A devotional to help military families stay connected during deployments

Excellent or Praiseworthy is posted on Monday and Thursday nights.

“Therefore we do not lose heart.  Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.” — 2 Corinthians 4:16

We have turned the calendar’s page to 2017. Does that make you feel older? Certainly it marks a passage of time, and for those of you experiencing deployment that comes as good news or bad news. If you’re getting ready to come home, you probably want those days to pass quickly. If you’re waiting to deploy, you might want time to move slowly. But whether it moves slowly or quickly time is taking its toll on all of us and we’re growing older. That’s the truth of it. 

When my husband would come home from work during periods of time when an assignment was not going particularly well, I would ask him, “How was work today?” He would answer, “One more day off the tour!” Life is like that—each day is “one day off the tour” for our time here on earth. Because of its uncertainties we can read Proverbs 27:1 and say a rousing “Amen!”  “Do not boast about tomorrow, for you do not know what a day may bring forth.” 

I guess that’s why I am intrigued by Paul’s thinking expressed in 2 Corinthians 4:16:  “Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.”  Being renewed even though my body is “wasting away” (more and more, it seems)??  That’s counter-intuitive! The paradoxes of the Christian faith (see Sept 1st Excellent or Praiseworthy’s “The Paradox of Drawing Together While Apart“) have long fascinated me, and here is yet another one—as Christians we can actually grow younger as we are growing older! That’s good news as I get out my new calendar for 2017 and put away 2016. 

Did you know that the “secret” to growing younger over time is being born again? It’s a matter of spiritual growth versus physical growth. As our bodies grow weaker, we can actually grow stronger in our faith if our faith is in Jesus Christ, the Son of God. In Jesus’ encounter with Nicodemus we read: “In reply Jesus declared, ‘I tell you the truth, unless a man is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.’ ‘How can a man be born when he is old?’  Nicodemus asked. ‘Surely he cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb to be born!’ Jesus answered, ‘I tell you the truth, unless a man is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit.”  John 3:3-6    

I believe that Oswald Chambers, whose teaching was collected into the powerful devotional classic My Utmost for His Highest—and who served the last years of his life as a chaplain to the military in World War I—says it best:  “Spiritually we never grow old; through the passing of things we grow so many years young. The characteristic of the spiritual life is its unaging youth, exactly the opposite of the natural life. ‘I am . . . the First and the Last.’ The Ancient of Days represents the eternal childhood. God Almighty became the weakest thing in His own creation, a baby. When He comes into us in new birth, we can easily kill His life in us, or else we can see to it that His life is nourished according to the dictates of the Spirit of God, so that we grow ‘to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.’ The mature saint is just like a little child, absolutely simple and joyful and lively. Go on living the life that God would have you live, and you will grow younger instead of older. There is a marvelous rejuvenescence when once you let God have His way. If you are feeling very old, then get born again and begin to grow in His new life.” from Making All Things New

I find the paradox stated in the sentence, “The mature saint is just like a little child, absolutely simple and joyful and lively.” That is what I want to be—trusting the Lord in absolute abandon to myself, and enjoyment and fulfillment in Him.

“But Jesus called the children to Him and said, ‘Let the little children come to Me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” (Luke 18:16,17) Chambers says of this verse, “Jesus Christ uses the child-spirit as a touchstone for the character of a disciple. He did not put up a child before His disciples as an ideal, but as an expression of the simple-hearted life they would live when they were born again. The life of a little child is expectant, full of wonder, and free from self-consciousness . . . Our Lord is indicating that we have to be carefully careless about everything saving our relationship to Him.” from The Place of Help

This is not some haphazard order, but the proclamation of the innocence as of a child—the simple faith and trust that a little one has in their loving parent—that is of infinite value to God. As we approach 2017, may we see in it the possibilities of clinging to Jesus for every provision and trusting Him with each and every care. If we can do that, we will mature and become more and more as a child as we grow older in days. If we can do that, we will fling ourselves into His arms in full reliance on His character, and proclaim the prayer of the Puritans (who had an understanding of the paradox of the Christian faith) for the New Year:

“O LORD,

“Length of days does not profit me except the days are passed in thy presence, in thy service, to thy glory.

“Give me a grace that precedes, follows, guides, sustains, sanctifies, aids every hour, that I may not be one moment apart from thee, but may rely on thy Spirit to supply every thought, speak in every word, direct every step, prosper every work, build up every mote of faith, and give me a desire to show forth thy praise, testify thy love, advance thy kingdom.

“I launch my bark on the unknown waters of this year, with thee, O Father, as my harbour; thee, O Son, at my helm; thee, O Holy Spirit, filling my sails.

“Guide me to heaven with my loins girt, my lamp burning, my ear open to thy calls, my heart full of love, my soul free.

“Give me thy grace to sanctify me, thy comforts to cheer, thy wisdom to teach, thy right hand to guide, thy counsel to instruct, thy law to judge, thy presence to stabilize.

“May thy fear be my awe, thy triumphs my joy.”  The Valley of Vision “New Year”

May you have a Blessed New Year!

Arthur Bennett, editor, The Valley of Vision (Carlisle: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1975), p. 112.

Daniel Partner, editor, Oswald Chambers’ My Utmost Devotional Bible (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1992), pages 488 and 92.

 Questions to Share:

  1. What are the challenges you are facing in your life and in your marriage in 2017? Make a list of at least three concerns.
  2. Ask your spouse what their concerns are for 2017. Pray individually and together, trusting God to do what He promises in Proverbs 3:5,6: “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.” 

Excellent or Praiseworthy is posted on Monday and Thursday nights.

Love is patient, love is kind. I Corinthians 13:4

I’m not sure that communication in marriage comes easily for anyone, but I got some good advice early on which has served me well. If I were to summarize what I learned in one word it would be kindness . . . . during two critical times:

1. “Hello”

The first lesson I got in communication kindness was from one of the few books on marriage available in those early days, Letters to Karen by Charlie Shedd. Written from a loving Dad to his soon-to-be-married daughter, Dr. Shedd tells Karen to be intentional about the “hellos” when her husband came home:

“Do greet him with gladness when he first comes home. One husband made this picturesque statement: ‘She throws the garbage in my face first thing when I open the door.’ Then he went on to explain that she had a knack for saving the worst news of each day and giving him this promptly on his arrival. You will recognize that he was a master with words as he mimicked her patter: ‘Junior broke the neighbor’s bird bath!’ . . . .’That left rear tire on the station wagon is flat again!’ . . . ‘Won’t you please fix my kitchen faucet?’ . . . ‘I understand the Watsons are getting a divorce!’ . . . and so on in woeful detail. These evil tidings are strictly no good for his homecoming. Occasionally there must be exceptions, but every good meeting of minds will lay certain items aside for later consideration  . . . . From what I’ve seen, it’s a good idea to now and then check your words of greeting.” (p. 49,50)

What I learned was that the first few moments we spent back together after a day of work apart were “the most important five minutes of the day.” It set the tone for the evening, and was a way of reminding each other that they were missed, valued, and appreciated and loved! It was so easy to “dump” all of the details of the day on him when he first walked in . . . . and that just isn’t kind.

Recently I heard a talk about this very subject, and the speaker recommended that a suitable greeting for a couple coming back together after time apart (even a short time) was a “twenty-second kiss.” He cited a story of a couple whose relationship was strained but decided to try this one seemingly little gesture to try restoring their once-vibrant romance. The couple was amazed at how simple this one act of kindness in a greeting was at getting them back on track.

Stop . . . . look  . . . . listen . . . . and a nice, long kiss makes for a wonderful greeting, no matter who gets home first and gets to welcome the other. It is a beautiful way to show love to your spouse.

2. “Good-bye”

The second thing I learned that was so helpful in practicing good communication skills was to always make sure that my “good-bye” was a sweet one, followed by “I love you.” Granted it was a psychologist who instructed our squadron wives on this principle (yes, I was that ignorant), but it was true then and true now. Training accidents and enemy actions happen, and you never know what a day is going to bring—so the advice penetrated my heart. If something tragic happened to either one of us while apart I wanted our last words to be kind. I realized this one practice was not just an attempt to assuage guilt, but was a purposeful approach to maintaining peace between us as partners in life. It was smart to make our “good byes” as tender as possible.

We had many “hellos” and “good-byes” during our military days—with plenty of TDYs, deployments, training, exercises, and the Vietnam War. The “good-byes” were always difficult (understatement) . . . and the “hellos” were always glorious. Whether we were parting for a day, a week, a month or a year I always tried to stick by the training I had gotten from that one book and that one wives’ meeting.

And as much as these principles apply to physical greetings and farewells–they also apply to written ones.  Yes, even during deployment communication of email, text, letter–also phone and skype . . . be kind.

I’m not naïve . . . . and life is complicated. But these two simple rules—greet each other with kindness; depart from each other with kindness—are as important as any two rules in marriage you will ever find. I’m glad I found them early.

For when we are kind to each other, we are demonstrating the very character of God:  “You are kind and forgiving, O Lord, abounding in love to all who call to You.”  (Psalm 86:5)

Work Cited:

Shedd, Charlie W., Letters to Karen: On Keeping Love in Marriage (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1965)

Questions to Share:

1. Share with your spouse a time when you remember the way they greeted you was especially kind.

2. Share with your spouse a time when you remember the way they said “good-bye” to you was especially kind.

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

I’ve been working on this writing for the last eight years. And it’s not done yet.

I wanted to put down in writing, on “cyber-paper,” what I have lived and observed for most of my adult life. It’s what I love about our military . . . the people, the mission, the life.

The truth is . . . as members of the United States military, people are watching you. In the airports, in the community, in churches, and on TV, people see you who are in uniform, and your families, and admire you:

  1. They are watching your family teamwork. A military family and circle of friends takes care of each other in the good times and the bad. Especially when you’re overseas, friends become “family.” People see this and admire the sense of unity.
  2. They are watching your sense of purpose. There is a “calling” and significance in what you do . . . it’s not just another “job.” People see this and admire the sense of nobility.
  3. They are watching the way you honor others. You celebrate the history of your service branch; you tell the stories of those who have gone before you in battle; you salute; you give awards to those who serve well; you remember. People see this and admire the sense that bravery and courage are valued.
  4. They are watching the way you die. Some things are worth dying for—and freedom is one of those things. People see this and admire your sacrifice.
  5. They are watching your compassion. You layer your body with fighting equipment but stop to pick up a child or animal that needs your help. You respond to emergencies around the world providing help to those who are helpless. People see this and admire your deep compassion.
  6. They are watching your competence.  You have developed skills through training and practice with which to accomplish tasks which others dream they could do.  You seek excellence.  People see this and are inspired.
  7. They are watching your submission to leadership. Respect is given in your ranks. It’s what makes a unit work smoothly, without renegade immaturity. People see this and admire your humility.
  8. They are watching your leadership. True leaders are servants, and their character is pure. At every level in the military there are leaders, and that takes training and commitment to people and the mission. People see this and admire your professionalism.
  9. They are watching your flexibility. You are willing to move from place to place  . . . even respond to orders in a short period of time. You hold things loosely and refuse to bind yourself to things which hinder service. You come up with solutions to problems which arise with little or no warning. People see this and admire your trust and confidence.
  10. They are watching your discipline and responsibility. Your word means something. You are prompt and fit. People see this and admire your self-control.
  11. They are watching your sacrificial living. You don’t merely survive in tough times—you strive to thrive. You are over-comers!  Your family faces deployment with faith. People see this and admire your strength and perseverance.
  12. They are watching your perspective.  You understand that “in the great scheme of things” a day, a month, a year are not as important as developing relationships and nations. People see this and admire your mature focus.
  13. They are watching how you fight. Going to war takes planning and weapons, knowing the schemes of the enemy, and protecting yourself and your resources with proper armor and equipment. People see this and admire your wisdom.
  14. They are watching your patience.  Years of training. . . and then waiting . . . and more training.  Waiting for shipments, housing, promotions, orders, appointments, re-deployment.  In this age of instant gratification, people see this and admire your patience.
  15. They are watching your camaraderie. In this “dog eat dog” world, they see how you work together and serve others . . . and how veterans look back on their memories of military service . . . and they admire your brotherhood.

Are there spiritual lessons in this list?? You bet. It is no surprise to me that I have found many Christians serving in the military. The qualities of unity, nobility, bravery, courage, sacrifice, justice, ethics, hope, authenticity, patience, kindness, persistence, valor, humor, competence, purity, obedience, hospitality, integrity, gratitude, generosity, duty, perseverance, concern, humility, submission, mercy, servant leadership, honor, resilience, discipline, perspective, responsibility, teamwork, help, grace, compassion, faith, professionalism, trust, confidence, self-control, forgiveness, strength, maturity, wisdom, brotherhood . . . are the righteous values which our Lord and Savior had in full measure and to which we are called.

Thank you for your service to our country . . . and to our Lord.

Questions to Share:

1. Are there any other attributes which you would add to this list? Please comment and let me know.
2. Which virtues on this list have you seen demonstrated in the military? Which ones do you believe you demonstrate?
3. Thank your spouse for those character qualities which you know they have and use.

Excellent or Praiseworthy is posted on Monday and Thursday nights.

If anyone serves, he should do it with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ.  – I Peter 4:11

You will see Vietnam Vets still serving in so many ways:

You will see them as senators, congressmen, and elected officials—making the nation greater.

You will see them as corporate and community leaders–continuing to lead well.

You will see them escorting older WWII vets to the Washington memorial on Honor Flights—honoring those who served before them.

You will see them at the airports welcoming troops home from combat—demonstrating extreme gratitude.

You will see them riding motorcycles in the Patriot Guard—protecting those grieving families during their most tender and vulnerable moments.

You will see them building houses for our wounded warriors—making a difference in lives of those whose lives will never be the same.

You will see them sharing their stories in public settings—reminding our country of the demands placed on our nations’ sons and daughters.

You will see them volunteering at the V.A.—spending time with those whose days are brightened with their presence.

You will see them holding private conversations with men and women in uniform—encouraging them in a way only a veteran understands.

Being the wife of a Vietnam Vet, I served during those years on the home front. I served proudly, alongside the best, including many POW wives. Many of us volunteer now with today’s military spouses—helping with our own brand of training while observing, often up close and personal, a much more difficult war with its multiple deployments and unseen enemy.

I have heard it said that Vietnam vets serve so well now because they were so ill-treated back then—and they don’t want our current forces to experience that. Perhaps that’s some of it, but I don’t think that’s all of it—by any means.

I think they serve well because it’s the right thing to do.

Which brings me to this last thought . . . You will see Vietnam vets quietly serving in ministry—trying to share their faith as the real answer to life’s problems and war’s woundings. The Apostle Paul’s admonition in 2 Corinthians 1:3,4 is a reminder that there is purpose in our life experiences and trials—as a help and comfort to those who will have similar experiences and need the hand of God in their healing process:  “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God.

Battlefields and Blessings-VietnamI am reminded of this truth from our Vietnam story in one of a series of favorite devotional books, Battlefields and Blessings, entitled Stories of Faith and Courage from The Vietnam War, by Vietnam Vet and author Larkin Spivey. These compilations of daily devotions has had other offerings—from reflections on the Revolutionary War to the Civil War, to World War II, to Iraq and Afghanistan . . . now the Vietnam War and Stories of Faith and Courage from the Home Front.

Spivey includes an entry about John Blehm, a missionary with Cru Military.  John ministers to those with PTSD from his years of experience with this challenge and from his genuine faith which he and his wife share so openly.

Spivey introduces Blehm’s words with these: “After years of broken marriages, mood swings, medication, and counseling, John Blehm began to turn back to the one Source of help he had avoided most of his life. He found a church and a Bible and began seeking a better understanding of God . . . ‘I have learned that the more time I spend with God learning His Word and ways, the better life goes for me . . . Don’t give up; don’t think your life is over because of what you’ve experienced . . . If you’ll go to God and ask for peace and restoration he will give it to you and you will know when it happens because you will feel like the whole world has just been lifted off your shoulders. Ask God what he has for you to do and you will be surprised at the doors that will open to help you do God’s will and perhaps what you have been through and survived will be your tool to help others before something bad happens to them.” (p. 209)

Obviously there are many in our dear nation who serve sacrificially, including First Responders. But veterans are in a unique position to help our current generation of military members in creative ways which God can use.  When we read of those whose heart is to demonstrate God’s grace, love, and redemptive power . . . we can only stand back in awe and acknowledge His presence in our lives. We can together say “thank you” to those whom Mr. Spivey wrote about . . . and the many thousands of others from the Vietnam era who have continued their service to our country and our Lord.

Work Cited:

Spivey, Larkin, Battlefields & Blessings: Stories of Faith and Courage from the Vietnam War (Chattanooga: AMG Publishers, 2011).

Questions to Share:

1. Do you know a Vietnam vet who has continued to help others because of his or her war experience?

2. What could you share with others from your deployment experience that would be helpful in their lives?

Excellent or Praiseworthy is posted on Monday and Thursday nights.

“…my spirit is depressed. Yet hope returns when I remember this one thing: The Lord’s unfailing love and mercy still continue, fresh as the morning, as sure as the sunrise.”  —  Lamentations 3:20b-23

Well, here we are, a day into the New Year. Some of us made resolutions, and maybe some of us have already broken them. Some of us have become wise enough not to make New Year’s resolutions because we know we’re going to break them.

I think that God has mixed feelings about New Year’s resolutions. On the one hand, I think He is all about renewal and second chances (and third, fourth, fifth… as many chances as we really need). On the other hand, I don’t think God wants us to wait for a new calendar year before we resolve to change the things we need to change. I think God wants us to renew ourselves at least daily, and as we grow in our reliance on Him, He would like us to renew ourselves moment by moment.

Lamentations is a book in the Bible that contains five poems written after the destruction of Jerusalem in 586 B.C. It is not a happy book. The Jewish people had seen their holy city destroyed, many of their friends and family killed, and most of the survivors taken captive. They lost everything and there was no insurance with which to start again. Compared to the average life we live today, things were in pretty bad shape. The writer in chapter three says: “my spirit is depressed”. No kidding, so would mine be. Yet in the middle of this, the writer draws hope from God. He notes that in spite of everything, God’s “unfailing love and mercy still continue”. The New Living Translation says “His (God’s) mercies begin afresh each morning.” God renews things at least daily.

I take two levels of comfort from this. On one level I am relieved that God’s love does not run out, no matter what circumstances I am in. Some of my worst days have been on deployment far from home, dealing with complex issues in threatening environments, with far less sleep and support than I would normally have. I have felt overwhelmed at times, at a loss with what to do next. . . but then I hear from my wife. She too has had some dark days when we’ve been apart. For her, life has continued at the same pace as before, only she has shouldered the burdens that we both shared when I was home. When everyone was ill, she had to keep going. When the children were down, she had to pick them up even though she felt like collapsing herself. When things went wrong, she felt the sole weight of responsibility. Yet at those times, God’s love was unfailing. What we thought we couldn’t get through, God led us through with room to spare.

On the second level, I need God’s mercies to be renewed every morning. I stumble every day–and if God did not show mercy, my life would be a well-deserved series of punishments. The nature of mercy is that it is undeserved, and God, the creator of the universe, renews His mercy towards me every morning. That amazes me! More than anything else, this fact drives me to behave better for Him. I want to be a more worthy person, husband and father, making best use of the multiple chances that God offers me through His mercy.

I think our enemy, Satan, would like us to wait for a New Year to make promises that we will struggle to keep. He would also like to shoot the fiery dart of discouragement and to see us lose hope when the pressures and temptations of life quickly crowd in. He wants us to feel defeated, overwhelmed and believing the lie that we can never measure up to what God wants for us. God knows (and so do we, if we are honest enough) that we cannot survive intact without tapping into His love, mercy, and the indwelling of His Holy Spirit on a daily basis. That’s why He provides it daily. I think that if we asked God, He would say that a New Year starts every day!

Questions to Share:

1. List the things that you are struggling with in yourself, your marriage, or your family that you need a fresh start with every morning.

2. Discuss these with your spouse (if you can – maybe being honest with your spouse is something you need daily help with?). Commit to praying for these things daily.

3. Write down Lamentations chapter 3, verses 22-23 on an index card and put it where you will be reminded every day that God’s love and mercy have been provided for you, renewed every morning.

Excellent or Praiseworthy is posted on Monday and Thursday nights.

Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in Me will never die. Do you believe this?” — John 11:25

I have several friends who email me “forwards.”  Perhaps you do, too.  I received this one back a few years ago–and I like to return to it, this time for 2017.  The ten predictions are from the forwarded email (author unknown). . . . .and the additional comments are from Scripture, and my heart.

Top 10 Predictions for 2017:

1. “The Bible will still have all the answers.”

All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. — 2 Timothy 3:16

2. “Prayer will still be the most powerful thing on Earth.”

The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective. — James 5:16b

I heard a quote from John Piper that went something like this: “if Twitter and Facebook are good for anything they will prove on the Last Day that our prayerlessness was not for lack of time.”

This is very convicting—if we really believe that prayer is powerful, why do we not pray more?

3. “The Holy Spirit will still move.”

. . . For if you live according to the sinful nature, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live, because those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. — Romans 8:13,14

4. “God will still honor the praises of His people.”

Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise—the fruit of lips that confess His name. And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased. — Hebrews 13:15

5. “There will still be God-anointed preaching.”

Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction. — 2 Timothy 4:2

We heard an influential chaplain challenge a group of church pastors that the best thing they could do for the military members in their fellowships was to preach the whole truth of God’s word—including the sovereignty of God. If we believe prediction #1, then prediction #5 will follow in answer to prediction #2 and the Spirit’s calling in #3. And we will praise Him (#4) for the way only He can answer prayer.

6. “There will still be singing of praise to God.”

Sing praises to God, sing praises; sing praises to our King, sing praises. For God is the King of all the earth; sing to Him a psalm of praise. — Psalm 47:6,7

When I encounter someone struggling in their faith, I typically ask two questions—how is your devotional time with the Lord? and what music are you listening to? There is such power in singing praises to God. It can soothe a tired, frustrated soul in ways that only God can accomplish. When we want to express our love of God, we will include singing in our methods of praise.

7. “God will still pour out blessings upon His people.”

But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. — 1 Peter 2:9,10

8. “There will still be room at the Cross.”

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

9. “Jesus will still love you.”

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

10. “Jesus will still save the lost when they come to Him.”

For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost. — Luke 19:10

Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God—through Jesus Christ our Lord! — Romans 7:24,25

One word which I believe pictures what Jesus did for us in our sinful state is the word “rescue.” When I see what our military has done in foreign countries to help governments and individuals—it is rescue. Jesus came to earth on a rescue mission to save us from the penalty of our sin. It is because of His rescue that we live—eternally with Him, if we believe. (John 3:16)

This email of the “Top 10 Predictions” ends with a great proclamation of truth: “Isn’t it great to remember who is really in control, and that ‘the Word of the Lord endures forever.’” (1 Peter 1:25)

I’m going to email the person who sent me this “forward” and thank them. . . . . it’s been a great reminder of what really matters—not just in 2016, but always.  “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.”  — Hebrews 13:8

Questions to Share:

1. Which, if any, of the ten predictions surprised you?  Why?

2. Are there some promises of God which you could add to this list—ways in which God was faithful in 2016 and in which you know He will still be faithful in 2017?

Excellent or Praiseworthy is posted on Monday and Thursday nights.

The LORD gives strength to his people; the LORD blesses his people with peace. —  Psalm 29:11

Perhaps it is because I’m in my older years, but I particularly appreciate studying the benedictions in Scripture. I also appreciate reading biblical “last words”—such as Paul’s final letter to Timothy. Since our seasons of life are really seasons of worship, I believe these final blessings are instructional and encouraging as we give praise and honor to God.

I recently studied five favorite benedictions, or blessings, and believe they have something to say to us at the end of 2016. And they may even have an inspirational message for those experiencing deployment!

1. Facing Challenges

“Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen” (Jude 24, 25).

As we face the new year of 2017, it’s possible that this year will bring an unexpected change of assignment—or even an expected one. Jude’s benediction reminds us that it is God who will keep us on a steady path of obedience and purity. And it is Jesus Christ we are to serve . . . not just in 2017, but for all of our days.

2. God’s Sovereign Plan

“Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen” (Ephesians 3:20-21).

We make our career plans, but it is God’s perfect plan which prevails in our lives. Paul’s reminder that He alone is in control –for our own good—is one we need to keep before us. It is His Holy Spirit power at work in a Christian’s heart and life which gives us confidence in 2017.

3. Peace for the Journey

The LORD bless you and keep you; the LORD make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the LORD lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace” (Numbers 6:24-26).

This particular levitical blessing is one our pastor pronounces over our military members as they head off to war. The Lord’s blessing, sustenance, presence, grace—combine to be the perfect pronouncement for the heart of a soldier/airman/Marine/sailor/guardsman. Launching into the new year, or launching into a deployment, begins well with this commissioning.

4. Growing in Relationships

“May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else, just as ours does for you. May he strengthen your hearts so that you will be blameless and holy in the presence of our God and Father when our Lord Jesus comes with all his holy ones.” I Thessalonians 3:12-13

Times of geographic separation, as demanded by deployments, can challenge any and all relationships. Keeping up the lines of communication requires planning and intentionality . . . and is ultimately motivated by an ever-increasing love for one another. In 2017, or in a duty assignment, may you call on the Lord to be at the center of your relationships to His glory.

5. The Legacy

“Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.” Hebrews 13:20-21

A year from today, Lord willing, we will have yet another time to look back at opportunities and ponder. The end of the year can be the perfect time for self-evaluation. How did the Lord shepherd me this year? How did He equip me for doing His will? Did I mature spiritually in ways that pleased Him? Can I give Him all the glory for what happened this year, or throughout this deployment? How will what I have learned this year, or through this experience, be a model to pass on to future generations?

Whereas these benedictions, or blessings, can encourage us . . . they can also be used for our own personal prayers. For example, fill in the blanks with your name or the names of others for whom you pray:

“Now to him who is able to keep ___ from stumbling and to present ___ blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen” (Jude 24, 25).

“Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that ___ ask or think, according to the power at work within ___, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen” (Ephesians 3:20-21).

The LORD bless ___ and keep ___; the LORD make his face to shine upon ___ and be gracious to ___; the LORD lift up his countenance upon ___ and give ___ peace” (Numbers 6:24-26).

“May the Lord make ___’s love increase and overflow for ___ and for everyone else, just as ours does for ___. May he strengthen ___ hearts so that ___ will be blameless and holy in the presence of our God and Father when our Lord Jesus comes with all his holy ones” (I Thessalonians 3:12-13).

“Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, equip ___ with everything good that ___ may do his will, working in ___ that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.” Hebrews 13:20-21

And may the LORD continue to guide and protect you throughout 2017, in whatever lands He takes you according to His will and for His glory, both now and forevermore. Amen.

Questions to Share:

1. Which of the five benedictions particularly speaks to your heart today?

2. If you are facing a deployment in 2017, print these blessings onto index cards to carry with you in order to pray for each other.

Excellent or Praiseworthy is posted on Monday and Thursday nights.

For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come. – I Timothy 4:8

At the beginning of each year we are inundated with advice on how to “get in shape” physically. Most military members and their families stay in good shape–but it still behooves us to pay attention to this advice.  Magazine, newspaper—and online—articles try to motivate us to try something new (again). . . . another fresh start, so to speak. And the New Year offers just that—the opportunity to begin to exercise again in a better way–and eat healthier, too. What is the advice? Here are 10 “healthy tips” frequently offered.  Are there some spiritual lessons we can learn along with the metaphors of physical training?

1. “Consult your doctor before you start any new diet or exercise program for a check-up.”

“Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” — Psalm 139:23,24

2. “Drink recommended amounts of water.”

“On the last and greatest day of the Feast, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, ‘If a man is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink. Whoever believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within Him.’ By this He meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in Him were later to receive.” — John 7:37-39

3. “Eat healthy.”

“So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.” — I Corinthians 10:31

4. “Use portion control.”

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

5. “Stay active.”

“Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.” — Romans 12:11,12

6.  “Get plenty of rest.”

“Remember the Sabbath day by keeping holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. . . . For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but He rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.” — Exodus 20:8,9,11

7. “Be consistent in your work-outs and diet.”

“Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.” — I Corinthians 15:58

8. “Walking is good exercise.”

“And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” — Micah 6:8

9. “Develop a life-time sport.”

“I will sing to the LORD all my life; I will sing praise to my God as long as I live.” — Psalm 104:33

10. “Limit fats and sweets in your diet.”

“Turn my eyes away from worthless things; renew my life according to your word.” — Psalm 119:37

Holy living. . . .exercising and training in the spiritual disciplines (of prayer, service, worship, study, fasting, fellowship, etc). . . . .growing in spiritual maturity . . . .these phrases speak of the process of sanctification to which we are called as Christians. Far from easy, this spiritual training takes discipline and self-control, but the blessings are eternal. Whether at home or deployed, Scripture is clear that we are to persevere and endure in this life, and God is faithful to reward:

“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for His appearing.” — II Timothy 4:7

Questions to Share:

1. Which of the ten physical training reminders above are you working on this year?

2. Which of the ten spiritual training reminders above are you working on this year?

­Excellent or Praiseworthy is posted on Monday and Thursday nights.

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on His shoulders. And He will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. —Isaiah 9:6

It was Christmas Eve in Thailand, 1972. Thanks to Armed Forces Radio “Silent Night” was playing in our room . . . but it was not really a “silent” night at all. I was a young Air Force wife visiting my husband serving that year in Southeast Asia—but even in my naïveté I knew something big was imminent.  Linebacker II was in progress—the 1972 Christmas bombing of Hanoi—and the constant sound of take-offs (“please, Lord”) and landings (“thank you, Lord”) from the Air Base was surreal in dissonance with the sweet music I was hearing on the radio. A rescue was in the works, and the POWs, so long tortured and confined in Hanoi, heard and felt the thunderous aircraft noise with great hope and expectation for their eventual release from captivity.

A few months later, with great anticipation I stayed up all night in my apartment back in Oklahoma to watch on TV as the POWs stepped off of their plane and into the arms of jubilant American service members who were anxious to minister to these heroes. Linebacker II had forced a return to the peace talks, the Paris treaty was signed, and repatriation began.

In the years following, my husband and I had the privilege of getting to know some of these great men who had sacrificed so much at the hands of the enemy. But that Christmas Eve night of 1972 I could only imagine what was really happening in the skies and in the hearts of those who were involved. This was a battle, and not everyone with whom we had breakfast would return from their mission that day. I was a visitor—a quiet observer to a scene that I would never forget. It was holy ground.

Forty-three years later I can look back at that experience . . . and realize that just as there was war in 1972, Jesus’ rescue of mankind did not come amidst a pristine world of peace and calm. “Silent Night” is a beautiful song that calls us to stillness and reverence, but the reality is that He was born into a world filled with noise and violence, captivity and torture, selfishness and greed, fear and uncertainty, lies and corruption. Jesus came to provide rescue and proclaim victory . . . . There is a battle.

The oft-quoted prophecy in Isaiah 9:6 reads: “And He will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” In his new study Bible entitled Discover God, Bill Bright widens our understanding of these profound phrases by explaining them in a military context. He writes, “The titles given to this son of David follow a logical sequence from the planning of a battle to the securing of victory: ‘Wonderful Counselor’ suggests a brilliant strategist; ‘Mighty God’ is literally ‘God is a warrior’ in the Hebrew text; ‘Everlasting Father’ was a common royal title in the ancient Near East; and ‘Prince of Peace’ suggests the kind of reign the Davidic king would enjoy. Isaiah’s hope was realized in the birth of Jesus.”

Peace will not be fulfilled in this world until Jesus returns. Peace in our hearts can only be possible, in the mean time, if Jesus rules in them. Dave Boehi, writer and editor at FamilyLife, wrote in his Marriage Memo entitled “O Come, O Come Immanuel”: “When Jesus was born, God’s people literally lived in captivity—they were ruled by the Romans, and they were hoping for a Savior to free them. They wanted relief from their physical suffering. And yet their captivity and exile was spiritual as well, for they had gone 400 years without hearing from God through prophets or through inspired Scripture . . . We are like Israel, in that we think our biggest problems are in the physical realm. On a big level we want relief from economic hardship and terrorism . . . Yet our biggest problems are actually spiritual in nature. In a sense, we all mourn ‘in lonely exile’ when we are not connected to God, when He is not ‘with us.’ Jesus did not come to liberate us from suffering, but to free our spirits as we go through the suffering that is part of life. He makes it possible for us to connect with God—to know Him personally. For those who have received Christ as Lord and Savior, the Holy Spirit lives within them to guide, comfort, and strengthen them, no matter what their circumstances.” (December 15, 2008)

Jesus came 2000 years ago into a world filled with terror to bring peace in our hearts and lives. We can sing “Silent Night” with meaning only if we understand this. His lowly birth in Bethlehem was truly a thunderous rescue if we can understand the enormity of the scene—God Himself coming to earth to save sinful man from certain eternal damnation.

Aircrew members were willing to sacrifice their lives for the saving of others during Linebacker II. How much more our Savior—who did sacrifice His life for the saving of ours. Will you accept His rescue—and surrender to His gift of salvation? Only then can you “sleep in heavenly peace.”

Questions to Share:

1. Do you understand what really happened on Christmas? If not, click on this link.

2. Take some time to pray individually, and as a couple, for the insight to view problems from a spiritual perspective and to trust God to guide you through what is challenging you today.

Excellent or Praiseworthy is posted on Monday and Thursday nights.

“Therefore God exalted Him to the highest place and gave Him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” — Philippians 2:9-11

In Jerry Bridges and Bob Bevington’s book, The Bookends of the Christian Life, we read, “There’s nothing more encouraging for the battle-weary believer than to receive a fresh view of the righteousness of Christ.” (p. 110) So in order to encourage you who might be weary from the challenges of deployment, let us consider again the names of Jesus (collected through my years of pastoral study) and be refreshed:

Jesus Christ is . . . Advocate (1 John 2:1)
Jesus Christ is . . . Almighty (Rev. 1:8; Mt. 28:18)
Jesus Christ is . . . Alpha and Omega (Rev. 1:8; 22:13)
Jesus Christ is . . . Amen (Rev. 3:14)
Jesus Christ is . . . Apostle of our Profession (Heb. 3:1)
Jesus Christ is . . . Atoning Sacrifice for our Sins (1 John 2:2)
Jesus Christ is . . . Author of Life (Acts 3:15)
Jesus Christ is . . . Author and Perfecter of our Faith (Heb. 12:2)
Jesus Christ is . . . Author of Salvation (Heb. 2:10)
Jesus Christ is . . . Beginning and End (Rev. 22:13)
Jesus Christ is . . . Blessed and Only Ruler (1 Tim. 6:15)
Jesus Christ is . . . Bread of God (John 6:33)
Jesus Christ is . . . Bread of Life (John 6:35; 6:48)
Jesus Christ is . . . Bridegroom (Mt. 9:15)
Jesus Christ is . . . Capstone (Acts 4:11; 1 Pet. 2:7)
Jesus Christ is . . . Chief Cornerstone (Eph. 2:20)
Jesus Christ is . . . Chief Shepherd (1 Pet. 5:4)
Jesus Christ is . . . Christ (1 John 2:22)
Jesus Christ is . . . Creator (John 1:3)
Jesus Christ is . . . Deliverer (Rom. 11:26)
Jesus Christ is . . . Eternal Life (1 John 1:2; 5:20)
Jesus Christ is . . . Everlasting Father (Is. 9:6)
Jesus Christ is . . . Faithful and True (Rev. 19:11)
Jesus Christ is . . . Faithful Witness (Rev. 1:5)
Jesus Christ is . . . Faith and True Witness (Rev. 3:14)
Jesus Christ is . . . First and Last (Rev. 1:17; 2:8; 22:13)
Jesus Christ is . . . Firstborn from the Dead (Rev. 1:5)
Jesus Christ is . . . Firstborn over All Creation (Col. 1:15)
Jesus Christ is . . . Gate (John 10:9)
Jesus Christ is . . . God (John 1:1; 20:28; Heb. 1:8; Rom. 9:5)
Jesus Christ is . . . Good Shepherd (John 10:11,14)
Jesus Christ is . . . Great Shepherd (Heb. 13:20)
Jesus Christ is . . . Great High Priest (Heb. 4:14)
Jesus Christ is . . . Head of the Church (Eph. 1:22; 4:15; 5:23)
Jesus Christ is . . . Heir of All Things (Heb. 1:2)
Jesus Christ is . . . High Priest (Heb. 2:17)
Jesus Christ is . . . Holy and True (Rev. 3:7)
Jesus Christ is . . . Holy One (Acts 3:14)
Jesus Christ is . . . Hope (1 Tim. 1:1)
Jesus Christ is . . . Hope of Glory (Col. 1:27)
Jesus Christ is . . . Horn of Salvation (Luke 1:69)
Jesus Christ is . . . I Am (John 8:58)
Jesus Christ is . . . Image of God (2 Cor. 4:4)
Jesus Christ is . . . Immanuel (Mt. 1:23)
Jesus Christ is . . . Judge of the Living and the Dead (Acts 10:42)
Jesus Christ is . . . King Eternal (1 Tim. 1:17)
Jesus Christ is . . . King of Israel (John 1:49)
Jesus Christ is . . . King of the Jews (Mt. 27:11)
Jesus Christ is . . . King of Kings (1 Tim 6:15; Rev. 19:16)
Jesus Christ is . . . King of the Ages (Rev. 15:3)
Jesus Christ is . . . Lamb (Rev. 13:8)
Jesus Christ is . . . Lamb of God (John 1:29)
Jesus Christ is . . . Lamb Without Blemish (1 Pet. 1:19)
Jesus Christ is . . . Last Adam (1 Cor. 15:45)
Jesus Christ is . . . Life (John 14:6; Col. 3:4)
Jesus Christ is . . . Light of the World (John 8:12)
Jesus Christ is . . . Lion of the Tribe of Judah (Rev. 5:5)
Jesus Christ is . . . Living One (Rev. 1:18)
Jesus Christ is . . . Living Stone (1 Pet. 2:4)
Jesus Christ is . . . Lord (2 Pet. 2:20)
Jesus Christ is . . . Lord of All (Acts 10:36)
Jesus Christ is . . . Lord of Glory (1 Cor. 2:8)
Jesus Christ is . . . Lord of lords (Rev. 19:16)
Jesus Christ is . . . Man from Heaven (1 Cor. 15:48)
Jesus Christ is . . . Mediator of the New Covenant (Heb 9:15)
Jesus Christ is . . . Mighty God (Isa. 9:6)
Jesus Christ is . . . Morning Star (Rev. 22:16)
Jesus Christ is . . . Offspring of David (Rev. 22:16)
Jesus Christ is . . . Only Begotten Son of God (John 1:18; 1 John 4:9)
Jesus Christ is . . . Our Great God and Savior (Titus 2:13)
Jesus Christ is . . . Our Holiness (1 Cor. 1:30)
Jesus Christ is . . . Our Husband (2 Cor. 11:2)
Jesus Christ is . . . Our Protection (2 Thess. 3:3)
Jesus Christ is . . . Our Redemption (1 Cor. 1:30)
Jesus Christ is . . . Our Righteousness (1 Cor. 1:30)
Jesus Christ is . . . Our Sacrificed Passover Lamb (1 Cor. 5:7)
Jesus Christ is . . . Power of God (1 Cor. 1:24)
Jesus Christ is . . . Precious Cornerstone (1 Pet. 2:6)
Jesus Christ is . . . Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6)
Jesus Christ is . . . Prophet (Acts 3:22)
Jesus Christ is . . . Rabbi (Mt. 26:25)
Jesus Christ is . . . Rescuer (Luke 19:10)
Jesus Christ is . . . Resurrection and Life (John 11:25)
Jesus Christ is . . . Righteous Branch (Jer. 23:5)
Jesus Christ is . . . Righteous One (Acts 7:52; 1 John 2:1)
Jesus Christ is . . . Rock (1 Cor. 10:4)
Jesus Christ is . . . Root of David (Rev. 5:5; 22:16)
Jesus Christ is . . . Ruler of God’s Creation (Rev. 3:14)
Jesus Christ is . . . Ruler of the Kings of the Earth (Rev. 1:5)
Jesus Christ is . . . Savior (Eph. 5:23; Titus 1:4; 3:6; 2 Pet. 2:20)
Jesus Christ is . . . Son of David (Lk. 18:39)
Jesus Christ is . . . Son of God (John 1:49; Heb. 4:14)
Jesus Christ is . . . Son of Man (Mt. 8:20)
Jesus Christ is . . . Son of the Most High God (Lk. 1:32)
Jesus Christ is . . . Source of Eternal Salvation for Believers (Heb. 5:9)
Jesus Christ is . . . The One Mediator (1 Tim. 2:5)
Jesus Christ is . . . The Stone the Builders Rejected (Acts 4:11)
Jesus Christ is . . . True Bread (John 6:32)
Jesus Christ is . . . True Light (John 1:9)
Jesus Christ is . . . True Vine (John 15:1)
Jesus Christ is . . . Truth (John 1:14; 14:6)
Jesus Christ is . . . Way (John 14:6)
Jesus Christ is . . . Wisdom of God (1 Cor. 1:24)
Jesus Christ is . . . Wonderful Counselor (Is. 9:6)
Jesus Christ is . . . Word (John 1:1)
Jesus Christ is . . . Word of God (Rev. 19:13)

Work Cited:

Bridges, Jerry, and Bob Bevington, The Bookends of the Christian Life (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2009)

Questions to Share:

1. What do the names of Jesus mean to you?

2. Is Jesus your Savior, your Mediator, your Redeemer?

3. If Jesus is your Savior, are you overcome with thankfulness for what God has done for you?

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