Manifesto of Purpose

"I am becoming a Spirit-led person of love, practicing the way of Jesus with others who cultivate attention, beauty, justice, and truth on earth as it is in heaven."

I'm playing with words as an experiment in naming my mission, my manifesto of purpose. Economy of words is fitting; this draft is likely verbose. No doubt revisions will follow.

I am becoming... Here, I am thinking of something Dallas Willard says in The Divine Conspiracy. In American society, Christians are often quite focused on becoming successful people who achieve all their dreams in this life, to the neglect of who we are becoming. We forget that our lives will continue on after death; who we become matters and our deeds flow from who we are (see Matthew 25). Identity precedes praxis. Jesus was called Abba's beloved son before he performed any miracles. The present progressive tense "am becoming" highlights the unfolding, ripening nature of my being; I am not static. I am participating with God in his good work to reveal his luminance within my own earthen vessel (2 Cor. 4; Phil. 1:6).

a Spirit-led... This affirms my union with the Spirit of God, and my need to imitate Jesus' example to listen to and follow Abba God who is already present and at work. I will seek to be led by the Spirit of God, not the undulating whims of culture, or my flesh, or my device's notifications. I will pursue solitude, silence, and stillness to listen. I will practice meditation and marination on the Scriptures. 

person... I am a human! Not a robot, not an animal, not an insect, not an angel, not a plant. A human being lovingly made as an enfleshed icon of God on the earth. I have emotions, a brain, a nervous system. I have needs for touch, water, and food. The heresy of Gnosticism wants to pit body against spirit; demoting the body and elevating the spirit. But not God! He calls his creation tov - good. So, I stop and smell flowers, I enjoy a good sandwich and enjoy a good beer, I savor fresh berries, and soak in the beauty of a sunset. I laugh and dig in the dirt. I cry and take naps. I show curiosity to the sensations and feelings that rise within. I show kindness to my body. Somehow, unbelievably, my body is a house of the holy Creator Spirit.

of love... God is love; the love at the center of the cosmos. The dance of the Triune God - Father, Son, Holy Spirit - is a dance of loving, sacrificial, joyful interdependence. To be made imago Dei certainly implies I am to aim for love. The central manifesto and pray of Israel - confirmed by Jesus and the apostles - affirms this calling, "Hear o Israel, the LORD our God the LORD is one. Love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, with all your strength," to which Jesus adds "Love your neighbor as yourself." On these two commands, the apostle Paul says, hang all the words of the torah and the prophets.

practicing the way of Jesus... Everyone follows a "way" in this life whether intentionally and consciously or by virtue of habit from the example of culture around us. Wouldn't I want to follow a "way" that stacks up against the test of history? Jesus' resurrection from the dead is the great stamp of "yes!" on his way. So, I am an apprentice of Jesus, and his teachings and example - his "way" - are meant to be done. Jesus' famous sermon on the mount affirms this, "...whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven" (Matt. 5:19) and "...whoever hears these words of mine and acts on them is like the wise man who built his house on the rock." (Matt. 7:24) The apostle John records Jesus' shocking words for us that "whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father." (John 14:14) Finally, the apostle Paul once again affirms this as he recites the early Christ hymn in his letter to the Philippians and exhorts them to imitate Christ. JR Woodward's recent book reminds me that the way of Jesus is the way of kenosis - a way of humility, not domination.

with others... In the midst of God's good creation, as recorded in Genesis 1-2, God said that it was not good for man to be alone. Imagine that! We are made for community. Interdependence. I want to sojourn with fellow travelers who are seeking first the kingdom of God amidst the world's buffet of kingdoms (all the alternatives are essential just the kingdom of self, in imitation of the satan, the accuser, the ruler of the present age). 

who cultivate... I dig agrarian metaphors. See what I did there? I am a farmer of soil and soul, a cultivator of the fruits of God's kingdom on earth as it is in heaven. To switch metaphors, I help buff off the mud from the window pane of the world to see God's light.

attention... Without our attention, what do we have? We are simply products of culture, getting xeroxed and tossed in the trash bin of history. Most recently, living writers like Johann Hari, Ben Sternke, Andy Crouch, Richard Beck, Pete GreigMartin LairdJames K.A. Smith, and Felicia Wu Song do their work to warn and convince me about the pivotal role of attention to cultivate a rich life. Certainly, dead writers like C.S. Lewis, Henri Nouwen, St. Augustine, Teresa of Avila, Eugene Peterson, Dallas Willard, Brennan Manning, David Benner and many more helped me to consider the importance of paying attention to God, to truth, to love, to what lasts. Attention is the handmaiden of prayer; without the ability to focus, to pay attention to what we are paying attention to - can we truly pray? Can we really practice the way of Jesus? Cultivating attention is a calling for the body of Christ today.

beauty... This past week I had an incredible opportunity. I spent four days in Oregon with my brother (see the photos in this post). In Oregon, my feet strolled on sandy beaches, I touched and inhaled the sea, I scrambled along rocky, lava-formed cliffs, I listened to the thunder of the tide's crashing swells, I hiked through verdant rainforests, listened deeply to waterfalls, and much, much more! Beauty calmed my anxious soul, awakened my senses, pulled me to attention, softened my hard edges, beckoned my soul to sing and give thanks to my Creator. Beauty is a refreshing spring rain, softening and preparing the soil to receive the seeds of God's word. The writing of Madeleine L'Engle and Makoto Fujimura have helped me in this arena. For those who are paying attention, beauty can awaken the soul, preparing the way to encounter and pursue goodness, truth, and justice.

justice... The prophet Micah says it succinctly when he records these words: "He has shown you, O man, what is good, and what does the Lord require of you? To do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God." (Micah 6:8) Justice is living in right relationship with God, neighbor, and creation. It is seeking the welfare of the other, at cost to yourself. Justice is a bit more accessible in our English-speaking mind perhaps than the biblically-related righteousness which admittedly sounds very "churchy," but is no less significant. I think of them as two wings of a plane, you don't get one without the other in the Hebrew scriptures. The books Let Justice Roll Down, Generous Justice, and When Helping Hurts and the witness of many Christians in Memphis, TN were very instrumental in the formation of my thinking about God's passion for justice and what that means for my life today.

truth... My truth, your truth, whose truth? "What is truth," Pontius Pilate famously quipped to Jesus on the eve of the crucifixion. Truth was standing in front of him and he didn't see. Jesus said, "I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life." (John 14:6) Truth is nothing without love. Again, they are two wings of a plane. The gospel of the kingdom is truth. Jesus warmly invites us to his banquet table, to return home, to taste, see, and feel the embrace of mercy, forgiveness, and the giving of a new inheritance far better than anything we could prepare for ourselves. As an apprentice of Jesus, I am asked to be a witness to truth, to point to the cross and the hope of the resurrection. 

on earth as it is in heaven... This reminds me of the prayer Jesus' taught his disciples which seeks God's kingdom here on earth as it is heaven. We want the good reign of God to manifest here on earth, just like it is in the heavenly realm where God's will is wholly expressed. The Bible tells an unbelievable story of God coming to earth, bring his presence to a temple in the created, earthly realm. Eden, Jacob's ladder, Israel, Sinai, tabernacle, temple, the prophets' words all reveal this shocking truth. Jesus was/is the meeting place of heaven and earth. Jesus' resurrection affirms the goodness of creation and points to an earthy existence for the new humanity. The body of Christ, the church, is now the temple of God's presence. John's revelation/apocalypse tells us that God will one day make his dwelling among humankind. He will renew the heavens and earth. Our future is not "going to heaven when I die" but rather joining Jesus in paradise as worshippers, co-rulers, and co-creators and in his new creation.

One artifact I've created as an outworking from my own mission is the writing of a forthcoming book with co-author and friend Joe Thomas, Wayfinding with Dietrich Bonhoeffer: Off the Beaten Path and into the Kingdom (Eugene: Wipf & Stock, 2024). We just submitted the final manuscript to our editor. I look forward to sharing more about this writing project!


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