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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

 

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.