I flew on my first business trip yesterday, leaving Columbus at 5:30 in the morning and getting into Savannah at 4:30. (It shouldn’t have taken that long, but that’s another story for another day.) The thing I love most about flying is being able to see the ground from 30,000 feet, especially at night. It’s breathtaking.

I know that God doesn’t live in the clouds, but when I think about God looking out over the earth, I always imagine him having this airplane-level view. He can see far more than we can see on the ground.

Many of Jesus’ parables offer a picture of life from God’s perspective. The parable of the vineyard, in Mark 12, is one of them.

1 Jesus then began to speak to them in parables: “A man planted a vineyard. He put a wall around it, dug a pit for the winepress and built a watchtower. Then he rented the vineyard to some farmers and moved to another place. 2 At harvest time he sent a servant to the tenants to collect from them some of the fruit of the vineyard. 3 But they seized him, beat him and sent him away empty-handed. 4 Then he sent another servant to them; they struck this man on the head and treated him shamefully. 5 He sent still another, and that one they killed. He sent many others; some of them they beat, others they killed.

6 “He had one left to send, a son, whom he loved. He sent him last of all, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’

7 “But the tenants said to one another, ‘This is the heir. Come, let’s kill him, and the inheritance will be ours.’ 8 So they took him and killed him, and threw him out of the vineyard.

9 “What then will the owner of the vineyard do? He will come and kill those tenants and give the vineyard to others. 10 Haven’t you read this passage of Scripture:

“‘The stone the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone;
11 the Lord has done this,
and it is marvelous in our eyes’?”

12 Then the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the elders looked for a way to arrest him because they knew he had spoken the parable against them. But they were afraid of the crowd; so they left him and went away.

Jesus just took the entire history of Israel and turned it into a parable. That’s what this is about. It’s about what the kings and leaders of Israel and Judah did to God’s prophets from the time of Elijah until the time of Jesus. They were stoned. They were impaled on spikes. They were sawn in half. They were thrown into pits and left to die. They were rejected, scorned, mocked, ridiculed. They were treated shamefully, beaten, killed. This was the pattern that existed in Israel for almost a millennium. God’s people killed God’s messengers.

It’s an interesting way to look at it, isn’t it? From God’s perspective? How often do you look at the circumstances and events of your life from God’s perspective? And if you were able to see your life through God’s eyes, what would you see? How would you see things differently?

The other night my wife and I were talking about stress, and the things that add stress to our lives. She talked about how she gets stressed when I’m in a bad mood, or when I’m angry. It doesn’t even have to be at her, but she still feels stressed and guilty. I said I feel the same way. When she’s stressed or frustrated, I have an emotional reaction to that, even when she’s not upset with me.

In that moment we experienced this wonderful thing called empathy. We understood each other. We saw things from one another’s perspective. And that felt like a relational breakthrough.

What we need in our relationship with God is empathy. We need to see things from his perspective. That’s what Jesus offers us in this parable. In fact, that’s what Jesus offers us in himself. He is God’s living and breathing perspective. He is God. Knowing Jesus, having a personal relationship with him, means empathizing with God.

And here’s the amazing thing about Jesus. Yes, he is God. But he is also human. And he empathizes with us. Jesus understands. Whatever you’re going through, Jesus gets it. He knows how it feels to be lonely, rejected. He knows the meaning of suffering. He was victimized. He was tortured. He was mocked. Jesus gets it. Jesus gets you.

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.

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