Monday, November 16, 2009

No Man is an Island


"One Christian is no Christian."
--Blaise Pascal

The Right Question

Source: A Collection of Wisdom: Mulla Nasrudin
Keywords: paradigm, questions, priority, first, Sufi

Nasrudin was ferrying a traveler across a lake. As they spoke on various subjects, Nasrudin made a minor grammatical error. The traveler remarked, “You who wears a turban and calls himself a Mulla—have you ever studied grammar extensively?”

“No,” Nasrudin admitted, “I have not covered that subject in depth.”

“Well then,” the traveler replied,” you have wasted half of your life!”

Several minutes later, Nasrudin turned to the traveler and asked, “Have you ever learned how to swim?”

“No,” the traveler responded.

“Well then,” Nasrudin replied, “you have wasted all your life—for there is a hole in the boat, and we are sinking!”

Smuggling Donkeys

Source: "Smuggling Common Sense" from the blog, This Reminds Me of a Story.
Keyword: Sufi, paradigm, questions, blindness

It used to happen when Nasrudin was still young and his beard was still black and cheeky, before his pilgrimage to the holy city of Mecca.

Season after season, day in day out and even three or four times a day, he would ride his donkey through the toll gate up the valley. Time after time the customs officers would check his load, saddlebags and even his turban.

They never found more than loads of hay. They knew there had to be something but just couldn't find what.

This ploy continued under their nose, for several years, to the despair of the captain.

Many years later, the retired captain leaned over the table at the tea house in Aksehir, closer to the Mullah's now respectable white beard and asked:

"Just tell me Hoca, before we die in our old age and your skilled trick gets lost. What were you hiding? I checked you so many times and your donkeys never carried anything other than hay. What was it that you smuggled?"

The Mullah stared at him with his round innocent eyes:

"Donkeys, what else my good man?"

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Franklin Expedition

Source: "Derivatives with a Twist" by Alan Roxburgh. Roxburgh Missional Network Blog. Wednesday, 11 November 2009 11:10
Keywords: paradigm, shift, preparation, planning,

[Annie Dillard’s story, An Expedition to the Pole,] is about the ill-fated Franklin Expedition to the North Pole. Franklin left England in 1845 on two ships with a crew of 138 officers and men in search of the Northwest passage to the Pacific Ocean. Franklin and the crew knew they were heading out into unknown waters on a journey of discovery. The result of this famous journey has captured the interest of many since not one single member of the crew were ever found alive again. Their bodies were eventually found in shallow graves dispersed across the frozen Arctic land.


Clues to why this happened are in the manifest of what they took on the voyage. The manifest is a telling description of what these adventurers understood to be important and necessary for the journey. It captures the narrative in which they lived, a narrative that would destroy them because it made little sense in the environment of the Arctic. Franklin equipped his ships with a 1200 volume library, a hand organ that played fifty tunes, china place settings and expensive silver flatware. These early Victorian era Englishmen took their world with them. So important were these elements of their normal life in England that they only carried a twelve day supply of coal for their auxiliary engines, knowing the journey would last two to three years. So deep inside them were the habits and customs of their world which determined what they took with them when they abandoned ship to seek help. Bodies were found lying out on the frozen ice or in shallow graves with their silver beside them. Despite their brave commitment to explore a new way through the North West Passage, Franklin and his crew went with the assumptions of a 19th Century English world and it killed them in the new space they entered.

Here is an apt metaphor for what is happening to well intentioned people in local church and denominational leadership. The programs and techniques we bring with us to innovate mission-shaped life are like the china plates and library books that provisioned Franklin’s ship and shaped his imagination. The old binary opposites we create around missional change with their inside/outside, institution/organic, hierarchy/flat, and so forth, are like the familiar, precious silver on the bodies of those brave men lying dead in a vast, frozen loneliness.

Friday, October 09, 2009

The Winning Side

Source: “The Word” by John Ortberg. Christian Century; August 9, 2003; pg 17.
Keywords: kingdom, victory, “not yet”, battle, win, lose
Scripture: Ephesians 6:10-20, John 6:56-69

Jim Wallis writes that when the South African government canceled a political rally against apartheid, Desmond Tutu led a worship service in St. George's Cathedral. The walls were lined with soldiers and riot police carrying guns and bayonets, ready to close it down. Bishop Tutu began to speak of the evils of the apartheid system—how the rulers and authorities that propped it up were doomed to fail. He pointed a finger at the police who were there to record his words: "You may be powerful—very powerful—but you are not God. God cannot be mocked. You have already lost."

Then, in a moment of unbearable tension, the bishop seemed to soften. Coming out from behind the pulpit, he flashed that radiant Tutu smile and began to bounce up and down with glee. "Therefore, since you have already lost, we are inviting you to join the winning side."

The crowd roared, the police melted away, and the people began to dance. Don't go away, Paul says. Put on your armor and dance. I am inviting you to join the winning side.

Monday, October 05, 2009

Weighing the Children

Source: "Dressed for Action" by Dr. Ken Klaus, Lutheran Hour Ministries, June 21, 2009
Keywords: priority, first things, fundamental, treasure, important

Glen Adsit was a missionary to China. Accompanied by his family, Glen tried to share the Savior's story of salvation as quietly and secretly as was possible. Apparently he was not quiet or secretive enough. Glen was caught and he, along with his family, were placed under house arrest. After some time, soldiers came to the house and told him he was being deported home to America. The soldiers also informed them they would be allowed to take 200 lbs of stuff with him. 200 lbs of their own choosing.

But how do you pick 200 lbs of stuff? How to decide what would be left behind. Eventually, and not to everyone's satisfaction, they managed to reduce the pile of stuff to 200 lbs. 200 lbs to the ounce. Glen and his family, with their 200 lbs of stuff were ready when the soldiers arrived. "Have you weighed everything", an officer wanted to know. "Yes." "Did you weigh the children?" Weigh the children? Of course they hadn't weighed the children! For Glen and his wife, the children had been a given, the children had been taken for granted. In a split second the officer's question realigned everything. The new typewriter, the valuable vase, the precious picture, instantly became trash and were set aside. Bringing the children with them, making sure the children were safe, became the parent's single priority, their chief concern.

Saturday, October 03, 2009

Gift and Giver's Remorse

Source: "Divorcing husband wants kidney back," January 6, 2009, Illustration by Jim L. Wilson and Jim Sandell
Keyword: grace, marriage, gift, gratitude, divorce

When his wife needed a life saving kidney transplant, Dr. Richard Batista gave her one of his. Seven years later, when his wife filed for divorce, Batista decided he wanted the kidney back. Since the kidney was necessary to sustain his wife’s life, he said he would be willing to accept 1.5 million dollars, the estimated value of the kidney. Batista admitted the strain of his wife’s medical issues threatened their relationship at the time. He said. “My first priority was to save her life. The second bonus was to turn the marriage around.”

Medical Ethicists argue Batista will not get his kidney back, nor is he likely to get any money from the deal. Robert Veatch, from Georgetown University says the case won’t succeed for two reasons. First, United States law prohibits buying or selling human organs. Second, Veatch says donating an organ is giving a gift and there is no way to collect compensation for a gift even if you regret the decision later. Veatch added, ”When you give something, you can’t get it back.”

We can be thankful that God will never revoke His life-giving gift of grace.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Purpose and Ministry

SOURCE: "Know Your Purpose" by Margaret J. Marcuson. Leading Ideas, July 22, 2009.
KEYWORDS: purpose, identity, knowledge

"When Rabbi Noah, Rabbi Mordecai’s son, assumed the succession after his father’s death, his disciples noticed that there were a number of ways in which he conducted himself differently than his father, and asked him about this. “I do just as my father did,” Rabbi Noah replied. “He did not imitate, and I do not imitate.” (Kurtz and Ketcham, The Spirituality of Imperfection, Bantam, 1993) Fundamentally, leadership is having a clear sense of who we are and where we are going, and relating to our followers out of ourselves. The best leaders are themselves in their role, rather than imitating other leaders or looking to their followers for their primary cues. They know who they are and what their purpose is. "

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

The Lord is Near

Source: "The Lord is Near". Building One Another. June 23, 2009. Volume 8, No. 25
Key Words: Conflict, resolution, reconciliation

Do you know of Christians who disagree with one another? I know you do!

Writing the Philippians, Paul offers a word to Christians who disagree. He presses them to get it together and to do it with help from a friend: “I urge Euodia and I urge Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord. Yes, and I ask you also, my loyal companion help these women.” Philippians 4:2-3a*

Paul’s next four comments are often taken separately but they form a wonderful whole. First, after asking the women to reconcile he says, “Rejoice in the Lord always!” It’s a direct word to people who aren’t exactly rejoicing.

Second, he speaks to the spirit in which they are to deal with their disagreement, ”Let your gentleness be known to everyone.”

Third, he tucks this word in, easily skipped, with gigantic implications, “The Lord is near.” In other words he is saying, “Oh by the way, don’t forget, the Lord is near – near in location – close to you – and near in time – he is coming soon!” Christians in conflict often ignore this word! May the immediacy of our Lord’s presence motivate you to deal with your disagreements right now!

Finally is Paul’s famous promise about anxiety and prayer. While it does apply to any source of anxiety you may face, clearly it applies specifically to anxiety about an un-reconciled disagreement: “Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.”

Have a disagreement? Deal with it! Get a third party to help you. With a gentle and joyful spirit pray to and literally trust the God who is near!

With joy - E. Stanley Ott

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Breaking the Chain Reaction

Source: Planet In Rebellion, George Vandeman
Keywords: substitution, salvation, chain reaction,

“It was May 21, 1946. The place - Los Alamos. A young and daring scientist was carrying out a necessary experiment in preparation for the atomic test to be conducted in the waters of the South Pacific atoll at Bikini. “He had successfully performed such an experiment many times before. In his effort to determine the amount of U-235 necessary for a chain reaction—scientists call it the critical mass—he would push two hemispheres of uranium together. Then, just as the mass became critical, he would push them apart with his screwdriver, thus instantly stopping the chain reaction. But that day, just as the material became critical, the screwdriver slipped! The hemispheres of uranium came too close together. Instantly the room was filled with a dazzling bluish haze. Young Louis Slotin, instead of ducking and thereby possibly saving himself, tore the two hemispheres apart with his hands and thus interrupted the chain reaction. By this instant, self-forgetful daring, he saved the lives of the seven other persons in the room. . . (A)s he waited. . for the car that was to take him to the hospital, he said quietly to his companion, ‘You’ll come through all right. But I haven’t the faintest chance myself’ It was only too true. Nine days later he died in agony. Nineteen centuries ago the Son of the living God walked directly into sin’s most concentrated radiation, allowed Himself to be touched by its curse, and let it take His life . . . But by that act He broke the chain reaction. He broke the power of sin."

Love Your Neighbor AS Yourself

Source: No Longer Servants but Friends by Edward C. Zaragoza. pg 74.
Keywords: love, neighbor

"We are to love our neighbors as ourselves. This little word 'as' is very interesting. 'As' means identification or equality. So if we love our neighbors as ourselves then we identify with another. Their joys are our joys; their sorrows are our sorrows; their needs are our needs; their dreams are our dreams. If we are to talk about loving our neighbors 'with' ourselves, we only mean cooperating with them. We may just work with them. Thus, unless we love our neighbors as ourselves, unless we identify with them, there is no real imperative to love them. We can help them or ignore them. Either way, we maintain a level of distance that makes friendship difficult."

Ministry as Friendship

Source: No Longer Servants but Friends by Edward C. Zaragoza. pg 86.
Scripture: John 15:15
Keywords: ministry, ordination, sacrifice

"The pastor who adopts the friendship paradigm is not only collegial, this pastor also does not need authority or control to be a pastor. To be fully alive is to be vulnerable and not to hide or deny one's own feelings and emotions of others. This pastor relies not on personal power or charisma but on the Spirit. He or she does not flaunt moral duty but lives a life of "head, heart, and hands" for the empowerment, healing and growth of others. This empowerment may not be easily measurable, and it is not synonymous with self-sacrifice. Human beings who are fully alive give of themselves, but they do not give themselves away. They give of themselves by being in relationship, not by remaining isolated so that when a relationship is needed it feels as if something was lost in the transaction."

Skinny House

Source: "Skinny House". American Home Shield: Inside and Out. June 2009.
Keywords: malice, revenge, friendship, neighbor


Can you imagine building your home out of spite? If either of the legends behind it is to be believed, Skinny House in Boston must be the narrowest, most spiteful home building project ever realized.

The house, more than 100 years old, is directly across from the front gate of historic Copp's Hill Burying Ground along Freedom Trail in the city's North End. The residence is so narrow - just over 10 feet at the widest - that the main entrance is located in the alley between the house and its neighbor to the left.

Local legends agree that the house was deliberately erected to block the view from the house to its right. But the players change depending on the legend. One story has it that the builder erected it in the late 19th century to shut off air and light from the home of a hostile neighbor over a dispute. Considering that Boston's North End has long been a densely populated working class neighborhood, it's not hard to imagine unrest between crowded neighbors spilling over.

Yet another story pits brother against brother, contending that a Civil War soldier had returned home to discover his sibling had built a large house on his deceased father's lot, leaving the veteran with only a tiny parcel of land, presumably too small to build on. Bitter at his brother's actions, the soldier then constructed on the remaining sliver of land a house just large enough to block the view and the sunlight from his brother's abode.

While the debate continues as to the correct theory, there's no doubting the dwelling's odd proportions. The house tapers to 9.25 ft at the back, and the interior walls are as close as 8.4 feet apart. The home's most narrow interior point is 6.2 feet across, (close enough for an adult to touch opposite walls at the same time).There are only five doors throughout this four story domicile, with the living room and bathroom - on the second floor - one of the few areas separated by a door.

It is somewhat ironic that a house originally built because of friction has ultimately fostered a sense of cooperation. According to modern-day owners, if they have a party with at least 10 guests and one person has to go to the bathroom, everyone has to shift.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Brokenness and Redemption

Source: "Fodder for Pastors" inMinistry, Spring 2009. (excerpted from a lecture entitled 'The Shape of Colored Preaching in the 21st Century' at Palmer Seminary delivered by Cleophus J LaRue.)

Keywords: sin, salvation, liberation

The black church resembles the church of the future because the church of the future remains largely committed to the Augustinian view*. Most of the healing of brokenness in black life has come through an Augustinian understanding of the human situation. We are a broken people. We live and minister among broken people. Our homes are broken, hearts are broken, relationships are broken, promises are broken, friendships are broken, bonds of trust (even win the church) are broken. But that is why Jesus came. Something was wrong, broken at the very center of our existence. And we had not within us the means to fix it.


In our day there has been such a cheapening of the gospel, such a shallow pronouncing of the unsearchable riches of His grace, that if one were to give full ear to the popular preaching of our day you could come away thinking that Christ died just so that we could get a job, a car, and a house. But Jesus did not die for our material success, worldly gain, or creature comforts. He died because there was something seriously wrong at the center of our existence and we had not within us the means or the resources to fix what was broken. Thus, God sent Jesus into the world to bring us back into right relationship with God.


*Humanity is corrupted by the fall. We live by God's forgiveness and grace.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Believe Into

Source: Building One Another: A Letter of Encouragement, Volume 8, No. 11; March 17, 2009.

Dear Friend,

Dozens of times in the Gospel according to John we read the words “believe in.” For example, Jesus said, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me.” John 14:1*

Here’s an interesting thing. John wrote the Gospel of John in the Greek language and wherever we read in English “believe in God” or “believe in Jesus,” John used the preposition “into.” Believe into God. Believe into Jesus. The preposition “in” gives the sense of location or position. You are in a car or in a room.

The proposition “into” offers the sense of movement. We step “into” the car. We walk “into” a sanctuary.

Believing in our day is often limited to the intellectual exercise of affirming some reality. “I believe in God” merely means I believe God exists.

The New Testament understanding of believe is that we both affirm the reality of something or someone and entrust ourselves to what we believe.

If you are sitting in a chair, you believe “into” it when you sit in it! You affirm its reality and you entrust yourself to its ability to hold you up.

So to believe into Jesus is to both affirm that you believe Jesus exists and it is to hand yourself over to Jesus.

“But to all who received him, who believed in(to) his name, he gave power to become children of God.” John 1:12

With joy - E. Stanley Ott

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Radically Modest

Source: Uncommon Decency by Richard Mouw. Intervarsity Press, 1992. pg 168.
Keywords: modesty, radical, discipleship

"Sharing in God's patience means being modest in what we expect of other people. The need for modesty once impressed upon me in a dramatic way by the sociologist Peter Berger. At a meeting we were both attending, I made a statement--this was in my younger days!--that every Christian is called to engage in radical obedience to God's program of justice, righteousness, and peace.

Berger observed that I was operating with a rather grandiose notion of "radical obedience." Somewhere in a retirement home, he said, there is a Christian woman whose greatest fear in life is that she will be humilitated by being unable to control her bladder in the cafeteria line. For this woman, the greatest act of radical obedience to Jesus Christ is to place herself in the hands of a loving God every time she goes off for a meal.

Berger's point was profound. God calls us to deal with the challenges before us, and often our most "radical" challenges are very "little" ones.

Little Pencil

Source: Uncommon Decency by Richard Mouw. Intervarsity Press, 1992. pg 161-2.
Keywords: patience, grace, sovereignty, clay pots, humility, submission

"The Mennonites have a nice phrase that is helpful here. They say we are living "in the time of God's patience." For God's own good reasons he has not yet ushered in the eternal kingdom. God is presently showing patience toward the human race, providing the unsaved with the opportunity to repent and the saved with the opportunity to learn the ways of obedience.

My Roman Catholic friends also have a helpful saying. It comes from St. Ignatius: "God uses crooked sticks to draw straight lines." Even though we haven't yet been perfected, God uses us to work his purposes. We do not need to see the details of the Big Picture. It's enough that we yield ourselves to be instruments of God's mysterious purposes.

"It is his work," Mother Teresa told a Time interviewer a few years ago. "I am like a little pencil in his hand. He does the thinking. He does the writing. The pencil has nothing to do with it. The pencil has only to be allowed to be used."

Seeing What God Sees

Source: Uncommon Decency by Richard Mouw. Intervarsity Press, 1992. pg 58-59.
Keywords: vision, sight, kingdom of God,

"A few years ago my wife and I joined several missionary families in Haiti for a retreat. One afternoon we drove through the countryside in a Land Rover, and I sat in the back with the missionaries' children. Two of them were beautiful twin Haitian girls who had been adopted after they were abandoned as babies on a missionaries' doorstep.

As we rode along, the children began to sing Sunday school songs: "Jesus Loves Me," "Jesus Loves the Little Children," "This Little Light of Mine," and so on. I sang along until they started on this song:

O be careful, little eyes, what you see
O be careful, little eyes, what you see
For the Father up above is looking down in love
O be careful, little eyes, what you see.

The verses went on: "O be careful, little ears, what you hear...O be careful, little feet, where you go...O be careful, little tongue, what you say..."

This ditty had always struck me as much too negative: Don't see this. Don't touch this. Don't walk there. And as I listened to it in this Land Rover, I looked out the window and saw some fo the most desperate poverty that any human being could experience. Rows and rows of shanties unfit for human habitation. Malnourished bodies. Faces marked by despair and hopelessness. The sights and smells of decay and death.

Isn't it ironic? I thought. Here we are passing through scenes of horrible human degradation, and we are singing a negative little spiritual song about all the things that we ought not to be doing as Christians!

Then suddenly I realized there is a very different way of understanding this song. I had always interpreted it as a set of "don'ts." But it could just as easily be understood as a series of "do's." Be careful to see what God sees. Be careful to hear what God hears. Be careful to go where God goes...

Then I realized these children were singing about a very active Christiainity. These two little Haitian girls had become members of this missionary community precisely because that community was willing to see, hear and touch in a God honoring way."

Tuesday, February 10, 2009


Quote by Clarence Jordan...

Interviewer Scott Morrison asked Clarence Jordan, "What sort of advice do you have for people ... what is the best thing we can do to help the world be a better place in which to live?"

Clarence responded, "Before we can do anything, we have to be something. Our actions have to spring from our inner character."

Friday, February 06, 2009

Superman Don't Need No Airplane

SOURCE: "Bracing Ourselves" by Peggy Noonan; Wall Street Journal, February 6, 2009.

KEYWORDS: humility, foundation, ground, humble

"...I think it's like the old story told about Muhammad Ali. It was back in the 1960s and Mr. Ali, who was still Cassius Clay, was a rising star of boxing, on his way to being champ. One day he was on a plane, going to a big bout. He was feeling good, laughing with friends. The stewardess walked by before they took off, looked down and saw that his seatbelt was unfastened. She asked him to fasten it. He ignored her. She asked him again, he paid no attention. Now she leaned in and issued an order: Fasten the seatbelt, now. Mr. Clay turned, looked her up and down, and purred, "Superman don't need no seatbelt."

She said, "Superman don't need no airplane. Buckle up." And he did

We all think we're supermen, and we're not, and you're lucky to have a faith that both grounds you and catches you."