Naked Art?

An open letter to the FHU board regarding nudity in art

I send you all warm greetings from Franklin, TN. I hope that this note finds each of you well. I want to commend you on your recent decision to hire David Shannon as the new President of FHU. I, like many Christians in the southeast, believe hiring David was a brilliant move and sent a loud message across the brotherhood about the direction you want to take FHU. Thank you for having the courage and conviction to make such a bold statement.

This letter is in hopes you will have the same courage and boldness on a separate issue. Please allow me a few minutes of your time to explain.

There is a relatively new sub-discipline field of science known as neuroesthetics. This branch studies the aesthetic perceptions of art, music, or any object, investigating the neuronal circuitry involved in specific responses. For instance, in a recent study they analyzed the eye response when human males where shown images of naked people. This study demonstrated what part of the body the eyes lingered on and which areas the eyes skipped over. It also showed how long the eyes lingered over specific genders and what part of the brain lit up. This new field is demonstrating what happens on a neuronal level in the brain when individuals look at art. (See “The Experience of Art : Insights from Neuroimaging” by M. Nadal, 2013, Progressive Brain Research, 204:135-158.)

Does God consider creating a image of a naked person art?

Does God consider creating a image of a naked person art?

So what about naked images? Research has shown repeatedly that any time a nude image is viewed, the brain INVOLUNTARILY releases two neurochemicals: dopamine and norepinephrine. (For a good review see Todd Love et al’s 2015 review, “Neuroscience of Internet Pornography Addiction” published in Behavioral Science September 5(3):388-433.). These chemicals are released whether the individual is looking at material that is deemed art or pornography. From an aesthetics perspective at the neuronal level there is no distinction in the brain. Dopamine is a pleasure neurotransmitter—activating the pleasure circuit of the brain. (It is similar to the feeling a drug user gets when they take a hit of some type of drug.)  (For a great review of this please see Anjan Chatterjee’s Neurobiology of Sensation and Reward)

Norepinephrine is the neurochemical I hope you will remember. This has been called the “paperclip” neurotransmitter—in that it clips the image into your memory, making it available for recall. The average college student takes about 0.7 seconds (less than a second) to paper-clip an image they view into their brain.  A better description would be the “tattoo” neurotransmitter—because it builds a permanent memory of that image that is very hard to erase. There are other chemicals the body releases under certain conditions such as oxytocin, vasopressin, and endorphins that all help create a “high” and bring pleasure, but the two that I hope you will remember are dopamine and norepinephrine.

So what happens when a student in an art class views a picture of a naked person? Dopamine is involuntarily dumped into the brain, stimulating the reward center. The image is then “paper-clipped” into memory and is available for recall. Overstimulation of the reward circuitry in the brain—such as occurs when dopamine is repeatedly released from viewing nude images—creates desensitization.

When you think about something (or view something) it actually changes the physical structure of the nerve cells in your brain—and it can change the connections between nerve cells.  In other words, your brain is wired according to what you think about… which is probably why Paul wrote ““Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—think on these things” (Philippians 4:8).

For drug addicts to feel the feeling they initially felt when they got that first “hit” they need to take more drugs. For individuals who get that feeling from nude images, they don’t need more…they need something different (or more intense). Thus individuals will often ”graduate” to material that contains multiple people, violent scenes, or even children. The reality is that viewing nude images is actually changing the physical structure of the brain. There are recent studies that point out viewing naked images also changes a person’s attitude toward sex as well as divorce.

Please understand that I fully comprehend that the human body is amazing—and I too believe it should be celebrated as an incredible marvel of God’s creation. I frequently teach on Intelligent Design, and I often use the human body in that discussion. However, I am able to have that discussion (with PowerPoint images) without ever showing naked images to the audience.

My background is in neuroscience. One of the troubling factors for me personally is that when many humans view a nude image, their brain identifies it as an object—not a human. Research using brain scans has shown that viewing naked images lights up a different region of the brain. The brain views the person in the image as “a piece of meat” rather than a human, created in the image of God, who possesses a soul. Love is left out of the equation.

Lumping artists and medical students into the same category is like comparing apples and oranges. Artists can selectively choose what they draw/paint. Doctors are charged with learning and treating the entire human body. I earned a doctorate in Anatomy and Neurobiology—and in the course of my training viewed both images and cadavers of the human body for the purpose of learning various systems.  Professors spent an enormous amount of time discussing how human bodies were to be treated and the genitals were always kept covered unless we were dissecting that specific area. Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo did look at human bodies—in an era that we had little knowledge of internal human anatomy and in an effort to produce accurate medical textbooks. Their efforts were to broaden the knowledge our knowledge of the human body—not to look at it from an artistic perspective or to appreciate it artistically.

In almost all fifty states being naked or exposing oneself is considered a criminal act of public indecency. Look carefully at that description—public indecency. In simple terms, this is something that is not decent in public. The Bible speaks clearly about modesty. Paul wrote, “likewise also that women should adorn themselves in respectable apparel, with modesty and self-control (1 Timothy 2:9, ESV). Most universities have a dress code. As Christians, we recognize that clothes that are low cut or too revealing are not pleasing to God. So what about no clothes at all? If these same images from textbooks were sent to a classmate who missed a class via cell phone it would be perceived as sexting—something most preachers and youth ministers have spoken out against.

Many youth rallies on modesty have pointed out that Adam and Eve were naked prior to sin. However, after eating of the tree of knowledge of good and evil the “eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves coverings” (Genesis 3:7). They were ashamed and tried to hide. I have heard point out that the fig leaves were inadequate and so “God made tunics of skin, and clothed them” (Genesis 3:21). The fact of the matter is, thanks to sin, we now live in a fallen world in which immodesty is sinful. The Bible overwhelmingly presents nakedness as shameful, immodest, and degrading (e.g., Genesis 9:21; Exodus 20:26; 32:25; 2 Chronicles 28:19; Isaiah 47:3; Luke 8:27; Revelation 3:17). 

Last week I spent several days with Josh McDowell—having dinner with him and listening to him talk patiently about a subject that is often taboo in the church. Josh has authored over 100 books including More Than a Carpenter and Evidence that Demands a Verdict. He has a popular radio show and is a professional speaker on Christian evidences and cultural issues. Last year Josh commissioned Barna Group to carry out the largest survey on pornography—costing well over $250,000. They spoke to thousands of individuals and spent months analyzing their data. I interviewed him following that survey for Think magazine. In that interview he gave several startling statistics:

  • The average age most children are introduced to pornography is eight years old.
  • Teens and young adults consider “not recycling” more immoral than viewing pornography.
  • Young adults are watching more porn and seeking it out more than any other generation.
  • Viewing pornography increases marital infidelity by more than 300%
  • Every day there are 68 million pornographic search engine requests.
  • 47% percent of children under 18 receive pornographic emails daily.
  • 41% of Christian young men use pornography regularly
  • 20% of all Christian women are addicted to pornography
  • 91% first time exposure by a teen was during activities such as research for a school project or surfing the web for other information.
  • 90% of 8-16-yr olds have viewed pornography
  • 21% of youth ministers and 14% of ministers admit they currently struggle with using porn.

(For the complete results please see  and

Again, viewing naked images alters the brains of these young people. Given this massive problem, I hope and pray you all will reconsider the recent decision about the use of naked images in art and photography classes at FHU. There are several questions that I sincerely hope you will ask yourselves as you contemplate these things:

  1. Am I prepared to give an account for the brain changes that are occurring when FHU students view naked images?
  2. Why do Christian art students (or photography students) need to view such images? Surely we are not preparing students to make a living painting naked art or taking pictures of naked individuals once they leave FHU.
  3. What about the souls of those who are in the pictures? You take pride in that real-life models are not used as they are on some Christian college campuses; yet someone had to disrobe in order to get in front of a camera and get the images into the hands of students. Are we helping this “stranger” keep his/her marriage bed undefiled?
  4. Would you be comfortable with David Shannon having these images displayed on the side of the Presidential Trek travel trailer as part of the face of FHU?
  5. Jesus spoke very plainly about the dangers of lust (Matthew 5). Is it wise to tempt students with these images if we really don’t have to? How does viewing these images impact future relationships of the students at FHU?
  6. Several professional artists have offered to come speak to you all about the fact that viewing/drawing/painting nude images is not necessary for a career as a professional artist. Would you be willing to sit down and listen to them?
  7. Given that pornography is such a major problem on college campuses these days, why would FHU do anything that could add to that problem?
  8. Lastly, aren’t we—as Christians—called to be different from the world? So worldly art students look at nude images as a part of their training. So what? We aren’t trying to train up young people to be like the world. We should not be in competition with the world. Instead, we are trying to help transform their minds (Romans 12).

Much more could be said, but I know your time is valuable. I appreciate you considering these points, and I do hope you will give some serious consideration to the neurochemistry of the brain in making a decision about what the eyes of FHU students view.

Many Christians will chastise me for getting this document to you in such a “public” way. However, I did some due diligence and tried to contact you privately. I went on the FHU website and could not find your names or contact info there. I called the President’s office and was informed they did not give that information out.  I did try private messaging one individual (even offering to talk by phone or in person), but received no response. And as you know from last week’s Open Forum and from other notes on social media, this issue has become very public. Also, I honestly don’t know all the board members, so I am hoping this method will help ensure everyone sees this letter. I apologize in advance for any headaches this causes you. (As a side note, it might be beneficial to set up a “Board” email on the FHU website so future concerns from Christians can be shared in a private fashion.)

My prayers are with you. I pray that you will look at the decision you made by hiring David and follow it up with an equally strong voice of conviction. I am available if you have any questions about the neuroesthetics, neurochemistry of the brain, or research on pornography.

Serving Him with you,

Brad Harrub

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Beam in your Eye?

Why There’s Not a Beam in Your Eye, and Why There Is!

For years I have heard preachers talk about Jesus’ statement in Matthew 7:3-4 about the speck and beam in different folks’ eyes.  Usually the beam is described as a long plank of wood (like a 2×4) sticking out of a person’s eye socket, and the preacher remarks as to what a humorous picture Jesus is presenting here.  For years, this is exactly how I have thought about it, and how I preached it, but I am not so sure that this is what Jesus had in mind anymore.  Perhaps a different image is in order.

Unable to help anyone due to the beam you are carrying.

Unable to help anyone due to the beam you are carrying?

What Jesus is seeking to communicate with us in this passage is not to judge hypocritically, that is to condemn someone with a speck-sized spiritual problem while we have a plank-sized spiritual problem.  We’ve got to get rid of our plank-sized spiritual problem first before we can see the speck-sized spiritual problems clearly (Matthew 7:5).  Now, have you ever thought how those planked-sized spiritual problems were acquired in the first place?

We don’t come into this world with plank-sized spiritual problems; we pick them up along the way, and it is always with our consent.  We put the beam in our own eye by picking it up and carrying it with us.  That beam is sin itself.  The picture that we have traditionally preached needs to be changed.  It isn’t a picture of someone with a 2×4 sticking out of their eye.  It’s a picture of someone carrying a railroad tie in their arms.  Have you ever tried to do that?  You can’t see a thing in front of you, and you certainly can’t see a speck in someone else’s eye.  What’s the solution?  Put that thing down–get sin out of your life–and then you can help others.  God bless you, and I love you.

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The Church: A Business?

The Church: A Business?

The church is called many things in the New Testament: a kingdom, a vineyard, an army, a bride, a temple, and a body. Interestingly, one of the things it is never explicitly identified with is a business.

It is unfortunate then that so many in the modern church,when they think of the body of Christ, they think of it in terms of a business. Though intellectually we know that Christ changed the money-changers and the sellers of livestock out of the temple of God, for some reason there are those who still think God is going to be pleased with us if we develop the same mentality as those wicked Jews who saw the worship of God as a thing to be monetized and profited from.

Does God desire us to view the Church as a Business?

Does God desire us to view the Church as a Business?

Now, in fairness, most brethren who fall into this trap are likely not doing so for the explicit purpose of lining their own pockets; however, there is a very real spiritual danger in putting the things of the world (money), ahead of the things of the Spirit (souls). We cannot serve both God and money (Matthew 6:24). Nor is there any text of scripture which teaches God is honored by a well-managed bank account. Still, there are many in the church who think that the church should be run like a business and who sincerely belief the good stewardship is synonymous with sound money management.

Consider some of the evidences of this belief. There are those members who think of preachers as “employees” of the church, and, when confronted with a minister who does not toe the line they think he should, believe the act of giving him money makes them the boss, able to dictate what and how he teaches. We see evidence of this in those preacher-searches where the congregation’s first priority is finding a man with the right diplomas and credentials. We see evidence of this mind-set in those who, when speaking of spending money on missions, charity, or other works, talk about cost-benefit ratios, or, “getting the most bang for the buck.” We see evidence of this attitude in those who want the church to grow numerically so that the congregation’s expenses can be better met.

Pointedly, there are examples in Scripture of men who made similar mistakes. Jesus himself addressed such mentalities.

The Rich Fool, immortalized by Jesus in parable, was a sound money manager. He spent his time preoccupied with how to financially secure his future, only to die and be called to account. Jesus’ attitude towards the man was not good, calling him a fool, and deriding the man for not having been rich towards God. (cf. Luke 12:14-21)

Likewise, the Wicked Servant who buried his talent did so because he was afraid of losing His lord’s money. He was afraid of his master’s anger if he made a mistake with that which was given to him, only to discover that the very wrath he wanted to avoid was directed at him for not doing anything with the money. Any return on the investment would have been preferable to the lord than no return at all. (cf. Matthew 25:24-28) His thrift was his undoing.

The Pharisees, who we are told, were lovers of money, mocked Jesus for His teachings on such things. (cf. Luke 16:13-14) Jesus would have none of it, proclaiming, “What is highly esteemed among men is an abomination in the sight of God.” (Luke 16:15) It is a hard lesson for some, but what men consider good stewardship of money and what God considers good stewardship of money are two very different things. The man who buried his money, fearful, was exhibiting fear borne out of worldly wisdom: he was afraid of being called account for bad choices and so made no choices at all. The Rich Fool, who planned for financial ease, was exhibiting worldly wisdom, but such thinking led him to misuse what God had given him.

One other individual who manifested a worldly wisdom towards money, and was subsequently rebuked by Jesus, was Judas Iscariot. When Judas witnessed Mary “wasting” her money by pouring expensive perfume on Jesus, he complained that the money could have been better spent elsewhere. (cf. John 12:3-5) Brethren who begin to complain about how money could have been spent better should make sure they are not falling into the mindset that earned Judas his rebuke from our Lord.

Congregations and Christians who fret and fear over “wasting” the Lord’s money, or who think that the best thing they can do with their money is put it aside for a “rainy day,”are in real danger of letting the wisdom of the world prevent them from doing the actual work God wants them to be doing. The church is not a business, and, while money plays a part in the work of the church, we need to understand that what is highly esteemed by men concerning finances is frequently nothing less than an abomination in the sight of God. God does not look upon these things the way most men do.

So, what does God tell us to do with our money?

Let us first notice that there are indeed some ways in which we can misuse the funds God has given us. We should not think that there are not bad choices that can be made, but these bad choices are not what most would think them to be.

First, we can misuse the Lord’s monies by doing nothing with them; burying them just as the Wicked Servant buried the talent given to him.

Second, we can misuse the Lord’s money by using it to promote false doctrine, error and wickedness. This is what is meant when the Spirit teaches us, “If anyone comes to you and does not bring this doctrine, do not receive him into your house nor greet him; for he who greets him shares in his evil deeds.” (2 John 10-11; NKJV) God is not telling us that we can’t even say hello to a false teacher, but we most certainly should not be giving them financial support.

Finally, God teaches us that we can be poor stewards of our money by spending it all on ourselves. Thus, James wrote, “You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss, that you may spendit on your pleasures. Adulterers andadulteresses! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whoever therefore wants to be a friendof the world makes himself an enemy of God.” (James 4:3-4; NKJV) Let us note the connection between thinking only of our own pleasures and desires, and “friendship with the world.” Such thinking may be highly esteemed among men, but it is an abomination to God.

So, again, what does God want the church doing with His money? Let us look at a few passages that reference money and see if we can detect a common thread.

There was a rich young ruler who came to Jesus, wanting to know how to inherit eternal life. Jesus, full of love for the young man, told him, “One thing you lack: Go your way, sell whatever you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, take up the cross, and follow Me.” (Mark 10:21b; NKJV)Relatedly, Jesus taught all of his followers not to lay up treasures on earth, but instead to lay up treasures in heaven. It was in that context that Jesus warned against trying to serve both God and money. (cf. Matthew 6:19-21, 24)The rich young ruler was to lay up treasures in heaven by giving to the poor, by using his wealth generously to do good. He had to decide if he was going to serve God, or serve his own financial self-interests. Serving God required using the money God had blessed him with by giving it away.

Concerning the conduct and attitude of those Christians blessed with money, the inspired apostle wrote: “Command those who are rich in this present age not to be haughty, nor to trust in uncertain riches but in the living God, who gives us richly all things to enjoy. Let them do good, that they be rich in good works, ready to give, willing to share, storing up for themselves a good foundation for the time to come, that they may lay hold on eternal life.” (1 Timothy 6:17-19; NKJV)

Let us notice again the connection, biblically, between giving away our money and laying a good foundation. How does God tell those who are rich to use their money? What is their attitude to be? They are to be “rich in good works, ready to give, willing to share.

This is not an attitude that only the “rich” are to have. (Though most Americans who thinks they are poor should take some time to visit places in the world where there is genuine poverty.) Thus, the Scriptures teach us, “Let him who stole steal no longer, but rather let him labor, working with his hands what is good, that he may have something to give him who has need.” (Ephesians 4:28; NKJV) Why should you work? So you will have money, of course. What should you do with that money? “Give him who has need.”

One more passage along this same line of thought.

This particular passage is about “paying” the preacher for the work of preaching the truth,but let us notice the same similarity of attitude we are commanded to cultivate about money.

“Let him who is taught the word share in all good things with him who teaches. Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap. For he who sows to his flesh will of the flesh reap corruption, but he who sows to the Spirit will of the Spirit reap everlasting life. And let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all, especially to those who are of the household of faith.” (Galatians 6:6-10)

Does God want the church to financially support the preacher? Yes! He most certainly does.

But not as a business transaction. Rather, such support is to be done as an act of doing good, especially to one who is of the household of faith, in the support of the good things being taught. To think otherwise is to sow to the flesh.

You can use your money to sow spiritual seeds. But only if you are giving it away, doing good with it, caring for the poor, financing the spread of the gospel, and meeting the needs of others, both physical and spiritual. This is how you lay up treasures in heaven.

God gives us money. In part this is to provide for our physical needs. (cf. Matthew 6:25-30) But more importantly, He gives us money, as individuals, and in the church, as the means by which we can sow spiritual seeds, doing good, and laying up a good foundation in eternity. To put it bluntly, God gives us money above what we need for our immediate needs so that we can give it away. Does the church have money? If so, there is an expectation by the one who gives seeds to the sower that such money will be planted as spiritual seeds in the vineyard of the Lord.

But what of the matter of “good stewardship,” in relation to making sure we do the most good possible with the money that we have in the time that we have?

Let us make two points about such thinking.

First, if we search the whole of the Gospel of Christ, there is no evidence that God views the matter in this light.

Is it possible to spend too much to save a single soul? If God was not willing to spare His own Son (while we were still sinners) in the hope of saving sinful men, why should we think He would count the cost in dollars? Are we not rather taught that God is willing to give all things to those He loves? (cf. Romans 8:31-32) When we, having this world’s goods in hand, look at the need of our fellow man, whether a physical need, or a spiritual need, and we close our hands, and say, “I might be able to do more good with it elsewhere,” then how does the love of God abide in us? Should we not rather have the attitude, learned from Christ, that we are willing to lay down our very lives for them if necessary? (cf. 1 John 3:16-17) And when we think differently, have we not rather become lovers of money and friends of this world?

In the book of Acts, we read of the work of the evangelist, Philip. Philip, who had been one of the seven men appointed by the Jerusalem church, went into Samaria and had a great work there. Multitudes of the Samaritans were converted by Philips preaching and teaching concerning Jesus. (cf. Acts 8:5-6) Then, in the second half of the same chapter, God has another work for Philip. God sends Philip on a missionary trip into the desert, where Philip meets with a solitary traveler, an Ethiopian Eunuch, to whom Peter preaches Jesus, converting the man. (cf. Acts 8:26-27)

Which work was more important to God? Was the conversion of the multitudes more important to the Lord than the conversion of the single Ethiopian? Surely not. The question itself is misguided. There is rejoicing in the presence of the angels over each single soul that is saved, and it is God’s intention that each person repent. “Even so it is not the will of your Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish. (Matthew 18:14; cf. Luke 15:7, 10; 2 Peter 3:9) Sometimes this requires preaching to the multitudes. Sometimes it requires teaching one person at a time. Both are equally valid and worthy works.

The Bible does not tell us how much it cost for Philip to journey to Samaria to preach. It further doesn’t tell us how much it cost to journey south into the desert in order to teach the Eunuch. Could it be that God didn’t care about the cost? Could it be that He only cared about the work being done? It is not entirely implausible that preaching to the Eunuch required a greater financial outlay on the part of Philip and other individuals than the preaching in Samaria. We cannot know, one way or the other, but we do know that God wanted both done, regardless of cost.

When the church is given a door of opportunity to do good with money that God has given them, worrying about a “cost-benefit,” when souls are involved, is to be thinking in worldly terms. When we do so, we must ask, are we not making ourselves a friend of the world with such thinking? Did God count the cost too dear when He gave His only Son on our behalf?

When Jesus recommended that we “count the cost” of discipleship (Luke 14:28), He was not directing us to hire accountants to make sure this or that soul was worth the price being paid. Rather, He was directing us to make sure our hearts were truly committed to doing all the work needed. Ironically, when we count the pennies to make sure this good work or that good work is paying proper dividends, chances are good that we, having put our hands to a spiritual plow, are looking back wistfully at the things of the world.

These are spiritual truths we do well to think upon, as we seek to lay up treasures in heaven,

A second point about thinking that “good stewardship” of God’s money requires us to be “thrifty,” is this: we might plant, we might even water, but when we sow spiritual seeds it is God who gives the increase. (cf. 1 Corinthians 3:5-8) To think otherwise is foolish pride.

We cannot foresee the good that our planted seeds will do in this heart or that, as we scatter abroad. Some may land on good soil, some on bad, but who are we to judge the hearts of men?

There was, we are told, a vibrant church in Ethiopia sometime in the first century. Could the preaching of the Gospel to a single prominent Ethiopian have brought that about? Quite possibly. Let us be thankful that Philip, having preached to multitudes, was not too proud to allow himself to go in search of a single soul God would lead him to, regardless of cost or time.

When we think to ourselves, this good work is more worthy than that good work, we are having the wrong attitude. The right attitude should be sorrow that we can’t always do it all. And it is true, we can’t, of ourselves, always do it all. And we must each use our own God-given wisdom and discernment when deciding between two equally worthy endeavors. But God be merciful to us if we start making decisions based on which one will leave us with more money in our pockets. When we make such decisions, we should do so with a righteous judgment, not according to appearances or carnal expectations.

Do we truly believe that, on judgment day, God is going to berate us because we spent too much time or effort on saving any particular soul? Do we truly believe that God is going to tell us that we were in error when He gave us money and we gave it all away to help the poor, feed the hungry and send missionaries throughout the world? Will He not rather rejoice that we laid up spiritual treasures with the physical goods He gave us.

Sometimes the seed that we sow will fall by the wayside. This does not make the labor unworthy, nor foolish. God gives the increase. All we can do is take what He gives us and distribute it freely and generously. “Freely you have received, freely give,” is the attitude Jesus teaches us to have. (cf. Matthew 10:8b) The Bible teaches that God loves a cheerful giver. It does not say that He loves a thrifty giver. (cf. 2 Corinthians 9:7)

We should be glad that God does not give to us with the same tight-fisted attitude with which we often give to others. Rather, He freely sends rain and sun on all men alike, blessing them with the bounties of His creation. Rather, He freely gave us His Son that we might have eternal life. And He does all this knowing that some people will not appreciate any of His gifts. But He continues to give, and He teaches us to do the same. (cf. Matthew 5:44-48; John 3:16)


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