Monday, August 15, 2005

Astronomer or Astronaut?

Of all the ways that God could choose to communicate with me, I wouldn't have guessed that it would have been by watching the last half-hour of a lousy movie sequel on television. But I'm frequently outguessed by the Almighty. And I was Friday night. My wife had taken over the computer (she often sets up barbed wire, land mines and other booby traps to keep me away from it) while I relaxed for a while with man's best friend -- the TV remote control.

The movie I happened across was Jurassic Park III. I was only vaguely aware that a third movie was even made in that series. It was one where nobody could talk the stars of the first two flicks into coming back to wrestle the dinosaurs again, so there was a new team of people trying desperately to escape a new flock/herd/gaggle/covey/gang of prehistoric creatures. I had missed the important plot points but the special effects looked interesting, so I put the remote down on the couch and watched.

In a peaceful moment, with no attacking reptiles anywhere to be seen, one of the characters waxed philosophic about life. He said something to the effect of, "There are two kinds of people -- astronomers and astronauts. Astronomers explore exciting places without leaving the comfort of their home. Astronauts explore those places while risking their lives to get there and get back." It was delivered as a thought-provoking line by actor Sam Neill, portraying Dr. Alan Grant, so I gave it some thought.

Does Jesus want us to be astronomers or astronauts? The first angle I thought through was that of missionary. Certainly God doesn't call all of us to pack up the family and move to China or Africa or Nicaragua. So wouldn't that mean that those of us on the home front would be the astonomers, receiving our information about the four corners of the earth from the astronauts who were out there in dangerous territory? In that sense, God would be OK with me as an astonomer, right?

Then I remembered that the mission field isn't always foreign. After all, the Christian church in the United States is located in the midst of a huge mission field. I remember reading (and I'm too lazy to look it up again) that America was one of the largest missions targets for Christianity. I personally know of churches which have been started in my area specifically to reach those who have up until now, rejected Christ Jesus and His gospel. Since I interact with many people every day who do not follow Jesus, then I am actually on the mission field. The question is whether I go out or I hide in my space capsule.

But what about people who can't get out and about anymore? After all, astronauts eventually retire. Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin aren't making shuttle flights on Discovery or anything -- they gave that up long ago. However, when is a person too old or too incapacitated to be a reflection of Jesus Christ?

In my first years of pastoral ministry, there was a sweet old lady living in a nursing home who had been a member of my church for around a zillion years. She turned 100 shortly after I began my pastorate. This lady was a pleasure to sit and talk to. Despite having living in the same place for three-quarters of a century, she had enough stories about her life to have been a world traveller. One day as she was approaching her 101st birthday, she asked me why God hadn't taken her home yet. She hadn't asked to pass the century mark -- her husband had been gone for 30 years. "Why am I still here?" she wondered.

I told her that I had no idea. (Honesty is always easy for me when it comes to acknowledging my shortcomings!) But I told her, "All I know is that God is still using you. Here. In this nursing home. For something. And whoever that person is or those people are who are being blessed by your presence... they still need you here." In hindsight, maybe one of those people who still needed her around was me. But she was still an astronaut; still out exploring, even though the territory often seemed familiar.

Truth be told, I can't think of an excuse for us not to be out of our safety zone. The astronomer may learn many things about the world, but the hands-on experience of the astronaut is our call as believers. Our faith is not just a private matter. It is not something to read about and not to live. Our faith is something that should be our way of life, and we should be putting our lives on the line if necessary to be in the midst of things -- sharing Christ and living in the strength of the Holy Spirit. We are to live to bring God the glory He so richly deserves. And we can't do that if we are not active in our faith. It can't be done "safely" because Christianity has nothing to do with being safe.

"Lord, let me not look for ways to hide in my comfort zone, but to search for the means to live for You and to bring You the glory."

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