With Easter season approaching, I’m reminded of the western movies I saw as a kid. The hero in many of them was the strong, silent type, and a guy who he never looked much like a hero in the beginning. He was always the relatively new arrival in town, and nobody knew much about him except that he was quiet, sort of a loner, and though he was an ex-gunfighter, he was now the personification of civility in dusty boots and a floppy cowboy hat. He had those rugged, good looks that were all the rage among transformed gunfighters in the wild west, but the women generally ignored him in spite of his animal magnetism. The town’s most attractive, available, and as yet unclaimed female was the lone exception. She would risk an occasional, questioning glance in his direction. It was obvious that she was interested in this mysterious man. No doubt, she wanted to ask him questions like, “You’ve had that same two-day growth of beard every day for the last year and a half—how do you do that?”
No More “Mr. Nice Guy” ~
After wasting the first third of the movie watching the guy avoid getting involved in anything contentious, the bad guys would finally ride in and begin to menace the peaceful townsfolk. They would take over the saloon, harass the shopkeepers, bully peaceful farmers, and generally intimidate everyone, and the non-hero-acting hero would quietly stay out of it. Eventually though, there’d be that pivotal moment when the bad guys would go too far—usually by conspiring with some evil banker, lawyer, or corrupt politician to steal the attractive girl’s inheritance and/or force her to marry the aforesaid banker, lawyer, or corrupt politician. When our ex-gunfighter discovers that, it’s no more “Mr. Nice Guy.” He’d go home, slowly open a dusty trunk, pull out his Colt 45 and strap it on, and we knew that a bunch of bad guys would soon be headed to “boot hill.” We also knew that Miss Prettiest-Gal-in-Town better get ready, because once it was over, he wasn’t going celebrate by kissing his horse.
The Rocky movies continued that same kind of theme. Rocky wasn’t much in the ring unless and until somebody beat him half to death. After he had been pummeled to a bloody, pathetic-looking mess and everybody wanted him to throw in the towel, some internal mechanism would kick in and he would suddenly become invincible. If his trainer would have just hired somebody to beat him up in the locker room first, his opponents wouldn’t have made it through the first round.
Triggering the Mechanism ~
The Hulk’s alter-ego and most of the modern-day superheroes in our movies display some degree of that same “reluctance-to-act” syndrome. It seems like the heroes we create need some kind of motivating trigger to be activated before anything of real redemptive value begins to happen. But when the crisis reaches a point where the mechanism toggles over, a deep and irresistible kind of passion is unleashed, and power that is otherwise dormant comes with it.
That the theme exists, and that it is so pervasive, is really not unusual. Passion and power are connected—for good or for evil, they come together. The redemptive movement of God among His people is always accompanied by at least two things, prayer and passion. Either without the other is limited, largely ineffective, and in the latter category, can even be destructive. James said the “effectual, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much.” James 5:16 (NKJV)
Passion-Induced Fervent Prayer ~
The great revivals that have dotted the spiritual landscape of history have been marked with episodes of individual and collective prayer, but those prayers were not just casual conversations with God. They were impassioned pleas for His intervention and were driven by the strongest examples of our basic emotions. The prayers in those instances were the result of something deep and stirring in the hearts of men and women, not the cause of it. Prayer guided the powerful forces that were at work inside those who came before God, but the prayers did not create them.
In times of great crisis individually or when disaster strikes families and communities, we find people praying who don’t normally pray. We find people standing up, reaching out, doing things they would not normally do, and heroes arise from unlikely places. Passion underlies and drives those responses. Passion energizes the great moving forces of our lives—love, fear, hope, desire, desperation, exasperation, anger, pity, etc. There is power connected to passion, and both God and the devil are aware of it, and both want to lay hold of it.
The movie produced by Mel Gibson that depicted Jesus’ final days and hours in graphic terms was called The Passion of the Christ. Many have confessed not being able to watch it because of the overwhelming emotions it unleashed in them. Such a response seems reasonable given its eternal significance and the profound reality of Who is involved.
Yet in spite of that, Christian America seems able to slide through one Easter season after another with little to no obvious evidence that His passion has stirred ours at all. We would have thought little of our iconic western heroes if they had watched the bad guys molest the town unchallenged and remained detached and silent as the evil ogre turned the innocent girl into his personal slave. We would’ve voted Rocky out of the gym altogether if all he could do was present himself as a human punching bag.
A Passion-Killing Perspective ~
Something deep inside us cries out against unchallenged evil, and yet we seem able to do what we would have condemned in our heroes. How is it that we can watch evil run roughshod over our beloved land and molest its people and do nothing? It’s because of the same internal mechanism that allows a person to look at the cross of Christ and feel nothing. It’s the passion-killing perspective that says, “It’s not about me.”
Well… the bad guys have ridden into town, and the bullies have taken over, and we’re the only heroes God sent. What if, as we approach another Easter season, we allowed the “passion” of the cross to become our own? What if we declared with the Apostle Paul . . .
I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me. Galatians 2:20 (NKJV)
Ron’s new book, “Right Side Up Thinking in an Upside Down World ~ Looking at the World through the Lens of Biblical Truth” has been released!
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