October 21, 2013

40 Below

Space has always fascinated me. As a kid I devoured any book I could get that described the planets, galaxies, and my all-time favorite: the moon missions. Videos were even better. I was captivated by the images from the moon. Clips of astronauts skipping along the dusty gray landscape made the moon look like the ultimate playground. On the list of things I wanted to become when I grew up—scientist, doctor, pilot—was an astronaut.

It never occurred to my childish mind that working on the moon was anything but a walk in the park—or that it was such a fleeting experience. One complaint each astronaut who walked on the moon shared was that there was never enough time. Their checklists were jam-packed with tasks, and they were constantly scrambling to accomplish as many of their science objectives as possible before mission control told them to wrap things up.1 Remarkable as their role was—literally a once-in-a-lifetime experience—it was only during a snatched minute here and there that they could even savor the reality of being on the moon. For each crew, the time to get back in their spacecraft and blast off for home always came too soon.

If it had been me, I would’ve been very tempted to throw out the whole mission plan as soon as I stepped off the lunar module and go sightseeing instead. But for the astronauts, most of whom had served in the military, accomplishing the mission was an ingrained part of their being. As the clock counted down, they worked hard, setting up experiments and collecting rocks. When the astronauts finally left the moon, they knew they had done their best—it was often on the way home that the realization of what they had actually been part of hit them. 

Earth Mission

I was struck by the parallels between the experience of the astronauts and ours as Adventists. We’re on this earth for a mission, the purpose of spreading the three angels’ messages to the world. But unlike the men on the moon who put their utmost effort into accomplishing as much as possible during their short, allotted time, we tend to forget that our purpose in life is not sightseeing.

It’s all too easy to get sidetracked, pursuing things like the “Adventist dream”—go through Adventist education, marry an Adventist spouse, get a job at an Adventist institution, have kids and put them through Adventist school, support Adventist charities, and finally retire on an Adventist pension. Oh, yes, and attend an Adventist church each Sabbath. 

We can find ourselves forgetting our responsibility and the very urgency that is behind the word “Adventist.” When the hatch on the lunar module opened, the astronauts knew exactly what they needed to do, and that they had a very limited window in which to do it. Likewise, when the door in heaven opened into the Most Holy Place, the last stretch of earth’s history had started, and God’s people had a work to accomplish. Hence the first announcement of the three angels’ messages: “Fear God, and give glory to him; for the hour of his judgment is come” (Rev. 14:7, KJV). Do we realize how short time really is?

Do we realize how short time really is?

One factor that motivated the astronauts not to waste time was the awareness that each minute on the lunar surface was costing something in the area of $1 million.2 Talk about pressure to get everything done! In contrast, we don’t appreciate the price of each additional minute on earth. While we are absorbed in building comfortable lives, countless people are passing to their rest, having never heard the name of Jesus. Expensive? Considering that each person is valued at the price of the Creator’s life, I’d say so. 

Now that we are shifting uncomfortably in our seats, we need to realize the one piece of the puzzle that will change everything: we are incapable of getting the work done. You may be thinking: Wait a minute. You’re writing about how we aren’t doing our job, and now you’re saying there’s no point anyway? Not quite so fast. There is one crucial difference between our story and that of the astronauts’—we have help. We are not alone.

There is no way we could ever hope to accomplish all the objectives—reaching the whole world, developing a character that is heaven-ready—on our own. While the astronauts were essentially all by themselves on a foreign world and had to rely on themselves and whatever advice they could get over the radio, we have Someone standing right next to us, willing and ready to help if we ask. That’s why the most important task we should be attending to right now is seeking that heavenly Helper every day. Only He can make us who we need to be and enable us to get the work of spreading the final warning done.

Supporting Life

Ultimately, we really shouldn’t want to hang around long in this world. The reason the astronauts couldn’t stay more than a few days at most was that the moon can’t support life. Eventually their supplies of oxygen would be depleted and they would have to return home. Exploring the lunar surface was risky business, with a high-tech pressure suit the only thing keeping each man alive. A leak, and everything could be over in a matter of minutes.

Imagine Jesus’ warning to the Laodicean church, translated into the scene we’ve been exploring. His words, paraphrased by me, now have chilling force: “You think that you’re on a vacation, that there’s still plenty of time left to get everything done, and you don’t need any help. Don’t you know that you’re weak, your suit is leaking, and that you’re running out of oxygen? Don’t you realize there’s no time to fool around? Ask Me for help; just ask. Together we can finish the mission and then go home.”

Yes, time is short. God has been extending it for us, waiting and hoping that we will finally realize that we don’t have our act together and that we need His help. The choice is ours: wake up to the urgency of our situation and start working with God, or continue on our merry way, exploring and enjoying ourselves. Liftoff time is coming—are we going to be ready?

I want to be in that spacecraft when it’s time to go home. It all boils down to one simple question: what are we waiting for?

  1. Andrew Chaikin, A Man on the Moon (New York: Penguin Books, 2007), p. 263. Many of the facts regarding the Apollo missions are general knowledge, but can also be found in Chaikin’s book.
  2. “Experiencing Apollo 17,” www.bbc.co.uk/sn/tvradio/programmes/horizon/broadband/tx/moon sale/apollo17/