeth Elliot, where she expands more on how to have hope during great distress, and then let’s practice pressing into Jesus in the midst of our hardship!

Reflection Guide - Nehemiah 9:16-31

Key points from the sermon:

  • In this large passage, we see the recurring themes of Israel’s disobedience and God’s faithfulness.  We ultimately see God as a good father to His children.

  • The following words are used to describe the Israelites: presumptuous, stiffnecked, disobedient, rebellious, blasphemous, evil, stubborn.  In stark comparison, the following words are used describe God’s response: ready to forgive, gracious, merciful, slow to anger, abounding in steadfast love, did not forsake, did not depart, gave His very good Spirit, sustained, multiplied, heard them, delivered them, and bore with them.

  • This passage directly applies to our parenting: when our kids act like Israel, we can be forgiving, gracious, merciful, bearing with them because we act like Israel too, and God remains faithful.  We can parent with hope - not in our kids, not in our own parenting, but in God’s faithfulness!

  • Israel had a heart problem.  We too have a heart problem. As our good Father, God wants to give us a new heart and He has always had a plan to do so.  From the very beginning, God’s plan has been to forsake His own Son on the cross so that we (rebellious, prideful people) would not be forsaken!  By trusting in His Son, we are made new - given new hearts and given full access to God the Father.

  • No matter what we do, no matter how many times we turn away from God or spit in His face or forget His wonders, He never changes!  We can enjoy Him as our Abba Father today and everyday!

Scripture to meditate on this week:

“For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, ‘Abba!  Father!’”  -Romans 8:15

Discussion Questions:

  1. What are the recurring themes in this passage?  What words describe the Israelites? What words describe God?

  2. What does it mean to be stiffnecked?  In today’s culture, how does it look to make a “golden calf” for ourselves or kill God’s prophets?  How can we as an MC guard against such pride and wickedness?

  3. As parents or future parents, how does this passage inform and possibly revolutionize our parenting?  How does this passage give us hope in regards to parenting?

  4. Do you enjoy God as our Abba Father?  Why or why not? What true or false things are you projecting onto God as our Father?

Practice:

This week let’s enjoy God as our patient, loving Father.  Try reading this large passage of Scripture every day this week and let it sink in… we sin, God forgives; we sin, God forgives; we sin, God forgives.  He never changes! Practice calling out, “Abba! Father!”, trusting that He hears our cries and He responds as a compassionate daddy (Psalm 103:13). If you’re a parent or spiritual parent (we’re all discipling someone), rest in the fact that you’re not perfect.  Our job as parents is simply to lead our children to the One who is the perfect parent and enjoy His fatherly love together.

Reflection Guide - Nehemiah 9:7-8

Key points from the sermon:

  • Last week we saw that Ezra rejoiced in our God of creation.  This week we’ll see Ezra rejoice in our God of promise.

  • In this passage, we see that God is doing all of the action - He chose Abram, He brought him out, He gave him a new name, He found his heart faithful, and He made a covenant with him to give land.

  • We know from Genesis 12 that Abraham’s faith was lacking.  Abraham was imperfectly trusting in God’s perfect faithfulness.  It is God who gives us a new heart (Ezekiel 11) and it is God who finds our hearts faithful.  It is not of our own doing!

  • This passage beautifully reflects what Paul describes as adoption in Ephesians 1:3-11.  As New Testament Believers, in Christ we are chosen, in Christ we are given a new identity and a new family, and in Christ we have obtained an inheritance.

  • Lastly, we see that God has “kept” His promise because He is “righteous.”  Such freedom in knowing that it is all because of God; His faithfulness is not dependent on us!  God promised Abraham a son of blessing; as New Testament Believers, we have received the true Son of Blessing, God’s own Son!

Scripture to meditate on this week:

“For all the promises of God find their Yes in Jesus Christ.  That is why it is through him that we utter our Amen to God for his glory.”  -2 Corinthians 1:20

Discussion Questions:

  1. What do you notice in these verses?  What action words stand out to you and who is doing the action in these verses?

  2. What is a covenant?  Can covenants end? How does our culture view covenants or promises?

  3. What has God promised us?  What promises do you struggle to believe?  What promises have been especially helpful to you in this season?  Why or how so?

  4. How can we enjoy our God and His promises?  How are His promises inherently “missional” and what does that mean for us as a Church?

Practice:

This week let’s write down three promises from God that we’re fighting to believe.  To help you out, read this article by John Piper and/or this article by Jen Wilkin.  In addition, celebrate at least one promise that has been especially meaningful to you either in this season or in a previous season of life.  Ask God to show you how He’s been faithful to keep His promises. Share your experiences with your DNA group or your spouse. Pray through the promises together, asking God to help our unbelief!

Reflection Guide - Nehemiah 9:5b-6

Key points from the sermon:

  • In this passage, we dwelt on God as Creator.  The beginning of verse six reminds us that He alone is LORD.  When we start with that confession, it silences all the other voices and gods competing for throne and power.  When we sin, we are believing the serpent’s lies to Adam and Even - that we’ll become “like God.” Our rebellion is in essence a confession that He is NOT God alone.

  • All of life is from God and all of life is sustained by God.  From the stars far above to the depths of the seas, He has created things that only He has ever laid eyes on - why?  For HIS glory. He alone is magnificent, powerful, great, glorious, and worthy.

  • Confessing God as Creator and Sustainer places us squarely before Him.  Biblical creation is scientifically responsible and theologically vital.  The Theory of Evolution places a massive, billions-of-years gap between us and our Creator.  Scripture says He “formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life.”  This is intimate creation!

  • John 1 reminds us that Jesus was there at the beginning and it was through Him that all things were made.  Because only the power that created the universe could possibly fix a universal problem of our making. Through Jesus, we were created; and through Him, we are also a NEW CREATION (2 Cor. 5:17)!

Scripture to meditate on this week:

“Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created.”  -Revelation 4:11

Discussion Questions:

  1. When happens when we think on God’s “glorious name,” when we confess that He alone is LORD?

  2. What are the implications of God being Creator?  What does this say about who He is? What are the dangers of evolution and why should we as Christians care about creationism?

  3. How do you personally enjoy God as Creator?  What gets in the way of enjoying God as Creator?

  4. How can we corporately (as a Missional Community or DNA or family) enjoy God as Creator?  How can we worship Him (who forms and sustains all of life) in all of life? What prevents us from praising and exulting His “glorious name” in all of life?

Practice:

This week let’s enjoy God as Creator!  Spend time studying and observing nature in some capacity (we have a beautiful river and springtime blossoms and we’re minutes from the hill country); and as Pastor Josh said on Sunday, let’s feel “gloriously small.”  Then, let’s RECREATE in His honor and for His glory! Make time this week (or plan some time in the coming weeks) to do something creative - whether that’s cooking, baking, woodworking, writing, painting, singing, lego-building, landscaping, gardening, inventing, organizing, decorating, filming, etc.  Instead of just going through the motions, let’s prayerfully consider how our recreation can exult our LORD and His glorious name.

Reflection Guide - Nehemiah 8:13-18

Key points from the sermon:

  • On the second day, the heads of houses gather to study God’s Word.  The men take initiative and lead their homes spiritually. Husbands, fathers - your family hungers for God’s Word.  Don’t leave them to figure it out on their own, or worse, to develop an appetite for something else. Men, press into God’s Word and lead your family into it.

  • In reading God’s Word, they became aware of God’s command to honor the Feast of Booths (or tents/makeshift temporary shelters).  They obeyed immediately, and they obeyed fully.  

  • By celebrating the Feast of Booths, they are remembering God’s faithfulness.  They are declaring and displaying His faithfulness to the world. They are ultimately putting their hope not in their restored walls, but in God and His coming, eternal, unshakeable kingdom!

  • Most notably, they did all of this with “very great rejoicing.”  They obeyed with joy!  As we enjoy being God’s people, we will obey with “very great rejoicing,” and we won’t be able to help but declare and display His faithfulness and make Him known in every aspect (private and public) of our lives.

Scripture to meditate on this week:

“For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments.  And his commandments are not burdensome.” -1 John 5:3

Discussion Questions:

  1. What do you see happening in Neh. 8:13-18?

  2. In these verses, we see immediate, complete, and joyful obedience to God’s commands.  Which aspect do you personally struggle with the most regarding obedience: immediate, complete, or joyful?  What are the obstacles preventing us from immediate, complete, and joyful obedience to God’s commands?

  3. In general, do you view God’s commands as burdensome or good?  Why or how so?

  4. How is Jesus good news to us when we can’t or won’t obey immediately, completely, and joyfully?

  5. What might be the result of immediate, complete, and joyful obedience to God?  How would this kind of obedience impact our lives, our families, our church, our city, our world?

Practice:

This week think of one area in your life where you struggle to obey God immediately, completely, or joyfully.  Pray through that one thing and surrender it to God, trusting that God’s commands are not burdensome and trusting that immediate, complete, and joyful obedience is possible because of Jesus!  Also, remember that this coming Sunday is a Scatter Sunday. It is a wonderful opportunity to celebrate God’s faithfulness in public, to declare and display His goodness before a lost and dying world!  However you choose to honor Scatter Sunday, do so with “very great rejoicing,” that others may come to know our Lord and Savior!

Reflection Guide - Nehemiah 8:9-12

Key points from the sermon:

  • The people are weeping because the Law reveals God’s holiness and the people’s sin.  The people are seeing rightly; they are appropriately grieved over the chasm between them and God.

  • However, they are commanded to stop weeping, to stop mourning because “this day is holy.”  It’s holy because they’re celebrating the Feast of Trumpets (Numbers 10:9), in which they remember the Lord their God who has claimed them as His people and saved them from their enemies.  Nehemiah and Ezra and the other leaders are calling the Israelites from grief over their sins to hope in the Lord!

  • In verse 10, the people are told to go their way and to celebrate and share!  This is why we do life in Missional Community... to go our way and to celebrate and share with those who are not prepared.

  • Finally, they are told not to grieve because “the joy of the LORD is (their) strength.”  The people had been unfaithful. They knew it and God knew it. But God had remained faithful!  His promises to intervene never changed. When we see and understand God’s Word, we can go our way and “make great rejoicing” because it is not our faithfulness that saves us, but God’s faithfulness alone that saves us!  This is why our mourning and weeping turns to joy and strength - because He has not left us in our sin to fend for ourselves; He came down and rescued us and gave us new life!

Scripture to meditate on this week:

“For his anger is but for a moment, and his favor is for a lifetime.  Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning.” -Psalm 30:5

Discussion Questions:

  1. What do you notice in Neh. 8:9-12?

  2. In verse 9, all the people are weeping because the Law has exposed decades of sin.  They are seeing the great contrast of God’s holiness and their sin, and they are weeping in response to that revelation.  What are some other ways we as a people might respond when confronted with our sin? Which responses are good and right? Which responses are prideful?

  3. Reading on, how long “should” we weep over our sin?  Why are these people being commanded to stop grieving and start celebrating?  

  4. Looking at your own life, how does celebration play out?  What do you celebrate? Is there anything that needs to change regarding how or why you celebrate?  

Practice:

This week remember that MC is designed to be a celebration!  Think about why we’re celebrating and why we’re gathering. Do our MCs feel like a celebration, or do they sometimes feel like an obligation, something to mark off the to-do list?  Moreover, how are we including those who have “nothing ready”? Pray for your MC leaders this week. Pray that our MCs would bring revival to our city. Pray that each week at the Sunday Gathering, God’s Word would expose our sin and remind us that He didn’t leave us in our sin.  We were unfaithful, but He was faithful. May that truth send us out with “great rejoicing” each week, that our city would see our rejoicing and come to know Jesus our Savior!

Reflection Guide - Nehemiah 8:7-8

Key points from the sermon:

  • In these verses, we see that leaders have been trained up to help God’s people understand the Law.  This probably involved some translating and some contextualizing, some listening and answering questions.

  • We also see that “the people remained in their places.”  God meets us where we are in order to fill us with His Word.  “The people understood the reading.”  It wasn’t just seminary students who understood the reading.  God met them where they were and “gave the sense.” This happens most clearly and powerfully through Jesus, God’s Word incarnate.  Think about when God’s story first intersected yours… where did Jesus first meet you? And where is He meeting you today?

  • Together, these verses showcase the heart of why we do life in Missional Community.  We want to meet people where they are and help them understand and internalize God’s Word.  We want to help people “be doers of the word, and not hearers only” (James 1:22). We want them to see that Jesus is good news all week long - at work, at home, at school - not just at the gatherings on Sundays.  We want to remember for ourselves that Jesus is good news all week long - at work, at home, at school - not just at the gatherings on Sundays.

  • Ultimately, we’re aiming for gospel fluency.  Jeff Vanderstelt explains gospel fluency in this way:  “A person is gospel fluent when the gospel becomes their ‘mother tongue.’  They see the world through that filter, they hear the world through that filter, and they know how to speak the truths of the gospel - the truths of Jesus - into the everyday stuff of life.”  We’re aiming to saturate Central Texas (and beyond) with the good news of Jesus Christ through life in Missional Community, that every man, woman, and child would have a daily encounter with Jesus in word and deed.  This is the heart of what is happening in Jerusalem in 400BC and it’s the heart of why we exist as Soma San Marcos today.

Scripture to meditate on this week:

“Your testimonies are righteous forever; give me understanding that I may live.” -Psalm 119:144

Discussion Questions:

  1. What stands out to you in Neh. 8:7-8?  Why or how so?

  2. What does it mean to truly “understand the Law” or “the reading”?

  3. What is gospel fluency and why does it matter?

  4. What are the obstacles that make gospel fluency challenging in our culture?  How can we fight together for gospel fluency?

Practice:

This week let’s study the concept of gospel fluency.  Click this link to watch short videos about gospel fluency.  Think about your personal story and how God has met you where you are.  Share your story in your DNA group. Also, let’s meditate on Psalm 119 together.  Pray through Psalm 119 and plead with God to give us understanding, to help us internalize His Word, trusting that his promises indeed give us life.

Reflection Guide - Nehemiah 8:2-6

Key points from the sermon:

  • Revival begins not when a leader brings the Word, but when people crave the Word (Neh. 8:1).  For 13+ years, Ezra has been praying and cultivating a hunger for God’s Word.  Long before that, God had commanded times of feasting and celebration and remembrance that He might cultivate in His people a rhythmic, consistent hunger for Him!  In this passage, they’re celebrating the Feast of Trumpets (Lev. 23); they’re coming together hungry for God’s Word.

  • We see in v. 3 that God’s people were attentive to God’s Word.  In v. 4, we see that the platform was “made for the purpose” of amplifying God’s Word.  It was not about lifting up a man, but lifting up God’s Word and making it known.

  • In v. 5-6, we see a posture of reverence, humility, and worship among God’s people.  We see a response to God’s Word that is typically (in our culture) reserved for songs.  Worship is not just a style of music. All of life is worship.  Blessing the LORD, shouting “Amen,” rejoicing, lifting hands, and bowing heads - if this characterizes our response to songs but not to God’s Word, we need to seriously consider whether we’re responding to truth or to a tune.

  • We are meant to hunger for God’s Word because God’s Word reveals God.  Our appetites are fickle, our affections are easily shifted.  God knows this. He knows our temptations to crave what seems good, but not that which is truly good.  It is why He sent us God the Son, Jesus. The Word made flesh. The Bread of Life. The Living Water. God has given us the good stuff, the truly satisfying stuff in Jesus, that we might stop craving the junk that this world offers.  By feasting on God through His Word, we are being prepared for an eternal feast where the main course is God’s presence and glory.

Scripture to meditate on this week:

“How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth!”  -Psalm 119:103

Discussion Questions:

  1. What do you notice in Neh. 8:2-6?

  2. The “ears of all the people (Israelites) were attentive to the Book of the Law.”  Church, what are our ears turned to? What has our attention?

  3. Describe the people’s response to the reading of God’s Word in verses 5-6.  Is this convicting? Why or why not?

  4. Is God’s Word “sweeter than honey” to us?  How can we honestly evaluate the appetites of our hearts?  How is Jesus good news when God’s Word isn’t “sweeter than honey” to us?  What does this look like in community?

Practice:

This week let’s practice craving God’s Word.  Remembering that “man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matt. 4:4), let’s consider fasting one meal and replacing it with the reading of God’s Word.  Let the hunger pains remind us of the eternal feast that God is preparing for us (Isaiah 25:6), that we would be a people ready for revival!

Reflection Guide - Nehemiah 7:73-8:1

Key points from the sermon:

  • In these two verses, we see diverse gifting and diverse roles (priests, Levites, gatekeepers, singers, temple servants) that all come together “as one man” under the Book of the Law of Moses.  They are radically unified as God’s people under God’s Word.

  • This picture of “one man” is similar to the picture of one body we see in Ephesians 4.  All of us have different gifts and different roles in order to equip and build up the body (or Soma, which is the Greek word for “body”) of Christ!

  • We are gifted - not to make much of ourselves or our gifting, but to make much of Christ.  Our “little g” gifts point to THE GIFT, Jesus Himself. When the Israelites gather in unity, it is not to make much of the temple servants as they chop wood, it is not to watch the priests butcher the sacrifice, it is not to see their favorite singers in concert, nor is it to hear from their favorite celeb pastor, Ezra.  They gather to make much of God through his Word.

Scripture to meditate on this week:

“Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.”  -Ephesians 4:15-16

Discussion Questions:

  1. What do you notice in Neh. 7:73-8:1?  Do you see diversity? Do you see unity?

  2. We talked on Sunday about how our “little g” gifts point to THE GIFT.  In what ways are we tempted to make much of the “little g” gifts and what are the consequences of doing so?

  3. How do we avoid making much of “little g” gifts?

Practice:

“All the people gathered as one man” to hear God's Word.  This week let's examine how we can do that as one body, as Soma San Marcos.  First, is anything preventing us from gathering? Next, is anything preventing us from unity?  And finally, is anything preventing us from hearing God's Word? Let's pray through these questions and share our thoughts with our MC and/or DNA.

Reflection Guide - Nehemiah 7:66-72

Key points from the sermon:

  • The Israelites were commanded to give toward the priests/temple, toward festivals/feasts, and toward charity for widows, orphans, and sojourners.  This giving totaled about 23% of their earnings. The giving listed in today’s passage is above and beyond 23%. It is certainly noteworthy generosity!

  • However, we see in Mark 12 that Biblical generosity is NOT about the dollar amount!  Instead, generosity is determined from where the giving comes. Biblical generosity necessarily comes from God’s generosity!  The generosity of man emanates from God’s generosity towards man.

  • God had given the Israelites covenants, promise, law, and land.  He has given us His Son! In Ephesians 1, Paul uses generous terminology to describe the blessing of Jesus Christ:  “the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us.”  In 2 Corinthians 9, Paul calls Jesus an “inexpressible gift!”  Jesus is God’s ultimate generosity towards man.

Scripture to meditate on this week:

“Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.”  -2 Cor. 9:7

Discussion Questions:

  1. What stands out to you in Neh. 7:66-72?  Why?

  2. What gets in the way of us enjoying God’s generosity towards us?

  3. What gets in the way of us being a generous people?

Practice:

Pastor Josh pointed out that truly ALL we have comes from something else, someone else.  He warned against feeling entitled or feeling like we “deserve” something. Ultimately, we are stewards of God’s gifts.  This week think about the concept of stewardship.  Read this short article by J.D. Greear and take the simple 8 question quiz to help you better understand where your heart is regarding money and generosity.  Remember also that generosity is an all-of-life thing (just like discipleship and following Jesus is an all-of-life thing).  It’s not only about finances. Generosity is about time, talent, and treasure! Pray for Soma SM, that we would be a Church so thankful for God’s generosity toward us that our hearts and our lives would naturally pour out and give to others.

Reflection Guide - Nehemiah 7:61-65

Key points from the sermon:

  • We see in this passage that some people could not prove they were of Israel, and even worse, some people who could not prove their lineage were serving as priests.  This was a severe affront on God’s holiness, as it was the work of the priests that allowed the Israelites to draw near to God.

  • To be holy means to be set apart, distinct, clean, perfect.  God alone is holy. Holiness is original to Him and essential to Him.  Our holiness comes only by being in proximity to Him.  (Think about the Holy Hill, the Holy Temple, etc.)

  • God cares so much about our holiness that He sent His Son as the perfect High Priest (Hebrews 8), not to offer sacrifice but to be our sacrifice, that He might redeem our lineage and let us all draw near to God!

  • Regarding holiness, we often trend toward one of two extremes: legalism or license.  Both extremes outrightly reject Jesus and impede relationship with Him.  As New Testament Believers, we get to enjoy nearness to God, growing in holiness, and inviting others into that relationship alongside us, that all people might ultimately give Him glory!

Scripture to meditate on this week:

“But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.”  -1 Peter 2:9

Discussion Questions:

  1. What do you notice in Neh. 7:61-65?

  2. Why does God care so much about the priesthood?  How does the priesthood relate to us as New Covenant Christians?  Does it even matter to us? Why or why not?

  3. Define holiness.  Explain your feelings regarding holiness.  Do we (as a local Church) see ourselves as “a royal priesthood, a holy nation”?  Why or why not?

  4. Do you trend towards legalism or license?  How is Jesus good news for those who trend towards legalism?  How is Jesus good news for those who trend towards license? How can a Missional Community fight together to preserve the holiness we’ve received in Christ?

Practice:

Because of Jesus, we now have the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.  We ourselves are God’s holy temple (1 Cor. 3:16); that’s the level of intimacy and holiness we now have with God!  And yet, most of us are not daily enjoying that level of intimacy and holiness. This week dwell on James 4:8: “Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you.  Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.”  Pray through that verse.  Beg God to grace us with His presence, His nearness.  Ask Him to expose our sins. Press into the forgiveness of Jesus.  Practice confessing sins to God and to others each day this week.  We can only grow in holiness if we’re growing nearer to God, so let that be our prayer this week.  Not that we would be holy for our own sake, but that God’s holiness would shine through us for His name’s sake!

"Tidying Up" for the Gospel

Netflix has won the internet yet again with it’s new show “Tidying Up.”  Marie Kondo is inspiring people everywhere to begin decluttering. And while it seems that her reasons for tidying up are likely rooted in eastern religion and culture, it also seems that there’s a direct link between decluttering and the Gospel.

See, the Gospel is simple.

Now, let’s not confuse simple with easy.  Nothing about the Gospel is easy. But it is simple.

Paul sums it up best in 1 Corinthians 2:2… “For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.”

Jesus Christ and him crucified.  That's the Gospel. Nothing more, nothing less.

And that's what our lives, our Missional Communities, our Church should declare and display.  Nothing more, nothing less.

It’s so easy (especially in America) to let our lives get cluttered with so much fluff, so many distractions.  If we’re not careful, this same clutter will bleed into our Church as well.

At Soma, our structure and our gatherings are simple on purpose.  No fancy lighting. No fancy staging. No fancy words. We don’t want to distract from the Gospel!  Our hope and prayer is that everyone who walks into our gatherings tastes and sees that the LORD is good.  The LORD alone.

To clarify, simple does not necessarily mean minimal.  Minimalism can quickly become an idol, much like materialism.  Decluttering and simplifying our lives, our Missional Communities, and our Church does not mean purging everything we own.  Nor does it mean hiding our mess. Rather, it means being intentional to make space, to carve out time and resources for Gospel priorities, such as hospitality and community.  Diversity and unity. Discipleship and mission. Worship and prayer.

So, as we tidy up our homes and declutter our cabinets, let us do the same with our lives, with our Missional Communities, and with our Church.  May God help us to live in such a way that points to the simple Gospel. May He guard us from distractions and let us know nothing except Jesus Christ and him crucified!

Reflection Guide - Nehemiah 7:6-60

Key points from the sermon:

  • We’re taking the time to read these names and these numbers because all of Scripture is God-breathed and useful for teaching!  God was intentional to include these long, hard-to-read lists for our own good and His glory.  In fact, Pastor Josh pointed out that these names are actually listed twice in the Bible! They must be important.

  • This long list of names and numbers shows us that God cares about the details!  He cares about His people as individuals and as a whole/nation. He simultaneously focuses on the details and the big picture, the singular souls and the larger Church!  Christianity is both a personal faith and a corporate faith.

  • These people came up out of exile and will now play a crucial role in God’s restoration of Jerusalem.  In returning to a broken city, they have likely displayed sacrifice, surrender, faithfulness, courage, and obedience.  Their sights were on the heavenly kingdom, not the earthly kingdom. In the same way, Jesus came down to our broken world and displayed the ultimate sacrifice, the ultimate surrender, the ultimate faithfulness, the ultimate courage, and the ultimate obedience, that we might be reconciled to God and see the heavenly kingdom, not the earthly kingdom.

Scripture to meditate on this week:

“But now thus says the LORD, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.”  -Isaiah 43:1

Discussion Questions:

  1. What do you think about Nehemiah 7:6-60?  Why take the time to read all these names and numbers?

  2. What do these verses reveal about God?  

  3. How are you encouraged or challenged by these verses?  Explain.

  4. Knowing these people have come up out of exile and back to Jerusalem and Judah, how might you describe them as a whole?  Can you relate to them in any way? Why or why not?

Practice:

Just as the people listed in Nehemiah 7 played a crucial role in God's restoration of Jerusalem, we pray that the people of Soma will play a crucial role in God's restoration of San Marcos.  Just as no one was “accidentally” in Jerusalem and Judah, no one is “accidentally” a part of Soma SM. If you're here, He's already called you into His sacred work of restoring the city to Himself.  Think about that. Do you feel excited, overwhelmed, scared, valued, apathetic? Let your feelings guide you to Jesus and dwell on the ultimate restoration we have because of Him. Then think of one practical thing you can do this week as an active participant in God’s restoration of San Marcos.  It might be anything from joining a Serve Team to caring for an elderly neighbor or apologizing to a family member! Consider sharing and discussing this with your DNA.

Language-learning for the Glory of God!

In John 1:1, Jesus is called “the Word.”

The Word.  La Palabra.

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By design, words must be powerful.  And they must be part of God’s plan for reaching His people, part of His mission.

We’re all familiar with The Great Commission.  Jesus tells us to go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them, and teaching them His ways.  How can we teach the nations if we can’t even speak their language?

Soma wants to be a Body that prioritizes missions.  So naturally, we must be a Body that prioritizes languages and the learning of languages.  As a church made up of everyday missionaries, we encourage everyone to be involved in language development, whether you’re a “goer” or a “sender.”  As a church in San Marcos, we’ll be doing life with people from all kinds of backgrounds and nations, particularly Latin American nations. It only makes sense to practice Spanish and immerse ourselves in Hispanic culture as a simple way to live on mission in our city.  Some of our people (kids included!) are taking Spanish classes or utilizing Spanish apps to initiate this language development. We’re starting small, with the hopes that these small steps will have huge ripple effects.

Please pray for our people as we take on challenging tasks and learn a new language.  Pray that we would fully embrace our identity as everyday missionaries. Pray that we would be bold to use Spanish when the opportunities arise.  Pray that our church would soon look like the city, lots of diversity unified under Jesus Christ. Pray that we’d not only look like the city, but that we’d be a church for the city, for the nations!

Soma SM, let’s make ourselves servants to all, that we might win more people to Jesus… Let’s become all things to all people, that by all means we might save some.  And let’s do it all for the sake of the Gospel! (1 Corinthians 9:19, 22-23)

Reflection Guide - Nehemiah 7:4-5

Key points from the sermon:

  • In verse 4, we see that without people, all the work is for naught.  It is the people (not the walls, not the programs or structures) that declare and display God’s Kingdom.  This verse is reminiscent of Jesus’s own words in Matthew 9:37… “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few.”  This should spur us on towards God’s mission. He has a heart for those who don’t yet know Him. He cares about the growth of His Church.  As His Body, we are a living organism. A stagnant church is a dying church. He has invited all of us into His mission, not just the “Christian elite.”

  • While verse 4 presented a problem (lack of people), we see God offer a solution to the problem in verse 5.  Nehemiah was sensitive to God’s leading. Instead of feeling crushed by the overwhelming needs around him, God gave Nehemiah eyes to see that He has already provided!  These aren’t new needs to God. In fact, God has been working to meet these needs long before Nehemiah, bringing people to Jerusalem before Nehemiah was even born. Indeed, God cares about His mission (namely, His people) far more than we do!  And He has been working for His mission since the beginning of time.

  • Together, these two verses exemplify a Hudson Taylor quote that we’ve seen displayed throughout the book of Nehemiah:  “God’s work done in God’s way will never lack God’s supply.” Let’s allow that understanding to guide our missional communities as we seek to saturate Central Texas with the good news of Jesus Christ!

Scripture to meditate on this week:

“Then he said to his disciples, ‘The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.’”  -Matthew 9:37-38

Discussion Questions:

  1. What do you notice when you read Nehemiah 7:4-5?

  2. Why is it a problem that “the people within it were few”?  What does this say about God’s mission?

  3. Verse 5 says that “God put it into (Nehemiah’s) heart”... that is, God literally guided Nehemiah step-by-step.  What do you think about that? Do you feel guided by God or do you often feel lost? Why? What can you glean from all of this?

  4. How does Neh. 7:4-5 apply specifically to your Missional Community?  How is your MC participating in God’s mission and how are you watching God supply for the needs around you?

Practice:

Take this week to remember how God first pursued you.  Write out your testimony and recall how you came to know Him.  How is He still actively pursuing you today? We are a sent people because God first sent Jesus to save us.  We cannot pursue others well if we’re not resting in that fact.  God cares more about our lost neighbors and our lost family members than we ever could, and He’s been pursuing them long before us.  Let that truth sink in and ultimately impact the way we “do” missions.

Reflection Guide - Nehemiah 7:1-3

Key points from the sermon:

  • In chapter 7, we see that the wall was just the beginning; the real work revolves around God’s people living for God’s glory.  The wall has been built and now Nehemiah immediately appoints gatekeepers, singers, and Levites to ensure the preservation, protection, sanctification, and growth of God’s people.  Jerusalem was a tangible city on a hill, protected by a tangible wall. Today, as a New Testament people, we are the tangible city on a hill.  God protects us, sanctifies us, and grows us through the power of the Holy Spirit, the Living Word, and His Church, with Jesus as the head.

  • In verse 2, Nehemiah goes even further to develop and acknowledge fellow leaders who have shown faithfulness, sharing the burden of leadership for the benefit of the people.

  • Verse 3 shows just how serious they are about the dangers outside of the walls.  Keeping God’s people safe and holy is a priority.

  • Ultimately, these verses display God’s fatherly love towards us, His children.  God cares supremely about our protection, our healthy growth, and our sanctification to become more like Him.  He didn’t leave us alone to protect ourselves and sanctify ourselves. He has written the law on our hearts; He’s given us The Spirit and The Church to come alongside us and be our helpers.

Scripture to meditate on this week:

“For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the LORD:  I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people.”  -Jeremiah 31:33

Discussion Questions:

  1. What stands out to you when you read Nehemiah 7:1-3?  Why or how so?

  2. Why did Nehemiah appoint gatekeepers, singers, and Levites?  What is the significance of each position/role?

  3. What does it mean to be faithful and God-fearing?  What prevents us from being faithful or God-fearing?  Does anyone you know come to mind when you hear those two descriptors?

  4. Lastly, think about God’s perfect fatherly love for us.  How can you individually press into His fatherly love? How can we corporately press into His fatherly love?

Practice:

Spend time this week thinking about the gatekeepers, singers, and Levites in your life.  What barriers or protections do you have in place to keep you holy as God is holy? What songs do you listen to?  What “liquid theology” are you ingesting? Finally, who are your spiritual leaders? Are you giving them full access to your heart and are you quick to listen to them?  What are the dangers of ignoring the gatekeepers, singers, and Levites in your life? God cares about you as a father cares about His children. He has given you His Spirit and His Church to act as gatekeepers, singers, and Levites in your life.  Pray that our local Body, Soma SM, would press more and more into His Spirit and His Church, that we might live under the blessing of His Fatherhood, growing healthy and strong.

Reflection Guide - Nehemiah 5:14-19

Key points from the sermon:

  • In this passage, we see Nehemiah living a life (12 years) of financial compassion and sacrificial hospitality (table of 150+ men, strangers and friends alike).  This lifestyle is an outpouring of what God has already given us - He’s invited us to His eternal banqueting table, though we never earned a position at the table.

  • Verse 15 explains that Nehemiah’s lifestyle was “because of the fear of God.”  Ultimately, Nehemiah’s hope was in God, not in wealth. He could rightly steward his resources because he understood that it all belongs to God to be used for God’s purposes.  Nehemiah was not known for a love of money, but a love of God.

  • This passage sums up with Nehemiah asking God to remember him for his good, for all that he’s done for this people.  As New Testament Believers, we don’t have to cry out to God to remember all of our sacrifices! Instead, we get to cry out to God to remember the perfect sacrifice of Jesus on our behalf!  It is because Jesus Himself embodied sacrificial generosity 2,000 years ago that we, as present-day Christians, can embody a lifestyle of sacrificial generosity.

Scripture to meditate on this week:

“For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”  -Matthew 6:21

Discussion Questions:

  1. What stands out to you when you read Neh. 5:14-19?  Why?

  2. We see here a lifestyle of financial compassion and sacrificial hospitality.  According to Nehemiah himself, what is driving this lifestyle? Looking at our own lives, what prevents us from this lifestyle?  What are the roadblocks we face to living a generous life?

  3. Look at verse 19.  What are your initial reactions to this statement?  As New Testament Believers, what is our cry to God? Why are we (as Christians) striving for a generous lifestyle?  Ultimately, where is our hope?

Practice:

Look at your budget this week.  Where is your money going and how does that reflect your heart?  What changes can you make this month to align your heart to God and His mission?  Remember our Savior who gave ALL for our sake and let that guide our finances. Pray that God would continually give us a heart of generosity that oozes the Gospel.

Reflection Guide - Nehemiah 4:15-23

Key points from the sermon:

  • In this passage, we glean three things that are required as we labor for God’s Kingdom amidst opposition:  awareness of the situation, appropriate defense, and trust in the LORD.

  • The Israelites took stock of their situation with sober-mindedness and everyone engaged in the defense of the city.  Yet many of us today walk around oblivious to the attacks we’re facing. The men and women of Jerusalem battled against a tangible enemy; the enemy we face is a spiritual one.  Spiritual warfare is REAL and as we’ve observed in the book of Nehemiah, it will increase as we follow God.  Healthy awareness of the attacks is necessary to create a defense plan.

  • The Israelites responded appropriately to the situation and prepared to defend the city.  They worked strategically and consistently to protect the city. We too need a strategic and consistent plan to fight well in our spiritual battles.

  • Ultimately, the Israelites trusted that God would fight for them (v. 20)!  They strategized and took up their swords and put on their armor, but they trusted God for the outcome.  The builders did not assume that their faith would prevent battle, but they trusted that God would fight for them IN the battle!

Scripture to meditate on this week:

“Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil.  For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.”  -Ephesians 6:11-12

Discussion Questions:

  1. What stands out to you when you read Neh. 4:15-23?

  2. Do you believe in Spiritual Warfare?  Why or why not?

  3. Before we can defend against spiritual attacks, we have to be keenly aware of them!  Thinking of the Church, in what ways are we vulnerable to attacks from the devil? Thinking of your heart and your weaknesses, where or when are you especially vulnerable to attacks?  With these vulnerabilities in mind, what would it look like to create an appropriate and strategic plan of defense? (Look at Eph. 6 for help in creating this plan.)

  4. As we create this plan of defense, we can ultimately trust God to fight for us.  How is this good news and how does it affect the way we fight or work?

Practice:

Looking at question three above, write out your plan of defense and share it with your DNA group this week.  If you’ve never read C.S. Lewis’s Screwtape Letters, consider doing so this week!  Then follow Paul’s urging in Ephesians 6:18 and persevere in PRAYER, which is essential in spiritual warfare.  Remember, we can take heart in the battle, for our Savior has already won the war. We have victory in Jesus!

Reflection Guide - Nehemiah 4:1-14

Key points from the sermon:

  • In this passage, we see extensive taunting and threats and attacks (from without and within) against the Israelites.  They are legitimately overwhelmed by the task ahead and the mounds of rubble. Their faith is weakening.

  • Amidst the opposition, we see that there’s freedom in confessing that what we’ve been called to is more than we can handle on our own (v. 10).  There’s freedom in acknowledging that we cannot carry out God’s will by ourselves! God DOES give us more than we can handle, so that we might turn to Him in our weakness and that He will get all the glory.

  • Verse 14 concludes with a strong reminder to “remember the Lord, who is great and awesome.”  When circumstances are crushing us, we turn our gaze to the Lord for strength and renewal. He is strong when we are weak.  He CAN handle what we can’t handle.

  • In this passage, we ultimately see that faith doesn’t minimize the rubble, but magnifies the Lord!

Scripture to meditate on this week:

“For we do not want you to be unaware, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia.  For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death.  But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead.” -2 Corinthians 1:8-9

Discussion Questions:

  1. What themes or phrases do you especially notice when you read Neh. 4:1-14?

  2. Have you experienced times in your life when there’s “too much rubble” (v. 10), times when  God has indeed given you more than you can handle? Describe those times. How did God work in the midst of the rubble?  Is there anything in your life right now that you need to confess is too much for you to do by yourself?

  3. Verse 14 says to “remember the Lord, who is great and awesome.”  How can we practically (personally and together as a Church) “remember the Lord” amidst overwhelming “rubble”?

Practice:

This week let’s practice confessing to God and one another that we can’t do things by ourselves.  Let’s acknowledge (out loud) our need for God and then practice turning our gaze from the rubble to the Lord.  Challenge yourself to read Psalm 121 every day for seven days in a row and particularly press into verses 1 and 2 as we practice lifting our eyes up to the Lord for help on a daily (hourly, minute-by-minute) basis.