A Devotional by Margot Cioccio
I'm struggling with this one today. I wonder if you will read it and think " Oh thats those other Christians - not me, as you list off all the good things you are doing.
I guess I see a big problem with in the American church at large and I need to speak about it even if it makes me unpopular. I need to be about more than just tearing down, I must some how be about building up. I can see the problem but can I be an agent of restoration? I realize that true revival begins with me and you when we are willing
to allow God to change us.
I suppose for me the next step is to write about what I see. So often I find myself thinking about that far reaching misty future. I can often see a wisp of something that I believe God has planted in my heart. Much like how I can see my art projects long before they become a reality that anyone else can see. While this kind of faith is important in helping us have a bit of a sense where we are heading. It can sometime be debilitating in that it seems too impossible, too big and far beyond my understanding or abilities to bring about. So while at one point is is an amazing visionary kind of faith to believe that with God all things are possible. On the other side it can become a place of worry about how you can possibly ever get from here to there.
So this little verse picture that I've included says faith is taking God at His word and taking the next step.
So I've started with what does God's word say about our future?
For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to
prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.
This is probably the first verse that many of you thought of - it was mine as well. I have to remember the context of this verse. This is written to Israel while in exile. For many more years they lived in hardship in exile. Even when some did go back it was not the glorious place they had left. His grace and love that is sufficient for today will be sufficient for the future. That does not mean you have a cushy life in your future.
Its like the folks that promised when I was a new believer that "Jesus loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life". His wonderful plans are often much harder than we ever thought they would be. The process of transforming us into his image is full of a lot of dying to myself.
Jesus told His disciples in John 15:20 , “If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you”
Ananias was told to go tell Paul (then called Saul) that God would “show him how many things he must suffer for My name’s sake” (Acts 9:16).
We can get so into our own pursuit of healthy and wealthy that we forget about the work of the kingdom that he left us here to be his ambassadors and agents with in.
I was talking with my pastor today about the state of the church in America, we were both in agreement that pretty much the church across the board has become pretty narcissistic. It has become all about me and God and a golden ticket to gain entrance into the pearly gates when the time comes. In the mean time we hang out and have halleluja parties and have emotionally charged goose bump experiences that we run from place to place to find. This is what for many serving God has become chasing the next portal of Gods glory or finding the place that offers the most with the least commitment and expectations from us. Please don't misunderstand me I am all for people experiencing Gods presence. I just think that too many get carried away chasing I'll fly away, warm fuzzy, feel good experiences. We have homogenized the gospel and taken out that parts about Jesus and his followers sacrificing and suffering for the sake of others. We would live on the warm fuzzy refrigerator verses and not crack our bibles to read them in context. I have to wonder if you read your bible at all or if you are just sampling verses like its some holy pick and choose smorgasbord.
If I read my bible I don't see Jesus going around putting putting on big crusades as if walking forward in a big event somehow transforms you into a believer. Its a process that we work out day by day step by step along with other messy believers. I don't see him building bigger buildings. I'm not saying those things are bad but we have somehow merged Christianity with the American Dream. We've created a generation of believers who are all about being entertained, and having a good life. We promised them heaven and given them a halleluja party in a comfy building with cushy seats while they wait for their train to glory. Jesus went around and He healed the sick, delivered those who were demonized. He comforted, he corrected. He modeled the principles of His kingdom. The first will be last and the last will be first. He gave of himself for others. He challenged the religious folks of his day on more than one occasion. He called them white washed tombs and a brood of vipers. He was out with the messy people. He laid down his life so that you and I could be made right with God. Kingdom life is more than filling a pew or a seat on Sunday. We should be in our world as agents of justice and mercy. We should be His hands and feet today and in the future. Do we really even care that the world around us is going to hell in a handbag?
For three years I have been working with the inner city poor and homeless. It seems to me that God would want them to have a church home too even if they can't afford it. For three years we have struggled to keep the bills paid and the doors open. Its not that the church is not growing - it is, but they are homeless, out of work, poor, broken, addicted. We recently went to our congregation to ask them to make a pledge to see what we might be able to look to them to help with in the way of attendance, service and giving financially.
I know that in the area of finances the pledges that came back in do not even cover the expenses of keeping the building open each month. How does one do church for the poor in America? We are still trying to answer that question. Our web site is http://www.fccspokane.org/.
I won't say that everyone is called to be a missionary. Jesus does command us to "go" in Mark 16. "4Later
Jesus appeared to the Eleven as they were eating; he rebuked them for
their lack of faith and their stubborn refusal to believe those who had
seen him after he had risen. 15He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation.
16Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.
17And these signs will accompany those who believe: In my name they will drive out demons; they will speak in new tongues;
will pick up snakes with their hands; and when they drink deadly
poison, it will not hurt them at all; they will place their hands on
sick people, and they will get well.”
19After the Lord Jesus had spoken to them, he was taken up into heaven and he sat at the right hand of God.
the disciples went out and preached everywhere, and the Lord worked
with them and confirmed his word by the signs that accompanied it.
I'm not crying sour grapes - I'm just asking where is the church - it sure is hard to find it in the inner city among the poor and homeless. Sure we have folks around Thanksgiving come do their good deed by helping serve or by providing a turkey. About that time of year we get lots of coats donated. The problem is that usually people were cold for the prior two months. While we are grateful for the turkey and the help - where are you the other 50 weeks of the year. There was one group that came to give out sandwichs and stuff under the bridge. The goal of the pastor was to train his church members to be better at witnessing. There you have it...its still really all about me me me. The poor were simply used as a training tool.
I remember a beautiful song It said "I will pled the cause of the needy, I will give my bread for the hungry. Holiness will be my goal as I sit before your thrown.
In your worship and experiencing of Gods presence at some point like Isaiah you should hear him calling "Who will go for me, who can I send". I think most folks think "Oh that must be for someone else and continue in their holy mountain top experiences. We are quick to forget or care about the world we came out of. I watch this happen with the homeless folks. When they finally get out of it homelessness and in to a place they don't look back. It is too hard for them to stay and reach out to others. Too much of the old life that they want to forget. Only a few will stay on to help others get free.
Jesus laid down his life for you and I. His body was broken, he suffered, bled and died. Keith Green in his song Asleep in the Light, writes "oh bless me lore, bless me lord"
You know it's all I ever hear
No one aches, no one hurts
No one even sheds one tear
But he cries, he weeps, he bleeds
And he cares for you needs
And you just lay back
And keep soaking it in
Oh can't you see it's such a sin
The world is sleeping in the dark
That the church just can't fight
'cause it's asleep in the light
How can you be so dead
When you've been so well fed
Jesus rose from the grave
And you, you can't even get out of bed".
Open your mouth, judge righteously, defend the rights of the poor and needy.
Isaiah 46:10-11 declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times
things not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will
accomplish all my purpose,’ calling a bird of prey from the east, the
man of my counsel from a far country. I have spoken, and I will bring it
to pass; I have purposed, and I will do it.
Consider the blameless, observe the upright; there is a future for the man of peace.
Know also that wisdom is sweet to your soul; if you find it, there is a future hope for you, and your hope will not be cut off.
All those are promising kind of verses about the future and deserve more study. I have gone on long enough. We need both the day by day steps of faith and the trusting God for the far off future. Israel did not consider her future, she forgot where she had come from as well. God had called her to be his light to the nations of the world. If we do not learn from the past we are destined to repeat it.
Her filthiness clung to her skirts; she did not consider her future.
Her fall was astounding; there was none to comfort her.
Transform us, help us to know you not just in your glory but in your suffering and sacrifice as well. Help us to consider our future wisely and to not forget where we have come from. Help us to realize that our purpose and calling as people of your kingdom is to do more than take up space. Thank you that you have healed us and set us free and help us extend that same love, grace and mercy to others. Help us to not take the gifts you have given us and just spend them on ourselves but to begin to use them to bring healing and restoration to people still trapped in darkness.