I preached a sermon last August on the story of David and Goliath (1 Samuel 17) at Awaken Orlando. Here is a link to the audio file: Life that Demands Explanation: Living by Faith. It is the initial sermon of a series called “Life that Demands Explanation.” This message was very meaningful for me personally. I hope that you find it encouraging and that God uses it to unleash you fully to participate in His mission.
Archive for May, 2007
God’s mission does not begin with the Great Commission. It is rooted in the opening words of the Old Testament. Mission is the central theme of the Scriptures from page one.
Genesis 1:2 is important in understanding God’s work of creation because it introduces a key theme””God active engagement with this world to accomplish God’s purposes. This verse marks the beginning of God’s missional activity in the world. Gen 1:1 affirms that God is the one responsible for the existence of everything. Genesis 1:2 focuses on the incompleteness and incoherence of the raw materials out of which God fashions the completed earth with its complex geological features, plants, animals, and humanity. The familiar Seven Day creation pattern in vv. 3-31 describes God’s work in moving toward completion the earth that v. 2 describes as “a formless void.” Our text gives no explanation for the earth’s precreative state, but it affirms that God was present prepared to act. Our bible lesson reads “a wind from God swept over the face of the waters.” “A wind from God” may be translated alternatively as “the spirit of God.” The same word translated as “wind” can also mean “spirit” or “breath.” Our text is simply affirming that God is present and active in bringing his creation to wholeness. Many Christian commentators have identified the “wind” or “spirit” here with the Holy Spirit.
Furthermore, God has added missional activity into the created world. On both Day Five and Day Six, God’s creatures are given special missions. They are to be fruitful and multiply. Thus, God’s creatures share in part in God’s work of filling creation with life.
Importance of rooting God’s mission in creation:
1) The World in which we live matters to God.
This is a simple statement with key implications. Christianity is not merely about “pie in the sky in the sweet by and by” as it sometimes has been ridiculed (and we must admit that this criticism has been on target at times). A robust biblical faith understands God’s salvation as not merely the salvation of souls, but of the salvation of persons as well as a wholistic view of the redemption of creation.
Notice how Paul interrelates the salvation of women and men with God’s work on behalf of all Creation:
NIV Romans 8:18 I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. 19 The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed. 20 For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God. 22 We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. 23 Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.
Gnanaken an Indian scholar in constant engagement with a dominant Hindu culture (which denies the material world) makes this point forcefully for a Western audience:
Salvation is in escaping from the created material order rather than something experienced within it. In contrast to this idea that creation is only a hindrance to authentic spiritual reality, the God of the Bible reveals Himself through a good creation, meaningful enough to provide for man a demonstration of God’s intricate design for his ultimate glory. (Kingdom Concerns: a Biblical Exploration Towards a Theology of Mission, 43)
2) Stress on relationship and interdependence-community.
The initial chapters of Genesis portray humanity in profound and mutually beneficial relationships with God, the environment, and with one another. This is life as God intended it to be lived. Humanity communes with God. There is dialogue and interaction. Men and women live together as partners in God’s work in the world. There is no hint of attempts to dominate one another. Humanity also lives in harmony with the natural world. There is playfulness in Genesis 2 in particular over the naming of the creatures that God crafted. There is also no struggle to survive in the world that God has made.
3) Mission exists before sin enters the world.
Humanity was created to participate fully in God’s mission. In Genesis 1-2, humanity’s mission is to serve as stewards of God’s Creation. This involves caring for and preserving what God has crafted. Implicit here is creativity. Humanity acts to create beauty and order out of God’s already good creation. This statement in no way suggests any imperfection in God’s work rather it implies the profound dignity and worth with which God has created people.
The existence of mission before the entrance of sin also means that mission in its totality cannot never be limited only to actions that would be labeled “evangelistic” in our current conversations. Of course, in our post Genesis 3-11 reality, efforts to draw women and men to Jesus are absolutely necessary, but mission also involves working for the overall good of creation.
4) International focus.
Before the Bible shifts its focus on Israel, it has the entire world in view. Genesis 1-11 focuses on Creation as a whole. There is no Israel. Humanity is the main character. This is intentional and critical. God does not play favorites. The mission of God has all Creation and all people in view.
© 2007 Brian D. Russell
Awaken Orlando invites you to a series of question and answer sessions. Each week there will be a panel of experts to discuss the deep questions of life, God, and the universe. Our panel will take questions from the floor or you can e-mail them in advance to firstname.lastname@example.org. All are welcome.
I just finished an excellent business/management book by Warren Bennis and Patricia Ward Biederman. It is called Organizing Genius: The Secrets of Creative Collaboration. It is a study of the art of collaboration which focuses on some of the greatest groups of the last century: Disney animation, PARC and Apple, Clintonâ€™s 1992 Election team, Skunk Works, Black Mountain College, and the Manhattan Project. Anecdotes from other projects are also interspersed into the chapters.
Bennis and Biederman open with a chapter â€œThe End of the Great Manâ€ in which they argue for the crucial role that great teams play in the realm of leadership. On p. 3, they write, â€œInstead we need to recognize a new paradigm: not great leaders alone, but great leaders who exist in a fertile relationship with a Great Group. In these creative alliances, the leader and the team are able to achieve something together that neither could achieve alone. The leader finds greatness in the group. And he or she helps the members find it in themselves.â€ Most of us intuitively resonate with this, but our authors point out that a mythology of the great leader continues to dominate our thinking about leadership. Collaboration has always been a key to success. This is true even in the world of art. For example, Michaelangelo is credited with painting the Sistine Chapel, but he actually deployed a team of 13 other artists to help him complete the work. French Impressionism is associated with Monet, Renoir, Degas, and Manet. Monet and Renoir often painted next to one another. There was a time when there paintings were almost indistinguishable save the signature. Great teams inspire and accomplish great things.
The next six chapters are essentially case studies of â€œgreat groupsâ€ who have impacted the world in powerful ways. Bennis/Biederman narrate the inner workings of these groups and draw insightful observations that will impact the way that you shape the organizational structure of the teams that you lead.
The concluding chapter offers the following takeaways:
1) Greatness starts with superb people.
2) Great groups and great leaders create each other.
3) Every Great Group has a strong leader.
4) The leaders of Great Groups love talent and know where to find it.
5) Great Groups are full of talented people who can work together.
6) Great Groups think that they are on a mission from God.
7) Every Great Group is an islandâ€”but an island with a bridge to the mainland.
Great groups see themselves as winning underdogs.
9) Great Groups always have an enemy.
10) People in Great Groups have blinders on.
11) Great Groups are optimistic, not realistic.
12) In Great Groups the right person has the right job.
13) The leaders of Great groups give them what they need and free them from the rest.
14) Great Groups ship.
15) Great work is its own reward.
Each of these conclusions is generously illustrated and described throughout the text.
This book is time well spent. It is written in a clear and engaging style. Each chapter is full of powerful stories about-history making teams as well as tremendous insight into the nature of leadership and teams. I found myself continuously comparing/contrasting the teams of which I am a part with those in Organizing Genius. For me, the biggest takeaways were these:
1) The necessity of a leader of a great group to offer a compelling vision that unleashes each member of the group to engage fully the mission with all of his or her gifts;
2) The role of a leader in protecting the individuals of the group from outside interference with their work.
3) The absolute necessity of attracting and unleashing the most gifted persons available.
This book is a keeper. I recommend it enthusiastically.
I want to spend a little more time in Philippians 2:1-4 because these verses are crucial for reading 2:5-11 in its context.
NIV Philippians 2:1 If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, 2 then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose. 3 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. 4 Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.
Paul is profoundly interested in shaping the believers in Philippi into a community of God’s dreams. In verse 2, Paul offers this exhortation: “Make my joy complete” or “Complete my joy.” Paul is in prison at the time of this writing. This makes Paul’s request that much more powerful. How might the Philippians complete Paul’s joy? Perhaps by sending relief to him or by praying for his release? No, Paul requests nothing from these followers of Jesus other than a commitment to strive for unity. This is not mere unity for the sake of unity. It is a unity for the sake of God’s mission. He offers content to his exhortation to complete his joy in the next clause.
What does it mean to “have the same intention/intend the same thing/being likeminded (NIV)”?
1) Focus on same overarching goals. This is vital for harmony with our communities and for maximizing our corporate gifts and talents. This does not mean that our communities are free to rally around any particular goal. Rather as Paul reminds us in v. 5, it is a call to intend the same things as Jesus. The life, death, and resurrection of Jesus functions as the paradigmatic story for his followers. A community that completes Paul’s joy is one who unifies around the mission of God.
What shapes the goals of our community of faith?
Look at the other phrases in verses 2-4 that Paul uses to modify the main clause: a) having the same love ,b) being one in spirit, c) intending one thing, d) not acting out of selfish ambition or conceit, e) considering others better than yourself, f) looking out for the interests of others rather than mere self-interest/focus.
2) Focus on adding value to others. In a community that models Jesus Christ, each member invests in the whole, not merely for what one receives but for what one can give. I heard Erwin McManus once define a healthy Christian as one who makes it to the 51% level in life. By this, Erwin suggested that health is found by getting to the minimum standard of giving 51% and only receiving 49% of the time.
How would our communities be different if they were made up of givers and investors in the lives of others?
3) Focus on the value and worth of others. Nothing kills community more than ego and self-centeredness. Each of us has been crafted uniquely. Each of us has a set of gifts and talents given to us by God. In healthy communities, individuals do not need to toot their own horns. Approach and treat others as colleagues involved in a collaborative effort to the change the world. There is no room for power plays based on position. As Jesus himself said,
NIV Mark 10:43 “Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, 44 and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. 45 For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
How much do I value those serving around me?
4) Focus on the interests of others. Oswald Chambers defined sin as “my claim to my right to myself.” This is a poignant reminder of the danger that self-centeredness plays to community. Paul recognizes that the Philippians must move beyond mere self-interest if they are to maximize the impact and influence of the Gospel in their midst. The World is not going to turn its head and take notice if the Church functions by the same rules of self-interest that define every other human endeavor.
Is my community defined principally by self-interest or is it driven by the recognition that it must serve others? What about me? What drives me: self-interest or the needs of others?
Â© 2007 Brian D. Russell
My friend, mentor, and colleague Robert Tuttle of Asbury Theological Seminary wrote a short essay on Christian Holiness titled “Holiness: the foundation of a life in Christ” for the Asbury Herald.
About halfway through the essay, Tuttle provides the following prayer as an example of how we might pray for the increased work of the Holy Spirit in our lives:
God I grieve over the sin in my life, and as far as I know my own heart, I am willing for you to take the things that would separate me from you, myself, and those around me. I cannot give them to you. If I could give them to you, I would not need you. I am, however, willing for you to take them from me as I renew my faith and trust in your Son, Jesus Christ, who died and rose again that I might be the person you want me to be, for all of your creation.
Isn’t this a profound prayer? How would our lives be different if we offered this prayer to God?
Check out Bob’s latest book, The Story of Evangelism: A History of the Witness to the Gospelfrom Abingdon Press!