Deuteronomy 3:21-29 (Part 2) – Learning When It’s Time to Hand It Off to the Next Joshua

Posted: December 4, 2016 in 05-Deuteronomy
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Deuteronomy 3:21-29 (Part 2 of 2)

Moses Forbidden to Enter the Promised Land

If you are a Clemson football fan in your mid-fifties like me, you are relishing in the relishing in this era that we find ourselves in at the moment. Clemson has won at least 10 games for six straight season. When Coach Dabo Swinney was hired in 2008, the first two seasons were good but not great, but since the 2010 season at least 10 wins have been the standard. That is consistency. There are few programs in the nations that have been as consistent as the Tigers. In fact, over the past three seasons since the Florida State loss in game 3 of the 2014 season, Clemson has lost only three (3) football games out the 35 games they have played since that horrible overtime loss in Tallahassee in September 2014. Last night, they won their second consecutive conference championship and a pretty sure bet to be in the college football playoff for the second straight year. These are good times to be a Tiger fan. The program is well-stocked with talent and should be a program that sustains this level of success for a good while. It is a good time to be a Tiger fan.


When I was a teenager and in my twenties, that was another era of consistent success. Back during the years 1978-1991, the Tigers were a consistent winner under former Coach Danny Ford. Clemson claimed its only national championship during the 1981 season with a perfect season. The Tigers won 6 conference titles during those years. The Tigers were always ranked in the top 15 throughout those years. They would play in big bowl games. Those years were marked by mean and nasty defenses and just enough offense. The program seemed to be set for success for a long time. I thought being a Clemson fan was going to be like this all the time. I didn’t know any different. However, due to run-ins with the school administration and not because of lack of success on the field, Coach Ford was suddenly fired after the 1989 season. Clemson was able to have successful seasons in 1990 and 1991 under new coach, Ken Hatfield. However, from the 1992 season forward the decay of the program began with the remainder of Hatfield’s tenure and the horrible Tommy West years. By 1998 (just seven years later), what was once a mighty and respected football program around the country was a bottom feeder – finishing the year with a 3-8 overall record (and a 1-7 record in the conference).


Clemson then began the rebuilding process under newly hired Coach Tommy Bowden. He was a great recruiter who was able to make Clemson competitive on the field once again. He was able to get the ship righted almost immediately with a 6-6 record his first year. After that, the Tigers never won less than 7 games during his tenure (1999-2008). However, during his tenure, Clemson never quite got over the hump to being a championship caliber program. We were tough games for championship caliber programs but we would never beat them. We are a bridesmaid program. Pretty good and respectable but never the bride. It was also during this era that we would mysteriously find ways to lose critical ball games against lesser competition. We had a lot of NFL caliber players in those days but never could seem to gel the program in a champion. Tommy and his staff were great recruiters but they never could coach the team to a championship level. In 2007, Clemson had started horribly but finished really strong with a very young but talented team. So, in 2008, it was supposed to be the year that Clemson was to put it all together and win its first conference title since 1991. Expectations were sky high. There was even talk of being a national title contender. However, the Tigers got shellacked by Alabama to open the 2008 season and things got worse from there culminating with a loss to lowly Wake Forest in game 6 and the Tigers stood at 3-3 on the year. After that loss, Tommy Bowden resigned. One of his staff, Dabo Swinney, the receivers coach was hired. It seemed like an odd hire at the time. Dabo had no head coaching experience before but was known as the engine by all the great recruiting that was going on under Tommy Bowden.


The hire seems like a brilliant one now. Dabo has the Tigers back to the success level achieved under Danny Ford but yet has had none of the NCAA investigations that seemed to hound Coach Ford. Dabo had a program defining binder that he brought to his interview for the job and has been working it ever since. Recruiting at a high level and winning the right way with one of the highest graduation success rates in college football. He is good man and he is doing it the right way. He seems to have built on what Tommy Bowden built and pushed it over the hump. He has made the program nationally relevant. He has taken it to the next level. He has taken the program where Tommy Bowden could not.


That idea handing off leadership to someone who can take your organization to the next level is what I thought of when I read through this passage, Deuteronomy 3:21-29, for the second time. Let’s read it together now:


21 At that time I commanded Joshua: “You have seen with your own eyes all that the Lord your God has done to these two kings. The Lord will do the same to all the kingdoms over there where you are going. 22 Do not be afraid of them; the Lord your God himself will fight for you.”


23 At that time I pleaded with the Lord: 24 “Sovereign Lord, you have begun to show to your servant your greatness and your strong hand. For what god is there in heaven or on earth who can do the deeds and mighty works you do? 25 Let me go over and see the good land beyond the Jordan—that fine hill country and Lebanon.”


26 But because of you the Lord was angry with me and would not listen to me. “That is enough,” the Lord said. “Do not speak to me anymore about this matter. 27 Go up to the top of Pisgah and look west and north and south and east. Look at the land with your own eyes, since you are not going to cross this Jordan. 28 But commission Joshua, and encourage and strengthen him, for he will lead this people across and will cause them to inherit the land that you will see.” 29 So we stayed in the valley near Beth Peor.


From the middle of Genesis forward through Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and now in Deuteronomy, Moses has been the central figure of the people of Israel. Moses was the leader needed to guide Israel in the wilderness. He was perfectly suited for leading the roaming band of nomads that Israel was during those years. He was the right man for the time. However, because of disobeying a command of the Lord in frustration, Moses was not going to be allowed to enter the Promised Land. I think though as part of God’s plan, he just wasn’t the right man to establish the nation in the Promised Land. Maybe, he was too easily frustrated and got angry too quick. These qualities may have helped Israel survive in the wilderness but maybe these were not the qualities needed for an established nations in a fixed land with boundaries. Maybe, Moses was not the right man for developing societal infrastructure and for building programs of a centralized government of a people in a fixed place with fixed boundaries. Maybe, Joshua was best suited for taking Israel to the next level – from nomadic people to organized nation.


That is the takeaway for me from this lesson. As leaders, we must recognize when it is time to hand off leadership to those whom we have been developing. We must recognize when we can only take our organization only so far. We must recognize when it is time to let a more talented person take the organization to places that we were not suited to lead. That takes humility. Most often we do not recognize that we need to move on and we hinder the organization from growing and we may even be hindering ourselves by not seeing a calling that God has for us elsewhere. We may be too busy preserving our current position that we miss the calling that God has for us in a new situation.


A couple of weeks ago, I told you that I had a feeling from the Holy Spirit that there was a family with small kids out there that needed the house that we had owned happily for 6 years. We didn’t have any complaints against our old house and, as a matter of fact, we really, really loved that house. However, God gave me the sense that we were holding back a family from owning that house that really needed it. That’s when I got really on board with selling our house. The Holy Spirit gave me this feeling that there was a family – a couple in their 30s with three kids under age 10 – that was cramped up in an apartment and could not find the right house – until we put our house on the market. They found it. They needed it. They loved it. They bought it. Now, the 88 Holly Tree house that we treasured and loved is now being used to its fullest potential.


Sometimes, just like that, we must recognize when we have reached our limit of leadership and when it is time to give the reins over to our successor who can take the organization to the next level. Not that they are better than we but they are best suited to lead the organization in this space and time. We may have been a program builder like Tommy Bowden at Clemson (a necessary thing because the program was in shambles when he was hired) but there is someone who can take the program to elite status like Dabo Swinney. Without Tommy’s work to right the ship and get it ready, Dabo would not have been able to do what he is doing now. Tommy recognized that he was a program builder not a program accelerator. By 2008, he recognized that someone needed to take Clemson to the next level so he stepped aside. He did what he came to do in 1999 and now it was time to hand the program off to the “take to the next level” guy.


We must examine whether we hindering our organization by looking at our strengths and weaknesses. Maybe, right now, we are too busy defending our weaknesses that we are not seeing that it is time to hand off leadership to the next guy or gal who is best suited for the place where we find ourselves now. Maybe you are a program builder, one who takes nothing and creates something, but your strength is not in maintaining or moving to the next level. Maybe, it’s time for your Joshua. Maybe, we get so busy defending our current position that we fail to see that God has a new door waiting for us that is wide open and he has his giant finger pointing at it.


Let us pray that we are where we are supposed to be for the time that we are supposed to be there. Let us pray that we will hear the Holy Spirit when it is time to hand off the reins of power to the next Joshua and then turn around and see the door that God has opened wide for us.


Amen and Amen.

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