On Jan­u­ary 15, 2009, US Air­ways Flight 1549, an Air­bus A320 pilot­ed by Cap­tain Ches­ley B. Sul­ly” Sul­len­berg­er, made an unpow­ered emer­gency water land­ing in the Hud­son Riv­er after mul­ti­ple bird strikes caused both jet engines to fail. All one hun­dred and fifty-five pas­sen­gers and crew suc­cess­ful­ly evac­u­at­ed from the par­tial­ly sub­merged air­frame as it slow­ly sank into the riv­er; they were res­cued by near­by water­craft. Sev­er­al pas­sen­gers suf­fered injuries, but only one required hos­pi­tal­iza­tion overnight. The media labeled the inci­dent the Mir­a­cle on the Hud­son.” But Sully’s col­leagues knew that it was any­thing but a mir­a­cle. It was Sully’s twen­ty-nine years of expe­ri­ence in flight sim­u­la­tors and in the air that account­ed for his quick reac­tion under stress. Accord­ing­ly, they award­ed him the cov­et­ed Master’s Medal of the Guild of Air Pilots and Air Navigators.

In 1981 Microsoft released its first flight sim­u­la­tor soft­ware. It fea­tured real-world scenery and offered play­ers the oppor­tu­ni­ty to select the kind of air­plane they wished to pilot (any­thing from a prop plane to a Lear­jet). Play­ers could choose any of 180 air­ports around the coun­try from which they wished to depart or attempt to land (I say attempt,” because only after many hours of prac­tice could a play­er avoid crash­ing the plane and land safely). 

The soft­ware was all very real­is­tic. You could crash into the Empire State Build­ing in New York City, the Space Nee­dle in Seat­tle, the Sears Tow­er in Chica­go, or Pike’s Peak in Col­orado Springs. Your plane could break apart in midair or break the sound bar­ri­er over Dal­las. You could nose-dive into Lake Michi­gan going five hun­dred miles an hour. You could bury the nose of your plane in the tar­mac attempt­ing a land­ing in a thun­der storm. 

But the great­est thing about Flight Sim­u­la­tor,” Len Kagel­er explains, is that the game always restores you. No mat­ter what hap­pens, you can start all over again. When­ev­er you crash and burn, fall apart, or splash into the ocean, the game always puts you back togeth­er and places you back on the run­way ready to try again. 

I imag­ine that this is what God had in mind when He estab­lished the church as an out­post of His king­dom. God’s intent was that the church be a train­ing facil­i­ty — a kind of flight simulator. 

Think about it. The church is a place where we prac­tice tak­ing off and land­ing safe­ly. A place where we learn how to respond to sud­den tur­bu­lence, and prac­tice fly­ing by instru­ment when vis­i­bil­i­ty is low. We are care­ful to keep the learn­ing envi­ron­ment free of con­dem­na­tion and full of good humor, because every­one knows that it takes time to become pro­fi­cient. And nobody gets it right the first time — or the first five hun­dred times. 

Flight instruc­tion is pro­vid­ed by the Holy Spir­it in the form of spir­i­tu­al gifts. Each of us is giv­en a spir­i­tu­al com­pe­ten­cy to offer the oth­ers so that togeth­er we have all we need to mas­ter a whole new set of skills. 

Let the mes­sage about Christ, in all its rich­ness, fill your lives. Teach and coun­sel each oth­er with all the wis­dom He gives. …And what­ev­er you do or say, do it as a rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the Lord Jesus, giv­ing thanks through him to God the Father. (Colos­sians 3:12 – 1517)

When I was in sem­i­nary, I received a les­son in this. I was home vis­it­ing my par­ents over a long week­end when my father told me that Pro­fes­sor Dale Brun­ner asked to see me. When I went to see him in his office at Whit­worth Uni­ver­si­ty, Dr. Brun­ner informed me that stu­dents on cam­pus had told him about me. 

So how are you using your spir­i­tu­al gift of teach­ing?” he asked. 

When I replied that my heavy class load did not allow me the lux­u­ry of extracur­ric­u­lar activ­i­ties, Dr. Brun­ner frowned and said, Your gift of teach­ing does not belong to you. It is your respon­si­bil­i­ty to exer­cise it on behalf of oth­ers. If you fail to do so, oth­ers will not receive from God what you have been assigned to deliv­er. They will be hurt. And you will be responsible.”

My con­ver­sa­tion with Dr. Brun­ner was an epiphany. It trans­formed my under­stand­ing of Eph­esians 4, where Paul explains: 

God has giv­en each one of us a spe­cial gift through the gen­eros­i­ty of Christ…. Now these are the gifts Christ gave to the church: the apos­tles, the prophets, the evan­ge­lists, and the pas­tors and teach­ers. Their respon­si­bil­i­ty is to equip God’s peo­ple to do His work and build up the church, the body of Christ. This will con­tin­ue until we all come to such uni­ty in our faith and knowl­edge of God’s Son that we will be mature in the Lord, mea­sur­ing up to the full and com­plete stan­dard of Christ. (Eph­esians 4: 7,1113)

Like you, more than any­thing, I long to live my life today as I will for all eter­ni­ty in God’s heaven. 

Grate­ful­ly, God has pro­vid­ed a place for us to learn and prac­tice the ways of the King­dom. The Holy Spir­it has equipped you and me to under­stand a par­tic­u­lar aspect of spir­i­tu­al for­ma­tion. I need what you know; you need what I know. As we share our expe­ri­ence, pool our knowl­edge, prob­lem solve and work togeth­er, we are grow­ing in our capac­i­ty to eas­i­ly and nat­u­ral­ly live our lives as would Jesus in our place. 

Starting Soon: The 2020-21 Renovaré Book Club

An inten­tion­al way to read for trans­for­ma­tion not just infor­ma­tion. Runs Sep­tem­ber 2020 through May 2021.

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