A devotional to help military families stay connected during deployments

Excellent or Praiseworthy is posted on Monday and Thursday nights.

“I have told you these things, so that in Me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart!  I have overcome the world.” — John 15:33

Have you ever PCSed and had the realtor tell you that the most important thing to consider in choosing a house is “location . . . location . . . location”?

In his new book, Dangerous Calling, Paul David Tripp says that phrase also refers to life.

When I read that statement I was intrigued. I know that people in the military have to be very flexible about what they call “home.” And when I read his admonition that “location . . . location . . . location” can also be used in a spiritual sense, I wondered how that might apply to the military life.

Tripp uses “location . . . location . . . location” in a masterful way to remind us of several important points regarding our time on earth. I will summarize his points using some of my thoughts which apply to the military:

1. First, remember this location—this world we live in—is a deeply fallen world. You who fight for the freedom of those oppressed around the world know this better than anyone. Tripp says, “You and I live in a very broken world where there is trouble on every side.” (p. 108) Governments, families, churches, relationships . . . our own bodies, are all flawed. Nothing is perfect, nor will it ever be. The Apostle Paul puts it this way in Romans 8:22-24:  “The whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.” Tripp reminds us, “When you face this harsh reality, you will live prepared for the troubles that come your way.” (p. 108)

2. Second, remember the location where the fiercest battles will occur is in your own heart. Alexander Solzhenitsyn is famous for writing in Gulag Archipelago this statement about the enemy of sin within, “Gradually it was disclosed to me that the line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties—but right through every human heart—and all human hearts.” The prophet Jeremiah puts it this way, “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9).

The truth is that when we face temptation. . . when we face the troubles caused by sin in our hearts and in this world . . .when we face our own brokenness. . . we will run to somewhere for refuge. When we need comfort and strength, courage and healing, grace and mercy. . . we need a safe location in which to turn. In Proverbs 18:10 we read this good news, “The name of the LORD is a strong tower; the righteous run to it and are safe.”  We might want to turn to addictions, entertainment, wild pursuits—but they ultimately will not satisfy. Tripp writes, “God really is your refuge and strength. Only he rules every location where your trouble exists. Only he controls all the relationships in which disappointment will rear its head. Only he has the power to rescue and deliver you. Only he has the grace you need to face what you are facing. Only he holds the wisdom that, in trouble, you so desperately need. Only he is in, with, and for you at all times. He is the refuge of refuges. Do you run to him?” (p. 109) 

3. Third, remember Christians are heading to a location where trouble will be no more. I believe Christians in the military can demonstrate, perhaps better than most, a satisfaction in a required nomadic lifestyle because they know this earth is not our home—our citizenship is in heaven. The Apostle Paul states this so plainly in Philippians 3:18-20: “For, as I have often told you before and now say again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.”  The cross of Christ takes us from daily trouble to ultimate redemption. Glory!

In his summary statement on “location. . . location. . . location”, Paul David Tripp writes, “You could argue that the biblical story is about three locations. The garden in Genesis was a location of perfection and beauty but became a place of sin and trouble. The hill of Calvary was a place of both horrible suffering and transforming grace. And the New Jerusalem, that place of peace and refuge lit by the brightness of the Son, will be our final refuge forever.” (p. 109)

Where are you located right now?  Wherever you are in the world tonight, God is there with you. Even though the world is fallen; even though sin abounds. . . He is with you, and He brings hope. One of my favorite Scriptures regarding God’s presence is from Psalm 139. As if it were written for military serving around the world, David writes, “Where can I go from Your Spirit?  Where can I flee from Your presence? If I go up to the heavens, You are there (sounds like aviators to me); if I make my bed in the depths, You are there (sailors?), if I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea (downrange?), even there Your hand will guide me, Your right hand will hold me fast.” (Psalm 139:7-10)

Although we live in a fallen world, because of the accomplished work on the cross of Christ, we are free and have the promise of life everlasting with Him. Location? From Him. Location? Through Him. Location? To Him. To Him be the glory forever! Amen. (Romans 11:36)

Work Cited:

Tripp, Paul David. Dangerous Calling: Confronting the Unique Challenges of Pastoral Ministry (Wheaton:  Crossway, 2012).

Questions to Share:

1. In what ways do you see the phrase “location . . . location . . . location” applying to your spiritual life?

2. Pray for each other to be encouraged with the promise, “Trust in Him at all times, O people; pour out your hearts to Him, for God is our refuge” (Psalm 62:8).

A Little Respect

Written by Al. Filed Under Marriage & Family

Excellent or Praiseworthy is posted on Monday and Thursday nights.

“Love one another warmly as Christians, and be eager to show respect for one another”. — Romans 12:10

Aretha Franklin sang that all she wanted was a little respect – she was onto something important. Respect is an important part of our well-being. It is a powerful motivator and powerful glue that makes us feel part of a community. When people respect me I want to do even better to maintain that respect and I want to hang out with those people. Why would I want to hang out with people who don’t have any respect for me?

We know a lot about respect in the military. We give each other honor out of respect for things military personnel do, rank that is held, and courage and leadership we see displayed. We wear medals that our superiors bestow on us to honor our contribution. We know about honor and respect and we like it when we get it. Why then is it sometimes so hard for us to apply this knowledge at home?

In Paul’s letter to the Romans he (through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit) instructs all followers of Christ to love each other warmly and not just to show respect, but to ‘be eager’ to show respect for each other. This is an important instruction and to fail to carry it out, as all of us have done at some time, is disobedience. I have to confess that I struggle with this daily because my natural instinct is to elevate myself at the expense of others. God calls me to do the opposite and I have to work hard every day to show ‘respect for one another’.

I have noticed that the less time I spend with someone, the easier it is for me to give honor. It’s easy for me to say a kind word to someone whom I don’t know well—perhaps only in passing. The more time I spend with someone, the harder it is for me to consistently show respect and give honor. This is partly because showing respect takes effort and partly because the longer I spend with someone, the more flaws I see and therefore my instinct to criticize has more fuel. The person I spend the most time with and have to work hardest at honoring is my wife. We often forget that ‘one another’ includes our spouses.

This issue of respect and honor is so important in marriage that we get even more specific instructions on it for husbands and wives. In 1 Peter 3:7 God says to husbands, “In the same way you husbands must live with your wives with the proper understanding that they are more delicate than you. Treat them with respect, because they also will receive, together with you, God’s gift of life. Do this so that nothing will interfere with your prayers.” The King James version says that we husbands should give honor to our wives “as unto the weaker vessel”. Husbands should note that this weakness refers to the vessel. My wife is often stronger than me and her character is tough, it’s just her vessel that is weaker and I think God designed her that way to force me to think more about how I treat her. I need to honor her. The cool thing is that at the times I am properly honoring her, I will see my prayers working.

If our prayers are not working, maybe we should check that we are honoring our wives in thought, word and deed. We need to think complimentary thoughts about her and honor her by not thinking immoral thoughts about other women. We need to compliment her in word, both privately and publicly. Whether she is listening or not – God is listening. We need to honor her in our deeds, keeping ourselves pure for her and helping her in ways that show that we honor her hard work in keeping us fed and cared for. Some of us may need to do a Google search to find out what a vacuum cleaner is!

These days there is a growing problem among men that needs a special mention because of how it dishonors our wives. We all know that adultery is the worst form of disrespect that men or women can express to their spouses – it is the ultimate in rejection. However, there is a gangrene that lies on the path to adultery that has crept into society through various media (primarily the Internet) that predominantly targets men – pornography. Some men will argue that as long as you ‘look, but not touch’, pornography is harmless, but they are wrong. Inappropriately looking at any woman we are not married to dishonors our wives. It is like saying that she is not enough for us. It does not show respect for the feelings of disgust and fear she would have if she knew. It robs her of the intimacy that we should be protecting in our marriages. If you are feeling isolated and dissatisfied with the level of intimacy in your marriage and you are dabbling in pornography, that rot you can smell in the relationship is coming from you. Like gangrene, you need to brutally carve it out of your life to start to restore the health of your marriage relationship. If you are an addict, as many men are, you need to do something drastic like confessing your problem to someone who can help you and keep you accountable, or as painful as it may be, confessing to your wife. The pain will be worth the restoration. Whatever you decide to do and at whatever level of ill-discipline you may have sunk to in this area, you will need to confess your sin and weakness to God and ask the Holy Spirit for the strength to keep your eyes only for your wife. God wants to help you because He wants you to honor the wife that He has given you.

Our wives are also challenged to respect us. Ephesians 5:33 says, “…every husband must love his wife as himself, and every wife must respect her husband.” In this passage, we are told to meet each other’s greatest need. Husbands can honor their wives most by providing such love to her than she will always feel secure in her marriage, never fearing rejection. Wives are told to respect their husbands to meet a husband’s greatest need, which is to feel useful, needed and successful. In spite of what popular culture says, a man’s self-esteem is every bit as necessary as a woman’s. Our need for self-esteem is powerful because it drives us to achieve so that we can feel respect. Wives, you have the power to focus your husband’s achievements on home by respecting him at home. You can make the home where he is most respected and therefore where he most wants to be. As a needy husband, I can tell you that when my wife compliments me and encourages me, I want to be a better husband for her.

This idea of honoring and respecting each other is critical to the health of our marriages. If things are not going well, chances are we are failing in this area. There are additional challenges for us in the military as we can be away from our spouses for long periods of time. We need to continue to honor our spouses regardless of the distance we are apart. We need to remind ourselves regularly of our responsibility through simple things such as photos in our wallets and on our desks; symbols of our commitment to each other such as wedding rings (or a pendant or pin if you don’t wear a ring for safety reasons); and most importantly, regular communication by phone, mail and email.

Be eager to show respect for one another. If it is a new thing for you, don’t be surprised if the first response you get is shock. Persevere and you will soon find that your effort will produce great rewards!

Questions to share:

1. In what areas do you respect and honor your spouse already?

2. What habits do you have (in thought, word or action) that do not honor your spouse? As a starting point, think about things that you do which affect your spouse that you would be offended by if you knew that they were thinking/saying/doing them towards you. If you are brave, you may want to ask them where you fail!

3. Comparing these lists will tell you how much work you have to do. Confess areas of dishonoring to God and ask the Holy Spirit for help in fixing them.

Excellent or Praiseworthy is posted on Monday and Thursday nights.

Righteous are You, O LORD, and Your laws are right.The statutes You have laid down are righteous; they are fully trustworthy. . . .Your promises have been thoroughly tested, and Your servant loves them.— Psalm 119:137,138,140

We were in a sparsely-populated area of Maine having dinner at a local cafe, and had the privilege of talking with our waitress about her experience with deployment. Her husband had been a Guardsman serving in a remote area of Afghanistan with limited internet access.

These “unexpected” conversations during our travels never surprise us, as we find military families everywhere. With Guard and Reserve units pulling 52% of rotations to the Middle East, you don’t have to be close to a base or post to have military in your midst. Right?

One thing we heard from this wife was her commitment to writing and sending her husband letters. Hand-written letters. Some would say this is a lost art in our culture of emails, instant messaging, Facebook, and texting. . . .but the truth is that there is something uniquely special about writing, and receiving, a letter from the one you love. It works.

This young lady told us that she remembered having a slow day on the job, and being able to write a four-page letter to her sweetheart—something that she tried to do as often as possible. My husband asked her if she numbered her envelopes (something we learned in the Vietnam War days) in case the postal system got the letters delivered out of sequence. We learned the hard way—numbering can help eliminate confusion and misunderstandings. No doubt this husband, far away from the woods of Maine, savored her loving letters delivered during “mail call.”

Don’t get me wrong, our family is all for modern technology—from Skype to Facetime to internet to cell phones. But we are also seeing more and more the advantage of that personal card, letter, or package. A while back I mailed a package containing a cassette recorder, microphone, and cassette tapes to our son’s family overseas so that they can record Daddy reading favorite books to the children—and the children can record messages for their Dad while he is deployed. No doubt this can be accomplished with an MP3 player and the proper software, but the old cassette recorder just works so easily. Forty-plus years ago it was a new-fangled device, but it still works during war-time deployments. I remember many a lonely evening in a remote town in Oklahoma popping in those cassettes just to hear my husband’s voice—and he did the same in Southeast Asia. It works.

What else works?What are some of “the old ways” that a couple can stay connected during deployment?

— Reading the Bible “together”—both of you with a One-Year Bible which you already have, or pick out together. Then you can write about what you read that touched you that day (or whenever you can). After all, isn’t God’s word His love letter to us? On May 8, 2008, we posted an EorP devotional entitled “WWII and Beyond—A Story of Commitment.”In it we wrote about Louise and Eugene, separated for 3½ years during World War II after having been married for just 2 days at Ft. Stewart. They wrote each other about what they read in the Bible that day. They remained married for almost sixty years until Eugene’s death. It worked.

— Reading devotionals “together”—we are seeing a return to the classics, “My Utmost for His Highest” and “Streams in the Desert.”We love the new devotionals (especially online!), but there’s something about reading from a book that has stood the test of time. If you both have a copy there is material for sharing from a deep level. It works.

— Picking a prayer time each day—knowing that there is a certain time each day (in the morning, at meal-times, before bed) when your family member is praying for you is very comforting and encouraging. One of my favorite devotional books is Battlefields & Blessings: Stories of Faith and Courage from the Civil War. In it are letters from moms, dads, chaplains, soldiers, children, pastors, generals, sisters, brothers, uncles, friends . . . . . telling their stories of faith in the midst of war. A recurring theme in these 365 letters is the prayers that they have for one another—and how they count on those prayers to get them through the hardships of the day. It worked.

— Carrying that special photograph—make sure that your spouse has your favorite photo—one you have picked for them to have or carry. Maybe it’s one of the two of you in a memorable location, or at a special event . . . something that will bring happy memories along with the enduring look. It works.

— If you can’t correspond in any way (especially submariners), keep a journal—it’s an old way, but a good way, of staying connected. Our couple in Her Favorite Christmas Present (EorP posting on December 28,2009) is a dual-military couple and they are now both deployed. They learned before how valuable the journals were, and they are using them this time, too. It works.

— Read a book together—we have heard of couples reading The Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan together during deployment. I have found the chapter entitled “The Pilgrims Deal with Giant Despair” to be particularly relevant during deployment challenges. First published in 1678, it’s a “classic among classics,” and not beyond the children joining in the project. The second-most-popular book of all times, next to the Bible, there is wisdom in this allegory which will provide spiritual discussion for all ages.It works.

Perhaps you can think of some other “oldies but goodies”—methods of communication and spiritual growth which worked then and still work today. Be encouraged—be challenged—and don’t waste this time which can be used to His glory!

Questions to Share:

1.  Which of these eight ideas above have you used in the past to communicate with your loved ones? Share with each other what worked. . . .

2. Which of these ideas would you like to try during this deployment? What would it take to get that started?

Excellent or Praiseworthy is posted on Monday and Thursday nights.

Where can I go from Your Spirit? Where can I flee from Your presence? If I go up to the heavens, You are there; if I make my bed in the depths, You are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there Your hand will guide me, Your right hand will hold me fast. Psalm 139:7-12

She sat in the living room of the house with furnishings and mementos which they picked out and purchased together.

She had just gotten their energetic children on the bus and off to school.

She was surrounded by pictures of their wedding and memories they had made together before and since that day. She started the day by re-reading some love letters he had written.

She planned to Skype with her deployed husband in the afternoon to make sure plans for their R & R were coming together.

She emailed and Facebooked for a while in order to keep their network of friends and family updated on his condition and her needs. She prayed to the Lord to protect him and his unit.

Yet, if she let herself, she could go by her feelings and think that she was all alone. . . .

He sat in his tent and opened a care package he received from her that day—full of goodies.

He had just talked with his wife at home and had reassured her of their plans for R & R.

He had asked lots of questions about how the kids were doing in school and how they, together, could parent with purpose.

He could gaze at his bulletin board and enjoy pictures of their family and memories they had made together. He re-read some love letters she had written.

He emailed her to thank her for the package, thank her for taking the time to Skype and tell her good-night. He prayed to the Lord to protect her and the children.

Yet, if he let himself, he could go by his feelings and think that he was all alone. . . .

They moved about with health and strength in the shelter provided them and surrounded by unmistakable beauty of the vastness of creation.

They loved each other deeply and considered their oneness to be a gift from God.

They enjoyed technology unknown to past generations, allowing them to communicate whenever possible.

They knew that, God willing, they would be reunited soon.

They were blessed with the bounty of friends and the legacy of children.

They prayed to the Lord . . . . yet, in their darker moments, they insisted that they were all alone and feeling hopeless. . . .

Really?  How reliable are those feelings?

Let’s look at this a little closer–is it possible that a couple separated by deployment can be considered a picture of the Christian faith?  . . .you live in a place far away from your eternal home; you love God whom you cannot hold but Who has written you of His love; you communicate intimately in prayer with Him; you find strength in remembering how He has saved you and how He guides/protects/comforts/loves you; and how you can look forward to His coming again and your time together in all eternity?

If that is possible, then how do we encourage each other during these tough days of deployment separation when our feelings can cause us to believe things that are just not true? The answer—with Truth.

The same way that Paul instructs us in Romans 15:4: “For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.”

Our life on this earth. . . . knowing that as believers we will be united with our bridegroom, Jesus Christ, in heaven someday—that God’s presence is very real—that the Holy Spirit can comfort, convict, and guide us through the difficult days as we communicate with God through prayer, worship, study, and fellowship —and that His word, the Bible, is His love letter to us . . . .is challenging.  But the truth is that we are not alone—that He loves us—and that we can live in faith and perspective of our time on earth and eternal life as followers of Christ.

We encourage each other as a married couple in the same way we encourage each other as fellow believers—with gratitude for what we have in oneness, with stories of our past together, with communication of our needs and confidence in days ahead together, and in serving others through difficult times.

Satan is the enemy who would seek to discourage us and lead us into believing lies. Be vigilant, be armed, be encouraged—God is the victor!

Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. Hebrews 11:1

Questions to Share:

1. When do you feel most alone? What is it that encourages you the most during those times?

2. How can you encourage your spouse when they feel alone?

3. Why is basing truth on feelings unreliable?

Excellent or Praiseworthy is posted on Monday and Thursday nights.

In memory of Denise McColl, who went home to be with our Lord six years ago on March 29, 2008. . . and in honor of the McColl family who demonstrated great love and care. . .we are re-posting this devotional.  It was originally posted on February 25, 2008, before Denise’s death. May their story bless you as the McColls have blessed us. . .

New words and phrases keep coming into our English language—some better than others! On the “bad” side, I am distressed at the new use of the word “whatever.” Being one who loves Philippians 4:8, from which this devotional is named, the word “whatever” leads me into thinking of things that are true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent or praiseworthy. But now, in our culture, “whatever” is tossed out in disrespect and flippancy—often to cut off a conversation in misunderstanding.

But on the “good” side, I really enjoy the new phrase that we use to help visualize a new idea and to begin planning to that end. “What would it look like if ________” is the way we can gather and dream about a new project, with hopes that the outcome will look the way we envision.

So here’s the question: What would it look like if a Christian couple chose to face military life as an opportunity to exhibit and demonstrate Christ-likeness under all circumstances. . . even deployment?  What would it look like if they faced the challenges of “constant schedule changes, the times of transition, the long periods of waiting, (for orders, housing, homecomings, etc.) the many uncertainties concerning deployments, the long periods of single-parenting, the long ‘silent’ periods during separations, the months spent ‘camping out’ at each new location, the adjustments of each family member at new homes, schools, and working environments” (Footsteps of the Faithful, p. 11) totally relying on God to meet their needs, strengthen and comfort them, in order to be able to finish strong?

It would look like the McColl family, as shared in the book Footsteps of the Faithful, subtitled “Victorious Living and The Military Life.” This book was life-changing for me, in terms of ministry to military families facing the global war on terror. The book was written in the early 1990’s by a Navy wife whose husband served on submarines. Here is Denise McColl’s perspective, “We wives have a unique opportunity as Christians serving in the military to share the peace that the Lord gives us even in our husbands’ comings and goings. It is a living testimony that our security, our worth, and our perspective is not totally wrapped up in our spouse’s presence, but in the presence of the God whom we serve.” (p. 118) Wow! This is what Kingdom-living looks like, military-style!

I have never met Denise McColl, and chances are, this side of heaven, we will not meet. You see, Denise is experiencing great pain and suffering with brain cancer—on the opposite coast of the United States from where I live. Her husband and five daughters have been lovingly caring for her—no doubt with the help of many friends and professionals. When I found out that the McColls were going through this tender time, I felt compelled to share the legacy that this family’s story has meant to me.

One of my favorite chapters in the book is entitled “Deployment Detours.” In it, the oldest daughter (Heather) asks her mother this question:

But, Mom, what do you really think Dad’s doing?’ Heather prodded.

‘I really don’t know, Heather. But you know what? It doesn’t matter, because I know that whatever he’s doing, God is watching over him. And hopefully he is having lots of chances to tell people about Jesus. Do you remember what Daddy reminded you of when he left, girls?’

‘Yeah, Mom. He told us to encourage each other and to be a blessing.’

‘That’s right. And I hope you will continue to do that. And when you do, think of your dad at sea who hopes so much to do the same. He wants to encourage his shipmates and to be a blessing to them. If you can remember to pray for him about that, you’ll begin to have a pretty good idea about what he’s doing. Does that help girls”? (p. 79)

It did help, and their story helps us to see victorious Christian living in spite of challenges. As my husband and I travel as missionaries to posts and bases, we are introduced to other military families who live out Matthew 6:33: “But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” We are blessed by their faithfulness to each other and to God and consider it a privilege to pass on their stories. Not that they don’t struggle with good days/bad days. . . .but that they’re able to face the days filled with the Holy Spirit and proclaiming His faithfulness to all generations.

Halfway through Footsteps of the Faithful, Denise includes a chapter written by her husband, Angus. As leader of the McColl family, I was intrigued by what he had to add to her account. Here is some of what he wrote:

“I have decided that the best thing that I can do as a military man who feels called by God to ‘stay with it,’ is to look for other ways in which I can minister to my wife and family rather than to be frustrated by the ways in which I can’t. I know that while I am on sea duty I will often not be able to minister to them, but I have learned a lot of ways that I can still share with them even in my absence. I have learned that even though I am often gone, it is mostly a matter of making my family a priority.” (p. 109)

He continues as he shares how prayer kept them together during deployments:

“I have found it useful to develop a list of prayer topics with my wife prior to leaving so that we have some common ground for prayer. Developing this list together before deploying and then checking it together after being reunited has been one of our greatest encouragements as a couple. . . . Separation is never easy, but prayer builds many bridges, and it is a great tool to help us cling to common ground.” (p. 113) He goes on to add the value he saw by choosing a “family deployment project.” Perhaps that is another story for another “Excellent or Praiseworthy” devotional! Stay tuned. . . .

Denise closes her book in proclamation of God’s provision and God’s purpose:

“Thankfully, we don’t live from war to war but from day to day. And in our day to day living, the grey spots can certainly cloud our perspectives, often so much so that we give up the battle as we lose our stance under the pressures of military life. That is why our stability in Jesus is of utmost importance. . . . God’s purpose is not that we grope through the grey times, but that we grow through them! We don’t often see what His purposes are in undergoing a harsh time until we are on the other side of it. So our only hope is to cling to Him through it, to stand firm or move forward as He calls us.” (p. 206-207)

May God bless you and your family, Denise, in your current battle, and may “…the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” — Philippians 4:7

McColl, Denise, Footsteps of the Faithful: Victorious Living and the Military Life. Orlando: Campus Crusade for Christ, 1994.

Questions to Share:

1. What would it look like if we could take Philippians 2:14 to heart and chose to live it in deployment? “Do everything without complaining or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe as you hold out the word of life—in order that I may boast on the day of Christ that I did not run or labor for nothing.”

2. What would it look like if you faced death with the assurance that you were going to spend eternity in heaven with Jesus? “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.” —John 3:16

Excellent or Praiseworthy is posted on Monday and Thursday nights.

Call upon Me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you and you shall glorify Me. — Psalm 50:15

Living the Christian life. Living the Christian life in the military. Living the Christian life in the military during deployment. It’s all difficult, right? Some would say impossible, but we know better. On a scale of one to God, nothing is impossible.

As Christians who know God’s abundance and how He gives graciously and mercifully to us in every circumstance, we can still struggle with expressing to others exactly what “living the Christian life” means.

Theologian John Piper has for many years spoken on “what it means to live the Christian life” with three biblical phrases:  1) Living by Faith in the Son of God (Galatians 2:20); 2) Walking by the Spirit (Galatians 5:16); and 3) Serving in the Strength That God Supplies (I Peter 4:11).

But Piper goes on to explain what those phrases mean in everyday terms—by using an acronym, A.P.T.A.T. As Piper says, “It (the acronym) doesn’t mean anything. I just find it easy to remember.” The simple acronym summarizes in five distinct steps “the practical biblical meaning of living by faith, or walking by the Spirit, or serving in the strength God supplies.” Why? “So that Christ gets trusted, you get helped, people get served, and God gets the glory.” http://www.desiringgod.org/sermons/practical-help-for-praying-for-help

Here are John Piper’s five APTAT steps:

A – I acknowledge that without Christ I can do nothing. “I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5)

P – I pray that God would make me love as Jesus loves, and work in me all that is pleasing to him. “May the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, equip you with everything good for doing his will, and may he work in us what is pleasing to him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.” (Hebrews 13:21)

T – I trust the promise of God’s help and strength and guidance. “So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” (Isaiah 41:10)

A – I act in obedience to God’s word. Doug Heil asked me last Sunday if Philippians 2:12 fit my acronym: “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling”? I said yes, because look at the ground clause which follows: “for it is God who works in you to will and to do his good pleasure.” Yes! Yes! We act. We obey! But what keeps this action from being a “work of law” is that we have acknowledged our helplessness, prayed for enablement, and trusted that precisely in and under our working and willing it is God who does the work! Therefore our act is a fruit of the Spirit not a work of the flesh. “Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.” (Philippians 2:12)

T – I thank God for whatever good comes. I give him the glory. “If anyone speaks, he should do it as one speaking the very words of God. If anyone serves, he should do it with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen.” (I Peters 4:11)

Here is Piper recently on video explaining his use of APTAT:

 

Since Piper states he has practiced APTAT consistently for the last thirty years, we would do well to examine exactly how this applies to Christian life in the military—specifically to deployment. If Piper is right, and his acronym APTAT is an aid to focus on making wise choices, facing obstacles, maintaining Christian integrity, and experiencing joy in spite of struggles, then we can ask, “What does APTAT look like in deployment?” Because if it is true, then it is true for deployment.

In deployment, “A” would mean—Admit that without Christ you are helpless in this deployment.

Christian military couples are competent and confident . . . always covered by the humility of knowing their strength comes only from their sovereign Lord.

“P” would mean—Pray for God’s help for this deployment.

Pray before, during, and after deployment. Pray for God’s leading, His protection, His peace. Pray for your family. And every time you communicate with your spouse, ask “How can I pray for you?” Then do it—and later ask, “Remember how you asked me to pray for _____. How did God answer my prayer?”

“T” would mean—Trust in a promise of God suited to your need in this deployment.

Write down your favorite Bible promises (Piper’s favorites are Isaiah 41:10, Romans 8:32, Matthew 28:18, 20). Keep these in your pocket or wallet, on your mirror, placed everywhere you need to keep them “front and center” in your life—as much as possible.

“A” would mean—Act with humble confidence in God’s help during this deployment.

Perhaps God will lead you to help someone else in their Christian life. Take the faith that you have to serve others—and to speak to them of the peace that you experience.

“T” would mean—Thank God for the good that comes from this deployment.

Keep your eyes and heart open for how God is growing you spiritually during these months of deployment. And thank Him for how He alone is working in your life.

Piper closes his 1988 teaching on APTAT with a reminder on prayer: “The first two (steps) and the last are acts of prayer. So let us enter this (week) with a deep awareness that prayer is not a mere devotional interlude in the real business of living; it is the pathway of faith and obedience. There is no other.”

I pray that your prayer life during deployment will grow as you use APTAT steps, or however God leads, to come to Him regularly with what concerns you during this deployment.

Work Cited:

Hear and read John Piper’s entire sermon on APTAT at:

http://www.desiringgod.org/sermons/practical-help-for-praying-for-help

Questions to Share:

1. In what ways can you apply these five steps to your daily life as a Christian in the military?

2. What unique spiritual challenges are you facing now that you can share with your spouse?

Excellent or Praiseworthy is posted on Monday and Thursday nights.

If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in him and he in God.  And so we know and rely on the love God has for us.  God is love. I John 4:15,16

“Identity Crisis” is a long devotion—one of the longest we have posted.  Knowing your ops tempo we are surprised when the numbers come in as to its popularity.  That speaks to us of the need for spiritual material dealing with growth during deployment, and we are grateful to God.

We were already planning on a follow-up piece using JJ Heller’s “What Love Really Means.”  So we post it tonight with joy and anticipation for how God is going to use it to affirm you in your spiritual walk with Him during this time of war:

Did you hear the ending?   The man cries out from his prison cell, “O Lord, Forgive me!” and in his heart he hears God say to him, “I will love you for you. . . .Not for what you have done or what you will become. . .. I will love you for you! I will give you the love that you never knew!”

Re-read “Identity Crisis” from March 20th and see again how true it is that God loves us—not for what we have done or what we will become—but because He is a God who is a covenant-keeper, perfect provider and protector, forward-looking and forgiving, and Love!  Hallelujah!

Questions to Share:

1. In what ways can you relate to the first three people about whom JJ Heller sings?

2. In what way do you need God’s unconditional love?

Identity Crisis

Written by John. Filed Under Spiritual Training

Excellent or Praiseworthy is posted on Monday and Thursday nights.

“This is what the LORD says—Israel’s King and Redeemer, the LORD Almighty:
I am the first and I am the last; apart from Me there is no God.” —
Isaiah 44:6

Because of the rigors of deployment and the struggles of life, have you started asking yourself, “Who am I anymore?”

Perhaps you can call that an “identity crisis”—when you begin to question or contemplate or doubt what makes you important or what makes you worthwhile.

Many people tie their importance or identity to a number of different things: career progression, relationships, checkbook & savings balance, housing, car, what parents or spouse or sibling or supervisor or physical appearance or even the past says about them.

What is the major problem with this list? It leaves out God and what He has to say about who you are.

Let’s make this more personal: There is nothing more freeing, satisfying, pleasing, fulfilling, rewarding or gratifying than living our life, not in light of what other people think or expect or demand, but in living our life in light of what God says, God thinks, and God demands. It is a powerful thing to walk through life with a firm conviction of our identity—as God knows us.

And here is the bottom line: Everything that God says about us (you and me), thinks about us and demands of us is the outcome or tied directly to who He is. In other words, when we understand who God is our identity crisis will be solved and we will be satisfied.

Nowhere is this clearer than in Isaiah 43. God’s chosen people were having an identity crisis—they were unsure of who God was and therefore unsure of themselves. These verses can help us replace unbiblical thoughts about ourselves with biblical truth as we sort through what God had to say (through Isaiah) to the Israelites in the Old Testament, themselves facing a deployment of sorts. Satan, the enemy, knows that if he can create confusion about our identity or worth, then we will go through life not knowing what or whom to live for.

In Isaiah 43, God establishes some simple truths about Himself which help the Israelites through their identity crisis. Indeed the more we know about God the more we can truly know why we were created and what on earth we are here for—so this is a worthy exercise:

1. God is the covenant keeper, therefore I am secure.

From the text of Isaiah 43:1: “But now, thus says the LORD, your Creator, O Jacob, and He who formed you, O Israel, ‘Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name; you are Mine!’”

God calls Himself LORD which means “covenant keeper.” Why is that important? A covenant reveals the personal nature of God in terms of His relationship with you and me. A contract can be broken when one of the parties fails to live up to the stipulations in the contract. A covenant is forever. A covenant is based on the enduring nature of God’s commitment to us.

Why is God so committed to us? He created us and He formed us. He also says that He redeemed us—in other words, he bought us back from the bondage of sin. In order for God to establish His covenant with us He had to personally pay the ransom with the death of His Son, Jesus Christ—something we could not do for ourselves.

God also says that He knows us by name. Somehow—before the world was made—God looked into the future and chose to form and create us, chose to set His love upon us and call us by name as a saved believer in Jesus Christ, His Son. Not because of anything special in us or about us—but because of how awesome and great He is. He did it to freely demonstrate His love and grace, though undeserved on our part.

God is the covenant keeper — therefore I am secure.

2. God is the perfect protector and provider, therefore I am strong.

From the text of Isaiah 43:2: “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they will not overflow you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be scorched, nor will the flame burn you.”

“Water” is a general term and “river” a specific term. “Fire” is a general term and “flame” a specific term. General to specific.

Why is that important? It says to me that God is present not just in the year or in the month or in the day I experience hardship (perhaps related to deployment)—He is present with me in the hour and the minute and in the second of my difficulty.

Why would a loving God who calls us by name allow this kind of hardship? To show us how strong we can be in Him. God lovingly uses hardship and painful circumstances to teach us how badly we need Him.

What does this have to do with our identity? When things are tough, others may say that we might as well quit and give up—or compromise our faith—or tempt us to come to the conclusion that God does not care. But the truth is: God is present with me in my weakness. I have His strength and I become strong in Him. I am not going to go under or go away—I am going to stay in the fight regardless of how hot the flame gets or how high the river becomes.

God is the perfect provider and protector — therefore I am strong in Him.

3. God is love, therefore I am valued by Him.

From the text of Isaiah 43:3,4: “For I am the LORD your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior; I have given Egypt as your ransom, Cush and Seba in your place. Since you are precious in My sight, since you are honored and I love you, I will give other men in your place and other peoples in exchange for your life.”

Isaiah had their years of slavery on their minds—so God references their ancient history. He reminds them that the deliverance from slavery cost the lives of Egyptians. Remember the plagues and the midnight deaths of the firstborn? Remember the Egyptian army drowning at the bottom of the Red Sea? The point is—God says that their freedom came at a cost . . . . the principle of substitutionary atonement. Because of His holiness, God demands that sin be paid for. Because of His love, He allows a substitute. We see this principle throughout Scripture and perfectly in the fact that Jesus, the pure and spotless, righteous and holy One, willingly became our substitute for sin. Because God loves us—we are valued.

And one more point—that value is not based on our performance! Our value is based upon His love for us and not upon our love for Him. So no matter what happens during this war, God’s love is eternal and unconditional.

We are fickle and changing — but God is not.

4. God is forward looking and forgiving, therefore I do not live in the past and the best is yet to come.

From the text of Isaiah 43:18-21: “Do not call to mind the former things, or ponder things of the past. Behold, I will do something new, now it will spring forth; will you not be aware of it? I will even make a roadway in the wilderness, rivers in the desert. The beasts of the field will glorify Me, the jackals and the ostriches, because I have given waters in the wilderness and rivers in the desert, to give drink to My chosen people. The people whom I formed for Myself will declare my praise.”

One of the greatest tools of Satan related to our identity is to keep us looking backward and reminding us of all our failures—perhaps even during deployment. And it is a tool that not only he uses, but other people use it as well. While we are to confess our sins of the past, we are not to stay there!

God says in verses 18 and 19 that we are to put the pain and disappointments of past failures behind us and move forward. And that includes forgiving those who have hurt or disappointed us so that we can go forward!

God knows that our identity can be bound up in past mistakes and failures—and therefore we can begin to believe that is how it is always going to be. But remember the context of the Scripture—God’s chosen people had sinned in their disobedience. But God said “Don’t stay there.” The same is true for us today.

It is God’s nature to forgive (Psalm 86:5). Forgiveness was in our Savior’s heart as He died upon the cross (Luke 23:34). God forgives us only because Christ died to pay for our sins (Ephesians 1:7). And God is always ready to forgive us (I John 1:9).

When we understand this we will not be defeated by our past—but we learn from it and move forward.

So, bottom-line, what is our true identity? Fill in the blanks with your own name:
I Corinthians 6:20 God says that _____ has been bought with a price and _____ belongs to Almighty God.
Ephesians 1:5 says _____has been adopted as God’s child.
Colossians 2:13 says _____ has been redeemed and forgiven of all _____’s sins.
Romans 8:1 says there is no condemnation to _____ because _____ is in Christ.
Philippians 3:20 says _____ is a citizen of heaven.
Hebrews 4:16 says _____ can find grace and mercy in time of need.
I Corinthians 3:16 says _____ is God’s temple.
Ephesians 2:10 says _____ is God’s workmanship.
Philippians 4:13 says that today, _____ can do all things through Christ who strengthens _____.

Remember – It’s not about us, it’s about Him and who He is!

Questions to Share:

1. If you cannot say with assurance that you are a believer and follower in Jesus Christ— but you want to know more so that your identity is established in Him, go to:
Godlovessoldiers.com
Godlovesmarines.com
Godlovessailors.com
Godlovesairmen.com
Godlovescoastguardsmen.com

2. In what ways have you let others define you? What is the truth as a child of God in Jesus Christ?

St. Patrick’s Day

Written by Linda. Filed Under Lessons from History

Excellent or Praiseworthy is posted on Monday and Thursday nights.

This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith.  Who is it that overcomes the world?  Only he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God. 1 John 5:4, 5

No doubt you associate March 17th each year as St. Patrick’s Day, as I do. For as long as I can remember, the date set aside to celebrate St. Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland, has been a day dedicated to the wearing of green, to decorating with leprechauns and shamrocks, and to holding parades in locations where many Irish have settled.

But little did I know that March 17th is also a holiday because of a military victory. We’ll get back to St. Patrick—because that’s a very important story—but so is Evacuation Day. If I’ve done my homework right, Evacuation Day was the day in the Boston area when British General Sir William Howe led his troops onto their ships and left the city for Nova Scotia. The Continental Army, under the new command of General George Washington, strategically occupied Dorchester Heights overlooking Boston Harbor. Fortifications were built with artillery equipment captured at Fort Ticonderoga, and the British realized that their position within Boston was indefensible. Fearing a defeat similar to Bunker Hill, General Howe decided to evacuate, ending an 11 month siege of the city. Boston was never attacked again by the British, and this can be considered Washington’s first victory of the Revolutionary War. The password for the day in General Washington’s Continental Army encampment was “Saint Patrick,” and March 17th was declared an official holiday for Suffolk County, Massachusetts in the early 1900s.

With the story of St. Patrick we find another victory, but of a different sort. His is the story of victory over bitterness, victory over the lies of a pagan culture, and, as Thomas Cahill in How the Irish Saved Civilization would even say, the victory over illiteracy and ignorance which would preserve writings so important to us today, including the Bible.

Patrick was a young man of sixteen years when kidnapped from his home in England around 400 A.D. and taken to Ireland. There he was sold to a chieftain who forced Patrick to tend his sheep. It was during this captivity that Patrick remembered his Christian upbringing, which he had formerly rejected. As he wrote in his Confessions, “I would pray constantly during the daylight hours” and “the love of God . . . surrounded me more and more.” His understanding and love for God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit grew during these lonely years of survival in the cold, rain, and snow. His writings do not show bitterness, however, because he used his time to grow in new love and faith. After six years as a slave-shepherd Patrick escaped and returned to his home in England, a changed man.

Feeling called to return to Ireland and proclaim the Gospel to the pagan and barbaric culture which he had left, Patrick began to study and prepare. Eventually he was ordained as a priest, and then a bishop. When he did return, he brought new hope to the land where he had been held captive, all because of his bold and faithful proclamation of Jesus Christ as Savior of the world. He even used the shamrock to explain the Trinity of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  He served in Ireland for 29 years, baptizing thousands and planting hundreds of churches. Besides individual lives redeemed, their new Christian faith gave the Irish people a revived love of learning—which then fostered literacy. The Irish monks were instrumental in copying books, including the Bible, which were in danger of being looted and destroyed during the final days of the Roman Empire as it crumbled.

This is a quick summary, no doubt, and there is much to appreciate in the legacy of St. Patrick. Although accounts of his biography differ in details, there seems to be little disagreement as to his passion to evangelize the people of Ireland because of his love for them and his love for our Lord. I am particularly inspired by his deep prayer life, and am touched by this writing called “The Breastplate,” attributed to St. Patrick:

“Christ be within me, Christ behind me, Christ before me, Christ beside me, Christ to win me, Christ to comfort and restore me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me, Christ inquired, Christ in danger, Christ in hearts of all that love me, Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.”

March 17th is a day to celebrate victory, whether Evacuation Day or St. Patrick’s Day. The ultimate victory is through Jesus Christ, and as Christians we celebrate His life in us every day of the year. Paul writes in his letter to the Corinthians, “The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.” (1 Corinthians 15:56-58)

Resources:

Apostle to the Irish: The Real Saint Patrick by Charles Colson
Patricius: The True Story of St. Patrick by David Kithcart
Who Was the Real St. Patrick? by Deacon Keith A. Fournier
Saint Patrick from Wikipedia
Evacuation Day from Wikipedia
Service of the Scribes: How the Irish Saved Civilization, March 16, 1998 of Prison Fellowship

Questions to Share:

1. Why do you believe Patrick did not become a slave to “victim-hood” and refuse God’s call to return to Ireland as a missionary?

2. What lessons can you learn from St. Patrick regarding personal victory over unfair treatment?

Excellent or Praiseworthy is posted on Monday and Thursday nights.

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. — Philippians 4:8

You would think after writing and editing for Excellent or Praiseworthy for six years that I would have read, heard or thought about everything to be learned from Philippians 4:8. You would think I would have exhausted the lessons from Paul’s challenge to focus on everything true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent or praiseworthy. And taking those virtues into the arena of deployment might have been more than most thought plausible—but we have explored lessons from history, spiritual training, teaching for marriages and families, and prayer encouragement in order to focus on the challenges of military service in light of God’s truth in Scripture.

But recently I was challenged by teaching I had never considered. That is taking Philippians 4:8 into one of the most normal, everyday struggles of marriage—conflict between husband and wife.

Picture this—a husband knows that his love language is “words of affirmation.” He thrives on kudos . . . and doesn’t shrink from enjoying praise because of his good work, even godly work. Because his wife’s love language is “acts of service”, she wants his help with the work around the house—including parenting—instead of listening to what good things happened at work. But after a while he feels disrespected because of her lack of interest in his need for affirmation. After a while, she feels unloved because of his lack of desire to help with her needs.

What transpires is not a fight (well, sometimes) . . . but mostly isolation. Coldness. Distance. And before long his thought life goes to, “’She doesn’t respect you like she ought to because you’re doing big things for God, and she is just here cleaning the house.’ . . . (Satan) starts running her down in my mind, and I accepted those thoughts. And I start getting frustrated with my wife: ‘She’s not loving me, respecting me, or supporting me like I think she ought to.’”

This husband goes on to say, “In my mind, I would run her down. Sometimes, in her mind, she would run me down. Guys, you do not win those wars. We’re not fighting the right way. Instead of fighting for my marriage, I was fighting her as if she was my enemy. She is not my enemy!  This is what the Lord taught me in the process.”

And lest you think this is some random guy—these words are from Alex Kendrick, producer and actor in Facing the Giants, Fireproof, Courageous . . . and author of The Love Dare. He spoke recently on the FamilyLife “Love Like You Mean It” Cruise and shared this story.

Kendrick went on to speak to those on the cruise, “Four months ago, I’m studying and getting ready to do our ramp up and do our next movie and stuff—as I’m with the Lord, and I remember I’m in His Word—and it was like He just kick-boxed me in the head: ‘Alex, you are running your wife down in your mind. She is not your enemy. The enemy wants to distract you, deceive you, and divide you. Your wife and you are one unit. Both of you are sinners, and both of you are in need of My grace.”

Feeling the Lord leading him to remember that his wife, Christina, is God’s gift to him and designed by God to have strengths which he lacked . . . Kendrick began to make a list of whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute—about Christina!

He knew that list was what he should dwell on about Christina. He said, “The list for her—the positive list—was very long. Guys—don’t run your spouse down, in your mind. . . If you are in Christ, what do you do? Follow Philippians 4:8. Your spouse is a sinner, but they are not your enemy.”

Alex Kendrick’s talk on board the ship, speaking to the 1,000 passengers gathered to hear the word of God taught and the gospel shared in the context of marriage, was so well received that it was shared with the listeners of FamilyLife Today with Dennis Rainey and Bob Lepine. I took Kendrick’s teaching from the transcript of that March 3, 2014, airing to share with you.

What does this have to do with deployment? Geographic distance and the pressures of war can lead a couple to misunderstandings in communication. Happens all the time. What do you do? Instead of running your spouse down—thinking the worst—make a list. Make a list of what is true about your spouse . . . what is noble . . . what is right . . . what is pure . . . what is lovely . . . what is admirable. Like Alex Kendrick, your list is going to be long because those are the character qualities which attracted you to your husband or wife in the first place.

But sometimes we forget.

And sometimes Satan can cause trouble in a marriage.

Take the advice of the author of The Love Dare . . . and dare to love your spouse the way Christ loves them . . . with grace. And pray that they love you the same way. Think on these things.

Work Cited:

“The One Thing” by Alex Kendrick, aired on FamilyLife Today Radio on March 3, 2014.

Questions to Share:

1. Pick at least one of the eight qualities which the Apostle Paul encourages us to think on—and list ways in which your spouse demonstrates that quality.

2. Pray for each other . . . that you would keep your mind stayed on the strengths of your spouse.

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