Saturday, July 22, 2017

Passionate Christians

One of my favorite places to visit is Eureka Springs, Arkansas. Over the years we have visited there many times. Eureka Springs was founded in 1879. Judge J.B. Saunders claimed that his crippling disease was cured by the spring waters. Saunders started promoting Eureka Springs to friends and family members across the State and created a boom town. Within a period of little more than one year, the city grew from a rural village to a major city of 5,000 people. By 1889 it was the second largest city in Arkansas. With bath house cures falling out of favor, and the depression that hit the nation being particularly bad in Arkansas, Eureka Springs fell into decline during the 30's.

With the end of World War II, the era of the family car trip began. Businesses and services moved to the highway, rustic tourist courts and air-conditioned motels were built alongside diners and gift shops. Sights that had been horseback adventure were now attractions to the motoring tourist. The motoring public could turn-off Hwy 62 down 62B into the valley, follow the loop through the historic little Victorian city, and come back out on the highway.

When controversial far-right politician Gerald Smith retired in the 1960s, he and his wife bought a historic house in Eureka Springs and made the city one of their homes. He imagined building a magnificent statue of Christ, high above the city. He bought land east of the historic downtown and made plans to build the statue. He raised more than one million dollars from his friends and political contacts.

The Christ of the Ozarks statue was dedicated on June 25, 1966. The white mortar figure of Jesus Christ is seven stories tall and weighs almost two million pounds. The face itself is fifteen feet long, and the arms spread out sixty-five feet from fingertip to fingertip.

While he was inspecting the progress of the statue, Smith noticed the natural amphitheater nearby and imagined a passion-play-type outdoor drama, similar to the world-famous Passion Play in Germany. Construction began during the summer of 1967.

Bulldozers carved a 4,000-seat amphitheater out of the mountain, overlooking a 500-foot-wide “stage.” The set area depicts a street in Jerusalem and includes houses, stores, the temple, Pontius Pilate’s porch, King Herod’s porch, and a marketplace. Behind the city and up the hill are the Tomb, The Garden of Gethsemane, Calvary, and the house in Emmaus.

The Great Passion Play is performed several times a week each year, beginning in May and ending in October. Over the years I have attended the Passion Play numerous times. Have you ever wondered why we refer to a play about the final week in the life of Jesus as a passion play? You may have never thought about it, but I have a curious mind, and I needed to know.

I looked the word passion up in the dictionary and found the following meanings.
1.  Extreme compelling emotion a) great anger or rage  b) enthusiasm or fondness  c) strong love or affection  d)  lust
2.  Object of any strong desire or fondness
3.  Any one of the emotions: hate, grief, love, fear, joy
4.  Suffering or agony
5.  The suffering of Jesus

I studied the origin of the word passion and found out that in approximately 1175 this word was adopted from Old French to Old English and meant the sufferings of Christ on the Cross.

The word passion once adopted from Old French only took fifty years to expand its range of meanings. By 1225, passion had not only extended to mean the sufferings of martyrs but was used as the word to describe suffering in general.

By the late 14th century passion extended its meaning to describe strong emotion or desire.  During the 16th-century, passion was used to describe a fit or outburst of anger or rage. Around this time, a literary composition that showed strong emotion was known as a “passion.”

The word passion picked up romantic connotations in the late Middle English period and was first used as meaning “romantic love” in 1588. By the mid 17th century passion had expanded its meaning again by describing anything that was pursued with very strong enthusiasm. The original meaning of passion, as the sufferings of Jesus, fell out of common usage in the 1600’s.

I studied the word passion in my bible concordance. In the King James Version, the word passion, meaning the suffering of Jesus, is found only in one verse. Acts 1:3 “To whom also he shewed himself alive after his passion by many infallible proofs, being seen of them forty days, and speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God.”

The Greek word used in this verse is Pascho. It is used 41 times in the King James Version, translated 38 times as suffer, one time as vexed, one time as felt, and in Acts 1:3 as passion.

Do you know anyone who has a passion for something? Last year we had an election in this country, and I found that many people were very passionate about their candidate or political party.

I have met many Christians who are passionate about their beliefs. Often they focus on just a few hot button topics. I find it sad that I seldom meet someone who is passionate about Jesus and what He has done for us. And it is even rarer to find a Christian who is passionate about the sinners that Jesus came to seek and save.

My question for you today is, do you have a passion for Jesus? Are you passionate about the world, not willing that any should perish? What is at the top of the list of your priorities? Matt 22:35-40 (NKJV) “Then one of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question, testing Him, and saying, ‘Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?’ Jesus said to him, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.”

Whatever you are passionate about is meaningless if you do not have a passion for God and for the well being of your neighbors.

Matt 23:23,24 (NKJV) “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. These you ought to have done, without leaving the others undone. Blind guides, who strain out a gnat and swallow a camel!”

Jesus didn’t say that we shouldn’t follow the fine points of the law, but He wants us to focus on the weightier matters. How do you think Jesus feels when we lose our passion for Him and replace it with a mechanical, formal orthodoxy?

Revelation 2:4 (NKJV) “Nevertheless I have this against you, that you have left your first love.” Does Jesus have something against you, have you lost your first love? Are you passionate about Jesus? When you have a passion, others know it.

Passion is more than mere formality and habit. It is enthusiasm; it is strong love and affection. To have a passionate church full of love for one another and love for everyone in our community, we must each one personally become passionate about Jesus.

I am writing to myself. In a small church sometimes we get so involved in the operation of the church we lose sight of the reason for church. When others look at me, do they see a passion for Jesus? When others look at you, do they see a passion for Jesus? When you are passionate about something, others know it. Many Christians are passionate about condemning others. What passions do others see in us?

2017 is recognized as the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. in 1517 Martin Luther wrote a document attacking the Medival Church’s corrupt practice of selling indulgences to absolve sin. His “95 Theses,” had two central beliefs. One - that the Bible is the central religious authority; and two - that salvation is only by faith in Jesus, and not by works. These ideas called Sola Scriptura – by Scripture alone, and Solo Christo – through Christ alone, were the catalyst for the Protestant Reformation.

As Protestants, we want to make Jesus the center of our all, and we want all of Jesus to be at the center. For it is only Jesus – in His completeness – that is really worth having at our center. Jesus really must be our passion. We shouldn’t be passionate about just a small portion of the gospel of Jesus; we should be passionate about the completeness of Jesus. His life, His message, His sacrifice, His love.

What do I mean by this? When we focus our passion on certain aspects of the truth instead of the completeness of Jesus, we shortchange ourselves and those around us.

Paul addressed this concept in 1 Corinthians 2:1,2 (NLV) "Christian brothers, when I came to you, I did not preach the secrets of God with big sounding words or make it sound as if I were so wise. I made up my mind that while I was with you, I would speak of nothing except Jesus Christ and His death on the cross."

I find it interesting that Paul was determined to speak of nothing except Jesus Christ and His death on the cross. Why did he focus on the death of Jesus on the cross? Why would he focus on something so tragic? Why not focus on the glory of the resurrection? Why not focus on his great teachings? Why did Paul focus on the cross? It was because everything changed when Jesus died on the cross. Before the cross, we were all dead. It was what Christ did on the cross that made all the difference. He paid the price for our sins when He died on that cross. And that was what Paul was focusing on. He refused to enter into philosophical discussions that would only produce strife and division. He simply preached the cross. He preached a crucified Savior that died for the sins of the world. He preached the good news of salvation made possible by the sacrifice of Jesus.

We say, "Christ alone!" in our doctrine of salvation, but in actual practice, much of our teaching and preaching is focused on our understanding of the proper works needed to be saved. When we believe that we understand what works are needed for salvation, we are passionate about telling others about those particular works. We are particularly passionate about pointing out the shortcomings of others.

Do you have passion today? What are you passionate about? Are you passionate about Jesus? He is passionate about you.

1 John 4:9-12 (NIV)  “This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.”

Jesus died as an atonement for your sins. He endured passion - that is suffering - for you. He is still passionate in his love for you. Are you passionate about Jesus or are your passions in other areas. Let’s decide today to be passionate about Jesus.

I want to close with Jude 1:21 (NJV)  “keep yourselves in the love of God, looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life.”

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