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April 2009

If Some Things Have Ultimate Value

Bear with me as I meditate on the meaning of the treasure in the field and the pearl of great price. I am preaching on this very simple and profound passage tomorrow.  My thoughts have led me down several paths to a place of focus.

If there is ultimate value in the world than that value has implications.

Those implications are found in the changes that come to our lives as a result.

If I believe that something is "ultimate concern" (Paul Tillich's definition of faith and religion), then I must rethink all of my other concerns.

" ... ultimate concern was always my main concern," Tillich said in the interview I am posting. He was misunderstood because he used the language, "God is dead," while referring to traditional views of God. What he believed about God himself was somewhat unclear. Tillich found it necessary to articulate his commitments in unorthodox ways.

The problem of "what's the meaning of my life," was the driving force behind his own seeking and thought. While he came to different conclusions than I would, he raised questions that continue to challenge us to do something about the treasures we find in the field and those pearls of great price for which we sell all in order to gain what we see as most valuable.

What I declare as ultimate concern in my life is the Kingdom of God as embodied in and taught by Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ.

You may be on a different path. Perhaps you can still apply this principle of ultimate commitment arising out of ultimate concern. For me, the call is a clear and certain and the One making the call is real and personal.

So, what do I do? What must I do?

If I truly believe, as I do, that I have found the greatest treasure, I cannot honestly walk away from it unscathed and unaltered.

If I rethink everything, then I must rethink with an eye toward reorientation. If my orientation changes, it affects the view of everything else in my view. What was primary becomes peripheral. Some things simplly fade into a dark background.

The reorientation, as implied, grows out of a refocus. The eye on the prize for a person of faith is an eye on the person who is "the Other." This "Other" is Holy/Wholly Other." (See Rudolph Otto - "The Idea of the Holy")The "Other" is different from us and that uniqueness impresses us into reverence. But this "Other" in the gospels is also one of us and, in leaving us, sends yet another to walk alongside us as Spirit and guide.

Tillich says that the most convincing evidence of any faith is the transformation of those who commit to it.

So, I refocus and that means I must reorient. What follows is redirection of the movement of my life, reevaluation of what is important, revisiting all my commitments of time, energy, and money, and restructuring all my beliefs and priorities.

Jesus said, and it is quoted in Matthew 13:44-45, that those who found treasures in the field and pearls of great price were willing to sell all to gain that one thing.

The great question in genie lore is what will you do with the three wishes if you have only three. I was told I was in violation of the genie code (though it was not stated at the outset) when I expressed my intention to first request unlimited wishes.

It seemed valid.

Whenever you have only a few choices you choose the choice that brings more choices. You buy the option machine. It is good business and it is good religion.

He said that the kingdom was like that.

Perhaps he calls the "narrow way"also the way of freedom and unlimited possibilities.

Jesus never proclaimed the Kingdom of God as being bad news. It was always good news. The bad news was all outside of that kingdom. His message was essentially and consistently positive to all but a few.

And those few were those who sought to impose religion from the outside and conform people into the image of God through coercion. Jesus taught transformation through the serendipitous discovery of pearls and treasures of ultimate value, concern, and joy.

He had bad news for the stubborn, for manipulators, and oppressors of people. It was bad news for those who refused to become like children, who saw reality and called it something else. It was bad news for those who, once convinced that He was the One, manufactured reasons not to believe. Doubters were welcome, even the one who said, "I believe; help me with my unbelief."

But change, Jesus knew and proclaimed, would not come through the oppressive structures of institutions.

Even when Paul wrote about conformity, it was a call and desire to be conformed to the likeness of Jesus. Conformity to the world, which is most of what we know in religion and secular society, is to be shunned and contrasted with transformation through the renewing of the mind.

It begins with finding the treasure, the pearl of great price that turns the lights on inside of us and compels us to divest ourselves of everything else.

I had posed the question: What are we willing to lose in order to gain everything?

More examples of this principle seem to surface in the world of success literature that in the annals of the church, though some in the world of success are first and foremost, people of faith.

The tragedy is, if I am not willing to lose donuts to gain health, an impulsive purchase to gain financial stability, or a few hours a week to gain financial freedom, am I willing to lose everything for an invisible kingdom?

If the message of the good news of the Kingdom of God is true, if life change (repentance) is possible, if eternity is what is being offered, and if divine help in making changes to our desires, attitudes, and behaviors is available AND if I am at least somewhat convinced that it is true, how can I ignore that? How can I place it on the back burner? How can I consign it to some insignificant corner of my life?

If it is ultimate concern, it calls for radical attention.

Somewhere along the line, I became convinced of the reality and viability of the Good News (gospel) and if that reality began to transform and refocus my thinking. It has been the dominant theme of my life for decades.

However, I sadly suspect that I have yet to sell all. How about you?




"What am I willing to lose in order to gain all?"

The parables of the treasure in the field and the pearl of unspeakable worth all lead to the question.

Everything must go?

What does that include?

What is best?  What  does your heart desire most? Who are you made to be? What are you made to do? What is worth more than everything else in your life?

What is in the way of you becoming who you really are?

It is one thing to say that I sell it all and divest myself of all my other treasures. That I do in the most generalized possible way. It is a broad stroke, without any threat.

But then I start digging into the piles of specificity and it hurts to part with old ideas, false concepts of who I am, preferences, amusements, possessions, attitudes, and patterns of living. These have been my treasures for a long, long time.



Whether you are a faith walker or a just an honest lover of truth wherever it is found, there is a principle that can aid you in your journey. There is only so much you can carry with you toward your purpose, goal, and ultimate destiny. You have to let some things go in order to gain what you most desire and require.

You have to give up a great deal of good on the quest for the best.

For Jesus followers, this is the kingdom of God. For everyone, it is something and it is right in front of you.

The Kyoto Box Simple Solution

Recently, I have been fascinated by the possibilities of solar cooking.

The Kyoto Box is one of many answers to some really complex problems and it is so, very simple.

Read about it and the $75,000 prize awarded to this creative thinker.

Imagine this, it took the inventor a weekend to create the design for an oven that can improve the quality of life for millions of people for somewhere between $5 and $7.

How Big?

The question that no theologian can answer is that which Anselm ventured to describe:

God is, according to Ansel, “that than which no greater can be conceived.”

David simply said that by gazing upon the stars, he came to the conclusion that God is glorious.

Psalm 19

 1The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament sheweth his handywork.

 2Day unto day uttereth speech, and night unto night sheweth knowledge.

 3There is no speech nor language, where their voice is not heard.

 4Their line is gone out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world. In them hath he set a tabernacle for the sun,

 5Which is as a bridegroom coming out of his chamber, and rejoiceth as a strong man to run a race.

 6His going forth is from the end of the heaven, and his circuit unto the ends of it: and there is nothing hid from the heat thereof.

 7The law of the LORD is perfect, converting the soul: the testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple.

 8The statutes of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart: the commandment of the LORD is pure, enlightening the eyes.

 9The fear of the LORD is clean, enduring for ever: the judgments of the LORD are true and righteous altogether.

 10More to be desired are they than gold, yea, than much fine gold: sweeter also than honey and the honeycomb.

 11Moreover by them is thy servant warned: and in keeping of them there is great reward.

 12Who can understand his errors? cleanse thou me from secret faults.

 13Keep back thy servant also from presumptuous sins; let them not have dominion over me: then shall I be upright, and I shall be innocent from the great transgression.

 14Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable in thy sight, O LORD, my strength, and my redeemer.

How big is big? How vast is the sum of countless unknowns? How incalculable is this universe we call home? How small we are? Thank you, friend Carol, for sharing this and so many wonderful postings on physics, astronomy, and the sciences.

My philosophical and theological friends can get a lot of mileage out of this video - but hopefully not before simply experiencing the awe that it demands.

Sagan asks, "Who are we?" Science alone cannot answer that question. It has other tasks. That is our task.

He makes a foray into our arena with this profound statement, "The size and age of the cosmos are beyond ordinary human understanding. Lost somewhere between immensity and eternity is our tiny planetary home. In a cosmic perspective, most human concerns seem insignificant, even petty."

Then the motivator comes to the platform and reminds us that even within our limited perspective, today's problems and concerns will carry little weight given the changes that tomorrow will bring.



What is bugging you? How much power does it truly possess? How long will it last? Is it bigger than the cosmos? Is it bigger than God?

You know the answer.

Captain Richard Phillips: Underdogs and Big Dogs

"Greater love hath no man than this."

Captain Richard Philips was willing to  lay down his life for his friends.

The pirates off the coast of Somalia were fewer in number than the crew of the USS Bainbridge, but they had the guns. That made them the big dogs. Philips offered himself as a hostage in exchange for his crew's freedom.

Then, he was really the underdog. It was 4 to 1 and the big dogs sill had all the guns.

Richard valiantly attempte escape and was recaptured.

The smart money would have been on letting him go because by now,  4 to 1 had been trumped by U.S. Navy vs. 4 pirates in a rubber dingy. The bad guys were now the underdogs.

Underdogs don't always win - especially when they have been parading around as big dogs and sticking out their chests as bullies of the high seas.

Noone rejoices in loss of life, but what were those guys thinking? Those ships had guns and they had something farmore dangerous, the Seals. Did they think they were negotiating from a position of strength? What did they suppose would happen if they killed the captain?

Now there are 3 dead pirates, one captain who is free, and one pirate in custody for a long,long time. Perhaps he is praying and pleading to be tried and imprisoned in the United States.

The Navy restained itself as long as it could, but the United States had absolutely no intention of abandoning Phillips or of being intimidated.

Sometimes when the big dogs pick on the underdogs, the really big dogs show up and finish things off. I am the last guy to spout a macho line or to be glad when the bad guys die, but this one really hit me between the eyeballs.

There is  a spiritual lesson here - many, but I don't want to be too obvious or trite - except to say- there is always a bigger dog behind the fence when injustice seems to prevail. Now or later, someone is going to open the gate.

It would behoove pirates and bullies to keepthat in mind.

On the Bainbridge,the crew cheered for their hero, captain, and friend who said that he was no hero - the way that real heroes always do.

Read the story.

Before That There Was Paul Potts

If you are a dreamer, be a doer.

Paul Potts blew them away as well.

There are so many examples of people who have moved beyond wishful thinking into the arena of positive action.

The road to success is risky and traversed only by those who will make themselves vulnerable to criticism and the possibility of failure.

"It took a flick of a coin to change Paul Potts' entire life. Heads he entered Britain's Got Talent, Tails he didn't. The rest as they say is history. The last two years have been an epic journey of incredible hard work and dedication."


Paul is an overcomer! This paragraph from his website describes some of his journey:

"Paul’s dream of singing began as a child growing up in Bristol with his parents and three siblings, “At 6 years old I wanted to be a vicar, I thought they had the best job in the world, being able to sing every Sunday to the congregation. I didn’t know about all the other work they did.” Bullied and taunted at school, he joined his local church choir and continued to fulfill his passion for singing as an escape from the playground abuse. Then, aged 16, he bought his first opera record. He fell in love instantly and to this day La Boheme is still his favourite. In 2000, Paul used his savings and winnings from a quiz show to spend three months in Italy, learning Opera and the language and realizing a lifelong dream, to sing in front of his idol, Luciano Pavarotti."

You have big dreams and gifts inside of you. They require action. You must do something.

Do it!


See Paul's story.

Paul also pays tribute to YouTube. What a humble and gracious guy!

Susan Boyle

Oh my! This brought real tears to my eyes and I am still tearing. I will watch this video again and again and whenever I am tempted to be discouraged by the derision of the crowds.

Chuck Goetschel posted a link on Facebook this morning and, at first, I almost passed it over. We were taken to the Britain's Got Talent contest to meet a sweet and delightful lady named Susan Boyle. I was blown away!

We are more than we can even imagine. This dear woman's confidence in the person God had given her to be just blessed me down to my socks - as did her inspiring performance. Susan Boyle is my latest hero!

Not only is she singing the song; she is living it!

I Samuel 16:7: "But the LORD said unto Samuel, Look not on his countenance, or on the height of his stature; because I have refused him: for the LORD seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the LORD looketh on the heart."

The derisive laughter of the crowds will turn to amazement, wonder, and joy if you will not be deterred by their discouraging words and looks. Keep moving forward in resurrection hope!


Embedding is mow disabled, but you can hear her at this link.

Contest judge, Amanda Holden called this a wake up call and said, "You said you wanted to be like Elaine Paige and everyone laughed at you. You have proved them wrong."

May it be a wake up call to all of us.

Read more about Susan:

Talented Susan looks to have the last laugh
Middle-aged ‘hairy angel’ wipes the smile off Britain’s Got Talent judges' faces

These songs have been lifting me to God today. May my offering to Him be received as worship.



I am looking forward to tomorrow.

It Is About Transformation

image from

"Jesus did not call us to be mad at sinners all the time. Until our communities come to notice our love as the predominant mood of our lives, I seriously doubt that they will believe anything true about the love of God or respond to His love."

I wonder sometimes if those who do not embrace the God movement as led by Jesus find the word, "transformation" offensive as if it means that we intend to impose some extreme makeover on them against their will. I wonder this because I like the term almost as much as I like the process that it describes.

But I understand what I mean.

Perhaps there are those in our ranks who do intend to impose our values and beliefs, but that is not true of most of the people with whom I hang out and alongside whose ministries I serve.

I think most folks agree, from the secular realm to the sacred that our communities need transformation. In touching the possibility of personal transformation, most embrace the concept that people are most fulfilled when they move from a negative outlook with negative, hurtful behavior to a positive stance.

That is our common ground and we do not compromise our theology by affirming it.

We believe that as churches working together and individually, we have a message and a presence that can help people and communities move toward the transformation that they deeply desire. That is what we mean. It is at least what I mean. There is something about the message of grace, sacrifice, mercy, and resurrection hope that lifts people who have been beaten down by life.

This transformation is not achieved by beating people up with the gospel, force feeding them the Word of God, or disrespecting their beliefs and lifestyles. Sometimes it is achieved incrementally. Sometimes it happens and we do not notice. It often happens as we work together with different sorts of folks in our communities and simply, authentically affirm that we come to the table because God loves people and has given us the capacity to love people and serve them in Jesus' Name - not as a means to an end, but because of we really do care about felt needs as well as spiritual needs of people.

I think most folks can sniff out an ulterior motive a mile away.

I also believe that by simple witness of presence accompanied by respectful witness of words, when they are welcome, that God is able and His message is compelling enough to apply grace to the hearts of people and meet spiritual needs without us being manipulative, dishonest, or overbearing.

If I don't believe that about God, why should I expect anyone else to believe it and respond to Him in faith?

I think we have gone into a defensive mode, desperately fearing that the church will lose ground if we don't address every hint of opposition with a frontal attack. Perhaps we doubt that God really does have a Kingdom that will come and  will that shall be done on earth as it is in Heaven. Perhaps we are so unwilling to suffer the slightest inconvenience much less persecution for the cause of Christ that we labor to create a society where it is safe to be a Christian.

The call of God is never to play it safe.

The word Christian was first coined as a title of derision and freely embraced by believers who were willing to be seen as-counter cultural and to be excluded, maligned, and persecuted.

If we are going to be significant, authentic, and effective as agents of transformation, we will have to penetrate our communities, be present, be visible, be odd and yet make friends and work alongside others who do not share our commitments. We don't have to compromise our moral values, our beliefs about marriage in Christ, or our understanding of the demands of personal holiness before God. But neither do we need to make them the principle focus points of our message to the world because that is not the message we have been given to proclaim as primary.

Jesus did not call us to be mad at sinners all the time.

Until our communities come to notice our love as the predominant mood of our lives, I seriously doubt that they will believe anything true about the love of God or respond to His love.

I think we are coming around to this biblical understanding of our mission, but we still have a ways to go. What we are about is transformation and transformation is not renovation. It is something spiritual and dynamic and if we really believe it is possible, we will relax a bit in our efforts to frantically manipulate our environments into Christian ghettos and realize that God is up to something already and He does not need us pulling strings for Him. All He needs from us is for us to be transparent, faithful, and loving witnesses to His grace and love.

Don't we believe that God is real and active in our world and in our witness? I do and that really speaks to most of my worries about living in a post-modern, post-"Christian" world with distorted world views and questionable morality. I am concerned about broken people caught up in all of that and I believe that is where God's heart is as well.

It is all about transformation and we can be agents of it.


Now Is the Time! Recession Is No Excuse for Recess!

Contrary to the human tendency toward flight in times of danger, these are days for entrepreneurs to venture forth into the unknown and strut their creative stuff. The time is right for new ideas, for niche thinking, and for bold initiatives by men and women who will not be ruled by fear or passing circumstance.

The very limitations, restrictions, and scarcity of our times that cause some to retreat will prompt others to think more creatively and move aggressively into the arena of invention and innovation.

In the midst of recession when the tides of prosperity appear to be receding, there sounds no recess bell. Class is still in session. The need for vision and visionaries is profound. Life goes on. There is a sea change of thinking, a correction in our collective greed for consumption, and a reevaluation of our definitions of success. But people still require basic services and great ideas still have landing places among receptive minds.

We cannot retreat from entrepreneurship, Rather, we must embrace it at a new level. Our communities need out-of-the-box thinkers and risk takers. Our nation and world need people who are willing to move forward to build great business, social, and spiritual initiatives on a shoestring.

Recession is no excuse for recess.

Favorite "Grooks" from Piet Hein

Years ago, I acquired two volumes of "Grooks" by Danish scientist, poet, mathematician, inventor, and author, Peit Hein.

Hein died in 1996 and most of his works were out of print. However, they can be read at this site which also posted this information:

"Update: It looks like they are back in print! The Danish publisher Borgen has released "Collected Grooks I"
and "Collected Grooks II". That's something over three hundreed grooks in the two volumes. I haven't seen them
in any north american stores, but you can order them from the publisher at I ordered them both
and was very impressed at the speedy delivery (5 days)."

Here are some of my favorites:


Our choicest plans
have fallen through,
our airiest castles
tumbled over,
because of lines
we neatly drew
and later neatly
stumbled over.


Experts have
their expert fun
ex cathedra
telling one
just how nothing
can be done.


God save us, now they're murdering
another winding road,
and another lovely countryside
will take another load
of pantechnicon and car and motorbike.
They're busy making biger roads,
and better roads and more,
so that people can discover
even faster than before
that everything is everywhere alike.


Man's a kind
of Missing Link,
fondly thinking

My all time favorite by Hein is this:


Whenever you're called on to make up your mind,
and you're hampered by not having any,
the best way to solve the dilemma, you'll find,
is simply by spinning a penny.
No -- not so that chance shall decide the affair
while you're passively standing there moping;
but the moment the penny is up in the air,
you suddenly know what you're hoping.

he can think.

Inscription for a monument at the crossroads.

Here lies, extinguished in his prime,
a victim of modernity:
but yesterday he hadn't the time --
and now he has eternity.


Problems worthy
of attack
prove their worth
by hitting back.

Philip Yancey on Prayer

Since my assignment this week is to be aware of my conversation with God and to simply know that God is present and hearing, Yancey's honest remarks struck a chord with me.



After 54 years of living and almost that many years of praying, I am still learning more than I ever suspected I did not know.

I still find myself "editing" my prayers. I still tend to be baffled by the "why"s, "how"s, and "what"s of prayer. Like the disciples, I find myself continually praying, "Lord, teach me to pray."

After all these years, one would think I would know but sometimes one can't "get there" by thinking what one would think.

So here is my thought: I will keep praying and, as I pray, I will keep asking the questions. I will not edit out my self-doubt and lack of spiritual sophistication and insight. I am here to meet God and that is what it is.

Urban-Suburban Church Partnerships



image from

Photo Credit: Fast Company

It was good to be in a meeting tonight where we were discussing the challenges faced by urban churches among our association of denominational congregations and other fellowships ministering in under-resourced settings with inner city challenges.

The issue of partnerships between urban and suburban congregations could easily slide into a paternalistic quagmire where the smaller churches of the inner city were crying "Come help us survive" and the larger churches on the outskirts of town were responding with, "We'll come aid our little brothers and sisters, poor things."

Now, no one would say that, but that is the way it seems when one group has hat in hand and the other is put-upon to "help."

Partnership is a better model. The assumption then is that God has given each congregation certain gifts and assignments and those churches, in and of themselves are gifts to the communities where they are assigned, to the church at large, and to the cause of the Kingdom of God in transforming communities from the inside out.

What then is the gift of the urban church to the larger church and, specifically, the highly resourced and larger suburban congregations from which it seeks "aid." It is the provision of a laboratory for urban mission experience, instruction, coaching, and mentoring. Pastors, staff, and members in the urban churches must be willing to make an investment into the lives of those people who come to "volunteer" or "intern" among them just as a seminary professor would invest in his or her students.

Both the urban and suburban ministers are on the same team working toward the same ends. Along the way, each has something to give and receive in authentic partnership.

It is time for partnership.

Unknown Caller

David Wainscott put me onto this in response to my last posting.



It says what I cannot say nearly as well. It is not my principle genre, but Iif I am going to listen to rock at all it will be Bono and U2.

Being Still and Knowing

"Be still and know that I am God," is a verse I memorized decades ago. It has been with me since I was a child, inscribed upon my heart and mulled over again and again with ever deepening understanding. However, I suspect that I have not begun to truly internalize the depth of its implications in my life either in the mandate toward stillness or the call to knowing. On this truth I will meditate this Holy Week.

I Believe

May your celebration of resurrection today lift you. "I believe what I believe makes me what I am. I did not make it; not it is making me."



May we be shaped today by resurrection hope!