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.





A Letter to Mountain Springs

16 02 2010

What a Year!

I’m writing each of you to share my heart with you.  This past year is one of the most redemptive of my ministry life, and has brought many transitions into the life of our church fellowship.  Some of these changes have been difficult, but most have brought great praise to my spirit and I believe all have brought glory to God.  I so appreciate the countless people who have shared, emailed, facebooked or called Liz and me and our pastoral staff to share their prayers and love.  Thank you for your friendship, love and prayers. 

God surprised us with some changes in our plans this past year.  We never anticipated this but eagerly welcomed God’s work in so many lives. 

  • 2 spontaneous weekend baptisms that led to 200+ men, women and children giving their hearts more fully to Jesus
  • VBS in June was another huge surprise with over 1100 children attending, making it our largest VBS ever
  • Josiah Dangers transitioning from youth ministry to becoming our Worship Life Pastor
  • Welcoming Chris Fetters as our Student Life Pastor

These changes have led to greater intensity, focus and vision for your ministries. 

It’s exciting to see the growth throughout our Church. From Family Life coaching and support, to Community Life Small Groups, changes are happening that are bringing both growth and transformation.  As we add a fourth service to accommodate what God is doing, please keep the Pastoral Elders in your prayers.  These changes are exciting and they will take much planning, creativity and leadership.

The Right Type of Change

Change can be difficult.  But the right kind of change can be transformational.  Change is good if it draws us closer to Jesus.  Change is wonderful when we allow it to create a deeper hunger for more of God’s power, influence and love in our lives.  Change is important in our growth as Jesus followers.  Change has the potential to sharpen and develop us.  This past year was like many of the seminal events of my life.  Throughout my life, change has been orchestrated by God to transform me.  All of these transitions, though hard at the time, have turned out to be a deep blessing later.  Let me recount a little of my journey.

Jesus Saved Me

Jesus saved me in my freshman year at the University of Georgia.  At the time, I was a happy, pagan jock that loved gymnastics, girls, southern rock music and having lots of fun.  God apprehended me in my self-satisfied pride, showed me my sin and gave me a hunger to follow Him (but God has yet to deliver me from southern rock).  The cross of Jesus revolutionized my life forever.  When Jesus saved me, I gave up everything I knew at the time to follow Him.  The day after I surrendered my heart to Jesus, everything changed.  I started sharing my faith with anyone who would listen and before I knew it, God opened up Bible studies all over the campus.  I began to devour any Christian book I could get my hands on.  My life on the gymnastics team was turned right-side up and over the next few years, half of the team gave their lives to Christ.  Jesus rocked my life with a radical change.

This new-found faith led me to the mission field in China, smuggling Bibles.  That’s where I met a foxy blonde from UCLA who looked like she needed a man like me in her life!  It took her three years and two continents to finally acknowledge that need.  This was a wonderful change in my life.

Our Adventure

Our adventure led us to Okinawa, Japan, and later to Pasadena, California.  It was during our three years in southern California that God spoke through visions, dreams and many prophetic encounters that He was guiding us to plant a church in Colorado Springs.  After much prayer, seeking advice and receiving God’s confirmation, we made the move to Colorado.  We had no team and no money, we moved to a city where we had never lived and had no equity.  But we did have faith in a great God who does the miraculous.  And we believed that Jesus had called us and anointed us for this new pioneer effort.  It was a scary but exciting change.

God Built a Church

Over the next fifteen years God gave us favor.  From the beginnings in our basement, with no money and no people, God built a church.  Yes, He built Mountain Springs even as we struggled through the internal, spiritual and relational battles that go with planting a new body of believers.  Hundreds of people were saved, hundreds of people thought I was weird, hundreds became leaders, and over time the family of Mountain Springs grew and matured.  Leaders came and went.  We planted thirteen other churches during this time.  Ministries were started, stopped and redesigned.  Pastors came and moved on.  Change was the air we breathed. 

Exhaustion was the atmosphere I lived in—perpetually.  It was during these years that I came close to a mental and emotional breakdown.  Panic attacks and depression were constantly knocking at the door of my life.  Jesus, Liz, my family and friends sustained me.  Liz is my best friend and she always stood strong even when her husband wasn’t too much fun to live with.  Pastor Daniel and Laurie, Dan and Beth Balch and countless others who have never given up on the original vision of Mountain Springs have continued to be strong arms that have picked Liz and me up over these years.  Change was hard, and even when we wanted to give up, God never quit.  I am so grateful.

500-3500

The past seven years have been the busiest of my very busy life.  The growth of the church has been amazing and surprising.  We never expected nor planned to grow from 500 to 3500 so quickly.  It has been difficult but exhilarating.  The constant need for more staff, more buildings and more ministries to accommodate the needs of a growing body of believers has taxed us all.   Not to mention the pressure of a growing family—God blessed the Holt family with two more children during these years (#6 and 7).  The constant need to identify and deploy new leadership and new programs has been more than overwhelming.  We have been in a proverbially “over-our-head” mentality for seven years.  These changes have been simultaneously thrilling and tiring. 

Just to put this in perspective:  in a five year span, we built three multi-million dollar buildings, increased our staff from 7 to 40, and watched our budget grow from $600,000 to over $3 million!  We developed programs that failed, thrived, stopped and started.  As I spoke regularly for five services every week, I developed tendinitis in my ankles, planter-fasciitis in my heels, regularly lost my voice and struggled to keep up. 

Self-Discovery Means Change

As the pressure of ministry has increased, so has my need to understand the limitations of my gifts, talents and skills.  Starting in the fall of 2008, under the guidance of Pastor Daniel and Nathan Baxter (our consultant), the Pastoral Staff Team began to evaluate our gifts, talents, skills and ministry areas in order to better discover God’s specific bulls-eye purpose for our church.  This has been a time of constant study, discussion and testing to find what God has “hardwired” us for.  All of us are growing in our personal discovery of God’s specific and targeted gifts for our pastoral lives.

Over the past two years through much prayer, counsel, reading and discussion with respected leaders, I have been gradually moving away from the day-to-day leadership of the church.  It has become increasingly clear that I’m not a great manager or a very good administrator.  The church has long outgrown my ability to lead all the details.  Everyone has known this—but it’s taken me a while to realize that my need to oversee and lead almost every sector of the church has hampered growth and productivity.

So, this year I have given the day-to-day leadership responsibility to Pastor Daniel.  His leadership, character, detail-orientation, people-skills and passion for Jesus are clear for all of us to see.   His loyalty to the vision and values of Mountain Springs are unquestionable.  His ability to make things happen through leaders has been tested for almost eleven years.  Daniel and Laurie’s friendship through all of these years of highs and lows is truly amazing.

A month ago, I resigned as the chairman of the Board of Elders and handed the chairmanship over to Denny Yoder. Denny and his wife Deb have been supportive members of Mountain Springs for over ten years.  His expertise in managing and overseeing a large organization as well as his love for our vision makes this an ideal transition.  Denny is a retired Air Force Colonel and is currently special adviser to the President of International Students, Inc.  His loyalty, coupled with his gifting as a coach and manager, have made him a perfect fit for taking over the Elder Board. 

The Next Twenty Years

In the first letter to the Corinthians we read, “Only let each person lead the life that the Lord has assigned to him, and to which God has called him” (7:17). As I have sought the Lord for His vision for Mountain Springs and my life as the senior pastor, He once again reminded me of the following five things that He spoke and assigned to me: 

•             “marry Liz” – 1983

•             “plant a church in Colorado Springs” – 1991-1994

•             “build and rebuild the Church” – 1992

•             “build and rebuild the Family” – 1992

•             “plant 1000 churches” – 1994

God has uniquely hardwired me to be a visionary leader and teacher of God’s Word.  As I gaze into the next twenty years of ministry, I am asking God to position me in the place where I can make the most impact for the Kingdom of God.  As I meet with pastors, leaders and friends, it becomes evident that I am in a transition from working more in the church to exclusively working on the church.  I am called to move from being the pastor of one church to being a missiologist-overseeing leader who is guiding many churches.  My job description will now have five key aspects: 

1.            Visionary Leadership | One of my main responsibilities as Senior Pastor at Mountain Springs will continue to be seeking and leading the missional vision of MSC.  To accomplish this better, the day-to-day leadership will continue to be led by Pastor Daniel and our Pastoral Elder Team.  This change, since the summer of 2008, has been a good transition for all of us.  Pastor Daniel’s leadership has led to a very healthy Pastoral Elder team.

2.            Connecting the Bible to our Culture | I love teaching the Bible and connecting the scriptures to our culture.  I consider the study of the Word of God and theology as one of the most important responsibilities for the overall health and growth of our fellowship.  I believe that the power of the Spirit flows most effectively to change lives through the practical teaching of the Bible.  Our style of teaching God’s Word book by book lends itself to the need for much study and preparation, which will continue to occupy much of my time.

3.            Leading a Revolution of Love for our City | God has given us a vision for a revolution of love for our city.  We believe that God wants us to plant new campuses of Mountain Springs Church.  Through strategic prayer, planning and raising up leaders, we endeavor to establish new MSC campuses in the years to come.  My role will be the central teacher for all new campuses through video broadcasts. Pastor Daniel, along with a select leadership team, will be developing the key strategic plan for this expansion.

4.            Leading a Church Planting Network | God has reignited my heart for church planting.  Though MSC has planted 13 churches, the past few years have been a time of missional drift in this area.  Many years ago God spoke to me to plant 1000 churches.  God is rekindling that vision and I will be focusing more energy on the development of the Word and Spirit Network, our church planting/church networking ministry.  This new role will mean connecting with existing church planting networks and setting a strategic plan for WSN over the next twenty years.

5.            Writing Materials for MSC and the Body of Christ | Currently I’m working on a book on marriage and I have a deepening vision to write articles, materials and books on the family and the purpose of the Church.  Taking the needed time for writing will be increasingly important in my role of building up the Body of Christ.

Get Ready!

I’m excited about the future!  The wind of the Spirit is blowing and we are setting our sails.  The church over the past six months has been growing and we will have added another service (Saturday night 4:30pm) to facilitate what God is doing.  New small groups are being developed, many people are getting saved and Easter is just around the corner.  We are beginning a revolution of love in our city!  It doesn’t get much better than this!  Get ready for the adventure of your life.





Start the New Year with Prayer and Fasting

16 12 2009

  

As we come to the end of an old year and begin a new year, I’m reminded of the power and peace that comes through prayer and fasting.  As Jesus started his public ministry with prayer and fasting we at Mountain Springs Church want to begin our new year, as a church body, with prayer and fasting.  Join us January 4th-8th at 6:30pm for our second annual “Impact 2010” in our sanctuary as we seek the Lord through my continued teaching on Luke, worship and prayer.

I’m a firm believer in the power of prayer and fasting.  In twenty-eight years of ministry, no other spiritual endeavor, outside of Bible study, has proved to have such anointing in my life.  Let me explain briefly why I believe so strongly in the power of prayer and fasting.

Throughout scripture one of the ways God has consistently shown His power in answer to prayer has been in response to the fasting and prayer of His saints.  People may not understand the power of fasting and prayer, and thus do not do it.  People may not like the discomfort of fasting and prayer, and thus do not try it.  But no one who reads the Bible can deny the fact that throughout history whenever people decided to fast and pray, God always answered their prayer in a powerful way! Joshua, David, Ezra, Nehemiah, Daniel, the disciples of John the Baptist, Anna, the apostles, Paul, Barnabas, and the early church all practiced fasting and prayer.  Jesus fasted and prayed for forty days before He began His public ministry.  In Luke 5:34-35 Jesus instructed His disciples to fast after He left them.  This was taken very seriously in light of the regular use of fasting and prayer that continued throughout the early church as recorded in the book of Acts and the writing of the early church fathers.  Fasting and prayer is one of the key means by which Christians throughout the ages have received answers from God concerning the prayers of their heart.

For Westerner’s like me, fasting is often difficult to practice because it is difficult to rationally understand.  Our Western Worldview is based on a rational approach to life that often subconsciously colors and limits how we read and interpret the Bible.  I think it is important to realize that fasting, as well as prayer, and many other spiritual principles in the Bible cannot be completely understood rationally.  Prayer and fasting is a Biblical principle not a mathematical formula.

Every time I have sought God through fasting and prayer I have received an answer to my prayers!  Sometimes God has answered dramatically and sometimes quietly, but His powerful arm has always moved when I have set my heart to diligently fast and pray over an issue.  I am not surprised by this; it is only consistent with a prayer-hearing and prayer-answering God.  Because God is no respecter of persons, I am confident that if anyone sets his or her heart on the things of God, God will answer.

Here is an outline for a few reasons why I believe fasting and prayer is so powerful and useful to getting answers from God.  It is borne out of scripture and experience, thus I would refer anyone interested in this subject to more learned men with far more experience than myself, for further, more in-depth study.  Many have asked my opinion on this subject, so I feel obliged to share a few thoughts.

1)       Fasting and prayer FOCUSES our prayers upon a particular need or problem by putting God first, turning our back upon everything else (including physical needs) and seeking God’s face for those things upon our heart.  Throughout scripture we see focused prayers by the saints as they cried out to God for His power and answers.  In the book of Esther, we observe Mordecai focusing his fasting and prayer for the salvation of his nation (Esther 4:1-3).  Ezra focused his prayers at one point for a safe journey through enemy territory (Ezra 8:21), and at another point he focused his prayers and fasting for revival in Israel (Ezra 9, 10).  In Acts 13 we see the church sending out missionaries as a result of fasting and prayer.  They were focused on God in a special way, and He spoke to them.  Again John R. Rice says, “Fasting, then, should mean that one determines to seek the face of God and for a time, at least, to abstain from other things in order to give the whole heart to prayer and waiting on God.  Fasting and prayer means to leave off the lesser blessings for the greater one, the lesser duty for the far more important duty”2.  The apostles said, “We will give ourselves continually to prayer, and to the ministry of the word”(Acts 6:4). Praying went before preaching!  Fasting means putting prayer first, ahead of our bodies’ most basic desires, or any other thing that would deter us, and focusing our heart toward God.

Over the years I have fasted and prayed in order to focus my prayers on church planting, revival, family matters, and financial needs.  When we FOCUS our prayers through fasting, God has promised to answer us.  Jesus said, “Ask, and it shall be given to you; seek, and you shall find; knock, and it shall be opened to you.  For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks find, and to him who knocks it shall be opened”(Matthew 7:7, 8).

It is the experience of most who fast for more than 7 days that clarity of mind and a freedom in prayer comes after all foods in the body have been broken down.  This clarity and freedom enables one to FOCUS his or her prayer with greater intensity.

2)       Prayer with fasting binds the evil forces of Satan in a way that prayer without fasting cannot.  In Daniel 10 we see this principle at work as Daniel sought the Lord for 21 days in focused prayer and fasting.  It took 21 days of fasting and prayer before the “prince” of Persia’s power could be broken and Daniel could receive the answer he sought.  Kiel and Delitzsch’s Commentary on the Old Testament write, “The Prince of Persia was the spiritual force that guided the advancement of the next world government”3. and The New Bible Commentary Revised writes, “The spiritual power behind the gods of Persia”4. Hence, there is agreement with these noted scholars that the thing which held up the answer to Daniel’s prayer was a “spiritual force”, a “power” working against God.  Ephesians 6:12 in the New American Standard also translates these demonic beings as “world forces”.  It would seem from the Ephesians 6:12 passage that just as there are hierarchies of angels available to do the work of God, there are also corresponding hierarchies of demonic powers that constantly work to sabotage and destroy God’s work.  In the case of Daniel, the answer from God could not reach him without 21 days of fasting and prayer!  The means by which the answer came was through a higher, more powerful angel binding the demon over Persia and thus releasing God’s power to Daniel.

Again we see this principle at work as Jesus dealt with a demonically influenced boy of whom the disciples tried unsuccessfully to release from an evil spirit.  After Jesus had freed the young man from the evil spirit, he explained to his inquisitive disciples the reason why they were unable to free the boy.  Jesus said, “This kin (kind of demon-Ryries’) cannot come out by anything but prayer and fasting.” (Mark 9:29)  Prayer with fasting is needed to break through spiritual forces that hinder or block God’s answer to our prayers.  Thus, it is no wonder that every great revival has been preceded by great seasons of prayer and, with certain men, coupled with fasting.

I believe that there are certain problems so deep and powerful in a person, city, or nation, that the problem cannot be solved outside of great fasting and prayer.  It would seem that the fasting and prayer of Mordecai and then the Jews (Esther 4-10) were the means by which God turned tragedy into triumph against the evil forces working in and through Haman.

3)       Fasting and prayer increases our desire, which elevates our faith, which is a key component to answered prayer.  Throughout the New Testament we see Jesus speaking of the relationship of faith to healings, miracles, and the work He could do.  It is even written that Jesus was restricted in what He could do because of a lack of faith.  Faith is key in prayer.  According to Hebrews 11:6 prayer without faith does not even please God.  On the other hand, we realize from passages like Matthew 9:29; 17:20; and 21:21, that Jesus moves to answer prayer when there is faith.  So how can our faith be increased and deepened?  I believe it is through increasing our desire.  As our desire for something increases, our faith will also increase.  Fasting and prayer can be one way in which this can occur.  Paul Cho writes, “The desire for food is basic to all living creatures.  It is one of the strongest motivational forces at work in the body, even before birth.  Babies are born with the natural instinct to reach out for the mother’s breasts.  If we can combine this intense natural desire with our natural spiritual desire for communion with our spiritual source, then what results is a much greater intensity: this is the purpose of prayer and fasting.” 5

 

All of us pray for the desires of our heart.  It is natural that we also pray more intensely for our deepest desires.  Psalm 37:40 speaks of the importance God places upon desire, promising to bless us with the desires of our heart.  Prayer with fasting increases our desire and deepens our faith.

In my life almost all convictions that have stayed with me over the years came as a result of seasons of prayer and fasting.  My desires and deepest convictions have largely been molded, not through reading books or listening to sermons, but rather in the lonely closet of prayer and fasting.

4)       Prayer and Fasting humbles us.  Humility is one of the greatest character traits we can possess.  Humility allows us to more fully rely upon God.  2 Chronicles 7:14 says, “If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked way, then will I hear…”  If it is true that pride is the greatest hindrance to obedience, then conversely it also could be true that humility is the greatest virtue in obedience.  (See also Ezra 8:21)

As I have felt the pain of fasting I have realized my frailty, my weakness, and my general “spiritual flabbiness”.  It is quite humbling.  (I might also add that one should not even consider fasting if it is based upon some kind of prideful spiritual elitism or ascetism).  One cannot truly fast with the proper motives without a humble admission that he or she cannot find a solution or answer to a dilemma or prayer without God’s supernatural intervention.  It is in humility that one enters into prayer and fasting and it is in this closet that one is even more deeply humbled.  The most humbling experiences of my life are when God supernaturally answers my prayers!

I encourage all men and women to fast and pray and watch God move in a marvelous way.  I would caution one from jumping headlong into this area without proper preparation.  I would encourage the reading of books on fasting and starting off with only 1 – 3 day fasts.  After several of these 1-3 day fasts, one can easily increase the time and fast longer.

When one does decide to fast and pray, it is important to remember that the battle will be spiritual in nature, thus the work of the enemy will increase in proportion to ones’ faith to see God answer his or her prayer.  Be prepared mentally, emotionally, physically, and spiritually for battle!  God has given us many wonderful promises and as we truly begin to believe them, the enemy will realize our potential and not be destroyed without a fight.  Thus, be filled with the Holy Spirit and get ready to experience the miraculous. 

Join us the first week in January for Impact 2010 as we seek the Lord as a corporate body in the potential power of fasting and prayer.

by Steve Holt

FOOTNOTES:

  1. Prayer, Asking and Receiving by Dr. John R. Rice, Sword of the Lord Publishers, 1942, Page 17.
  2. Ibid.  Page 216.
  3. Commentary on the Old Testament by Kiel and Delitzsch.
  4. The New Bible Commentary: Revised  by Guthrie, Motyer, Stibbs, and Wiseman Erdmans Publishing Company, 1970.
  5. Prayer: The Key to Revival by Paul Cho, Word Books, 1984.  Page 115, 116.




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?





Cultivating An Attitude of Gratitude

1 12 2008

To the Mountain Springs Church Family;

“Through the Lord’s mercies we are not consumed, because His compassions fail not.  They are new every morning; Great is your faithfulness.” (Lamentations 3:22-23)

The prophet Jeremiah is speaking during a time of great depression and disaster in Jerusalem (586BC).  Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonian army have besieged and destroyed the holy city and her people.  Indeed, the book of Lamentations opens with, “How lonely sits the city that was full of people!  How like a widow is she…the princess has become a slave!” (Lam. 1:1)  Jeremiah is an eyewitness to the dismantling and destruction of not only the beloved city but the Temple.  Nebuchadnezzar not only tore down the Temple brick by brick, he also took the great treasures of the inner sanctum back to Babylon.  (As a side note, it is believed that during this time the Ark of the Covenant was secretly hidden to avoid capture.  To this day, no one knows for sure what happened to the Ark.) 

So, Jeremiah is writing while everything that he loves, everything that he has preached about and cherishes is being systematically driven out of his life—his nation lies in defeat; the great Temple is in rubble; the Jews lie dying or captured to a foreign pagan power.  Jeremiah is writing in a time of ecclesiastical and national depression.

What does Jeremiah have left?  Nothing from a worldly viewpoint. Yet look at our passage above.  Look at how positive and joyful Jeremiah expresses himself! “His compassions fail not…Great is your faithfulness!”  Wow!  This is a man with a different kind of attitude.  Jeremiah, who was actually hated and imprisoned by the Jews themselves, and is now watching a pagan nation destroy all that he loves, finds deep within his spirit an attitude of gratitude.  Is this not amazing?  It is nothing less than supernatural.

An attitude of gratitude is only possible as we shake off the fears and doubts that so easily plague us.  Doubts and fears rob us of faith and peace.  Fear sabotages faith.  Fear is the polio of the soul.  Faith is the inoculation we need to change our attitudes.

Jeremiah made a choice in his heart when all of his circumstances and feelings railed against him.  Jeremiah chose a grateful spirit.  Jeremiah chose the faithfulness of God.  Jeremiah chose to cultivate an attitude of gratitude. 

When you read the book of Lamentations, one quickly realizes that the center of the book is our passage.  One commentator on Lamentations writes, “Great is His faithfulness,’ is the literary center of the book.”  It is also the spiritual center of Jeremiah’s faith!  Is the faithfulness and mercy of God the spiritual center of your life today?

How are you doing today?  Are you worried about your job? Concerned about your marriage? Doubting the presence of God?  Are you enveloped in fears that are overwhelming?  All of us go through uncertain and wavering times.  Nations, churches, and individuals will pass through times of great testing and trials.  Our church is passing through such times.  Our nation is passing through such trials.  Maybe you are passing through such difficulties.

Let me encourage you to choose joy.  Choose God’s faithfulness.  These are times of great testing and if we will make a choice to rejoice, the joy of the Lord will indeed by our strength and portion.  Speak out the blessing of God to those around you.  Let’s Sing with joy in our heart.  For great, really great, is His faithfulness!  Choose God’s way and discover fresh joy!
Pastor Steve





My Post Election Prayer

10 11 2008

A hearty congratulations to President elect Barak Obama.  His victory in the 2008 Presidential election last night is unprecedented in many ways.  This is a historic moment in American and world history.  Our nation’s first African American President is history making.  It is further proof that Americans may be moving beyond the old racial prejudices that have divided our country since its inception.  The post election surveys seem to show, at least initially, that Sen. Obama was able to draw votes from all strata of society.  His campaign and victory transcended race and socio economic divides in many ways.  So, on this first day after the election, we pause to ponder this historic moment.

The Bible is clear that God is the One who raises up leaders.  In the book of Daniel we read these words,

And He changes the times and the seasons;

He removes kings and raises up kings;

He gives wisdom to the wise

And knowledge to those who have understanding.

(Dan 2:21)

God, in His sovereign plan has chosen to raise up Sen. Obama to be our next president.  Our heart and prayers must be lifted up on His behalf.  We must pray for his safety and the safety of his family.  We are to pray for his administration.  We must seek the Lord and stand in the gap for his leadership team to have wisdom from God.

It is our profound responsibility to pray for our leaders.  Paul in writing to his disciple and pastor, Timothy, exhorted us, “Therefore I exhort first of all that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men, for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence.” (1 Timothy 2:1)  As a reminder, Paul wrote these words even as the Roman Empire was persecuting Christians.  We might take note the reason why we pray. We pray that the legislation of the “king” and “all who are in authority” would provide a society where we would have the freedom to “lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence.”  That is my prayer for Sen. Obama and his administration.

These are crisis times. These are times of great challenge.  These are times of great concern.  Vice President-elect Biden warned us that the world will test this young new president within “the first six months of his presidency…Mark my word on this.”  We should “mark” Joe Biden’s word.  We should pray that Joe Biden’s words are not heeded by certain nations of the world, who are hell bent on our destruction.  These are indeed times for great prayer.

We must pray for the safety for our nation.  Our country and Israel could be in great peril very soon.  From Middle East experts that I am in contact with, the Iranians are thrilled to have Sen. Obama elected.  There is a sense that they can now proceed unhindered with their nuclear program.  Many in Jerusalem are very concerned for their safety.  With the growing rhetoric of the Iranian leadership to “wipe Israel off the map,” the possibility of a nuclear armed Iran is very unsettling.  Despite what Obama has said, let us pray that the Obama Administration will have the wisdom needed to maintain peace through a strong stance with Iran.

The 16 month pull out of troops out of Iraq, promised by Obama, is widely anticipated by Middle Eastern observers to be welcome news to the Taliban and radical Islam groups.  The struggling Iraqi government and security force is unsettled today.  There is cause for great concern as they begin to see the full pull out of American troops.  Despite his rhetoric in the campaign, let us pray that God will provide insightful leadership to President Obama as it relates to the Iraqi situation.

Let us pray for the peace of Jerusalem.  Joel Rosenberg, author of the bestseller on the Middle East, Epicenter, writes,

A senior political strategist in Israel emailed me last night with this thought: “The State of Israel is now facing the most unfriendly American administration ever….Israels will to live will be tested in ways that will not be pretty. Many of Obama’s foreign policy team and Middle East advisors see Israel as the obstacle to peace. And we cannot count on Jewish supporters of Obama to have any standing in setting policy in this administration.” A new poll released yesterday also caught my attention: 46% of Israelis would have voted for McCain, while only 34% would have voted for Obama. That tells us something about the concern from Eilat to Haifa and from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem about losing a great friend of Israel and the Jewish people in President Bush to someone who has not indicated convincing support for Israel in the past.

Despite what he has said in the past about Israel, siding most often with the Palestinians, let us pray that the Obama Middle East team would understand the plight of Israel and give the Jewish nation the continued freedom to defend and guard their nation against foreign intrusion.

I came in early this morning and sought the Lord in prayer in our sanctuary.  I cried out to God for His protection and loving care over our nation, the Church, and the world crisis we are facing.  God spoke loudly and clearly to me from Ps. 145:17-21,

Ps 145:17-21

17 The LORD is righteous in all His ways,

Gracious in all His works.

18 The LORD is near to all who call upon Him,

To all who call upon Him in truth.

19 He will fulfill the desire of those who fear Him;

He also will hear their cry and save them.

20 The LORD preserves all who love Him,

But all the wicked He will destroy.

21 My mouth shall speak the praise of the LORD,

And all flesh shall bless His holy name

Forever and ever.

We have before us a new opportunity disguised as a challenge and the people of God must pray and seek the Lord in a deeper way.  Let us pray for our new leadership—pray for wisdom, discernment, and direction.  Let us pray for our new President elect to hear God’s voice and understand clearly the direction we as a nation should take. The promise in our passage is that the Lord “will fulfill the desire of those who fear Him; He also will hear their cry and save them.” (vs. 19)  I believe that this is a promise we should cling to. 

I am reminded of the letter from Abigail Adams, wife of John Adams, to Thomas Jefferson, in 1790, “These are hard times in which a genius would wish to live.  Great necessities call forth great leaders.”  These are times of great necessities.  Remember, we are first Christians and then we are Americans.  We are first Americans and then we are Republicans or Democrats. Be assured, God hears our prayers.  Be assured that Jesus is as much on the Throne on November 5th as He was on November 3rd.  Let us pray.