A devotional to help military families stay connected during deployments

Excellent or Praiseworthy is posted on Monday and Thursday nights.

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. — Philippians 4:8

You would think after writing and editing for Excellent or Praiseworthy for nine years that I would have read, heard or thought about everything to be learned from Philippians 4:8. You would think I would have exhausted the lessons from Paul’s challenge to focus on everything true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent or praiseworthy. And taking those virtues into the arena of deployment might have been more than most thought plausible—but we have explored lessons from history, spiritual training, teaching for marriages and families, and prayer encouragement in order to focus on the challenges of military service in light of God’s truth in Scripture.

But recently I was challenged by teaching I had never considered. That is taking Philippians 4:8 into one of the most normal, everyday struggles of marriage—conflict between husband and wife.

Picture this—a husband knows that his love language is “words of affirmation.” He thrives on kudos . . . and doesn’t shrink from enjoying praise because of his good work, even godly work. Because his wife’s love language is “acts of service”, she wants his help with the work around the house—including parenting—instead of listening to what good things happened at work. But after a while he feels disrespected because of her lack of interest in his need for affirmation. After a while, she feels unloved because of his lack of desire to help with her needs.

What transpires is not a fight (well, sometimes) . . . but mostly isolation. Coldness. Distance. And before long his thought life goes to, “’She doesn’t respect you like she ought to because you’re doing big things for God, and she is just here cleaning the house.’ . . . (Satan) starts running her down in my mind, and I accepted those thoughts. And I start getting frustrated with my wife: ‘She’s not loving me, respecting me, or supporting me like I think she ought to.’”

This husband goes on to say, “In my mind, I would run her down. Sometimes, in her mind, she would run me down. Guys, you do not win those wars. We’re not fighting the right way. Instead of fighting for my marriage, I was fighting her as if she was my enemy. She is not my enemy!  This is what the Lord taught me in the process.”

And lest you think this is some random guy—these words are from Alex Kendrick, producer and actor in Facing the Giants, Fireproof, Courageous . . . and author of The Love Dare. He spoke on the FamilyLife “Love Like You Mean It” Cruise and shared this story.

Kendrick went on to speak to those on the cruise, “Four months ago, I’m studying and getting ready to do our ramp up and do our next movie and stuff—as I’m with the Lord, and I remember I’m in His Word—and it was like He just kick-boxed me in the head: ‘Alex, you are running your wife down in your mind. She is not your enemy. The enemy wants to distract you, deceive you, and divide you. Your wife and you are one unit. Both of you are sinners, and both of you are in need of My grace.”

Feeling the Lord leading him to remember that his wife, Christina, is God’s gift to him and designed by God to have strengths which he lacked . . . Kendrick began to make a list of whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute—about Christina!

He knew that list was what he should dwell on about Christina. He said, “The list for her—the positive list—was very long. Guys—don’t run your spouse down, in your mind. . . If you are in Christ, what do you do? Follow Philippians 4:8. Your spouse is a sinner, but they are not your enemy.”

Alex Kendrick’s talk on board the ship, speaking to the 1,000 passengers gathered to hear the word of God taught and the gospel shared in the context of marriage, was so well received that it was shared with the listeners of FamilyLife Today with Dennis Rainey and Bob Lepine. I took Kendrick’s teaching from the transcript of that March 3, 2014, airing to share with you.

What does this have to do with deployment? Geographic distance and the pressures of war can lead a couple to misunderstandings in communication. Happens all the time. What do you do? Instead of running your spouse down—thinking the worst—make a list. Make a list of what is true about your spouse . . . what is noble . . . what is right . . . what is pure . . . what is lovely . . . what is admirable. Like Alex Kendrick, your list is going to be long because those are the character qualities which attracted you to your husband or wife in the first place.

But sometimes we forget.

And sometimes Satan can cause trouble in a marriage.

Take the advice of the author of The Love Dare . . . and dare to love your spouse the way Christ loves them . . . with grace. And pray that they love you the same way. Think on these things.

Work Cited:

“The One Thing” by Alex Kendrick, aired on FamilyLife Today Radio on March 3, 2014.

Questions to Share:

1. Pick at least one of the eight qualities which the Apostle Paul encourages us to think on—and list ways in which your spouse demonstrates that quality.

2. Pray for each other . . . that you would keep your mind stayed on the strengths of your spouse.

Excellent or Praiseworthy is posted on Monday and Thursday nights.

“I have told you these things, so that in Me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart!  I have overcome the world.” — John 15:33

Have you ever PCSed and had the realtor tell you that the most important thing to consider in choosing a house is “location . . . location . . . location”?

In his  book, Dangerous Calling, Paul David Tripp says that phrase also refers to life.

When I read that statement I was intrigued. I know that people in the military have to be very flexible about what they call “home.” And when I read his admonition that “location . . . location . . . location” can also be used in a spiritual sense, I wondered how that might apply to the military life.

Tripp uses “location . . . location . . . location” in a masterful way to remind us of several important points regarding our time on earth. I will summarize his points using some of my thoughts which apply to the military:

1. First, remember this location—this world we live in—is a deeply fallen world. You who fight for the freedom of those oppressed around the world know this better than anyone. Tripp says, “You and I live in a very broken world where there is trouble on every side.” (p. 108) Governments, families, churches, relationships . . . our own bodies, are all flawed. Nothing is perfect, nor will it ever be. The Apostle Paul puts it this way in Romans 8:22-24:  “The whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.” Tripp reminds us, “When you face this harsh reality, you will live prepared for the troubles that come your way.” (p. 108)

2. Second, remember the location where the fiercest battles will occur is in your own heart. Alexander Solzhenitsyn is famous for writing in Gulag Archipelago this statement about the enemy of sin within, “Gradually it was disclosed to me that the line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties—but right through every human heart—and all human hearts.” The prophet Jeremiah puts it this way, “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9).

The truth is that when we face temptation. . . when we face the troubles caused by sin in our hearts and in this world . . .when we face our own brokenness. . . we will run to somewhere for refuge. When we need comfort and strength, courage and healing, grace and mercy. . . we need a safe location in which to turn. In Proverbs 18:10 we read this good news, “The name of the LORD is a strong tower; the righteous run to it and are safe.”  We might want to turn to addictions, entertainment, wild pursuits—but they ultimately will not satisfy. Tripp writes, “God really is your refuge and strength. Only he rules every location where your trouble exists. Only he controls all the relationships in which disappointment will rear its head. Only he has the power to rescue and deliver you. Only he has the grace you need to face what you are facing. Only he holds the wisdom that, in trouble, you so desperately need. Only he is in, with, and for you at all times. He is the refuge of refuges. Do you run to him?” (p. 109) 

3. Third, remember Christians are heading to a location where trouble will be no more. I believe Christians in the military can demonstrate, perhaps better than most, a satisfaction in a required nomadic lifestyle because they know this earth is not our home—our citizenship is in heaven. The Apostle Paul states this so plainly in Philippians 3:18-20: “For, as I have often told you before and now say again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.”  The cross of Christ takes us from daily trouble to ultimate redemption. Glory!

In his summary statement on “location. . . location. . . location”, Paul David Tripp writes, “You could argue that the biblical story is about three locations. The garden in Genesis was a location of perfection and beauty but became a place of sin and trouble. The hill of Calvary was a place of both horrible suffering and transforming grace. And the New Jerusalem, that place of peace and refuge lit by the brightness of the Son, will be our final refuge forever.” (p. 109)

Where are you located right now?  Wherever you are in the world tonight, God is there with you. Even though the world is fallen; even though sin abounds. . . He is with you, and He brings hope. One of my favorite Scriptures regarding God’s presence is from Psalm 139. As if it were written for military serving around the world, David writes, “Where can I go from Your Spirit?  Where can I flee from Your presence? If I go up to the heavens, You are there (sounds like aviators to me); if I make my bed in the depths, You are there (sailors?), if I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea (downrange?), even there Your hand will guide me, Your right hand will hold me fast.” (Psalm 139:7-10)

Although we live in a fallen world, because of the accomplished work on the cross of Christ, we are free and have the promise of life everlasting with Him. Location? From Him. Location? Through Him. Location? To Him. To Him be the glory forever! Amen. (Romans 11:36)

Work Cited:

Tripp, Paul David. Dangerous Calling: Confronting the Unique Challenges of Pastoral Ministry (Wheaton:  Crossway, 2012).

Questions to Share:

1. In what ways do you see the phrase “location . . . location . . . location” applying to your spiritual life?

2. Pray for each other to be encouraged with the promise, “Trust in Him at all times, O people; pour out your hearts to Him, for God is our refuge” (Psalm 62:8).

Excellent or Praiseworthy is posted on Monday and Thursday nights.

This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith.  Who is it that overcomes the world?  Only he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God. 1 John 5:4, 5

No doubt you associate March 17th each year as St. Patrick’s Day, as I do. For as long as I can remember, the date set aside to celebrate St. Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland, has been a day dedicated to the wearing of green, to decorating with leprechauns and shamrocks, and to holding parades in locations where many Irish have settled.

But little did I know that March 17th is also a holiday because of a military victory. We’ll get back to St. Patrick—because that’s a very important story—but so is Evacuation Day. If I’ve done my homework right, Evacuation Day was the day in the Boston area when British General Sir William Howe led his troops onto their ships and left the city for Nova Scotia. The Continental Army, under the new command of General George Washington, strategically occupied Dorchester Heights overlooking Boston Harbor. Fortifications were built with artillery equipment captured at Fort Ticonderoga, and the British realized that their position within Boston was indefensible. Fearing a defeat similar to Bunker Hill, General Howe decided to evacuate, ending an 11 month siege of the city. Boston was never attacked again by the British, and this can be considered Washington’s first victory of the Revolutionary War. The password for the day in General Washington’s Continental Army encampment was “Saint Patrick,” and March 17th was declared an official holiday for Suffolk County, Massachusetts in the early 1900s.

With the story of St. Patrick we find another victory, but of a different sort. His is the story of victory over bitterness, victory over the lies of a pagan culture, and, as Thomas Cahill in How the Irish Saved Civilization would even say, the victory over illiteracy and ignorance which would preserve writings so important to us today, including the Bible.

Patrick was a young man of sixteen years when kidnapped from his home in England around 400 A.D. and taken to Ireland. There he was sold to a chieftain who forced Patrick to tend his sheep. It was during this captivity that Patrick remembered his Christian upbringing, which he had formerly rejected. As he wrote in his Confessions, “I would pray constantly during the daylight hours” and “the love of God . . . surrounded me more and more.” His understanding and love for God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit grew during these lonely years of survival in the cold, rain, and snow. His writings do not show bitterness, however, because he used his time to grow in new love and faith. After six years as a slave-shepherd Patrick escaped and returned to his home in England, a changed man.

Feeling called to return to Ireland and proclaim the Gospel to the pagan and barbaric culture which he had left, Patrick began to study and prepare. Eventually he was ordained as a priest, and then a bishop. When he did return, he brought new hope to the land where he had been held captive, all because of his bold and faithful proclamation of Jesus Christ as Savior of the world. He even used the shamrock to explain the Trinity of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  He served in Ireland for 29 years, baptizing thousands and planting hundreds of churches. Besides individual lives redeemed, their new Christian faith gave the Irish people a revived love of learning—which then fostered literacy. The Irish monks were instrumental in copying books, including the Bible, which were in danger of being looted and destroyed during the final days of the Roman Empire as it crumbled.

This is a quick summary, no doubt, and there is much to appreciate in the legacy of St. Patrick. Although accounts of his biography differ in details, there seems to be little disagreement as to his passion to evangelize the people of Ireland because of his love for them and his love for our Lord. I am particularly inspired by his deep prayer life, and am touched by this writing called “The Breastplate,” attributed to St. Patrick:

“Christ be within me, Christ behind me, Christ before me, Christ beside me, Christ to win me, Christ to comfort and restore me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me, Christ inquired, Christ in danger, Christ in hearts of all that love me, Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.”

March 17th is a day to celebrate victory, whether Evacuation Day or St. Patrick’s Day. The ultimate victory is through Jesus Christ, and as Christians we celebrate His life in us every day of the year. Paul writes in his letter to the Corinthians, “The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.” (1 Corinthians 15:56-58)

Resources:

Apostle to the Irish: The Real Saint Patrick by Charles Colson
Patricius: The True Story of St. Patrick by David Kithcart
Who Was the Real St. Patrick? by Deacon Keith A. Fournier
Saint Patrick from Wikipedia
Evacuation Day from Wikipedia
Service of the Scribes: How the Irish Saved Civilization, March 16, 1998 of Prison Fellowship

Questions to Share:

1. Why do you believe Patrick did not become a slave to “victim-hood” and refuse God’s call to return to Ireland as a missionary?

2. What lessons can you learn from St. Patrick regarding personal victory over unfair treatment?

Excellent or Praiseworthy is posted on Monday and Thursday nights.

Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.  —  Ephesians 5:19,20

I had a lesson in how to “make music in your heart to the Lord” last week. It was a wonderful opportunity to realize how many times I sing praises, but fail to really “listen” to the words.

Each morning last week I opened my email to find a message from our pastor—sent to all the church membership. He began our days with encouraging messages containing only the lyrics to his favorite songs. The words immediately triggered in my mind the melodies—but what amazed me was the depth of spiritual understanding that took place in my heart as I focused on the words alone.

For example, here was Monday’s offering:

“Amazing love,
How can it be
That You, my King, should die for me?
Amazing love,
I know it’s true.
It’s my joy to honor You,
In all I do, I honor You.

I’m forgiven because You were forsaken,
I’m accepted, you were condemned,
I am alive and well, Your Spirit is within me,
Because You died and rose again.”  (Hillsong United)

This worship song became the theme for my day . . . with a heightened sense of truth from focusing on the language alone.

The next day our pastor sent:

“Great is Thy faithfulness, Oh God my Father
There is no shadow of turning with Thee.
Thou changest not, Thy compassions they fail not;
As Thou has been, Thou forever wilt be.

Great is Thy faithfulness! Great is Thy faithfulness!
Morning by morning new mercies I see;
All I have needed Thy hands hath provided
Great is Thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me!”  (Thomas Chisholm & William Runyan)

At this point, I was looking forward to opening my email each morning—expecting a gift of truth somehow unsavored during worship time on Sundays. I was not disappointed to find this in my inbox:

“You are my strength when I am weak
You are the treasure that I seek
You are my all in all.
Seeking You as a precious jewel
Lord, to give up I’d be a fool
You are my all in all.

Jesus, Lamb of God
Worthy is Your name
Jesus, Lamb of God
Worthy is Your name.

Taking my sin, my cross, my shame
Rising again I bless Your name
You are my all in all.
When I fall down You pick me up,
When I am dry You fill my cup
You are my all in all.

Jesus, Lamb of God
Worthy is Your name.
Jesus, Lamb of God
Worthy is Your name.”  (Dennis Jernigan)

I have decided that sending spiritual songs to others—in lyric form—is a powerful method of encouragement as yet untried by me. What my pastor stirred in my heart is going to be a new approach of encouragement to others in my circle of friends.  After all, isn’t the book of Psalms exactly this?

For those of you who are deployed, or serving on the home front, I offer this to strengthen your steps and your heart today:

“Jesus loves me! this I know,
For the Bible tells me so;
Little ones to Him belong,
They are weak, but He is strong.

Yes, Jesus loves me!  Yes, Jesus loves me!
Yes, Jesus loves me!  The Bible tells me so.

Jesus loves me! He will stay
Close beside me all the way;
Thou hast bled and died for me,
I will henceforth live for Thee.

Yes, Jesus loves me!  Yes, Jesus loves me!
Yes, Jesus loves me!  The Bible tells me so.”  (Anna B. Warner & William Bradbury, 1st & 3rd stanzas)

May Jesus Christ be the song in your heart today, wherever you are, giving thanks to God the Father for everything.

Questions to Share:

1. Is there a hymn or praise song that comes to your mind right now?

2. Would you email the words to that song to someone who could use some encouragement?

Excellent or Praiseworthy is posted on Monday and Thursday nights.

If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in him and he in God.  And so we know and rely on the love God has for us.  God is love.I John 4:15,16

“Identity Crisis” is a long devotion—one of the longest we have posted.  Knowing your ops tempo we are surprised when the numbers come in as to its popularity.  That speaks to us of the need for spiritual material dealing with growth during deployment, and we are grateful to God.

We were already planning on a follow-up piece using JJ Heller’s “What Love Really Means.”  So we post it tonight with joy and anticipation for how God is going to use it to affirm you in your spiritual walk with Him during this time of war:

Did you hear the ending?   The man cries out from his prison cell, “O Lord, Forgive me!” and in his heart he hears God say to him, “I will love you for you. . . .Not for what you have done or what you will become. . .. I will love you for you! I will give you the love that you never knew!”

Re-read “Identity Crisis” from March 6th and see again how true it is that God loves us—not for what we have done or what we will become—but because He is a God who is a covenant-keeper, perfect provider and protector, forward-looking and forgiving, and Love!  Hallelujah!

Questions to Share:

1. In what ways can you relate to the first three people about whom JJ Heller sings?

2. In what way do you need God’s unconditional love?

Excellent or Praiseworthy is posted on Monday and Thursday nights.

“This is what the LORD says—Israel’s King and Redeemer, the LORD Almighty:
I am the first and I am the last; apart from Me there is no God.” —
Isaiah 44:6

Because of the rigors of deployment and the struggles of life, have you started asking yourself, “Who am I anymore?”

Perhaps you can call that an “identity crisis”—when you begin to question or contemplate or doubt what makes you important or what makes you worthwhile.

Many people tie their importance or identity to a number of different things: career progression, relationships, checkbook & savings balance, housing, car, what parents or spouse or sibling or supervisor or physical appearance or even the past says about them.

What is the major problem with this list? It leaves out God and what He has to say about who you are.

Let’s make this more personal: There is nothing more freeing, satisfying, pleasing, fulfilling, rewarding or gratifying than living our life, not in light of what other people think or expect or demand, but in living our life in light of what God says, God thinks, and God demands. It is a powerful thing to walk through life with a firm conviction of our identity—as God knows us.

And here is the bottom line: Everything that God says about us (you and me), thinks about us and demands of us is the outcome or tied directly to who He is. In other words, when we understand who God is our identity crisis will be solved and we will be satisfied.

Nowhere is this clearer than in Isaiah 43. God’s chosen people were having an identity crisis—they were unsure of who God was and therefore unsure of themselves. These verses can help us replace unbiblical thoughts about ourselves with biblical truth as we sort through what God had to say (through Isaiah) to the Israelites in the Old Testament, themselves facing a deployment of sorts. Satan, the enemy, knows that if he can create confusion about our identity or worth, then we will go through life not knowing what or whom to live for.

In Isaiah 43, God establishes some simple truths about Himself which help the Israelites through their identity crisis. Indeed the more we know about God the more we can truly know why we were created and what on earth we are here for—so this is a worthy exercise:

1. God is the covenant keeper, therefore I am secure.

From the text of Isaiah 43:1: “But now, thus says the LORD, your Creator, O Jacob, and He who formed you, O Israel, ‘Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name; you are Mine!’”

God calls Himself LORD which means “covenant keeper.” Why is that important? A covenant reveals the personal nature of God in terms of His relationship with you and me. A contract can be broken when one of the parties fails to live up to the stipulations in the contract. A covenant is forever. A covenant is based on the enduring nature of God’s commitment to us.

Why is God so committed to us? He created us and He formed us. He also says that He redeemed us—in other words, he bought us back from the bondage of sin. In order for God to establish His covenant with us He had to personally pay the ransom with the death of His Son, Jesus Christ—something we could not do for ourselves.

God also says that He knows us by name. Somehow—before the world was made—God looked into the future and chose to form and create us, chose to set His love upon us and call us by name as a saved believer in Jesus Christ, His Son. Not because of anything special in us or about us—but because of how awesome and great He is. He did it to freely demonstrate His love and grace, though undeserved on our part.

God is the covenant keeper — therefore I am secure.

2. God is the perfect protector and provider, therefore I am strong.

From the text of Isaiah 43:2: “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they will not overflow you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be scorched, nor will the flame burn you.”

“Water” is a general term and “river” a specific term. “Fire” is a general term and “flame” a specific term. General to specific.

Why is that important? It says to me that God is present not just in the year or in the month or in the day I experience hardship (perhaps related to deployment)—He is present with me in the hour and the minute and in the second of my difficulty.

Why would a loving God who calls us by name allow this kind of hardship? To show us how strong we can be in Him. God lovingly uses hardship and painful circumstances to teach us how badly we need Him.

What does this have to do with our identity? When things are tough, others may say that we might as well quit and give up—or compromise our faith—or tempt us to come to the conclusion that God does not care. But the truth is: God is present with me in my weakness. I have His strength and I become strong in Him. I am not going to go under or go away—I am going to stay in the fight regardless of how hot the flame gets or how high the river becomes.

God is the perfect provider and protector — therefore I am strong in Him.

3. God is love, therefore I am valued by Him.

From the text of Isaiah 43:3,4: “For I am the LORD your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior; I have given Egypt as your ransom, Cush and Seba in your place. Since you are precious in My sight, since you are honored and I love you, I will give other men in your place and other peoples in exchange for your life.”

Isaiah had their years of slavery on their minds—so God references their ancient history. He reminds them that the deliverance from slavery cost the lives of Egyptians. Remember the plagues and the midnight deaths of the firstborn? Remember the Egyptian army drowning at the bottom of the Red Sea? The point is—God says that their freedom came at a cost . . . . the principle of substitutionary atonement. Because of His holiness, God demands that sin be paid for. Because of His love, He allows a substitute. We see this principle throughout Scripture and perfectly in the fact that Jesus, the pure and spotless, righteous and holy One, willingly became our substitute for sin. Because God loves us—we are valued.

And one more point—that value is not based on our performance! Our value is based upon His love for us and not upon our love for Him. So no matter what happens during this war, God’s love is eternal and unconditional.

We are fickle and changing — but God is not.

4. God is forward looking and forgiving, therefore I do not live in the past and the best is yet to come.

From the text of Isaiah 43:18-21: “Do not call to mind the former things, or ponder things of the past. Behold, I will do something new, now it will spring forth; will you not be aware of it? I will even make a roadway in the wilderness, rivers in the desert. The beasts of the field will glorify Me, the jackals and the ostriches, because I have given waters in the wilderness and rivers in the desert, to give drink to My chosen people. The people whom I formed for Myself will declare my praise.”

One of the greatest tools of Satan related to our identity is to keep us looking backward and reminding us of all our failures—perhaps even during deployment. And it is a tool that not only he uses, but other people use it as well. While we are to confess our sins of the past, we are not to stay there!

God says in verses 18 and 19 that we are to put the pain and disappointments of past failures behind us and move forward. And that includes forgiving those who have hurt or disappointed us so that we can go forward!

God knows that our identity can be bound up in past mistakes and failures—and therefore we can begin to believe that is how it is always going to be. But remember the context of the Scripture—God’s chosen people had sinned in their disobedience. But God said “Don’t stay there.” The same is true for us today.

It is God’s nature to forgive (Psalm 86:5). Forgiveness was in our Savior’s heart as He died upon the cross (Luke 23:34). God forgives us only because Christ died to pay for our sins (Ephesians 1:7). And God is always ready to forgive us (I John 1:9).

When we understand this we will not be defeated by our past—but we learn from it and move forward.

So, bottom-line, what is our true identity? Fill in the blanks with your own name:
I Corinthians 6:20 God says that _____ has been bought with a price and _____ belongs to Almighty God.
Ephesians 1:5 says _____has been adopted as God’s child.
Colossians 2:13 says _____ has been redeemed and forgiven of all _____’s sins.
Romans 8:1 says there is no condemnation to _____ because _____ is in Christ.
Philippians 3:20 says _____ is a citizen of heaven.
Hebrews 4:16 says _____ can find grace and mercy in time of need.
I Corinthians 3:16 says _____ is God’s temple.
Ephesians 2:10 says _____ is God’s workmanship.
Philippians 4:13 says that today, _____ can do all things through Christ who strengthens _____.

Remember – It’s not about us, it’s about Him and who He is!

Questions to Share:

1. If you cannot say with assurance that you are a believer and follower in Jesus Christ— but you want to know more so that your identity is established in Him, go to:
Godlovessoldiers.com
Godlovesmarines.com
Godlovessailors.com
Godlovesairmen.com
Godlovescoastguardsmen.com

2. In what ways have you let others define you? What is the truth as a child of God in Jesus Christ?

Excellent or Praiseworthy is posted on Monday and Thursday nights.

In memory of Denise McColl, who went home to be with our Lord eight years ago on March 29, 2008. . . and in honor of the McColl family who demonstrated great love and care. . .we are re-posting this devotion.  It was originally posted on February 25, 2008, before Denise’s death. May their story bless you as the McColls have blessed us. . .

New words and phrases keep coming into our English language—some better than others! On the “bad” side, I am distressed at the new use of the word “whatever.” Being one who loves Philippians 4:8, from which this devotional is named, the word “whatever” leads me into thinking of things that are true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent or praiseworthy. But now, in our culture, “whatever” is tossed out in disrespect and flippancy—often to cut off a conversation in misunderstanding.

But on the “good” side, I really enjoy the new phrase that we use to help visualize a new idea and to begin planning to that end. “What would it look like if ________” is the way we can gather and dream about a new project, with hopes that the outcome will look the way we envision.

So here’s the question: What would it look like if a Christian couple chose to face military life as an opportunity to exhibit and demonstrate Christ-likeness under all circumstances. . . even deployment?  What would it look like if they faced the challenges of “constant schedule changes, the times of transition, the long periods of waiting, (for orders, housing, homecomings, etc.) the many uncertainties concerning deployments, the long periods of single-parenting, the long ‘silent’ periods during separations, the months spent ‘camping out’ at each new location, the adjustments of each family member at new homes, schools, and working environments” (Footsteps of the Faithful, p. 11) totally relying on God to meet their needs, strengthen and comfort them, in order to be able to finish strong?

It would look like the McColl family, as shared in the book Footsteps of the Faithful, subtitled “Victorious Living and The Military Life.” This book was life-changing for me, in terms of ministry to military families facing the global war on terror. The book was written in the early 1990’s by a Navy wife whose husband served on submarines. Here is Denise McColl’s perspective, “We wives have a unique opportunity as Christians serving in the military to share the peace that the Lord gives us even in our husbands’ comings and goings. It is a living testimony that our security, our worth, and our perspective is not totally wrapped up in our spouse’s presence, but in the presence of the God whom we serve.” (p. 118) Wow! This is what Kingdom-living looks like, military-style!

I have never met Denise McColl, and chances are, this side of heaven, we will not meet. You see, Denise is experiencing great pain and suffering with brain cancer—on the opposite coast of the United States from where I live. Her husband and five daughters have been lovingly caring for her—no doubt with the help of many friends and professionals. When I found out that the McColls were going through this tender time, I felt compelled to share the legacy that this family’s story has meant to me.

One of my favorite chapters in the book is entitled “Deployment Detours.” In it, the oldest daughter (Heather) asks her mother this question:

But, Mom, what do you really think Dad’s doing?’ Heather prodded.

‘I really don’t know, Heather. But you know what? It doesn’t matter, because I know that whatever he’s doing, God is watching over him. And hopefully he is having lots of chances to tell people about Jesus. Do you remember what Daddy reminded you of when he left, girls?’

‘Yeah, Mom. He told us to encourage each other and to be a blessing.’

‘That’s right. And I hope you will continue to do that. And when you do, think of your dad at sea who hopes so much to do the same. He wants to encourage his shipmates and to be a blessing to them. If you can remember to pray for him about that, you’ll begin to have a pretty good idea about what he’s doing. Does that help girls”? (p. 79)

It did help, and their story helps us to see victorious Christian living in spite of challenges. As my husband and I travel as missionaries to posts and bases, we are introduced to other military families who live out Matthew 6:33: “But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” We are blessed by their faithfulness to each other and to God and consider it a privilege to pass on their stories. Not that they don’t struggle with good days/bad days. . . .but that they’re able to face the days filled with the Holy Spirit and proclaiming His faithfulness to all generations.

Halfway through Footsteps of the Faithful, Denise includes a chapter written by her husband, Angus. As leader of the McColl family, I was intrigued by what he had to add to her account. Here is some of what he wrote:

“I have decided that the best thing that I can do as a military man who feels called by God to ‘stay with it,’ is to look for other ways in which I can minister to my wife and family rather than to be frustrated by the ways in which I can’t. I know that while I am on sea duty I will often not be able to minister to them, but I have learned a lot of ways that I can still share with them even in my absence. I have learned that even though I am often gone, it is mostly a matter of making my family a priority.” (p. 109)

He continues as he shares how prayer kept them together during deployments:

“I have found it useful to develop a list of prayer topics with my wife prior to leaving so that we have some common ground for prayer. Developing this list together before deploying and then checking it together after being reunited has been one of our greatest encouragements as a couple. . . . Separation is never easy, but prayer builds many bridges, and it is a great tool to help us cling to common ground.” (p. 113) He goes on to add the value he saw by choosing a “family deployment project.” Perhaps that is another story for another “Excellent or Praiseworthy” devotional! Stay tuned. . . .

Denise closes her book in proclamation of God’s provision and God’s purpose:

“Thankfully, we don’t live from war to war but from day to day. And in our day to day living, the grey spots can certainly cloud our perspectives, often so much so that we give up the battle as we lose our stance under the pressures of military life. That is why our stability in Jesus is of utmost importance. . . . God’s purpose is not that we grope through the grey times, but that we grow through them! We don’t often see what His purposes are in undergoing a harsh time until we are on the other side of it. So our only hope is to cling to Him through it, to stand firm or move forward as He calls us.” (p. 206-207)

May God bless you and your family, Denise, in your current battle, and may “…the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” — Philippians 4:7

McColl, Denise, Footsteps of the Faithful: Victorious Living and the Military Life. Orlando: Campus Crusade for Christ, 1994.

Questions to Share:

1. What would it look like if we could take Philippians 2:14 to heart and chose to live it in deployment? “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—in order that I may boast on the day of Christ that I did not run or labor for nothing.”

2. What would it look like if you faced death with the assurance that you were going to spend eternity in heaven with Jesus? “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.” —John 3:16

Excellent or Praiseworthy is posted on Monday and Thursday nights.

“One thing God has spoken, two things have I heard: that You, O God, are strong, and that you, O Lord, are loving.” — Psalm 62:11-12a

I was with military wives, studying Beth Moore’s “Living Beyond Yourself”, when I heard Beth speak these words on the video, “These two things I know from Psalm 62—that God is strong, and that He is loving.” I immediately opened my Bible to read that psalm and get the context to that passage. . . because the simplicity, truth, and power of it cut right to my heart. Psalm 62 begins, “My soul finds rest in God alone; my salvation comes from Him. He alone is my rock and my salvation; He is my fortress, I will never be shaken.” (vs. 1-2). And in verses 5-8 I read, “Find rest, O my soul, in God alone; my hope comes from Him. He alone is my rock and my salvation; He is my fortress, I will not be shaken. My salvation and my honor depend on God; He is my mighty rock, my refuge. Trust in Him at all times, O people; pour out your hearts to Him, for God is our refuge.” Hallelujah!

During my quiet time the next day, I re-read Psalm 62 and “feasted” on the beautiful words of truth in verses 11 and 12: “One thing God has spoken, two things have I heard: that You, O God, are strong, and that You, O Lord, are loving.” As I pondered God’s demonstration of His love and His strength in my life, I was reminded of the song that I had just been singing the week before with my little granddaughter. You know it, and it goes like this:

“Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.
Little ones to Him belong; they are weak but He is strong.
Yes, Jesus loves me! Yes, Jesus loves me! Yes, Jesus loves me!
The Bible tells me so.”

When we’re singing, my granddaughter and I even give extra volume and emphasis to “He is strong.” Isn’t that what Psalm 62 says? When I am weak (which is all the time), He is my rock, my fortress, my refuge. And He loves me—He gives me peace, salvation, hope, honor, security. I can trust Him. . . . .and He listens to me when I pour my heart out to Him in prayer or in song.

Wanting to take this even one step further, I decided to find out who wrote “Jesus Loves Me”—perhaps there was something more I could learn here. I found the lyricist was Anna B. Warner, and she lived in the state of New York from 1827-1915. Coming from a wealthy family, Anna and her sister began writing to earn money after their father lost his fortune in the depression of 1837. Anna penned the words to “Jesus Loves Me” as part of a novel that her sister, Susan, wrote in 1860 entitled Say and Seal.

But also fascinating is who wrote the melody to “Jesus Loves Me.” It was William B. Bradbury. At the end of a Billy Graham crusade, when the crowd sings, “Just As I Am”, they are singing another familiar tune by William B. Bradbury (words by Charlotte Elliott). And have you ever sung, “Sweet Hour of Prayer,” or “He Leadeth Me”, or “Savior, Like a Shepherd Lead Us”? These tunes were all written by William B. Bradbury. I do not know how Anna Warner and William Bradbury worked together to give us “Jesus Loves Me”, but it truly was Spirit-led. For decades, all over the world, the power of truth in “Jesus Loves Me” comes through in that simple tune. Hearts are touched, lives are changed—for eternity.

But the scope of my research into what began with the words “These two things I know. .” was not over. As I was reading further about Anna Warner, I discovered that she led Bible studies with cadets at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point in the mid-1800s. And she is buried in the cemetery at West Point. So the writer of “Jesus Loves Me” taught Bible studies with military cadets—that touched my heart! Anna B. Warner, with her sister, was ministering to our military in a profound way perhaps as they were preparing to fight in the Civil War! No doubt she taught them the two things that she knew from Psalm 62—that God is strong, and that He is loving. The Bible tells me so!

Questions to share:

1. Share with your spouse what songs you remember from your childhood. Can you share when you first heard “Jesus Loves Me”?

2. Can you share how God has been your strength during this deployment? How has He demonstrated that He loves you during this time of separation?

Excellent or Praiseworthy is posted on Monday and Thursday nights.

For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come. 1 Timothy 4:8

Most of us are familiar with waiting. We probably complain about it. “Not wasting time” is probably high on our New Year’s resolution lists. I’m a commercial airline pilot now, but when I was in the Air Force I spent a good amount of time on ground or airborne alert in the A-7 and A-10 Close Air Support business—waiting to scamble on the ground commander’s call. So I’m familiar with waiting, and with watching people wait.

I remember one particular time of waiting, over twenty-five years ago. It was the winter of 1986 . . . we were not at war, but the young fighter pilots sitting alert in their A-10s at Suwon Air Base, Republic of Korea, felt differently. It was our job to enforce a cease fire agreement from an armistice that was initiated some thirty-three years prior. We were ordered to wait—to wait for the launch signal that would send us to an area where we had trained, doing what we were prepared to do—but this time under different conditions. It was a dangerous time. But we had to wait for the signal. As we waited, our minds raced, wandered, feared, or angered . . .

It happens to all of us when we wait. Sometimes what starts in our minds can go to feelings—an impression—coming quickly and stealing our awareness of reality, distracting us from what we need to focus on while we wait. You see, there is a huge difference between “waiting” and “wasting time.” There is a purpose in waiting, or should be . . . a strategic pause in which the Spirit of God can speak if we will have ears to hear what He would have to say to us. Times of waiting might be fertile opportunities to listen and perhaps to act . . . and as we learn over time how this works in our lives we can call the conditioning effort “Wait Training.”

Perhaps you are in a waiting mode right now—waiting to deploy, waiting to return home, waiting for your family to be together again, waiting for a new assignment, waiting for a promotion, waiting for medical reports, waiting for a job offer, waiting for the birth of a baby, waiting for paperwork on a business transaction, maybe even waiting for the long day to end. I’d propose that there are three activities which can train us in the way we should wait, and make our waiting more productive than destructive:

1). Begin with prayer. Center your thoughts on who God is and how you can grow in love by growing in your knowledge of Him, who is Love. Perhaps you have a favorite spot to go to and pray—communicating with God who loves you and has a plan for your life. This contemplative time can bring you to call out to Him in your praise of Him, in your thanksgiving of the many ways in which He has blessed you, in your confession of sin, in your distress and pain, in your hope, in your time of intercession for others. Reading His word and being still in His presence will bring you to that deep communion with Him—and lead you to pray. Even if you don’t have a particular place or time to pray, remember that He is always there—always ready to hear you no matter when or whatever circumstance you might be in. Train yourself to pray always: “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) “Be joyful always, pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18) “Is any one of you in trouble? He should pray.” (James 5:13a) “Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful.” (Colossians 4:2)

2). Work at what He calls you to do. Our faith can grow as we wait if we will do what the old saints would call “doing the next thing.” There is a great cycle here—in faith we produce works which are pleasing to Him, which He has prepared in advance for us to do—and in turn that inspires our faith to more expressions of love and worship. It takes stepping out . . . . actively seeking His will in the period of waiting. Perhaps you need to ask just that, “Lord, what is it that You would have me do during this time? I don’t want to be frustrated—I want to grow in my knowledge and love of You!” There is no division between our spiritual life and our work life—it’s all His! In the military, and on the home front, there are tasks which we are called to do every day. Do them as unto the Lord. “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men.” (Colossians 3:23) Perhaps He is calling you to more training, perhaps to more responsibilities at your work place or church, perhaps you need to be more diligent in your self-discipline to strengthen some weaknesses. Perhaps He wants you to begin a Bible study with others, or perhaps He even wants you to write down your experiences with what He is teaching you in patience and endurance during this time. Laziness can steal time which the Lord would have us to use—even in waiting!

3). Wait (on others). Here is a different definition of “wait,” so stay with me! This definition of “wait” is “to attend as a servant.” Whom can you serve—or “wait on”—during this time? Watch for opportunities to help someone. Perhaps God has given you this unique time, this Kairos, as a special gift in order to serve someone during their time of need. Perhaps you are the at-home spouse and see the chance to help a neighbor who could use a hand or a listening ear . . . . or you are deployed and can help someone who is overwhelmed in their situation. Serving others, “waiting” on them, is a way in which our Father gets us through our wait training. I see it happen all the time in airports—people who help a young mother with strollers and bags, people who let someone go ahead of them because of their flight connection, people who will change seats in the gate area so that a family can sit together. These acts of kindness do not go unnoticed by our heavenly Father who wants us to use our Chronos time (minutes, hours, days) to serve Him. “ . . . whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.” (Matthew 25:40)

Perhaps you are one of those who keeps a “countdown calendar” for when your deployment will be over. That can be a hopeful tool, but with a little Wait Training, each day can be more than just an uncomfortable experience, or a square filled in a meaningless picture puzzle, before redeployment and reintegration. Make the Training Circuit . . . . pray, work, and “wait” on others . . . and repeat as many times as necessary! Don’t forget: “ . . . those who wait on the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.” (Isaiah 40:31) That’s the ultimate result of good Wait Training!

And what about that time back in ’86, when our squadron waited? The signal never came—but we were trained, and we were ready if needed. So there’s the question to spur us on—are you trained to wait (pray, work, “wait”), ready for this unique (and perhaps difficult) time to be all that the Lord wants it to be?

I wait for the LORD, my soul waits, and in His word I put my hope. — Psalm 130:5

But you must return to your God; maintain love and justice, and wait for your God always. — Hosea 12:6

But as for me, I watch in hope for the LORD, I wait for God my Savior; my God will hear me. — Micah 7:7

Yet the LORD longs to be gracious to you; He rises to show you compassion. For the LORD is a God of justice. Blessed are all who wait for Him! — Isaiah 30:18

I waited patiently for the LORD; He turned to me and heard my cry. He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; He set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand. He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God. Many will see and fear and put their trust in the LORD. — Psalm 40:1-3

Questions to Share:

1. Is there a time that you can remember in which you had to wait—and God revealed something that you would not have learned otherwise? What did you learn?

2. What are you waiting for right now? What is God teaching you during this time?

3. Make sure you pray for guidance, work at your God-given tasks, and watch for how you can serve others.

Excellent or Praiseworthy is posted on Monday and Thursday nights.

I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone—for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. — 1 Timothy 2:2

Growing up in Minnesota in the 1950s, February always meant two days off from school because of Abraham Lincoln’s birthday on February 12th and the celebration of George Washington’s birthday on February 22nd.  But sometime in the late 1960s or early 1970s dates shifted—and what I had experienced as two “for-sure” days off became one “iffy” day off on a Monday—to celebrate “Presidents’ Day.”

Back then I guessed that the purpose was to create a three-day weekend, which we enjoy, and to merge two celebrations of presidential birthdays into one grand holiday (especially for retailers to use in marketing). I have only recently found that there is much confusion over the origin of this “federal holiday” and that it is actually more closely linked to Washington’s birthday than Lincoln’s. Just reading about the history of this day left me confused, and our states seem to be equally confused. So whether it is Presidents’ Day, or President’s Day, or Presidents Day . . . . and whether or not schools in your area will be out that day . . . . and whether or not it is a holiday for you . . . . the fact remains that Abraham Lincoln and George Washington were two of our greatest presidents!

Perhaps you like to read biographies as I do. Years ago, when Elisabeth Elliott’s radio program “Gateway to Joy” was still on the air, I remember her encouraging mothers to make sure that their children read biographies of missionaries! Her own study of Amy Carmichael led her to write such a biography, and I have often reflected on her emphasis of this opportunity to draw on lessons learned from the lives of saints. John Piper is another great teacher who challenges us to look into the lives of those in the past and states in his sermon, “Brothers, Read Christian Biography”: “Biographies have served as much as any other human force in my life to overcome the inertia of mediocrity.” (DesiringGod.org)

So, because I enjoy reading biographies, on this Presidents’ Day it should not surprise you that I would want to look a bit at Abraham Lincoln and George Washington—and especially at the role of their marriages in their presidencies. They stand at sharp contrast to one another in terms of the personalities of their wives and the harmony in their households.

Gary Thomas has chosen to write about Lincoln’s marriage in the chapter “Sacred Struggle” from his great book, Sacred Marriage. This should be a hint that domestic tranquility was not the norm in the Lincoln household, for many reasons. But Thomas sees a divine purpose amidst this struggle, and writes, “The connection one can make between Lincoln’s marriage and his mission is not difficult. It is easy to see how a man who might quit on a difficult marriage would not have the character to hold together a crumbling nation. Lincoln was virtually obsessed with saving the Union; what better training ground than the difficult marriage that required such tenacity from him? It’s important to see that not only did Lincoln’s difficult marriage not deter him from achieving greatness, one might argue that it actually helped prepare him for greatness. Lincoln’s character was tested and refined on a daily basis so that when the true test came, he was able to stand strong. Had Lincoln been obsessed with happiness, he wouldn’t have mustered the strength to put up with Mary or to hold the nation together. He sensed a call to destiny, something that would in his mind supersede personal comfort, and his obedience to that destiny made world history.” (Sacred Marriage, p. 136-37).

In contrast, George Washington found in Martha an affable and complementary mate, one in whom he could write on June 23, 1775, “I retain an unalterable affection for you, which neither time or distance can change.” (MountVernon.org) The feeling was mutual, and one of his generals once described Martha as, “a modest and respectable person, who loves her husband madly.” (Battlefields & Blessings, p. 140) Martha burned most of the letters which she and George wrote to each other, so there is little to study about their close relationship. But her willingness to share in the demands of his life both during the Revolutionary War and during the responsibilities of his political office speak to her devotion to her husband, to their marriage, and to the national cause.

So what does any of this have to say to us during deployments? I might be stretching things a bit, but I see two connections that we can make by pausing to look at these presidents and their marriages. One is that some things just don’t change—countries at war call on the best from leaders. Washington and Lincoln gave us their all during pivotal times in our nation’s history. What their marriages allowed them to learn or enjoy was providentially used by God to prepare them for the necessary tasks at hand. If you have visited Washington, D.C. you have seen monuments to these two amazing presidents with their words etched in stone . . . . words which were lived out in the founding and growth of this great nation—not without cost.

But secondly, in terms of practical application, how do you view your present leadership—perhaps in your unit, your post, your squadron, your ship? Do you pray for these leaders—for their marriages? Can you understand that their personal lives will perhaps affect their ability to lead during stressful times in this war? And taking it to a broader perspective, what about the leadership in your church, or in our nation? How can you encourage your pastor or chaplain to keep a good balance between the demands of the church or chapel and the priorities of the home? Reading the challenge given by Paul to young Timothy, we are reminded of the priority of his instruction: “I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone—for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.” (1Timothy 2:2) Notice the link between our prayers for leadership and the effect on our lives. And if you know the context of this writing, you know that Paul wrote during a time of great suffering and persecution.

I have heard it said that it’s very difficult to complain about someone for whom you are praying. Pray for your leaders . . . . whether they be military leaders, corporate leaders, church leaders, or political leaders. They are in authority because God has placed them there. Washington and Lincoln were men of integrity, raised up by God to serve us in our time of need. They were real men, with real lives and real struggles. And so it is today, and so we must pray. Some things just don’t change . . . . and so we must pray.

Good leadership is a channel of water controlled by God; he directs it to whatever ends he chooses. — Proverbs 21:1 The Message

Questions to Share:

1. What are two challenges which Washington and Lincoln both faced during their presidencies?

2. How can you pray with your spouse for leaders today?

Work cited:

Cook, Jane Hampton, Battlefields & Blessings: Stories of Faith and Courage from The Revolutionary War (Chattanooga: Living Ink Books, 2007)

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

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