Category: Book Review (page 2 of 4)

Pursuing God’s Love

My friend, Margaret Feinberg (on Twitter HERE or Facebook HERE), just launched a new 6-week DVD Bible study series called “Pursuing God” with Zondervan. The first two titles are Pursuing God’s Beauty: Stories from the Gospel of John and Pursuing God’s Love: Stories from the Book of Genesis. Instead of me giving my thoughts on the study, I thought you might like to hear directly from Margaret.

Ben: Where did you come up with the idea for this series?

Margaret: I reached a place in my own spiritual life where I felt disconnected from God. I decided to return to the foundations of my faith by reading through the Book of Genesis. Something sparked as I studied, and so I continued reading and rereading for more than 18 months.

During that time, I kept hearing a reverberation in conversations with people around the country who were looking for a Bible study that wasn’t topical but rather based on a book of the Bible—allowing them to really dive deeper into the Scripture. But they admitted that either they or some of the members of their small groups don’t have time to tackle an hour of homework a night. So I began to develop a study that created an equal playing field for the veteran believer who had time to do 30-minutes of homework a night and the young mom who barely has time to take shower. Both can engage in this study—whether or not they’ve done the homework that week—and explore the Scripture together. The study encourages participants to not only grow deeper in relationship with God but with each other as they discuss and share life together.

Ben: What are some of the unique features that make these resources different from every other resource available for small groups?

Margaret: Pursuing God’s Beauty: Stories from the Gospel of John and Pursuing God’s Love: Stories from the Book of Genesis are six-session DVD Bible studies with each session averaging 18 minutes in length—leaving plenty of time for discussion and digging deeper into the Scripture and topics covered. Pursuing God’s Beauty is filmed in an artist’s loft with an artist painting in the background—the picture complete with the final session. Pursuing God’s Beauty is filmed outdoors in Colorado with rock climbers in the background. Each lesson features icebreaker questions as well as experiential activities, and five after-hours studies each week are provided in the participant’s guide for those who want to dive deeper into the Scripture at home.

Ben: What is it that you hope people would get out of these studies?

Margaret: Studying the Bible is more than something for ‘religious’ people and is more than something done in isolation. Through these studies, we’re reminded the Bible was meant to be discussed in community, and its stories are powerful enough to speak to each one of us—wherever we are and whatever our circumstances might be.

Ben: Why did you select Genesis as one of the book of the Bible to dive into?

Margaret: It’s amazing to think that everything we see and encounter in our world today—whether in a place like this with breathtaking views or in a more urban context all began in Genesis.

I love this book of the Bible, because Genesis is the story of our beginnings. In fact, the first word of the Bible in Hebrew is beresheet meaning “in the beginning”. This is the story of our origins, where we began, the formation of our cosmos and humanity. It is also the story of alienation from God, from each other, and from the creation. It’s is also the story of his loving initiative to redeem the world back to himself.

The Genesis story matters because in order to understand where we are today, we must go back to the beginning. The past helps us understand our present and illuminates our future.

Ben: In studying the Gospel of John, you invite readers to explore the beauty of God. Unpack that a little for us.

Margaret: Ultimately, you and I were designed to be captivated by God’s beauty. And when we pursue His beauty—we can’t help but find ourselves on a journey… to know more about God, His character, attributes, ways and work, in our world. And the miracle of this journey is that along the way we find breathtaking portraits of salvation, redemption, and restoration.

Perhaps no book of the Bible paints a clearer picture of this then the Gospel of John. Throughout the Gospel of John, the beauty of God radiates in the person of Jesus Christ—the one in whom God displayed his whole heart for the world to see. It’s within the person of Jesus that we find the invisible attributes of God being made visible, on display like the fine pieces of artwork in this gallery—to be enjoyed, celebrated, and reflected upon.

For more info, check out

I’ll be giving away one copy of each of these studies. To be eligible to win, leave a comment, ReTweet, or share on Facebook. Make sure you tag me so I can add you to the drawing! Drawing will be held on Friday, September 23rd, at 9:00 pm.




Don’t Take my Pic Caption Contest

My son doesn’t like having his picture taken.

But instead of giving you the full context here, I thought I’d ask you to fill in a funny caption.  And in return, I’ll reward you.   I’m so thankful for you guys and the community we’ve built here that I’d just like to say, “Thanks.”

I’m giving away 2 copies of the uber-popular Jesus, My Father, the CIA, and me by Ian Cron!

Ian is speaking at the upcoming Story conference, and is a highly sought after communicator.

Ian’s book is a great read. It’s fun, engaging, and is a great picture of one man’s pursuit of God despite so many things stacked against him.

If you’d like to win a copy, you get 1 entry for each of the following:

1. Leave a caption. Make sure to include how many of the additional entries (below) you’ve also done.

2. Tweet this: Do. Not. Take. My. Picture! Caption contest for @IanCron ‘s ‘Jesus, My Father, the CIA & me’ via @benreed:

3. Facebook this: Do. Not. Take. My. Picture! Caption contest for Ian Cron’s ‘Jesus, My Father, the CIA’ on Ben Reed’s blog today here:  // (be sure to tag me in the post so I know to count you in the drawing)

4. Subscribe to receive updates to this blog HERE.

I’ll be drawing the winner at 9 pm central time on Saturday, September 2nd.




Connecting in Communities

Eddie Mosley (on Twitter HERE, Facebook HERE), executive director for group life at LifePoint Church in Smyrna, TN, has just released a book through NavPress entitled Connecting in Communities.

Eddie, a good friend of mine, is a practitioner.  He has successfully led small groups around the country, and is consistently helping churches raise the value and health of small groups. This book is a gem for anyone in the small group world.

I had the chance to Skype with Eddie about his book.  Check out the interview below.

Eddie Mosley final project from Ben Reed on Vimeo.

If you’re a small group leader, small group pastor, or are a part of a church that offers small groups, you need to read this book.  Pick up your copy of the book HERE.



Building Biblical Community

Congrats to Tiffany Malloy for winning this prize pack!

I review small group curriculum.  A lot.  Some of it’s good.  Some of it I wish I had never wasted my time looking over.

But I’ve just stumbled on a great study from Lifway.  Which, to be honest, is shocking to me.  Lifeway has been putting out Sunday School curriculum for years in the form of quarterly material that you subscribe to.  And I had no interest in figuring out how to fit Sunday School curricula into our small groups system.  They’ve found a format that works for small groups, and brought together a couple of small group veterans (Steve Gladen and Bill Donahue) to help facilitate the DVD portion of the material.

If you want a chance to win a free copy of the material, keep reading!

What I like about Building Biblical Community

  • It starts by encouraging everybody to share their story. I believe that this is foundational to healthy, biblical community.  Without knowing people’s stories, it takes much longer to build authentic relationships.  Without sharing your own, it’s easy to hide.  Sharing your story, and understanding what expectations you (and the group as a whole) are bringing to the table help launch the group on the right foot.
  • There’s real interaction with Scripture. There’s no question that this is truly a Bible study.  Discussion is encouraged around the meaning of the text, both historically and practically.  And there is a distinct push for you to incorporate Scripture into your everyday life, asking questions that prompt you to integrate the Gospel into the normal flow of your day.  And I agree with Spence Shelton, that a Building Biblical Community, vol II focusing further on applying the Gospel to community life could be a great follow-up resource.
  • There are short, daily devotionals for in-between the week’s meetings. And these are built on the previous week’s discussions, which means that they’re not vital to the following week’s discussion.  So the homework is important, but if you don’t get to finish it, you won’t be lost in the following week’s discussion.
  • It’s simple. It’s often easier to say more, citing more Scriptures, and asking more questions than it is to say less.  Thankfully, Lifeway didn’t take the easy way out.
  • It’s short. It’s only 4 weeks.  I’ve found that longer studies seem to grow stale because they take so long to finish.  And, like I said HERE, change (even when it’s something as small as your group’s curriculum) feels like progress.
  • It’s a great overview of group life. It hits on each of the major areas of healthy small groups without spending too much time on any one category.  Here are the 4 sessions: Becoming a Celebrating Community, Becoming a Learning Community, Becoming a Loving Community, Becoming a Serving Community.
  • The leader notes are in the back. It saves money from having to buy another book.  Last time I checked…that was a good thing.  And leader notes give the group facilitator hints on how to continue the discussion, helping them feel even more comfortable in the role God has called them to.

How I’m going to use the study

  • New small groups.
  • Small groups that are restarting.

I don’t quickly put a curriculum into our regular flow of recommended curricula at Grace Community Church, where I’m on staff.  But this one’s going in the rotation immediately.

If you’d like a chance to win a free copy of this material (I’ll be giving it away on Friday, 2-11-2011), all you have to do is

1. ReTweet (or share on Facebook) this post.

2. Leave a comment below, telling us why you’d like to win.


Why you can’t see God right now

You can’t see God right now because you don’t want to.

I read 95% non-fiction.  The fiction I read is stuff like The Pilgrim’s Progress.

I know…I’m a nerd.  But I’m a learner (StrengthsFinder confirmed that), and am always looking for some new concept to engage.  Fiction doesn’t necessarily offer something new to learn…it offers a fun experience.  A story that is engaging, funny, or exciting.  And though there are definitely messages and truths to be found in fiction writings, be honest…that’s not why you read them.  You read them because you enjoy getting lost in a good story.

And there’s nothing wrong with that.

Which is why, throughout the month of December, I decided to put down my nonfiction and pick up a good story.  I’m reading (almost done) through the Percy Jackson series by Rick Riordan.  Rick is a good storyteller, and I’ve enjoyed reading through the books.

The Mist

In the books, monsters and half-bloods (half-human, half-god) live, work, and fight right among mortals.  There’s a Mist that’s present on Earth (hang with me…I’m going somewhere…it’s fiction, okay?) that causes mortals to see supernatural people and events in a way that is not supernatural…which explains why we never “see” any of these events.  The main character (Percy Jackson) wields his sword and fights with a god in the city of Los Angeles…and the newspapers report that damage has been done by an earthquake.  When he fights 3 demons in a city bus, mortals see something completely different, explaining away what they saw as a natural occurrence.  In another instance, mortals saw a homeless boy that was big and goofy…through the Mist, he was really a Cyclops.

A little silly, yes.  A little childish, maybe.  But there are implications here for us.

We choose the Mist

Because we do the same thing every day.  God is at work all around us.  He’s causing the sun to rise and the rain to fall. (Matthew 5:45)  He’s changing hearts of stone to hearts of flesh. (Ezekiel 36:26).  He’s turning the hearts of fathers to the hearts of their children. (Malachi 4:6) He’s holding the universe together.  (Colossians 1:17)  He’s healing relationships.  Overcoming fears. (2 Timothy 1:7)  Breaking the bonds of addiction.  Restoring marriages.  Drawing those who are far from Him closer.  Answering our cries for help.

And yet we choose to still ask, “Where’s God?!?”

The reason you can’t see God right now is not because He’s absent. Or abandoned you.  He doesn’t work like that.

The reason you can’t see God right now is because you’ve chosen not to. Even when you’re far from Him.  And your story has taken you off the best path.  And you’ve got more junk in your life than you’d like to admit.

God’s not far away (Acts 17:27).  You’ve just got to look through the Mist.

Have you seen God working lately?

Have you ever chosen to not see what He’s doing?


Family Devotionals

To me, family devotions are kind of cheesy.

I mean, I like the concept of sitting down as a family and talking through the truths of the Bible together.  But when it comes to sitting down and actually doing it, in my head it just comes off being silly.  I keep imagining a family all cozy in their den, with the children in the pajamas, sitting around a fire.  Dad gets out his guitar, and they sing a song together.  The children are gleaming as mom and dad, in their footed pajamas, talk about how God changed their soul…at breakfast that morning.

Weird, no?

This Christmas season, though, I’ve found a new resource I’m going to try.  And I won’t be wearing any footed pajamas when I read it.

Because I really want my son to understand the beauty of the Christmas season.  Why we give gifts.  Why we decorate our house.  Why we visit family.

Because in all of the hustle and bustle of getting ready, it’s incredibly easy to forget to instill in my son the values that are driving our generosity.  I want to raise a son that understands our traditions, and celebrates them with as much life and vigor as we do.  And not just because he’s excited about getting gifts from a fat man whose belly jiggles.

Here’s the new ebook, called Christmas Reboot, written by a good friend of mine, Alan Danielson.  You should pick up a copy.  It’s only $8.

My family and I are going to be working through this throughout the holidays.  I’ll let you know how it goes.  I’m pretty stoked about it.

Will you join us?


Parenting and community

If you’re a parent, I need you to repeat this after me.

I don’t have it all figured out.

And for those of you who feel awkward talking to your computer screen, here’s your second chance.

I don’t have it all figured out.

If you do feel like you have the role of parenting completely under control, please repeat this after me:

I am a liar.

And, finally, all together, please repeat this after me:

I can’t do this parenting thing on my own.

Author Donald Miller (Blue Like Jazz) and Dr. John Townsend (Boundaries) walk through a series of discussions on a new small group curriculum that’s been released, Convergence: Where Life and Faith Meet.  This particular study is about parenting and what the Bible has to say about raising kids, exploring how God designed parenting, the challenges we face, and the rewards that come helping kids grow up.

I particularly liked the discussion on parents being careful to not make idols out of their children (or even making idols out of the thought of having children).  Viewing children as a means to be happy and fulfilled will ultimately leave you empty.  And the pressure that we put on ourselves (and that society puts on us) to be the “perfect” parents can be spiritually and emotionally damaging when we find ourselves not living up.

But that’s where the beauty of “community” comes in.  Because we can’t do this on our own.  And it’s cool if you think you can just wing it ‘just-me-and-God’ style.  But God’s given you a community (the Church) to live life with.  Grow with.  Receive help from.  Learn from.  Watch.  Don’t neglect that gift.

These DVDs were intended to be worked through in the context of a small group.  I see no better environment to implement these deep, life-altering, biblical parenting principles.

Still not convinced that this is a good curriculum?  Consider this:

1. The videos are only 20 minutes long.  When DVD-based curriculum gets longer than that, it begins to infringe on discussion time.  20 minutes works.  It gives enough information to communicate an idea, but not so much that the group leader feels the need to squeeze discussion time.

2. There’s no cost to the group member. The only cost incurred is the DVD itself (which is a mere $15).

3. Both the leader’s guide and the participant’s discussion guide can be found online for each study (by clicking HERE).  All you have to do is print it off, and you’re good to go.

4. There’s no real homework to be done from week to week. Instead of needing to spend hours pouring over the specific material (which can, by some, be seen as busy work), group members can show up and immediately jump into the conversation.  Don’t take this to mean that the studies aren’t challenging, or don’t require any work.  It just means that you won’t feel like an outsider in the discussion if you haven’t “done your homework.”  And though a homework-heavy study may be the right call for your group in some seasons, a homework-light study can be incredibly refreshing.

5. The questions are short, and elicit discussion. Some curriculum writers feel the need to control the answers of group members.  Their goal is not necessarily group discussion.  Rather, they want group members to parrot back a certain answer, which makes group discussion much cleaner and simpler.  But not necessarily more helpful.  Phrasing questions in a way that spurs discussion is incredibly difficult, and often leads to messier discussions, but I’ve had much greater fruit in those types of discussions than in the ones in which, realistically, there was only one “right” answer.

6. Don Miller is really good at interviewing/conversing. He represents the “everyday Christian” really well, and seems to ask the “right” questions to spur the dialog with the person(s) he’s interviewing.

7. There’s a specific Scripture connected with each lesson that your group can wrestle through.

Still not convinced?  Then allow me to give you a free copy.  The first 25 people that visit and use my last name, Reed, in the checkout, will get 1 free video download. Come on…you can’t beat that, can you?

Be sure to check out the next stop on this blog tour, a good friend of mine, Will Johnston.  He’s reviewed the curriculum, too, HERE.  And while you’re at it, go ahead and subscribe to his blog (his RSS feed is right HERE)…you won’t be disappointed.

Check out this promo video from the parenting DVD I’ve reviewed here:

Parenting: Helping Your Kids to Become Adults Trailer from All Things Converge on Vimeo.


Christian Romance Novels

Poll question of the day:

How do you feel about Christian romance novels? Leave your vote below.

a. I have a room devoted to my collection.

b. That book cover above made me throw up in my mouth a little bit.

c. Those 3 words should never be said in the same sentence.

d. I hope my life looks like a Christian romance novel one day.

e. That is me and my honey on that cover above.


Holy Vocabulary, a giveaway

I wrote a review of Michael Kelley’s latest release from Threads Media, called Holy Vocabulary, for Ron Edmondson’s blog.  Make sure you hop over and read it HERE.

If you’d like a free copy of the book, I’m giving away 1 leader’s pack and 2 individual books!  All you have to do is:

1. Retweet this post on Twitter. You can say something like “Win Michael Kelley’s book Holy Vocabulary on @BenReed ‘s post today:”
2. Comment on this post with your email address or Twitter name.

I’ll randomly choose 3 winners tomorrow morning at 8:00 am.

In the meantime, check out this promo video from Threads Media.

Holy Vocabulary Promo from Threads on Vimeo.


Matt Chandler & Philippians

I’ve recently picked up a copy of Matt Chandler’s new small group study on the book of Philippians.  It’s published by The Hub (formerly song of solomon).

I have to admit: I’m a Matt Chandler fan.  I stumbled onto his podcast a few years back, and have really connected with his preaching.  He’s easy to follow, funny, and engaging.  And to top it all off…his sermons are biblically saturated.  He preaches expositionally in a way that isn’t boring, and if you’ve spent much time under an expository preacher, you know that I’ve just given a huge compliment to Chandler.  For some reason, I feel like I connect with Matt’s style better than I do other big-name preachers.  Needless to say, I was intrigued by this study.

But great sermons and great preachers don’t always translate well into small groups.


1. Chandler uses the same style of preaching in this video as he does on Sunday mornings. Like I said above, I have found it easy to connect with his preaching style.

2. There are very few questions. One of my critiques of Abide was that there were too many questions.  It’s easy to throw a plethora of questions into each week’s discussion.  The difficult part for writers (and editors) is choosing the best questions that draw out the most thoughtful, heart-searching answers.  They have limited themselves to a 10-question max, and the questions that they’ve presented are really on-point.

3. There’s very little required homework. I try to consistently encourage those in my small group to spend time daily with the Lord.  This curriculum gives them a natural place to start each day.  But the next week’s questions aren’t built upon the prior week’s homework…and that’s a good thing.  If you happen to miss a week, or get busy and don’t have time to look over the Scripture passage, you can just show up and immediately jump into the discussion.

4. “Diving deeper.” There’s a section each week that gives people the opportunity to go “deeper” in their own personal study of the passage.  I like when a curriculum gives flexibility to differing levels of spiritual maturity.

5. The memory verse. I’m not great at memorizing Scripture.  Ok…that’s a lie…let me try again.  I don’t try very hard to memorize Scripture.  But this study takes a verse from the passage that Chandler is preaching about, and encourages the group to memorize it.  I love how this study integrates the discipline of Scripture memory.

6. The Scripture passages are right there in the book. I like to take notes when I hear sermons, and having the Scripture passages right there in the book allows me to take notes right alongside the discussion questions that the group will be talking about.


1. The sermons are 30 minutes long. I’m not opposed to 30 minute sermons, but the problem that groups run into is that sermons of this length can eat into discussion times.

2. This curriculum is 12 weeks long. In my opinion, that’s too long.  If it doesn’t connect with your group, you could be stuck with it for quite a while.  But wait, you say…if my group doesn’t like it, couldn’t we just tank it and pick up another study??  Well… (see below)

3. It’s really expensive. The DVD set alone (3 DVDs) is $149.95.  That’s Beth-Moore-expensive.  I get it…Chandler and the team put a lot of time and effort into this series.  And it’s probably worth every penny.  But this price point keeps it out of a lot of people’s hands.

All-in-all, this is a great study.  I’ve gone back and read (in my personal study time) the book of Philippians, and have found a greater depth and richness to my study after having gone through this series.  This is really a 12-week immersion in the Bible.  You hear it preached.  You read it.  You memorize it.  You learn how to interpret/understand it a little better.  You discuss it.  You’re challenged to live it out.

Your small group needs to pick this study up.

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