Straighten up and fly right!

I once read about a pilot whose flight took him into thick clouds at night. After some time, he glanced at his instruments to see an urgent warning that he had inverted and was losing altitude. Everything felt right. So he assumed a monitor had malfunctioned — until he exited the clouds upside down and dangerously close to crashing.
 
I found the story hard to believe. How could someone not know they were upside down? So I did a quick web search on pilots and perception. Apparently the problem is real when visibility is poor. In fact, 5-10 percent of aviation accidents are attributed to “spatial disorientation.”
 
The prescribed remedy was simple: when the horizon is not in view, trust your instruments over your senses.
 

When our theology collides with reality

 
It’s the same way with our Christian walk. We can let our circumstances define our theology and end up dangerously disoriented. Or we can look to the objective truth of God’s Word as our instrument panel, anchor our faith in His character and promises, and hear the counsel of mature believers who have weathered life’s storms.
 
I know because every day, my neat, tidy theology enters the storm clouds of reality. I can feel especially loved by God when life is good. And I can feel abandoned when things get scary or confusing. 
 
It’s a common struggle and it’s why many of us return to the Psalms, as Pastor Phil reminded us in yesterday’s video clip focused on Psalm 18 and its assurance that God is our rock, fortress and deliverer. 
 
At one point while reading through the Psalms, I noticed a pair of themes that seemed to conflict. A number of Psalms pointed to God ruling “on his throne” or “in his temple.” Yet sometimes, even within the same Psalm, the writer cried out for God to “awaken” or protested “God, why are you asleep?” 
 
Similarly, there are Psalms of lament (or “complaint”) that turn on a dime into expressions of peace and praise. Either the Psalmist was on an emotional rollercoaster or something deeper was going on. Eventually, I think I started to see what was happening.
 

From clouds to clear skies

 
The author’s senses and surroundings told him that God was distant, asleep and perhaps even arbitrarily cruel. But the Psalmist didn’t let his circumstances define his theology. When he refocused on what he knew about God,  most times he was able to exit the trial into clear skies, flying right-side-up.
 
These are uncertain days and it’s easy for our theology to be shaped by what our senses take in, whether it’s sickness (or threats of sickness), news stories or interruptions to our comfort and routines. But like a dangerously overconfident pilot in the clouds, we can’t always trust our senses.
 
When we find our thoughts at odds with what we know about God, or when we feel our faith crowded out by fear and discouragement, it’s time to go straight to Scripture, solid teaching and wise counsel from seasoned “air traffic controllers” who have guided many a plane to safety. Those are the instruments that promise to align our subjective experience with the objective truth.
 
We can also recognize our mutual obligations and privileges as the Body of Christ. We can be aware of how others are responding to the times. If we spot a brother or sister “flying upside down,” fearful they’ve lost sight of the horizon or judging God based on circumstances, we should be a voice of reorientation and encouragement.
 
We also have the opportunity to let our confidence be a witness to a watching world. We can show where our security lies, without being pridefully oblivious to real threats. And we can be honest about our questions and fears without succumbing to panic or despair.
 

Our challenge to be the church

 
Our challenge is to balance precautions and obedience to authorities with our God-given charge to “be the church” in all seasons. This will certainly take discernment and we may stumble at times. But God is in control and he will provide all we need to avoid “spatial disorientation” and ultimately soar out of the clouds into clear skies.   
 
Addendum
 
I read a blog a few days ago that referenced a Christian “media consumption pyramid” similar to the food pyramid some of us might remember from our school days. The base of the food pyramid illustrated that the bulk of our diet should consist of fruits and vegetables. The next levels contained lean meats and grains. At the very top were sweets and fats — things we should consume in the smallest quantity.
 
The media consumption pyramid understandably had Scripture at the base, followed by good books and what we take in by our senses in nature (not traditional “media” but a great recommendation). At the very top were news stories and social media content.  I immediately realized that the current season of worldwide anxiety had lured me into a cycle of mass media consumption followed by the need for Scriptural realignment.  
 
I don’t think God values ignorance, and hiding from reality is no solution to turbulent times. But I wondered if God wanted more from me in this season than white-knuckled clinging to promises. It wasn’t the holding onto promises that was bad. It was the arrested forward progress. So I am grateful for Holy Week coming up and the opportunity to focus on Supreme Sacrifice and Resurrection.
 
And I’m particularly challenged to use this season — where so much is on pause — to cultivate better habits of Scripture intake, meditation and application. These are things that actually take root best in quiet, solitude (i.e. social distancing) and a break in the typical urgencies of life. They are also things that prepare me, and all of us, for healthy congregational life once these times pass and we’re back together again in the regular rhythms of the church. 
 
So let’s all be comforted, be challenged and be blessed!
 
– Brian

3 Responses to “Straighten up and fly right!”

  1. Vina Kaczmarczyk says:

    Thank you for a wonderful add on to Phil’s devotional. So much to ponder, especially during this upcoming Holy Week.

  2. Philip Sears says:

    Excellent!! Praise the Lord!!

  3. Chauntelle says:

    Thank you for this reminder. I posted it to my page so others may read it too.

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