Easter Prayers of Preparation

Easter Prayers of Preparation

We are inviting everyone in our church to spend one hour this week prayerfully reflecting on the resurrection. The prayers in this post can provide a starting point. 



If you are a skeptic, agnostic, or even antagonistic to the claims of Christianity, come join us for the Investigate Series. Let’s investigate together.

Why Christmas Matters

Why Christmas Matters

The most important preparation we can make for Christmas is in our hearts, and its this preparation that has the power to transform Christmas from a flurry of anxious activity into a rich and joyful celebration of God’s love.

Adoption Day!

Adoption Day!

Today we are celebrating alongside the Koning Family as their sweet Solomon is now their son! Koning Family, thank you for giving us a picture of the Father's love for us through your adoption of Solomon.

Preparing for Christmas as a Family

Preparing for Christmas as a Family

The most important preparation we can make is in our hearts, and its this preparation that has the power to transform Christmas from a flurry of anxious activity into a rich and joyful celebration of God’s love.

12 Fun Activities for Christmas

12 Fun Activities for Christmas

These are simple ways you can care for others this Christmas season. Read through this list as a family or missional community.

Dual Citizenship After This Election

Dual Citizenship After This Election

Whether this election feels like a dream come true or a fever dream, all Christians share this reality in common: we are called to be faithful citizens of the two countries to which we belong.

What Do You Do For Devotions With Your Kids?

What does it practically look like to live out the call of parents to make disciples of their kids? While the answers to this question are diverse, one rhythm that many have found to be helpful are regular devotions. Chris Gonzalez, a leader at a Soma church in Arizona, shares in the following blog post ideas for devotions with kids. While some of these ideas are tailored for younger kids, many are helpful for parenting older children as well. Check it out below:

I was asked today by another dad what I do for devotions with my kids.  I thought my response could be helpful in stirring the creative juices for some other dads.  Full disclosure:  I’m terrible at doing regular planned devotions with my kids.  Ask Leslie.  Teaching my kids tends to come more “along the way” than in a classroom setting.  I am trying to work toward a balance.  With that confession, here are some thoughts and ideas

Best Bibles: The Big Picture Story Bible and Jesus Storybook Bible.  The JSB is great.  Every Evangelical pastor with a Tim Keller tattoo has read this to his kids and recommended it to his congregation.  Sally Lloyd Jones is a wonderful author and every story ends with a gospel bomb  that “whispers His name.”  The BPSB is a little less known, but I really love it.  Rather than linking to Jesus in every story, it foreshadows and builds to Jesus.  Some of the illustrations are interesting, like the way they draw Adam’s beard.  Nonetheless, I really recommend this one, especially for younger kids.

Best Book: History of Redemption has scripture on each page they can memorize and the pictures are so gripping.

Best Audio:  Bible.is for Kidz.  Amy would listen to this thing on a little iPod-like thing when she was young.  I swear she memorized the entire thing!

Best way to memorize verses:  The Rizers.  At first you’ll like it because every song is helping your kids memorize a verse.  But then you’ll start humming the songs to yourself. (Spotify)

Best Catechism App: Well, I suppose it may be the only catechism app, but the New City Catechism for the iPad is really helpful.  The kids loved playing with it and memorized quite a few of the questions.

Most Effective Thing We’ve Done:  I do this thing where I tell them that I can tell the story of the entire bible before I walk across their bedroom.  I have to keep moving forward, baby steps.  I start at Creation and get to New Creation.  I just talk really fast and pull a theme through off the top of my head.  They probably only catch a small portion of it each night, but all total they start to get it after a few weeks.  It is great training training for me too!

Most Effective Thing We Did With Toddlers:  Leslie reminded me of this.  We used to act out stories.  I would read the One Year Bible in the morning and then we’d act out a story from my reading at night.  Kids loved being characters in the story.

Most Reproducable Thing I’ve Done:  I have the kids write the true story symbols on the window during dinner and have them tell the story.

Newest Endeavor:   I take a paragraph each day(ish) of the Contemporary Testimony: Our World Belongs to God and paste it into a blank Keynote slide.  We say it together and look up one of the verses.  Then I ask them what jumps out at them.  What should the font look like?  Should it be big or small and why?  What color?  Is there a picture we should use for the background?  They get on the computer and design the slide.  Hopefully (at this rate in 4 years!) we’ll end up with a slide presentation of their artwork with the creed.

Best Along-the-way Thing I Do:  Whenever something comes up I run it through Creation/Fall/Redemption.  How is this a part of God’s good creation?  How is this not the way it is supposed to be?  How is Jesus making this right? I just always pepper them with variations of those three questions so they get the foundations of a True Storied worldview on everything.

And finally, there is one more piece that is crucial.  Leslie and I are not doing this alone.  We are a part of a missional community who takes responsibility with us to disciple our kids. There are 3 women in our MC who can get to our daughter’s heart quicker than Leslie and I.  Leslie had part of “the talk” with our other daughter with 4 other women in our MC.  And our 7 year old son joined me and 4 other guys last night as we got after how the gospel changes our hearts.  Gospel, Community, and Mission.  It is what adults need.  It is what kids need.

Stop Going to Church

Many people in the East Bay have stopped going to church. Maybe more people need to stop going to church. I believe that's true . . . which sounds strange coming from a pastor! What our communities need are people who are the church all week long loving God by serving their neighbors. 

If you live in Danville, don’t just go to churches in Danville. Be the Danville church all week long. If you live in Walnut Creek, don’t just go to churches in Walnut Creek. Be the Walnut Creek church all week long. We seek to do that at Soma through our Missional Communities.

Our Jeff Vanderstelt, the founding pastor of Soma Tacoma, just wrote a great blog post about this important topic at www.vergenetwork.org.

"It all began in a boat on a lake with a few fishing poles. It was there, surrounded by the lazy water, my dad and I would have a key conversation that would change the trajectory of my life. My dad was giving me a simple update on his life and shared that his church was hiring a discipleship pastor. After I pushed past my internal dialog about how hiring a pastor for discipleship betrayed that the church didn’t see everything they did as discipleship, I heard my father say he was excited to learn how to make disciplesfinally.

I was thankful for my father’s surge of energy toward Jesus’ commission but also a bit troubled. My dad didn’t seemed to realize he raised me in a home where daily life was engaged as intentional ministry. He owned several small businesses and believed his business was meant to be a blessing to people and the city we lived in. As a result, we joined our parents in countless acts of kindness, generosity, and hospitality.

It was not uncommon for one of us four boys to give up our room for a season to make room for a young man getting a fresh start, a broken husband whose marriage was on the rocks, or a runaway teen who needed some stability. My dad would love and mentor these men during the day at one of his businesses while my mom would nurture and care for them like one of her own.

I watched young and old come to know the love of Jesus and receive very informal but effective training in how to become responsible, hard-working, loving men. Because of my parents’ ministry at home and at work, many men still call our family “their own.”

However, the church never called this ministry. They didn’t see that my mother’s gracious hospitality and my father’s mentoring through work created both the environment and means for discipleship to happen.

I was not saddened simply because my parents’ ministry was never legitimized; Jesus was working through it all along, and God the Father was pleased to watch His children at work. What saddened me was that many churches (and many in the church) don’t view their homes as one of the best contexts for ministry, and their workplaces are some of the most overlooked places for mentoring and mission.

Most people will spend one third of their lives at work and at least another third in or around their homes; that means that more than two-thirds of our lives are considered non-ministry space. In addition, most still believe church is a place you go for one-to-four hours a week where most of the discipleship happens. This means a very large majority of Christians see only a very small percentage of their lives dedicated to the mission of making disciples. It’s no wonder so few believers are fruitful in ministry.

What if we could help everyday people live with gospel intentionality in everyday life, both at work and at home, to make disciples? What if every workplace, school, neighborhood, and café were filled with Spirit-filled, Jesus-loving, disciple-makers every day? We might just see cities and towns saturated with the presence, power, and love of Jesus through everyday people like my mom and dad.

Pastors and church leaders were not called by God to do the ministry for the many. They are given to the church to equip the many for the ministry in the marketplace and the home. Its time to equip and mobilize Jesus church out of the building and into life. Let’s stop just going to church and start being the church every day and everywhere!"

Questions for Reflection:

If you live in Danville, how could you stop going to churches in Danville and start being the Danville church all week long?

If you live in Walnut Creek, how could you stop going to churches in walnut creek and start being the Walnut Creek church all week long?


Bring God Into The Conversation At Work

One way to bless your coworkers this week is to help them see how their work is connected to God’s work.

Christians are often reluctant to have conversations about God with non-Christians because it feels like they are trying to sell them something or force a connection with God that the listener isn’t interested in.

What if you spent less time trying to help non-Christians make a connection with God and more time pointing out ways they are already connected to God?

Without even realizing it, irreligious people are already doing ‘godly’ work. They are doing work that aligns with the kind of work that God does. In the sermon this past week we talked about three kinds of work that God does and ways that we do the same work as people created in his image.


  • Creative Work — brining something new into existence
  • Providing Work — meeting needs and sustaining creation
  • Redemptive Work — restoring and healing what is broken


  • Creative Work — envisioning, designing, or developing a new product, service, or art form
  • Providing Work — meeting people’s needs through goods, services, or relationship
  • Redemptive Work — fixing, healing, or restoring what is broken

You have coworkers who are already doing this kind of ‘godly’ work and they don’t realize it. What if you simply pointed out the connection they already have to God?

You could bless a coworker this week by telling them what you admire about their work and mentioning how it aligns with what you know about God. This is a simple way to begin a conversation about God and bless someone at the same time.

5 Ways Your Faith Can Influence Your Work

Keller argues that we have to view our work through the larger Biblical story of Creation > Fall > Redemption > Restoration. If God is the creator of all things, and if through Christ all things are made new, that process of restoration must include our work.

Joseph Sunde provides a good summary of Keller's five points:

1. “Faith gives you an inner ballast without which work could destroy you.”

If our identity is in our work, rather than Christ, success will go to our heads, and failure will go to our hearts. I’ve highlighted Keller’s thoughts on this previously.

2. “Faith gives you a concept of the dignity and worth of all work, even simple work, without which work could bore you.”

The people who do the simplest kinds of work are, as Martin Luther wrote, “the fingers of God.” Because of this, doing our work well, or being the best at what we do, is one way to be Christian in our work. Justin Taylor and Greg Forster recently wrote on this point in the context of bus driving.

3. “Faith gives you a moral compass without which work could corrupt you.”

Unless your work is grounded in and guided by a Christian moral framework, you will be prone to selfish and short-sighted decision-making that will eventually harm you in the long run, whether in customer/client relations, productivity, profitability, or otherwise.

4. “Faith gives you a world and life view that shapes the character of your work, without which work could master and use you.”

Here, Keller points to the difference between what we might call work with our hands and work with our head. Being a Christian pilot will most typically mean “land the plane,” Keller explains, while being a Christian elementary school teacher “depends on what you think a human being should be and what you think would lead to human flourishing.”

5. “Hope.”

Christians can press forward in cultural transformation knowing that all will one day be fulfilled. “If you’re a city planner, there is a New Jerusalem,” Keller says. “If you’re a lawyer there will be a time of perfect righteousness and justice.” The way we view the not yet will inevitably impact the way we respond in the here and now.

8 Ways to Be Missional

Simple suggestions from Soma pastor Jonathan Dodson.

Missional is not an event we tack onto our already busy lives. It is our life. Mission should be the way we live, not something we add onto life: “As you go, make disciples….”; “Walk wisely towards outsiders”; “Let your speech always be seasoned with salt”; “be prepared to give a defense for your hope.” We can be missional in everyday ways without overloading our schedules. Here are a few suggestions:

1. Eat with Non-Christians.

We all eat three meals a day. Why not make a habit of sharing one of those meals with a non-Christian or with a family of non-Christians? Go to lunch with a co-worker, not by yourself. Invite the neighbors over for family dinner. If it’s too much work to cook a big dinner, just order pizza and put the focus on conversation. When you go out for a meal, invite others. Or take your family to family-style restaurants where you can sit at the table with strangers and strike up conversation. Cookout and invite Christians and non-Christians. Flee the Christian subculture.

2. Walk, Don’t Drive.

If you live in a walkable area, make a practice of getting out and walking around your neighborhood, apartment complex, or campus. Instead of driving to the mailbox, convenience store, or apartment office, walk to get mail, groceries, and stuff. Be deliberate in your walk. Say hello to people you don’t know. Strike up conversations. Attract attention by walking the dog, taking a 6-pack (and share), bringing the kids. Make friends. Get out of your house! Take interest in your neighbors. Ask questions. Pray as you go. Save some gas, the planet, and some people.

3. Be a Regular.

Instead of hopping all over the city for gas, groceries, haircuts, eating out, and coffee, go to the same places. Get to know the staff. Go to the same places at the same times. Smile. Ask questions. Be a regular. I have friends at coffee shops all over the city. My friends at Starbucks donate a ton of left over pastries to our church 2-3 times a week. We use them for church gatherings and occasionally give to the homeless. Build relationships. Be a Regular.

4. Hobby with Non-Christians.

Pick a hobby that you can share. Get out and do something you enjoy with others. Try city league sports. Local rowing and cycling teams. Share your hobby by teaching lessons. Teach sewing lessons, piano lessons, violin, guitar, knitting, tennis lessons. Be prayerful. Be intentional. Be winsome. Have fun. Be yourself.

5. Talk to Your Co-Workers.

How hard is that? Take your breaks with intentionality. Go out with your team or task force after work. Show interest in your co-workers. Pick four and pray for them. Form mom groups in your neighborhood and don’t make them exclusively Christian. Schedule play dates with the neighbors’ kids. Work on mission.

6. Volunteer with Non-Profits.

Find a non-profit in your part of the city and take a Saturday a month to serve your city. Bring your neighbors, your friends, or your small group. Spend time with your church serving your city. Once a month. You can do it!

7. Participate in City Events.

Instead of playing X-Box, watching TV, or surfing the net, participate in city events. Go to fundraisers, festivals, clean-ups, summer shows, and concerts. Participate missionally. Strike up conversation. Study the culture. Reflect on what you see and hear. Pray for the city. Love the city. Participate with the city.

8. Serve your Neighbors.

Help a neighbor by weeding, mowing, building a cabinet, fixing a car. Stop by the neighborhood association or apartment office and ask if there is anything you can do to help improve things. Ask your local police and fire stations if there is anything you can do to help them. Get creative. Just serve!

Don’t make the mistake of making “missional” another thing to add to your schedule. Instead, make your existing schedule missional.

Anger: A Matter Of Love

“Love the Lord your God with all of your heart, soul, mind and strength.”
— Luke 10:27

I never thought of myself as an angry person.  Life had its challenges, but I was able to work through many of them and remain in control, all while having a good, easy going attitude.  That was until I married and had kids.  Marriage and kids took control out of my hands.  I couldn’t make my kids behave perfectly, I couldn’t control their melt downs, I couldn’t control my husband and the responses I wanted from him.  And all of a sudden, in seeking to control everything around me, anger began to control me.

I tried counseling and got some great strategies for handling my anger, but in the heat of the moment, they did not help.  The strategies didn’t help because they sought to control the behavior, but the problem lay deeper, with what I loved most.  I loved control, I loved approval, honestly, I loved myself most.

Anger in its pure form is love in motion.  Throughout the Bible, we see that God is a God of anger.  In Exodus 34, God describes that he is a God of compassion, mercy, unfailing love but also one who is slow to anger:

“The Lord passed in front of Moses, calling out,“Yahweh! The Lord!
The God of compassion and mercy!
I am slow to anger
and filled with unfailing love and faithfulness.” Exodus 34:6

Many people say they want a God of love but not a God who grows angry.  But if God never gets angry then he is not a God of love.  If I take someone you love and start hurting them senselessly, wouldn’t you grow angry?  If you truly love them you would!  So if God truly loves his people, he is going to be angry when sin and evil harm them.  If God didn’t grow angry then he wouldn’t truly love us!

Humans, made in God’s image, grow angry when what they love most is threatened.  The problem is that while God created us to love him most, we often love other things more.  Healing from anger can only come when we identify that thing which we love so much that we are willing to fight the world to protect it.

Tim Keller says, “When anything in life is an absolute requirement for your happiness and self-worth, is is essentially an ‘idol,’ something you are actually worshiping. When such a thing is threatened, your anger is absolute. Your anger is actually the way the idol keeps you in its service, in its chains. Therefore if you find that, despite all the efforts to forgive, your anger and bitterness cannot subside, you may need to look deeper and ask, ‘What am I defending? What is so important that I cannot live without?’ It may be that, until some inordinate desire is identified and confronted, you will not be able to master your anger.”

Your anger is a blessing that helps you identify what you love most, your idols.  Sometimes anger is good.  If you are loving in line with God and his desires, to protect and love what is important to him, then your anger is healthy.  But, if you find yourself quick to anger, if your anger is out of proportion (you are more angry than the situation deserves), or if you find yourself seeking to hurt people through your anger, you are most likely loving something that is not in line with God's heart.

As you identify the root of the anger, turn to Jesus.  He went to the cross and absorbed the disordered rage of the world without fighting back.  He didn’t just take our disordered rage, he took the rage we deserved from our holy, loving God.  On that cross, all the rage, from both man and God was absorbed in LOVE and FORGIVENESS.  He has released us from the power of anger by forgiving us once and for all.

Once I truly believed that Christ was the true love that I need most, I didn’t need for my husband or kids to worship me because I had the perfect love of my savior.  I could let go of control because I knew he had it in his hands.   Jesus was the only one who could set me free.

Once Jesus becomes the true love of our life, anger will take its rightful place as an emotion meant to protect what God loves most!

Turning from anger:

  1. Turn to God, repent of your love for other things and find that whatever you are seeking in that thing you are protecting can be found more beautifully in Jesus.
  2. Ask yourself, what is it that you are defending, what can’t you live without?  Dialogue with trusted friends and God.
  3. In the heat of the moment, or even leading up to it, “take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5)
  4. Study yourself, know what triggers your anger
  5. Pray for the love of Christ to sink deep in your heart, allowing his love to be the one thing your heart desires most.

For more information on anger:

My Child Is Angry: What Do I Do?

Sometimes I have no idea what to do... and maybe you feel the same way.  One thing all parents have in common is that we have, at one time or another, experienced intense anger from our kids.  The intense cry of a hungry newborn, the toddler throwing a tantrum in the middle of Target, or the angry tween or teen who slams doors and calls you names. Anger, it's prevalent in our kids and it's frustrating for us as adults!  So how do we handle it?

Anger in children, just like anger in adults as I talked about in last week’s blog, is primarily a matter of the heart.  When kids are angry, they are seeking to protect what they love most, which in many cases is their own self worth, security or value or can even be a means of them trying to gain control.  As a parent, I don’t always know how to help my kids in their anger.  I found this information from CCEF’s Anger Conference to be super helpful!

Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger by the way you treat them. Rather, bring them up with the discipline and instruction that comes from the Lord.  Ephesians 6:4

The Bible is clear that we are not to provoke our children to anger.  Often, provoking them to anger comes when our own sin, desire for control, or need for approval gets in the way.  As you read the list below, take note of the ways you tend to provoke your child in anger and ask God to speak to you about why you do this.

10 Ways we as parents can provoke our children to anger

  1. Consistently demonstrating unrighteous anger towards them (holding them to higher standard than we hold ourselves - we expect them to have self control but don’t ourselves)
  2. Rarely repenting of our own anger to our children - Repent and ask your child to pray for you
  3. Pronouncements from on High: Yelling to them from another room to stop yelling, fighting, etc.  God came down to rescue us and absorb our anger.  Many times, anger can be avoided when we step in, talk calmly and work towards a solution together.
  4. Bate and Switch - we exasperate them when we change our expectations of what they should/should not do or their consequences without warning.
  5. Disciplining by the seat of our pants - making snap judgements about discipline in the heat of the moment (it then becomes punitive rather than restorative).  Plan ahead and stay consistent.  Don’t heap on extra punishments.  Discipline needs to be corrective and work towards training.
  6. Parental Verbal Diarrhea - kids get frustrated when we use too many words!
  7. Rhetorical Questions - when we ask, “what’s wrong with you” or “what were you thinking” we are not looking for answers, we are looking to blame.  Ask questions that get to their heart like, Why are you so angry?  Or, What made you do ___?
  8. Film of Displeasure - viewing kids through a lens of anger or disappointment.  They then feel like there is nothing they can do right and so they stop trying.
  9. Unrealistic expectations that that don’t take in their age or abilities.
  10. Lack of marital harmony - when the marriage is not secure, kids don’t feel safe.

So lets now look at how to address the heart behavior in our kids. How do we help our kids when they are angry?  The key is not to build a better pharisee, but to tend to the matters of the heart like Jesus did.  Ask questions, nurture them, allow them to express what is in their heart - what does he/she want, desire, fear?  What is he/she not believing about God’s character and the gospel, who he is and what he has done?  There are three levels (floors) to working through anger with your kids.

First Floor - Relational Health Strategies (build a solid foundation):

  1. Look for ways to accentuate your child’s strengths.  How has God gifted your child and what are they doing right?  Make a point of telling them.  John Gottman’s research shows that kids need to hear five positives for every one negative - the five positives will outweigh the one negative in their mind.  This shows that we are so much more likely to remember the negative.  So remember, your words stick, and just like toothpaste, once they come out, they can’t be put back in the tube!
  2. Look for opportunities to enjoy your child - show physical affection, go on dates, etc.
  3. Look for ways to say YES to your child’s requests - God loves to lavish good gifts on his kids.  If we are always saying no, the child feels like you aren't listening.
  4. PRAY - intensity of prayer is a sign of humble dependence on God and hope in his power.  Repent of self dependence, thank God for your child, pray for the fruit of the Spirit in your child.

Second Floor: Preparing for the angry moments

Study your child

Know their triggers, know their heart and their fears.  Recognize the pattern that comes before the blow up and seek to nip the anger in the bud.  If your child is triggered by stress, exhaustion, hunger, then meet those needs before you address the heart issues.  It makes so much more sense to postpone talking about an issue until a child is rested, fed or calm, allowing the best chance for impact and connection.

 Be a student of your child’s weaknesses

  • Weaknesses to look for: memory, ability to recognize/plan, transitions from one thing to another, flexibility or lack of, black and white thinker
  • Be willing to step in and assist your child in their weaknesses to help them grow
  • For example: one of my kids isn’t a self starter.  Sometimes when I ask him to clean his room, he just melts down.  It is too overwhelming.  I know this about him.  So I can fight him, or I can go into the room and give him direction and we can work together.  The second way is much faster and more enjoyable for both of us!

Scripture gives us ways to deal with stubborn, self willed children

We have to remember that God, the perfect Father deals with each of us, calmly and lovingly.  Here are some ways God reacts to our sinfulness and strong wills:

  • God sets limits, he disciplines, he expects standards to be met
  • He shows mercy Exodus 32:14, and relents Hosea 11:8
  • He pleas, he woos, he reasons Isaiah 1:18-19
  • He weeps Jeremiah 22:4, Micah 1:8
  • He delays judgement Romans 3:25
  • He doesn’t give us the punishment we deserve
  • He pursues us as his enemy and wins us with sacrificial love Romans 5:8

Floor Three: Ways to deal with anger in the moment:

  • Reconsider: What is your sin as the parent in the situation.  Are you humble enough to consider that you may have made the wrong decision and are you willing to change your mind?  Admit your fault.  Often, a great deal of anger can be avoided if you are willing to admit you made the wrong decision and ask for forgiveness.
  • Pause: Give child time to exercise self reflection and think time.  Find a place where they can calm down and get some self control (predetermine the place and or activity ahead of time when they are not angry).  A pause helps you compose yourself and pray.
  • Humor/Laughter disarms the child.  Tickling them calms them down, provides a window of time to reconsider, shows your love for them, talk later when things are calm.
  • Collaboration -Ross Green, The Explosive Child: Address both parent’s concerns and child’s concerns in a calm setting so everyone is heard.  Work together towards a solution.  Notice patterns and point them out to your child and ask for their collaboration in the solution before the pattern happens.

Overall, remember that the gospel has an answer for every hurt, every pain, every problem.  Just like you, your child is a sinful, selfish mess who is more loved by our Father and savior Jesus Christ than he/she could ever imagine.  Grace abounds for him/her and may you be the reflection of that grace.  Call upon the Holy Spirit for wisdom, patience, love, peace, kindness, and all of the fruits that come from him living within you and know that he will give the same to your child!

Much of the information was taken from CCEF’s Teaching on Children and Anger: 2005 Conference Redeeming Anger in a World Gone Mad.  Mike Emlet: Helping Angry Children.  Listen to it on CCEF's Website.

7 Tips for Listening to God

On Sunday I shared about growing in hearing God’s voice. Jesus sent the Holy Spirit to comfort, counsel, and equip us to minister to one another. I encouraged us as a church family to pursue a relationship with Jesus and set aside time to hear what he is saying to us. At the end of the service I promised to write a blog post offering more tips for those who want to grow in hearing from God. So here it is . . .

1) Get to Know God’s Character by Immersing Yourself in His Word

Discerning the Spirit’s leading in our lives goes hand in hand with being grounded in God’s Word. We must be familiar with God’s character, God’s ways, and how God has chosen to speak in times past.

2) Set Aside Time to Be Silent

God is able to speak with a megaphone, but he often speaks in a whisper. So growth in hearing His voice requires setting aside time to be silent. Different people take different lengths of time to settle the activity of their minds and focus their attention on God. Set aside regular periods of time in which you sit quietly, focusing your attention on God. Whether you find Him meeting you in those times or not, consider it an act of worship to set aside all the other things in life vying for your time and attention in order to give God your time and attention.

3) Don’t Despise the Subtle Ideas and Images

I always thought a message from God had to be dramatic. A vision had to be arresting. But God communicates in subtle ways. So in those quiet times, sit with any ideas or images that come to mind and see how they develop. Most of the time I think it is just me making something up. Only later do I find out that it was God. So pay attention to whatever comes to mind in those quiet times, even if you think you are making it up.

4) Put It On The Shelf

After your time of silence, record whatever ideas, images, or messages that emerged, even if you are convinced that it is just your overactive imagination. Write them down in a journal so you don’t forget. This is called “putting them on the shelf.” Imagine you have imaginary shelves that you store these images and insights on. The more convinced you are that the message is from God, the higher it goes on the shelves. The less convinced you are that the message is from God, the lower it goes on the shelves.

5) Wait for Confirmation

In order to grow in determining when an idea or image is from God, look for confirmation through scripture, circumstances, and other believers. As God seems to confirm a message was from him, move it up the shelves until you are convinced it is time to share it. If the message is not confirmed, move it down the shelves. You may finally confirm that it is not from God, and it will fall of the bottom shelf. Using the shelf allows God to confirm what He is saying and enables you to grow in discerning His voice.

6) Only Share Encouragement

Paul says that messages inspired by the Holy Spirit that are to be shared are for “upbuilding and encouragement and consolation” (1 Cor 14:3). By focusing on encouraging words we can make mistakes in hearing God without hurting people. Sharing encouraging words enables us to step out in faith and share in order to find out if the message is confirmed, and if it isn’t, we haven’t done any damage. Any message that is predictive, directive, or corrective should not be shared. Predictive messages are about something that may happen in the future. Directive messages are about something someone should do. Corrective messages are about a change someone needs to make. Predictive, directive, or corrective messages should only be shared with an MC leader or elder/pastor in the church to determine if they are from God and if they should be shared. If we follow these guidelines we can all grow through trial and error without someone being hurt or mislead.

7) Be Humble

God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble (Jam 4:6). So if we want God to continue to speak to us, rather than oppose us, it is important that we don’t go around as “Thus sayeth the Lord” people. It is easy to receive a very accurate message from God, feel like you hit it out of the park, and wrongly assume you are going to hit it out of the park every time. It is important to pray that we would not just hear God’s voice, but that we would have his heart as well, walking in love, grace, and humility.

Most of these insights have come from my friend Elbert Paul and have been reinforced by the book Listening to God, by Joyce Huggett. You might consider reading the book . . . but don’t let the reading time cut into your listening time.

You may also appreciate this sermon on gifts of the Holy Spirit from Acts 2.

Husbands, Are You Servant Leaders?

Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. Ephesians 5:25-27

What is the role of the husband in marriage?  As more women seek equality and work to provide for their homes and families, we have seen a blurring in the role of the leadership of the family.  Who is the head of the family?  Is it the one who makes the money, the one who is home most of the time?  Honestly, until the last two years, I believed that both Andrew and I should lead our family together.  And many times I actively sought leadership in ways that demeaned his authority.  Recently, I have gained clarity on the issue of headship.

The key thing I want to clarify before going into the issue of headship is that both women and men are created equal and have equal standing before God (see Genesis 1:25, Galatians 3:26-28).  In scripture, God equally bestows spiritual gifts on men and women, and both are asked to use those gifts for the building up of the body.  But, while he created man and women equal, God did not intend them to play the same role in marriage.  Both men and women are called to play the "Jesus Role," men in sacrificial servanthood as the leader of the family and women in sacrificial submission.  Lets take a look at what it means for the husband to sacrificially serve in his role as the head of the family.

Headship (the role of the husband) is the divine calling of a husband to take primary responsibility for Christ-like servant leadership and protection and provision in the home. - John Piper

First, according to Piper's definition, men are called to take primary responsibility in the leadership of the home.  In the beginning, God started with Adam and gave him the primary responsibility to name Eve, to lead her by relaying God's commands and ultimately to answer to God after the fall.  God appointed Adam as the leader of the household and asked him to care for, protect, and serve his bride.  We don't see anywhere in the beginning that Adam is called greater than Eve, but he is given the head responsibility for leadership.

Later in the new testament, we see Jesus fulfill this role as the head of the church, loving, serving, leading and ultimately dying for his bride, the church.  God designed marriage to be a picture of the relationship between Jesus and his people.  God’s intended leadership role for man is that of a servant-leader.  We have all seen examples of authority and leadership used for selfish gain and promotion.  Being the leader in a marriage doesn’t mean that the husband uses his position for selfish gain, it’s exactly the opposite.  Headship is a God appointed role centered around self sacrifice rather than gain:

“You know that the rulers in this world lord it over their people, and officials flaunt their authority over those under them. But among you it will be different. Whoever wants to be a leader among you must be your servant,  and whoever wants to be first among you must be the slave of everyone else.  For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Mark 10:42-45

Husbands, you are called to serve your wives and children as Christ served the church.  A servant leader is one who sacrifices what he wants and needs in order to build up his partner.  When your wife looks at you, she should see Jesus.   Are you loving her, pursuing her, encouraging her, forgiving her, granting her mercy, lavishing grace on her as Jesus did for you?  Your job is to be that, and to be the one to initiate it as Christ did for you.  He didn’t wait for his church to become lovely, he initiated and loved her to make her lovely.

In addition to the servant leader role, husbands are to lead the family spiritually. In many families wives are gathering the kids for prayer and worship without the husband’s involvement.  Sometimes wives are attending church alone or praying without their husbands.  Many men abdicate leadership in the spiritual realm because their wives are stronger.

Piper says, “Some men react all wrong to a wife who is growing spiritually. He may say, "Well I'm not into that, so I'll let her be the spiritual leader in the family and I'll make sure we stay afloat financially and have food on the table. She can put her head in the clouds. I'll keep our feet on the ground." This response is neither biblical nor satisfying for husband or wife in the long run. To abdicate leadership at the most important, all-encompassing level of spirituality is to abdicate Christian headship. What is left of headship when spiritual leadership is surrendered is a hollow shell. Instead, a husband who sees his wife going hard after God should humble himself, admit his need, and press on in his own pursuit of spiritual depth.” 

Men, it is essential that you make time in your days for prayer, worship and devotion.  Your time in the word and prayer will determine how you spiritually lead your family.  God will hold you accountable for prioritizing him and for your family knowing him.  Let me ask what has priority in your house.  Does TV come first?  Are family meals prioritized?  Men, are your kids hearing about Jesus from you?  Is your wife weary?  How can you love her towards Jesus?

As you seek God in how to play the Jesus role as servant and spiritual leader, remember that Jesus lead the church by submitting first to his Father.  As you finish this devotion, ask God how you must submit to his leading.  Ask him to fill you with his spirit, to pour love into your heart, to grant you wisdom and discernment as you lead.  As you love him and see the beauty of the cross, you will serve your family well.  

“When a man senses a primary God-given responsibility for the spiritual life of the family, gathering the family for devotions, taking them to church, calling for prayer at meals—when he senses a primary God-given responsibility for the discipline and education of the children, the stewardship of money, the provision of food, the safety of the home, the healing of discord, that special sense of responsibility is not authoritarian or autocratic or domineering or bossy or oppressive or abusive. It is simply servant-leadership. And I have never met a wife who is sorry she is married to a man like that. Because when God designs a thing (like marriage), he designs it for his glory and our good.” John Piper

An Overloaded Wagon

Then Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. Matthew 11:27-29 NLT

As I began the day today, I was exhausted.  I had a full nights rest but cares, details, and worries weighed me down.  For the last few days life has made me weary.  My heart longs to escape, to hole up in a hideaway somewhere, because in some way I believe that rest will only come when I escape the burdens of the every day.  Yet, God’s plan for me today was different.  He took me on a hike, the place where I connect deeply with him, and there he asked me to remember this story, and to remember that he has not asked me to carry everything I have on my shoulders.  He asks all of us who are weary to come to him for rest.  As you read the story of the Overloaded Wagon, take time to seek the Holy Spirit in prayer, asking God why you are weary and what you might be carrying that is not yours to bear.

An Overloaded Wagon by Joanna Weaver

The story is told of a man who met God in a lovely valley one day.  ”How are you this morning?” God asked the fellow. “I’m fine, thank you,” the man replied. “Is there anything I can do for you today?”

“Yes, there is,” God said. “I have a wagon with three stones in it, and I need someone to pull it up the hill for me. Are you willing?

“Yes I’d love to do something for you. Those stones don’t look very heavy, and the wagon’s in good shape. I’d be happy to do that. Where would you like me to take it?”

God gave the man specific instructions, sketching a map in the dust at the side of the road. “Go through the woods and up the road that winds up the side of the hill. Once you get to the top, just leave the wagon there. Thank you for your willingness to help me today.”

“No problem!” the man replied and set off cheerfully. The wagon pulled a bit behind him, but the burden was an easy one. He began to whistle as he walked quickly through the forest. The sun peeked through the trees and warmed his back. What a joy to be able to help the Lord, he thought, enjoying the beautiful day.

Just around the third bend, he walked into a small village. People smiled and greeted him. Then, at the last house, a man stopped him and asked, “How are you this morning? What a nice wagon you have. Where are you off to?”

“Well, God gave me a job this morning, I’m delivering these three stones to the top of the hill.”

“My goodness! Can you believe it? I was just praying this morning about how I was going to get this rock I have up to the top of the mountains,” the man told him with great excitement. “You don’t suppose you could take it up there for me? It would be such an answer to prayer.”

The man with the wagon smiled and said, “Of course. I don’t suppose God would mind. Just put it behind the other three stones.” Then he set off with three stones and a rock rolling behind him.

The wagon seemed a bit heavier. He could feel the jolt of each bump, and the wagon seemed to pull to one side a bit. The man stopped to adjust the load as he sang a hymn of praise, pleased to be helping out a brother as he served God. Then he set off again and soon reached another small village at the side of the road.  A good friend lived there and offered him a glass of cider.

“You’re going to the top of the hill?” his oldest friend asked.

“Yes! I am so excited. Can you imagine, God gave me something to do!”

“Hey!” said his friend. “I need this bag of pebbles taken up. I’ve been so worried that it might not get taken care of since I haven’t any time to do it myself. But you could fit it in right between the three stones here in the middle.” With that, he placed his burden in the wagon.

“Shouldn’t be a problem,” the man said. “I think I can handle it.” He finished the cider, then stood up and brushed his hands on his overalls before gripping the handle of the wagon. He waved good-bye and began to pull the wagon back onto the road.

The wagon was definitely tugging on his arm now, but it wasn’t uncomfortable. As he started up the incline, he began to feel the weight of the three stones, the rock, and the pebbles. Still, it felt good to help a friend. Surely God would be proud of how energetic and helpful he’d been.

One little stop followed another, and the wagon grew fuller and fuller. The sun was hot above the man pulling it, and his shoulders ached with the strain. The songs of praise and thanksgiving that had filled his heart had long since left his lips as resentment began to build inside. Surely this wasn’t what he had signed up for that morning. God had given him a burden heavier than he could bear….

The wagon felt huge and awkward as it lumbered and swayed over the ruts in the road. Frustrated, the man was beginning to have visions of giving up and letting the wagon roll backward. God was playing a cruel game with him. The wagon lurched, and the load of obligations collided with the back of his legs, leaving bruises. “This is it!” he fumed. “God can’t expect me to haul this all the way up the mountain.”

“Oh God,” he wailed. “This is too hard for me! I thought you were behind this trip, but I am overcome by the heaviness of it. You’ll have to get someone else to do it. I’m just not strong enough.”

As he prayed, God came to his side. “Sounds like you’re having a hard time. What’s the problem?”

“You gave me a job that is too hard for me,” the man sobbed. “I’m just not up to it!” God walked over to where the wagon was braced with a stone. “What is this?” He held up the bag of pebbles.

“That belongs to John, my good friend. He didn’t have time to bring it up himself.  I thought I would help.”

“And this?” God tumbled two pieces of shale over the side of the wagon as the man tried to explain.

God continued to unload the wagon, removing both light and heavy items. They dropped to the ground, the dust swirling up around them. The man who had hoped to help God grew silent. “If you will be content to let others take their own burdens,” God told him, “I will leave these things lying here.”

“But I promised I would help! I can’t leave these things lying here.”

“Let others shoulder their own belongings,” God said gently. “I know you were trying to help, but when you are weighted down with all these cares, you cannot do what I have asked of you.”

The man jumped to his feet, suddenly realizing the freedom God was offering. “You mean I only have to take the three stones after all?” he asked.

“That is what I asked you to do.” God smiled. “My yoke is easy, and my burden is light. I will never ask you to carry more than you can bear.”

“I can do that!” said the man, grinning from ear to ear. He grabbed the wagon handle and set off once again, leaving the rest of the burdens beside the road. The wagon still lurched and jolted lightly, but he hardly noticed.

A new song filled his lips, and he noticed a fragrant breeze wafting over the path. With great joy, he reached the top of the hill. It had been a wonderful day, for he had done what the Lord had asked.

Dumping Rocks - Applying the Story

Are you carrying a load that is too heavy?  Has what started as a joyful task, become a heavy burden, leaving you exhausted and weary?  God asks us to carry burdens and to love and help others, but he does not ask us to meet every need.  Often the weariness we face comes from not trusting that ultimately God is carrying the burdens of others.  Come to him.  Sit at his feet.  Let him fill you with love and praise, let him unload the burdens from your wagon, and allow the fullness of his Spirit to flow through your heart, rejuvenating you from the inside out.

How to dump rocks:

  1. Make a list of all the activities you are involved in (kids, work, church, etc)
  2. Take the list to God in prayer.  Prioritize the activities as to importance, and assign each one a number from one to four.
  3. Eliminate the fours

Father, God, may our rest be found in you alone.  As we come to you today, would you refresh us to do what you have asked of us and give us the freedom to release what you have not asked of us.  May we find joy in the light burden you give us to carry, and may a song of praise fill our hearts as we serve you out of true gratitude for the loving service you have poured out on us through your son, Jesus Christ.  Amen.

Marriage: The Power to Stay

When Andrew and I married, we received some very wise advice.  Our pastor advised us to agree before marriage to never consider divorce an option.  Being two love struck twenty somethings, we readily agreed!  We loved each other and we truly believed marriage would be easy!

I am thankful today that we made that oath.  Our marriage has been amazing, but it hasn’t been the walk in the park we envisioned.  Obviously, when you stick two sinful, selfish people together, there are bound to be problems.  There has been fighting, times of disagreement, selfishness on both our parts, and times when we could have easily walked away because it would have just been easier then the work it has taken to stay together.

I didn’t know it then, but God was teaching us about the seriousness of covenant love.  In a covenant, we make a promise to put the good of the relationship above our own personal needs, to love even when we don’t feel love.  Many of us don’t realize it, but we have a covenant love with our kids.  As parents, we silently vow to stick by our kids no matter the sacrifice, whether or not they love us back or give us what we need.   Would you ever walk out on your newborn because he was too needy?!  No!

And yet, our marriages look more like consumer relationships rather than covenant relationships.  In a marriage that is a “consumer relationship”, we analyze the marriage based on how much we are profiting.  Over time, as our spouse’s flaws become more apparent and the feelings of love towards the other decline, we look for ways to get out, or we just stop showing the other love because we aren't receiving anything back.

In the greatest act of history, though, God showed us what he meant by Covenant Love:

“Husbands Love your wives as Christ loved the church and gave himself for her” Ephesians 5:25

“When Jesus looked down from the cross, he didn’t think, ‘I am giving myself to you because you are so attractive to me.’ No, he was in agony, and he looked down at us - denying him, abandoning him, and betraying him- and in the greatest act of History, He stayed.    He said, “Father, forgive them, they don’t know what they are doing.’  He loved us, not because we were lovely to him, but to make us lovely.” - Tim Keller, The Meaning of Marriage

I am going to ask you to reconsider your vows.  Eliminate the “D” word from your vocabulary.  Commit to staying even when it means you may not get all you want in the moment.  If you can accept his great love for you on the cross, he will give you the power to love your spouse even when he/she is unlovely.  For you will see that at your most unlovely, he stayed and loved you.  That is true covenant love.

This week, ask God to show you how to be Jesus to your spouse.  Where do you need to die to your own needs, wants, and desires and STAY to love your spouse as Christ loved you?

Have Jesus Mentor You

Imagine having Warren Buffett offer to teach you everything he knows about investing. Imagine having Wolfgang Puck take you under his wing and teach you how to make amazing meals. Imagine having Adele give you voice lessons for the summer or Michael Jordan commit to helping you with your jump shot. Better yet, imagine God offering to personally mentor you—the Author of Life mentoring you in life.

That is exactly what Jesus offers to do for us.

If Warren Buffet, Wolfgang Puck, Adele or Michael Jordan offered to mentor you in their area of expertise, how much time would you make in your schedule to learn from them? How much time are we willing to make in our schedule to be mentored by God?

Jesus invites us into a transformational relationship with him. We can nurture that relationship by spending time learning from Jesus each day, allowing him to teach us, encourage us, and guide us.

For the first three months of 2013, let Jesus mentor you by going through the four short books of the Bible that have to do with his life--Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John--one chapter a day. You can pick up a bookmark with the reading plan on Sundays.

To get the most out of your time with Jesus, try using a process called SOAP.

What you need

  1. A bible. (NLT is good if you’re starting out. NIV or ESV study bibles are good if you want to dig deeper.)
  2. A journal. (Use a notebook or a program like Evernote)
  3. A bible reading plan. (We are starting with Matthew 1 on January 1 and doing one chapter a day through the end of March)

S for Scripture

As you read the verses on your plan for the day, ask God to highlight one verse or thought He wants you to focus on. Write that verse down in your journal.

O for Observation

Ponder the message God has drawn you to. In your own words, capture what this scripture is saying. Does it provide insight into any of these questions: Who is God? What has God done? Who are we? What do we do?

A for Application

Ask God what you should do in response to this scripture. What is His invitation to you? Write it down and hold yourself accountable.

P for Prayer

Spend some time in prayer and write your prayer down. Ask God to hep you apply what you’ve learned and thank Him for the power of His Word.

Each day find a way way to share what you learned with your spouse, family, DNA partners, or Missional Community. Let's encourage one another to draw closer to Jesus this year.