John Stumbo Video Blog No. 35
June 12, 2016
John shares two additional reflections from his time in Indonesia (see Video Blog No. 34). In the first, he engages the question: “How often has the form of our message of Jesus to the world become an obstacle?” John also shares an insight from John 13, which inspired him to perform an intimate act of service at the Indonesia National Church Conference.
Hey team, last month I was in Indonesia and had too many stories to tell to get into one blog. So, I am back again today to tell more. One under-told story is of a Bible project.
The Bible has been translated in Indonesian for many years and has been well received by the Christian community. But the majority population is Islamic and have not viewed our copy of the Scriptures as a holy book because of the way that it has been presented.
Our team has assisted in this project, where they ask the question, “How (can the Scripture) be more presentable to the local population? So through simple methods, such as using Arabic forms of names, using the Hebrew and Greek text along with the Indonesian text—through simple methods like this, without changing the message or content of the Scripture, they have been able to present it in a manner that is now surprisingly well received. And 130,000 copies of the Scripture are now in print and distribution.
That was the story that was in the back of my mind as I shared this principle [while in Thailand].
Our team here gave me this gift (a knife), beautifully crafted, nuanced with designs from the local people group. As I received it, I assumed it was a weapon of war, but I soon realized that it’s actually a tool of harvest. This isn’t designed to shed blood, as much as it is to cut bamboo, harvest bananas, to be a utility kind of device. I’ve seen these kinds of things strapped on the sides of workers heading out to the field, the blue-collared type of individual.
Earlier in the day before I was given this, I had been on a three-hour train ride through the mountains, to travel from one of our points of ministry to another. To my delight the tracks led me through various stages of rice production—from fallow fields to first planting, to full harvest, to beating of the stocks, to the drying of the grain. I had glimpsed an isolated worker ankle deep in muddy water, squatting low to cut the stocks with a little different shape than this, the device they use, but tools that were made for harvest, not war.
This is no weapon of war. This is a tool of harvest.
Certainly, certainly, in moments of desperation it could be used to hurt someone, but that’s not its design. Its maker wanted to feed people, not to kill people—to put life into them, not to take life from them. Its danger is in its misuse, not in its proper use.
If you allow me to apply my metaphor . . . in our ministries, pastors, church leaders in America, how often in our zeal to take the message of Jesus to the world has the form become the obstacle? People never had the opportunity to reject Jesus, because they couldn’t accept the form the message came in.
Very often we interpret rejection of the method as a rejection of the Messiah, when in fact they never had a chance to see Jesus. It takes great understanding of a culture to know where the stumbling blocks actually are. And Jesus Himself is a stumbling block; He acknowledges that. The Scripture is clear about that. But let’s make sure they are not stumbling over something before they even get to Jesus.
So, as we’re thinking about ministering through our own local churches, I’m appealing to us today from Indonesia that we think in terms of: Am I so committed to a certain style, method, form, system that I have come to elevate that over Jesus Himself?
Because if anything gets in the way of Christ, it is no longer a tool for us; it has become that which Jesus came to the temple courts to clear. Why was there such passion? Why was there actually violence within Jesus at that moment, turning over tables, cracking whips? Because people had gotten in the way of worshipers who were trying to find God; people on their way to meet with God met up with obstacles. They couldn’t get to God because they couldn’t get past all this stuff that was in the way.
So may we be very savvy, culturally wise, going to great commitments sometimes, to make sure that the path is clear and the temple courts are opened, that people can meet Jesus for themselves and not have any of our religious obstacles in the way, well intentioned though they may be.
The second and final story that I want to share today is a very personal one. I did not expect to close my time at the Indonesian conference in this manner, but I felt that God was prompting me to do something I had not done before. I confirmed it with a few key spiritual leaders present at that event and then stepped forward in faith that I had heard from God accurately. I think that you’ll see a tie between the two themes—of a misuse of a tool in the first story, and the misuse of power in this one.
Hey team, I just finished up giving my last message to the church leaders of the Indonesian National Church Conference—very sweet spirit. And I closed the message with a thought that had never struck me before coming here to Indonesia, and that’s from John 13 where it’s very clear as you read John’s account of the Last Supper, that Jesus knew that Judas was going to betray Him. Jesus knew that Peter was going to deny Him. Jesus knew that His time was coming to a close. Jesus knew that the Romans were going to crucify Him, and He also knew, John says very clearly, that all authority had now been given into His hand. All power, all authority, was now in His hand. And the very first thing we see him doing with His hand surprises me.
So often if power comes into our hand, here in this world as human leaders, the first thing that we seize is some status symbol, something that makes us look important. The first thing that we would seize in some cultures would be a weapon to show how powerful we are. The first thing that some of us would seize would be money to show—look what I can do, look what I can own.
But the first thing that Jesus seizes is not some form of human power, a sceptre, or some show of strength. But what Jesus takes is a towel, wraps it around his waist, and then goes to a dozen sets of feet with the wash basin and water and washes 24 feet.
I asked for the candidates that were having their names be put forward to be the next president of Indonesian church, who will be my peers for this next season—one of them will be. I asked them to come forward, and I said, “I’m not trying to in any way influence the decision for who will be elected, but I feel that I’m to wash the feet of whoever the next leader is.” So the three candidates came forward, and one of them came in great brokenness, just sobbing and weeping at the front.
I’ve never done it before; it’s not like I do this. Gary Benedict had done it for me when I was elected president, but I had never washed anyone’s feet. That’s not a custom that I’ve been part of, but as I washed their feet the thought that struck me that I said to each of them was, “You are one of Jesus’ disciples. If you had been at the Last Supper with them, Jesus would have washed your feet. And if you’re appointed to be the next head of the Indonesian Alliance, please lead in this manner.”
That was very moving for me. I cried as I did that ceremony from man to man. Others gathered around; there were tears in the sense of crying. I didn’t invite the video team to be part of the moment, because I didn’t want to make a show out of it. I hesitate to even share it with you at this time, because it was a holy moment for the national church and for myself.
But in many societies, and the U.S. is not exempt from it, power is often associated with shows of strength—with demonstrations of wealth, with evidences of big offices, or lots of money, or controlling tendencies that [communicate], “I’m in charge.”
And yet, Jesus at that moment, [when] all authority has been given into His hand, uses His hand to take a towel.
There’s something fascinating about that to me, that Christ who has all power uses it to serve.
The point’s obvious. We’ve all had those moments in leadership where we had to make the decision. Will I come to serve you at this moment, or will I be served at this moment? Will I demand that I have all of the trappings of leadership around me, that I get to take control and make sure that I’m served, or will I once again use the authority that I have? We do have authority, we have leadership positions—we’re supposed to use them for the advance of the Kingdom of God. But the way that we do so is through servanthood. The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve and to give His life as a ransom for many.
I’m just moved by my time here in Indonesia; I want to be, to an increasing degree, the kind of leader whose authority is demonstrated through service. I will continue to look for ways that my life can be lived out in that manner. Not in some suit of humility, “Oh, look at me I’m washing feet!”—no, that gets ugly real fast. But genuinely lead through servanthood.
May it be so for all of us. Please pray for me and my life, that that would be the case.