Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Buzzard's Roost

Back in my high school and college days I used to do a fair amount of whitewater canoeing. First with my Dad and later with friends and the Quaker Lake Camp staff, we would head up to Virginia and canoe stretches of the New River in the shadow of the Appalachian Mountains. The water was always clear and cold and the scenery was magnificent. The river moved at a steady pace most of the time and you seldom had to do hard paddling to make good progress. And every now and then you would come upon a good rapid, providing both excitement and a chance to discover how well you and your partner could work together. There were many adventures on those trips- both in and out of the river- but the thing that comes to mind when I think about those adventures is one place, the largest rapid on that section of the New River. You know it's a good rapid when it has a name. This one had two. Some called it Molly Brown. We knew it as Buzzard's Roost.

Whitewater rapids are classified on a scale of 1-5, with 5 being the most intense and difficult to navigate. Buzzard's Roost was a 3+, making it fun for rafts and dangerous for canoes. We were always in canoes. The challenge was simple. You arrived at the rapid after coming around a big bend in the river and passing through several Class 2 rapids, so your heart was already pounding. The situation was immediately obvious. A long line of jagged rocks stretched the entire width of the river making passage in a canoe unlikely if not impossible. But upon closer inspection you could see a small opening in the ledge on the far left side, not much wider than the boat you were traveling in. That was your only opportunity to pass through Buzzard's Roost. But that was also the cause of the danger. The rock ledge was forcing copious amounts of water through that small opening at great speed and with tremendous power. It was a way through, but there was great risk. The rapid could flip your canoe. Your boat could be filled with rushing water and sink. Or the motion of the canoe could become erratic and throw one or both of you overboard. You had to hit the opening with your canoe pointed straight into it (which was not easy) or you had little chance. You had to work as a team to keep straight as you hit the heavy water flow. An then you had to fight the waves and the current to steer through the opening and past the big rocks awaiting you on the other side. It was a true test. But here's the kicker- even if you did everything right, sometimes the river still won. I probably navigated Buzzard's Roost a dozen times in my life, and I usually wound up chasing my canoe down the river. You could be perfect and still fail.

It occurs to me this morning that life on the #NarrowRoad - seeking to be the people Jesus has called us to be- is often a lot like my experiences on the New River. Much of life on the road is scenic and filled with good times and great friends. Often we wander off the path and soon discover that because of grace we survive our mistakes and continue on. But occasionally, even while still in the dead center of the #NarrowRoad, life throws rapids at us. Some we manage to navigate with no problems. Others are Class 3. And when life throws the big rapids at us sometimes- no matter how strong we feel or how faithful we are- we are capsized. The current takes us away. We feel like- we KNOW- that we did everything we were supposed to do, and yet we are floating down the river on our backs wondering what went wrong. 

The truth is that sometimes the #NarrowRoad forces us through small openings filled with turbulence because we become convinced we can navigate the road on our own. The rapids of life where we lose control and where the buzzards circle remind us that we need Jesus for a reason. God had given the children of Israel lots of opportunities to be in relationship and find their way on the path of righteousness, but they had failed over and over again. Jesus came because we cannot do it on our own! No matter how smart, how dedicated or how sure of ourselves we are, it is always possible that life is about to flip our boats. The #NarrowRoad is not narrow because of all we have to do to stay on it, it's narrow because we think we can stay on it without a guide. We humans are capable of many great things, but there are times when all of us get turned a little sideways in the big rapids of life and encounter challenges only Jesus can pull us through. We all need the occasional run through Buzzard's Roost to remind us that no matter how good we are, we can't be good enough. Not by ourselves. We need Jesus.

One more canoeing note. It is also possible to do everything right at Buzzard's Roost, come out the other side, be steering around a big rock and feeling the euphoria of success only to have your partner in the front of the boat panic as the canoe tilts to the right and basically jump out, turning the boat over on its side and tossing you out in the process. And some 35 years later they are still denying it. Other people can complicate the #NarrowRoad too. But that's a lesson for another day!

Because of Jesus,


  1. Anonymous6/23/2015

    Another great post in this series CJ. You should really consider publishing this as a book of sermons. Seriously, I look so forward to Tuesdays! ~ Chris Cooper

    1. Chris you are too kind. The first 6 months of the series have been fun. Let's see how I do in the second half and then we'll talk about a book! :)

  2. Anonymous6/23/2015

    Love 💜


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