John Stumbo Video Blog No. 30
January 12, 2016
Fear is a societal trend church leaders need to factor into their thinking, praying, leading, and preaching. Praise God we have not been given a spirit of fear but of power, love, and self-control.
Happy New Year! Good to be with you today. I trust you had a great Christmas. I have heard reports from some churches how God has used the whole Christmas season to see the Kingdom advance.
One of our Alliance churches here in the States saw over 400 people come to know Christ through their Christmas services. So excited! I know that that’s not most people’s story, but I do trust that you had a chance to glorify the name of Christ in such a way that people were drawn to the love of Jesus and that somewhere in the midst of all that celebration you had some renewal and rest for your own soul as well.
When I was a boy growing up, fear was one of the things that would grip my heart. One day I wanted to get on a school bus to go over to a friend’s house who lived on a farm and spend the night with him. I had permission from my parents. But when I got out and saw that school bus and all the kids on there, I froze. Fear gripped me, and I couldn’t do what I wanted to do. As I became a teen, I had it happen more times, where I wanted to say something, do something, stand in front of a group of people, and fear stopped me.
I became an Alliance pastor. I remember distinctly the moment when I had something that I wanted to say to a leader and fear silenced me. On that story would go too often in my life. I became a middle-aged guy and got angry one day and decided, “Lord, would You help me? If fear is the only thing stopping me, may it never win again.”
Now, sometimes, fear plus something is stopping us. Fear plus wisdom, for example. Fear is a gift to us to a certain degree. I happen to believe that the NO FEAR bumper sticker—the mindset of the day—is actually a recipe for stupidity, as it causes some people to jump from heights or drive some speeds that aren’t reasonable. Fear plus wisdom is actually a good factor in life, but fear alone is not a good guide.
Why did I open by saying all that? Well, very simply, this: As we open this year of 2016, I happen to believe that we as church leaders need to face, in our own lives, yes, but in the public, in general, the people that we lead. One of the dominate characteristics of our age, increasingly I believe, will be this simple four letter word: fear.
Some in the political arena are playing off it, maximizing it, using it to their own advantage. Others on a more personal front are succumbing to it, becoming smaller people because of it. And as church leaders, as we look at this year of 2016, I think that we need to think of fear as one of the societal trends that we need to factor into our thinking, our praying, our leading, and our preaching.
So with you, I believe a measure of fear is healthy. As we all know, the Scripture says that the “fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” There is this putting together of the ideas of fear and wisdom. “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” And having lost a fear of the Lord in our culture, we have come up with many things to fear. I’m not just talking about spiders and mice and heights and public speaking. I’m talking about cancer, ISIS, the unknown, the future, economic recession, immigrants, the neighbor next door.
Fear has the power to make us smaller people where we resist change. Fear has the ability to make us less loving and narrower, less able to take risks, “stuck” kind of people.
We as a church, we as believers in Jesus have a message, don’t we? In a culture such as this, isn’t the Bible written for times such as these? Don’t we have statements in the Scriptures to say things like, “We have not been given a spirit of fear but of power and love and self-control”?
I love Hebrews chapter two that says that Jesus came to free those who otherwise were held in slavery by the fear of death. What fear is greater than that? The fear of death that actually, absolutely grips so many people in society.
Many of you know that since the last video blog, I lost my own mom. At 96 years of age, Mom went home to be with Jesus. Well, into her 96th year, Mom was living on her own in her own apartment, and she was doing quite well under the oversight of a couple of my sisters who lived in the region. But a few weeks ago now, she had the inability to get out of bed for a couple of days, which was unusual for her. My sisters finally talked her into going to the emergency room. After she insisted that she got her hair done and had lunch, then she would go see the doctor and see what was happening.
Well, at the hair appointment she collapsed. They thought she had died right on the spot, and she was having a heart attack. When they finally got her to the doctor, she had fluid in the lungs, a serious infection, dehydration, an ongoing heart attack, and a couple of other things, acute renal failure, etc. She was weakening quickly. She didn’t remember the collapsing moment. When they got some fluids in her and she revived a bit, they said, “Mom, do you remember that you collapsed at the hair appointment?” And she said, “No.” She hadn’t. They explained what had taken place and how they thought they had lost her. Her response, her immediate response was, “You mean I was almost home?” “Yes, Mom, you were almost home.”
No fear of death whatsoever. In fact, in recent years of her life, she had been preparing very specifically for this moment, letting us know the songs that she wanted at her funeral, who she wanted to speak, and what kind of arrangements needed to be made. Here with The Christian and Missionary Alliance, she had some annuities already prepared so that upon her death there would be some funds that would go to the Great Commission, the work of The Christian and Missionary Alliance. In fact, the very last check that Mom wrote, the very last handwriting I have, is to the Great Commission Fund. She made one more gift. So, see, everything that she was doing, she was preparing, because fear of death had been stripped from her. That just wasn’t her storyline; she was ready to go home to be with Jesus.
Now, many people have perhaps as followers of Jesus faced the fear of death, but even just recently, I have had people say to me, “Well, it’s not death that I fear; I know I’ll be with Jesus. But it’s the act of dying that I fear. It makes me nervous. What will it be like to die?” And my answer to that is we are not given grace in advance. We don’t have to have grace now for when we die because we are not in the act of dying right now, but I believe that our Lord is so close, so near, so tender that He grants us the grace that we need at the moment that we need it.
Some of you remember my story that I was in the act of dying. People have said to me after the fact, “I don’t know if I could have gone through what you went through.” And my answer is, “I don’t know if I could have gone through it either, in advance.” But at the time, grace is given as we need it.
You see, it fascinates me that the Scripture puts together two concepts that I naturally wouldn’t put together in my mind: perfect love casts out fear. What does that have to do with each other? Well, probably more, far more things than I have come to think about. But one very simple idea is if we know that we are perfectly loved by the Father, what is there to fear? Death? No. The act of dying? No. Life? No. Because He walks with us through life. Perfect love—knowing that we are perfectly loved by the Father—leaves us with no rational reason to live a life of fear.
Fear will make us smaller. Fear will make us more narrow. Fear will make us more resistant to change. And as leaders, I’m calling us to know that we are loved so the fear is driven out of our own hearts so we can be large enough people to lead our congregations and lead society itself through this era where fear is going to be a dominate cultural trend. Can we face fear dead in the eye in our own hearts? Facing it with the love of the Father so we have something to offer at a time such as this.
You have heard me say before, as a Christ-centered, Acts 1:8 family, we will love. But to love well, we must know that we are loved by the love of the Father.
I have been reading Nahum in the last few days, and I’m fascinated to see that Nahum preaches in a time of upheaval. It was a tumultuous time of world affairs where cruel powers were marching across the landscape, and Nahum declares many casualties, piles of dead, bodies without number, people stumbling over the corpses. And to make it worse, those who were to guard the people had dissipated like locusts in the sunshine. Those who were to oversee the situation were sound asleep. Yet meanwhile, God is not unaware. God is active, unfolding a plan of redemption. A God Who is good, a God Who is a refuge, a God Who knows, Who cares, Who is involved. Trusting in the trustworthy One, knowing that He is involved and active in times such as these.
You see, whenever we act out of fear, we are going to do things that are smaller, lesser. We are going to make poor decisions. Whenever fear is our driving force, our impetus, we are not going to reflect the God Who is involved, the God Who is in control. Whenever fear is the primary thing driving us, we are not going to act in love.
What I see in 2016 and beyond is a society that recoils into self-preservation. Self-preservation will increasingly be a pursuit of a society that is driven by fear. Can I ask us to live above it and lead above it? You have not been given the spirit of fear. You—we—have been given a spirit of power, of love, and self-control. Power to do that which we could not otherwise do. Love to care about people we would not otherwise care about. Self-control to say “no” to things that would otherwise dominate us. Fear being one of them.
This will likely be a year of upheaval, endless debates, and all kinds of headlines. What will our response be? Both in here and among the people we serve?