Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Taking A Break Til the New Year

A Note from Margot

Dear Readers,
I am going to take the week between Christmas and New Years off
from writing. I have come down with a nasty head/chest cold and I think I just
need to give myself a bit of a break. I pretty sure out of the 395 published
posts that you can still find the encouragement you need and there are
likely some that you missed getting to read.

In the mean time I am enjoying a quiet reading marathon at my moms.
While watching it snow and snow, drinking hot tea and mostly resting.

Any way I hope you have all had a wonderful Christmas and I will be back with you January 2nd.


Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Merry Christmas + Cinnamon Bear Episode Links

A Devotional by Margot Cioccio 


This is my son Cai and I playing the Ukrainian Bell Carol my older son made the video. Its our musical Christmas Card. Wishing all my readers a very Merry Christmas. 

Here's the final Cinnamon Bear episode

Crazy Quilt has stolen the Silver Star again. Santa says "its probably just a case of too much temptation." Is he a good guy or a bad guy or a bit of a confused mixture just like all of us. We want to do the right thing but we often fall short of our own expectations. Often we feel like the Lord is shaking his finger at us or writing our name on the naughty list, when in fact if we believe that Jesus accomplished the task of reconciling us to the father we can relax and allow he who has begun a good work in each of us to carry it out to completion. 

Romans 7:20-22
New International Version 1984 (NIV1984)
20 Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.21 So I find this law at work: When I want to do good, evil is right there with me. 22 For in my inner being I delight in God’s law;

Was it all a dream or was it a real adventure? I guess you will have to decide for yourself. In any case I hope you have enjoyed this adorable story and the devotionals that have sprung from it this month. 
I've included the links in case you want to get back to any of the episodes or want to share them with friends. 

I had fun painting these ornaments and writing these devotionals this year. This project has been a big part of this past year from my first time listening to each episode to drawing the initial sketchs. One by one the characters came to life in my mind and in each little painting. I've had fun re-listening to each episode as I have written each accompanying devotional.  I took one day off from the Cinnamon Bear story because of the tragic shootings at the Sandy Hook Elementary School. I wrote the an article that day called Where is God when Tragedy Strikes. As I was doing this re-cap it looks like I might not have ever got it posted. 

The Cinnamon Bear was a radio show that was first broadcast in 1937. The idea was it was designed to be listened to every day except Sunday's between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Many years ago I had done illustrations as a Christmas gift for some very dear friends. Then I lost touch with those friends for more than 30 years. Thanks to facebook I reconnected with those friends a couple of years ago. My friend Eleanore shared that the ornaments that I had made for them had been lost to water damaged and commissioned me to make a new set. I had pretty much forgotten about the story but as I listened to each episode the characters came back to me along with some wonderful memories from that time in my life. I completed the paintings in September of this year and packed them all up in a small chest in layers between colorful pieces of felt.
So as the family listens to each episode they can add an ornament to the tree. I don't know if they will do it that way or if they will put them all on the tree at once.

I thought when I sent them off that it would be fun to use the stories and illustrations as part of my Devotional Blog. Here are the links to each episode. 

Episode 1  Paddy O Cinnamon
Episode 2 Dealing with the Weary Willies in your life
Episode 3 Crazy Quilt Dragon 
Episode 4 Shame and Secret Ink a boo boundary lines
Episode 5 On the brink of the immense ink well
Episode 6 Desires and Fears
Episode 7 Oh the things we pull out of our hats
Episode 8 Candy Pirates and Candy Canes 
Episode 9 Troubles with the Rolly Polly Policeman
Episode 10 Professor Whiz
Episode 11 Fee Foot The Giant
Episode 12 Yet I Will Rejoice in the Lord
Episode 13 Wintergreen Witch 
Episode 14 Queen Melissa 
Episode 15 Snapper Stick The Crocodile 
Episode 16 Oliver Ostrich Get Your Head out of the Sand
Episode 17 Muddlers 
Episode 18 Cockle Burr Cowboys
Episode 19 Wooden Indian
Episode 20 Flying Hat
Episode 21 A Look at some Christmas Traditions 
Episode 22 The Origins of Santa and Xmas
Episode 23 The Bad Dolls 
Episode 24 Whiter Than Snow
Episode 25 Merry Christmas

Prayer: Lord I pray that each reader has encountered you in some new and fresh way this holiday season. That they would find some special times to be with you in the final days of this year.  

Monday, December 24, 2012

Whiter Than Snow

A Devotional by Margot Cioccio

Heres the link to the next to last episode of the Cinnamon Bear.

A White Christmas Eve
I feel like I've joined the kids in the snow country. We awoke this morning to quite a bit of snow.
So glad we did our traveling yesterday and only have to watch the beautiful snow from snug and warm inside.

The kids have their star and are ready to head for home. As they are getting into Santa's sleigh they ask Crazy Quilt to hold the star. Just when you think the story has come to its end too. 

The Cinnamon Bear Tre
I also got a e-mail from the person who commissioned me to paint the Cinnamon Bear ornaments earlier this year. She sent me some beautiful photos of how they look on her tree.  I've included them here so you can enjoy them too.

So it is Christmas Eve day. Here where I live we are sure to have a white Christmas. I'm going to have to come up with a new writing topic. I am thinking of doing a New Testament Book study for the month of January. Something that could be used as a short daily mini bible study. Let me know if you have book suggestions.

So here's my verse for today. I sort of have snow on the brain.

 Psalm 51:6-7

Surely you desire truth in the inner parts;
    you teach me wisdom in the inmost place.Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean;
    wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.
I am struck how over night some changes can come to us. I went to bed last night and it was dark and rainy. I awoke to a world frosted with white. Trees that sparkle and glisten. I realize from the Psalm above that it is the Lord who does the cleansing.  I could see the transformation starting in homeless woman I gave a purple bible to yesterday at church as a christmas going away gift.  She gave her heart to the Lord about a month ago. She has been coming to our feeding now for three years. She said to me yesterday. "I'm so glad you guys didn't give up on me." 
Its funny how each week, we feed and love people and it often feels discouraging because you don't see much change. They have seen Christian's come and go but most don't stick around long.  There are times when we feel like its only such a small handful of us and such a mountain of need and so many broken lives that it feels like an impossible task to reach them all. About the time you start to have a serious discussion with someone some drama breaks out in the room that needs attended to. We think if only we had more healthy Christians who would come and help. We get plenty of kitchen help but very few folks who want to sit at a table with the homeless and poor.  Every now an then we will find a prodigal who is ready to return at last to the father.  Here with the down and out and hopeless - easy pat answers don't do a lot of good. What does seem to make a difference to them is people who will be there for them. Little words of encouragement and kindness go a long way for people who are used to being treated like skum or even worse as invisible. 

So while I am sitting here enjoying the beauty of the snow, I can't help but think of my friend with the purple bible who still has a week to live under the bridge in this snow before she goes to a clean and sober living situation in California. I know her story has not been unlike the children in the Cinnamon Bear Story. They get so close to getting the star and then there is some set back.  She will be sharing her story during our service this coming Sunday. She plans to go to the library this week so she can e-mail me her ideas so I can help her sort them out a bit.  

Prayer: Dear Lord, thank you that it is you who does the work of cleansing and transforming. Wash us white as snow. Thank you for the transformations you have brought in each of our lives over the past year. Help us to bring your love to the lost and the broken and to never forget how far you have taken each of us. I pray for my friend, this is her first Christmas as a believer. I pray that you will help her in this transition from her old life to her new one.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

The Bad Dolls and The Parade

A Devotional by Margot Cioccio

Luke 2:13-15

New International Version 1984 (NIV1984)
13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,
14 “Glory to God in the highest,
    and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.”

The Bad Dolls

Jack Frost
A Little Trouble in the Sticker Room
The Bad Dolls have stollen the silver star and run away with it. They were made with a bad batch of sawdust and are very naughty. Now the tin soldiers are on their way to capture the dolls and get the star back. Santa gives them a tour of the warehouse and Cinnamon Bear finds a bit of trouble in the sicker room. The soldiers radio back that the bad dolls are worse than usual and seem to be led by some green creature who has never been seen in the snow country before.

I am behind by one day so I will give you links to two episodes today. This one is for the Bad Dolls.

Toys gathered for the Christmas Parade

The Parade
This one is for the Parade Episode

They have gotten an alert from Queen Melissa that Winter Green has escaped and was headed their way. They get to go on a train ride to see the Christmas Parade. Its the last inspection of the toys before they are delivered for Christmas. Captain Tin top has called in that the silver star has been recovered.

Yesterday my family and I joined the holiday madness for a bit of shopping. Everyone knew had their list of people they needed to buy gifts for. So they headed off in different directions. It was funny in a gigantic mall, the kids and I kept winding up in the same stores. Hopefully we didn't by the same things for the people on our list. It is a short list this year just the people we will be spending Christmas with. 

I look at the painting of Cinnamon Bear all covered with Christmas labels and it reminds me of gift wrapping and all the paper and tape. I'm not even bothering with bows this year. I remember a year that we did really free gift wrapping as a church out-reach project. People were amazed that we did not want their donations. It took a lot of volunteers to be able to man the little booth in the mall for that outreach project. We did give each person a tag with the church address and service time. It was a lot of fun. It built community between people in the church because they got to know each other better during their gift wrapping shift. 

I have had a hard time getting into the swing of things this Christmas. I have not been particularly inspired to bake a bunch of cookies, or make special gifts. I think however one of my highlights this season was working with a couple of homeless ladies to prepare the prayer loft in the church. They were so delighted to get to go shopping for the supplies. They had fun doing all the little parts that make up the larger display. Normally I have worked pretty much by myself or with one other key person. This time my job was to come up with the concept and to work with a team to make it happen. Which meant my job was less hands on and more managing others. One of the ladies saw a little purple bible at the Christian book store. She gave her heart to the Lord recently and the Lord has opened up a clean and sober living situation in California. I was excited today to be able to get her that little purple bible and a little devotional book as a Christmas/Going Away gift. 

Prayer: In the crazy busyness of this time of year that I pray you find His peace because thats what the angels announced to the shepherds. "Glory to God in the highest,
    and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests." I pray you would realize that his favor rests on you. 

Friday, December 21, 2012

The Origins of Santa Claus and Xmas

A Devotional by Margot Cioccio

Here's the link for today's episode of the Cinnamon Bear Radio show. I have been using it as a spring board for my writing ideas this month. If you want to catch earlier parts of the story you can find them at my blog A Devotional Mosaic where I post daily Monday thru Friday. I also post on Fridays for the Healing Stream Media Team Blog along with a great bunch of other inspiring writers.

Jimmy and Judy get to meet "the really truly Santa Claus". He's pretty busy but he knows just the person to fix the silver star. The sleigh and warm fur coats have been ordered for the kids and Crazy Quilt and Cinnamon Bear are off to the taylor shop. Brrrrrrrr off they go to meet Jack Frost who can frost just about anything but a chocolate cake. He is able to fix the star and set it in the window to harden. Oh no! you guessed it the star is no longer in the window when they turn around to look.

I thought I would write today about some more history behind holiday traditions that mark this season.

For example did you know that early Christians used the letter X as a symbol representing the name of Christ. In Greek the word for Christ's name is Xristos. If you were not educated and wanted to write His name you would simply make an X and it was commonly accepted to represent the name of Christ. You may also think that x marks the spot is about buried treasure when actually it was started by early believers. They would mark an X on the ground where a true believer had been persecuted and lost their life. It meant this one belonged to Christ. So while many believers today are all up in arms about people using Xmas rather than Christmas it should actually give you yet another way to share your faith with folks. So before you do away with the X in Xmas perhaps it is time to start a movement to not loose the real meaning of X.

Heres another thing that seems to escape most Christians today. Christmas as a celebration had nothing to do with celebrating the birth of Christ. The birth of Christ for most of church history was just another day. It was not one marked by any unusual celebration. It took the church nearly 300 years to even decide on what day the birth of Christ should be celebrated. Christmas was a actually a lawless drunken celebration until the mid 1800's. It was filled with people rioting in the streets and demanding food and other things from the upper class. In the song We Wish You A Merry Christmas there is a line where the carolers demand fig pudding and refuse to leave until they get some that is a reminder of this practice. It is actually a poem The Night Before Christmas and the story of Scrooge that finally put an end to the drunken mid winter celebration. Imagine that, the story Santa and Scrooge saved Christmas.

Before you kick the man in red out of your celebration you might want to hear the story of Nicolas of Bari. He was a good Christian man who who understood giving, and felt it was his duty as a believer to secretly care for the poor. He came from a wealthy Turkish family that lived during the 4 century. When his parents died he took all their money and gave it to the poor. He then followed the call of God into full time Christian service. At the age of 17 he became a monk and later became a priest. He was said to be a powerful prayer warrior. He would pray and people would get healed, but he was most remembered for his great generosity through out his life. From him we get things like stockings and the idea of Santa slipping in during the night to provide some gift for the poor.

Another young man, the Duke of Borivoy at the age of 15 followed the example of Nicholas when his wealthy parents died. He and his pages would leave the palace on Christmas eve to distribute food and clothing and other gifts to the poor.  The song Good King Wenceslas is about his generosity. These men were both serious believers who believed and acted on verses like Matthew  6:1-4.  “Be careful not to do your ‘acts of righteousness’ before men, to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven. “So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing,  so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. 
The stories of these and other generous men grew and grew through the years into the Santa, the magical elf that we know today. I have to wonder if to non believers the idea of selfless giving seems to have a magical quality in that they have no way to describe the amazing work of the Holy Spirit in the lives of believers.

Many believers have taken things like candy canes, ever greens, holly, poinsettias and even mistletoe and used them as symbols to communicate the truths of Christ.  Christmas was until recent history a pegan celebration.  It was believers like Francis of Assi who put a Nativity out in front of his church and taught children songs in there own language. An Martin Luther who put candle light on his evergreen tree to show the everlasting life and light of Christ to his family and friends. Even in this pagan holiday you can see the transforming power of Christ in action.  If you think about it Christians over the years have put a lot of Christ into Christmas. If you would like to know more I recommend the book by Ace Collins, The Stories Behind The Great Traditions of Christmas.  So don't toss out the man in red or get all bent out of shape by people who shorten Christmas to X mas. Instead you might think of ways that you can use use these things as opportunities to share with your friends and family the truths of the kingdom and the stories of the generosity of people like Nicholas and the Duke of Borivoy.

Prayer: Lord thank you that you were willing to come to a stinky smelly stable so that we humans might be restored to a right relationship to a Holy God. Thank you for all the many symbols and reminders of your truths and generosity that are found in so many of the symbols that decorate our homes at this time of the year. Help us find opportunities to share stories of your love and the stories of believers past and present who follow your example. Help us to reflect your love and generosity though out the year and not only at Christmas time.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

A look at some Christmas traditions

A Devotional by Margot Ciocco

Psalm 63:1-5

O God, you are my God, I seek you,
my soul thirsts for you;
my flesh faints for you,
as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.
So I have looked upon you in the sanctuary,
beholding your power and glory.
Because your steadfast love is better than life,
my lips will praise you.
So I will bless you as long as I live;
I will lift up my hands and call on your name.

I am reading a book called Stories Behind the Great Traditions of Christmas by Ace Collins.
In our Cinnamon Bear story they have made it to the land of ice and snow to find a guy named Nikki Froodle who takes them to meet Santa Clause.  So it seemed fitting to talk about the origins of some of the Christmas traditions that are part of how we now celebrate Christmas. Heres your link to today's episode of the Cinnamon Bear

Did you know that the church frowned on the use of carols and for the longest time. It is not until 129 AD that a song called Angels Hymn wA sung as part of a Christmas service.  A year later the church allowed the use of Gloria in Excelsis Deo. Which means Glory to God in the Highest in Latin, in case you ever wondered.

The singing of Carols started in 1223 when Francis of Assisi put a nativity scene outside of his church and taught children songs in there own language to sing about the birth of Jesus. I guess his displays and songs became more elaborate each year. The idea became popular and made its way all over Europe. So the pat on the back for giving us carols to sing in our services goes to Francis of Assisi.

Painting by Margot Cioccio
So now before you get all religious about how secular or pagan Christmas has become consider this quote by Ace Collins. "Only in relatively recent times, the past two hundred years has Christmas even been celebrated by most Christians. Up until the 1800's, the day recognized as Christ's birthday was largely a pagan celebration. Those who bemoan the lack of religious zeal in modern Christmases would have been appalled at the way people in early America celebrated the day. For a majority of people who embraced Christmas throughout history, Christ wasn't a part of the day at all. In most of the world, especially in England and America, Christmas was not a time of worship, prayer and reflection; rather it was a day set aside to sing bawdy songs, drink rum and riot in the streets. " I guess you might want to think twice about wishing people you know an old fashioned Christmas.

I think about the campaign to keep Christ in Christmas and the idea that the early church did not really even mark it as anything but an ordinary day. I have to think about how cool it is that for generations now people have found ways to tell the story of Christ during this season using candy canes and holly leaves to teach un believing people about the Jesus story.
There are many legends surrounding holly as a decoration and it goes way back before the birth of Christ. "Today, Christians consider holly symbolic of Jesus Christ in two ways. The red berries represent the blood that Jesus shed on the cross on the day he was crucified. Legend states that holly berries were originally white, but that the blood Christ shed for the sins of humankind stained the berries forever red. A holly's pointed leaves symbolize the crown of thorns placed on Jesus' head before he died on the cross."~ according to Why do we decorate with holly at Christmas? by Sam Abramson. Heres a little more from the same article. "Holly is known as christdorn in German, meaning "Christ thorn." Both of these symbols are meant to serve as a reminder to Christians of Jesus' suffering, but they aren't the only stories tying holly to Jesus. One claims that the cross on which Jesus was crucified was constructed of holly."

Well to keep this shorter I will have to save other symbols for other days.

Prayer: I pray that the Lord will help you to enjoy this season and to see many ways to share his story with the people that you love and the people that you meet. I pray that you would remember that you are His ambassador and that your life would show forth his love and grace in this season.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

The Flying Hat

A Devotional by Margot Cioccio

If you are new to this blog, I am using the Old Time Radio show The Cinnamon Bear as a spring board for my topics this month. The Winter Green Witch has discovered that she has not only been exiled from her home but also stripped of her magic powers. She has stollen the broken star, when the Grand Wonkie shows up to take charge of the x-witch. Now our heros just need to find the singing tree. 
The link to today's episode is under the photo of the Singing Tree and the Flying Hat. 

So as they drift off to sleep to what sounds like singing... I think....Sometimes we need to sleep on a problem. When we wake we can see the next step to take. 

Isaiah 55:6
Seek the LORD while he may be found; call on him while he is near.

 Luke 8:10 He said, “The knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of God has been given to you, but to others I speak in parables, so that, “‘though seeing, they may not see; though hearing, they may not understand.’ He said, “The knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of God has been given to you, but to others I speak in parables, so that, “‘though seeing, they may not see; though hearing, they may not understand.’

As a follower of Jesus the knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom have been given to you. Jesus will help you to understand His word and how His kingdom operates. For those who choose to remain on the out side it will be jumbled. The first step is to decide to follow Jesus every step beyond that one is part of the journey to knowing Him more fully. 

Is there something that the Lord has given you to do that you have not done? You may find that you are presently stuck because you asked the Lord for an answer, and having received an answer, did not follow through with his instruction. The Lord rarely rolls out the entire plan generally he give us the next step and waits for us to decide to follow it. Sometimes the answer seems silly or too easy and sometimes it is too big and requires some change I'm not sure I really am ready to make. The Lord is patient to a point. When I realize I am stuck - I start to look at what I have been un willing to do. Changes I have been un-willing to make because I am waiting for God to drop an answer on me from heaven. 

Take for example a man named Naman. He seeks out a prophet of God because he needs healing. When the prophet tells him to go dip himself in a river 7 times he is offended and has to be convinced by his servant to give it a try. You can find the story in 2 Kings 5 
2 Kings 11 "But Naaman went away angry and said, 'I thought that he would surely come out to me and stand and call on the name of the Lord his God, wave his hand over the spot and cure me of my leprosy. "

God's solutions don't always come in the packages that I think they should. So I sometimes dig my heels in and wait and hope he will do things my way or some other way. Generally God just turns up the heat till I decide I've had enough and am willing to do what ever it takes to solve the problem. It may not even be that the way he has given me is that hard. Sometimes I have to humble myself and ask someone to help me to understand something about God that I am clueless about. I don't like to ask for help and I can be very stubborn.

Psalm 32:9 Do not be like the horse or the mule, which have no understanding but must be controlled by bit and bridle or they will not come to you.

Lord, Help us to see the path you have laid before us. Help us to not only see the next step but to find the courage to take it. If we find we are stuck help us to remember that thing we have refused or neglected to do in obedience to the direction you have given us. 

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Wooden Indian - Facing Our Fears

A Devotional by Margot Cioccio

Painting of the Wooden Indian
by Margot Cioccio 
Are heros are off to the Golden Grove to find the clue beneath the Singing Tree.
They are chased by Indians. When they turn around to face their fear the find it is only one Indian. Chief Cook and Bottle Washer who used to be a Cigar store Indian. He loves an Indian Princess called Many Happy Returns. He wants Crazy Quilts Coat. If gives up his coat he will give them a head start. Judy offers the magic lunch box as a trade but not deal. Then Judy tries the little looking glass and the Chief takes that as a trade for their freedom. Now they have a forest of cactus to try and pass through. They finally reach the Golden Grove and who shows up but the Winter Green Witch. This time they don't have the little looking glass to stop her. Plus she is pretty mad about being banished by Queen Melissa for illegally practicing magic. Let's hope something happens to get our friends out of being turned in to Bull Fogs that Winter Green hopes will croak.
Here's the link for this episode of the Cinnamon Bear

Psalm 55

Listen to my prayer, O God,
    do not ignore my plea;
    hear me and answer me.
My thoughts trouble me and I am distraught
    at the voice of the enemy,
    at the stares of the wicked;
for they bring down suffering upon me
    and revile me in their anger.
My heart is in anguish within me;
    the terrors of death assail me.
Fear and trembling have beset me;
    horror has overwhelmed me.
I said, “Oh, that I had the wings of a dove!
    I would fly away and be at rest—
I would flee far away
    and stay in the desert; Selah

Its funny how are fears are magnified when we run from them. When we turn and face them the worst that we have imagined is rarely what we find. The Dictionary of Bible Themes sums up fear this way. "An attitude of anxiety or distress, caused by concern over a threat to one’s future. Scripture provides numerous examples of situations in which fear is experienced. It declares, however, that God alone is to be feared, and moments of human fear can be opportunities for deepening faith in him." Most often our fears are about the future, or fear of embarrassment or shame. Sometimes our fear is of people or persecution or judgement. Maybe it's the crazy stuff going on in our world that causes you fear. I encourage you to turn and face your fears you may find that instead of a band of Indians its just one Indian.

Here are some quotes by other believers that should help and encourage. You are not alone, we all face fear, even the most courageous must decide to face their fears and then choose to do whats right anyway.

"I had feelings of fear about the future...The devil kept on whispering, "It's all right now, but what about afterward? You are going to be very lonely"....And I turned to my God in a kind of desperation and said "Lord, what can I do? How can I go on to the end?" And He said, "None of them that trust in Me shall be desolate." That word has been with me ever since. "
~ Missionary, Amy Carmichael

"Some say if only my fears and doubts will leave then I will get to work. But instead you should get to work and then your fears and doubts will leave."
~ Dwight L. Moody

"Where does your security lie? Is God your refuge, your hiding place, your stronghold, your shepherd, your counselor, your friend, your redeemer, your saviour, your guide? If He is, you don't need to search any further for security."
~ Elisabeth Elliot

The next time you find yourself alone in a dark alley facing the undeniables of life, don't cover them with a blanket, or ignore them with a nervous grin. Don't turn up the TV and pretend they aren't there. Instead, stand still, whisper his name, and listen. He is nearer than you think.
~ Max Lucado

Actually Max Lucado wrote a beautiful prayer in response to the recent shooting.
I will include it as our prayer for this post.


By Max Lucado 

Dear Jesus,

"It's a good thing you were born at night.
This world sure seems dark. I have a good eye for silver linings. But they seem dimmer lately.
These killings, Lord. These children, Lord.
Innocence violated. Raw evil demonstrated.
The whole world seems on edge. Trigger-happy. Ticked off.
We hear threats of chemical weapons and nuclear bombs.
Are we one button-push away from annihilation?

Your world seems a bit darker this Christmas. But you were born in the dark, right?
You came at night. The shepherds were nightshift workers.
The Wise Men followed a star. Your first cries were heard in the shadows.
To see your face, Mary and Joseph needed a candle flame. It was dark.
Dark with Herod's jealousy. Dark with Roman oppression. Dark with poverty. Dark with violence.
Herod went on a rampage, killing babies. Joseph took you and your mom into Egypt.
You were an immigrant before you were a Nazarene.

Oh, Lord Jesus, you entered the dark world of your day. Won't you enter ours?
We are weary of bloodshed. We, like the wise men, are looking for a star.
We, like the shepherds, are kneeling at a manger.
This Christmas, we ask you, heal us, help us, be born anew in us.
Your Children"

Monday, December 17, 2012

The Cocklebur Cowboys

A Devotional by Margot Cioccio

I realize my posts were getting a bit too long. I am endeavoring to shorten them. Thanks for skimming on the long days and sticking with me as a grow as a writer. ~ Margot

Psalm 40:2
He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; 

he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand.

  Here's the link to the Cinnamon Bear episode that goes with today's post.

Our heros are stuck in the mud and feeling pretty hopeless. "I'm afraid its all over" "I'm going, going gone" says  Crazy Quilt the Dragon. About that time the Cocklebur cowboys show up to save the day with their lassos. Oh, but Crazy Quilt and Cinnamon Bear are ruined - there seems to be no way to remove the mud that has soaked into their fabric.  Then something happens as they take a few steps away from the mud banks and suddenly their mud vanishes. Then to their astonishment they see the most beautiful purple plains. All the time they were in the mud the purple planes were there - only they could not see them. The Mudders keep the beautiful Purple plains hidden from those on the muddy side of things.

Often the answers and solutions we need can't be seen because we are drowning in the mud of our sin or our circumstance. We need Jesus or one of his people to come along with the lasso of grace to pull us from the mud into His glorious kingdom. Even so, some of us don't step beyond the mud banks and spend our time feeling guilty or so filled with shame and are trying to clean ourselves up before we can take a step of faith to move on.  If we would just take a few more steps away from the mud we would experience something quite similar to the vanishing mud in our story. Jesus has paid the price for all our sins. He is the spotless sacrifice paid on our behalf. We just need to move beyond our guilt and shame trusting that He is enough to take care of all the mud that has saturated us and left us feeling valueless.

Colossians 1:12-14 (NIV1984)
12 giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light.13 For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves,14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.

All too often we are blinded by our sin, or the seeming hopelessness of our predicament. In that state we are not able to see.

Matthew 13:10-11
New International Version 1984 (NIV1984)
10 The disciples came to him and asked, “Why do you speak to the people in parables?”
11 He replied, “The knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you, but not to them.

While one may not be able to see all the truths of Jesus or comprehend heaven it does say in Luke 11:10 For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.

In our story today, Jimmy, Judy, Cinnamon Bear and Crazy Quilt all acknowledged they needed help.
They then stepped away from the mud banks and found them selves on the purple plains.

How about you, are you stuck in the mud?

Can you accept that Jesus is enough to pull you to freedom?

Can you then take a few steps away from the mud, even in your muddy condition so that you can see the beautiful plans and purposes that Jesus has for you in His kingdom?

Lord help us to acknowledge our muddy state and our desperate need of your help. Come with your lasso of grace and pull us from the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire. Set our feet on the solid rock of life in you and help us realize that all other ground is sinking sand. Help us to step away from the mud banks and to follow you into the purple plains of your kingdom purposes.  

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Where is God when tragedy strikes?

Seems I never published this on 12/15/2012- not sure how that happened.

A Devotional by Margot Cioccio

In light of yesterdays tragic news I feel compelled to take a day off from the Cinnamon Bear story. I will catch it up for you and double up one of the days next week. It seems appropriate in the face of this loss to pause for a brief moment. 

Source: via Margot on Pinterest

James 4:8-10 (NIV1984) Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. 10 Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.

I don't have cable tv and so I heard about the shooting when I logged on to face book and noticed numerous people commenting about the tragedy. I then checked the on-line news reports to find out what had happened. My first thought was one of compassion for those parents who had arrived at the school and not been able to pick up their child. Its 10 days from Christmas and for those families no number of gifts will replace the children lost to them in an act of senseless violence. There is still much of the story that has yet to come out. Even the names of the victims has not yet been released. 

"Panicked parents looking for their children had raced earlier in the day to Sandy Hook, a kindergarten-through-fourth-grade school where police told youngsters to close their eyes as they were led from the building so that they wouldn't see the blood and broken glass.
Schoolchildren — some crying, many looking frightened — were escorted through a parking lot in a line, hands on one another's shoulders." ~ Chicago Tribune

I was glad my own children we at home with me doing their school work. We love the school that they attend 2 days a week as part of a homeschool cooperative. Its a small school and security is pretty lax, one only needs to sign in at the office. The principle is good about watching that children are being picked up by their parents. I suspect this incident will cause many schools re-evaluate their security. No one thinks something like this will happen at their school or in their community. I wondered how this tragic event will change our schools and our children as a nation.  

I know that many of us are stunned, shocked, numb, angry, afraid, asking how could something like this have happened. I thought about just doing my scheduled Cinnamon Bear blog post today but it feels wrong to me. I feel like I need to pause for a bit today from the regular holiday hustle and bustle to think, to pray, to process. 

As I have been thinking about this tragedy and how it has befallen our nation only 11 days prior to Christmas. I am reminded of the Christmas story and how the birth of Jesus was vastly un-noticed by most people. Life in Bethlehem was crazy busy because of a census that Herod had ordered. Most people never even noticed Joseph and his very pregnant wife enter the town. I wonder if we too are more wrapped up in our holiday preparations, celebrations, giving and receiving of gifts that we too hardly find the time to pause and think about the significane of God sending His Son into the world. 

The lowest of the societal rung noticed because they were greeted out in the fields by angels. 
There were a few folks that were waiting and watching for signs of His coming. Magi or scholars from the East saw the star and set aside the things of daily life to embark on a journey to see this miracle foretold by the prophets. They stop on the way and ask of Herod for where they might find the king born to the Jews. He didn't know but got information from them regarding when they first saw the star. Some think they may have traveled for several years and Jesus was by then a toddler. 

This next part of the Christmas story from Matthew 2 makes me sad and uncomfortable. 
16 When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi. 17 Then what was said through the prophet Jeremiah was fulfilled:
18 “A voice is heard in Ramah,  weeping and great mourning,
Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more.”

Herod was a ruthless man. He has his own sons strangled and a brother in law who was gaining popularity was found drowned in a small pool. Even five days before his own death he has another of his sons killed. I found this quote in the IVP Commentary Series "The murder of the children of Bethlehem thus fits Herod's character; yet it is not surprising that other early writers do not mention this particular atrocity. Herod's reign was an era of many highly placed political murders, and our accounts come from well-to-do reporters focused on the royal house and national events. In such circles the execution of perhaps twenty children in a small town would warrant little attention-except from God. 

So long time ago in Bethlehem twenty small children were executed by a jealous king in his search for Jesus. God noticed and paused to remember it in Matthews account. It is not found in any other gospel account and seems passed over in historical accounts. God warned Joseph in a dream to take Mary and the child to Egypt.  Joseph heeded the waning took his family away in the night. The Magi were warned in a dream not to go back to Herod and slipped back to their homes by some other route. 

I love the closing line of the story the Gift of the Magi by O Henry. "The magi, as you know, were wise men--wonderfully wise men--who brought gifts to the Babe in the manger. They invented the art of giving Christmas presents. Being wise, their gifts were no doubt wise ones, possibly bearing the privilege of exchange in case of duplication. And here I have lamely related to you the uneventful chronicle of two foolish children in a flat who most unwisely sacrificed for each other the greatest treasures of their house. But in a last word to the wise of these days let it be said that of all who give gifts these two were the wisest. O all who give and receive gifts, such as they are wisest. Everywhere they are wisest. They are the magi." 

Most of us will not know personally any of the families who lost children in this shooting. We will not be there to grieve with them. We will not have to look at the un-opened presents under their Christmas trees or feel their pain at their child's birthday, or graduation. They will not get to seem them grow up to have their own children. Each of those milestones will be marked by the pain of their loss. 

 As I watched the news I thought the support of the community as they gathered to pray was a bit of bitter sweet beauty. It was wonderful to see the community rise up to support one another. On the other time I could not help but wonder, does it require a tragedy to move a community or a nation to pray? Have our schools become targets because prayer is not allowed in them? I have to admit I have not been very faithful to pray even for my own children's school. I know in the work that we do with the homeless that sometimes shelters have to close because funding dries up because people seem to forget there is a problem. Will this present tragedy cause us to talk about better security for our schools, its sure to stir the controversy over gun control. Will it perhaps cause us to look at our mental health system and how someone like this shooter did not get help before he snapped and shot his own mother and then teachers and small children. 

C.S. Lewis said it so well in his book The Problem of Pain: “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pain; it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.” 

Where is God when tragedy strikes? 

Some will try to say that this is God's judgement on our sinful nation. I don't think people who say such things really know Jesus. It is His kindness that leads us to repentance. Just as God bothered to notice and record the loss of the children long ago in Bethlehem I believe He records this loss.  A voice is heard in Connecticut,  weeping and great mourning, like Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more. 

I believe He weeps with those who weep. He comforts the broken hearted. He longs to heal us of our brokenness. I find myself back again to the J R Tolkien quote that I used in the previous post before this tragedy had even happened. 

"It's all wrong. By rights we shouldn't even be here. But we are. It's like in the great stories, Mr. Frodo. The ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger, they were. And sometimes you didn't want to know the end. Because how could the end be happy? How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad had happened? But in the end, it's only a passing thing, this shadow. Even darkness must pass. A new day will come. And when the sun shines it will shine out the clearer. Those were the stories that stayed with you. That meant something, even if you were too small to understand why. But I think, Mr. Frodo, I do understand. I know now. Folk in those stories had lots of chances of turning back, only they didn't. They kept going. Because they were holding on to something.
Frodo: What are we holding onto, Sam?
Sam: That there's some good in this world, Mr. Frodo... and it's worth fighting for.” 
― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Two Towers

Even in the midst of this tragedy, our grief, our anger and all the questions it evokes. I pray that perhaps you will be moved to become part of the dialoge, to be part of the solution. I think sometimes we as Christians have taken the attitude that the world around us is a sinking ship spiraling to its just destruction. Yet we are called to be salt and light. Called to be ambassadors of God's kingdom showing his mercy, compassion and love to lost and broken people. Help us to  be people who repent on behalf of a nation that does not know what its doing. That we would rise up on behalf of the oppressed, the weak. That we would bring into our own neighborhoods Gods mercy and compassion. That we would shine more brightly for Him, pushing back the darkness one life at a time. That we would not allow tragedy of this sort to cause us to huddle in our churches waiting for the Lord's return but we would be found out making a difference. I pray that we would shake off our complacency and help bring hope and healing. 

Lord you are calling us all to pray. Lead us and help us to pray effectively. Give us your wisdom as you are call some to speak up or to write. Help us to take that step of faith to respond to your call to go from our places of comfort into the front lines. Move some to open their hearts and their homes. Move some to give of their time and their treasure to worthy Kingdom causes.  Each of us, has been moved in some way by this tragedy, use it to shake us out of our slumbering complacency. Help us not to just nod back off to sleep, but to seek you for how you desire to use us in this day and in this hour. 

Friday, December 14, 2012

The Muddlers

A Devotional by Margot Cioccio

This month I have been using the old time radio story the Cinnamon Bear as the spring board from which to write my daily devotionals.
Heres the link to today's episode if you would like to follow along. If you are reading this post on the Healing Stream Team Blog where I post on Friday's you can pick up the rest of the story at my daily devotional blog. Here's the link 

"Its seems to me his carelessness does not deserve such loyalty" ~ Crazy Quilt Dragon.
Judy and Jimmy use up their one wish at the wishing well to rescue Cinnamon Bear who was stuck at the bottom of the wishing well. I suppose it reminds me that people are far more important than things.

Now they find them selves at a river of mud. Before they know it they are being pelted with mud, by the mudslinging Muddlers.

"We'll teach you to come around our sacred mud baths" ~The Muddlers
Sometimes we stumble upon people who's lives are so muddy and filled with anger that their mud effects our own lives. We find our selves stuck wallowing in the mud of discouragement, while sinking in dispair.

I'm not sure how Cinnamon Bear and the Gang will get out of this one. They have offered the Muddlers Judy's mirror, and the magic lunch box that Queen Melissa gave them. The Mudders want nothing of it and threaten to tun them into mud statues.

Yesterday my day got a bit crazy. The phone system at the church got all messed up and I spent my day dealing with trying to fix it. I called the repair guy and he said how long are you going to be there today? I told him 3:30 and of course he showed up at 3:25. I always have to pick up my kids by 4 but yesterday I had very little fudge room because we had to be at our piano recital clear across town. I stayed as long as I could but in the end my pastor and his wife took the hit and stayed late to wait on the guy to finish the job. So all this is going on while we have two homeless families that were needing attended to. The dishwasher  wouldn't heat up and our maintenance guy came in and has decided he can only volunteer to help out once in a while. Thursday is the day when semons need to be finished and bulletins written and printed and slides for the service need to be put together into a working program. I did get the bulletin done - not quite sure how. I will have to do the slides today on my own time.

I'm reminded of a quote spoken by Bilbo Baggins in the Fellowship of the Ring by JRR Tolkien
 "Why, I feel all thin, sort of stretched, if
you know what I mean: like butter that has been scraped over too much bread.

So I found myself driving with my kids to piano recital. My oldest is in the front seat and he and I seem to unwind in a similar fashion. So we are driving and singing christmas songs in silly puppet voices while changing the words to blow off steam from our crazy stressed out day. All the while heading into the stress of having to play the piano in front of an audience. I realized about half way there what we were both doing. Its a crazy silly way to un wind. I had to laugh off all the mud from the day, while being thankful that at least this was a recital that I was musically prepared for. I did manage to play well with my guitar student and my youngest son and I did play our duet together perfectly. My oldest son did not do as well and the stress of playing in front of people got the better of him. I have had plenty of recitals where I botched my piece and my fingers and brain refused to cooperate because of the waves of neves and nausea. So we sang more silly songs in puppet voices on the way home. 

I guess some days are muddy and we have to stand together and support one another sometimes in silly ways. My pastor walked by my desk at one point and asked how I felt about things. My answer was I feel like we are tying to hold the ship together using duct tape and bubble gum. To which he replied - "feels more like bubble gum to me".  Some days are crazy and sometimes knowing that you are not alone and others are struggling too but we are struggling together some how makes it better. 
We are not alone in our muddy battle. Sometimes knowing we are not alone is enough. We may not know how we will get out of the present mess but there is something to standing together. 

So in the midst of a muddy day - I am thankful for my family and my close friends. The people who hang with you even when things are crazy and stressful. We celebrate the little victories and encourage each other when we fall short of our own hopes and expectations. We may not have answers but we do have each other and somehow that is enough. 

Isaiah 44:23-25

New International Version 1984 (NIV1984)
23 Sing for joy, O heavens, for the Lord has done this;
    shout aloud, O earth beneath.
Burst into song, you mountains,
    you forests and all your trees,
for the Lord has redeemed Jacob,
    he displays his glory in Israel.
24 “This is what the Lord says—
    your Redeemer, who formed you in the womb:
I am the Lord,
who has made all things,
who alone stretched out the heavens,
who spread out the earth by myself,
25 who foils the signs of false prophets
    and makes fools of diviners,
who overthrows the learning of the wise
    and turns it into nonsense.

Sometimes I just need a bit of nonsense,  jokes about duct tape and bubble gum and silly songs in puppet voices. You may have other ways that you de-compress and un-wind. For me one way is humor. When I can laugh at myself in the middle of the craziness - Some how I know that the story is not over yet. That there will be another episode. I'm thankful that God's mercies are new every morning. 

I seem to have Hobbits on the brain today and I am reminded of a few other quotes that move me. 
I love Sam in this one - he is the picture of a true friend. Every thing looks hopeless yet he chooses to remember the good. “Do you remember the Shire, Mr. Frodo? It'll be spring soon. And the orchards will be in blossom. And the birds will be nesting in the hazel thicket. And they'll be sowing the summer barley in the lower fields... and eating the first of the strawberries with cream. Do you remember the taste of strawberries?”   
― J.R.R. Tolkien

I am thankful for the people around me who like Sam help me to remember the taste of strawberries. 
Especially when we find our selves in places where we should not even be. When we feel we can't take another step and when we feel like giving up. I love this quote because in it Sam remembers the "why". 
There is good in the world and it is worth fighting for - don't give up friend. 
 “Frodo: I can't do this, Sam.
Sam: I know. It's all wrong. By rights we shouldn't even be here. But we are. It's like in the great stories, Mr. Frodo. The ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger, they were. And sometimes you didn't want to know the end. Because how could the end be happy? How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad had happened? But in the end, it's only a passing thing, this shadow. Even darkness must pass. A new day will come. And when the sun shines it will shine out the clearer. Those were the stories that stayed with you. That meant something, even if you were too small to understand why. But I think, Mr. Frodo, I do understand. I know now. Folk in those stories had lots of chances of turning back, only they didn't. They kept going. Because they were holding on to something.
Frodo: What are we holding onto, Sam?
Sam: That there's some good in this world, Mr. Frodo... and it's worth fighting for.”
― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Two Towers

Dear Lord, 
Thank you for friends and the people who stick by us even when the way is hard. When we feel lost, and things look hopeless. Thank you for those people who help us to laugh in the middle of the stress. Who remind us of the taste of strawberries and help us to not give up. Those people who like Sam help us to see that there is some good in this world... and that it is worth fighting for. I lift up each reader to you Lord and ask that you would send them help and people who would stand with them through thick and thin. People who will love them in spite of their failures and flaws. Thank you Lord for those people who stand with us when the way is hard and the journey seems too long. 

God's Original and Final Intent part 5

This is my final paper for The International Healing Rooms School of Transformation in Spokane Washington. Its is very long paper so I ...