A Blessed Life

Ronald Reagan, in his official declaration to run for President of the United States in 1979, stated, “Our leaders attempt to blame their failures on circumstances beyond their control, on false estimates by unknown, unidentifiable experts who rewrite modern history in an attempt to convince us our high standard of living, the result of thrift and hard work, is somehow selfish extravagance which we must renounce as we join in sharing scarcity.”

The thought that our prosperity is a result of ourselves is fairly common still today. Once we fail to acknowledge that we are a blessed people because of a gracious God, we begin to teeter on a dangerous precipice. God is love, and He is loving enough to everyone that he will sometimes rid the world of a poisonous person, group, or nation in order to help everyone else. If love were a coin, one side would be grace while the other side would be wrath. God’s wrath is part of love. God is wise enough to understand that one bad apple, if ignored, will ruin the whole bunch.

The prophet Jeremiah declared a message from the Lord to the people of Israel: “If at any time I declare concerning a nation or a kingdom, that I will pluck up and break down and destroy it, and if that nation, concerning which I have spoken, turns from its evil, I will relent of the disaster that I intended to do to it. And if at any time I declare concerning a nation or a kingdom that I will build and plant it, and if it does evil in my sight, not listening to my voice, then I will relent of the good that I had intended to do to it” [Jeremiah 18:7-10 (ESV)].

The nation of Israel had a special place in the eyes of God, yet God punished them. God’s special, chosen people were not exempt from punishment when they stopped living a life focused on loving the least in society, walking the trail of the Lord, and treating people justly. The very fact that his chosen people received His wrath when they failed to live their lives the way he designed them to live should be a warning to us.

No name on our church building, no ritual that we have participated in, no prayer uttered, no weekly attendance, no participation in the sacraments – nothing outside of a heart currently and totally surrendered to God matters. If a special place of election did not prevent the nation of Israel from the wrath of God when they strayed from His plan, nothing in our lives should give us a false sense of invulnerability.

God said, through the prophet Jeremiah, that he will relent from punishing those destined for punishment if they would change their ways. If you feel that you are under a curse or punishment because of some terrible act that you have done in your past, this passage should provide a great, liberating hope. The principle is that your burden can be removed if you turn toward God.

There is grace. Jesus paid the price for all of our sins on the cross. Because of that act, those who are God’s do not receive the wrath and vengeance that we deserve. But we must be careful to avoid taking that for granted. We cannot fall prey to a life of selfishness, materialism, and pride that will cause us to be more of a poison to our family, our neighborhood, our community, our nation, and our world.

We are called to be a blessing. God has plans for us to turn away from the allure of this world and to live our lives for Him. That is difficult to do when we are bombarded daily with million dollar marketing campaigns that have been devised to deceive us into believing that the way of this world is the best way.

I began this article talking about America because we struggle with being a prideful people who take credit for the blessings that God has given to us. That is a dangerous place to be because once we think our prosperity is a result of ourselves, then we can lose sight of God. When that happens we move closer to losing the very blessings that we have been showered with.

As individuals, we have the same struggle. Are we people who think that we are unstoppable? Are we people who think that we have achieved our position through our own intelligence and hard work? Are we living our lives our way without any regard to the plan and call of God on our life?

To be fair to President Reagan, he concluded his speech on a spiritual note: “We who are privileged to be Americans have had a rendezvous with destiny since the moment in 1630 when John Winthrop, standing on the deck of the tiny Arbella off the coast of Massachusetts, told the little band of pilgrims, ‘We shall be as a city upon a hill. The eyes of all people are upon us so that if we shall deal falsely with our God in this work we have undertaken and so cause Him to withdraw His present help from us, we shall be made a story and a byword throughout the world.’”

This passage in Jeremiah should be a wake-up call, both to those who feel they are under a curse and those who feel they have been blessed. God wants both types of people to realize that their future blessings will be based upon their current living, not their past. God gives a clean slate, a slate free from all of our faults. A slate also free from all of our accomplishments. There can be no pride. Just you and an honest heart. God will reward you greatly when you choose to align your heart, dreams, plans, and living to His will. That is a promise that is not empty like the manipulative marketing ploys of the businesses in this world. That is God’s plan for your life. A life filled with the good that He plans for it. Will you take that life? Will you give up everything for it?

Becoming a Homeowner, The Gift of Stability, and The Desire to Wander

Lindsay and I purchased our first home a few weeks ago. People, when they hear about it, usually say, "Congratulations!" But I was not all that excited. It's a house. To me that means that it comes with a lot of strings attached. Now, I will have to spend my days worrying about how to take care of it. When something major breaks, I will have to have the money to fix it. Living in town means that I will have to take better care of my lawn. There are a lot of burdens that come with owning a house. Home ownership seems more like a mixed drink, a money pit mixed with emotional and physical drain, that when imbibed will consume my life.

Becoming a homeowner was something that I never intended to do. I had hoped that I could be a wanderer, to see the world, to continue moving and never settle down, meet many different and interesting people, and to have some exciting bohemian adventures along the way. Now, that dream is ending, and I am establishing a home. I guess it is about time with four children and another one on the way, but I imagined that we could be some happy traveling hippy clan.

To be honest, I have always had this arrogant streak that thought that not owning a home was more spiritual. I still wrestle with it, especially when I am having trouble on an improvement project at the house. Jesus, as far as we know, did not own a home, and, of course, I want to be like Jesus. I assumed that it would be more Christlike to not have the worries of a house in my life. All the time, I missed the point that being like Jesus is more than being carefree, having long hair, wearing sandals, and not owning a home. I have tried all that, and it has not made me more of who God has designed me to be. Being like Jesus is about taking on the characteristics of Jesus in all areas of my life.

John wrote, "By this we may know that we are in him: whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked" [1 John 2:5-6 (ESV)]. To be his followers, we need to walk the way he walked. This doesn't mean that I have to walk with some gansta limp because I assume that Jesus had a vicious gansta limp to show how cool he was. It is about an attitude of love in our lives. John goes on to explain, "Whoever loves his brother abides in the light, and in him there is no cause for stumbling. But whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks in the darkness, and does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes" [1 John 2:10-11 (ESV)]. John is not just talking about our biological brothers and sisters; he is talking about neighbors and everyone that we encounter. We can walk like Jesus while we are wandering sojourners, and we can walk like Jesus when we are planted firmly in a community. Each one has its own drawbacks and unique sets of opportunities. The key to walking like Jesus is to love all the people around us.

With that said, I have realized that my calling is to be planted firmly within a community. You might have a similar calling. Then again, you might be called to be a wanderer, or you might be ignoring your calling completely. Within that specific calling, we must never forget our larger calling: we are called to love everyone around us.

I have to learn to shift gears and look at how to love God while being firmly planted in one location. Rose Marie Berger wrote in her article, The Art of Householding, "The 'gift of stability' is considered the fourth vow in Orthodox and Benedictine monastic life. Poverty, chastity, and obedience are the 'evangelical vows' that make one radically available to those in need of the gospel. Stability, as Thomas Merton put it, means to 'find the place that God has given you and take root there.'"

In Wendell Berry's 10 Hopes, he explains, "Love your neighbors - not the neighbors you pick out, but the ones you have." That, my friends, is much easier said than done.

You might be called to put your roots down. It might be to start going to church or stop church shopping and become part of a flawed spiritual community. Flawed because every spiritual community is. It might be to become part of an organization despite not agreeing with them on every point. We don't even agree with ourselves from five years ago on every point. It might be to stop wandering and to permanently move into a community despite it not having everything you want. Out here in the rural Midwest, no town will have everything we want. Whatever the case, putting your roots down is about building healthy and authentic relationships with the people around you. Together, we can do much more than we can do alone.

We need to invest in relationships. Our world in five years will only be as good as the investment we make in it today. You want a better church, a better organization, a better town, a better state, and a better nation, it starts by building a better relationship with your neighbor.

It has never been my desire to ever be firmly planted in a community. One thing that my wife has always blessed me with in our marriage, despite all of my kicking, screaming, and arguing against it, is stability. In this case, like many times in my relationship with her, I must realize that what she wants is actually better for us. That is the beauty of good relationships. It is not always about our individual selves, but in chasing after collective happiness we will find that we are happy individually.

How Our Walk 4 Water/Rock 4 Water Can Be A Blessing to Antwerp

I was recently told that the Rock 4 Water would be an event that would not help Antwerp's needs. On the surface, I can understand that perspective. We are raising money to help an organization, Hope 2 Liberia, on the other side of the world. I wrote this piece to explain two ways that I think the event, combined with the Walk 4 Water, would help our community.

First, it is one of the biggest musical events to ever happen in Antwerp. This event should bring in people from out of town - from Ft. Wayne to Toledo. By doing that, it will bring a lot of money to area businesses as the people will be here for an extended period of time and through two meals. The event is scheduled from 12-7 with two regional acts and two national acts. Our community needs events that will bring out-of-towners to our town.

Antwerp is a economically depressed community. The "Welcome to Paulding County" sign at the edge of my driveway used to say that we were the "most affordable county in America." That's polite code for "dirt poor." The only way we can increase our local economy is to have money from outside of our economy coming into it. Many of the events in Antwerp just get people from Antwerp to participate. We plan such events, so I am not tearing those types of events down. In some cases, those events actually export money away from our economy when those vendors are also out-of-towners. Those are great and necessary community building events, but they do not help the economy. I do believe that this event should help the local economy. It was one of the reasons I chose to do it. It was birthed when I was praying about our local economy and jobs. This event just jumped into my head. We need more events, activities, and businesses that will bring out-of-town money into our town.

The second point is more spiritual in nature. If we begin to look beyond ourselves we will be blessed. Most faith backgrounds share the principle that God blesses those who bless others. It is definitely a clear teaching of Scripture. If we bless others, then we will receive blessings in return. Rock 4 Water/Walk 4 Water is a way to get the Antwerp community involved in something bigger than themselves. Once people wake up to community activism, then they might help out with a service project here locally. I think one of the greatest needs in our community is for the people here to begin to look beyond themselves and start looking more toward the needs of others. That is also one of the goals of this event. If the wellspring of love in all of our hearts can be tapped, we will be a much more amazing community than we already are. It is my hope that God will bless Antwerp as we become a blessing to one another and those around the world. God's economy works that way.

Those are two ways that the Rock 4 Water/Walk 4 Water will impact our community.

The larger picture is that this event will also help provide safe drinking water, education, and hope for Liberians who are less fortunate than those of us who live in the most affordable county in America.

The Cure That Is Love

Dr. Karl Menninger was a psychiatrist who was revolutionary for his time. His approach is still challenging to the psychiatric field today. Before World War II, when mental asylums were overcrowded, conditions were terrible, and the mentally ill were scorned by society, Menninger opened up a clinic that actually loved patients and cured them of their problems rather than just isolating them from society. In current times. we don't isolate them; we just medicate them. But Menninger was looking to cure them.
"Love cures people-both the ones who give it and the ones who receive it."
"Love is a medicine for the sickness of the world; a prescription often given, too rarely taken."
"Love is the touchstone of psychiatric treatment ... to our patient who cannot love, we must say by our actions that we do love him" (1).
When Menninger was asked, "If you knew for a certainty that you were going to have a nervous breakdown, what would you do?"

He replied, "I would close my house; I would move over onto the other side of the tracks; I would knock on doors until I had an opportunity to meet somebody who had more problems than I did; and then I'd spend my time helping them solve those problems" (2).

Meninger knew that loving others is the best cure for the problems we face.

1. Quoted in "Menninger's long history began with a small idea."  Menininger Institute. Web. 27 Nov. 2010. 
 2. Quoted from Clarke's personal file in Clarke, J. Richard. "The Royal Road to Happiness."  Brigham Young University. 30 October 1979. Web. 27 Nov. 2010.

A Grace That Heals

In the aftermath of apartheid's collapse in South Africa in 1994, the new government under Nelson Mandela established a Truth and Reconciliation Commission whose task it was to investigate specific acts of brutality committed in the name of apartheid and to seek some measure of resolution that would enable the country to move forward.

At one meeting early in their work, the commission gathered to reach a verdict on a particularly painful case involving an elderly South African woman. At the hearing, a group of white police officers, led by a Mr. Van de Broek, admitted their personal responsibility in the death of her 18-year-old son. They acknowledged shooting the young man at point-blank range, setting his body on fire, and then partying around the fire until the body had been reduced to little more than ashes. Eight years later, van de Broek and his fellow officers had again intersected with the woman's life, this time to take her husband into captivity. And then, some time later, van de Broek had come knocking at her door once more. Rousing her from bed in the dead of night, he brought the woman to an isolated setting by a river where her husband lay tied to a pile of wood. As she watched, he and the officers doused the man with gasoline and then ignited a fire. The last words her husband spoke to her, in the midst of the blazing pyre, were "Forgive them."

Now at long last the time had come for justice to be served. Those involved had confessed their guilt, and the Commission turned to the woman for a final statement regarding her desire for an appropriate punishment.

"I want three things," the woman said calmly. "I want Mr. van de Broek to take me to the place where they burned my husband's body. I would like to gather up the dust and give him a decent burial."

"Second, Mr. van de Broek took all my family away from me and I still have a lot of love to give. Twice a month, I would like for him to come to the ghetto and spend a day with me so I can be a mother to him."

"Third, I would like Mr. van de Broek to know that he is forgiven by God, and that I forgive him, too. And, I would like someone to come and lead me by the hand to where Mr. van de Broek is so that I can embrace him and he can know my forgiveness is real."

As the elderly woman made her way across the silent courtroom, van de Broek reportedly fainted, overcome by emotion. And then the silence was broken when someone began singing "Amazing Grace." Others soon picked up the words of the familiar hymn, so that finally the entire audience in the courtroom was joined in song.

From John Roth's Choosing Against War: A Christian View, 62-63. He claims to have "drawn extensively from the account of the story by Stanley Green, "When Reconciled, We are Free," Mennonite Weekly Review, Sept. 7, 2000, 4.