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The story is about a man by the name of Larry Walters, a 33-year-old man who decided he wanted to see his neighborhood from a new perspective. So, he went down to the local army surplus store and bought forty-five used weather balloons.
That afternoon he strapped himself into a lawn chair, to which several of his friends tied the now helium-filled used weather balloons. He took with him, something to drink, a peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich, and a BB gun, figuring he could shoot the balloons one at a time when he was ready to land.
Walters, who assumed the balloons would lift him about 100 feet in the air, was caught off guard when the chair soared more than 11,000 feet into the sky--smack into the middle of the air traffic pattern at Los Angeles International Airport. Because he was too frightened to shoot any of the balloons, he stayed airborne for more than two hours, and forced the airport to shut down its runways for much of the afternoon.
Soon after he was safely grounded and cited by the police, reporters asked him three questions:
"Were you scared? "Yes."
"Would you do it again? "No.
"Why did you do it?" "Because you can’t just sit there."
You’re probably familiar with the book "Moby Dick". Even if you’ve never read it, you know the story: Captain Ahab goes in search of a great while whale, and is finally killed when the whale attacks and destroys his ship. But you probably didn’t know that this scene in Herman Melville’s novel was inspired by an actual event in the year 1820 - the sinking of the whaling vessel "Essex" in the South Pacific. Just like the ship in "Moby Dick", the Essex was rammed by a whale. As it sank, the captain and crew abandoned ship and climbed into the three whaleboats. These were twenty-five foot seqgoing rowboats that were normally used to chase and kill whales. But now they would be used to carry the survivors of the Essex more than three thousand miles, over a period of 93 days, to the coast of South America.
It is difficult to comprehend the torments and extreme agonies these men must have suffered, constantly exposed to the brutal rays of the sun, having very little to eat or drink and both starving and dying of thirst. In fact, many of the men did not survive the trip. But those who did described the voyage as three months of constant torture. As the first mate, Owen Chase, recorded in his journal, "The privation of water is justly ranked among the most dreadful of the miseries of our life. . . The violence of raving thirst has no parallel in the catalogue of human calamities." On the twenty-third day after the sinking of their ship, he wrote, "[Our] thirst had become now incessantly more intolerable than our hunger, and the quantity then allowed [half a pint per day] was barely sufficient to keep the mouth in a state of moisture, for about one third of the time. . . In vain was every expedient tried to relieve the raging fever of the throat. . . Our suffering during these . . . days almost exceeded human belief." ["In the Heart of the Sea," p. 116]
As Nathaniel Philbrick writes in his book about the disaster,
"The Essex survivors had entered . . . the ’cotton-mouth’ phase of thirst. Saliva becomes thick and foul-tasting; the tongue clings irritatingly to the teeth and the roof of the mouth. Even though speech is difficult, sufferers are often moved to complain ceaselessly about their thirst until their voices become so cracked and hoarse that they can speak no more. A lump seems to form in the throat, causing the sufferer to swallow repeatedly in a vain attempt to dislodge it. Severe pain is felt in the head and neck. The face feels full due to the shrinking of the skin. Hearing is affected, and many people begin to hallucinate. Still to come . . . were the agonies of a mouth that has ceased to generate saliva. The tongue hardens into . . . ’a senseless weight, swinging on the still-soft root and striking foreignly against the teeth.’ Speech becomes impossible, although sufferers are known to moan and bellow. Next is the "blood sweats" phase, involving ’a progressive mummification of the initially living body.’ The tongue swells to such proportions that it squeezes past the jaws. The eyelids crack and the eyeballs being to weep tears of blood. The throat is so swollen that breathing becomes difficult, creating [the] terrifying sensation of drowning." [ibid, pp. 126-127]
As terrible as their suffering was, there’s something even worse. In the story of the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31), the rich man is in torment in hell, while Lazarus is with Abraham. And the rich man begs, "Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.’" The description of the agony of thirst suffered by the crew of the Essex gives us just a glimpse of the torments of hell. But even this is only an approximation. The reality is even more intolerable, for Jesus says, " Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.." (Matthew 10:28) In other words, the worst bodily suffering possible on this earth is still less terrifying than suffering under the wrath of God for ever and ever, throughout eternity.
HOLINESS AND RED BUTTONS
In studying holiness as a prayer key, I got bogged down with trying to understand it. I had an even harder time trying to explain it. I felt like the Red Buttons character in the movie, "Hatari."
In that movie, John Wayne led a team of hunters in Africa capturing wild animals for zoos. Red Buttons was a member of his team, but he was scared of wild animals. He would drive a truck through a herd of charging rhinos, as long as he was inside the truck and the rhinos were outside the truck. He would hold a rope with a wildebeast on the other end, as long as he was outside the pen and the wildebeast was inside the pen. He would design a rocket to carry a net over a tree filled with hundreds of monkeys, as long as he stayed outside the net and someone else went inside the net to grab the monkeys.
At one point, John Wayne needed help, but Red Buttons was on the far side of the pens. He was afraid of wild animals, but he was more afraid of John Wayne. He climbed the fence, then walked carefully along the top rail separating two pens. Beasts watched him from both sides.
Trying to explain holiness makes me feel like Red Buttons trying to walk that rail, with beasts on either side.
Trying to describe a holy life can degenerate into a pharisaical list of do's and don'ts like those criticized earlier. It can sound like a belief in our own sinless perfection, our own divine virtue. God would not command us to be holy if it was not possible. Explaining holiness can fall one way and be devoured by a beast named "Legalism."
I have read that after John 3:16 and John 11:35, the verse which the most Christians can quote is 1 John 1:9, "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us o...