“If it's true I live in a world where hope has all but died, and if I really have a living love alive in me,
How am I letting it be known? How am I letting it be seen?
These are the signs, these are the signs of life: the love that proves there is a living faith inside…
These are the signs, these are the signs of life: the compassion and concern that make this world turn…
These are the signs of life!”

-Steven Curtis Chapman

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Of Ducks, Minks, and Salvation

I went to Canada with a group of friends not long ago. The following is one of the journal entries I made during that time.

“Today is our last full day in Canada!
Even though it was wet and rainy, it was still great… This morning started like a bullet from a gun: when we were all on the porch this morning, we seven saw a mother duck and a few ducklings being irritated by a mink. Needless to say, we freaked out, concerned that we were about to witness a duck holocaust…

But then a boat came up. We started screaming asking the man to save the ducks. He did his best, but his boat was too large to maneuver properly. It was holding the mink off for a moment, but it wasn’t a solution to the problem. One of us seven goes running out the back door. No one pays much attention, too fixed on what was happening and too intent to keep yelling for the mink to go away.
The mother duck was clearly getting tired, and just when all seems to be lost - suddenly! – the one who went running out the porch comes flying around the island, a savior on a wave runner. She separates the mink from the ducks, keeping them apart until no harm can come to either the mother or babies. Needless to say, we six girls were cheering louder than was necessary at eight am on a rainy morning…

And it made me think of you, God. Of how the Law [in my case, the inefficient boat] only shows how bad off we are, how impossible it is to obtain salvation. And of how real salvation and freedom came in the most unlikely form of Jesus. The way Your obedience cut off the accuser from destroying me and instead let me escape the punishment for my sins. It made me see the Law is good and You gave it to us – but doesn’t save because we are sinners by nature. And of course, that You came to fulfill the Law and bring us life.

Just like in nature, the mink should have gotten a nice duck breakfast – and in justice, I should be damned. But out of love and grace, the entire order of nature was flipped upside-down. Salvation for the undeserving. Hope on a wave runner; salvation on a cross.

Lord, You are good, and You do good.”
Maybe you had to be there to get the whole picture, and maybe it was just a funny story I can laugh about later – but I can tell you that in that moment, I saw that Christ IS good, and He DOES good, even to the most undeserving like me.

By grace undeserved,
Casey

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Dominoes & Christ

In my continued exploration of the Cuban culture that makes up most of my church family, I’ve discovered something new: their passion for Dominoes. They can spend hours playing!

We were at the beach yesterday afternoon, and I watched four people play. I observed as dotted tiles first connected to form lines, then spread outward to cover the table. Each team battled for dominance as points were calculated. And as they played, two friends explained the strategy behind each move.


It turns out that the game isn’t based on whim or preference, or even about which tile is the most convenient to use. Instead, they made it clear that they not only analyzed the board in regards to their own potential plays, but they had to keep an eye on their partner’s plays (and passes), and simultaneously remember which numbers were the opposing team’s strengths and weaknesses. All of it was done without even the appearance of concentration - they were talking throughout the whole game! (While this conversation did take place in Spanish, I’m going to go out on a limb and say at some point, I’m pretty darn sure there was trash talking...)


The more I saw, the more tactics and strategy I found. From the first move to the final clack of the last tile thrown down, strategy was imperative. But a few minutes later, another friend (a fellow non-Cuban like myself) walked up to us, and made a comment that she saw no real strategy behind the game – she saw pieces being randomly selected, placed down wherever and whenever they fit. No skill needed, just a game of chance...


My friend and I were watching the same game – but our outlooks could not have been more different. Where I saw intricacy, she saw simplicity; where I saw expert choreography in strategic planning, she saw guesswork and chance colliding.

One game – two very different outlooks.


As my friend walked away from the game, I started to think… Which of these outlooks do I take when viewing God?


Do I view life as a rainbow of chaos, with God simply dropping the Domino tiles of my life wherever they fall? Is He simply letting the pieces land where they will, leaving it to chance if everything works out in the end? Or, do I see Him behind everything that happens in life – in both the good and the bad, the great and the devastating? Do I see His plans and choreography in every snapshot of my life?



“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.” (Romans 8:28 – 30)


“May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do it.” (1 Thessalonians 5:23-24)


God isn’t just random. Each step is a carefully wrought – He chooses, calls, justifies… each moment planned with His wisdom and love for me at the front of His mind. He sanctifies, making me more like Him every day.


I love it, because it means that He is involved in every aspect of my life. There is a reassurance in that, because it means every moment is a step to becoming the righteous daughter God has already said I am.(1 Peter 2:9-10, Ephesians 1:4-6) But at the same time, it's hard, because it means that everything in my life happens because He allows it.


That means He allowed my mom’s brain aneurysm and near death last year - and He is working it for good. That means the events that forced me to start waitressing again is going to be worked out by God for good. Some hard things that are going on in the lives of friends and family will be worked out for good. It’s not whim or preference; it’s not just a game of chance. If all things are working together for the good of the ones who love Christ, He has a Strategy behind every move.


It wasn’t chance that had me working at a BBQ joint a few years back… it wasn’t luck that I managed to find the college that had everything I wanted, but didn’t yet know I needed… it wasn’t a fluke that I started taking an ASL class years ago… it wasn’t a twist of fate that Christ finally pierced my soul with His call and I became His. His hand lead to each pivotal moment that’s helped shape me into who I am. Expert choreography and intricacy, played out by the One who holds all the pieces in life is leading me to who I will someday be.


So as the game ended and I walked to the ocean to play in the waves, I realized that God’s strategy and planning didn’t just bring me to the current stage in my life: it brought me to the very beach that I stood on, to the very spot I watched Dominoes being played.


All things working together for good.



In Him,
Casey

Monday, March 28, 2011

Form And Meaning

Let me tell you about my afternoon. It was just awkward. I was sitting in a room, waiting for my Deaf client to arrive. I am the only non-Spanish speaker in the room. When I first came in, everyone had been pretty quiet, but after a few minutes, someone started telling a joke in Spanish…

At least, I think it was a joke. Judging by facial expressions, loud tones and wild gesturing (not to mention the riotous laughter that followed), I’d say it’s safe to say a joke was being told. For that moment, everyone in the room was united… except for me. I was left out because I didn’t understand the language. I knew a few words here and there, but not enough to make sense of it. I wanted to be involved – I wanted to know what caused everyone to smile, to laugh, to form community for the briefest moment… but I was excluded. I couldn’t understand, because of the form the message came in.


Flash back to a few weeks prior. I was sitting with another group of people. Another joke was being told, complete with the facial expressions, loud tones and wild gesturing, and I didn’t understand a word of it… until a friend interpreted the joke into a language I could understand. I was able to laugh along with them, to smile, to understand the message…


This afternoon when I was excluded, I didn’t think much about it. Maybe no one spoke English in the room; maybe no one could have interpreted for the girl who was CLEARLY confused and left out. But then I heard the woman who was sitting next to me start to speak in English. She had the ability to explain, and didn’t. I really didn’t mind in the slightest, but it did make me start to think: how often do I do that to people? I don’t mean jokes and conversation topics, but in terms of my faith. How often do I throw out phrases and words that are baffling to those outside of the faith, without explaining what I actually mean?


Let me give you an example. Suppose you had no church background and I told you I’d been “cleansed by the blood of the Lamb.” Be honest, you’d think I slaughtered a sheep in my backyard, and you’d probably think I was nuts. Or what if I said I was having my “quiet time” and struggling in “my walk.” Wouldn’t you think I’d taken a nap and was having mobility issues?


Within Christianity, we have a beautiful vocabulary. It’s rich, and weighty and deep… but when those who don’t know Christ hear those words, there must be confusion regarding what I’m talking about. I know there is, because I’ve asked some of my non-Christians friends, and they’ve all admitted to it.



“But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have…” 1 Peter 3:15


Certain words have rich meaning for me. Redeemed by the blood of the Lamb – Christ literally dying for me, taking the punishment for my sin and giving me forgiveness in exchange; the way that I’ve been declared right in God’s eyes – not because of me – but because of the obedience of Jesus. Quiet time – a period of time that I’ve set aside to use for praying, reading my Bible, journaling, and engaging God. My walk – my relationship with God. That’s not a perfect explanation, but that is how I described it last week to the fourteen year old I mentor. (Oh, and am I the only one who hates the term "quiet time"? It sounds like a punishment, or something...)


Think of it like this: as a sign language interpreter, my profession requires that I understand what’s being said in one language, so I can alter the form of the message unto the second language. The message (the point of whatever was said) doesn’t change; only the form is altered. The message the Deaf person signs should be exactly the same as the one the hearing person will receive in English.


When I talk about Christ, I strive to be able to take the message, and by CHANGING THE FORM, make myself clear. Jesus related to the people in his culture by telling stories and using every-day examples, like when he told them stories about a woman sweeping her house to find a lost coin, or a guy sowing seeds in his field.


I have to be able to give an answer to everyone who asks me about the hope I have because of Christ. EVERYONE. Those who have a church vocabulary and those who don’t. Those who already have heard about Jesus and those who haven’t. I have to be able to explain who Jesus is to me.


Can you change the form of your words and explain it to others? Are you able to explain Christ without falling back on unclear phrases and clich├ęs? I’m still figuring it out. All I know for sure is that I never want to talk about Christ and let the other person struggle because of the form of my message. I always want to be able to answer questions about the hope I have because of Jesus.


By the blood of the Lamb,*


Casey


*I gave an explanation, so I have no problem using it here! :-D

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

It was a beach day. The weather is ideal, the breeze is just right, the sand was warm and the waves were crashing in sync with my iPod’s current song…

It was that kind of day last week. When I found out work would be ending early, I packed my swimsuit, towel, sunscreen and sandals. The minute I was off, I drove straight to the beach. It was great. The sun was warm, but not so much that I was sweating… it felt good…

It didn’t feel good a few hours later when my back was bright red from the sun’s caress.

I’m fair skinned. When I go step foot in the sun, I use sunscreen, and reapply at the appropriate intervals. Judging by my resemblance to a lobster, I’d wager I didn’t reapply often enough that day.

At the time, it felt fine. On the drive home, it felt fine. But that night I was in HURTING!

I believe that sin is exactly the same.

Lately, God’s been pointing out areas in my life where sin that I deem “minor” are in discord with Him. It always seems like the tiny, insignificant things that trip me up the most: a lie to avoid hurt feelings, serving others for the wrong reasons, allowing disrespectful thoughts to take root in my heart. That is just what I’m struggling with right now. But each of those “small things” develop and increase and pile up, until I’m left wondering how everything snowballed so quickly.

I don’t believe sin just creeps up on people. I chose to put myself in the sun; I choose to allow myself into situations that I know tempt me towards sin. Each little thing seems pleasurable and harmless at the moment… but in the end, I’m burned.
“How can a young man keep his way pure? By living according to your word. I seek you with all my heart; do not let me stray from your commands. I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you.” - Psalm 119: 9 – 11

To avoid sunburns, I reapply sunscreen. To avoid sins that trip me when I’m chasing God, I’ve been told to hide His word in my heart. As a child of God, I'm told to do more than just read His word, I'm told to "hide it" in my heart!

That means, for me... I have to go deeper than just reading it. More thorough than just reading to check it off on my To Do list. More earnestly than just reading and having no application. I'm to study, to read, to apply, to be saturated in Him. I'm to be washed by His word (Ephesians 5:26). It's to invade every area of my life, every crevice of who I am. I long for it. Not just once, but every day, every single moment, I need it to be reapplied to my heart, my mind, and my soul.

The sunburn has faded away. Time heals it naturally. But it is ONLY with the forgiveness of Christ that the burn and penalty of sin is healed.

“For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” - Romans 6:23

My prayer is that you and I learn to apply and reapply the Word, so we avoid the burn of sin. May you become soaked and saturated with Him, as I learn to do the same.

By grace alone,
Casey

Saturday, February 12, 2011

My GPS and the Way of Holiness

“Thomas said to him, ‘Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?’

“Jesus answered, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.’” - John 14:5-6

Confession time: I’m incompetent with directions. I can’t read a map. I don’t understand how street signs work. I get lost in malls. I’ve misplaced my car twice this week. Therefore, I own a GPS. My GPS knows how to do directions, so I do what it tells me… usually.

A few weeks back, I had to go to the dentist. I scheduled it directly after my interpreting assignment - this job has been ongoing for several months. I figure I can get to the dentist from there without issue. It’s simple: one left turn so that I’m heading south, one major highway, three right turns and I’m at the dentist! No problem. I’ve used the GPS to get there before.

But that day, I didn’t realize there would be construction work on the first road I needed to take. The whole road was shut down. When I saw it, I did what I always do: pull out the GPS, set my destination and GO!

To my dismay, the GPS told me to go NORTH. Not “drive north until you’re at the first U-Turn,” but basically to drive north for miles and miles… Now, I don’t understand directions, but if I want to go south, driving north seems wrong.

So I ignored the GPS and headed south on an unfamiliar road, figuring I can find entrance to the major highway a little further down the road. Any road will eventually lead me to the place I need to go, right?

Fifteen minutes later, I had absolutely no idea where I was or how to get back to where I’d started. Lost was an understatement. By going in the direction that seemed right, I took myself completely off course.

When I finally gave up and checked my GPS, I’d hoped it would recalculate my path and send me south. It didn’t. Apparently, I was in an area where the ONLY way to get to the dentist was to turn around to my beginning location, and then drive NORTH. Eventually I turned around and began heading opposite of where I wanted to go, trusting my GPS at last.

It was the most uncomfortable feeling. Going north to arrive south didn’t seem right. It went against everything I understood of directions. The entire drive north, I thought that the GPS had to be wrong, because it felt wrong.

Finally, I arrived at the dentist’s office. As I waited for my name to be called, I felt God whispering to my heart: “There is a way that seems right to man, but in the end it leads to death.” (Proverbs 16:25)

The same way my destination was only secured by following the GPS, my only hope for salvation is submitting to God and following Him. Anything less will make me lost; anything less ultimately leads to death.

While submission to Christ leads to life, it doesn’t always feel like it. It can be painful, and heartbreaking, and unnatural – but Jesus says it is the only way.

God says that His road is narrow, and few find it. (Matthew 7:13-14) The road is narrow, and Christ is the Guide that leads us on it. His path and directions may make us uncomfortable, and instinctively feels wrong. It's unnatural, because by our very natures, we sin and go against Him. Loving enemies, embracing forgiveness instead of revenge, submission to Christ, choosing joy despite trials… in human perspective, those feel wrong and unnatural! But Jesus calls us to live that life, to walk that path, while He guides. He is the Way of Holiness, the only one who leads us off the path of destruction onto the road of Restoration.

"And a highway will be there; it will be called the Way of Holiness; it
will be for those who walk on that Way. The unclean will not journey on it;
wicked fools will not go about on it. No lion will be there, nor any ravenous beast; they will not be found there. But only the redeemed will walk there, and those the LORD has rescued will return. They will enter Zion with singing; everlasting joy will crown their heads. Gladness and joy will overtake them, and sorrow and sighing will flee away."
- Isaiah 35: 5 - 8


What road are you on?

Learning the Way,
Casey