John Stumbo’s Video Blog No. 56

March 12, 2018


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John addresses the word “complexity” this month, specific to the increasing complexities of life and ministry that are converging upon the church and its leaders. He notes how Jesus entered a complex political environment, well aware of the complexities of spiritual warfare, and was able to avoid wrong conversations. To provide perspective on how to live in our complex world, John unpacks Matthew 10, where Jesus says, “. . . be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.”


Hey Alliance family, I’m back again with you today and today’s word is: complexity. I’m fascinated by how complex ministry has become. Whatever your role is—lay or licensed, lead or another role in the church, I’m just seeing this increased complexity in life and ministry that’s converging upon the church and those of us in leadership. I certainly feel it in my office. Don’t you in yours?

We’re grappling with issues today that are just coming from a broader bandwidth and with a louder volume than perhaps we’ve had to deal with in the past. Never before have we had so many questions coming at us from so many different angles. Both angles of social media and people showing up at our office, and text messaging, and all of the communications methods . . . I’m talking about those kinds of angles. But also from the cultural angles of, wow, gender identity. Kim wants to come to the middle-school retreat; she came last year as Steven when she was still a boy. We didn’t have to deal with those things a decade ago. The questions you get about, “Should I go to my nephew’s wedding; he’s marrying his boyfriend?” And on it goes with the kinds of things that are coming across our desks in these days. And that’s just the cultural issues.

There’s also the complexity of relationships and the various situations that we get into, whether it’s home or business or neighborhood or extended family—there are all these networks of relationships. I can’t claim that they’re more complex than ever in human history, but I can claim that the older I get I realize more fully how complex relationships can be. And so, from whatever angle you might want to interpret this word, my word for today in this blog is: complexity.

To a complex political environment—and understanding, well , better than any of us the complexity of spiritual warfare that is in this world—Jesus walked on our dirt and on our planet with a fascinating way of seeing through issues, of not getting caught up in the wrong conversations. Jesus had a fascinating way of looking a person in the eye. And when they asked the right question, He answered it but waited until the right one came.

You can look at the trial between Jesus and Caiaphas and Pilate. Follow up on what I’m thinking about there. He didn’t feel the need to answer every question is simply what I’m saying. And then He gave His teaching that actually gives us some perspective as to how we might live in such a complex world.

We could go to lots of texts right now. But at this moment I’m going to Matthew 10, where Jesus says “Be shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.” I find that combination absolutely fascinating.

See, shrewdness alone is quite ugly—the loan shark, the bad reputation of the worst kind of car dealer, the kind of person that’s represented by an attorney in some movies that’s just trying to undercut everything. Certainly not all attorneys and not all car salesmen are that way, but they’re often characterized as these shrewd, take-advantage-of-any-situation-try-and-rip-you-off-at-any opportunity. Shrewdness alone is a scary characteristic, and dove-like innocence alone is an unfortunate characteristic as well. The naive person, who floats through life seeing everything from a utopian kind of vantage point, with a possibility of getting taken advantage of in any moment . . . to an extreme, left by themselves, it’s a very awkward scenario. But the way Jesus puts it together—calling us as his disciples to both simultaneously—absolutely fascinates me. Be shrewd as snakes and innocent as doves . . . a biblical shrewdness.

Paul says about Satan, “We are not unaware of his schemes.”  Paul says we can be eyes-wide-open savvy toward what the scenes of Satan might be at any moment in time. Shrewdness: eyes wide open, street-wise, aware, culturally attuned to the kinds of ways that humanism, materialism, and various forms of false doctrine might find their way into the church. A shrewdness that is matched by a dove-like innocence, where we are able to conduct ourselves in a manner that actually believes the best in each other, that hopes the best. Love trusts, love hopes—that’s just the kind of love that we have; it’s the kind of spirit that we have that’s actually very positive. We don’t grieve without hope; we grieve with a great confidence that God is always at work in our lives and in this world.

This “innocence of a dove” for me describes a freedom of spirit, a lightness of spirit that’s not getting pulled down into the weight of cultural heaviness but is able to help us extend our wings and rise above it. Do you see what Jesus is calling us to, this fascinating intermingling of street-wise awareness, not being taking advantage of, or being duped by the enemy, while having a lightness of spirit, a dove-like innocence and freedom? Be shrewd as snakes and innocent as doves. Do you see why I would bring that verse to you in the context of the word complexity? I’m not naive to the fact that this is increasingly a difficult environment to be people who believe in the authority of the Word of God. That we are under that authority, His inspired Word, has been given to us not for us to dissect but for us to obey.

Yet, our spirit has to be alive, has to be free to fully engage with the people that are in this culture and to be representatives, not just of the content of Jesus but the tone of Jesus as well—as other authors have said.

So Alliance family, I’m coming to us today with the desire that we be the kind of people who engage in our world well, but uniquely as Christ followers—shrewd, innocent, serpentine, dove like. Now if you think you can do that on your own, um, I’m not even going to say “good luck.” It’s just not going to work. Again, as always, it drives me back to Jesus. That if I want to live in the world this way, I get to have You working in my life. It’s not me trying to figure this out, sort this out. Yes, He does use our brains in the process.  But, it’s about me coming to Him saying, “Christ, if this is the way You lived on this earth, I would ask You to live on this earth once again through me. Live this way through me, at this moment in time, so that my neighbors can see, so that my family can see—the people around me can see—this beautiful ability to walk in a complex world with a lightness of step.” Seeing well, walking lightly.

One of my sons came home one day and announced something that no living Stumbo, to my knowledge, had ever announced: “I’m going out for wrestling, Dad.” We were basketball, football, baseball, and tennis players. We had done lots of things, but none of us had ever wrestled. So I didn’t know much about the sport, but I was glad to go to his first match and watch him compete. It only lasted about 10 seconds. I don’t think I exaggerate. He was new to the sport; others were not. He was pinned immediately. In fact, his entire first season he was pinned every match. Season number two comes along, he says he’s going to go out for wrestling again. And I admired his dedication and said, “All right, go for it.” Season number two  . . . same song, second verse. Only it’s lasting a little longer this time because his neck muscles are getting longer as he does the bridge move to keep from getting pinned quite so fast. But winless and I think pinned every time his second season as well.

Season number three comes. He announces to the family, “Hey, I’m going to go out for wrestling again.” Now his brother and sister chime in: “Are you kidding? You’re like no good. You’re bringing a disgrace to the family!” But his dedication was there. He liked the team, he liked the coach, and he liked the workouts, so he went back for round three. Similar results happened early in the season. And finally, the coach and I both had a conversation with him (unknowing that we were both talking to him on the very same week). Coach was very simple. He said, “Stumbo, you’re too nice.” My approach to him was a little different. I used a Bible verse . . .  the very one I’m talking to you about today from Matthew 10.

“Son, Jesus talked about being both shrewd and innocent—like a snake and like a dove. You’ve got that second part down really well. You’re nice. You’re a big teddy bear. You love others. You’re innocent. I love that. But wrestling might be an opportunity for you to learn the other part of that verse—the streetwise-aware shrewdness part. A little toughness might enter into your system that might serve you well if you keep them both in combination with each other.”

Well, I don’t know whose talk helped him, or if either of them did, but when we went to the next match our son won the match. And I thought, Wow that other kid must not be very good. Sorry son, I wasn’t giving much confidence at that moment. But my son went on through the entire rest of the season and not only won every match, but he pinned almost every other opponent. And then he met the league champion. In the third period the league champion ripped off his headset, walked away. He was behind by about seven points and rather than being pinned by my son, he chose to forfeit instead. What had happened? Well, he had gone to practice every day, he had learned the moves, he had been getting stronger. But something else happened within his spirit. He got permission to fully be the kind of person that God had made him to be at that moment. And is that not a word that we would do well to receive? That there is something in the Spirit that He wants to give us permission to fully express.

And this verse might be calling something of that out of us—a lightness of spirit, a freedom to not get bogged down under the weight of complex issues, yet a savviness, an awareness to not be taken off guard. The enemy is always at work to steal, kill, and destroy. He’s always at work to undermine reputations, to take out your character, to take out your integrity. To have an eyes wide open, “Enemy, you’re not going to win this one because I know what you’re up to”—that fascinating combination. So in a complex world, Alliance family, I’m simply calling us to be shrewd as snakes and innocent as doves.


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