John 15: 12-13 “My commandment is this: love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: lay down your life for your friends.”
That was Jesus speaking. He gave his life for you and me. He says it is the last 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 neighbor or the Brotherhood of our fellow men. Under that great umbrella we also belong to our own separate Communities. Consider which community you may belong to.
* Wife or husband: a fairly large community
* A particular religious inclination – smaller community, but still large
* Teachers and Automotive Mechanics – even smaller, but part of the occupational community
* CEO’s: a considerably smaller community
* NFL quarterback – a really small community
I believe that the community in which we walk as sincere Christians is led by God through a lifetime of influence and prayer. If that is true, as a Christian you are probably on the career path that God wants you to be on, although I also recognize that many people are working VERY out of His way because God is not going to steal from them or the people they are. They hired them out of free will. . As such, we all know people who seem to be constantly struggling and should really go ahead and find something else to do.
Each person’s place in this world is equally important in God’s eyes, but as simple Earthlings we like to make certain roles more important than others. A good example would be sports figures making an exorbitant amount of money while many soldiers sent to war struggle to pay their bills. Who is more important?
Consider the low-paid humanitarian who works for an organization like La Puente, whose mission is to provide emergency shelter, food assistance, transitional housing, self-reliance 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 megachurch whose average salary is 140,000? From a biblical perspective, the answer is no. They are of equal importance in the eyes of God, and the fruit they produce should reflect the heart of God. But, we have a tendency to give more value and prestige to the Pastor. This is a great food for thought and an article for another day, but it is in that context that I would like to introduce you to two friends who have taken career paths that most people can only imagine.
We can probably agree that as an “Insider” of your community, you have the advantage of knowing its unique environment, nuances, and characteristics. You can observe people within your community who are incredibly talented and others who really need to find another community to hang out.
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 employees in the United States.
* The 2.2 million people on active and reserve duty in the U.S. Armed Forces.
Let’s reduce this Community even more. Those within these Communities who routinely deal with violence have had a front row seat to human behavior at its best and worst. Sometimes, without knowing it, they have seen the world of good and evil manifest itself in a human fight. This is the stuff of God and Satan.
Now, let’s narrow down this Community even further. Within THAT group are exceptionally qualified 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 that I hadn’t seen for quite a while.
On the cold gray December morning when I walked into the cafeteria where we had agreed to meet, I was thinking of my old criminal justice colleague with whom I had shared the stage at conferences and seminars, sharing the classroom as a fellow instructor. and we share meals full of laughter. He was a large and respected lawman with a dry, politically incorrect sense of humor. We lost contact and reconnected through Facebook. It had been about 8 years since I saw it. When I lost my hand in his when we greeted each other, I remembered one of the reasons why I liked him and why criminals feared him.
As we reminisce warmly, I couldn’t help but think that he hadn’t changed that much. It looked the same. He spoke the same. But something was different and he couldn’t identify it. He seemed wiser, more mature, and self-assured. When we caught up with each other’s lives, he revealed that during our 8-year separation he had suffered a mild stroke, had experienced a life-threatening illness, and, in a separate illness, his kidneys had failed. His wife saved his life by donating one of her kidneys. He spoke of these things quite naturally. He did not complain. He did not describe himself as an unfortunate victim of life’s circumstances.
That is the difference. Not only had he experienced life on the edge as a professional, but he had also seen it invade his personal life. These things will change a person. He may have retired due to medical problems he had experienced, but chose to continue serving law enforcement in an administrative capacity.
In the end he retired, and surprisingly it wasn’t medical problems that pushed him into early retirement. Politics appeared in the form of a new and seemingly incompetent Sheriff who had a strange ax to grind. My friend got tired of being one of the whetstones. Although he was 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 in peace.
When I left for my next appointment, I wondered to what extent law enforcement stress had contributed to his medical problems.
An hour later, I pulled into a hospital parking lot. I was there to visit an old friend from high school who is now a disabled vet. He served in the 101st Airborne Division, the “Screaming Eagles”, a modular light infantry division of the United States Army trained for air assault operations. He was in Iraq One and, as a member of the sniper-trained Task Force 112 Special Operations Development Team, he had seen his fair share of the action. The day before she 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 a nighttime parachute drop. This would be his fourth surgery to correct the damage and mitigate the excruciating pain that he often experienced over the years as a result of his injuries.
While we visited, I was impressed that although he admitted he was in severe pain, he did not complain. The painkillers the hospital had prescribed were having little effect, but he never missed a beat. He impressively threw one-line gossip into the conversation between his wife and I while providing a hilarious comment on his surgery and the hospital food.
This had been a nasty wound. He had previously endured four surgeries and at different times had seen him in a wheelchair or with walkers, crutches and canes. He had chronic pain for many years.
Several weeks after I saw him in the hospital and he had some time to recover from the surgery, we met for lunch. It was good to see him walk without help. Over 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, as he tried to deal with chronic pain, unemployment, and multiple doctors.
He didn’t expect his life to be like this.
Still married, he is sober and recovering today. You are also actively helping others who might be experiencing similar challenges. He participates in several groups and he has started one himself. You have a wealth of wisdom, knowledge, and experience to share with others. And ironically, he’s one of the funniest guys I know.
The circumstances I just described would destroy most people. What I admire and respect about these two guys is that they dealt with adversity head-on and just kept going. They sought to get the best out of what was presented to them. Although they have accomplished incredible feats, they are still humble, but they still achieve excellence. Despite the fact that most of their future companions will never measure up to many of their actions, they still show respect to everyone. They are not full of themselves. They have retained all the traits that made them so good at what they did then; we are doing it now and we will do it in the future. In a word, they are authentic. The real deal.
Jesus too. God too.
Compare this to the last person of the week, the next great egotistical tech innovator, or the flamboyant major league sports figure who makes mega millions.
Many years ago I worked with an officer named Bob. Although we do not work for the same department, we work in the same jurisdiction and share some experiences together professionally. Eventually, he took a position in another department. Bob drowned during a rescue attempt trying to save a family stranded on the roof of their car during a flash flood. Officers who attended the funeral told me that when his body was recovered, he was still holding on to the child he tried to save. This would not be the last officer he met who would make the ultimate sacrifice.
The vast majority of men and women who have worked in these professions do so at the risk of losing their livelihoods, their minds, their limbs, or their lives. They don’t get obsessed with it. They recognize the risks and get the job done.
Among them walk common and anonymous heroes like the guys I visited that sad December day, who have no idea of the impact they have had on people’s lives or the domino effect of their actions. Others like them have had to make major and unexpected adjustments in their lives 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 ask them, they may give you several different reasons why they joined. But if you look under the covers more often than you think, you will probably find No Greater Love.
No Greater Love is sacrificing what you could treasure for the good of another, and by doing so, you could bring it closer to the Kingdom of God.