Larger Story


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

Do you ever feel like you don’t matter?

Perhaps it’s because you’re pouring yourself into things that don’t matter.

“They pursued worthless idols and became worthless themselves” (2 Kings 17:14-15).

The things you devote your life to in your search for significance can be the very things that make you feel empty. Hear this: your value is equal to the value of the things you pursue. Only after you devote your heart to God—the worthiest of pursuits—do you get a genuine sense of your own worth as His chosen child.

Look again at that verse. “Worthless idols.” An idol is anything you give more weight or significance to than God.

What does that look like for you? Money? Status? Body image? Your kids? How about unforgiveness? Religious ritual? Perfectionism?

Replace your idols with worthy pursuits. Pursue God and His ways with all you have. Through these things He will establish your value in such a way that you’ll actually believe it. No more emptiness. No more aimlessness. No more searching.

In 2005, precious baby Rebekah was born to my friends Dave and Teresa, two of the godliest people I know. The way they live their lives has always been an inspiration to me, but never as much as in the years since Rebekah’s birth. You see, Rebekah only lived for six days.

I will never truly know what the past six years have been like for my friends. And in totally honesty, I feel guilty that I haven’t been more involved in their lives during that time — especially since I’ve been a recipient of the blessings Dave and Teresa have experienced through their grief.

I never got to meet Rebekah, but the impact her life and death have had on me is indescribable. Her family has allowed her story to live on in a truly dynamic way.

Dave and Teresa, along with their daughter, Lydia, have taught me that God has a significant plan for us — no matter how long or short our lives. I have seen His strength and goodness in the midst of tragedy because this family had allowed me to. They have been open about their emotions — good and bad. They have shown their humanness without shame. I have witnessed them give God the glory through unbelievable sacrifice. I have been challenged and humbled. And I’m so thankful. Dave and Teresa’s message is one of not letting loss defeat us but instead allowing it to change us for the better.

Maybe you are grieving the loss of something or someone significant. Or perhaps you are walking that road with someone dear to you. What an incredible testimony your story can be. I encourage you to share your journey with others in your life—your small group, your community, your tribe. You never know what God will teach them through you.

Six days, one tiny baby, a God-honoring family, and my life will never by the same.

Until next time,
Signe

Do you appreciate beautiful island ambiance? Are you a surfer? Are you a fan of Dennis Quaid, Helen Hunt, or AnnaSophia Robb…or even Hercules (Kevin Sorbo)? Do you love Carrie Underwood? Do you like movies that make you cry?  For all of these reasons or just for one, you should consider going to see Soul Surfer this weekend. This is a movie that also models a faith that is not perfect but real.

About a month ago I was invited to a preview of the movie, and honestly my main reason for attending was because it was a free date night with my wife.  Little did I know how my heart would be engaged that night, however. Now, I am definitely not a cryer.  There are a couple of movies with tear-jerking scenes that have caused me to quickly wipe my eye before anyone could see, but this one had my eyes welled with tears throughout.

The film is based upon the real life story of Bethany Hamilton, a teen sensation surfer in Hawaii who lost her arm in a shark attack. The character development that takes place in the movie is remarkable given the length of time they had to work with; consequently, most viewers will come away being able to relate to this family and wonder how their own might have handled the adversity that the Hamiltons are forced to face.

From a faith perspective, the movie is inspirational. While God is directly mentioned in only a few scenes, He is all over the place. Reminds me of the book of Esther in that way.

It’s difficult to call Bethany’s story a tragedy, and she certainly wouldn’t want us too. Conversely, we can view it as a triumph–the triumph of faith over fear and amazing accomplishment in spite of adversity.

If you can organize a trip to see Soul Surfer this opening weekend–with your family or your small group—you definitely won’t regret it. The movie is getting great publicity and the well-known cast should also allow your friends who are not Christ followers to feel safe in attending. You’ll have ample opportunity for conversations about faith afterwards.

(And for my missional, country music-loving friends, there’s a great segment with Carrie Underwood leading a mission trip to Thailand that may inspire your group as well! ;-))

There’s no telling how much time has passed since I set out to write this post. It’s not that I’m stumped—I know what I want to say. What puts me on hold is figuring out how to say it. I want it to be just right. Not too long, not too stale, and in keeping with every writer’s dream, moving to at least someone out there. So I sit. And stare. And eventually shut it down for another day. After awhile, days and weeks have passed and I have nothing to show for it.

In some ways, this description fits the pattern of my faith—or should I say unfaith—as well. God plants a thought in my mind and gives evidence of its importance in my walk with Him. I feel excited to envelop myself in it, but what happens is—well, nothing. Nothing outward, at least. I research the thing. I pray about it. I may even talk about it with my best friend. But days and weeks pass and I have nothing to show for it.

I’m not stumped. I hear what God is encouraging me to do. But the compulsion to fully know and understand the details of the thing so I can proceed with perfection keeps me from actually moving forward.

See, I’m not much of a risk-taker. Somewhere deep down I’ve formulated the belief that I can’t honor God if I don’t take the exact steps He has planned for me. I don’t feel safe relying solely on my own judgment. You can imagine the time I’ve wasted trying to figure out what those steps are. For fear that I’ll mess up, I’ve become a passive Christ-follower. And isn’t that just the kind of Christian the Enemy loves?

Not at all what I was going for. The opposite, actually.

God’s so good, you know? He’s beginning to show me a bigger truth that has brought incredible amounts of freedom for this rule-follower. Picture a toddler about to take his first steps. For weeks, his parents have been working with him, teaching and encouraging and exemplifying what it means to walk. And finally, he steps. One foot. Then the other. He may go in circles or in a line. He may take one step or ten before falling down.

What do you imagine the parents are doing as they watch? What do their faces look like? I’ll tell you. They’re proud. They’re excited. They’re high-fiving and hollering as though their team has just made it to the Final Four.

Here’s what they’re not doing. They’re not marking Xs on the carpet for the little guy to step onto. They’re not picking up the toddler’s feet and planting them just so. They’re not even holding onto his hands and steering his body. And I can promise they’re not disappointed that he took only three steps instead of seven.

We’re the toddler and God is the parent. He doesn’t mark out every single step He wants us to take in life. Instead He shows us the goal, and then He watches proudly as we do our best to mimic Him. Whether we take one step or a hundred, He’s there watching like a proud Daddy. He celebrates progress—even baby steps.

What about you? How often do you let fear (or laziness or control or fill-in-the-blank) render you passive?

Don’t let anything get in the way of your willingness to fully give yourself to what God has put on your heart to do. You’re free to move!

Philip Nation, blogging as a guest at www.edstetezer.com, posted “Flash Mobs and the Search for Community” earlier this week. In the post Philip cites our need to be a part of something larger—and these flash mobs meet this need even if for a few minutes, actually longer once you figure in the planning and practice.  And I’ll be honest … I love these videos. There’s something instinctive and primal about what appears to be the spontaneous overflow of sheer joy and celebration. And I especially like the connection to a great story like The Sound of Music because it has the potential to point us to the Larger Story of the gospel. But I agree with Philip in that there is a greater lesson to be gleaned from the flash mob: People want to be part of a community on mission.

“Flash” is on the money in describing this phenomenon. I think we can all recall moments of …. something. There are whiffs of a certain fragrance that remove us from the present while certain mornings and evenings possess the power to make life seem “just right.” Still, there are other times that Wordsworth describes as offering “the presence that disturbs me with the joy of elevated thoughts.” These moments “flash” within and around us just like these musical mobs that you can find all over youtube. But like so much, the flash is only marginally or briefly fulfilling. It is a poor substitute for those things real—like real, authentic community. Like deep, sincere discipleship. Like earnest, heartfelt devotion and prayer. While some flashes provide glimpses of Eden and the paradise to come, others leaves us completely empty and wanting, commensurate to the donut of the human condition.

Read Philip’s post and join the conversation by clicking here. And as you think through your community-building enterprises, curriculum, and small-group activities be sure to avoid the donuts.

Bill Donahue at the Building Biblical Community video shoot

Former small-group pastor and small-group pioneer Bill Donahue recently addressed the notion of “story” at churchleaders.com. Bill has been involved—one way or another, as group member and leader, at smaller churches and Willow Creek alike—in small groups for a long time. The only conclusion we’re left to draw is that he’s managed to pick up a thing or two during his association with the more-than-20,000 groups with whom he has been in touch.

The post, Learn How People Are Shaped By Their Stories, describes the path to be taken from isolation to community that begins with a close examination of one’s story. This notion of my own “story” and how it continues to play itself out in my life was introduced to me early on in my tenure here. Admittedly, initially I was somewhat skeptical about what appeared to be a very self-centered approach to discipleship. In fact, in some ways it seemed to run counter to everything I thought I had been taught. But over the years I’ve come to understand the role my story plays in my life, the impact it has, and how God continues to reveal not only truth about who I am through a careful examination of my own story, but also the truth about who He is, through such as examination. Bill’s post calls attention to both of these by products.

As small-group leaders we should always been mindful of the many stories represented in the room. The cumulative effect of these stories contributes to our understanding of God, ourselves, the ways we relate to one another, the way we process external events and circumstances, and our own conclusions about the world around us. One of the reasons “The Question” is so significant in group life is because only through a great question can we begin to re-construct the story—the role the enemy has played, plot twists and turns, disorientation, the heroes and villains. Sure, discussion is great and keeps us engaged, but the ultimate goal of any group must be transformation. What Bill is describing in this post, most importantly, is a means to transformation through the story God is revealing through each of us.

For additional work in this regard check out Robert Mulholland’s Invitation to a Journey and The Deeper Journey. We also have several resources specifically created for drawing our stories out into the group space—certainly not for the timid, but perhaps the most redemptive exercise in small-group ministry—in the Canvas series we created with Pete Wilson and the MORE series inspired by Ron Keck. We also took great lengths to integrate this model for transformation in the God + the Arts series (Finding Jesus in the Movies, Finding Redemption in the Movies, Finding the Larger Story in Music).

I’ve heard it said that we are “always being spiritually formed.” It’s true, either we’re being spiritually “re-formed” or “de-formed” throughout our days and weeks and months. One of the seminal points in Syd Field’s book Screenplay is this: “know your story.” God as the ultimate and final teller of our stories knows this … and He is inviting us to join Him.

 

Recently my wife and I saw The King’s Speech and I immediately incorporated it into our group. We were examining Matthew 7:7ff in which Jesus challenges us to ask, seek, and knock. I’ve always thought this to be an invitation, of sorts, to desire—to search your heart’s deepest desire, put away the darkest of fears, and make known what it is that you really want out of life. Jesus puts similar questions to both Bartimaeus and the paralytic by the well and both, I think, fail to consider Jesus’ question at the most profound level.

Matthew 7:7-8 gave me a reason to talk a little about just how comprehensive the Fall was—not only affecting humanity, but the creation, time, emotions, and … desire. And not only is the Fall of man comprehensive, but it continues to reverberate in our world and our lives. Although dramatically and irrevocably affected by the fall, desire nonetheless is still allowed by God because of the greater good that can be possible if those with re-generated hearts will just do the more demanding work of considering what we really want—as opposed to what we think we want. Doing so reveals to us what we ultimately long for: to be whole, complete, and with God in heaven.

Surprisingly, no one in the group recalled being exposed to the famous quote from St. Iranaeus: “The glory of God is man fully alive.” So we talked for a moment about the implications of loaded terms like “glory of God” and “man fully alive” as they relate both to one another and desire. The point is that for so many of us we, like Bartimaeus, wouldn’t even know how to answer this most provocative question if we were faced with the same circumstance e.g. like when Sam Phillips in Walk the Line asked Joakim Phoenix-as-Johnny-Cash, “What song would you sing if you had to sing one song to sum you up; one song to let God know how you felt?” So what is that “one thing” for you? Because of the events of Genesis 3 and the subsequent Fall it is much more difficult to understand, feel, and pursue our deepest and truest desires. And equally challenging to identify and stamp out our deepest and most enslaving fears.

There is a scene in The King’s Speech in which the speech therapist that is taking the future King George VI on a journey—not just addressing the mechanics of his speech impediment, but the deeper fears of his heart that have contributed to the physical malady—challenges him to be the king that he has been created to be (by now obvious to everybody but him). At the time, “Berty” is unable to face the overwhelming task of succeeding his older brother as well as his father as the true king of England. In this pivotal scene the future king opts to use his position of power not to become step into the role that awaits him, but rather to put the therapist in his place as only a “subject”. Doesn’t desire work in the same way? Instead of allowing God to work through our deepest longings we instead choose the path of least resistance, employing desire destructively? But by no means does this imply that we should abandon the pursuit. At least in part, this is what Jesus is encouraging us to do: keep asking, keep seeking, and keep knocking.

This illustration worked well with our group and we had some great discussion on becoming more missional and God’s call on our lives. The discussion we had pursuant to our deepest fears—what they might be and how paralyzing they can be—however, had the most impact. I like The King’s Speech for Best Picture, Best Actor (Colin Firth), and Best Director (Tom Hooper) when the Oscars go out in a few weeks. Geoffrey Rush is fantastic but I don’t think both he and Firth will win. (Plus, Rush is always good.) But I also liked this movie as a means for demonstrating the hard work and devotion it takes to finding one’s true, authentic voice—the voice God has given us and role we have been called to fill in the Larger Story He is revealing.

“Oh yeah, that’s gonna have to come out.”

Now there’s a phrase no one wants to hear coming from a surgeon’s mouth. But those were the words spoken to me a couple of years ago.

Turns out that experience continues to be a truly defining moment for me. And as I wrap up one year and press the start button on the next, my reflections keep turning to how that major surgery affected my life. Bottom line, I’ve been thinking a lot about what I value most.

You know how that works — something comes up that you didn’t anticipate and it challenges all your assumptions of how you thought life should go. And if you’re not careful it can knock the wind out of you.

Well, that experience did knock the wind out of me and still does from time to time. But the reality is that life is messy and we’re never going to have all the answers. So as Christians we’re left with little more to do than trust the One who knows what’s best for us and will settle for nothing less for our lives. And that’s where I’m trying to put my focus.

I’ve decided to put the kibosh on the drop-two-dress-sizes-in-a-month resolution and the get-out-of-debt-quick resolution and adjust my focus to things a little more eternal.

I read an article recently about some great ways to kick-start your spiritual life in the new year, but one seemed to fit my circumstances especially well — it’s about sharing your own unique story.

God can use what I’m going through to help others if I allow Him to. I like how that sounds. And that’s what I want to do differently this year — I want to be more open, more accessible, and even more vulnerable.

As you walk into 2011 and encounter things along the road that you had no way to anticipate, ask yourself if you’re willing to let God use the messy stuff of your life to help others clean up theirs.

You never know when someone else is walking a road similar to one you’ve already been down.

Nobody else has your story. Dare to tell it.

Until next time,
Signe

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