Thursday, June 14, 2018

A Place to Fly

“Therefore encourage one another and build up one another, just as you also are doing.”
-Paul to the church at Thessalonica, in 1 Thessalonians 5:11

If you pass a car from North Carolina as you drive to your beach vacation this summer, you will  
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notice these words at the top of their license plate: “First in Flight.”

North Carolina’s “First in Flight” slogan refers of course to the Wright Brothers, Orville and Wilbur, who made the first successful powered, controlled, sustained flights on the Outer Banks of North Carolina, 4 miles south of Kitty Hawk.  Their flying machine success would soon be shown to the entire world, changing aviation and moving human technology several leaps forward, and those quiet, barely-noticed first flights in North Carolina would become legendary.

But one thing that’s interesting to me about North Carolina’s rightful claim as “First in Flight:” the Wright Brothers actually lived in Dayton, Ohio (where the local university today is appropriately called the Dayton Flyers).  Orville and Wilbur Wright owned a bike store there in Dayton, where they made their own personal study of aviation and worked on their flying machine on the side.

Many of the big steps in aviation history were made right there in that bike shop in Dayton, Ohio.  So how did they end up in North Carolina, making those first historical flights so far from home? 

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Well, when the Wrights felt that they had their first glider ready, they began looking for a place to test and practice it, and they decided they needed somewhere with consistent wind.  They wrote letters to the weather stations at several locations along the eastern seaboard, asking about wind, weather, and lodging.  It was a time when many people made fun of flying machine attempts (since they always seemed to end with a big crash and someone getting hurt), so it’s no surprise that they didn’t get many replies.  But the Wright brothers did get a reply from the weather station chief in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina.  What’s more, they also got another Kitty Hawk reply from William Tate, the area’s county commissioner and former postmaster.  Tate wrote the Wright's a long letter, confirming that the beaches near Kitty Hawk had plenty of wind and dunes, and not many trees to run into.  And as I first heard in David McCullough’s book The Wright Brothers, the clincher may have been the end of Tate’s letter, where he said: “If you come down here, I can promise you one thing, you will find friendly people who will do what they can to extend a hand and help you with your experiments.”

And that sealed it.  Kitty Hawk was a place where the wind was good, and what’s more, they were being welcomed, assured that both in the weather, location, and the hospitality, this was a great place to fly. 

So what made North Carolina “First in Flight?”  It wasn’t that North Carolina developed flight or even had people who studied aviation seriously.  But what they contributed to the cause was just as important: they offered an environment and an encouragement to those who wanted to fly.  The Wright brothers were ready to do great things - they just needed the right environment in which to do them.  North Carolina provided it, and soon they were flying.

Learning From North Carolina

There’s a great lesson for the church in that story, isn’t there?  I’d like to think that there are many people who are ready to grow in their faith and draw closer to God.  They want to serve in meaningful ways.  They want to be transformed in Christ, with Christian teaching and Christian relationships that will elevate their faith.  What they need is a place to help them in those goals – a place to grow, to fly.  The church is supposed to be that place.  If we are teaching and serving and living in the church as God intended, we will grow into a church ‘culture’ that provides the environment, the hospitality, and the encouragement for true spiritual growth.

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Is that culture present in your church?  If it isn’t, recommit yourself to building that spirit.  I truly believe that one of the first big “outreach” steps for a church family is to begin by building a culture of genuine, Christ-like encouragement among themselves.  And that depends on you and me.  Will we be a place of criticism or a place of encouragement?  A place of complacency or a place of mission?  A place of following the surrounding culture, or a place of real faith in a real God?  God has set His goals before us in Scripture, but then you and I must decide whether the church will grow into the type of culture God desires. 

When the church grows into that culture God wants, we become that all-important place where faith can flourish.  We become a place where anyone of any background can walk in the door and find kindness, genuine love, and friendly faces.  A place where there are opportunities to deepen fellowship, to serve others, to learn about Christ.  A place full of encouragers – not just people who pat us on the back, but people who also encourage us to really know and obey Christ, including all the difficult steps of life change that are sometimes required of us. 

Do we want to reach out to our communities, and help each other grow in our faith?  It begins by building a culture inside our church family that encourages people’s faith the way Jesus did.  Because when a true Christ-like culture is present, people who want to be more in their faith will find strength and growth.  Lives and eternities will be changed, and souls will draw near to God.  All because the church followed God’s plan and provided the Christ-centered family that God knew we all needed. 

As North Carolina’s license plate reminds us, simply providing the right environment may be all someone needs to do great things.  Let’s become the encouraging church culture God wants us to be, and people will soon recognize that this church is a good place to fly. 

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