romantic love

Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth—
for your love is more delightful than wine.

Song of Songs 1:2

Song of Songs (click link for full book) is essentially a celebration of what we call romantic love. It celebrates the love between a woman and man. The opening lines quoted above suggests that women can be the initiators, often done subtly in our culture.

Unfortunately in the minds of too many, instead of being a wondrous gift from God, sex can be seen as a necessary evil. In Scripture there’s no question that sex is tied to procreation. God gave it to bring children into the world, as he told humankind at the beginning, to fill the earth. But Song of Songs makes it clear too, that sex is for pleasure, as Paul says, that each might give their bodies fully to the other for mutual satisfaction.

Of course romantic love is not just about sex, although given the sometimes reticence and even shame, as if sex was dirty, our culture, and specifically sadly enough, even religious culture can inculcate sex as something less than the wondrous gift from God that it is. But again, it’s not just for pleasure. That pleasure is given to God for procreation. Of course not every couple can have children for biological reasons. They continue to enjoy such relations in marriage for bonding and enjoyment, as well as to satisfy that God-given drive and desire.

Married and sexual love is an important part of life, but not everyone marries. Some out of choice don’t, to give themselves fully in devotion and service to the Lord. Others don’t marry not by choice, wishing for a mate, but somehow not finding any such person. While we are sexual beings, our identity goes deeper than that. We are God’s by creation and through Christ by new creation. We are God’s children, one family, again by creation, but more so in Christ, by new creation. While we don’t leave our sexuality behind, our primary identity is more than that, so that when need be, we can sublimate such desires to God, and find joy and satisfaction in other gifts God gives us.

Sin distorts all the good in creation, but by both common grace, and saving grace, God gifts us. We’re to be thankful, and enjoy. As well as submit everything to God, knowing that full realization of what we were created to be lies ahead in the resurrection in Jesus. While we press on in this life to give ourselves fully to God and then to others in and through Jesus.

can a fallen pastor be restored?

Here is a trustworthy saying: Whoever aspires to be an overseer desires a noble task. Now the overseer is to be above reproach, faithful to his wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him, and he must do so in a manner worthy of full respect. (If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God’s church?) He must not be a recent convert, or he may become conceited and fall under the same judgment as the devil. He must also have a good reputation with outsiders,so that he will not fall into disgrace and into the devil’s trap.

In the same way, deacons are to be worthy of respect, sincere, not indulging in much wine, and not pursuing dishonest gain. They must keep hold of the deep truths of the faith with a clear conscience. They must first be tested; and then if there is nothing against them, let them serve as deacons.

In the same way, the women are to be worthy of respect, not malicious talkers but temperate and trustworthy in everything.

A deacon must be faithful to his wife and must manage his children and his household well. Those who have served well gain an excellent standing and great assurance in their faith in Christ Jesus.

1 Timothy 3:1-13

On questions like this we need to go back to both scripture and the church. It’s not like there’s one uniform answer to this, but the general answer is yes, but only after submitting to a program for restoration. And contingent on the leadership of the church deciding, the decision not automatic or to be taken lightly. And this should take some time, how much, depending. Maybe at least a couple of years, but only with loving, regular ongoing oversight.

The picture I read here is not suggesting a pastor has to be perfect, since there’s no sinless perfection in this life. But there should not be even a whiff of impropriety in matters of morality or money or power, for that matter. And just because a man (or woman) is genuinely sorry not only over the consequences, but necessarily over the sin itself both against God and man, doesn’t mean all is now okay. It takes time to consider the underlying issue which led to the decline and fall, and more time to see the change of that pattern in character which led to the actual misstep and sin. It is one thing to step out of the sin, but quite another to get the sin out of one’s life. And the needed help for those who have been hurt, such as the pastor’s spouse and family, must be given.

When it comes to morality, both adultery and pornography would have to be considered in this category. Power is more subtle, but there should be a mutual submission going on in leadership with much prayer under Christ. Any church should beware of depending on one person to guide them, no matter how much wisdom they have. And money is also a difficult one. Often pastors haven’t been paid enough. They must be willing to be sacrificial in their lives, but the church also must look out for them, and honor them with giving them at least enough, and preferably more than enough. But that’s the ideal. Sometimes in smaller works, like Paul, pastors must work on the side as “tent makers.”

In the end, pastors must be show the way, as well as tell, not giving in to any thing that is wrong, “little” things included. Temptation is one thing, giving in is another. But confession of sin and change is also important along the way. The point is that there should be a pattern of behavior which brings no reproach to Christ or to the church, and is an example for the church. And I believe that this surely can include restored pastors as well. In and through Jesus.


Scot McKnight on “the kingdom choice: chasing romance or settling into fidelity?”

We observed above that emerging adults today want romance, but I’d like to suggest that the word romance is not the right word because it doesn’t go far enough. What emering adults want, so it seems to me, is the fidelity inherent in a loving, faithful, intimate relationship. What they want is someone to be with for a lifetime. In fact, our culture confuses romance with love. Which leads me to one more fundamental idea about love and marriage and sex. Along about the medieval age love morphed its way into the Platonic, courtly romantic ideal where love became intoxication with the  intoxicating feelings of loving another person.

Some married men and married women then had two kinds of relationships: one with a husband or wife and one with a lover (with whom they might never physically consumate their relationship.) Instead, they tantalized and titillated themselves with the emotional surges connected to falling in love. Often they would put obstacles in their own paths in order to intensify their feelings, equating those romantic feelings with love itself. What mattered was the burning fire of feelings instead of the joy of the beloved.

This romantic theory of love, which finds its way into Hollywood and novels, distorts the rugged choice of settling into fidelity. This romantic theory of love puts emotions and feelings and (my) personal happiness at the center of what love is. In other words, romantic love more often than not uses another person to fulfill one’s own desires and passions.

Jesus’ world is against this romantic theory of relationships. What flows directly from Jesus’ kingdom dream is a rugged and settled commitment to the other person rather than to my own swarming feelings and to my own happiness. Instead of loving love, as in courtly love, the kingdom lover loves the other and lives his or her life for the other—the way the lovers in the Song of Solomon take delight in the other. (Notice how often in the poetry from Song of Solomon the lovers speak of the other. )

Instead of loving the absence of the other, as is the case with romantic love, because it generates emotional yearning for the other, kingdom lovers delight in the daily, routine presence of one another, whether the emotions of romance are present or not. Eating together, walking together, sitting together, praying together, sleeping together, and living a life together is the way we settle into fidelity. There is only one guarantee of sustaining marriage in a kingdom way: the promise to stay married trumping emotional happiness. Why? Because the lover believes the other’s good is the chief concern. One of the world’s experts on the societal history of love is the French scholar Denis de Rougemont, who makes this profound observation from the perspective of a man (whom a woman loves in return): “To choose a woman for a wife is to say to Miss So-and-So: ‘I want to live with you just as you are.’ For this really means: ‘It is you I choose to share my life with me, and that [sharing of life] is the only evidence there can be that I love you.'”

As I write this paragraph, Kris and I have been married for thirty-six years. Recently my class was talking about wedding vows, and the subject of whether or not to use standard vows or to write your own vows came up. Which led us to read a traditional wedding vow:

“To have and to behold,
from this day on,
for better or for worse,
for richer, for poorer,
in sickness and in health,
to love and to cherish;
until death do us part.”

As we were reading the vow and the students were discussing with one another what their views were, this came to my mind: Yes, that’s our story, that’s our vow, that’s what Kris and I have lived. Ups and downs, good days and bad days, months when we hoped we’d have enough money and months when we were relaxed. As I pondered these words and students were talking about whether they’d use traditional vows or write their own, I thought about what marriage was. In my view, only one expression can sum up the real story of marriage:

I will be with you.

Underneath the dopamine and beyond the neurochemicals is the commitment I made to Kris and that she made to me, and it is the commitment that has sustained us: it is the commitment to be with one another until the end. We now have a story to tell of our One. Life with one another.

The great Danish philosopher Soren Kirkegaard never married, but while engaged he contemplated marriage in ways that few can surpass: “What I am through her she is through me, and neither of us is anything by oneself, but we are what we are in union.” Kirkegaard unlocks one of the doors to love: If we are humans through other humans, we are lovers through loving the one we love and through receiving the love of the one who loves us. “” will become our words when the you is what I most care about.

I contend that the kingdom dream of Jesus reshapes what love is, what intimacy is, what marriage is, and what sex is, because Jesus’ vision of the kingdom transforms the meaning of love.

Scot McKnight, One.Life: Jesus Calls, We Follow, 139-142

idols in the land

We read in scripture that in Israel in days of old there were idols in the land. An idol is anything we put above God. The irony is that when we worship the one true God in Jesus and have no other gods before us, we can love and enjoy what he has created, the creature, uninhibited by the slavery and sin which comes from being obsessed with this or that, or something else. Idolatry usually takes the form of more than one god in God’s place. Or maybe one could say a multidimensional rival god.

Sin at its heart may be unbelief, but whatever else it may be, it is surely idolatrous. We are turning to our own way, doing what is right in our own eyes, with little or no regard for the Lord, or the fear of him. I agree with John Calvin when he said that there can be many idols in our heart. He read that from the prophet Ezekiel. We are not loving God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength. The best opposite of idolatry would surely be worship of the one true God revealed in Jesus. Paul in Romans 1 contrasts the worship of the creature with the worship of the Creator.

Sex, power and money (not necessarily in that order) seem to be at least among the most prominent idols in the land where I live. That fits well with the Apostle John’s description of the world, referring to the world system: the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and the pride of life. Usually what is deadly for us is not blatant, but subtle. We deceive ourselves into thinking that it is well with us, when in reality we continue to struggle with some form of idolatry. We in Jesus do sin and we are weak in ourselves. I’m not saying we have to sin at every, or even any turn; we don’t (see for example 1 John 1:5-2:2). But we so easily get caught up in this or that, instead of thanking God for his good gifts, and enjoying them for what they are. “Prone to wander, Lord I feel it, prone to leave the God I love.” So very true.

All is of grace and we are weak in ourselves. And so we need to make much of  being “in Christ,” everything depending on him. Not just our standing or position before God, but our practice as well. We need to develop a keen conscience and sensitivity about this, by God’s Spirit attuned to his word. And we do well by faith to take up the words our Lord taught us to pray:

Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from the evil one,
for yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.