Am I Called? Burdened? Anointed?

Am I called to lead or am I leading from a place of burden? Am I anointed for the role I am stepping into? What will happen if I am serving from a place of burden and need?

It is vital for us to understand that the call for a ministry and the anointing for a ministry occur at different times and are two separate matters. The Apostle Paul from Acts 9 to Acts 13 is a prime example of this. We must distinguish between the call coming to a person and the anointing coming upon a person.

It is also necessary to distinguish between a call and a burden. A burden comes forth out of a vision of a need whereas a call comes forth out of God’s Will.

A call has a burden but a burden need not necessarily have a call. All dogs are animals but not all animals are dogs. All calls have burdens but not all burdens have calls attached to them.

It is unwise for a person to enter the ministry of Jesus out of a burden or need. It is better for a person to help or assist out of a burden or need. To enter into the ministry one needs more than a burden or a need; one needs a call from God – an appointment (1 Cor. 12:28) or a gifting (Eph. 4:11). Are there exceptions? Of course. God’s grace always abounds.

Many people enter the ministry from a place of burden or need but do not have an anointing upon them in the ministry office they are stepping into. Can God still bless it? Sure. There are always exceptions.

But in general, It is dangerous to move out of the Will of God. and to seek to function without the anointing of God’s Spirit upon the office you are serving in. It becomes mere human might, machinery, and power. When we operate from this place burn out is around the corner. When we operate form a place of calling, confirmation (from wise council), and the Holy Spirit, we can trust that the position we are functioning will have God’s anointing present—regardless of the challenges.

That One Thing We Seek

In our lives, what is it exactly we are desiring? In other words, what we we wanting to see happen? How we answer this question matters greatly. If we are desiring security that we are often filling our time with the pursuit of tangible items which can give us a false sense of security. If we are desiring value or worth then we are often filling our schedules with things that will give us our sense of belonging into this world. An identity that usually comprises of a wonderful and inauthentic veneer. Whatever we desire will usually order our steps and priorities.

But one thing is very clear. Our answer as Christians ought to differ from the world’s answer. To be fair, I desire many things in this life that are not even connected to my faith directly. However, those things do not replace the primary desire which the world would not understand. You see, we as followers of Jesus are to be the ones whose lives are so purified and distilled where what can be seen, heard, and observed is none other than Jesus. Of course this is not always the case (I myself am quick to admit my failures in this), but the pursuit of such a life is nevertheless the goal by default.

“Therefore, since we have these promises (see 2 Cor. 6:3-18), dear friends, let us purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence for God.”

2 Corinthians 7:1

We are to be those who live unalloyed and uncontaminated. Not only by what the world sees on the exterior but also what drives us on the interior. How we answer the question of what we seek says a lot about our understanding of whether we are living the “called out” life Jesus is seeking.

We are living at a time when Christians in Western Society at many corners are having an identity crisis. We are mixing our allegiances with nations (nationalism), idols, and allowing the sins of the world choke out the goodness of God at rapid rates. We are substituting many things for an identity that is causing us to enter vicious cycles of heartbreak and unsatisfied longings. All of this is causing our pursuits and desires to be all over the place.

So what needs to happen? We need a seminal moment. We need to hit refresh and reset. We need to come back to the purity of what we were created to desire from the very beginning: the presence of God. This is something David in the Old Testament understood fully.

“One thing I ask from the Lord,

    this only do I seek:

that I may dwell in the house of the Lord

    all the days of my life,

to gaze on the beauty of the Lord

    and to seek him in his temple.

Psalm 27:4

He desired one thing very clearly: to encounter God in his fullness. So much so that he wanted to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and seek Him in his temple all the days of his life. Do we find it a coincidence that God also called David a “man after His own heart” in Acts 13:22? David was elevated in the eyes of God because of his insatiable desires and passion for the LORD. Does this not motivate and challenge us for today? David lived at a time when the Holy Spirit was upon a few. We are living in an era where the Holy Spirit is within all who yield to Him. How much more so ought our experience with God’s presence transform everything around us?

The Church is not starving for methods, ideas, solutions or steps. The Church of Jesus Christ is starving for an encounter with the very presence of God.

But instead, we are often consumed with books, devotionals, apps, videos, and more but are at many turns still missing what is needed: a fresh and pure stripped down encounter with Jesus. This is where our desire must be. Our marriage depends upon it. Our children depend upon it. The life of the Church depends upon it. Society depends upon it. Everything does. What are you giving to others if you yourself are not encountering the love of God within His presence and glory? Prioritizing the glory of God in our daily living is paramount for every follower of Jesus.

The Presence and Glory of God

The glory and presence of God is found throughout the Scriptures. The word ‘glory’ in Hebrew comes from the word ‘kabob‘ translated glory one hundred and fifty-five times. The word ‘kabed‘ from the same root word has been translated ‘heavy‘ seven times. The root meaning of ‘kabob‘ means weight or heaviness. In the New Testament the word ‘glory‘ is translated from the word ‘doxa‘ which has various meanings like ‘appearance, manifestation, magnificence, splendid array, radiance, or dazzling lustre. It is within this glory and presence of the living God that we find our true hearts desire. We discover our identity. When we have a true encounter with the Holy Spirit, our faith comes alive. We begin to see and feel the very glory and presence of God and we do not desire anything else! His anointing becomes tangible. His authority flows through us as it did with those in Scripture. This is the hope of God for your life and for mine. To desire Him and be close with Him. There is no substitute.

When this one thing–the very presence of God– becomes our insatiable desire, we then find the anointing of God for life and what we have been called to. Put simply, the anointing of God is a manifestation of the power of God while the glory of God is a manifestation of His attributes. With this understanding, the power or anointing of God is inseparable because God does not demonstrate His power without His presence.

For instance, Jesus says in Acts 1:8 says, “When the Holy Spirit has come upon you (His presence), you shall receive power (His anointing of power).” They go hand in hand. Mark 16:17 reads, “And these signs (His power) shall follow those who believe in My Name (His presence).

So what are we to desire? We can answer with many options. Many are valid. Many would not be. But for me, I would like to answer in the way David answered. I desire an encounter with the glory and presence of God through the Holy Spirit Whom Jesus gave to us. The One Who provides comfort, encouragement, truth, challenge, and more (John 14-16). Strip everything from me but do not take away God’s Holy Spirit. From where else would I or we find our place in His presence?

Please remember, no one is given the anointing of God based on books, titles, knowledge, degrees, or years of experience. These are subservient to God’s presence and are meant to support; not replace. They mean something–but not everything.

The anointing of God to break down the strongholds of the enemy is given to those whose lives are desperately seeking to be consumed with the Holy Spirit to degrees few will understand and many will ridicule.

Though His love is always unconditional; His authority is not. Seek first the Kingdom of God. Prioritize His presence and glory. Walk boldly in the power and anointing of God that comes from dwelling in His presence daily.

I pray that we, like David, would begin to possess a singular focus upon the presence of the God in every aspect of our lives so that we may find life where there used to be death. I pray the staleness of our time in prayer and the Word would be replaced with fresh revelation and child like faith, because, like children at Christmas, we have discovered the indescribable joy of being in and seeking the presence of God in our daily lives.

For those who have fallen away at times. Those who have but a flicker burning. The Lord is never too distant. He can handle the anger, frustration, and even hatred. You are loved and invited into His presence where joy, purpose, healing, and mercy is found. All we are asked is to seek Him while He may still be found. Seeking Him with everything we have.

That’s One Thing that would transform everything.

Growing in the Anointing of God

What is the “anointing” of God?

The anointing of God is the enablement or impartation of God’s ability through His Holy Spirit upon and within an available and surrendered person to fulfill and carry out His will and His work. The enablement and impartation will help those who have received it to do supernatural things though they remain natural beings.

This ability for God to move through us is always for His glory and the expansion of His Kingdom. The anointing is never about us or for us. Of course we may learn and deepen our encounters of God in the process of being used–but it is all for His glory. The anointing does not exist to give us an emotional experience but rather penetrate the work of the Enemy in this world. It does not require a perfect person. Only a person yielded to God. A person who is desperate, passionate, and albeit radical in their pursuit of God. A person who has sought after the baptism of God’s Spirit as John the Baptist spoke of and Jesus gave to His church (you and I) beginning in Acts 2.

The anointing of God–His ability at work through us in what we seek to do in accordance with His will and Spirit’s guidance–can increase over time. In the Bible we will see at times Scriptures that speak of going from “faith to faith.” This is in reference to growth and maturity in our understanding and development. When we are first born again we are given a measure of faith and anointing (1 John 2:27) to experience the salvation of God and overcome the enemy. But this measure was meant to grow from faith to faith. What child would we ever expect to remain at a toddler stage? And yet many of us allow ourselves to live this in regard to the anointing of God upon our lives.

So what do we do? We grow! We grow in faith and trust in the Scriptures and of Jesus. Romans 10:17 says, “Faith comes by hearing; hearing by the Word of God.” Thus, more time spent in the Word of God–even if we are struggling to wrap our minds around what we are reading–will result in new and fresh faith. Our ability to trust God and take Him at His word will expand exponentially. As Paul says to those whom he is writing to in 2 Corinthians 10:15, “Our hope is that, as your faith continues to grow…” The expectation was growth in faith (not for personal gain as in modern day false teachings, but rather growth of faith for the expansion of God’s Kingdom through us).

What does this have to do with our anointing to do the work of God we have been called to? The anointing we operate in is proportion to our trust and faith in God as well as what He has graced us with (Romans 12:6). There is not a single verse in the Bible to say that the believer’s anointing over time is to remain the same. The opposite in fact.

I encourage you. Spend less time or delete the distractions: social media, TV, idols, and other distractions–and instead give all of that accumulated time to the Word of God and prayer with the Holy Spirit. Oh my goodness the joy you will feel! The passion and clarity of God’s voice will be so loud and present you will be unsure how to function! This is what you were destined for: intimacy with God. He will not satisfy the lazy and apathetic; only the determined and hungry. No degrees will do the job. No amount of books read or written will do it. No amount of anything other than time spent on our knees and faces and in the Scriptures will bring the life we dream of with our Creator. We have to stay hungry for the anointing of God upon our lives. Then, and only then, will our faith, grace, and anointing begin to grow within us to accomplish the mighty work of God. You know you were created for more. You can feel it. The path there is before us in the Word. All that is needed is a commitment to growth: faith by faith.

In Christ,

Noah

Praying in the Fog

It was probably 6 or 7:00am. It was cold. I could see my breath. To the east the sun was beginning to piercing through at every open seam of the clouds. It provided enough light to see dimly but unfortunately not enough heat to burn the dense fog which enveloped me. I found my usual beginning point at the state park and began walking. It was off the beaten path and distant from any people. A path that was unmarked and made by people like myself who like to go against the grain. 

I encountered the presence of God that day in a way that I will never forget. Nothing spectacular. No visions, signs, or wonders. Nothing like that. I had my bible, a cup of McDonalds coffee, and a journal. That was it. But that was more than enough. I found a place along the trail in the fog and began to read and pray on a makeshift seat made of an old log. I wrote out many things I received from God’s Spirit in prayer. To this day I cannot tell you what I wrote or what year this walk was. The only thing I remember from that hike was that it was astonishing how I could encounter the beauty of God and feel so close while in the midst of dense fog, deep woods, and eerie silence. 

I had a conversation with my dad not too long ago. I asked him, “Do you ever feel like you are a runner standing at the starting line tying your shoes thousands of times waiting for the start?” He shared his heart and gave an abundance of wisdom. Wisdom that helped keep me focused on the present and not to worry about the future. 

There will be times in our journey of following Jesus where the fog will be so dense that we assume there can be no presence of God found within it. We will think there can be no breakthrough or light to see. And at times, there isn’t. But somehow, within it—we sense a deep presence of the Divine if (that’s a big IF) we can quiet ourselves to sit and pray. 

There will also be times in our journey where we feel like we are stuck at the starting line. I have been there many times. I have complained to God saying things like, “But you promised… But you said… You showed me… Where are you… Why aren’t you… When will you…” We all do this. All of us are overflowing with divine expectations more times than not made by assumptions that did not come from above but rather ourselves. And so, we do what we do by habit. We keep tying our shoes. Waiting and waiting and waiting. 

Just Be Faithful

Whether you are in the fog where you can see God or you are stuck at the starting line wondering when God will bring certain things to pass—one truth remains. We are not invited to part the clouds for the sun or run prematurely before the precise time. We are expected only to be faithful at all times.

This may be the hardest among disciplines for people of faith. Our trust is in a God we cannot see physically. We hear truth from Him in ways that are at times undiscernible. We are invited to take risks that do not make logical sense. We are told to be like children in our trust and yet we are asked to be patient in ways only an adult could understand. But even still, faithfulness and obedience is all he asks. 

I pray that today you can rest in the realization that if you will just be faithful in the midst of the fog or at the starting line you will encounter the presence of God in your life. If sitting with God in the fog and at the starting line is all we have in this life, it is more than enough to carry us forward. Because in the end, being faithful to rest in the presence of God in the present will always outweigh the anxiety of the future. He knows our next steps and will lead us always. So find a spot, kneel, and begin to pray. You will be surprised Who you encounter.

Missio Dei: Latin for “Mission of God”

I have always been enamored with the Apostle Paul in the Bible. He was relentless in seeking to fulfill his purpose and the mission God gave him. Whether we realize it or not the same is to be said about ourselves. This too is to be our legacy. As followers of Jesus (or even humans created by God in general) we were created to be consumed with the Missio Dei for all people. But what exactly is the mission? Jesus said in Matthew 28:18-20,

“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit; teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely, I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

The Missio Dei focuses on making disciples. The process of growth in following Jesus is called discipleship. It involves, as Dallas Willard so wonderfully put, “the journey of becoming who Jesus would be if he were you.”

Plain and simple. This was Paul’s passion, the 12 disciple’s obsession, and church’s mission. Making disciples involves sharing our faith with others and helping them to pursue the same life-giving path if they choose to follow. It entails loving people and showing them in word and deed the goodness of God within us. It involves gathering as groups and encouraging one another; pressing into God together in groups called “church.” This is how those early Christians as well as the Apostle Paul impacted entire populations with the love and message of God under severe persecution and impoverishment. Through house churches filled with disciples radiating the joy and message of Jesus.  

If you are a follower of Jesus (a Christian); this is your work and calling. We would be in error to think that our calling is our job. It isn’t. That is your vocation. Your calling as a Christian is to glorify your Creator and to allow your life to emulate His within you. The best way we can do that is by radiating the love and message of the Gospel to others around us. But where do we begin? Thankfully Jesus helps us answer this with an analogy from Mark 4 in the Bible:

“This is what the kingdom of God is like. A man scatters seed on the ground. Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how.All by itself the soil produces grain—first the stalk, then the head, then the full kernel in the head. As soon as the grain is ripe, he puts the sickle to it, because the harvest has come.”

Where do we begin living out the Missio Dei? According to Jesus the answer is found is the “empty fields.” All of us have “empty fields” around us. We are surrounded by people and situations desperate for the redeeming message of Jesus Christ. Will you be the one God uses today to reach them? Will you be the one who steps out in faith into the empty field around you fulfilling the Missio Dei? Transformation of entire regions for the Kingdom of God begins with just one person. 

So I encourage you to keep your eyes open for those empty fields around you. Find that “one” around you. As you step out to fulfill the mission God in making disciples and obeying Jesus, trust that God will not leave you high and dry. Believe deeply what Jesus taught His disciples for your own life. He said,  

“When you are brought before synagogues, rulers and authorities, do not worry about how you will defend yourselves or what you will say, for the Holy Spirit will teach you at that time what you should say.”

Be wise, be bold, and above all, be relentless. For the Missio Dei is the greatest purpose one could ever live for. May it be said about us that we too were obsessed with finding those empty fields and planting the seeds of the Kingdom. 

Blessings+

Leadership Matters

If recent years have taught us anything for those living in the United States of America it is that leadership matters. Our country has been steeped in self-serving and destructive leadership for quite some time. This truth is revealed when taking an easy glance at our country’s societal landscape. From vaccines to race to education to politics to the economy–at every turn there is disunity. Even outside of politics and into the corporate world. Organizations and Fortune 500 companies have been wrecked with scandal and corruption. While we would hope that the Church of Jesus Christ nationally and around the world would be immune–we too have been filled with our fair share of corruption and scandals. What does all of this tell us? Leadership matters.

Serving as a pastor has been a rewarding experience. I have learned leadership lessons through success and failure. I have hurt and have been hurt. I have experienced jubilation and betrayal. With everything good and bad; I have found a deep appreciation. All of the experiences have made me who I am and have forged a different kind of leader within me.

In the effort to grow and become a better servant of others God has led me in focusing on the importance of becoming a “high capacity” kind of leader. This has nothing to do with ego or status. This has everything to do with a servanthood kind of leadership and growing my capacity to serve and love people more effectively. Over the past year or so I have learned it’s important we strive in:

  1. Enlarging our theology of God’s role in how we lead: How deep does our faith go? Do we trust God will lead us? Do we trust God will give us the clarity and wisdom needed?
  2. Enlarging our circle of people different than ourselves: How diverse is the group around us? From whom do we draw influence, wisdom, and advice? Diversity of voices can nurture stronger leadership.
  3. Enlarging our willingness to cope and adapt with change: No one leads in a silo. True leadership arises from the varying circumstances which cause us to stay true to our convictions and direction.
  4. Enlarging our “tool box” of disciplines: Are we doing what is necessary to hear the voice of God? Are we disciplining ourselves? Are we positioning ourselves to be effective in how we serve others and show them the love of Jesus?

At first glance I can imagine many would think this list reflects important principles for leaders in a church. It doesn’t. You may also think these are all common sense. I assure you, they are not. This short list is for anybody and everybody and requires intentionality. At the very least all of us are the leaders of our own path. We are the ones who make the decisions. We are the ones who steer our steps. God guides, leads, and provides. But we make the first step every time.

In taking those steps, I encourage you: Stay focused! Your leadership matters. In a society starving for true leaders who reflect the best in what humanity can offer, choose to lead well! Show a better way. Beware of the following traps which take away your focus and drive:

  1. Choosing to be involved in things God did not call us to.
  2. Fighting the wrong battles which distract and drain everything in you.
  3. Chase every trend and fad thinking the answer to everything is within them.
  4. Striving to be someone else or in someone else’s situation. Own your lot!

At the very least, from one leader to another, I pray you will take tomorrow and recognize that when your feet hit the floor, its game on. How you lead tomorrow matters. Lead yourself and others well.

Choose to serve; not to domineer. Choose Jesus; not the flesh. Choose people; not advancement. Choose love; not selfishness.

God is asking for your “only.”

Though we ourselves can be victims of broken promises given and received, God is the ultimate promise keeper that will never fail His children nor forget His promises to them. 

I remember as a child being told “never make a promise you can’t keep.” Maybe you remember this as well. Even as adults this statement holds true and I have learned this the hard way. Maybe this is why we are encouraged in the Bible to allow our Yes be our Yes and our No be our No? 

When it comes to promises, they are literally everywhere when I read the Bible. They cover nearly every aspect of life and even the after-life. God is not hesitant about making promises. He made them to Israel, Kings, shepherds, the Church, and to his disciples. 

Biblical scholar Evereck Storms counted these promises and found 8,810 promises. Almost 8000 of those were from God to man. Books like Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel have over 1000 promises each. Almost every verse in Psalm 37 contains a promise. 

But do you know what I find the most amazing? It is not the number of promises in the bible. It is that He always keeps the promises He speaks. He too lives by that rule about not making a promise He can’t keep with the caveat that He fulfills that which He promises. 

For many all of this is not much of a source of encouragement. I understand why. Some of us have been to hell and back. Some have lost a spouse. We’ve lost a child. We were let go from a job, divorced, hurt by a best friend, and more. Things happened that we felt promised by God ought not to happen. The only challenge is—we are never promised a life free of difficulty or comfortable. I wish that were the case. But it just isn’t. If it were, there would be no need for the return of Christ. 

Often times our emotional responses to hardship and suffering paint an image and theology of God that leads us to believe that the promises found in the Bible will forever remain in the Bible with no impact on those of us living today. When this happens—the enemy wins. The reality is that even though our perception of God may change; the nature of God doesn’t. In His very nature He is the great promise keeper. The faithful one. He is Abba. 

If we find ourselves losing our ability to live with trust and belief in Him what happens over time is a slow decay where part of our core identity as Jesus followers is lost. We go from children of big faith and trust (a hallmark of early Christianity) to people of cynicism and doubt. 

Believe it or not the disciples found themselves here at times as well. The twelve disciples of Jesus were raised on stories involving the promise keeping God. But for so long these disciples were living under the harsh oppression of Rome. Surely during their pain and sorrow wrought by the hand of their oppressors they themselves had to wonder about where this “promise keeping” God was. 

I know you’ve been there. I’ve been there. But I have learned that though the deserts seem vast and dry seasons long—He is still here ready to restore faith and trust wanting to see the dry bones of our stale faith come back to life as we re-encounter His faithfulness. 

In Matthew 14:12-21 Jesus does the unthinkable. Upon having compassion on the masses who have no food He blesses and distributes two fish and five loaves of bread. What is most amazing about this story is that in doing so Jesus showed those weathered and weary disciples that the promise keeping God was still among them. While their logic struggled to keep up, Jesus took what little they had and multiplied it to their astonishment. In doing so I believe He restored faith and trust in God for those present.

I encourage you to read the story on your own. As you do pay attention to one word that is used in v. 17. It is the word “only.” As they reply to Jesus that they only have two fish and five loaves Jesus says, “bring them to me.”

Our God is not the God of “ducks in a row.” He is the God of “fishes and loaves.” No matter how little you possess God is ready to show you that He is still the great promise keeper. All He asks is that you surrender the “only” you possess. In the areas that you have lost hope or trust—I pray they come back to life within you. I am confident at one time or another God has spoken or promised things to you about your life and future. If not many come to mind the issue is not a matter of God speaking. It is a matter of His children listening.

If it is hard to listen or even pray; if you are concerned because of your weak faith, weary heart and mind, little resources, or any thing else just remember the words of Jesus in Matthew: “Come to me all who are weary and tired and I will give you rest…”

To the degree you surrender full control and heart, to that same degree you will see the faithfulness of God in new and exciting ways. The result will be a firm conviction that God is the ultimate promise keeper that will never fail His children nor forget His promises to them.

Blessings +

Taking the Leap Part 1: “What in Us Must Die?

23 But Jesus answered them, saying, “The hour has come that the Son of Man should be glorified. 24 Most assuredly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it produces much grain. 25 He who loves his life will lose it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. 26 If anyone serves Me, let him follow Me; and where I am, there My servant will be also. If anyone serves Me, him My Father will honor. -John 12:23-26

Gardening, Growth, and the Bible

I love gardening. I love witnessing things grow. To me it is still one of the greatest mysteries. You take a seemingly “dead” looking seed—dry and shriveled up—seeming to be at the end of its rope. You put it in good soil. Surround it with good nutrients. Shower it with the rains from above. And then it happens. A little shoot climbing through the soil seeking to make a name for itself. No matter what kind of plant it is–it usually begins the same—a tiny blade climbing through the soil. How it happens is still a mystery. Science can explain the many variables, but it cannot explain what activates the seed to bring the growth and to bear fruit. 

This topic is near and dear to the heart of God. Most analogies found within the Bible often refer in one way or another to agriculture and the seasons of planting, growing, and harvesting. Whether it be Mark 4:26-29 or Luke 8—seed planting and growing is everywhere. Especially within the words of Jesus. Why is this important? 

In Death Comes Life

Because in gardening there is a fundamental truth tht applies to all of life: in death comes life. In the verse above Jesus likens His own life to a grain of wheat which falls to the ground seemingly dead and yet goes into the soil and multiplies or bears fruit—which refers to His own resurrection. But Jesus decides to take it one step further and turn it around on His listeners then, as well as you and I. He takes the “death to life” principle he is living out and reveals this is in fact the life-pattern you and I were meant to live. 

This understanding of going from “death to life” is foundational to the Christian faith. So foundational that the author of Hebrews explains it as being “elementary.” She or he states, “Therefore, leaving the discussion of the elementary principles of Christ, let us go on to maturity, not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God…” You get the vibe from this statement that from the very beginning they were instructed to leave behind the things which are dead within them and embrace newness of life in Christ. To cut ties with the actions which multiply sin and darkness within us and embrace new habits, desires, and disciplines which move us into maturity and growth in the love and truth of God. This would be that same pattern of living; from death to life.

But when you read the verse from John above do you notice how Jesus describes His own death? He says that “the hour has come that the Son of Man should be glorified.” He did not use the phrase “to die” or “to be crucified.” Instead he chose this phrase “be glorified.” Jesus saw that in death God can still be glorified. God was supremely glorified when Jesus went to the cross, died, and resurrected. I think for a Christ follower this conviction would be common sense. But remember how Jesus turned the gardening analogy around on you and I? That if we lose our lives we will truly find them? The same can then be said that when we choose to die to our own ways and desires and live for Him—we are glorifying Christ within us.  

What in Us Must Die?

This is the beautiful mystery of Christianity. We follow Jesus and in return experience the principle of death unto new life—if of course we allow the process to take place. What if the seed were to say to the gardener, “I do not want to be planted into the ground. I want to stay on the tree where I am. I do not want to fall into the soil and grow!” How ridiculous would this be? But the thing is we do this on a daily basis. We seek to cling to the trees we are planted on currently. The trees of bitterness, unforgiveness, sin, etc. 

Logically, the next question for ourselves then is, “what in us needs to die in order for growth and maturity to take root?” Is it gossip or slander? Is it addiction to alcohol, drugs, pain meds, or approval of others? Is it pornography which poisons the mind and pollutes the heart?  Perhaps it’s the love of money and possessions? Racism, prejudice, and/ or bigotry? Whatever it may be… it’s a dead work which is halting your growth. You must die in order to find life. You must call those things out within yourself and say, “Enough is enough” so that God is able to deposit within you something in its place. Something which brings true and everlasting joy, purpose, and hope. 

Jesus says in John 15:8, “This is to My Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.” As followers of Jesus we are destined to bear fruit. We are destined to grow and multiply like healthy seeds planted in good soil.

But remember, to bear fruit a seed needs to what? It needs to die. Yes, its difficult. Yes, its painful. Yes, it’s a journey. But it’s the only way to leave a legacy for Christ. Isn’t that what you desire?

The alternative path is apathy. You do not want apathy. Apathy is the precursor to spiritual death where there is no hope of new life. You know full well you were created for so much more. Why settle? You’re bored. I understand. I have been there. But even in the pain of the wilderness and spiritual boredom we have to enter the door of death before we can walk the halls of newness of life. A newness best described as a daily living and breathing relationship with God where you are being used on the front lines for His glory loving and serving through the power of His Holy Spirit. It is impossible to have both. 

A Haunting Question for the Jesus Follower

One more thing. Do you notice what Jesus says in verse 26? He says, “If anyone serves Me, let him follow Me; and where I am, there My servant will be also.” The context of this verse is the Kingdom of God and the life to come. But the Holy Spirit brought this to life to me last week through a question. Jesus says the phrase “where I am” here. The question He gave me was:

“Is Jesus with you where you are or are you with Jesus where He is?” 

Of course, we could say both. But think about it. Is Jesus at our level consoling us in our continual haphazard efforts in growing but often choosing death? Or are we where he is which is the other side of “death to life” scenario. Grace abounds. We will never have it right all the time. But with everything we have in us, let us fight for new life. I want to be where Jesus is. I want to be driven by the Holy Spirit vs. continually consoled.

But to get to that place… I and we must die to ourselves and find new life in Him by trusting that His death and resurrection has freed us from everything which seeks to kill and destroy us.

What needs to die within you so that His life can resurrect you? 

Weathered Passion

It happens to the best of us. We began with passion, wonder, and mystery. We began with innocence, naiveté, and a splash of recklessness. And then, after a period of time, it happens. The zeal we once possessed in following Jesus and living a righteous life begins to take a turn.

Zeal turns into lethargy. A mind rocked by the freedom of grace grows bored. The heart-melting truth of God’s love becomes abstractThe stories of Jesus healing as well as the miracles of the apostles would fuel our passion and desire to see a move of God in our day.

This maybe is not how your story began with Christ. Maybe you have never experienced this kind of wonder or zeal or recklessness that myself and many others possessed. To be fair we were also ill-educated, often arrogant, and somewhat pharisetical. But hey, we really loved Jesus. Regardless, no matter what our journey has looked like the chances are we will find ourselves meandering a path of mundane Christianity at times.

An Old Journal

Earlier today I sat down with a journal from 16 years ago. I am growing old now. Yes I know 34 may not be old to some of you but in looking at my journal from 16 years ago I sure felt old. Or maybe it was when I stood up after reading it for a while? Regardless, 16 years is a long time. I came to a page that talked about my desperation for God and how I am empty without him. What is crazier is I remember writing it. It was at a table outside at Starbucks, on the right side of the outter wall.

I will be honest. After reading it I felt that sense of “where has this been?” I then began to do my usual self-defeating talk where I heap guilt and condemnation on myself for not having the wonder and joy I was reading about! “Noah, cmon! Where’s the passion? Where’s the joy?!?

But then I got out some more recent journals from the shelf and reflected on where my own journey has taken me. Through this the Spirit of God reminded me that though my joy may not be the same as it once was all those years ago, it has grown in unique ways. In that moment, I needed that reminder. Maybe you do as well.

We Have Options

We all have a few options before us as we reflect on our own journey in following Jesus. We can look backwards and remember the days of old with a longing to go back. Back to the passion we once knew and held on to. Or we can say no to this option and choose to stay in the lethergy, cynicism, and any other emotion that usually accompanies life experience, new seasons, dissapointments, and so on.

Or you can do what I believe is most beneficial. You can appreciate the past, acknowledge the challenges of the present, and embrace the journey you have been on.

You are a weathered follower of Jesus. You have been around the block long enough to know things don’t always end great. Your good intentions do not always amount to a happy ending. You might not get your reward until the other side. Not everyone will always be kind to you or walk with you–even if they claim to follow Jesus. In fact, following Jesus itself was never meant to guarentee any “smooth sailing” on this side of eternity. That is something this “Weathered Jesus Follower” struggled to realize over the years.

These and many other lessons we learn. But in the end we should take all of it and allow it to add character and depth to our faith. We then position ourselves to be able to be used by God with our children, grandchildren, and others younger than us who are beginning as infants in Christ. If we stay lethargic and cynical chances are we will be a stumbling block in front of those with fresh passion. But if we embrace our weathered nature we will then be able to guide and lead the next generation.

Weathered Passion

One more thing. I am writing this post while at a desk made of barn wood from the 1920’s I had made a few years ago. It has the circular saw marks still in it from the old saw mill. It has nails still protruding out which have been ground down to soft metal. There are divers and curves and edges that are uneven. I have never seen a more beautiful desk. It isnt pristine, new, or naieve. Its weatherd. Its beautiful.

I encourage you to embrace where you have walked. The challenges and difficulties can lead you to new places of wisdom and depth. Don’t allow yourself to forget the wonder of Jesus. If you have, I have great news. The Apostle Paul says that it is possible to have a complete renewal of the mind. The Holy Spirit can do just that. Read the Scriptures with fresh eyes. Pray and allow the Lord to restore your heart to be able to feel his warmth and tough again.

He won’t restore the passion or joy of 16 years ago. Instead he will dig new and deeper wells of revelation and love which will bring forth a new passion that has been weathered by the realities and challenges of a life of following Jesus. Because in the end–lets be real– Kendal Jackson will always taste better then Welch’s.

An Interview I did w/ Hope United on the Addiction Epidemic and the Response of the Church

The Church and The Epidemic

“…and when the man saw him who was hurt he had compassion on him….Then Jesus said “Go and do likewise.’” ~ Luke 10:33,37 from the Parable of the Good Samaritan

Along this journey of existing as a nonprofit that is trying desperately to bring hope to an addiction epidemic that is crippling our communities, our state, and our nation, we have come to the realization that real change, real POSITIVE, life altering change is never going to happen if we sit back and wait on the government to help. It’s just not. Real change is going to happen right here, right in our communities – because we are the ones who are feeling the wrath of addiction – of an opioid epidemic initiated by greed and the all mighty dollar.

But who in our community should step up? Should it be left to the families who have been impacted? How about the businesses that have financially felt the drain from an epidemic that has wreaked havoc on our towns? Couldn’t we make a case that everyone in the community is impacted in some way, shape or form by the opioid crisis? Ohio had the second highest rate of drug overdose deaths involving opioids in the U.S. in 2017, more than 400,000 people have died from a drug overdose involving opioids since 1999, and according to a recent study, the economic burden of the crisis in the United States was determined to be at least $631 billion in just a three year span. It is difficult to sometimes find the support that is so desperately needed, but there is one sector of our community that I think should be an inevitable resource of hope for those devastated by addiction: The Church.

It seems like an obvious answer. It really does. But some may feel that many churches are too quick to brush the word addiction under the rug, to pretend it doesn’t exist between their hallowed walls. I had the opportunity to sit down recently with Pastor Noah Schumacher of High Mill Church of the Resurrection in Canton and learn why so many churches aren’t ready to address this issue. Here was our mind-opening conversation:

Me: Tell me why you partnered with Hope United to offer space for our new relapse prevention programming that will begin soon in Stark County.

Pastor Noah: “I always think – how cool would it be to be a church that Jesus would want to attend. So what I always imagine is – would He walk into our church and say, ‘You got it, you’re doing it right.’ Or would He walk in and flip the tables over like He does in the temple in one of the gospel stories?

Jesus was radical in making wrong things right. As a pastor of a church in Canton, we believe the church should be doing that same thing – making wrong things right.

So, when we had the opportunity to say we have offices for Hope United – to us that is one step closer to making wrong things right. Because we then get to partner in doing that kind of work with addiction.”

Me: Pastor Noah, what do you see as the biggest challenge in getting churches involved in addressing complicated, messy issues such as addiction.

Pastor Noah: “The biggest challenge, and I hate saying this, but many churches are protecting the bottom line – the bottom line financially, the bottom line culturally, a bottom line, you know, ‘we want to protect our image because we want to appear like this’…..

But really, if the mission of the church is to reach out to the community and that’s how you protect your bottom line then you are completely divorced from the actual goal of what Jesus intended to do. The goal of Jesus was always meant to be this bridge into community, but not just the higher-ups, the elite, but He was breaking down barriers…and walls to reach people that were stigmatized, people that were put in boxes by the higher-ups of His day.

What should the natural ethos of the church be?

~ Reach people who are stigmatized

~ Reach people who are in corners, marginalized and broken – who most of society are looking down upon.

And here’s the saddest part of this story:

So people who are struggling with addiction are probably the top tier group that is facing that stigma right now. (And I would add in people who are struggling with prostitution.) The church turns its nose up at a lot of these people……People who are battling, trying to get out of addiction….and what we do is we want to resort back to our safe enclave as the church and say ‘thank goodness, our hands are clean’….and ‘we have a beautiful environment here, and it’s not messy, and we’ve got to polish our steeple and our stained glass and we are doing the mission of Jesus.’

Well – no, you’re not.

You’re actually doing the opposite.”

Me: How can you encourage individuals and families who are living with a person with a substance use disorder?

Pastor Noah: “I read a book the other day (Becoming Human by Jean Vanier), and it said,

“The definition of love is to see what a person was always meant to become.”

So, when you truly love people, you need to see past whatever the battle is, but you see what God is helping them to become and you help them through that journey. I’ve noticed the way that Michelle (my wife) and I think is sometimes described as beautifully naïve, because we’ve always had the assumption that if you follow Jesus, then those who happen to have an addiction – those are the people you want to come into contact with to walk beside, to have phone calls with, to have coffee with, or to be accountability partners with….and to help funnel to organizations like Hope United. To me it’s a no-brainer.”

Me: In your opinion, what are the most important things you can offer to an individual who is battling with addiction?

Pastor Noah:  “I always think the biggest things you can give anybody, any one person in the world, are two things:  value and worth.  When you can show someone their value and their worth in the eyes of God, I think that is one of the greatest medicines to a broken soul you could ever give…I believe it really does lift up a person to a whole new place where they feel this encouragement and empowerment.

(On the flip side), Coldly telling someone ‘you’re a sinner’, ‘hey, you’re not doing this right’… I don’t think that is what Jesus had in mind. Jesus called for repentance and a commitment to a new life but He gave all people value, worth, and hope no matter their history or actions.

Me: What is currently lacking in the Christian faith, in your opinion?

Pastor Noah: “We have an ala carte Christianity. This is where we pick and choose what we want and what feels good.

So here’s what people do:

They go down the line of all the possible ways of being a Christian (signaling with his hand making checkmarks):

‘I want a community that makes me feel encouraged.’

  • ‘I’ll take that.’ (says the ala carte Christian)

‘I want a community where I have friendships and I’m challenged by the word of God.’

  • ‘I’ll take that.’ (says the ala carte Christian)

But if you have this part over here (signaling with the other hand and seemingly pushing something to the side)….

‘But I’m going to be with people who are being open about their battle with heroin (or pornography, etc..). Well…..that just seems a little bit too much.’

  • ‘I’ll just keep that one there’. (says the ala carte Christian)
  • …..’But I’ll take this good part and the good worship team.’

(Pastor Noah signals another checkmark as if this too is acceptable to the ala carte Christian.)

That’s what we are doing today. That is not Christianity and that is not at all what the church should be.”

(Pastor Noah continued on…)

“Many churches have this mindset – this is what dictates if you belong: (begins drawing picture)

  • If you believe the way we do….
  • If you dress the way we want you to…
  • If you act the way we want you to….
  • If you talk the way we want you to…..

Well, then you can squeeze in and you belong.

That’s how you are part of the church and that’s how we value you. If one of these doesn’t match up, then we struggle to show you the worth and the time that shows you that you matter to us. This was the way of the Pharisees and the way of the Sadducees. This is how they dictated who belongs and who doesn’t’.”

What we see in the gospels is totally different. Here is what dictates belonging in the gospels: (begins drawing new picture)

We have individuals at all different places and what it means to belong in the community of God is that you are going in one direction – which is closer to Jesus.

You might have people who are real close, you might have some who are further away. You might have some who just got done doing their last dose of heroin, but they know that that they need hope and they need to find Jesus.

JESUS (3) illustration followers.png

As long as they are coming this direction, then guess what? They belong just as much as this person (the person closest to Jesus) …becausethe direction they are walking is the same way.

This is how you belong.

…. This person will put their arm around that person (pointing to the people in the second illustration) and say – ‘I’ll walk you closer.’

That is what Jesus wanted.”

Wow, I must say – Pastor Noah nailed it. We need the Church in this fight against addiction. There are countless families hurting and broken hearted…maybe right in your church. Christianity is more than just attending Sunday service, it is more than just tithing, it is more than making sure all appearances look good to those around you. Christianity, and following Jesus, is about compassion, showing mercy; it’s about accepting individuals who are stigmatized and marginalized and offering them hope. It’s about having a heart for serving others and offering love when no one else will. It’s about a belief in redemption and a belief that no one is too lost to be found.

We are grateful for the churches that have chosen to walk alongside Hope United in this fight. We have been hosting The Well support group for the past 3 years for families who have lost a loved one to addiction thanks to Pastor Lennie McKinney and Crossview Church in Akron offering space for Hope United to lead the meetings each month. Pastor Noah Schumacher and High Mill Church of the Resurrection in Canton recently partnered with Hope United by providing office space for our organization to begin counseling services and relapse prevention programming by the end of 2019. High Mill Church will be our home office until construction is complete on Tyler’s Redemption Place, Ohio’s first Relapse Prevention Wellness Center in the Fall of 2020. We are so excited to begin our new programming and other offerings such as a weekly recovery support group called Everlasting Recovery that will be led by Mike Schleis beginning Thursday, November 7th.

We are so thankful for Pastor Noah and High Mill, as well as Pastor Lennie and Crossview Church, for believing in hope for individuals and families afflicted by addiction. And we invite fellow Christians and the Church to Stand United with us and help be the change we need in our communities.

Together, WE ARE HOPE UNITED.