The past six weeks have been crazy busy around the LifeWay Small Groups halls. And the majority of my time has been devoted to a resource that will release in February. It’s called Stolen, it’s with Chris and Kerry Shook, and it’s compelling … to say the least.

Kerry and Chris Shook founded Woodlands Church, formerly Fellowship of The Woodlands, in l993. Since then the church has grown to 17,000 in average attendance each weekend. It is one of the fastest-growing churches in America. Kerry and Chris wrote the New York Times best-seller One Month to Live: Thirty Days to a No-Regrets Life as well as Love at Last Sight: Thirty Days to Grow and Deepen Your Closest Relationships.

Here’s a little bit about this six-week study: Over the course of our lives the Enemy works hard to rob us of the treasures God has set aside for us—our inheritance, strength, peace, dreams, joy, and passion.  In this creative small-group Bible study, Pastor Kerry Shook and his wife, Chris, use specific biblical examples to lead you into a discovery of the ways you can reclaim these treasures. From illustrations of how Paul was able to find strength in God’s promise to the Shunammite woman who had allowed her dream to die to how we see passion play out in the story of the prodigal son, you’ll discover the bigger picture of who we are in Christ and all He intended for us to experience.

Watch for more information coming soon. But first check out this message from the Shooks. And get ready for a journey to reclaim what is rightfully yours!

Until next time,
Signe

“There’s something about the word fresh that changes everything.”  Kerry Shook

As I type this blog post, our latest Platform resource—Fresh: Reviving Stale Faith—is on the way to the printer. While editing this project, Kerry Shook both challenged and inspired me.
Let’s see—meditation, fasting, and silence. OK, so … I have a tendency to get focused on my to-do list, my agenda and often forget to carve out time to meditate on God’s Word on a regular basis. And fasting … well, I’ve never fasted in my entire life. And then there’s silence … my friends who are reading this are laughing out loud right now because being quiet and still are definitely not strengths for me. Honestly, I’m embarrassed to admit those things here. But I bet I’m not alone.

Does your faith ever feel stale? Are you maybe a little intimidated when you think about carrying out these spiritual disciplines in your own life but at the same time you’re at least a little curious—and a lot ready for a fresh faith? Then this study is worth checking out.

To the ancients, daily life included spiritual disciplines such as meditation, fasting, and silence. But our modern world has all but abandoned these time-honoring principles, instead relenting
to overcrowded agendas, busy schedules, and fast-paced, frantic day-to-day routines, leaving us with a faith that’s stale and tired. Yet it’s fresh faith that’s appealing. It’s fresh faith that feels active and alive. It’s fresh faith that makes a difference in this world. In this addition to the Platform series, Kerry Shook explores the ancient disciplines of meditation, fasting, and
silence and reveals the irony of how patterns of the past are really practices that promise to revive our faith.

Kerry is senior pastor of Woodlands Church, one of the fastest-growing churches in America. He and his wife Chris founded Fellowship of The Woodlands, now Woodlands Church, in 1993. Since then the church has grown to 17,000 in average attendance each weekend.

The six small-group sessions are:

1.  The Art of Focus — the benefits of meditation
2.  The Art of Discipline — the strategy for meditation
3.  The Art of Restraint — the purpose and power of fasting
4.  The Art of Emptying Yourself — how to develop a plan for fasting
5.  The Art of Margins — the power of silence to reduce our stress and express our faith
6.  The Art of Silence — how silence can empower communication and increase our sensitivity

Fresh: Reviving Stale Faith will be available December 1 … check it out!

Until next time,
Signe

One of the most refreshing projects I’ve worked on since coming to LifeWay is Gospel Revolution by J.D. Greear. J.D.’s small groups pastor Spence Shelton helped us develop the curriculum and it is definitely done with a local church focus in mind. While our Serendipity team has focused primarily on small-group curriculum in the past, this study has even broader appeal. More traditional discipleship groups would benefit greatly and find it easy to use also. Let me give you a little background on the project so that you can get a better feel for it.

Gospel Revolution is really about rediscovering the gospel. J.D. reminds the reader that the gospel is not the diving board off which we dive into the pool of Christianity but the gospel is the pool itself. Building off of the concepts in J.D.’s excellent book by Broadman and Holman called Gospel, the group study really meets many Christians where they are. The list of what “good Christians” should be doing never seems to end. Evangelism. Missions. Adoption. Radical generosity. Bold prayers. Audacious faith. Every time we turn around we’re learning about something else that good Christians are doing. The result is that many Christians find themselves more exhausted than inspired. Jesus’ revolutionary message is that at the center of Christianity is not a list of things we are to be doing for God, but an announcement of what He has done for us. As we stand in awe of what He has done for us, what we should do for Him will come naturally. J.D. incorporates a simple gospel prayer as he teaches and models how to live out the gospel in everyday life.

Here are a couple of blogposts that also discuss this gospel message that God has given to the church through J.D. Greear:

Interview of J.D. by Trevin Wax http://trevinwax.com/2011/09/28/recovering-the-gospels-power-a-conversation-with-j-d-greear/

Overview of Gospel’s Generosity Matrix by J.D. http://www.churchleaders.com/outreach-missions/outreach-missions-blogs/154951-jd_greear_the_generosity_matrix.html

What I found most encouraging about J.D.’s teaching is that he is not only biblically sound but culturally relevant. J.D.’s authenticity really draws you in and his illustrations are things to which we can all easily relate. I was not only professionally challenged by this study but personally inspired. The old-time message of the gospel came alive for me and has resulted in the kind of spiritual fruit that God intended the gospel to bear in my life. Well, that’s my testimony. I hope you too will take part in this gospel revolution and rediscover the power of the Christian faith!

Sara GrovesI’ve been listening to a pre-release of Sara Groves new CD, fireflies and songs, and have been deeply moved by one of her songs.  Sara is among my favorite singer/songwriters, right up there with Andrew Peterson and Jill Phillips, so I always eagerly await her newest work.  Her own journey and experiences have helped guide me through some of the most tumultuous days of my life.  Her lyrical content has given me hope and clarity, when I was falling prey to self-condemnation.  In short, her music has been an important part of my spiritual re-formation over the past few years and helped me see God as I never had before.

So, I was listening to this CD last week on the way home from dinner with a friend.  I had heard the track, “It’s Me”, a few times and knew I really liked the melody and the chorus but was intentionally listening to the lyrics this particular moment.  Suddenly, I got to one of the hooks near the end and tears started rolling down.  One thing I’ve learned while with the Serendipity team is – “Pay attention to what moves you!  It’s either a part of your story God wants to speak into, or a part of the Larger Story He wants to invite you into”. So I spent some time looking inside for any tender places that might need to hear Truth.

The song is a beautiful picture of a relationship and how quickly emotions can turn and catch us by surprise.  In the blink of an eye anger and hurt can replace tenderness.  It reminds that those people closest to us are also the ones able to hurt us most deeply.  So our tendency is to withdraw or, as Sara puts it, “so run for your life…”.  In the hook she cries out – “Deep down inside the girl is waking up.  She’s calling out to the boy she loves.  It’s me…oh baby, it’s me” As I heard that last phrase, “it’s me”, I was pierced through my heart.  While the context of the song may be saying something like , “Hello it’s me, I’m not the enemy…I’m your wife.”  God needed me to hear something a little different.

You see my greatest fear and one of the defining wounds of my life is being invisible…of not beingimages noticed by anyone.  As the youngest of five boys, and an unplanned baby at that, it was easy to grow up and get missed.  So those two words, “it’s me”, have been my heart’s cry for the better part of 40 years.  In such a tender way, God is using this song to invite me into my pain and asking me if I will really believe He has “seen” me from my mother’s womb….that I was never invisible to Him.  My life experiences have told me differently and many agreements I’ve made would suggest that this isn’t true. So I stand at a tipping point now, what do I believe in my heart versus what I say I believe about God.  The fact that this song moves me so deeply suggests I dare not answer this question too quickly.  The men in my small group, who know me intimately, are the ones that will help me explore these beliefs and the conclusions I’ve made throughout life.  My group will help me find God’s Truth that I haven’t been able to grasp before due to the limitations of living from my personal, smaller story.

As small group leaders, we are placed in a wonderful position to give a powerful gift to those in our group.  Pay attention to what moves YOU and share that.  Share how you take these emotions to God so that He might tell you something you need to hear desperately.  Model for them how God speaks through our emotions and how to process and test that within a group.  When group members see you do this, they will follow your lead and practice this as well, often with life changing results.  It is a rare and precious gift in our modern age to identify messages you’ve received over the years and allow a place for God to speak Truth into those messages.  When we as group leaders model this, we create a safe container for others in the group to begin doing the same thing.

“Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” ~ John 8:32

I’ve experienced a wonderful time of healing old wounds over the past two years, largely the result of deeply redemptive community. One of the paradigm changes for me was moving away from times of isolation and into moments of solitude. You see I wrongly believed those two concepts were essentially the same—that both expressed the idea of being utterly alone. What I came to see was that I had lived most of my life diving in and out of isolation, purposefully shutting myself (and my heart) off from others…most often out of shame.

When I began my journey into real community with the guys at Serendipity, Ron Keck introduced me to the idea that Jesus rejected the shame and embraced the pain of the cross but too often we do just the opposite, we reject the pain and embrace the shame. Because I had no real connection to my heart and had no concept of redemptive community, the idea of others seeing sin in my life was too painful to bear, so I ran to isolation in an effort to hide (not the first man to do that) and avoid the discomfort of disclosure.

There is nothing redemptive about isolation. It’s merely an attempt to go unseen while making the necessary penance, or allowing enough time for the shame to subside. When I choose to embrace shame and reject pain, I am held captive by the lies that I will not be accepted, I will receive condemnation, or I will disappoint those I care about. However, when I choose to embrace the pain and reject shame instead (as Jesus did), I find freedom and healing. Though there may be some pain in expressing mistakes made and seeking forgiveness and restitution, the enemy has no hold on me when secrets are revealed. And rather than the condemnation I so feared, I am greeted with understanding and encouragement from those closest to me who choose to love me through the challenges and continually remind me who I truly am—a restored son of the sovereign Lord!

This freedom allows me to leave the false security of isolation and move into moments of solitude, where I can seek deeper intimacy with God rather than hiding from him. These moments are so rewarding as God, a loving and engaged Father, speaks into my innermost being with Truth and Beauty and Love.

This has been my experience and I would love to hear some ways you have learned the difference between isolation and solitude. What experiences from your journey can you share? How has the Father been inviting you to move from isolation to solitude? How did this come to you? Was it like me when you were brought into true community or did you experience this in a more individual setting?

So I get a post on my facebook page last night from a good friend of mine named Roy. It seems Roy was surfing facebook last night and saw Jennifer who served with HisLife Ministries at the same time he did. Not only that but Jennifer’s roommate during this time, Rachel, would later become Roy’s wife. Isn’t that what facebook is all about, bringing the world closer together and reconnecting friends? Well here’s the kicker, as Roy read up to see what was going on in Jennifer’s life, he noticed the picture of the guy she’s married to looked strangely familiar…just like a guy named Jon that Roy had been in BSF with for 3 years. Roy’s first thought was maybe Jon had a brother…but living in Nashville too, no way. As it turns out, Jennifer IS married to Jon, the same Jon that spent 3 years with Roy in a men’s Bible study. So here’s my question, how can these guys spend 3 years together and NEVER know that their wives were roommates?? How many Bible studies have I been in that I didn’t learn anything about another person’s life and they learned nothing about mine. My heart tells me it happens far too often, that our idea of “community” becomes nothing more than a contemporary “Cheers” – a place where everybody knows your name…but not much else.

A few years ago, the guys at Serendipity launched out on a journey where we refused to settle for anything less than redemptive community. That’s a BIG difference from just the kind of community where you know someone’s name. Redemptive community is where you do life together…really. Where you integrate all aspects of yourself – your professional life, your spiritual life, your emotional life, etc. You don’t walk into the office and leave your emotions at the door. It’s expected that you bring the full weight of who you are every day and get called out if you’re posing. By the way, a group known as the Samson Society created by Nate Larkin was also crucial in helping me understand what authenticity really meant.

So this is really at the heart of what The Gypsy Road is meant to be in my eyes, to unveil the need for redemptive community and invite a fellowship to join us as we journey to more fully understand and more boldly embrace this core desire.

I hope you’ll come back often as the dialog will be rich and your story and your experiences will make it all the richer.

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