Three Book Ideas for your Small Group

The church small group that Bill and I belong to asked me to look over the books in my home library to see if I had any that might appeal to both the men and women in our group. I came up with three and am posting them in case you, also, are looking for something to work through in 2012.

Who You Are When No One’s Looking by Bill Hybels

Topic: Character development.

Format: This book is comprised of 11 chapters with a  20-question discussion guide at the end.

Sample quotes from the book are listed below:

If you haven’t noticed by now, it’s extremely difficult to learn to love unless we also have other character traits: the courage to do what needs doing; the discipline to make decisions and carry them out; the vision to see far into the future and deep into others’ hearts and our own; and the endurance to keep going in spite of the ridicule, discomfort or boredom that can accompany this thing called life. p. 14

Every single day we make choices that show whether we are courageous or cowardly. We choose between the right thing and the convenient thing, sticking to a conviction or caving to our desires for comfort, approval, and success. p. 19

I have discovered three things that I must do if my spiritual life is going to flourish. I remember them with the initials I.R.A.–which stands for input, reflection and abstinence. p. 37

Vision is not only for problem-solving, of course. A second definition of vision is this: Vision is the ability to see beneath the surface of people’s lives. … To look beyond the obvious to understand what makes others—and themselves—tick. p. 31

Sample Study Guide Questions:

What recent examples (positive or negative) have you seen of the importance of character?

One aspect of vision is being able to see possible solutions to everyday problems. Would you say you usually focus on problems or solutions? Why?

What’s the difference between “enduring” and “putting up with” something?

On pages 106-111, Hybels talks about filling your love tank. What fills your love tank so you can love others sacrificially?

The Discipline of Spiritual Discernment by Tim Challies

Topic: Spiritual Discernment

Format: This book is comprised of 10 chapters with a  study guide at the end that contains six-to-ten questions for each chapter.

Sample quotes from the book are listed below:

“Discernment is the skill of understanding and applying God’s Word with the purpose of separating truth from error and right from wrong. It is a task in which we attempt to see things as God sees them.” p. 71

“the closer our thoughts are to the reality of who God is and what he is like, the more our lives will be a reflection of him.” p. 97

“Our spontaneous thoughts and actions are a sure measure of our spiritual growth, our spiritual maturity, and our spiritual discernment.” p. 120

“One of the greatest dangers of discernment is that we will become so interested in what is evil and ungodly that we allow ourselves to become immerse in it … Sooner or later, Christians who spend their days seeking out and responding to the transgression of other people can quickly become insufferable.” pp. 144-146

Sample Study Guide Questions:

Summarize the three marks of discernment and the three marks of a lack of discernment. Can you think of a time that your own sinfulness kept you from exercising discernment? What does the Bible mean when it says we are to “be wise as to what is good and innocent as to what is evil?” Would your friends and family say this admonition is true of you? How do you feel you have been gifted by the Spirit? How do you practice this gifting?

Fool-Proofing Your Life by Jan Silvious

Topic: Dealing with Difficult People

Format: This book is divided into three sections. Each section contains 3-to-4 chapters. A separate study guide is available but the questions at the end of each chapter would also be sufficient.

Sample quotes from the book are listed below:

Have you ever been caught in the undertow of a relationship that seems to pull you down? …Each time there is a lull in the tension, you tell yourself, “This time everything is going to be all right.” Yet in a few hours or a few days, you are thrust into confusion again. Often you are blamed for whatever negative circumstances occur, and yet for the life of you you can’t figure out why. pp. 3-4 There are several indicators–“red flags,” if you will—that pop up when you encounter a person who qualifies as a fool:

  1. He believes that his thoughts are true and his actions are acceptable because they are his (see Proverbs 12:15)
  2. Fools hide their true natures until they can get what they want … they venture out of their self-protective world just far enough to dangle the hook—and usually they “catch” compassionate people who think they can “help.”
  3. Since fools are their own judge and jury, they are confident in declaring themselves innocent. They are perfectly content with themselves. They are who they are. pp. 49-56

“part of the tragedy of continuing to engage a fool is that, despite all of your protestations and efforts to alter him, you are the one who will be altered—and not for the better” p. 124 It’s the wildest thing: You know you are right, and you believe you should say something. But the minute you do, it all gets turned around, and somehow you have become the troublemaker. p. 57 “the role of the Savior … has been played once on the stage of history, and there has been no curtain call. The part need never be played again. Yet what have you done for your fool by trying to “save” him from his own foolishness? p. 187

Sample End-of-Chapter Study Questions:

Think about specific ways you have tried to untangle your difficult relationship or change the painful dynamic. … Have any of them worked—even in the short-term? Why or why not? Does it appear that your fool learns for a while and then “forgets” what he has learned? Think through what you might do differently in responding to your fool. How could you show more wisdom than King David did? In what specific ways has your childish speech or reasoning added to the chaos of the situation with your fool?

I like all of the above studies and have no preference so, when choosing one, remember this rhyme: The book to read is the one you need.

Brandy Slush

Every year, someone asks for the recipe to make the brandy slush that I serve at holiday parties. It works great for larger gatherings because it can be prepared ahead of time and added to a punch bowl so guests can serve themselves.

Ingredients

10 cups boiling water
6 tea bags (I buy the kind with a blackberry flavor)
2 cups white sugar
1 (16 ounce) can frozen lemonade concentrate
1 (16 ounce) can frozen orange juice concentrate
1 pint of blackberry brandy
1 (2 liter) bottle Hawaiian Fruit Punch

Directions

  1. Boil 10 cups of water in a large pot
  2. Add the 2 cups of sugar and 6 tea bags (I buy the kind with a blackberry flavor)
  3. Let the teabags soak in the water/sugar mixture for 2 hours
  4. Remove the tea bags and add the Hawaiian Fruit Punch, frozen lemonade, grape juice and brandy to the water/sugar mixture
  5. Freeze mixture, stirring once or twice so the brandy doesn’t settle on the bottom of the container
  6. Add two scoops of slush to a glass of 7-Up or Squirt and serve with a straw

A Little Help

I recently recruited a girlfriend to help put an end to my mindless overeating. I’d been wanting to kick the habit for a while but, without anyone to hold me accountable, even the best intentions weren’t enough to overcome my weak resolve. Lack of self-control in this area is not something that I’m proud of. This is probably a good thing because Proverbs 16:18 makes it clear that pride comes before a fall.

The opposite of pride is humility and there is nothing wrong with admitting when you need a little help. Mine came in the form of a pact that I made with a friend to write down everything we ate. Knowing that  I had agreed to bare my “caloric all” the next time we got together made a noticeable difference when I went through the drive-through at McDonald’s and ordered one cheeseburger, instead or two. Later that day, while playing pitch with my family, I experienced equally positive results when I passed over a handful of peanut M&M’s and opted for a bowl of grapes.

After one day of mindful eating stretched into three, I began to wonder: Why didn’t I reach out to someone sooner? As much as I want to think that I can handle everything myself, Romans 7:15 makes it clear that no man (or woman) is an island. We are all a part of the human race where we, despite our best efforts to keep from sinning, wind up doing it anyway.

The futility of the situation is something that the apostle Paul seemed very familiar with in Romans 7 when he said: “I have discovered this principle of life—that when I want to do what is right, I inevitably do what is wrong. I love God’s law with all my heart. But there is another power within me that is at war with my mind. This power makes me a slave to the sin that is still within me.”

“Oh, what a miserable person I am!” Paul added. “Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death? Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord.”

Jesus is the answer, but other people are also part of the equation. We know this from Matthew 18 where, in verses 19 and 20, our Lord and Savior said: “If two of you agree here on earth concerning anything you ask, my Father in heaven will do it for you. For where two or three gather together as my followers I am there among them.”

I will never cease to marvel at how statements like this one, penned nearly two thousand years ago, can be so relevant today. Everything we need to know to live a godly life really is in the bible.

What I know from this experience is that all roads worth traveling lead to Jesus; and for every roadblock on the journey, we get by with a little help from our friends.