Sitting in for my dad this week, is my boss: e2 media network executive producer and host of The Big Picture Podcast, Joel Fieri with some “Real Stuff My BOSS Says”.
One of the discussions that Joel and I have had numerous times around the water cooler is in regards to a trend that he sees many churches wandering through without even knowing it. It’s what he sees as a dilemma between passion and obedience. He sees too many churches allowing the overarching theme of “passion” driving their ministry instead of an overarching goal of “obedience”. He sees this in the fact that most churches offer 25 minutes of music in their service and call that the week’s worth of worship. He sees it in the leading, prodding, or even cajoling of leaders to their congregants to develop a “passionate relationship” with Jesus. He sees it in Christians searching for a means to follow their “passion” in service to Christ. And, he sees it all as taking precedence over simple obedience to God’s primary commands.
From my shoes – a self-described “passionate artist” – these are hard words to hear.
As Joel’s pastor puts it, obedience is “Trusting God enough to do what He says”. In fact, if we look at the Bible appropriately, Jesus Himself put it simply in John 14:
“If you love me, obey my commandments.”
Therefore the best way for us to express our love for God doesn’t have anything to do with passion, but everything to do with obedience. This requires a selfless emptying of oneself – even to the point of sacrificing your passions for the larger goal of obeying God’s will.
To bolster Joel’s position, he refers to the famous tract called “The Four Spiritual Laws” – a tool that has been used world-wide to show man’s need for God and what it means to follow Jesus. In it, the analogy is given of a train with three cars: the engine is “facts”, the passenger car is “faith”, and the caboose is “feelings”. In other words, the facts (or God’s Word and truth) drive and guide the train; our faith is where we ride; and the emotion-driven “passions”, focused on our individual preferences are in the caboose. Now, ALL THREE OF THESE CARS ARE NECESSARY. But, if the caboose (or even the passenger car) is driving the train, something is wrong and the train is headed in the wrong direction. Only by following God’s will, Word, and commandments will we truly live the lives that He desires for us.
Yet, on the other hand, Psalm 37:4 says:
Take delight in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart.
(sounds pretty passionate to me).
This is a verse often used to guide Christians who are searching for direction or an area to serve God. Leaders often ask, “What are you passionate about? What has God put in your heart that excites you? Start there and let God lead the way!”
The key to this direction being valid is a ginormous “IF” that needs to precede this advice. The clause of “If you are obedient to God’s will in the other areas of your life, THEN He will give you the desires of your heart and lead you to where and how He wants you to serve Him.”
Another area where Joel believes people have gone wrong – even in regards to Psalm 37:4 – is the definition of the word “heart”. When the Psalmist wrote “He will give you the desires of your heart”, did he mean your passions or your will?
But, if we focus so much on strict obedience, don’t we extinguish the passions – or even joy or fun – out of Christianity? Where’s the enjoyment of worship, or even study, service or obedience?
Joel says that fun or happiness shouldn’t be what we strive for, but instead the joy of the Lord, which is very different. We can experience God’s joy even when we’re definitely not having fun or enjoying life. And it’s His joy that God promises when we obey.
This leads to the real danger that Joel sees too many Christians heading toward: an era where “happiness and enjoyment” have replaced the true definition of “joy” and therefore, the world’s motto of “if it feels right, do it” has bled into the church as a motto of “if it doesn’t feel right, then something must be wrong”. It began as a sliding definition of terms, but the consequences have become and continue to devolve into something unbiblical. Now, some may say it’s just semantics, but as many experts agree, words define ideas and ideas have consequences. So, we do need to be careful of any “mission creep” in regards to the definitions that we use.
Joel’s bottom line is that our emotions and our passions can fluctuate from day to day, or at least from season to season; but God’s commandments, and His promises, NEVER change. Therefore obedience to those commandments and hope in those promises should be our anchor; and while passion should be included in the equation, we need to be careful that it’s not what drives us.
To begin today’s podcast, we’re going to introduce and check out the View From The Back Pew. You see, I’m a bit of a Backrow Baptist. Most of know a BRB, he’s the shy guy in the back of the church, who sings off-key, can’t seem to clap in rhythm and is REALLY uncomfortable with all the dancing and hand-raising.
But he’s a good Christian guy who sees a lot of things that you hyperactive folks in the front rows miss going on behind you.
And actually, today’s topic concerns what does go on in the front row these days, and that is the greater and greater emphasis on Passion and Emotion, not only in our worship services, but in our personal walks as well.
In many of our sermons and books and particularly our music, the word “passion” is ever more prevalent. There is a “Passion For Christ” movement that’s gaining popularity today.
We’re often told that if we want to serve God and to find our calling, we need to find what we’re ‘Passionate’ about, and so many Christians today are seeking to have a “Passionate relationship” with God.
So, I’d like to take a closer look at this trend and see how it lines up with what the Bible tells us.
Now I do see the Bible saying that we should have a deep love for God, a love that encompasses our hearts, our souls and our minds.
But is there a Biblical call to ‘passion’?
Actually, the Bible says very little about passion, and when it does, it’s warning us against it!
Recently I did a word search of the Bible for the word ‘passion’. This resulted in only nine verses on passion.
Significantly, all nine of these verses put passion in a negative light, warning us against it as a hinderance to God’s control of our lives.
So why is there this movement in the Church today towards passion?
I think it stems from a number of things. First it comes out of a very talented, artistic, and creative leadership in our churches and ministries.
Many churches now have pastors of worship and ‘creative expression’.
Many authors and musicians, who are by nature emotive and expressive people, have written books and praise songs that evoke and call for passion.
This also mirrors secular society which is increasingly emotion-driven. We see it in reality TV, for instance. We’re riveted by shows in which real-life passions are flying, romantic and emotional. In sports we see athletes engaged in passionate pursuit of victory, often leading to tears after both victory and defeat, not to mention the uncontrolled passion in the stands by aptly name ‘Fans’ (which of course is short for ‘Fanatic’).
And lastly, let me say that this is sub-consciously aimed at (or even consciously marketed to) the women in our churches, our sisters in Christ. Because, let’s face it, even though our evangelical church leadership is still predominantly male, women lead in the activities of our churches, and they set the tone for our worship and our relationships.
Any honest pastor today will tell you that the women in his congregation do most of the service and care more deeply about their church. They also buy most of the Christian books and music on the market, and they respond to passion. So, the message to Christians today is that to love God and to love Jesus is to be passionate.
Now I might hear you ask, “Okay, so what’s your point? You said the Bible tells us to have a deep love for God. What does that mean then?”
To answer it, I turn to the one source we should all turn to, the words of Jesus. Specifically Jesus’ answer to that very question. In just one passage from the Gospel of John, Jesus, talking about love, matches the number of times ‘passion’ is mentioned in the entire Bible. And He does it with the concept of ‘obedience’, specifically the following of His commands.
That’s right, in John chapter 14:15 – 15:17, Jesus tells His disciples nine times that to love Him is to obey His commands, and that Jesus’ love for His Heavenly Father is shown by His obedience to The Father’s commands.
The Bible has a LOT to say about obedience.
The same word search I did of the Bible revealed hundreds of references to the words ‘obedience’ and ‘obey’ and the phrase ‘obey my commands’. The key to our love for God, folks, is ‘obedience’.
So another question would be, ‘what do we do with our emotions, then?
Psalms, Song Of Solomon, the prophets and many other books and Bible characters are very emotional. Jesus himself wept and even lost his temper.”
That’s very true.
I have a somewhat dated, but classic illustration to share with you that can help answer this question.
Years ago in college I was involved in an organization called Campus Crusade For Christ. This group had a little tract called The Four Spiritual Laws. Some of you no doubt are familiar with it. At the end of that booklet was a little diagram called the Fact, Faith and Feeling Train. The train had three parts – the engine, which had the word ‘Fact’ on it, the passenger car with the word ‘Faith’ and the caboose with the word ‘Feelings’. The idea was that the ‘facts’, the engine, drove the train, leading the train to it’s destination. The passenger car and the caboose follow the engine. The passenger car is where we sit in ‘faith’, which we put in the objective commands and promises of God. The ‘feelings’ caboose is at the end of the train, also being pulled along by the engine. It is every bit as much a part of the train as the engine and passenger car, but it doesn’t drive the train. The caboose is there mainly for the comfort of the crew.
So, to the question of what to do with emotions, I would answer that we follow the engine with our feelings. Don’t let them drive the train, because they weren’t meant to, and can’t lead us to our destination. Keep feelings subjected to the promises of God and to what the Word of God commands us to do, whether or not we feel like doing so.
Let’s put our emotions in their proper place of comforting the crew and enabling it to help the engine complete it’s work and deliver us to our destination.
And lastly, I would call for us to avoid the words ‘passion’ and ‘passionate’ in describing our total love for God.
Passion can blind (and deafen) us to what God, in His still small voice, is often telling us. Let’s keep feelings and emotions subjected to the facts and knowledge of God’s promises and commands, just like Jesus says, as an expression of our love and obedience to Him until the time we reach our destination, eternally in His presence. Then we’ll experience perfect love and fellowship with our Heavenly Father.
That’s today’s word from the Backrow Baptist, as he hurries out the back door before he has to hug someone.
In closing, I want to bring to you the Great Cloud Of Witnesses, the segment of our podcast where we meet and hear the stories of those who have given, and some who are still giving, their lives by faith in the promises of God, and of whom the world was and is not worthy (if you don’t know that reference, please check out Hebrews 11 in your Bible).
Todays witness is Shabaz Bhatti, a Pakistani cabinet member. His story goes like this:
The Telegraph Dec. 23, 2012
In 2011, Taliban gunmen shot dead Pakistan’s minorities minister, Shahbaz Bhatti, an advocate of reform of the country’s blasphemy laws, as he left his Islamabad home.
Two assassins sprayed the Christian minister’s car with gunfire, striking him at least eight times, before scattering pamphlets that described him as a “Christian infidel”. The leaflets were signed “Taliban al-Qaida Punjab”.
Bhatti’s 22-year-old niece Mariam was first on the scene. “I rushed out to find his body covered with blood. I said “uncle, uncle” and tried to take his pulse. But he was already dead,” she said at Bhatti’s house, extending a bloodstained palm. The sound of wailing women rose from the next room.
Dismayed human rights activists said it was another sign of rising intolerance at hands of violent extremists. “I am sad and upset but not surprised,” said the veteran campaigner Tahira Abdullah outside Bhatti’s house. “These people have a long list of targets, and we are all on it. It’s not a matter of if, but when.”
The only Christian in Pakistan’s cabinet, Bhatti had predicted his own death. In a farewell statement recorded four months ago, to be broadcast in the event of his death, he spoke of threats from the Taliban and al-Qaida.
But he vowed not to stop speaking for Christians and other minorities. “I will die to defend their rights,” he said on the tape released to the BBC and al-Jazeera. “These threats and these warnings cannot change my opinions and principles. I am living for my community and for suffering people and I will die to defend their rights. I prefer to die for my principles and for the justice of my community rather than to compromise. I want to share that I believe in Jesus Christ, who has given his own life for us.”
So today I’d like to add Shahbaz Bhatti to the great cloud of witnesses, of whom the World is not worthy.
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Suzanne Lederer (San Diego) engages through Christian devotional contemplative worship through Lectio Divina or “Sacred Word”.