It was my privilege to speak to one of America’s top gun fighter pilots. I heard a podcast program with a recent seminary graduate discussing his doctoral dissertation.  A few weeks later, I interviewed the author of that paper, John Marselus, a recipient of the USAF’s Top Professional Fighter Pilot award.

Dr. Marselus’ dissertation takes up a challenge for which he is uniquely qualified: find inspiration for Christian fathers from the experiences of a fighter pilot. Each chapter of his academic work has an epigraph recounting stories from his fighter pilot career, which illustrates his research and conclusions.

Perhaps the nose art on his A-10 Thunderbolt II in Desert Storm, “Ephesians 6:10-18,” inspired his thesis. The verses describe the armor of God and the spiritual enemy we face.  To summarize the application of his research, he writes, “Through taking up the roles and responsibilities of a husband and father in leading the family in priority, prayer, provision, protection, and preparation, a father and husband can experience the joy of marriage and the family as God created in the beginning in His grace and mercy. It is time for men to lead as they were designed to lead and as a flight lead would lead his formation into battle.”

As we talked, he described his life work. “Ministry is my heart, and flying is my tent-making.”  Now as Director of Aviation at San Diego Christian College, he trains professional aviators, “but number one is their walk with the Lord.”  His own walk started young in life as he pondered the loss of his 19-year-old brother.  At a Billy Graham meeting in Chicago, he took a stand for the truth of the gospel and placed his faith in Christ.  That set the course for his life.

He spoke of his best “wing man,” his wife, who is his inspiration. In his acceptance of the Top Gun Award in front of the “kings of the Air Force,” he declared, “If I did anything right, all glory and honor goes to my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ who gives me breath of life and gifts to succeed.  And I would not be the man I am without the love and support of my wife.  This award goes to them.”  Those gathered rewarded his courage with sincere, not just polite, applause.

His message for you, dear Christian, is that when you have opportunity, stand for Christ and Truth with courage! “Be on the alert, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong.  Let all that you do be done in love” (1 Cor. 16:13-14).

During our conversation, I never felt like I was talking to a stranger. I was speaking with a true American hero, a family man, a brother in Christ who knows what it means to lead with courage, speak truth to power, and stand firm in the faith.  By God’s help, we will do no less.