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

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

I finished my Christmas shopping before Thanksgiving this year — gifts wrapped and under the tree. My cards are done — complete with handwritten notes. My decorations have been up for weeks.

Now, in an ideal world, I’d be sitting back with my peppermint mocha enjoying all the sights, sounds, and smells of the season.

But wait … I just got a card from a friend I marked off my list years ago. And last week I had lunch with someone who came bearing gifts. We’ve never exchanged gifts before. Should I run out and buy a gift? Or does that make it even more obvious that I didn’t intend to get her anything? And while I was out running errands the other day I saw some decorations that would look great outside my house. I do need to add to my collection this year — all the neighbors did.

And then there’s that holiday baking I wanted to do. But I’m running out of time, so I’ll probably just pick something up at the bakery. I’m sure my friends will enjoy that more anyway. I’m not much of a cook.

Funny how it seems as if it’s never all done. I’m exhausted. I thought by getting ahead of the game I would eliminate the stress I experience every year when I focus on everything I think needs to be done —  and done perfectly, of course.

Maybe the real stressor isn’t the dozens of things I feel I need to do but, instead, why I choose to do those things. Do I send Christmas cards because I genuinely want to stay in touch with all those people? Or do I send cards because I feel an obligation to those who send cards to me? Do I give gifts because I want those special people in my life to know I think they are special? Does the gift have to be the “perfect” thing? Or can it be something that reminds me of my friend or a memory we share? And what about those decorations? Do I really care how I measure up to the neighbors?

This year I want the reason behind everything I do to be a reflection of Jesus. I want my Christmas cards to serve as a way to catch up with those I don’t talk to often but care deeply about. I want to give gifts out of love. I want to bake so that the important people in my life have something I took time to create just for them. I want to decorate because it makes me happy and makes my home welcoming to others.

Things don’t have to be perfect; they just have to be special. After all, the stable wasn’t perfect, but it was special because Jesus was there. I hope you have a wonderful Christmas, and I pray your holiday will be about those things that are closest to your heart.

Until next time,
Signe

I always dreamed of growing up to be a kindergarten teacher, marrying an incredible man, and having children. You know the dream — it’s the one with the white picket fence, 2.5 kids, and a dog — it’s happily-ever-after. Today I am more than grown up (in other words, I won’t be admitting my age here). I haven’t found that incredible man or the 2.5 kids. But I do have a dog and a white picket fence, so I guess that’s something. Lots of times I have wondered why God took my life in this direction. I’ve screamed at Him, cried to Him, and even stopped speaking to Him because He didn’t give me what He promised He would. After all, He did say He would give me the desires of my heart, right?

Today I know the true answer to that question, and I remember clearly the day I found it. It was one of those feeling-alone-and-sorry-for-myself days and I was talking to some of my close friends about it. Through a lot of tears I remember saying, “I don’t understand why things haven’t worked out for me to get married and have a family. The Bible says God will give me the desires of my heart.” With a heart of compassion, one of my friends looked at me and spoke as gently as he could. “I don’t think that’s really what that means,” he said. Turns out my friend was right.

Somehow I got the idea that “He will give you your heart’s desires” (Psalm 37:4), meant God would give me anything I wanted. I missed the point. And missing this point ultimately affected my relationship with the Lord because I came to feel He wasn’t trustworthy. I thought He made a promise to me that He didn’t keep.

But that wasn’t the case at all. My desires were exactly that—my desires. The desires I had held all my life, the ones that had become a part of who I was. Surely God would want those same things for me.. … but what if He didn’t?

Letting go of what I’ve always wanted out of life seemed huge and risky to me, and I fought it with all I had. But freedom came with the understanding that God was stripping me of everything I’ve known and taking me to new, unknown places. He was preparing me for His desires for my life. The ones that are bigger, better, grander than anything I can ask or imagine. So now I ask myself, What more could any heart desire than that? I honestly can’t think of a thing.

So, what are the things that confuse you? I pray you, as small group leaders and members, consider your small-group community a place where you can work through misconceptions and misunderstandings and speak truth into one another’s lives. For me personally, it made all the difference.

Until next time,
Signe

I have forgiven people lots of times. Jesus said 7 times 70 right?  And sometimes it takes that many.  I’m sure I’ve been forgiven even more.  Sometimes I think I’ve gotten pretty good at this forgiveness thing, but there are some times when forgiveness is really tough.

The last time I spoke to my dad, it was actually to his answering machine. We were planning to leave for the mission field soon and we had just discovered that our baby’s heart had stopped beating in the womb.  My wife delivered little Samuel with no first breath to follow and we began planning the funeral.

I debated long and hard whether to call my father to invite him to the funeral. The last time we had seen each other, I had basically had to throw him out of my house.  We had never had much of a relationship, though I had sincerely tried since reaching adulthood and certainly since having children.  I wanted them to know their grandfather and I held out hope that he would be redeemed through forgiveness and a relationship with the next generation. Nothing else had worked.

On that day, with my children in the room, my father lost control once again…and all the dysfunction I had grown up with came crashing home again. I made a quick decision but one that I really haven’t regretted…well…maybe once.  I decided in that moment that my children needed to be protected.  That they would not grow up the way I had…and I made my father leave our house.

The one day that I regretted that decision was the day I called him on the phone.  I thought once again how sad it would be for the man to never know that Samuel had lived, albeit only in the womb, or that he had died.  So I called him on the phone and got the answering machine.  I left a message and told him about the funeral.  Part of me hoped he would show up and that finally we could begin an adult relationship based upon truth rather than the distorted view of my childhood he liked to remember.  But he didn’t show up. It seems he really didn’t care.

Just a few weeks ago, I discovered that my father died while I was in China. And no one let me know about it so I could pay my last respects…whatever those are.  None of my siblings knew either. Apparently he wanted it that way…or that’s the word that has been passed along through a cousin.  At this point in the story things could be worse I suppose.  I could write the next paragraph about the many regrets I have that I didn’t try to reach out “just one more time.” Except I really don’t have any.

What I do have…still lingering in the back of my heart…is some regret that I didn’t find real forgiveness while he was living.  I wanted him to be sorry.  To be in a place to receive my forgiveness…to want my forgiveness.  I hope he’s in such a place now.  I wish I knew for sure.  Either way, I’ve got to forgive him so that I don’t carry that burden nor pass it along to my children.  I think I can do it…7 times 70…but you know, forgiveness is really tough sometimes.

 

John 4

Countercultural Jesus

 

Teaching through the Gospel of John, I have been dealing lately with some of those beautiful pictures of personal encounters with Jesus. A couple of weeks ago it was Nicodemus and this week the woman at the well. One of the things that I’ve been reminded of again is just how countercultural Jesus really was…and is. Nicodemus might have been considered Jesus’ safe zone. The people we would expect Jesus to reach. After all, at 12 years of age he was already teaching guys like this!

But now he goes way outside what was considered culturally safe in this encounter with the woman at the well.  Jesus started something big with these encounters; he broadened our vision and gave us a model to follow in Kingdom work. And while at times in the Church’s history we have become myopic once again, I’m glad to see that in this generation we are becoming more like Jesus than at any time in recent memory. Here are just a few of the ways that Jesus crossed barriers and broadened our ministry outlook in these encounters:

RACE: Jew, Samaritan, Red, Yellow, Black, White… all are precious in Jesus’ sight.

GENDER: A common Jewish prayer at the time was, “I thank you that I was not born a Gentile, a slave or woman.” Jesus elevated the status of women to a degree that has been unmatched.  Just look at the other major world religions and how they treat women.

MORAL REPUTATION: Nicodemus was relatively morally upright, but the woman at the well was considered immoral. Jesus reaches out to those who think they are good enough to not need Him as well as to those who think they could never be good enough for Him.

SOCIAL STATUS: Nicodemus was socially prominent, but this woman is an outcast. Jesus reaches out to people across the spectrum of socioeconomic status. We all have equal status with Him.

RECEPTIVITY: Nicodemus sought Jesus out to discuss spiritual issues, but the woman at the well is initially indifferent, even cynical. Jesus reaches out to those who are more in tune to spiritual things as well as the “hard knots” who are just struggling with the physical aspects of life.

John 4 provides for us a ministry model established by the Lord Jesus Himself. As we build relationships and “do life together,” I hope we’ll dare to cross our own cultural barriers just as Jesus did… and does.

Giovanni's Madonna with Child

I think it’s probably only natural that this Christmas is different for me.

Not only I am too bogged down in newborn-ness to really decorate, bake, or buy presents, I’ve had a child this year.

Now when I reflect on the nativity on top of my china cabinet, I think a little differently. I consider how much pain Mary must have been in on her donkey, traveling many miles from Nazareth to Bethlehem (a quick Internet search says anywhere from 60 to 90 miles). I was so uncomfortable in my last weeks of pregnancy I could barely sit in my desk chair. I spent most of it on the couch watching movies and old Project Runway episodes. If she was having contractions, all the worse!

Now I am sure God could have given Mary a very easy labor if He wanted, and maybe He did, but why should we think it was any different than what we go through to give birth? She probably hurt tremendously. She certainly had no epidural. She was in a stinking stable! And can you imagine Joseph’s face as he had to cut the cord? Deliver the placenta?

Joseph and Mary were humans, and I think sometimes we forget that. And this year I can identify with Mary and look at the scene differently. Imagine her feelings of honor, excitement, pain, joy, and exhaustion all at the same time. And responsibility.

And then there was the Savior of the world, in her arms. Not just the joy of holding your own baby, whom you have carried in your belly for many months and felt kick and respond to your voice. The joy of holding in her arms her very own Savior.

I really, REALLY love the CD The Nativity Story: Sacred Songs. I would encourage you to go to iTunes or Amazon and at least get “The Virgin’s Lullaby” and this song, which has brought me to tears many times this season already.

Labor of Love (go listen here on Peterson’s own blog)
Andrew Peterson

It was not a silent night
There was blood on the ground
You could hear a woman cry
In the alleyways that night
On the streets of David’s town …

Originally posted December 13, 2008 on Vanderbilt Wife

Disclaimer: Stop now if you don’t want anyone messing up the Santa story for you (any more than Tim Allen already has). 

So how did I start not liking Santa in the first place?  Well, we made a decision pretty early on that we weren’t going to do the Santa Claus thing for most of the standard reasons I suppose: We didn’t want our kids confusing fact and fiction, we didn’t like God’s characteristics being passed on to Santa, we didn’t like Santa being more loved and appreciated at Christmas than Jesus, etc.  Typical homeschooling family in our circles.

While we didn’t see any negatives with this approach as far as our kids were concerned (they even got really good at not blowing things for other kids), we began to be concerned that there was a large part of the Christmas conversation that we weren’t being invited into and as a result we were missing opportunities to share our faith.  We had boycotted a lot of the cultural gathering points and found ourselves not even “in the world” at Christmastime.

It was while we were visiting a church of another denomination that I was first introduced to the real story behind Saint Nicholas.  Sure, I had heard about St. Nick but I had never really studied the history behind Nicholas, Pastor of the Church at Myra.  Now I’m not sure this movie is going to portray historical details accurately, but I am intrigued and will probably look it up.  Learning about the love that Nicholas had for Jesus and for doing his work not only gave me an opportunity to teach my kids about the true story of Santa Claus, but it allowed us to be a part of the Santa discussion with others.  Rather than avoiding “all-things-Santa” we became participants so that we could use Nicholas’ story as a cultural bridge to the Gospel.

Of course, there will be folks who choose to remain on different sides of this discussion, but I know that Christmas has become much more fun for us…and productive in Kingdom work!