Swimming Sideways

It was the summer of 1995 and my basketball team was headed to Clearwater Beach, Florida. We were nervous yet excited. We’d be playing in The World Challenge International Tournament — something that none of us had done before. I remember the competition being fierce but the downtime being epically fun. We were high school girls at the beach…life was good.

On the afternoon of July 27th, during a recess of tournament play, our coach sat the entire team down — except for Julie. Coach Sibberson began to solemnly explain to us that Julie would no longer be able to play with us. Her parents had made the trek from Ohio to Florida because Julie’s brother was, coincidentally, in a soccer tournament in Tampa the same time. So, her parents decided to make a mini-vacation out of the experience. That is, until, her father had gotten caught in an ocean rip current and tragically drowned.

As high-school girls, the depth of those words took time to settle in. Then the onslaught of questions began…

Her dad drowned? He was a strong man, how could that happen? We thought he could swim?

You see, he’d been swimming with Julie’s brother, Steve, and had gotten caught in the forceful current. As he tried to swim straight back toward the shoreline, against the current — fatigue settled in and he was quickly overtaken by the salty ocean waters.[1] That summer day forever changed Julie’s life.

According to the National Ocean Service, rip currents can move at speeds of up to eight feet per second, faster than an Olympic swimmer. It’s recorded that lifeguards rescue tens of thousands of people from rip currents in the U.S. every year, but it is estimated that hundreds of people are killed by rip currents annually. [2]

So what do you do if you’re caught in a rip current?

Do NOT fight against it! Swim parallel to the shore and swim back to land at an angle.[2]

The memory of what happened to Julie’s father that day, has made an indelible mark on my life. I have never forgotten it.

Almost 24 years to the day, this tragic event was brought to the forefront of my mind. All three of my children were playing in one of the tributary streams that cut through one of our local metroparks — when my oldest started to drift further and further away from the shale covered shore. Though the water was only 2.5-3 feet deep, the natural current began to challenge his 8 year-old body. As I surveyed the water, doing my typical headcount: “There’s Nora – check, there’s Elias – check”….but when I scanned the water for Elliott…I did not see him. As I looked further down stream, I saw that he was being pushed by the current and was now nearly 50 feet away from my reach. I cupped my hands around my mouth and immediately yelled out to him!

ELLIOTT, START SWIMMING SIDEWAYS!” He didn’t understand my instruction and began to be pushed further away.

Fear started to creep in. Angela, stay calm.

I quickly looked around for a landmark that I could help navigate him toward.

I shouted again, Elliott, turn your body and face the big tree! Start swimming toward the tree!

I could see the understanding sink in, as he turned his body and began to push through the water, heading parallel to the current.

“Yes, that’s it! You’ve got it!” I shouted to him.

As soon as he reached the landmark, he was able to continue his way back to shore. When his safety was no longer in question, I immediately let out an audible sigh of complete relief!

Thank you, Lord!

Once he was within arms reach, I quickly snatched him up in a secure embrace. After my heart had returned to a normal resting rate, I began to explain what had happened to him and why he had to swim sideways, or parallel to the current.

Thankfully, Elliott was able to hear my frantic yells that day; He was able to follow my instruction and swam sideways to make it back to safety.

I don’t like to miss the lesson in valuable moments like this.

When we try to fight the current, we become fatigued. Without any additional support, if we approach the current head-on, we will likely be overtaken.

We have to swim sideways.

Not against it…not with it…but parallel to it.

Maybe in your work or academic environment — or even socially with friends or family — you fear that if you were to “swim against the current” and speak up and speak out about your beliefs and your faith in Jesus, you’d be labeled as: a radical, a bigot, hypocritical, irrelevant, or narrow-minded.  Or, maybe, you worry about offending other people with your views so you keep silent so as not to “stir the pot” or “make waves.”  

In his book, Counter Culture, David Platt wrote,

May we not sin through silence. May we realize that not to speak is to speak. Ultimately, may it be said of us that we not only held firm to the gospel, but that we spoke clearly with the gospel to the most pressing issues of our day.

We are living in a very challenging time. The climate of our culture is growing more and more anti-christian by the day because, true Christ-followers are a threat to the darkness around us.  But, we will be of no threat if we sit quietly on the sidelines and watch the climate continue to evolve around us.  Platt challenges us even further in that, we have to, “courageously share and show our convictions through what we say and how we live, even (or especially) when those convictions contradict the popular positions of our day.

In, but not of…

If you have truly made the willful decision to allow Jesus Christ to be your personal Lord and Savior, you began a lifelong journey of sanctification.  This is the process of being set apart as sacred, consecrated, and made holyJohn 17:14-15 tells us, we are in the world — yes, physically present — but not of it.

However, this DOES NOT give us license to be ostriches and “bury our heads in the sand,” living in christian isolation.  In her Bible study, 20/20: Seen. Chosen. Sent., Christine Caine writes: 

Jesus didn’t save us to build a Christian subculture.  He didn’t save us to hide from the world, avoid the world, ignore the world, fear the world, hate the world, condemn the world, or judge the world.  He sent us into the world to love the world He created and loves so tenderly and fiercely.”

Acts 17:24 says, “The God who MADE THE WORLD AND EVERYTHING IN IT is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands.” (NIV) and John 3:16 says, “For God so LOVED THE WORLD that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (NIV) And just as God created and loved the world, He also sent His son, Jesus, into the world.  And now, through the power of the Holy Spirit, we have been equipped to “GO INTO ALL THE WORLD and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation.” (Mark 16:15, ESV) (all emphasis added)

So, how do we keep the faith, and still be attractive to the world around us?  How do we represent Christ-like living that also proves that what we believe is both true and relevant?

How do we swim sideways in the current?

We can no longer be Biblically illiterate.  We cannot rely on preachers, podcasts, or others to spoon-feed us The Word.  And while all of those vehicles for learning are wonderful — we are responsible to do what? To know the truth.  And it’s a truth that we have to personally know for ourselves — so that we can be set free. (Acts 17:11; Hebrews 2:8; 1 John 2:27; 2 Timothy 2:15)

  • Do you know why you believe what you believe?  
  • If not, why is your confidence in knowing what you believe lacking?
  • What will you commit to doing this week in order to better know and understand what you believe and why you believe it?
  1. MODEL WHAT YOU BELIEVE. (1 Corinthians 11:1

We must be an example for the world around us to follow and imitate. We cannot say with our words that we are followers of Christ and then our actions directly oppose His instructions.  We must live our lives in such a way that those who don’t believe can see that there is something we have that is good and wonderful — something different, something they’ll be curious about, something they’ll want for themselves.  Remember, your life is a letter that the world around you is reading (2 Corinthians 3:3).  

  • Who around you is “reading” you?  
  • What are they reading when they see you? Complaining? Suffering? Desire for money and the next big thing? Love? Joy? Peace? Contentment?  Gratitude? 
  • What do they see?

We always have to be ready to give a defense for what we believe and don’t shy away for an opportunity to tell others about the Lord.  However, this does not give us permission to engage in an all-out debate to win others over.  How many social media war-of-words have truly convinced others of something opposite of what they believe?  I’d wager to say — none.  

I passed a street the other day named, “Winsome Way” and I instantly remembered having read somewhere the endearing, yet impactful quip: “Be winsome to win some”.  It’s the same reminder that Peter gives us when he says, “And if you are asked about your Christian hope, always be ready to explain it.  But you must do this in a gentle and respectful way.  Keep your conscience clear.” (1 Peter 3: 15b-16a NLT, emphasis added)  We don’t have to stand outside, picketing with signs that say, “You are going to Hell!” Jesus, our perfect example, didn’t use scare tactics in His ministry, but He also didn’t “hem and haw,” fumbling His way through the truth of the Gospel message trying not to offend. He was winsome; He gently and respectfully engaged others.

  1. FIND COMMON GROUND. (1 Corinthians 9:22-23)

We must learn to approach people not as conversion projects, but as fellow human beings— made in the image of God. We are all imperfect so we need to give them the same consideration that we would appreciate and hope for ourselves.  This is where the relationship matters.  This is where you begin building a bridge between what they believe to be truth and what you know is truth.  When you find common ground, you must do it in an nonjudgemental and loving way.  

Apologist, Ravi Zacharias said it this way,

“…We must direct people so as to open them up within their own assumptions, moving them from what they know and believe to what they don’t know and what they disbelieve…Christianity is not a religion or perspective; it is God’s self-disclosure in Christ.  It is built through a relationship.”


1 Chronicles 29:15 & 1 Peter 2:11 both reference believers in the faith as being: strangers, sojourners, pilgrims, immigrants without permanent homes, temporary residents, exiles, homeless and shiftless wanderers, or resident aliens.

Billy Graham once said,

“Christians are like the gulf stream, which is in the ocean and yet not part of it. This mysterious current defies the mighty Atlantic, ignores its tides, and flows steadily upon its course. Its color is different, being a deeper blue. Its temperature is different, being warmer. Its direction is different, being from south to north. It is in the ocean, and yet it is not part of it.  So we as Christians are in the world. We come in contact with the world, and yet we retain our distinctive kingdom character and refuse to let the world press us into its mold.”

I love how he explained this idea.  The fact is, we do come in contact, but we cannot lose our distinctive, Kingdom character.  One of the biggest struggles of being a christian in the world that we now live in — is having to remind ourselves that we are foreigners.  

  • How would you describe a foreigner? 
  • How would you know someone is foreign?

So, if we are foreigners, then we need to look different from the world.  We can’t talk, act, or be like the world; we are different…or at least we should be.  

One of the greatest deceptions of our day is that we can have salvation without any change.  

Romans 12:2 says, “Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think.  Then you will know what God wants you to do, and you will know how good and pleasing and perfect his will really is.” (NLT)

There is a common misconception about christianity — That to follow Christ is to give up all your fun and desires.  I know people truly believe that in order to be a true, all-in christian one must wither up, waste away into boring shades of grey, and abstain from all things enjoyable.  But the end of Romans 12:2 says otherwise…that we will “know how good and pleasing and perfect” life with Him really is! And John 10:10 says, The Messiah came that we may have AND enjoy life, and have it in abundance — to the full, till it overflows!

That’s a promise — an outright guarantee!

But, we have to be all-in.  We cannot straddle the line between fleshly desires and the desires of God; we cannot have one foot in the world and one out. 

We CANNOT conform to this world…

We CANNOT swim WITH the current because we’ll be swept away.

We CANNOT fight AGAINST the current either because — we won’t win.

Just like my shouts to Elliott…



4 thoughts on “Swimming Sideways

  1. Very nice reading. I loved the analogy used between the story of your son swimming (side ways) and how we as believers and Christians shouldn’t be conformed to this world. Very good message.

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