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Through the Storm

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Through the Storm

(Photograph by Dan Collado)

My 92-year-old daddy has been in the ministry over 70 years.  Four months ago, he sold his house and moved into a retirement community.  When the Activities Director learned of daddy’s background, he was asked to teach a 30 minute weekly Bible study.  The class is very popular, and about half the residents attend.  I’m digitally recording these sessions and downloading them onto my computer for other family members to hear.

Currently, he’s teaching through the book of John.  This week’s lesson included the story of Jesus walking on the water to rescue his disciples, who were struggling on the sea. Daddy always tells a personal story to illustrate a point, and this one is a gem.  To my shock, I’d never heard it before, even though I’m part of the story.  Here it is, told in his own words.

The week of May 10th, 1976, I had been asked to be the preacher at a Bible conference on the book of Revelation, held at Ridgecrest Conference Center near Asheville, NC.  The week-long event had been advertised for a year.

Concerning the book of Revelation, there are different views about the millennium when Jesus is going to rule in the world. A millennium is 1,000 years.  Post-Millennialists believe that through the preaching of the gospel, the world is getting better all the time.  When peace covers the world, Jesus is going to come back and rule for 1,000 years.  Pre-Millennialists believe the world is getting worse, and it’s not going to get better until Jesus comes back personally.  A-Millennialists believe there isn’t going to be a literal 1,000 years – it’s just a figure of speech.

At the conference, a seminary professor was going to interpret those three different views.  The leaders figured there would be some tension and misunderstanding on the grounds that week, so I was invited to come preach on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday nights.  My job was to kind of pour oil on troubled waters.

As I said, this event had been advertised for a year, during which we learned that my daughter’s graduation from Southwest Baptist College in Bolivar, MO, would be at 10:00 AM on Friday morning, May 14, and I was supposed to preach at Ridgecrest on Thursday night.  That wasn’t a problem, because I owned a Cessna Cardinal RG that flew at 160 miles per hour, which I had flown all over the United States.  So Nona and I had gone to Asheville, NC, in my plane.  After preaching on Thursday evening, we planned to fly to Springfield, MO, get a motel room and spend the night, then rent a car on Friday morning and be at our daughter’s graduation.  Also, I was on the Board of Directors at the college, and I had been invited to be the baccalaureate speaker.  Oh yes….did I mention my daughter decided to get married that same day?  So we were boxed in.

Monday night at Ridgecrest, I’d never seen such a beautiful full moon.  Nona and I stood up on the mountain looking at it, and you talk about being romantic – it was marvelous!  After the service on Tuesday, we went outside and got moonstruck again.  Same thing happened Wednesday night, and I said to Nona, “Wouldn’t it be wonderful if the skies look like this tomorrow night when we fly to Springfield.”

Thursday morning, you could reach up and get a handful of clouds.  It was a thick, heavy, solid cover.  On the news, we heard, “There is a line of embedded thunderstorms that reach from south Texas all the way up to Canada.  Today it’s moving across Arkansas and by evening it will be over Memphis, TN, headed east.”  Well, these embedded thunderstorms were right across where we had to go.

I went and found a quiet place somewhere and literally stretched out full-length on the floor. Face-down on the carpet, I cried out, “Why, Lord?  Why?  I didn’t ask for either of these invitations.  I came here because I thought that’s what you wanted me to do.”

There’s a saying that “There are old pilots, and bold pilots, but there are no old, bold pilots.”  The bold pilots don’t tend to stick around very long.  So what was I supposed to do?  I was agonizing, then God spoke to me and said, “I have not promised to deliver my children from storms.  I have promised to deliver them through the storms.”  There’s a great deal of difference between “from” and “through”.  And I thought of Philippians 4:6-7:  “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Suddenly I had peace in my heart.

That night, when I got up to preach – knowing we were going directly out to the airport – I told the audience about the situation and said, “I would appreciate it if you pray for us as we fly tonight.  An American Airlines pilot had been there all week, and he came up to me afterwards and said, “Jim, don’t go.”  I said, “I’ve got to go.  Plus, God has promised to deliver me through that storm.”

So we went to the airport, and I checked the plane out, got in it, and started the engine.  Next I turned on the radio, and contacted the tower.  They cleared me to take off due south and climb to 8,000 feet, so I did.  We had to cross over the mountains in east Tennessee, which were 6,000 feet high, and I needed 2,000 clearance.  Once we reached 8,000, I turned back towards Nashville, where we had to land and get fuel.  There’s a rule when you file an instrument flight plan:  you must have enough fuel onboard to get to your destination and assume that you can’t land there, have to choose an alternate destination and be able to reach it with 45 minutes fuel left onboard.  In order for me to comply, I had to stop in Nashville to re-fuel.

After we were back in the air, I was told again, “This storm system is moving through Memphis and up across Dyersburg.”  My flight plan took me right over Dyersburg. I spoke with air traffic controller on the radio, asking for all the help I could get.  He said, “There’s another pilot out there that came from the east ahead of you.  He’s got twin engines with radar onboard, and we’ll have him keep us posted.”

I continued heading west.  All at once, the guy with the twin said, “I’d like permission to deviate from my flight plan, because I see an opening forming,” and they said, “Permission granted.”  He was ahead of me quite a ways.  And as I continued to fly, suddenly the air traffic controller called out, “Hey, Cardinal, you’re in luck!  Right across your path, an opening has formed in that line of thunderstorms.  Just stay on your course, and you’re clear.”

We broke out of the clouds over Dyersburg, TN, and I’ve never seen such a beautiful, wonderful, moon-lit May night.  God had seen us through that storm.

 

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About the Author:

I never have found a box that fits me, so I follow Jesus into the wild. My husband, Bud, and I are two life-long hippies, parents of four grown children, and live in Bartlett, TN, with six cats, two dogs, and no TV. We are voracious readers and have loaded bookshelves in every room in the house except the kitchen and bathrooms. As a wordsmith, I write in long-hand everyday and use a computer by necessity. I am part of an eclectic group of Jesus-followers called Outlaw Preachers and have a passion for prison ministry. I am also an advocate for middle-aged and senior women, and anyone who suffers from depression. My musical tastes include Stevie Ray Vaughn, Joni Mitchell, old scratchy-record blues, and the great classical sacred choral works. One other thing: dark chocolate and garlic are major food groups, but not together.

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