Officer remembered for heart devoted to Christ; gave his life for the love of others he didn't know

by Gregory Tomlin |

(REUTERS/Carlo Allegri TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY)Police officers salute the hearse as they attend the funeral of slain Dallas police Sgt. Michael J. Smith in Dallas, Texas, U.S., July 14, 2016.

DALLAS (Christian Examiner) – Dallas Police Officer Michael J. Smith, or "Mike" to his family and friends, was not a "churchgoer." He was a passionate follower of Jesus Christ, the pastor of Watermark Church said during the officer's memorial service July 14.

Smith, a former U.S. Army Ranger and 28-year veteran of the Dallas police force, was among five officers killed July 7 when a gunman opened fire on police after a Black Lives Matter rally in downtown Dallas, less than two blocks away from where President John F. Kennedy was assassinated.

Pastor Todd Wagner, who knew Smith from his work as one of the church's security officers and a mentor to many of the young people there, said Smith was "a man that loved people well."

He was also among the finest of police officers, he said. He was awarded the Dallas Police Association's "Cop's Cop Award," given annually to an officer by his peers.

I'm asking you to be a police officer just like him. And when you are, it doesn't often get commended in the short run. His Leader was not commended in the short run. His Leader was scoffed at. His Leader was hated. His Leader was mocked. His Leader was called names and not recognized for who he was. And this Leader has been given the name above all names and one day, every knee will bow before his Leader and recognize him as King.
- Pastor Todd Wagner, Watermark

Wagner read several notes from members of the church, many of which mentioned the officer's winsome smile and kindness. One in particular, a letter form a young woman who attended a drug rehabilitation class at the church, said she couldn't bear to look at Smith when she first came to the meetings.

"I'm ashamed to say that I hated, I hated, I hated cops, all because of one bad experience – more my choice than theirs. Then I started going to church and met an officer there who watched out for the kids' area of the church. I never looked at him. I ignored him. I didn't want to be there. I was court ordered to be there. I never wanted to see him," the woman said.

"But I could tell even when I wasn't looking at him that this one officer was always looking at me. He patiently waited to confront me because it was probably obvious that I had bitter feelings toward men dressed like him. When he did speak to me it softened my heart and made me realize not every officer is a power-hungry jerk. He was so kind that every judgment I had was wiped clean. I just found out that he died in the shooting in the city and my heart aches. His loved changed my life and my outlook on who I thought was my enemy. I now know they are not there to ruin lives but to save them."

Wagner said people in the world generally view pastors as hypocritical, unjust and unloving – too quick to condemn. They feel the same way about police officers.

"People don't like law officers. They think they're hypocritical, unjust and they don't often feel from them love," Wagner said in the service, which was a full-on gospel presentation to the 2,500 officers in attendance.

"What I love to tell people is if you hate hypocrisy, you hate injustice and you're looking for love, Jesus is your man, because nobody hated hypocrisy more than him, nobody was committed to justice more than him, and showed what love looked like more than him," Wagner said.

But, Wagner told the officers, Jesus was misunderstood as a leader.

"I often tell young people that leadership is a commitment to being misunderstood," he said. "The problem with our country is that most of our leaders are using their power and position to maintain their power and position, but the job of great leaders is to use their power and position to serve and protect. Mike did that."

Wagner said Smith served and protected the citizens of Dallas because he was imitating Christ on the job.

"I'm proud to say Mike was my brother in Christ. I'm proud to say he protected and served, I'm proud to say he was a police officer just like you," he said.

"I'm asking you to be a police officer just like him. And when you are, it doesn't often get commended in the short run. His Leader was not commended in the short run. His Leader was scoffed at. His Leader was hated. His Leader was mocked. His Leader was called names and not recognized for who he was. And this Leader has been given the name above all names and one day, every knee will bow before his Leader and recognize him as King."

Wagner said police officers are "ministers for good," as the Apostle Paul wrote in the Book of Romans (chapter 13). They stand between evil and the vulnerable in society, he said, as he called attention to Smith's passion for his job. There was no hypocrisy in him, he said.

"I'll tell you what a hypocrite is. Some joker who says certain lives matter because they're made in the image of God and they need to be recognized and then he starts to kill others and, as our chief said, he believed he was committing a righteous act. That is a hypocrite," Wagner said to the applause of the officers who had gathered from as far away as Anchorage, Alaska, and Bangor, Maine.

Wagner then called on police officers to love as Christ loved. He loved sacrificially and even when he was opposed by others. He said he understood the difficulty the officer's faced, but those who love rush into the fight against evil.

"The only way to get rid of darkness is light. The only way to get rid of hate is love and the strong go first," Wagner said.

"I'm not surprised to know what Mike did last Thursday night when he heard those cracks of gunfire," Wagner told Smith's two daughters. "Your daddy was brave and strong. He was humble. He was here early and he left [late] ... He ran toward evil because he loved you."

If you have any concept that what God is looking for you to do is perform, get 81 commendations like Mike Smith so you might be noted as a good citizen of earth, you have missed the qualification. ... If there was good in him, if there was something to emulate, he would tell you it was because of Jesus. Any smile that he gave, any kindness that he showed, any compassion, any competency that flowed through him, he would say it was because he was seeking to honor the one who gave his life for him and he would want you to know that.
- Pastor Todd Wagner, Watermark

Wagner then shared with the officers the way in which God had loved each of them. Because of the overwhelming weight of sin and the standard of perfection God requires, he sent His Son Jesus Christ to die on the cross in a battle against sin and death.

"He made him who knew no sin to become sin for us, so that we might become the righteousness of God," Wagner said, quoting 2 Corinthians 5:21. And the gift of life in Christ is free, he said. It cannot be earned.

"If you have any concept that what God is looking for you to do is perform, get 81 commendations like Mike Smith so you might be noted as a good citizen of earth, you have missed the qualification," he said.

"I know Mike would want you to know that. If there was good in him, if there was something to emulate, he would tell you it was because of Jesus. Any smile that he gave, any kindness that he showed, any compassion, any competency that flowed through him, he would say it was because he was seeking to honor the one who gave his life for him and he would want you to know that," Wagner told the officers.

"That's what made him a good cop. That's what made him a good man. It's what ultimately will allow him to stand before the Lord and not be shaken. And is our faith in Jesus that will allow us to continue here and follow in his steps, follow in Jesus's steps, and not be shaken when the world hates good men."

"This wasn't a churchgoer. This was a Christ follower and it showed up in the way he loved people. It showed up in the way he gave his life," Wagner said.