Why was this Windows 8 machine not functioning properly? After all, it was practically a brand new computer. The capabilities of this high-end, workhorse touchscreen system had been reduced to that of a Dell dinosaur running Windows 95 (or worse). At some point, just about everyone with experience using computers knows what it’s like to have their machine slow to a proverbial crawl due to the sneaky existence of viruses, malware, spyware, scareware, etc. What exactly was it this time? I didn’t know…but what I did know is that this computer was no different from any that I have ever worked on.
In some cases, the problem is subtle, hidden, slowly crippling the machine by running excessive processes that occupy precious system resources like your processor and memory. In other cases, the culprit is obvious. The giant flashing pop-up demanding that you call “support” because your machine has 80,345 viruses is hard to miss. Either way, from my perspective, the process of removing an infection and getting the machine back to it’s maximum level of optimization really doesn’t change. It starts and ends with troubleshooting. In my line of work, it is literally what I do every day.
My basic process for troubleshooting starts by establishing a clear understanding of how a particular system is actually supposed to function. I establish this baseline. I ask myself, “What is the expected or desired behavior? Is the machine clearly operating at the level it was designed to?” Secondly, I will usually ask the owner to take me back to the last time it was working correctly, and what happened right before they noticed problems. I observe: When does the problem occur? I attempt to identify a problem by observing the response of the machine. Through this process, I also aim to eliminate what it could NOT be. By a deliberate process of elimination, I begin to isolate and establish a root cause. Finally, I address this root by utilizing certain tools I have accumulated over the years, while leaning on my past experience (and other times…Google).
What is my point in all this? I believe the troubleshooting process can be applied to our spiritual lives as well.
Satan is a savvy black hat hacker. He is looking for weaknesses and vulnerabilities in our lives that he might be able to exploit. He will attempt to brute force attack, trying to obtain internal access by relentlessly utilizing different passwords over and over again. All the while he is simultaneously preparing to send Trojan horse packages to attack us from the inside. He tries sowing things into our lives that looks like an enticing gift, but is actually delivered with the intent to wreak havoc once unwrapped.
Once the enemy gets into our systems we begin to degrade and fail to operate as we were designed. Successful attacks sometimes happen overnight, but what I most often find is that this usually occurs over an extended period of neglectfulness. It’s clear that unaddressed indifference and neglect ultimately result in unintended complications. There must be a well thought out strategy and plan in place for not just maintaining, but also continually improving. Thankfully God has the tech specs laid out before us, white pages full of detailed instructions.
So what is our “troubleshooting strategy” when something lands on my hard drive that shouldn’t be there? Yes! We as Christians have the Ultimate Firewall…Jesus! We are covered, protected, and redeemed by the blood of our Savior. No weapon formed against us will prosper. But what if we neglect our relationship with Him? What if we never take the time to patch or upgrade our operating systems via prayer and studying His Word? If we maintain the same old operating system, the enemy will eventually begin finding new back doors and vulnerabilities.
In the world of IT, from the perspective of the firewall Administrator, there is a fine balance between allowing users enough freedom and flexibility to do what needs to be done and completely locking down the network to the point that too much freedom is taken away and the environment is 100% controlled. God is not going to lock down the network and control every decision in our lives. He is going to allow us the freedom to make our own choices. In IT, we can have the greatest firewall in the world, but if users are intentionally (or unintentionally) opening their systems up to attack, it’s only a matter of time before some “troubleshooting” is going to need to take place.
Make no mistake, the status of our salvation will never have to be maintained by our works. The slowed computer is still a computer. However, neglecting our relationship with Him and ignoring the little foxes in our lives will directly affect the quality of our walk and the lives of those closest to us. We will be like that high-end machine, operating at 30% capacity. We as children of God, were not meant to operate below or even at a basic baseline level. We were made to operate above capacity with unlimited upgradability. A piece of malware may find it’s way onto our hard drive from time to time, but when discovered it will be violently attacked by our anti-malware agents.
God, thank you that you are our anti-malware Agent…our Firewall. You give us free will to make choices. Thank you, that as we follow you and lean in to hear your voice more clearly, you show us how to avoid the little foxes and how to not open ourselves up to attacks. You lead us directly to root cause. You are the ultimate Administrator. There is no virus that you cannot remove. You make us into more than we could have ever imagined by expanding our capacities and capabilities. Thank you that you made us infinitely re-writeable. Thank you that even when we fall down or infect ourselves with bad coding, as we turn to you for help, by Your grace You delete the malicious and replace it truth and forgiveness! You fortify us against the schemes of the enemy. We lean into you, and we open up our lives to Your wisdom. We give you free reign to optimize our coding. In Jesus’ name, amen.
There’s a deep desire in all of us to do something great. God made us that way for the ultimate purpose of glorifying Himself. The question I’ve had recently is, what does that look like for me, for my family? How can we tackle an existing problem and make a difference? Who can we help? How can we share the Love of God in ways we never imagined? The over-shadowing question to these types of questions is…How can we navigate our way beyond the boarders of our circle of safe-ism and move more into the uncomfortable? I’m talking about the place where we take the things we learned in the circle and drag it outside to be exposed to new adventure and less calculated risks. I’ll be the first to admit I don’t yet completely know what this looks like for me…but I do know it requires a paradigm shift, faith, boldness, allowing yourself to dream a little, and being okay with doing something unconventional. My personality tends to fights this, but I presume I recognize it and that the status quo needs to be shaken up a little.
We’ve all experienced the helplessness and desperation of life’s darkest moments. It’s during those times that the enemy of our soul does everything he can to silence us from crying out to the only One who can redeem us. If he can succeed in silencing us he can prevent us from telling the Master what it is we need.
I love the biblical story of Bartimaeus, the blind beggar, who’s account was recorded in both Luke 18 and Mark 10.
Here is Luke’s account:
35 As he drew near to Jericho, a blind man was sitting by the roadside begging. 36 And hearing a crowd going by, he inquired what this meant. 37 They told him, “Jesus of Nazareth is passing by.” 38 And he cried out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” 39 And those who were in front rebuked him, telling him to be silent. But he cried out all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” 40 And Jesus stopped and commanded him to be brought to him. And when he came near, he asked him, 41 “What do you want me to do for you?” He said, “Lord, let me recover my sight.” 42 And Jesus said to him, “Recover your sight; your faith has made you well.” 43 And immediately he recovered his sight and followed him, glorifying God. And all the people, when they saw it, gave praise to God.
In this story, we see the blind beggar in the midst of a crowd of people. He hears a huge commotion and asked the people around him what was going on. They tell him Jesus of Nazareth is passing by. Now obviously, Jesus’ reputation was already preceding him, because Bartimaeus knew who He was and immediately knew what to do. He called out to Jesus by name, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” What is often overlooked in this passage is the fact that the people actually rebuked him and basically told him to shut up.
This is where I have so often found myself. In my moments of pain, disappointment (in myself and others), self-condemnation, weakness, and the like. In these moments we just want to shout out and tell God what we want. But these, these are the pivotal moments in our lives where the enemy loves to step in and tell us to, “shut up”. That it won’t do any good…that we haven’t done enough to have our prayers answered…that we are alone in our pain…that we are too dirty…unworthy of the Master’s attention…that God is too busy with more important things…that we just need sit down and shut up.
The people in the crowd tried to shut him up. I can’t help but think that these people were being used by Satan to prevent this man from receiving the restoration of his eyesight. The enemy knew what would happen if he did. He knew that the restoration of his eyesight was only the beginning. He knew that not only would the man’s life be radically changed physically, but also spiritually.
I believe the man’s response to the efforts of the enemy (again, recorded twice in the New Testament), was recorded so that we would know how to respond in critical moments like these. So what did he do? The Bible says that he cried out all the more! He basically said to them in his response, “No, I won’t shut up. I will not be denied! I know who that Man is and what He can do for me. Now excuse me, but I am going to get His attention.”
So what happens next? What is the response of Jesus?
So Jesus, in the midst of a throng of people, obviously a pretty raucous group, hears the man over all of them. He heard Him, number one, because He is always listening for the desperate cries of the broken, and number two, because the man actually cried out. So when He hears the cry of the blind man, He stops. (That alone is an entire message in and of itself. ) He stopped in His tracks and said (paraphrasing), “Hey, bring that guy over here.” He then (knowing the guy was blind) proceeds to ask him what he wants. This gave the man the opportunity to simply say what it is he needed.
I think it is important to note that there was no pre-requisites prior to Jesus answering the man’s request…just like many of the miracles of healing Jesus performed on scores of people recorded in scripture. He didn’t tell the man to first go to the temple and repent, put on sack cloth and ashes, and beg Him really hard and maybe just maybe healing would occur. No, He said, “What do you want me to do for you?” The man told Him, he received his sight, his life was changed, and he began to follow Jesus.
Father help us to cry out in the midst of our pain. Help us to ignore the voice of the antagonist. Help us to cut out offering futile, justifiable reasonings as to why we think we do or do not deserve to have our needs met. You gave us example after example through scripture where you responded to those who, knowing of your goodness, simply cried out to you. May we ever be like little children running to our Father with our requests, knowing that we have a Good Father who will make sure that our needs are met. In Jesus name, Amen.
Have you ever taken a shot to head that left you reeling with a nasty headache? Growing up playing sports this happened to me a few times. What I found out later is that this type of headache is nothing compared to a “spiritual” headache.
As a follower of Christ, intent on “living uprightly and holy”, “walking in purity”, “being disciplined”, and “being righteous”, I spent a lot of years with a perpetual spiritual headache. I did a pretty good job of doing some of these things, but in my mind all I saw was what I wasn’t doing enough of. I made efforts to be as “good” as possible only to feel that I wasn’t good enough. I made efforts to “do” things to please God only to feel that I didn’t do enough. How is it possible to jump into the ring with the intent to please God in all of these things yet walk away from the ring with a giant headache?
What I failed to realize is that God was already pleased with me. I failed to realize that my “righteousness” is like filthy rags (aka used menstrual cloths), but that God has made me “the righteousness of God IN Christ Jesus”. I subconsciously felt that somehow my efforts to be good (in my own strength) would qualify me to earn favor (aka score points) with God. I didn’t truly realize that I was already qualified with favor as His son. I was giving MYSELF a headache and the devil was having a field day lobbing accusations in my direction that I often mistook as conviction, only to realize that it was condemnation. It is one of our enemies sneakiest, yet most potent weapons.
The Holy Spirit will convict us when we err, but God does not accuse us. He does not bring condemnation onto His children. Jesus came to set captives free, to give abundant life, and to guide us with love; not to rule us by way of accusation and condemnation. That is the job of the devil! Satan is the accuser of the brethren!
There is no greater way to discover the heart of Jesus than through scripture. Time and again scripture references the job of a shepherd to illustrate God’s love for us. First, we see David (a foreshadowing/type of Christ) who was a shepherd who ultimately became a king. Then, Jesus himself tells us in John 10:11 that He is the Good Shepherd. He even utilizes the parable of the lost sheep to demonstrate His love for humanity in the presence of Pharisees and religious scholars of His time.
Recently, I began to study the job of a shepherd and what it involves and something I found interesting is just the way the shepherd treats the sheep. First of all, it is really obvious that we are like the sheep. We are helpless, hopeless, and defenseless without a “good shepherd” to look after us. Something that really grabbed my attention is how the shepherd utilizes his staff. I believe many Christians see God as a dictator, lying in wait for His sheep to step out of line so He can smack them into place with His mighty rod. This is not how the shepherd utilizes His staff at all.
One bit of commentary I read noted that the shepherd often uses his hook to bring newborn lambs into intimate relationship with its ewe. With so many lambs often being born during the lambing season the lamb can get lost in the confusion of it all. The shepherd will use the hook to loop around the lamb and guide it to its mother. He doesn’t use his hands to move him because the man’s scent will prevent the ewe from nursing the baby. Another way it is utilized is for drawing the lamb in for closer inspection, simultaneously making the sheep more and more aware of the presence of the shepherd. The Holy Spirit does the same in the sense that through Him we are comforted, knowing that He is with us always. The staff is also used for guiding the sheep. While in India I have witnessed many times a shepherd herding his animals down the road from one field to another with his staff. Sheep in particular have a tendency to wander off and aren’t aware of the dangers ahead, so the shepherd takes the tip of his stick and lays it onto the animal’s side and applies pressure, guiding them back into his direction of choice. Finally, the shepherd uses his staff to fend of predators. God doesn’t leave a sheep out in the open to defend itself. It cannot. The shepherd will address the threat of an enemy with force, but He will not turn on His flock and start swinging.
A shepherd’s hook is for guiding sheep, not beating them. Jesus is a compassionate, patient, loving, protective, and graceful Shepherd. He is the Good Shepherd. Does God correct us? Absolutely. Does He correct by beating? No He does not. It is by gentle guidance. For some reason I don’t picture the shepherd scaring the sheep. It doesn’t mention the shepherd beating the sheep. What good would it do the shepherd if he broke the legs of his sheep? What if the shepherd paralyzed the sheep with fear? I believe fear paralyzes. I KNOW many well intentioned Christians (because I was one) are paralyzed by condemnation and fear of letting God down. This causes constant inward focus. What If we focused more on the finished work of Christ and moved forward in the freedom He purchased for us? How could being afraid of someone actually draw me too them? I am drawn to the One who understands everything that I am going through. I WANT to give my heart to the One who listens, watches, knows, and loves anyway. When I moved away from a fear-based approach toward God to understanding how loved I was (For God SO loved) it did nothing but draw me closer to him.
It doesn’t matter how awesome you think you are, no amount of fortitude or willpower will ever be enough to “make yourself righteous”. It is by grace alone. It is by grace through faith (Eph 2:8-10)! If we could make ourselves righteous why would there be a need for Jesus? Doing more and trying harder can never one-up the perfect sacrifice. The cross was and is the ultimate confirmation of God’s love and approval of His children. Our continuous self-efforts to walk righteously, perfectly, and seamlessly in our own strength will only leave us with a headache unlike anything we’ve experienced before. You may have a headache today from trying to be spiritual for so long, but I can assure you that God is not the source of it.