What Jesus Began… He Continues Today; In You.

What Jesus Began… He Continues Today; In You.

I want to encourage you with something today. Something maybe you have forgotten. Its this: Jesus still changes lives, heals the sick, and sets the oppressed free; just as He did in the pages of Scripture. It could be physical healing or it could be the victory over a destructive habit—no situation in our lives is too far out of reach for the power of God in Christ Jesus to reach us. The timing and method is with God—but I know that He still does them through His Holy Spirit. 

This past week in our church there was a woman physically healed from severe pain in her legs. She walked down with a cane praying for physical healing. She walked back without the cane. The following week a man got up to share how Jesus had set him free in his life from various things that he had been carrying for so long. The common thread in all of this? Jesus is still at work changing lives. But I am not sure many of us still believe this. 

In fact, it seems there are two kinds of people in the Church: There are those that follow Jesus actively and there are those that like Jesus passively.

There are those that follow Jesus actively and there are those that like Jesus passively. 

The first group lives with a confidence that Jesus is still at work both within as well as through their own lives to others. They are those who are seeking to love and serve others, share the message of Jesus, helping others to repent and join the church, those who are boldly praying for the sick, casting out demonic spirits, and more. They are a people of action.  

The second group lives with a theoretical knowledge that Jesus was who he said he was. They ascribe the right doctrinal beliefs. They seek to do good, be kind, tip their waiter well, tolerate and love all people, smile on walking paths, mind their own business, and then wait to die to go to heaven. They are a people of passivity.  

You may find yourself in one of these groups. I pray it is the former. Maybe you’re thinking, “But I go to church! Why wouldn’t I be at church if I wasn’t passionate?” I get it. But does that equate to being the passionate disciple of Jesus that He is looking for? My dad always told me growing up that “Going into a church building doesn’t make you a Jesus follower anymore than walking into a garage makes you a car.” He would tell me this to remind me that to be a Jesus follower is what matters most. 

The reality is that Jesus wants all of you so that he can transform all of you. He wants more than your Sunday attendance or confessions when you messed up. He wants all of you so that you can experience His full love, and truth, as well as enlist you in His Kingdom work. We do not have the option of being one foot in and one foot out. Jesus taught the opposite in fact. Jesus says in Revelation 3:15-16 the following blunt truth. 

15 I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! 16 So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth.

The Holy Spirit is looking for women and men of God set on fire for Jesus, not lukewarm. Joyful, passionate, excited about the potential that Jesus offers for themselves and others who are lost because they are needed—What Jesus began; He continues today. In fact we can take this deeper. Not only does his work continue today but his Kingdom still reigns as well. 

The Kingdom Jesus Began… Still Reigns. In You.

Luke writes in his Gospel that there were those who did not realize Jesus still lived and reigned. Here is a sample from Luke 24:36-39, 44-49 NIV

36 While they were still talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” 37 They were startled and frightened, thinking they saw a ghost. 38 He said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your minds? 39 Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have.”….44 He said to them, “This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.” 45 Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. 46 He told them, “This is what is written: The Messiah will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, 47 and repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things. 49 I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.” 

Early in the chapter before the above, we have two men walking on a road and the resurrected Jesus appears to them in their sad and mourning state as they thought Jesus was gone, hope was dead. He appears to the disciples and speaks very clear instructions to them in what we read this morning. They too were startled unsure that Jesus was really alive—even though He told them this would happen. In both cases He helps them come back to life as effective witnesses for His truth. Essentially what he is doing is reminding them that “Everything I told all of you. Everything that was spoken about me in the Word. Everything I did while among you: healing, providing, loving, releasing, and more—all of it is still for today.”

Luke then writes a sequel to all of this called “Acts” which has been called the Acts of the Apostles but is more appropriately named the Acts of the Holy Spirit. It is the story of what happens next after Jesus resurrected and ascended to the Father. Essentially, it is our story. There was no expiration date on the Acts of the Holy Spirit. Luke says in Acts in 1:1-3:

In my former book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach until the day he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles he had chosen. After his suffering, he presented himself to them and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God.

Do you see how Luke writes, “…what Jesus began to do and to teach…” Luke is affirming that even though he ascended, Jesus began “something.” Something best defined as the reign of God’s Kingdom here in our time and space. Jesus could have discussed anything with them. But he chose to speak of the Kingdom of God. 

This Kingdom is the reign of God that pushes back the evil and darkness. Beginning first in the hearts of humans who respond in faith, and then permeating their thoughts, words, actions, and manner of life. This is where we get the understanding of the “victorious life.” That even through difficulty, tribulation, and even death—we still reign with Jesus. This victorious life is Kingdom living. 

In our desire to be understanding and empathetic we will often cater to the more difficult and broken parts of our stories in a desire to be real and authentic to be relatable. We could call this “Messy Spirituality.” While sometimes needed, we must remember that Kingdom living is not tied to the acceptance of what is wrong in us; but rather the embrace of what Jesus desires for us. 

This means we are to pursue a holy life. Free of sin. Free of addictions, secret sin, perversions of the flesh, and everything else that damages our relationship with the Lord. We can be set free. His Kingdom still CAN reign in our thoughts and actions.  

Kingdom living is not tied to the acceptance of what is wrong in us; but rather the embrace of what Jesus desires for us.

The desire of God is that His Kingdom would reign in our lives victoriously. We are to be those “New Creations” that the world sees and is attracted to. 2 Corinthians 5:17 brings this to light:

17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!

We are to be new creations because of Jesus. We are not to resemble the world but rather be those who are called out of it. We are the New Creations who are still living in the “Acts of the Holy Spirit…” We are those who bring this same Kingdom in thought, word, and action—resembling the life of Jesus—to those whom God places in our path.

Two things will happen as you read that statement above. You will either feel emboldened by it, encouraged, and recharged and passionate to commune with the Spirit and receive instruction. Or you will feel a large disconnect followed by feelings of unworthiness, defeat, and shame because you are not living your full potential of divine purpose in Christ. I beg you to remember that there is hope. Our God is an amazing God of mercy and promise! He knows and always knew that we would need help to continue the work of Jesus and expand His Kingdom today!  

So lets think this through together: What Jesus began… he continues today in our time and space. The Kingdom Jesus brought… still reigns today in our time and space. But there is one more peace to this that Luke shows us in Acts 1:4-5:

On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.” 

What Jesus Promised… Is Still Here. For You.

What Jesus Promised… is still for you. This is the missing part. But what in fact did he promise? He said, “You will be baptized in the Holy Spirit not many days from now.” I can imagine the disciples hearing the commands of Jesus to GO and do this and do that. The fear and anxiety of doing it alone without Him must have been unimaginable. 

But Jesus promised them. It was an ancient promise. It was fulfilled at Pentecost when the Spirit was poured out. And when the masses thought they were all drunk and crazy because they heard them praying in tongues, Peter got up and boldly said something that was to forever alter the church moving forward to present day. Look at Acts 2:38-39:

38 Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.” 

For as many… The promise still holds true today. For you. Jesus promised help. Help has come. You do not have to do any of this alone. Continuing the work of Jesus isn’t easy. Submitting to the Lordship of Jesus and His Kingdom in our lives isn’t easy. The Holy Spirit of God is our greatest friend and ally in learning how to overcome and walk in wisdom.  

You would be crazy NOT to embrace this gift and allow it (Him) to saturate you… right? Or think of it this way. If I gave you 1 dollar but promised you I could give you 20, what would you say? If I gave you a toy car but promised you there was a real car in the parking lot for you, what would you say? In both cases, you would receive with joy the 20 dollars and the new car. This is the same reality many are living in their pursuit of Jesus. We are settling for a drop when we were promised rushing rivers. Jesus makes this clear in John 7:37-39.

37 On the last and greatest day of the festival, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. 38 Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.” c 39 By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive. Up to that time the Spirit had not been given, since Jesus had not yet been glorified. 

A River Awaits

This river is for you; the local church; the church in this nation—we are to be a river of God’s justice and goodness flowing to all who are in need of the message of the Gospel. So ask yourself: What am I scared of? What holds me back from being filled with God’s Spirit again and again? What frightens me about the baptism in the Holy Spirit? Why am I playing it safe keeping one foot in and one foot out? 

I promise you this. Jumping head first into the things of God brings about a joyful transformation that nothing on this planet could touch. And you know what else? So much is on the line.  I think about marriages. How will they survive if both are not receiving the transformation from the Holy Spirit? I think about women and men. How will we battle the onslaught of the enemy in this world with lust, power, identity issues, insecurities, anxieties, greed, and more—unless we are filled and overflowing with God’s Spirit? I think about our children. How will they be raised up in the ways of Jesus if us parents are not being led by the Spirit through daily time in the Word and prayer? It wont happen. We must be intentional and saturate ourselves with the Spirit of God.

Connect the dots with me. If what Jesus began still continues today… if His Kingdom he began still reigns today… and if the Promise of the Holy Spirit is the One He gave his disciples (us) to achieve those first two… wouldn’t it make sense for the Enemy to get every single one of us to be weary, lukewarm, cynical, stuck, passionless, and defeated? He is winning if that’s the case in your life. But John tells us in 1 John 4:4 that, “He who is within you is greater than He who is within the world.” 

Rise Up Woman/ Man of God. Your Helper Is Here.

So I encourage you today. Rise up man of God. Rise up woman of God. You are called and anointed by God to overcome with the Holy Spirit within you. The sin which plagues your thoughts—can be overcome. The shameful acts committed in darkness—can be destroyed. The toxic decisions and habits made again and again—can be overcome. How? By submitting, repenting, and asking Jesus to baptize you in His Holy Spirit. You dedicate more time to prayer and the Scriptures and daily asking to be Filled for that day’s work—and watch and see what the Holy Spirit will do. Nothing has changed. Jesus is still in the business of setting people free. 

Last week I got a message. A woman I know well was an atheist for many years. But a long time ago she heard the Gospel of Jesus preached by myself, Michelle, and others. Years later she found herself experiencing demonic oppression and satanic attacks. She remembered the name of Jesus! She began to cry out “Jesus!” She spoke with me days later telling me she was experiencing peace and things were better. She brought books and items that were not of God to be destroyed here to the church to get rid of them. These messages didn’t shock me one bit. You know why? Because what Jesus began; he still continues today. 

So which are you?

Do you follow Jesus actively?

Or do you like Jesus passively?

Jesus is ready to set you on fire with His Holy Spirit. But are you?

The Insanity of God’s Love

The love of God and the love of Man

The Lord said to me, “Go, show your love to your wife again, though she is loved by another man and is an adulteress. Love her as the Lord loves the Israelites, though they turn to other gods and love the sacred raisin cakes.” So I bought her for fifteen shekels of silver and about a homer and a lethek of barley. Then I told her, “You are to live with me many days; you must not be a prostitute or be intimate with any man, and I will behave the same way toward you.” For the Israelites will live many days without king or prince, without sacrifice or sacred stones, without ephod or household gods. Afterward the Israelites will return and seek the Lord their God and David their king. They will come trembling to the Lord and to his blessings in the last days. 

Hosea 3:1-5

Years ago I was walking parts of Canton, OH during an evangelism night. I would go looking for individuals just hanging out and make friends, pray for any needs, and share the message of Christ where there were any openings. Well, I came across an older lady and she had a child with her. She was outside her apartment at the door. I introduced myself and we talked about simple things. She then asked me what I was doing in their area. I explained I was a Christian and I was seeing if there was anyone I could pray for, meet with, and share about the love of God. She responded, “oh, that’s nice.” 

But then she opened up in a profound way. We talked about her previous marriages, divorces, physical and emotional abuse she had been in, the pain of being physically abused. It was heart breaking. She then said, “that’s what i struggle to understand… that you are here talking about a loving God, but these men said they loved me.”  This led us down a long convo outside her door about the nature of God’s love vs. The broken love of humans. She quickly realized she had always lumped them together. I passionately explained to her how the love of God and especially the love of Jesus is nothing this world has ever seen or known. 

Near the end she began to begin to cry. I mean tears upon tears upon tears. She said, “I have always grown up hearing about that love but I just always thought it must have not been for me but for others.” 

What broke my heart about that was how she viewed herself as a person underserving of God’s beautiful and deep love. Unfortunately this is not uncommon. An experiment… if you could imagine God thinking about you, what would you assume he would think? A surprising number of us would be quick to use words like, “disappointment, hard worker, failure, and more.” We would use adjectives like these and every single one would be the opposite of how God sees us.  

In most cases it is usually our sin, we believe, that catches God’s attention first and foremost. That was the case for the woman I met that day as well as many of us. The consequences of this assumption is catastrophic for our experience of God’s love in this life. 

The Love of God is…

Regardless of what you have come to believe about God based upon your life experience, the truth is that when God thinks of you, love swells in his heart. God overflows with love for you; for humans. He is far from being emotionally uninvolved with his creation. God’s bias towards us is strong, persistent, and positive. Our God chooses to be known as love, and that love pervades every part of his relationship with us. 

Does this truth minimize sin? Of course not. Because sin does not change how God feels about humans. Read that last sentence again. It’s true. God is simply not that fickle. Like loving parents who see their child make a wrong decision—do you love this child less? Of course not. God loves us with a love that is not dependent upon our behavior. 

Christians who assume the opposite tend to live their lives focusing on sin and performance more so than the depth and beauty of God’s love. These are those who believe they are honoring God by focusing on sin as much as they can. At times this group will judge other christians for not taking sin as seriously as they do. This group tends to become uncomfortable with divine love and feel an urgent need to balance this love out by highlighting God’s hatred of sin. The saddest part is that this group will often give verbal recognition that such a deep and divine love exists; yet they will fail to experience much of it while they live their lives. 

On the flip side though, the one who can live their lives secure and at rest in the truth that God is head over heels in love with them as his daughter or son—what a different trajectory that one will experience than the others. Why? Because they are remaining in relationship with christ. Relationship with God is not found in performance or hatred of sin. Relationship with God is found in remaining in the very love of God:  

“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. 10 If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. 11 I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. 12 My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. 13 Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.

John 15:9-13

Do you see the primacy of love? 

What we see in Jesus was God’s heart all along. Hosea’s passionate plea for Israel to be faithful is not some original idea he woke up with and heard from God. The prophets and leaders before him were crying out for Israel to return to the divine and deep love seen in the garden of Eden. Even for us as Christians, the story of Jesus’ love for you and i did not begin with him…it began in genesis in the creation narrative. 

When this narrative in genesis is read as science, we are missing it. The goal of the biblical writer as well as the Hebrew language being used is not meant to be a scientific text. It was written as a love poem giving the origin story of humanity. Is it truth? Of course. Did God create the heavens and the earth? Of course. It is truth. But the entire narrative of truth rests on a deep love story between God and those he created.

And so, created from love and for love, human beings ran from this divine love in pursuit of what seemed to be “freedom.” The result was catastrophic. Freedom turned into bondage. Intimacy turned into alienation. Genuine love was reduced to self-love. All of this resulting in deep pride and unimaginable estrangement from our true selves and how God created us to be. Sin was the ultimate killer of faithful covenant love between God and us and has, ever since, led us into diluted and dysfunctional definitions and pursuits of love and intimacy. Many of us have been there, are there. We were never meant to stay in this place. Neither was Israel. 

God’s love for us is transforming… 

Hosea is living for us, with visible symbolism, the pain that God is feeling because of this rupture. His heart is in agony. Hosea is called to marry a woman who has been a prostitute and bear children with her. This prophetic action is illustrating how God, who is full of love, is patiently waiting for Israel to return to him and be faithful in return. But it isn’t happening. Its getting worse. 

Just when we think it is over, God goes further with Hosea. Look again at what Hosea is to do in an effort to rescue his bride

Read Hosea 3:1-3 above again. But slowly.

Can you imagine this? Hosea wakes up. He hears the rumors. He rushes to find gomer at the market. She isn’t there. He panics and hopes to God she did not return to the streets or to her pimp. He hopes she did not go back to prostituting herself. He thinks to himself, “why would she leave my love I am giving her, our love we have in marriage, and seeking “fake love” in these ways?!?” So he goes and finds her pimp. Poses as a customer. And says, “ill take that girl over there.” He pays for her. She comes and finds her customer. With shame she realizes its her husband. Hosea brings her back home. Literally brings her away from where she was because why? Because he loves her too much to be at peace with her decision to be in that place.] We will come back to this insane scenario but…

Lets not miss something so important about God’s love: Hosea shows us that the way to return to the place of God’s love and faithfulness is not a passive acceptance of where gomer is or where we are; but a shifting of our intentions, thinking, and actions, to leave that current place and journey into a new one. Do you see this? The love of man is passive and based on acceptance. It is focused on self and ego. Whatever makes you feel good…however you want to define yourself… love is love. For the world? Yes. This is true. For the love found within the kingdom of God? It is the opposite. The love of God is relentless and founded upon transformation. 

Hosea could not rest with his wife on the street. God cannot rest with his children living in sin. Does it change how much he loves them? Of course not! But it does not equally change his jealousy and passion for them to live lives that are being transformed by his love. 

This divine love of God, the love Jesus speaks of and Hosea demonstrates is transformative. Continually. If ever a message is preached or proclaimed that gives love without transformation—that is not the gospel. Repentance (turning from sin) is a foundational part of our faith. How can we discover true divine love if we do not leave behind our broken attempts at love? 

God’s desire was always to find a people for himself, call them out from the world, and show them his deep and divine love so that they could then show the rest of the world that same deep and divine love. To do this, the people must be called out. This means repentance, leave their old life for a new—because the true deep love from above is so inviting that they cannot help but be transformed by it. 

I have often loved with condition. I have often lived trying to earn God’s love. Not a decade ago. More like a week ago. The enemy’s fingerprints are upon all of our lives when it comes to the love we give to others. We must be aware of it and consume ourselves with his love to protect us. But you know where all of this begins? In our own thinking. We asked the question, “if you could imagine God thinking about you, what would you assume he would think?” Perhaps adjectives like “unfixable, unlovable, unworthy” come into our mind. 

What lengths will this love go?

What is most often missed in Hosea 3 is the reality of the lengths God will go to show love to his beloved—those who think they are “unfixable, unlovable, and unworthy.” We already saw what Hosea did. But lets look for a moment not at “what” but “how” he did it. 

 So I bought her for fifteen shekels of silver and about a homer and a lethek of barley.

Hosea 3:2

He bought a person who was already his. Do you see this? And he does this for fifteen shekels of silver and some barley. For comparison, Exodus 21:32 says a slave cost 30 shekels, and joseph was sold for twenty in Genesis 37:28. So Hosea goes and pays a little less than a slaves wage to get back his wife from the pimp. He didn’t have to! She was his wife! But Hosea goes and brings her home to a place of safety where true love is found and he says, “stay here for many days and remain with me, and I will remain with you!” This is not Hosea making her his slave. This is not Hosea commanding her she must stay. This is Hosea, acting in the place of God, saying, “I know that you are already mine! I love you so much that even when you leave me again and again and return to your ways, I will search for you, I will find you, and I will pay the cost to have you back to me!” 

“I don’t know Noah. You think that shows a “great cost”? I mean, it was less than the price of a slave.” Ok. Fair enough. How about this… 

16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

John 3:16 

Though Hosea obeyed God, showing gomer the deep love and faithfulness of God, in the long run, Israel still was Israel. And so, God did it a second time. But this time it was not with the price of a slave; but rather the price of a King. But not just any king. God’s personified love was found in the person and teaching of Jesus who came from above. Who suffered a horrendous death and sacrifice as a means to usher you into a true revelation and encounter of God’s “garden” love. 

Many have experienced this love. They are experiencing all of it through Jesus and their lives are being transformed becoming holy, free from the pain and delusion of sin. But for many others, we are still trapped living as spiritual orphans and slaves This was the message Jesus told them again and again about the father’s love. But many didn’t get it. 

I leave you with this: God loves you. There is no sin too large for God to forgive. No life too far gone for him to redeem. His love for you has never changed. We have. Remember that the true love of God—divine love– will lead to new life characterized by repentance, holiness, and pure joy in him. A life shaped by the kingdom of God and his Son Jesus.

And so, 

Hosea went to find his bride. 

God sent Jesus to find his bride. 

In both cases, the bride was found. 

But for you and I, the question remains, “will we be found by God?” Stop running. Surrender to the love of God and begin to form habits that reciprocate that love: prayer, scripture, and meditating on the love of God. And I promise you. Your life will never be the same.

Amen? 

Amen.

Am I Called? Burdened? Anointed?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Praying in the Fog

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

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

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

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

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

Just Be Faithful

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

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

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

Missio Dei: Latin for “Mission of God”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blessings+

Leadership Matters

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gardening, Growth, and the Bible

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

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

In Death Comes Life

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

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

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

What in Us Must Die?

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

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

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

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

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

A Haunting Question for the Jesus Follower

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Church and The Epidemic

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What should the natural ethos of the church be?

~ Reach people who are stigmatized

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

And here’s the saddest part of this story:

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

Well – no, you’re not.

You’re actually doing the opposite.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So here’s what people do:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Pastor Noah continued on…)

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

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

Well, then you can squeeze in and you belong.

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

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

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

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

JESUS (3) illustration followers.png

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

This is how you belong.

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

That is what Jesus wanted.”

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

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

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

Together, WE ARE HOPE UNITED.

Finding Joy in the “Test of Time”

Easy. Walk in the park. Piece of cake. 

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.

“being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ…” Philippians 1:6

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