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The Passion Promise
By JOHN AVANT
Multnomah Publishers, Inc.Copyright © 2004 John Avant
All right reserved.
Chapter OneChoose Your Passion "To him who is able ..."
Choose your passion.
That's the one thing. The one thing to do right now. The one thing that will mean everything in your life. Make no mistake about this choice, because choosing the wrong passion will destroy you and choosing no passion will deplete you.
Passion is a dangerous commodity. Misplaced passion leads men and women to trade their souls for a few more dollars or to trade their families for ten minutes of sex. Self-centered theological passion can result in the cheap gospel of health and wealth: If I just love Jesus, there will always be more stuff for me! Prideful passion is nothing more than ego-driven ambition that never satisfies.
Ask King David what happens when a man after God's heart decides to follow his own heart-his passion. Adultery, murder, death, and discipline.
Ask Peter about prideful passion: "Not me, Jesus. I'll never deny you!" Shame, grief, and defeat.
Ask Judas where a passion for money and personal power leads. Betrayal, suicide, hell itself.
And if your passion is for a misguided image of God, you will not only be wrong-you'll become an instrument of evil. Some extremely passionate men flew airplanes into buildings on September 11.
So this choice means just about everything to you and me. If we determine that we will not live passionless lives, that we will live for something, even die for it if necessary, how do we choose the right passion? How do we ensure that our choice will lead to adventure instead of disaster?
The source of our passion is the key.
A Great Promise
To him who is able ...
Those are simple, profound, life-giving words! God claims that He is able, completely capable of doing what He says He will do. Ephesians 3:20-21 is the foundation of the Passion Promise, but the phrase "To him who is able" actually qualifies these two verses as a promise in themselves.
Theologians call Ephesians 3:20-21 a doxology. A doxology is a passage of Scripture that ascribes praise and glory to God. Paul praises God because "He is able." The Scripture leaves absolutely no doubt about God's ability.
Renowned Greek scholar A. T. Robertson points out that a doxology can be a promise as well. He says of this passage, "The doxology ascribes to God the power to do them (the things He promises) for us." Then there is The Complete Biblical Library, one of the most comprehensive study tools ever produced. It describes this passage as "a great promise." These two verses are, in fact, a guarantee that God has great plans for our lives, that He can deliver on those plans, and that His intentions are far beyond anything we could accomplish or hope for on our own.
Of course, Ephesians 3:20-21 isn't the only passage in Scripture that calls the believer to a life of passion. But nothing is more powerful than the simple statement that "He is able." Period. He waits today to see if you will believe it ... and if you will choose to live it out every day.
Two of Jesus' disciples, James and John, once came to have a talk with Jesus. Matthew tells us they brought Mom along to help bolster their position. After all, they were asking for great places of honor with Jesus when He came into His glory. Who better than their mother to make their case?
Jesus, knowing the price He would pay before He entered glory, asked them, "Are you able to drink the cup I drink and be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with?" (Mark 10:38, NKJV). "We are able, they answered" (v. 39)-using the same Greek word we find in Ephesians 3:20.
Were they able? Were they capable of achieving that dream? Not even close! They were clueless. Jesus told them they didn't even know what they were asking.
Where did they miss it? What was their problem? The exact same problem you and I face when we choose our source of passion. As long as we think we are able, we will never experience what it means to know that He is able!
Interestingly, Jesus told these two power-seekers that one day they would be able to follow Him. They would suffer as He did. They would know power and adventure and glory and passion. But to get there they had to fail, to come to the end of themselves, to see that they were not able at all. It was then that they would be ready for the second chapter of Acts-for the fire and wind of heaven to explode into their very being, filling them with the One who alone is able!
That was the only source of genuine passion for them. It's still the only one for you, too.
Who Is He, Anyway?
If we are going to believe that He is able, we better have an accurate idea of who He is! It's frightening how little the unchurched world knows about the God of the Bible.
I often send a team of video guys from our church out into our community to do Jay Leno-style street interviews. Every time we show these interviews to the congregation, we realize that not only do most people not know God; they don't even know who He is! They view Him as a boring, grandfatherly rule-maker or an ethereal, all-encompassing force-or whatever they need Him to be that day. But they know little or nothing about Jesus and what He taught.
In our most recent interviews, we asked Atlanta residents living right in the middle of the Bible Belt if they knew who said "You must be born again." One guy confidently answered, "Thomas Jefferson." Some had no clue. One thought it was a rock star. One at least chose a biblical figure and said "Simon Peter."
What's even scarier, though, is that the church doesn't seem to know God much better. It seems to me that the vast majority of the people in our churches view God as the one who is supposed to take care of us. They believe that's His primary nature. So when we're sick, He's there to make us well. When we have a problem, He's there to straighten it out. When we're bad, He's there to help us be better. We want to sing the songs we like, hear the sermons we like, and do things the way we like-because God is supposed to take good care of us.
Our Passionate God
Now, I'm not saying that God doesn't meet the real needs of His people, but aren't you interested in a God who is more than a babysitter? The God of the Bible cares deeply about everything! He created the world with infinite and indescribable passion.
The first time the Bible says that God was angry is in Exodus 4:14. What upset Him so much? Moses, his chosen servant, said, "Get someone else, Lord." God is passionately angry when we risk missing His best for us!
God is passionate in His sorrow. When He sent His Son to the world, He had already told us that He would be "a man of sorrows" (Isaiah 53:3). And at that soul-wrenching, history-changing appointment in Gethsemane, Jesus told His best friends that His soul was "overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death" (Matthew 26:38).
God is passionate in His joy. The first time in the Bible that the phrase "the joy of the Lord" is used, it makes clear that its purpose is not to make us feel better but to fill us with power. Nehemiah says, "The joy of the Lord is your strength" (8:10). God's joy is power. God's joy is passion.
God is passionate in His love. Paul wrote, "But God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us" (Romans 5:8). Enough said! God is passionate in all He does. He is quite capable of meeting your needs, but He longs for you to go way beyond that and share His life. Hebrews 12:29 says, "Our God is a consuming fire." And in Romans 12:11, Paul says, "Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord."
The Greek word for "spiritual fervor" is the best one-word definition of the heart of God and of the message of the Passion Promise. The word literally means "to boil or to be fervent." The Complete Biblical Library says it means "to be ardent in boiling over with holy enthusiasm." That's the heart of God, and that's how the Bible says we are to serve Him.
Instead of praying for God to bless us, what if this Sunday your pastor asked God to "burn us up and boil us over"? That's a prayer God would love to hear! That reflects who He really is.
Jesus makes it clear that it's serious business to Him if we reject His heart of passion and choose a life of lukewarmness. In fact, Jesus says that when we live this way, it makes Him want to throw up (Revelation 3:16). The answer to this, according to Jesus, is to "be earnest [or fervent] and repent" (v. 19). So according to Jesus, we can live in His passion or in His vomit. It's our choice.
Getting in God's Face
No matter where you go in the Bible, you can't get away from our Lord's true nature-a God of power and passion who calls you to know Him as the One "who is able." At the Last Supper, when Philip asked Jesus to "show us the Father" (John 14:8), Jesus chastised him: "Don't you believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? ... It is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work" (v. 10).
It's all over the Old Testament, too. One of my favorite Bible characters is Hezekiah, a man filled with passion for God. A man who understood who God was in a day when few others did-and who found out firsthand that God is able.
Hezekiah was a young, radical king of Judah seven hundred years before Christ. He was a bold leader who smashed the idols of his people and led them to worship God alone. He even smashed the bronze serpent Moses had made, which had become an idol (2 Kings 18:4). Hezekiah probably wouldn't have made it a month as a pastor of most churches today. Too much passion!
Hezekiah rebelled against a king named Sennacherib, who had already destroyed forty-six cities. Sennacherib was 46-0, and he was coming for Jerusalem and for the young ruler. Hezekiah knew that there was no way he could win. So he did the one thing he could do-he turned to the One who was able.
In 2 Kings 19:15-19, Hezekiah prayed one of the greatest prayers in the Bible. In fact, it is so incredible that it is repeated word for word in Isaiah 37. Hezekiah went up to the temple and spread out the letter from Sennacherib for the Lord to see. As you read Hezekiah's prayer, imagine you are there, listening to every word. Feel Hezekiah's passion for the only One able to save his people:
O Lord, God of Israel, enthroned between the cherubim, you alone are God over all the kingdoms of the earth. Give ear, O Lord, and hear; open your eyes, O Lord, and see; listen to the words Sennacherib has sent to insult the living God. It is true, O Lord, that the Assyrian kings have laid waste these nations and their lands. They have thrown their gods into the fire and destroyed them for they were not gods but only wood and stone, fashioned by men's hands. Now, O Lord, our God, deliver us from his hand, so that all kingdoms on earth may know that you alone, O Lord, are God.
Now that's a passion prayer. Hezekiah got in God's face! He said in essence, "Can't you hear, God? You're not blind, are you? Look at what this man is doing!" If I used those words with God, I'd be watching for lightning bolts.
But Hezekiah could talk to God that way because he knew Him-intimately. Hezekiah understood who God was and that His honor was at stake. He turned from his own ability and completely trusted God's. That's spiritual fervor boiling over.
In response, God told Hezekiah that Sennacherib would not lay a hand on Jerusalem. And He kept His promise, as the defeated king ran from the angel of God back to his home, where he was killed by his own sons. How did all this come about? "The passion of the Lord Almighty will make this happen!" (2 Kings 19:31, NLT).
By the way, when God told us He would send His own Son, He said the same thing: "The passion of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this" (Isaiah 9:7, NLT) Are you starting to see it? The power of a life lived not in your ability but in His?
That's the "one thing"-the source of real passion.
Choosing the One Thing over the Other Things
If anything amazes God, it must be that we can see His power and passion-and choose counterfeits instead. Because more often than not, that is exactly what we do.
Each of my children ate weird things when they were small. When my son Trey learned to crawl, he crawled everywhere! One day my wife Donna and I "misplaced" him and went on a frantic search. My heart skipped a beat when I saw that the door to the garage was cracked open. Not a good place for a little guy to hang out. I held my breath and opened the door, and sure enough there he was-in front of the dog food bowl, having himself a little snack. Alpo from head to toe!
My daughter Amy had a fondness for poison. If we turned around for a second she grabbed something deadly and consumed it. We became good friends with the Poison Control folks. One day while Donna was polishing the dining room table, Amy snuck up behind her and slugged down the furniture polish. She didn't suffer any permanent consequences, but she had lemon fresh breath for days.
My oldest daughter Christi doesn't care for fishing now, but when she was small she loved to go with Daddy to the lake. One day I sat her down to play, baited a catfish line with a big Canadian nightcrawler, and then started walking along the bank fishing for bass. Looking back to check on Christi, I could hardly believe my eyes. She had one of those big old worms hanging out of the corner of her mouth! I ran toward her but it was too late.
Have you ever seen someone eat pasta? Christi sucked that worm down whole and then gave me the sweetest smile. I told her mommy about it-a few years later.
What is it with my children? I would have given them any good thing to eat that they wanted, but they chose dog food, poison, and worms! The rest of us aren't so different, though. We're God's children but we often just don't get it. We crawl around in our immaturity, eating whatever we find because we haven't yet grown up enough to be filled with the One who is able!
C. S. Lewis said it like this: "We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered to us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in the slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea."
Our problem is that we have spent so much time in the mud that "mud pies"-fleeting pleasures such as new homes and cars, extramarital affairs, and fame and fortune-look good to us.
But you have to choose. Jesus said that "no one is able to serve two masters" (Matthew 6:24).
Excerpted from The Passion Promise by JOHN AVANT Copyright © 2004 by John Avant. Excerpted by permission.
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