A devotional to help military families stay connected during deployments

“Do The Next Thing”

Written by Linda. Filed Under Spiritual Training

Excellent or Praiseworthy is posted on Monday and Thursday nights.

Editor’s Note:  On the morning of June 15th, I awakened with this news from Elisabeth Elliot’s husband, Lars Gren, posted on her webpage:  “We rejoice for Elisabeth that she is home with her Lord as of 6:15 am, June 15, 2015. Thank you for your prayers and messages of comfort.”  Her webpage (elisabethelliot.org) also included this truth, which I had experienced through many years of listening to her “Gateway to Joy” radio program: Elisabeth Elliot was one of the most influential Christian women of our time. For a half century, her best selling books, timeless teachings and courageous faith have influenced believers and seekers of Jesus Christ throughout the world. She used her experiences as a daughter, wife, mother, widow, and missionary to bring the message of Christ to countless women and men around the world.”  I thank God for her, and hope you are encouraged by this message which she shared often with her listeners.

The LORD delights in the way of the man whose steps He has made firm; though he stumble, he will not fall, for the LORD upholds him with His hand. — Psalm 37:23

This is a crazy time in my life—probably in yours, too, especially if you are dealing with deployment. There is more going on than I can wrap my mind around. At times like this I sometimes don’t know what to do. And then a voice, Elisabeth Elliot’s voice, comes into my mind saying: “Do the next thing.” How many times did I hear her read this poem on her radio program, “Gateway to Joy”?  Many, I recall. I believe she used to say that it was passed on to her from her mother, one of those anonymous poems that speaks truth to our souls and keeps us going. It’s simple wisdom—for deployment days and stressful days and days of restlessness.

From an old English parsonage down by the sea
There came in the twilight a message to me;
Its quaint Saxon legend, deeply engraven,
Hath, it seems to me, teaching from Heaven.
And on through the doors the quiet words ring
Like a low inspiration: “Do the Next Thing.”

Many a questioning, many a fear,
Many a doubt, hath its quieting here.
Moment by moment, let down from Heaven,
Time, opportunity, and guidance are given.
Fear not tomorrows, child of the King,
Trust them with Jesus, do the next thing.

Do it immediately, do it with prayer;
Do it reliantly, casting all care;
Do it with reverence, tracing His hand
Who placed it before thee with earnest command.
Stayed on Omnipotence, safe ‘neath His wing,
Leave all results, do the next thing.

Looking for Jesus, ever serener,
Working or suffering, be they demeanor;
In His dear presence, the rest of His calm,
The light of His countenance be thy psalm,
Strong in His faithfulness, praise and sing.
Then as He beckons thee, do the next thing.

Carry on. God is with you. . . He is sovereign. . . He loves you and is faithful. Do the next thing. I will, too.

Questions to Share:

1. How does this poem speak to you today?

2. Is there someone you know who is overwhelmed with whom you could share this word of encouragement?

True Freedom

Written by Linda. Filed Under Spiritual Training

Excellent or Praiseworthy is posted on Monday and Thursday nights.

Therefore, if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed. —John 8:36

I opened my email one morning and read a message from a sweet military wife whose husband was in Afghanistan. She had been reading postings on Excellent or Praiseworthy, and was grateful for the encouragement. Then she closed her comment with, “I’m so thankful for America, a free country that allows me to know what true freedom is in Christ!”

Afterwards, I picked-up the morning newspaper and saw a pastor’s column in the “Living” section which was entitled, “True Independence is with Jesus Christ.” Beautifully written, he shared, “My real independence day was July 5, 1993. It was the day that I truly invited Jesus Christ into my heart and pledged to live the rest of my life honoring him. I was raised in church, but wasn’t free. July 5, 1993, was the day my Lord took away the guilt of my past and encouraged me to look toward my future. . . .Since that day, I discovered that real freedom is not allowing sin to dominate my life any longer. Real freedom is knowing and pursuing my God-given purpose while I live on this Earth. . . . Today, I plan to celebrate the holiday with family and friends . . . . but I won’t just be celebrating our country’s freedom. I will also celebrate Jesus freeing me from my past, my sins, my own selfish ways, the opinions of others and so much more. There is nothing like freedom in Christ. That’s what true independence is all about.” Rev. Kevin Swann, The Daily Press, July 4, 2010, p. 5.

But that wasn’t all—I next opened “Facebook,” just to see what had happened overnight. There was a posting from a Guard chaplain which read, “Great message heard at church (must have been at the EARLY service!). Pastor said real FREEDOM is found in Jesus Christ. I say, AMEN! No matter what happens in the world, everlasting freedom is given to those who have trusted in Jesus Christ as Lord and Master.”

Yep, I got the message! Three timely reminders, lest I forget on this holiday celebrating our blessed nation’s birthday, that true freedom is found in Jesus Christ, and Jesus Christ alone. What a gift of grace from our Heavenly Father who gave His Son, that we might be truly free:

“To the Jews who had believed Him, Jesus said, ‘If you hold to my teaching, you are really My disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.’” — John 8:32

“Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.” — II Corinthians 3:17

“It is for freedom that Christ has set us free.” —Galatians 5:1

“To Him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by His blood, and has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve His God and Father—to Him be glory and power for ever and ever! Amen.” —Revelation 1:5,6

Questions to Share:

1. What 4th of July celebrations do you remember from the past?

2. Share with your spouse your testimony of when you were set free from the bonds of sin by the shed blood of Jesus Christ. If you have not made that decision, join with Pastor Swann and make today your personal independence day. Go to How To Know God.

Excellent or Praiseworthy is posted on Monday and Thursday nights.

“Haven’t you read,” He replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate.” — Matthew 19:4-6

A friend in North Carolina introduced me to “standing for your marriage” as a concept and movement. I had always known there were those who refused to give up on their dying or dead marriage—but I had never heard it called “standing”.

Since then I have paid close attention to articles, books, websites, testimonies, and seminars about standing. I know in the military community the stresses on a marriage can cause either the husband or wife—sometimes both—to say, “Enough! I’m done!” So in order to shed light (God’s light) on a different path for your marriage, I have compiled this information using the letters S.T.A.N.D. It is not exhaustive but is an introduction to standing for your marriage—and that includes a military marriage—for your study and (perhaps) application.

“S”—What is “Standing”?

One who has chosen to believe God for the healing and restoration of their marriage, and to take definite steps towards that renewal, is a husband or wife who is standing for their marriage. Dr. Ed Wheat, in his book How to Save Your Marriage Alone, writes, “If you are in this group, I do indeed consider you special. First, by your stand you indicate a commitment to the sacredness and permanence of marriage that is God-honoring; second, you have the courage to face your own problems instead of running from them or hiding behind false pride; and third, you exhibit the maturity which, even when there is no response, can choose to love with a steadfast love that is tough and real, intelligent and purposeful, wholly committed to your partner’s well-being.” (p. 7)

If your husband or wife has left you, either emotionally or physically, I urge you to get a copy of Dr. Wheat’s little 62-page book. If God is calling you to be a stander, this book will get you started in the right direction with encouragement and advice.

“T”—Trust God and His promises.

Kim Sorgius includes this imperative in her article “5 Steps to Standing for Your Marriage” found on the “Intentionally Yours” marriage ministry website. Her first step is entitled “Wrap Yourself in Promise” where she states, “Skip this one and you’ll crash and burn in days. Over the past 3 years, I’ve met a lot of standers. Some standing for just 2 months, some for 5 years. No matter how long, they all agree that standing is the hardest thing you will EVER do. There is just something nearly impossible about loving a person who spats hate in your face, often daily. But, every day thousands of people do it and so can you . . . if you are wrapped in promise. You must learn God’s promises and stand on them, daily. Make a list and put it on the fridge. Keep a running journal if you need to. Whatever it takes to remind you what God has said.”

And what has God said?

“Jesus looked at them and said, ‘With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God’” (Mark 10:27).

“Is any one of you in trouble? He should pray” (James 5:13).

“Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer” (Romans 12:12).

“The LORD is faithful to all His promises and loving toward all He has made” (Psalm 145:13).

“Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight” (Proverbs 3:5,6).

Kim goes on to encourage you to “let go.” That reminds me of the old saying, “Let go and Let God.” Her advice is to rely on God for your spouse, your needs, your future—in prayer!

“A”—Your Attitude is pivotal.

Sherry Jennings, whose husband left her for an adulterous affair, writes in “I’m Done: What to Do When You are Sick of Your Marriage”: “Prayer changes everything. When you seek God’s face, curl up on His lap and cry out to Jesus, things change . . . As you pray, God softens your heart and enlightens you with His understanding. Spending time talking with God invites Him into your situation, your circumstances, your perceptions, your understanding, and powerfully reminds you He is God and you are not . . . thankfully! Allow Him to break your heart for what breaks His. As you pray, God will show you where you need to forgive . . . and where you need to seek forgiveness.” In this article do not overlook how Sherry’s attitude changed regarding how she should pray for Scott—and for the “other woman”—based on Proverbs 5:5-23.

The testimony of Scott & Sherry Jennings’ healed marriage is on IntentionallyYours.org.  An attitude of hope based on the truth of Scripture and the testimonies of His saints will go a long way in fighting discouragement.

“N”—Your marriage is a covenant, NOT a contract!

In our years of teaching God’s blueprints for marriage to military couples, we always remind them they made a covenant with each other, not a contract. Far from a 50/50 arrangement of “you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours”. . . God teaches that “Covenant love is a never-stopping, never-giving up, unbreaking, always-and-forever love” (from Jesus Storybook Bible). It is 100/100 . . . each spouse giving their all.

Also, we know and experience that marriage is NOT about you—it is about living and loving to the glory of God. Gary Thomas’ powerful quote from Sacred Marriage is, “What if God designed marriage to make us holy more than to make us happy?”

So standing for your marriage may be the way we demonstrate the Gospel of Jesus Christ to a watching world—“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. All men will know that you are My disciples if you love one another” (John 13:34,35).

God’s word says—“But those who marry will face many troubles in this life . . .” (I Corinthians 7:28). God allows difficult things in our lives so that His glory may be revealed. This is hard teaching, but it is true. Standing will be very difficult—perhaps the most difficult thing you have ever done—but it is a call to commitment to your vows. An excellent resource for more information on this is RejoiceMinistries.org.  I found the Q&A (under Resources) to be particularly insightful.  Click on the question to receive the answers. Thousands have been helped with this information and encouragement.

“D”—Take Definite Steps.

Spend time in prayer with God and ask Him to reveal what definite and deliberate steps you need to take to grow spiritually, build community, learn more about marriage, and help your children.

Standing for your marriage will require supernatural vigilance. Every aspect of your life will be affected. But don’t forget—God is faithful. His promises are true. He is a god of redemption. Standing may be difficult for a season, but with God’s help it may produce a legacy of a long-lasting marriage for generations to come. I pray so.

Work Cited:

Thomas, Gary. Sacred Marriage (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing, 2000).

Wheat, Ed. How to Save Your Marriage Alone (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing, 1983).

Websites: IntentionallyYours.com; RejoiceMinistries.org; ExcellentorPraiseworthy.org

Questions to Share:

1. Which of the points made in this devotion was surprising to you? Why?

2. Pray with your spouse for the Lord to increase your love for each other and to remain committed to your marriage vows—even when times are tough (especially when times are tough).

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

Excellent or Praiseworthy is posted on Monday and Thursday nights.

Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity. — I Timothy 4:12

My husband and I had two similar conversations recently—one with a young sailor and the other with a young airman. Both are Christians, happily married, and growing in their faith. Both wanted to invite others (neighbors, friends at work) to attend a local marriage seminar our church was sponsoring. Both said the same thing to us, “It seems all of these folks are struggling in their marriages—I hear about it all the time!!—but they won’t come to the seminar. They’re not interested. They don’t want to hear anything about it!!”

And they both asked us, “What do we do?” “We want to offer them help, but it’s like they don’t care to listen to what we have to say!”

Ever been there? Maybe you are the one frustrated because you have THE answer to marital struggles and no one wants to hear . . . or maybe you were the one who “tuned-out” a similar suggestion in years past because life was just too complicated, or you didn’t want to be bothered on a weekend, or you needed a babysitter, or you wanted to go but your spouse didn’t, or you thought you would be asked to “air your dirty laundry in front of strangers” or . . . the list of excuses goes on and on.

In both cases, we encouraged our military friends not to give up, but to set a good example especially in their work ethic, their language, and their marriage. They both said they had been doing that, but “it’s not making any difference.”

We persisted in our encouragement, because this is just too important:

Be patient! One of the advantages of being older is you can look back and see how God worked in your life to bring about change—and often transformation takes time.

Be pure! Another advantage of being older is you can look back and see how God worked in your life to bring about change—and often that takes someone to set a good example.

Be positive! A big advantage of being older is you can look back and see how God worked in your life to bring about change—and often that takes someone to encourage you.

Be in prayer! For them—for yourself. It’s probably THE most important thing you can do. A huge advantage of being older is you can look back and see how God worked in your life to bring about change—and to thank Him. And to pray for others to know Him, too.

God is always at work, and He uses us in that work if we are obedient to His direction. Whether we know it or not, people are watching—and listening—and noticing the way we honor each other in our marriage, the way we speak (to everyone), and the attitudes we demonstrate in our jobs.

A week ago, all of this “came home” to our hearts in a very real way. We attended a reunion of our squadron stationed in Europe in the 1970s. We were not Christians then, and said and did some things which we regret. But the reunion was a time to celebrate our friendships through the years—and to reconnect with those whom we had not seen. Life, for all of us, had taken unexpected twists and turns . . . but smiles melted the years away forging bonds of understanding without a word spoken.

I saw a lady whom I had not seen in a very long time. A devout Christian and wife of a former POW, she and her husband had set a godly example for us in ways she had not realized—and I had not voiced. But the Holy Spirit moved me to thank her for her example, and I took the time to enumerate the ways in which we “had been watching” during those years.

As a young wife without much military experience, I watched how she spoke to her husband in public with respect. I knew how they made their decision for off-base housing—with prayer. I learned from her quiet attitude when unscheduled TDYs came up and we all jumped into disgust and complaining—except her. Her countenance was lovely—before I even knew the word “countenance.” But I was watching!!

So at the reunion I had the chance to thank her for being patient, for being pure, and for being positive. We connected heart-to-heart . . . and we prayed.

Let me encourage any of you who are struggling with your role in the military—People are watching. And they are listening. And they need the Lord. They need hope. With the Holy Spirit alive and active in your hearts, know that you are making an eternal difference in the lives of others by being light in a dark world.

And God will be glorified.

Questions to Share:

1. Is there someone you remember who modeled Christ-like living to you? Share with your spouse who that was and how they influenced you.

2. If possible, write a note or email to that person. If not possible, thank God for them and pray for them today—that they would continue to lead others in their walk and their talk.

Excellent or Praiseworthy is posted on Monday and Thursday nights.

The LORD appeared to us in the past, saying: “I have loved you with an everlasting love.” Jeremiah 31:3

I remember my Dad, an imperfect but very faithful man. Married almost 61 years, a WWII Medic in the Battle of the Bulge, a school principal for 37 years. A stoic man, not much for emotions but a kind-hearted man in so many ways. One day, when I was 27 and still on active duty, he and I were arguing about something trivial. I so wanted his approval. I did not understand his language of love.

He stopped abruptly and said in a loud voice, “Jim, what is it that you want from me?!” There in his kitchen I looked at him and blurted out, “Dad, I just want you to hold me!” He could have shamed me. Instead, he walked over to me and gave me a big ol’ WWII Vet Bear Hug. Our true relationship began.

After that, I did not feel I had to earn his approval anymore. I knew he loved me and was proud of me. We began going out for breakfast together once a week. We became good friends!

I did not quite understand how my Heavenly Fatherly loved me yet. But learning this Faith Principle: “Faith is choosing to live as though the Bible is true regardless of circumstances, emotions, or cultural trends” has helped bring God’s love for me into clear focus. God loves me whether I feel it or not. He loves me whether I measure up or not. I’m loved forever! Hugs help, too.

You know, not only does God want us to show His kind of love to our parents and our children, but . . . .especially to our spouse. Try telling your spouse and others this week that you love them huggingly so and that they . . . .

Will you try this? Jesus commands us to: “Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” (John 13;34) He means choose right now to pursue the people in your life, rapidly forgive them as Jesus forgave you, and issue kind, supportive, affirming words with countenance and loyalty.

Yes, there may need to be “tough love” required in some difficult situations. However, in general, we are totally without excuse when we “write off” a family member, hold grudges, and seek to punish them by slander, insult, rejection, or by giving them the silent treatment!

Let me challenge you to pursue and issue the same grace-filled, forgiving, kind love that Jesus shows you to your spouse, children, parents, in-laws and others.

“Never will I leave you, never will I forsake you.”—Hebrews 13;5

For more writing by Jim Grunseth, go to http://marriageanchors.com

Questions to Share:

1. Were you loved unconditionally as a child? If so, you know how good it can be. If not, you know how much you need that.

2. You may need to start by extending unconditional love to someone—perhaps your spouse or family. Pray for God to strengthen you to be able to do that.

Keys to Defeating 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.

Knowing God Makes a Difference

Written by John. Filed Under Spiritual Training

Excellent or Praiseworthy is posted on Monday and Thursday nights.

“There is no one holy like the LORD; there is no one besides You, there is no Rock like our God.” — I Samuel 2:2

The occasion of Hannah’s prayer in I Samuel 2:1-10 is the presentation of the child Samuel to Eli, the priest, and giving him in service to the LORD.

This follows Hannah’s first prayer of desperation in I Samuel 1, when things were quite different. Unable to conceive and bitter by the treatment of Peninnah (the other wife), Hannah accompanied her husband, Elkanah, once a year to Shiloh where he made his annual sacrifice to the LORD. In Chapter 1 she explained to Eli that her weeping and prayers at that time were “out of my great anguish and grief” (I Samuel 1:16).

But her prayer in Chapter 2 is out of pure joy and delight. At long last she conceived and gave birth to a son, Samuel, whom she promised to bring to Eli once weaned. He grows up to be the prophet Samuel, the one who serves the nation of Israel and anoints King David.

It is in this second prayer that Hannah speaks of the difference God has made in her life. Specifically note three areas:

1. Knowing God makes a difference in her heart.

“My heart rejoices in the LORD . . .” (verse 1)

Remember that the heart, more than the seat of emotions, is the center of a person—thoughts, plans, will, decision. Her heart has been transformed and is now full of confident joy.

Knowing God makes a difference in our heart.

“You have filled my heart with greater joy. . .” Psalm 4:7

“I have set the LORD always before me. Because He is at my right hand, I will not be shaken. Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices; my body also will rest secure . . .” Psalm 16:8,9

“. . .my heart trusts in Him, and I am helped.” Psalm 28:7

“My heart is stirred by a noble theme. . .” Psalm 45:1

2. Knowing God makes a difference in her strength.

“. . . in the LORD my horn (strength) is lifted high.” (vs. 1)

This woman who previously prayed out of her great anxiety now speaks very differently. God has made a difference in her strength. Her strength is now found in the LORD.

Knowing God makes a difference in our strength.

“I love You, O LORD, my strength.” Psalm 18:1

“The LORD is my strength and my shield; my heart trusts in Him, and I am helped.” Psalm 28:7

“My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” Psalm 73:26

“The LORD is my strength and my song; He has become my salvation.” Psalm 118:14

3. Knowing God makes a difference in how she approaches those who opposed her.

Thirdly Hannah says, “My mouth boasts over my enemies. . “ Another translation reads, “I smile at my enemies.” (vs. 1) Her very countenance is affected.

Knowing God makes a difference in our heart, our strength, and our countenance.

Why such triumph? At the end of verse 1 we see the reason—“for I delight in Your deliverance” or “Because I rejoice in Your salvation.”

The word “salvation” is a simple reference to the fact that the LORD is the God who saves. In other words, Hannah praises God because of what He has done for her.

This is similar to the song of triumph in Exodus 15:1,2:

“I will sing to the LORD, for He has triumphed gloriously;
The horse and its rider He has thrown into the sea!
The LORD is my strength and my song,
And He has become my salvation;
He is my God, and I will praise Him,
My father’s God, and I will exalt Him.”

As Christians we know a God who looks on our affliction—who does answer our prayers—and a God who saves us.

Knowing that, how will He make a difference in your week? In your deployment?

“In You our fathers put their trust; they trusted and You delivered them. They cried to You and were saved; in You they trusted and were not disappointed.” — Psalm 22:4,5

Questions to Share:  

1. How does knowing that God made a difference in Hannah’s heart, strength, and countenance make a difference in your thinking?

2. I believe Hannah’s prayer is a forerunner to Mary’s song in Luke 2: “My soul praises the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for He has been mindful of the humble state of His servant.” (vs. 46-48) How can you pray today for God’s joy, strength, and salvation during the circumstances of your life, including this deployment?

Bitterness and Marriage

Written by Al. Filed Under Marriage & Family

Excellent or Praiseworthy is posted on Monday and Thursday nights.

See to it that no one comes short of the grace of God; that no root of bitterness springing up causes trouble, and by it many be defiled. – Hebrews 12:15

Bitterness is not something we set out to introduce into our relationships. But it is surprisingly easy to let it slip into the mix and take hold. Basically it starts like this: we have some sort of disagreement that we let drag on for way too long without resolution. And while this is happening we stew about it in our heads, always painting the other person as the villain and us as the virtuous victims. I’m willing to bet that most of us have experienced this to some degree.

Disagreements are a natural part of marriage. We should always try to resolve them gently and quickly, but it is also very human of us to let things go on for longer than they should. And if we leave it too long, the strong desire to blame the other person for all our problems can become a habit–and then a constant part of our relationship. This entrenched and hostile blaming is bitterness.

If we contrast bitterness with regret, it can help to better understand bitterness. Regret is where things are not going well and you blame yourself. This is not healthy either, and you should talk to God about it if you struggle with regret. Bitterness is where things are not going well and your blame is focused externally, on the people around you.

Here are some tests to see if you harbor bitterness towards your spouse:

If you answered yes to any of these questions or similar ones you can think of yourself, then you probably have a bitterness problem.

Bitterness is very bad – bad for the health of your relationship and bad for your physical health. Try Googling “bitterness” and “health” and see how many medical articles come up that say bitterness will hurt you. This is why God tells us not to let any roots of bitterness spring up. The Greek word translated as bitterness is “pikria”, which is used figuratively as bitterness, but literally means poison. If you are harboring any bitterness in your relationship, you are poisoning yourself and your relationship.  It is often said that bitterness is “like drinking a poison and expecting the other person to die.”

Because of the poisonous nature of bitterness, you can also damage your relationship by harboring bitterness against people other than your spouse. Your parents maybe, or a childhood bully or your boss or even a former pastor. If you consistently blame someone outside of your relationship for problems in your life, then don’t think that the poison you are generating from that relationship won’t leak into your marriage relationship. Generally you either end up: 1) convincing your spouse to buy into your bitterness and causing them to be in a constant state of anger or irritation; or 2) causing your spouse to become frustrated with you because you tend to drag a dark cloud of negativity around with you…

The good news is that there is an almost instant cure for bitterness, and it is very simple. Forgive anyone you are blaming for your problems, for all real or imagined offenses.

I didn’t say it was easy, just that it was simple! The payoff in the improved health of your relationship and your physical well-being will be well worth the effort. Just remember that entrenched bitterness can take some time to dig out and dispose of, kind of like clearing a minefield. So don’t give up even if the feelings of blame continue to well up from time to time. Ask the Holy Spirit for the strength to forgive and then douse those bitter feelings with forgiveness each time. Watch them shrivel up and eventually die, freeing you from the poison of bitterness.

You may have noticed that poisonous substances have labels that tell you to act immediately if someone ingests the poison.  Doing nothing about it is the worst thing you can do!  Now let’s say you accidentally swallow a poison, but you are deployed for a few months . . . would you leave it in your system until you got back and then plan to deal with it?  That would be reckless to say the least.  It’s the same with bitterness.  If you or your spouse are about to deploy, my advice is to make a special effort to deal with any bitterness that affects your relationship.  Leaving it unaddressed in your system for the time you are apart is going to allow the poison to eat at yourself and your marriage unchecked.

If you are, however, already deployed when you read this, you can start ridding yourself of bitterness right where you are through forgiving anyone you need to.  If bitterness has damaged your relationship prior to deploying, it will be trickier.  But you can also begin the healing process even with the distance between you.  This is possible by carefully and gently communicating your own journey of healing and inviting your spouse to journey with you.  I also think that dealing with bitterness as much as you can while you are apart is important if you want to greatly reduce the already significant challenges that many couples face when reintegrating after a deployment.

My last point – if you have read this and you realize that your spouse suffers from bitterness, don’t give up on them no matter how grumpy that might make them. Redouble your efforts to love them and help coach them out of it by gently and carefully suggesting that forgiving others would be a healthy option!

Questions to Share:
1. If you feel able to accept the answer, ask your spouse if they think you struggle with bitterness. Just listen and be calm if the answer is not what you were hoping for.
2. Make a list of anyone who has offended you that you have not yet forgiven. What emotions came up when you made the list? Did that make you feel better or worse?
3. Starting with your spouse, if they are on the list, release them from any requirement to pay you back for their offence (real or imagined) and give up any right you feel you have to punish them. This is forgiveness. Repeat this every time those feelings of bitterness resurface!

D-Day and the Bedford Boys

Written by Chaps. Filed Under Lessons from History

Excellent or Praiseworthy is posted on Monday and Thursday nights.

Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends. — John 15:13

Bedford is a small town in rural Virginia. Nestled in the Blue Ridge foothills, it’s a tranquil spot to visit and ponder the enormous price this community made in service to our country on June 6, 1944—D-Day. Upon this beautiful town fell proportionately the heaviest share of American losses on that day. For out of the 30 young men from Bedford who had joined the National Guard and were called into service in 1942, 22 were killed in the invasion.

For the “Bedford Boys” who landed on Normandy’s Omaha Beach in 1944, their bonds meant just that—bonds. Bonds that were formed early and often. Their bonds began in the common church pews of Bedford and continued into the halls of the American Legion Posts. Their small town of 3,200 grew more than apple orchards and tobacco in their fields. They also grew the hearts and minds of those who served selflessly and quietly. From the nurturing of loving mothers . . . from the faith of their fathers and forefathers . . . came a generation that understood values, the sacrifice of hard work, freedom and faith.

To honor the memories of this town’s young soldiers, and as a representative symbol of all of our nation’s efforts during Operation Overlord, Congressional support for the creation of a National D-Day Memorial in Bedford culminated with the dedication of this beautiful spot on June 6, 2001.

At the Memorial Dedication Ceremony that day, President George W. Bush said these words to the many gathered:

“You have raised a fitting memorial to D-Day, and you have put it in just the right place—not on a battlefield of war, but in a small Virginia town, a place like so many others that were home to the men and women who helped liberate a continent.

Our presence here, 57 years removed from that event, gives testimony to how much was gained and how much was lost. What was gained that first day was a beach, and then a village, and then a country. And in time, all of Western Europe would be freed from fascism and its armies.

The achievement of Operation Overlord is nearly impossible to overstate, in its consequences for our own lives and the life of the world. Free societies in Europe can be traced to the first footprints on the first beach on June 6, 1944 . . . Fifty-three hundred ships and landing craft; 1,500 tanks; 12,000 airplanes. But in the end, it came down to this: scared and brave kids by the thousands who kept fighting, and kept climbing, and carried out General Eisenhower’s order of the day—nothing short of complete victory. . . What was lost on D-Day we can never measure and never forget.

Bedford has a special place in our history. But there were neighborhoods like these all over America, from the smallest villages to the greatest cities. Somehow they all produced a generation of young men and women who, on a date certain, gathered and advanced as one, and changed the course of history. Whatever it is about American that has given us such citizens, it is the greatest quality we have, and may it never leave us. . .”

At the end of President Bush’s speech, he said “The great enemies of that era have vanished. And it is one of history’s remarkable turns that so many young men from the new world would cross the sea to help liberate the old. Beyond the peaceful beaches and quiet cemeteries lies a Europe whole and free—a continent of democratic governments and people more free and hopeful than ever before. This freedom and these hopes are what the heroes of D-Day fought and died for. And these, in the end, are the greatest monuments of all to the sacrifices made that day . . . God bless America. And God bless the World War II generation.”

This history is all too real for one of our own—we have a Bedford native serving on board our ship. Growing up in Bedford gave our Chief Petty Officer a ton of strength and the value of a community’s banding together to serve each other and protect their children.

He shared with us that some of his fondest memories came from simple things that you just don’t get anywhere else. Values are taught, lessons are learned, and you are safe in your neighborhood because everyone truly knows everyone.

The “Bedford Boys’ were known about, but not talked about often, he said. Perhaps no one outside of that generation understood how special the men and their families really were. Things changed when “The Boys” got national attention—the Memorial, a book, the President’s visit . . . and then the local Army Reserve Unit was called up for Iraq. Stories that people hadn’t talked about in a long time impacted our own shipmate, and he regards the “Bedford Boys” as representing the definition of service and sacrifice.

So on the anniversary of D-Day, we pause to thank you for your part in the fight for freedom that continues even to this day. Knowing freedom instills in us the desire to free others. And knowing the source of our freedoms grants us strength in the face of adversity—both for the “Bedford Boys” and for us here fighting today.

Questions to Share:

1. Is there someone in your family or home town who served in World War II that this chaplain’s evening devotion brings to mind?  Spend a moment telling your spouse about them.

2. What do you think future generations will say about those who served in the Global War on Terror?

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