A devotional to help military families stay connected during deployments

Excellent or Praiseworthy is posted on Monday and Thursday nights.

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

We have turned the calendar’s page to 2015. Does that make you feel older? Certainly it marks a passage of time, and for those of you experiencing deployment that comes as good news or bad news. If you’re getting ready to come home, you probably want those days to pass quickly. If you’re waiting to deploy, you might want time to move slowly. But whether it moves slowly or quickly time is taking its toll on all of us and we’re growing older. That’s the truth of it. 

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

I guess that’s why I am intrigued by Paul’s thinking expressed in 2 Corinthians 4:16:  “Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.”  Being renewed even though my body is “wasting away” (more and more, it seems)??  That’s counter-intuitive! The paradoxes of the Christian faith (see Sept 1st Excellent or Praiseworthy’s “The Paradox of Drawing Together While Apart“) have long fascinated me, and here is yet another one—as Christians we can actually grow younger as we are growing older! That’s good news as I get out my new calendar for 2015 and put away 2014. 

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

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

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

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

This is not some haphazard order, but the proclamation of the innocence as of a child—the simple faith and trust that a little one has in their loving parent—that is of infinite value to God. As we approach 2015, may we see in it the possibilities of clinging to Jesus for every provision and trusting Him with each and every care. If we can do that, we will mature and become more and more as a child as we grow older in days. If we can do that, we will fling ourselves into His arms in full reliance on His character, and proclaim the prayer of the Puritans (who had an understanding of the paradox of the Christian faith) for the New Year:


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

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

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

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

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

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

May you have a Blessed New Year!

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

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

 Questions to Share:

  1. What are the challenges you are facing in your life and in your marriage in 2015? Make a list of at least three concerns.
  2. Ask your spouse what their concerns are for 2015. Pray individually and together, trusting God to do what He promises in Proverbs 3:5,6: “Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight.” 

Praying from Head to Toe

Written by Linda. Filed Under Prayer

Excellent or Praiseworthy is posted on Monday and Thursday nights.

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

I attended a retreat at which the speaker introduced us to teaching on “Praying for Your Husband from Head to Toe.” Being a visual-type person, it intrigued me to think that I could move in thought from my husband’s head down to my husband’s feet and pray for his mind, eyes, ears, nose, mouth, bones, heart, hands, legs and feet. Let me summarize some of this instruction, written up originally as material from Proverbs 31 Ministries (perhaps you have seen other versions of similar writings). I believe that the same can be used by you husbands to pray for your wife. I have added the “her” and “she” in order to complement the truth contained in this teaching so that married couples can pray for each other, especially during times of geographic separation caused by deployment:

“Praying for his/her mind: Colossians 2:2-3 ‘that he/she will have the rich experience of knowing Christ with real certainty and clear understanding’

Praying for his/her thoughts: 2 Corinthians 10:5 ‘that he/she will take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ’

Praying for his/her eyes: 2 Kings 6:17,1 Corinthians 16:13 ‘that he/she may see life from God’s perspective and be on the alert for spiritual danger’

Praying for his/her nose: 2 Corinthians 2:15 ‘that his/her life will be refreshing to others, and a life-giving perfume’

Praying for his/her mouth: Acts 4:29 ‘that he/she will have great boldness in witnessing for God and that the words of his mouth and the meditation of his heart will be acceptable to God’

Praying for his/her bones: Isaiah 58:11 ‘that he will be healthy like a watered garden’ (I would add Proverbs 3:7-8: “Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the LORD and shun evil. This will bring health to your body and nourishment to your bones.”)

Praying for his/her heart: James 4:8, Proverbs 3:5 ‘that he/she will be filled with God alone and that God will create in him/her a clean heart filled with pure thoughts and right desires; that he/she will trust God will all his/her heart and not lean on his/her own understanding’

Praying for his/her hands: 1 Timothy 2:8 ‘that he/she will pray with holy hands lifted to God, free from sin, anger, and resentment’

Praying for his/her legs: 2 Corinthians 5:7 ‘that he/she will walk by faith and not by sight’

Praying for his/her feet: Psalm 40:2 ‘that God will keep him/her from discouragement and set his/her feet on a firm path'”

Let me take this thought of praying for your spouse one step further. Do this—visually step through the spiritual armor, from head to toe, found in Ephesians 6 and try to think how you could pray for your spouse as we “put on” each piece of the armor during deployment:

Helmet of Salvation—“Heavenly Father, Thank you for giving salvation because of the sacrifice of Your Son, Jesus Christ, on the cross of Calvary. We know that it is His blood which cleanses us from our sin and forgives us so that we may live with You eternally. I pray that my spouse may know You and the joy of Your salvation more and more each day, even while we are apart. May the truth of that never leave their side and provide them perspective to face the demands of the hour.”

Breastplate of Righteousness—“Lord Jesus, It is Your righteousness alone that covers us and protects our hearts from eternal condemnation. May we be ever mindful of the fact that it is not our righteousness, for we have none, but your righteousness alone that assures us of a right relationship with God. Guard our hearts, as a married couple, to be ever drawn to You, not relying on ourselves or the things of this world, but on You and You alone. Provide for us the assurance of Your love and may our commitment to each other reflect our commitment to You as Lord and Savior.”

Belt of Truth—“Dear God, May we put on the belt of truth to gird ourselves with a certain knowledge of Your grace and mercy. Search our hearts and bring us to an understanding of our helplessness without Your presence and power in our lives. May we trust in You alone and seek You only for our needs. While apart from each other may we be mindful of fears and lies which would seek to draw our minds away from our commitment to each other.”

Shield of Faith—“Lord Almighty, It is faith in You and You alone that protects us from those things which seek to destroy us and our marriage—worry, doubt, guilt, discouragement, despair, disbelief. May our faith in You cause us to hold our shield with great confidence against the enemy, being obedient to Your will as the one Who made us and chose us. Please protect my loving spouse from the fiery darts which can be so painful, and keep them strong in faith while we are apart.”

Sword of the Spirit—“Awesome God, Your Word is all I need to fight the battles of this life. May Your promises come to our minds when we face trials which the enemy would use to defeat us. May we seek Your face in prayer and in day-to-day living so that Your Truth, in the person of Jesus Christ, and Your love would give us guidance, wisdom, and victory through a fresh filling of Your Holy Spirit. Thank you for the hope that Your Word gives us when times seem so tough.”

Feet Shod with the Preparation of the Gospel of Peace—“Great Redeemer, Please help us to be ready to share with others the peace that can only come from You. While we are apart, we may have unique opportunities to serve our fellow military members with compassion during their hour of great need. May we, as a couple, be prepared for those opportunities, with sure understanding of the truth of the good news of Jesus Christ and His desire for us to proclaim Your faithfulness to others who may not know You.”

The teaching on the spiritual armor in Ephesians 6 ends with this instruction from verse 18: “And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints.” Pray.

Questions to Share:

1. Take time to pray for your spouse, head to toe.

2. Share with your spouse, if possible, how you have prayed for them.

“I Need to Be Reminded”

Written by Linda. Filed Under Spiritual Training

Excellent or Praiseworthy is posted on Monday and Thursday nights.

Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. — I Thessalonians 5:18

We gathered for Bible study, but our friend’s face was downcast . . . a sure sign that his soul was, too. We knew he was dealing with marital problems, but there was also the pressure of an impending deployment. All of this weighing on his heart, his future—his now.

It’s hard to know what to say sometimes—most of the time, really. So I said something scriptural that I don’t even remember, then added something like “God knows what you are going through and He is with you”. I followed the simple truth with a smile, and then closed with “but you already know that.”

I guess I expected my smile to be returned with his smile—an understanding between us that I was just trying to do my best to help, but failing.

But that’s not what happened. Instead he said with emphasis, “I do already know that. But I need to be reminded. Thank you.” I got the distinct impression that he really meant it.

My turn was the next day. I had gotten discouraged the night before with some details of ministry, and knew that my day was going to be “one of those days” when work would be in the details. Nothing bad, just laborious.

So I was surprised to open my inbox early and find this email awaiting me, from friends time zones away. Totally unexpected . . . totally something I already knew . . . totally something I needed to hear . . . totally something which blessed me by the power of its truth, and timing:

“Dearest Friends,

Because God is with usImmanuel, we can endure difficult circumstances of life. We can say with confidence that the Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me? From Psalm 27:1, “1The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The LORD is the strength of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?” Praise God!

Because God is with usImmanuel, we can expect direct answers to our prayers. Heb. 4:14-16 says, “14Seeing then that we have a great high priest, that is passed into the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our profession. 15For we have not a high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin. 16Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.” We can come boldy and blurt out what is in our heart and He will sympathize and identify with us. Praise God!

Because God is with usImmanuel, we can face the demanding challenges of ministry.

To Moses, God says in Exodus 4:12, “12Now therefore go, and I will be with thy mouth, and teach thee what thou shalt say.”

To Joshua God spoke…Joshua 1:9 “9Have not I commanded thee? Be strong and of a good courage; be not afraid, neither be thou dismayed: for the LORD thy God is with thee whithersoever thou goest.”

 To Jeremiah God encouraged … Jeremiah 1:8, “8Be not afraid of their faces: for I am with thee to deliver thee, saith the LORD.”

To all shepherds and their sheep God commands us…Mt. 28:19-20, “19Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost:  20Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Amen.” Praise God!

Be encouraged with good cheer during the opportunities of ministry God has prepared in advance for you to do. We are ready to join in because God is with us! Praise God!

Love in Christ,

Your Friends in Iowa

Turns out my friends had listened to “Turning Point” with Dr. David Jeremiah on the radio, had taken notes and then crafted them into an email for me. The truth and the timing were exquisite. The truth that God was with me was something I already knew . . . but at that moment I needed to be reminded.

To my friends in Iowa I can say, “Thank You!”

Perhaps you, too, need to be reminded–or can be used of God to remind someone else.  God is with us!

Questions to Share:

1. Is there someone you know who needs to be reminded that God is with them—no matter where they are and no matter their circumstances?  Perhaps it is your spouse during this deployment.  Take the time to remind them.

2. Is there someone you can pray for today, because you know that God is with you and listening?

Excellent or Praiseworthy is posted on Monday and Thursday nights.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Later Ingram writes:

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

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

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

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

Later, Haugen writes:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Work cited:

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

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

Questions to Share:

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

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

A Time to Weep

Written by Mary. Filed Under Spiritual Training

I am worn out from groaning; all night long I flood my bed with weeping and drench my couch with tears. — Psalm 6:6

I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. — Romans 9:2

There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven: a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot, a time to kill and a time to heal, a time to tear down and a time to build, a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance . . . a time for war and a time for peace. — Ecclesiastes 3:1-4, 8

I will turn their mourning into gladness; I will give them comfort and joy instead of sorrow. — Jeremiah 31:13

My husband and I saw the movie “Marley and Me” the other day. It’s the story of a family, centered around their dog. So you can guess the beginning of the story—they get the dog. And no doubt you can guess the end of the story. What counted was everything in the middle. Anyway, I couldn’t quit crying. It wasn’t the hard boo-hoo sobs that wrack your body, but the tears that start rolling down your face and just won’t quit—no matter what you tell yourself in the darkness of the movie theater.

It’s been two years since my husband returned from his second deployment. Or as we say—eighteen months since he mentally got back. Fifteen of those months were spent with many personnel pressures compounded by under-manning due to ongoing deployments. It was tough (understatement).

So, what did all that have to do with the movie? It dawned on me that so often in the military we don’t take the necessary time to grieve. We live intensely; we adapt quickly; we check off the blocks. Move to Ft. Riley, know anyone there? Know the housing. How about schools? Paint inside or not? Send husband to war. Pray he comes home. Cry with friend whose husband didn’t. Help her move. Get orders. Move again.

But grief is not something to be “done,” check the block, it’s over, move on. It’s something to be lived through. It can surprise us at the most unexpected times. Hence, the everlasting tears at a movie.

My doctor is in the next town over. She told me the other day, “Everyone near the Fort is so ANGRY!”  I said, “Everyone is grieving.”  I wonder if we all realized that about one another . . . might we be kinder?

So the movie came after four and a half years of . . . what do we call it? Traumatic life-changing events, or just life? It’s been longer than this if you count my beloved grandmother’s death a couple of months before moving. Then my husband deployed thirty-seven days after arriving here. It has taken until now, after all of my close friends have moved, to begin processing the profound changes of the last four years.

Where was God? Right here with us, in the thick of it!! War and its consequences make Him sad, too. So, to be honest, I must remember babies born, old friends reconnected, babysitters and friends who came out of nowhere and saved the day . . . the ways in which God provides at every moment and through every pain.

A great Bible verse for deployment says just that, “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze. For I am the LORD, your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.” (Isaiah 43:2,3) Another great chapter of promise to cling to during war times is Psalm 139, “Where can I go from Your Spirit? Where can I flee from Your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there (military in the air?); if I make my bed in the depths, you are there (military at sea?). If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea (military on land?), even there Your hand will guide me, Your right hand will hold me fast.” 

But here’s the deal—it’s okay to grieve. It’s not doubting God to tell Him how hard it is to let go. Sometimes we just need permission. God Himself became a man, and He wept at least twice as referred to in John 11:35 and Luke 19:41.

Do we take the time to look for the miraculous things that God does in our lives every day—when His presence is made known if only we have eyes to see and ears to hear? Perhaps just getting through another day is miraculous. One thing is sure, just like in the movie—all this stuff in the middle? It counts. One day we will be with Him and know no more sorrow. I like the promise from Isaiah 60:19,20: “The sun will no more be your light by day, nor will the brightness of the moon shine on you, for the LORD will be your everlasting light, and your God will be your glory. Your sun will never set again, and your moon will wane no more; the LORD will be your everlasting light, and your days of sorrow will end.”

Until then, it’s okay to grieve.

“I’m trading my sorrow. . . . I’m trading my pain. . . . I’m laying them down for the joy of the Lord.”  Darrell Evans, “Trading My Sorrow”

Questions to Share:

  1. What helps during the times that you are grieving over some losses?
  2. Pray this prayer: Lord, may I come to the place where I can see what Paul saw and said, “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation (not even deployments and war), will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” — Romans 8:38,39

Excellent or Praiseworthy is posted on Monday and Thursday nights.

“When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, He asked His disciples, ‘Who do people say the Son of Man is?’ They replied, ‘Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.’ But what about you?’ He asked. ‘Who do you say I am?’ Simon Peter answered, ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.’ Jesus replied, ‘Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by My Father in heaven.” — Matthew 16:13-17

It is the end of 2014–the beginning of 2015 and the perfect time to ask the question “Who is Jesus Christ?” Even better, it is the perfect time to answer the question, “Who is Jesus Christ to me?” It’s a very personal question on which all of life hinges.

It is interesting that Jesus begins this encounter with His disciples by asking who “others” believe that He is. Very interesting. How many times do we determine truth based on what others believe? In today’s culture, some would declare pluralism to be truth, others that inclusivism is truth. . . add pantheism, universalism, new age, and on and on. Certainly all of these cannot be true. Public consensus always leads to compromise of real truth–to political correctness at the expense of biblical doctrine. Paul writes in Colossians, “See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ.” Colossians 2:8

As Christ-followers, we are formed, fashioned, and guided by the Word of God in our personal conviction of who Christ is. Consider these declarations:

The angel in Matthew 1:21 proclaims: “And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.”

John the Baptist says in John 1:29, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world.”

Nathanael says in John 1:49, “Rabbi, You are the son of God.”

Peter says before the Sanhedrin in Acts 4:12, “Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”

Peter writes to the believers in 1 Peter 3:18: “For Christ suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God.”

Paul writes to Timothy in 1 Timothy 2:5-6: “For there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself as a ransom for us all.”

John writes in 1 John 5:12: “He who has the Son (Jesus) has life; he who does not have the Son (Jesus) does not have life.”

And Jesus Himself says in John 8:24: “If you do not believe that I am the one I claim to be, you will indeed die in your sins.” In John 8:58, “Before Abraham was born, I am!” and in John 10:30: “I and the Father are one.”

And Jesus says in John 14:6: “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life and no one comes to the Father but by Me.”

Some would then say in disbelief, “That is too narrow.” The truth is always narrow. Mathematical truth is narrow–two plus two always equals four. Scientific truth is narrow–water freezes at 32 degrees Fahrenheit. Historical truth is narrow–John Wilkes Booth shot Abraham Lincoln at the Ford Theater in Washington, D.C. Geographical truth is narrow–Oklahoma and Texas are bordered by the Red River, not the Mississippi River. So theological truth is “narrow”: “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” Matthew 7:13-14

Peter’s declaration of Christ found in Matthew 16:15 is an interesting passage of Scripture. As my pastor has pointed out, although the Greek text is only ten words in length, the definite article is used four times: “You are the Christ, the Son of the God, the living One.” In this statement from Peter’s heart, he identifies Jesus as the Messiah, Jesus as divine–and only Jesus as the Messiah and Jesus as divine.

C.S. Lewis, in his great classic, Mere Christianity, writes: “I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: ‘I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept His claim to be God.’ That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus did would not be a great moral teacher. . . . Either this man was, and is, the Son of God–or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit on Him and kill Him. . . or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come up with any patronizing nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.”

So this takes us back to the original, ultimate question, “But what about you?” He asked. “Who do you say I am?” Follow the book of Matthew through nine more chapters—the account of the transfiguration, Jesus’ final days of teaching, His triumphal entry into Jerusalem, the betrayal, Lord’s Supper, His arrest and crucifixion. You will find another great confession. . . . this one by military members present who saw and heard Jesus. “When the centurion and those with him who were guarding Jesus saw the earthquake and all that had happened, they were terrified, and exclaimed, ‘Surely He was the Son of God!’” Matthew 27:54

How would you feel toward a fellow soldier who stepped between you and a bullet to save your life? Why should we not feel the same way toward Jesus? That is exactly what He did. Like the Centurions at the foot of the cross and military members through ages since who have come to know Jesus as their Lord and Savior, consider Him. . . . repent of your sin. . . confess Him as your Savior. . . .know Him. . . .love Him. . . .serve Him. Making Him “Commander in Chief” of your life is the only way you will then spend eternity with Him.

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

Questions to share:

1. Do you rely on others to shape what you believe? Is there any danger in that?

2. Do you believe that Jesus is who He says He is? (“The high priest said to Him, ‘I charge you under oath by the living God: Tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God.’ ‘Yes, it is as you say.’ Jesus replied.” Matthew 26:63b-64a)

If you desire to profess Jesus as your Lord and Savior, go to:


Happy New Year!!! Jesus said, “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” John 10:10b

Top Ten Predictions for 2015

Written by Linda. Filed Under Spiritual Training

Excellent or Praiseworthy is posted on Monday and Thursday nights.

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

I have several friends who email me “forwards.”  Perhaps you do, too.  I received this one back a few years ago–and I like to return to it, this time for 2015.  The ten predictions are from the forwarded email (author unknown). . . . .and the additional comments are from Scripture, and my heart.

Top 10 Predictions for 2015:

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

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

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

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

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

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

3. “The Holy Spirit will still move.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

9. “Jesus will still love you.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’m going to email the person who sent me this “forward” and thank them. . . . . it’s been a great reminder of what really matters—not just in 2015, but always.  “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.”  — Hebrews 13:8

Questions to Share:

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

2. Are there some promises of God which you could add to this list—ways in which God was faithful in 2014 and in which you know He will still be faithful in 2015?

A New Year Every Morning

Written by Al. Filed Under Spiritual Training

Excellent or Praiseworthy is posted on Monday and Thursday nights.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Questions to Share:

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

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

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

Benedictions to Close 2014

Written by Linda. Filed Under Prayer, Spiritual Training

Excellent or Praiseworthy is posted on Monday and Thursday nights.

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

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

I recently studied five favorite benedictions, or blessings, and believe they have something to say to us at the end of 2014. And they may even have an inspirational message for those experiencing deployment!

1. Facing Challenges

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

As we face the new year of 2015, it’s possible that this year will bring an unexpected change of assignment—or even an expected one. Jude’s benediction reminds us that it is God who will keep us on a steady path of obedience and purity. And it is Jesus Christ we are to serve . . . not just in 2015, but for all of our days.

2. God’s Sovereign Plan

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

We make our career plans, but it is God’s perfect plan which prevails in our lives. Paul’s reminder that He alone is in control –for our own good—is one we need to keep before us. It is His Holy Spirit power at work in a Christian’s heart and life which gives us confidence in 2015.

3. Peace for the Journey

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

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

4. Growing in Relationships

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

Times of geographic separation, as demanded by deployments, can challenge any and all relationships. Keeping up the lines of communication requires planning and intentionality . . . and is ultimately motivated by an ever-increasing love for one another. In 2015, or in a duty assignment, may you call on the Lord to be at the center of your relationships to His glory.

5. The Legacy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And may the LORD continue to guide and protect you throughout 2015, in whatever lands He takes you according to His will and for His glory, both now and forevermore. Amen.

Questions to Share:

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

2. If you are facing a deployment in 2015, print these blessings onto index cards to carry with you in order to pray for each other.

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-two 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.

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