In five short seconds, my heart turned from sheer joy to absolute panic. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing.
Had I come all the way from Maryland to watch my cousin be swept away by the mighty Colorado River?
Let me begin at the beginning. In the 1980s, my extended family enjoyed vacation trips to Colorado. It all started with my grandparents, who traveled to Colorado frequently to visit friends. Soon enough, the whole clan was involved in these cross-country camping adventures, including the grandkids like me.
It wasn’t easy being an energetic kid trapped in a camper for a three-day car ride. How many millions of highway dashes on the road are there between Maryland and Colorado, anyway? Only one thing kept my young brain from melting down: the thought of rafting on the Colorado River.
One of our favorite spots for camping in Colorado was at a rustic place called Eleven Mile Canyon. While the campground had few amenities, it did have one thing going for it: It was only 20 yards from the beautiful Colorado River. Fishing, swimming, and river-rafting — this was an outdoor enthusiast’s dream come true.
One day while we were in town, we all purchased 6-foot-long, inflatable pool rafts, with the plan to raft on them by day and sleep on them at night. Laugh if you will, but every tent camper will tell you that nighttime comfort takes a powerful dose of ingenuity!
As we floated down the river the next afternoon, we were all smiles and laughs. Many people have been on the “lazy river” at a commercialized and chlorinated water park, but this was the real thing. The river’s chill was deeply refreshing, and the current was like a faithful friend doing all the pulling. For 90 minutes or more, we were having a wonderful time.
Then danger reared its head.
As we came down the home stretch, the landing point near our campsite came into view. It was important to get off at the right time, because no more than 50 yards from our finishing point was a transition to whitewater that wasn’t to be trifled with, especially by vacationers with plastic pool rafts.
One by one, our crew waded to shore, except for my youngest cousin. He thought it might be funny to ride a little further, just to see everyone’s reaction. Sure enough, just 10 feet past our safe landing point, the water started to pick up speed. Fun instantly turned to terror in my cousin’s face and his eyes grew wide. If he didn’t react soon, he would be swallowed up by churning whitewater. Immediately my aunt barked out an order that filled the whole canyon: “Get off before you can’t get off!”
Like a U.S. Marine responding to a drill sergeant’s order, my cousin jumped off his raft and began pulling for shore. The water was still so strong that he needed help making it to safety. That day he learned a valuable lesson about the immense power of moving water. Once it has a grip on you, it’s hard to break free — and if unheeded — it just might take your life.
When I think back to that day, I see a relevant spiritual application. Most of us are enjoying all the physical blessings that God provides on our life’s journey. In 2018, many — though certainly not all — Americans find themselves enriched with material blessings such as cars, homes, smartphones, and decent jobs, much of this spurred on by a recent economic upswing.
Many of us sense the warm sunshine of God’s grace shining down upon us.
But the danger always lurking around the next bend is the threat of materialism and a misplaced devotion to this world. Scripture says, “Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them. For everything in the world — the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life — comes not from the Father but from the world” (1 John 2:15-16).
The Bible speaks often about the power and pull of the world. If we aren’t careful, the secular world with its sinful lusts and corrupt values will capture our hearts and drag us away to spiritual ruin.
That is why every Christian must live with a watchful eye — careful to appreciate the material blessings God has given, while not being consumed by the love or pursuit of them. Scripture warns us that “some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs” (1 Timothy 6:10). Just as my young cousin learned that day on the river, Christians must also learn to “get off” — before being swept away by the dangerous currents of materialism and worldliness.
The Bible speaks often about the power and pull of the secular world.
I’m grateful to have made multiple trips to the Rocky Mountains as a child. While my eyes were always fascinated by the snow-covered peaks, my heart is still fixated on memories of the Colorado River. In my mind, it will always be the best and original “lazy river.” Now that I’m a father, nothing would make me happier than to take my own children to Colorado so they can make some of their own memories at Eleven Mile Canyon.
But before we enjoy any rafting — we’re going to have a long talk about that mighty river.
Pastor Ryan Day is senior pastor of Grace Baptist Church in Hazleton, Pennsylvania, where he has served for 19 years.