“He must not be a recent convert, or he may become conceited.”1 Timothy 3:6
When I was in high school, I went hiking with two friends to explore a new waterfall in the mountains of North Carolina. After scampering to the top of one, we turned to head back to our car. That is when my friend slipped and I watched her careen down the waterfall. She slipped down the falls, bumping her head all the way and sliding to a stop. When her momentum finally stopped she was laying face down in a pothole. Quickly, myself and the other friend ran to her.
Not knowing how badly she was injured, such as if she had broken her neck on the fall, I was hesitant to move her. But I also knew she would drown if I did not flip her face out of the water. So very gingerly, I tried to stablize her neck and turn her over. Thankfully, she was breathing, crying and responsive. As my other friend stayed with her, I ran barefoot three miles back to the road to get help. Arriving at the main road, I flagged down a passing car. Since this was before cell phones, they grabbed their “car phone” (Google it, kids). The phone had no service. Therefore, they had to drive 15 minutes into town to call the rescue squad.
This left me running back and forth wondering if a rescuer would ever arrive. I probably ran that trail at least four times in nervous anxiety waiting for someone to arrive. At this point in my life I was 200lbs and not an experienced trail-runner. I had to lead the team up the trail, scale a 40ft cliff around a lower fall, and take them to my friend. So when they finally got to her, I collapsed.
I praise God that she sustained no major injuries, and was actually sent home that night from the regional trauma hospital. Due to that experience, however, all of our parents decided we should take some basic EMT training if we were going to continue hiking, biking and climbing in the woods. Since that time I have been drawn to rescue and survival stories.
One thing I have learned since that time is the mantra that the most dangerous part of a rescue is the moment help arrives.
It seems counterintuitive; help has arrived. That should be the moment that everything is on the upswing. However, what happens is all the energy and adrenaline that has been coursing through the body stops. You relax. You let your guard down. Stress tightens the blood vessels, so when the rescuers arrive and the patient relaxes, the blood flow returns unrestricted. It is that first moment when we think the ordeal is over that we are in the most dangerous position.
Recently, I was listening to an interview with Jake the Snake, who made a similar claim about his experience with addiction and recovery. He said that no one ever told him that when he got out of rehab there would be a pile of bills waiting for him. He falsely assumed that a 90 day treatment center would rescue him, but the return to the normal world meant there was still work to be done. He had debts to pay, both literally with the bills, but also relationally with his ex-wife and others. He confessed that the first two times coming out of rehab and feeling the pressure and weight of these bills caused him to relapse. He let his guard down because he thought he had been rescued.
The same can be said for folks coming home from a mission trip experience or a Young Life camp. It is easy to experience God in these moments and surrender your life to Jesus. However, it is the re-entry that is dangerous. It is realizing that the Rescuer–Jesus–is not done with you yet. Just because you had a moment of surrender, you had a “Say-So” moment, or were baptized does not mean the Rescuer has finished His work. In fact, this is when the Rescuer has His most critical job. He must start assessing your health, finding the areas of pain, devising an escape route and leading you to safety.
One of Paul’s warnings to Timothy is that recent converts should not be put into places of leadership just yet. They need to be seasoned. They need their pride pricked and their egos tempered through a few missteps. They need to realize that they cannot let their guard down spiritually otherwise the devil will seek to split them apart once again.
I remember watching the rescuers lowering my friend down a 40ft cliff we had scaled. They had not expected this obstacle and so had to improvise a way over it. And as they lowered her, they asked me to help. As I stood beside my friend watching the rescue basket she was in smack into this granite wall and jar her already banged up body, I realized the rescue was not over. In fact it was not over until she was discharged from the hospital and home safely.
Jesus’s rescue of you is not over. You will continue to face bruises and bumps and mistakes. One day, however, the promise is that you will be home with Him where “He will wipe every tear from [your] eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”