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Following Jesus, Ethics, Helicopter Easter Eggs, and HighMill Church

 

From where do we begin when seeking to follow Jesus? This is a legitimate question for any Christian seeking to break away from the label of “Christian” and wanting to resemble the very ethics of the One they long to follow after. But from where do we begin? Is it by seeking to copy what we see Jesus doing? Is it by measuring up the best we can to the level of perfection and holiness Jesus represented as told to us by Paul or Peter? Where do we begin in “following Jesus?”

These are valid questions. For some they do not make a difference. Others reduce all of Christianity to simply being a “great person.” But that isn’t right either. To be a Christian is to embody the ethics, life, and purpose of this radical 1stcentury reformer who was a poor, homeless, peasant. A wandering cynic perhaps or even millenarian prophet. The question still stands, where do we begin?

For many centuries the church’s launching point in seeking to emulate Jesus was through the study of the risen Christ and reflections of him post Easter. The ethics for many were confined to the teachings of Paul, Peter, James, and John. Of course, the Gospels have always played a large role, however even within those texts it was the aspects of Christ which were emphasized. The challenge is that all of these reflect the person of Jesus post-Easter. They reflect the collective consciousness which was being formed around the risen Christ and the church’s experience with Him.

Obviously, we cannot argue with the profound impact of the risen Christ and the resurrection. But when we speak of “ethics” we are speaking of the social constructs which govern our actions, thinking, and dispositions. The “risen Christ” tends to make this reality challenging. The “historical Jesus” however brings concrete action to this end. More than that, when studying the historical life of Jesus and how he interacted within the Judaism of his day we are given an image of what true Christian ethics are to look like. For example, Jesus dealt with various religious groups which compromised the ethics and truth of God’s original intent with Judaism. Might we still have same issue today with staunch fundamentalists and radical progressives within the Christian religion? Seeking to respond to this perhaps it would be wise to see how Jesus responded to the polar extremes of his day.

Christian ethicist and theologian Stanley Hauerwas rightly argues that the appropriate place to begin is with the man himself. living in 1stcentury Palestine. He says, “You cannot know who Jesus is after the resurrection unless you have learned to follow Jesus during his life. His life and crucifixion are necessary to purge us of false notions about what kind of Kingdom Jesus brings. In the same way his disciples and adversaries also had to be purged. Only by learning to follow him to Jerusalem, where he becomes subject to the powers of this world, do we learn what the kingdom entails, as well as what kind of messiah this Jesus is.” (The Hauerwas Reader, 120-21)

 The key point Hauerwas makes is actually revolutionary to much of modern Christendom: to follow Jesus is to look more so at his life pre-Easter life than post. The purging Hauerwas speaks of is essential if we are to actually become “followers of Jesus.”

For far too long in my own Christian life I have encountered many individuals who claim to follow Jesus and yet only cling to the risen Christ as hope for their salvation. This reduces their life to a mere label and cerebral declaration—which according to Matthew 25 means nothing.

But trust me. I get it. I too love the soteriological aspects of atonement theory and everything else that goes with the theological “hodge podge” of our Savior. But if following Jesus is what we are focused upon then we must shift our thinking.

The church is long overdue for a renaissance of complete ethical and organizational transformation. To be so transformed to the point where our ethics resemble not Christians following a risen savior but rather an ethical paradigm that reflects a revolutionary rabbi from the 1stcentury fit into the 21st. Given a healthy hermeneutic, passion for people, and steadfast focus upon emulating the life of Jesus—it can be done.

My wife and I have this radical idea that the church we are building/planting at the present moment could mature so much so that each member—each ministry—each action might resemble the person of Jesus. To do so we would have to buck the common trends of modern evangelicalism and its infatuation with “sexy” trends. We would have to say no to helicopters dropping Easter eggs. We would have to say no to franchising our church plants as though they were Jimmy John’s cookie cutouts with 8 ft high holograms of myself. Trust me, I am not the best preacher. We would have to say not to the attractional model where it’s all about us and lucky you! —you get to come and reap the benefits and consumption of our product. Below sample what I believe when happens when we follow the “its all about the risen Christ and not the Jewish man living in 1st century” model.

Now, no. None of that. Rather a church that takes seriously the human side of this man. A Church that is radical in its giving. Offensive with its mercy. Abundant in its grace. Intentional in its work with poverty. Messy in its love. Firm in its orthodoxy. A church that doesn’t just say, “We are the hands and feet of Christ” but rather demonstrates “Join us in doing, seeing, thinking, loving, lifting, forgiving, mending, healing—as Jesus does.”There’s a big difference. Below represents what I believe, priorities and focuses of a heart longing to emulate Jesus of Nazareth. There could of course be many more images to represent the cares and concerns of Jesus as seen in Scripture.

 

Now, am I being unfairly broad? Perhaps. However, because of the top set of images, there are so many who loathe Christianity and Jesus. The least we can do as the church is reframe our efforts and work hard to establish an ethos that looks more like Jesus and less like American/ Western pop Christianity. To resmeble a group of people passionate about Jesus so that we can care more about the bottom set of images.  It can be done but it will be difficult. The world is dying for a true expression—not of Christianity—but of Jesus. There is a difference.

To be clear, does all of this indicate that I hold a low Christology? No. I affirm the creeds in their entirety. As much as the next believer. However, I live on this side of the veil. And while on this side of eternity my focus is to live the life Jesus lived. Michelle and I both seek to lead a  church  movement that will demonstrate to a tired and worn down population what it looks like to resemble Jesus; demonstrating the ethics and life of a 1stcentury radical reformer who didn’t give a crap about religious piety—only the justice, love, and compassion of the Father.

In conclusion, Matthew 5:48 Jesus instructs us to be “perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect.” The essence of this verse, as well as the Greek etymology of “perfect” does not mean “free of sin or unalloyed.” It refers to a maturity and growth that is uncanny in its state and fully developed. It is a perfection that comes by learning to follow and be like this man whom God has sent to be our forerunner in the kingdom. That is why Christian ethics as a whole is an ethical system of principles, laws, or values, but an ethic that demands we attend to the life of a particular individual: Jesus of Nazareth. It is only from him that we can learn perfection and maturity the way God intends.

And so when you sit down to ponder how you can best follow Jesus perhaps It would be best for you to begin with a gospel or two. After that move right into the theological Christ and the reflections of the Church. While of course the gospels themselves are a reflection of the church’s view on this man named Jesus—they are still our best attempt at understanding the historical person of Jesus.

More musings on this radical person in the near future. Until then—I encourage you: live like Jesus. If you don’t know how please allow me to break it down for you simply: read what Jesus does in Scripture and then “Go and Do Likewise.”

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

 

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.