Breena and I watched a movie the other night called Like Crazy. It was an interesting movie that I think I liked–a love story without being a chick flick. I don’t want to give anything away, in case you decide to spend the dollar and rent it from redbox. But I will say that it got me thinking about love and relationships.

You’ve probably heard it said before that, in the early stages of a relationship, you experience the emotional joys of being “in love”; later, however, if you want the relationship to work, you have to choose love. Eventually, love doesn’t come pouring out of your heart like a river at flood stage. You have to do things that nurture and foster love, even to the point of choosing love against your emotions and will.

This is true. Sorry to disappoint you, but the Hollywood love story is a myth. Happily ever after is hard work. But I want to look at this from a slightly different perspective.

What do we mean by “love”? What are we talking about when we talk about love? The trouble is, love is far too big a concept to be confined to one word. The Greeks knew this, and had four words that each defined part of the love spectrum.

The love that we often talk about is eros, or romantic love. This is the butterflies-in-your-stomach kind of love. It is erotic and sexual. It’s the love of every Hollywood love story.

The funny thing about eros is that it dominates then dissipates. At first, it’s all you feel for the other person. You’re captivated by them. You can’t help it. You think about them all the time. It’s always hot when they’re around. You just want to rip each other’s clothes off. This is normal. It’s good. You’re meant to feel this way…for a time.

But then…life happens. Your googley eyes return to normal. You’ve thoroughly digested most of the butterflies in your stomach. You stop feeling toward this person in such extremes. This is also normal. And good. eros is meant to fade. Not all the way, obviously. But it’s meant to become a healthy part of your love spectrum, not the only sort of love within it.

When eros doesn’t dominate anymore, it can feel like you’re falling out of love. You might even find yourself saying that you don’t love that person anymore, that they’re not “the one”, or that you just don’t feel it any longer. When this happens, it’s important to remember that eros isn’t the only kind of love. In fact, it’s not even the most powerful kind of love. When eros fades, there is a greater love ready to come in. That love is called agape.

I’ve written a lot about agape, especially as it pertains to God’s love toward us. (You can find the most definitive post here.) But agape is also the love that we are commanded to have toward one another, particularly between a husband and a wife. Agape is not so much a felt love as it is a willed love. We choose agape, often against our own wishes and desires.

When eros fades, that creates more opportunity for agape. A healthy marriage will have a good mix of both eros and agape, as well as the other kinds of love in the love-spectrum. As my own marriage grows and matures, I’ve found that choosing agape has led to feeling more eros. Making room for agape has actually created more space for eros. These two kinds of love are not mutually exclusive, but actually serve one another.

So, in your marriage, when you feel yourself “falling out of love”, choose to love your spouse in a new way. Choose agape.

I talk a lot about Jesus being King, both on this blog and at Ember. Last night, a friend asked me about the different images that language conjures up in people’s imaginations. What sort of King is Jesus, anyway? Is he like a medieval feudal king, a tyrant of sorts? Is he a tribal king? Is he a modern, royal figurehead type of king? Is he like the Roman emperor?

This is an important point, and I’m not entirely sure how to answer it. I suppose the image I think of when I talk about Jesus as King is Tolkien’s great literary character, Aragorn. We find ourselves at various points within the story, and so he is like Strider to some, like the king-in-exile to others, and like the conquering-hero-king to still others. The metaphor is imperfect in many ways, but this is helpful for me, at least.

Let me explain it another way. Jesus reigns as King in the same sort of way in which he became King–through his death and resurrection. Jesus’ reign continues in the same spirit in which it was inaugurated, through the humble exercise of self-sacrificing love that leads to victory over the power of death. Why should we expect Jesus to rule any differently than this? The “iron scepter” by which he governs is nothing other than his own cross.

What sort of King is Jesus? He is humble and self-sacrificing; then through that, he is powerful and strong. The power and sovereignty of Jesus exist on the far side of his humility and agape love, not his might. Remember the image of Revelation: On the throne was the lamb that was slain.

Here is more from the lost sermon on marriage, The Commitment.

•••••

Some time ago we came across an argument between Jesus and the teachers of the law. I mentioned that the way theological arguments happened in those days was through a successive appeal to authority. The ultimate authority, for those first-century Jewish teachers of the law, was Moses, the man who wrote the first five books of the Old Testament.

So in the course of your argument, if you’re able to prove that your position can be traced back to Moses’ words, then you win. Jesus knew that the Pharisees held Moses in the highest regard, and he probably didn’t feel like arguing that day, so he just conceded the point: What did Moses command you? Jesus is like, “Okay, I’m more interested in teaching than arguing, so just give me your best argument right off the bat.” Let’s just cut to the chase.

And the Pharisees presented Moses’ position: “Moses permitted a man to write a certificate of divorce and send her away.” Before we move on, we should probably ask the question: Where did Moses say that? Great question! It’s actually in Deuteronomy 24. I bet you didn’t even know there was a Deuteronomy 24! Let me read it to you.

1 If a man marries a woman who becomes displeasing to him because he finds something indecent about her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce, gives it to her and sends her from his house, 2 and if after she leaves his house she becomes the wife of another man, 3 and her second husband dislikes her and writes her a certificate of divorce, gives it to her and sends her from his house, or if he dies, 4 then her first husband, who divorced her, is not allowed to marry her again after she has been defiled. That would be detestable in the eyes of the LORD. Do not bring sin upon the land the LORD your God is giving you as an inheritance.

Interesting. Did Moses ever say a man can divorce his wife? He didn’t, did he? The law here is not, “Here are acceptable grounds for divorce”; instead, the law is, “When one of you gives your wife a certificate of divorce…”. Moses never permitted divorce; he just conceded that divorce was a reality when human beings marry one another.

But Jesus isn’t ready to concede that point. Look at how he interprets this passage in Deuteronomy 24.

5 “It was because your hearts were hard that Moses wrote you this law,” Jesus replied. 6 “But at the beginning of creation God ‘made them male and female.’ 7 ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, 8 and the two will become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two, but one flesh. 9 Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”

The fact that laws like this exist, Jesus says, points to the reality that you’re all a bunch of hard-hearted sinners who are too stubborn to humble yourselves, work through your issues together, and persevere through trials in order to keep your commitments. No, Moses wrote you this law because you’re only willing to fight for what you want, you’re too proud to admit it when you’re wrong, and you’re ready to drop your commitment the moment others start impeding upon the realization of your selfish desires. That’s why Moses just conceded the reality of divorce—because he knew people too well.

Jesus knew people really well, too, but he’s not willing to concede the reality of divorce. Jesus has far too divine an imagination to settle for a world in which divorce happens.

The Pharisees have made their appeal to Moses. Now Jesus is going to make his appeal—to creation. And remember, he was there. The New Testament declares that Jesus was present at creation. He remembers how things were originally designed. He knows, firsthand, what God’s intention had always been for marriage.

God did not build divorce into his creation because he did not build sin into his creation. He did, however, build marriage into his creation because he also built self-sacrificing love into his creation by creating human beings as free, moral agents. But God has never been willing to concede the reality of divorce. He says through his prophet Malachi, “I hate divorce.”

So Jesus quotes from Genesis 1 and 2, the only passages in the Bible, until Revelation 21 and 22, that are unstained by the presence of sin. “But at the beginning of creation God ‘made them male and female.’ ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.’” God had a plan, and that plan did not include divorce.

You see, we were not originally created as hard-hearted sinners who are too stubborn to humble ourselves, too proud to admit that we’re wrong, or all too ready to drop our commitments the moment others start impeding upon the realization of our selfish desires. That is not how God made us. That is not found in Genesis 1 and 2.

But we were made as ‘male and female’, the perfect complements to one another. Perfect partners. By design. According to plan.

Moses looked at the world and conceded the reality of human sin. Jesus stepped into our world and refused to accept our reality, then he went about changing it. Here’s the most important thing I or anyone else will ever say about marriage: We’re supposed to be looking at Genesis 1 and 2, not Leviticus 24. Our model is the beginning of creation because Jesus came to make all things new, to restore creation to the way God originally intended it, to undo all the evil that has been wrought upon God’s good creation by sin and death. When it comes to marriage, we claim Jesus as King must look to Genesis 1 and 2. Male and female. For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh. And we must conclude what Jesus concludes: “So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”

Christian marriage is not based on romantic love or sentimental feelings; it is based on the beginning of creation being re-created in our hearts and in our most important relationship. Marriage predates Moses. Marriage predates sin. Marriage was built into creation by the Creator himself.

Last weekend I was scheduled to preach a sermon on marriage from Mark 10. I was really looking forward to it, but God had other plans for the message that night, so the marriage sermon had to be scrapped. I promised to post some of the excerpts here on the blog.

My blog has taken a back seat lately. Working a fulltime job in the marketplace has limited the amount of things I can do, and, unfortunately, I’ve had to all but eliminate two things that have been very profitable for me in the past: reading and blogging. (And don’t even get me started on blogging about reading!) I’m hoping that this will be a temporary adjustment period, and that I’ll find the time to read and blog again soon.

I suppose that’s enough of a pity party. Here is some of what I was going to say about marriage last week at Ember.

•••••

Marriage is a difficult subject for many. Divorce is even harder. Many of you may be children of divorce. You’ve watched your parents turn on each other. It’s often been said that what kids need most is not to know that their parents love them, but that their parents love each other. Divorce destroys that love foundation. So, before we look into our passage for tonight, I want to briefly lay a theological foundation of a love that never gives up, burns out, or fades away.

Because of what we see in Jesus, we can know these things: God always keeps his promises; God always follows through on his commitments; There is perfect, eternal, infinite love between the three members of the Trinity; We are invited to fully participate in the divine love of the Trinity. The Trinity will never get divorced. The love of God that exists within God is infinitely strong. It can never be broken because God is perfectly selfless, humble, and unstained by any sin.

In a world of dissipating love, it’s a comfort to know that there is a love that is stronger than life, that sustains creation, and that resides within the heart of the One that made all that exists. Our new family–the family of God–is built on a foundation of self-giving love that does not change over time.

•••••

I’ll share more on this tomorrow. There’s a much longer section that I hope will be worth reading, but I wanted to put this theological foundation up today. I hope this provides some perspective on what love is and where we can find the love that never lets us down.

About a year ago, Breena and I decided to step out in faith and move forward with planting Ember Church. Though we were surrounded with a great group of friends who were also committed to the task, we knew that I needed to find a full-time job to support my family while we planted. This is called bivocational ministry, and while most church planters and pastors don’t go this route, there are some of us who choose to minister the way Paul did. (Paul was a tentmaker and a leather worker, trades he held while establishing churches in the various cities to which God led him.)

Very early on in this process I had a serious conversation with God. It went something like this: “God, if you want me to plant Ember Church, you’ve got to get me a job. In this economy, and with my past history of job searching, it’s truly going to take a miracle for me to get a job. So I need you to move for me.” I didn’t sense God telling me anything in that moment, though the first Ember sermon ever proclaimed this truth: God is with those he calls. I believed that God would come through for me, for my family, and for this church.

Months went by with no progress on the job front. The church started on schedule, but still no job. Then Bexley was born, but still no job. Thanksgiving. Christmas. I was beginning to doubt that God was with me. I was beginning to doubt that he would come through with a job.

Sometime during the holidays I had pressed through my period of doubt and began to trust God again. I was more confident than ever that he would come through with a job, and very soon. Then came the new year, and companies started posting job openings again. There was one job posting that caught my attention for it’s unorthodox language, and I determined to give this one a little extra attention. I wrote the most audacious cover letter you’ve ever seen. My opening line read like this: “You can stop your search now, because I’m your guy.” I got a call from them the same day! After a year of submitting applications and resumes with no response, I got called back the same day.

I waited and waited to find out if I would get that first interview. On Tuesday of the following week I received an email from the HR department asking if I was still interested in the job, and whether I had gotten the email the previous Friday to set up a phone interview. “What email,” I shouted! “I never got an email!” Some technical glitch had occurred, and I never received it. The most important email of my life, and it got tied up in cyberspace. What is this, 1997?

Of course I responded right away, and had a great interview the next day. Then the waiting really began. Would I get the second interview? Would I make into the next round? Several days passed before I heard anything, but I finally got the good news. They were bringing me in for a face-to-face interview!

I called my parents and they offered to buy me a suit. (How am I this old and still don’t own a suit?) I gladly took them up on the offer, and had a really good interview. That was Friday, and they were interviewing two more candidates on Monday. So, once again, I waited. But I had been waiting for about a year for God to come through for me, so a few more days wasn’t going to be too bad.

It must have been Wednesday when I got the next call. They wanted me to come back for a third interview! This was unprecedented, for me. Not that I’ve never gotten a job anywhere, but that I’ve ever participated in this many rounds of interviews. This time, I interviewed with the team members with whom I might be working, and then with mentors within the company. Both of these interviews were to determine if I fit with the team and the culture of the company. I thought both interviews went really well, and had a strong sense that, by this point, there weren’t any other candidates being interviewed. When I got home, I told Breena, “I think I’m going to get this job.”

That was Friday, so we had another weekend of waiting. Monday came and went, so I decided to call the manager on Tuesday. When I got through to him, he dropped this bomb on me, “I was just getting ready to make you a verbal offer. Can I call you back in an hour with the details?” BAM! And like that, I had a job. A great job. At the best place to work in central Ohio.

God came through. It was his time (not mine), but he did it. He came through for me, my family, and Ember Church. I’ve only been at work for a couple days now, but I already love it. I’m excited to go there. I’m excited to get started on video production. I believe in the company and what they’re doing. I believe in the culture they’re trying to create. I simply can’t imagine how things could have turned out better for me, and I am very grateful to God for his faithfulness. I pray that he will come through for you as he has come through for me.

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