Thursday’s Column: Carlnormous Comments
While many today have no idea who Jesse Roper Mohorovic is, he was a celebrity from the moment of his birth on March 30, 1942, off Cape Hatteras, North Carolina. The United States had entered World War II only a few months before, and German U-Boats “prowled the Atlantic sea lanes, and the waters off the Virginia-Carolina coast were ‘the most dangerous on earth'” (C. Brian Kelly, Military History, 9/05, 74). In fact, the Germans killed twice as many seamen in their U-boat campaign off the east coast than died at Pearl Harbor.
Jesse’s mother, Desanka, was 8 1/2 months pregnant, traveling on a passenger freighter that was torpedoed. She faced peril after peril, from getting out of her cabin to the harrowing escape in a lifeboat to an overnight storm. In the middle of all of it, the freighter sunk and her doctor injured in their dramatic escape, she gave birth in Lifeboat #4 to a baby boy at 2:30 A.M. Two days later, they were rescued by the Navy destroyer Jesse Roper.
The media covered many of the early milestones of his life, and even documented his interests and favorite baseball team. He later appeared on the TV shows To Tell The Truth and I’ve Got A Secret. He earned a law degree, served in the Navy, and had a career in marketing. He died of lung cancer about two years after his 2003 retirement (via JOC.com).
It is no wonder that “The Lifeboat Baby” would become such a sensation, especially given the real drama behind his birth. Perhaps he would have been part of anonymous tragedy if he and his mother had been among the 5000 who perished, but his birth and life became a symbol of hope and victory. Indeed, “Newspapers heralded Jesse as living proof the Allies could not be defeated” (Kelly).
We live in increasingly grim times. Our current battle is spiritual in nature, as sin and immorality seem to have the upper hand. Souls are perishing in infinitely greater numbers (cf. Mat. 7:13-14). While we cannot save them all, we need to be in search of those we can reach with the gospel. We must muster greater courage to share the good news and help those searching reach safety. They need to know there is hope and victory possible, and that Christ will ultimately win (1 John 5:4-5; 1 Cor. 15:24-25). These babes in Christ are unlikely to capture the attention of the media, but each of them have the rapt attention of heaven. God is counting on you and me helping to deliver them, regardless of how stormy things may be. Each individual matters to God. How wonderful that we might partner with God and His Word, and help a soul be one whose name is written in the Lamb’s Book of Life (Rev. 21:27)!
Ray Wallace, a great preacher friend of mine in Bayfield, Colorado, sent me an article about an incredible, heartwarming rescue. It happened late at night in Fresno, California, in 1971. Rick Freund was driving home when he saw a house going up in flames. Outside the house were three little girls and their mother, who was desperately crying for her baby trapped inside his bedroom. Firefighters had not arrived, so the slender, 24-year-old Freund was hoisted into the window, where he found the infant smiling in his crib. He rescued the baby, then simply walked away. Just minutes after the rescue, fire collapsed the ceiling and destroyed the bedroom. Little did he know that the family he helped would track him down 46 years later. The baby boy he saved, Bobby Magee, grew up hearing about this daring rescue and because of that has devoted his life to saving others. Now 47 and the father of three, Bobby has saved hundreds of lives by organizing a large blood drive over the last 18 years. Freund and Magee kindled a friendship built upon an incredible bond. Incidentally, Freund has also rescued a choking stranger by performing the Heimlich maneuver. On yet another occasion, he administered CPR on an elderly woman who had a heart attack at a funeral (Carmen George, The Fresno Bee, 2/5/18).
In the early 1990s, one of my elders in Mechanicsville, Virginia, Russell Young, studied with and baptized a man named Tom. Tom would influence his ex-wife, ex-daughter-in-law, future wife, and daughter, Debbie, to obey the gospel. Debbie would help convert several of her co-workers, including Shannon. Shannon and her husband, Michael, obeyed the gospel the same night. Shannon and Michael have gone on to go on several mission trips. Only eternity will tell how many souls have been saved through those. Who knows how many of those converted in these mission fields have reached others and how many have been reached? That is just one case I personally know about. Many people can share similar stories of dramatic rescue! It is a modern demonstration of 2 Timothy 2:2.
As we go about our daily business, God has us here on a rescue mission. We can never know, when we care enough to share Christ with a lost soul, where it will end. The person may seem humble and ordinary, but they may influence many more to be saved. And those saved ones may save many more. It’s truly exciting to think about this wonderful chain of rescued souls standing on the Lord’s right side at the Judgment! Let’s be heroes of the highest kind! A saved life may save hundreds more!
Heather Christensen, a 33 year old music teacher from Spanish Fork, Utah, contributed the ultimate sacrifice on behalf of dozens of band students on October 10, 2009. The bus driver, bringing back the band competition winners from Idaho State University, slumped over in his seat and Christensen left her seat and grabbed the steering wheel in an attempt to keep the bus from crashing. While there were still several injuries, there was only one fatality. The 44 students on board were treated but released from the hospital. The 50 year old driver also survived. Only Christensen, partially ejected in the bus’ rollover, died.
It melted the hearts of an entire community that Heather was willing to lose her life in an attempt to save and rescue everyone on the bus. A gymnasium full of people at American Fork High School honored her at a Sunday night vigil. She was hailed as a true heroine.
The future of 45 people was dramatically changed by Heather’s decision to act. The obvious reaction of these students’ friends and family was to honor her sacrifice. It would be shameful to ignore it!
Jesus Christ deliberately decided, from eternity, to die on a cross in an attempt to save all mankind. His was a completely selfless act, requiring Him to take the place not of one but of all. Tragically, the majority of humanity for whom He offered Himself ignore His sacrifice. It does not move or touch them, and it certainly does not motivate them to do what they should do. Yet, for those of us who have obeyed the gospel and are Christians, we come together–not once–but once every week to commemorate His sacrifice. Each day we live, we live mindful of what He did in our place and for our sins. May our hearts stay soft to this supreme act of heroism!
343 on 9/11/2001 in New York City. 86 in 1910 across Washington, Idaho and Montana. 29 in 1933 in Los Angeles. 27 in April, 1947, in Texas City, Texas. 21 on December 22, 1910, in Chicago. 19 on June 30, 2013, near Yarnell, Arizona (Firefighter Tragedies). Those are the deadliest incidents for firefighters in American history, in number of fatalities. Firefighting is deadly, if heroic, business. Those answering the call know that each response, however simple or innocuous it may seem, masks many dangers. Firefighting is hazardous business.
The same is certainly true in the firefighting business Jesus calls us to perform. The Bible clearly indicates that the fire prepared for the devil and his angels will be eternally shared by those who know not God and do not obey His gospel (Mat. 25:41ff; 2 Th. 1:8-9). As Christians, then, we are God’s firefighters (Jude 23). We should do this job out of a sincere concern and love for souls and a desire to be working for and serving the One who rescued us from so great a death (2 Co. 1:10). But, by stepping into that arena, we should realize the risks and dangers involved.
Let us be aware of the risks we take in reaching out to those who are in spiritual danger, but let us be eager to respond to the need. Despite the ever-present risks firefighters take, they still are faithful and dedicated to the job. God needs us on the front line, too. May we simply factor in the perils of firefighting, then do it!
In Romans 8:26, speaking of the work of the Holy Spirit, Paul writes, “ In the same way the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.” The Holy Spirit “helps,” lending “a hand together with, at the same time with one” (AT Robertson) and coming to the aid of one (Bauer). This is said in connection with the Christian’s prayer life. It is an acknowledgement that sometimes we need the help of God’s Spirit in particularly agonizing times, times where words like “weakness” and “groanings” describe the struggles in prayer.
In the same passage, Paul says the Spirit “intercedes,” a picturesque word of rescue by one who ‘happens’ on one who is in trouble and ‘in his behalf’ pleads with ‘unuttered groanings’ or with ‘sighs that baffle words’” (Reinecker 367). What graphic imagery! When I am in real trouble, no one can help me like God can. Sometimes, only God can help me when I am in trouble. Paul teaches that there is no depth of struggle or trial in prayer too complex or incomprehensible for the omniscient God. As the Psalmist once wrote, “Out of the depths I have cried to You, O Lord. Lord, hear my voice! Let Your ears be attentive to the voice of my supplications” (Ps. 130:1). Paul is saying, “The Lord does hear and is attentive not only to my voice, but even to the unspoken, unutterable fears, desires, and longings in my heart that cannot be formed into words on my lips when I pray.
Our God is a God of rescue (Ps. 18:19; 116:8; 136:24). He has rescued man in dramatic ways, from the Red Sea crossing to Jericho to Gideon’s tiny army to Calvary’s cross. He has demonstrated that He wants to help us and will freely extend Himself to do so. But, He wants us to reach out to Him and appeal for help. Even when the words will not exactly come to us, He knows the intent and desire and He looks with an eye toward aiding His children (1 Pet. 3:12). Do not only come to Him when in trouble, but do come to Him when in trouble. You do not have trouble too big for Him to come along and rescue you from it.
You may have heard that I was caught in a rip tide during Carl’s senior trip. We were at St. Pete’s Beach in the Tampa-area, swimming and playing in the water not far from a fishing pier. Somehow, I was pulled into a riptide and quickly pulled out toward the Gulf. The shore quickly grew distant and my subpar swimming abilities were tellingly useless. A couple of fishermen told me I was caught in it and my best hope was to try and move parallel to the waves and angle for a point about a half-mile up from where I was. That was a painfully slow process, and the water kept taking me where it wished. I was on the other side of the pier, moving generally toward that point but still in the grips of the tide, when Dale swam out and helped pull me out of the current until I could finally get to shallower water and make my way back onto the beach. At the risk of sounding melodramatic, I believe Dale saved my life.
Only after this did I learn that, according to the CDC, there was an annual average of 3,536 fatal, unintentional drownings in the United States from 2005 to 2014. That’s about ten deaths per day. Nearly 80% of all people who die from drowning are male. A lack of swimming ability is the greatest risk factor in drowning, and 57% of all people, age 15 and over, who drown do so in “natural water settings” (like the ocean)(cdc.gov). I also was reminded, from the Pandora playlist Dale piped through our van’s sound system, that he has an interesting sense of humor—playing “Under the Sea,” “The Ocean,” “High Tide, Low Tide,” “In Too Deep,” “Riptide,” “Drowing,” and “How To Save A Life” (plus a bunch more).
But I also have a different perspective toward some of the songs in our songbook:
As I look back, the currents were strong but the force was subtle. It did not take long for me to be moved away from the shore and taken away. Making the right efforts played a part in my staying afloat. Ultimately, however, I needed outside help to come back to shore.
The writer of Hebrews says, “For this reason we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away from it” (2:1). A.T. Robertson says of the word “drift”: “Here the metaphor is that ‘of being swept along past the sure anchorage which is within reach’ (Westcott), a vivid picture of peril for all” (342). BDAG says it is an imagery of flowing water and means “be washed away” or “drift away” (770). The Greek Old Testament uses the word in Proverbs 3:21, where Solomon urges his son to not let wisdom “vanish from [his] sight.” The epistle’s nautical metaphor pictures vividly what can happen in our spiritual lives. We can lose sight of where we are, and we may begin to struggle and start to succumb to the pull of the current. We must continue to make the effort to pull away and we should accept the attempts of those who seek to rescue us.
Spiritually, none of us want to become a casualty. We do not want to perish. May we realize that falling away from God is not usually sudden or dramatic. It is often subtle and gradual. Let’s pay much closer attention to what we have heard! It’s our lifeline.
In an interview given at her home, Ann Rodgers appears a bit eccentric but a wonder to behold. The 72-year-old woman survived 9 days in an Arizona desert by eating plants and drinking pond water. She was driving to Phoenix via a remote stretch of back country road on the White River Indian Reservation when she got lost and subsequently ran out of gas. Thus began a series of efforts, building signal fires to draw the attention of rescuers or the forest service. She got lost while climbing a series of ridges trying to get cell signal. She and her dog faced gloomy odds, but she kept trying. She went missing on March 31st. On April 3rd, she used sticks and rocks to spell out “help.” To further draw attention to it, she found an antelope skull nearby and placed it with her message (via nbcnews.com). Since moving out west, I have learned that people frequently get lost in the vast stretches of deserts and mountains. I cannot find statistics for how many people get lost or how many are found alive or dead in the United States, but each incident is obviously traumatic for those involved. Can’t you imagine how desperately and completely those who realize their lostness long to be saved?
Wherever you go today, the vast majority of the people you encounter are going to be wandering through this world lost in the most profound way. Without rescue, they are heading for a fate infinitely worse than physical death. “Lost” is the way Jesus, the Good Shepherd, describes those not right with God. While He uses the word that way in three of the four gospels (Mat. 10:6; 18:11; Luke 19:10; John 18:9), it is the parables of Luke 15 that most vividly speak in these terms. The first parable, that of the lost sheep, draws on the search and rescue metaphor (Luke 15:4). That’s how Jesus likens the situation with one outside of God’s redemption.
Be watching for signs from the lost. They often send signals, if we are looking in the right places. Whether personal problems, major life changes (like marriage or having children), those new to the area, or those demonstrating an open mind, they may be just like the Ethiopian Eunuch and hoping for someone to guide them (Acts 8:30-31). Jesus has us here to conduct search and rescue missions. May we have our eyes peeled and keep ourselves equipped to rescue the lost. They are out there everywhere.
The hope of finding survivors on the cargo ship El Faro has severely dwindled, as one of two lifeboats, severely damaged, has been discovered as well as one body. While the other lifeboat from the ship, with a capacity for 43 persons, has not been found in the ocean waters off the Bahamas, the 735 foot long ship sent a distress signal Thursday from near the eye of Hurricane Joaquin as it battled 20-30 foot waves. The Coast Guard is hopeful, but the realistic expectation is that this will soon be a recovery rather than rescue mission (info from cbsnews.com and reuters.com). Out of all the frightening ways to face death, being lost at sea has to be near the top. There’s the foreboding strength of battering waves, the immense, liquid darkness of the deep, the mystery of what lies beneath the surface, the horrific experience of drowning, and the overall helplessness in the face of a fierce overwhelming force. Since maritime history goes back for millennia, people both ancient and modern have faced the terrors of shipwreck. Dating at least as far back as the ship found off Dokos, Greece, dating back to 2700-2200 B.C. carrying a cargo of pottery (read more at http://www.mhargolid.nl/data/webb1992.pdf), mankind has experienced the sinking of ships.
No wonder New Testament writers seize on this common situation of life. Luke records (Acts 27:14) and Paul looks back on (2 Cor. 11:25) literal shipwrecks the apostle survived. How fitting that he is the one who describes those who lose their faith as those who have “suffered shipwreck” (1 Tim. 1:19). Preventing shipwreck, according to Paul, necessitates.
We had the feeling of finality of those lost at sea. Thankfully, as long as one lives, he or she can be recovered from spiritual shipwreck. But, they must come back from such depths and take hold of God’s life preserver, His Son Jesus Christ! Let us do our part to rescue the perishing, snatching them with pity from sin and the grave (2 Pet. 3:9).
The leading local story today has to do with how police and fire responded to the Aurora theatre shooting in the summer of 2012, a horrific crime that left 12 dead and most of the other theatre patrons injured to one degree or another. Those tasked with evaluating the response use words like “chaotic” and uncoordinated to describe what emergency responders did in the face of the incredibly unusual and tragic scene. It is hard to imagine how one would prepare for something so unprecedented and it is much easier to make such evaluations in hindsight, but all seem agreed about the need to work together more efficiently when faced with life or death situations.
There is no greater life or death situation than concerns the spiritual state of even a single soul. Whether we are talking about bringing a lost soul to Christ, helping a discouraged or offended brother or sister, or retrieving a Christian who has fallen away, it requires a coordinated response! Many people are needed to work together to help a person in his or her relationship to God. Paul urges, “Therefore encourage one another and build up one another…” (1 Th. 5:11). He also writes, “Bear one another’s burden” (Gal. 6:2a).
When we are faced with the challenge of reaching a lost soul, think of all the coordination needed. There is the friend or family member trying to reach them, but who else? What about the one(s) trying to study with them, not to mention members who need to reach out to them by befriending them, make them feel welcome, have them into their homes, and introduce them to other Christians?
When someone is struggling, it requires many people calling and reaching out, visiting, and doing what can be done to show them love and concern. When someone has fallen away, it takes more than the preacher or an elder to do that “heavy lifting.” Anyone who knows them and can influence them should coordinate with all others to rescue the perishing one!
Twelve lives ended that fateful night in Aurora. It has been determined that emergency responders were not responsible for a single person being lost, a fact that has to provide them with solace and validation. When we stand before Christ, each of us wants to do our part so that we can say no one was lost due to our neglect or lack of response.