Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Fighting Fires & Following Jesus

“Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it. What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit their very self? Whoever is ashamed of me and my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his glory and in the glory of the Father and of the holy angels." —Luke 9:23-26

My father was a fireman for 32 years in the Dallas suburb of Garland. When he arrived home after his 24-hour shift, I’d ask what went on at work. Did he go and save the day? He’d often respond with something like, “Well, we chased the ambulance on a few calls.” (Firemen would follow the ambulances to assist on many cases.) Or he’d briefly talk about a small house fire or a car accident. On most occasions, he’d say that they didn’t have any runs at all, that they had a few inspections, performed some drills, or did some maintenance work on the fire equipment. As a kid this seemed rather mundane. 
Then there was the day when I was ten when my Dad made the news. He had walked into a burning house and scooped up a child from a crib and carried him to safety. On that day, my chest stuck out because my Dad had grown about six inches. He was a hero.

The conversation when he got home is burned into my memory. I asked, “What was it like to save a life?” He responded, “There were eight other firemen at the fire who would have done the same thing. That was just the room I was tasked to check. It’s just what we do.”

This was not at all what I expected him to say. I was looking for some kind of exposition on what it felt like to save a life and be the hero. But without any thought or reflection, he simply conveyed, “It’s just who I am.” Having his name in the paper or mentioned in the news meant nothing.

As ten-year-old boy, I did not get the significance of his words. While my chest remained puffed out, I must admit that it has taken me a few decades to understand his response. I was looking at firefighting with an eye to the spectacular. I only saw the action in the heat of the moment. In rides the firefighters to save the day, performing heroic activities to get the job done.

My Dad’s point of view was radically different. He saw firefighting as a way of being. His action sprung out of his core. His heart, will, and mind had been formed (discipled) in such a way that he performed the actions as required by the situation. There were a myriad of firefighting practices that had shaped his way of being so that firefighting actions became second nature. To me these second nature actions were spectacular. To him they were woven into his way living.

He didn’t just fight fires.

He was a firefighter.

The difference is subtle, but monumental.

When we think about following Jesus, we often think in terms of what we are supposed to do or not do. We look at the externals, which of course causes us to look at the spectacular. The spectacular comes in two forms. There are spectacular things that we are to avoid that Jesus' followers are not supposed to do; the moral stuff that good Christians don't do. And there are spectacular things that great Jesus followers do, radical stuff like mission trips, quitting your job to go into full-time ministry, working in ministries to the under-resourced, or praying and receiving a miracle for someone's healing.

But most of what it means to follow Jesus is NOT spectacular. Serving your spouse at cost to yourself will not get you any attention. Praying for your neighbor who is depressed won't make any headlines. Leading a small group won't raise any eyebrows. No one wants to hear about how you read the Bible and prayed this morning. We could add to this list all day long.

Almost all of my dad's job as a firefighter was unspectacular. After learning more about it, I discovered how he practiced his job every shift, doing the behind-the-scenes work so that when called upon, he would be able to respond without even thinking about it.

That's discipleship.

Without the mundane, without the unremarkable formation by the Spirit that occurs in ways that no one sees, we won't be ready for the radical when it's time.

Photo Credit: Use Aerial Fire Truck from

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