During my first pastorate in Hopkinsville, Kentucky I was privileged to serve some of the finest men and women of the greatest military in the history of the world. Many of the Airborne and Special Forces units were just returning to Fort Campbell following their successful deployments during the first Gulf War. I always enjoyed ministering to the military and appreciated their level of commitment whenever they would join the church. If they said they were with you, they meant it. I understood then, as I understand now, the right to the freedom of speech and religion that I enjoy as a spiritual leader is not the product of some document but the result of blood shed by our brave men and women in uniform who defend our rights and liberties. Just like faith without works is dead, so too, words written in a sacred state charter are meaningless without the will to fight for them.
Perhaps the greatest example of courage and commitment by the men and women of our fighting forces came during the challenging days of World War II. I recently discovered an amazing fact about my family. My great-grandfather on my father’s side, John Urban, originally came to this country from Dubvra, Czechoslovakia and settled in the small midwestern town of Livingston, IL to raise a family. Raised under a socialist system he used to poke fun at the “progress” in our country saying, “you now cook outside and go to the bathroom inside…I don’t think that’s progress.” But, when it came to duty and allegiance to his new homeland, John did his civic duty and registered for the draft – at 64 years of age! It’s interesting to me in a day when people claim to be too young or too old to make a difference, this immigrant was willing to wear the uniform if it meant getting the job done in Europe.
The Apostle Paul admonished his spiritual son Timothy to, “Endure hardship with us like a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No one serving as a soldier gets involved in civilian affairs–he wants to please his commanding officer” (2 Timothy 2:3). The picture of the soldier is one of total commitment. They are told when to rise, when to go to bed, what to wear, where to serve, what job to do, etc. The great need in the body of Christ today is to take Paul’s words literally and seriously and begin to serve the Lord with an even greater level of commitment. When we experience the new birth we become conscripts in the Lord’s army and we are no longer our own but Christ’s. He now must increase while we decrease. The only way to stem the dark tide sweeping spiritually across our land (more diabolical than the original Nazi threat) is for believers to take seriously their place and assignment in the body of Christ and perform their duties admirably, skillfully, and faithfully.
I mean think about the price that was paid by the amazing Big Red One Division during World War II. From the invasion of North Africa to the storming of Omaha Beach on D-Day to the push into Germany across the Rhine River, the First Infantry Division went on to heroically hold on during the Battle of the Bulge and eventually occupied the Remagen bridgehead. By the end of the war the Division had suffered 21,023 casualties and 43,743 men had served its ranks. The Big Red One had won a total of 20,752 medals and awards, including 16 Congressional Medals of Honor. At some point one would think that this brave unit had done enough, but they kept giving and giving until the final victory. The modern Church needs to receive a big dose of the courage and commitment like this legendary military division.
I met a World War II veteran in rural Christian County years ago while ministering to his family. He didn’t like to talk much about what he had been through but he eventually shared his military experiences with me. Over time Pee Wee became ill. I realized my love and appreciation for our military and his service specifically was possibly a door to begin to share with him about someone else that shed his blood for all of us – Jesus Christ. In the context of sacrifice for the greater good of others he not only understood but accepted Jesus Christ while lying in a hospital bed battling a brain tumor. I didn’t have the customary “decision card” and literature one might have received in a church setting so I wrote his name, the date, and the statement of his faith in Jesus on a napkin I found on his hospital food tray and handed it to Pee Wee. I was told after his death that he slept each night with that napkin under his pillow.
It seems so insignificant to say thank you to individuals who gave so much for our nation, but I want to encourage you to personally express your gratitude to those that have served and to the families of those that have fallen in battle at some season in our nation’s history. I also want to challenge you to live up to Paul’s standard to become a soldier in God’s Kingdom, ready to fight, execute, and go wherever the commander orders. We cannot thank our military enough for both their service and their standard of commitment and excellence in the performance of their duties.