by Tracie S. Burns
Just days ago in Panama City Beach, Florida, as the summer tourist season was beginning, an unremarkable summer evening was shattered by tragedy.
A retired lifeguard was walking along the beach with his wife and children when his wife noticed a boy struggling in the surf. She pointed out the child to her husband, then also saw the mother fighting to stay above water. Although both husband and wife saw the double red flags on the beach signaling a dangerous riptide, the man dropped his wallet out of his pocket and dove into the water toward the boy and his mother.
The boy and his mother were saved because of the efforts of this man, along with the help of a surfer who also swam out to assist. The tragedy was that the husband who so valiantly leapt into the surf to rescue the swimmers drowned that evening. He was a trained, albeit retired, lifeguard. He had been prepared to know exactly what to do when a swimmer was drowning. He knew the ins and outs of how to swim and how to survive a riptide. He had been trained to handle exactly the situation that had occurred that evening. What made the difference is that the riptide was stronger, and therefore won the fight.
On any beach, when the double red flags are posted, it is a strict and undeniable warning to swimmers to stay out of the water. It declares to everyone that there are dangerous and deadly water conditions. It is an indisputable sign that says, “STAY OUT!” In some cities and towns, it is actually illegal to get into the water when the double red flags are posted.
Even with the training and preparation, the man saw the warning signs that were present. He knew what it meant and knew the risk. The riptide did not care who he was, what his background was, or what certifications he held. It still took his life.
In the Christian life, we are always preparing and being trained. We attend church every time the doors are open. We read our Bibles and pray. We feel bolstered and confident by the strong Christians surrounding us.
Because of the constant diet of spiritual things, we can easily become complacent about our vulnerability to the devil’s riptide.
Many years ago, I was working alongside a young lady in a ministry. She grew up in a Christian home surrounded by the things of God. She felt strong and confident in her Christianity. This was not necessarily a bad thing by itself, but it was devastating because of the fact that she had a very bad habit of making it her job to try to rescue every friend who decided to quit on God. She would buddy up to the backslider in an innocent attempt to bring them back to the Lord.
There were bright, enormous double red flags of sin in the lives of each of those friends, but she would dive into the riptide in an attempt to “rescue” them anyway. The result was that she could never quite get back to shore. She would bob up for air by excelling in her spirit and in her walk with God, and I would think, “Phew, I think she’s free of that friend and will be able to grow again.” Then another friend who was unsubmissive to the things of God would show up in her life, and down she would go, back into the waves of a negative spirit, a problem with authority, and a hardened heart.
This pattern was pointed out to her by authorities, but her response was always that she had to help them to get back to God because “no one else will.” She refused to see that the devil used these friends to hinder her growth, ultimately preventing her from being fully used by God. Her Christianity looked decent to the passerby, but she was an inconsistent mess of emotions and who was constantly fighting with her own attitude and spirit.
Christian, the double red flags are there for a reason!
We must STAY OUT!
God has given strict instructions on how we are to behave around those who are living in the flesh. Psalm 1:1 says, Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful.
Now, I do not think we should mistreat those who are away from God. We should be kind and loving; however, we should protect ourselves by being separate as the Bible instructs in II Corinthians 6:17. This verse says, Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord… We can be greater influences by showing our faithfulness to those we are trying to reach rather than sacrificing our minds and spirits through fellowship. The double red flags are there, warning us of a riptide that, no matter how great our training, will drown us as well if we do not stay away from the danger.
Sin does not care whether or not we are the greatest Christians to ever have lived. It does not care if we were raised in church or if we have great Christian pedigrees. Sin shows no mercy, even to those who are every-day soulwinners, Sunday school teachers, bus route workers, or choir members. When those double red flags of bad attitudes, sinful lifestyles, authority problems, scornfulness, and lack of a love for the things of God are flying, STAY OUT! The Bible is clear—the Word of God and the Holy Spirit will do the convicting, not us.
It shows our lack of faith when we will not stand back and let the power of the Holy Spirit do what He does best: convict the sinner!
We may then ask, “What can we do when those friends or family members are caught in the riptide of sin?”
Once, a dear and wonderful friend of mine got upset at the pastor for something simple. She had been struggling with her spirit for some time, so her reason for leaving our church seemed so petty. However, she was looking for a reason to go, and an excuse finally came along. I was heartbroken. I knew she was wrong, and I even called her one morning to tell her that she needed to repair the relationship instead of quitting on God. She would not listen to me, and told me that she was looking for a new church. I knew I should pull back from my fellowship with her, but the devil was using my emotions and love of my friend to try to convince me that it would be okay to keep close ties. I was convicted because my thinking was wrong, and I knew it.
I called my mom to tell her how devastated I was and how I was having a hard time pulling back from this friend. My mom, who always had a way of sprinkling nuggets of wisdom in a casual conversation, said, “You know, Tracie, you’re struggling because you love her, but the problem is that now God is asking you to show His love instead of your love. His love is shown through us when we do what is right because we love Him back. Just stay faithful. She knows where to find you.”
Our faithfulness speaks massive volumes to those who are trying to turn away from God. In fact, I Timothy 4:12b command us, …but be thou an example of the believers, in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity. Sometimes they may get infuriated at us. We should remember that they are not upset at us but rather fighting their own conviction. We should not let that deter us from what we know to do: to show God’s love by serving Him faithfully. Yes, we most likely will have to give up that outside fellowship, but just as my mom told me, they know where to find us—in God’s house every time the doors are open.
Someone reading this right now is saying, “Yeah, yeah, so cliché!” I say, never underestimate the power of prayer! How easily we can forget such a powerful and much-quoted verse found in Jeremiah 33:3, Call unto me, and I will answer thee, and shew thee great and mighty things, which thou knowest not.
The Bible is peppered with miracles because people prayed. Growing up in church, I have heard of and have personally seen miracles because of the power of prayer! Not only can we pray the backslidden back to the Lord, but we can also grow our own faith through prayer.
There is a restaurant in town that my friend and I used to enjoy eating at together. There were two separate locations for the restaurant, and today one location is still open all of these years later. Every time I drive past that restaurant while I am out and about, I pray for my friend. I pray for her husband and her children that I have never met. I pray that God will heal her fractured heart, and that she will come back to Him. I pray for all of that bitterness to die and for her to find joy again. I pray that one day when she returns to what is right, we can be friends again. I do not know if she ever will, but I have a great, big God Who can do mighty things! I can believe in faith that my friend will return to Him. Meanwhile, I will remain faithful and pray for her because James 5:16b says, … The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.
Christian, we cannot miss seeing those double red flags that God has posted. They are posted for a reason, and we have a decision to make. Will we dive into the riptide anyway, feeling strong in all of the Christian growth we have undergone and chance a devastating tragedy? Will we follow the Word of God and STAY OUT?