It is a tenet of the Christian faith that God has a plan for the
life of each one of us. Discovering and following that plan is a
major endeavor of the true Christian. When I had the infinite
privilege of a personal contact with the Lord Jesus Christ, He asked
me to allow Him to direct my life. Has my life been any different
since then, from that which one would ordinarily expect from the
opportunities and discouragements that life brings to everyone?
Looking back, it should be possible to distinguish both those events
that the Lord Jesus Christ directed, and the preparation He made in
my life that I might fulfill His plan in those events.
There are many activities to which God may call a person, but the most common one is that of witness — presenting to interested hearers an account of what God has done in his/her life. Before a person can come to the Lord Jesus Christ, he/she must “hear” about Him and what a relationship to Him entails in a human life. God has made an astounding offer to rebellious humanity — an offer of adoption as children into His Family of perfect beings, removing even the desire to rebel from their hearts and setting aside the punishment for breaking His laws. This offer is only possible because Jesus Christ paid the penalty for each one of us by His death on the cross, and gives us His righteousness since we have none of our own. This offer is known as the Gospel, and it is the heart of any witness that can be made. Our witness is to the many ways that offer has worked out in our lives. Obviously, in order to witness one must have something to witness about — what has God’s intervention in one’s life done for one. It is to that intervention into my life that I now want to direct your attention.
Before attempting to show how God has intervened in my life, let me briefly sketch how He did so in the life of Astronaut James Irwin. God’s working in that man’s life is so clear that one can see it almost immediately. After using his life and witness as a principal part of my speaking material in those years of space-film evangelism, I felt I knew him intimately, even though I didn’t meet him personally until the summer of 1979, when Mary Charlotte and I were touring the country in our Toyota. While she visited with Mary Francis in Denver, I drove down to Colorado Springs to see him, actually being invited to share a speaking engagement he had that afternoon at the headquarters of International Students. The facts related come mostly from his book, ‘To Rule the Night.” In July 1971 Jim Irwin walked on the moon with David Scott in Apollo 15. While there he had at least three experiences with God that convinced him of the reality of God’s existence. In the world tours that NASA engineered for returned astronauts, Irwin spoke many times of this “religious experience.” Within a year after returning from the moon, he convinced himself that his first priority in life was to tell others about this God he had discovered on the moon — to witness. He resigned from the space program and founded a Christian organization, “High Flight.” The Southern Baptists sent him on a tour of the Far East in the fall of 1972, where he had full freedom to witness — he gave Bibles to Rhee of Korea, Marcos of the Philippines, and other heads of state. He spoke to thousands of university and high school students about God and science, always witnessing of these experiences of God’s supernatural power. For many years he toured high schools in the mid and far West with his “spacemobile”, witnessing to high school students off campus.
Did God have anything to do with his going to the moon? His life story gives a resounding “Yes” to that question. He grew up in Salt Lake City, and worked after school hours in a shoe store. The owner of the store won a seat in Congress and offered Jim an appointment to the US Naval Academy. Jim had no desire to be a sailor, but he wanted a college education, and here was a way to get one. Graduating from the USNA, he was able to enter the Air Force rather than the Navy, and was sent to Kelly Field in Texas to train. He found the theoretical work boring and decided to resign. But God knew he had to be an Air Force test pilot to become an astronaut. The commandant of cadets told Irwin, “You came here to learn to fly. You are going to learn to fly. Get back to your quarters!” Once in a plane, Irwin loved it. As he advanced in rank to colonel, he committed some violations of regulations that got him demerits — once he allowed a man he was instructing to land the plane before completing the required training, and they crashed, destroying the plane and nearly killing themselves. God preserved him. He became a test pilot, and flew the X-15, the Air Force’s stratospheric rocket plane.
When NASA started recruiting astronauts Irwin volunteered, but his record disqualified him. NASA didn’t want men who violated the rules. Two additional times he volunteered and was turned down. The last time he was only a few months from reaching the maximum age limit, so gave up all hope of being an astronaut, since calls were coming only every year or so. But then a special call came, emphasizing test pilot experience. Irwin got recommendations from several generals attesting his scrupulous observance of the "rules”, and volunteered again. This time he was accepted — just three months under the age limit. But still he had no hope of going to the moon. A Johnny-come-lately, he was too far down the seniority list to get a place on a prime team for the few missions remaining to be flown. No one but a prime team member had ever walked on the moon. He trained as back-up for lunar module pilot on Apollo 15. Three months before the mission date, the landing site for Apollo 17 was announced as a volcanic crater. The prime crewman Irwin backed up was Dr. Harrison Schmidt, a PhD geologist. Dr. Schmidt asked to be transferred to Apollo 17, where his geology expertise could be used more effectively than in Apollo 15, and his request was granted. There was not time to train a more senior man for Schmidt’s slot, for which Irwin had been training over a year, so Irwin was moved up, and went to the moon. God saw to it that he was one of the 12 human beings ever to walk on the moon, because He intended to use him as an astronaut to witness to millions of people.
I can see many parallels between the way God worked in Jim Irwin’s life and in mine. We both had the same “rank” in both NASA (GS-15) and the military (colonel). We both came into NASA to use the expertise we had gained in other endeavors. We both felt God’s call to witness to people all over the world using the “magic” of the space program to draw crowds. There the parallels end. There is no way I can put myself into Irwin’s class. The impact he could make on his audience is far greater than any I could make — he is one of twelve, while there are thousands like me.
The amazing thing to me is that God is willing to use, not only outstanding people like Irwin, but run-of-the-mill people like me. Getting back to the purpose of introducing Jim Irwin, let me identify the major points in his life at which God intervened, and see if there are not corresponding points where he intervened in my life.
The first point is that God had “set the stage” by giving the American space effort His blessing, so that astronauts like Jim Irwin would be world-famous — people would listen to anything an astronaut who walked on the moon wanted to say. This special favor of God on this endeavor can be observed in many areas, but was supremely illustrated in the miracles of Apollo 13 (see Chapter 17}. Without such an affiliation, neither Jim Irwin nor myself could have commanded significant audiences.
The second point is that God brought us into our major careers — neither of us sought such a career. Jim went to the USNA to get a college education, not to become a naval officer. He accepted appointment to the Air Force to get out of going to sea as an ensign. I got into computers in order to be sponsored for my PhD (see Chapter 7).
The third point is that God brought us into NASA in a special way. Jim got in through his X-15 piloting experience and recommendations of several Air Force generals. I got in because of my dual qualification in both computer hardware and software, and because of Dr. Ramo’s exaggeration of my expertise (see Chapter 16).
The fourth point is that God provided the specific opportunity to made our witness viable. In Jim’s case it was the unexpected vacancy in the prime team for Apollo 15 caused by Harrison Schmidt’s move to Apollo 17, that enabled Jim to go the moon. In my case it was the availability to me of the documentary films and news releases, plus the opportunity to study all NASA’s missions for the next ten years that gave me the knowledge and materials to keep current after retirement. My most used film was “The Time of Apollo” made in 1975, which I normally could never have obtained.
The fifth and last point is that God provided the organizational support for our witness. In Jim’s case, it was first NASA itself, then the Southern Baptists and lastly “High Flight”. In my case it was first missionary Chuck Corwin, then pastor Samuel Reyes, and lastly the Southern Baptists Foreign Mission Board.
What has been achieved by either Jim’s witness or mine? We both have some feedback that specific people were influenced to become Christians through our messages, but only God knows the full effects. It normally takes many contacts with the message of the Gospel before anyone makes a decision for Christ. Jim and I were mostly planters and waterers. God gave the increase and provided the harvesters.
Yes, I firmly believe that God has intervened in my life, and I am a new person because of it. He can intervene in your life, too, and you will become a new person. It is the greatest desire of my life that all my sisters, children, grandchildren, nephews and nieces to all generations and their spouses will open their hearts to the Lord Jesus Christ, and experience this amazing new life that only He can give.
My story is not yet finished. What do I look forward to, at this
point in my life? Do I really believe that I will live forever? The
major premise on which the Christian faith is founded is that God has
chosen true Christians to live forever with Him in the glorious place
we call heaven, without really understanding very much of what that
word means. As I look forward to that moment when life will leave
this body of mine, I believe that I will merely pass through a “door”
into a new phase of existence, rather than simply be snuffed out like
The theologians of the Christian Church have struggled with these questions over all the centuries since Christ’s death and resurrection, and their conclusions are that we can know no more of the answers than are revealed in the Bible. God has told us only so much, and it is impossible to learn more. We are placed in the position where we must accept on “faith” what God has revealed, or make up our own story, because no one other than the Lord Jesus Christ has ever come back to this life from the other side of death, regardless of many claims to the contrary. Two portions of the Bible’s book of Revelation — Revelation 4-5 and 21-22 — describe the general nature of heaven and the conditions of life there. In the Old Testament the 11th and 65th chapters of Isaiah tell of the “new heaven and the new earth.” Beyond these two descriptions we know nothing of the nature of heaven. But in many, many places we are told that the time of heaven’s appearing is linked with the return to the earth of the Lord Jesus Christ, and that His purpose in coming is two-fold: (1) to call to Himself all believers, living or dead, to share everlasting life with Him, being given new bodies that can never die or fail in any way; and (2) to pronounce judgment on all unbelievers, living or dead, not only for their violations of God’s laws, but for the far greater sin of calling God a liar and refusing to believe His word. This judgment is described in the 20th chapter of Revelation as being “thrown into the lake of fire, which is the second death,” along with Satan and his demons. Christ referred to this place in several of His parables as “outer darkness, where there will be wailing and gnashing of teeth.”
I am looking forward — not to extinction — but to a glorious new existence where I will be in the very presence of the Creator of all that there is — not for a few years but forever. Even though I have broken God’s laws and continue to do so, nevertheless I will not be charged with those violations, because my Lord Jesus Christ paid the penalty of death for me — I am free forever from the guilt and punishment I deserve because of the surpassing love of my Savior for me and for all those who believe in Him. I look forward eagerly to the possession of a body without defect or pain, to an existence without evil, violence or wrongdoing, to a vocation of loving and praising God and serving Him in whatever way He directs — forever.
How can I be sure that this is what I will find when I pass through death’s door? My anchors are two: God’s word the Bible which tells of Jesus’ death and resurrection, and God’s intervention in my life to make it possible for me to witness to the unbelieving world of the truth of His promises. What if I am wrong in these beliefs? Then death will be simple extinction. What if the unbeliever is wrong in his refusal to believe? Then death will bring to him or her God’s fearful judgment of everlasting exclusion from His presence. Which will you choose — everlasting life with God Himself or the second death? Only you can make that choice.
Return to Table of Contents.
Herb's Place My Biography