The American Psychologist, Martin Seligman, reported on an interesting debate between students at the University of Virginia about what it was that gave people the most pleasure.   One student reported that when he watched a fellow student help an old woman shovel snow away from her driveway, it not only made him feel good, it made everyone watching him feel good.   As a result of this discussion, some students decided to do an experiment and monitor how they felt after doing a number of different activities. The results were not only surprising but for many, they were life-changing.   They reported that the ‘afterglow’ feeling of doing pleasurable things like hanging out with friends, watching a movie, or eating a hot fudge sundae, paled in comparison with the effects of doing an act of kindness.   The students reported that when they chose to use their abilities to do spontaneous acts of kindness, the pleasurable effects from doing it seemed to affect the whole day.   They said they were able to listen better, empathise better, notice things with more clarity and were better ‘tuned in’ to life.   It resulted in total engagement with life and in the loss of self-consciousness. The Bible says that you and I are formed in God’s image.   This means that we, to some extent, reflect the heart and passions of God.   It is, therefore, little wonder that when we share with God in doing acts of kindness, we are at our happiest.

I wish society would make up its mind.   When the church is surrounding itself with Gothic architecture, outdated music and not engaged in mission, the media attacks it for not being relevant.   However, when it engages in mission and reaches into society, schools and the prisons, it is attacked for being too aggressive and for proselytising.   Left wing, journalists have attacked the church’s programs in prisons because they are too effective at bringing people to faith and in changing their lives.   They’ve also attacked the idea of Christian chaplains being in schools.   If Christianity was safely irrelevant and ineffective, the journalists wouldn’t mind. Jesus experienced the same frustration.   Nothing he did pleased some people.   He once said, “John the Baptist came neither eating nor drinking, and (this generation) said, ‘He has a demon.’   The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.’ (Mt 11:18-19) The Christian author, Selwyn Hughes, wrote that: Society demands conformity.   If you fall beneath its standards it will punish you.   If you rise above its standards, it will persecute you.   It demands a grey, average morality.   For this reason most people look around before they act.   But in reality they don’t act, they react.   They are echoes, not persons with voices.   You have three choices: you can be self-centred, herd-centred or Christ-centred.[1] I want to invite you break free of conformity and become Christ-centred – and work with him to do his work. [1]  Selwyn Huges, Every Day With Jesus, 13th January, 2010

A manufacturer in Las Vagas has created what he claims is the first talking robot sex doll.   When asked why he had done it, he replied, “I built it so people could have a meaningful relationship with it.” Riiiiiight.   You build a robotic sex doll so you can have a meaningful relationship.   That’s what sex dolls are for, meaningful relationships!   “Darling, I find your circuitry, diodes and silicon chips so meaningful to my life.” The inventor of the sex robot claims that she listens to you, speaks to you and feels your touch.   The robot, called “Roxxxy,” has a silicone skin, a mechanical heart, and five personality options ranging from “Wild Wendy” to “Mature Martha.”   It retails for between $7,000 and $9,000 American dollars. Come on guys!   Don’t debase yourselves so that you can only relate to lumps of plastic and metal.   Don’t let your sexual identity be determined by someone wanting you to pay $9,000 American dollars.   For goodness sake, you’re worth more than that.   God dreamed you into being and purposed you to discover real love, not fake love.   He has purposed you to accept his love and to show it to others. The commercial world wants you to have a meaningful relationship with a silicon chip so they can take $9,000 dollars from you.   God wants you to discover his authentic love – for free.

In recent years Great Britain’s chief export to the U.S. has been a stack of books by atheist authors such as evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins and literary critic Christopher Hitchens, both of whom claim that faith is irrational in the face of modern science. This is interesting, given that other prominent British atheists seem to be having second thoughts.   One of these is the philosopher, Antony Flew.   His research led him to conclude that evolutionary theory was not enough to explain the origin of life.   As such, he discovered that his atheism was not logically sustainable. More recently, the author, A.N. Wilson, (a man who spent years mocking Christianity), returned to Christianity.   He did so, he said, when he discovered that atheists were unable to make sense of the basic experiences of life.   He noted that people who insisted we were just “anthropoid apes” could not account for things as basic as language, love, and music.   They certainly could not explain how Christianity was able to transform lives. In a similar vein, Matthew Parris, another well-known British atheist, saw the transforming power of the Christian gospel in Malawi, Africa.   He said that his experience of Christianity at work “confounded his ideological beliefs, stubbornly refused to fit his world-view, and embarrassed his belief that there was no God.” Why do I tell you this?   Because unless you discover the God who came to rescue you back to himself in Jesus, you too may struggle to make much sense of life.

Have you heard the story of how a leech solved an eight-year old criminal case of aggravated robbery in northern Tasmania?   Evidently, that guy got caught because a leech found at the scene of the crime contained his blood. DNA taken from blood in a leech identified a man who then pleaded guilty to robbing a 71-year-old woman eight years earlier.   The man, Peter Alec Cannon, from Lilydale, stabbed the woman with a stick and robbed her of $550. This makes me wonder” what evidence will you and I leave behind us after we’ve gone?   What will be written on your tombstone?   It would be desperately sad if it said that all you did was to entertain yourself to death, and that you’d done nothing more than be nice to your family and friends. To have not realised the purpose and destiny God intended for you would be tragic.   Life does have meaning and your purpose is to find it out before you die.   Finding your purpose will affect what you do and the legacy you leave.   The Apostle Paul once spoke of faithful Christians leaving behind them the beautiful aroma of Christ.   Now that’s a legacy worth leaving.   That’s a legacy that has eternal consequences. So, why not discover God so you can leave behind evidence of a life that lived its true purpose?

Thaddeus Baklinski reported on the work of a group of professors at Grove City College.   Evidently, they have found a clear relationship between active participation in church and the development of positive character traits, particularly self-control. The research, conducted by Drs. Horton, Seybold and Welton, (all professors in psychology), discovered that personal faith combined with belonging to a church was vastly more beneficial in dealing with stressful life events than simply having a vague personal belief. The professors preface their report by commenting on the claims by the atheist, Richard Dawkins, who wants to believe that religious people are not more moral.   The researchers found that this claim was quite wrong. When explaining the results of their research, the professors said, “The benefits of religion for character development seem most likely to come from participation in a community and commitment to a belief system rather than a generalised spirituality.   This is because a belief system and community result in expectations for behaviour, whereas a general feeling of religiosity does not.” The researchers noted that those with an active faith, lived out in a faith community, generally exhibited an increase in humility, healthy behaviour, honesty, and a work ethic, all of which required self control.   Self control, they discovered, was encouraged by an active faith. So, being actively involved in a faithful, vibrant church helps grow resilience, self-control and character.   Interesting eh?    

According to a study, entitled, Religion and Occupation, (written by Philip Hughes of the Christian Research Association), the most religious folk in the country are farmers.   Evidently, almost half attend church at least once a month. I guess that when you work so closely with nature, relying on seed-time, harvest and rains, the need to rely on God would be hard to avoid.   Those of us who live in cities can suffer from the illusion, surrounded as we are with man-made skyscrapers, bitumen, concrete and glass, that we are masters of our own identity, not God. I suspect that farmers see the harsh realities of life, with its cycle of birth and death, and that these things force them to look beyond themselves.   Sadly, in the cities, we can be so obsessed with entertainment and comfort, that we can fail to see the mystery of God. Farmers also have the advantage of having to be patient.   It is a truth that God sometimes works at the pace of a growing seed.   In the city, we can be so distracted by ‘hurry sickness’ that we fail to wait for anything more profound than a cappuccino. So, do you think its time you too slowed down enough to rediscover God, rediscover who you are and rediscover your intended destiny?

Ever wonder what would happen if we treated our Bible like we treat our mobile phone?   Just imagine it. What if we carried it around in our purses or pockets? What if we flipped through it several times a day? What if we turned back to go get it if we forgot it? What if we treated it like we couldn’t live without it? What if we gave it to our kids as gifts? What if we used it when we travelled? What if we used it in case of emergency? Oh, and one more thing – unlike our mobile phone, we wouldn’t have to worry about our Bible being disconnected.   Why?   Because Jesus has already paid the bill. It is simply amazing that we have the truth about God and the eternal principles he wants us to live by written down for us in the Bible.   We never need to be in doubt.   So let’s treasure it, eh!

Matthew Parris, writer for The Times and former Member of Parliament, is not your typical atheist, for he wrote in an article on 27th Dec, 2008, saying, “As an atheist, I truly believe Africa needs God.   Missionaries, not aid money, are the solution to Africa’s biggest problem – the crushing passivity of the people’s mindset.” As a result of researching a story on aid organisations in Africa, Paris wrote: “Travelling in Malawi refreshed a belief I’ve been trying to banish all my life, but an observation I’ve been unable to avoid since my childhood.   It confounds my ideological beliefs, refuses to fit my world view and has embarrassed my growing belief that there is no God.” He goes on to say: “I’ve become convinced of the enormous contribution that Christianity makes in Africa: sharply distinct from the work of secular and government organisations and international aid efforts.   These alone will not do.   Education and training alone will not do.   Christianity changes people’s hearts.   It brings spiritual transformation.” So, even atheists are discovering that no one is doing very well without Jesus.   Without Jesus, Africa reverts to tribal warfare, abusive overlords and urban gangsterism.   Parris says that removing Christianity from Africa risks “leaving the continent at the mercy of a malignant fusion of Nike, the witch doctor, …and the machete.” If atheism and indifference to God is not working very well for you, perhaps you’d better re-connect with God and be what you were intended to be.

What did you get up to last Valentine’s day? Did you do anything that scored you a kiss or did you ‘crash and burn’? The origins of Valentine’s day are not known with any certainty, because there were at least three early Christians called Valentine who were martyred for their faith. However, a lovely legend has arisen around one. Marcus Aurelius Claudius was the Emperor of Rome from 268 to 270 AD. His problem was that he could not get enough young men to serve in his army to fight the foreign wars he was waging. Rather than blame himself for the unpopular wars, he blamed the institution of marriage because he thought that marriage was keeping his men at home. He therefore banned marriage throughout his empire. The story goes, however, that Valentine, an early Christian bishop, still married people in secret. When a report of this reached Claudius, he had Valentine put to death. The story could well be true. Certainly, it makes you think. Valentine’s day may well have had its origin in a man who had the courage to stand up for God’s values even when it cost him his life. So, by all means, continue to give the flowers and chocolates, but if you are not prepared to seek Godly values for your marriage and your family, it is simply sentimentality. If you really want to be like Valentine, then be prepared to stand for Christian values in your family and in your community.

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