“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

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,*


*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,