The Way Through.
You may have seen something ‘Heaven Sent’ from National Geographic online about a month ago. It was pretty amazing. Actually it was astounding. A guy named Luke Aikens jumped out of a plane 5 miles up in the sky without a parachute, a wingsuit, or anything else that might help him stop or slow him down. He aimed for a 100 ft by 100 ft net on the ground, falling at 120 miles per hour, flipping and rolling over backwards 200 feet away from net so he could land onto his back. He called the leap “Heaven Sent” and said “I’m out here to show that there are ways to do things that people think are insane and aren’t able to be done.”
And…he made it, without a scratch, walking away from the net with a big smile on his face. If you want to see it, just type “Luke Aikens” into Google.
There are many people around the world who are engaged in similarly crazy (and some would say reckless) things. In fact, there are organized activities called Extreme Sports, with people BASE-jumping off buildings and antennas and mountain tops, hanging off kites, climbing the sides of cliffs without any equipment, surfing gigantic waves, doing extreme skiing, waterfall kayaking, racing at crazy speeds in trucks, boats, cars, surfboards, snowmobiles. There is a movement called Parkour, where people try to move rapidly over roofs, fences, barriers and other obstacles by running, climbing, jumping and sliding crazily onto railings, poles, fire escapes, barrels…pretty much doing what Daniel Craig does as James Bond when he is pursuing bad guys on the rooftops of Paris.
All of these activities are, to say the least, risky and very dangerous, and every year a number of people die in the process of trying to accomplish them. They say “I’m in”, and mean it, even to the ultimate end.
I can relate to it, a little bit. I have jumped out of a perfectly good working airplane three times from a height of 3 miles in the sky—but each time with a parachute, and oh, a guy strapped on my back who knows what he is doing when he jumps out of an airplane. Each time I also recall standing at the doorway of the plane, looking down three miles to the good earth, and asking myself: What was I thinking? Why am I doing this again?
Why do people do these things---acts that go against our natural human instincts of self preservation? Why are some people turned on by that stuff, what are they looking for by jumping out of airplanes, climbing Mt. Everest, enduring the Ironman course? Why are there so many ‘groupies’ who—if they don’t have the courage or physical abilities to do it themselves--are almost addicted to following the ‘stars’ of these activities? There are many websites with lots of astounding videos to watch, and there are even Olympic-type Extreme Sports events that are broadcast to huge audiences around the world.
I did a little research on the topic. People who engage in such activities are obviously risk-takers, the quality that is often associated with our best inventors, entrepreneurs and explorers. Some of them do it because they are clearly adrenaline junkies, and need to take extreme risks to make their lives seem less boring. Others may want the satisfaction of accomplishing something really outstanding, and the good feeling of receiving newfound respect from family, friends and co-workers. And for those who are simply spectators, they feel inspired and empowered just by sheer association with those who are flying through the air.
But deep down, it seems that many have a kind of hunger, are looking for a kind of answer to the existential questions that our world raises for each of us now more than ever: Who am I? What is my purpose? What does it mean to be truly alive? The WFPF (World Freerunning Parkour Federation) states that “Parkour is fundamentally a philosophy, and a way a life. It’s a way of looking at any environment and believing in your heart that there is no obstacle in life that cannot be overcome, a ‘way through’ for us all.”
2000 years ago, without airplanes and hang gliders and surfboards and racing cars, people were looking for much the same thing that we want in our lives. And when Jesus came along, he aroused something like the kind of excitement that Parkour and Extreme Sports does for some of us today. In fact, he had quite an enthusiastic bunch of ‘groupies’ who literally followed him around, hoping that some of the thrill they sensed in proximity to him might rub off on them. He appeared to be ‘a way through’ for them.
I have a phrase that I often use when people talk to me about goals they have for their lives. It’s easy to remember: ‘people do what they want to do’. Sounds simple, right? You tell me that you want to stop eating those delicious blueberry scones at Starbucks (490 calories each), you tell me that you’re gonna work out three days a week at the gym, you tell me that you’re going to clean out the garage or the basement or the attic that is full of junk from the last 20 years, that you are going to cut back on your video games and start doing some serious book reading again, that you are going to be more loving and kind to your wife or your husband or your parents or your children, that you are going to spend quality time with your friends and family, whatever it is—and if you don’t do it, well, people do what they want to do, and those concrete actions that you don’t take are more telling than any words you utter or any pledges you make. You commit to what you say you want to do, or you don’t, and that decision defines who you really are and what you really want in your life. You’ve got to say “I’m in” and mean it by doing it.
Jesus understood why he had people following him, he understood their hunger, their deeper desires. And he provided them ‘a way through’, but in many ways he had to warn them that they couldn’t be spectators, that they had to commit. He used dramatic language: hating your family and your own life, renouncing all your possessions—ALL of them---that’s the tough ‘way through’ to living a truly worthwhile life.
I want to testify to you that he is still ‘the way through’ to what we are all looking for in our lives. Now maybe more than ever. Parkour, Extreme Sports, jumping out of airplanes—don’t even come close to what he offers. And its free for all of us, requires no special training or equipment. It’s about doing what you want to do, which is to be with him, and he says, essentially, OK, welcome aboard, all you have to do is show up…committed to do whatever comes. Are you ‘in’ with him?
But following Jesus is dangerous. It is costly. It means leaving many things behind. You can’t get there with a lot of baggage: your cars, your fancy clothes, your big houses, important jobs. Sometimes even your relationships can block you from ‘the way through’ to your heart’s desire.
And usually you have to leave your ‘self’ behind. Make no mistake about it---that can hurt a lot, at first.
People do what they want to do, and if you follow Jesus, that means you do what he wants you to do. If you are ‘in’ with him, you’ll have to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, heal the sick, free the imprisoned, spend quality time with your children, put a smile on your face at the checkout counter, reach out to the elderly, lose a weekend of your precious ‘me’ time to be with someone who is lonely, transfer some of your wealth to someone who has nothing, grieve with a brother or sister who has lost a family member or a job or a house or a way of life. If you are ‘in’ with him, you’ll have to serve as He deserves, to give and not to count the cost, to fight and not to heed the wounds, to toil and not to seek for rest, to labor and not to ask for any reward.
Jesus says: “I’m out here to show that there are ways to do things that people think are insane and aren’t able to be done.”
Who are you? What is your purpose? What will truly make you alive?
People do what they want to do. Are you ready to commit? Are you ‘in’ for the most dangerous ‘way through’ to what your heart desires?
If so, then get ready to leap, heaven sent.