From Pastor John Stumbo
THE SNAKE STILL SLITHERS AMONG THE SAINTS
Haven’t we all attended this Bible Study? A few gentle saints circle with open Scriptures to find strength, insight, and intimacy with their Lord. Friendships are formed. Faith is deepened. The Word of God leads them nearer to the God of the Word.
We can picture the participants, can’t we? The preacher—with gifted mind and gravelly voice—has come to the study to be a student of the Word himself. The Bible study leader is a sister who wants nothing more in life than to please her Lord in all she does. It matters not to her if she’s known for little else, for truly there is nothing more. The local librarian has left her beloved bookshelves to study the Book she loves most.
A sister, investing her life for the next generation as a speech and track coach, has made time in her busy schedule to feed her own soul. A recent business school graduate—26 years of age—is present to ground his life in the eternal truths. The circle fills in with a recent retiree, an assistant pastor, a mother of four and, of course, Grandma Susie. Grandma, at 87, still sings in the choir and finds her way into the church anytime the light is on.
A Holy Moment
The Body of Christ has gathered in the name of Christ once again. According to the Word they study, Jesus Himself is present among them. If the word “holy” is understood as “set apart for God alone,” this is truly a holy moment.
Since earth’s earliest days, evil has slithered its way into holy settings . . . not to worship, but for warfare. Armed, dangerous, and with ill-intent, he waits for the moment to strike with venom. The earth is aligned with heaven when God is receiving the glory, but glory is the very thing the evil one seems to crave most. No price is too high for the pleasure of a few moments in the spotlight, the headlines. In its pleasure-making, evil drinks of the bloodshed, feeds on the fear it elicits, and gluts itself when hatred and revenge spread.
From the Garden, to the Upper Room, to a Charleston Bible study, evil arrives—often disguised as a valid participant.
How are we—the Church—to respond?
If the Church reacts with suspicion to every guest, we only perpetuate the fear evil seeks to induce, and we will shun honest seekers who are being drawn to the Light.
If fear wins, we all lose.
If revenge wins, we all lose.
If hate wins, we all lose.
If racism wins, we all lose.
The Church would be wise to be on alert. “Be innocent as doves and shrewd as snakes,” is Jesus’ word to us (Matthew 10:16). An innocent, trusting, welcoming, dove-like spirit should mark the Church. Yet we’re also invited into the street-wise, shrewd, eyes-wide-open savvy that the Spirit further grants us.
And the Church would do well to respond in another way.
We Must Grieve
The bodies have not yet been buried, the story is less than 24-hours old, yet someone standing in front of a media microphone announces, “It is time to heal.” I appreciate the sentiment. Healing does need to come in time.
But before healing—the precursor for healing, an essential prerequisite for healing, is necessary—we must grieve. This is not the time to focus on healing; this is a time to weep.
Grief is the godly and healthy response to loss. The Church of Jesus in America has lost nine more saints. The African-American community has suffered yet one more devastating blow. And at this moment, we as the Church of Jesus must share in the mourning.
We grieve that our country still evidences rotting remnants of deeply held racism. We’ve obviously made less progress than some of us had assumed. The Birmingham Church Bombing of 1963 took the lives of four school girls; this latest atrocity took nine lives. Has the heart of our nation truly changed? Or have we just pushed our prejudice underground for it to explode in brutal episodes such as these?
A day for healing must come, but that healing will be a more profound healing if we allow grief to carve its channels deeper into our hearts.
Yet, the Church of Jesus shares in a distinct form of grief—sorrow that is laced with hope (1 Thessalonians 4:13). The gospel of Jesus is a message of hope, for He is the Christ who grieves with us from an empty tomb. He is the Christ who loves us from an empty cross—our price has been paid! He is the Christ who opens arms to us, revealing nail-scarred hands. He is the Christ who alone will unite people from every race and culture. Hope-filled grief is unifying and uniquely Christian.
Let the Church Arise!
Evil is arising to drive an ever deepening wedge between the black and white communities in our nation. And this time, evil chose the nation’s greatest center of hope for reconciliation: the Church. So let the Church arise!
It’s the Church that must continue to lead our nation with Christ’s message of hope.
One of the most beautiful expressions of the Body of Christ that I’ve experienced is the African-American church. The grit of the worship, the passion of the preaching, the street-level involvement of the ministries, and the holistic approach of the message inspires and enlarges me. The African-American expression of the Church shakes and startles my Scandinavian caution, eliciting cracks in my self-made fortress that allow more glimpses of heaven to break in.
At this moment in American church history, I stand with my sisters and brothers whose heritage as earth’s citizens differ from mine, but whose heritage as heaven’s citizens is the same. I stand with them in grief, I stand with them in hope, I stand with them in prayer . . . and I call on our entire Alliance family to do the same.