Sunday, October 3, 2010

Ugh! Duh! Aah!

Ugh! Or, how I became my own object lesson. I begin this entry with a recent post from Facebook:

Ugh! Wednesday - is that all? 3rd load aft vacation and it feels like the 50th. My sign that this account has served its purpose? Pray for me ... and thanks.

I had just come back from a wonderful week in Georgia ( some photos on Facebook), visiting family and some friends. I woke up and the day just started off with some small frustrations, even before I began driving. I thought, “I just got back from vacation, and I already feel like I need another one after two days at work!”

Have you ever felt like that?

I thought maybe so.

This Facebook outburst was the cumulative result of several months of frustration, discouragement, and just feeling disconnected from so many things I felt like God was reconnecting me to over the past year or so.

I had moved to Topeka to take this job, which I thought would propel me toward paying off my debt so that I could (1) move back to Dallas; (2) get off the road; and (3) follow my heart's desire to work in ministry again. I hoped that my year's commitment here in Topeka would bring me to that point.

However, things haven't sped up quite as fast on my financial situation as I'd hoped (warning: gross understatement in last sentence).

I began to be discouraged and frustrated because things weren't happening the way I wanted or as fast I wanted them to. I began to feel disconnected, all alone in this place I like well enough, but have virtually no connections in.

I began to focus on my circumstances, alone-ness, and frustrations with work, which was beginning to feel more like a job than something I've always loved doing. My thoughts turned away from focusing on positive things and turned inward.

That was the general context for the Facebook entry I quoted above. You get the picture.

Duh! Or, it's all about the heart. A few hours after that first Facebook post, I posted this:

After my earlier post today I spent abt 150 miles gnawing on the bone of discontent before realizing (Duh!) that perhaps it would help to refocus my energies on my blessings. (Ya think?) So to that end, I'm thankful for: God's love and mercy in my life even when I'm stubbornly hard-headed; family & friends; I have a job; my ministry w/Jon. Hmm... I feel better already. What are you thankful for?

I have written before in this blog about the primacy of the heart as it affects and determines everything else about our lives, especially here.

I was focusing on my circumstances, living in my emotions, and when that happens, it influences your thoughts, your beliefs, and, ultimately, your choices. I began to get sucked into the illusion that my problems were all out there somewhere – if only my circumstances would change, if only those idiots would change what they are doing (aside: have you ever done that in a relationship? Thought that if only that other person would change it would make things better, and you'd be okay?), if this, if that.

Allowing those things to be the focus of my attention closed my heart from the influence of God, his love, and his purpose to bring me into wholeness, health, singleness of heart. He was there, he was speaking, reaching out to me in love and compassion, but I had closed my heart to him and his influence in my life in these things.

Okay, so I'm driving down the road toward Denver through western Kansas and then eastern Colorado, “gnawing on the bone of discontent” as I said in my Facebook post. At some point, I just had this thought: “It's not really about all this stuff you're focusing on, you know. It's not about stuff out there somewhere. It's all about your heart. The problem, if there is one, is in your heart, not in all these things you are so frustrated about.”

Hmm. I turned that thought over for a few minutes. Finally, I thought, y ou know, that's right.

Well,DUH!” Smack on the forehead time. I've discovered fire, reinvented the wheel. Some kind of Einstein. I've only been exposed to this truth about the heart in different ways for the past 15 years or so. I've only been around this mountain about a million times before.

Does that ever happen to you? Do you go through different versions of the same struggle, have to learn and re-learn (seemingly) the same lessons?

Okay, a little sidetrack here. I'll come back to the point in a little bit. This is one reason why focusing only on your performance, on your external behavior, on what you do and don't do never leads to real victory or change, and it is the primary weakness of performance-based religion. If you are trapped on a legalistic treadmill where your relationship to God, and how you evaluate your life is simply based on how much you read your Bible this week, how much you prayed, whether you went to church, gave in the offering, the clothes you wear, you will always be focused on the external, trying to force change on your heart from the outside. And it never, ever works.

When I was a teenager, and then into my 20's, that kind of thing was my focus. I did all the right things, learned all the right things, said all the right things. And, yes, I did have a real heart-relationship with God, like many people under the tyranny of performance-based religion.

But, because my focus was on how things looked, what other people perceived about me, I began to fall into this trap that I could never be vulnerable, could never let other people see me struggling, could never allow others to see that I didn't have it together, that I wasn't really the star of the youth group, and later, the mighty man of God with the successful ministry.

I hid my struggles, my failures, my weakness. I was following the example of Arthur Dimmesdale even before I had read the book. All because I focused primarily on the external instead of my heart.

I carried this into my marriage to Charlotte, and because we both hid our struggles to preserve the illusion of peace, were so concerned about what the other thought, it contributed to the end of our marriage. Because if you start that way, when things get to a certain point, you will begin to blame that other person for the things that are wrong, try to change them, manipulate them so that you will feel a certain way or be happy.

And that can lead to disaster.

Okay. We can go back to what we were talking about before. I'm through with that.

Aah. Or, how I opened my heart. So, now I'm a genius and I've realized what's going on in this whole process. {insert pat on back here}

Now, how do I reverse the process, let my heart open up to God, his influence, his truth, his perspective? How do I go from looking at the external, with all its limitations and negativity, to looking at things the way I know God has for me – by faith? How do I un-goof-up my heart?

There are many avenues that God can use to gain access to our hearts, some of them the very things that you do if you are living life trying to measure up, get (or keep) God's approval or avoid his wrathful anger. Reading the Bible, praying, fellowshipping with others.

You see, beloved reader, it's not about what you do so much as why you do it . And I'm not talking about motivation here – or only motivation – when I was living my life regulated by all the things I had to do in order to be a “real” Christian, when I was striving for God's approval, and cringing from his disapproval, my motivation was just what it is now: I wanted to love God and serve him.

The difference, though – or one difference – is that when I do those things not to gain God's approval for what I do or don't do but because I am approved, loved and accepted through the finished work of Jesus Christ and my trust in that alone – only , then instead of trying to force change from the outside-in, God has access to my heart and change can come from the inside-out.

Okay, back on topic now. As I'm driving down the road thinking about all this stuff, it occurs to me that one avenue God has to influence my heart, and effect real change in my heart (which, don't forget, is the source of all else in my life, for good or ill – and yours, too), is thanksgiving.

So, pretty timidly at first, I start shifting my focus from all the things about my life that really, absolutely just suck right now, all the things I'm frustrated about or disappointed by, to the things I have to be thankful for, the blessings in my life. And I listed some of those things in the Facebook post.

It only took a little while, and it was like waking up to a different world. Instead of thinking about all the things that weren't working out the way I wanted, I'm thinking about how God isn't limited to what I can see, that his purposes go beyond the circumstances of this moment I live in. Suddenly, instead of a world of limitations, I can only see possibilities. And I realize, for various reasons, you know what, in spite of all these other things out there , I'm exactly where God wants me doing exactly what he wants me to do this moment.

None of those things I was so focused on before changed; but I had . And that always makes the difference.

So that's the Ugh Duh Aah saga. And not only do I go through the struggle, but then I write about it on Facebook, and then, even more publicly, here. Run out and grab the Scarlet Letter from Hester, and tatoo it to my chest for everyone to see.

God has a sense of humor. Learning a lesson and then serving as my own object lesson, and then screaming to the world, “Hey y'all! Look over here!” Great. Thanks, Lord.

Okay, you've all laughed just about enough. I think we can safely move on from this little lesson, don't you?

Please tell me you can relate to at least some of this.

Laughing in Nanny's Kitchen. A few years ago, I thought it would be a good idea to start collecting some of the stories my Nanny (what I call my grandmother) had told all my life about our family. So, as opportunity afforded, I began to record Nanny telling some of my favorite stories.

At the time, I put up a simple web site with those stories for any of our family that was interested. Then, when I changed web hosts, and got sick, and then started driving a truck living on the road, my old web pages just sort of grew weeds around them, links grew rusty, and technology left me in its dust. I always intended to start working on them again, updating them, but never got around to it.

However, one result of my visit to Georgia was that as some of us were talking about some of those stories, I thought about updating that site a little at least to get it working again now that I had the time and opportunity.

So, it's there again. And it's here if you're interested. Nothin' fancy, but you can hear the stories again. The audio quality isn't great, but, hey, at least it's something. LOL

Little bits of musical goodness, served up fresh. This is the part of my blog entry when I could write about books, movies, computers, my Little Bro Jon, or lots of other things. But, today, I feel like writing about music for some reason. It's been a while. (Well, it's been a while since I've written anything here.)

I love serendipity, and how many times otherwise disconnected things lead to something wonderfully unexpected. That's what's happened with all the things I'll write about here relating to music.

Who is that singing that song? While I was in Georgia, my brother-in-law, Shane, had this worship CD with music from various artists. I was familiar with some of it, but then I heard someone I'd never heard before.

Who's that ?” Answer: “ Kari Jobe.”

My favorite song from the music I heard is simply called “ Healer.” Follow the link to the Youtube video (one of several if you search, but I like this one). Lyrics here.

I didn't know when I asked about her that she was from Dallas, Texas. But, I'm not surprised.

Where Roses Grow.” Anyone who knows me well knows that for many years, I have loved the music of Christian rock band Resurrection Band, and I lived and worked in the ministry they are part of for several years in Chicago (and is where I met my wife Charlotte), JPUSA.

Well, just for kicks a few months ago, I did a search for REZ on Youtube. Among many other treasures I found was a live performance of my favorite REZ song (and one of my favorite songs period), “ Where Roses Grow.” It's pure blues, well done by any standard (secular or Christian), and the lyrics are powerful.

Other REZ goodness. Just some other links I found in that same Youtube romp and some following to some of my favorite songs from that concert (which I was there for when it was recorded in 1992), including the awesome sermon at the end by Glenn.

Players.”  Lyrics here.

Can't leave out the signature “ Military Man.” Lyrics here.

I know, I know, why don't I just link to all the songs.

One last one, acoustic blues: “ I Will Do My Last Singing.” Lyrics here.

Well, that about does it for this trip, folks. Thanks for coming along. I appreciate you sharing this time with me.

Love and blessings to you all . . .