A Stained Beauty – John Stumbo Video Blog No. 87

October 12, 2020

12:57

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John discusses a new resource that will soon be available to help us rethink what it is to be the Church.

Transcript

John Stumbo: Hello, Alliance family. Recently, pastors Shawn and Ric at Daybreak Church in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania, interviewed me about a book that’s going to be released next month called A Stained Beauty. It’s on the churches ancient and present. I’m excited about it. And today’s video blog is an excerpt from that interview that they use for their Sunday service.

Shawn Andrews: So, we’re really excited today to come together over Zoom and get to do an interview with John Stumbo today. John, thank you for taking some time out of your day for being willing to talk to us about your book. And this whole thing in Stained Beauty has been a really beautiful series for us, and we appreciate you taking time for us.

John: Well, hello Daybreak and thanks to you guys for letting me crash the service today. This is fun.

Ric Jacobs: John, when you think about your inspiration to write the book, what were the circumstances that led up to you saying, I want to write this book about the New Testament Church?

John: Well, oddly enough I was in the country of Greece at the moment, speaking to a team of missionaries who had come in from places like Russia. And we were having a conference, and this is the first time in my life that I was in the place where Paul would have possibly walked some of those hills or floated on some of those waters. And I had an afternoon free, and I opened up my laptop. And sometimes when I write I don’t really know what I’m writing for; I just need to get something out of my heart. And so I sat down and I wrote about 1,800 words and then I sat back and said, “Oh no!” And I slapped my laptop lid down and said, “I just wrote the introduction to a book that I never planned on writing.”

I felt like God was saying, “This thing called the Church is my idea; it’s beautiful, it’s a mess all at the same time. I have a plan for Her; I have a purpose for Her. She messes it up over and over, but I’m not done.” And so, this stained beauty, this glorious mess, this fascinating thing called the Church . . . And then I realized, Well I’ve never read a book or seen a book that walks through one church at a time. So, I got an assignment that day.

Ric: Were there some “ahas!” for you or some surprises for you when you began to study?

John: One of them was this whole idea of power in the church in Philippi. There’s . . . Luke writes in so much about power in that story and how it made me reflect on how we’ve misused that from time to time in Church history and in local church settings. And my grief, my true grief, for those who have been the recipient of religion gone mad, religion gone bad, the clergy conducting themselves poorly, or some form of the church controlling a situation in such a way that is not for the good of the people, but it’s for the benefit of a particular individual. And I grieve over that. And as the representative of evangelical Christianity at this moment in America, can I look at somebody and say, “I’m sorry if we have taken advantage in some way or misused in some way.”

Ric: That’s right.

John: At the same time there is this delightful story being written in the Philippian church and how the gospel takes root and whole family units and entire families come to faith in Christ. And so, minds are changed and generations are changed. People that were in bondage now have hope and people that were ready to commit . . . one guy ready to commit suicide now has a reason to live and on the story goes in Philippi. And I get over to Colossians, and I’m fascinated by how the church wasn’t just an independent isolated group of people trying to figure it all out for themselves.

But I think you call yourselves a family on mission, and here they realize that their mission had to incorporate other churches in it to be more effective. So, I started to put together this chart of . . . wait a minute, they were sharing money, they were sharing leaders, they were sharing teaching, they were sharing resources, they were going back and forth. There was all of this stuff going back in a day and age we had to get in a boat and travel a very long way in very dangerous conditions to do so. But they were doing so because they believed that the church wasn’t just Daybreak, as wonderful as that is, or Colossae, as good as that was, but when they said church they meant Church. And they needed each other from Rome to Galatia . . . on the list goes.

So, another “aha” for me was, this was a tough time to do the entrepreneurial, to launch something new. There were synagogues; there were temples; there were, you know, pagan places of worship; there were those kind of things. But something new was being launched in a moment of time when nobody was asking for it. The Jewish religious leaders were trying to snuff down anything of the name of Jesus and the idea of the Resurrection. So, there was religious opposition. The Roman government, the controlling power of the entire region at the time, was trying to snuff down anything of independence; anything that had a local expression they just wanted control.

And here were these scrappy people that would take the message of Jesus, go to a town where the name of Jesus is completely unknown, and within weeks there would be followers of Christ gathering together, assembling together. Somebody wouldn’t like it, they’d get driven out of town, and before you know it, it was popping up a few miles away. And they were starting all over, even though they had literal stripes on their backs from beatings that they had received. But on they went. And it was this passionate, forward moving in a time that wasn’t simple. There were complexities of the time.

Ric: Yeah.

John: And I got to think about COVID-19 and I got to think about all the issues of 2020 and I got to think about, There’s a lot of excuses for us to not really be the Church and do church and join church and engage the church. There’s a lot of reasons . . . We ain’t got no excuses compared to what they had back then.

Shawn: As I read the chapter on Thessalonica and I heard words that, you know, I almost heard your voice as I was reading those penned words about suffering and how that might be connected to your experiences. And I wonder if you just talk a little bit about that, because I imagine in the same way for you that’s really power . . . that might’ve been a powerful chapter to speak to people out of, out of your own experience, even though that wasn’t, you know, explicitly put in the book.

John: Yeah, sensitive question, Shawn. Thank you. There’s a form of Christianity that seems to teach that if you do all the right things, you’ll never have any problems in this world. And I frankly don’t know where that comes from ‘cause it doesn’t come from the Bible and it doesn’t come from reality. And you know, so like many of those in the congregation today, I had quite a run of health and things going fine for me. But in my 40s I found myself in a very compromised physical situation where I would spend 77 days in the hospital, a number of them unconscious, many of them in the ICU ward . . . and was released from that without any diagnosis.

Suffering kind of sensitizes us and makes us aware of various situations in life, in other people’s lives, and in the Scripture. And so, I’m studying Thessalonica, I’m seeing people who just had, had been opposed, opposed, opposed, suffered, suffered, suffered. And one thing that I learned in that school of suffering is it really doesn’t matter what door of that school you entered . . . maybe your door into the school of suffering was unemployment, or maybe your door was rejection from a friend, or loss of relationship, or death of a loved one, or divorce, or, or, or, or. . . doesn’t really matter what door you came through. But once we get inside, what we share together is a sense of loss. We’ve all lost something: loss of hope, loss of friendship, loss of trust, loss of finance, loss of security, loss, loss, loss . . . and the appropriate response to loss is grief.

But as Christ followers we have this fascinating ability to not grieve as those who have no hope. But there is this place where we can go that the world can’t go to, of actually entering into grief without it destroying us. But if you don’t have Christ, and you have a place of loss, you’re afraid to grieve because you don’t know if your grief will ever end. Will it be a bottomless pit?

But those of us who are Christ followers know that there’s a foundation, there’s a landing point, there is a secure place. And so, as we enter into that experience—wrestle through that grief, ask the hard questions—we know that we land on hope, we land on confidence that God is in there somewhere, and God is good. And so, this Thessalonian church suffered greatly in many different ways. But there is such a sense of hope in that church and such a sense of blessing being given to that church. God seems especially tender toward those in a place of suffering, and it comes out in that church.

Ric: One of the things that captured me even just in reading the intro to your book . . . I remember the first time I read it sitting here in my office and I just, as I was reading down through it, this statement which I think became the big idea of the book: that the church is the epicenter of God’s activity in the world and thus She is worthy of our full participation. What led you to write about that with such conviction as you, you penned those words?

John: Maybe another reason was I get weary over so many people hoping that something else will be the solution for this world. And so, the upcoming election is very important; I hope we all engage in it. But if our hope is in an election . . . The economy is in a very interesting place. I hope that, you know, we continue to figure things out, and are all able to pay our bills. But if our hope is in the stock market, then these things are houses of cards. . . They’re just, there’s a reason for them, I’m not second guessing why we have them. I’m just saying, if we are talking about the epicenter of God’s work in this world, if we’re talking about that which can make long-lasting permanent change in people’s lives, it’s the gospel and the gospel lived out through Christ’s people—and that’s the Church. The gospel . . . the message of Jesus lived out through the people of Jesus into our homes and communities and neighborhoods and the nations that have come to our neighborhoods—that’s the Church.

And so, yeah, so the epicenter of God’s work in this world . . . while other things matter and have value and create great headlines and draw our interest, and we should engage in them, if we’re not engaged within the local church, we’re somehow not mainstreaming ourselves with the heart of God. And if we’re just trying to turn the Church into something we use for our purposes . . . “to advance my business, to advance my political views, to advance . . . “ that the church is really just a mechanism, a tool to get what I want, oh, then I think we’ve missed something else. And so just coming back . . . the Church isn’t perfect, no. If it were I couldn’t be in it, but the Church is God’s plan. So let’s engage it well.

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