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Excellent or Praiseworthy | A devotional to help military families stay connected during deployments - Part 2

A devotional to help military families stay connected during deployments

Excellent or Praiseworthy is posted on Monday and Thursday nights.

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

2015 is quickly drawing to a close, and the joys and struggles have been many . . . no doubt. Our nation is still at war . . . and deployments continue. Our bi-weekly devotional blog continues for its eighth year, seeking to remind you that you are loved by God, He is present with you, and that His sovereignty rules in spite of what appears to be randomness.

Through it all there have been some favorite postings which we want to share again—compiled together chronologically in case you have a chance to peruse them during the next few days:

  1. WWII and Beyond—A Story of Commitment

Louise is not able to tell her story anymore, so I am grateful that we captured what she wanted to share with us before dementia took its toll at age 97. Her advice is timeless.

  1. They Don’t Want to Hear It!

The call to patience, purity, positivity, and prayer is clear in this posting—when friends do not want to hear about what would help their marriages.

  1. S.T.A.N.D. for Your Marriage

We have never had a posting that was shared more than this one. Help for the hurting presented in a way that is counter-intuitive and filled with hope.

  1. The Wedding Prayer

This story makes the Top Ten every year. While not being “military”, it is truth to stand the ages . . . and has! Mrs. Evans continues to stay in touch with us, and we are grateful for how her family has shared their legacy.

  1. The Church & Chapel—A Home for the Military

We continue to hear from pastors, chaplains, and lay leaders who ask, “What can we do for the military?” We point them to this, along with CruMilitary.org and MilitaryReadyFamily.org

  1. Working for Your Marriage

Paul David Tripp is a favorite author/speaker, and his writings share truth which is essential for relationships—whether experiencing deployment or not. The truth is—a healthy marriage takes work!

  1. 5 Things I Learned During Deployment

Kathryn is one of our 35 authors who share their writings with Excellent or Praiseworthy. What she learned during one of their deployments was important to pass along to you.

  1. Reintegrace—God’s Grace for Reintegration

We are seeing that reintegration—especially multiple reintegrations—can be more challenging than the deployments which precede them. How can that be? The good news is . . . there is grace for this!!

  1. PTSD Prayers of King David

Combat trauma is not new, and it should not surprise us that King David wrote about his experience with PTSD in the Old Testament psalms.

  1. A Look at Parenting During Deployment

Diana Juergens and her family have a lot of experience with deployments! We are honored that she wanted to share what God taught her throughout their Army career—with 8 daughters.

Questions to Share:

  1. Which of these ten articles really impacted your thinking about your spiritual life during deployments?
  2. Pray for each other to hold on tightly to God—and each other—even though you cannot see one another.

The Reason for the Season

Written by John. Filed Under Spiritual Training

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?

Not a Silent Night

Written by Linda. Filed Under Lessons from History

­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.

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

I grew up in a military family. Then I married a military man. I know the demands—I get it . . . yet, during the holidays we military families can feel extra stress. The items on our laundry lists pile on even when a household member’s laundry is absent.

For example–I didn’t want my husband to leave last week, even though it was a short TDY (I wanted to have his laundry). Maybe it was the circumstances we have surrounding a “new arrival” due in the spring, a couple of young children to tend already, or his super-demanding training causing a bit of frazzled feelings on the home front. I just wanted him to stay home, hit pause and enjoy a moment of peace. Selfishly, still, it seems I’m taking my current stress and loneliness, adding on to them the loneliness of my friends who will be separated from their spouses during the holidays because of deployment, and just experiencing some holiday let down.

I get that this life has its duty, and job commitment. My husband willingly serves and protects those he loves, and others, in a dark world. The missed family and community gatherings at Christmas create a gap in our life because of his honor to his country—mine, too. Far from being anything new, this is a high calling which, in my family, has meant sacrifice in the generational circles of my father, grandfather, uncles . . . and now our turn. And honor may just be where I see God in His glory meeting him underneath the heap of my holiday stress piles.

Most days, I would like to hear a word of peace, fresh from those who are merrily going about their days with the holiday busyness, while my family supports an ongoing war. After all, we need to know we are not alone in the fight for freedom. Our country is free because of the sacrifices of others . . . including us now—but some days it feels more like a burden. A word of joy and encouragement would be an ounce of levity in what I feel are pounds of sacrifice. Yet there is a whisper from God. He provides Emmanuel, my Friend, the great story of encouragement to us all.

In thinking back to years past—and wars past—I recently read (a luxury, I know) the story behind the classic Christmas song “I’ll Be Home for Christmas”. You all know it, but what you may not know is it was written during World War II and sung for America by Bing Crosby starting in 1943.

I read about it in the book Stories Behind the Best-Loved Songs of Christmas by Ace Collins. This particular paragraph got me to thinking: “One of the true wonders of this song is that it sounds more like a letter home than a typical Christmas carol. Not only is there a real sadness evident in the words and melody, but a hopefulness as well. . . The spiritual nature of this song comes from its almost prayer-like message. Christmas in America had always been about family and remembering the One who started it all. Yet World War II had broken those bonds and disturbed the traditions of the holidays. ‘I’ll Be Home for Christmas’ eloquently acknowledged the hope that while things changed, given time, everyone would be home again.” (p. 94)

Hmmm. Our generation is experiencing the longest war in its history . . . and, if we stay in the military, our career will most likely mean a career with ongoing deployments. What insight is gleamed from this song (other than a healthy diversion from my gloom)?

The author credits the words of “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” for moving our nation “during the uncertain times of war, as well as the way they continue to move people today, mak(ing) this secular carol one of the most spiritual songs of any era.” (p. 91,92).

He ends the story behind this old Christmas favorite with this perspective, “As a testament to its hopeful nature, even though it does not have a single reference to Jesus or the first Christmas, over the past fifty years it has been used in hundreds of cantatas and church programs. Today, more than five decades after it was embraced as a World War II holiday prayer, ‘I’ll Be Home for Christmas’ stirs new emotions. Most of those who returned home for Christmas after the war have left this world for the next. Yet because of the contributions and sacrifices of the men and women who served our country during those dark days, they will always be home for Christmas in our hearts, memories, and dreams.” (p. 95)

I do believe we are appreciated. And just as first responders, airline personnel, utility workers, medical staff, pastors, etc., are all called on to work during these special days, we are sacrificing for the good of many. Our demands as military are exceptional and extraordinary . . . but it’s our calling for this season of our lives. Perhaps the love we have as believers which God gave this season, so unexpected, so unconventional, can be spread into those sometimes forgotten. Spread through the town for those who came to Bethlehem to be counted.

So what I need to feel is hope. Hope to help me see His perspective of honor and sacrifice . . . hope to warm my heart when the other side of the bed is cold . . . hope to look beyond the empty chairs and feel the smiles from across the miles . . . hope to know that he will be home, his spot counted.

And that takes faith. Faith that assures us that this world is not all there is. Like Chuck Swindoll says “little faith brings us to heaven but big faith brings heaven to earth”. Faith reminding me Jesus’ birth also meant redemption at the cross and heaven here on earth in the manger at Christmas. Finally, faith in his death and resurrection giving New Life to our lives, at every turn of events, especially those that are common with our military life!

Faith is where I “land” when my mind whirls through seemingly endless cycles of frustration, doubt, and fear. Certainly it is “being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see” (Hebrews 11:1). Jesus Christ, and his birth we celebrate at Christmas, brings us precious faith in spite of duty, deployments, and demands. Our story is but a subplot in His story.

As the saying goes, “We do not know what the future holds, but we know ‘Who’ holds the future.”

With a more calm and peaceful heart—because of Jesus—and whether our military friends and family will be home this year or not, we pray that their citizenship—indeed their true “home”—is ultimately counted in heaven with our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

Work Cited:

Collins, Ace. Stories Behind the Best-Loved Songs of Christmas (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2001).

Questions to Share:

  1. Share with each other any struggles you have to maintain a “holiday spirit” during this time of year.
  2. Pray for each other to hold the healthy perspective of Christian joy through these difficult days.

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.

Excellent or Praiseworthy is posted on Monday and Thursday nights.

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. — Hebrews 11:1

For many of us, we know what the Bible tells us about marriage – all that “counter-cultural advice” that tells us to give up our rights and commit to serving the other person. Right? That’s great when both of you are doing it. But when the circumstances are not great and your spouse is not being very nice, or the circumstances are difficult (such as before, during and after deployments) we can lose faith in God’s advice and revert to our selfish, rights-demanding nature, making things worse. That’s when we definitely need to shift our faith from the circumstances we are in to faith in the character of God.

But beware—for we can trick ourselves into believing that even though God in His character is all-powerful and all-knowing, the writers of Scripture slipped in principles that only applied to their time, their circumstances or their culture. I’ve even heard someone claim you can ignore the Apostle Paul’s advice on marriage (presumably Ephesians 5) because he was a chauvinist. Hmmmm. Could the problem be that we are just disobedient? In a lot of cases that will be true, but there are those who genuinely wonder if the Bible is right. No wonder we can be faced with a world full of relationships constantly out-of-step with the Biblical model, and constantly taunting us with accusations that we are out-dated and just plain wrong.

At other times we struggle in our relationships because we know what we need to do but we have a seemingly endless capacity for justifying why we don’t do it. We read passages in the Bible about needing to serve one another, treating each other as more important than ourselves, loving and respecting each other, and staying committed to each other, but somehow we can think that we are special . . . an “exception to the rule” based on our circumstances. This is selfishness.

So it becomes an issue of faith—not just in what but in Whom.

In the military, we use faith in follow-ership all the time. No one wants to follow someone with a reputation for messing up. We can follow them as long as the circumstances are manageable, but if things start falling apart around us, such as in combat, then we will no longer truly follow someone we don’t trust. To keep following someone even when things don’t look good, we need to know that the person we follow is competent in their knowledge and ability and that they care about our lives, otherwise, we are never going to commit fully to following them. This principle applies to following God also. Because we know His character, we can follow Him with great faith.

If we focus on better understanding the character of God, by spending more time getting to know Him through prayer, reading our Bibles and talking about who He is with others, then we will discover that He is wholly trustworthy. He can see everything (even across time), He knows us intimately and He loves us immensely. This means that His advice can be trusted, not because it feels like it fits our circumstances, but because His character is trustworthy.

We need to shift our faith from our circumstances to His character, then take another look at all of His marriage advice in the Bible, and apply it with a faith that transcends our circumstances. Imagine the possibilities!

Questions:
1. What marriage advice in the Bible do you find difficult to apply in the midst of your circumstances?
2. How much do you trust God and the advice He provides in the Bible? How much should you trust Him and His advice?
3. As a couple, what can you do together to better understand God’s character, so you can shift your faith from circumstances to trusting in who He is? Make a plan and do it!

Revenge and Marriage

Written by Al. Filed Under Marriage & Family

Excellent or Praiseworthy is posted on Monday and Thursday nights.

Never take your own revenge, beloved… – Romans 12:19

Revenge is becoming increasingly trendy in our society. The greatest influence on society seems to be movies, TV and the internet.  Through them we have been fed a steady stream of messages that say revenge is satisfying and even morally acceptable. We even have a popular TV series specifically about revenge. Think about the formula we are exposed to – first the villain is identified and we are given many reasons to want to see them punished.  Then the righteous hero gets a beating from the villain, so that we know they are justified to take further action.  Then the hero effectively assaults the villain up to and including killing them. We are not unhappy with the result because we are wired to justify and desire revenge. This is why we have things like the Geneva Conventions to govern our behavior in a conflict, because left to our own devices we cannot be trusted to not take revenge.

What does this have to do with marriage? I think this pro-revenge theme has also crept into our relationships. Revenge is not just about beating up or shooting people it can start with something like criticizing your spouse in public. It is getting back at someone for a perceived offense, no matter how small…

Revenge in a relationship is a major contributor to escalating conflict. Normally what happens is that someone does something that the other person does not like.  But rather than resolving the issue through calm communication, they decide that they are entitled to some payback. Maybe they even think that it is the only way to teach the other person how it feels, hence it is for their own good. How cunning we are when it comes to justifying our bad behavior!

So the offended person acts.  But often the offender is only partially aware or sometimes not aware at all that their actions caused offense. They might know that something is amiss, but without communication it can be really tricky to know why the other person is a bit edgy. So when the vengeful act occurs, the offender feels ambushed, hurt and offended. If they follow the pattern that has been set, they will decide that the other person needs to pay.  And then they begin to construct their own plan for revenge. Before long a couple can submerge themselves in the quagmire that is the revenge cycle. Revenge, counter-revenge, counter-counter-revenge, and so on, increasingly widening the gap between a husband and wife till they can barely speak to each other. Unchecked, this can only lead to painful isolation for both.  And in the military this will be at its most destructive when we are apart from each other for long periods. So if you have ended up in a revenge cycle, it is a great idea to get it in check!

This is why God tells us not to take revenge. Did you notice that He says “Never take your own revenge, beloved”? “Never” comes from the Greek “mē”, which essentially means to not do it if you don’t want something else to happen. “Beloved” is “agapetos”, from agape, the pinnacle of love. So God is not denying us the satisfaction of revenge. He is warning us not to take it because He loves us deeply and knows how destructive it is for our relationship and for our own well-being. The verse goes on to say that we should leave any revenge for God to exact. He’s better at it than us, plus He knows everything.  So He will only take revenge that is truly deserved.  Let’s hope we don’t wish that on our spouses!

So, the next time your spouse does something that you don’t like and you are tempted to retaliate by doing something to them, saying something about them, saying something to them or not saying something or doing something for them, rethink. If you go ahead you will be spinning the revenge cycle that will hurt them, you and your relationship. Trust God and put your desire for revenge aside, and do something nice for them instead. I’ll bet you will look back on that later and agree that God is smarter than all of us as you reap the benefits of avoiding revenge.

Questions:
1. How have you taken revenge on your spouse in the past (let’s face it, sadly, most of us have at some level)?
2. What could you have done in those circumstances that would have avoided revenge?
3. Share your thoughts with your spouse and commit together to watch out for and avoid the temptation to take revenge by making it a habit to replace revenge with doing something nice.

Conflict and Marriage

Written by Al. Filed Under Marriage & Family

Excellent or Praiseworthy is posted on Monday and Thursday nights.

Be angry and yet, do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not give the devil an opportunity. – Ephesians 4:26,27

We all fight.  There is no such thing as a conflict-free marriage. One of the keys to a healthy marriage is, however, to deal with conflict quickly and well, always with the focus of preserving the relationship with your spouse.

Satan hates marriage. He hates the strength that comes from it, especially from healthy Christian marriages that turn into potent little ministry teams. Conversely, God hates divorce (Malachi 4:16), so Satan’s preference would be for all marriages to end in divorce, and he knows that poorly managed conflict is the key to achieving his insidious goal.

If a threat as big as this threatened us in the military, we would focus a lot of intelligence effort on understanding it so we could defeat the threat before it destroyed us. And we should make a similar effort to understand the nature of conflict in our marriage relationship so that we can be victorious before unresolved conflict destroys our marriage, don’t you think?

I asked some military personnel what they thought the stages of conflict were, and we came up with this progression: disagreement causes irritation, irritation leads to offense, offense makes us angry, anger often leads to betrayal, betrayal normally incites revenge, the revenge cycle leads to isolation and hatred, sustained hatred leads to bitterness, which creates the platform for sustained conflict, all fueled by pride or the unwillingness to back down. This progression ultimately leads to a complete breakdown of relations, severed diplomatic ties and then war, or in the case of marriage, divorce, which on an individual scale is just as bad.

If we understand this progression, we can look at our own relationship and decide if we have moved down this spectrum in one or more areas of our marriage. If we know that we are sliding down this destructive path, we can begin repairing the damage, starting with giving up our pride! Better still, if we understand the progression that can lead from a simple disagreement to divorce, we can avoid sliding down that slope at all! The advice in the Bible is to never slide past anger…

This often quoted advice from Ephesians is more than a just nice idea–it is extremely smart–which is what we should expect from the Bible. There are two words used for anger in Ephesians 4:26,27:  orgizo for “Be angry…” and paraorgismos for “don’t let the sun go down on your anger”. Orgizo is anger that is under control, hence we can be angry but control what we do while angry, especially making sure that we do not sin. Paraorgismos literally means to be beside yourself in anger, or out-of-control angry.

So we can have a disagreement . . . we can even be a little irritated, offended and angry, but this should be short-lived and under control. Even if our anger feels out of control, we should make sure we do not sin and make things worse by sliding down the conflict spectrum. The longest we should harbor anger is 24 hours – anything longer also risks a slide down the conflict spectrum. Because disagreements are inevitable due to all of us being different from each other, and because initial irritation, offense and anger are natural responses when we are caught off-guard, we are safe until we move past our initial responses and begin to choose to do things that add to conflict.  What would add to the conflict?  Nurturing irritation, offense, and anger can lead to betrayal and revenge–which feeds bitterness and cements conflict because of a hardened heart.

And isn’t it easier to stay angry when deployed–when communication with your spouse is sporadic and not optimum?  All the more reason to resolve the conflict as quickly as you can in whatever way you can . . . by extending grace, offering forgiveness or asking for forgiveness . . . making sure that you leave plenty of room in your mind and heart for understanding each others’ situation.

We need to work hard to stay at the top end of the conflict spectrum, resolving or forgiving issues quickly. This habit is especially important to have in place before any separation.  As we just said, deployments and tours are hard enough without unresolved conflict being left to eat away at our relationships while we are apart. If we do not stay up the top end of the conflict spectrum and we yield to anger, Satan has an opportunity to feed our pride and push us all the way down the slope until our relationship is broken. That seems like something worth fighting to avoid!

Questions:
1. Do you recognize any of the steps to sustained conflict in your marriage relationship? What are they?
2. How much effort do you think you should make to beat Satan and protect your relationship from destruction?
3. Discuss your answers with your spouse and make a plan to resolve or forgive all issues on a daily basis.

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.

“Put on all the armor that God gives you, so that you will be able to stand up against the Devil’s evil tricks. For we are not fighting against human beings, but against the wicked spiritual forces in the heavenly world, the rulers, authorities and cosmic powers of this dark age. So put on God’s armor now! Then when the evil day comes, you will be able to resist the enemy’s attacks; and after fighting to the end, you will still hold your ground.”  — Ephesians 6:11-13

I don’t know about you, but as a soldier the thought that I might lose any ground to an adversary makes me dig deeper, ball up my fists and redouble my efforts to fight and win. I’ve seen soldiers, exhausted and complaining, looking like they would never walk again suddenly leap to their feet and energetically join together to defend against a coming threat. I’ve also seen the look of disgust on the faces of military personnel who have been tricked into some level of defeat. It’s not a good feeling.

As bad as physical defeat is, Paul tells us in his letter to the Christians at Ephesus that the physical battles we face are a diversion. The reality is that the physical battles we fight are caused by the spiritual battle that is going on in the background. These days we are getting more and more accustomed to fighting a physical enemy that uses tricks, lies, ambushes, coercion and terror to try to destroy us. Our physical enemy is merely following the lead of our spiritual enemy—the difference being that our spiritual enemy can also penetrate our homes and directly target our families. Our marriages and families are always on the spiritual front line. We certainly do not want to win the physical battles but lose the spiritual battles.

Satan knows that if he can weaken our marriages, our children lose their security and people who are close to us feel discouraged— not to mention the defeat that we and our spouses will feel. It is the kind of destruction that enemies dream of, devastating and long-lasting. The destruction from a broken marriage can echo through generations as children from broken homes may enter their own marriages with poor self-esteem, fear, dread, and a poor example. For the devil, a marriage is a worthwhile military objective and most people leave it unprotected. That’s why we need to have our armor on!

Ephesians chapter 6, verses 14 – 17 tell us what armor we need, and it’s important to consider each piece of armor and then check that we have it. All of our armor is important to protect our relationship with God, which is the foundation of every strong marriage. But I believe that there are three key pieces that we especially need to protect our relationship with our spouse.

1) Truth holds everything together like a belt – never be dishonest with your spouse. Satan would love to create suspicion and distrust as a wedge in your marriage – don’t let him gain any advantage.

2) Righteousness protects you like the ceramic plates in your body armor — if you have nothing to be ashamed of, Satan cannot wound you and you will not wound your spouse. This can only come through the righteousness of Jesus Christ—we have none on our own.

3) The word of God as your sword (or your M-4 in today’s terms) – this is how you can fight when Satan tempts you with his lies that sin is okay and then tries to lead you astray from your marriage commitment. Know your Bible and you can fire back with truth and force the devil to withdraw. “Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” James chapter 4, verse 7b.

Ask God to fit you with His armor and for His Holy Spirit to stand with you when the devil attacks your marriage so that “when the evil day comes… you will still hold your ground”.

Questions to Share:

  1. Can you name a time when Satan has tried to create conflict between you and your spouse?
  2. Can you see how telling the truth, maintaining purity, and knowing scripture can help you in the fight for the legacy of your marriage?

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