When I was in college, I got a hankering to learn to fly. The cost was not out of reach back then. I would sneak away from campus, down to the Bessemer Airport and get an hour of instruction for $35.
Good pilots know how to focus. I can still hear the voice of my flight instructor Tom telling me on final approach, "Airspeed! Outside! Airspeed! Outside!" He was trying to drill into my head that when you land, keep looking at your airspeed and keep looking at your target - the runway. You need reference points.
I was not a good pilot. I don't have ADHD on the ground, but I did in the air. There were too many interesting things to see: houses, farms, other planes, roads, birds, sky - it was all so amazing. I would be looking around at amazing sights while Tom was shouting, "Airspeed! Outside!"
Beginning pilots are VFR: Visual Flight Rules. This means you fly only when you have space to see between the clouds and ground. You can get an IFR rating: Instrument Flight Rules. When you have this rating, you can fly into clouds, through fog; but you rely on your instruments to tell you where you are.
Tom explained in vivid detail what would happen if a beginning pilot like me flew into a cloud: You would get disoriented. Unless you relied on your instruments, you would begin to think up was down and down was up. I thought Tom was making this up, but he told me we rely more on visual references than we think.
I think all flight instructors have a book of horror stories to tell their students. Tom proceeded to tell me about a doctor who only had a VFR rating but was over-confident. He took off under marginal VFR conditions, traveling cross country. Conditions worsened. He got disoriented. He flew his Bonanza straight into the ground, killing him.
When you have 10 hours of flight time under your belt, that kind of story makes a point. During the few years I flew, I avoided marginal conditions at all costs. Tom's voice rang in my memory, "In the burned wreckage, they found him with the yoke pushed all the way in. The only explanation: He thought he was headed up, when he was really headed down."
Jesus gives us the same warning. The most dangerous sin of all, the unforgivable sin, he said, was to believe that evil was good and good was evil. When you are spiritually disoriented, you fly your life into destruction.
Even Christians accept this line of reasoning too often. We believe an explosion of our temper will solve our problems. We believe we can steal and cheat and never get caught. We believe we can control our spouses or our children. We believe our way is better than God's. We wind up flying our lives right into the ground.
The only way to stop this is to check your reference points. "Airspeed! Outside!" can be changed to "Worship! Bible! Prayer!" Jesus followers believe worship matters because it is a reminder of true reality, God's reality, God's Kingdom. That's why being in church to worship matters. Bible knowledge is not just so you can win Bible Trivia; it is so you have a guide to ultimate truth. Prayer is daily conversation with God so you can stay in touch with His reality. What are your reference points?
When do you cross the line to the unforgivable sin? When you no longer check your reference points. When your heart is so disoriented you believe what is evil is good for you and what is good for you is evil. This is what happened to Pharaoh in the Book of Exodus. He got disoriented. Despite overwhelming evidence, despite the advice of his own cabinet, he would not see things God's way. He flew his army, his nation and his own life right into the ground.
Knowing reality, knowing up from down, knowing good from evil - it's the most important skill of life.
Are you flying up? Or down?
Clay Smith is the lead pastor of Alice Drive Baptist Church in Sumter.
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