Friday, February 27, 2009

My debt to pay? - No way!

What does what I’m about to write have anything to do with flying an airliner across the sky? I don’t know, but I feel compelled to give something, to make up something, so here goes. I make my livelihood flying a passenger jet around the Northeastern US sky. The airplane is worth tens of millions of dollars, and I couldn't begin to guess how much money the fuel is my jet burns per year is worth.

But I don’t own the plane, or lease it. I don’t have to pay for the fuel either. I have absolutely no debts or obligations to my employer to pay for the airplane or the fuel. That’s simply the way it works.

That’s absurd Craig, of course that’s the way it works, what’s your point?

Well, the most important part of my last post really wasn’t about cake, CAK, or work, it was about God’s incredible amazing Grace. I could write more, much more about it, but for now there is one pebble in my shoe that I have to get out. It's off my foot and and I’m tipping it over.

In God’s grace we don’t have a debt to pay back to God, period. This isn't a repeat, hang in there with me now!

There are unbiblical and unscriptural lyrics in a very popular praise and worship song from the nineties. Maybe you’ve heard it on the radio, many artists have performed it. You’ve probably even sung it in church, if you’ve attended a contemporary service. The song is ‘Lord I lift your name on high’: from the chorus:

You came from heaven to earth
To show the way
From the earth to the cross
My debt to pay
From the cross to the grave
From the grave to the sky
Lord I lift you name on high

The fact that a popular song misinterpreted and misapplied God's Holy Word shows how insidious and easy it is for Christians to have a works based view of their relationship with God.

I propose we change the lyrics simply to:

You came from heaven to earth
To show the way
From the earth to the cross
My debt’s been paid!
From the cross to the grave
From the grave to the sky
Lord I lift you name on high

You may say 'yea, that's great and all, but show me some scripture to back that up with, Craig'.

From the ESV (English Standard Version) Bible, Paul's letter to the Colossians, Chapter 2:13-14: "13 And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, 14 by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross."

Here's another good one, from 1 Timothy 2, NLT version: 2:5-6: "5 For there is only one God and one Mediator who can reconcile God and humanity—the man Christ Jesus. 6 He gave his life to purchase freedom for everyone."

We should do good works for God's Kingdom, of course, but out of gratitude and Love for what God has done, is doing, and will do for us. There, I feel better now, I can walk (and fly) easier now.

And I'll be flying, and pretending to fly, a good bit in the next few days. I have a four day trip starting the evening of Sunday, March 1st, then during the second week of March I'll travel to Charlotte and have a PC (Proficiency Check) in the simulator. What fun!

Actually, a PC is fun, but stressful. It's fun when it's over and I my training partner, and instructor can reminisce, but also because it guarantees learning something new. Meeting the challenge a PC presents is satisfying, in a tortuous and stoic kind of way that I enjoy.

I'll try to share more about my next trip and PC. Until then, I'll be 'crossing the sky'. And God will be too.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Cake every night!?

For most of this month, my job is literally a piece of CAKe every night. I'm flying short trips, called 'standups', or 'high-speeds', or CDO's (Continuous Duty Overnights) from DC to Akron-Canton, OH (CAK) and back to DC in the morning. We leave DC at 8 PM, get to the hotel by 10, the van leaves back to the airport at 5:30 AM, and I'm napping at the crashpad by 8:30, if things go as planned. Then we do it all over again that night.

If this sounds like a short overnight, it is. Even though we sleep (a little) we're still considered to be on duty, because we almost, but don't quite get the normal minimum legal rest period of 9 hours. For CDO's, however, this is a pretty good deal. This schedule gives me much time at home this month. I commute to DC after Sunday Church and pull back in my driveway by 2 PM Wednesday. CDO schedules are rare in my base, next month they're gone.

Some folks have the impression that airline flying is like the Dire Straights' song "Money for Nothing", all glamour and wealth, sitting down on the job (guilty), button pushing and auto-pilot baby sitting. I assure you we do work, and get weary and tired. Just ask Shannon how I snore my first night back home! Let me share with you how much I actually 'work' for my living, and a few of the FAA's duty and flight limits for pilots.

I'm basically paid by the flight hour, and I fly 75-100 hours a month. That doesn't sound like very much compared to a normal 160 hour month for day-jobbers. However, for the last four months I've averaged the time on duty I've worked, and it's come out to a surprising 159 hours per month. We have many duties to perform in addition to operating the flights. Being in uniform, on duty, at the airport is the equivalent to being at the office or factory, it's just that we get compensated only when the engines are turning.

Here's some of the FAA's mysterious and confusing required rest and duty limits: We have to have a minimum of 8 in the last 24 hours off between shifts, or in other words our maximum on duty period is 16 hours. We can be scheduled to fly a maximum of 8 hours in a shift (duty period). We can't actually fly more than 30 hours in a 7 day period, 100 hours per month, or 1,000 hours per year. Our required rest depends on the amount of flying that we're projected to do within the previous 24 hours (future schedule looking backwards), it can range from 9 hours to 12 hours minimum.

Rest can frequently be an issue, that's a given. Instead of dwelling on that, I'll say that the FAA operates the best aviation system in the world, and has generally pretty good regulations. The US and European airline industry's safety record is second to none, and a model for the rest of the world. (I wrote this last sentence before the tragic Continental Connection accident occurred in Buffalo last week, incidentally.)

Having an autopilot, advanced navigation systems, and an additional crew member eases the work load some, but overall my work is still work. It's more than pushing buttons, yanking and banking, and working the radio.

Each flight and each day, weather and aircraft must be checked, decisions are to be made, risk is to be managed, navigation programming must be done, the 'team' is to be led, checklists and briefs are to be performed, and customer service is to be given. And none of these things are actually flying the aircraft, but they all pertain to the job in some way.

Just as my job, as blessed as I feel I am to have a career I have a real passion for is, it is real work. As is the work the Lord is doing within those of us who are in Christ Jesus.

The subject of work, and how it relates to God's Grace, has been on my mind and heart for some time now. Admittedly, my understanding of works and grace has not always been consistent with correct scriptural and theological teachings. Consider the verse from Ephesians 2:8-10, which imparts how we've been saved by grace and not by works: "For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith - and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God - not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do."

Besides the incredible grace by which we've been saved, we're expected and destined to do good works. But does grace have anything to do with it? How do we get there from here, from a position of salvation to sanctification? And what about when we stumble? The process of sanctification has at times been one of misconceptions for me.

A song that has been really in my head the last week is 'Work' by Jars of Clay. Part of it echoes within me:

I have no fear of drowning
It's the breathing
That's taking all this Work

Are we assured of our salvation, but struggling to please and honor God, to curry favor and blessings from God, by trying to perform good works in our own strength? Are we stuck living by our works for God instead of by his grace? And then, after consistently failing and falling into sin, gradually going into a cycle of guilt and discouragement, slowly and steadily losing confidence than we can win the battle of backsliding in our lives? This has been me at times; I've found that this attitude can creep up on me like a few extra pounds over the long cold Iowa winter.

I'm reading an excellent book called Transforming Grace by Jerry Bridges, and I'm (re-)learning a few things. It's actually my wife's book, and I don't know why I haven't read it before now. The gist of it is that on this earth, the same GRACE by which I was saved through faith is the same GRACE by which I grow in Christ Jesus. The Father, Abba, doesn't operate with Christians on a grace plus works basis! He operates with Christians on a GRACE only basis!

We don't live under the law anymore, we live under grace! This is straight from Romans 6:14: (NLT): "Sin is no longer your master, for you no longer live under the requirements of the law. Instead, you live under the freedom of God's grace."

The study of grace, faith, works, and 'the law' can open a theological can of worms, but this book seems to sort it out quite well. I'd like to quote Jerry Bridges from his book, p. 47: "The fact that God deals with His children on the basis of grace without regard to merit or demerit is a staggering concept. It is opposed to almost everything we have been taught about life." How truly staggering the concept of the depth of God's grace and love is. It surely is amazing grace.

However, it's one thing to believe that God is full of grace, but another to actually experience and feel God's grace in our lives. In the smoke and mirrors our secular and capitalistic society operates in, the grace our heavenly Father offers can be a mysterious and elusive presence. For encouragement of the increase of grace and the working of the Lord in your life, I offer an exhortation from II Peter 3:18: "But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be glory now and forever!"; and encouragement from Philippians 1:6: "being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus".

A small, small picture, or comparison of God's grace to my situation is this: this month I'm only scheduled to fly 34 hours, but because of my pilot union's contract with my airline, I'm guaranteed to be paid for 75 hours. I'm getting paid for work I didn't do. Now this doesn't mean we have to do 34 hours of God's work to get paid for 75 hours for it, it's more like we do one second of work for it. With Christ, we're getting paid eternal life, and life to the full, in return for work we didn't do, all we have to do is believe and receive it. Jesus Christ of Nazareth did all the work for us on the Cross of Calvary. A catchy acronym (pilots love acronyms) for GRACE is God's Riches At Christ's Expense.

In God's grace, our sins, even the future ones we'll commit tomorrow, next year, the next decade, forever, are wiped away. From Psalm 103:12: "He has removed our sins as far from us as the east is from the west." If you're a pilot (well even if you're not), you know that's a long way, infinity in fact. You see, on the earth, north and south directions meet and converge at the north and south poles, but east and west directions never meet. With God's grace active in our lives, it can feel like we spiritually have cake every night! And that's a GREAT thing.

"Only Grace" by Matthew West

Friday, February 13, 2009

Continental Connection Flight 3047

I just learned this morning, at home, that Continental Connection Flight 3047, operated by Colgan Airlines, crashed last night at 10 PM, a few miles short of the runway at Buffalo, NY. All 49 persons aboard and 1 person on the ground perished. Light snow and gusty winds were reported at the airport, and other pilots had reported icing conditions in the clouds.

The aircraft was a Bombardier Dash 8 Q-400, an advanced 74 seat twin turboprop (jet engines driving propellers). I first heard about this crash on CNN this morning, when they were referring to it at 'the crash of flight 3407'. First I was afraid it was my airline, as we use 3xxx numbers for our flights and Buffalo is a frequent destination. Then I saw on TV that it was a turboprop, my airline has no turboprops. Regardless, it's a horrible tragedy no matter which airline is befallen.

The Aviation Herald has a good amount of additional information on this accident.

My thoughts and prayers are with the friends and families of the victims of Colgan Airlines flight 3407.