Go Forward

Monday, June 29, 2009

Have you ever had a hard time leaving your past behind? The Israelites had a real hard time. After the series of ten plagues, Pharaoh finally agreed to set the Israelites free for years of bondage. God ordered Moses to go to Egypt and lead his people out of bondage. At age 80 Moses assumes his new role.

Exodus 14 tells of this miraculous journey. God sent the Israelites south to the sea when another direction would have been much easier. Verse 3 tells us that this route would confuse Pharaoh.

The departure of the Israelites meant that Egypt no longer had a work force, so the Egyptians mightily complained. As a result, Pharaoh changed his mind and sent his army of chariots and horsemen after the Israelites. The Israelites were “sore afraid.” You see their past was coming after them invading their present and threatening their future.

Doesn’t this happen to us sometime? Our past keeps coming back to haunt us either through the efforts of others or ourselves. Are there chariots and horsemen chasing you? Are they in the form of memories? Are they people? Past choices? Do you feel trapped?

The Israelites felt trapped. They arrived at an enormous beach at the Red Sea. A range of craggy rocks was on one side, garrisons on the other, the sea in front, and the Egyptians in the rear. Not only were they being chased, but they were also hemmed in.

After a period of blaming and shaming, the Israelites finally cried out to God. Their leader Moses stood before them and told them,, “Do not be afraid. Stand still.” What did he mean – stand still? Don’t you think he meant “Listen, wait for God.” There is such wisdom in keeping our spirits calm so that we can be in the best frame of mind to focus on our work and God’s leading. Then Moses told them, “The Lord will fight for you.” Aren’t those comforting words! Couldn’t we make our battles so much easier if we would just let God fight them?

Drum roll, please – God spoke to Moses. “Moses, why are you crying out to me? Don’t you know I’m in charge?” Then he gave the command, “Go forward.” Moses had told the people to stand still and wait for God and then God gave the orders. Isn’t it interesting that God ordered them forward into the unknown as a way to escape their past?

Led by Moses and probably Aaron, the Israelites crossed at night. Imagine how dark it must have been. Imagine the total trust and faith it took to go forward…to step out in the dark toward the sea. God saw them through though. He lighted their way, parted the waters, and the Israelites were saved from their past, their life of bondage.

God wants us to move forward too from whatever parts of our past that haunts us. Let’s use the words of Moses and God as our guidelines for moving forward.

Don’t be afraid.
Be still.
The Lord will fight for you.
Go forward.

Feeding Joy

Monday, June 22, 2009

I know two ladies who shared duties as librarians. One lady I’ll call Martha welcomed students with a warm smile and cheerful greeting. Besides spending time teaching them about how to use the library and giving them research tips, she took an interest in them. Martha discovered their interests and recommended books and magazines that they might like. She served as a mentor to many students over the years, providing financial support for kids to go on school trips and helping them with college applications. Martha chose to live a happy life and created a warm learning environment. On the other hand, "Judy" created a cold and uncaring atmosphere. She typically hid behind a computer screen to avoid eye contact with students. Jealous of Martha, Judy often made snide remarks and talked unkindly about students and teachers. She appeared to be filled with negativity and resentment.

These contrasting figures remind me of a story about a Cherokee elder. The elder told his grandson about the battle that goes on inside people. He said, “My son, the battle is between the two ‘wolves’ that live inside us all. One is Unhappiness. It is fear, worry, anger, jealousy, sorrow, self-pity, resentment, and inferiority. The other is Happiness. It is joy, love, hope serenity, kindness, generosity, truth, and compassion.”
The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather, “Which wolf wins?”
The old Cherokee simply replied, “The one you feed.”

Our tendency as humans is to register negative thoughts and feelings deeper than positive ones, so we often feed the wrong wolf. We need to reverse this habit by choosing to dwell on the joy in our lives.

Forms of the word “joy” and “rejoice” appear fifteen times in the book of Philippians. Paul advises the church at Phillippi to live the Christian life with intentional joy.

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.
Philippians 4: 4-9

Let’s feed the joy in our lives!

Happiness Habits

Monday, June 15, 2009

Research shows that you can increase your happiness level. Dr. Martin
Seligman conducted research on 1,000 participants. They took an authentic happiness survey and then they were assigned one of these exercises to complete in a week:

1. Write every night for a week about early memories.
2. Write and deliver a note of gratitude.
3. Write down 3 things that went well each day and their causes.
4. Write about a time when they were at their best and reflect on their strengths.
5. Take the character inventory, note their strengths, and use them in the next week.

All showed increased happiness and decreased depression. Follow-up studies revealed that the longer the participants did the exercises, the greater the happiness increased.

How can we apply these principles? We don’t always choose our circumstances, but we always choose our reaction to them. I have made a habit of counting my blessings so that I can get a happiness boost each morning. As I run on my treadmill, I can see my Happiness Board where I’ve posted pictures of friends and family and positive sayings to encourage me bring a smile to my face.

Jesus instructed his disciples to stay in love with him so that “my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete” (John 15:11). Let’s work on increasing our joy, our happiness, by adopting some new Happiness Habits.

Try one of these researched-based Happiness Habits

1. Count your blessings
Keep a Gratitude Journal. At least once a week, write down 3-5 things for which you are thankful.
Make a Happiness Board. On a display board pin pictures, words, and memorabilia of things or people that make you happy.
Make a Joy Box
Say a “Blessing Prayer” each day thanking God by calling out your blessings to him.
2. Acts of kindness
Do random acts of kindness for strangers.
Do strategic acts of kindness for friends and family.
Volunteer in a ministry.
Identify your key strengths and use them in a new way.

3. Savor life’s joys
Pay close attention to momentary pleasures and wonders. Take “mental pictures” of pleasurable moments and review them in sad times.
4. Thank a mentor
Express your appreciation to someone to whom you owe a debt of gratitude for guiding you through a challenging period.
5. Learn to forgive
Let go of anger and resentment by writing a letter of forgiveness to someone who has hurt you.
6. Invest time and energy in friends and family
Spend time with friends or family at a special outing.
7. Take care of your body.
Take extra care of an area that you’ve neglected: sleep, exercise, healthy eating, stretching, smiling, or laughing.
8. Develop strategies for coping with stress and hardships.
Add a time of devotion and meditation to your day.
Put $1.00 in a basket every time to “blame, shame, or complain.” Give the money to charity at the end of a week. (We have about 60,000 thoughts a day – one per second during each waking hour. 90% are the same thoughts you had yesterday. For the average person, 80% of these thoughts are negative.)
Memorize scriptures and say them as affirmations during the day.

To comment or share a happiness habit, click on the title "Happiness Habits" and scroll to the bottom of the page. Write a comment in the box.

Authentic Happiness

Monday, June 8, 2009

Dr. Martin Seligman, director of the Positive Psychology Network and the leading researcher on happiness, says there are 3 routes to happiness and a combination of them defines authentic happiness.

The Pleasant Life – A life that successfully pursues positive emotions about your past, present, and future. One way we get these pleasures is through our senses: the delicious flavor of chocolate mocha ice cream; the fragrance of a rose. These pleasures are also found through feelings such as amusement, thrill, relaxation, and the like. This happiness is based on emotions and is temporary. We all enjoy the pleasantries of life. When I bite into waffle cone filled with chocolate-mocha nut gelato, I experience the pleasant life and a burst of the senses.

The Good Life – This happiness goes beyond the emotions and includes activities we like doing: reading, swimming, traveling, hunting, and playing games. To experience the Good Life we develop key strengths and virtues. Then we use them in your work, love, friendship, leisure, and parenting. The gratification we get from these activities absorb and engage us. They help us to forget our troubles, and create “flow.” When I was lost in the wonder of the Sistine Chapel, I experienced the good life.

The Meaningful Life – By attaching your signature strengths to something bigger than yourself, you add another component to the good life. For Christians, this would mean using our strengths, talents, and gifts in service – living out our faith. When I teach my Bible study class each Wednesday, I’m living a Meaningful Life.

According to Seligman, a full authentic life consists of “experiencing positive emotions about the past and future, savoring positive feelings from the pleasures, deriving abundant gratification from your signature strengths, and using these strengths in the service of something larger to obtain meaning.” (p. 263.) Authentic happiness then is a combination of the Pleasant Life, the Good Life, and the Meaningful Life.

God wants us to have authentic happiness. It’s called “Shalom.” This Hebrew greeting means “peace” and was said as people met or departed from one another. Shalom is a blessing for wholeness and well-being. It is the most complete GOOD that we can imagine. Jesus said, “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” John 10:10. In John 14:27 Jesus said just before he was arrested, “Peace I leave with you. My peace I give to you.” After his death, the Holy Spirit was given to us as to be our advocate, our guide, and to bring us peace. This peace, our authentic happiness, is the realization that our worldly failures are not the end. God is with us through our wonders and worries, our tragedies and triumphs, our pleasantries and problems, our successes and sorrows. He wants to abide in us and give us a peace that passes all understanding. He offers authentic happiness.
What is your happiness level? Feel free to share by clicking on the title "Authentic Happiness." Then scroll to the bottom and click on "comment."


Monday, June 1, 2009

One of my favorite family traditions is our birthday celebrations. The honoree gets to pick the menu, and the dessert choice is always kept a secret. At the end of the dinner we all guess the dessert. We can’t eat it until we guess it! Sometimes we play silly word games or trivia that is connected to the honoree. There is much feasting, celebrating, and gift giving. We usually tell tales and remember days gone by. Jokes are shared and we laugh and laugh. It’s hard to imagine going through the year and not honoring our family members in a special way. It’s the way we commemorate the birth and life of our loved ones.

I just finished teaching one of my favorite books in the Old Testament, Esther, and learned about a very important Jewish commemoration. Esther, a beautiful young Jewish beauty was selected to be queen and then risked her life to save the Jewish people. All the Jews assembled after their victory against their enemies and celebrated with feasting and rejoicing. Chapter 9 of the book tells that the Jews “bound themselves, their descendants, and all who joined with them” to a commitment to celebrate the significance of the Jewish life at the same time each year. This commemoration, known as Purim, is still celebrated today and is considered one of the happiest days of the Jewish year.

A commemoration is a service or celebration in memory of some person or event. Do you know whose plan it was to commemorate? It was God’s. Read Leviticus 23 to see what God commanded Moses to proclaim to the Israelites as “sacred assemblies.” God called on them to set aside specific times of commemoration for Sabbath, Passover and Unleavened Bread, Firstfruits, Feast of Weeks, Feast of Trumpets, Day of Atonement, and Feast of Tabernacles. God also told the Israelites exactly how to commemorate each day. The reason to commemorate was so that the Israelites would remember their history and would honor God.

I began to think this week about modern commemorations. We just celebrated Memorial Day and commemorated U.S. men and women who died while in military service. On Sunday we commemorated Pentecost, the birthday of the Christian Church, when the Holy Spirit came upon the Apostles. We celebrate many other events in the Christian Calendar including Easter and Christmas. How would Christianity be affected if we didn’t have annual commemorations? How long would it take until no one remembered the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus? Years? Decades? Centuries?

Many of us celebrate our Christian faith by attending worship services and Bible studies. These are weekly commemorations. What tends to happen to our Christian walk when we don’t engage in worship with fellow believers on a regular basis? What happens in our lives when we don’t have a regular time of Bible study or Christian fellowship or devotion? It’s important to celebrate our Christian heritage and commemorate our relationship with God. John Wesley saw the discipline of Christian ordinances as essential to a life of faithfulness to God.

Christian commemorations are important because they remind us of whose we are and they keep our relationship with God alive and growing. They’re also essential to the Christian faith as a whole.

Come, let us sing for joy to the LORD;
let us shout aloud to the Rock of our salvation.
Let us come before him with thanksgiving
and extol him with music and song.
For the LORD is the great God,
the great King above all gods.
Come, let us bow down in worship,
let us kneel before the LORD our Maker;
For he is our God and we are the people of his pasture... Psalm 95:1-3, 6, 7

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