Sermon Blog

an interactive blog from winona lake grace brethren church

Nothing Like It: Matthew 5:13-16; 28:18-20

September 20, 2019

Flowers showing up in the sidewalks of life

Diamonds appearing in the sands of time

Light shining in unexpected places—

surprising others on the path.

 

Yellow roses instead of dandelions

Strawberries in place of thistles

Peach trees where sumac once stood—

leaving others wondering how.

 

Stars shining in the dark of night

Gold dust glistening on blackest coal

Jewels reflecting “sonlight”—

catching others’ attention.

 

Is it God’s new heaven and new earth?

The most beautiful creation that will ever be?

Is it Jesus’ new order and society?

The most beautiful community that can ever be?

 

Yes!

 

In the longest sermon recorded in the Bible, Jesus painted an amazing picture of what he came to create. It was to be a new order and society—unprecedented, unequaled, untarnished, unstoppable. He called it his “kingdom.” He said the members of this new order would love their enemies; would rejoice when persecuted; would be the salt and light of the whole world; would be as perfect as the heavenly Father is. Unbelievable!  And human terms, unachievable.

How can we be light-bearers in the dark of night? Gold dust in the midst of sin as black as coal? Flowers on the well-worn sidewalks of life? How can we “shine like stars in the universe”? (Phil 2:15)

It can only happen when there’s something on the inside that makes possible what’s on the outside—when we’re changed from the inside out. Only when our hearts are so filled with the thoughts, words, and actions of Jesus himself can we become messengers of healing, models of love, ambassadors of grace—reproducing ourselves in others. It’s the most beautiful community that can ever be.

Let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven” (Matt 5:16). Get the point? When the saints go undercover (or under the sidewalk, or under a bushel), we can’t fulfill the most important role Jesus has for us. If his kingdom is to accomplish all he intended, he desperately needs us to be diamonds—even if in the rough; peach trees—even if only saplings; stars—even if not always shining perfectly.

“May your kingdom come, Lord; may your will be done; may our lives bring you honor, advance your kingdom, and help to accomplish your will—on earth, as it is in heaven.

(Oh, and regarding the beauty of the new heaven and new earth, see Revelation 21:1—22:5.)

DBS

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Work as a Place to Minister.  1 Peter 2:11-25

September 19, 2019

Verna,  leaves for work at 6:30 a.m. each weekday. Many mornings’ she asks herself, “Why do I keep doing this? The job is pointless and makes me miserable.”

Tom typically finishes his work day at 11 p.m. Some nights he works overtime. Like Verna he mumbles to himself. “I’ve been doing this for eight years and there’s just no challenge.”

Why do you work? Is your work a calling? Are you grumpy about work? Examining today’s Scripture passage can help twenty-first century disciples craft a faith and work strategy.

Disciples in the first century (often citizens of Rome) were challenged to live as if they were physically in exile—foreigners in their own culture. Some disciples were also living as slaves. Regardless of their social status each disciple was called to acknowledge their primary allegiance to God. These were challenging times. Following Christ as the “Shepherd and Overseer of our souls,” always calls for whole-hearted commitment (1 Peter 2:25).

Our culture has faith and work related issues which sound different than those of the first century. We have air-conditioned workspaces, spotlessly clean factory floors, OSHA regulations, union rules and classrooms with sophisticated technology. As you consider the ten additional and specific instructions set out in the passage (I Peter 2:11-25) work on developing your understanding of the contrasts with your life to that of the first disciples.

You should know the ten instructions are like ten spokes of a wheel from the radiant center Who is the Christ.  To get you started the first two applications have a suggested comparison.

 

Life Application Questions:

  1. Compare and contrast our work situation and that of the first disciples of Jesus. Which instructions apply today, and what does it look like to live them out in your vocation?
  • Abstain from sinful desires—always applies in each generation
  • Live good lives among the people of this world—always applies in each generation
  • Submit to human authority
  • Live as free people
  • Live as God’s slaves— find your identity in your calling as followers of Jesus rather than in the circumstances of race, gender, or socio-political status
  • Show proper respect to everyone—knowing you will be accused of doing wrong
  • Love the family of believers
  • Fear God
  • Honor the emperor
  • As for you who are legally slaves there are additional instructions and insights

AS

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Impossibly Possible. 2 Timothy 2

September 18, 2019

Daniel chapter two is quite a rollercoaster of a story. How awful would it be if you had to walk into work tomorrow and be given an impossible task? An impossible task that results in devastating consequences for you if it doesn’t get completed. How would you respond? Daniel was faced with the “impossible” task of interpreting a powerful king’s dream under the penalty of death. Not only did he have to interpret the dream, but he must describe the dream to the king as well. Yet, Daniel moves forward in faith by scheduling an appointment with the king to interpret it for him (even though Daniel did not yet know the dream). In the end, God reveals the dream to Daniel, the king of Babylon worships God as Sovereign, and Daniel is promoted to a prestigious and influential position in the kingdom.

As I reflect on the unfolding of this historical drama, I can’t help but admire the incredible faith Daniel displayed under intense pressure. Daniel seemed to respond to the immovable truth that God is bigger than our present circumstances as he acknowledged the absolute authority of God in all of creation (20-23). Sometimes, the seemingly impossible “tasks/relationships/decisions” are directly related to my understanding of recognizing who God is. My mind cannot comprehend the incredible reality that God is bigger.

Everyday God invites us to accompany Him on a daily journey through which he continually reveals how he is always bigger than our present circumstances. God is always sovereign. He always works out his kingdom agenda in this world. He is Lord of the impossibly possible relationships, hurdles, and mountains in our lives. So, as we pursue Christ today and every day, I invite you to join me in reflecting on how God is always bigger than our present circumstances.     .

Life Application Questions:

  1. What were some specific ways that God is revealed as bigger than the present circumstances in Daniel 2:1-49?
  2. What are some areas in your life where you might limit the bigger truth of God? Are there any decisions? Relationships? Hurts? Dreams? that might impact your view of Him?

LS

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Growing Like a Bad Weed Genesis 41

September 17, 2019

The other day, I told my 4 year old grandson that he was “growing like a bad weed”. He gave me a puzzled look and I had to explain that weeds grow a lot faster than flowers or vegetables and it was a constant battle to remove them.  He seemed satisfied when he realized that I had given him a compliment.  In our lives, betrayals, unfair work situations, being forgotten and alone are just a few of the crushing blows to our emotional well-being. The fields of difficulty become the fertile ground for weeds of bitterness, discouragement, and doubt to take root in. Weeds (like I described to my grandson), take over our gardens and flowerbeds quickly.. Once weeds begin to nibble at the edges of our lives’ fields, they spread and choke out any surviving spiritual crops.

Joseph had every reason to cultivate a life field with a hardy crop of spiritual weeds. Betrayed by his brothers, forced into a life of servitude, falsely accused, imprisoned’ and forgotten by the one who promised to remember were the unpleasant crops in the field of Joseph’s young life.  Yet, Joseph didn’t forget the God of his youth.  Whatever situation or task was thrust upon him, he did it to the best of the ability that God had endowed him with.  In Genesis 41, we catch up with imprisoned Joseph, falsely accused and quickly forgotten.  God had not abandoned him and much like Esther’s story, God had been setting the stage for such a time as this.

In Genesis 41, Pharaoh’s cupbearer finally remembers Joseph, during the Pharaoh’s crisis over a dream.  Genesis 41:15 “Pharaoh said to Joseph, ‘I had a dream, and no one can interpret it, BUT I have heard it said that when you hear a dream you can interpret it.”.  Finally, Joseph had been validated.  He could prove his worth and define the purpose of his life. He could conclude, he really did deserve that coat of many colors.

Despite the opportunity to impress the mighty Pharaoh with an interpretation based on his own wisdom, Joseph points Pharaoh to Yahweh.  Joseph continued to place his faith in Yahweh.

We see in Genesis 41, that Joseph’s trust in Yahweh propelled him into a strategic leadership position. Joseph’s life’s field was prospering.  In Egypt, the people surrounding Joseph trusted him because he served a trustworthy God. They followed his orders about crops and setting aside food for the coming lean years. Joseph was making a difference right where he was planted.

In Genesis 41:39-40, thirty year old Joseph is told by the mighty Pharaoh, “Since God has made all this known to you, there is no one so discerning and wise as you.  You shall be in charge of my palace and all my people are to submit to your orders.” This had not been his brothers’ response to Joseph.  This had not been his employer’s response to his exceptional service.  This was not the response that Joseph was expecting based on his past experiences in life. Joseph continued to follow Yahweh’s commands, despite his past experiences. God was setting the stage to bring about His perfect plan for his chosen people. Joseph became an integral part of this plan because he chose to keep his spiritual field free of the weeds of doubt, discouragement, and bitterness.  God desires to use each of us to impact those around us. We are partners with Him, on a mission.

Join me in keeping those bad weeds from growing up in our lives’ fields by pulling them out at the roots.

Life Application Questions:

  1. How have people let the weeds of discouragement and bitterness take root in their lives’ fields?
  2. Where have you seen God’s hand working behind the scenes to bring about His plan in your life and other’s lives?
  3. Read Genesis 41:16. How does Joseph respond to Pharaoh’s assertion that Joseph is the knowledgeable man and that Joseph should use his own wisdom to interpret the dream?
  4. What difficulties do you see in people’s lives? How have you seen people respond to those difficulties?
  5. How does a person’s response to difficulty impact those who interact with that person? What steps can we take, during difficult circumstances, to keep our fields free from spiritual weeds?
  6. What do you see as your part in God’s mission to reach a lost world?  What keeps you from a fruitful harvest?

LB

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How to succeed. Genesis 39

September 16, 2019

Do you know someone who seems to be successful no matter what they do? There was a musical once titled, “How to Succeed in Business without Really Trying.” Well, rarely, if ever, does anyone become good at what they do, to say nothing of succeeding, without doing much more than just trying! No matter what it looks like to most people, the successful worker’s accomplishments have come, no doubt, as the result of ingenuity and dependability, but also, lots of just plain hard work.

Joseph, on the other hand, had a true “secret for success.” But, that’s “the rest of the story.” Any of the great things he did came after years of being belittled, hated and sold by his brothers, lied about, and wrongfully imprisoned. During those years and years of unjust treatment, Joseph didn’t just show up for work—he rose to the top. He proved himself a most capable and trusted worker so much so that Scripture says: Potiphar put him in charge of his household, and he entrusted to his care everything he owned (v. 4); Potiphar left everything he had in Joseph’s care (v. 6). You don’t get that kind of advancement on the job without working hard, honestly, and productively.

When he was enslaved—this time to the prison warden, as in his previous experience, his stellar character was demonstrated by faithful work. Again, he proved to be most trustworthy, so The warden put Joseph in charge of all those held in the prison, and he was made responsible for all that was done there” (v. 22).

We can correctly conclude that hard work, even in the midst of seemingly impossible circumstances, has its own reward. But there’s even more to Joseph’s story. Study verses 2- 5, 21, & 23 to discover the “secret” of Joseph’s “success” in those difficulties.

Life Application Questions:

  1. What was the “secret” of Joseph’s “success”?
  2. How did Joseph’s experiences prepare him for ruling in Egypt?
  3. What’s it like where you work? Are you experiencing Joseph’s secret in your work life?
  4. How would your employer or fellow workers describe your work habits?
  5. How do you see your job and its location as God’s place for you on mission? How are you prepared to handle the temptations that may appear in your work environment?

What can you do when you feel you are “enslaved” in your job? How are you learning to trust God as Joseph did?   

JD, GD         

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Sparrows, Dolphins, and Us.  Romans 12:1-21; Hebrews 12:1-3

September 13, 2019

At our house we have a bird feeder for goldfinch. It’s a privilege to watch bright yellow birds (especially during the summer months) drop in and peck at the thistle seed in the feeder. Unfortunately, we recently made the mistake of buying a bag of seed that included—along with thistle—red and white millet, sunflower hearts, and canary seed. The bag said it was for finch, but what it didn’t tell us . . .

Here come the Sparrows . . . in mobs. They are suddenly all over the birdfeeder. Thistle seed was of no interest, but oh, how they love the other seeds. It’s sad to watch. The little goldfinch don’t stand a chance. The sparrows congregate in a nearby tree, flitting back and forth, forcing each other off the feeder perches, doing their dead-level best to get as much seed into their own beaks as possible—before another sparrow dive-bombs them. Sometimes it’s all-out bird-war.

Maybe we shouldn’t be surprised: they’re bird-brains after all. Maybe God created sparrows so people can observe how not to act.

Thankfully, there are other creatures in God’s vast creation who make great teammates. Dolphins, for example, cooperate together to do things that one dolphin could never do on its own. A pod of dolphins will surround a school of fish, confusing them and corralling them into a tightly packed “bait ball.” Then one-by-one the dolphins take turns plowing through the trapped fish, eating their fill, while the other dolphins keep swimming around the ball of fish to keep it contained. If all the dolphins tried to eat at the same time, it would be mayhem, and the bait ball would quickly disperse. There are many examples of dolphins working together, helping one another, solving problems.

In the early church, unfortunately, there were sparrows. “When you come together, it cannot be the Lord’s Supper you eat, for as you eat, each of you goes ahead without waiting for anybody else; one remains hungry, another gets drunk” (1 Cor 11:20-21). Fortunately, there were dolphins too. “All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone who had need” (Acts 2:44-45).

The NT paints a beautiful picture of true community among believers. Read the following statements and see if they make sense for how the body of Christ is designed to function.

  • Believers want what is the best for the whole rather than seeking what they prefer.
  • Believers readily forgive others and do not hold grudges.
  • Believers humbly associate with people from all walks of life.
  • Believers gather with other believers and focus on encouraging and building others up, rather than seeking their own interests.
  • Believers are pleased when others are honored, even if they are not.
  • Believers spend as much time as possible helping others, even if it means little time to do what they want.
  • Believers get involved in caring for the needs and concerns of others, even if it’s not convenient.
  • Believers are as generous as possible toward the “have nots,” even if it means getting by on less themselves.

Life Application Questions:

  1. Is that kind of community possible, or is it pie-in-the-sky?
  2. If dolphins could talk, how would they answer? Would sparrows feel convicted? What about us?
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Develop Healthy Relationships. Jeremiah 29:4-7

September 12, 2019

How do I maintain godly relationships with people in my culture during a time of spiritual punishment (Jeremiah-exile), a vengeful dictatorship (Paul-invasion), and armed conflict (H.L. Gilmour-war)? God’s specific answer occurs in Scripture for the first two individuals (Jeremiah and Paul). The latter (H.L. Gilmour) provides an example of God’s resource for this kind of life, which thankfully lives as musical poetry.

These individuals might not seem to have a lot in common. Did you know there’s a dentist involved?

Beginning with Jeremiah, we can trace the connections. As you read today’s primary passage look for words about work, community and family. Possibly written after 627 B.C., Jeremiah emphasized God’s expectations of behavior during the spiritual punishment we know as the Exile.

Moving forward in time (six centuries) the key word was not exile but invasion. Paul forcefully instructs Christ’s disciples. “[Wherever you find yourself, that’s where! Please, wherever you find yourself] conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the Gospel” (Philippians 1:27 NIV).

Living in the heritage of Israel (Philippians 3:4) it is not surprising the Apostle would make such a statement given his familiarity with Jeremiah’s instruction to God’s exiled people. Invasion or exile, no matter the era, God’s people are to live as His people. Ready for another move across the centuries of God’s people?

Eighteen centuries later, across the world in North America and after the Civil War a multitalented former Union soldier becomes a dentist. Using his musical skills he writes songs for churches. One of those songs re-sounds the emphasis for disciples living in war-filled times. H.L Gilmour encourages disciples to focus on God even as they are also called to intentional and integrated discipleship involvement within their culture. Part of his story is reported by a reputable online resource.

Henry Lake Gilmour emigrated to America as a teenager. He started working as a painter, then served in the American civil war, where he was captured and spent several months in Libby Prison, Richmond, Virginia. After the war, he became a dentist.  For four decades, he directed the choir at the Pitman Grove Camp Meeting, and worked at camp meetings and revivals… (https://hymnary.org/text/my_soul_in_sad_exile_was_out_on)

H.L. Gilmour’s words are these:

My soul in sad exile was out on life’s sea,                                                                                      So burdened with sin and distressed,                                                                                            Till I heard a sweet voice saying, “Make me your choice;”                                                        And I entered the “Haven of Rest!”

Thanks be to God that whenever and wherever we find ourselves living, God’s presence is certain (the Haven). Likewise, whenever and wherever we live (exile, invasion or war) we conduct ourselves in a manner worthy of the Gospel (Philippians 1:27).

Life Application Questions:

  1. If your faith feels battered how do you go about finding healing when conflict continues?
  1. Do any of the individual emphases of the passage from Jeremiah give you more trouble than others?
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Unhealthy Competition. 1 Samuel 18:1-4; 20:41-42

September 11, 2019

Competition can be healthy and good.  However, competition is easily corrupted by pride, fear, and selfishness.  And then it becomes horribly destructive.

King Saul and his son Jonathan give us examples of positive competition and negative competition.

An example of good competition is when one person’s achievement raises everyone to a higher level, helping a team reach its potential without causing divisions or disunity.

Once Jonathan and his armor bearer single-handedly attacked and overthrew a garrison of Philistines (1 Samuel 14).  Rather than inciting jealousy, this act of bravery inspired the Israelites to action and victory.

It’s a bit less dramatic than hand-to-hand combat, but I think we experience a taste of this kind of positive competition on our Speaking Team.  When one of the presenters preaches an excellent sermon, we’re happy, because we know God uses that for good in the lives of our congregation.  However, we also think something like, “Wow!  If we’re going to keep up that standard of communication, we’re going to need to work hard, pray a lot, and get input from others.”  One person’s good work motivates the others to do their best, without causing relational tension.

It doesn’t always work this way.  King Saul was less than enthusiastic about David’s accomplishment. After David had slain Goliath and been celebrated by the people, King Saul was insanely jealous of David and threatened by him.  Although he was already King, Saul felt like he was competing with David for the throne and for the hearts of people.  This jealousy and competition ruined Saul’s relationship with David, who was, in fact, a loyal subject.  Jealousy and fear worked on Saul’s mind, so that he made irrational decisions, wasting his time and resources trying to hunt down and kill David.

Saul tried to pass on this jealous and competitive spirit to the next generation.  On one occasion, Saul yelled at Jonathan: “As long as the son of Jesse lives on this earth, neither you nor your kingdom will be established!” (1 Samuel 20:31).  Saul wanted Jonathan to view life as a competition.

Jonathan didn’t buy into his dad’s worldview.  Jonathan wanted whatever God’s will was.  He knew that God had chosen David as the next king.  Instead of allowing jealously to fuel the fires of paranoia, Jonathan made a covenant of peace with David.

Let’s not sugarcoat this.  Jonathan was sacrificing his right to power, wealth, and fame.  No one does that easily.  And an early death was the only thing Jonathan got for his loyalty both to his father and to David.

Well, not so fast.  Jonathan still stands out as a bright light in the Old Testament.  He was a rare man whose courage, strength, humility, love, and faithfulness foreshadowed the Messiah—the true and eternal King.

Jonathan relinquished a crown that wouldn’t last for a crown that would.  I can’t help but think that Jonathan will get his reward someday.  He will rule in Christ’s kingdom.

Life Application Questions

  1. How have you experienced healthy and unhealthy competition? What’s the difference?  What makes competition unhealthy?
  2. How does unhealthy competition poison a work environment?
  3. How can we promote healthy competition in the workplace? How do we keep the balance between advancing in a career and not caving into negative competition
  4. How do you process disappointments in career advancements, unfair treatment, or perceived injustices?
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Bath Time. Psalm 133

September 10, 2019

Bath times can evoke memories of bubbles and laughter or of battles with children to wash behind their ears. Psalm 133 brings us to a whole different immersion.  Psalm 133:1 begins “How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity.”

King David inherited a divided nation on the brink of civil war.  Read 2 Samuel 5:1-5 and 1 Chronicles 12:38-40. What brought Israel together?  How did they respond?

Just as the Israelites came together, believers need to overcome divisions in their relationships.  Ephesians 4:1-3 asks us to “Be completely humble and gentle, be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit…”

Maintaining the spiritual unity of God’s people is the work of every believer. Read Ephesians 4:1-6. What is your personal maintenance plan for unity?  How can believers develop unity and keep the bond strong?

“How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity.”   In Psalm 133:2, David compares that unity to the anointing oil that bathed Aaron, the high priest. The oil ran down over his collar suggesting that it bathed the 12 stones on his breastplate, representing the Israelite people; a picture of unity.  In scripture, oil is a symbol of the Holy Spirit. We need the strengthening of the Spirit to stand firm in our faith. 2 Corinthians 1:21-22 “Now it is God who makes both us and you stand firm in Christ.  He anointed us and set His seal of ownership on us and put His Spirit in our hearts…” When God’s people walk in the Spirit, Warren Wiersbe says “they forget the external and major on the eternal things of the Spirit. Externals divide us-gender, wealth, or social standing-while the Spirit brings us together.” 

How do you see the externals dividing believers? What divides you from other Christ followers?

“How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity.” Psalm 133:3 compares unity to the dew of Hermon.  The Jews were dependent on the dew for their crops to grow.  Today in the Holy Land, the dew has been likened to a hard overnight rain that leaves the ground saturated.  We need the refreshment of the Holy Spirit that comes silently and bountifully like the dew on Heron.

The Holy Spirit is grieved by division between Christ followers. The images from Psalm 133 of the anointing and the dew are both reminders that unity is not something we work up but something sent down by God. “How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity.”  Little children snuggled in their pajamas after a cleansing bath have a sweet fragrance. When we are bathed in the refreshment of the Holy Spirit, our unity can be a sweet fragrance as well.

Life Application Questions:

  1. How can Christ followers become a part of building unity?
  2. How will you strive this week to be a part of unity building that will be a sweet fragrance of Holy Spirit bathed Christ followers?
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Relationships and Work. Genesis 2:15-25

September 9, 2019

Let’s begin with a tough question: “Why did God create mankind in the first place?” Was he lonely? Did he need someone to complete him (that’s what we say love does sometimes)? The Trinity was complete with perfect communication and purpose, so why create the first earth residents?

Adam had the privilege that not even the angels of heaven enjoyed—a unique, personal relationship with God. And because he was created in God’s image, which meant he had personality, a highly competent mind, and the capability for emotions, he and God could relate to each other. It’s apparent that God walked with his creation and that fellowship, based on mutual respect and interaction, was just what God designed and planned for eternity. Imagine what this relationship would have been like if sin hadn’t entered the picture?

In spite of the unique association Adam had with God, the Creator chose to give him a companion. Why do you think God gave Eve to Adam? With the introduction of Eve, another new and beautiful relationship was established. Consider what life was like for them prior to the fall. Adam had been given great responsibility for the care of God’s creation and, no doubt, the two of them enjoyed many hours tending to the flowering plants, the fruit-bearing trees, and the perfectly formed animals.

Adam and Eve were the first environmentalists, having responsibility for the care of God’s creation. God’s charge was clear in Genesis 1: “‘Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the sky, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.’ . . . God blessed them and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground’” (vv. 26-28).

So, Adam and Eve’s third relationship was with the animal kingdom. Adam was the original Dr. Doolittle, talking to the animals. Today, many people relate to animals as if they were their children or best friends, so it’s not hard to imagine Adam and Eve and their kids doing so. We may be just beginning to understand how much God’s animal creation can understand humans. Think of the extraordinary ways animals can be trained to help us. Why did God give humans the ability to relate to animals?

Life Application Questions:

  1. What can we learn from the Garden experience about relationships—with God? With one another? With the environment and the animal kingdom?
  2. How do those relationships affect our work?
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