A devotional to help military families stay connected during deployments

The Oxygen Mask

Written by Linda. Filed Under Marriage & Family

Excellent or Praiseworthy is posted on Monday and Thursday nights.

“Unless the LORD builds the house, they labor in vain who build it.” — Psalm 127:1

You’ve flown on airliners—and no doubt recall the flight attendant reminding you that “if there is a drop in cabin pressure, an oxygen mask will drop down. Pull it towards you, etc. etc. etc. and oxygen will begin flowing even if the bag does not inflate.” Something like that. Then the important reminder—“if you are traveling with small children, remember to put the oxygen mask on you first, and then put it on your children.” This seems counter-intuitive, but the point is—oxygen-starved parents cannot help their children.

We recently returned from being with military members at a marriage conference. There we saw active-duty service members, along with a thousand other attendees at a Weekend to Remember, spending time to focus on their marriages. . . in some cases, to “pull down the oxygen mask.”

It all made me reflect on a conversation I had with an Air Force wife a couple of years ago. She was concerned with the growing trend of child-centered marriages, and felt like too many of her friends were neglecting the priority of their marriage—making the husband-wife relationship the center based upon God’s purpose for oneness. Besides being impressed with the maturity of this young wife with three small children, I knew that she was speaking the truth because we all have seen it. It’s so easy in our society to focus on meeting the needs of our kids while neglecting what really makes a family healthy—the Christ-centered marriage.

This particular Air Force wife followed up our conversation by mailing me a newspaper column from John Rosemond, a family psychologist in North Carolina. Printed on December 14, 2004, it is entitled “Marriage, not children, is a family’s center.” Here is some of what Dr. Rosemond wrote in his article:

Today’s all-too-typical child is prevented from learning what marriage is all about by well-intentioned parents who rarely act from within the roles of husband and wife; rather, they act almost exclusively from within the roles of mother and father. This is, after all, the new American ideal, based in large part on the nefarious modern notion that the more attention you pay to, the more involved you are with, and the more you do for your child, the better a parent you are. . . . .If you want more proof of why the husband-wife relationship should trump that of parent and child, consider this unarguable proposition: Nothing makes a child feel more insecure than the feeling that his parents’ relationship is shaky, that it might come undone at any moment. It follows that nothing makes a child feel more secure than knowing his parents’ relationship, while not perfect, is strong enough to endure any hardship, any disagreement.

What does “keeping your marriage the priority” look like during a deployment? Of course staying connected to the kids is of utmost importance, but staying connected with your spouse comes first. That will translate into security at the deepest levels– for when there is love and respect between a husband and a wife, a child cannot help but feel like there is hope that everything is going to be all right, no matter what.

Here are some suggestions:

“Allowed me to reconnect with my husband after a long deployment, without the kids.”
“We rebuilt bridges, refocused our marriage. The highlight was the intimate conversations with my wife, reconnecting.”

“Gave us time alone to refocus before deploying.”

These conferences are held all over the country, and almost every weekend.  See “Events” on MilitaryReadyFamily.org will give you more information about the military scholarships offered to these rich marriage getaways.

These are just a few suggestions. Perhaps you can think of more—and we would certainly encourage that. Marriage is a precious gift, but it takes work even under the best of circumstances. The legacy of a loving home starts with the commitment of a husband and wife to each other and to their Lord. Don’t leave home without it!

Questions to share:

1. Does your spouse know how important they are to you? Perhaps this would be a good time to express that in a personal way.

2. Think of two specific things that you are grateful for in your marriage. Thank God for His gift of your spouse, and then thank them for their commitment to you.

Excellent or Praiseworthy is posted on Monday and Thursday nights.

“Haven’t you read,” He replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate.” — Matthew 19:4-6

A friend in North Carolina introduced me to “standing for your marriage” as a concept and movement. I had always known there were those who refused to give up on their dying or dead marriage—but I had never heard it called “standing”.

Since then I have paid close attention to articles, books, websites, testimonies, and seminars about standing. I know in the military community the stresses on a marriage can cause either the husband or wife—sometimes both—to say, “Enough! I’m done!” So in order to shed light (God’s light) on a different path for your marriage, I have compiled this information using the letters S.T.A.N.D. It is not exhaustive but is an introduction to standing for your marriage—and that includes a military marriage—for your study and (perhaps) application.

“S”—What is “Standing”?

One who has chosen to believe God for the healing and restoration of their marriage, and to take definite steps towards that renewal, is a husband or wife who is standing for their marriage. Dr. Ed Wheat, in his book How to Save Your Marriage Alone, writes, “If you are in this group, I do indeed consider you special. First, by your stand you indicate a commitment to the sacredness and permanence of marriage that is God-honoring; second, you have the courage to face your own problems instead of running from them or hiding behind false pride; and third, you exhibit the maturity which, even when there is no response, can choose to love with a steadfast love that is tough and real, intelligent and purposeful, wholly committed to your partner’s well-being.” (p. 7)

If your husband or wife has left you, either emotionally or physically, I urge you to get a copy of Dr. Wheat’s little 62-page book. If God is calling you to be a stander, this book will get you started in the right direction with encouragement and advice.

“T”—Trust God and His promises.

Kim Sorgius includes this imperative in her article “5 Steps to Standing for Your Marriage” found on the Intentionally Yours marriage ministry website. Her first step is entitled “Wrap Yourself in Promise” where she states, “Skip this one and you’ll crash and burn in days. Over the past 3 years, I’ve met a lot of standers. Some standing for just 2 months, some for 5 years. No matter how long, they all agree that standing is the hardest thing you will EVER do. There is just something nearly impossible about loving a person who spats hate in your face, often daily. But, every day thousands of people do it and so can you . . . if you are wrapped in promise. You must learn God’s promises and stand on them, daily. Make a list and put it on the fridge. Keep a running journal if you need to. Whatever it takes to remind you what God has said.”

And what has God said?

“Jesus looked at them and said, ‘With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God’” (Mark 10:27).

“Is any one of you in trouble? He should pray” (James 5:13).

“Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer” (Romans 12:12).

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

“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” (Proverbs 3:5,6).

Kim goes on to encourage you to “let go.” That reminds me of the old saying, “Let go and Let God.” Her advice is to rely on God for your spouse, your needs, your future—in prayer!

“A”—Your Attitude is pivotal.

Sherry Jennings, whose husband left her for an adulterous affair, writes in “I’m Done: What to Do When You are Sick of Your Marriage”: “Prayer changes everything. When you seek God’s face, curl up on His lap and cry out to Jesus, things change . . . As you pray, God softens your heart and enlightens you with His understanding. Spending time talking with God invites Him into your situation, your circumstances, your perceptions, your understanding, and powerfully reminds you He is God and you are not . . . thankfully! Allow Him to break your heart for what breaks His. As you pray, God will show you where you need to forgive . . . and where you need to seek forgiveness.” In this article do not overlook how Sherry’s attitude changed regarding how she should pray for Scott—and for the “other woman”—based on Proverbs 5:5-23.

The testimony of Scott & Sherry Jennings’ healed marriage is on IntentionallyYours.org.  An attitude of hope based on the truth of Scripture and the testimonies of His saints will go a long way in fighting discouragement.

“N”—Your marriage is a covenant, NOT a contract!

In our years of teaching God’s blueprints for marriage to military couples, we always remind them they made a covenant with each other, not a contract. Far from a 50/50 arrangement of “you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours”. . . God teaches that “Covenant love is a never-stopping, never-giving up, unbreaking, always-and-forever love” (from Jesus Storybook Bible). It is 100/100 . . . each spouse giving their all.

Also, we know and experience that marriage is NOT about you—it is about living and loving to the glory of God. Gary Thomas’ powerful quote from Sacred Marriage is, “What if God designed marriage to make us holy more than to make us happy?”

So standing for your marriage may be the way we demonstrate the Gospel of Jesus Christ to a watching world—“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. All men will know that you are My disciples if you love one another” (John 13:34,35).

God’s word says—“But those who marry will face many troubles in this life . . .” (I Corinthians 7:28). God allows difficult things in our lives so that His glory may be revealed. This is hard teaching, but it is true. Standing will be very difficult—perhaps the most difficult thing you have ever done—but it is a call to commitment to your vows. An excellent resource for more information on this is RejoiceMinistries.org.  I found the Q&A (under Resources) to be particularly insightful.  Click on the question to receive the answers. Thousands have been helped with this information and encouragement.

“D”—Take Definite Steps.

Spend time in prayer with God and ask Him to reveal what definite and deliberate steps you need to take to grow spiritually, build community, learn more about marriage, and help your children.

Standing for your marriage will require supernatural vigilance. Every aspect of your life will be affected. But don’t forget—God is faithful. His promises are true. He is a god of redemption. Standing may be difficult for a season, but with God’s help it may produce a legacy of a long-lasting marriage for generations to come. I pray so.

Work Cited:

Thomas, Gary. Sacred Marriage (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing, 2000).

Wheat, Ed. How to Save Your Marriage Alone (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing, 1983).

Websites: IntentionallyYours.com; RejoiceMinistries.org; ExcellentorPraiseworthy.org

Questions to Share:

1. Which of the points made in this devotion was surprising to you? Why?

2. Pray with your spouse for the Lord to increased your love for each other and to remain committed to your marriage vows—even when times are tough (especially when times are tough).

Excellent or Praiseworthy is posted on Monday and Thursday nights.

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. — Genesis 1:1

The wives in the ladies’ Bible study group at the base chapel were nervous. Their husbands were returning home from deployment—and they were all hesitant, but honest, to admit that they were anxious about the transition of reintegration. We read Psalm 145 (the great psalm of God’s majesty) together . . . then prayed . . . then discussed. Our discussion included a sharing of times past when God’s faithfulness was evident in their lives. Their hearts were stilled as they remembered what they already knew—that God the Creator was sovereign.

In the burning sands of Afghanistan, a soldier opened his care package from home. In it was another calendar—this time with pictures of beautiful flowers up against a background of majestic snow-capped mountains. His wife told me that it didn’t matter what the year was—the calendars she sent were ones she found with beautiful pictures of nature. . . and sometimes with Scripture in the margins. God’s created beauty ministered to her husband’s weary heart in a way he couldn’t describe—but was very real. God’s presence revealed in creation comforted his war-torn soul.

Veterans of many deployments, a military couple had to make a decision soon regarding their future. He had plans and concerns—she had plans and concerns. They went round and round with their discussions, trying to decide whether to “stay in” or “get out”, seemingly getting nowhere. It wasn’t until they went to church and joined their hearts in praise and worship to God the Father that they agreed to pray together, seeking God’s guidance. Their prayers were simple—using the Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, and Supplication model (ACTS). But their prayers were made together, holding hands. Demonstrating the unity given by God in the Trinity, even before creation, they praised and they pleaded . . . and their Father answered.

It all begins with creation . . . which begins with the Creator. If you find yourself feeling empty today—with doubts, frustrations, concerns bearing down on you, consider reading these verses of adoration, beauty, and correction to set your heart on the one who loves you enough to give this beautiful world—and to send His Son, Jesus Christ, into it . . . just for you.

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being. In Him was life, and the life was the Light of men.” John 1:1-4

“It is I who made the earth and created man upon it. I stretched out the heavens with My hands and I ordained all their host.” Isaiah 45:12

“Before the mountains were born or You gave birth to the earth and the world, even from everlasting to everlasting, You are God.” Psalm 90:2

“The One forming light and creating darkness, causing well-being and creating calamity; I am the LORD who does all these.” Isaiah 45:7

“When He established the heavens, I was there, when He inscribed a circle on the face of the deep, when He made firm the skies above, when the springs of the deep became fixed, when He set for the sea its boundary so that the water would not transgress His command, when He marked out the foundations of the earth; Then I was beside Him, as a master workman; and I was daily His delight, rejoicing always before Him, rejoicing in the world, His earth, and having my delight in the sons of men.” Proverbs 8:27-31

“Worthy are You, our Lord and our God, to receive glory and honor and power, for You created all things, and because of Your will they existed, and were created.” Revelation 4:11

“The LORD is good to all; and His mercies are over all His works. All Your works shall give thanks to You, O LORD, and Your godly ones shall bless You. They shall speak of the glory of Your kingdom and talk of Your power, to make known to the sons of men Your mighty acts and the glory of the majesty of Your kingdom.” Psalm 145:9-12

“Let us come before His presence with thanksgiving, let us shout joyfully to Him with psalms. For the LORD is a great God and a great King above all gods, in whose hand are the depths of the earth, the peaks of the mountains are His also. The sea is His, for it was He who made it, and His hands formed the dry land.” Psalm 95:2-5

“When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers, the moon and the stars, which You have ordained; what is man that You take thought of him, and the son of man that You care for him? Yet You have made him a little lower than God, and You crown him with glory and majesty! You make him to rule over the works of Your hands; You have put all things under his feet, all sheep and oxen, and also the beasts of the field, the birds of the heavens and the fish of the sea, whatever passes through the paths of the seas. O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is Your name in all the earth!” Psalm 8:3-8

“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by Him all things were created, both in heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things have been created through Him and for Him. He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.” Colossians 1:15-17

“Lift your eyes on high and see who has created these stars, the One who leads forth their host by number, He calls them all by name; Because of the greatness of His might and the strength of His power, not one of them is missing.” Isaiah 40:26

“Thus says the LORD, who gives the sun for light by day and the fixed order of the moon and the stars for light by night, who stirs up the sea so that its waves roar; the LORD of hosts is His name . . .” Jeremiah 31:35

“He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in their heart, yet so that man will not find out the work which God has done from the beginning even to the end.” Ecclesiastes 3:11

“For behold, He who forms mountains and creates the wind and declares to man what are His thoughts, He who makes dawn into darkness and treads on the high places of the earth, the LORD God of hosts is His name.” Amos 4:13

“I will lift up my eyes to the mountains; from where shall my help come? My help comes from the LORD, who made heaven and earth.” Psalm 121:1,2

“Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding.” Job 38:4

“Thus says the LORD: ‘Heaven is My throne and the earth is My footstool . . . For My hand made all these things, thus all these things came into being,’ declares the LORD.” Isaiah 66:1,2

“Listen to Me, O Jacob, even Israel whom I called; I am He; I am the first, I am also the last. Surely my hand founded the earth, and My right hand spread out the heavens; when I call to them, they stand together.” Isaiah 48:12,13

“Behold, to the LORD your God belong heaven and the highest heavens, the earth and all that is in it.” Deuteronomy 10:14

“Let all the earth fear the LORD; let all the inhabitants of the world stand in awe of Him. For He spoke, and it was done; He commanded, and it stood fast.” Psalm 33:8,9

“Forever, O LORD, Your word is settled in heaven. Your faithfulness continues throughout all generations; You established the earth, and it stands.” Psalm 119:89,90

Questions to Share:

1. Which of the verses above encourage you in a particular situation you are currently facing?

2. Share with your spouse a time when a scene of beauty—whether observed in person or photo—encouraged your heart. It can be as grand as the expanse of the Grand Canyon, or as simple as the smile of a child presenting a bouquet of dandelions.

God Bless America

Written by Linda. Filed Under Lessons from History, Prayer

Excellent or Praiseworthy is posted on Monday and Thursday nights.

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

It’s a song, a famous song, but did you know that it really is a prayer? A prayer that we’ve all heardsung at athletic events, on the steps of the U.S. Capitol by our congressmen on September 11th, at the reopening of the stock market the following Monday, at church services during war and peacetime, at Republican and Democratic national conventions, on radio and television programs, in movies, and at patriotic rallies throughout our country and on foreign shores. Its words burn in our hearts because the lyrics ring true. . . .and the musical score combined with those words bring goose-bumps each time we hear or sing this beautiful prayer.

I am speaking of “God Bless America,” written by Irving Berlin in 1918 and originally performed by the one-and-only Kate Smith in 1938. Irving Berlin wrote it for a camp show while serving in the Army in World War I stationed at Camp Upton on Long Island. The show’s producers decided not to use it in 1918, but twenty years later Berlin offered it as the answer to a request he received for a patriotic song which Kate Smith could sing to commemorate the anniversary of the Armistice ending World War I. It was an immediate sensation with her debut radio performance in 1938. . . . and has been a national favorite ever since.

Irving Berlin, born Israel Baline, was five years old when his family immigrated to the U.S. from Siberia in 1893. He had a great appreciation for his adopted homeland of America—his patriotism was authentic. After his military service in World War I Berlin went on to a successful career, known for composing such hits as “White Christmas,” “There’s No Business Like Show Business,” “Alexander’s Ragtime Band,” and “Cheek to Cheek.” When World War II began, Berlin considered it an honor to compose and perform patriotic songs for military stationed around the world (often close to battle zones). At war’s end, President Truman awarded Berlin the Medal of Merit for his courageous contribution to troop morale.

As you bravely serve our great country this 4th of July. . . .both at home and deployed, we pause to consider these lyrics, beginning with the original spoken introduction, as a prayer lifted to remind us of our personal and national need for God:

While the storm clouds gather far across the sea
Let us swear allegiance to a land that’s free.
Let us all be grateful for a land so fair,
As we raise our voices in a solemn prayer:

God bless America,
Land that I love.
Stand beside her and guide her
Thru the night with the light from above.
From the mountains, to the prairies,
To the oceans, white with foam.
God Bless America, my home sweet home.
God Bless America, my home sweet home.

On this national holiday week, thank you for your brave and sacrificial service to our dear country, which we love. Your duty is making an eternal difference in the lives of many, both at home and across the sea. May God bless you. May God bless America.

 

Work cited:

From en.wikipedia.org: Kate Smith, “God Bless America,” and Irving Berlin.

Larkin Spivey, Battlefields & Blessings: Stories of Faith and Courage from World War II (Chattanooga: God and Country Press, 2009), p. 216.

Questions to Share:

1. Take these lyrics and pray for our nation, especially during these times of war.

2. How has God blessed America? How can you pray for God to continue to bless America?

“Tennis, Anyone?”

Written by Linda. Filed Under Marriage & Family

Excellent or Praiseworthy is posted on Monday and Thursday nights.

“My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry . . .” — James 1:19

“Communication is a lot like tennis. One person begins the conversation by making a statement, and then perhaps asking a question—like serving the ball. The other person returns the ball by responding to the statement and/or question, and perhaps asks another question. And so the game continues.”

This is an important paragraph from the HomeBuilders Bible study entitled Making Your Marriage Deployment Ready (p. 39), meant to help couples in their communication skills before they are geographically separated. But the truth is that communication skills are vital to the life of a marriage relationship—deployment or not.

Using the tennis analogy, a conversation can continue easily as one partner “volleys” the ball to the other. If the ball is “slammed” (perhaps insult or accusation), making it impossible for the tennis partner to return the exchange. . . or if the ball is hit out of bounds (not listening or paying attention), the conversation is over for the moment and has to begin again with a new statement or question.

Dennis and Mary Trexler of Cru Military have taken the analogy of tennis to explain some of the fundamentals of good communication in a talk they call, “Tennis Anyone?” As you read these “Tennis Rules of Serving” think about how they could correspond to a conversation between a husband and wife:

When you initiate a conversation, there is the responsibility to be able to continue the conversation to a worthwhile end. Viewing this responsibility as being similar to one who serves the tennis ball with the intention of continuing the match may help.

But the Trexlers would be just as quick to tell us that there is responsibility on the part of the receiver. Here are their “Tennis Rules of Receiving”:

These are just a few pointers which can help when a couple is trying—and trying hard—to communicate well. Just like tennis, it takes practice. Just like tennis, it takes desire to learn. Just like tennis, it takes rules for it to go smoothly. And just like tennis, it takes two! It takes both of you being intentional about “serving the ball” and “receiving the ball” for good communication in marriage to take place.

And what about communication during deployment? This does not mean that “all rules are off!” Quite the contrary—all rules still apply! You both have to make sure that you are listening well to the others’ needs and feelings, that you are asking good questions which get to their heart, and that you “make contact” as often as possible to keep the relationship moving.

And remember—this is not a game! Communication in marriage is work, and it is serious business. But, in the end, you will both be winners!

Work Cited: Making Your Marriage Deployment Ready is available at Shop.FamilyLife.com and CruMilitary.org.

Questions to Share:

1. During deployment, do you communicate best by email, phone, or letter? What about your spouse? Discuss this between the two of you.

2. Has the difference in time zones been a barrier to your communication? What other difficulties have you had to overcome in order to communicate well with each other?

Danger—Infatuation!

Written by Linda. Filed Under Marriage & Family

Excellent or Praiseworthy is posted on Monday and Thursday nights.

“Flee the evil desires of youth, and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, along with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart.” — 2 Timothy 2:22

“Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life. Put away perversity from your mouth; keep corrupt talk far from your lips. Let your eyes look straight ahead, fix your gaze directly before you. Make level paths for your feet and take only ways that are firm. Do not swerve to the right or the left; keep your foot from evil.” — Proverbs 4:23-27

I pay attention when I run across stories about platonic friendships which turn into inappropriate relationships. It’s so common  . . . especially in these days of deployments. Loneliness can become the excuse for “hanging out” with someone of the opposite sex you thought was “safe.” Stressful marital situations can become the excuse for asking a fellow worker of the opposite sex an innocent question like “I’m going through a tough time in my marriage—help me understand my spouse better.” Uncertainty about your future can become the excuse for throwing caution to the wind with an attitude of “What the heck—all I’ve got is today and no one has to know.”

But it’s the timing of it all, and what might cause us to turn our back on a flirtation at a less stressful point might lead to the desire for more at another point. With these thoughts in mind I listened intently to an interview on Focus on the Family’s broadcast entitled, “Friendship or Flirtation: Danger Signs for Couples”—an interview with Rev. Dave Carder, author of Torn Asunder and Close Calls: What Adulterers Want You to Know About Protecting Your Marriage. The promotional piece for this radio program read: “Most of us don’t wake up in the morning and say, ‘I’m going to go out and ruin my marriage today.’ That’s because the breakdown of marriage relationships almost always happens over time. Sometimes years. But the tipping point for many already-vulnerable relationships that are rocked by infidelity is . . . blurring the line between friendship and flirtation.” “Daly Focus” in Family Focus, September, 2011.

Dr. Gary Chapman, author of The Five Love Languages, calls it “the tingles” and says that the strongest feelings of desire between a man and woman usually last about two years. Rev. Carder, after studying extra-marital sins for thirty years, takes that up a notch and makes this profound statement: “Infatuation is the most powerful drug known to man.”

Having made that statement, on the program he goes on to discuss “19 Dangerous Behaviors” which can act as warning signs to alert those who desire to remain faithful to their spouse and want to avoid any risky situations. I’ve culled through Dr. Carder’s listed behaviors and have selected those “top 10” behaviors which might be more likely to happen during deployment—just as warnings.

Rev. Carder says you’re on dangerous ground when you:

  1. Save topics of conversation for your ‘special friend’ because they understand you better than your spouse.
  2. Share spousal difficulties with your friend. Sharing confidential information about your spouse is a break in trust.
  3. And the flip side—Allow the friend to share their relationship difficulties with you.
  4. Compare the friend and your spouse.
  5. Fantasize about marriage to your friend.
  6. Spend money on your friend without your spouse’s knowledge.
  7. Lie (to others) to spend time with your friend.
  8. Develop rituals (experiences anticipated by both parties—like coffee together).
  9. Experience a ‘shiver’ when your friend shares feelings or touches you.
  10. Allow sexual content in your conversations with your friend.

Have you ever experienced any of these? Rev. Carder says that most likely we all have. But put these behaviors in the context of loneliness, existing marital difficulties, or reckless thinking (due to fatigue, depression, discouragement, etc.) and the sexual temptations may become regretful reality.

Another warning—the “friend” does not even need to be present to pose a threat to your marriage. Those same sustained factors which can produce the lure of infatuation when overseas or alone at home can cause you to “look up” an old friend on the internet. What happens might not be a physical affair, but an emotional affair which can be just as damaging to a marriage.

Some of the best teaching on sexual sin is from John Ortberg’s teaching in Old Testament Challenge. Using King Solomon as his example, Ortberg preaches on the “Four Steps to Disaster.” Noting that no one stands at the altar with the plan to fail in their marriage, he cites the formula which brought down Solomon, “the wisest man who ever lived”:

  1. “Leave a little wiggle room in your commitment . . . Remember, nine-five percent commitment is five percent short.” There is no such thing as a partial commitment.
  2. “Assume that you are an exception to the rules or that you are above the rules.” If you think “it won’t happen to me”—think again.
  3. “Fail to deal with your predisposed weaknesses.” If you know that something has been a temptation for you in the past, avoid it at all cost!
  4. “Ignore or silence corrective words.” Your buddies might have your best interests at heart in warning you about risky behavior—listen to them!

Given that infatuation is so dangerous—and the temptation of sexual sin so prevalent, even among Christians—what does one do to guard their heart, to guard their integrity, to guard their marriage? Here are some ideas to ponder:

  1. Consider the factors which brought you to any past mistakes—and commit to avoid those same factors ahead of time.
  2. Do not be naïve to the conditions which you might be facing—you might be on someone’s “list” to bring down your faithfulness in marriage.
  3. Be vigilant in protecting your eyes, ears, and mind from information which might cause you to think of someone of the opposite sex instead of your spouse.
  4. Enlist an accountability partner—someone of the same gender with whom you can meet regularly to share prayers and vulnerabilities.
  5. Put healthy boundaries around your relationships with those of the opposite sex—avoid even the appearance of impropriety.
  6. When you find yourself in a compromising position, or even the appearance of one—leave! or as the Bible says, “Flee!”
  7. Maintain a regular time with the Lord. Bottom line—it is in the power of the Holy Spirit that we resist temptation. The fresh filling of the Holy Spirit is vital in our ability to remain pure.

Love is a beautiful thing, but it is something you give and share on an intimate level only with your spouse. Flirtation may seem fun at the time, and harmless. . . .but beware! Satan would love to fuel those feelings into a fire of emotions which could end up burning down your home!

Questions to Share:

1. Was there anything in this writing which was a surprise to you? What was it?

2. Was there anything in this writing which was particularly convicting to you? What was it?

3. Commit time in prayer to confess sin to God and write downs steps you will now take to avoid sexual temptation in the future.

Excellent or Praiseworthy is posted on Monday and Thursday nights.

. . . . . and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever. — Psalm 23:6

It was the very last word that my Mother said—“forever.” Every night after her stroke my husband and I would recite with her, as best she could, the Lord’s Prayer, the 23rd Psalm, and then end our nightly time with singing “Jesus Loves Me.” We did that for two months until the Lord took her home with Him. She was a devout Christ-follower and loved her Lord, so the thought of being with Him “forever” was fresh on her mind as she slowly slipped away from life on this earth.

On the other side of the world, our friend from church—a soldier serving downrange—was spending his nights on patrol. Before he would head out with his unit searching for IEDs, he would recite the 23rd Psalm. He never knew what the night would bring, so he wanted truth from Scripture to be fresh on his mind in case he or one of his buddies quickly slipped away from life on this earth.

Perhaps you are familiar with the 23rd Psalm:

The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures;
He leads me beside the still waters.
He restores my soul;
He leads me in paths of righteousness for His name’s sake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil;
For You are with me;
Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
You anoint my head with oil,
My cup runs over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
All the days of my life;
And I will dwell in the house of the LORD
Forever. — Psalm 23 (NKJV)

But what if that’s just not the way you look at life, or death? Perhaps you do not know the goodness and saving grace of Jesus Christ? Dr. David Powlison writes, “From Jesus’ point of view, there are two fundamentally different ways of doing life. One way, you’re connected to a God who’s involved in your life. . . . The other way, you’re pretty much on your own and disconnected. Let’s call this the ‘antipsalm 23′:

‘I’m on my own.
No one looks out for me or protects me.
I experience a continual sense of need. Nothing’s quite right.
I’m always restless. I’m easily frustrated and often disappointed.
It’s a jungle—I feel overwhelmed. It’s a desert—I’m thirsty.
My soul feels broken, twisted, and stuck. I can’t fix myself.
I stumble down some dark paths.
Still, I insist: I want to do what I want, when I want, how I want.
But life’s confusing. Why don’t things ever really work out?
I’m haunted by emptiness and futility—shadows of death.
I fear the big hurt and final loss.
Death is waiting for me at the end of every road,
but I’d rather not think about that.
I spend my life protecting myself. Bad things can happen.
I find no lasting comfort.
I’m alone. . . . facing everything that could hurt me.
Are my friends really friends?
Other people use me for their own ends.
I can’t really trust anyone. No one has my back.
No one is really for me—except me.
And I’m so much all about ME, sometimes it’s sickening.
I belong to no one except myself.
My cup is never quite full enough. I’m left empty.
Disappointment follows me all the days of my life.
Will I just be obliterated into nothingness?
Will I be alone forever, homeless, free-falling into void?
Sartre said, “Hell is other people.”
I have to add, “Hell is also myself.”
It’s a living death, . . . .
and then I die.’”—
Powlison, Sane Faith, Part 1

Please read these two carefully—the psalm and the antipsalm. There is peace in one, and anguish from the lies of self-talk in the other. The latter occurs when you don’t abide in Christ.

There are two different ways of “doing life.” This reminds me of the plaque which says, “No Jesus, No Peace. Know Jesus, Know Peace.” Which will you choose?

Work Cited:

Powlison, David, Boundless.Org

Questions to Share:

1. Do you trust in the truth of Psalm 23, or is your thinking more like that of the antipsalm?

2. Would you like to have the peace of confessed sin, forgiveness, and the promise of the fullness of life with Jesus? Then go to 4Laws.com to find that peace.

Knowing God Makes a Difference

Written by John. Filed Under Spiritual Training

Excellent or Praiseworthy is posted on Monday and Thursday nights.

“There is no one holy like the LORD; there is no one besides You, there is no Rock like our God.” — I Samuel 2:2

The occasion of Hannah’s prayer in I Samuel 2:1-10 is the presentation of the child Samuel to Eli, the priest, and giving him in service to the LORD.

This follows Hannah’s first prayer of desperation in I Samuel 1, when things were quite different. Unable to conceive and bitter by the treatment of Peninnah (the other wife), Hannah accompanied her husband, Elkanah, once a year to Shiloh where he made his annual sacrifice to the LORD. In Chapter 1 she explained to Eli that her weeping and prayers at that time were “out of my great anguish and grief” (I Samuel 1:16).

But her prayer in Chapter 2 is out of pure joy and delight. At long last she conceived and gave birth to a son, Samuel, whom she promised to bring to Eli once weaned. He grows up to be the prophet Samuel, the one who serves the nation of Israel and anoints King David.

It is in this second prayer that Hannah speaks of the difference God has made in her life. Specifically note three areas:

1. Knowing God makes a difference in her heart.

“My heart rejoices in the LORD . . .” (verse 1)

Remember that the heart, more than the seat of emotions, is the center of a person—thoughts, plans, will, decision. Her heart has been transformed and is now full of confident joy.

Knowing God makes a difference in our heart.

“You have filled my heart with greater joy. . .” Psalm 4:7

“I have set the LORD always before me. Because He is at my right hand, I will not be shaken. Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices; my body also will rest secure . . .” Psalm 16:8,9

“. . .my heart trusts in Him, and I am helped.” Psalm 28:7

“My heart is stirred by a noble theme. . .” Psalm 45:1

2. Knowing God makes a difference in her strength.

“. . . in the LORD my horn (strength) is lifted high.” (vs. 1)

This woman who previously prayed out of her great anxiety now speaks very differently. God has made a difference in her strength. Her strength is now found in the LORD.

Knowing God makes a difference in our strength.

“I love You, O LORD, my strength.” Psalm 18:1

“The LORD is my strength and my shield; my heart trusts in Him, and I am helped.” Psalm 28:7

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

“The LORD is my strength and my song; He has become my salvation.” Psalm 118:14

3. Knowing God makes a difference in how she approaches those who opposed her.

Thirdly Hannah says, “My mouth boasts over my enemies. . “ Another translation reads, “I smile at my enemies.” (vs. 1) Her very countenance is affected.

Knowing God makes a difference in our heart, our strength, and our countenance.

Why such triumph? At the end of verse 1 we see the reason—“for I delight in Your deliverance” or “Because I rejoice in Your salvation.”

The word “salvation” is a simple reference to the fact that the LORD is the God who saves. In other words, Hannah praises God because of what He has done for her.

This is similar to the song of triumph in Exodus 15:1,2:

“I will sing to the LORD, for He has triumphed gloriously;
The horse and its rider He has thrown into the sea!
The LORD is my strength and my song,
And He has become my salvation;
He is my God, and I will praise Him,
My father’s God, and I will exalt Him.”

As Christians we know a God who looks on our affliction—who does answer our prayers—and a God who saves us.

Knowing that, how will He make a difference in your week? In your deployment?

“In You our fathers put their trust; they trusted and You delivered them. They cried to You and were saved; in You they trusted and were not disappointed.” — Psalm 22:4,5

Questions to Share:  

1. How does knowing that God made a difference in Hannah’s heart, strength, and countenance make a difference in your thinking?

2. I believe Hannah’s prayer is a forerunner to Mary’s song in Luke 2: “My soul praises the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for He has been mindful of the humble state of His servant.” (vs. 46-48) How can you pray today for God’s joy, strength, and salvation during the circumstances of your life?

Askin’ for Trouble

Written by Linda. Filed Under Spiritual Training

Excellent or Praiseworthy is posted on Monday and Thursday nights.

If you falter in times of trouble, how small is your strength! — Proverbs 24:10

Think back to your childhood for a moment.  After doing something you would come to regret, were you ever told by your parents that you were “just askin’ for trouble” when you committed that stupid act? Perhaps your response, like mine, was, “I wasn’t asking for trouble . . . it just happened!”

The book of Proverbs would agree with your parents—or whoever has spoken wisdom into your life. Most of the time that we get into trouble, we know better.  There were several fathers whose teachings were compiled in the book of Proverbs, but King Solomon wrote around ninety percent of them. This is age-old wisdom passed on from one generation to the next . . . and the next . . . and we should not fail to continue to pass it on to our next.

So when are we “askin’ for trouble?” Here are some examples of truth to be shared:

1. We are askin’ for trouble when we ignore consequences:

“Since they hated knowledge and did not choose to fear the LORD, since they would not accept my advice and spurned my rebuke, they will eat the fruit of their ways and be filled with the fruit of their schemes.” — Proverbs 1:29-31
Later in Proverbs we find the same message this way: “He who sows wickedness reaps trouble.” — Proverbs 22:8

2. We are askin’ for trouble when we listen to the wrong people and choose to ignore good advice:

“Wisdom will save you from the ways of wicked men, from men whose words are perverse, who leave the straight paths to walk in dark ways, who delight in doing wrong and rejoice in the perverseness of evil, whose paths are crooked and who are devious in their ways.” — Proverbs 2:12-15
Or more simply put, “My son, if sinners entice you, do not give in to them.” — Proverbs 1:10

3. We are askin’ for trouble when we have the attitude that, “It won’t happen to me!”:

“Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the LORD and shun evil.” — Proverbs 3:7
“Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall.” — Proverbs 16:18

4. We are askin’ for trouble when we are lazy:

“The sluggard’s craving will be the death of him, because his hands refuse to work.” — Proverbs 21:25
“Lazy hands make a man poor, but diligent hands bring wealth.” — Proverbs 10:4

5. We are askin’ for trouble when we talk too much and listen too little:

“The wise in heart accept commands, but a chattering fool comes to ruin.” — Proverbs 10:8
“When words are many, sin is not absent, but he who holds his tongue is wise.” — Proverbs 10:19

6. We are askin’ for trouble when we leave God out!

I’ve saved the best advice for last: “The fear of the LORD leads to life: Then one rests content, untouched by trouble.”   — Proverbs 19:23
“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.” — Proverbs 3:5-6

These six instructions are such a brief summary of the great teaching from the book of Proverbs . . . what we might call, in the 21st century, “Life for Dummies.” In Bill Hybels’ classic writing on Proverbs, Making Life Work, we find this, “In verse after verse the father calls his sons to seek wisdom—and then he tells them why. Because it pays!” (p. 17)

Does it pay when you’re in the military and deployed? Absolutely! There is instruction within these thirty-one chapters to handle it all—how to resist temptation; how to handle our money; how to grow in character and integrity; how to appreciate our friends; how to speak truth; how to plan for the future; how to seek Godly counsel; how to work hard; how to lead; how to be a good husband and wife and grow a strong family; how to manage anger; how to treat others with courtesy; how to be fair—and how to trust God in everything we do.

I have heard that reading Proverbs is like taking a vitamin pill every day—there are thirty-one chapters . . . . so read one chapter a day to keep foolishness away. It’s never too late to build stronger relationships with others—and with God. If we heed the advice and warnings, we can build up our strength of character so that we will not “falter in times of trouble.”

Work cited:

Hybels, Bill, Making Life Work: Putting God’s Wisdom into Action (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1998)

Questions to Share:

1. What is your definition of wisdom? What have you done in your life that you consider to be wise?

2. What words of wisdom do you think you have to share with the next generation?

3. What do we do if we need wisdom in a situation? We pray for it. James 1:5 says, “If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him.” How can you pray for wisdom in your life right now?

Excellent or Praiseworthy is posted on Monday and Thursday nights.

But He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness” . . . 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. — II Corinthians 12:9,10

We do not want to miss this grace—this pure grace of God that gets us from the excitement-building, heart-racing, glee-producing “Welcome Home” moment . . . through the adjustments and transitions which characterize reintegration. Hebrews 12:15 reads, “See to it that no one misses the grace of God . . .”, and reintegration done well will validate that it is God’s grace, and grace alone, that smooths the return home.

You will find a posting entitled “Greater Grace for Deployment” in the archives of Excellent or Praiseworthy.  In that posting we discussed the extreme demands on a marriage by multiple deployments. “Greater grace takes you from ‘I can’t do this anymore’ to ‘I can do all things through Him who strengthens me’” (Philippians 4:13).

Likewise the pure grace of God in reintegration takes us from “I didn’t expect homecoming to be anything but sweet” to “God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work” (2 Corinthians 9:8). This grace is so powerful, so cleansing, so redemptive that I can only call it “reintegrace.” Indeed, God can take the strain of deployment and the uncertainty of transition and fashion it to be good because of His pure grace and mercy (Psalm 119:68).

If the journey of reintegration could be plugged into a GPS, the destination for a couple would be oneness. Genesis 2:24 states, “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh.” Oneness in a marriage is not just a physical relationship, but emotional and spiritual as well. A couple who is geographically separated longs for the day when they are physically reunited. But the reuniting must also take the form of an emotional and spiritual oneness for there to be the real sense that they are back together. This is the challenge . . . and requires an intentional effort to demonstrate grace in at least seven areas:

1. The Grace of Daily Mercies

Change is inevitable when someone goes off to war . . . and the family at home changes, too. There can be a tendency to “compare” trials. The one on the front lines of war lived with danger every moment. The one at home lived with day-to-day struggles and demands. You each endured hardships, and any “one ups-manship” can only create conflict.

Grace says, “I acknowledge your fears and challenges. I want to imagine what it was like to walk in your shoes for a while so that I can appreciate what you’ve been through!” If necessary, initiate conversations, ask questions and listen to the answers. Examine scheduling priorities in order to have time together and plan getaways during reintegration . . . all in order to cultivate oneness. Oneness in marriage glorifies God, so committing to do the hard work of transitioning from being apart to being together will be something God honors. This is a daily exercise. Each day will bring new opportunities to see how everyone has changed—and how God can bring you back to oneness.

“Because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed, for His compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness” (Lamentations 3:23).

2. The Grace of Kind Words

Both of you as husband and wife have taken on different roles during deployment, and sometimes there can be harsh, demanding tones and explosive arguments when tasks are not done in a certain way. The demands of battle require expediency . . . the demands at home require prompt attention. Barking orders to each other can be a natural outgrowth of what you have experienced.

Grace says, “Humility and gentleness will shine best through my smile and kind speech.” You are not each other’s enemy, and it may take time to view each other lovingly.

“Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen” (Ephesians 4:29).  “Let your conversation be always full of grace . . . “ (Colossians 4:6a).

3. The Grace of Perspective, Patience, and Purpose

You are both tired—and excited. It may take time to get back to normal physical patterns after lengthy separation and then travel. This is when it is extremely important to remember that reintegration is a season . . . a journey. Be patient with each other. The spouse who found great significance in the mission downrange may need to regain purpose in a normal household routine—and the spouse at home needs to gradually let go of some of the responsibilities which he or she managed alone. Reintegration is a synchronized “dance” that takes time to re-learn so that you don’t step on each other’s toes!

Grace says, “I’m so glad we’re back together again, and I will be patient during this time of transition and help you to re-adjust . . . not criticize.”

“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others” (Philippians 2:3,4).

4. The Grace of Forgiveness

The reality is that things may have happened during your deployment which will require difficult conversations . . . and forgiveness. Counseling with your chaplain, pastor, or Christian counselor may be necessary. Genuine repentance, taking responsibility for actions, and asking for forgiveness are steps one needs to take in order to begin the process of regaining trust.

Grace says, “I love you, and I am willing to pray with you and rely on God as together we learn to forgive.” Rob Green states in his booklet, Reuniting after Military Deployment: Help for the Transition, “Honestly, you cannot offer grace in your own strength. It takes a willingness to depend on Christ to show God’s grace through you. He is the only One who can give you the discipline and strength to consistently offer grace to others, especially when you are hurting” (p. 21).

“For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins” (Matthew 6:14,15).

5. The Grace of Healing

Whether your wounds of war are visible or invisible, God is the healer. Your time of excitement at reintegration may be overshadowed by a long discovery of what is now going to be “different” in your marriage. Chaplain (ret) Dan Nigolian tells of his experience with PTSD in an appendix to The Greatest Warrior edition of the NIV Bible, “I was feeling guilty because I couldn’t beat this and it was hurting my family. I hated the idea of seeing a psychologist and being on medication. But I hated damaging my relationships even worse, so I finally agreed to get help. I have concluded that it takes more courage to face what’s inside you than to face the enemy . . . As I continue to fight this I’m learning to appreciate the present. Right here and right now, I am loved by God and by my family. . . It was being exposed to the death brought on by war that led to my own personal battle. But there’s one person who’s defeated death and that’s Jesus (I Corinthians 15). So he can defeat the effects of death in me. And that’s my hope and my rest.”

Grace says, “We will walk steadfastly, and with hope, together in God’s grace through the darkness of injury or combat trauma into the light of His Son, Jesus Christ.”

“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 (including war), will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38,39).

6. The Grace of Gratitude

The Apostle Paul wrote in I Thessalonians 5:18 that we are to “be joyful always, pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” Give thanks in ALL circumstances—really? The truth is that it is through giving thanks that God’s light can shine even into the dark places of our lives—even in our disappointments, disillusionments, and discouragements. Ann Voskamp writes in One Thousand Gifts, “When we lay the soil of our hard lives open to the rain of grace and let joy penetrate our cracked and dry places, let joy soak into our broken skin and deep crevices, life grows” (p. 58). The transformation of a bitter attitude into one of humility . . . the transformation of a hurting marriage into a thriving marriage . . . it is all comes from a grateful heart proclaiming life from salvation freely offered in grace by Jesus Christ.

Grace says, “We thank God for bringing us back together, and we thank Him for all the ways He sustained us while apart.”

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6,7).

7. The Grace of Redemption

On the holy ground of deployment we can experience redemption. Reintegration can become a time of renewal . . . maybe even a time of “better.” Perhaps there have been “lessons learned” . . . relationships appreciated in new ways . . . spiritual growth bringing you closer to God and closer to your spouse . . . time to remember God’s faithfulness when busyness once reigned . . . awareness of new skills and confidence in abilities . . . new perspectives, even on pain. Ken Korkow, a Marine, shares in an appendix to The Greatest Warrior NIV Bible, “On my road to healing, I’ve discovered that God does not waste pain. If we allow him to, he will use it to shape us into the best version of ourselves.”

Grace says, “I wouldn’t have chosen deployment, but because of God’s goodness and love for us, He has taken our experiences and made something good out of them.”

“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28).

Rob Green summarizes truth about God’s grace in reintegration with this, “Your personal relationship with Jesus sustained you during the (time) you were apart, and your relationship with Christ can help you reunite, too. All hope is not lost. The stories of divorce, discouragement, and depression that you have heard from other couples do not have to be your story. Just as Jesus redeemed you from an eternity separated from God, just as he rescued you from the weapons of the enemy, in the same way he can help you overcome the threats to your marriage. The Lord can ensure that your story is one of reunion, oneness, joy, peace and thankfulness” (p. 6).

It’s all by His grace.  “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith–and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God–not by works, so that no one can boast” (Ephesians 2:8,9).

Works Cited:

The Greatest Warrior NIV Bible published by Biblica, 2012.

Green, Rob, Reuniting after Military Deployment—Help for the Transition (Greensboro; New Growth Press, 2011).

Voskamp, Ann, One Thousand Gifts (Grand Rapids:  Zondervan, 2010).

Questions to Share:

1. How did you see God work during the time you were separated geographically by deployment?

2. In what ways do you need to work on your marital relationship during reintegration in order for God’s grace to be revealed?

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