Up is Down…

 

 bonanza plane crash

When I was in college, I got a hankering to learn to fly.  The cost was not out of reach back then.  I would sneak away from campus, down to the Bessemer Airport, and get an hour of instruction for $35.

Good pilots know how to focus.  I can still hear the voice of my flight instructor Tom telling me on final approach, “Airspeed! Outside! Airspeed! Outside!”  He was trying to drill into my head that when you land, keep looking at your airspeed and keep looking at your target – the runway.  You need reference points.

I was not a good pilot.  I don’t have ADHD on the ground, but I did in the air.  There were too many interesting things to see: houses, farms, other planes, roads, birds, sky – it was all so amazing.  I would be looking around at amazing sights while Tom was shooting, “Airspeed! Outside!”

Beginning pilots are VFR:  Visual Flight Rules. This means you fly only when you have space to see between the clouds and ground.  You can get an IFR rating: Instrument Flight Rules.  When you have this rating, you can fly into clouds, through fog; but you rely on your instruments to tell you where you are.

Tom explained in vivid detail what would happen if a beginning pilot like me flew into a cloud: You would get disoriented.  Unless you relied on your instruments, you would begin to think up was down and down was up.  I thought Tom was making this up, but he told me we rely more on visual references than we think.

I think all flight instructors have a book of horror stories to tell their students.  Tom proceeded to tell me about a Doctor who only had a VFR rating, but was over-confident.  He took off under marginal VFR conditions, traveling cross country.  Conditions worsened.  He got disoriented.  He flew his Bonanza straight into the ground, killing him.

When you have 10 hours of flight time under your belt, that kind of story makes a point.  During the few years I flew, I avoided marginal conditions at all costs.   Tom’s voice rang in my memory, “In the burned wreckage, they found him with the yoke pushed all the way in.  The only explanation: He thought he was headed up, when he was really headed down.”

Jesus gives us the same warning.  The most dangerous sin of all, the unforgivable sin, he said, was to believe that evil was good and good was evil.  When you are spiritually disoriented, you fly your life into destruction.

Even Christians accept this line of reasoning too often.  We believe an explosion of our temper will solve our problems.  We believe we can steal and cheat and never get caught.  We believe we can control our spouses or our children.  We believe our way is better than God’s.  We wind up flying our lives right into the ground.

The only way to stop this is to check your reference points.  “Airspeed! Outside!” can be changed to “Worship! Bible! Prayer!”  Jesus followers believe worship matters because it is a reminder of true reality, God’s reality, God’s Kingdom.  That’s why being in church to worship matters.  Bible knowledge is not just so you can win Bible Trivia; it is so you have a guide to ultimate truth.  Prayer is daily conversation with God so you can stay in touch with His reality.  What are your reference points?

When do you cross the line to the unforgivable sin?  When you no longer check your reference points.  When your heart is so disoriented you believe what is evil is good for you and what is good for you is evil.  This is what happened to Pharaoh in the Book of Exodus.  He got disoriented.  Despite overwhelming evidence, despite the advice of his own cabinet, he would not see things God’s way.  He flew his army, his nation, and his own life right into ground.

Knowing reality, knowing up from down, knowing good from evil – it’s the most important skill of life.

Are you flying up?  Or down?

Try Something New…

try something new

You need to try something new.  Your organization needs to try something new.  Your church needs to try something new?

Why?  Isn’t the old saying, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” true?

Nope.

Just because something is working in this moment is no guarantee it will work tomorrow or even the rest of the day (ask any farmer about this; he can tell you equipment breaks down at worst possible moments).

For the Jesus follower, this is critical.  Jesus always invites you to take a next step.  This means you must embrace a life that requires a focus on Jesus and a willingness to move from what is comfortable and familiar.  Jesus regularly invites you into the new.

Why do we not do something new?

We’re afraid to fail.

Failure is the last thing God’s people should fear.  God can redeem every failure of ours and make it new.  Learn from our failures – sure.  Let our failures keep us from trying something new?  Absolutely not.

It’s time to try something new in your walk with Jesus.

So if you read the Bible every day, that’s good!  But if it feels stale, then switch it up and listen to the passages of scripture instead of reading them.  Read it in a different translation.  Read a whole book through in one sitting.

If prayer feels stale, try praying in a different physical posture.  Instead of praying sitting in a chair, pray on your knees.  Pray on your knees?  Try praying standing up with your arms outstretched.  Have a familiar pattern of prayer?  Switch it up.  Confess your sins first, then ask God to meet your needs.

If the worship service you attend feels stale, sit in a different spot.  Take notes on the sermon for a change.  Maybe visit a church way outside your worship tradition.  If you are Pentecostal, go to an Episcopal Church.  Baptist?  Go to a Pentecostal church.

Your organization needs to try something new.  Re-arrange the furniture.  Offer a sale at an offbeat time.  Roll out an experimental product.  Change the meeting schedule.

I know your church needs to try something new.  Instead of Sunday night worship, try a three month experiment of having worship on Monday night.  Instead of a big Christmas musical, take the choir to the Walmart parking lot and sing carols.  Maybe your pastor needs to try something different in his preaching – like asking random people at McDonald’s what kind of sermons would interest them, then preaching those sermons.

God said through the prophet Isaiah, “Behold, I am making all things new.”

Join God in what is new.  Get uncomfortable.  Grow.  Stretch.  Fail. Learn.

Try something new.

Deep End Or Shallow End?

pool

I learned to swim in the shallow end.  Though my brothers often tried to throw me into the deep end, it is amazing how much fight you can put up when faced with imminent drowning.

My mother, of a gentler school, told me to lay flat on top of the water.  She would hold me up, while I kicked my legs and moved my arms.  One day, without me realizing it, she let go.  To paraphrase Forest Gump, “I was swimming.”  Soon, the shallow end of the pool was my kingdom.  I learned to push off from the side and zoom around the pool.  But I stayed away from the deep end.  I knew I wasn’t ready.

One day my brother Steve and my cousin Bob seized me without warning and threw me into the deep end.  I had no time to prepare, no time to fight.  I sank, but then instinct kicked in and my legs and arms began to move.  I broke the surface of the water, laughed at my brother and cousin, and swam around the deep end, frightened no more.

When people start to read the Bible, they often want to start in the deep end.  They want to know if God really made the world in six days, and if Jonah was really swallowed by a fish.  They get so busy trying to stay afloat, they miss the story.

This is God’s story in the Bible:  God made the world, we messed it up, and because of His great love, He has been working to save people from their own destruction.  That’s the shallow end.

I’m not saying you should avoid the deep end.  I am saying, make sure you build some confidence in the shallow end first.  Know the basics of the story.  Know the character of God.  Then go to the deeper stuff.

You won’t always find simple answers.  The universe isn’t a simple place and God is not a simple being.  Why does the Bible tell us stories about God’s judgment, wiping out whole nations?  Dallas Willard once said, “Hell is simply the best God can do for some people.”  Maybe the same principle applies.  Maybe destruction is simply the best God can do for some people.

It’s important not to be arrogant about our own time and culture.  We assume our culture’s values are the correct ones.  The Bible, however, is a book for all peoples, for all times.  Some teachings in scripture may not make any sense to us, but were perfectly clear in the time they were written.  They may also be clear in a culture halfway around the word has a different outlook than we do.

Any honest person has to admit there are parts of the Bible they don’t understand.  I’ve been studying the Bible as a follower of Jesus and as a pastor for a long time.  There are still stories I don’t get.  I still read some of the laborious laws in the Old Testament and ask, “What is that doing there?”

But if the Bible is truly God’s book, wouldn’t it make sense that I may not understand all of it?

If you’ve never studied the Bible, start in the shallow end.  Read the teachings of Jesus.  They will help you, whether you believe or not.  Don’t be afraid of the deep end;  God will let you know when you are ready to tackle some deeper challenges.

The main thing is: Get in the pool.  Open your Bible.  Read.  Let God speak to you.  Dive in.