A devotional to help military families stay connected during deployments

Excellent or Praiseworthy is posted on Monday and Thursday nights.

“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

It all started at a church near Ft. Hood, Texas. We were meeting with the church-sponsored “Heroes” group—Army families who are either experiencing deployment, or redeployment and reintegration. It was a great night, with lots of good food and discussion. I asked the question, “During your last deployment, what would have helped?” A young wife named Tammy looked right at me and said, “An online devotional—that would have helped. . . .one designed for military.” At that moment, when her eyes met mine, Excellent or Praiseworthy was born.

And so it launched on September 11, 2007. We did not plan for it to begin on 9/11—that’s just when all of the necessary pieces came together. Seems symbolic and appropriate, however, considering the impact that 9/11 has had on all of our lives in this great nation, especially our military families. On this September 11th our nation remembers the tremendous sacrifice made by those who died in the face of the enemy named terrorism. We shall never forget such heroism and courage displayed that day and the days since as you defend and protect our country. And with these devotions we seek to serve you as you so faithfully serve us.

The name for this website came from Philippians 4:8, “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” Those in the military who are assigned the duty of defending our nation and liberating foreign nations have sacrificed much. We believe our calling in this online devotional is to offer a chance for couples to think on things which are true, noble, right, pure, lovely, and admirable in order to keep them spiritually connected and growing during their time of separation.

In the past seven years, we have posted 725 devotions—every Monday night and Thursday night.  The hope is that in the interval time between Tuesday and Friday couples will have the opportunity to read and discuss the “questions to share” over email or telephone. And many, many have. We know the site has been accessed approximately 182,000 times—from literally all over the world (186 countries–including Vanuatu?). And we know those readers are merely a subset of the total readership. Many “hits” are not recorded in our analytical data because the location of the internet servers is invisible to us for security reasons.

This large readership has been heartwarming and encouraging. Our goal has been to provide a reading which will give a couple something to read and share, prompting them to communicate at the “heart level” through Scripture, a story, and the “Questions to Share”. If a commitment to marriage is a commitment to communication, then couples who can communicate what they think and feel, without becoming defensive or feeling threatened by rejection, are couples who can weather a tough situation together. Whether by phone, letter, email, webcam, or texting, a couple needs to be creative and intentional—and willing to share at the heart level—in order to finish the deployment strong.

One reader commented: “One of the challenges my husband and I faced this past year was remaining spiritually connected when separated by miles. Once I came across the ‘Excellent or Praiseworthy’ card the military ministry leader at church had given me and got on the website, we wanted to use the ‘EorP’ devotional as a springboard to spiritual conversations, with both of us reading it prior to our phone calls. My husband and I jumped on that bandwagon late in his deployment, but I would love to equip the families who are facing pending deployments with that tool. It is a very effective ‘spiritual glue’ for separated couples.”

We have had 38 writers join this collaborative effort—providing spiritual lessons from their unique deployment stories. We are so grateful for these writers, and continue to look for more. In 2008 we added “categories.” You will notice that the devotions are in one (or more) of five categories: Prayer, Marriage and Family, Lessons from History, Spiritual Training, and National Guard/Reserves. Obviously there is overlap in these, so we encourage you to explore the entire website for helpful devotional material categorized by topic.  Through the seven years we have also added photos, and even videos.  We continue to look for ways to serve you better.

A popular feature has been “The Deployment Dare” found on the sidebar.  All forty days from the popular book The Love Dare have been re-considered to meet the challenges of “doing the Love Dare” while geographically separated by deployment. If you haven’t already, check it out!

We have observed, met and heard stories about couples who are growing closer together in their marriage relationship during deployment.  Some of these stories form the basis of EorP devotions. We have also observed, met and heard stories of individuals who are growing closer to the Lord during deployment—and we believe that the two are linked. Growing closer to the Lord will result in a closer marital bond—as God is the source of all oneness in marriage.

The legacy for the family of a couple who is intentional about their spiritual development—even in the face of the difficulties and challenges of deployment during war time—will impact generations to come for the Lord. After all, He is the one that holds couples together. “He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together” (Colossians 1:17).  He is the One whom we serve, the One whom we love, the One whom we follow. . . .and our desire is to be like Him. Thank you for your devotion to our Lord and Savior, and may God richly bless you as you serve our country!

“I pray that out of His glorious riches He may strengthen you with power through His Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. Now to Him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to His power that is at work within us, to Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.” — Ephesians 3:16-21

Questions to Share:

1. In what ways do we, as a couple, desire to grow closer to each other during this deployment?

2. In what ways do I, as an individual, desire to grow closer to the Lord during this deployment?

3. How are these two desires connected?

Excellent or Praiseworthy is posted on Monday and Thursday nights.

Pleasant words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones. — Proverbs 16:24

When I see an article on marriage, I automatically think “what does this say to a military marriage?” Ministry to military has wired me this way—thankfully.

So when I read the article on FamilyLife.com entitled “5 Biggest Little Ways to Improve Your Marriage” I naturally went to “what does this say to a military marriage?”

I might not have been as interested in this exercise if the article hadn’t been written by Shaunti Feldhahn, who is a respected researcher on marriage statistics and author of For Men Only, For Women Only, and The Good News About Marriage. I knew whatever Shaunti wrote was well-studied and well-written.

And given that improving your marriage during deployment takes special grace and intentionality, I went right to applying her points to those areas of challenge unique to military marriages. The goal? Helping military marriages to see that there are ways they can help their marriage by doing “little things” as often as possible.

Shaunti writes, “Clearly, a few small actions won’t fix deep relationship problems. But for most of us, a handful of simple day-to-day actions increase the likelihood that our spouse feels that we care deeply about them, instead of feeling that we don’t. There’s just enormous power in that!”

So using her research methods of surveying, Shaunti shares with us “The Fantastic Five for him” and “The Fantastic Five for her”. “When individuals were asked on the survey if a particular action made them happy, the affirmative response numbers were staggeringly high for five specific actions for each gender, even among the struggling couples. Close to 100 percent of all husbands and wives said these actions mattered, with between 65 and 90 percent of all husbands and wives saying these actions would deeply please them.”

Is this also true for military couples? I believe so.

Here are her “Fantastic Fives” and my additional suggestions for military couples:

The Fantastic Five for him

A wife will have a big impact on her husband’s happiness when she does the following:

1. Notices his effort and sincerely thanks him for it . . . This deeply pleases 72 percent of all men.

What about during deployment? You really can’t know what your husband specifically does each day and thank him for it, right? You can’t thank him for mowing the lawn in the heat or playing with the kids when tired from work, unless he is the spouse at home. But you can thank him for doing his part to defend our country, and being the kind of man that people depend on. What Shaunti Feldhahn is telling us is a little word of thanks goes a long way to marital satisfaction.

2. Says ‘You did a great job at __________.’ This deeply pleases 69 percent of all men.

Closely related to #1, this takes the verbal affirmation (by email or cell or text or Skype or letter) one step further from thanks to praise.

3. Mentions in front of others something he did well. This deeply pleases 72 percent of all men.

Can you mention to your friends how proud you are of your husband and the job he is doing—whether at home or while deployed? Certainly you can. And with the speed of modern communication, the likelihood of this praise getting back to him is high.

4. Shows that she desires him sexually and that he pleases her sexually. This deeply pleases 85 percent of all men.

This one is a little more difficult to do when separated geographically by deployment. But not impossible! Why not say, “I can’t wait to have you home and spend our own quality time together! I love and need you so much!” Be creative in your descriptions of your desires—you know what will please your husband to hear.

5. Makes it clear to him that he makes her happy . . . This deeply pleases 88 percent of all men.

We’re talking about little things here, and for a husband to hear long distance that he is still adored is vital! This tip got the highest point value of all five. Does being married to him make you happy? Remember some of your happiest moments together and remind him of those. Or state what he does to make you smile. On a difficult day, this could make all the difference.

The objective is to repeat these simple but powerful actions frequently. While not a cure-all, they are crucial to knowing and feeling that our spouse cares.

The Fantastic Five for her

On his side, a husband will have a big impact on his wife when he does the following:

1. Takes her hand. This deeply pleases 82 percent of all women.

We have addressed the power of holding hands on ExcellentorPraiseworthy.org before. Go to “Holding Hands“. Can you hold hands while deployed? Of course not . . . but you can take that special picture of you holding hands before deployment and put it where you will see it often. Or you can trace your hand and send it to each other with a message. Be creative—this little thing is very important (more than you think).

2. Leaves her a message by voice mail, e-mail, or text during the day to say he loves and is thinking about her. This deeply pleases 75 percent of all women.

This says that most women NEED to hear frequently that they are loved. Especially during dangerous times, I believe it’s extra-important to close every conversation with “I Love You.” You never know.

3. Puts his arm around her or lays his hand on her knee when they are sitting next to each other in public . . . This deeply pleases 76 percent of all women.

Again, this is not something little you can do during deployment, but you can communicate closeness with words. You can say, “If we were together right now, I would put my arm around you and hold you tight.” You need to say it, because she needs to hear it.

4. Tells her sincerely, “You are beautiful.” This deeply pleases 76 percent of all women.

I’m getting older, and the radiance of my youth is gone. But I would agree—I still like to hear that, to my husband, I am beautiful. Hearing him tell me that daily, or frequently, would be a sweet gift. Is it a little thing? Perhaps. Or maybe, to her, it’s a big thing!

5. Pulls himself out of a funk when he’s morose, grumpy, or upset about something, instead of withdrawing. (This doesn’t mean he doesn’t get angry or need space; it means he tries to pull himself out of it.) This deeply pleases 72 percent of all women.

Most wives would say that they sometimes tire of being a cheerleader to their husbands. Just once in a while it would be nice for him to draw strength from the Lord alone and impart that change-of-attitude to others instead of continuing in a slump. This point surprised me a bit, but I was in agreement.

In conclusion, knowing your spouse’s love language (5lovelanguages.com) only helps to zero in on the importance of these 5 little day-to-day helps. And Shaunti closes with, “Because as it turns out, believing that the other person cares is far more important to building a happy marriage than most of us every realized.” Understatement.

P.S. Reintegration is the Perfect time to start doing these “5 Biggest Little Ways to Improve Your Marriage”. Especially if a wall of communication has been building over time and distance . . . and needs to come down!!

Work Cited:

Shaunti Feldhahn, “5 Biggest Little Ways to Improve Your Marriage” on www.FamilyLife.com

Questions to Share

1. Which of the Fantastic Fives were a surprise to you?

2. Which of these tips do you already do—and which will you start doing today?

The Living God in a Dying World

Written by Mary L.. Filed Under Prayer

Excellent or Praiseworthy is posted on Monday and Thursday nights.

Though I walk in the midst of trouble, You will revive me; You will stretch forth Your hand against the wrath of my enemies, and Your right hand will save me. — Psalm 138:7

An eerie feeling hovered in the hot, humid night air. Although darkness would soon be over for 19-year-old Lance Corporal Andy Stokes and his fellow Marines, they couldn’t help but wonder if they would see the morning light.

It was March 21, 2003—the first day of the war in Iraq. While other 19-year-olds were attending college classes or working in the States, Andy found himself in a convoy of military vehicles. He joined the Marines after graduating from high school because he liked the idea of fighting to serve his country. His unit (the first Marine Expeditionary Force) was the first to cross the Iraqi border.

War became a reality when Andy was sitting in the back of a seven-ton truck. He says, “An RPG comes screaming right down the entire line of trucks. So, we all jump out and take up our security.” In a matter of minutes, his combat training was transformed into battlefield experience.

When Andy’s platoon later went down “Ambush Alley,” the shortest and most direct path to Nasiriyah, Iraq, it was no secret that they were not alone. Many houses and buildings—perfect hiding spots for snipers—lined an approximate three-mile stretch of road.

Traveling at high speeds and without lights, the convoy began its treacherous journey. Andy sat in the back of a camouflaged truck and was changing ammunition when a rocket-propelled grenade landed within four feet of him. Popping sounds filled the air as bullets whizzed by, breaking the sound barrier.

The protective hand of God. After Andy and his fellow Marines reached their destination, they saw miles of billowing smoke. Witnesses told of flashing lines of bullets and of rocket propelled-grenades exploding everywhere. Despite this, every single Marine in the platoon dismounted their vehicles. Unbelievably, only one bullet hole was found in a single Humvee. That night, an entire platoon acknowledged that God had protected them.

Andy was much closer to the Lord when he returned to the States in July 2003. Although he became a Christian when he was in elementary school, he says: “I saw a lot of things last year (2003 deployment) and I thought, ‘Whoa . . . . there are life and death situations all of the time.’ I just wanted to be on that road (living for Christ).”

He sincerely tried to be a “good Christian” when he returned to Camp Pendleton. However, he says, “I could not do it all of the time.”

In March 2004, Andy found himself in a too familiar and unsettling location; He was back in Iraq but now in Fallujah. This time, he understood the real cost of fighting for freedom. He knew that he could be killed at any moment from an unexpected mortar or rocket. He says, “And there was always that lingering in the back of your head. We were in constant combat for about a month and a half, and on and off, the rest of the time that we were there.”

The power of prayer. Andy sent his parents, John and Sue Stokes, the names of those in his platoon to share with approximately 200 people who were praying for him. John says, “So I kept that list with me. And if I was in line at the bank, wherever I was, I would often . . . . pray through that list of names.”

John frequently prayed through Psalm 138, and he personalized the following words in verses 7-8: “Though I walk in the midst of trouble, you preserve my life; you stretch out your hand against the anger of my foes, with your right hand you save me. The Lord will fulfill his purpose for me.”

Sue specifically prayed: “That each one of these guys would come to know the Lord. That those who did know Him would grow in their faith by the miracles that we knew they were seeing—that they would not be wasted miracles of God. That they would recognize that they had seen the hand of the living God for a purpose far beyond them.”

Friends of the Stokes, Raymond and Betty Ray, sent Andy a copy of The Purpose Driven Life, at the same time that his squad leader received a copy from his own mother. The two read the books together over 40 days and started sharing what they learned with their platoon. Andy says, “It (the book) pretty much worked its way through the platoon—our two copies.”

Author Rick Warren says in The Purpose Driven Life (page 193), “God has a purpose for every problem.”  The platoon certainly had many opportunities to look for God’s purpose on the battlefield. Andy tells of a time when he and four other Marines hovered behind an embankment (berm) on the side of a dusty road. Sixty-millimeter mortars exploded before their eyes. (Mortars are explosives that are dropped into a tube and fired—sometimes from as far as a mile away.)

Andy explains: “The kill radius (for 60-millimeter mortars) is 5 meters, which is about 15 feet. So anything within 30 feet in diameter of where that hits is considered dead. And the casualty rate is 50 meters beyond that because it just throws rocks and shrapnel and everything all over the place.”

Seeking protection, Andy and four friends crouched down with their backs against a huge pile of dirt when suddenly mortars exploded just a few feet in front of them. Shrapnel flew everywhere. Andy temporarily lost his hearing and one piece of shrapnel ricocheted from a buddy’s glasses. The five Marines were dumbfounded: Why were they still alive?

Andy says, “My platoon sergeant was on my left and a couple of other buddies were on my right—we surely should not be here today. I could just picture an angel sitting in front of us who took all of the flack. It was pretty amazing to see that just explode right in front of us. Everybody who witnessed that said, ‘We know that God is with us tonight.’”

Another time six men in Andy’s platoon were traveling in a humvee when an Improvised Explosive Device detonated directly under the vehicle. The humvee was absolutely destroyed, yet all six Marines survived with minor shrapnel wounds.

One of Andy’s buddies was shot in the head. Andy says, “It was a 7/62 caliber . . . . The holes it left were just pinholes. It should have taken his head clean off. How does that work?”

Andy says, “Everyone had seen all of this stuff happening and a lot of us were saying, ‘That is God, definitely.’ And I was also sharing with them how many people were back here praying for them. And they are just like, ‘No kidding.’”

Welcome Home. A few weeks before Andy’s platoon left Iraq on his second deployment, his fellow Marines started to realize that something was different. Andy says, “I think that’s when it really started hitting everyone—our platoon is entirely intact. And they started thinking about the book and about me telling everybody that we had hundreds of people praying for our platoon individually by names.”

But some of Andy’s friends in other platoons will never return to loved ones. Andy says, “All of my friends who died in combat definitely fought with pride and totally with honor for their country . . . . He (God) had another purpose for that person (who died).”

On October 27, 2004, a group of about 50 people gathered at the Little Rock airport. Balloons and “Welcome Home” signs filled the air. A small child held a posted that said, “You are my hero.”

At approximately 8:20 p.m. Andy Stokes walked down the runway. His shoulders were a little broader and his heart was a little heavier. He was no longer a boy who joined the Marines because he “liked the idea of fighting to serve my country.” After two deployments in Iraq, he was a man who knew the inconceivable cost of freedom and the mighty power of prayer.

Questions to Share:

1. Where were you in March of 2003?  What have you learned from God teaching you through events in your life since then?

2. Can you look back to these past eleven years and tell each other how God has answered your prayers?

Mary Larmoyeux and her husband have two married sons and five grandchildren. The author of several books, including Help for Busy Moms, she has written articles for The Family Room, HomeLife, Discovery Years and other publications. To learn more about Mary visit her website at www.marymaywrites.com

Excellent or Praiseworthy is posted on Monday and Thursday nights.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Work Cited:

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

Questions to Share:

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

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

Rainbow

Written by Mary Katharine. Filed Under Marriage & Family, Spiritual Training

Excellent or Praiseworthy is posted on Monday and Thursday nights.

The LORD is faithful to all His promises and loving toward all He has made. Psalm 145:13

I’m not a young Army Wife.

This is not my first, or my second, or my third or my (you get the picture) deployment. And it doesn’t matter. I miss my soldier as much as the next wife. My kids miss their Daddy as much as any kids would. Deployments are hard regardless of who you are and what number this one is for you.

We are nearing the end of this fifteen month deployment, and while I would so love to be closer than we are, I can wait. How? Because you see that image to the left? It is one of the most perfect reminders I can think of how God’s promises are forever and they are changeless. No matter what is going on in our lives or in the world, God’s promises stand. What a comfort that is! What peace that brings. When my soldier husband sent me the image, I just couldn’t stop looking at it. I was so amazed to see a rainbow in Afghanistan! I’m not sure why I thought that was some type of great world wonder, but the image is just so powerful to me with the rainbow in the background of a place of combat.

I have so much to be thankful for in regards to everything that has happened since April of 2011. But one of the biggest joys I have is that as exhausted as I am at the end of each day, I wake up every morning and push through another day.

I am thankful, so thankful that we have a Gracious Heavenly Father.

I am thankful for rainbows and the reminders they are of God’s word to us.

And I am thankful I have a soldier who loves me, but who loves Jesus more.

We are still in waiting mode for our reunion, but the days are getting much shorter!

Many of our unit’s soldiers have already returned to their families. Mine will be one of the last, if I am blessed to have him return. I can’t wait to feel him breathing next to me again. I have missed his presence in our lives so much. And I know he’s missed ours in his. How blessed I am to have the life I do. I pray God will not let me forget the struggles I’ve faced and the lessons I’ve learned about my heart and my faith through the last 15 months. And I pray as I move forward, that I use those lessons to His glory.

Questions to Share:

1. Can you identify with this soldier’s wife’s perspective, now that she is near the end of their umpteenth deployment? Why or why not?

2. What about God’s character and the faithfulness of His promises has helped sustain you through deployments?

Excellent or Praiseworthy is posted on Monday and Thursday nights.

“Then you will call upon Me and come and pray to Me, and I will listen to you. You will seek Me and find Me when you seek Me with all your heart.”Jeremiah 29:12,13

On the battlefields of the Civil War, one hundred and fifty-one years ago, the troops of the Army of Northern Virginia (Confederacy) experienced an event called for by their president, Jefferson Davis. On August 21, 1863, they observed a “day of prayer and fasting.” General Robert E. Lee issued this order in response to President Davis’ request:

“The President of the Confederate States has, in the name of the people, appointed the 21st day of August as a day of fasting, humiliation and prayer. A strict observance of the day is enjoined upon the officers and soldiers of this army. All military duties, except such as are absolutely necessary, will be suspended. . . . Soldiers! We have sinned against Almighty God. We have forgotten His signal mercies, and have cultivated a revengeful, haughty, and boastful spirit. We have not remembered that the defenders of a just cause should be pure in His eyes; that ‘our times are in His hands;’ and we have relied too much on our own arms for the achievement of our independence. God is our only refuge and our strength. Let us humble ourselves before Him. Let us confess our many sins, and beseech Him to give us a higher courage, a purer patriotism, and more determined will; that He will convert the hearts of our enemies,; that He will hasten the time when war, with its sorrows and sufferings, shall cease, and that He will give us a name and place among the nations of the earth.” Christ in the Camp, p. 56

Revivals were becoming more common in the camps of the Confederacy, so much so that when the War ended and the soldiers headed home (some with new-found faith), their spiritual fervency was instrumental in creating what we now call “the Bible Belt.” Christ in the Camp is a beautiful compilation of letters and reports from the field—chronicling what God brought about between chaplains, missionaries, and pastors and the soldiers and families whom they served during the Civil War. First published in 1887 by Chaplain J. William Jones, the book is over six hundred pages of actual accounts and correspondence which can only reinforce what was true then and now—our only hope is in Christ Jesus.

The introduction to the book is written by Chaplain J. C. Granberry, and includes this description of the military soldier:

“The martial imagery of which Paul (in the New Testament) was fond shows an analogy between the life of the soldier and the life of the saint. The centurion of Capernaum and the centurion of Cesarea were patterns of faith and of a devout spirit. The soldier’s habits of unquestioning obedience to orders, of trust in superior officers, and of freedom from anxiety about things for which he is not responsible, fit into the life of faith. . . . . I have nowhere witnessed more complete, symmetrical and beautiful examples of Christian character than in the army. . . Not recklessly, but with thoughtful and prayerful solemnity, they went into fierce battle; yet the peace of God which passeth all understanding kept their hearts against alarm. . . . To God be all the glory!” (p. 15-16)

The Northern counterpart to Christ in the Camp is the fascinating book entitled From the Flag to the Cross, published in 1872. Story after story of soldiers making decisions to follow Christ—both before battle and after battle, sometimes in the hospital and sometimes in prison—fills the pages of this book by Chaplain A. S. Billingsley. The book also tells of the contribution that the U.S. Christian Commission made to the spiritual life of the U.S. Army: “The efficiency and success of the Commission were wonderful. Beginning with eighteen members in 1861, before the close of the war it had engaged nearly five thousand delegates laboring for the temporal and spiritual wants of the men. Talking Christ to them, preaching to and praying for and with them, was the principal business of a great part of the delegates. In all, they preached to them over 58,000 sermons, and held with them over 77,000 prayer-meetings, and gave them 1,466,748 Bibles and parts of Bibles, 18,000,000 religious newspapers, 1,370,000 hymn-books, over 8,000,000 knapsack-books, and 39,000,000 pages of tracts, and wrote for them 92,000 letters. The total value of the whole amount contributed in four years was $6,291,107.68. With zealous hearts these noble brethren ‘went about doing good,’ relieving and comforting the officer, soldier, and sailor wherever they found them.’” (p. 333) Among the members of the U.S. Christian Commission, who served side-by-side with chaplains, was pastor and evangelist Dwight L. Moody.

I particularly enjoy the vignettes of interviews held by chaplains with soldiers in From the Flag to the Cross. One such visit between a hospital chaplain and a soldier yielded this exchange:

“While it has often been said by the thoughtless and careless, ‘We can’t live out religion in the army;’ and although it is often said by a certain class of professors, ‘the army is a hard place to be a Christian, and live it out,’ yet at our first interview with James H. Finney, 1st N.Y. Engineers, we found him entertaining a very different view, and being fully conscious of the enjoyments and consolations of the Christian religion, he says, ‘It would be hard to live in the army without it.’ Opposed, as we are, by the combined powers of the world, the flesh, and the devil, life at best is a warfare from the cradle to the grave. And although the temptations are greater and the restraints weaker some places than others, yet, since God’s grace is sufficient at all times and under all circumstances to guide, guard, and sustain the believer, he can, if he will, at all times walk worthy of his vocation, and so live and act that his life will be an embodiment of the great doctrines of the cross of Christ. And it is impugning the wisdom, mercy, powers, and grace of God to say that he cannot.” (p. 139-140)

So we have begun with a call to prayer on the battlefield and ended with a call to faithfulness from a wounded soldier to his chaplain. Perhaps some things in military life have changed, but the charge given above from 2 Corinthians 12:9 will never change: “But He (the Lord) said to me (the apostle Paul), ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

Are you feeling weak today? Remember that “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” ( Hebrews 13:8)  He is the same Christ who ministered to soldiers in the Civil War, and He can minister to you today. Call to Him—He will answer. He loves you!

Work Cited:

Jones, J. William, Christ in the Camp (Harrisonburg: Sprinkle Publications, 1986. Originally published by B. F. Johnson & Co. in 1887)

Billingsley, Amos S. From the Flag to the Cross (Birmingham: Solid Ground Christian Books, 2006. Originally published by New World Publishing Co. of Philadelphia in 1872)

Questions to Share:

1. Chaplain Granberry refers to Philippians 4:7. Look that up in a Bible, and then read verses 8 and 9 which follow. How does Paul say that the God of peace can be with you?

2. In what ways does studying what was demanded of soldiers in the past inspire you to fulfill your mission today?

Light in a Dark Place

Written by Linda. Filed Under Spiritual Training

Excellent or Praiseworthy is posted on Monday and Thursday nights.

Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. — Romans 12:12

We gather with military couples every Saturday night for dinner and Bible study.  And at the end of our meeting time we take prayer requests—and then pray.

But on this particular Saturday night, a certain prayer request brought some deep discussion.

One of our young military men voiced discouragement over the atmosphere in his workplace on board ship. There was crudeness—to put it mildly. His desire was to be “light in a dark place”.  But, in this current culture, what does that really mean for a Christian serving in today’s military?

Of course we all agreed to pray for him—for strength and courage in the power of the Holy Spirit to demonstrate what is right and good. But we also discussed some other ideas which would be an encouragement to this sailor and to his shipmates. Perhaps you could agree with these points—and let us know others.

1) Pray. Pray, not only for your own strength, but for those who are careless in their conversation and actions. Pray for the Holy Spirit to soften their hearts to consider different behavior—and, ultimately, to know the peace of Jesus Christ.

“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” (Ephesians 6:18).

2) Look for ways to bless the others in your workplace. Perhaps a word of encouragement. Perhaps a helping hand. We reminded our friend that “hurt people hurt people”—and we agreed that compassion for others was not always easy.

“Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse . . . Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody” (Romans 12:14,17).

3) Watch your words. Unfortunately it’s common practice these days to speak disrespectfully of your spouse, so we shared how our friend could—in contrast—say kind words about his marriage and his wife. It is also common to complain and grumble about the work and superiors—so the opportunity was there for him to speak positively . . . or at least not to speak negatively and continue the bashing (and sometimes cursing).

“My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, for man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires” (James 1:19,20).

“Do everything without complaining or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe as you hold out the word of life—“ (Philippians 2:14-16).

“Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral” (Hebrews 13:4).

“Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone” (Colossians 4:6).

4) Excel in your work. Our friend did not really need to be reminded of this—he does exceptional work. But others are watching and are challenged by commitment to a job well done. Integrity is front and center on display when a military member is trained well and desires to perform with excellence in his work environment. And being light in a dark place can start with a pleasant countenance, for a smile at an appropriate time conveys more about contentment in your heart than about a situation.

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

The definition of integrity goes beyond just being honest. It also speaks to “wholeness” and “soundness”. A Christian of integrity lives what he or she believes—and they become light in a dark place.

It is Jesus Christ we want to put on display in our lives—not ourselves. It is His light we want to shine. So do not underestimate your Christian influence in a work environment. In the end, we can point to Jesus’ words from the Sermon on the Mount, “You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:14-16).

Questions to Share:

1. When you have worked in a particularly difficult environment, what encouragement gave you hope?

2. Pray for those, perhaps yourself, who are currently serving under difficult conditions . . . to have strength to be the light of Christ in a dark place.

Excellent or Praiseworthy is posted on Monday and Thursday nights.

And we pray this in order that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, and joyfully giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light. For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. — Colossians 1:10-14

Last year, at The Cove, we had the privilege of attending a Military Marriage Seminar with Pastor Tommy Nelson from Denton Bible Church in Texas. You might have heard of this great man of God—he is the one who has taught lessons from the Song of Solomon to many young people (and us older folks, too!).

When the weekend together was drawing to a close, Pastor Nelson ended with ten admonitions to the 125 military couples gathered. The points were, in part, a summary of the seminar, but also a strong closing challenge for all of us.

Here are the ten points from Tommy Nelson, and our choice of Bible verses to accompany his teaching:

1. “Go to the Bible every day for a time of study and meditation.”

Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth. 2 Timothy 2:15

2. “Keep a notebook of your daily prayers during your time with the Lord.”

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. Ephesians 6:18

3. “Find a God-honoring church.”

Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching. Hebrews 10:25

4. “Honor God with your money—right off the top of your income. Support the work of Christ’s church.”

Jesus said, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. Matthew 6:19-21

5. “Keep Christian standards.”

Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. Philippians 1:27a

6. “Grow in your Christian walk—let God guard and control your heart.”

Therefore, dear friends, since you already know this, be on your guard so that you may not be carried away by the error of lawless men and fall from your secure position. But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and forever!  Amen. 2 Peter 3:17,18

7. “Share your faith.”

But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. 1 Peter 3:15

8. “Dream of what God can do with your life. Let God take your life and use it.”

Delight yourself in the LORD and he will give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the LORD; trust in him and he will do this: He will make your righteousness shine like the dawn, the justice of your cause like the noonday sun. Psalm 37:4-6

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

9. “Trust God. No matter what.”

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

10. “Finish well.”

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

Questions to Share:

1. Which of these admonitions do you feel you are already accomplishing?

2. Which of these admonitions do you feel you need to work on?  What “next steps” could you take to grow in that area?

The “Nevers”

Written by Linda. Filed Under Spiritual Training

Excellent or Praiseworthy is posted on Monday and Thursday nights.

The Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to Me will never go hungry, and he who believes in Me will never be thirsty. . . . For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in Him shall have eternal life, and will raise him up at the last day.” —John 6:35, 40

On Monday evening, August 11th, we posted a devotion entitled The “Nothings.” In it were stories of chaplain-led front-line prayers included in the book Battlefields and Blessings: Stories of Faith & Courage from Iraq & Afghanistan.

If the word “nothing” would lead us in Scripture to Jeremiah 32:17, “Ah, Sovereign LORD, You have made the heavens and the earth by Your great power and outstretched arm. Nothing is too hard for You,” and Luke 1:37, “For nothing is impossible with God,” . . . .then a search for the word “never,” in this paradoxically positive context, would lead us to:

“I will never forget Your precepts, for by them You have renewed my life.” — Psalm 119:92

“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 11:25,26

“Love never fails.” —1 Corinthians 13:8

And if we were to look for prayers with the word “never” in them—as was in “The ‘Nothings’”—the most beautiful prayer I have found is in the collection of Puritan prayers entitled Valley of Vision:

“O LORD,

May I

-never fail to come to the knowledge of the truth,

-never rest in a system of doctrine, however scriptural, that does not bring or further salvation, or teach me to deny ungodliness and worldly lusts, or help me to live soberly, righteously, godly;

-never rely on my own convictions and resolutions, but be strong in thee and in thy might;

-never cease to find thy grace sufficient in all my duties, trials, and conflicts;

-never forget to repair to thee in all my spiritual distresses and outward troubles, in all the dissatisfactions experienced in creature comforts;

-never fail to retreat to him who is full of grace and truth, the friend that loveth at all times, who is touched with feelings of my infirmities, and can do exceeding abundantly for me;

-never confine my religion to extraordinary occasions, but acknowledge thee in all my ways;

-never limit my devotions to particular seasons but be in thy fear all the day long;

-never be godly only on the Sabbath or in thy house, but on every day abroad and at home;

-never make piety a dress but a habit, not only a habit but a nature, not only a nature but a life.

Do good to me by all thy dispensations, by all means of grace, by worship, prayers, praises,

And at last let me enter that world where is no temple, but only thy glory and the Lamb’s.” (p. 64)

Finally, during this time of deployment when it would be so easy to forget God’s presence, please never forget the truth found in Deuteronomy 31:6: “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the LORD your God goes with you; He will never leave you nor forsake you.”

Work Cited:

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

Questions to Share:

1. When have you been most tempted to forget the presence, power, and provision of God in your life?

2. What do you believe is beyond God’s ability to change, heal, provide, save, or redeem? Is there a verse from “The ‘Nothings’” or “The ‘Nevers’” which would say otherwise?

The “Nothings”

Written by Linda. Filed Under Lessons from History, Prayer

Excellent or Praiseworthy is posted on Monday and Thursday nights.

Ah, Sovereign LORD, You have made the heavens and the earth by Your great power and outstretched arm. Nothing is too hard for You. — Jeremiah 32:17

Book cover - "Battlefields and Blessings"Battlefields & Blessings: Stories of Faith and Courage from the War in Iraq & Afghanistan is a publication of 365 devotions to encourage, enlighten and inspire. But I couldn’t wait an entire year to read all of the entries—the stories were just too good. So I sat down and read the book cover-to-cover, never minding the 365-day menu.

Oftentimes the devotions are from one particular author but given in segments so that the entire story takes several days to complete. That’s the case with ten submissions by the Multinational Force-Iraq Command Chaplain Colonel Mike Hoyt, U.S. Army. From June, 2006, until September, 2007, CH Colonel Hoyt coordinated all religious support for U.S. service members in Iraq.He was also the personal staff chaplain to the commanding general for the Multinational Forces-Iraq, and as such was called on to give a sixty-second message at the Battle Update Assessment (BUA) each week.

As I read what he included in Battlefields & Blessings about those opportunities, it seems that he would read a Scripture passage and then pray aloud with those attending the high-level meetings. CH Colonel Hoyt writes, “We got many, many requests for the prayers and many compliments from other nations routinely asking for them. The couple of Sundays that the BUA prayer didn’t happen, the commanding general was personally asked by other members of the staff and coalition, ‘Where was the prayer today?’ They looked forward to it.” (p. 108)

Five of the powerful war-time prayers are included in this book. Here is one such prayer from July 2, 2006: “We thank You for the Mercy shown to us in delivering our forces through many missions. We appeal to Your loving Presence for those hurt by the thrust of evil. In this sad time of war, grant us a portion of Your strength of character and Spirit that we may not grow weary in well doing. Keep us humble in our successes, diligent in our duties, and bring forth the fruits of righteousness so that evil may be silenced and we may join the chorus of Your message—Joy to the world, and on earth, Peace to all men of goodwill with whom You are pleased. Amen.”  (p. 105)

It was during my recent immersion in Battlefields & Blessings that I was also reading from the classic book by Elizabeth George, Loving God With All Your Mind. Mrs. George reminds us that:

Nothing will ever happen to you that God does not already know about (Psalm 139:1-4).

Nothing will ever happen to you that is a mistake (Psalm 139:4,16).

Nothing will ever happen that you cannot handle by God’s power and grace (2 Corinthians 12:9-10).

Nothing will ever happen to you that will not eventually be used by God for some good purpose in your life (Romans 8:28).

Nothing will ever happen to you without God’s presence (Matthew 28:20). (p. 52)

Later that same day I read the entry (BUA prayer of April 7, 2007) from Hoyt and connected it with “the nothings” which I had read from Scripture that morning:

“Thank You God we do not own the final solution. Even when we think we have all things carefully wrapped up in our plans and means, truly we are the ones shrouded in the mystery of life eternal under Your conditions. Nothing is final with You until You declare it so. Even at the consummation of the Age it is Your Holy and unstoppable purpose to make all things new.

“You make fresh Your mercies for us each day. You interfere upon our designs with a loving deliverance that remakes our hearts and redeems a soul even after we have long buried the idea of a second chance! Nothing unravels the weight of guilt and the sepulchers of excuses like Your Holy forgiveness. Nothing resurrects a new horizon to a lost vision like Your promise that all things are possible in faith. And nothing heals our wounded bodies, comrades, relationships like the bona fide example of a living God who makes death a by-word and suffering a benediction in the vocabulary of victory.

“Remind us of the strength of an unbreakable and immortal promise in You. Lead us in our worship to the rendezvous with your Almighty power. And bring to us this week those unexpected, unthought-of appearances from You that sets our hearts aflame with the joyful news nothing is final until it is complete in You. Amen.” (p. 108-109)

The truth of God’s word always connects—with our hearts and with our lives, whether on the battlefront or at home. Mike Hoyt knew that and proclaimed God’s faithfulness in his prayers from Scripture to those in Iraq. . . ever reminding us that nothing (not even wartime deployment) can separate us from God’s love (Romans 8:38,39).

Work Cited:

Cook, Jane Hampton, Jocelyn Green and John Croushorn, Battlefields & Blessings: Stories of Faith and Courage from the War in Iraq & Afghanistan (Chattanooga: God & Country Press, 2009).

George, Elizabeth, Loving God With All Your Mind (Eugene: Harvest House Publishers, 1994/2005).

Questions to Share:

  1. Luke 1:37 states, “For nothing is impossible with God.” Do you believe this? Can you give an example of a situation right now when seems to be impossible?
  2. Pray for your eyes to be opened to how God could change that situation, or change you through it.
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