Marriage: Where does it begin? (pt. 2) Chapter 1 of The God-Wild Marriage

31 05 2012

Over the next couple of months, I will use The Inkling to introduce you to each chapter of my new book, The God-Wild Marriage.

Chapter 1: The Power to Be Out of Control

God-Wild Marriage

A journey is like a marriage. 

The certain way to be wrong is to think you can control it.

John Steinbeck

Only God can satisfy the hungry heart of man.

Hugh Black

And do not be drunk with wine, in which is dissipation; but be filled with the Spirit…

Ephesians 5:18

I like being in control. As an athlete, I captained most of the teams I played on. As a senior in high school, I was the student body president and enjoyed telling the principal how to run the high school. (You think I’m kidding? I’m not.) Then I got married.

Marriage changed everything.

Liz doesn’t like to be controlled. It took me about one day into our honeymoon to realize that I had signed up for a world that was frighteningly different than any other. We were in Hawaii and I wanted to get up early on the first day, hit the beach, go snorkeling, and then dive off some nearby cliffs. I thought it was all so ordinary. Wouldn’t anyone want to begin a honeymoon in such a way? Fat chance.

My wife wasn’t going to be controlled.

Liz was exhausted. The wedding ceremony less than 36 hours earlier and a torrential rain storm and flood just before we left Tokyo, coupled with an eight-hour flight to Hawaii, was enough to keep her in bed for at least one day. I couldn’t relate.

For me, it was a case of “You only come to Hawaii once, let’s get rolling.” It was time for fun on the beach, adventure and action! But for Liz, it was a time to recover and relax—her way. A heated argument inaugurated our first day of marriage. I lost, she won. So much for my ways; so much for my control.

All of us want to be in control of our lives. All of us want our way— because it’s the right way, right? All of us are enslaved to cultural bondage and a need for control that has infused and impacted our thinking, making it virtually impossible to understand God’s design for a wildly fruitful marriage. This was no less true in biblical times than it is today. When Paul wrote to the Ephesians, he referred to a cultural axiom stating that “every Roman man must have a concubine for pleasure, a mistress for adventure, and a wife for progeny.” Western culture is no different.

Marriages today are indeed out of control. The typical couple walking down the aisle is guaranteed a marriage that will last about seven years, a span of time that is less than the life of your washer, dryer, or refrigerator. As unbelievable as it may seem, the divorce rate in America has increased by over 200 percent in just the last 40 years.1 The Pew survey on marriage, the largest ever conducted, found that nearly 40 percent of us think marriage is obsolete.2 (It is interesting that of those who said marriage is headed for extinction, only 5 percent said they don’t want to be married.3 Hmmm.) If you’re the product of a broken home, your chances for a tumultuous, difficult marriage are even greater.4

As one who regularly counsels couples, I can tell you the family in general, and marriage in particular, is in real trouble. Couples are ditching their commitment to marriage at an alarming rate, even those who attend church—especially those who attend church. According to the Barna Group, those who call themselves “born-again” Christians have a higher rate of divorce than non-believers (27 percent compared to 23 percent). Those who label themselves “fundamentalist” Christians have the highest divorce rate of all, at 30 percent.

I once asked my mom if she had ever thought about divorcing my dad. “No, I’ve never considered divorce,” she replied, “but murder? Yes.” She was being humorous, but the struggle was real and is real. In just this past year, Liz and I have been continually shocked to watch many of our close friends filing for divorce. Many a morning this past year, we have sat across from each other at our breakfast nook and wept over and prayed about dear friends who are leaving their commitments to marriage. Discussing with these couples how and why they have decided to break up has been heart wrenching.

Every marriage is hard. Every marriage is a battleground. You may be feeling just this way right now. Your marriage has not turned out to be what you had hoped and dreamed. The “storybook” romance you thought you were signing up for has actually turned into some kind of Shakespearean tragedy. Your Prince Charming has turned into a frog. Your relationship with your spouse is an endless foray into either verbal arguments, quiet distance, or both. You probably have felt at times like you have a marriage lost in space—your husband is from Mars; your wife is from Venus.5

Read more in The God-Wild Marriage by Dr. Steve Holt

Marriage: Where does it begin? (part 1)

8 05 2012

God-Wild Marriage

Marriage, as God designed it, doesn’t begin with your spouse; it doesn’t even begin with you. It doesn’t begin with better communication, better sex or a budget. It begins with God!

When Liz and I first got married over 26 years ago, we had never heard any clear teaching nor were we aware of God’s main design and purpose for marriage. We winged it the best we could, stumbled through many a stupid decision, fought like Italians (apologize to all Italians reading this blog) and fumbled forward with much sin and grace. It has certainly been a dangerous adventure.

But throughout our journey we have tried hard to understand each other, follow Jesus and figure out the way to joy and power in our marriage. It’s not been easy. It’s probably been one of the most difficult and frustrating aspects of our life. Liz is definitely the most complex and unpredictable person I’ve ever met…or lived with.

Yet through it all we have discovered that God has a design, plan and vision for every marriage. He has put you together with that weird person for a divine mission. He has made you His project of building oneness with your spouse. It hurts, it’s not easy; but it’s God’s way of molding you into His image.

God’s design for your marriage is that it might be His main vehicle for you and your spouse to experience His dangerous, extravagant love, forgiveness and power. For the initiated (married) and for those about to be initiated (engaged), God wants to meet you through your spouse. God has destined your marriage to be the place where His power and holiness are revealed at the deepest levels.

God has a design for marriage that may be surprising. If we will follow His design, we will experience the unpredictable, overcoming and joyful life He wants for us. God has provided us with His roadmap for the wild adventure of a marriage that begins and ends with Him.

The God-wild marriage is found in the Bible. In Ephesians 5:18-33, the Bible’s most dangerous passage on marriage, He reveals to us the blueprint for a happy, joyful, wild and crazy marriage relationship. Over the next few weeks, the Inkling will look at short snippets from my book, The God-Wild Marriage and attempt to tackle such thorny issues as:

  • Why marriage?
  • How a husband must really love his wife by entering her world?
  • What is God’s purpose of sex and why God wants us to really enjoy it?
  • Why a wife must learn to support and respect her husband?
  • How mission focuses a husband and wife’s purpose?
  • How to find God’s power and joy to create the atmosphere of your marriage?
  • How to overcome darkness by fighting the demons seeking the destruction of your marriage?

You are invited on this God-wild, dangerous journey—the journey of God’s design for marriage. Buckle up for the adventure of your life!

“In time The God-Wild Marriage will become a classic, but for now it is an anointed look at what God intended His Institution — marriage —to be.”

– HB London

Pastor to Pastor Emeritus, Focus on the Family

President of H.B. London Ministries

Order Steve’s book this weekend at Mountain Springs Church.

Poetry of Love

29 09 2010

While praying and musing at a monastery chapel high and hidden in the mountains near Long’s Peak God spoke into my inner spirit, “poetry of love.”  I was startled and confused for it seemed so foreign and out of context.  It didn’t fit at all with what my mind was thinking about at the time.  It almost seemed as if He had bypassed my mind to touch my heart.  I asked for a bit more clarity and I was greeted with silence (I hate when He does that).

I just couldn’t get those three words off my mind.  I was doomed to ruminations, meditations, and inner questions for days.  The answer came from the Word of God, through a conversation and discussion with one of the Mountain Springs pastors I was reminded of a verse.

Paul, in writing one of his most intimate letters to a church that he deeply loved, wrote,

For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them. (Ephesians 2:10)

The word “workmanship” riveted my imagination and served to wipe away the cobwebs of my past study.  Workmanship is derived from the word, poieema, from which we get the English word “poem.”  In the Jamieson, Fausset, Brown Commentary, this word is described as “a thing of His making,” His “handiwork,” a “spiritual creation.” John Calvin writes of this phrase:

When he says, that “we are the work of God,” this does not refer to ordinary creation, by which we are made men. We are declared to be new creatures, because, not by our own power, but by the Spirit of Christ, we have been formed to righteousness.[i]

God is saying that each of us are a unique and beautiful poem.  As a new creative poem, He is writing His sonnet upon the fabric of His book of poetry.  It’s His book but we are the verses.  He’s the poet and we are living His verse.  We are living, loving poems.  We are the poetry of God.

What is poetry? Throughout the centuries, there have been many attempts at a definition.  Poetry is “the art of uniting pleasure with truth” (Samuel Johnson)[ii], “the universal language which the heart holds with nature and itself” (William Hazlitt)[iii], “the music of the soul” (Voltaire)[iv].  T.S. Eliot once said of poetry, “It is not the assertion of truth, but the making of that truth more fully real to us.”[v]

William Wordsworth may have captured our meaning best when he wrote, “the poet is the rock of defense for human nature.”[vi] Similarly, Coleridge wrote, “[the poet] brings the whole soul of man into activity.”[vii] God is the poet and it is through His Spirit that we come to discover our true nature, our whole soul moved to creative energy.  We are the poems of the Poet.

Dylan Thomas once commented that “a poem on the page is only half a poem.”[viii] You see, a poem is only half alive until the words on the page are spoken.  They must be spoken into the hearts of other people.  Our life in the Spirit is a wildly jumbled creative, unique blend of verses that have a rhythm that touches everyone around us.  But we must live, really live.

Albert Einstein said that truth is “that which stands the test of experience.”  We are a creative energy of God mirroring the Master Poet with all of our poetic experiences.  Sometimes we are a poem of pain, sometimes a poem of joy, sometimes a poem of endurance.  But with each experience, His poem is crafted, rewritten, and more deeply edited by the love of God.

Jesus said,

No longer do I call you servants, for a servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I heard from My Father I have made known to you.  You did not choose Me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should remain, that whatever you ask the Father in My name He may give you.  These things I command you, that you love one another. (John 15:15-17)

We are not just any run-of-the-mill poem.  We are poems being written by the love of Jesus.  We are the fruit of His love.  We are in a love relationship with the Poet.  He is writing His words, His purposes into the fabric of our heart.

You can tell much about a poet by his or her poems.  The poetry of Emily Dickinson is vastly different from Robert Frost.  The works of Coleridge stand in major contrast to John Keats.  We are the sheet poems, the unfinished poems of God.  We are being crafted and written by the hand of God, through the Spirit, in the blood of Jesus.  If we will let Him, if we will stop resisting, God will write us.  We are His poetry of love.

Receive the point of His pen.

[i] Calvin’s Commentaries

[ii] A Treasury of the World’s Best Loved Poems, Crown Publishers, New York, p. v.

[iii] Ibid.

[iv] Ibid.

[v] Ibid.

[vi] Ibid.

[vii] Ibid.

[viii] Gerard Kelly, Spoken Worship, Zondervan, p. 13.

Revolutionary Love

13 02 2009

I’m sitting in the R&R coffee shop in Black Forest thinking about the message of the apostle of love.  If you’ve been listening to my messages the past three months at MSC, you know that I’m caught up with this apostle of love and his epistle of love.  I call it a “revolutionary love” because it is, well, just so revolutionary.   It is so foreign to our thinking.  It is so foreign in most of our churches.  It is so foreign in most of our relationships. 

It is the passion of one of the twelve, a man who called himself, “the disciple whom Jesus loved.”  The apostle John was enraptured and overtaken with the love of Jesus.  He just can’t contain himself as he scribes his letter to the church.  Fifty six times John speaks of love in this small letter!  No other book of the Bible so speaks as often and so repeatedly on the theme of love. 

John wrote his first letter for two reasons.  First, he was aghast at the success of the Gnostic teachers in pulling the believers in Ephesus away from their new found faith.  John is writing his letter to refute the false theology and practice of these first century cultists.  But, secondly, John is emphasizing that real belief in the real God is best expressed and proven, not by persuasive arguments but through a lifestyle of love.  John wants us to understand with our heart that “God is love, and the one who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in Him.” (1 John 4:16b)

From a “Son of Thunder” to an “Apostle of Love”

John didn’t start out as the apostle of love. Just like Simon, whom Jesus renamed Peter, the Rock, Jesus saw the raw unsanctified man John, a rugged fisherman who had a plan for his own life.  Jesus could see the raw ambition and lust for power. Jesus recognized the outspoken, brash, and intense personality of John.  So, looking at John one day, Jesus renamed him “Boanerges” the Aramaic name for a “Son of Thunder.”

John and his brother James were probably the most ambitious of all the disciples.  It was John who led the discussion about who is the greatest among the disciples. It was John who forbade a man from casting out demons because they were not in the inner circle of the disciples.  They certainly had no scruples about making their intentions and ambitions known:

Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to Him, saying, “Teacher, we want You to do for us whatever we ask.” 36 And He said to them, “What do you want Me to do for you?” 37 They said to Him, “Grant us that we may sit, one on Your right hand and the other on Your left, in Your glory.” 38 But Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you ask. Can you drink the cup that I drink, and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?” 39 They said to Him, “We are able.” So Jesus said to them, “You will indeed drink the cup that I drink, and with the baptism I am baptized with you will be baptized; 40 but to sit on My right hand and on My left is not Mine to give, but it is for those for whom it is prepared.” 41 And when the ten heard it, they began to be greatly displeased with James and John. (Mark 10:35-41)

Just do “whatever we ask”? Is this not the picture of arrogance and presumption? Then when Jesus challenged them if they understood what they were asking, they didn’t back down one bit.  They said “we are able”! This is most definitely a son of thunder.

But here’s what I find amazing.  Jesus never lost faith in John.  In spite of such arrogance and pride, Jesus loved John.  Jesus saw something in John that even John didn’t see in himself.  Can you imagine the incredible love Jesus had for John that he would take this ambitious, even foolish man into His inner circle and so deeply love him?

Jesus had a vision for John.  Jesus could see that love for God and the kingdom would replace lust for power and position.  John never lost his personality as a Son of Thunder, but instead of a passion for position, John was transformed into a Son of Thunder for God’s love. John would be changed from being full of himself to being full of God’s love.

Somewhere in his journey, John was changed from being a “Son of Thunder” to becoming “the disciple whom Jesus loved.”  I believe John experienced the love of Jesus day after day and this love of the Spirit chipped away at his ambition and lust.  This constant exposure to the light of the agape love of Jesus gradually drove back the darkness in John’s life.

John was so transformed by the love of Jesus that he even forgets who he once was.  In all of his writings, John never identifies himself as a Son of Thunder. But five times in his gospel he self identifies as “the one whom Jesus loved.”  John mentions God’s love twenty six times in his gospel, almost more than all the other three gospels combined.  If we combine John’s mentioning of agape love in all his letters, it is over seventy five times! John is overwhelmed with the revolutionary love of His Savior, Friend , and Lord.

As an old man, at 90 years old, John wrote his signature of how he wanted to be remembered, “Then Peter, turning around, saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following, who also had leaned on His breast at the supper. “ (John 21:20)  John wanted to be remembered, not for what he had done for Jesus, but rather how he related to Jesus. John’s identity was based in his relationship with Jesus not his ministry for Jesus. 

The Thunder of God’s Heart

John had discovered that the thunder of God’s heart is love.  Jesus didn’t die of asphyxiation while on the cross, Jesus didn’t die from shock on the cross, Jesus died of a broken heart.  Jesus died because of His great love for you and me.  And the greatest act and symbol of the love of Christ is the cross.  Mother Teresa once wrote,

Our vocation is the conviction that “I belong to Him.” Because I belong to Him, He must be free to use me.  I must surrender completely.  When we look at his cross, we understand his love.  His head is bent down to kiss us.  His hands are extended to embrace us.  His heart is wide open to receive us.  This is what we have to be in the world today.  We too must have our head bent down to our people—they are Jesus in disguise…He said, “You did it to Me.  I was hungry…I was naked…I was homeless.” Let us not make the mistake of thinking that the hunger is only for a piece of bread.  The hunger today is much greater; it is a hunger for love, to be wanted, to be cared for, to be somebody.  (Mother Teresa: Contemplative at the Heart of the World by Angelo Devananda)

All of us are hungry for this love—it is the true longing, the true desire of our lives.  We all need a revolution of love.  John knew this love and he wrote 1 John that we would understand with our heart that each of us can be renamed, “the disciple whom Jesus loves,” present tense.

Jesus’ arms are open wide to embrace you!  Jesus’ heart is wide open to bless you!  Jesus wants your heart.  John Eldredge writes,

What [God] is after is us—our laughter, our tears, our dreams, our fears, our heart of hearts.  Remember his lament in Isaiah, that though his people were performing all their duties, “their hearts were far from Me” (29:13)  How few of us really believe this.  We’ve never been wanted for our heart, our truest self, not really, not for long.  The thought that God wants our heart seems too good to be true.  (The Sacred Romance)

God wants your heart!  He wants to know you deeply just for the fact that He created you for fellowship, and really loves you.  This is the revolution:  discovering the thunder of God’s heart for you.  Have you discovered this love?

Created to Crave

29 07 2008

You were created by God to crave.  Advertisers know it.  Hollywood knows it.  The self help industry knows it.  Every magazine and periodical cover is designed to create a craving within you. The world we live in is constantly attempting to arrest a desire for some got-to-have-it thing that will finally make us happier than we were.

This desire did not originate with the 20th century.  God placed it within our hearts.  God placed a craving in all of us.  This craving is a desire, a desire for love, for acceptance.  A desire for adventure.

It is this unmet desire that drives some people to chase after adventure in ways that can never satisfy.  This deep thirst for fascination and beauty drives men and women to daring acts and longings of the heart that are seemingly unreachable.  Thomas Dubay, in his book, The Evidential Power of Beauty, explains it this way:

You and I, each and every one of us without exception, can be defined as an aching need for the infinite.  Some people realize this; some do not.  But even the latter illustrate this inner ache when, not having God deeply, they incessantly spill themselves out into excitements and experiences licit and illicit.  They are trying to fill their inner emptiness, but they never succeed, which is why the search is incessant.  Though worldly pleasure seeking never fulfills and satisfies in a continuing way, it may tend momentarily to distract and to dull the profound pain of the inner void.  If these people allow themselves a moment of reflective silence (which they seldom do), they notice a still, small voice whispering. Is this all there is?  They begin to sense a thirst to love with abandon, without limit, without end, without lingering aftertastes of bitterness.  In other words, their inner spirit is clamoring, even if confusedly, for unending beauty.  How they and we respond to this inner outreach rooted in our deep spiritual soul is the most basic set of decisions we can make; they have eternal consequences.

Solomon understood this when he wrote, “[God] has made everything beautiful in its time.  Also He has put eternity in their hearts.” (Eccl. 3:11)  Everyone is searching for eternity in their hearts—the churched, the unchurched, the saved and unsaved.  I have traveled to over 20 nations of the world and I have rarely met a person who is not searching, hungering, and longing with deep desire for an eternal purpose to their lives.

Spiritual hunger is driving people of all ages to experiment with virtually any religion or pleasure to find a way to quench this deep passion.  Right now Islam is the fast growing religion in America.  Hinduism and other eastern religions are growing quickly in the west.   It seems that we are living in an age where spiritual hunger is at all time high and people are willing to search for anything that will at least pacify temporarily this hunger.

I have been a missionary and pastor for the past twenty-five years.  As a missionary I spent time observing and conversing with Buddhist monks and the people who considered themselves followers of Buddha.  In virtually every situation and conversation I found a person who was lonely, frustrated, and unfulfilled in their search for meaning.

The other day I was in a coffee shop in Colorado Springs and I met a young woman who told me that she often listened to my radio broadcast.  She said she liked it because it seemed that I really believed what I was talking about.  I then asked her, “What is it I believe that I’m always talking about?” She looked confused and then got it.  “Oh, you believe the Bible!” What was it about the Bible that I believed, I asked her.  She wasn’t sure.

A lot of us are unsure of what we are listening to and what we really crave.  I believe we are all searching for beauty and eternal fascination.  Even Jesus understood this.  He used passion and desire to draw people in.  In Matthew 13:44, “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and hid; and for joy over it he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.”  This man found something that so satisfied his cravings that he was willing to sell everything he had in order to get it.  He was consumed by a treasure.  This treasure captivated his heart.

When I was a freshman in college a campus minister sat down on a lawn with me and shared that Jesus passionately loved me so much that He willingly left heaven and came to this earth and let Himself be shamed, tortured, and killed for me.  The man told me that even if I was the only person on the earth,  Jesus would have done this for just for me.  At the time I was finding great adventure in being a champion gymnast and all the allurements that accompanied such a lifestyle.

But that day, a new craving began to grow.  It was small, very small, like a little treasure in a field.  I chose to pursuit that desire and that decision has changed my life for the past thirty years.

Are you searching for beauty?  Are you searching for the fascination?  In our next blog installment I look forward to sharing with two hero’s of mine who found the cravings of their heart.

Carpe Diem Gloriae Dei,

Pastor Steve