Your pursuit of romance might be killing you (and your marriage)

“How beautiful and pleasant you are, O loved one, with all your delights!” -Song of Solomon 7:6

I think all of us are wired to pursue romance.

Romance: “A feeling of excitement and mystery associated with love.”

In our culture we frequently hear about how a marriage is broken up when one person finds someone outside of their marriage that “makes them feel alive.” What they mean when they talk about feeling alive is the powerful buzz called romance. I believe that romance is a beautiful gift given to us by God. Of course, most anything good and beautiful can become corrupted because we live in a fallen world. One of the problems is that we turn romance into an idol and when we do that we make ourselves, and most of the people in our life, miserable. How does this happen? We are seeking happiness. We want the buzz. But there is no human on earth that can keep our hearts satisfied through romance.

This song is not new. But I think it helps to redirect our heart towards the One who can meet our deepest needs and desires.

The fullness of Your grace is here with me
The richness of Your beauty’s all I see
The brightness of Your glory has arrived
In Your presence God, I’m completely satisfied

For You I sing I dance
Rejoice in this divine romance
Lift my heart and my hands
To show my love, to show my love

A deep deep flood, an Ocean flows from You
Of deep deep love, yeah it’s filling up the room
Your innocent blood, has washed my guilty life
In Your presence God I’m completely satisfied

Ruth 3: Divine Romance

Ruth 1 HERE and Ruth 2 HERE

This Sunday I will continue my sermon series in the book of Ruth. Here is what I have discovered so far in Ruth 3.

HUMAN LOVE

Naomi and Ruth have returned to Bethlehem nearly destitute and with little hope. Family members have died, their money is gone, and the expectations for a good life have been shattered into pieces.

Naomi and Ruth discover that there is a relative in Bethlehem by the name of Boaz. Boaz is the kinsman-redeemer which means that he has the responsibility as the nearest kin to rescue Naomi and get her out of debt. Of course Naomi would love for Boaz to step up as her kinsman-redeemer, but Naomi is also concerned about the well being of Ruth. Naomi wants to see Ruth get married so that she is loved and taken care of.  Naomi hatches an ingenious, albeit risky, plan.  She tells Ruth to get dressed up and put on some perfume. Ruth is then told to go to the threshing floor around midnight, lay down at the feet of a sleeping Boaz, and wait for him to wake up. What could possibly go wrong with a plan like this? Right. Everything!

Even at this point in the story you can see glimpses of the gospel shining through. Ruth is a complete and total outsider. Not only is she an outsider, but she is from the hated land of Moab. Moab was a city that was started by Lot having an incestuous relationship with his daughter. Did that thought just make you gag? Jews did not look favorably upon the people of Moab. So we wonder, will Ruth be accepted and loved by this successful Jewish business man?

Boaz wakes up, and as you can imagine, seems startled. It’s not every day you wake up with a young woman wrapped around your feet. Will Boaz be furious? Will he make a scene and embarrass Ruth? Will he take advantage of her vulnerability for his own selfish purposes?

Boaz reveals what a godly man he truly is. Boaz praises Ruth, tells her that he will be happy to marry her, and takes on the responsibility of becoming Naomi’s kinsman-redeemer. There is an important clue in Ruth 3:10 as to what is motivating both Boaz and Ruth.

And he said, “May you be blessed by the LORD, my daughter. You have made this last KINDNESS greater than the first in that you have not gone after young men, whether poor or rich.

The word kindness is one of many ways that the Hebrew word HESED can be translated. As I have mentioned in some of my earlier posts, HESED is a loyal love. It is not based on fleeting romantic feelings. This is a love that lasts through good and bad times.

Ruth and Boaz are not merely following their emotions. They are making decisions based on HESED love for one another. They both understand that HESED love requires sacrifice, putting the other person first, and making a commitment that lasts forever.

DIVINE LOVE

“Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. -Ephesians 5:31-32

The love story between Ruth and Boaz is powerful. But we need to know that it is pointing us towards a much greater love story. It points us towards a divine romance. How does it do this?

Boaz is a foreshadowing of the One true Bridegroom, Jesus Christ, who would come to earth and buy back his people from their debt of sin. Jesus would sacrifice his life on the cross and die for the sins of his people. The compassion and grace of Jesus is something that we, like Ruth, did not deserve. We were all outsiders. We were in bondage to the debt of our sins. Jesus, our Kinsman-Redeemer, stepped in when we did not deserve it and rescued us.

As a preacher, I wonder what to make of this story. How do I apply it to everyday life?

First of all, one of the things this story should do is give us a greater appreciation of the love that Jesus, our Bridegroom, has for us. We did not deserve to be brought into this covenant relationship with him. We brought nothing into this relationship but our sin and shame, yet Jesus still loved us enough to die for us on a cross.

“You contribute nothing to your salvation except the sin that made it necessary.” -Jonathan Edwards

Secondly, it is a wonderful privilege and responsibility to know that our marriages are to reflect the beauty and grace of the gospel. The weight of this truth forces us to rethink what marriage is all about in the first place. Ruth and Boaz point the way once again. They were making decisions about their relationship based on the rock solid foundation of HESED love. They were not basing a lifetime on how buzzed their feelings made them. I will confess that I wrestle with this because I’m fairly certain that I have made romance an idol in my life. I want the feelings in my marriage to be like they were when we were dating. The problem with this is that after living for all of these years I have not found one living soul who claims that marriage is non-stop romance. I want that, I really do. Thus, the struggle. With the ebb and flow of feelings in marriage, I need to be reminded that HESED love is what will make my marriage stand the test of time.

Modern people make the painfulness of marriage even greater than it has to be, because they crush it under the weight of their almost comically impossible expectations. Pulitzer Prize-winning author Ernest Becker believed that modern culture has produced a desire for what he called “apocalyptic romance.” At one time we expected marriage and family to provide love, support, and security. But for meaning in life, hope for the future, moral compass, and self-identity we looked to God and the afterlife. Today, however, our culture has taught us to believe that no one can be sure of those things, not even whether they exist. Therefore, Becker argued, something has to fill the gap, and often that something is romantic love. We look to sex and romance to give us what we use to get from faith in God. -The Meaning of Marriage by Tim Keller

Finally, I believe this story gives us tremendous hope for the future. Many times the New Testament talks about how we, the church, are the bride for Christ. We read this in Revelation 19:6-8:

6 Then I heard what seemed to be the voice of a great multitude, like the roar of many waters and like the sound of mighty peals of thunder, crying out,
“Hallelujah!
For the Lord our God
the Almighty reigns.
7 Let us rejoice and exult
and give him the glory,
for the marriage of the Lamb has come,
and his Bride has made herself ready;
8 it was granted her to clothe herself
with fine linen, bright and pure

Can you see and feel the hope? We, the church, are Jesus’ bride and one day we will get to be with him in heaven. The white garments that we will wear remind us that all of our sins have been washed clean by the blood of the the Lamb. Our Savior, our Bridegroom, loved us so much that he was willing to die for us.

I am looking forward to sharing more gospel truth with you next week as I study the fourth chapter of Ruth!

Ruth 1: Hesed love in a culture where feelings are god

My best ideas for blogging come from the time I spend immersing my heart and mind in the truths of God’s Word. This Sunday I am going to begin preaching through the book of Ruth. With that said, my plan at this point, is to write a blog post for each chapter in the book of Ruth.

Ruth 1: Hesed love in a culture where feelings are god

hesed
Hesed=Loyal Love

Early on in the book of Ruth we are introduced to an amazing woman by the name of Naomi. Naomi had expectations for how life would turn out just like the rest of us. Get married, have some kids, settle down, and enjoy life. We are introduced to her husband, Elimelech, and her two sons. But very quickly we discover that life does not end up going as Naomi had hoped. There is a famine in Bethlehem. Which is ironic because Bethlehem means “house of bread.” So Elimelech and Naomi pack up their belongings and move to the city of Moab.

bethlehem to moab
biblejourney.org

At first glance this move to Moab might seem like the wise thing to do. If there is no food in Bethlehem why not get out of town? The problem with moving to Moab is that God is the one who brought them into the Promise Land. This is where God wants them to live, it is their home. Furthermore, Moab is not a good place for God’s people to live. The city of Moab had originated from an incestuous relationship between Lot and his daughter. In the past, the people of Moab had been a stumbling block to the Jews because they had led them to worship false idols when they were in the wilderness. It seems pretty clear to me that Moab was not the neighborhood that God wanted Elimelech to move into.

So at this point in the book of Ruth we are confronted with a powerful, counter-intuitive truth. Instead of running from the pain that comes from unmet expectations in life, we need to allow God to use the difficulties to mold and shape us into the image of his Son, Jesus Christ.

I wonder how often we do the same thing as Elimelech? Instead of honestly dealing with our pain, or unmet expectations, we take some kind of shortcut that we hope relieves the pain we are feeling.

How many times does this happen in marriage? We all have expectations when it comes to marriage and then, well, you get married. Things are much harder and more challenging then we ever imagined. So what do we do? Too often we look for shortcuts out of our difficulties and into some type of temporary pleasure. Sports. Shopping. Fixing up our house. Advancing our career. Fitness. Social media. Food. Alcohol. Porn. An inappropriate flirtatious relationship. Something, ANYTHING, to alleviate the pain we are feeling.

Let’s just say that the move to Moab did not go well for Elimelech and Naomi. Elimelech died and so did both of his sons. Naomi was stranded in Moab with her two daughters-in-law. Things went from bad to much worse. Isn’t this what running from our pain does? The escape we are seeking only multiplies our suffering.

The story then begins to show us what real love looks like. The kind of love that can sustain us when life does not meet our expectations.

We discover hesed love in both Naomi and in Ruth.

Hesed love is opposite of the spirit of the age, which says we have to act on our feelings. Hesed says, “No, you act on your commitments. The feelings will follow. Love like this is unbalanced, uneven. There is nothing fair about this kind of love. But commitment-love lies at the heart of Christianity. It is Jesus’s love for us at the cross, and it is to be our love for one another. -A Loving Life by Paul E. Miller

In Ruth 1:8 Naomi says this to Ruth and Orpah (her other daughter-in-law), “Go, return each of you to her mother’s house. May the Lord deal kindly with you, as you have dealt with the dead and with me.”

This is an extraordinary display of love. Hesed is translated as “kindly” in this verse and Naomi is showing this kind of love to her two remaining family members. Think about it for a moment. What do you think Naomi’s feelings were telling her to do at this point in her life? Most likely her feelings were telling her that she should keep these two women as close as humanly possible. She had no one else. Instead, she goes against her feelings and encourages her two daughters-in-law to leave so that they can remarry and start their life over again.

Naomi neither suppresses her feelings nor is trapped by them. So she determines to love her daughters-in-law no matter what it costs-even if it intensifies her anguish. That is hesed, pure and simple. But maybe you are saying, “I’m not sure I want to love like this.” The only alternative is some form of self-love. And even that has a cost-it destroys your soul. -A Loving Life by Paul E. Miller

Here is another powerful lesson that goes against “the spirit of the age.” Our feelings are not always reliable when it comes to living the way that God wants us to live. Our culture tells us that self-fulfillment is what life is all about. The gospel tells us that true love (hesed) is not looking to satisfy one’s self, instead it is looking at how it can sacrificially be a blessing to other people.

So let’s begin to make some connections with how this relates to everyday life.

  • Imagine how this kind of hesed love could revolutionize our marriages today.
  • Imagine how much deeper our relationship with Christ would become if instead of running from the pain of unmet expectations we patiently waited for what God wanted to do in our lives.
  • Imagine if we abandoned the lie that love is merely something we feel and rediscovered that love is a deep, lifelong commitment that reflects the way that God loves us? How would this impact our society? Our churches?
  • Imagine how this kind of love could strengthen relationships in, and outside, the church.

Can you see any other ways that Ruth 1 applies to everyday life?

Looking forward to sharing thoughts with you from Ruth 2-4 in the coming weeks.

ruth and naomi
Naomi demonstrating hesed love by telling Ruth and Orpah to return to their homes. Painting by William Blake

 

I can’t feel my face when I’m with you

Yes, I have blogged about romance and our culture before. But when I saw that The Weeknd (yes, the spelling is correct) had 297 million hits for his song “Can’t Feel My Face” I decided to chime in once again. Over and over again Abel Makkonen Tesfaye informs us that because of the girl he met he can no longer feel his face. Being a pastor who loves the stories in the New testament I thought, hmmm, leprosy?

Nah. He’s talking about a drug known as romance. Powerful stuff. (People have also told me that Abel may be referring to how he feels after taking drugs. Not sure. The overall vibe of the song leads me to believe he is primarily talking about romance/love.)

But I have a question for Abel. A question for all of us…

What do you do when you can feel your face? Bail? Find the next relational buzz?

cantfeelmyface

Again, allow me to lean on Tim Keller for some perspective.

“This principle – that your spouse should be capable of becoming your best friend – is a game changer when you address the question of compatibility in a prospective spouse. If you think of marriage largely in terms of erotic love, then compatibility means sexual chemistry and appeal. If you think of marriage largely as a way to move into the kind of social status in life you desire, then compatibility means being part of the desired social class, and perhaps common tastes and aspirations for lifestyle. The problem with these factors is that they are not durable. Physical attractiveness will wane, no matter how hard you work to delay its departure. And socio-economic status unfortunately can change almost overnight. When people think they have found compatibility based on these things, they often make the painful discovery that they have built their relationship on unstable ground. A woman “lets herself go” or a man loses his job, and the compatibility foundation falls apart.”

― Timothy Keller, The Meaning of Marriage: Facing the Complexities of Commitment with the Wisdom of God

Valentine’s Day and the Gospel

I’m thinking that many of us, myself included, are putting too much pressure on our marriages by seeking ultimate satisfaction and happiness in our spouse. Instead of finding contentment in Jesus Christ we have this culturally romantic notion that we will be made complete when we find our true soul mate (or if we work really hard to shape our spouse into our one true soul mate). Of course we are setting ourselves, and our spouse, up for massive disappointment because the hole we feel in our soul can not be filled up by our husband or wife. 

Don’t misunderstand me. I am not saying that romance is unimportant. Truth be told, I think it is something that we all deeply crave. On top of that, Song of Solomon clearly reveals that romance and affection for our spouse is a precious gift from God. The problem is when we can not be joyful or content without it. Seeking our deepest fulfillment in another person is a guaranteed way to destroy our relationships and our spiritual life. The apostle Paul never mentions being married and yet he experienced deep joy and contentment as a single man (Philippians 4:10-13). As I have learned from 20 years of marriage there will be ups and downs. There will be seasons where we do not feel all the emotions that we want to feel. So, what do we do in those moments? Look for romance in someone else? Or, do we realize that there is a good chance that we have made romance a god in our life?

This video from Alanis does a good job of revealing how we can be looking for something in our human relationships that is simply unattainable.

You’ll rescue me right?
In the exact same way they never did,
I’ll be happy right?
When your healing powers kick in

You’ll complete me right?
Then my life can finally begin
I’ll be worthy right?
Only when you realize the gem I am?

But this won’t work now the way it once did
And I won’t keep it up even though I would love to
Once I know who I’m not then I’ll know who I am
But I know I won’t keep on playing the victim

These precious illusions in my head did not let me down
When I was defenseless
And parting with them is like parting with invisible best friends

This ring will help me yet as will you knight in shining armor
This pill will help me yet as will these boys gone through like water

But this won’t work as well as the way it once did
’cause I want to decide between survival and bliss
And though I know who I’m not I still don’t know who I am
But I know I won’t keep on playing the victim

These precious illusions in my head did not let me down when I was a kid
And parting with them is like parting with a childhood best friend

I’ve spent so long firmly looking outside me
I’ve spent so much time living in survival mode

“In sharp contrast with our culture, the Bible teaches that the essence of marriage is a sacrificial commitment to the good of the other. That means that love is more fundamentally action than emotion. But in talking this way, there is a danger of falling into the opposite error that characterized many ancient and traditional societies. It is possible to see marriage as merely a social transaction, a way of doing your duty to family, tribe and society. Traditional societies made the family the ultimate value in life, and so marriage was a mere transaction that helped your family’s interest. By contrast, contemporary Western societies make the individual’s happiness the ultimate value, and so marriage becomes primarily an experience of romantic fulfillment. But the Bible sees GOD as the supreme good – not the individual or the family – and that gives us a view of marriage that intimately unites feelings AND duty, passion AND promise. That is because at the heart of the Biblical idea of marriage is the covenant.” -Timothy Keller, The Meaning of Marriage: Facing the Complexities of Commitment with the Wisdom of God