Thursday, April 28, 2011

Salt and Light

As I write this blog post I find myself a bit tired; not by long and arduous work but rather tired by the little things demanding attention that I feel rob me of greater focus on those tasks which to my mind seem more significant.  In every redeemed heart God places, as a part of his redemptive work, a desire for significance.  Indeed, it was Christ who looked at those following him faithfully and said, “You are the salt of the earth… You are the light of the world.”  Salt and light make a difference whenever they are found.  Salt and light are significant, noticeable, impacting.  

Today is a day in which I don’t feel salty or bright.  Perhaps today is a day in which you don’t feel particularly significant in the role God is calling you to play in the consummation of his kingdom.  But it is on the days that feel dim and saltless that we need to allow our theology to convince us of that which our feelings cannot.  Our feelings of spiritual insignificance are rooted in guilt and shame that come not from God but from his enemy the devil. 

How many times have you thought that you weren’t a “good Christian” or that you needed to do more for God?  Most of us are familiar with those ideas.  Those ideas of a “good Christian” and “doing more for God” are rooted in the false thinking that our significance, our saltiness and light are somehow things that we are ultimately responsible for.  And yet scripture teaches us that our spiritual condition is not based on some kind of external activity but rather on the internal reality of our redemption.  The wandering and wasteful son thought he was no longer his father’s because of his actions.  But it was the father who puts a robe on his back, sandals on his feet, and the family signet on his finger that lets him know he never stopped being his son.

So it is with us.  You don’t feel salty and bright.  How you “feel” about that does not change the fact that Jesus has called you both.  You ARE the salt of the earth and the light of the world.  So you “feel” like you have wandered and squandered away your status as God’s child.  It is not so!  You have been adopted and you are God’s own.  You cannot undo that.

It is in our striving to be significant that we lose sight of the fact that we already are- not because of what we have done or will do but because of what Jesus has done for us.  The key to living in the reality of our significance is in the irony of being still and simply knowing that God is God and that we are his.  So I sit bleary eyed and tired behind a keyboard desiring to do more.  But the truth is I am salty and bright, I am God’s son.  And no amount of activity or inactivity can change that.  Praise the Lord!

Grace and Truth - Scott Castleman  


Wednesday, April 27, 2011

The Rock That is Higher

Building One Another- Vol. 10, No. 12 
Dear Friend,
What do you do when you feel overwhelmed by something going on in your life, in the life of someone you care about, or in the wider world?

Hear my cry, O God; attend unto my prayer. From the end of the earth will I cry unto you, when my heart is overwhelmed: lead me to the rock that is higher than I. - Psalm 61:1-2

You and I know what it means to have an overwhelmed heart.  I love David’s expression, “The rock that is higher than I.”  This is not just any old rock upon which we lean.

This is the rock that is above you and me.

    This is the rock whose size, stability, and strength exceed all

            This is the Rock of Ages!

There is none holy as the LORD: for there is none beside you: neither is there any rock like our God. - I Samuel 2:2

When your heart is overwhelmed, cry out to the Lord who loves you, and seek his face and his loving embrace.

King David explained why he cried out to his God, “For you have been a refuge, a strong tower from the enemy.” Psalm 61:3

Our Lord is your refuge.  Cry out to him.  Lean on the Rock that is higher than you!
With joy - E. Stanley Ott
Copyright 2011 E. Stanley Ott
 *Scripture from the KJV.
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Monday, April 25, 2011

Focus & Tenacity

Many years ago, one of my most influential mentors was asked by a leading Christian publisher to be part of the editorial board and key contributor to a new journal.  The purpose of the publication was to provide oodles of new ideas to church pastors and leaders on a monthly basis.  It was a flattering offer to my friend; but he told them, in his wisdom, that he didn’t think he’d participate. His reason was this: focus and tenacity.

My mentor went on to explain.  It wasn’t that there aren’t oodles of terrific ideas that can be circulated amongst church leadership people—nothing wrong with that idea.  But my friend told the publisher that it wasn’t more ideas that church leaders need to be flooded with, but tenacity and focus.  His rule, and one that gave him considerable success: Don’t embrace, don’t flit from one good idea to the next good idea. There will always be lots of great ideas.  What is needed is focus.  Lock on to one or only a few ideas, and then be tenacious. Stay focused, see the good idea through, and you may discover that you don’t need a continuous flow of good ideas.

Focus and Tenacity.  I suspect that many church leaders are infected, even victims of flitting from idea to idea.  They go to another conference and hear a plethora of fine ideas, but what really may be needed is to lock on to one or a few good ideas and see them through to completion. 

That’s what some of us may need more than new ideas - focus and tenacity.

Joyfully - Dale Patterson

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Momentum and Agility defines agility for the athlete this way, “the ability to change the body's direction efficiently, and this requires a combination of balance, coordination, speed, reflexes, and strength.”

I can’t say I am especially agile, although recently when a car pulled suddenly in front of me I was surprised how quickly I maneuvered my steering wheel to avoid a collision. Agility is a useful concept in leadership and organizations. It speaks to our ability to respond to changing conditions, opportunities, and obstacles.

One of the greatest challenges facing congregational ministries is their capacity to react to the changes in our culture and the needs of people in a way that is fruitful. It is typical for church programs of even the most vital ministry to essentially run last year’s programs over again. As long as those programs and ministries actually facilitate the growth of disciple-followers of Jesus and address human needs, the concept of momentum is a good one. The momentum of the ministry sustains its engagement with people. However, as the culture changes, people respond differently, have different preferences and or lifestyles then our momentum can work against our agility. It's hard to make a sudden right turn when you are going seventy-five miles an hour.

I spoke this week with a wonderful lady in her seventies who was bemoaning the loss of young women in her congregation’s women’s programs. She said, “They just don’t have the time.” The result was a slow decline of programming for women of any age. The momentum of that ministry was clearly centered on doing what they had always done. Now with women working as well has juggling family and other activities, a ministry for them needs agility.  It needs an agility that will allow them to show honor to the way they ministered to women in the past, while seeking new approaches, programs, and formats for today.

This leads to an interesting paradox in fruitful leadership – the ability to develop the momentum that sustains fruitful ministry while simultaneously having the agility to respond to changing needs and opportunities for ministry. When Jesus set out with his disciples on retreat, as described in Mark 6:30 and following, clearly there was a momentum, a energy about getting away. Yet when the people showed up, and Jesus saw they were sheep without a shepherd; he showed himself to be an agile leader and shifted from his original plan to address the present needs before him.

Some questions to consider:

How agile are you personally? How responsive are you to change how you do things in order to adjust to changing circumstances?

How does your church or ministry balance momentum and agility – the ability to keep it going versus the ability to adjust and change direction? How can you develop both?

With Joy - E. Stanley Ott

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Romans 16

At first glance, chapter 16 of Paul’s letter to the Romans seems like a chapter to quickly skim over.  It’s just a bunch of names!  But it’s worth our attention.  Paul comes to the end of his letter—a heavy, theological one at that—and concludes by sending personal greetings to many of the believers in Rome.  He mentions some 30 of them by name.  These aren’t names you’d recognize, in fact, most of them only appear in this chapter.  They’re not found anywhere else in the New Testament.

Paul greets people like Phoebe, Andronicus, Junia, Stachys, Phelgon, and Olympas.  None of which make any “most famous people in the Bible” lists!  Yet it’s clear from Paul’s kind greetings, these anonymous folks have made a difference in his life, and in God’s kingdom.

In a culture that makes a lot of fuss over “famous people,” here is a reminder that God’s kingdom includes a lot of rather anonymous folks just like us.  The names have changed over the years, but ordinary folks are making a difference for Christ every day.  People with names like Susan, Frank, Nicole, Bob, JoAnne and Jerry are faithfully serving Jesus in their homes, places of work, and communities.  God isn’t enamored with fame.  He’s about faithfulness. 

As a leader in the church, what are you doing to help the anonymous folks around you live faithfully in God’s kingdom?

Grace to you - Steve Ebling

Tuesday, April 12, 2011


Building One Another - Vol. 10 No. 10

Dear Friend,
As we approach the celebration of Palm Sunday I love to reflect on what happened as Jesus left Jericho, his final stop on the way to the trial awaiting him in Jerusalem.

The story in brief: “They came to Jericho. As he and his disciples and a large crowd were leaving Jericho, Bartimaeus…, a blind beggar, was sitting by the roadside… Jesus stood still and said, ‘Call him here…’ So throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus.” Mark 10:46-50*

When Jesus calls you go! And he is calling you – right here, right now – so go to him – open your heart to his voice. “My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me.” John 10:27

Bartimaeus’ story continues: “Then Jesus said to him, ‘What do you want me to do for you?’ The blind man said to him, ‘My teacher, let me see again.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Go; your faith has made you well.’ Immediately he regained his sight and followed him on the way." Mark 10:51-52

Bartimaeus is healed and Jesus says, “Go,” not to get rid of him but to send him back to a life of sight, light and joy. Bartimaeus was a free man and could have gone anywhere.

He decides to follow Jesus. I love that! While Bartimaeus is not mentioned again in the New Testament, one can only assume he was a witness to the unfolding events from Palm Sunday, the teaching of Jesus in the temple to his betrayal and ultimate resurrection.

When Bonhoeffer spoke of discipleship he used this language: “When Jesus calls a person to follow, he bids him come and die.”

Bartimaeus would have seen first hand and early in his following of Jesus the deep suffering and highest joy that would follow.  May you and I love the Lord who loves us and follow him wherever he would lead.
With joy - E. Stanley Ott
Copyright 2011 E. Stanley Ott
*Scripture from the NRSV

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Seeing New Possibilities

While in South Africa, my wife and I spent a week visiting the JLZwane Presbyterian Church in Guguletu.  The pastor there, Rev. Spiwo Xapile, had begun a ministry that, in hindsight, doesn’t seem all that trendy, or fresh, or whatever new things are called in the Church today.  And yet, it is incredibly effective.

Here it is:
  • Gather pastors together for several days,
  • Ask them to articulate their faith journey -  including their struggles and joys, both personally and as a pastor
  • Then, in a time of mutual discernment, and in the midst of much discussion; ask them to pray to the Holy Spirit to reveal the next “Chapter” in their lives.

What Rev. Xapile had realized was that pastors in South Africa were defined by their past to the point of being hostage to it.  The issues they faced  -  Apartheid, HIV/AIDS, poverty, and the frustration, anger, and pain these things engendered, blinded them to the new life the Lord was calling them into as both a brother of Christ and leader of His Church. 

Rev. Xapile's work has proved fruitful in helping pastors create a space in which the Lord can help them write the next chapter in their personal life and ministry.  Instead of the next chapter being almost entirely determined by haunts from the past, new possibilities are revealed.  
It has become clear to me, that for pastors and elders in our churches, the Acts 16:5 Initiative can be an effective “space” for helping to hear the Lord and to recognize the next chapter in our personal lives and ministries.   It is a process that puts meat on the bone for so many pastors, who contemplate their lives and ministries and really have no idea what to do next. 

I recently visited a Presbyterian Church that was thriving at levels I honestly had no idea were possible within the PCUSA.  I mean, this place is going bonkers.  People’s lives are being transformed by the grace of Jesus.  Being there, opened my eyes to the possibilities for the next chapter in my own ministry. 

Likewise, Acts 16:5 can be the process that begins to open our eyes to new possibilities.

With Grace - Chris Bullock

Tuesday, April 5, 2011


Momentum is a powerful word. It’s all about oomph! 

You may (or may not) remember the formal definition of momentum from high school physics.  Momentum is a way of expressing something’s level of energy.  I learned the meaning of momentum in a rather more direct way.  When I was in college I was on a crew that mowed county parks and the median strips. One day I was standing by our truck when a huge self-powered mower rolled off the back of the truck before I could get out of the way. Believe me, when I put a hand up to stop it, I learned all about the concept of momentum! I only survived, because the handle bars were curved and created a space between the mower and the ground where I was trapped but alive!

So, one way to think about momentum is to ask, “What does it take to stop something?”  Church programs that have been in operation a long time, much like long-standing personal habits, have a lot of momentum. They aren’t easy to stop or change.

The concept of momentum has a positive application in the world of congregations and of various ministries.  A congregation in its entirety, or any individual church program such as a ministry to women or men or children, has some level of momentum, some degree of energy, and impact.  Such a program or congregation may have an increasing momentum as it grows in magnitude of fruitfulness, a decreasing momentum as its energy slowly dissipates, or a constant momentum as it keeps chugging along.

I find it helpful to think of momentum in two parts:  institutional momentum and transformational momentum.

Institutional momentum is the tendency of an organization to keep on going.  Congregations have a tremendous amount of institutional momentum.  Like the flywheel concept Jim Collins refers to in his book Good to Great, once it gets going it has a way of keeping going.  Even congregations that are losing membership, dealing with aging facilities, and diminishing impact in their communities are hard to stop!  Like the Energizer Bunny they just keep going and going- even if that “going” is a slow decline.  Of course, healthy congregations that are growing and thriving also have an institutional momentum that helps sustain their work.

Transformation is all about change.  A congregation with a positive transformational momentum isn’t static just doing the same things over and over; but it is developing with new initiatives, new approaches, new ideas even as it finds ways to show honor and dignity to the people and programs of the past and present. A congregation (or any ministry) with a positive transformational momentum is making a sustained impact in its community and world with the word and deed of the gospel.

Ministry is exciting when the momentum is growing - the degree to which our ministries increase in transformational fruitfulness (the degree to which we are making a helpful difference in people’s lives as they grow in the image of Jesus) and missional momentum (the degree to which we are reaching people in our community and world with the word and deed of the gospel).

By the way, institutional momentum can work against transformational momentum, and it can work for it.  If the organization, be it congregation, individual ministry, or denominational judicatory, is stuck in neutral, committed to maintaining its present structure and approaches, then little that is genuinely transformational and missional in focus is likely to germinate.  On the other hand, the institutional momentum sustains “transformissional” momentum once a ministry:
  • embraces the transformational and the missional, 
  • has permission-giving leadership,  
  • desires to change lives, 
  • vision to engage its world, and 
  • the missional and transformational focus is part of the DNA of the leadership and structure of the organization.  
The door to new adventure stays open!

Some questions to consider:

What is the nature of your ministry’s momentum - increasing, declining, staying the same?

What is the result of that momentum in the lives of people?

With Joy - E. Stanley Ott