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

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

The January–February issue of Outside Magazine features a dietary experiment performed and reported by endurance athlete John Bradley (All Systems Go, p.47). The exercise, as it were, included spending eight weeks each on six different diet plans ranging from popular fads to clinical studies: the Abs Diet, the Paleo Diet for Athletes, the Mediterranean Prescription, the Okinawa Program, the advice of a personal nutritionist, and the USDA’s nutritional pyramid. Along the way he recorded every meal, snack, and caloric drink, and workout, and made bi-monthly visits to his doctor for blood work, weigh-ins, cholesterol checks, and body composition analysis. You can read the entire article by clicking here.

The most interesting piece of this article to me, however, were the conclusions of the nutritionist, Laurent Bannock, he worked with during his research. Apparently Bannock has spent years researching diet strategies based on ethnicity. Bannock believes that one’s genes have “equipped” him or her for specific foods. Furthermore, Bannock contends, a diet comprised primarily of these “remembered” foods leads to greater wellness. For his part, Bradley experienced improved blood profiles, a leaner body, more sound sleep, and consistently higher energy levels using Bannock’s diet strategies. So it appears that our genes have what may be described as a “memory” that reacts positively to reminders of our heritage—in this case dietarily, but perhaps this phenomenon has broader application.

I remember hearing a few years ago that, in some sort of informal poll, the word “home” was acknowledged as the most favorite word in our vocabulary. (Who comes up with this stuff?) Like most people, I had never once stopped to consider what my favorite word would have been. But after thinking about the results of the poll, I could see why “home” was voted the most favorite. It has the long vowel sound that is so pleasant in our poetry and music. But it also asks us to … remember. And if “home” is our favorite word, then “remember” just might be our most profound word. In one of his most recent releases Peter Gabriel sings the words “I … I remember” from the most inner part of his heart. I cannot hear him sing “I … I remember” unmoved (not that I cry, mind you, but it always takes me to another emotional vicinity). There’s something so perfect about remembering—even the hard stuff. Scripture tells us, “… if a man should live many years, let him rejoice in them all, and let him remember the days of darkness, for they will be many.

A diet that reminds us, a word that stirs the heart, and a word that invites us into our own stories. Ecclesiastes 3:11 reveals that God has put an eternity into our hearts. I’ve seen this explained in more than one way, but what makes the most sense to me is that God has created us predisposed to “remember”—not only our own stories and the stories of our times, but the loss of Eden, the wonders of creation, and beauty of the gospel.

And so I wonder. I wonder if along with the spiritual disciplines of study, worship, service, prayer, community, confession, and submission, if we should also practice the discipline of remembering in our groups. It seems, in the spirit of Lauren Bannock’s dietary conclusions, that our hearts also have a “memory” that hearkens back to our heritage. As a way of practicing the discipline of remembering, set aside time for sharing stories—powerful memories, the things that move us, and the things that won’t seem to go away. As a part of this time you’ll also want to begin your own oral tradition by telling and re-telling the stories of Eden and the Gospel of Christ. Read from translations like The Message that tend to lend themselves more to story-telling. Consider those things that have been lost, those things that have been gained, and those things yet to be born from the womb of time, yet the heart still manages to “remember.” There’s karthasis in the process. Healing becomes more likely. And redemptive community is born. And what better time to begin exercising the spiritual discipline of remembering than Easter.

Working on the videos that we’re offering as part of the new Small Group Life series that will available next month. I thought it would be fun to post the raw the video associated with our small-group experience that invites the group into a conversation about redemption and its affect on our formation. The final video will of course have additional bells and whistles.

The current conversation associated with theodicy suggests that God interacts in our world in three ways: prevention, intervention, and redemption. He prevents some things from happening and we really have no way of knowing when, just that it’s less than 100% of the time. We may be able to discern His intervention, but it’s still less than 100% of the time. Redemption, however, is 100%. All is redeemed. And that is God’s promise to us.

Ron Keck has written several small-group Bible studies in the God + the Arts line (Finding Jesus in the Movies, Finding Redemption in the Movies) and created the MORE series released by Serendipity House. “Redemption” is a word that gets thrown around a lot. It wasn’t until a few years back that I really got it—that God redeems it all. The impact this can have on our formation and our understanding of freedom is fascinating.

_42885143_highwire_getty3Just had a long conversation with a man who has become a bit of a mentor to me: Lyman Coleman. (There is no short conversation with Lyman). Lyman is 75-years-old. And boy has he lived. This morning he said that his goals for life were to educate his children, finish strong, and die broke—meaning leave it all on the field. “So far,” he said, “I’m on track for all three.” Even with his association with Billy Graham Ministries and the Navigators, Lyman’s legacy is most likely Serendipity House. He remains an innovator, true to his heart and who he has been created to be. Lyman has never been afraid to break the mold, challenge convention, or call out something not quite right … the only thing he’s sold out to in his life is the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Lyman is also no stranger to pain; to heartbreak. I might think that a man after God’s heart like Lyman Coleman could avoid tragedy. But that just isn’t the case. He lost his wife to a medical malpractice event years ago. He has survived two of his children and recently lost a daughter-in-law. Last month one of his own mentors, Bruce Larson, departed this world. Lyman arrived at the funeral surprised to see his name on the program as a speaker. Responding to his surprise, he was told to just keep it short; that’d he be fine. Lyman has avoided most public speaking for several years. He just hasn’t had the heart for it. Life can have that effect. His surprise at seeing his name on the program, however, is indicative of how God works. God allows these things to bubble up in our lives to call us again and again into the redemptive story that He has been revealing to us and continues to reveal. I know from my experiences that it’s not easy. So Lyman followed a thirty minute eulogy. “I spoke for two minutes,” he told me earlier today. “I broke down and I was done. I said everything I needed to say.” He said that this was his call back out on the high wire. He concluded a long time ago that life was meant to be lived on the high wire. Everything else is just preparation.

We talked about several things during that conversation but what I’ll remember is the impact Lyman felt upon seeing his name on the funeral program of a friend. So many of us begin our lives with such drive, vigor, and well-intentioned purpose only to find a place along the way that is “good enough.” We wander. Along the ways of these dusty roads there is potential, if not a tendency, to lose our way. Lyman has told me so many times that we all need two things: (1) a hug and (2) a kick in the [backside]. Got to love the simplicity there.

Lyman is such an inspiration. He has done so much more than endure. Moreover, he has rebelled against going into each day gently. So much of success and meaning and purpose is wrapped up in showing up, in putting ourselves in the right places regardless of the discomfort or the difficult circumstances or the commitment or the fears we bring. Your name and my name, all of our names, are in the “program.” We are featured players in the Larger Story of our time. And we all have a crucial role to play.

Attending conferences is in my job description. Trainers lead training sessions and most training sessions happen at conferences. Almost every conference I attend has an evaluation attendees fill out at the end of the event. The conference directors want to know what they have done well and what they can do better. I’ve evaluated ad-nausea. I mean… I’ve given my humble critique to at least a hundred conferences. I’m beginning to know what a good conference looks like.

 A good conference focuses on no more than a couple of areas of expertise, has one key note speaker who really knows that space, a couple of really great breakout sessions, and opportunities for attendees to network with their ministry peers, people leading the same ministry they are leading. That’s a good conference. But I’ve also seen what a GREAT conference looks like. A GREAT conference will have a laser-like aim at one area of ministry, will have multiple legendary personalities who are the best of the best leading plenary and breakout sessions, will give attendees the opportunity to choose from a plethora of break-out sessions led by people who are not just talking about it but doing it and doing it well. When attending a GREAT conference attendees get to network with ministers from some of the best churches in the country and around the world because a GREAT conference draws church leaders who dream the biggest of dreams and want to be around people just like them.

 Imagine attending a conference where you could spend meaningful time with Steve Gladen (Small Groups Pastor, Saddleback Church, Lake Forest, CA., senior pastor, Rick Warren), Bill Willits (Small Groups Pastor, North Point Community Church in Alpharetta, Georgia, senior pastor, Andy Stanley), Bill Search (Small Groups Pastor, Southeast Christian Church in Louisville, Kentucky, senior pastor Dave Stone), Lyman Coleman (the man many consider to be the father of the small group movement in the U.S. as we know it today and the man who birthed Serendipity House). And at that same conference you could choose one of two paths. One path would be for you if you were a first time attendee wanting to find out how to do Purpose Driven Small Groups (the Saddleback Church model that has more people involved in groups than she does in weekend worship services). You could take that path. But, if you have “been there, done that” you could choose path number two which will be led by Bill Willetts and friends. And just to add spice to the already amazing meal that’s being dished out there was an unusually impressive amount of breakout sessions to choose from led by church leaders others welcome in to keynote at their churches. Then… on the last day of the conference you could invite your small group leaders to join you for sessions led by the same great people, sessions that will inspire and educate your team. And just to make it possible to attend, there were four locations to choose from.

 Dude… That’s a GREAT conference. One of the greatest and most influential churches in the world is hosting just that conference. Check out the NEXT Saddleback Small Group Conference by clicking on the word NEXT.

 See you there!