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Archive for December, 2012

I hope you got a chance to read God’s incredible answer to a little girl’s prayer for snow during a winter vacation. ( SEE “A Christmas Prayer.”)

That pretty nicely sets up what happened this Christmas morning here in upstate New York. I wasn’t praying for snow. I was praying for some relief from a sudden inflammation up and down my left arm.

I wasn’t able to get it treated on Christmas eve which meant I would either have to take brain-numbing pain killers and forfeit an alert mind for Christmas Day or gutsy it out for the holiday.

I decided to live with the discomfort. Even a slight movement of my neck produced 9 out of 10 pain.

So, my mind wasn’t on a White Christmas. 

It’s interesting when God doesn’t seem to answer one prayer (make my pain go away), He often does something that you didn’t think to pray about. In this case, He answered with a White Christmas deep in the morning hours.

I awoke and thought I was in a “White Christmas” set. It was just a dusting, but it sure looked like a Christmas morning.

Despite the pain, I still had a white Christmas. It didn’t take away the pain. But it made me think of God’s goodness for prayers that are answered that we haven’t prayed.

Merry Christmas!

3 Wise Men from the east on a white Christmas morn…

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Christmas Prayer

A Christmas Prayer

A True Story

I think it’s been proven again and again that You are not hard of hearing. But when we don’t get what we want or You tell us to wait or Your intervention would interfere with the gift of free will, we conclude that You “have not answered our prayer.”

And so it was these past couple of months when ten year-old Lucy from sunny San Diego began to get her hopes up that she would get to see snow and be able to sled during a Christmas vacation back east. She petitioned You as only a child can. Week after week, I kept encouraging her in her prayers. 

Finally, the time arrived and when their plane was about to land in New Jersey, she could see that there was no snow to be seen. Christmas day approached and still no sign of snow.  Then, there was no white Christmas. Were You not listening?

I started thinking, what if I were You and a ten year-old’s earnest plea caught my attention? I certainly might nudge it up to the top of my list. I don’t know how You go about this business of answering prayers. I only know that You do. From experience, I know You answer every one. If it were e-mails, I’d say You’d have to be in the weeds. But You’re quite capable of Your job.

Like the other night, when Lucy had a tummy ache and couldn’t sleep. I prayed for her healing and, as she would acknowledge later, You answered that prayer and she was made well and slept well as well. 

Little prayers seem to be the staircase to the “big prayers.” Little people learn from their little times so that when they become big people, impossible requests don’t seem like quite a stretch. 

So one can step up that staircase of faith from tummy aches to … changing the weather? Well, let’s see now, the weather man said that any storm would miss this part of New Jersey. But it appeared to me that Lucy’s prayer got pushed up to the top of Your list. The night before we were to go in our search throughout the mountains for some snow, a beautiful and steady snowfall dropped on us proving once again that little people who have a BIG God can prove mankind’s best satellite systems wrong. 

I’d rather be a little person with a BIG God than a big person with a little God. 

I woke up this morning and looked out the window. Lucy from sunny San Diego is going to have a great day for sledding and to You, O God, that’s no little thing.        

Copyright, 2004,Robert J. LaCosta, December 27, 2004

P.S. Little Lucy isn’t so little anymore. In fact, she attends a college near Lake Superior where it snows for the Fourth of July (yuck, yuck). It appears that God not only answers prayers, but that He has a great sense of humor. He also knew that the north country could use a little warmth from San Diego and Lucy surely brings that! Here’s proof:

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If you’d like a free copy of “A Christmas Prayer,” contact us at norepcom@gmail.com 

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Become A “Son Given”

[For the female reader, “son” is used literally to indicate the gender of Jesus, but adoption as described in Romans 8 is obviously for both genders.]

“For unto us a child is BORN, unto us a Son is GIVEN…”This is one of the most oft-quoted Christmas scriptures.

It seems repetitive. Yet, the riddle is easily deconstructed if you think about it from our perspective and God’s vantage point.

From a human point of view,  the baby Jesus was born on Christmas morn 2,000-plus years ago. That fact is important because it is through this human we understand first hand about salvation and come to know God’s perspective. As it says in the first chapter of John, grace and truth came through Jesus. It was a very human message because people needed the kind of humanity that Christ offered.

So, yes, a child of humanity, or His self-described “Son of Man,” was born unto us: humanity.

Yet, from God’s perspective, a Son was given. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16 NKJV)

Our Father’s viewpoint is important because it shows His essential nature as a benevolent giver and this is exactly why we exchange gifts. He exchanged heaven’s home in order to gain access into the front door of our very human hearts.

The challenge of every Christmastime is how to become more like the Giver and Son of Man.

We’ve already been the “child born.” Now, we need to be the “son given.”

“For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God…the Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs – heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him, that we may also be glorified together.” (Romans 8:14-17 NKJV)

The angels singing to the shepherds knew of the character of The Father and Son, and probably knew that Christ’s mission was to give. It was more than just a child being born that inspired the greatest “Hallelujah Chorus” ever sung. It was about the Son given who would give everything, suffer everything and give the Holy Spirit that we may become heaven’s benevolence to all-to-often inhumane world.

At this time of year, we are touched by more than the story of Christ’s birth. Whether we know it or not, we are moved by the audacious improbability that we can follow the firstborn and become a “son given.”

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With no desire to clumsily step all over the necessary grieving of those who suffered directly or vicariously at the hands of the “Slaughterer of the Innocents” in Connecticut, I would like to put forth something that I have noticed as a pattern in the healing nature of God.

First, in talking with those who have buried their children, I have found that no amount of time will ever be enough to “finish” grieving. They may have some diminishment, but there are some things that are hard to “get over.”

Having said that, I have observed that God does redeem everything, including the burying of His own Son.

I would call this “the opposite effect.”

For example, I know of someone first hand, who upon the discovery of an unfaithful spouse, became more keenly aware of the faithfulness of God. This person began to see EVERYTHING through this lens. Did that make the adultery and its devastating lifelong ramifications hurt less? I can tell you that it did not.

My good friends lost all three of their children at tender ages on a snowy day in a car accident. They began to see EVERYTHING through the eyes of children, and through this perspective, became parents to an adopted girl and to hundreds of kids around the world after founding an orphanage ministry.

Another couple that we know lost their autistic teenager to strangulation at the hands of someone who was supposed to be caring for him. Virtually EVERYTHING they do now has to do with protecting vulnerable children, including the passage of major legislation reform.

I would never, for even a second, try to minimize or rationalize away anyone’s pain and the terror of its succeeding lifelong memories. Please do not me hold me accountable for that. Such a suggestion to them might be a greater tragedy than their former infliction. But, as one who has known some pain himself, please trust me when I say that God’s “opposite effect” is true. As evidence, I offer to you that my Eternal Father, who also understands pain, will eternally remember the consequences of sin as expressed upon His Son, BUT…

“I know that my redeemer lives,
and that in the end he will stand on the earth.”Job 19:25

 

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For those who don’t believe in Satan (the devil, Lucifer, etc.) or who intentionally or unintentionally minimize his existence, strategies and attacks, the “slaughter of the innocents” in Connecticut’s Sandy Hook Elementary School should change your mind.

Now that we are in agreement on that truth, we can proceed with the presupposition that the devil was behind the killing.

Infanticide is as old as the hills. So, why does Satan hate children so much? For starters, he  despises everyone. As hard as it is to understand and explain, it is true.

Getting back to his hatred for kids, there are some obvious reasons:

– They are vulnerable to Satan’s attacks and cannot defend themselves.

– Children are a blessing from the Lord as they represent the ultimate gift of a man and woman giving themselves to each other which represents God’s gift of life in flesh. This results in a glimpse of the divine because God causes the parents’ love to be multiplied in the blending of their genetics into a unique human who will ultimately reflect God’s character if that person chooses to serve His Creator:”Behold, children are a gift of the Lord, the fruit of the womb is a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior, so are the children of one’s youth. How bless is the man whose quiver is full of them…” Psalm 127:3-5

– Children are the apple of their parents’ and grandparents’ eyes, allowing us to experience God’s “parenting perspective.” Why else do soccer field sidelines fill up and ballet recitals bring out all those cameras? As such, Mom and Dad see their spouse and themselves merged into one being and love this miracle which brings them closer to God. “Children’s children are the crown of old men, and the glory of children is their father.” Proverbs 17:6

– Children repopulate the earth and those who will grow up to love the Lord end up becoming the next generation of defenders-of-the-faith.

– Children, especially at tender ages, reflect God purely through their innocence, energy and freedom.

There are a million other reasons. In a nutshell, a child’s beauty, even and maybe especially special needs children, so clearly reflect the goodness of God and that alone is enough to tick Satan off. He cannot stand God getting glory because he tried, as Lucifer, to steal God’s glory. God had to throw him out of heaven and all the angels that followed him.

[See Ezequiel 28 for a glimpse of Lucifer before and after his fall. To be sure, Satan is a created angel by God. We will not deal with the question here of why God made beings who would betray Him. Save that for another time.]

Infanticides have taken millions of little children’s lives, in and out of wombs. It was declared in Genesis 3:15 in the Garden of Eden that Satan would nip at the heel of man, but He would be crushed by one of those same babies that he tried to take out over 2,000 Christmases ago. Read about this intrigue in Matthew 2.

Unfortunately, those who want to rule their own kingdom sell out to Satan. That’s when massacres occur. But Satan is not in charge. Although we can’t understand why the innocent die, we do know that, just as in the case of the Babe of Bethlehem, Jesus emerges victorious. But even He had to be protected by heavenly vigilance.

Since the Sandy Hook slaughter, there is now much worry about the safety of our children, grandchildren and great grandchildren. One thing we cannot succumb to is the fear that Satan is in charge. As noted, even our Heavenly Father had to protect His own Son. He is ultimately at the helm.

We can’t understand why tragedies touch some and miss others. But God’s goodness must be the final say.

I recall re-reading my journal in which there were three accounts of my daughter’s life being spared.

In the wake of the Sandy Hook horror, I walked up to my Christmas tree and looked at my other daughter’s precious ornament given to us thirty years ago after her birth. Inscribed on the stain glass is the announcement from Luke 2:10 about the infant that Satan couldn’t kill. Perhaps this irony may bring solace to us… to know it was an innocent Baby who brought Satan’s ultimate defeat. “Fear not; for, behold I bring you good tidings of great joy.”

 

Guinevere’s Ornament from 1982:

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“Kissing The Face Of God” by Morgan Weistling:

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P.S. We should do everything humanly possible to protect our children, including using the super-human protection of prayer and declaring the words of Psalm 91 over our loved ones. You may also want to write us and request a copy of the book “Psalm 91” by Peggy Joyce Ruth which instructs us how to pray God’s umbrella of protection over our loved ones. 

Psalm 91

He who dwells in the secret place of the Most High
Shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty.
I will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and my fortress;
My God, in Him I will trust.”

Surely He shall deliver you from the snare of the fowler[a]
And from the perilous pestilence.
He shall cover you with His feathers,
And under His wings you shall take refuge;
His truth shall be your shield and buckler.
You shall not be afraid of the terror by night,
Nor of the arrow that flies by day,
Nor of the pestilence that walks in darkness,
Nor of the destruction that lays waste at noonday.

A thousand may fall at your side,
And ten thousand at your right hand;
But it shall not come near you.
Only with your eyes shall you look,
And see the reward of the wicked.

Because you have made the Lord, who is my refuge,
Even the Most High, your dwelling place,
10 No evil shall befall you,
Nor shall any plague come near your dwelling;
11 For He shall give His angels charge over you,
To keep you in all your ways.
12 In their hands they shall bear you up,
Lest you dash your foot against a stone.
13 You shall tread upon the lion and the cobra,
The young lion and the serpent you shall trample underfoot.

14 “Because he has set his love upon Me, therefore I will deliver him;
I will set him on high, because he has known My name.
15 He shall call upon Me, and I will answer him;
will be with him in trouble;
I will deliver him and honor him.
16 With long life I will satisfy him,
And show him My salvation.”

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Protect The Child

Protecting the Baby of Bethlehem during this season is the key to a successful Advent. If you’re of the mindset that the holidays are only good as commercial fodder, then you’ll have no need to read any further.

But if you can get by any of the North-Pole-Gone-South plots in holiday television and box office stories, you might be able to believe that Christmastime should still hold a special place in our calendars.

It all has to do with perspective. It is easy to get weighted down by the time-and-money demands this time of year and the hypocrisy that often lurks around. Relationships are especially vulnerable every December. Any one or these or other variables can bring us to any place BUT the manger.

To be sure, it’s a time when we have to go on the offensive. For example, we turned our car lights off as we pulled into our driveway last night. The stars decided to be, well, stars. They should have taken bows. When you stop dead in your tracks like that, it is not a stretch to conjure up the invitation of the Star of Bethlehem. I would follow that, too. And we did. I turned off the lights in our living room and I stared at the nativity set with its single bulb glowing right over the Baby. Oh yes, there’s something about Christmas.

On a recent trip to Africa, I met our security man. He was well-built, confident, stuck by us like glue and had a vest that was bulging with things I know nothing about. He would have laid down his life before he would have let anyone get to our international team. I was glad to have him along. (Note the weight of his vest, that’s why I am smiling AND standing next to him.) PHOTO BY MARK MCCARTHY OF THE STARKEY HEARING FOUNDATION.Image

During Advent, we have to be as vigilant as a security professional. We have to protect the Baby because there are so many dark forces looking to steal that which made John the Baptist jump with joy in his mother’s womb at the presence of the ever-increasing embryo in Mary’s tummy.

To push the point, you may remember Herod The-Not-So-Great. He ordered the “massacre of the innocents” in his attempt to kill the Baby Jesus because the child was a threat to his kingdom. The same holds true today with Satan, who is still after anyone who adores the Christ child.

As December’s chill and darkness come upon us, let us not grow cold and cynical. Imagine the unimaginable. As a writer, it’s hard to get my head around a God who would think up such a daring plot: to entrust the fate of mankind to a Baby. And then to trust us with guarding that Baby all the way through to the end of the story. What an awesome paradox lets loose when we don’t lose hold of that tiny hand for even a second – especially at this time of year.

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Interestingly, holidays can be either the best times or the worst times for hearing God.

Like seasonal allergies that affect your hearing, Christmas can get a little hollow instead of holy. How could the coo of the Baby of Bethlehem be hushed? How can the evenings around your tree turn into silent nights? How could God’s voice be quieted by the crinkling of wrapping paper on Christmas morning?

There is a Grinch and his name is Satan. He is a thief and he will get his hands on anything He can touch. One of his favorite heists is joy. That’s what holy days are about. During one such celebration recorded in the Old Testament, Nehemiah said, “Go and celebrate with a feast of rich foods and sweet drinks, and share gifts of food with people who have nothing prepared. This is a sacred day before our Lord. Don’t be dejected and sad, for the joy of the LORD is your strength!” (Nehemiah 8:9-11) There is power in joy. That’s why the enemy tries to mess with holidays.

Stress, misunderstandings, commercialism, rough finances, past hurts and the like can combine to dull the voice of God around Christmas.

Conversely, holidays can be the “most wonderful time” of the year for hearing God. First, even Scrooges are the most open to hearing God during the months surrounding Christmas. Secondly, the gospel is so accessible that it is actually sung over store loudspeakers. God is trying to get our attention. Third, you can literally bump into Jesus-followers ringing bells no matter where you go and, sometimes, their “Thank you” is like hearing the very voice of God.

Recording studios cultivate a good acoustical environment. Christmas has that same effect from a spiritual perspective. It unplugs the ear wax of the humbuggers.

People all have different approaches to getting in the spirit. One obvious way is to literally hear the Word of God, Jesus, either spoken or sung.

For starters, try reading Luke’s account of the birth of Christ…over and over. It is a treasure mine of God’s heart. Next, listen to the beauty of Jesus’ birth through traditional and contemporary Christmas carols.

Whether it’s the eternal heart of God speaking through music or the eloquence of the holy scriptures, Our Father celebrates Christmas with His family. “Fall on your knees, o HEAR….”

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There’s a chilling and convicting scene in the 1951 version of The Christmas Carol starring Alistair Sim. Jacob Marley opens a window to show Scrooge some deceased men and women who are desperately trying to help a single mother with a babe in her lap in a driving snowstorm. They are literally throwing gold coins at her. She is oblivious to their efforts. She is alive and they are dead. As such, they have lost the power to help her. These deceased live in constant regret of missed opportunities and that is their hell.

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Last night, I felt that I was to go to a dinner. Through circumstance, confusion, and a conflict in schedule, I missed the celebration, only to find out the conflict ended up being no conflict at all.

There was an incredibly delicious pumpkin-cake-roll sitting on my counter that truly needed to be shared at that same dinner and it never made it there because of my absence.

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I forlornly looked at it this morning with deep regret. Such a small thing. Yet, it represented all of the blown opportunities that I have had to share something that was designated for someone else’s enjoyment or need.

Christmas is a time to remember the incredible effort that the Godhead made on our behalf to get us the goods. Remarkably, and possibly purposely, the director of The Christmas Carol depicted the poor woman with the babe to look much like Mary holding Jesus. Have you ever wondered how many Innkeepers missed the opportunity of a lifetime? 

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The Kindness of a Deadline

The perplexing issue of why God set up an aging scenario that usually takes us on a journey from being healthy, talented and contributing humans to slowing down to being chronically ill to even lingering in our latter years is not something that will be answered in a blog – certainly not by moi.

However, working with seniors most of my life, I have seen all sorts of reactions to aging in general and toward the way it effected themselves in particular. It ranges from bitterness to apathy to resentfulness to courage. You could probably add a lot of others.

If nothing else, it certainly brings up the question, “Why, oh why, God?” Why couldn’t God have made aging like the wine in the miracle of the Wedding of Cana? You know, save the best ’till last. 

The moment I start asking God, “Why?,” I stop myself. Although it’s taken decades, I have figured out that He’s smarter than me. What a concept.

The deadline of death is one of the kindest things God invented. While I don’t understand and won’t now address seemingly premature death, I will say that deadlines work. For those at work or at school, there is nothing like an etched-in-stone date by a boss or a professor to get us off our tushes. What gets the lawn cut or the furniture polished faster than the prospect of having company over? Tuck those boots under the bench! Whew, that cat litter!

If aging is so mean, why does it make us think of dying and the hereafter? That’s a gentle, ever-plodding reminder that there really is something greater than a good cheeseburger, an exotic vacation or a ________________. It points us toward a desire to turn our lives over to the One who has a course set out for us as clear as the path that we took in school. And it tells us that procrastination is not the order of the day.

I don’t ever mean to diminish the intensity or days, months or even decades of suffering that may surround an an elderly person’s demise.

I only know one thing. God is good. Knowing that, I can conclude that He is giving out a gigantic hint to those wise enough to believe in that goodness.

Whether it was a gold star as a first-grader or the elation of nailing that ace on a tough college paper, we all should recall that it was a deadline that helped us celebrate that night. Moreover, there may have been a strict professor who pushed us a little. The all-nighter or the hours in the library seemed like suffering. But what if the strict teacher was actually benevolent, knowing our propensity for mediocrity and procrastination or, worse yet, laziness? 

Death is the ultimate graduation. Think of God as the most gracious professor you’ve ever had who is just waiting to tell you, “Well done, good and faithful servant. No gold stars here, just gold streets. Try them out.”

 

 

 

 

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Death & Regrets

After roughly four decades in and out of the aging field, and now closing in to be one of those very specimens of that same field, I have noticed a few things about aging, regrets, dying well and dying badly and the promise of eternal life.

First, I believe that tension is built into almost every relationship. As a writer, I can’t pen a story without deliberately factoring in a healthy dose of tension into the plot. That’s life. With this as a presupposition, we can say that people will almost always go to their deathbed or grave with some poisoned, or at the least, bittersweet relationships. Where does that leave those who are left behind?

My experience tells me that truth is stranger, and often meaner, than fiction and writes some difficult endings into its script. Whether it’s a person’s will (think of the man who asked Jesus to arbitrate his dad’s will in his favor, see Luke 12:13), an offense about not getting invited to a wedding, a verbal insult (see King David’s deathbed order in 1 Kings 2:5-9), a senseless competition within family ranks seeping its way into offsprings and cousins or a marriage that went south, there are few that make it to the funeral home with a perfectly clear slate. 

As a passerby of this aging phenomenon, I have only a couple of words of advice. First, and foremost, be kind to yourself. When someone dies, you may wish you had treated them differently or not let something slip out of your mouth that they cannot now hear your apology for. We are weak. Repent. This may set you up for a better experience the next time you visit a funeral home – particularly if you’re not the one being viewed.

Even if 90% of your relating to the deceased was positive, there may have been that one thing. I had a loving father and I was just getting to a new and better place with him just before he died suddenly. To my dismay and regret, we had one very bad conversation. It happened to be our last. I had scolded him about relegating God to a denomination that he thought had some hypocritical strains to it. I also addressed his lack of appreciation for the work that my brother and sister, who still lived with him, were doing for him. You can imagine my regret when I got the call of his passing just two weeks later. Fortunately, I loved him and knew him well enough that that last encounter didn’t define our total relationship. But, it did, and does some three decades later this week, sting. Perhaps, he needed to hear it before he passed…and that it was part of the tension we just can’t seem to figure out.

Yes, “… man is born to trouble as surely as sparks fly upward.” Job 5:7.

There’s only one person I can think of who got to apologize to someone after death and make it up to the person he had offended. St. Peter wept bitterly for denying Jesus three times. And three times, after Jesus’ resurrection, Peter got a chance to tell Jesus that he really did love Him. That’s one of the kindest post-funeral acts ever recorded.

Tension may be built into the equation. But, so is forgiveness. Take a tip from Jesus. Release  others. Release yourself. And make all of your days a rehearsal of sorts for your next visit to the funeral home. It may be your last. 

 

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