Offer Them Christ
The Weblog Of J.F. Howard

Refocusing On The Methodist Message

           Just this week I was reminded of the importance of focusing on the important things of life.

            Our family was on vacation and decided to do something we had never done before…go whitewater rafting in the North Carolina mountains.

            We lived in and around the mountains of Western North Carolina for ten years, but never went rafting. We figured now was the time.

            We found an outfitting company that would take us to a place on the Nantahala River where we could whitewater raft for an 8.5 mile trip. We decided to go unguided, not because we knew what we were doing, but because we were too cheap to pay the additional $50 for the guide to be in the boat with us.

            As we put in to the river we noticed that the paddles we were given had written on them: “$2 reward.” That made sense. They told us to hang on to those paddles because it was easy to lose them. I made a mental note to keep up with my paddle.

            We put the raft into the river, got in, and set out on the very cold Nantahala River.

            We had a great time! For nearly 2 hours we floated, spun, bounced, and paddled our way down the Nantahala.      It was a wonderful adventure. For the most part we figured out what we were doing. A couple of times we got the boat stuck on the rocks. A few times we bounced off the bank. Now and then we went through the rapids sideways and backwards. But we managed to navigate our way successfully.

            Just before we reached our destination I saw one of those paddles in the water and no one around. I hollered over my shoulder to our son Graham who was in the very back of the boat, “Grab that paddle in the water.” I thought about that $2 reward!

            Just then we hit a hard rapid. I looked over my shoulder in time to see Graham reach for the paddle, bounce from the force of the rapid, and fall out of the boat, face first into the water and the rocks.

            By the time we got the raft stopped, we were several hundred yards down the river. Graham finally caught up with us and got in the boat, unhurt.

            I asked him, “Did you get the paddle?” He said he had been fortunate to hold on to his own paddle in the current, let alone pick up someone else’s.

            Just a few hundred yards later we arrived at the place for us to take the boat out of the water. As we did I thought about how fortunate Graham had been to avoid injury and how thankful I was that he was OK (and that he would have an exciting story to tell all his friends). Then I thought about how insignificant that $2 paddle was that he was trying to retrieve. The incident reminded me: some things are important (like your children and their health), some things are not important (like retrieving a $2 boat paddle). Focus on the important things of life!

            Later on as we took the van back to where we started our journey I thought about how easy it is for Methodists in particular, and Christians in general, to get off message. We can become distracted from our main purpose and get out of focus.

            Years ago, John Wesley said to his preachers:

You have nothing to do but to save souls. Therefore spend and be spent in this work…It is not your business to preach so many times, and to take care of this or that society; but to save as many souls as you can…” {John Wesley, Minutes Of Several Conversations…at a Conference Begun in Baltimore…in the year 1784}.

            Now that’s focus! It was that focused message and ministry that made the early Methodists such a powerful force in both England and America.

            I wonder what would happen if the church today would refocus on that message?

            Years ago, the Apostle Paul heard that the church in Corinth was experiencing division and conflict. They had split into opposing sides behind different church leaders, including Paul himself. Paul wrote the church and told them:

14 I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius, 15 lest anyone should say that I had baptized in my own name. 16 Yes, I also baptized the household of Stephanas. Besides, I do not know whether I baptized any other.

17 For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel, not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of no effect.

{1 Corinthians 1:14-17}

            Paul knew the power that comes with focus. He proclaimed that he was sent to “preach the gospel” so that the “cross of Christ” should not lose its effectiveness.

            Paul also saw this focused message of the “cross of Christ” as the solution to the division in the church. When the church is united around the cross, other differences lose their importance.

            I pray that I will see the United Methodist Church regain our focus on the important, life changing message of the cross of Jesus Christ, and its power to save souls.

            What would our lives be like, and our churches be like today, if we really lived as though we had “nothing to do but save souls?”

            As we rode in the van back to the outfitters I looked out at the river and saw a raft floating down the river by itself, with no people or paddles in it. I wondered to myself, “Did they lose focus on the important things?”





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