How do you fly this thing?-
The standard question in the days after Christmas is: ”Did you get everything you wanted for Christmas?” I’m to the point in my life where I don’t care so much what, if anything, I get for gifts for Christmas. Yes it’s nice to get things, mostly because it means a lot to me that someone cared enough to make the effort, but to me I cherish much more the time spent with people I love, time is always a priceless gift.
And, if you’re like me, you probably get a lot more satisfaction out of being able to bless someone else with a special gift. That’s something that’s drilled into our heads as kids: “It’s better to give than to receive!” But seriously, how many of you when you were say; 10 years old, really believed that? How many nights did you lie awake dreaming of what you were going to find under the tree on Christmas morning, or start pestering your parents weeks before your birthday to make sure they knew exactly what you wanted for your special day.
That sense of excitement and anticipation is something you never forget and have a hard time replicating as an adult, where reality replaces fantasy and Santa Claus gives you the bill. But what a joy it is to help make holidays special for others, especially kids, not just with presents but by building traditions and memories that kids will treasure forever. The presents may soon lose their luster but the time you spent with them never will.
Speaking of toys that lose their luster. How many of you are old enough to remember the old Cox gasoline engine toys? Little scale model cars and planes that had little gas powered motors— great toys for little boys. The cars and trucks you just started up and set them down to watch them scream on until they crashed into something, no control whatsoever.
Then there was the planes. I remember walking through a department store with my Dad and seeing a P-51 Mustang with WW II army paint and telling him, “That’s what I want for my birthday.” No doubt about it—he wasn’t so sure, a 12 inch long airplane with an internal combustion engine tied to a string didn’t strike him as the best toy for a kid turning 11 years old, and it was kind of expensive.
But sure enough, on my birthday, while visiting my Dad in Minnesota, I got my brand new Cox P-51 Mustang. I was thrilled beyond words and I couldn’t wait to try it out. I had to wait a few days till we could find a big empty parking lot that would make a sufficient airfield. So we break out the big bad airplane, squirt the fuel into the little bitty gas tank and start spinning the prop with a finger; Brbrbr, brbrbrr brbrbr—nothing, prime it again- Brbrbr, Brbrbr, Brbrbr Rmmmm, sputter Brbrbr. We did this for what seemed like forever until finally it roared to life.
Now the concept of the infamous Cox model airplanes was that you flew the plane on the end of about 30 feet of string, two strings tied to a handle which served as your control. If you moved your hand one way if would make the flaps go up and if you moved the other way it would make the flaps go down, making your plane go up or down.
And of course the only way you could do this was to stand in one spot and fly your plane around in a big circle until your plane ran out of fuel and you gracefully glided it in for a landing.
So while my Dad held on to my now running airplane I ran to my control handle carefully laid out thirty feet away, and my Dad lets go of the plane, as I skillfully manipulate the flaps sending my little P-51 about 15 feet into the air. Now these little gas powered things really cruise which means to keep up with it you have to start spinning in circles as this things flies around you on the end of your marionette style strings.
This is all good and well until you get dizzy. I don’t know how many times I spun around in circles but I was dizzy long before the plane ran out of fuel and I lost control causing my plane to make a very ugly emergency landing— a crash in layman’s terms. The plane was a little scuffed up but still intact and, as my head stopped spinning, we packed up my plane and went home.
Gee, that wasn’t near as fun as I thought it would be—maybe next time. A few weeks later back home in New Mexico I grabbed my best buddie and off we went with my treasured plane to the paved school yard determined to conquer the skies over the Land of Enchantment.
I fueled her up, spun the prop, Brbrbr, brbrbr, sputter, sputter— this went on forever. I’ll bet it was a good 45 minutes before we finally got it to start, and keep, running. When it did my buddie held the plane while I ran to grab the controls determined to not let myself get dizzy this time but before I knew it I was wobbling and my plane was going up and down, higher and higher with each pass as I was losing all control of myself and my plane until it just nosedived into the asphalt.
That was the end of my pilot career. My precious P-51 was broken into several pieces. I literally spent years—it still crosses my mind now and then— wondering; “How in the world are you supposed to fly one of these things without getting dizzy?!” I still haven’t figure it out.
Maybe no one did, that might be why you don’t see them anymore.
Apply that to a church—how do you fly one of these things without getting dizzy? I hope I’m doing better with my church. How do you pastor one of these things without getting dizzy? Well, I guess the short answer is, stop spinning in circles. Most would argue you can’t do that with a Cox model plane or with a church, but the Lord tells me otherwise— at least with the church.
Preparing my sermon for the week—the first of the new year, a time when I like to look ahead at the year and seek the Lord for guidance, maybe a theme for the coming year— I was reminded of this scripture from Psalms:
Unless the Lord builds the house,
those who build it labor in vain.
Unless the Lord guards the city,
the guard keeps watch in vain.
I can’t control this thing for very long any more than I could control that airplane for more than a few rounds, it’s beyond me, it’s supposed to be beyond me—it’s supposed to be Jesus— he is the pilot, and he has state of the art radio controls that allow him to fly this plane anywhere he desires—if we’ll just cut those strings and let it fly.
Most churches struggle with that, most pastors are afraid to do that, and I contend that is why most pastors at some point crash—trust me when I say this, I have witnessed it over and over again many times, they are getting dizzy and crashing, left and right.
We strive to be a Spirit led church— not program driven, not agenda driven. The Lord has given me an overall vision and direction for this ministry but the only way to be true to that is to follow Jesus step by step and day by day. Otherwise we will spend all our time planning and scheming and then stressing over implementing our plans.
Yes we need to do some planning but our plans must always fit into the mission the Lord has given me for our church to be a place of healing, restoration and hope, and all our plans have to be brought before the Lord in prayer and for guidance and wisdom.
Of course the best plans are the ones that develop as a result of the Lord planting something in our hearts. In that case, more often than not, it’s a matter of being ready, and patient, at the same time, as the Lord works to bring his plans into fruition while we are ready to move when he says move.
Where is he taking you? Let go of the strings and just follow.