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.
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.
“…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.
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?
“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.
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.
These were the thoughts that ran through my mind the day I assumed the leadership role of the local church I lead. Ok maybe not these words exactly but if I am being honest they were floating around. For every individual called into a role of leadership there is usually a strong sense of naivete. It doesn’t matter if the role is leading a church, a warehouse, a government agency, or a Fortune 500 company. New leaders will always possess a small combination of ego and precious innocence. I was no exception.
I am more than willing to admit I fell into this category. It took some time for me to finally cooperate with God to rid me of foolish expectations in my own leadership journey. Some of those addmittedly foolish and embarrasing expectations were:
“I have an M.Div from a Seminary… I know everything and am fully prepared to lead.”
“Everyone here is for me and believes in me.”
“Things are going to fall right into place.”
“This will be easy, full of joy, and fun!”
Insert all the laughing emojis you can imagine. Even typing those phrases makes me laugh out loud. A degree will surely help but it is not the end all be all for leading people. No matter what is said to you–few will truly be for you. Or for that matter believe in you. Things will not fall into place. You will have to fight, grind, and refuse to give up when trials come.
Easy, full of joy, and fun? Drop “easy” from your vocabulary. The journey of leadership is full of many things—joy is often not the first that will come to mind. Fun will take some time to get to. A long time in fact. So it may not be easy, joyful, or fun but it will be good. Name something truly worthwhile that comes at no cost, no friction, no challenges, and no blood, sweat, and tears? Exactly.
The Tests of Leadership
Every leader (person for that matter) has to realize there will be many tests you will walk through to become the leader and person you were meant to be. Nothing is given and everything is earned when it comes to leadership.
These tests are many. You have the character test that many will fail. The motivation test which reveals either self-propagating or a heart truly for those you lead. The patience test which tests really how deep your faith and trust runs regarding what you know God has called you to.
There are just too many “tests” to name. However, one by one, as we remain faithful and steadfast—maintaining our integrity and Christlikeness—we will walk through the fire becoming the leader God has called us to become. I believe this for your own journey and growth. Whether you are in ministry or in the secular world. Chances are you are encountering a test right now.
The Time Test
It is the “Time Test” which seems to be the most common among many leaders and people I do life with. This test as seen in Scripture points to this false idea that God does not seem to be fulfilling the word or promise he gave us in the past. The time required to go from a perceived promise from God to actual fulfillment tries our patience, forcing us to trust God to fulfill what he has called us to in His own time and way.
Did you catch that? God’s timing is not yours. This applies to all situations. The timing and seasons of God are in his hands; not ours. This alone may be the most difficult aspect of following Jesus and trusting God’s provision along this difficult and arduous journey. But thank God for it.
This time test gives us an opportunity to grow in our faith and trust. It purifies our motives and attitudes. It cultivates maturity and growth. James 1:4 states, “Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”
The story of Abraham in Genesis 12-18 is the perfect illustration of someone beginning their journey with assumed misperceptions followed by a length of time in which the promise “delays.” Abraham was 75 years old when God called him out of Haran to travel to Canaan in Genesis 12:1-9. Abraham was promised all of Canaan from the Euphrates to the south. Being childless, the patriarch had made his home-born slave, Elazar to be his heir. But God promised Abraham that he would have a child of his own as an heir in 15:4. Abraham did not have the patience. He bypassed the time table God has ordained and instead at the age of 86 he had a son named Ishmael through his concubine Hagar. It was not until Abraham was 100 years old that God brought his promise to pass in a son born to Sarah and Abraham. He had to wait 25 total years before he could receive God’s promise. 25 years of waiting and wondering. 25 years of doubt and frustration. But he never gave up. God’s time had to run its course.
What does all of this translate to? The time test is no piece of cake. It’s no “walk in the park” and it certainly isn’t easy. But it is sorely needed. If we can submit to the potter’s hands with patience and endurance, the purging fire of Gods wisdom will forge our leadership and growth in Christ.
In the end, when we allow the time test to run its course, we rediscover that three-letter word we innocently began with: Joy. But this time it’s a deeper joy.
A joy in seeing the faithfulness of God at work.
A joy in experiencing growth and maturity through humility and hard work.
A joy in seeing the fruit of your patience as the promise begins to break through.
A joy in seeing that God is beginning something new and exciting through you.
A joy renewed in confidence that in all things it is God who is at work–not us or our efforts.
Don’t give up in the test of time. Stay faithful. Keep grinding. Keep fighting. Keep believing. You will see the fruit of your perseverance. Someone out there needs to remember this: Don’t. Ever. Give. Up.
Day in. Day out. He sat there. His knees bruised, and elbows covered in blood stained patches. His knees wouldn’t function like others because since birth he had a genetic defect which caused him to be paralyzed from the waist down. He would use his arms and elbows to maneuver himself to sit upright the best he could. He possessed no friendships or kin to assist him. This was how he lived his daily life. However, there was one day that was different.
As the bright sun rose that morning he gathered his few belongings. A cloth mat. Moth eaten satchel. Stale pieces of bread. With everything he had he made his typical slow crawl to his corner. Though it was a small space to call his own, it was his home. He had nothing and no one—only his corner. He passed the time dreaming of what it would be like to walk and run. To be included and valued like everyone else.
Each day he faced the same routine in this little spot next to the largest church in the city. His morning began with the religious folks passing by conveniently ignoring his plight. Perched high on their thrones of ego and vanity they would throw boulders of judgement and pebbles of slander.If he was lucky someone would throw a gift. It would come in the form of a faint and sporadic sound of metal clanging in his basket. Coins crashing against other coins as they are dropped by one who possessed empathy, compassion, or guilt. For this pathetic man it was the sound of hope, bread, or at the least—an apple. On this particular morning that sound was rarely heard.
Desperation Sets In
As the day went on, he was desperately searching for anyone who would help him. Finally, he saw a man walking into the church from a distance. There were two. The other was coming behind him. They looked different than the others. Their demeanor was pleasant but intently serious at the same time. It was the one who led the way that locked eyes with the beggar. Seeing this was his moment to get his attention he began to frantically yell to him. The man, not hearing him the first time, finally heard him the second time as the beggar reached a fever pitch scream.
“Sir!! Please! Look at my situation. Look at my body. Please… oh please. Will you give me something, so I can eat?”
It was at this time the second man who was walking with him caught up. They stopped their procession into the church and stood there as the crowds continued to pass by. The first man looked into the eyes of the one he traveled with. With a sort of unspoken gesture, they both knew they wanted to give something to this beggar.
The man slowly takes in his hopeless situation. He looks at his swollen and ragged knees. He pulls his arm back to see his bloody elbows. The beggar, feeling pain from his hand touching his arm, pulls him away revealing his deformed and crooked fingers. The man then looks past him to see the few positions he clings to as his own.
An Unexpected Gift
With an uncanny and firm face he says to him,
“Listen, I do not have any more dollars or coins which you would expect. I don’t have the common gift you seek each week from all of these people walking past us. But what I do have—I will freely give to you.”
The beggar—confused and intrigued—grabbed his hand. The man then said,
“By the authority given to me by Jesus of Nazareth, who is the chosen One, rise up and stand here next to me.”
The beggar was unsure what to do. He had never heard of this king who possessed such authority to heal someone. But he couldn’t deny the undefinable emotion coursing through his mind and body. Something was happening. He allowed the tension of the man’s hand in his to pull him to his feet. Crying out in pain and fear he slowly arose from the dust. The man held his shoulders smiling and telling him,
“You can stand! Come on! We will help you!”
It was then he felt the deformity from within his body leave. His knees strengthened. His ankles gave him support. Tears began to stream down his face. Not only his but the other two as well. Each of them realized in that moment they experienced something no human mind could explain. All they knew is that it was good and God had just done something among them.
The man was healed. He was no longer a stigma in the society of his day. He was no longer forced to bleed from his elbows and knees. To declare this new reality to the religious elite he burst the doors of the church wide open and danced his way through the aisles. Interrupting the liturgy and teaching he smiled and locked eyes with each self-righteous individual who elevated themselves above him. It was gloriously and appropriately petty. They were unsure what to do or say. They were speechless and dumbfounded. Marveled and angry. For they recognized this poor wretched one they were so busy ignoring.
A Life Beautifully Interrupted
The man and his companion gave a gift that morning on their way to the Church. It was a gift of healing. They restored value to someone who was ignored day in and day out. They restored someone’s dignity. The means by which they gave this gift was an authority and power they could not call their own. It came from Another. They didn’t wake up with this goal in mind. They weren’t seeking to find someone to heal that day. They were simply keeping their prayer committment with fellow Jews. But their routine, their route, their pathway was beautifully interrupted. I wonder how many beautiful interruptions await us? Are we even willing to be interrupted?
Three truths from a retelling of Acts 3.1-12:
Value and Worth before Dollars and Coins.
Give the gift of value and worth before dollars and coins. This is not either/or. This is both/and. People in need have deep layers of shame and humiliation. Restore their hope and heart first by sharing your life and listening to theirs. Learn from them, value them, and honor them. From a place of shared interdependence and restored hearts—give tangibly.
The two men, Peter and John, did not wake up with the intent to restore this beggar’s entire life. They simply walked. But what undergirded their walk that morning was the notion that their life was not their own. They were simply empty containers willing to be filled with the power and goodness of God and at a moments notice were ready to give that which was not theirs and in turn experienced a powerful move of God.
Be Bold, Be Brave, Be Jesus.
The same Spirit who healed this beggar through the boldness of Peter and John is within all of us who follow Jesus and seek to be filled with His Spirit. Do not worry when or how someone will be healed. Be obedient in prayer and boldness. It isn’t your job to heal. Its only your job to give what is within you. So be bold and be brave. You are living for an audience of One. May Jesus say of us, “You gave what you had so that others might find me. You were willing to be beautifully interrupted for my sake.”
Lord, give us more of your Spirit. So that we might have eyes to see people in need. Upon seeing people in need all around us give us the words to say as well as the boldness to get out of the way so your Spirit can work through us. May we be open to the spontaneous surprises of our day—bringing Jesus, hope, and love to all we come into contact with. We repent of being those who conveniently ignore the outcast, “annoying,” the difficult, the inconvenient, and all else who are equally deserving of your healing and wholeness which only come through you. Please burst the bubbles and routines of our daily lives so that we might be beautifully interrupted. In your name, Amen.
The most studied man in all of history. He is known throughout the world. His sayings are prevalent. His identity is debated constantly. And he still, after all these centuries, seems to be the most offensive individual to the masses. He both offends me with his love, comforts me with his encouragement, and disturbs me with his actions.
My journey of appreciation and admiration for this man began in April of 2002. I began to follow him with everything I had. I changed my entire life because of what I read in the pages of Scripture about his life. I saw that he lived a radical life of love and purpose and I knew that was the life for me. I knew that in the end it cost him everything and even still I would tell myself—there is no better way to leave this earth than to die for humanity. And so off I went.
I am currently a pastor of a church in Canton, OH. We are not a large church. We have faced an onslaught of challenges symptomatic of the state of Western Cultural Christianity. Where personalities are followed, commitment wanes, and when it gets tough—the church will bolt. It is extremely common with many of my seminary friends as well. In fact, this is the life of many Evangelical churches.
But through it all my wife and I have been obedient to the voice of God—even when it costs us. That has been what we are most proud of: our obedience. We like to remind ourselves that in the end we won’t stand before “people.” We will stand before Jesus. He desires us to create an environment with members, agendas, and leaders that reflect the core ethics of the Gospel. We aim to please him; not people. And so, we sleep very well at night. But through all these hard and trying years of ministry I/ we follow Jesus with the utmost passion. Michelle more so than myself. She outdoes me at every turn in her pursuit of living the “Jesus life.”
Like many, my beginning phase of following Jesus consisted of many shallow and immature understandings of what his sayings actually meant. I would use them as weapons against the “sinner” and I would stand with my nose down at many. I was the epitome of arrogance and pride. I continued like this for some time. My faith and religion were confined to a very legalistic and rigid approach to Christianity. Jesus for me was the strict judge who weighed my every thought and action. The problem was that my understanding of him as a whole was lopsided.
The lens in which I viewed Jesus for many years was confined to the theological Christ; not the historical Jesus. While yes, I am sure we could debate all day regarding the separation or unity of these two—it is extremely important we allow ourselves as Christians to look at Jesus as the Jewish reformer he was. It was when I began to understand this side of Jesus that the pretentious pharisaical part of me began to fall by the way side. And what I began to see with fresh eyes was a revolutionary man who inspired me more than any other.
My journey in studying the Historical Jesus began in Seminary and hasn’t stopped since. I have grown to be both passionate and obsessive in understanding who he was so that I might live his life even more. In fact, donating half of my liver is 100% because of this man and how he inspires me to live. Through the Spirit of God, I have been able to do a descent job in emulating his life. I am still a ragamuffin—full of sin, missteps, and brokenness. But each day is closer to living his life.
In the coming weeks I will blog a few posts regarding Jesus as the radical reformer he was. Of course, we could go on and on regarding the divinity side of Jesus as we understand in our faith. It is however the historical part of this man that I believe the church would be wise in revisiting. For in the discovery of Jesus as the 1stcentury reformer we find the rule of life he beckons all of us to follow. A life that is conformed to the ethics and standards of the heart of Yahweh. More on this in the future. For this post however, I want to bring to the forefront an aspect of his life which is similar to many others of his day. An aspect that can be alarming to some and comforting to others. That yes Jesus was truly one of a kind—however he also hailed from a long line of similar reformers with the same agenda—reform Judaism!
John the Baptist and Jesus both are only the beginning of a series of prophets who bring about eschatological hope. They bring attention to the reign of God and his impending judgment and kingdom. Thus Jesus preaches, “Repent for the Kingdom is near.” As a rule, these reformers were regarded by political authorities as a threat to the status quo as well as a danger to society. They were continually sought after to be executed and tortured. Following John the Baptist and Jesus of Nazareth there were many other “sign prophets” like them.
In 36CE there was a “Samaritan prophet” who promised a crowd of people that he would point on Gerizim the missing vessels of the temple that Moses had buried. He brought his disciples. Unfortunately, Pilate was also there and massacred all of them. (Antt. 18, 85-87)
There was a man named Theudas who persuaded a crowd to follow him with their possessions to the Jordan River. It was there that he said he would part the waters and they would cross with dry feet. Again, there was a blood bath and it ended bad. (Antt. 20, 97-99)
In 52-60CE there were also numerous “anonymous” prophets who called on their followers to come with them into the desert. It was there they would see many signs and wonders. You guessed it… blood bath. (Antt. 20, 167)
During this same era there was an Egyptian prophet who came and called individuals to follow him and he took them to the Mt of Olives. It was here that he promised the walls of Jerusalem would come crumbling down just as it happened in the Old Testament. (Antt. 20, 169-172; BJ 2, 261-263)
In 60-62 CE there was a prophet who came on the scene and promised redemption and an end to the evils if people followed him into the wilderness. The romans put down this movement violently. (Antt. 20, 188)
In 62-64 CE there was a man named Jesus son of Ananias who came from the country to Jerusalem with the message of judgment upon Jerusalem, the temple, and the people. This is very similar to the prophecy of Jesus who had said not one stone would be left standing in regard to the temple in Mark 14.
Josephus, the Jewish historian, gives us great detail regarding these individuals and the manner in which they lived. Even before the time of Jesus we see individuals similar to both John the Baptist and Jesus of Nazareth. What was their aim? To radically reform Judaism from within. With Rome coming in and occupying the territory, it brought serious challenges to the uniqueness of the Jewish people. While some wanted to make peace and accommodate this new culture pouring in (Hellenization) there were many others who wanted to stand against this cultural wave.
There were others (the sign prophets) who wanted neither. Their effort was to radically reform Judaism to an entirely new standard. They longed to see it realign with the true intents of the heart of God as they understood. While of course this is an extremely simplified version of how this plays out; I believe it still hits it on the head. Jesus was a Jewish man ministering within Judaism longing to see Israel return to its place of being a light to the nations. In order to do so, both Jesus and John the Baptist understood radical reformations within the Second Temple era needed to take place. The parables, aphorisms, and actions of Jesus fall right in line with many others from his era—before and after. And so as we can see, the human side of Jesus is full of many unique aspects we do not often hear about.
Let us remember that as Christians what matters most is not what we know or can recite about this man. What matters most is the degree in which we appropriate the ethics and passions of this 1stcentury reformer into our modern day living. Because I can promise you this… the church and Christianity as a whole needs desperate reform. It is time to return to the dangerous and volatile ethics of this Jewish Rabbi. As we continue down this path we will see there really is a difference of the two. We have the Historical Jesus and the Theological Christ. A difference that, for me, has nurtured true joy and inexpressible freedom in faith like I never thought was possible.
More on this and the Historicity of Jesus next time.
We had just completed our first lap on our floor. With each aching step—slower than a snails pace—my mind began to swirl. “God this is hard. I am in serious pain. How long is this journey going to be? Is this child going to make it and do well? Is my mother going to be OK?” It was only day three.
My routine in the hospital was pretty simple. Each day began the same. Around 3:00 or 4:00am I would be awoken for vitals and meds. It was hard to go fall back asleep, so I would usually stare at the ceiling and then decide I would get up and go on a walk with the help of a nurse. Then it would be back to my chair and then eventually back to the bed when I felt the need to spice it up. This process would repeat itself throughout the day mixed in with some Dr visits, reading, and mindless staring out the window at the Cleveland skyline. Bedtime was uneventful. Find the best position to sleep. When you find it… don’t you dare move. Take lots of meds. Get your nightly blood thinner shot and try to sleep off the pain.
But that day three morning was something. We came to my favorite spot on the floor. It was a window that looked outside. I loved going to it during my walk and watching the cars and everyone outside. Granted I was only in there for three days but at this point but my body felt like I had been steam rolled by a semi-truck. People and nature watching took my mind off of what I was feeling.
But during that morning’s routine I broke down. As Michelle and I stood at the window—one hand on the glass and the other grasping my IV pole—I sobbed. I couldn’t control it. Alarmed, Michelle asked what was wrong. All I could utter was, “It’s just so much… everything is hitting me. Hard.” I knew this moment would come. I am sure it will return at a later date.
Everything Set In…
What was hitting me was a wide array of emotions. There were the emotions of worry involving my mother. Which haven’t left. The emotions of wondering how the recipient was doing. I felt an odd mixture of humility, shame, and guilt watching Michelle and my nurses do literally everything for me. I went into the hospital as healthy as I could ever be. But in just a few short days I was experiencing something physically and mentally I was ill prepared for. Sure, I had knowledge, testimonies, and reading material. Nothing really prepares you to have a surgery like this.
The picture on the left was taken the night before. The picture on the right was a few days later. The bandage is covering a hole in which a drainage tube went up into the area where my liver was cut.
But there was something else that caused me to break down the morning of the third day outside of concern and worry. In that moment I was also overwhelmed with the reality of sacrificial love. The love that motivated our decision had finally set in. It went from talk to now something I see in the mirror, feel in my body, and it was costing me so much in that moment.
I had done interviews before this surgery. I had talked with Fox News out of NYC about “love” as the core motivator. I talked with a reporter from the local news about how common sense this decision was; because of “love.” A local newspaper wanted to do a story when they caught wind of everything and so we did. There too I explained that all of this was coming from a desire to “love” well—just as I would assume Jesus would.
But here is what I realized. We can use this word “love” quite easily. We can speak of a love for a friend, spouse, or God. But to bring costly action into the statements of our love; well it ceases to be just “love” at that point. It now becomes a love with some added adjectives: compassionate and sacrificial. That kind of love will almost always leave a mark.
It could be a mark that you bear on your body. It could be a mark that scars your soul. A mark that stays with you forever. Regardless, it is usually a mark that results from you loving sacrificially—with everything you have.
How did Jesus love?
I was asked a question by a reporter off the record before the surgery. “How is it that you are able to easily accept this kind of pain and struggle for someone you don’t even know?” Quickly I responded, “Didn’t Jesus? Wasn’t he reckless with his love? Wasn’t he driven by compassion and sacrifice for those he didn’t know?” Awkwardly, his response was, “I guess so.”
I really love Jesus. He is everything to me. I love him not only for how my life has changed because of him. But mainly for his example of costly love. The bleeding heart of Jesus was open to all those who were (are) lost, in anguish, in guilt. Thirsty for life, for love, for acceptance. He came to heal, to save, to free from bondage, to give rest, to empower—so that each one might know they are valued and honored. That’s how Jesus loved. It wasn’t easy and it was costly. So costly that his end was marked with torture and rutheless exectution.
While in recovery I have been prompted to study two areas: the life of Jesus and His desire for his church. Thus far In my study of the book of Luke I have realized a few simple things about his life. With this costly love in mind (the kind of love that is sure to leave a mark), Jesus was fully present to each person he encountered. He received more fully the pain of every person he came across. Strangers. Neighbors. Enemies. Family. Friends.
He took that pain and suffered with them in solidarity. He touched the deepest need in each person. Whether it be a cry for love, value, acceptance, vulnerability, or intimacy—he met each need. How? By demonstrating compassion. Grace. Mercy. Patience. Forgiveness. Kindness. By demonstrating sacrificial and costly love.
Jesus didn’t express this kind of love for the hell of it. He did it to demonstrate how Yahweh desires his children to live. It was the forging of a new way in how to love and welcome the poor and befriend the powerless, the strangers, and enemies.
Make no mistake. His followers were watching. They saw how Jesus lived—simply and poorly—open to each moment and each situation. Always open to the will of His heavenly Father. They saw how he was motivated. It wasn’t by a codified law or concrete set of legalistic expressions of righteousness. They knew. It was a motivation of costly love which came from above. A love the world had not known and was most definitely not prepared for.
Jesus the Agitator…
Jesus disturbed and agitated those who found him too radical, utopian, and unrealistic. Sadly, for those of us who love radically, we often hear these same accusations.
They would say,
“How can one give up wealth and share with the poor?”
“How can one renounce violence?”
“How can one love one’s enemies?”
“How can one live without security and money?”
“How can one become like a little child full of faith?”
“How can one eat his flesh and drink his blood?”
“How can one live in solidarity with sinners, rejects, and the broken?”
Those who questioned and wanted understanding were those who could not fit his ways and teachings into their own ideas and thus refused to trust him. As a result, they turned away. They found it impossible, unreasonable, and downright dangerous to accept the newness of his message. As I said in a previous post—Jesus was a badass in the purest sense of the word. He didn’t care what the “Righteous Monopoly” said.
As a result, his exression of love was costly. It left many marks in his young life. It was so costly that he even broke down in tears one lonely night in a garden. Perhaps then too Jesus was realizing just how costly this love was about to be.
Make no mistake. In no way could I equate my action with His. Ever. For goodness sake, he is Jesus who was crucified and tortured. I am a sinner saved by the glorious grace of God. I am nothing special nor of value. Only Christ within me.
However, the motivation of love is the same. Not only for me in giving a portion of my liver to a stranger but for all who would seek to love sacrificially. It will cost us like it cost him. It will hit us like a right hook out of nowhere as we fully realize just how costly and painful it will be and we just might be driven to tears. All of us at one time or another will have that opportunity in front of us. But what kind of love will we choose?
The Pain We Feel…
I beg you do not run from the pain this radical kind of love will bring. Pain is not the ultimate evil to be shunned. Neither is suffering. We must not flee it or be overcome by it. Those who flee pain flee people and opportunities. In fact, I believe Jesus invites us to accept pain. Nay, embrace it. To walk with it and even more to discover that it can be transformed by love into sacrament—a gift that brings life and enables new depths of love that is more akin to the love of God vs. the love of Man. Famed author and creator of Le’ Arche Jean Vanier dedicated his entire life to this kind of love. Much of what I have written here echos his teaching and example.
And when its all said and done… if your transition into a life of love that is compassion-driven, painful, and sacrificial—if that love bears marks upon you… be proud. Maybe take a picture with it so you don’t forget. Those are marks that will stay with you forever reminding you that you did your best to love like Jesus. And as you can see… that’s the only kind of love that can truly change the world.
Choose Compassionate and Sacrificial Love…
In conclusion I leave you with this: be compassionate. The world has enough hate, anger, and malice. What the world needs is compassionate love. A compassion that is best described by a beloved Dutch Priest named Henri Nouwen:
“Compassion is not a stooping down of the privileged to the level of those without privilege below. Neither is it a reaching down a hand from those above to the unhappy ones below. Nor a friendly gesture of pity to those who haven’t “made it.” Quite the opposite. Compassion goes and lives among people and in places where suffering and pain lives. God’s compassion is total, absolute, unlimited, and unbounded. It is the compassion of those who go to the forgotten corners of the earth and stay there until they are sure that not a single eye is still crying. It is the compassion of a God who doesn’t simply act like a servant, but whose behavior of service is the direct expression of his divinity.”
Let’s do that and do it well. With no regrets.
And if it causes pain, leaves a scar across your stomach, or a mark on your heart.
If leaves you weary, broken, and tired…run down and even taken advantage of to an extent.
If you are told you are utopian, unbiblical, naïve, or reckless in your attempts to love like Jesus…
My name is Noah Schumacher. You and I are about to walk through an experience together as strangers and yet be connected in a way few people ever could be. In fact, our paths will cross in just a few hours. And yet, there is a chance we may never meet. Your parents may choose this route because maybe there will be less distractions, so you can heal up and everyone can focus on you and your recovery. I totally understand.
If we ever did meet I promise you this: it would be one of the greatest days of my life. To meet you would be to meet a personal hero. Because you are a fighter. You haven’t given up. You have done the best you could with the hand you have been dealt. I admire you. So, while I pray that day comes, I am at peace if does not.
Now, in case you didn’t know, all of this is for you.You have many years ahead of you. Years to learn. Years to try new things, bump your knees, get in trouble, and do things only kids can do. You have many years to figure out exactly who you are and how you want to change this beautiful world we inhabit together. And I want you to know something: I am so honored to be a part of your story. I have been praying for you every day. I was supposed to be going through this for my mom. But it didn’t work out like we had thought. That was hard, and I am not sure if I will ever get past it. But Gods ways are unique and have many twists and turns. I believe her miracle will come soon. Just like yours.
After I was turned down to help save my mom, the opportunity presented itself to give part of myself to you. Michelle (my wife) and I couldn’t pass up this honor. Even though you will be receiving my left lobe, she is equally part of this and is rooting for you! Even our three children think of you each day. They pray for you at night time before bed and before meals. Their names are Caleb (10), Kennedy (7), and Camden (4). They too would love to meet you one day if it were to ever happen.
We are praying that everything will go OK in your recovery. And that eventually you will feel back to a new normal that is better than anything you have ever felt. You are going to have a tough battle. But look how far you have come already! Whether you are 2, 6, 8, 12, 15, or 17—no matter what—you have been a fighter. But the hardest part for us is what you have been going through. We can’t imagine the trial and heartache you and your family have been going through. We pray for them also.
I do not know your condition or anything about you. At all. But let me tell you what I do know: you deserve to run, jump, play, and get dirty. You deserve to live life without constant testing and fear of the future. Your sole focus ought to be what you feel like playing with the next day and how you can get into trouble. That and nothing else. But unfortunately, we live in a world riddled with pain, brokenness, and difficulty. It is a hard reality to deal with. But joy in life is found in getting to be part of the difference. The solution.
And if I get the chance to take some of that pain go away for you and give you a shot at life? Then it will make us as happy as we could ever be. Like I said before, this is all about you!
One last thing. I want you to know that this is an easy decision for us because of our faith. We are called Christians. Christians represent a group of people who do their best to live like this person named Jesus. He lived so long ago. But the way he lived was full of compassion and love. He did everything he could for everyone he was around. He had the heart of His Father and he wanted to make sure everyone knew they were loved and belonged. That they matter. That they have tremendous value. That’s how we try to live our lives. For all people. Especially for you.
I hope you know that you have so much value. You are loved by your family and so many. And I don’t know your story, but I am sure there are many people rooting for you. I hope you feel excited to get back to being a kid. No matter your age, gender, or situation—we pray and hope that the days of complications and trials are in the past. We trust that all that lies ahead is a bright shining horizon for you to run after and soak in.
Lastly, I want to say thank you. While of course you and I both wish no one ever had liver problems or issues—because of this bad situation, we are doing something pretty cool together. So thank you for giving me the honor and privilege to be connected to you like this.
We are rooting for you. It’s time for you to just be a kid again. I pray that can now happen. I am going to be just fine. In this entire equation you are the one we are all focused on and praying passionately for.
Someday when you are curious who that stranger was way back in your past… maybe you will come across this letter. And if you do, I pray you only remember one line. This one: You are loved; you matter and I encourage you to dream big and do amazing things with your life! I and so many others believe in you.
Here’s to a good recovery for the both of us!
In the love and compassion of Jesus Christ,
Noah, Michelle, Caleb, Kennedy, and Camden Schumacher