The Flying Christian
The kingdom of heaven is like a...
Jesus used illustrations that were practical and familiar to the listeners of His day. But on the same token if He were sitting down to help us become aware of some of the fundamental principles of the system of heaven He would not chose to talk about sheep or even farming if His audience was largely of modern urban dwellers who had never even seen a sheep except in a book. He would draw on things familiar to His listeners, things they had common knowledge about, things that they would encounter on a daily basis. He would do this so that as they saw the things He had used as His illustration they would be reminded of His illustrations and their deeper meanings would begin to form in their minds and sink deeper into their hearts.
As I lay in bed this morning looking for more motivation to get up, I asked God to give me something interesting enough to get me going. As I thought about that the words attraction and charms came to my attention. What I was desiring from God was something about Him that would be enough of an attraction to me that it would overcome the attraction of staying snuggled in my warm bed and soaking up a few more minutes of rest. I am not one of those people who wakes up full of energy ready to bound out of bed and greet the world. I am more along the line of those who wake up over several hours and slowly come to terms with the duty that I have to get up early enough to have time to do what is most important before the rest of the day's activities compel me to move on.
As my mind pondered the deeper significance of these two words I sensed that they fit into a category that I would associate to the principle of physics we call a vacuum. Vacuum and pressure are pretty much opposites in physics and for me I would liken things like fear and obligation to pressure, while desire, longings, cravings, emptiness and even shame are like vacuums looking to be filled with something missing.
I was taught years ago that the main factors that cause airplanes to be able to lift into the air and supersede gravity is the principle of vacuum. They claimed that vacuum alone was the power that gave lift to the aircraft, but I had serious doubts about that. It seemed to me that the pressure under the wings must have some effect in raising the plane along with the vacuum created above the wings, and many years later my hunch was confirmed as they now teach that both are used to empower flight.
So does that mean, in this emerging analogy with my Christian life, that I need both vacuum and pressure to be able to move forward in my growth? And if so, does the pressure consist of negative emotions that confirm the old adage about a stick and a carrot? Does God depend on enticements and threats both to get us to come into a loving relationship with Him?
Well, that is a subject that could take months to unpack and I don't want to go there right now. However, I will say that far too much negative pressure has been used in my life with very negative results on my heart, so much so that I am very adverse to endorsing such theological assertions. I will concede that for those who cannot relate to anything else, who are so immersed in negative motivations that they cannot respond to anything else, God will resort to using the language they understand and will stoop to using threats and warnings in the only ways they will listen to. But to ascribe such tactics as authentic descriptions of the core desires of how God wants to relate to His children is extremely immature at best and slanderous much of the time. The God I am coming to know from the Bible and through personal encounter is dramatically different and far more righteous and kind than that.
What I am coming to discover in God as He has been revealing Himself to me over the past 10-15 years is a God who is overflowing with kindness, compassion, tenderness, patience and unconditional love. This is certainly not the kind of God I was was raised to believe in in my youth and I am still acclimating myself to this new perception of His character. But the more I study and challenge the old assumptions of religious teachings about God the more convinced I am of the truth of this new view. I am learning that Jesus came to this earth to radically overthrow the assertions that God is a deity full of fury, who is short-tempered and relies on intimidation, fear and threats to gain our compliance to His rules. I am fully convinced in my mind that this is one of the greatest lies purported by God's enemy Satan who has introduced and reinforced all of these negative beliefs about God and I now reject them outright.
However, my heart has been so damaged from the internal atmosphere created by these lies that still circulate in society unchecked today, that many of these lies about God still resonate inside of me. There are many truths about God that my mind embraces but that my heart still doubts, and that can be very frustrating to have this inner conflict of belief. But I have to be patient as God works through various experiences and teachings to convince my heart to believe what my head is learning. I have learned that my heart needs to learn these things through very different methods than my head learns things which makes it take much longer.
One of the most important truths that has riveted my attention spiritually is that salvation is a process dependent on our attraction to the beauty and loveliness and holiness of God. It is not based on intimidation and fear and force. Perfect love eliminates and expels fear so I am always suspicious now when fear is used to try to motivate me to obey God. Jesus is attractive and He came to this earth to present God as attractive as possible as the means of winning our hearts and creating trust in His heart. This trusting, growing, loving, intimate relationship with God that focuses on His goodness and His character rather than on attempts to be good is the core of what it means to be a real Christian. All the outward activities and behavior and professions must spring out as natural fruit from this heart transformation or they are fake and useless. If my heart is not being drawn out to crave a deeper intimacy and personal knowledge and experience of God with increasing desire to connect more and more deeply with His heart, then I am living a counterfeit experience that is worthless and powerless to save me.
As I thought about this principle of vacuum and pressure and lift, the thought came to me that an aircraft has to be moving forward before either vacuum or pressure is created around the wings to lift it off the ground.
So is it up to me to get myself moving forward before God's attractions and/or pressures can do any good in my life? That sounds too much like the kind of 'righteousness' I learned growing up, the righteousness where I had to work very hard at while begging God for more help and strength and willingness and any number of other things so I could be good enough for Him to accept. Millions of people can relate to what I am talking about here. It is often termed legalism and is very suffocating and discouraging to the heart. It is what typical religion teaches and it is a fear-based preoccupation with my legal standing before God while missing the fact that my real problem is my lack of trust, love and peace. Yes, trust and love are talked about sometimes in this kind of religion, but they are always seem to end up in the category of things I have to work up enough to satisfy God's demands for righteousness, not things that occur naturally as a result of enjoying intimate fellowship with someone who is very much in love with me.
Then I was reminded that even the propeller, the part that gets a plane moving forward, also operates much like the wings do. As the propeller turns, the shape of it that is designed much like a wing causes pressure behind it and vacuum in front of it which both cause the plane to want to move forward. Then as the plane gains enough speed moving forward through the air while still rolling along the runway, the increasing vacuum above the wings and pressure beneath the wings create enough lift to allow the entire plane to lift off the ground and real flight can then be experienced. For me that is one of the most thrilling experiences that I enjoy.
I see this as a very good analogy of the experience I have been having with God over the past few years. As my awareness of the attractiveness of God has increased my desires to know Him have also increased. Sadly this is a factor that is largely ignored in many religious circles but is vital for having a genuine saving relationship with Jesus. It is certainly the vital ingredient for becoming a truly successful Christian. Unfortunately I was never aware of this growing up and so I now find myself far behind where I might be at the age I am now. I feel like I am just beginning to operate on the principle of experiencing lift generated by the vacuum created in my heart's response to the attractions and beauty that I am starting to encounter with God.
But what about the pressure part of this equation? What constitutes the kind of pressure under the wings that is reflective of the truth about God that I have been learning? I certainly do not want to rely on the counterfeit principles that Satan uses to motive false piety. But if I am not to rely on fear, on threats, on intimidation or any other false motivations that the world and most religions insist must be present, what are the positive pressures that may be present in the life of a true believer?
A verse came to my mind about the kind of pressures that Paul experienced that motivated him to spread the good news about the wonderful God he had come to encounter. These are a few verses that illustrate what might be seen as pressure in the life of a person who has truly encountered the truth about God and is living under the compulsion of His love.
When Silas and Timothy had come from Macedonia, Paul was compelled by the Spirit, and testified to the Jews that Jesus is the Christ. (Acts 18:5 NKJV)
For the love of Christ urges us on, because we are convinced that one has died for all; therefore all have died. And he died for all, so that those who live might live no longer for themselves, but for him who died and was raised for them. (2 Corinthians 5:14-15 NRSV)
This kind of motivation is not reliant on guilt like the motivation that is too often used by people trying hard to achieve more righteousness. Guilt, condemnation, fear and all related other emotions that are usually connected with religion do not come from the Father of love. They are produced by the heart through fear and often imposed on others through the confused systems of thinking and originate in the sinful distortions about God invented in the mind of the greatest fraud who ever lived. Yet this mistaken thinking is so pervasive in our minds and hearts that it sounds scandalous to even suggest that it is false, but nevertheless that is the fact. The Bible makes it explicitly clear that God never condemns the world but that He loves it (John 3:17). He also makes it clear that His Spirit is never one of fear, for fear is incompatible with love while love is the very essence of God. There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love. (1 John 4:18)
So what is the makeup of the true vacuum that has power to lift me above the world to experience the thrill of true Christian flight, soaring up into the atmosphere of His love? It is my growing awareness of everything in the heart of God that my heart was designed to experience but that I have been deprived of because of sin. Every longing, every craving, every desire for happiness, pleasure, satisfaction, intimacy – in short, everything my heart feels short on can only be fully realized in a vital and close connection with the One who created me with all of these desires. He is the reservoir I was designed to rely upon to feed the deepest longings of my soul. He is the Source of every real pleasure that brings life and satisfaction and joy. He is the life that heals, that energizes, that connects to the places so deep inside me I cannot even identify them consciously. But to just say these words sounds like mockery until my heart itself begins to experience their reality.
As I begin to taste the goodness of God and am drawn by His attractions, I begin to feel the pressure of compulsion from His love taking root in my heart. His Spirit begins to compel me to share my God relationship with others as I begin to see them with new eyes through grace. The pressure of His love from within combining with the ever-present desire for more of Him works together to lift me out of the mud, out of the darkness and away from the low, earthly, cheap counterfeits that keep me mired in fear and confusion. I can break through the gray cloud cover of doubts and unbelief into the brilliant, thrilling light of His glory that is energizing, life-giving and always waiting for me above to encourage and attract me even closer to His presence.
Another question came to my mind as I compared my relationship with God to my experiences flying airplanes. I can see how I need forward speed to cause the wings to experience the vacuum and pressures needed for lift and I can also see that the propeller spinning at high speeds produces the same effects needed to get me moving forward. But what is supposed to make my propeller turn around? Is that where I have to take over and provide power through self-motivation to turn my spiritual prop so I can then experience the rest of the factors needed for flight?
Again my mind is drawn to the only source of reliable truth, the Word of God. So then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure. (Philippians 2:12-13) In essence, this verse is clarifying to me that God offers to be the engine inside of me that can turn the prop that can move the plane that can produce the lift that can cause me to fly and soar above the clouds and storms and confusion of this world. Jesus talked in detail about abiding in Him and Him abiding in us and how that would produce much fruit in our lives. In this analogy instead of producing much fruit He might say it would produce wonderfully high-altitude flights of joy in close relationship with God. It is Christ in me that is my hope of glory (Col. 1:27).
The only thing left that came to me in this analogy of the Christian airplane is the resistance that I bring to the situation. If my airplane is firmly anchored to the pavement with tie down ropes, it is very unlikely I will be able to go anywhere no matter how much the engine strains to pull me into the sky. Likewise, if I fill my plane with so much unnecessary weight that it cannot possibly get off the ground I will only end up crashing into the trees at the end of the runway instead of soaring up into the air. I need to be willing to follow the example of Paul who was one who learned to fly well through the power of the indwelling Christ inside him, urging him on to share the wonderful news about a glorious God with everyone who would be willing to listen.
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such hostility against himself from sinners, so that you may not grow weary or lose heart. (Hebrews 12:1-3 NRSV)