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.

Reflection Guide - Nehemiah 3:6-32

Key points from the sermon:

  • In this passage, we see the repetition of two prepositional phrases:  “Next to” and “In front of.” “Next to” shows that we are dependent on each other in doing God’s work.  “In front of” shows that we are primarily (not solely) responsible for the building up of our own homes.

  • Those two prepositional phrases combine to indicate a healthy unity in God’s work.  Lack of unity would leave weaknesses in the walls that the enemy could exploit, which is precisely how it works in the Christian family (both nuclear and church).

  • Unity is maintained through:  clarity of work (mission), interdependence (diversity), and co-dependence (desperate for Jesus together).

  • Ultimately, this passage reminds us that Christ has saved us into His diverse Body and has called us into His unified work for God’s glory and our holiness.

Scripture to meditate on this week:

“For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.”  -Romans 12:4-5

Discussion Questions:

  1. What stands out to you when you read Nehemiah 3:6-32?  Why or how so?

  2. Thinking about the prepositional phrase “next to,” what does interdependence look like practically and spiritually for the Body?  What are the challenges of interdependence?

  3. Thinking about the prepositional phrase “in front of,” what does tending to your own home look like practically and spiritually?  What are the challenges of caring for our own homes?

  4. What are the keys to unity?  What causes disunity and how can we prevent that in the Body?

Practice:

This week let’s aim for radical diversity and radical unity.  Pray for radical diversity and radical unity within Soma San Marcos.  Take the time to seek out someone within Soma San Marcos who is different from you (in race, in economic status, in age, etc.) and love them as a valuable brother or sister in Christ, knowing that we are all uniquely created and all called into the same mission and work as children of God.  Practice interdependence and co-dependence, leaning into Jesus together and alongside each other, trusting that radical diversity and radical unity rightly displays the Kingdom of God.

Reflection Guide - Nehemiah 3:1-5

Key points from the sermon:

  • In this passage, we see the contrast of two legacies:  Eliashib the high priest left a legacy of humility, while the Tekoite nobles left a legacy of pride.  Eliashib got his hands dirty. Though he was a high priest, he wasn’t afraid of the hard, lowly work. But the Tekoite nobles “would not stoop to serve their Lord.”

  • Eliashib’s servant leadership points to the perfect servant leader: Jesus Christ, “who came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45).

  • Today’s culture often values leaders who look more like the prideful Tekoite nobles. However, as Christ-followers, we must remember that there is only one Biblical definition of a leader: servant.

Scripture to meditate on this week:

“Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.  And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” -Philippians 2:5-8

Discussion Questions:

  1. What stands out to you when you read Nehemiah 3:1-5?  Why or how so?

  2. The Tekoite nobles left a legacy of pride.  Jonathan Edwards said, “Pride is the worst sin.”  What are the dangers of pride? Why is it “the worst sin”?  How can we as a Body fight against this sin?

  3. Unlike the Tekoite nobles, Jesus embodied perfect servant leadership.  How is this good news for us today?

Practice:

This week let’s watch vigilantly for pride in our hearts.  In humility, ask your spouse or your roommates or your DNA group where they see pride in your heart.  Listen without being defensive and thank them for their insight, understanding that “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble” (James 4:6).  Ask God to reveal any pride in our hearts and humbly plead with Him to remove this sin. May our hearts and our lives reflect our perfect servant leader, Jesus Christ.

Reflection Guide - Nehemiah 2:19-20

Key points from the sermon:

  • The three men mentioned in verse 19 signify three types of opposition: political, religious, and economic.  They also have geographical significance: Jerusalem is physically surrounded by threats. This puts Jerusalem in a weak, desperate state before they even begin the work of rebuilding the walls.

  • The opposition asks if Israel is “rebelling against the king?”  The opposition is targeting their fear of man. But Nehemiah immediately points to “the God of heaven.”  Fear of God drives out fear of man.

  • Notice the order of Nehemiah’s response.  First, God “will make us prosper.” Then, “we his servants will arise and build.”  This contradicts the American belief that “God helps those who help themselves.” No, God does not help those who help themselves!  As Christians, we don’t work to earn prosperity. We work out of the prosperity that we already have through Jesus Christ.

  • Nehemiah concludes verse 20 by boldly telling the opposition that they “have no portion or right or claim in Jerusalem.”  Nehemiah understood that God’s people were meant to be holy and set apart for His namesake. Those whose hearts are not right before God cannot take part in His work and His glory (see Acts 8:21).

  • Ultimately, opposition exposes our hearts and our motives behind the work.  When God’s glory is the motive, opposition will not destroy us; it will galvanize us and make us more resolved!

Scripture to meditate on this week:

“The fear of man lays a snare, but whoever trusts in the Lord is safe.”  -Proverbs 29:25

Discussion Questions:

  1. What stands out to you when you read Nehemiah 2:19-20?  Why or how so?

  2. Have you recently felt threatened or surrounded by opposition?  How did you respond? What idols were revealed? Did any good come out of the opposition?

  3. When are you most tempted to succumb to fear of man?  Why is fear of God a good thing?

  4. Nehemiah rebuked the men who mocked the Israelites. Is there any part of your life which needs to be told, “You have no right or claim here!”?

Practice:

This week let’s notice how we respond when we face opposition.  Do we freeze in shock? Do we fight back in our own strength? Or do we trust the God of heaven whose ways are higher than our ways?  As Christ-followers, we can expect opposition and prepare for it Biblically. We can pray to help us discern between opposition from the enemy and correction from the Holy Spirit, trusting that both opposition and correction are for our good and God’s glory.

Pray With Us: Orphan Care

Today, three of our Soma college students are attending Fostering Hope Austin’s Babysitter Certification Training!  They will join the many other Soma members who have already obtained their foster babysitter certification.  This is no simple task. It requires CPR/First Aid training, trauma-informed training, references, floor plans, background checks, TB tests, and more.  This sacrificial service speaks to the heart of Soma San Marcos. Loving the orphan has been in our DNA since the very beginning.

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While we were hurting and lonely, God came and invited us into His family.  It only makes sense to extend that love to orphans, and doing so has become second-nature at Soma.  Roughly 30% of our children at Soma San Marcos are in foster care. This percentage has been consistent since 2015. And with a relatively small church, it is impossible to be part of our local Body without being deeply touched by foster care. Foster kids are just part of who we are and caring for kids from hard places has become our normal. We hope and pray that our radical love for foster kids points to the radical love that our Heavenly Father first showed us.

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In addition to doing life with these kids from hard places, Soma has also partnered with Family4Life, a local organization that seeks to strengthen relationships among siblings who are separated due to foster care.  We’ve enjoyed participating in their walk-a-thon, “A Mile in My Shoes,” and their bowling tournament, “Strike Out Sibling Separation,” and we look forward to continually blessing this ministry!

Foster care is not easy.  It requires time, money, energy, and endless love.  If you would like to help Soma San Marcos provide more resources and help to their foster families, please click here to give financially and choose “Orphan Care” under the drop-down options.  Please pray with us for our foster families! They are in the trenches of spiritual warfare, and our prayers will bring them great hope and strength for each day.

Our Providential Position

At the end of Nehemiah chapter 1, we saw that God had providentially positioned Nehemiah as cupbearer to the king.  This strategic position paved the way for how God would use Nehemiah to restore the walls of Jerusalem and bring hope to the nations!  As a local church plant, we believe that God has providentially and strategically positioned Soma San Marcos to be used in restoring the city and bringing hope to the nations.

  1. The Poor - From the very beginning when we planted in 2014, our Body has been learning to live as family and care for each others’ needs.  God has placed our Body in the midst of one of the poorest cities in Texas (36% of our residents live below the poverty level and our entire school district receives free breakfast and lunch).  Naturally, there are many needs - so many needs that it feels overwhelming at times. It’s not always easy to plant a church in a poor place.  However, we trust in a big God who redeems all things and delights in using us to make Him known.  Our small Body has a heart for meeting needs and we hope that God will use us to meet tangible needs here in San Marcos.  We hope that God will use us to bless the homeless, the single mothers, the sick and hurting. We hope that God will use us to create jobs and minister to the surrounding communities like Seguin, Kyle, and Wimberley.  Ultimately, we trust that God has strategically positioned us here among many needs that we might declare and display His glorious kingdom to a lost and dying world.

  2. The Students - San Marcos is home to Texas State University, which serves almost 39,000 college students from all over the state, the nation, and the world.  Enrollment trends are showing an increase in international students and even international studies. Not only are students coming to our city from other places, but many of them are studying and preparing to go to other places after graduation.  We understand that as a Church, we have the responsibility and unique privilege to reach these students with the Gospel, train them up as Biblical disciples of Jesus, and then send them out as everyday missionaries after graduation.  We want to be intentional in utilizing this natural way to reach the nations! It is no coincidence that Soma San Marcos is next door to a university.  It’s God’s strategic placement and plan.

  3. The Immigrants - San Marcos is also home to a large immigrant population.  We’re positioned along the I-35 corridor, which runs right up from Laredo by the Mexican border.  Our population is 42% Hispanic and we have a rich Latino culture. Again, it is no accident that Soma San Marcos has direct access to the southern border.  God has strategically positioned us and given us an opportunity to love and serve immigrants, as well as their extended families and friends in Latin America.  He wants to use us to reach the nations!

These are just three of the ways that show how God has gone before us and providentially placed us here to do the work that He prepared beforehand (Ephesians 2:10).  Soma San Marcos, we might be a city by a river, but let’s act as a city on a hill (Matthew 5:14). Please pray with us that our local work would lead to a global impact for Christ’s namesake!

Parenting Through Brokenness

This post is written by Kelly Owen. It is a subject that has been years in the making for our family as we followed God into Church Planting and Foster Care. Our kids have had front-row seats to the hurt and trauma we've experienced and undertaken. They've also had an incredible view as God has provided for us, been near to us, and is redeeming all things in Jesus Christ. We've begun to understand parenting as far more than preparing our kids for the world; it is preparing them for eternity. It may seem foolish from the outside, but we wouldn't trade it for anything.

In the first chapter of Nehemiah, we looked at how Nehemiah prayerfully responded to brokenness.  As parents, we’re often tempted to shield our children from brokenness. We hide in gated neighborhoods.  We steer clear of messy people and messy places. We just want our children to be happy, and we certainly don’t want them to witness suffering!

A gardener who plants a young tree will take action to ensure its healthy survival - a fence to keep the deer from eating it, perhaps some cords to keep the wind from breaking it - but if the tree remains “sheltered” too long, it will not be safe but stunted. It will be too weak to survive the storms of life, much less bear fruit! With that in mind, what would happen if instead of sheltering our children from brokenness, we prayerfully shepherded them through brokenness?

Freedom from Fear

Parents, Christ has called us to freedom and we are no longer enslaved to fear (Romans 8:15)! We don’t have to panic when our children witness brokenness and experience pain. Rather, we can recognize suffering as part of God’s beautiful, redemptive plan for our good and the good of our children.  We need not fear all the “what if” worst-case scenarios when raising our children.  We trust in the perfect Father who loves our children “even if” the worst happens! As parents, when we trade “what if” for “even if,” we’ll stop worrying so much about our kids; we’ll live in the freedom that Christ came to give us (Galatians 5:1).

Freedom to Follow Christ

Jesus told us to take up our cross and follow Him (Matthew 16:24).  Take up our cross - the painful wooden cross on Calvary, not the decorative metal one hanging on our wall.  Following Jesus means following Him into suffering and hardship. When our goal is no longer to keep our children “happy,” we are freed up to follow Jesus where He leads, trusting that His plans for our children are far better than our plans for our children.

Fortified Faith in Christ

Ultimately, when we as Christian parents stop sheltering our children from brokenness, we’ll give them the greatest gift of all: a fortified faith in Christ!  Brokenness is in fact an opportunity to disciple our children. When suffering comes their way, it’s our chance to share promises from Scripture and pray with our children through the pain.  It’s our chance to show them that our hope is not in this fleeting world, but in the eternal world to come. It’s our chance to show them we trust Christ with not only our own lives, but with their lives as well.  

When our children are scared, can we say with confidence that God is with them always? When our children are hurting and crying, do we genuinely believe that God will one day wipe away every tear?  Does He really know our children and their needs better than we do? Will He indeed work this fiery trial for their good?  Is God really making all things new, even this broken world?

We can’t fool the people living under our own roof!  Our children have a front-row seat to our hearts. When they’re confronted with brokenness, we can press into Romans 8:18: “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.”  No suffering is worth comparing to the glory that is to come!  As Christians, we’re not parenting for things that are seen, things that are transient (2 Corinthians 4:18).  We’re parenting for things that are unseen, things that are eternal - like a fortified faith.

Marj Saint understood this well.  Her husband, Nate, was speared by the Waodani tribe in 1956. And yet, Marj didn’t shrink back in fear. She allowed their young son Steve to live among the Waodani tribe, and the very man that killed Steve’s father later baptized him and became like a father to him.  Marj trusted Christ with not only her own life, but also the life of her son. And with that, Marj gave Steve a fortified faith that would carry him through a lifetime of following Jesus!

Marj likely knew that brokenness is the very place we display true faith in Jesus.  It’s the very place that God works miracles and does things we can’t foresee - things that can only be credited to Him!  We cannot prevent our children from experiencing the pain and brokenness that comes from living in a fallen world. We can, however, show them how to trust God to heal the pain and restore the brokenness as we lean into Him! So parents, let’s stop operating out of fear as we shelter our children from brokenness. Let’s commit to prayerfully shepherd them through it, and then watch God work in unimaginable ways!

Reflection Guide - Nehemiah 2:9-18

Key points from the sermon:

  • In verse 10, we see that resistance is a reality for Nehemiah.  As we walk in obedience to God, resistance will be a reality for us too.

  • Nehemiah closely and secretly inspects the walls.  He knows that the giant work ahead will require faith and sacrifice.  In verse 17, he invites the people to take communal ownership of the vision and the work.

  • Nehemiah sees that “Jerusalem lies in ruins,” and this is NOT God’s design for His chosen people; it doesn’t rightly reflect their King.  Nehemiah is calling the Israelites to restore the walls, so that the nations might see God’s glory displayed among His people. In the same way, we are invited to “inspect the walls” of today’s Church.  Let’s look at the cracks and consider how God might be calling us to restoration, so that we would display His kingdom to a watching world in need of Jesus!

  • In verse 18, Nehemiah again credits God for all that He’s done and will do.  It is all God’s faithfulness, not Nehemiah’s gifting nor Nehemiah’s work.

  • Ultimately, the people rose up to build!  “They strengthened their hands for the good work” that God had put on their hearts.  

Scripture to meditate on this week:

“And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.”  -1 Peter 5:10

Discussion Questions:

  1. What stands out to you when you read Nehemiah 2:9-18?  Why or how so?

  2. “Inspect the walls” of your life, your family, your city, The Church.  Where are the cracks? Where do we need restoration? Why is restoration important and do we even have hope for restoration?  Have you experienced restoration in the past? If so, describe your experience.

  3. We end this passage with the people strengthening their hands for the good work.  What does this mean and how do we strengthen our own hands? Are you prepared to “rise up and build?!”

Practice:

Let’s practice making honest assessments this week.  Don’t ignore the cracks in your heart and in your life.  Instead, remember that God will himself restore and strengthen you for the task ahead.  We have a new mantra: “Let us rise up and build!” Notice the “us.” You’re not alone in this task!  God has gathered a people together. Let’s live out our namesake: Soma. We are the Body of Christ and we will work together for restoration, here on earth as it is in Heaven.

Reflection Guide - Nehemiah 2:4-8

Key points from the sermon:

  • God provides for His work and His people!  As Hudson Taylor said, “God’s work done God’s way will never lack God’s supply.”

  • In verse 4, Nehemiah shows evidence of praying continually, living in intimacy with God.

  • In verse 5, Nehemiah has found favor in the king’s sight.  We can get hung up here, trying to earn favor and feeling unworthy.  But that’s the thing about grace - it’s God’s unmerited favor!  We have found favor with our God through Jesus Christ.  We can approach God (and others) and make our requests known with confidence, not in ourselves but in Jesus.

  • Verses 6 and 7 show that Nehemiah had been deliberately praying and planning.  He had a clear vision and he knew the costs. He courageously continues asking for big things.

  • In asking for big things, is Nehemiah relying on a false prosperity gospel?  Paul Tripp says, “When God prospers people who are no longer living for their own selfish desires but are living for His will, the result is the furtherance of His kingdom purposes on earth, which results in His glory.”  As Christians, we are relying on a  prosperity Gospel, but it’s not an earthly prosperity.  The difference is whose kingdom is prospering!

  • Finally, in verse 8, Nehemiah gives all credit to the good hand of God upon him.  With the promises of Christ, we have something more precious than that:  the gracious Spirit of God within us!

Scripture to meditate on this week:

“And whatever you ask in prayer, you will receive, if you have faith.”  -Matthew 21:22

Discussion Questions:

  1. What stands out to you when you read Neh. 2:4-8?  Why or how so?

  2. Pastor Josh mentioned on Sunday that the most dangerous phrase he utters to himself is, “I need to pray about that.”  Why is that a dangerous phrase? Can you relate?

  3. Nehemiah is asking for big things in this passage.  Have you ever asked God for big things? What prevents you from asking for big things?  Whose favor are you trusting in?

  4. How do we ask for big things without getting caught up in a false prosperity “gospel”?  Examine your prayer life. Are you typically asking for things that will prosper your kingdom or God’s kingdom?

Practice:

Work this week on developing a clear vision for your life and your family.  Don’t be afraid to dream big. Seek to develop a clear vision with your Missional Community.  Discuss these hopes and dreams. Are they prospering your kingdom or God’s kingdom? Consider all the costs and then boldly ask God to provide!  Pray in unity for God’s provision, trusting in our unmerited favor through Jesus Christ. Church, when God answers our prayers to further His kingdom, let’s be found hoping in the Lord and give credit to His gracious Spirit within us!

Reflection Guide - Nehemiah 2:1-3

Key points from the sermon:

  • God has providentially placed Nehemiah in the the palace as the king’s cupbearer, just as He has sovereignly placed each of us in our workplaces.  Our workplaces aren’t simply a means of financial provision; they are a means of Godly mission! As Believers, we are all called to live as everyday missionaries, whether God sends us across the street, across the town, across the nation, or across the world.

  • In verse 1, Nehemiah says he “had not been sad in (the king’s) presence.”  This implies that Nehemiah was known for joy in his workplace! As Christians, we have hope in Jesus and no one can take away our joy - not even a tyrant king/boss (John 16:22).  Our joy is a critical component that sets us apart in our workplaces; it’s a light that shines before others, so that they may see our good works and give glory to our Father (Matt. 5:16).

  • In verse 2, just before Nehemiah answers the king, he says that he “was very much afraid.”  Sometimes God calls us to do scary things and have hard conversations, even at work. As Elisabeth Elliot said, “Sometimes fear does not subside and one must choose to do it afraid.”

Scripture to meditate on this week:

“Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward.  You are serving the Lord Christ.” -Colossians 3:23-24

Discussion Questions:

  1. What stands out to you when you read Neh. 2:1-3?  Why or how so?

  2. R.C. Sproul said, “Most Christians salute the sovereignty of God but believe in the sovereignty of man.”  Do you believe God has sovereignly placed you in your job or school or neighborhood? Do you work as if He is sovereign or as if man is sovereign?  Why does this matter?

  3. Are you known for joy in your workplace?  As Christians, where does our joy come from?  How is our joy a distinctly missional element (i.e. how are joy and missions related)?

  4. Have you ever been “very much afraid” to follow where God was leading?  Describe your experience.

Practice:

Spend time this week thinking about the specific skills God has given you.  Think about your workplace or your school. Why has God placed you there? Do you see yourself as an everyday missionary?  Think about your attitude at work or school. Read this article from The Gospel Coalition and when you’re tempted to complain, remember that you are born again to a living hope (1 Peter 1:3).  Set your minds on things above, not on things that are on earth (Col. 3:2). Ask God to give you joy in your workplace!

Lastly, think about global missions.  Pastor Josh mentioned on Sunday that we “labor locally, impact globally.”  How does your current position allow you to impact the world? Do you travel?  Can you raise up people to send? Can you financially support people who go? Did you know that “business as mission” is often how missionaries enter closed countries?  God wants to use your skills and your workplace for His glory! Let’s let Him use us as He sees fit, Church.