Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Providence and the Glory in the skies

Dateline: September 25, 2009

We arrive at the White Plains airport at 5:15 AM, and after looking at the paperwork for our flight to DC, I exclaimed to my two crewmembers "negative APU". Usually that puts a damper on things, because it means our APU (Auxiliary Power Unit) isn't working, and we’ll require extra external equipment to electrically power the plane, to provide air pressure to start the engines, and to condition the cabin in hot or cold weather. It means headaches and possible delays to get those things. We’re to have the plane all day as well, flying four legs, but the cool and cloudy weather means we might get by without too warm of a cabin, at least starting out.

The capable ground crew gets the various carts connected in short order. Under my hands and fingers, I pull us off the ground at 6:15 AM. Climbing out toward the west, on our left we spy, sliding by, the behemoth known as New York City, sleepily waking up in gray and black silhouette, street lights shining their last moments before the partial orange sky behind us, hidden behind a sloping cloud deck, overcomes the faded darkness.

Now, below and to the left, over New Jersey now, the New York Giants stadium lights are still burning bright and white, on charged up battery power, so to speak, from the big Bono and company (U2) show last night. I could have gone, I really wanted to, the 'wife of my youth' gave clearance, but it would've been a 'goat rope' transportation wise, and definitely not compatible with a 4:30 AM wakeup call. I've seen them before; 84,472 fans set an attendance record there last night. Loving U2 is like loving Harleys, if you're not a fan, you wouldn't understand.

Onward to Providence we go, through DC. Providence is an interesting word and city in Rhode Island. A pretty city near the ocean, it has an inland bay that lets out gradually in postcard quality, scenic and sandy beach arcs to the Atlantic. From the air, on our route from DC, Connecticut seems to be hidden by Long Island, but RI is a nice transition area between New York and Massachusetts. Connecticut and Rhode Island are very green, given that there are quite a few wooded hills around. I’ve overnighted a few times in Providence, and have appreciated the nice folks there. My awesome cousin in the Coast Guard, Jose, used to be based in Rhode Island, and he and Sonya loved their stay there.

So what does 'providence' mean in relation to God? From Webster’s dictionary: “the care of benevolent guidance of God or nature; an instance of this”. It's not really in the bible as a term, but it is a theological one. It means to be divinely cared for, by God, in his protection and guidance, actually framing and preparing the stage for pre-ordained events to occur in your life. Scripturally, we can see this in my late, great Aunt’s favorite verse, Romans 8:28: “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” You can recognize providence in events, I call them “God things”, or not recognize them; that depends on your faith and outlook. It does take a little faith, I admit, and skeptics have the right and wherewithal to cast doubt on one’s witness of these things.

When events conspire to bless or protect one, naysayers talk of ‘having good luck’ or chalking it up to ‘just a coincidence’. The term luck seems to be used in two ways, both self focused: (1) to lament your lack of it and to express envy of others who have it, and (2) to credit your own worthiness of being lucky. Providence doesn’t focus on a ‘lucky’ person or an unknown reason and cause. Providence focuses on God, the providential one. Here is a good website to check out for more information on Providence from a Christian perspective: Providence in All of Life

My most memorable event showing God’s providence in my life has to do with an answer to prayer. There have been times where I’ve recognized that God was protecting me or providing for me, but the one I’m sharing still stirs me when I think about it, was in the 1988 fall semester, during my second year in college, in the dormitory at Oklahoma State.

One evening I was feeling especially lonely, desperate, and far from God. My relationship with God was standoffish, and one with Jesus as my Savior, and not quite my Lord. I was having a difficult time settling in the dorm, making friends, and studying well and making good grades. I prayed in the bathroom stall, crying out to God to rescue me. Immediately after I returned to my room, two older guys from The Navigators ministry knocked on my open door, wanting to share the gospel. It was an amazing, immediate answer to my prayer. I shared with them what I had just done, prayed the prayer of salvation with them, and started meeting with my new friend. However, I quickly broke it off, one reason being because I couldn’t convince him that I had already become a Christian as a child. Even though I was still a babe in Christ, he thought I was chronologically and literally a brand new Christian. My pride was perhaps in the way as well, and I still wasn’t ready to give the rest of my life up to the Lord. However, I was very gratified and thankful to see that God was still ‘knocking on the door of my heart’.

You might say there has been Providence at Providence, as well. On a foggy and dark December 1999 night, United Airlines flight 1448 made a few wrong turns while taxiing to the gate on arrival, wound up on the active runway, and had a near miss with a FedEx aircraft which took off on that runway. After that a US Airways jet refused takeoff clearance twice, before the mistake was realized.

God's providence is just one of many qualities of his character which gives us reasons to revel in his glory, as displayed in nature and in the skies. I see our God of wonders in the ever changing and dynamic sky, intermixed with the changing light, clouds, and terrain of the seasons. But I don’t worship the creation, as some do, I worship the creator through appreciating the creation. Last week I saw my pastor describe how he appreciated God by observing the beauty of a sunrise over local rolling farm fields, while jogging around our golf course. If he can experience that, how much more blessed am I to exercise and affirm my faith by experiencing God’s beauty, glory, and wonder in the scenes painted and created in his sky! It’s like he made it himself, just for me.  Other pilots don't seem to appreciate it the same way I do.  The next time you fly, look out the window, and commune with the Father of us all.

These days I try to read a Psalm each day, and often there are references to 'the heavens proclaiming the glory of God' (Psalm 19:1-4).  I call them 'sky Psalms' and try to share them on twitter.  I think I'll start sharing them here also.  "God of Wonders", a great song of praise still played frequently on Christian music stations, has lyrics compiled straight from the Psalms:

“Lord of all creation, of water earth and sky
The heavens are your tabernacle
Glory to the lord on high!

God of wonders, beyond our galaxy, you are Holy, Holy
The universe declares your majesty, you are Holy, Holy

Hallelujah to Lord of heaven and earth, (3x)”

Continuing our day, the ground crew at 'PVD' made quick work of us, even as our jet was crippled with a broken APU.  We took off toward the south, before turning west toward Long Island, on the dogleg shaped route ATC gives us.  The scenes that morning were especially striking.  You can't see it too well, but in the first picture the sun is low, shining through the overcast cloud deck, far to the horizon.  The light spilled low and long across the gray sea, leaving me spellbound till we turned the corner, to see . . .

the very eastern edge of Long Island, New York below, with cirrus clouds right above our altitude, shades of jet blue all around.  I should clarify that I'm pretty sure there were created from the contrails of other jets.  I tried to enlarge the picture, but you get the idea.  I experience beautiful scenes in the sky like these every trip.  It's just that I appreciate them more than I used to, I believe.

Does God really exist in the clouds and sky, the heavens? Well, yes and no. The no part is that God is a spirit, and exists in another dimension, a spirit dimension. With faith, and his spiritual presence in our lives by the Holy Spirit (part of the Holy Trinity), God is spiritually there in the believer, evidenced by his glory in the skies. It's hard for my layman’s words to explain, but God's glory in the skies is a a visual and physical representation of a spiritual manifestation and reality.

The yes part is that biblically, God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit do come and go on and in the clouds!  See, let me show you.  (1) When Moses led the the Israelites to the promised land for fourty years, "the cloud of the LORD was over the tabernacle by day, and fire was in the cloud by night, in the sight of all the house of Israel during all their travels" - Exodus 40:38.  (2) When John the Baptist baptized Jesus to start his earthly ministry, "heaven was opened and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form like a dove.  And a voice came from heaven: "You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased." "- Luke 3:21-22.  (3) After Jesus appeared to his followers after he was resurrected from the dead and gave them 'the Great Commission', "he was taken up into heaven and he sat at the right hand of God.  Then the disciples went out and preached everywhere, and the Lord worked with them and confirmed his word by the signs that accompanied it." - Mark 16:19-20. 

And there are many other instances of this in his Holy word.  There is a U2 song called "Window in the skies", and now I know another meaning for it.  "Oh can't you see what Love has done?"

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