Friday, March 30, 2007

Hope and Joy for Today

Hope and Joy for Today

I watched the movie Children of Men last night. It takes place in Britain, twenty years in the future. The twist in this work of science fiction is that no baby has been born anywhere in the whole world for over eighteen years.

What happens in a world with no children? What happens when you believe that you and the people around you will be the last humans to ever exist? As you can imagine the world of 2027 is a horrible place in this movie. Graffiti in the background at one point in the movie expressed this: "The last one to die please turn off the light."

There was a particularly touching scene for me when two of the characters hide out for a moment in a rundown, abandoned building. It doesn't take long to notice that the building had once been a school for children. But now in 2027 it is only some deer and other creatures of the wild walk those halls.

What role do children play in our world and in our lives? Being a parent has been a big challenge for me. Jesus teaches us that true joy in life comes from selfless service toward others... well, nothing forces you to become a selfless servant faster than becoming a dad or mom. Here's an example: On Monday the baseball season begins when the Indians play the White Sox at 1:00. In a previous life I would have popped some corn, got my scorecard ready, and enjoyed three hours in peace focusing completely on that game. Being a dad will not allow me to have such a selfish indulgence. Sure I'll watch the game, at least some of it, but there is no way I'll be able to keep score. I'm a dad and my kids will need me. I understand that, sometimes resent it, but thankfully in times of deep awareness I do realize that its so cool.

It is a blessing that we live in a world with children. I had a moment this morning when I got to watch my son Grant playing outside my office window for a few seconds as his class was coming in from recess. Unlike the school in Children of Men the walls of this preschool contain life that is more than just a stray family of deer. This afternoon I sat with my daughter Bailey as she took a hearing test. She must have raised her hand four or five dozen times after hearing that faint "beep" in her headphones. As I was looking in her eyes I felt great love for her. And that's not all, I had another occasion for joy when I came home for lunch only to find my youngest son, Preston, wearing a cute Spiderman costume. He was so proud of himself.

What a horrible future it would be without children. Children have made my present a time of great joy and great hope. They are our future and praise be to God, children are our present as well.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

A Fish Out of Water

Have you ever felt like Chevy Chase? Me neither. Well... that was until Sunday. Valerie and I took the kids for a drive Sunday afternoon around Chicago. (I think I can live here for 40 years and never tire of seeing the impressive Chicago skyline as you approach the city. Since last summer we have often taken the kids to the city for a drive.) On this drive we found ourselves cruising around the North Side, ending up in an area called Wicker Park. I wanted to check out a pizza place I had read about in the Tribune. Amazingly, we found a close parking space on North Ave so we could park the SUV and drag the kids out for a bite to eat.

Of course there was hustle and bustle all over the city since it was Sunday, a beautiful spring day, and a good chance for residents to enjoy life. In the pizza place there were tables with college students and singles just taking it easy. Outside young couples were walking by on the sidewalk. Two or three women were walking their dogs. And they all looked modern, young, and stylish. Even the people who were scruffy seemed to look that way as a fashion choice. On-the-other-hand, the Dusso family looked like transplants from suburbia. It was not our choice to look scruffy. Picture this: the SUV, the noisy kids, my toddler running circles around pizza joint, and the young, urban, artistic professionals either looking at us funny or at least attempting to ignore us. See what I mean by Chevy Chase.

You know what though... it was fun. And the people working at the place where nice. After all this is Chicago and not New York. Yeah my family may fit in better at a suburban mall than walking around a hip and trendy urban neighborhood, but I'm always up for an adventure.

Christians should have experiences like this when it comes to faith, feeling like the Apostle Paul instead of Chevy Chase. Get out of the fishbowl and into the world. Bring the love of Christ into all the places you go through your outstretched arm, listening ear, and caring heart. It might feel odd at first, but when you look back you will be glad you went.

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

God's Fertilizer

Nothing nourishes our spiritual growth like God's Word found in the Scriptures. In the Parable of the Barren Fig Tree (Luke 13:6-9) Jesus compares people to fig trees. A fig tree exists to produce figs. We exist to produce love, joy, and hope. If we do not produce fruit for Christ then we are not living as God expects us to live. In the parable a gardener defends the barren fig tree saying that he will tend to it and give it manure... maybe then it will produce fruit. Jesus, our gardener, is tending to us. He digs around us by giving us Christian community and he feeds us nourishing "manure" through his sacraments and God's Word.

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.