Wineskins Archive

January 22, 2014

Learning Rules and Feeling Needs (Jul – Aug 1993)

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by Mike Cope
July – August, 1993

As Barney Fife might have put it, we had only two hard-and-fast rules in our family when we went to Table Rock Lake:
Rule # 1 – “Obey all rules.”
Rule # 2 – “Everyone wears a life jacket or ski vest while swimming until they have passed a class in lifesaving.”

So that was my goal from my earliest memories: to be a bona fide, card-carrying lifesaver. Fuel was thrown on the fire of this passion by my favorite song at church:

Throw out the lifeline across the dark wave;
There is a brother whom someone should save;
Somebody’s brother! O who then will dare
To throw out the lifeline, his peril to share?

It was a fun song, a mental escape from church, transporting me back to the dock I loved in a Table Rock cove. Only later did the evangelistic point of the song’s metaphor sink in.

Throw out the lifeline to danger-fraught men,
Sinking in anguish where you’ve never been;
Winds of temptation and billows of woe
Will soon hurl them out where the dark waters flow.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful to be able to save someone’s life in the water, I mused. Fortunately I never had to exercise my expertise. Only once did I even get close. While I was certifying to scuba dive, a young woman in the class hit the panic button in seven feet of water. She was quickly in trouble, bobbing under the surface, losing the skills to breathe as panic victims often do. So I reached over and popped off her weight belt. Immediately her buoyancy kept her afloat. With her diving gear on in this shallow calm spot, she couldn’t have drowned if she’d wanted to.

My actions were pretty unspectacular. There was no purple-heart courage or Red-Cross skills involved. I just did what anyone would do; unbuckle a belt.

My fascination with water and lifesaving has made me a student of the Titanic. And there’s a part of the story that still puzzles me.

In Walter Lord’s book The Night Lives On he interviews one of the survivors, Eva Hart, who recalls: “I saw all the horror of its sinking, and I heard, even more dreadful, the cries of drowning people.” And yet many who listened to those cries didn’t respond! Of the 10 lifeboats launched in those wee morning hours on April 15, 1912 while the unsinkable ship took its final bow, most of them were only partially filled.

Only lifeboat # 14 rowed back, darting after a few more pleading calls. The others feared being swamped by extra survivors. How could lifeboats not save lives? My old favorite implied the same question:

Soon will the season of rescue be o’er,
Soon will they drift to eternity’s shore;
Haste then, my brother, no time for delay.
But throw out the lifeline and save them today.

This question must be asked by Christians. How could people delivered from the depths of sin not help rescue others? Don’t they care? Do they think they’re under-qualified? Is it not their gift? Aren’t they thankful to the one who plucked them out of the icy seas?

Our need in Churches of Christ isn’t another big guilt trip. We tried that a few years ago and it didn’t work. (Guilt usually doesn’t!) Our need is for greater memory: to recall and relive the saving experience we’ve had in Christ. Our need is for deeper faith: to reencounter the Son of God who has delivered us again and again. And our need is gratitude: to share the good news with lost people, not to win us bonus points with God but to express our deep thanks for his election in Jesus Christ.Wineskins Magazine

Mike CopeMike is the preaching minister for the Highland Church of Christ in Abilene, Texas. He and his wife Diane have two sons, Matt and Chris; their daughter Megan perished at age nine. Chris survived an automobile accident, with serious injuries, in 2004. Mike has written a number of books, teaches Bible at Abilene Christian University, and is a frequent speaker and guest lecturer. [Mike Cope’s Blog]


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