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Lifeguard fired for saving a life

Dr. Jim Denison is a cultural apologist who helps people respond biblically and redemptively to the vital issues of our day. He is also the co-founder and Chief Vision Officer of the Denison Forum, a Dallas-based nonprofit that comments on current issues through a biblical lens.

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An enclosed life guard tower at Ala Moana Beach, Honolulu, Hawaii (Credit: Drums600 via

Tomas Lopez was a lifeguard on Hallendale Beach, 20 miles north of Miami.  Last Monday he saw a man struggling in the water and pulled him to shore, saving his life.  The problem was, his rescue took place in waters about 1,500 feet south of Lopez’s assigned station.  The lifeguarding firm for which Lopez worked fired him for leaving his designated zone, citing liability risks.

Now that firm has offered Lopez his job back after determining that the lifeguard did not leave his station unattended when he left to help the drowning man.  However, Lopez has declined their offer.  Nine other lifeguards have been affected as well—they either quit in solidarity or were fired for stating publicly that they would do as Lopez did.  Their status is not yet clear.

Claire Booth Luce was right: “No good deed shall go unpunished.”  If you want to make a difference in our culture, you must be willing to pay the price.  In a day when leadership is conducted only after opinion polls are consulted and success is defined by popularity, who is willing to speak the truth at any cost?  Don’t you hunger for leaders who will leave rhetoric aside and face reality as it is?

I was recently watching a Texas Rangers baseball game on television.  Between innings, a reporter interviewed a soldier who had just returned from Afghanistan.  When the fans around him heard his story, a spontaneous standing ovation broke out.  Thomas Friedman, a New York Times columnist, explains the popularity of war veterans introduced at such events: “It’s because the U.S. military embodies everything we find missing today in our hyperpartisan public life.  The military has become, as Harvard philosopher Michael Sandel once said, ‘the last repository of civic idealism and sacrifice for the sake of the common good.'”

Lifeguards risk their jobs and lives to save drowning swimmers; our military risks dismemberment and death every day.  The first Christians were equally courageous and sacrificially devoted to their King and his Kingdom.  More than a million believers died rather than deny Christ in the first three centuries of Christian history.  And God redeemed their martyrdoms by making their Church the mightiest spiritual movement in human history.

Now it’s our turn.  Every non-Christian you meet today is a swimmer drowning in a spiritual ocean.  You are called to be Jesus’ witness to them (Acts 1:8), speaking his truth and demonstrating his saving love.  A scene on a calendar depicts William Booth, founder of the Salvation Army, out on a rough sea at night in a small lifeboat.  As the waves rage, Booth reaches out his hand to pull a man from the ocean.  A small vignette in the corner shows Booth’s granddaughter asking her grandmother, “Grandma, is granddaddy trying to save that man or only shaking hands with him?”

What would your friends say you’re doing for them?