Developing a Personal Vision & Mission Statement for Christ

Developing a Personal Vision & Mission Statement for Christ

My personal reflection:

I often say that I am principle based not rule based.  My Christian principles guide me, nurture me, and often reprimand me when I stray from them.  As a young man, I believed that if you were a good person and did good things that was good enough.  Now at age 37, (the beginning of adulthood for myself) I am traveling on the road to spiritual maturity.  I often fall and do things to disappoint God. I am thankful for His forgiveness through Christ and those He has put in my life to keep me on the path especially my wife and daughter. This process, through the community of believers, enforces the principles that I believe in and by remaining in positions of responsibility it places a great amount of accountability upon me.  I also believe that accountability is one of the best ways to abide by your prescribed set of ethics in your own life.  A position of accountability is a constant reminder that you are to follow your own advice and principles especially when no one is looking.

As a husband, father, and leader, I am learning to understand that my foundation must be solid. My foundation must be morally, ethically, personally sound or I will never earn the honor of my family or my crew’s respect and trust. Through the foundation of my beliefs (Jesus), embracing the diverse nature of our world, and communicating the vision effectively I will one day achieve the mission of answering the call.  “He who began a good work in you will carry it on to the completion of Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 1:6)

I am also learning of the ever present danger of hypocrisy in living as a Christian.  I feel that your actions are under even more scrutiny as a Christian leader in whatever role or career you choose.  Society seems to be ever-watchful of your each move, word, or action. If my life doesn’t match my beliefs I dishonor God and run the risk of losing all credibility with my family, friends, and my crew.  I am striving to improve my behaviors through spiritual disciplines such as: prayer, study, empathic listening, and honoring God through service.  My faith provides a moral fence (God’s commandments) that guides me and reprimands me when I fail. I understand that it is not by works that I will be justified but it is by faith in Christ. My works (or fruit) are a product of my gratitude for what God has done for me through Christ.

It takes training, guidance, and experience to help develop your leadership abilities but if your core values don’t align with the goals of the organization you will not be a successful leader. You have to be able to function within the organization without sacrificing your principles or you will be ineffective. This article will provide thoughts & suggestions on developing a leader’s personal mission and vision statement for Christ. I pray that you seek God’s counsel first and not mine. He is the ultimate authority and provider of wisdom. Read, study, and meditate on His word and it will be a light to your path. “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction.” (Proverbs 1:7)

“Ethics are a moral fence that keeps us all inside the pasture metaphorically” (Joe Starnes).  “If we lose sight of our identity, then perhaps we will lose sight of what it is we are supposed to stand for.” (Chief Ron Coleman) Let us begin by taking a few moments to ponder what you stand for, why, and what or whom defines your principles.

Christian Values: The need for a spiritual center

Deuteronomy 6:5-9 gives us the best instruction for our values: “love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the door frames of your houses and your gates.”  In short, our entire lives should be a living sacrifice to God. No one should have to ask if you are a believer. His light should shine out of you in all that you do. “Our willingness to serve and obey Jesus Christ enables us to be useful and usable servants to do work for Him. This is work that truly matters.” (Romans Commentary)

These values/virtues are found in scripture: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, and faithfulness. These are paraphrased from two scripture passages: Matthew 22 verses 37-39 and Galatians 5: 22-23.

Core Values/Virtues:

Love:  A love for God, Love for family, and Love of your fellow man. This is fulfilled by grace through faith in Christ.  In the fire service we show unconditional love by serving all members of the community despite differences, personal circumstances, beliefs, or social stereotypes.  We serve our fellow man when called.

Joy:  Joy is a sense of peace that comes from knowing Christ.  It surpasses happiness which is only temporary.  Joy allows you to face conflicts, struggles, and tribulations with a calm spirit, a clear mind, and with words of comfort.  In the fire service, having inner peace is a priceless commodity.  Our training teaches us to be calm in any situation but having a firm foundation in Christ helps us to maintain that calmness despite any difficult circumstances. Many of us struggle with pain long after the call is over. Our nature is to take ownership of the pain and suffering that we see. We must learn to trust Jesus with our anxiety, pain, and suffering. “Cast all your anxiety on Him for He cares for you-1 Peter 5:7.”

Peace:  We value peace because it is often overlooked.  In my opinion, peace is not sought as often as conflict.  We tend to seek things that cause us trouble for whatever reason.  Philippians 4:7 “ And God’s peace [shall be yours, that tranquil state of a soul assured of its salvation through Christ, and so fearing nothing from God and being content with its earthly lot of whatever sort that is, that peace] which transcends all understanding shall garrison and mount guard over your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” Firefighters carry conflict on their shoulder as if it was a defense mechanism. We love to quarrel and pick on each other. Our own self abuse sometimes is an outward expression of a lack of inner peace. We don’t want others to see that we are struggling so we put on a false persona of an unnerved, emotionally unmoved, and rough individual while on the inside we are crying out for peace.

Patience: To remain steadfast and continue with your work, ever moving forward, even under opposition, adversity or strain is the definition of patience. In the fire service, patience is something we tend to lack. We are called during an emergency, respond quickly, and handle the incident quickly as to lessen or prevent further harm, and return to service quickly.  Patience is not gained if it is not practiced. An example of learned patience would be a veteran firefighter who calmly gets off the truck at a structure fire, assesses the scene while gathering his/her equipment, listens for important information, and watches over the novice firefighter while calmly moving forward towards his/her task.

Kindness: There is a saying that we should always be kinder than we need to be because everyone is fighting some kind of battle. Kindness costs nothing but the return on your investment compounds daily. That one interaction where you show kindness could be a life changing moment for someone. Don’t withhold a gift that costs you nothing but could produce great rewards.

Goodness: Being Good is questionable matter if you don’t believe. It depends on how and what you base your definition of what Good is. In my life I base goodness on my belief system. In the Christian faith, being good requires giving of one’s self out of love for the Lord not out of obligation and understanding that no one is truly good except for God. It requires that you earnestly want to help out of a heartfelt desire for your neighbor and not for your own personal benefit or recognition. God’s absolute truth never changes whereas the world’s definition of what and who good are varies depending on culture, politics, and greed. Christ’s love is the only true definition of good because “while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8) How many people would die for someone that didn’t believe in them, hurt them, and consistently insulted them? I know of one and He died for all of mankind.

Faithfulness: Faithfulness can be defined in many ways. Faith is a belief in the truth of or trustworthiness of a person, idea, or thing that is characteristically held without proof (Wikipedia). Faith is placing your trust, hope, and very existence in the hands of another (God). In the fire service it takes trust to place your life in the hands of your co-worker. You place great faith in that individual and trust them with your life. Whether you believe in God or not everyone has faith. You have faith every time you open a canned drink that it is safe for you to drink. You have faith every time you drop your child off at school that those who care for them will keep them safe. Biblical Faith is so much more. “It is the trust God asks that you have in Him” (Ravi Zacharias). “It is reason at rest with God” (Charles Spurgeon). Apart from Faith we have no hope in life. “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith-and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God-not by works so that no one can boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9) Faith is the very essence of belief. It is the statement that we trust in God no matter what the outcome, circumstance, or difficulty because “we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose.” (Romans 8:28).

 

The Vision:

In order to understand the mission you have to first understand why.  A vision statement is the “why “and the mission statement is the “what”.  We have to define why we exist before we can state what we want to achieve.  As Dr. Covey states I need to ‘diagnose before I can prescribe’.

Taking a look at the “why/vision” enables us to be successful with the “what/mission “.  Vision and Mission statements get mixed up and tend to muddy up our water so to speak.  We often mix these up based on our focus at the time.  In other words: Our focus determines our direction, our direction determines our destination, and our destination determines the end result.  The problem in our focus is it easily distracted by novelties.  C.S. Lewis stated when speaking about novelty “The pleasure of novelty is by its very nature more subject than any other to the law of diminishing returns. And continued novelty costs money, so that the desire for it spells avarice or unhappiness or both.” (Screwtape Letter’s pg. 137) Is your focus on Christ and serving Him? Or is your focus on worldly goals: finances, success, material things, etc.

A key motivator for promotions is financial reasons. Focusing on the financial aspect of promotion without taking into consideration the accountability and responsibility of the position can be hazardous to your health. The novelty or desire for something without understanding why you truly want it is dangerous. This is why establishing a vision & mission statement is so critical. If you decide to take on the responsibility in leadership you must first examine your motives. Do you truly understand what you are committing to? The fire service cannot afford leaders who are merely financially motivated. They will ultimately cost us far more than any paycheck they ever receive.  Your family deserves a leader whose motivations are pure and sacrificial not greedy and superficial.

A Vision statement:

An example of a vision statement: “To become the fulfillment of what we are called to be through Christ, by the guidance of the Holy Spirit, and by Grace through Faith”. Our expectations should be based on faith and not circumstance. We must strive to continue learning in order to better serve others in our life.

A Mission statement:

An example of a mission statement: “To become a leader that gives others hope, builds up those around us, and always leave a situation better than you found it. This will be accomplished by embracing these concepts: humility (look for results not salutes), servant hood (leading by example), and through discipline. To remain dedicated to God’s purpose as a follower of Christ, to family, to church, to friends, and as a firefighter.

Positive Actions:

“The act of Leadership is the basic part of the Christian life (Ken Blanchard)”.

St. Francis of Assisi once said “In all things go and preach the gospel, and if necessary use words”.  In the fire service, you might say we are hindered from sharing our faith with the people we serve.  The service we provide is an example of our faith and by exemplifying our core values; our faith will be known without ever speaking a word. This is the concept of Life-Role Leadership. 

You must be aware that your beliefs may differ greatly from your crew or other members of the department but know that these core values will never place limitations on you as a leader. You must understand that the principles, values, and virtues that you draw on as strengths from your beliefs have helped you and will continue to help you become a better leader.

Implementation Plan:

Through the foundation of Christian beliefs (ethics), embracing the diverse nature of our world (cultural diversity), and communicating the vision effectively you will implement this vision and mission statement where it goes from a statement to a habit.

You may begin by placing your vision and mission statement somewhere you will see it every day (forcing you to look at it & remember).  In life, for something to become integral to our existence it first has to become a part of your daily focus. My daily focus revolves around fulfilling my roles as a: Christian, a husband, a father, a friend, and a firefighter.

This requires that you begin to follow your mission & vision statement where others see it through your actions, your words, and your relationships. It must become part of who you are.

A key characteristic: Humility

Focusing on being humble will require to give others credit and to look for “results not salutes” as Abrashoff states in his book “It’s your ship”.  Servant hood is the practice of serving others through your own personal sacrifice yet you are rewarded by seeing the positive outcome from your efforts. By focusing on service, we remember to in order to become better; we must learn to build up others around us (“build up your people” Chapter 9 Abrashoff). 

The next step in becoming more disciplined in all of your roles is to increase your accountability. There is no greater enforcer than the fear of letting down those you value & care for. Once the responsibility is accepted you have taken ownership for those around you. You are accountable them and they are accountable to you. This implies that as a leader you will be involved and give them your best. In these relationships, you must strive to be open to constructive criticisms. “It is better to be criticized by a wise man than to be praised by a fool.” (Proverbs)

A personal After Action Report:

At the end of each day, start with giving thanks for your life and those around you. A leader who recognizes his/her strengths also realizes their need for forgiveness. True forgiveness comes from God and when a passionate servant of God kneels before Him there is no greater power than in prayer. Spending time with God will give you strength and humility. By acknowledging dependence on God, your need for Him will increase.  Ask God to evaluate your steps, and ask the question: Lord, did I stay focused on the goal of achieving the mission? An example may be “Help me O God, to better serve you, my family, and those in my fellowship to bring honor and glory to you.”

In conclusion, the Bible contains many men and women of great integrity who strived to fulfill their Godly mission statement through obedience to Him. One of these great men was Daniel. He never compromised his integrity or beliefs yet he served three pagan kings. He prospered under each one despite his trials and tribulations. Each day He prayed, three times a day, thanking God and asking Him for His help. He was a man of insight, intelligence, and outstanding wisdom. Kings sought him for his guidance yet Daniel remained humble and gave God all the recognition, praise, and glory. He was not afraid to stand alone because he had great faith in God. He fulfilled his mission statement in life. He lived out his faith even in the face of great adversity. I pray that you take the time to search your heart and ask God “What is your mission and vision for me?” And be prepared for Him to answer….

God Bless,

Andy J. Starnes

Surviving the Fire Service: A few points to remember

Surviving in the fire service

At the Inception of your career:

 1)   Is it the right job for you: Don’t accept the job or stay in unless you have an understanding that your job requires humility, courage, and self-sacrifice. Always under promise and over deliver. You will always be expected to give more than you think you are capable of.

2)   Servant hood: The role of a firefighter is one of service. The public trusts that on their worst day you will be at your best. Strive to maintain that trust by staying disciplined.

 3)   The power of failure: When you make mistakes, learn from them, and let your failures build character and experience. It takes a lot of “Atta Boy’s!” to get over one “Oh Crap!.

 4)   Surround yourself with wise counsel. Develop an informal network of those who have been there and done that. Their knowledge and experience is valuable.

 5)   Be slow to speak and quick to listen: Take your hands out of your pockets and put your feelings there instead. It takes effort to do this job and it takes heart. If you walk around with your hands in your pockets, your jaws flapping, and you feelings on your sleeve you are destined for trouble. Listen intently, work hard, and one day you will be providing words of wisdom to someone like yourself.

 6)   The power of perception: Always know that a single interaction with the public leaves a lasting impression upon them of how the entire fire service behaves (scary but true!). Always leave the situation better than you found it. Mind your words, guard your temper, and treat others as family.

 7)   In the fire service you have two families: Your family at home and your fire service family. Your family comes first and your fire service family comes second. You will spend 1/3rd of your life with them. Do not take this lightly. Show them that you value them as family. (Rick Lasky)

 As you progress in your career:

 8)   Don’t forget where you came from! Lest you forget we all started as a rookie firefighter. If you left the job tomorrow the fire service would go on without you. As Charles De Gaulle said, the cemeteries of the world are full of indispensable men.

 9)   Learn to say “I don’t know.” If used when appropriate, it will be often.  It is okay not to know everything. Remember as a crew you achieve your goals as a team not through the efforts of one individual. Be wary of those who know everything.

 10)                Leadership: In the fire service leadership is earned not given. You must be respectable in order to earn the honor of your crew’s respect. The trumpets on your collar stand for Leader & Manager as a Captain. Don’t take those responsibilities lightly.

11)                Be precise. A lack of precision is dangerous when the margin of error is small. This is absolutely critical in the fire service where decisions made in a matter of seconds can determine the outcome of someone’s life.

 12)                Embrace Unity: Don’t divide the fire department into factions. We are one fire department and despite the other shift’s inadequacies you will find your shift isn’t perfect either. Don’t make excuses, take ownership, and move on.

 13)                Done beats perfect: Some days things do not go the way you would have wanted but if everyone went home safely, be thankful;  there will be a next time for you to improve.

 14)                 The foundation: Your performance depends on your people. Select the best, train them and back them. When errors occur, give sharper guidance. If errors persist or if the fit feels wrong, help them move on. The citizens you serve cannot afford amateur hour during their most critical moments. Public servants are paid to serve the American people. Do it well.

 Italics reference quotes from Rumsfield’s Rules

Stay safe & God Bless,

Andy J. Starnes

A Fire Service Accountablity Lesson

Are we really who we say we are?

We serve in a tradition of sacrifice, service, and compassion to our fellow man. But somewhere along the way we became lost. The fire service was once a calling and has now become something completely different. Our values are being slowly compromised and eroded. And in all of this we have forgotten someone. We have forgotten God! We model ourselves after the verse “Greater love have no one than this; to lay down one’s life for his friends” (John 15:13).  But this seems all too often to be played out at the end of one’s life rather than sacrificing for them while they are still on this earth. We choose not to sacrifice for God or for our brothers. The Lord says if we will seek Him first He will give us the desires of our heart and “a broken and contrite heart He will not despise”.  A tradition of those serving their neighbor in their moment of need without thought of recognition or reward has been replaced with irresponsible hero worship of one’s self and actions. We are not invincible and we need to be reminded of that. I understand that this is not the case for everyone in the fire service but if you spend any significant time reading the news, fire websites, or work in the fire service your senses have had to be awakened to this alarming trend.

Where we should begin again & Who will take us there:

The foundation of a house is the most important part. Without a proper foundation the house will collapse. Our future is dependent on us building on a solid foundation. The question we should be asking ourselves is this: What foundation is currently being laid for the future houses of fire service leadership? Is it one of brick and stone or of sand?  Or are they building houses without a foundation at all? What principles, morals, and values do they hold fast to? “But the one, who has heard and not acted accordingly, is like a man who built a house on the ground without any foundation; and the torrent burst against it and immediately it collapsed, and the ruin of the house was great.” (Luke 6:49).  Why is this important? An intelligent leader who doesn’t have a solid moral foundation will ultimately fail the organization personally and or professionally.  They will be manning the life boats alone while the entire organization goes down with the ship. Anyone can learn to be competent in their profession but to be exemplary is to be the one standing up for truth, caring for others, and leading by example (at home and at work). “Seek justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8). This is integrity and is what we are missing. Have we become so politically afraid due to the media that we dare not speak up for our beliefs anymore?

Why being good isn’t enough:

The world is constantly telling us how we should look, behave, talk, and act. And if you notice, it is becoming less compassionate and more self centered. It is less about God and more about the individual. In a profession that prides itself in team work, sacrifice, service before self, camaraderie, integrity, courage, and honor we should be about the business of maintaining these foundations. Where is it that the traditional fire service values originated from? Where they from man? Where they from a government? “I know of no other worldview, religious or otherwise, that has the explanatory power of the realities that you and I confront in our daily lives that are inescapable” (Ravi Zacharias).  Christian values are those that our very country was founded on. Whether you believe in God or not, these values are God given and found in His word. An individual’s unbelief in God doesn’t stop Him from existing, nor does it stop his eternals truths, and historical Biblical precepts from changing the very heart of man.  The source of these values is from God and is modeled in the very personhood of Jesus Christ.

I want to share a quote with you:“The character of Jesus has not only been the highest pattern of virtue but the strongest incentive in its practice and it has exerted so deep an influence that it may be honestly said that a simple record of three short years of active life has done more to regenerate and soften mankind than all the dispositions of philosophers combined” This was written by a skeptic, an atheist, W.E.H. Lechey who recognized the greatness of Christ and His influence on mankind. How much more as believers should you and I take to heart the teachings of Jesus? We should be moving mountains in His name and sharing His love every day.

 God’s values should be our foundation

The values that are currently being espoused on us and our children are one of one-upmanship, narcissism, sexual immorality, and they teach that we should be tolerant to all beliefs yet they condemn anyone who disagrees with them all the while removing the very foundations of the freedoms that allow them to say & do these things. Why is this important from a fire service leadership perspective? Our next generation of Captains, Chiefs, City Managers, and leaders are developing their worldview right now under this current doctrine. The following statement sums up the direction we should be heading instead of our current path.

“There is discipline in transformational behavior in that people take actions based on the greater good, or for the right reasons, rather than based on self interest”-Firehouse Zen

Let us be perfectly honest with each other. We are ultimately responsible for this. We are accountable for those nearest to us. This is our 401K if you will. We should be earnestly investing in those around us. If we are not directly influencing those around us, those within our fellowship, we are failing to act and failing to lead. We are, in a sense, being morally negligent in our duties to others. “Therefore, to one who knows the right thing to do and does not do it, to him it is a sin.” (James 4:17).  Wherever you are, whatever role you may be in, there are those that look up to you and watch everything that you do. I have heard it said: “There are five Gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, and the life of a Christian. Most people will never read the first four.”  As Christian leaders in the fire service we must hold ourselves accountable. We must walk in integrity, disciple/mentor, and train others up in the way they should go. The future of the fire service depends on your current Christian witness. Our lives, our successes and our failures, should be living testimonies of our faith. The seeds you sow now will reap dividends in the future. Are you sowing seeds for the future others or for your immediate future? Are you encouraging those around you? Are you leading by example? Is your life one that will leave a mark on others and not just a memory? Is your passion about positively influencing the lives around you or merely how many accolades you receive?

Bring us back O God, let us be refreshed, renewed, and “fan into a flame the gift of God” (2 Timothy 1:6). Let this gift of God bring back brotherhood and glorify your name. May this all be for you Jesus who was the greatest servant of all. “For the Spirit of God does not make us timid but gives us power, love, and self discipline” (2 Timothy 1:8)

God Bless & stay safe,

Andy J. Starnes

Isaiah 65:24

The great contradiction of the fire service

The fire service is one marked with a long tradition of service, sacrifice, teamwork, and compassion. Many departments across our country are volunteer organizations that operate with little funding/support from the community or tax base that they protect. Firefighters, whether paid or volunteer, love what they do. It is calling to most and can at times be one of the most rewarding pursuit. Many firefighters sacrifice themselves daily (time, money, and dedication) so that their community will be protected.

What then would you say is contradictory about what we do? I have had a great burden laying heavy on my heart for a number of years now. This burden is this: I see that we will lay our lives down for someone else s life or property but we will not overcome our problems with our own co-workers. It is a common theme I see everywhere you go. The station will have the majority that gets along well but inevitably there will be one or two individuals that they wouldn’t stop to help if their life depended on it.

Why is this? Where have we gone wrong? Our we merely figuratively living out this profession but if someone calls us out, we would lose the courage of our convictions? I compare this to my own spiritual walk as a Christian. I heard it said that we should all carry a sign over our head that says “Under Construction”. We tend to forget where we came from and lose all compassion/sympathy for any behavior that we refuse to tolerate any more. T.D. Jakes said “Just because you graduated doesn’t mean you get to burn down the school”.

My friends, if we are to honor the calling we have answered we must follow it with no exceptions. This applies to your family first, your co-workers second, and the citizens you serve third. You are someone’s only hope and that someone may be the firefighter who sits next to you. What are you doing to save their life?

Keep up the good work & take care of one another,

Andy J. Starnes

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Surviving the Fire Service Part 1: It takes more than training

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I was raised in a good Christian home by two loving parents. I am the older of two children. My Father worked a full time job and volunteered at the local fire department in our community. He dedicated countless hours to the community that we lived in. As a young boy, the way I spent time with my Father was to go with him to the Volunteer Fire Station. I grew up in the halls of an old brick, five bay building that hosted community fish fry’s and barbeques to keep the fire department running. I watched as men and women gave of their time, talents, and their own personal monies to benefit the good of the community that we all lived in. As I grew up, I noticed a common trait in each person. Each person who volunteered as a firefighter didn’t show up for recognition or financial reward. Every one of them truly cared about their community and they proved it day after day by their consistent sacrifice of their own personal time. They would come together in times of crisis and great need, putting all of their differences aside, and would work as a family to take care of the situation. These individuals had problems, family issues, weaknesses, and faced many struggles but they never let that stop them from serving others. This is what makes the fire service unique.

How many jobs do you know of that if the employees were not paid they would still show up for work? I know of one. There are 1,100,450 firefighters in the United States today. 756,400 of those firefighters do not receive a “paycheck” for what they do. These are our volunteer firefighters and they are the backbone of the fire service. I can say that I am blessed to receive a paycheck for what I do. I was raised in the volunteer service and was told “Find a job doing what you love and you will never work a day in your life.” I have been employed now “doing what I love” for 15 years.  It has been an amazing journey thus far and I look forward to the next 12 years of my career.

I came to a point a few years ago where I lost my drive and passion for the fire service. I let circumstances and certain struggles drain the very life out of me. I was at a crossroads where I had never been before. I contemplated leaving the fire service.  God was gracious to me and renewed my spirit. I rededicated my life to Christ seven years ago and I also have renewed my passion to “work hard and cheerfully at all that you do, just as though you were working for the Lord and not merely your masters,” (Colossians 3:23). I have found an inner desire, a constant pull on my heart, which drives me. This desire comes from fulfilling of your personal calling. If you feel called to be a firefighter then this article is for you.

In the beginning: The Calling

How did you come to be a firefighter? I have told you my story. What is yours? What drove you to pursue this endeavor? Take a moment and ponder this question: Have your motivations/reasons to be a firefighter changed over the course of your service? Do you feel called? At this point, some of you may stop reading because you don’t feel a spiritual connection to what you do. Maybe you don’t believe in God and maybe you don’t believe in being called but I challenge you to take a closer look at the job description of a firefighter for a moment. Look deeper than the skills, tactics, and bravado. Look past the “no fear stickers”, the firefighter models, and the hero awards. What makes a person want to sacrifice their time, effort, money, and even their life for little or no pay with no thought of recognition?

 “God asks that all that follow His will do to so by using their callings in ways that help others and witness to God’s love for humanity. Each person will have a “gift of the Spirit” to use in his or her calling. There are two kinds of calling. The first is to worship God alone and to believe the gospel, namely that salvation has been won by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The second is to live for God through active use of gifts and talents, serving others and renewing creation.” (Big Ideas of the Bible-Mark Fackler)

Are you actively using your gifts and talents, and serving others by using your calling in a way that helps others to witness God’s love for humanity? My friends, if you are a firefighter, you are doing just that. Some may view this as heretical but I ask you to look at the “what” you are doing each and every day as a firefighter:

Confirming your Calling: Serving the least, the last, and the lost.

A few examples of serving others by using your calling in a way that helps others to witness God’s love for humanity:

At 3 am when the bell hits to assist lift an invalid off the floor because his wife can no longer lift him, her family has abandoned her, and she tearfully thanks you. When you are overhauling a rundown old house that caught fire and you take the time to carry a pair of shoes out to a crying child next to a single parent who just lost everything. When a citizen knocks on your door at the fire house, asks for help, and you sit to talk with them for an hour because that’s what they needed most. When you care enough to go back to check on a citizen who lost a loved one, after you did CPR on them and you tell them “We are here for you no matter what”. Does any of this sound like compassion to you? Is this required of you? No, it is the values that are instilled to us as firefighters that come from within. “The King will reply, truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” (Matthew 25:40)

Some firefighters deliver service, others deliver compassion and care while helping others. These men and women exemplify servant hood and hold the title of firefighter as close to their chest as the badge is as close to their heart. No other profession would ask of you in your interview “Do you understand that you could possibly be injured or killed during the course of your career? Do you understand that you have a dramatically higher risk for cancer (50% higher than the general population), divorce, depression, and your life span may be shortened due to unforeseen health problems? Do you understand that you are committing to serving our citizens no matter what their belief, race, creed, or problem may be? Do you understand that you will be asked to perform your tasks under the most stressful circumstances when you are tired, sick, and/or hungry? Do you understand that we are not looking for an employee? We are looking for a firefighter…Do you still want the job?

More than just a job:

In the corporate world, you may know your co-workers but I would wager you never will know and trust them at the level firefighters know each other. You eat together, sleep together, and hang out off duty together, work your side-line together and you help each other outside of work when needed. Firefighters come to each other’s aid in their own department and outside of their department. Brothers & sisters who suffer tragic loss, face terrible disease, or who are killed in the line of duty are looked upon by fellow firefighters as their own family. Firefighters travel great distances to attend funerals, donate bone marrow, provide relief efforts, fill in at other stations and the list goes on and on. With all of these examples of compassion, courage, integrity, service, sacrifice, and generosity do you honestly believe that these characteristics are developed through a hiring process? No, they are God-given values, inherent to what we do, instilled in us by our creator. Anyone who does this job for any length of time, even if they do not believe, will tell you that it takes a special individual to do what we do. That “special individual” is one who is called, leaned on by the Holy Spirit (even if they don’t recognize Him), and pushed to give back more than they are given even in the face of great adversity. They feel compelled to “love their neighbor” because they believe in something greater than themselves. Have you felt that inner longing, that drive to do more, the pulling on your heart that tells you that this life is more than just being successful. That feeling you have, that we often ignore, is the Holy Spirit leaning on you, calling you, and telling you “I will never leave you, nor forsake you.(Hebrews 13:5)” A friend of mine said it best. How do you know if you are called? If you can do anything else, anything else at all and be happy…He is not calling you to this profession. If God is leaning on your heart, you will know it. You will only be at peace when you come to understand that He wants your heart.

Understand this simple concept: Just because you don’t believe in God, it doesn’t mean He that he doesn’t believe in you. A firefighter, serves those in their most dire moment of need, without thought of recognition or whether or not they like the person they are helping. Who does that anymore? Look deep within your heart, be still, and understand that you were made for a purpose. This purpose can only be fulfilled through a relationship with Jesus. We live in a country where we are free to worship, believe what we want, and say what we want. My goal in writing to you is not to offend you but to share this message with you: God loves you, “For God so loved the world that He sent His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life. For God didn’t send His son to condemn the world but to save it.” (John 3: 16-17) Open your heart to Jesus today. Fulfill your calling and He will allow you to do great things by serving others like never before. All I ask is that you consider  what you are already doing is a mere reflection of what you truly could be through Christ.

God Bless & Stay Safe

Your brother in Christ,

Andy J. Starnes

The Fire Service: We Still Believe

We Still Believe

“He did it with all his heart and prospered.”
2 Chronicles 31:21

As a member of the family of the fire service, we share a bond like none other. Our family consists of a unique group of individuals who, despite their differences or backgrounds, come together with their collective strengths and accomplish amazing things under very harsh circumstances. We are able at a moment’s notice to strategize and formulate a plan to mitigate an incident that we may have never even faced before.

We come from all walks of life. We are a diverse group of men and women who, as a whole, care about others more than ourselves. We share a common drive to better ourselves all for the sake of others. Our stations are called “fire houses” because they are our “home away from home”. We spend approximately 1/3rd of our lives with our brothers and sisters in the fire house. We come to know the good, bad, and the ugly sides of one another and work through it all. We are there for our fellow citizens in the tough times and we are there for each other in our times of difficulty.

The fire service has suffered many attacks lately due to the world’s financial crisis. Once it was unthinkable to suggest that a municipality would consider laying off firefighters. Sadly, many have lost their jobs, saw stations close, and in some cities, firefighters are duct taping their boots together to get by.

After 9/11, the fire service received support in almost epic proportions. Funding, grants, donations, and our support from the public were tremendous. As in all things, we have seen this appreciation fade. Why in the face of so much adversity would anyone want to be a firefighter these days?

Charles Spurgeon says “This is no unusual occurrence; it is the general rule of the moral universe that those men prosper who do their work with all their hearts, while those are almost certain to fail who go to their labor leaving half their hearts behind them”

The men & women of the fire service love what we do. Many perform their calling as a volunteer receiving no compensation for all of their time, effort, and sacrifice. Some of us are career firefighters, who also volunteer as well. The men & women of the fire service “work with all their hearts” and believe in something much bigger than themselves. The fire service, no matter how much it is cut back, will always be a brotherhood of those who give more than they receive.  No other profession, besides our armed forces (God Bless Them!), willingly sacrifices their time, their health, and even their life for the sake of others.

Whether or not you believe in God, know that the fire service is a tradition of belief. We believe in values, traditions, and morals that are eternal. We wear a cross on our chest that symbolizes the first firefighters in Malta who died or were severely injured while they rescued their brothers who were being burned. We don’t require recognition, appreciation, or even a thank you. We do what we do out of our great love for the calling. A calling that says “We will be here, we will show up when no one else will, & we will do everything in our power to protect or save your life.” We still believe in this calling.

While the world may seem to becoming less compassionate, less appreciative, and less concerned about others. Remember there are dedicated men & women who serve together, no matter their differences or backgrounds, and will be there to help in a moment’s notices. My friends, this is the power of belief.

The Marriage May-Day: Firefighters need to call for help

The Marriage May Day:

‘Knowing when to call for help’

In the fire service, we are well trained on the subject of Rapid Intervention and May-Day scenarios. We train on possible downed firefighter situations and how to extricate ourselves or our brothers.  For the non-fire service reader let’s give a brief summation of a May Day scenario.

A reported house on fire is dispatched and as the fire department arrives they receive a report of a resident who is trapped in their bedroom.  The first due Engine establishes command and after performing a 360 takes his/her crew in for the rescue.  Other companies are arriving as the first Battalion Chief assumes command.  The firefighters become trapped as they were searching for the resident and are pinned down by a roof collapse. The downed firefighters are able to transmit a May Day, a call for help, in which this information is received: “May-Day, May-Day, May-Day, we are trapped in the Alpha/Bravo corner of the residence, this is Engine 99, we were performing a primary approximately 50’ in, and we will need RIT with a way to cut us out.”  This is called a LUNAR: location, unit & name, assignment, & the resources needed to affect the rescue. When this happens, a Rapid Intervention Team is deployed (RIT). This is a well-trained crew who is situationally aware of the incident. They have conducted a 360, thrown ground ladders for additional points of egress, controlled utilities, and have been attentive to the fire ground radio traffic.  They immediately go in to affect a rescue on those in need. At this point the Incident Commander orders additional resources, continues to fight the fire, and insures fire ground accountability.

What does this all have to do with marriage?

Nine out of twelve firefighter marriages end in divorce. That’s right 9 out of 12! As a profession, we are higher than the national average (which is 54%).  Firefighters face an enormous amount of stress and it often carries over into their personal lives.  What can we do about this problem? Let’s look at from a firefighter’s viewpoint:

Scene Size-up:

As a firefighter, the process of size-up is a continuous one that begins before the rig ever leaves the station. At a fire scene, the Incident Commander (IC) is constantly evaluating the conditions and whether the situation is improving.  In marriage, we should be constantly assessing our relationship. As a husband, I should be continuously studying and learning about my wife. Initially our passions, or fire if you will, are great for each other. Why do we treat our spouse’s differently after we are married? We shouldn’t stop dating each other after we are married. It is merely the beginning of a lifelong journey.

As we go through life, the conflicts and commitments tend to cause us to focus less on each other and more on the immediate needs/concerns/or problems of life. Couples slowly begin to drift apart due to a lack of attention and care.  A relationship takes a great deal of work and dedication. The couple must be holding on to each other during the hard times or they will drift apart.

Working Fire: You have come to the realization that your marriage is in trouble. Sadly, most realize this way too late. It comes when they learn of infidelity or have been served divorce papers. As on a fire scene we have to be proactive, having an Incident Action Plan and or a strategy is key to the successful mitigation of an incident. In marriage, we need to embrace the plan, God’s plan, and follow His principles.

If you have read the Bible, you will find that the marital relationships that are referenced there are not without fault. Some faced great difficulty, trial, adultery, and some of it is even comical as Solomon wrote “It is better for a man to live on the corner of a roof top than underneath with a nagging & complaining wife.” (See Proverbs).

Firefighters tend to be problem/solution oriented. Someone calls for help and we fix their problem. It troubles us to realize that we have a problem that we are not able to solve. In firefighting, we train, read, exercise and discipline our lives so that when we face adversity we are ready. We have thousands of hours spent on perfecting or learning our craft. How many hours have you invested in being a better husband or wife?

We need to be putting our house in order: God, our spouse, our children, family, friends etc. Identifying our problems early on and taking ownership of your part in it shows that you are not trying to blame your spouse. By coming to the one you love in humility and brokenness shows that you truly love them. This shows that you care more about the relationship than more about who is right or wrong. “Confession is the first step in repair and often the most difficult. Without confession, forgiveness is impossible” (Big Ideas of the Bible by Mark Fackler). In my life, I always say: “I can right or I can be happy”.  Being right is far less important to me that showing my wife that I love her more than life itself.

I look back at our wedding day where we stood before God and many witnesses and remember the promise that we made. Do we take that promise lightly? Do we lessen the value of our commitment when our spouse has wronged us and refuses to change? In the book “The power of a praying husband” Stormie Omartian states “But God spoke to my heart, saying, It is not a matter of who needs to change, it is a matter of who is willing to change. If you’re willing to change, I (God) can work through you right now.”(pg.22)

 

 

Calling the May-Day

May-Day: You are in trouble. Your marriage has collapsed. Your spouse is leaving or has left you. Now what?

Call for help! James 4:2 states “You have not because you ask not”.  Our pride is often our biggest enemy. We believe that we can do anything. After all, people call us to solve their problems right? This can be a detriment to your marriage. Call upon God, humble yourself and ask for help. “Now this is the confidence that we have in Him, that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us” (1 John 5:14).

Reach out to your brothers/sisters in the fire service. I find it appalling that we will lay down our lives for complete strangers but yet we will not confide in one another when we are hurting. I know that many of us have fallen victim to confiding in someone only to find out that they betrayed our trust. When you are hurting don’t put up a false front. Those who know you best will see through it quickly and if you don’t confess it to them you may find your situation worsening.

Humble yourself and realize that your marriage is more important than another’s opinion. If you are a firefighter who is pinned down and needs help, you do not care who helps you as long as help comes and comes quickly. “Therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another so that you may be healed.” (James 5:16) My coworkers and I believe that it is better to have abundant resources than having to wait for the cavalry. In other words, “I’d rather be looking at it than looking for it.” The body of Christ is all around you and if you call His name He will be there.

Additional Resources: Many churches offer marital counseling, divorce care, and other marriage ministries to help those in need. As in the fire service if you think you are in trouble you probably are: Call the May Day! Don’t let your pride get in the way of losing your spouse and your children.

Rapid Intervention Teams: You have called for help and are awaiting the cavalry. Sadly, not everyone’s relationships will be reconciled. As in RIT scenarios not all firefighters are rescued successfully.  The most common similarities in fire ground Line of Duty Deaths after a May Day has been transmitted were: lack of fire ground accountability, no hose line protection, and poor communication.

Marriage Accountability:

In marriage, if we are not growing closer together we are probably drifting apart. Understanding the need to constantly invest in your marriage helps to put our priorities in order. Your marriage takes maintenance. As a couple, you need to be investing in each other through prayer, date nights, family time, marriage ministries (such as Focus on the Family’s weekend to remember marriage conference) and taking the time to help each other grow closer as you further your relationship with God.

No protection:

If we step outside of our marriage in areas that could be viewed as inappropriate we are setting ourselves up for disaster. Some signs of being unprotected are:

If you spend more time with your buddies than you do with your spouse(Warning!)

If you find yourself confiding in marital matters, consistently, with another person who is not your spouse (Warning!)

If you have a habit that takes precedence or priority over your spouse or family (Warning!)

Many husbands and wives suffer divorce due to infidelity/adultery. But the common misconception is that it is due to a physical affair. If you are married and you allow the devil to get a foot hold in your life do not be surprised when the divorce papers arrive. Pornography, alcohol abuse, addiction, job lust (loving your job more than your spouse), activities that consume your time so you cannot spend time with your family (these can be good activities as well), and anything that you allow to take precedence over your relationship with God and your wife will ultimately drive a wedge between you.

Poor communication:

I heard a marriage counselor state that most people learn how to “not talk to each other” by getting married. He went on to say, walk into any restaurant and you can immediately tell who most of the married couples are. They are the ones sitting there silently or eating and not paying any attention to each other.

On the fire ground communication is critical. Without good communication, someone’s life may be lost. The same goes for our marriage, without good communication and the willingness to talk to each other (lovingly) we are already headed for a disaster. Take the time to talk with your spouse. Listen empathically, this means that you really care what he/she is saying, and be engaged which in my case means: put down the phone, stop doing what you are doing, and listen to your spouse by looking at them directly.

Marital LUNAR:

My purpose in writing this is not to offend or hurt anyone but to help. A firefighter who transmits a May Day sends out information based on the LUNAR acronym. It provides those who are coming to save them with critical information.  Calling your LUNAR in a Marriage May Day could be seen as this:

Lost: My location in my marriage has become uncertain and I need RIT (Redemption Intervention Team) I will submit and follow my GPS (God’s Plan for Salvation).

Understanding: Verbalizing to your spouse that you understand the seriousness of the situation. Confess your brokenness, take ownership of your part of the relationship, and in true humility show your spouse that your greatest concern is for the restoration & renewal of your marriage.

Name your problem: Look at your situation and take a step back. Where did your troubles really begin? What was the “slow fade” that caused your relationship to crumble? True reconciliation will only occur if you understand what brought you to this point in the first place.

Assignment: You now know the seriousness of your situation, you have admitted you have a problem, you have named it, and now it’s time to take action. Step forward in faith with your spouse and begin working on the problem(s).  This will be uncomfortable but necessary.

Reconciliation: The goal in calling the marriage May Day is not to rescue you from your current circumstances but to reconcile your hurts, wrongs, and lack of trust so that your marriage can begin a new as Christ has redeemed you. Let Christ dwell in your heart and focus on His will. His Holy Spirit will guide, teach, and admonish you along the way. Understand that this can be a slow and long process. Your relationship, most likely, did not fall apart over night; so don’t expect your spouse to jump right into the relationship like nothing happened. Something did happen! Now, take this set of difficult circumstances and use it to make your relationship stronger. But remember, you must take each step slowly. Your spouse needs to trust you again their trust has to be earned.

Conclusion:

I see a tremendous need in our profession for marriage ministry and counseling daily. If you are as aware of this as I am, I challenge you to do something truly heroic: Be there for your brother, listen to them, guide them, and don’t let them travel down a road that could lead to harm. You swore an oath to protect lives and property. This oath should begin by protecting your family and your co-workers around you. Don’t turn a blind eye to their problem and use their plight as gossip material later.  Step up to the challenge and show them that you truly care. Let’s save ourselves so we can continue the greatest tradition the fire service has to offer which is that of Sacrifice:  Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends (John 15:13). Sacrifice your time, your energy, your pride and help one another.

Stay Safe & God Bless

Andy J. Starnes

Isaiah 65:24