In the summer of 1995, the Space Shuttle Atlantis made history when it rendezvoused with the orbiting Russian space station Mir.  The event received worldwide media coverage.  The mission, with its delicate docking procedures, proved to be a vital link in the ultimate construction and manning of the International Space Station.  

Shortly after the Atlantis-Mir mission, the Shuttle Discovery began a much less publicized and less closely watched flight.  The Discovery‘s launch came several weeks after it was originally scheduled.  Launch delays are certainly not uncommon at NASA, but it was the cause of this particular delay that was so amusingly unique.  It wasn’t a computer glitch.  It wasn’t a malfunction in the fuel delivery system.  It wasn’t the weather.  It was the result of the havoc that was wreaked by a few members of the family Picidae; it was woodpeckers!

How could woodpeckers ground a vehicle which embodied the culmination of decades of advanced engineering, computer technology, and digital precision?  How is it possible that a few birds could stall the launch schedule of the world’s foremost space agency?  In this nature versus machine, David and Goliath story, the woodpeckers had chipped numerous holes in the insulation which surrounds the Shuttle’s large external fuel tank.  The insulation prevents the super-cooled fuel inside from forming ice on the outer surface of the tank, ice which could break away during lift-off and damage the orbiter.  The holes in the insulation were substantial enough to threaten the safety of the launch.

There is more to this incident than the spectacle of a woodpecker sparring with a mammoth, man-made space bird.  It demonstrates that grand and wondrous plans can sometimes be thwarted by the smallest of opposing forces. 

How many times have you known of a good work or ministry that has been brought to a screeching halt by the quibbles and complaints of a few malcontents?  How often have individuals with abundant talent and great aspirations been dragged down into discouragement and inactivity by trivial, but persistent, contentions and complaints?

We do a disservice to Christ and His church when oil is habitually applied to squeaky wheels within a congregation.  It soothes them only for a brief time and merely reinforces their unjustified sense of influence and control.  It is most often the case that the human wheels making the most noise are not the weight-bearing or pulling wheels, but those which are simply along for the ride.  Contentiousness and its bearers should be prudently dismissed for the benefit and progress of the Body as a whole.

“For lack of wood the fire goes out, and where there is no whisperer, contention quiets down.  Like charcoal to hot embers and wood to fire, so is a contentious man to kindle strife” (Proverbs 26:20-21).

Beware the woodpecker!