Following WWI, several factors greatly boosted the speed by which mail could be transported across America. The first factor was a surplus of trained pilots, recently released from the Army. The second was a surplus of WWI fighter/trainer aircraft, mostly Curtiss JN-4 (Jenny) biplanes. And finally, there was the establishment of America’s first Transcontinental Air Mail route in 1920. This was to provide air mail service from New York City to San Francisco, with thirteen stops in between.
This all sounded good on paper, but it was murder on the pilots. Pilots flew in open cockpits through all kinds of weather, both night and day. It was easy to crash and even easier to get lost. This was particularly true when flying over the vast featureless plains of the Midwest.
“So in 1923, Congress approved the construction of a network of beacons to make the route navigable in the rain or the dark. These beacons consisted of massive concrete arrows, painted bright yellow, set into the land about 10 miles apart. The arrows were illuminated by 50-foot-towers with powerful rotating gas lights.”1
These beacons were visible for many miles and pointed the way to a safe journey’s end – or at least to the nearest landing strip. In the 1920s and 1930s this chain of beacons and brightly painted concrete arrows saved the lives of hundreds of pilots.
By the 1940s, however, advances in radio and RADAR made the ground system of beacons obsolete. With the advent of WWII all the beacon towers were torn down and sold for scrap. As a result, all that remains are the many concrete arrows. While still visible from the air, they have been stripped of their bright yellow paint.
As a result of today’s standards, these old navigational methods may seem hopelessly outdated. Compared with our satellite tracking systems and GPS devices the old beacon-arrow system is contemptible. Yet in its day it proved powerfully effective in pointing the way for weary and bewildered pilots. Even today the occasional aviator uses these old arrows to orient himself and find his way home.
Old, Not Out
This reminds me of the contemptuous view many take toward the old and outdated methods of evangelism and worship. The worship service I attend in Springfield, MO is “state of the art.” Pulsating lights, amplifiers, and a superb praise team provide an overpowering experience of worship. Members of that church may entertain the idea, “I could never go back to singing old songs out of a hymnbook. It’s too uninspiring and dull.” Yet those old songs inspired generations of believers – and still do so today.
I recall reading a biography on Billy Graham which related a story from his earliest days of evangelism. Would you believe that, in the late 1940s the “experts” told Graham that mass evangelism was a thing of the past? Seminary professors told students that Americans were far too enlightened and sophisticated to ever respond to “crusade evangelism” again. Yet it would be through this medium that Graham would reach more than 215 million people with the gospel, converting over 3.2 million. I suspect the experts can be completely wrong.
I’ve sat through lecture after lecture on how our preaching and presentation of the gospel needs to dramatically change. Today’s sermons must be no longer than ten minutes and should be easily digestible. That was back in the early 1990s. Yet my pastor preaches expository sermons that average 45 minutes in length. And his congregation numbers over 14,000. His long, expository sermons seem to be working just fine.
What Do You Remember?
And do you remember the old methods of teaching the Bible in Sunday school? Do you recall flannel art and flannel boards? Were you ever taught the story about the healing of the paralytic carried by four friends? Did your teacher use a shoebox as a diorama – with a hole cut in the top to show how the paralytic was let down through the roof? Sounds really cheesy, doesn’t it? Sure, those old methods are contemptible by today’s standards. But God worked through them to bring thousands of children to faith in Jesus Christ. And those old, inadequate methods are still used effectively today in less developed countries.
God made no mistake when He placed you in this life, at this time, and at this location to bless and help the people with whom He’s surrounded you.
Maybe you feel a little too under-powered and obsolete to be of any use to God. Maybe you feel too inadequate to influence others. Yet God created and fashioned you to His own specifications. He endowed you with gifts and abilities and He equipped you with experience and training. God did all of this to make you effective for some specific task. You may feel out of place and time. You may feel hopelessly outdated and inadequate for the job. But God knows better. He made no mistake when He placed you in this life, at this time, and at this location to bless and help the people with whom He’s surrounded you. Commit yourself to God. Be faithful in the work He’s called you to do. And trust Him to bless your efforts and to touch the lives of others through you.
“So to keep me from becoming proud, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger from Satan to torment me and keep me from becoming proud. Three different times I begged the Lord to take it away. Each time he said, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me. That’s why I take pleasure in my weaknesses, and in the insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that I suffer for Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:7-10).
Dear Father in heaven, here and now I humbly submit myself to You and accept what You have made me and the gifts You have given me. Please take me in my weakness and obsolescence and use me in a powerful way to bless others. Amen.