Monday, February 27, 2012

In Whatever I Do

And whatever he did, the Lord made it succeed.
-Genesis 39:23

Joseph had been thrown into a ditch by his brothers, sold as a slave to a foreign land, falsely accused of assaulting his masters wife and thrown in prison. Taken at face value, it would seem as if God was not with Joseph. In fact, it might even appear as if God was against him. Yet, throughout the story, it says God was with Joseph (39:2, 39:21) and that whatever he did, the Lord made it succeed. Whether that whatever was working as a slave or being in prison, with God Joseph was successful. 

God does not promise us favorable circumstances in our lives. In fact, Christ himself said that this world is hard. But in the hardness, in the pain and strife as well as the joy and lightness God promises to be with us.

The question is, should I choose to acknowledge Him there and seek Him out in the midst of it all. It would be a shame not to. For, as seen through Joseph's life, God helps us to succeed in those dark places; He just challenges our definition of success. And if we do seek Him out and let Him challenge how we see "success" He will bring about His will in and through us. More so than just His will for our life, He will use us to a greater extent in the Kingdom of God.

Lord, my prayer today is to seek you wherever I am in whatever I do.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Sunday In The City

This Sunday our dear friends Anna and Caleb were in town, visiting us before their big move to North Carolina. We are going to miss them tremendously, but we had a great weekend and Sunday In The City with them.

We started out the day with my kind of hike: 0.7 miles, mostly flat with beautiful views. See for yourself.... 

Caleb's pensive life changing moment.

I couldn't help but show off my Parkour moves.

Some steps on the way back to the car.

Next we drove over to Hayes Valley to sip on some coffee, gawk over adorable dogs and have lunch.

She almost made it on the roller coaster. Maybe next year.

We had some beer and bratwurst at Biergarten while talking exclusively in German accents to top things off.

We love you Anna and Caleb!

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Friday, February 24, 2012

Day 3: Lent For Everyone


Matthew 4

There's a sense of excitement at the start of the season. The ground is prepared and marked out. The fixture list is printed. Everything is ready. So along you go for the first match.

But imagine what it would be like if, just before the game was due to start, the coach came onto the pitch and began to point to people in the stands — people who had come as spectators! 'All right: you over there, come on; and you in the blue jacket, you too; and you there hiding near the back, I want you in the team . . .' You begin to be afraid you might be next. Suddenly the people who've been called are hurrying down to the field of play, and the game begins.

Of course no serious sports team today would do it like that — or, if they did, they wouldn't win many matches. But this is the strange thing. When God came back at last, coming to establish the rule of heaven here on earth, that seems to be exactly how he went about it. Lots of people who thought they were just spectators suddenly found themselves summoned onto the field of play. As the story goes on, we find out that they, like modern spectators dragged from the stands and made to play the game, were not as ready, or as fit, as they might have been. But it seems that that's how God wanted to work.

There's something going on there which gets near the heart of the challenge of the gospel for us today. It's very easy for people to imagine that they can be 'religious' — they can say their prayers, they can go to church, they can read the Bible — but basically they are looking on, spectating, while God does what- ever God is going to do. And of course there's a sense in which that's true. God is not weak, helpless, waiting for humans to get their act together before he can do anything.

But in another sense part of the point is that God always wanted humans to be part of the action, not just spectators. God made humans to reflect his image — his presence, his love, his plans — into the world. That's why he himself came into the world as a human being. And that's why Jesus called Peter, Andrew, James and John, and the others. They weren't ready. They weren't expecting it. But that's how Jesus worked then, and that's how he works to this day. Perhaps that's why you're reading Matthew's gospel right now. Perhaps Jesus is going to point to you and ask you to help him with some of the work.

Of course, there were still quite a lot of people who remained spectators. As Jesus went about healing people — which was the most dramatic way of showing them that 'heaven' really was taking charge on earth — it was natural that great crowds followed him from all over. But here's another challenge. What should the church be doing today that would make people realize that 'heaven' is actually in charge here and now? When we find the answer to that question, there will be lots more spectators — and, we may hope, lots more players too.

Gracious Lord, help us to be ready when you call us to work with you.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Day 2, Lent For Everyone


Matthew 3

When a couple get married, there is so much to learn. Not so much the immediate and obvious things — favourite foods, musical tastes, good ideas for holidays, and so on. There are deeper things that make each one of us mysterious and deeply special. The rich store of memories and mental associations. The older family history: stories told and retold, sorrows quietly aching in the background, tales of an exotic cousin here, a tragic uncle there, an aunt who wrote books or a great- grandfather who was cheated in business. Such stories shape our imaginations. They condition our reactions to new situations. When you join someone else's family it takes time to learn how all this works for them. Often you can only make sense of what someone says or does up front if you get in touch with the older, deeper stories that shaped them from their earliest days.

Matthew, writing his gospel, wants to help his readers to learn the great stories of the family into which they have come through their faith in Jesus Christ. Many of his readers were probably Jewish already. That made some things easier, others harder. He is telling the story of what happened within living memory — here, the story of John the Baptist getting people ready for Jesus — but he is also helping them to get in touch with the older, deeper stories of God's ancient people. Like all early Christian writers, Matthew is eager to explain how what has happened in and through Jesus is what the ancient stories had been pointing to all along.

He's already begun to do this in the first two chapters. There's the great long family tree right at the start, of course. But there are also the times when he has pointed back to the ancient scriptures to explain the meaning of the events he's describing. Now he takes this to a new level. He picks up one of the most famous prophecies in the Old Testament, and declares that it came true in and through John the Baptist.

The prophecy in question summed up the longing and the praying of Israel over the previous five hundred years. Israel had been overrun by foreign armies. The Temple had been destroyed. God himself, they believed, had abandoned his people because of their wickedness, and had left them to their fate. Even when the Jews returned from Babylon and rebuilt the Temple, there was a lingering, uneasy sense that there was more to come, that all was not yet well. So they told the story like this: one day God will come back to rescue us. He'll come back and take charge of the whole world, and everything will be right at last. The God in heaven will be king of the earth! That's what we're waiting for.

So when John the Baptist suddenly appeared, down near the river Jordan, telling people that 'heaven' was going to take charge on earth (that's what 'the kingdom of heaven' means), it's not surprising that everyone set off to find out what was going on. John was plunging people into the Jordan. He was re-enacting the far-off moment when the ancient Israelites first entered their Promised Land. This is it! This is what we've been waiting for! Sharp-eyed people, then and later, said: This is the man the prophet spoke about. He is the 'voice in the wilderness', getting people ready for God to come back.

If we grasp nothing more than this, Matthew would have done half his job. But there are two other things going on here which also shape the way he's going to tell the rest of his story. First, lots of people coming to John have to be warned not to take God for granted. They may be Abraham's children physically, but God is doing a new thing. He is reshaping Abraham's family: sharp judgment on the one hand, an open invitation on the other. 'God is able to raise up children for Abraham from these stones!' This isn't the way many of them had been telling the story. It must have come as a shock.

Gracious Lord, as your heavenly rule extends on earth, help us to know your story and live as your family.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Day 1, Lent For Everyone

Today is Ash Wednesday. The first day of the Lent season. I am going to be following a Lent study by NT Wright these next 40 days called Lent For Everyone. I will be posting each days devotional here if you want to follow along.

For more on what Lent is and isn't, click here.



We know very, very little about Joseph. Some legends make him an old man who died while Jesus was growing up, but we don't know that for sure. We know he worked in the building trade, including what we call carpentry. We know he could trace his ancestry back to the ancient royal house of David and Solomon (many first-century Jews knew their family history as well as many today know the story of their favourite soap opera, or the fortunes of their football team). And we know that Joseph faced a unique personal and moral challenge, and came through it with integrity and humility. Joseph, in this passage, provides a sharply personal angle for us to approach Matthew's gospel.

Think how it was for him. Marriage beckons, quite likely arranged by the two families but none the less an exciting prospect. A home. Children. A new status in the community — in a small town where everyone knows everyone else and where, without television, everybody else's life is part of a complex daily soap opera.

And then the shock. Mary has news for him, news to send a chill down the spine of any prospective husband. How can he possibly believe her strange story? What will people say? So he plans, with a heavy heart, to call the whole thing off.

Then, the dream. Mary's story is true. What's more, she and her child are caught up, not just in a personal challenge, but in a much older, stranger purpose. God's purpose. God's rescue operation, long expected and at last coming true. The child to be born will be 'Emmanuel', God-with-us. God with us to save us: hence the name 'Jesus', the same word as 'Joshua', the great leader who brought the people of Israel across the Jordan into the promised land. The name means 'Yahweh saves'. God with us; God to the rescue.

Whenever God does something new, he involves people — often unlikely people, frequently surprised and alarmed people. He asks them to trust him in a new way, to put aside their natural reactions, to listen humbly for a fresh word and to act on it without knowing exactly how it's going to work out. That's what he's asking all of us to do this Lent. Reading the Bible without knowing in advance what God is going to say takes humility. Like Joseph, we may have to put our initial reactions on hold and be prepared to hear new words, to think new thoughts, and to live them out. We all come with our own questions, our own sorrows and frustrations, our own longings. God will deal with them in his own way, but he will do so as part of his own much larger and deeper purposes. Who knows what might happen, this year, if even a few of us were prepared to listen to God's word in scripture in a new way, to share the humility of Joseph, and to find ourselves caught up in God's rescue operation?

Speak to us, Father, in a new way as we read your word. Help us to hear your voice and follow where you lead.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Sunday In The City

Morning: February 12

 "For as the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation also aboundeth by Christ."
-- 2 Corinthians 1:5

There is a blessed proportion. The Ruler of Providence bears a pair of scales-in this side he puts his people's trials, and in that he puts
their consolations. When the scale of trial is nearly empty, you will always find the scale of consolation in nearly the same condition; and when the scale of trials is full, you will find the scale of consolation just as heavy. When the black clouds gather most, the light is the more brightly revealed to us. When the night lowers and the tempest is coming on, the Heavenly Captain is always closest to his crew. It is a blessed thing, that when we are most cast down, then it is that we are most lifted up by the consolations of the Spirit. One reason is, because trials make more room for consolation. Great hearts can only be made by great troubles. The spade of trouble digs the reservoir of comfort deeper, and makes more room for consolation. God comes into our heart-he finds it full-he begins to break our comforts and to make it empty; then there is more room for grace. The humbler a man lies, the more comfort he will always have, because he will be more fitted to receive it. Another reason why we are often most happy in our troubles, is this-then we have the closest dealings with God. When the barn is full, man can live without God: when the purse is bursting with gold, we try to do without so much prayer. But once take our gourds away, and we want our God; once cleanse the idols out of the house, then we are compelled to honour Jehovah. "Out of the depths have I cried unto thee, O Lord." There is no cry so good as that which comes from the bottom of the mountains; no prayer half so hearty as that which comes up from the depths of the soul, through deep trials and afflictions. Hence they bring us to God, and we are happier; for nearness to God is happiness. Come, troubled believer, fret not over your heavy troubles, for they are the heralds of weighty mercies.

-Charles Spurgeon

Friday, February 3, 2012

Watercolor Mirror

Look at this beautiful mirror with watercolors bleeding in from the side. What a great idea.