Something Old, Something New

"As the Spirit of the Lord works within us, we become more and more like him and reflect his glory even more." 2 Corinthians 3:18

How many of your original wedding gifts are still around? If you were married only recently, you probably still have all of them – and perhaps a closet full of duplicates yet to be exchanged. Many of these gifts, the very things you wished and hoped for – and registered for at the local mall – haven't even been used. They are brand-new, bright and shiny, clean and fresh, still in the box. You're not sure where you're going to put them all.

If you have been married for 10 years or so, you are likely missing several things from your cache of wedding gifts. A few pieces of your good china probably bit the dust – broken by you or one of the kids – and several more pieces are chipped and cracked. Your first set of towels and linens is now threadbare and consigned to the rag bag. Your wedding toaster finally crackled, zapped, and gave up the ghost. A couple of things are broken or lost in your last move. And what's left, silver pieces have begun to tarnish, colored items are starting to fade, and almost everything else is nicked, dinged, torn, or worn in some way. Except perhaps for a few expensive items, your surviving wedding gifts are worth a mere fraction of their original value.

And for those of you who, like us, have more than 25 years of marriage under your belts, you may have to search a bit to locate some of those gifts. You can put your finger on a few important things – most of your original silverware, an heirloom piece of furniture or art, a few cherished knickknacks – but a lot of them are long gone. Worn out or broken, some gifts have been discarded. Your tastes changed over the years, so several items were dispatched via garage sales or trips to the thrift store. And when the kids moved out, you sent with them some stuff that you no longer use.

Bottom line: No matter how we try to prevent it, new things become old, stuff breaks down and deteriorates, and our physical bodies age. Decay is normal. This old world of ours is slowly winding down and falling apart. In fact scientists tell us that everything in the universe is perpetually moving to greater and greater disorder – a state of entropy. Your best china will eventually turn to worthless dust. Your expensive new car will need expensive new replacement parts in a few years just to stay running. Your physically fit body will someday require supplements, therapy, classes, or maybe even a pacemaker to keep you functioning efficiently. And even the modern marvels of medical science can only postpone the inevitable final breakdown of death.

Before you lapse into a blue funk, let us share with you the good news. Some things have the capacity to break the sentence of entropy hanging over the physical creation. No, we're not gearing up to sell you a bottle of snake oil and magic elixir guaranteed to reverse the aging process or eliminate gray hair or baldness. We're talking about things that transcend the physical world. We're talking about spiritual things.

As the apostle Paul suggests in 2 Corinthians 3:18, when you allow the Holy Spirit to do his work in your life, you are being renewed spiritually. So as you slowly grow older, weaker, and less agile physically, you can become more mature, stronger, and more agile spiritually. As your body ages and you look less and less like your old, youthful self, you can be more and more like the new you, who is being formed in the image of Christ. Think about it: On the day your physical strength runs out and you breathe your last, you should be just peaking spiritually, fit and ready for all the adventures of eternity with Jesus!

We happen to think this principle has a parallel in marriage. Why? Because, at the core, your marriage is a spiritual union ordained and blessed by God. Your special, God-blessed relationship with your spouse doesn't have to grow old and wear out – even though the two of you may look and feel a little older every year. And the magnetism that drew you together doesn't have to diminish; it can even grow stronger. The warmth of passion that bonded your hearts at the altar is not destined to cool; it can and should burn even hotter. Your bodies may grow more decrepit with time, but your hearts don't have to.

God's version of married love is like a potted plant. Unlike a bouquet of cut flowers, which after a few days dries up and crumbles, a potted plant is alive. It can bloom again and again. What we all need is a love that allows our relationship to grow continually and blossom repeatedly. We call this facet of love renewing love.

But beware: Unless a marriage is purposely kept fresh and nurtured, it will be as worthless as that old toaster that vaporized before your tenth anniversary. Marriage is a dynamic love relationship between a man and a woman, a relationship that is either growing deeper and richer, or stagnating and decaying. Your marriage doesn't have to wear out or break down, but it takes initiative and effort to reverse the process of entropy.

The real heart of renewing love is a commitment to never stop growing together. It's an ongoing promise to love to the utmost of your ability – and to never leave. It's a commitment sealed by the unbreakable bond God formed between you and your spouse when you made that one-of-a-kind promise. It's a living commitment powered by God.

Just as you grow deeper spiritually by welcoming and participating with the work of the Spirit in your heart, you grow deeper as a couple by welcoming and participating with the spirit in your relationship. Renewing love works – if you work at it together.

Reflect Together
If you could travel back in time to your wedding day and relive those early years, would you do it? Why or why not? In what ways has your relationship grown deeper over your years together? In what ways has it grown deeper over this last week? What aspects of your marriage are being renewed and refreshed as you go along? What aspect seems to be aging or wearing down? How have you invited God into the process of renewing your love?

Pray Together
I have no illusions, Father, about finding a fountain of youth some day. I realize the time will take a toll on me physically, but I will not always look or feel as young as I do today. But thank you that as I allow your Spirit to work in me, my love for my spouse can be perpetually renewed and grow ever stronger.  Help me to love, honor, and cherish my spouse this week in ever-increasing ways. And keep me from the complacency and stagnation that will cause our relationship to entropy. Amen.

Renew Your Love
Think of an area of your marriage that is not as fresh and vibrant as it once was, an area in need of renewing love. Perhaps it is some activity that brought you close, such as taking long walks together, enjoying a date night once a week, or working in the garden together. Perhaps you don't pray together as much as you would like. Maybe you take your spouse for granted instead of being super attentive and interested. What can you do this week to bring new vitality to that area? Come up with an idea to share with your spouse, or talk together about how to renew your love in that area.

Be A Cheerleader

"See to it that you really do love each other intensely with all your hearts." 1 Peter 1:22

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In the early 1990s, William and Esther flew from California to Romania to pick up an infant girl they had adopted. But they got more than they bargained for. The couple was deeply moved by the plight of the abandoned babies crammed crib-to-crib in squalid, dimly lit rooms. Esther was especially touched. Before she and her husband flew home with little Tricia, Esther made a promise to God that she would not forget these forgotten children.

Shortly after they returned, Esther came to William with an idea. She wanted to start an adoption agency and begin finding homes for children like those they had seen in Romania. Not that this couple's lives weren't busy enough. Tricia was their fourth child, and William was the president of a growing company that demanded much of his time. But Esther's heart had been captivated by so many little lives without hope, and she wanted to do something to help some of them. She asked if her husband would support her in this ministry.

William heartily agreed, realizing fully the time and effort Esther's vision would require from her – and from him. Over a period of many months, the plan came together. Esther and her team of volunteers did much of the legwork. William helped when he could and pitched in at home to free more time for Esther. When things got tough – and they frequently did – William encouraged and supported his wife, sometimes as a sounding board or a shoulder to cry on. When Esther had to travel overseas, William accompanied her as often as his busy schedule allowed.

Finally the orphans began arriving for the new homes Esther's agency had found for them. They came from Romania and several other countries. Along the way, Esther asked William if they could adopt another, then another, then another. It became a joke around their church that every trip overseas would result in another adoption.

To date, hundreds of orphans have been rescued and placed into loving homes by Esther's agency, and the couple's family has grown to nine children. Esther's heart for children has translated into a lot of extra work for William, but he has done it gladly. William is Esther's greatest admirer and most loyal supporter. Esther readily admits that she could never have followed God's call on her heart without her husband's loving, emotional, and practical support. "He is my constant cheerleader," she says.

What would it mean to you to face each day knowing there is someone cheering you on a matter what happens? How would you feel knowing that someone is 100% committed to encouraging you, supporting you, and helping you reach your goals? What would it do for your heart to experience this kind of love and loyalty?

In a marriage, each spouse has the opportunity and privilege to be the other's enthusiastic cheerleader and loyal supporter. When you are convinced that your spouse is always on your side, you can endure almost anything. Such loyalty, emotional support, and practical help keep the flames of renewing love burning brightly.

How can you become your spouse's cheerleader? One excellent place to start is by applying the "one another" passages of the New Testament to your marriage relationship. Throughout the Gospels and epistles, Christians are instructed in specific, practical ways on how to love, encourage, and support one another. Since your spouse is the number one "other" in your life, here she should be the first recipient of your loving care. Here are several "one another" and "each other" passages and suggestions on what they could look like in your "cheerleading" at home.

"Don't condemn each other" Romans 14:13; "Live in harmony with each other" Romans 12:16. Don't be a source of constant criticism and nagging in your relationship. It will wear your spouse down instead of cheer him or her on.

"Except each other just as Christ has accepted you" Romans 15:7; "Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other's faults" Ephesians 4:2. A good cheerleader is enthusiastic and supportive whether the team is winning or losing. Focus your encouragement on your spouse's strengths and accomplishments while cutting plenty of slack for mistakes and imperfection. Be a constant source of genuine compliments, encouraging words, spoken appreciation, helpful advice, and cheery positivism.

"Be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another" Ephesians 4:32; "Forgive the person who offends you" Colossians 3:13. When your spouse wrongs you, don't punish him or her with an icy stare, a blazing reprimand, punishment, or payback. Be quick to let it go, and be an instrument of restoring harmony.

"Serve one another in love" Galatians 5:13; "Serve each other in humility" 1 Peter 5:5. Constantly look for ways to ease your spouse's burdens in life by helping with chores and sharing responsibilities. Take delight in doing the dirty work without being asked or begged to do it. 

"Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ" Ephesians 5:21; Build each other up" 1 Thessalonians 5:11. Don't always insist on your way of doing things or treat your spouse as second class in any respect. Celebrate and defer to your spouse's strengths. Treat him or her as an equal who is just as gifted and competent as you are in many areas.

"I command you to love each other in the same way that I love you" John 15:12. Whenever you are in doubt about how to encourage and support your spouse, turn to the master cheerleader: Jesus. Pattern your love after his sacrificial, constant, accepting love for you.

Become each other's cheerleader, and watch your "team" soar to the top.

Reflect Together
How has your spouse been an encouraging and supportive cheerleader in your relationship? How has your spouse's cheerleading helped to keep love renewed in your marriage? How would you rate yourself as a cheerleader of your spouse? As you consider the "one another" and "each other" passages above, where has your encouragement and support been strongest? Where has it been weakest?

Pray Together
Kind and caring Father, you are the ultimate source of my encouragement and support. No one loves me as you do. No one is more understanding and forgiving. You cheer me on when others don't even know my failures and fears. You lovingly supply my needs, often before I ask. I praise you for demonstrating so convincingly you that you are on my side. Help me keep my eyes on you to learn how to lend better support and provide stronger encouragement to my spouse. Keep the fire of love within me blazing and growing. Amen.

Renew Your Love
This week, express thanks to your spouse for being your cheerleader. Either in some face-to-face time or in a note or card, recount for him or her the many ways you feel encouraged and supported in your relationship. Be specific instead of general, citing examples. Then select one way you will become more of a cheerleader to your spouse, and start practicing it this week. Here are a few ideas based on the "one another" and "each other" passages above:

When you are tempted to nag or criticize, replace those words with positive comments.

When your spouse makes a mistake of some kind, don't make an issue of it. Compliment him or her for effort, or focus on another strength.

Take on an unpleasant job for your spouse this week.

In some area of your life, ask your spouse, "What would you like to do?" and then submit to that request.

Divorce-Proof Your Marriage

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God is clear in His commands. Let's keep growing with what He has to say in this week's Devotional Challenge. 

"For I hate divorce!" says the Lord, the God of Israel…"So guard yourself; always remain loyal to your wife." Malachi 2:16

What do you hate? "Whoa," you may exclaim, "hate is a very strong word. There may be some things I dislike strongly. But hate – I'd have to think about that one. It may not even be biblical to hate anything besides sin and the devil."

Merriam-Webster's first definition for hate is "intense hostility and aversion." Can you think of something that utterly repulses you, something you distance yourself from at all costs? What about that certain vegetable you can't stand – brussels sprouts, for example? You won't buy brussels sprouts in the grocery store or serve them to your family – it doesn't matter how healthy they may be. You wouldn't think of ordering brussels sprouts in a restaurant. Just the thought of cooked brussels sprouts makes you cringe, and the smell makes you gag. If you were a guest at someone's home for dinner and brussels sprouts showed up on your plate, you wouldn't touch them – not even to be polite. It's clear that you hate brussels sprouts.

You may be thinking, "Hey, lighten up. I love brussels sprouts." Apparently, a lot of people do. Some people hate spiders, cockroaches, snakes, and mice; other people don't mind them and even like them. Some people hate being late; others think it's fashionable. Everybody's tastes and preferences are different. But we all hate something.

If God hates something, wouldn't it be wise to put it on our hate list to? Malachi 2:16 leaves no doubt that God holds a strong opinion about divorce. He hates it. This means that God is very serious about the covenant you made with him and your spouse on your wedding day. He is unequivocal on this topic: marriage is to be a lifelong commitment –period. Divorce should not even be considered an option.

Notice that God does not say, "I hate divorced people." On the contrary, he loves all people, including divorced people. That's precisely why he is so vehement on the divorce issue – he knows the pain it brings to the people he loves. It's as if he pleads with us, "Divorce deeply wounds everyone involved. I don't want to see you hurt. Do yourself a favor: Avoid the hurt by honoring your lifetime commitment."

In the same breath as his denouncement of divorce in Malachi 2:16, God provides a two-pronged antidote to divorce. As you apply these commands to your relationship, you help generate renewing love and take major steps toward divorce-proofing your marriage.

First, he says, "Guard yourself." This command suggests that there is something threatening in marriage and that not everyone holds the same opinion about divorce God does. We all understand, don't we? Our culture openly condones and facilitates divorce. A person can get a divorce for practically no reason at all. It's an easy out for anyone who doesn't want to deal with even the normal conflicts and adjustments of married life. Our culture seems to say, "If your marriage isn't working out the way you like, just divorce your spouse and look for one you like better."

If we are not careful, the culture’s impudent disrespect for the marriage vow can seep into our thinking as believers. "Yes, I promised to love him 'for richer or for poorer,'" A Christian wife may tell herself, "but I didn't know he was too lazy to hold a job. My friends say I'm a fool to put up with a slacker like him." Or a husband may say, "When I vowed 'in sickness and in health,' I wasn't thinking about mental illness. My wife's deep depression is making life miserable for me and the kids. My boss says I'm throwing away the best years of my life by staying with her."

The "wisdom" of the world says, "Divorce is the solution to your marriage problems."

But God says, "I hate divorce," and he warns us to avoid this casual attitude toward the solemn vows we recited before him.

God’s second antidote for divorce in Malachi 2:16 is, "remain loyal." The new international version translates this command, "do not break faith." You promised to love, honor, and cherish your spouse. He or she is counting on you to keep your word. Don't break faith by going back on your vow. Pour your energies into unqualified love and faithfulness in marriage instead of making excuses and looking for loopholes. Continually ask yourself, "How can I help make our relationship richer, deeper, and more fulfilling despite our conflicts and struggles?"

How do you build divorce-proof loyalty into your relationship? One significant way is by consistently exercising the six facets of love we have considered in this devotional. When you are wholeheartedly devoted to loving each other in these ways, divorce will be the farthest thing from your minds.

Forgiving love. Offer each other a fresh start after offenses both large and small by consistently confessing wrongs and forgiving each other. Forgiving love helps you feel accepted by and connected to one another.

Serving love. Commit yourself to discovering and meeting each other's deepest needs. Serving love helps each of you feel understood and honored by the other.

Persevering love. Support, encourage, and comfort each other through the trials of life. Persevering love bonds you together as friends and soulmates.

Guarding love. Protect your heart and your spouse’s heart from the many threats to your marriage. Guarding love builds a sense of safety and security into your relationship.

Celebrating love. Continually look for ways to enjoy each other emotionally, physically, and spiritually. Celebrating love helps you feel cherished and captivated by the other.

Renewing love. Never be satisfied with the status quo. Strive together to keep your marriage fresh and growing. Renewing love helps strengthen your commitment to each other and keeps your love vibrant.

Reflect Together
From your observation and experience, in what ways is divorce either condemned or encouraged in our culture? Think of some couples you know (friends, family members, coworkers, or church members) who have divorced. In your judgment, how significantly did the culture’s view of divorce encourage them to end their marriages? How has the culture influenced your personal view of marriage and divorce?

Pray Together
Holy God, you have left no doubt about your view of divorce. You hate it, and you command me to remain loyal and faithful to my spouse. I reaffirmed my commitment to fulfill my vows to my spouse until we are pardoned by death. Thank you that your resources for building a divorce-proof marriage are at my disposal. Pour into me everything I need to enrich my marriage with forgiving love, serving love, guarding love, persevering love, celebrating love, and renewing love. Make my marriage glorify you and be a testimony of your power to our culture. Amen.

Renew Your Love
Consider renewing your marriage vows in public to further strengthen your commitment to a divorce-proof marriage. For example, invite a group of Christian friends to your home for an evening of fellowship and to witness the renewing of your vows. You may want to include a pastor or church leader to "officiate" the brief ceremony. Share with your friends how this devotional has helped you renew your love for each other. Then recite your vows to each other, either your original marriage vows or a revised version you have prepared. Close the ceremony by asking a number of your friends to lead in prayer for your marriage.

Drawing a Line in the Sand

Keep going on the journey with us for our Devotional Challenge!

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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

Continue the journey with us for our Devotional Challenge!

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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.