Fighting the Fires of Our Lives

Fighting the Fires of Our Lives

“When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze. For I am the Lord, your God,” (Isaiah 43:2-3). 

As a firefighter, we look at fire differently than anyone else. Everyone else sees a tragedy whereas we see an opportunity: an opportunity to make a difference, to apply our skills, and to give back to the community.  

In the world of firefighting, the words “control time” mean to stop the forward progress of the incident. We work diligently to stop the fire from spreading and preventing any further harm or damage.

As an experienced firefighter, we approach the job with a sense of calm and perform our duties almost fearlessly. This is not due to blind courage but due to years of experience, training, and application that has provided us with the confidence to do the job all the while remembering the inherent danger of it.

In our lives, we can take comfort in that God promises to walk with us through the trials, or fires of our lives, and protect us. He will bring a “control time” back to our lives. For He promises:

“Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine.” (Isaiah 43:1b) 

As we face down tragedy, the fires of life, and all of the problems that may come our way let us apply the same perspective as if we were responding to a call. This is the moment of where trials become opportunity. An opportunity for so much more than we can imagine or perceive.

During the trials of our lives, take a moment to look at them from God’s perspective: 

“Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” (James 1:2-4) 

Each trial or test that we face may cause us great pain but if we would yet endure we will be made “perfect and complete lacking nothing.” 

By placing our hope in God and not giving up we will achieve a new level of endurance, a new found strength, and when the next trial comes we are ready and able to help others in the midst of our own crisis. We have been broken yet we are now uniquely qualified.

So let us take a new look at trials and view them as the fires of our lives. This is not our first fire and it will most likely not be our last. Each fire that we face WILL be extinguished; and some will take longer and cause more damage but in the end we have the confidence that:

“When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze. For I am the Lord, your God,” (Isaiah 43:2-3). 

Each fire that we go through we learn, we grow, and out faith becomes stronger. Let us then walk with confidence, knowing that God is with us through all of the fires of life. 

Andy J. Starnes

Bringing Back Brotherhood Ministries

In These Eyes

In These Eyes

In These Eyes:
When people look upon these eyes, they often say…

You look troubled, did you have a bad day?…

But to give an honest reply would be more than most would care to know…

And if they could see through these eyes, they wouldn’t ask any more…
 
In these eyes, the harshest moments have been witnessed…

In these eyes, they have seen broken marriages and shattered commitments…
 
In these eyes, visions of another painful life lesson…

In these eyes, regret lingers as I still feel the depth of those compressions…
 
In these eyes, strangers have wept and begged for me to do something…

In these eyes, I’ve felt the darkness of another’s personal tragedy as their loved one’s life was ending…
 
In these eyes, the flashes of death, despair, and terrible disease…

In these eyes, lack of sleep combined with poor decisions have cost me dearly…
 
In these eyes, post-traumatic stress rears its ugly head…

In these eyes, my hand’s tremble for no reason as I lay on my bed…
 
In these eyes, I’ve seen love and new life brought into the world…

In these eyes, I’ve witnessed so called adults discard a precious and perfect new born.
 
In these eyes, the trauma of holding another’s pain can be a daily routine…

In these eyes, the trauma of escaping these moments when we go home is not as it seems…
 
In these eyes, the brotherhood of one who walked down this same road…

In these eyes, they look upon these fellow comrades who gladly share the load…

For in these eyes, we know the burdens and trials we must face…

But in the darkness, we often forget that our eyes still gaze upon those moments we wish to erase…
 
For in these eyes, we carry the ability to look past someone’s circumstance…

The gift of all that we have seen allows us to give someone else another chance…
 
Our vision is not clouded, nor diminished by these moments we have seen…

Our perspective is broad, sharpened, and able to discern a total stranger’s being…
 
We look upon our lives as servants who have tried to carry too much…

The weight of our PPE is nothing compared to the moments of the lives that we have touched…
 
We carry on our journey not begrudgingly but thankful that we could serve…

Thankful that we were able to be apart through our actions and our words…
 
Our hearts tend to grow weary and our emotional scars seem not to mend…

Realize when others look upon our eyes they often fail to look through them…
 
We often won’t feel comfortable in opening up these painful wounds…

We often feel trapped, alone, and locked inside our own post traumatic tombs…
 
Then someone who cares, who understands, and knows what we have been through from the start..

They come with two open ears, they don’t offer answers, but offer us their servant heart…
 
They walk with us through our pain, not invalidating our trials and tribulations…

They patiently sit in our darkness, listening, and bearing with our frustrations…
 
All the while, without us even knowing it, they are gradually moving us forward…

All the while, a light gradually comes into our darkness, and we slowly begin to move towards..

Towards healing, yet we are always hurt, on this road we often hit a few emotional pot holes…

Yet someone checks on us, believes in us, and helps us transition us back into our roles…
 
So when someone looks upon one whose eyes may have grown cold…

Realize the great burdens they may be carrying and the scars upon their soul…

Come along side them and bear their burdens…

Don’t try to fix them, but listen to them, and they will be forever thankful that you heard them…

As our Lord and Savior stated when he was in great agony.

The greatest gift we could give is what he asked of them which was to:

“Stay here and keep watch with me.” (Matthew 26:38)
 
May we all look upon our brothers and sisters eyes differently…

May we all stay a little longer, listen more intently, and keep watch with thee…

God Bless,
Andy J. Starnes
Bringing Back Brotherhood Ministries
 

Is BrotHERhood Dead?

Is BrotHERhood Dead?

Is Brotherhood dead?

Perhaps you have heard or even said this statement before:

“BrotHERhood is dead!”

Really?

First of all, what is brotHERhood? 

Is it the unmistakable bond shared by firefighters that cannot be explained but must be lived? 

Is it the sacrifices shared by the collective hearts of those who carry one another’s burdens thereby fulfilling the law of Christ? (See Galatians 6:2)

Is it the gift of one another’s unwavering presence not only in a fire but when our world burns down around us? 

Those that understand and live the principles that embody brotHERhood would say that it is all this and more. 

While my words may fall short in defining such an incomprehensible term many have used harsh words in attempt to kill, destroy, or diminish its worth.

While our experiences may have left us torn, betrayed, and hurt this doesn’t mean that brotHERhood isn’t dead. It’s merely geographically challenged or been abused by those who claim to practice it.

We see many firefighters struggling in toxic environments struggling to make a difference where every effort is met with ridicule, opposition, and slander. Their perspective therefore of brotHERhood has been twisted. 

The temptation is too throw up our hands and give up but let us consider this:

Do we judge the fire service by the ones who choose to abuse it? 

-Or-

Do we chose to base our belief on an unshakable resolve reenforced by likeminded & shared values between brethren who lift us up?

Do we willfully sit at the table of discontent and drink the poison of bitterness because the majority has become bitter? 

Remember “bad company corrupts good moral character.” If your environment is toxic and you don’t have like minded passionate brethren to reenforce your values is your struggle in vain? Will the weariness of those who have been corrupted gather another casualty by our surrender?

The answer depends upon one individual:

You!

Will you give up because everyone else has? If so, what then will you do when faced with another tough choice? If you will abandon them now you will most likely abandon them in a fire.

Will you choose to seek out those who will encourage you, educate you, admonish you, and hold you accountable so your fire will stay burning bright?

-Or-

Will you succumb to the bitterness that has become commonplace and the discord that had replaced unity? Will you then take that poison home to your family and thereby poison them without even knowing it? 

Consider the words of Nietzsche:

“God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him. How shall we comfort ourselves, the murderers of all murderers? What was holiest and mightiest of all that the world has yet owned has bled to death under our knives: who will wipe this blood off us? What water is there for us to clean ourselves? What festivals of atonement, what sacred games shall we have to invent? Is not the greatness of this deed too great for us? Must we ourselves not become gods simply to appear worthy of it?”

His words have profound meaning to us today. He implied the death of God came because we chose to believe it. He stated that in order to have taken away such a being we must become gods. The created cannot kill the creator of all things but we can refuse His kindness by choosing our own way which leads to death. 

The implication for the fire service is this:

For brotherhood to be dead we the ones responsible for fostering it will have therefore chosen to have killed it by disbelieving in it.

For us to comfort others who are in need when they call for help and for us to condemn those in our fellowship is the very antithesis of brotHERhood.

For us to celebrate our traditions and gatherings only to backslide, slander, and destroy the very department that we work for with our words is the nail in the coffin of brotHERhood and leads others astray in the process.

In closing, if you believe brotherhood is dead based on those who choose to abuse, malign, and discredit the very organizations and members that they work for then perhaps you should decide who defines reality for you:

Your values & principles?

-or-

Those who discredit them?

BrotHERhood is only dead because we choose to let it die. Don’t allow those who have fallen victim to bitterness to poison your perspective. Be renewed and refreshed in the calling that we all hold dear by realizing the importance of our fellowship.

It’s essential to what we do, who we are, and how we overcome.

God Bless,

Andy Starnes

Bringing Back Brotherhood Ministries

The Great Contradiction of the Fire Service

The Great Contradiction of the Fire Service

“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 or support from the community or tax base that they protect. Approximately 1,000,000 firefighters of the 1.2 million total firefighters today belong to volunteer fire houses. Firefighters, whether paid or volunteer, love what they do. It is calling to most and can at times be one of the most rewarding pursuits. Many firefighters make great personal sacrifices daily such as their time, money, and dedication; all so that their community will be protected. What then would you say is contradictory about what we as firefighters 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 often lay our lives down for someone else’s life or property but many of us refuse to overcome the problems within our own departments or fellow firefighters. It is a common theme that is seen almost everywhere you go. A Fire House will often have the majority that gets along well but inevitably there will be a few individuals that no one would help if even if their life depended on it. 

My friend and mentor Chief Peter Lamb sums up perfectly in the following statement:

“So your fire department has morale problems? Everyone does! But make sure that you have a morale problem and not a loyalty problem.”

The wisdom in this statement for us is that many of us will complain and have issues but are we loyal to our department, to our leaders, and to our fellow firefighters? If not, the problem isn’t a morale problem, the problem is a gratitude problem. We haven’t forgotten to be thankful for what many would consider the greatest job in the world. 

Consider a husband who reports for work and while he is at work he constantly complains and belittles his wife. Yet while he is home he says nothing and does nothing about their problems. What does this say about his loyalty to his spouse and their marriage? Does this cause others to think negatively about his spouse, about him, and about their marriage? Consider the analogy as we report to the fire house and “love” our job yet all we do is gripe and complain about “our” fire department that we supposedly call the greatest job in the world.

Why is this? Where have we gone wrong? Are we merely figuratively living out this profession but if someone calls us out, would we lose the courage of our convictions? Are our principles only as deep as our pride or our paychecks? 
Would our loved ones admire our words and actions toward our fellow brother and sister firefighters that we are currently demonstrating?

I compare this problem this to my own spiritual walk as a Christian. It has been said that we should all carry a sign over our head that says “Warning! Under Construction-God’s still working on me”. Thus, we often tend to forget where we came from and lose all compassion and or sympathy for any behavior that we refuse to tolerate any more. T.D. Jakes has said “Just because you graduated doesn’t mean you get to burn down the school”. 

My friends, if we are to truly honor the calling we have answered we must follow it with no exceptions. This applies to our family first, our co-workers second, and the citizens we serve third. It means that we are to take care of one another and not destroy one another. Our very existence is for the sole purpose of saving lives and property yet we see the commonality of discord and negativity within the walls of fire houses across the country. And we can’t proclaim a belief that we don’t practice! When others see our negative attitudes and poor choice of words our credibility has been lost. We have effectively led them down the same dark path that we are walking.

Many would say that the citizen’s we serve come first and our mission statements indicate that this is true. Yet if we fail to take care of our family’s, and take care of our physical, mental, and spiritual health, are we truly taking care of our citizens if we aren’t at our best? We are often someone’s only hope when we respond in an emergency. Have we considered that we may be someone’s only hope and that someone may be the firefighter who sits next to us?

 
Let us ask ourselves: 
What are we doing to save their life?
Are we living out our values and mission statement inside the four walls of our firehouse and our homes?
Are we leading others astray or are we preparing others to take our place by giving them the best that we have?

If you have found yourself in the uncomfortable position of feeling convicted about your own behavior as I have perhaps it’s time to begin the process of treating others the way you would like to be treated? Perhaps, we should realize whether it’s the homeless person, the millionaire, or the co-worker that we don’t get along with we are called to serve others not serve ourselves. This takes great courage to not respond when we are treated harshly but to treat them with respect. This takes integrity and a solid moral foundation that we stand upon. For myself this foundation is my faith. 

I am reminded of the following scriptures when facing these challenges:

When our work ethic exceeds others why should we continue to work hard? 
“Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father.” (Colossians 3:17). We have to realize who we are working for: Our organization or God Himself? In my faith, I have to remember that Jesus Christ is my boss and my work ethic ultimately reflects my dedication to Him and not to man. Therefore by putting God first, we will have a greater and more sincere work ethic because we understand the great responsibility we have as followers of Christ.

When others treat us badly, why should we treat them kindly?
“Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.” (Ephesians 4:32). We have to remember that when we forgive others it is not for them. Forgiveness sets us free from the burden of carrying around bitterness and realizing that when we fail to forgive we ultimately are condemning ourselves. Take a moment and think of someone you know that has a bitter and cynical outlook. Have you possibly considered that they have suffered greatly and are dealing with the issue of un-forgiveness? If you thought of someone, you have just found your next assignment. Therefore, we can have the greatest peace in the midst of conflict by realizing that even when others hurt us we can be free by forgiving them. This can often open doors in previously closed relationships.

When we are in a bad situation and our attitude begins to suffer, how do we stay positive when everyone else is negative?
Consider Christ’s Humility and Exaltation in Philippians 2:5-8:
“Make your own attitude that of Christ Jesus, who, existing in the form of God, did not consider equality with God as something to be used for His own advantage. Instead He emptied Himself by assuming the form of a slave, taking on the likeness of men. And when He had come as a man in His external form, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death—even to death on a cross.” Jesus chose to respond with loving servant leadership in the face of a hurting and negative world. Consider the impact that has had on the lives of 2.2 billion believers since that day?

In closing, remember that we are called to serve others and that our service should begin with our family and our fellow firefighters. If we fail to treat them with kindness and respect how insincere will be our service to our citizens? If we cannot reconcile our differences we are ultimately dividing our team and diminishing our effectiveness as firefighters. So let us take up the challenge of being morally courageous and treating others with kindness and respect no matter how we are treated. For this is true courage, to show love to those who need it most, those who hurt us with their words and their actions. We may see that their actions or words are a front for a hurting heart. We will not compromise our beliefs nor our integrity but we will bear the scars of one who has carried our cross to a hurting world that will often hurt us.

If these questions have provoked something within you and you feel led to do something about it let us consider how we can change the fire service by beginning with our speech. Start holding ourselves accountable for the current and future behavior of the fire service by beginning with the one person we can change: ourselves!

God Bless,
Andy Starnes

Bringing Back Brotherhood Ministries

Firefighter’s-The Need To Vent

Firefighter’s-The Need To Vent

Firefighters -The need to vent:

Have you ever felt the pressures of life, the job, and stress mounting up to such a point that you felt you were going to explode?

As firefighter’s we know that pressurized cylinders and containers have devices in place to relieve the pressure if it reaches a dangerous level. These PRV’s are there to help alleviate the pressure and bring things back to a manageable level.

What about our own personal need to “alleviate pressure and bring things back to a manageable level?”

What happens when we don’t alleviate the pressures of life in healthy ways and we explode on the ones we love?

What happens when we don’t alleviate the pressures of life and say things we shouldn’t to others in person or on social media?

Is it fair to our loved ones that “our stressors” have now caused collateral damage to their lives?

Let us consider a new relief valve: A prayer relief valve.

“Let go of anger and leave rage behind! Don’t get upset—it will only lead to evil”(Psalms 37:8 CEB)

But how do we vent in a healthy way?

Where can we go? 

Who can we talk to?

As firefighters, we do everything together yet we seem to forget that we are not meant to carry these burdens alone.

The Application:

1) There is strength is numbers:

From the very beginning, each of us should seek out a group that we may confide in. They should be a frequent number on our call list. 

“Two are better than one because they have a good return for their labor. For if either of them falls, the one will lift up his companion.” Ecclesiastes 4:9

Let us learn to turn to God and to our group so we can vent in healthy ways instead of blowing up on others.

2) Lift each other up:

“But woe to the one who falls when there is not another to lift him up.” (Ecclesiastes 4:9, 10 NASB)

Too often we think that we must provide the answers for the troubles that our friends and loved ones face. This is a great failure on our part. 

Our role is to show up, shut up, and lift up. It is God who ultimately provides the answers and healing. It is our role to be the “hands and feet of Christ” which means to physically show up in the lives of those who are hurting around us.

In closing, we all need someone to vent to. It takes a true friend to let us unload our burdens without thinking we are aiming our frustrations at them. It takes a true friend to tell us what we need to hear and not what we want to hear in those moments. 

Let’s step up and be that friend to a hurting brother or sister today!

You may be the answer to their prayer. 

God Bless,

Andy J. Starnes

Bringing Back Brotherhood

This is My Fire House

This is My Fire House

This is My Fire House:

Welcome to my fire house, it is like no other…

Here we answer the call of the needy, the hurting, and bring calm to the chaos…

This is my fire house, a place of provision, security, and accountability all in one…

Here we eat together, pray together, play together, and share our burdens…

This is my fire house, it is like no other for only here can we be real with one another…

Here we fight, argue, and occasionally have times of discord….

This my fire house, four walls that house those who go out to serve the world…

Here we ventilate, open up, extricate, and bring life back to one another…

This is my fire house, where training isn’t optional it’s a part of our life…

Here we read, we discipline, we exercise, and we practice to be prepared…

This is my fire house, it is like no other, for I am responsible for those under its roof…

Here we watch over one another, we take care of one another, and our daily actions are the proof…

This is my fire house, it is like no other for we have good times, dark times, and experience loss…

Here we shed tears, we shed blood and sweat, and remembering those that we have lost…

This is my fire house, a place of solace and peace for those that are blessed to dwell…

Here we speak of heaven, praise God, and together we have been through hell…

This is my fire house, a place of rest for the weary and a place to come home to…

You see this isn’t a fire station filled with trucks and equipment…
This is my home with my wife, my daughter, and the love that fills it…

You may have thought of the fire house with those that you love…
And that is a special place as well, but first remember what we have been given from above…

Remember your family, your spouse, your children and how we respond to them…

Remember their desperate calls for help when they need their dad, their mom, and their friend…

Remember how you train, how you work, and how you would give your life for them…

Remember how no matter when the moment strikes you will always answer the call…

For this is your fire house, the one given to you from above and it should be placed above all…

God has given you a family, those under your care that you are to fight for…

This is our greatest blessing, our greatest calling, and the reason we train so tirelessly for…

This is my fire house, and I will fight the fires of life with those entrusted to my care…

We will train ourselves up in the way we should go and always be there….

This is my fire house, a place of shelter, protection, provision, and peace…

Those that dwell here will respond to each other, to others, and the last, lost, and the least…

For Jesus is our Commander in Chief and we seek his direction daily…

We may fail, we may fall down, but He walks with us through the fires ever so bravely…

He will never leave nor forsake therefore we will stand together through it all…

Knowing that this is my fire house, that He has equipped those within it to answer the call…

God Bless,

Andy J. Starnes

Bringing Back Brotherhood Ministries

The Trinity of Turn-out Gear

The Trinity of Turn-out Gear

As firefighters, we are taught all of the foundational aspects of our tools, equipment, and P.P.E. in the beginning; so that we can build upon this knowledge throughout our career. 

In the Christian life, we often feel confused or lack clarity about certain issues that we face. This devotional is an analogy of our turn-out gear and The Trinity in hopes to help explain in terms that anyone can understand. Let us begin:

Matthew 28:19

“Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

A firefighter understands the importance of their turnout gear. Without turn-out gear they are unprotected and will be burned or injured in a fire. As a firefighter places their gear on the rig for their shift, they take the proper steps to insure their gear is ready for use. Each part of their gear must be checked to insure it is put together properly, that it isn’t damaged, and that all of their necessary tools are there (hand tools, safety glasses, etc.)

The gear that a firefighter wears is like armor. From the outside, it appears as if only a thick canvas like material but there is more to this armor than meets the eye. 

Let’s ask ourselves this question before we go any further:

We prepare ourselves to fight a fire but are we prepared to fight the fires of life? 

In order to adequately protect us our turnout gear is comprised of three distinct layers: the thermal liner, the moisture barrier and the outer shell.  
Each layer is vitally important. For example, if you entered a fire with only the outer shell you would be burned because the thermal liner is missing. Even though they aren’t visible from the outside, the thermal liner and the moisture barrier provide the majority of the protection to the firefighter.

How does this relate to our spiritual life as a Christian?

In the beginning God created man and he was unclothed. He needed nothing to protect him from the world. As sin entered the world by our decision to disobey God, rather than let us be burned by the fire, God provided a layer of protection between us and death that no fire can ever penetrate.

He shielded us from thermal insult through the birth, life, death, and resurrection of His son Jesus Christ. Jesus stood between us and the fires of hell and said:

“When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned: the flames will not set you ablaze. (Isaiah 43:2)

As a firefighter, we must put on our turn-out gear to be protected. Thus as a human being, we must allow Jesus into our heart to be saved. 

Yet, there is so much more to the Trinity of His Turn-out Gear. He not only rescues us from the flames of hell, He leaves with us another layer of protection called The Holy Spirit. 

In the next part of this series we will discuss how each one of us can put on the armor of God as we face the fires of life.

Until then, pick up the word of God and read more about the Father, The Son, and The Holy Spirit. The book of John is a great place to start. Be encouraged and know that we have a layer of protection that not even the fires of hell can penetrate. And if you would like to go deeper in your journey of faith, the Fellowship of Christian Firefighters International Bible Studies are a great place to start. Check them out here:

http://fellowshipofchristianfirefighters.org/images/shared/Bible%20Studies/Ephesians/Lesson%203.pdf

“He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit & with fire” Matthew 3:11 
God Bless,
Andy J. Starnes