1572) Life Together

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  In the classic Life Together Dietrich Bonhoeffer describes how we should live together as Christians.  In the following selections, he describes how to deal with those difficulties we all face in our relationships: bearing with people who are a burden to us, forgiving those who have wronged us, and praying for others, especially for those we dislike.  His instructions for the Christian community, though difficult, are clearly grounded in the Bible.

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     We speak of the service involved in bearing with others.  “Bear one another’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2).  Thus the law of Christ is a law of forbearance.  Forbearance means enduring and suffering.  The other person can be a burden to the Christian, in fact for the Christian most of all.  The other person never becomes a burden at all for the pagans.  They simply stay clear of every burden any other person may create for them.  However, Christians must bear the burden of one another.  Only as a burden is the other really a brother or sister and not just an object to be controlled.

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     I can no longer condemn or hate other Christians for whom I pray, no matter how much trouble they cause me.  When I pray for others, the face that may have been intolerable to me is transformed into the face of one for whom Christ died, the face of a pardoned sinner.  That is a blessed discovery for the Christian who is beginning to offer intercessory prayer for others.  As far as we are concerned, there is no dislike, no personal tension, no disunity or strife that cannot be overcome by prayer.

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     Offering intercessory prayer means nothing other than Christians bringing one another into the presence of God, seeing each other under the cross of Jesus as poor human beings and sinners in need of grace.  Then, everything about other people that repels me falls away.  Then I see them in all their need, hardship, and distress.  Their need and their sin become so heavy and oppressive to me that I feel as if they were my own, and I can do nothing else but bid:  Lord, you yourself, you alone, deal with them according to your firmness and your goodness.

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Be kind, be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.  –Scottish Proverb

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Galatians 6:2  —  Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.

Galatians 6:9-10  —  Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.  Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.

Matthew 5:43-47  —  (Jesus said), “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’  But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven.  He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.  If you love those who love you, what reward will you get?  Are not even the tax collectors doing that?  And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others?  Do not even pagans do that?”

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Dear God, I have been wronged by my neighbor.  I did not deserve this of him.  But I must remember and consider how I stand with you.  Before you, I find a long account against me which convinces me that I have sinned a thousand times more against you, than my neighbor has done to me. Therefore, I must do as you say, by sincerely praying, “O Lord, forgive, and I will also forgive.”  Amen.     –Martin Luther

1571) Prayers of Jane Austen

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Jane Austen (1775-1817) was an English novelist, famous for six novels, especially Sense and Sensibility and Pride and Prejudice.  The novels were published anonymously and brought her little attention during her lifetime; but they have rarely been out of print since, and are considered classics.  These prayers (slightly edited) were written by her for evening family devotions.  The sentences evoke the style of the 1662 Book of Common Prayer.  The language may be difficult to read for those not used to the style, but whoever takes the time to read them slowly and thoughtfully will find in them an expression of deep and sincere faith and devotion.

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Give us grace, Almighty Father, to pray as to deserve to be heard, to address thee with our Hearts, as with our lips.  Thou art everywhere present, from Thee no secret can be hid.  May this knowledge teach us to fix our Thoughts on Thee with Reverence and Devotion, so that we pray not in vain.  Look with Mercy on the Sins we have this day committed, and in Mercy make us feel them deeply, that our Repentance may be sincere, and our resolution steadfast to endeavor against the commission of such in future.  Teach us to understand the sinfulness of our own Hearts, and bring to our knowledge every fault of Temper and every evil Habit in which we have indulged to the discomfort of our fellow-creatures and the danger of our own Souls.  May we now, and each night, consider how the past day has been spent by us, what have been our prevailing Thoughts, Words, and Actions during it, and how far we can acquit ourselves of Evil.  Have we thought irreverently of Thee, have we disobeyed thy commandments, have we neglected any known duty, or willingly given pain to any human being?  Incline us to ask our Hearts these questions, and save us from deceiving ourselves by Pride or Vanity.  Give us a thankful sense of the Blessings in which we live, and of the many comforts of our lot; that we may not deserve to lose them by Discontent or Indifference.  Be gracious to our Necessities, and guard us and all we love from Evil this night.  May the sick and afflicted be now and ever in thy care; and heartily do we pray for the safety of all that travel by Land or by Sea, for the comfort and protection of the Orphan and Widow, and that thy pity may be shewn upon all Captives and Prisoners.  Above all other blessings O God, we implore Thee to quicken our sense of thy Mercy in the redemption of the World, of the Value of that Holy Religion in which we have been brought up, that we may not, by our own neglect, throw away the salvation Thou has given us…  Amen.

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Almighty God, look down with mercy on thy servants here assembled and accept the petitions now offered up unto thee.  Pardon, O God, the offences of the past day.  We are conscious of many frailties; we remember with shame and contrition our many evil thoughts and neglected duties.  We have perhaps sinned against thee and against our fellow-creatures in many instances of which we have no remembrance.  Pardon whatever thou has seen amiss in us, and give us a stronger desire of resisting every evil inclination and weakening every habit of sin.  Thou knowest the infirmity of our nature, and the temptations which surround us.  Be thou merciful.  We bless thee for every comfort of our past and present existence, for our health of body and of mind, and for every other source of happiness which thou hast bountifully bestowed on us…  May the comforts of every day be thankfully felt by us, and may they prompt a willing obedience of thy commandments and a benevolent spirit toward every fellow-creature.  Have mercy upon all that are now suffering or are in any circumstance of danger or distress.  Give them patience under every affliction; strengthen, comfort, and relieve them.  To thy goodness we commend ourselves this night, beseeching thy protection of us through its darkness and dangers.  We are helpless and dependent; graciously preserve us.  For all whom we love and value, for every friend and connection, we equally pray.  However divided and far asunder, we know that we are alike before thee, and under thine eye.  May we be equally united in thy faith and fear, and in fervent devotion towards thee.  Pardon the imperfections of these our prayers, and accept them in the name of our blessed Savior.

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Father of Heaven… another day is now gone and added to those for which we were before accountable.  Teach us to consider this solemn truth, that we may feel the importance of every day and every hour as it passes.  May we earnestly strive to make better use of what thy goodness may yet bestow on us than we have done of the time past.  Give us grace to attain that temper of forbearance and patience which, while it prepares us for the spiritual happiness of the life to come, will secure to us the best enjoyment of what this world can give.  Incline us to think humbly of ourselves, and to be severe in the examination of our own conduct; but may we consider our fellow-creatures with kindness, and to judge of all they say and do with that charity which we would desire from them ourselves.  We thank thee with all our hearts for all the blessings that have attended our lives, for every hour of safety, health, peace, domestic comfort, and innocent enjoyment.  We have been blessed far beyond anything that we have deserved; and though we cannot but pray for a continuance of all these mercies, we acknowledge our unworthiness of them and implore thee to pardon the presumption of our desires.  Keep us, O Lord, from evil this night…  May thy mercy be extended over all mankind, bringing the ignorant to the knowledge of thy truth, awakening the impenitent, and touching the hardened.  Look with compassion upon the afflicted of every condition and comfort the broken in spirit.  More particularly do we pray for the safety and welfare of our own family and friends, beseeching thee to avert from them all material and lasting evil of body or mind; and may we by the assistance of thy Holy Spirit so conduct ourselves on earth as to secure an eternity of happiness with each other in thy heavenly kingdom.  Grant this most merciful Father, for the sake of our blessed Savior, Jesus Christ.  Amen.

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Philippians 4:6  —  Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.

1570) Made for China (b)

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Eric Liddell (1902-1945) in China, 1937

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By Albert Mohler at:  www.AlbertMohler.com

     (…continued)  As a student at the University of Edinburgh, Liddell became very well known as both a runner and a preacher.  He was especially powerful as a preacher to young men.  Liddell spoke passionately but conversationally, explaining that the best preaching to young men took the form of a simple talk, in Duncan Hamilton’s words, “as if chatting over a picket fence.”  But Liddell’s clear biblical and evangelical message came through, and powerfully.

     He preached before, during, and after his Olympic glory.  He returned to graduate from the University and Edinburgh shortly after the 1924 Paris games and made preparation to go to China as a missionary, also under the direction of the London Missionary Society.

     He taught school, preached, and eventually found a wife, Florence.  With her he had three daughters, though he was never to see the third.  After decades of internal warfare and turmoil, China was thrown into the horrors of Japanese occupation during World War II.

     Those horrors are still unknown to many Americans, but much of China was submitted to massive rape and murder by the occupying Imperial Japanese forces.  Liddell eventually sent Florence, then pregnant with their third child, and their two daughters to Canada for safety.  It was just in time.

     Along with members of the China Inland Mission and many others, Christians and non-Christians alike, Eric Liddell was forced into a foretaste of hell itself in the Weihsien Internment Camp.  He would die there shortly before the end of the war.  In the concentration camp, Liddell became legendary and his witness for Christ astounded even many of his fellow Christians.

     As Hamilton writes:  “Liddell can sound too virtuous and too honorable to be true, as if those who knew him were either misrepresenting or consciously mythologizing.  Not so.  The evidence is too overwhelming to be dismissed as easily as that.  Amid the myriad moral dilemmas in Weihsien, Liddell’s forbearance was remarkable.”  He became the moral and spiritual leader of the horrifying reality with that camp.

     Chariots of Fire was released when I was a seminary student.  Like so many other young Christians, I saw the movie and was greatly moved by it.  But, even then, I wondered if Liddell could really have been what so many others claimed of him.

     Not long thereafter, a professor assigned me to read Shantung Compound by theologian Langdon Gilkey of the University of Chicago Divinity School.  Gilkey was in many ways the opposite to Liddell.  Gilkey was a theological liberal whose father, famously liberal, had been the first dean of the chapel at the University of Chicago.   Langdon Gilkey had gone to China to teach English after graduating from Harvard.  He found himself interred with Eric Liddell.

     In Shantung Compound, Gilkey analyzed what happens when men and women are put under extraordinary pressure.  He argued that the worst moral dilemmas in Weihsien came not from their Japanese captors, but from the prisoners themselves.  His point was that, for many if not most of the captured, the experience brought out the worst in them, rather than the best.  He changed the names of those inside the camp when he told their stories.

     There were a few moral exceptions.  Gilkey wrote of one exceptional individual, a missionary he named “Eric Ridley.”  Gilkey wrote:  “It is rare indeed when a person has the good fortune to meet a saint, but he came as close to it as anyone I have ever known.”  Gilkey described how Liddell had largely single-handedly resolved the crisis of a breakout of teenage sexual activity in the camp.  In the midst of a moral breakdown, with no societal structures to restrain behavior, few even seemed to want to help.

     Gilkey made this observation:  “There was a quality seemingly unique to the missionary group, namely, naturally and without pretense to respond to a need which everyone else recognized only to turn aside.  Much of this went unnoticed, but our camp could scarcely have survived as well as it did without it.  If there were any evidences of the grace of God observable on the surface of our camp existence, they were to be found here.”

     Gilkey had renamed individuals as he wrote about them, but he described “Eric Ridley” as having won the 400 meter race at the Olympics for England before going to China as a missionary.  Eric Ridley was Eric Liddell, and Langdon Gilkey was writing of a man he has observed so closely as a living saint.  I realized that Langdon Gilkey had told the most important part of Eric Liddell’s story long before Chariots of Fire.

     Gilkey closed his words about Erid Liddell with these:  “Shortly before the camp ended, he was stricken with a brain tumor and died the same day.  The entire camp, especially its youth, was stunned for days, so great was the vacuum that Eric’s death had left.”

     Liddell indeed died of a brain tumor, suddenly and unexpectedly.  The cause of his death only became clear after an autopsy.  Eric Liddell died in the nation where he had been born.  Indeed, he has sometimes been listed as China’s first Olympic medalist.  He never saw his third daughter.

     “God made me for China.” Eric Liddell lived his life in answer to that calling and commission.  As Duncan Hamilton explains, Liddell “considered athletics as an addendum to his life rather than his sole reason for living it.”

     Eric Liddell ran for God’s glory, but he was made for China.  He desperately wanted the nation he loved to hear the Gospel of Jesus Christ and believe.  David J. Michell, director for Canada Overseas Missionary Fellowship, would introduce Liddell’s collected devotional writings, The Disciplines of the Christian Life, by stating simply that “Eric Liddell’s desire was to know God more deeply, and as a missionary, to make him known more fully.”

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I Corinthians 9:24-25  —  Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize?  Run in such a way as to get the prize.  Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training.  They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever.

Philippians 3:13b-14  —  Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.

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Thanks be to thee, my Lord Jesus Christ,
for all the benefits thou hast given me,
for all the pains and insults thou hast borne for me.
O most merciful redeemer, friend and brother,
may I know thee more clearly,
love thee more dearly,
and follow thee more nearly, day by day.  Amen.

–Prayer of St. Richard of Chichester  (1197-1253)

1569) Made for China (a)

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Eric Liddell  (1902-1945)

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By Albert Mohler, at AlbertMohler.com

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     The medal ceremony at the Olympics is a moment of rare pomp and ceremony in this informal age.  The ceremonies represent both climax and catharsis, with athletes awarded the coveted gold, silver, and bronze medals placed around their necks.  It was not always so.

     When Eric Liddell, “the Flying Scot,” won the 400 meter race and the gold medal at the 1924 games in Paris, there was no awards ceremony.  Back then, the medals were engraved after the games and mailed in a simple package to the victors.  But, even without the medal ceremony, there was glory.  Liddell instantly became a hero to the entire United Kingdom and was recognized as one of the greatest athletes of his age.

     Americans of my generation remember Eric Liddell largely because of Chariots of Fire, the 1981 British film written by Colin Welland, produced by David Puttnam, and directed by Hugh Hudson.  The film was a surprising success in both Britain and the United States, winning four Academy Awards including Best Picture.  The musical score for the film by Vangelis won another of the Oscars, and its theme is still instantly recognizable to those who have seen the movie.

     To its credit, Chariots of Fire recognized Eric Liddell’s Christian faith and testimony.  His story is inseparable from the drama of his refusal to compete on Sunday, believing it to be a breaking of God’s commandment.  Though this determination was well-known before the 1924 Olympics, it became internationally famous when heats for Liddell’s best race, 100 meters, were scheduled for Sunday.

     The dramatic plot of Chariots of Fire presented a personal competition between Liddell and Harold Abrahams, another top runner who had experienced the agonies of anti-Semitism as a student at Cambridge.  When Liddell withdrew from the 100 meter event, Abrahams won, bringing Britain glory.  Liddell had become a figure of ridicule, with everyone from athletic officials to British leaders unable to persuade him to sacrifice his moral convictions for the Olympic glory he was promised.

     Liddell was left to run the 400 meter race, an event for which he was not favored and to which he knew he brought liabilities in terms of his racing form.  But run he did, and he ran right into the history books, winning the gold medal with a personal story that shocked the world, even in the 1920s.  His intensity of Christian conviction was already out of style and often ridiculed, but Eric Liddell became one of the most famous men in the British Empire and the larger world of athletics.

     Those who have seen Chariots of Fire well remember how it ends, with the magnificent and sentimental music of Sir Hubert Parry’s anthem “Jerusalem” and William Blake’s famous words: “Bring me my Bow of burning gold; Bring me my Arrows of desire: Bring me my Spear: O clouds unfold! Bring me my Chariot of fire!”

     Then the screen fills with these words in text: “Eric Liddell, missionary, died in occupied China at the end of World War II. All of Scotland mourned.”  The end.

     But in those few words was the real story of Eric Liddell.  Yes, he was one of the most famous athletes of modern times and the Olympic glory of Scotland.  He was also a Christian who refused to compete on Sunday and refused to compromise.

     Unquestionably, Eric Liddell was made to run.  And yet, more than anything else, Eric Liddell believed that “God made me for China.”

     Many Christians are proud to quote Liddell’s most famous lines from Chariots of Fire:  “God made me fast.  And when I run, I feel his pleasure.”  God did make Eric Liddell fast, and he ran for God’s glory, but those words were not actually from Liddell.  They were written by Colin Welland and put in the voice of Liddell, as played by actor Ian Charleson.

     What Liddell did say, and more than once, was that God made him for China.  This is what the viewers of the movie never learned.  Liddell was born in Tientsin, China to missionary parents in 1902.  James and Mary Liddell were in China under the commission of the London Missionary Society.  As Duncan Hamilton, author of a very fine new biography of Liddell explains, as a young boy Eric Liddell simply considered himself to be Chinese.

     Later, Eric and his brother would be sent to boarding school near London and would know their parents only through correspondence and brief visits.  But China was always on Liddell’s heart.  (continued…)

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Movie trailer for Chariots of Fire, 1981 Academy Award Best Picture:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uPe27x0_W2M

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Duncan Hamilton’s new biography is For the Glory: Eric Liddell’s Journey from Olympic Champion to Modern Martyr (New York: Penguin Press, 2016).

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Exodus 20:8-10a  —  Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.  Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God.  On it you shall not do any work.

Proverbs 16:3  —  Commit to the Lord whatever you do, and he will establish your plans.

Colossians 3:23a  —  Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart.

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O God, who has commanded that no one should be idle, give us grace to employ our talents and faculties in the service appointed for us; that, whatever our hand finds to do, we may do it with all our might.  Amen.

–James Martineau  (1805-1900)

1568) Sawing Off the Branch We are Sitting On

By Eric Metaxas and Roberto Rivera, July 24, 2017, at:  www.breakpoint.org

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     What happens when a civilization forgets— or rejects— its roots?  We’re seeing it right now. 

     “Europe is committing suicide.  Or at least its leaders have decided to commit suicide.”  Those are the opening words of Douglas Murray’s controversial best-seller, “The Strange Death of Europe: Immigration, Identity, Islam.”

     What Murray means when he says that Europe is “committing suicide” is that “the civilization we know as Europe is in the process of committing suicide.”  It’s a fate that neither his native “Britain nor any other Western European country can avoid . . . because [they] all appear to suffer from the same symptoms and maladies.”

     It’s Murray’s diagnosis of these “symptoms and maladies” that should interest Christians.

     As the subtitle suggests, Murray’s book covers much of the same ground as other recent books by authors such as Mark Steyn, Bruce Bawer, and the French novelist Michelle Houellebecq.  These books seek to warn readers about the threat to European institutions and values posed by mass Islamic immigration.

     While Murray is, to put it mildly, skeptical about the possibility of successfully assimilating millions of Muslim immigrants and their children, this mass migration alone wasn’t enough to cause the “strange death” alluded to in his title.

     As Murray tells readers, “even the mass movement of millions of people into Europe would not sound such a final note for the continent were it not for the fact that (coincidentally or otherwise) at the same time Europe lost faith in its beliefs, traditions and legitimacy.”

     In other words, it is mass Islamic immigration plus Europe’s spiritual exhaustion— my words not his— that threaten to put an end to European civilization.

     And at the heart of the loss of faith Murray cites is Europe’s turning its back on Christianity.

     In one chapter he writes about a sense shared by many European intellectuals, including himself, that “life in modern liberal democracies is to some extent thin or shallow and that life in modern Western Europe in particular has lost its sense of purpose.”

   According to Murray, “Here is an inheritance of thought and culture and philosophy and religion which has nurtured people for thousands of years and may well fulfill you too.”

     The “religion” Murray refers to is, of course, Christianity, which he calls the “source” of European ideas about rights, laws, and the institutions that protect them.  He tells his secularized readers that “There is no reason why the inheritor of a Judeo-Christian civilization and Enlightenment Europe should spend much, if any, of their time warring with those who still hold the faith from which so many of those beliefs and rights spring.”

     He also derides the varieties of “European Christianity [that] have lost the confidence to proselytize or even believe in their own message.”  This lack of confidence, in Murray’s estimation, is why some young Europeans turn to Islam, which doesn’t suffer from the sense that “the story has run out.”

     What makes Murray’s account especially interesting is that he is a self-described atheist.  His reasons for disbelief aren’t particularly persuasive, but that doesn’t negate his much-needed reminder of Europe’s debt to Christianity and how its rejection of its Christian past threatens its future.  The same, of course, could be said about America.

     As Murry writes, “If being ‘European’ is not about race— as we hope it is not— then it is even more imperative that it is about ‘values.’  This is what makes the question What are European values? so important.”

     It’s a question that can’t be answered without first acknowledging the source of those values.

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“Civilizations die from suicide, not by murder.”

–Arnold Toynbee, British historian  (1889-1975)

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Nobel Prize winning author Alexsander Solzhenitsyn (1918-2008) described how this loss of faith in God devastated Russia:

“Over a half century ago, while I was still a child, I recall hearing a number of old people offer the following explanation for the great disasters that had befallen Russia: “Men have forgotten God; that’s why all this has happened.”  Since then I have spent well-nigh 50 years working on the history of our revolution; in the process I have read hundreds of books, collected hundreds of personal testimonies, and have already contributed eight volumes of my own toward the effort of clearing away the rubble left by that upheaval.  But if I were asked today to formulate as concisely as possible the main cause of the ruinous revolution that swallowed up some 60 million of our people, I could not put it more accurately than to repeat:  “Men have forgotten God; that’s why all this has happened.”

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Jeremiah 13:24-25  —  “I will scatter you like chaff driven by the desert wind.  This is your lot, the portion I have decreed for you declares the Lord“because you have forgotten me and trusted in false gods.”

Jeremiah 2:31-32a  —  You of this generation, consider the word of the Lord:  …Why do my people say, ‘We are free to roam; we will come to you no more’?  Does a young woman forget her jewelry, a bride her wedding ornaments?  Yet my people have forgotten me.

Deuteronomy 8:10-14a…17-19  —  When you have eaten and are satisfied, praise the Lord your God for the good land he has given you.  Be careful that you do not forget the Lord your God, failing to observe his commands, his laws and his decrees that I am giving you this day.  Otherwise, when you eat and are satisfied, when you build fine houses and settle down, and when your herds and flocks grow large and your silver and gold increase and all you have is multiplied, then your heart will become proud and you will forget the Lord your God…  You may say to yourself, “My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me.”  But remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth, and so confirms his covenant, which he swore to your ancestors, as it is today.  If you ever forget the Lord your God and follow other gods and worship and bow down to them, I testify against you today that you will surely be destroyed.

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Praise the Lord, my soul;
    all my inmost being, praise his holy name.
Praise the Lord, my soul,
    and forget not all his benefits.

–Psalm 103:1-2

1567) Wheat and Weeds (c)

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     (…continued)  This parable provides some insight into the nagging problem of why God allows so much trouble in our lives.  The potential for trouble came when God created us with a free will to live as He has commanded, or, to do it our own way; to live for our Creator, or to ignore our Heavenly Father.  God could have eliminated the possibility of the weeds by creating us not in his image, but in the image of a robot, designed to act as programmed.  Even now, God could remove every tyrant, restrain every unreasonable boss, force every bully to be kind, shut the mouth of everyone who gossips or tells a lie, and so forth.  But God would have to make robots of us to do that, and would have to take away our choices, freedom, personality, character, and everything that makes us human.  God could pull out all the weeds and eliminate the freedom; but then the wheat of our humanity would also be gone. 

     The same freedom that makes evil possible, also creates the opportunity to choose real love, service, kindness, nobility, courage, and sacrifice; all those things that make relationships real and life worth living.  Tear out the weeds and there won’t be any wheat left either. God will one day sort this out, do away with all the evil, heal our hearts and minds, and things will be different.  But not yet; so for the time being, it is for us to use the freedom God has given us to choose him and his ways.  For now, said the farmer in the parable, let it all grow together, weeds and wheat, the freedom to do evil along with the freedom to do good. 

     This doesn’t mean God never intervenes.  It is clear from the Bible that He does.  But when and where God intervenes is up to Him, and is very hard to understand.  We just have to leave it at that.

     The fact that God does not always intervene means that God wants this world to be a place that provides humans with choice, and with the possibility of developing good character or poor character.  When we tell children to “make good choices,” are we only hoping they will manage to stay out of trouble for the day?  No.  It is our hope that the good choices will become habits and the children will grow into good people who naturally want to do the right thing.  Of course, this may or may not happen.  Children are free to choose.  A world that permits the development of moral character is much better than a world that would not permit such freedom; even if this means great suffering is also permitted.  This doesn’t mean God causes the suffering or approves of it.  But moral development and goodness and meaningful relationships are possible only in a world of genuine freedom.

     I know a man who makes robots.  He designs and perfects the computers in these robots until they do exactly what he wants them to do.  They are perfectly obedient and agreeable to his every command.  But I don’t remember him ever saying he was friends with any of his robots.  He loves his kids, though.  He’s a good father, and does his best to teach his children to do what is right and make good choices.  But, unlike the robots, they don’t always do what he tells them to do.  Sometimes they break his heart with their disobedience and rebellion.  But their dad still loves them.  Sometimes they return that love, and that makes all the heartache worthwhile.  That imperfect love, freely given, is still infinitely better than any perfectly programmed obedience.

   If your main goal in parenting is to prevent children from making a mistake or getting hurt, you will destroy their lives.  They have to choose, they have to learn, and they have to grow; or they will never become capable of developing a nature or character that chooses the good.

     That is why my dad eventually let me have the car– even though he knew he was taking the risk of losing me, like Donny’s dad lost him; and, like our heavenly Father loses so many of his children.

     Near the end of his life, Joshua gathered together the people of Israel that he had led for so many years.  In his farewell address to them, he began by retelling the history of all the ways God had provided for them, rescued them, and brought them to the Promised Land.  The Joshua said (24:14-15):

Now, fear the Lord and serve him with all faithfulness… But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve.  But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord. 

     Use the freedom God has given you to choose to serve and obey the one who, in the parable, sows the good seed, the Son of Man, Jesus Christ.

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You’re gonna have to serve somebody, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord; but you’re gonna have to serve somebody.

–Bob Dylan, Gotta Serve Somebody, 1979 album Slow Train Coming

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jtIEYjNZgiU

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Psalm 103:13  —  As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him.

Psalm 25:12  —  Who, then, are those who fear the Lord?  He will instruct them in the ways they should choose.

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 O God, from whom come all holy desires, all good counsels, and all just works; give to us, your servants, that peace which the world cannot give, so that our hearts may be set to obey your commandments; and also that we, being defended from the fear of our enemies, may live in peace and quietness.   Amen.

Lutheran Book of Worship, 1978, (#255)

1566) Wheat and Weeds (b)

     (…continued)  God faces this same problem with all of us, all the time.  That is a part of what is going on in Jesus’ parable in Matthew 13 (verses 24-30…36-43):

            Jesus told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field.   But while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away.   When the wheat sprouted and formed heads, then the weeds also appeared.  “The owner’s servants came to him and said, ‘Sir, didn’t you sow good seed in your field? Where then did the weeds come from?’  “‘An enemy did this,’ he replied. “The servants asked him, ‘Do you want us to go and pull them up?’  “‘No,’ he answered, ‘because while you are pulling the weeds, you may uproot the wheat with them.   Let both grow together until the harvest. At that time I will tell the harvesters: First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn.’”

            …Then Jesus left the crowd and went into the house. His disciples came to him and said, “Explain to us the parable of the weeds in the field.”  He answered, “The one who sowed the good seed is the Son of Man.  The field is the world, and the good seed stands for the people of the kingdom. The weeds are the people of the evil one, and the enemy who sows them is the devil. The harvest is the end of the age, and the harvesters are angels. As the weeds are pulled up and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of the age.   The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil. They will throw them into the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.   Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Whoever has ears, let them hear.”

       A man sowed good seed in his field.  But when everyone was sleeping, an enemy came a sowed weeds among the wheat, and the wheat and the weeds grew up together.  “Now what?” asked the man servants; “Should we go out and pull up all those weeds?”  But of course that wouldn’t work.  You might be able to pull out the weeds between rows of corn, but wheat is planted too close together, and the roots of the weeds are too intertwined with the roots of your wheat; so every time you pull up a weed, you are bound to lose some wheat.  You’ll end up with no weeds, but no crop either.  “Leave it alone,” said the farmer, “don’t interfere with the growth.  We’ll sort it out at the harvest.” 

            That’s just how it is in this world and this life, Jesus told his disciples when he explained this parable to them.  The devil has made a mess of things here, and so have we, by listening to the devil instead of to God.  And one day, at the end of the age, God will get rid of all the evil.  But in the meantime, God is just going to let a lot of it go.  And we can be glad He does. 

            We might wish God would just eliminate all the evil in the world.  I even have a few suggestions as to where he could begin that process.  God could start by getting rid of Dennis Rodman’s good friend, Kim Jung-Un in North Korea; and from there God could go on to eliminate the ISIS organization and everyone in it; and then he could rid the earth of those gang members in New York who recently lured four teenagers to a remote area of a park and then hacked them to death with machetes.  I have several other good ideas on where God could start eliminating wicked people. 

            But where would God stop if He was going to eliminate ALL the evil?  If God started pulling up all the weeds, am I so pure and sinless that I can be certain He would stop before he got to me?  Would it be a perfect, problem-free world with no evil whatsoever if everyone was as wonderful as me?  Or you?

            After enduring eight years of evil in a Russian prison camp in Siberia, Alexander Solzhenitsyn said what he learned was that the line between good and evil does not run between different people, but right down the middle of every human heart.  We should give thanks to God that he is letting the weeds and wheat grow together, because there is some of each in our own heart.  (continued…)

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Merciful God, I confess to you my sins.
I confess the sins that no one knows about, and the sins that everyone knows about.
I confess the sins that are a burden to me, and the sins that do not bother me because I have grown used to them.

I confess to you all my sins.
Father, forgive me, through Jesus Christ my Lord. Amen. 

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     Image result for solzhenitsyn quotes images heart

1565) Wheat and Weeds (a)

            One of my favorite preachers was Fred Craddock (1928-2015), a long time professor of preaching and the pastor of a church in Cherry Log, Georgia. 

            Fred and his wife were invited to the home of Charles and Emily for dinner.  When everyone got ready to gather around the table, Charles said to Emily, “Where’s Robbie?”  Robbie was their seven-year-old son.

            She said, “I think he’s outside.”  So Emily went to the back door and called him.  There was no response, so she went into the backyard.  Then she came running back, and said frantically, “Charles, do something!  Robbie has a snake!”

            Charles replied calmly, “Leave him alone.  You shouldn’t interfere with a boy growing up.”

            She said, “But it’s a snake.”

            He said, “Emily, our guests are ready for the meal.  Let’s be seated.”

            “But it’s a snake, Charles,” Emily said again, adding, “and we have poisonous snakes around here, you know.”

            “Yes, I know,” Charles said, “so either he’ll be all right, or he’ll learn a lesson about what snakes to avoid.”

            Robbie came in after a little bit, and his dad said, “Go wash up, Robbie. Always wash your hands after you’ve been playing with snakes.”

            Fred Craddock goes on to say:  “Charles was right, you know.  You shouldn’t interfere with a child’s growing up, always protecting them from the bruises and pain and disappointments and the tears that are going to come.  Just let them get up, brush themselves off, and get back up in the saddle or back on the bicycle.  You can’t move every wall, so don’t stop them if they’re headed for one.  They’ll hit that wall and that’s how they learn.  Charles was right.  But Emily was right, too, because it was a snake!  What kind of snake?  Charles didn’t know, but it was a snake.  And Emily was right that sometimes the danger is too great, sometimes the price is too high.  This is a question, of course, every parent deals with every day.  Should I or should I not interfere?”

            My wife and I faced that question with our kids all the time, and I know my parents faced it with me.  I remember one time in particular.

            My Dad owned milk trucks, picking up milk up at the farms and taking it to the creamery.  Dairy cows don’t take weekends off, and neither do dairy farmers, nor do milk haulers.  There was one time Dad went two years straight without missing a single day of getting in that truck and picking up the milk.  So when I, the oldest son, got my driver’s license, Dad was ready for a day off.  I still didn’t have a license to drive a truck that size, but Dad said the license I had was close enough.  He had been teaching me to drive, and how to back around on farmers’ yards and into the creamery.  So the very first day after I turned 16 and got my license, Dad sent me out with the truck on my own.  And that was okay with me, because I liked hauling milk, and at that age you like to drive anything, anytime. 

          But when I asked Dad for the car that weekend, he said “No, of course not; you’re just a kid and you haven’t even had your license a week yet.”  And all I could say was, “What?”  What was the difference?  But that was that, Dad said no more, and I did not get the car. 

            Well, the difference was this:  Dad knew I was capable of driving a truck and a car.  But in the truck, it was just me and the truck and a job to do.  With the car there would be friends, and the temptation to drive fast, show off, and act like an idiot, which is what teenage boys do.  Not only that, but Dad was probably thinking about Donny.

            Donny was the son of a family friend.  He was a little bit older than I was, and he also drove his dad’s truck.  Even as a kid, Donny was a great truck driver.  He drove with the confidence and skill of a veteran driver, not slow and uncertain like I did when I started driving.  Donny’s dad always let him have the car, and Donny, like most boys, liked to drive fast.  One night, he took a corner too fast, went off the road, and hit a tree; and Donny was killed.  Donny was a great truck driver, but not yet a mature car driver; and that is maybe what my dad had in mind when he would not let me have the car.

            Charles said, “You can’t interfere with a boy growing up.”  But Fred Craddock said, “Sometimes the price is too high.”  Robbie got along allright, and he was learning to be independent, tough, and how to make good choices about snakes.  But in that learning process, immature kids can make mistakes. Donny made a mistake, and he lost his life.

            The safest thing to do would be to never let those immature, reckless, mischievous kids outside alone, never let them climb trees, never let them play with snakes, never let them wrestle around in the back yard, never let them play with friends without adult supervision to prevent bullying, and certainly not ever let them drive the car alone.  That would eliminate a lot of the bumps, bruises, heartache, and dangers of growing up. 

            But we all know that won’t work.  While that approach might eliminate some of the pain of growing up, it would at the same time, make growing up impossible

          There is much in life that is like this.  Oftentimes we have to allow something we don’t like to go on, in order to reach a goal that is good.  Parents face this all the time, and it is difficult to know what to do– when to step back and not interfere with a child’s growing up, and when to step in and protect them.  (continued…)

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Proverbs 22:15a  —  Folly is bound up in the heart of a child.

Hebrews 12:11  —  For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.

Ephesians 6:4  —  Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.

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Loving God,
You are the giver of all we possess,
the source of all of our blessings.
We thank and praise you.

Thank you for the gift of our children.

Help us to set boundaries for them,
and yet encourage them to explore.
Give us the strength and courage to treat
each day as a fresh start.

May our children come to know you, the one true God,
and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.

May your Holy Spirit help them to grow in faith, hope, and love,
so they may know peace, truth, and goodness.

May their ears hear your voice.
May their eyes see your presence in all things.
May their lips proclaim your word.
May their hearts be your dwelling place.
May their hands do works of charity.
May their feet walk in the way of Jesus Christ,
your Son and our Lord.  Amen.

–www.loyolapress.com

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Image result for bulk milk trucks

1564) Life Sentence

A Local Preacher and a Jailhouse Jesus Freak Brought Me to Faith in Prison

By Gene McGuire, Christianity Today, June 2017, pages 79-80.  Gene McGuire is the author of Unshackled: From Ruin to Redemption (Emerge Publishing).  He lives in the Dallas–Fort Worth area, where he serves as pastor for a Christian family-owned restaurant company, Babe’s Chicken Dinner House.  His website is:  http://www.genemcguire.org

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     It happened in a blur.  One minute we were enjoying a night out, shooting pool.  The next thing I knew, we were running from the law— wanted for murder.

     I’d always looked up to my out-of-town cousin, Bobby.  I was thrilled when he invited me to come along that night.  The Marine Room was well known in my circle of friends as a place that didn’t card minors.  At 17, a high school sophomore, I was confident they’d serve me.

     Alcohol abuse was prevalent in my rural Pennsylvania home.  My biological dad drank himself to death.  My mom couldn’t tell me not to drink, since she did— excessively— every day.  She did try to keep me home that night.  “It’s too late,” she said, when we started out the door at 11 p.m.  I begged Bobby to talk Mom into it.  He did.  We were off, along with my stepbrother Sid.

     A few games of pool and several drinks in, Bobby told us he was going to rob the place.  While surprised at his sudden intentions, the alcohol seemed to dull any impulse for protest.  Sid and I would leave— as locals, we’d be recognized— and Bobby would commit the robbery alone.

     We waited outside.  It was taking too long.  After several minutes, we poked our heads in the door— Bobby had brutally murdered the bar owner.  He shouted, “Don’t just stand there!  Help me find the money!”  Before long, we were on the run.

     I followed Bobby to New York City.  We visited drug dens and stayed in roach-infested motel rooms.  But I couldn’t escape the reality of what had happened.  I decided to return to Pennsylvania and turn myself in.  Bobby said, “Tell them the truth, Gene.  It was all me.”

     I told the detectives everything I knew— and as I did, I realized I wouldn’t be going home.  Because I was present when the crime was committed, I was charged with murder.  A public defender convinced me to plead guilty in hopes of receiving a lenient sentence.  “Maybe you’ll be out in 10 years,” he said.

     A day before my 18th birthday, the judge sentenced me:  “For the rest of your natural life,” without the possibility of parole.

     Life in prison mimics most of the stories and stereotypes you’ve heard.  Violence, drugs, gangs, assaults— they’re all there.  So are the characters.  I met a wide and varied cast.  Two men, in particular, stand out.  The first was a fellow lifer, a jailhouse Jesus freak named Warner.  The second was a local preacher named Larry.

     Guys called Warner “Big Moses.”  He was larger than life.  He’d wake up early every morning and shout, “Get up, you convicts, and praise the Lord!  This is the day the Lord has made!  Rise up!  Rejoice and be glad in it!”  Guys would shout back, “Be quiet, Moses!  It’s too early!”

     There are a lot of “religious guys” in prison, but Warner was the real deal.  He genuinely loved his fellow inmates, and served and encouraged them.  I can’t tell you how many times he posted up outside my cell, confronting me about decisions I was making.  He always had a word for me— especially when it was the last thing I wanted to hear.

     I met Larry when he visited as part of Prison Invasion ’86, a nationwide outreach event.  It’s a long story how I even found my way into those meetings, because I went kicking and screaming.  God had used a number of people: my mom (who had recently come to faith in Christ), people who wrote me letters, fellow inmates like Warner, and members of the prison staff who knew the Lord.

     Walking into that prison chapel was like nothing I’d experienced before.  There was loud worship music playing.  Volunteers from local churches lined the hall, welcoming inmates, passing out hugs like everybody was their friend.  A preacher shared a gospel message and ended with an invitation saying, “Real men make commitments.”  I held still.

     I returned the next day.  Same thing— the music, the people, their genuineness and warmth.  Again, the preacher ended with those words, “Real men make commitments.”  I watched as others made the commitment.  I really wanted to— but I couldn’t.  As the service ended, the volunteers began approaching guys to chat.  I tried not to make eye contact, hoping no one would approach me.

     “Hi, my name is Larry,” he began.  After introductions, I asked, “How long have you been a Christian?”  “Since I was 4 years old,” he replied.  “And I’ve known God’s calling on my life— to be a missionary— since I was 5.”  Was he putting me on?  If a 4-year-old could sort out this Jesus stuff, why couldn’t I?  If a 5-year-old could know his life’s direction, what was I doing at 26 without a clue?

     As our time ran out, he handed me his card with an address and phone number.  “Listen, Gene,” he said, “if there is anything you need— a Bible, some clothes, books to read, anything at all— you write or give me a call.”  He meant it.  I could tell.

     The next day— the final service— I went back, and again it ended with the familiar “Real men make commitments.”  A war raged within me— Go! No, don’t go! Get up! No, don’t move!  I held on to the chapel pew with a white-knuckled death grip.  I pressed my feet into the floor as if they’d grown roots.  I was holding on for dear life.

     Suddenly, it just happened.  I was on my feet, putting one in front of the other until I was at the altar.  I remember praying, “Jesus, I believe you died and rose again for me.  Please forgive all my sins.  I want to be saved.  Jesus, come into my heart today.  Amen.”

     It sounds cliché, but I felt as if a ton of weight rolled right off my back, as if chains fell away and I was free.

     The Scriptures promise that we become a new creation in Christ, that the old passes away and all things are made new (2 Corinthians 5:17).  Life in prison remained life in prison, but from the moment I believed in Jesus, the newness of life was extraordinary.  God opened the doors to healing, new relationships, and ministry opportunities I never could have imagined.

     The Lord continued to use Larry in my life; for the next 25 years he mentored and discipled me, never letting me lose sight of opportunities to love God and serve others, no matter my circumstances.

     Meanwhile, I was actively petitioning the governor to commute my life sentence.  Yet another attempt— after 32 years in prison and 2 1/2 years waiting for an answer— ended in rejection.  I was discouraged, but returned to my cell as I had each time before, thanking God for protecting and providing for me.  As I was giving thanks, I heard God say, “I am going to release you.”  I had no idea when or how, but I rested in his promise.

     Then, in June 2010, I received a notice from an attorney out of the blue.  It informed me of a new Supreme Court ruling (Graham v. Florida) that could offer juveniles given life sentences the opportunity to return to court and possibly receive a lighter sentence.

     On April 3, 2012— sitting at the same table in the same courtroom as three decades earlier— I finally got my release.  As a 17-year-old looking squarely at a lifetime behind bars, I never would have imagined this outcome.

     But God’s love is so great that nothing can separate us from it; his mercy and grace so powerful that no shackles can confine us.  I’m living proof.  I received a life sentence and, along the way, I found life— and freedom.

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John 10:10b  —  (Jesus said), “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”

Genesis 39:20-21a  —  Joseph’s master took him and put him into the prison, the place where the king’s prisoners were confined, and he was there in prison.  But the Lord was with Joseph and showed him steadfast love.

Psalm 142:6a…7a  —  Give heed to my cry; for I am brought very low…  Bring me out of prison, that I may give thanks to thy name.

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Jesus, I believe you died and rose again for me.  Please forgive all my sins.  I want to be saved.  Jesus, come into my heart today.  Amen.

1563) In the Image of God

Related image

The Creation of Adam, 1512, Michaelangelo,

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What Does it Mean to Be Made in the Image of God?

By journalist and author, Lee Strobel

     That humans are made in the image of God is one of the most important Biblical revelations for Christians — and it is also one that has been viciously attacked by those outside the faith.  It’s true that the endless murders, rapes, assaults, genocides and other forms of violence and cruelty in our world seem to taunt us:  How could humans be created in the image of God when we commit such evil acts?  How do we explain wars and abuse if we share the same characteristics as God himself?  Some people even claim that while we may be more sophisticated and advanced than the rest of the animal kingdom, our ultimate value is no greater than that of any creature, since we’ve all evolved naturalistically and without any divine imprint.

     Imago Dei means “the image of God.”  Ultimately, this phrase refers to two things:  the characteristics of the human spirit and our ability to know the difference between right and wrong, good and evil.

     Our human spirit provides evidence that God’s traits — his love, justice and freedom — are alive in us.  Human nature is utterly without peer on earth.  As Dr. Ian Tattersall says, “Homo sapiens is not simply an improved version of its ancestors — it’s a new concept.”  At the most basic level of this nature is our self-realization, grounded in our self-consciousness, our ability to reason, and our emotions, such as anger and love.  Our consciousness enables us to see that we have inherent value apart from our utility or function.

     Another quality we share with God is the moral ability to recognize good and evil, which God exemplified through Adam and Eve.  We can therefore act freely in a morally good or evil way.  We can choose either to reflect the moral image of God or to reject it, but either way, the ability to make the choice reveals our underlying similarity to our Creator.

     It cannot be overstated just how different humans are from the rest of creation.  The vast chasms separating consciousness from unconsciousness and morality from amorality speak to the strong evidence that we are indeed made in the image of God.

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Genesis 1:27  —  God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.

Genesis 2:15-17  —   The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.  And the Lord God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden;  but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.”

Genesis 3:22  —  And the Lord God said, “The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil.  He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever.”

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PSALM 8:1a…3-9:

Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!…

When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars, which you have set in place,
what is mankind that you are mindful of them,
    human beings that you care for them?

You have made them a little lower than the angels
    and crowned them with glory and honor.
You made them rulers over the works of your hands;
    you put everything under their feet:
all flocks and herds, and the animals of the wild,
the birds in the sky, and the fish in the sea,
    all that swim the paths of the seas.

Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!