John Stumbo Video Blog No. 31
February 12, 2016
Every good work performed by the Church is rendered worthless if we fail to love. A loving church is a patient church. A loving church is a kind church. A loving church is a humble church.
Hey, team! Good to be back with you again. Last month I focused on the word fear, believing that it’s a dominant theme in our culture, and used the verse “perfect love casts out fear.” I kind of see today’s blog as a continuation of that.
Some of you have heard me tell the story that I groaned when I first heard the word [love]. I had been praying for some time regarding the future of The Christian and Missionary Alliance. I knew He had called us to be a Christ-centered, Acts 1:8 family. But in this Jesus-focused, Spirit-empowered, world-evangelizing family, what were our priorities to be?
On a long flight, I sensed the Spirit saying to me that we had to start with one word: love. I was embarrassed; my pride resisted. After two years as president, I was going to stand before Council, announce that our first priority was love. It seems so basic.
I feared the response would be one large corporate “duh.” Yet this is what God seemed to be saying. Numerous Scriptures certainly backed up what I was discerning. Conversations with many leaders, especially young leaders, further validated that I was hearing correctly. So I proceeded down this path.
In the months since Council, I’ve increasingly spent time with the Lord, trying to better understand His heart on this matter. Do you remember what was on the Apostle Paul’s prayer list? Philippians 1:9, “And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight.” As its founding pastor, Paul longed for the Philippian church to have greater knowledge and deeper insight into what love is. He prayed that they would experience an excessive amount of this love. As its current president, I pray the same for the Church known as The Christian and Missionary Alliance. What would we look like as a loving church? Naturally, this has led me to reflect on 1 Corinthians 13.
For example, if our pastor has the best sermons and if we have the most talented worship team but we don’t love, in heaven it all sounds like noise. If our church is filled with activity and mobilizing the spiritual giftedness of our congregation but all the activity is less than an expression of love, we’re just a whirlwind accomplishing nothing. If we’re a sacrificial church giving extravagantly of our money and our lives but our extreme generosity flows out of something other than love, we’ve not benefitted anyone.
Too often in the church, love is secondary. We’re so infatuated with talent, fame, excellence, and a great presentation that love for people just doesn’t seem that important. We’ll overlook a lack of love if we like the program well enough. Love is frequently counterfeited by busyness or heroism, yet we can be busy or heroic for other reasons than love. Isn’t it surprising that words like heroism aren’t on Paul’s list?
Certainly love can be heroic. Yet when Paul unpacks love, he presents it to us in a much more ordinary manner, using words that can be easily overlooked. Words like patience and kindness. If our churches will abound more and more with a deeply insightful love, we need to take such ordinary words seriously.
So a loving church is a patient church. One way to identify a congregation that’s weak in love is that it retaliates in anger. Angry boards drive out one pastor after another. Angry congregants make life unpleasant for the worship team. Angry congregational meetings more closely resemble a feud than a fellowship. Angry pastors rant rather than disciple from the pulpit.
A loving church is a patient church, because she knows how loving and patient the Lord has been with us. Love extends to others the grace it has received.
A loving church is a kind church. Kindness is more than merely being nice. It carries with it the idea of moral goodness—good manifested in such a way that another human has served in a meaningful manner, often at some cost to the giver. Cruelty delights in someone else’s pain and loss. Kindness delights in that person’s well-being and profit. Did someone in our community have a better day, month, or life because they crossed paths with our church family? Do we serve for the profit of others besides ourselves? That’s what love does.
A loving church is a humble church. By humble I don’t mean a church that’s cheaply built and poorly maintained. Instead I’m referring to a church that isn’t envious, boastful, or proud (1 Corinthians 13:4). Would a church ever be envious of another church? Yes, sadly the comparison game is often played. Would a church ever be boastful? Churches that have a rich history but are now in decline are often blind to their own ineffectiveness as they continue to boast of their past.
Pride runs through some churches like the weary carpet in their hallways. Members feel superior over society and over other churches around them, unaware that their salt is losing its saltiness and must soon be trampled as worthless. The humble church doesn’t keep turning to their history or their accomplishments. Rather, they keep turning to their Saviour, Sanctifier, Healer, and Coming King. The humble church realizes that we need Jesus every moment, every service, every decision, every everything. The humble church prays naturally and frequently, because it wouldn’t think to try to run a program, run a meeting, hold a service, or do ministry in its own good ideas or abilities. The humble church knows its power source. We have God among us, or we don’t have anything. We abide in the vine, or we waste away.
So I’m reflecting these days of what love looks like in the church, in our lives. Then I keep running across stories of others in the Alliance family who are grappling with the same things. People like Kevin and Bonnie Oberg, our Great Commission Fund–supported teammates in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, Africa.
Burkina Faso just this last month received the violence of terroristic activity. The restaurant that was attacked has been frequented by our team through the years. The hotel that was attacked we actually had a C&MA conference field forum there at one point in time. The missionary from another organization that was killed, Mike Riddering, is a friend of many of our staff members. Our Envision leaders have taken teams to the orphanage and women’s ministry that has been hosted by Mike and his wife.
This hit our family in Burkina Faso very personally in the whole attack. Reflecting on these events, Bonnie writes something significant: “’Love your enemies,’ Jesus said. ‘Pray for those who persecute you.’ And this is when reality hits: we have a choice.
“It’s a little easier to love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you when you aren’t feeling very persecuted and when those who would like to harm you are ‘over there.’ But when it hits close to home, then Jesus’ words force us to make a choice: will I choose to love, or will I let hate reign instead? Will I pray for my enemies, pleading that God would open eyes and save souls? Or will I harden my heart and not care that they are lost for eternity? Maybe that is what loving your enemies means.
“We can abhor what they do, but does my heart ache when I think about what they are facing for eternity, completely lost and separated from God forever? They will never attain what they were so fervently seeking to gain. It’s not a matter of desiring justice. I understand that justice will come, if not in this life then in the next. However, this is not my personal battle; my sovereign God has that one covered. My battel is internal. How will I respond based on what Jesus has said?”
We have a choice. Will we make the choice to love? Another teammate a continent away has been wrestling with the same question. I close this video blog by using a video that was just produced about her wrestling match. And I close with a prayer in my own heart that we as the Alliance family will continue to make the choice to love.
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What is faith in these days of war and hatred? These day when terrorism is a normal word in conversation? When media forces the faces of both refugees and radicals on our minds?
What does faith look like when the countries of the world are mixing and mingling through immigration like never before in history?
Faith is a choice, a choice to act on what we know to be true, despite what we see and feel.
Thirteen years ago I was presented with a choice. My friend and co-worker had been brutally murdered in the Muslim city where we lived. Her martyrdom was unexpected and traumatic. Her life snuffed out by the very people she humbly and lovingly served.
As soon as I heard, I climbed in the car and raced down the familiar road towards the unknown. In that car ride, I was given a precious 45 minutes to think, to question, to pray. Forty-five minutes to make a choice between fear and faith, between hate and love.
At the entrance to the city that I called home, there was a huge mosque being built. And as we passed it, I found myself saying out loud—to no one in particular and yet to every listening being in the heavenly realm—“I will love them. I choose to love them.”
In these days of attacks and threats, we cannot be enslaved to fear. We cannot be bound by hate in a world that knows no different. God’s people have the Spirit of Christ, not the spirit of this world. We have power to exercise our will and choose a different path, a path of love, a path of faith. Not faith in the humans that surround us, but rather in the God who sovereignly puts them in our path.
I beg you to respond to the events of our world with a choice to love, to believe the Word of God over the words of men.
I didn’t know how that choice 13 years ago would be played out in my life. I didn’t know that I would live in Europe among Muslim immigrants. I certainly didn’t know I would have three children and send them to school next to a mosque. All I knew is that it was the right thing to do. If my faith in Jesus Christ was real, then I could love. It’s still the right decision when I’m tempted to fear or when I doubt the intensions of the Muslims who know where we live. When I encourage my daughters to play with their immigrant friends and when I pass my newborn baby to my neighbours to hold and play with. Every day holds new opportunities for all of us to live out our faith. Let’s choose to love.