A devotional to help military families stay connected during deployments

Talking to Yourself

Written by Linda. Filed Under Spiritual Training

Excellent or Praiseworthy is posted on Monday and Thursday nights.

Why are you in despair, O my soul? And why have you become disturbed within me? Hope in God, for I shall again praise Him for the help of His presence. — Psalm 42:5

Has loneliness during deployment caused you to “talk to yourself”? Do you often feel that no one understands your situation? Perhaps you have experienced that your family . . . . your neighbor. . . . maybe even your spouse does not really understand what you are going through. Well-meaning people may offer a listening ear, but sometimes that just doesn’t help!  I think we’ve all been there.

When you read this verse above, written thousands of years ago, does it sound like the psalmist is talking to himself? Beth Moore, in her teaching from “Wising Up,” made that interesting observation.

But now let me take it one step further—does it also sound like he is answering himself?? Read the verse again, and “listen.” It seems that the psalmist has diagnosed his despair and realized that the prescription for his sickness of heart is praise of the living God—who knows his situation and offers the cure . . . HOPE.

Examine these verses from the book of Psalms and see if you recognize the same “conversation”:

Find rest, O my soul, in God alone; my hope comes from Him. He alone is my rock and my salvation; He is my fortress, I will not be shaken. — Psalm 62:5,6

Praise the LORD, O my soul; all my inmost being, praise His holy name. Praise the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all His benefits. He forgives all my sins and heals all my diseases; He redeems my life from the pit and crowns me with love and compassion. — Psalm 103:1-4

Be at rest once more, O my soul, for the LORD has been good to you. For You, O LORD, have delivered my soul from death, my eyes from tears, my feet from stumbling, that I may walk before the LORD in the land of the living. — Psalm 116:7-9

Praise the LORD. Praise the LORD, O my soul. I will praise the LORD all my life; I will sing praise to my God as long as I live . . . . Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the LORD his God, the Maker of heaven and earth, the sea, and everything in them—the LORD, who remains faithful forever. — Psalm 146:1,2,5,6

When you find yourself having that “talk” with yourself . . . . maybe complaining about circumstances, maybe “rehearsing” a list of grievances, maybe just crying out in isolation . . . . do you also take the opportunity to grab those thoughts immediately and surrender them to the Lord, offering words of praise instead?  I often need to be reminded of this.

Whether you are all alone, or all alone in a crowd of people, He knows the inner lament of your soul. He is the God who hears. He knows you need hope, and He is the God who gives hope . . . . both for the circumstances of today and for eternity.

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. . . . May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in Him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” — Romans 15:4,13

Questions to Share:

1. In what circumstances right now have you lost hope? Take a moment to praise God for His presence in your life. “In my distress I called to the LORD; I cried to my God for help. From His temple He heard my voice; my cry came before Him, into His ears.” — Psalm 18:6

2. Take a moment to recall one time when God brought you through what seemed to be a hopeless situation. “I cried out to God for help; I cried out to God to hear me. When I was in distress, I sought the Lord; at night I stretched out untiring hands and my soul refused to be comforted . . . . Then I thought, ‘To this I will appeal: the years of the right hand of the Most High.’ I will remember the deeds of the LORD; yes, I will remember Your miracles of long ago. I will meditate on all Your works and consider all Your mighty deeds.” — Psalm 77:1,2,10-12Talking to

“Tennis, Anyone?”

Written by Linda. Filed Under Marriage & Family

Excellent or Praiseworthy is posted on Monday and Thursday nights.

“My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry . . .” — James 1:19

“Communication is a lot like tennis. One person begins the conversation by making a statement, and then perhaps asking a question—like serving the ball. The other person returns the ball by responding to the statement and/or question, and perhaps asks another question. And so the game continues.”

This is an important paragraph from the HomeBuilders Bible study entitled Making Your Marriage Deployment Ready (p. 39), meant to help couples in their communication skills before they are geographically separated. But the truth is that communication skills are vital to the life of a marriage relationship—deployment or not.

Using the tennis analogy, a conversation can continue easily as one partner “volleys” the ball to the other. If the ball is “slammed” (perhaps insult or accusation), making it impossible for the tennis partner to return the exchange. . . or if the ball is hit out of bounds (not listening or paying attention), the conversation is over for the moment and has to begin again with a new statement or question.

Dennis and Mary Trexler of Cru Military have taken the analogy of tennis to explain some of the fundamentals of good communication in a talk they call, “Tennis Anyone?” As you read these “Tennis Rules of Serving” think about how they could correspond to a conversation between a husband and wife:

When you initiate a conversation, there is the responsibility to be able to continue the conversation to a worthwhile end. Viewing this responsibility as being similar to one who serves the tennis ball with the intention of continuing the match may help.

But the Trexlers would be just as quick to tell us that there is responsibility on the part of the receiver. Here are their “Tennis Rules of Receiving”:

These are just a few pointers which can help when a couple is trying—and trying hard—to communicate well. Just like tennis, it takes practice. Just like tennis, it takes desire to learn. Just like tennis, it takes rules for it to go smoothly. And just like tennis, it takes two! It takes both of you being intentional about “serving the ball” and “receiving the ball” for good communication in marriage to take place.

And what about communication during deployment? This does not mean that “all rules are off!” Quite the contrary—all rules still apply! You both have to make sure that you are listening well to the others’ needs and feelings, that you are asking good questions which get to their heart, and that you “make contact” as often as possible to keep the relationship moving.

And remember—this is not a game! Communication in marriage is work, and it is serious business. But, in the end, you will both be winners!

Work Cited: Making Your Marriage Deployment Ready is available at Shop.FamilyLife.com and CruMilitary.org.

Questions to Share:

1. During deployment, do you communicate best by email, phone, or letter? What about your spouse? Discuss this between the two of you.

2. Has the difference in time zones been a barrier to your communication? What other difficulties have you had to overcome in order to communicate well with each other?

Excellent or Praiseworthy is posted on Monday and Thursday nights.

Editor’s Note: While not every deployed couple has children at home, the themes and applications in this writing are common in long-distance relationships.  And on this Father’s Day, we hope some of these principles might be worthwhile suggestions for your time apart from family.  You all are our heroes!

Behold, children are a gift of the LORD. . . . Psalm 127:3

“I’m not there! What can I do about it?” If you’ve ever heard those words from a deployed service member, you know the frustration they offer up to the one at home having to deal with the troubling situation. If the situation regards the rearing of children, then the frustration can reach epic proportions. None of us wants that, right? So here are some thoughts to help—they’re so simple we call them the “ABCs” of long-distance parenting.

“A” is for “Ask Good Questions!” I’ve heard the excuse, “I don’t know what questions to ask!” Having a good parenting talk with your spouse at home while you are deployed means starting simple . . . . something like “How are you doing today?” or “What happened with the children today?” Bible teacher, John MacArthur, says in his essay, on “Peter: A Lesson in Leadership,”

“Now what is the raw material looked for in a leader? First of all, does he ask questions? . . . . People who don’t ask questions don’t wind up as leaders because they’re not concerned about problems and solutions. If you want to find a leader, look for somebody who asks questions.”

Are you concerned about what is happening at home? Ask your spouse questions! Please . . . please . . . please don’t just “assume” that things are such-and-such, ASK! Parents are leaders in their homes—they lead their children in every aspect of life—so show leadership by asking how they are doing! And don’t forget those all-important questions of your spouse at home—“What can I do to help you?” and “How can I pray for you?”

“B” is for “Be Prepared.” There are things which you and your spouse can talk about ahead of time, anticipate and plan for so that the deployment can go more smoothly. In regards to the children, talk about which school activities you want them to participate in; talk about trips to take; talk about their developing friendships—which to promote and which to discourage; talk about their educational progress and what each child needs help with; talk about their spiritual growth and how you each can be intentional about taking steady steps of growth during deployment; talk about how you want to be included in holidays, even though you’re far away; talk about the importance of keeping a regular schedule—a must for children experiencing deployment; talk about finances which are going to be spent on the children while you’re gone—like orthodontics, or summer camp; talk about what service project the kids can do while you are apart—something to take the focus off themselves and onto the needs of others; talk about consistency in discipline—making sure that the kids know who is the boss; talk about your commitment to support each other in doing what is best for the children.

Be sure you have this talk about your parenting concerns before the deployment. Don’t leave home without it! (But even if deployed, it’s never too late!)

“C” is for “Communicate with the Children.” Communicating with your spouse is great, but don’t forget to communicate with your children—regularly, if possible. Send a card, send an email, send a gift, send anything. I remember talking with a soldier who said that he tried to send his kids something every week, even if it was something really simple like a note saying, “Daddy loves you!” One week he didn’t know what to send, so he took the little wooden spoon that came with his cup of ice cream, wrote “Daddy misses you” and mailed it in a small envelope. Get creative—kids just want to know that they’re loved and missed. Let them know that they’re part of the mission, too—that you couldn’t do what you are doing without their help at home. Encourage them in their schooling, their chores at home, their behavior . . . . and if you have chosen a Scripture verse to memorize together while you’re away, encourage them with that.

Another good reminder is to answer an emotion with an emotion . . . . children (and adults) need that. If your child says, “I miss you so much” make sure you say “I miss you so much, too—you are so special to me.” Going from an emotional statement to an intellectual statement without that emotional connection does not make for good communication at the “heart” level. So if your child says, “I miss you so much,” try not to minimize their feelings with a response like “You’ll be okay—just stay busy.” There will be time for that encouragement, but start by validating their feelings.

Teenagers especially need to hear from their deployed parents—to know that they’re appreciated and prayed for. Stay up-to-date with their social and school concerns so that you can ask good questions. There’s that letter “A” again—asking good questions! And make sure you listen for the answers . . . . which will then generate more questions. Much like a tennis game where one lobs the ball back and forth, good communication can be a series of good questions and answers which lead to more good questions.

We’ve heard it said that writing letters to children, especially teenagers, during deployment—hand-written letters that they can take out from time-to-time and think over—is a wonderful way to stay in touch. And the best way to stay in touch with your older children is to ask “How can I pray for you?” If you have the chance to Skype, or talk on the cell phone, pray with them on the phone. Encourage them to pray out loud, first by picking out two things to be grateful for and one thing they are concerned about—that’s a great place to start.

Those are the “ABCs” of long-distance parenting (will differ with those at sea—which really requires prior planning in parenting!) . . . but there’s also a “D” for “Don’t be passive!” Just because you are away does not mean that you have given up your responsibility as a parent. There is work to be done, whether by maintaining good communication with your spouse or with your children, in whatever way you possibly can knowing that the demands of war differ from person to person. Seizing, not neglecting, the opportunity to prepare your family, to pray for your family, and to lead your family throughout this deployment will yield blessings which you cannot even imagine right now—but will be evident in the security and peace within your family in years to come.

Work cited:

Dr. John MacArthur’s sermon on “Peter: A Lesson in Leadership” is found on his ministry website http://www.gty.org/Resources/Print/Sermons/2271

Questions to Share:

1. In what ways did you prepare your family for this deployment?

2. Take this opportunity to discuss with your spouse any unmet parenting needs which you feel should be addressed.

40 Reasons NOT to Have an Affair

Written by Linda. Filed Under Marriage & Family

Excellent or Praiseworthy is posted on Monday and Thursday nights.

For a man’s ways are in full view of the LORD, and He examines all his paths. — Proverbs 5:21

Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. — Colossians 3:5

A pastor wrote this list of forty reasons NOT to have an affair, NOT to commit adultery.  But it applies to us all, not just pastors—without exception. It seems like Satan is winning more than his share of marital battles, and we’re all sick and tired of the damage he is causing. If rational thinking will help, this list should do more than its share of convincing a person “on the verge of infidelity” to re-think and flee temptation.

Our fear is that in “the moment” rational thinking will not prevail. There is hope, however, and the opportunity to speak into that time before and when there is a choice—that “fork in the road”—when the whole future is at stake. Scripture says that God always provides a way of escape. “No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; He will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, He will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it” (1 Corinthians 10:13).

Scripture has quite a bit to say about sexual temptation. Proverbs 6:32 says, “But a man who commits adultery lacks judgment; whoever does so destroys himself.” In 1 Thessalonians 4:3-6 we read, “It is God’s will that you should be holy; that you should avoid sexual immorality; that each of you should learn to control his own body in a way that is holy and honorable, not in passionate lust like the heathen, who do not know God; and that in this matter no one should wrong his brother or take advantage of him. The Lord will punish men for all such sins, as we have already told you and warned you.” In 1 Corinthians 6:18-10 we find another warning: “Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a man commits are outside his body, but he who sins sexually sins against his own body. Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body.”

We urge you to read this list very carefully. Agree with it. . . and keep it forward in your thinking in order to avoid any compromising situations or relationships.

40 Reasons Why I Do Not Want To Commit Adultery
By: Dr. Daniel D. Henderson

1. I would violate my relationship with my Savior and Lord Jesus Christ who has loved, cared and died for me. This action would disregard the selfless and cruel death He suffered in order to give me power over this sin.

2. I would bring public shame and unnecessary disrepute to His most holy and precious name, which I have been privileged to represent.

3. I would have to face someday my gracious Savior, eye to eye at His judgment seat, giving an account for willfully squandering His abundant provision of purifying grace. At that moment of eternal consequences I would inevitably witness the results of my own disregard for the rewards of faithfulness and obedience He so desired to give to me.

4. I would choose to submit myself to a destructive process of self-deception and the dulling of my conscience, causing a lack of confidence in my future ability to walk in obedience and faith.

5. I would inflict unimaginable pain on my wife, my best friend, and my faithful and sacrificial partner in ministry and life—and would have to stare into her tear-filled eyes to explain this conscious violation of my vows and describe the stupidity of my behavior.

6. I would permanently damage my wife’s ability to trust me or believe my word. I would lose her respect in the future, giving her constant cause for suspicion and question.

7. If my pattern of deception were to continue, or if she were unable to forgive me, I would lose her as my wife and would be left to face ongoing regret, loneliness and pain.

8. In this case, I would permanently ruin my wife’s future fulfillment causing her to face the remainder of her life feeling the struggle of rejection and dealing with the complications of single parenting or remarriage.

9. I would violate the love and trust of my precious children. In essence, I would be telling them, “Your mother is not a worthy person. Your father is a liar and a cheat. Honor is not as important as pleasure. My own selfish satisfaction is more important than loving my children”.

10. By destroying my own example and credibility with my children, I would lose future opportunities to influence them toward loving obedience and holiness and would plant within them a potential long-term resentment and bitterness toward the Lord and the ministry.

11. I would bring continual shame to my children every time they had to explain why their father was no longer in ministry—or why he was no longer together with their mother.

12. I would create destructive and continually tempting mental memories that would cultivate unhealthy lust and negatively affect future intimacy with my wife.

13. I would squander all of the money, time, effort and pain that have gone into my preparation for and development in the pastoral ministry.

14. I would seriously disappoint those godly leaders who have faithfully invested themselves in me (e.g. professors, pastors, mentors and relatives).

15. I would bring shame to the college and seminary from which I graduated, tarnishing their reputation and squandering their investment in my theological education and character development.

16. I would deeply wound and embarrass my parents whose loving instruction, sacrificial investment and current delight in the positive course of my life would be horribly violated.

17. I would significantly damage the solid ministry foundation and tarnish the wholesome legacy of my faithful predecessors of my current ministry.

18. I would bring long-term disrepute to the positive reputation of my church in the
community, hindering future ministry to people in this area.

19. I would undermine the credibility and effort of other Christian ministries and leaders in my city, adding to the climate of mistrust that continues to expand with each story of moral failure.

20. I would violate the precious trusting relationship with the elders of my church causing difficulty for them into the future as they seek to lead the congregation and causing a potential spirit of mistrust on their part toward future senior pastors at this church.

21. I would destroy my credibility and relationship with staff members who have faithfully supported me and responded to my leadership. A revelation of duplicity at this level would wound them deeply and would h9inger even their own leadership among the flock.

22. I would bring underserved difficulty and pain to my successor and his family, as they would be forced to reap what I have sown in their attempt to salvage the church and clean up the mess I would have made.

23. I would deeply wound all those who have been saved, disciple, equipped, counseled and prayed for under my ministry, causing disappointment and disillusionment for some.

24. I would create possible disillusionment in the hearts of young men preparing for ministry as they wonder about the credibility of my leadership and the viability of authentic pastoral ministry.

25. If this should become newsworthy at a statewide or national scale, I would exacerbate the growing climate of mistrust toward Christianity at an even broader level.

26. I would squander my witness to various unsaved friends, acquaintances and neighbors to whom I have witnessed over the years, perhaps driving them farther away from accepting Christ.

27. I would be thoughtlessly and carelessly throwing away the impact of the prayers of thousands of people who over the years have wholeheartedly supported me on their knees.

28. I would be heaping significant guilt and pain on the other woman, for the rest of her life.

29. I would potentially contribute to the dismantling of her marriage, family and network of trusting friends.

30. I would run the risk of the complications of a pregnancy resulting from the extramarital sexual activity.

31. I would run the risk of physical consequences in the form of sexually transmitted diseases.

32. I would suffer the consequences of losing a job and creating serious practical strain on my family financially and socially.

33. I would experience the trauma of a career change, having violated the qualifications for pastoral office.

34. I would join the ranks of those whom I have previously despised and whose actions have deeply grieved me because of their violation of calling and trust through moral scandal.

35. I would live with personal life-long embarrassment and shame, as I would encounter regular reminders of my foolish and destructive choices.

36. I would be required to invest a significant amount of time and money in the process of recovery, as many hours of counseling and years of rebuilding would be required.

37. I would take myself out of the running for multiplied opportunities in the future that could have come my way, had I remained faithful.

38. I would run the risk of being permanently “shelved” in my usefulness to God and His kingdom, knowing that the overwhelming shame and personal regret could cause me to completely give up my service for Christ.

39. I would cause a countless number of people to doubt the validity of the Scriptures, the Holy Spirit and the power of Christ as they might ask, “If it didn’t work for him, can it really work for me”?

40. I would bring delight to Satan and his demons as these enemies of my soul and opponents of Christ would exult in their victory over one of God’s called servants.

Some of these concepts were originally conceived by Randy Alcorn in Leadership Journal. 1999 Daniel Henderson.

Worked cited:

http://www.danielhenderson.org/2010/04/40-reasons-why-i-do-not-want-to-commit.html

“Marriage Minutes” from Tuesday, November 8, 2011, by Bob & Cheryl Moeller

Questions to Share:

1. Were any of these forty items a surprise to you? Why or why not?

2. How important is it to you to guard your heart in order to guard your future?

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  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).

Keys to Fighting Despair

Written by Linda. Filed Under Spiritual Training

Excellent or Praiseworthy is posted on Monday and Thursday nights.

The LORD is faithful to all His promises and loving toward all He has made. —  Psalm 145:13b

Is discouragement ruling your thoughts? Have you despaired at the trials of this deployment?

One of my favorite contemporary Bible teachers, Dr. Stephen Davey, uses the popular old Puritan classic, Pilgrim’s Progress, in his sermon on Job, Chapter Seven, to expound on keys which can unlock a “dungeon of despair”. He gives timeless advice, worth sharing with you who are bearing the brunt of this Global War on Terror.

Pastor Davey reminds us that the author of Pilgrim’s Progress, John Bunyan, wrote this famous allegory from his dark, dank English jail cell in the late 1600s. Having been jailed more than once for refusing to align his church with the Church of England, Bunyan became familiar with discouragement and despair.

Pastor Davey goes on to explain that during an episode of Bunyan’s book, the young disciple named Christian, who has left his home in the City of Destruction to travel to the Celestial City (heaven), is captured along with his companion, Hopeful, by the Giant Despair. They are thrown into a dungeon in Doubting Castle by the merciless Giant. But Christian and Hopeful refuse to give up, and eventually unlock their cell door and outer gate by using a key called Promise. That key had been given to Christian earlier as a gift to open a door when needed. So without force, the pair escapes and is free from Doubting Castle and the Giant Despair.

With this as a backdrop to his sermon, Pastor Davey goes on to list six “keys of promise” which we can use to defeat the Giant Despair in our lives which might be threatening the spiritual freedom of our souls:

1. First, in seasons when you conclude God is not present—He is.

“I will never leave you nor forsake you.” Hebrews 13:5b

2. Secondly, in times when you feel life is hopeless—it is not.

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:11

3. Thirdly, in afflictions when you believe God does not care—He does.

“Cast all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you.” I Peter 5:7

4. Fourthly, in situations when you are certain you know better than God—you do not.

“As for God, His way is perfect; the word of the LORD is flawless. He is a shield for all who take refuge in Him.” Psalm 18:30

5. Fifthly, in despair when you believe God has not heard your cry—He has.

“ . . . You who seek God, let your heart revive. For the Lord hears the needy and does not despise His who are prisoners.” Psalm 69:32b-33

6. One more key, sixthly, in circumstances in which you do not feel loved—you are.

“For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 8:38-39

So often we can give in to discouraging thoughts, and can feel trapped as if in a dungeon, hopeless. The truth is as Christians we belong to a God who is ever-present in our lives; has a perfect plan for our lives; cares deeply for us; hears our every cry; and loves us enough to send His own Son to die for our sins. Those are promises—straight from Scripture, spoken by the Holy Spirit directly to our hearts.

Is it easy to forget that you have these promises from God? Sure. In Pilgrim’s Progress, Christian almost forgot. It was only after much prayer with Hopeful in the dark prison that he exclaims, “What a fool I am . . . to lay here in a stinking dungeon, when I could just as easily walk at liberty!  In my coat, next to my heart, I have a Key called Promise. I’m persuaded it will open any lock in Doubting Castle.” (p. 154)

Thankfully, Christian and Hopeful decide to post a warning to anyone who might come after them of the dangers found in Doubting Castle—the home of Giant Despair.

We, too, are warned (Psalm 19:11). And there are steps we can take away from doubt, away from despair. If you are struggling,

If you are struggling with despair, remember that we serve a God of hope. Choose hope.

Work Cited:

The six “Keys” are from the sermon “Escaping the Dungeon of Giant Despair” preached by Dr. Stephen Davey on April 22, 2007. Pastor Davey’s sermons are archived on his website WisdomForTheHeart.com

Bunyan, John. The Pilgrim’s Progress in Modern English (Alachua, Florida: Bridge-Logos, 1998).

Questions to Share:

1. Share with your spouse a time when you experienced how one of God’s promises quoted was true in your life.

2. Pray for each other to trust in God’s promises for your future.

We Will Never Forget

Written by Linda. Filed Under Lessons from History

On this week of Memorial Day 2016, thank you for your sacrificial service to our country and our Lord.  We will never forget. . . .

The 23rd Psalm

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.

   He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.

   He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness
for his name’s sake.

   Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord
forever.

Taps

Written by Linda. Filed Under Marriage & Family

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 139:7-10

For me, the story of “Taps” is a local story because I live close to where it was composed. I could easily drive to Berkeley Plantation in Virginia, where there is a monument marking the “birthplace” of Taps. Tour guides will tell you that the haunting 24-note bugle call is actually a revision of a French call to signal to the troops the end of the day and “lights out.” The story goes like this:

“In of July of 1862, in the aftermath of the bloody Seven Days battles (Peninsular campaign), hard on the loss of 600 men and wounded himself, Union General Daniel Adams Butterfield called the brigade bugler to his tent. . . .Oliver Wilcox Norton, the bugler, tells the story, ‘. . . showing me some notes on a staff written in pencil on the back of an envelope (some accounts say that Butterfield hummed it to Norton), (he) asked me to sound them on my bugle. I did this several times, playing the music as written. He changed it somewhat, lengthening some notes and shortening others, but retaining the melody as he first gave it to me. After getting it to his satisfaction, he directed me to sound that call for Taps thereafter in place of the regulation call. The music was beautiful on that still summer night and was heard far beyond the limits of our Brigade. The next day I was visited by several buglers from neighboring Brigades, asking for copies of the music which I gladly furnished. The call was gradually taken up through the Army of the Potomac.’” From “History of Taps.”

Not long after Taps was composed, it was used for the first time at a military funeral. Union Captain John Tidball, commander of an artillery battery, had it played for the burial of a cannoneer killed in action (during the Peninsular Campaign) because the traditional three rifle volleys fired over the grave might have alerted the enemy nearby. This event is commemorated in a stained glass window at The Chapel of the Centurion, also nearby at Ft. Monroe.

Ten months after it was written, Taps was played at the funeral of Confederate General “Stonewall” Jackson. By 1874 Taps was officially recognized by the U.S. Army and was required to be played at military funerals by 1891.

Taps is played throughout our nation on Memorial Day as it is traditionally sounded at funerals, wreath-laying, and memorial services. In order to honor those who died in service to our country, giving the ultimate sacrifice—Taps is played in remembrance of all of those who have insured our precious freedom. While we are hearing the strains perhaps you can also remember the words which are associated with the bugle call. While these lyrics are not “official,” the first verse is commonly sung with these words:

“Day is done, gone the sun,
From the hills, from the lake,
From the sky.
All is well, safely rest,
God is nigh.”

God is nigh. The definition of “nigh” is “near in space, time, or relation.” The American College Dictionary, 1955.

God is near:

You are near, O LORD, and all Your commandments are truth. — Psalm 119:151

The LORD is near to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit. — Psalm 34:18

But as for me, the nearness of God is my good; I have made the Lord GOD my refuge, that I may tell of all Your works. — Psalm 73:28

The LORD is near to all who call upon Him, to all who call upon Him in truth. — Psalm 145:18

Let your gentle spirit be known to all men. The Lord is near. — Philippians 4:5

The last verse of Taps, traditionally, is similar to the first verse:

“Thanks and praise, For our days,
‘Neath the sun, ‘Neath the stars,
‘Neath the sky,
As we go, This we know,
God is nigh.”

Is there any doubt in your mind and heart that God is near, during deployment? Even during the lowly conditions of war in 1862, God was there. Jari A. Villanueva is a bugler and bugle historian, considered the country’s foremost authority on Taps. He wrote: “.. . it is hard to believe that Butterfield could have composed anything that July in the aftermath of the Seven Days battles which saw the Union Army of the Potomac mangled by Lee’s Army of Northern Virgina. Over twenty six thousand casualties were suffered on both sides. . . . In the midst of the heat, humidity, mud, mosquitoes, dysentery, typhoid and general wretchedness of camp life in that early July, it is hard to imagine being able to write anything.” From 24 Notes that Tap Deep Emotions”.

But write it (or revise it) he did, and Butterfield’s desire to honor his soldiers is forever the way that we seek to honor our brave soldiers.

The Scripture from Psalm 139 is a reminder of what we declare in the singing of Taps. With a lump in our throats and perhaps tears in our eyes, we remember this Memorial Day, with grateful hearts, those courageous patriots who have gone before us in battle. . . . and we remember that our God is faithful . . . . and near.

Questions to Share:

1. What thoughts come to your mind when you hear Taps?

2. On this Memorial Day, is there someone who served our country whom you could tell your spouse about as a way of honoring them?

Note:  Additional information on Taps is available at www.tapsbugler.com

Excellent or Praiseworthy is posted on Monday and Thursday nights.

The LORD looks from heaven; He sees all the sons of men; From His dwelling place He looks out on all the inhabitants of the earth, He who fashions the hearts of them all, He who understands all their works. — Psalm 33:13-15

The inscription on the Tomb of the Unknowns in Arlington National Cemetery reads:
Here rests in honored glory an American soldier known but to God.”

Tomb of the UnknownThe soldiers from the 3d U.S. Infantry Regiment who guard it are held to the highest of standards—they learn and live Line 6 of The Sentinel’s Creed.

They walk the plaza 24 hours a day, 365 days a year—no matter the weather. They change guard every 30 minutes to two hours, depending on the time of day and season of the year.

Being chosen to be a Tomb guard is a rare honor—and requires unfaltering attention to detail. Every step is measured . . . every movement set to a cadence that is ingrained in their minds as well as their hearts.

As we approach this Memorial Day, we honor many who died in service to our country . . . and thank the guards charged with keeping watch over the unknowns who represent the utmost bravery of our military service members.

The Sentinel’s Creed

My dedication to this sacred duty
is total and whole-hearted.
In the responsibility bestowed on me
never will I falter.
And with dignity and perseverance
my standard will remain perfection.
Through the years of diligence and praise
and the discomfort of the elements,
I will walk my tour in humble reverence
to the best of my ability.
It is he who commands the respect I protect,
his bravery that made us so proud.
Surrounded by well meaning crowds by day,
alone in the thoughtful peace of night,
this soldier will in honored glory rest
under my eternal vigilance.

– Simon 1971

In studying the guards and their noble calling, I was reminded of the eternal vigilance of God—our eternal guardian. Psalm 121 declares, “I lift up my eyes to the hills—where does my help come from? My help comes from the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth. He will not let your foot slip—he who watches over you will not slumber; indeed, he who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep. The LORD watches over you—the LORD is your shade at your right hand; the sun will not harm you by day, nor the moon by night. The LORD will keep you from all harm—he will watch over your life; the LORD will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore.”

That is eternal vigilance.

Questions to Share:

1. Pray together for the friends and families of those who gave the ultimate sacrifice while on military duty for our dear country—that the Lord would watch over them and comfort them.

2. Make a list of all of the places you have been stationed. Then read Psalm 139:7-10: “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.” What do these verses say about where God has been when you were at a duty station?

Excellent or Praiseworthy is posted on Monday and Thursday nights.

Editor’s Note: This powerful writing is from Pastor Ed Choi, Lead Pastor of Rainier Valley Church near Seattle, Washington, and used by permission. We thank Pastor Choi for his service to our country, and to our Lord.

“Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.” — Romans 5:1-5

How Jesus healed me from PTSD is truly a powerful redemptive work of grace in my life, but the recovery did not happen overnight. On my second deployment to Iraq (from August 2006 to October 2007) I served with the 1-26 Infantry Battalion, which sustained more casualties than any other military unit since Vietnam. We lost 35 soldiers and over 130 were wounded. Many of the wounded ended up as amputees. I conducted 24 memorial ceremonies for our fallen soldiers, provided over 200 hours of grief counseling, and was also wounded due to an IED blast. Before returning home I began experiencing what behavioral health experts call “burn out” and “compassion fatigue.”

During my first months after returning from Iraq, I was angry, irritable, and depressed. My wife, Kathryn, and I were constantly arguing and I was having flashbacks and nightmares. I sought the help of Army psychologists and psychiatrists who helped me deal with my symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, but not the deep scars of war.

There are many times I’ve prayed to God for healing like the Apostle Paul did in 2 Corinthians 12:8 where three times he asked the Lord to heal him but did not experience an immediate healing. With time, prayer, meditating on God’s Word, being in a support group, and the love of my family, I was on the road to healing. But in December of 2011, I deployed again, this time to Afghanistan.

The deployment to Afghanistan was shorter (12 months) than my two previous deployments to Iraq (13 and 15 months) but it seemed longer and really took a toll on me. Our unit was part of the surge that operated in South Afghanistan, which had numerous insurgent strongholds resulting in many U.S. military and civilian casualties. I was attending and conducting memorial ceremonies for the fallen, took part in many Purple Heart ceremonies for those who sustained wounds, visited severely wounded soldiers in combat medical hospitals, and provided grief counseling. I started getting flashbacks and nightmares of Iraq even though I was in Afghanistan, as well as experiencing insomnia and depression.

After returning from Afghanistan, I was again given the opportunity to receive treatment from our Army psychologists and psychiatrists. What I have learned from these treatments is that continual exposure to trauma will compound PTSD. I discovered that dealing with only the symptoms and not the deep wounds of war is like putting a bandage over cancer. All the treatments and medications I was taking were like bandages. Only Jesus who died for my sins and sufferings, the Holy Spirit’s power, and the love of God were able to heal the deep scars of trauma.

Being exposed to war, the three major things I struggled with were grief, anger, and survivor’s guilt. Grief because the soldiers that I served were like my sons and daughters, so when one died in combat it affected me as if I was losing a child. I loved each one of them and I will never forget the names and faces of the 57 soldiers whom I had the honor to serve as chaplain. My grief would turn to anger; I was angry about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, angry with the faceless insurgents who were killing soldiers, and angry with God because I felt abandoned. There were many times I would pray, “My God, my God why have you forsaken me?”

I had both righteous and unrighteous anger. My righteous anger was due to how our politicians and military leaders were handling the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The righteous anger was also towards the faceless insurgents who used cruel and cowardly tactics in killing civilians and U.S. military personnel. But the pain and anguish of losing soldiers caused my unrighteous anger towards God. In my mind I understand that God is sovereign and he alone can take everything and use it for good, for Romans 8:28 says, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose,” but I doubted his goodness and his sovereignty.

However, when I see Jesus who was crucified on the cross and see how God took the most horrific and painful thing and brought salvation to sinners, I can trust the Heavenly Father. Today I have surrendered my anger to God and I know deep in my mind and heart that God is good and his mercy endures forever. I have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ (Romans 5:1).

Survivor’s guilt paralyzed me and many times I questioned why I came home when many others didn’t. Why did I come back from combat with only minor physical wounds and many others returned with permanent, lifelong injuries?

Survivor’s guilt kept me from enjoying God’s grace towards me. I felt I was undeserving of surviving combat and being home with my family. After returning from my second deployment from Iraq, I received a call from a girl named Michelle Kim. Michelle was the sister of Private Jin Ho Kim, a soldier in our unit who was killed in Iraq. She asked if I would be willing to meet her and her parents. I agreed and we met for lunch and spoke for over two hours. They asked me a lot of questions about how and where their son died. They also wanted to know if he was a good soldier and if he enjoyed what he was doing in the Army. I asked them about Jin Ho and what was he like as a brother and son. Emotionally it was difficult to meet with them, but I was grateful to have the opportunity to do so.

After saying our goodbyes with tears and smiles, I felt a heavy burden of guilt. Kathryn was with me and when I was driving I had to pull over because of the overwhelming feeling of survivor’s guilt. I cried in the car uncontrollably with tears of sorrow and pain, asking myself, “Why me?” I kept saying, “Why did I come home?” I cried out loud, “I should have died in Iraq!” Kathryn held me gently and kept saying to me, “It’s okay.” While going through Redemption Group last year I came to accept that the only reason I survived in combat was because the grace of our Lord overflowed for me . . . and the love that is in Christ Jesus (I Timothy 1:14—“The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus”). I’m not any better or more special than any soldier who died in combat. Because of God’s grace, which is God’s undeserved favor towards us, he kept me safe through three deployments and alive today in order to serve him.

With his love and grace, God started to heal me from PTSD through the power of the Holy Spirit. He did not give me the answers to all my questions, but revealed to me that his grace is sufficient. God started to take my grief and turn it to joy. In Psalm 30:5 it says, “Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning.” James 1:2 says, “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.” I’m not talking about happiness, but joy through pain in suffering. Pastor Mark preached on this in the second sermon in the James series when he said, “Happiness is because of your circumstances, joy is in spite of your circumstances . . . it’s crazy joy.” There will always be pain in my heart for the soldiers I’ve lost in combat, but today joy in Christ will be my strength, for the Scripture says, “The joy of the Lord is your strength” (Nehemiah 8:10)!

Through the three deployments (40 months total) to combat and being diagnosed with PTSD, God has revealed to me that his grace is sufficient. In 2 Corinthians 12:9, God said to Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” And like Paul I can say, “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” Christ is my hope and salvation, he is my joy and peace, he is my treasure and redemption!

I’ll conclude by quoting 2 Corinthians 4:5-11:

“For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh.”

To God be the glory, forever!

Questions to Share:

1. How did God sustain Chaplain Choi during his three deployments? How has God sustained you during your deployments?

2. Pray for Pastor Choi as God uses his wartime chaplaincy experience to minister now to those in his church. Pray also for yourselves, as a couple, for God to use your deployment experience to minister to others.

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