Tuesday, July 31, 2012

The good, the bad and the desperately ugly


A Devotional by Margot Cioccio 


Photo by my son, Niah Ferlito
Genesis 50:20 (NIV1984)
20 You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.


In this passage it is good to know the story behind it. Joseph is now the number two guy in the world super power of his day. Has just buried his father and his brothers are worried that he might now take revenge on them for the many years of hardship that he suffered because of their jealousy and wickedness. It was betrayal of the highest degree. His own brothers tossed him in a pit and were going to kill him but decided to sell him to slave traders. 
Most of us could understand how he might still hold a grudge against them. 


I think of the story of Corre TenBoom who forgives the guard that was responsible for her beloved sisters death while in a concentration camp. A camp they ended up in not because they were jewish but because they felt compelled as believing Christians to help their Jewish neighbors. 


So you are probably thinking that Joseph and Corre were super duper believers. How does one go through the hardship of loosing family, friends, the dream of the life you had planned, to end up in prison, or as a slave? How is that possibly God's plan.
If you go back to verse 19 you see a bit of Joseph's heart and character. "19 But Joseph said to them, “Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God?" It is God who judges the hearts of men. It is God who looks at our motives, our fears, our failures. Joseph knew that he could not see the whole picture - and so he left judgement in the hands of God. 


We don't know if and when a heart will turn to Jesus and be saved. That thief next to Jesus on the cross was a bad dude who deserved to be punished for his wickedness. Yet he decided in that moment to believe Jesus was actually who he claimed to be. You talk about a death bed conversion - minus the comfy matres, pillows and blankets.  We just don't know when people will break and finally be able to receive the Lord. Saul was persecuting Christians one day and ran into Jesus as a blinding light and a voice from heaven on the way to trouble and murder more Christians. He in that instant realizes he was on the wrong road and God uses him to take the gospel to the gentiles. Why him? He was a jurk, a killer, educated, powerful bad guy. Why bother to transform and save him?


I suppose part of going through hardship and the loss of the life we thought we were supposed to have is to realize who we belong to. To know that God walks with us in the dark valleys. In those places where the people we should have been able to trust have betrayed us. In the places where some accident takes away our ability to function and do the things we loved doing. We might even have made poor decisions and choices that have cost us dearly or harmed someone else. We feel guilt, shame, grief, and the loss. We could blame others, ourself and even God. We could live our life as a miserable bitter retch or we could turn to God and say "I don't know how this mess can possibly bring you glory but I give you all of my life the good, the bad and the desperately ugly - I give you permission to use it in ways that I can't even see or understand at this point. I choose to trust you." 


I think that Joseph and Corre and others who have sufferer have a choice to make. Will you choose the path of self pity and bitterness, or will you choose the path of trust and forgiveness. Both found themselves in horrible conditions and yet were able to trust God even when everything made no sense to them. They stopped asking the why's and started looking for opportunities to depend and rely on God right in the middle of all the badness. 

Corrie at one point helps the other women to give thanks for the flea infestation in their bunks. Because of the fleas the guards came in less and left quickly and they had a bit of privacy to pray together and talk about the truth's of the Word there in their flee infested chambers. 


Often it is the difficulties that we face that mold and shape us into Gods person. Joseph is able to save a nation of people and his estranged family from famine and death. He went from prison to guy in charge in one defining moment. But was it really one moment or was it a life time of trusting God and making the best of the bad hand he'd been dealt. 


Prayer: Lord, We choose to forgive, and if we don't know how to forgive, we choose to be willing to forgive and to allow you to begin to work forgiveness in our hearts. We choose to surrender our life to your plans and purposes. We choose to thank you for the blessings that are often in disguise. We choose to thank you for those difficulties that cause us to realize we have no where to turn but to you. We choose to suspend judgement on what is going on and to watch and see what you do with it in time. We give you the good, the bad and the desperately ugly of our lives uses it somehow for your glory and your fame.  



“Never be afraid to trust an unknown future to a known God.” 
― Corrie Ten Boom

Monday, July 30, 2012

Climb Your Watch Tower

A Devotional by Margot Cioccio

E-mail readers - there is a video in this post - if you don't have it click the post title to go to the blog site to get it to go along with this post.

Habakkuk 2:1, 3
I will climb my watchtower now, and wait to see what answer God will give to my complaint.
But these things I plan won't happen right away. Slowly, steadily, surely, the time approaches when the vision will be fulfilled. If it seems slow, do not despair, for these things will surely come to pass. Just be patient! They will not be overdue a single day!

In the Dictionary of Bible Themes it says of the word Watchman: "A person stationed on the highest part of a city wall to warn inhabitants of an approaching enemy or messenger; also a person who kept watch over pastures, vineyards and sheep. The OT prophets were spiritual watchmen, warning the people of Israel of God’s judgment.

I thought I would look into the subject of watchmen and being watchful a bit more today. I realize that as I read my bible that there is so much there that in my puny understanding that I have no doubt that I only scratch the surface of the depths of Gods truths. If you don't bother to open the book and do a little digging you will find nothing. While I may not uncover the depths of all that may be found, I hope you find a nugget today that helps you in some way.  So I decided we could spend another day mining a bit deeper into this topic. 

So what exactly is Habakkuk's complaint. What is it that concerns him to this point of anguish before the Lord? To find out we need to not just take this verse out of context but we must go back a bit to pick up the story. So lets look at Habakkuk 1:12-13
12 O Lord, are you not from everlasting?
    My God, my Holy One, we will not die.
O Lord, you have appointed  them to execute judgment;  (Q1: Who is them?
    O Rock, you have ordained them to punish.
13 Your eyes are too pure to look on evil;
    you cannot tolerate wrong.
Why then do you tolerate the treacherous? (Bingo - heres the complaint in bold. How's it fair? )
    Why are you silent while the wicked   (Be honest have you ever asked God the same thing?)
    swallow up those more righteous than themselves?  

Maybe you've been mad at God because someone who was good and kind that you loved died or was raped, or lost a limbs while others who are wicked seem to receive no punishment? How is that fair - how is this God's justice. So you reamin angry at God or you try to change what the word says because you can't seem to reconcile what has happened in light of its truth.  
It might be time to climb your watchtower. I don't know that we always will find the answers on this side of heaven. Sometimes we just need to watch and see what God does. 

I read a great quote by Oswald Chambers it said " What is my dream of God's purpose? His purpose is that I depend on Him and on His power now. If I can stay in the middle of the turmoil calm and unperplexed, that is the end of the purpose of God. God is not working towards a particular finish: His end is the process - that I see Him walking on the waves, no shore in sight, no success, no goal, just the absolute certainty that it is all right because I see HIm walking on the sea. It is the process, not the end, which is glorifying to God. 

To answer the my Q1 from the bible passage above. Them is the Chaldeans. You may remember these places Babylon and Ninevah the Chaldeans were the last ruling power in both of these places. It seems the Chaldeans were intelligent and a warlike people. The were originally nomadic people in the region near Babylon. At serval points Chaldean's became the king of that area and were described as swift and bitter. Eventually the Chaldean's get conquered by the Persians and the term Chaldean came to describe those who were highly educated, rather than a nation of people. 
I think in our passage however it is not the highly educated that have Habakkuk's climbing the walls of his tower to talk to God. I think it is the ruling power in the area who God is using to bring judgement on Israel's waywardness. 

Matthew Henry's commentary had this to say: "That after God has served his own purposes by the prevailing power of the Chaldeans, has tried the faith and patience of his people, and distinguished between the hypocrites and the sincere among them, he will reckon with the Chaldeans, will humble and bring down, not only that proud monarch Nebuchadnezzar, but that proud monarchy, for their boundless and insatiable thirst after dominion and wealth, for which they themselves should at length be made a prey. 


Lest this become too much digging to absorb - lets bring it back to you. There might be some Chaldeans types that God is using to show you your own hypocrisy or to see if you are really sincere  about turning more to him. Your Chaldean's might be an illness, or depression, difficulties and trials can come in all sorts of packages. Perhaps we need to stop shaking our fists at God and demanding he explain the seeming injustice and step back and watch and see what he is doing. 


I am reminded of Joni who has spent the last 45 years in a wheel chair. How is it fair that this young woman in a ski accident became a quadriplegic. Where was God and maybe she just didn't have enough faith to receive God's healing? I've heard Christian's wrestle with the whys of her story through the years. I suppose back when it first happened she may have felt at times pretty sorry for herself, even angry at herself or at God. At some point she must have climbed her watchtower and had it out with God and came to a peace in God's sovereignty.  She has done so much more than anyone ever thought she could. She has today a remarkable ministry. Her mission field has been a group of people that most others could not really reach, because they don't understand people with disabilities. Joni could speak their language, her life has become an example of faith and courage.  If you are not familiar with her here's a link to her web site  - http://www.joniandfriends.org/

Forty five years ago no one could even imagine what God would do with Joni's broken life. You may look at your own life and feel robbed of things you thought would be part of God's plan for you. If you will watch, wait and trust him you may be surprised in time what he will do with your life.  Take a look at the end of our verse today. "But these things I plan won't happen right away. Slowly, steadily, surely, the time approaches when the vision will be fulfilled. If it seems slow, do not despair, for these things will surely come to pass. Just be patient! They will not be overdue a single day!


God is all about the process as Oswald Chambers said so well. Will you look to him today? 
He's not waiting for you to get it together so you can be good enough to be around him. He accepts you today just as you are. He wants to walk with you through the mountains and the deepest darkest vallies of your life and every part in between. He simply waits for you to invite him into your day, and into this moment and the next and the next. 


Prayer:
Lord, some of us have complaints to voice to you today. Why? we want to know. How is this fair?
Why me and not them? Lord you work in strange, wonderful and mysterious ways. Help us to stop railing and demanding answers and to begin to watch and see what you will do day by day step by step as we journey through life with you by our side.  Bless Joni and her ministry, thank you that we can see now the remarkable plan you began as she chose to walk with you from tragedy to triumph for your glory. 








Friday, July 27, 2012

Further Instructions - Be Watchful


A Devotional by Margot Cioccio 


Colossians 4:2 (NIV1984)
Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful.


I've been looking at some of the positive attitudes that we as believers need to develop in our lives and relationship with our Lord. 


In the Dictionary of Bible Themes it says watchfulness of believers is "Alertness to dangers and blessings in the Christian life, and also to opportunities to do good.

The following are some verses on the subject of watchfulness.

Luke 12:37-38
New International Version 1984 (NIV1984)
37 It will be good for those servants whose master finds them watching when he comes.
 I tell you the truth, he will dress himself to serve, will have them recline at the table and will come and wait on them. 38 It will be good for those servants whose master finds them ready, even if he comes in the second or third watch of the night.

1 Thessalonians 5:6-8 (NIV1984)So then, let us not be like others, who are asleep, but let us be alert and self-controlled. For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, get drunk at night. But since we belong to the day, let us be self-controlled, putting on faith and love as a breastplate, and the hope of salvation as a helmet.


1 Peter 5:8(NIV1984)
Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.


Some reasons why we should be watchful. 


1. Its part of being devoted to prayer. 
2. It pleases the master (Jesus)
3. Because we are not those who sleep we are awake and self controlled.
4. Because the enemy is looking for folks to devour. 
5. (Do you see others - leave a comment)

I was once at a church and I felt very led to walk abound the building each Sunday and pray for the church. On one of those walk I felt the Lord tell me that the watchmen were asleep and the prayer warriors were scattered and sickly. I pondered it for a while - things seemed on the surface to be in order. I found out later, that they had all accomplished their big goal of building a building. In the years that followed little by little a slumber had come over the place. New people had arrived with different ideas, wanting to change bi laws and had no interest in the past and the journey of faith the sleeping had been on at one time. I was able to talk to one of the leaders who gave me the go ahead to find and gather the prayer warriors. In the months that followed it looked like for a time that those who had labored to build the building would have to give it up to the larger company of new folks. Suddenly when things looked pretty hopeless something shifted. The new leader decided to step down and leave along with his people. Then followed a season of hardship and rebuilding. 
The slumbering were awake again. 


I believe God sent me there to wake up the watchmen and gather the prayer warriors. In that season God asked me to do more than just pray but to step out and share something that he had told me while praying. I was new to the place and knew it was a kind of risky thing to bring this to the attention of one of the leaders. I was surprised that they not only heard what I had to say but acted upon it. Which reminds me of 2 Chronicles 20. Israel is surrounded by enemies and the king calls the people together to cry out to God. A prophet in speaks up who gives them God's instruction. They followed that crazy instruction and God delivered them. Its a great story if you don't know it - check it out.


I'm not saying that I am a prophet by any means. I pray and God tells me stuff. I believe that prayer is a two way conversation. Some times I am to do more than pray, I am to take that word of instruction and share it with someone. In those instances I try to be obedient. I used to really worry that people would think I was nuts. Usually people respond with "How did you know?" In that moment they break and allow God to come in to their situation. The thing is I didn't know anything except to ask them about some picture or words that the Lord had spoken to me. In most cases I had know idea what it even meant.


There was one lady who God told me to tell her that He wanted to give her back her voice. I didn't know she had had surgery on her vocal chords. I thought God was talking about her being an voice of encouragement. 


I think that as we make watching and praying a part of our life that God begins to show us things and sends us with little nuggets of grace, or a key that somehow un locks things for people who are asleep, feeling hopeless or are in need of a confirmation to something God has been speaking to them. Be watchful, people all around us need encouraged. Your word of encouragement might be what it takes to nudge someone to take that step of faith and to trust God.


I'm not sure who this is for today. If God has told you to share something - take that step of faith, move out of your feelings of inadequacy and share the thing. 
I tend to be soft in my approach to these kind of things. I say I things like, while I was praying I think God showed me something. It may not mean anything but in case it does I wanted to share it with you. Most of the time it does mean something. Even if it does not mean anything, at least I have taken that step of faith to be obedient to share it. 


I also try to be watchful to see how God is moving in the lives of others around me so that I can encourage and fan the flames of faith that I see beginning to take hold. 


Kent Henry once said we are like carriers and couriers of God's presence. We are living bibles and often the only bible that most people ever read. Prayer is a two way conversation. I share whats on my heart and then I listen to hear what God has to say. 
Watchfulness I think is a demonstration that we believe that the Lord does hear and respond to our needs. That we acknowledge that there is an enemy who would love to devour. We also need to watch out for those who are younger or weaker in their faith. Perhaps we can help them miss some of the traps that we fell into along the way. 

Prayer
Dear Lord, 
Help us to be present, to realize that now matters. The choices we make today and the time we take to spend with you and know you is transforming us little by little day by day. Help us to realize that we are not always able to see that transformation happening because today seems like any other day. Help us to be aware of your presence, to be watchful to see you in ordinary and in the every day moments of our lives.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Hummingbird At Rest

A Devotional by Margot Cioccio 


Ecclesiastes 3:1 (NIV1984)
There is a time for everything,
    and a season for every activity under heaven:



I took this photo the other day. It it is unusual to see Hummingbirds sit still. They usually just flit in and out with their little wings moving at an incredible speed. I was sitting on my patio and saw this one come and just sit for a while, it must feel safe among the flower and that twisted wire is a nice place to sit and survey the wet land. 


Hummingbirds are probably my favorite creature. My husband got me a beautiful hummingbird necklace made out of the multi colored golds that I wear it all the time. Hummingbirds are another of those symbols that mean something to me. They remind me to retain my sense of wonder. To believe that with God the impossible is somehow possible. 


They are interesting creatures here's some info from Wikapedia. "Hummingbirds are birds that comprise the family Trochilidae. They are among the smallest of birds, most species measuring in the 7.5–13 cm (3–5 in) range. Indeed, the smallest extant bird species is a hummingbird, the 5-cm Bee Hummingbird. They can hover in mid-air by rapidly flapping their wings 12–80 times per second (depending on the species). To conserve energy while they sleep or when food is scarce, they have the ability to go into a hibernation-like state (torpor) where their metabolic rate is slowed to 1/15th of its normal rate.[1]They are also the only group of birds with the ability to fly backwards.[2] Their English name derives from the humming sound made by the very fast beating of their wings. They can fly at speeds exceeding 15 m/s (54 km/h; 34 mph).[3]"


So my thought today is that like the little hummingbird, I am always zooming around. I've always got many projects and things that I am working on, or things that I am responsible for. I think we get it in our heads that we will get done with things and then we will take a rest. I guess I am realizing  that I must learn to rest in and among all the busy things. Unless we learn to abide and to rest in the busyness we will quickly burn out. 


In recent years I have learned the importance of my quiet time each morning. I need that time to be centered and to get through my busy day. I need it to maintain creativity in the midst of a busy life. I need it to process and to hear from God. It is a rare morning that I am not found quietly thinking, praying, or writing while my family is still asleep. I love the quiet of the morning. 


I think I struggle when projects come to an end because other than my quiet morning time resting is hard for me. Its probably tied to old performance orientation mindsets that say to me I am valuable when I am doing. My worth is measured by what I get done, and manage to accomplish. I realize that is not true - if I did nothing but sit at the Lords feet, He would still love me.  This brings to mind the story about Martha and Mary from Luke 10:
Luke 10:39-42 (NIV) 39 She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. 40 But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”

41 “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, 42 but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”

Mary has chosen what is better - in my mornings I have chosen what is better. I realize that in abiding that I am more creative and have more energy. I whole heartedly believe, John 15:5 “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. 

So in my quiet morning time it is easy to hear God. I need to continue to develop a quiet spirit of abiding through out my day. In the middle of my busyness, I need to quiet myself and find little places of peace to rest. 

So my time between projects while often very uncomfortable to me are good in that I need to rest. It is ok to have down time. I do not have to fill every minute of every day with things that need done. It takes me a while to settle in to resting and waiting mode.   


We can get so busy that we can miss the beauty and the wonder all around us. 
I don't know what you are facing today. I do want to encourage you that it is ok to feel weird when something comes to an end. There is a period where you will feel awkward, because to grow and change we must leave our comfort zone. The new zone always feels awkward at first. The time between the old comfort zone and before knowing what the next project is going to be is difficult because there are so many unknowns and it is easy to worry in that place rather than to rest and wait. We have a guide who knows the way. Even when we can't see beyond the next rise in the landscape he knows every hill and every valley. He knows every river and watering hole along the way.

Psalm 23 1 -3 
The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters,  he refreshes my soul. He guides me along the right paths for his name’s sake.

Prayer: Lord help us to settle down and to be still and know that you are our God. Help us to abide in you and to trust you to know that you will protect and shield us. That even if we have difficult things or new things to face that you will be right there with us. Let us remember to invite you into not just our quiet time but into every part of every day.





Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Trust - You Will Make A Way

A Devotional by Margot Cioccio

Romans 15:13
New International Version 1984 (NIV1984)
13 May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.


I wanted to share with you a beautiful song that my ex Ron Ferlito has just re-released. It is wonderful to hear his new arrangement and to know that he is pursing again the call upon his life. He's included some of our son Niah's photos in the video. I love the new bridge and the lovely addition of his wife Dee's vocals.  God is faithful to finish the work he has begun in each of us.


http://www.ronferlitomusic.com/

You will make a way,  you will see me through... I don't know where you are today. You may be scratching your head and wondering where you went wrong and got off track. Or you may be walking arm and arm with Jesus right in step with his will for your life. You might be some place in the middle doing well one day and lousy the next. God is faithful and if it seems like he has become distant it is because you have walked away and gotten busy in your own concerns.
He won't just jump in to fix things. He watches and waits for you to invite Him to be part of your day, your life.

We have been looking at some positive attitudes towards God that we need to begin to adopt as believers. This song speaks to me of trust.

Trust
Proverbs 3:5 NIV 
Trust in the Lord with all your heart
    and lean not on your own understanding;
 

Psalm 20:7
New International Version 1984 (NIV1984)
Some trust in chariots and some in horses,
    but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.

Psalm 25
Of David.
To you, O Lord, I lift up my soul;
    in you I trust, O my God.
Do not let me be put to shame,
    nor let my enemies triumph over me.

Psalm 40:4
New International Version 1984 (NIV1984)
Blessed is the man
    who makes the Lord his trust,
who does not look to the proud,
    to those who turn aside to false gods.

Psalm 40:4
New International Version 1984 (NIV1984)
Blessed is the man
    who makes the Lord his trust,
who does not look to the proud,
    to those who turn aside to false gods.

John 14:1

14 “Do not let your hearts be troubled.Trust in God; trust also in me.

Prayer:
Dear Lord,
You will make a way, and you will see us through. Often your way turns out to be far different than what we thought or expected. Thank you for loving us in spite of our often wavering trust. Thank you that little by little as you help us again and again our trust begins to grow. Help us trust you and to know you as the peace in the middle of the crazy storms and the busyness of life. Help us find that quiet time to be with just you. 

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Thankfulness

A Devotional by Margot Cioccio

Ephesians 5:20

15 Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, 16 making the most of every opportunity,because the days are evil.17 Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is.18 Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit.19 Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, 20 always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.


I'm writing this morning out among the flowers and humming birds. I'm thankful that the Vicki's garden shop where my friend Nikki Lima works had a 75% off sale. I'm thankful that I was able to have a little bit of money to get some beautiful plants to create a beautiful out door space.
I'm thankful that I have competed cleaning and organizing my office corner and the the living room. I still have a lot of areas that still need dealt with but I am finding a new ability to actually face those areas and to be able to go through and ask the question do I really still need this?

Colossians 2:6-7
So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught,
 and overflowing with thankfulness.


I've been in a bit of an awkward place for the last month or so. I bunch of things all came to the end at about the same time. If you've been reading my posts for any length of time you will know that when I get to the end of a project, I always seem to go through a period of time where I just don't know what to do with myself.  I recently had a whole bunch of those kind of things happen and it has left me really feeling strange, a bit out of sorts. I guess some have even wondered what was going on with me. I am usually very steady even in the midst of the storms of life. Lately I have been pretty wibbly woobly.  Like a boat in a rough waters I have felt tossed about and like I have had little that moors me and keeps me steady. Even realizing that this has been going on does not make it easier. I have been working very hard the last few years to allow myself to actually feel things and not just stuff them. I've done that a lot with things of the past but in this season I have found myself having to do that with things present. I have had to feel the grief and the joy of finishing a number of things. Its an odd mixed blessing in that its wonderful to celebrate having completed a big project at the same time it is disconcerting because you need to figure out what is next. 

I have to say that today is the first day in a while that I feel ok. I can see a bit of direction of what God might use me for next. Granted at this point it is pretty sketchy and seems too big.  I will have to pray about it and step by step move towards creating this thing that I suddenly found in my head this morning. 

So I just had a internet glitch and lost the rest of what I had written. I remember someones wise words in reference to loosing things on the computer. He said "Jesus saves, you should too." That same person also said I should write shorter posts. So I will leave you with Psalm 100.
         A psalm. For giving thanks.

Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth.
    Worship the Lord with gladness;
    come before him with joyful songs.
Know that the Lord is God.
    It is he who made us, and we are his;
    we are his people, the sheep of his pasture.
Enter his gates with thanksgiving
    and his courts with praise;
    give thanks to him and praise his name.
For the Lord is good and his love endures forever; his faithfulness continues through all generations.

Prayer
Thank you Lord for new direction. Thank you for carrying us though the changes of life that we know are coming and the ones that take us by surprise. Thank you that when we ache you hold us, when we grieve you comfort. When we feel lost you help us to see the next step and allow us to now you are near. Thank you for the victories and for being able to see with new eyes and for the hope that you cause to spring up after the storms have passed. Thank you for your presence to go with us through each step of the journey to become more and more like you. 


Monday, July 23, 2012

Holiness

Hebrews 12 NASB
12 Therefore, strengthen the hands that are weak and the knees that are feeble, 13 and make straight paths for your feet, so that the limb which is lame may not be put out of joint, but rather be healed. 14 Pursue peace with all men, and the sanctification without which no one will see the Lord.


Its interesting that in the New International Version in place of the word sanctification the word holiness is used.

Holiness is a tricky subject for me because I can fall into old patterns of performance orientation.
I'm pretty sure that is not what God is looking for.
This weekend I cleaned and organized my corner office/ work space. It had gotten to the point that I did not even want to spend time there. It was not just the surface that was a mess. Under the desk tables was filled with file and old papers, the drawers were all full of stuff I have not even looked at in two years. I've known for a while that I needed to deal with it all soon.
I think as God works internally in our lives we find our selve becoming able to deal with the stuff in our life that has become un-manageable.

So you are probably wondering what cleaning my office has to do with holiness or sanctification?

Wickapedia says Holiness is the state of being holy or sacred. Holiness is being clean or pure, to be holy is to be like a god.


I think Holiness is more than making yourself adhere to a list of don't. Don't drink, don't cuss, don't fornicate, don't murder....


I liked this quote that I found written by a guy named Bill Burkett "In Old Testament times, when a thing - such as a piece of furniture that belonged to the Tabernacle or Temple - was sanctified, it was considered holy unto the Lord. It was never to be used for any other purpose than that for which it was dedicated. To become holy, then, was to become the property of God, set aside for the service of God, according to His will.


 With inanimate objects, the will was not involved, so the process was simple. For instance, the little shovel to be used to scoop the ashes from the altar was formed by the artificer according to the commandment of God. Then it was dedicated to its stated function. That was all.

 With people it is different, because we have wills and many complex mental, physical, and spiritual patterns. But up to this point, we have a very good example of the principle of holiness: To be separated from the past and recreated from our original state into a person of usefulness to the Lord of glory."


So back to my office as I sat there going though old papers, most no longer needed. I was able to throw them away. The were no longer necessary to the purpose of my work area. The point of my work area is to have a place to manage the house hold and work on my projects.
I've had to make room to accommodate painting. I had all the paints in a drawer and you had to rummage through to find the color you wanted. The tubes are shaped so you can stack them or set them in a way as to be able to easily see the color. So you can see in the picture my solution. 


I have been going through similar processes in my inner life. Its not that I've become a professional navel gazer but I have been working on cleaning up my inner life.
I am realizing that our purpose often gets mixed up in the expectations of people, in the positive and negative messages that we receive along the way. Sometimes with in our particular culture some activities are deemed acceptable for some people.  The gifts and talents that God has given us often find a way to be used but not always in the way God had intended. For example I have spent much of my life working in children's ministry. In many of the churches I had been a part of there was not a lot of places at the table for women with a gift of pastoring or shepherding. So my gift came out where it could - in the children's ministry. I'm coming to see that I have had to go back through all the baggage and really search out what exactly did the Lord have in mind for me to do with particular gifts, talents, callings. 


For years my way of dealing with that answer has been to simply be available. If you see need and can do something - do it. Here the thing I've discovered - not everything that needs done is my job to do. I may be hindering someone else from fulfilling their purpose. 


So back to holiness and sanctification. I'm pretty convinced it is not a grit your teeth and try to fit yourself into some holy package. Just like David the shepherd boy, I can't try to wear the armor of someone else. I have to figure out who God says I am and through my association with him, I begin to change into his likeness. One thing about Jesus is that he was fully who he was intended to be. In spending time with him I am able to more and more deal with old baggage and more and more able to discover what it is that he created me to do and be. Its a process, and he won't just barge in and start cleaning house. He waits to be invited.  


So in much the same way as my office is just one space in my house that is now cleaned up. 
I had to deal with the past. I saved some things that were keepsakes and put them away in the lower drawer. Everything has its place and its reason for being in that area. The rest has been removed. I need to do this to many other areas of my house. There was a lot of stuff in our last move that I just could not deal with. I had already gotten rid of more than half of our stuff in moving from a big 5 bedroom house to a small 2 1/2 bedroom house. The big stuff like furniture is easy to get rid of but the boxes of papers, books and photos and kids school work just got put in boxes to be dealt with later. 


So I am asking myself in each room - what do I need to accomplish God's plans and purposes at this time. I look at the kitchen. I don't generally have 8-12 people at my dinner table any more. They just don't fit. I think I could get rid of some of the dishes and dessert cups. 
Its a process, my corner office took all day on Saturday to work through. 
It has been a long couple of years of working through stuff from my past in the cleaning up of my internal house. I can celebrate the little victories along the way but still see a lot of work that needs to be done.

The good news is that I am finding myself more and more able to deal with things. I have a clearer sense of God's purposes for me and that allows me to be able to decide what to do with stuff. I hope I've made sense out of this. I am going to have to leave you to ponder this more on your own  because I have lessons that I need to get to this morning and my time for writing has come to an end.

Prayer:
Lord help us to discover who you created each of us to be. Help us to deal with the past baggage that we have felt compelled to carry along with us because we just did not know what to do with it. Help us lighten the load, even when the new found lightness is frightening and unfamiliar.




Friday, July 20, 2012

Self Denial - Discipleship is Costly

Discipleship is Costly

Found this in my portfolio - don't remember when I painted it.
It looks like how I feel - lately. 

I put big numbers by the three versions of our verse today. It was important enough to get repeated in 3 separate bible accounts.  I've also interspersed some quotes I found about self denial and of course I've thrown in my two cents on the matter. 

Don't forget to leave a comment in Blog Birthday Guest Book. I'd love to hear your thoughts about this blog. You can leave me your ideas of topics you like me to tackle too.


# 1   
Matthew 16:24
24 Then Jesus said to His disciples, 
“If anyone wishes to come after Me, 
he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me.
  
"In the books Christians buy today you will find little mention of brokenness. We are not interested in a life that might require suffering, patience, purging or the discipline of the Lord. We want our blessings … and we want them now! So we look for the Christian brand of spiritualized self-help that is quick and painless."
Lee Grady

#2  Mark 8:34
34 And He summoned the crowd with His disciples, and said to them, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me.

"We love the old saints, missionaries, martyrs, and reformers. Our Luthers, Bunyans, Wesleys and Asburys, etc... We will write their biographies, reverence their memories, frame their epitaphs, and build their monuments. We will do anything except imitate them. We cherish the last drop of their blood, but watch carefully over the first drop of our own."
A. W. Tozer
 
# 3 Luke 9:23 23 And He was saying to them all, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me.

Carrying the cross does mean following in Jesus' footsteps. And in His footsteps are rejection, broken-heartedness, persecution and death. There are not two Christ's - an easy going one for easy going Christians, and a suffering one for exceptional believers. There is only one Christ. Are we willing to follow His lead?
Hudson Taylor

Interesting the Luke version adds the word daily. It says in Isaiah 53:3  "He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not." I'm not sure why we expect it to be an easy ride. The trials we face are often God's blessings in disguise.

I don't expect this will be my most popular post. I have wanted to go through the attitudes that we as believers are encouraged to adopt. I gotta say my experience with most people is the minute things get difficult they bail. Very few will really take the time and effort to work through things until it is resolved and can be put away clean. People get offended, or too stressed to keep their commitments. Things look like they are going to fail or not make it and rather than press on and trust God for a miracle they leave claiming everyone else is just rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.  I'm probably a bit jaded and would likely be a cynical if I had not seen a few over comers who did not give up in spite of terribly difficult circumstances. 

My friend Terri and I were talking one day about some of the many things she has had to overcome. I asked her how she got though those difficult times. She answered "I did not do anything Margot. I only kept breathing, the rest God did" 

I'm not sure we set out thinking we will become over comers were are just trying to get though the day. I think it happens as we day by day deny ourselves and follow Jesus. When we don't give in to the luxury of quitting and going home to sulk.  I think its more about just not giving up. You just keep taking the next step and the next, when you can go any farther you trust that Jesus will carry you through. One of the verses that Terri stood on was "I will restore unto you the years the locusts have eaten" She went on to tell me. "Locusts got fat on my life really..... but you know what I see Margot... the verse is truth and all truth is fulfilled."  I do love facebook chat because it saves those wonderful conversations and I can get back to those profound things people have said when I need to quote them.  

I have recently really struggled - I can describe it best as if I was a ship that was moored in a harbor. In my ship I had multiple mooring lines and adequate ballast weights to help keep it stable. Storms could come and I have been stable when others have faltered.  Recently I had to let go of much of the ballast, and some of the mooring lines moved and shifted and a few that I counted on had to be released or they snapped. In any case I have felt very un stable as I have tired to get used to a new normal. It has made it hard for me to focus. I wrestle with God over why did we have to do all of this at the same time. At times fear gets the best of me and I worry about the future. My boat is much lighter and it is not tied as securely and it seems to bounce all over the place with the in coming waves of just normal daily life. I was managing sort of ok - till I got hit with a bit of a storm. My aunt had a heart attack. I did not get much sleep for a few days. I was over stressed and did not function very well. Thankfully she is fine at this point. I gotta say, I've been feeling a bit green and sea sick and I need Jesus to come and speak to the wind and the waves and bring peace to my spirit.  Its not that its been bad things but any change is difficult and when you get a bunch all at the same time, it can be discombobulating. Self denial is not succumbing to the pity party. It is refusing to give up just because things have changed. I am trying to be careful to not do too much, and trying to not take on things I don't have to do. I'm trying to take things a little slower and allow time to process and reflect. Self Denial is deciding to forgive when people let me down, or say stupid things or when I get tossed under the bus and take the blame for others poor planning. I'd like to tell you that I will have mastered this new normal by tomorrow but it seems to be taking a bit to get use to these changes on multiple levels.

 I did go into the healing rooms for prayer this week and that has helped. Just because things are hard at times does not mean that God has forsaken you, or is punishing you. Little birds have to be nudged out of the nest so they can learn to fly. With my boat example I suppose I am going to have to learn to sail. Oh Jesus if that's what this is please come be the captain - I'm going to really need your help. Yikes - un charted waters into the unknown... breathe Margot ... its an adventure. Often when Jesus sets us free we quickly want to tie our selves back up - the new freedom is uncomfortable, unfamiliar and frightening. I know it will get better and what is hard to manage today will become easier as the days go by.

 Those who have attained things worth having in this world have worked while others idled, have persevered while others gave up in despair, have practiced ...the valuable habits of self-denial, industry, and singleness of purpose.
--Grenville Kleiser

The first lesson in Christ's school is self-denial.
    Author: Matthew Henry

Do you have a hunger for God? If we don't feel strong desires for the manifestation of the glory of God, it is not because we have drunk deeply and are satisfied. It is because we have nibbled so long at the table of the world. Our soul is stuffed with small things, and there is no room for the great. If we are full of what the world offers, then perhaps a fast might express, or even increase, our soul's appetite for God. Between the dangers of self-denial and self-indulgence is the path of pleasant pain called fasting.
    Author: John Piper

"A religion that gives nothing, costs nothing, and suffers nothing, is worth nothing."
Martin Luther
 
"We must do something about the cross, and one of two things only we can do--flee it or die upon it."
A. W. Tozer

"The true follower of Christ will not ask, "If I embrace this truth, what will it cost me?" Rather he will say, "This is truth. God help me to walk in it, let come what may!"
A.W. Tozer
 
"People who are crucified with Christ have three distinct marks:
1. they are facing only one direction,
2. they can never turn back, and
3. they no longer have plans of their own."
A.W. Tozer
 
"One can't help but think that much of our weakness as Christians is owing to our un-Christian aversion to suffering, avoiding it at all cost and christening cowardice as wisdom."
Thabiti Anyabwile

Galatians 2:20 ESV 
I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.
 
 Today's Birthday Month favor is one of my favorite songs called Blessings by Laura Story. 


Prayer
Dear Lord, 
Help your beloved ones realize your great love even when you must prune things from our lives. Help us in the changes we face, when we want to just sit down and cry because it feels too hard. Come quickly and hold us in your loving arms and remind us that you are big enough and more than able to help us with anything we are facing. Help us take that next step to pick up our crosses and follow you.


Thursday, July 19, 2012

By Faith...

A Devotional by Margot Cioccio

Hebrews 11 By Faith...
I was wanting to look at some of the attitudes that we as believers are encouraged to adopt towards God. Faith seemed a good place to start.  I plan to also look at Hope, Love, Holiness, Awesome Respect, Trust, Repentance, Humility, Self-Denial, Submission, Thankfulness, Praise, Prayerfulness, Reverence, and Watchfulness. Not sure what order yet but these topics should take us easily through the rest of this month.

Hebrews 11

11 Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. This is what the ancients were commended for.By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible.

Right off the bat we have to understand that the universe was formed by God's command. There are all kinds of theories out there. It requires faith to believe that by God's command the universe was formed and not just some random accident.  
Sometimes God gives us personal promises and they are as crazy as young Josephs dreams and seemingly as impossible as 80 year olds Abraham and Sarah having a promised kid in their senior years.  Geesh you talk about hope deferred, I'm betting Sarah had a lot to say on that subject. I think it is not so much knowing how or when God will deliver on such promises but more of believing that He is able and you are not crazy to believe in spite of what everyone else says or though the circumstances would appear as impossible.   Say it with me God is able. Then I think of Larry the Cucumber saying something to the effect of "Oh Great Bob, does that mean God can make me a cow?" He did part seas and rivers and do a lot of seemly crazy stuff.  I expect I've made my point. 
It seems if God says he's going to do something in your life - hang on cause its usually not in the next snap of the fingers - its a journey and a process.

By faith Abel offered God a better sacrifice than Cain did. By faith he was commended as a righteous man, when God spoke well of his offerings. And by faith he still speaks, even though he is dead. 

Both brought offerings. Able brought the best of what he had to give to God and Cain brought what he was willing to part with. Our attitude of faith as we bring not only our offerings but our lives before God should be to bring him our best. Not our left overs.



By faith Enoch was taken from this life, so that he did not experience death; he could not be found, because God had taken him away. For before he was taken, he was commended as one who pleased God. And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.  

Faith is a pretty big deal, to the point of without faith we can't please God. These are all great stories if you don't know them go back to Genesis and check them out - a lot of them can be found there. Can you imagine walking so closely with God that one day you just walked into heaven with out dying. 


By faith Noah, when warned about things not yet seen, in holy fear built an ark to save his family. By his faith he condemned the world and became heir of the righteousness that comes by faith.
 Then there's Noah most folks know that story. I think it tries our scientific age minds to figure out how world wide flood could be possible. Interestingly just about every culture has some sort of ancient flood story. Do you know I've read accounts that in every culture there are flood stories that have incredible similarities. 


By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going.  By faith he made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise.10 For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God.  Let me point out that Abraham had great faith but he did some really stupid stuff. Lying that his wife was his sister to an area big shot king. Then the whole deal with his wife's maid - yeah that one got messy. We can be really strong in one area and lacking in another. We are all broken but even in our brokenness we can have faith. Its good to keep in mind that God is still working on all of us. So put down your stones.


11 By faith Abraham, even though he was past age—and Sarah herself was barren—was enabled to become a father because he considered him faithful who had made the promise. 12 And so from this one man, and he as good as dead, came descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as countless as the sand on the seashore.  I already mentioned this one. Back in that day it was a terribly shameful thing to not be able to produce an heir for your husband.  The story of Hannah is another woman who cried out to God for a son, even promising to give him to God to serve in the temple once he was weened. I was married 15 year before God gave me my son Niah. I had pretty much given up on having children. I was at a church service and I felt like God spoke to me that I was pregnant. I told Him I can't do this - If I am you tell me the child's name and what it means. If it turns out to be correct - I'll take a pregnancy test. The next thing I heard was  - His name is Hananiah and it means Gods gracious gift.  I had to go searching to even find who Hananiah was in the bible. Turns out it was Shadrack from the firey furnace story. Shadrack was the name given to Hananiah in captivity. When I looked up the meaning of the name it was God gracious gift. At that point I was willing to believe I had heard God and took a pregnancy test. Niah, short for Hananiah is now almost 15 he has been a gift from God.


1All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance. And they admitted that they were aliens and strangers on earth. 14 People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. 15 If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return.16 Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them. There are some great stories of faith and courage if you take the time to read your bible. Are you looking for a better heavenly country. I think of the Narnia books when I think about heaven and how in The Final Battle when they think everything has been lost but they have stood firm to the end. They find themselves on the other side of a barn door and in a new and better country. "“I have come home at last! This is my real country! I belong here. This is the land I have been looking for all my life, though I never knew it till now...Come further up, come further in!”
― C.S. Lewis,
The Last Battle  I never feel like I really fit in here. I always feel kind of like the odd, different one. I've grown to accept it as part of that inner longing for my home in heaven. 

17 By faith Abraham, when God tested him, offered Isaac as a sacrifice. He who had received the promises was about to sacrifice his one and only son, 18 even though God had said to him, “It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.” 19 Abraham reasoned that God could raise the dead, and figuratively speaking, he did receive Isaac back from death.  Isaac's faith is never mentioned here but you got an old man and a strapping young teen age boy. If he had not trusted his dad and God he would not have had to submit to that sacrifice situation.  Can you imagine dad standing over you with a knife " It will be ok Son, God has a plan." Geesh I sure hope so.

20 By faith Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau in regard to their future.
21 By faith Jacob, when he was dying, blessed each of Joseph’s sons, and worshiped as he leaned on the top of his staff. These blessing stories are all intriguing. The hands of blessing are switched in the last moments and the younger gets the blessing. I first will be last kind of illustration for us. 
I'm telling you there are treasures to be found in the pages of your bible. If all you do is live on refrigerators verses that people post on Facebook - you are missing out. Read, learn, study ask the Holy Spirit to lead you - he says he will. Take him up on that promise - exercise a little faith that even if you feel dumb as a stump biblically that God is willing and able to lead you and help you to understand his word.  


22 By faith Joseph, when his end was near, spoke about the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt and gave instructions about his bones.  Some say that Israel did not leave Egypt for another 215 years, others say it was 400, and others still 430 years. In any case it was a long time for dead Josephs bones to be remembered.


23 By faith Moses’ parents hid him for three months after he was born, because they saw he was no ordinary child, and they were not afraid of the king’s edict.
24 By faith Moses, when he had grown up, refused to be known as the son of Pharaoh’s daughter.25 He chose to be mistreated along with the people of God rather than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a short time. 26 He regarded disgrace for the sake of Christ as of greater value than the treasures of Egypt, because he was looking ahead to his reward. 27 By faith he left Egypt, not fearing the king’s anger; he persevered because he saw him who is invisible. 28 By faith he kept the Passover and the sprinkling of blood, so that the destroyer of the firstborn would not touch the firstborn of Israel.
29 By faith the people passed through the Red Sea as on dry land; but when the Egyptians tried to do so, they were drowned.  So then you get the whole Moses story and journey - read it for yourself don't rely on some old Charlton Heston movie or any other for that matter. If the last time you read that story was as a child in Sunday school its time to re-visit it - Not to ruin the story for you but O'l "Let my people Go", Moses does not even get to go into the promised land - He gets to only see it from a distance. Go read the story and see if you can figure out why?

30 By faith the walls of Jericho fell, after the people had marched around them for seven days.
3By faith the prostitute Rahab, because she welcomed the spies, was not killed with those who were disobedient. Then you get the Joshua stories and if you like military battles and strategy Joshua will stretch you a bit. I have to say that I have read many of these stories many times and God will show me some new thing that I had not seen previously.  With out faith it doesn't make a lot of sense - you need the Holy Spirit to lead and guide you.

32 And what more shall I say? I do not have time to tell about Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel and the prophets, 33 who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised; who shut the mouths of lions, 34 quenched the fury of the flames, and escaped the edge of the sword; whose weakness was turned to strength; and who became powerful in battle and routed foreign armies. 35 Women received back their dead, raised to life again. Others were tortured and refused to be released, so that they might gain a better resurrection. 36 Some faced jeers and flogging, while still others were chained and put in prison.37 They were stoned; they were sawed in two; they were put to death by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated— 38 the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, and in caves and holes in the ground. 39 These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised.
Most of the stories in this list are found in other places in the bible beyond Genesis. I'm going to have to look up the one about Jephthah - oh yeah that weird story in Judges about the guy who lead Israel in battle and mad a rash vow to kill what ever walked out of the door of his house to greet him. I think he was expecting the dog but it was his daughter. There are some stories like this one that I don't really understand. I just kind of let them stew and maybe the next time I read it I will have a bit more incite. Sometimes if you are new to the bible you will have a lot that you don't understand. The more of the bible that you read the more the pieces of the puzzle and the larger story start to fit together.


My Blog Birthday Month gift for you today are some links to some great bible study tools. 
I probably use Bible Gateway almost every day. http://www.biblegateway.com/
This one also has some nice features. http://www.biblestudytools.com/
I'll tell you a little secret  - when I can't find a verse I type as much as I can remember into the google search and see if what comes up helps me find the verse. A lot of the time I get the verse I'm looking for. 



Prayer:Dear Lord,
Thank you for leading us in your Word today. I'm sure there is more treasure to be mined from it. We have just scratched the surface. Thank you for the things you helped us see today. Thank you for leading us. I pray that you would put a hunger for your Word into the readers of this blog. Help us move beyond milk and learn to pick up our forks and knives and rightly divide the meat.