Sunday, April 18, 2021

Starting with Abraham 2

continued from here


3. Nevertheless, although we are reading Exodus for the next two weeks, we should dip back into the story of Genesis briefly to get a sense of how we got to Exodus 1. As we said, the thread of Israel's story begins with a man named Abraham. For Abraham, we go back in time to around 1800BC, when there were massive migrations of people going on in the middle east.

While there is no record of Abraham outside the Bible, the path the Bible mentions fits the time in which he is set. His journey starts in Ur, in the very south of what is modern-day Iraq. This is where the two great rivers of the "fertile crescent" meet, the Tigris and Euphrates. This is the birthplace of civilization, where earlier hunter-gatherers first settled down and became stationary, farming the land and starting the first kingdoms.

In the 1700s BC, the old Babylonians become the force with which to reckon, with the famous king Hammurabi ruling the day. Interestingly, Abraham goes to battle in Genesis 14 at the time when an "Amraphel" is ruling in the region of Babylon. If you look at the consonants of this name, they are the same as Hammurabi.

Joshua 24:2 tells us that Abraham's family at that time were "polytheists"--they worshiped other gods "on the other side of the River," meaning the Euphrates. Abraham's path to Canaan, the land that would become Israel, was a two-step process. First, his family went northwest to a place called Harran, which is where modern-day Syria is located. Then God calls Abraham south to Canaan, which is where Israel will eventually be located.

4. One of the themes we will explore as we read is the notion that God meets us where we are. That is, God does not expect us to come up to his level to understand something. Rather, God is patient. God speaks our language. God finds a way to move us forward starting within our categories.

If you think about it, how could it be any other way? First, we surely could not understand God on God's own terms. I am frankly amazed at how arrogant we often are without knowing it, thinking we understand so much about God. Perhaps at some point you have studied something that has put you in your place. Maybe it was a math or a science course. What you may not realize is that there are puzzles that even the smartest people cannot solve. Even the great Einstein went to his grave without figuring out things he spent decades working on.

Now think of God. How often people like you and me think we have God figured out. I often preach and teach things about God. Scholars write books about God. Yet I am convinced the most "learned" among us are going to be horribly embarrassed in heaven to realize how stupid we were.

The bottom line is that we really have no hope unless God "stoops to our weakness" and comes to us in our categories. This is what some people call "incarnational" revelation. Remember that Jesus took on human flesh when he came to earth (John 1:14)? So when God speaks to us and when God spoke to people in the Bible, he takes on our intellectual "flesh." God speaks our language and then moves us from there.

5. We may see hints of this fact in the names of God in Genesis. At the very beginning of Abraham's story, he is met by a mysterious priest by the name of Melchizedek (Gen. 14:18), just after the battle mentioned above. Some think this priest may have been a "cameo" by Jesus in the Old Testament, although the Bible never says this. [1]

Melchizedek is the priest of "El-Elyon" or "God Most High." In other words, he is the priest of the highest god. Peoples in this phase of history worshiped many gods, just like Abraham's parents. At the top of these "pantheons" or collections of all the gods, was a chief god, a king of the gods. In Greek mythology, it was Zeus. In the Babylonian pantheon, it was Marduk.

If we ask ourselves, how might these people have worshiped God before there was a Bible, surely this is a strong possibility (cf. Ps. 82). Someone like Abraham, who had no Bible, could certainly have worshiped God by worshiping "God Most High." This is at least a good possibility for how God might have met someone like Abraham within his understanding of the world at that time.

Exodus 6:3 tells us that Abraham did not yet know God by his first name--Yahweh. This is the name that God reveals to Moses later on, at the burning bush. Whenever you see the word LORD in all capitals in the Old Testament, that is a translation of Yahweh, the proper name of God. My name is Ken. God's revealed name in the Old Testament is Yahweh.

Exodus 6:3 says that Abraham, then his son Isaac, then Isaac's son Jacob, all knew God as "El Shaddai," God Almighty. It says they did not know him as Yahweh. Notice the word "El" again, which means "god" in Hebrew. They might easily have known El Elyon as El Shaddai, "God Almighty." 

A clever person might then say, "But why does Genesis call God Yahweh all over the place? Genesis acts like Abraham knew God as Yahweh." My answer is that this is "after the fact" language. 

Let's say your name is Ken, but you later get the nickname "Flick" because of something you do with your hair when you teach. Someone might still talk about Flick doing things as a child even though you did not yet have that nickname at that time. Joshua refers to Jerusalem several times, even though it probably was not yet called that (e.g., Josh. 10:1; cf. Judg. 19:11). In the same way, Genesis can refer to God as Yahweh even though Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob did not yet know God by this name. The author and reader of Genesis knew well enough the name by which God would later reveal himself.

6. I might also add that, while I have been referring to God as a he... 

[1] The idea of the appearance of Christ in the Old Testament is called a "Christophany." However, this idea is an early Christian tradition. The Bible nowhere says this happened.

Saturday, April 17, 2021

The Birth of Israel 1

continued from here


For the next two weeks, we are going to read the book of Exodus, the second book in the Bible. If you read three chapters a day, you will only have one chapter left to read on the last day.

1. Again, you may ask, "Why are we going to Exodus rather than Genesis, the actual first book of the Bible?" There are two reasons. Both have to do with our quest to be able to read and hear the Bible on its own terms.

First, we mentioned in the first chapter that Adam is hardly mentioned in the Old Testament outside of Genesis 2-3, and Eve is never mentioned elsewhere. In the New Testament, Adam features prominently in two chapters of Paul's writings, barely elsewhere. Eve is similarly mentioned only twice. [1]

The situation is quite different if you do a word search on Abraham. Abraham is mentioned 42 times outside of Genesis in the Old Testament and 69 times in the New Testament. This observation takes us back to something we mentioned in the first chapter--there is more than one way to tell the same story. In the way the authors of the Bible themselves tell the story, Abraham is much more central than Adam.

Why is this the case? Why is Abraham more important to the story for the biblical writers than he probably is for Christians today in the way we tell the story? The answer is that almost all the writers of the Bible were either Israelites or Jews. (On a side note, we use the word Jew from the time Israel returned from captivity in 538BC on. More to come.) The only possible exception would seem to be Luke.

In the Jewish telling of the story, the story really gets going from Abraham on. Abraham is the father of the people that would become Israel. What we call the "Old Testament" is really the Scriptures of Israel. What we called the "Old Testament" is really the Bible that the earliest believers used. The Scriptures of Israel are the Scriptures that Jesus used while he was on earth.

Jesus and his opponents in the Gospel of John do not argue over who is a child of Adam. They argue over who the true children of Abraham are (John 8:31-59). The biblical story, as the Bible itself predominantly tells the story, really gets going with Abraham. Everything before Abraham has somewhat of the nature of preface or "prolegomena" (things you say beforehand).

2. So one reason to start with Exodus is to make it clear to us that we are reading the Scriptures of Israel. Most of those who will read this book are not Jews but non-Jews or "Gentiles" as we are called. The Bible is Scripture for us as well, but it is easy for us to "take the Bible over" and narcissistically ignore the fact that the Old Testament was first collected as the Jewish Scriptures. 

Even the New Testament was predominantly written by Jews for Christians who either were Jewish Christians or non-Jews who understood themselves to have become part of Israel. Even the Gentiles of the New Testament understood themselves to have become children of Abraham (Rom. 4:11-12). Again, we start with Exodus so that we can better begin to read the Bible on its own terms rather than our own.

Why then start with Exodus? Why not start with Genesis 12? In part for convenience. In part because Exodus really brings out the centrality of the Old Testament as the Scriptures of Israel. Although Abraham is the father of Israel he is also the father of Ishmael. There is a sense in which all of Genesis is prolegomena to Israel, which only becomes the people of God fully with the exodus and the covenant at Mt. Sinai.

However, another reason we are postponing Genesis is so that we can begin to get our hermeneutical legs under us. Genesis 1-3 especially are so familiar to so many of us that we may have a difficult time reading them with fresh eyes. Perhaps more than any other part of the Old Testament, we are likely to think that we already know Genesis 1-3. We may think their meaning is obvious because we have heard so much about them. We already have our ideas formed.

Accordingly, it will be hard to hear Genesis 1-3 with all those voices in our head. Our thoughts are clouded by modern arguments and fights in the church. It will do us well to stay in the less trodden paths of books like Leviticus and Deuteronomy before we go back to Genesis. Then when we look at them, we will have a little more familiarity with the world to which God was speaking when he inspired those chapters.

3. Nevertheless, although we are reading Exodus for the next two weeks, we should dip back into the story of Genesis briefly to get a sense of how we got to Exodus 1...

[1] Adam: Romans 5 and 1 Corinthians 15; Eve: 2 Corinthians 11: 3; 1 Timothy 2:13.

Thursday, April 15, 2021

Chapter 1: The Story of Salvation 6

This would finish the first chapter of a "read through the Bible in a year" and "learn how to read the Bible" book. Posts in the first chapter include:

continued from here

... Jesus casts out demons. This fact not only shows Jesus' power. It indicates that the kingdom of God is arriving. If Sin and Satan have been running wild on the earth, then the arrival of the kingdom of God is the reclaiming of that territory for God. Jesus puts it this way: "If by the finger of God I am casting out the demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you" (Luke 11:20).

Every demon Jesus casts out not only shows that the power of God is flowing through him. It not only shows that Jesus has power over the spiritual realm. It also shows that God is restoring the earth. Jesus is the Normandy invasion to retake enemy territory occupied by Satan.

12. Mark does not talk explicitly about another very important aspect to Jesus. Christians call it the "incarnation." It relates to our Christian belief that Jesus existed before he came to earth. "In-carnation" means "into flesh." Jesus took on our human flesh when he was on earth. For this truth, we best turn to the fourth book of the New Testament, the Gospel of John.  John 1:14 says, "The Word became flesh and tented among us." 

The Gospel of John is the clearest book in the Bible in relation to the fact that Jesus existed before he came to earth. In fact, Christians believe that Jesus was actually God come to earth. Although it took a few centuries of discussion to work through the details, Christians believe that Jesus was both fully God and fully human, the eternal Son of God the Father.


13. This chapter had three main goals. The first was to get acquainted with the overall flow of the story within the Bible from a Christian perspective. We suggested you might think of the story as having six acts. In Act I, God creates the world and humanity. In Act II, Adam and Eve disobey God, leaving us with death as our lot and the power of Sin as our reality.

In Act III, God begins his mission to reclaim, to "save" the world. This is the story of Israel in the Old Testament, to which we will turn in the next chapter. It culminates in Act IV, the earthly life and ministry of Jesus. Act V is the in-between time in which we currently find ourselves, the age of the church and the time of the New Testament. We are waiting for Act VI, when Jesus will return and the world will be made as it was originally meant to be.

The second purpose of this chapter was to introduce us to Jesus, the hero of the story and the focus of Act IV. This week we read the Gospel of Mark to get a basic sense of what Jesus did when he ministered on earth. Jesus is the solution to the story's problem. He is the mechanism of "salvation," which is both escape from the power of Sin now and escape from death and God's final judgment in Act VI. As we turn to the Old Testament in the next chapter, we should keep in mind that Jesus is where the story is headed.

The final purpose of this chapter was to begin to give you a sense of what it means to read the Bible in context. The study of how to interpret the Bible is called "hermeneutics." It is the study of interpretation. We do not usually start reading the Bible with an awareness of the "glasses" we are wearing. By default, we read meanings from our world into the biblical text without even realizing it. Seeing the Bible in its own contexts is a journey that we have only just begun.

A key hermeneutical concept we introduced in this chapter is the idea of "paradigm shifts." A paradigm shift is when your perspective on a particular topic fundamentally changes. In particular, we discussed four such changes in this chapter:

  • First, we mentioned that the Bible was not originally one book. It is a library of books, written at different times and places to people who have been gone for thousands of years. When Revelation 22:19 talks about taking words out, it was only talking originally about the scroll of Revelation, because the rest of the Bible was not yet attached to it.
  • Second, what a book is about does not tell you when it was written or who wrote it. Why would a book about Joshua have to be written by Joshua? And why would it have to be written at the time of Joshua?
  • Similarly, the books of the Bible are not arranged in the order they were written. Paul's letters were written before the Gospels about Jesus, and Paul's letters are arranged from longest to shortest.
  • A final paradigm shift is the realization that the books of the Bible have a perspective. They are not videotapes or transcripts of what happened. They tell the stories with a purpose.
These hermeneutical shifts are just the beginning.

Wednesday, April 14, 2021

The Mission of Jesus 5

continued from here

The Mission of Jesus

9. One goal of this book is for you to read through the Bible this year as you read through these chapters. This week, the goal is to read through the Gospel of Mark. You may think, "Why would we start reading through the Gospel of Mark? Why not Genesis, the first book of the Bible? Mark isn't even the first book of the New Testament."

The first reason is that Jesus stands at the center of any Christian reading of the Bible. From a Christian perspective, the Old Testament has a direction, a goal, and that "telos" or goal is Jesus. Similarly, the New Testament looks backward to Jesus' time on earth and forward to Jesus' return to earth. Whichever way you turn in Scripture, you are looking to Jesus, "the author and one who completes our faith" (Heb. 12:2).

The Gospel of Mark was written at a particular place and time. It had a reason. It had a perspective on Jesus that overlaps but is also distinct from the other presentations of Jesus in Matthew, Luke, and John. However, our purpose in this first chapter is not to think about Mark's distinctive themes but more about Jesus as the center of Scripture.

We are starting with Mark because we want to get a brief, core sense of Jesus before we go back to the beginning. The Gospel of Mark is the shortest of the four Gospels. It is thus a great place to get the big picture of Jesus' earthly mission.

Mark tells us that Jesus' mission was "to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many" (Mark 10:45). The cross is indeed central to Mark's presentation of Jesus. Jesus offers himself to satisfy the order of things. He offers himself to liberate those who want to be reconciled to God. In the rest of the New Testament, we will also see that his resurrection from the dead signals victory over death and the defeat of the powers of evil in the world.

10. However, Jesus does much more than offer himself as a sacrifice in Mark. His core message is the arrival of the kingdom of God (Mark 1:14-15). The Old Testament gives us the key background here. For reasons God only knows fully, God has allowed Sin and Satan to wreak havoc on the earth for a very long time. Mark does not mention when this situation began. Mark is only concerned with its solution.

Jesus is the solution. When the Gospel of Mark begins, the people of God from the Old Testament, Israel, is alienated from God. In a sense, Israel is not in possession of its land. Its land is occupied by the Romans. Its leaders are not godly, even though they put on an appearance of righteousness. 

John the Baptist starts washing people in the Jordan River, "baptizing" them. He asks them as a people and as individuals to realign their hearts toward God once again. The water symbolizes the cleansing of their sins. He sets himself up on the east side of the Jordan River at the very place where, over a thousand years earlier, a leader named Joshua had led Israel into the possession of this same land. He is calling on Israel to turn, to "repent," in anticipation that God will restore his people once more. John the Baptist was symbolically enacting the return of Israel from exile.

11. John the Baptist was just the opening act. The real show is Jesus. After John is arrested, Jesus begins his ministry. Although he does not proclaim himself as king openly, everyone is thinking it. Could this be the king who will restore the kingdom of Israel? Could this be the "Son of David," the descendent of our ancient royal line? Will he kick the Romans out of our land?

But they have no category for a king who would die on a cross. That is just not what they thought Messiahs did. So Jesus does not openly proclaim himself as king. Instead, he works as a servant. He works on the edges. He begins reclaiming those in Israel who have fallen by the wayside, the "lost sheep" of Israel.

Jesus heals the sick, restoring those who are physically and mentally on the edges. This shows his heart of compassion toward others. He does not focus on the "whole." He does not spend his time around religious or political leaders. Although they take an interest in him, Jesus spends little time around the rich and powerful. He is interested in the poor, the widow, the orphan, the blind (Luke 4:18-19).

Jesus casts out demons...

Monday, April 12, 2021

The Books within History 4

... continued from here


6. So if we can speak of the overarching story within the Bible, we can also speak of the history of the books of the Bible. In my twenties, as I began to study the Bible more intensely, there was a shift in my understanding. We call these sorts of shifts, "paradigm shifts." You looked at a particular topic one way. Then you have this "aha moment," this moment where your perspective flips or shifts to another way of seeing the topic. And you may wonder how you didn't see it that way before. Sometimes these shifts seem so obvious in hindsight.

We have already hinted at one such paradigm shift. If you grew up thinking of the Bible as one book written by God to you, it is a paradigm shift to realize that the Bible is a library of books that were not originally bound together and that they were written at different times and places. It is a paradigm shift to think of these books as written first to other people. This is, after all, what the Bible actually says. It says it was written to ancient Israelites, ancient Romans, ancient Corinthians, and so forth.

Our initial reaction is often, "But it was written to all people in all times and places, including them," and "God was just speaking through ancient authors--they weren't significant in the thinking of what they wrote." Hold onto those thoughts. No one is pushing you to change your thinking on these things, but I think you will experience paradigm shifts on them as we read the Bible and listen to it. It will become obvious.

In the meantime, it is clear that the books of the Bible were written at different times and places. The New Testament authors mention the Old Testament books as they write, so clearly the Old Testament books were written before the New Testament books. It is a different way of thinking to realize that these books were written at particular times and places in history. For example, there is a tendency to confuse the time a book talks about with the time when that book was written, but these are two different things.

For example, the book of Joshua is about Joshua. The book of Jonah is about Jonah. For some reason, it is not uncommon for some to think that Joshua wrote Joshua or that Jonah wrote Jonah. And it is common to assume these books were written at the time of Joshua or at the time of Jonah. But these assumptions are not at all obvious. After all, I could write a book about Joshua or Jonah too, thousands of years later. 

Indeed, these books tell us about Joshua and Jonah. They are written in what is called "the third person." "Joshua did this." "Jonah did that." They are not written to say, "I, Joshua, will tell you about my adventures at Jericho. First we crossed the Jordan..." If we were talking about any other book, no one would think for a second that Joshua and Jonah wrote these books. We are just often programmed to read the Bible differently. 

So even if Job lived around the time of Abraham, this fact would not mean that the book of Job was written at the time of Abraham and Job. After all, I could write a book about Abraham and Job almost four thousand years later. And we certainly should not assume that Job wrote the book just because it is about Job. 

These things would be obvious if we were talking about any book but the Bible. We just tend to think differently about Scripture than we do other books. That fact is not bad, but we are trying to deepen our reading of the Bible, so hopefully our eyes will be opened to these sorts of unexamined assumptions as we read. You do not have to believe me now. It will become obvious as we keep reading. Just listen and see what you think.

7. Another unexamined assumption is a tendency to read the stories of the Bible as if we are watching a video or reading a transcript of these events. There are a couple unexamined assumptions here. One is our self-deception in thinking that we are not coming to the text with assumptions and perspectives that color the way that we are reading the text. It is easy to think that the problem with Christians who disagree with my interpretations are their problem. Almost certainly they are, in part.

But they are also my problem. I do not see the Bible any more objectively than I see anything else in the world. Otherwise, I would have to conclude that I'm the only Christian listening to the Holy Spirit. And how likely is it that the problem is that all those other Christians just aren't as spiritual as I am?

There is yet another unexamined assumption though. We are going to realize quickly that the books of the Bible also bring particular perspectives to the events about which they tell us. Consider the four books in the New Testament about the earthly ministry of Jesus: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. We call these four books "Gospels" because they tell us about the good news Jesus brought. While they often tell us about the same events, they do so with different emphases and flavors.

Consider the Gospel of Mark, which you are reading this week alongside this chapter. It was written at a particular time and place, and this fact had an impact on how it was written. Take Mark 7:3: "All the Jews, unless they wash their hands to the fist, do not eat." [2] This comment is meant to give some background to the story to the people listening to Mark being read aloud to them. 

Notice that the comment explains what Jews do. What can we infer from this comment? Since the Gospel explains what "all the Jews" do, we can fairly conclude that the audience was not primarily made up of Jews. Otherwise, the Gospel would not have to explain what Jews do to them.

The more we know about the context in which a book like Mark was written, the more we will likely have insight into why the story was told in the way it was. We will see this aspect of the Bible more and more as we read through it. Don't worry about fully getting what I'm saying now.

8. It is a different way to read the Bible when you see each of its books as moments in history. There is the story within the Bible, that we have already discussed. This is the story that takes events from here and there within the books of the Bible and glues them together from some Christian perspective from outside the Bible looking on. We see a whole story from the Christian glasses we are wearing, a Christian "metanarrative."

Then there is the history of the books of the Bible themselves, the books of the Bible within history. One paradigm shift is to realize that the books were not necessarily written in the order in which they appear. For example, all of Paul's letters were written before any of the Gospels were written about Jesus. Paul's letters are arranged by how long they are--longest to shortest--not in the order in which they were written.

So in the story within the Bible, Jesus comes before Paul. But in the history of the Bible, Paul's writings were written before the Gospels about Jesus were written. You do not need to fully see what we are talking about here now. It will become clearer and clearer as we proceed through the Bible. The goal is not necessarily to take away the way you read the Bible now, but to add to that reading the ability to hear the books somewhat as God first inspired them. The goal is to add an understanding of their first meanings, what they actually meant when God spoke through them to their actual first audiences...

[2] All translations of the Bible in this book are mine.

Sunday, April 11, 2021

The Story Inductively 3

continued from here


4. This gives one general sense of how Christians have understood the overarching story or metanarrative of Scripture. However, even here there are variations. One popular presentation of the biblical story emphasizes the story of the Flood and the Tower of Babel in Genesis, then pretty much omits the rest of the Old Testament. [1] Different tellings of the biblical story emphasize different events and glue them together differently.

Here we want to introduce the idea of reading the Bible "inductively." When you read the Bible inductively, you are trying to read it on its own terms and with its own emphases. For example, although the story of Adam and Eve in Genesis is very important in most Christian tellings of the story, Adam and Eve are barely mentioned in the vast majority of the Old Testament. Adam is barely mentioned outside two chapters of the New Testament. Inductively speaking, Adam is not a central character in the books of the Bible.

I mentioned a version of telling the biblical story that emphasizes the Flood and the Tower of Babel. Yet the Flood is barely mentioned in the Bible outside Genesis, and the second story is not explicitly mentioned anywhere else. From an inductive perspective, on the books of the Bible's own terms, these stories are not central to the Bible at all. 

This fact does not necessarily invalidate these readings of the whole Bible. The point is that these perspectives do not come from the Bible alone. There is a whole lot more "glue" that comes from us in these overarching readings than we probably realize. We are wearing "glasses" as we read and quite probably do not even realize it. These glasses affect what we see, in some cases even more than the biblical texts themselves. These are often the glasses of church traditions.

5. In the end, the Bible is a collection of books. God did not inspire one person to sit down one day and write from Genesis to Revelation. The scrolls of the Bible were written over a thousand-year period by dozens of authors in three different languages to numerous different contexts. While it was the same God speaking, the language styles of the books are not the same. Words are not used in the same ways. These dynamics will become clearer and clearer as we read along.

When God speaks, he wants to be understood. So God inevitably speaks our language. When God spoke to ancient Israel in the books of the Old Testament, their "language" was full of concepts from the Ancient Near East of three thousand years ago. When God spoke to the early Christians in the books of the New Testament, their "language" was full of concepts from the Greco-Roman Mediterranean world. When we do not realize this fact and bring our own concepts from our twenty-first-century cultures, we will inevitably "misread" these texts on at least one level without knowing it.

The Bible is thus more of a library than a single book. Most of these books existed alone and apart before they were put together. When Revelation 22:18-19 warns about adding or taking away words from "the scroll of this prophecy," it was originally referring only to the scroll of Revelation. After all, none of the other books of the Bible were attached to it at that time. When 2 Timothy 3:16 first said that "all Scripture is God-breathed," there was as yet no New Testament. It was only referring originally to what we now call the Old Testament.

As we read through the Bible together, we will keep track of what turns out to be two different ways of reading the Bible, both of which are arguably valid. The first is what these books actually meant, their original, "real" meanings. The second approach relates to the meanings these books took on and take on when we read them together with each other and then bring our Christian traditions of reading with us. Often when Christians talk about what God was saying through the Bible, we are really referring to later Christian traditions about how to glue the content of the Bible together. 

6. So if we can speak of the overarching story within the Bible, we can also speak of the history of the books of the Bible...

[1] Answers in Genesis. Seven Cs of History

Saturday, April 10, 2021

An Overview of the Story 2

 ... continued from here


For this reason, our first fly over Scripture will have a lot of Christian glue in it. As Christians, we tend to stick the stories and teachings of the Bible together in particular ways. For example, although it may seem obvious to us, we consider the second half, which we call the "New" Testament, to be the fulfillment or consummation of the first half. We call the first half the "Old" Testament. 

You can see even in the way we have named these two halves that we would say the first half is somehow incomplete without the second half of the story. In theory, someone could label or glue them together differently. For example, a person who did not believe Jesus was the Messiah might see the second half as a kind of appendix telling about a Jewish group that got it wrong.

2. A story typically has a beginning, a middle, and an ending. The beginning of the story sets up some sort of situation or problem that will play itself out in the rest of the story. The ending then sees that situation reach some sort of resolution or destination for the initial situation in some way. The middle of the story is the process of reaching that ending point.

In the story within the Bible, the story starts and ends with God. God is the main character. The story begins with creation in Genesis 1 and it ends with new creation and "forever" in Revelation 22. Mind you, the books of Genesis and Revelation were not written at the same time. Hundreds of years separate the two "scrolls." The people who wrote the words in these books down had no idea these two scrolls would one day be bound together. God knew, of course.

Many Christians would see Adam as the culprit who sets up the biblical story to play out the way it does. Adam and Eve create the problem at the beginning of the story that the rest of the plot is trying to solve. They "sin" in the Garden of Eden. Humanity was meant to live forever from the very beginning, but Adam disobeys God and all is initially lost.

Speaking of glue, most Jews at the time of Jesus probably would not have focused on Adam in their telling of the story. At the time of Jesus, most Jews would probably have started the story more with Abraham, who first appears at the end of Genesis 11. What Christians tend to see as a subplot--the story of Abraham and his literal descendants--is the main plot for a Jewish reader who may or may not see Jesus as the goal of the story. 

In the Christian telling of the story, Jesus is the solution to the problem set up by Adam. Jesus is the "last Adam" (1 Cor. 15:45). Jesus is the climax of the story, the goal toward which the plot is moving. Everything in the story before Jesus is headed toward its fulfillment in him. 

3. One way to tell the overarching story from a Christian perspective is thus to give a story in six "acts." Again, this is the way we are telling the story, gluing the material in these books together from the outside looking in. They were all separate scrolls originally. Someone put these scrolls together and bound them in one big book. If we are to believe in the Bible, we have to believe not only that God directed or "inspired" the writing of them but that God also directed the later collection and putting of them together as a whole.

The first act is the creation, just as the final act is new creation and "forever." Then the second act sets up the problem of the story, the sin of Adam and the situation in which humanity now finds itself. We find ourselves separated from God. We find ourselves encumbered with evil and suffering. We find ourselves surrounded by death. The world is not yet at God planned for it to be. 

Part of the final act is not only eternity, but the final resolution of the problem. In this sixth act, humanity and the world become as God planned for them to be. This resolution of the plot involves both the judgment of humanity but also the salvation of many from that judgment. Judgment and salvation go together because salvation in part is escaping the consequences of the Judgment. 

The middle of the story is thus the movement toward this ending point. If Act I is the creation and Act II is the problem created by Adam and Eve, Act III gives the Old Testament, the time when God works with one specific people group, Israel, to begin to reconcile the world to himself. God reveals himself to this people. He makes a special arrangement or "covenant" with them. This first covenant looks forward to a more complete or "new covenant" that God will make with all humanity through Jesus.

Act IV is the turning point of the story, the point where God actually comes down to earth as a human, as Jesus. Jesus comes to fix the human problem. Through his death and resurrection to life again, Jesus defeats all the forces of evil and suffering in the story. He not only defeats death, but he defeats the strongest villain in the story, the Devil. Jesus satisfies the order of things and makes reconciliation with God finally possible.

Finally, Act V is somewhat unexpected. The Jews might have expected Act VI to be part of the initial coming of Jesus or at least to follow immediately after his resurrection from the dead. Instead, we have two thousand years of intervening time, the age of the Church. About two-thirds of the New Testament is about the beginning of this part of the story. The earliest Christians had no idea this part of the story would last so long.

Act VI thus begins with the "second coming" of Jesus. In Act VI, Jesus completes the mission that he started with his first coming. He brings judgment to those who have not given their allegiance to him, and he brings salvation from judgment to those who have confessed him as their Lord. For those who have confessed him as the Christ, as their "anointed" king, Act VI ends with a blessed forever. They not only escape the judgment, but they are transformed into the humanity we were always meant to be.

4. This is the way Christians generally understand the overarching story or metanarrative of Scripture...

Thursday, April 08, 2021

An Invitation to Scripture 1

I want to invite you to read through the Bible with me. 

This week, as you read this first chapter, you might read through the Gospel of Mark. Read two chapters during each weekday, then read three chapters each day of the weekend.

1. The Bible is a many-splendored thing. It has many layers. My parents and grandparents read the Bible countless times into their eighties and nineties, and they made new discoveries every time. I am going to argue that one reason for this dynamic is the fact that words are so flexible, and God uses that flexibility to keep the words of the Bible a living word.

However, as we will see, the books of the Bible did have first meanings. These meanings were meanings that had to do with the people to whom God first spoke them. They had a "context," and context sets the rules for what words mean to someone hearing or reading them. You will see what I mean soon enough.

For now, I want to start with a first reading of the Bible. I want you to get in a helicopter with me and fly over the whole territory of Scripture to start. Mind you, we are getting in a Christian helicopter. Anyone with a family that tells stories will know that the same events can be told from more than one point of view. Do you have an uncle who tells the family story differently than your mother does? Or perhaps your father tells it differently than your grandmother.

Similarly, a Christian would tell the story of the Bible differently than an atheist. A Jewish person who does not believe Jesus is the Messiah would tell the story differently than a Roman Catholic. Frankly, there are thousands of different Christian groups who would tell the overarching story of the Bible a little differently from each other.

So our first fly over Scripture will just be one reading, a fairly historic reading. "Orthodoxy" means "right belief," and right belief with regard to Christianity is usually considered a basic understanding that developed in the first few centuries after Jesus. Christians arrived at a sort of agreement or consensus on the overall story. There is a sort of agreed storyline that focuses on one event in one book and then another event in another book. It then puts these events in different books into a plotline, the story of how God is saving the world.

You will not really find that whole story in any one place in the Bible. It is an overarching version of the story--or "metanarrative"--put together by Christian readers looking on the whole Bible from the outside looking in. This dynamic will be one of our earliest take-aways from our reading. We glue the pieces of the Bible together in our interpretations, typically without even knowing it. Without some reflection, we often have difficulty telling the difference between what part of our reading is the Bible and what part of our reading is the glue we bring to the text.

For this reason, our first fly over Scripture will have a lot of Christian glue in it...

Sunday, March 28, 2021

Sunday School: Lessons on Unity from 1 Corinthians 1

 1 Corinthians 1:10-17

1. Prayer

2. Background

  • Founded church on second journey
  • Apollos followed
  • Paul's third journey -- at Ephesus
  • Divided church (letters, visits)

3. Read Scripture

4. Breakout rooms (What are some of our divisions in the church today?)

5. Divided over cliques

  • I am of Paul.
  • I am of Apollos.
  • I am of Cephas.
  • I am of Christ.
  • What are the groups in the church that we fight over--denominations? churches in town? Christian colleges?

6. Divided over status

  • taking each other to court (1 Cor. 6)
  • The rich getting drunk at communion
  • What are examples here? racial privilege, the haves over the have nots

7. One group thinks they know more.

  • eating at the marketplace, eating at a pagan temple
  • Probably didn't know as much as they thought
  • The key was building each other up

8. One group thinks they're more spiritual

  • tongues versus prophecy
  • women without coverings
  • self-contradictory, to boast of spirituality
  • about building each other up

Sunday, March 21, 2021

"Face toward the Cross" (sermon starters)

"Set Your Face Toward the Cross"

March 21, 2021

McCrae Brook Wesleyan Church

Text: Luke 9:18-25, 51


The unfolding of COVID. Fever, symptoms on Day 3. Most who go into the hospital do so on Day 7. If you make it with oxygen high enough by Day 10, you probably are going to survive. 

Long job searches where you know the process is going to take months. Your future hangs in the balance while you watch the hour hand move slowly around.

Jesus sets his face toward the cross in Luke 9, but he doesn't get to Jerusalem until Luke 19.

I. The Anxiety of Jesus

John 12:27 -- There's a whole lot that is summarized very briefly here. John gives us the superJesus, the super-confident, super-powerful, super-knowing Jesus. This verse gives only a hint of what we know from the other Gospels:

  • "Now is my soul sorrowful, even to the point of death" (Matt. 26:38).
  • He prayed that, if it were possible, he wanted the hour to pass from him. He asked the Lord to remove the cup from him. (Mark 14:34-36)
Let's think on this. This is the same Jesus who spoke Matthew 6:25-34. 

Hebrews 4:15 says that Jesus was tempted like us. He felt anxiety about his death. It's not about the feelings. It's about the moment of decision.

II. The Temptations of Emotions

Emotions in themselves are neither good or bad, it's what we do with them that counts. It's the choices we make. Casablanca -- we don't know exactly what the Captain is going to decide when Rick shoots the Nazi. Harry Potter -- for a moment I thought I wasn't either

  • Anger -- in your anger do not sin (Ephesians 4:26) -- press pause, journal, vent to others, pray
  • Doubt -- find others to be faith for you, revisit moments of God's visitation in the past
  • Sadness -- read psalms of lament, get it out, then tune into joy, get around people
  • Anxiety -- when fear keeps us from acting in faith or wronging others -- choose courage, take the next step of courage

III. The Lord will Provide

The story of Abraham and Isaac. Jehovah Jireh. No matter what, God gives grace (James 4:6) -- he gives more grace when the burdens grow greater


Set your face toward the cross. Take up your cross and follow Jesus. Do it one step, one choice at a time.

Sunday, March 14, 2021

17. The Competencies of a Master Manager (management series)

I don't know if I will finish blogging through each of the chapters of the book, but I have finished this book and wanted to post what would be the final post in the series. This is a summary of the competencies of a master manager as set out in the book.

Thinking Critically
In the Introduction, the general need for a manager to be able to think critically is set out. "The task of the critical thinker is to make the best decision with the available information in a particular circumstance" (20).  

I. Collaborate (human relations model of management)
The book uses what it calls a "Competing Values Framework" for management. These values are all part of the repertoire of a master manager, even though they are often in tension with each other. The four values are collaboration, control, competition, and creation.

1. Understanding Self and Others
To collaborate, you first need to have an understanding of yourself and others. This involves emotional intelligence and social intelligence. The Johari window is in this section. Myers-Briggs is mentioned in this section.

2. Communicating Honestly and Effectively
Once you have a basic sense of yourselves and others, you will need to be able to communicate to others in order to collaborate. Basic communication theory is in this section. 

3. Mentoring and Developing Others
In relation to personal interaction, part of being a manager involves the mentoring and developing of subordinates. Annual performance reviews are treated in this section, as well as coaching. Delegation is one way to train a person. 

4. Managing Groups and Leading Teams
A manager will lead a team at some point. The kinds of styles that members of a team sometimes play is mentioned here. The section also talks about how to run a meeting. The stages of forming, storming, norming, performing is also treated.

5. Managing and Encouraging Constructive Conflict
Working with others will inevitably result in conflict, whether personal or task-related. Such conflict can be productive, but there are better and worse ways to facilitate through it. Four approaches to conflict management are given.

II. Control (internal processing model of management)
One of the older theories of management has to do with the internal organization of that which is being managed. 

1. Organizing Information Flows
We are inundated with more data than ever. The TRAF method gives a system for processing the influx. The OABC method of composing concise messages is given. 

2. Working and Managing Across Functions
The complexity of the modern world requires working across silos in an organization. On the one hand, as organizations grow, workflows need to be differentiated (which leads to siloing). But these areas cannot be completely be separated, so there needs to be integrated across functions.

3. Planning and Coordinating Projects
Several project management approaches are presented in this section--work breakdown structure, PERT charts, GANTT charts, the human resource matrix. Also presented are cost and schedule variances, including concepts like "Budgeted Cost of Work Scheduled," "Budgeted Cost of Work Performed," and "Actual Cost of Work Performed."

4. Measuring and Monitoring Performance and Quality
Assessment and measuring outcomes is an important part of any organization. 

5. Encouraging and Enabling Compliance
There will almost always be those who do not follow the rules. This section goes through a number of reasons people given for non-compliance. Motivations for compliance are also given--carrots, sticks, etc.

III. Compete (rational goal model)
Perhaps the oldest model for management is the one that has to do with goal setting, productivity, and profitability.

1. Developing and Communicating a Vision
Mission statements, vision statements, values statements are a standard part of organizations. 

2. Setting Goals and Objectives
The concept of SMART goals is presented. 

3. Motivating Self and Others
Some motivation theory is presented, including content theories (relating to desired things) and process theories (which focus on how motivation is done). Expectancy theory looks at why people are motivated. In particular, they need to be confident they are able, the outcome is possible, and that it is valuable.

4. Designing and Organizing
Material on org charts and hierarchical/non-hierarchical structures is given. Ways of organizing units are given along with Galbraith's "star" model for designing an organization. Different organizational cultures are given that correlate more or less to the emphases of the four different models.

5. Managing Execution and Driving for Results
Time Management is a topic of this section, going back to some fundamental insights of Peter Drucker. Three keys to execution are given--watching the people process, the strategy process, and the operations process.

IV. Create (the open systems model)
The final approach to management focuses on innovation, change, and adaptability. It has become increasingly important in the twenty-first century.

1. Using Power and Influence Ethically and Effectively
This section talks about the proper use of power, including five different sources of power. Some strategies of influence are given.

2. Championing and Selling New Ideas
Seven Cs for business communication are well known. Messages should be complete, concise, considerate, clear, concrete, courteous, and correct. But messages are of different sorts. They can be relational, informational, promotional, and transformational. The SSSAP approach to effective presentations is given.

3. Fueling and Fostering Innovation
The difference between critical and creative thinking is presented. It is insisted that creative thinking can develop even in someone who is not "naturally" creative. Brainstorming as a technique is presented.

4. Negotiating Agreement and Commitment
We all have a "social credit rating," social capital that gives us a listen. For dialog, there must be mutual purpose, meaning, and respect. Some principles for successful negotiating are given.

5. Implementing and Sustaining Change
A force-field analysis is a predictor of whether change will happen. Is the organization in a dysfunctional state? Change will not be difficult to lead. Is it super-stable, in an "extraordinary state"? Then it will be hard to change. A "normal-ordinary state" is balanced and, again, will not necessarily sense a need for change. Four strategies for change are given--telling, forcing, participating, and transforming.

Again, the master manager will seek for integration of these competing values. Without integration, the zones of strength move into a negative zone where they are actually a weakness. A "systems thinker" sees the whole and can handle paradoxical thinking. 

Wednesday, March 10, 2021

13. The Knowing-Doing Gap (management series)

This is a fun one. 2000 book review in the Harvard Business School Press, 2000. The book is The Knowing-Doing Problem, by Jeffrey Pfeffer and Robert Sutton

Knowing what to do is not enough
"The gap between knowing and doing is more important than the gap between ignorance and knowing."

"Better ways of doing things cannot remain secret for long."

"Sustainable competitive advantage is built by doing things that are difficult to imitate."

Talk and Action
There is a "tendency to equate talking about something with actually doing something about it."

"Mission statement is one of the common means that organizations use ot substitute talk for action." :-) Love this one. So true.

"We should form our impression of others based on how well they perform" which "can be assessed only wih a greater time lag." This "clashes with the natural human tendency to form impressions quickly" and "does not fit within the time scale of the performance appraisal..."

"One of the best ways of sounding smart is to be critical of the ideas of other people. It is always possible to fid a reason to say no to some idea or proposal."

People also "try to impress others by using complex language." "Simple talk is valuable because it is more likely to lead to action." Mobilizing rhetoric:

  • casts an imaginative vision of the future
  • gives a realistic portrayal of the present
  • a selective description of the pasat
  • gives a sense of urgency
Memory and Thinking

"Memory often serves as a substitute for thinking."

"Most human beings are inclined to avoid evidence that disconfirms what they believe."

Three main ways to avoid relying on the past as a mindless guide to action:

  • Start a new organization or subunit.
  • Make people mindful of problems with doing things in old ways.
  • Encourage radical decentralization--the more competent a central HQ is, the less the whole organization needs to think. :-)
Fear and Knowledge

"Driving fear out of the organization helps to encourage courageous behavior."

"People who fear their bosses not only hide bad news but may also lie about how things are going."

Measurement and Judgment

"What gets measured gets done. What is not measured tends to be ignored."

"Individual performance in an interdependent system is always difficult or impossible to measure."

Good measurement practices:

  • global in scope
  • focused more on processes and less on final outcomes
  • reflect the model, culture, and philosophy of the organization
  • a sense that the measurement system itself is in process and subject to evaluation
  • relatively few metrics

Internal Competition

"Excessive internal competition can destroy the moral fabric of many organizations."

"Copying others inside the firm is perceived to have negative career consequences."

"Pygmalion effect. When teachers believe that their students will perform well, they do."

"Competition inhibits learning and creativity." "Intellectual tasks that require learning and inventing new ways of doing things are best performed under drastically different conditions than tasks that have been done repeatedly in the past."

Turning Knowledge into Action

We can minimize the knowing-doing gap by dealing with the following factors:

  • Ask "why" before "how"
  • We learn by doing and teaching, not by talking about it. "Learning is best done by trying a lot of things."
  • Action counts more than elegant plans and concepts. 
  • There is no doing without mistakes.
  • Drive out fear. "Reasonable failure should never be received with anger."
  • Fight the competition, not each other. Cooperation is good.
  • Measure what matters.
  • It matters how leaders spend their time.

Tuesday, March 09, 2021

12. How to Manage Radical Innovation (management series)

The next article is by Robert Stringer from 2000 in California Management Review, "How to Manage Radical Innovation."

1. Innovation is a Strategic Imperative

"Corporate size is inversely correlated to growth through innovation" (71).

2. Why aren't large companies more innovative?

  • Industry leaders can't afford to embrace radical innovation. They may invest in "sustaining technologies" for improved performance, but they are not well-equipped to deal with "disruptive technologies."
  • Structures and cultures discourage bringing big ideas to market. "The cultures of most large companies act as powerful stabilizing influences" (72).
  • Relying too much on internal R & D. "Industry leaders must be very careful about prematurely assuming a new technology will be the best solution and committing the company to it" (73). "If a senior executive hasn't screamed at you lately for grossly exceeding your authority, you're probably not doing your job" (relayed by Bernard Meyerson of IBM, who pushed IBM to make silicon-germanium semiconductors)
  • Large companies don't attract or retail radical innovators. "A large corporate environment is one dominated by the need for power, not the need for achievement" (74).
3. Why are small companies the source of most radical innovations?

  • "Often, the entire organization can be built around a single breakthrough concept" (74).
  • Usually there is a concentration of inventive entrepreneurs found in them.
  • Entrepreneurs are motivated by "need for accomplishment" and "achievement motivation."
Four drivers of entrepreneurs:

  • to compete against an internal standard of excellence
  • to make a unique contribution to the world
  • to engage in moderately risky activities (like 50/50 chance)
  • to receive constant, concrete, measurable feedback on performance and progress
"High achievers are planners" (75). "High achievers are not simply idea people--they are builders. They take ideas and put them to work, and this is what makes them successful as entrepreneurs" (75). Sometimes entrepreneurs, however, are poor team players.

Meanwhile, for entrepreneurs, large companies have "too many rules, too much compromise, too many meetings, and too little willingness to 'just do it.'"

4. Stimulating innovation in large companies--nine different strategies arranged from more to less potential. They're also arranged from less to more desperate.

I. Inside-Out Strategies

  • Make breakthrough innovation a strategic and cultural priority.
  • Hire more creative and innovative people.
  • Grow informal project laboratories within the traditional organization.
  • Create "idea markets" within the organization.
  • Become an "ambidextrous organization." Keep the innovators separate from the traditionalists.

II. Outside-In Strategies

  • Experiment with acquisitions, JVs, cooperative ventures and alliances with outside innovative entities.
  • Engage in corporate venturing--creating and supporting new businesses that are managed apart from a company's existing business.
III. Working with Venture Capital

  • Establish a corporate venture capital fund.
  • Participate in an emerging industry fund (EIF). This is giving money to a third party to manage toward innovation.

11. What makes a leader? (management series)

The next article in my management series is "What makes a leader?" by Daniel Goleman, a 2004 article in Business Strategy Review.

"Why should anyone be led by you?

"Leadership has much more to do with personal authenticity than an easily learned formula" (46). "Leaders need energy, a strong sense of direction and a clear vision."

Four other unexpected characteristics:

1. Strength in weakness

  • Revealing humanness can become the psychological equivalent to a Wailing Wall--something to gripe about, something that makes the leader human

2. Sensing the situation

  • Consider individuals
  • Leaders read teams.
  • Always check that perceptions are accurate before acting.

3. Concern is paramount.

4. Stress the difference.

  • Effective leaders use their differences from other leaders. (Trait theory is disproved -- good leaders do not all have the same traits.)
Four myths of leadership

1. Everyone can be a leader. (No)

2. Leaders develop business results. (Some well-led businesses do not deliver good results. Some businesses with good results are not necessarily well-led.)

3. People who get to the top are leaders. (No. Some people get to the top through politics, not good leadership. "Leaders are simply people who have followers."

4. Leaders are great coaches. (rarely)

10. How do you motivate employees (management series)

The next one in the series of HBR and other management articles is, "One More Time: How Do Motivate Employees" (2002), by Frederick Herzberg.

1. "What is the simplest, surest, and most direct way of getting someone to do something?" A kick in the... pants (KITA).

  • You can do it literally.
  • You can do it psychologically.
  • You can also give positive "KITAs" -- rewards
Other attempts at "positive" KITA:

  • reducing time spent at work
  • spiraling wages
  • fringe benefits
  • human relations training
  • sensitivity training
  • communications
  • two-way communications
  • job participation
  • employee counseling

2. How do you install a generator in an employee? 

Herzberg's motivation-hygiene theory of job attitudes

  • "The factors involved in producing job satisfaction (and motivation) are separate and distinct from the factors that lead to job dissatisfaction" (91).
  • "The opposite of job satisfaction is not job dissatisfaction but, rather, no job satisfaction; and, similarly, the opposite of job dissatisfaction is not job satisfaction but no job dissatisfaction."
  • Avoidance of job dissatisfaction comes from our animal drive to avoid pain. But our drive to satisfaction comes from our drive to achievement and growth, unique to humans.
  • Motivator factors include the drive to achievement, recognition of achievement, responsibility, advancement...

KITA type things relate to avoidance of pain. In his study, 81% of the things contribution to job satisfaction were motivators. 69% of those contributing to dissatisfaction were "hygiene" or KITA type things.

3. Three philosophies of personnel management:

  • Organizational theories -- organize the jobs in a proper manner, most efficient structure, job attitudes will follow [wrong]
  • Industrial engineers -- use incentives to facilitate the most efficient use of the human machine
  • Behavioral scientists -- change the attitudes, "Proper attitudes will lead to efficient job and organizational structure" (93).
Seek for job enrichment. "Job loading" merely enlarges the meaninglessness of the job. He calls this horizontal job loading. He favors "vertical job loading," where greater authority and autonomy is given the employee.

Hawthorne effort -- people who know they are being studied sometimes change because they are being paid attention to.

Motivators have a much longer-term effect on employees attitudes.

"If you have employees on a job, use them. If you can't use them on the job, get rid of them, either via automation or by selecting someone with lesser ability."

Monday, March 08, 2021

9. Strategy and the Internet (management series)

The next article is a 2001 HBR article by Michael Porter called, "Strategy and the Internet." I am mindful that this article came out around the time of the bursting of the bubble. 

1. The internet is "an enabling strategy--a powerful set of tools that can be used wisely or unwisely, in almost any industry and as part of almost any strategy" (64).

"The key question is not whether to deploy Internet technology--companies have no choice if they want to stay competitive--but how they deploy it." The internet itself is not a competitive advantage (I might add that he is assuming a smart company will be engaged with the internet. This is a less certain assumption in the world of higher ed, I would say). "Many of the companies that succeed will be ones that use the Internet as a complement to traditional ways of competing, not those that set their Internet initiatives apart from their established operations."

With regard to the last statement, places like IWU did well in that period precisely because they cordoned off their online initiatives from traditional forces that would almost certainly have sabotaged them.

"The Internet actually makes strategy more essential than ever" (64).

2. Distorted Market Signals

"In the early stages of the rollout of any important new technology, market signals can be unreliable." "When prices are artificially low [because of leveraged buy-in, no government sales tax, etc], unit demand becomes artificially high."

By the way, Amazon has smashed this part of the article to smithereens. It was just wrong. Borders no longer exists. The CEO of Amazon is the richest person in the world.

"The sheer number of dot-coms in many industries often revealed nothing more than the existence of low barriers to entry, always a danger sign" (65).

3. A Return to Fundamentals

"Many businesses active on the Internet are artificial businesses competing by artificial means and propped up by capital that until recently had been readily available."

In transition periods, it may appear that there are new rules of competition, but as market forces play out, old rules regain their currency. "The creation of true economic value once again becomes the final arbiter of business success."

Economic value is the difference between price and cost. A company's current stock price is not necessarily an indicator of economic value. 

"In periods of heavy experimentation, even sellers of flawed technologies can thrive."

Two fundamental indicators of profitability:

  • industry structure (which indicates the profitability of the average competitor)
  • sustainable competitive advantage 

4. Industry Structure

The internet has changed the front-end of some businesses, but not so much the businesses themselves. 

The structural attractiveness of an industry is five-fold:

  • intensity of rivalry among existing competitors
  • barriers to entry for new competitors
  • threat of substitute products or services
  • bargaining power of suppliers
  • bargaining power of buyers
The very benefits of the internet make it more difficult for companies to capture those benefits as profit.

5. The Myth of the First Mover

He argues that switching costs (the cost of switching from one service provider to another) did not go up with the internet. He argues that network effects (accumulating a customer base because of combined services) have not made getting on the internet first important. Partnering is not a win-win means to improve industry economics (e.g., product complements, outsourcing).

6. The Future of Competition 

"The most important determinant of a marketplace's profit potential is the intrinsic power of the buyers and sellers in the particular product area."

A competitive advantage can be achieved by a lower cost, commanding a premium price, or both. Cost and price advantages can be achieved in two ways--operational effectiveness or strategic positioning. Porter thinks that operational effectiveness will rarely provide a big advantage in the internet age.

7. Six fundamental principles of strategic positioning

  • have the right goal -- superior return on long-term investment
  • must deliver a value proposition
  • must deliver something distinctive
  • robust strategies involve trade offs. "Trying to be all things to all customers almost guarantees that a company will lack any advantage" (71).
  • strategy makes sure everything fits together
  • Strategy involves continuity of direction. "Frequent corporate re-invention... is usually a sign of poor strategic thinking."
8. Lack of Strategy

Acquisition of customers is not the same as the building of profitability.

I will say I think history has proven some of this article wrong, although it has many helpful features. A company like Merrill Lynch wouldn't stand a chance without online options. CDs don't exist any more. Take this ridiculous comment: "Online music distribution may reduce the need for CD-manufacturing assets." You think? Blockbuster is long gone. And Grainger is currently in major jeopardy from Amazon Business. I also smile at how often he compliments AOL. Who?

9. The Internet and the Value Chain

"The Internet does not represent a break from the past; rather it is the latest stage in the ongoing evolution of information technology" (74).

evolution of IT:

  • automation of discrete transactions (entry)
  • functional enhancement of individual activities (hr, sales...)
  • cross-activity integration (CRM, SCM, ERP)
  • entire system integration
  • integrated product development

Virtual activities do not replace the need for physical activities:

  • "Introducing Internet applications in one activity often places greater demands on physical activities elsewhere."
  • "Using the Internet in one activity can have systemic consequences, requiring new or enhanced physical activities that are often unanticipated."
  • "Most Internet activities have shortcomings in comparison with conventional methods."

He doesn't see the internet as a new economy but an old economy that has access to new technology.


7. Leading by Leveraging Culture (management series)

By Jennifer Chatman and Sandra Cha in California Review Management (2004)

1. Why do CEOs fail? A 1999 Fortune magazine article suggested it was because they were unable to fully implement their strategy. The focus shifts from strategy formation to strategy execution... "and culture is all about execution" (21).

"Culture is a system of shared values (defining what is important) and norms (defining appropriate attitudes and behaviors)." This shared culture energizes employees and shapes behavior. "A culture cannot be crafted until an organization has first developed its business strategy."

"The first criterion for using culture as a leadership tool is that it must be strategically relevant."

2. Norms are the psychological basis of culture. They are distinct from rules, which are formal. "The concept of norms implies social control" (22). "Relying on formal rules, policies, and procedures will not result in outstanding anything, be it customer service, innovation, or quality." Outstanding service is not determined by normal situations but by how you are treated in nearly impossible to anticipate, unique to a person situations that are difficult to solve.

"The less formal direction you give employees about how to execute strategy, the more ownership they take over their actions and the better they perform" (23).

"Violations are considered in terms of letting their colleagues down rather than breaking rules."

3. "The second criterion for using culture as a leadership tool is that it be strong."

Strong cultures have two characteristics: high levels of agreement among employees about what's valued and high levels of intensity about these values.

  • Warring factions have the intensity but not the agreement.
  • Vacuous cultures agree on what's important but don't much care about seeing it done.

"Firms that developed a strong, strategically appropriate culture performed effectively over the long run only if their culture also contained norms and values that promoted innovation and change."

"Expressing a creative idea is... risky—since a person suggesting one can end up being perceived as unintelligent." 

"Leaders also promote innovation by creating a shared belief that team members are safe to take interpersonal risks" (25).

4. The third criterion is that "leaders must move quickly to implement promising ideas."

"Developing a culture that encourages employees to express creative ideas may cause good ideas to crop up from unexpected places... More importantly, once managers spot a good idea, norms that emphasize urgency and speed will ensure its implementation."

5. Three key managerial tools for using culture as a leadership tool:

a. Recruit and select people for culture fit.

  • "It makes sense to hire people who will fit the culture, possibly even trading off some immediate skills necessary for the specific entry job for better culture fit."
  • Be mindful of recruiters hiring just people like them. similarity-attraction effect
  • Shape the selection process accordingly.

b. Manage culture through socialization and training.

c. Manage culture through a reward system.

6. Actor-observer bias is the human tendency to interpret one's owns actions generously and to explain the actions of others unsympathetically.

"To succeed, leaders must instill their employees with confidence and clarity about key cultural values. If they do not, employees will provide their own explanations."

7. The three Cs of culture:

  • clear, consistent, comprehensive

Sunday, March 07, 2021

6. Deep Change (management series)

The next article in the Management series is called, "Deep Change: How Operational Innovation Can Transform Your Company," by Michael Hammer. It is a 2004 HBR article.

1. The article uses Progressive in the last decade of the twentieth century as a model for operational innovation. They beat their competition by lower prices and better service. "Operational innovation means coming up with entirely new ways of filling orders, developing products, providing customer service, or doing any other activity that an enterprise performs" (86). It's not operational improvement or operational excellence.

Cross-docking by Wal-Mart is an example. Goods go from truck to truck and never even enter a warehouse. Progressive did it through Immediate Response. Perhaps less than 10% of large enterprises have made a serious effort at it.

2. There are strategic benefits to operational innovation -- retain customers, greater market share. There are marketplace benefits -- lower prices, higher satisfaction. There are operational benefits -- lower direct costs, faster cycle time...

"The only way to get and stay ahead of competitors is by executing in a totally different way -- that is, through operational innovation" (88).

"Operational innovation is by nature disruptive, so it should be concentrated in those activities with the greatest impact on an enterprise's strategic goals."

Business culture tends to undervalue operations. Operations are out of sight. Nobody owns it.  

Examples of technologically based operational improvement:

  • ERPs -- enterprise resource planning
  • CRMs -- customer relationship management
  • SCMs -- supply chain management
3. How to do it?

  • Look for role models outside your industry.
  • Identify and defy a constraining assumption. "At its heart, every operational innovation defies an assumption about how work should be done" (91). "Zero in on the assumption that interferes with achieving a strategic goal, and then figure out how to get rid of it."
  • Make the special case into the norm. 
  • Rethink critical dimensions of work. There are seven areas involved: 1) what results are to be produced, 2) who will do the activities, 3) where and 4) when will they be performed, 5) whether each activity should be performed in each case, 6) what information should be available to whom, and 7) how thoroughly should each activity be performed.
Traditional implementation strategies don't work with disruptive modes of operation. It is also impossible to get everything right from the beginning. "Only when a concept is actually tried does one learn what it should really have been in the first place" (92). An iterative (evolutionary/spiral) process may be necessary.

4. "Operational innovation is a step change. It moves a company to an entirely new level" (92). These sorts of innovations have staying power. Many won't innovate even when they see your good idea. And while some are catching up, you will be improving your innovation. 

5. The Discipline of Teams (management series)

1. The third of ten business articles is called "The Discipline of Teams," a 1993 HBR article. One of the key questions of this article is why some teams perform and others do not. "There is a basic discipline that makes teams work. We also found that teams and good performance are inseparable; you cannot have one without the other" (112).

Jon Katzenbach and Douglas Smith are quite particular about what they identify as a team. It is not just any working group to them. Teams require mutual accountability--they are synergistic units of performance that are greater than the sum of their parts.

"A team is a small number of people with complementary skills who are committed to a common purpose, set of performance goals, and approach for which they hold themselves mutually accountable" (112).

"Most successful teams shape their purposes in response to a demand or opportunity put in their path, usually by higher management."

2. A first step is to translate mandates into performance goals.

  • Specific performance goals helps to define a set of products to be worked toward and achieved.
  • They facilitate communication and constructive conflict within the team.
  • provides focus toward results
  • "The combination of purpose and specific goals is essential to performance" (114). "Goals help a team keep track of progress, while a broader purpose supplies meaning and emotional energy."
3. A team should be of an appropriate size. Less than 10 is probably optimal. [As an aside, Keith Drury used to say that if there were more than 6 people in the room, the decision was being made elsewhere."]

Teams should have the right mix of skills. There are three key skill areas:

  • technical or functional expertise
  • problem-solving and decision-making skills
  • interpersonal skills
Skill potential can be as important as existing skill.

4. Mutual accountability is essential. "No group ever becomes a team until it can hold itself accountable" (116). Commitment and trust are also essential.

5. Three kinds of teams:

  • Teams that recommend things. Two critical aspects -- getting a good start and the hand off after a recommendation is formed. The first requires clarity in the charge. The last often involves re-engagement by the management that gave the charge.
  • Teams that make or do things. The team option makes sense at the place where the cost and value of the company's products and services are most diretly determined. A relentless focus on performance is imperative.
  • Teams that run things. Remember, a team needs specific performance goals. A top level reporting group is not a team unless it is working toward specific goals that are more distinct than the overall mission of the organization.
6. Successful teams:

  • Establish urgency, performance standards, and direction
  • Pay special attention to first meetings and actions
  • Have clear rules of behavior
  • Have a few immediate performance goals
  • Challenge each other regularly with new facts and information
  • Spend lots of time together
  • Give positive feedback