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

For the first time, LifeWay Small Groups brings you a Bible study inspired by an award-winning novel. Through the power of visual storytelling, teaching from the author, and scriptural truths, Rooms: The Small-Group Experience will guide your group into deeper biblical truth and understanding.

Rooms is the story of Micah Taylor—a young software tycoon—who inherits an incredible beachfront home from a great uncle he never knew. A home on the Oregon coast. In Cannon Beach. The one place Micah loves. The one place he never wants to see again. But strange things happen in the house. Things Micah can’t explain. Things he can barely believe. The locals say that the house is “spiritual.” But Micah slowly discovers the house isn’t just spiritual, it is a physical manifestation—of his soul.

While Rooms: The Small-Group Experience uses story, character, and themes from the novel, it’s been created so that even someone who has not read the book—or who does not intend to—can still find fresh perspectives and strong biblical content. This study is a powerful experience for those who have read the novel as well as those who haven’t.

Rooms: The Small-Group Experience guides participants through the four most significant themes from the novel:

  • Woundedness: group members will have an opportunity to consider the events of their lives that have tended to drive their behavior most
  • Destiny: group members will explore the true desires of their hearts, what makes them come alive, and what they have been divinely designed to do
  • Warfare: helps group members identify the voices of their lives, recognize truth from lies, and realize the potent weapons for combating the enemy that are at their disposal
  • Freedom: takes group members on a journey toward greater freedom in Christ through the sort of healing made possible in Him

I’ve edited lots of incredible LifeWay resources in my almost 22 years here, but I’ve never been quite as excited as I am about Rooms. This study will be available October 1. Click here for a sneak peek.

Until next time,
Signe

Small Group Life Episode 4 — Barbarians: A Call to Uncharted Faith is headed to the printer this week! Check out this short intro of what the study is all about from the pen of Brian Daniel, our editorial project leader.

Episode 4 of Small Group Life is a bit of a departure for us. This issue will take you down a path that leads to the deepest places of who you are. We believe that there’s at least a small bit of a barbarian—though probably more—in all of us. But through various degrees of adversity and circumstance we’ve allowed this part of us to become tame and atrophied. This study will challenge you to wake thebarbarian inside and come alive.”

We finished taping the video segments for this episode on Thursday and managed to grab a little behind-the-scenes footage I’m sharing with you here. Maybe next time we’ll let you in on our hair, wardrobe, and makeup secrets!

For more information about all the Small Group Life studies, check out lifeway.com/sgl.

Until next time,
Signe

I spilled a cup of coffee this morning. Not just a few drops mind you, but the entire cup…in my car. This now infamous cup of coffee that I had just filled to the brim landed upside down in the passenger seat. On top of my Bible Study, the book I was reading, Manhood for Amateurs, the CD packet for Behold the Lamb of God I was listening to, a copy of the Small Group Life Ministry Manual, not to mention all over the seat. It was at the worst possible time. Kids were all packed in the car ready for school….we were even on time. And then disaster struck. I spent the next 10 minutes cleaning as best as I could, wiping down the books, CDs, and soaking up the liquid that my car seat had drank up so quickly. Can you guess what my car smells like now? Dusty, cold coffee! Yuck! So in that moment, like it or not, I was modeling for my children what to do when things go wrong. Fortunately no expletives spilled out of my mouth at the moment of impact. We even got to talk about it on the way to school.  Like any good small group leader I ask them questions. “So what do you guys do when something like that happens?” And we got to talk about how we are wired, what responses are good, what are bad, and how does God prepare us and speak into these moments.

It got me thinking about small group leaders and some of the small groups I’ve led. I’m dashing around like crazy trying to get everything ready for group. Vacuuming the living room, getting the coffee going, cookies in the oven, wiping down the counter, and it seems like a million other things at one time….and hoping that nobody shows up early! Without fail it seems something goes wrong, sometimes terribly wrong. I’m trying to empty the vacuum canister and it spills all over where I just vacuumed. I forgot to pick up some cream for the coffee and EVERYONE uses cream. There aren’t enough clean cups for everyone. Someone in the group knocks over their drink. Am I the ONLY one who has experienced this stuff??? So what do I do when this happens? What do you do when things don’t go right in getting ready for group, or even during group? If you find yourself in that position, here’s a few ideas on how to respond:

  • Take a deep breath – This may sound overly simple, but this exercise will help regulate your heartbeat, settle your anxiety and center your emotions.
  • Expect groups to be messy – Just as in life, preparing for group time or even during group time, things can get messy. Recognize that this is a natural part of group life and you are not the only person this happens to. You can also have a relatively high likelihood something like this will happen again, so don’t be surprised when it does.
  • Trust in the Holy Spirit – Make sure you don’t resign to the fear that your group meeting will not be transformational just because things aren’t going seamlessly. Trust that the Holy Spirit is far more powerful than the situation at hand and doesn’t depend on you or me to create the perfect environment to transform lives. In fact, if you look at your own life, it’s often in the messiest of situations where God worked most powerfully to transform you. Do you think group life is so different?
  • Allow yourself to be less than perfect – If you dropped the ball in some way and are less than prepared for your group, it’s important to forgive yourself. Things won’t improve by you constantly admonishing yourself, and it will be a barrier for the group settling into study God’s Word. The same goes for any group member who may have caused a disruption. You would do well to make sure that person (and the entire group) knows that mistakes are OK, this is a safe place to be human. Remember, it’s not up to you to change people’s lives (see bullet point above).
  • Take necessary action and move on – Do what you can in a matter of 5 minutes or less to improve the situation and then move on with the group experience.  If you have a spill or a mess, spot clean and save the deep cleaning for after the meeting. If you’ve forgotten something for the group meeting, call a neighbor to see if you can borrow what you need or call a group member and ask if they could stop by to pick up what you need on their way to the group meeting, if time allows.  The biggest thing is don’t sweat the small things. The reason people are in your group is because they want to do life together with you and allow God to transform their lives through the group experience.  And as good as they may be, people don’t come for your chocolate chip cookies, or your Pumpkin Spice creamer.

These are all simple ideas, but sometime it’s important to remember what’s important. If you needed it, I hope this gives you permission to forgive yourself on those rare meetings when things just seem to go wrong. For more ideas on getting ready for a small group meeting, Randall Neighbor has some great tips for hosting a small group in your home, click here to read.

Because we can learn from others, I’m offering a FREE Canvas DVD Kit by Pete Wilson and 9 Experience Guides ($113 value) for the person who comments with the best story of a small group meeting that went wrong and what you did. Leave your comment by December 13, 2009, and I’ll announce the winner the week of the 14th.

Thursday, I performed one of those tasks that somehow got added to my job description along the way: using commentaries published by LifeWay to create Scripture Notes for our new resource, Small Group Life.

About 99% of the time I use the Holman Old Testament and New Testament commentaries since they are complete now. But we didn’t have the commentary for Galatians in our reference closet on the 8th floor, and I was feeling a little too lazy to trek to the library and have to take notes WITH MY HAND instead of a computer, so I grabbed the slightly more complex New American Commentary on Galatians.

As I almost always am when I read a commentary, I was swept away by the new life the commentary breathed into a familiar passage. While I tumble over some of the bigger words in the NAC, the nuances it catches in the original language make the difficult read worth it. And it made my mind go to one of my biggest annoyances:

People–women especially–who rely entirely on Bible teachers for their Bible study.

Chastise me if you like. I think it’s wonderful that people are doing Bible studies together, reading the Scripture, answering questions about life. That is, after all, what I work on day in and day out. We want people to have meaningful experiences with the Scripture together in an environment where they can toss ideas around and lean on one another. But I have met one too many women who will only do studies by a specific author. While I think the authors we work with and read are amazing, appointed people–and mostly incredible speakers as well–they are humans.

If we believe the Bible, we can know that all Christians are filled with the Holy Spirit. I believe that means we all have the power to hear God for ourselves! We don’t have to be taught by man–we can be taught by the Holy Spirit. We have ALL the same books, commentaries, and Bible translations that these teachers have access to. If we are willing to spend some time in research, we can discover truths for ourself.

We also need to remember that because these teachers are humans, their words are not infallible. Just because it’s published in a book doesn’t mean it’s right. Test the words against Scripture and be sure they are true, biblical messages.

In this time of “busy” I think we’ve lapsed into letting others do our Bible study for us. Their job is to write books; our job is to go to work, do laundry, spend time with our kids, and then squeeze in 10 minutes of reading what these teachers tell us and go to bed. I think it’s about time we took responsibility for our own spiritual growth and realize we have just as much accessibility to the Holy Spirit as someone who’s written 300 books.

What’s your opinion on this?

I’ve always struggled with Job.

While I consider God’s admonition in the last chapters of the book my second-favorite Scripture passage, I am never quite sure what to do with the rest of the lengthy chapters.

If you’re not familiar with the biblical Book of Job, the short version is that Satan asks God for permission to afflict Job with many painful situations after God cites that Job is His most faithful servant on earth. So God allows it. Job’s children are all killed, all his riches taken away, and his body inflicted with boils from head to toe. Wearily, he sits on his doorstep and scrapes at his boils with broken pottery.

That’s when his three buddies come to visit. Over the course of many chapters, they try to convince him of all kinds of crazyness. Then in the end God swoops in, reprimands Job and his dumb friends, and then restores everything to Job. Of the friends, God says, “I am angry with you … you have not spoken the truth about Me, as My servant Job has” (42:7).

So here’s what I’ve always battled with: is there any merit in the words of Job’s friends throughout the Book of Job? Can we quote those passages out of context as Truth?

It seems to me that they do say some insightful things:

“See how happy the man is God corrects; so do not reject the discipline of the Almighty” (5:17).

“We were born only yesterday and know nothing. Our days on earth are but a shadow” (8:9).

“It is impossible for God to do wrong and for the Almighty to act unjustly” (34:10).

Working in the world of Bible studies, I know we HAVE done exactly this, taken the friends’ words for the wisdom they seem to be. But God Himself said the friends were fools? It’s a strange dichotomy.

I believe that everything in Scripture is there for a reason. Certainly there are many truths that can be scraped from the falsehoods in this text. It’s a life lesson not to let even your most trusted friends draw you away from what you know to be true. A perfect example of standing up for what you believe in and remaining pure in heart.

But still, I wonder. Can we quote the words of fools as good, as Truth?

What do you think?