Thursday, February 1, 2024

Calling the Cavalry From a Bucket Seat Airplane

Suggested Reading: Ezra 8:21-32 (Ezra is speaking)

My first experience in an airplane was also my first experience actually piloting an airplane. I was serving as a summer youth minister and, on my first day, the pastor of the church drove me around town to meet everybody. One of the first houses where we stopped belonged to an old test-pilot who had built his own two-seater airplane in his garage. The best way of describing this little plane is to say it was two bucket seats with wings. No walls or doors. No seat belts. Just bucket seats, controls and wings. The plane was controlled by a single steering column between the two seats and a peddle in front of either seat that served as the throttle. The old test pilot offered to take me up and I had a hard time refusing. Once we were in the air (with no seat belts, remember) he asked me if I wanted to fly the plane. "It's so easy anybody can do it!" he said. Apparently, he believed it because a second later he had released the steering column and I had to grab it before the plane started descending. He believed his plane was easy to fly and he backed it up by giving me control.

Unlike that old test pilot, there is sometimes a disconnect between what we say we believe and how we behave. Ezra, an Old Testament scribe who led some of the Israelites back to Jerusalem and helped rebuild the temple, felt the tension of this disconnect very keenly. He had asked the King for permission to return to Israel and permission had been granted. But when it came time to start traveling hundreds of miles across treacherous and hostile terrain, Ezra wanted to ask for a regiment of cavalry to escort them, but then decided not to. Instead, Ezra said, I proclaimed a fast by the Ahava River, so that we might humble ourselves before our God and ask Him for a safe journey for us, our children, and all our possessions. I did this because I was ashamed to ask the king for infantry and cavalry to protect us from enemies during the journey, since we had told him, “The hand of our God is gracious to all who seek Him, but His great anger is against all who abandon Him” (Ezra 8:21-22, HCSB). While Ezra had boasted that God would protect them, he still wanted the cavalry. But when he thought about it, he realized that asking for the cavalry would undermine the confidence he had expressed in God and would damage his witness for God in the king's eyes. So instead of asking for the cavalry, he led his people in prayer.

Frequently we will encounter situations where the things we claim to believe will be tested. We might tell someone that God can provide for all of our needs, only to find ourselves in financial difficulties where people watch us to see if we really believe God will provide. We might claim that God blesses marriages where people choose to love each other and remain faithful through difficult situations just to experience some marital difficulty coupled with the opportunity to cheat. Or we might mention to someone that God loves us even when tragedy strikes and then find out that we have cancer.

Saying we believe something is much easier than acting like we believe it. But when faced with the choice, how will our behavior affect our witness? Will the people watching us discover how great God is or decide we're lying to ourselves? Like Ezra, are we ashamed at the thought of chickening out and acting contrary to our beliefs no matter how frightened we are, or will we allow our weakness and fear to cheat people out of a chance to see God's greatness?

Living out what we say we believe isn't simply a matter of personal maturity but a chance for God to reveal himself through us.

What Did You Think Was Going to Happen?

Suggested Reading: Judges 16:4-21 or Judges 16 (the whole Samson and Delilah story) I may lose some readers over this statement, but.....