A Tale of Two Students

c172 takeoff window

I was a young flight instructor and Vic was a retired engineer.  Not surprisingly, he was far more intelligent than my average student and a joy to work with.  He breezed through the ground school instruction.  And, he picked up the basic flight skills quickly enough.

As the time for his first solo flight approached, I began to throw a few problematic scenarios into his lessons to ensure that in the unlikely event of an unexpected crisis, he would be able to handle it safely.  While his knowledge of what to do in an emergency improved, his flying skills began to deteriorate.  In the interest of preparing him for the unlikely, he began struggling with the routine.  I finally came to the conclusion that his learning curve would never start climbing again until he proved to himself he could fly solo, safely.

We scheduled an instructional flight that was intended to finish with his first three solo takeoffs and landings while I watched from the side of the runway.  While he was not outstanding on that particular day, his skills were satisfactory.  I prepared to exit the airplane so he could complete his first solo flight.  He begged me not to get out until we had practiced some more!  However, my assurances that he was ready to solo finally prevailed.

I gave him my standard pep talk, “Just keep doing what you’ve been doing and you will be fine.”  He gave me a look bordering on panic as I opened my door and climbed out, but I smiled back and waved him off.

A pilot’s first solo flight is a big deal, for both the student and the instructor!  Thankfully I had soloed a number of students already (and everyone had survived) and I was (fairly) confident that Vic would rise to the occasion and earn his student pilot’s license with relative ease.

Everything looked normal for the first part of his first solo takeoff roll.  But without warning he swerved to the left and almost hit a runway light before correcting his mistake and becoming airborne!  He had never done anything like that before and I couldn’t imagine what had caused it!  Vic didn’t like surprises and neither did I, especially when I was on the ground and he was alone in the airplane for the very first time!

I watched him fly around the landing pattern, willing him to calm down, and praying for a miracle!  God answered my (our?) prayers as his landing was rough, but safe.  Obviously shaken, he chose not to do two more solo takeoffs and landings, as per a normal first solo flight.  What had happened?  He forgot to close his window before takeoff, so he closed it during his takeoff roll!

To my knowledge Vic never flew again; and I never soloed a student pilot again, until I saw how he responded when I popped his window open during a takeoff roll!

What’s It Worth?

Jesus writing in the dirt 

              When you think of Jesus, what picture comes to your mind?  Around Christmastime, you may see Him as a baby lying in a manger.  If it’s Easter season, you will probably picture Him suffering on a cross.  But what about the rest of the year?

              When you think of Jesus, you might picture Him as a serious Bible scholar refuting the religious hypocrites of the day.  Or it could be a portrait of Him blessing the children who were drawn to Him because of His obvious interest in them. 

              When you think of Jesus, you may see Him touching an unclean man with leprosy and forever taking away his dreaded disease.  Or you might picture Him making mud with His saliva and rubbing it on a blind man’s eyes that are about to see for the first time!

              When you think of Jesus, you may see Him feeding a multitude of many thousands with nothing more than a few pieces of bread and a couple of small fish.  Or you could picture Him calming a storm, walking on water, and even allowing Peter to do the same!

              When you think of Jesus, you may see Him cursing a fig tree, or cleansing the temple of its corruption.  Or you might see Him calling up to a short tax collector who has climbed a sycamore tree just to get a glimpse of Him.

              When you think of Jesus, you might picture Him healing Peter’s mother-in-law, paying his taxes or washing his feet.  Or you could see Him forgiving the sin of a woman caught in adultery, or replacing the ear of an enemy servant that a zealous disciple had foolishly cut off.

              When you think of Jesus, you could see Him casting out demons and sending them to the abyss.  Or you might picture Him bringing a widow’s dead son, or a ruler’s dead daughter, or a beloved dead friend back to life!  

              When you think of Jesus, all these pictures of Him have worth.  However, these pictures are black and white and not color; they are poorly focused and not sharp; they are low resolution and not high definition.  The best pictures of Jesus are the ones that predate, or follow His extremely short stay here on earth! 

              We do ourselves a significant disservice when we allow our portrait of Jesus to be framed by His brief earthly pilgrimage.  Those pictures are outdated.  Yes, He was God then, but His glory was mostly invisible to the masses.  They saw His humanity but were generally blind to His divinity.  I fear we see Jesus the same way; to our own undoing.

              Have you seen word pictures of Jesus as He is today?  If a picture is worth a thousand words, then a focused, high definition, color picture of Jesus, in all of His present majesty and glory, is worth at least a million!  More appropriately, an accurate picture of Jesus is worth our life, our all and our best! 

This Extraordinary Work

OutdoorRevival

Christianity was waning in the late 1700’s.  The growing prosperity of the American frontier was making it easy for settlers to rely on themselves and to forget God.  Thankfully, God hadn’t forgotten them!

It all started when God stirred the heart of Barton Warren Stone, pastor of Cane Ridge Presbyterian Church in northern Kentucky.  He decided to invite local pastors and congregations to participate in their annual “Sacramental Communion” event, a weekend of preaching, fellowship and worship.  Once Christians from neighboring states heard about this meeting, many people from southern Ohio and northern Tennessee also gathered there.

On the first day of the event, Friday, August 6, 1801, as thousands of Christians began to pour into this rural community amidst a downpour of rain, the Cane Ridge Revival was born.

In preparation for Sunday’s communion service, Friday and Saturday was meant to be observed with solemnity, prayer and fasting.  Yet soon large numbers of people came under conviction and began to weep, faint, and shriek as God began to revive His people.

Using wagons, fallen trees, or tree stumps as platforms, many preachers, at multiple locations within the camp would passionately speak for God to those in attendance.  It was said that people of all ages and denominations, male and female, rich and poor, whites and blacks, those for the meetings and those against them, would fall to the ground as God’s presence, and the conviction for their sin overwhelmed them.

Colonel Robert Patterson, a well-known statesman of Kentucky, described the revival this way.  “In order to give you a more just conception of it, suppose so large a congregation assembled in the woods, ministers preaching day and night; the camp illuminated with candles, on trees, at wagons, and at the tent; persons falling down, and carried out of the crowd, by those next to them, and taken to some convenient place, where prayer is made for them, some Psalm or Hymn, suitable for the occasion, sung.  If they speak, what they say is attended to, being very solemn and affecting – many are struck under such exhortations…Now suppose 20 of these groups around; some rejoicing, and great solemnity on every countenance, and you will form some imperfect idea of the extraordinary work!”

Up to twenty-five thousand people eventually attended the Cane Ridge Revival.  It continued on for many days and came to be considered the largest and most influential meeting of our nation’s Second Great Awakening.  It was estimated that as many as three thousand souls were converted in that meeting.  Accordingly, some observers came to call it “America’s Pentecost.”

Camp meetings like the Cane Ridge Revival continued on for several years.  By 1811 it was estimated that as many as one-third of all Americans attended at least one such revival meeting!

Two-hundred and some years later, Christianity is waning once again.  Most people in America are relying on themselves and have turned their backs on God.  Has God turned His back on us?  Another Great Awakening is long overdue!

A Promise

promiseOfTheDay

They were desperate.  Their funds had been depleted and their hopes for keeping the ministry alive had been dashed.  They had prayed, but God had not answered.  What were they going to do?

Not surprisingly, they were heart-broken and despondent.  So much blood, sweat and tears had been poured into this ministry through many years, and by many servants of the Lord.  Evidently God’s blessing had been snatched away from them and their work.

So they began the process of shutting down the ministry.  Nevertheless, a few painful days later, they received the glorious news that a promise had been made from thousands of miles away, that their financial needs would be met in full by a stranger!  Needless to say their weeping was replaced with rejoicing!

Though the money would take several days to reach their account, they eagerly began to make preparations to reopen the ministry.  But even before the money arrived, a word from the Lord came.  One of the ministry leaders received a soul-searching revelation he was to share with the entire ministry team.

“Brothers, God has shown me that we have committed a grievous sin.  We prayed to God to meet our needs.  But when we didn’t see Him answer, we lost our faith and our joy.  Yet, just because a person thousands of miles away, a stranger we did not know, promised us the funds we needed, we rejoiced!  We believed the promise of a stranger, and we trusted him to be faithful to his word.  But a promise is only as good as the one who makes it.”

“Now then, we have a Heavenly Father and a Good Shepherd, who we know to be totally faithful and true.  He is no stranger to us, and He has on so many occasions provided for our every need.  And though He has made so many promises to us in His Word, He has never failed to keep even the smallest one of them.”

“How it grieves the gracious heart of our faithful Savior, that we would believe in and rejoice in the promise of a stranger from thousands of miles away, and yet not trust and rejoice in Him?  Has He not promised, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you’?  Has He not proved Himself faithful countless times in that promise, ‘He who began a good work in you will be faithful to complete it’?  Surely the promises of God are infinitely more trustworthy than the promises of man!”

These leaders humbly received this word from the Lord and repented of their sins of unbelief.    Now, will this story compel me to do the same?  After all, His promises and His faithfulness always have, and always will prove worthy of regular and radical trust in Him!  A promise is as good as the One who makes it.

God’s Story Meets Ours

god-touches-adam In the beginning—God created.  He created the heavens, the earth, and life; with all their complexity, diversity, and immensity.  Lastly, He created mankind; in His image, for His purposes.

God also spoke.  He spoke to Adam and Eve, to all the patriarchs, to Moses, and to dozens of others.  Some of what God spoke was also written down.  Over thousands of years God’s words were collected, copied and preserved.  They were eventually compiled into a common volume of 66 books, the Holy Bible, God’s written Word.

God also came down.  He came down briefly on special occasions, but once He came down for over a 30 year period.  When He came down, He also came as a Man.  His Father was God and His mother was a virgin named Mary.  He was fully God and fully Man; unique and without equal.  His life was the perfect example of the life God intends all mankind to emulate.  What may have been confusing and mysterious in the written Word of God, became crystal clear in the life and works of the Son of God.

God also recreated.  For the people who came to Him on His terms, through His Son’s provision, He gave them new life, abundant life, eternal life.  They were born again; this birth was a spiritual one, one that only God Himself could bring about.  Broken people were mended, discarded people were recycled and repurposed, sinners were transformed into saints, and the hateful were recreated as helpful.

In the beginning—God also revealed.   God reveals Himself in His creation.  He spoke the universe into existence from nothing.  Surely His infinite power, wisdom, and glory have been clearly seen in what He has made.  No other god can make such a claim.

God reveals Himself in His inspiration, His God-breathed words.  No other god has such a book as our Holy Bible.  This Owner’s Manual for the human race spells out the instructions for assembling and achieving a fulfilling and everlasting life.  Without question, the Bible has had a greater impact on mankind than any other book ever written.

God reveals Himself in the incarnation, by sending His One and Only Son.  This supernatural revealing of Himself is also unprecedented among any and all other religions.  Our calendars bear witness to the significance of Christ’s first appearance.  Jesus masterfully revealed His Father’s love, grace, compassion, holiness, justice; and so much more.

God reveals Himself in His transformation of human lives.  From a deceiving Jacob to the father of the twelve tribes of Israel, from a Saul who slandered Christ to a Paul who suffered for Christ, from a farmer boy to a preacher man, God still changes lives today; by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone.

In the end—God will reveal Himself once again.  And if you haven’t met your Maker yet, you certainly will then.  Without a doubt, that meeting will be better now than later.

Is Fairness Overrated?

young pilot with tie on plane               It wasn’t fair, but I was a late bloomer.  In other words, I was an easy target for cruel remarks in my younger years.  I’ll never forget the time our high school chorus teacher asked me to sing a few lines of a song we were working on.  She (naively) pointed out to all my (snickering) peers how fascinating it was that my voice hadn’t changed yet!  Sadly, she had no clue that I would be the brunt of many cruel jokes for weeks afterward.

The ridicule from my high school basketball teammates wasn’t fair either.  As a freshman, I started out as the scrawniest kid on the team.  Taking showers in the locker room with the older guys who had gone through puberty years ahead of me often brought condescending remarks.  I figured the best tactic to avoid the insults was to sneak out of the locker room after practice without taking a shower.  Unfortunately, my well-meaning (also naive) coach quickly put a stop to that!  He wasn’t about to have anyone on his team go home with body odor!

Fast forward several years after graduating from college.  I had a wife, a son, and was a licensed, experienced, and professional pilot.  I remember picking up one of my first air taxi clients only to hear something like, “Are you sure you are old enough to fly this airplane?”  I assured him that I was and was eventually able to prove my competency to his satisfaction.  Nonetheless, his sarcasm had taken its toll.

Fast forward several years later.  The embarrassing remarks had disappeared and some encouraging ones had begun to surface.  I was pleasantly surprised to learn that my previous pain had somehow turned into a present gain!  The flip side to all those old insults was new complements.  Interestingly, neither was deserved. Once again, it wasn’t fair; I had absolutely nothing to do with this characteristic of the way God had created me.

I have a suspicion that you may have at least a characteristic (or two) that you are not happy about and that you have no control over.  Right now you may have a hard time seeing the possibility of any silver lining behind the painful clouds swirling around your life.  For mysterious reasons beyond understanding, you may face more than your fair share of circumstances that appear unfair.

Do trials, especially the ones that you have no control over, indicate God is not in control, or that He doesn’t care?  I think not.  God not only has the ability to see silver linings you can’t, He can make them a reality.  All things work together for the good of those who love God.

Trying times are a fact of life.  We can complain that they aren’t fair and feel sorry for ourselves.  Or, we can cooperate with God as He does His refining work in our lives.  Let’s have confidence in the wisdom and goodness of our Heavenly Father.  One day the silver lining will appear.

The Power Behind the Pen

signatories

We hold these truths to be self-evident…”  So began a declaration, penned by Thomas Jefferson, signed by fifty-six of our forefathers two hundred and thirty-eight years ago, that instigated the Revolutionary War and conceived a grand experiment in democracy; one nation under God, the United States of America.

 

According to the Declaration of Independence, this country was founded upon truths readily evident to all who would see them.  But these truths would prove costly to defend and uphold.  Accordingly, the signers of the Declaration of Independence acknowledged their support “with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our Sacred Honor.

 

Tradition tells us that of the fifty-six men who signed the Declaration of Independence, five were captured by the British, tried as traitors and tortured before they died.  Nine fought in the Revolutionary War and died from the wounds or hardships they incurred.  Twelve had their homes ransacked and burned.  Two lost their sons who died serving in the Revolutionary Army.  Another two had their sons captured by the British.  Freedom wasn’t free.

 

One hundred and fifty-one years ago, our 16th president, with our nation embroiled in the midst of the Civil War read from the words he had penned, “Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.”  Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address reminded us once again that truth and liberty are precious enough to preserve and protect at great cost.

 

Lincoln’s speech aptly charged our nation to ensure, “these dead shall not have died in vain.”  But, “that this nation under God, shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.” Freedom still wasn’t free.

 

One hundred and fifty-one years later our nation continues to be reminded on a regular basis that truth and liberty are tenuous to hold on to, and costly to preserve.  While we have fought many enemies since our nation’s conception, foreign and domestic, I can’t help but wonder if our greatest present risk is domestic.

 

It is self-evident that a democracy is only as good as the people who empower it.  If the majority of the people who constitute our nation have little or no commitment to the once self-evident truths, the marginalized unalienable rights we were founded upon, we are very well on a slippery slope headed to self-destruction.  Freedom still isn’t free.

 

We may need another Thomas Jefferson, or Abraham Lincoln, to powerfully articulate to our present generation an urgent call to return to our roots; the truths that our Creator has endowed us with, and that our forefathers so passionately wrote about.  While positive change won’t come easily, thankfully, the pen still has the potential to be mightier than the sword.

 

It Pays to Know

 

Finished and ready to move on to the next wheat field to harvest.

Finished harvesting one wheat field and ready to move on to the next one.

Wheat harvest was the highlight of the year for us when I was growing up on our family farm in Colorado forty years ago.  My dad, uncle, two brothers and I worked hard all year to get ready for this two work week marathon in July.  We generally hired and boarded extra harvest helpers as well.  And once the wheat became ripe enough to cut, we would start early in the morning and harvest late into the night.  When we finally got home we would wolf down a late dinner, take a quick shower and hop into bed.

Six or seven short hours later dad would wake us up to start all over again.  After a light bite for breakfast we would head out to the fields to get our combines ready for a long day of harvesting.  When we were harvesting at full strength we would be operating five combines and at least as many grain trucks.  Each one of them would have to be fueled, greased, inspected and adjusted before we could begin harvesting.  And by the time we had the equipment ready to go the dew would have evaporated and the wheat would be dry enough to start cutting once again.

Dad’s standard wheat harvest protocol expected mom to bring a hot lunch out to all of us harvesters wherever we were cutting wheat each day.  That was quite the feat for mom as there were often up to ten hungry mouths to feed!  Of course, those same ten men would expect a hot meal at the end of the day as well.  So my two sisters either helped mom with meal preparation, laundry, or even operating a combine when needed!

Harvest was finished relatively quickly if the wheat was ripe and dry enough for us to cut, our equipment had few breakdowns, and we had few thunderstorms and rain showers (which caused the wheat to be too wet to combine and store.)  Harvest could drag on for a month whenever cutting wheat had to come to a halt, for whatever reason(s).

Harvesting always had a sense of urgency due to the constant threat of severe thunderstorms.  An entire field of wheat could be destroyed by hail within minutes.  Or, a bolt of lightning could strike a field of ripened wheat and the resulting fire could easily wipe out the wheat crop and anything else in its way.  Therefore, getting the wheat out of the field and into the bins in a timely manner was paramount.

While lots of things have stayed the same over the years, some things have changed.  Now we operate two high capacity combines and we use just two semi-trucks.  One thing certainly remains the same however, wheat harvest is still the highlight of our family farm’s year!  After all, farmers work 52 weeks a year and only get paid for two of them!

Do you have some type of harvest?  What’s the highlight of your year?

The Winner Behind the Wager

blaise-pascal-happinessBorn into an upper-class French family on June 19, 1623, Blaise became one of the greatest intellectuals of his time.  He was an esteemed mathematician, physicist, writer, inventor and philosopher.   He taught himself geometry at the age of twelve and wrote a book on the geometry of cones when he was sixteen.

His concern over the long hours his tax collector father spent adding up revenues, motivated him to invent one of the first mechanical adding machines by the time he reached nineteen.   Initially called “calculators” they eventually came to be known as “Pascalines” and their technological principles were used for hundreds of years.

Possibly one of his most significant inventions was a horse carriage with multiple seats.  These carriages came to be widely used in moving people around Paris, perhaps establishing the very first form of mass transportation.

While he was renowned for his ground-breaking theories in mathematics and physics, he is also remembered for his significant contributions to philosophy and the defense of the Christian faith.  After his untimely death at the age of 39, numerous scraps of paper were found with his thoughts on the veracity of Christianity.  They were organized and published, and eventually titled, “Pensées” or “thoughts.”

This landmark book introduced “Pascal’s Wager,” a powerful philosophical argument concerning whether or not God exists.  He argued that by definition, an infinite God is beyond knowing by finite man.   Nevertheless, He either exists, or He does not exist.  Therefore, a wager must be made concerning His existence based on the potential consequences of His existence.

He argued if God does not exist, then how a person lives has no significance.  But if God does exist, then how a person lives will affect the consequences of this life, and especially the afterlife.  Accordingly, it is foolish to wager against the possibility of an eternal life of happiness, for the possibility of gaining little to nothing.

Therefore, Pascal’s Wager argues that the wisest decision a person can make is to believe in the existence of God!  This is the most reasonable wager, win or lose, because if you win, you gain all; if you lose, you lose little to nothing.   Conversely, if you wager against God’s existence, win or lose; you either win little to nothing, or you lose everything!

Pascal knew that many would struggle with a belief in God. He suggested they convince themselves of God’s existence, not by an increase in proofs of God, but by adopting a lifestyle befitting God.  He proposed this approach would often lead to a true faith in the existence of God!

Pascal’s Wager proposes that either by deliberate choice, or by neglect, every human being has already made a decision about the existence of God.  Ultimately, the way we live our lives determines how we have wagered.  So wager well.  You either have little to nothing to lose and everything to gain, or you have little to nothing to gain and everything to lose!

Fragile: Handle with Care

What I didn’t know could have killed me.  What I came to know thrilled me.  It took a scary situation to learn a tender truth.

Image           We put up lots of hay when I was growing up on a farm and ranch in Eastern Colorado.  One day my Dad and I were loading a truck with bales of hay to be taken to our feedlot.  He was operating the tractor with the front end hay loader and I was stacking the bales of hay on the back of a large farm truck.  When we finished, I was stuck on the top of the hay I had stacked on the truck.  Since it was close to 15 feet from the top of the truckload of hay to the ground, rather than climb down, Dad offered to give me a ride down with the tractor loader.

This was a common practice for us so I didn’t hesitate to grab on to the loader for the quick and easy way down from my perch high on top the truckload of hay.  Since Dad was an excellent loader operator and in a good mood, he decided to surprise me with a thrilling ride down to the ground this time.  Unfortunately Dad didn’t let me know his plans, and so he didn’t know my grip on the loader was only sufficient for a boring ride down to the ground.

I was hanging on to the loader with more than 10 feet of empty space below me when my grip gave way to Dad’s playfulness with the loader.  As I started my freefall, my short life flashed before my eyes.  I must have lost consciousness for awhile as I woke up with my Dad’s tear-stained face staring into mine.  He was gently shaking me and asking me if I was alright.  He needed to know if I thought I had any serious injuries.

Evidently I had fallen on my back and shoulders and it had knocked all the wind out of me.  I didn’t think anything was broken, but my chest muscles were really sore.  Eventually I was able to breathe normally and Dad was able to help me to my shaky feet.

Needless to say, Dad couldn’t stop apologizing.  He had so much confidence in me and my grip on that loader that he thought I would enjoy a little fun after doing so much back-breaking work.  But his good mood had been shattered by his ill-advised plan and my potentially life-threatening fall.

We both learned valuable lessons that day.  And the one thing I learned that surprised me the most, had nothing to do with putting up hay.  My Dad cared about me far more than I had realized!

We shouldn’t wait until a crisis comes along to let a loved one know how much they mean to us.  We need to do it the next chance we get!  Life is often more fragile than we realize.