My first ride in an airplane was in an old 1940’s vintage fabric-covered Piper Cub. I was all of 15 years old, and had mastered roller coasters, rickety carnival rides, and slow dancing with an actual girl, but I never felt an adrenalin overload like the one pumping through me as we pushed the old yellow plane out of the barn where my uncle’s friend kept it. That turned out to be nothing compared to the ones that would put my whole cardio-vascular system to the test in the next hour or so.
The cockpit felt small and cramped as I climbed in behind my new friend and sole owner of first place on my ‘people I want to be like’ list. Both of us grinned as he settled into his place and waggled the joy stick between his knees. He flipped a knob or two, felt the rudder pedals with his feet, adjusted the throttle, and engaged the starter switch as he made one last look around the outside terrain. The engine turned over slowly a few times and then sent vibrations through the frame and down my spine as it roared to life. We must have looked as surreal as I felt, sitting there in the middle of a southern Virginia cow pasture. Then we began to move. “My God,” I thought as we bounced across the clumps of grass and other stuff, “I’m really going to fly.” The words had hardly formed in my mind when something magic happened. The world began to fall away and the trees and fields and roads transformed themselves into a huge patchwork quilt that seemed to go on forever. It was love at first flight. My heart was gone, lost to this magic, and I knew that I would never fully get it back.
That was many flights ago, and though I was never able to complete all the training necessary to obtain a pilot’s license, I never lost the sense of wonder in that moment when the wheels leave the ground. It doesn’t matter whether the wheels are underneath a Piper Super Cub lifting off a dirt runway at the edge of some Alaskan village, or the latest offering from Boeing or Airbus coming off the tarmac at a major international air hub. The feeling is the same. The wonder is indelibly implanted and inseparable from the moment.
I have a little ritual of sorts that I eventually developed and attached to that liftoff moment. For decades now I have included it every time I’ve flown, regardless of where I am or what kind of plane I’m in. It’s very simple. I focus my mind on a single verse from Paul’s epistle to the Romans. Just as the wheels leave the ground, I quote his words,
“For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death (Romans 8:2 NKJV).
That single statement describes for me both the magic of liftoff, and the reality of a liftoff so much more incredible than flight in a man-made machine.
I look at planes on the ground, and sometimes the size and weight of those machines is incredible. Some weigh thousands of pounds by themselves, and then their internal space is filled with even more weight, with luggage, cargo, people, fuel, and assorted supplies. There’s a law in place that declares, with established authority, that the apparatus will never leave the ground. Gravity steps up to announce that it will remain securely attached to the earth, held firmly in place by the impact of its substance and contents. There is no ability in the machine to dismiss the existence of the law of gravity, which says, “According to my law, this plane will never leave the ground.”
Some years ago, a couple of curious brothers began to investigate how and why birds are able to do what men and their cumbersome machines could not. They discovered that their wings were all shaped in a unique fashion, and this ingenious shape creates a never before recognized force when air flows over it. The force associated with that singular phenomenon came to be called ‘lift’, and it gave rise to the creation of an entirely new set of principles, collectively referred to as the ‘law of aerodynamics’.
Now there are two laws in place, and they oppose each other. One is fixed and requires nothing from us. Gravity simply ‘is’. Its presence is pervasive, its force is constant, and it requires no effort on our part to maintain it. The law of aerodynamics, on the other hand, is quite focused and conditional. Its power reacts to specific elements that must be applied by those who desire to lay hold of its benefits. These laws are diametrically oppositional in nature and their confrontations are always a reflection of the reality of the power that each represents.
Here’s the magic. Gravity never ceases its determined effort to keep the apparatus firmly held in the realm where it belongs. But as the plane moves forward, the speed of the air flowing over the wing’s surface reaches a point where the power of the force lifting it up exceeds the power of the force holding it down. The law of aerodynamics takes over and the law of gravity has nothing more it can do. When that moment happens, it cannot help but fly.
But there’s more. Paul said there is a “law of sin and death” that declares I cannot live, that I am eternally held down by the immutable force of my fallen sinful nature—weighed down with transgression after transgression, with no power to stop that law, or ever escape its grasp. But Jesus brought another force into play, one that stands in diametric opposition to that law. Paul called it “the law of the spirit of life in Christ Jesus.” Like aerodynamics, it’s a conditional law, composed of two vital and irreplaceable elements, repentance from sin, and faith in the sacrifice of Jesus Christ as payment for my transgressions. Together, they unleash a force that rises up against the law of sin and death that it has no power to overcome. When that force is applied, sin and death can do no more to hold us down. A greater law takes over, and we cannot help but ‘fly’.
The magic of liftoff in both cases is real, but if the required conditions aren’t met, gravity and death win . . . and the runway is only so long.
© 2015 Gallagher’s Pen, Ronald L. Gallagher, Ed.S. All rights reserved.
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