I officially entered ordained ministry in service to the church in May of 1997. This second career followed a 21 year career as a Marine officer. Some may think that shift, from military to ministry, is a peculiar one. Really, it is not. The core values of Marine leadership are commitment, obedience, self-discipline, and steadfast loyalty to the officers appointed above you and to the Marines placed under your charge.
Does anything in that statement above seem even remotely Christian to you? It should, ... and it would, ... if you remember that one of Jesus’ favorite metaphors is the Good Shepherd. Turn to the gospel of John 10:11-16 and read,
11 I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12 The hired hand is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it. 13 The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. 14 "I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me- 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father-and I lay down my life for the sheep. 16 I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd.
Do you see the difference between the good shepherd and the hireling, … between the dedicated leader and the self-aggrandizing “careerist,” … between the soldier who fights for the Army of the Lord and the one who fights merely for himself.
What is the differentiating factor between these dichotomous images? You have already heard it many times before. Now turn in your Bible to John 15:13, and read,
“Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends.”
If you read this verse literally, you might be led to think of some heroic act, like throwing yourself on a grenade that lands in your foxhole to save your buddies. Yes, that is valid interpretation, but let’s pray that it remains a remote possibility for any of us.
There is another way to read this passage that makes the Lord’s teaching very close, personal, and practical for every Christian, not just Medal of Honor recipients.
Read this passage in the light of “sacrificial living.” What is sacrificial living? Luther illustrated this idea by the image of a heart turned outwardly in contrast to a heart turned inwardly. He stated that the direction of one’s heart is the direction of its focus and concern.
Now, let’s return to John 10:11-16 and re-read the passage in that way. We can see that the heart of a good shepherd is turned outwardly. His compassion and his concern are for the sheep entrusted to his care. In contrast, the heart of a hireling is turned inwardly. His concern is only for himself.
The theme of sacrificial living appears repeatedly throughout the gospel. Read Matthew 6:21,
“For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also,” also Luke 9:23, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me,”
and still yet, John 13:35,
“By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”
In short, sacrificial living is nothing more than living the second of the Lord’s great commandments,
“’Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.’” (Matthew 22-37-39)
As Jesus has taught us, every good thing in life flows from these two great commandments of heaven. As a Marine officer, my heart turned in patriotic love to my country and to our great Constitution. As a minister of the Lord, my heart turns to Jesus Christ and to His gospel of salvation. Both require a heart that turns outwardly in sacrificial living.
As you can see, the transition from Marine to minister is not as strange and peculiar as you might think.
Spiritual Director, LKG VdC
People have often asked what led me into ministry following a 21 year career as a Marine officer. Really, It is not the radical transition that many suppose.