The Holy Scriptures tell us over and over, God loves you. We have a hard time grasping the depth of God's love for us, because we have a hard time grasping true love. Our use of the word "love" is too broad, and thus too superficial. Think of the many ways we use the word "love." I love my wife and daughters. I also love my 4 shot Americano from Starbucks. I love my parents. I also love ribeye steak. I love people and I also love the New England Patriots. When the Scriptures tell me that God loves me, does He love me like I love steak? Does He love me like a builder loves the house they built? Does God love me like my neighbor loves his dog?
When you hear about the "self-righteous," who are the first people to come to mind? Pharisees? Fundamentalists? Democrats? Republicans? Vegans? Carnivores? No-carb zealots? Whoever it is, I guarantee you, you didn't think of yourself. You are certainly not self-righteous! You're definitely not like those people!! Oops. We all struggle with the sin of self-righteousness. We are all like the Pharisee in Jesus' parable, who prays: "God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get."
During Lent this year, in preparation for Good Friday and Easter, we are devoting four weeks to an in-depth study of sin. Why? Because without a deep understanding of the bleakness of our sin, we cannot understand the profound brilliance of God's grace. We need to study sin as much as we study grace, because you cannot understand either without understanding both. Moreover, without a robust understanding of sin, you cannot understand God, the world, or even yourself.
One of the beautiful realities of living in a cosmopolitan city like Boston, is the privilege of interacting with people from all over the world. If you spend significant time with people from other countries, you soon realize that different cultures approach the idea of "being on time" differently. Western cultures tend to be "monochronic" in that they view time as linear, with a definitive beginning and end. Time is viewed as limited in supply, so we structure our lives by milestones, deadlines, and hard schedules. Because time is viewed as a commodity, we have expressions like "waste time" or "lose time" or "time is money." These cultures like to do one thing at a time and therefore are irritated by interruptions. Being more than 15 minutes late to a meeting is deemed disrespectful and an apology is expected.
Why is change so hard? Why are old habits so hard to break? Researchers like Ann Graybiel at MIT have found neurological reasons, and the evidence is not that encouraging. Even after quitting a bad habit, and rewiring our brain with a new one, the old habit haunts us like a ghost, waiting for the right conditions to leap back into action.
When you think of the commandments decreed by God, which ones immediately come to mind? Do not murder. Do not commit adultery. Do not steal. Do not covet. Rejoice. Give thanks. Pray without ceasing. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, strength, and mind. Love your neighbor as yourself. These seem like the big ones. These are the ones that should be highlighted over and over, right? Of all the commandments issued in the Holy Scriptures, which commandment do you think is repeated most frequently?
If you hate being in the dark, living in London during WWII would have been a nightmare. The British Air Ministry correctly predicted that Hitler’s Luftwaffe (air forces) would bomb the cities of the United Kingdom by night, so they strategically decided to hide in the dark, literally. The British government issued an edict to have all the lights turned off in London, and eventually everywhere, to hide the cities from aerial view, leaving the Nazi bombers flying around in the darkness, unsure of where to drop bombs. On August 11, 1939, two days before the war started, the whole country went black.
We are losing our ability to listen, for three primary reasons. First, we live in a world of cacophonous noise pollution, coming at us visually and auditorily from every-which direction at a breathtaking clip. Second, since we've invented ways of recording just about everything with audio and video, the premium on accurate, careful listing has simply disappeared. Third, we all have emotional filters, or biases, through which we unconsciously screen what we're actually paying attention to. The more important the subject matter, the stronger the emotional power of the filter over our hearts.
Did you know the God longs to bless you? He takes delight in prospering His people (Dt. 30:9). God doesn't dish out his blessings begrudgingly or miserly. He's not penny-pinching with his blessings. Moreover, He isn't just waiting for us to come and beg for blessings. He is eagerly and enthusiastically pursuing us to shower us with His blessings. This, in fact, is the literal translation of Psalm 23:6, "Surely goodness and mercy shall pursue me all the days of my life." God is incredibly generous with his blessings. "Well, where are these blessings?" Many of us miss God's blessings, because we misunderstand true blessings.