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It seems that coronavirus has turned everything upside down. We are supposed to go to work, and now we have to stay home. For some, we are supposed to have a job to go to, and now we don’t. We are supposed to go to church today and celebrate the resurrection, but now we are at home watching a live stream of a pastor preaching to empty pews. We are supposed to have a big family dinner with friends and loved ones; now it is us four and no more. Indeed, everything seems upside down.

But take a moment to think about what happened Easter morning. Consider the empty tomb and how that has made all the difference. It turned everything upside right. Because of Christ’s resurrection, those living in darkness have seen a great light. Those who were slaves to fear are now children of God. Those who were dead in their trespasses and sins have been raised to life!

The effect of covid 19 pales in comparison to the effect of the resurrected Messiah. Covid 19 constrains us to our houses. Easter sets us free to live lives of joy and happiness no matter where we are. Covid 19 causes illness, anxiety and depression. Easter brings contentment, soul healing and a peace that passes all understanding. Covid 19 keeps us from family members, friends, neighbors and co-workers. Easter connects us to all of humanity through the power and love of the Holy Spirit. Covid 19 turns our world upside down. Easter turns our world upside right.

My wife and I see this everyday. We are part of Foundation For His Ministry’s outreach to needy children in Oaxaca, Mexico. We live in a community with 50 children and about a dozen staff members. Our lives are relatively the same now as before the coronavirus struck. We are one big family – a family in God. An Easter family, you could say. Things that were important and vital to us before the virus infected Mexico are still important to us now. Things like making disciples and making children smile. Sharing the love of God and sharing cookies. Meeting felt needs and meeting to watch movies. We still hug one another, encourage and pray for each other, and share meals together. Sure, we don’t go out into the community as often as we used to, and we are restricted from visiting friends and family members who live outside our Casa Hogar ( home for children). And we wash our hands a lot more! But overall, we are living the same Easter upside right lives that we enjoyed before. Lives free from the bondage of sin and guilt. Lives lived glorifying God and enjoying Him, still believing that He loves us and wants us to be happy.

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In Matthew chapter 8, Jesus makes two remarks about people’s faith. One man, he says, has great faith. Later in the chapter he tells his disciples that they have little faith. Each account, by itself is remarkable, and by comparing them we can possibly get some incredible insights about faith.

In the first story (5-13), a Roman centurion comes to Jesus and asks him to heal his servant. Jesus asks the centurion if he wants him to come to his house. The Roman leader tells Jesus “No. Just say the word, and my servant will be healed.”

Jesus was amazed and told his followers that he had not found anyone in Israel with such great faith.

Towards the end of chapter 8 (23-27), we find Jesus fast asleep in a boat with his disciples. Matthew tells us that a furious storm came up on the lake and that the waves swept over the boat. The disciples were afraid and woke Jesus up, saying, “Lord, save us! We’re going to drown!”

Jesus said to them, “You of little faith, why are you so afraid?” And then Jesus rebuked the winds and the waves, and it was completely calm.

In comparing these two stories, naturally the question comes up, why did the centurion have such great faith, and the disciples such little faith? It seems to me that it should be the other way around. The disciples should be the ones with great faith. They traveled with Jesus and everywhere he went he healed people and cast out demons and taught the multitudes about the Kingdom of heaven. The disciples were somewhat intimate with Jesus and not only learned from him about faith, but also saw faith in action.

The Roman centurion on the other hand was not even a Jew. He was a gentile. Probably hated by most Jews because of the Roman occupation. What little knowledge he had of Jesus probably came second hand from a few stories and rumors told him about this miracle worker. Not exactly the makings of great faith.

So why the great faith of the centurion and little faith of the disciples? Who knows? God knows, but he isn’t telling. Or is he? Maybe there are a few clues in these stories to enlighten us about their faith and perhaps ours as well. Here is my theory.

Matthew indicates that the Roman centurion knew a little something about authority. A Roman centurion was in charge of 100 soldiers. He had authority over 100 soldiers. He was also a man under authority. When his superiors said “Jump!”, he asked “How high?”. By the same token, when he gave orders to the men under him, they obeyed him or died trying. The whole Roman army was under the authority of Emperor Caesar. He had a goal, and a plan for reaching that goal, and every soldier in his army had a role to play in achieving that goal.

In the same way, I believe, that the centurion had an idea about the way Jesus was able to heal people. He either had super-natural authority to heal people, or was under the authority of someone who had the power to heal people. And what was the goal of healing people? To relieve human suffering. People were miserable when they were sick, and happy when they were healed. Hence, the ultimate goal of Jesus was to make people happy. The centurion must have believed that either Jesus was God, or was working under the authority of a God who loved people and wanted them to be happy. If this was the case, then there was no need for Jesus to go to his house or lay hands on his servant. All he had to do was just say the word, and his servant would be healed, and many would be made happy. The servant, the servant’s family, if he had one, his friends, and the centurion.

The disciples,on the other hand, the “little faithers”, were freaking out in the boat, in the middle of the lake as waves surged over the side. Was Jesus panicking? Not so much. He was sleeping. The disciples woke him up screaming, “Lord save us! We’re going to drown.”

Ultimately they didn’t believe that God, or Jesus, had ultimate authority over everything. They didn’t really believe that God loved them and wanted them to be happy. The believed in the Evil Powers that lurked in the depths of the sea, that caused big storms which chewed up little fishing boats and spit them out, just for the fun of it. If they would have believed that God loved them and wanted them to be happy, they would have had a terrific time enjoying the wind and the waves and the wild ride, much like thrill seekers do on an exciting water ride at an amusement park. But, alas, they were full of fear, and their little faith was abundantly clear.

So what about us when the storms of life hit our little boats with fury. Do we grab on for dear life and scream for Jesus to help us, or do we grab on for dear life and enjoy the ride, knowing that the God of the furious storm is right along side us, laughing all the way?

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I took the road less traveled,
and that has make all the difference.

My wife, two daughters and I recently spent a weekend in the mountains of Oaxaca.  We had a great time and took lots of pictures. I was looking at the pictures the other day and one particularly stood out for me. The one above. A lonely, rarely used road that we came upon on one of our hikes. It reminded me of the Robert Frost poem –

The Road Not Taken

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

I remember reading that poem in high school. After reading the poem I thought that in my life, I would like to take the road less traveled.

I grew up in a Christian family. We went to church three times a week.  I decided to follow Jesus at an early age. That was my first step on the road less traveled. Jesus said in Matthew 7 that wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow is the road that leads to life, and only a few find it. Few choose that path. In a sense, the Christian road is a road less traveled.

But as I went to church week after week and year after year, I began to notice that everyone around me had more or less the same life; were on the same road. They all had more or less “American middle class” jobs, lived in “American middle class” houses and drove “American middle class” cars. It seemed to me that everyone was on the “American middle class” road. Hardly a road less traveled. It seemed more like a 12 lane highway and  the whole world seemed to be beating a path to join the crowd on the “American” road.

Fortunately we went to a church that stressed missions and regularly had missionaries come visit and share about what the missionary life was like. They regaled us with stories of making long treks to reach indigenous tribes in dark jungles and preach the Good News of what Jesus had done for them and that by believing in Him, they could live happy, abundant, lives.

Those stories made a deep impression on me. The missionaries were definitely  on the road less traveled. They had a faith in God that I rarely saw, and a trust in Jesus that enabled them go where few had gone, and do important things that few people were doing.

So I decided to go to Bible College and study missions, so that I too could be a missionary and travel that road.

Studying that life I became sorely disappointed. I learned that missionaries have to get bucket-loads of cash before they could even leave America, and then every four years come back to America to get more cash. I wanted to go to a foreign country, live there permanently, and trust God to provide for my needs. I came to the conclusion that I must not be cut out for that particular less traveled road.

I lived many years in the good ole USA , travelling the “American” road and was never satisfied that this was the road for me, but not knowing what to do about it. Thank God I discovered Foundation for His Ministry and a missionary road that suits me just fine. FFHM operates homes for needy children in different parts of Mexico. I visited the first one they established in the Baja peninsula of Mexico. It was incredible. They not only took in poor, abused, abandoned children and fed them, schooled them, loved them and shared with them about the love of God, but they also fed and clothed the hungry and oppressed in nearby agricultural work camps. They also did a lot of evangelistic outreach to children and adults in those camps. They also had a medical clinic that treated sick people for free.

I learned that each volunteer or staff worker received a monthly stipend, along with a place to stay and meals. “What more could a dedicated Christian who wants to do God’s work need?” I thought.

 I made many trips in the following years to help out as best I could, always thinking that one day I would not have to leave, but would be a permanent part of this marvelous organization. One day I would be on the road less traveled that I had always dreamed of and never get off.

FFHM started a new work in the southern Mexico state of Oaxaca, and I was at a place in my life where I could say, “Adios” to the ” American ” broad highway, and be fully engaged on the road less traveled. I sold or gave away everything that would not fit in my Toyota Corolla and headed south.

That was fifteen years ago, and I have never been happier. My decision to take the road less traveled has indeed made “all the difference.”

Writing this, I have no intention to denigrate or put down all those Christians in America who are following their own road less traveled and are doing incredible, innovative things to make a huge difference in millions of hurting lives. I am simply giving an account of my own Road Less Traveled, and hope to encourage others who might be stuck in a rut on the Main Street of life to consider what joys God may have in store for them if they strike out on their own Road Less Traveled. Thanks to all the supporters of FFHM who travel their own little road and faithfully make donations and sponsor the children, the poorest of the poor, in Mexico, so that one day, these kids can also follow God’s road less traveled. Without faithful donors, this endeavor would not be possible.

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One picture of sin we get from the New Testament is an archer shooting an arrow at at target and trying to hit the bullseye, but missing every time.  Sin is missing what we are aiming at; missing the goal; being short of the mark.  An important question comes to mind, what is the bullseye. What is the mark we are trying to hit?  Some theologians say say “Holiness”.  The Bible says that we are to be Holy as God is Holy.”  Like that is ever going to happen! We definitely come up short there.

Others quote the scriptures that say we are to “love God with all our being and love our neighbors as ourselves” .  Once again, not gonna happen. Our default mode is to hate God and despise our neighbor!

As I have been pondering the question, I have come to the conclusion that Happiness is the bullseye that every human is trying to hit. I believe that God loves us and wants us to be happy! He has hardwired our brain to desire happiness above all. That’s what humanity is aiming for, striving to achive, wanting to experience. But most people miss the mark, at least in the long run.  In essence, they sin. Why? Well that’s the ironic thing. It’s because they want to be happy.

Let me explain. Just like most things in life, there is a right way and a wrong way. There is a right way to be happy and and a wrong way.  There is immediate gratification happiness, which is many times the wrong way, and there is Bible Happiness which is the right way and leads to eternal happiness.

I like to think of happiness as a computer game. Back in the day, a long time ago in a land far away, I used to make computer games. All my games naturally came with instructions. If a player read the instructions and paid close attention to them, then he or she was more likely to slay the evil enemy, gather heaps of treasure, and be happy.  The opposite was true if the player didn’t read the instructions. He or she would be frustrated, defeated and die poor and needless to say, be unhappy.

I’ve begun to look at the human being, the human brain as a Happiness Game, that God created. Like I say, He loves us and wants us to be happy! We are a Happiness Game and God gave us instructions to win the Happiness Game. It’s called the Bible. Here are some principles from the Bible to win Happiness.

I think a key verse is Romans 3:22-24.  “Righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe.  Everyone has sinned and fallen short of the glory of God and everyone is justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.” (  My loose paraphrase)

Righteousness is living in right relationship with God. True and abiding happiness is impossible without this. Everyone has attempted to be happy without righteousness and has failed and has fallen short of the glory of God. God is glorified when people are happy, living in right relationship with him. We are able to live in right relationship with God through justification, grace and redemption through Jesus Christ.

Here are a few other basic principles to “winning the Happiness Game –

1. We face three fearsome enemies in this game – The World, The Flesh, and The Devil. I mentioned earlier that many times we are not happy because we want to be happy. What I mean by that is that the three fearsome enemies sneak up on us and offer us a fake, short term happiness that in the long run makes us sad, miserable, suffering creatures. So, rule number one, avoid The World, The Flesh and The Devil.

2. Realize you are a Loser! (Many of the principles to winning the Happiness Game are antithetical to normal computer games) To be happy we must realize that we can never be truly happy on our own, using our own abilities, trusting our own smarts.  The Bible instructions say, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways look to God for guidance” and you will be happy .

3. Love your human enemies. We should hate and fight against the World, the Flesh and the Devil, which are spiritual enemies, but love all humans, even those we consider enemies. As I mentioned above, this is one of those principles that goes against common thought. In most computer games you hate your enemies and try to spill their blood. In this game you must forgive your enemies; help your enemies; pray for your enemies, if you want to be deeply happy.

4. Be a Transformer. Romans 12 tells us not to be conformed to this World, but be transformed by the renewing of our mind. We renew our minds by meditating on the instructions, the Bible. Doing this we learn the significance of concepts like Grace, Justification, Redemption, World, Flesh and Loving our enemies. The more we understand these Biblical Truths, the happier we will be.

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Who doesn’t want to be be peacefully happy? All the time. In every type of circumstance and situation. I think we all know at least one person who is always serene and smiling, no matter what they are going through. And we want to know, “What’s their secret?”

The Apostle Paul was that kind of guy. Always full of joy. Always rejoicing. He wrote the book of Philippians. In this book he tells his readers to rejoice always. He tells them this because he knows it’s possible. He is living proof. He writes this letter that is so full of joy and hope, from a prison, while in chains (1:14), and he is rejoicing. (1:18)

So Paul, what is your secret? What is the secret to living a life of peaceful happiness.

Paul writes in chapter four, “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation.”

The definition of “content” is “the state of peaceful happiness”. And there is a secret to attaining that state of mind – that state of being. It is not something that just happens to a person one day. It is something we need to learn. Something Paul needed to learn.

Paul wasn’t always peacefully happy. At one time in his life he was a religious zealot, full of anger and condemnation at all those around him who were not living up to the high standards of the Torah, the law. It was bad enough all those Jews who were lax in their obedience to God’s Holy Word, but then come the Followers of the Way, who were proclaiming the Messiah had come, and his name is Jesus.

Paul set out to destroy them and their belief in this false Messiah. Paul writes to the Philippian Christians that he had learned to be content; he had learned to be peacefully happy, and that education began on the road to Damascus, where he had a life changing encounter with Jesus, the Messiah.

The first key to unlocking the secret of a life of peaceful happiness is having a life changing encounter with Jesus. It’s usually not as dramatic as a bright, shining light and an audible voice from heaven, as Paul experienced, but it is a deep and meaningful revelation of the truth that God loves you and wants you to be happy. It’s an understanding that Jesus, the Son of God, humbled himself by coming to earth as a human baby, served humanity, died on a cross to forgive our sins, and rose to life so that we could live in right relationship with God and with our fellow human beings.

The second key to living in a state of peaceful happiness is found in Philippians chapter 2. Paul says that we should be like Jesus in his humility, in his servant attitude. He says we should do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but, in humility, should value others above ourselves. (2:3-8)

That can be mighty difficult in the competitive world that we live in. We are taught from a young age to win, to be the best, to get ahead. Our pride tells us to look down on others, climb over others, bury others. Indulging in all that” getting ahead” stuff usually leads to sad, angry lives, rather than happy, peaceful lives. Jesus says that we should “love one another as we love ourselves.” That includes valuing others above ourselves. Doing that is freeing, invigorating and enlightening.

The third key that opens the door to a lifestyle of peaceful happiness is thinking. Think, think, think. Paul admonishes the Philippians, and all believers, in chapter four to Think about whatever is true. Think about whatever is noble. Think about whatever is right. Think about whatever is pure. Think about what is lovely. Think about whatever is admirable, excellent or praiseworthy. When we think about these things, the God of peace and the peace of God will be with us (4:7-9)

This is an important key. If we primarily think good, happy, peaceful thoughts, we will live good, happy peaceful lives.

This is also a difficult key, because in our world we are conciously and unconciously thinking negative thoughts, or unproductive thoughts. We think alot about family, our job, our financial situation. Sometimes we think about politics and the news. With social media we think more and more about what other people think about us. We are bombarded by advertisements that try to get us to think that we will really be happy if we buy what they are selling.

Paul tells us that thinking good thoughts is the secret to peaceful happiness. That can be hard work, and not necessarily fun or exciting. It’s a learning process. Paul says twice that he had to learn it.

If someone wants to be a doctor, they have to spend a lot of time learning medicine. If someone wants to be a lawyer, they need years of studying law. To be a great chef, you go to a culinary academy and recieve instruction in cooking and baking. It takes a lot of time to be good at anything. Same with living a life of peaceful happiness. We need time, alone time in silence, normally, to think about things that are true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent and praiseworthy.

So, as I read Paul and his letter to the Philippians, I see three main keys to enjoying a lasting state of peaceful happiness:

  1. Encountering Jesus and establishing an intimate relationship with him and our heavenly Father.
  2. Having a humble attitude like Christ had when he came to earth and lived and died among us. In humility, valuing others above ourselves. As C.S. Lewis said, “Humility is not thinking less of ourselves, but thinking of ourselves less.” Think about God and others more.
  3. Take time to think about the good things of God, His Word, His creation and His love. Those things that are right, true, pure, noble and excellent.

When we consider the situations, circumstances, and difficulties of our lives, we can ask ourselves, “Am I truly peacefully happy, deep down inside?” If the answer is no, then perhaps we should look at the three keys above and make some changes in our lives, knowing that God will help us because he loves us and wants us to be happy.

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Have you experienced complete joy lately? Full joy? Today is Memorial Day. Maybe you are hoping for a day full of happiness with a big barbecue with friends and family or a day at the lake relaxing and playing with the kids.

Jesus tells us how to get and keep complete joy in John 15. It is simple. “Keep my commands” he says. Ok, maybe not so simple, especially when Jesus elaborates and declares in verse 17, “This is my command: Love one each other.”

Well, that explains why there is so little joy in the world. There is an extreme lack of loving one another. We are so busy loving ourselves that we don’t do a lot of loving one another and so we don’t experience a whole lot of joy, not to mention complete joy.

Complete joy. We all like the sound of that. Not partial joy. Not a little taste of happiness and pleasure (which is one definition of joy), but an unending feast of complete joy. We all have different ideas about how that might be attained and how we might possibly keep it. Most of our ideas are wrong.

Jesus describes what love looks like in the parable of the Good Samaritan. Love is sometimes extreme inconvenience and interruption. Sometimes it’s costly and dirty. It is always helping someone in need. Sometimes it’s someone we don’t agree with and don’t really like. Love isn’t liking someone. Love is helping someone who really needs help.

That kinda love sounds kinda crazy. Sounds a bit difficult, or a lot difficult. It is, but it is well worth the complete joy that comes with it, or after it. What Jesus endured on the cross while suffering shame, pain and rejection, didn’t give him a lot of joy. But Hebrews tells us that he endured the cross for the joy that was set before him. Sometimes we have to endure a lot in loving others so that we can experience the complete joy that Jesus is talking about it John 15.

I came to Mexico 14 years ago to help needy children. Children that have been abused, abandoned, neglected, rejected and left to die on the roadside of life. I work with a group of like minded Christians who are cooperating with God and Foundation For His Ministry in making this world a better place by helping the poorest of the poor in Oaxaca, Mexico. It’s not always easy. We don’t always get along or agree on the best way to help the least of these in this part of the world. We fail in some way everyday, but because of the grace and mercy of God we can experience complete joy. I have never been happier in my life.

Jesus promises complete joy, full happiness, when we love each other as Jesus loves us. Sometimes it hurts. Many times it can be unpleasant, but in the end it is worth it. Take a chance on that kind of love, and see what happens.

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Valentines Day is coming up. The day of love and romance. A day where people will celebrate love – love for spouses and boyfriends and girlfriends. They will celebrate with things they love, like roses, candy and wine. At least in the United States. Here in Mexico it is also know as dia de amistad, day of friendship. People will not only do something with a romantic interest, but friends will take time out to express their love for each other in special ways.

It’s too bad English only has the one word “love”. We love our spouses or romantic partners. We love chocolates and flowers. We love our friends. We love our mother. Other languages have different words for different kinds of likes and attractions. The Bible uses that English word “love” many times, but in it’s original languages of Hebrew and Greek, it has different words to express different types of love. One main word the Old Testament uses for love is “hesed” or “chesed”. The word Hesed or Chesed/Cheset is connected with love, goodness and kindness but means more, a bit like the English word “charity” “mercy” or “grace”.

Greek uses words like “eros”, “storge”, “philea” and “agape”. Eros refers to “passionate love” or romantic love; storge or familial love; philia to friendship as a kind of love; and agape refers to “selfless love“, the kind of love God has for us and wants us to have for one another and for him. Agape love is more about Devotion to God and to our fellow human beings. The other loves are more about emotional attachments or attractions.

The Bible has a lot to say about agape love. Jesus said the two most important commandments of the Old Testament are about love –

Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your

soul and with all your mind. Love your neighbor as yourself.

(Matthew 22:37-40)

Love is devotion to God and neighbor.

Jesus gave concrete examples of love in Matthew 25:35-40 when he said –

“I was hungry and you gave me something to eat.

I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink.

I was a stranger and you invited me in.

I needed clothes and you clothed me.

I was sick and you looked after me.

I was in prison and you came to visit me.”

Then the righteous will answer him,

“Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you?

When did we see you thirsty and give you something to drink?

When did we see you a stranger and invite you in?

When did you need clothes and we clothed you?

When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?”

The King (Jesus) will reply,

“Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these,

brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”

Lots of devotion and commitment to helping others. Not so much emotion.

Paul wrote a lot about love. Many people call chapter 13 of his first letter to the Corinthians the love chapter –

Love is patient, love is kind.

Love does not boast, it is not proud.

Love does not dishonor others,

love is not self-seeking,

it is not easily angered,

it keeps no record of wrongs.

Love does not delight in evil

but rejoices with the truth.

Love always protects, always trusts,

always hopes, always perseveres.

Love never fails.

(1 Corinthians 13:4-8)

We can see the devotion and a little emotion.

Paul also prays for the Ephesians –

I pray to the Father, that you,

being rooted and established in love,

may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people,

to grasp how wide and long and high and deep

is the love of Christ, and to know this love

that surpasses knowledge.

(Ephesians 3:14-19)

More devotion; no emotion.

1 John tells us –

Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God.

Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God.

Whoever does not love does not know God,

because God is love. This is how God showed his love for us:

He sent his one and only son into the world

that we might live through him. (1 John 4:7-9)

Great devotion.

I like what C.S. Lewis says about loving our neighbor –

“Do not waste time bothering whether you “love” your neighbor;

act as if you did. As soon as we do this we find one of the great secrets.

When you are behaving as if you loved someone,

you will presently come to love him….Whenever

we do good to another self, just because it is a self,

made like us by God, and desiring its own happiness

as we desire ours, we shall have learned to love a little more,

or, at least, to dislike a little less.”

(Mere Christianity)

Maybe, in the end, it is all about emotion. Perhaps, when we are devoted to doing God’s will and helping those around us, we will be happier people. It could be that God loves us and wants us to be happy, and the road to emotional happiness and well being, goes through Devotion. This Valentines Day, lets try some Devotion, some good old fashioned Agape Devotion, and see what kind of emotions we have at the end of the day.

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