I have had the delight this spring to be a part of a small group book study from my church.
We have met most Monday evenings and during this time have worked our way through two excellent books, which I thought I would take a few moments to suggest and recommend. And while we have read them together slowly, either book would be wonderful for a personal study as well.
The first book, The Good and Beautiful Life by James Bryan Smith, is published by InterVarsity and is a part of their Formatio series and is a Renovare resource. It is the second in a three-volume spiritual formation series named Apprentice (The first volume is The Good and Beautiful God, the third is The Good and Beautiful Community) . Smith writes that “the first book…focuses on the God that Wesley described: loving, holy, forgiving and joyful” and this this volume places the focus on us, where we take the time to study our lives, our hearts and our character. Each chapter concludes with a short section called “Soul Training” where you are given an opportunity to go deeper with the material presented – to journal and to reflect, to take on a specific assignment, to challenge yourself. While our group all enjoyed the reading, I think the exercises at the end of each chapter proved to be quite meaningful as we shared how the assignments given had impacted our week. I enjoyed this so much that I hope to get started with the other two volumes in the near future.
The second book we have studied together is Max Lucado’s recent Out Live Your Life (Thomas Nelson, 2010). Our group read through the book and also watched a short DVD series that added to our discussion. Lucado’s message is an important one – we are given one life to live, “we are created by a great God to do great works. He invites us to outlive our lives, not just in heaven but here on earth” (7) and asks us to be difference makers for the kingdom. He reminds us that when we love and serve the poor, that we are loving Jesus (168). The book is filled with wonderful – and challenging – stories and each chapter concludes with a scripture reference and a short prayer. Study questions are included at the back of the book, although we also used the accompanying participant’s guide. We found that the questions in the participants guide – while good – didn’t always relate as closely to what we had read and so we tended to use the questions at the back of the book more consistently.
Did we have a favorite book? I’m not sure. I think we had more discussion around the second volume – on how we could give and serve more – but we really did enjoy both books and I commend them to you.