June 24, 1994, Perris, California—I glanced at the bright red needle of the altimeter strapped to my chest: 10,500 feet! I gazed out the window. The roads, trees and houses blended into one bluish ethereal tint. Kent, my jumpmaster, told me to put on my helmet and goggles as he began to lock our harnesses together.
We were now 12,500 feet above the drop zone. Two other jumpers slid the door open and the wind chilled my sweaty skin. I zipped up my jumpsuit and staggered with Kent to the door. Then, I was at the scene I had long imagined—and dreaded.
While the sky seemed inviting, the ground, two-and-a-half miles below, was forbidding. As I got into the jump position, I tried not to think about how scared I was. Just do it, I thought.
Beneath the roar of the fierce winds that clobbered my face, I heard Kent counting. "One, two, THREE!"
Suddenly, buckets of adrenalin flooded my bloodstream. For the first three seconds, I felt my stomach surge skyward out the top of my head. The pale blue earth roared toward me. I was falling close to 120 miles an hour, descending 200 feet every second.
As the winds stormed toward us, I felt my goggles and helmet about to be blown away. My cheeks were drawn back toward my ears. Though we were dropping this fast, I felt like I was simply floating on air. I had a panoramic view of the ground below and I prayed our harnesses wouldn't separate because Kent had the parachutes!
As I started to actually enjoy the fall, Kent tapped me on the side. I checked my altimeter and it was 5,000 feet. I grabbed the bright red handle and pulled the ripcord. Immediately, the loud rush of air melted into a peaceful calm as a white parachute blossomed over our heads. We were now descending at about 18 feet per second, steering the parachute down, landing about four minutes later.
Becoming a Christian is a lot like parachuting out of an airplane for the very first time. Both require counting the cost, denying oneself, faith and trust, and being fully committed.
Count the cost
Jesus Christ stressed the importance of counting the cost before undertaking any endeavor (Luke 14:28-32). Before going on this tandem skydive, I had to count the cost. Aside from knowing how much the skydive would cost in dollars, I had to evaluate the risks of skydiving, the safety record of the school and my own and my family's feelings about the whole matter. And while I concluded that the odds were on my side, I still had to be prepared for the other alternative. Am I willing to risk what I have now to gain what I don't yet have? Am I prepared for the worst—should it happen?
Before one decides to become a Christian, one must also count the cost. Jesus taught that those who wanted to follow Him must not do so thoughtlessly (Luke 14:26-33). Why? Because when Christ calls us to repentance, He expects nothing short of absolute surrender to God's will (Luke 9:23). Moreover, some of His followers would even have to suffer and die for being a Christian.
Before I even paid for my skydive, the skydiving school made me aware of the risks involved. The first thing they made me do was read and sign several pages of legal documents releasing the school of any liability should injury or death result. I also had to waive my right to sue or to collect insurance. In doing so I was denying myself my normal rights. I was, in a sense, losing control and signing my life away.
True conversion, likewise, calls for total and unconditional surrender to God. Before becoming Christians, we must deny ourselves. Jesus said, "If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me" (Luke 9:23). By this, Jesus means we must deny our right to live as we please—with no thought of or regard for the will of God. We must surrender this self-will and learn to follow God's lead in our lives.
We must also be prepared to suffer the consequences of our decision—trusting in God—if the worst were to come. Jesus said that one cannot be His disciple if he or she is not prepared to give up everything (Luke 14:33). And yes, this includes our own life as well (Luke 14:26).
Trust and have faith
Skydiving for the first time—or perhaps even several times after that—is scary. I had never done it before and I didn't know what to expect. It was really leaping into the unknown. And although I knew that my chances of surviving were good, there was no money-back guarantee. What I needed was trust, and a lot of faith. Trust in the sport of parachuting, trust in the parachute itself and trust in the experienced jumpmaster.
My jumpmaster, Kent, did not always explain everything, unless, of course, I asked him a question. Not knowing everything there was to know about skydiving worried me. Would I overlook some important piece of information that might cost me my life? But the implicit message from my jumpmaster was that he knew what he was doing and that all I needed to do was trust and follow instructions.
During the freefall, I felt all alone, heading into the ground head first. I couldn't see Kent who was behind my back. He probably knew how I felt, since he undoubtedly remembers his first skydive, too.
Trust and faith are the same things Jesus requires of His would-be followers. He told them they must be devoted to Him more than anyone or anything else (Matthew 10:37-38). In our Christian life, Jesus doesn't always tell us everything, but He's always there—always watching, guiding and caring. Having once been a human being, Jesus understands our fears, our insecurities, our anxieties. In Hebrews 4:15, we read, "For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin."
Be fully committed
Having counted the cost, denied ourselves and trusted in faith, we should be fully committed. Before the actual skydive, they give you many opportunities to say, "No, I'm not going to do it." Some have quit before signing the legal papers and attesting before a video camera that they have read and agreed with the statement of release. The other time one may want to quit is right before jumping out of the plane.
As time goes on, however, it becomes costlier to quit. For instance, after 30 minutes into the flight, I wouldn't get any refund should I decide not to jump. According to one of the skydiving personnel I talked to, the two most disappointed people she has ever seen were the two who quit and landed with the plane. Apparently, they were not fully committed.
Christianity, however, is a lifetime commitment. Jesus said, "No one, having put his hand to the plow, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God" (Luke 9:62). He said anyone who isn't ready to commit cannot be His disciple (Luke 14:27; Matthew 10:38).
God is not pleased with quitters (Hebrews 10:38). To turn one's back on God would serve to forfeit the gift of eternal life and warrant eternal death (Hebrews 10:26-27). But Jesus promised that "he who endures to the end shall be saved" (Matthew 24:13). God wants us all to stand firm to the end. He wants us to be as committed to Him as He is to us, "being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ" (Philippians 1:6).
I believe there can be no greater joy than to embark upon the road to eternal life and stand firm throughout one's Christian life—a more lasting, a more fulfilling and a more purposeful adventure than skydiving. So get ready to leave everything behind, trusting Jesus to the end.
"One, two, THREE!"
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