God's Flight School
During the winter of 1940 Josephine Kuntz' husband, a house painter and textile worker, was temporarily unemployed because of the weather and a seasonal layoff. It was a difficult time for the family. They literally had no money. Their eighteen month old daughter, Rachel, was recovering from pneumonia and wasn't doing well. The doctor insisted Rachel eat a boiled egg each day, but even that was beyond their means.
"Why not pray for an egg?" suggested a young friend. They were a church-going family, but the idea of actually praying for their needs was something they had never really considered. Josephine wasted no time. On her knees she prayed that God would provide an egg each morning for her daughter.
Later that morning Josephine heard some cackling coming from the hedge fence in front of their home. Among the bare branches sat a fat red hen. (This is a true story.) She had never seen this hen before and had no idea where it came from. She just watched in amazement as the hen laid an egg and then proceeded down the road. In a moment the hen was gone, but an egg sat in her yard.
What do you do under such circumstances but thank God? The next day Josephine was startled once again to hear cackling in the hedge. The red hen came by every day for over a week and repeated this routine. Each day little Rachel had a fresh boiled egg. The little girl got better, the weather improved, and Josephine's husband went back to work. "The next morning I waited by the window and watched," Josephine says, but the red hen did not return. ["The Little Red Hen." Josephine M. Kuntz, SNOWFLAKES IN SEPTEMBER, (Nashville: Dimensions for Living, 1992), pp 29-30.]
God takes care of His people, and though we don't always see it in such striking and noticeable ways, the Bible promises that He will take care of those who are faithful to Him. There is a beautiful graphic description of God's care for Israel in the 32nd chapter of Deuteronomy. We will read the story and pick out one aspect of it that pictures how God lovingly brings about change and maturity in the lives of His people. Please turn in your Bibles to Deuteronomy 32:9-14.
9 "For the people of Israel belong to the LORD; Jacob is His special possession. [Jacob here, is Israel. He is talking about the nation that came from this one man.] 10 "He found him in a desert land, in the howling waste of a wilderness; He encircled him, He cared for him, He guarded him as the pupil of His eye. [God came to the Israelites while they were in captivity in Egypt.] 11 "Like an eagle that stirs up its nest, that hovers over its young, He spread His wings and caught them, He carries them aloft. (on His pinions). [God stirred them up and taught them to fly in freedom as opposed to the slavery they had known for over 400 years.] 12 "The LORD alone guided him, and they followed no foreign gods. 13 "He let them ride on the high places of the earth, and feast on the produce of the field; and He nourished him with honey from the rock, and olive oil from the rocky ground, [After God brought Israel out of Egypt, he blessed them and gave them the land of Canaan, a land "flowing with milk and honey."] 14 “He fed them yogurt from the herd and milk from the flock, together with the fat of lambs. He gave them choice rams from Bashan, and goats, together with the choicest wheat. You drank the finest wine, made from the juice of grapes”.
The passage goes on to say that, in spite of all God did for Israel; they ultimately turned away from Him and turned to idols. We'll save that part for another day.
What I want to zero in on is verse 11, the statement that pictures God's care being like the eagle caring for her young. Let's read it again.
11 "Like an eagle that stirs up its nest, that hovers over its young, He spread His wings and caught them, He carried them on His pinions." (The wing of a bird. The outer rear edge of the wing of a bird, containing the primary feathers.)
What a beautiful picture of how God deals with his people! A mother eagle training her young to fly. In the same way the eagle deals with her young, God dealt with Israel and deals with us today. Let's look more closely at the picture which, in this message, I'm calling "God's Flight School."
There are at least seven stages that a young eagle goes through when learning to fly. These stages are also evident in God "training" us to live the life of faith. That is the basis of the comparison. As I describe them to you, listen and see if you recognize any of them in your life. I'll give them to you first, then come back and explain each one. The seven stages are:
(1) Demonstration, (2) Discomfort, (3) Danger, (4) Decision, (5) Direction Change, (6) Doing and (7) Deliverance. First, we'll consider
1. The Demonstration Stage
As the time draws near for a young eagle to begin flight training, the mother eagle will frequently push off from the perch where the nest is and hover above her young. In response, the eaglets begin to flap their wings wildly in imitation. It's as natural and instinctive for them as breathing.
That is what verse 11 is referring to when it says the eagle "hovers" over its young. At this stage the eaglets don't have enough feathers to fly, but they begin to develop their wing muscles. The key word here is demonstration. The eagle demonstrates flying for her young and they imitate her in response.
What a great picture to describe what God has done for us through Jesus! Jesus came to earth as Immanuel, "God with us," the Bible says. He demonstrated the kind of faith and life we should be leading.
We read in Romans 5:8 that "God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us."
In 1 Timothy 1:16 we read, "And yet for this reason I found mercy, in order that in me as the foremost, Jesus Christ might demonstrate His perfect patience, as an example for those who would believe in Him for eternal life."
God hasn't left us to figure things out on our own. He has cared enough about us to give us a living demonstration. Remember when Jesus said, "If you've seen Me, you've seen the Father"? Jesus was, and is, the perfect and indispensable demonstration of how we should live the life of faith.
Paul told Timothy in 2 Timothy 2:8, "Remember Jesus..." We must not forget the One who is the embodiment and demonstration of all we are called to be!
The next stage in the training of young eagles, and God training us is what I'm going to call
2. The Discomfort Stage
In verse 11, it says, "Like an eagle that stirs up its nest..."
It's one thing for those young eagles to flap their wings in the security of their down-filled home. It's quite another for them to move to the edge, look over, and imagine stepping out on nothing!
Naturally, they don't want to do it. So the adult eagle does something the young eagles won't understand until later. She begins "stirring up" the nest! She actually begins to poke small holes through the bottom and tear the nest apart. The young eagles are literally forced to fly.
What often happens to us at this stage of God's teaching the faith-life lesson is that we begin to be bothered about the actions in our life. We recognize that something isn't right. We begin to get a little worried and anxious. There is a growing uneasiness in us. Something is out of balance and we don't quite know what it is, or if we do, we are ignoring it. Like Job in chapter 30:27, we might say, "My heart is troubled and restless..."
It can be about anything that is bothering us. A relationship, an unfulfilled dream, stress in our lives, fear, weakness or indulgence of sinful weakness. We find ourselves tripping over the thought, "One of these days I'm going to have to start working on that." The trouble is, we, like the eaglet, are reluctant to get too close to the edge of the nest, and we, too, are reluctant to move out of our comfort zone and face whatever it is.
This is God stirring up our nest. He's getting us ready for change. He wants us to face something we've not faced before, so He makes us uncomfortable. I know some of you know what I mean?
Perhaps He wants us to face our neglected finances. It could be a relationship he wants us to mend with Him or others. Maybe He is working on us to be more reliant on Him. Whatever the case, there is a growing discomfort and uneasiness in us that is hard to ignore.
You know, the sad thing is that some people live their entire lives in this stage. They cling to their nest like terrified eagle chicks, afraid to do anything about their problem. They'd rather live with discomfort than risk flying. "At least the discomfort is predictable," they think. "If I were to change, who knows what might happen?"
When we find ourselves stalled at the discomfort stage, we might understand why God brings us to the next stage of our learning. I've called it
3. The Danger Stage
Eventually, in the case of eagles, the mother eagle gets all the kids out of the nest. We know that for sure. Have you ever seen a full grown eagle still perched in the nest of its parents, peeping like a baby for them to bring him something to eat? No, you haven't, because one way or the other, he gets booted out of the nest with nothing between him and the hard ground but air. He either learns to fly or falls to his death. Eagles weren't meant to be nest sitters. They were meant to fly! This danger stage isn't mentioned directly in verse 11, but it is certainly implied.
Now, what does that say to us? What I see in this setting is that God often allows a danger or a crisis to come into our lives that moves the issue we're ignoring. He sends us a wake-up call. All of a sudden the pain gets so bad we can't ignore it anymore. Suddenly we out of a job, we have an accident or a serious illness. Perhaps a spouse threatens to walk out or a creditor starts foreclosure. Like the eagle's nest, the bottom falls out from under our lives and we realize we've got to do something - fast! Now!
It has probably happened to all of us. It happened to King David. In Psalm 119:67, it says, "Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I keep Thy word." It took a crisis of affliction to show David the need to learn to keep God's word. We are no different!
If you are in a crisis right now or have had one recently, could this be the reason? Is there something you've been ignoring?
Remember, God wants you to fly, not flutter in the nest. He wants you to mature in life, He wants to use you!
Well, the danger stage quickly moves us on to the next stage in our training, whether we like it or not. I've called it
4. The Decision Stage
The nature of danger or a crisis is that it forces us to make a move or, to use our analogy, forces us out of the nest. We have to decide, "Am I going to move ahead or am I going to retreat? Am I going to face this or try to run away? With the nest suddenly gone out from under the young eagle and the ground coming up fast, the young eagle has a choice to make. He realizes, "I've gotta do something fast – like Now!" So the choice is to fly or fall - to soar or smash on the rocks below - literally, to live or die. Crash and burn!
God often forces us to that place, have you noticed? Especially if we are reluctant to grow or pay attention to the need to grow.
A man who never attended church told his story, “In my own life 23 years ago, I was faced with a danger. I was going to lose my family - or at least have to get into a bloody court battle to hang onto part of it. My wife said, "I'm filing for divorce! I can’t live like this and be a Christian!"
“Deep down inside I knew my life wasn't right with God, but I was putting off making a decision. Several Christians had tried to teach me, but I was too comfortable in my life style. I was having too much fun. It took real danger to make me come to reality and make a decision.”
If you are ignoring what you know is right like this man was, whether you are a Christian or not, what is it going to take to get you to come to a decision?
Is God dealing with you right now? Is this the issue? Is it your stubbornness or neglect? When will you decide?
The next stage is so close to the decision stage that I was tempted to put them both under the same heading, but there is a difference I need to point out, so I've called the next stage,
5. The Direction Change Stage
The young eagle, falling fast, has decided he must do something. What is it? He must change direction! He must start going up instead of down.
When we're talking about our response to God's dealing with us, the decision stage and the direction change stage are called repentance.
Repentance is a decision to turn away from evil and turn back to God. It takes place in the mind and will of the soul. In that way it is a decision, but since it is a decision to change, there will soon be a direction change that results.
Sometimes we are reluctant to change direction. Often it is because we haven't really made a decision to change. Oh we were sorry, we even cried some crocodile tears over it. But we never really turned loose of the bad habit. We never really changed our minds; therefore we can’t change our lives.
Often Christians struggle with sin. They are sorry for the struggle. They don't like the prospect of the consequences. They might even come forward in church and let the whole church know. But there is no direction change as a result.
Paul warned us in 2 Corinthians 7:10, "For the sorrow that is according to the will of God produces a repentance without regret, leading to salvation; but the sorrow of the world produces death."
According to that verse, you can have two people side by side who are sorry about their sins. Looking at them, they both look like candidates for eternal life. Yet, one of them goes to heaven, the other goes to hell. The difference? One of them had a sorrow that produced repentance - a change of direction. The other was just sorry. There was no repentance.
We're talking about God teaching us to fly - to live the faithful life in a way that is pleasing to Him and brings us to maturity. He uses these stages to do it: Demonstration, Discomfort, Danger, Decision, Direction Change.
There are still two more stages before we will be competent fliers. Stay with me, they're short. The next is:
6. The Doing Stage
The adult eagle can teach her young to fly but she cannot fly for them. They must do it. Have you ever seen two adult eagles flying piggy-back? Neither have I. It doesn't happen. Flying takes effort on the part of each individual.
The Bible says in Galatians 6:5, "Each on shall bear his own load..." In the realm of our learning to walk the Christian walk, we must put forth effort. The very common "DO NOTHING" religion around us is false. It is an aberration of the devil. It is a cheap substitute for the faith of the Bible.
Does this mean that we get to heaven on our own merits? Not at all! But God wants us to learn to fly.
Consider this: God often gave his blessings in Scripture while the recipients of the blessings were in the midst of obedience. Here are just a few.
Remember when Israel crossed the Red Sea? Moses said "Move forward!" The people obeyed. Then when the feet of the priests touched the water, it divided. Safety was in sight and the hand of God was there.
When they crossed the Jordan on their way to the Promised Land, it was the same way. They moved forward, put their feet in the water, and it divided.
When Jesus cleansed the ten lepers, he told them to go present themselves to the priest. Then, "as they were going, they were cleansed." (Luke 17:14)
The eagle learns to fly by striving against the gravity that is pulling him down - in short, by flying.
This sixth step of doing is critical to the young eagle's learning to fly and it is critical to our growing up and maturing in Christ. It is also critical to the final step, which I've called:
7. The Deliverance Stage
This is a beautiful picture and it's right in the text. Look again at verse 11: "He spread His wings and caught them, He carried them on His pinions."
I am told that the adult eagle will actually swoop down and catch her falling offspring on her wing and carry them back up to the home perch. What a wonderful picture of what God does for us!
Paul told young Timothy in 2 Timothy 3:11, "What persecutions I endured, and out of them all, the Lord delivered me!"
In Psalm 34:19 we read, "Many are the afflictions of the righteous; but the Lord delivers him out of them all."
In 2 Peter 2:9, the Apostle tells us, "The Lord knows how to rescue the godly from temptation..."
You see, God doesn't leave us to move forward in life on our own. We as His servants must be doing His will in order for the deliverance to come. The promise of deliverance is there. We must believe it and move ahead. We must be striving to fly even if we can't quite do it yet.
The great things God had done for Israel. Moses gives a clear picture in this particular instance of God's kindness and concern for His people. The eagle's care for her young is a beautiful emblem of Christ's love, who came between Divine justice and our guilty souls, and bore our sins in his own body on the tree.
By the preaching of the gospel, and the influences of the Holy Spirit, He stirs up the nest upon sinners to leave Satan's bondage. In Vs. 13-14 are emblems of the conquest believers have over their spiritual enemies, sin, Satan, and the world, and we have the promise through Christ.
Is God teaching you how to fly? If you are a Christian, there is no doubt about it! How is your personal "flight school" going? Are you cooperating or copping out?
Have you seen any or all of these stages of God's flight school in your life? You can be sure they are there now or will be there soon. So be prepared.
What is your attitude toward them? Are you focused on the goal of being able to go "solo" or are you clinging to the comfort of the nest? Be sure that God will stir it up if you are reluctant.
And maybe, just maybe, you've wondered what is going on in the midst of all this. Maybe you've had some rough times recently and haven't been able to figure out why. Perhaps now you have your answer.
Be sure of these things:
God does want you to learn to fly.
He will put you through flight school.
You can ignore it, but it won't stop the process.
You can resist it, but it won't stop the process.
You can cooperate and learn to fly for Him!
Will you pray with me?
Lord, thank you for being patient with us. Thank you for not giving up on us even when we have not cooperated with You. I pray that You will help us see Your hand in our lives - even in the details. When we can't see those details, I ask that you would strengthen us to trust You. Father, if there are people here this morning who don't know You or who have known You but for whatever reason have turned aside, I pray you would help them to see You clearly now. Draw them near to You I pray. Use this message, if it pleases You, to draw all of us to you. Thank You. In the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.