Earlier this week, we celebrated the 40th anniversary of Apollo 11’s landing on the moon and Neil Armstrong’s stroll in moon dust. At the same time, the space shuttle Endeavor is on a mission to the International Space Station. We’re in the last couple of years of the shuttle’s missions and will soon move intro a new phase of space exploration, maybe Mars or back to the moon.
Here’s my question: what happens when the stuff we launch into space wears out? A few years ago, I followed with great interest –and a little consternation –the reentry of the Russian Mir space station. The Mir had finished its fifteen year mission, the last crew had left, and it was essentially a piece of floating space junk.
For months, reports detailed how the Russians were engineering the station’s planned free fall from orbit. They would fire the boosters to get it in position and then shut down the systems, initiating a spiraling descent through the earth’s atmosphere. Reports said that most of the Mir would burn and disintegrate on reentry. However, 23 tons of space junk would fall to earth. That was the disturbing part. Twenty-three tons! And they couldn’t really pinpoint exactly where this stuff was going to drop except that they hoped it would be someplace in the Pacific Ocean between Chile and Argentina.
When the big Mir D-Day finally came, it was fascinating to watch the differing responses to the event. I’m sure some people couldn’t have cared less. There were safety concerns for more than thirty fishing boats that sailed into the drop zone looking for albacore tuna and couldn’t be contacted. Scientists, tourists and thrill seekers came to Fiji from all over the world to get a first-hand look at the pieces of Mir streaking across the night sky with flame tails chasing them like shooting stars, all accompanied by repeated sonic booms. And then there was Taco Bell’s magnificent marketing ploy of sinking a huge target in the Pacific and promising a free taco to everyone in the US if a piece of Mir ran for the border and rang the bell.
Differing responses to a disintegrating event: indifference, concern for personal safety, calculated scientific observation, thrill seeking, or just silliness.
Did you know that we are surrounded by lives in various stages of disintegration and flame-out? I’m constantly stunned by the amount of simple human pain that marks the lives of the people in our community. One moment, people appear to be in orbit, just sailing through life like the next person. The next moment, systems shut down, and we see marriages going down for the last time, relationships gyrating out of control, addictions leaving a trail of burned out possibilities, children growing old while they are young, dreams dying and hopes fading. Precious people are feeling burnt out and used up.
We simply cannot just watch lives flaming out, observe human pain like calculating sociologists, and then shake our heads over the sadness of it all. That makes us no better than tourists on the scene. We’re on a mission to lead all people to know and treasure Jesus above all things. You know what that means? It means we are called to purposefully intercept disintegrating lives around us with the love and hope of Jesus. And that’s scary. The pieces of breaking lives are falling all around us, a thousand hurts and thousand stories. But we must risk getting burned ourselves in order help the real-life, real-time hurts of children, teenagers, students and adults of all ages.
Why? Because each of those lives was designed by the Creator of the universe to soar with joyful purpose. God made people to live for His glory by enjoying Him forever. Life on a broken planet can issue some tough hits and make people feel like a completely forgotten, burned out piece of human junk. But we have to tell them that Jesus can restore any life and refit it to live the life He intended in the first place. “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away. All things are made new.” (2 Cor.5:17)
That’s the astonishing promise of Jesus’ gospel: what seems dead can live again! We remind people that “just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.” (Rom. 6:4) It is our privilege and heaven’s call to step into the flames to reach disintegrating lives and give them Christ’s hope that they will soar for the stars again.