Monthly Archives: October 2016

To See How Small We Are

It was a feat like no other ever achieved in the history of the world.

Only once had it even been attempted – in 1960.

Felix Baumgartner, a 43-year old former paratrooper from Austria, decided that he would travel above the earth in a capsule, under a balloon. Wearing a special suit, Baumgartner would jump out of the capsule and fall back to earth.

He would jump from 24 miles up. It would be the highest manned balloon flight ever.

Why would anyone do this?

Baumgartner wanted to see if he could break the sound barrier. It would just be him, alone, falling through the sky. NASA, anxious to make improvements on its “space-wear”, also wanted to see how his suit held up. So on a Sunday, up went Felix. Eight million people worldwide tuned in via the internet (by way of cameras mounted on the capsule) to see him jump.

When the capsule reached an altitude of 128,100 feet, Felix went to the doorway, gave a thumbs-up, and jumped into the inky blackness of the stratosphere. Baumgartner reached a speed of 833.9 miles an hour on his way down. He broke the sound barrier, becoming the first human to reach supersonic speed without the added benefit of a jet or spacecraft.

Amazingly, Felix Baumgartner, parachuting in, landed on his feet in the dessert near Roswell, New Mexico. After falling to his knees and lifting his arms in victory, Baumgartner spoke of his extraordinary experience.

“When I was standing there on top of the world,” he said, “you become so humble, you do not think about breaking records anymore, you do not think about gaining scientific data. The only thing you want is to come back alive.”

Perspective helps us focus on the important things in life.

Then Felix smiled and told the reporters:

“Sometimes we have to get really high to see how small we are.”

Perspective also gives us a new attitude – a new way of seeing ourselves and the world around us.

I’m guessing that Felix Baumgartner saw what we saw through the camera when he stepped to the open doorway of that capsule in space. It was the earth, round, blue and beautiful; and, yes, incredibly, awesomely majestic.

Getting a glimpse of the cosmos, we suddenly realize how insignificant we truly are.

Yes, altitude changes attitude.

The universe has that effect.

Appreciating its surreal vastness reminds us of our mortal limitations. It reminds us, too, of the infinite greatness of our Creator. To see what Felix Baumgartner saw that Sunday is to see our world and to see ourselves as God sees us.

It is to capture – for an imperfect instant – something of the divine perspective. It is to step back and see ourselves, not for what and who we think we are in all our foolish strivings and vain ambitions – but rather to see ourselves for what God knows us to be in the truth of his sovereign reality.

“For he knows how weak we are; he remembers we are only dust.” (Psalm 103: 14, NLT).

Few things are as healthy as getting in touch with our own mortality and the fragile fallibilities of our nature.

God watches the people of the earth scurrying about as ants seeking dominance on a small mound of dirt and he smiles the omnipotent smile of a beneficent Maker. From where God sits – from the heavenly throne on which he rules – “all the nations of the world are but a drop in the bucket. They are nothing more than dust on the scales. He picks up the whole earth as though it were a grain of sand.” (Isaiah 40: 15, NLT).

This is the way God sees us. This is the divine perspective.

“How small we are … you become so humble.”

In a few days, many will wring their hands over the outcome of a national election that didn’t go their way. We’ll forget for a moment that to the Lord God of the universe, “all nations before him are as nothing; they are counted to him less than nothing, and vanity.” (Isaiah 40: 17, KJV).

The psalmist knew.

“When I consider thy heaven, the work of thy fingers, the moon and stars, which thou hast ordained; what is man, that thou art mindful of him?” (Psalm 8:3-4, KJV).

Only a God of unconquerable mercy and grace could display so great a love upon so infinitesimal a creature as man. We may be eternally grateful that something more than God’s glory ascends to the heavens. God “does not deal harshly with us as we deserve. For his unfailing love toward those who fear him is as great as the height of the heavens above the earth.” (Psalm 103: 10, 11, NLT).

Few of us will ever see the earth from 24 miles up. Yet we should still seek a perspective of God and ourselves that reflects a true appreciation of both.

“Put them in fear, O Lord; that the nations may know themselves to be but men.” (Psalm 9: 20, KJV).

God help us to “see how small we are.”

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Promise for an Airman

 

His dad ran a hardware store in the small town of Indiana, Pennsylvania.

When war broke out in Europe young Jim was eager to enlist. Even though Pearl Harbor was months away, he knew he had to do something.

Jim was 32 and had already earned a degree in architecture from Princeton. He talked with his dad, himself a veteran of the Spanish American War and World War I.

The father understood – they had come from a long line of soldiers and patriots. He didn’t try to talk Jim out of it.

When he flunked his physical because at 6’ 3” and 138 pounds he was five pounds under the weight requirement, Jim went home and ate everything in sight. Even then, he had to have a friend tip the scales in order to make it.

On the day Jim shipped out for the Air Force as a B-24 bomber pilot, his dad, a staunch Presbyterian, quietly slipped a note and another piece of paper into Jim’s uniform pocket.

After he left home, he opened the note from his dad:

“My dear Jim-Boy, soon after you read this letter, you will be on your way to the worst of danger. Jim, I am banking on the enclosed copy of the 91st Psalm. The thing that takes the place of fear and worry is the promise of these words. I feel sure that God will lead you through this mad experience. I can say no more. I only continue to pray. Goodbye, my dear. God continue to bless and keep you. I love you more than I can tell you. Dad”

Jim read the psalm.

“He that dwelleth in the secret place of the most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the Lord, He is my refuge and my fortress; my God; in him will I trust.” (Psalm 91: 1-2, KJV).

These beautiful words, rendered more so in the King James Version, are among the most beloved and familiar found in the scriptures. They have comforted millions for centuries. Jim found comfort in them now – and in his dad’s love and prayers.

“Surely he shall deliver thee from the snare of the fowler”, the psalmist writes, “and from the noisome pestilence. He shall cover thee with his feathers, and under his wings shalt thou trust: his truth shall be thy shield and buckler” (verses 3- 4).

Throughout these 16 verses are found strong encouragement and confidence for every man, woman and child who places his full trust in the Almighty God. It is the most glorious song of Divine protection and security in the Bible. It is bold and unequivocal in its declarations.

We find no hedging qualifiers anywhere in this great psalm.

You may be surrounded by terror at night and dodging fiery arrows by day. Yet even with danger all around you, “thou shalt not be afraid” (verse 5). Though thousands may fall to the right and left of you, “it shall not come nigh thee” (verse 7).

Why?

“Because thou hast made the Lord, which is my refuge, even the most High, thy habitation” (verse 9).

In the daily spiritual wars of our souls and our lives and in the wars of our world, El Shaddai, the Almighty God Who sustains and protects, will protect and sustain you and me.

No matter what we’re facing.

No matter how terrifying the foe or frightening the crisis, the God Who protects “shall give his angels charge over thee, to keep thee in all thy ways. They shall bear thee up in their hands, lest thou dash thy foot against a stone” (verses 11-12).

At God’s command you and I are supported by the angels of heaven.

Jim carefully folded the psalm up and placed it back in his pocket.

Through 20 combat missions in some of the fiercest fighting the world had ever known, Jim carried that 91st Psalm with him. When the war was over, he had earned six battle stars, the Distinguished Flying Cross, the Air Medal and the Croix de Guerre with Palm.

He was uninjured.

Reflecting on his war experience years later, Jim said of the Psalm:

“What a promise for an airman. I placed in His hands the squadron I would be leading. And, as the psalmist promised, I felt myself borne up.”

After the war, Jim served in the Air Force Reserve, rising to the rank of Brigadier General. He was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal in 1968 and in 1985 President Ronald Reagan presented him with the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

The irony of it all is that Jim Stewart didn’t need to serve in World War II. He had already been nominated for an Academy Award in 1939 for Mr. Smith Goes to Washington and won it in 1940 for his role in The Philadelphia Story. 

America and the world will always remember James Stewart. He never referred to himself as Jimmy, but we did and always will. When he died at the age of 89, the President of the United States hailed him as “a national treasure … a great actor, a gentleman and a patriot.”

On Jimmy Stewart’s gravestone are carved these words:

“For He shall give his angels charge over thee to keep thee in all thy ways”.

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