Friday, June 29, 2012

A Caring Community

A Devotional by Margot Cioccio

Celebrating Together

We don't have to be all the same - it ok to be different
Hebrews 10:25
Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another--and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

I have known friends who have taken too long to find a church after a move or after leaving a church because of some difference of vision. Suddenly something happens in their life and they have no church that knows them and no place to turn to in their time of crisis.

I have always made a point when having to church shop to only allow a limited number of weeks to visit what seem to be the most likely choices. At the end of the time you have to pray and pick one. Then begins the process of getting involved and becoming part of that community. Getting involved means showing up to things that are happening at that place. It means serving by helping, often with very little things. It means setting a time to meet with the pastor and working together to discover where you might be able to fit in and use your gifts and talents to the glory of God.

I have always been inclined to choose churches that were no bigger than about 300 people in size most often much smaller. In churches that size there are still plenty of things one can find to do to help. Bigger than that it is too easy to hide, and easy to just pass through week after week with out ever sitting by the same people. When you have to be in a quarterly rotation to serve - the place is too big. Being part of a church is about serving and worshiping along side with a group of people that has a common vision and purpose. In all my years of visiting and being part of churches I have yet to find a perfect church. They are all filled with broken people and we all have our failings, flaws and and remains of old carnality. The thing is to commit to work things out. Don't just take your stuff and go home when things are difficult - make an effort to work though them. Sometimes there are visions that are different and a matters that can't be reconciled. Even Paul and Barnabus had to part company at one point because of a disagreement over young Mark.

In my previous church the congregation voted to change some of their bi-laws and I knew very clearly at that point that the congregation had spoken and a decision had been made. I knew that those changes were not going to work for me. To stay would put me in a position of always rocking the boat. I still love and pray for that church and have many friends there. I'm not even saying the decision the congregation made was not a good one. It was right for them. It just was not one that was going to work for me.

We had one church, in mind that we wanted to visit and actually before our commitments were finished we had taken off a Sunday to visit. It was small and struggling and located in the inner city. We had been wanting to some how get involved with working with the homeless. It was also part of a denomination we had previously been a part of and liked in the past. So there was a period of time where we were finishing up commitments and also becoming involved at the new church. I have always made a point to leave with the understanding and blessing of the pastor or leaders. Also to leave in a way that does not cause great damage to the community. I may not agree with the direction they are going, and in some case may have been treated poorly but I should not try to damage something that God loves to make the transition easier for myself.

So anyway this week has been a long and emotionally hard week. I've done some dumb things because I was over stressed that actually added to my stress. I have to say that I am thankful that I have a wise pastor who does pray for me. Who is there when I need council. Who I could text when my aunt was having a heart attack and get immediate prayer support. Who will gently correct me when I have handled something poorly. Who will be honest enough to say "Margot I don't know what the answer is but I will pray that God will help you work it out." Who will not give me all the answers but hand me a book or give me a direction in my bible to begin the process of figuring things out for myself. He has also been humble enough to hear and consider the things that I have heard from God while praying for the church and for he and his family. He is a good friend and a wise pastor and I am grateful to be part of this little community. In the midst of a difficult week I am glad that there are people who have my back. Who continue to love and encourage me when I am struggling.

So yesterday he sat me down and talked to me about why I was having things happen, like leaving my car in drive and hitting a brick wall that shattered the window. He knew I would be wrestling with the whys, and where was God kinds of questions. He wisely reminded me that some of the things I was stressing over were not mine to own, and I needed to let those things go. Over all he said I had too many areas of stress to manage all at one time. That I was over tired and I was forgetting things and not saying no when I should say no. His wise advise was that I needed to find some time for just me. He told me to go spend a day at Mt. Spokane with my journal. I think I will do that very soon.  Anyway it was wise and caring council and I am greatful. It is a tremendous blessing to have those kinds of relationships.


Relationships like I have just described don't happen over night they take time to develop. They develop by getting involved in what is happening at a church, by doing more than just showing up.
I started my journey here simply by being at church early to pray. One day the sound guy decided to quit and just did not show up for service and did not tell anyone. I was there to be able to say I know enough about sound to get us through this service. I have served in the tec side ever since. Its not my strongest area, its not my passion. We are working on getting others trained so I can do other things. Sometimes what the body needs more than my wonderful, amazing talents and gifts is simply my willingness to serve where there is a need.

Serving even if its not your area of strength.
So my encouragement to you is that if you are not part of a caring community of believers to be about finding one. Give yourself a time limit of no more then 3 months and pick one and begin the process of getting involved, and getting to know people and finding where you fit in with your gifts and talents. Faithfulness be there and willing look around and see little ways to help lend a hand go a long way in moving you along in that process. I try to ask the question. What can I do to make things run more smoothly? What can I do that will help the pastor or the leaders? Who do I see that looks lost, or seems to be struggling, how can I encourage and care about others?


Prayer
Dear Lord,
Help us to remember to be thankful for the church you have planted us in. Help those who don't have a church home to find one. Thank you for the blessing of wise pastors and leaders who are willing to equip, correct, encourage, support and pray for us. Help us to remember to be praying for them as well.








Thursday, June 28, 2012

Get Me Off This Crazy Ride!

Psalm 43:5 
Why are you downcast, 
O my soul? 
Why so disturbed within me? 
Put your hope in God, 
for I will yet praise him, 
my Savior and my God.



My week has thrown me a few curves and I feel kind of discombobulated. I realize that even in my kind of scattered approach to life I am a creature of habit. I have built in stability people and routines that help keep me stable or centered. I have felt like this week God has been saying He needs to become my stability structure, not people or routines.  He is the rock I can run to when everything else around me seems to be shaken. Its not all bad stuff - any change is uncomfortable and when lots of little and a few big things change it is a recipe for that "help my world feels out of control" feeling.
 That has been my week. I've had some close friends move on in their life. My aunt had a heart attack and was life flighted to Spokane and my mom has been staying at our house all week to be near the hospital. Thankfully my aunt is doing well considering her near brush with death. My moms a bit stressed over the changes to my aunts care and how she will manage.
I guess I must be trying to manage to many things and its coming out in me forgetting things. Yesterday I parked my car and left it in drive and it rolled backward and hit a wall and my bike rack crashed through the window. At this point I've put the car in the garage and will have to deal with it on Friday. To top off my day, I managed to spill a whole glass of red crystal light on the carpet. At that point after cleaning up that mess I decided I should just go to bed. I am trying to take things a day at a time.

So this morning is a new day I've run my mom to the hospital and I have a few hours before I need to go to work. I should call the insurance company...and I should do this... or that... and I find myself not wanting to rush from this quiet time with the Lord into my day. I'm to the point of stop the world, I just need to get off this crazy ride for a little bit. 

So how will I manage these feelings. I'm sure some of them are just in my head and if I step back I will be able to see  - "Oh Look Margot - the Lord is still on the throne of the universe, and he has not forgotten you". 

In my search for the verse that says, yet I will praise the Lord, I came across a song I had forgotten that is ministering to me. I thought I would record it for you, and perhaps I will eventually. Today I just don't have the space in my brian to dealing with the recording process. So I am just going to embed the video I've been listening to this morning.

I guess the point of this post, is where do you turn when things get crazy, overwhelming, and out of control? 

I run to the Lord and even though I have had a long and difficult week, I know I can turn to Him. He will hold me tight till this storm passes and my world feels stable once again. . I have decided that I would be real in these posts and not just pretend to be a super got it all together Christian.
The sun will come up tomorrow. The carpet is not stained, the car window can be replaced, my aunt is still with us, I have lots of wonderful friends and a supportive family. Its really not as bad it feels. 
It mostly just change, any change is uncomfortable. Remembering that helps kind of quiet the anxiety and reminds me to take my eyes off all the stuff and keep them on Jesus. He will see me through this day and those that follow. I don't have to stuff these feeling and go through my days as the detached observer. I can feel these things, and I will be ok. 

I hope something I've said will encourage and help you. I know some of you are facing far more difficult things than me.


Prayer: 
Lord come be near us in this day. When It feels like too much to bear, help us to remember to let you carry the load with us. Help us to remember that you know what going on. You know how much we can take. Lord help us to change where you want changes. Help us to trust you in the discomfort of the changes that are all ready taking place in our lives. Lord become the foundations of our support structures.

 

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

I Thank God Every Time I Remember YOu

I wrote this some of this post in March of 2009 and as I am combining many of my blogs into this one I wanted to re-post portions of it here. I've added to it a little here and there.

Today I was led during my prayer time to two passages of scripture that have to do with prayer. Both are in the book of Philippians. The first passage talks about thanksgiving in prayer.

"Philippians 1:3-6 
I thank my God every time I remember you.
 In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus."
I am so glad he promises to carry on the work he begins in us. There are times we find ourselves stuck in the rut of our old behaviors and mindset with out a clue about how to change ourselves or our situation. God it faithful and he is working. As a home school parent, particularly when my children were younger, I often planned educational activities that were interesting and fun and often they did not even know were were doing school. I think God work in us is often like that we don't even realize how the things we are engaged in are molding and shaping us to his plan. I would say the main thing to be is willing to change and be transformed into his likeness even if you don't know how to do it - he does.

Skip down now to verse 9 - 11 and you get a wonderful Apostolic prayer. A prayer prayed by Paul one of the apostles. We can echo this prayer as we pray for the people. Truly knowledge and depth of insight would be a good thing to pray that we would discern what is best for our lives and families and your church.

"And this is my prayer that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and my be pure and blameless until the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ - to the glory and praise of God"
I love the part about abounding more and more in knowledge and depth of insight. Did you notice it is your love needs to abound in knowledge and depth of insight. God's kind of love is so much richer and deeper than the whispy feelings we often call love. I read this quote in my friend Ryan Mahoney's blog written by Jeff Cook "I have long believed that without pain love is impossible, because real love requires sacrifice."  Humm its no wonder I don't really understand love - I have worked so hard to avoid and stuff pain away to not have to feel it. I am beginning to realize that its ok to feel pain over the loss of a friend or a change in a relationship. It's a reminder that I have indeed loved and cared about that person. That quote is something to twist my brain around and stew on for a while. The idea of sacrifice and pain being intwined in a bigger something called love.

The other passage I was led to was Philippians 4:4-9 Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving present your requests to God. And the peace of God which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus." Think about this and Rejoice! we do not have to worry - just take our concerns to God in prayer. I love it that prayer is not some drudgery or legalistic thing but an awesome privilege in being able to have an intimate relationship with God the Father because of Jesus. How cool is that? Written in the margin of my bible on this page is a really wonderful quote and I am sorry I did not write who said it. " The main thing about Christianity is not the work we do but the relationship we maintain and the atmosphere created by that relationship"

May your prayer time be blessed,
~Margot

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Transitions

A Devotional by Margot Cioccio

2 Corinthians 1: 3-5
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God. For just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives, so also through Christ our comfort overflows 

Transitions are hard, they are often painful, and filled with uncertainties. It doen not really matter if you are the one initiating the change or the one having to respond to the changes others are making it is all uncomfortable. Even if the change is a good thing for everyone involved it will still have a period of transition that can add extra stress, as we try to figure out how we manage and cope with the changes.

I've come to learn that there is one thing you can count on and that is change. Some changes you are looking forward to, others you know they are coming and you can't seem to slow time down as you try and embrace every last second in the old reality. Other times the change is a big surprise and you didn't even see it coming.

I seem to be going through a season of transitons. I have transitions in what I have done for the past three years. I have some transitions of people who have shared the same road and we have come to a fork in the road and must now part company.  I have transitions from working on one major art project to what next. I have things I have decided to change in my diet and in exercise. We've just ended one school year and now its summer.

Some things I have learned the hard way. Is that it is important to say those things that need to be said. Don't just stuff it and try to go on with life. The opportunity to tell another what they have meant to you may not come again. Do your best to express whats on your heart even if it is hard and painful and full of tears.

It is ok to feel the pain and to be uncomfortable for a time. It is ok to grieve the loss. Its ok to tell the Lord you are hurting and not coping with the changes and you need his help. Sometimes I have to escape to book land for a bit to allow myself something eles to wrap my mind around other than the change I am facing. Some times I have to re-arrange the furniture, probably to remind myself that I am still in control of some things. I journal and I pray. I allow the Lord to speak to me and to be my comforter.

When the Lord prunes our lives for greater growth and fruitfulness it is not always just bad dead stuff that he cuts off. Often he must cut of things that have been good and have been somewhat fruitful.
Often he has to take the lower vines and tie them up out of the dust and the dirt of the field. We soon feel the new energy of no longer having to carrying that old growth, or the dead things any longer but at first it feels awkward and painful. He knows, he understands and he waits for you to draw near. He will embrace you in his arms and comfort you until the storm of emotions passes.


Prayer
Lord, Thank you for pruning and tending our life. Please coat those cuts with the healing balm of your love. Help us to see with your perspective, and to find our comfort during the transition in you. Help us to say those things that need to be said and to be a help and a support to others who are also dealing with the challenges of change.

Monday, June 25, 2012

So You've Become A Pirate Peter!



I actually wrote this one in October of 2008 and as I am combining a lot of old blogs that I am no longer supporting. I thought this was a good one to re-post. 

 Mark 10:13 -16   

13 People were bringing little children to Jesus to have him touch them, but the disciples rebuked them. 14 When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. 15 I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” 16 And he took the children in his arms, put his hands on them and blessed them.


I was watching the movie Hook with my children a few days ago. There was a point early in the movie where Peter Banning and his family arrive at Ganny Wendy's home in London.
Peter is trying to describe what he does to make a living. Granny Wendy listens and replies. "So...you've become a pirate Peter"
I suppose it struck me because like Peter Pan we are to retain our child like faith.
If we do not we become jaded, cynical, bitter, and hard like a pirate.

Lord break up the hard and fallow ground of our hearts.
Create in me a clean heart, renew a right spirit with in me.

Much of the comedy of the movie Hook is about Peter Banning trying to remember how to be a child at heart again. He is highly motivated because his children have been taken captive by Captain Hook. With the help of the Lost Boys and Tink and the faith of his children he does find the child with in himself and does rescue his children. I think even more because of the experience in Never Land he is rescued from a life quickly heading towards destruction.

I thought it was cool what gave him the ability to fly was to be able to find a happy thought. Childhood is filled with happy thoughts and thankful hearts. It is when we become a pirate that all we see is tainted by the bitterness of our heart and the only joy we know is in trying to steal it from others. Maybe like Captain Hook we can blame it all on the loss of a hand, job, a loved one. Life may be hard but we should continue to trust that God is in control and to have the faith of a child.

Prayer 
Dear Lord,
Help us to come to you with the faith of a child. Help us Lord where our hearts have become hard and cynical to begin to work that ground. Help us break up the hard places and make the soil of our life rich and ready for planting a harvest for your glory.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Now This is Podracing

A Devotional by Margot Cioccio

Now this is pod racing! You hear Anakin say as he and R2 find themselves racing though the canyon like alies of the death star. He's just a kid who was told to wait in one of the fighter ships while the others went off into battle. I think there is a difference between racing for the sport and racing because you are in a gigantic battle between good and evil and your life and the lives of others hang in the balance.

Before I came to First Covenant my understanding of prayer was like Anakin's pod racing experience on Tatooine. I believed I should pray and I did pray. While my prayers I believe made a difference there were always other "real" prayer warriors who's prayers were probably more effective than mine. If I neglected to pray I knew someone else probably had it covered.

When I first came to First Covenant one or both of the pastors pulled me aside and wanted to make sure I knew that the church might not even make it through the year. I value honesty but telling a new person that we are just waiting for the final gasping death rattle is probably not a great church growth strategy. I felt God wanted us to be there in spite of the gloom prediction of looming death.  I was surprised to find there really was not any group of prayer warriors that I could find  Folks might pray during the service or before a meeting but I did not find any of the intercessor, spiritual warfare types. I knew God had called us to come to this place on the surface it appeared like it might have a chance to make it. I was sure we could find plenty of things to help with and ways to use our gifts and talents.

I would arrive early for services and I would walk around the outside of the building praying. Then I would often come in and walk through the empty pews praying for the people who would soon be sitting in them. I was not sure why God wanted me there but there seemed to be a big void the prayer departement. So I decided I would start there. The senior pastor at that time had commented to my husband that he had not seen anyone pray like that here. I did eventually meet an older woman who people said prayed. Her age and health made it difficult for her to be at church most weeks.  I spent some time in the church archives trying to figure out why the light had grown so faint in this place.
Its hard to tell from church archives because things are always written to make everyone feel good.
Its a sugar coated kind of telling of the history found in year end reports.

Jesus said in Matthew 21:13""It is written," he said to them, "'My house will be called a house of prayer,' but you are making it a 'den of robbers.'" In my mind if you have a spiritual house and there is no one praying its like finding a person in a coma on a respirator. Not much life there. If we don't abide in Jesus our lives and the life of our churches won't be bearing much fruit. It is when we spend time with Jesus that things start to change. God takes the little we have to give and some how multiplies it. There was a Sunday that the pastor had lost his voice and sent everyone out to the surrounding neighborhood to pray for the people they encountered. I believe that moment was the turning point when we began to see the needs all around us that as a church we had been blind or oblivious to before.

What a vastly different place First Covenant has become. Along the walls on one side are mounted poster boards. On each board there are prayers that people have written. Others go along the wall during our service and pray for those needs. I've heard people say that they wrote something on the wall and God took care of it. These boards become so full that we have to change them out about once a month. There are about seven boards along the wall and they fill up fast.

We have gone from a church where there was once very little if any prayer happening to one that prayer has become vital and important.

I'm not saying that the church has turned around because of my prayers alone. For me it has felt like I have been part of the rebel resistance. Prayer has been something I could do when there seemed to be nothing else to be done. I've gotten to be part of quite an adventure. Just like Luke, Leiah, Han's Solo, Obi Wan and Chewie and the droids we have somehow gotten thrown together and have had to figure things out as we have gone along. Each person doing what they could do to help. There has not been a lot of examples of other places that have come back from the dead to consult with. We have people come to us wanting us to train them to work with the homeless and I want to just laugh and hand them a bible. I mean really, no one gave us step by step instructions how to do this kind of ministry.  We prayed, we talked, we tried, we tried again. We did what we could. Some days we moaned and groaned and felt it was hopeless unless God did something and we prayed some more. We trusted that God would build His church.

Now this is podracing! When what you have done in practice or with the help of others or in a sporting type of situations, suddenly becomes the real thing and you have to use all that stuff you have been training for in a real life encounter between darkness and light. Its not just a simulation its the real battle. Whoo hoo -  Its like the bird who is pushed from the nest who has to really fly or plumet to the hard ground below. Perhaps its time to take that step of faith and really fly.
Isaiah 40:31 "but those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint."

Prayer
Dear Lord, We won't really know till we stand before you the little things that we have said or done that made a difference. Help us not clamor for recognition but to simply be available. Help us to open our eyes and see the countless needs all around us every day. Help us to minister to the broken, the hurting, the rejected, the down cast, the lonely, the lost. Help us move our focus off our own problems and back to you and being about your kingdom work that is right in the midst of where we find our selves today.








Thursday, June 21, 2012

Go Out With Your Boots On

A Devotional by Margot Cioccio

"Small things done with great love can change the world." I remember sitting in a conference years ago being put on by the Cincinnati Vineyard church and hearing those words for the first time. They had started out as a little struggling church who began a movement of kindness that eventually went way beyond their church. They did things like hand out cans of soda at intersections, or free coffe at sporting events. They cleaned the restrooms of local business.  They went into the projects and put on a carnival with free food, fun music, games for the kids, bike repairs and gave away bags of food. They took the church out of the building with no strings attached. 

I am on staff of a small struggling inner city church, one of the ones mentioned in the earlier articles written by Ryan Mahoney this week. (I'm the admin staff person who gets paid with studio space.) Its a funny way to get paid - in theory I can use that space to teach lessons, do coaching and teach classes. I have a few students that have their lessons at my studio at this point, a few coaching folks - its a work in progress.

I often think of myself as more of a missionary to the homeless and poor. I left a church in the suburbs to come here to help a dying church. I've served for the past three years on the leadership board. It has been an incredible journey. I will miss serving in that capacity but I am glad to have completed the task that God gave me to do. I started with four others who I felt were probably far more qualified than myself. I really was not sure why God wanted me on the board but I knew even as people were being nominated that I would be one of them. The other four over the past three years have quit and others have replaced them. God told me at one point that I would be the last one standing. It has caused me to lean and rely upon God far beyond my past experience. When everything looked hopeless to hang on even when others on the board quit and left us in the lurch. I had to believe that God was present even when the path before us was dark and uncertain.

It is amazing to me that some of my best friends are now people who live at shelters or sleep under the bridges, or are in subsidized housing. I guess I kind of cringe at the mentality of the prosperity gospel. I know people who are so rich in faith that it would make your head spin. To say that God has not blessed them because they are poor is arrogance of a high degree in my mind. If God has given you prosperity it is not so you can just use it on yourself and enjoy a cushy life while others around you are suffering.  It is an opportunity for you to make a difference. In my misson field I see generosity that is incredible. If we have 5 blankets to give away we find fun games to play to allow folks to win a blanket. They get very little "fun" so it is a gift as well. What always astounds me is that often the person who wins it gives it to someone else who needs it more then they do. Here they have so little and yet they will share what they have.  I saw a drunk guy yesterday knock in to the trash cans on his way out of our meal and another guy got up and followed him out to make sure he got where he needed to go. These folks look out for each other.  We also had a guy passed out in our parking lot and had to call 911 and have them come. The fire rescue team came and checked him out and called detox an waited for them to arrive. While we waited the leader of this bunch of firemen and EMT's told a horrible story of having having found a homeless friend beaten to death by a bunch of guys celebrating a 21st birthday by going bum bashing.  The guy had been beaten to death with a fence post. I want to retch even now at the thought. It amazes me that so many people are afraid of these homeless street people who are most often the victim of crimes not the perpetrators. Yes a lot of them are drunk but it is to mask and numb some horrendous pains - I've heard a lot of stories that break my heart.

So in this world small things done with great love is not handing out water bottles at intersections but caring enough to call 911 or detox. Making sure to serve the same quality of food we would to our own families. It is sitting and listening to a guy talk about riding his bike and not being offended when he was a little bit rude to me. He came back later and apologized and shared his frustrations in trying to find a job as a car sales man. He talked about how his wife was killed in a tragic car accident. I had only just met him, his rudeness was a test I think to see if I would react and to see if I was real or just another do gooder passing through. One guy said to me - "you've been here a long time, I said "yep about three years." Theres one guy who just loves to tease and joke with me. I know that there will be a time when he will drop the facade and we will talk. I never know from week to week who will open up and share whats really going on. For me the small thing done with great love is simply to be available, to listen, to care, to be there. For me it is a form of worship because I am learning to see these people as Jesus dressed in rags.  "Whatever you have done for the least of these you have done it unto me." Its not about collecting spiritual notches in your belt. Its more about the idea that true revival starts with me and you being willing to change to become more like Christ. It is not that we need to run from place to place where the Spirit is moving. The Spirit of God is moving and I am getting what I asked God for. I wanted to see "church" like in the book of Acts in action.

There is a woman named Tabetha in the book of Acts who dies. There is such wailing and morning among the widows and orphans she has helped, that a team is sent to fetch the apostles. The apostles arrive on the scene and don't just do a funeral they raise her from the dead. I don't know how long she lived beyond that point, but a church remains in that area that bears her name. For me the great sacrifice is not attending a church service. I love going to church and worshiping God together with my friends. It is not just me and God, I do that at home during the week. On Sunday its us and God as we minister one to another and to Him. I guess I'm amazed at the people who find it hard to get to church, or who avoid church because they've been hurt or don't feel good enough to go. Going to church is about deciding to be part of a community that worships the Lord with all their heart, mind, soul and strength. Those words roll off the tongue easily but they take making a choice to stick with people, even when its hard.

Service to God has to become more than just sitting in a church service. It has to be the process of becoming like him. Going where he would go. He went to the broken, the demon possessed, the captives and healed them and set them free. It is more than getting someone to say some salvation prayer or walk forward in a church service. We must walk along side of them and encouraging them till they are strong enough to walk on their own.  That is messy and inconvenient it requires more than tossing a few bucks in the offering.  So I toss my life in the plate for Jesus to serve up for others.

I am no different than you - I am not a super Christian. I am ordinary and broken and I must daily make choices to follow and obey the Lord. It takes no special tallent to be kind, or to listen.
I'm sick of plastic phony church - I won't do it any more.

I was in a bit of a funk on Sunday, there was some stuff that I was struggling with.  Its not like I was wearing my grumpiness gloominess on my sleeve. One person noticed and pulled me aside and said hey, I'm here for you if you need to talk. I realized in that moment that it was another person that I needed to talk to. A fellow wall builder who had retreated behind her walls. I had to come out from behind mine and let her know I missed her and knew she was struggling and admit that I was too.
That for me is real church. We can hurt together, and rejoice together, support and care for each other. We share life. I don't want to just go to church, I want to be the church. I can't be the church by my self in isolation - we can only be the church when we walk together.

Here is one of our one take stories about a guy named cowboy Mike.
Last I saw him he went off to go bull riding. He asked me to pray for him because the doctors had told him it would probably kill him. I tried to talk him out of going. For weeks I before he left I would pray with him. I don't know for sure what happened to him after that, I thought I saw him once when I was driving. He was one of my favorite guys and I looked forward to talking to him each week at our feed. He had once been a successful dentist. He showed me beautiful ring he had made in his dental lab for the woman he had loved. I think something had happened to their relationship and he let the dental business go and kind of gave up on life. I told him that last time I saw him that I would miss him. I know he's a guy that will go out with his boots on. I told him to make sure it was for the glory of God and not drunken foolishness. He told me he would ride sober. I still hope he will find his way back to us.







Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Just A Lump of Clay

A Devotional by Margot Cioccio
You turn things upside down, 
 as if the potter were 
thought to be like the clay! 
Shall what is formed say 
to him who formed it, 
“He did not make me”? 
Can the pot say of the potter, 
“He knows nothing”?
Isaiah 29:16

Its Saturday and I'm working on posts for the week. We were cleaning yesterday and I came across some old journals. One from when we first moved to Spokane.  In it I had written " I feel detached and kind of directionless and yet I believe I am here in this place and in this time in answer to a prayer that may even yet be unspoken. Yet, you Lord, in your infinite wisdom have positioned me here to meet some need. In the mean time I will lend my hand to what needs done. Trusting you will order and direct and bring people in and through our lives."  Dec 1, 2007

My journals are rarely in order. Usually I grab what ever notebook that has some blank pages. So in reading them I turn the page and I jump ahead to two years. "I have seen you do amazing things in peoples lives and in and through my own. Yet today I feel very small, very ordinary, very insignificant, un important - just a lump of clay. Ah but you say - just look what I can do with a lump of clay. I am happy to be your lump of clay. Whatever my part may be mundane or fine. I don't think it matters so much what I do or am used for but who I belong to." Aug ll, 2010

I read back over the things that the Lord was speaking to me then and I realize that the great gift of abiding near to him is that I know his voice. I don't have to struggle to hear him like I once did. He speaks very clearly. Since 2007 I have developed the habit of being daily found in his presence.
I read back and I am amazed by the profound things He was saying to me. In my journaling prayer I write about what is going on in my life, the things I'm excited about, or troubled by. I then listen to what the Lord has to say. Sometimes he speaks directly to my heart, other times he leads me to bible passages or to some book or reminds me of something through words of a song. Often it is a combination. It is a two way relationship and conversation.

"All of your ministry will come out of your time at my feet. Know that I am marking you - why you wonder. Because my people need to see. All too many invite me into their heart and lives and then go on with their plans and purposes. It is like the man who sets his goal to be married. Courts the girl and wins her and then go back to seeking wealth and prominence. They think some how the goal has been attained simply by marrying the girl. That is only the beginning. My people get things all backwards. They are busy building big churches and pursuing success. I tell you it is by time in my presence that anyone is able to sustain lasting fruitfulness in ministry."

Over and over I have written about being a lump of clay in His hands. During that time I went from just praying for the church to being on the board and then the chairman. I can tell you I never felt really qualified for any of it. My three years on the church leadership board ends this month. During it I have seen God take a dying church that was only inches from closing its doors to one that is being recognized because it dared to do something different. (We still have a long way to go)

 I remember so many times when I felt discouraged, and things looked beyond hopeless and how the Lord has met me on those places. He has given me the grace to stand when everything looked dark and impossible. He would tell me things, like prepare your fields even when there was no seeds to plant. He would tell me go speak this word to so in so, or lend your hand to this project. So I have spent my time pressing into the Lord and encouraging the people around me. I still feel like just a lump of clay. To measure my life by the worlds standards I fall very short.  I don't have a great job, we rent a tiny house and barely make ends meet each month. I have no great prominence or recognition. There is nothing all that remarkable about my life.  I suppose what is remarkable is that I can say that every day I can hear God's voice, every day I am given opportunities to be His hands, his feet, his voice to people who can't hear him at all. That does not mean that I'm some great prophet. I am His sheep, His lump of clay, His handmaiden, His ambassador. I am so far from perfect and often still feel discouraged. Long ago I decided that I would follow him in all my imperfection. That I would order my life in such a way that I could be available to do what ever He would have me do. I have got to say, I've gotten to do some really cool things, I've seen him heal, restore and set people free. Other people usually got the recognition and got to shine and I'm ok with that. My part is rarely something that could be put on a resume. I know there are people who would have given up on God's calling had I not been there at that right moment, to pray and encourage. Some have gone on to do great things. My goal has been to abide in Him and to be available to Him.

The Lord asked me back in 2007 or 2008  if I was willing to give up everything that the world calls success to make a difference for His kingdom. Not long after that he led us to this little, run down, pathetic, dying inner city church. The new pastor and his wife were both grumpy and sad about it being the only door of ministry that had opened to them. They had come from affluent churches to this dirt poor place, the pastor's grave yard. In their minds it was proof that they were failures. I have seen them both change so much. We all came here so broken and did not even know we were. God has used this place to make each of us in some way remarkable. Living stones in a spiritual house.  So now they are making these cool videos to tell the stories of this place. I have to laugh we have all come such a long long way and probably still have a very long way to go. Its important to celebrate and share the stories of where we have been. In the next bunch of posts I will be sharing some of these videos. I think you will enjoy them and they will stretch you a bit. To not just go to church but to actually be the church.



"Ah but you say - just look what I can do with a lump of clay."

"Yet, O LORD, you are our Father. 
We are the clay, you are the potter; 
we are all the work of your hand." Isaiah 64:8


Prayer
Dear Lord, Help us to be people of your presence. Help us be people who know your voice. Help us be people who are available for what ever you need done. Help us to become lights in our communities for your glory. 




Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Worship Local Vol. 2: by Ryan Mahoney

I wanted to pass along to you these two post by my friend Ryan Mahoney. He is currently serving as a pastoral intern at our church. He's right this place has stretched and challenged everything I thought I understood about worship and church.

Worship Local Vol. 2: Worship Local


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Every week I attend church with:
Drug addicts
Ethnic minorities
The elderly
The homeless
Long time church goers
First time attenders
College grads
Adults without high school diplomas
Military families
People in recovery
Alcoholics
People recently released from prison
People who come to church to be warm
People who come to church and insist on being cold
Believers
Doubters
Cynics
Optimists
And everyone in between…
Our church averages 60 people on a Sunday.
We meet in a church that looks like 3 others in town. No really, the architectural plans are all identical to three other churches in town. We lease our parking lot because we come up short a few thousand dollars each month. We’re trying to rent our gym and office space, we’ve even offered the exterior of our building to be used for advertisements. We’ll try almost anything to keep the lights on.
Why? Because I worship local.
I could drive a little further and go to my local Walmart, I mean mega church, or to churches designed to target my age group. I could go to whatever church is doing the latest thing, or has the best technology. I could go to churches where I will feel like my time and energy will be part of everything that my friends will think is cool.
But I worship local.
I have reached a place recently where I wonder if I’m identifying with the wrong characters in the story. I’m wondering if the gospel is even for me.
There are beautiful scenes in the Bible about everyone from every tribe and tongue worshipping God. I used to assume that this would be awesome! One day everyone will be like me. Everyone will be white and English speaking.
But then I began to wonder, what if the worship in those scenes was set in Africa? What if we were singing in Romanian? What if the liturgy was in Chinese? What if the socially accepted worship attire was a loin cloth? What if the pastor spoke Korean? What if the deacons and elders were each divorced several times? What if the treasurer was homeless? What if the kingdom of God looks nothing like me?
What if instead of trying to form my community in my image I started to form myself in the image of my community?
What if I was able to lay down my theological and aesthetic pretenses just long enough to learn something from someone different?
What if the church’s proximity to my community was a bigger determining factor in my decision to worship there, than it’s choice in music?
What if I could put up with awkward people, and funny smells, and ratty furniture?
This is why I worship local.
If you’ve ever been to a local farmer’s market or organic food store, you will notice one thing very quickly…it costs more.
Why?
It costs more because there is not mega machine behind it. There isn’t a board of cigar smoking directors behind the scene counting the pennies and trying to eek out as much profit as possible by outsourcing and wasting. The reason it costs more is because you are no longer paying for an ear of corn or a bushel of apples. You are paying for the corn and apples and the livelihood of the person that grew them. You realize that not only is healthy food important, but supporting the person/family/community that produces it is equally as important as feeding yourself.
I believe this is true of worshipping local. It costs more.
I give up convenience. I give up taste (in art, music, whatever my hang up is that week), I give up a product tailored for me. I give up fog machines and light shows, and the greatest sermons since Moses came down the mountain. I talk to people that make me uncomfortable. I talk to sex offenders and unwed mothers.
It costs.
At the same time that it costs my comfort, I also open up to a whole new world.
I open up the potential that Jesus really believes I have.
I open up to the belief that I can really make a difference right where I am. Without millions of dollars, and the latest and greatest whatever, I believe that God has a role for me to play right here, and right now. I don’t have to wait for a giant mega-insertwhateverthebigmoneypeopleproduceris, because I can help my community and my community can help me.
I worship local.
I open up to the idea that maybe I help serve homeless folks from time to time, but in reality about 100 homeless folks speak prophetically and compassionately to me ever single day. In the socio-economic paradigm that Reagan so nicely laid out for us, it’s the rich that drive an economy. Their goods and money will trickle down and make everyone better. So it would appear that I, with my resources, am serving the so-called poor, BUT
This is the polar opposite of the economy that God has been showing me.
In this economy the flow is bottom up. It’s an economy where the wealthy push around shopping carts containing all their possessions and mark their spot under the bridge with signs like, “some people are so poor all they have is money.” It’s an economy where character counts more than bank accounts. It’s an economy whose currency is generosity. It’s an economy where every meal is a gift, and every moment of warmth in the winter is precious, and every moment of cool in the summer is a gift from God.
I have learned more about generosity and compassion from people who appear to have nothing, than I have from anyone else.
I have learned this because I worship local.
I am learning to let go of any sense of entitlement that I have to the stuff in my life. I have began to ask existential questions like, “what is it about me that deserves an education, or money, or any of the friends I have?” or “Why me, and not them?” Why?
I do not know.
I’ve recently been wondering about one of Jesus’ parables. In the parable Jesus describes a person that goes out to get workers for their vineyard (Matthew 20: 1-16).
Workers are collected at the beginning of the day, nine in the morning, the middle of the day, and at the end of the day.
When wages are dispersed they are all paid the same amount. Almost everyone is pissed about this decision.
This seems like a foolish way to run a business. Some might even say, “see that’s what’s wrong with left wing politics, they just want to give everyone a hand out.”
I trust that Jesus is brilliant, and his stories are compelling.
Perhaps what this parable is trying to point out is that the workers all received the same wage, as they were promised, but they were all actually paid unequally. The only way to understand this parable is to shift one’s view of rewards.
What if the reward is not the pay that one receives at the end of the day? What if instead the work itself is its own reward?
If this is the case, then the workers who began working early in the day were actually paid more. They got to do more work and thus received a bigger reward.
The work itself is the reward.
I wonder if this plays out in today’s American church climate. The theology that has shaped much of the ‘old-time religion,’ fundamentalism and later evangelicalism says that one day we will all get out of here, if we have a relationship with Jesus. Therefore, my individual salvation is the chief goal. Since my individual salvation is the chief goal, then I should pursue the so-called worship experiences that make me feel closest to Jesus.
(What follows is judgmental)
These worship experiences can take on the form of pursuing the best show, or the biggest emotional highs that seek to affirm that the individuals involved in them are in fact “saved” and will one day depart.
I think that this view is akin to the workers who are pissed at the end of the day that they got the same wage as those hired at the end of the day, “wait, I sang all the songs, went on the mission trips, voted for x,y, and z and you let a homosexual in here?!”
For them the grace of God seems to be an injustice.
If, however, the work itself was its own reward this would be a foolish observation…If working for the master is itself a reward, then one’s attitude would have to be excitement that more and more people could get in on it. They would be excited about doing the most good for other people, with disregard for their own sense of entitlement to a so-called fair wage. They would feel that it is the work here and now that matters, not any far off future reward.
I wonder what would happen if churches began to root their eschatology* so firmly in the ground they were standing on, that they couldn’t imagine anything more than trying to develop community relationships that would change their community for the better, even if it meant that the church would have to sacrifice the appearance of ‘orthodoxy’*. I wonder what would happen if a Southern Baptist Pastor would approach a Catholic priest and agree to work together on a community project. I wonder what would happen if a Pentecostal small group leader would approach an Immam at a local mosque and ask if there’s anyway she could help? I wonder…
The point is that the preservation of so-called ‘orthodoxy’ and personal holiness for the sake of bolstering one’s own eternal security is nonsense. The only reason to maintain such things is to see that you get what’s coming to you at the end. It is instead the work of the Kingdom. The only goal is to share it with as many people as possible.
This is why I worship local. I don’t want to be the kind of person that feels that I’m entitled or should pursue the best worship. I don’t want to be the kind of person that thinks only on what’s coming to me at the end of a life of perceived holiness.
I want to be the kind of person that helps change the world. I want to be the kind of person who loves people.
More than that, I want to be the kind of person that couldn’t imagine living any other life, because I’m so captivated by the work God has given me to do right here and right now wherever I am that I can’t imagine doing things any differently.
So I say, sell the fog machines, save the lights, unplug the speakers, quit absorbing local churches by promoting the first church of Walmart, and…
Worship local.
If you want to join the worship local movement, set this picture as your profile pic!
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*Eschatology is the theological term that describes the study of what will happen at the end of “time.” The historic Christian view has been that Jesus will return, set everything right, and restore, renew, and reconcile everything! (That’s Good News!)
*Orthodoxy is a term that means right thinking i.e. having all of one’s theological ducks in a row.

Monday, June 18, 2012

How Walmart Ruined Church by Ryan Mahoney

I'm re posting from my friend Ryan Mahoney's blog today and tomorrow. You can find his blog at http://writingwiththelighting.com/

Worship Local Vol. 1: How Walmart Ruined Church


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As the phone conversation ended I was left with an unsettling feeling in my stomach. I had just  been in a conversation with a person from a local mega church about possibly helping out with a function at another church. It was during this conversation that I realized we had completely different ideas about church. For them, putting money in the plate for special causes and signing up to help at the church’s annual camp was enough.
As I pointed out that only a handful of people with a miniscule time commitment could make a big difference in a local neighborhood, they again pointed to the work they were doing at their church.
It was as if the mega church had become a cure all. Simply attending and supporting would fill a person’s quota for doing good work, and anything outside of that church or their ministries was of no concern.
What is shocking to me is that large churches are planting campuses and expanding bringing in more and more money and people, meanwhile little struggling churches in rough neighborhoods doing incredible work cannot pay to keep the lights on, and the mega churches and their people are oblivious to the world around them.
***
I have changed names dates and places…to protect the guilty.
These are the facts:
I currently work at a church that is one third homeless. We have about 80 people on a Sunday. Every month we lose a few thousand dollars (which means it costs more to have one fulltime pastor, an intern, and a part time office worker that actually works in exchange for studio space rental). There is a ministry at our church that feeds 150 or so homeless people every Sunday that is funded entirely by outside funding (i.e. private donors outside the church).
We are “revitalizing.” This means that our church was on its last leg for a long time, but we’re hopeful that it can be turned around. We actually believe that a community of people that deeply believe that Jesus is Lord should make a difference in one of the poorest neighborhoods in my town. We actually believe that meeting together regularly to worship and read scripture and serve the poor, drug addicted, child molesters, sex offenders, and homeless in our midst is actually a good thing.
These are more facts:
Just across town from our church is another struggling church. This church is also “revitalizing” (see above). At this church the urban gentrification has forced poor families to move into the neighborhood. As this cultural shift has happened a number of issues have emerged in the neighborhood. On several occasions the pastor of this church has had to pick up burned squares of tin foil left behind by meth and crack users that use on church property.
This church has chosen to reach out to their neighbors. They now serve a meal for anyone in their neighborhood. They have reached out to and have regular contact with drug users and dealers.
This summer this church is putting on a vacation bible school. Since they have even fewer people than our church and about as much money (read: none) they will be using VBS material from a few years ago that has been through a few churches before it came to them. Last year they did not have much time to plan or promote their VBS and they had 60 neighborhood kids. This year they are expecting at least a hundred, but because they are a small church they are worried they will not have enough people to handle the number of kids that will come.
The questions these kids face on a daily basis are: will there be food to eat? Which route to school or the park will take me past the fewest drug houses? THESE ARE KIDS!!!
Now, the obvious question: how has Walmart ruined church?
Not far from both of the aforementioned churches are several mega churches. These churches have thousands of people and millions (that’s right millions of dollars) and more staff than they know what to do with.
These churches have no presence amongst the poor. One is located within spitting distance of a prison and has no prison ministry. These churches often brag about the large amounts of funds they are able to collect for various causes.
Are these churches members our cities homeless coalition? No.
Do any of the homeless people our church serves know who they are? No.
How many other church campuses* have these churches planted? Several.
It is at this point that I think it is prudent to point out that the church I work has to rely on outside funding to pay the bills. Some of that outside funding comes from a gentlemen who sells alcoholic drink mixes to bars and some strip clubs. An alcohol supplier that sells to strip blubs has heard about the work a church in another state are doing and are compelled to give what little money they have (we iron out the wrinkles) to help poor and impoverished people they may never meet.
These two churches have received little or no help or aid from any of the so-called mega churches listed above.
This raises the obvious questions: how exactly has Walmart ruined church?
Walmart has one thing going for it, much like McDonalds: brand loyalty. There is comfort in the name. Americans in other countries feel safe and get excited about eating McDonalds after days or weeks of eating “foreign” food. What is interesting about this phenomenon is that, I would argue, both Walmart and McDonalds are the lowest denominator of American culture.
This cultural dependence on mega corporations have made their way to America’s favorite knock off producer: the church. They have come to fruition in the form of the “mega church.”
It is a large faceless organization that provides a product (worship) at a consistent (even if it is consistently awful) quality for a reasonable rate (often little or no commitment). It is the perfect commodification of the sacred and the profound.
The most beautiful, mysterious, life and world transforming truths have been reduced to a drug that mega churches can offer once a week. You go. You know no one, you don’t have to commit, you don’t have to change or be challenged. You get what you came for, maybe put a dollar or two in the plate (y’know just reasonable compensation for a mediocre show), and you are out.
AND when your particular church is deemed “successful” enough, (you know what time it is) it’s time to franchise. Never mind getting serious about the good work going on all around you. It’s time to spread the brand name and make merchandise: t-shirts, bags, books, pamphlets, VBS material. It is also time to upgrade: better sound system, better screens, hipper clothes for pastors, more cushioning for seats.
It’s a total world take over.
What is so fascinating about this phenomenon is that it makes life worse for everyone.
The illusion becomes that God blesses through people and money. Since God blesses in this way mega churches are the most blessed. Which means that it is entirely ok that churches…like the ones listed above…cannot keep the lights on.
The illusion goes further, because if God is only at the mega church, then God is not anywhere else. Church attenders interpret this fallacy as a license not to look around to see the needs of people outside the church or one of its ministries.
It’s inoculation.
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.
Mega churches inoculate people into thinking that they are powerless outside the mega church and the money they give to it.
The final illusion is that the mega church is what everyone should be striving for.
At the VBS mentioned above it would take 30 people to change the lives of 100 at risk kids. 30 people (I’ve crunched the numbers) that’s 1/6 of 1% of the mega church’s regular attendance.
***
At a local bar I sat down to get my customary PBR (that’s Pabst Blue Ribbon, I only drink the best!) and I ended up in conversation with a construction worker that attends another large young church.
As he talked about his church he said, a bit uncomfortably, “like, we do all this work in Haiti, which is awesome and I’m totally for that, but out church is in Felony Flats (a nickname for the neighborhood in Spokane right by the prison with a high crime rate), and we don’t even do anything with the prison or the poor folks in our neighborhood…(sips beer)…and I just don’t think that’s right…”
What would happen if we all began to be as honest with the voice inside of us as this construction worker?
What would happen if the inoculation wore off? What would happen if people woke up and saw that there’s plenty of work for them? What mega churches saw discipleship as being a blessing right where they are with the churches already in existence? What would happen if we saw worship not as a product but a mysterious beautiful way of encountering God?
I believe it can happen. I believe that the Jesus movement will not be stopped no matter how hard people try.
Jesus is Lord.
The Tomb is Empty.
Is there a way to find enough confidence in the gospel announcement that we can lay aside insecurity, jealousy, and the imperial patterns of this world and worked together instead of against each other?
Would it be possible to find 30 people to work at a lowly VBS?
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*A church campus is different from a church. It is a “satellite” location where a sermon and presumably worship are broadcast from a main location to another location. The assumption is that if the product (insert celebrity pastor and or musician) is the main draw and no other human being on earth could possibly be a substitute, and it would be a good use of God’s money to build buildings and fancy projection and broadcast equipment to spread the personality cult…I mean church.
I just want to be clear on this point: hundreds, if not thousands of people will gather at a particular time and a particular place to watch a video…not a live human being…talk for 30-40 minutes. This to me is the equivalent of showing a home movie to 10,000 people, or watching a bootlegged movie filmed with a cam-corder.

Friday, June 15, 2012

The Way To Beat A Bully

A Devotional by Margot Cioccio

Galatians 6:2
Carry each other’s burdens, 

and in this way you will 
fulfill the law of Christ.

Today has been a struggle for me - nothing in my life has changed all that much to make this day hard and another one fine. I think sometimes there is an oppressive weight that I feel at times because the enemy would like very much to discourage me from being open and honest in my writing. I have to realize that I am becoming dangerous to the kingdom of darkness because the words that I dare to share are planting seeds of hope in the darkness of others lives. Some are realizing that they don't have to live hidden away behind walls of shame and isolation. Its ok to admit you are broken. Heck, we all are in one way or another.

I have pinned on my bulletin board the words of two great saints  - One the words of Mother Teresa that says "Prayer make your heart bigger until it is capable of containing the gift of God himself. Prayer begets faith, faith begets love and love begets service on behalf of the poor." The other, the words of my dear friend Terri Lister. She will laugh when she realizes how closely she stands in my mind to Mother Teresa.  She says "It is much easier to walk away from brokenness than to embrace the broken." Terri is a hero in the faith to me because I know the broken places that she has come from and I know the incredible day by day journey she has traveled to freedom. I suppose what I respect more than anything in Terri is that she has always been willing to be open about her brokenness and her struggles and in them all she has kept turning to Jesus. I get so tired of the plastic have it all together type of Christians - will you quit pretending already.  People don't need a plastic Jesus - they need one who bleed and died and suffered and rose again victorious over death and hell. They don't need plastic followers either they need real ones who bleed, and suffer and die to themselves and rise again victorious in Him.

We need to be ok with being real with one another. But we fear the stones of judgement and condemnation. Our shame and guilt becomes this monster that chokes the life out of us. Like a bully the monster threatens us if we tell anyone. The way you beat a bully is by breaking the silence. 
Tell your story, share your struggles. We need to model for others how to walk together and be real.
When its hard you don't just take your stuff and head home to your walls of isolation. Most people just suffer in silence and the enemy wins.  Oh and I'm just as guilty on this score as the next guy. Its easy to minister to others but it is very hard to admit that I need help. Most of the time I don't need someone to swoop in like a knight on a white horse and slay the nasty dragon solving all my problems. I just need someone who will remind me how big God is and to know that they care and that they will pray.

The other thing that I realize is that often the only thing I can change is my attitude and my focus.
In your darkness, look to the light. In your pain reach out to someone else who is hurting.


Prayer: 
Dear Lord, Break through our darkness. Help us to look towards the light of your love. Help us to love you on our hard days and not just the easy days. Help us to be honest with you and with each other.


Thursday, June 14, 2012

Forgive what our lips tremble to name...

Lenore Three Stars
 Romans 3:22 This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference,23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.

I was watching a show called Jerico on Netflicks with my husband yesterday.  One of the things about Netflicks that I like, is that I can watch a bunch of episodes in a row. Which makes watching tv more like reading a good book. I can set it down when I am ready and have had enough of the story for one sitting. We just started watching this show but sat and watched 4-5 episodes before calling it a night. In the final episode that we watched, a young daughter asks her father about another man in the community. "Is he a good man or a bad man?" Her father tells her there is no such thing.  I suppose there is some truth to that statement. We've all made mistakes and bad choices. We are all people with a past and people with a future and the decisions we make along the way will in the end tell the story of who we were. 

In our service this past Sunday, Lenore Three Stars shared some of her story of growing up on an indian reservation. Here is the link if you would like to listen to that story. http://www.fccspokane.org/2012/06/sunday-06-10-2012/ I guess it was hard for me was to hear American history shared from another perspective. I have to ask the question "Are we a good people or a bad people? I suppose it depends who's telling the story. We took the land of the indigenous people, and then took their children and set them to boarding schools that were modeled after prisoner of war camps. It was hard to hear her talk about how the word "Christian" for her people carries with it all the negatives of a word like"Nazi"to many of us. The church came in to run those schools and their goal was to assimilate these children into our culture. To make them just like us. Many children never returned home and if they did they no longer fit in. She shared about one child who lost a finger every time she spoke in her own language.  From her view a man like Christopher Columbus was not a hero to be celebrated but a man sent by a foreign power to convert, kill, or in slave.  The history we know has been written by the victors, and there is a lot that was left out. She shared about her own journey to know and follow Jesus. She calls herself Lakota woman who follows Jesus. Jesus forces no one to follow him, and it is a ugly stain that we must bear for the sins of those who felt it their duty to convert, kill or in slave people of cultures that were not just like ours. Is the model for worshiping God what we as white people have adopted truly the only right way to worship God. Must everyone sit in pews and sing hymns? Must everyone sing chorus and meet in store fronts? Is everything that is not "white" pagan? Is there room for cultural diversity in the expression of worship to God?  Revelation 7:9 After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands.

What do we do about the guilt we feel over the bad stuff in our personal and collective histories?
We ended with this prayer from the Covenant Hymnal.  It ministered to me on multiple levels. It helped me with my own past that I have been working to reconcile. Also it helped as I was grieved by the things that had been done by our nation and by the church to other people groups. Let the Lord meet you with in the words of the prayer. You know what sins your lips tremble to name and what your heart can no longer bear. Pray along with it regarding your own sins, or our national and yes even for the sins of the church. It is profound and deeply healing.

Prayer:
"Gracious God,
our sins are too heavy to carry, too real to hide, and to deep to undo.
Forgive what our lips tremble to name,
what our hearts can no longer bear,
and what has become for us a consuming fire of judgment.

Set us free from a past that we cannot change;
open to us a future in which we can be changed;
and grant us grace to grow more and more in your likeness and image;
through Jesus Christ, the light of the world." 



Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Like Water Under The Bridge

A Devotional by Margot Cioccio

Job 11:15-17 (NIV1984)

15 then you will lift up your face without shame;
    you will stand firm and without fear.
16 You will surely forget your trouble,
    recalling it only as waters gone by.
17 Life will be brighter than noonday,
    and darkness will become like morning.

Yesterday I was over at the church to pick up some things that were needed to finish the framing part of the River Walk project. I stopped for a few moments to pray in the prayer loft. While I was there I picked up a light turquoise promise stone. It had on it the verse above. I like to believe that the Holy Spirit leads me in what stone to pick up from the hundreds of choices that lay in the sands of the River Project. Here is one of the posts that I wrote about that project as people experienced it for the first time it's titled People Experiencing the River Project. If you are new to my blog it will give you some photos to help you know what I'm talking about today. 


I took my little turquoise glass stone and looked up the verse in a near by bible. I love the part about "You will surely forget your trouble, recalling it only as waters gone by." I'm sure that things that seem huge and weighty today will in time wash away as water under the bridge. I remember sitting by the river side about a month ago and throwing one by one a handful of pennies in to the high and swiftly moving waters. Each penny represented something that I was releasing and letting go of. I'm very hands on. I experience intangible things often through tangible things. The river project is a good example. It connects things that one can touch, feel, smell, and see with things that are harder for people to experience like the Holy Spirit, prayer, and communion with God. They are little tools to help people connect the unseen with the seen. 

Creating projects like the River is part of me operating in my spiritual gifts. My gifts all seem to center around helping communicate the things of God. You can't lead others where you have not been yourself. For me the path to the Lords presence is one I have walked a lot. I spend a lot of time there, I know those trails like an experienced trapper or mountain man knows the trails through the woods and country side. Much like a river guide knows the river and can help people who are new to its wonders, experience it.  Even experienced river guides and trappers are aware that their familiar pathways change with the seasons. Experiencing God is always fresh and new. I am so like the blind man trying to describe and elephant. I'm not trying to exalt my own spirituality, but to say that I approach God with a sense of wonder and have learned to allow the Holy Spirit to guide me, to allow the word to be a light on my path. I use the spiritual gifts that God has chosen to give me. Like one who practices a musical instrument becomes more proficient through practice, I am becoming proficient at creative communication of spiritual things. 

I notice that when I am creating by doing mosaics or painting or writing that there are times when I move beyond my natural ability and something else kicks in. Its a bit hard to explain. Its a bit like what is described in 2 Peter 1:21 For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit. There is a point where I am carried along by the Holy Spirit. I think there is plenty of examples of God giving various people the ability to carry out the task of creating something to help others experience God.
Communion is one example of tangible things that Jesus used to communicate a larger spiritual truth. Then he said do this in remembrance of me.  Baptism is another - are you just getting wet, or is something spiritual happening and that act of getting wet helps to connect you with that spiritual thing that is happening. We wear rings on our married fingers as a sign of a covenant made between two people in marriage. These are all examples of tangible things that help us experience our God who is intangible. 


So where was I going with this post. My experience of sitting by the river and casting pennies representing things I was realeasing to God created in and for me a memory I could use to connect a spiritual truth with my tangible experience. I was able to connect the verse above with something I had connected with in a very tangible way.  God was able to allow my experience to help me understand what he was by the Holy Spirit saying to me in the prayer loft.  I know that there is no way to get back those pennies any more than there is a way to get back those things I released into Gods care that day. I can understand God saying to me in that moment in the prayer loft, that he hears my heart. He know those things that I struggle with and he says in that moment they will soon be water under the bridge. That is an awesome promise that I can hold on to with hope and trust. He knows which things will wash away and which things will remain. As I have learned to trust him with things in the past that were once hard, I know that at some point I will look back on my current difficulties and struggles and they will indeed be water under the bridge, things that have washed away and are no more then memories of how God was faithful to ferry me through to my destination in Him.


I leave you today with a portion of Isaiah 43

“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.
3For I am the Lord, your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior;

He knows what you are going through. He will be with you in the trials that you are facing and in time you will look back and they will be water under the bridge. I think of a Poo Bear story where Poo and the gang are standing on the bridge watching the sticks that they have thrown into the river  be carried away by the current. Maybe you need to go find a quiet spot by a river and throw something in to represent what you are now willing to release into Gods keeping. 

Prayer: Dear Lord, Thank you for the promises in your word. Thank you that by your Holy Spirit you help us connect with them in a personal way. Thank you for the things that you give us to help us experience and communicate the intangible truths of your awesomeness.