What’s Your Next Step at RiverLife? Here are 100 Possibilities!

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In Pastor Greg’s sermon “What’s Your Next Step?” (Week 10 of RiverLife DNA: The Building Blocks of Our Church), he said “Active participation in church community is the best environment to build a more-and-more faith.” (Listen to the sermon for an explanation of a “more-and-more faith”. So, here’s a list of 100 possible next steps for your faith and your involvement in church.

Learn More About the Church (if you’re new to RiverLife)

1. Commit to attend service four times in a row.
2. Meet Pastor Greg, Pang Foua, or Pastor Kong.
3. Visit our Info Table.
4. Ask for a tour of the building.
5. If you have kids or youth, ask to sit in on RiverKids or Thrive Youth on a Sunday.
6. Follow us on Facebook.
7. Download our app.
8. Visit our website: www.RiverLifeMN.com.
9. Ask someone in the lobby, “Why do you go to RiverLife?”

Get More Involved in Church (if you only attend Sunday service)

10. Attend service more than you miss.
11.  Invite someone to lunch after church.
12. Meet someone new after service.
13. Volunteer on a ministry team.
14. Serve on a Community Engagement team (homeless ministry, food shelf, refugees, etc.).
15. Visit a Life Group Bible study.
16. Invite family or friends to church. (Christmas is a great opportunity.)
17. Give financially to the ministry of RiverLife.
18. Fill out a Connection Card. (You can find them at the Info Table.)
19. Donate to The RiverBank Food Shelf.
20. Schedule a kids play date with another family in the church.
21. Join us for one of our monthly fellowship events (starting in January).
22. Sit in a different place on Sunday morning to meet new people.
23. Arrive 10 minutes earlier to church and talk with someone. 

Grow in Your Faith (if you’re a Christian and want to grow more) OR
Learn More About Christianity (if you’re not a Christian and are exploring)

24. Join a Life Group Bible study.
25. Watch or listen to a previous sermon series.
26. Attend the Prayer Gathering on Wednesdays from 6:30-8:30pm.
27. Get baptized.
28. Ask for prayer after service.
29. Attend a Growth Class (Sunday School), starting in January.
30. Write out your faith story, i.e. how you came to believe in Jesus.
31. Tell someone your faith story.
32. Ask Pastor Greg a spiritual question.
33. Reach out to Pastor Greg or Pang Foua for help with a problem in your life.
34. Increase your giving to RiverLife.
35. Sign up for an automated, recurring gift to RiverLife.
36. Take the 3-Month Giving Challenge. (Go to www.RiverLifeMN.com/give for details.)
37. Tell someone you’re a Christian.
38. Tell someone why you’re a Christian.
39. Subscribe to our weekly sermon podcast.
40. Try a spiritual discipline for a week—meditation, silence, solitude, fasting, journaling, gratitude, etc.
41. Forgive someone who hurt you. Reconcile with them, if possible.
42. Look for someone who’s faith you admire and ask them out for coffee.
43. Quit a bad habit for a week; pray each day asking the Holy Spirit to empower you.
44. Start each morning by reciting a prayer to God (Google “morning prayers” to find a good one).
45. Cook a double batch of dinner and bring the second half to someone who could use it.
46. Pray for someone immediately after they have shared a prayer request. 
47. Memorize a Bible verse.
48. Write a thank you card, email, or text to someone who’s been spiritually significant in your life.
49. Listen to some Christian music channels on Spotify.
50. Go to a Christian music concert 

Get More Bible in Your Life

Use Your Phone/Tablet

51. Download the YouVersion Bible app.
52. Download the Bible for Kids app. (It’s awesome!)
53. Use one of the Bible app’s daily reading plan. (There are some great ones.)
54. Download a devotional app, such as Daily Bible Devotion, Jesus Calling, or Streams in the Desert.
55. Stream Bible art straight to your device with Bible Screen.
56. Download Bible verse graphics and store them in your photo library to look at throughout the day.

Read a Book

57. Read a devotional book with Bible passages and spiritual  reflections.
58. Read an easy-to-understand version, like the New Living Translation or The Message.
59. Read a Bible version that’s different than the one you’re used to.
60. Read one of Amazon’s top 10 best-selling Christian books.
61. Read and use Creative Times with God by Doug Fields.
62. Read one of the graphic novel Bibles, such as The Action Bible, Manga Bible, or Almighty Bible.
63. Buy a topical Bible verse book and look up issues you’re currently struggling with.
64. Print out a passage and use colored pens and highlighters to note interesting observations.
65. Read the Bible “from the inside out.” Start with a verse, then the paragraph, and then the whole chapter. See if your understanding of the verse changes.

Get Creative

66. Read a passage and write down your thoughts about it in a journal.
67. Read a passage and draw, scribble, create a collage of your thoughts.
68. Get a group of friends to act out a passage together.
69. Decorate your house with art that includes Bible verses.
70. Bake a “Scripture Cake”. (Go ahead, Google it. It’s a thing.)
71. Pick a verse and draw, paint, or design a picture that symbolizes it.

Use Your Drive Time

72. Listen to an audio Bible as you drive.
73. Listen to sermons on your phone or on KTIS Faith Radio 900 AM while driving.
74. Listen to Christian music (of any style) that includes lyrics from the Bible.
75. Stick a Bible verse on your dashboard. Keep it until you have it memorized.
76. Turn off music and talk to God.
77. Buy and listen to an audio book from Amazon’s top 10 best-selling Christian books

Watch Stuff

78. Watch anything from The Bible Project. They’re AMAZING!
79. Watch sermons online. (Not sure who? Start with Andy Stanley.)
80. Watch “sermon jams” on YouTube. (Go ahead, look it up.)
81. Watch a “scripture video” on ListenonRepeat 4-5 times in a row.
82. Find a Bible movie on Netflix, Hulu, or Amazon Prime. Check out The Bible, Son of God, The Gospel of Matthew, The Gospel of Luke, The Gospel of John, The Prince of Egypt.
83. Watch The Jesus Film on YouTube. (It’s free!)

Use Facebook

84. Like pages that give you daily Bible verses on your wall, such as “Digital Bible” or “Verse of the Day”.
85. Follow some popular pastors on Facebook.
86. Share verses that you like from others and review them on your wall later.

Do Stuff with Friends or Family

87. Host a Bible study with some friends. Find a study guide online or in a bookstore.
88. Challenge a friend to a week-long Bible reading contest—each day you miss, you pay the other $1.
89. Play “Bible study” with your kids. Use a picture Bible. Ask questions—some silly, some serious.

Expand Your Knowledge

90. Buy the NIV Study Bible—in print or the app. Read passage explanations and additional insights.
91. Sign up for a free trial of Bible Gateway Plus, a complete Bible study library.
92. Buy a good, entry-level Bible commentary (like The Bible Knowledge Commentary) or a Bible dictionary, like The Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary.
93. Look up your toughest questions about Christianity on www.gotquestions.org.
94. Learn about the Inductive Bible Study method (Google it).
95. Take an online Bible class


96. Set a Bible verse graphic as the background on your laptop.
97. Print out Bible verses and put them in your room or around the house.
98. Read the Bible in short bursts—eating lunch, on the bus, waiting in line, on the toilet.
99. Schedule Bible reading time on your calendar.
100. Pray Bible passages. (This works really well with Psalms.)

Pastor Greg's "State of the Church" Message


This was a sermon delivered to the RiverLife congregation on Sunday, October 28, 2018


Today is going to be a little different. It won’t be a bible-teaching sermon today. Instead, think of it like a “State of the Church” report. For the last 8 weeks, I’ve been telling about the core DNA of our church. Now, today, how well we’re living out that DNA. It’ll be a combination of 

  • Charts, number, and graphs

  • Big-picture trends we’re seeing in the church

  • First-hand testimonies from some of you

  • And some dreams and visions for the future of RiverLife

 So, if you will permit me a week off from preaching God’s Word, I’d like to share with you about our church—where we’ve been and where we’re going. I want to spend a Sunday doing this because we’re a church family, and I want you to be as exciting about what God’s doing here at RiverLife as I am. 

 Now, if this is your first time here… First-off you’re awesome; thank you for joining us today. Second, this will not be a normal message today. Please come back again for a regular service.

 Today’s going to be split up into two parts: where we’ve been and where we’re going. It’s the past and the future. It’s what God has done in RiverLife and what he has yet to do. And in each section, I’ll talk about four parts:

  • Attendance

  • Finances

  • Ministries

  •  Leadership

Where We’ve Been

Let’s start with where we’ve been. Here’s the executive summary: We are, by nearly all measures, a successful church plant. At four years old…

  • We have a steadily growing attendance

  • We’re finally in a strong financial position

  • We’ve successfully launched ministries

  • We have a phenomenal, well-functioning leadership team

Praise to God for all of that!

1. Attendance


So, do you want to see some details? Let’s talk about attendance. Here is a graph of our monthly average attendance over the last 4 years.

For most of my charts, I’m going from September 2014 (when we launched) to last month September 2018. Let me highlight three phases for you:


Phase 1: Launch (Sept 2014)

I know it looks like we screwed up our launch and everyone left. But that’s not what happened. This sudden drop was exactly what we expected. We followed a “Launch Big” model and it creates this type of scenario. It’s okay, as long as it leads to the next phase.


Phase 2: Growth (2015 – 2017)

The growth from the previous section just continued. We were finally starting to figure out how to do church. We were getting our routines and systems down. We were adding ministries. And God just kept bringing people to RiverLife. 


Phase 3: Leveling Off (2018)

So, we grew consistently for three years. Then an interested thing happened this year in 2018—we started to level off. For this whole year, we’ve been ranging between 230-250 people on a Sunday. We have some theories as to why, and I’ll share those later.

2. Finances

Let’s talk about finances. This is the one that I’m most excited to tell you about because RiverLife experienced a God-miracle last year, and it was because of God working through YOU. 


But first, the big picture. Here’s a chart of the total annual income over the last 4 years, and as you can see, it’s looking pretty good. 

We have two primary funding sources: the tealrepresents your giving to the church and the orangerepresents support from the North Central District. When they approved our church plant, they committed $200,000 over five years to help us launch successfully. (And we are grateful for their belief in us.)

Let me highlight two things:

  1. Every year you have been giving more and more to RiverLife.That’s a sign of a healthy church and a healthy congregation. Thank you. Yes, our attendance has grown, but what’s so cool is that our giving has grown at a higher rate than our attendance. And that’s a good sign.

  2. We are now 90% self-supporting. In 2015 (our first full year), district support represented 34% of our total revenue. In 2016, it was 25%. Then 22%, and this year, it’s representing only 10%. That is wonderful. 

Let’s move on to another graph. This is the monthly giving for the last four years. You might notice a few things:

  • You can see that it goes up and down each month. That’s normal.

  • We’ve had a couple really large months

  • It’s generally been increasing over time.


But there’s one thing that I want to highlight for you. This is the God-miracle that I mentioned earlier. Look right here That was December 2017. Before that point, through 2016 and 2017, we gave an average of $10,000 a month. After that point, you gave an average of $17,000 a month. Within one month, our giving increased 70%. That is AMAZING. Thank you for your obedience to God and your love for RiverLife.

That change has radically impacted our church. I’ll give you just two examples:

  1. Prior to that point, the church was living month-to-month. We usually had about $5,000 in the bank. That might sound like a lot, but it wouldn’t even pay half of one month’s expenses. Now, we have $30,000in the bank. That’s nearly month’s expenses. That’s because you give to RiverLife.

  2. This summer we made two staffing improvements. 

    • We hired Pastor Kong as a part-time Associate Pastor. We never could have done that a year ago. I personally want to say thank you because I was getting really tired as a solo pastor. And having Kong on board and literally breathed life back into me.

    • We gave all the hourly staff a $2/hour raise. So, they’re now at $14/hour. Not where I’d like them yet, but we’re getting closer. We were able to do that because you give to RiverLife. 

 So, after financially struggling for three years, we are now in a great place. Thank you.

3. Ministries

Let’s talk about ministries. Right now, we have eight active ministries:

  • Sunday Service

  • Worship & Production

  • Community Engagement

  • Creative Media

  • Connections

  • RiverKids

  • Thrive Youth

  • Life Groups

Overall, there’s going very strong. 

Our Worship & Production team works to make Sunday service powerful, spiritually engaging, 

Each year our Community Engagement has added ministries. Now, every month, we serve the homeless, refugees, the hungry, our Twin Cities communities, and our neighbors.

In Creative Media

  • We have a great website that gets about over 6,000 unique visitors a month.

  • And our web traffic has nearly tripled since the beginning of the year.

  • We have an active Facebook page with around 400 Page Views a month and over 3,000 engagements with our content a month.

  • We have an app that’s okay, but it needs a little work. And, to be honest, we don’t have metrics on its usage. We’ve been having problems with the vendor.

Our Connections Ministry, which is our Greeters, Café, and Info Table do a great job creating a warm, welcoming experience every week.

RiverKids—that’s the new name of our Children’s Ministry—is going awesome! They’re averaging 70 kids down there every week. And they have an incredible team of nearly 50 that care for and spiritually nurture your kids. 

Thrive Youth Ministries – Tommy & Kong are averaging 30-40 youth every week and continue to grow.


And lastly Life Groups.This is the one ministry of the church that isn’t quite thriving like it used to.

Here’s a chart of the average weekly attendance for our Life Groups. For our first couple years, 30-35 people attended a Life Group each week. Now, this year, that number has dropped to about 15 people a week.


Unfortunately, that chart doesn’t quite capture the full picture. Here’s a different chart. This one represents the Life Group attendance as a percentage of total church attendanWhen we launched, we had about one-third of the church participating in Life Groups. Now, that number is 6%.

So, Life Groups aren’t working right now, and in a little bit, I’ll tell you about some of our plans to breathe life into Life Groups

In summary, most of our ministries are healthy and striving. We have one that isn’t and needs a little attention.

4. Leadership

Lastly, let’s talk about the leadership of the church. I’ll repeat what I often say: This is the best team I’ve ever worked with in my 15 years of ministry. I love them, I trust them, and they are really good at what they do.

RiverLife’s Ministry Team consists of 10 people, each a top-level leader of a ministry. It’s a combination of paid and volunteer staff. Here’s a breakdown of the paid staff:

  • Greg – 40 hrs

  • Kong – 20 hrs

  • Johan – 15 hrs

  • Pang – 10 hrs

  • GaoZoua – 10 hrs

  • Tommy – 7 hrs

So, we have the equivalent of 2.5 full-time employees, but it’s split across 6 people.

Have you ever wondered how this team came about? Were they chosen, elected, randomly picked off the street? I’ll explain it in 2 phases: The first phase was early on when we launched. The second phase was ongoing, over the last 3 years.

Phase 1: Pre-Launch & Launch

When my wife and I were planning RiverLife, we made a decision that we wouldn’t recruit people. We trusted God and believed he would bring the right people to us. So, we let people approach us. That’s what happened with Johan (and his wife Pajjar) as well as with Alicia and Meejoluj.

We also believe in the principle that we launch ministries when God raises up a leader. We never force a person into the ministry because we believe we should have it. That’s why when we launched, we didn’t have a youth ministry, and why we still don’t have a missions ministry. God hasn’t raised up a leader for it (yet). But that might be changing in 2019.

Phase 2: Growth

Once we had some years under our belt, that process changed. Now, for the most part, God has raised up leaders from within our own ministries.

  • Gao Zoua started as a Sunday School teacher, then a team lead, and now she’s a director

  • Ying started working in the Café, then led the Café, and now he leads the whole Connections ministry.

  • Tommy started as a college intern, and now he’s our Youth Director

  • Even Pastor Kong started out as Assistant Youth Director and now he’s our Associate Pastor.

So, when we look for leaders, we look for people who are already faithfully serving, who love the church and the people, and have demonstrated success in their roles.

In summary, our team is amazing, and they are a big part of why RiverLife is a healthy, growing church plant.

So, there you have it. A generally very positive summary of the health and growth of RiverLife. Now, let’s shift. Let’s talk about the future.

Where We’re Going

You’ve heard where we’ve been. Now it’s time to talk about where we’re going. This exciting. This is the future of RiverLife. 


In my office, I have this sign that says, “Ride the Wave.” It’s a throwback to my SoCal beach days. But it’s more about paying attention to what God’s doing around you. Look for the waves that he’s making and ride them. That’s what looking into the future is about: seeing what God’s doing and working with him in it.

1. Attendance

Let’s talk about attendance. First, the big picture. I want to keep growing—not because bigger is better but because:

  • More people believing in Christ is better

  • More people coming back to church is better

  • More people getting baptized is better

  • More of your family and friends experiencing the hope & healing of Jesus is better

That’s why I want to keep growing.

But, at the same time, I don’t want to have a 1,000-person church in one building. I want our congregations to stay small. That’s why we talk about launching a second campus over in Minneapolis. In five years, I would rather see three RiverLife campuses of 300 each than a single 1,000-person church.


I shared earlier about we experienced 3 years of steady growth, and then this year we’ve plateaued around 230-250. If we extrapolate this graph out 5 years, here’s what it looks like. This shows two possible trajectories: (1) if we continue the growth of 2018 and (2) if we return to the growth of the prior 3 years. In 5 years, one path would put us at a 500-person church and one a 300-person church. I can tell you which one I want. I’m optimistic that some of the changes we’ll be making in 2019 will help us continue our growth.

2. Finances

[26]Let’s talk about finances. As I mentioned, as of this year, we are in really good financial shape. Our financial resources finally caught up to our size and our ministries. But we can’t stop here. If we want to see our church grow, then our finances will need to grow as well

So, we’ve come up with four financials 

  1. Be financially self-supporting within 1 year. We’re at 90% already; we’re close. To “level up” to an accredited church, we have to be self-supporting. We have 2 more years of funding, but I want to finish in one year. That way, we can bless another new church plant with $25,000.

  2. See a 30-40% increase in annual giving for the next 3 years. This happens because of your obedience to God and love for RiverLife.

  3. 100 new givers in 2019. This year, we’ve had 86 first-time givers. I want to see that increase to 100. That means that more people are taking that big next step.

  4. 60% of our digital giving from recurring gifts. Right now, about 45% of giving from the app and website is recurring. I want to see that increase. It’s one of the best ways to stabilize the monthly finances of the church.

What do you think? Is this something you can get behind?

3. Ministries

Now, let’s talk about ministries. This is really the heart of the church. I want to start with the big-picture and then tell you about some exciting things planned for 2019. 

In preparation for this message, I went back and read our original strategic plan for RiverLife. I wrote it 5 years before, when this church was just an idea. And what’s awesome is that we have accomplished nearly all of the original strategic plan. We’ve successfully created a church that has brought hope and healing to second and third gen Hmong. Now, we need a new strategic plan for the next 5 years, and this one is going to focus on helping people grow and mature in their faith, what the Bible calls discipleship.

So, here are 4 exciting initiative for 2019

  1. Relaunch Life Groups. We’re going to regroup, pour into our leaders (current and new ones), and ensure that our Life Groups are one of the best spiritual growth experiences you can have.

  2. Add Sunday school, called Growth Classes. These will be every week. Each month will cover a new topic. They’ll be taught by Pang Foua, me, Pastor Kong, and others. And, yes, childcare will be provided.

  3. Host monthly social events. This is what the Bible calls fellowship. We acknowledge that there haven’t been a whole lot of opportunities outside of Sunday for you get to know people and build friendships here at church. We’re going to fix that.

  4. Introduce membership. I preached about that last week (listen online) and will take the whole month of January to talk more about it. This is part of the larger initiative of becoming an accredited church.

And that’s just the beginning. We’re also looking at missions and possibly restructuring our Community Engagement to focus on local and global outreach. And then we’re starting to think through what’s called a leadership pipeline, a place for you to learn more about serving in the church and how God has shaped for that. So, it’s an exciting time for RiverLife right now. 

4. Leadership

Lastly, let’s talk about the leadership of the church. I want to tell you about two of my goals for the coming years.

First, as we grow, we’ll need more PAID STAFF. Otherwise, two things could happen. 

  1. Our current leaders will get burnt out. It just becomes too much work. I don’t want that to happen. I never want ministry to fry out a person. That’s just wrong.

  2. It will limit our growth. Guests visit but not come back. You might be frustrated because we’re dropping the ball on things or our quality of ministry suffers. 

I don’t want either of those to happen. There’s a principle in church staffing of one full-time employee per 80 people. Here are four staffing upgrades that I already have my eye on:

  1. Children’s Director – We currently average 70 kids on Sunday. Pang and GaoZoua share 20 hrs/week. That means we are grossly understaffed.

  2. Youth Director – Right now, they average 30 youth on Sunday. At the end of this school year, when we level up, they will receive ten new 6thgraders. Our youth group is going to grow 30% overnight. This role really should be half-time by next summer.

  3. Associate Pastor – Right now Pastor Kong is at 20 hours. I would like to see this role go full-time eventually. I’m just not sure when yet.

  4. Community Engagement Director – Alicia is doing an AMAZING job with a big ministry, and it’s all volunteer. For us to continue to make an impact locally and globally, I’d like to see this go to a quarter-time position. It’s really just to honor Alicia for the work she’s already doing.

So, there are four of my staffing goals. Do you remember those financial goals I mentioned earlier? The reason we have those is so that we can do these.

There’s one other big change to our leadership that will be coming in 2019. As part of our process of becoming an accredited church, a “grown up”, we will be establishing a Governing Board here at RiverLife. They will oversee the spiritual direction of the church and be the ones that I report to. 

The Alliance offers two possible structures for a Board. The first is called an Elder Board, consisting entirely of elders, which by biblical definitions are men. The second is called a Majority-Elder Board, which consists of male elders and female leaders. Because RiverLife highly values the voice and contributions of women in the church, we’ll be going with a majority-elder board. That’s really all I’ve decided so far. This will likely come into play in the Fall and Winter of next year, so you won’t hear much about it for a while. But I want to give you this reassurance: we will have a healthy, well-functioning board. If you have had bad experiences with church boards, I’m sorry. That’s not how God intended churches to be led. And rest assured, I will work hard to create a Board that is as awesome as our Ministry Team.


There you have it—the state of the church, where we’ve been and where we’re going. Thank you for loving RiverLife. Thank you for giving. Thank you for serving. You are part of the reason why RiverLife is as healthy of a church as it is.

As I mentioned, I’m going to post all of this online in the next couple days, so you can review it. Come up and chat if you have questions or ideas. I welcome your input.

Sermon Transcript: "Truth in The Greatest Showman" (At the Movies, 7/15/18)

Showman Graphic.jpg

I love movies. Summer is just an endless buffet of fun for me. If I had more free time, I would constantly be watching movies. And I’m not alone. Each summer, people spend around 4 billion dollars watching movies.

Why do so many of us enjoy watching movies? We watch for fun, excitement, escapism. But I think there something even bigger. Well-crafted movies touch on deep, timeless truths, and that resonates with our heart and soul. So, in this series, we’re going to be looking at some of the deep, timeless truths in some of this year’s biggest movies.

We’re going to kick off this series with one of my favorite movies this year: The Greatest Showman. I LOVED it! So much so that I included it in this series even though it wasn’t a summer movie. But it was so good. I’m also a sucker for a good musical.

The Greatest Showman is a story about PT Barnum, the creator of the modern-day circus, nicknamed “The Greatest Show on Earth.” But, before we dive into the movie, I want to make a disclaimer: This movie is not historically accurate. So, when I talk about PT Barnum in this sermon, I’m talking about the fictional version played by Hugh Jackman not the real, historical Barnum.

That said, let’s get on with the show! This is how The Greatest Showman begins:

Through 10 show-stopping numbers, we watch Barnum go from a child living in poverty to a successful ringmaster of a circus. And along the way, the movie deftly addresses some pretty deep themes— the American dream, family, race, class, prejudice, rejection, inclusion. It’s all in there.

But there’s one theme that really drives a lot of the story – the lure of wealth and success. Like I mentioned, Barnum grew up poor and dreamed of fancy clothes and big mansions. He got married, and they had 2 kids. They struggled for a while, but eventually he found some success with a troupe of performers.

But he really hit it big when he launched a tour of one of the best singers in Europe, and that’s when everything started to change. He was making millions. He was hobnobbing with the upper class. He had finally made it.

Here’s the song that captures that period in his life—the first American performance of Jenny Lind, the “Swedish Nightingale.”

Towers of gold are still too little
These hands could hold the world but it'll
Never be enough

And that’s the lure of wealth and success. It’s never enough. Unfortunately, Barnum didn’t learn that until he had lost almost everything. Well, he could have saved himself a whole lot of pain and agony if he had just remembered his Bible.

God’s Word says A LOT about the lure of wealth and success. But there’s one passage that captures the PT Barnum story so well. It’s out of the Old Testament, early in the history of the Israelites.

So far, God had freed them from slavery in Egypt through Moses. God led them through the desert for 40 years, as migrant travelers. And then, they find themselves on the banks of the Jordan River, looking across at the Promised Land. This was the land of Canaan that God had promised their forefather Abraham. It was lush and fruitful, a land “flowing with milk and honey.” At that point, Moses gives them some warnings.

Ya see, their lives were about to change forever. Their children would live with more prosperity than anyone in the desert generation. The kids would have homes, jobs, income that would be unimaginable to their parents back in the desert.

Now, if you’re Hmong, does that sound like anyone you know? For many of you, that probably also describes you and your parents. They grew up in Laos as 1st generation and you grew up in America as 2nd generation. You are experiencing levels of wealth, housing, education, opportunity, income (or at least income potential) that your parents never had back in Laos.

That’s a big reason why I picked this passage. It has so many parallels to what many of you as second-gen Hmong as living right now. And so, Moses’ warnings to the generation of Israelites are equally applicable to us.

We’re going look at a couple passages from the Book of Deuteronomy. Now, Deuteronomy is an interesting book. It’s basically one big farewell speech from a very old Moses, after the desert but before the Promised Land. The book is part history book, part religious law, part general advice for godly living, and part warning. The section we’re going to look at today is warning.

It’s two parts of the same section, from Deuteronomy chapters 6 & 8. You can read along on screen or in your own Bible or device.

In chapter 6, verse 10, he begins with the setup of this part of his speech.

10 When the Lord your God brings you into the land he swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, to give you—a land with large, flourishing cities you did not build, 11 houses filled with all kinds of good things you did not provide, wells you did not dig, and vineyards and olive groves you did not plant—then when you eat and are satisfied, 12 be careful that you do not forget the Lord, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.

“Be careful that you do not forget the Lord.” That’s the heart of Moses’ warning. He knows wealth. He grew up wealthy—as a prince of Egypt. He knows the lure of wealth like nobody standing before him knew. He’s telling them that their lives are about to change, they’re about to get some really good stuff. And if they’re not careful, they’re going to forget what’s really important. They’re going to forget God.

He continues with more instructions in chapter 7, and then returns to this warning in chapter 8. He paints two possible outcomes of living in their new land. I think we all face these two same options whenever we experience any amount of wealth or success. Here they are:

When you have eaten and are satisfied, PRAISE the Lord your God for the good land he has given you.

That’s the first option. I’m gonna call this the ring of praise. (Barnum was famous for inventing the 3-ring circus. Today, we’ll talk about a two-ring circus.) The first is the ring of praise. This is where you praise God for everything he’s given you. In this ring, wealth and success actually draw you closer to God because you understand that it all came from God. Your faith grows stronger. You’re more generous not less. You commit more to the church not less. In this ring, faith thrives.

But, there’s another route, another ring. Moses goes to describe it:

10 When you have eaten and are satisfied, praise the Lord your God for the good land he has given you. 11 Be careful that you do not forget the Lord your God, failing to observe his commands, his laws and his decrees that I am giving you this day. 12 Otherwise, when you eat and are satisfied, when you build fine houses and settle down, 13 and when your herds and flocks grow large and your silver and gold increase and all you have is multiplied, 14 then your heart will become proud and you will forget the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. 

That’s the other one: ring of pride. In this ring, you think less about God and more about yourself—your accomplishments, goals, family, plans. God becomes second place… or worse. In this ring, you prioritize yourself over others. You listen less. You love less. You give less.

This is the ring that PT Barnum got trapped in. All the money, success, high society—he chased after all this and left behind his wife, children, friends in the process.

A few verses later, Moses had a great way to summarize these two rings:

First, there’s the ring of pride. Verse 17 says:

You may say to yourself, “My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me.”

Doesn’t that sum it up perfectly? My power, my strength. The ring of pride is all about me.

Or, there’s an alternative—the ring of praise. Verse 18 is what that looks like:

But remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth, and so confirms his covenant, which he swore to your ancestors, as it is today.

The ring of praise says God gave me this job, God gave me this house, God gave me this car. I didn’t really earn any of it. It’s all God.

So, which ring are you living in? Which ring do you spend time in? Is your life marked with PRIDE, chasing after wealth and success?

  • Do you think more about your hard work than God’s faithfulness?
  • Does your family miss you?
  • Do you regularly make purchases for yourself?
  • Do you skip church because of other commitments?
  • Do you not give to church because your money has to go elsewhere?

There are a lot of signs you’re living in the ring of pride. You just have to be able to see them. And if you don’t know, I can promise you one thing: The people closest to you—they know. To them it’s obvious whether you are or not. So, have a courageous conversation with one of them and ask them: Are I prideful? Am I chasing after wealth and success?

Don’t fall into the trap that PT Barnum did. Remember the Lord your God. Everything you have comes from him.

Sermon Transcript: "Submission" (Relearning Relationships, 2/18/18)

This April Greg and I will celebrate our 24th wedding anniversary. I know, that’s a long time—longer than some of you have been alive! But I can still remember those first years of marriage because they were some of the hardest of my life. I went into marriage with such high hopes of having a loving husband, deep emotional intimacy, and a fulfilling partnership. That blissful oneness that the Bible says is the purpose of marriage, I was ready to have it all. But within six months, the honeymoon was over, and I was left with unmet expectations, unresolved conflicts, and a husband who just couldn’t do anything right to please me!

I was confused, disappointed, and deeply hurt. Well, I wasn’t going to give up, so I figured out that the only way to get what I wanted was to let Greg know just how disappointed I was, and then I would help him to do the things that I needed and wanted from him. Let me tell you, I got so good at having him do what I wanted that whenever I was with him in the car, he knew the exact moment I wanted him to change lanes—and I didn’t even have to say a single word! I am embarrassed now to admit it, but at that time I was so proud of myself for that kind of control over Greg.

And that was what I thought would give me the intimate, connected, loving relationship I wanted with my husband.

What about you ladies? What are you doing to get the kind of marriage that you long for? How are you doing in inviting your husband into emotional intimacy and a fulfilling partnership? How are you doing in creating the oneness relationship with your husband?

I hope you are smarter than I was because any man here can tell you that I missed the mark by a very long shot. But just in case you are as hurt, confused, and misguided as I was, we don’t have to try to figure it out on our own.

The Bible, God’s Word for all of us, gives us the secret to having the kind of marriage we want and that God has designed for us.

Today we’re going to look closely at two passages where the Bible speaks directly to wives about how to relate to their husband in their marriage.

The first is Ephesians 5:22-24 & 33:

22 Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord.23 For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. 24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything....33 However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.

Incidentally, the Apostle Paul gave the same instructions to the believers at the Colossian church saying, “Wives, submit yourselves to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord.”

The second is 1 Peter 3:1–2, a letter Peter wrote to the Christians scattered throughout the northern areas of Asia Minor:  

Wives, in the same way submit yourselves to your own husbands so that, if any of them do not believe the word, they may be won over without words by the behavior of their wives, 2 when they see the purity and reverence of your lives. 

Yes, today we’re going to cover that dreaded s-word: submission.

What have you heard about submission? Those of you who have grown up around church or church people may have learned that submission means obedience of wives to their husbands in everything.

I believe that submission has been greatly misunderstood and misused by Christians throughout history and even today.

To understand what submission means, we have to take a look at the Greek word that is used. The Greek word here is hupotassō, which is used in various forms 40 times in the New Testament portion of the Bible. It's from hupó = under + tasso = to set in place or arrange in an orderly manner. In the active voice, hupotasso means to subject, to subordinate, to submit one’s control, to yield to another’s advice; and indirectly it means to obey.

Noteworthy is the fact that hupotasso is NOT the same word Paul used in Ephesians 6:1 or 6:5 where he instructs: “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right” and “Slaves, obey your earthly masters with respect and fear…” Paul instructs children to OBEY their parents and slaves to OBEY their earthly masters, using the Greek word hupakouo. If Paul had wanted wives to “obey” their husbands, he would have used this same term. So, although hupotasso can imply and be translated “to obey,” here in Ephesians 5:22, the word "submit" or "subject yourself" is the more accurate translation.

In fact, the instruction to wives cannot be understood without the previous verse. In Ephesians 5:21, Paul writes, “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” Then he says, “Wives, to your husbands”—without using the word submit but it is implied, as this is a common sentence construction in the Greek and in Paul’s writing.

To truly understand the wife’s submission to her husband in the bonds of marriage, we must understand submission in its fuller context of how believers are to submit to one another. Clearly, Paul was not instructing the believers to “obey” each other but instead to subordinate and yield to one another. It is clear that humble submission is a Christian virtue for all believers--not just wives.

The Apostle Peter gives a similar call to all believers. In 1 Peter 3, in which we read about wives submitting to husbands, Peter then gives instructions for husbands to “be considerate as you live with your wives and treat them with respect…” and he immediately reminds believers in the next verse: “Finally, all of you, be like-minded, be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble” (1 Peter 3:8).

In these texts, rather than child-like or slave-like obedience, submission is presented with three key characteristics:

1.   Submission is an attitude of deep respect.

In Ephesians 5, after instructing husbands to love and sacrifice for their wives, the Apostle Paul summarizes the marriage relationship in v. 33 by saying, “However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.”

Instead of going back to the word “submit,” Paul reminds wives that they are to “respect” their husbands. Other translations use the terms fear or reverence, all with the meaning that the wife is to have an attitude of awe and deep respect for her husband instead of an attitude of superiority and disdain.

This morning’s opening song, “Wonderful Tonight” by Eric Clapton has a great line it where the husband says to his wife, “I feel wonderful because I see the love light in your eyes.” All the while she is doing very ordinary things for him. But she is doing them is such a way as to convey her love and deep respect for him.

Emerson Eggerichs makes the point in his book entitled Love and Respect that “the husband needs respect just as he needs air to breathe” (location 639). He then explains that “when men hear negative criticism, it doesn’t take them long to start interpreting that as contempt for who they are as men” (location 656), which is probably why King Solomon from the Old Testament, he who had 700 wives and 300 concubines, wrote these words in Proverbs:

Proverbs 21:9 - "Better to live on a corner of the roof than share a house with a quarrelsome wife."
Proverbs 21:19 - "Better to live in a desert than with a quarrelsome and nagging wife."
Proverbs 27:15-16 - "A quarrelsome wife is like the dripping of a leaky roof in a rainstorm; restraining her is like restraining the wind or grasping oil with the hand."

In those early days of marriage, how easy it was for me to go from being in awe of this amazing man whom I did not want to lose to being disappointed and critical of the same man whom I was not afraid to hurt or cut down.

Wives, why do we think that rolling our eyes in disgust, sighing in disappointment, and complaining and nagging will make our husband’s change into more thoughtful, loving husbands? What foolishness to think that he would want to cleave to us and be one with us when we tell him in words and actions that he is a failure?

So wives, does your husband see respect for him shining in your eyes? Does he hear respect in the things you say to him or the things you say about him to other people? Or would he say that you are opinionated, quarrelsome, and not open to his input? Would he say that you are critical and disrespectful of him? 

2. Submission is a Voluntary Act to Yield Control.

Nowhere in the Bible is a husband instructed to subjugate his wife or make her submit to him. Nowhere! Yet, many Christians (both men and women) have used Paul and Peter’s instructions for the wife to submit herself to her husband as the right of the husband (and even all men) to control women and make them obey. Missing is the recognition that the woman, as a human being of equal worth and capacity, is instructed to willingly put herself under her own husband’s authority, to yield control to him.

A child must obey his or her parents. A slave must obey his master. But a wife has to choose to submit. Submission is a voluntary act of the will of a person to another person of her equal. If she wasn’t an equal, she would not have the right or capability to submit herself.

While there are three passages directly instructing a wife to submit to her husband, which would not have been a surprise to the first-century believers, there are other passages on the marriage relationship that actually went against the social practices of Jewish, Greek, and Roman practices. In 1 Corinthians 7, the Apostle Paul responded to questions that the Corinth church had about sexual matters. He explained that a husband and wife should not deprive each other of sexual intimacy. Then he said a very revolutionary thing in v. 4 in the New Living Translation: "The wife gives authority over her body to her husband, and the husband gives authority over his body to his wife."

In a time when a wife was viewed and treated as the property of her husband, Paul says that she has authority or control over her body and must make the decision to give authority over to her husband. AND even more astounding, the husband doesn’t own his body but must give authority over it to his wife!  As theologian Johann Albrecht Bengel notes, “The rights of both are equal.”

The point is that only when one has the authority over oneself can there be true submission, the voluntary decision to yield control. But that also means that one has the ability to NOT yield control. And there are certain times when a wife would rightfully choose not to yield control to her husband. In 1 Peter 3, the apostle was addressing Christian women who were married to unbelieving or non-Christian husbands. When he told them to submit to their husbands, he did not mean they should listen to their husbands if their husbands wanted them to abandon the faith or go and follow other gods. And he would not expect them to follow their husband’s commands for them to do sinful acts that are against God’s instructions. Yet, Peter tells them to submit to their husbands through respectful and pure conduct.

Wives, have you voluntarily made the decision to yield control over to your husband? At a minimum, would he say that you consider his ideas and seek his counsel when making a decision? Would he say that you listen to him and cooperate with him when the two of you disagree on an issue? Or would he say that you often do your own thing and disregard what he wants or what he has to say?

At this point, some of you ladies might be getting squeamish that this submission teaching is sounding awfully close to the traditional instruction for wives to obey their husbands. Respecting him you can live with, but yielding control? You might raise some objections. Perhaps you’re thinking:

  1. It’s not fair that the woman has to submit. Why does she have to lose her equality in the relationship?
  2. It’s too risky that her submission could be taken advantage of and then she could easily be controlled and abused.
  3. And what if my husband totally doesn’t deserve my submission?

Honestly, I’ve wrestled with God for most of my life over the issue of submission. My personal journals are full of entries questioning God, often defiantly.

But my marriage didn’t work out well when I tried to do things my way. I tried for the first seven years to control and change Greg. My controlling when he changed lanes was definitely NOT an act of respect of yielding control—even in something as unimportant as getting somewhere.

It’s no surprise that I didn’t get the love I wanted, so for the next three years, I tried to ignore Greg and not care about the relationship. It wasn’t until the 10th year of marriage that I humbled myself, asked God to change me, and entrusted Greg into God’s hands.

3. Submission Comes from Trusting in God

After telling wives to submit to their husbands, the apostle explains in 1 Peter 3:3-6:

3 Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold jewelry or fine clothes. 4 Rather, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight. 5 For this is the way the holy women of the past who put their hope in God used to adorn themselves. They submitted themselves to their own husbands, 6 like Sarah, who obeyed Abraham and called him her lord. You are her daughters if you do what is right and do not give way to fear.

It is interesting that Peter would give Sarah as an example of a wife who submitted herself to her husband and even obeyed him, because she was asked to do some hard things. Not once but twice her husband Abraham told her to lie that they were not husband and wife because he was afraid that powerful men would kill him so they could take Sarah as their wife. She was that beautiful and he was that afraid. And sure enough, the rulers took Sarah for themselves. Only God’s drastic intervention protected and returned Sarah back to her rightful husband. Did Sarah have cause to fear that submitting to her husband would cause her harm? Definitely. But the apostle tells us that she put her hope in God, did what was right and submitted to her husband, and did not give way to fear.

How about you? Do you trust God with your life? Your husband? Your marriage?

Ladies, wives, what would it look like if we trusted God with our marriages and our husbands? What if we believed that God, the creator of marriage, knows better than we do how to achieve the unity or oneness of a man and a woman joining together? What if we trusted God, obeyed his will, and submitted in deep respect to our husbands? What would the RiverLife community look like? What would happen to our husbands? What would happen to our marriages?

Once when I asked God what submission really is, he showed me Jesus humbling himself, letting go of his glory and status, and becoming a servant. I was profoundly humbled and silenced. So I will close with the passage from Philippians 2:3-8, which was written to all believers of all time, but is especially salient this morning to us wives who are learning how to submit to our husbands:

3 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others [your husbands] above yourselves, 4 not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others [your husband].

5 In your relationships with one another [in your marriage], have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:
6 Who, being in very nature God,
    did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
7 rather, he made himself nothing
    by taking the very nature of a servant,
    being made in human likeness.
8 And being found in appearance as a man,
    he humbled himself
    by becoming obedient to death—
        even death on a cross!

Let’s pray.