New Habits for a New Life

Is there any area of your life that your wish was better?  Perhaps it’s a relationship that you would like to be strong and positive, but today is less than great.  Or maybe you are carrying a few more pounds of belly fat than you’d like.  Maybe your financial situation is a struggle, and you dream of days where you can go shopping for shoes and clothes without feeling guilty.  Whatever the area that you’d like to improve, there’s a simple and extremely effective recipe for attaining the thriving life you imagine.  It’s simple, not always easy, and requires faith and perseverance, which is why few people employ it.  Consequently, few people enjoy the harvest, and remain wishers.  But not you! Read on to hear how this timeless principle can work for you.

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WHO knows?

The first step toward developing success in your desired area is to find someone who already has success in that area.  If you want a strong and healthy marriage, think of people around who have great marriages.  Offer to take them out for a cup of coffee and ask them what they do to keep their marriage healthy.  If you want to live healthier and get in better shape, find someone who’s already doing it and ask what they do each week to get healthy and fit.  This person is your WHO.

WHAT habits?

Ask questions of your WHO in order to discover the WHAT that will get the results you want.  Many great books are available as well, which contain excellent information on the things you need to get from where you are to success in any given area.  Again, make sure the author has credibility in the subject at hand (the author should have success himself in the area he’s giving you advice in), and study to identify exactly what you will need to do to succeed.  Hint:  this will involve doing something different than what you’ve been doing.

Now the key

Ok, we’ve done the two easy parts, now all that’s left is the hard one.  Finding credibile sources is relatively straightforward.  Reading and asking questions of your experts to determine what to do is pretty simple too.  And many many people do these two things, and yet do not achive the results they want.  In many cases, it is for the simple reason that they did not stay the course.  You see, there must be consistant right action for period of time, a period during which the results of the new habit are not visible.  Take a new workout regimen for example.  How much different do you look after your first workout?  Sweaty, I know, but I mean after your shower!  Not much different.  What about after three workouts? Four?  Fifteen?

Right action, repeat, right action, repeat

You see, you may have a great workout program that will move you exactly in the direction you want to go.  If you sought advise from a credible expert to obtain the program (e.g. you have been following the ThriveFit regimen), your program is perfect for you.  But if you look back during week two to check your results, you’ll likely find little but disappointment.  You’ve been working hard, you’re supposedly doing the right things, but you still weigh ten pounds too much!  What gives?!  You think, “All this hard work, all this study and dedication, and I’m not getting any closer to my goal!  I should just give up and stay where I am.  At least then I’d have more time to relax and watch TV or something….”

Don’t Give Up!

And here is where we separate those who succeed from those who only dream and wish that things were better.  I’m all for dreaming of a better life, and I encourage you to do so.  But I would further challenge you to take your dreams and find a WHO, who will tell you the WHAT that you need to reach your dreams.  And finally, I challenge you to commit to doing that WHAT cosistantly, persistently, for a long period of time.  Do not be disuded by the non-winners and non-experts who try to take you off course.  Understand that your results will come in time, and have faith in the process.  Two paths are before you today:  right action toward your desired result, or life as usual.  Which will you choose?

Who’s your Neighbor?

Do you consider yourself to be a friendly person?  Would the people who see you, whether at work, as you leave your house, or at the supermarket, speak of how you sought them out in friendship and treated them great?  Do you routinely smile and greet those you pass on the street or in the hall, or is your daily focus primarily on yourself?

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Two Ignore, One Helps

Jesus was once asked by religious leaders who he considered to be his neighbor.  He responded with a familiar parable, the story of the Good Samaritan.  In this parable, we learn of a man who is beaten and robbed.  A few of his countrymen see his helpless condition, yet pass by on the other side of the road.  In contrast, a Samaritan, who is naturally an enemy to the Jewish victim, yet seeks him out, takes him to a doctor, and even covers the expenses for the man’s care.

We often hear this parable as a nice story, meant simply to induce us to be kind.  But remember back to what question Jesus was actually responding to when He told this story.  He was asked who his neighbor was.  Understanding this context gives a deeper meaning to the story than the simple truth that we are to be kind.

Look for Needs

The people of Jesus’ day, much like most people in our day, tended to happily exist in their own small sphere of influence, engaging with people who were like them and who they were familiar with.  Through this parable, Jesus shows clearly that we are to intentionally seek out others, others who may not be very much like us, in order to meet their needs.

The Greatest Need

What is the greatest need which many of our neighbors have?  For any who do not know Christ personally, who have not been washed and cleansed through faith in Christ, their greatest need is salvation of their soul.  Without atonement, mankind is separated from God’s good presence, and any who perish without Jesus will face eternity without Him.  The need for salvation is so widespread, little recognized, and of utmost importance that, if we are looking, we will see it everywhere.

This is the condition of many people we see and walk by each day.  The strangers who we’re ignoring are desperately in need of the truth, the truth that we know.  But someone needs to tell them.  Not only that, but most people aren’t particularly receptive to ideas unfamiliar to them being expressed by strangers.  So what can we do?  We share the gospel with them as a friend.

Be a Friend

Friendship doesn’t come instantaneously, but it can be cultivated in a relatively short period of time.  Start simply by adopting the habit of greeting and smiling at the people who cross your path each day.  You’ll quickly find that a great many people are eager to engage with you, particularly if you’ll ask them open-ended questions about themselves.

As you cultivate friendships with your neighbors, be listening for what they value.  Do they desire wisdom? Or perhaps peace and something solid to rely on?  Or maybe they’re contemplating what happens after death because of a recent loss in their family.  Remember that when you have Jesus, you have the truth and the life that our world desperately needs.  Be sensitive to the Holy Spirit, share the truth, and let Jesus call out to the people in your life using you as His mouthpiece.  To God be the glory!

Our Latest Blessing

My wife Michelle and I were greatly blessed yesterday to welcome our third child into the world!  Hannah was born happy and healthy at 7:15 in the morning, and mom and baby are both doing great!

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Our other two, Lydia and Nathan, were excited and intrigued to meet the newest member of our family! Michelle was such a trooper all through the labor and delivery, and all the nurses fawned over how tough she was and for her positive outlook and attitude. I’m married to a pretty amazing lady!

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God’s hand is so apparent in the experience of seeing a baby being born. God has made our bodies with such complexity and ingenious design, and the mysterious process of birth is an incredible sight to behold!

Even with this being our third, I found the beauty and excitement woven into Hannah’s birth transformational. Even as I left the hospital and drove along our familiar street, I felt that I saw the world around me differently. A new child has entered my life, and depends on me for physical, emotional, and spiritual support.

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Through parenthood, we get a small picture of the love God has for us. Like little children, mankind is dependent on God for life and existence. He gives to us great blessings, blessings we don’t deserve, out of his gracious love for us. Though Hannah may slip, make mistakes, fall, or rebel, my love for her will remain. So it is with our Father in heaven. Though we may break his Law, reject His ways, and refuse his Son as Savior, He remains patient with us, and gives us another breath and another chance to turn from sin and accept the Lord Jesus. Praise God for the love he bestows on us, and we thank Him for the precious gift He has given our family this week!

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True Spirituality

What does it mean to be spiritual?  Does a person with a strong spiritual life simply keep all the rules?  And what’s the point of living in true spirituality anyway, when it seems like all you get for your sacrifices is some undefined goody-goody feeling?  Today we’ll explore these questions and more, and learn what the world’s greatest teacher had to say on the subject.

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Actions Speaking Louder

Many of us have had less than positive experiences growing up around Christian people.  Even within the church, it’s all too common to see people talk about all kinds of good things, but then when we see how they live, the disparity is enormous.  What good is it to talk about the right things one ought to do, and then go out and live completely the opposite?  Seeing people living this way can make us jettison the whole idea of Christianity:  who wants to follow a bunch of self-righteous hypocrites?!!

Not Based in Duty or Behavior

Jesus’ picture of spirituality, as contrasted with the heresy described in the previous paragraph, has nothing to do with activity.  Rather, true spirituality is walking in a loving relationship with our Father God.  You see, while we were sinners, alienated from our Creator because of our sin, God sent his son Jesus to come, live a perfect life, and die the death we deserved.  When we respond to this truth and turn from our sin and to Christ as Lord, God grants us new life. Just as God saw our sin placed on Christ at the cross, He now sees Christ’s perfection in us.  No longer are we estranged from our Creator – we are His sons and daughters!

Living in Response to What He Has Done

True spirituality, then, is living in response to this truth, to this great gift of salvation we have received.  When we understand what Christ has done for us, we respond in the only way possible—by loving Him, loving what He loves, and desiring His will.  How do we know what He loved?  In the Scriptures we hear from God who He is, what He has done, and how He desires we live.  Christ taught us that the first commandment is to love God above all else.  The second commandment is to love our neighbors. On these two commandments hang all the teachings of the Law, and if you think about it, sole direction one needs to live as a blessing to those around him.  Though living this way is not easy, and even as followers of Christ we often fall short and sin, this is the way to true spirituality and eternal life:  accept the gift of salvation Christ offers, and devote your life to following Him with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength.  He is gentle and humble of heart, and will lead you, protect you, and invite you into His heavenly kingdom.

The Heart of a Fan

Do you know any, or would you perhaps consider yourself to be, a football fan?  How do you know that this person is a fan?  Do you have to search hard for clues in order to determine that they love the game?  Do they keep a checklist of duties, such as buying tickets to games, talking about football for a prescribed number of minutes per day, or reading football blogs and magazines?

Husker Fans

What Drives Action?

If a person doesn’t do these works out of duty or off of a checklist, what does cause them to spend their time in such ways?  It is this:  they simply love the game.  Perhaps it is the thrill of victory when all seems lost, or maybe the sounds of a roaring crowds and clashing helmets.  But whatever the origin of their love of football, that is the driving force behind their actions and activities.  Their cubicle walls are plastered with team memorabilia and they talk of their favorite team at every opportunity precicely because this sport is their passion.

The Long-Term Investment

Now, what does all this have to do with living a thriving life?  We just described devotion to a fun and enjoyable activity, but consider this: what is the ultimate end of this pursuit?  One hundred years from now, all the players we idolize now will be dead and gone.  All of the games will have been forgotten, save perhaps an entry in a museum.  While all this distraction occupies our time, the One who made the earth, grass, and sky under which the game is played stands by ignored and forgotten.  Oh, perhaps every now and again we’ll toss a “good work” his way, maybe out of guilt, duty, or in order to check it off our list, but like Cain’s sacrifice, our Lord does not find these things pleasing. But imagine if we were to commit ourselves to Jesus the way so many commit themselves to football!  What if we loved Him the way fanatics love the game?

An Overflow of the Heart, Not a Checklist

You see, God does not want a checklist of works from us.  Jesus came to earth, lived a perfect life, and died a gruesome death in order to pay the penalty that our sin created for us.  He is the one who has done the good work, not us.  Our responsibility is only to accept the gift of grace he freely offers, turn from our sin and turn to Jesus.  In so doing, God will confer upon us new life, and a new self capable of loving Him every bit as much as the most committed fan loves football.  It is from this place that our good works will naturally flow, just as a true fan naturally buys tickets, watches games, and talks about his team.  Will you decide today to turn from your own way and follow Jesus?  Commit your whole heart to Him, and watch as he transforms every area of your being from death into life.

Does Money Drive Your Decisions?

Have you ever heard someone quote from the Bible that, “money is the root of all evil?” Does God really oppose riches and want His children to avoid nice homes, cars, and other physical possessions?  Is it wrong to seek financial freedom and success?

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To start off, let’s check the accuracy of that biblical quote.

1 Timothy 6

7For we have brought nothing into the world, so we cannot take anything out of it either. 8If we have food and covering, with these we shall be content. 9But those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a snare and many foolish and harmful desires which plunge men into ruin and destruction. 10For the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil, and some by longing for it have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.

Money is Paper

Does this passage teach that money is bad?  Is money the root of all evil?  No. Rather, it is the love of money that is a root of all sorts of evil.  Loving anything more than we love God is idolatry, and to do so violates what Christ said was the greatest commandment:  to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength.  As the passage above teaches, many foolish men have wandered away from God in the pursuit of their greatest love:  money.

So, if loving money is a danger we must be careful to avoid, should we seek to keep our income low and not bother to learn sound financial principles and habits?  Some have misquoted and misunderstood Scripture in asserting such ideas, only to find that this foolishness has the opposite effect than what was intended.

Money on Your Mind

Which man spends more time thinking about money, the one who earns plenty and has a large savings account or the one who earns little and lives paycheck to paycheck?  All else equal, who places more value on a $100 bill, a man who’s in debt up to his ears or a man who has a $1 million net worth?  A rich man may be miserly or generous, and a poor man may love God or love money, but in general the following applies:  those with plenty of money make fewer decisions based on money than do those who have little.

How Then Shall We Live?

So, what does this mean for us—the majority between poverty and affluence?  How should we live in light of these truths?  I see two major lessons:  First, always check your heart that you’re loving God more than money (or anything else for that matter).  Whether you count yourself rich or not, your heart can be led astray after money, so guard yourself and always see money as a means to serving God, not the other way around.  Lesson number two is this: act wisely now in order that your decisions need not revolve around money later.  Dave Ramsey says in this way:  Live now like no one else so that later, you can live like no one else.

Don’t Be the Joneses

It’s a hard thing to do, saying no to fun trips, activities, and purchases just because “we don’t have the money.”  What makes it even harder is that it’s so easy to borrow money on a credit card or finance a big purchase, and this is exactly what our neighbors do.  But, if you will make the hard decisions and say no today, the money you save and invest will grow and compound, and one day you’ll reach the position of financial strength and freedom where money no longer drives your decisions.  We’ll look forward to seeing you there!

Is Success Once Success?

One day, a little boy decided he wanted to learn to ride a bike.  He found his dad and asked him all about how bicycles worked.  His dad told him all about the history of bicycles, the parts that make up a bicycle, and the technique required to ride one.

Victory!  Or Is It?

The boy and his dad began working diligently on learning to ride the bike.  As the boy practiced, he gradually improved, until one afternoon, his dad released his grip on the back of the seat and the boy rode under his own power for a full block.  Happy and proud, both man and son returned home and parked the bike in the garage.  The bike stayed in it’s spot in the garage all night.  The next day, the bike also stayed in its place.  So too the third day, fourth day, and fifth day.  In fact, the bike stayed put for weeks, followed by months, and then years.  The boy never again took the bike out for a ride, though he walked past it nearly every day.  Now the question: did this boy learn to ride a bike?

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Technically, the boy learned all about the bike.  And once, he did manage to ride it a ways.  But did he benefit?  Did anyone benefit?

Assimilate It

You see, you and I are often like that foolish boy.  We undertake a worthy venture, like eating healthier, beginning a fitness regimen, or connecting with God in Scripture and prayer, but we fail to continue and create a permanent habit.  In so doing, we miss out on the benefit of the venture, just as the boy missed out on the joys and benefits of bicycling around his neighborhood.

Today’s the Day!

Can you think of something you know you should be doing, something perhaps that you’ve even successfully done on occasion, but that you’ve never gotten consistent with?  What benefits would you enjoy if you made this behavior a permanent habit in your life?  It could be that the only thing separating you from the greater level of success or achievement that you desire is the simple consistent application of something you already know how to do!  Will you take the steps today to make a new habit for your own success?  Make a commitment, let someone know about it, and enjoy your journey to the top!

Trusting Though Surrounded

Do you expect that following God’s way will make life easier?  If you study the Scripture and seek to keep all its precepts, will your circumstances be easy and smooth?  While our loving Heavenly Father promises many good things to us, His children, a life of comfort and ease isn’t one of them!

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Psalm 3 (New Living Translation)

1O LORD, I have so many enemies;

so many are against me.

2So many are saying,

“God will never rescue him!”

3But you, O LORD, are a shield around me;

you are my glory, the one who holds my head high.

4I cried out to the LORD,

and he answered me from his holy mountain.

5I lay down and slept,

yet I woke up in safety,

for the LORD was watching over me.

6I am not afraid of ten thousand enemies

who surround me on every side.

7Arise, O LORD!

Rescue me, my God!

Slap all my enemies in the face!

Shatter the teeth of the wicked!

8Victory comes from you, O LORD.

May you bless your people.

How Can the Wicked Prosper?

Certainly in our society today, we find many people opposed to God and His Word.  As in David’s time, there are many mockers and slanderers of God’s followers.  Sometimes we may think that God should tear down these people directly with His mighty right hand, or at least give us victory over them so they will see the truth in what we speak.  But, God’s ways are not our ways—no, his are much higher.  In His good pleasure, God often holds back his wrath and judgment from those who break his Law and oppose His people.

For a time, we find ourselves surrounded by a mighty army of enemies.  Christians around the world today face physical violence from groups who oppose the gospel, and every day men and women are beaten and even killed for following Jesus.  And God continues to give life and breath to even those who harm and kill His people.  How can God do this??  Why does he allow His people to be surrounded?

He’s Longsuffering with Us, Should He Not Be with Others?

God’s mercy is very great.  His grace, or unmerited favor, is lavished on all of mankind, even those who actively oppose Him.  And while we may desire comfort and ease in our lives by following Him, God knows better.  Often these trials and tests produce greater faith and dependence upon God.  See in the Psalm how David exudes confidence in God and His power during the time when he’s surrounded.  This is the faith that moves mountains—trust in God even in the times when it appears that God’s enemies will triumph.

While There Is Time

The good and bad news is that a day is coming when God’s patience with sinners will end.  When Christ comes to judge all the earth, all who are not covered by His blood will be cast out of His presence for all eternity.  Jesus referred to this hell as a place of weeping and knashing of teeth, and all who oppose God will find themselves there.  Yet while we live and breathe there is yet time.  Have you repented of your sin and unbelief and turned to Christ?  Have you asked Him to wash you clean and adopt you into His family?  Do not let the sun go down today without finding hope and rest in the Lord Christ Jesus.  Call on Him now, and watch as He transforms you into the person you were meant to be!

To Whom Do You Go?

Can you think of a time when you faced a tough decision and were unsure of the proper course?  When posed with two different options and can only choose one, how do you sort out the best way to go?  I believe that the first step is to recognize the value in seeking council. This is natural, isn’t it?  To tell people around what’s going on in your life in order to hear their perspective?  But all too often, I think we apply this good principle of seeking council in a way that may actually hinder us.

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What to Do?

Let’s take a common and tangible example of a difficult decision.  Imagine that you own and drive a car that is near the end of its life and not worth too much.  One morning when you attempt to start the car, you get some scary noises and a whole lot of white smoke.  Later that day you get the call from your mechanic:  you need a between $800 and $1,500 of work done.  Now, you’re not sure that your car is worth much more than $2,500 once it’s all fixed, and you’re not sure if it’s worth it to pay for the repairs or not.

Seeking Feedback

What would you do in this situation?  If you’re like most people, you’d probably tell your car story to the nearest 10 people who’ll listen.  Invariably, many of these people will offer advice, and certainly it will be well intentioned.  If you’re thinking of the principle mentioned above, that gaining the perspective of others can be valuable in making decisions, you’re probably happy to get all the feedback.  But there’s one key issue we’ve skipped over that makes the difference between the advice you get yielding you a good situation or a problem on top of your problem.

Qualifications test

The key is the determination of adviser qualification.  Or, put more simply, does the person offering advice know what he’s talking about?  Take a basic idea like the following for instance.  Taking financial advice from broke people is unwise.  Think about that for a second.  Now try this one:  taking marriage advice from a person with an unhealthy marriage is unwise.  Seriously, think about it!

Now, while this may seem so simple and obvious, it’s been my experience (personally, I assure you, as well as by watching others do this) that we often fail to apply such a basic filter before giving people’s suggestions credibility.  Our car repair example above is quite a common case of this illogical behavior.  One will ask everyone around him what to do about the car, and he’ll hear many people say, “oh, just trade it in and get a new car!  You’ll save the money on repairs, and paying a little interest is no big deal.  In fact, have you considered a lease?  Then you could have a really cool car right now!”  All too often, we’ll not only accept these ideas, but will actually factor them into our decision making process and let them influence our choice.  But what is the financial position of the advisers here?  Do they own their own cars?  Do they have an effective budgeting system in place and are they on track for retirement?  Often, No!  They do not!

To Become a Winner, Follow Winners

So, here’s the bottom line.  Does the person offering advice have what I want?  If it’s financial advice I’m seeking, do they have a financial life that I’d like to have?  If it’s spiritual advice, so they have the walk with the Lord that I want?  If it’s fitness and nutrition advice, do they have the physique and energy levels I want?  Run your advisers through this simple filter first, and you’ve avoid many behaviors that lead to the terrible place called average.

The Debt is No More

Would your friends describe you as an appreciative person?  Are you grateful for the many blessings you enjoy?  Or, are you prone to take the benefits you daily enjoy for granted?  Do you occupy yourself more with giving thanks for the good things or keeping count of the bad things? Today we’ll learn from the master, as the Lord Jesus Christ teaches us to have hearts of gratefulness.

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Luke 7

41″A moneylender had two debtors: one owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. 42″When they were unable to repay, he graciously forgave them both. So which of them will love him more?” 43Simon answered and said, “I suppose the one whom he forgave more.” And He said to him, “You have judged correctly.” 44Turning toward the woman, He said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave Me no water for My feet, but she has wet My feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. 45″You gave Me no kiss; but she, since the time I came in, has not ceased to kiss My feet. 46″You did not anoint My head with oil, but she anointed My feet with perfume. 47″For this reason I say to you, her sins, which are many, have been forgiven, for she loved much; but he who is forgiven little, loves little.” 48Then He said to her, “Your sins have been forgiven.” 49Those who were reclining [at the table] with Him began to say to themselves, “Who is this [man] who even forgives sins?” 50And He said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”

A Huge Debt Forgiven

As was so often His habit, Jesus used a simple and relatable story to communicate a deep and powerful spiritual lesson.  In the parable, we meet two men who are both in debt to a wealthy man.  One owes him 50 days wages (say $10,000 or so) and the other owes him ten times that amount.  Although the wealthy man has every right to demand his due payment, he does not. Because he is gracious, he completely forgives both debts.  The two are of course grateful—but not exactly the same.  Imagine being forgiven a debt of $100,000!  How much weight would you feel lifted off your shoulders!!

The Lord then goes on to explain the spiritual truth underlying the story.  Like the men in debt, you and I owe a monstrous sum.  But it’s not money we owe—it’s a debt of sin.  Because God is a just God, and we all fall short of obeying His perfect Law, we must pay for our unrighteous actions.  The penalty for sin is death, and not just death, but eternal separation from our Creator.  But, like the gracious rich man in the story, our heavenly Father has paid our debt.  He did this through Christ’s atoning death on the cross.  Our Savior paid the penalty we owe by dying the death we deserved—He Himself being without sin.  If we will turn from our sin and accept Christ as Savior and Lord, He will wash us clean and forgive our debt.

Do Your Actions Show You Grateful?

Now, whether we have been forgiven for a collection of small or lesser sins, or if we’re forgiven from a lifetime of rebellion and grotesque sins, we will be overjoyed and thankful to our gracious Father.  But the one who is saved from the mountain of heinous sin will tend to have a greater appreciation for the gift he has been given.  Like the woman in the story who was saved and forgiven from her life of adultery, we should recognize and give thanks to God for blotting out our transgressions.

If you’ve been forgiven much, take the time to recount and remember what God has saved you from.  Pray and give thanks that Jesus has paid your debt and God has forgotten your iniquities.  Conversely, do you think yourself forgiven relatively little?  It can be easy to downplay our own sinfulness, to view our godless words and actions as “minor slipups,” or “small infractions.”  But God is holy, and a sinner cannot enter His presence.  Instead of looking on others, whom we deem as “worse sinners” than us, let’s take the lesson of this passage and fall at our Savior’s feet in overwhelming gratefulness for His grace and love toward us poor, undeserving sinners.