Drawing a Line in the Sand

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As for me and my family, we will serve the Lord. Joshua 24:15

There is often so much talk about troubled marriages, dysfunctional families, and divorce in a culture that we sometimes forget to acknowledge and honor couples who are staying together, growing together, and whose love is being renewed as the years go by. You are more likely in the latter category than the former, a good marriage eager to get better. During our conferences and on our call-in radio program, we hear countless stories of relational heartache and heartbreak. Here's a couple on the verge of separation. There's another woman whose husband is cheating on her. Another call is from a man whose wife is always nagging him.

To be sure, the world has plenty of hurting families. But how refreshing it is for us to receive calls from wives and husbands, parents and children, and grandparents who are happy to share with us something that's going right with their relationships. This is the heartbeat of renewing love. Some of those calls sound like this:

"Gary and Barb, when we said ‘I do’ 17 years ago, we really meant it. We are totally committed to love, cherish, honor, and care for each other ‘until death do us part.’ Yeah, we've had our fair share of problems and conflicts – some pretty tough ones, in fact. But when stuff happens, we deal with it in the light of our lifetime commitment instead of questioning our commitment in light of the problem. We talk about it, pray about it, seek God's answers, and then act on them as best we can. And for us, marriage just keeps getting better and better. Keep up the good work."

"I just want you to know that it's possible for a man to stick with one woman for life – and be happy about it. Jill and I will celebrate our 50th wedding anniversary next year. We met at a church social when we were in high school. Both of us were virgins and planned to stay that way until marriage. We fell in love, and the temptation was strong, but we stayed pure. I'm 74 years old now, and in all those years I've had sex with just one woman – Jill – and only after we were married. I'm living proof that God's Word is true and that a life of purity and devotion is thrilling and fulfilling. Some fellows used to chuckle and say, "You don't know what you're missing, John." I just smiled and said, "You don't know what I've got."

You probably have your own success story to tell. Marriages around you may be crumbling, but yours is not one of them. Some of the couples you know fight constantly and hurt each other deeply, but you don't. Couples in your church may ednure loveless, unfulfilling marriages, but the happiness and contentment you feel with your spouse is real. A lot of marriages today seem old and lifeless, but yours seems to be getting better. Why are you so "lucky"?

Marriages that are strong and growing got that way because two vital elements have come together to make something good happen. These are the foundation stones of renewing love. (If the following paragraphs do not describe your marriage, you will want to pay special attention.) Renewing love starts right here.

First, at some point you draw a line in the sand. In so many words, you proclaim to God and to each other, "We are committed to building a Christian marriage and family. We will have nothing of the world’s approach to marriage. We are committed to keep our love fresh, new, and growing – for the sake of our marriage, for the sake of our children, and for the cause of Jesus Christ. As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord."

To be sure, your wedding vows were a large part of that statement. And perhaps you review and renew those vows occasionally. But as in most flourishing marriages, you affirm this commitment daily in the way you talk to one another: "I would choose you all over again"; "You are my one and only"; "I love you more today than yesterday."

Second, God took you at your word and is working through you to fulfill your commitment. Your marriage is going deeper and stronger because God is empowering you to strengthen your marriage. Your parenting is making a positive difference in your kids’ lives because God – by your invitation – is actively involved in your life as well as theirs. The two of you are not alone in this battle to ward off the world’s twisted view of marriage and family because yours is a marriage of three – you, your spouse, and Jesus. And even if your spouse does not share your depth of commitment to Christ or to your marriage, you don't have to go it alone. You and God form a majority. His Spirit within you is greater than any worldly spirits working against you. Your marriage is ever new because God and his truth never grow old.

We urge you and your spouse to settle for nothing less than God's best in your relationship. Your commitment to live in renewing love starts with a commitment to Christ. Only by staying connected to Christ will you find resources for the journey God has for you. Jesus said, "I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I am in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing" (John 15:5). This is as true for our marriages as our individual lives of service to God. We need Jesus to make it!

What a marvelous, marriage-blessing, marriage-enriching God we serve! Our marriage isn't perfect, and neither is yours. We are determinedly working at renewing our love day by day. Where it is strong, where it is growing, and where it is fulfilling, it's mainly because of God's goodness.

Reflect Together
What is going right with your marriage? What areas of your relationship would you be happy to offer to other couples as an example of how to do it? To what do you attribute your success in these areas? Other than your marriage vows, how have you expressed your line-in-the-sand commitment of renewing love to your spouse? What people and/or circumstances has God used to keep your love fresh and new?

Pray Together
Gracious Father, where would my marriage be without you? Whenever I succeed in my commitment to love, honor, and cherish my spouse, your Spirit’s power is behind it. My patience under stress, my endurance through adversity, my joy when nothing at home seems to be going right, my willingness to forget when wrong – it all starts with you. Thank you for helping me keep my marriage new and growing. Continue to work through me and my most precious relationship as I lean on you for wisdom, direction, and strength. Amen.

Renew Your Love
Renew your commitment to renewing love. Sit down at the computer keyboard or with pen and paper and carefully craft a statement outlining your commitment to keep your love and marriage fresh and new. Describe your determination to rely on God to make you the spouse he wants you to be. Mention an area or two where you know you need a fresh touch from God. An area where you sense your relationship is not as vibrant. When you finish, plan a time to share your statement with your spouse and pray together.

Entering Your Spouse's World

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The greatest love is shown when people lay down their lives for their friends. John 15:13

Many years ago, a Christian group produced a dramatic short film that beautifully pictured the incarnation of Christ. It was an allegory, set in the remote, tropical mountains of Latin America. A lush garden at the summit of the mountain, representing heaven, is occupied by a Latino gardener and his son, who dress in simple, white peasant garb. They are surrounded by a host of servants, picturing the Father and Son with the angels. The setting is serene and idyllic.

Far down the mountain slope in the barren valley lives a colony of ants, representing mankind. But the ants cannot get along. Their colony is full of jealousy, envy, stealing, hatred, fighting, all-out war, and pain. Eventually the sound of the tumult wafts up to the mountain summit. The gardener and his son hear and grieve the ants’ condition. Something must be done to save the colony from its sinfulness.

In one poignant scene, the father and son are locked into a knowing gaze. No words are spoken, but the dialogue is eloquent in their eyes: "Son, will you leave the beautiful garden and go to the barren valley?"

"Yes, father, I will."

The son leaves the garden and begins the long, treacherous descent down the mountain slope alone. Along the journey, his clothes are torn to shreds, and his skin is scraped as he determinedly pushes his way through the dense, thorny foliage. Reaching the valley floor unnoticed by the colony, he assumes the fetal position on a large rock and, through the magic of cinematography, is transformed into an ant larva.

Before we continue with the allegory, think for a moment about what Jesus left behind when he entered human history as a baby born in Bethlehem. He had enjoyed uninterrupted intimacy and fellowship with his Father in eternity. Anything and everything the Father was involved in across the expanse of the universe and the heavenly realm, the Son was also involved in. Jesus enjoyed the moment-by-moment adoration and devoted service from angelic hosts.

Furthermore, he was completely free of the bonds of time and space. He could be anywhere and everywhere at his will. He wasn't confined to a human body that could only occupy one spot on the map at a time. He knew nothing of hunger, weariness, or pain. As the film so graphically depicts, Christ– the gardener’s son – forfeited thas soon e comfort, security, and privilege of having to save us from sin. He laid down his life in more ways than his ultimate death on the cross.

In the allegory which was filmed using real ants, the orphaned lava is found and raised by the ant colony. But this ant is different. He loves and accepts everyone and boldly confronts the evil powers behind the strife. He attracts a devoted following, but the masses are angered by his radical life, and he is killed.

As the film concludes, the martyred ant comes back to life. But now he has wings, enabling him to fly to the summit. There he becomes the gardener’s son again, now with nail prints in his hands. And the ants who believe in him also develop wings, equipping them to soar over their difficulties.

When Jesus said, "The greatest love is shown when people lay down their lives for their friends," he wasn't just talking about becoming a literal martyr. He laid down his life for us more than 33 years before he was nailed to the cross. Every prerogative of deity he set aside was a sacrifice. Every limitation of humanity he assumed to enter our world was a death. Like the gardener’s son in this town, Jesus laid down his life the moment he left heaven for earth. Calvary was just a conclusive act in the sacrifice.

Laying down your life for your spouse is a vital element of renewing love. Just as Christ’s sacrifice culminated in the resurrection, so your sacrificial love infuses your marriage with new life. And literal martyrdom has little to do with it. There may come a time when you have opportunity to save your spouse’s life at the cost of your own. It happens on rare occasions. But more than likely, your sacrificial love will be lived out in everyday choices you make to honor and serve your spouse. When you do this, even in small, seemingly insignificant ways, you are emulating Jesus Christ, the greatest lover of all time, the lover of our souls.

One way you may lay down your life is by setting aside your prerogative, just as Christ did. You have certain justifiable prerogatives and rights. For example, you may feel it's your right to play 18 holes of golf every Saturday. After a hectic work week, bashing your Titleist into the next county is a great release. Let's even assume that your dear wife doesn't give you any flak for spending four or five hours on the course each week.

But could you set aside that prerogative for your dear one occasionally by spending a Saturday taking her anywhere she wants to go or doing anything she wants to do? We're not talking about giving up your golf date and then sulking about it while she drags you through a dozen model homes at a snail’s pace. We are talking about taking delight in honoring your wife for the day you determined to enjoy because it is something she enjoys. The experience may give you a sense of what it needs to lay down your life for your friend.

Another way to lay down your life is to enter your spouse’s world in order to honor him or her, just as Jesus entered our world to bring us the gift of salvation. In the process, you may assume some limitations just as Christ did, but that is the sacrifice of love.

Let's say, for example, that your husband is into wood-working as a hobby. In order to honor him, you may choose to enter his world a number of ways. Spend time with him and his shop, showing interest in his projects and learning about the various tools and techniques he uses. Save up your spending money, and buy him that special router he's been wanting, just as an I-love-you present. When you see a wood-working show scheduled at the local exhibition hall, be sure he knows about it, and consider attending with him.

Each of the steps will cost you something in time, money, and/or energy. That's what makes sacrificial love the "greatest love." As you die to yourself in order to love your spouse in these ways, you breathe life into your relationship. Your sacrifice is the oxygen of renewing love. And the benefits to your marriage will far outweigh the cost to you.

Reflect Together
In what ways does your spouse lay down his or her life for you on a daily or weekly basis? What personal rights or pleasures does he or she give up for your benefit? In what ways does he or she enter your world in the everyday course of your life together? What does it cost to your spouse to love you in this way? In what ways has your spouse made extraordinary, above-and-beyond-the-call-of-duty sacrifices for you? How have these loving acts – the ordinary and the extraordinary – strengthen your marriage relationship?

Pray Together
I am humbled and grateful, wonderful Savior, for the reminder of your ultimate act of love on my behalf. Thank you for stepping out of heaven, giving up many of your divine prerogatives, and subjecting yourself to confinement in my world as a man. As commander of the house of heaven, you became a simple carpenter. As Creator, you became vulnerable to be created. As the Lord of eternal life, you gave yourself up to a criminal's death. Great lover of my soul, teach me this week how to love my spouse your way. Help me let go of anything that is keeping me from laying down my life and love for my dearest one. Amen.

Renew Your Love
How can you apply Christ teaching an example of sacrificial love in your marriage relationship this week? And what specific way can you enter your spouse’s world in order to honor him or her? What might you feel led to set aside to demonstrate that you prefer him or her? Determine one way you will respond to God's Word this week in your marriage relationship.

Falling in Love All Over Again

Today is a day to be grateful and full of thanksgiving for the blessings the Lord has given us.

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This is my lover, this is my friend. Song of Songs 5:16

Throughout our marriage, Gary had boasted jokingly that I (Barb) could never surprise him with a birthday party. For two weeks on either side of his birthday each year, Gary was suspicious, so I never tried anything. But when Gary turned 40, I got him big time – by springing a party on him through a ruse he never would've expected! I secretly planned a spectacular evening with many friends, some Gary hadn't seen in years. It was a big "gotcha" for me, and Gary loved me for it.

Robert and Maria were married on the first Saturday of May. Throughout their 11 years of marriage, on the first Saturday of every month, Maria finds a wrapped gift from her husband somewhere in the house. Most times it is something small and inexpensive: a pair of earrings, a new paperback by her favorite author, a package of bath salts. But sometimes the gift takes her breath away, like the time Robert gave her a suede jacket she had admired at the mall. And every gift is carefully and beautifully wrapped, something Robert has practiced over the years. Her husband's thoughtfulness has helped keep Robert and Maria's love alive.

As one of their Christmas presents to each other several years ago, empty-nesters Grant and Audrey got a lifetime pass to the national park system and a "passport" booklet for recording their visits. They enjoy spending vacations and periodic long weekends traveling to new parks around the country and filling up the pages of their booklet with official stamps. And staying in motels on vacation makes them feel like honeymooners again.

Virginia thought she was just going out for a nice dinner with Walt to celebrate their anniversary. But when her husband took the exit to the airport and pulled into a long-term parking garage, she was puzzled. Walt playfully rebuffed her questions as he pulled their suitcases out of the trunk and led her into the terminal. An hour later their plane took off for Hawaii and a romantic vacation Walt had been planning for months. He had even packed Virginia’s suitcase and arranged supervision for their teenage son and daughter. Walt and Virginia came back from their anniversary trip more in love than ever.

Celebrating love is all about reveling in the emotional, physical, and spiritual connections that bond you to your spouse. It's a kind of love that protects you from drifting apart and enables you to fall in love and feel discovered all over again. It's not always about occasional gifts and surprises. Celebrating love rejoices daily in the marriage you have and helps you feel cherished and captivated by the other. It is a reflection of God's celebrating love as seen in Zephaniah 3:17: "The Lord … will rejoice over you with great gladness… He will exult over you by singing a happy song."

Without celebrating love, your relationship will stagnate, and you will drift apart emotionally. When you cultivate celebrating love in your marriage, you will reconnect with the heartfelt love you discovered when you first fell head over heels for each other. Celebrating love means growing deeper in love year after year, rediscovering what you almost forgot about each other, appreciating again what may have lost its shine, and displaying affection and appreciation for all that you find in each other. Celebrating love prompts you to exult with Solomon: "This is my lover, this is my friend" (Song of Songs 5:16, NIV).

Celebrating love usually isn't something that "comes over" you. You don't just sit around and wait for the old, warm feelings of love to well up again. You cultivate celebrating love intentionally. One of the primary ways to inspire daily celebration in your relationship is to purposely put each other first. Move your spouse to the top of your to-do list, just a bubble behind your love for Jesus.

This means you must make spending time together a priority, just as you did when you were first dating. We're not just talking about "quality time." Sometimes you need hundreds of hours of "quantity time" before you can enjoy real quality time with your spouse. You need frequent periods of time away from the kids and other responsibilities. Find enjoyable activities – everything from hobbies to foreplay to conversation – that will rekindle intimacy of heart and spirit. Give your spouse priority access to your time instead of just the leftovers.

Priority time for your spouse means occasional date nights and getaway weekends. These events should be scheduled on your calendar ahead of time, because if you wait until the last minute, you may have trouble fitting them into your busy life. But priority time also means smaller time slots each day, such as having dinner together, taking a brief walk, spending time talking, playing a game, or watching a favorite program together.

Priority time for what? Among all the enjoyable things you may do when you set aside time to be together, make communication a priority. Sure, you may spend a couple of hours in silence watching the ballet or a movie. But make the effort to fit meaningful conversation into your time together. By meaningful we mean something more than how you liked the movie, what the kids did today, or how the economy is faring. Talk about the two of you – your goals, your dreams, even your disappointments and your hurts. Try to learn something new about your spouse every time you enjoy uninterrupted conversation.

Meaningful conversation also means what you say through your body language. When you talk together, put down the phone and turn off the TV. Make eye contact, and get undivided attention. Make physical contact through an occasional affirming touch. Draw out your spouse with questions that demonstrate your interest in what he or she is talking about. Ask God to help you focus strictly on your spouse.

Lavish on your spouse the honor and pleasure of putting him or her first among earthly relationships. It will prompt a daily celebration that will help you soar above the knotty problems and humdrum of daily life.

Reflect Together
How does your spouse put you first? What does your spouse do in day-to-day life to make you feel like a priority? How do you demonstrate to your spouse daily that he or she is first in your life? How does he or she make you a priority in his or her schedule? How do you make him a priority in your schedule? And what special, extraordinary ways has your spouse honored you in the last three months? When was the last time you made a special effort to honor your spouse?

Pray Together
Lord and Savior, I affirm today that you are the top priority in my life, my most cherished relationship, my dearest friend. Though my spouse is very dear to me, I acknowledge that my relationship with him or her is subordinate to my relationship with you. And yet I desire to honor my spouse as my most precious early earthly relationship and make him or her a priority among all my relatives, coworkers, and friends. Show me ways to put my spouse first, and equip me by your Spirit to walk in those ways. Amen.

Renew Your Love
Review your schedule for this week. Have you put your spouse first by purposely taking time to be together? Make specific plans for spending time with your spouse this week. If you haven't been out for lunch or dinner recently, take the initiative to plan time away from the house. If the busyness of your lives has limited your time to talk, carve out an hour or two this week to sit down over coffee just to chat and pray together. And that would be an excellent time to block out a weekend in the near future just to get away together. Sit down with your calendar, and begin the celebration!

You Hit the Jackpot!

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The man who finds a wife finds a treasure and receives favor from the Lord. Proverbs 18:22

Do you realize what you have in your marriage? Can you look beyond some of your petty little trials and disappointments and see the big picture? Someone once said, "Marriage with peace is this world's paradise." Solomon phrased it a little differently, calling a wife "a treasure" that comes with a fantastic bonus: "favor from the Lord." We are on safe ground to say that a woman who finds a husband is likewise benefited and blessed. Marriage is a wonderful thing designed by God. If you are married, even if the relationship is at times difficult – and whose isn't? – you hit the relational jackpot. You are living a life worth celebrating.

What's so good about marriage? What kind of blessings and benefits can you expect as a married person? We can think of seven right away, and it's good for us to remember them, celebrate them, and thank God for them from time to time.

1. Your marriage has saved you from the pain of divorce. The divorce trend in our country – which is higher among Christians than in the general population – is fueled by a wrong perception about the outcome of divorce. People think it's a way out of a difficult relationship. They see divorce as a doorway to a fresh start and a happier life. But is the grass really greener on the other side of the marital fence? No! Virtually everything we have researched on divorce concludes that those who divorce are no happier – and in many cases less happy – than when they were married. Marriage is the better thing they long for.

Celebrate being married! You have been spared the heartbreak and pain of divorce. What a blessing from God!

2. You will likely live a healthier, longer life. Again, the data from a number of sources over the years show that married people generally outlive their divorced counterparts. Why? We all know that stress, anxiety, loneliness, and other relational and emotional pains wreak havoc with physical health and tend to shorten life. On the other hand, while marriage is not a guarantee of long life and uninterrupted wellness, it is a less stressful and therefore healthier environment.

Celebrate being married! You will probably be around for some of those anniversaries for which the family will give you nice presents!

3. You are likely better off financially than divorced people or people who never married. You may be thinking of the obvious here: the expenses of alimony and child support that you never have to worry about if you stay married to the treasure you found. But married people also tend to be more settled and stable in the work environment, holding onto their jobs, earning promotions and bonuses, and building financial security.

Celebrate being married! You are probably better off financially than others who have left their marriage in hopes of finding something better.

4.  Your kids have a better chance at a happy, productive life. Granted, you may not be the role models of loving, nurturing parents you want to be. But your kids take strength from the fact that their parents are together. Even in those periods when you're struggling through your own relationship, your kids are better off and feel more secure than they would if they were in a broken home.

Celebrate being buried! Your kids will rise up and call you blessed because you are letting out your commitment to love and cherish each other.

5.  You have saved your kids from the potential pain of a stepfamily arrangement. This statement is true if you are in a first marriage. If you are in a second, third, or even fourth marriage, you know the painful complications to the stepfamily setting. Your kids may be living with those consequences. Yes God's love and your love, plus time and a good decision, can help your kids deal with the pain. If you have not been divorced, can you imagine your son or daughter having to live through such an experience, can you imagine your child trying to adjust to a new mom or dad – a stepparent – perhaps in a new home? Can you imagine the heartache of limited interaction with your child, sharing your child with another family? What a tragedy!

Celebrate being married! You have spared your kids and yourself the agony of a broken family.

6. Your kids have a better chance of adjusting to society. Again, the overall data is conclusive: Kids from broken homes are more likely to get swept up in drugs, alcohol, and premarital sex than kids from intact homes. 

Celebrate being married! One of the blessings you reap from your faithful commitment to each other is the higher probability that your kids will make it in this world.

7. You are a testimony that building a godly marriage is worth the effort. How many divorces have you witnessed in your extended family, your circle of friends, your neighborhood, or your church? You probably know a number of them. How many couples do you know whose marriages are struggling or are teetering on the brink of separation and divorce? You can probably think of several. Then there's your marriage. It's far from perfect, but you are still moving in the right direction. As such, you are a positive role model to your world that a marriage built on God's principles in Scripture can not only survive but thrive. You never know how many couples you may influence in the right direction just by attending to the health of your own marriage.

Celebrate being married! Your marriage relationship may cast the deciding vote for many couples who would pursue separation and divorce if not for your positive influence about what marriage can be.

Celebrating love doesn't take a growing marriage for granted. Consider what God has done in keeping you together and deepening your love and intimacy as husband and wife. Praise him for what you enjoy, and every once in a while kick up your heels and party!

Reflect Together
Think about the marriages of each of the people listed below. You may think of several names and some of the categories. Which ones made – or are making – a significant, positive impact on your marriage? What about these marriages was so special to you? Which marriages communicated that husbands and wives are a treasure and that the Lord smiles with favor on the marriage relationship? Which marriages were not a positive influence? Why?

Your parents
Your spouse's parents
Your grandparents
Your spouse's grandparents
Your siblings
Other relatives in your extended families
Ministry couples you have known well (pastors, evangelists, missionaries)
Church lay leaders
Childhood friends with whom you have stayed in touch
Current friends

Pray Together
I am so grateful, heavenly Father, for the treasure you have given me and my spouse. Thank you for allowing me to find him [her]. Thank you also for the favor we have enjoyed throughout our marriage. You have been gracious and generous toward us, even when we fail to love each other as we should. It is sometimes hard to imagine that our children have been blessed and protected because of our marriage and that others around us – our friends, neighbors, church members – have been helped through the favor you have given our marriage. I am humbled that you would use our relationship to bless others. Please continue to find us pliable to the Holy Spirit’s work and willing to grow deeper as a couple – not just for us, but also for others. Amen.

Renew Your Love
Plan and carry out a surprise celebration for your spouse this week. It doesn't need to be fancy or expensive, just something special you know will surprise or please your spouse. For example, you could leave a small gift on his or her pillow, take him or her to the ice cream shop after dinner one evening, or give him or her a long back rub at bedtime. Use your imagination. As part of your special surprise, verbalize your appreciation for your spouse and the marriage you have. Don't just "wing it"; give some thought to what you will say!

On the Devil’s Hit List

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Be careful! Watch out for attacks from the devil, your great enemy. He is prowling around like a roaring lion, looking for some victim to devour. 1 Peter 5:8

Don't look now, but there is someone who is dead set against you and your spouse enjoying a happy, fulfilling marriage. No, we're not talking about your in-laws or an old, jealous boyfriend or girlfriend – and we certainly hope these people are not against you. We're talking about someone very hateful, powerful, and devious. We're talking about God's archenemy and the enemy of your soul: Satan.

You may be wondering, "What's so special about my marriage that the devil himself is out to ruin it?" Your marriage is God's creation, and your family is God's joy. Throughout the Bible, God uses marriage as an object lesson for his desired relationship with humankind. The beauty of the love relationship God seeks with us and wants to illustrate in your relationship with your spouse is pictured in Solomon’s love poem: "I am my lover's, and my lover is mine" (Song of Songs 6:3).

That's what your marriage is supposed to look like: a husband and wife totally devoted to you and absorbed in one another. When you love your spouse sacrificially and unconditionally according to the guidelines of Scripture and when he or she loves you the same way, you are modeling for all to see the essence of how God wants to be involved with us.

The Bible also uses unfaithfulness and marriage to get his point across. Perhaps the most vivid picture is the Old Testament prophet Hosea. God told Hosea, "Go and marry a prostitute, so some of her children will be born to you from other men. This will illustrate the way my people have been untrue to me, openly committing adultery against the Lord by worshiping other gods" (Hosea 1:2). Can you believe it? God instructed Hosea to marry a woman who would be unfaithful to him in order to picture how he feels when people turn away from him.

God wants your marriage to paint a true picture. He wants your kids to see their dad and mom so devoted to each other and to them that they say, "Wow! So that's how much God loves me." He wants your neighbors, work associates, and friends to see how you humbly serve one another and say, "Amazing! So that's what it means to serve God." No wonder Satan wants to deface this image by ruining your marriage or at least keeping it from becoming all it can be. It is vital that you guard your hearts and your marriage from the devil’s ongoing assault.

How does Satan seek to devour your marriage? One of his primary weapons is the godless culture we live in. You can talk all you want to about America as a "Christian nation," but there is a lot going on in American culture that is working against the health and success of your marriage. And if you fail to guard against these subtle – and sometimes blatant – influences, this world will drain the vitality and passion from your marriage relationship.

What influences are we talking about? Try the media, for example. When was the last time you flipped on the television, viewed a movie at the theater, or read a secular novel that didn't glorify adultery or an illicit affair in some manner? And even when infidelity and dishonesty in marriage isn't glorified in these presentations, it is at least accepted and condoned as "normal." At the same time, wholesome, monogamous marriages are often pictured as anemic or boring.

Or consider the lives of the "rich and famous," the people our culture idolizes and seeks to emulate – movie stars, television personalities, recording artists, and politicians. Yes there are a number of people in the public eye who are known for staying married. But these are not the couples who get the media coverage. Rather we are bombarded with the sordid details of celebrity “bedroom bingo”: who is sleeping with whom, who is cheating on whom, who is divorcing whom, who is having whose "love child" out of wedlock, and so on. You can't get through a grocery store checkout line without the headlines glaring at you from the sleazy tabloids.

Then there is the insidious cancer of pornography poisoning the vital organs of our culture through the media. Countless numbers of magazines and websites promote unbridled sexual expression. Through it all comes Satan's dark, diabolical suggestion: "Why work so hard at building a marriage when you can spend your life in pleasure with all these toys?"

You may object, "We are Christians, so the culture doesn't influence us that much." If Satan's influence through the culture it didn't affect behaviors, we wouldn't need the clear instruction found in 1 John 2:15–16, which is written to Christians: "Stop loving this evil world and all that it offers you, for when you love the world, you show that you do not have the love of the Father in you. For the world offers only the lust for physical pleasure, the lust for everything we see, and pride in our possessions. These are not from the Father. They are from this evil world."

The devil probably knows he can't convince you to dump your spouse and run off with another man or woman. But he will try to keep that option looking attractive to you through the media and other means. He will do his best to stoke the fires of lust enough to distract you from full devotion to your spouse. And if he can keep you distracted by the world's view of marriage and sex, your marriage will be much less than it could be – which suits him just fine.

We are not advocating that you take a sledgehammer to your TV, get rid of your phone or computer, or swear off attending movies – although we applaud some families who have taken drastic steps like these. But as a couple you must exercise guarding love by holding each other accountable to verses like Romans 12:2, "Don't copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think."

We are stuck in this world for now. But as Jesus said, we are not of this world any more than he is out of this world (see John 17:16). The distractions are strong and plentiful. But guarding love finds a way to make it through together without being devoured by Satan. Solomon's instructions are key: "Look straight ahead, and fix your eyes on what lies before you. Mark out a straight path for your feet; then stick to the path and stay safe. Don't get sidetracked; keep your feet from following evil" (Proverbs 4:25–27).

Reflect Together
How has the godless culture influenced your marriage? In what ways do you find yourself distracted by the world's view of love, sex, and marriage? Can you think of some couples whose marriages have been negatively impacted by the culture? Can you think of some couples whose marriages have grown noticeably stronger despite the world’s pressure to devalue marriage infidelity? Who are these people? What stand have they taken against the influence of the culture?

Pray Together
I am honored, heavenly Father, that you have chosen to use our marriage to picture the intimate love relationship you desire with your people. I am sorry for the times I have clouded this picture by not guarding my heart or my spouse’s heart from the negative influences of the culture. Help me walk in purity and faithfulness with my spouse. Help us to be a positive example of a fulfilling marriage in the eyes of our children, friends, neighbors, and others. Amen.

Renew Your Love
Where do you need to take a stand against the world's view of marriage in order to nurture your relationship with your spouse? Set aside an hour of TV or phone time to engage your spouse in conversation about how to guard your hearts against the culture’s negative influences on your marriage. Be sure to admit where you sense Satan's attacks on yourself and your marriage. Work toward an action step that will help you strengthen your commitment to God's view of marriage.