I’ve been quiet for far too long (more about that soon), but didn’t want to miss the opportunity to wish all of you a blessed Thanksgiving. I’ve come to realize that Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays. I love autumn in California. I love the fellowship. I love the food. And I love the reminders to be thankful, both historically and present tense. Yep, I love Thanksgiving.
We have so much to be thankful for in this nation. We’ve just experienced, or are experiencing, one of the greatest of these – the peaceful transition of government. Sure, it’s been a little rocky this year, but seriously, we still have so many freedoms that are unique both in today’s world and in history. And folks, we have these freedoms because of the blessings of God.
And we have a responsibility to pray for our government – whether we like the players or not. The reality is, some of us have not been happy with the present administration, and some of us will not be happy with the next administration. But if we are Christ-followers, that doesn’t relieve us of the obligation — yes, obligation – to pray for those in authority over us (Rom. 13:1, 1 Tim. 2:1-2) – whether we agree with them or not. It is the prayers of the Church, the prayers of the saints, that will give us a peaceable and quiet life. So may I encourage each of us to pause this Thanksgiving, and every day, to pray for our leaders – outgoing and incoming. To pray for peace in our land. To pray for the electoral process to proceed peaceably as it has for 228 years. To pray that the hidden forces of darkness be hindered. To pray that the Church will move into its God-ordained position in the country.
But most of all, may I encourage each of us to thank God for the privilege of living, here and now. To thank him for the many blessings, tangible and intangible, that we enjoy. To thank him for our nation and the freedoms we enjoy. To thank him — just because…
So friends, enjoy the turkey, the pie, the autumn leaves, and the fellowship. But while you are enjoying, remember to thank our heavenly Father for all of his many blessings.
Photo Credit: Chris Potako
It is my pleasure to welcome my friend and mentor, Michael Mack as today’s guest blogger. Mike is the author of I’m a Leader . . . Now What? How to Guide an Effective Small Group and editor of the Help! Guide series, of which Why Didn’t You Warn Me? How to Deal with Challenging Group Members is a part. He blogs at www.smallgroupleadership.com.
Jesus’ small group was a mess. It was often dysfunctional. Except for its leader, this leadership training group seemed quite often to lack any observable spiritual leadership potential.
Within two pages in my Bible, Jesus had to:
- Rebuke his apprentice leader (Mark 8:33). Actually, this verse says he looked at all the disciples as he addressed Peter: “You do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men.”
- Deal with Peter, who was missing the bigger vision during their mountaintop experience (9:5-6).
- Stop an argument between some of his group members and the religious leaders (9:14-16).
- Rescue his group members when they couldn’t do what he had told them to do (9:18, 25-28).
- Correct his disciples, who were arguing about which of them was the greatest (9:33-34; also see 10:35-45).
The next time you feel like the tensions and problems in your group are overwhelming, look again at Jesus’ group!
A heart for God, a servant’s heart, humility, compassion—Jesus certainly had those traits, but from all discernible measures, the people in Jesus’ group did not have those qualities. And the worst culprits seem to be the men in Jesus’ core team: Peter, John, and James. We need to remember a vital biblical principle: “The Lord does not look at the things people look at” (1 Samuel 16:7).
Yes, Jesus’ group was a mess and often dysfunctional, but Jesus’ group was healthy. That might seem like an oxymoron, but I don’t believe it is. Jesus understood the principle of process. He did not see only what they were; he saw what they were becoming. And often this process of becoming looks very messy. By the way, this ability to see beyond what other people see in your friends, family, group members, etc., is another key characteristic of a leader after God’s heart. Like Jesus, seek to recognize not only who they are, but what, with God’s power, they can become.
I’ve written a lot about what makes a man or woman a leader after God’s heart. The most vital thing a leader does is spend time with Jesus, staying connected to the Vine (John 15). When you do, all that he is pouring into you will overflow into others. You can lead with Jesus’ love, humility, power, compassion, and commitment—even (or perhaps especially) when you are leading a dysfunctional group or challenging group members—when you abide in him each day. Without him you can do nothing.
Never lead your group alone. Especially when you are leading challenging people, you must have help! First, remember that Christ is with you. Depend on his presence with you, utilize his power in you, and seek his purposes for you. Acknowledge that he is the real leader of this group, and then fulfill your role as a steward leader. Also, share leadership with a core team of 2-3 others who bear with you the responsibility of shepherding, discipleship, caring, and prayer.
One quick word about leading challenging people. Every leader leads imperfect, challenging, sometimes dysfunctional people! As John Ortberg put it, Everyone’s Normal till You Get to Know Them! No leader has the capability on their own to effectively lead such people, which is why we need our all-powerful Savior to strengthen us and the Holy Spirit to lead us. Come to Jesus and he will give you rest.
If your group is a mess—if your group includes a bunch of dysfunctional, sinful, pride-laden, argumentative men and women—don’t give up! Ask God to help you see the process of what your group members are becoming. At the proper time—God’s time—you will reap a harvest if you do not give up!
© Michael C. Mack 2015.
Photo Credit: Glenn Lascuña (edited)
August 2, 2016 | Comments Off on A Commentary on the Psalms (Vol 3)
As a teacher, trainer, and leader, I love having an excellent library at my fingertips—that way I can write or prep at midnight. Over the years, I’ve been able to build just such a library. Recently I was delighted to add a new commentary: A Commentary on the Psalms: 90-150 (Kregel Exegetical Library) by Allen P. Ross (Kregel Academic, 2016).
Like all of the commentaries in this series, this book is rather academic. It’s designed for pastors, teachers, and serious students of the Bible. Hopefully that includes small group pastors and leaders. But it is probably a little dense for your average group member.
I like the layout of the book, which includes a very readable font size and margins. I also like the organization of the book, which includes five major sections for each Psalm:
Text and Textual Variants:
This section offers a translation of the Psalm. I could not find any discussion of the translation, but assume it is the translation done by the author. The translations don’t match any of the typical versions I’m familiar with. Textual variants are offered in the footnotes of the translation. I like having them readily available up front, and then out of the way in the heart of the commentary.
Composition and Context:
This is the usual author, date, context, and background found in all commentaries. Ross generally discusses the varying opinions on dating here, and sometimes gives his opinion. But he does offer the opposing views. For the Psalms, this is usually a discussion of whether the Psalm is pre- or post-exilic.
Here he offers a brief summary and outline. It’s brief and to the point.
COMMENTARY IN EXPOSITORY FORM
This is the heart of each section, with a quite academic discussion of each verse or syncope. He covers the pertinent points without belaboring them as some commentators do. My only criticism of the book is in this section (and it is common to all books in the series). He uses the Hebrew words without transliteration. My Hebrew is rusty enough that I would love to see the transliteration, and perhaps the transliterated root. The same is true when he provides the Greek from the Septuagint – no transliterations.
MESSAGE AND APPLICATION:
This section is usually less than a page, but suggests the key principal in the Psalm and how we might apply it. This section will be useful to leaders.
Overall, I like this series, and A Commentary on the Psalms: 90-150 (Kregel Exegetical Library) is no exception. If you are studying Psalms 90-150, this book will be a good addition to your library.
August 1, 2016 | Comments Off on Baby Boomers: A Complex Generation (Pt. 4)
They are not religious.
A 1993 Time magazine article reported that about 42 percent of baby boomers were dropouts from formal religion, a third had never strayed from church, and one-fourth of boomers were returning to religious practice. However, Richard Ostling notes that the boomers returning to religion are “usually less tied to tradition and less dependable as church members than the loyalists. They are also more liberal, which deepens rifts over issues like abortion and homosexuality.”
They are looking for ways to matter.
Boomers are often people on a mission. They want to matter and to contribute. If not consumed with additional years of work and/or care giving, this may take the form of a second career, a transition to a mission or non-profit, or simply a new focus on ministry within their local church or civic organization. Many are beginning to look at leaving a legacy to their children and grandchildren. They are becoming more intentional about the lives they lead and the values they communicate. This makes them ripe for meaningful positions in the church or parachurch organizations.
Small Groups with Boomers
As a small-group leader, you may find that baby boomers are unpredictable. If they’re involved in caring for children or parents, they may miss group regularly. They also travel a lot—for work, missions trips, or leisure—which also adds to absences.
On the other hand, many boomers are mature Christians. You can and should handle more difficult material with them. Unfortunately, this maturity can sometimes lead to a cynicism or boredom. You’ll need to find a way to make material fresh and relevant to keep them engaged.
Some boomers can be a little shallow, so leaders will need to draw them out. While they might have been willing to tackle the deeper issues of life when they were younger, there seems to be a tendency to stay on the surface now. They may share their kids’ and parents’ struggles, but often not their own. It’s hard to get boomers to delve into the deeper issues of marriage, faith, finances, and theology, but it’s possible.
Whatever you do, stay flexible and willing to listen. Listen to the boomers, and listen to the Holy Spirit. Together you’ll learn a lot.
They are caregivers, often stressed and “smooshed.”
Baby Boomers may have completed their child-rearing responsibilities, but many are now taking care of grandchildren. In 2008, 2.6 million Boomer grandparents were raising their grandchildren, while many more help with childcare so their adult children can work. This has an enormous impact on the Boomers’ incomes and social relationships, as well as their health.
Largely because of the economy, and perhaps skills and values that weren’t communicated well to their children, many Boomers provide housing and resources for their “boomerang” children—those who return home after college or remain home after high school. Often these boomerangs come with their own children. The number of 26-year-olds living with parents has jumped almost 46 percent since 2007. In 2010, the number of 18- to 30-year-olds living with their parents grew to 20.7 million, a 3.9 percent gain in one year. This means that about a quarter of American adults between the ages of 18 and 30 now live with parents, while intergenerational households have reached the highest level in more than 50 years. The largest group of those moving back home is college graduates entering the worst jobs market since the Great Depression. Some 85 percent of those graduates, after four years of higher education, are left with little more than a worthless piece of paper and no hope. While Boomer parents may or may not welcome this return, they feel they have little choice.
Thirteen million Boomers are also involved in the care of their parents. For many this is from afar, while 25 percent of those parents live in the home of a Boomer offspring. As their parents age, this responsibility increases and often comes with emergencies. If they are fortunate, parent care comes after their children are launched, but increasingly, Boomers are caring for both parents and children at the same time, creating what is known as the Sandwich Generation. Especially if they are still working, these Boomers are truly smooshed.
Because of the combination of care giving and financial stressors, many Boomers are postponing retirement or looking at a retirement that is different from what they anticipated. Resources that had been targeted for travel or leisure now are needed for everyday living, for parents, or for adult children and grandchildren.
July 27, 2016 | Comments Off on Baby Boomers: A Complex Generation (Pt. 2)
(This is Part 2. See Part 1 here).
What are some characteristics that define Baby Boomers?
They are the fittest generation.
As they’ve passed each decade milestone, they’ve challenged it. Today, as the oldest Boomers reach beyond their mid-60s, many claim that 60 is the new 40. Indeed, because of an immense emphasis on fitness, many Boomers are healthier and younger-looking than their parents were at this age. On the other hand, one third of Boomers are defined as obese, and one third are defined as overweight, leading to an increase in heart disease, stroke, and cancer. Despite this, Boomers have a longer life expectancy than their parents, which leads to complex questions about retirement.
They were changed by the women’s movement.
Boomers have been successful in work, enhanced by the women’s movement that came to prominence as they were entering the workforce. This resulted in many women attaining career goals not even considered by their parents. But it also came at a huge cost to families. Both because of opportunity and increased cost of living (especially the increasing tax burden), two-income families became the norm, leaving children to fend for themselves. Middle class families were often able to patch together a series of after school activities that doubled as childcare. Lower income families often left children unattended, or attended by the TV. Families began to look upon the school system as responsible for their children during the working hours, complaining when the schools were not available.
They are financially powerful, stressed, and stretched.
Boomers have generally enjoyed higher incomes and higher standards of living than their parents. Currently in their peak earning years, American baby Boomers control over 80 percent of all personal financial assets and more than 50 percent of discretionary spending power. They are responsible for more than half of all consumer spending, and 80 percent of all leisure travel. In 2005, Boomers had over $2 trillion in disposable income.
While this has had advantages, it has also led to the lowest level of personal savings and the highest level of consumer debt. While Boomers now have healthy incomes and spend a great deal of money, they’re not saving as much as they should, so their retirement income will be less stable than that of previous generations. Therefore, most were not prepared for the economic decline starting in 2008. Sixty percent of those who had savings and retirement accounts saw a 40 percent loss in their portfolios in 2008, throwing their retirement planning into chaos and causing over 40 percent of Boomers to delay retirement. The concurrent mortgage crisis resulted in many Boomers losing their homes, or at least facing serious financial challenges. Older Boomers are moving into retirement years with great uncertainty.
A 2011 survey found that 25 percent of baby Boomers still working said they’d never be able to retire and 42 percent are delaying retirement plans. Moreover, nearly 60 percent said their workplace retirement plans, personal investments, or real estate lost value during the economic crisis.
Boomers are also facing a health care crisis, a Social Security crisis, and an increased need for long-term care. By the year 2020, the population of Americans over age 65 will increase to 53 million. (In 1997, there were only 34 million.) By 2030, the Boomers will be ages 66–84 and will make up 20 percent of the total population, which will have a huge impact on spending and health care costs. Sixty-nine percent of those over 65 will require some long-term care before they die.
See Part 1 Here:
Photo Credit: PRWeb_12_2011
(This is the first in a three part series on ministering to Baby Boomers).
People born between 1946 and 1964 are known as baby Boomers. Born in the 18 years following World War II, Boomers have been until recently the largest and most influential generation in history, making them known as the “me” generation. From the beginning, they’ve been convinced they’re special.
As the wave of Boomers passed through the years, they created a demographic bulge that impacted every area of society. Schools were too small, requiring new construction. Manufacturers discovered Boomers when they were yet children, directing both production and advertising toward them.
Boomers are the rebellious generation, rejecting and redefining traditional values. They made Rock and Roll, the Beatles, fast cars, the hippy movement, drugs, free love, the women’s movement, abortion, and gay tolerance part of American culture. American Boomers are the first generation to grow up with television. And the first wave of Boomers are the Vietnam generation, fighting a war that we didn’t win, and returning to the disdain of their peers.
They genuinely believed that as they grew up, the world would improve. As the first divorce generation, they divorced and remarried. They raised children, often without a cultural moral compass. And now, there are 79 million Boomers ages 50 to 68 who are still making an impact on American society.
Wednesday: Characteristics of Baby Boomers
Photo Credit: Jim Reynolds
May 9, 2016 | Comments Off on What the New Testament Authors Really Cared About: A Survey of their Writings
Back in 2014 I reviewed What the Old Testament Authors Really Cared About: A Survey of Jesus’ Bible, recommending it as an excellent resource for Bible study leaders. Just recently I’ve had the opportunity to read the companion volume, What the New Testament Authors Really Cared About: A Survey of Their Writings. I highly recommend it for pastors and small group leaders who want accessible information quickly.
The book’s 15 scholars take a thematic approach, with the book being organized around the nine New Testament authors and their books rather than the canonical order. This organization adds depth and texture to the book. Just a different way of approaching the material.
The book is designed for undergraduate students, which makes it very approachable for most small group leaders. Each chapter begins with a short summary page, as well as a textbox with key concepts. It’s hard to miss the point. Chapters are about 10 pages, but nicely punctuated with beautiful photos as well as a lot of sidebars and callouts offering application for today. It also includes excellent maps and a substantial index. Key names and concepts are in bold in the text, facilitating quick skimming. As is true of most Kregel Publications books, the paper and layout are exquisite.
My only complaint is that the book is weak on footnotes and references, with only three citations per chapter. I would like to see a few more references, especially when I need to go deeper. But that’s probably just the academic in me. Seriously, this is a great reference.
March 26, 2016 | Comments Off on That’s My King!
I wonder, do you know him?
Have a blessed Resurrection Day!
March 9, 2016 | Comments Off on A Commentary On 1 & 2 Chronicles by Eugene H. Merrill
A Commentary on 1 & 2 Chronicles (Kregel Exegetical Library) is the third Old Testament commentary I have reviewed for Kregel (the others being A Commentary on Exodus (Kregel Exegetical Library) and A Commentary on Judges and Ruth (Kregel Exegetical Library)). I found it to be the most challenging to read and assimilate–perhaps because that is the nature of the biblical source. While I personally love the books of Kings and Chronicles, I admit they take some effort to read and sadly, my enthusiasm is seldom shared by my small groups. Unfortunately, I can’t remember many sermons or bible studies based on these books—especially the books as a whole. That being said, I’m delighted to be able to add this book to my library.
The author, Eugene H. Merrill, brings excellent credentials to the project. He is the distinguished professor emeritus of Old Testament studies at Dallas Theological Seminary. He is a prolific author with more than two dozen books to his credit, including other publications on these books. Theologically, he is conservative, as would be expected from Dallas.
The Commentary rests somewhere between accessible and scholarly. While he uses some Hebrew, there is less than many similar commentaries, positioning it for use by non-seminary educated readers. However, the Hebrew that is included does not include transliterations. Even though I took Hebrew just a year ago, I would have appreciated an assist with a transliteration as well as a translation.
The format is comprehensive, with just about anything any reader might want. It includes Chapter Outlines, Theological Principles, an NIV Translation, Text Critical Notations, and Exegesis and Exposition. While the book’s flyleaf indicates that the translation is the author’s own, in fact, the translation provided is the NIV. This was a disappointment. I always prefer to see the author’s unique translation somewhere in the chapter, even if side-by-side with an “approved” translation. And of all the excellent translations available, why the NIV? I appreciated having the Text Critical Notations within each chapter. Although as a lay leader I seldom pay attention to those, it’s good to know what they are and when they might be important for my purposes. The book also includes a number of charts and tables, but many of them didn’t advance my understanding. I often asked, “Why?” A helpful introduction positions the reader in the history, culture, authorship, genre, and canonical placement.
Perhaps the most noteworthy aspects of the book are the extensive footnotes and excellent bibliography. Merrill includes a 26-page bibliography, showing the extensiveness of his scholarship. Also of note is the theological overview of each chapter, providing a road map of God’s over-arching theme. He continues to call us back to this overview, always looking forward to the Messiah. He also offers some application, which is useful for the lay leader, and even for busy pastors.
This is a well-done commentary. Not the best I’ve ever read, but it certainly provides more information than I as a lay leader will ever use. Thanks to Kregel Academic for inviting me to review this book.