Chasing Happiness

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Spring in Dallas just doesn’t make sense to me.  On any given day we may have a freeze warning at nightfall and 80 degree temperatures by the very next afternoon.  It’s crazy! They say if you don’t like the weather in Texas, just stay around for a couple of hours and it’ll change.

One March morning several years ago,  I stepped outside to get the newspaper and was hit with blizzard-like conditions. Well it may not have been that extreme, but it was one of those take-your-breath-away cold fronts that felt like a blizzard to this thin-blooded Southern girl.  By mid-afternoon of that very same day I was sitting out in the garden reading and enjoying some good ole Texas sunshine.

Personally, I love to be outside and love to read, so when I can find the time to enjoy both it is a happy afternoon. On this particular spring day, my personal reading agenda was the book of Philippians in the New Testament of the Bible.  Written by the apostle Paul while he was a prisoner in Rome, one could easily assume Philippians would be a real downer of a book.  On the contrary it is quite a delightful and uplifting read. In fact, the theme of joy sort of oozes through the pages from this unlikely author.

As I relaxed and tried to picture how Paul could possibly write such a positive message from a prison cell, I glanced up to see a white butterfly dancing around our garden. It was amusing to watch this fluttering creature touch a flower here, then off again to another flower there, then here, then there, then back to where it started again. It never stayed in one place for more than a few seconds as if it were pursuing something it would never find. Just as quickly as it appeared in my garden, it was off to the next field of flowers.

Observing the illusive dance of the white butterfly made me think about how illusive life’s pleasures can be. Just like this flitting creature, I realized how easy it is for me to flit, flutter and fly from one activity or person to another trying to find sweet nectar to satisfy my longings for significance and joy. I’m guessing you have felt those same feelings a time or two as well. The pursuit of happiness is common to us all.  The question is where does the chase stop, or does it? Are we fooling ourselves into thinking that there is something out there that will enrich our being and fill the hunger of our souls?

The irony of my butterfly encounter on the Spring day in Dallas, was that I was sitting there reading a book which highlights enduring qualities which transcend shifting circumstances and fleeting feelings. Paul (yes, from his prison cell) described a resilient joy, a consistent contentment and a peace which passes all understanding in his letter to the Philippians. Unlike the flitting butterfly, Paul taught the early Christians how to experience a true satisfaction of the soul.

So we must ask ourselves, “Does God call us to pursue happiness or to pursue Him and His purposes in our life?” I am convinced that our pursuit of Him leads us to experience a heart full of joy and true contentment as we live out His purposes in our lives. I want to encourage you to read the book of Philippians this week and consider what God teaches you about Himself.

“To seek God is to desire happiness; to find him is that happiness.”

Augustine

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This is an excerpt from A Woman’s Passionate Pursuit of God. The DVD is on sale this month for $5. Click Here for more information.

Taking Time to Know Your Father

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Isn’t it wonderful to think that we are invited to spend time with our Heavenly Father each day? How amazing to think that the High King of Heaven allows us to fellowship with Him through prayer and reading His love letters – His Word. There’s no perfect routine or formula when it comes to spending time with God. For me, I start off each morning with my journal, my Bible and of course a cup of coffee. I simply just sit still before God.

In my journal, I always begin by writing out at least five things I am thankful for from the past day. Without exception, I end up writing much more than simply five things, as I begin to recognize all the ways God has blessed me. I also deliberately thank the Lord for at least one challenge in my life, as I consider what God is teaching me through the difficulty. And I can sincerely thank Him for His presence and peace as I walk through those challenges. Another habit I have started is to thank the Lord for at least one thing about my husband each day, because it keeps me focused on his positive qualities and that’s always a good thing!

After I spend time thanking the Lord then I open up His Word, for a time of reading. He has given us His Spirit to lead us into all truth, so I begin by seeking His guidance. I invite His Spirit to be my teacher and open my eyes to new truths. Spiritual truth must be spiritually discerned, and we need God’s Spirit to lead us. I like how author Andrew Murray (1828-1917) wrote about the importance of encountering God’s Word with the help and guidance of the Holy Spirit:

 

We must refuse to deal with the written Word without the quickening Spirit. Let us never take Scripture into our hand, mind, or mouth without realizing the need and the promise of the Spirit. First in a quiet act of worship, look to God to give and renew the working of His Spirit within you. Then, in a quiet act of faith, yield yourself to the power that dwells in you. Then wait on Him so that not only the mind, but the life in you, may be opened to receive the Word. The words of Christ are indeed Spirit and life.

          Murray added this prayer:

Lord God, I thank You again for the wonderful gift of the indwelling Spirit. Father, give me the Spirit of wisdom. May I know how deeply spiritual each word of Yours is, and may I know that spiritual things can only be spiritually discerned. Teach me in all my contact with Your Word to deny the flesh and the fleshly mind and to wait in deep humility and faith for the inward working of the Spirit to quicken the Word. May my meditation on Your Word, my keeping of it in faith and obedience, be in Spirit and in truth, in the life and in power. Amen.[i]

 

During my quiet time with the Lord, I use the One Year Bible, which offers a daily Bible reading with an entry from the Old Testament, New Testament, Psalms, and Proverbs in doable doses. This daily time of meeting with God is a time to read and meditate on the Bible and pray. You may choose other times throughout your week to study and dig into the Bible (which we will cover in chapter three), but for a time of regular reflection and daily growth, I encourage you to simply read and meditate on His Word.

For me personally, I also enjoy reading a devotional in addition to reading from His Word. Devotionals should not replace reading the Bible, but can supplement your quiet time. Most devotionals take a verse and expand on it with the author’s perspective or thoughts. At times, I may use a book with short chapters as a part of my devotional reading, such as The Knowledge of the Holy by A.W. Tozer or The Names of Jesus by A.B. Simpson, or The Spirit of Christ by Andrew Murray or Here and Now by Henri J.M. Nouwen. It is a healthy practice to journal and write out what God is teaching you, so that you can reflect on it again or simply to help you identify and remember what you learned.

After a time of reading, I sit still and simply relax in His presence. I may go to the atrium and slip to my knees and praise and adore Him for who He is. I reflect on some of His qualities that I learned about in His word or in the devotional reading and glorify His name. After praising Him for His wonderful attributes, I humbly recognize my own sin, so I spend time confessing and opening up my heart before Him. Again, I’m still and allow His Spirit to remind me of anything that I need to confess that was not pleasing to Him. After confessing, I honestly can’t help but thank the Lord for sending Jesus as the payment for my sin. My heart rejoices that the Father has allowed me to be a part of His family through faith in Christ.

It is important for us to pour out our concerns to our Father, because He doesn’t want us trying to carry our own burdens. His invitation is to ask, seek, and knock. Finally, I ask for His direction and leading throughout the day. It’s interesting how thoughts pop into my head about things that need to be accomplished or issues I need to address or even how to order my day. I write down the thoughts He brings to mind as I ask Him to direct my path.

So that’s how I come to the table with my Father. How about you? There’s no perfect formula, just the invitation to dine with Him. Let us not neglect such an inviting feast with the King of all glory. Taste and see that the Lord is good.

 

This blog is an excerpt from Becoming a Woman of the Word. Click here for more info.

 

[i] Andrew Murray, The Spirit of Christ (New Kensington, PA: Whitaker House, 1984), pp. 78-80.

 

Reading the Bible and Finding a Plan that is Right for You

As I mentioned in the video, my favorite plan for reading God’s Word is the One-Year Bible. You can find a One Year Bible at any bookstore or online store or you can get it as an e-book. It breaks the Bible down into dated, daily readings of an Old Testament passage, a New Testament Passage, a Psalm, and a Proverb. Some years I read the Bible through in a year, while other years I choose to read through the Old Testament in one year and the next year I read through the New Testament, along with Psalms and Proverbs. There is also the One Year Chronological Bible, which gives you daily readings in the order that they were written. Also, most Study Bibles include a plan to read the Bible through in a year.

Some Bible teachers suggest starting with the Gospel of John as a good introduction to who Jesus is and God’s redemptive plan. Author and pastor R.C. Sproul offers a pattern for people who have never read the Bible. He suggests the following:

The Old Testament overview:

  • Genesis (the history of Creation, the fall, and God’s covenantal dealings with the patriarchs)
  • Exodus (the history of Israel’s liberation and formation as a nation)
  • Joshua (the history of the military conquest of the Promised Land)
  • Judges (Israel’s transition from a tribal federation to a monarchy)
  • 1 Samuel (Israel’s emerging monarchy under Saul and David)
  • 2 Samuel (David’s reign)
  • 1 Kings (Solomon and the divided kingdom)
  • 2 Kings (the fall of Israel)
  • Ezra (the Israelites’ return from exile)
  • Nehemiah (the restoration of Jerusalem)
  • Amos and Hosea (examples of minor prophets)
  • Jeremiah (an example of a major prophet)
  • Ecclesiastes (Wisdom Literature)
  • Psalms and Proverbs (Hebrew poetry)

The New Testament overview:

  • The Gospel of Luke (the life of Jesus)
  • Acts (the early church)
  • Ephesians (an introduction to the teaching of Paul)
  • 1 Corinthians (life in the church)
  • 1 Peter (an introduction to Peter)
  • 1 Timothy (an introduction to the Pastoral Epistles)
  • Hebrews (Christology)
  • Romans (Paul’s theology)

Sproul adds, “By reading these books, a student can get a basic feel for and understanding of the scope of the Bible without getting bogged down in the more difficult sections. From there, he or she can fill in the gaps to complete the reading of the entire Bible.”(ligonier.org/blog/get-basic-overview-bible).\

Scripture Union is a ministry that offers tools to help both adults and children read, know, and love God’s Word. They offer an Essential 100 Challenge (E100) as a way to read through the essential passages in Scripture. The E100 Challenge is based on 100 carefully selected short Bible passages, 50 from the Old Testament and 50 from the New. The plan helps you get the big picture of the Bible and also helps you keep up with your progress. They offer a little pocket-sized planner listing the scriptures to read and providing a punch card so you can chart your progress. This is a great plan to do as a family or with other individuals. You can get the E100 planner at www.E100challenge.com.

Another tremendous resource for reading the Bible is www.Bible.com (You Version) that offers a Bible app for your phone, iPod, tablet, or computer. You may already have their app, but did you know they offer reading plans as well? If you go to the “Plans” link on their menu, you will find a variety of ways to read the Bible. The cool thing is, the app keeps you informed on your progress and even gives you reminders if you are falling behind. You can choose a reading plan under the headings of Devotional, Topical, Partial Bible, Whole Bible, Youth, and Family, and You Version is constantly featuring new plans. The point is to find a plan that works for you. There are no perfect formulas for reading God’s Word; the important thing is simply to do it.

Anything but Boring

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Where are you with the Bible? Perhaps you’ve tried to read it and just haven’t connected with it. Or maybe you simply didn’t know where to start. On the other hand, you could be that person who has gone to Bible studies for years, and yet your interest in it has grown a little stale. Perhaps you’ve never had any interest in the Bible at all. When it comes to the Bible, we are all at different places. No matter where you are, my hope is that you will come  to a place of connection – connecting your life with the greatest book that has ever been written.

There are some people who may think the Bible is irrelevant or doesn’t pertain to our lives today, but I’m pretty sure those people haven’t read it! What could be more relevant than a book filled with stories of people from a variety of backgrounds and experiences, all reflecting the human condition and the desperate need inside each of us for love and redemption? The beautiful theme throughout the entire book is not how bad we are, but how good God is. Every page is infused with God’s grace.

The Bible is a book about messed-up lives and God’s unmerited favor. There is no other book on earth that conveys the abiding love of Almighty God toward His people. Why wouldn’t you want to read a book like that? Throughout the centuries it has given strength and inspiration to artists, businesspeople, authors, musicians, athletes, and world leaders. It has offered hope to the ailing in hospitals to the suffering on the battlefields, and to the starving in poverty. Yet, to be honest, true poverty is the “poverty of the soul.”

How sad to have all the comforts that life can offer, yet be empty or starved spiritually. The Bible is food to feed our hungry hearts, bringing fulfillment and nourishment to our soul. This is why we read the Bible—because like food—we need it for our very existence. It is filled with life-giving sustenance for those who hunger to know God’s grace and love. Cultural blogger Jim Denison wrote, “This hunger for the God of grace is universal. How could it not be? We were designed to need food, and will hunger for it until the day we die. In the same way, we were designed to need our Designer.”[i] Yes, “Man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord” (Deuteronomy 8:3).

As we enter 2016, let us ask God for a renewed hunger for his word and devote ourselves to getting to know the greatest book ever written.

 

This is an excerpt from Becoming a Woman of the Word. Click here to order your autographed copy and begin a journey of loving, learning and living God’s Word.

 

 

[i] Jim Denison, Denison Forum on Truth and Culture, www.Denisonforum.org, January 20, 2014 entry.