When we arrived, I remember being taken back by the shabby appearance of the training center and drop zone. This was not at all what I had expected. There was a condemned looking little one-story building sitting in the middle of an open field. Off to the side was a staircase that went up to a platform-there was no plane in sight.
People coming from different areas of California to jump that day had begun arriving. Together we got out and approached the building. None of us dared admit it, based on what we were now looking at, that this did not seem like a real good idea. Be that as it may, now caught up in the group dynamic of peer support and foolhardy commitment, each of us paid the $69 for our training and the one jump we had anxiously come all this way for.
I didn’t see anyone who really looked like they were in charge or knew what to do with this now large group of people who had gathered and paid to jump. We were all mingling and getting to know each other, standing on the patio next to the condemned looking building, when we heard the rumble of a small plane high overhead. As we looked up, our eyes were drawn to a small speck that had jettisoned from the plane. As the speck got closer, we could see it was a person. Male or female, we did not know, but we were convinced of one thing, whoever this was – they knew what they were doing in the skydiving department.
This ballerina of the skies did cartwheels and somersaults before opening that big umbrella. Then with the utmost predictability and precision, maneuvered in position and landed on tiptoe, smack dab in the center of the picnic table 10 feet away.
Pulling off his helmet, he said with a bit of comedy and conviction, “Hi, I’m your instructor.”
He had long hair; an earring and a been-there-done-that wild look about him. It was obvious he had experienced a lot of life, and probably most of it flying through the air.
Suddenly I didn’t care any longer about the appearance of this place. It didn’t matter that the building looked dilapidated and the parking lot badly needed to be resurfaced. I didn’t care any longer that I didn’t know what I was getting into. This guy obviously did. This guy knew how to jump, knew how to fly and knew how to land, and I was absolutely convinced that he knew how to teach me to do the same.
I was to later learn that he was an ex-Viet Nam jumper and had literally thousands of jumps behind him. Jumping was his life. He had been teaching people how to jump for six years, six days a week at this location. He had never had a mishap. That was good enough for me. I was ready.
From that point on, my jump couldn’t come soon enough. But, I was going to have to be patient. Because this was our first jump, there were some things we needed to know. It would take almost a full day of training for each of us to gain the knowledge and the confidence we would need to step out of that airplane.
He began his instruction by telling us what, of course, I already knew, that the sport of parachuting was very, very safe. But he cautioned us that Murphy’s Law was certainly in effect with parachuting as it was in every other aspect of life. In other words, if something could possibly go wrong, it probably would go wrong. So in order to beat Murphy at his game, we would have to learn the steps necessary to get ourselves out of that seemingly fatal predicament should it occur. In other words, what do you do if the unthinkable, the unimaginable occurs, and your chute doesn’t open?
This was to be a static-line jump, as is used in the military and considered extremely safe. However, we were taught a cadence to get us out of trouble should the unthinkable occur and the main chute not open. This cadence consisted of a very precise set of commands, leading us through the steps necessary to open our spare chute.
When it’s your turn to jump the pilot will give you three commands, said the instructor, “Feet out… get out… and go!” You then begin the cadence, saying, “Arch one thousand, arch two thousand, arch three thousand.” That is the longest it should take for your chute to be open. If it is not open after three seconds, what you will see is the chute trailing you, empty of air and just flopping like a dishrag. You now officially have a serious problem!
The next two words in the cadence are “Bad chute”. I couldn’t believe my ears. Everyone just burst out laughing when he said it. It was a nervous laughter. It seemed so silly, but those two words said it all. As the laughter died, the instructor got very serious and explained to us why those two words were chosen.
He explained that a bad chute is a very, very bad chute! He said that, “a bad chute will never be a good chute, not ever!” The temptation is to try to fix it, but it is unfixable! The only thing to do with a bad chute is to get rid of it.
No Sensation of Falling
At this point in the training he made a statement that all of us found extremely difficult to believe. He said with parachuting there is no sensation of falling, even in a free-fall. How could that be? All of us were expecting the sensation of our stomach coming up to our throat as in a big fall on a roller coaster ride. He explained that when you jump you’re going almost the speed of the plane. Add to that the fact that you have no frame of reference. There is nothing you see that allows you to judge your speed or distance. Therefore, you feel like you have all the time in the world.
That being the case, it was extremely important to not waste any time getting to the next words in the cadence should you have a bad chute, which are, “Cut away”. Placing your hands on the clasps located on the straps on either side of your head, you are to open them and out would pop steel rings. You then place your thumbs in the steel rings and pull. Upon pulling those rings, the bad chute would be detached completely from the pack and would leave your body. As it leaves your body, a cord attached from the bad chute to the aluminum handle on the spare chute pulls the spare chute open. That spare chute (mounted on our chest) is spring-loaded and would literally explode off our chest straight up into the air.
Feet out, get out, and go
I was to be the first to jump that day. I heard the engines cut back as we were slowing down. That could only mean one thing. The moment of truth had arrived. I looked down immediately wishing I hadn’t. Everything was so tiny, so far away. “Feet out”, the pilot said. I remember muttering to myself, “Easy for you to say.” I turned my body sideways and swung my feet out. Immediately they flew up and almost hit the side of the plane. After all, we were going 90 miles an hour. I fought to get my feet on that little platform. No sooner had I accomplished that task than I heard the pilot in a strong calm voice say, “Get out.”
I felt fairly secure with only my feet out of the plane. Getting out was a whole different story. My six-foot-seven frame made it awkward for me to get out of the door positioned myself correctly. As I bent over under the wing I realized that this might just be the stupidest idea I had ever had in my life. Right at that moment of fear and doubt, I heard the pilot say with a loud voice and a hint of laughter, “Go.”
I let go. It was an amazing feeling, impossible to describe. All fear was gone as I quickly threw out my chest and arms and shouted, “Arch one thousand… check two thousand… check three thousand.” I couldn’t believe my eyes. I had a BAD CHUTE!
They teach you that there are two things that happen to most people in a shocking and highly stressful situation. I experienced both. The first is called BRAIN LOCK. Chances are you’ve experienced this. Maybe studying for a test or concentrating on something important. All of a sudden your brain seems to lock up. You’re stuck, stuck on one thing in particular and you can’t get off it. I brain locked immediately on bad chute. I said it about 150 times. I said it over and over again, “Bad chute, bad chute, bad chute, oh shoot, bad chute!”
The second thing that happens to most people in a stressful and shocking situation is what’s called TUNNEL VISION. With tunnel vision you lose your peripheral vision. You can only see and focus in a very limited area. Your whole perspective is myopic. You lose the big picture. This was the one that really got me off course.
Just as the instructor had told us, however, I had NO SENSATION OF FALLING. I felt like I had plenty of time to figure everything out and get back on track. After singing all the verses of the bad chute chorus and getting over the fact that this was not a dream but something really happening to me, I finally got to the next statement in the cadence — the most important one, “Cut away.”
Here is where I really got screwed up. I immediately began looking for the clasps but I could not see them. I reached up and grabbed the straps moving my hands up and down until I found the clasps. I felt them in my hands, I was rubbing my thumb over the smooth metal of what could only be the clasps, but I would not open them. I was paralyzed by the fear that I might be pulling the wrong thing because I could not see what I held in my hands. It was a totally irrational fear. I was now panicking.
What I didn’t realize was that falling at 125 per hour I was quickly running out of time. Like seemingly every other situation in life, I had waited entirely too long before asking God for help. I simply shouted, “GOD, HELP!” Immediately I heard Him say, “PULL NOW!”
I grabbed the aluminum rip cord handle and pulled with all my might. It felt as if I hit the ground immediately as I pulled. I hit with a tremendous force. At first I thought I had broken every bone in my body. Then the pain began to concentrate in one area and I realized I must have broken my back. Knowing it was important for me to lie perfectly still with a back injury, I did not attempt to move. The last thing I remember was people gathering around me. Most of them thought I was dead. I felt like I would be soon.
Well, I didn’t die. In fact, because of what I experienced, I began to live my life differently. I was flat on my back in the hospital for some time. The old saying goes, “When you’re flat on your back you only have one place to look – straight up.” Let’s just say that I began relating to God with renewed attention. This horrible ordeal had given me a new perspective on living.
I’m convinced that the ordeal I went through to actually get out of the plane and jump, is very similar to what it must be like for each of us when we are born physically. Think about it. We are folded up in the fetal position nervously waiting for the pilot (God) to give us the command to “get out” and “go”.
Once out of the womb we spread our arms and scream, just as I did when I jumped. In case you think I’m stretching things a bit with the similarities, think about this; in both physical birth and a static-line parachute jump there is a cord attached.
According to God’s Word, the Bible, His plan from the beginning was as follows: every child born into this world, following His instructions to “get out and go”, would upon release from the (umbilical) cord, experience metaphorically, a wide-open parachute dropping them to a gentle landing on a perfect planet. There, they would peacefully interact with and enjoy the God who created them.
Genesis 1:27-31 states, “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. God blessed them and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and increase in number, fill the earth and subdue it’… God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.”
Here we have the first humans created as spirit-beings, capable of having a perfect relationship with their creator. God places them in a pristine and perfect environment, puts them in charge of the lower created order of things, and gives them the wonderful assignment of populating the earth and controlling it. Plus, he created them to be highly intelligent and highly creative beings, with the capacity of developing a loving relationship with both their creator and each other. It doesn’t get a whole lot better than that!
Free to Choose
But there was one catch. From all they had been freely given, there was one thing they were not to touch. Now I know what you’re thinking. “What kind of set up is that?” We all know human nature dictates our inclinations are to test the forbidden. If there is a sign reading, “wet paint don’t touch”, we will invariably touch it. Does it not stand to reason that there was no conceivable way they would obey God’s command?
Actually, there is much more to it than that. What brought our first parents to disobey our creator had little to do with “touching the forbidden fruit.” It rather had everything to do with issues of “who’s in charge here?” The real issue centered on the question, “Is God the boss of me?”
God had given them the choice to either acknowledge Him as their creator and ruler, or decide that they were capable of managing their life and their future on their own. As R.C. Sproul (one of today’s great theologians) aptly put it, “There are really only two choices in life. It’s much like the old Burger King jingle – ‘Have it your way’. Either we say to God, ‘Have it your way’, or God in turn says to us, ‘Have it your way’”. It is an amazing truth that our creator actually gives each of us the right, responsibility and capability to choose who we want as our God.
When our first parents chose they knew exactly what they were choosing. They also knew exactly what God told them the consequences would be should they decide to choose against him. Whether they believed Him or not is another matter. But think about it. If they were willing to take the chance, they were probably already convinced of the possibility that God could be wrong. At the very least we know they were easily tempted to distrust Him.
When our first parents, the original parents of the human race, decided to have it their way, they ruined it for all of us − BIG TIME! From that moment on the Bible says everyone born on this earth, who is a part of the human race beginning with Adam, and that would include everyone − is born with a bad chute! The Bible calls it sin.
“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Romans 3:23
Just like my skydiving experience, this bad chute is a very, very bad chute. More importantly, this bad chute will never be a good chute, not ever!
As futile as it would have been for me to waste time trying to fix my bad chute, it would be equally futile for someone to attempt to fix their sin problem. Yet that’s precisely what many people do. They try real hard to “be good” or at the very least, try not to be “as bad” as other people they know. They assume God will grade on a curve, giving them just the edge they need to make it into heaven. But, the Bible is very clear that it doesn’t work that way. Think about it. How could a sinner possibly fix his own sin problem? It can’t be done! At this point all looks hopeless. It would have been hopeless for all of us, had God not intervened and given us a second chance.
THE SPARE CHUTE
The spare chute represents Jesus Christ. The entire message of the Bible is about God working out a plan to give each of us a second chance. That’s what makes it “Good News.” It’s a love story. It is all about what God did for us that we are incapable of doing for ourselves.
“When you were dead in your sins… God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins.” Colossians 2:13
“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith − and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God − not by works, so that no one can boast.” Ephesians 2:8-9
Our merciful, loving, gracious heavenly Father loved His creatures so much, that he fitted them with a spare chute perfectly capable of saving their life.
“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” John 3:16
But to activate your spare chute you have to believe in Him (PULL)! In this analogy pulling the rip cord is equivalent to humbly admitting that you cannot fix your sin problem and save yourself. It’s realizing the only solution is to put your faith and trust in Jesus Christ.
How tragic, how ridiculous, how idiotic would it have been had I laid on the ground dead, every bone in my body broken, with an unused spare chute mounted on my chest, perfectly capable of saving my life!
Since my near death experience, whenever I attend a funeral of someone who I know never “pulled” (put their faith in Jesus Christ), I picture them lying in the casket with their unused spare chute (second chance for eternal life) mounted on their chest, shiny rip cord handle and all. It begs the question, “What on earth happened?”
As I have detailed, there were things that worked against me in my parachute jump. These things prevented me from following through each step of the cadence successfully to pull open the spare chute. I believe those same things work against people today, preventing them from pulling open the spare chute that is Jesus Christ.
NO SENSATION OF FALLING
The first thing that delays many people is no sensation of falling. Many get stuck there in their youth and never get unstuck! It is very easy to lose site of the fact that in reality, as compared to eternity, our life on this earth is a very short fall. Many are forever putting off thinking about the all important decisions concerning what happens after death, because they have no sensation of falling. No sensation of how short life can be. No sensation of the fact that ultimately we are not in control of how long we have on this earth.
Many gamble, assuming they will have enough time later in life to decide what they will do about eternity. With no sensation of falling, many (as was nearly the case with me), die before they act on following through with the one thing that could have saved their life eternally.
Another common problem taking people off the cadence is brain lock. As was the case with me during my jump, some people tend to brain lock on the problem (in this analogy their sin) and get stuck there, never moving on to the solution.
It’s easy to get caught up with our failures, sins and shortcomings (our bad chute), and begin feeling like there is no way out. “How could God ever forgive me for what I have done?” It’s sad to realize that many people never move on to simply receiving the free gift that God so generously offers to everyone through Jesus Christ, regardless of what sins they have committed.
Just as the scope of my normal vision narrowed significantly during my fall, many people lose sight of “the big picture” in life. They have tunnel vision. In the stress of everyday life it’s easy to lose our peripheral vision seeing only the here and now, the immediate, today. When this happens we become very narrow and limited. We stop thinking about the big important questions of life.
- Who designed and created this universe, and me?
- Why am I here?
- What am I supposed to be doing?
- Where am I going after life on this earth?
- Will I have to answer to my creator?
When tunnel vision occurs and we lose eternal perspective, we become horizontal in our thinking. We are concerned only about life on this planet. We are concentrating on all the wrong stuff! Having lost the ability to see vertically (denying the spiritual dimension of life), it’s difficult to “find the handle” and pull.
I know God has saved my life at least twice. But truly, the most important “saving” came not as I was falling to death with a bad parachute. No, it came much earlier in my life when God saved my soul. Ultimately, that was His most important rescue.
“… what good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul?” Matthew 16:26