A tight grasp…

Screen Shot 2015-10-08 at 9.52.25 AMPrintable15Screen Shot 2015-10-08 at 9.52.30 AMWhy do you want to be saved or would you want a friend or family member to be saved? I would think a big part of that answer is heaven. We want to go to heaven, and not hell. We want our eternal destiny to be headed in the right place, don’t we? So, how would you answer a friend’s question if they asked, “What do I have to do to go to heaven?” or “to get eternal life?” They need to be saved, right? They need to see their sin and repent from it. Isn’t that what we learned the disciples went out and preached a few days ago?

If this is the case (and we read in the Scripture it is) then why isn’t that the answer Jesus gave to a young man when he asked what he had to do to inherit eternal life? Do you remember the story? Jesus answer is above. He doesn’t say repent, he tells him to sell all he owns. This is not a parable either-this was real person, who was really rich. Why do you think Jesus answered this way?

Let’s look at the text. First, it says Jesus loved him. So, we know Jesus was not just trying to be mean. He loved him. He wanted to answer him honestly and I suspect, because Jesus clearly knew this man’s heart.

Second, He knew and saw the biggest stumbling block to this man’s salvation. It was the tight hold on money, and his unwillingness to give it  up that prevented him from following Jesus. Somehow it prevented him from seeing his sin, repenting from it and being willing to give it up. In fact, this Scripture has been twisted to say that living the life of a monk (no possessions, no riches) will gain us eternal life, but we know from the whole counsel of Scripture that is not true. The point is, money was a snare to the point of choking out salvation for this man. It had that tight of a grip on him.

We don’t have to be millionaires to have a similar problem. It may not be money that chokes us or is our barrier to following Jesus, but there is always something. Something that is hard for us to let go, hard for us to give up, maybe hard for us to give to others and let them have instead of us. It might not be money, it might be being “right” all the time, it might be “giving our opinion” (I know this is one of my weak areas!), it might be success, it could even be sleep! It is something that prevents us or hinders us from following Christ, and by following Him, I mean obeying him. Being his servant. Loving him through obedience above all else.

As believers, we have already secured eternal life. The question this young man posed has been answered, and we already made the choice that determines our eternity. We have repented and opted for Christ and to follow Him. I believe the question we are challenged with today is, what are we still not willing to give up? What is hindering us from running after Jesus on a daily basis? It is a good question to ask and a good thing to pray about each day.

It’s not always what we “see”…

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Screen Shot 2015-10-07 at 11.22.07 AMAt Monday night’s football game, we all thought Seth’s leg was broken. During the game, he sustained an injury that looked like a very serious compound fracture. Thankfully, when I woke up the next day, I found out that while he did suffer a very serious injury requiring 22 stitches, he expects to be back on the field in a couple of weeks. What really happened was not what we all thought we saw that night.

The problem is, we do interpret everything with our sight. It clearly looked like he had broken his leg. That’s what we “saw”. I am thinking eyes played the same trick on the disciples centuries ago. Well, trick is probably not the best word. It might be better to say they trusted their eyes more than their heart and what they had been told. In Mark, Jesus clearly spelled out his death and resurrection to them in detail before it happened. So how did they miss that? How did they watch his crucifixion and not ONE of them at least mention the hope that He would be rising again? I don’t read any of them saying, “just 2 more days…and He will be back!” The only thing I can figure is that watching him die on that cross with their eyes was stronger than the truth Jesus told them. In fact, Jesus himself says to Peter a few verses later in Mark, “For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.” I think this is it. This is the problem for all of us.

This dawned on me as I was praying for people I know that are struggling with cancer. My greatest desire is that they be healed-as I am sure is theirs. But, what if I REALLY understood and truly believed all that is written about heaven, about the fact that as believers, when we are “absent from the body” we are “present with the Lord.”? What if that hope was much more real to me? What if I truly understood that being with Jesus is actually way BETTER than being healed of illness and staying on earth? If I could only have more faith, focus and understanding of that, then I might be able to “see” things very differently. The problem is a problem of “mind set.”

I wish I could close this devotion with a solution of how to have our mind set fully on eternity all the time, but I don’t.  What I can say is, it seems the more truth we know about the hope God has set before us for eternity, the more correct our mindset will become. The more transformed our minds become to the mind of Christ, the easier these things would be. This must be why Paul so often spoke of “hope” to the Romans and Peter spoke of it in his letters to the believers who faced persecution and suffering everyday. Peter and Paul wanted them to see their “hope”-see it with their hearts while they were enduring such suffering. You are young-and thankfully, not anticipating death in the near future. But we all know people who are fighting cancer or suffering in some other way. Lets continue to pray for healing, but lets also pray they and we can all see the hope of the glory of Christ. Pray we all see our eternal destiny as real as what we see with our eyes. Pray God grants us the ability to have a divine mindset which will bring peace, and pray we can move away from our earthly mindset. This is clearly not easy, or the disciples would have had no struggle with Jesus death! But, Jesus desires this mindset-and if it is His will for us, than we can pray that for ourselves as well as our friends.

What is the Gospel?

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Screen Shot 2015-10-05 at 11.39.03 AMWhen was the last time you had the chance to share the gospel? Even if you haven’t had the chance recently, what would you say if you did? Whenever that phrase, “share the gospel” is suggested, I think of saying something along the lines “Are you interested in hearing about Jesus?” or “Have you ever asked Jesus into your life as your Lord and Savior?” After reading today’s Scripture portion in Mark, I realize my idea of “sharing” the Gospel has been all wrong and perhaps that is why it seems so difficult or unclear to me. I already am against the whole, “Asking Jesus into your heart” idea (which by the way is found absolutely nowhere in the Bible) but it goes far beyond that being way off the mark.

Today, in Mark, Jesus is sending the disciples out. He sends them in groups of two. Then, in verse 12 as seen above, He says “So they went out and proclaimed that all should repent.” They did not go out and say, “Would you like to meet our friend Jesus.” They did not ask if the people felt they needed Jesus or religion. It was repentance they taught and preached. And if they spoke of repentance, they had to have spoken of sin. This explains a lot to me.

Jesus and the true Gospel confronts people with sin, it is not the gospel of “friendship with Jesus”. It is a Gospel of a Savior who is desperately needed by all of us because we are living in sin, and due to this, will be going to hell. The wages of sin is death. (Romans 6:23) Period. Whether we believe it or not, this is the truth. Without a Savior, we are condemned, every one of us. If someone wants to deny they are sinful, or considers their “good” outweighs their bad, they have that option. It is a decision all must make, but that doesn’t change the truth. We are in sin, in need of a Savior-and there is only one Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. (“…no man comes to the Father except through me.” John 14:6)

The question of repentance and sin leaves people with one of two answers: Yes, I am a sinner and I need Christ as my Savior or, No, I am fine without him and will try another way. The problem is: There is no other way. He is the only way. There are only 2 answers: yes or no. The “other way” is rejection of Christ, it is a “no” and leads to death. When we fully understand the Gospel Jesus wanted us to go out and preach, as He told His disciples, it is clearer than we may have thought. We and every other human being on this earth needs to repent of our sins and are in desperate need of a Savior. The Gospel is priceless, loving, “Good News” to ANYONE who repents. For those who decide they don’t need it, sadly, it is not good news, by their own decision.

I don’t know when the next time I will get the chance to share the true gospel with someone will be or when you will. But, hopefully, today’s Scripture has shown us more clearly what the Gospel is that we are to be proclaiming-so when the time comes, we can tell it lovingly and clearly.

Grab your clippers and gloves…

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Screen Shot 2015-10-01 at 10.03.11 AMThe iPhone 6s is out now. Some of my tech blogs and podcasts say it really is a giant improvement from the iPhone 6 due to something called 3D touch. Others debate whether a user should upgrade or wait until the next one. It’s a hard call since I have an upgrade available, as do Miriam and Jordan. The thing is…I really do want it. If it were free, I wouldn’t hesitate. The other thing is ….its a “thing.” Will I ever be satisfied? What’s wrong with my current phone? Nothing. I just like to get the “latest” and “greatest” Apple phone. I desire that new one.

And herein lies my problem. I need to proceed with caution. According to today’s passage in Mark-it is this very desire that could “choke” the word of God out of my life. Jesus is telling the parable of the four soils-and there is one mentioned that is covered in “thorns.” The thorns include the things listed above. Jesus tells us these very things can choke the Word of God right out of our life, literally killing our spiritual growth.

Parables are stories, so we do need to be careful. In general, parables are used to illustrate a specific point or two-and many theologians would say every detail of a parable is not meant to have a meaning at the micro level. Keeping that in mind, I think we can draw a principle from this parable-The world, wealth and things can “choke” us from the Word of God, and destroy our spiritual growth. I don’t have to think very hard to imagine how my desire for the iPhone 6s could “choke” God’s Word out of my life today. Let me give you an example. I subscribe to a lot of podcasts-from Alistair Begg, Joe Focht and John Piper to MacBreak Weekly, This Week in Tech and The Tech Guy. Typically each day  I listen to the read through the Bible podcast and Alistair Begg first thing in the morning. But, since the iPhone just came out, and the Tech Guy I KNOW will be covering his review on it, maybe I will listen to him first. This is a small example, but it is clear, the “Tech Guy” would then choke out the Word. It’s that simple sometimes, that small. Choking can be that small. It can also be big. I may step on some toes here, but here goes…

How about the “choking” out of the Word by sports? How many families do we know that do not attend church regularly because they are at travel sport’s team events? Their growth will no doubt be hampered. We have fallen into this trap ourselves. What about  the lure of entertainment? Have you ever watched a show with friends until the wee hours of morning on a Saturday night? How attentive were you on Sunday morning in church then, if you even went? Did you retain and have a heart prepared to hear God’s Word under those circumstances?

Trust me, I am writing to myself here, I know, but we must all be on guard. Satan will do anything to get us out of the Word. We need to constantly be examining our “garden.” What is our “soil” like. Are there any thorns of the world, wealth or things that are quietly growing and choking us? We need to pull them out right away before it’s too late.

Footloose…and wrong

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Screen Shot 2015-09-30 at 9.31.57 AMOne of my favorite movies when I was in college was Footloose. I no longer would recommend the message it promotes, but at the time, it was exactly how I felt about a certain subject. When I was attending Houghton College, one of the rules was no dancing. I did not like this rule, because I loved to dance. Footloose takes place in a very conservative town that also does not allow dancing. One of the key scenes includes the main character standing up and quoting Ecclesiastes 3:4 where it says in part there is a “time to mourn and a time to dance.” This was my battle cry. This was a verse that basically in my mind said dancing should be allowed. It seemed logical.

Unfortunately, there are some serious flaws with my logic. First, this verse was taken out of context. Second, this movie as a whole does not by any stretch speak truth in any way to what God teaches in the Bible. (Quick tip: Just because someone, a movie or a song quotes Scripture, does NOT mean there is any truth in the message!) Third, my entire approach to this subject was wrong. Yes, the Bible does talk about dancing in positive ways-but I had signed an agreement to abide by the school rules, one of which was no dancing. I was trying to override obedience with one simple verse out of context from Ecclesiastes. My motives and therefore interpretation, were all wrong.

I am not the first to do this. The Pharisees approached Scripture with a wrong motive long before I ever did. Today’s Scripture is just one example. They were literally watching what Jesus is doing to catch him “disobeying” the Scripture about the Sabbath. In fact, they were so intent on accomplishing their purposes, they missed a miraculous healing? How could they not be wow-ed by that? They missed it because of hardened hearts. Because of their goals, not God’s. In fact, later on in this chapter, we are told Jesus was grieved because of their hardened hearts. (v.5)

To approach Scripture with a certain mindset and to make it “fit” what we want it to say was not only for the Pharisees. I can do the exact same thing. I can make it support something I want. (ie: dancing) That is not the intent of Scripture, and will always lead to Scripture twisting.

We need to strive to avoid this pitfall at all costs. It is bad, and can lead to a hardened heart.  In order to avoid this, I recommend a few precautions. First, if we are looking into Scripture for a specific purpose, stop and consider the real motive. Are we only trying to prove we are “right” or for our own selfish gain? If so, chances are, we will misinterpret the Scripture to slant the direction we want it to.  Second, as we read Scripture and desire to apply it to others lives, we should make sure we are not just seeking to “accuse” someone of something. Some say if it “feels good” to tell someone they are wrong with Scripture, it is the wrong motive. It should be difficult to share a hard truth with a friend that will bring about correction, not joyful. Third, context and caution. As we search the Scriptures and seek to understand them, context has to be “king”. All Scripture needs to be interpreted in light of the Scripture around it and the Bible as a whole. One verse is not enough to base a doctrine or decision on. Seek counsel. Pray for God to give you wisdom on the Scripture, and double check your motives. The Bible will only guide us to follow and obey God when we approach it with a pure heart-and no ulterior motives.

Why are you sitting at “that” table?

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Screen Shot 2015-09-28 at 10.16.59 AMAt lunch time you have to choose who to sit with. I know this can actually be tricky at times. Certain groups sit at certain tables. In one sense, you could say there is the ‘smart kids’ table, or maybe the ‘jock’ table… and you know dad always teases Mrs. Rickert and I about sitting at the ‘cool’ table in college. The point is-groups of people usually get a label of some sort. Sometimes it is accurate, sometimes it is not.

Today, Jesus sat at the “uncool” table-or more specifically, he went to dine at the ‘sinners’ table. This was an accurate description too. Matthew specifically points this out today in the Scripture that Jesus was sitting with “tax collectors and sinners.” As you surely know, the Pharisees brought this up to Jesus asking him why He did this. Jesus did this because these were who He was ministering to. This is who He came for-the sinners (which by the way, also included the Pharisees). But, I want us to consider something else about this passage. There is another label used for the people at this table besides tax collectors and sinners. Do you see it?

The label is “followers”-and this label makes all the difference in the world. This changes my view of those people completely. Yes, they were sinners. Yes, they had made some very bad choices, lived in lifestyles that were blatantly sinful, but now they were ‘followers.’ This section in Scripture is often used to point out that we are “all sinners”, and this is very true. But I also see this Scripture misused. It is used as an excuse for believers to go hang out in clubs or at parties, so they can “socialize” or “witness” to the people there. It is used to excuse hanging with the world. This is not what Jesus was doing. He was not going to the tax collectors, prostitutes and thieves, and just “available” if they had any questions. These were clearly people who had shown a desire to follow him-which meant changing their way. It would require repentance and a “turning away” from their current lifestyle. Luke tells us in Luke 5:28 that “…Levi got up and left everything and followed him.” He left everything, including his lifestyle.

We do need to be spreading the gospel to those around us. We do need to be associating and in places with both believers and non-believers so we can share the good news of salvation.  What I think we need to be careful of is using this as a thinly veiled excuse that has no intention or potential for the Word to be spread. Jesus visited many. Those who were not interested in the good news and following him, he immediately left-including those in his home town. He didn’t hang around to just “hang out.” I see this as a warning of sorts for us. Not so much at lunch time at school-but more importantly in the places you and I frequent by choice. The parties, the social gatherings and maybe even the social media outlets.  What are our true motives?  Are we sitting at the ‘uncool’ table because someone there has a true interest to follow Christ…or do we actually  blend right in because we have the same interests as those at the table as opposed to the interests of our Lord and Savior?

Leaders and crowds…

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Aaron is planning on running for class president. There is a chance he will run uncontested. Jordan and Miriam have experience in multiple student council positions. It requires good leadership and the ability to motivate your class to do certain things and accomplish goals. It requires some persuasion skills to get classmates to get involved, and a good leader has these. In fact, if a leader can get a few people to commit, soon the rest will. People tend to be followers.

This has always been the case. A good leader can lead a crowd to make very positive choices and changes. Unfortunately, the reverse it true as well- a bad leader can lead a crowd to make some very bad choices, and that is exactly what we see in today’s Scripture. Matthew spells it out very clearly for us. The chief priests and the elders, that is the “leaders” of the people at that time, persuaded the crowds to ask to have Jesus killed. Think about this. We are told this Barabbas was a  “notorious prisoner.”  He was not known for his exemplary behavior in prison, of that I am sure. On the other hand, everyone had seen what Jesus had done-healed people, been kind, forgiving, and so on. How in the world did the leaders get the people to want to free Barabbas and kill Jesus? I don’t know what they said, but whatever it was, it must have been convincing. How was the crowd so stupid that they went along with it? I honestly don’t know. Of course, we know this fulfilled prophecy and was part of God’s sovereign plan, but within that-the crowd and leaders were still fully responsible for their own actions-as are we.

Words and positions obviously have power. Power for good or for evil. Hitler was a strong leader who led his country to brutally massacre millions of people for completely unjust reasons. Crowds can easily be wound up to start riots and get completely out of control. Even if Aaron does not get the position of President in his class, I guarantee you he will be a leader many times in many areas. All of us are. We will lead our friends with suggestions, or posts or ideas. When we are not leading, we will be part of the crowd-easily persuaded. Be on guard for these things. We are to obey our leaders, but we need to do so with great caution and wisdom-thinking for ourselves, not just “going along with the crowd.” Does everyone at school think a rule is dumb and complain about it? Have you joined in with the crowd in complaining or thought about it and considered perhaps there is a valid reason for it? When you are with your friends and suggest ideas of things to do or movies to watch-are you leading your friends in some way to “run the race” better (as per Jordan’s John Piper post on facebook-check it out if you haven’t already) or are you leading them into sin? We are not in that crowd that is choosing to free Barabbas and crucifiy Christ, but let’s also make sure we are not leading the crowd or part of it in committing sins that put Christ on the cross in the first place!


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Screen Shot 2015-09-23 at 10.35.49 AMWhen Jordan worked at Merrill Lynch this summer, he did a good job. He did such a good job, they want him back. I think it is safe to say he wasn’t just sitting at a desk twiddling his thumbs. His manager gave him work, he completed the work he was asked to do and did it well. I gather the same thing happened with Miriam at Texas Roadhouse, because they always took her back. She was a hard worker, and they actually wanted to move her to another position because she had proven to be reliable and a diligent worker with a positive attitude.

When we read the parts in the Bible where slaves are mentioned, we can compare that in our time to workers. (Slaves were different back in that day then we tend to picture.) Knowing this, let’s consider what Jesus tells us today in regards to being ready for His coming.

In this portion of Scripture, Jesus has laid out that his return will be a “surprise” of sorts-no one knows exactly when it will happen. His expectation as “the Master” is that his “wise slave” (we are servants of Christ, right?) will be at work when He arrives. In His illustration, He mentions this wise one would “give the other slaves their food at the right time.” At the very least, the wise person is doing or giving to others what the master wants him to.

Later in this chapter, Jesus also relays to us what an unfaithful slave would be doing instead; He/she would be beating fellow slaves, eating, and drinking with drunkards. Sounds to me like the unfaithful slave is very self-centered versus the faithful slave who is diligent in caring for others needs.

His final point is-which slave will be better off when Jesus returns? The one who is ready and working, right? So, are we ready? Are you ready for Jesus to come back today? Right now? What are you planning to do right after reading this? It is definitely something to consider. I heard Alistair Begg mention in a podcast yesterday that if we were told Jesus were coming back this afternoon (say at 2:00) would that change our plans? Would it? If our answer is yes, than I think we need to rethink our plans and tailor them accordingly….because He could be. Each of us should know to some degree what our Master wants us to do today. I can say for sure he doesn’t want us “beating up” (verbally or otherwise) our fellow “slaves.” He also has  a job for you and I today-to do something for someone else. It could be anything-from being kind to a stranger in a store, to sharing your notes with a classmate, to encouraging a friend who is down, to saying sorry to someone you may have hurt.I don’t know what your job is-I only know mine, and that is all I need to know. I also want to think through my day and see if there is anything I may have planned that I wouldn’t want Him to find me doing. If there is, I want to eliminate that from my schedule right now!

May He find us all wise and faithful servants hard at work when He returns… . which could be within the hour. Are you ready?

Be amazed….

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Screen Shot 2015-09-22 at 9.40.57 AMThere was a good article posted by John Piper today on Twitter and Facebook. It is titled: “Four prayers for Bible Reading.” You can see the four prayers and Scripture listed in the article at Desiring God (click  here), but one of them is “Open my eyes to wonder.” In other words, let us be “amazed” when we read the Bible and hear God’s teaching. Let us find God and Jesus amazing.

I read that article, and then I read Matthew 22 today-which reinforced what I read. We are supposed to be amazed. Jesus is amazing and He has been amazing people for centuries-both believers and non-believers alike. Back in Matthew, on this particular occasion, the Pharisees have asked Jesus a question in which they have evil motives. They are trying to trap him. He proceeds to answer them in a way they never expected and we see their response above. When they “heard” his answer, they were “amazed”…and then they left.

Later on down in the chapter, we see the Sadducees come with yet another trap. This time a crowd is listening in as Jesus answers their question. Verse 33 tells us, “And when the crowd heard it, they were astounded at his teaching.” We are not told if they crowd left or hung around for more.

The point is, Jesus is amazing and He should amaze us. When I read His words and His teachings, I do want to be amazed. John Piper reminds me that I ought to pray for this before I read daily, and any other time I will be hearing God’s word. This doesn’t always happen, so I can ask God to help me see and be amazed.  I believe the more I am amazed at Jesus, and what He teaches, the more I will see how it can transform my own life and hopefully, the more obedient I will be.

But just being amazed isn’t all. We know that because the Pharisees were amazed…and then went away. They left him and walked away. I certainly don’t want to do that, do you? What makes the difference in a person’s life between being amazed at God’s Word and staying to hear more and being amazed and wanting to walk away?

We know the Pharisees hearts were not out to find answers, but to trap Jesus. So, they had approached him with wrong motives. When we approach God’s Word through our own Bible reading or hear it via some other avenue (podcasts, sermons, etc) perhaps we should pray that God helps us have pure motives, so we can respond to His Word. Also, we need to resist the temptation to walk away. When God’s teaching is hard, really think about our response. Are we “mentally” walking away, and rejecting the teaching or are we going to hang around and struggle with it until God shows us how to live it out in our lives and obey His Word as He desires us to. As the saying goes, we are never standing still in our relationship with Christ-we are always either moving towards Him or away. May we be amazed by His teaching, and always stay to hear more!

Debt and forgiveness…

Screen Shot 2015-09-17 at 10.59.15 AMPrintable15Screen Shot 2015-09-17 at 10.59.21 AMMiriam and Jordan are very conscious of the cost of college. You have both worked very hard during summers to earn money to help cover it and are trying along with us to come out of college with the least amount of debt possible. Can you imagine if a representative from a bank came up and offered to pay for every single college expense as well as Aaron’s tuition for the rest of his education years? What if this “person” also offered to pay off our house as well? God has certainly provided above and beyond for us through Dad’s job and we are very thankful, but an offer like that would be amazing. We would certainly all be grateful, wouldn’t we? That is the closest comparison I can come to for the parable Jesus speaks to in Matthew today.

I read the parable of the “unforgiving debtor” today-the one where a man is forgiven a HUGE amount of money, but then goes back to someone who owes him a few bucks, and has him thrown in jail since he can’t pay. I guess if I were to continue my comparison above, it might go something like this; After the person pays all our expenses outright, Mrs. Sheri borrows a cup of sugar. She does not return the sugar the next day, so I call the police and have her arrested. Ridiculous, isn’t it? I think that gives us a slight taste of the picture Jesus is trying to paint here. The absurdity of the debtor who does not show mercy on the person who owes him money.

The verb Jesus uses here in this parable though is ‘forgive’. The parable talks about ‘forgiving’ a debt-I think we still use that word the same way today, but would be more apt to say “write it off.” Either way, the point is, no more is owed, and the person who was forgiven, needed to become a ‘forgiver’ himself.

Unfortunately, the debtor did not become a forgiver in the parable. Jesus does not want us to become like the debtor. He wants us to be forgiving. Sometimes, I believe I think of ‘forgiving’ as more of a “big” thing-like I need to forgive the obvious wrongs. These things would include if someone stole something, or killed someone, and so on. My problem is, I haven’t had anyone steal from me recently or kill anyone I know, thank goodness. So, do I not need to really worry about this then?

I don’t think so. I think a forgiving heart goes deeper. A forgiving heart gives people the benefit of the doubt in situations. A forgiving person is kind to a person even after they have been mean to them. A forgiving heart would not speak unkindly about someone who did something we didn’t like. Now those are things I can work on. Those are areas God is speaking to me about in this passage that need to be transformed in my own life. How about you? Are any of those areas ones you need to work on too? If not, maybe it is a different area that God has shown you. Whatever it is, we are told we should forgive 70 times 7 (Matt. 18:22). Based on that number, we better get started today!