A Bridge to Nowhere

What do you do with a bridge when the river moves and it is no longer effective?

A few weeks ago, I stumbled upon a photo of a bridge in Honduras. The bridge spanned the Choluteca River. The new Choluteca Bridge, also known as the Bridge of Rising Sun, was built by Hazama Ando Corporation between 1996 to 1998 and became the largest bridge constructed by a Japanese company in Latin America. This bridge, which was a gift from Japan to the people of Honduras, was constructed of concrete and steel using modern engineering and construction. It was built to last, and a lot of money was invested in the project.

In late October 1998, the same year the bridge was completed and commissioned for use, Hurricane Mitch struck Central America leaving more than 11,000 people dead, destroying hundreds of thousands of homes and causing more than $5 billion in damages. It was the deadliest hurricane to hit the Western Hemisphere in more than 200 years.

Hurricane Mitch began as a tropical depression on October 22, and by October 26 had intensified into a Category 5 hurricane. Sustained winds reached 180 mph, while gusts were more than 200 mph. After making landfall in Honduras on October 29, Hurricane Mitch moved through Central America before reaching Florida as a tropical storm on November 4th, 1998.

Mitch was an especially destructive storm; it slammed into the country of Honduras and ended up dumping over six feet of rain in less than four days. Honduras and Nicaragua were especially hard hit by the hurricane. In Honduras, floods and mudslides brought on by heavy rainfall washed away entire villages, and the majority of the country’s crops and infrastructure were destroyed. The other Central American nations were also affected by Hurricane Mitch, although the death tolls in these locations were significantly lower than Honduras and Nicaragua.

In total, more than 11,000 people (some estimates put the figure as high as 18,000) died because of the hurricane, making Mitch the most deadly storm in the Western Hemisphere since the Great Hurricane of 1780 in the Eastern Caribbean. Additionally, several million people were made homeless or severely impacted by Hurricane Mitch, which is estimated to have caused more than $5 billion in damages.

The Bridge of the Rising Sun spanning the Choluteca managed to survive the devastating destruction of Hurricane Mitch in 1998 and the more than six feet of water that it dumped on Honduras as it camped out and intensified over them for several days.

However, the tragic results lie not in the construction of the bridge but in the nature of rivers. Rivers move. Alas, after a deluge of rain and flooding, the river jumped its banks and carved a new channel in which to flow through.

Rivers move… bridges do not.

 

choluteca-bridge.jpg

 

This is especially true of ones built with steel and concrete. In the process, the flood washed away the roads and ramps that connected to the bridge making the once functional bridge into a bridge to nowhere. This edifice of sound engineering found itself no longer over the river. It could no longer serve its original purpose.

What do you do when the river moves?

This story can be used as an illustration for the church today. It is almost like a modern day parable with relevance to our current situation. For many of us… christians, pastors, and churches the river has moved.

As is the case with any successful institution, the church was built with the best social and religious engineering available at the time: as a robust and hardy structure designed to be effective and to last. A lot of time, energy, sweat, and money has been previously invested. In fact, there has been generations of investment, and it has served as a bridge for many to move from death to life. Our design, methods, and ideas have spanned the river… when the river was in the right place.

But… unfortunately society has changed. The result is that what used to be true has jumped the old banks where the church had constructed itself. And now, the church is left with a well-built bridge: a bridge of pews, brick and stone and stained glass; a bridge of doctrine, dress code, residential schools, prayer books, organ music, etc.

And the river is no longer where it should be.

None of our previous methods, techniques, and bridges of the past are bad… they just are no longer spanning the river. Our bridges are ineffective structures. They may be nice to look at, we might have fond memories of how they used to work, but ultimately they are no longer serving the purpose of which they were once intended. This brings up options for how to respond to this new situation.

Can we dredge the river back in place? Can we find enough excavators to dig the river back into its rightful channel? How do we move a river? Maybe it will find its way back under our bridge if we are patient? Or do we find another way?

Might we accept the reality and power of the river? It has moved and it isn’t coming back.

Do we begin to reconsider a new bridge? Can we creatively consider spanning the river with lighter and flexible materials: materials able to be adjusted to moving rivers and changing circumstances?

What do we do when the river starts to move?

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Indebted

Have you ever borrowed something from someone? Maybe cash when you came up short on a fast food run, maybe you borrow your neighbors tools for tasks around your home?

What kind of borrower are you? Are you appreciative and responsible with the trust you have been lent? Do you respect the lender and seek to repay the favor?

Most of us have borrowed something from someone… but even if you can’t think of anything you have ever been lent or given I can confidently call both you and I debtors.

Romans 8:12 affirms my statement! It says,

Therefore, brethren, we are debtors.

You might be saying… “Wait… what do I owe and why do I owe it?” Both of which are normal questions. To that I would respond with a simple verse we all know. John 3:16 says,

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.

Charles Spurgeon once said,

As God’s creatures, we are all debtors to him: to obey him with all our body, and soul, and strength. Having broken his commandments, as we all have, we are debtors to his justice, and we owe to him a vast amount which we are not able to pay.

That debt we cannot repay is a debt of grace to be paid back to God. When we receive the grace of God it both clears all our debts toward God and makes us debtors to God and to everyone else. Because we have been given so much grace in Christ, we are obligated to share those resources. In Christ, we have been given inestimable riches, not silver and gold, but eternal life in the name of Jesus Christ. As Paul puts it in 2 Corinthians 8:9,

For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.

To some this command might seem burdensome, but that’s only if you forget why God lavished his love on us. Christ loved us and gave himself for us, so that we might freely love him and others. With the gift of his love, the command to love one another, expressed in terms of a financial debt, is not a wearisome burden. It is a commission of joy, for we cannot feast on the riches of God’s grace without opening up the table sharing it with those around us. The extremity of God’s kindness compels us to share our wealth.

Romans 13:8 says,

Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.

We owe others a debt of love, not because we are indebted to them by their works or by our crimes. We are indebted to them, because we have received such a large inheritance that we are commanded to share it with others.

Just like the son of a successful business man who has been given a large inheritance and a position at the fathers company makes no complaint going around the company handing out bonuses. We as Christians should joyfully share what we have freely received. We are to be free from all debts and obligations to others, save the debt of love. A debt created by the super-abundant grace God has given us in Christ.

To refuse to love and serve and do good to others is to deny the grace that we have received. It is like the beneficiary of the company spending all their money on themselves.

Matthew 18:32-35 says,

Then his master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me.  And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’ And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt. So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.”

Just as Christ threatens judgment to those forgiven but who won’t forgive in the story above, so those who have been loved without loving others invites discipline or worse.

Again Romans 13:8 says,

Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.

Paul’s command rebukes in us this deep-seated lethargy to love. Instead of looking at others as our servants who owe us; we are to do good to others with the resources God has given us.

In truth, Paul’s command in Romans 13:8 is not burdensome. It is brimming with possibilities. The one who has been given the love of God needs only a direction to extend the love of God, which has been poured in his heart.

So… you are indebted. How are you going to work on repaying that debt today? Who are you going to share the riches of God’s love with?