Friday, March 30, 2012

Happy Accidents

A Devotional by Margot Cioccio

Psalm 143:10
Teach me to do your will, 
 for you are my God; 
may your good Spirit  
lead me on level ground.





Today I was looking at other blogs to see what other bloggers are doing. I came across one that has a blogging A-Z challenge. How cool that it starts on April 1st. The challenge is to post almost everyday for the month of April something corresponding to the next alphabet letter. Except for April 1st you get Sundays off. The blogs post don't need to be more than 100 words. It sounds kind of fun particularly since I already write Monday - Friday. I suppose adding another day and having to choose my topic to correspond with a letter is not likely to kill me. So I just added my blog to the list of participants making me the 1429th on the list. They encourage each participant to also visit about 5 of the participating blogs each day. Its a good chance to see what others are doing and also for more people to become aware of what I'm doing.  So how this will affect my readers. You will get some extra Saturday posts and one Sunday post. My topics or post title will somehow correspond to the daily letter.

So on to my post for today. 

Today I was looking at the changes made to the blogger platform to see how the new changes would affect my daily blogging experience. One of the things that they added was a section that shows a couple of notable blogs. So I clicked on those to see what was notable about them. From there I clicked on the button that said "see more" and like Alice down the rabbits hole I found my self in an interesting adventure.  I was first taken to a page with hundreds little photo snapshots of blogs of note. Click the link on the word snapshot to see what I saw.  I went on to look at some of them it was at that point that I stumbled across the blogging A-Z challenge.  So here is the question.  Was this little adventure just a bit of my random distraction or was God leading me somehow in it?  I could have done this any time but it is now just 2 days til the A-Z challenge starts for this year. I just think the timing is interesting - I could have done this little exploring adventure in May and would have missed the challenge and probably forgotten about it by next April.  In my kind of scattered approach to life, I pay attention to the odd little things that I seem to accidentally stumble across. I have to think that God is leading because through the years I have accidentally sat next to some interesting and significant people at conferences. I've seen that chance conversation with a stranger at one of our feeds turn out to become one of my best friends. I have just come to believe that that answer that I need is often right around the next bend in the road. 

I had an art teacher when I was in college who talked about how we should go with the accidents that happen in our art projects. She called them happy accidents. I guess I have carried that happy accident approach in to my life. Sometimes the stuff that seems like an accident turns out to be what makes a project really special. Quite often its the obstacles that we encounter that cause us to find some interesting solution. They push us in a direction of discovery that we would not have gone down with out having had to find a solution to some problem that we were facing. So I guess I have learned to be thankful for the challenges that come my way.  It was the lions, bears, a giant and running around in the wilderness with a band of guys that prepared David to lead a nation. It was a bunch jerks, called brothers, a caravan of gypsy traders, getting sold into slavery, a lying woman, an un deserved stay in prison, and a chance to interpret the dreams of two fellow prisoners that prepared Joseph to become the second highest leader in the world of his day.  I have to believe that in and through the difficulties we face in life God is leading and preparing us. He is using those things to mold and shape us into something unique and wonderful.

I 'm not saying that one needs to go looking for difficulties but rather than being all discouraged and down about the hand you've been dealt find a way to turn it into something wonderful. It is likely to be a journey - so how can you enjoy that journey. How can I allow my present difficulties to cause me to grow and to make me into one who over comes.  I'm not sure how this chance stumble on to the blogging A-Z challenge will some how affect my future. It may be nothing more than a fun thing to do. Then again perhaps God will use it to lead some new people to discover this blog. Who knows what will happen but I think that the timing of finding it too interesting to not accredit it to Gods leading and guiding.

 Teach me to do your will, for you are my God; 
may your good Spirit lead me on level ground. 

Prayer 
Dear Lord, 
Thank you for the things you bring across our path and into our notice. Thank you for those chance meetings and for the happy accidents. Thank you for those trials and hardships that have allowed us to become strong and to have to push beyond our normal limits to overcome. Thank you that you use those things and so many things that may seem so ordinary that we often over look them and pass them off as just random chance encounters. Thank you that you are leading and guiding our steps day by day. Thank you that you do order the steps of the righteous. (Psalm 37:23) Thank you that through Jesus we are righteous not by our own merit by though His.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

What Next?

A Devotional by Margot Cioccio

Luke 10:27  (NIV)
 27 He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.

I'm in the space between finishing one project and starting up the next. Its a kind of waiting, resting, and regrouping time. I don't know what the next project will even be at this point and I have lots of other smaller things that I'm always working on. In this time between things I find myself looking to see what things I can tidy up or organize.  I sit here looking at my work space at home and wonder if I should move some of it to my new Studio 2 Work space. That project has been happening right along side the river project but I have not really shared any of those photos. I have the main structure pretty well done at this point but I have a lot to do in the way of making it truly functional. They are not even the best of photos but they will give you a bit of a look.

My husband was very helpful one weekend and went shopping with me for the bookshelves and the rug and some of the decorations. He loves to paint and so he did the messy job of painting the small desk and some of the old wood chairs that I found black.  At this point I have two new guitar students who I am teaching in this new space. I can invision doing some small mosaic classes for 4-6 people. The furniture that I selected is all very light weight and can easily be repositioned for my various needs. I think it will also make a nice place to meet with coaching clients.  In some ways I guess I need to look at the development of this space much like the Beloved Project, or the River Project. It is a journey from first seeing the idea in my head to seeing it become a finished project. I suppose in all of these things I give myself permission to experiment. On the Beloved project I re-did the mouth and eyes several times before I liked them and moved on to other parts of the project.  On the River Project I thought there would be transparant blue overlays but in the end I cut out blue water drops.  I look at my life in a similar way, I give myself permission to experiment and try new things. Rather than look at the things that don't work as "oh woe is me" failures - I look at what is not working and put on my thinking cap, spend some time praying and seeking the Lord. Then I try to do a few things differently to see how that works.

I have always done a lot of my work from home but I am toying with the idea of moving work to the Studio 2 space and being truly home when I am home. I would still have enough flexibility to work at home if I wanted to but it might bring a something new to our family life. My family has me around all the time now but they often don't get my undivided attention because I'm always multi tasking on some project. Its kind of like when you move to a new house the living space with either separate people or it will bring people together.  I know that the changes that I make will have an effect on the people around me and if I want certain things to be different, I must make some intentional changes.

I took a spiritual gifts test yesterday but I tried to take it from a perspective of  what I am called or passionate about doing rather than simply what I have done a lot of through the years. I don't suppose it is a problem for most folks taking these test but for me for 30 years my attitude has been one of I'm available Lord. I may not be the best at something but I trust you will help me to get the job done. If you see a need meet it, has been how I have operated. As a result my scores on spiritual gifts test are always very high with lots of things that tie for the top 4 slots. In talking with my pastor, we are working through the idea of "great you've done a lot but what of that makes you feel excited, alive, passionate. What of it do you love doing vs. what are you good at because it has needed to be done.
So my test was not a great surprise to me. Creative Communication/ Craftsmanship, Prayer/ Intercession, Faith /Encouragement/ Pastoring/ Shepherding, Wisdom are all part of my gift mix. So now the question to be discussed over coffee with my pastor is "How in the next 8-12 months do I move from the things I am currently doing to doing more that truly fits my spiritual gifts mix.  It is an interesting thing for me to ponder. It is interesting to be in a place and working with a pastor who is not threatened by my gift mix and actually sees the value of helping and equipping me to find my right spot that really fits me with in the body of Christ.  I suppose that is another of my "Whats Next" projects.  I am pretty sure that Gods provision of the Studio 2 space and finding my fit will some how work hand in hand. You may not realize it but women with strong leadership gifts are all too often seen as a threat in the largely male dominated church leadership world. Its not true everywhere but it has been a journey for me.  I've always kind of been a trail blazer and perhaps this journey to really finding my place as a woman called by God to contribute to His kingdom in some way will be helpful to other women and maybe to men as well as they begin to see the calling and giftedness of their wives, mothers, friends. How do we help each other become all that God desires, how do we give others a hand up, how do we equip and encourage people regardless of gender to begin to see God's greater design and begin to move by faith to become a people who love the Lord with all their heart, soul, mind and strength.   I guess I am mostly just being transparant about my journey today and I hope that it helps and encourages you in your own journey as you follow Jesus step by step, day by day. 

Prayer: 
Dear Lord,
I pray you will help those who are reading today to have greater revelation of who you have called, gifted and appointed them to be. Help your people to rise up from their complacency and slumber and even fear and begin to walk by faith into your greater kingdom purposes. I thank you that you allow us to experiment and practice using our gifts and to discover your plan. Thank you for laying things out for us step by step and for not overwhelming us with the BIG picture. I thank you for vision that helps us to begin to dream and think a bit bigger. I thank you for courage to do what is right even when we still feel afraid. Thank you for being with us every step of the way. May your kingdom come and your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.


Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Life is Messy - But God Made Us Washable


A Devotional by Margot Cioccio

Sometimes life is messy
1 Corinthians 10: 31 
So whether you eat 
or drink or 
whatever you do, 
do it all for the glory of God. 








This morning I over slept and used my time to practice piano for my up coming lesson rather than writing. At that time I was not really sure what I wanted to write about. On the drive to lessons we were listening to Christian radio and a song played that talked about theres nothing in this world that I want. Then another song came on that pretty much talked about how life sucks and I can't wait to get to heaven. It was much more poetic than my version.  I guess it kind of pushed some buttons of mine. 

It is so easy because something has a catchy tune to go along with the message and buy it hook line and sinker when if we were to stop and think about the message and how it really squares with the bible we might be less likely to sing that song with such sheep like acceptance.

My first thought on the song about there being nothing in this life that I want was. Was really? That might be your wishful thought but I have not really met many people that even come close to that level of dis attachement from this world. I'm not sure that Jesus has even asked to try to arrive at some nirvana like state of spirituality. Really if we were not to talke part in this life in some way, he might as well take us to heaven at the moment of conversion.  He leaves us here to grow among the weeds, and thorns, the trials, the temptations, the sins, of this world. Take a look at Philippians 2:12 -16
Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose. Do everything without complaining or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe as you hold out the word of life—in order that I may boast on the day of Christ that I did not run or labor for nothing."  Even Jesus in Matthew 6:10 says "your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven".  

WE ARE MISSING THE POINT!  

He left us here for a reason to not just buy holy Jesus, fire insurance and hang on by our fingernails till he sweeps us up into heaven. "Some bright morning when this life is over - I'll fly away". 
Please don't miss understand me - I'm sure heaven will be glorious but I don't want to get there one day too soon. I get to spend eternity there - I have only a limited number of years here to know Jesus from this vantage point.  I don't think he left me here to sit on a hill and wait for his return. He left me here to bring about his kingdom. I am supposed to be like salt - that seasons, and preserves. I am supposed to be like a light set up on a stand - not cowering behind the four walls of my safe little church environment.  I am supposed to be like a city on a hill that can be seen from miles around. I am supposed to be visible and active and part of this world that he created. If my focus in this life is just getting to heaven, I might as well be about re arranging the deck chairs on the Titanic - cause everyone knows this ship is going down. Right? Well...why then did Jesus bother to heal the sick, give sight to the blind, to cause the lame to walk, to set the sinners and the captives free. He did not just turn to those folks and say "ok now I've cleaned you up and fixed you - heres your ticket cause this train is a mighty fine train and its bound for glory. No!, He sent all of those folks back out to their lives to help make a way for His Kingdom and His glory to be revealed here and now in and through each of us. Not some day, we are not just left at river bank to wait for Michael to come row his boat ashore to take me across to heaven.  Today is the day, this is the life we have been given. What are we doing to show his justice, his mercy, his compassion to a world of broken people who desperately need what Jesus has freely given to each of us. 

I suppose my biggest gripe with the whole rapture of the church mentality is that it causes people to live in a state of this ships going down so why bother doing anything. We all to often get a bad case of short timers attitude.  We are done with this gig so why bother. WAKE UP!!! I'm not here to argue end times views as far as I am concerned we are all in our own personal end times we only have so many days allotted to each of our lives. I don't think God intended for us to sit around waiting for someday. He gave me today and none of us knows how many days beyond today we will have. I love Rich Mullins quote that says, "Live like you'll die tomorrow. Die knowing you'll live forever"

I have to constantly keep the perspective that I have been called, anointed, appointed to do something for Gods glory during my life. What are the footprints that I am leaving behind for others to follow. 
I guess my point is - my reason for wanting heaven is simply because Jesus will be there, but bottom line is that I have Jesus here today. I don't have to wait for someday in heaven, I have all that I need in Jesus today and every day.  I would rather get to heaven and be sharing countless stories with him. Remember when we overcame that ____ together. He might say "Remember when you were covered in sin and I came and I washed away the mud". "Remember how we fought that giant of dispair together.  Remember when we prayed together for that discouraged person and they found the courage and the hope to carry on. Remember that one smile - did you know that it touched a thousand people that day. Did you know that obnoxious kid you took the time to pay attention to grew up and cared for a generation of other kids". I want to get to heaven and have some stuff to talk about, some stuff to celebrate. 

I tell my kids that you don't live life by watching it on the TV or on the computer. You live it when you decide to go out and take part in it.  You become great at it when you fall down and God picks you back up and pats you on the butt and says "I sure love you - go back out and try that again. I know you will do better this time."  Instead we avoid real life because we are so insecure in our righteousness that we are afraid that every little thing is going to trip us up and sully us for our grand appearance in heaven. 

Jesus knows that we are all works in progress. I tell my music students that I coach vocally to sing loud so I can hear them. When I can hear them I can fix what needs fixed. So live loud and Jesus will help you fix and adjust along the way. Get out there and live and learn to be thankful for the trials and the joys because both are working God's purposes in our life.

1 Corinthians 10: 31 So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. 32 Do not cause anyone to stumble, whether Jews, Greeks or the church of God— 33 even as I try to please everyone in every way. For I am not seeking my own good but the good of many, so that they may be saved.

God created this amazing world for us. How can we think that holiness requires that we shut ourselves up away from it. We are to live holy lives out in the world, not up in some holy commune or cloister.  Jesus wants to be part of every moment of every day - He is to be to us like the air that we breathe a part of it all. Holiness is not separating ourselves from this life but making room in our heart, life and world and inviting Jesus in to it so that we might enjoy it together.

Luke 10:27(NIV)  27 He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.” 

 

Prayer: Dear Lord, 

Help us get off the side lines and into the game. Help us to not just check our brains at the door. Help us to know the joys and the sorrows as we learn to love you each and every day here in this world. I know you are preparing a place in heaven for me but I want to live this life to the fullest. I want to experience it first hand not live vicariously through the lives of others in a tv box.  Nor do I want to cower in secret - help me to live life loudly for your glory. Thank you that when I fall that I know you will be there to pick me up and to send me back out to live for you. Thank you that although this life is messy - you made us washable.






  

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Transitions

A Devotional by Margot Cioccio
Photo by Ryan Mahoney
Ephesians 3:2-5
Surely you have heard about the administration of God’s grace that was given to me for you,  that is, the mystery made known to me by revelation, as I have already written briefly.  In reading this, then, you will be able to understand my insight into the mystery of Christ,  which was not made known to men in other generations as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to God’s holy apostles and prophets.



For the last two days I needed to rest and make the transition from having finished The River Project, to whats next. I seem to always feel at loose ends  and restless after a big project is completed. I'm usually pretty tired and I know its not yet time to start a new project. I've been working hard physically and mentally to get it done. Its finished - now what? While my physical body demands that I rest - while my mind struggles to rest. I have found that these transitions are a good time for a book. I had watched as many tv shows as I could stand in my tiredness on Saturday and by Sunday after our service and then working in the kitchen, I was back to my former state of exhaustion. I needed to escape into the world of a book.

My son Niah had picked up a few books that he thought might be written in a steam punk style.  Here's how the Urban Dictionary defines Steampunk for those of you who might not be familiar with the term.  "Steampunk is a subgenre of speculative fiction, usually set in an anachronistic Victorian or quasi-Victorian alternate history setting. It could be described by the slogan "What the past would look like if the future had happened sooner." It includes fiction with science fiction, fantasy or horror themes"

It probably would not have mattered what I was reading I just needed my mind to be distracted so my body could rest. So for the past two days I have read a delightful steampunk novel by Kenneth Oppel called Airborn. It was about a cabin boy on a lighter than air Titanic like passenger airship. It was filled with a fanciful un discovered creatures called air cats, and of course pirates and being shipwrecked on a island. It has been a perfect diversion for me,  a historical fiction in feel with a science fiction, fantasy twist. I won't say it was the best book I've ever read but it has kept my mind engaged and left me not wanting to put the book down to know would happen next. 

There are times when I can't get enough of books - it is like I am starved for words and I need to fill my mind with the images painted by them. I don't know how long this little book binge will last - it looks like there is a second book in this series. I will have to get back to my normal day to day routine but I will fill some of my free time in the pages of a book. 
There is quote that I really like from the book Inkheart by Cornelia Funke that kind of defines what books do for me. It a conversation that takes place in the library of Elinor the eccentric aunt of    young Meggie.

"Elinor Loredan: But I just adore everything Persian.
Meggie Folchart: You've been to Persia, then?
Elinor Loredan: Yes, a hundred times. Along with St. Petersburg, Paris, Middle-Earth, distant planets and Shangri-la. And I never had to leave this room. Books are adventure. They contain murder and mayhem and passion. They love anyone who opens them. "

I had the privilege this past week to sit and listen to four chapters read aloud from the book of memoirs that a friend of mine is writing. I would like to say that I know her pretty well and I could even remember some of the things times that she related, but I had never been inside her head. There is something powerful and profound in the way that the written word in her memoirs, were able to transport me back to those scenes and allow me to see them through her eyes. To feel her pain and to understand in a far deeper way the journey she had traveled.  She said in putting them to words that she was better able to understand and make sense of herself and the things she had been through.

That is what I love about the written word and books they allow us to see through the eyes of someone else.  CS Lewis writes  'Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another: "What! You too? ... “We read to know that we are not alone.”  Sometimes it helps to see that characters and people in books experience and feel the same joys, and frustrations that we feel. It is good to know that we are not alone. 

I have found by writing that the interior me and the exterior me are becoming more and more the same person. For far too long I kept the interior me hidden, where one might know my actions and see my behavior - rarely was I able to find the courage to express the person on the inside. I write and create art, and take photographs to help others see from the perspective of the inner me. For me it took finding the courage to believe that God must have created me to do more than wear a mask and act out the parts and roles that I believed others expected of me. I believe he created me to express from the depths of who I am, to write and to sing, to create so that others might also be carried along in my expressions of who I am in Him.
  
Literature adds to reality, it does not simply describe it. It enriches the necessary competencies that daily life requires and provides; and in this respect, it irrigates the deserts that our lives have already become.  ~ C. S. Lewis

I think perhaps after the creative output of a big project that my soul needs to be fed by music, art, reading, time spent in the word and in prayer. I guess I had not really put a finger on why until today.

You can't get a cup of tea big enough or a book long enough to suit me.
C. S. Lewis
 
I bless you with being everything that God has designed you to be, because as you experience that fulfilling joy of being who God has designed you to be, as you fulfill your purpose, you will benefit, others will benefit, and the world will be blessed ~Sylvia Gunther /Arthur Burk
 
I am thankful for the gift of the written word, for the vast treasuries of thoughts that are contained with in them. I love the richness of the stories and the places to which they are able to transport me. John 21:25 "Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written." I am thankful for those that have been written and for the many writers who have helped me to know Jesus from their own unique vantage point. Like them I hope my own words and creative expressions will help others to discover and to experience the life and love of Jesus in a wonderful way. 

 
Prayer: 
Dear Lord, 
Help our souls to be fed and inspired. Thank you that we can be carried along by the creative expressions of others. I thank you for those who dance when I cannot, and who paint skillfully with words or paint, that I can feel and see and understand and know that I am not alone. I pray that we would not just partake of the expressions of others but find our own way to express and share from the depths of who we are in you.
 

Monday, March 26, 2012

People Experiencing The River Project

A Devotional by Margot Cioccio


Psalm 46:4-5

There is a river 
whose streams make glad 
the city of God, 
the holy place where 
the Most High dwells.
God is within her, 

she will not fall; 
God will help her at break of day. 


 
It is Monday and I am very late on getting started. I'm just a little tired from getting the River project finished and ready for use on Sunday. I thought you might enjoy seeing some of the photos that I took of the first folks to explore the River.  The comments from everyone regarding it were very positive and people seemed to be genuinely experiencing God in a moving way. Some lit candles, some drew patterns in the sand, or held on to the stones praying about the topic written on them. Some looked up the promise verses they found written on the little glass gems. Some reflected and were moved by the beauty of the project. I remember just watching as people interacted with the project and were moved by the Lord's presence with in it. There was a point where I felt the Lord's presence in an overwhelming way. It was a feeling of gratitude that he would use me to create something that would help people to connect with Him in worship and prayer.  I am always humbled that he would take us in all our brokenness and find ways to include us in what He is doing.

It is quite a humbling kind of feeling to know that you have been part of creating something that will now take on a life of its own as God uses it to move in and through peoples lives as they experience Him.   If you are in the Spokane area and would like to visit. The River project is located at First Covenant Church on 2nd and Division. Our service is at 10:30 Sunday morning.  We are also having two service on Good Friday during which you could experience the River Project. 


Prayer: Dear Lord, I pray that the photos today will make up for my lack of words. That those who are reading would be inspired by the photos and moved in some way closer to you. That they would uncover some treasure in your word that speaks to their need and helps them as they journey through this day.

Friday, March 23, 2012

The Same Yesterday and Today and Forever

A Devotional by Margot Cioccio
I remember flowers of yesterday and trust that Spring will come again.
2 Samuel 19:
24 Mephibosheth, Saul’s grandson, also went down to meet the king. He had not taken care of his feet or trimmed his mustache or washed his clothes from the day the king left until the day he returned safely. 25 When he came from Jerusalem to meet the king, the king asked him, “Why didn’t you go with me, Mephibosheth?” 26 He said, “My lord the king, since I your servant am lame, I said, ‘I will have my donkey saddled and will ride on it, so I can go with the king.’ But Ziba my servant betrayed me. 27 And he has slandered your servant to my lord the king. My lord the king is like an angel of God; so do whatever pleases you. 28 All my grandfather’s descendants deserved nothing but death from my lord the king, but you gave your servant a place among those who eat at your table. So what right do I have to make any more appeals to the king?” 29 The king said to him, “Why say more? I order you and Ziba to divide the fields.” 30 Mephibosheth said to the king, “Let him take everything, now that my lord the king has arrived home safely.” 

Some of the disabilities that we see in the bible are barrenness, blindness, deafness, muteness, lameness, seizures. Those disabilities can be the result of physical or spiritual causes. I was thinking today about how Jesus responded to these needs. In Matthew 9: 27 Jesus encounters two blind men. They cry out to him to have mercy on them. He asks them a question "Do you believe that I am able to do this?”  Do we believe that Jesus is able to do something about the things that hinder and concern us,  be it a disability or a life issue?  These two guys say yes, and Jesus says to them “According to your faith will it be done to you”; 30 and their sight was restored. 
It sounds to me like in this case it was not Jesus' faith but the ability of the blind men to believe that Jesus was able and willing.  It says that in his home town of Nazareth that he could do nothing because they did not believe and could not get past seeing him as the son of Joseph and Mary - he was just a kid from the town, he was no one special in their minds. They had no faith to believe in him.

In Matthew 15:29-31 Jesus feeds the four thousand and it says" 29 Jesus left there and went along the Sea of Galilee. Then he went up on a mountainside and sat down. 30 Great crowds came to him, bringing the lame, the blind, the crippled, the mute and many others, and laid them at his feet; and he healed them. 31 The people were amazed when they saw the mute speaking, the crippled made well, the lame walking and the blind seeing. And they praised the God of Israel. 

In this case it says nothing of who's faith was involved. But the people had to some how had to leave their normal regular day and come out to him on the mountainside. Some must have needed the help of loved ones to even get there. There is another story where the friends lower a man down through the roof to Jesus. I think it is important to have people who will stand with us and bring us to Jesus in our weakness. I think that they must have heard about this Jesus and hope that he could help them was strong enough for them to go out to meet him on the mountain side.

In Mark 7:31- 37 31 We have yet another example of Jesus making time for someone with a disability. Then Jesus left the vicinity of Tyre and went through Sidon, down to the Sea of Galilee and into the region of the Decapolis.32 There some people brought to him a man who was deaf and could hardly talk, and they begged him to place his hand on the man.
 33 After he took him aside, away from the crowd, Jesus put his fingers into the man’s ears. Then he spit and touched the man’s tongue. 34 He looked up to heaven and with a deep sigh said to him, “Ephphatha!” (which means, “Be opened!”). 35 At this, the man’s ears were opened, his tongue was loosened and he began to speak plainly.
 36 Jesus commanded them not to tell anyone. But the more he did so, the more they kept talking about it. 37 People were overwhelmed with amazement. “He has done everything well,” they said. “He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.”

Matthew 21: 14
 14 The blind and the lame came to him at the temple, and he healed them. 

Luke 7:21-23
 21 At that very time Jesus cured many who had diseases, sicknesses and evil spirits, and gave sight to many who were blind. 22 So he replied to the messengers, “Go back and report to John what you have seen and heard: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor. 23 Blessed is the man who does not fall away on account of me.”

It says in Hebrews 13:8 "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever." His power to save, deliver, set free and heal is no less today than it was in the days that he physically walked on this earth. Sometimes I think like the folks in Nazareth that we want to keep Jesus in a very small box. He is far more able than we are willing to believe. We turn to every other thing at our disposal before we finally turn to Jesus as our last resort. He should be our first resort. 

Paul had some kind of disability and he cries out and asks the Lord to remove it more than once. In his case God gives him not the end of the problem but the grace to be able to deal with it. 2 Corinthians 12:9-10 9 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 10 That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.  Paul was doing all kinds of amazing miracles and revelations and he says that God left this thing so he would not become conceited. 2 Corinthians 12:7 To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me.
 
In the next story, in classic fashion we want to place the blame for the difficulties that we face on someone or something.  In the case of this person in John 9, Jesus says it was no ones fault but part of how God was revealing his glory. 2 His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” 3 “Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life.
We all have areas of weakness that we must manage or work to overcome. Some of it helps us remember our dependence on Jesus.  I think we see very clearly that Jesus had compassion on those with disabilities. Our own response to peoples needs should follow his. I think we should pray and believe that God is able to heal, deliver and set people free. Sometimes its a process that takes time. Sometimes the miracle is in having the grace to believe that God is able, and willing but to accept that the miracle is one of his grace being sufficient to serve and love him even when the problem is not removed. 

It is pretty clear in the Old Testament that we are to treat those with disabilities with respect, to not take advantage of them, and to provide help for them.  In the verse about Mephibosheth. He is one of the sons of Jonathan, the son of King Saul. Jonathan was the best friend of David and looks out for him even during his fathers anger and campaign against David. The standard practice of the day when a new king took power was to remove to exile, or to death the family of the former king. Mephibosheth was five when David came to power. His nurse with good reason and in great fear runs away with the young prince. In her haste she trips and falls and the child is lame for the rest of his life. Sometimes our problems are the result of the actions of others. In this case the nurse meant well but had an accident. I think there is a bit of grace revealed here as David makes a place at his own table for this son of Jonathans along with his own sons.

I do think there is something in Mephibosheths response to David that is quite remarkable and a good reminder to us. "All my grandfather’s descendants deserved nothing but death from my lord the king, but you gave your servant a place among those who eat at your table. So what right do I have to make any more appeals to the king?”  We too deserve death for our sins. Yet Jesus forgives us and sets a place for us at his table.  We have received far more mercy than we deserve and like Mephibosheth what right do we have to make any more appeals.  We serve a God who also loves to bless us in more ways than we sometimes remember.

I was talking to a friend the other day and someone had asked her "Don't you want to know why you have had all this trouble?" She said at first she did want to know but then she realized that God owed her no explanation, her life belongs to him to do what he choses and to use how he sees fit for his glory. She came to a place of trust and stopped asking for a reason.

Sometimes the very obstacles that we must work to overcome and deal with are building in us a strength of character and a trust and dependence on God that is a miracle in its own right. 
Even Job in all his troubles demands an answer from God. He says 1 The LORD said to Job:
 2 “Will the one who contends with the Almighty correct him?  Let him who accuses God answer him!” 3 Then Job answered the LORD: 4 “I am unworthy—how can I reply to you?
   I put my hand over my mouth. 5 I spoke once, but I have no answer—
   twice, but I will say no more.” 6 Then the LORD spoke to Job out of the storm: 


Sometimes like Job we need to put our hand over our mouth and quit our griping and complaining.
God goes on to list all the amazing things God does and has created and controls. In the end Job replies the following two chapters later.  1 Then Job replied to the LORD:
 2 “I know that you can do all things; no plan of yours can be thwarted.
3 You asked, ‘Who is this that obscures my counsel without knowledge?’
   Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know.

 4 “You said, ‘Listen now, and I will speak;  I will question you, and you shall answer me.’
5 My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you.
6 Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes.” 


I guess I have no easy answers for many of the troubles that we face in this life. My intent is to remind you to look to Jesus and allow the Holy Spirit to lead you. I have through the years seen miracles of healing and at other times I have seen great people of faith go home to be with the Lord. I have seen some people overcome far more than their share of troubles with astounding grace. I have learned that God is always working even when it is not according to how want things done. I have come to realize that he sees the bigger picture, he know the back story and he knows whats around the next corner. What I have learned is that in everything I must keep my eyes on Him. He is the author and the finisher of our faith. My story is really just a tiny part of his bigger story. To Him be the Glory and the Honor and the Power forever, AMEN.
   
Prayer
Dear Lord,
We belong to you. You know the things that we face. Some of those things, you will in your time remove and some you will allow to remain. One way or another we believe you are able and do want the best for us. Forgive us where we have demanded an explanation from you. Help us to put our hand over our mouth and like Job to approach you with humility and a repentant heart. Help us to trust that your timing and plan is right and good. Help us to keep our eyes on you. Be our shelter through the storms and cause our life to bring you glory, honor and praise.
 
 

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Time to Graduate from Baby Food

A Devotional by Margot Cioccio

Baby Chloe
“Like newborn babies, 
crave pure spiritual milk, 
so that by it you may 
grow up in your salvation, 
 now that you have tasted 
that the Lord is good.” 
 1 Peter 2:2-3

Chloe's Pre School Graduation
Now that you have tasted that the Lord is good.... We need to grow up in our salvation and that starts with a craving for pure spiritual milk. Newborn babies need milk every couple of hours and for quite a while milk is all they eat. Little by little they get milk thickened with a little cereal and are slowly introduced to foods that have been pureed because they they can't chew it themselves. Eventually once they can sit in a highchair they are given a spoon and work on the skill of feeding themselves. Its pretty messy at first as they have to develop coordination. Before you know it they are eating the same food as the rest of the family cut up into small bites.

Sadly many who come give their heart to Jesus never move beyond baby food. Even in Paul's day he writes in Hebrews 5 how he has more to say but because the people have a kindergarden or infant understanding that it is hard for him to explain. We want those college level answers to life's problems but we refuse to grow up and learn to eat solid food. We want someone to spoon feed us, when we should be feeding ourselves.

Hebrews 5:11-14 (NIV1984)

  11 We have much to say about this, but it is hard to explain because you are slow to learn. 12 In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! 13 Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. 14 But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil. 
 
 Even with spiritual gifts and spiritual armor you have to begin to use them for them to be of much value to you. My kids were given a microscope and a telescope and could, if they applied themselves do some really cool things. They have worked with them a little but certainly not to the extent of what is possible to learn and discover by working and using those tools.  I could do a lot more with piano if I actually managed to practice everyday. I read this quote a while back, "Earl Nightingale once said, "If you will spend an extra hour each day of study in your chosen field, you will be a national expert in that field in five years or less." What gifts and callings has God given you that you need to begin to use and allow to develop. Maybe its knowing the word and graduating from the Gerber Baby Bible, going by just what others tell you about or tossing around random refrigerator verses to really spending time in the Word, and not just reading random passages but really digging in and studying. 
 
I have had the privilege of watching and encouraging little Chloe for a number of years at this point. Last night I watched and applauded as she got a pin at AWANA's for memorizing bible verses. I am glad to see her at a young age hiding the Word in her heart. She is in kindergarden this year and I see her making wonderful developmental strides. She has had a number of challenges to over come through the years. I first met her when I helped out in the nursery for mops. She was a wild and willful little thing. Her mom and I became friends, so I have gotten to help encourage them both to know and grow up in Jesus. 
 
Last night our older AWANA kids heard the story of St. Patrick a boy from England who got sold in to slavery in Ireland. His dad had been a leader in the church in his town. Patrick must have had at least a little bit of understanding of the bible as a 16 year old. When he found himself in slavery he began to pray and talk to God. Eventually he was able to escape at the direction and leading of the Holy Spirit and made it back to England. There he really digs in and studies and becomes a priest who later heeds a call to go back to Ireland and take the gospel to that very pegan land.  The person sharing made a comment to the kids that he hoped that if something ever happened to them that they would have the verses that they have learned at AWANA's to help them.  It is our hope that these kids will have enough of the Word in them that when they are faced with temptation and life decisions that they will remember the verses they have planted in their hearts and make good and wise choices. 

 “I am a success today because I had a friend who believed in me and I didn't have the heart to let him down...” - Ab Lincoln. 
 
I have had people in my life who encouraged me to grow up in my faith. I have pressed in to know Jesus more and the Holy Sprit has helped me to and I have seen John 16 at work in my own life.  5“Now I am going to him who sent me, yet none of you asks me, ‘Where are you going?’ 6 Because I have said these things, you are filled with grief. 7 But I tell you the truth: It is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Counselor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. 8 When he comes, he will convict the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment: 9 in regard to sin, because men do not believe in me; 10 in regard to righteousness, because I am going to the Father, where you can see me no longer; 11 and in regard to judgment, because the prince of this world now stands condemned.
12 “I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. 13 But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. 14 He will bring glory to me by taking from what is mine and making it known to you. 15 All that belongs to the Father is mine. That is why I said the Spirit will take from what is mine and make it known to you. 

What about you? Are you steadily growing in the things of God or are you sitting in your dirty diapers screaming for someone to come entertain and spoon feed you when you should be learning to use your spoon to feed yourself? Maybe you are more mature and its time to go find some babies and to help them to grow up in the things of God. I am thankful for the mature believers who came alongside me. Who answered my endless questions. People who brought words of correction at times and at other times cheered me on as I made some step of faith. People who stood by me when I tripped and fell and loved me in spite of my brokenness and foolish behavior and choices. I will tell you that there is a dynamic that happens by being part of a community of believers, or a local church. Some times its a real pain and often people just run off to some other church rather than stay and work through things together. You stick a bunch of folks together and they begin to find that we all have a lot of rough edges and areas where we need to grow. One person may be strong in one area and weak in another. The kingdom life is not really ment to be lived in isolation. We grow best together.  Proverbs 27:17 As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.

1 Peter 4: 7 The end of all things is near. Therefore be clear minded and self-controlled so that you can pray. 8 Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. 9 Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. 10 Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms. 11 If anyone speaks, he should do it as one speaking the very words of God. If anyone serves, he should do it with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen.

Maybe you are growing but your growth is stunted in some area and its time to allow Jesus into that place. I have had areas of pain that I kept locked away for far too long. I encourage you to let Jesus into those places. He is patient and gentle and he understands how to heal that brokenness and cause that place to grow and become fruitful.  

Prayer:
Dear Lord,
Help us to be continually growing in you. Help us to discover the many gifts you have given us and to begin to put them to practice and use for your kingdom's glory. Help us to move from baby food to more solid food in your word. Help us to learn to rightly divide your word and to rightly apply it to the situations we face each day. Move us out of diapers and into training pants. Bring us life giving leaders who will challenge and encourage us on our journey. Help us to become life giving leaders who encourage others as we walk together for a reason or a season and in some cases a life time.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Like a Tree Planted by Water

A Devotional by Margot Cioccio

Banner 1 of the River Project
““But blessed is the man 
who trusts in the LORD, 
whose confidence is in him. 
He will be like a tree planted 
by the water 
that sends out its roots by the stream. 
It does not fear when heat comes; 
its leaves are always green. 
It has no worries in a year of drought 
and never fails to bear fruit.””  
Jeremiah 17:7-8 NIV1984


It is already very late and I have had a long busy day. I have been using all my extra time to try and get the River Project done and ready for the service this Sunday. It is coming along nicely. On top of that I have spent a fair amount of time getting my new studio operational. I had my first new guitar student have their lessons there today.  I am thankful that Spring Break is almost upon us. I am excited about these current projects and they are turning out to be very nice.  My issue is that I am running like crazy to be sure to get everything finished on time.  

I like the idea of being like a tree beside the water. To be nourished and refreshed by the flowing stream. Even in times of drought the roots reach deep below the earth and the tree stays strong and able to bear fruit. There are seasons that are sometimes crazy busy. While I am crazy busy - I am not worried or stressed out by it all. I'm just really busy and having to use my time wisely to keep up. 
I think part of being tapped into the river of God and having allowed ones roots to grow deep helps in busy times.  I think learning to trust and be led by the Holy Spirit helps tremendously. 
The bible talks about the steps of the righteous being ordered by the Lord. So I am not spending time worrying about how to get it all done. I am trusting that the Holy Sprit will help me order my day in such a way that I can accomplish the things that need to get done. 

At this point - I am going to call it a night and apologize to you for making this post a short one.  

Prayer: 
Dear Lord, Help us order our day in a way that pleases you. Help us to walk in trust and in the confidence of our acceptance in you.  Lord you know very well all the things we think we have to do today - help to keep you in the center of it all. 

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

If You Knew

A Devotional by Margot Cioccio

Isaiah 46:16 NASB
"Behold, I have inscribed you on the palms of My hands;
Your walls are continually before Me.

I was talking last night with my long time friend Karen Leigh. She called last night, very late her in the East Coast her time because she had had a revelation from God and knew I would understand and still be up since I live on the West Coast. We had a wonderful visit sharing what the Lord was doing currently in both of our lives.  God had led us both to the passage from Song of Solomon 2:12 in the past week that says "Flowers appear on the earth; the season of singing has come, the cooing of doves is heard in our land".  We were both seeing some new things springing up in our lives from seeds of faith, trust and prayer that had been planted long ago. She shared how in a sense, the locusts had devoured the fields of her life but how God had protected and preserved the seed under the ground. 
We can go through seasons where it seems everything is stripped away and we find ourselves faced with the question of will I praise you in the dark night of the soul and in the middle of the storm. Habakkuk 3:17-18 says " Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen
and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior. 

In the course of our conversation Karen talked about having decided that God did not need to tell her why he was taking her through such a difficult number of years. She had simply decided to trust that he knew what he was doing. So last night she called to tell me that God had opened her eyes to why. He reminded her of a number of songs that she had written and recorded crying out to God for him to make her a Vessel of Honor.  Sometimes we pray dangerous prayers without even realizing that we have asked God to come and transform us. That transformation can sometimes take many years as God breaks us of the old dead life. He hears us when we cry out to him to take us deeper. 

My pastor shared yesterday how we are like precious babies with stinky diapers. As parents we even will turn our heads away from our own children. Peeeeeuuuuuuuu! We love the baby but the stinky diaper has to go.  The process of going deeper with God means that God has to come in and change our diapers and cleans us. That process can be long and at times painful as he removes things from our lives that keep us from being able to go deeper with Him.  

Anyway Karen reminded me of a song that she had written that was at first a word that God spoke to her heart and she took it and put it to music. I wanted to share it with you so I added some of my photos so I could post it as a video. I have written the words to the song below and will post the video below the song words. E-mail folks you will need to click on the post title to get to the site and hear the video.

Prayer:
Lord, Help us to realize all that you have given to us. Help us to shake off the shame and the guilt and to accept all that you have done for us through Jesus.  Thank you that you never forget us and that you have carved us in the palm of your hand.


My friend Karen Leigh
If You knew all the power 
I've given to you.
You would walk 
and hold your head high.
If you knew all the joy 
I have here for you 
You would laugh 
until you cried. 

If you knew how jealous
 I am over you
You would never wonder 
if I'd be here for you.

See, I've carved you 
in the palm of my hand
How can I forget
Who I've carved in 
the palm of my hand.





If you knew how much grace I've extended to you 
You would never fear my throne 
If you knew how I dance and rejoice over you 
You would praise me without words alone

If you knew how constant I'm praying for you
you would move more boldly as your faith is renewed. 




See I've carved you in the palm of my hand
How can I forget who I've carved in the palm of my hand. 

Can I forget you
When I bled and died for you 
My child, my child
If you knew how constant 
I'm praying for you 
you would move more boldly 
as your faith is renewed see I've carved you in the palm of my hand
How can I forget you I've carved you in the palm of my hand. 

Oh, in the palm of my hand
Oh you're in the palm of my hand

1994 by Karen Leigh 

Monday, March 19, 2012

Taking Up The Basen and Towel

A Devotional By Margot Cioccio

Click here for this and other cards by Margot
 John 13:
 8 “No,” said Peter, 
“you shall never wash my feet.”
   Jesus answered, 
“Unless I wash you, 
you have no part with me.”
 



It is early on Sunday morning and I am up before my family and sitting on the carped floor in my bathroom. Every couch and room in my small house is filled with sleeping people. One couch is often taken up by a friend who has become like family. This weekend,  my son invited his buddy to spend the weekend, that bumps my oldest out to the other couch. I am happy for the small house full of people. Yesterday I just got up and headed over to the church and spent my quiet time putting together my new studio. Today I could do that again but it will take both cars to get everyone here to church. So my quiet place is not the most awe inspiring.  It is a place of physical cleansing, it is a private place where we wash and take care of bodily functions. Its part of life.

Cleansing is part of your spiritual life as well. Jesus washed his disciples feet - and a few of them got all edgy and did not want him to see or touch their stinky dirty feet. They had been with Jesus for a while and had picked up some dirt. They believed in him, trusted him, followed him. Their hearts had already changed and been washed in his presence and were still being transformed to be able to go on after his death and resurrection. They have come near the end of the physical journey together and Jesus takes up the towel. His followers had come to think of Him as the Lord, the coming King and they are appalled that he would take on the guise of a servant and take care of cleaning the road dirt of life off their feet.

There are those very private spiritual bathroom type cleansing that we need to allow Jesus to take up the towel and minister cleaning and refreshing. It is humbling for us to allow those we highly respect to see the dirt of our life. Most of the time the washing of the word on a regular daily basis is enough. Sometimes we get in a funk of sorts and just need to let someone else see that we are struggling. Its in those times that it is good to have trusted friends. People who will not judge or condem you, but will pray and will encourage you and point you to Jesus. Sometimes just confessing and talking about it is enough to break the power of the hold of the thing over your life. Sometimes it is enough to share your big deal and realize that much of it is in your head and the problem is really not insurmountable.
I had one of those big deals in my head earlier this week. My friend Mechieal happened to stumble in via facebook chat to my personal pitty party. I had the chance in that moment when she asked how I was to give the standerd "fine" as a response.  We give that answer too often when we are not "fine". I realized that in that moment I needed some prayer support and Mechieal is a trusted and mature christian woman and in that moment I let her know my struggle. In that moment God had sent me the help that I had been praying for. In that moment I needed to be open and honest and humble enough to admit I needed some support. She did not even need to know all the details, just what the struggle was. She encouraged me and prayed for me and I know over the past days that she has prayed for me as the Holy Spirit has brought me to her thoughts. I am grateful, I have been able to turn things around in my head. I am doing so much better.

Sometimes its our turn to take up the towel for someone else. I don't go around dirt inspecting in the lives of other people, I got enough of my own. Sometimes I get to pray for someone as a leader in my church. Sometimes it is over chat in facebook or over the phone. Sometimes it is part of an on going conversation sometimes it is and in the moment Holy Spirit led kind of thing. In those moments we have the opportunity to listen, to pray, to briefly encourage. I say briefly because I have found the ability to listen and pray to be of far greater value. People don't need my opinion or how I would solve the problem if it was mine. In that moment you need someone who can be trusted not to gossip, to hear whats going on, to truly pray and keep praying. If there is advice to give it is because that person has managed to overcome something similar. Sometimes they might be able to hear what God is saying and be able to give a word of wisdom, or knowledge or remind you of some truth or passage from the word to stand upon. The most important thing is to know that they will in that moment be led by the Holy Spirit.

There are weeks when I put aside my struggles and am called to minister to people in our prayer loft. It is amazing how many times the people that God sends to me are struggling with something very similar and I pray and allow the Holy Spirit to flow and share those verses that are very fresh upon my own heart. In that moment my concern and focus is on that other person and in that moment God ministers to us both. Its amazing.  Perhaps in your own struggle it is time for you put it aside and simply be available to pray and encourage others. Perhaps you will find that in ministering to someone else in their need that God ministers to you as well.

I don't think Jesus is telling us to go about having foot washing services. I think while that might be a nice service once in a while that it is missing the point.  Here's the story from John 13
2 The evening meal was being served, and the devil had already prompted Judas Iscariot, son of Simon, to betray Jesus. 3 Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; 4 so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. 5 After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.
 6 He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?”
 7 Jesus replied, “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.”
 8 “No,” said Peter, “you shall never wash my feet.”
   Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.”
 9 “Then, Lord,” Simon Peter replied, “not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!”
 10 Jesus answered, “A person who has had a bath needs only to wash his feet; his whole body is clean. And you are clean, though not every one of you.” 11 For he knew who was going to betray him, and that was why he said not every one was clean.
 12 When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them. 13 “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. 14 Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. 15 I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.


Take up the basen and the towel by ministering the love, grace and mercy of Jesus to someone who is having a difficult day or season. You do the washing with the word, and prayer, by listening and caring and standing with someone in their struggle. I don't think Jesus was looking for them to carry on some symbolic ceremony. 

Prayer:
Dear Lord,
You know the dirt, and the stuff we would try and keep hidden even from you. In this moment you approach us with the basen of water and the towel. As a believer, you've had a bath but your spiritual feet have gotten dirty. If there is someplace where peace is absent and you need help, you've been praying about it and crying out to God. Accept the help that God sends you. Lord help us to not just give that stock "fine" as an answer when someone trusted asks us how we are doing. Help us to be open and honest. Help us to confess and share what is going on and help us to receive your cleansing.  Lord and help us to be led by your Holy Spirit when you trust us to take up the towel for someone else.

Friday, March 16, 2012

A Place Near Your Altar

A Devotional by Margot Cioccio


Psalm 65 NIV1984 

3 When we were overwhelmed by sins,
you forgave our transgressions.
4 Blessed are those you choose
and bring near to live in your courts!
We are filled with the good things of your house,
of your holy temple.

It has been roughly thirty years ago that I first met Jesus. There was always and empty place in me that I never seemed to be able to fill until I met Jesus. I came from a family of good and caring people who loved me but did not know Jesus. My mother was more into new age studies and my father a very educated scientist. They were divorced when I was five and I lived with my mother and visited my dad during summers and holidays. Given their backgrounds I had it amazes me that I found Jesus. I remember giving some of the Christians who tried to talk to me about the Lord a lot of grief in college. 

During my third year of college, I was feeling pretty lost and confused and discovered a group of American Sikhs and attended their yoga classes and eventually moved in to their community house. I dressed in white and wore a turban. I took ice cold shower, and got up early for morning yoga and then headed off to classes or worked in the deli of their health food store. There was a woman named Singh Kar who wrote and sang the most beautiful songs. They were kind and gentle people and it did bring a measure of stability to my life. In time however I realized that it had not really filled that empty place and I realized if I stayed much longer a marriage would have been arranged for me. At about the same time I got word that my grandmother was dying of cancer and my aunt desperately needed help. Not being a very secure person at the time I used that as an excuse to leave and had my brother pick up my stuff so I would not have to directly confront the leaders there about my real reasons for leaving. Pretty cowardly in hindsight. At my aunts I often took the night shift caring for my grandmother. She died with in a month or so of me being there. The church my aunt was attending had a summer missions retreat and I was invited to attend it. At the time I was pretty sure I could tune out the preachers and a weekend in the woods would help me figure out what was next.  I guess I did not planing on being so moved by the music group "The Hitches" a family that sang together.  I don't know what the song was but it was about being part of God's family and I felt so alone and so badly wanted to belong to a family. It was enough to cause me to spend more time finding out about this "Jesus and what being part of His family might look like"  It was right around my 21st birthday that I asked Jesus to come into my life and was baptized. In looking back it has been the best decision I ever made. One that I have not regretted in the 30 years of walking with Him.  Psalm 65 :3-5 reminds me that I knew what a mess I was when I came to Jesus. I am so thankful for His forgiveness. I believe he did choose to bring me to live near to his courts. My favorite place for 30 years has been to be in and around his presence, his church and his people.

I like to joke that I must have gypsy blood in me because I have moved every 2-3 years of my entire life. So I have not had the stability of a house or a neighborhood, or people. Those things for me have come and gone. Where my stability has been found, has been in Jesus. No matter where I have gone His people have been there and I have found a place around his courts to call my home. I'm all for breaking that 2-3 year moving trend at this point in my life. I think I have actually found a place that sees and values the gifts that God has given me and has made room for me to fit in and belong. 

Psalm 84: 3
Even the sparrow has found a home,
and the swallow a nest for herself,
where she may have her young—
a place near your altar,
Lord Almighty, my King and my God.
4 Blessed are those who dwell in your house;
they are ever praising you. 

For thirty years my life has centered around the Lord and his kingdom. I find it hard to make up resumes because while I have always worked, it has only been to pay the bills my focus has been on working for the kingdom. If you ask for a resume of my ministry experience, that is the one that excites me not that I have been paid for most of it. God has allowed me to do a lot of really cool things through the years. 

Why am I thinking about this today. I think it started with the spiritual gifts test that our pastor gave all of us leaders to take. I've taken it before and had talked to him about how for much of the 30 years I have worked in worship or children's and youth ministry. While we have a need for someone to work in that area - my pastor is pretty solid on that person not being me. My top gifts are Prayer/Intercession, Encouragement and Shepherding/ pastoring they shift in their order a bit each time I have taken it creativity, hospitality, wisdom and tongues are always pretty high on my list. My pastor wisely said to me the other day that I had been doing children's ministry because that was the only place most church's are willing to use women who have a pastoring or shepherding spiritual gift.
I think of the herding dogs that my sister has. They will herd just about anything. They are just wired that way. So I think he has a strong case, my gifts have come out in interesting ways because I have had to find outlets for them in a church culture that could only see men as leaders. 

We are endeavoring to get all of us actually functioning in our areas of gifting. For me I have a lot of strong ministry skills and I may be good at a lot of things but I am having to sort through what I did because it needed done or was simply the only outlet in which my gifts could function as apposed to what I have actually been gifted and called to do.  So it got me thinking about my 30 year journey. I guess I have not been too concerned about what I have done for the Lord as long as I could be in around his courts and his altar.  I have been more about being available and believing that God would help me in what ever task I was given to do.  I think however that I am entering a season of fine tuning and beginning to see God bringing me out from a behind the scenes support roles to one of taking up the mantle of who he has created and called me to be for His glory. 

If you have not taken a spiritual gifts test and are clueless about your gifts and callings. E-mail me and I will be happy to send you the file. (princessmargot@hotmail.com)


Prayer:
Dear Lord,
Help us each to discover your unique mix of gifts and talents and to find where we fit in your church and in accomplishing your kingdom purposes. I thank you for your house and I do ever praise you for the place near your altar that you have allowed me to dwell. I know there is plenty of room there and pray for those who have not yet found a place of peace and shelter in your house that they would hear you calling and they would respond and come and find rest for their weary souls.