The Nazareth Manifesto, and why I don’t label myself

Jun 132013

There are a few verses from Luke 4 which I (and lots of other people) really love! They are part of a passage in Luke’s gospel commonly known as the Nazareth Manifesto, where Jesus heads to the synagogue, opens up the scroll of Isaiah and quotes these words. Then he preaches, starting with the words: “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” (Luke 4:21)

Lots of Reasons

Like I said, I love these words, and this passage as a whole. And I’m not alone – lots of people adore this passage, and rightly so. What I have found odd, though, is the huge diversity of opinion about why this passage is so awesome! (I’m about to use some ‘labels’, which I very rarely do, but you’ll hopefully see why I’m making an exception…)

I’ve heard ‘charismatic evangelicals’ (who place a high emphasis on the work of the Holy Spirit) effuse about this passage because of the huge statement that the ‘Spirit of the Lord’ was upon Jesus in order for Him to carry out His work. Wow! The ministry even of Jesus, second person of the Trinity, was empowered and enabled by the Holy Spirit. How much more so ours?!

I’ve heard ‘conservative evangelicals’ (who place a high emphasis on the revelation of God through the Bible) speak excitedly about Jesus’ use of Isaiah and His statement that He fulfils it. Fantastic! The ministry of Jesus was heavily rooted in Scripture, and He recognised Himself as its fulfilment. This has all sorts of implications for how we understand both Jesus and the Bible in light of the other.

I’ve also heard the more ‘socially-minded’ (who place a high emphasis on social action and social justice) get very animated about this passage because of the content of the prophecy Jesus attributed to Himself. It is all about liberation and restoration for those who are marginalised and oppressed in one way or another. Jesus is making THAT the manifesto of His ministry. Wonderful!

The problem with labels

Here’s the thing, though: they’re all true! I believe that this passage speaks to each of those things, and we should take each of them seriously. Word, Spirit, action – we need them all.

This is the danger of labels. We can end up defining ourselves so much by one (vital) part of Christian theology or spirituality, that we miss out on the importance of other aspects. How sad to miss any part of God’s revelation to us or any part of His plans for us because we were too focused on just one thing?

The only label that I whole-heartedly and unashamedly apply to myself is ‘Christian’. I use other labels about myself rarely and with reservation. I know how easily I could start to place my identity in being ‘charismatic’, ‘conservative’, ‘Baptist’, ‘socially-minded’, ‘Protestant’… In some ways I am all of those, but they are not my primary identity.

It may sound like I’m saying I have this cracked – far from it! I confess that, while I believe in each of those three points taken from the Nazareth Manifesto (action, Spirit, word), I’d be lying if I said they all actually excite me the same amount. Certain parts of it appeal to me more acutely than the others. But that is because of my personality and my own particular passions. And I refuse to allow myself to limit or shape an understanding of God’s word specifically, or His purposes generally, based on my own personality. I need to embrace the whole of what God has for us and has revealed to us, not just the bits that excite me the most.

And I feel that being too quick to label myself in a certain way would lead me, eventually, to start doing just that.

Reaching for it all

The ideal, I feel, is to try our very hardest to reach for it all. A deep and deepening understanding of God’s word, allowing Him to reveal Himself and His purposes through it. A deep and deepening relationship with the Holy Spirit, allowing Him to equip and enable us into all that He has planned for us. A deep and deepening partnership with Jesus in serving the vulnerable and downtrodden, allowing Him to use us in that transformational work. All of them, all at once.

Reaching for all of it is difficult. It would be far easier to ‘specialise’ as a Christians. But I feel, very strongly, that if I did so it would be a disservice to God.

So if you know me, and you feel I’m starting to do that, please tell me and help to keep me honest.

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Time to dream

Jun 062013

Google is well known for allowing employees to spend 20% of their time not working on whatever it is they’re meant to. They can play around with anything that gets them excited, and Google owns the results. As a result, Google produces loads things it never planned to want. Like Google Maps.

Here are two stories about me in a similar vain.

Story 1: a new colleague

In March, a new staff member joined us at church. He’s great at what he’s here to do, and a fantastic guy. But what I’ve appreciated most is that he’ll chat about what he’s working on or thinking about. He’ll notice something in the Bible or have an idea, and instead of staying in his office to mull over it by himself, he’ll step out and share. We’ll chat about it, and then go back to our work. It doesn’t take long.

Rarely is there any obvious practical application in mind. Most of the time it’s just, “Hey, I just noticed this and I think it’s cool! Don’t you think it’s cool too?”

I’ve noticed a few things as a result of this. First, I’ve really enjoyed it, and it’s made me look forward more to going to work. Second, I’ve started sharing more about the things I’m working or thinking on. Third, it has raised the level of my work. If I’m thinking about something and come across an idea that I can’t get my head around then instead of saying “Hmmm… I’m not sure, I’ll just ignore that”, I share it, toss it around a bit with others and develop it into something cool. My time management has got better. My preaching has got better. My attitude has got better. I work harder.

So if you’re reading this, cheers dude!

Story 2: dreaming dreams

Yesterday, over lunch, Mel and I started talking about something we’d love to do in our lives, a project that will hopefully one day be possible for us. It’s not the first time we’ve talked about it, but we fleshed it out a little.

With smiles on our faces and a lightness in our hearts, we made plans and dreamed up ideas. We thought about things which get us excited, the gospel which inspires us and the values that drive us. And we thought about how we’d love to live it all out. The conversation flowed, and there were a number of “Oh my word, that would be amazing!!” moments.

Because of the nature of the project we have in mind, we know it won’t happen right away. Not long ago I thought that made it a little pointless to talk about in detail. It would only get us frustrated that we weren’t doing it now… But I was wrong. We need vision and inspiration. We need to be able to dream big dreams, look to the future, and get excited. Why? Two reasons.

First, unless we’re dreaming those dreams now, it is unlikely ever to happen. We need to keep the passion and excitement alive, to keep the drive now precisely because it can’t happen right away.

And second, it infuses today with a new sense of meaning. I went back into work after lunch yesterday and had a new desire to work harder, commit more. I could see in the things I was doing new motivation, because all of it is building towards something bigger. Whether that ‘something’ is the thing we have in mind or not doesn’t matter just yet.But I’ve been reminded of the gospel and values we have, and even if the project has to wait, striving after that gospel and those values cannot wait.

Doing this more

So I’m promising myself that I’ll do all this more. I will dream dreams with Mel. I will keep having ad hoc conversations with colleagues. I’ll explore things that get me interested even if I have no idea what ‘practical purpose’ they will serve. I’ll try to think big, not small. I’ll imagine new things, not just rehash old things.

In today’s very busy world where we barely have a moment to breathe out sometimes, I think we all need to learn to do this more. We can’t wait till we have the time. We need to make the time. I don’t want to live my life so bogged down I never have time to dream.

Who’s with me?

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