A devotional to help military families stay connected during deployments

This Matter of Gifts

Written by Linda. Filed Under Spiritual Training

Excellent or Praiseworthy is posted on Monday and Thursday nights.

For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 6:23

Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow. James 1:17

For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. Ephesians 2:8,9

If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give what is good to those who ask Him! Matthew 7:11

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

This matter of “gifting” is complicated.

Before Christmas I have my list, which only seems to grow as I think of more and more people I want to “remember” with some kind of something. But then there is the matter of “how much do I spend on each gift?” You want your gifts to be meaningful—but what if what you really want to buy is more than you can afford? And what if you just don’t know what to give—is a gift card a good option or a cop-out?

“Gifting” is just as complicated on the receiving end. Have you ever opened a present and it was totally the wrong size. . . .or the wrong everything? You have the thought that you could “re-gift” it but fear that will somehow get back to your friend or family.

During deployment gifting becomes even more complicated. I mean, there’s the whole timing thing and distance thing and money thing and . . . . you know.

And when it’s all over there’s the whole “thank you note” thing! Do you have a relative who always has a comment to make about your thank you note—like it was a day too late, or was too short on words, or just didn’t convey a proper sense of gratitude for what they had worked so hard on getting for you?

More than likely we have all lived all of this. . . .and more!

Gratefully I enter every Christmas season undaunted. . . . ever-hoping to find that “perfect” gift at the right price to be graciously received with a sincere smile. And I am ever-prepared to reward my artful gift-ers, who have also rejected cynicism and commercialism, with my most heartfelt gratitude for their successful effort to please me. Well, it’s possible, right?!

So as I am nearing the close of the 2014 Christmas-shopping season and anticipate finishing up with the appropriate thank you notes soon after. . . . I need to remind myself that there is only one perfect Gift-Giver, and only one perfect Gift.

God knew we needed redemption. . . .and He gave us a Redeemer.

God knew we needed salvation and eternal life. . . .and He gave us a Savior.

God knew we needed forgiveness . . . .and He gave us Grace.

God knew we needed sanctification. . . . and He gave us His Righteousness.

God knew we needed wisdom . . . . and He gave us an All-Wise Counselor.

God knew we needed patience . . . . and He gave us a Longsuffering Servant.

God knew we needed hope and truth . . . . and He gave us His Word.

God knew we needed joy . . . . and He gave us His Freedom and His Strength.

God knew we needed peace . . . . and He gave us His Presence and Sovereignty.

God knew we needed justice. . . . and He gave us Mercy.

God knew we needed love . . . . and He gave us His Son, Jesus Christ.

God’s indescribable and perfect gift, Jesus Christ, paid the price which we could not pay for the gift of salvation which we did not deserve—To God be the glory!

Questions to Share:

  1. What was the most favorite gift you ever received at Christmas?
  2. What was the most favorite gift you ever gave at Christmas?
  3. Have you received the gift of eternal life through Jesus Christ? If not, go to GodLovesTheWorld.com. It is THE perfect gift!

Lonely Christmas

Written by Vanessa. Filed Under Lessons from History, Marriage & Family

Excellent or Praiseworthy is posted on Monday and Thursday nights.

“The angel of the Lord said to [the shepherds], “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; He is Christ the Lord.”  — Luke 2:10-11

Though I sat in a room full of people, I’d never felt more alone. A big part of my heart was missing. It would have been our fourth Christmas together … and yet, we weren’t together. My sweet husband was many miles away in the Middle East. My children and I missed him terribly. It just didn’t feel “right.” Was this sacrifice we were making for our country really worth it? The selfish part of my heart said, “Let someone else fight. We need him here with us.” But alas, I had no choice – he was gone and there was nothing I could do about it. On the most joyful day of the year, I sat at my parents’ home filled with laughter and celebration, silently moping.

That’s when my Dad handed me a gift and card secretly sent from my dear husband. As I read the card, I realized the depths of my own self-absorption and inability to focus on the truly important aspects of Christmas. Through tear-filled eyes I read:

“To my love on Christmas,

Oh how I wish I were with you this blessed season – but God has other plans for us. And I trust Him. As the Bible says, “Blessed is he who trusts in the Lord.” (Proverbs 16:20b) He will bless us in due time. If not in this life, then in the glorious life to come which will far outshine all shadows of this age. Even in the glum of being apart on Christmas, my spirit is encouraged by the One who gives me life and brought us together, and gave us two wonderful children. He wants to bless us, has blessed us, and will bless us again. We are grounded on Him and therefore have more hope – hope which outlasts earthly life and temporal deployments, sin, war, and even death. I know you know this, but I write to encourage you to put your hope in Him and rest in His arms – the mighty arms of our Savior, who was once a child in a manger, a man of flesh, and also the risen and triumphant King over sin and death! He is my hope this season, our hope always, and I trust him to comfort and be with you when I cannot. He is Emmanuel, God with us. He is the reason we can love one another so deeply, and why I love you … forever.”

Oh, how God spoke right to my heart through my husband’s letter. Rather than trusting God’s plan for our family at this time, I was wishing I could plan my own life. Instead of focusing on God’s blessings, I sat alone, feeling cursed. When I should have been rejoicing in the hope of Jesus Christ, I was hoping my husband would walk through the door. Rather than opening my heart to receive God’s comfort, which was right there in front of me, I longed for the human comfort of my husband.

I wonder if Mary Livingstone ever felt the way I did on that lonely Christmas night. The wife of the great 19th century English missionary to Africa, she and her husband David were apart over half their married life. They once spent nearly four years separated from each other, while he ministered to the physical and spiritual needs of thousands of Africans unreached by the Gospel or the wonders of modern medicine. In poor health, Mary raised six children nearly by herself. She sometimes traveled for months to see her husband, leaving the children behind with grandparents. Both husband and wife sacrificed much for a higher calling. In the spring of 1862, shortly after the birth of their last child, Mary once again journeyed over land and sea to rejoin her husband. However, Mary never returned from her last trip. After three joyful months together, she was taken quickly by malaria. David was devastated. He wrote: “It was the first heavy stroke I have suffered, and quite takes away my strength. I wept over her, who well deserved many tears. I loved her when I married her, and the longer I lived with her I loved her the more.”

And yet his perspective remained eternal. He did not cease his work; rather, he renewed his vision to draw souls to Christ and bring provision, healing, and comfort to the sick. Even as he mourned his dear wife, he said: “There is a Ruler above, and His Providence guides all things. He is our Friend, and has plenty of work for all His people to do . . . such a blessing and a privilege to be led into His work instead of into the service of the hard taskmasters—the Devil and sin.” As a friend of God, Mary Livingstone humbly considered others better than herself (Philippians 2:3). She and David treasured the time they had together, but felt blessed and privileged to serve God in such amazing ways, even when it meant they were separated. Sure, Mary and I lived in different centuries, different countries, and married men of different vocations. But, we shared one important thing: we both loved our husbands enough to let them fulfill their calling—God’s calling—for their lives.

That night, as I finished the letter, the most beautiful thing happened. God used the very one for whom my heart yearned to draw me back to Himself alone: “I love you, my child. I am here with you. What more could you need?” I snapped out of my pity-party and back to reality. I had been incredibly blessed. And I had the hope of Christ in my life. It was Christmas, and indeed time to celebrate! “Joy to the world, the Lord has come. Let earth receive her King!”

Pray: Lord, I need you more each day. Too often, I focus on myself and the pleasures of this life, when I should be looking to You and the hope of heaven. Turn my heart toward you when I lose perspective.

Questions to Share:

1. Am I content with what I have?

2. Do I truly place my trust in Christ alone for my satisfaction and hope?

The Christ Effect

Written by John. Filed Under Spiritual Training

Excellent or Praiseworthy is posted on Monday and Thursday nights.

“This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about. . . All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet:  ‘The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel’—which means, ‘God with us.’”  —  Matthew 1:18,22,23

Take time during this deployment. . . during this Advent season . . . to think on these truths of God from the Christmas story.

The coming of Jesus (and the events accompanying His coming) . . .

1. disrupted the lives of many.

Zechariah and Elizabeth, a priest and his wife, having a baby (John the Baptist) at a very old age; Joseph and Mary, having an “unexpected” pregnancy; the shepherds, having an unusual day on the hillside!  “Then an angel of the Lord appeared to him (Zechariah), standing at the right side of the altar of incense. When Zechariah saw him, he was startled and was gripped with fear. But the angel said to him:  ‘Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to give him the name John’” (Luke 1:11-13).

How has Jesus disrupted your life?

The coming of Jesus (and the events accompanying His coming) . . .

2. fulfilled the lives of some.

Anna and Simeon waiting expectantly at the temple for the Christ Child!  “Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts. When the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the custom of the Law required, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying: ‘Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you now dismiss your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all people, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel’” (Luke 2:25-32).

How has Jesus brought fulfillment into your life?

The coming of Jesus (and the events accompanying His coming) . . .

3. determined the life calling and ministry of one.

John the Baptist’s calling!  “And you, my child, will be called a prophet of the Most High; for you will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him, to give his people the knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins . . .” (Luke 76,77).

How is Jesus presently determining what you do in life?

The coming of Jesus (and the events accompanying His coming) . . .

4. made some look forward.

Zechariah looked forward with prophecy!  “His father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied: ‘Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel, because he has come and has redeemed his people” (Luke 1:67,68).

How is Jesus changing your perspective of the future?

The coming of Jesus (and the events accompanying His coming) . . .

5. moved others to look back.

Zechariah also looked back at the fulfillment of prophecy!  “He has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David (as he said through his holy prophets of long ago), salvation from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us—to show mercy to our fathers and to remember His holy covenant, the oath he swore to our father Abraham. . .” (Luke 1:69-73).

How has Jesus changed the perspective of your past?

The coming of Jesus (and the events accompanying His coming) . . .

6. compelled simple acts of faith and obedience.

Mary’s obedience!  “But the angel said to her, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God. You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end.’. . . ‘I am the Lord’s servant,’ Mary answered. ‘May it be to me as you have said’”  (Luke 1:30-33, 38).

How is Jesus presently compelling you to acts of obedience and faith?

The coming of Jesus (and the events accompanying His coming) . . .

7. stimulated some to evangelism.

The shepherds spread the good news!  “When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them”  (Luke 2:17,18).

How has the coming of Christ compelled you to tell others about Him?

The coming of Jesus (and the events accompanying His coming) . . .

8. stirred others to praise.

Mary, Zechariah, the angels, the shepherds—all praised God!  “Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests” (Luke 2:13,14).

Because of Christ, is praise a daily part of your vocabulary?

The coming of Jesus (and the events accompanying His coming) . . .

9. motivated a few with a sense of urgency.

The shepherds were quick to respond!  “So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger”  (Luke 2:16).

Is there a new sense of earnestness, and determination in some area of your life because of Christ?

The coming of Jesus (and the events accompanying His coming) . . .

10. inspired contemplation.

The crowds (Luke 1:66) and Mary pondered!  “But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart”  (Luke 2:19).

How has Christ changed what you meditate, consider, study and reflect upon?

The coming of Jesus (and the events accompanying His coming) . . .

11. created fear and astonishment.

The crowds and the shepherds were in awe!  “The neighbors were all filled with awe, and throughout the hill country of Judea people were talking about all these things”  (Luke 1:65).

Are you sometimes astonished (or perhaps even fearful) when it comes to Jesus?

The coming of Jesus (and the events accompanying His coming) . . .

12. affirmed the place of Israel in God’s promised prophetic plan.

The angel (Luke 1:16), Simeon (Luke 2:32) and Anna spoke of God’s plan!  “Coming up to them at that very moment, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem”  (Luke 2:38).

Are you thankful that once God begins something He always brings it to fulfillment?

The coming of Jesus (and the events accompanying His coming) . . .

13. opened the doors for Gentiles to be saved.

Simeon declared that Jesus would be, “A LIGHT OF REVELATION TO THE GENTILES, and the glory of Your people Israel”  (Luke 2:32).

Are you grateful that you are included in God’s plan of salvation through Christ?

Questions to Share:

1. Has deployment caused you to think about Christmas in new ways this year?

2. Which of the thirteen questions above was particularly meaningful to you, and why?

Excellent or Praiseworthy is posted on Monday and Thursday nights.

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

Pastor Tommy Nelson, of Denton Bible Church in Texas, gave a sermon to his church for Christmas, 1988, entitled “Jesus’ View of Christmas.

The text for this powerful sermon was an unlikely one . . . Luke 11:21-26.

Those verses are several chapters away from the traditional Christmas story which we all know and love, Luke 2:1-20: “And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed . . . “

I was intrigued. How could verses about Jesus and Satan give us a message for Christmas?

Pastor Nelson began his sermon with the story of his father-in-law—a veteran of the World War II war in the Pacific—injured in battle. Pastor Nelson explained why his father-in-law is so patriotic . . . and challenges us to see patriotism from the heart of a soldier. To one who fights bravely and sacrificially, American patriotism means “the price paid”—suffering experienced for victory in battle . . . and the suffering of battle buddies killed. In other words, patriotism from the side of the donor . . . not the recipient.

He went on to suggest that Christmas, for Jesus, can be viewed the same way. “How does Jesus see Christmas? He sees it like Normandy, like Anzio, like Iwo Jima . . . A military maneuver—an attack force.” And Jesus wins.

Jesus Christ gave everything—He is the donor of life eternal. We are the recipients of that great gift. “Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift!” (2 Corinthians 9:15)

The birth of Jesus is viewed in our culture as a sweet manger scene focused on a swaddled infant, being watched over by adoring parents and gathering shepherds and wise men. In truth, it was the son of God come to earth to rescue a sinful world from the captivity of one known as “strong man” (Luke 11:21), “fully armed” (Luke 11:21), “prince of this world” (John 12:31, John 14:30), “god of this age” (2 Corinthians 4:4), “liar and the father of lies” (John 8:44), “the evil one” (Matthew 6:13), “roaring lion looking for someone to devour” (I Peter 5:8). Pastor Nelson called Jesus’ arrival in Bethlehem “a military maneuver into Satan’s domain to free what God has chosen.”

“I wonder if you said to the Son of God, ‘Christmas. Jesus, what comes into Your mind?’ There is no clearer text where Jesus told us what His incarnation was than this text (Luke 11:21-26). He had been accused of doing miracles by the power of Satan—that He was in league with Satan. And He said, ‘Gentlemen, you’ve got it all wrong. I am not Satan’s ally. I am Satan’s foe.’ And He said, ‘Let me get your drama straight.’  He said, ‘Here’s who Satan is—a strong man, an armed man who guards his people and no one gets out. Here’s who I am—the stronger man, the attacker, the victorious man who strips the enemy and plunders his possessions. And then He said, ‘You’ve got to make a choice.’”

It’s a clear choice. In summary, Jesus says you are either with Him or against Him. (Luke 11:23)

This Christmas, see the babe in the manger as our victorious Lord . . . come to earth to wage battle and defeat the enemy of our souls, Satan, the great deceiver and deliverer of death. Christ came, and He conquered.

And this is the testimony: “God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life.” I John 5:11,12

This Christmas, choose life.

Questions to Share:

1. When you think of the meaning of Christmas, what comes to mind?

2. Pray for this time of Christmas, while you are separated by deployment, to be a time of spiritual strengthening because of your understanding of Christ’s mission on earth.

The Jake DeShazer Story

Written by Linda. Filed Under Lessons from History

Excellent or Praiseworthy is posted on Monday and Thursday nights.

Editor’s Note:  December 7th is the anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor. In remembrance of that world-changing event, this devotion is posted to tell one of God’s great redemptive stories.

All the prophets testify about Him that everyone who believes in Him receives forgiveness of sins through His name. — Acts 10:43

Sgt. Jacob Daniel DeShazer was a crew member in the legendary Doolittle Raiders, a team of 80 brave military servicemen who volunteered and were organized to retaliate for the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor by bombing Tokyo. DeShazer was among those captured by the Japanese Army after bailing out of his plane over Japanese-occupied China. He spent 40 months in captivity, 34 months of it in solitary confinement, and was the victim of cruel torture and starvation. In his own words, DeShazer said, “My hatred for the enemy nearly drove me crazy. . . My thoughts turned toward what I heard about Christianity changing hatred between human beings into real brotherly love and I was gripped with a strange longing to examine the Christian’s Bible to see if I could find the secret. I begged my captors to get a Bible for me. At last, in the month of May, 1944, a guard brought me the book, but told me I could have it only for three weeks. I eagerly began to read its pages. Chapter after chapter gripped my heart.”

Particularly fascinating to DeShazer was his reading of the prophets in the Old Testament. Six times he read through their writings, and focused on the mention of a divine Redeemer to come, one born in human flesh. Then he went on to the New Testament and found there the fulfillment of those prophecies in the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

If you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved. — Romans 10:9,10

On June 8, 1944, DeShazer confessed his sins and received the forgiveness and salvation promised him in God’s word. Even though he remained in prison for more than a year, he was freed from hatred—free to love. He wrote the following in a post-war tract, “I Was a Prisoner of Japan”: “How my heart rejoiced in my newness of spiritual life, even though my body was suffering so terribly from the physical beatings and lack of food! But suddenly I discovered that God had given me new spiritual eyes and that when I looked at the enemy officers and guards who had starved and beaten my companions and me so cruelly, I found my bitter hatred for them changed to loving pity.”

But I tell you who hear me: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you . . . love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, because He is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. — Luke 6:27-28,35

With his new-found faith, DeShazer was anxious to “try out” the principles which he had been studying in Scripture, particularly the command to love your enemies. One day he was particularly mistreated by a cruel guard. He decided that the next morning he would greet that guard without bitterness and say “Good morning!” in Japanese. God gave DeShazer the grace to continue with that new treatment, and after a week the guard who had been so mean actually gave him extra food. DeShazer was grateful and decided that God’s way really worked!

Then Jesus came to them and said, “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I will be with you always, to the very end of the age.” — Matthew 28:18-20

Physical freedom came for DeShazer and other prisoners-of-war on August 20, 1945. Returning to his home in Oregon, DeShazer began seminary training shortly thereafter at Seattle Pacific College, married, and returned to Japan as a missionary. He served with his family as Free Methodist missionaries in Japan for thirty years, planting 23 churches. Many thousands of Japanese responded to this former POW’s invitation to receive Christ as Lord and Savior—but probably the most notable was Mitsuo Fuchida.

Fuchida was handed DeShazer’s tract “I Was a Prisoner of Japan” in a train station after the war’s end. Commander Fuchida led the Japanese air fleet which bombed Pearl Harbor, the man who had called “Tora! Tora! Tora!” After reading the tract, Fuchida, like DeShazer, was moved by Jesus’ cry from the cross, “Father, forgive them. They do not know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:34) In September of 1949, Fuchida accepted Christ as Savior, was baptized in 1951, and went on to become a missionary in Asia.

However, I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the gospel of God’s grace. — Acts 20:24

Over the next years, Fuchida and DeShazer spoke to many crowds together and individually, sharing their testimony of the power of Jesus Christ to transform lives. Fuchida’s desire was for people to remember him for the message of his changed heart more than the memory of the Pearl Harbor attack. In 1970 Fuchida wrote in his testimony “From Pearl Harbor to Calvary”: “He is the only One who was powerful enough to change my life and inspire it with His thoughts. He was the only answer to Jake DeShazer’s tormented life. He is the only answer for young people today.” Mitsuo Fuchida died in 1976 at the age of 74, and Jake DeShazer died in 2008 at the age of 95. Two former enemies now together in Heaven.

Does this story speak to you? Are you in a prison of hatred or bitterness? Do you hope for relief? The answers are in the person of Jesus Christ, and written in the words of Scripture and on the hearts of true followers of Christ. It is level ground at the foot of the cross . . . and we are all sinners. We all need forgiveness of sin, all of us. Take the time to repent and to turn your life over to 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. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him. — John 3:16,17

Work cited:

The Doolittle Raiders
Christianity Today
Breakpoint – With Chuck Colson
Commander Fuchida’s Testimony

Questions to Share:

1. What did you read about Sgt. DeShazer and Commander Fuchida that particularly inspired you?

2. Which of the six Scriptures highlighted spoke to you in a way which inspired you to know more about the Lord?

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 seven years. And it’s not done yet.

But for Christmas 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.

On this Christmas, 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.

Half Empty or Half Full?

Written by Linda. Filed Under Spiritual Training

Excellent or Praiseworthy is posted on Monday and Thursday nights.

“ . . . . so that the grace that is reaching more and more people may cause thanksgiving to overflow to the glory of God.”  — 2 Corinthians 4:15

It seems to be some sort of personality test—people ask “are you the sort of person who sees a glass as half empty or half full?”  That apparently is the gauge of whether you are pessimistic and cynical, or optimistic and hopeful.

But this Thanksgiving gives us a chance (once again) to check and see what the Bible has to say about our attitude.  We never find the words “half empty” or “half full”—but to be “overflowing.”

We are to be overflowing with praise:

“May my lips overflow with praise, for You teach me Your decrees.”  —Psalm 119:171

We are to be overflowing with hope:

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

We are to be overflowing with love:

“May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else, just as ours does for you.” —I Thessalonians 3:12

We are to be overflowing with comfort:

“For just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives, so also through Christ our comfort overflows.”  —2 Corinthians 1:5

We are to be overflowing with thanks:

“With that same spirit of faith we also believe and therefore speak, because we know that the One who raised the Lord Jesus from the dead will also raise us with Jesus and present us with you in His presence.  All this is for your benefit, so that the grace that is reaching more and more people may cause thanksgiving to overflow to the glory of God.”  —2 Corinthians 4:13-15

“So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in Him, rooted and built up in Him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.”  —Colossians 2:6,7

Taking this one important step further, we know that one cannot be “overflowing” unless one is “filled.”  So as Christians, what are we to be “filled” with?

“Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil.  Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is.  Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery.  Instead, be filled with the Spirit. Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs.  Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.”  —Ephesians 5:15-20

Being filled with the Holy Spirit, the gift from the Father at salvation, causes our hearts to be filled to overflowing with gratitude this Thanksgiving “for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Questions to Share:

  1. Deployment could cause our hearts to be hardened, but the Bible instructs us to be thankful.  Name two things for which you are grateful this year.
  2. Pray to have a heart of thankfulness for your spouse and for your circumstances, even during this time of geographic separation.
  3. If you want to know more about salvation through Jesus Christ, and being filled with the Holy Spirit, go to www.godlovestheworld.com and www.tenbasicsteps.org.

Pilgrims Deployed

Written by Linda. Filed Under Lessons from History

Excellent or Praiseworthy is posted on Monday and Thursday nights.

Blessed is the nation whose God is the LORD . . . – Psalm 33:12

Each year we celebrate Thanksgiving in the tradition of the Plymouth colony’s harvest at the end of their first year in the New World, 1621. Did these early settlers have cause to thank an Almighty God for their condition? Consider the following facts:

The Pilgrims did not come to America to seek religious freedom.

As a group, they had sought and found asylum in Holland from religious persecution more than twelve years earlier. They, like the Puritans, believed that the Church of England was corrupt. Unlike the Puritans who sought to “purify” the Church from within, these “Separatists” believed the Church was beyond purification. The Church could only be under the headship of Jesus Christ. Therefore, no one, not even the Queen of England could claim title as “Head of the Church.” Because of their convictions these believers were hounded unmercifully. The bishops of the Church of England feared these believers who “spoke enthusiastically of experiencing an encounter with Jesus Christ” might create little clusters of “fanatics” with no semblance of order and no conformity! Under the rule of James I and Charles I, they were literally driven underground and fled to Holland. It should be noted that James I was the sponsor of the King James Version of the Bible, first published in 1611.

Strong conviction led 102 men, women and children to brave sixty-six days at sea confined to an area one-half the size of a volleyball court.

Asdescribed by author and historian Peter Marshall, among the several reasons for their leaving was the fact that they “cherished a ‘great hope and inward zeal’ of at least playing a part, if only as a stepping stone for others, in carrying the Light of Christ to remote parts of the world.” They were taking Christ’s words in the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-20) to heart and believed that America was the site God had chosen for them. Were they right?

How committed were they?

The captain and part owner of the Mayflower, Christopher Jones, was hired to take them to just south of the Hudson River—the northernmost boundary of the Virginia Charter. In turn of funding their voyage, they would become indentured servants to English investors who expected 100% return on their investment in the New World. The love and worship of money, it turns out, is not a characteristic of only the 21st century.

They landed 100 miles north of their intended site.

Despite being tossed about by severe storms, they landed less than 100 miles north of their intended site on the Hudson. The area was Cape Cod. All attempts to move south, approximately a five day journey, were frustrated by headwinds, shoals, riptides, and the approach of winter. After much prayer, they decided to remain at the northern end of the Cape. However, this placed them outside the jurisdiction of the Virginia Company’s charter. They were ungoverned—accountable to no one, and totally unsupported. The fear of mutiny led them to quickly draft the Mayflower Compact. This document, founded on the ancient Hebrew tradition that all men are equal in the sight of God, was the “first time in recorded history that free and equal men had voluntarily covenanted together to create their own new civil government.” The Compact is two short paragraphs—only 200 words long.

Was this the landing site God intended for them? Consider the following:

The site located by a scouting party consisted of over twenty acres of cleared land ready to plant but obviously uninhabited for several years. The area also had four nearby streams, excellent drainage, a beach and protected harbor, in addition to an open field of fire for defense with muskets and cannons.

The first two Indians they encountered spoke fluent English!

Samoset was the adventurous exploring chief of the Algonquin tribe of Maine. He had been exploring the area for eight months when he strolled into their camp in the spring of 1621. Squanto is not a legend—he was the sole remaining Patuxet Indian. Squanto (Tisquantum was his real name) had been captured and taken to England for nine years and returned to America before being recaptured and sold into slavery in North Africa. He was subsequently rescued by friars who introduced him to the Gospel.

The First Thanksgiving

Governor Bradford declared a day of Thanksgiving in October of 1621. The celebration of safety, blessing, and a prosperous harvest, accompanied by over ninety Indian guests, ended up lasting more than three days.

Thus was born the tradition of the first Thanksgiving in America. A God-fearing people who had placed their very existence in a hostile new land solely in His hands responded with prayer, worship, love, and gratitude for His provisions; then shared it with their pagan neighbors with whom they were living in peace. Are we expected to do any less?

America’s heritage is a Christian heritage!

Work Cited:

The majority of this information and all quotes are taken from The Light and the Glory by Peter Marshall.

Questions to Share:

1. What were you taught about the history of Thanksgiving in America? Were there any details in this writing which reminded you of what you were taught?

2. What are you thankful for this year? Has your time of geographic separation from loved ones during deployment been a time during which you could reflect on your life?

“Wax On, Wax Off”

Written by Linda. Filed Under Spiritual Training

Excellent or Praiseworthy is posted on Monday and Thursday nights.

“No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.” — Hebrews 12:11

The story of Joseph in the Old Testament is one of jealousy and betrayal—and the goodness and sovereignty of God. At age seventeen, Joseph’s brothers sell him to Midianite merchants who take him to Egypt where he is then sold to Potiphar, one of Pharoah’s officials. Because of a false accusation by Potiphar’s wife, Joseph is put into prison. In Genesis 39:20b-22 Scripture records, “But while Joseph was there in the prison, the LORD was with him; He showed him kindness and granted him favor in the eyes of the prison warden. So the warden put Joseph in charge of all those held in the prison, and he was made responsible for all that was done there.”

Through the providence of God, Pharaoh releases Joseph from prison after many years of confinement and puts him in charge of the whole land of Egypt. (This is just a brief summary of a great story–please read it!) Because of Joseph’s Spirit-led wisdom and discernment, at age thirty he is able to lead Egypt to prepare during times of abundant harvest for a coming time of famine. This widespread famine eventually forces Joseph’s brothers to travel from Canaan in order to buy food—not realizing that the high-ranking official they meet in Egypt is their brother Joseph, whom they had sold into slavery. Perhaps you know how the story unfolds. . . .with the Israelites moving to Egypt and eventually returning to their promised land in the book of Exodus, led by Moses.

What did Joseph learn during his time in prison as someone unjustly accused? What must have seemed to me like frustration and loneliness really was a school for patience, leadership skills, business principles, perspective, peace, mercy, endurance, perseverance, self-control, and forgiveness. In other words, character. At the end of Genesis, we hear Joseph speak to his brothers the great words, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.” (Genesis 50:20) What grace!

I recently watched the 1980s movie “The Karate Kid” and was impressed by the period of training that the aspiring young man, Daniel, went through with Mr. Miyagi. If you have seen the movie, you know that Mr. Miyagi promises to teach Daniel karate, and in turn Daniel promises to do what Mr. Miyagi says—no questions. Then begins a strenuous time for Daniel of polishing Mr. Miyagi’s cars (“wax on, wax off”), sanding his deck flooring (“sand the floor”), painting the fenced-in perimeter of his yard (“up. . . down”) and painting his house (“side to side”). What seems to Daniel to be just manual labor is really a time of training his muscles for the elements of karate—but he does not see it as that. In one particular scene, Daniel erupts in anger accusing Mr. Miyagi of just getting his property improved through his hard work. Mr. Miyagi immediately puts him through the first paces of “putting it all together”—revealing to Daniel that he has been learning the hand movements of karate all along, without realizing it. Fast forward to the end of the movie (after much more training) and Daniel wins the karate tournament, earning the respect of those who had originally tried to harm him.

What is God training you for during this deployment? Does it feel like loneliness and frustration? Does it feel like so much “wax on, wax off”(mission preparations?). . . . . “sand the floor” (take care of the kids?). . . . “up, down” (pay the bills?). . . . “side to side” (month after month?). . . .and in the midst of all of that you cannot see what God is doing? Is it only when it is over that you can look back and see how God is putting it all together—and you have learned patience, grace, wisdom, discernment, perspective, endurance, self-control, perhaps forgiveness . . . in other words, character?

And is it possible to have hope for the future because of the opportunity you’ve been given to grow in character—if you can understand and have “eyes to see”? Paul writes in Romans 5:3-5: “we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out His love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom He has given us.”

I heard an Air Force fighter pilot once speak on the similarities between military training and spiritual training. His three points were: 1) they both require discipline and focus; 2) they both require repetition and practice; 3) they both are a “race” and not a “sprint.”

What this military pilot knew, what Mr. Miyagi taught Daniel, and what Joseph learned in prison was that focus. . . that faith-perspective which gives us hope in the midst of the “training” God is putting us through. . . is key to endurance. The great warrior-king David wrote in Psalm 141, “My eyes are fixed on you, O Sovereign LORD.” May we all have thankful eyes to see what God is doing in our lives, even now. What looks like months of painful testing during deployment may actually bring a harvest of righteousness if we allow ourselves to be “trained by it.”

Questions to share:

1. During this deployment, can you see God working in you to develop new character traits?

2. What every-day training is He using to cause you to endure?

Excellent or Praiseworthy is posted on Monday and Thursday nights.

In a large house there are articles not only of gold and silver, but also of wood and clay; some are for noble purposes and some for ignoble. If a man cleanses himself from the latter, he will be an instrument for noble purposes, made holy, useful to the Master and prepared to do any good work.—2 Timothy 2:20,21

Whenever our pastor prays for church members heading out on travel—or off to college—or deployment—he prays for the Lord to keep them “close and clean.”

What does that mean? Close and clean?

Clearly our pastor’s prayer is not just for those venturing away from our church on assignment—it is for all of us.

Desiring purity—maintaining holiness—with our hearts focused on God’s character and His presence in our lives, is certainly our goal as Christians. In this current culture of moral decline, praying for the Lord to keep us close to Him, and clean in our thoughts and actions, is certainly a testimony to our relationship with Jesus Christ.

These Scriptures point us to seek closeness with our Lord, and to desire His cleansing, based on guarding our thoughts and actions—and keeping short accounts by confession of our sins:

“How can a young man keep his way pure? By living according to Your word. I seek You with all my heart; do not let me stray from Your commands. I have hidden Your word in my heart that I might not sin against You” (Psalm 119:9-11).

“Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin . . . Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me” (Psalm 51: 2, 10).

“If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (I John 1:9).

“Come near to God and He will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded” (James 4:8).

One of my favorite lessons on purity and holiness is from an old Virginia pastor named G. D. Watson (1845-1924), who came to salvation as a Confederate soldier. The writing is entitled, “Others may, but you cannot.” In it his admonition is clear—being close to God and clean in thoughts and actions requires—demands–a humility and obedience to the Holy Spirit which will separate us from others—even other Christians.

“If God has called you to be truly like Jesus in all your spirit, He will draw you into a life of crucifixion and humility. He will put on you such demands of obedience that you will not be allowed to follow other people or measure yourself by other Christians. At times, He will let other people do things which He will not let you do.

Other Christians who seem to be very religious and useful may push themselves, pull wires, and work schemes to carry out their plans, but you cannot. If you attempt it, you will meet with such failure and rebuke from the Lord as to make you sorely penitent.

Others may boast of themselves, their work, their successes, their writings, but the Holy Spirit will not allow you to do any such thing. If you begin to do so, He will lead you into a deep mortification that will make you despise yourself and all your good works.

Others may be allowed to succeed in making great sums of money, or may have a legacy left to them, or may have luxuries, but God may supply you only on a day-to-day basis, because He wants you to have something far better than gold, namely, a helpless dependence on Him and His unseen treasury.

The Lord may let others be honored and put forward, and keep you hidden in obscurity because He wants to produce some choice, fragrant fruit for His coming glory which can only be produced in the shade.

God may let others be great, but keep you small. He will let others do a work for Him and get the credit, but He may make you work and toil without knowing how much you are doing. Then, to make your work still more precious, He will let others get the credit for the work which you have done; this to teach you the message of the Cross, humility, and something of the value of being cloaked with His nature.

The Holy Spirit will put a strict watch on you, and with a jealous love rebuke you for careless words and feelings, or for wasting your time, which other Christians never seem distressed over.

So make up your mind that God is an infinite Sovereign and has a right to do as He pleases with His own, and that He may not explain to you a thousand things which may puzzle your reason in His dealings with you. But if you absolutely give yourself to be His child, He will wrap you up in a jealous love and let other people say and do many things that you cannot.

Settle it forever; you are to deal directly with the Holy Spirit. He is to have the privilege of tying your tongue or chaining your hand or closing your eyes in ways that He does not seem to use with others. However, know this great secret of the Kingdom: When you are so completely possessed with the Living God that you are, in your secret heart, pleased and delighted over this peculiar, personal, private, jealous guardianship and management of the Holy Spirit over your life, you will have found the vestibule of heaven, the high calling of God.”

So whether you are traveling today to faraway lands, or taking care of the home front, calling on God to keep you close and clean—and doing your part to stay close and clean—is part of your Christian walk. The Apostle Paul goes on to complete the verses, which are at the beginning of this posting, to write, “Flee the evil desires of youth, and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, along with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart. Don’t have anything to do with foolish and stupid arguments, because you know they produce quarrels. And the Lord’s servant must not quarrel; instead, he must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful” (2 Timothy 2:22-24).

May the Lord watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore (Psalm 121:8) and may He keep you close and clean as you continue to seek Him and serve Him. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Questions to Share:

1. When you are away from your established routines and guideposts, what temptations do you experience which cause you to forget the closeness of God or the peace of righteous living?

2. Pray for each other, whether by cell/text/email/Skype, to desire to maintain the self-control it takes to live rightly.

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