Religion Reboot

The “blue screen of death.”

That’s what I sat there staring at.  I had started working for Promise Keepers a couple of months earlier, and due to a very tight ministry budget, I had agreed to use my own personal laptop for ministry work until they could afford to purchase another.  Lots of files, and programs, and documents were stored on it.  And now all I had was an overpriced paper weight.  I had lost everything.

That’s what happens when you try to push a computer beyond its capabilities.  This costly example taught me that I can’t just keep putting more and more on a computer, in hopes that it forces the computer to do things it just wasn’t designed to do.  The only result that can be expected is a crash.

Our spiritual lives are often much like this.  In our efforts to walk closer to Jesus, many times we feel like we’re coming up short.  We see our inadequacies and failures, and we determine that we must simply try harder.  So we add more to our spiritual hard drive.  We start teaching another Bible study.  We increase our giving.  We read more Christian books.  We memorize more verses.  And while all of these things are good, they don’t fix the problem.  That’s because the problem isn’t about activity.  The problem is much deeper.  The problem is in the heart.  Eventually, the result is always the spiritual “blue screen of death.”

Maybe as you read this, you’re already there.  You’ve done it all: served on the committees; attended all the services and meetings; gone on the mission trips; etc.  And you’ve reached the point of complete spiritual burn out.  You’ve been forced to step away from the grind of Christianity.  You’re on the sidelines waiting for enough energy to jump back in again.  But now you’re worried that this time the energy won’t return.

When a computer crashes, sometimes all you can do is reboot it.  That may mean you’ve lost everything on the hard drive, and that you have to start all over again.  And while that’s not a pleasant experience, it’s the only way to get the computer to work again.

It’s the same thing with a spiritual crash.  You have to start over again.  Forget all the extras that we’ve attached to religion; all of the things that 2,000 years of church tradition have convinced us we must be doing in order to be faithful.  It isn’t always a pleasant experience, but in the end, it’s the only way to get our hearts working again.

The religion of Jesus’ day wasn’t any different than it is today.  They had accumulated countless traditions and rituals and ideas that they believed helped them more faithfully walk with God.  They fasted every Monday and Thursday.  They performed a ritual washing ceremony before eating anything.  They developed specific rules and regulations designed to protect them from violating the Sabbath.  There wasn’t anything substantively wrong with these traditions.  The problem was, these traditions began to become what their faith was all about.  Does this sound familiar?

In Matthew 9, some of the disciples of John the Baptist came to Jesus and asked why His disciples didn’t fast like they or the Pharisees did.  First, I love Jesus’ initial answer: He basically says that His disciples will fast when it’s the right time to fast, not out of religious ritual or because of pressure from others.  But then Jesus says this:

No one puts a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old garment, for the patch tears away from the garment, and a worse tear is made.  Neither is new wine put into old wineskins. If it is, the skins burst and the wine is spilled and the skins are destroyed. But new wine is put into fresh wineskins, and so both are preserved.  Matthew 9:16-17 ESV

What did Jesus mean with this analogy?  The key is in understanding that He was responding to questions regarding His disciples following man’s religious traditions.  Jesus is saying that the observance that He teaches, can’t fit into the religious traditions of others.  That following Him required a new understanding of faith.  Trying to mix being His disciple with the religious traditions of man only results in a ripped garment or a burst wineskin.  In today’s culture, we might very well say that trying to combine following Jesus with man’s system of religion can only result in the spiritual “blue screen of death.”

In the Hebrew culture that Jesus taught in, the way that a rabbi interpreted Scripture and how to obey it was called his “yoke.”  It’s a metaphor to describe the burden or the weight of a rabbi’s teaching.  Some added many rules and regulations; others many less.  When choosing to follow a rabbi, the disciple would carefully seek to understand that rabbi’s yoke, because they would be expected to live according to it from that point forward.

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.   Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.  Matthew 11:28-30 ESV

We know these verses well.  You could probably quote them by memory.  But deep down in your heart, you probably wonder if they’re true.  For most of us, being Jesus disciple isn’t all that easy.  The burden we bear isn’t very light.  We rarely feel rested because of it.

And that means that we’ve added things to what Jesus expects His disciples to do.

So what was Jesus’ yoke?  If it’s what we are supposed to use as the guide for following Him; for interpreting Scripture; for walking with Him; what is it?

In Jesus day, a rabbi’s yoke was what that rabbi called the “greatest commandment.”  It didn’t mean that rest of the Scriptures failed to be important.  It just meant that all other commandments must be filtered through that “greatest commandment.”

A Pharisee came to Jesus seeking to learn what He taught as His greatest commandment.  Jesus answered:

You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.   On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.  Matthew 22:37-38 ESV

Jesus initial answer was common in His day.  Many rabbi’s taught that loving God will all of your heart, soul, mind, and strength – the Shema (Deuteronomy 6:4-9) – is the greatest commandment.  But as He often did, Jesus changed things up just enough that His disciples would have seen something very profound in His answer.  Jesus adds a second commandment to it, declaring that it held equal importance: love your neighbor as you love yourself.

Love God.  Love others.  That’s the heart of Scripture.

It doesn’t say study longer.  It doesn’t say memorize more verses.  It doesn’t say go on another mission trip.  It doesn’t say give more in the offering.  It doesn’t say fast.  It doesn’t say join the choir.

Love God.  Love others.

Don’t get me wrong.  When we love God, we’ll want to spend time learning what He teaches more.  It will lead to more time reading and memorizing the Word.  If we love others, we will end of doing more to help them; giving more; sharing the Gospel more.

But these things come out of our love; not out of duty or religious ritual.

Sadly, many can’t fully grasp how profound and liberating Jesus’ yoke is.  It seems too simple.  So they add more and more to their lives in an effort to find that fulfillment and peace that can only come when we surrender ourselves over to love.  Most of us have to crash before we can start over again.

Still, if you can allow yourself to step back, evaluate why you do what you do, you will find a freedom and peace that you truly long for.

Go ahead.  Reboot your “spiritual hard drive.”  Take off the programs and files, and just start again.

Just love God, and love others.

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The Voice of God at Taco Bell

When I think of someone who hears “the voice of God,” I usually get the image of Charlton Heston in his red robe standing at the top of Mt. Sinai; blow-dried and feathered gray hair and all, hearing this powerful booming voice calling out from fire and thick darkness, and a lot of “thou shalts” and “shalt nots.”  Or I think about the baptism of Jesus, and the skies ripping open and hearing, “This is my Beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.”

The voice of God is supposed to be unmistakable.  It’s not something that can be missed, right?

Here’s the problem: I’ve never heard God speak that way.

But, of course, that doesn’t mean He’s silent.  We know that He speaks to us through His Word.  But recently I’ve learned that if I’m listening for it, I have the unbelievable ability to literally hear the voice of God.  Seriously.  I’m not kidding.

Ok, let me explain.

The ancient Jewish sages taught that the Scriptures are the very words of God.  Nothing shocking there; Christians believe the same thing.  The difference is that the Jewish sages also taught that when we hear someone else speaking the words of the Bible, that their voice literally becomes “God’s voice.”  It means that God’s voice doesn’t sound like James Earl Jones.  It sounds like your wife.  It sounds like your pastor.  It sounds like your best friend.

Now that’s both good and bad news.  The good news is that we can hear God’s voice multiple times per day.  The bad news is that these sounds are so common to us, that we can easily miss it.  I almost missed hearing God’s voice just a few days ago.

God’s been doing some amazing things in my life; opening up doors of ministry and working in my life in powerful ways.  And as should be expected, the Enemy isn’t sitting back and ignoring it.  He’s on the attack.  So I’ve been put into a position where either God comes through, or I’m toast.  Think Red Sea and pharaoh’s chariots.

So I’m sitting at Taco Bell with my wife and two sons, eating some tacos (or at least that’s what they keep trying to tell me they are), thinking about what a terrible situation I’m in and how hard life is.  I’ve got my nose stuck in my iPhone and I’m trying to force down another taco, doing my best to ignore everyone around me – including my family.  We’ve got about ten minutes to finish eating before we have to get the boys to Vacation Bible School, and they still don’t have their memory verse down as well as I would like.  So Christy is working with the boys on the verse, while I’m stewing.  They keep trying over and over again to get through the verse without help.  Finally, I get frustrated enough that I decide it’s time that I step up and make sure they learn it.  And I hear my six year old say:

Numbers 11:23  – The LORD answered Moses, “Is the LORD’s arm too short?  You will now see whether or not what I say will come true for you.”

I didn’t know that the voice of God sounded like my six year old son.  It does.

At that very moment, without fanfare or lightning or fire or thick darkness, God ripped open the Heavens and shouted out exactly what I needed to hear.  And just to be sure I heard it clearly He said it again, this time sounding like my eleven year old.  And I almost missed it.

And that got me wondering; how many times has God spoken the exact right words at the exact right time, and I missed it?  Maybe because I was distracted and not paying attention or because I didn’t like the sound of the voice He was speaking through.

He’s going to speak to us today.  All we have to do is listen for it.

Even at Taco Bell.

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