John Stumbo Video Blog No. 9
April 12, 2014
When disaster strikes, what kind of people should we be? U.S. Alliance President John Stumbo shares "preparedness training for the soul," while "ministering when the flood is still in somebody else’s backyard."
So hey team, I am here in my office today. Thanks for providing it for me. I like it a lot. I’m more accustomed to a pastor’s office, however, and I’m coming to you today as pastor to pastor. There’s times I’m trying to give a devotional thought; there’s times I’m trying to give a strategic visionary kind of piece as president of The Alliance. But today, I’m taking on a subject that I don’t think I have ever addressed in public before. If I were to put a title on it, I would call it something like “When the Big One Hits—Preparing Your Mind and Soul for When Your Story Hits the Headlines.”
A text would be Jeremiah 12:5: “If you have run with men on foot and they have worn you out, how will you race with horses? If you have grown weary in the land of peace, how will you handle the swelling or the flooding of the Jordan?”
You see, as I tape this video blog, I have personal friends who are Alliance coworkers at the Smokey Point Community Church, one of our Alliance churches in Arlington, Washington, who are ministering to the community that has been devastated by that horrendous mudslide.
I’m very aware that we have Alliance churches here in the U.S. that are in earthquake zones, tornado zones, fire zones, hurricane zones . . . that for some of you names like Katrina and Sandy are not just old headlines, but they are vivid memories. I am very aware that we have international workers that are ministering in increasingly volatile places. In fact, just last week, one of our international workers was interrogated by the local authorities for five hours and then told that he had five days to vacate the country.
I’m very aware how vulnerable we are physically. Our dear friend Rock Dillaman, Allegheny Center, just recently checked himself in the hospital only to have the “widow-maker” heart attack right there at the hospital, being told if he had come five minutes later, he probably would not have lived. He’s recovering well as I speak, but I’m just aware of the vulnerability that we have as human beings. Even with my own story and the story which you’ve heard of how rapidly, as a 47-year-old, I went down physically.
How do we prepare for when the story hits our lives? Whether or not you become a prepper is not my goal in this blog. This isn’t about emergency kits, stashes of food, or alternate sources of power. That’s not where I’m going. Neither am I addressing what to do in the crisis or how to respond when it hits. But rather I’m prompted to talk about good preparedness training for the soul.
This isn’t about being caregiving people for when the crisis comes. It’s about being wise-living people when the times are good, when the flood is still in somebody else’s backyard. So let me give us today seven thoughts to prepare our souls.
Number 1. Learn to accept help now. Learn to receive. Pastor, leader, some of us aren’t very good at this. 2 Corinthians chapter 1 teaches us to praise the God and Father of the Lord Jesus Christ, the God of compassion, the Father of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God. But some of us aren’t very good at receiving. We want to always be on the giving end. It would be a good discipline for some of us, as leaders, to simply receive a compliment and not feel like we must say two nice things back for every one that we were given. A simple “thank you” would suffice some days. At some place, at some point in your life, you are going to need to receive help. You would be wise to start now.
Number 2. Don’t obscure today’s sun with tomorrow’s cloud. Many people have said to me in the last few years, “I don’t know if I could have gone through what you went through.” And my answer back is, “I don’t know if I could have either.” You see, grace is something that is given to us at the moment that it is needed; grace is rarely advanced to us. Hebrews 4 teaches us, “Let us approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in our time of need.”
Number 3. Begin to recognize the voice of fear in your daily life, seeing it as an opportunity to choose faith and courage. Overcoming daily fear is great soul prep for when the big one arrives. You see, the most courageous person is not the person who is never afraid. The most courageous person is the one who has been able to face their fears and determine that they are not going to win. And so to do so on a daily basis now is great preparation, “for you, my son, Timothy, have not been given a spirit of fear, timidity, but you have been given a power a love and a soundness of the mind.”
Number 4. Ask the “Why me?” question now, ahead of time. Work out your own theology, including your personal theology, ahead of time. Jesus was approached one day by people who were bringing up a current event where Galileans were killed by Pilate, evidently, mixing their blood in with the sacrifices, and Jesus says to them, Luke 13, “Do you think those Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? I tell you no, but unless you repent, you, too, will all perish.”
He brings up a second current event tragedy. “Or those 18 who died when the tower of Siloam fell on them, do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem?” We wrestle theologically in times of crisis. I’m encouraging us to wrestle theologically in advance.
Number 5. Remind yourself that safety and comfort, while understandable pursuits, are not the highest value of the Christ follower. “You are not your own; you were bought at a price,” Paul informs us in Corinthians. Just recently, I heard one of our international workers tell the story of years ago, when they were serving in Lebanon clutching a 10-year-old, excuse me, clutching a 10-day-old child, her firstborn, in the basement of a building at night while the bombs were falling, the glass is exploding, and the city is being war torn. She’s weeping, believing that this is the last night that she is going to live on planet earth. She awakes the next morning with her child. They are alive; they are healthy. They exit the building—smell of gunpowder, broken glass, war’s devastation all around them—and she arises with a new level of confidence and commitment. Her life is in God’s hands. She will serve all of her days in God’s hands, and comfort and safety were never the goal in the first place.
Number 6. Enjoy the fact that our God sees His way perfectly well through the dark. Psalm 74 tells us another story of a current event crisis, where raiders, thugs, terrorists have come into the temple of God with hatchets, axes, torches, and have destroyed the temple. Psalm 74 wrestles with that scene and with where was God in all that? And then the psalmist takes us to an interesting place, 74:15—“It was you who opened up springs and streams”—we like that, the God of abundances—“you dried up the ever flowing rivers”—the God of drought. “The day is yours and yours also the night. You establish the sun and the moon. It was you who set all the boundaries of the earth you made both the summer and winter.”
Are you hearing it? The psalmist is contrasting both abundance and drought, day and night, sun and moon, summer and winter. Too much American theology is the God of the daytime only. But this passage and many others teach us that our God is bigger than that. Our God is big enough for any tragedy that’ll enter your community, that will enter your home, that will enter your body. Our God’s bigger.
And Number 7, lastly. Have confidence before the crisis that someday as you look back on the crisis, you’ll have deep appreciation for the crisis. I don’t want to understate the pain and grief brought on by our tragedies. I think I have been quite familiarized with suffering myself. But Christians, unlike the unbelieving world, have the rare privilege of looking back on our difficult experience with rare gratitude, because so much beauty arose from it.
We are people of the Resurrection. To use words from Peter Marshall, “We have a Christ who knows His way out of the grave. We have a Christ who outlives his pallbearers. Let us never live another day as if He were dead.” Ours is a gospel that redeems suffering. Suffering is not a senseless dead end but a crossroads, a crossing of heaven and earth.
We are Resurrection people, people of life, people of hope, no longer fear-bound, clinging to safety and comfort as our highest values. Instead, we have a Savior to turn to—One who is able to change us from the inside out as our Sanctifier so that the embittering power of crises doesn’t take root in our hearts. We have the healing Christ, who is able to bring new life in and out of these crises. And, yes, you know the returning Christ, who will someday come to bring about the new heaven and the new earth.
So, Jeremiah, what do you do? What hope do you have when you are enrolled in that horse race and when the flood tides come? Ah, the hope that you have is that your God is a God who is able to increase your capacity so that you don’t face that moment just in your own strength. No, you face that moment with the grace and the power of our God Himself.
So my friends, as many of you have the pleasure, privilege, of preaching during this Easter season—I’m jealous; love preaching this time of year—may God’s anointing be upon you to express the joy of the Resurrection of Christ. Yes, this is a broken and difficult world. Yes, Good Friday is part of our story. But it doesn’t end there. Resurrection comes. Joy comes. God bless you as you preach. Thank you.