Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Thankful for a Doorknob

On June 17, 1966 Paul Galanti was forced to eject from his Douglas A4 Skyhawk over North Vietnam after taking several hits from antiaircraft guns. Galanti, a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy, was cocky, courageous and like most twenty-six year olds, he lived with an attitude of invincibility. He was John Wayne in a supersonic jet. However, what would transpire after rocketing out of his flaming aircraft would change his cavalier demeanor forever.      

A sea breeze caused his parachute to drift away from the Gulf of Tonkin, where if we would have landed he would have certainly been rescued by friendly forces. Instead, the steady wind pushed his parachute into enemy territory. Once Galanti hit terra firma, Vietcong soldiers swarmed his position, captured him, and imprisoned him in the notorious jail—Hanoi Hilton.  

Galanti spent 6 1/2 years (2,432 days) as a prisoner of war in North Vietnam. The horrors he endured were simply unimaginable for most us—regular beatings, exposure to the elements, malnutrition, burning hunger and thirst, combating vermin, depression—literally hell on earth. Paul returned home from the war in 1973. The very first letter he received at home was from the IRS. The note read, “We realize that you’ve had extenuating circumstances, but you haven’t paid taxes since 1967.”

“When I got home from Vietnam,” Galanti said, “many Americans were endlessly complaining. They complained about everything. The motto, unity over self, that had effectively held our POWs together under difficult circumstances, seemed to have been replaced at home with first-person singular: me, myself and I.

But to Paul and his fellow POWs, life’s simple blessings were not to be taken for granted. Having a hot meal, a warm bed, time with friends and family, and the ability to make choices, to do anything they wanted, were visions they had dreamed of for years, during torture, filth, hunger, handcuffs and prison bars.

Paul’s perspective today is simple. Everywhere he goes, there are ordinary reminders of the difference between prison and living free. “Here’s the deal,” He’d say with clear blue eyes and a matter-of-fact tone, “Every day that you’ve got a doorknob—on your side of the door—is a day to be thankful.”[1]

A grateful heart sees each day as a gift. Thankful people focus less on what they lack and more on the privileges they have. To the grateful, non-essentials are put in their proper place and the small things become precious treasures. Thankful people have made it a daily practice to rehearse the goodness and character of God. That’s how another POW under Roman house arrest could write, “Give thanks for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Eph. 5:20). 

Max Lucado adds these thoughts about cultivating a heart of gratitude:
            “The grateful heart is like a magnet sweeping over the day, collecting reasons for gratitude. A zillion diamonds sparkle against the velvet of your sky every night. Thank you, God. A miracle of muscles enables your eyes to read these words and your brain to process them. Thank you, God. Your lungs inhale and exhale eleven thousand liters of air every day. Your heart will beat about three billion times in your lifetime. Your brain is a veritable electric generator of power. Thank you, God. For the jam on our toast and the milk on our cereal. For the blanket that calms us and the joke that delights us and the warm sun that reminds us of God’s love. For the thousands of planes that did not crash today. For the men who didn’t cheat on their wives, and the wives who didn’t turn from their men, and the kids who, in spite of unspeakable pressure to dishonor their parents, decided not to do so. Thank you, Lord.”[2]

Find something to be thankful for today; even if it’s something simple. Credit God for His generosity and faithfulness and you’ll discover that gratitude does to anxiety, worry and fear what the morning sun does to valley mist. -DM

[1] Ellen Vaughn, Radical Gratitude (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2005), 184-188.
[2] Max Lucado, “An Attitude of Gratitude,” An Encouraging Word with Max, 8 October 2013

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

A Prayer for the Persecuted Church

We don’t hear much about persecution because we are insulated here in the United States. Our media is close-mouthed when it comes to the injustices perpetrated against Christians worldwide. However, if you are a vocal Christian today in China, Pakistan, The Middle East or the Philippines then it’s almost expected you will face beatings or torture.

The U.S. State Department said in 2013 that, “Christians are the single most widely persecuted religious group in the world today. It is estimated an average of 100 Christians around the world are killed each month for their faith.”[1]

John Phillips adds, “The church is God’s beachhead on this rebel planet. Satan hates it with a malice that defies description. He has persecuted it with tireless persistence down to the present day. He has used Roman Caesars, Spanish inquisitors, Holy Roman Emperors, Communist commissars, and other dictators as his tools . . . It is estimated that more Christians worldwide have been martyred for the cause of Christ in the last century than in all the previous nineteen centuries put together.”[2]     

This year we have seen ISIS militants running roughshod over Christians in the Middle East. The internet has been flooded with barbaric images and videos of Christians being crucified, beheaded, shot and buried alive for refusing to convert to Islam. Franklin Graham, son of world renowned evangelist Billy Graham and president of Samaritan’s Purse, recently said in a Fox News interview that there “is a war on Christians around the world” and that “the Koran gives them [ISIS] the basis” for waging holy war against Jews and Christians.”[3] So much for Islam being “the religion of peace,” as our politically-correct media outlets often claim.     

In light of these ongoing attacks against the church, I have been grieved in my heart over what is happening to our brothers and sisters in these hostile corners of the globe. Like you, I have felt a gamut of emotions—outrage, sadness, helplessness. Recently, the Lord has impressed on my heart that I do have a part to play in this battle of good vs. evil, and that I can lift these beleaguered believers up in prayer. While this seems insignificant, I am reminded of what John Calvin wrote, “Against the persecution of a tyrant, the godly have no remedy but prayer.”

So today, I have devoted to praying for the persecuted church. If you want to join in, feel free to recite the prayer below and share with others:

“Oh Lord, my heart aches today for Your Church. Troubling images of bloodshed and death have haunted me. Your followers, my fellow brothers and sisters in Christ, are being persecuted, imprisoned, tortured and murdered. Just as the blood of Abel cried out from the ground, so too the blood of these martyrs screams out for justice.

If my soul is rent, then I cannot imagine how You must feel. For you first loved them, giving your life on a Cross for their sins. Amazingly, You even offer mercy to the terrorists who brazenly take life and Your Word says You “are not willing that any should perish but that all may come to repentance.” Jesus—You sympathize with deaths of your people since you too know what it’s like to be abandoned, humiliated and executed.      

Lord if it were up to me I would make the killing stop today. I would ask for You to return immediately for the Church. I desire for You to take your battered bride now and to make Your enemies a footstool. I too long for cosmic justice. But I know that your ways are not my ways. You have a purpose and a plan for this persecution. Even though I don’t fully comprehend why You allow the deaths of these believers, I trust that Your sovereign will is being worked out. Somehow, like the death of Christ, You will receive glory from these atrocities.

Lord we are told in Your Word that, “all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” I understand that no one, especially God’s people, gets a free pass from suffering. Didn’t You say, “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you” and that “no servant is greater than his master”?

With this in mind, I pray that you would strengthen those who are giving their lives for refusing to bow the knee to false gods. For those who are meeting in secret places to worship the true and living God, may they continue to have undaunted courage. For those who are imprisoned for their faith, may You give them peace in their hearts. For those who boldly proclaim the name of Jesus, may they hold fast to their confession. For those who are being martyred may their last words be of mercy and grace, so that they trouble their killers to the point of repentance. May all those who are being tested in the crucible of persecution know how much You love them and the great crown that awaits them in Your eternal kingdom.  

Like a stiff wind that blows dandelion seeds far and wide, may the gusts of persecution carry the Church outward in all directions. May others come to faith in Christ through the example of your persecuted people. Finally, Lord, even though I hope I don’t have to face these fires, I pray that in the event that I do, that I would not deny my Lord. In words of those tribulation saints who have yet to give their lives, “they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death.” Amen." 


[1] http://www.state.gov/j/drl/rls/irf/religiousfreedom/index.htm#wrapper
[2] John Phillips, Exploring the Gospel of Mark (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel, 2004), 275.
[3] http://www.cnsnews.com/news/article/michael-w-chapman/rev-graham-isis-christians-crucified-beheaded-buried-alive

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

How to Be a Good Soldier

Today as our nation commemorates the sacrifices and bravery of our war veterans I am reminded of one hero whose story should not be forgotten.

Sergeant Alvin York was once described as World War I’s “greatest civilian soldier,” yet he began the conflict as a conscientious objector. A deeply devout Christian from the small mountain town of Pall Mall, Tennessee, York initially resisted serving on the grounds that violence was against his faith. His request was denied, however, and in May 1918 he arrived in France along with the 82nd Division of the U.S. Army.

York would find his courage on October 8, 1918 in a famous incident during the Battle of Argonne Forest. He and around 17 other Americans had just captured troops from a German regiment when they found themselves under heavy fire from enemy machine guns. Nine of the Americans were quickly wounded or killed, but York—a crack shot from his days as a turkey hunter—escaped unscathed and began picking off the German gunners with his rifle.

When six of the enemy tried to charge York with bayonets, he drew his .45 pistol and shot them all. He had soon forced the remaining Germans to surrender, and later claimed even more prisoners on his way back to the American lines. All told, York and his men captured 132 enemy soldiers, and he may have singlehandedly killed around 20 German troops.

For his efforts, he was awarded the Medal of Honor, the Distinguished Service Cross and several other citations for bravery. Shunning the spotlight, the reluctant soldier returned to his home in Tennessee after the war and took up farming.[1] Actor Gary Cooper helped to perpetuate and ensconce the legacy and influence of Alvin’s life through the making of the classic Hollywood film, Sergeant York (1941). York decided to use the royalties from the film to open the York Bible Institute to train young men and women for Christian ministry.

Many who have studied York’s life have wondered what was the source of his strength. One of his journal entries from July 1, 1918 answers that best: “I carried a Testament with me through the fires of conflict. I have the Testament I carried with me during all my fighting at home now. I read it through five times during my stay in the army. I read it everywhere. I read it in dugouts, in fox holes, and on the front line. It was my rock to cling to.”[2]

In 2 Timothy 2:3-4 the Apostle Paul wrote about being a soldier on the spiritual battlefield. “Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No soldier gets entangled in civilian pursuits, since his aim is to please the one who enlisted him.” In these verses Paul denotes two qualities that make good soldiers—sacrifice and single-mindedness.

First, we see that a soldier has to suffer. War is not a picnic. A soldier does not go out to enjoy life, to see the world, and have many wonderful experiences of adventure and travel, despite what the recruitment posters say. If warfare breaks out, it is going to mean he is faced with ugly, arduous, uncomfortable living. He will be in constant peril and may have to take human life.

Paul is saying that the Christian must make similar sacrifices. We are not called to be Christians to merely enjoy life, to have everything around us pleasant and comfortable. No, says the apostle, we are to endure hardness, we are to get involved with life in the trenches. Where is your battlefield today? A failing marriage? A hostile workplace? A secular classroom? A sickbed? A life-and-death struggle with addiction? Don’t give up, keep digging in your heels and fight the battle on your knees.

Second, we see that a soldier must be single-minded. Have you ever seen a soldier balancing his checkbook while sitting in a foxhole? What about a soldier updating his Facebook page while in a firefight? Me neither. When the bullets are flying and bombshells exploding all around soldiers don’t have time to be distracted by frivolous activities.

In the same way, Paul is saying that our Christian lives must be full-time active duty service. We live on a battlefront that demands that we be disentangled from the superfluous. As Christians we can’t be enlisted in the Lord’s army while trying to imbibe the world’s standards. In order to carry out the orders of our Commander and Chief we have to let go of pursuits that deter from total obedience.   

I think Alvin York was the epitome of these verses and there is much we can learn from his example. Moreover, thanks to men like York, Veterans Day is more than just another federal holiday when the banks and post offices are closed. It is an annual heartfelt remembrance of how blessed we Americans are to have such countrymen. To all the rest of you veterans, and those of you on active duty, thank you, too. We are forever in your debt. -DM

[1] Evan Andrews, “6 American Heroes of WWI,” History, 23 May 2014 < http://www.history.com/news/history-lists/6-american-heroes-of-wwi>
[2] Dr. Steven Flick, “Alvin C. York: Christian Hero,” Christian Heritage Fellowship, 11 November 2014 <http://christianheritagefellowship.com/alvin-c-york/>