He appeared at the door of the plane, saluted smartly, then made his way carefully down the steep steps. Stopping in front of the microphone, his rugged face haggard, yet calm, he said: “We are honored to have served our country under difficult circumstances.…” America watched, moved by the sight of this man just released from years of captivity in North Vietnam, as he expressed his gratitude and ended unforgettably with “God bless America!”

The man was Capt. Jeremiah Denton. The date was February 11, 1973.

Those words, “We are honored …,” have clung hauntingly to my mind down through the years. They were underscored in February of this year when, ten years later, the film clip was again aired on national television accompanied in person by Jeremiah Denton, now a U.S. senator.

All this is a prelude to one thought: Is this how the believer will feel when he stands one day before God? Liberated from this earth and its struggles, will we say, “We are honored to have served … under difficult circumstances”?

God has entrusted to some of his servants the most difficult circumstances, and without explanations. We can go all the way back to Job, to Joseph in Egypt, Daniel in Babylon, the early martyrs, and on into the twentieth century where, we are told, there have been more martyrs in the Christian church than in the entire preceding 2,000 years.

There is an apocryphal story of an early missionary whose first convert was tortured to death by indignant tribesmen. Years later, when the missionary died and went to heaven, he met the convert and asked him how it felt to be tortured to death for Christ.

“You know,” the man replied, looking puzzled, “I can’t remember.”

A young man recently released from an oppressive, atheistic regime was visiting a Christian family. “And what was it like, being persecuted for your faith?” his host asked.

“We thought it was the normal Christian life,” was the surprising yet candid reply.

I think he was right. It is we Christians in the West who are living abnormally. Personally, I am grateful for the “abnormality.” But if it doesn’t last, we must not question, complain, or be bitter. Instead, let us accept each day as the Lord sends it, living obediently and faithfully, not fearing what may come, knowing that the glory ahead will obliterate the grim past, and praying we may be able to say to our Lord, “We are honored.…”

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