Wednesday, December 30, 2009

There is No Turning Back...

As the final two days of 2009 draw to a close, I am looking back at the road I have travelled this year. What has become especially clear to me is that we are are all created in the image of God. Even when the divine image is marred and barely recognizable, it is there and is worth restoring. I have come to realize that Christ's mission is to facilitate the recovery of the divine image (Colossians 3:10) in humanity. Moreover, I have understood that my mission is the recovery of the divine image in others.

So what exactly does "recovery of the divine image" mean? It means the recovery of human dignity. I find that people are so beat down these days. They are ashamed at having to receive assistance for the first time in their lives. Young people are disillusioned that they can't begin an independent life in this economy. And then there are those who are enslaved by addiction.

My perspective has changed in the past year because I have allowed my heart to be touched with the stories that people tell. Where there is discouragement, disillusionment, or addiction, there is always a story behind it.

I have learned that people don't need our pity, they need our respect. Respect comes from our recognition that we share the divine image and that we have the same value before God.

More than respect, people need love. How empty, how alone, how isolated we are if no one loves us. If no one cares if we live or die, what greater pain is there?

I have learned that the only legitimate expression of faith is love. I believe that God sees our love. I've learned that if I want to find Christ, He is in "the least of these."

I've learned these things and I can't go back....

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Can Bankruptcy be a New Beginning?

The worst thing that can happen in our modern economy is to go bankrupt. It is essentially the death of our independence. In declaring bankruptcy, we admit that we have come to the end our resources. We throw ourselves on the mercy of the courts for protection from our creditors. A judge decides if there is any hope of viability and if there is not, he orders liquidation. If there is hope, the judge orders development of a new business plan. No more "business-as-usual."

Working in the auto industry I have observed first hand my company go through bankruptcy. Long before the crisis, we operated at a loss more years than not. But we always had enough cash reserve, enough credit, and the really deep pockets of a parent company to cover up the negative slope of our trend line. We knew the trend would cross zero one day, but we deluded ourselves that "some day" was in the distant future. Until that day came, we kept paying people to build product and buy product that no one really wanted. The long-term assumptions and fatal errors continued. We had no incentive to change....until the bottom fell out. The day of reckoning had come! So, what does bankruptcy have to do with with faith and life?

To become a Christian and live out a full life of discipleship, we must accept our personal bankruptcy. Without coming to the end our resources and the end of ourselves, we cannot truly follow Christ as His disciples. Instead we are left with our own presumption of grace. We know that a price was paid, but we have no idea how much, because we assumed we never really needed it. Our salvation has no real value. It's just a given.

We must also face the corporate bankruptcy of our churches and denominations. The trend line will cross zero one day. It is a cop-out to say "the way is narrow" and "few there be that find it". More likely our decline is due to the fact that we are increasingly disconnected from society and have become insular. All our energies are used to preserve the status quo. We become inconsequential to those around us. We become irrelevant to society at large. We are salt that has lost its savor.

But perhaps we will be able to step out of ourselves and our churches long enough to recognize the trend lines. We might just see that we aren't having much of a redemptive effect on those around us. May God give us the incentive to change. May He help us to make the painful and necessary changes that we might become outposts of His Kingdom in this world. Individually and collectively.

Monday, July 20, 2009

You'll End up Giving Your Life....

Over the last couple of weeks I've had a chance to watch a couple of movies produced by the Eastwood family: (Clint and his kids) "Gran Torino" and "Rails and Ties". In each movie, the theme is the same: the principal character is hardened by life, miserable in their misanthropy, until they encounter people in their lives who somehow manage to break the shell around their hearts. Once that shell cracks, they find themselves feeling and then acting on compassion they have developed for others. What is catalytic in bringing out that compassion differs in each story. In one story, it is the unrelenting kindness of strangers. In the other case, it is guilt, regret, and finally the need of an orphan child that does it.

I loved these movies because they are stories of redemption. I've also learned something from them: if you start loving people, get involved in their lives and all their pain, you'll end up giving your life for others. This is the path of following Christ. If you allow Christ to break all the hardness around your heart, you will become vulnerable to pain and need of others. When that happens, comforting others means more to you than avoiding your own pain. In the end, you will give up your life. In doing so, you will find it!