The Tablet of my Heart

You should all know by now that words are the way to my heart.  I write them, I read them, I hear them; they spark my creativity and open my mind and heart to the world around me.  So it might come as some surprise to you when I admit one of my greatest weaknesses; I struggle with internalizing the words that I come in contact with most often.  What I am trying to say is that the very Words I should be holding near and dear to my heart are often locked up within the pages of the Bible. 

When I was young, I attended a Christian school, and each week we were required to memorize a portion of Scripture; sometimes it would only be a few verses, while other times it would be a whole chapter.  I found myself memorizing the verses on Thursday evening, reciting them for the teacher Friday morning, and then when the weekend came around, the Scripture slowly faded from my short-term memory bank.  I found I really wasn’t internalizing what I quickly memorized just to maintain a good grade. 

Now that I have completed my degree and moved forward into formal ministry, I find the same is true.  I read selected passages of Scripture during my morning quite times, but otherwise, I don’t often seek the Scriptures unless I have a specific reason in mind.  This reality has been gnawing at me quite a bit lately when I consider my lack of time spent in the Word.  I often wonder if I should seek more, know more, memorize more— if only to be a better Minister of Music and Worship.  I never seem to measure up in this category. 

What shames me is that I can quickly recall the poetic lines of a hymn or worship song, and when it comes to The Sound of Music, I can practically recite the script line-by-line.  I can even launch into the silly “Fifty Nifty United States” song from fourth grade music class and effortlessly chant out the names of the fifty states of theUnion in alphabetical order.  But ask me to recall the very Words of Life from Scripture and I fumble.  Sometimes, I can conjure up a quick reference; “Oh, that’s John 3:16,” I might say or “there’s a verse in Romans that talks about not being conformed to the pattern of this world.”  But it all sounds hollow to me. 

I have been motivated to dig deeper in the Word lately as I have been challenged by those I encounter on a daily basis.  Before a service recently, one of the band members was searching through her Bible in order to find a verse to go along with the songs we were going to play that morning.  “I think it might be in Matthew,” I told her when she asked if I knew the verse she was talking about.  She then mumbled something about asking the pastor where to find it, and the pastor overheard her.  “Cassie should be able to help you with that,” he said.  “But I think you’re talking about Matthew chapter 2.”  Now, before you start to think that the pastor’s words were a negative reflection on my lack of Biblical knowledge, I think he was merely encouraging me, making sure I knew that I was on the right track.  But I took his comment as a challenge.    

It motivated me to study more, read with greater intention, and actually internalize what God is saying to me in the pages of His Word.  Now, I know I’ll never be the perfect or ideal worship leader, and I will never have all of the answers, but there’s nothing wrong with seeking to grow and internalize His Word.  Whether it be directly memorizing a passage and being able to recite it or simply being more attentive to where the passages line up in the course of the Bible as a whole, I want to seek to make a greater heart commitment.  In the end, it will benefit me personally and those I minister alongside every day. 

Leaving Eden

Last week, I talked about the unmistakable hold of Satan’s power over our lives and the incredible deliverance that comes from salvation in Christ.  Innocence was lost that day in the Garden of Eden when sin entered the world, and we can’t change that reality.  Only God can take our lives and mold us into the people he wants us to be despite the negativity that has entered the world.

The list is endless: headlines that scream of injustice and scandal, TV and news stories that focus on the evil and disparity present in society, health concerns, destruction of property from natural disasters, memory loss, hiding faith to maintain job and position, robberies, and I could go on and on.  The truth is, we live in a fast-paced, egocentric culture where innocence is taken in seemingly the blink of an eye. 

I was reminded of this when I attended a concert by singer/songwriter, Brandon Heath last fall. Brandon’s most recent album opens with the track “Leaving Eden,” in which he contemplates the very things I mentioned above.  Near the end of the song the lyrics proclaim: “It’s like I’m further away with every step that I take, and I can’t go back.”  It is clear he is lamenting the loss of innocence and simplicity in the world today and longing for a time when everything was as it should be. 

During his concert tour,Brandon posed this question from the stage: What is your Eden?  He gave the audience a moment to reflect on the question and then proceeded to share his response.  He told of summer afternoons at his grandparents’ home when life was simple and lacked the drama that surrounded his family.  At that time, his parents were in the process of getting a divorce, but in his grandparents’ backyard, Brandon was protected from everything that was at stake.

When I considered my Eden, I knew it had to be my childhood bedroom in the house my parents built in the country.  I wrote my first song in that bedroom and hosted my very first slumber party.  When my best friend from California came back to Wisconsin for a visit, I remember talking late into the night about everything and nothing all at the same time.  And then there was the rare occasion when friends came to visit and we would sneak a few freshly baked cookies up to my room to enjoy whenever Mom made her yummy Monster Cookies.  My childhood best friend, Kirsten, loved those cookies— probably more than I did— and the sweet treat is also a sweet memory of innocent days gone by.

Just last week, I hosted a Tupperware party at my home, and a friend brought a batch of Monster Cookies to share with everyone.  But these weren’t just ordinary Monster Cookies; they were made so I would be able to eat them.  You see, just shy of two years ago, I was diagnosed with an egg white allergy, so cookies, cakes, muffins, etc. are not something I can often enjoy unless prepared with alternatives.  I had not tasted a Monster Cookie for years— probably not since graduating high school and certainly not since being diagnosed with the egg allergy.  Let me tell you, that first taste of the cookie was enough to bring on a sudden swell of memories.  Just one taste, and I was back in my Eden; I was home. 

“I’m going home… there’s no place like home when you’re leaving Eden,” Brandon’s lyric continues, and it’s so true.  But if I can dissect the lyric a little bit, I think he is talking about an eternal home here.  As we go about our daily lives, we are continually surrounded by negativity and even spiritual warfare.  Innocence is lost, but our promise of eternity is not tarnished.  There may not be such a thing as Eden here on Earth, but Heaven is our eternal home and there is nothing that could ever mar the perfection of the Eden that is surely like no other. 

So keep your eyes on the Eternal Eden, friends, for in this world, there is no greater promise! 


The Battle

There was only an hour remaining before my biggest concert of the year and I was beyond nervous.  My friend Lisa and I were sitting in my living room, and I was just trying to stay calm when I realized that something was missing from my time of preparation; the reason I felt out of sorts was due to the fact that I hadn’t spent enough time with God that day.  I had run from one stressor to the next without pausing to focus on the One who had given me my gift to sing in the first place. 

So I turned to my computer, desperate to find a quick devotional online— something to anchor me before the craziness of sound check and the performance came upon me.  I accessed Google, and I quickly found a website that looked like it had just the kind of devotional I was looking for.   I clicked on the link, and almost instantly, several windows opened on my screen.  I now know that this was a form of a virus hijacking— a program that suddenly opens onscreen, mimicking a virus protection program.  I knew right away that it was a virus, and I panicked.  I tried to close the many windows that opened, but they were locked in place.  I yelled at the computer and fought back tears, somehow knowing that this virus was a bad one and that my computer might very well be affected beyond repair. 

You might be sitting there reading this thinking, “What in the world is the big deal?  It was just a computer; what about your concert?  Isn’t that more important?”  Well, you’re right; I overreacted.  But the fact is, I was distracted from the all-important evening ahead, and suddenly, all I wanted to do was make sure my computer survived the attack of the virus.  I did everything on that computer including my writing and music.  I was afraid I would lose everything. 

I was glad Lisa was there at that time.  She pulled me aside and managed to calm me down.  We prayed together then, and even though I was upset, I set aside the issue and resolved to focus on the task at hand: my concert.  The evening went extremely well, and in the end, God took control of the situation and came out the victor.  I was able to scan my computer with a new virus protection program and all traces of the virus were soon eliminated. 

Since that day, I have come to realize that two things could be true of what took place; either it was a matter of coincidence that the virus showed up moments before my concert, or Satan somehow played a role in pulling me away from my service to the Lord.  Either way, I felt like I was fighting a battle.  I knew that God was on my side, but in the moment, I was weak and vulnerable to the attack. 

Since sin entered the world in the Garden of Eden, every one of us has come under attack at one point or another.  Sometimes, we witness the daily stressors that come and go from our lives; for me lately, it has been the computer crashing, guitar strings breaking, a car breaking down at the most inconvenient of times, and the reality of flawed relationships.  Perhaps all of these factors are just coincidences in the scheme of things, but I do believe that there is indeed a battle between good and evil in this world.  Perhaps God intervenes and protects us from greater evil, but sometimes we have no choice but to endure what the devil throws our way.  In the end, our faith is tested and we emerge from the conflict stronger and rooted more firmly in Christ. 

Ephesians 6:11-13 states: “Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.”  The battle is real and as long as we live on this earth, we will not be able to escape it. 

A song by Chris August comes to mind when he says, “The world will try to battle for my heart but the war is already won.”  And it’s so true!  Christ delivered us from the power of the devil when He came to die for our sins and take the shame upon Himself.  Jesus Himself was familiar with the human struggle here on earth and the trials that would be sure to enter our lives.  John 16:33 reminds us that in this world we will have trouble, but we must take heart because He has overcome the world.  He has delivered us, and we need to claim that victory.

So although the struggle is very real and the task to fend off evil can often be exhausting, we have a greater reward and a promise to cling to that can never be shaken.  So when you’re discouraged, under attack, and feeling like the world is against you, take heart, because Christ has overcome for you and for me.  Hang in there, for victory has come! 


The Mirror

We have now moved past the first week of the New Year and 2012 is off to a running start.  Many people are making resolutions and trying to stay on track.  A news story caught my attention recently when it stated that only 44% of people who make New Year’s resolutions will actually keep them and end up making a change.  With such a discouraging statistic, it’s pretty safe to say that New Year’s resolutions don’t really work. 

But what about having the desire to make a change spiritually?  What would it take to be successful in such an endeavor?  Well, I’m about to find out. 

In my last post, I talked about striving to mirror my relationship with God in all that I do.  So what does this commitment look like in action if I were to put it in place for 2012?  While others are looking into the mirror in order to measure weight lost and gained and physical appearance, perhaps I could look into the mirror and be reminded that I am called to reflect Christ.  Instead of focusing on my outward appearance and seeking to look presentable on the outside, I could look deeper and check the condition of my heart. 

Just last week, I found myself needing to check my attitude and consider if I was truly reflecting Christ in my words and actions.  I was frustrated and feeling as if I was being used as a benefit to someone else.  Nothing that I seemed to do merited any sense of gratitude from this person, and personal resources were implemented as a means to make things easier for this individual.  But did any of this benefit me?  No.  It only made me angry, and I quickly regretted opening myself up to being trampled upon, in a sense. 

Finally, I snapped.  I went online and vented to a friend via Facebook chat.  But instead of feeling better about releasing pent-up frustration, I came away from our conversation feeling worse.  What had I gained from sharing my burden with my friend?  Nothing.  I should have been wiling to serve another with a cheerful heart, but instead, I was succumbing to an attitude that was far from Christ-like. 

I have heard it said that there are certain people in our lives that can be referred to as “Extra Grace Required.”  I would definitely say that I was dealing with one of those people, and in that moment, my goal to serve in 2011 and my projected goal of being a mirror in 2012 suddenly collided.  How could I serve someone who required extra grace on my part and still reflect Christ’s love?

So I drew in a deep breath, took a step back, and closed my mouth.  I wanted to complain about the injustice of the situation and demand I be repaid, but instead, I did my best to quietly serve this person even though my heart wasn’t exactly in it.  It wasn’t easy and I’m still frustrated over what happened, but when I think about where my words of negativity could have taken me, I grimace.  My attitude and thoughts were far from mirroring Christ. 

Needless to say, I learned my lesson, and I am in need of a constant reminder of what it means to reflect Christ in my life.  So as a reminder, I now have a small hand mirror on my desk, and in glancing into its reflection, I am instantly reminded to check my attitude before reaching out to serve. 

I am still learning what it means to reflect Christ while serving, and I’m sure you will read more about this in the weeks to come.  But for now, I pray that my ramblings have caused you to check your own heart condition.    


Recently, I finished reading a book by one of my favorite novelists, Karen Kingsbury.  Within the course of the book, one of the main characters was having coffee with one of her friends, and their conversation moved to talking about living in today’s world amidst a worldly mindset in today’s society.  The characters talked about the negativity that surrounded them and how they could stand out amongst those who continually gave in to the world’s self-focused culture.

The main character shared a story about some curtains her mother had hung over a window in their home when she was a child.  The curtains had a hideous pattern woven into the fabric, but when one stood back and looked at them with a casual glance, it seemed that the pattern disappeared. 

As I absorbed the illustration conveyed through the story, I found I could relate.  Due to the fact that I have a visual impairment, I cannot see things clearly until I come close enough to make sense of what it is I am seeing.  For example, when I am approaching a red-and-white-checkered tablecloth, the fabric appears pink at a distance.  But when I stand close enough to see the tablecloth clearly, I see the pattern on the cloth.

In many ways, the conversation between the characters in the novel and my own blurred view of a patterned cloth at a distance made a great deal of sense to me.  I could understand what the character meant when she paired their discussion about the world’s standards with the analogy of a patterned set of curtains.  When we begin to stare at a patterned cloth for a prolonged period of time, we no longer recognize the intricate lines and shapes; everything blurs together and the image becomes “typical” to the viewer.

The same is true for us as Christians as we go about our daily lives here on earth.  We are surrounded by temptations and negative influences, all while we strive to shine for Jesus in this self-focused, all-about-me culture.  Sometimes, we become so immersed in what we see every day that we forget that we should be set apart, or as Romans 12 phrases it, not being conformed to the patterns of this world.  Did you catch what I just said about “patterns”?  Yes, we are continually exposed to patterns of this world, but since we live here among the world, it is often difficult to take a step backward and take a stand for Christ.  But unless we make an effort to stand out from the crowd, the patterns of this world will begin to blend together until everything becomes so commonplace to us that we begin to view things as normal or acceptable. 

Just a few weeks ago, I encountered such a situation in my own circle of friends.  I had been invited out for an evening of live music at a local establishment, which just happened to be a bar and grill.  Now, I am not opposed to having dinner at a bar and grill, but I draw the line when it comes to sitting in the bar itself and drinking while partaking in the atmosphere. 

But several days after the invite, I found myself actually considering attending this event.  I knew I would be among friends who would understand the fact that I don’t drink and that I would be uncomfortable in that setting.  I also knew where I stood on the matter and that I wouldn’t be doing anything wrong by attending the gathering of friends.  But deep down, I didn’t feel right about the matter, so I began to pray that God would intervene in the situation and make the answer to my dilemma clear and without doubt. 

A few days later, I found myself at Bible Study and leading a lesson about— you guessed it— not being conformed to the pattern of this world.  Out of the blue, one of the ladies commented, “So what would you do if your friends were encouraging you to… maybe go out to a bar or something?  Would that be okay?  I mean if you’re not drinking and just setting a good example…”

The odd thing about this comment was that this woman was not currently battling with this issue.  She had merely felt led to express it, somehow knowing that someone in the group needed to discuss the topic.  She told me this later that evening, and I could not contain the peace that came over me when I realized the intervention of the Holy Spirit.  But in that moment at the Bible Study, the room got quiet and I finally spoke up, saying that I was dealing with that very dilemma.  And then with obvious love and brutal honestly, my Bible Study ladies made two things clear:

“Cassie, would you really feel comfortable in that environment?” they asked.  And “If Jesus came back at that time, would you want Him to find you there?”

The answer to both of those questions was a resounding “no” from me.

“Well then, it looks like you’ve made up your mind,” one of the women responded.  “Remember, do not be conformed to the patterns of this world…”

Now before you start to think that I am flat-out against drinking or being social in an environment such as a bar and grill, I would like to say that I am not telling you this story to belittle you, the reader, for making such a choice.  Everyone has a different level of comfort and maybe even a ministry to the people that may gather in such environments.  But for me, I am glad I did not give in to the pressures of my friends.  I still consider these friends of mine to be wonderful people, and I pray that they have come to respect my decision.  But in that moment, I simply had to take a step back and analyze the situation.  How could I best mirror the patterns of Christ instead of the patterns of this world?  With peace in my heart, I am certain that I made the right choice that day.

As I close out 2011 and look into 2012, I strive to continue to serve (as was my goal in this past year).  But now I also make the commitment to conform to a life that would honor Christ in every aspect.  In 2012, I seek to mirror Him in all I do.