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Pastor’s Column – When the Sky Fell
by Jim Lyon, Senior Pastor
Seven thousand tons. As wide as a six story building is tall. Moving at 67,000 miles per hour—suddenly slowed by half, as it met the earth’s atmosphere (but then still moving at 44 times the speed of sound). Burning white hot—so white, so hot, so bright that it became, in less than three minutes, brighter than the sun, blinding everything within view with dazzling and terrifying power. Unleashing force fields of energy 20-40 times more powerful than those released by the atomic bombs that leveled Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It was the meteor that fell on Chelyabinsk, Russia, on Friday, February 16. I was there.
Actually, I was on my way, landing just a few hours after. Over 3,000 buildings were damaged, over 1.1 million square feet of broken glass lacerated the city’s center, and 1,200 people sought hospital treatment. As the meteor barreled down from above, the shock waves blew windows into classrooms, bedrooms, and offices. People on the streets (it was 920a local time), stared at the sky and then were knocked to the ground by the blasts of energy (dubbed airbursts). No imagined set from a science fiction movie could have been more dramatic—or horrifying.
At first, the Chelyabinskis guessed they were under a nuclear attack, most likely from the United States. All telephone and other communication infrastructure was temporarily suspended—not by government decree, but by the force of nature. This theory quickly gave way to other explanations (“a weapons test by the United States,” “an industrial mishap,” and, at last, “a meteor”). Rumors flew for hours, though (for example: “it was the first in a series of meteors; others will be crashing on us within hours”); residents fled from schools and factories, and hid in their homes, bomb shelters, or basements. In a world without phones or television or radio, we would have all done same.
As the dust settled and solid information emerged, as people found their loved ones safe, as cell phones began ringing once more, and as understanding replaced fear, the city began to return to normal. The average daytime temperatures are only 10 degrees Fahrenheit, with night-time lows below zero. With many buildings exposed to frigid temps because windows had been blown out, there were still challenges to overcome. But the sense of relief everywhere was palpable.
Chelyabinsk is a city trained (first by the Soviets and second by the secular age that followed) that there is no God. This is the prevailing view on the street. The Church of God came to Chelyabinsk in the mid-1990’s, as the Soviet order collapsed. We now have three healthy, growing congregations spread throughout the city, led by Russian pastors who have been raised up in this first-century church. This is why I was there; Madison Park has long played a key role in the Chelyabinsk Church’s development; I have been invited to serve as an Elder by the locals.
The meteor changed Chelyabinsk. The glass is quickly being cleaned up, everybody has a story about where they were when “the sky fell and the air exploded,” and ordinary routines are back in play. But, no one who lived through it will ever be the same. People who did not believe there was a God, found themselves praying as if there was one. Young adults suddenly started asking questions about life, whether or not we are prey to random events, and whether there could be a God who protected them. Most Chelyabinskis understand that were it not for tiny adjustments in the speed and trajectory of the meteor, the whole city might have been destroyed in a Sodom and Gomorrah-like catastrophe. Was there an unseen Hand that stayed the meteor and saved the city? Didn’t we use to believe such things in Russia? Maybe there is a God, after all.
The church in Chelyabinsk met on the-Sunday-after as one church in three locations, as it does every Sunday. I was invited to speak at the Lenin District Church, which meets on the top floor of a hotel with sweeping views of the city, that day overlooking thousands of boarded-up windows and flats in the tedious blocks of Soviet-era apartment buildings that stretch to the horizon in every direction. New faces appeared at the Lenin District Church, as they did also at the other two.
One university student who attended ran into me the next day as I spoke to an assembly of English majors at one of the city’s major universities. She explained she had never been to church before, that she had never even thought about it. But, she came that Sunday. Searching. Listening. Wondering.
“I was overwhelmed and surprised by how much happiness there was in the room,” she said, describing the church meeting of the Northwest District congregation. It was a service filled with meteor drama, unrelated testimonies of being diagnosed with cancer, the power of prayer, and so on. Still, in all of the tough, real-life conversation and teaching she experienced, “there was happiness, like I have never seen before.” “Is it possible that people can live with such happiness? With such positive hope?” “I want to experience this again; I want to live this way.” She’s moving into the company of Jesus, deciding to discover more.
In a world unpredictable, in a world we cannot control, in a world of danger and sometimes fear, there is only one anchor, one fixed star, one foundation upon which to stand, one hope in which to find life, one Lord able to watch over and care for His own. Jesus. He is the subject, He is the One, He is two steps ahead for the good, always. That was true in Chelyabinsk last week; it’s true in Madison County this week. Even rogue rocks from outer space, hurled by Hell itself, are within His grasp.
And, if, by His appointment, our journey in this world comes to a close, well, our future still is bright. At peace with the world to come, we are to free to find joy and adventure in this one. That’s my story, anyway. From Chelyabinsk. It’s good to be home.
News Notes from Pastor Lyon
Open House at the Lyons – You Are Invited
We will never be able to adequately thank our church family for the way it cared for us in the year following the loss of our home to a fire. But, we would like to try, by opening our home to you on three consecutive Sunday nights, March 10, 17, and 24, to enjoy some home-made treats and great company with Madison Park friends. Please join us for one of the Open Houses; each one will begin at 6:00pm and feature some of our favorite goodies. All are welcome, even if you are new to our church family. Reservations are required, though: just call Becky Arthur in the Church Office (765) 642-2000, letting us know what night you’d like to come and how many will be in your party. We’re looking forward to opening our new front door for you! Hope to see you then. Jim and Maureen Lyon”
Annual Business Meeting Elders Results
The congregation has ratified two new Elders, Debbie Fox and Peggy DeVerter, who will take their place on the Board of Elders for four-year terms beginning April 1. They will replace two outgoing Elders, both of whom are completing their terms, March 31, Connie Allbaugh and Barbara Collier. Both Connie and Barbara have provided sage counsel and Christ-like leadership in their years on our Elder Board. Their sacrifice, faithfulness, and deep love for the Lord and His church cannot be overstated. Thanks to both Connie and Barbara for your ministry to us and for us. Welcome, Debbie and Peggy: you step into very big shoes, indeed.
Holy Week Observances
Palm Sunday, March 24 and Easter, March 31, come early this year, likely edging out the daffodils and tulips as heralds of spring. But, remembering the most eventful week in history, that one week of the year we call “Holy,” is not about the weather: it’s all about Jesus. This year, Madison Park will relive the stories—the history—the events—of Holy Week in fresh ways, bookended by two weekends of celebration and service. On the Thursday between (March 28), we invite you to Dinner with Jesus, an evening around the meal table with the Lord Himself. It will be a potluck, pitch-in supper (see General Announcements for details.) But, unlike an ordinary church pitch-in, this one will bring us to round tables with Jesus and the service of Communion, just as on that original Maundy Thursday so long ago. Following our Dinner with Jesus in the Commons, you will have the chance, if you’d like, to also remember Him in the ancient practice of washing feet. Good Friday night (the next day, March 29), will also be a chance for you to remember, in a very different way, our Lord’s love and sacrifice on the Cross. The Main Auditorium will be the stage, with an evening of music and worship tuned for the day the sun went dark and the veil of the temple was torn in two. Hold these days on your calendar; start inviting your family and friends now. Open a new window this Holy Week into the world of Jesus, then and now.
Picture This. At Madison Park. March 2-24
Picture This. Picture yourself cradling a small child once crippled by polio now set free to walk. Picture yourself standing in the doorway of a new café, in which university students are gathering to hear about Jesus for the first time. Picture yourself helping a young mom choose a new outfit for a job interview beyond her grasp just months ago, but now within reach. Picture yourself leading someone from the darkness of voodoo into the light of Christ. Picture yourself in India, in Russia, at Dove Harbor, or in Haiti. Picture yourself changing the world of not just one person, but thousands. Picture yourself being used as an instrument of God for the healing and blessing of a broken world. Picture yourself receiving a gift in the most unexpected way so that you can forward it to someone in desperate need. Picture yourself in 2013. Picture yourself at Madison Park in the first four weekends of March discovering Faith Promise.
Picture This. Each weekend in March, through Palm Sunday, March 24, we’ll have a snapshot of God-at-work–in-the-world through us: what has been done, what can be done. You’ll have a chance to put yourself in the picture, stepping into an experiment in trusting, receiving, and giving called Faith Promise. You’ll have the chance to see, imagine, and change not just someone else’s world, but your own.
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