CLOSE CALLS AND THE PROVIDENCE OF GOD

CLOSE CALLS AND THE PROVIDENCE OF GOD

My friend and fellow pilot, Lee Hilty, had a close call Saturday night. The main rotor blade of his Robinson R22 helicopter hit about fifty feet up a sixty-foot tree, chopping the top off the tree and destroying the helicopter. One of the gas tanks separated from the craft and the other caught fire. The chopper fell about fifty feet with Lee in it, hit the ground, and burned.

Lee walked away, albeit with significant injuries. His report on the accident is quoted below, then I’ll make a few observations about providence.

“Hey Everyone! Thank the good Lord that I am alive! A slight mistake on takeoff was all it was.

I was at a friend’s house for supper at his private airstrip. The last thing I remember is playing rook. The friend said that I told him that I was going to hover, turn 180 degrees, then depart down his runway to the south, which would have cleared all trees in the area. This was in the dark of course. Instead, I hovered, turned 160 degrees and departed and hit a tree.

I remember seeing a flash of a pine tree. At this point, I was 50-60’ in the air. Somehow, the helicopter came down. Somehow, the helicopter stayed level. Somehow, I unbuckled my seat-belt. And somehow, I walked away from the helicopter myself.

If any one of these “somehow” things had not happened, I would not be here. I feel so blessed to have so many friends that are more than willing to say a nice word, to offer a prayer, to pay a visit or offer a helping hand. Thank you all very much!”

Providence is the practical outworking of the will of God in the lives of men that appears from our perspective as tragedy, chance, or circumstance.

As Winston Churchill wrote: “The longer one lives, the more one realizes that everything depends upon chance, and the harder it is to believe that this omnipotent factor in human affairs arises simply from the blind interplay of events. Chance, Fortune, Luck, Destiny, Fate, Providence, seem to me only different ways of expressing the same thing, to wit, that a man’s own contribution to his life story is continually dominated by an external superior power.”[1]

I have been a pastor for twenty-seven years and had many encounters with God’s providence. In each case the issue of life or death usually comes down to a unique set of circumstances, often micro-second timing. A few inches, a slight turn, one way or the other, and someone lives, or someone dies.

From our point of view these events are completely random, but not from God’s. As Jesus said, “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered.”[2]

But that often leads to another question: If God is completely sovereign, why should we take precautions?

Commenting on Deuteronomy 22:8, the command to provide parapets on roof tops lest someone fall off, John Calvin wrote, “For he who has set the limits to our life has at the same time entrusted to us its care; He has provided means and helps to preserve it, he has also made us able to foresee dangers; that they may not overwhelm us unaware, he has offered precautions and remedies. Now it is very clear what our debt is: Thus if the Lord had committed to us the protection of our life, our duty is to protect it; if he offers helps, to use them; if he forewarns us of dangers, not to plunge headlong; if he makes remedies available, not to neglect them…Thus folly and prudence are instruments of the divine dispensation.”[3]

Lee made a simple mistake, but the prudence that led our civilization to develop seat belts, energy absorbing cockpit seat frames and landing skids,  volunteer fire departments, hospitals, emergency rooms, burn units, and life flight helicopter services probably saved his life.

In a fallen world there is no such thing as life without risk, but with the right rules and procedures, risk can be mitigated. So, as the old saying goes: “Trust God and keep your powder dry.” Or, trust God, buckle-up, and put the phone down!

[1] Winston Churchill in Winston S. Churchill: Thoughts and Adventures. Christianity Today, Vol. 41, no. 12.

[2] Matthew 10:29-30

[3] Calvin’s Institutes on the Christian Religion

YOU’RE WORTH IT

News of the missing pilot and the massive search for him headlined global media.

Authorities initially believed that sometime on September 3, 2007, Steve Fossett, the first person to circle the globe in a hot-air balloon, had made an emergency landing in the vast Nevada landscape. Hundreds of search teams were hired to comb the rugged terrain, using planes, helicopters, and the latest search technology. Thousands of web surfers, armed only with personal computers and Google search technology, were recruited to study high-resolution photographs for clues concerning Fossett’s location.[1]

Fossett was perhaps the world’s best adventurer. He was not only the first man to circle the globe in a balloon he was also the first to do it solo in an airplane. Fossett, 63, had previously survived a nearly 30,000-foot plunge in a crippled balloon, a dangerous swim through the frigid English Channel, and hours stranded in shark-infested seas[2].

The guy knew what he’s doing in some of the world’s most dangerous environments and knew how to survive when things went wrong. But the truth is even though he was a wealthy, experienced adventurer, he was lost.

Cynical people said that Fossett was getting all this attention because he was rich and famous. But his friends weren’t looking for him because he was wealthy or experienced. They were looking because he was lost and they loved him. That’s it. That made him worth it.

By the time you reach chapter fifteen in Luke’s story of Jesus you find a bunch of people hanging out with him that were far removed from the Steve Fossetts of their day. They were the low life of the landscape, the zeroes of Palestine, the ‘tax gatherers and sinners’.  If they got lost, NOBODY would go looking for them. Yet Jesus was hanging out with them. Jesus was having them over for lunch. Jesus was meeting them for coffee in the morning. It was a major taboo, monstrously politically incorrect, it just wasn’t done!

But Jesus was doing it and he heard the muttering so he told three stories we’re all familiar with: The parable of the lost sheep; the parable of the lost coin; the parable of the lost or “prodigal” son.  He told them back to back. He told them in order to teach us something no one believed about God then and many of us still have a hard time believing now.

In all three stories people got lost. That’s the point with the sheep, and the coin, and the son. They all represent people like you and me. And like Steve Fossett, it doesn’t matter how good or experienced, or wealthy, or smart they happen to be, people get lost like sheep get lost. It’s just a fact of our fallen human nature.

The stories also tell us that God doesn’t care how we got lost. Jesus didn’t spend any time saying, “That dumb sheep, always looking for greener grass.” The prodigal’s father made no comment on how the son got lost. The older brother did. But the father didn’t bother. He just said, “He was dead and now he’s alive, he was lost and now he’s found”. That’s all that matters to God.

Finally, the stories tell us that God doesn’t care how badly we are lost. Feeding pigs was about as low as a Jewish kid could get, until he started eating their food, which was even lower.

Some of us know we’re lost and think, “I’ve gone as low as a person can go. No way will God be interested in me, no way.”

But that’s not what the stories tell us.

No matter what the world thinks of you or what you think of yourself, God loves you so much that he will turn heaven upside down looking for you when you are lost and celebrating you when you’re found.

———

Sadly, the mangled remains of Fossett’s plane were found thirteen months after he disappeared. The legendary adventurer’s luck had run out.

The good news is that yours hasn’t. If you are lost and you are reading this post, be assured of this: God loves you so much that he has turned heaven upside down looking for you and he will do it again when you are found.

Want to know more about God’s love for you? Click this link and watch the videos: http://alphausa.org/

[1] Brian Lowery, associate editor, PreachingToday.com; source: Associated Press, “Couch Potatoes Aid Search for Missing Aviator Steve Fossett Using Internet,” http://www.cnn.com (9-11-07

[2] Foxnews.com Oct. 8