Monday, October 29, 2012

Sweep Around Your Own Front Porch

This weekend, I got an overwhelming urge to Fall-ify our house.  Our curb appeal has had a split personality since September.   The oversize mum and collection of pumpkins combined with the leftover summer wreath have been a very eclectic mix.  Something overcame me on Saturday, and with the scent of pumpkin pie and the anticipation of Thanksgiving family gatherings at the forefront of my mind, I decided my home needed some autumn attention.

As visions of Pinterest projects danced through my mind, I convinced my wonderfully accommodating husband to journey into the attic.  :)  Once again, I'm thankful that he loves me unconditionally, even if he occasionally rolls his eyes at my requests.   Armed with boxes having yet to be unpacked, I tackled the tablescape in my dining room before journeying to the front porch. (Note: this no longer resembles a homeschool table and all further studies will convene to the desk in the schoolroom where they belong instead of trickling over to my Better Homes & Gardens least until after Christmas!  Now my kids are the ones rolling their eyes.)

I suppose a sliver of my desire to nest came from the sudden realization that I completely missed the homey decorating of my favorite season last year.  At the peak of fall, we were in full travel mode, spending maybe 3 or 4 days in our temporary home the entire month of October.  In fact, last October, this same weekend, we were here in Cumberland interviewing for the position we are now serving in.  I remember whispering quietly with Kevin late Sunday night in a hotel room with the kids sleeping nearby as we searched the internet and newspaper for available homes.  I remember finding the perfect home for us on a less than perfect street...and wanting to turn my head and cover my children's eyes as we drove down that street to view the house.  The elaborate..and frankly, scary...Halloween displays on many of the houses made me want to immediately do a U-turn.

Just a few days ago, those Halloween decorations came back to haunt me.   This is home now, and I still want to turn my head and cover their eyes when we drive home each day.  But this is the season we are in.  And, truth be told, although I am not a fan of Halloween, I adore Autumn.

As I stood on my porch giving it a Fall makeover, I thought about those houses.  I wished their porches could be free of skeletons, spiderwebs, tombstones, and scary faces and instead could reflect the beauty of the mine.  And then,  moving things around,  I discovered an intricate spiderweb in the corner.  It was a masterpiece...and it had obviously been there for some time, receiving no attention from me.  As I looked closer, I saw that though my porch was being decorated with beautiful things, it was in desperate need of attention that a new wreath on the door would not solve.    As I picked up the broom and begin to rid my porch of the cobwebs, dust, and debris, the Holy Spirit whispered quietly to me "Sweep Around Your Own Front Porch".

My broom stopped its motion as the words began to penetrate my heart.  I thought about how I might have judged who was living inside the houses down the street by what the exterior looked like and the decor they chose to represent them.  My heart filled with sadness as the more I cleaned, the more I realized how much had gone unnoticed on my own porch simply because the pretty wreath on the door had drawn my eyes upward.  As I walked around the exterior of my our house, I found more tell tale signs of neglect.  Don't judge me, but I found Christmas wreaths from last year still leaning on one porch.  Granted they were no longer hanging, but they had never made their way to the attic.  I said don't judge me :).

In the beautiful way that the Holy Spirit writes parables for me to understand, I realized that if I'm not careful, it is so easy to fall into this same trap when relating to others outside the realms of seasonal decorating.   I'm talking to myself here, but I know I'm not alone.  We are quick to find fault in others for the inadequacies or bad choices they wear like a billboard on their chest.  But all the while, beyond our smug got-it-all-together exteriors lays a neglected heart corroded with debris that needs our attention.  Jesus address this in Matthew 7:5 when he instructs us to remove the beam out of our own eye so we can see clearly to remove the speck from our brother (or sisters) eye.  It's so easy to ignore what we need to fix when our vision is clouded and our attention diverted by what annoys us most about others.  We need to examine the hidden places on our porches, the nooks and crannies, where it is easy for things to creep in unnoticed when our focus is in another direction.  Things like jealousy, bitterness, busyness that leads to lives out of balance, mediocrity, and pride can cause nasty, sticky spiderwebs when left unattended.

When I am offended by others or pass judgement on them in some way,  I need to look at myself and make sure my curb appeal is all that it can be.  I need to let Jesus sweep away the dust that has clouded my eyes from seeing the truth.  Upon closer examination, I may find areas like the trail the birds left on my doorstep..that take more than just a broom and need a deeper cleansing.  Like my porch needed a pitcher of water, my heart may need the cleansing river of the Holy Spirit to saturate it.

In a few weeks, the ghosts and goblins and all other signs of darkness will vanish from the porches of my neighbors.  I hope they are replaced by more festive decorations as we journey into the true Holiday Season.  But my primary responsibility is to make sure my entryway is swept, welcoming, and maintained regularly.  I'll make sure the glass on my door is sparkling clean to reflect the light of the season.  I'll do the same with my heart.  May I sparkle enough to reflect His light clearly to a world in need of hope.  And may I always, when tempted to complain about the neighbor's landscape, get out my broom and sweep my own front porch first!

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Crossing the Jordan - Part 1

This blog is the first article in a series I am writing for the Worship Central Newsletter.   

Anyone who enjoys listening to folk or gospel music or reading poetry has, no doubt, frequently come across “the Jordan” as a point of reference.   As I was reading in the book of Joshua recently, I came across a passage in chapter 3 that seemed to jump off the page.  I have revisited that passage several times to try to dig in and see the relevance that it has  for us here at Worship Central. 

It was verse 6 that first seemed to light up for me in neon lights.   The specific phrase that stood out was Joshua’s instruction to the priests responsible for carrying the Ark of the Covenant.  He told them to take the Ark and “Go BEFORE the people”.  In obedience, they picked it up and went ahead of the people, toward the Promised Land.

The Ark of the Covenant represented the presence of God.  It was a place of Holiness and reverence.  The Israelites didn’t fight a battle or make a journey or take up residence anywhere without the Ark of the Covenant being center stage.  They regarded it as their lifeline because they knew that their lives, literally, depended upon it’s presence among them. They didn’t treat it lightly.  They couldn’t – because they had not yet experienced he freedom of the cross.  They lived under strict law and didn’t have the right to gain access to the presence of God on their own. 

The Israelite priests and Levites had great responsibility.   Here, they were instructed by Joshua to GO AHEAD of the people with the presence of God.  In verse 2, the people had been instructed to LEAVE THEIR POSITIONS and follow the priests and Levites as they passed by them. They were told as they followed, they would receive DIRECTION on which way they should go, since they didn’t know the way before them.

There are many things in this passage I want to explore in the coming newsletter editions.  In reading about Jordan in Wikipedia during my research, I found that “Crossing the Jordan” represents Freedom.  In our pursuit of Freedom, I want us to realize that we are both leaders and followers.  When we are in a leadership role (as each of you are in choir, frontline, band, or technical support), we are expected to carry the Presence of God and to go AHEAD of the people.  We can’t lead people to a place we have never been. Yes, we are on a journey together, but someone has to point the way.  There is freedom, deliverance, and direction in HIS PRESENCE.  But we have to go there first before the people can follow.  In our private worship at home and in our worship during rehearsals, we are beginning to “carry the Ark”, so to speak. We are practicing His presence and preparing our hearts so that, when we get on stage, it is more than just a musical performance.   We are preparing to help others Cross the Jordan.

Leave your positions.  Forget about who you are and what you “do”.  You are a worshipper and a leader.  Follow the Presence and carry it in front of others.  Freedom is at stake.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012


COURAGE.  I've been thinking a lot about this word lately.  What does it take to step out from the expectations of others and make a bold statement regardless of what anyone thinks...just because you feel deep in your heart it is the right choice?  When you peel away the layers of opinions, suggestions, expectations, and even rejections from others - sometimes the decision in front of you looks a lot different.  Often, we are intimidated from making a choice our heart knows is right - or we determine to settle snuggly in the boat instead of daring to chance walking on the water - because what our heart is whispering seems outlandish.

Sometimes it means making a choice that seems foolish by nature - like David who choose to shrug off the expectations of heavy protective armor and face a giant with the simplicity of stones and a slingshot.  When I set out to pinpoint what courage really looks like, I found this definition:

Courage is summoning strength in the face of life's difficulties or, sometimes, life's horrors. It means proceeding in spite of pain, cost, or risk. Courage is not the absence of fear, but the deliberate decision that action is necessary regardless. Courage acknowledges uncertainty, but perseveres because of conviction and resolve. 

I really like that 3rd sentence..."Courage is not the absence of fear, but the DELIBERATE decision that ACTION is NECESSARY regardless".  Many times in life, I am guilty of playing it safe and waiting for the answer to come - or the problem to work itself out.  But when I look at the example of those before me, I'm beginning to see that all Jesus followers at one time or another possessed a crazy courage that called their faith to action.  They pushed past the walls of "normalcy" to unchartered territory in a desperate quest for solutions.  As they summoned that courage, faith sprung to action, and the walls fell.   But the key?  They took the first step.  Made a bold move.   Acted in obedience that defied logic.  They had COURAGE.   They silenced the negative voices around them and focused on the VOICE of TRUTH.

Great leaders and history makers of more recent days have also had much to say about courage.

Courage is being scared to death...and saddling up anyway.     ~John Wayne

You will never do anything in this world without courage. It is the greatest quality of the mind, next to honor.    ~Aristotle

Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear, not absence of fear.    ~Mark Twain

Courage is grace under pressure.    ~Ernest Hemmingway

There are no easy answers but there are simple answers.  We must have the courage to do what we know is morally right.  ~Ronald Reagan

Any intelligent fool can make things bigger and more complex.,.it takes a stroke of genius - and a lot of courage to move in the opposite direction.    ~Albert Einstein

We gain strength, and courage, and confidence by each experience in which we really stop to look fear in the face...we must do that which we think we cannot.    ~Eleanor Roosevelt

Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.  ~Winston Churchill

Inaction breeds doubt and fear.  Action breeds confidence and courage.  If you want to conquer fear, do not sit home and think about it.  Get out and get busy.    ~Dale Carnegie

It takes a lot of courage to release the familiar and seemingly secure, to embrace the new.  But there is no real security in what is no longer meaningful.  There is more security in the adventurous and exciting, for in movement there is life, and in change there is power.    ~Alan Cohen

And finally:

Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life.  Don't be trapped by dogma - which is living with the results of other people's thinking.  Don't let the noise of others' opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition.  ~Steve Jobs

There is a common thread.  To break a chain, accomplish a great feat, live out your destiny....fears must be faced.  Norms must be redefined.  Courage must be embraced...and we must STEP OUT.  Away from the noise, the limits, the narrow viewpoint of others.   To live our passion, we must take risks.    

I'm so thankful that when I gather up the courage to stand up and step out of the boat, I have a promise that walks with me over every wave. It's an ageless promise that stands the test of time from the one TRUE voice of truth.  He will be with me.  His voice calls across the ocean..and there is peace as I focus on His face and take hold of His steadying hand.

Joshua 1:9 NIV Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”