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Archive for July, 2013

What’s In A Name?

I wasn’t born with the greatest memory. I get faces and names mixed up or forget them all together. It makes for some interesting looks from all of the people who know me and walk up to me and address me by my name. 

“Oh, hi!” I meekly reply. Better not have my wife around or else I’d have to introduce her to my friend, “Hi.”

So, it was with some irony that I’ve come to address a casual business acquaintance by his name. For some reason, I was determined to memorize it. It’s been three years and I still remember and USE his name during our weekly encounters.

The twist, however, is that he doesn’t know my name. At first, I passed this off as a guy who is a little reserved. But three years hence, I now know what it is like to be on the other side of this equation. I am not insulted. I do not think lower of the man because of this situation. I can only hope that all of the “Hi’s” in my life feel this same way about me.

It then dawned on me that that’s exactly how God must feel to the infinite power. People see him hundreds or thousands of times a day and they don’t recognize His face and some couldn’t retrieve His name if they’re life depended on it. In fact, their life does depend on it.

No pun intended, but let me spell His name out:

“He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out…I am the good shepherd; I know my own sheep, and they know me,” John 10:3,14

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There have been a lot of storms that have hit New Jersey. One lesser known one occurred on February 15, 1956. You probably guessed the name of that one: “Robert.”

Theologically, this particular tempest began to form about nine months earlier in my mother’s womb, so it had a lot of time to grow into the monster it would become:

“For I was born a sinner –  yes, from the moment my mother conceived me.” Psalm 51:5

I guess no one really likes to think of themselves as such a wet blanket. But that Psalm pretty well sums it up.

I started to really pummel New Jersey as a teenager and through my early 20’s. I distinctly remember my mother coming into the kitchen either late at night or in the early morning. I probably had red eyes from who knows what. She sympathetically muttered something like, “It’s such a tough age.”

That was gracious. It wasn’t just my age. It was my inherited condition. 

“…Adam’s sin brought death, so death spread to everyone, for everyone sinned…But there is a great difference between Adam’s sin and God’s gracious gift. For the sin of this one man, Adam, brought death to many. But even greater is God’s wonderful grace and his gift of forgiveness to many through this other man, Jesus Christ. And the result of God’s gracious gift is very different from the result of that one man’s sin. For Adam’s sin led to condemnation, but God’s free gift leads to our being made right with God, even though we are guilty of many sins. For the sin of this one man, Adam, caused death to rule over many. But even greater is God’s wonderful grace and his gift of righteousness, for all who receive it will live in triumph over sin and death through this one man, Jesus Christ. Romans 5:12,15,16,17

So, here I sit looking over the Atlantic Ocean in Spring Lake, New Jersey. Last night, I went up to the historic Ocean Grove Auditorium, very nearly devastated by Hurricane Sandy. I made my way there to see a Baptist minister preach. His name was Pastor Mike Huckabee, known to some as “Governor.” He happened to deliver a sermon on the “Perfect Storm.” He didn’t call it that, but that’s what he was trying to get across. 

The preacher in him returned to his Baptist roots and taught about salvation. He said that “good” people don’t get into heaven; only “perfect” ones. It was clear he was trying to address the misconception about our conception. He said that many still have the notion that being “good” or doing “good acts” is what allows us our hand stamp from St. Peter. Not so, the preacher declared. “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Romans 3:23 And in his best Southern Baptist manner, he explained that Jesus was the “perfect” atonement for our sinful condition. When we ask Jesus to forgive our sins, “Perfect” is spelled in indelible ink on the back of our hands and St. Pete is a happy camper.

We are not perfect. His sacrifice is. 

He is the only one who is stronger than the storm. 

 

BELOW IS A REDEMPTION SONG INSPIRED BY TODAY’S SPRING LAKE SONRISE: 

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Spectacular

Crashing waves in the foreground, their painting is their sound

Before the morning sunrise when no one is around

             I am just a poet on a sunrise beach

                                                     Once again I know it: words are out of reach

CHORUS:

Spectacular,

     The meaning of “Today”

            All must concur

                  The redeeming of a day

                              Bid us walk on water to this very Son

                                                   and return with a sunrise for everyone

 

                             Its light makes an orange pavement on the sea

If I could walk on water, I’d ask all to join me

BRIDGE:

           The tide’s repeated message

                         awakes us to our core:

“There’ll never be another day like this

                         it’s what makes the ocean roar.”

© 2013, Robert J. LaCosta

 

 

 

 

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Like me and others, my brother Johnny had a bit of a wild adolescence and gave Mommy a few gray hairs…

I see my brother Johnny taking care of Mommy with cancer. I remember my sister talking about his sensitivity. I recall all of us taking turns cleaning the bedsores of the woman who had changed all of our diapers.

…Mom didn’t really want to get old. I think it was because she was born winsome. I don’t think she would have liked to have been penned in by any of aging’s restrictions and limitations. She simply loved life too much to miss out on too much.

If I were to be honest, I think she, like many, probably feared aging. I’m within a decade of the age that she died and I understand this fear.

God has a way of redeeming fear.

A friend of mine was joking with me about feeding me rice pudding and wiping my mouth when I get to the point where I can’t feed myself. It was only a snippet of a levity but it made me think about the fear of being out of control in the same way Alzheimer’s and strokes have a way of stripping us of everything but breathing. Behind his humor is a man who struggled for months beyond the norm when it came to putting down his dog. I really could see him at my bedside, half-crying and half-loving it.

Over the past few years, I watched my mother-in-law, or “Mother Theresa” as everyone at the nursing home calls her, feed and wipe my father-in-law’s mouth just about every day for the past seven years after a stroke turned a giant of a man into “that fellow in the wheelchair.” He doesn’t know it, but he’s a Monet “Water-Lily Pond” in the making. And it’s rare if my brother-in-law misses a day at the nursing home.

Thinking back on my brother’s devotion to Mom, my friend’s playful-turned-poignant words and the artistic care by “Mother Theresa,” I see now that releasing fear into God’s hands is truly the only sensible thing to do. It’s not that there won’t be suffering. But, I wonder if Mom could have known about the redemption of her son and the glory of fear never realized.  

BELOW: JOHNNY, LEFT WITH BIG GRIN, AND ME.

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BELOW: BOB DUFEK, IT’S NOT RICE PUDDING, BUT…

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BELOW: NICK, LEFT, SURROUNDED BY ALL-STAR LINE-UP…MIKE, TONY AND MOTHER THERESA (CAMERA SHY: VINI, DOMINIC AND FRANK)

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BELOW: WINSOME LUCY

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God’s Green Grass

One of the most deceptive things on earth is the idea that somewhere, somehow, there is something better than what we have (or are) now. There is an intrinsic victory in contentment, especially the kind that is paired with the belief that God can make good come out of anything – including our situation.

I wouldn’t have wanted to be the guy who discovered, “The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence.” I’m sure he was miserable to have been able to come up with that one. 

Juxtapose these:

“The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.” Psalm 23:1

“And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose. Romans 8:28                                     

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GRASS LOOKS PRETTY GREEN

 

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“There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity under the heavens…” Ecclesiastes 3:1

Every time I almost slip on a patch of ice, can’t wait for the heated seats to warm my rump or see a homeless guy sleeping in nippy weather, I ask, “Why, O why, wasn’t I born in the south?”

I begin looking at the calendar, subconsciously counting the days until Winter will finally loose its chilled grip on everything from the deer tiptoeing across my frozen back yard tundra to the temperamental car batteries.

I’m not above wandering off on the internet to Southwest’s latest Florida getaway deals. “Self, I says, I think we could swing that,” I tell my-self. Never do it, but Winter often drives me to talking to my-self.

It’s right around that time that I wander even further to the real estate sites that boast summer living twelve months a year. Hmm, that condo can’t be that expensive. The beach is only forty-five minutes away…and that’s with traffic.

My kids could come down anytime they want. Spring training. Wow, the ball boy might toss me a bone or two, maybe even get to know my name.

I’ll be watching those nor’easters on the weather channel before taking my stroll on the beach.

Someone would be glad to watch my house, water the plants and feed the kitties…

Then, I wake up and suddenly it’s 90 degrees in July and Self suddenly is talking to himself again: “I can’t look my physical therapist in the eye if I lug that prehistoric air conditioner up from the basement.”

With the recent monsoons, our property has become The Riviera for every vacationing mosquito on the planet. I can hardly walk to the pool to cool off without these masochistic kamikazes chasing me back to Winter.

Before I can make it inside my house, I have to dodge the invisible and dreaded deer ticks so as to avoid the Black Plague of upstate New York in the form of Lyme Disease.

Even when I’ve escaped the assault of the well-orchestrated biting insects outside, I am greeted inside by the insidious scurrying black ants who must be hired by the local psychologist judging from the look on my wife’s face. Out with the sugar, out with the flour, out with even one empty soda can that yells to these vagabonds, “Come and get it!” I’ve cleaned every part of the counter. No more crumbs. Turn that toaster upside down. I have been as diligent as any orthodox Jew removing leaven from the cupboards. I’ve actually begun to take delight in spraying them with dish detergent and water…oh, the amazing concoctions on the internet.

I’ve learned that trying to stamp on a black ant is not that easy because they are quicker than a lead-off batter. So, I just try to do the quick-stomp which is designed to disable them and then I move in for the …no remorse from this sci-fi giant.

I’m just about to retire for bed when I notice that the new leaves on my prize plant in the dining room are turning black.

The heartbreak of thrips. They are a zillionth of an inch, but they found my sacred plant. I decapitate a few of the leaves. Now, for revenge. I pull out the concoction because I found out it works on them as well!

After my appropriate mourning for my plant, I answer the phone to find out that my friend has been invaded by the swarming once-every-seventeen-year cicada which are louder than a locomotive and haven’t learned to deal with windshields yet. They’re big, loud, proud and messy.

It’s a bug conspiracy.

I sit down at my computer, the one thing that doesn’t have a bug.

I begin to search the web for trips to the North Pole.

 

 

BELOW: THEY MAY BITE, BUT AT LEAST THEY WON’T GET INTO THE SUGAR.

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If you’ve ever cultivated a desire for something or someone, you will understand that a dream is not easily attained. In fact, there is clearly some type of opposition to dreams that take on the form of a CIA-thriller.

Witnessing LeBron James’ climb to the top of the NBA to receive the MVP trophy, it was clear that nothing was handed to him. One could argue that if someone were as gifted and as big and strong as LeBron, he could accomplish the same feat. Really? In answer to a reporter’s question, he said that he worked on his jump shot and that he always works hard on every aspect of the game. He also mentioned that he was just an inner city kid from Akron, Ohio, and that he “shouldn’t even be here.” Basically, he was saying that he overcame incredible odds to live his dream. He had to watch over them every step (jump) of the way.

This reinforces Thomas Edison’s assertion that “genius is only one percent inspiration and 99% perspiration.”

I also happened upon the movie about Bobby Darin so appropriately entitled “Somewhere Beyond The Sea.” It took all the effort he could muster to fight his way to stardom from his humble Bronx background and a weak heart that would eventually take his life.

Dreams are a dime a dozen. The realization of desire is another matter. Somewhere on this planet, there is a graveyard of broken dreams. It must take up half of a continent.

If a dream is hard to accomplish, the security around a dream must be tighter than the alarm system around Fort Knox.

Rereading the account of Jesus’ birth in the Gospel of Matthew, I am struck by how much the Ultimate Dreamer’s dream was opposed. Consider:

1) Joseph almost bails on Mary

2) Mary can’t deliver in the safety and privacy of her own hometown

3) They couldn’t even find a hotel

4) Herod slaughters every babe in sight to get to Jesus

5) Joseph has to escape to Egypt AND hides out there until Herod dies

6) Even when Joseph brings Jesus back to Israel, he has to make a detour to Nazareth to avoid Herod’s son and probably lived incognito so as to preserve the Dream.

Espionage is not the word! If our Heavenly Father’s “Dream” had to be so closely guarded and protected, what makes you and I think that a red carpet is going to roll out to our destiny?

Life is not a bowl of cherries. It will take work, diligence and better security than the best secret servicemen could offer. It will be opposed by all the forces of hell IF it the dream is from God. 

Babysitting a dream is so intense that you can’t take your eye off of it for even a minute. Even if your dream has developed to a high level of maturity, the enemy of your soul is casing your joint, looking for an unlocked door or an open window or trying to figure out when you get sloppy enough to leave the place unguarded because you are on vacation. Maybe the vacation needs to wait.

In Jesus’ case, it was a dream that Our Father watched over so diligently because that Dream was all about us. He saw what that Dream could do. 

It behooves us to ask what our dream will do and for whom it will do it for. Just remember, hell hath no fury like seeing a godly dream delivered safe and sound. Can you say Fort Knox?

NOT…..

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