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“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” Genesis 1:1 (Read Genesis 1 and 2)

How did the heavens, the earth, and everything in them come to be? The Bible clearly tells us that the one true God — Jehovah God, who is one God, yet three persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit — created them out of nothing by His almighty Word. Reading on in the first two chapters of Genesis, we see He said of that which He created, “Let there be …” and “there was.”

It is as the Scriptures teach: “By the word of the LORD the heavens were made, and all their host by the breath of His mouth” (Psalm 33:6); and, “By faith we understand that the universe was framed by the word of God, so that things that are seen were not made out of things which are visible” (Heb. 11:3).

That the LORD God created the heavens and earth and everything in them in six days is taught not only in the Genesis account but is repeated as a basis for the observance of the Sabbath in the Old Testament Scriptures. “For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy” (Ex. 20:11).

The Church, which is made up of all true believers of all time, has always held to the truthfulness of the Genesis account of creation and confesses with Nehemiah the prophet: “You alone are the LORD. You have made heaven, the heaven of heavens, with all their host, the earth and all that is on it, the seas and all that is in them; and You preserve them all. And the host of heaven worships You” (Neh. 9:6). So also, in the ancient creeds still used today, believers confess: “I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth.”

This same God, who called all things into existence by His almighty Word, has also created each one of us. He formed the first man from the dust of the ground, breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and he became a living soul (Gen. 2:7). He created the first woman from the rib of Adam (Gen. 2:18ff.); and He created and formed each one of us in our mother’s womb (Psalm 139:13-16).

Not only has He created us and given us life, He sent His only-begotten Son to die for us and bear the guilt and punishment for our sins that we might have life eternal through faith in Him; and He calls us to faith through the hearing of His life-giving Word. The Bible tells us: “But when the fullness of time came, God sent forth His Son, born from a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons” (Gal. 4:4-5); and, “You are all sons of God by faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ” (Gal. 3:26-27).

This means that the LORD God has created you, forming you in the womb; and, even though you knew Him not because of the sin inherent in each of us through Adam’s fall (John 1:1-14; Gen. 3), He came into this world a true man to pay for your sins and make you His own, and He calls you to faith in Him through His gracious word of forgiveness and life in His Son, Jesus Christ! “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life” (John 3:16).

O LORD God, Creator of the heavens, the earth, and all things, thank You for making me, giving me breath, and for giving me life through faith in the Son. Graciously keep me in the true and saving faith unto life everlasting. Amen.

[Scripture quoted from The Holy Bible, Modern English Version. Copyright © 2014 by Military Bible Association. Published and distributed by Charisma House.]

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Jesus answered them, “Those who are well do not need a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” Luke 5:31-32 (Read Luke 5:27-32)

It was not those who thought themselves to be righteous who came to Jesus, but the tax collectors and sinners — those who knew of their utter sinfulness and need for a Savior.

Though the scribes and Pharisees faulted Jesus for associating with such sinners, Jesus associated with them because He “came into the world to save sinners” (1 Tim. 1:15), and “to seek and to save that which was lost” (Luke 19:10; cf. v. 1-10).

It is as Jesus said to them: “Those who are well do not need a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.”

How comforting this is to us sinners! Jesus is our friend! He came into this world to save us! He shed His holy and precious blood upon the cross to make atonement for sinners like you and like me! “In Him [through faith in His name] we have redemption through His blood and the forgiveness of sins according to the riches of His grace” (Eph. 1:7; cf. 1 John 2:1-2).

Were the scribes and Pharisees sinners? Yes, they were (cf. Rom. 3:10ff.)! But they thought they were righteous and acceptable to God by their own works. They misunderstood God’s Word and saw no need of repentance or for a Savior to make atonement for their sins. And, sadly, many do the same in our own day. They fail to see their own utter sinfulness and their need of the Savior and they are unwilling to believe the Gospel.

Jesus came to call us to repentance and to give us life eternal through faith in Him.

And, following the example of our Lord Jesus, we too can reach out to and associate with sinners, not to join in their evil ways, but to call them to repentance and to share with them the comforting news that Jesus is the friend of sinners — that He died for their sins, too, and that He reaches out to them and offers to them forgiveness of sins and life everlasting through faith in His name!

O dearest Jesus, we thank You for being the friend of sinners — for shedding Your holy and precious blood to redeem us, and for calling us to repent and trust in You for forgiveness and life everlasting. Amen.

[Scripture is quoted from The Holy Bible, Modern English Version. Copyright © 2014 by Military Bible Association. Published and distributed by Charisma House.

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Now the serpent was more subtle than any beast of the field which the Lord God had made. And he said to the woman, “Has God said, ‘You shall not eat of any tree of the garden’?” Genesis 3:1 (Read Genesis 3)

The paradise which God created (Genesis 1-2) did not last long, for Genesis 3 tells of the temptation of the devil, a fallen angel, who came to Eve in the form of the serpent.

“Did God really say that that you should not eat from any tree of the garden?” (paraphrase) he asked, creating a question in the woman’s mind.

And when Eve explained that the prohibition and warning concerning disobedience bringing about about death — alienation and separation from God — was only in regard to the tree in the middle of the garden, the devil distorted the truth by saying, “You surely will not die! For God knows that on the day you eat of it your eyes will be opened and you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (Gen. 3:4,5). Thus, he caused her to think that perhaps God was somehow holding out on her, keeping from her and her husband something good and desirable.

Of course, this still happens every day. The devil comes to us through friends and coworkers, through the media and entertainment industries, and in our own thoughts and minds, and says, “Does God really expect you to keep all those commandments in the Bible?” And he works hard to convince us that God is trying to keep us from having fun and enjoying life, or that He is placing an impossible burden upon us, that He really doesn’t expect us to keep all of His commandments, or that breaking just a few of the commandments now and then won’t really alienate and separate us from God — after all, everybody does it.

And, like Eve, when we look at the thing we are being tempted to do, it looks good and desirable to us at the moment. We think it will be fun or pleasurable; it will work out for our good; it won’t hurt anything; no one will know.

And so, we rationalize and give in to the temptation and to our own sinful desires, and the result is death! We recognize our nakedness and guilt before God. We may attempt to cover it up or even learn to cope with it, but the guilt remains. We are afraid to stand in His presence. We would rather not hear God’s Word or walk into His house of prayer.

Why? Because our sin and disobedience, though they may have appeared to be good at the time, brought about spiritual death and separation from God. When confronted with the presence of God and His truth, we hide and seek to conceal our sin and guilt. When questioned about our sin, we make excuses and blame others.

As a result of Adam and Eve’s sin, we are all born into this world sinners — our very thoughts and desires are turned away from God and His holy commandments. What David wrote is true for each of us as a result of that first sin: “I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin my mother conceived me” (Psalm 51:5; Cf. Rom. 5:12). Instead of loving God, trusting Him, and desiring to honor and glorify His name, we think only of ourselves, we doubt and disbelieve God’s Word, and we seek our own honor and glory. We are born in spiritual death and are alienated from God.

That is why we so desperately need God’s pardon and forgiveness. We need Him to find us, forgive us and give us life again. And God has come to us and reached out to us in love and forgiveness. He desires to free us from our guilt and shame and give us life everlasting with Him.

He did this by sending His only begotten Son, Jesus Christ, into the world to overcome temptation and sin for us (cf. Matt. 4:1-11; Heb. 4:15) and then go to the cross to be condemned, forsaken of God and die in our stead that we might have God’s pardon and forgiveness and not be afraid of God or troubled by guilt and shame any longer. In Christ Jesus, atonement has been made and the sin of the world taken away (cf. 1 John 2:1-2); and through faith in Christ Jesus, your sin and mine are pardoned (Rom. 3:21-26; 5:1-2).

O dearest Jesus, Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, have mercy upon me, find me, and wash away the guilt of my sin in Your shed blood. And, dear Jesus, grant me a place in Your everlasting kingdom. Amen.

[Scripture is taken from The Holy Bible, Modern English Version. Copyright © 2014 by Military Bible Association. Published and distributed by Charisma House.]

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Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of the Lenten season for us and for many Christians, especially those who hold to more traditional and liturgical forms of worship.

Lent is 40 days long, corresponding to the 40 days Jesus spent in the wilderness, but extends over a period of 46 days because Sundays are not counted as part of the traditional Lenten season.

Since the date for Easter is set based on the lunar calendar — the first Sunday after the first full moon on or after the vernal equinox — the season of Lent begins on different calendar dates each year. This year, Lent begins on Wednesday, Feb. 17, and continues through Saturday, April 3. Easter Sunday is April 4 this year. The first full moon after the vernal equinox is on Palm Sunday, March 28, making Sunday, April 4, the date of Easter in most Western Churches.

In most years, the date for Easter or Pascha falls later in the Eastern Churches. Easter dates were the same for Eastern and Western Churches in 2017, but this year the date is May 2 in the East (Eastern Churches use the same formula to determine the date for Easter but use the Julian Calendar, while Western Churches and most of the world use the Gregorian Calendar).
Some churches do not observe the season of Lent at all. It is not specifically commanded or forbidden in the Bible, so churches that do not observe the special season cannot be faulted and anyone who insists it must be strictly observed goes beyond the teaching of the Bible. Nevertheless, the observance of Lent is a good thing if it is observed with the purpose and intent of considering Christ’s sufferings and death for the sins of the world (often called His passion) and as a special time of self-examination and repentance.

While many would simply go through the outward forms of repentance — including ashes on the forehead and fasting during the season — the Bible calls for true contrition and sorrow over our own sinfulness and faith in the shed blood of Christ Jesus as the atoning sacrifice for our sins.

Psalm 34:18 says: “The LORD is near to the broken-hearted, and saves the contrite of spirit.”

Psalm 51:16-17 says: “For You do not desire sacrifice, or I would give it; You do not delight in burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and a contrite heart, O God, You will not despise.”

John, in his first epistle (1 John 1:8-9; 2:1-2), writes: “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. … If anyone does sin, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world.”

God desires that we live in continual repentance — acknowledging our sinfulness and the judgment we justly deserve but then looking in faith to Christ Jesus and His death on the cross for our sins and trusting that in Jesus we are forgiven and accepted of God. Therefore, as we contemplate the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ bitter sufferings and death for the sins of all, it is certainly also a fitting time to examine ourselves and see that it was for our sin that He suffered and died such an agonizing death.

As Isaiah 53:5-6 says, “But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement of our peace was upon him, and by his stripes we are healed. All of us like sheep have gone astray; each of us has turned to his own way, but the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.”

Many, of course, speak of giving things up for Lent, and giving up things that we might focus on Christ and what He has done for us can be a good thing. But, we need to always remember that our giving up something, whether it be through fasting or some other form of self-denial, can never merit God’s favor or blessing. Our observance of Lenten self-sacrifice will not somehow atone for our sins and make us acceptable to God. It is only through faith in the shed blood of Christ Jesus, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29), that we receive God’s pardon and forgiveness and are acceptable in His sight.

As the Apostle Paul writes, it is “by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not of yourselves. It is the gift of God, not of works, so that no one should boast” (Eph. 2:8-9).

It’s really too bad that more people do not observe Lent in a Biblical and Scriptural way — not just giving up some item for 40 days but, rather, repenting of sin and evil and looking to Christ and His cross for pardon, forgiveness and life eternal. In fact, it’s sad that true Lenten contrition and repentance are not observed by more people year-round!

[Scripture quoted from The Holy Bible, Modern English Version. Copyright © 2014 by Military Bible Association. Published and distributed by Charisma House.]

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We hear a lot these days about the separation of church and state, especially from those who do not wish for Christians to impose their moral values on others via civil government. And there are some who would use the powers of civil governments to force ministers and churches to say nothing against the commonly accepted morals and values held by society. Here, we look at what God says regarding the proper roles of church and state.

Both the church and the state are ordained of God — the church for the eternal salvation of men, and the state for the maintenance of external righteousness and order among men in this world.

When Jesus asked the disciples who they believed Him to be, Peter replied: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matt. 16:16); and Jesus said that, upon this truth which the Father had revealed to Peter, Jesus would build His church; and the gates of hell would not prevail against it (v. 17-18). Jesus also said: “If you remain in My word, then you are truly My disciples. You shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free” (John 8:31-32).

On the other hand, the Scriptures say of the government: “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except from God, and those that exist are appointed by God. Therefore whoever resists the authority resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. Rulers are not a terror to good works, but to evil works. Do you wish to have no fear of the authority? Do what is good, and you will have praise from him, for he is the servant of God for your good. But if you do what is evil, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain, for he is the servant of God, an avenger to execute wrath upon him who practices evil” (Rom. 13:1-4); and, “Submit yourselves to every human authority for the Lord’s sake, whether it be to the king, as supreme, or to governors, as sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and to praise those who do right” (1 Pet. 2:13-14).

While the state — civil government — bears the sword to maintain order, punish evildoers and wage just wars, the church uses and is ruled by the Word of God.

The Bible says: “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord” (Col. 3:16); and, “But continue in the things that you have learned and have been assured of, knowing those from whom you have learned them, and that since childhood you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise unto salvation through the faith that is in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is inspired by God and is profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:14-17).

In order that men might be saved, the church has been commanded to preach the Word of God and proclaim Jesus Christ crucified as the Savior of mankind. Jesus commanded His disciples to “go into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature. He who believes and is baptized will be saved. But he who does not believe will be condemned ” (Mark 16:15-16; cf. Rom. 1:16-17; 10:15,17).

To maintain civil order and righteousness in this world, civil governments have been given power and responsibility to enact just laws, punish evildoers (including the use of the death penalty), and to wage just wars (1 Pet. 2:13-14; Psalm 82:1-4; Gen. 9:6; Rom. 13:3-4).

As Christians, we reject as contrary to the Holy Scriptures attempts to confuse the powers of the church and the state, such as using the power of the sword in an attempt to force people to accept the teaching of God’s Word or using laws and threats of punishment to restrict the faithful preaching and teaching of the Bible (cf. John 18:11,36-37; 2 Cor. 10:4-6; Eph. 6:10-18). Rather, civil governments are to use the power of the sword to promote what is good and right and to punish evildoers, and the church is to use the Word of God to proclaim God’s truth, call sinners to repentance and to offer and give to penitent sinners the promises of the Gospel, namely, the forgiveness of sins and life eternal through faith in Jesus Christ (cf. Luke 24:46-47; John 5:25; 6:63; Rom. 1:16-17; 10:17; Isa. 55:10-11).

When civil governments depart from their God-given duties and forbid what God commands or command what God forbids, Christians must obey God rather than men even if they must suffer the earthly consequences (Acts 4:19-20; 5:29; Luke 12:4-5).

And we have ample examples of a Christian response when governments require what God forbids or forbid what God requires. In Daniel 3, the king commanded that people fall down and worship the golden image he had made. Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego refused to disobey God’s commandments (Ex. 20:3-6) and chose to obey God rather than men even if it meant death in a fiery furnace. In Daniel 6, when the king foolishly issued a decree that forbade prayer to the true God, Daniel continued to pray even though it meant being cast into a den of lions. In Acts 4 and 5, when the apostles of Jesus were commanded to no longer speak in Jesus’ name, they chose to suffer a beating and to risk death rather than disobey their call to proclaim the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.

So, how do we apply these principles in regard to our duties as citizens of the kingdom of God and in regard to our duties as citizens of the United States of America?

Based on these principles, we recognize that our first and primary duty is to God, for He created us and gave us life, He redeemed us with the precious blood of His own dear Son, He brought us to faith through Word and Sacrament and gave to us life and salvation in His Son, and He, through the Son, will judge us on the last day. We apply the words of our Lord Jesus to ourselves: “I say to you, My friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body, and after that can do no more. But I will warn you whom you shall fear: Fear Him who, after He has killed, has power to cast into hell. Yes, I say to you, fear Him” (Luke 12:4-5). Thus, we seek to obey God and live in accord with His Word in all things.

We also apply to ourselves Jesus’ words in Mark 8:34-38: “If any man would come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever would save his life will lose it. But whoever would lose his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it. For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul? Whoever therefore is ashamed of Me and of My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels.”

First of all, we pray for our government and our rulers. Paul wrote to Timothy (1 Tim. 2:1-4): “Therefore I exhort first of all that you make supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings for everyone, for kings and for all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceful life in all godliness and honesty, for this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.”

Secondly, we obey our civil rulers whenever and wherever we can without sin and acknowledge that their authority is from God, for the Bible tells us in Romans 13:1-7: “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except from God, and those that exist are appointed by God. Therefore whoever resists the authority resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. Rulers are not a terror to good works, but to evil works. Do you wish to have no fear of the authority? Do what is good, and you will have praise from him, for he is the servant of God for your good. But if you do what is evil, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain, for he is the servant of God, an avenger to execute wrath upon him who practices evil. So it is necessary to be in subjection, not only because of wrath, but also for the sake of conscience. For this reason you also pay taxes, for they are God’s servants, devoting themselves to this very thing. Render to all what is due them: taxes to whom taxes are due, respect to whom respect is due, fear to whom fear is due, and honor to whom honor is due.” And we read in 1 Pet. 2:13-14: “Submit yourselves to every human authority for the Lord’s sake, whether it be to the king, as supreme, or to governors, as sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and to praise those who do right.”

Thirdly, we disobey civil authorities when they command what God forbids or forbid what God commands for “we must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29). Like Shadrach, Meshach, Abednego, Daniel, and the apostles, this is not done in disrespect for civil rulers but in faithfulness to our God — they did not seek to overthrow their rulers but obeyed God and willingly suffered the consequences as a testimony to the truth.

Fourthly, we testify to the truth revealed in God’s Word, calling sin — including the sins of governments and rulers — sin and meriting God’s wrath and eternal punishment. The Bible plainly tells us in Jeremiah 23:28: “He who has My word, let him speak My word faithfully.” Therefore, we call abortion murder and contrary to God’s commandments and we make it clear that all who partake of this sin or support and promote it also share in its guilt and punishment. The same is true in regard to perversions of God’s institution of marriage (Gen. 2:18-25; Matt. 5:27-32; 19:3-9; Lev. 18-19; Rom. 1:18ff.) or any other sin against God’s revealed Word.

Fifthly, when rulers repent of their errors, we proclaim to them the Gospel of Christ and announce to them the forgiveness and life offered them through faith in Christ Jesus (cf. Mark 16:15; Matt. 28:18-20; John 20:23).

Sixthly, as citizens of the United States, we seek to be responsible citizens and use the privileges granted to us by our government in order to promote good government — government which punishes evildoers and promotes what is good and right “that we may lead a quiet and peaceful life in all godliness and honesty” and proclaim the saving Word of God (1 Tim. 2:1-3). Thus, we exercise our rights to vote for good and honest candidates, we consider serving in government offices, and we do all in our power to preserve and promote a government and rulers which use their God-given authority rightly.

Finally, as citizens, we seek to legitimately remove from office rulers who fail to do their duties, abuse their authority, or promote what is evil and ungodly, and to nullify laws (or court rulings) that command and promote what God forbids or that forbid what God requires.

This is, perhaps, the most difficult to rightly apply. And, adding to this difficulty is the question of what to do when government rulers do not follow the laws of the land or when they pass or enforce laws that contradict the very foundation of our government, the Constitution and its Bill of Rights. Then the question may arise in regard to which document we obey, an act of Congress, an executive order, or the Constitution itself. And Christians often disagree on the appropriate response because we get into the area of human opinion in regard to the application of the above principles.

Below I offer my opinions and some points to remember in our response to a government that has become corrupt and evil.

The Christian’s duty is to advance the Kingdom of God and that can only be done through the faithful preaching of God’s Word and the right administration of the Sacraments. Winning political or military battles will make no one a Christian and will bring no one into the kingdom of God, though it could possibly promote peace and safety in this world.

I would also add the note that winning a political or military victory will not necessarily change the views of the people, meaning a new government would likely be no better than the old and could even be worse.

To what extent do we take the writing of the founding fathers and the Declaration of Independence? Do these writings give us the right or duty to seek to overthrow our present government and establish another? We must weigh our answers in light of the Scriptures cited above and be careful not to put these documents on par with or above the Word of God.

In dealing with those who practice or promote what is evil, we have God’s command to testify to the truth but would be hard-pressed to find a command of God to take up arms against them.

In my opinion, it would be better to pursue a path of objecting to and refusing to obey laws that run contrary to God’s Word and willingly suffering the consequences (we have Biblical examples of this). We have in God’s commandments the right to defend ourselves and others against evildoers who would take life and property from us, but I don’t see any authorization in the Bible for us as individuals to take the law into our own hands and use force to punish evildoers or overthrow rulers.

Also, in my opinion, should one legitimate government entity separate itself from another or be attacked by another, or should a new government be established and replace another, Christians may take up arms in service of a legitimate government in defense thereof.

It should not be surprising to us that human governments would oppose God and His Word and persecute the faithful (cf. 2 Tim. 3:12-13; John 15:18ff.; Matt. 5:10-12; Psalm 2; Rev. 11).

In all this, it is wise to remember where your true home is, where Jesus is even now preparing a place for you that He might come again and take you to Himself (cf. John 14:1-6).

In closing, I think of the words of a hymn by Thomas R. Taylor, written in the early 1800s, “I’m But a Stranger Here, Heav’n is My Home,” LSB # 748:

1 I’m but a stranger here, Heav’n is my home;
Earth is a desert drear, Heav’n is my home.
Danger and sorrow stand Round me on ev’ry hand;
Heav’n is my fatherland, Heav’n is my home.

2 What though the tempest rage, Heav’n is my home;
Short is my pilgrimage, Heav’n is my home;
And time’s wild wintry blast Soon shall be overpast;
I shall reach home at last, Heav’n is my home.

3 Therefore I murmur not, Heav’n is my home;
Whate’er my earthly lot, Heav’n is my home;
And I shall surely stand There at my Lord’s right hand;
Heav’n is my fatherland, Heav’n is my home.

Thomas R. Taylor, 1807–35, Public domain

[Scripture is quoted from The Holy Bible, Modern English Version. Copyright © 2014 by Military Bible Association. Published and distributed by Charisma House.]

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