Monday, April 17, 2006

Passion

Churches typically engage in very similar activities. What differentiates churches from each other are their values: both the content of those values and the strength of conviction with which they are held. CTK is a special church in both respects. We have clear ideas. We also have clear feelings about those ideas. We know what we’re about, and we feel strongly about it.

When Cortez landed in Mexico he set fire to the ships that brought him there. It was either conquer or be conquered. There was no turning back. His heart was completely in it. His fervor reflected his faith, his passion corresponded with profession.

The dictionary defines passion as: “Intense emotion compelling action. A strong devotion to some object, activity or concept.” It is a fire in the belly. If you only had one biblical word to define passion it would be “heart.”

Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.
2 Corinthians 4:16

Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men.
Colossians 3:23

You can go a long way with the right heart. The Pike’s Place Fish Market in Seattle has become the most well-known fish market in the world by bringing a contagious enthusiasm and energy to their work. Their workers dance, sing, toss fish, and otherwise carry on. They are thoroughly immersed in their work. They have proven that it’s not just what you do, it’s how you do it.

In Zen and The Art of Motorcycle Maintenance Robert Pirsig refers to this vigor as “gumption.”

If you’re going to repair a motorcycle, an adequate supply of gumption is the first and more important tool. If you haven’t got that you might as well gather up all the other tools and put them away, because they won’t do you any good. Gumption is the psychic gasoline that keeps the whole thing going. If you haven’t got it, there’s no way the motorcycle can possibly be fixed. But if you have got it and know how to keep it, there’s absolutely no way in the whole world that motorcycle can keep from getting fixed. It’s bound to happen. Therefore the thing that must be monitored at all times and preserved before anything else is gumption.

At a writer’s workshop the moderator asked a panel of well-known authors this question: “What does it take to write a best seller?” After a little discussion, their consensus was that writers must be “in a fury.” If you write with passion, your words are intensified. Your message has force. Your readers can better sense your spirit and sincerity. They went on to suggest that if you cannot write with passion, perhaps you have selected the wrong subject.

Followers of Jesus Christ have certainly selected “the right subject.” And if passion, gumption, or fury (or whatever you want to call it) is important to selling fish, maintaining motorcycles, or writing novels, it certainly is appropriate for something as important as God’s work.

Passion is not optional for a Deliberately Simple church. Enthusiasm for what we’re doing is nearly as critical as what we’re doing. Soren Kierkegaard warned of the danger of the church losing its passion for the gospel and treating it like “just another piece of information.” The result could be compared with reading a cookbook to a person who is hungry.

When an unchurched person comes to church, one of their leading questions is, “Do they really believe this stuff?” Visitors are looking to see whether we are lip-synching, or if it’s coming from the heart. Unfortunately, many unbelievers have concluded that Christians are going through the motions.

Several years ago, at Christmas, my wife Kristyn and I flew to my home state of Alaska - and we got out of there just in time. There was a volcano that erupted south of Anchorage and threatened to disrupt air travel. As it turned out, we were fortunate to make our flight back to Seattle, but those scheduled to fly the next couple of days were grounded by the fallout. In the aftermath my parents mailed me a clipping from a newspaper in Anchorage. A photographer had gone into the air terminal and taken a picture of one of the monitors that displays the airline departure times. The picture had no caption. It spoke for itself, because the monitor read:

Flight Status
1727 Cancelled
362 Cancelled
1742 Cancelled
584 Cancelled
1720 Cancelled
1557 Cancelled
1714 Cancelled
1717 Cancelled
1724 Cancelled

Delta Airlines, We Love To Fly, and It Shows!

Sometimes there is a difference between what we advertise and what we’re really all about. I remember coming up behind a car on the interstate. On the back of the car was a bumper sticker: “Happiness is being a grandmother.” So with enthusiasm I began to pass, expecting to see the sweetest grandmotherly figure behind the wheel of that car. What I saw instead was an older lady, hunched over the steering wheel with a bull-dog like scowl on her face. I couldn’t tell if it was the grandma or the big, bad wolf in the grandmother’s clothes. And I thought: “That’s false advertising….to say that happiness is being a grandmother, and then to look like that!”

I realize that as Christians we can be guilty of false advertising from time to time. We say, “We love to fly.” But what shows is that we are spiritually grounded. Nothing is taking off. All flights are cancelled. We profess that “happiness is being a Christian,” but most people could never guess that we’re enjoying ourselves. We look more like Eeyore than Tigger. All the slogans and bumper stickers can’t disguise the reality that there is a disconnect between our profession and our passion.

Compared with what we ought to be we are only half awake. Our fires are damped; our drafts are checked.
William James

When we lack passion it is often because we have allowed something precious to become familiar. Max Lucado writes about the day his daughter nearly drowned in a back-yard pool. Lucado says, as he drew his baby girl out of the water, he understood something new about Satan. He realized that Satan is the author of complacency. Lucado reflects on the moment of truth, when he found this out:

It was a divine slap - a gracious knock on the head of severe mercy. Because of it I came face to face with one of Satan’s slyest agents - the agent of familiarity. His commission from the black room is clear, and it’s fatal: “Take nothing from your victim cause him only to take everything for granted.” He had been on my trail for years, and I never knew it. But I know it now. I’ve come to recognize his tactics and detect his presence. And I’m doing my best to keep him out. His aim is deadly. His goal is nothing less than to take what is most precious to us and make it appear as most common. To say that this agent of familiarity breeds contempt is to let him off easy. Contempt is just one of his offspring....He’s an expert in robbing the sparkle and replacing it with the drab. He invented the yawn. He put the hum in “hum-drum”. And his strategy is deceptive. He won’t steal your salvation - he’ll just make you forget what it is like to be lost. You’ll grow accustomed to prayer and thereby not pray. Worship will become commonplace and study will be optional. And with the passing of time he’ll infiltrate your heart with boredom and cover the cross with dust so that you’ll be safely out of reach of change. Nor will he steal your home from you, he’ll do something far worse. He’ll paint it with a coat of drabness. He’ll replace evening gowns with bath-robes. Nights on the town with evenings in the recliner. And romance with routine.

I think Lucado is right. If Satan can desensitize us, he can effectively undermine what God wants to do in our lives. We must keep the fires of passion lit by regularly reminding ourselves what is eternal....what is life-changing....what is life-giving.

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