Our Decision Through the Eyes of Our Children…

This experience of donating my liver to a child that we do not know personally has brought one interesting dynamic: communicating to our own children. For those who do not know our story you can read it in its entirety here .

Our three children look to me as their Dad who is to lead, protect, and be present for them. I will be transparent and say that I was scared at first to share this news with them in fear of how they would respond.

Would they be angry? Would they feel like they did not matter? Would they think a stranger was being placed in front of them? These and many other insecure thoughts swirled around my mind. All of that changed quickly when I sat down with each of them one by one to explain everything and to then hear their own little hearts. And each of them– in their own unique way through the lens of a child—communicated to me their fears, hopes, and raw thoughts concerning this operation for a child none of us know but are all praying for desperately.

I want to share their responses because I believe it highlights something so important for today’s world: the best parenting is and always will be through example. Michelle (who does a far better job than myself) and I both are so proud of their demeanor and outlook on what Mommy and Daddy are about to walk through. We are not the poster-child parents. We struggle and make mistakes. But they are showing us that maybe we are doing a thing or two OK. Here is their story.

Caleb Schumacher. Ten years old.

Caleb has always been our nervous one. He is always anxious and fretting about everything from a new update on Fortnite and its long length of time to getting to basketball practice on time to everything else you could imagine. And so naturally, my biggest fear was crippling anxiety that would make it really hard for him to have peace through all of this.

The day I found out I could not donate to my mom Michelle had explained to the kids. And so, when I got home they all gave me huge hugs. My eyes were swollen and red. They knew. Caleb quickly embraced me and told me it was OK, and he was proud of me anyways. It was later that night at tuck in time that I sat down with Caleb and told him how everything went down. But at the end of the conversation I said, “But Caleb, it turns out that my liver is the ideal size and shape for a child-like yourself who isn’t going to make it. A child who probably can’t run fast, jump high, or live a normal life.” I explained all the details.

And there I was… silently awaiting his response. I watched his young mind grapple with everything I told him. I could not save his Nana. He felt relief I was not going to get surgery. Now he was realizing I was going to go through with surgery. Not for Nana but now for a stranger. An unknown child. Those few seconds felt like months.

He looked at me, straight into my eyes and said, “Is this what Jesus would do?” I said, “Yea buddy. I think this is what Jesus would do.” He said, “Then we are going to do it. Wow, we get to save a child.” I immediately teared up.  Embraced him and told him how proud I was of him. I felt so good as a parent as did Michelle. Following this he did hug me tightly, cry many tears, and share his fears. He is worried I could die due to complication. He is worried about the pain. He is worried about many things that could happen to his Daddy. But none of those things were enough for him to doubt for even a second that it was the right thing to do.

Not only did he integrate his faith in Jesus into this reasoning, but he also used the plural pronoun “We” as in, “We get to save a child.” Make no mistake. That has taken years of parenting my Michelle and me.

Me and Caleb doing our nightly devotional. Studying and praying together.

For Caleb to both bring Jesus into the equation and include himself on this journey is a product of some intentional parenting Michelle and I strive for. We believe that our children are not a distraction from life but rather a gift given to be integrated into the life we are already living. And so, they serve with mommy and daddy. They help make decisions. We show and teach them Jesus each day the best we can. I teach all three something new from Scripture every most nights. We’ve done this for years. And it turns out, this is why. For moments like these.

Before I share the response of Kennedy and Camden let me give one more insight into how Michelle and I seek to raise our children. There are three things that each of our children know that matter the most. Every day I take the kids to school they repeat them back to me. For three years now we have done this. They have been the same three things. They can say them in their sleep. They are: 1) I am a Schumacher 2) I am loved, and 3) I am a follower of Jesus.

This first one means that they belong. They have a home and a family to call their own. They do not need to try to be something they aren’t to belong to another different group. This deals with their identity. The second one is clear. They are loved by us, their family, their church, their friends, and most importantly their God. And lastly, the most important, we are all followers of Jesus. Of course, one day they will need to make that decision on their own at baptism. But as children we seek to instill within them the radical love, grace, and mercy of Jesus. Turns out, it paid off in this season of our lives. Now, on to Kennedy… my princess.

Kennedy. Seven years old.

Date night for me and my girl. Yes, we sat on the same side of the table. 🙂

Kennedy has always been our most sensitive and unpredicatable one. We never know what we are going to get! That is why we love her. Among many other reasons of course. Kennedy and I have a bond that is deep and precious. When her and mommy but heads she always comes to me and I simply cannot stand against her. Her cuteness and sweetness melts me and I am powerless. And wow, the wrath of an angry wife and mom when that happens. It isn’t good. But I have yet to figure out how to overcome Kennedy’s charm. I know she has a weakness. I just haven’t found it yet.

I knew talking to her was going to be the hardest of the three. And I was right. As I sat in her bed one evening at tuck in time and explained everything to her as I shared with Caleb I awaited her response. There were no words. She did not utter any sentences. Nothing. She was looking down. She then lifted her head at me. Her eyes began to well up like a cup being filled with water. Her chin wrinkled. Her cheeks turned red. And she let it out and my heart broke.

She gasped and cried aloud and flung her arms around my neck so tight it knocked me back. I felt like a horrible parent. Here I am making a decision causing pain in my little girls heart. She sobbed and sobbed on my shoulder. And it was what she said next that brought me to tears but also encouraged me that she would be OK. She pulled herself back from my chest. From my shirt which was soaked with tears. And with her beautiful blue eyes she looked at me and said, “Daddy, I am so nervous for you. I am so scared for you. It’s going to hurt. You are going to be in pain. But it’s OK. You can do this. Its OK.” I said, “Kennedy are you sure?  Do you know why we are doing this?” She said, “We are doing it because of what we say each day right? We are followers of Jesus?” I smiled. I put my arms around her and brought her in close. And in her ear, I softly said, “Yes hunny. It’s because we are followers of Jesus.” And then she wiped her tears and gave me a smile and said, “Can you just stay and sing me a song?” And so we sang our song an extra couple times that night.

I have taken Kennedy and Caleb to the Monastery at different times together. There we will pray and we always light a candle to represent those we pray for.

Again, she brought her faith into the occasion as well as “We.” Proud moment number 2.

Camden. Four years old.

Date day with me and Cam. One of our favorite things to do: go hiking!

Well if there was ever a curve ball response waiting to come it was going to be Camden. Our 4 year-old is easily our loudest, craziest, funniest, and most precious little guy. He is a ball of light and where ever he rolls he brings joy and laughter. I have never seen a child with energy like our little Camden. If he was deprived of all sugar and sleep for even a day—he would still run circles around the greatest marathoner on the planet. That’s our Camden. He is, as I always call him, our little man of God!

The night I shared this with Kennedy and Caleb was rough. An emotional day for all of us. Well, Camden heard Kennedy’s crying. He knew something was up. He barged in like 8 times while I was talking and singing to Kennedy. He likes to do that often. Even on mommy and daddy. Even at 1, 2, 3, 4 in the morning. It’s kinda “his thing.”

Well when it was his turn I came in and explained everything to him on his level. I wish I had such an in depth and spiritually earth-shattering response to write about. But I don’t. However, it was his response that I think I will remember the most. After sharing everything to him he just laid there. I knew he was thinking about everything. Trying to make sense of it all. I made sure he understood I was going to be just fine. That I wasn’t going to die or but that the surgery was still extremely serious and some risks were  involved. We do two things in our house really well: transparency and honesty.

This is in the middle of an actual Christmas play. Camden decided it would be the ideal time to act like a monkey.

And so after a few seconds of quiet reflecting I just asked him, “Are you OK with this buddy? Do you understand?” He turned his head up at me and said one priceless sentence.

He said, “Sure Daddy. You’ll be fine. But Daddy? Will you please play Minecraft with me tomorrow? I want to build something with you.”

“Sure buddy. You and I will play tons of Minecraft and build something awesome.”

“Ok Daddy. Love you. Goodnight!” I’ll take it. 🙂

Christmas 2018

Imperfect Parents Doing the Best We Can

Michelle and I are not perfect parents by any means. We have our struggles. Too many electronics. Not firm on limits. Too messy at the dinner table. Late bed times. “What’s that? Haven’t been to the dentist in a while? Ahhh!” Havent bathed in two nights? The list goes on. We are imperfect parents doing the best we can. But the one thing I will say about Michelle and I is we have never ceased from magnifying what matters most to them. And forever they will know what matters most:

They are loved.

They are Schumachers.

They are Followes of Jesus.

We hate the Michigan Wolverines.

I encourage you parents out there. If you want to aim at being the best at something; make sure its your example of love, compassion, and the teachings of Jesus as imperfectly as you can.

The response of our children has blessed us greatly. The response of my wife Michelle however, is what has moved me in ways she will never know. More on that soon.

Thanks everyone.

#EverybodyAlways #GoAndDoLikewise

 

I am donating my liver…

The Story

About three months ago we found out my mother was ill. We didn’t know what was going on. But as my mom and our entire family continued to get answers from the doctor we found out she was (and is) in need of a transplant. Something I shared on Facebook about a month ago when she was approved.

When we found out she needed a liver transplant my wife Michelle did an enormous amount of research and found out that someone is able to be a Live Liver Donor. This not only saves one life but also two because it frees up a cadaver liver for another person. I can’t tell you enough how important live liver donation is. You can check out all the info you need on it right here.

For the sake of this story I will give some brief info. Your liver is extremely important. We found out it’s the second most important organ in the body according to many medical professionals. It is the miracle organ which does more than we could imagine and is the only organ that can regenerate. The surgery is an extremely serious and obviously invasive. The incision is usually 11 inches down the center of your chest and then heads left. A backwards L. There are possible complications and they are serious. I’m not gonna lie. And the recovery is daunting. No sugar coating here. We are fully aware of everything going into this decision. We are ready.

When we learned about this we knew without a doubt we wanted to do this right away. Michelle was tested but she didn’t match. I was also tested and we found out I am an exact match. O-negative. Zero hesitation, I am doing this. I want to save my mom and do this for her. She gave life to me. She brought me into this world. I am returning the favor the best way I could. I had never felt more excited for this moment.

And so off to Cleveland Clinic, Cleveland, OH we went for three days of testing like you wouldn’t believe. It was intense. Tons of blood given, MRI, CAT scans, organ imaging, psych evaluations, social workers, medical ethicists, and more. It was intense. Everyone seemed to believe everything looked great. We were confident and ready. We left preparing ourselves for the tough journey ahead. Before giving us the green light they needed to get one more imaging result back from a company in Germany.

The Phone Call That Changed Everything

A few weeks later, my phone rang. It was my coordinator. I could tell something was wrong right when she answered. I said, “Hey Katey let’s hear the good news!” Her response made time stand still. I froze in a place of paralysis and dread. It was all brought on by the tone in her voice. With somber regret, she graciously and lovingly said three words which hurt to me to my core. She said, “Noah, I’m sorry…”

Right then I knew it was going to be one of the hardest days of my life. I collapsed right then. Put the phone down. And I sobbed. I couldnt move. The reason I was denied was based on the anatomy of my liver. It was not conducive to what my mom needed. I would of either died quickly or needed a transplant right away. The risk was huge. Obviously my mom would never let me go through this let alone the Cleveland clinic. But Michelle and I begged for them to try. Yes, we are a bit radical in our love for others.

But it’s something she said at the end of our convo that threw me for a loop and would change my life forever. She said, “Noah, I am sorry your liver is not a match for your mom. However, your liver is ideal for a pediatric patient who won’t make it unless they get a liver transplant.” Wow. This hit me like a ton of bricks. I realized this was someone’s son or daughter. A grandchild. A classmate maybe. A child.

Right away I knew what I wanted to do. But I had to call Michelle. Her response was short, simple, and tremendously profound. She said, “Of course we will! This is living out the Gospel of Jesus!” As Christians who live a life of love, sacrifice, and compassion–this is the best way we know how to walk it out.

And so after more testing, more blood given, more evaluations, and many more days and weeks of waiting– we got news Friday January 11th. I have been fully approved  to donate a portion of my liver to save the life of a child.

The Joy of Giving Life

We have been given a gift. Michelle, myself, and our three wonderful children. As a family we have the opportunity to follow Jesus to a depth we could only ever dream of. We will be able to meet the need of a family who is praying for a miracle for their child. I could never walk away. How could I?

As a father I can’t walk away.

As a descent human being who loves to love all people no questions asked– I can’t.

As a follower of the teachings of a man named Jesus…who instructs us to lay down our lives for our neighbor– I cant.

Myself as a person and us as a family live by two key principles:
– Life is a currency meant to be lived out for the betterment and welfare of others… Not ourselves.
– You have nothing to lose by giving everything you have. You have everything to lose by clinging to what you already have.

Some have said to me, “Why would you do this for a stranger? It’s anonymous! You won’t know this person!” I know. And with all do respect, who the hell cares? A life is a life. Jesus commanded us to be compassionate to our neighbor. To go and do likewise. Where does it say we must know the person? It doesn’t matter who it is. Do we say this to firefighters or soldiers or policemen? How much more so for the Christian who’s identity is wrapped up in sacrificial giving… even unto death?

Some have already said, “But you have kids and a wife!” I am aware. This is a family decision. What was our children’s response? “Wow Daddy. We get to save a life! That’s what Jesus would do right?” We are all in this together. We have made this decision as a family to take a risk, step out of the boat, and put action with our convictions. Something I pray and wish many other “Christians” would do.

This isn’t about us. This isn’t about my decision. We could care less about notoriety. This is about being obedient to the path before us. This gift and honor is before us and we are ready. We have peace. We know it will be difficult. Recovery will be daunting. We are looking at 2-4 months away. Surgery will be extremely invasive. There will be pain. But its worth every single part. Because we believe that life is lived and given freely out for #EverybodyAlways.

Our Excitement For the Future

I want to give a word of encouragment to the church Michelle and I are honored to lead.  I have never been more excited about HighMill Church, being your Lead Pastor, and the direction we are headed. The past 8 months have been a season of preparation for something new and fresh God is doing. Michelle and I have never felt more free, excited, and ready to lead into a glorious future! One that is centered around compassion for all and “Going and Doing Likewise.” I am excited to get through this and get back to leading an amazing church community! We got this! Let’s rally together. We need each other in the coming months. We will not miss a beat in this interim period. I am confident in the leader coming in to lead us and keep us focused on the love and truth of Jesus.

Lastly, thank you to my amazing wife Michelle. You are my inspiration and my greatest friend and love. It’s you and me against the world. We got this! This is a team journey. Not just me. You are my everything.

I ask that you please keep my mom in your prayers. She is the toughest woman I have ever met. She is a fighter and I love her with all my heart. It kills me that I can’t be this for her. I wont ever get past that. But i am who I am because of her as well. She is a radical Christ follower as is my dad. I trust God will walk her as well as our entire family through this. Have O- blood? Interested in being part of our miracle story? Nschumac@ashland.edu. Contact me.

Thanks everyone who read this far. It’s gonna be a long journey. But through it all, God is good and God is faithful.

Please share this blog post. The more people praying for us the better. As well as the recipient. Whoever you are… we pray you will receive a second chance at life and be a world changer! Someone who grows to love others with no strings attatched.

Many have asked how they can be part of this journey with us. We have decided that we will take a pay cut to alleviate the financial strain upon our church as well as feeling it is the right thing to do. And so we are going to do our best to raise support. We have also been instructed to raise support to cover any unforseen and unexpected costs that hit our family during the recovery period. And so here the three avenues set up by our support team:

  • A dear friend decided to begin a GoFundMe page. Visit here for the page.
  • You can call 1-330-497-3166 and speak with Emily Presley who is our Front Office Manager at HighMill Church. They have established a “Pastor’s Fund” which will be available for my wife and I and our family for any needs throughout recovery.
  • Lastly, if your local, there will be a fundraising benefit dinner February 6th 6-8:00 PM at HighMill Church in Canton, OH. For directions, click here. Feel free to drop by for some great food, an update on surgery and recovery, as well as literature detailing Live Liver Donation.

Thanks everyone. We will be sharing our story, pictures, and updates through my blog. Be sure and follow along with us!

In the love and peace of Christ Jesus our Lord,

Noah and Michelle Schumacher

Philippians 1:21- To Live is Christ; and To Die is Gain.

#EverybodyAlways #GoAndDoLikewise

 

 

 

Learning from Persecuted Christians: My Time in the Middle East

These are the tents where many displaced Muslim women and children are forced to live because of war throughout Iraq and Syria. I saw first hand the many families who have been denied entry into the U.S.A. for safe haven and refuge. The majority of these families were made up of vulnerable women and children who lacked food, water, and adequate health care.

This past summer I had the honor of traveling in the Middle East in areas and locations I am not permitted to share publically. I worked with, taught, and trained Christian leaders who came from many war torn areas due to fighting of ISIL/ISIS and other rebel groups. There, near the border we learned together, trained together, and prayed together. It was an experience I will never forget.

Below is an excerpt I wrote for Ananias House. This is a ministry that exists to help and minister to the persecuted church in the Middle East. The reason for the name of their ministry is stated below which was taken from their website:

Ananias House seeks to preserve the New Testament heritage in the Middle East and North Africa. Just as Paul was sent from Damascus into the world, the people of Ananias House rise above war and persecution to grow the body of Christ in their region.

While I would love to share pictures and faces, I am unable to do so because of the danger it would cause those I was able to train and minister to.

The account of my trip from…Ananias House Ministries.

Learning from Those Serving in Syria

As a young Christian, I read many books, articles, and blogs about Christian martyrs. Their passion and dedication left me speechless and motivated. Their struggle and dedication were hard for me to identify with because I didn’t walk where they walked or live where they lived. Nonetheless, these books and articles bridged a gap in my understanding of their faith and dedication.

Little did I know that 15 years later I would have the honor and joy of serving and walking beside persecuted Christians. This opportunity came for me in the summer of 2017. I took part in Ananias House training sessions about learning to read the Scriptures, as well as teaching an independent course on Colossians.

Along with this opportunity, I witnessed the work of a brave couple ministering on the frontlines near the Syrian border. Their work was dedicated to reaching MBB’s (Muslim Background Believers). What follows is a snapshot of my time working with Christian brothers and sisters whose passion for Jesus and multiplying the church are unmatched.

When I first met with those who came for the training, I was struck with their disposition toward what they were living through each day. Nothing in them glorified their ordeal, and they made no spectacle about their faith and passion for Jesus. They were simple people. They loved Jesus, loved people, loved their enemies, and wanted to spread the fame of Jesus. I came to the realization that I elevated them much higher than they would elevate themselves.

One of our training areas where we explored the book of Colossians together and how its truth can equip us as leaders, church planters, and evangelists in war torn regions.

Along with their humility was their pure joy. These were men and women who were facing difficulty and trial each day as they lived and ministered throughout Syria. They were facing extreme danger and struggle, but you would never know it. These men and women were filled with a joy I had never seen or experienced.

I spoke with one man whose car he was driving was hit with, as he put it, “a rain shower of bullets.” Miraculously not one bullet touched him, and the terrorists continued on. After telling me this story I was speechless, but him? He began to laugh! With a smile from ear to ear he said, “Those terrorists make it hard to love them sometimes, but I do. I love them.” This man had joy that he was spared, as well as love in his heart for those who tried to kill him.

I quickly realized that my time with these beautiful individuals was less about the teaching and training, and more about the mutual love and encouragement we would share in our time together. After each training session, we would usually have tea and food, and not once did I see a frown. Not once did I hear fear, negativity, or worry. I heard constant encouragement and thanksgiving to Christ for what He is doing in their land. In many of these conversations I was the one being encouraged! I had expectations of working with people who were sad, downtrodden, and in desperate need of encouragement. And while some of that may be true, their joy, love, and humility far exceeded anything I have ever seen or been around.

One of the older ladies (who had more energy than my 32-year-old self) shared her story with me. With a large smile she explained the work she is doing in her village, a place that terrorists were trying to take over. She stood up to the attackers and refused to leave. Many others left for fear of their lives. Many pastors and trained leaders left, but again, she did not. She explained to me how she preaches each Sunday, leads the village’s children’s ministry, and organizes songs and worship music. She does all of this ministry, and prays daily for the raising up of more leaders.

I said, How are you able to keep up with all of this?” With a penetrating, serious look she said to me, as though I were a fool, “Because Jesus gives me strength, of course!” I smiled and said, “Of course He does.”

Everything Ananias House put together for these leaders, from printed materials, to travel arrangements, to lodging, was flawless. They were above excellent in their work and are playing a role in the Middle East that is touching more people than I could ever imagine. They are an active presence in bringing the Gospel of hope, love, and peace to this desperate region.

Following our time of training, I transitioned to meet with a beautiful couple who are doing work with MBB’s. They minister in many refugee camps and do the pure work of ministry as seen in the New Testament. Like the analogy of a farmer in Mark 4:26-29, they engage new fields, work hard in planting the seeds of the Gospel, nurture new growth through discipleship, and put the sickle to the harvest and plant churches within the camps. Their heart is like Paul’s in Romans 15:23: to serve until there is no place left to minister.

They do not seek recognition, nor do they seek to spread a church brand, or become popular. They are nameless people who exude humility and courage. They love and serve Syrian refugees with no strings attached. I did not do any work with them per se other than meet with them, learn from them, and encourage them. Little did they know that their ministry to me in my short time with them was more than anything I could ever hope to return.

In fact, that was the theme of my time with these persecuted Syrian believers. I went with the expectation of giving and serving until I had nothing left. I quickly realized that by talking with them and hearing their stories, I was learning more than I ever could have hoped to impart. I am forever in debt to each of these precious Christ followers for the love, joy, and courage they displayed to me.

I encourage all who read this to pray for Ananias House and the work they are doing. Pray about serving, partnering, and supporting them financially. They are truly pioneers on the frontlines doing the work of the Gospel.

An aerial shot of the “concrete jungle” where many Christians fly into. From this centralized location many depart into different regions of the Middle East for ministry purposes.

In summary, here are 5 key points I learned and experienced while with my Syrian brothers and sisters.

1 – The Gospel is simple. Living the Gospel is costly.

These individuals have counted the cost and their courageous example beckons all Christians to rethink what it means to be a disciple of Jesus.

2 – Jesus is at work in powerful ways through the simple obedience of His people.

The same power of God that we read about in the Scriptures is at work in the neighborhoods, villages, and camps throughout Syria and neighboring countries.

3 – Christian work should be intentional and urgent.

These followers of Jesus display a radical passion to extend the fame and glory of Christ through evangelism, discipleship, and church planting. 

4 – Evangelism and Church Planting will win the lost for Christ.

These Believers understand that large churches, slick sermons, and charisma will not change their nation, nor turn the hearts of their enemies. It requires what Jesus originally sent us to do: go, share the gospel, and make disciples.

5 – Although the West tries to present Islam as a peaceful religion, this is not always the reality. We must meet the violence with love and pray for the salvation of Muslims.

While learning from those on the frontlines, I was made vividly aware of the evil and ideological hatefulness they face. We must pray for the triumph of the Church and that Muslims would come to know the saving hope and grace of Jesus Christ.

May the Lord continue to strengthen and multiply the churches in Syria to the praise of His glory.

A pastor from Ohio

 

I encourage you to please do three things:

  1. Pray for the persecuted church around the world. Pray for many of the beautiful Muslim and non-believing Arabs in this region who are caught up in the pain and torture of war. Pray for the soldiers of ISIL/ISIS as well as other rebel groups. That peace would come and their passion for violence, death, and an Islamic caliphate would cease.
  2. Visit Ananias House and prayerfully consider partnering with their efforts. I witnessed first hand where 100% of their resources are going. Visit their website here and their Facebook page here.
  3. Lastly, please share this post as this will help spread the courage and passion they so bravely display for Jesus Christ. Their stories are more than worthy to be shared and heard.

Blessings in Christ,

Noah D. Schumacher

Attaining the Height of Christ-Likeness…

Recently in my stay at the Genesee Monastery in upstate New York, one of the monks shared with me this image. He explained, “This is a painting of the trinity with an empty space at the table. God in all his mystery always welcomes us to his table. We should go and do likewise. The same unity we see in the Trinity is what we must aim to see with one another.”

1 Peter 3:8-12 NRSV

8 Finally, all of you, have unity of spirit, sympathy, love for one another, a tender heart, and a humble mind. 9 Do not repay evil for evil or abuse for abuse; but, on the contrary, repay with a blessing. It is for this that you were called—that you might inherit a blessing. 10 For
“Those who desire life
and desire to see good days,
let them keep their tongues from evil
and their lips from speaking deceit;
11 let them turn away from evil and do good;
let them seek peace and pursue it.
12 For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous,
and his ears are open to their prayer.
But the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.”
13 Now who will harm you if you are eager to do what is good? 14 But even if you do suffer for doing what is right, you are blessed. Do not fear what they fear, and do not be intimidated, 15 but in your hearts sanctify Christ as Lord. Always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an accounting for the hope that is in you; 16 yet do it with gentleness and reverence. Keep your conscience clear, so that, when you are maligned, those who abuse you for your good conduct in Christ may be put to shame. 17 For it is better to suffer for doing good, if suffering should be God’s will, than to suffer for doing evil.

A Dirt Road South of Cairo and a Response that Shocked the World

On May 26th of this year on a dirt road leading to a Monastery in Egypt, 130 miles south of Cairo a group of terrorists hijacked a bus leading to the monastery and killed more than half of the people inside. This was part of a continued rise in sectarian violence in Egypt. Immediately the outpouring of anger, frustration, and hate poured over from many throughout Egypt and the world since many of these victims were also children.

Those killed were Coptic Christians which is an ancient group of Christians who reside mostly in Egypt. They have a long history of violence coming against them. Their understanding of what propels them forward has always been the faith and blood of their martyrs, as they say.

And so over the years we have grown used to hearing these kinds of stories. Usually what follows are scenes where loved ones are carrying coffins in the streets on their way to the burial site. This then is usually followed by people speaking into cameras expressing their rage and frustration. Crying tears of vengeance and bewilderment. I get it.

However, with this latest attack in Egypt we come across something we rarely hear if ever. It came from one of the leaders of the Coptic church in Egypt. I am going to read what he has to say and I want you to keep in mind who he is talking about. He is talking about young men who took the lives of 28 people, many of them children. Here is his message to them:

“You are loved. The violent and deadly crimes you perpetrate are abhorrent and detestable, but YOU are loved. You are loved by God, your Creator, for He created you in His Image and according to His Likeness, and placed you on this earth for much greater things, according to His plan for all humankind. You are loved by me and millions like me, not because of what you do, but what you are capable of as that wonderful creation of God, who has created us with a shared humanity. You are loved by me and millions like me because I, and we, believe in transformation.”

 “Christians believe in transformation”, he said, adding that even those who had persecuted Christ“went on to live with grace. We believe in transformation because, on a daily basis, we are personally transformed from a life of human weakness and sinfulness to a life of power and righteousness,” he added. “We believe in transformation because the whole message of the Cross and Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ is to take humanity from the bonds of sin and death to a liberation in goodness and everlasting life.”

He admitted this is far from the reaction people may expect, but said it was the “Christian message”. Bishop Angaelos said he grieves for young men who see it as “not only justifiable, but glorious, to take the lives of other young men and women”. “No family should lose a son in this way, even if they are partially or wholly responsible for this flawed ideology,” the bishop added. Bishop Angaelos said these attacks come due to a loss of understanding of the sanctity of life.

 The bishop concluded:What is important is not that this message be read but that it be communicated; not that it be accepted but that it be understood as another perspective [lived out]; and not that it should be fully embraced, but that it may create at least a shadow of a doubt in the minds of those intent on inflicting harm and pain.”

You see the hope of this humble and Christ-like man is that this message will not so much be read to the attackers but rather demonstrated before them. That radical love and forgiveness would be what wins over the hearts of those set on inflicting harm. This is of course in opposition to the alternative which is with bullets and bombs.

In a day and age when retaliation, fear, and vengeance permeates much of our politics, society and even personal relationships, the words of Bishop Angaelos comes rushing in like a river of fresh water to a thirsty society and church. The ideals of not only forgiveness. Not only loving your enemies. But an ideal even more difficult than those two.

Forgiving is by no means easy, but it’s doable. Loving your enemies is also not easy but this too can be done. It is what this Bishop does which is inconceivable to many of us: Seeing Christ in the other person. Seeing Christ in the person who has harmed us. Seeing the image of God in the person who is grating at our patience. Seeing the beauty of Jesus in the person who has so harmed us, so wronged us. It is this ideal which is often the hardest and impossible among us Christians.

The height of Christian hypocrisy is demonstrating bitterness, un-forgiveness, and hate to others. It is completely antithetical to our nature. It shouldn’t be in our DNA. If it is then we must take a look in the mirror because everything we show towards others must run through the filter of what has been shown to us in Christ. We have done nothing to earn or receive it but in Christ we have mercy, forgiveness, gentleness, kindness, grace, love, and a continued disposition from Jesus where he sees the image of God in us. To not show all of this toward others denies the very pillars of the faith which we say we believe in.

I am sure many of us can think of situations, people, and circumstances where we have bitterness. We have hate. We have frustration. Guess what, its Ok! You are human! But we must never settle for this. What we must strive for, work towards, is to be so full of the love and power of Christ that we are able to demonstrate the skill of seeing Christ in others.

It begins right here. It begins with one another. In order to do the unthinkable of forgiving the unforgivable, seeing Christ in the most evil of people, it must begin first within our own heart but then in the community. As we revisit these words from Peter let us possess one trait more than any other this morning: humility.

1 Peter 3:8- The Tools of Our “Counter-Culture”

In order to get the full punch in the gut of Peters words here we must take a step back for a moment. Let’s remember exactly what is going on here. We have a large group of Christians who are trying to navigate their new lives in the midst of persecution, suffering, trials, and many other serious obstacles to their faith. They have people coming against them, kicking them out of the synagogues, families being split apart, people losing their jobs—all for their faith in Christ.

It is in this context that Peter reminds them to focus on two things: loving one another; and blessing others. If I was there I can imagine my response. “Really Peter? Do you know what this is like? Do you know what we are going through? This is every man for themselves! We can’t do this! We have to compromise somehow. We have to figure out a way to get through this!” And Peter would reiterate what he said. The way to get through it is to display the radical love of Christ first to one another and secondly to your persecutors. To those who bother you, grate at you, and cause you frustration.

What this speaks of isn’t conflict resolution 101. What Peter is instructing is embodying a foreign and supernatural culture. The big buzzword is being “counter-cultural.” That by the way we live and interact with others both in the church and outside of it, is so different and foreign to our culture that we are displaying a counter culture.

John Stott, an amazing British Christian writer, wrote a book on the sermon on the mount. This is the section in the book of Matthew where Jesus lays out what he expects from his followers, you and I, in how we live and interact with one another. Stott says,

“If the church realistically accepted Jesus’s standards and values as here set forth, and lived by them, it would be the alternative society he always intended it to be, and would offer to the world an authentic Christian counterculture.

Instead of doing this, the church throughout history has too often developed clever ways of explaining why Jesus didn’t really mean what he said or why his teachings are not to be applied in the present time. Thankfully there have been prophetic voices bringing us back to the authentic gospel down through the ages.

The Christian community must be in some sense “other than” the world around it, maintaining fundamental points of divergence. That where the common ways of society and how we treat one another go this way, we represent a different way. For so long the church has tried to be “counter-culture” in all the wrong ways.

Through t-shirts, through alternative music, through our own education, our own this and our own that. Those do not make us a counter culture. Wearing a bracelet or a cross on your neck does not make you counter cultural. Posting the most Christian status or picture on Instagram does not make you countercultural. To be countercultural is to do exactly what Christ does for others; exactly what we see this Bishop doing: see the beauty of Christ in every person around us, which then transforms how we speak, view, and relate to them. That is real transformation. The rest is cheap, sleezy, and void of depth.

Peter is very specific on what the “tools” are for making this culture exist within our community which then goes outside these walls. He first mentions unity of spirit. This is the simple understanding that we are in this all together. No one has their stuff completely together. What we do have is each other. As imperfect as we all are, we are a family together.

Peter then mentions sympathy, love, and a tender heart for one another. These three adjectives really boil down to one thing: being selfless. Usually when we lack sympathy, when we lack love, when our heart turns brittle and cold it is due to a deep root of selfishness within us. We are either imposing our standards on the other person or we have outrageously high expectations that are unrealistic. We must be tender towards one another. Acknowledge the flaws, but wow, lets love one another through them.

Peter is a wise man. He is slowly turning up the heat on the community. He begins with unity, then heads to three areas that are doable, and now he is turning to something that is nearly impossible. The last tool he gives is the height of Christian maturity and character because it is the very essence of Christ himself.

1 Peter 3:9- The Height of Christ-likeness

Our Lord Jesus, when he was being crucified cried out with a loud voice, “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do!” Other ancient Christians who were either being martyred or persecuted offered forgiveness to their persecutors. A man by the name of Anacleto who was an advocate for peace during the Cristero war in the early 1900s in Mexico was quoted as saying with his last words,

“I pardon you from the heart; very soon we will see each other before the divine tribunal; the same judge that is going to judge me will be your judge; then you will have, in me, an intercessor with God on your behalf.”

As followers of Jesus our highest aim is to always emulate Jesus. Just as many who came after him have done. Just as Anacleto has done. And just as many of us can do today in the simple act of choosing to bless those who cause us frustration.

You know, Peter has some nerve to instruct the church to do this in light of what they were going through. Can you imagine right now living in the days of Peter, like many places around the world right now, and you are being instructed to bless others. To love your enemies. To show kindness, love, and mercy to those who have wronged you? This would be so difficult for us. But for Peter, this is our divine destiny.

Do you notice how he says “repay with a blessing. It is for this that you were called that you might inherit a blessing.” The word blessing has been often hijacked from Christian pop culture. Over time it has been watered down to the point where we say we are “blessed” over everything. If we have a new car we will say, “God has blessed us!” Well not exactly. You are very fortunate to have a job, credit, and you have chosen a car to buy. Sorry to burst your blessed bubble.

Blessing is much deeper than that. The ancient understanding of blessing comes from the relationship of a parent to the child. For the father or mother to bless the child is to say, “I love you. I am for you. I empathize with you. I am proud of you.” The word blessing is tied more to relationship, less to the attainment of material goods. Even in ancient Israel when the Psalms or the prophets would seek the blessing of protection, food, or anything it was always within the context of their relationship with God.

Therefore, when Peter says to return a blessing after being insulted, he is not saying to bake cookies for the one who has wronged you. He is saying “look them in the eyes and find Christ, and find the good within them to love. Find what you can empathize with. Discover the pain and heartache that causes their lashing out. Pray for them. Sit with them. Have coffee with them. Value their personhood. Show them grace.” That is being a blessing to others. Baking cookies is easy. Finding Christ in them takes time and diligence.

Peter then ends with this beautiful phrase for his readers as well as us. He says, “so that you might inherit a blessing.” Again, keeping the right understanding of blessing in mind, let us remember that we do not bless others to receive anything in return. We do not aim to give our tithes and offerings so that God can “bless” us with financial prosperity. That is a lie and a gross misunderstanding of the Scriptures.

No. We bless others, we find Christ in others, we love and live in unity, empathy, humility with others, so that we might receive the blessing from the Father. And what is that blessing? It is a Father, a parent looking at their child saying, “I love you, I am for you, I am with you, I am proud of you!” This is the purest understanding of what it means to be blessed by God. Sure, our jobs, are food, our shelter are signs of Gods providence and we are fortunate to have these.

But they are not the end all be all blessing. The only blessing that ever means something worthwhile is the Father looking at us and our obedient hearts and saying, “I am proud of you. I love you. I see Christ in you.” That is it. And that is what Peter is longing for, for these people. But for them to get there, they need to begin to live differently from the world around them. The same goes for you and I.

What We Must Do/Be

A few weeks ago I had a rare parenting “win.” It’s nice to see when you are doing something right. My three children, whom I love with all of my heart, become combatant with one another occasionally. Well, one day a few weeks ago it was my oldest two going at it. Caleb and Kennedy were fighting so much. Rather than yelling I called them over. I sat them down. I explained to them that it wasn’t ok to talk to one another and treat one another the way they had been. They then rushed to say sorry and a little while later they were back at it.

This time I knew I had to do something different. This time I called them back. I made them come together and this time they each had to make a list of ten things they loved about each other. You would have thought I asked them to climb Everest. It took about 20 minutes but they did it. The rest of that day something was different in them. They played together, they laughed together, they helped one another. And why? Because they intentionally found the good in one another and it changed everything. At its simplest level, this is what Peter is instructing, this is what Jesus did with everyone, and this is what Bishop Angaelos did with those attackers.

Being a counter cultural community of love and Christlikeness begins in your own mind and heart. After we experience that same transformation this Egyptian Bishop speaks of, maybe then we will see ourselves truly walking in the footsteps of Jesus like never before.

We will know we are walking in those footsteps when we no longer look with suspicion, distaste, disgust, or even hate at groups like ISIS, the LGBTQ community, or people on the other side of the political aisle (yes believe it or not the love of Christ is found in Democrats, Repuplicans, Socialists, Communitst, and even Marxists) Or even people of a different race. People who bother us. People who have hurt us. People who grade at our nerves. Peter says it best: let us seek to live in

“unity of spirit, sympathy, love, and tenderness of heart. Not seeking to repay insult for insult but rather a blessing. Hoping that in doing so we might make our heavenly father proud.”

This is what HighMill church needs beofre anything else. We are not all going to always get along or see things the same way. But in walking out our faith we will seek to look at one another with humility as better than ourselves.

This is what our community needs. This is what our vast world needs. You want to change the world? Change you first. But to change superficially. Change deeply.

I encourage you. I beg you. As you go home today begin to look at your circle of family, friends, husband or wife, children—and ask the Holy Spirit to show you who you must first begin to find Christ in. Who you must begin to seek unity with.

As hard as it may be, it is the only right(eous) thing to do. If we fail to do so we are being disobedient. While walking this difficult task out, take joy in realizing you are experiencing the mysterious and beautiful  transformation of your heart.

From a heart of stone to a heart of tenderness.

Blessings+

Ἐμοὶ γὰρ τὸ ζῆν Χριστὸς καὶ τὸ ἀποθανεῖν κέρδος.

 

The Place of Fear in the Christian Life

Fear: an unwanted and unpleasant emotion caused by being aware of danger.

As followers of Jesus we have a peculiar situation when it comes to fear. On the one hand modern evangelicalism has taught us that to fear is to doubt Gods ability to work in a given situation. Therefore we must eradicate all traces of fear and doubt.

This is unfortunate because if you doubt, you lack faith. Sadly, if you lack faith then of course God cannot act and you are left all by your lonesome to fend for yourself. (Note sarcasm)

So what do we do with this topic of fear?

If there is one type of message not being preached in churches today it’s this: fear is healthy for the Christian soul. I just finished preaching today on the 4th Sunday after Easter and fear was a major part of today’s text in the lectionary.

We are a few weeks behind in the lectionary so I planted the congregation in 1 Peter 1:3-9. In this text the Apostle Paul is adamant that our trials, our sufferings, our “aggravations,” as Eugene Peterson puts it, are in fact not something to fear but rather something that we ought to face head on. Because, as Peter explains, “our faith is being proved genuine.”

Jürgen Moltmann, Professor Emeritus of Systematic Theology at Tubingen, has been one of the leading theologians concerning the integration of the risen Christ in the Christian life. In his work, “Jesus Christ for Today’s World,” Moltmann speaks to the challenge of fear and what the Christian ought to do with it. He states,

“Fear does not isolate us from God. On the contrary it leads us into deeper communion with him. Christian faith in God is essentially fellowship with Christ…who was tempted and assailed, who suffered and was forsaken. In our anxiety we participate in Christ’s anxiety.”

What Moltmann says is true and in complete alignment with the words of Peter. Before all of us, there are or will be moments of fear. Moments of dread. Moments of suffocation and anxiety. The temptation will be to do one of three things.

Three Options on Dealing With Fear

First, we might deny the hardship and the fear, put on a brave face, and tough it out. This sounds noble but it does not benefit our Christian growth.

Secondly, we just might buckle under the burden of fear and allow the waves of the storm to completely wipe us away. This will set our growth back quite far as we will likely doubt the very presence of God in our situation.

Or thirdly, we might do something a bit risky. If we are up for it, we may take those moments of fear and dread realizing that those are prime opportunities to deepen our faith in the risen Jesus Christ.

Obviously no one looks to find difficult and trying situations. But let us not be naive Christians who think that following Jesus will be rainbows and sunshine continuously. It won’t be. It was never supposed to be. It wasn’t for Jesus; why would it be for you?

At one time or another you will have that question run through your mind: What do I do with this fear? This anxiety? This pain? Well judging by Peter and Jürgen, the raw emotions of fear and anxiety that stem from trials are the fertile fields where we find true growth. True growth as disciples is what we are all after. Fear and trials are a natural part of that growth. They are a natural part of the Christian life. Let us not run from them. I pray we may run into them with Christ right beside us.

Father,

We thank you for your continued providence in the lives of Christ Followers. We ask that you equip us with the wisdom to navigate life. We ask that you grant us with fortitude, strength, and endurance to magnify your name with how we live. Let us not run from that which scares us. But let us learn to find those small threads of grace and truth in the midst of them.

 It is for your glory that we live. It is for your Gospel that we are able to stand redeemed. We love you. Show your love to us, your church. Show your presence to us, your children. In our darkest and most challenging of trials light the way forward we humbly ask. In the name of the risen Jesus Christ we pray.

Amen.

Blessings+

 

 

Christmas and the Sunday Conundrum

Christmas on a Sunday? Ahhhh!

I have been asked what we will do about church falling on Christmas morning. Multiple times. Down through the years in fact.

I’ve heard the question all around me in person and on social media. “Should I stay in with my family or should we come to church on Christmas morning?”

First off, let’s be real for a moment. Whether you will be with a worshipping community Christmas morning or not does not dictate your Christianity. We all have the power to choose to be at home with our families or with our Christian family this December 25th. Jesus is not watching with a ledger. So let’s keep grace and love flowing freely in this dialog. Sadly I have observed the opposite and it’s embarrassing to see others divide on this issue.

Guard Against Pride

And so, for those worshipping with the community on Christmas morning… I would ask the question would you still desire to be with your church family if it didn’t fall on a Sunday? I’d hope so. Don’t exploit Christmas falling on a Sunday to puff up your spirituality. The answer to the question above is important. It is easy to look down our noses at others on this one. Don’t fall for it.

Three Things to Ponder

For those choosing to stay home this Christmas morning… please consider this:

Our entire message centers around the birth, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. We get two days a year to really bring that message home: Christmas and Easter. So when Christmas falls on a Sunday, you would think we would be more likely to show up to worship together. I could be the exception. (Don’t tell my leadership team, but I would love to have a small service each year on Christmas morning. Shhh.)

Secondly, I love my family a lot. I really do. But they didn’t rise from the dead for me. On Christmas morning we have the honor of giving our devotion and focus to the one who gave everything for us. Our family time is fantastic and beautiful. Memories are made and there is an overflow of joy. But in the end, for an hour or so, commemorating the birth of our savior together with other brothers and sisters in Christ seems to carry a bit more weight. A few thousand years of church history around the world across various traditions confirms this.

Lastly, where I will be on Sunday will say something to the people around me as well as my own family.  I wouldn’t want my family to hear that our faith in Christ matters… but not more than the gifts we bought or the “family feeling” of Christmas morning.

In Essentials Unity…

So while I lay out the reasons for why I believe worshipping on Christmas morning with the church is important, whether it falls on a Sunday or not, there is grace and freedom in the body of Christ.

No shame, no judgment, no pride, and no ego. To each their own. Remember the oft-used phrase used in the body of Christ for centuries:

In the essentials; unity. In non-essentials; charity. 

Happy 3rd week of Advent everyone.

 

Mistaking the Church for a Business…

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Recently our city newspaper put out a “Best of the Best” award where they voted on the best restaurants, shopping venues, and yes even places to worship. Well, someone had to respond to such a foolish and asinine reward. I wrote a letter to the Newspaper and surprisingly they published it. I will leave it below:

The Repository recently handed out a voter-led “Best of the Best Award” in an area that ought to be free of competition. If we could name one plague that has decimated the unity of the church, it has been the gross adaptation of the church being turned into a business. Something we market, brand, and compete in. Something Jesus never desired. In fact, he hoped for the opposite.

What began as a beautiful expression of unity under One Lord has digressed to divisions, denominations, and subtle competition. While many of us as pastors are working hard to repair the breaches and bring inter-denominational unity as well as an inter-faith dialogue, it doesn’t help having a newspaper give an award for “Best Place to Worship 2016.” If you truly desire to unify this city, you ought to remember to work with those who have this same desire, not against them. Such an award deepens the plague of division and stigma — a stigma that some churches aren’t good enough, techy enough, and frankly not professional enough. Not to mention the other faith traditions in our city that are slighted by this award and its exclusiveness.

The essence of this “award” is foreign to the Scriptures we read and are formed by. Jesus never mandated that his followers gather and produce some neat, pristine, finished product whereby they could win some asinine award. We are Christ-following misfits who gather together. To the best of our imperfect ability we seek to project the salt and light of Christ as we gather and live. The “excellence” in which we do so is not business-oriented. It is oriented in our faithfulness to ancient Christian orthodoxy as followers of Jesus.

As a pastor of a church, if I were to receive such an award, elation and excitement would be the furthest thing from my mind; Rather, repentance, anger, and frustration. I would then seek to redirect my city’s newspaper to a more helpful effort: How to unify the worshiping community of our city; not divide it with foolish awards or man-made accolades. As a pastor, I certainly would not promote such a foolish award in fear of being antithetical to the desires of Christ for His church.

NOAH D. SCHUMACHER,
Pastor, High Mill Church

Lets challenge those that would pit one church against the other. Whether it be parishioners speaking of what place has better “this or that” or Pastors who boast about their church as though it were theirs. And even our media outlets.

Let us work for unity and nothing else. That is the desire of Christ for His church.