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How Many Balloons?  

How many balloons would it take to lift you off the ground?

I’ve wondered about this question since I was a kid. Staring at the Pixar movie, Up, did nothing but stoke my imagination.  Maybe you’re curious, too. 

Adventurist Tom Morgan was determined to find the answer to this question. He and some friends jetted to Botswana in southern Africa, having determined the wide open planes and plateaus were a perfect fit for their crazy experiment. 

Strapped into a chair, Tom’s team attached 86 very large (think five-feet in diameter) helium-filled balloons.  And then he lifted off, higher and higher.  And higher. 

According to an article in The Red Bulletin, Tom Morgan eventually climbed to an altitude of nearly 8200 feet, choosing to remain airborne for three hours. Then it was time to settle down to earth. Morgan touched down safely on terra firma, having traveled a lateral distance of fifteen miles.  “It was like I knew what I was doing,” he bemuses.

Can you imagine the vistas he drank in at more than 8000 feet?  Stretched before him, the carpet of the African Savanna.  The photographer in me drools at the thought of peering through the lens of my Nikon at such a height.

Imagine the panoramas that you could stitch together in PhotoShop!  Lacking the smog and smoke of more industrialized countries, you would hungrily eat up the sights of Botswana, never to forget this banquet of beauty.  You would constantly stare, turn, look—and look again.

This business of constantly looking takes me to a favorite verse, 2 Chronicles 16:9. “For the eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to give strong support to those whose heart is blameless toward him.”

Our God is not looking for beautiful scenery.  He’s already gone on record as giving approval to His creation (“and behold, it was very good”).   So what is  God really after?  “A heart that is blameless toward Him.” 

He’s looking, searching, to and fro.  His “camera” is ready.  The question is, what does He see when He stares at your heart?  At mine? 

Not long ago, a doctor insisted I get a scan of my heart.  I was afraid of what it might reveal.  To my relief, everything looked great.  Yet I’m sure a scan of my spiritual heart would reveal plenty of concerns.

A blameless heart is not just God-approved, it’s God-supported.  He wants to give “strong support to those whose heart is blameless toward Him.”

So…how’s your heart?

The Bear  

Have you ever felt the blast of a bear exhaling on your hand?   Happened to me a few days ago.

We were visiting a small town Wisconsin zoo and I found myself frustrated trying to take pictures of Bugaboo and Berryboo—a pair of Black Bears.  In addition to the very sturdy chain link fence that kept the bears where they belonged, there was a secondary fence that kept us back even further.  So taking pictures of the bears was more like taking pictures of the fence.

In talking with one of the animal trainers I explained my dilemma, suggesting that if I could jam the lens of my camera up against an opening in the fence, the pictures would be much better. Taking pity on me, she led me to a spot where I could do just that.

But Bugaboo immediately padded his nearly 400 pounds over, shoved his mug against the fence and began to sniff at us. Not exactly an ideal shot, because once again, the fence was in the way of the shot.

Fiddling with my camera, I could actually feel his warm exhale on my wrist. At one point the bear let out a jolting snort, and then I got a face full of his breath. Not hideous.  But not pleasant, either. We were that close.

Peering at Bugaboo from my side of the fence, it was tempting to think that maybe he wasn’t all that dangerous after all.  Hadn’t I seen the zoo keeper let him sniff the palm of her hand?  Maybe he wasn’t the fierce killer I’d been led to believe.

That silly way of thinking is the same road many of us foolishly travel down when we wrestle with sin. We reason, “it can actually be rather tame, so there’s no need for all the handwringing.”  Until we get bit—with all the force of a Black Bear (more biting power than a leopard, a cougar or a gray wolf).

2 Timothy 2:22 urges, “So flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace….”

There’s a reason for the fence that God has set up as a barrier against sin.

Tame looking or not, we’d best remember that sin—all sin—is ferocious and deadly.  Soft fur coat and his cuddly name notwithstanding, Bugaboo will always be a killer.  Just like sin.

Fake News  

"This whole flap about fake news makes me laugh,” said my friend and armchair philosopher Jack.

“What’s funny about fake news?” I queried.

“The very name.  No such thing as fake news,” he insisted, removing his Chicago Cubs hat for a moment and scratching the side of his head.  “There’s truth and lies.  But in a culture that has cut ties with truth, the whole fake news brouhaha is hardly surprising.”

“What do you mean we’ve ‘cut ties with the truth?” I fired back. “That’s a pretty harsh statement.”

“Agreed. But when you dismiss the very idea of absolute truth, as our culture did years ago, you set up a pitch that nobody can hit.”

“Not sure I’m making the connection here, Jack” I allowed.

“Truth ain’t like a buffet,” intoned my baseball-loving friend, switching from baseball to food metaphors as he unzipped his officially licensed blue Cubs windbreaker. “You can’t choose some truth and then refuse the idea of absolute truth.   Because if some things aren’t true for all people all the time, then there’s no basis for calling anything true.  Nobody figured that when we bagged the idea of absolute truth, we’d eliminate the idea of truth itself.”

“Never thought of that, Jack,” I allowed.  “Tell me more.”

“It’s like someone saying, ‘A foot-long ruler doesn’t necessarily have to be 12 inches.  It can be whatever you want it to be.’  But then that same bloke comes back all in a huff two days later with a tape measure to prove his neighbor has built a fence on the wrong side of the property line.  But his offending neighbor fires back, ‘A ruler can be whatever you want it to be. My truth is my truth—-and yours is yours.’  Toss out the concept of absolute truth and you lose your authority to say anything is right or wrong.”

“Makes sense.  But it’s kinda scary.”

“Very. People in our culture claim to value scientific facts, but when those facts don’t line up with their version of the ‘truth,’ they often dismiss them.  So logic and reason and fact-based evidence are all tossed out in favor of “narrative” and “experience” and “cultural plurality.”    If enough of us believe something, then it becomes truth.  And if enough of us disbelieve something, then it becomes false.”

“So that’s why you say we’ve cut ties with the truth,” I muttered half to myself. Jack stood and zipped his windbreaker as I blurted out, “Is there any hope for truth then?  Any chance it can make a comeback?”

“Not likely” he said quietly.  “We’ve fallen far behind—and it’s late in the ninth.”  Jack adjusted his cap so the logo was centered.  “Then again, nobody thought the Cubs were gonna win the World Series.”



Living the Dream  

The train conductor has just punched my ticket.  Mike is his name.  He looks all snappy in his creased white shirt with the brass buttons, sporting a hat that bears the “Metra” rail logo.  A jangle of keys and the squawk of his radio define the man I’ve tried to get know a bit more than just “that conductor on the train.”

I greet Mike by name—and he knows mine as well.  Lost in thought, I stumble a moment when he asks how I’ve been doing.  The delay is just long enough that the conductor does the talking for me.  Mike suggests that I'm “living the dream.” 

Initially, I chuckle in polite agreement, as he moves on to the next passenger. Then the truth of his statement sinks in.  I am living the dream.   I’ve been forgiven by Almighty God, my sins paid for in full by a selfless Savior, and I am now indwelled by the Holy Spirit.  That’s living the dream.

I have the riches of God at my disposal, His storehouse of grace at my fingertips and unhindered, unending access to the throne room of the King of Kings.  That’s living the dream.

I have the love of Christ, the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, and the guaranteed protection of Almighty God Himself, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.  That’s living the dream.

I have God’s personal assurance of unshakable peace so long as my mind is stayed upon Him. I have His promise of forgiveness, each and every time I confess—along with the stunning image that my sins are removed from me “as far as the east is from the west.”  That’s living the dream.

I have the bullet-proof promise of heaven when I die: unbroken fellowship with the One who made me for Himself… unstoppable joy… unfathomable riches… unimaginable beauty… unending new discoveries of His holiness.  That's living the dream!

In my half of the rail car there are at least 50 people texting, tweeting, reading, Facebooking and watching movies. They are being entertained for sure.  But how many of them can honestly say they are living the dream?

Are YOU?

Return to Laos  

Choking smoke, a shattered canopy and the eerie sound of wind against wings: pilot David Thomas Dinan was in trouble.  A Soviet MiG fighter had shredded his F-105 fighter over the jungles of Laos. When not riddled with bullets, an F-105—heavily used during the Vietnam War—could fly at Mach 2 and carry sixteen 750 pound bombs.

As the swept wing jet pancaked out of control there was no question it was time to bail. By all accounts, David T. Dinan successfully ejected from his aircraft.  Yet he died upon landing and his body was not recovered.

Leyland Sorensen, who served as an Air Force pararescueman was chosen for the mission.  Lowered by helicopter, his job was to bring back the injured and the dead.

But enemy gunfire erupted around Leyland’s helicopter and the rescuers were forced to abort their mission of recovering Dinan’s body.   Back at base, the rescue attempt would be rescheduled. 

Except, it never was.  Not that week.  Not the next month.  Not the next year. An administrative oversight?  Maybe.  No one knows.

But more than four decades later, when retired Air Force pararescueman Leyland Sorensen was invited to return to Laos aboard a C-17 and try to locate Dinan’s remains, he accepted the call of duty.

Imagine riding in a helicopter 45 years later over the very spot you’d been fired upon.  For three days they scoured a hillside they thought might be the place. Nothing.

On the third and final day allotted to the mission, they came upon a nylon pad that appeared to be from a parachute.  About 25 feet from the pad was more parachute material: a harness, buckles, and fabric.   They also found a locker key and a sock. 

Then came the miracle.  Lying on the ground was a laminated military ID card, caked with dirt.  The name was partially visible: “David T….”

A subsequent recovery team discovered the rest of David T. Dinan’s remains.  Last month, he was finally laid to rest at home in the U.S.—forty-five years after the first rescue was attempted.

To me, this is more than a powerful Memorial Day story.  It reminds me of what Christ did to bring us to God.  He traveled all the way from heaven to earth,  enduring deadly attacks from a savage enemy.  Christ ultimately gave up His own life to extract us from the wreckage of our sinful state. We who were “dead in trespasses and sins” have now been made alive through the sacrifice of Christ.

What a rescue!  What a Savior!

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Jon GaugerJon Gauger

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