An Extreme Promise

Will Penner

“Will you take me skydiving?” Katie asked.

“Sure,” I said, “when you turn eighteen.” My words spewed out before my mind had time to think.

It’s sad to admit that, as a twenty-five-year-old youth minister, I was still succumbing to the equivalent of a double-dog dare. You see, my friend Steve was an avid skydiver. As a youth leader at a nearby church, he took all of the graduating seniors skydiving—which they thought was the coolest thing.

So when fourteen-year-old Katie asked if I would take her skydiving when she graduated, I figured it was safe to say, “Sure.” Frankly, I thought she would forget.

She didn’t.

Four years later, she reminded me of my promise. And I spent the three months before her graduation praying that something would happen to thwart our plans—and allow me to save face.

devozine 617077.TIFIn Tandem

The first time you jump out of a plane, you do a tandem jump, which means you are hooked together with an experienced skydiver who carries a parachute big enough to hold both of you. The tandem master makes sure that no matter how bad you freak out as you are screaming straight down toward the earth, the parachute will open safely and you will both glide into a gentle landing.

In fact, the only reason I kept my promise to Katie was that I realized the guy strapped to me had as much to lose as I did. My parachute was his parachute, so he would do everything in his power to make sure it opened. I put my life in his hands, allowed myself to be tossed out of an airplane at almost 15,000 feet, and fell straight down at more than 150 miles per hour.

To date, this has been the single most heart-pounding, blood-pumping, adrenaline-rushing experience of my life. What began in fear, doubt, struggle, and ultimately surrender grew into a thriving passion. I love skydiving!

Today, Katie and I enjoy reminiscing about the first time we jumped out of an airplane—remembering the knots in our stomachs and our nervous laughter as we suited up, even though we pretended to be unafraid. We watch the videos and recall how exhilarating it was to freefall from almost three miles up.

Tandem Master

There’s an even greater experience—one for which I would trade all of my skydiving adventures—and that is my relationship with Jesus. God connects to us like a tandem master, linked to us forever through Jesus Christ. By choosing to walk among us in human form, God seemed to say, “I have as much to lose here as you do, and I’m not going to let you go.” Now that is an extreme promise!

Don’t be afraid! I am with you.
Isaiah 43:5a (CEV)

God was willing to make that kind of leap for us, and I am honored that God continues to let me come along for the ride. And oh, what a ride it is!


We need to keep in mind that extreme experiences are extreme. Being extreme means being involved in dangerous or even life-threatening activities. It involves pushing the limits of what we normally can achieve. It is drastic, severe, high-intensity; but is it good?

Some people are involved in extreme behaviors that have no redemptive value. What are some of these behaviors? Why are we sometimes drawn to them?

Other extreme activities, behaviors, or beliefs offer hope, faith, or fullness of life. What are they? What draws us to them?

In what ways did Jesus reject extreme behavior? In what ways was Jesus extreme?

God’s love for us is ridiculously extreme. Think of ways to show others God’s extreme love.

Will Penner , a volunteer youth pastor in Fairview, Tennessee, is also a husband, father, teacher, editor, and frequent speaker for youth retreats, camps, and conferences.

—from devozine (January/February 2007). Copyright © 2006 by The Upper Room. All rights reserved.

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