Set it Into Motion

Take a few minutes to watch this video above before you read this blog.

Over the last seven years, I have been on a journey to love God with all of my mind.  I have grown up loving God with all of my heart, and soul.  Through music and art, through worship and prayer I have encountered the depths of God.  Now, here in my mid-life years, God has drawn my interest to reason, physics, philosophy, apologetics and the elements that prove God reasonable, plausable, imminent, and present.  I have homeschooled my kids for many years which has also contributed to my appetite for learning once again, and so it was as I stumbled upon a video about quantum physics that I began to awe and wonder at the presence of God in the very nature and movement of elements in the sub-atomic world.  (Don’t worry, I’m not too smart about that subject yet.)

I am not a scientist, and I have much to learn, but I am a communicator and I want to understand how to communicate what I have learned as it relates to my life and walk with God.  Many of you have read my musings in the “Deep Thoughts” category of my blogs.  So here I am again, contemplating what I have learned and discovering its application

I have often thought of life as a set of points on a line that travels into eternity.  The line would begin with my birth, and then as I grew, memorable events would be plotted on the line as a dot.  For instance, the first time I sang a solo as a four-year old girl in front of people was memorable.  Other major points would be when I got my driver’s license, my first date, my wedding, and the births of my four children.  The dots continue from there.

What I am learning though, as I study God’s word and explore fields of physics, is that every decision that I make is not just a dot on a line of eternity, but is a moment where something is set into motion.

Think about Adam and Eve for instance.  In the garden their lives were intertwined with the life of God.  They communed together and enjoyed one another’s company.  The day came when they made a decision to figure out life on their own.  They chose to master their own ideas of what good and evil were and they ate from a forbidden tree.  From that moment, sin was set into motion.  Now it wasn’t just Adam and Eve’s lives affected, but like the pendulum’s in the video above, their action caused action and relationship between the rest of mankind as well as nature itself.  The Bible states that “Sin entered the world through one man, Adam, (Romans 5:12) and was later conquered and paid for by one man, Jesus Christ who changed the pattern  through grace and mercy.

Trace the stories throughout the Bible and find moments of decision and you will find the consequences still playing out in our modern day history.  Some consequences have been blessings, like Rahab’s faith in God, that changed her from a prostitute into an ancestor of Jesus Himself.  Other decisions, like disobedience, caused the nation of Israel years of exile, attack, and punishment.  Every point of decision was setting something into motion.

I ask myself this:  “What am I setting into motion?”

Notice, in the above video, that there are times that the pendulum’s seem to swing independent of one another as if they have their own pattern and plan, only to then rejoin a choreographed “dance” so to speak with the others beside it.  Somehow, and again this is in the sub-atomic realm, every pendulum is in relation to one another and acts accordingly.  My life is no different.  My neighbors, my family, my circle of relationships are affected by my decisions and behavior.  Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying that I cause the behavior of others by my actions because we are all accountable before God for our own decisions, but I am saying that the way I act, react, and respond to the people around me either sets up a dance of blessing or cursing.  And if I persist in my behavior patterns, either positive or negative, the effects will still be felt long after I have passed away.

When my children or children’s children sit and talk about their mom, grandma, great-grandma, etc… they will have many stories to choose from.  Maybe because I will leave them in blogs, but more likely because they will be passed on from others who knew me “back in the day”.  My children will carry on my legacy.  They will pass on my strengths and my weaknesses.  My grandchildren will “dance” to whatever I put into motion in my lifetime.

I still have so much to learn.  My mind can’t take it in fast enough, but what my mind cannot comprehend, my heart seems to already know.  Every decision has a consequence.  Every action stirs a reaction.  Every life sets something into motion.  I have choices.  I want to set Grace and Truth into action in my life and in my lifetime.

Two Ships, Two Storms, Two Outcomes

There are several reasons why storms occur in our lives.  As I mentioned in the previous blog on storms, many of them come to try and test us and build us.  Sometimes we are in a storm as a direct consequence of our sin or bad decisions…which was the case with Jonah.  Other times our storms are the results of someone else’s sin or bad decisions–like being a child of divorce or abuse.  Then there are the storms that just come because it is storm season.  “Life”, we call it.

Ask people who live on the coasts of Florida what a storm season is and they will tell you harrowing tales of hurricanes and thunderstorms.  The same is true in the mid-western and southern states when Spring arrives bringing lightning, thunder and tornadoes.  Sometimes storms are just a season…they come and they go.

How we respond and react in the storm we are in has a great affect on the lives around us–maybe even greater than the affect it has on us.  Let us contrast two ships in two storms and how the reaction of the key passengers made the difference.

Our first ship is one sailing for Tarshish.  We read of this ship in Jonah chapter 1.  On board is Jonah, a prophet of God who was commissioned to go to Ninevah and preach repentance to the people there.  Jonah is not going to Ninevah.  It was a deliberate decision that Jonah made to get on a boat going a completely different direction.  In fact, the text tells us that Jonah let the crew of the ship know that he was running away from God by boarding.  Jonah’s bad decision is the catalyst for a storm that is not only going to beat at Jonah, but at everyone in his ship.

So many times when we are in a storm we behave as though we are the only one in the ship.  We want things our way, we want to withdraw and not be bothered by anyone.  We rely on our escapes to avoid the obvious disasters around us.  When this storm begins, we find Jonah in the lower deck of the ship fast asleep.  The crew of the ship is crying out to their gods, throwing cargo over to lighten the load, and fearing for their lives.  Jonah is not phased.  The passage tells us that the crew actually went down into the ship to wake Jonah begging him to pray to his God that the storm would pass.

I’ve been Jonah.  “If momma ain’t happy, ain’t no one happy.”  That motto has proven true in my house.  It’s my bad day and “I’ll handle it however I want to handle it.”  I have been prone to depression, I have wrestled suicide, I know how to withdraw and shut others out.  I know how to be a Jonah.  It is an attitude that chooses not to see that I am not the only passenger on the ship.  “My way, in my time, if I want to.”

Contrast this storm to the storm that Paul encounters in Acts 27.  Paul is a prisoner on a ship sailing for Rome.  Paul’s ship is caught up in a storm during “storm season”.  This isn’t a storm sent to punish prisoners or guards, but it is a powerful storm that threatens to take the ship under.  Here again we see the passengers on board frantic and fearful, throwing over cargo to lighten the load.  The difference on this ship is Paul.

Paul has every reason to be selfish.  First of all he is not a paying passenger on this ship, he is a prisoner, and secondly, he knew better than to sail at that time of year and when shared his advice with the crew it was not taken. Now the storm has come upon them and the boat is being beat apart.  Paul could choose his own life and plot an escape, but Paul chooses to pray for his ship and for every passenger on board.

Verses 22 -25 say: (Paul speaking to the crew on board) “But now I urge you to keep up your courage, because not one of you will be lost; only the ship will be destroyed.  Last night an angel of the God whose I am and whom I serve stood beside me and said, ‘Do not be afraid, Paul.  You must stand trial before Caesar; and God has graciously given you the lives of all who sail with you.‘  So keep up your courage, men for I have faith in God that it will happen just as he told me. ” (Emphasis mine)

What if when we were in a storm we recognized that there were others in our boat– our families, our children, our co-workers, our friends? What if we realized that our reactions and actions would make all the difference for our passengers on board?  What if we prayed?  What if we came to the Lord with our pain and disappointment instead of retreating to our alcohol, overspending, denial, avoidance, drugs, anger, apathy or blame?  Could we stand before our shipmates and say “take courage men because I have faith in God and He has promised that ‘He who began a good work in you will be faithful to complete it.’  (Philippians 1:6) or ‘for we know that all things work together for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purpose’ (Romans 8:28) and I believe it will happen just as He said.”

I am challenged in my life to be a Paul instead of a Jonah.  I am challenged to see that life is not “all about me”, but that my life is a lot about others around me.  Whether or not the storm is my doing, the outcome can be changed when I call on God, repent if the storm is a consequence of my sin (and if it is sin God points it out–  He doesn’t keep me wondering), and praying for the passengers on my “ship”.  God can speak peace to the sailors when there is no peace in the sea.  God will prove Himself faithful.

If you know of His faithfulness, declare it now in your storm.  Tell the world what He has done in you and that He will do everything He has promised!

Just Show Up

Since I was thirteen, I have had a passion for missions.  I have fallen in love with other countries and have desired to visit as many as I can, and I have encouraged as many as I can to do the same through missions trips either short or long-term.  I have visited just a few in my lifetime so far, but in each place this is what I have learned:  “Hope is born when someone leaves their comfort zone in order to show up in the life of another.”

While you think you are going to change and influence another people through missions or service, it is much more likely, that that people group will change and influence you.  You may enter someone else’s world full of experience, or empty handed, or full of ideas, but no matter how you come you leave changed by what you have seen and experienced.

There is this other element of missions that is most noticable in third-world countries, but is universally true, and that is the element of hope that rises in the lives of the people you meet just because you have come.  There is something disarming and then empowering by the presence of someone who has come to help.  Even missionaries who have been on the field for a long time find the presence of another one from their culture to be refreshing and a renewing of their hope.

It was the group “Casting Crowns” that asked the question, “If we are the Body, why aren’t His arms reaching?  Why aren’t His hands healing?  Why aren’t His words speaking?”*  I think that is a legitimate question to ask, but not just of overseas missions.  Look at our local communities.  They are full of people, children, families that are in need of hope and many will not find it because hope, through the Body of Christ just didn’t show up.

It’s not that we meant to neglect them, necessarily, we just didn’t see how our time or efforts would really make a difference.  “Aren’t there others who are qualified to deal with these kinds of people?” we ask ourselves.  We have excuse after excuse why we don’t “show up”.  We even know of needs next door but have a list of excuses why we just don’t think we are necessary.

Now look at what happens when we choose to “show up”.  People know that we care.  They know that we are serious about doing whatever we can to help.  We open the door for more opportunities to express the love and power of God through our lives, because honestly, what we have just isn’t enough, but what God has to give through us is never-ending.  Yes, we cry more.  We labor longer. We give from our resources.  We embrace grief and pain, and in the process we become more like our Savior and experience the joy He gives.  We bring hope.

“Showing up” could mean writing that card you’ve been intending to send, or stopping by to say hello and check in on the family.  It could mean inviting someone to dinner or paying their electric bill for the month.  It could be teaching classes at your local church or volunteering in your communities, or schools.  Maybe you need to raise the funds for that missions trip you’ve been avoiding, but that God keeps impressing on your heart.  Whatever it is, it is hope, and hope is carried on the shoulders of those who choose to leave their comfort and show up in the life of another.  If you aren’t that hope, who else will be?

* Casting Crowns “If We Are the Body” From the album:  Casting Crowns. http://www.castingcrowns.com

The Paralysis of the Hypocrite

The Bible says that “it is God’s kindness that leads us to repentance” (Romans 2:4), and gratefully God used a kind friend to speak truth to my heart this past weekend  and turned my attention in the right direction.  I repented, and changed the direction of my heart and attitude.  Let me explain…

I directed a choir one year at a local Bible College in town and we toured from church to church singing, sharing, and leading others in worship.  It never failed that a student would approach me and say that they “just couldn’t get up and sing because they just weren’t ‘feeling it’, and to sing would make them a hypocrite.”  The problem was that singing in the choir was also a major part of the grade the students received and so I did not offer them an “out” when they weren’t “feeling it.”  What was needed was a change of perspective.  There are things you do because you love to do it, then there are things you do that are right and good and you do them with or without positive feelings.  Parenting is an example.  As much as I would like to say “I don’t feel like being a mom today”, the fact remains that it is my responsibility and there isn’t anyone else given my job.  I get up, feed and clothe my children and tend to their needs.  Sometimes our eyes have to be shifted from our feelings to our responsibilities.

When our feelings do not match our actions, we often call that being a hypocrite, and no one wants to be a hypocrite.  In fact, that is a reason many people claim they will not become a Christian, because they are afraid of being a hypocrite.   They have to be “all in” with their emotions at all times or not at all; but being a hypocrite has little to do with our emotions matching our actions.  Take for instance the parable Jesus spoke about the obedient sons in

Matthew 21:28-32

New International Version (NIV)

 The Parable of the Two Sons

28 “What do you think? There was a man who had two sons. He went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work today in the vineyard.’   29 “‘I will not,’ he answered, but later he changed his mind and went.

   30 “Then the father went to the other son and said the same thing. He answered, ‘I will, sir,’ but he did not go.

   31 “Which of the two did what his father wanted?”

   “The first,” they answered.

   Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you. 32 For John came to you to show you the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes did. And even after you saw this, you did not repent and believe him.

Jesus uses this parable to teach that those who who are really His do what He asks.  It is the hypocrite that says they will do something, but really has no intentions to follow through.

Who was commended for obeying?  The one who actually completed the assignment God gave them to do.

So when I do what is right, in line with my beliefs in spite of my feelings I am not a hypocrite.  When I choose to fulfill my responsibilities even if my heart isn’t fully in it, I am not being a hypocrite. I might be a grouch, but not a hypocrite.
The fear of being a hypocrite becomes a paralyzing force.  When we operate in that fear or attitude, we cut off what God wants to accomplish in and through us.  That is what God brought to my attention this past weekend.  I was allowing a fear of hypocrisy to keep me from finishing a task God gave me to do.
Many of you know that I recorded an album this spring that I have planned to release, and although there are budgeting issues that have slowed the process down for me, at the heart of my delay has been the paralyzing force of hypocrisy.  I want to release this album with all of these songs that God has given me about his grace and comfort in the storms and I want to sing them as one who has come through the trials and is rejoicing on the other side, but instead, I find myself in the thick of another storm with the fog and confusion and pain being very real.  Do I release this album and sing the songs even if I at this time do not know the outcome of my storms?  The answer, through the voice of the Holy Spirit to me this weekend was “yes.” Just because I cannot determine the outcomes of my storms, I can, very confidently sing of the faithfulness and grace of God because that is unchanging and constant no matter what storm I am in.  Does that make me a hypocrite?  No, it makes God glorified.
So, as a result of God’s conversation with me this past weekend, I am determined to finish what I have started because of who He is and what He has done for me.  My confidence is no longer hinging on me or my emotions.  My confidence is in Him.
So let me be an encouragement to you today.  If God has given you an assignment, or gift to use for His glory, do not let your life be paralyzed by the fear of hypocrisy.  That perspective will keep you in a constant state of inactivity and will keep your eyes on yourself and not on your God.  Step beyond your emotions and attitudes into obedience to the Lord and keep walking.
As my friend Frank Gardner signs off his letters, I sign off this blog:
Together in the yoke,
Cate Morris

The Morality of God

Using the finite capabilities of my mom mind, I endeavor to find word pictures and illustrations to help me to explain truths that I learn about God and His character.  Many illustrations I find are written in the examples of my children and my relationship with them, so if you would excuse the simplicity of these illustrations I want to tackle a weighty subject.

I have heard it said of God that He is an “immoral” character.  By this the person means that God sets up rules for us to follow that He Himself does not abide by.  Rules such as “Thou Shalt Not Kill, God spoke to the Children of Israel through Moses and subsequently to us who follow His teaching,  yet appears to be disregarded by God Himself when you see atrocities in life and horrendous accidents that wipe away the lives of innocent people that only He could prevent.  People read portions of the Old Testament and are horrified at the way God wiped out nations and kingdoms.

A question that has to be asked when attempting this subject is this:  “Is the Moral Law something that exists outside of God, like a force surrounding all that exists, or is the Moral Law within God?”  “Is morality a code, or pattern of laws, or is morality a ‘person’?”  If morality is a set of laws, or a code of living, then who or what governs it?  And if it is a force above and beyond God, who gives it authority and ensures its existence?  Ponder this a moment.

If however, morality is a person or an entity, then it would reason that this entity is the beginning and end of morals and ethics.  This Moral Code would be self-governed because it self-exists.  It would be understood and explained in the character of the Entity whom possesses it.

The conclusion?  Morality is God.  It is who He is, not something He “does”.  It exists because God exists and it is never contrary to who He is.  God cannot deny Himself and God does not lie.  There is no shadow in God, no gray areas or shady dealings.  He is perfect, righteous, just, merciful, faithful, and compassionate. He is the beginning and end of the Moral Code/Law.

I have a rule in my house, like many of you, that none of my children (under the licensing age) are allowed to drive our car.  I have stated the rule, and am prepared to enforce that law.  No matter how much my kids may beg to drive it, or try to prove to me they are knowledgeable enough, capable enough, or tall enough to reach the pedals and simultaneously see over the steering wheel, I will not relent.  Their knowledge and experience is not adequate to drive a ¾ ton vehicle through town.  The part that is most frustrating to my children is that I, on the other hand, do drive the car.  I drive it whenever I want to.  They don’t fully understand my reasons, or my skill sets, but that does not impede or deter me from carrying out my plans to drive the car and accomplish my ends.  I am qualified.  I have the power to operate the vehicle and the ability to pay for any damages.

When I come to God, I have to come with the understanding that He is self-existing, all-wise, all- powerful, and has the ability to create and give life.  I am not, and cannot. God alone has the ability to see the end from the beginning.  He is able to remove a person from this life and place them in His plan in the life I cannot see.  He is able to bring life back from the grave and resurrect not just souls, but bodies from the ground and recreate them.  I cannot.

God has the ability to show mercy and compassion while still upholding justice.  He judgment is not clouded by sin or weakness.  He knows what He is doing, and He has the power to bring beauty out of ashes and order out of chaos.

I don’t know how He does it.  My deficient understanding is reason enough for me to realize that I cannot judge God as “immoral” since I would then have to embody the moral code within me and know its breadth and depth.  I would have to have eyes that see beyond God and know His plan and his courses of action.  Nope, I only fully know the code of sin.  I know how to mess up and mess up good.  I don’t understand all that God does.  I don’t know why innocent people die and evil people seem to live on.  I can’t wrap my head around tragedy and loss.

So what do I do?  I have to trust.  I have to trust that the God who brought this world into existence out of nothing and breathed life into dust to make man, knows exactly what He is doing and it does not violate His character which is completely moral.  He has the power to give life; I do not.  He has the power to take life; I do not.  He knows how to make something beautiful out of ashes.  Again, I do not.  He never wastes life, time, or purpose.  I do.  He never leaves things incomplete.  I do.  He never gives up on the people He made.  I do. For this reason and many many more I’m grateful God does not allow me to “drive the car”.

The Lens that Sees Beauty

I believe that beauty is an attribute, essence and reality that exists in everything God has created.  Beauty is because God is.  Some would say that “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder”, but I disagree to that extent that not everyone “sees” beauty, and yet beauty still exists.  What seems to mark the difference between those who see and those who do not is the lens that they choose to look through.

What is difficult to understand as a human is that beauty is not bestowed upon us by the beholder; on the contrary, beauty is inherent in our makeup and bestowed upon us from our Creator, and those who see with His eyes, through His lens validate and celebrated what is already there.

There are those who recognize beauty when they see it but do not know what it is for, so they make that beauty their slave and they imprison what they were attracted to, taking from it instead of protecting, and nurturing it.

If we want to see beauty for what it is and nurture it the way God nurtures us, we must change our lens by putting on His Truth.  Our affirmation has to come from what He says about us and what He says about others.  We must choose to believe it no matter what other voices say, because if we do not, we will forever wear the broken lens of sin and respond to others accordingly.

There is beauty in the Down Syndrome child.  There is beauty  in the mangled, distorted face of the missionary with skin cancer, in the woman who has lost both of her breasts to a mastectomy.  There can be beauty in a funeral when a life is celebrated and beauty in a wedding. There is beauty in a sunset, and beauty in refrigerator art.  There can be beauty in pain if we would dare see with God’s eyes and through His lens.

I think that when we get to heaven, the beauty we behold will be overwhelming because for the first time we will be seeing things from God’s perspective.  There may be a moment or two that we realize we missed a lot of beauty in our lifetime because we chose to look through the wrong lens.

Matthew 10:29-31

29 Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care. 30 And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. 31 So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.

Ecclesiastes 3:11

11 He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.

Genesis 1:31

31 God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. And there was evening, and there was morning—the sixth day.

He Can Be Known

It started with the accordion.  I began music lessons in 2nd grade learning to play that portable squeeze box from a man who could polka with the best of ’em.  I began to learn notes and how music comes together.  I later took piano lessons and found I really loved the instrument, but I really hated practicing.  I had this ability to “hear” the music and play it back (with a little practice), and this became a vital asset to me.  The problem I have now discovered is that I learned music and piano without really learning how to count the rhythm.  I would hear it and play it back without really knowing if I had played a quarter note or a dotted eighth.  So far, so good in my musical life.  I have coasted on one ability without developing the other, but something has changed in my mind about my ability to coast.

It hit home with me a few weeks ago when I went to California to record my album.  I had written my songs–music and melody, and hired a friend to make sense of it all by arranging it.  Manuel, my friend and producer would then take my melodies and create musical lines using different instruments in order to create the arrangement.  He knew how long each instrument should hold each note.  He knew which instruments should play when and where in the song.  As I sat there musing, “This is why I hire professionals”, I realized that this knowledge was available to me too if I wanted to learn it.

I have always thought of musical notes as pieces of furniture that have to fit in a room.  Just give me the room size and I will cram whatever furniture I can into it and try to make it look nice.  I’m not the kind of person who usually measures first.  I’m usually the personality that cuts things out to make them fit.  An epiphany hit me the other day when I was talking with my daughter’s piano teacher.  I confessed my inability to count rhythms in music, much to her surprise.  That’s when she said something that really impacted me.  She said, “Once you know the notes and their rhythms, you will read them and know exactly what they are supposed to do.  Instead of you trying to guess and fit them into a measure, they will tell you their measurement.”  LIGHT BULB!!!

Much like my relationship with notes and measures, I find many people view God in the same way.  They have heard a lot of stuff about Him.  They have enough knowledge to make them sound like they know Him, but their relationship with Him is really just a combination of rumors of Him combined with their own or other’s experiences.  God is just a big room and they cram their furniture of knowledge about Him into it.  The thought that they can know Him is a foreign thought.  If our experiences and ideas about our God are what shape our image of Him, then we are actually the ones trying to define His character and intentions.

What is needed is the discipline of learning.  You and I must read His Words that declare who He is.  We must study His notes so that when we see them at work they define themselves and we are not left to create our own God.  The fantastic news is that He gave us the ability and opportunity to do this.  By reading His Word.  The Bible tells us who God is and how He has revealed Himself.  There is enough information in those 66 books to define the character and nature of God and His relationship with us so that we don’t have to make up our own versions.

So, guess what?  I signed up for music lessons.  I am learning to count rhythms, and honestly it makes me feel a little dumb and insecure. It isn’t easy for me, at least not yet, but I am encouraged by the fact that I can learn it and internalize it to the point that it will begin to tell me what it is.  I am looking forward to knowing what fits in a measure of music and what doesn’t.  I won’t have to saw off the legs to a piece of furniture to make it fit!

I want to do this in my walk with God as well.  To be immersed enough in His Word that it tells me who He is, to not coast on what I know from others or even my own experiences, to live by His definitions–that is my goal.  The good news is:  He can be known!