A devotional to help military families stay connected during deployments

Staying Connected

Written by Linda. Filed Under Marriage & Family

Excellent or Praiseworthy is posted on Monday and Thursday nights.

“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 who gives endurance and encouragement give you a spirit of unity among yourselves as you follow Christ Jesus, so that with one heart and mouth you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” — Romans 15:4-6

These are not the typical verses you would see applied to a marriage study. But in thinking about what a couple goes through while separated during deployment—it might be excellent (and praiseworthy!) to consider them in order to give us direction and hope. Isn’t endurance what we need? Isn’t encouragement a wonderful gift? Doesn’t hope offer us light at the end of a dark day? And, as a married couple, isn’t unity (even though separated geographically) as we follow Christ a wonderful goal so that we can praise Him with our mouths and glorify Him in our words and actions?

Consider this. . . . .our pastor and his wife were in our local Christian book store doing some shopping when they overheard a young lady (with several children in tow) asking the bookseller for devotional material. Her husband was getting ready to deploy and they wanted to “stay connected” while he was gone. Praise God! After this military wife spent some time looking through what the bookstore had on their shelves, our pastor and his wife were able to speak to this young lady and encourage her. Between the ideas that they all shared that day—and others that we can add. . .here are some bits of advice that we pass on to couples who have the same desire to “stay connected” by using solid devotional material:

These are a few ideas for staying connected in your devotional time. If you would like to add others to our list, just add a comment to this posting. We would love to hear from you.

Praying the Scriptures for your spouse is another way in which you can lift each other up in prayer to the Lord:

“For everything that was written in the past was written to teach ____(insert your names), so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give (us) a spirit of unity. . .as (we) follow Christ Jesus, so that with one heart and mouth (we) may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Amen.

Questions to share:

1. Can you understand how the Holy Spirit, speaking through Scripture, can keep you unified during this time apart? How?

2. Do you draw strength from just knowing that someone is praying for you? How?

Thoughts on Military Motherhood

Written by Heather. Filed Under Marriage & Family

Editor’s Note: Many of you anticipate Heather Morgan’s writings, so we are pleased to include her latest, on military motherhood, for you today. As you may know, Heather is the oldest daughter of Angus and Denise McColl, whose story is found in “What Would It Look Like. . .?

Excellent or Praiseworthy is posted on Monday and Thursday nights.

And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.—2 Corinthians 9:8

I have been back at work for a month now, and military motherhood has left me, as Mary (Jesus’ mother), with much to ponder in the solitude of my own heart.

There is the hard reality that my mother would probably not have approved. Faithful to traditional models of what it means to be a woman, my mother advocated strongly for staying at home with little ones, and for the art and science of full-time homemaking. This made my childhood wonderful, and I can appreciate that raising five daughters was a full time job. On one occasion, my father related to me that an insurance adjuster advised him to increase my mother’s life insurance policy, as he would not be able to afford to pay anyone to do all that my mother did for us in the event of her untimely death. My father wisely listened to this counsel, and used the discussion as a humorous way of explaining how much he deeply valued all our mother did during long years of sea duty in the submarine force. It also made me aware that the unpaid work of homemakers is easy to underestimate, until you attempt to quantify it. Then, it becomes glaringly obvious that the role is often taken for granted.

I had always thought I would follow the path my mother took, and am still surprised to find myself on active duty in the Army while raising our first child. My husband, a Reservist and full-time graduate student, is also navigating a much different experience than he anticipated for much of his life. To say that he is “Mr. Mom” seems demeaning, for he is not playing at being an excellent full-time care provider for our daughter–if anything, he is “Mr. Dad,” the genuine article. Though his approach to various baby-related problems differs vastly from mine, he finds ways to meet her needs I never would think of—like the night he jogged her to sleep to the song “Heartbreaker.” Who would have thought that blasting classic rock records would soothe a baby so completely? I saw it happen in my own living room, and rejoiced that God made us both, male and female, in his image. Still, there are pangs of guilt when I steal away to physical training each morning, and then again to work after breakfast and feeding the baby. What kind of woman am I, to choose such a demanding profession during my childbearing years? How will my choice to stay in the Army for a few more years affect my relationship with my daughter, and with my husband? Is this really the kind of work I was born to do long-term, or is this a detour on the road to my true vocation?

I do not have bulletproof answers for these questions, and there are better women than I who have chosen either to be professional Soldiers or to be homemakers. What I do know definitively is that the Army has made me a better mother in some tangible ways:

First, I am a far more persistent person than I was before active duty service. Somewhere between the first 20-foot rope I had to climb (with a weight vest on), and the last late night at the office poring over PowerPoint slides, I gained a kind of visceral self-reliance that I never knew I had. I learned that I could outlast the Army’s demands on my time and energy, and that even when I felt myself to be at a breaking point, there was always a little bit left, if the mission required it. I am reminded of St. Paul’s words to the Corinthians: “And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that always having all sufficiency in everything, you may have an abundance for every good deed.”

Second, the Army reinforced the value of camaraderie, especially that of other women, in a way that few other experiences can. While I have grown to value and rely on good collaboration with my brothers-in-arms, it doesn’t give me the pleasure I experience in the company of good, strong women who can push and encourage me toward my best self. This is the kind of fellowship St. Paul recommends to Titus that women can uniquely offer each other, when he says that older women should “teach what is good” and “urge the younger women to love their husbands and children.” In other times, this meant that women helped each other to manage their households while their husbands won the bread, but the support that women offer each other in the daily self-sacrifice of family life is timeless.

So while I value and seek the mentorship of older, wiser women both inside the profession of arms and outside, I have found that my peers often astound me with their insight, their problem-solving, and their desire to be faithful to their calling as wives and mothers. In one sense, as the oldest of five girls who grew up replicating the comforts of sisterhood in my friendships, making female friends was second nature to me, and was always much easier than my friendships with men. But I also was privileged to be part of a group of newly married female lieutenants at my first unit who confirmed for me that sisterhood was as necessary to my professional life as to my personal life. As we learned how to operate and excel in a world heavily influenced by men, we enjoyed the life-giving camaraderie that kept us afloat even on the toughest days. It is little surprise, then, that we have one-by-one leaned heavily on each other as we entered into motherhood, easing the most demanding calling any of us has answered yet. If I can teach my daughter one thing about the company of other women, I hope it is to seek its encouragement and never to play the lone ranger.

It is with fear and trembling that I work out my vocations of military service and motherhood, searching for how best to reflect the imago Dei and to imitate Christ’s supreme sacrifice and example. I only know that this is the most joyful, and the most complicated, phase of my life so far. Because of that, I believe–if God gives His saints anything particular to do in His heaven–my mother (who departed for glory before she could satisfy her eagerness to be a grandmother) is ideally positioned to intercede for me in this endeavor. Because motherhood itself is, like the rest of creation, groaning in its imperfections and radiant in its triumphs, I would not be surprised to find that the fellowship of Christian women spans the “already and the not yet” of the kingdom of heaven in this way. The thought of what my mother would say, think, or do in my situation spurs me forward in a pursuit of excellence in motherhood, joining the examples of my friends and mentors, and helping me to find inner resources I never knew I had. Whether or not I have a military career in front of me, it is my hope that I can blend the best of my mother, the best of my many sisters, and the best of the self which God gave me as a gift I can give to my husband, my daughter, and hopefully future children, too.

Questions to Share:

1.Has Heather’s writing opened your eyes to any new thoughts about being a young mother while serving on active duty? What were they?

2. How can you encourage a new parent?

Excellent or Praiseworthy is posted on Monday and Thursday nights.

Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. — James 4:8a

“A Gallup Poll that was done in 1997 by the National Association of Marriage Enhancement in Phoenix, Arizona, showed the divorce rate among couples who pray together regularly is 1 out of 1,152. That’s a divorce rate of less than one percent.” Greg and Erin Smalley

My wife and I had been in full-time ministry for five years. Our prayer life was active. But most of our prayers were for other people. After hearing a challenge from Dennis Rainey of FamilyLife, we began praying with each other every morning. If I had to leave early, I would call my wife and we would pray. One minute—two minutes—for each other—submitting ourselves to God for the day. It was humbling. In the beginning, I was surprised how many times I needed to apologize for something that had happened in the last 24 hours. I couldn’t sincerely pray for her if there was anything going on . . . it forced me to repentance.

After a couple of months, I asked my wife how our praying together had impacted her. This is what she wrote:

When my husband and I pray together I feel protected—from the forces and desires within and the outside pressures of the world and the enemy. Prayer sets the priority and the vision for the day . . . I know that I am not alone, that my husband and I are on the same team working toward the same end of living this day in the atmosphere of God’s grace and mercy. I feel loved and cared for when he prays honestly concerning the spiritual, emotional and physical needs of the kids. I often feel humbled and vulnerable when we pray about personal struggles—yet comforted, ‘wrapped-up’, knowing that my Father who sees and knows all, who has the infinite resources to counsel and give wisdom, fills us with His power to love deeply and bear one another’s burdens. I feel like we have purpose beyond ourselves, beyond the here and now as we pray for others . . . I feel expectant wondering what the LORD will do with THIS DAY that He has made and given to us . . .

Can you believe it? I was blown away—that small step toward leading my wife spiritually had that depth of impact on her soul. Is it worth two minutes a day to make your wife feel like that? Thank You, Lord!

Because of all of the travel I am committed to, we spend days and weeks apart. That is not like a deployment, but certainly the premise—the truth—of this discipline of prayer as a couple holds whether you are facing the day together or many time zones apart. If you have more time—and if you can—either by email or text or phone—ask “how can I pray for you today?” Then connect your hearts, across the miles, in a simple prayer.

When I heard Dennis Rainey’s challenge to pray together as a couple, I also heard him say this: “I believe that if every Christian couple would pray together regularly, our nation would experience a spiritual renewal of historical proportions, including a dramatic drop in the Christian community’s divorce rate. And when the divorce rate drops within the church, we will see a spiritual and moral awakening in America. . . When you pray together, you multiply your joys, divide your sorrows, add to your experiences with God together, and help subtract your haunting past from your life. . . Many people are hesitant to start praying with their spouses. If this is the case, try saying this prayer:  ‘Lord, teach me how to pray with my spouse. I’m afraid.’”

Military couples are the most courageous people I know. Let me encourage you today—be courageous and begin a new routine of praying together every day. God will give you victory in your marriage.

Work Cited:

Rainey, Dennis, “The Secret to a Lasting Marriage” on www.familylife.com, 2001.

Questions to Share:

1. When you pray, what do you usually pray for?

2. Take the time to pray for or with your spouse the next time you communicate. If you need to, ask them first “How can I pray for you today?” Then do it—in a simple one minute prayer to our Father who loves us so much.

Excellent or Praiseworthy is posted on Monday and Thursday nights.

“Marriage should be honored by all . . .” Hebrews 13:4a

We received a text recently from friends who are well-known marriage conference speakers, wanting help with an upcoming talk to a group which will include Marines. They specifically wanted to know how we advise military couples on sexual intimacy given that much of their time is spent geographically separated because of deployment.

We applauded our speaker friends’ desire to be relevant—because they could have easily given their “standard” talk with a predominantly civilian population in attendance. Our friends asked for a list of books to read, or articles to study on that subject . . . but we knew of none. So we called other military missionaries who serve with us and put together some thoughts about physical intimacy in a military marriage while experiencing deployment.

Our advice can be looked at as a “sandwich approach”. We shared with them two important truths to start and finish such a discussion—and five common lies to address in-between. We are putting this on Excellent or Praiseworthy in hopes it will speak to others who might want to consider this information.

Truth #1—God’s design for marriage is given in Genesis 2:24: “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh.” The tendency is to look at that “oneness” mentioned as only a physical act. But God wants more—an emotional and spiritual oneness which can only come from an intimate commitment to love and to serve each other through a lifetime of “better/worse, richer/poorer, sickness/health”. Growth into that level of intimacy is what Christian couples can experience during deployment as they intentionally communicate at a deep level.

Lie #1—“If he/she doesn’t ‘get it’ from me, he/she will get it from someone else.” Marriage vows include the promise to be faithful to one another, even while deployed. Especially while deployed. So adultery is a breach of that covenant promise which will always lead to a loss of trust—among other problems.

Lie #2—“If you don’t use it, you will lose it.” Just not true.

Lie #3—“Pornography (and such) won’t hurt anybody.” One of our most respected theologians and writers is Dr. Al Mohler who wrote on pornography: “A Warped Worldview: Another Moral Effect of Pornography“. We see the curse of pornography affecting many in the military community—and it always brings tragic outcomes to a relationship.

Lie #4—“I can hang out with others of the opposite sex . . . they’re just friends.” It might start out as “friendship”, but can take on more of a relationship than you ever wanted or expected. One story we know all too well is written in “Seemed Innocent Enough” on Excellent or Praiseworthy.

Lie #5—“It won’t happen to me.” Lie #5 tags along closely behind Lie #4. Allowing NO accountability in your life leads to an attitude of invincibility. The Bible warns, “So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall” (I Corinthians 10:12). Guard your mind, heart, and body—and know there are those “out there” who want to take you down. Satan is an enemy who wants to ruin your marriage and reputation. Be on guard! He has plenty of agents on those deployments.

Truth #2—A couple can prepare for deployment, guard their minds and hearts during deployment, and reintegrate with anticipation, patience, and joy—through the power of the Holy Spirit. No matter what has been your past experience or current fear, preparing for a deployment—and walking with God through the deployment—will be a faith assignment. Look at the time apart as an opportunity to grow together, even though apart.

What does this all look like in real life? Real military life? The same couple who asked us to advise them on this topic shared the opportunity they had, years ago, of speaking to a military couple about how they maintained their sexual purity during their career. This couple had experienced sexual temptations early in their marriage, so approaching deployment brought its own set of fears. After becoming Christians and feeling convicted by past sins, they were challenged “to fast from all things sexual that could be a gateway to isolation and selfishness during deployment”. It worked. Throughout a career with many deployments, it worked to keep them pure and guilt free. This couple used a verse from Song of Solomon to encourage their restraint, “Do not arouse or awaken love until it so desires” (Song of Solomon 2:7b).

God created sex to be a beautiful gift shared between a husband and wife. So our hope is that this article is an encouragement to you to remain pure, faithful, and God-honoring throughout the challenge of a military deployment.

Questions to Share:

  1. Which of the two truths would encourage your marriage right now?
  2. Pray for each other to escape the lies of Satan regarding temptations during deployment.

Excellent or Praiseworthy is posted on Monday and Thursday nights.

“ . . . . but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.” — Romans 5:4

What would happen if we viewed deployment as an opportunity for character-building in our military children?

Think about it. When the Olympics are on TV and stories are told of the strong athletes competing, I am always amazed by how many of them came from a background of physical or emotional struggles—either a childhood illness, injury, or some other challenge which allowed them to rise to a new level of perseverance. For those willing to mature in the process, the challenge developed character.

I see that same phenomenon in “military brats” who go on to become active duty members themselves . . . . or “MKs”, missionary kids, who decide to follow the calling to become missionaries like their parents. In both of these cases the military brats or MKs know the sacrifices which will be made by their own children. After all, they experienced those sacrifices themselves and they have now decided that the purpose was worth what might be viewed as a huge loss of the innocence and “normal” lifestyle of children.

I am going to share what two influential theologians have to say about this topic of parenting under tough circumstances. One is Chip Ingram, president of Living on the Edge Ministries and author of eleven books, including Effective Parenting in a Defective World. Toward the end of his book, Ingram chooses what he calls “five smooth stones” (referring to the five stones young David picked to slay Goliath) for parenting—in order to help your children slay the giants in their lives.

Surprisingly enough, Ingram’s first “smooth stone” is “Teach Them to Suffer Well.” (pages 139-145)  He begins with “Life Myth: Suffering is to be avoided at all costs. Life Message: Suffering is normal.” He then continues:

“Most children growing up in developed countries have gotten the message that suffering is abnormal. When anything goes wrong in their lives, they feel deprived. We’ve unwittingly created a culture of entitlement. When a crisis comes along, many children want to know who’s at fault and why they’re getting a raw deal.

Give your children a coherent ‘theology of suffering.’ Make sure they grasp the reality of life in a fallen world. They need to know two basic, inalterable facts: (1) Life is hard, but God is good; and (2) Life is unjust, but God is sovereign.” (p. 139)

Later Ingram writes:

“Your ultimate goal in the area of suffering is for your children to follow the example of Jesus. . . . God will take the unfair, unjust, painful, evil circumstances of your children’s lives and mix them with His goodness and sovereignty. Your children need to know that they will suffer—Jesus even guaranteed it (John 16:33)—but that God is good and He is ultimately in control. Whatever injustice they face, God will vindicate them eventually. Whatever hardship they go through, God can bring fruitfulness and blessing out of it. They can face anything in life if you’ve taught them those principles from an early age.” (p. 141)

Ingram recommends three steps to accomplish this: “First, ask them about their concerns and give them the freedom to answer honestly. . . . The second step is to find out where they’re suffering. . . . The third step is to align their suffering with Scripture and begin shaping your children’s worldview through biblical lenses.” (pages 142,143)  Obviously there are age considerations in these steps!!!but I hope you get the point.

The other writer is Gary Haugen, the president of International Justice Mission and author of Just Courage. In a section near the end of his book, Haugen shares:

“Jesus asks parents to make yet another choice. Are we raising our children to be safe or to be brave? Are we raising our children to be smart or to be loving? Are we raising them to be successful or to be significant? How does God raise his children? In his book The Problem of Pain, C.S. Lewis made an observation that is worth lingering over. ‘Love,” Lewis wrote, ‘is something more stern and splendid than mere kindness . . . . Kindness merely as such cares not whether its object becomes good or bad, provided only that it escapes suffering.’” (p. 123)

Later, Haugen writes:

“I believe there comes a time when our children rightly ask, ‘Mom and Dad, why are you giving me all this stuff?’

After we have poured into our children all the good food and shelter and clothing, after we have provided them with great education, discipline, structure and love, after we have worked so hard to provide every good thing, they turn to us and ask, ‘Why have you given all this to me?’

And the honest answer from me is , ‘So you’ll be safe.’

And my kid looks up at me and says, ‘Really? That’s it? You want me to be safe? Your grand ambition for me is that nothing bad happens?’

And I think something inside them dies. They either go away to perish in safety, or they go away looking for adventure in the wrong places. Jesus, on the other hand, affirms their sense of adventure and their yearning for larger glory. In fact, he is encouraging us to affirm the calling of our children and to raise them to be brave, to be loving and to be significant. But honestly, sometimes I just want my kids to be safe. And I think they smell my fear, and it builds little prisons that can last a lifetime.

According to Jesus, it doesn’t have to be that way. He gives me a role in helping my kids choose to be brave, to be loving and to be significant. In the end, this is the stuff that will change the world.” (pages 124,125).

How counter-cultural would it be to have children who look at their circumstances of deployment and understand that God has a purpose specifically designed for them through this experience?  He has something to teach them of His character—something that will set them apart from the rest of the world, something that will defeat bitterness and resentment.

This approach to parenting during deployment will take a step of faith, away from fear—but your acknowledgment of bravery during separation and loneliness, love for other people in the world who do not know the freedom which we know, and significance in serving together for a noble cause—will yield a legacy of faithfulness and God’s grace. Tough teaching, but something to consider. It’s God’s way to bring hope to a fallen world.

Work cited:

Haugen, Gary, Just Courage (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2008).

Ingram, Chip, Effective Parenting in a Defective World (Carol Stream: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 2006).

Questions to Share:

1. What did you learn from some challenges you faced during your childhood?

2. What character traits would you like your children to learn from this deployment?

iWorship

Written by Bea. Filed Under Spiritual Training

Excellent of Praiseworthy is posted on Monday and Thursday nights.

“I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. You shall have no other gods before Me.” — Exodus 20:1-3

I used to sneer with prideful arrogance whenever I read Exodus 32:1-4:

“Now when the people saw that Moses delayed to come down from the mountain, the people assembled about Aaron and said to him, ‘Come, make us a god who will go before us; as for this Moses, the man who brought us up from the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.’  Aaron said to them, ‘Tear off the gold rings which are in the ears of your wives, your sons, and your daughters, and bring them to me.’  Then all the people tore off the gold rings which were in their ears and brought them to Aaron. He took this from their hand, and fashioned it with a graving tool and made it into a molten calf; and they said, ‘This is your god, O Israel, who brought you up from the land of Egypt.’”

You might recall this story of Moses, how he went up to the mountain for forty days where he met with God face to face. While there Moses bowed in adoration, listened and heard commandments from the Almighty. In the meantime . . . . his whining, self-absorbed followers decided they wanted to worship a golden calf instead. I could never imagine as I read this rendition that while the very Creator of the Universe was only a mountaintop away they could possibly want to bow to a baby cow molded from rings and things. “Silly, silly people” I would think.

Recently, however, I’ve been personally reminded about this act of worshiping in front of something other than the Almighty. The Creator of the Universe is only inches away from me—after all He lives in my heart. Yet instead of bowing in adoration, listening and hearing from Him I find myself otherwise enthralled. Instead of a golden calf I am preoccupied for many an hour with an idol that sits within arms reach. My “golden calf” isn’t made of rings and things, though. This one is made of bits and bytes and everything nice. My icon, my pal, is none other than my Mac. We spend hours together and just like the Israelites who rose up early to pay homage, who sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play in front of their effigy, so I find I do. “Silly, silly me.”

I’m not saying that technology is all idol worship—or even idle worship. But in my case I found myself checking my inbox first thing in the morning before doing anything else. And more often than not the last thing I did at night was read my email or catch up on the news.

We are in a world of fingertip access to information, data, and facts. Our relationships are emailed, twittered or facebooked. We stay connected through Bluetooth, android, or iWhatevers. In the meantime our Lord is only a whisper away. We can have an intimate conversation with God, yet so often we choose a man-made machine instead. “Silly, silly us.”

Now, not everyone is sitting at the feet of this golden calf of computers. But maybe you struggle with this like I do. So as a reminder the next time you’re tempted to start the day on the iPad, or iPhone, or Blackberry, or whatever, why not stop and seek the iGod first. After all, all He is asking of us is a little byte of our time.

Questions to Share:

1. How has modern communication technology helped you stay in contact with loved ones during deployment? Take a moment to thank God for that privilege which He designed.

2. John Piper once said, “If Twitter and Facebook are good for anything they will prove on the Last Day that our prayerlessness was not for lack of time.” Do you think this is true in your life?  How?

A Wife’s Blessing

Written by Linda. Filed Under Marriage & Family

Excellent or Praiseworthy is posted on Monday and Thursday nights.

A wise son brings joy to his father . . . — Proverbs 10:1a

It’s unusual for a wife to speak at her husband’s military retirement ceremony.

More “normal” is for him to give her a gift—maybe a bouquet of roses—and then speak about her sacrifices as a military wife. Then she usually receives a commendation—pictures are made with her—and much applause is given to her, as it should.

So when I heard about this poem, recently included in the printed retirement program of a dear friend, I was impressed and thought, “This is excellent AND praiseworthy. We need to share this.”

Not that his wife physically spoke at the ceremony, but she may as well have. Because these words speak volumes about this man’s character. They also speak volumes about their relationship—his love for her . . . and her respect for him.

The Man I Know

I know you thought you and your Dad would be here on this day
But it appears God had another plan.
I know if Dad was here he’d whisper in your Mom’s ear to say
“Our son has made me one proud man.”
I know the values Dad tried to instill while you & Sister were growing up.
It is evident in what you say & do.
I know Dad taught you to be the husband I can trust
And the father our children can look up to.
I know this season is coming to an end and another about to start.
So much you wanted your Dad to see.
You know although Dad’s residence has moved from Detroit to your heart.
He still sees you being the man God called you to be.

With unshakable Love, Michelle

This wife was pronouncing a blessing—something we find in Scripture. In John Trent and Gary Smalley’s classic book, The Blessing, we are told, “Abraham spoke a blessing to Isaac. Isaac spoke it to his son Jacob. Jacob spoke it to each of his twelve sons and to two of his grandchildren. Esau was so excited when he was called in to receive his blessing because, after years of waiting, he would finally hear the blessing. Later, the apostle Paul wrote eloquent words of blessing to growing churches all over the Roman Empire. In the Scriptures, a blessing is not a blessing unless it is put into words and actually communicated.” p. 76

Under the heading “The Power of Words” these authors go on to write, “If you are a parent, your children desperately need to receive words of blessing from you. If you are married, your wife or husband needs to receive words of love and acceptance on a regular basis. This very week with a friend, a coworker, or someone at your church, you will rub shoulders with someone who needs to receive words of encouragement.”

Do you believe words are important?  Scripture says, “The tongue has the power of life and death . . . “ (Proverbs 18:21a).

Whether spoken or written (sometimes written is even more powerful because letters can be kept and re-read), words shared can either lift up a spirit—bringing “life”—or cast down a spirit—causing “death”. No doubt we have all experienced both.

During deployment, words of blessing—of life—might sound something like:

Blessing someone with your words goes beyond just encouragement (“I know you can do it!”) and speaks to the character of a person (“I have seen you endure and persevere during tough times. I know you can do it!”).

Dr. Gary Chapman, in his book The Five Love Languages, writes that “verbal compliments, or words of appreciation, are powerful communicators of love” (p. 39). And in Dennis Rainey’s book The Best Gift You Can Ever Give Your Parents, we read how to put words together to honor our moms and dads.

Certainly blessing the people we love with our words is something we can all work on—it’s that important.

From John Trent and Gary Smalley’s book I mentioned models for blessings from Scripture. Yet another great example of a blessing in Scripture—that of God to His Son, Jesus—is described in 2 Peter 1:17, “For He received honor and glory from God the Father when the voice came to Him from the Majestic Glory, saying, ‘This is my Son, whom I love; with Him I am well pleased.’” And as Christians we long to hear the blessing conveyed by these words, “Well done, good and faithful servant!” (Matthew 25:21).

Thank you, Michelle, for honoring and blessing your husband at his retirement with such beautiful words. By doing so you are demonstrating for us the gift of blessing each other, with our words.

Works Cited:

Chapman, Dr. Gary, The Five Love Languages (Chicago:  Northfield Publishing, 3rd printing, 2004)

Trent, Dr. John, and Gary Smalley, The Blessing (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 3rd printing, 2011)

Questions to Share:

1. Think of one character trait of your spouse which you admire. Thank God for your spouse and that trait specifically . . . and ask Him to bless your spouse today.

2. Tell your spouse what one quality in them you have thanked God for today, and why.

Excellent or Praiseworthy is posted on Monday and Thursday nights.

“Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice.  Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.”  —Ephesians 4:32

“Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward.  It is the Lord Christ you are serving.”  —Colossians 3:23,24

“Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not men, because you know that the Lord will reward everyone for whatever good he does, whether he is slave or free.”  —Ephesians 6:7,8

When I was investigating the story of songwriters Bill and Gloria Gaither for the Excellent or Praiseworthy devotional named “Because He Lives”, I read a very interesting thing about the Gaithers which caused me to think about my attitude from time-to-time.  Gloria Gaither was asked in an interview what her hopes were for her grandchildren and she replied, “First, I hope they will know God for themselves, that they will develop all of the unique abilities that God has put in them, and that they will have healthy relationships that are eternal.  I pray for them, for Bill and me, and for my children at every stage that God will protect us from cynicism. I pray that God will keep us simple and childlike in our faith so that we don’t miss the wonder of it all.”  (Gaither Praise Gathering)

Imagine that—of all of the things she could pray for herself, her husband, her children and grandchildren—she prayed that they would be protected from cynicism.  Wow!  When pondering that, I did a word search on cynicism.  In putting all of the definitions together I came up with this: cynicism is a jaded negativity; it is a distrust of the integrity or professed motives of others; it can lead to despair and a lack of grace. Have you ever struggled with questioning the motives of others? What about your own motives—what you are dealing with in your heart regarding your actions? What motivates you to do what you do? Do you ever find yourself thinking the worst about others and what they do, or the worst of any and all situations?

During deployment I think it’s possible to go into that negative territory of thinking thoughts that are not helpful—that are indeed detrimental. Harboring resentments against leadership, dwelling on questions and fears regarding past, present, and future assignments, questioning the motives of all of those around us who influence our daily positions and taskings. . . all of these can cause every kind of anxiety leading to bitterness against our spouse, our service, and if we’re not careful—even our God. If we lose touch with His sovereignty in our lives, we can lose heart.

My primary care doctor is my hero when it comes to serving others. She is constantly being called on to perform the impossible, oftentimes with “impossible” people. One day, while in her office, I found her secret to dealing with others during their most vulnerable times. On her wall was posted a poem, attributed to Mother Teresa, which is sometimes called “The Anyway Poem”:

“People are often unreasonable, illogical, and self-centered;
Forgive them anyway.
If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish ulterior motives;
Be kind anyway.
If you are successful, you will win some false friends and some true enemies;
Succeed anyway.
If you are honest and frank, people may cheat you;
Be honest and frank anyway.
What you spend years building, someone could destroy overnight;
Build anyway.
If you find serenity and happiness, they may be jealous;
Be happy anyway.
The good you do today, people will often forget tomorrow;
Do good anyway.
Give the world the best you have, and it may never be enough;
Give the best you’ve got anyway.
You see, in the final analysis it is between you and God;
It was never between you and them anyway.”

It’s all about God.  The more I remember that; the more I think about that; the more I cling to that—the better. As Gloria Gaither so simply stated—knowing God, knowing how He works in us and in others, avoiding cynicism, and keeping the faith through it all—is a wonderful way to pray. Jesus puts it this way, “But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness and all these things will be given to you as well.”  (Matthew 6:33) The result?  Peace.

Isaiah puts it this way:  “You will keep in perfect peace all who trust in You, all whose thoughts are fixed on You!  Trust in the LORD always, for the LORD GOD is the eternal Rock.” — Isaiah 26:3,4 NLT

Questions to Share:

1. What person or situation have you chosen to think the worst about?

2. Pray for God to transform your mind, your thinking, about that person or situation.  Remember, “For nothing is impossible with God.” (Luke 1:37)

3. If God intervened in your thinking about that person or situation, what difference would it make in your life?

Excellent or Praiseworthy is posted on Monday and Thursday nights.

Editor’s Note:  In honor and memory of my Mom, who passed away seven years ago, I am re-posting this article.

Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of His saints. — Psalm 116:15

She was a strong woman. Perhaps that came from being the oldest of seven—no doubt a rowdy bunch. Perhaps it came from growing up during The Great Depression and having to work hard at home. Perhaps it came from having two pretty strict parents who expected a lot from their kids.

She was strong even in the days when it wasn’t the “norm” to be a strong woman. She got her business degree in 1933 and left rural Virginia at age nineteen to head to Washington, D.C. for that much-desired government job with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Because she came from a devout Methodist family, her first priority was to find a good church to attend—and that’s where she met my Dad, at Mt. Vernon Place Methodist Church. They married in 1939—and not long after that she became a military wife.

Their duty stations aren’t recognizable on lists of military installations today—long since closed. They would include Hondo Army Air Field in Texas and Romulus Army Air Field in Michigan, and the stories she would tell of these locations make me think that our experience in the military was very “cushy” in comparison. She would make long-distance moves alone with small babies when there was no interstate highway system, no air-conditioning, no disposable diapers, no car seats and no McDonald’s. And the Army had to come up with some unusual ways to create maternity wards close to the bases—hence the reason my brother was born in a psychiatric hospital (at least that’s the way the story goes).

Since rationing was a reality during World War II, she would tell stories of how she would make sure there was enough coal for heat for the times Dad would be able to come home between flights. Similar stories about tires, food items, and ice were shared—but the things I remember most were the stories about her friends.

Some things never change—what would we ever do without the friends we make during our military assignments? When family is far away, it’s the friends we make in “remote” locations who are there to see us through the tough times of military service—and who help celebrate the joyful times. My Mom’s friends became her real “family.” She had friends who got her to church, who helped with babysitting, who gave her advice about new locations, who helped when help was needed—and who took the edge off the loneliness which accompanied war-time service. My Dad was a great letter-writer, but the reality was that communication in those days was sporadic at best.

I still have those letters. They are in “The Trunk.” My parents’ letters are filled with the small details of life in those days—and even some romance. They would often write each other of dreams for their life together when the War was over—before Dad eventually got out of the military and became a civil servant in the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, then a pharmacy professor, until he died in 1977. The skills which she developed in forming friendships during her military days served her well as they moved our family around the country in those years which followed. Each and every year she faithfully sent out the “Christmas letter” to all of those friends, and we even traveled to keep those relationships vibrant. I watched that tradition, and I learned. Maintaining friendships takes intentionality. And it’s worth it.

Some of those friends of hers are still alive today, but very few. My Mom just passed away, ninety-four years old and weak. The strong woman she had been succumbed to the damage caused by strokes, and the Lord took her home. Her faith was strong to the end, and many a night my husband and I tucked her in with a recitation of The Lord’s Prayer, the 23rd Psalm, and to the tune of “Jesus Loves Me.” During her last days our dear nurses referred to her medical condition as “non-responsive,” but she would join us with a word or two of those familiar verses from deep within her memory. Her faithful friends were able to say “good-bye” and “I love you” to her thanks to the modern technology of speaker phones.

Looking back, I remember that when she would come to visit us during each assignment—all over the world—she would reinforce our relationships with our friends by joining into their lives as well. She was “Grandma” to more than just our kids, and a great chocolate-chip-cookie-baker and cinnamon-roll-supplier to blocks of military housing. She knew that our friends were important and would be our “family” during most of our military career. As we mourn her death, we are not alone as she knew our friends and loved them.

But most importantly, she knew and loved the Lord. Jesus Christ was her Lord and Savior, and we know today she is in heaven with Him, with my Dad, and with the saints in Glory. Our son flew home from his overseas military assignment to join with our family at her funeral last week. He wove Scripture together for this beautiful prayer which he shared at the closing of her service:

Dear Lord, we thank You for the opportunity today to celebrate the life of my Grandma. Thank You for the blessing that each of us had—to know her and experience her love and encouragement for us as a mother, grandmother, sister, aunt, a teacher, and most of all, a friend. We praise and thank You that “You created her inmost being, You knit her together in her mother’s womb.” Indeed, “she was fearfully and wonderfully made,” and “all the days ordained for her were written in Your book before one of them came to be.” We rejoice that throughout her life, “You searched her and knew her…You knew when she sat and when she rose; You perceived her thoughts from afar…You discerned her going out and lying down…You were familiar with all her ways.” Her skills and talents, her spirit and love, her encouragement and faithfulness that blessed us—all of these things were fashioned and given by You. And we are thankful that throughout all the victories and trials of life, You are always there—“Your hand always guided her, Your right hand surely held her fast.” So tonight we celebrate my Grandma’s life and rejoice for her “work produced by faith, her labor prompted by love, and her endurance inspired by hope in You our Lord, Jesus Christ.” By and through Your grace, she “fought the good fight, she finished the race, and she kept the faith. . . now there is in store for her the crown of righteousness, which You, O Lord, will award to her on that day.” And all of this is possible, through the love and gift of Your Son, Jesus Christ, who though He knew no sin, became sin for us, gave Himself up on the cross, and then conquered death so that even though death still takes us from this life, by faith, we may live with You, the lover and creator of our souls, through all eternity. Thank You for redemption, thank You for grace, thank You for unending love, and thank You for the gift of all of these born out in the life of my Grandma. “For from You and through You and to You are all things. To You be the glory forever! Amen.”

These verses shared from Psalm 139, 1 Thessalonians 1, 2 Timothy 4, 2 Corinthians 5, and Romans 11 were ones she knew well. We have her Bible, well-worn and well-loved. They say that a worn-out Bible is the sign of a person who is not. For years that would have been true of my Mom. But her days were numbered, and since God’s timing is always perfect—He took her home. Thank You, Lord, for the blessing of my Mom. She was a great military wife—and a great Mom. To You be the glory forever!

Questions to Share:

1. Look around you—which of your friends in the military do you think you will continue to keep up with in the years ahead?

2. Take a moment to pray and thank God for the gift of these special people in your life.

Just a Piece of Paper?

Written by Mary. Filed Under Spiritual Training

Excellent or Praiseworthy is posted on Monday and Thursday nights.

“You show that you are a letter from Christ, the result of our ministry, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.” — 2 Corinthians 3:3

During the debate over the pros and cons of marriage vs. living together I would often read that one party would say, “Why get married?  It’s just a piece of paper. We already FEEL married.” In the military, that twisted logic just doesn’t hold up.  A military marriage begins with one piece of paper—the marriage certificate. If you are not married “on paper,” your relationship doesn’t count. Shortly after the official marital documentation follows the military ID card, another important piece of paper. Without that important document, there are no privileges that come with being a military dependent.

Here are some other “papers” which will impact your life in the military:

—military orders to use to set up a move
—passports for military dependents
—travel orders
—leave and earnings statements
—training certificates
—promotion orders
—efficiency reports
—diplomas for training completion
—medical records

And those are just for starters. Before a deployment there is also what I call the “ugly” paperwork—but it should probably be referred to as being “well prepared.” Wills, powers of attorney, life insurance, beneficiary information, contact information. . . .all are part of the process of getting ready to leave. And we can’t forget budgets, passwords for accounts plus lists of phone numbers in case of emergency.

And after deployment there are new papers which affect dependents—perhaps orders for a PCS, appointment slips for medical evaluations or marriage counseling, notification of awards, change-of-command ceremonies, maybe even re-enlistment, separation or retirement paperwork.

My genealogist-friend claims that she can recreate lives by putting together the paperwork of someone’s past. In the military, we can re-create our own lives simply by opening our filing cabinets and putting together the documents.

Paper, paper, paper. Our lives are described by these documents—but not defined. From report cards to paychecks, the world tells us that our worth is reflected on paper. Our task is to look instead to our Maker for our value. The paper He gives us, His Word, should be our mirror. In the Bible we learn we are significant. If we receive Jesus as Lord and Savior, the Bible says that we have the right to be called children of God. John 1:12 says, “Yet to all who received Him, to those who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God.”  As His dependents, then, what are some of our privileges—His promises to us?

—We are heirs:

“The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in His sufferings in order that we may also share in His glory.” (Romans 8:16,17)

“Because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, ‘Abba, Father.’ So you are no longer a slave, but a son; and since you are a son, God has made you also an heir.” (Galatians 4:6)

—We are loved:

“How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!” (1 John 3:1)

“The LORD appeared to us in the past, saying: ‘I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with loving-kindness.” (Jeremiah 31:3)

—We are forgiven:

“For He has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son He loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” (Colossians 1:13,14)

—We have access in prayer:

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” (Philippians 4:6)

“This is the assurance we have in approaching God:  that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us.  And if we know that He hears us–whatever we ask–we know that we have what we asked of Him.” (1 John 5:14)

—We are partakers of His divine nature:

“His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and goodness. Through these He has given us His very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.” (2 Peter 1:3,4)

—We have peace:

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives.  Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” (John 14:27)

—We have the promise of eternity with Him:

“For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)

Are these promises on paper? You bet they are, and written on our hearts, as well. A dependent’s military ID states whom we “belong” to, but once we give our lives to our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, we belong to Him first and foremost. And the benefits of that are out of this world!

Questions to Share:

1.  What are the things that you feel define you in your life?

2.  What are the promises of God concerning your worth to which you can cling in times of despair?

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