Wednesday, February 3, 2010

OnFire #213 Organizational Genetics

OnFire Encouragement Letter
OnFire #213 Organizational Genetics

Our new Japanese student has arrived. His name is Zen and we served pizza as his first meal with us in Canada. He is settling in and we are showing him around. His parents sent us beautiful gifts including pens and stationary. Because it is exam week for high school, he will not start until next week. This will allow him to dip his toes before diving in.

We’ll look at Nehemiah for a little while. He is an inspiration because of his faith and leadership. We’ve been studying him this fall in my college-aged Sunday school class and he is too good to pass by.

I’m starting a new round of questions. I haven’t done this since the Million Dollar Question (OnFire #44-45). They’ll make more sense after reading today’s letter. Hit reply to respond.

**What have been the biggest changes you’ve seen in church in the last 15 years? **
**And what do you think are the biggest changes the church needs to make in the future?**

"I confess the sins we Israelites, including myself and my father's house, have committed against you." (Nehemiah 1:6*)

I look at myself and see the traits of both sides of my family. When I was young, I had my mother’s thick curly black hair. Now I have her family’s male pattern baldness, which resembles a road in a snow storm - bare down the centreline. I have my father’s height and my mother’s eyes. People tell me I stand and walk like her father, my grandfather.

These traits are not only physical. Like my father, I seem to have the ability to speak with anyone, on almost any topic. And like my mother, I seem to be able to remain calm in a storm. Like my mother’s side, I’m usually fairly quiet, but like my father I sometimes enjoy being the centre of attention. Music comes from both sides. When it comes to making big decisions I like to take my time, something I get from my mother.

It is interesting to see this influence in my body and character. Of course, there is still lots of room to change, learn and transform, and I can point to lots of people who have helped to mold and shape me along the way. But today I’m thinking primarily about genetics.

Here is Nehemiah, cupbearer to the king (a highly trusted security officer who thwarted plots to poison the king) living in exile in Babylon in the 440's BC. His people had been there at least 140 years and in that time two groups had returned from exile.

The latest group had gone back to Jerusalem about a dozen years before and life was very difficult. Nehemiah’s brother reported that the walls and gates of the city were still in disrepair. The temple had long since been completed, but there was still no safety or security for the Jewish inhabitants. This troubled Nehemiah for days until ultimately he prayed to confess his sins and the sins of his people.

This intrigues me. That he confesses his own sin is understandable. Confession to God ought to be a regular part of our spiritual life. But he confesses the sins of his "father’s house," an expression which means his ancestors and the people of his Jewish heritage. Why would he do this?

Nehemiah recognizes that he has the spiritual genetics of his ancestors in his heart. He knows from Scripture that the reason they went into exile was because of their rebellion and unfaithfulness. The closing words of 2 Chronicles make this very clear and Nehemiah was well versed in their history.

It would be easy for him to blame his ancestors for his current plight, but he does not. He does not consider himself an individual detached from his past. Rather, he knows that unless something changes the pattern will be repeated again and again in the future. If they have any hope of going home, then they will have to live differently from their ancestors, and it must begin with him. And so he confesses his sins and the sins of his fathers.

We can learn from Nehemiah in this. We think we stand isolated from the past, that our current situation is somehow unrelated to those who have gone before. But how do we explain churches where the same problems come up again and again, decade after decade? How do we explain families where the same issues are repeated generation after generation?

We could perhaps call it "organizational genetics." Churches, families and organizations develop and pass along traits and values which become part of the make-up of the group. We’re not even always aware of them. We sometimes call it the "culture" of the place because "that’s they way things are done here." Sometimes these traits are good, sometimes they are poison.

I’ve been pondering this for months, ever since I began the class in September, and it still bothers me. But Nehemiah teaches us that we all share responsibility for where we have arrived collectively, and for where we will go in the future together. If we want to change direction, it starts with each of us recognizing our own part of the past, and determining that we will act differently in the future than we have acted in the past.

I know, heavy thoughts. But I hope life changing for all of us, our churches, and the organizations to which we belong.

Hope this helps. Be on fire.


OnFire is a weekly letter on authentic faith and character written by Troy Dennis. Troy is the Pastor of Family Ministries at Highfield Baptist Church, Moncton NB Canada. This letter published Jan 26, 2010. Scripture references taken from the New International Version. To subscribe or reply, email Archives are located at Blog located at

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