Thursday, May 31, 2012

Passing Through

A Devotional by Margot Cioccio 

My Family
Psalm 31:3
Since you are my rock and my fortress, 
for the sake of your name lead and guide me.

Our lease is to the point of needing to be renewed or deciding that its time to move. I have moved every two to three years of my entire life. Can I say I really don't like moving. I've noticed where my kids were resistant to the idea of moving last year they are ok with it this year. What we need is more space for less money then where we are currently. What I need is for the Lord to lead me and to help me to find the right place, it just needs to not be a bid deal just a momentary disruption.

 My mind goes back to our last move which was dreadful. We thought we had a place, gave notice, that place fell through and we could not find another by the time we said we would be out. Our landlord already had a new renter ready to move in.  We knew we were moving to a smaller place from a big five bedroom home and so it meant getting rid of a ton of stuff. We ened up moving everything to storage because we could not find a place and staying at my moms an hour away for the summer while we continued to try and find a place. I say it was dreadful but God had his hand on it because we needed to be at my moms. She fell and got a really bad MERSA like infection and ended up in the hospital for a big chunk of the summer. She would not have been able to manage with out my help. It was very stressful my husbands un employment had run out and he had still not found a job. Sometimes God's path leads us through difficult passes and in those times we really have to trust him. Following God is not always just floating down the lazy river some times you have to get out and carry the dang canoe because the river is to low or too treacherous at a given point. 

So I tell myself its ok, lots of things are different this time. We have much less stuff, my husband does have a job, kids are older and more able to help, the housing market is different and I see lots of places for rent. Perhaps it is time.

So I am to the point of ok, maybe. We could use more space, the kids share a tiny room. Its a 2 and a 1/2 bedroom place with 5 people. (Our friend Donnie who crashes here on one couch most of the time has become part of our family). 

So I am going to God and seeking his direction. I know I will need to get past my own resistance which I'm pretty sure is rooted in the stress and difficulty of the last move. At that point everything was difficult and some would say you must have missed God and been off track and I would respond that you have an easy cheesy view of walking with God. I will remind you of the lives of the prophets and the disciples they were stoned, beaten, ridiculed, all but one died a marters death. Following God is a whole lot more than praying and getting that front parking spot at the grocery store kind of faith. 
I choose to follow him everyday and I will tell you that some days and some seasons of life are difficult. John 16:33 "I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world."

We have gotten a very cushy idea of what it means to follow God. People think serving God is attending a church service once a week and being entertained and their kids having a blast in the kids service. While we do little or nothing to change the world we live in. I can't believe how hard it is to get people to be involved in God's compassion, mercy and justice. We struggle to find Christians that will even give one week a month to come and help feed the homeless.  We've adopted a view in America that big and prosperous means God is for it. Little and small struggling means you must have missed God. To have to struggle at all means God must not be in this thing. 

Philippians 1:27 -30
 Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. Then, whether I come and see you or only hear about you in my absence, I will know that you stand firm in one spirit, contending as one man for the faith of the gospel without being frightened in any way by those who oppose you. This is a sign to them that they will be destroyed, but that you will be saved—and that by God. For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for him, since you are going through the same struggle you saw I had, and now hear that I still have.

Please don't think I have some marter complex and go looking for difficulty. Its not that at all what I am saying is life is full of joys and struggles and I follow a God who promises to be with me through thick or thin. He will never leave or forsake me. Look at the lives of David and Joseph their journeys had some long and difficult seasons that they made the best of and God saw their faithfulness. 
Look at Job - his own wife says to him just curse God and die and he stays the course even thought for a season he had lost everything but his life.  Honestly I think our most powerful testimony is seen when we go through trials and don't turn away from Jesus. People are watching, they see us go through things that they know would crush them but realize that we have something that they don't. 

Isaiah 43: 1b-3a
“Fear not, for I have redeemed you;
I have summoned you by name; you are mine.
2When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you.
When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned;
the flames will not set you ablaze.
3 For I am the Lord, your God,

There are difficult times and seasons in life which we must pass through. If you stop every time things are a little difficult you won't get to God's destination and plan for you. You will have overcome nothing. 

Silver and gold are refined by fire. Wine is made by pressing the grapes. Unless a seed falls into the ground and dies it does not produce a harvest. One can not just live on the bless me refrigerator verses taken out of context. READ the whole Bible and you will see that God is with his people through the ups and downs of life. He knows we are going to screw things up and he has a plan and a willingness to accept us like the Father accepts the prodigal son. 

I love this quote about Jesus by my friend Ryan Mahoney "Jesus, that’s the guy that started this whole church thing, started a revolution and ascended to the throne of the Universe with 12 people and no money. He healed and taught in small towns in an occupied territory in the Roman Empire." 

My point being that following God is about more than our personal comfort. He has called us to be salt and light in this world. He has called us to make a difference for his kingdom in the here and now. Not to just huddle up in our churches, and wait for his return. 

So ugh moving - I wonder if the Isralite's felt that way each time the cloud and the piller of fire moved and signaled for them it was time to pack up and head to the next place it would stop.  I am just starting to think and pray and explore this whole idea. I'll keep you posted.


 Prayer:
Lord you know the decisions each have before us. Walk with us, guide us, lead us, go before us. Help us to be tuned to know your leading. Give us peace to know you are with us in each season of our lives, be they easy or difficult. You know exactly what things we need in this moment and you are more than able to provide everything we need to do what you have called us to do. 





Wednesday, May 30, 2012

The Success of Failure

 A Devotional by Jeffery King   

A Quick Note From Margot: My friend Ryan Mahoney, the pastoral intern at my church writes a thought provoking blog called He sent out a request to a handful of his blogging friends and asked that we would consider re-posting this article by one of his pastor friends. At the time he did not say who the article was written by today on in his blog post he revealed it was by Jeffery King. I found out about Jeff's blog about a month ago from Ryan and have been massively encouraged by his posts, particularly the ones about the struggle of not feeling "good enough".   TheGoodEnoughPastor . Anyway I hope you will enjoy this post and will check out both Ryan and Jeffry's blogs.  I will catch back up with you on Thursday.

Failure (The Only Way to Succeed in only 7 Unbelievably Excruciating Steps)


“Failure is an education, not a judgment.”
-Donald Miller
Image
We are a people obsessed with measuring and quantifying. We believe it determines and measures success and, therefore, validation. If we can demonstrate that we’ve performed enough units of measure in the desired outcome, then we have succeeded. If we succeed, then we have value and worth. Measuring and quantifying allows us to compare ourselves with others. When we score high, we take a certain satisfaction that we’ve outdone others. Our value and worth elevates and this provides us with the much needed psychological cushion of being better than others.
But pity when we miss the mark. When our scores don’t measure up or others out-perform us, we’re left with the bitter taste of failure. Our worth and value plummet. Shame shrouds us like a thick London fog.

In that light, I find it interesting that Jesus comes through the back door when emphasizing value. In the Beatitudes, he promotes characteristics that we tend to see as weakness and failure.
“You are blessed when . . . you are poor . . . you mourn . . . you are meek . . . you are hungry and thirsty . . . “Maybe what we see as failure is actually success in disguise.
I find this playing out in life experience. The character traits that we associate with spiritual maturity typically come through dealing with some kind of failure.
  • Humility comes when we taste the reality of weakness.
  • Grace comes through experiencing brokenness.
  • Courage comes by facing our fear.
  • Forgiveness comes by acknowledging our sin.
  • Mercy comes after we’ve been hurt and betrayed.
  • Hope comes from embracing loss.
I’ve seen this demonstrated by people who have courageously allowed Jesus to restore their lives after catastrophic failure. Sal and Terri (names have been changed) are great examples. About 15 years into their marriage, this pastor couple saw their lives blow up in front of them. After weeks of internal battles, Sal confessed to Terri that he’d had a series of one night stands with women he’d met online. The news was like boiling oil scalding her soul. She wailed as she balled up in a fetal position.
It was no less painful for him. Suicidal thoughts plagued him for days.
Their church was devastated. Bewilderment, grief and anger swelled in the congregation as they futilely attempted to connect the news with their heretofore image of their trusted leader.
It was a shipwreck of catastrophic failure. But Jesus wasn’t finished with Sal and Terri. He began to walk them through the difficult, perilous road of recovery and restoration.
Sal and Terri faced their pain head-on. Sal stepped into a level of honesty he never knew existed. He owned up to the pain his betrayal caused those he loved the most. He stayed present with Terri as she expressed her hurt and anger for what he’d done. He didn’t become defensive.
Sal also stepped into the chaos of his childhood. Abandoned by his father and burdened by a needy mother, Sal had turned early to pornography to escape his pain. Sex became his avenue for validation.
Terri carefully waded through the difficult decisions of what she should do with her shattered trust and marriage. She courageously counted the costs. She allowed herself to fully taste her anger. She wrestled with the question of being able to trust Sal enough to stay in the marriage.
As she weighed her choices, she chose to commit herself to the process of forgiving Sal. She also chose to stay in the marriage and to make every effort she could to see it restored.
Together, Sal and Terri went to work on their marriage. They left no stone unturned. They examined the systemic nature of their relational style. They learned to more authentically express themselves to each other. They recognized past patterns of shoving certain issues under the carpet and committed to practicing more direct address with each other. It’s not been an easy road for Sal and Terri. At times they fell back to old habits. The hurt and anger occasionally threatened their resolve. They often felt discouraged. But they didn’t quit.

It’s now been six years since Sal’s disclosure. Sal and Terri are still together. Their family is thriving. They went through an international adoption, welcoming a daughter to the mix of their two biological sons. They report their love for each other is strong. They’ve learned what forgiveness, commitment, perseverance and faith are all about. Are Sal and Terri a failure? Certainly some would say so. They would point to Sal’s moral breech as a permanent disqualifier for a Christian testimony, and certainly church leadership. Some would shake their heads and wonder why Terri would stay with him.
But Sal and Terri demonstrate the essence of success as defined by Jesus. They were broken. They know their vulnerabilities. They’ve passed through their dark side. Yet precisely because of their journey of failure they’ve demonstrated the true qualities of following Jesus.
“When a marriage has been to hell and back, when a couple has gone through their failures and yet they’ve found a way to get through it and restore their relationship, to forgive and grow, now THAT”S a story.”
-Rob Bell

Ryan Mahoney writes:
This post was contributed by one of the bests men/disciples of Jesus/husbands/fathers/ and friends that I have ever known, My great friend Jeff King. Jeff is  pastor and counselor. He is currently involved in counseling at both Drug Free Osage County and Community Covenant Church in Osage City, Kansas. To read more of Jeff’s writing check him out at: TheGoodEnoughPastor

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Somethings Missing

A Devotional by Margot Cioccio

Isaiah 33:15a and 33:16 -17
 He who walks righteously  
and speaks what is right......
16 this is the man who 
will dwell on the heights,
    whose refuge will be the mountain fortress.
His bread will be supplied,  
and water will not fail him.
17 Your eyes will see the king in his beauty
    and view a land that stretches afar.


I think 50 brings with it some larger perspective than I have had in previous years of my life. Maybe its not my age but simply that the Lord has been helping me face some of the foundational issues that have driven me in various directions. The first that he showed me was that the feeling of not being enough had roots in the past that needed to be faced. I had to dig up those roots and realize that I had looked at somethings in a wrong way. I had taken the actions of some significant people in my life and believed that I was somehow just not good enough. I believed that for years and it has caused me to be an over achiever to try and prove that thing wrong.  It has caused me to have to fight past those feeling that maybe its true and I'm really not enough, not good enough to be loved.  I can look at that in light of the Word and know that it is a lie form the pit that I allowed to control me for far to long.
I think I've pretty much conquered that one. Having done so I have this whole new freedom to be able to step out and do some things without having to constantly fight past that feeling of being not enough.

Well I discovered another of those kind of things recently. I'll call it "somethings missing" its always there sometimes in the background but on days when I am discouraged it barges into the foreground and tries to convince me that if I only had _________ I'd feel ok. So I have believed it and have tried to make changes through the years to gain those things or kinds of relationships that I have felt I was some how missing. In recent weeks I have been reading about enneagrams - a way of discovering, confirming and verifying one's personality type. It has been difficult for me because I have am at my core a heart centered person but since I locked up my heart for many years I have functioned out of the head center. For example a person who looses their vision comes to rely upon their other senses. I locked up my heart because I could not deal with the pain it felt from loss and abandonment. Without it I have learned and strengthened my head center in its place.

Anyway one of the personality types in the heart center it The Romantic. In this particular book, The Essential Enneagram they give a fundamental principle that I lost sight of for each personality type.
For the Romantic that is "At the core, everyone has a deep and complete connection to all others and all things." Then it sums up what that type has come to believe instead. "People experience a painful loss of their original connections, leaving them feeling abandoned and feeling that they are missing something important".  I'm still not totally sure that The Romantic is my personality type it might just be a wing or a side type to one of the others that maybe fit better.  What type I am is not really what is significant at this point. What is significant is that in reading that page I realized that the feeling that something is missing is not really true. So suddenly I have a new perspective, rather than trying to find ways to fill that missing blank it becomes a matter of taking my thoughts captive and making them obedient to Christ. I have to trust that in this moment, that God is sovereign and that I have all the things that I need now to accomplish what He wants me to accomplish. This feeling of something missing must be cast down in the light of truth, it is simply a lie that I have bought into for far too long.

I am sharing with you my journey and this is where I am today. I have not completely conquered this  "something missing" thing yet. I am only just beginning to see it and recognize it. So today I am being brave and talking about it. I came to discover in sharing about the "not enough" thing that lots of people struggle silently with the same issue. I believe I am not alone in this "something's missing" thing, there are lots of you who feel the weight of it's discontent and like me often miss out on whats happening in life now because you are dreaming of a future that has what you think you are missing. Or you are living in the past when you thought you had what you believe you lost.
Here's the big message to you and me today. Nothing is really missing, that feeling is a lie. God has supplied everything that is needed today. I must walk with him in the present - today this is what I have to work with. 

I searched "something missing" to see if anyone had written anything about people who struggle with that feeling. I found this quote from a guy named Brian Baran "When you're disconnected from your true self, you are going to feel as if something is missing because you are missing something... YOU!...And the passion that naturally comes with being your genuine self." 

I have unlocked my heart at this point and I realize that it is severely underdeveloped in some ways.
I have certainly been disconnected from my true self for far too long. What I have discovered is that I don't have to run in an attempt to distract myself from that feeling that something is missing. I need to realize that it is more than likely got some demonic baggage attached to it that I need to bind and cast out in order to get free of this constant nagging. I've got work to do on this one still but I am no longer afraid to speak up about the things I am realizing and discovering. I will be free, Jesus is more than enough and He is everything that I need. He will help me to conquer this thing just as he has helped me to conquer the "not enough" thing.

I hope my openness and honesty has helped you. Perhaps you fight with the feelings of not being enough, or something is missing and also need to get free. I know that when the Lord help me see something that He will also help me to work through the issues and the reasons for that brokenness.
I have, I am sure some forgiving and repenting that I will need to walk through with the Lord and will have to face places where I have run rather than face the reality of my life.

Walking with the Lord is never dull and little by little he helps us to deal with our issues and to become more free in him. Join me in standing against the lie that something is missing.
If you are reading this and its not your issue be praying because I am certain I am not alone in struggling with this feeling and that there are people around you who perhaps God will allow you to pray for and encourage and help see this. You can pray for me because I'm sure I am just scratching the surface on seeing and understanding this. The "not enough" thing took time to un-ravel I'm sure this is a journey that has simply started because I can finally see it for what it is. It has been a prevailing lie and I will now begin to resist it till it finally flees. (James 4:7)


Monday, May 28, 2012

My Cluttered Corner

A Devotional by Margot Cioccio

2 Peter 1:3
His divine power has given us everything we need for life 
and godliness through our knowledge of him 
who called us by 
his own glory and goodness.



Today is Monday on a holiday weekend and I am looking forward to not having to work today and having some time to paint and maybe organize my wreck of a desk.  I'll post a photo - but I'm embarrassed that it has gotten to such a state. I suppose it is evidence that I have a few things going on in my life in a very little amount of physical space. Mosaics happen along side of my job listening to files, home schooling, church stuff, coaching stuff, writing, painting. Sometimes it all gets a bit out of control and messy. 

As a kid my mom gave up on trying to order my room and we had a policy of just shutting the door. She knew I would get to it eventually. My oldest child is much like me in the "creativity looking for a place to happen" department. He does try to clean but in the midst of cleaning he will become captivated by something he finds and gets side tracked and soon has forgotten about cleaning and is deeply into a project of some sort.  We just shut the door.

It amazes me that out of such a disaster area like my desk, come beautiful mosaics, writing, and other things I'm working on and now painting. You can see on the right is the update of that painting project. I have mainly been working on populating the space with people. If you look closely you can see that most are painted in at this point. The children playing by the waters edge are just paper cut outs. I had a friend look at it before I started painting in the people. I had various figures taped in place trying to decide if I liked them or not. I go searching for models on the internet or I go find and take of photo of what I need and I cut them out of their backgrounds and and stick them into mine. It gives me the shapes and movements and I change things like the colors of the clothes and the hair. This whole picture is made up of little snippits that I first seamed together in photo shop and now am adding to with paper cut outs.

I look at the state of my desk and often wonder if my heart looks like that to Jesus. I've got a lot gong on there too. I'm sure my scattered approach to life would make most linear folks loose their marbles.
I do try to set up systems to manage my stuff. Sometimes they work -

I guess my goal is not to keep a Better Homes and Gardens picture perfect, guest ready environment.
I'm far more interested in really living and creating and I've found that both are messy. I'm more interested in the things that I'm creating, knowing that in some un inspired moment I'll go back and tackle the mess I've made along the way and regroup for the next wave of inspiration.
I'm sure I must have some form of OCD - obsessive creative disorder. Our society seems to have a disorder for everything any more. Sometimes I think it is all an effort to make us all fit into some preconceived box of what "good people" look like. I refuse to fit in a box and or to don a disorder label. We all have our handi caps and scars. I refuse to play the part of the victim and choose rather to play the part of the overcomer. Great stories are written about those who overcome great odds and difficulties and manage to make something out of what they have to work with. Stories are not written about those who sit in the corner feeling sorry for themselves and blaming everyone else for their problems. I think God provides exactly the challenges we each need to mold and shape us into the people he desires for us to become.

I guess I look at life from the perspective of what I've managed to accomplish in spite of the challenges, obstacles, things that seem to be missing.  One friend described me as prolific, in the sense of "producing in large quantities or with great frequency; highly productive, profusely productive or fruitful." I guess I look at it more as little by little day by day I am expressing the stuff that is happening on the inside in various ways. Some things can't find words and they find their way out in paint, other things have color, texture and brokenness and come out in mosaics. Some things can find words and come out in songs, devotional posts and journals. Sometimes I can manage to speak but that is much harder for me. If you ask me to tell you what to pray for me I usually can't find the answer to give in that moment. If you simply ask me to pray they Holy Spirit causes all the stuff I am feeling to some how come out in eloquent words.  If you ask me a question about my past or my hopes and dreams I can't usually find words because I see both in little snippets like the ones in my painting and I can't generally make sense of it all in words.  Its a tapestry of sorts and if I look too closely all I see is the messy knots, so I have to remember to step back and see the bigger picture.  At the same time I try to be careful with the big picture because it can become overwhelming to see too much of what God is doing and it is easy to get frozen by fear and doubt or even in the process of trying to understand and sort it all out. So I may take little peeks at the big picture but I quickly return to doing the things that are in my immediate view today. Here's the next step in "project me", just take the next little step. Song of Solomen 2: 8-10 says Listen! My lover!
Look! Here he comes, leaping across the mountains, bounding over the hills.
My lover is like a gazelle or a young stag. Look! There he stands behind our wall,
gazing through the windows, peering through the lattice.
My lover spoke and said to me, “Arise, my darling, my beautiful one, and come with me."
It is He who gives us the divine power to leap and bound over the difficulties and obstacles. He who gives the power and the courage to take that next step and then the next.
He says to you and to me, “Arise, my darling, my beautiful one, and come with me."  
He never expects for you to do it alone, he says come with me, and we will do it together. 


I make an effort to spend very little time worrying and try to put that energy to better use. When I don't understand and need to process or am tempted to worry, I find things to work on and keep myself busy. I do the things that I can, given the resources that I have at my disposal in a given moment. I trust that I will have what I need to do the things that God has called me to do when those things need to be done. Sometimes I need to have days like today where I can stop, rest, regroup, and try and make sense of the little snippets that have come to my attention. My life is much like a painting if something isn't working I adjust, change and try it a different way. Just because something has not worked it does make me a failure, I'm a work in process and so are you.


Prayer: 
Dear Lord, Thank you that you have given each of us our own set of gifts, talents and challenges. Help us to figure out how to put those things to use in our own lives. Help us to be the people you have designed and created us to be.  Help us realize that it is often the challenges, and the handicaps that push us to become who you intend us to be. It is those very things that provide the needed pressure to cause us to change and develop.
 
 




Friday, May 25, 2012

How Many Books Have Been Written About Jesus?

A Devotional by Margot Cioccio
 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.



Did you ever read the poem One Solitary Life? 
It starts out ....He was born in an obscure village, the son of a peasant woman.
He grew up in another village, where he worked in a carpenter's shop until he was thirty. Then for three years he became a wandering preacher.
He never wrote a book. He never held an office. He never had a family or owned a house. He didn't go to college. He never visited a big city. He never travelled two hundred miles from the place where he was born. He did none of those things one usually associates with greatness. He had no credentials but himself...."

I was wondering if anyone had an estimate of how many books have been written about Jesus in the past 2000 years. I found one blog that estimate the number to be in the tens of thousands. I can't count the stars nor can I even begin to imagine all the books written about Jesus. Even I have managed to write 259 posts about life in Christ and I know I hardly scratch the surface of what might be written. I am amazed by profound thinkers like Dietrich Bonhoeffer, or CS Lewis and so many others. You would think that mankind would run out of things to say, but Jesus is fresh, vital and active in the lives of his people both in the past and today. Through out history (his -story) has been told in how he has impacted and changed lives. 

I love that the words of people who have walked with Jesus during their lives live on in books so that I might share their thoughts and be encouraged long after their days on this earth have come and gone. I spent some time reading the words of a woman named Julian of Norwich, who wrote of her mistic experiences with Jesus back in a time (1342- 1416) when women really had no voice. Yet her written words about him still touch me today. Today anyone who wants to start a blog can have a voice. I don't know what God will do with my words but I hope that I will have used them wisely and carefully. In 1 Samuel 3:19 it says "The LORD was with Samuel as he grew up, and he let none of his words fall to the ground."

My question to you is - what are you doing with your words? Will you write or speak in such a way as to inspire others, to fan the flames of faith and trust in God. Will you tell your story of how God has made a difference in your life. Perhaps you hold back, thinking your story is too ordinary, or too messed up. It is your story and it is unique. Don't let it go to the grave with you and be forgotten. Your story may be the very key that unlocks faith in someone else to begin their own journey with Jesus. It may be the word that encourages someone to stay the course to not give up but to overcome. I encourage you to tell your story - let the Holy Spirit lead you.  

 
Prayer:
Dear Lord, Help us to tell in some way be it great or small the story of how you have made a difference in our life. Thank you that that story is still being written each day as we make choices to follow you. 

 




Thursday, May 24, 2012

Layers

A Devotional by Margot Cioccio

Here in the Pacific North West, spring comes slowly and as a result you will see people wearing sandals with socks, shorts on the bottom and a sweatshirt or jacket on the top. It always stikes me as kind of funny. People here dress in layers. I often will have on three shirts and as the day warms up I lose my layers and as it cools down again in the evening I put them back on.

I was thinking that those protective layers of clothing insulate us from the weather and allow us to be out and functioning in it. Layers are not necessarily a bad thing.

One must peal back the paper like layers on an onion to get to the part that is used for cooking. The layers protect the onion and keep the center fresh until it is time to be used.

To try and reel in this idea or thought trail. I was thinking about how many of us because the climate of our world has been at times harsh and bitter we have learned to put on layers to protect ourselves from the criticism, failures, disappointments, pain. Putting on a coat allows us to be out in the cold weather, so we often put on a protective layer or two when we go through difficulties. Those layers may make sense in that context. They become a problem when the world around us becomes safer, warmer, beautiful and spring like. When we are still wearing our coat in the heat of the summer - something is wrong. Some of you who are reading are wearing a spiritual coat and the real you is safely packed away under many layers of protection. Ask the Lord to help you take a look around - perhaps the reasons you retreated into your layers is long in the past and you are now hindered by them. Those layers stand in the way of positive relationships that are now possible. They stand in the way of you being able to do and be what God has called and created you to become.

Lamentations 3 19 - 24
I remember my affliction and my wandering,
    the bitterness and the gall. 20 I well remember them,
    and my soul is downcast within me.21 Yet this I call to mind
    and therefore I have hope: 22 Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed,
    for his compassions never fail.23 They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.
24 I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion;  therefore I will wait for him.”

You might not be ready to shed all your layers today but perhaps you could begin the journey and maybe take of one. Look around you even in the darkest of times you have Jesus and he will help you if you ask him to help. His help is not always in the same form as our expectations. His ways are higher than ours. I have found that it is most often as a result of the difficult things that I have had to pass through that I have developed and grown.  It is easy to throw up old defenses in a new situation because something triggers those old hurts. I often have to remind myself to leave the past behind me and to embrace today with courage. Courage does not mean that I don't at times feel afraid and overwhelmed. Courage is when I push past that fear to do the right thing, because I recognize that Jesus will be with me. He says to me and to you "Fear Not - I Am with you"

Isaiah 64: All of us have become like one who is unclean,
    and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags;
we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away.
No one calls on your name or strives to lay hold of you;
for you have hidden your face from us and made us waste away because of our sins.
Yet, O Lord, you are our Father. We are the clay, you are the potter;
    we are all the work of your hand.Do not be angry beyond measure, O Lord;
    do not remember our sins forever. Oh, look upon us, we pray,

I believe he does look upon us and I see him in my mind reaching out a hand to take the layer from you - its a ratty old rag and yet you struggle to release it and to accept his forgiveness. 
Psalm 103:12 
 As far as the east is from the west,  
so far has he removed our transgressions from us.

Prayer
Dear Lord, Help us recognize and release that layer that you have brought to our mind as a result of reading this post. Help us to repent and forgive to take that memory and put it away this time, clean, free from the weight and anguish of guilt and shame. 
Let us take that layer off, in this moment like a ratty old coat that we will no longer need. You Lord, give us hope and peace. Fill us with your joy and be our strength. Lord let us get to the place where the only protection that we need is you.





Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Chairs

A Devotional by Margot Cioccio

Will you find a quiet place to wait on the Lord today?

The other day while riding my bike along the river edge, I noticed this chair. There were no houses near by, someone had to bring this chair and purposely set it here by the river bank.

I noticed that the word chair is mentioned only 4 time in the bible. Interestingly 3 of the 4 times the chair belonged to a priest named Eli. He is sitting on a chiar when Hannah the mother of Samuel cries out to God that he would give her a child. Eli sees her lips moving and assumes she is drunk. Hannah makes a vow to God that if He will give her a son, she will dedicate him to the Lord's service for his life.
Which she does follow through and do. Little Samuel goes off to live at the Lord's house at a very young age. Probably around 3-5 years old depending on how long it took for his mother to ween him.

Chairs are mentioned two more times with Eli sitting in it. Both are part of the story of how he hears that his sons have died in battle and the arc of the Lord has been captured by the Philistine bad guys. He is very old, 98 and when he receives the news he falls backwards in the chair breaks his neck and dies. It was a bad day. His daughter in law goes into labor at the news and dies. With her dying breath she names the poor child Ichabod, which means “The glory has departed from Israel”. You can read the story in 1 Samuel 4:12-21. 

The other mention of the word chair is about a couple who makes room in their home for the traveling prophet to have a place to stay.
2 Kings 4:9-11 (NIV1984)She said to her husband, “I know that this man who often comes our way is a holy man of God. 10 Let’s make a small room on the roof and put in it a bed and a table, a chair and a lamp for him. Then he can stay there whenever he comes to us.”
11 One day when Elisha came, he went up to his room and lay down there.

   God blesses her for her kindness to Elijah. The prophet wonders what he might do to re-pay the kindness. She and her husband are already fairly well off and have no pressing material needs. They do however long for a child. God grants them that child. 

God does not forget the kindness that we show his servants. 

Matthew 10:41-42
Anyone who receives a prophet because he is a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward, and anyone who receives a righteous man because he is a righteous man will receive a righteous man’s reward. And if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones because he is my disciple, I tell you the truth, he will certainly not lose his reward.”

Interestingly two of the verses about chairs go along with stories of two barren women who wanted a child and who were seeking God. The other two a woman names her new born Ichabod. Its too late for me to come up with some profound thought regarding those similarities. Perhaps God will show you something and you'll leave a comment. I am going to leave my chair at my desk and go to bed.

Prayer:
Dear Lord, I pray you will help us find those quiet moments during this day to enjoy your presence. Be with us in the not so quiet moments as well. Help us to become aware of your presence with us as we journey through this day. Help us to show your love, grace and hospitality to others.  










Tuesday, May 22, 2012

What does your mask cover?

A Devotional By Margot Cioccio

Philippians 1: 19 
Yes, and I will continue to rejoice, 19 for I know that through your prayers and the help given by the Spirit of Jesus Christ, what has happened to me will turn out for my deliverance.

What does your mask cover? 
One of my original intents in writing this devotional blog was to in some ways open up my quiet time and life and to I live and walk it more openly.  I have been a very private person. I am an expert at turning a conversation away from myself and to keep the focus on the other person. It is a defense mechanism that over the years have used as I watch and decide if I can really trust people. It pretty easy to use because I have found for the most part people are pretty self absorbed and happy to talk about themselves. There are some, I'll call them readers, or watchers, who see right past the thin vainer of my protective mask who take the time to look beyond the surface and to try and understand and know me. Perhaps it is that they are much like me and on the lookout for other safe people. Anyway in my vast wisdom from the school of hard knocks I have discovered that this approach to life can be kind of lonely. Its kind of like being in a room full of people and still being alone. I think some of that come from being an introvert, I have had to learn to be more of an extrovert. I am at this point in my life pretty comfortable around people and able to a much greater degree to be open and honest. 

My goal for a while has been to be the same person on the inside and on the outside. To not just be white washed or plaited with a thin metal finish but to be real, solid gold. To be the sold chocolate bunny not the one thats disappointedly hollow on the inside. I would like for people who taste my life to not just bite into wax look alike fruit but to get the real thing. Fruit that is ripe, juicy, satisfying full of the presence of Jesus. I don't just want to put on my best game face and try and look the part of a believer on Sundays, I want to be the real deal. 

I've come to realize that the truth is that God is always working on something in all of our lives. There is always something that we are struggling to overcome. We can go through our Christian lives trying to look like we are upstanding kingdom citizens who have it all together. We paint a false picture of phony perfection and as a result don't let anyone get close enough to discover our flaws. We are sure that if they saw our flaws that they would not accept us.


I am learning that if I want a different, deep, honest, real relationships and church culture, that I must model it for others. I have to learn how to not just extend grace to others but to myself as well. We all have our areas of struggles but we don't have to walk through life alone. I believe that to be the church and the spotless bride for Jesus we must learn to walk together. Together me with my missing leg and you with your broken arm, can run the race, we can overcome. The things that are hard for you, are likely to be things that I manage reasonably well and similarly, what is difficult for me is not such a big deal for you. How is it that we become living stones in a spiritual house? Jesus fits us together with others and together we are able to accomplish wonderful and amazing things in our lives and for His kingdom and glory. 


Well in my effort to write shorter posts I am going to have to trust that I have given you enough to ponder upon today. I guess my question is are you willing to drop the mask and be open and honest. Are you ready to move from trying to play the part of a "good christian" to simply being a real one. A person who has strengths and weakness, triumphs and massive failures,  places you are broken and places you shine for his glory. The very people I think I am helping or at times feel I am carrying often turn out to be the people who have helped me. 

I watched a movie called Pay it Forward. It is on my highly recommended movie list. There is a scene where a wandering homeless drug addict comes upon a woman who is ready to jump off a bridge. He tries to talk her down from the ledge. At one point he says to her, come down and save me. He admits that he was on his way to find his next fix and he found her. It was a beautiful example of how we each are broken and often feel overwhelmed by the weight of our own brokenness. In reaching out to each other we are both helped. 

Prayer: 
Dear Lord,  Help us come out from behind our masks what ever they may be. For some those masks cover scars, for others fears, failures, shame, guilt, help us to see that honesty and openness is a beautiful gift we can give to each other. Help us Lord to learn to live together as believers. Help us to be known for our love. Help us to put down our sticks and stones and to move from a defensive, insecure, christian pack mentality to one where we can admit our own brokenness and reach out to others with mercy, grace, compassion and love. Lord help us to see that what has happened to each of us can through your Holy Spirit and prayer for each other turn out for our deliverance.



Monday, May 21, 2012

Sometimes Paint Happens

A Devotional by Margot Cioccio

Romans 12:1 
Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship.

Saturday we had a Paint Day at our 123 year old inner city church. The congregation is older than Spokane but building we were painting was built in the 1950's. Thankfully most of it is brick and did not need painting but we wanted to give some of the previously painted areas a face lift. The bottom below the brick is cement around most of the building and all got painted. I think we might have had twenty folks including some kids and homeless folks come by to lend a hand with the painting. 

Paint Happens
First Covenant Church Spokane
The Joy of The Lord
Rolling

Taping







             
It was a big job and I took these photos as people were just starting on their jobs. I then was sent on an errand to get turpentine. Little did I know that it was to clean up some paint that had already happened. As the day progressed more paint happened and not always where it was intended to go. 

I think perhaps what needs to be celebrated is that people came and gave up their Saturday to love and worship Jesus by painting, scrapping, taping, cleaning, cooking, serving, and loving one another.

I think we often try to put worship into a tidy box and try to relegate it to the singing portion of the service on Sunday.  We are to present our boides as living sacrifices as our spiritual act of worship. I know that bodies were sacrificed and after a long day of painting these wonderful folks went home tired. I'm just not sure they realized that what they were doing was worship. When I put together the power point slide for our service I included a lot of these photos. Normally try to use pictures that are pretty scenes or just textured backgrounds over which song words are laid.
I felt that it was important to intersperse these photos. Not so much to draw attention to each person but to try to connect the dots - that this too is worship.

Scraping
Managing







Paining

Most Sunday's when I am at church I am serving in some capacity. It is a rare Sunday when I am just sitting and experiencing the service.  For me worship is so much more than singing songs. Don't get me wrong I love worshiping through music but I have come to realize that my whole life can be an act of worship.

Wikipedia write "Worship is an act of religious devotion usually directed towards a deity. The word is derived from the Old English worthscipe, meaning worthiness or worth-ship — to give, at its simplest, worth to something."

Matthew 25:40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ So I think, when I am at church and through out my day, how can I love these folks around me?  If it was Jesus standing before me how would I treat him?

What little things can I do to help people feel comfortable, welcome, to ease some of the stress some might be feeling. How can I pray, how can I encourage. How can I be the hands and feet of Jesus? 
For me loving, serving, obeying, have become part of my larger definition of worship. 

As I saw people giving of themselves out of their love for Jesus, it was a beautiful thing. Sure there was some paint that happened in places it was not ment to happen.  I know that Jesus was not concerned with paint that got spilled, splattered, and tracked about. He saw his people loving him with their lives, not with mere lip service but with obedience and action.



 


"'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.'"
 Luke 10:27



Friday, May 18, 2012

Did You Know God Likes Purple

A Devotional by Margot Cioccio
Exodus 28:5 (NIV1984) 

Have them use gold, and blue, purple and scarlet yarn, and fine linen.


Did you know that God likes purple?
I know seems like a funny topic for a post but I saw this purple vehicle sitting next to purple lilac bushes and my mind when off in a purple spin.  It just struck me as something that had blog fodder potential. 

God has the Israelites use purple in the Tabernacle and in the Priestly Vestments. It seems to me that God would use His favorite colors or ones that are significant in some way. I'm going to say that God likes purple and I've got to agree with God on this one - purple is a great color. To think that he set up a system of primary colors, red yellow and blue and from them all other colors can be mixed. Pretty amazing if you ask me. Add a bit of white or black and they all become even more interesting.  Maybe I am thinking about colors because of my current painting project. I have not gotten to using purple yet but the bridge in the planned picture is grey with shades of purple.  My favorite flower is the Iris, which by the way is generally purple.

"Purple, a colour obtained from the secretion of a species of shell-fish (the Murex trunculus) which was found in the Mediterranean, and particularly on the coasts of Phoenicia and Asia Minor. The colouring matter in each separate shell-fish amounted to only a single drop, and hence the great value of this dye. Robes of this colour were worn by kings (Judg. 8:26) and high officers (Esther 8:15). They were also worn by the wealthy and luxurious (Jer. 10:9; Ezek. 27:7; Luke 16:19; Rev. 17:4). With this colour was associated the idea of royalty and majesty (Judg. 8:26; Cant. 3:10; 7:5; Dan. 5:7, 16,29). " Easton's Bible Dictionary
  
So guess how legend says that purple die was discovered?  "Legend credits its discovery to Herakles, or rather to his dog, whose mouth was stained purple from chewing on snails along the Levantine coast. King Phoenix received a purple-dyed robe from Herakles and decreed the rulers of Phoenicia should wear this color as a royal symbol." Here's the link to where I found this quote http://pffc-online.com/mag/1348-paper-history-shellfish-royalty

So it seems to me that God was thinking ahead during creation when he decided to create the Murex trunculus snails. If he can think ahead about creating a creature and having it be discovered by a dog. Knowing the rich and powerful would think it was pretty special to the point of being willing to pay big sums for its production so they could dress better than their subjects. I think it tells me that what ever is a concern to you or I, that God has already thought about it and already has a plan.

Did you know that Paul's ministry was helped by the color purple?

Acts 16:13-15  (NIV1984)

13 On the Sabbath we went outside the city gate to the river, where we expected to find a place of prayer. We sat down and began to speak to the women who had gathered there. 14 One of those listening was a woman named Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth from the city of Thyatira, who was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul’s message. 15 When she and the members of her household were baptized,  she invited us to her home. “If you consider me a believer in the Lord,” she said, “come and stay at my house.” And she persuaded us.

Acts 16:40
After Paul and Silas came out of the prison, they went to Lydia’s house, where they met with the brothers and encouraged them. Then they left.

 Prayer: Dear Lord, 
Help us to see the beauty of your creation. You could have given us a world without color but instead you gave us a world rich with colors. Forgive us for taking too lightly the amazing detail that you have built into the world. Thank you for giving us eyes that are able to see and enjoy the beauty all around us. 

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Singing With Kids



On Wednesday nights about four years I have gotten to work with a great group of young people.
My children have been involved in AWANA and have enjoyed it greatly. Besides helping with group games, listening to memory verses and general kid wrangling my favorite part is the short time that I get to sing with the kids.


Tonight we decided to record the kids using my i-phone because one of my guitar students had set a goal 4 months back to be able to play with me by the end of the AWANA season. Tonight she played along with me. Way to go Mia - I'm very proud of you.  


Psalm 40:3He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God. Many will see and fear and put their trust in the LORD.



We ended up having time to sing and record three of the songs we have sung during this past year. I promised the kids I would post the videos on my blog so they could all see them.  
One of the three, Undeniable was written by Linda Bach a friend in Arizona.  I have been singing it with kids for many years now. Its a great song and the kids always love singing it.

This was our last week to sing together for this year - it sure was fun! Next week we have an awards ceremony. This group of kinds memorized easily 1000 sections this year. Most sections contain at least 2 verses and some questions. They have worked hard to hide the word in their hearts. 

Prayer:
Dear Lord,
I lift up these kids and the children in the lives of my readers. I pray that you would use each of us to be active and purposeful in some  way in passing on the faith, kingdom life and Gods truth to the next generation of believers. I pray that these young people will be a light in this world. Because they have hidden the word in their hearts, I pray that when they face temptations they would remember and make wise choices.  Lord may they always carry these songs in their hearts and be filled with your joy when remembering them.







Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Beauty for Bulbs

A Devotional by Margot Cioccio


Luke 10:2
 
He told
them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.


I wanted to write today using this photo as the inspiration point. I was recently in Mount Vernon, Washington at the height of tulip blooming season. It seems that the tulips in this area are grown for their bulbs. Tulip bulbs were once so coveted that they could be used as a dowery for your daughter. 
The tulip festival was at one time just a weekend event but has grown in popularity to stretch over the entire month.   
 
This is one my favorite of the pictures that I took that early morning. It reminds me of how vast the harvest is. I found myself wondering what happens to these flowers. I wonder what their journey is from this point forward.   So I am gathering little tid bits as I search for those answers. One thing I discovered because these tulips will be sold for their bulbs once they bloom workers must walk row by row and pull out any that are the wrong color. No reds among the yellows. I was reading that each year they rotate the color of bulbs in the fields that helps assure that they are getting the fresh bulbs when they harvest them. 
 
I think it is interesting that the growers are harvesting the bulb. Its not the beautiful flower in the field but what is at the heart of the flower. Its bulb, and I think that God is far more interested in what is happening in our heart then how pretty our life may look.  
 
It seems that the workers have go through the fields when the petals are about to fall and top off the heads. This process is called Deadheading. The stems remain for another 3 weeks while the bulb soak in the nutrients. Workers then have to cut off the stems.  The tulips get dug out of the ground and hung in ventilated bags and are ready for fall planting. I am by no means an expert.  It seems tulip bulbs will last many years but you can only leave them in the ground for two years before they must be pulled and allowed to rest and be replanted in another location.  It seems they are not just a set it and forget it kind of flower.
 
Anyway to reel this in this morning. I am attempting to write shorter posts. This one is around 500 words. I have photos that I want to use as the inspiration point that should add the value of another 1000 words to some of these posts.  Thinking it might be my plan for the summer. If you have been following for a while I'd love to know what you think about this idea.
 
Much like a grower knows the process required to produce the best bulbs that will produce beautiful flowers. The Lord know when, and how, and where you will best bloom and grow.  As for harvesters, I'm not sure why they are in such short supply but it seems that one only need ask the Lord of the Harvest to send them when the time is right for harvesting.  

Prayer: 
Dear Lord, 
Lord help us to bloom and grow according to your plans and purposes. Lord you know where the  harvest are ripe and ready,  I pray that you send workers to help with those harvests. Lord if you are tugging on our hearts to go and help with your kingdom work, give us the courage to take that step of faith and to go.