Thursday, January 31, 2013

A Cheerful Heart is Good Medicine

A Devotional by Margot Cioccio 

I really should have just recorded the phone call with my friend Karen and turned it into a devotional. Sometimes it is just good to be able to laugh even when things seem to be difficult. Even when things appear to be a bit dark and scary as we look ahead. It is good to have friends who remind us how blessed we are and how good God is. Sure there is stuff we don't understand or know how it will all pan out in the end. It is a blessing to have friends who have known us through many many years. 


What a blessing to have a friend who can remember me wearing lacy socks as part of my outfit for the Christian concerts we did in our early 20's. We sang at a number of Christian coffee houses back in the day. Me and my guitar and Karen with her piano. We were writing and singing songs and we called our little music act Faith Walk. Its funny we had no idea at that time some of the things we would end up having to walk by faith through. It has been quite a journey. We lost track of each other for a long time. Sometimes you think those special people have vanished from our lives and then suddenly God brings them back and you pick up right were you left off. 

I have moved so often through the years and lost touch of so many wonderful people. I am finding that sometimes God brings them back across our paths. I have to say that I have been blessed through the years to share this life journey with some wonderful people. I suppose we all have our little tribe of people that we connect with in a special way, mine is scattered all over the place.  It is nice to be able to pick up the phone and talk and laugh and pray for one another. E-mail and face book have made keeping in touch with people so quick and easy. Anyway here is the verse for today. Proverbs 17:22

A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.

We can become so burdened down trying to solve the things we are facing in our lives. A lot of the time we don't have an answer or even know what we could do to fix things. Yesterday my car was stuck in the snow and there was nothing that we could do but wait for help to arrive. In those times its good to stop and share lunch with friends. Its good to pick up the phone and laugh and remember all the things God has gotten us through. If we can just set the worry aside we might be surprised to find out that God has provided a measure of grace. Little gifts of hope and reassurance that he is with us in spite of the things we are struggling with. If you think about it that thing last year that you were so concerned about has long since faded into memories. You got through it and you will get through the things you are facing presently. 

We can be so busy trying to solve things when sometimes what God is asking is that we just sit still and allow him to take care of things. 

Prayer:
I pray that the Lord will in this instant quiet your troubled mind and spirit and give you his peace. I pray that he will give you clarity of thought and mind. That as you sit with him in His presence that he will help you untangle your thoughts and help you to see His plans and purposes for the things you have been going through. 

A Cheerful Heart is Good Medicine. - Take some time to laugh I pray the Lord will fill you with joy in His presence. 




Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Stuck

A Devotional by Margot Cioccio 

You are forgiving and good, O Lord, 
abounding in love to all who call to you. Psalm 86:5 


 I had every intention of getting this post written this afternoon between lessons. I however spent most of the afternoon trying to get my car un-stuck from the snow where it got stuck after my morning lessons. 

After putting gravel under the tires and digging snow out of the way my adult student and I finally gave up and called her husband who came and worked for quite a while to tow me out with his truck. 

I'd like to tell you I have some profound insight that has come from this experience. At this point I am still at a loss. My thoughts are more along the line of "really, Lord was this necessary." But then maybe there are some things that this has stirred me to think about. So here they are - you can decided if they are at all profound or not. 


Sometimes my life feels a bit like my car today. Stuck! I am really trying to get somewhere but my wheels just keep spinning without getting the traction needed to get anywhere. I realize that I am stuck and my best efforts are not enough. Spring is still a ways off so I can't just sit around and wait for the snow to melt. 

I read the Day #4 Blessing from Sylvia Gunther's book of Spirit Blessings. It says " I bless you in the name of Jehovah-Nissi, your banner. Moses was leading his unprepared people into battle when they were attacked by Amalekites. As he lifte his hands to the Lord, Jehovah Nissi warred on behalf of Israel. Spirit, I bless you with knowing when to war and when to lift your hands to the father. I bless you with having the courage to not depend on your inadequate skill set, but to lift your hands to God and ask Jehovah-Nissi to war for you. When you are inexperienced against any enemy, Jehovah-Nissi has the experience of the age."

So I am lifting my hands to the father. I suppose if nothing else today was a vivid picture of realizing that God is going to have to send help with a truck to get me unstuck. I gotta say it kept me from spinning my mental wheels worrying about how to make ends meet this month.

So like today when we realized that we were not going to get the car out on our own. We headed back to the house and enjoyed lunch with the kids while waiting for help to arrive with a truck. There was really nothing else to do but wait and enjoy lunch together. 

Sometimes we need to get to the place of throwing up our hands because we don't have the answer but we serve a God who does. Might as well sing praises while we go out ahead of the army into battle. See 2 Chronicles 20 if you don't know the story. When you have done all that you can do it is time to stand and see the deliverance of our God.  

I read this verse early this morning in David Wilkerson's devotional.

Luke 1:73-75 "the oath he swore to our father Abraham:74 to rescue us from the hand of our enemies, and to enable us to serve him without fear
75 in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.


He went on to say "God has sworn to deliver us from every enemy, every fearful thing, so we can serve Him all the days of our lives without fear. Beloved, hunger is and enemy. Nakedness and poverty are enemies." David Wilkerson. 

I suppose the last few days have shown me that I still have some fears that try and rise up against me. That fear is an enemy. Lack of finances to pay the bills is and enemy. Sickness is an enemy. Depression and dispair are enemies. 
Here is the good news God has sworn to deliver us from every enemy and every fearful thing. Why?... so we can serve him without fear in holiness and righteousness all our days. I am standing on this verse. Yes there are things that frighten me and threaten to overwhelm me at times. There are times when I feel like I am in way over my head. It is in those times that rather than just sink and drown in dispair that I remember these and other verses and stand on them as the real truth. The circumstances my appear hopeless but this is what the Word of God says. God has sworn to deliver you and me. He knows the things that frighten us and he reaches out to us and says "trust me". I will get you safely where you need to go. 

Thankfully I got out just in time to go home and change my wet pants, socks and shoes and arrive for my afternoon lesson just before my student arrived. 
So was this really necessary. I suppose the things we go through help show us things about ourselves that we might otherwise be unable to see. 

Prayer:
I pray the Lord will help you that you will stand upon His Word and trust that he will deliver you from every enemy and every fearful thing. Thank you also for being forgiving and good, O Lord, and abounding in love to all who call to you.







Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Yet Will I Praise Him

A Devotional by Margot Cioccio


Philippians 4:5-7

New International Version 1984 (NIV1984)
Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
I have to admit I have been feeling a bit anxious. For example I got a call last night from our cell phone company saying they needed a payment to avoid service interruption. I know what is presently in my bank account and I don't have at present the money to make a payment. Yet the Lord says do not be anxious about anything. So lets make it more specific to my situation. Margot, do not be anxious about your phone bill, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving present your requests to God. So I bring that need to the Lord who already knows the number of hairs on my head. He knows and he already has a plan even though I don't yet know what it is. I can do the math and know that I personally need to be bringing in more finances into our household. I need art to sell, I need to pick up new music students, I need new coaching clients, I need people who love this devotional to help support it or I need other steady work to become available. 

Late last night there was nothing I could do about any of those possible income producing possibilities. So I did my best to silence the anxiety and to pray. Lord I need help. I don't have an answer. This morning I awoke to a wave of anxiety along with the words to Philippians 2:5-7. By fretting and worrying I will not change anything and neither will you. Worry and fear have more of a paralyzing effect upon us. We become like that deer frozen by the headlights of that oncoming car. That place of being frozen by fear is not a good place to be. 

So today's post is not so much a written panic attack but more of how I work my way through them. So question number one: Does my heavenly father love me? Absolutely. Question number two: Does he promise to take care of the things that concern me? Yes and he says not to worry about such things. Matthew 6: 25 “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? 27 Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?

If I am not supposed to worry - what should I be doing? Obviously praying and thanking him. So once I have made the Lord aware of my need. I then begin to recount with thankfulness the many times the Lord has delivered me out of a tight spot. Times when I was stuck and did not have a way to solve my problem. Over and over the Lord has helped me. I have to trust that the Lord will help me with my present needs and concerns. 


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

Psalm 42:8
By day the LORD directs his love,
at night his song is with me—
a prayer to the God of my life.


The words "Yet will I praise him" bring to mind words to a familiar chorus that I hear in my head.  

Which reminds me that I can replace that fear and anxiety by filling my mind and thoughts with praise. So here are some of the songs I am listening to this morning. I have know idea what this day may bring in answer to my prayers. I also know that my concerns about bills and making ends meet are small compared to what so many others are facing. So I will turn my attention away from my own needs and instead begin to pray for others. Matthew 6:33
But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. I will look for opportunities to be a blessing and to love like Jesus loves because all around there are people who are hurting. All around are people who feel hopeless and afraid. Maybe even some of you who are reading today. Take that need right now to Jesus. You already know you can't fix it or solve it and worry will not change anything except perhaps make you ill. Our God is able and He loves us far more than we begin to understand. I pray right now he would wash over you with His love. That as you choose to look to him rather than worry that his peace would descend upon you. 


So take a deep breath, He is your strong tower, he is the refuge in the midst of your storm. He is all you need and He will steady your heart. 


Monday, January 28, 2013

Words


A Devotional by Margot Cioccio

It is said of the prophet Samuel that none of his words fell to the ground. He was recognized as a true prophet in Israel. He was careful to say only the things that the Lord told him to say. Consequently when he spoke a promise, a warning or a judgement on the Lord's behalf those things came to pass. (1 Samuel 3:18-20)

Words are powerful things they can cut us to shreds like a knife or they can build us up and be the winds in our sails that fill us with the confidence to carry on.

Psalm 19:14
May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, 

O Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer.

What exactly is it about our words 
that would make them pleasing to the Lord? 

Here are some characteristics of Godly speech

It should give glory, praise and thanks to God

1 Peter 2:9
9 But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.

1 Thessalonians 5:18
give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.


It should come from a foundation of Christ as Lord in your life. 

Romans 10:9-10
9 That if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved.


Our speech as it relates to others should be gentle and gracious.  

Colossians 4:6
6 Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.


Proverbs 16:24
24 Pleasant words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones.

Words are powerful and we need to dispense them carefully


Ecclesiastes 10:12
12 Words from a wise man’s mouth are gracious,
but a fool is consumed by his own lips. 

Do you ever wonder if the trouble that surrounds you is sometimes because you have been running at the mouth. You say something and it stirs up a lot of emotions in the people around you and before you know it your have a big mess and you are scratching your head to know how to fix it. You've managed to offend someone, or you've lied and its come back to bite you once the truth was revealed. 

Proverbs 18:21
The tongue has the power of life and death, and those who love it will eat its fruit.


As a believer your words should be kind. 

Proverbs 12:25
25 An anxious heart weighs a man down,
but a kind word cheers him up.

I had plenty of opportunities to feel anxious this week because my son Cai had surgery to fix the 3 breaks in his colar bone from riding his bike down and icy hill and crashing last Sunday. There were many people who used their words to encourage us and to pray for us. 
I was grateful to feel the love of the body of Christ in action this week. Another verse Romans 2:4 comes to mind regarding kindness it reminds us not to forget that it is His kindness that leads us to repentance.  

Psalm 31:19 How great is your goodness, which you have stored up for those who fear you, which you bestow in the sight of men on those who take refuge in you.

Our words should instruct and build others up rather than tear them down. Our words should be used carefully with restraint and wisdom.

Colossians 3:16
16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God.


Proverbs 17:27
27 A man of knowledge uses words with restraint,
and a man of understanding is even-tempered.

I have not even scratched the surface on the verses that relate to what makes our words pleasing to the Lord. Its pretty obvious that our words should be honest, truthful and wise. 
In Acts 6 is says "Now Stephen, a man full of God’s grace and power, did great wonders and miraculous signs among the people." It seems there was some opposition arose between differing groups of believers.  These men began to argue with Stephen,  verse 10 says "but they could not stand up against his wisdom or the Spirit by whom he spoke."

Finally our words should be used to bless others. You may have noticed that many of the New Testament writers will often pray prayers of blessing over the people they have written to. 
So I want to leave you today with a blessing strait out of your bible. This blessing is found in Hebrews 13 verses 20-21

20 God gives peace, and he raised our Lord Jesus Christ from death. Now Jesus is like a Great Shepherd whose blood was used to make God’s eternal agreement with his flock. 21 I pray that God will make you ready to obey him and that you will always be eager to do right. May Jesus help you do what pleases God. To Jesus Christ be glory forever and ever! Amen.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Strength and Peace

A Devotional by Margot Cioccio

Psalm 29:11
The Lord gives strength to his people; the Lord blesses his people with peace.
 
We came home from the hospital this afternoon and I got my son Cai settled on the couch. The house was a mess so I picked up a little before going to the pharmacy to get prescriptions filled.  I got into a near argument with my husband over dumb stuff. I finally told him I was too tired and none of it was anything that really needed dealt with in that moment. I just needed to take a bath and a nap. Which is what I did. A little later I got back up able to function and worked on catching up the laundry and a number of other things that got pushed to the back burner because of being at the hospital for the last two days and also most of the day Tuesday.

I have a unexpected sense of peace and I can only suppose that there are people praying for me. Another unexpected is Cai's pain medicine wore off at 6 this evening and he has been fine all evening with out it. Sure did not expect that. 
Just now he decided he was ready for some and is settling down to sleep. So for today I am going to cut this post short.  Thank you all for your prayers. They do make a difference.


Thursday, January 24, 2013

When I am afraid, I will trust in you

A Devotional by Margot Cioccio

2 Thessalonians 3:16 Now may the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times in every way. The Lord be with you all.

My 12 year old son had surgery today. He is back in his room still pretty out of it at this point. He has talked to me a few times. It is good to be on the other side of this. I have kept it all pretty well together since this accident happened on Sunday afternoon. Bike rides on icy hills are not recommended. I have have had a steady kind of calm through it all. Well except for a bit late last night when everyone was asleep - the week kind hit me like a wave of overwhelm. I am thankful to friends who were praying and calling and sending notes. The love and support has been a wonderful gift of grace.

I think it is ok to acknowledge the fear we are feeling at times. Its not like we have to pretend it does not exist. We do have to keep it in perspective. We serve a God who loves us more than we can begin to imagine. God has to tell a number of bible characters to "fear not". He knows us intimately. He knows the deep deep fears that we are afraid to even give words to. Its not like we need to hide those things from us. I think sometimes we try to hide those fears almost as if they are proof to us that we are cowards, who don't trust God enough. 

So when my own wave of fear hit late last night I had to first recognize it for what it was. I gave myself permission to feel it and to release some of the pent up emotions for just a short time. God's love and care was never in question. I have always had the part of the one who keeps it all together and is the strong one when others are falling apart. I know how to remain calm and carry on. Even so it is ok to stop for a bit and allow myself the chance to feel and process the emotions of a situation. My heavenly father already knows what I'm feeling and why I'm feeling those emotions. Even in the middle of that brief storm he was there holding me. Reminding me of His love through the kindness of so many people in my life. A well timed note from a friend can make all the difference to remind us that God has not forgotten us. 
Psalm 56:3
When I am afraid, I will trust in you.

It says when - not if I am afraid. It is expected that there will be times when we are afraid. I think the bigger question is what will you do with that fear. Will you give up and throw in the towel and succumb to the worst thoughts. Or will you acknowledge the fear and make the choice to trust the Lord in spite of the frightful circumstances that you may find yourself in. 

Yesterday I knew I was afraid. I knew that much of it was irrational. I knew that I could automatically scratch the worst things I could think of right off the list. I knew that no mater how I might be feeling in that instant that God loves me and was looking out for my and the things that concerned me were things that He had already attended to.  To have faith in God does not mean we will not have times when we experience fear. Our faith in God is what moves us past the paralyzing effects of fear and causes us to continue on. To take the next step and the next. It is what causes us to not give up but to carry on knowing that our shepherd leads us even through the darkest valleys.

I got to the place last night where I had to describe how I was feeling as being like walking along a cliff and being for a long time in a state of heightened alertness.  At the same time I also knew I was safely held by the Lord's love and would be belayed to safety if I lost my footing along the way. Much like a climber would traverse an mountain pass. I knew I would get to the other side. I knew I was getting to a point of weariness  I know that God stretches our faith muscle just a little farther than we think is possible. In so doing our faith in Him grows. Much like how our muscles grow when we push them just beyond their natural limits. Any body builder will tell you that muscles grow when we make them do more work. A kind of chemical reaction happens because the cells cry out we need more help. So help is sent and they become stronger. I believe the same thing happens to our faith.

Well I am calling it a day. Hope this will give you enough to chew on for this post.

Prayer: I pray that the Lord will help you. When you do feel afraid that you won't remain there but will take that step of faith to continue to trust and follow the Lord.


Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Things that Jesus Prayed For Us


John 17:22-23 (NIV1984)
20 “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, 21 that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.22 I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: 23 I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.

Jesus prays not only for the disciples and followers present at that time, but for every believer that would follow. That includes you and me an other who may yet choose to follow him. What does he pray for us? He prays that we as believers would be unified. How can we be in unity with people who lived in other times and place. People we will never meet or know in our lifetime. Its a mind boggling thought. It reminds me of another verse from

Hebrew 12:1 12 Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.

Those who die in Christ are not really dead they are part of that great cloud of witnesses that reach back through history (His -Story). We are surrounded by this great cloud of witnesses. Witnesses to what you might ask? To the things that Jesus has done in and through your life. They each ran their race and so must we. We are told to throw off the things that hinder us and easily tangle us up in sin. We are told to run with perseverance. We are told there is a race marked out for us. 

"My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message."
Each of us has a story of how Jesus has transformed and is transforming our lives. His prayer is not for just us, but for those who will believe in him because of our story or message.
I know you may think your story is pretty ordinary. You may think there is nothing special about your life. It won't matter if the history books remember you the Lord sees and knows you as his own. You are like the apple of his eye. You don't know how your story may encourage someone else to believe, or to hold on and not give up. So tell your story.


Psalm 17:8 (NIV1984) 
8 Keep me as the apple of your eye;
hide me in the shadow of your wings

 A site called Answers has this to say about the origins of the phrase Apple of my Eye came about.  "The term was originally used in the bible and it was used to signify someone of great worth 'whoever touches you touches the apple of his eye', someone who was very precious. The 'apple of your eye' is the iris or center of the eye. If someone were to touch the apple of your eye it would be very painful and so it is protected by the eyelid. The biblical imagery is that we are the apple of his eye and God is the eyelid who protects us."

I'm not sure I have fully made a point in all of this - but I want you to know that what ever you are facing that Jesus loves you. You are precious to him. Just as you protect your own eye from things that would hurt or damage it. The Lord protects you in a similar way. Jesus prayed not just for the disciple back in the day. You have heard his story and you have heard theirs. The stories of other believers have been passed down to us. We don't always know what things we have said or will say that may spur others on to love and good deeds.

Well my day got away from me and I have to be up very early to check my son in for surgery.
I believe the Lord will keep you as the apple of his eye. You are precious to him. Jesus prays for us to be in unity. That does not mean we need to be exactly alike. There is room for each of us to express his amazing creativity in our own uniqueness. What we are unified about is who Jesus is and what his mission is and has always been. He is the one that makes a way that we can be reconciled to the Father. 

Prayer: Lord keep each one as the apple of your eye. Hide these readers under the shadow of your wings. Help them to see the race laid out before them. Let them run it with perseverance and help us to walk in unity together as His people.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

A Trip To Shriners

A Devotional by Margot Cioccio

Cai's Visit to Shriners
 “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.” Matthew 7:7-8

My day started with a call from Shriners Hospital telling me they could see my son at 10:45am. So that meant some minor rearranging of my day. They told us to bring shot records and shorts with no metal or buttons because they would be taking x-rays. They said nothing about don't eat so I fixed breakfast and we headed to Shriners.

Cai wil get to choose something after surgery
We filled out lots of papers, went for x-rays, talked to Doctors and Nurses and all mannor of hospital folks. We looked at the x-rays with the Doctor and we had two choices. Attempt to let the bones heal on their own for 6-8 weeks. If they would not heal then there would be the possibility of a later surgery. Option two was surgery where they would use some sort of plate to hold the mangled looking collar bone in place. With that option they said the healing was much faster and Cai could be using his arm again in 2-3 weeks. It was really a no brainer decision. They would have done the surgery today except for having eaten breakfast. We filled out more papers and were instructed about pre surgery prep and then given a tour of the hospital.

The Lobby of Shriners
On our tour we were shown where we would check in, then the room where Cai would wait for his turn for surgery. They have i-pads and game counsels that can be checked out. They have a rec room with anything a kid could ever want to amuse them selves with. We saw the toy closet, filled with donated new toys and were told Cai would get to pick something after his surgery.  Our tour guide produced a box of things kids would encounter and took the time to explain how each thing worked and what it was used for.
This is an i-v...

There was colorful kid friendly art on all the walls. It was bright and cheery and more like a full service hotel at Disney land only you were going there for surgery.

Cai seems to be pretty relaxed about the whole thing as well as pleased that the healing won't take nearly as long as we were first told to expect.

So surgery is scheduled for Thursday we need to be there by 6 in the morning. I'm glad we only live a few minutes away.  So this is our current adventure that started with a bike ride down a street that was an icy hill.

Our verse today from Matthew is about asking, seeking and knocking. Today we have asked questions and sought the council of doctors. I thought about how I should respond to this un-expected curve. Should I be up set, and frightened, and question why God allowed this accident to happen. Or should I look at is as an opportunity for growth. My son is in pain but he said the ride down the icy hill was fun.
I guess I would rather my kids got out there and lived even if they get banged up here and there. Its not like I'm encouraging them to play in traffic. I am seeing this as if we are knocking on a door into a world that we really don't get to see inside. Who am I to say if perhaps there is something there that my son needs to experience to expand the possibilities of things he might want to do when he grows up. I have to believe that God was watching out for my son. This accident could have been so much worse. So I am thankful for the many friends and family who are praying and supporting us as we go through this experience.

What door are you knocking on, what are you seeking, what are you asking about? I think in all three there is anticipation, a feeling of continuing rather than giving up. When you have given up you stop knocking, you stop asking and you don't really care to seek any more. You have accepted disappointment, failure, shame, and grief. You have thrown in the towel and given up hope. 

Those who are seeking, asking and knocking have not given up they will get the things they are after. We are to Philippians 4:6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. I guess I am asking that healing process would go by quickly but I am also asking that God would use this experience to open some door or direction for my son that he would not have other wise had a chance to know about. 

I will keep you posted on this journey and the things we discover along the way. 

Prayer: Lord I pray for these readers would be able to look at the challenges they are facing from a different angle. That they would not throw in the towel but would continue to ask, seek and knock. I pray that you would reveal yourself to them in profound ways as the begin to trust you in each and every situation they face.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Shelter of My Heart - Follow Up

A Devotional by Margot Cioccio

I wanted to post the video from our service Sunday where I presented my devotional from Friday called the Shelter of My Heart. I asked my oldest son Niah if he would record it - which he was happy to do. The video is a little shaky in spots. In the future we will remember the tri-pod. I don't think you will get motion sickness watching it.

I am trying to stretch and grow not only as a writer but as a speaker. At the beginning of the year my pastor asked what I wanted to focus on in the next 30 - 90 days. I said I'd like to work on being a better speaker. So we have started with these 3-5 minute pieces that I have been doing during our service as Reflections. The first week I did one on Wilson Bentley - The Snowflake man. I did not get that one recorded but you can read it by clicking the link on the title. The plan is do these short pieces for a while and then to do a shared sermon and finally be able to do the message on my own. So it is an adventure for me to move from sharing my thoughts in written form to speaking them. Not sure where it will take me but I am enjoying the opportunity to grow in this area.  I felt good about how it went.
Anyway I thought you might enjoy seeing some of this unfold. So I am sharing the video.

It seems no sooner did these words about change leave my mouth than I had a new and un-expected one to deal with.

Cai in the Emergency Waiting Room
Cai's Collar bone x-ray
I was sitting on the couch yesterday afternoon trying to up load the video, when I got a call from my son's friend. Cai my youngest and his friend Ronald had decided to go bike riding on the snowy streets. So the call was to tell me that Cai had crashed and Ronald was having trouble getting him to sit up. I had him tell me where there were in the neighborhood and I headed that way. When I got there Cai was sitting in a ball holding his right arm. We thought that perhaps he had dislocated it. So we set off to find an Urgent Care. Seems one should not get hurt or sick early Sunday afternoon or evening because they were all closed or would be by the time we could reach them. So we went instead to the emergency room. There we found out that it was not a dislocated shoulder but his collar bone. After getting the x-rays back they determined that it was pretty messed up. It was broken in three place and part of the bone was at right angles. Not good and according to the doctors one of the worse looking breaks they had seen. So they proceeded to numb the area and attempted to get the bones back into the right places.

Cai was a trouper through the whole painful experience. Particularly because his brother and friend, were nervous and trying to help by trying hard not to say things that would make Cai laugh. Sadly that proved to be a difficult task. We left them in the waiting room while the doctors determined what needed done.  We were finally sent home with Cai's arm in a sling, a prescription for pain medication and instructions to call Shriners today and have them decide how to proceed. We have not had many trips to emergency as a family and have never had to go to Shriners. So this will be a whole new adventure for us.  I guess some changes are un-expected and catch you by surprise. Not sure what the next days and weeks will unfold on this journey. The emergency room doctors thought that Shriners might decide to do surgery to put in some sort of plate to hold the bones in place. What ever the case Cai has a healing journey ahead of him. With it being his right hand it is sure to present some challenges for him for school and things like playing piano and marimba may be on hold for a bit.

I realize for myself that I hold it together pretty well in stressful situations but afterwards I start to process and think of all the things that could have happened or that we might have to deal with. I finally just decided to go to bed and trust that the Lord would help us on this new journey.  So by the time we got home I was done. I probably should have called some family members to let them know what was going on but I elected to do that today. It was pretty late before we knew much of anything anyway.

The Shelter of My Heart is Jesus, he grounds and stabilizes me when I find myself thrust into un-expected changes.  I am also thankful for the people around me who help me sort things out. Who pray with me, who encourage, who care. Those who share the journey with us and even those who follow along from a distance.  Please be praying for Cai, my 12 year old son as he deals with the pain and the healing process and coping with changes resulting from not being able to use his right arm for a bit.

Prayer: Lord I lift up these readers. I thank you for each of them and pray that you would help them with the changes they are facing or will be facing. Help us each to find our resting place in you. Steady us with your live and guide us by your hand as we walk with you day by day and step by step.

Friday, January 18, 2013

The Shelter of My Heart - Thoughts on Change

A Devotional by Margot Cioccio


And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed [changed] by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.” (Romans 12:2 KJV).

Change is something we all have to deal with. Some changes are wanted and looked forward to others seem beyond our ability to control. Some of us get to the future by leaving our claw marks as we try to hold on to the familiar past. Why does change cause us such stress when it is an inevitability of life.
When we are young we can't get to the future fast enough and when we are older we feel the ticking hands of time that say all to soon our race will be run.

C.S Lewis writes “There are two kinds of people: those who say to God, "Thy will be done," and those to whom God says, "All right, then, have it your way”

I like to think I'm pretty good at change. My family moved a lot when I was a kid. I went to three different high schools. I've learned to look at change as an adventure to be embraced rather than feared. I've learned to be good at making friends. I've learned to be good at finding a way to fit in to a new situation. I have learned how to find my stability not in people or places but in the only thing I have found to truly be constant. Where is the shelter of your heart. Where is home, the resting place of your Spirit?

I found a poem that I'd like to share with you.
“I have walked through many lives, some of them my own,
and I am not who I was,
though some principle of being abides, from which I struggle not to stray.
When I look behind,
as I am compelled to look 
before I can gather strength to proceed on my journey,
I see the milestones dwindling toward the horizon 
and the slow fires trailing from the abandoned camp-sites, 
over which the scavenger angels wheel on heavy wings.
Oh, I have made myself a tribe out of my true affections,
and my tribe is scattered!
How shall the heart be reconciled to its feast of losses?
In a rising wind, the manic dust of my friends,
those who fell along the way, bitterly stings my face.
Yet I turn.
I turn, exulting somewhat,
with my will intact to go wherever I need to go,
and every stone on the road precious to me.
In my darkest night, when the moon was covered and I roamed through the wreckage,
a nimbus-clouded voice directed me:
-Live in the layers, not on the litter-
Though I lack the art to decipher it,
no doubt the next chapter in my book of transformations is already written.
I am not done with my changes.” 
― Stanley KunitzThe Collected Poems

"To live in the layers not on the litter....I am not done with my changes" On good days I look back and I see the life I have been a part of and the amazing transformations that God has worked in my own life and the lives of people who have graced my days. On my bad days I look back and see the rubble of things and people I have lost. Stuff I tried to do and life that did not go at all like I thought it would.
People I wanted to be around forever and others that I found annoying. Yet it all has profoundly affected me in some way.


C.S Lewis says "If you think of this world as a place intended simply for our happiness,
you find it quite intolerable:
think of it as a place for correction and it's not so bad.
Imagine a set of people all living in the same building.
Half of them think it is a hotel, the other half think it is a prison.
Those who think it a hotel might regard it as quite intolerable,
and those who thought it was a prison might decide that it was really surprisingly comfortable. "

Change is inevitable. 

Again he writes “Mere change is not growth. Growth is the synthesis of change and continuity, 
and where there is no continuity there is no growth.” 

So I wonder how do you continue on in the midst of change? 
I want to leave you with a song I found by Audrey Assad called Show Me. 
We get overwhelmed at times by all the change. She writes "Mercy bend and breath life back into me but not before you teach me how to die."

Change requires that we let go of things, change requires that some things must die and fade and become memories. Change requires movement from the familiar into the unknown of what lies before us. As I said earlier I've become pretty good at change but only because the shelter of my heart, the resting place of my spirit is found in God alone. 


Thursday, January 17, 2013

Do Every Thing Without Complaining

A Devotional by Margot Cioccio
Source: artfire.com via Margot on Pinterest

I want to remind you that I have a lot of wonderful gift ideas and hearts in my online shop.
Here's the Link to my Shop or click the photo.

“Do everything without complaining or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe as you hold out the word of life—in order that I may boast on the day of Christ that I did not run or labor for nothing.” Philippians 2:14-16

When I was working involved in Children's church this was one of my favorite verses to quote to kids. The truth be known however we could all stand to be reminded of this verse.
Do everything it says not some things, not the things you enjoy, not just the good stuff. It say in a pretty strait forward way to do everything with out complaining or arguing. I don't even need to consult a commentary or pastoral advice on this one. I just have to decide to do it. So when I have work to do that is not may cup of tea - for example cleaning toilets I need to make a point to not grumble and complain. Actually its a perfect reminder for me today because on top of my normal work at the church I have an annual report to copy and collate and bind into books.

Administrative work is arguably not my favorite stuff to do. That type of work is more suited to very linar, organized folks. I am very scattered and while I am good at creating systems I am not the best at keeping them up. So I ask myself why do I want to work in the church office. I have an answer, it allows me to be available use a very strong gift of encouragement in a struggling inner city church environment. I am here and am often able to encourage and pray for the pastor other leaders and staff.  It allows me to use another strong gift of creatively communicating the truths of God and makes a way for me to create and manage the prayer loft. It allows me opportunities to use a pastoring or shepherding gift through articles I am asked to write and share in our service or newsletter. The administrative work opens the door for a lot of other opportunities to be used by God.

There are going to be things in all of our day that are not our favorite things to do. There are going to be things in our day that are hard, sometimes painful or even un pleasant to do.We have to decide in this moment how we will go through our day. Will be choose to ask the Holy Spirit to help us to be doers of the Word. Will we stop when we start to complain and find instead reasons to give thanks.

Well I'm out of time for today.

Prayer: Lord help us to take this word and to chomp on it today. Help us to actually shine like stars. Help us to give thanks rather than complain. Help us rather than argue to consider the other persons sided in things and perhaps go along with them.


 

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

The Fierce Battle

A Devotional by Margot Cioccio

So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify 
the desires of the sinful nature.” Galatians 5:16 NIV1984

I've been talking in recent posts about our on going work with the homeless in downtown Spokane. Yesterday we got a call from KREM 2 a local station about coming to do an interview. Here's that story.                         

The question of how we live between the point we receive salvation and the final end of our days is not a new question. The Galatians started out their journey with the Holy Spirit but quickly found them selves in the strangle hold of legalism. They were trying so hard to be good and devoted followers yet they were fighting each other.  Which reminds me of yesterdays verse about loving God, who we can't see when we can't love people that we can see.  

Sometimes we find our best efforts to fix things becomes an even bigger mess. We try so hard to live right and we come up short..  We initially realize that the salvation we have experienced and received is worked by something outside of ourselves. God does what we could not do for ourselves. 
Then we start into the discipleship journey. We want to be approved workmen who rightly divide the word. We want to walk by faith and not by sight. We want to be good Christians. We want to treat others with kindness and mercy.... well until they are driving us nuts. 

We have to decide each day how we are going to live. Are we going to be led by the Holy Spirit or are we going to fall back into the trap of working to be accepted or good enough. The whole "good enough" battle is one I personally know very well. It is also a good personal illustration of the war that goes on between the old sinful nature and life by the Spirit. There are days that I can feel terribly defeated because I get tired of going around and around the same old mountain. The thing is that while I am intensely aware of the battle in my head, I am choosing to believe that grace, walking by faith and life in the Spirit to be the better way.  Some days I do better than others. I have to remind myself that God is not waiting to accept me because the scales of justice have tipped in my favor. I have to trust that the Holy Spirit will inspire me and move me through out my day.
When I see those feelings of "not enough" creeping back into how I live and do things. I have to stop and remind myself that the Lord loves me just as much on days that I am busy as he does on days when I'm tired and just sitting on my couch.  

I read the following in the IVP Commentary accompanying this verse. "Each day the Christian who chooses to walk by the Spirit is engaged in a fierce battle between the Spirit and the sinful nature. It is important to stress this point, because many Christians feel ashamed to admit that they are experiencing such a conflict. They feel that mature Christians should somehow be above this kind of struggle. They imagine that the great saints were surely too spiritual to feel the desires of the flesh. But Paul flatly contradicts such images of super spirituality."

I guess what I want to convey today is that you may be experiencing that inner battle even while you are daily living by the power of the Holy Spirit. It is easy to feel frustrated as you look at other believers living victoriously. People don't talk much about that inner battle because we often attach a sort of shame to it. We think that we will eventually be healed and strong enough to no longer feel the battle. We look forward to talking about our struggles when they are in the past. We struggle daily and we have to decide if we will take the path of trying to arrive at "good enough" or if we will live by grace and faith in the Holy Spirit. 

Prayer: Lord help us to choose to walk in the Spirit though this day. Help us to accept that we are not good enough but that you are. Help us to realize that when we are weak you are strong. That we are accepted and loved by you even when we feel we are struggling and falling terribly short of your best. Help us to yield and to be led and to not demand our own way like stubborn mules. 




Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Holding to the Truth


A Devotional by Margot Cioccio

To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.””John 8:31-32 NIV1984

In order to hold on to the teachings of Jesus we have to spend time in the Word. Throughout history people hungry for power and influence have twisted the Word to their own advantage over the un-educated. I found this quote by Martin Luther who realized while studying the book of Romans that the "Church" had diverged a long long way from the truth of the Word. He was put on trial and pressured to re-cant his teachings. His response is this “Unless I am convinced by the Scripture and clear reasoning – I do not trust in popes and councils since they have often been wrong – my conscience is bound to the Word of God. I neither can nor will recant anything, for to act against conscience is wrong and dangerous. Here I stand. I cannot do otherwise. God help me.”

In Act 17:11 a group of believers is commended."Now the Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true."

At the time John 8:31-32 was spoken by Jesus the Gideon's were not handing out bibles, and you couldn't go to the local book store and pick up a copy. There were no copies to be found in the drawer beside the bed in your local inn.  There were the Jewish scriptures that told one what God expected even that was not readily available for the average family to take home to study. They had to go to the local Synagoge to study the scriptures. The Jews of that day who believed Jesus were searching the scriptures to see if what he was saying went along with what God had already told them.  As they searched they were convinced that He was indeed the promised Messiah they had been waiting for. Jesus when he taught would start with the words "It is written" and the it says often that the the people were amazed. Jesus taught with a different kind of authority than they were accustomed to hearing. Here's and example from Luke 4:31-36

31 Then he went down to Capernaum, a town in Galilee, and on the Sabbath began to teach the people. 32 They were amazed at his teaching, because his message had authority.33 In the synagogue there was a man possessed by a demon, an evil spirit. He cried out at the top of his voice,34 “Ha! What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God!”35 “Be quiet!” Jesus said sternly. “Come out of him!” Then the demon threw the man down before them all and came out without injuring him.36 All the people were amazed and said to each other, “What is this teaching? With authority and power he gives orders to evil spirits and they come out!” 37 And the news about him spread throughout the surrounding area.

At the time of Act 17 people still had the Jewish scriptures but there also began to be a body of trusted letters and eye witness accounts from those who had walked closely with Jesus. Paul is a bit late to the party and had been known for persecuting the followers of Jesus. He was a guy that was on the fast track towards being a high, high leader in the Synagoge and perhaps even being groomed to one day be the high priest. He gave up a lot to follow Jesus. He took his vast learning of the scriptures and the revelations of Jesus and helped many others to connect the dots.
He writes in Philippians 3 "If anyone else thinks he has reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: 5circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; 6as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for legalistic righteousness, faultless. 7But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. 8What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ 9and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith. 10 I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead."

You should be able to take your beliefs and answer the question "Where is it written." We might even find that we are like blind men trying to describe different sides of an elephant. Often we need to dig deeper and be careful not to pull things out of context. The place to start is in the written word. What did Jesus say? How did he live? How did he treat others? What did his closest followers have to say about him?  

My challenge for you today is that you spend some time digging a bit deeper in to the Word. Do more than just skim over it. Take the time to find other supporting verses. Spend time thinking and praying about what it means and how it applies to your life. Ask the Holy Spirit to lead you and help you. I'm not saying that you need to spend hours and hours every day but find some time each day to spend getting to know the Lord through His written Word. 

Prayer: Lord, I pray that you will go before each reader and help them to know you more and more. Help them to grow up in you to begin to be fed on more than milk. Weather they are infants or great thinkers who know your word well, take each one a bit deeper in their knowledge of you and the great revelation of your love for each of us. 
 

Monday, January 14, 2013

If I Lived Out A Love Song

A Devotional by Margot Cioccio 

“If anyone says, “I love God,” yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen. And he has given us this command: Whoever loves God must also love his brother.” 1 John 4:20-21 NIV1984



I was looking around Youtube to see if there were any songs out there about loving God by loving your brother or your neighbor. I have not really found any. There are a fair number of God I love you kind of songs expressing ones emotions and feelings to God. I wonder if we are writing love songs to God when this verse says that if we loved God we would love our brothers. It all seems like lip service when I look around at all the broken and hurting people in our world. If we as the church did more than sing love songs and did more in the way to lift the burdens off of our brothers our expressions of love might have more depth and compassion.  

I wonder what if our lives became a love song in each small act of kindness that we might expres towards our fellowmen. So I found a beautiful harp song that perhaps will inspire and move your thoughts to consider how you might express your love to the Lord in living a life of worship rather than just singing another song on Sunday that makes us feel all warm and fuzzy. Will that song move us to change how we go about living among a world filled with broken people. Is our worship or love of God very deep if we can't love our brother that we can see?

Our city recently gave the people living under the bridge notice that they must move their stuff. They can't live under the bridge anymore. At the same time the temperatures have dropped to the point that our church has openend at night as an emergency warming center. Suddenly our parking lot is filled with shopping carts and stuff carted around by the homeless.  On Saturday when I arrived in the morning to meet with my music students I had to wade past bundled homeless people on the steps and all the stuff they had piled up near the building. There were two folks arguing with each other about the piled up stuff. As I walked past them I told them if they could not get along they should get off the property. We had to call the police on Sunday and have them come to move folks and their stuff along. One couple had six shopping carts and could not figure out how to move them all. Some claimed that the police had told them they had to vacate under the bridge but they could come to our location. As a church we ask ourselves what things we can do to help our neighbors. We provide a meal and feed between 100 - 200 folks almost every Sunday. Earlier this year we were asked to apply to be an emergency warming center by the city because no one else had applied. It meant jumping through a lot of hoops. We had the space but not the man power to pull of the task. So we partnered with the Union Gospel Mission who now provides the man power. 

I realize that I still have a long way to go on loving my brother.  I found myself a bit short on compassion as I had to make my way to our building on Saturday. I was thinking how uncomfortable and unsafe it made me feel and how akward I would have felt if my students were not people from my church.  I had a hard time looking past all the clutter that came along with the people to see the cold, miserable hurting humans in the mix. 

We often talk about the obstacles we face trying to grow a church in this neighborhood. We can get the homeless to come but its hard to find healthy christians who are willing to make their church home along side of people who smell of the streets. Yet as I read my bible I'm pretty convinced that Jesus would be here. Yet what seems to grow and thrive in America's churches is who can put on the best show, and who has lots and lots of things to offer that are going on to entertain us and our kids as we wait for the Lords return. We seem to think we have embarked on an all expense paid trip on the Love boat. I saw a great video that I will embed for you about how we choose a church. 

I found this quite from Mother Teresa. "One day I picked up a man from the gutter. His body was covered with worms, I brought him to our house, and what did this man say? He did not curse. He did not blame anyone. He just said, “I’ve lived like an animal in the street, but I’m going to die like an angel, loved and cared for!” It took us three hours to clean him. Finally, the man looked up at the sister and said, “Sister, I’m going home to God.” And then he died. I’ve never seen such a radiant smile on a human face as the one I saw on that man’s face. He went home to God. See what love can do! It is possible that young sister did not think about it at the moment, but she was touching the body of Christ. Jesus said so when He said, “As often as you did it for one of my least brothers, you did it for me” (Matt. 25:40 RSV). And this is where you and I fit into God’s plan."

Many are approaching today's verse and struggling just to love your immediate family and friends and maybe that annoying neighbor.  It becomes a greater challenge when the people we are to love are not like us. In James 1:27 it says 
"Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world." We tend to want to distance ourselves from the outcasts of our society as if their plight or their poverty or shame is some how contagious. We would help them but we worry we will be polluted in some way by their condition. 

Though I am disturbed by all the junk that has landed in our parking lot as the result of being open as a warming center on the coldest nights.  I am also thankful that there may be fewer found this year frozen under a bridge or in some lonely alleyway this winter. I think that love is not always convenient, its not always warm and fuzzy. It is often in the willingness to sacrifice my own convenience or the excess I could have, so that someone else can have their most basic of needs met.  

Love is not what I once imagined it to be -  filled with wonder and romance and warm feelings. I suppose it is that at times, it's certainly the kind of love we seek in relationships and even in our understanding of God's love.  I did find one song called if God Wrote A Love Song.  God is all about people - loving messy people. I need to be about what He's about - loving messy people. Whatever I do for the least of my brothers, I have done to Him. You and I are God's love song. 

Prayer: Help us to grow in our love for you in more than warm fuzzy feelings but may our lives express your love, grace, mercy and compassion to a world filled with broken and hurting people. May what we do for the least of these be to you our expression of love.