Thursday, April 30, 2009

What are you looking at?

Today's random thought is rather short...what are you looking at? A simple truth I try and get my students to realize is that whatever you focus on, that's the direction you will go.

Try this experiment. Try to walk in a straight line while looking at something other than where you want to end up. We tend to veer off toward whatever we are focusing on. I may say I am moving toward my goal, but if my gaze is fixed on another point, I'll find that my feet will follow.

When I run, I find I can move faster and more productively if I will focus on a "point" in front of me. At times, I even "cheat" and use a huge rubber band that pulls me toward that point and my focus pulls me forward. I shut out all distractions because distractions can slow me down, even pull me off course.

So once again, today's thought is "what are you looking at?" If my focus is on my problems, that is where I will run...toward the problem. If my focus is on the things of this world, I'll run toward those things. If my focus is on myself....I guess I'll be running in place.

The Message translation of Phillipians 3: 12 - 14 says: "I'm not saying that I have this all together, that I have it made. But I am well on my way, reaching out for Christ, who has so wondrously reached out for me. Friends, don't get me wrong: By no means do I count myself an expert in all of this, but I've got my eye on the goal, where God is beckoning us onward—to Jesus. I'm off and running, and I'm not turning back."

What are you looking at today?

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Was it on purpose?

The other day in children's church a little boy came over to me to tell me that another child had "hit" him. As I investigated, I found that a little angelic looking girl had indeed thumped him in the back with a pencil. When I asked her why, she told me it was an accident...she hadn't done it on purpose.....there it was...that random thought.

For two days the phrase "on purpose" has been rolling in my head. Did I do it "on purpose"? Did I live today "on purpose" or did I just let life happen to me?

In the Message translation of John 14:25 - 29, it says this: 25-27"I'm telling you these things while I'm still living with you. The Friend, the Holy Spirit whom the Father will send at my request, will make everything plain to you. He will remind you of all the things I have told you. I'm leaving you well and whole. That's my parting gift to you. Peace. I don't leave you the way you're used to being left—feeling abandoned, bereft. So don't be upset. Don't be distraught.
28"You've heard me tell you, 'I'm going away, and I'm coming back.' If you loved me, you would be glad that I'm on my way to the Father because the Father is the goal and purpose of my life.
(emphasis mine)

Did you catch that? Jesus led his entire life "on purpose". Every day was lived with his purpose in live his life for the Father.

I heard a story once of a man who was asked what his purpose was in life. He replied that his purpose was to go to heaven and take as many people with him as he could. Wow, I wonder what a life lived with that kind of purpose would look like. Others have said that our purpose is to live a life of worship....I am assuming this doesn't mean we walk around singing all the time, (those who have heard my voice will certainly vote against that one!) Or some say our purpose is to serve.....

Whatever you think it means to live a life of purpose, the question still remains....did you do it on purpose? Did you live today with that purpose in mind?

Maybe it's time to stop the busy-ness of daily life and take the time to ask God what is your purpose. For the mom or dad, it may be wrapped up in pointing their children toward Christ. For the teacher, it may be learning to see her students as God sees them...even when they are being difficult. For the bus driver or cashier, it may be seeing their job as a means to helping spread encouragement or joy. Our purpose doesn't have to be some great and mighty ministry to be from God. He created us and He knows how our story fits into His plan. Our job is to just make sure we're doing it "on purpose."

I don't know about you, but I don't want to reach the end of the day...the week...the life and find out I didn't do it on purpose. I want to live every day realizing that the Father is the goal and purpose of my life. I don't want to be an accident waiting to happen....I'm doing it on purpose today.

Monday, April 27, 2009

I'm not sure it's what I thought it was...

The idea of mentoring has been on my mind a lot lately. The more I think about it, the more I think I've had the wrong idea about what a mentor is. A line from one of my favorite movies comes to paraphrase the line from The Princess Bride, "You keep saying that word. I do not think it means what you think it means."

We often toss about the phrase "mentor". As a teacher, I was given a "mentor" to help me learn the ropes at my new location. As a parent, I look to those who might "mentor" my child....but I'm starting to see the whole process a little differently than before. Maybe a better word than "mentor" might be "friend".

It all started when a younger woman in the church mentioned to me that she'd like to get together and do some "friend" kind of things. At first, I couldn't figure out why she'd want to spend time with an old fogey like me....I am twice her age. Then I started seeing a number of younger women in the church that I didn't see so much as "someone I should mentor and guide" but as really neat people that I'd like to get to know better. I'd like to be their friend. That's when it started to sink in, (okay, I'm slow, I admit it). Being a mentor isn't so much about teaching someone something as much as it is about sharing your lives. It's about having friends of all ages and interests who can learn from each other, can laugh with each other, can share their fears, frustrations, and dreams. Maybe, just maybe, we can learn to be a family....the family of God. I learn all kinds of new things from them, and from me....well, hopefully they learn from me a few things that come from walking with the Lord for over half my life. Their spark helps keep me fired up, and my, shall we say wisdom, (or just call it old age) helps them find ways to direct that same spark. They encourage me and I encourage them. It's about, growing together.

I know that's a tough concept in today's society...everyone is so busy, but as my pastor said, relationships are really one of the only things we can take with us to heaven. It won't be the sermon I preached in Kid's'll be the young people I got to know and love in that group. It won't be the song that I sang, it'll be the people I sang it with. It won't even be the hundreds of things I may accomplish in my'll be those whom I got to know along the way.

On my 50th birthday I ran a half-marathon distance at the local track and invited friends to come and join me for a lap or two. When asked why I didn't go elsewhere and run so that I wasn't just going in circles, the answer for me was simple: I never really have gone anywhere exceptional in my life...that's not what made it special. It's the people I've been blessed to share my life with along the way that have made it worth living.

In the book of Acts, New Testament church was said to have "all things in common". We usually take that to mean some sort of communal living, but somehow it struck a different cord in me. My friends and I have a "lot in common". We share our joy, laughter, frustration, triumphs, hopes, fears....we share our lives. Maybe that's what the New Testament church really had...a lot in common. They took time for each other.

So back to this "mentoring" thing. Maybe it's just because I'm getting older, but I really want to pass on what the Lord has given me....I guess the best way to do that is through mentoring, but I still think there's got to be a better name for it than that. For now, I think I'm just going to work on getting to know those around me better, learning from them, encouraging them, and finding ways to help them grow. Gee, I guess that's what you'd call just being a friend. Works for me.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

The fortune cookie....

Today has been another one of those weird days...lots of random thoughts running through my mind and yet none ripe enough for writing...that is until we ate lunch.

It's a big deal at my house to go out on Sunday for lunch. This is really the only day of the week we do this (drive through and the dollar menu don't count.) But on Sundays, we all decide on some place to eat lunch and actually sit down together and share before we are completely overcome by the need for a nap...and of course by we, I mean me.

Like most Sundays, where to go is always a lively child wants one thing, the other wants something else, Dad wants cheap, and I just want to eat somewhere that I can hear our conversation and don't have to clean up afterward. Today's lucky winner was a Chinese restaurant in town. On their buffet, we're bound to find something everyone will eat. It's not exactly cheap, but Dad was wearing down from hunger so he agreed as well.

The meal wasn't spectacular, but eventually my teenage daughter got over her angst and started joking around and smiling. My son started his 5th grade humor and yet somehow managed to steer clear of potty jokes long enough for us to enjoy our meal. Yes, it was a pretty good meal and as we finished, I reached for MY favorite part of the meal, the fortune cookie. Both children had theirs and were trying to call each other names in Chinese, my husband read his and tossed it on the table, and I expectantly opened mine to was empty. My fortune cookie had no fortune in it! Not even a little one! No funny saying, no Chinese word, not even a lucky number! My face just fell. How could I get a cookie with no fortune?

Of course, I had to figure out how this would tie into Random Thoughts, so I came home and googled fortune cookies. What exactly is our "fortune"? Of course, the ones in the cookie are supposed to tell you something that's going to happen, but did you know that some of the original fortune cookies contained scripture? Then, after doing a check for mention of "our fortune" in the Bible, I discovered a number of different references to "restoring our fortune". Now I was on to something.

One of the first references to fortunes in the Bible is from Deut. 30:2 - 4, "and when you and your children return to the LORD your God and obey him with all your heart and with all your soul according to everything I command you today, 3 then the LORD your God will restore your fortunes and have compassion on you and gather you again from all the nations where he scattered you. 4 Even if you have been banished to the most distant land under the heavens, from there the LORD your God will gather you and bring you back." When we return to God and obey him with all our heart and soul, then the Lord will restore our fortunes.

Right now, many people in America and around the world have "lost their fortunes", and here is a promise from God that if we return to Him and obey Him, then He will restore them. I'm not talking just about money, but also about the kind of fortunes that money can't, friends, joy, Those are the kinds of treasures we can enjoy now AND lay up in heaven where moth and thief cannot destroy.

Everyday the news is filled with too many who did not realize that true treasure isn't wealth....those who lost the things the world offers and with it lost their hope. They got to the end of what they thought would satisfy only to find the promises were empty. They truly lost their fortunes.

Those of us who know where our treasure really lies must return to God and obey Him with all our heart and soul not only for ourselves, but for those around us. For when they reach the end of their "meal" and reach for the fortune cookie, we don't want them to discover that it is empty. We can share the good news with others that this is not all there is. God has a plan for each of us, a plan for good and not for evil. A plan for hope and a future. We can help show them where true fortune lies....we can point them to Jesus.

Now that I think about it, I guess my fortune cookie wasn't so empty after held a lesson on looking to God when what the world gives you is an empty promise. I think I've found my true "fortune" in God.

Monday, April 20, 2009

I was doing fine till I looked around...

I hate it when I have to learn my own lessons.

This has been one of those weeks...usually I'm quite content and able to look on the bright side of things. I know people probably get annoyed at my "Annie" outlook...that whole, "sun 'ill come out tomorrow" kind of mentality that pretty much permeates everything I do. But today, that sunny disposition definitely suffered...and it was my own fault.

I hate to admit it, but I let in a really ugly emotion...envy. Envy has the power to suck the sunshine right out of a person!

It all started when I looked at the problems around me...that was definitely a mistake. I forgot to look to the promises of God and looked at just how bleak things are looking in the world today. Now, I've never been one to IGNORE what was going on in the news..but usually I'm able to remember those two important words - "but God". This time, I allowed myself to stew over the problems and start to worry. Like I said, mistake number one.

Then, I found out someone was getting an opportunity that I was hoping to get...and they were being successful! How dare they? How did they get this chance so quickly? I wanted the chance to be recognized for what I was doing too....see, right there was mistake number two. It wasn't just the envy part, it was in wanting recognition for myself. Why couldn't I just be happy for them?

Then, another friend, (yes, I did say friend), was recognized for achievements that I prided myself in being able to do. Oh no, now there's that word - Pride. That was mistake number three...I started comparing my talents to hers, all the while nursing the same kind of envy toward the first friend. I found myself dwelling on thoughts like, "Why can't I get that chance? I'm as talented as her." Of course, during these silent tirades known only to me, myself and I, I conveniently ignored the fact that both friends had worked hard for these chances. Both spent time with developing their gifts while I keep putting off doing the same.

Finally came the final flower in my pity party bouquet. Someone who I felt did NOT do as good a job as me actually was blessed to have better results than me. The nerve! Why was it working out for them when I was trying so hard?

You know, when it's down on paper, it's much easier to see the problems with all my self satisfying thought patterns. Even when I complained to God, I could hear that verse from the Bible when Jesus told Peter "what is it to you if I decide to allow him to live until my return?" (paraphrased) In other words, this isn't about them or's about what God has for us to do. I have not been called to live their life...and they haven't been called to live mine.

When I run (even as slow as I move) I know I can quickly lose my joy of running if I start to compare myself with runners who have run longer than I have. I can even lose what ground I have gained if I look over my shoulder to "check out" the competition. Before long, I'm losing ground, and losing any chance I had of doing my best. I'm not running MY race, I'm trying to run THEIRS!

The worst part of it all, I have lost my joy. I was doing fine, till I started looking around. My focus should be on my Father and what He has planned for me. As the song says, "My story is a part of Your plan, here I am." Envy causes you to forget that God has a perfect plan for YOUR life. Yep, I was doing pretty good till I started looking AROUND.

Next time I'm feeling down, I'm going to stop all that looking AROUND...and I will lift up my eyes to the hills from where I find my strength. Isn't that where we should be looking anyway?

Full of it

Full of it. The phrase doesn't usually bring spiritual things to mind...but in the world of "random thoughts", everything can be a lesson about life...

It all started as I sat in my kitchen and watched as my son poured himself a glass of juice. I had the chance once again to cringe as he filled the glass completely to the rim and then tried to walk with it. You can guess what happened next, we were mopping juice up off the floor. Yep, that glass was truly full of juice and the moment he stepped forward, it began to spill out on anyone and anything around. I guess Levi does everything in life "to the fullest". As a result, all those around him are effected.

I suppose to some extent, we all spend our lives "spilling" on those around us....the question is, what are we full of? For whatever we are full of, that is what we will spill out onto others. Some people fill their lives with unforgiveness and bitterness, and unfortunately that is exactly what spills on to those who happen to cross their path. Some fill their lives with themselves, you can imagine what spills out when you bump into these fountains of self. Some fill their lives with fashion or music or movies, even with genres full of horror or hate....five minutes in someone's presence will reveal what they are "full of".

Then there are those precious few who are filled with encouragement and the promises of is a true joy to "bump into" these people, because what spills out is as refreshing as cool water on a hot Mississippi afternoon. These people obviously spend their time making sure they are "full of it" by spending time in prayer and praise...mostly in spending time with the Father. For when a person spends time with God, they begin to find their life is full of hope and encouragement. Then, as they walk through life, they "spill" out on everyone around them.

Of course, being "full of it" isn't a one time process. As we go through our day we bump into others on such a regular basis that unless we work to refill, we will find outselves filled with only air and the stress and worry of daily life. When that happens, it's time to "empty out our cup" and make the time for refilling. We empty our cup through prayer....time spent with the Father. We wipe it clean with praise, and then it is filled again as we worship God.

So there you have it....the next time you hear someone is "full of it", ask yourself just what are they full of....more importantly, ask yourself what are you full of. I'm not so sure I like the content of my cup lately....time for a refill of what matters. After all, no telling who I'll spill on next.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

What do birthdays mean?

Since I celebrated my 50th birthday this week, I've been doing a lot of thinking about just how to handle getting this old. Over the hill, past my prime, etc. Even if a person tries to tell themselves that 50 is the new 30, there echoes in the back of their mind that feeling that makes them cringe...that perhaps they are, in fact, getting old. Funny thing is, I remember when I turned 30 feeling pretty much the same way! I even wonder does my father-in-law have those same thoughts now that he's about to turn 80.

Our society celebrates youth, that goes without saying. Even in areas of ministry, we tend to look to the next generation....those who will be the "Joshua" generation and take the promised land. While I in no way want to discount those who have not yet made the trip around the sun as many times as me, I can't help but I done. Does God look at me and figure, "Well, she's still alive but I can't really use her for much anymore. Time to look at the next group coming up." Of course, we all know that's ridiculous...but many of us who have made the trip over 40 or 50 times still have those moments. You know the ones I'm talking about, those times when you wonder if your best years are behind you and perhaps you just never fulfilled what God had planned for your life. Those times when you I too old to be used by God?

I've often heard that a baby is God's opinion that the world should go on. Not sure how theologically sound that is, but I do believe that every child born is born with a purpose. There are no "accidents". Each life has a purpose in God. That's what got me to thinking about those birthdays again. Perhaps, just perhaps, each passing birthday is God's way of letting us know He's not finished with us yet....He still has a work for us to do...we need to "go on". We may not have the same spring in our step that we once had, but that doesn't mean we're done. Whatever God created you to do, as long as you're still blowing out the candles on the cake, it's not over yet.

The gifts of God are without repentance....and as long as we abide on this earth, we are to use those gifts. Don't think that just because you are older that God won't still fulfill the know the one I'm talking about...the dream that He placed in your heart years ago...when you still had that spring in your step. God doesn't make mistakes....and He doesn't forget about you or that dream.

God's time table isn't the same as ours, and if you're still alive, then evidently God still has something for you to do. Though it tarries, wait for it. Let your gifts continue to grow and mature...and be used. Allow each passing birthday to serve as a reminder that God is in control and He's not finished with you yet.

For everyone, no matter when it comes, I wish you Happy Birthday! May this birthday bring you assurance that He who began a good work in you will be faithful to complete it....and don't be afraid to continue to dream.