Monday, December 24, 2007
Wednesday, November 28, 2007
Thursday, November 08, 2007
Tuesday, October 16, 2007
First I think about the Book of Jonah. In the story of Jonah God calls him to give a message to the city of Nineveh: "repent from your ways or God will destroy Nineveh." Jonah does not want to do this, but after the whole whale incident he is convinced to do what God called him to do. The people of Nineveh are not Jewish and are great sinners. They deserve the fate God has promised to give them. Jonah sure thinks so. But after they receive Jonah's message from God all the people of Nineveh do indeed repent, from the king on down, and God changed his mind about destroying them and did not do it. This a nice message about God's forgiveness.
But the Book of Jonah does not end there. Jonah is furious that God chose to not destroy Nineveh and so he goes and pouts. The bottom line message from God then is "Who do you think you are to pout about me changing my mind about Nineveh?" God can condemn or save anyone he chooses to save, regardless of what we think. You, a mortal creature, are not capable of seeing or understanding all the reasons God may choose to save or condemn another creature. Leave the saving and condemning to God the Father.
So when I think about the saving power of baptism, I don't think about it in terms of who is going to be condemned because they are not baptized, I think about it in terms of who is going to be saved because of the baptism. God can condemn and save anyone God chooses to condemn or save, all I know is that through the water and Word in baptism I, and everyone who is baptized in Christ, is promised by God eternal life with Christ. What God does with those who are not baptized is God's choice, though I believe the mercy he shows to Nineveh can be the same mercy and love God has shown, and will show, to those not baptized.
Which brings me to my other story... A man I once knew grew up in Washington State and loved going to see Mt. Rainer. Mt. Rainer is a grand, majestic mountain that looks different depending on where you are standing when you look at it. What all the views have in common is that they are of a mountain, but you really cannot be sure that they are of the same mountain unless you walked around Mt. Rainer yourself. Though they look different, the Mt. Rainer viewed from the north is indeed the same Mt. Rainer viewed from the south.
Again, I am open to the possibility that our Muslim, Hindu, and Mormon brothers and sisters may also be looking at the same God as we are. Therefore I will befriend them. I will work with them to help others and to strive for peace. But that does not mean I agree with them or will worship like them. It does not mean I will pick and choose what things I like and don't like about other religions with the hope that I can simultaneously stand at 10 different spots around Mt. Rainer. The breakfast buffet religion does not work for mortals created by God. And I do believe that some religious groups may not be looking at God at all, and are instead looking at Mt. St. Helens.
I am a Lutheran Christian and subscribe to our confessions and point of view regarding Jesus and God 100%. Faith and baptism then, for me, is solely a question of what God is working through the power of the sacrament, instead of what God is not doing to those who do not believe exactly as me.
But the LORD said, 'You have been concerned about this gourd, though you did not tend it or make it grow. It sprang up overnight and died overnight. And should I not have concern for the great city Nineveh, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left—and also many animals?'" (Jonah 4:9-11)
Wednesday, October 10, 2007
Friday, September 28, 2007
Thursday, September 20, 2007
I'm looking at Amos 8 this week. Amos sure was a frustrated prophet. I would be too, if the people you were trying to warn didn't listen to you. People like Amos and Jeremiah always mixed their faith with frustration.
Amos 8 reveals a frustration with people who aren't as much interested in praying, celebrating the Lord, or worshiping God, as they are in getting that stuff over with ASP so they can get back to work on what really matters: making money, doing business, ripping people off. He writes, "Hear this, you that trample on the needy, and bring ruin to the poor of the land, saying, 'When will the new moon be over so that we may sell grain; and the sabbath, so that we may offer wheat for sale?...' The Lord has sworn by the pride of Jacob: Surely I will never forget any of their deeds." (Amos 8:4-5a, 7)
We live in a 24/7 world. There are no laws that require business to stop on Sunday. In fact many businesses are even open on Christmas and Easter in 21st century America. Christians today don't need to long for the sabbath to be over so their kids can play soccer, or for Easter can pass so they can sell their cheap Chinese goods at the Dollar Store. It's a free country. They can go ahead and play soccer and sell trinkets any time they want.
Some say the government should make laws that require business to stop on holy days. I'm not one of them however. There were plenty of laws in Amos' day, which is the reason the scoundrels moaned and longed for Sabbaths to end and festivals to pass. Their hearts were not with God and no law could put their hearts with God. "Surely [God] will never forget any of their deeds."
In a 24/7 culture we are presented with a challenge as Christians. Do we place our faith in God as priority number one in our lives or do we give in to the pressures of our society that tell you to enroll your kids in activities that take them away from worship on Sunday? Do you worship God with all your heart or do you look ahead to the lunch a child of God will serve you on Sunday and the stuff another child of God will sell you?
Freedom is a tremendous blessing. You can go where you want. You can shop any time you want. You can conduct business any time you want. But at the end of the day, ask yourself in prayer: "have I made my faith in Christ my first priority today?"
Wednesday, August 22, 2007
Summer has a way of becoming a black hole, of sorts, in life. It arrives with all sorts of promise and fanfare about nice weather, vacations, baseball games, picnics, hikes, camping, playgrounds, and tan lines. In preparation for summer people schedule time when they can get off of work. They make arrangements to travel to see friends and family all over the country. It also becomes the time, when you have kids, for events connected with church, scouts, sports, or any organization they are a part of. Before you know it it is July 4 and you are still waiting to find that stress relief as you notice that your calendar for July has more things written on it than any of the previous six months. It was kinda like that for me this year.
Now it is August 22. My children start kindergarten tomorrow. How excited Valerie and I are for them. How excited Valerie is for some peace at home. Yes, I did have occasions for rest and relaxation. My week at Bible camp was a wonderful recharge as was my fishing trip. I took Grant to a couple baseball games and all the kids on bike rides. I did some walking, but no where near as much as I would have liked. And today we took the kids to McDonald's playland for lunch: As peaceful an hour as I have had with my family all summer.
And now I finally got to blog, having escaped the clutches of summer's black hole. Now I'm looking forward to all the promises of peace that kids in school all day promises to bring. But I am a little wiser in light of my experience of summer. Peace does not come through kids away at school or vacation time... peace is found in Jesus. And no matter what time of year it is if there is time for prayer, Bible, and worship, then there is time to find peace.
Saturday, June 23, 2007
Saturday, June 09, 2007
Tomorrow morning, bright and early, I'm leaving for a fishing trip. It will be the first time I've gone fishing for nearly twenty years, and boy am I overdue. But I'm not going for myself. My dad is the reason I'm heading out for the fishin hole.
My dad turns 60 this month and my brother and I wanted to do something special for him. We have never been a much of a family for surprise parties or big celebrations for every significant milestone, but Aaron and I thought that should change this year. We decided to do something for dad that he would want to do. We wanted to do something that the Dusso men (who live thousands of miles apart) can do together, can be rest for all of us, and be done in honor of him. A fishing trip seemed like the perfect fit.
Now I know what you are expecting... Now I should say a few words about the "fishin" I have done for my other Father the past twenty years. I should make the connection between honoring my dad with honoring my Lord. Yeah I suppose that would work, but that's way too obvious. That's just too predictable.
Instead the next few days is for Dick Dusso. He is my dad and I love him. And let me tell you, without the love and support he has given to me the past 34 years I wouldn't be fishing for anything today. For bass... for men... or for diapers. What a blessing from God my dad has been for me. So this week's for my dad. This trip is our way of saying "thanks."
Fair warning: Don't come looking for me. I've gone fishing with my dad. I'll be back in a few days.
Thursday, May 31, 2007
Unfortunately too many soldiers have not been able to come home alive. It's staggering to think of the number of people who have died over the centuries in various conflicts. Men and women, sons and daughters, fathers and mothers, losing their God given gift of life at far too young an age. Some of them were drafted into service, some volunteered to fight, but I would imagine at some point all of them must have fearfully wondered, why me?
Why them? There's no good answer for that question. It's a cliche to say that they died so we might live free. But you know, it's the truth. God has blessed me with freewill and has placed me in a society that allows me to choose to do just about anything. It's not that way for everyone. Not everyone can live a life of discipleship in freedom, but I can. And while a Christian may sit in prison in China or loose his life in Indonesia, I can proclaim the gospel as freely as the Holy Spirit leads me.
I don't know why those soldiers had to die or why it had to be them? But I do know this... their service to the United States and their sacrifice is a gift of love to me, my family, and my community. I thank God for them.
There is a poem written during World War I that is often connected with Memorial Day. I want to lift it up here on this last day of May:
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved, and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.
—By John McCrae
Thursday, May 24, 2007
Tuesday, May 15, 2007
On the surface these films have nothing in common. Little Children came out in 2006 and was nominated for Oscars. Celebration is a Danish film from 1998. Happiness, also from 1998, is an American film with an ensemble cast. But all three movies have similar things to say about sexuality, perfection, and life. Sexuality is expressed as shameful, dishonest, and sometimes even criminal. Perfection and the pursuit of the ideal is simply a facade for hidden sin. Life, according to these movies with dishonest titles, is a lie.
These are difficult movies to watch. In each case my initial reaction at the end was "how awful." But I can't simply forget about these films. Because of the coincidence that I would by chance watch these three unrelated films within a month of each other... these films that indeed have so much in common... has left me with questions that I continue to ponder.
What does my faith in Christ say in response to these movies? Are their messages about life true? I want to make clear that I am not put off by these films because of their intense subjects. Sexual crimes, misconduct, and indiscretions are unfortunately present in the world we live in. Christians must not ignore the existence such sins. Unfortunately they even raise their ugly head even within the church. So I am not disturbed by these movies because of some righteous piety. Instead what haunts me about these films is that they express little hope. They all say the same thing: "people are hypocrites and that's not going to change." According to these films people shouldn't look for happiness in the ideal, or celebrate phony baloney milestones, or hold up the innocence of little children. Sure Little Children does seem to show some redemption at the end of the story, but it certainly is not joyful or hopeful for that matter.
These films are accurate in an over-dramatic and extreme way. What they depict can be found within this sinful world. I feel they act as warning about the directions the human mind can go without knowledge of the gospel. Without Christ people will look for the ideal, for meaning, and for pleasure in those things that can only destroy. All of the flawed characters in these movies fall for the same trap... the same lie that sin has sold too many of us. It is a pit they are not able to come out of once they fall in. Oh they all try get out in some way and a few even are able to escape, but without hope, joy, or the gospel, these characters just take the pit of sin with them.
The gospel of Jesus Christ tells us that the Lord jumps into the pit sin and death with us. While we all do not fall into the trap of sexual crimes and suicide that these films depict, we do all sin. You don't have to be a criminal sex offender to be messed up. (Which is one of the messages of these films: The clean cut neighbor living behind you is as dangerous as the rapist in prison.) So what hope is there for us messed up sinners? According to these movies, nothing, that's life. Learn to live with it. But according to the gospel there is hope for us who sin. Our hope comes through Jesus who shines his light on sin, the pit, and all those hollow promises of meaning and exposes them for the lie they are. Through the forgiveness granted through Christ we are taken out of the pit of sin and washed clean of sin's power.
Jesus calls us, his disciples, to stand against the allure of sin by blanketing the light of the gospel upon the shadows of sin. Ultimately I like these movies because they expose the lie of sin with all its ugliness. Now it is our job as Christians to pick up where these movies leave off. Happiness is found through love, service and faith in Christ. Life is a celebration because of the hope the Lord has given us through his cross. Through our baptism into Christ we sinners have been made righteous, transformed into God's little children.
Monday, May 07, 2007
Thursday, May 03, 2007
Wednesday, April 25, 2007
Monday, April 02, 2007
Former Tigers announcer, Hall-of-famer, Ernie Harwell used to begin the first radio broadcast of the Tigers season with a famous reading for any baseball fan in Michigan.
For the winter is past,
The rain is over and gone;
The flowers appear on the earth;
The time of the song of the birds has come,
And the voice of the turtle is heard in our land.
The quote is Song of Solomon 2:11-12 and was Ernie's way of expressing the movement of time and constancy of God's presence. Every year the winter passes and for us in the Midwest. The melting snow and the first 60 degree days remind us that life moves on and there is always hope as we look ahead. For Harwell, and for me, baseball is as much a reminder of that hope as the flowers, the birds, and that wonderful "voice of the turtle." Just look at today for example: There is hope for the Royals and Brewers who are now 1-0. There is hope for the Indians who blasted the Sox. There is even hope for the Cubs, after all they are only one game out of first.
There is hope! No matter where we have been there is hope. Family, friends, the coming of spring, and the clean slate of the baseball standings all remind us of that hope. It's fitting that baseball should begin as we prepare for the coming Easter feast.
Friday, March 30, 2007
Tuesday, March 20, 2007
Saturday, March 17, 2007
It only took three days. Already the bracket I filled out for the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament is a mess. I had Norte Dame and Maryland in the Sweet 16, but instead Winthrop beats the Irish and its another school from Indiana moving on... Butler. Where in the world is Winthrop and what do they teach?
There are 64 teams in the NCAA Tournament. 63 of those teams will end their season with a loss, and let me tell you just about no one out there who can predict precisely when and where those losses will happen. Even the winners of huge tournament office pools always miss at least a couple games.
If it is nearly impossible to predict a perfect NCAA bracket before the tournament, just think how much more impossible it is to predict where you are going in life. A movie from the 1990's, Run Lola Run, tackled that very subject. It showed how two minutes here and one chance encounter there can change the course of your life forever.
So if life is one big roll of the dice its comforting for me to know that God has a hand in it. Not so much because God has filled out a perfect bracket of my life before I was born. I do believe we have free will. But instead it is comforting to know that when we do get bumped out by a Winthrop in the first round, our Lord is ready to pick us up and send us back in the right direction again.
Often it is prayer, God's Word, praise and meditation that get me back on the court. At other times its a good kick in the butt. Sometimes a loving touch from my wife or my children can do the trick. Whatever it is... God is there. Wherever we end up... God is there.
Monday, March 12, 2007
When we fail to read the Bible we are starving ourselves of God's spiritual fertilizer. Living a rewarding life of faith becomes nearly impossible without God's Word. Sure we may produce some fruit, but it won't be as much or as delicious as it could have been.
So we all are called to read the Bible. But what Bible should we read? There are so many translations of the Bible to choose from. It can be quite confusing because every year there are new translations produced, updates to previous translations, and older translations re-packaged in new clothes.
To cut through the clutter I have added a list of five excellent English translations in the left column of my blog. Any of them would be helpful in personal devotions. In fact there are times you may want to even use two or three of them. Today's New International Version (TNIV) is my favorite. It is a literal translation of the Hebrew and Greek (the original languages of the Old and New Testaments) that is also readable. The New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) is also an excellent translation, but at times it is more difficult to read. The New Living Translation (NLT) is a good, readable translation. It very well might be the best English bible for casual Bible readers. The Contemporary English Version (CEV) is great for reading and easy to understand. The last version is recommend is The Message Remix 2.0. This translation brings the ancient Biblical texts to the 21st century using images and language understandable for today. (Example: the fig tree in the parable I mentioned becomes an apple tree in The Message.) It's fun to read and will open your eyes to truths within Bible stories that can easily be missed in a literal translation.
Regardless of what translation you use, I urge you to use one. If digging out your yellowed, moldy, disintegrating, 30-year-old confirmation Bible does not get you excited about Bible reading then PLEASE BUY A NEW BIBLE! I know I wouldn't read a King James Bible from 1956 found in some church's basement closet. You shouldn't either. The Word of God should be treated with the same respect and read in the same condition as you would read an Oprah Book Club Bestseller.
Buy a Bible you can and will read.
Own a Bible that you can understand and read that Bible everyday!
Don't starve yourself of God's spiritual fertilizer.
Wednesday, February 14, 2007
Today is Valentine's Day. It is also the second day in a row that schools have been closed because of a blizzard. It's time we start bringing together the idea of snow and Valentines. At first the two would seem like an unhappy couple. Snow is cold and icy while Valentines are hot and spicy. But songs like "Let it Snow" remind us just how snow and Valentines can work so well together. Take a look at these lyrics:
Oh the weather outside is frightful,
But the fire is so delightful,
And since we've no place to go,
Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!
It doesn't show signs of stopping,
And I've bought some corn for popping,
The lights are turned way down low,
Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!
When we finally kiss goodnight,
How I'll hate going out in the storm!
But if you'll really hold me tight,
All the way home I'll be warm.
The fire is slowly dying,
And, my dear, we're still good-bying.
But as long as you love me so,
Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow
Now if that doesn't describe the way a Valentine's Day ought to be, I don't know what does. So I will now declare "Let It Snow" the unofficial first Valentine's Day Carol. A little bit of "Let It Snow" mixed in with the chocolate, roses, and Hallmarks of Valentine's Day fits perfectly. You can't beat popcorn and an excuse to stay in with your Love. Snow days provide the perfect opportunity to put the hustle of the world behind you and focus, at least for one night, on the partner God has blessed you with.
Genesis 2 reminds us that God created humans to have a partner. Like Sam sang in Casablanca: "Woman needs man and a man must have his mate. That no one can deny." Come to think of it, let's make "As Time Goes By" the second unofficial Valentine's Day Carol.
My wife is the greatest blessing of my life. Let's put the kids to bed and let it snow. Thank you, Lord.
Wednesday, February 07, 2007
Friday, February 02, 2007
But as I read my Chicago Tribune, week after week the last five months, I often came away thinking that this Bears teams was lousy and Coach Lovie Smith was one of the reasons. For example, from the beginning of the season most of the sports reporters felt that Rex Grossman should not be the quarterback of the Bears. When the Bears beat Arizona in October despite Grossman's blunders the press wanted Lovie to replace him permanently with backup Brian Griese. Lovie said he would not make a change at quarterback. He also stayed positive by pointing to the Bears' undefeated record. But the press mocked Lovie and expected the Bears to fail.
When defensive lineman Tank Johnson was arrested for the third time since 2004 outside a Chicago nightclub in November and his best friend was shot and killed a few days later, the media insisted that Lovie drop Johnson from the team. He was too much a distraction and will hurt team chemistry. Lovie said he would not and pointed to the relationship of trust he had with his players. Once again the press mocked Lovie and expected the Bears to fail.
When the Bears closed the season on New Year's Eve against the arch rival Green Bay Packers sports reporters reminded Lovie of his promise to make beating the Packers his number one priority when he became the Bears' coach in 2004. They asked if that promise still mattered? Naturally, the Bears played a flat game, looked awful, and were soundly beaten 26-7 by Brett Favre and company. The media was furious blaming everyone in blue and orange, and especially Lovie. But the coach did not waver from his confidence and high expectations for his team. Lovie reminded the press that the Bears were the best team in the NFC and assured them that they would be ready for the playoffs. Again, the media mocked Lovie and expected the Bears to fail.
But here we stand today with the Chicago Bears in Super Bowl XLI. Guess who was right? Whose expectations were fulfilled?
When Jesus calls the fisherman Simon (Peter) to "be catching people" in Luke 5:1-11 there is an interesting twist that is unique to Luke. Before his conversation with Peter, Jesus uses Peter's boat to move a few yards away from the lakeshore in order to speak to a crowd of people. Afterwards Jesus instructs Peter to put his nets out for a catch. Now Peter and his partners had had an awful night fishing. They were not able to catch anything. Many years of experience told Peter that throwing out the nets again would be a waste of both their time and energy.
So Peter's first response to Jesus' request to go out into the deep water to catch some fish was one of doubt. "Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing." But it doesn't take long for Peter to find some faith. "Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets." Guess what... They caught so much fish their nets began to break.
What expectations have you placed upon yourself when it comes to living your faith? How are you doing with your prayers? How often are you reading Scripture? Have you talked to someone about the Bible or Jesus? Are your expectations about being a Christian so small that in your mind all you need to do is go "to church" on Christmas and Easter and that's fine?
The media did not expect much of Lovie Smith or the Bears this year. And for a Packer fan like myself, it was kinda fun to see. Whenever someone in my congregation was excited about the Bears I would say "yeah, but what are you guy's going to do about Grossman?" Or I would ask, "What about that Tank Johnson thing?" Now that the Bears are in the Super Bowl there are no seeds of doubt for me or the media to plant in the minds of the faithful fans of the Monsters of the Midway. They are all Lovie disciples now.
After hearing Jesus' message along that lake, Peter was faithful enough to throw his nets in the water, though he was doubtful. But after Peter witnesses that miraculous catch he and his partners James and John "left everything and followed him" without hesitation. They even left that record catch of fish.
Do you need a Super Bowl appearance or a net full of fish in order for you to raise your expectations about Jesus and faith? There are so many things you are capable of through the Spirit. You will miss so much if you allow those negative voices that insist that you're not good enough to affect you. Lovie didn't change his tune all year. Nor has Jesus ever changed his expectations. Keep your expectations high and open your life to the spiritual blessings that are available to you. Not only will grow in faith, but soon you will even be catching people. Catch the spirit and bring others to joy in Christ with you.
Wednesday, January 31, 2007
I'm not a Bears fan, but as an alum and fan of the University of Michigan Wolverines I know a thing or two about lack of respect. When Michigan was not invited to the National Championship Game a couple months ago I was furious, convinced that Michigan and the Big Ten were not receiving the respect they deserved. Surly Ohio State and the team who's only loss was to Ohio State were the best teams in the nation. But after the Wolverines and Buckeyes got blown out in their final games this month there was no longer any room for crying.
It does not matter what people say about or think about your football team. 20 point favorites or 20 point underdogs is actually all quite pointless. Life is not about what people think it is about how you act. Bear fans and Michigan fans can cry all day. But in the end it is performance that matters.
We have no control over what people think of us, but we do have control over what choices we make. There are alot of Christians out there who are well respected by others. Maybe you are respected. But such respect should never be your motivation for living faith. Jesus says in Matthew 6:6a "When you pray, go away by yourself, shut the door behind you, and pray to your Father in private." Live your faith because you believe in God. Live your faith because your thankful for what Christ has done for you. Pray to the Lord because you need to pray. With Christ as your only motivation you will be free to be the best disciple for Christ you can be. Save your whine and tears for something much more important.
Thursday, January 18, 2007
For example, today I received an e-mail newsletter from Wartburg Seminary listing several education opportunities they are offering. One is called "Redeeming Congregational Conflict: Discovering Shalom in the Midst of Conflict." Another lecture is titled: "Reclaiming the 'C' Word: Daring to be Church Again." A lecture in March will ponder this topic: "Living Together in the 21st Century: The State of the Bible in North America."
No question about it, people are rethinking who and what church is and even what role the Bible plays in society. Has it always been this way? After all, the collection of letters we have from Paul in the New Testament are products of early Jesus followers being in conflict and trying to determine what "church" is? Did not the Reformation in the 1500's ask the same questions?
It saddens me to see Christian brothers and sisters struggling with faith and discouraged about the future. But for me, I always find hope in the gospel found in Scripture. The Word is the rock our faith and our hope is built upon. Through God's Word and his grace freely given in the Sacraments we are propelled to mission. The "church" is the body of Christ, a collection of diverse people living, working, and loving together as one body. If what we call church today is not that, then it will die. So no wonder so many hunger to get back on track. No wonder so many are worried. Actually that's the description of one those lectures at Wartburg. Maybe I should sign up.