I chose those courses that did not start early in the morning. It was too dark in the morning, too cold at during certain seasons, and just too early to wake up!
I also chose courses in which I knew I could perform well. I couldn’t pass up the bowling class, but from that time forward, the only classes available to someone like me were swimming courses. I had already been through the YMCA’s swimming courses in their entirety, from minnow and polliwog to shark and dolphin.
Unexpectedly, I learned some life lessons in the final swimming course I took – lifesaving.
The swim coach at our university was a short, squat man in his 50s, a little fat man who knew his subject well. He had taught us the basic rules of lifesaving, and we had practiced the moves over and over in the previous weeks. There were even moments in the course, that I thought I could not survive – moments when I literally did not know if I would make it to the side of the pool, times when I could barely hoist myself out in time before beginning to black out. The course was rigorous!
I found out how difficult this was when it came to our final evaluation (Give me an essay test any day.). On this particular day, the coach entered the water. Swimming to the deep end of the pool and treading water in the middle, he called to each student, one by one, to rescue him. When it was my turn, I was nervous. I entered the water and swam toward him. Once close enough, I reached out to save this “drowning man”…at which time he grabbed my wrist and did everything he could to save himself.
I knew he could wear me out if I didn’t break his hold. We had worked on this in class, practicing it three days a week. I checked his grabbing hand with my own grab, pivoted a foot to his torso, and pushed with all my might to force him to break his hold. So far so good, but a desperate man, facing drowning may tend to fight with his savior in order to remain above the surface, and the coach wasn’t going to make the final exam an easy one. At some point, his free hand made its way back around to grab me on the shoulder.
Taking the simulation of a panicking swimmer to its extreme, he held his head out of the water by climbing over me, sending me under the surface in the process.
I knew what to do, but this guy was stout (and much less a flotation device than he looked), and the method seemed far from instinctive. I made by body as straight and narrow as possible, took as deep a breath as possible, and shot myself and the drowning man as deep into the water as I could get. The presumably drowning swimmer released his hold, not wanting to go under with me.
Finally, I was able to grab his wrist, spin him around to face him the other direction, and reach across his broad chest to position him for a swim to safety. Sure, it sounds easy – heroic even – but it was definitely a learned process, and one that took practice and endurance.
The illustration is this:
The world is a vast ocean. In fact, the United Nations reports the world population will tilt at seven billion, tomorrow! By command and example, Christians are lifeguards in that population, so just like literal lifeguards, there are more people swimming than the number of lifeguards. We are certainly outnumbered.
We must get in the water. That’s not a comment about baptism: it is a comment about our willingness to evangelize. We must act upon the great commission in Matthew 28:19f: “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”
We must have a deep-seated compassion for those who are trying to reach the shores of safety. Someone once said, “Evangelism is one beggar telling another beggar where he found bread.” Another said, “I’m just a nobody telling everybody about Somebody who can save anybody.” Not only is the Gospel something we come to church to hear; it is something we go from church to tell.
Consider some statistics: 86% of American adults cannot define the meaning of the great commission. Seven out of ten adults have no idea what John 3:16 means. Less than a third of all adults know the meaning of the expression “the gospel”. And this is the ocean in which we swim. We must cradle the broken, the downtrodden, the sick, and the desperate, gently speaking to them words of encouragement and instruction. We must bring the drowning to the shore, hoist them out of the waters of baptism, and breathe new life into their souls. We must teach them to swim and save lives!
We must be prepared to sever relationships that will divert our attention, disorient us, and take us down with them. As Christians it is our job to keep the boat in the water, but to keep the water out of the boat. We must heed the warning about the company we keep, the places we go, and the things with which we surround ourselves.
In Matthew 10:37-39, Jesus says, “He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; and he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me. He who has found his life will lose it, and he who has lost his life for My sake will find it.” In other words, which relationship is more important – the relationship with a worldly family member or acquaintance, or my relationship with Jesus? Nothing must stand in the middle of my embrace with the Savior. Nothing!
We must be prepared to counter dangerous attacks on our faith with practiced moves of our own.
Psalm 40:9f says this: “I have proclaimed glad tidings of righteousness in the great congregation; Behold, I will not restrain my lips, O LORD, You know. I have not hidden Your righteousness within my heart; I have spoken of Your faithfulness and Your salvation; I have not concealed Your lovingkindness and Your truth from the great congregation.”
When Howard Rutledge’s plane was shot down over Vietnam, he parachuted into a little village and was immediately attacked, stripped naked, and imprisoned. For the next seven years, he endured brutal treatment. His food was little more than a bowl of rotting soup. Rats and spiders scurried around him. He was frequently cold, shackled in excruciating positions, and tortured.
He had no preacher or Sunday school teacher, no Bible, no songbook, no community of believers to guide and sustain him. The one thing Howard regretted was that he had very little Scripture to hide in his heart in the first place.
And finally, we must readily admit we also need a Great Lifesaver. Donald Vairin of Oceanside, California, told of serving as a young hospital corpsman in the invasion of Guam during World War 2. Suddenly his boat came to a grinding halt. They had hit a coral reef, and the commanding officer ordered everyone off the ship.
Donald jumped into the ocean and sank like a rock, his rifle, medical pack, canteen, and boots dragging him down. He forced himself to the surface, gasping for air, only to sink again. He tried to pull off his boots, but the effort exhausted him, and he suddenly realized he wasn’t going to make it.
Just then, he saw a man thrashing in the water next to him, and in desperation he clutched onto him. That proved enough to hold him up and get him to the reef where he was picked up by a rescue boat. But Donald felt so guilty about grabbing the drowning man to save himself that he never told anyone what had happened.
About six months later, on shore leave in San Francisco, he stopped in a restaurant. A sailor waved him over to sit with him, and as he did so he announced to his friends, “This is my buddy; he saved my life.”
“What are you talking about?” asked Donald.
“Don’t you remember,” said the man. “We were in the water together at Guam. You grabbed me. I was going down, and you held me up.”
Brothers and sisters, I want to encourage you, once again, not to drown alone, but to grab onto your Christian family. In many ways, the Bible is indeed about relationships. Sometimes we need each other.
This is what we do when we preach in worship; This is what we do when we engage our friends in conversation about Christian principles; and this is what happens when we send missionaries abroad. By teaching from the Word of God, we reach into the waters of sin and we pluck from them souls otherwise lost to Satan in the abyss. By speaking the Truth in love, we are sending a message into the burning waters of Hell – that our people are not going down without a fight.
It is not easy, and there will be times that make some of us want to quit. We might feel, at times, as if the world has sucked us into its whirlpool. It might even be easier for us to stop swimming and just go along for the ride, but that’s not really the message I read about in the Bible…and is it really the example I want to set for my children? John F. Kennedy said something like this: “We can give in, we can give out, but we won’t give up.”