My big mouth recently put me in a situation where I had no choice but to jump out of an airplane. Let me explain. On October 23, 2011 I was preaching on Luke 12:1-12 (the sermon title was A Well Placed Fear). In the sermon I used my fear of heights as an illustration. I am scared of heights under most circumstances but when I am harnessed in to some type of safety device it gives me the freedom to enjoy the adventure and the wonder and the exhilaration of being far above the earth. I do not like standing unharnessed atop a steeply pitched roof or walking too close to a cliff’s precipice but I do enjoy ropes courses and have previously been bungee jumping. In making my point I made an off-handed comment that I would even go skydiving. Bad move! Long story short, someone took me up on that remark and paid my way to do exactly that. So on Monday, January 23, 2012, Kyle Maloof and I jumped out of a small aircraft and landed on the grass runway behind Chalet Suzanne.
You should know that I did not jump alone. I was tethered and hooked to an experienced skydiver named Pasquale. Pasquale has been jumping for twelve years. This gave me some much needed confidence. Prior to jumping he strapped me into my harness and gave me some simple instructions. “Hold your head back, keep your arms crossed mummy style across your chest, and keep your feet together. When we roll out of the plane arch your back and enjoy the ride.” Now, this seemed a little too simple. Surely there is more to it than this I thought, but Pasquale said no more in that moment.
Then we moved toward the plane and just before getting on he repeated the instructions to me and added a bit more. “When we get to an altitude of 9000 feet you will get on your knees.” Oh good, for prayer, I thought. “I will hook myself to you. At 11,000 feet we will move to the door for the jump.” At this point I was comforted by the repetition of the instructions and the small addition of more information. I had a growing confidence in Pasquale. He was telling me what I needed to know when I needed to know it.
At 9000 feet Pasquale tethered himself to me. This was a bit odd, since we did not know each other before, but also very comforting. Hearing the click of multiple hooks latching me to this experienced diver brought me more and more peace about my looming jump. Now, with his face right next to mine. Pasquale repeated the instructions again. “Remember, Chad, keep your head back, arms crossed, and feet together.”
At 11,000 feet the door opened. Kyle and his partner jumped first. There was something reassuring about the excitement in Kyle’s eyes and in the exuberance of his yell as he rolled out of the airplane. If Kyle could do it then so could I. Now it was my turn. We started to move across the airplane’s floorboard toward the doorway. I grabbed for two handles on either side of the door to pull myself closer to the opening. Pasquale said, “No, Chad, I’ve got it. Remember, keep your head back, your arms crossed, and your feet together. Let me do the rest.” And he did. This man, tethered to me moved me across the floor to the doorway. He told me the instructions one more time and then we rolled out into the wide blue vastness of nothing.
The free fall was crazy and exhilarating and wonderful but never scary. After about a minute Pasquale pulled the cord and the chute deployed. I cannot explain how calm everything became. It felt as if we were stationary, like we were not even moving. For the next eight minutes I descended to the earth with Pasquale, chatting here and there and enjoying the ride. With about 1000 feet to go he gave me the instructions for landing. “Keep your knees up, to your chest, and your feet out. I will do the rest.” Simple, but again comforting.
Why do I tell you this? Well, there are some parallels between life in Christ and my tandem skydiving experience. My harness attached me to Pasquale but you and I are united with Christ by the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit. As secure and safe as I felt in the harness and hooks that “united” me with another diver, the union we enjoy with Christ is of a far stronger bond. If we are in Christ then there is nothing to fear.
Pasquale has been skydiving for over twelve years. He knows what he is doing. Jesus Christ is the Son of God, who took on flesh, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified for our sins, and is risen from the grave. He is experienced to say the least. He has faced down our sin, as well as death, and is victorious. We can have confidence in Him to guard us and see us through whatever trials we may face, even death itself.
Pasquale, the experienced skydiver that he is, did not try to tell me everything about skydiving before we jumped. He told me what I needed to know and he repeated those few things over and over to me. Similarly, God, in His Word, does not always tell us everything we may think we need to know. But He always tells us everything we need to know and he repeats those things over and over. One of the most oft repeated phrases in the Scriptures is “do not fear” or “fear not.” Frequently, when one of these phrases occurs, it is accompanied by a word of assurance. For instance Isaiah 43:1-3 reads, But now, thus says the LORD, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. For I am the LORD your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.
I do not know what you are facing these days – what challenges, trials, or struggles lie before you. But I do know this, you are united with the One, Jesus Christ, who has conquered sin and death on your behalf. He has been there before many times and has always been faithful to his people. He will be there again many times being faithful always to his people. In your own strength you would be right to fear. Just like I would not dare jump from an airplane on my own I would never seek to face this life by myself. But tethered to Pasquale that which was to be feared became a joyous adventure. Similarly for the Christian, who is united with Christ, this life is not something to be feared but, in it’s redeemed state, is to be lived to its fullest. We will not experience life to its fullest on this side of the grave but glory (and joy and adventure) awaits for all who are in Christ. In him alone we are more than conquerors. So, fear not, knowing that Christ, your Lord and Savior, has redeemed you and is with you always to the very end of the age!