Saturday, December 22, 2012


Phew! December 22 dawned and I am here.  I trust you are too. I actually have not seen another person (other than my wife) this morning. But, the sun is shining brilliantly and the snow is hosting an art show of brilliant light and mysterious shadows.  Oh, and I just saw a bird.  Esperanza!

While shopping in a grocery store in Mexico I came upon a man who wanted to give us a tour of the Mayan ruins which were the source of the “end of the world” phenomenon that just ended.  I declined the tour offer, but I asked him about the sign that was doing most of his advertising for him. It displayed in bright big letters: “Esperanza 2012”. He explained that, for the Mayans, of which he claimed to be one, 12.21.12 was not the day the world would end, but it would be the dawning of a new era marked by Esperanza, a Spanish word meaning hope.  His English was much better than my Spanish, but not good enough that we could have a real dialogue about Esperanza. What I wanted to know is how he understood Hope. Did he mean a Hope in God, or Mayan gods, or Christ, or some other religious figure?  I couldn’t get my question asked plainly enough, but what I took from his remarks was that, starting today, December 22, 2012, a new Esperanza would inhabit the world.

I had pretty much forgotten that conversation until I read about the 20,000 people gathered at the Mayan tourists spots yesterday to witness the end of the world or, failing that, something spectacular. They should have talked to my tour guide, I guess, and saved themselves a lot of time and money.  But, the people seeking something new were not just in Mexico. Reports tell us that in France a group waited for a secret space ship to come out of the mountains to carry them to safety. In China, some Christians declared that Jesus had returned as a Chinese woman, another one of many stories that Jesus has returned and is living with and leading a small group in some remote place.

What human need manufactures these myths and fables?  We all have a need for Esperanza hard-wired into our brains, I think.  What drives people to flock to churches on Christmas Eve? Esperanza!  All of the myths are take-offs of the one true Hope: the God Child who snuck in through a woman’s womb on some unknown evening in Bethlehem is making the grandest return entrance our minds can imagine on some unknown day, and he’s coming for me and for all the Esperanza-filled believers who lived from the beginning of time until its end.  That’s what Christmas means to me, and I hope, to you.  God gives us just enough hard evidence to feed our faith that this is the One Truth.

I guess the guide was right: on Dec. 22 I am filled with Esperanza!  God has once again proved that he is beyond our man-made myths and calendars.  My Esperanza is built on nothing less.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

God Questions

Slaughter of the Sandy Hook Innocents.

“I heard and my heart pounded, my lips quivered at the sound; decay crept into my bones, and my legs trembled.  Yet I will wait patiently for the day of calamity to come on the nation invading us.” (Habakkuk 3:16)

When Job lost his children to unexplained evil he confronted God.  God does not need a defense attorney.  God Himself answered from the whirlwind.  God’s answer to Job’s questions was a long series of God Questions which tell Job, in essence, “God is able.” When confronted with unspeakable, utterly senseless destruction of life, we can ask, “God if you are able, why do you not act?”  And Jesus will weep with us as we cry out, “If you had come earlier they would have lived! Where were you?”  We weep, bitter tears of great sorrow, springs of water spilling from broken hearts through eyes that flow like broken faucets. Unable to find words that could have any meaning to the survivors of the Innocents, we embrace them in a universal spiritual community.  And we lift our eyes to the heavens with them and cry, “Why?”

And then there is another question we need to ask, “What should we do?”  What should we do when we live in a nation of people who spend a Friday night collectively wondering what it must be like for the Mama and Papa and Grandma and Grandma and big sisters and brothers of the Innocents?  How can they face Saturday?

The Church must act.  If we think God is doing nothing to stop the violence, perhaps it is because we are doing nothing when we, the Church, need to do something.  I do not know, today, what that “something” is.  But I know that God questions me, demands of me that I do something.  The battle against Evil is our battle too.  God asks, “In the name of God, what are you doing to protect tomorrow’s Innocents?” Are we willing to be the courageous Church that speaks for the One Mighty to Save, to do something that will finally “deliver calamity to the nation that has invaded us”?  We wait for God’s Advent, yes. But, perhaps God too waits for us to act, to finally do something.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

"This Little Light of Mine"

Today marks the first day of Hanukkah, an eight day holiday for people who observe the Jewish faith.  Like most Jewish holidays, Hanukkah contain elements and traditions which were carried over into the Christian faith.  What I especially like about Hanukkah is the focus on light, which is so important to Christians during the season of Advent when candles are lit each week as we celebrate our season of waiting.  Hanukkah is not about waiting, though. Hanukkah is about celebrating God’s miraculous restoration of the Jewish Temple for worship of God.

In the year 168 B.C. (or B.C.E.) the Syrian-Greeks soldiers took control of the Jewish Temple and turned it into a place to worship  the Greek god, Zeus. The invaders outlawed Judaism and forced Jewish people to break Jewish religious laws. Eventually a group of the oppressed Jewish nation rose up to rebel.  They famously reclaimed possession of the Temple.  When they entered the Temple they wanted to re-dedicate it to God by purifying it with ritual oil, a process which would take 8 days. However, there was only enough oil for one day.  It would take 8 days to press olives and create new oil which could be burned. But, in faith, they lit the one day’s worth of oil that remained. The miracle of Hanukkah is that the oil burned for 8 days and so the Temple was miraculously rededicated to God’s glory. Since that time Hanukkah is observed over an eight day period by the lighting of a Hanukkah menorah, properly known as a hanukkiah.  It has nine candles, one for each day of the holiday. The candles are lit after sunset, and each day’s candle is lit by the “ninth” candle, called a “shammash.” This candle, the “helper” or “servant” candle is then used to each the candle of the day.  The hannukiah is displayed in the window of the Jewish family which lights it, not to light up the house, but to light up the world.  It is not a light to see within, but a light to remind the world of God’s miraculous power.  And so the Jewish community has been to the world, a constant reminder that God is a God who keeps his promises; a God who stays with his people through their times of sin and in their times of obedience.  God is a God who rebuilds and restores.

As you see lights around you church or city during this next eight days, think about them as evidence that God is still doing miracles. And if you meet someone who is dwelling in darkness this holiday season, won’t you be a “shammash” for her?  Give the gift of the light, hope in a  God who miraculously renews. And watch her light up. 

Saturday, December 1, 2012

"Rinse and Repeat"

“See You at the Top.” Do you recognize that saying?  If so, you are in the business of selling something, or you took a self-help class somewhere along the way, or maybe you are just widely and well-read.  The phrase is the title of a well-known motivational book written by Zig Ziglar in 1975. Mr. Ziglar died this week at the age of 86.  I never heard Mr. Ziglar speak nor did I read any of his works, but I am sure I was influenced by the “movement” he helped to create.  Maybe it was Dale Carnegie or Norman Vincent Peale, or maybe it was one of the disciples of this one of them, but someone made a set of cassette tapes with lectures on it, designed to listen to while driving.  There was a time in my life when I commuted 240 miles round trip, so I had lots of time to listen to tapes.  One of those tapes recommended the practice of starting each day saying positive things to yourself as you looked deep into your own eyes in the mirror.  This technique was the subject of a very funny Saturday Night Live skit (“I am good enough and smart enough and people like me.”)  But, even though the comics made fun of it, the technique worked, at least for me.  I do believe that the first step to succeeding in just about anything is persuading yourself that you can and you will succeed.  You can laugh at the skits, as I do, but if you try it , you will be laughing at the face of success.

A newspaper article about Mr. Ziglar explained how he came to his profession. As a door-to-door seller of cookware he motivated himself with the positive thinking affirmations of Dr. Peale.  But, before he  heard of Dr. Peale, his widowed mother had given her young son, Zig, regular positive sayings which grew out of her devout Christian faith, which sayings got them through the many struggles of the Depression era in which they lived.  The article concludes with a response that Mr. Ziglar gave to a question about the fact that much of his speaking and writing was repetitive.  His explanation was this, “People often say that motivation doesn’t last. Well, neither does bathing-that’s why we recommend it daily.”  I don’t know what you are seeking in your life, but I do know you likely won’t find it unless you hunt for it every day.

If you desire change in your life start today by getting rid of one bad habit and starting one good habit.  Work at it every day for the rest of the year.  God works in us as we make room for God to work in our hearts and minds and spirits.  True success, bringing and finding peace in this life, can be yours, but you need to believe that first.  Start every day by reminding yourself that God’s “got your back and your front”.  Find a community of faith to offer you regular cleansing.  And then, I will see you at the Top!