Sunday, April 24, 2011

Christ is Risen!

Christ is Risen!  ("He is risen indeed.")

He is risen from the dead, 'born again'!  Let's talk about the first time he was born on earth to frame the perspective of Easter.  Everyone, it seems, or at least the majority of folks, love Christmas.  The gift giving and receiving, the kind spirits and wishes for peace and harmony, all help to ease entry into winter.  Secular folk and non-Christians alike tolerate it still being called 'Christmas', even though its a commercialized version with little in common with the Christian meaning of it.  Except that Jesus is God's biggest gift to man, and we celebrate giving gifts to each other.  Christians do well to incorporate the remembrance of God giving us Jesus (his birth on earth) as we give gifts to others.

In contrast, Easter is huge for followers of Jesus, of much more significance than Christmas.  Christmas is the birth of the promised and prophesied Messiah, savior of the the Israelites (Jewish people) and the entire human race.  Easter is the culmination and completion of that work.  First Jesus was convicted (falsely and with improper legal procedure) of blasphemy, by claiming he was the Messiah.  For this he was crucified on the cross by the Romans, on behalf of the religious Jewish leaders and the crowds in Jerusalem.  He was buried in a tomb sealed with a huge boulder and guarded by Roman soldiers.  But on the third day he rose again (as He promised) from the dead, in a resurrected body.  

We believe that the reason Jesus died on the cross, after being brutally tortured and mocked, was to pay the penalty of our sins, to make us right with God.  He freely, voluntarily, bled for us: "our sins were washed in the blood of Christ!".  Jesus Christ, "Son of Man and Son of God", was made guilty of all of the sin of humanity.  How?  Substitutionary atonement.  I'd have to be a seminary student or theologian to explain, its a mystery but we believe it.  The burden of the guilt of our sin was laid upon Him.  "For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ."  2 Corinthians 5:21

The most well known bible scripture is John 3:16.  Say it with me: "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life."  John is quoting Jesus here, Jesus said these words near the beginning of John's record of his ministry.  Applied to the resurrection, whoever believes in Jesus will have a resurrected body and eternal life.  Jesus proved it by his own rising from the dead!  Alleluia!

A believer is "saved by grace, through faith".  No good works or any good deeds one can do in this life can ensure a person of eternal life with God; only by investing your faith in Jesus as your Savior by his completed work on the cross can.  This is a great thing!

I appreciate you reading my blog and letting me share my faith with you.  God Bless you!  Jesus is risen!

Let's celebrate His resurrection!  Here is another video of a great song by Matt Maher.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Condemned for our sin

I just got back from a men's prayer breakfast for Good Friday in our town.  Hundreds of us enjoyed 'egg dish' and fellowship with each other before singing a few hymns and listening to a retired prison Chaplin speak.

He shared many interesting stories of ministering to hardened inmates.  What a tough job that must have been!  But he felt called to do it, to be there for the outcasts, and to have sympathy and compassion for them, when no one else did.  He focused on getting to know them, and meet them where they were at, and show them mercy, as Jesus did.  He would have volunteers run the music and education programs, and concentrate on ministering individually to the inmates and on preaching.

He kept saying what tremendous satisfaction it brought him to see his efforts succeed on the battleground for hardened prisoners hearts.  By the time a person goes to prison, they are cast off by virtually everyone around them.  Society has given up on them and shunned them, and they are condemned.

Convicts who serve time in a prison, more than any other segment of society, know what it is like to be condemned.  Sure, they've all been found guilty in a court of law, so they deserve it.  But we do not know what it is like to be declared unacceptable and unfit to exist in free society, to be banished and punished for crimes for up to multiple life sentences or worse.  We have not experienced it.  Don (the speaker) made it clear that prison is very tough on inmates.  They all have plenty of time to think about the crimes they've committed.  The guilt, self-anger, anxiety, remorse, and depression all pile up inside them to staggering and overwhelming levels.

On Good Friday, Christians remember the condemnation and death of Jesus Christ on the Cross, and what he died for.  Jesus had condemnation in common with prisoners.  He knew he would undergo the ultimate in condemnation and rejection by society, by the people he came to serve, teach, and to love, and by his disciples.  Because he was fully human, in addition to fully being the Son of God (perplexing, isn't it?), he agonized over this the night before he was crucified, while praying at the garden of Gethsemane.  From Luke 22:42-44: “Father, if you are willing, please take this cup of suffering away from me. Yet I want your will to be done, not mine.” 43 Then an angel from heaven appeared and strengthened him. 44 He prayed more fervently, and he was in such agony of spirit that his sweat fell to the ground like great drops of blood.

Even almighty God himself rejected Jesus and left his presence, as indicated in Mark 15:34 and Matthew 27:45, when on the cross, Jesus exclaims in a loud voice "“Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” ("My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”). Perhaps, in his humanness, he didn't realize how horrible that would feel like exactly.

Why did God's presence leave Jesus, in this overwhelming moment when he could've used it the most?  The Bible teaches that our holy God cannot be in the presence of sin, without destroying all.  Jesus, according to scripture, was voluntarily dying on the cross as a sin offering for all of humanity.  He was innocent of any sin, yet he was made sin on our behalf: from 2 Corinthians 5:21God made him who had no sin to be sin[b] for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.   An innocent, holy, sinless man took on the guilt of the sin of the world himself, to make restitution available between man and God, for all those who believe in and receive this sacrifice (Jesus).

Before Jesus was condemned, Pilate the Roman governor pronounced him "not guilty" of the charge of leading a revolt (Luke 23:13-22).  But then Pilate had him crucified (for personal politics it seems) at the demands of the religious rulers and the crowds, because they believed Jesus committed blasphemy.  In Mark 14:60-63, the High Priest Caiaphas asked him while questioning him "Are the you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed one?"  Jesus responds: "I Am.  And you will see the Son of Man seated in the place of power at God's right hand and coming on the clouds of heaven."  Caiaphas and the others all scream "Guilty!  He deserves to die!"  

In spite of all the popularity Jesus had, the teachings he did, the miracles he performed, and the prophecies He fulfilled that showed He is the Messiah, He was crucified in part because He didn't meet their earthly expectations of one.  Consider this: Jesus did say in John 18:36 "My Kingdom is not an earthly kingdom.  If it were, my followers would fight to keep me from being handed over to the Jewish leaders.  But my Kingdom is not of this world."

By his crucifixion, though ironic, He fulfilled his ultimate purpose and prophesy.  He was condemned for us!  He was condemned for you!  He was condemned for me!

Please consider watching this touching video.  God Bless you.  He Loves you.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Triumphal Entry

Today, this Palm Sunday, the first day of this trip, we had a pretty good day of RJ flying in the south and then up to Wisconsin.  The strong storms and destructive tornadoes (to property and lives, unfortunately) have moved on out to the east, and all day we enjoyed light winds and blue, sunny skies.  To say we had a 'triumphal entry' back into the skies after this severe weather as passed would be a misnomer; my crew and I were only lucky enough to have our days off during the worst of it recently.

We flew from DC to Charlotte to Memphis to Charlotte to Milwaukee.  Things ran fairly normally except a closed runway in Charlotte (for construction) backed up our taxi in Charlotte a couple of times.  Most of our passengers seemed to be in a friendly, good mood.  I like to think they were is a celebratory mood.  They expected safe, smooth travel, reasonably on time, possibly with a good view out the window.  And for the most part, they got that.  But sometimes expectations don't meet the true reality.

Sharing my peeps good moods and expectations helps me transition into writing about what good moods and expectations the folks in Jerusalem had on the original Palm Sunday, about 2,000 years ago.

Christians observe today as the day Jesus entered and paraded through Jerusalem on a donkey, the week before he was crucified on the cross.  On this day, it was also a celebratory time for the crowds in Jerusalem.  They laid their clothing garments in advance along his path, and others without garments took palm tree branches and did this same.  By this showed great honor and respect to Jesus as he rode through the streets.  They shouted "Hosanna!  Hosanna in the highest!" (save us now!) as he passed along the way.  The Jewish crowds knew from Prophecy that the promised Messiah would enter Jerusalem on the foal of a donkey, and that's just what Jesus was doing.  The ones not in the know asked "who is this?"  The response: Jesus of Nazareth, the prophet.  He wasn't Jesus Christ yet, per se, just rumored to be.

Why was Jesus being given the rock star treatment here?  He would be tried for blasphemy and led to the cross (would carry part of his own cross actually) in just a few days, so why all this adulation now?  Jesus was becoming very popular now, due to his teachings, his love for others, his wisdom, and for the miracles he was performing.  In the meantime he had become a big threat to the Pharisees (the religious rulers in Jerusalem) and to the Romans.

He hadn't been back to Jerusalem for a while also.  Jews hoped he would be be their leader in rebellion against the Romans, who were the occupying power, army, and rulers in Jerusalem and Israel.  That possibility of overthrow and freedom from the Romans and for themselves is what seemed to concern the Jews, at that moment anyway.  But Jesus had other objectives.  His mission was given by our heavenly Father, and was one which involved eternal significance.  Let's take a look some of the scripture of his triumphal entry, from Matthew 21:1-11:

 1Now when they drew near to Jerusalem and came to Bethphage, to the Mount of Olives, then Jesus sent two disciples, 2saying to them, "Go into the village in front of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her. Untie them and bring them to me.3If anyone says anything to you, you shall say, 'The Lord needs them,' and he will send them at once." 4This took place to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet, saying,
 5"Say to the daughter of Zion,'Behold, your king is coming to you,
   humble, and mounted on a donkey,
   and on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden.'" (Zechariah 9:9 emphasis added)
 6The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them. 7They brought the donkey and the colt and put on them their cloaks, and he sat on them. 8Most of the crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. 9And the crowds that went before him and that followed him were shouting, "Hosanna to the Son of David!  Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!" 10And when he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred up, saying, "Who is this?" 11And the crowds said, "This is the prophet Jesus, from Nazareth of Galilee."

This is the celebrity Jesus, but this version would soon give way to the one the crowds and religious leaders were demanding the crucifixion of.  The crowds all wanted to get one thing out of Jesus, that of their own collective self interests, but he had other ideas.  What do you want to get out of God?  Does your image of God match who he really is?  Have you ever considered whether you 'put God into a box'?  Do you use God only for your needs, when and how you see fit?  This is a good time to really think about your expectations of God verses the reality as the Bible and Jesus himself expresses.  

To find out more about Jesus triumphal entry into Jerusalem, and the whys, hows, and prophecy fulfilled, click on the links.  You'll learn something about Him, and maybe something about yourself and your expectations of God.

God Bless you, and thanks for reading my blog.   

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Crosswind to remember

The fourth day of a recent trip found me in Covington, Kentucky in a six-fifteen AM van, after sleeping fairly well for about the last seven hours. My cellphone playing U2 in the van alerted me to crew scheduling calling. What I dreaded wasn’t occurring; there was a plane at the airport with our name on it, but our revenue flight from Cincinnati to Philadelphia had been cancelled, and we were to ferry it there instead.

After researching the problem in the aircraft logbook, surveying the ferry flight permit, discussing it with my fine First Officer ‘Cindy’, performing all our checklists and briefings, and getting the frost de-iced from our wings, we sped down the runway in the morning light.

A single bell chime and flashing yellow ‘master caution’ light a few hundred feet AGL (above ground level) on climbout didn’t startle us, we expected it. The associated caution message on ‘ED1’, our display screen that shows our engine and fuel parameters, read in yellow letters “STEERING INOP”, referring to the nosewheel steering. At the appropriate time thereafter my F.O. read and performed the QRH (quick reference handbook) procedure for this message. Actually she read it and I performed it. This was simply to cycle the nosewheel steering switch (located on my side and accessible only to me) off and back on. The steering was restored, the message disappeared, and we continued upward and onward.

The previous crew flying this plane had received this message on climbout after retracting the gear, and during the approach to land after extending it. They ‘wrote it up’ after parking for the overnight in Cincinnati. This problem was why we were ferrying the empty jet to Philadelphia: you obviously don’t want passengers on a plane with its nosewheel steering on the blink.

During our talk on the ground in Cincinnati Cindy and I shared the hope that if the steering inop message occurred again with gear extension on the approach and landing into Philadelphia that we would be able to get it back via the same QRH procedure. A review of the weather in Philly gave us both some concern that a landing attempt without nosewheel steering would most likely be not advisable, or in plain words, unsafe.

A slow moving cold front and ‘associated low pressure system’ was finally finishing its path across the northeast, and the Philadelphia airport had pretty strong, gusty winds from the northwest at 29 to 37 mph. For our jet emptied of passengers, it would be a strong crosswind from the right side, relative to the west, landing on runway 27 (landing to the west, 270 degrees magnetic, wind from the northwest).

(This is a crosswind component chart.  See if you can determine the crosswind component for our conditions.  The runway direction was 270 degrees magnetic, the winds were blowing at 25 knots from a 330 degrees magnetic direction.)

This ferry permit placed in the maintenance logbook required that we land on runway 27L or 27R in Philly, the longest runways there; runways 26 (5000 feet) and 35 (6500 feet) were prohibited. In Cincinnati I thought about what I would do if we were unable to restore the nosewheel steering if it failed upon gear extension in these conditions upon arrival at Philadelphia. This was where someone would say that “this is why they pay you the big bucks”.

With no steering, I would’ve rather landed on runway 35, it was less of a crosswind than on 27 (20 degrees of crosswind instead of 60), but the ferry permit prohibited it. I could’ve called our Flight Department manager who authorized the permit and asked him to authorize 35, but that promised perhaps thirty minutes of work added to a morning which was already behind schedule, with no guarantee of success. We had been given a Baltimore alternate from our Dispatcher, which I appreciated, and that airport, with runways aligned to the northwest and more directly into the wind, would’ve been a better choice if we had to land without nosewheel steering.

The risk of losing the steering completely on approach was clear in my mind and gut as I decided to go ahead with the flight. I was confident that if it failed on gear extension that we would be able to restore it, because cycling the switch had worked in the past. My guess was that a nosewheel steering wire was getting pinched somewhere during the retraction and extension cycle, causing the steering to go offline. Because of this tendency, I felt fairly assured that it wouldn’t fail suddenly on landing after touchdown. But there are no guarantees in life, or in flight.

Landing without steering in a crosswind that strong would highly risk that differential braking (we brake the left and right main wheels separately) and aerodynamic forces from the rudder would not provide enough control to prevent the airplane from ‘weathervaning’ into the wind and then skittering downwind across the runway, and I didn’t want to try. In a normal crosswind landing, considerable steering input to the nosewheel is required during deceleration from landing speed to taxi speed (140 mph to 10 mph). With no steering, the nosewheels caster freely, much like a front shopping cart wheel.

I had landed without nosewheel steering before, as a non-flying first officer at Chicago O’Hare. The Captain did a fine job, we were towed in from the runway we closed down, and it’s a great story for another time. But that was in calm winds, not in a crosswind which had gusts exceeding the steady state crosswind maximum published for our jet.

We had over an hour airborne to think more about the possibilities that could happen. I decided and briefed that we wouldn’t attempt a landing without nosewheel steering at Philadelphia, that we would extend the landing gear ten miles out so we would have time to deal with a steering failure, and if the steering failed after touchdown I would apply maximum braking on the runway. It all sounded good to Cindy as well.

Once we reached the Philadelphia area, things happened fast, since we were arriving in between ‘pushes’, a busy time of arrivals, then departure. ATC vectored us quickly, and I thought that I should’ve managed my speed better as we noticed on a tight base vector that we were going to overshoot the final approach to runway 27R, due to a strong tailwind. I’m modest: the controller should’ve given us an earlier turn to final to prevent this from occurring in the first place. I hand flew a healthy crab angle back to the north, and we were basically aligned with the runway.

I say basically, because the constant moderate turbulence and kicking, gusting winds made airport and runway scene jumble and swerve around out the windscreen eight miles ahead. Philly has three runways aligned in the same direction and an old runway in use as a taxiway, and I admit that in the turbulence it had taken a few seconds to find the right one. By this time, we were relieved to verify that the landing gear was ‘down, three green’ and the nosewheel steering was still ‘on-line’ (its ‘steer by wire’).

I was a bit out of our element at this moment, but knew what to do – fly the plane, and how to do it. We were at a very light weight, and I had the thrust at a setting I thought would counter the strong headwinds buffeting us from the right side. But a series of gusts at this altitude, 1,500 feet above the ground, kept us from joining the glideslope (we were a little high) and slowing to the proper speed for a few more seconds. “Chop and drop” occurred, as they say, but only for a little bit, we were soon configured, on glide path, and ‘stabilized’ (as much as you can be in 20+ knot gusts) with the thrust ‘up’ by 1,000 feet AGL.

The exact wind report on the ATIS was 330 degrees at 25 knots, gusts to 32. The math on that works out to a crosswind of 60 degrees and a crosswind ‘factor’ of about .87, or a crosswind component of 22 knots, gusting to 28.  The maximum demonstrated landing crosswind component for our CRJ200 is 27 knots, so this was pushing it.

Its unnatural, well, it looks unnatural, to be pointed away from the runway, into the wind, flying sideways in a strong crosswind, but that’s how birds do it and that’s how man does it. Any seasoned pilot has landed in some strong ones, and this one was impressive, intimidating even. With our nose cocked twenty degrees to the right of the runway, the touchdown zone loomed into view.

“100 - - - 50 – 40 – 30 – 20 - 10”. The automated voice called out our radar (airplane based) measured altitudes down to the ground. At the fifty foot call I had the thrust levers coming back and felt them reach the idle stops by twenty. At that moment I applied a healthy amount of left rudder pressure and right control wheel pressure, and had already applied back pressure to start the flare.

Our empty and gust buffeted jet, save the three of us, gyrated on all axes, its right wing now banked low against the ground, with the nose aligned with the centerline of the runway and pitching up to permit the main landing gear to touchdown first.

The CRJ has a fairly low wing and the wingtip and/or wing flaps has a good likelihood of scraping the ground when touching down in a bank angle of ten degrees or more. I’ve never really been afraid of this occurring in a crosswind, although it’s happened before at our airline. In strong crosswinds a cautious “pilot not flying” monitors the bank angle on touchdown and advises when it reaches ten degrees. This frees up the landing pilot to completely focus on landing.

In the moments over the runway I kept increasing control deflection as our airspeed was decreasing, till I had full left rudder in and lots of right aileron. Then, just a hair before we touched down, inexplicably, I relaxed the aileron pressure, enough that the wings returned towards level. Oops. I don’t know how many strong crosswinds I’ve landed in, but it’s been a very long time since I’ve done such a ‘fool’ thing as this. I think that in this wind I was concerned about the wingtip and flaps, and ‘gave up’ too soon. The aviation axioms I failed to fulfill in this instance is to ‘fly the plane till every part stops moving’ – don’t stop flying the plane. In a flash, literally, I watched the runway slide over to the right fifteen feet, right as we touched down, not hard however, wings basically level, with the four main gear tires spinning up, smoking and sliding across the grooved runway surface. I had let the wind win, and it had pushed us across the runway, downwind (I don’t call it drifting).

I put the right aileron pressure back in instantly, lowered the nose to get the steering wheels on the ground, pulled the thrust levers into full reverse, applied the main wheel brakes on the rudder pedals, and muttered questioning and un-congratulatory words to myself. Steering the plane back to the centerline using the rudder pedals isn’t that difficult, once the other proper controls are applied, I relearned.

During our taxi in the tower updated that at our moment of landing the wind was now blowing at 31, gusting to 40, and I believed it. That was equivalent to a direct crosswind of 27 knots, gusting to 36, as much as we are allowed to do and as much as I want to handle in a CRJ. We parked next to the maintenance hangar, told the mechanics they could have it, and braved the gale in a short walk to the concourse to resume our scheduled day.

Landing in strong, gusty crosswinds bug piston and turbine engine pilots (especially at the lower levels of experience) both practically more than any other issue involved in flying planes. It tends to be black and white too, you either are comfortable or you aren’t. The problem if you’re not is that you have to go out in it and get exposure to the windy, gusty conditions to increase your proficiency and confidence in them. It is a major practical and mental barrier to pilot confidence and competence, and a major cause of minor incidents and accidents. Crosswind proficiency should be mastered at the lower levels of aviation and training. It takes courage to go conquer crosswinds with an instructor, and even more to do so by yourself. But when you relish the opportunity to meet the challenge and find yourself alone in the traffic pattern, battling them and ‘winning’, you enjoy a great feeling of accomplishment and satisfaction, because you know you will carry that confidence and proficiency with you the rest of your flying career.

God bless you, and thanks for reading my blog. He Loves all of us, you know!