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

“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

‘‘What are you doing tonight?” is a phrase I’ve heard my friend Lynnette say more times than I can count. We met our senior year in high school but didn’t really get to know each other until college, where we became best friends. Lynnette and I have been through a lot of junk together. She’s the absolute only human who knows all my secrets. And she’s always had an uncanny knack for knowing when I need company—whether I say so or not.

All grown up and years beyond college, Lynnette’s a married mother of three. Several years ago she and her family moved out of state, but until that time we were together more often than not. I’m not talking about the two of us doing girl stuff. We did some of that, but mostly Lynnette embraced me as a part of her family. She would invite me over even after her craziest days of driving the mom taxi and cooking dinner and doing laundry and running errands. It didn’t matter what was going on in her life; she still took time for mine.

None of my evenings at Lynnette’s house ever looked the same. Sometimes she cooked and sometimes we just ordered pizza. I remember nights of homework, playing with the kids, watching movies, or helping with baths. It never really mattered to me. I just loved being in the midst of a family.

Although I would guess it was the farthest thing from her mind, Lynnette is the one who first taught me about true, authentic community. About what doing life together really looks like. I don’t remember lots of other details of what we did through all those years, but what I do remember is how Lynnette made me feel. And that is what challenges me to want to do the same for others.

It wasn’t about a spotless house and a perfect meal and keeping me entertained. It was about loving me.

You may have sensed God nudging you to open your heart—and maybe even your home—to someone. The perfect time may not be when everything is just right. The perfect time may be right now.

By inviting others in to do life together, you could change your little corner of the world. Lynnette inspired me to look beyond waiting until my house is perfect and the menu is just right. I really don’t have to be Martha Stewart. It’s about relationships. It’s about loving others. It’s about accepting and being accepted. It’s what we’re made for.

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

Deciding what to write for The Gypsy Road each month is proving to be one of the hardest parts of my job. Never mind that I work with words for a living and have for 20 years or that I, personally, am never at a loss for words.

But as I stare at a blank computer screen, I can feel my blood pressure rising. I suddenly remember there are pencils to be sharpened or files to be organized—absolutely anything to distract me from this task at hand.

So, in my struggle to figure out what to share this month, I decided to ask a few of my friends to pray for me. One friend in particular gave me the jump-start I needed. She simply asked me, “What’s on your heart?” Hmm.

Time … that’s what is on my heart. Not the “what time is it?” kind, but the “where does the time go?” kind. Maybe because I’m really into the song “Blink” by Revive. Or maybe I’m into the song because the message pricks my heart. Either way, the question of what I’m doing with my life is permeating my soul right now.

Six months of 2010 have come and gone. This year was going to be different. And I guess it has been in some ways. It’s been crazier, busier, more out of control. How does that happen? There are movies I meant to see, places I meant to go, and friends I meant to visit. Now that’s a familiar feeling.

I really want to get to the end of this year and be able to identify what I did with my time that was meaningful, relational, and transformational. I want everything I do to be about celebrating the incredible blessings God has placed in my life—my community of friends, coworkers, and family who are closest to my heart.

Maybe this is a good discussion for your small group—especially during the summer months that tend to be a bit more relaxed and a little less schedule-driven. What have you not taken time for but really wish you had? Consider these suggestions to get you started:

•  Get together over dinner just to catch up on life.
•  Rent some of those flicks you missed in the theater and invite your small group over for a movie night.
•  Bake goodies and deliver them to group members you’ve lost touch with.
•  Plan a chore-free, errand-free Saturday and spend that time focusing on the needs of others.

I pray you and your small group will be able to make time for the things that are closest to your heart. That’s where you can find me.

Until next time,
Signe

I’ve always been close to the guys I grew up with in a small Western Kentucky town. I realize that more of us develop their most cherished relationships with people they met in college as opposed to high school. But that’s not the case with me. Maybe it was the rural, agrarian lifestyle that makes my hometown friends and I so kindred. Maybe it’s the fact that, typical of a small town, the lack of new additions made us more like brothers than friends. That is, we were stuck with each other and had to learn how to love one another because of our flaws, not despite them.

Just last week the mother of one of these “brothers” passed away. She had struggled with cancer for the better part of a year. She refused all but the most basic treatments; instead choosing to pass this life on her own terms. It’s no surprise that as gracefully as she died, she also lived. For my own part, I just remember how welcome she made me feel any time my life took me through their living room—a welcome respite for a child of divorce. There was an overwhelming sense of warmth associated with the home she built as well as the family that lived in it.

So another friend and I drove to the service from Nashville. It was nice. We sang hymns and listened to several people pay tribute to her. When the service was over we filed out into a receiving line to meet the family. I knew the step-father but that was about it. My friend was one of the last people in line—a wait that must have taken more than an hour.

When my part of the line finally got to him, although I had prepared in my mind what I thought were wonderful words about his mother’s legacy and what she meant to me and how sorry I was to see her go, I couldn’t say anything. I couldn’t muster a word. Which is ridiculous since words are pretty much my business. But in that moment I realized that, really, I had nothing but my presence to offer; that whatever words I might conjure would diminish the sentiment I wished to impart; that ultimately I actually contributed more to the moment through the things left un-said.

There will be times during our small-group meetings and in the lives of our small groups when silence happens. Speaking from experience, there is the strong inclination to fill those moments with … something. Anything. Like I said, words are my business. And sometimes that’s appropriate. But there are also times of silence when the silence speaks more plainly and with more weight than any and all of our words. Of course we won’t always know which is which. But I think the point here is that when true redemptive community is at work, the perceived need for words should come under greatest scrutiny. And it’s more than OK to let the moment speak for itself.

Neptune Pool. Photo courtesy of Karen Daniel

Just recently I had the opportunity to extend a trip associated with my role here for a few days to enjoy that virtual Eden that is California. My wife and I spent a couple of days in Disneyland, of course, but also took a couple of days to drive up to central California where we experienced Cambria and San Simeon for the first, and hopefully not the last, time. While there we toured the Hearst Castle—basically, the West Coast equivalent of the Biltmore Mansion. This incredible manor, built by media mogul William Randolph Hearst, has an incredibly rich history and story. During the tour and in subsequent conversations I’ve picked up on several leadership lessons that can be gleaned.

Partnership. For such a special project Hearst had to seek out the most gifted architect of the day. He found Julia Morgan. Julia completed hundreds of projects in her life but is probably most famous for her role with Hearst. The Hearst Castle took 15 years to complete and it necessitated a give-and-take partnership between visionary and builder, each most likely at times serving these roles alternately. There were probably moments of tension and exasperation, but in the final analysis both were well aware that they had crossed the Rubicon into the point of no return. As we say, they were “in it.” This sort of devotion comes right out of Acts 2 and is foundational to redemptive community.

Beauty Is Worth The Wait. There are little details everywhere you look on the tour we were on. The indoor pool Hearst referred to as the Roman Baths has thousands of tiles made of 22 karat gold. The marble implemented in creating the outdoor pool was imported from Italy. The art collection amassed painstakingly over the course of a lifetime. The story behind the furniture and paintings in the guest houses. Like a true redemptive community, not only was the resulting beauty worth the wait, but it remained a work in progress until Hearst’s death. True beauty is the work of a lifetime.

Work In Progress. The house sits atop  hill that’s 5 miles away from the coast. I mean it’s way up there—practically above the clouds. These circumstances required that the work site become a small-city where builders could actually live, supplies stored, and materials warehoused. In many of the pictures we saw it is an absolute mess. But in order to get where he wanted to be, Hearst and Morgan had to tolerate—dare I say encourage—the mess on the way to the destination.

Willing to Scrap. The outdoor pool, known as Neptune Pool (pictured), was originally designed to accommodate Hearts’s family and a few others. After it was completed, however, it was decided to scrap the whole thing to make it bigger—and grander. Similarly, the Casa Grande originally had just one spire. Because of the threat of earthquakes, all construction utilized re-enforced, fortified concrete making any sort of “re-do” a task of Ruthian proportions. But for all practical purposes they tore down the entire house so they could build in a second spire … just because. Taking this in I remember concluding, when creating something significant we’ve got to be willing to scrap our original plan if the occasion calls for it. To be a great builder often requires our willingness to scrap what we’ve already built.

Become Art Collectors. In the case of William Hearst, collecting art was a zillion-dollar habit that included roaming the entire planet in a quest for the most beautiful, rare, and wonderful finds. In our case, the “art” we collect translates into the stories being told and lived in and through group life. As a group member we must be willing to contribute the “art” that results from our own lives. As leaders we must become art collectors in the same sense.

Yeah It May Be Hard But ….
Not once on the tour did I hear the guide refer to a moment when something wasn’t done because it was too hard. (Disclaimer: Seeming endless resources does contribute in this case.) Hearst had a zoo on site. (He owned a polar bear.) He made substantial changes in construction and planning as a result of art acquisitions. Building on the hill posed enormous challenges given the technology of the day. Instead of seeing the obstacles, he chose instead to “live” in a yet-to-be-seen reality and plot every push of the fly-wheel in that direction—sometimes in small, hand-carved increments. I would refer to this as a form of romanticism. The process of building true redemptive community may be hard, but …

The journey to redemptive community may be daunting—moreso if we choose to look at all the reasons we shouldn’t be able to do it—but this only provides the impetus to look beyond the challenges and directly into what God is going to do. We must work together in community with the various architects God has brought into our lives, willing to scrap and re-direct with each new piece of “art” we fortunate enough to encounter. But in the end we’re building not only something beautiful, but something to stand the test of time.