Educating Conscience

We do not need to go very far in the news these days to bump directly into issues of truth and lying and honesty and misrepresentation.

Perchance conscience can help us here. The Bible tells us a number of things about conscience.

Romans 2:15 –conscience can accuse and defend
1 Corinthians 4:4 –conscience can be clear
2 Corinthians 1:12 –conscience can testify
1 Timothy 4:2 –conscience can be seared as with a hot iron.
Titus 1:15 –conscience can be corrupted.
Hebrews 9:9 –conscience may not be cleared
Hebrews 9:14 –conscience can be cleansed
Hebrews 10:22 –conscience can be guilty

The word “conscience” appears in the English Bible about 30 or so times depending upon how you do the translation.

There is no Hebrew word as such for “conscience”. In Hebrew the concept is handled by the word for “heart”. For the Hebrew person, the qualms of conscience are felt through his or heart. This is not unusual since in Hebrew emotions are often expressed in terms of various bodily organs.

There is a Greek word for “conscience”, viz., suneidesis which is derived from its root word, sunoida. The Greek sunoida, means “I know together with”.

The parallel Latin “conscio” (used in the Vulgate) can be translated as “to be conscious of” or “to know well”.

It is from “conscio” that we get our word “conscience”. We are all familiar with the word “science” meaning “knowledge of”. Add the prefix “con” which means “with” and we have “knowledge with”.

Now if you listen carefully you will note that some people use “conscience” and “conscious” interchangeably. Actually such usage is not all that far off because in some languages there is only one word for “conscience” and “conscious” and even “consciousness”. In fact “conscience”, “conscious”, “consciousness”, and even “knowledge” can all get mixed up in some contexts.

Let us go with conscience meaning “knowing together with — in a moral sense” or “knowing together in a moral way”; maybe even defining it as “moral consciousness or awareness.”

Then we have the problem of what do we mean by “moral”?

“Moral” means to concern oneself with “choice” with “decision”, with “right and wrong”, and with “being truly human.”

Let’s think of some common phrases which might parallel “knowing with.”

Playing with
Singing with
Talking with
Being with
Going with
Studying with
Eating with
Traveling with
Doing with
Shoveling with
Moving with
Exercising with

All of these phrases can be increased in intensity by wording them as “knowing together with” . . .

Who is she “knowing together with”?
Who is he “knowing together with”?
Who are you “knowing together with”?
Who am I “knowing together with”?

If conscience has to do with “knowing together with” then it matters “what” and “who” we are “knowing together with.”

Let’s look at a few examples . . . these may be a bit grammatically clunky but they make the point.

“I am knowing together with my teacher.”
“I am knowing together with my friend.”
“I am knowing together with my mother.”
“I am knowing together with the Bible.”
“I am knowing together with the radio talk show.”
“I am knowing together with my pastor.”
“I am knowing with Wikipedia.”
“I am knowing together with myself.”
“I am knowing together with the television.”
“I am knowing with my degrees.”
“I am knowing together with God.”
“I am knowing together with my Facebook.”
“I am knowing together with the hymnal.”
“I am knowing together with my professor.”
“I am knowing together with the Gallup poll.”
“I am knowing together with Jesus.”

It is not hard to see where conscience or “knowing together with” becomes connected with authority. In the same sense that I might say that my brother is bigger than your brother or my dad is stronger than your dad, we might say that my source of “knowing together with” is better or stronger than your source of “knowing together with”, it would seem.

Hebrews 6:16 (NIV) speaks of this authoritative dimension: “People swear by someone greater than themselves, and the oath confirms what is said and puts an end to all argument.”

All of this has to do with how we educate conscience. What and who do we allow to teach our consciences? Where do we allow conscience to find authority?

In scripture we have:

God speaking
Angels announcing
God and a couple of angels stopping by to talk to Abraham (Gneiss 18)
Prophets (both faithful and false) predicting
A donkey protesting to Balaam (Numbers 22)
The pillar of cloud directing
The witch of Endor speaking to Saul for Samuel (1 Samuel 28)
The heavens telling the glory of God
The law proclaiming

Oh, so many sources of truth!

In the Old Testament, the true and faithful prophets gradually become the conscience of Israel and stress interior dispositions and begin to mention individual responsibility. They look forward to the day when God will plant his law in the innermost part of man (Curran).

Jeremiah proclaims:

“This is the covenant I will make with the people of Israel
after that time,” declares the Lord.
“I will put my law in their minds
and write it on their hearts.
I will be their God,
and they will be my people (Jeremiah 31:33, NIV).

This passage shows the developmental nature of the conceptualization of conscience. Conscience comes to be thought of as the voice of God. It might be more adequately characterized as man’s inner awareness than God has spoken.

Conscience calls us to the awareness that God has spoken. It behooves then to pay attention to what he has said and what he is saying.

Conscience in the Bible is never static as God’s word is never static. Conscience is always set in the process and context of relationship.

“ . . . conscience is fundamentally not a faculty of judgment but a living personal bond between God and man and neighbor” (Paul Lehmann 1964, 278).

Final authority does not lie in human conscience but with God and his Word.

In the Bible, conscience is not a thing or a faculty or a person but an understanding of men and women as moral beings. It has to do with “knowing together with.”

So the ultimate question then is, “who and what are you knowing together with”?

This past Sunday we sang the beautiful and insightful hymn on this very point. John Bode writes in “Oh Jesus I have promised.” Is it not wonderful how truth shows up in so many places?

Oh, let me feel Thee near me;
The world is ever near;
I see the sights that dazzle,
The tempting sounds I hear;
My foes are ever near me,
Around me and within;
But, Jesus, draw Thou nearer,
And shield my soul from sin.

There is another verse which is not in our hymnal . . .

Oh, let me hear Thee speaking,
In accents clear and still,
Above the storms of passion,
The murmurs of self-will;
Oh, speak to reassure me,
To hasten, or control;
Oh, speak, and make me listen,
Thou Guardian of my soul.


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Give Jesus Your Burden

christian at the cross

Christian surrendering his burden at the cross in Pilgrim’s Progress.

This morning in church we sang “Cast thy burden upon the Lord” as a Call to Prayer.  Here are the words:

Cast thy burden upon the Lord,
and he shall sustain thee;
he never will suffer the righteous to fall:
he is at thy right hand.
Thy mercy, Lord, is great
and far above the heavens:
let none be made ashamed
that wait upon thee.

You can hear a choir version of this excerpt from the Elijah at:





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1 Thessalonians 4 — LIVING TO PLEASE GOD

hill2Today in our weekly Wrestling with Truth Adult Bible Fellowship, we considered 1 Thessalonians 4. Here we find Paul moving from doctrine to ethics.

In the first two verses, he emphasizes that living to please God is a dynamic and progressive activity. His phrases of “live in order to please God”, “you are living”, and “do this more and more” indicate the need to move onward and forward much as he similarly indicates in Philippians 3:13-14 . . .

Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.

We are called to live pure, holy, and controlled lives. When we reject these instructions we are not just rejecting the good way but we are rejecting God (v. 8).

Our mandate (v. 11-12) is to . . .
lead a quiet life
mind your own business
work with your hands
not be dependent on anybody

In verses 14-15, Paul includes a creedal statement about the life to come as a message of encouragement for those passing through hard times.

We have confidence because . . .
we believe that Jesus died and rose again
we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him
we believe that we who are still alive . . . will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep

These affirmations are to encourage us that Jesus Christ will return and that he has a plan for our lives now and in the life to come.


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Christmas in New England

Here are some anecdotes from my friend and colleague of yesteryear, Dr. David Heughins, who now makes his home in Connecticut. I am sure you will find things with which to identify. In our days of many toys and much tinsel, we need to be reminded of simpler times.


Reminisces on Christmas in New England

Day 1

Perhaps one reason our childhood Christmas memories are so sweet is that we didn’t have to do anything but wait!

Christmas in the Heughins parsonage. There were the three of us, living upstairs over the church in Montgomery, Vermont. Gifts were relatively few and mostly practical. Just about my earliest memory was toddling into the living room and catching my Dad putting something behind the tree. “It’s a broom!” I cried, as he tried to shush me. Mom’s big present! Another time I got into the groceries and found a package of strawberry flavored milk straws (!) and was paddled for peeking (not too hard, but unjustly – I thought: I didn’t know it was the week before Christmas).tree c

The tree came from some parishioner’s wood lot. Dad and I (when I was old enough) would go tramping into the snowy woods with an axe and select two spruce or fir trees, one for the church and one for ourselves. They would be placed in a grapefruit juice can filled with sand and rocks and trimmed with tinsel, red garland and balls. I remember when we got our first string of multi-colored lights . . .  

After Christmas [the trees] would go out in the snow-bank with suet tied to them for the birds.  The now-tattered cardboard fold-out manger scene that always graced a prominent place is still somewhere in storage. 

Ma lit a candle in my bedrcandleoom window for the Christ child. I remember watching it burn as she sang me to sleep. I miss her!

Day 2

Christmas in the Heughins parsonage – continuing the trip down memory lane – was filled with music. We didn’t have a “Victrola” when I was little, but Ma had a reed organ she had been given as a wedding present and could play anything with strings. After dinner we would gather around the organ and sing Christmas carols, from little booklets. Dad sang melody and Mom and I sang alto. No Santa, Rudolf or Frosty in those booklets, it was all the old,  four moving parts, Christ-carols. I still love harmony!

Day 3

Groan! It’s a winter wonderland out there! But it’s warm enough in here.

Christmas in the Heughins parsonage. I was ambivalent about Santa Claus. Dad preached (upstairs and downstairs) “keep Christ in Christmas” every season. Nobody had heard of “happy holidays” back then. The rival of Christ, in the lexicon of our church, was the jolly elf, no saint at all, but a pagan symbol of materialism! Dad held that if they lied to me about Santa, then when the disillusionment came, I would cease believing in the Christ child, too. On the other hand, my peers and teachers were all believers and Ma didn’t want me attacking them. And she did read “The Night before Christmas” to me at bedtime on Christmas Eve. So I wavered between entertaining belief and agnosticism.

We did hang a sock behind the stove, though, my actual sock, not one of those fake red felt sacks. On Christmas morning I would bound out of my cold room to get dressed by the heat and find it stuffed with a real orange (the only time we had one all year), a pack of lifesavers, and a trinket or two to play with until time for “the tree.” Ma might pretend she had nothing to do with it, but I knew I was supposed to say thank you.

Day 4

In the Heughins parsonage, especially later in my childhood and adolescence, wrapping presents was a huge part of Christmas fun. Except for care packages from a more prosperous aunt, most of the gifts were winter clothes and supplies (we didn’t know about back-to-school shopping in those days), but oh! the fun we had disguising them! Gifts were placed under the tree as soon as ready and were designed for suspense and surprise. Nothing was what it appeared! Pick it up and shake it – go ahead. You’ll never guess!broom

With an allowance of 25¢ (and no parental bankroll, it had to be from me), my gifts were small. But they could be packaged in a huge box! A toothbrush for Dad, wrapped in multiple layers of last-year’s wrapping paper and assorted boxes, a brick or two, and I could pack a small trunk! I would take all day. And he would respond – although he didn’t have all day to work on it – with an enormous raw carrot from the root cellar (I notoriously hated carrots). My masterpiece came the year I went away to college and acquired six phonograph records for Ma. I made them into the form of a box and packed it with newspaper and decoys. She unwrapped and unfolded every piece in the “box” without discovering that the box itself was the present! I think she was a little hurt for a minute or two that I had deceived her.


I can see many similarities with my own early Christmases and I imagine you do too!  Thanks to David for sharing his Christmas thoughts.

“Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!” 2 Cor 9:15 (NIV)


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God, the Gardener

God, the Gardener
October 8, 2014
Joyce Louise Thomas

The beauty of God’s creation gives me a lot of joy. But while I absolutely love the springtime, I used to dread fall, because it meant that winter was not too far behind. Anyway, a few years back I reprimanded myself for thinking like that, and I’ve been working to enjoy the wonderful autumn time more. And it is so beautiful! God blesses us with the extravagance of the seasons, each showing us in a different way how much He loves us! You know, God didn’t have to make our world as lovely as He did. He could have been—shall we say—much more parsimonious in the giving of his blessings. But, no!, that’s not the way our God is! By so many wonderful means, his blessings overflow oIMG_6711ur lives!

I love to see things grow. I just can’t quite help it. When I go to Lowe’s I’ve always got to check out the plant department. Maybe something is on sale and—even if it’s looking a bit droopy—there’s a good chance I can nurse it back to life. Actually, I spend a lot of time working in my yard—my garden, if you will. Last month we had two very large maples cut down in our backyard. And then, yesterday in their place we planted a winter king hawthorn. Right now it’s just a scraggly teenager, but I can already imagine its developing beauty. It’s supposed to be a four season tree—with white flowers in the spring, leathery green summer foliage, and tiny little orange-red fruits in the fall. Even in the winter it’s supposed to look pretty with its exfoliating bark. I can’t help it—I’m just a plain ol’ gardener at heart.

If you think about it, I think you will agree with me that God is also a gardener—on a very grand scale. In Genesis 1 (NIV) we read:

1 In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. 2 Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.

11 Then God said, “Let the land produce vegetation: seed-bearing plants and trees on the land that bear fruit with seed in it, according to their various kinds.” And it was so. 12 The land produced vegetation: plants bearing seed according to their kinds and trees bearing fruit with seed in it according to their kinds. And God saw that it was good.

Can’t you imagine the intense excitement God had when he got to this point in the process of creating the universe? He was about to place man and woman on the earth, the culmination of all his work. All was prepared. And in his desire to prepare the perfect honeymoon spot, he made a garden!

But, just as in my garden, weeds grew in His garden, too! The weeds of sin blemished his beautiful garden and caused sadness and disappointment. But he didn’t give up. (He didn’t give up because that’s just the way He is. After all! He’s a gardener and he always will lovingly tend his plants so they can grow to be beautiful and fruitful.) He chose one small little plant and said, “I will especially nurture this one—I will shower it with my love; I will bless it, dig around it, fertilize it, and provide for all its needs.” He took that little plant, a nation of nomads-turned-slaves, and brought them to a promised land—Beulah, a new and lovely garden. We read about it in Deuteronomy 11 (NIV):

10 The land you are entering to take over is not like the land of Egypt, from which you have come, where you planted your seed and irrigated it by foot as in a vegetable garden. 11 But the land you are crossing the Jordan to take possession of is a land of mountains and valleys that drinks rain from heaven. 12 It is a land the Lord your God cares for; the eyes of the Lord your God are continually on it from the beginning of the year to its end.

God had hoped that this little plant would bless the other plants in his garden and help them to grow, too. But, again, he was disappointed. And, again, the weeds of sin diminished the beauty of his garden. At the end of Judges we read: In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as he saw fit. There was little concern with doing right. Instead, everyone selfishly chose his own path.

Many years have passed. Our God, the Gardener, still is busy tending his plants. It is no surprise to us that in spite of the fact that, ‘way back then—while his specially chosen plant did not flourish and grow—still He continued to lovingly tend His garden. And in his perfect time, He gave us Jesus, the Hope of the World, the perfect flower in his garden.

IMG_20140604_112307Jesus sets for us the example. He shows us that we, too, can grow into beautiful flowers and yield productive fruit in God’s garden. He channels God’s love to each of us in very personal ways, so that, even though we have been damaged by the weeds of sin, broken down, and all but destroyed, we can be reclaimed and re-created; made anew and so lovely in God’s garden.

God the Gardener has placed us in this tiny bit of his garden—in Wilmore and in Kentucky. Regularly he gives us sunshine and rain and fresh air to breathe. Our drinking water is safe. Our town is a happy place to raise our families. The crocuses welcome each new springtime and the falling leaves mark the success of another harvest. These are gifts given to us that we might know the extravagances of His overflowing love. Sometime this week, please take a few minutes, slow down and breathe deeply. Consider the beauty of the garden God has created for you and offer a prayer of thanks.

And, then, too, let us thank Him for the transforming power of his amazing grace that reclaims us from sin, plants us in the nurturing soil of his love, and allows us to grow into men and women of great inner beauty.

Around us we can still see weeds growing, still blemishing the landscape. But we know this is just a passing moment. God has promised to us a new heaven and a new earth—a place free of the ravages of sin.

I conclude with this beautiful passage from Isaiah 65 (NIV):

17 “See, I will create
new heavens and a new earth.
The former things will not be remembered,
nor will they come to mind.
18 But be glad and rejoice forever
in what I will create,
for I will create Jerusalem to be a delight
and its people a joy.
19 I will rejoice over Jerusalem
and take delight in my people;
the sound of weeping and of crying
will be heard in it no more.
20 “Never again will there be in it
an infant who lives but a few days,
or an old man who does not live out his years;
the one who dies at a hundred
will be thought a mere child;
the one who fails to reach[a] a hundred
will be considered accursed.
21 They will build houses and dwell in them;
they will plant vineyards and eat their fruit.
22 No longer will they build houses and others live in them,
or plant and others eat.
For as the days of a tree,
so will be the days of my people;
my chosen ones will long enjoy
the work of their hands.
23 They will not labor in vain,
nor will they bear children doomed to misfortune;
for they will be a people blessed by the Lord,
they and their descendants with them.
24 Before they call I will answer;
while they are still speaking I will hear.
25 The wolf and the lamb will feed together,
and the lion will eat straw like the ox,
and dust will be the serpent’s food.
They will neither harm nor destroy
on all my holy mountain,”
says the Lord.

Thanks be to God!

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A Listening Faith

Our daily Quiet Time is an opportunity to actively evaluate and reconstruct our worldview. The society we live in says either there is no God or God really has little or nothing to do with the daily outcomes of life. We all are subject to this bombardment of our Christian faith and if we are not pro-active in countering these thoughts we may become just one of so many whose faith is very weak or even non-existent. What can we do to build a deep, abiding faith? Here arbible b reade some of my thoughts.

1. Read your Bible regularly—but with discretion. I know that often some, myself included, have tried to be zealous in reading large portions of scripture daily, perhaps trying to read through the Bible in a year. While there is certainly value in this, I suggest that sometimes this is not the best plan because we may be so busy reaching our goal, that we do not have time to listen to what God wants to say to us personally between the lines. Rather than opting for someone else’s formula, ask the Lord to guide you personally in structuring your Quiet Time.

2. Make the primary goal of your Quiet Time to learn something fresh about who God is and how he wants to relate to you. These are sacred moments with your Lord. Follow his leading. Determine to come away with some specific truth that you believe God is trying to show you that has value for you in the moment. Mull over it during your day. Does this truth fit with how you think about “God and me”? Ask God to enable you to incorporate this new insight into your true self.

3. Consciously choose to enter into an ongoing inner conversation with God. Prayer is much bigger than a list of requests or even expressions of praise. Prayer is (or should be) all of life. It is the Me inside, listening and looking to learn about God; to see him in action in our world. In a special sense this should happen in our Quiet Time, but also in church, at work, and even in casual conversation. The key is not only to hear God’s truth but to find real ways to build it into our everyday thinking.

4. Look to see God in action today. Too often we pray, “Help in this situation . . .” or “Give guidance to these friends . . . ,” but then we fail to expect God to answer in real, concrete ways. If we believe God can make a difference in the bits and pieces that make up our daily lives, then at the end of the day we should be able to recount where we have seen him at work.

5. A prayer journal may be a really helpful tool. It is a little more work, but, then, how serious are we about really growing in our faith? Right now my goal is to write down one “something” that I hear from God each day; some insight that God gives that is just for me. Then I can ask him to change me, as needed—to help me see God more clearly as the loving Father who is very busy all the time caring for his children and drawing them to himself. Maybe you would like to join me.

Joyce Thomas

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Joyce’s Garden June 2014

Here are some of the recent developments in Joyce’s Garden . . .  including oak-leaf hydrangea, lilies, clematis, pansies, iris, ivy,  swing, as well as general views. IMG_9872 IMG_9873 IMG_9874 IMG_9877 IMG_9878 IMG_9879 IMG_9880 IMG_9881  IMG_9888  IMG_9889IMG_20140604_112307

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The winter was hard for Kentucky and for us and we lost several bushes — among them two large knock-out roses and a cherry laurel.  So . . . with the final arrival of spring, it was time for re-gardening — to coin a new word.

The slides below will tell you the tale as we developed a new landscape scenario.  Lots of hard digging to remove the old ground cover and the dead bushes and then much raking, but we triumphed!

(The first two pictures are of our peony and our snowball [not sure of its official name] bushes in the back yard which both survived the winter.)



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About ten days ago Joyce and I made our first ever trip to Branson, Missouri. (It is a very long way to drive. I think we are still recovering!) Anyway, by far the most dramatic and wonderful and fabulous part of our trip was the opportunity we had to see the Sight and Sound production of JONAH.  A few years ago we also saw the IN THE BEGINNING production at the Sight and Sound sister theater in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Both of these were powerful expressions of the gospel message, presented in a winsome manner.

The semi-circular stage in Branson was filled at times with nearly fifty actors, and at other times with live animals—uncooperative donkeys, stately horses, disorganized sheep, llamas, and camels. The pitching boat was created with careful detail. In the underwater scene the audience was, as it were, underwater as well, with brightly colored fish—and, of course, the Great Fish, swimming right over our heads. The vine that gave shade to Jonah, the repentant people of Nineveh, and the more creative storytelling additions of Jonah’s family and friends were all a part of the presentation.

I was especially pleased that the JONAH presentation was “in sync” with the biblical account. Jonah’s struggles with obedience to God’s plan, God’s demonstration of grace and mercy, and the final resolution of faithful dependence and transformation were displayed in a powerful way. The dramatic conclusion culminated in an opportunity for people from the audience to come for prayer.

You can find more details and vignettes from the production at


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In what stage are you?

William Shakespeare wrote the classic statement on stages. It is worth revisiting at:

Erikson ChartRecently I have been reminded of Erik Erikson’s Psychosocial Stages (  Actually, I have not thought of them much in recent years. When I taught psychology a long time ago they were of interest but at that time I was looking upward from the earlier stages. Now “all of a sudden” I am looking back down the list and seeing what has happened rather than what will or might happen in my life.

I have not been a great advocate of stage theories but they are interesting in their descriptive rather than prescriptive character.  Stages tell us what is a general pattern of development in our lives as we age; not what will happen of some biological necessity.
For some time I have lived in the seventh stage of “Middle Adulthood” but it looks like I am going to have to move on to “Maturity” whether I like it or not. Reflecting on life cannot be avoided as my body and mind tell me that I will not live forever and I need to be mindful of various bodily limitations.

The challenge is to keep growing and being useful to yourself and others (generative, as Erikson calls it) and maintaining integrity of mind and heart.  Sounds like wisdom to me.

Here are 7 encouraging verses about the way of wisdom from the English Standard Version which are applicable in all stages of life:

1. James 1:5 — If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.

2. James 3:17 — But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere.

3. Ephesians 5:15-17 — Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.

4. Proverbs 3:13-18 — Blessed is the one who finds wisdom, and the one who gets understanding, for the gain from her is better than gain from silver and her profit better than gold. She is more precious than jewels, and nothing you desire can compare with her. Long life is in her right hand; in her left hand are riches and honor. Her ways are ways of pleasantness, and all her paths are peace.

5. Proverbs 12:15 — The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man listens to advice.

6. Proverbs 18:15 — An intelligent heart acquires knowledge, and the ear of the wise seeks knowledge.

7. Colossians 3:16 — Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.


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