A Devotional by Margot Cioccio
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.