John 15:12-13 “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”
That was Jesus talking. He gave up His life for you and me. He says it is the ultimate act of love. This makes sense, because after you give up your life, you have nothing left to give.
We all belong to the Brotherhood of our fellow-man or the Sisterhood of our fellow-women. Under that large umbrella we also belong to our own separate Communities. Consider what Community you may belong to.
*Wife or Husband – a rather large Community
*A particular religious inclination – smaller, but still a large Community
*Teachers & Auto Mechanics – smaller yet, but part of the occupational Community
*CEO’s – a considerably smaller Community
*NFL quarterback – a really, really small Community
I do believe the Community we walk in as a sincere Christian is directed by God over a lifetime of influences and prayer. If that is true, as a Christian you are probably in the career groove God wants you in, although I also recognize many people are working WAY out of their groove because God is not going to rob them or the people who hired them of free will. As such, we all know people who seem to be constantly struggling and should really move on and find something else to do.
Every person’s place in this world is equally important in God’s eyes, but as mere earthlings we like to make certain roles more important than others. A prime example would be the sports figures who make an exorbitant amount of money while many soldiers sent off to war struggle to pay their bills. Who is more important?
Consider the underpaid humanitarian who works for an organization like La Puente, whose mission is to provide emergency shelter, food assistance, transitional housing, self-sufficiency services, homeless prevention, community outreach services, and job training for the homeless and other community members in crisis. Is that person less important than the Senior Pastor of an American mega-church whose average salary is 140K? From a scriptural perspective the answer is no. They are of equal importance in God’s eyes, and the fruit they produce should reflect God’s heart. But, we have a tendency to place more value and prestige on the Pastor. This is great food for thought and an article for another day, but it is within that context that I would like to introduce you to two friends who took career paths that most people can only imagine.
We can probably agree that as an “Insider” to your Community you have the benefit of knowing its unique environment, nuances and characteristics. You get to observe people within your Community who are mind-blowingly talented and others who really need to go find another Community to hang out in.
One of the most exciting Communities I know of is the one that has these people working in it.
*The 700,000 sworn law enforcement officers in the United States.
*The 1,103,300 firefighters in the United States.
*The 840,000 EMS personnel in the United States.
*The 2.2 million active duty and reserve people in the US Military.
Let’s narrow this Community even more. Those within these Communities who routinely deal with violence have had a front row seat to human behavior at its absolute best and worst. Sometimes unknowingly, they have watched the world of good and evil manifest itself in a human slugfest. This is the stuff of God and Satan.
Now, let’s narrow this Community down even further. Within THAT group there are exceptionally skilled specialists who have studied their craft to excellence and under great duress demonstrated incredible character, integrity, leadership and courage. It is within this very, very small Community that I introduce you to several of my friends. The week of Christmas, 2012, I reconnected with 2 guys I had not seen for quite a while.
On the gray, cold December morning as I pulled into the coffee shop we had agreed to meet at, I was thinking about my former criminal justice colleague whom I had shared the stage with at conferences & seminars, shared the classroom with as a fellow instructor and shared meals together filled with laughter. He was a big, respected lawman with a dry and politically incorrect sense of humor. We lost contact with each other and had re-connected through Facebook. It had been about 8 years since I had seen him. As I lost my hand within his when we greeted each other, I was reminded of one of the reasons that I liked him and why criminals feared him.
As we warmly reminisced I could not help but think he had not changed that much. He looked the same. He talked the same. But something was different and I couldn’t put my finger on it. He seemed wiser, more mature and sure of himself. As we caught up with each other’s lives he revealed that over our 8-year separation he had suffered a minor stroke, experienced a life threatening disease and in a separate illness – his kidneys had failed. His wife saved his life by donating one of her kidneys to him. He spoke about these things rather matter of factly. He did not complain. He did not portray himself as some unfortunate victim of life’s circumstances.
That is what was different. He had not only experienced life on the edge as a professional but had also watched it invade his personal life. These things will change a person. He could have retired due to the medical issues he had experienced but chose to continue to serve Law Enforcement in an administrative capacity.
Eventually he did retire and surprisingly it was not the medical challenges that pushed him into early retirement. Politics came along in the form of a new, and apparently incompetent Sheriff who had some weird axe to grind. My friend got tired of being one of the sharpening stones. Although still relatively young, he was vested in his retirement pension plan and along with a verified medical disability – he decided to retire. He is now active with a dog rescue organization and loves it. It was a great time of fellowship with an old friend. It was good to see him at peace.
As I left for my next appointment I wondered to what degree the stress of Law Enforcement had contributed to his medical issues.
An hour later I pulled into a hospital parking lot. I was there to visit an old high school friend who is now a disabled vet. He served in the 101st Airborne Division – the “Screaming Eagles” – a U.S. Army modular light infantry division trained for air assault operations. He was in Iraq One and as a sniper-trained Task Force 112 Special Operations Development Team member, had seen his fair share of action. The day before I saw him in his hospital bed he had undergone surgery to fuse his lower back which had been damaged when he slammed into the side of a building during an overnight parachute drop. This would be his 4th surgery to correct the damage and mitigate the horrendous pain he often experienced over the years as a result of his injuries.
As we visited I was impressed that although he was admittedly in serious pain, he did not complain. The pain killers the hospital had prescribed were having little effect, but he never missed a beat. He impressively shot one-line zingers into the conversation between his wife and I while providing a hilarious commentary about his surgery and the hospital food.
This had been a nasty injury. He had previously endured four surgeries and at different times I had seen him in a wheelchair or using walkers, crutches and canes. He was in chronic pain for many years.
Several weeks after I saw him in the hospital and he had some time to recover from surgery we met for lunch. It was good to see him walking without assistance. During lunch we talked about some of the unexpected things that come up in life. His injuries had pushed him into alcohol abuse resulting in chemical dependency issues, which in turn affected his marriage – all the while trying to deal with chronic pain, unemployment and multiple doctors.
He did not expect that his life would turn out this way.
Still married, today he is sober and in recovery. He is also active in helping others who might be experiencing similar challenges. He participates in several groups and has initiated one himself. He has a vast amount of wisdom, knowledge and experience to share with others. And, ironically – he is one of the funniest guys I know.
The circumstances I just described would destroy most people. The things that I admire and respect about both of these guys is that they dealt with adversity head-on and just kept going. They looked to make the best of whatever was thrown their way. Although they have accomplished incredible feats they remain humble, yet still reach toward excellence. Despite the fact that most of their want to-be peers will never hold a candle to many of their actions, they still show everyone respect. They are not full of themselves. They have retained all the traits that made them so good at what they did then; are doing now and will do in the future. In a word – they are authentic. The real deal.
So is Jesus. So is God.
Contrast this to the latest person-of-the-week, the next great egotistical technological innovator or the flamboyant major league sports figure making mega-millions.
Many years ago I worked with an officer named Bob. Although we did not work for the same department, we did work in the same jurisdiction and shared some experiences together professionally. He eventually took a position with another department. Bob drowned during a rescue attempt in which he was trying to save a family that was stranded on the roof of their car during a flash flood. I was told by officers who attended the funeral that when his body was recovered, he was still clinging to the child he tried to save. This would not be the last officer I knew who would make the ultimate sacrifice.
The great majority of men and women who have served in these professions do so at the risk of losing their livelihoods, their minds, their limbs or their lives. They do not obsess about it. They acknowledge the risks and get the job done.
Among them walk unsung, common heroes like the guys I visited on that dreary December day – who have no idea of the impact they have had on people’s lives or the ripple effect of their actions. Others like them have had to make unexpected, major life adjustments to realign what they had hoped and imagined their lives would become.
The people who belong to this small Community did not become part of it for money, power, fame or glory. If you asked them, they might give you a number of different reasons they joined. But if you look underneath the covers, more often than you think, you will probably find No Greater Love.
No Greater Love is sacrificing that which you might treasure for the sake of another, and in doing so – you just might move them closer to the Kingdom of God.