Month: January 2015

Devoted to Destruction

The Old Testament passages that talk of Israel devoting entire cities to destruction are hard to stomach. If you don’t know me, then you need to know up front that I’m not a skinny-jean wearing, tree-hugging, pacifist. I’m a member of the NRA, a fourth-degree black belt, a supporter of our military, who likes MMA, and loves to watch football. Yet still, devoting a city to total destruction seems harsh.

Killing the men of valor I get, and even the leaders of the city. But to slay the oxen, sheep, donkeys, young and old men, women, and children…I don’t know if I could have done that.

So this week as I am preaching on the battle of Jericho from Joshua 6, I have had to wrestle with the entire city being devoted to destruction. I’m not taking the approach that the Bible said it so that settles it and you should never question anything. I’m also not taking the approach that God the Father is harsh in the Old Testament while Jesus demonstrates love in the New Testament. The Bible is a unified story of a gracious God so I am seeking to discern what God wants to teach me in this passage.

What I have realized is that I presume upon the grace and mercy of God without taking seriously enough God’s hatred of sin.

Yes, Jericho demonstrates the faith and obedience of the Israelites. Yes, Jericho displays amazing grace as God adopts Rahab the prostitute into the family and lineage of King David and King Jesus. But Jericho also demonstrates judgment for sinful rebellion.

In Genesis 15:16 we learn that the sin of the Amorites is not yet complete. God patiently endured their rebellion for over 400 years. We learn in Leviticus 18-20 that during this time, these nations committed heinous sins such as: child sacrifice, consulting mediums and spirits, adultery, incest, homosexuality, bestiality, and worshipping false gods.

In four different places in Scripture, God reminds the children of Israel that He is driving out these nations to punish their iniquity.

Leviticus 18:24-25, “Do not make yourselves unclean by any of these things, for by all these the nations I am driving out before you have become unclean, and the land became unclean, so that I punished its iniquity, and the land vomited out its inhabitants.”

Leviticus 20:23, “And you shall not walk in the customs of the nation that I am driving out before you, for they did all these things, and therefore I detested them.”

Deuteronomy 9:4-5, “Do not say in your heart, after the Lord your God has thrust them out before you, ‘It is because of my righteousness that the Lord has brought me in to possess this land,’ whereas it is because of the wickedness of these nations that the Lord is driving them out before you. Not because of your righteousness or the uprightness of your heart are you going in to possess their land, but because of the wickedness of these nations the Lord your God is driving them out from before you, and that he may confirm the word that the Lord swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.”

Deuteronomy 20:16-18, “But in the cities of these peoples that the Lord your God is giving you for an inheritance, you shall save alive nothing that breathes, but you shall devote them to complete destruction, the Hittites and the Amorites, the Canaanites and the Perizzites, the Hivites and the Jebusites, as the Lord your God has commanded, that they may not teach you to do according to all their abominable practices that they have done for their gods, and so you sin against the Lord your God.”

Even in the midst of such detestable wickedness, God tells Israel to march around the city for 7 days. That means Jericho potentially had 6 days to act as Nineveh did and repent of their transgressions. Joshua 2 tells us that they had heard about the drying up of the Red Sea, and the defeat of Sihon and Og. Rahab even says, that “the Lord your God, he is God in the heavens above and on the earth beneath.” (Joshua 2:10-11) They knew about the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and continued to rebel against him.

With the destruction of Jericho, we see a glimpse of the final judgment, but with the salvation of Rahab, we see grace extended to those who repent and believe.

What strikes me most is God’s hatred of sin. He wants total destruction of evil and one day He will accomplish it. We like Jericho sit while God patiently endures the rebellion of many in our own nation and while God extends grace to the Rahabs of this world who repent and believe. God’s ultimate hatred of sin is so serious that He will accept no treaty with evil in the war for the affections of our heart.

As I look at those devoted to destruction, I realize that I do not hate my sin enough. Rather at times, I love my sin more than I love God. At times, I make peace with my sin and tolerate its existence through a treaty of deception. Sin deceives me to think that I can “handle it or control it.” Biblically, I should hate my sin and desire its utter destruction so that I may live my life totally devoted to God.

My prayer for you and me is that we look at sin through God’s eyes, which will cause our hatred of sin to grow and stoke in our hearts a desire for God’s amazing grace to abound.

Strategic Planning: Choose This Day How You Will Plan…

Okay, so it’s not really the same decision presented in Joshua, and the title is a little over the top, but it’s my blog and I’m having fun. The process we choose will undergo an evaluation every two years so it can change, but choosing the process is a big step in implementing a new strategic planning process.

In my last post on strategic planning, I described three different models. In this post, I want to unveil the model that I have chosen for Cedarville University and provide some of the reasons why.

I ruled out having the executive leadership team serve as the strategic planning team. I am new to the institution, and I did not build it. I am not the institution although I do represent it wherever I go. Many of our team members do not know me well yet. For those reasons, I don’t think the Cedarville family would like this model. Also, I want broader input because I am new to Cedarville, and I need to learn more about the people I am leading. For those reasons, model 1 would be ineffective for Cedarville University.

I have ruled out having one large committee made up of the executive leadership and at-large members as the strategic planning team. I want input from across the institution. With over 3,600 students, 100 areas of study, 250 plus faculty and a large staff base, I need input from enough places that one committee would be too large. Working in higher education, I need input from various schools. I need someone who loves liberal arts and someone who knows his or her way around a shop…not too mention all of our facilities and our budget. I need input from young bright employees and from those who have been here 25 or more years. That committee quickly grows to a 20-person team which cannot be efficient, agile, or even herded very well.

By process of elimination, you now know I have chosen model 3, consisting of two separate committees. One committee will be the executive leadership team and the other will be a steering committee.

This model worked at Cedarville University from the early 1980s until around 2000. It has history on its side. I have only been at Cedarville for 18 months now, and I did not graduate from Cedarville. With some employees being graduates that have worked here for more than 25 years, I need their input. Not having a long history with this school, I desire the transparency and trust that this model will help bring. Yes, I am losing some control, but ultimately I trust that God is in control and that the Cedarville University family is united enough in purpose that this will not be a problem. The weakness…well I will address those in my next post, but as with everything, good communication is the key to success. I think we can take some steps to ensure good communication. For these reasons, I am choosing model 3.

Whew, glad that’s over. So two committees it is. Now, let’s summarize with a few talking points.

For 3 reasons, I am choosing to go with two separate committees:

1) I have not been with this organization for a long time so I need to work at broad buy-in for our vision and plan. Model 3 includes the largest number of people so it meets what I perceive as the institution’s need.

2) My institution has a history of successfully operating with this model so it will not be completely new. I have history supporting my choice.

3) I need input from legacy employees, younger employees, faculty, and staff, which would make one committee too large. Model 3 allows me to include representatives from all of these groups for comprehensive input, meeting my needs as a leader.

Make sense?…it does to me, and I hope it does to you too.  In the next post, I want to address some of the pitfalls of our selected structure and how we plan to avoid them.

Do We Believe? Moses Did

Hebrews 11:23-29 zooms in on Moses as a man who lives by faith.

The passage begins in verse 23 by discussing the faith of Moses’ parents as they hid him rather than throw him in the Nile River. Two worldviews arise here, with Pharaoh not valuing children but Moses’ parent seeing children as a blessing from the Lord. After being granted temporary care of Moses, we must assume that they diligently taught him about the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob which leads to the main description in this section of Scripture—Moses’ personal faith.

Verses 24-26 describe the faith of Moses personally. Here the author of Hebrews demonstrates that biblical faith rejects the temporary titles, temptations or treasures of this world for the eternal rewards of identifying with Christ.

By faith Moses rejected worldly titles. Verse 24 says Moses refused the title “son of Pharaoh’s daughter.” This title would have given him authority, power, prestige, and more. Yet, God called him to reject the Egyptian mother who adopted him out of the river Nile. Unlike Joseph and Daniel who worked through the political system, God called Moses to refuse the title. Moses obeyed by faith.

By faith Moses rejected worldly temptations. Verse 25 says that by faith Moses refused to enjoy “the fleeting pleasures of sin.” The author of Hebrews does not provide a detailed explanation about what the fleeting pleasures of sin include, but we must assume materialism, hedonism, and other temptations would have been included. The main point is that such pleasures are fleeting in comparison to the eternal reward in Christ.

By faith Moses rejected worldly treasures. Verse 26 says that by faith Moses rejected the “treasures of Egypt.” More than just materialism, perhaps even the cultural comfort of a stable home, food, clothing, and a nice standard of living, served as temptations to prevent Moses from living boldly for God. Moses did not allow temporary treasure to derail his eternal purpose.

By faith Moses chose “to be mistreated with the people of God” and considered “the reproach of Christ greater wealth.” Moses’ loyalty to God by faith resulted in identification with the slaves of Egypt rather than the royalty of Egypt. He rejected the worldly treasures of the richest culture of the day to choose the reproach of Christ because he looked to a future reward beyond this earth.

This passage of Scripture contains rich application for today. As I studied it, I stopped and asked myself the following questions, which I hope will be helpful to you as we examine our hearts, our motives, and our faith.

  • Would I refuse a respected earthly title in order to be faithful to God or would I compromise for the sake of power, prestige, and authority?
  • Would I choose to be a mistreated slave in this life rather than enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin?
  • A more basic question is do I reject the temporary pleasure of sin to be faithful to Christ on a daily basis? Lust, Gossip, Lying, Pride, Gluttony, etc.
  • Do I consider the reproach of Christ greater wealth than worldly treasure? If not, what does it say about my faith and my worldview that I value temporary riches that I can see and touch over the eternal reward that God promises?
  • Do I truly believe the future reward is coming? If so, how should that affect the way I live my life daily?

If we truly have faith shaped by a biblical worldview, then we should be willing to reject earthly titles, temptations or treasures for eternal rewards.

The question is simple: Do we believe? Do we have biblical faith?

What we genuinely believe affects the way we live. Perhaps our footsteps of doubt provide an accurate depiction of our inner beliefs. Alongside the father reference din Mark 9:24 we pray, “I believe; help my unbelief!”

This passage concludes by discussing the faith of Moses’ leadership in verses 27-29. He left Egypt, he endured the desert, he kept the Passover, and he led the Israelites to cross the Red Sea. But before he demonstrated great faith in leadership, he possessed great faith personally.

My prayer today for you and for me is that we will live out our faith as Moses did.

 

 

Photo is from the movie Exodus.

Persevering to Understand the Order of the Heroes of Faith in Hebrews 11

Hebrews 11:27 says, “By faith he (Moses) left Egypt, not being afraid of the anger of the king.” Verse 28 then says, “By faith, he (Moses) kept the Passover.

Some commentaries embark upon tangled discussions as to whether verse 27 addresses Moses’ first departure from Egypt, or the second.

Both answers seem to have a problem. The first apparently contradicts Scripture and the second contradicts the historical order.

If the author of Hebrews refers to the first departure of Moses, then what do we do with Exodus 2:14 which indicates that Moses was afraid? Some commentators attempt to explain away the fear and contend that the first departure is referenced. If this refers to the second departure of Moses, then what do we do with the order as the Passover came before the final departure?[1] Some like O’Brien and Kistemaker argue the reference is to the second and final departure as the “culmination of a series of events’.”[2]

I believe that the Old Testament testimony of faith and not order is the focus because their testimony to God’s faithfulness encourages our faith so that we might run the race with endurancCU_Chapel_Heroes_Titlee and perseverance.

Hebrews 11 falls in between discussions in chapter 10 and 12 on perseverance and endurance in our faith. Faith and commendation in verses 1-2 and verses 39-40 bracket this listing of the heroes of the faith. Inside chapter 11, the words “by faith” occur over 20 times. This rhetorical devise serves to encourage the reader and provide an introduction to the “cloud of witnesses” testifying to the faithfulness of God in Hebrews 12:1.

The order of the Old Testament witness is not the focus—their testimony of faith is.

Let me demonstrate why order was not the author’s focus.[3]

  • The author mentions Isaac and Jacob in verse 9 before Sarah in verse 11.
  • The author mentions the walls of Jericho in verse 30 before turning to Rahab being friendly to the Israelite spies in verse 31.
  • The author mentions Gideon (Judges 6-8) in verse 32 before Barak (Judges 4-5).
  • The author mentions Samson (Judges 13-16) before Jephtha (Judges 11-12).
  • The author mentions David before Samuel.
  • Depending on how one takes verse 33-34 the stopping of the mouths of lions could be out of order with the quenching the power of fire if the references are to Daniel 6 and 3 respectively.

The order of the events is not the primary focus. These events focus the reader’s attention toward a consistently faithful God.

So while we run the race on this earth, let’s not miss the forest for the trees. We don’t place our faith in material possessions. We don’t place our faith in our own wisdom. We don’t place our faith in anything this world offers. Hebrews 11 provides a host of witnesses testifying that God is faithful. Over and over again God is faithful. Therefore, we place our faith in Jesus, the founder and perfector of our faith.

 

 

[1] David Allen in the New American Commentary on Hebrews provides a thorough discussion of the problems.

[2] See P.T. Obrien, The Letter to the Hebrews (pp. 433–434), and S.J. Kistemaker & Hendriksen, Exposition of Hebrews (Vol. 15, pp. 339–340).

[3] G. Guthrie in his commentary on Hebrews provides a good discussion on the order in Hebrews 11.

Strategic Planning: A Description of the Options for Structure

Implementing a strategic planning process necessitates choosing a structure. Endless variations exists, but in my research, I have found three different types to be the most common: 1) The executive leadership team is the strategic planning committee and process, 2) One large committee which includes the executive leadership team and other members, 3) Two committees with one composed of the executive leadership team and another steering committee chosen from the organization at large. All of these models have strengths and weaknesses.

Model 1 — Executive Leadership Team is the Strategic Planning Committee:

A strength of this model is that it is efficient, agile, and will have budget resources allocated to its decisions since the same leadership making the decisions creates the final budget. Another strength is that those making the decision have access to all pertinent information including confidential employee or trustee discussions that may not be shared with a larger group. This model also maintains the greatest level of control which some leaders and organizations need or desire.

A weakness of model one is the lack of input from the broader constituency which may mean the final strategic plan feels forced upon those who must implement it. Unless you have a strong leadership style, dedicated followers, a high level of trust, and a very charismatic leader, this model can come across as a dictatorship. In some circumstances, it does work. If you personify the organization, if the organization is developed around the leader, or if you are the founder of the organization, then this may be the perfect model for you.

Cedarville University is much bigger than any one person, and like the children of Israel, I have inherited buildings that I did not build. I have, therefore, ruled out model one for Cedarville University, but I recognize that this model may work best for some churches or non-profits.

Model 2 — One Large Committee with the Executive Leadership Team and At Large Members:

The adjective “large” can vary. For my context, the executive leadership team includes 8 people so one large committee would have to include 12-16 members to have any level of input from outside the executive leadership team. The first weakness quickly emerges. To have broad input, the committee becomes so large that it is hard to find meeting times or manage discussion. Another weakness of this model is that employees reporting to people sitting at the table often do not feel the freedom to express their opinions without hearing their supervisor talk first to confirm support for the idea. If this happens, then you do not have broad-based ideas which limits the effectiveness of this model.

A strength is that one committee ensures communication between all members of the strategic planning team. Another strength is that executive leadership maintains a level of control. While control can be seen as bad, it can also be seen as good when it prevents personal agendas or unrealistic goals from dominating the discussion.

At Cedarville University, this model was the choice of 80 of the 100 staff members who responded to the survey, but it was the choice of very few faculty members. Perhaps staff managers do a good job of listening which means staff feel less of a need to be involved in the planning process. Perhaps their trust level for administration is higher because they interact with leadership more frequently. Perhaps they are overworked or engaged in immediate assignments and prefer not to be tasked with serving on a committee which is more likely with two separate committees. I’m not sure why the preference was so great for one committee among staff members. I am still thinking through this one.

What I do know is that I’m in a no win situation with this choice. One committee pleases the staff whereas two committees pleases the faculty. At least making this information public will reassure them that I have considered the input and tried to think through the possibilities.

I believe the one committee model would work well for small executive leadership teams and high trust organizations that can keep the size of the committee manageable. It provides greater flexibility, agility and efficiency if the committee size is small enough. I am not leaning toward this model because of the size committee I would need.

Model 3 — Two Committees: The Executive Leadership and a Separate Steering Committee:

The weakness of the two committee system is also a strength–separation. The separation from executive leadership allows freedom to think. That freedom sometimes results in ideas that the executive leadership will not support or fund. If communication between the two committees is not strong, then the steering committee may feel like it is wasting time or does not have administrative support. Plans are perceived as stillborn with no budget resources and no feedback–equaling frustration and failure. From an administrative side, relinquishing control can be scary and can create problems if the committee determines the best course is a way that you don’t want to go. Perhaps the reason you don’t want to go that direction is information from another constituency like students, parents, alumni, donors, or trustees that you understand better than the committee.

The strength of the two committee system is broad based communication. The freedom to think separately also brings buy in to the ultimate plan. This system brings trust and transparency to the institution as well. For institutions where the executive leadership is new, this system brings much needed information from other leaders on campus. For institutions with a low trust factor, this minimized the criticism of the administration having personal agendas and increases transparency in the process. This model may also develop other leaders on campus, but the chair has to be a strong leader with good communication skills or the committee will not succeed.

Feedback from the faculty members indicates that this is the plan of choice, but only 15% of our faculty members participated in the town hall forums. Low participation indicates either a high level of trust in the administration or apathy toward strategic planning. If the faculty feel like strategic planning never changes anything anyway, then why should they participate. If they trust the current direction, then there is no need to engage personally by attending another meeting. Perhaps, they are over worked and just want more time for students, research, writing or teaching. I am not sure why the preference for two committees or why so few went to a town hall meeting. I am still thinking through this one.

Time to Choose:

I now have to make a choice. I will do that in the next post. I have prayed throughout the research that God would make the right choice clear. As I hope I have communicated, different models can work for different institutions. Good leaders know their team and try to sense what the organization needs most. Good leaders do what is right before the Lord and then allow God to sort the rest out. I don’t know that there is a right moral decision in this situation, but I am going to do my best to make the best choice for Cedarville University and then pray that God works through it.

© 2017 Thomas White

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